Thursday, April 29, 2010

Latest From the Shop – Dyed Alaskan Birch Vase

I think I mentioned a while back that I’ve been working on a vase.


It started out as an end-grain turned piece, made from a large chunk of spalted Alaskan birch that has been drying for several years.


The vase evolved along the way to include an accent ring of walnut at the shoulder.


I liked how it looked naturally, but I had something specific in mind for this vase right from the very start.


It’s taken a couple of months, but in my not so humble opinion it was worth the effort:




The color is from multiple applications of different analyine dyes applied over a month’s time. The finish is many, many coats of wipe-on polyacrylic, sanded between applications. The yellow sculpted areas are not naturally occurring, I do that with a variety of powered carving tools.  The interior is yellow - because I like the contrast – and left with a natural wood finish.


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with how this one came out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Papers, Please!

Saturday, March 27, 2010, Robert Krentz was out checking fences and water lines on the 35,000-acre ranch his family has worked since 1907.

Somewhere out there in the dusty Arizona desert, he ran into a trespasser.

Who, exactly, he encountered on that morning is still unknown. 

Sometime between 10:00 and 10:30, Krentz radioed his brother and said he had spotted an illegal immigrant and was going to check out the situation.  That was the last anybody heard from Rob Krentz. 

Krentz was a big, florid man, a real western cattle rancher. The kind of character John Wayne would have played in Chisholm or McClintok!  He was widely known as a good Samaritan and a hell of a decent person.  He offered water and help to illegals in need – but he was also known to call the border patrol when necessary too.  Unfortunately for Robert Krentz, that generous nature is probably what got him killed on that fateful Saturday morning. 

Krentz was found slumped over the saddle of his still idling ATV, shot dead with a 9mm handgun.  His dog, also shot with the same weapon, lay dying at his side.  Krentz had been armed with a pistol and a rifle, both were found untouched in their holsters on the ATV. Krentz never had a chance, he was probably shot the minute he put down his phone.

There were tracks made by a single individual in the dust nearby the murder scene, no doubt the killer’s, leading south.  Law enforcement officers followed those tracks for almost twenty miles across the border into Mexico, where the trail went cold.

And so it stands.

Who did Robert Krentz encounter out there in the desert? Was it a “coyote,” one of the ruthless criminals who traffic in the human trade across the Mexican/American border, guiding groups of illegal immigrants and criminals and smugglers across the desert? The murderer appears to be a single individual and travelling alone on foot, perhaps a coyote returning home.  Or was it a drug smuggler?  Or some garden variety criminal?  Homes and ranch buildings in the area are routinely robbed by criminals operating across the border – and in fact a nearby home had been robbed of a 9mm pistol and other weapons the day before Krentz’s murder (although it is currently undermined if that weapon was the one used to kill Krentz). Or was it something more sinister? Terrorists? Spies? Or maybe just something sad and pitiful, some illegal alien alone, lost, and scared who made a terrible mistake out of fear (this is unlikely given the circumstances, Krentz appears to have been deliberately shot with malice aforethought).  Unless Mexican authorities catch the murderer, or he returns to the States and is caught, or somebody turns state’s evidence, it is highly unlikely that the unknown assailant will ever be brought to justice – and the reason for this senseless murder will remain unknown.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.  Hell, it’s been going on for well over a century and harkens back to the lawless Old West of legend, just like those aforementioned John Wayne movies, when Comancharo raiding parties and criminal gangs and unreconstructed Confederates terrorized the Frontier and then sought refuge beneath the Mexican border hotly pursued by the steely eyed rangers and their posses. 

Now, from a distance, the situation in the Southwestern desert while obviously dangerous can appear, perhaps, romantic and even adventurous.  Conservatives see it as a national security issue, but liberals tend to see it as a human rights issue.  In the United States while there is no doubt a significant degree of hostility towards immigrants, legal or otherwise, there is also a certain degree of sympathy as well, for those coming across the border seeking a better life for themselves and their children – after all many of our own ancestors were immigrants who came seeking a better life in the United States (though it must be said that many of them were legal immigrants, some welcome, some less so – like my own Dutch and Irish ancestors). And it’s not exactly a secret that a rather large number of businesses welcome the pool of cheap and disposable labor that sneaks across the our porous southern border.  To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for cheap illegal labor, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas would probably shut down.  I suspect the grass would be ten feet tall, because nobody in any of those states owns a lawn mower or knows how to operate one – and why should they when they can hire a team of ten illegals to landscape their yards for $50 a month?  Who would operate the restaurants? Or wash the clothes? Or pick the fruit and vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley for something far less than the minimum wage, with no representation and no benefits of any kind?  Since a significant fraction of our yearly produce comes from central California, every single American benefits from cheap labor there.  And while the money these folks earn is often less than a living wage in the US, it’s a small fortune in Mexico, and Ecuador, and Columbia and so the illegals come to America risking all and they will continue to do so, no matter what.  And speaking of fortunes, in this case large fortunes, there are the drugs. More than you can ever imagine and fortunes beyond measure. It’s easy to rationalize the drug trade as a victimless crime – or at least a crime where the victims bring their own bloody demise upon themselves.   A rather large number of Americans enthusiastically welcome the smugglers who cross the desert into the US every day – and they couldn’t care less about human toll so long as they’ve got something snort up their noses on Friday night.  And as long as Americans demand illicit drugs, the mules and smugglers and criminals will supply it across the border. Period. It cannot be stopped.

For a rather large number of reasons, mostly having to do with money in one form or another, many Americans prefer to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the Southwest.  A hell of a lot of Americans talk about the stopping the flow of illegals into and out of the United States, but the truth of the matter is that stopping the flow is the last thing they want.  When we talk about immigration reform, what we really want is to find a way to keep the cheap labor and the flow of drugs, without having large populations of illegals living in our cities and sucking up our resources.  A hell of a lot of Americans seem to think that the ideal immigration reform policy would be something where illegals quietly show up (say by teleportation so we don’t have to see them arriving), pick the lettuce and mow the grass and paint the house and make the Chinese food and give the special massages, get a couple bucks in cash, and then vamanos their little brown asses back across the border until we need them again. Out of sight and out of mind and not in our schools or hospitals or our neighborhoods  or our prisons and sure as hell not killing our ranchers.

It should be obvious that this is an impossible goal – and yet that is exactly the situation we’ve tried to live with since WWII and the Bracero program – which persisted into the 1960’s and consisted of little more than “legalized slavery” according to the Labor Department.

The cost of this contradictory policy is out there in the desert right now.  It’s everywhere in Southern California, in Arizona, in New Mexico, and Texas.  And it’s damned easy for a lot of Americans to forget that the folks who live in those places, people like Rob Krentz and his family, have to live and die with the consequences. The cost is in lives, ours and theirs – remind me to tell you about the time I saw an illegal get hit by a truck while trying to slip across US5 in the dark, in south San Diego, and then get hit by a least two dozen more vehicles after his body was flung into the middle of the highway - until there was nothing but bloody chunks and small gobs of red meat and nothing recognizably human spread for over a hundred yards down four lanes of highway like a drum of tomato sauce had exploded.   Remind me to tell you about the boatloads of Ecuadorians I encountered on the seas off Baja and Central America, hundreds of people crammed onto small fishing boats designed to hold no more than ten crew, no food, no water, no sanitation, covered in flies and filth and desperation.

The cost of this situation is murder, and death, and vigilantism. It’s crime and theft and terror.

Americans who live in the border states are sick and tired of it. They’ve lived with the situation for decades, and it’s growing worse every day.  Sure they benefit from cheap illegal labor along with the rest of the country – but they bear the full burden of the consequences, and some like Rob Krentz pay the ultimate price.

The situation is unsustainable – and murder of a prominent rancher on his own land in southern Arizona was a flashpoint.

The recent immigration law passed in Arizona was inevitable.

