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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About The Battlestar Galactica Finale

Warning: There’s going to be spoilers in this post. If you haven’t seen the BSG Finale, don’t read below the spoiler fold line.

It’s been a week or so now since the “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica series sailed off into the sunset.

Frankly, I was massively disappointed.

I wasn’t, however, surprised.


I wasn’t a big fan of the original series back in the 70’s.

Oh, sure I watched it. Like every other science fiction geek. Sure. But 70’s TV Scifi was so damned hokey. So poorly done. The science was miserable. The acting campy. The dialog lousy. The special effects weren’t all that special.

Hell even as a teenager I knew how bad it was.

I’d seen Star Wars, I knew what real Science Fiction looked like.

But, really, what choice did we have?

Star Trek (the original series of course) reruns. Probably the best scifi on TV, but regulated to an 11:30PM Friday night time slot on NBC.

Space 1999. Truly ridiculous science, even as a teenager I knew how utterly stupid this show was. I visualize the initial pitch meeting going something like “See, this giant nuclear waste dump on the moon blows up and pushes the moon out of orbit without, like you know, smashing it into, like, a gabillion pieces and the colony there is like untouched and the moon falls into like a bunch of warpy things and travels across the galaxy and shit and meets all kinds of people each week. Once viewers buy that, we can come up with any cockamamie idea for the weekly episodes because the stupid bastards will watch anything. Whatdayasay?”

The Starlost. Jesus H. Christ on whole-wheat toast and covered in cream gravy, what a piece of shit.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Not quite as stupid as The Starlost, but not by much. Camp. Dumb humor. No grasp of science. And Sunday morning newspaper comic plotting.

And a handful of other short lived Sci Fi series (Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, The Questor Tapes, Quark), most trying to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon with no budget and no vision and no understanding of why Star Wars was such a hit.

And then there was Battlestar Galactica.

A big budget, huge actually. At the time the most expensive series on TV. Great sets. State of the art special effects. Big name actors. Awesome wardrobe. Huge story arc. And a cool idea, humans weren’t native to Earth, they came from somewhere else. Oh, sure that’s an old, old idea in Sci Fi, but this was on prime time TV. The fundies damned near stroked out at the mere mention of it – so add daring to the list of things that made the original BSG different from any series that had come before. Not that they actually did anything with the idea, mind you. But it was there.

But after the first few episode, well, it was back to business as usual. The writing went to shit. The budget dried up. The show began, within the first season, to recycle clichéd ideas from other genres, westerns mostly. And the plot holes began to yawn wide like black holes distorting the space time continuum. Adama and his ragtag fugitive fleet as the last humans, fleeing the Cylons, seeking Earth, yadda yadda – except in every single episode, they’d meet more humans. There were humans everywhere. Every planet, rock, asteroid, comet, and derelict spaceship was full of people. There were whole spacefaring civilizations. It pretty much made a joke of the whole “desperate survival of mankind” theme. And the Cylons? What miserable villains. Holy crap, if your whole damned civilization was wiped out by those stupid refugees from a Chinese toy factory, you really deserved to be extinct. And don’t get me started on that damned kid and that stupid robot dog.

Still we watched it.

I’ve seen a few episodes in the decades since. It didn’t age well.

You can still watch the original Star Trek episode from the 60’s. They’ve aged, sure, but you can put that aside and still believe. BSG? Not so much.

Fast forward 30 years.

When I heard that Ron Moore was “re-imagining” Battlestar Galactica for the Sci Fi Channel in 2003, my first thought was a resounding “meh, I pass.” Seriously. A silly scifi series from the 70’s plus the Sci Fi Network – the people who brought you such sucktastic originals as Mansquito, Frankenfish, Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep, and Mammoth – equals a new level of suck that simply defies description.

Or so I thought.

Then I saw the original BSG mini-series.

And it was utterly fantastic. The series that followed was just as good, and even better in a lot of ways – for the first two seasons.

Then, something happened.

Suddenly, beginning with season three, the show was no longer a quest, no longer about perseverance against incredible odds, about the mysteries of the past and the promise of the future. No, it was suddenly all about angst.

Sure the story is about a group of people whose whole world has been blown apart. Everything they know is smashed, smoking, radioactive ruin. They’re refugees on the run, living in steel boxes with death waiting outside. If they die, the whole human race dies, or so they believe, and every life counts. So, sure, I can buy some depression, a bit of angst and grieving, anger. But all of a sudden, beginning with season three, the characters just became a bunch of miserable bastards. Every damned week, drinking, crying, fighting, moaning, whining, don’t give a shit and in the brig again. You could miss whole episodes, and you didn’t really miss anything – especially during season four.

There were huge glaring plot holes, the biggest one being the Cylons. I’m talking about The centurions here. Now it should be pretty damned obvious that they were built for war. Period. They aren’t good for much else. In the original series, Cylons were the weapons of a long extinct race who hated mankind. In the new series, men created the Cylons. Why? Because that’s more poetic, men created the seeds of their own destruction. Dig it. OK. But, did you ever ask yourself, who, exactly were these intelligent war machines supposed to fight? There are no hostile aliens in the BSG universe, life is scarce. The Twelve Colonies are united under one government. So, where’s the enemy? Why in the hell did they build intelligent soldier robots in the first place? And so many of them that they became a self sustaining civilization in their own right?

The characters kept making infuriately stupid decisions. BSG had a great big greasy Mcguffin- Gaius Baltar. Here’s the guy who betrayed the whole damned human race, over and over and over – but, hey, let’s keep him around. They didn’t have any trouble putting the mutineers against the wall, but not Baltar. He’s a super genius? Couldn’t prove it by me. He spent the entire first season making a cylon detector and he was going to test the whole fleet – and you never saw it again. Because, of course, you couldn’t. Because, of course, that would have given you the Final Five in the first season before the writers even thought of them (There's an infuriating major mistake here - Baltar tested Ellen Tigh and confirmed her as human, not Cylon - in fact, there was an entire episode built around this very idea. Some how that just disappeared in the final season). Seriously, what was Baltar’s function anyway? Oh, wait – Baltar had a destiny, that’s right.

The characters kept missing obvious things and kept NOT asking the obvious questions. Say, who are the Gods of Kobol anyway? In the middle of Season Two, they’re on Kobol, the supposed birthplace of humanity, standing in the tomb of Athena – one of the “Gods” they they swear by – and nobody says, hey let’s look in the crypt and see what we’re dealing with here. When the priestess, who conveniently vanished after season two, kept spouting mystical nonsense – all this has happened before and will happen again – nobody said, hey, really, bitch, not helping and what exactly does that mean anyway? How about that new Viper Starbuck shows up in? Nobody says, hey, this is really weird folks. It’s like a brand new ship, brand new. Either Starbuck stopped off at General Motors or something is going on. Maybe we should figure out what that is. This kind of silly shit went on throughout the entire series, right up to the end, and by end I mean the last damned minute of the finale.

And then the clichés started showing up, starting with the magic baby. The mystical child who will save us all. Woohoo. You know the writers of a series, in any genre but especially science fiction, have run right out of ideas when they decide to pop out the magic baby. And in scifi, all babies are magic babies. There’s never been a kid on any scifi show who wasn’t supposedly special in some way, they’re always a genius, or have super powers, or special insight, or some damn fool thing. BSG was no different in this regard.

You know, I could have lived with it all if I thought the final season would pull it all back together again. But as the episodes remaining dwindled to zero, it just kept getting more and more obvious that the writers and the producers really had no idea of what they were doing or where they were going and that they had painted themselves into a corner.

Frankly, now that it’s over, I feel cheated.

Why? Why do you feel cheated, Jim? I hear you ask. Well, the answers to that and the rest of life’s mysteries are below the break.

If you haven’t seen the finale and you want to and you don’t want it spoiled then stop here. If you want to comment about the finale, then please preface your comments with “Spoiler” so folks reading through will know what’s safe to read and what’s not. Thanks.


Spoilers below this break


Way back when I first learned how to write stories, my teachers made it clear that you can’t put you characters into an impossible situation and then end the story with:

“… and then they woke up and discovered it was all a dream.”

That’s cheating the reader. It’s not fair to pose a bunch of questions or set up a mystery, and then whip out some heretofore unmentioned magical potion or super technology which vanquishes the enemy, solves all the problems, heals the mortally wounded girl, and saves the hero from the inescapable corner you’ve painted him into.

And that’s my major beef with the end of BSG.

Instead of working their way out of the box they put themselves into, the writers opted to cheat.

God did it. Surprise!

Son of a bitch.

I was afraid that this is where they were going when the fourth and final season kept wandering around aimlessly. I was afraid this is what was going to happen, when they kept posing questions that simply could not be answered in the time left other than with “God did it.”

