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Friday, January 29, 2010

Latest From the Woodshop – Alaskan Birch Bowls

I probably won’t be around much this weekend.

I’ll be here.

I’m looking forward to the symposium, it’ll be nice to spend the weekend with fellow turners.

 

I’m bringing a couple of my bowls along. I thought you might like to see them.

 

This first piece is Alaskan white birch.  It’s from a large tree that was felled near my house here in the MatSu, by a road crew clearing the right of way for a new road.  The tree grew in the open on high ground, a place with plenty of sun, and as such there was almost none of the figure and dark heartwood grain common in the wood I usually work with. The blank was almost pure white.  Which is fine, if you like that kind of thing.

Me? I thought it was boring.

So I thought I experiment with a little color.

This piece was created using water-based aniline dye, it took several months to do. I’m fairly happy with how it came out. I like the combination of colors – strangely it looks almost exactly as I envisioned it when I started out, that almost never happens to me. It’s about 12” in diameter.

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This second piece is one of my signature designs.  The carved red salmon are my personal trademark. They accent a lot of my high end work. This is a piece of spalted Alaskan birch burl. The fish are each hand carved from more burl. The idea here is based on the annual salmon spawning migration. This is a fairly large piece, about 14” at the rim.

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076 069

 

You may see some updates this weekend.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Union

Got half a dozen emails this morning asking for my opinion on Obama’s State of the Union Address.

I missed it.

Or rather I missed it live, though I did watch excerpts of it later on the net and I read the transcripts.

It irritates the piss out of me that I missed it. 

I was at a middle school honors band concert.  I don’t mind  going to school band concerts – I usually enjoy them a great deal, and last night’s was especially good – but I do mind that educators (of all people) would schedule a kids’ band concert in the middle of the President’s address to the nation. And I especially mind that it was during what is arguably one of the most important State of the Union addresses in a long time.  One of the down sides of living just outside of Palinville in the reddest part of the reddest red state is that it never occurred to the local school district or the band teachers or the majority of parents that an Alaskan living in the Valley should be even remotely interested in watching “that liberal fascist traitor” speak to the nation. 

Sigh. 

You can damned well bet if it was Palin up there giving a speech the whole state would have ground to a halt, hanging on her every word, cheering and crying red white and blue tears of joy.  Hell, maybe they should have broadcast the SOTU address in the Lost timeslot after all  - since nobody would schedule a band concert on that night either.

Yes, I am more than a little irked. Can you tell? 

Me? I would have assigned the kids to watch the President’s speech and write a report as homework - no matter who the president is – because I think we should be teaching our kids to be informed citizens.  But hey, you know, that’s just me.  It’s probably better that the Palin Teabaggers and the other hysterical dipshits get their view of the President’s position through the filter of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and FoxNews, rather, than, you know, listening to the President’s actual words and discussing it in class.  Conservatives piss and moan and wave their hands about “political correctness” right up until it’s a topic they don’t want to talk about – then they piss and moan and wave their hands about how the fascists are trying to put ideas in their kid’s heads.  Think I’m exaggerating?  This is the same batch of jackasses who raised pluperfect hell over the president’s address to America’s schoolchildren last year, afraid that when Obama exhorted kids to stay in school and study hard he was really subliminally infecting them with the disease of politically correct atheist social fascism and the kids would all end up gay liberal pussies or red commies as a result.  Kids actually had to have permission slips to watch the President of the United States speak on TV during school hours.  This is the same batch of retards who bemoan “political correctness” because they aren’t allowed to refer to black people as property in public anymore – but are deathly afraid that the African America liberal president is going to say something that offends them.

Yes, that noise you hear is me banging my head on the desk.

 

Moving on. Woozily and with a ringing headache, but moving on. 

 

So, the State of the Union Address, let’s see if I can sum things up:

 

The President: Things are bad, but they’re getting better. 

The Democratic Response: Things are bad, you promised us bunnies that fly and fart sunshine and rainbows and you haven’t delivered and we’re so disillusioned, we knew we should have voted for Hillary! 

The Republican Response: Things are bad and getting worse, and Oh God! Oh God! We’re all gonna die!  Terrorists!

The Independent Response: Things are bad, but they can be better – if the price is right! Please contact Joe Leiberman, bring your checkbook and knee pads and remember Joe reserves the right to go back on his word at anytime.  Checks are not refundable.

 

The President: We inherited a mess from the last administration, it takes time to fix it.

The Democratic Response:  Stop blaming George W. Bush, it’s Joe Lieberman’s fault, plus you promised us rainbow farting flying bunnies and you haven’t delivered!

The Republican Response:  Stop blaming George W. Bush – everybody knows it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault!

The Independent Response: For the right prices, I’ll make it whoever’s fault you want.

The Teabaggers: Palin! Palin! USA! USA!

 

The President: We’ve got a lot of problems and we need to work together to fix them.

The Democratic Response:  Work together? How can we possibly work together when we no longer have a supermajority, oh woe, woe, is us. If you’re not going to give us the bunnies, we’ll just go eat our young.  Again. 

The Republican Response:  Sure we’ll work together, just not with you, or liberals, or democrats, or progressives, or moderate conservatives, or party traitors, or Blue Dog democrats, or yellow dog liberals, or cat owners, or hairy legged women, or gays, or any of them queers, or abortionists, scientists, environmentalists, the Fed, the Poor, France, people who don’t love Jesusastheirpersonalloadandsaviorforeverandeveramen, elites, smart guys, illegal aliens, or Joe fucking Lieberman. Kiss our asses, just wait ‘till 2012!

The Teabaggers: Palin! Palin! Palin! USA! USA!

Palin: Well clearly what the President, and what I mean is that he doesn’t understand, I’m saying, what the problem is, is well, besides just regular people being hoodwinked by the liberal media elites is that…well, that’s to say common sense solutions!

 

The President: No more spending.

The Democratic Response: Right! Well, except for environmental issues that create jobs in blue states…

The Republican Response: Right! Well, except for military hardware and weapons systems that create jobs in red states…

The Independent Response: Right! Well, except for on me! Me! Me!

The Teabaggers: Palin! Palin! Palin! Palin! USA! USA!

Palin: The brave George Jefferson, who was a patriotic foundling father of our Great Nation, had common sense…

 

The President: Jobs are good, we should get us some of that.

The Democratic Response: Only if they’re union jobs. With bunnies!

The Republican Response: Wait, that’s our idea!

The Independent Response: I’ve got a job! I don’t see what the problem is.

The Teabaggers: Palin! Palin! Palin! Palin! USA! USA! Palin would have given us jobs already! Common Sense!

Palin: Buy my book! Mama needs a couple more million so I can be just like all of you brave common sense patriots whom I sympathize with so much in this time of crisis that our great nation is going through because McCain’s people wouldn’t let me tell you the common sense I’ve just got bottled up inside me waiting to get out so we can all work towards world peace.

 

The President: I don’t think corporations and Saudi Arabia should be able to legally buy themselves a Congressman.

The Democratic Response: Bunnies, we want bunnies!

The Republican Response: Whoa! He’s talking about a significant fraction of our income!

The Independent Response: Already there!

Justice Alito: Wait. What did that motherfucker just say?

Senator Leahy: Ha ha, Owned! SCOTUS Bitches!

The Teabaggers: Palin! Palin! Palin! Palin! USA! USA!

Palin: I can see Saudi Arabia from my house…

 

I think that about does it.

See you next year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Important Question

Macaroni and Cheese:

The kind that it takes four hours to make? Six different kinds of expensive cheeses with unpronounceable French names? A touch of wine, white pepper, real butter, flour, and whole cream. A bain marie for the cheese sauce, a large pot for the fresh made pasta, three metal spoons and one large wooden one. A spatula. A colander. And a casserole dish for the finished product which is baked in the oven under a crust of seasoned breadcrumbs. Finished dish is creamy white and a meal that serves ten close friends.

Or the electric yellow stuff that comes from a box, made by Kraft as God intended?

Think carefully, it's important.

The correct answer may grant you entry to the shelter when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, the wrong answer may result in your gruesome untimely demise and reanimation as the shambling undead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Movie Review: Pandorum

I kept seeing ads for a movie called Pandorum.

Science fiction. Dennis Quaid. Ancient starship. Creepy alien monsters. Things gone horribly wrong.

Sounded like something right up my alley.

Except, well, it wasn't in the theater, it was on DVD.

A production big enough to have an A-list star like Quaid and it went straight to DVD? You could almost smell the suck.

But I kept seeing the commercials. And they looked interesting.

So I picked up a copy.

It's a strange movie. More than anything, it reminds me of something Fritz Lieber would have written, a cross between Ship of Shadows and 28 Days Later maybe.