Opponents of the new law are calling it racist, they say it will lead to rampant racial profiling and turn Arizona into a police state.  I think there’s equal measure truth and hysteria to that idea. 

When it comes to race, well obviously, the law will lead to racial profiling. Duh. It will, most certainly, it’s impossible that it won’t.  This law isn’t aimed at illegal Asian immigrants, or illegal Eastern European immigrants, or Canadian actors, or Saudis whose work Visa’s have expired – though technically it could be used in all of those cases – it’s aimed squarely at Hispanics. You know it, I know it, and so does everybody else.  It is race (or nationality) specific to a great extent and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.  You get pulled over and you’ve got brown skin and a Spanish accent it’s a pretty damned good bet that you’re going to have to provide proof of residency.  It’s also a pretty damned good bet that some law enforcement agents are going to abuse this power, sooner, later, but certainly.  Anybody who doesn’t think so hasn’t been paying attention.  This is especially true since law enforcement can be held accountable under penalty of law for not checking. When in doubt, check.

As to a police state, well, yes there are certainly overtones of “papers, please” (said in an ominously bone chilling Nazi accent) to this law – there is no way that there could not be. Potentially, any citizen who cannot produce proof of residency could be jailed or even deported.  If the law and regulation doesn’t clearly spell out what proof law enforcement is required to accept (and I don’t know that it doesn’t, but I couldn’t find such criteria specifically called out anywhere in the law) – then acceptance of proof of citizenship becomes arbitrary and subject to abuse. And it will be abused, it’s inevitable. Remind me to tell you about the time a Navy shipmate of mind was arrested in Texas for being of Puerto Rican extraction.  It was a comedy of errors, except nobody was laughing.  No lawman in Texas seemed to know or believe that Puerto Rico is part of the US,  nor would anybody believe that my friend could possibly be not Mexican, he was jailed, turned over to INS, and threatened with deportation to Mexico – despite the fact that he had US Military ID, a New York driver’s license, a valid SSN, and could provide military contact numbers for verification.  A number of folks rightly fear that they will end up in similar circumstance because of their accent or skin color or last name. I think they are absolutely right to fear such things, I think they would be foolish not to.  I think white people who somehow think they will never be subject to the burden of proof themselves are even more foolish.

What hits me though is this: in a deeply conservative state like Arizona, this law seems contrary to the patriotic ideals of the Right and more like something you’d find in the Soviet Union of days gone by – and yet I understand and sympathize with the frustration that drove this law into being in the first place. Something has to be done, and frankly this law has got to be better than having a bunch of drunken rednecks with rifles shooting at people attempting to cross the border or ranchers murdered on their own property.

The President called the law misguided.

I think he’s wrong – or at least not entirely right.

Honestly, I’m more than a bit conflicted on this subject.  While I think the potential for abuse and human rights violations is enormous, I also think that something must be done to stem the tide of illegals flowing across our borders. I understand the impetus behind this law, even if I don’t entirely agree with its implementation.

The backlash, of course, is widespread.  Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) requested that the federal government not cooperate with local law enforcement by having INS refuse to accept illegal immigrants identified under the new law. This is idiotic. Until, and if, the new law is struck down by the courts it is the law in Arizona.  Illegal aliens, who by definition are breaking the law, are subject to that law – including federal law.  If they are identified and detained under the Arizona law, then they should be turned over to INS for processing. Period.

However it shakes out, I doubt the new law will do much to stop illegal immigration. 

If my experience in counter narcotics is any example, as long as there is a demand north of the border, the supply from south of the border will remain undiminished.  

But I’ll tell you this, ultimately the responsibility for Robert Krentz’s death lies at the feet of every single American who hires illegal labor – be they large corporate farms, or seedy manufacturers, or those folks looking for a gardener. Responsibility also belongs to those who benefit from illegal labor – including those low prices you pay for goods manufactured by undocumented labor here in the good old US, to those authentic tacos you get from the drive up window, or those who make money off housing and supply to illegal immigrants. And so too are all those Americans responsible who buy a little nose candy to help themselves get through the week and see no harm in it.

I detest the law that Arizona just passed, but I understand why it exits.

And if it finally forces the nation to confront the issue head-on instead of keeping it out of sight and out of mind, well then it will be a good thing.


Folks, I’ve been hellishly busy the last week or so and haven’t much had time to write.

Today continues that trend.

So, instead of a post, in accordance with international internet regulations, have a picture of cats:


That’s Stupid and Tubby – and it shouldn’t take any great effort to figure out which one is which.

For new readers, you may read about the adventures of Stupid, Tubby, and ShopKat here.

There will be some kind of actual post later today. Probably.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Axis Of Awesome

I love this

Thursday, April 22, 2010

From the Stonekettle Station Inbox: Tea Time

I get mail. Lately I’ve been getting mail from Tea Party people. Sometimes I respond, because it amuses me to do so. Allow me to share a recent conversation with you, this is one of the more coherent ones:


Dear Mr. Wright,

I love your Stone Kettle Station, so don’t take this the wrong way.

You are a very good writer but you should stick to humor,  because your attacks on the TEA party and Governor Palin are inappropriate and wrongheaded. Your continued use of the disgusting insult “teabagger” is beneath someone of your talents and equating patriotic Americans to homosexual perversion is deeply offensive to many people. You need to stop doing it now and apologize immediately.

The TEA party is not composed of crazy or stupid people and they are some of the smartest people I have yet met. I invite you to attend any rally anywhere in the country. You will see we represent real America.

Sincerely, <name deleted – I’ll call him Lipton, like the tea, the kind that comes in a teabag>

Don’t take this the wrong way?  You’d be a great writer if you’d only write what I want instead of what you actually write. Yes.



I’m intrigued.  Define “real America.”

Also, you appear to be confused as to the origin of the term ‘teabagger.’

//Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

P.S. You probably shouldn’t hold your breath awaiting my imminent apology.


Dear Mr. Wright,

I resent your implication.  You’ve made it quite clear on your blog that you think we are all racists or bigots.  But it is not racist to point out that so-called multiculturalism is destroying our country.  We are losing our America by trying to be all things to all people. America is a country of majority rule, minorities need to adapt to the norm of the majority instead of diluting our culture and traditions.  Political correctness is destroying everything from our traditional Christian holidays to school proms.  The president and our leaders should be members of the majority, not a minority, because they are supposed to represent the majority of Americans and not push the agenda of special interest.  You need to read the Constitution.

TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already, and we come from all walks of life.  Americans are being crushed by taxation in order to pay for a liberal socialist agenda that we do not want.  The founders fought for liberty from taxation. We are the spiritual inheritors of those great patriots and we must retake our country from this tyranny that is attempting to redistribute our wealth to people who aren’t even Americans!

Sincerely, <Lipton>

All walks of life? Oh yes, we have both kinds of music, country and western!


Wow. You’ve certainly convinced me that I’m wrong about your organization.  You’ve also made it clear why everybody at your teabagger rally looks like they just came from a Ku Klux Klan potluck.

TEA may, in your mind, stand for Taxed Enough Already, but that’s not where the name of your movement came from.  You seem to forget that “teabagger” was first proudly used by members of tea parties, who dressed up in make believe colonial costumes and mailed tea bags to members of Congress and the President (which is odd, considering that the British colonial subjects who went down to throw crates of tea into Boston harbor were dressed as native Americans, but I digress).   You called yourselves teabaggers and you got ridiculed for it. Man up and deal with it.

While we’re on this subject, allow me to clarify a couple points:

1) I could call you all “ignorant stupid hysterical racist homophobic jesusfreaking rightwing assholes” but in the context of my blog teabagger is just easier to type and means the same thing, so I’ll stick with that. OK?