For example: What, exactly was the significance of the Final Five? Nothing really, apparently. What exactly was the difference between the organic cylon models and humans? Because both originally came from Kobol, or did you forget about that? Organic cylons can’t be told apart from humans except with very special equipment. Both species can interbreed – which makes them the same species if you ask me – maybe just separated by time and technology. Cylons bleed. They die without specialized technology. The organic cylons are just as petty and emotional as humans – and they look damned fine in a skimpy red dress. Really what’s the difference here? And, as noted up there above the spoiler line, the cylons are the biggest mystery of the show. The cylon earth? Weren’t they all cylons on Cylon Earth? So the organic cylons created the metal cylons and then the metal cylons killed the organic cylons but the Final Five escaped and then were welcomed by the colonial cylons 2500 years later and then they created more organic cylons at the behest of the metal cylons who then perversely subordinated their freewill to the new organic cylons who then betrayed the Final Five and sent them to exile amongst the humans and what the fuck? Seriously.

In the end, they just didn’t have the guts or the imagination to pull it off. In the end, every single thing the characters did, every decision they agonized over, every chance they took, every moment of angst and anger and fear and love and hate meant exactly dick. Every bit of interest and emotion we, the viewers, invested in BSG over four years, meant exactly nothing.

Because, see, God did it.

The things about this finale that irritate me are endless, but here are my major complaints:

- Who was Starbuck? An angel? What? This probably pissed me off more than anything else in the BSG finale. If Starbuck is not human, which the finale makes abundantly clear she’s not, then why all the bullshit? Why the attitude and anger and misbehavin’? Why bother with Starbuck finding her dead body on Cylon Earth? In fact, that whole scene becomes utterly irrelevant – it’s supposed to be profound, but in the end it just means nothing. What’s the deal? She was raped and abused on New Caprica. She suffered and bled and was reborn. She agonized over her identity. She struggled with guilt and pain and anger and endless angst – and in the end, she was just, what? A tool? Really, what a complete fucking cop out. The writers painted themselves into a corner and in the end Starbuck wakes up and finds out it’s all a dream.

- The refugees decide to give up technology, shuck their clothes and rejoin nature? Yeah, sure and 90% of them would have been dead in the first 6 months, and the rest of them a year later. 160,000 years ago the Earth, this one anyway, was a damned hostile place. Everything would have been trying to kill them, from the climate to the animals to the germs. The first winter in the new world killed half the Plymouth colonists, and they were prepared. They planned their colony for years. How many of the high tech pilgrims of BSG were survivalists? How many could chip a flint arrowhead, skin a deer, tell poisonous plants from eatable, make fire from scratch, build a shelter to survive winter in cold climates, jerk meat, tan a hide, smoke fish, set a bone, birth a baby with nothing but a pointy stick? And there wasn’t one guy who stood up and said, hey fuck you, I’m keeping a ship and some technology and I ain’t spending the rest my life wiping my ass on poison ivy leaves. Really, fuck you. Seriously here, the idea is just stupid.

- But you know? Maybe that’s exactly what happened. Maybe they did all die off. Every last one of them. Except the magic baby, Hera, the “Key” to each race’s survival. Flash forward 160,000 years and we find that Hera is “Mitochondrial Eve” the ancestral mother of humanity. Um, Oooookay. I guess she mated with Australopithecus after everybody else was eaten by the wildlife. Of course it doesn’t really matter because it’s all part of the plan, none of it has to make sense because, of course, God did it.

- And speaking of Australopithecus, or Neanderthal man, or whoever the fuck it was wandering around out there naked on the African plain with the pointy sticks. No explanation of what humans are doing here. Will they become us 160,000 years later, without the refugees? If so, then the glimpse of the future is irrelevant and has nothing to do with the story. But if you add in the whole magic baby bit from the previous paragraph then it would appear that we are descended from the colonial refugees. Toss in God, and you’ve got the perfect Intelligent Design science fiction series. Whoa, betcha didn’t see that coming, did you?

- And speaking of God, why the hell didn’t he break this so-called cycle of violence? What’s with this it’s all happened before and it’ll happen again bullshit? How exactly do we, supposedly careening toward our own cylon Armageddon, benefit from the knowledge of the colonials? The lessons they learned, the trials God put them through? I mean they flew all their records into the sun and went back to nature. Is God going to wait until the Toasters are bombing our cities before he sends the Angels to give us cryptic messages though sex in our heads? Hey, far be it from me to question God’s elaborate plan but allow me to point out that if it always ends in abject failure, well, maybe it’s not such a good plan. And seriously, according to the show He diddled directly in people's lives and directly in the success or failure of whole civilizations, plus he speaks to cylons by playing music in their heads and creates Vipers wholecloth and so on, but He refuses to break the so-called cycle of violence that He created? I guess this makes about as much sense as any actual religion. There's a couple of spin-off series in there somewhere, none of them good.

- And finally we jump forward 160,000 years and find out what the show is really all about. Technology bad. Robots dangerous. Computers will kill us.

Technology is evil. God doesn’t like it.

Creation science fiction?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Really.

What a colossal waste of my time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daily Volcano

As you can clearly see in the picture we were nearly buried in volcanic ash last night.

image

I know, I know, it looks like snow. Several inches of snow that I really would rather not have to go plow here in a moment.

But it’s really boiling hot lava ash. It’s like Pompeii here.

Help.

Send money, chocolate, and Scarlett Johansson.



What?

You’re not buying any of this, are you?

Yeah, didn’t think so. This is, of course, my way of telling you that I’m busy and behind today. Posting will be delayed until later, because I’ve spent far too much time on other things this morning.

If I get a chance, later today I’ll do a review of the new wireless multifunction printer I installed in the network yesterday. Because seriously here folks, it rocks. You want one, you really really do.

Volcano wise, things are mostly quiet today. There was some ashfall in anchorage yesterday, the airport was shut down for a while. The mountain is still erupting and spewing a steam cloud at the moment. Pretty much business as usual.

How’s your Monday going?

_____________________________________

3/30/09 1600 update:

Seismic activity has tapered off. Redoubt is still emitting a steam plume.

Latest AVO Webcam picture looks like this:


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Daily Volcano

Three big eruptions since this morning, one in progress right now. Some high altitude ash.  NOAA predicts maybe a little ash fall out here in the Valley.  I haven’t seen any yet.

 

image

This is a view west of the upper Drift River Valley and Redoubt volcano. Notice the steam plume from the top of the mountain. Flood waters and deposits in Drift Valley are a result of an eruption early yesterday morning.  Normally this time of year any water in the valley would be frozen solid, the warm running river you see is from the rapidly melting glacier on top of Mount Redoubt. Picture Date: March 26, 2009 16:28:42 AKDT Photographer, Game McGimsey, Image courtesy of AVO/USGS.

Stonekettle Station’s List of SciFi Movies…

…that should never have been made.

Now I’m not talking about B-movies.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of crappy scifi B-movies that probably shouldn’t have been made – basically anything starring shlock scifi movie king, Michael Pare, other than maybe The Philadelphia Experiment for example – but those movies were never expected to be anything special. Hey, if you’re Stuart Gordon and you crank out Space Truckers, where Battle Beyond the Stars meets Billy Ray Cyrus, you never expected it to do anything but go straight to video. The MST3K guys will lampoon it, the critics will ignore it, it’s good for a few laughs, it didn’t cost diddly, and the studio makes a few bucks.

Those movies are a different post altogether.

No, what I’m talking about here are movies that cost millions, that starred big time Hollywood names – and made direhard scifi fans like me run from the theater holding their noses from the stench. What I’m talking about here are movies that the genre (and the world) would have been better off without. I’m talking about movies that when the idea was shopped to a major studio you have to wonder why in the hell nobody stood up and yelled for security. You have to wonder if there was some mind altering drug in the water during the pitch meeting with the producers. I’m talking about movies that may actually have hastened the heat death of the universe and lowered the collective IQ of the human race by a significant fraction.

Yeah, those.

I’ll bet you scifi fans can guess the first one.

- It’s the ultimate in cinematic disasters: Battlefield Earth. Remember all those Irwin Allen epic disaster movies of the 70’s? Battlefield Earth is like being trapped the Towering Inferno wearing a polyester one piece disco suit – you want to jump flaming from the upper windows and splatter on the pavement below just to make the pain stop. This movie was supposed to be a triumphant telling of L. Ron Hubbard’s novel – but it’s just like cooking folks, you can’t make Cordon Bleu from rotten ingredients. The novel is a thousand pages of endless suck, but it is brilliance personified compared to the movie. Battlefield Earth is the perfect storm of suck. The script sucks. The acting sucks almost beyond belief. The dialog, which mostly consists of Travolta’s maniacal laughter, Ahahaaaa Ahahahahaa Ahhaaha, brings suck to a whole new level of sucktastic. The cinematography sucks. The special effects suck. But with the force of the Church O Scientology behind it, directing it, acting in it, writing it, producing it, and advertising it nobody bothered to say, Hey waitaminute, this just plain sucks! This is why incest is a bad idea – eventually you’re going to end up with a hydrocephalic, hemophilic, cross-eyed, six-toed, retarded trick baby that looks a lot like John Travolta’s character in Battlefield Earth. The production company went bankrupt, hell they couldn’t even give the DVD away to scientologists. And Travolta? Well, see he thought it was going to be such a hit that he planned a sequel, two of them actually. Be damned grateful those never saw the light of day.

