Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Man, the weather has been weird this month - in other words, normal for Alaska during breakup (spring, for you southerners).

All that snow we got earlier in the week has mostly melted off, thanks to a couple of days of warmer weather. 

However, today it's rainy and damp.

Which does me no good at all, really. My bad shoulder bothered me all day yesterday, and this morning it's killing me - hopefully the pill will kick in sooner rather than later.  My bones ache and I'm a little muzzy headed, didn't sleep well for some reason. In addition to coffee, a lot of coffee, I need something to get me going.

This is an issue, since I have a lot to do in the shop and, as usual, I'm a bit behind today.  I was right on schedule until I had a bandsaw blade snap yesterday afternoon.  Usually that's not a big deal, it happens, but in this case I was cutting tight curves into thick birch pieces for contract work - which requires a special, very thin blade. Which broke in the middle of a cut.  Now, see I try to avoid single points of failure and I thought I had another one, but as it turns out - after repeated perusal of the blade storage rack accompanied by increasingly foul Navy cursing - that I didn't.  Well, hell. Normally I can simply braze (kind of a cross between welding and soldering) the blade back together, but in this case the blade jammed and twisted, which means I can't fix it and I've got to go buy a new one.  Of course this happened with about 90% of the job done. The uncut pieces are now sitting on the work cart, mocking me. Argh! 

So, anyway - motivation, I need to shake off the funk and get moving.  I've got to run into Wasilla and pick up a new blade, and a couple of other things, then I've got to reset the bandsaw and make up lost time.

Fortunately, I've got just the thing to get me moving, and I'm going to share it with you. You'll want to play it loud, like you were a teenager again:

And if that isn't enough, try this one.  Talk about your dream line up, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins, Sting, and Eric Clapton doing Money For Nothing at the Royal Albert Hall.  This was the Music For Montserrat benefit concert following Hurricane Hugo.  I would have literally killed to be at this concert.  This is one of my all time favorite videos:

More later.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas - of the hot air variety

Well, gas prices hit another record high today - what's that? Something like seventeen straight days in a row now.

It's $3.75 per/gal here in Palmer, Alaska, well above the national average, but below the $4.00 per gallon in certain parts of California. And in a minute I'm going to run into town and fill up my tank and my gas cans before it goes any higher and the value of my money drops any lower.

If anybody was hoping for a solution or relief from the White House - well, you can kiss that idea good bye. I watched the President this morning - and what exactly the point of his address from the Rose Garden was I'm not sure, other than to tell us to take high energy costs and go fuck jolly well off. He made it clear that he's not going to do a damned thing until Congress lets his buddies in the Oil Industry drill in ANWR. I noticed he didn't bother to mention that even if Exxon got the green light today, it would be a minimum of five to ten years before those wells started putting significant petroleum into the pipeline, and probably more like fifteen. He also didn't mention who would pay for the feeder pipelines from the wells to the main Alyeska Pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, a couple of hundred miles, that can only be built during the two months of Arctic Summer and will take years to complete. How exactly that would lower gas prices at the pump in the near future he also did not bother to mention. He's also not interested in cutting summer gas taxes or halting the filling of the strategic reserve - despite the fact that we don't have the refinery capacity to process the oil held in the reserve and maintain enough output for civilian use.

Now, he did mention building new refineries on abandoned military bases. An interesting idea there, but he didn't mention how those refineries will reduce energy costs or who's going to pony up the billions necessary to construct them. And based on my own experience with reutilization of military installations, I figure the licensing and leasing of federal property, especially for HAZMAT operations such as a refinery, ought to take, oh, about five to seven years, minimum before construction even begins. Figure at least another five years for construction and well, it's not really George's problem is it?

The Decider did call on Congress to cut subsidies to 'multimillionaire' farmers - yet, strangely he made no mention of cutting subsidies to the oil industry, despite record profits over the last couple of years and especially in the first quarter of this year.

So, another day goes by. Congress blames the President, and the President pouts and whines and points his little finger at Congress. Both talk about leadership and neither have any idea of what the word means. If they were my children, I'd bang their heads together. I see revolution coming, I do. And not the good kind either.

What are the gas prices where you're at? And what's the general mood?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Memes and Critical Thought

In my previous profession, I was one of the military's top experts in a fairly unusual field - Information Warfare.

If you have only a vague notion of what IW might be, well, don't feel bad - you're in the majority. Even folks within the community struggle to understand just what exactly comprises the specifics of their field and there are many, many definitions, some mutually exclusive. In a nutshell though, Information Warfare is simply the codification and acknowledgement of something that has been around since man first crawled out of the primordial ooze - to wit: information is power.

In combat, those with control over the information flow win. If you can prevent the accurate and timely acquisition, processing, analysis, and distribution of information by the enemy, while preserving those things within your own force structure, you'll win. I'm not revealing any great military secret here, commanders have known this fact since, well, forever. That's why, in modern combat, it's a truism that the most dangerous soldier is the one with the radio - it's also why he tends to get shot first.

Commanders, military planners, and tacticians have always striven to control the information flow, both within their own organizations and within the enemy's, with varying degrees of success. And by control I don't necessarily mean restrict, what I mean is manage. Within an information gathering organization, such as any intelligence agency, it is imperative to not only acquire information, but to also determine it's validity - and you do that by examining each piece of data for certain criteria, such as relevance to the current and anticipated situation, it's accuracy as compared to supporting data and analysis, timeliness, level of detail, and a number of other factors. Over the millennia there have been those forces that were extremely good at this sort of thing, and many more who were not. And up until the advent of 'modern conflict' this process has been more art form and natural talent than any sort of science. However, around WWII and the beginning of modern information systems, intelligence organizations began to codify the process and found that even average people could be trained to think this way - to apply the science of critical thought to the acquisition and processing of information. And at the height of the air war in Southeast Asia, during the Vietnam conflict, a Colonel named John Boyd came up with a method of critical analysis called the OODA Loop, or more properly The Boyd Cycle. OODA, for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Loop, because done properly this is a continuously repeating process. Here's a picture of Boyd's concept:


When I designed tactics and taught warfighters how to use them, I spent an entire week on this one concept alone, because it was that critical. Those that can continuously and reliably apply this process have a significant tactical advantage over their opponents, be that opponent a single fighter aircraft or an entire army. You don't have to be particularly fast or accurate at the process, only faster and more accurate than your adversary.

When Boyd retired from the Air Force, he went into business and applied this same concept - and was highly successful, as you might imagine. Businesses that can implement and execute the principles of the OODA loop have a significant advantage over their competition. An organization that can observe and accurately analyze its environment, orient and position itself within that environment and anticipate changes and trends, make decisions based on that orientation, and then act decisively - and then observe how those decisions influence the environment and repeat the cycle - will almost inevitably succeed. Again, no great secret here, but its amazing how few organizations do this well.

Observation is the single most critical step in the OODA loop. If the acquired data is flawed, incomplete, incorrect, or outdated, then your orientation in the environment is mostly likely going to be incorrect, and thus your decisions and resulting actions. Because the process is a loop, it should be self correcting, however due to human nature and bias what often happens is that instead of self correction a decision making loop based on bad information becomes self reinforcing.

Need a big, real world example? Iraq used to have weapons of mass destruction - this data is accurate, complete, and verified. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the current conflict, it was also out of date. By failing to ask ourselves critical questions about what we thought we actually knew - then observe and reorient within the changed environment - we made poor decisions. The resulting actions of which are going to be with us for a very long time.

I see this same failure of critical thought on an individual level every day. All of us are capable of critical thought - capable of observing, orientating, deciding, and acting critically - and yet few truly do this in their personal lives. When information arrives, how many folks ask themselves: How was this information acquired? Is it complete? Is it accurate? Is it biased. Is it relevant? Is there enough detail? Do I accept it because it reinforces what I think I know, or do I reject it for the same reason? How can I verify it? How can I test it? If I can't test and verify the information, do I accept it anyway? If so, why?

