Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

We spent this Memorial Day weekend enjoying Alaska.

And we’re off to do some more of that today.

If you get a moment, raise the flag or a glass and remember the men and women in uniform.  Remember those who have served and those serving now out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world. 

And then go enjoy your day, live, laugh, have fun.

That’s why we do what we do.


Some previous thoughts on memorial day and related topics here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Off to Valdez

You kids have fun

Latest From the Lathe – Japanese Sushi Set

…or how I spent my day off.


image image  

Left: Quilted maple sushi plate.   Right:quilted maple rice bowl.  The chopsticks are rosewood.

Finish on all pieces is simple walnut oil, the shine come from the wood itself.



What did you do with your Friday?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What the Hell is Going On?

No really.

Twenty years ago you sure didn’t see anything like this. Oh no.

You know when they come for you it’ll be through your sprinkler, because that’s just the kind of bastards they are.


Remember folks, the visible spectrum, it’s rainbows.


Tip of the tinfoil brainium cover to Rob Galbraith on FB for bringing this sinister government program to the world’s attention.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Stealing Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing!

From the Anchorage Daily News:

Twenty-Six Chickens Found Beheaded in North Pole Coop

Twenty-six chickens were mysteriously beheaded at a North Pole chicken coop this week. Then things got weird…

Seems that State Troopers were called to a home in North Pole, a small town a bit north of Fairbanks, to investigate a massacre.

Twenty-six chickens had been killed in their coop, their heads ripped off.  No sign of the heads at the murder scene. Apparently the mysterious chupacabra de pollo took them, the heads I mean, perhaps for trophies, perhaps for cat toys, perhaps to make MRE Chicken Ala King. Who knows?  Who understands the mind of the chicken marauder? The headless carcasses were lined up in a row with the last few in a circle at the end – like a satanic lollipop.

The cops are baffled. It doesn’t look like a fox or a coyote, who tend to make squares instead of crop circle designs with their victims. Bears would have eaten the fowl whole and squawking and then spit out the beak, there were no beaks. It doesn’t seem to be connected to the recent spate of alien cattle mutilations in the Southwest, there were no lights in the sky and no black helicopters.  And nobody has seen Colonel Sanders on the streets of North Pole.

Three chickens survived the slaughter, the police are unsure of the significance of the survivors (Significance? I suspect those three were just a lot faster than their deceased comrades, but I’m not a trained chicken murder investigator so I’m probably wrong). So far the three survivors haven’t been able to describe what happened or give a police sketch artist a coherent description of their attacker – they just wander around pecking at the ground in a traumatized fashion.

The ADN story is here .

Why bring it up?  Other for the obvious entertainment value – and to point out that the chicken murders aren’t even close to being the weirdest mystery in North Pole at the moment?

Well, see I bring it up because of the comments under the story.  That’s what actually caught my attention. As is usual for the Anchorage Daily News (and increasingly every online news site where there’s no moderation or minimum intelligence level) most of the comments are pretty damned ignorant, but it was this one in particular that caught my eye:

justasksasquatch wrote on 05/25/2010 06:13:39 PM (copied verbatim):

get used to more of this as more and more immigrants move here.

Why would we deliberately supplant and displace our culture?

In Minnesota for instance, Somalian immigrants have restaurants where they don't allow women in their midst.

Immigrants in Florida practice 'Santeria' where they behead and bleed goats and chickens in front of children as they spray themselves with blood to cleanse themselves from evil spirits.

Hindus immigrating to our country carry on their ancient 'caste system' whereby certain persons remain at the bottom social level.

Middle Eastern immigrants carry on the barbaric practice of female genitall mutilation on their baby girls.

Many from south of our borders bring in horse tripping, cockk fighting, dog fighting and when their numbers grow to majorities, they will legalize bull fighting.

All these practices are Third World, inhumane and disgusting beyond comprehension.but we are being forced to accept them as normal part of society according to those who push the communist doctrine of diversity and multiculturalism on us. aint diversity great? [Sic]

Ah hah! Mystery solved. Obviously it was immigrants practicing the communist doctrine of diversity and multiculturalism who slaughtered the chickens.

Repeat that. Say it out loud. See if it sounds any less steeped in teabaggery:

The communist doctrine of diversity and multiculturalism.

Communist diversity. Communist. Diversity.

We don’t know what either communism or diversity is exactly, but we know we don’t like it, no siree. And it’s sure not doing the chickens any good.

The oxymoron level (emphasis on moron) has got to be pushing at least a 9.98 in that one sentence alone, hell it might even be a perfect 10.  And then Sasquatch goes for the bonus point: As soon as “They” have the majority, “They” will legalize bull fighting! Oh noes! Because, as you know, that’s the real agenda of those filthy Latinos – legalized bull fighting!  Yes! Those Fifth Column bastards (or should I say Bastardos?) are secretly swishing their capes and polishing their little matador hats, waiting to make their move.

¡Ay, caramba!

Sasquatch’s comment reminded me of a conversation I recently had.

A couple of days ago, I ran into this guy I vaguely know. He’s one of those people you meet at school functions, or little league, or in the Home Depot parking lot when you’re in a hurry. That sort of thing.  I think I know his first name, but I’m not sure and so when I run into him here and there around town I’m careful to avoid any conversational gambit that would require me to use it.  Obviously I don’t know him all that well, but I do know that he used to be in the military and he’s got a kid about my son’s age, and he’s a big damned fan of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party (the T-shirt and the little flecks of spittle around his mouth are dead giveaways).

The conversation meandered around, as it tends to do in these situations as we dodged crazed drivers in the big box store parking lot. How’s the family? Fine, and yours? Nice weather, eh? Yeah, except for the glacial dust, I could live without that.  Kids start driving next year. Sigh, not looking forward to that. Obama is destroying this country! Whoa, slow down there Crazypants, how, exactly is Obama destroying the country? Woowoo liberal diversity agenda with a side of multiculturalism nazi abortions reet! deficit weak on terrorism China Iran reet reet and thecountry is brokenandnobodyinwashingtonlistensanymore reet reet reet!

I went to Lowes to pick up some gasket material and the Right managed to barf on my shoes in the parking lot. Sigh.

It’s always some bugaboo with these people, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter what the story is, what the situation is, murdered chickens, glacial dust, black guy in the White House, it always comes ‘round to somebody destroying the country. It’s always some damned thing. The commies, the socialists, the queers, the terrorists, Big Government, Tax and Spend liberals, the atheists, the Muslims, the Chicago political machine, the Fed, taxation without representation, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Iranians, gun control, Old Europe, the tree huggers and those bunny lovers in the EPA, FEMA, minorities, The Axis of Evil, the War On Christmas, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Wall Street, these kids nowadays, NAFTA, stem cell research, civil rights advocates, the feminists, the activist judges, and, of course, those filthy immigrants.  Somebody is always out to steal conservative America. 

America, in some mystical alternate conservative reality, used to be really awesomely great, but now it sucks. 