- Starship Troopers: Scifi fandoms needs to take out an open ended restraining order against Paul Verhoeven, a binding legal document that prevents him from ever getting within a thousand yards of another Robert Heinlein book, or one of Phillip K. Dick’s either for that matter. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, Verhoeven has done some decent, if not particularly profound, work. But, Troopers is like being forced to watch your beloved sister get raped to death by a gang of drunken Hollanders.

- Nightflyers: Most of you have probably never heard of this movie. Good for you. No really, good for you. Because it stinks. Based on one of my favorite George R.R. Martin tales, Nightflyers was supposed to be a summer blockbuster in 1987 – instead The Bobs, Robert Collector (director) and Robert Jaffe (screenplay) turned it into Zombies In Spaaaaace!

Unnecessary Sequels: Some sequels are great, better than the original – especially if you can get James Cameron to make them. But as soon as you start calling the idea a “franchise” the quality goes downhill fast.

The Star Wars Prequels: Lucas needs somebody to stand behind him with a mallet and smack him on top of the head every time he gets the urge to fiddle. George, seriously here buddy, go check out what happened with Frank Herbert’s Dune series, that’s you, Jar Jar. Please don’t let your kid start writing sequels. Thanks.

Alien Resurrection: Question, how in the hell did the producers of this piece of shit live with themselves? No, seriously. After watching Alien and Aliens and then seeing this and knowing I was responsible for it, I think I’d let the facehugger kill me. Alien 3: Alien Chicks in Prison, was bad enough, but at least it preserved most of the aspects of the originals, even if the GCI creature was a major letdown and the love scene with flea infested bald Sigourney Weaver made you want to barf up your jujubees. At least it had the fantastic Pete Postlethwaite in it. Resurrection? Resurrection should have been flushed out the airlock before a single frame was filmed. My pal, Eric, is right. Josh Whedon is overrated.

The Matrix Sequels, The Matrix Regurgitated and The Matrix Revolted. P.T. Barnum said, “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Great advice from a master showman, and a formula that has worked for centuries. Too bad the Wachowski brothers never heard of it.

The X-files: I want to belive there’s a couple of bucks more we can squeeze out with this turd. To bad Chris Carter never heard of old P.T. either.

Terminator Rise of the Machines. Wouldn’t it have been easier and cheaper to let the guys from Jackass the Movie drive around LA in a firetruck and a cement mixer? Was there actually a plot to this movie?

Star Trek Generations. Three words: Oh God, why? Say the first two words like a man just punched in the stomach, and the last one around a horrified sob.

- Johnny Mnemonic: Even Dina Meyer naked couldn’t save this, just as Dina Meyer naked couldn’t save Starship Troopers up there in position two. And really, if Dina Meyer naked doesn’t offset the level of suck in your movie, you should seriously consider a straight to DVD release. Straight to the dumpster would have been better for this abomination.

- The Bicentennial Man: Somebody, and I don’t care who, should have gone to jail for this. Show of hands, how many of you think Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy (and I’m not even going to mention Pluto Nash, no I won’t) should retire and open a bar or a bike rental stand in Key West? Actually, you know, it occurs to me that this just might be the sequel Travolta had in mind for Battlefield Earth.

Movies based on Video Games: and most especially movies made from video games that star Saffron Burrows, say like Wing Commander. Doom also comes to mind here.

- The Core: I’m in this movie. Yep. In the final scene, when the Navy comes to rescue the Terranauts stranded on the bottom of the ocean after returning from the center of the earth in their unobtainium ship. That’s the Constellation Strike Group. I’ve got the deck on the bridge of USS Valley Forge. I’m so ashamed.

- A Scanner Darkly: First rule of special effects: if the special effects are the whole movie, you don’t have a movie. You have a music video. And in this case A-ha did it better with Take On Me two decades ago. With a much cuter girl.

- Solaris: This movie should be sent to our enemies. I swear on Issac Asimov’s polished yellowed skull (I got it on eBay), if this movie doesn’t suck the soul right out of your body and destroy your will to live, I don’t know what will.

- Saturn 3: They spent millions on this for one little reason and one tiny little reason only, as vehicle to show fading pin-up girl Farrah Fawcett’s tit. And just to rub salt in the wounds, you got a ten minute, ulp, love scene between Fawcett and Kirk Douglas’ old wrinkled ass. Seriously, it was fifteen years before I could watch 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea again.

and last, movies based on comic books: Look not all of them are X-men,

some are Judge Dredd.

And some, well, some, my friends,

…are this.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Volcano, again

Big damn eruption at Mount Redoubt this morning.

Complete with lahars, boiling hot mud avalanches, from Drift Glacier and a big freakin' ash cloud clearly visible in Homer.

Right now there's a "vigorous" ash plume emitting from the crater and seismic activity is high.

The ash is expected to pass directly over Anchorage, but not expected to fall in the city.

Ain't this fun?
_________________________________________
2/26/09 1800 Update:

First really clear shot from the AVO Hut Webcam. Note the steam plume and the fresh lahars running down through Drift Glacier in the foreground. No new explosions since this morning, though seismic activity is still occurring.



















________________________________
3/27/09 1000 update:

Morning eruptions are becoming a regular event.

Another big eruption this morning. Significant ash plume which is drifting north. It's possible we'll see some of it. The NOAA is predicting possible light ashfall over the Anchorage bowl and the MatSu valley. Nothing here so far though.

The AVO webcams are frosted over, or covered with dirt at the moment. No good pictures of the eruption. Sorry.

Jerkoff of the Month - US Department of Veteran’s Affairs

Jesus Christ, how many times do we have to go over this?

What we need to happen, and I mean right Goddamned now, is for every government bean counter to be rounded up, slapped into a uniform, and dropped into the Sunni Triangle for six months with a weapon supplied by the lowest bidder and a box of paper assholes for armor.

These little pencil pushing bastards need a wakeup call.

Meet Erik Roberts, US Army (Ret).

On 25 April, 2006, while on patrol in western Baghdad, a roadside IED exploded next to the hummer he was riding in. The explosion ripped through the vehicle and, despite supposed battle hardening, the Humvee caught on fire. The fire filled the interior with dense black smoke and caused the vehicle’s ammo stores to cook off, i.e. explode from the heat.

Roberts, A.J. Jefferson and Luke Murphy, already badly injured and disorientated from the explosion, were hit by flying shrapnel. They jumped from the burning wreckage and lay bleeding and helpless and exposed on the ground in hostile territory while their own transport burned and exploded above them.

The rest of the squad rushed to their aid, coming through the fire and flying metal at great risk to their own lives, and managed to pull Roberts, Jefferson, and Murphy to cover and safety. The team medic managed to stabilize their wounds long enough for evac.

All three were severely wounded. Murphy would loose his leg immediately and Robert’s right side was shredded. Roberts was medivacced back to the states, ironically the flight out was on Robert’s 23rd birthday. Once home, he underwent a series of surgeries to save his life, including twelve separate operations to save his mangled right leg. The doctors had to insert a steel rod into his thigh in order to provide supporting structure for the shattered femur to knit back together around.

Robert’s recovery was long and painful. In 2007 he was medically retired from the Army, lucky to still have a leg, lucky to still be able to walk on it, but his days of jumping with the 101st Airborne were over. He enrolled in college on the GI Bill, majoring in Finance and economics at Youngstown State University. And transferred his medical care to the Veteran’s Administration.

His leg would never be right again, of course. He’d always feel pain and discomfort from his wounds. But he wasn’t complaining. Like hundreds of thousands of other Vets injured in the line of their profession, yours truly included, he simply lived with the pain and went on with his life.

Then in December of 2008, he noticed a lump, golf-ball sized, in his wounded leg. Painful, and growing larger. And certainly not normal.

He went to the VA. The doctors told him not to worry about it.

Some of you readers are doctors, but you don’t have to have to be an M.D. to figure out immediately that a painful golf ball sized lump in a recently healed shattered bone caused by a catastrophic invasive injury, following 12 major surgeries and the insertion of surgical supports, is something that you probably ought to fucking worry about.

Roberts left the VA hospital untreated.

Several days later the pain became so severe that Roberts went to the local civilian emergency room. The leg, as it turned out – and as any first year intern could have told Roberts at first glance – was badly infected. Immediate surgery and treatment were required, or Roberts would lose the leg after all. The doctors there couldn’t do it, the best they could do would be to amputate. Robert’s mom contacted the Army surgeon who had saved her son’s leg two years before, and he referred them to Dr. William Obremskey, an Air Force veteran and surgeon at Vanderbilt Orthopedics in Nashville, Tennessee. Obremskey saved the leg, but it wasn’t easy, and the outcome was in doubt for a while and it wasn’t cheap. $147,000 it cost, so far, including $90,000 for six weeks of intravenous antibiotics -which Roberts administered himself, rather than spend two months in a nursing home.