The premise is simple, a man awakens violently from suspended animation. He doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know when he is. He doesn't know who he is. You assume he is on a spaceship of some kind, so does he. On his arm is a tattoo telling him that he is part of Flight Crew 5. The locker next to his suspended animation pod is labeled "Corporal Bower." Bower is also the name stenciled on the front of his suspended animation capsule. The clothes fit, he assumes he's the good corporal.

Nothing works. He's locked in the room in which he awoke. The lights are barely functioning, computers and communications are not. Things have apparently gone horribly wrong while he has been asleep.

There are two other suspension capsules, one empty, one is occupied. The name on the occupied capsule's face is Lt. Payton. Bower wakes him.

Payton is suffering the same symptoms of memory loss as Bower, apparently a side effect of long term suspended animation. The memory loss is not complete however, they both retain specialized skills, indicating that memory loss and disorientation were expected and that certain steps must have been taken to ensure retention of vital and necessary skills - those skills being more muscle memory and less conscious knowledge. They know how do certain things, but not how they know. Payton knows how to activate the computer/comms console via a backup system (unfortunately it's not connected to anything else and contains no information to clarify their predicament. They both know that one of the compartment's hatches leads to the bridge (where, presumably, the answers to all of their questions lie) but it - indeed all of the exits - are firmly locked.

Payton sends Bower out through an air duct while he guides the young man via radio from the comms console.

Bower escapes the locked compartment and finds himself in the ship proper. It's a huge maze of corridors and passageways. Rusting, ancient, damaged, derelict, abandoned. He finds a dead man, a member of Flight Crew 4.

Bower and Payton begin to remember, apparently the memory loss isn't permanent. The ship is the Elysium. They left Earth with 60,000 people in suspended animation, bound for the only earth-like world ever discovered, Tanis, in order to establish a colony. The voyage should have lasted a hundred and twenty years or so. They both suspect that it has been much, much longer than that.

Payton tells Bower of a condition called Pandorum, a form of psychosis including homicidal madness, delusion, and paranoia. Payton recounts a horrifying story from the early years of space travel and the first cases of the disease.

Then Bower encounters a live human being. A very, very unfriendly live human being.

Then the monsters arrive.

Full details can be found here. Be warned, there are spoilers; the entire plot is explained in detail. Including the twist at the end.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It was strange and creepy and dark and alien. The director didn't hold your hand, things were explained but you really needed to pay attention. It got poor reviews, and spent less than a week on screen in the US. However, the majority of non-professional reviews on Amazon and IMDB seemed to be generally enthusiastic. This was supposed to have been the first of several films, but sequels are pretty unlikely given the movie's poor showing.

This flick isn't for everyone. This is no Avatar or Star Wars and the happy ending becomes less and less happy the more you think about it - which, I suspect was the director's intention. There are some nightmare scenes, and when you finally discover what really happened to the ship and crew and the passengers - well, let's just say it is a damned ugly foray into the depths of human evil.

As I said above, a very Fritz Leiber story.

Which is probably why I like it.

In The Black

If you're a Firefly or Serenity fan, you'll enjoy this video, set to Alaskan folk singer Marian Call's song In The Black.

And even if you're not a Firefly fan, Marian's voice is well, well worth listening to. She is amazing.



You can learn more about Marian Call here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Latest From the Shop – Salvaged Cedar Birdhouse

I went out to the shop.

I intended to do some carving.

Unfortunately, the stool in front of my carving station was occupado.

Cedar Birdhouse 003

No matter how I prodded her, Shopkat feigned sleep and simply curled up tighter. I know she was faking it, the little stinker, I could see her watching me through slit eyelids.

Fine.

So I spent some time on the lathes instead. I finished up a couple of rough turned bowls that have been drying in the shop for five or six months now. They’ll be ready for carving tomorrow, cat or no cat.

Then I decided to see what I could do with some of the wood Karl brought me.

Several months ago he passed through Stonekettle Station on his way to pick up a sheep (yeah, I know. I did it on purpose) and he dropped off a bunch of maple flooring salvaged from a school gym up in Fairbanks. He also left me two large beams of cedar. I haven’t done much with the maple yet, but I will. It’s beautiful stuff, probably 50 years old or so, and they really don’t make gym floor out that stuff any more because that kind of wood just doesn’t grow in that kind of quality or quantity anymore.

Update: Karl tells me via email that those cedar beams came from the bathroom in his building at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Karl salvaged them after they were thrown out during a renovation a couple years back. Figure they are from around 1963 or so.

I kept looking at those cedar beams though, and decided to see if I could turn a birdhouse from it.

Turns out I could.

Cedar Birdhouse 004

And a darn nice one too.

The body of the house is the wood in question, still strongly fragrant and smelling of red cedar and not gym sock sweat industrial bathroom deodorizer even after all these years. The top and bottom are Alaskan Birch. There’s an inlay of black ebony around the top – just for the hell of it.

Yep, a good night in the shop.

Uneasy Rider

This song cracks me up. I always thought it would have made a great music video:



I'm not exactly a big Charlie Daniels fan, but the guy can sure play a fiddle.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Latest From the Woodshop – Little Big Project

Thought you might dig this:

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A friend of mine has a dollhouse.

One of those expensive museum quality handmade dollhouses that is more work of art than toy.  She gets great enjoyment from furnishing it.

I thought she should have an official Stonekettle Station hand turned bowl for it. It was her Christmas present this year.

This bowl was turned on my big lathe, the same as any of my other pieces (only with a lot more squinting). It’s made from Osage Orange and finished in Tung Oil and Bee’s Wax.

One Of Those Days

The drive in my Tablet has failed.

This vexes me.

The tablet is my primary writing machine in the evenings. Without it I am seriously hamstrung – I am also likely to be even more grumpy and irritable than usual.

I’ll be looking for a new drive tomorrow.  But living where I do, it’s quite possible that I’ll have to order one via Amazon.  I will probably upgrade to Windows 7 at the same time, given that I’ll have to do a complete rebuild on the machine anyway.  Since it’s a pen enabled tablet, I expect the process to be your typical Microsoft driven learning experience*.

Expect posting to be light until the machine is back online.

Thank you for your understanding.

 


* You may read that as kicking, screaming, profuse cursing, and the throwing of small mammals.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Myth of Common Sense

They don't like the common sense conservative solutions that I think I represent and I articulate as I explain what I believe are some solutions to the great challenges facing America. They don't like to hear it. We want these common sense solutions with health care, with jobs, with the economy, with the war on terror to be implemented so we can get back on the right track.

- Sarah Palin, on the O’Reilly Factor

I believe I may have discovered a new logical fallacy: The fallacy of “Common Sense” or perhaps The Appeal To Common Sense.

Bear with me.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Obama Administration.

For the most part I’m reasonably happy with this president.

At this point, I’d vote for him again.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – there are a number of things I think he has yet to make good on. Gitmo, for example. But overall I think he’s doing a hell of a job, especially considering the giant steaming crapfest he inherited, and more especially considering that the “loyal” opposition has done its best to slice off its own nose at every single turn solely out of some kind of insane spite filled ideology, and most especially considering that his own party has spent the last five years demonstrating over and over again that they are their own worst enemy and that they seem to delight in pissing away their once every other decade opportunity like a bunch of squabbling halfwit siblings fighting over an inheritance.

I think the majority of Americans are better off today than they were a year ago.  I know I am.  I think America is.  We have a president who is revered the world over, instead of reviled.  The end of the Iraq conflict, at least for us, is in sight and we have a sound plan for Afghanistan.  We have returned to a nation of law, we don’t torture people, we don’t disappear them either. 

And, most of all, the economy is recovering, not fast but it is recovering.  Things are getting better.

For a lot of folks though it is not recovering  nearly fast enough. 

And I think that this more than anything is Barack Obama’s biggest foe. Time. And the Economy. And especially those who would seek to exploit it for their own ideological gains.

See, when it comes to the economy Americans don’t seem to understand that there’s a tremendous amount of inertia in an economic system as big as ours.  It’s a juggernaut whose wake affects all around it and is, in turn, is affected by all that surrounds it.  And the bigger the economy, and the faster that it is moving, the greater the inertia.  When the economy began to founder two years ago, I likened it to the RMS Titanic – and I think that analogy is still apt.  The ship was plowing towards the icebergs at flank speed and it was far too massive to alter course easily, or at all, even when it began to grind along the ice.  Wall Street embarked on that fatal course over a decade ago, building up steam and plowing headlong into a known ice field heedless of the danger.  It takes time and energy and will to change that course, to overcome inertia.  It takes a keen weather eye to see that the ship is standing into danger and it takes a belief that the course can be changed and that it should be changed.   Those of us who have piloted ships across the ocean know this.  And while some sailors are superstitious, most are pragmatic.  The ones that survive are not those who chase the mystical St. Elmo’s Fire, but the ones who understand that the best course of action is always to keep a keen watch ahead, avoid the known dangers, employ effective risk management, take action sooner rather than later, and above all stick to the rules and regulations that those of us who go down to the sea in ships have worked out over millennia of navigating the unforgiving water.  We’ve heard the bell toll, we remember the lessons of history – and we know what happens to those foolish enough to venture out upon the sea without an eye to the currents and the wind and the waves and that red glow on the horizon.