2) The act referred to as “teabagging” is neither the exclusive domain of gay men or necessarily a “perversion” (hell, in some contexts it’s not even a sexual act).  In fact, teabagging is really only outrageous if it is performed between homophobic heterosexuals (and not necessarily all parties involved need be males – though obviously one must be).  There are numerous terms that define certain sexual acts that are used as insults, the fact that you are so offended by this particular one, and that you perceive it to be exclusively a “homosexual perversion,” demonstrates your organization’s deep seated bigotry and homophobia – well, that in addition to the overt bigotry and homophobia I mean.

3) Taxes, according to the Government Accounting Office and a number of independent sources, are lower now than they have been in over three decades.  And by  GAO and independent sources, I don’t mean Glenn Beck or FoxNews. Taxed enough already? You pay less taxes than damned near any other civilized country in the world, and less now than Americans have in over 35 years.

4) Americans are hardly being “crushed by taxes.”  During the Great Depression, 30 million Americans lived in Hoover Towns and subsisted on boiled barley and nettle soup and lard sandwiches. You? You had to settle for the 46” LCD TV instead of the 76” Plasma.  You’re not so destitute that you can’t afford an internet connection. Oh, the humanity, how shall we bear this terrible burden?

5) Look up the definition of “tyrant.”  Seriously.  While you’ve got the dictionary open, look up “majority.”  You teabaggers are, by your own claim, not a party. You’re leaderless, unorganized and beholden to no one, so say you.  By your own press releases, you’re a mob of angry ignorant people who make up a fraction of American voters. A fraction. Not a majority. And since you are a minority - according to your own words - your opinion doesn’t matter. QED.

6) I suppose we could refer to it as Reagonomics or Trickle Down Economics or the Free Market Adjustment, if “redistribute the wealth” scares you so much. Redistribution of wealth is what capitalism is all about.

You’re going to have to do better than regurgitate puerile teabagger talking points at me.  Fail, try again. 

//Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

Personally, I’d say it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t call themselves “felchers.” Just saying.

Dear Mr. Wright,

Please stop describing disgusting sexual perversions in your replies to me. This is my family email address and I don’t appreciate such language. Your attitude towards Christians is disturbing and your disrespect is unacceptable. I don’t want my wife or children to see such things. You are very good with language, I’m sure you can get your point across without such vulgarity.

It is you that doesn’t know the definition of tyranny.  Everyday our rights are being taken away.  For example you do not have to look any further than the Federal Reserve, the so-called “Fed.”  America was founded as a capitalist society and it became the most powerful nation in history because of that.  But progressives and liberals imposed a socialist central bank on American business.  We used to be called the “arsenal of democracy” but not anymore because this secret central bank has destroyed American business and industry.  Now these same liberals are forcing government run healthcare down our throats not unlike Nazi Germany. 

You need to educate yourself.  I invite you to any TEA Party meeting so you can see for yourself.  If you keep an open mind you will be surprised. I would love to see you write about that experience, because it will change your life.  We could use people like you.

Sincerely, <Lipton>

Lipton has an unusual recruiting technique.



Would Jesus be offended if I used the term Testicle Gargler instead of teabagger? How about Scrotum Dipper? Ball Washer? Nut Nibbler? Teste Tonguer? No? 

As to disrespecting your religion. Respect goes both ways, Sparky, you want respect? You have to give it.  When God starts respecting the beliefs and lifestyles of others, I’m sure he’ll get the appropriate respect in return. Ditto for Jesus. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath on either one, since it doesn’t appear the apple rolled very far from the tree.

Speaking of educating yourself: Step One, stop listening to Ron Paul.  Seriously, <Lipton>, the whole “Federal Reserve is unconstitutional!” routine is such laughable bullshit that I’m not even going to address it.  And your timing is about three decades off, since the whole “arsenal of democracy” bit was during WWII, about 30 years after the implementation of the Fed.  Step Two, stop listening to Sarah Palin. Or anybody who uses the “Nazis forced people to get universal healthcare!” argument – because seriously here buddy, that’s just fucking retarded. 

Honestly, <Lipton> you want me to believe that teabaggers aren’t ignorant and stupid? Then you should probably stop acting ignorant and stupid and should probably stop following people who are ignorant and stupid.

//Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station.


Mr. Wright,

I am very offended by your language and your disrespect towards Christians.  I will be contacting my lawyer and I will pray for you.

Sincerely, <Lipton>

Don’t act like you can’t figure out what’s coming next.



So, I’m guessing a blowjob in the parking lot is out of the question?

I look forward to hearing from your lawyer.

//Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station


Mail handler cannot deliver message.  Unspecified error, address blocked

Address blocked? What the hell? I guess they can’t use people like me after all. Oh well.


I get mail folks, sometimes it’s from crazy people.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wow, Just Wow

For the first time ever, astronomers have directly observed an actual extra-solar planet.

Previous extra-solar worlds have been detected when they occluded their primary star or by gravitational displacement, but in this case astronomers have used the Hubble space telescope to directly observe a planet in visible light. The new world circles Fomalhaut b, twenty-five light years away.

How astounding is that?

That’s it, the faint little dot inside the small white box.  The Star Fomalhaut is the white dot in the middle of the picture, and the rays of light surrounding the distant sun are starlight reflecting off of an immense dusty debris field. 



Original article is here.

The Continuing Joys of Parenthood

It's 4:30 in the morning.

Why am I awake at this unholy hour?

Because my son is leaving on a school overnighter to Valdez this morning and I lost the coin toss with my wife on who gets to get up early and take him to the bus.

C'mon coffee machine.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Breakfast Meat

Beef Bacon…

…is not my new favorite bacon.


Don’t get me wrong here, it tastes like bacon (with sort of a smoky beef jerky undertone – bacon and beef jerky, honestly if you’re going to kill yourself, you could do worse), it feels like bacon, it smells like bacon. It is bacon, but made from a cow instead of a pig.  It's seems to be lower in fat – but I seriously doubt that it’s any better for you than pig bacon in any way whatsoever.

It’s not bad, I like it, but it will never replace pig bacon as undisputed king of crispy fried fat.

I would rate beef bacon higher than bacon made from any kind of fowl, higher than both turkey and ostrich bacon certainly.

I would rate it way higher than moose bacon, which is more like the aforementioned beef jerky since moose is pretty deficit in the fat department.

I would certain place it on the bacon scale far, far above porcupine bacon (don’t ask) and fried muktak - sort of a bacon made from whale or seal blubber (think the texture of three day old dog shit that has dried in the sun with a robust taste like fermented fish heads and polar bear ass). 

And it beats the ever living hell out of tofu bacon – though technically it is tofu bacon, it’s just that the soy beans have been processed through an extra step.


Be it bacon, ham, sausage, or a chop - here at Stonekettle Station, the pig is still the undisputed champion of the breakfast meats.



What’s your favorite breakfast meat? Or meat-like substitute?

Think carefully, as always the wrong answer will get you expelled from the Bunker, there to live out your short and miserable life upon surface of the zombie ravaged earth with Anonymous and her banjo.

Saturday In the Wood Shop

I thought you might like to see how I spent my Saturday.


As long time readers know, in addition to lathe work I also do custom woodwork on consignment.  One of the local Air Force squadrons asked me to build a base for a bear statue which they traditionally give to departing officers.  All the services tend to follow similar traditions – going away gifts are usually something unique to the location or the command, usually both.  Here in Alaska, military gifts are often engraved gold pans, bear or salmon themed items, or maybe a plaque carved into the shape of the Great Land. For many, Alaska is a unique duty station, gifts are designed to reflect that.  Most of us treasure these things for the rest of our lives, they remind us of strange and distant lands, our comrades in arms, and the adventure many of us sought by joining up in the first place.

I’ve done a number of these in the past and shown you the results here. This one was sort of short notice and I thought you might be interested in the process of creation from start to finish.