Those who fail to ask themselves such questions place themselves and those who depend on them, at a significant disadvantage - they will always be at the mercy of those who can observe the universe critically, adjust their worldview appropriately, decide and act. Those who allow themselves to be manipulated through the use of information, are always at the mercy of those who control it - and now you know what Information Warfare really is, and why it is the single most powerful weapon ever fielded.

What brings this to mind for me today (not that this subject is ever very far from my thoughts), is the topic of memes talked about on the various blogs I read and Senator Barrack Obama. Or more specifically, the rather large amount of viral data, memes if you will, circulating through the information sphere that are accepted as fact, and yet are easily verified as incomplete, out of date, irrelevant, lacking in precision, or just plain false. For example: the picture, widely circulated via email, purporting to show that Obama disrespects America because he didn't place his hand on his chest during the National Anthem. Easily proved false, and yet widely accepted by otherwise intelligent folks as true. But what really got me thinking about this subject is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Over the last several months the man has been vilified for a number of sermons he gave - or rather sound bites taken from his sermons and deliberately broadcast out of context.

For example Wright was widely quoted as saying that the U.S. had brought the September 11 attacks upon itself and "America's chickens are coming home to roost..."

People were incensed, outraged, appalled. Wright was denounced as unAmerican and unpatriotic. Because Barrack Obama attended Wright's church, he was, and is, denounced as unAmerican and unpatriotic. And yet, and yet, how many folks took that statement, out of context, as verification of their own prejudices and biases without once applying any degree of critical thought. Is this an accurate quote? Is it complete? In what context was it made? Is it relevant, relevant to me, relevant to the presidential campaign, relevant to the nation at large? Is it timely and/or is the timing suspicious? And etcetera. How many folks actually watched the sermon in it's entirety? Based on my own observations, damned few that's how many. Because if they had, they couldn't have missed that Wright was quoting the ambassador from Iraq - under Saddam's administration - as an example of how other people see America.

However, ask yourself a question here, what if he was condemning American foreign policy? What if he actually was saying that by funding and equipping Saddam Hussein during the Tanker war against Iran, or by funding and equipping the Mujahedeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or that by favoring and condoning Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, America had laid the ground work for the attacks of 9/11? Seriously, so what? Is this a new idea? Is the observation of such things in and of itself unpatriotic? Is it actually incorrect? Is any criticism of the United States by a US citizen grounds for national outrage? Really?

Wright has also spoken out against racism, and disfranchisement, and prejudice, and a number of things that are important, and personal, to his flock. Should he have been more polite about it? Is it his tone that's unpatriotic? Or his passion? Or is he off base; is what he's saying wrong? Is prejudice, and racism, and bias gone from America? Has poverty been stamped out? Or disenfranchisement?

Or is he saying things that we as Americans don't want to hear?

If we fail to observe critically, if we disregard information because it doesn't fit with our precious opinions of our own selves and our nation, then we will continue to orient ourselves poorly within the global and national environments, and as a result we will continue to make decisions and implement actions that place our nation and a significant fraction of our population at a significant disadvantage.

Wright hasn't said one thing publicly that isn't true, or at least reasonably correct - within the proper context. He has also said, yesterday as a matter of fact, that reconciliation means "we embrace our individual rich histories," and that it also means removing "any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred or prejudice" and recognizing that each person "is one of God's children ... no better, no worse." While, I'm not a religious person and am somewhat ambivalent on the subject of a Supreme Being - I can accept and embrace Wright's statement in the context given and admire him for his position.

Predictably though, those comments have not received nearly as much attention as those that reinforced popular perception. Those that want to find a reason to vote against Obama, will. Period. Even if it's not in their best interest, a significant number of Clinton democrats claim that they will either not vote, or vote for McCain, if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. In other words, they will take actions contrary to their own interests, based on poor decisions, derived from an incorrect orientation, due to a failure to observe the environment critically and without bias.

Then they'll spend the next four years bitching about how the Republicans stole yet another election - before the cycle begins again.

I'm not saying that you're an idiot if you don't vote for Obama. I'm not saying that you should vote for him, or that I will either for that matter. What I'm saying is: Observe, orient, decide, act - i.e. think! Gather data critically. Question the information. Verify your facts, for crying out loud - then make your decision. Because your observations, orientation, decisions, and actions affect me, and that makes it personal.

And stop forwarding viral email, there's enough bad data in the world without making it worse.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ahhh, Spring in Alaska. Big Whoop Tee Friggin' Do

The last week has been gorgeous.

Beautiful, sunny, warm. All the snow is gone, finally. Tuesday and Wednesday it was 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. Hell, I was even glad to see the mosquitos.

Convertible weather. Woohoo.

My wife drives our Jeep Cherokee in the winter, but in the summer she drives her pride and joy - this:


That's an '88 Mustang ragtop, otherwise known as a 5.0 liter, 5-speed, fuel injected rocket sled. We found it for sale sitting in a field, next to a crappy rundown bar on the road to Patuxent River, Maryland. The paint was faded and the top rotting off. One of the tail lights was broken and the tires were basically bald balloons. But it only had 26,000 miles on it and the drive train and body were in excellent shape - so we bought it, for about half what it was worth.

New tires, custom paint job, new top (and it needs another one now), exhaust system, a tune up or two, various and etcetera - and it turns a few heads. Especially with my stunningly attractive wife behind the wheel.

But, it's not a winter car. It's just too lightweight and too powerful to drive on icy roads, especially on Alaskan icy roads. So we put it away when the snow flies. I fill the tank with fuel preserver and and park it in the unused stall of the attached garage and disconnect the battery. And there it sits, forlorn, until greener days.

So, the weather. Sunny, beautiful, and etcetera. Monday my wife called and got the insurance reactivated and I charged up the battery. Tuesday I started the car and pulled it into the shop for pre-season maintenance. It was running rough, fuel injectors were a little gunky from sitting for the last six months, so I pulled the throttlebody, fuel injector bar, manifold and injectors and gave them all a good cleaning. Then I put every thing back together yesterday and it runs great.

This morning I washed and waxed the car in the shop while Vista installed SP1. Understand, I started the SP1 installation and went out to the shop, it was sprinkling just a bit and looked like it might clear up, so I figured I'd do a little woodwork while I waited for it to stop raining - then I figured I'd take the Mustang out for a test drive.

About an hour later I opened the bay door to find this:

Snow 2

No, that's not cottonwood fluff - that's giant flakes of very wet snow.

Try to imagine the words I was thinking right at that very moment.

So, no test drive. I shut the bay door and went back to turning. It'll clear up, said I to myself said I.

Four hours later, it looks like this:

Snow 3

Now I've got to go move stuff around in the shop in order to move the Mustang back far enough so that I can pull my truck in for the night.

And once that is done, instead of tooling around in the Mustang with the top down - I'll be getting the plow back out. 'Cause it's three inches deep out there, and still falling.

Oh, and we took the studded tires off the jeep last weekend, so my wife will be coming home tonight driving 60 miles from Anchorage through blowing snow with the summer tires on.

Peachy, just peachy.

Offline (updated)

I'm going to be offline for a bit this morning.

I'm completing the Vista SP1 installation - which is going just fine, but I got side tracked yesterday and didn't finish the process. I'm also installing some new hardware and a couple of other minor details. Should have it done shortly.

Thanks, see you in a little while.


Update 1: Vista SP1 installed and operating. Woohoo! Seems to work fine and the computer is much faster now. I'm not entirely sure yet, but SP1 seems to have massively improved networking and networked volume issues. Further testing is required - but if that's that case I will much happier. Take that Michelle.

Now for the new video card and some various and sundry other hardware and software maintenance issues.

More later.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Upgrade Day

As most of you know, when I purchased a new server several months back I installed Windows Vista Ultimate.

The Upgrade Part II
The Upgrade Part I

So far I've been pretty happy with it.

I haven't experienced the problems many folks have reported - probably because I know a great deal about this stuff and made damned sure that the new machine would support Vista.