The economy of the United States is massive and dynamic and powerful and its course is the result of many, many diverse forces – many both divergent and convergent at the same time.  It is a phenomenally  complex system that only a few very experienced experts can visualize and no one can truly understand in en toto  - though many pretend to.  And like a ship at sea, the best course of action is to look ahead, beware the danger, take timely and effective action, and always heed the lessons of history in order to avoid disaster.

Should you ignore these things, the ship will founder. 

Always.

And if, when, disaster strikes, well, then you must begin damage control.  You bail and you pound oakum into the breaches and you shore up the failing frames and you weld up the sprung plates - and should you be skillful enough to save the vessel, then you damned well proceed with caution, humbled by the power of the sea, wiser perhaps, least you make the same mistakes again.

It is a foolish, and usually short lived, seaman who thinks that native wit and reckless abandon are effective substitutes for true knowledge, experience, certification, expertise, education, and hard won wisdom on the ocean.

And it is a foolish person indeed who thinks that the economy of the United States of America is any less complex, any more responsive, or is without massive inertia on a grand scale.   The trick is not to founder in the first place - through prudent and thoughtful and careful management.  Forget this at your peril. 

And every couple of decades, we do forget it – and then we have a long and painful and sustained effort to set things right again.

It is in crises that you find out what people are truly made of – whether that crucible is a disaster at sea, or one on Wall Street.

In any crisis, there are those who inspire, who exhort and encourage, who rally others to work together for the common good. There are those who extol the human spirit and believe in optimism and who give others hope – and know that more often than not, these traits have carried the day when things looked the most bleak.

Then there are those who panic and cry and scream and run about in random fear and who cling to anything and anyone they can reach and will not let go no matter what – even as they drown.

And always, always, there are those who cry “every man for himself!” and who try to force themselves into a lifeboat at the expense of others. There are always those who gleefully throw gasoline into the flames and bemoan their fate and they stand on the deck and spread rumors and conspiracies and scream “I told you so, I told you so!” all the while managing to do nothing but block the efforts of everyone else – even as others drown around them.

And this last year I’ve witnessed all three.

A rather large number of simpletons apparently expect Barack Obama to wave a magic wand and make everything all better, to magically wipe away decades of bad decisions and failed policy and mismanaged regulations and a culture of selfish self interest and greedy short term visions and bald faced avarice writ so large that it staggers the imagination - and when that doesn’t happen they seem to think it’s because the president won’t, rather than can’t – and they stand on the deck crying “I told you so, I told you so!” in anguished tones.

These self same idiots have spent the last year screaming in outrage.  They want the “government out of the way of business,” and yet in the same breath demand that the government do something, anything, to fix the economy now - right now, instantly, magically – without ever once realizing or acknowledging that unfettered business is what got them into this mess in the first place.

They believe in the myth of common sense.

And what they want is some of that common sense right now.

Common sense is exactly what the usual band of blowhards are demanding, they are standing on the deck crying and wringing their hands and gleefully spreading false information all in order to make things worse – so they can then say “see? I told you so, I told you so” – and no one is louder about it than the Queen of Teabaggers herself, Sarah Palin.

Instead of helping, she throws gasoline into the fire, she pours water into the hull instead of pumping it out and she delights in rabblerousing for her own personal gain. She speaks loudly and passionately – but says nothing.  Her answers, those common sense solutions, are meaningless sound bites – the kind of answers a beauty queen gives. She projects the appearance of leadership – and yet there is no depth, her leadership is only a shallow veneer over a hollow shell. Read a few of her recent interviews, it doesn’t matter which, pick any at random.  I guarantee you that within the first two paragraphs she will have trumpeted good old American “common sense” at least twice, and derided “the elites” at least once.

From last night’s interview with Greta Van Sustern:

I don't think it was a misstep on her part and one that you can pinpoint, but it was this overall message of arrogance this go-around wasn't going to win. Common sense victory is what was going to be seen coming from Scott Brown's candidacy, and that's what you saw. It was going to be independence and common sense. And I think it was quite evident there at the end of the day, when you look at the way that Scott ran his campaign, it was quite simple and it was shoe leather and it was that tough work ethic that a lot of Massachusetts residents are known for. That's what he employed, versus calling on the big guns from D.C. and bringing in the elite to do the speaking for him. It was sort of  American. He represented that.

From her interview with Bill O’Reilly on FoxNews in response to the question “Do you think you’re qualified to be president”:

I believe that I am because I have common sense. And I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership.

During her Glenn Beck interview on Fox last week she repeatedly appealed to common sense, and invoked the founding fathers as an example of such. Yet when asked which founding father was her “favorite” she couldn’t answer, when pressed she finally blurted out “George Washington.”  When Beck obsequiously compared her to Washington, she readily agreed with the comparison – demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge of the first president, a man almost entirely at odds with Palin’s own political ideology, religion, and background.  Of all the founding fathers, Washington is the one most likely to be condemned by Palin as an “elite.”  But in her mind Washington is some humble backwoods American farmer who skipped coins across the Potomac while reading the Christian bible, came from some podunk town, signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the British with nothing but his trusty slingshot and a winsome wooden smile, became president, and then retired to the role of grandfather of Democracy. In her mind Washington might be the epitome of common sense, but in reality he was just the first person she thought of.

This is typical of Palin and her ilk.  She speaks in shallow and meaningless sound bites, but there is nothing behind them, there is no common sense, or any other kind of sense for that matter.  Palin is a phony. She appeals to America’s Founding Fathers, but she has absolutely no idea who they were, what they stood for, or what they believed in.  She’s never actually read a damned thing that they wrote, she’s never read the Federalist Papers, she has nothing more than a grade school understanding of their struggle and beliefs and actions – and even that shallow understanding is clouded with common American myths and warped by her own preconceptions.

She parrots the words “common sense, common sense,” one wonders then why she named Washington instead of Thomas Payne.  She didn’t, of course, because she doesn’t actually know who any of the founding fathers were (and obviously neither does Glenn Beck nor do the morons who fill the ranks of the Tea Party movement. Q.E.D.)

Palin and her supporters and the groups like the Tea Party grass roots organization repeat the mantra of “common sense” over and over like some kind of magical talisman.  Google “Palin Common Sense” and see what you get.  I like this one best.

But what does “common sense” really mean?

What is common sense?  What is “Good old American common sense?” What is a “common sense conservative?” What exactly are Palin’s “Common sense solutions?” 

What is “common sense?”

Really, define it, out loud right now. 

Go on.

Did you have to stop and think about it?  Were you able to articulate an answer without hemming and hawing and starting over?  Did you Google it? What does “common sense” mean?  Everybody is supposed to know, so nobody defines it in this context, and yet…

In the article I linked to above, the author states that “common sense says you don’t destroy the system to fix it” in reference to healthcare reform. Really, is that what common sense says?  Because you know, we destroyed the ever living hell out Iraq’s government in order to fix it – that was a conservative solution, wasn’t it?  If you’ve got a rickety old termite eaten crack house of a building, do you pour money and effort into patching it up? Or do you raze it to the foundation and start over?  Isn’t that what both Palin and the author of the above article are demanding we do with the healthcare bill itself? Destroy it and start over? Common sense, I guess.

Last week, tongue firmly in cheek, I likened common sense to a magical superpower.  But truthfully, that’s exactly how Palin and other rightwing conservatives seem to regard it. They keep saying over and over what we need are common sense solutions. And they seem to feel that President Obama is lacking in “common sense” because he is an “elite” – and an Ivy League Elitist to boot.

Let me ask you something.

In all candor, who would you rather have take out your child’s burst appendix?  The elitist Harvard educated surgeon? Or some high school dropout who happens to be a crackerjack transmission mechanic and has lots of “common sense?” Seriously. If common sense imbues you with the ability to run the United States of America – as Palin says it does for her – surely then it will give you the ability to do something as simple and routine as taking out a ruptured organ.

Won’t it?

Who would you rather have at the controls of your airliner right after it sucked a bunch of geese into the engines and was falling towards the skyscrapers of New York in a cloud of smoking jet fuel and stalled turbines?  A formally trained, educated, and experienced elite pilot like Captain Sully Sullenberger? Or that kid out there in the Pacific Northwest who keeps stealing Cessna light planes and flying them into the ground with nothing more than a bit of native cunning? Go on, be honest – after all, anybody with good old American common sense can deadstick a jetliner into the Hudson.