It always sucks with these people, the country is always going to hell. It was going to hell last week, and last year, and back in their daddy’s day and even back in their grandfather’s day and their great grandfather’s day – America has been going to hell for generations apparently, probably all the way back to the Revolution. I suspect these people can trace their family shrub all the way back to some garrulous Boston Tea Party attendee who bitched that Washington and Jefferson and Paine and Adams and the those bastards in the Continental Congress were destroying the country.  Somewhere – maybe during the glorious warmly golden autumn of the Reagan era, when the streets were paved with gold and flowed with free gasoline on which floated baskets made of money and coated in the cured hide of Karl Marx and filled with smiling Christian babies – it was pretty good, but other than that the country sucks donkey balls and it’s been sucking more and more every day.

Oh woe. Woe is us. Weep, weep for America!

This, my electronic friends, is what happens when you let Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and their ilk shape your worldview.  When you listen to people who get paid to tell you the sky is falling and that the country is going to hell – because if the country isn’t going to hell and the sky isn’t falling, well, then they don’t get paid.  When you listen to the doomsayers, what you hear is doom.  But you know what’s really funny?  In the last year, during the height of a recession, Sarah Palin failed to win an election, quit her job half-done and became unemployed, reneged on every promise she’d ever made to us Alaskans, backed losing candidates across the country … and yet somehow managed to make somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million dollars.  Now this empty headed baby machine is busy telling you why everything sucks and the country is headed into the crapper? What the hell does she have to be miserable about? Her empty headed twit of a daughter got knocked up by the local delinquent, dropped out of school, and became yet another unwed Wasilla teenaged mother with a GED – and she gets $30,000 a pop to come teach your kids how not to have a baby even though babies are a gift from God and everybody should have as many as possible, also abortion makes Jesus cry.  An eighteen year old amateur who doesn’t even know what a condom is makes more in an hour than one of Tiger Woods’ professional party girls does in a month, but America is going to hell in a liberal hand basket? Frankly I don’t know how the Palin family is living with the hardship.  Limbaugh and Beck made hundreds of millions last year, enough money to buy their own gilded Rupert Murdock clone, for doing nothing more than acting like diseased monkeys on the air – but, yeah, the country is going to hell.  And all their idiot followers are nodding their heads and bitching about how the country is going straight to shit, how the government is taking their last penny, and how they can’t make the loan payment on their $50,000 Lincoln Navigator with the spinning gold hubcaps and the $10,000 stereo system – meanwhile they’re shelling out fifty bucks a day for smokes, lotto tickets, and pay-per-view porn – and somehow a whole shitload of these booger eaters managed to shell out $30 a piece for Palin’s fictional ghostwritten masterpiece.

And of course, you can’t have suck without somebody to blame – and who do we blame? Why the people who stole our country, of course. We blame the liberals. We blame diversity. We blame multiculturalism. This is exactly what you get when you consider education as elitism and let people like the Texas Board of Creationism decide what your children should learn in school. This is the kind of paranoia and false perception and xenophobia that is the hallmark of lazy and defective thinking and that panders to the lowest common denominator – and that sells advertising space on talk radio and FoxNews.  Not so long ago, this same kind of diseased reasoning proclaimed people of color as sub-humans who lusted uncontrollably after white women and were suited only for life as chattel. Not so long ago, this same worldview proclaimed Jews as filthy scheming vermin, again less than human, fit only to be herded into camps – and then into ovens.  Not so long ago this same frothing nationalistic thinking proclaimed Manifest Destiny and led to genocide on a grand scale – and today, in a dozen places around the world, it still does.  This is the kind of ignorant myopic parochial world view you get when you are deathly afraid all of the time. When you only listen to people who are as afraid and ignorant as you are and you never travel outside your comfort zone.

This is what you become when you live in utter and abject fear. When you’re a coward.

So I asked him, “What is it, exactly, that makes America great?”

The answer?  “Well…uh, it just is.”

Not good enough, I said.  What is it specifically that makes America great? Baseball? Hotdogs? Beer Pong?

Well, it’s because we have freedom!

Freedom? What kind of freedom? Like the Mel Gibson Braveheart kind? Freeeeedomm! What do you mean by freedom? Give me some examples.

The Bill of Rights! Freedom of speech!

OK, but I can name dozens of countries where you are guaranteed the freedom of speech – hell you’ve got freedom of speech in Russia nowadays. Doesn’t that make them equally great?

Yeah, but we can go where we want, we can live where we want.  We don’t have to show papers and like that!

Well, except in Arizona, but I digress. So do Canadians enjoy the same freedom, and members of the European Union, Australians, Italians, Icelanders, and those people who speak the click click language in Africa and, well, I’m pretty sure Russians can live where they want nowadays – which is why so many of them live here - hell some them moved back to that radioactive village next to Chernobyl.  Doesn’t that make them great too?

No, of course not, because we have the right to bear arms too!

So, gun ownership then? It’s our guns that make us great?  Wouldn’t that mean that Somalia and Afghanistan and the Republic of the Congo where anybody can own a gun, including machine guns and grenade launchers, are pretty awesome too? If guns make you great, they’ve got us beat hands down.

No not like that, that’s different.

Different how?

You know.

So, we’ve got guns – but we also have laws? Gun control then? Gun control makes us great?


Never mind. What is it that we’ve lost that makes us less great today?

Obama’s gutting the military!

So, it’s our military then, that makes us great? Nobody screws with us? Be nice to America or we’ll bring democracy to your country too? Aircraft carriers and stealth bombers and cruise missiles make a country great? Also, we’ve increased the size of the military and Obama just plussed up our forces in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops.  I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. If the military makes us great, we should be more great now not less. The ability to kill people? Blow up a continent? Sheer raw violent power, that’s what makes a country great?  By that logic, wouldn’t a guy that can kick everybody else’s ass be great? Jackie Chan? He’s pretty great. Better than you and me? You can’t be great unless you’re bigger and badder than everybody else?

Well, no, not exactly, but you know what I mean.

Well, no, I don’t actually.  Up until the time of Teddy Roosevelt America was not a world power – and hell, you could argue that America didn’t really emerge as a world class power, militarily, until WWII. Were we great before that? 

Uh… (apparently not)

One by one he went through the litany.

Taxes. Lowest in thirty years. Low taxes make us great? No.  Stimulus package. Contained huge tax breaks for the average American, responsible for the lowest federal income tax year for those earning under $250,000 per anum since the 1950’s.  So, Stimulus makes us more great? No, of course not. Bailout.  Saved the banks, saved GM, saved millions of jobs.  Do failed banks and closed auto plants make us great? Does keeping them open make us less great. No, no, you’re confusing me.  What about the debt!

Ah, something we agree on then, debt certainly makes a country less great. Wouldn’t it be in our best interest, greatness wise, to raise taxes? Surely, for the sake of greatness, everybody could pay a couple percentage points more?  Doesn’t reducing taxes make us less great – if it increases our debt? How much is greatness worth? Surely it’s worth a hundred bucks more a year? Maybe a thousand?

He glanced at his watch, oh look at the time.

Yeah, last question, it seems that we have more greatness than not.  Why for the anger?

And then we were down to it. Finally, the thing that’s ruining America’s greatness.

Diversity. Multiculturalism. Legal and illegal immigrants are stealing our culture! Stealing our greatness!

Stealing our chicken heads too apparently.

What else are they stealing? Are they stealing our St. Patrick’s day? Pizza? Tacos? Beer? French fries?  Our English?