The $57,000 surgery bill is still outstanding.

Now Roberts has private insurance, and they picked up the majority of the $90,000, leaving $3000 for the VA. This is how it normally works, if you have civilian insurance, and you op for care outside the VA, the civilian insurance is your primary, and the VA is your secondary. Simple, I do it all the time.

Except in this case, the VA said basically, Fuck You. After being told that there was nothing to worry about, you went outside the system. As such, you can pick up the remainder, all $3000. We’re not paying.

And then there’s that surgery bill.

Somebody contacted CNN.

CNN contacted a U.S. Senator. That Senator contacted the VA and demanded answers. Oddly, the VA has now decided to pay the $3000. Fucking gracious of them, wouldn’t you say?

But there’s still the matter of that surgery bill.

Roberts has put his education on hold, wondering if he’s going to have to come up with the money.

You know, it’s a hell of a thing when the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs -the government organization specifically chartered with the care of veterans - forces a decorated recipient of the Purple Heart, a combat vet who was wounded in line of duty in a hostile land while fighting for his country, to choose between his education and his fucking leg!

Those at the VA should be damned glad that I’m not in charge. Because I’d Court Martial VA Secretary Eric Shinseki right the hell now for utter dereliction of duty, for actions which bring discredit upon the service, and for failure of leadership. Shinseki is a wounded combat veteran himself, there is absolutely no excuse, whatsoever, for this travesty.

Now, the only mitigating circumstance I can accept for this abject failure of leadership is that Shinseki has only been Secretary of Veteran’s Affair since January. But, he assumed office in the middle of war, with thousands of returning combat wounded vets. He knows what that is like, he was wounded in Vietnam – he better than anybody knows what is needed here, that’s why he was put in the job in the first goddamned place. He needs to take charge, forcefully, now, and issue an immediate order to everybody in his Department that this bullshit will NOT be tolerated. Period and no exceptions. He needs to issue an immediate apology to all veterans for the failure of his department to execute their mission promptly and in full, and he needs to issue a personal apology to Eric Roberts – and that apology should be made in person, if Shinseki remembers what honor is. And he needs to formally request that charges be brought against that fucking bean counting Bush Loving bastard James Peake for failing to turn over the department in good order.

And finally, Shinseki needs to make it goddamned clear that the next VA bureaucrat who denies the medical care, coverage, or support to veterans in or out of a VA facility, especially vets with injuries received in combat, will be immediately and publically fired. No excuses, get your shit and get out.

Now, personally, I’ve had good luck with the VA – but it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.

This nation owes a debt to its veterans.

And it’s time to pay up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

National Medal of Honor Day

You know, I meant to mention this much earlier today and I forgot. Thanks to Alaskan reader, Dave, for reminding me.

Today is National Medal of Honor Day.

I know it's mostly over, but take a second to hoist a tankard for those who wear this medal, would you please?

Regulars are familiar with this story, but for those of you surfing in from the world - if you want to know what this medal is all about, what it takes to be awarded this decoration, and why Medal of Honor recipients are worthy of your profound respect: read this.

Monsters Vs Aliens

My sister-in-law, Melissa, got a chance to take my nephew, Noah, to a special premier of Monsters Vs. Aliens in Los Angeles last week. She liked it, so did Noah. A lot.

Her review is up on Intel's Inside Scoop Website. Go read it right now. Then say nice things.

Second picture down, that's Melissa and Noah. Those are their glasses. It's the style on the West Coast. Really.

Wednesday Way Back Video

My kid left the TV on MTV when he went to school this morning.

I haven't watched MTV or VH1 or CMC in years. Partly because I don't much care for the music nowadays (yes, that officially makes me old. Up yours, thank you very much for reminding me) and mostly because the last couple of times I've seen MTV it was like a car crash inside a pinball machine filmed by a hyperactive 6-year old Kevin Smith on speed. And somebody has set the intelligence level to somewhere between Paris Hilton and George W. Bush, the stupid liked to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

So, I haven't seen MTV in a while. Like years. Maybe a lot of years. OK, maybe it was the mid-90's the last time I watched MTV on any kind of regular basis.

I realized something this morning as I stood there looking at some kid in pants ten times too big for him howling like a cat entangled in a lawnmower. OK, two things: 1) I'm old. Got it. and 2) music videos in the shiny 21st Century purely suck big sucking wads of suckitude.

What the hell happened? I mean I knew things were going to shit, music video wise in the 90's, but did Phil Collins use up all the clever ideas? Did that weird slutty chick from the Divinyls give all the creative people terminal herpes? Did Pauly Shore breed and his dullwitted offspring take over the music video industry? Did video really kill the radio star? What the hell happened?

Back in 70's I think we only had like three music videos, and two of those were by Men At Work (the other one was A Flock of Seagulls, times were lean back there in proto-MTV land). But the 80's? Whoa, now that was the decade of the music video. Hell, even really shitty songs, and believe me there were some really shitty songs during the Reagan Years, had creative videos.

Also, all black singers in the 80's looked like Billy Dee Williams. And all beach bars were the canteen from Star Wars. Trust me on this, I was there. And just in case you young punks can't figure it out, cheap computerized scene fades were cutting edge shit back then, I think it was a spin off of Star Wars technology.

Also, the elf chick creeps me out.




(Note: for an authentic 1980's experience, watch in full screen mode. In full screen, the crappy low resolution YouTube video is a perfect match for a blurry big screen 3-color projection tv (caution, do not watch 80's porn in full screen, you'll hurt yourself, just sayin')

Things That Chap My Ass About Kids

Where to start with this one?

Really, where to start?

Kid’s you love them, you do (just go with me on this one). But, by all that is holy, they try your nerves, don’t they?

Seriously, I’m pretty sure if there weren’t laws to the contrary, damned few teenagers would make it to adulthood. Robert Heinlein once said that kids should be raised in a sack, if they turn out decent you could let them out once they reach adulthood, otherwise you tie it off and put it out on the corner for the trash pickup. I’m paraphrasing, but really, that sounds like a damned fine idea to me.

(Yes, I can hear my parents laughing right now. Yes, I can. But unless they want to see a post entitled “Things that chap my ass about old people” they better keep that shit to themselves.)

Seriously here, a 12-year old boy has to be ordered to change his clothes. Ordered. I don’t know about girls, but a 12-year old boy will wear the same sweatshirt every single day until it is nothing but a sleeveless stiffened filthy rag held together by a few rotten threads. A 12-year old boy will wear the same pair of underwear and socks for a week straight – and yet still manage to end up with enough filthy clothes in the weekly laundry to equip an entire grunge concert. How is that possible? It defies comprehension.

Let’s talk hygiene, shall we? In addition to the clothing issue mentioned in the previous paragraph, a 12-year old boy has to be ordered with threats of violence to take a daily shower. A dog washes itself without being told, A cat washes itself. Hell, a rat washes itself – a 12-year old boy doesn’t even have the instinct for personal hygiene that a filthy plague carrying rodent has. Now it’s not enough to tell a kid to take a shower. Kids will obey the letter of the law, not the spirit. It’s not enough to tell him to get in the shower, you have to specifically tell him to wash too. Everything? Yes, everything. With soap? Yes, with soap. Do I have to wash my hair? Yes. Do I have to scrub my ears? Yes. And etc, all the way down to the toes. This nightly litany is, of course, a complete waste of time. Kids have a short term memory system based on the single-address FIFO buffer concept, i.e. First In, First Out. Kids only remember the last thing you told them, and sometimes not even that. By the time you get to feet, kids have completely forgotten that you told them to wash their hair. You get one or the other – which is why kids always smell funny on at least one end.

Now, for somebody who hates to wash, a 12-year old is obsessed with hair. Every morning it’s like The Fonz has taken up residence in my bathroom, Aaaaaay! Combing and wetting and combing and patting and combing and…argh! Come on, we’re going to be late! Just one more minute, I can’t get my hair to stop curling up. What are you a girl? Shutup! And then? After twenty minutes of this? Yeah, he puts on a watch cap. Every goddamned morning.

And speaking of arguments (see how I segued right into that? Smooth, huh?). You don’t speak with a teenager, you argue with one. Endlessly. How was your day at school? Why are you always me asking that?! Well, I was interested. Well, I hate it when you ask me that every day. Why? Did something bad happen? No, I had a great day. Then why didn't you just say so? Why are you yelling at me? I’m not! Every goddamned afternoon.

The daily argument follows a predictable path. Subsequent to the “how was your day” bit comes the “Sigh, there’s nothing to eat!” routine. There’s all kinds of stuff to eat, the pantry is full, the fridge is full, the counters are covered in stuff, we’ve got enough food to feed an army. Hell, I have an entire moose cut up in pieces in the freezer. We’ve got food. Have some chips. I don’t want chips. Have an apple. I don’t want fruit. Make a sandwich. I don’t want a stupid sandwich. Have one of those frozen yoghurt things you made me buy. I don’t like those. Well, you can’t be that hungry, stop standing there with the fridge door open. Fine, I’ll have some chips then, but this weekend we need to get some real food. What kind of food? I dunno, the real kind! Every goddamned afternoon.