Right?

What if you were accused of murder with the death penalty on the line?  Who do you think would be more likely to get you off? That Harvard educated lawyer? Or the guy who got his sheepskin from Bubba’s Bait, Tackle, and Discount Law Degrees?  Really? But why not not Bubba? He’s got loads of common sense. No, of course not, that would be silly – I mean when your life is on the line anyway.

Right?

But running the country – for that you’d prefer some bumfuck small town ex-beauty queen with a community college degree in journalism who quit her job when it got too tough over one of them elite Ivy League types. Right? Because hey, anybody with common sense is better suited to running the largest, most powerful, most complex economy, industry, and military in the world.

Right?

Right.

But it’s all a little vague, these common sense solutions.

Hell, even her fans, like the article I linked to above, can’t actually describe Palin’s common sense solutions in any detail whatsoever.  Barack Obama gave us a detailed plan for getting out of Afghanistan based on sound military doctrine and the advice of his on-scene commanders, Palin condemns that and calls for a common sense solution to the “war on terror.” She doesn’t actually articulate what that is though. Perhaps as President she’d do what her favorite founding father did and pay tribute to the terrorists – for eight years.  Obama and the Congress have spent a year working on healthcare legislation, I’m not sure they’ve got it right but it’s better than Palin’s don’t get sick common sense solution, Palin who gave us death panels and abstinence only birth control and who never has to worry about affordable healthcare ever again.  The president and some of the smartest and most savvy folks in the country have spent the last year working to fix the economy and now that it’s finally showing signs of turning around, Palin and the teabaggers call for free market solutions – the same free market apparently whose unfettered avarice and mismanagement caused the economy to implode in the first place  and who have obviously learned their lesson without government interference – so much so that they gave their CEO’s multimillion dollar bonuses again this year.

Yes, common sense.

Of course, I’m not the first to point out that Palin’s “common sense” solutions make little sense and aren’t, in fact, solutions at all. But what the Huffington Post and others seem to buy into is that while there may be nothing of substance to Palin’s particular brand of snake oil, common sense itself is a real and bonafide ability.

The truth of the matter is that common sense is nothing more than a myth. It’s a make believe unquantifiable quality, something that we all assume we know the meaning of – and yet when pressed we discover that the definition of common sense is neither common nor sensible and provides no answers at all.

This of course, doesn’t stop people from blindly believing anyway.

If they really had any common sense they wouldn’t be listening to Sarah Palin in the first place.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where Was Jim This Weekend? Road Trip!

OK, we didn’t actually go to Mordor.

We went to Chena Hot Springs, about 60 miles or so northeast of Fairbanks.

It was sort of a spur of the moment thing.

What? I hear you say in that tsk tsk tone you reserve for when I’ve done something stupid. You drove nine hours to see some hot water, then turned around and drove nine hours home? Across the arctic tundra? Through a snow storm? At thirty below?

Are you mad?

Could be, Doc, could be.

For about as long as I can remember, my wife has wanted to see the Ice Museum at Chena. Every year we talk about going up there…and never do. Saturday we were discussing what we were going to do this weekend. I and my son had Monday off, my wife didn’t – but she does have a bunch of vacation time saved up.

Take Monday off and let’s go do something, I suggested.

Ice Museum? She said.

Why the hell not, I replied.

We packed the truck with survival equipment, a couple changes of clothes, our cameras, food for a couple of days – and got up early Sunday morning and took off, by the time the sun was up we were a third of the way to Nenana.

Chena Hot Springs 028

Road conditions were about what you’d expect in northern Alaska this time of year:Chena Hot Springs 029

It took us about seven hours to reach Fairbanks – note: this was a spur of the moment road trip, which is why I didn’t get a chance to meet up with any of the Fairbanks contingent of the Stonekettle Station Loyal Readers Association. Apologies, next time for sure.

We fueled up and headed north out of Fairbanks for Chena. Total time inside the Fairbanks city limits? Ten minutes.

Along the way we stopped in at Skunk Place Kennels, home to famous Alaskan sled dog mushers Aliy Zirkle and Alan Moore – who are wonderful people and our friends.

Chena Hot Springs 062

And finally, a couple hours after dark we arrived at Chena.

We didn’t know if they’d have a room (that was part of the adventure, no reservations, ass backward into the unknown – yes, that’s exactly how we travel. You don’t plan road trips). Turns out they did have plenty of rooms – and at half price to boot, January being the seriously off season.

We had a terrific dinner in the main lodge and then put on our arctic gear and took a guided tour of the Ice Museum.

It’s pretty, uh, cool.

Chena Hot Springs 122

The entire place (except for the roof) is carved from giant blocks of ice. Walls, bar, sculptures, chandeliers, furniture, guest rooms, everything. It’s lit with embedded colored lights like some kind of frozen fairyland.

It’s beautiful and well worth the drive.

We had an appletini at the bar, made with Russian vodka that was just this side of liquid nitrogen temperatures and served in a martini glass carved from ice - we ran into the ice sculptor at breakfast the next morning and I learned that those glasses are not cast, but are turned on a lathe.

Chena Hot Springs 108

I also learned that appletini’s are not my drink. Gah.

The caribou fur over the icy bar stool was pretty nice though.

The ice sculptures are amazing. No, really amazing. Seriously.

These jousting knights and their chargers are life-sized, exquisitely detailed, and made without any structural support other than the ice itself. It is an astounding sculpture.

Chena Hot Springs 126

A number of the men admired the artistic merits of this piece:

Chena Hot Springs 081

There were lots of amazing things including these ice globes:

Chena Hot Springs 132 Chena Hot Springs 127 Chena Hot Springs 128

Chena Hot Springs 129 Chena Hot Springs 130 Chena Hot Springs 131

Did you catch up above where I used the phrase guest rooms? Yes, you can spend the night in the Ice Museum, they have a number of nice accommodations:

Chena Hot Springs 097

For about $600 you can bundle up in your complimentary parka and roll up in caribou fur on a big damned block of ice that purports to be a bed. Each room comes fully equipped with modern facilities…

Chena Hot Springs 092

(…and you think your toilet seat is chilly in the middle of the night)

We took a pass on the whole spending the night in the ice hotel thing. I hurt bad enough in the morning without sleeping on a block of ice. They’d probably need the jaws-of-life to get me out of that bed in the morning. It’s been a number of years since I went through arctic survival school and I have no desire to do it again, sleeping on an ice cube at thirty below is more adventure than I need these days.

After the chill of the Ice Palace we spent the rest of the night soaking in the hot springs. And let me tell you something, if you’ve never sprinted barefoot across –20 cement, unclothed except for your bathing suit, on your way from the locker rooms to the hot springs, well you’re just plain missing out. And the trip back is even more exciting – let’s just say that your suit tends to freeze to parts of your anatomy that you’d rather it didn’t and leave it at that. OK? The hot spring was pretty damned nice though.

The next morning we got up early and ate breakfast at the lodge. It was just us and the ice sculptor in the whole place and we had an interesting conversation with her. Very nice lady. Very, very talented sculptor (her and her husband are permanent staff and are solely responsible for creating and maintaining the museum. They compete in ice carving contests the world over).

Then we hit the road and nine hours later we were home again. Along the way we saw some pretty neat stuff - like this, for example, just outside Denali National Park:

Chena Hot Springs 165

and of course, there was that aforementioned glimpse into Mordor…

All in all, a pretty damned fine road trip indeed.


Note: Chena Hot Springs is an interesting place and we wished we would have had more time there – next year we’re going back and spending a couple of days there. The owner has turned the place into a model of alternative and geothermal power generation. People come from all over the world to study the power systems and green houses and the place has been the subject of numerous TV specials. Google Chena Hot Springs or follow the link above to learn more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where Was Jim This Weekend?

We visited the back gate of Mordor.

image 

 

Just got home.  Very tired – fighting Orcs all weekend will take it out of you.

Need shower, food, bed – in that order.

My thoughts are with my friend Shawn Powers and his family – they lost their house to fire yesterday.

I’ll catch up more tomorrow.

Night.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Offline

Happy Martin Luther King day, folks.

I'll be offline for the rest of the weekend.

We're off to explore the interior of Alaska, back Monday night at the earliest.

What are you doing with your weekend?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tonight’s Homework

Lets say you worked at this place for a long time and you really liked what you did and you were very good at it.

Then one day, the economy tanks and your employer lets you go – without much in the way of warning.

Your former employer owes you some retirement money/severance/residual benefit pay.

They send you a check, but due to some kind of accounting error there’s an extra $800.  It is very unlikely that they’ll ever catch this.  Times are tough, you could use the money – and again, it’s unlikely that anybody will ever notice. 