Yes! Yes, exactly, they’re making us speak Spanish!

Que? When is the last time you were forced to speak Spanish? How many times today? This week? This month? This year?  Okay, in the last ten years? Ever? 

That’s besides the point. It’s happening. One day we’ll wake up and find our kids speaking Spanish. These people keep trying to change us.

So, change decreases greatness? Right?  A culture that remains static is great?  A culture that doesn’t (forgive me) evolve is great?  A culture that doesn’t change and grow is great? So we are less great today because our culture has changed, and therefore made us lesser, than in the days of our founders? Is that about right?

In the end he went his way and I went mine. 

He left angry, mad that he couldn’t convince me that America’s greatness has been diminished by Barack Obama.

Me? He left me pondering what it is that makes America great.

Frankly, I’m hoping it’s more than just guns and English and fear.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Remember, the il in "Kim Jong-il" Means Mentally Ill

According to North Korea's KCNA news agency, the following declaration was issued by the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea:

In the "First Phase" the following measures will be taken:

1. All relations with the puppet authorities will be severed.

2. There will be neither dialogue nor contact between the authorities during South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's tenure of office.

3. The work of the Panmunjom Red Cross liaison representatives will be completely suspended.

4. All communication links between the north and the south will be cut off.

5. The Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation in the Kaesong Industrial Zone will be frozen and dismantled and all the personnel concerned of the south side will be expelled without delay.

6. We will start all-out counterattack against the puppet group's "psychological" warfare against the north.

7. The passage of south Korean ships and airliners through the territorial waters and air of our side will be totally banned.

8. All the issues arising in the inter-Korean relations will be handled under a wartime law. There is no need to show any mercy or patience for such confrontation maniacs, sycophants and traitors and wicked warmongers as the (South Korean President) Lee Myung Bak group.


Damn. I'm glad that was from the Committee for Peaceful reunification, because I'd hate to see the declaration from the North Korean Committee for Crazypants Hostile Assholeliness Reunification.

Crazy people with nuclear weapons, almost makes you nostalgic for the Cold War, doesn't it?

Monday, May 24, 2010


We spent a beautiful Alaskan day driving to Seward and back.

I took a lot of pictures, about 400 in all.

Here’s one of them:


Home now, very tired.

More later.


How’d you spend your weekend?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Call Shenanigans on the Tea Party

There’s this great scene in The Road Warrior.

Well, OK, there are a lot of great scenes in The Road Warrior.

But the one I’m thinking of may be one of the most brilliant moments ever put down on film.

The Humungus and his Vermin have the oil compound surrounded.  The Humungus (The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!) is laying down terms to those trapped inside the compound. Give up, walk away, leave the gasoline, and he’ll spare their lives, end the horror, just walk away.  Unseen, the Feral Kid crawls out of a secret tunnel, takes aim, and throws his steel boomerang at the Humungus – and misses. He kills Golden Boy instead, and drives Wez into a murderous rage. Screaming, Wez picks up the boomerang and scales it with all his strength straight at the Feral Kid.  The Kid, all pipe-cleaner limbs and knotted hair and fearless expression, snatches the spinning weapon out of the air with practiced ease and his armored glove … and immediately returns it, straight at the Humungus again!

And an already surreal scene becomes even more surreal.

The Toadie rushes to intercept, shouting “I got it! I got it!”  He holds one hand up, stretching to catch the whirling steel like an outfielder chasing after a fly ball, and the razor sharp blade slices all four fingers off his hand bip bip bip bip like a cleaver chopping through a pack of hot dogs. The fingers fly, blood spurts, The Toadie gasps in horror and tucks his shortened hand under his other arm to staunch the flow of blood.

There’s a moment of stunned silence.

And then the Vermin begin to laugh.

It’s hysterical. The Humungus and the Vermin, the Smegma Crazies and the Gayboys, laugh at the foolish Toadie, slapping their thighs and holding their bellies at his astounding stupidity, at his crippling injury, at the fact that he managed to maim himself in such an idiotic fashion. Nobody moves to help, they just keep laughing, watching to see what The Toadie will do next.

The Toadie looks around at the laughing Vermin and at his own injured hand (which, in the brutal world in which he lives, will no doubt doom him to a lingering death), looks back up at the howling Vermin…and with this sickly pitiful hangdog expression on his face sheepishly begins to laugh himself .

And in that moment you understand the nightmare world the Toadie lives within.

Too stupid and cowardly to make it on his own, he’s latched on to The Humungus and The Vermin for survival – but he’s nothing to the powerful. A simpering fool, a clown, a lapdog, a toadie, and when his amusement value fades, he’ll be discarded in the trail of wreckage and destruction left behind.


That one scene sums up the entire movie, it tells you everything you need to know about The Humungus, The Vermin, and The Toadie’s world. 

In the compound, The People aren’t laughing. They wait. They watch. They know what’s coming next. They ready their weapons pragmatically and wait.

And that tells you something about their world too.


I was reminded of that scene this week, when the Tea Party reached up to catch the whirling boomerang of Rand Paul.


I get letters. Email. Asking me why I continue to ridicule the Tea Party.

I get lots of letters – apparently my email address is on some Tea Bagger hate mail list and is making the rounds.

So, I get letters.

Some are rambling incoherent, looking like they were penned by third graders. Third graders from the Texas public school system. I was going to publish a few of those, but honestly the amusement value dropped off pretty fast and it just seemed cruel in a taunting the spaz sort of way (I should note that I don’t think everybody in Texas is an idiot, but seriously folks I’d get the hell out the Lone Star state soon, before they start eating each other).

Many are angry incoherent, as if they were written by an enraged monkey with a head injury. These often contain threats of physical harm. These also often question my manhood, the size of my genitalia, my sexual orientation, and my patriotism (anybody else find it curious that blind patriotism and obsession with dick size seem to go hand in hand, so to speak?).

Some are reasonably well written, even respectful, but mournfully disappointed that I just don’t seem to “get it.” Many of these indicate that the writer will pray for me - whether or not the author is praying for me to see the light or to burn in hell is often unspecified (So far all the praying hasn’t changed my outlook on life, though it may account for the gas I had this morning. Prrrrrzzzt. Jesus Christ, open a window! Jesus, patron saint of flatulence).

Some start out sounding reasonable, and then descend rapidly into irrationality (Note: I still haven’t heard from Lipton’s lawyer, nor have I been smited (smitten?) – unless that’s the reason my dishwasher started leaking. Hmmm. If the Virgin appears in a water stain on the silverware holder I may have to reevaluate my position – I’ll let you know).