After a few months of playing around with the operating system I decided that I mostly like it. I like the interface in particular a great deal, though it did take some getting used to and in some cases it's not exactly intuitive the way XP was (then again we've all had years of experience with XP, so I'm willing to be charitable in this regard).

However, I do have several beefs with Vista:

1) Indexing Process: Indexing pisses me off. I appreciate the concept of indexing, and considering the shear volume of information stored on my machines, some of it dating back nearly twenty years, I really want to be able to find and access information when I need it. However, I don't like the way indexing is handled in Vista, even though Microsoft has improved the process over its previous operating systems. I demand better control over the indexing process. For example, I don't want Vista to decide when it will index the system, I want to specify an exact time (like, say, 2:00 AM, when I'm sleeping and the machine is sitting idle).

2) Idle and hidden processes: Look, it's my machine. I bought it and I paid for it. It's mine. And I Goddamn well want to know what it's doing - and it's doing way too much stuff without telling me. I want a better, integrated process analyzer. Nothing pisses me off more than the idiotic process viewer currently included in Vista, which is basically the same uninformative piece of crap from XP. I want each process spelled out in detail, I want to know what program it's part of and I want to know why it's sucking resources from my machine at any given moment. I want to know exactly what each process is doing and why. I want to know the total amount of resources the process uses over a given period of time, i.e. a process histogram, so I can decide if I want to keep that program active on my machine. What I want are the process management tools I had fifteen years ago with DEC/VAX and MPS/X systems. And yes I know I can download programs to do this, at least to some extent. If I was sufficiently motivated I could code up a C++ or Visual Basic program myself to do it. I don't want to do either, I think Vista Ultimate should come with an integrated utility and a suite of process management tools, real ones - it's the Operating System, damnit, that's what it's supposed to do.

3) Networked Volumes: Vista has this annoying habit of querying attached storage volumes on a semi-random basis, and this more than anything else just chaps my ass. I'm running Vista on a high end Quad Core Duo machine, that's four processors, four gigs of RAM, and some serious bus throughput. I have four internal 500GB SATA drives installed and one external drive connected via firewire. Additionally, I have mapped a number of drives on the office machines upstairs via the network - because I use those drives for backup and specialized data storage (Yeah, like I said above, I have a lot of data). Every once in a while, Vista will decide that it just has to go check the status of those volumes - and when it does, the process sucks 100% of system resources for about 30 seconds. Additionally, Vista will do this every single time I click on the 'Save As' or 'Open' functions in any program. I cannot begin to tell you how much this sudden and random pause irritates me. I want this to go away, or I want to be able to specify my working volumes and have Vista check only those in real time - and leave the other ones alone unless I specifically request a status check.

4) Drivers: the driver library for Vista is growing, but it's still limited. I have a number of older peripherals that I use upon occasion and when I need them, I need them. However, I don't need them so much that I'm going to run out and buy the latest hardware every time Microsoft updates their OS. I want to be able to use my Pinnacle Systems A/D digitizer box - no driver, and the old XP ones are incompatible. I want to be able to use my big flatbed HP scanner and it's attached film negative feeder. The old XP driver will work, sort of. But half the front panel functions are unsupported. I want to be able to use my Western Digital external firewire drive, and I can - but only as a storage volume, the front panel manual backup controls and the integrated USB port are unsupported. Is this Microsoft's fault? Yes. There's no reason why the older drivers shouldn't work - even if in XP compatibility mode, Vista wasn't that big of upgrade.

Anyway, long story short, I'm in the queue for Vista SP1 today. I've put off downloading it until the inevitable bugs have been worked out. It won't address either the indexing or process viewer issues I have, but supposedly it will fix the networked volume and at least some of the driver issues, along with a host of other things that are mostly invisible to me. So, I'll be offline for a while, downloading and installing SP1. I let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Liberals are miserable bastards.

Big "L," small "l," it doesn't matter, liberals, whatever their stripe are an unhappy lot. Conservatives on the other hand, are generally happy, well adjusted people.

Liberals are by definition socialists. They want the government to provide everything, and yet perversely they detest that very government and resent it's "interference" in their lives. Lefties as a group eschew hard work and do as little of it as possible - and thus deny themselves the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. See, liberals are generally lazy and because they work as little as possible they have a lot of time on their soft hands, time to think about all their ills and everything that's wrong in their lives. They dwell on it. And because liberals are generally a godless bunch, and thus have no higher power from which to draw strength, they have no direction in their pitiful lives. As a result liberals seek out causes. Liberals always have a cause, they're always out saving the whales, or aborting babies, or screaming about climate change or chaining themselves to trees and nuclear power plants. Liberals just can't seem to live and let live. And as a result of these things they are unhappy and dissatisfied and miserable.

Conservatives are different. First and foremost conservatives are proactive. They're problem solvers. Conservatives know that work is the key to true happiness. They love to work, and the harder the work the better. Putting food on the table, providing for their families, paying the bills - those are the things that give true satisfaction and bring real happiness. Conservatives don't expect the government to provide; conservatives make their own way in the world and are happier for it. Conservatives don't resent government in their lives, because they know that strong government provides for security and stability. And ultimately conservatives have God on their side. Their faith is a source of strength and happiness and purpose. Conservatives know that things will work themselves out and they don't worry about it, secure in the fact that they are God's chosen ones and that the world's problems can be solved with a suitable application of military force.

How do I know these things are true?

Easy, CNN's Glenn Beck told me so.

Had you going there for a moment, didn't I?

Now, just for the record I don't make a habit of watching Rush Junior, eh, uh, sorry Glenn Beck. But I do watch CNN Headline News in the morning before I take my kid to school. I do this because I am a creature of habit - and I'm stuck with a habit leftover from when CNN was actually a news channel, from before they became the gum snapping, tractor pulling, fluffy puff pastry American Idol station. Yesterday, I left the tube on when I left to take the kid to school, and I when I got back I went directly to the shop and never went back into the house. I came in around 1400 to check my email and Glenn Beck was on. Now normally I'd just hit the mute button and move on, but Beck was "interviewing" some constipated looking twit on the subject of Arthur Brooks' new book Gross National Happiness - it might actually have been Brooks himself, I didn't catch the introduction.

I put "interviewing" in quotes in the previous sentence because Beck was doing what he usually does, i.e. rant and scowl and grin and bob and talk about himself and use the interviewer only as confirmation of his own squalid opinions. And he was basically spewing the nonsense that I said in the first two paragraphs of this post. The difference being that I had my tongue firmly in my cheek, Beck meant every word.

Now, Glenn Beck has never had an original thought in his entire life. He fastens lamprey-like onto whatever topic will generate the most hate mail and happily cashes the checks. He claimed that "lefties" are a miserable group of people. He stated, on the other hand, that as a conservative he is happy and satisfied and that most conservatives are the same. I thought this was a fairly funny statement, coming as it did from a guy who's conservative mother committed suicide, who's conservative brother committed suicide, who spent a significant part of his life addicted to drugs and Jack Daniels and who's wife left him because he was such a miserable asshole. Frankly, I watched this sorry blowhard for an hour yesterday and if he's an example of conservative happiness, I'll take a pass.

But it got me thinking. And a little looking about confirmed that Beck is just, as usual, parroting the right-wing viewpoint. There seems to be this widespread idea amongst conservatives, neatly summarized in Gross National Happiness and supported by a 'scientific' report in the Economist, that liberals in general are miserable, unhappy people - or at least more unhappy than conservatives anyway. Take a look in the comments section of any conservative blog and you'll see this "fact" stated over and over.

As usual in these cases, and being neither self-identified as liberal nor conservative, I have a somewhat different opinion. Most of the liberals I know are reasonably happy folks, so are most of the conservatives I know - and I know a lot of people.