Basically what I’m making here is a sculpted base for this bear statuette.  I don’t make the statuettes, those are cast in resin and hand painted. They’re fairly unique and pricey.  I sculpt the bases to mount the statuette on.  The base has room for a 2x4” brass plaque and two Air Force challenge coins.  I start with a piece of Alaskan birch from my stock log pile.  It has some interesting grain and spalting, but it’s a little too large for what I have in mind:


So I cut it in half with the chainsaw, ran it through the planer to get flat and parallel top and bottom faces, and then trimmed it to rough shape on the bandsaw.  Now we’ve got something roughly the size and shape of what I want:


Next I mark out the recessed top where the statuette will mount, and mark the location of the plaque and challenge coins:


I hollow out the mounting recess using the drill press and forstner bits, which leave a flat surface at the bottom of the recess. I’ll clean up the recess bottom and edges using hand chisels and a mallet. Those wavy pencil marks show the basic pattern I’ll follow for the sculpting:


I sculpt the base using a variety of powered and hand carving tools, roughing it into the basic shape I want:


Sanding and finishing follow:


Next the recesses for the coins are cut using the Shopsmith in articulated horizontal drill press mode (which is a hell of a lot easier to get right than trying to do it by hand or on the big fixed drill press.  All the cracks and checks are filled, the whole piece is given a final sanding and then buffed using a high speed felt wheel to close all the pores and bring the wood to a gloss. Then it’s finished in natural Danish oil:


The oil brings out the natural color and grain of the birch.

The Air Force will mount the plaque in that flat space on the front and they’ll have a unique going away present for the departing officer.



How did you spend your Saturday?

I hope you didn’t waste it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Week’s Very Important Question

Best Air Guitar song?

I’m going with this:


Great acoustic guitar, plus bongos. Seriously, it’s the perfect air band song.


As always, good answers place you on the short list for access to the bunker when the zombie apocalypse comes (where we will be doing a great deal of air guitar to pass the time). The wrong answer, say like anything by Prince (or whatever that little squiggle is calling himself these days), and you’re going to find yourself air banding a reenactment of Thriller…with real zombies.

The flesh eating kind. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The MADness of Sarah Palin

When I first joined the military, we didn’t have a lot of options when it came to force.

For the most part, there was either deadly force or there was no force.

And not a lot of options in between.

Allow me to explain:  You have a gun.  Someone with a knife of a club or their fists violently demonstrates that they intend to do you harm. You order them to stop, they don’t.  You’ve only got two options, shoot or don’t.  There is very little in between no force and deadly force.  Sure, there are exceptions, if you’re the star of a Chuck Norris movie you can kick the gun out of your adversary’s hand, pound him to a pulp with fists like mallets, mumble a simple minded platitude on the virtues of America, and then glower at the camera in a bearded and manly fashion. But in the real world, you either shoot, or you don’t (also, in the real world, Smith & Wesson trumps Kung-fu pretty much always, trust me on this).

When I first joined the Navy, this situation generally applied at all levels.

Let me give you a real world example, one from my own experience:  A US Navy warship is chasing a drug smuggling boat at high speed across the ocean.  The Navy issues a radio call to the fleeing vessel and orders it to halt.  It doesn’t. Now what? That Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser was designed to fight Soviet warships on the high seas and defend the Carrier from air attack, she can sink entire fleets and destroy squadrons of deadly aircraft and lay waste to continents – but when it comes to stopping a fleeing Columbian go-fast loaded with cocaine, she doesn’t have a lot of options.  She can either shoot, in this case using the main battery – weapons designed to sink Soviet battle cruisers, try to imagine what that does to a 30 foot cigarette boat – or not.  There just aren’t a lot of options in between. You can either use no force, or you can induce obliteration and go in afterward with a broom and dustpan to pick up what little remains.

And this situation led directly to a number of fairly terrible incidents.  Over the years there were a number of “peace keeping” missions where soldiers, faced with imminent threat or what they perceived to be imminent threat, shot first and asked questions later. Because they had no choice, they didn’t have any non-lethal, or less-than-lethal, options. It was either no force or deadly force.  The converse was also true, the Marines didn’t always default to deadly force, even when they should have, and as such a large number ended up dead. Same with Navy ships. Same with, well, hell, a lot of situations – I’m sure you can think of plenty if you try, from Kent State to Beirut to the Port of Aden to Iraq.

This situation is also common, if not even more so, in civil law enforcement.  Up until very recently, law enforcement was often caught between  the rock of no force and the hard place of deadly force – with nothing in between.

However, in recent years, the state of the art has advanced dramatically.  Nowadays those bent to the business of force application, both on and off the battlefield, often have a variety of options – from the physical technology of non-lethal or scalable-lethality tools to those that are far more esoteric, such as Information Warfare and aggressive psychological operations.

Take a cop for example.  Not so long ago, a small town cop would have carried three basic tools, a flashlight, handcuffs, and his .38 (or 9mm or .357 depending his locality).  Now? Now he or she is a walking hardware store – CS gas and taser and stungun have been added to the utility belt. Real-time camera and voice recorder, smartphone, bean bag guns, flashbang, a variety of restraints, body armor and more tools arriving every day. In the sky, UAV’s and information heavy manned vehicles extend the cop’s visual and awareness horizon and extend his information gathering ability.  Networks and databases provide almost instantaneous realtime intelligence and support at any level of granularity. In the trunk of his cruiser, a cop might carry a shogun with a dozen specialized rounds – everything from blowing the lock out of a door to illumination flares. More than that, many cops are now highly trained in the psychology of criminals and victims and their tools have extended into the use of verbal and a non-verbal management to alter the outcome of certain types of encounters - without the use of force at all.  Much of this technology and many of these skills have crossed over to military applications, giving soldiers in the battlespace options they never had before.

It takes training, and skill, and experience to use these tools correctly. To know when and how and where to apply these options. It takes training and experience to know how and when to apply the escalation of force, up to and including deadly force if necessary.  But it is a na├»ve and foolish cop (or soldier) who believes that today there are only two options, no force and deadly force, when it comes to the profession of peace keeping or war. 

And again, this is also true on a larger scale.  Navy vessels now often have a variety of methods and tools they can use short of blowing a target out of the water or out of the sky with the main battery.  Forgive me if I don’t specify what some of those methods are.  But an example can be found in the use of high-intensity sound and light devices now being effectively employed against pirates in the Indian Ocean by commercial cargo vessels and passenger liners.

And this is also true on an even larger scale. 

Consider: for three nights, 13-15 February, in 1945, over a thousand heavy bombers of the US and British air forces dropped nearly 4000 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the German city of Dresden.  The result was a holocaust the likes of which would compare only to the dawning of the Atomic Age over Japan in August of that same year.  The Dresden firestorm incinerated nearly 20,000 people and turned twenty square miles of beautiful old cityscape into hell on earth. You might have heard of it, the famous writer Kurt Vonnegut was caught in the middle of the bombardment as a prisoner of war and many years later wrote Slaughterhouse 5 based on his experience.  The morality of that military action has been debated for decades. Moral or not, Dresden was the heart of German Saxony and the location of hundreds of factories and numerous legitimate military targets and the only way to reduce those targets and gut the Nazi war making machine (and thereby force an end to the war) was massive area bombardment – because that was the only tool available to the Allies at the time.

Nowadays? Nowadays we have other options. The precision and range of our weapons allows us to make surgical strikes into the heart of cities with relatively little collateral damage (The key word being relatively.  We get better at this all of the time, but war is never clean nor without collateral damage and unintended death – if you can’t understand that, then don’t engage in it).  One hundred and ten Tomahawk cruise missiles could have destroyed Dresden’s one hundred and ten factories without killing 20,000 German civilians.  Better, smart laser guided bombs and precision strikes could have taken out power stations and electrical grids, rendering the factories inoperative and leaving them intact for reconstruction after the war was over. Stealth bombers could have taken out transportation hubs, preventing those factories from receiving raw materials or shipping out finished machine parts.  A handful of B-2 Spirit bombers could nowadays do in an hour what it once took thirteen hundred Flying Fortresses and Lancasters three terror filled nights to do – and they could do it precisely and with minimal loss of life and destruction.