 

Question: Do you return the money, or do you keep it.

 

Show your work (i.e. explain your answer) – pretend that somebody who reads this blog is in this exact situation and is highly interested in your answer.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Every Country Has A Star Wars Christmas Special

I'm pretty sure this is why everybody hates the French. No, really.



Wilford Brimley and the Ewok Christmas Special is looking pretty damned good now, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You’ll Go Blind – Between The Lines At The Palin/O’Reilly Lovefest

Procedural Question.

Sarah Palin on Bill O’Reilly – technically isn’t that called “Masturbation?”

_________________________

Update:

I managed to find time today to watch Bill O’Reilly welcome Sarah Palin to FoxNews – and for a bunch of people who claim they don’t like porn, it was pretty much an hour of watching two crazy people teabag each other over and over.

I had kind of a Mystery Science 3000 thing going on in my head as I watched Palin speak.

Allow me to share the highlights with you:

 

O'REILLY: Isn't it true that no human being could lower the unemployment rate at this point? I mean, I don't like the massive spending. I think it's going to bankrupt the nation. But I…you know, I'm saying to myself, "If Sarah Palin and John McCain were in, could they bring unemployment down under 10 percent?" And I'm not sure you could.

PALIN: If the question is, “can any individual politician change the job forecast outlook?” No [but that doesn’t keep me from telling my legions of halfwit supporters that it’s still all Obama’s fault]. But what government can do is get out of the way of the private sector [For example, like how I as governor of Alaska got out of the way of Exxon. You know, by quitting. Lead by example, I always say] being able to seize opportunities to grow and to thrive and prosper [You know, prosper, like by having some sap ghostwrite my book and then making a couple of million dollars off of it] and hire more people [like the off-duty cops I hire to keep people I don’t like out of my book signings and speeches]. You do that…a politician, a policy does that by reducing taxes on the job creators [like how I campaigned for Alaskan governor by proposing a 20% tax increase on Big Oil], by getting government out of the way of the private sector [so they’ll be successful and profitable and make lots and lots of jobs, free of government interference and regulation - like Goldman-Sachs and Merrill-Lynch].

 

O'REILLY: Was it a lie that you thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11?

PALIN: You know what? [Fuck! Bring that up why don’t you, Asshole!] On that, I did talk a lot to Steve Schmidt about the history of the war and about where, perhaps, the 9/11 terrorists came from [Only I can’t remember anything that he said and I didn’t understand any of it anyway, so I spent a day reading conspiracy websites on my Blackberry] and could there have been any connection to Saddam [or space aliens].

 

O'REILLY: Steve Schmidt is obviously saying that you were in chaos preparing for this debate. Is that true?

PALIN: That…that’s not true [that’s impossible!]. And Steve Schmidt told us how overjoyed he was after the debate [compared to the Katie Couric interview or being doused in gasoline and lit on fire], so pleased with the way everything turned out [compared to the Katie Couric interview and being doused in gasoline and lit on fire], as he was after the convention [I hate him! Hate him! I will have my revenge in this life or the next! I…oh, shit, Bill’s asking another question, what?].

O'REILLY: Was there a time...

PALIN: ...as he was for…. [What? Concentrate, Sarahcudda, concentrate!]

O'REILLY: ...when you almost felt overwhelmed, though?

PALIN: No, I always felt pretty calm through the whole experience [because I was on Xanax up to my eyeballs].

O'REILLY: So is Schmidt lying or is somebody lying to him?

PALIN: [Duh] I think he's basing this on an anonymous source [and I’m going to find out who and then I’m going to have them doused in gasoline and lit on fire]. So all that kind of gossipy anonymous accusations, I really don't pay it any mind [like hell I don’t], because, again, Bill, I know what's important [oh yes, revenge will be sweet, yes yes my precious]. I know what the priorities are [Schmidt and his friends are on my list, right after that fucking Levi kid].

 

O'REILLY: Governor, the perception of you is that you're not that smart. That's what Saturday Night Live trafficked in, that's what the liberal media traffics in. You heard Chris Matthews go, "She doesn't know anything."... So I have to ask questions. Is, is that a lie? And, now, I think the proof is in the proverbial pudding, to use a cliché. You did very well against Biden in that debate, although you did call him O'Biden at one point.

PALIN: [Think, Sarah, think. Who the hell is O’Biden? Where have I heard that name before?  Pope of Russia? No? Irish Sweepstakes? Can I make a moose chili joke here?] I did. But I think the analysis after the debate was a surprise that Biden had more gaffes…had, had more mistakes made [which is, of course, why I actually won the election and I’m president right now. Yes. …Oh, wait…]

O'REILLY: Couric asked you an easy question and you booted it, governor.

PALIN: I sure did. [Ok, I’ll do the moose chili joke here then]

O'REILLY: Why did you boot it? I mean, if somebody asks what do you read? I say I read the, you know, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post. I can reel them off in my sleep. You couldn't do it?

PALIN: Well, of course I could. Of course, I could. [Please, God, I’m begging you, don’t let Bill ask me what I read. Please please please. Moose chili, moose chili]

O'REILLY: Why didn't you?
PALIN: It's ridiculous to suggest that or to say that I couldn't tell people what I read [oh, wait…]. Because by that point already it was relatively early in that multi segmented interview with Katie Couric [because I wasn’t expecting such a tough question! It’s like Couric was just piling on at that point. I mean, “What do I read?” how could anybody answer a question like that? How? It was early in the interview and I wasn’t ready! Why didn’t she ask me an easy question like about abortion or that Constitution thing?], it was quite obvious that it was going to be a bit of an annoying interview with the badgering of the questions [yes, yes, annoying badgering. I mean, personal questions? In an interview?]...I think if most normal Americans [“normal” American = sucker] were put in the same position that I was there, they'd probably look at her and have that proverbial eye roll and say are you kidding me? [correction, normal American = illiterate dolt (apparently)]

O'REILLY: If they knew.

PALIN: Are you suggesting that I don't read? [Please, God, I’m begging you…moose chili moose chili]

PALIN: You know what I thought they were going to come after me for? Getting a "D" in a college course 22 years ago. That was the big controversy in my little world. That was the skeleton in my closet. Crap. Once the media finds that out [and finds that picture of me with the keg and the “Party Naked” T-shirt]…

O'REILLY: You're a populist.

PALIN: A populist, yes. [Populist, that means “Christian” right?]

O'REILLY: Do you know what they're calling you now?

PALIN: No. [Yes, but I don’t think I can say the c-word on TV]

O'REILLY: Evita.

PALIN: Well. [Who?]

O'REILLY: Eva Peron.

PALIN: Uh-huh. [Who?]

O'REILLY: That's who they're calling you now.

PALIN: [Who? Is that like Madonna?]

PALIN: After a year of getting clobbered by the media, capitalizing on people who will make things up [you know, like that Muslim illegal alien in the White House who pals around with terrorists. Yeah, I hate people like that], there does come a time in any mama's heart and gut where they're going to say no, no, no. You're picking on my kids. You're picking on my family [everybody! Hum The Star Spangled Banner]. I'm going to set the record straight. My guttural instinct kind is kind of like a mama grizzly bear. [Did I use the word guttural correctly in a sentence? Oh yes I did!]  You’re touching my cubs [Wait, did I just call myself a grizzly sow?] you're touching my kids [and if you touch my kids, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Bill - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society?! Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!]

 

O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough, to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: [Most powerful job in the world? Are they offering me Rush’s job?! Oooooo!] I believe that I am because I have common sense [It’s like a magical superpower, and as Ms Wasilla I’ll do my bestest ever to work towards World Peace]. And I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values [such as a burning hatred of gays, illegal aliens, France, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Liberals, Democrats, Progressives, Moderates, Science, Nature, The Arts, The Environment, Those Fucking Polar Bears, Elites, The Poor, and Katie Couric]. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education [You know, I don’t know why we don’t just burn down Harvard and Yale and Princeton. Dartmouth? Cornell? Seriously, folks, real Americans drop out of school in the sixth grade because real Americans have Common Sense (it’s like a magical superpower). If an American must go to college, they should go to a community college only, because otherwise they’re elites and that’s just fascist communism!]  and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles [and only people with an actual sixth grade education could actually make sense of the incoherent babbling bullshit that’s coming out of my mouth right now]. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership [and by change I mean like Bush, only more so]. I'm not saying that has to be me [but then I shouldn’t have to, should I?].

 


No, to answer your question. 

No, I will not stop until I too am put on the official Sarah Palin Banned Blogger List.

It’s important to have realistic goals, folks.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel like I need to wash my hands.

Silvan Zingg

 

Michael Jackson and his moonwalk got nothing on these two.