It's the extremists on the far sides of both camps that seem to be miserable. Take the extreme left for example, two weeks of sitting chained to a tree branch in the pouring rain outside of Seattle in order to protect the Snowy Snail Darting Yellow Breasted Sap Sucking Spotted Owl Vulture tends to make your organic hemp underwear and birkenstocks chafe, man. That would make anybody crabby. Then there's the extreme right: a good God fearing republican ought to be able to cruise the airport restrooms for a little wide stance relief or shoot a few Planned Parenthood doctors without all the hoopla from the liberal press. All that yabbering about rights and the Constitution, that would piss anybody off.

Seriously, a lot of you folks are liberals, both big and small "L" and a number of you are conservatives - are you happy? And do you think your happiness is related to your politics?

Now, if you'll excuse me I'll be out in the shop, because sawdust, it makes me happy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Something special from the Lathe

I get mail.

Sometimes it's angry or bizarre email - and sometimes it's a box.

A couple of days ago I got a package slip in my mail box. See, we've got Alaskan rural mail service - which means that up until a couple of years ago we had to go into Palmer to get our mail, dodging moose and bears and giant mosquitos and whatnot the whole way. Inconvenient to say the least. Two years ago, a bunch of us chipped in and bought one of those big metal birdhouse looking community mail boxes and had it installed. So, now the contract slackers who deliver our mail will put envelopes and magazines and such in our box, but they do not deliver packages. For that we've got to go into town, and stand in line. And you know how I feel about that.

I wasn't expecting a package - so it was a day or two before I got around to it. After the usual twenty minute wait in line, I got my package. It was a box - a heavy box. Something inside rolled oddly, frankly it felt exactly like a bowling ball in a box - or a head. The postal robot looked at me suspiciously as he handed it over. Screw him, I smiled my best "Ahmed the Jackal" you'll be sorry smile, and left him wondering.

Now, what the hell was it?

Burl 2

Ah, the return address explained it - South Carolina, my cousin Dona. Inside the box was this:

Yep, that's a log.

Well, a burl actually. As near as I can tell it's a chunk of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana or possibly virginiana), usually called ironwood or hophornbeam, a common tree in the Carolinas. The wood is dense and heavy and very fragrant.

Well, hell, how about that? It was still green - and I had most of my production work done, so I decided that I was going to take a couple of hours and turn this unexpected bounty.

Burl 3

The first step was to bore a hole in what would become the top, in order to mount the lathe chuck. This is done in two steps. First I use a large forstner bit in the drill press to bore a well. Followed by a wing cutter which scribes a 5 inch circle around the well to a depth of about an inch.

Burl 4

Then the waste between the well and the kerf scribed by the wing cutter has to be removed with chisel and mallet in order to make a solid well for the chuck (that silver cylinder jobber in the upper left of the picture).

Burl 5

Here's the chuck mounted in the blank. In this picture you can see the jaws expanded to hold this very heavy piece of wood securely. Trust me, you really don't want something like this coming loose when it's spinning at 800rpm.

Burl 6

Next it gets trimmed on the bandsaw into a roughly cylindrical shape and mounted on the lathe...

Burl 7

...using gouges and scrapers I carefully begin to shape the wood.

You can see that it's going to be a very interesting piece.

Burl 8

A little more shaping and then I cut a mortise in the bottom, so that I can reverse the bowl on the chuck. Not many turners use this particular technique, they prefer the bottom of the piece to be smooth. Me, I like the well in the bottom, it gives me a place to sign my name, and I think it adds an interesting feature. That orange line you see in the picture is where I'll make the mortising cut.

Burl 9

Once the base mortise is cut, I reverse the piece on the chuck and begin the hollowing process. Up until this point I only have a vague notion of what the final shape will be. I want to leave some of the spectacular natural edging and show off the grain. I let the wood guide the final design.

Burl 10

Once I see the incredible figure and burl grain, I decide to make a natural-edged flared top hollowform.

This is a difficult shape to pull off, and not for beginners.

Burl 11

The final shape begins to emerge from the burl...

And after four hours of very careful work, this is what I ended up with:

Burl 12

It's about 7" in diameter, and about 5" tall. It's incredibly heavy. I finished it in simple Tung oil.

Thanks, Dona.

Send more. A lot more.

Friday, April 18, 2008


USS Simpson, FFG-56, just returned to her homeport of Naval Station Mayport (Florida) after six months in the Southern Pacific chasing drug runners.

Oh, yeah, I remember that duty.

It's called a "Crackpac," and it's just about the last thing a Navy crew wants to do. It's miserable duty. It's hotter than hell itself down there in the south eastern Pacific, I can think of no more miserable place for an Alaskan like me - even Iraq wasn't as bad, climate wise that is. There were days where you'd get burned if you put your hand on the metal skin of the ship. The hull and superstructure would heat up to unbelievable temperatures during the day, and radiate heat into the ship all night, you slept covered in sweat - when you could sleep. Navy ships are cooled inside by chilled water systems that were designed for the northern latitudes (because we designed our ships to fight the Soviet Navy in the North Atlantic, duh), and the air conditioners don't work worth a crap in the hot waters off South America. For the same reason, the flash evaporators on older ships like mine and the Simpson don't work very well in warm water, so there's limited fresh water for showers, and what there is feels like warm piss. The humidity is almost always at a 100%, and you never feel clean, ever. Hell, I used to sweat in the shower.

The liberty in South America can be decent depending on where you are, but usually it's lousy, dirt, poverty, mosquitos and malaria pills. There's no fleet support. This means that instead of fueling at sea, we have to pull into port and fuel from tanker trucks - in some cases taking over a hundred tankers and up to twenty-four hours of backbreaking labor in sweltering heat.

Then there's the mission, hunting shithead drug runners on the high seas. It's dangerous, miserable, tedious, and frustrating. For every smuggler you catch, a hundred more get through to Mexico and California and it doesn't take you long to figure out that the war on drugs is a long lost cause. You can't stop cocaine smuggling by hunting down smugglers, or burning coca fields, or giving money to a hopelessly ineffective and corrupt Columbian government, or by making speeches, or by appointing a totally powerless sock puppet of a drug Czar. As long as there is a demand, there'll be a supply. Period. You see the utter, abject poverty of the Ecuadorian and Columbian peasants. You see the incredible, unbelievable amounts of money flowing south from gold bling wearing Los Angeles and New York and Bumfuck Indiana and you know there is an endless supply of desperate, hungry people willing to risk their lives on the open sea in order to get a piece of it. You see the hopelessly mired clusterfuck that is the American counter narcotics mission with the DEA, FBI, ICE, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Customs, and a dozen other agencies all scrabbling for their piece of the glory, their moment in the sun on the War on Drugs, their little bit of the money. Nobody is in charge. There's no cooperation between agencies. There's no plan, but everybody has a secret agenda. There's nothing but back stabbing incompetence and corruption and rice bowl bullshit. And it becomes apparent fairly quickly, often before you leave homeport, that the agency you work for in South America, Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), is about as useful as a carbuncle on Dick Cheney's big white ass. JIATF South is where incompetent, back stabbing, glory hound officers go to die - or get rich and retire. The place is rotten from bottom to top, and side to side, but hell, it's duty in Key West, out of sight and out of mind.

Still, every time you make a bust you feel pretty dammed good about it. You might chase a go-fast smuggling boat for hours, pounding through the seas at flank speed until they run out of fuel, or crash, or just give up. Some times they shoot at you, and you get to blow them out of the water in a cloud of vaporized blow. Sometimes they throw the cocaine and heroin bales over the side of their boat in a desperate attempt to escape. Then you've got to go into the water after it, carefully because the concentration of cocaine HCL is so high that if you get any on your skin it'll stop your heart nearly instantly. And no matter how hopeless the War on Drugs is, at least those bales won't end up on the streets of America somewhere.