Angry, insane, threatening, reasonable, cajoling – all these letters have one thing in common, they implore me to understand that the Tea Party is made up of regular old wonderful, patriotic Americans in a wide variety of colors and flavors and they admonish me to disregard the few bad apples.  Sure there are racists, and bigots, and homophobes, and the stupids, and the Creationists, and the Birthers, and the ignorant, and the crazies, and the rednecks, and the intolerant, and the militia, and the separatists, and the illiterate, and loons, and the extremists, and the gun nuts, and the bible thumpers, and Truthers, The Nuge and Chuck “Kicked in the Head” Norris. Sure. Sure the entire movement is made up of angry old conservative evangelical white neocons who live on social security and welfare and can spend weeks camped out on the Mall in D.C. or parked in front of a computer surfing TEA party sites. Sure.  But other than those guys, the Tea Party is just ordinary everyday Americans. They all have one thing in common: they want to take America back for real Americans. They want less government meddling but they’re royally pissed The Government hasn’t fixed things. Real Americans forge their own destiny and how come the government hasn’t made us more jobs?  They want less taxation but more medicare and a bigger Army.  They want more freedom and more security.  They want death to political correctness and more Jesus in the schools. They want that stinky black guy out of the White House with his big jug ears and his healthcare for all Americans and his nasty America hating wife and they want President Palin and the First Dude instead.  They want abortion outlawed and Glenn Beck to father their children.  They want the troops to stay the course in Iraq forever and they want to nuke Iran and North Korea.  No bailouts! No Socialism. No Communists! No Nazi communist social programs like Stalin had. Bring back the Gold Standard! Death to Terrorism! Dissolve the Fed! Drill, Baby, Drill (but not in my backyard). And send the Mexicans back to Mexico! Speak English! Viva Arizona!

They want…well, hell, they don’t really know what they want, but they want something.

They’re mad as hell and it’s all Washington’s fault. Vote the bastards out! Take back America for real Americans!

Starting with Kentucky in 2010 where the Tea Party has been promoting Ayn Rand Paul, er, I mean Rand Paul.

By now, of course, most of you will have heard of Paul’s gaff last week when he criticized a landmark civil rights law.  Paul, in a series of television and radio interviews, suggested that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was too broad and should not apply to private businesses, such as cafes and restaurants and mom and pop stores and gas stations and so on. 

Yes, that’s right.

There was some backlash (he said dryly).

Paul went on CNN to clarify his statement.

First, Paul said, it’s the media’s fault for reporting his statements in the first place.  Now you can’t get any truer to Tea Party values than that. That’s right out of the Sarah Palin playbook – blame the “lamestream” media when you say something stupid. Suggest that President Obama can win reelection by starting a war in Iran, it’s the media’s fault for reporting your war mongering nonsense.  Ridicule the President for using a teleprompter (even though you do too) and then get caught writing notes on your hand? It’s the media’s fault. Repeatedly demonstrate profound ignorance of history, law, foreign affairs, current events, and pretty much everything that doesn’t involve hairspray, lip gloss, and chili recipes, it’s the media’s fault.  Paul is a regular Tea Party maverick, following the Humungus.  

Second, Paul said he would not support repealing the Civil Rights Act (which is a bit odd, considering that nobody was talking about repealing the Civil Rights Act, you know, unless of course they were). It’s funny how, if the Tea Party isn’t a bunch of racist bigots at their core, Paul and Palin and the rest of the speakers they hire feel it necessary to pander to racist ideology. Paul said that he “overwhelmingly agree[d] with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

So, just to be clear, Paul supports the Civil Rights Act – and a business’s right to ignore it.

Paul supports civil rights – including the civil right to refuse service to certain races.

Paul is opposed to discrimination – as long as the wrong people don’t belly up to the lunch counter next to the good eye doctor, in which case he thinks the owner should be able to toss the miscreant out based solely the person’s race.

Paul is opposed to segregation – as long as those damned darkies remember their place.

Paul is a real man of the people - and to emphasize his Tea Party non-elitism, Paul held his election night celebration in an exclusive Bowling Green country club.

Yep, that sounds like Tea Party reasoning to me all right.

That sound exactly like Tea Party logic.  I’ll tell you, if I lived in Kentucky, and my skin wasn’t as white as Sarah Palin’s butt cheeks, I’d be damned worried about this racist Vermin. I’d have to wonder what kind of representation I’d be getting if Paul ends up as my senator - and then I’d register as a democrat and vote the hell against him  and I’d bring all my friends too.  Hell, if I was a Kentuckian with a disability, whatever my skin color, I’d be voting for the democratic candidate, even if it was cannibal Hitler’s head in a pickle jar, to keep this teabagging idiot out of office – since Paul also said he’s not particularly keen on the American’s With Disabilities Act either.

In fact, for a movement that has spent a great deal of time over these last few weeks vilifying big business, Paul’s emergence as the Tea Party darling is nothing short of bizarre. The day after his remarks on why discrimination is as American as apple pie, he called the Obama administration “un-American” for taking a tough stance with BP over the company’s handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Yes, that’s right. Said Paul:

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”

Accidents happen?

Accidents happen?

By Friday, when Paul made that remark, oil sludge had reached the fragile marshlands of Louisiana and was washing ashore in every Gulf bordering state. Dead fish and marine life are also washing ashore. The Gulf fishing industry has collapsed. The Gulf tourism industry is in ruins. It would appear that BP lied about their safety procedures. It would appear that they attempted to cohere their employees into covering up procedural and regulatory violations. It would appear that they were woefully under-prepared to deal with the disaster. And it would appear that they’ve been lying about the volume of oil flooding into the Gulf by a factor as large as ten – and in fact are still denying it despite blatantly obvious evidence to the contrary. The ‘accident’ Paul refers to has affected the lives of millions, and is likely to affect the lives of billions before it’s over – and it’s not likely to be over for a long, long, long time.  This ‘accident’ is going to cost the country billions. But Paul doesn’t want government to hold BP accountable? He hasn’t heard anything about BP not paying for this spill – I guess he missed the Congressional testimony that’s been going on for these last few week, eh?

Accidents happen? 

One wonders just what kind of eye doctor Rand Paul is – and if he’s running for Congress because with an attitude like that he can’t afford the malpractice insurance anymore.

These teabagger idiots, and yes I meant idiots as in stupid ignorant mouth breathing dolts, astound me with the degree of their insane irony.  They howl about their rights and deplore Washington’s “business as usual” – and elect an elitist country club doctor who appears to believe that some of his constituents should be able to legally discriminate against some of his other constituents based on race or ability and that big business should be able to destroy, literally destroy, an entire sea and the livelihoods of millions and precipitate a disaster on a scale almost unheard of and not be held accountable?  Oh yeah, this guy will represent your interests, Teabaggers, sure.

The Tea Party is crowing about its “victory in Kentucky.”

They remind me of The Toadie – they’ve sliced off their fingers and they’ve got this sickly look on their face, but they’re laughing right along with the Humungus and the Vermin, hellbound for disaster.

Accidents happen?

Yeah, and Rand Paul is a perfect example of one. 

My question to the tea baggers is this: if you’re not racists, if you’re not stupid and ignorant, if you’re not homophobes, if you’re not just angry old conservative white people who are scared shitless of the rest of us, then why do you keep electing leaders who are?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sexual Predators and Indefinite Detention

U.S. v. Comstock, 08-1224

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that certain prisoners can be incarcerated indefinitely.

Specifically, the court reversed a lower court ruling that said Congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions of those deemed "sexually dangerous" and permitted their continued detention after the completion of mandated sentences.

Say what?

I had to read that several times before I was sure I was reading it correctly.

I don’t get this at all. 

Rather, I understand the concept and especially the sentiment, but I don’t understand how indefinite detention is constitutional.