 

That was from the Silvan Zingg International Boogie Woogie Festival.

 

My mom sent me this, along with a note saying that my dad used to dance like this.

I, apparently, did not inherit this particular gene.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'd Hoped For More Time

How long could you survive after punching a bear in the balls?

Created by Oatmeal

Winter Storm

Folks, I’m probably going to be scarce on the Internets today.

We’re in the middle of a winter wind storm at the moment and my power and internet connections are very spotty, this has been going on for two days and will probably last at least another day or two.

It’s 17F outside and the wind chill factor is really not something you want to experience right now. Trust me.

According to my windbird the winds are at 52MPH sustained here over the house at the moment, with gusts to 75 and last night we had sustained gusts over 80.

I live in a notch above the MatSu Valley, at the end of the Knik Arm (a long narrow bay off the Cook Inlet) directly between the Chugach and Alaskan Mountain Ranges, and the winds are concentrated into a corridor here. The view is spectacular, but we always get much stronger winds here than in Anchorage or even a few miles to either side of us up and down the valley.  Last night it felt like the house was going to come apart.  I’ve got drifts in the driveway chest high, and packed solid as granite and as soon as there’s enough light to see by I’ll be out clearing that so we can get out.  I’ve got a couple trees down, but I don’t think I need to deal with those at the moment.

For those of you waiting for PayPal invoices.  I’ll try to get those out sometime today.  I tried to do it yesterday, by my internet connection was down. 

It’s Alaska, this kind of thing is part of the charm.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Birdhouses

The following folks are confirmed for birdhouses:

Cass_m: #28

Stuart Wheaton: #29

Lauren Uroff: #30 and #34

Folks email me at Stonekettlestation@gmail.com with the email address you want me to use. I will send you a paypal enabled invoice. Your birdhouses will ship Monday via priority mail.

A number are still available, go here if you’re interested.

A number of you asked about less expensive/less elaborate pieces. I’ll be making a few of those in the coming weeks.

Thanks.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Underwear Bombers, Terrorism, The TSA, and Profiling Fear

A couple of years before the horrific events of 9/11 I flew through Boston’s Logan International Airport.

I suppose I need to qualify that.

I flew through Logan a lot in those days.  Several dozen times in the years immediately prior to 9/11.

The security there was a joke – and a bad joke at that.

Nothing about Logan’s security force was professional, from the demeanor of the slovenly personnel, to the half-assed screening procedures, to the outdated and poorly maintained equipment, nothing.  As an experienced military intelligence officer with extensive security and counter terrorism training, believe me when I say I was astounded by just how lousy the security system at Logan International was in those days. 

Once when I was passing through Logan on my way to a Naval facility in Maine, I requested that my camera bag be searched manually – I was carrying a couple of wetfilm cameras and some special film and I didn’t want them run through the X-ray machine.  The women behind the counter looked at me like I’d sprouted horns.  Her face and arms were covered in gang tattoos and for a minute there I thought she was going to put a cap in my ass for having the temerity to interrupt the conversation she was having with a co-“worker.”  She looked at me, looked at the camera bag and dismissively told me to “just go on through” and pointed vaguely towards the metal detector. 

So I did.

The guy running the detector shrugged at the whole thing and waved me through despite the bingbingbing of the machine that he was more or less operating.  Mostly less.

But then, as I started to walk away towards my gate, the metal detector guy called me back and said to another fellow, who I assumed was the watch supervisor, “shouldn’t somebody look in his bag?” The watch supervisor looked at my camera bag and then said, “just run it through the scanner.”  So I explained the situation and again asked that it be visually inspected.  The supervisor shrugged disinterestedly and told yet another young woman, who was also covered in gang tattoos, to inspect my bag.

I hefted the camera bag up on a table and unzipped the top.   Inside were several 35mm wet film camera bodies, each in a separate padded slot, and a dozen lens.  The girl, obviously irritated at being tasked to do her job instead of being left to buff her nails, pawed through the case without actually looking at anything and then snatched up a camera body and put it to her eye as if she was looking through the viewfinder – to, I assumed, verify that it was indeed a camera and not a cleverly disguised block of heroin.

“It’s fine,” she snapped at the supervisor, then she literally threw the camera body back in the bag and waved me away from the table.

Here’s the thing.  That particular camera body was a Pentax MX manual SLR, and because there was no lens attached I had a black plastic cap over the lens-mount to protect the mirror. There was absolutely no way that young woman could have seen anything through the viewfinder. And in fact, she didn’t actually look through the viewfinder at all – as I watched incredulously, she held the camera upside down and “looked” into the leather cover’s snap fitting.

I pointed this out to the supervisor.  He angrily told me to move the fuck along.

You know, you really don’t have to be an intelligence officer to figure out that not one of those people had a damned clue as to what they were doing.

So, a year later when it was determined that two of the hijacked 9/11 flights originated from Logan, well let’s just say that I wasn’t even remotely surprised.

 

 

In the aftermath of 9/11 those same people, those grossly incompetent security personnel, those exact people who had let Mohammed Atta and his murderous brothers through security without a backward glance, were deputized and turned into a federal police force with almost unlimited power over the travelling public, in the air, on the rails and roads, and on the sea.

In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

Yes, I said it.  Bear with me a minute.

It’s taken nearly a decade to shake out, but

- The kind of abject outright incompetence I witnessed at Logan (and many other airports throughout the US) all through the decade preceding 9/11 is gone.  The Transportation Security Administration mandates extensive training for all of its officers with continued refresher training.  There are exams and qualifications and uniform standards.  Now, like in any other organization, some of those officers are better at it than others, but at least they all get rigorous and standardized training and there are minimum levels of competency that must be adhered to. 

- There are damned few security screeners nowadays with a lackadaisical attitude, most take their jobs deadly serious – as they should. Most are reasonably professional – at least to the level of standard law enforcement. 

- TSA has improved to the point where they can attract and retain decent personnel. In the past, in many cases, airport screeners were professionally equivalent to grocery baggers at worst and maybe Mall Police at best – with the equivalent pay and benefits.   You get what you pay for.  I didn’t say it is great, but it’s a damned sight better than it was.

- The lack of security standardization  from one airport to another is also gone.  The same standards are applied to small regional airfields as they are to the giant international airports. This was long overdue well before 9/11.  An Airbus A380 originating from Pensacola Regional poses exactly the same threat as one originating from Chicago’s O’Hare International.  All of those small regional airports, along with obscenely ineffective larger airports such as Logan,  provided weakly guarded access into the transportation system, effectively nullifying more competent and stringent security procedures elsewhere. The chain, as they say, is only as strong as its weakest link.  Instead of looking at the air transportation system as a bunch of separate entities, the advent of nationalized security shifted the paradigm so that the whole thing was regarded as a single worldwide system. One with many entrances and exits and moving parts to be sure, but as a single unified whole – from a security viewpoint this is the same as going from allowing each user to determine whether they will have virus scanning on their office computer to an overall network administrator establishing uniform layered protection for all systems in the network.  There used to be a lot of weak links - most if not all of them have been significantly reinforced. 

- There is now federal funding for advanced security systems and equipment – and standards for updating, maintaining, and operating that technology.  There is federal funding and mandated research into security technologies and procedures.  It is a priority. This too is a marked improvement and it benefits every airport in the US and overseas, instead of just the ones that can afford it or the ones who actually pay attention to the latest updates. 

- It beats the ever living hell out of having armed and uniformed military personnel securing the nation’s airports. If I never see squads of Marines in full combat gear, locked and loaded and manning turret mounted M-60’s on top of their Humvees in sandbagged revetments in front of the San Diego airport again it will be too goddamned soon.

What’s this? Jim Wright trumpeting the TSA? Jim Wright? No way, man, no way!

Yes way, man. I am.

Because it would be disingenuous to say that TSA has not significantly improved the safety of US Air travel when it comes to general security and terrorism (both domestic and foreign).  So, yes, overall I have to say that the previous administration’s nationalization of air travel security has been a good thing and something that was long overdue (this does not however mitigate my loathing of George W. Bush and his band of Crazies in any way. So, you can stop screaming now and resume regular respiration).  Could it have been done differently? Say by setting and enforcing national standards and leaving the individual security organizations in private hands? Could it have been done without compromising Americans’ rights and the Constitution? Possibly, and possibly not.  This is how it was done, it’s water under the bridge now and it’s patently obvious that the TSA or another organization just like it is necessary if we’re going avoid having our airliners turned into weapons of mass murder by crazy people.