Cocaine CrewUSS Simpson came home with 16 tons, most taken from a submarine smuggling vessel. Sixteen tons of cocaine, if you're having trouble visualizing what several billion dollars worth of drugs looks like, here's a picture of me and my intelligence team sitting on about ten tons. This picture was taken off the coast of the Galapagos Islands on June 1st, 2004 on the flight deck of USS Valley Forge. Those big black cubes we're sitting on are literally worth billions when cut with powered baby formula or dried milk or rat poison or boiled in gasoline to make crack. That's me, third from the right, second row - the guy with the radio mic on my right collar.

Altogether we brought home nearly twenty tons of coke and 40 something prisoners. Did it make a difference? Well, we'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mary Sue ain't half a cool as you think she is...

Some of you may have noted that I haven't been very active on teh weebs lately, and some of my blogs posts this week have been a bit, uh, fluffy. I normally comment on your blogs and a number of online sites, and over the last month I haven't, or haven't as much anyway.

Well, there's a reason for that - I'm busy.

I'm behind schedule and it's my own dammed fault.

Something had to go, and for a number of reasons it had to be the amount of time I spend reading and commenting on other people's sites.

I normally spend six hours or so in the mornings writing, and my afternoons (after the kid gets home) working in the wood shop. A couple of months ago I picked up a gig making wine racks for a local wholesaler. It's simple, if somewhat tedious, work. I've got an order for a hundred racks in three different styles due tomorrow. The initial prototyping runs gave me a good feel for the amount of time each rack takes to produce and the steps involved, including the time required to reconfigure my machines between steps and the most efficient order in which to perform the steps. I had to build several dozen jigs and templates for each component, and make a couple of prototypes, prior to beginning actual production. The jigs are a critical step, they are used to hold each component piece at the proper orientation in the various machines during boring, shaping, and cutting - and they took a while to get exactly right. Additionally, each rack requires a rather significant amount of complex freehand work on the band and jig saws - which required that I make a number of practice cuts in order to establish muscle memory so that each piece is cut properly during the actual production runs. In some cases I'm cutting several hundred complex curvy pieces and they all have to fit together correctly, and since each rack has a number of moving parts the tolerances are fairly close.

I began the first production run, for the type #1 racks, two weeks ago and everything went pretty much as I expected. But, there are always little things you forget about that add time to the process. For example, after completion, each rack has to be finish sanded prior to staining. I do this both by hand and with a powered palm sander. My palm sander has a dust collection port, but in the past I've never really bothered with it. However, fine dust can be dangerous, it's both a breathing and fire/explosion hazard, especially in large amounts, and with amount of work I'm doing I was generating a lot of it. Now I have a very large cyclone style dust/chip vacuum collection system in the shop. I have the entire shop plumbed in six inch metal ducting which connects my various machines and work stations to the collector. So, it was an easy matter to hook up a 2" inch flex hose between the sander and the nearest vacuum drop. Then the stupid kicked in. See, for the dust collection system to work, the sandpaper on the palm sander has to be perforated in order for the vacuum to collect the dust under the tool as it moves over the wood. I buy sandpaper in bulk and cut it to the shapes I need, but it doesn't come perforated. And I need to change sandpaper fairly often. So I was spending an inordinate amount of time punching holes in the paper, and the holes have to be in the exact right spots - tedious, time consuming, and unplanned. Argh! So, anyway, I was bitching about this very fact to Beastly on the phone the other day - and he began to laugh. For those of you who don't know Beastly personally, he has several laughs - this one is the one he reserves for me personally, when I've done something incredibly stupid. See, there's all this extra stuff that comes with a power tool, mostly worthless crap that manufactures toss in the case so they can make the list of 'included items' on the side of the box longer. I don't keep my hand tools in their various plastic cases; the cases I stash up on top of the tool lockers and rarely ever look at. Beastly sent me to look in the sander case, laughing his evil laugh all the time. Sure enough, in the case (next to the unread instruction manual) there was a little plastic rectangle with six properly placed spikes designed to punch holes in the sandpaper. What had been taking me five minutes per piece of paper (and adding up to over an hour of lost time each day), was reduced to mere seconds. Thanks, Beastly.

So, anyway, I figured I'd gotten the stupid out of my system.

Not so.

After I finished the production run on type #1, I naturally started type #2. Type #2 requires a lot more freehand work, but less precision, so I figured I could make up the lost time - and I did, initially. I got all the bandsawing work done in a single day and was congratulating myself making up significant time. The next day (Monday last), I started boring the pin and swivel holes. This involves placing each piece in a jig on the horizontal boring machine and cutting precise holes to a specified depth. It should have been simple and quick - and it was. I cut the test piece, measured against the templates and checked whether or not the pins (nylon dowels) fit properly, they did. But, I noted that the machine required a little too much pressure on the quill to drill the holes. This indicated that the drill bit was a little dull. Since I had over a thousand holes to drill, I figured I'd take a second and sharpen the bit. Sharpening tools is an art form and it can take years of practice to get good at it - but I've had years of practice. I dismounted the drill bit and put it in the power sharpener, and the phone rang. GCI calling to see if I wanted to sign up for their digital phone service, it sounded interesting and also sounded like I could save a significant amount of money, so I got the details and told the girl to call me back after I talked to my wife. Then I went back to the job at hand - and completely forgot to properly align the bit in the sharpener, the end result of which was that the bit ended up with a small (about a 1/64th of an inch) flange along one of the flutes - which I didn't notice. I remounted the bit in the horizontal boring machine and cut all the rest of the holes. Simple, quick - and wrong. Here's the stupid part, because I checked the test bore and found it good, I didn't bother to check the rest of the holes, despite the fact that I had made a change in between the test cut and the production cuts. Stupid rookie mistake. Because the bit was sharpened incorrectly, each hole, all thousand of them, was 1/16 of an inch too large in diameter. The pins that go in the holes must fit tightly, and they didn't. Stupid, stupid, stupid. So, I was faced with scrapping several hundred dollars worth of stock and three days worth of work, or fixing it.

I choose to fix it.

I spent several hours cutting plugs from birch scrap, and several more hours gluing the plugs into the holes. Then I had to wait an entire 24 hours for the glue to dry, before I could sand down the plugs and complete the repair. Then I had to rebore all of the holes (this time with the machine fitted with a new carbide bit), and believe me when I say I tested each and every hole as I drilled it.

So, anyway, last night I finally completed assembly of the type #2 racks. Today I've got to sand and finish them. So they can be delivered tomorrow. I'm now about three days behind on the type #3 racks, which the buyer just laughed about and said, "Hey, no problem, tourist season is staring slow this year anyway. Get 'em to me when you can." Thankfully he's an understanding guy.

So, anyway, I'll be in the shop if you need me, probably doing something stupid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This is a test, this is only a test

I'm trying something new in blog editing this morning - so if you see weird stuff try not be be unduly alarmed (weirder than usual from me, that is).

I downloaded Microsoft's new Windows Live Writer as part of my Live Messenger upgrade. Live Writer is supposed to work with most popular blog sites, including Blogspot. It gives you a much better interface than Blogspot's generic editing page, and a wide array of tools for graphic insertion, editing, and HTML coding.

Specifically, Live Writer supposedly includes the following:

1. WYSIWYG - and so far that looks to be the case. I'm currently switching back and forth between "normal view" and "web layout" and "web pre-view." It's pretty cool.

2. Streamlined graphic upload, haven't tried that yet. Let's see how it works.


Hmmm, seems to load into Writer just fine, we'll see if my editing holds once it uploads to Blogspot (that's Sheyma Island, Alaska by the way, my erstwhile home away from home, 1500 miles from Anchorage at the very tip of the Aleutians).

3. Tables, let's see how that works:

Table Test Table Test
Table Test Table Test
Table Test Table Test

It's easy to make a table in Writer, we'll see what it looks like after the publish.

4. Maps! Ooooh! Shiny. Let's see if it works.

Map image

Eh, it's Microsoft Virtual Earth, but I was able to pull up Shemya. Coolness.

5. Tags. This was a minor bitch in the first reviews - no tag insertion capability. Microsoft fixed it and the latest version includes an easy method for tagging your posts to common providers like Technorati.