Now I’m sure the High Court, not being completely insane and having a far greater understanding of the law and the Constitution than I do, must have some way to justify this decision – but I’ll be damned if I can understand how indefinite detainment past the end of a sentence is legal under the laws of the United States.

Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia agreed, though they were obviously in the minority.  Thomas opined that Congress may only pass laws that deal with the federal powers listed in the Constitution, and he went on to say that nothing in the Constitution "expressly delegates to Congress the power to enact a civil commitment regime for sexually dangerous persons, nor does any other provision in the Constitution vest Congress or the other branches of the federal government with such a power.”

However, the majority opinion, penned by Justice Breyer stated: “The statute is a 'necessary and proper' means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others.

Right up front here, I am admittedly neither a constitutional scholar nor a lawyer.  However, I’ve read through the majority opinion and while I understand it (I think), I still don’t understand how a US citizen can be kept incarcerated after completion of their sentence solely at the whim of the government.  This seems to me a capricious and arbitrary application of power by fiat and a violation of the fundamental principles and rights embodied in the Constitution – and yes, I think even sexual predators and convicted criminals have rights.

It seems to me that indefinite commitment without sentencing, or in this case after completion of the sentence, at the whim of government was precisely what the Constitution was designed to prevent

Relax, you’re not about to see Jim Wright defending dangerous sexual predators. 

And to be clear, I think history has aptly demonstrated that a certain percentage of violent sexual predators most likely cannot be “cured” or rehabilitated (at least not with the assets available to the US penal system*) or trusted to run free without a keeper.  Certainly some may be able to suppress their inclinations and function successfully in society following release, but evidence would suggest that a significant number of violent sexual offenders are hard-wired for predation – and unless strictly supervised and controlled they will eventually give into the impulse and become a threat to society.  A number of high profile cases of recidivism would seem to prove this observation (though the actual number of violent sexual recidivism is not as high as sensational media reports would make it appear) and is in fact what ultimately underlies US vs Comstock – which was prompted by the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.  Section 4248 (page 120, section 301 of the previous link) of the Act, the Commitment Provision, authorizes the federal government to initiate civil commitment proceedings (similar to committing someone with a mental disorder to mental institution against their will) with respect to any federal prisoner in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons judged to be a dangerous sexual offender (the difference being that the federal government doesn’t commit mental patients). Under this provision, prisoners who have completed their sentence AND even prisoners who have had criminal charges against them dropped or have never been previously charged with or convicted of a sex crime may be civilly committed as a “sexually dangerous person” indefinitely.


Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for keeping sexual predators behind bars for the rest of their wretched lives and I think the Adam Walsh law is a good one overall.  But I simply can’t understand how the commitment provision** is constitutional.  Why instead didn’t the law impose mandatory sentencing guidelines – say like the imposition of mandatory life sentences for Tier 1 offenders instead of indefinite detention?

Here’s my problem: 

First, what’s the point of this detention?  Will the detention be to a treatment facility for sexual predators?  Because up to now, those prisoners have been retained in the federal prison system.  So, other than keeping them off the street, what does the commitment accomplish? The provision makes some vague hand motions about “treatment,” but it’s pretty obvious what the intention is here and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those treatment programs won’t be any better funded than they are now, or any more effective.  No, it’s pretty obvious what the point of this is, and if the only reason to commit someone deemed a “sexually dangerous person” is to keep them off the street, then why aren’t they just sentenced to life in the first place (with the possibility of parole, if you like)?  Why not just change the sentencing limits instead of this constitutionally gray “civil commitment” nonsense?

Who decides which offenders are dangerous to society and therefore to be committed indefinitely? What criteria are used? What oversight is there?  Are they the same criteria from state to state, case to case, crime to crime?  What’s the review process? Is there one? Can a prisoner appeal his detention?  Ultimately, who really takes responsibility for the decision, both to retain certain prisoners and to release others? Remember, with this decision on the books, if the state releases a prisoner rather than detain him and later it turns out he’s a recidivist or he commits a sex crime (even if he wasn’t originally convicted or arrested for a sex crime) doesn’t that make the state potentially libel for his actions? Legally and criminally and financially libel? Probably best to commit everybody, right?  Think about it, State Attorney General is often a springboard into national politics (see Virginia), now if you’re that guy, career wise it’s probably in your best interest to detain everybody – for the good of society, of course.

In fact, what prevents all sexual crime convictions from being ipso facto life sentences? Period.

Just to be on the safe side, I mean.

Now, here’s the real question: since prisoners can be detained indefinitely as dangerous sexual predators, even if they were never convicted of a sexual crime, what are the safeguards to prevent arbitrary use of this provision? What keeps certain ethnicities and beliefs from being considered more dangerous than others?  Oh sure, it’s not supposed to happen, but it does every single day.  If the LA Cops pick up a gang banger on felony firearms violations – and he “gets off on a technicality" or some other common cliché, what’s to keep the state from putting him away indefinitely anyway because as a gang member he might engage in predatory sexual behavior (based on the fact that there have been numerous substantiated reports of gang rape and sexual crimes committed by the gang he belongs to – guilt by association)?   Why do real law enforcement and work for real convictions when you always have this ace in the hole?  If you’re a defense attorney, why bother, you’re going to lose anyway.  If you’re a prosecutor, why bother?  Just call him a dangerous sexual person and have done with it. Don’t the trials become a sham – if the state really wants to put you away? They can always declare you a sexually dangerous person and drop you into a deep dark hole for as long as they like.  Chateau d’If anyone?

What’s to prevent someone with the wrong politics from being detained indefinitely? Let me get this straight, you flew all the way to Argentina to spend a week with your mistress? Hmmm. Dangerous libido there don’t you think? We better keep that thing on a leash – at least until after the next election.

Or somebody with the wrong religious beliefs? What’s that? You don’t accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? You know that atheists have no moral compass and believe that you can just rape and kill at will, right?  Better for everybody if we keep the non-Christians locked up until you see the light.

Or somebody with the wrong sexual orientation?  It’s a well known fact that all gay men must be pedophiles, isn’t it? Hey, we don’t allow them to marry for a reason, right?  Best to keep the perverts in jail, instead of out on the street demanding equality.

And so on.  Tell me why this won’t happen. Sooner or later.

Be honest.  Look at our history, look at how laws were twisted to prevent certain folks from marrying and voting and owning land or getting a fair shake in court.  Look at human nature, and tell me what prevents this from happening – if constitutional protections are bypassed or rationalized away. 

Sure this law was passed to protect children, tell me what the road to hell is paved with.

And while you’re at it, tell me what keeps the government from using this decision as a precedent for other similar-minded detentions in crimes such as, oh, I dunno, say terrorism?





I note that I get regular visits from SCOTUS’s IP address here at Stonekettle Station. Please, Supreme Court visitor, feel free to weigh in.  Thanks.



* Not all sexual predators are created equal, some will reoffend, some won’t.  Studies indicate that many can control their impulses given proper treatment and continued support, sort of like drug or alcohol abusers.  Unfortunately, as I stated in the text, high quality treatment and support is not commonly available to inmates and ex-cons, nor is the supervision required to ensure compliance with the post-incarceration treatment regimes.  The Phillip Garrido case is a perfect example.