Understand something here, I’m not saying there isn’t room for significant improvement, especially in the areas of constitutional rights, privacy, and strict limits to the scope of the TSA’s authority.  I do not agree in any way shape or form with the current implementation of things like the so called “no-fly list” for example.  I think a no-fly list is an absolute necessity, but it needs to be strictly limited. There must be clearly defined public criteria as defined by regulation and law for placing someone on that list, there must be strict compliance with habeas corpus requirements, and there must be an appeals process and a process for petitioning the state to have your name removed in a prompt manner.  The must be a better method for differentiating between people with similar names.  The must be some common sense, when the list prevents a five month old baby from getting on a plane, well, there needs to be somebody with enough brains and local authority in the loop to determine that these are not, in fact, the droids we’re looking for.  As an American, you have a right to know if your name is on that list, you have a right to know why, you have the right to confront the people who put you on it - in court, and you have the right to appeal that action without harassment or retribution. Period. Anything else is an unconstitutional assumption of guilt without trial.  I think Americans have the right and the duty to question TSA authority in a non-emergency situation without fear of being arrested and imprisoned and tasered.  I think that Americans and those non-Americans who are our guests in this country have a right to, and a reasonable expectation of, courtesy and respect from law enforcement and shouldn’t have to fear the TSA more than they fear the damned terrorists. Also understand that I am only talking about the TSA here, not the larger apparatus of its parent, the Department of Homeland Security – that’s a whole other issue altogether and one that I think requires extensive review, scrutiny, revision, and accountability to the citizens, sooner rather than later.

What brings this up?

Over on the Cafferty File, CNN’s Jack Cafferty asks his readers, “Is it time to start profiling?”  Jack wants to know, in the wake of the most recent attempted airline attack by the so-called Nigerian “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a Northwest flight into Detroit on Christmas Day, if it’s time to actively and aggressively begin ethnic profiling of the travelling public.  Cafferty is a conservative pundit, a paleoconservative so far as I can tell (the traditional kind of conservative, before the neocons) the kind of conservative I tend to respect. I usually find Cafferty’s comment to be intelligent and even keeled and reasonable.

His commenters are often much less sane.

Overwhelmingly his commenters say yes, let’s start profiling people right the hell now.

- Jack, it's a shame that "political correctness" supercedes [sic] life & death in America. Sorry, but security comes before someone's "feelings". We need to tell the pc crowd to shut the hell up and let us handle it from here. We've done it their way for 25 years now, and all we've gotten in return is death, destruction, and the loss of our holidays and traditions. It's not only time we racially profile, it should be mandatory at all levels of security – from schools, to police, to airlines and everything in between [Todd, Ohio]

- Political correctness has got to go!! With profiling, if we reduce a tenth of all deadly attacks, then we have made a difference. In light of recent events, it doesnt [sic]look like we are doing very well as is, so I think it is time for a different approach! [jeff]

- it's been time to profile since sept 12th, 2001! our continued misguided sense of morality will continue to cost american [sic] lives. [kevin p – kansas city mo]

- Absolutely! I want to feel secure when flying. I couldn't care less about being PC. [Matt]

This one is my favorite:

- Yes. it is time to start profiling. It is also time to replace TSA with Military Police, who face court-martial if they screw up, as at Newark. Letting someone in through the exit at Newark would hve meant 10 years in a military prison and a dsihonorable discvharge [sic] for whoever let him therough,[sic] not reassisnment [sic] at Newark Airport. In France the Gendarmerie Mobile and in Germany the Grenzeschuetze provide security [Bob]

There  are hundreds of comments, not all are for profiling, not all are insane, but the vast majority sure are.  They’re scared shitless and they demand action now. Whatever it takes. Not one more American life. Damn the cost.  Damn the Constitution. Damn the consequences. And Goddamn political correctness. We must be safe! For the children!

 

Let’s review, shall we?

Since 9/11 how many American air travelers have been killed by terrorist action?  How many maimed? How many airliners have been flown into buildings? Blown up? Hijacked?

Did you answer zero?

Good.

Because zero is the correct answer.

 

Since 9/11 there have been roughly twenty five attempted acts of terrorism on US soil or against its domestic civilian aircraft, or against aircraft travelling to the US. Here’s some highlights:

- December, 2001: Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber.   Had explosives in his shoes, strong enough to damage the plane but probably not enough to bring it down.  Caught trying to light the fuses with a match.  Had the snot beat out of him by fellow passengers.  He’s now in prison for life.

- May, 2002: Jose Padilla, the Dirty Bomber.  Never actually built a bomb. Arrested. Appealed his arrest and detainment to the US Supreme Court for violations of his habeas corpus rights, won his case, was rearrested – this time in accordance with proper US law – tried, convicted, and is currently being gang raped in prison.

- September, 2002: The Lackawanna Six.  Arrested, tried, convicted, now serving time in federal prison.

- May, 2003: Iyman Faris. Convicted of plotting to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch.  Currently serving 20 years in NY State prison.

- June 2003: the Virginia Jihad Network. Eleven men were arrested for trying to sell weapons to Al Qaeda.  The leader got life in prison, the rest got long, long prison sentences.

- August, 2004: Dhiren Barot. Wanted to blow up the NYSE. Convicted in England and sentenced to 40 years.

- August, 2004: James Elshafay and Shahawar Siraj.  Caught plotting to blow up a NYC subway station by Madison Square Garden.  Elshafay ratted out his partner, he got five years, Siraj got thirty.

- August, 2004: Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain.  Tried to buy a grenade launcher to kill a Pakistani diplomat in New York. They’re both in prison

- June 2005: Umer and Hamid Hayat.  Hamid went to a terrorist summer camp in Pakistan, his dad, Umer, lied about it to the FBI. Hamid is spending the next 24 years in prison, his dad eventually pled guilty to lying and trying to smuggled $28K to terrorists. I don’t know what his sentence was and don’t really care.

- August, 2005: Levar Haley Washington and friends.  Conspired to attack a National Guard facility, Los Angeles synagogues, and some other targets in Orange County, California.  They are all in jail awaiting trial.

- December, 2005: Mike Reynolds.  Plotted to blow up a Wyoming Natural Gas refinery, a pipeline, and a New Jersey oil facility.  Tried to tell police he was really working as an undercover private citizen to root out terrorism in the US.  He’s now in Federal prison, and will be for the next 30 years.

- February, 2006: Mohammand Zaki Amawi and Co.  Caught and convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and plotting to kill “people in the Middle East.”  They are in jail all awaiting trial.

- April, 2006: Syed Haris and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee. They’ve been indicted for conspiracy to provide support to terrorists by videotaping the US Capital Building and World Bank HQ and sending the tape to a London Extremist group.  Awaiting trial.

- June 2006: Narsearl Batiste and six idiot friends.  They plotted (with the FBI as it turns out) to blow up the Sears Tower. They are awaiting trial.

- July, 2006: Assem Hammond.  Thought about bombing the NYC subway. Talked about it on the Internet.  Should probably have just stuck to porn. Caught, pled guilty. In Jail in Lebanon.

- August, 2006: Liquid Explosive Plot.  British counter-terrorism forces stop a plot to put liquid explosives on planes bound for the US. 24 people were arrested, 15 were charged with terrorism and are awaiting trial in London.

- May, 2007: Fort Dix Plot.  Six idiots plotted to attack US Army soldiers on Fort Dix. Charged with conspiracy, they are awaiting trial.

- June 2007: JFK Plot. Four men plotted to blow up a jet fuel pipeline that provided fuel to JFK International Airport. Three of them were caught and are awaiting trial, the forth man got away.

- March, 2007: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Caught. Mastermind behind a number of terrorist plots.  Awaiting trial.

- November, 2009: US Army Major Hasan goes on a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. You all know what happened.

- December 2009, The Underwear Bomber.

Out of the last nine years, of all the attempted terrorist attacks, only three involved airliners, and only two managed to get to the final stage, and of those two, neither achieved their goals specifically because the limitations on the explosive devices they were forced to use by the security measures made success very unlikely.  They couldn’t carry proper explosives. They couldn’t carry real detonators. They were very, very limited in their capability. These people aren’t magicians or demons or imbued with superpowers that defy the laws of physics. Overall, in almost every single case of terrorism on US soil for the last nine years, the terrorists avoided attacking airplanes because those targets were just too damned difficult within modern post-9/11 security procedures.

None of the three terrorist plots against US airliners succeeded in killing a single American citizen. None. 

Not one.

And yet overwhelmingly, commenters on Cafferty’s blog and other sites, letters to the editor, media and pundits deplore how political correctness keeps downing airplanes and killing our people.  The facts simply don’t back that up.  Zero planes under the cognizance of the TSA have been taken down by terrorists, zero passengers on any American plane have died or been injured or even significantly inconvenienced by terrorists since the TSA took over following 9/11.