In point of fact, events such as Dresden – and more pointedly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki –  have spurred the development of just such weapons and options for the last seventy years.

And that takes us to the point of this article.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’m not interested in the morality of it – that is a useless exercise. The events happened. The bombs were dropped, the cities were destroyed. The outcome was both horrific and profound. 

In seconds, two cities ceased to exist for all practical purposes, a thousand years of history gone in a flash.  In less than a minute, hundreds of thousands were killed or horribly maimed, vaporized, burned alive, parboiled in their own skin, charred by gamma rays and bombarded with lethal dosages of neutrons. Hundreds of thousands more died in the aftermath, of burns, of radiation poisoning, of shock and blast, sieved or crushed by debris flying at sonic speeds, trauma in a thousand varieties. Thousands were blinded and deafened and scarred forever.  The horror of it can not be described and they say the stench of death lingered for years, burned into the very earth. The shadows of those mushroom clouds remain to this day. If you don’t believe me, visit the Hiroshima memorial.

And yet, those bombs ended the war.  A war so vast, so far reaching that it killed millions and profoundly changed the very course of human history (the vastness of that conflict staggers my mind, it is too large to imagine properly. I’ve sailed around the world, across the oceans where great fleets once steamed, and beneath which many today lay entombed, and I’ve walked the battlefields on the soil of Asia and Europe and the Aleutians  and even I can hardly visualize the sheer impossible scale of the thing). The bombs, the sacrifice of those cities, ended the war – and most likely saved the lives of millions, both Japanese and American – but at a terrible, terrible cost.

That toll wasn’t just in lives – that cost was also in what followed World War II.  And we are still paying it.

I was born barely six months before the Cuban Missile Crisis and I am just barely old enough to remember duck and cover drills in elementary school.  I’m more than old enough to remember living with the specter of nuclear war.  I remember when every public building had a trefoil on the door jam, indicating the location of a basement fallout shelter. Hell, I remember when people used to have personal fallout shelters in their backyards. When I was fourteen I travelled across country from Michigan to New Mexico with my dad on a bus full of boy scouts on a trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch.  We stayed at military bases along the way, one was Ouffit Air Force Base where we got a tour and lectures on mutually assured destruction and Strategic Air Command.   The memory of those B-52’s idling on the runway at full alert, armed with nuclear bombs and ready at any moment in the event of a Soviet attack, stayed with me for many years. I grew up reading the science fiction of that time, Andre Norton’s Daybreak 2250 AD (Starman’s Son) and Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Mordecai Roshwald’s utterly terrifying and nightmarish Level 7.  But it was a decade later, as a Sailor onboard USS Ticonderoga in the Gulf of Sidra that I lived through an event many of us truly believed (at the time, in the moment) was the beginning of that final war for real.  In that moment, when the enemy missiles were roaring skyward and the best information we had said they were submarine-launched nukes and we thought we were looking at our own death and the death of everything, when we thought the crazy bastards on the other side had finally done it, that’s when nuclear war became very real to me indeed and I’ve never been as terrified before or since – though I have been in far, far worse situations.

But, you see, there was a time when Mutually Assured Destruction, when the threat of ultimate violence and ultimate suicide, was our only option.  When the threat of nuclear Armageddon was the only thing that kept the superpowers from falling on each other’s throats.  There was a time when the technology of war, and the politics of the age, and the primitive communications, and the lack of real-time information from satellites and a global information grid simply gave us no other options. If was either no force, or the ultimate force. 

Oh sure, there were wars in there – of course there were.  Proxy wars fought in Korea and Vietnam and South American and the Middle East. And there were times when the world teetered on the brink – and just how close we came on more than one occasion is pretty damned sobering (and if you think it’s sobering from the viewpoint of history, try it ringside sometime).  To quote one of my favorite movie lines, “It’s terrifying to think that we’re depending on the Russians being less crazy than we are…when they are clearly crazy*.”  I think that line sums up the Cold War perfectly.

Again, I’m not interested in debating the morality of Mutually Assured Destruction.  You can argue the morality of MAD and the Cold War all you like, but in the end it kept us alive long enough to develop better options.

And that’s the point.

We have better tools. We have options that do not require us to vaporize entire cities.

Understand something here, war has been my profession for over two decades. I helped to design some of those new weapons and I pioneered their use in combat.  We have options. Non-nuclear options.  And for the first time since the start of the Cold War we have the beginning of a real, sane nuclear weapons policy.  Carter and Brezhnev started it with SALT II, but Reagan and Gorbachev really set the ball rolling with START and the CTBT.  And last week President Obama took the next steps forward on that path.  If the treaty is ratified here and in Russia, then the number of nuclear weapons worldwide will be reduced by nearly one third – that is literally thousands of nuclear weapons that will be taken out of commission and destroyed. Thousands.

Of course, predictably, without fail, conservative pundits immediately seized on this agreement as evidence of liberal treason. Sarah Palin opined:

"It's kind of like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, 'Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.’”

Go ahead, punch me in the face?

This is how people like Palin and Newt Gingrich see the world. As a playground. It doesn’t occur to Palin to be the adult in the room, to behave in a rational manner, to not to fight in the first place. They’re like angry petulant children who can only respond in simple absolutes.  To Palin, reducing our nuclear arsenal means “punch me in the face, I’m not going to retaliate.”  It’s a simple worldview, the worldview of a cheerleader, a beauty queen, a spoiled shallow pretty popular girl who never actually had to work for a damned thing in her life or educate herself.  It’s part of a set piece, it’s the absolute immutable worldview of a creationist: My viewpoint is holy and righteous, everybody else is evil – even if they are saying the same thing as my prophet, Ronald Reagan and the other revered Conservatives.

But it’s more than that. It’s the astounding, clueless hypocrisy. It’s the morality of it all.

Now, I said I wasn’t interested in debating the morality of the atomic weapons that ended WWII and I’m not interested in debating the morality of MAD – but I am, very much, interested in the morality of this question:  You are a cop and someone with a weapon, a knife, a stick, fists, violently demonstrates that they intend to do you harm. You order them to stop, they don’t.  You have many options, from use of physical intimidation to pepper spray to the taser and stun gun to finally your .9mm.  If you can stop the attacker with a non-lethal option, would it be moral to just shoot him down anyway? And his family, and all his friends, and all his neighbors, and the whole goddamned city he lives in? Would it be moral to announce that this is your intention, that you always reserve the right not to just defend yourself but to annihilate those who threaten the public, and not just annihilate them but all they hold dear – and that you reserve this right in every single case even if other options exist to resolve the situation. Period. Would that be a moral position?

Well, would it?

You know we did that once, or at least the moral equivalent of it, in places like Dresden, because we had to.

But we don’t have to any more.

We have better options, we’ve spent decades and trillions of dollars developing those options.

And knowing that we have those options, is it moral not to reduce the inventory of nuclear weapons? If we can achieve the same objective without the threat of their use? If we can fly a cruise missile through an airshaft from a thousand miles away with the utmost precision and destroy the factory without destroying the city, is it moral to pretend that our only option is and remains the incineration of millions? If we can reduce the number of weapons pointed at us, at our children, at our nation – and we don’t, is that moral? If we have the chance, and we don’t take it, and we leave it for our kids – is that moral?

If the advance of technology give us hope for the future, hope that our descendents will not have to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation as we did, and we don’t take it – is that moral?

If we can change, if we can move away from the brink, if we can increase the odds of survival not just for ourselves but for the entire human race, and we don’t – is that moral?

Or is it cowardice writ large?

It astounds me that the party and people who consistently and passionately and vehemently claim the moral high ground at every turn, from marriage to patriotism to the right to life, are outraged at the thought of no longer being allowed to consider the incineration of entire civilian populations, of millions of human beings, of the human race as a viable or desirable military option. 