Kids have no attention span. None. ADHD isn’t a disorder, it’s the normal state of being for a 12-year old. You know what the two most common words a kid says are? “I’m bored.” Between about ten and eighteen, a kid probably says “I’m bored” a least a million times. I’m bored. Play your playstation. I don’t have any good games. Watch TV. There’s nothing good on. Go ride your bike. Naw, there’s nobody to ride with. Go ride your skateboard. No, I don’t feel like it. How about you unload the dishwasher? I’m busy playing my playstation right now! Yeah, I thought so.

Speaking of the dishwasher, a 12-year boy can get every single dish and glass in the house dirty in less than 30 seconds. They're like little Houdinis. Now, when I wave my wand, every single glass in the house, including the beer mugs you keep in the freezer, will have a glob of crud drying in the bottom of it. Presto Chango, Viola!

There’s more, oh there is so much more. But I think I’ll go take a nap before he gets home from school.

And aspirin, I think I’ll take a couple of aspirin.

Tell me what chaps your ass about kids.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's Best Lyric

You lie down with dogs
You get up with fleas

Minister of Misinformation

Remember Baghdad Bob?

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, former Iraqi Minister of Information under Saddam?

For those of us who fought there, al-Sahhaf’s press briefings during the initial invasion and surge towards Baghdad provided a daily dose of hysterically funny surrealism.

The day after those of us in Valley Forge’s CIC tensely tracked a pair of ballistic missiles fired from Basrah towards the amphibious expeditionary force staging in Kuwait, Baghdad Bob gave us this bit of comedy gold:

"It has been rumored that we have fired scud missiles into Kuwait. I am here now to tell you, we do not have any scud missiles and I don't know why they were fired into Kuwait."

Umm Qasr surrendered a day or so later, the port there was secured in fairly short order, and our boats were escorting a British humanitarian relief convoy up the Shaat Al Arab bringing food and supplies to the civilian population when Baghdad Bob solemnly informed us:

"Iraqi fighters in Umm Qasr are giving the hordes of American and British mercenaries the taste of definite death.”

The fighting there was intense at first, but those demoralized Iraqi fighters had held about as well as a rope made from wet toilet paper. Most were dead or fled in the first hours of the battle. They abandoned Umm Qasr to its fate and fled north, their weapons and uniforms littered the road to Basrah. I don’t recall the exact number of Coalition causalities, but it was a hell of a lot closer to zero than to definite death (as opposed to indefinite death, apparently).

"Their forces committed suicide by the hundreds. ... The battle is very fierce and God made us victorious."

"They fled. The American louts fled. Indeed, concerning the fighting waged by the heroes of the Arab Socialist Baath Party yesterday, one amazing thing really is the cowardice of the American soldiers. we had not anticipated this."

Sorry, Bob, afraid not. And then there was my personal favorite:

"Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad. Be assured, Baghdad is safe, protected."

This was broadcast from a improvised studio because the day before al-Sahhaf’s Ministry of Information had taken a direct hit from a Tomahawk and had been obliterated. Baghdad Bob made this statement while American M-1A Abrams main battle tanks rolled through the city streets unopposed less than a hundred yards from al-Sahhaf’s position and the rumble of their treads could be heard in the background of the broadcast.

Back home Baghdad Bob became more popular than he ever was in Iraq. Websites sprung up, selling T-shirts and coffee mugs with al-Sahhaf’s latest gaffe printed on them. CNN rebroadcast his comments to the American public, usually without commentary, it wasn’t needed. al-Sahhaf was standard fodder for Jay and Conan and Dave, though their satires were only slightly more entertaining and funny than the comments they parodied.

In southern Iraq, those of us engaged in search and intelligence operations were issued packs of cards with the most wanted of Iraq’s crumbling regime, the Minister of Information was such a joke that he wasn’t even in the deck. We didn’t want him silenced, his daily commentary was the bright spot of our day, a moment of hilarity in the middle of war and chaos. As the war progressed, his comments became more and more detached from reality, and even Iraqis dismissed al-Sahhaf as a nutbar. In early April - I forget the exact date but it would have been during the first week – I was onboard a detained Iraqi vessel in the Northern Arabian Gulf. There was a broadcast from Kuwait playing in the ship’s pilot house where I was interviewing the vessel’s master. The captain was angry and animated, waving his arms around and punctuating his replies to me with chopping motions of his big scarred hands. I remember watching his mustache in amazement, it was like a huge furry snake (Iraqis have a particular cultural fetish for mustaches, even swearing by them upon occasion). Suddenly he fell silent, Kuwaiti radio was playing the daily quote from Baghdad Bob:

"The Americans are not there. They're not in Baghdad. There are no troops there. Never. They're not at all."

The Iraqi captain looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “Congratulations, Baghdad has surrendered. Obviously.” He shrugged, “It is as God wills.”

As funny as Baghdad Bob’s broadcasts were, they also provided a useful check on the intelligence – if Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said one thing, it was a pretty good bet that precisely the opposite was true. It was also a pretty good indicator of the effectiveness of Saddam’s information apparatus and his control over the civilian population, i.e. tenuous at best. In retrospect, the sad part about the whole thing, of course, was that Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf actually believed what he was saying. He was a diehard Baath party loyalist, and he truly believed that Saddam would pull victory from the mother of all battles. al-Sahhaf truly believed in the mysticism of the desert and those heroic tales of ancient Arabs who ground invading armies into the sand and left their bones to bleach in the sun. His loyalty to Saddam never waivered, and even after he’d fled to the UAE he proudly proclaimed that he’d done his duty to the bitter end. But the truth of the matter is somewhat different – because some Iraqis did believe those broadcasts from Baghdad. And they kept fighting, and many of them died. After the war, many of the loyalists were bitterly disappointed to discover that they’d been lied to by a deluded fool.

Since the war al-Sahhaf has become a synonym within the intelligence community for military and corporate people and communications that stubbornly refuse to acknowledge reality even when directly confronted with facts proving their statements wrong, wildly inaccurate, or based on completely fabricated information.

It’s called “pulling a Baghdad Bob.”

Allow me to give you an example:

We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming - and I am using my finger quotation marks here - is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? Not very long.”

That little gem was GOP Chairman Michael Steele’s response to questions regarding his stance on global warming. There are so many things wrong with that single paragraph that it’s almost impossible to determine which is more hysterically funny.

The Earth is cooling, folks, not warming. Despite the mountains of long term data that shows just exactly the opposite, the Earth is cooling, so says the GOP chairman. What proof does he offer for this startling conclusion? The supposed warming is part of the cooling process. One wonders exactly where Steele got his education, or if logic was part of his law degree, or precisely what al-Sahhaf style reality he dwells in – because last time I checked, warming things up usually doesn’t make them cooler.

His grasp of history is equally firmly based in some alternate reality. Eric the Red named Greenland such in order to hoodwink his fellow Vikings into emigrating. And I lived on the island of Iceland, it’s not green, trust me here folks. But let’s say that it was, I guess that would be one of those “warm means colder” examples Steele was talking about. I can only assume Steele also took places like “Hell” Michigan into account when formulating his scientific theory of global climate change based on place-names.

Asked about education, Steele responded with this:

"Education is key. It is where it begins, for all of us... If we understand the difference between Marxism, socialism and capitalism; if we understand the difference between a Roberto Mussolini, an Adolf Hitler, and a Franklin Roosevelt, and his honor the honorable Winston Churchill, if we know those differences then we can appreciate what these times mean. And how history is a precursor of things to come."

Roberto? Who the heck is Roberto Mussolini?

Or his honor the honorable Winston Churchill. His honor?

Steele didn’t expound on the differences between Marxism, socialism, and capitalism, but I’m sure it would have been entertaining, a true Baghdad Bob moment - especially since out of the four historical leaders he named (we’ll give him a pass on Roberto), two of them were fascists and none were Marxists. FDR was a democrat who championed The New Deal, which most members of the GOP consider blatant socialism and hardly an example of the type of capitalism they seem to hold in such high regard. But, hey if we understand the differences between fictional versions of people then we can appreciate what these times mean. These times, today, I’m guessing from the context, i.e. the penetrating observation that “History is a precursor of things to come.”

History, it’s like the shit that happened in the past that we just make up, dude.

The sad thing here is that Steele, like Baghdad Bob, believes what he’s saying. He’s a party loyalist. And his worldview is based on complete nonsense. He’s busy denying reality while the tanks are rolling past his window.

He is right about one thing though: education, it’s key.

Too bad Steele doesn’t appear to have any.



Monday, March 23, 2009

The Volcano

Mount Redoubt blew last night.

The volcano is erupting right now - the news just broadcast that the fifth major explosion of this eruption series has just occurred and the ash plume is expected to reach 60,000 feet.

No ash has fallen here or in Anchorage. So far it's business as usual.