In fact, the only terrorist to succeed in killing Americans on American soil in the last nine years was US Army Major Malik Nidal Hasan – and that had absolutely nothing to do with air travel, airplanes, or underwear bombs.  And none of the proposed screening or profiling the pundits and commenters are clamoring for would have done a damned thing to prevent Hasan’s rampage. The failures in Hasan’s case are of an entirely different matter.

However, conservatives on Cafferty’s blog and across the nation are screaming that we must do more to protect American lives when it comes to air travel.   We must profile. We must perform full body scans of everybody getting on a plane. No American life, not even one, must be lost to the terrorists.

Not even one.

According to these people the American air travel system is broken and getting worse.  It’s dangerous.  Our president doesn’t take security seriously and he’s getting us killed! (really, go read the comments, listen to Rush, listen to Glenn, listen to Fox).

Very well, let’s look at a few more numbers then, shall we?

Between 2001 and the end of 2009 there were 302,626 traffic fatalities in the United States. That’s an average of about 30,000 a year or about ten times the number who were killed on 9/11 by terrorism.  Or to put it another way, car crashes are about 30,000 times more deadly annually than terrorism in the United States. 30,000 times.

Between 2001 and 2006, 181,110 Americans were killed by guns. One hundred and eighty one thousand, one hundred and ten. That’s an average of 30,185 deaths per year from firearms. Making gun related deaths in the United States roughly 30,000 times more deadly, per anum, than all of the terrorist acts against Americans on American soil or American airplanes for the last nine years combined. 30,000 times more deadly. 30 thousand times. That’s right, it’s a whole lot more likely that you’ll get killed by your drunken beer buddy while deer hunting than by a terrorist with Jihad in his underpants.

Now, before anybody gets their Charlton Heston Underoos all bunched up – yes, there are statistical weighting factors that should be considered when making such comparisons, such as how many drivers caused their own deaths by being drunk or stupid, how many firearm related deaths were deliberately self inflicted, and so on. Massage the numbers however you like – 60,000 Americans die every year from two forms of common and pervasive preventable violence.  For the last nine years, zero Americans have died on airplanes from terrorism.  Why are the lives of Americans lost to car accidents and guns any less important to conservatives than the ones who haven’t died on airplanes? Based on the same reasoning displayed on Cafferty’s blog, shouldn’t we profile drivers?  I’m all for keeping drunk, stoned, distracted, tired, stupid, ignorant, incompetent and rednecked drivers off the roads. Ditto times ten for the ownership of firearms. If one American life is worth ethnic profiling, strip searches (virtual or otherwise), pervasive monitoring, onerous regulation and procedure, loss of rights and freedom when it comes to air travel, why isn’t it for those things that are nearly 30,000 times more likely to kill Americans each and every year?

I mean, hell, these people are afraid to get on an airplane because zero people have died in the last nine years from terrorism (on airplanes), but they’ve got no trouble driving down the highway with a bunch of drunken goobers shooting at road signs?

Yeah.

Forgive me if I don’t pick up a bible and AR-15 and join the screechy monkeys demanding that TSA do something right now to increase airline safety! Right now! Safety! Terrorists!

Here’s the thing folks, racial, ethnic, religious, and political profiling won’t work.

Not here, not now.

Here’s why:

- The TSA, no matter what strides they’ve made in increasing the quality of their personnel, are not equipped to conduct “profiling” properly or effectively.  The TSA screeners are not FBI agents or CIA interrogators. Their education level isn’t particularly high on average.  Screeners, in general, do not have degrees or higher education in law enforcement or psychology. To learn proper profiling would require extensive education, training, experience, time, and money. And nobody is willing to pony up those things.

- The Israeli model.  No. Israeli security measures will not work for us. Not on the scale we need. Not without a tremendous overhaul of the entire American system (and it wouldn’t have stopped the Underwear Bomber anyway, since his flight didn’t originate in an American airport).  Note the previous paragraph, Israeli agents are far more highly educated and trained than TSA security screeners. Significantly more. They are also a much, much smaller force with a much, much smaller area of responsibility.   Holding up Israel as an example of the effectiveness of ethnic profiling is a logical fallacy on a number of levels. First because Israel doesn’t do ethnic profiling – their agents screen everybody and they aren’t “profiling” in the manner that Americans think of it. Israeli security agents are looking for a number of physical, verbal, and non-verbal cues the way a professional cardsharp watches the guy across the table for tells. And second, holding up Israel as an example of what we should do security wise is no different than holding up Canada or Belize as an example – nobody bombs their airplanes either.  Those who want us to impose Israel-like security measures here have no idea what they’re asking for, the cost alone would be staggering on the scale necessary here in America – hell more people go through Chicago’s O’hare in any one day than all the people who go through every airport in Israel in a month, now multiply that times, well, America. You can’t afford it. Not even close.  Now try to imagine the wait times…you’ll have to show up for your flights days early.

- Ethnic profiling is un-American. Yes it is and it’s got nothing to do with political correctness.  We are all equal in America.  Those calling for only the profiling of non-Caucasians are demanding that the minority bear the burden of keeping the Caucasian majority  happy – not safer, just less nervous about flying with people who aren’t white.  We’ve been fighting against that bullshit for how many damned years now? But, of course those demanding the implementation of ethnic profiling are really talking about only singling out people who “look” like terrorists, i.e. Arabs.   How long do you think it will be until blacks, Latinos, and other darker skinned minorities start looking suspiciously like they might be from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?  I once had a friend, a shipmate, who was Puerto Rican – born in New York, spoke English with a Harlem accent, educated, Navy man on active duty – arrested in Texas, detained, and despite his military and state IDs was processed for deportation “back” to Mexico because he couldn’t produce a green card (neither can I, but that’s irrelevant, I’m white).  And it would have happened too, if the Navy didn’t step in and rescue him from the profiling clutches of Immigration.  Those demanding racial and ethnic profiling can’t imagine it happening to them, but let it happen even once and you’ll hear some howls of outrage. You better believe it.

- And profiling will become racist in the United States, don’t think for one moment that it won’t.  There are plenty of bigots who will use racial profiling as an excuse. Don’t believe me? Ask any person of color who lives in New York.

- And profiling will become a racially divisive issue. Yes it will. Because it’s America and race is a damned volatile issue here, unlike elsewhere. We’ve got a lot of baggage when it comes to race in America and implementing security screening for certain people because they aren’t white is not going to fly – and it shouldn’t. Call it political correctness if you like, but the truth of the matter is that people who think racially profiling others but not themselves are full of it. Perception is nine tenths of politics, don’t think people won’t seize on the issue to score political points and enrage others?  Don’t think it won’t happen? Two words: Death Panels.  It doesn’t have to be true to drastically influence the population and the government. 

- Profiling only those who “look” like terrorists, blinds you to those that don’t.   Which is why the Israelis don’t do it. What does a Muslim terrorist look like?  Does he look like a kid born and raised to white parents in California? Does he look just like John Walker Lindh? Does he wear an American Army uniform?  Would all of you Patriots stand to see to those in the military uniform of this country pulled out and strip searched because they happen to have olive colored skin?   How about Jesus? He was from the Middle East, wasn’t he? Or was he the only non-Roman Caucasian born in the holy land two thousand years ago?

- This will become a divisive issue. It is inevitable in the United States. And it will distract us from other methods that are more suitable to us and our nation. It will pull resources away that could be better used elsewhere. It will deepen the divide between white and non-white Americans.  It will distract us from the real issues, and the real enemies.

And

- Finally, for the last nine years the total number of Americans killed on American airplanes due to terrorism has been zero, now pay close attention here, no matter what security procedures are put in place, you cannot make American deaths due to terrorism on airplanes less than zero.  It is not possible.  You cannot bring those who died on September 11th, 2001 back to life, no matter how how hard you try.  Even if you are Jesus.

Now, understand something here – I am not advocating complacency. Far from it.  But security is a business best left to professionals and not the mob - and sure as hell not ignorant dipshits like that guy on Cafferty’s blog who wanted airport security taken over by the military. Security is something that is best implemented after study and investigation and deliberation by those who know what they are doing, and not something you do because you’re afraid and pissing your pants over imagined bogymen.  Security is best based on facts and solid information, and not made up anecdotes and urban legends and sound bites. 

I believe that profiling, the comprehensive kind used by FBI and CIA profilers, does have a place in airport screening.  I believe that advanced technology up to and including full body scans and backscatter X-rays have a place in airport security.  I believe that increased training and professional standards for security personnel are a desirable goal.  And I believe non-technological and old fashioned police work have a place.  And I believe all of those things are working, now.

The proof? Well, I’ve already given you that. Count the number of American dead from terrorism since 9/11. The proof is in the math, not in the hysteria.

The key, folks, is vigilance, perseverance, innovation, dedication, professionalism, and more than anything remembering who we are and what we stand for.

The key, is to not be afraid.