No, strike that, I am not astounded.

I am appalled.

I am disgusted.

I am fucking revolted.

There is no single greater indicator of Sarah Palin’s staggering unfitness to lead this country than her position in this matter.   A woman who who claims to revere life at all costs, who claims to be a Christian** and who lays claim with such unctuous self-righteousness to moral superiority over us liberals, moderates, and progressives, this woman speaks with a staggering hypocrisy that beggers the imagination.  In Palin’s myopic and oh so morally superior vision, it is perfectly moral to force women to bear unwanted pregnancies to term because her God so wills it and yet consider the incineration of entire populations at the hand of man an acceptable foreign policy option.

Those who think this vacuous hypocrite is fit to lead the United States of America, those who think this insane and spite filled beauty queen should have her finger anywhere near The Button, are mad.

Tell you what, I’ll take my hope and change, you can keep the Palin.



* 2010, Victor Milson.

** I’m having a hard time visualizing Jesus advocating for the use of nuclear weapons. Call me silly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Newsflash! The Party of No Says No!

The Bush Doctrine is alive and well in the GOP.

You’re not familiar with the Bush Doctrine?

The Bush Doctrine in a nutshell: Find a bogyman.  Fill yourself with hysteria.  Shoot first and let God sort it out later.

Senate Republicans warn that they’ll filibuster any attempt by President Obama to appoint “anybody outside the mainstream” to the Supreme Court when Justice Stevens steps down this summer.


Boy, didn’t see that coming.

Can you just see the strategy session?

“Good God, man! Obama gets to appoint another Judge. What are we going to do?”

“Well, we could get involved, make some bi-partisan recommendations…”

“Traitor! Heretic!”

“I recommend obstructionism!”

“Hey, that sounds good. That’s original. We’ll say no”

“That’s it then. We’ll go with a strongly worded no!”


Like Jihadists, they only seem to have one option:


“Praise Allah, man! What are we going to do?”

“Perhaps we should seek peace. Work together for the common good.”

“Traitor! Heretic!”

“I recommend a suicide bombing!”

“Yes, yes, that sounds good. A suicide bombing!”

“That’s it then. We’ll blow ourselves up…”


Stick with what you know, I guess.


It’s not like you couldn’t smell the GOP panic when Stevens announced his retirement. Oh God! Oh God, why hast thou forsaken us! Good thing these guys warned the President. You know, just in case Obama was thinking about nominating a dope-smoking, flaming-gay, left-handed, long-haired, card-carrying-communist, goat-humping, draft-dodging, lactose-intolerant, illegal-alien, cat-petting, tree-hugging, decaf-drinking, reptile-in-a-rubber-human-suit, sissy-pacifist, America-hating, late term abortion doctor. Booga Booga!

Senate Republicans are demanding that Obama pick a moderate, middle of the road Judge who will place the law above ideology.



What a novel idea.

Oh, wait. Wait. I might be confused.

By “place the Constitution above ideology” does that mean pro-creationism, anti-science, doctor-shootin, gun-totin, immigrant-hatin, born-again, wire-tappin, water-boardin, tractor-pullin, drill-baby-drillin, war-mongerin, Jesus-lovin, Iran-nukin, corporate-lobbyist-panderin’, one-man-one-woman-lovin, Old White Guy(tm)?

Just say no, folks, just say no.

I Have A Bad Feeling About This


As is turned out, those were the droids we were looking for.

Star Wars Exhibit 035

We went to see the Star War exhibit at the newly expanded Museum in Anchorage yesterday.

My son was appalled by the number of “nerds” present.

And even more appalled to find out his parents were among them.

Embarrassing the 13 year old – it’s sort of the whole point of being parents in the first place.


The exhibit is a collection of props, models, and costumes from the various movies.


The landspeeder was pretty beat up, I doubt you could get more than a couple thousand for it – they’re just not in demand, not since the new models came out anyway.

Star Wars Exhibit 003

This weird old guy kept in front of me cutting. Asshole he was:

Star Wars Exhibit 017


They said it would make .5 past lightspeed, but all I could think was “what a piece of junk!”

Star Wars Exhibit 031


It being Alaska, a number of tourists showed up in their enormous RV’s.

Star Wars Exhibit 009


I’m not sure where they were from, Jerkville maybe (a suburb of Mos Eisley), and they didn’t seem very friendly.

Star Wars Exhibit 010

I tried to talk to this guy, but he gave me the cold shoulder.

Star Wars Exhibit 021


On the other hand, this guy wouldn’t shut up.

Star Wars Exhibit 026


Actually, it was pretty cool. I am always amazed at the level of detail in the models. Though the capes on the costumes looked like somebody recycled all those nylon earth tone drapes from the 70’s.

I suddenly feel the need to watch the original trilogy.


And no, gentle readers, I didn’t see a single Leia bikini.

Not one.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things That Chap My Ass About Auto Maintenance

You know what makes me laugh?

Flying cars.

You know, those flying cars we were supposed to have up here in the futuristic George Jetson 21st Century?

Can you imagine?

No, really, can you just imagine the astronomical death toll? The shear complete carnage? Flying cars would make the human race extinct more surely than any giant asteroid impact or nuclear winter or universal healthcare program or ancient Mayan prophecy.

Invent flying cars and I give humanity two months, tops. That’s what happened to the dinosaurs. Flying cars.

Seriously, look at the idiots you share the road with – now give these simpletons wings and three dimensions to maneuver in. That’s right, these are the same mouth breathing dolts who can’t manage a 4-way stop or understand the basic concept of “left lane fast, right lane slow.” These are the same morons who watch porn and surf the internet while behind the wheel of a 20-ton tractor trailer rig doing 70 down the highway. These are the same Viagra fueled hard-ons in their giant chrome crusted pickup trucks that so desperately crave the attention and envy of people they don’t know who are impressed by the manufacturer of car parts ( It’s Got a HEMI! Seriously, like I give a fuck who made your transmission – get out of the way, Jackass) – Yeah, let’s give these people flying Hummers. Try to picture a 70 foot long levitating Winnebago with a blue haired driver from Whatthefuckinton, Oklahoma, in the driver’s seat squinting out the top of his bifocals through the steering wheel at a map flapping madly in the breeze with a midget poodle dog in his lap barking wildly at the birds and the clouds - how come science fiction never managed to see that coming? Just imagine a sky full of flying cars swooping through the air – and every single dumbass piloting with one knee as they chat on the phone and thumb away at their texting keyboards, screaming at their kids in the backseat while in the throes of Sky Rage.

Oh yes, yes, sign me up for that.

Hell, can you imagine the rain of cigarette butts, Starbuck’s cups, and Taco Bell wrappers falling in a continuous sleet from the sky? And you thought pigeon poop was bad. Speaking of which, wait till a couple of geese get sucked into the grill of these flying Buicks. Screw floating cities, we’ll probably need to start living in underground bunkers like the giant WWII submarine pens the Nazis built with the 12 foot thick roofs of ferrocrete and re-bar – at least until bats and birds and flying bunnies and those goofs who like to shoot at passing commuters become extinct.

And, boy, think you’re nervous now, letting your teenaged kids borrow the car? Imagine if it could fly too (imagine the insurance…).

Go ahead, breath into the paper bag. I’ll wait – I’ve got a teenager too.

Now, if a sky full of drunk, stupid, reckless, suicidal jackasses on cell phones in flying cars isn’t enough for you, add this little detail: those flying cars would be built by the same drooling ass-picking booger eating auto manufacturers that make the car you drive on the ground today. Think about that for a minute. The difference is that when your ride breaks down now it doesn’t fall 30,000 feet in a blazing column of smoke and screaming death like a gut-shot B-24 going in over 1944 Berlin. And that’s exactly what would happen – because auto manufacturers, and specifically the engineers who design cars, have got to be the dumbest bunch of sadistically twisted chimp brained chowderheads who have ever existed. Every wonder what happened to those strange social miscreants you went to grade school with? The ones who took auto-shop and only auto-shop all the way through high school and went to Vocab in the summer? Some of those folks tortured small helpless animals and grew up to be cannibal serial killers or Phys-Ed teachers – the rest went to work for GM.