Updates to follow.
___________________________________
Update 1: 3/23/09 06:33
It appears at the moment that the winds are such that the initial ash fall will pass both north and south of Anchorage , but not on the city itself. It does look, however, as if the wind transport will cause some of it to pass directly over my house here in Palmer. We'll see.

Flights out of Anchorage International are being grounded or redirected per normal procedure.

At the moment everything is normal, schools and businesses are open. Power and communications are unaffected. The bases and emergency services are on alert per standard procedure.

My generators are prepped and ready to go. We have water and supplies if the power goes out. And plenty of firewood if the gas goes offline. We have masks and goggles should the ash fall here. At the moment we're not expecting to need any of it - but I'm a big believer in being prepared.

Sun-up in an hour, then we'll know more.
________________________________________
3/23/09 0800
Redoubt continues to erupt.

The wind is blowing the ashfall north, right at us. However, the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the National Weather Service are predicting only light ashfall here at the moment. I haven't seen any, and I expect that if any ash is falling it's north of here up near Talkeetna.

The AVO webcam nearest the volcano (station RSO) is dead, buried in ash, or knocked offline by seismic shock sometime during the night. If the weather clears we might get some real time pictures from the webcam mounted on a Chevron platform in the Cook Inlet - but I wouldn't hold your breath on that one. Right now it's showing mostly fog, which is what it usually shows.

As of this moment, 19 passenger flights into or out of Anchorage International have been canceled. Two flights were turned back to Seattle. Everything else here is grounded at the moment. International cargo flights, the vast bulk of the traffic through Anchorage Intl, are also grounded at the moment, so if you were shipping somthing to Asia via FedEx, it probably ain't gonna get there overnight, at least not through Alaska anyway.

People mostly seem to be taking it in stride. This morning at the coffee shop more people were bitching about our retarded Governor's decision to reject a big chunk of the Federal Bailout while jobs and schools and the oil industry are collapsing around us. Something tells me that this stupid politicking bitch is going to be out of a job come 2010, because, seriously here folks, if the MatSu Valley Fundies are talking smack about her, she really has no base left at all.
___________________________________
3/23/09 09:00
Sunrise was very, very orange today. Turning yellow and cloudy now though. Sorry, didn't get a picture.

I used to live on Iceland, with more active volcanoes than you can shake a stick at - if you could find a stick on Iceland that is. I was in Sicily in the mid-80's for the Mount Etna eruption. And I used to work far out in the Aleutians, during several eruptions of various volcanoes. One thing about volcanic ash, it makes for some pretty awesome skies.

If we get more high altitude ash drift, sunset should be spectacular. I'll try to have the camera ready.
_____________________________________
3/23/09 12:00
Just talked to a friend with the USGS, biggest explosion was last night, the eruptions have been tapering off. However that doesn't mean that the event is over, and that doesn't mean that another big one couldn't occur at any moment. Redoubt could follow this pattern for months, or go silent again this week. Vulcanology isn't an exact science, prediction wise. Probability is that Redoubt will continue to erupt, just as it did the last time and the time before that, for several months.

The AVO is planning an overflight this afternoon, and in fact should be airborne now. How close they can get depends on a lot of things - as you might imagine. The weather over the mountain isn't the best, and visibility sucks even without a major eruption going on, so whether or not we get some clear pictures is anybody's guess at this point.

Definately an odd tint in the sky today, color wise.
_______________________________________

If I sound a bit cavalier about this whole volcano thing, it's because I am.

I can afford to be.

See, the USGS and Alaska Volcano Observatory have been monitoring Mount Redoubt and the other active volcanoes here in The Great Land for many, many years. When Redoubt began to rumble, they were all over it.

The geologists, geophysicists, and the scientists of the USGS looked at the twitches on their graphs and listened to the telemetry from the remote sensors and did what they do. They began predicting this eruption months ago.

The AVO has been in the papers, on TV, on the local radio, and on the web for months, providing updates, advice, and recomendation for preparedness. As a result our government, infrastructure, emergency services, State National Guard, and many citizens are prepared. The schools and airports and towns all have emergency plans, the airports put theirs into effect this morning. We've got filter masks and generators. We've got goggles and spare air filters for the cars. We've got shovels, and radios, and batteries. We've got food and fuels and more than anything we know not to panic.

But think about it for a minute. It's Alaska, we're remote and far from help. Should the power plants go down - and this is the single largest threat we face, both because turbines don't take kindly to particulate ingestion and because wet ash falling on power lines causes catastrophic short cicuits - we could easily end up with 200,000 people in the dark without heat, power, or communications, in the middle of winter.

It won't happen, we were warned and as a result we're preparred. But it is that very warning system idiots like Bobby Jindal want to take away, apparently on the theory that it's better to get hit without preparation - see how well that worked in New Orleans, in Bobby's home state? Yeah, the mind boggles.
_____________________________
3/23/09 1600

The eruption has tapered off for the moment. No new ash emissions in the last several hours. No ash fall here, the winds are carrying it north of us, what little there is.

AVO has an overflight in progress at the moment, should be some updated pictures later this evening.

The phone call flood and email deluge continue however.

We're fine, really.
___________________________________
3/23/09 2000

Just had another big explosion. Still waiting on the details
____________________________________
3/24/09 0700

All quiet. No new eruptions since last night. No ash fall here.

Some cool pictures from yesterday's flyover can be found here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Back To The House That Love Built

Yes, I did watch Desperado last night.

In hi-def, with the surround sound turned up.

No, smartass, not just because the movie has Selma Hayek in it.


Every time I watch this flick I can't help but be astounded at how utterly brilliant the soundtrack is.

Here's Tito & Tarantula doing Back to the house that love built:



If you've watched the movie (and really, how could you not have?) you know that Tito Larriva played Tavo, Cheech Marin's partner in crime - and like Marin, meets a violent end at the hands and guns of El Mariachi.

I'm not a big Robert Rodriguez fan, but I love this bloody and violent movie.

And yeah, OK, maybe just a little of that is because of Selma Hayek.
____________________________________________________
And yes, Eric, Tito & Tarantula is the band in From Dusk Till Dawn, who perform while Selma Hayek strips - then they all turn to vampires and eat the patrons.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Day of Silence

There will be no posts on Stonekettle Station today.

image

This site is a founding member of the UCF.

The UCF is a small, tightly knit circle of amazingly brilliant people from many walks of life, scattered across the globe and bound together through the technology of the Internet. We share a passion for truth, science, politics, critical thought, fine food, laughter, strange gifts, and above all, friendship.

Yesterday, one of our members suffered a most profound and terrible personal tragedy.

Out of respect for her loss, the UCF member blogs, including Stonekettle Station, will be offline today, Friday, March 20, 2009.

Our thoughts and hearts are with our friend today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The biggest difference between Bush and Obama…

"I know Washington's all in a tizzy and everybody's pointing fingers at each other and saying it's their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault.”

“Listen, I will take responsibility. I'm the president."

"We didn't draft these contracts. We've got a lot on our plate. But it is appropriate when you're in charge to make sure stuff doesn't happen like this. So for everybody in Washington who's busy scrambling to try to figure out how to blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me, because it's my job to fix these messes even if I don't make them."

That’s what President Obama said regarding outrage that his bailout plan contained loopholes allowing tottering financial giant AIG to pay $165 million dollars of taxpayer money as bonuses to its employees.

Congress drafted that bill.  A whole bunch of supposedly smart people looked at that bill and helped develop the plan.  Those loopholes should have been found and fixed.

Regardless, the president signed it.

It was wrong.

It shouldn’t have happened.

The President made a mistake.

 

Now, lets compare:

_______________________________

The demonstrated George W. Bush response to error:

The Intel was bad.

Clinton.

Tax Rebates for everybody!

________________________________

The Obama response to error:

I made a mistake.

It’s my responsibility.

It’s my job to fix it.

And I will.

Now, stop trying to fix blame, quit acting like children, and lets get back to work.

_________________________________

 

You know what? This is what real leadership looks like.

We, my friends, are going to be OK.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About Cats

Wright’s Law of Cats: the perversity of cats tends towards the maximum – plus ten percent.

___________________________________________________________________________

Cats are irritating little bastards, aren’t they?

Take the chair routine.

Get up from your desk, go get a cup of coffee, and inevitably you come back to find Mr. Whiskers in your chair, curled up and pretending to be asleep. You dump him out, take the chair back - and the cat then climbs into your lap and parks on top of your bladder like a hairy codpiece. Try to move him, and he imitates a boneless chicken. It’s like trying to push a jellyfish with velcro on the bottom of it. Now after a while, you’ve got to get up (you’re drinking coffee remember, there’s a ten pound cat sitting on your bladder – try to keep up). So what do you do? You carefully pick the cat up, stand up, and place the cat on the chair. What’s the cat do? Yeah, gets down immediately and struts away. Fuck you, Pink Monkey, I’m not staying in the chair if you want me to stay in the chair, I only want to be in the chair if you don’t want me to be in the chair.

Perversity, see what I mean?

Then there’s the whole dive bombing your ankle.