6. Video. I'll try this one later.

7. Plugs-ins. You can add all kinds of third party plug-ins. I looked at a few of them and may add a couple later.

8. A clean interface with lot's of extra tools.

9. Off-line drafts and composition.

10. Much better control over hyperlink behavior.

11. It's free.

Like with any Microsoft product I'm treading carefully, looking for land mines, but so far, it's pretty cool. So far.

It installed easily, and the configuration process that links it to your webpage is a snap.

And now for the ultimate test - publish.

Post Publish Update: It Works.

One thing, pictures are uploaded to Picasaweb first, then loaded to blogger. How that works for other blogging sites I have no idea. You have to agree to the terms and conditions on the picasa site - it's painless, though I would have preferred to use Flickr, since I already have a Flickr Plus account.

Anyway, Live Writer seems to be pretty cool.


Watching the news this morning and a question occurred to me:

You think the Pope ever just says to himself, "Fuck it, I've had it with the singing and the blessings and the crowds and the state dinners and etcetera already. I'm putting on some jeans and a T-shirt and going to get me a pizza and a beer, yo."

No? Yeah, probably not.

Just another reason I wouldn't want to be pope - well, that and having to hang out with GWB for the day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What I won't be doing today...

...is going anywhere near the Post Office.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the Palmer Alaska Post Office is a nightmare under the best of circumstance. April 15th? Not on your life.

We filed our taxes as soon as the W-2's came in. I say we, but it was really my wife. If it was up to me - I would be standing in line at the Post Office today. So, yeah, thanks, dear.

Busy today, more later.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Help! Help! I'm being repressed!

OK, so last night I was watching When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth on the Science Channel when a commercial came on.

Now, I normally mute the TV during commercials, so it took me a moment to realize that the commercial was for the Ben Stein creationist crapfest Expelled.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (the subtitle being the only honest part of the entire idiotic mess), for the those who don't know, supposedly documents the global conspiracy to suppress the "new ideas" of creationism within the scientific community. Blah, blah, blah, same old creationist bullshit - "we just want equal time," no actual proof, no adherence to scientific method, nothing but conspiracy theory nonsense, demonstratively defective reasoning, sound bites and cherry picking. Typical creationist persecution-complex garbage.

I mean, who exactly were they trying to reach with this add? People like me, who watch documentaries on dinosaurs, are fairly unlikely to be big Ben Stein fans, just saying. So, I'm more than a little perplexed to see an add for a creationist masturbation fantasy in the middle of a documentary on dinosaurs, on the Science Channel (but then I feel the same way about adds for "feminine itching" products in the middle of Monday night football). I mean seriously, why would the producers of Expelled give money to support the Science Channel, especially if there's a global conspiracy by big science to suppress their ideas? Why would the Science Channel take their money - if there's a big conspiracy to suppress creationism that is?

Unless, of course, there's no conspiracy at all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Holy mutton chops!

That's Issac Asimov hawking Tandy Computers in 1982.

The Trash (sorry, TRS)-80. Dig that TV standard resolution and a whole 16k of RAM. Throw in an 8 inch floppy drive and copies of Super-Bustout and Electric Pencil and you're in the realm of science fiction. Ah, those were the days; heady times when the personal computer was new and exciting.

Good luck finding a famous science fiction author to endorse Vista today.

Of course, if you want 'maximum user convenience,' you really need one of these:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Clear your desks, pop quiz time.

Clearly I need to brush up on my chemistry.

I got 51 out of 118.

I could not remember more than 3 of the noble gases. I got about half of the transuranics and about half the poor metals.

Let's see how you do.
Funny Pictures

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The more things change...

The official news organization of the old Soviet Union was called Pravda - Truth.

When I first joined the military, at the height of the Cold War, we used to get the international edition of Pravda and I read it religiously each week. We used to laugh at how the Pravda editors could turn any disaster into a great victory. Chernobyl? Not a horrifying nuclear meltdown, but rather a demonstration of the heroic resolve of the Soviet people, who willingly gave their lives mopping up plutonium fallout with their bare hands while singing Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza. Fifty years of failed collective agriculture? No worries, the next five-year plan would certainly leave the people with a surplus - Hero of the Soviet Union, Comrade Chairman Chernanko said so. Afghanistan? Not the disaster portrayed in the decadent western press, but rather a great victory for the Soviet military. Pravda always had great slogans too, things like Peace, Liberty, and Bread! or Brotherhood and Freedom! Hey, what better way to pass the time when you're standing in line for shoes, toilet paper, and bread than to chant inspiring slogans?

One thing I learned from reading Pravda, truth depends entirely on your point view.

It was a valuable lesson, and one I've never forgotten.

I was reminded of Pravda this morning. watching the President's speech on the war in Iraq.

A few highlights.

Surge, working. There's certainly a grain of truth to this and it would appear on the face of things that the surge has had at least some of its intended effects in Baghdad and Al Anbar province, elsewhere maybe not so much, especial Basrah (or Basra, depending on which translation you prefer).

Sectarian Violence, down. Hmmm, that would depend on whether or not you're a Kurd, or a Sunni, or a Shia, now wouldn't it? Or a member of the Sons of Iraq.

Iraqi and American Deaths, down. Again, it does appear that this is a largely true statement. Between January, 2007 and January, 2008 Iraqi civilian deaths have dropped steadily, from around 3500 per month to about 500 per month (according to the Brookings Institute). American troops casualties have also fallen from around 700 per month in January, 2007 to about 200 in March, 2008.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, on the ropes. Sorry, I've heard this one before, not buying it. We've made some progress against the riff-raff, but they're just the cannon fodder. Bankrolling, planning, intelligence, recruiting, and etc are all still in full operation and expanding. And the real brains and heart of the operation is still making TV broadcasts and free in the mountains of Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or the Congo, or wherever the CIA thinks he is this week.

The Iraqi economy, recovering and paying for the reconstruction. Sorry, I've also heard this one before, and the numbers simply don't support it. According to Senator Harry Reid (is that a porn star name or what?), the current price tag for Iraq alone is running about $5000 per second, and those dollars are buying less and less as each second passes due to our deflating economy.

The Iraqi Government, making real progress towards democracy. Well, I can sort of see this one. As a previous President once said, it depends on what your definition of 'it' is. Nouri Kamel Mohammed Hassan al-Maliki and his policies are hated almost as thoroughly by his people as George Bush and his policies are hated here in the United States. So, by that yardstick I guess it's safe to say that the Iraqi Government is making real progress towards an American style democracy.

American troops, coming home as promised fifteen months ago, just as soon as the surge ends. The President said that force levels in Iraq will be down by 25% come July. Then he mentioned that he had also ordered an indefinite halt to the troop returns after June, based on the recommendations of General Petraeus. He also said that deployments would be shortened from 15 months to 12 months. Then he he gave us the new Heroic Peoples Slogan - Return on Success!

And here we have a true Pravda moment, with slogans and everything. Things are good and getting better, but more heroic sacrifice is needed. Just a few more bushels of plutonium fallout, just one more five year plan, one more victory. Either the troops succeed as the President defines success, or stay indefinitely. And if you do the math, you find that there's only so many troops to go around, so while you may get a shorter deployment, you get more of them in order to maintain the number of boots on the ground that Petraeus needs for "success".

Pravda, indeed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wright exercises his iron will power

Busy in the shop today.

I'm pushing deadlines for contract work and really, no really, can't spend the day online. Besides the sooner I get this work done, the sooner I can get back to turning and the world will return to proper balance.

However, I am loath to leave you without entertainment today because I know that makes you cranky - and there's only so much cranky to go around and I like to keep that for myself.

So, as I've mentioned before I have this thing about small British pub bands. Weird, quirky pub bands with one too many pints under their bowler hats.

Meet The Coral.

From the Wikipedia: The Coral are an English band formed in 1996 in Hoylake on the Wirral Peninsula near Liverpool. The band's music is a mixture of old-fashioned country, 1960s-style psychedelica and folk, with modern rock influences.