** I also cannot understand how this law is not an ex post facto law and in violation of Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution since it allows for retroactive application of its penalties against those who were sentenced, and completed their sentences, prior to its implementation.  For example, the law requires sex offenders (including those who have completed their sentences) to register in a national database that can be accessed by the public and imposes severe penalties for failure to comply. It also imposes strict restrictions on where they can live and who they can associate with.  (However, I have to be honest and say that while the Constitutionality of this provision bothers me intellectually, as a parent I damned well check that database monthly and I’m a big fan of keeping the sons of bitches away from schools and children. I am aware of my apparent hypocrisy, thanks). 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Latest From The Shop – Lathe Turned Coffee Mug

As some of you know, Stonekettle Station regular, Karl, is a fellow wood turner. 

He lives a ways north of here, up near Fairbanks.  A while back he stopped by my place on his way to pick up a sheep (I did that on purpose). He had with him a lathe turned travel mug.  I commented on it. Seems Karl turns coffee cups, travel mugs actually, and I thought they were pretty damned cool (it’s a turning thing, plus – coffee. Seriously, two of my favorites).

Some time passed. 

Karl sent me an email saying he’d put something in the mail for me.

Some more time passed.

Then one day a block of walnut showed up, along with a coffee mug insert.

See? That’s what’s cool about Karl, he didn’t send me a turned coffee mug, he sent me the stuff to turn my own coffee mug. If you don’t understand the coolness of this, I can’t explain it to you other than to say sawdust may impair higher brain function.  

Some more time passed.

And eventually today I had a moment or two to make that mug:



Coffee is brewing.

Thanks, Karl.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Some Thoughts On the Times Square Bomber

You know, I haven’t been posting much lately.

I’ve been busy as hell and frankly I haven’t had that much to say.

That’s probably a good thing.

See, I read the news and nothing really jumps out at me these last few weeks. Things seem to be looking up, unemployment is down for the second straight month in a row and it looks like that’s a solid trend. The economy is growing – slowly to be sure, but steadily growing none-the-less. People are buying stuff and building houses again and this too appears to be a trend. We seem to be making progress on both fronts of this idiotic war and troops are starting to coming home from Iraq and the focus is shifting to Afghanistan where it should have been all along. A bunch of sane people have decided to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world and are prepared to take yet another step back from the brink of annihilation – not far enough back yet, in my not so humble opinion, but I like that we’re head away from the abyss instead of galloping hell bent for leather straight at it grinning like demented baboons. In spite of the dire predictions and the continued sobbing noises from Jesus, we don’t appear to be either dead, socialists, communists, or fascists yet (I mean us Americans, not you people who are already Canadian) – this despite the fact that universal healthcare is always the harbinger of such terrifying social oppression. The Birthers have finally been told to officially fuck off by the State of Hawaii and stop wasting tax payer money with their ridiculous nonsense. Despite infallible biblical prophecy and the disturbingly accurate predictions of Nostradamus it appears that Barack Obama is not, in fact, the actual son of Satan. And so far as I know, Glenn Beck can still buy a twice fried cherry pie at New York’s Chip Shop – though it is entirely possible that he is the whelp of the Dark Prince.

Is everything perfect?

No, of course not, but watching the news and comparing today to a year ago it seems to me that we’ve turned a corner.

Take the current batch of media terrorists for example – I just can’t get all that worked up over these goons. Seriously, folks, we’re dealing with the B-team. The Shoe Bomber, Underpants Jihad, and British Petroleum? America used to have much more competent enemies. I’m watching people run around squawking and flapping their arms over the failed Times Square attack and I have to shake my head in amazement. Really? How many murders were committed in New York today? How many people were maimed from shootings, stabbings, and hot cherry pie filling? I don’t know that I’d call Faisal Shahzad the clown shoes of terrorism – I think I’ll reserve that title for those six ultra-religious dipshits in Michigan who thought they were going to take down the New World Order with a silly name and Bazooka Jesus, or maybe that guy who tried to blow up an airplane by lighting his nuts on fire and now has to go through life with the appellation “underpants bomber.” I do think Shahzad is a damned fine example of the Peter Principle of Terror. Nothing went right for Shahzad. His car bomb was pure amateur hour. I’m not saying it couldn’t have hurt or killed people – you know, if it actually went off - but for crying out loud, folks, he could have killed a shitload more people by just getting drunk and driving that SUV into a queue outside of Cats. Hell he was only a block away. This idiot sure wasn’t any Tim McVeigh and it’s unlikely that any enterprising barman will name a drink after him like the Irish Car Bomb or the I.E.D. - though I suppose you could refer to when the bartender screws up your order as pulling a "Shahzad." Hell, the “fertilizer” he used might as well have been potting soil, he didn’t know the difference between the kind that explodes and the kind made from cow dung (something he could have learned in five minutes on the internet). He made every mistake it is possible to make, up to and including buying the SUV off of Craigslist using his real name, credit card, and actual address and then parking it directly under a security camera – and then went on to demonstrate the same stupidity with his plane tickets. This guy left a trail even the WMD Division at the CIA could follow. The good guys couldn’t have identified him any quicker if he’d walked into Langley wearing an “I tried to blow up my car, but all I did was burn my lips on the tailpipe” T-shirt. Once in custody he admitted everything. He confessed all and he couldn’t wait to name names and spill every secret he had. He’s still talking, babbling like the little bitch he is and the FBI is rounding up his friends. The Army didn’t even have to beat him with lead pipes, pump water up his nose, hook his balls to a car battery, or force him to toss Dick Cheney’s salad. Between the time Shahzad parked his truck and the time the G-men snatched him off that airplane at JFK, more people were terminated by SUV’s driven by fine upstanding American soccer moms yakking on their cell phones than Shahzad could possibly have killed with his bomb even if he actually knew what he was doing. Which he didn’t. In fact, no one died, no one was hurt, no property was damaged, and America survived another day. Terrorist? Instead of sending Shahzad to Gitmo they ought to tattoo a big “L” on his forehead, Have President Obama thank him publically for his help in ratting out Al Qaeda, and then drop him off in downtown Peshawar wearing a George W. Bush commemorative hat. It could be a new reality TV show, Run Faisal Run!

Look, I’m not saying that terrorism is dead, or that we don’t need to be vigilant. But, seriously, call me back when you’ve got something better than some loser wannabe with a backseat full of BBQ grill propane tanks and a fistful of sparklers.

Now, what I don’t get are the people condemning the administration for Mirandizing Shahzad.

Seriously, people, what the fuck?

The guy admitted it.

Let’s repeat that for the Conservatives in the room, shall we? I’ll speak slowly so the Republicans can understand.

He confessed. The evidence against him is overwhelming. He confessed. He wasn’t tortured. He confessed. His rights as an American were explained to him, including the right to keep his mouth shut. And still he confessed. He confessed to the whole damned thing. He confessed.

How exactly, Conservatives, to you think he’s going to beat the rap?

What’s the fear here? He’ll claim insanity? He will roll the steel ball brearings in his hand and start mumbling about the strawberries, the strawberries?

Is he the Magik Moslem? Does he have some kind of Pakistani Jedi Mind Control thing going on? These are not the terrorists you’re looking for! Death to America!

Will he hire Johnny Cochran? If the bomb didn’t do shit, you must acquit!

He hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a cunning adversary up until now, so really what it it?

It’s liberal judges, isn’t it? That’s what conservatives are really afraid of.

Prosecutor: Your Honor, we’ve got this terrorist bastard dead to rights. We’ve got receipts and bomb making parts and love letters from Osama Bin Laden himself addressed to the defendant. We’ve got DNA and used condoms, a goat, and a tub of Crisco. We’ve got him on video. We’ve got eye-witnesses. We’ve got his finger prints and even his mother says he’s a no good for nothing piece of goat humping terrorist shit that ought to be gang raped in prison by wild pigs. Annnnnnnnnnnnd, we’ve got his signed confession. Viola! He did it, your honor. Sir.

Judge: Sorry, but we’re going to have to let him go.

Prosecutor: But…

Judge: No, we have to let him go, otherwise the polar bears will die in the global warming after getting welfare abortions. Also, give him free healthcare, an apology, and a puppy.

That’s it, isn’t it?

I mean what else could it be?

For a bunch of people who routinely claim to be the only real Americans, they don’t seem to have much faith in their own legal system. Do they honestly believe that the only way to convict this idiot is in front of a military tribunal? Seriously, they want to legitimize this retard? Do they really want to give Shahzad actual honest to Allah bona fide status as an enemy combatant? How in the hell does this third-rate goof deserve multi-million dollar high security detention at Gitmo? Complete with Marine guards and high tech holding cell and cameras and a court of military officers who could be doing something useful?

He’s a loser. A half-assed sorry little loser. Treat him like one. Give him a public defender and remand him over to the New York Court System. Let him sit in a cell with the rest of the bottom feeders for a year or so and then after he’s been convicted send him upstate with the rest of the reprobates.

Give him a month in Sing Sing, he’ll wish he was in Gitmo.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ask Stonekettle Station

Today’s Google query?

Why are liberals such hateful little bastards?

Glad you asked.

It’s because Liberals are assholes. They listen to Rush and Glenn and Ann and Sean and they know who real Americans are, yessiree. They’ve banded together in large groups of angry people to denounce the president for being black.  They roam the streets bombing Planned Parenthood clinics and beating up queers and they’re making damned sure that nobody gets in to see a doctor unless they can pay pay pay.  They went to Europe with Jesus and came home with Rentboy, but they’re not gay oh no not even a little bit of gayness, nope. They love God and Sarah Palin and they hate those lying elitist dinosaurs and they don’t want none of that evolution monkey shit in the schools.  Those goddamned hateful little liberals started two wars and they can’t wait to bomb the fuck out of Iran too. They burned down the environment and strip mined the planet and they’re out there right now drilling, Baby, drilling. They’re…

…oh, uh, wait a minute.

That’s not right.

Heh heh, sorry. I got confused there for a moment.

Never mind.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Latest from the Shop

It was a very busy weekend, but I did manage to work in a little turning.

These are a couple of large cedar birdhouses:


The bodies are Eastern Red Cedar, the caps are White Cedar, and the finials are Rosewood. Because this pair will end up hanging in a yard in Anchorage, exposed to Alaska’s weather, they’re liberally coated in orange oil and bee’s wax.  I love the color of that Eastern Cedar.


This next picture is a set of decorative birdhouse and a stand.  I have something similar in my office on base and a coworker saw it and wanted one of her own:


The stand is spalted birch, with decorative disks of Cocobolo. The bird houses are (from left to right) Lignum Vitae and zebra wood, red cedar and spruce, claro walnut and rosewood, and red oak and birch. The whole thing stands about two feet tall.


What did you do with your weekend, anything cool?

Friday, May 7, 2010

I’m Fine, Thanks For Asking

A number of folks have written asking about the sudden lack of posting here on Stonekettle Station.

A number of emails asked if I was OK.

I’m fine, just very busy. 

Posting should resume its normal schedule shortly, I hope.

In the mean time, have a dance party:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Worst Case Scenario

Ever see the movie Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome?

It’s the weakest of the Mad Max movies, it’s too slick and it loses some of the gritty low budget Australian strangeness of the first two Road Warrior flicks, but I love Thunderdome anyway.

I do. 

I love it for one particular scene:

The Road Warrior himself, the Onlies, Master, and some idiot convict called Pig Killer have escaped Bartertown on the swine-methane express. They’re speeding down the tracks into a radioactive wasteland towards an unknown destination pursued by an enraged mob in high-powered dune buggies led by Tina Turner in a stainless steel teddy and giant post-apocalyptic 1980’s hairdo. It’s possible that they could be in worse mortal danger, but it’s hard to see how.  Max works his way forward to the train engine and asks the driver, Pig-Killer, “So, what’s the plan?”

Pig-Killer’s laughing derisive response is classic, “Plan?!  There ain’t no plan!”

Ass backward into the unknown.

There have been many, many times in my life where I’ve felt a lot like Max must have felt at that very moment. Plan? What plan?  And suddenly you realize that people you depended on to know what they were doing, actually, in reality, had no damned clue, whatsoever.


Take the disaster unfolding off the coast of Louisiana right now for example. The failures here are myriad – but no more so than a failure to effectively plan ahead.

No, seriously.

What was the plan? Accidents happen. The best laid plans of mice and men and so on and so forth. It’s not like this is any real surprise. Deep sea drilling is dangerous – that’s why the money is so damned good. Sooner or later a rig in the Gulf was going to explode, sink, and leave behind a ruptured well. It was inevitable given the nature of the operation. It’s happened before, it will happen again. 

So what was the plan?

Don’t have an accident?  We’ll never have a blowout? We’ll never have a fire? We’ll never have an explosion? We’ll never have a ruptured oil line? That seems just a tad overly optimistic in retrospect, doesn’t it?

I mean, what exactly was the logic here?


Government regulators: What’s the plan, Oil Industry Dudes?

Oil Industry: We plan to never have a spill! Scout’s honor.  Also, we would like to sink a lot more wells around the coast where we also will never have an accident.

Government regulators:  Sounds like a well thought out plan indeed!

Oil Industry: Also, we would like to be exempted from those onerous environmental impact statements if it wouldn’t be too much bother.

Government regulators: Well…

Oil Industry: Hey, scout’s honor! Really. Plus the EPA, seriously guys…

Government regulators: Yeah, we think they’re a bunch of fucking hippy alarmists too…

Oil Industry: Step 4, Cha-Ching!


I will say that this spill, so far, is being handled better than other disasters of record. Certainly British Petroleum’s response has been swifter than that of Exxon following the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound – though that may be more location than actual planning.  Certainly the federal government’s response has been pretty damned fast comparatively speaking, orders of magnitude better than the response to the last major disaster that hit the Gulf Coast – though this disaster calls for much more of an engineering response than the massive humanitarian response required by Hurricane Katrina (so far).  You have to give both BP and the Federal Government props for saying “whatever it takes” as opposed to “let’s wait and see” (yes, they both have the future of expanded off-shore drilling at stake here, and rapidly souring public opinion. We’ll come back to that). And you have to give BP credit for taking responsibility.  Yes, yes, yes, sure it’s because anything else would be even worse for their public image. Of course it is. Altruism is not a hallmark of industry, especially the Oil Industry. But still, publically and preemptively taking responsibility (BP’s lawyers must have been tranquilized up to their eyeballs. Can you imagine?), for whatever reason, is something out of the ordinary – witness the aforementioned Exxon Valdez disaster for which Exxon still has not accepted responsibility and has, in point of fact, done everything in its vast legal power to get the hell out of accepting responsibility for.  Will BP or the government’s response be effective? I doubt it.  A hell of a lot of luck will be required – and luck is something that is often in short supply in these situations.