You’d think that after the umpity dozenth (screw you, it’s a word, look it up) time of having a paw or tail stepped on, a cat would realize that walking under my feet is not a good idea. But no, at least once a day ShopKat decides the best place in the whole freakin’ woodshop to be is directly under my feet. Stomp. Squawk! And then I have to endure an hour of the “You HURT me, Pink Monkey, scowl.” Don’t think cats can glare? You don’t live with cats.

Then there’s the whole food thing.

The Comedian Leo Gallagher (The Sledge-O-Matic guy from the 80’s) used do this riff about cats: They can’t read but they can compare. They can look in the pantry and see what kind of cat food you got too many cans of – then they don’t want that kind any more.

Seriously, what kind of picky eater licks his ass? They ought to make ass-flavored cat food.

Cats will sit beneath your chair and mew piteously. Pet me! Pet me! I’m so lonely! My head is so itchy! How come you ignore me, Pink Monkey? So you reach for them – and they run away! Five minutes later, they’re back. Pet me!

A cat plays with its toys all at once. Bring home a new catnip ball, the cat will play with that bastard furiously for 30 minutes. Then the cat will leave it laying in the middle of the floor and never touch it again. There, got that done. Unless you pick it up and put it near the cat bed. The cat comes along and does a double take. What the fuck? How’d this damned ball get over here? Thirty minutes of furious batting later, and the ball is back in the middle of the floor – right in front of the last stair step. Just out of sight if you’re coming down the stairs with your hands full… Move my shit around, will you, Pink Monkey? I’ll kill you.

How about cat butt? In the face? Hey, Pink Monkey, check out my butt! In your face! Dig it, I just finished up in the litterbox. Check it out, my man! Then they do the cat butt dance and give you a little tail swish as a flourish.

If you don’t hack off their balls or their toes, how do they show their gratitude? Yeah, by either spraying your couch, or shredding it. What the hell is it with cats and couches anyway? It there some genetic feline memory, some ancient racial trauma of Paleolithic cats being hunted on the plains of Africa by giant prehistoric sofas? For God’s sake, Run, Fluffy! It’s a marauding naugahyde Barcolounger! Oh no! It got Snowbell!

Hairballs? No seriously, hairballs? Dude, you’d think that after swallowing gobs of hair, then choking a big nasty wad of it back up – you’d get a clue. Hair, bad, don’t swallow it. I mean, it can’t taste good (of course, there’s that whole ass licking thing again), ever come across your cat sitting by the window, trying to be cool and shit – with its mouth hanging open? The White One does this, and it freaks me out. The Grey One sometimes will sit with his tongue hanging out like he just completely forgot he was licking his balls in mid-stroke. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’m not likely to forget.

How come a cat can remember to use the litterbox ten times in a row? Then one day hide a load behind the couch? Or leave a puddle in the clean laundry basket? Little surprise for you there, Pink Monkey. Have fun with that. If you need me I’ll be over here wiping my ass on your couch.

Don’t worry I’ll be by later so you can check out my fuzzy ass.

Cats. Yeah.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There’s a Reason Why Cheney’s First Name is Dick

You know, Dick Cheney is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Kind of like syphilis.

Two months ago, the former VP (and you have no idea how it gladdens my heart to type former VP) gave a bizarre and belligerent interview with Politico. He railed against the new administration, declaring that, then, newly elected President Obama was putting the nation at grave risk of “a devastating attack” because his administration was “more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.”

And he, predictably, defended the Bush administration’s implementation of the Guantanamo Bay Prison system, the practice of extra-ordinary rendition, and “coercive” interrogation methods.

This week, like syphilis, Cheney is back.

In a live interview with CNN’s John King on Sunday, Cheney was again beating the same drum. He accused the current administration of making the nation less safe and expounded on how closing the secret prisons, outlawing rendition and torture, and complying with the Constitutional ideals of habeas corpus and our international agreements (such as the Geneva Convention and International Human Rights) will lead us to a horrifying terrorist spawned Armageddon.

Personally, my favorite part of the interview occurs early on, when King asked Cheney if there was any truth to the statement Obama inherited a disaster from Bush. Cheney responded with:

“…there's no question that what the economic circumstances that he [Obama] inherited are difficult ones. You know, we said that before we left. I don't think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of those circumstances. It's a global financial problem. We had, in fact, tried to deal with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac problem some years before with major reforms and were blocked by Democrats on the Hill, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration, that's interesting rhetoric but I don't think anybody really cares a lot about that. What they care is what is going to work and how we are going to get out of these difficulties.”

So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration…I don’t think anybody really cares about that – well, yeah, Dick, sure. Unless, of course, you’re a republican and you’ve spent eight goddamned years listening to Bush and his fanatical cronies blame Clinton for every last thing from the pimples on George’s ass to 9/11 to Iraq.

Now, I’d be just as happy to allow Dick Cheney to disappear quietly into the dusty pages of history, fading slowly away until there’s nothing left but yellowed bones surrounding a rusty clockwork heart. But the bastard just won’t die, he just doesn’t have the grace to shut up and fade away – hell, he’s writing a book, which ought to be a big seller at KKK jamborees and anti-abortion rallies. Hopefully it’ll be a pop-up with lots of pictures so the intended audience can understand it*.

I’ve written extensively about information warfare, intelligence, and why things like habeas corpus are so important. I’ve written extensively about torture and why Americans should never, ever, tolerate it or tolerate leaders who tell us that torture is a necessary evil.

And evil is the correct word here. Torture is evil. Our founders knew it, the greatest and most admired American leaders, both civilian and military knew it, and I know it – and I suspect you do as well.

And Cheney, well, he knows it too.

He knows that what he and the Bush Administration did was wrong, and evil, and shameful, and illegal, and against everything this country stands for.

He knows. Yes, he does.

Yes, I’m reading his mind, such as it is. It’s not hard - it’s what I was trained to do. And you can too, it’s right there in front of you.

Cheney uses words like “Extraordinary Rendition” instead of “extradition” or “transfer of custody” or “foreign interrogation.” The use of “rendition” hides what is really going on – the transfer of prisoners to countries like Egypt and Bulgaria so that they can be tortured to death without remorse, without the pesky press, without regards for the law or human rights or even the same basic humanity we show to Charlie Manson. The use of Extraordinary Rendition is exactly the same as using words like “Separate But Equal” to hide bigotry, racism, lynchings, denial of basic civil rights, and decades of hatred and horror. In the interviews Cheney uses words like “Detainee” instead of “Prisoner,” “Coercive Methods” instead of “Torture” or “Waterboarding” or “Beating the information out of the bastards.” But when they wrote the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act, they couldn’t use euphemisms, they had to spell it out – that’s why they made those sections classified, not to hide them from the enemy but to hide them from us. That’s why those interrogation tapes were destroyed by the CIA, and that’s why the White House email backups were “accidently” erased. And that’s why the shredders have been running overtime for the last two months. When you strip away the euphemisms you are faced with the brutal truth. Torture. That’s what we’re talking about here. Torture.

And Cheney knows it. You can see it in his choice of words, you can see it in the way he avoids answering questions directly, and you can see it in his continued attempts to justify these things by throwing up armies of terrorist strawmen.

And that’s exactly what they are, strawmen.

And the most common strawman is the terrorist weapon of mass destruction. Conservatives pull this raggedy-assed scarecrow out at every opportunity. You’ve heard it:

“We have to keep all means on the table, including torture. We have to. Because the terrorists hate us and they’ll do anything, anything, to destroy us.”

And then they drop the trump card, the one nobody wants to argue with:

“What if the terrorists had your family? What if they had an atom bomb hidden in a city with you family strapped to it and you caught one of those bastards and there was only an hour left and there was no time to evacuate and millions were gonna die? Including your family! Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? Huh?” Then usually at this point they go on to describe exactly how they would save the day by beating the bomb location out of the sorry bastard terrorist just in time to defuse the nuke and kill Osama Bin Ladin himself in a flurry of mano a mano fisticuffs.

I’ve heard this same scenario I don’t know how many times. I’ve heard it from Hollywood, I heard it from Palin supporters, I’ve heard it from Rush, I’ve heard it from Anne, I’ve heard it from Dick and George, and I’m hearing it on the republican side of the aisle right now.

We need to keep torture on the table. Just in case.

Let me ask you conservatives something, how many times - outside of a Bruce Willis special effects laden summer blockbuster - as this ever happened? Ever? I hunted terrorists, I fought in combat, I worked in intelligence for twenty damned years, I’ve been in interrogations. I’ve studied history, of this war, and the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that – including the classified portions. I’ve seen the reports submitted by FBI field agents to Washington warning of possible airplane hijackings and reporting some of the 911 hijackers by name – those reports were obtained by good, constitutional intelligence work, and they were ignored. I’ve seen a lot of things during my time in government service, but I’ve never seen this strawman happen. Ever. I’ve never seen it. But, hey, I don’t pretend to know everything, so, let me ask again, how many times has this happened?

What was that? I couldn’t hear your answer.