Here they are, performing Dreaming of You. If you're a Scrubs fan, you might recognize this from episode 10, season 2, My Monster (today's quote is also from that episode. Damn, but John C. McGinley kills me).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Rest of the Camel

For those of you surfing in from Bakersfield, California due to the links posted in your local media - Good morning.

If you sent me hate mail and expect to see me discuss it here. Sorry, I'm not interested. If you plan on sending me hate mail, don't bother - it just goes into the spam catcher unread along with the Viagra adds.

If you've read The Camel's Nose and you've come to tell me what an asshole I am here on my blog, well fine, go ahead. But before you start, read the following:


1) I have nothing against any particular religion, belief in God or gods, Gaea, Witches, Warlocks, the Great Bird of the Universe, or other manifestations of faith. I also have nothing against atheists. I belong to neither camp; I cheerfully associate with people of both inclinations and have many good friends of both persuasions. REPEAT: I am not anti-religion. I am not anti-atheist. I subscribe to no agenda urging the eradication of either viewpoint. Clear?

2) I do NOT have a problem with the word "God" as it appears in the national motto, or in the oaths of allegiance sworn by public officials and members of the military. I do NOT have a problem with use of the bible or other holy books used to add solemn gravity to oaths of office or of the court. Again, I have no militant anti-Christian agenda, see paragraph (1) above.

3) I respect other's beliefs up to a certain extent (mostly the point where those beliefs become a house of cards rationalization based on denial, or to the point where they begin to hurt others or deny people their guaranteed rights), and I demand that you do the same. I have spent most of my life defending the Constitution of the United State specifically so that you and I may be free to believe as we choose. If you are a person of faith, and you wish to discuss your beliefs with me, I will listen - as long as you're polite and respectful about it. I have no problem with the young Mormon and Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door and clearly identify themselves and state their purpose up front and who, when I explain that I am not interested, politely thank me for my time and leave.

4) Where I have a major problem is when those of faith, or no faith, attempt to force their views on me and mine. However, for those who truly and honestly believe what they are professing, I have some grudging respect as long as they are open about their agenda.

5) I cannot, and will not, abide those who attempt force their beliefs on me or mine or my fellow citizens through subterfuge and dishonesty. I despise those who attempt to pervert and subvert the rights I fought to defend in order to secretly impose their religion on others. I have no respect whatsoever for public officials who swore an oath to uphold and defend both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of their own home state, who gave their word with their hand on the Bible that they claim to hold most dear, and then scheme and plot to violate that very oath. I consider those, and especially Christians, who attempt to impose their beliefs on others through subterfuge to be the ultimate hypocrites and I will NOT tolerate it. This hypocrisy is the ultimate form of disrespect. Respect is earned. Respect returns respect. You cannot demand respect for your beliefs when you yourself have so little respect for them.

6) The Camel's Nose was not a rail against Christianity or any other religion - I know, I wrote it. If you took it that way, that's your problem - and if you post a comment accusing me of some anti-Christian agenda, as some did last night, I'll delete your posts without comment as I did last night. My blog, my rules, if you don't like it - go somewhere else.

To clarify:

I think posting the Constitution and it's associated Bill of Rights and amendments in every classroom, library, court house, state and federal office in the country is a dandy idea. Personally I'd like to see that as part of a mandatory class for elementary, middle school, and high school students covering the Constitution in detail, including it's origins, framers, and it's impact on government, law, and the individual citizen. I think that there should be a separate section dealing with the Constitution and Government on the National Standardized Test Battery for public schools as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Personally, I'd like to see even a tenth as much effort go into teaching the Constitution as goes into high school sports or cheer leading.

As to the Declaration of Independence, it's a great document. Magnificent even. It contains the germ of the ideals that became America. Though it has absolutely no weight as a legal basis or as guiding principles in our nation, it does command significant historical value. By all means post it in the classroom. Discuss it, and the events that led to its declaration - and more importantly, those that followed.

That National Motto. Again, post it. It is the national motto. Post it and discuss why it's the national motto, discuss why Congress in 1956 felt compelled to make it our motto, when the framers of the Constitution did not - and while you're at it, discuss why they also added a pledge of allegiance when the founding fathers were so adamantly opposed to such an oath. But post the motto because it is the national motto, and post it separately.

Post the Oaths of Office, and the Oath of Enlistment for both Officers and Enlisted of the US military (the oaths are similar, but vary by one very, very significant line - which has to do directly with the Constitution). Post the State Constitution. Post the Federalist Papers and the writings of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Post the writings of Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. Hell, as a citizen of the United States and as a retired US Navy Officer, I have no problem if you post the Articles of Confederation as a learning tool - those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and that's a mistake we can ill afford to repeat.

I think all of these things are fine ideas. In fact I think that as educators, public officials, and especially as citizens of this nation we have a profound obligation to ensure that future generations are versed in the principles upon which the United States was founded. I think it is our duty, all of us.

But, public officials charged with the execution of a secular office took an oath to uphold the Constitution first. If you cannot place you duty above your personal beliefs, then you have no business holding public office in the United States. As a public official, you have a duty and an obligation to the Constitution first, period; your duties to office come before your duty to your God. That is the oath you swore. If as a matter of faith you cannot execute the duties of your office in this manner, then you should never have taken the oath to begin with - you're a hypocrite and a liar. And don't tell me that this is too high of expectation, public office is a voluntary obligation. This exact expectation of loyalty is demanded of every person in military service, and it is demanded by the Constitution of those in public office as well. Public Officials have no right, no right whatsoever, to filter public education through their own religion, they represent all Americans, those of their faith and those not, just as those of us in uniform are sworn to defend all Americans equally, those of faith and those of none.

The biggest lie of all is to tell half the truth.

The Bakersfield City Council stated that their goal is to educate and instill a sense of patriotism. As long as patriotism is defined simply "as a love of country" or as "a respect of country" or even as "appreciation for country" I have no problem with it. However, when patriotism becomes required nationalism, or especially when patriotism is used as a method of indoctrination by subterfuge, well, then I'm going to push back, hard.

And in this case that's exactly what's going on. Patriotism is being used as a gateway drug to religion. When a city council member states clearly and unequivocally that the reason for posting "In God We Trust" is because "Patriotism is a love of God and a love of country" and "people should love God first and then their country" that's precisely what she's doing. She's hiding her religion behind the guise of patriotism, with the full intention of foisting her definition of patriotism on the public school system.

Intention is the issue here, not the motto itself.

And that intention is a lie, and subterfuge, and hypocrisy, and a violation of the oath she swore to uphold.

Lying, subterfuge, and hypocrisy are also contrary to the principles of Christianity. Just saying.

Monday, April 7, 2008

DĂșnedains of the week - Sandy Childers and Bill Baird

Last week I posted about the 201st Engineering Battalion of the Kentucky National Guard. In the post I railed against Yellow Ribbon Patriots who talk about supporting the troops - and really just end up making themselves feel a little less guilty.

The 201st has been training in Wisconsin for the last couple of months and are shipping out for Afghanistan very soon. Due to regulation and red tape, in order to get a final couple of days leave at home with their families, they had to raise $60,000 of their own money by the 15th of April.

The United Way of Kentucky took up the their cause, established a fund and put out a call for donations. By the end of last week they had raised about 10% of their goal, and frankly it was looking pretty iffy.

Then a guy named Bill Baird got involved. Bill owns Saturn Machine and Welding in Sturgis, Kentucky. He contacted Sandy Childers at the United Way, determined the remaining balance necessary to get the 201st home - and then wrote a check.

The 450 members of the 201st will get 6 days home with their families at the end of this month.

When I spoke to Sandy this morning, she was still in shock and very, very happy. See Sandy not only works at the United Way, she has somebody close, very close, to her in the 201st. She and her associates not only established the fund, they did it, including all the legal hoopla, in just three hours. Then they started beating the drums and got the story out - and Bill Baird answered the call to the tune of $49,000.