I swear (a lot), have you looked under the hood of a modern car? I mean really looked?

Who designs shit like that?

What is all that stuff? It ain’t engine so what the hell does it do? And there’s more weird stuff under the car.

I can name every single component of an LM2500 Navy Aegis cruiser gas turbine main power plant – and there isn’t one damned thing in that engine room that isn’t completely necessary (well, except for the Lieutenants, they’re usually pretty worthless but they come with the boat, what can you do, right?). I can take a Delta industrial lathe completely apart and put it back together again. Hell, I can field strip an M1911A1 Government Model .45, naming each part and putting it back to together again in under a minute. Blindfolded. But, I don’t recognize half the crap packed Swiss watch-like into the compartment under the hood of my GMC. What is that thing? The flux capacitor? A frappichino machine? The fuel injection system? I swear to the forlorn chrome plated bulbous nosed ghost of Edsel Ford, would it kill these bastards to label shit?

Nobody really knows what any of that stuff does nowadays. Used to be you could ask your dad, or pretty much any guy with a greasy shirt and a SKOAL cap, and he’d say something confident and automechanicky sounding like, “Well, it’s either fuel or fire. Pop the hood, let’s take a look… Oh, hell, there’s your problem! Broken fan belt. You don’t need a new one, we can make one with some old pantyhose and duct tape.” In the old days, it was always the fan belt (and oddly enough your dad always had old pantyhose around the shop…er, never mind). You know how many cars my old man fixed with a soup can, spit, and a steady stream of colorful Navy cursing? Nowadays? Nobody knows anything. Ask a certified auto repairman or ask a redneck shade tree mechanic what that expensive sounding clicking noise is and the first thing he says is, “Wow! That’s weird, man. Never seen that before. Well, it could be any number of things. Could be the ratzerfratzer valveanoodle, or the fuel velociraptor output overflow sensor under-voltage, or it might be your floor mats, there’s just no way to tell – we’ll have to plug it into the computer…” You know what “Plug it into the computer” means? $400. To start. It’s like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the Millennium Falcon keeps making that waaaaaah waaaah waaaaaaaaaaah VW Beetle noise and won’t go to lightspeed. “Chewie, take the Professor here in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive.”

Why in the hell didn’t the Falcon just speak English?

You know what language my truck speaks? Check Engine Light. $40,000 bucks and the only thing it can do when it’s sick is turn on the Check Engine Light? That’s it? It can tell me my gas mileage over time to the tenth of a gallon. I mean it can do complex math, but it can’t tell me what’s wrong? It can tell me when to change the oil. Hell, it’s got On-Star, if I press a button my truck can talk to some hottie in outer space! My wife’s car has GPS, that fucking thing never shuts up, turn left turn left turn left turn left oh god turn left. Not only that, but it can speak multiple languages and even in different accents – we like to get our directions from the British chick when we go for fish and chips (it just seems more authentic). But something goes bad and the only thing the vehicle can do is turn on a yellow light. Bing! Well thanks Detroit. That’s helpful. It’s like asking a sick four year old where it hurts. Everywhere! Ralph! My $300 Blackberry speaks English, why doesn’t my $30,000 Mustang? You have to buy another computer to talk to the computer in the truck to convert yellow Check Engine Light into Trouble Code. Then you have to look Trouble Code up on the internet. Ooooooh, Check Engine Light means P0303 which finally translates as Cyclinder 3 Misfire. That clears it right up. Yeah. Flying cars. Bah, I’d be happy if the goddamned truck just told me the #3 fuel injector was clogged in plain English – not that I’d recognize a fuel injector in all that mess. Is this it? Snap! Whoops I hope we didn’t need that.

In the old days you could pretty much fix anything by doing nothing more than wiggling some wires. Wiggle wiggle. Try it now! Vrrrooom! Good! Don’t even think about doing that now. Seriously, they act like you’re jiggling the cord to Granny’s life-support machine. Holy Shit! What are you doing? You’re wiggling wires? Fuck! Stop it, you’re not even grounded man, you’ll fry the chip! Damn, dude, where’d you get your degree, Whatthefuckinton Community College?

My dad could completely rebuild an entire Ford Big Block in a Sunday afternoon and the only tools he ever needed were a 9/16” socket wrench, a case of beer, and Howard Cosell on the transistor radio. Period. Hand me a wrench! What size? Whaduhya mean, what size? What are you, a girl? Nine sixteenth, dumbass. What size? Hell, just my luck, you’ll probably grow up to be a ballerina. Hand me another beer, Nancy. My dad could probably have fixed the Apollo 13 spaceship enroute to the moon with nothing more than a 9/16” socket wrench and a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. Nothing on my truck is 9/16. Nothing. Every single fitting requires some weird special tool, a different special tool. I got this thing for removing fuel line couplings that scares the shit out of me. It looks like something a gynecologist would use, I keep wanting to tell the truck, “Scoot down, scoot down…you’re going to feel some pinching…”

Even if you have the correct tool, and you probably don’t, you have to be a humpbacked left-handed four-armed double-jointed midget circus contortionist with infrared vision, seven fingered hands like boneless chickens, forearms like Popeye, and the ability to metabolize a mouth full of brake fluid in order to get the damned thing into the proper position. It helps if you can swear for twenty minutes without repeating yourself. Auto engineers consider it a design failure if you can a) get both hands on the tool at the same time, or b) can touch the wrench and see the fitting at the same time.

Auto manufacturers have been building the internal combustion engine for over one hundred years. Consider this: where’s the oil filter? One hundred goddamned years, folks, and this is the best they can do. It’s not like they don’t know you have to change the fucking oil. But for one hundred years the oil filter has been a metal can screwed onto some inaccessible part of the engine that can not be removed without pouring motor oil all over your face and the garage floor. One hundred years and this is the best design they can come up with?

Flying cars?

When pigs fly, folks, when pigs fly.

If you need me, I’ll be in the garage.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on Westboro Baptist Church And The 1st Amendment


In 2006, US Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq.

His body was brought home to Baltimore for burial with honors.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church showed up at the funereal to preach the word of their small and hateful and evil God.

Corporal Snyder’s father, Albert, sued Westboro Baptist Church for, among other things, emotional distress.

A federal jury awarded Snyder $11 million in damages.

Westboro appealed, the damages were reduced to $5 million.

Westboro appealed again and the ruling was overturned altogether.

And then came the final insult, Albert Snyder, who had lost his son in Iraq and had endured the hatred and unwarranted persecution at the hands of this bizarre and malignant travesty of humanity, was ordered to pay Westboro Baptist Church $16,000 in court fees.

It’s not over yet – the case heads to the Supreme Court of the United States next.


I am certain that most of you are at least passing familiar with this story. It’s been in the news for the last two weeks. A number of my friends have blogged about it. The pundits have waxed pompous and feculent over it, Bill O’Reilly himself has apparently offered to pay Snyder's fine en toto – though I suspect the money will come from Fox’s advertising budget and not out of Bill’s personal savings account, but I could be wrong (and if I am, and O’Reilly does make good on his promise from his own pocket, well then good on him. It’s a hell of gesture and one that deserves the sincere thanks of all).  Those of us who come from the military are certainly aware of it – we could hardly be otherwise.

I’ve received a number of emails and messages asking my opinion and wondering when they’ll see an outraged rant on this subject here on Stonekettle Station.

I don’t have a rant.

I do have some thoughts – I don’t think you’ll like them.