Yeah, never.

Ahh, says the Conservatives, but it could, it could!

It sounds silly, doesn’t it? Reality isn’t like a summer action thriller. Real life isn’t a Tom Clancy movie. But that’s exactly what this entire house of cards is built on – this single strawman. And for this we’ve given up our rights. For this we’ve given into fear. For this we’ve become a nation of torturers.

That’s changed now, President Obama has taken those things off the table in an attempt to return the United States to a land of honor and law. And Cheney calls him a fool, he doesn’t use euphemisms there, does he? That is precisely the gist of Cheney’s message and it comes through loud and clear – those of us who believe in the founding principles of the United States are fools. The Founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Adams, and the rest, those who framed the Virginia Plan, and those who came to the Constitutional Convention, and those who fought and died and bled to forge this nation, those people, those people were fools.

I don’t buy this crap for a minute. Oh, not that terrorists couldn’t obtain a nuclear device, smuggle it into the US, and detonate it in one of our cities. Anything is possible, given sufficient motivation, time, and resources. But if it happens - if, not when, if – it’s not going to be anything like a Bruce Willis movie.

But let’s just say that it was.

Let’s say that it was exactly like a Bruce Willis movie. Let’s say that Al Qaeda obtained an old Soviet era suitcase sized fission device from somewhere on the Russian/Afghan border – and despite being Soviet technology it actually still works. They smuggle it across the ocean and carry it in pieces across the porous US/Mexican boarder. It ends up in New York. Somehow, Bruce Willis crosses these terrifying men (actually I suppose I should have used Arnold as an example because I’m pretty sure I’m describing the plot of True Lies at this point), they kidnap his family and strap his daughter to the bomb.

Bruce catches one of the bad guys.

Now we’re screwed, right? Obama and those pansy-assed rights-loving liberals are in charge. Bruce has got to read Ahmed his rights. He can’t torture the defiant terrorist. They use harsh language, but Ahmed remains mum. Boom! Right? That’s precisely the scenario we’re talking about here, isn’t it? The founding fathers never foresaw that, did they?

Right.

And, yet utterly wrong.

Those men knew that they couldn’t foresee everything. They knew that they couldn’t make the Constitution too rigid, or the new United States would rapidly outgrow it. So they made it fairly general, except in the areas that they knew needed rigid and specific limits, habeas corpus and individual rights for example. But they weren’t stupid, they were in fact brilliant, and they could play the “what if? game too.

So, they built in safe guards.

You know what happens if the above scenario ever actually did come to pass? The colonel in charge, the detective, the chief of police, the CIA or FBI agent would beat the ever living hell out of that captive. He’d chop off fingers if that’s what it took. He’d zap that bastard with enough juice to jump start a fucking Sherman tank. He’d burn the bastard’s balls off with a zippo lighter. He’d cut that son of pig’s liver out with a spoon and eat it, if that’s what it took.

I would.

I would do whatever it took, including torture if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way. I would. Absolutely. And I’d do it, knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.

I would.

And I’d be wrong - even if I saved the day.

And I’d go to jail - even if I was a hero.

And that is precisely what should happen.

The morality of this situation is a choice for human beings, for men, for women, for individuals. The morality of nations is something else entirely.

And that, my friends, is exactly what a presidential pardon is for.

It’s not to pardon Scooty Libby, as Cheney seems to think. It’s not to pardon a former President who committed criminal abuses of his office, now or in the past. It’s not to clean the slates of corrupt politicians and hacks and flacks and flunkies and contributors and lobbyists.

The Presidential Pardon is a safeguard for exactly this kind of situation, built into the framework of our nation as a relief valve for exactly this type of situation.

The Founding Fathers were far smarter than Cheney or Bush or the pinheads pushing this strawman give them credit for. They knew that no free nation could ever embrace evil and remain free.

Too bad Cheney can’t see that.

Too bad we can't give him a big syringe full of Penicillin and make him go away.

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* For those of you with more than two brain cells, I’d recommend that if you’re going to read Cheney’s version of events, you also read Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, ISBN 978-0-385-52639-5. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don’t Complain To Me About How Bad Things Are, If…

… we’re standing in line at Wal-Mart and you’ve got a high-def LCD large screen TV in your cart, because it would be silly to spend your tax return on bills.

… you’re driving a brand new $50,000 Lincoln Navigator with gold trim and custom rims that gets 9 miles per gallon. And you buy a new one, every two years, because otherwise people you don’t actually know but you pass on the street might think you’re totally lame or something.

… you buy a $7.00 coffee at Starbucks, every day. Sometimes twice.

… you’ve got a shopping cart full of frozen pizzas, a dozen boxes of Pop Tarts, cases of soda, and a load of nutritionally-zero expensive name brand prepared foods, because you don’t like to cook.

… you’re surfing the internet on a $500 cell phone and a $110 per month service charge, because your twitter feeds are important, damn it.

… you’re spending $120 a piece for hockey tickets, because it’s hockey. The Wings are playing, Dude. Besides you all chipped in on the limo…

… you spent $500 this month on online poker, but hey, you’re gonna hit it big real soon now. Real soon.

… you just bought the latest $50 edition of Grand Theft Auto, and a new Xbox360 to play it on, because you just totally had to have it.

… you eat out more often than not, because, as you mentioned somewhere above, you don’t like to cook.

… you quit your job, because your boss was being like a total dick. Because really, screw him, you don’t need to put up with that kind of shit.

… you’re taking a two week vacation on a tropical island this year, because you’re just soooo sick of winter and you need to recharge those batteries.

… your 10-year old goes to school in a $120 pair of “pre-faded, pre-stressed” designer jeans with holes in the knees, because her self esteem depends on it.

… you’re getting a big bonus this year, and you expected it.

… you regularly send money to a TV evangelist, because God thinks it's more important to fight gay marriage in California than for your kids to have decent winter clothes.

… you just bought $2000 worth of guns and ammunition, before the liberals take them all away, because, Dude, liberals. Yikes.

And finally, don’t talk to me about the economy if…

… you have no idea why everything is going to shit, but you’re absolutely certain it must be the fault of [insert scapegoat of choice: Obama, The Jews, The Muslims, The Godless Atheists Who Are Ruining Our Schools, The Liberals, The Media, The Liberal Media, Illegal Aliens, The Poor, The Socialists, The Chinese, The Japanese, The British, The Cowardly French, The Goddamned Mexicans, Martians, NAFTA, Time Traveling Reptiles, Inter-dimensional seven foot tall intelligent Insects, or a secret cabal of Masons called the Illuminati] and you’re pretty sure Sarah Palin would have fixed everything by now if only Tina Fey and the Democrats hadn’t stolen the election*. Really, just shut the hell up. Thanks.

________________________________________________

* Note: Why yes, I did overhear two Valley dwelling, mouth breathing dipshits in the Wal-Mart bathroom this weekend, expounding loudly on how Sarah would have had the economy fixed by now if that goddamnitliberalobama hadn’t stolen, stolen damn it, the election. Stolen. Damn it.

You don’t think I could make this shit up, do you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Recipe – Oatmeal Pancakes

A while back my wife was making something that required oatmeal.

We didn’t have any.

I went out to get some at the local 3 Bears (kind’ve the Alaskan version of Sam’s Wholesale or Costco, only much better). I came home with a bargain, about ten pounds of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats.

What?

I got a really good deal.

My wife needed about 1 cup.

By my calculations, at the rate we’ve been going through that giant box of oats, we should have enough to last pretty much for the rest of our lives, even if the Zombie Apocalypse requires us to live in the shelter eating nothing but oatmeal for a year.

And then they can bury me in the box.

I froze half of it, but I’ve been trying to find ways to use up the remainder.

Now, I’m not really a big fan of oatmeal for breakfast, I’ll eat it, but I prefer grits. And nobody else in the house is a big fan either. But, you know, there’s more than one way to make oatmeal for breakfast.

These, for example, which beats a bowl of mush hands down:

image

Here’s what you need:

2 cups Old Fashioned Quaker Oats
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tbs honey
2 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 apples, chopped medium
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

The night before:

- mix the oats and buttermilk together, cover and leave in the fridge overnight. The oats will thicken into a pretty solid mess, like oatmeal left in the bowl on a counter overnight. This is exactly what you want. If you don’t have time to leave them overnight, mix them up and let them sit for at least 2 hours, 3 is better, overnight, though, is best. Really. Trust me.

The next morning:

- add the eggs and oil to the oats and buttermilk and mix well. I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

- add in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

- cook like regular pancakes on a lightly greased griddle or non-stick pan. 1/4 cup of batter per pancake is about right. I use a 1/4 cup disher and that works perfect, portion wise. Wait for the tops to bubble just slightly, then flip.

- serve with butter, a dollop raspberry jam, and a little syrup.

- makes about 12 pancakes.

They taste, and smell, like cinnamon apple oatmeal and have a much better texture and mouth feel than regular jiffy mix pancakes. With some turkey bacon, you’ve got a healthy breakfast that everybody will love.