And that, my friends, is supporting the troops.

I've said it before in other posts - what matters is what you do in the moment. Believe in this war or not, what matters is how we take care of our own in their hour of need. Hell of a job Sandy and Bill and the rest who donated their time and money.

Hell of a job. You make me proud to be an American. Your efforts changed the lives of 450 of your fellow citizens and their families. Whatever comes, you can always be proud of your actions today. Well, done.


Note: the United Way Fund remains open. Further donations will go to support the 201st, and other members of the Kentucky National Guard, while deployed. Information if you're interested can be found by following the link above.

The Camel's Nose (updated)

Update: For those of you coming in from Bakersfield, read this post, then go here. Then, and only then, feel free to post comments. Otherwise I'll delete you.

One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a camel gently thrust his nose under the flap and looked in. "Master," he said, "let me put my nose in your tent. It's cold and stormy out here." "Why not? By all means," said the Arab, "and welcome" as he turned over and went to sleep. A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had not only put his nose in the tent but his head and neck also. The camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said, "I will take but little more room if I place my forelegs within the tent. It is difficult standing out here." "Why not? Yes, you may put your forelegs within," said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was small. Finally, the camel said, "May I not stand wholly inside? I keep the tent open by standing as I do." "Yes, yes," said the Arab. "Come wholly inside. Perhaps it will be better for both of us." So the camel crowded in. The Arab with difficulty in the crowded quarters again went to sleep. When he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself.

I don't have to explain this story, that's the point of parables - they're self explanatory. And the lesson here is obvious, any answer that is based on the rationalization "why not?" is probably going to end badly.

Let's take a look at a real world example of the camel's nose, shall we?

In Kern County, California - the area surrounding Bakersfield - the county school system has put up copies of the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (and, according to the news release, The Bill of Rights- which I thought was actually part and parcel of the Constitution, but then what do I know?) in public high school classrooms. Supposedly 31 other Californian municipalities are doing the same. This was done "to promote a sense of patriotism in the students."

Good, right? Our kids should be exposed to these documents, and public schools are a good place to start.

Well, as usual when I start talking about a subject here at Stonekettle Station, there's a bit more to it than first appears.

See, the copies of the these documents have had a little modification. Nothing major, just a single line - in large bold letters - at the top of each document.

"In God We Trust"

Nothing earth shaking. In God We Trust is the national motto, adopted in 1956, when it was discovered that gasp! we didn't actually have an official motto. Other nations had a motto, but not us. E Pluribus Enum was the de facto motto, but never officially adopted - and by 1956 we had decided that we really didn't like the concept of 'from many one,' and the world was filling up with atheist communists - so Congress decided that "In God We Trust" would be a good way to close the motto gap and stick it to the Godless commies all in one fell swoop. Then they went around pasting their new official slogan on everything in sight, including the national currency.

Who knows? Maybe it worked. The Red Scare faded into history, the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States won the cold war whoohoo! And life went on pretty much as before, except now we had a cool motto we could whip out at parties to impress other less cool nations.

So, adding the national motto to the top of our founding documents doesn't seem like that big of deal. Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan said the posters have a positive message and she can't see any negative impact from hanging them in school classrooms. She said the posters promote patriotism, and that schools are where students should learn about patriotism.

One of the things I've bitched about of late is the rather large number of folks in this county who have never read the either Declaration nor the Constitution, have little or no understanding of either document or why the Constitution in particular is so damned important. Now, I'm not happy that either document should have words or phrases added to them that were not put there by the framers, but truthfully plastering the national motto across the top doesn't seem like that big of deal to me. Get them up in the classroom, and more importantly talk about them, in detail. (This is the part where if I was the Arab, I'd be letting the beast stick its big fuzzy nose into the tent).

Now, as most of you have figured out, I'm not even remotely religious, in fact most things religious give me the screaming willies, but I don't get all spun up over the word "God," especially in the context of the National Motto. In fact, at first reading I was more disturbed over the use of the word "Patriotism." Patriotism? Schools are where students should learn about patriotism, according to the Bakersfield City council. Hmmm, who defines what that means exactly? I have a problem when state schools start defining God, I have an even bigger problem when the state starts defining patriotism. And when the words patriotism and God start coming up in the same sentence, especially in the classroom, yeah, that's when I start having a major fucking problem.

See Council Woman Jacquie Sullivan went on to say this: "I have passion on this because I think, 'Why not?' Patriotism is a love of God and a love of country," She also added, "people should love God first and then their country."

There it is, right there, the real agenda - and now the camel is shoulder deep and blinking innocently. What? I'm just trying to get in out of the cold.

Why not? I'll tell you why not, Ms Sullivan, because you're full of shit, that's why not. Because it's right there in that document you've defaced. Because this isn't even remotely about teaching the Constitution or about love of country. It's about your beliefs and your religion, first and foremost - by your own words, you deceitful disingenuous hypocritical camel. It's about teaching Patriotism as you define it. It's about getting your religion into the heads of other people's children.

This, more than anything else, is what pisses me off about fundamentalists - as long as you're doing it for God, lying and dissembling and deceit are OK. Lying to yourself is OK. Hypocrisy is OK. Operating under false pretenses is OK. Violating your oath to uphold the Constitution as a public official is OK, in fact giving your oath with no intention of keeping your word is OK. As long as you're, you know, doing it for God. I am sick to death of these people, these so called Americans, who simply cannot leave the rest of us the hell alone. It's bad enough when they attempt to foist their beliefs on me, but when they use the power of their elected office to further their own personal agenda in an attempt to mold the minds of children that's where I draw the line. I am fucking fed up these hypocrites who have decided that America means fundamental Christianity, and that only Christians can be patriots. I am sick and tired of these people and their nonsense.

I am not the only one, there's fairly widespread opposition to this bullshit, but I doubt it'll gain any traction. Kern County officials said they will finish hanging more than 2,000 posters with the modified Constitution, Declaration, and Bill of Rights in classrooms and libraries within the next few days - they're not just letting the camel stick his nose in the tent, they're actually outside pushing on his rump.

Let's just hope that those actually charged with teaching the Constitution point out the hypocrisy. Let's hope that the students are perceptive enough to spot it when they read: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And while they're at it, maybe Kern County should post California's Constitution too. Particularly Article I, Section 4: Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed. This liberty of conscience does not excuse acts that are licentious or inconsistent with the peace or safety of the State. The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

And don't try to tell me that this is about freedom of religion - this is about state establishment of religion. Don't think so? Read Council Woman Sullivan's words again: "Patriotism is a love of God..." and "...people should love God first... ." She's not saying what she believes, she's saying very clearly what you should believe. If she was speaking as a private citizen then she's entitled to say whatever she likes, but she represents the state and and she is speaking in that capacity. Her intentions are very clear and so are the intentions of the Bakersfield City Council.

Why not?

Because it's a lie. That's why not. Because it's a direct violation of the concepts laid out in the very document it defaces.

Why not? Because the camel's intentions were clear in his mind right from the minute he poked his big smelly nose into the tent, and he deliberately didn't bother to tell the Arab about it. And this camel isn't any different.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Ah, spring in Alaska (officially called 'Breakup,' we don't actually experience the season most of you folks call 'spring').

It's 80F out, the grass is turning green, the leaves are budding out. The bears and squirrels have emerged from hibernation. The sky is blue and the birds are singing. What a glorious time.

OK, I started drinking early today.

I'm completely full of it, well mostly. Yesterday it was 60F (16C for those of you surfing in from Canada - eh you hosers there Ontario, British Columbia, and you there in Saskatchewan. Just for you, I'm wearing my raggedy old Canadian 'Roots' sweatshirt today). The grass is still brown and the leaves are still rolled up tight. The sky is bleak and gray and foreboding and it actually looks like this today, here in front of my shop.

They're predicting 9" of snowfall this weekend.

See? That's why I don't dismount the plows or pack up the snowblower until June.