First and so there is no mistake:  I think that Westboro Baptist Church is an abomination. I think its founder and prophet and head asshole, Fred Phelps, is a foul, revolting, sub-human piece of shit. No, scratch that.  Shit at least can be used for fertilizer, Phelps and his followers don’t even rate that, they are a pox, a pestilence, a poison on the land. But - and here comes the part that some of you aren’t going to like very much – I just don’t see their message as being all that different from a number of other, more mainstream, religions.

I can name the churches. I can name the religions.  And if you’re honest, so can you. Some are Christian. Some are Muslim.  Some are nice and polite and wear pointy hats. Some are full of fire and brimstone and passion. But their message is the same. Gay = Bad.  Gay = burn in hell. Tolerate gays, accept gays = destroy the country.  Now you can whore it up however you like, hate the sin and love the sinner, whisper the word homosexual instead of shouting fag! I don’t care. Fundamentally, the message of Westboro is exactly the same as that preached from pulpits and TV sets and radio stations across the country and around the world every single day – in the American Midwest and the Middle East. No different.  Hate is hate. Intolerance is intolerance.  Fear is fear. Period. Westboro doesn’t have the corner on it, they’re just more obnoxious about it.

Please. Save it.  You damned well know I’m right.  Don’t try to tell me why your religion, who sweetly peaches every Sunday how your loving savior Jesus is going to damn the homos to hell to burn forever in the fires of eternal torment, is any different just because you’re polite about it.  Don’t. Just don’t.  Spare me the hypocrisy.

Second – and here’s the next part you’re not going to like – I think Albert Snyder is going to lose his case before SCOTUS, and I’m not sure he shouldn’t.

Again, understand something here: I’m a veteran. I fought for this country.  I spent my entire life in uniform. I have the utmost respect for those who have given their lives the service of this nation. I think the actions of Westboro are despicable and I would cheerfully help the Marines kick the ever living shit out of these people and anyone else who would desecrate the funeral of a fallen Marine. And I would derive great satisfaction from it.

But I am a private citizen, not the government.

Freedom of speech means exactly that – the freedom to speak your mind (in the proper venue, and we’ll come back to that. Bear with me for a minute). I understand Albert Snyder’s pain, I do, and I think forcing him to pay Westboro’s court costs is a fucking travesty of justice on a grand scale.

However, that’s what happens when you lose.

Snyder knew what the possible consequences were going in – and if he didn’t, his lawyers certainly did. Having to foot the court costs was one of those consequences. In this case it is particularly egregious given the circumstance, but it’s not unusual or outside of normal judicial guidelines – it happens every single day and most people are good with it. The potential to end up paying those fees helps cut down on frivolous lawsuits (and I’m not saying that Snyder's case was frivolous, so don’t go there).  Snyder sued Westboro, not the other way around and this is one of the risks you take.

Yes, it’s outrageous. Yes. But, here’s the thing, the judge, the jury, can not make decisions based on emotion. They must obey the letter of the law, no exceptions. And in this case, Westboro was in compliance with the law. Their protest was outside the cemetery at the specified distance in compliance with state and federal law. They were on public, not private land. They did not accost anybody.  Their message was massively offensive, offensive to the Snyder family, offensive to the Corps, offensive to every veteran such as myself, and offensive to many Americans. But it wasn’t illegal.  No more so than those Christian protestors who wave pictures of aborted fetuses and shout hatred and condemn their fellow citizens and their country to hell every single day outside of every single abortion clinic in this country.  To win, Snyder had to prove emotional distress as a result of the protest, and he tried – but in the end he lost. Proving emotional distress, empirically, legally, is extremely difficult – and for damned good reason. Snyder lost, and in the end he was required to pay the costs of the people he sued. Those are the rules.

I think that SCOTUS is going to have a very, very difficult time saying any different – as much as they may want to. 

Westboro can’t be treated any different than anybody else.  Westboro can’t be held to a higher standard than those aforementioned abortion protesters. The law cannot single out one church, one belief, one religion, one viewpoint over all others and apply different rules to it. No matter how revolting such a thing is. We Americans prize freedom of speech so much that we allow Nazis and communists and the KKK to march in our streets – so long as they obey the law – and for our own sake SCOTUS can’t make an exception for Westboro Baptist Church just because the majority of Americans would love nothing better than to see them dragged to death behind a Marine Amphibious Assault Vehicle, me included – in fact, I’ll drive.


Third – and here’s the rest of it, the part you’re really not going to like – you ought to be ashamed. Yes. That’s right. Oh not all of you Americans – but one hell of a lot of you.  All of you great patriots who thought you could fight a war without loss, without blood, without sacrifice. All of those of you great patriots who let the fallen come home for damned near seven years, hidden away in metal boxes, off-loaded out of sight and out of mind at Dover Air Force Base.  You sent us off to great fanfare and cheers and glory and the sound of trumpets, but where were you when the bodies started coming back?  The 24 hour news channels showed the Navy sailing from the harbors and the Marines and Soldiers boarding the transports and the fighters and bombers rotating off the runways headed to Iraq and Afghanistan – but somehow, somehow, never managed interrupt your dinner with images of those cold silver flag-draped coffins. Where was your outrage then?  When the fallen came home in boxes to be buried with only the tears of their widows and widowers, of their children, of their parents, of their brothers in arms? Where were you then?  Everyone of you who drives past the America flag every single day with your eyes averted, tooling along in your giant gas guzzling hummers and who have the audacity to complain that this war is being fought for oil. Those of you weekend patriots who think that as long as you slap a $3 magnetic yellow ribbon made in China on the back of that same hummer you’ve done your duty by honoring the fallen. All of you disrespectful sons of bitches I’ve seen cutting up at the USS Arizona Memorial or letting your kids run fuck all over squealing and yelling before the Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington or of all you assholes who stood behind me talking on your cell phones during the national anthem on Memorial Day. Yes, you. Tell me again about respect for the fallen.


Bottom line, there are only 90 of these Westboro bastards. Ninety.  There’s about 305 million of us.  I think we’ve got them outnumbered and surrounded by a significant fraction. 

Here’s what you do. 

- Help Albert Snyder pay off those legal fees.  Send him $10, send him $20 if you’ve got it. It only takes a minute. Sure, it’s likely that money will ultimately end up in Fred Phelps pocket, but that’s not the point.  The point is we, Americans, help share Albert Snyder's burden. His son died for us, it’s the very least we can do.

- Write to your congressman and agitate for the laws regarding military funerals to be changed, enhanced, strengthened. SCOTUS doesn’t make the law, their job is make sure the law complies with the Constitution – the same Constitution that Lance Corporal Snyder died for.  Westboro is entitled to their 1st Amendment rights, but those rights have limits (limits that have been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court) and those rights have responsibilities. 

- When Westboro comes to your town, gather with your friends and neighbors and community - and sing.  Yes that’s right, sing. Surround these bastards a thousand deep and drown them out.  Stand outside the funeral of your fallen Marines and sing the Marine Corps Hymn at the top of your lungs – trust me, there’ll be enough Marines around to help you learn the words.  Sing The Caissons for your fallen Soldiers, and Anchors Aweigh for your Sailors and send your Airmen off into the Wild Blue Yonder and fuck Wesboro Baptist Church. Stand the watch, 24/7 until they leave. They have a right to exercise their voice, so do you.

- And the next time the national anthem plays turn off your damned phone, take the headphones out of your ears, shut up, stand up straight, put your hand over your heart and remember all those who served and sacrificed and bled and died so that you might be free. When you stand before the memorials, when you stand on the grass of the national cemeteries, show some respect.

- One last thing, listen. Listen to message of Westboro Baptist Church. Listen. Hear it? Hear the hatred? Hear the intolerance? Hear the fear? Hear the perversion of everything that makes us Americans in the first place? Ask yourself how your religion is any different – if fundamentally, you’re preaching the same exact message.


You wanted my opinion, you got it.