So, how did this happen in the first place? Aren’t there regulations and devices and procedures to prevent this kind of disaster?

Yes. First up is a mandated device called a blow-out preventer.

It didn’t work.

Why didn’t the blowout preventer work?

No, seriously? Why didn’t it work?

The blowout preventer (BOP) is a massive device that sits on top of the well-head and is designed to seal off the well in an emergency.  Usually a BOP is composed of several types of hydraulic valves, including one that is a lot like the jaws-of-life firemen use - it’s basically a pair of massively powerful rams designed to cut through the drill pipe or tool strings and seal the well in the event of catastrophic blow-out when drill hits gas and/or oil under massive pressure. The gas/oil mixture can suddenly force its way violently upward, past the valves, tools, and drill line, through the feed riser and explode into the mud room. This is what used to cause so-called “gushers.”  And it’s most likely what happened on the Deepwater Horizon.  BOPs were invented specifically to prevent precisely the disaster that is unfolding in the Gulf right now, both the original platform explosion and the following ruptured well.  BOPs have been around for nearly a century now, the technology isn’t exactly new or untested.  What’s the point of such a safety device if it doesn’t work reliably? What’s the point of such equipment if the failure state isn’t “OFF!”  Of all the equipment on an oil rig, you’d think the device designed to shut off the volatile flow would be the one damned thing you’d  check on a regular basis. You’d think this would be mandated by law as part of the oil field lease agreement. You’d think that it would be part of the periodic federal regulatory inspection.

Oh, wait, it is.

In fact, Federal Regulations, Title 30: Mineral Resources, Chapter II, Subchapter 8, Part 250 mandates that the blowout preventer be fully tested once a week for annular devices (like a donut that seals inside the bore around the tool line or drill pipe without damaging either) and every thirty days for shear rams (the aforementioned device that cuts through anything in the bore and seals the well if all else fails). If the BOP system doesn’t pass, all further operations of the well must be suspended until the system is repaired.  The BOP in this case not only failed to work automatically as designed, it can’t be activated manually either. Total failure of multiple systems in all modes (which is probably what fueled the initial explosion in the first place).  I’d be very curious to know when the last time this thing was tested, how often it was tested, and the details of its history (and really what I’d like to know is the similar failure rate of such devices industry wide. Why? Well because those things speak directly to the safety of off-shore drilling in general, which I’ll come back to in more detail below).  And I’d be curious as to when the last time state and federal inspectors checked for compliance.  The records of such testing are normally maintained onboard the drilling platform, want to bet where they are now?

Federal Inspector: Demonstrate emergency well shutdown procedures.

Oil Industry: Uh….yeah, see, uh….

Federal Inspector: Don’t worry about it, I used to work on Wall Street as a Regulator for the Fed and I can tell you these rules are mostly just for show anyway. It’s not like anything is going to happen…


Of course that little conversation is a fantasy, because the federal inspectors check the logs, not the actual device in operation. Who then is responsible for actually testing the physical device (i.e. ensuring compliance with federal safety regulation)?  You guessed it, the industry itself. And this is the crux of not only the current disaster but the entire issue of off-shore drilling itself – or indeed any industry that directly affects the lives and livelihoods of large populations.  Really here folks, how many times do we have to go through this bullshit?  Any industry that has the potential to disastrously affect millions of people, from the airlines to Wall Street to Bhopal to oil drilling needs scrutiny, regulation, and strict oversight. And we need to hold the inspectors accountable too. Anything else is a recipe for inevitable disaster.  You can argue it the other way all you like, but history is against you at every turn. When the industry itself stands before Congress and says, “Heck, Senator, it would be better for everybody if we police ourselves” your bullshit detector should be flashing red and sounding the danger claxon. 

Look, I’m not a federal inspector, and I’m sure no expert on oil rig operation (though I do have some experience in that area), but I’ve seen plenty of bypassed safety systems and fudged compliance reports and exceptions granted – hell, I remember the engineering plant on USS Kennedy that was so jury rigged - and had been for years - that it’s a wonder the ship could actually get underway (and in fact, it got to the point where it couldn’t get underway and Sailors had to die in a mainspace fire before the Navy actually did something about it).  Now, I’m obviously comparing apples and oranges here, but those were federal regulations too, with mandatory inspections, and maybe even prison time for non-compliance. You need another example? How about Wall Street. It’s the same thing. The mindset is exactly the same, and if it can happen in the military where the safety checks are supposed to be strictly enforced under penalty of military justice, it sure as hell can happen in a self-policing industry and it does. All of the time. Bottom line, time is money.  When platforms aren’t pumping, the company and the workers and stockholders on Wall Street are losing money.  There is a huge incentive to keep operations moving no matter what.  I’m not saying that’s what happened here, because obviously I don’t know, but a total failure of such a critical device like the BOP is damned fishy – especially if it was tested on a regular basis as it was supposed to be, unless, of course, it wasn’t.

But, you know, shit happens.  No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. If a machine can fail, sooner or later, it will.  You have to plan for that.

Which takes us to the next question: Why is BP building oil containment domes?

No, seriously.

Rather, why is BP building oil containment domes now? Why weren’t they already built and pre-staged ready to go?  Why wasn’t this ultimate fallback contingency mandated?  A containment dome is just a big metal pyramid-shaped box (a big heavy box the size of an office building).  But compared to the billions this disaster is going to cost us now, pre-built containment domes are practically free.  You take the dome and drop it over the leak like a lid, oil rises and is trapped inside it, and the trapped oil is then pumped up a riser pipe to a tanker on the surface  (And it’s not quite that simple.  Oil is lighter than water, fill the box up with enough oil and it’ll become buoyant and rise off the bottom, tip over, spilling its contents into the sea. That’s considered non-optimal. Also, pumping from that depth requires big, big powerful pumps. In a pressurized riser the well pressure forces the oil upward, in a containment dome scenario, you’ve got to pump it.  Imagine sucking syrup up a straw 5000 feet tall).   Granted, this technique has never been tried at the 5000 foot depth of the ruptured well in question, but again, what was the plan? What was the contingency plan if the BOP failed? It’s a mechanical device. No device built by man is 100% reliable (which is why you have to test them on a regular basis) even when they’re not sitting under 5000 feet of corrosive salt water.  But that’s exactly how off-shore drilling operates, that’s how federal oil industry regulation operates (or Wall Street regulation for that matter) – as if the safeties can never fail.  Why? Well, because it’s cheaper for the industry that way. And because the industry has a damned powerful lobby and a whole bunch of money and a whole bunch of congressmen in their pockets.   So we pretend that our technology is foolproof, or that a supertanker will never run around on Bligh Reef, or that we can drill 40 miles from critical wetlands and shoreline without a fucking backup plan.

But, even if the BOP routinely operates correctly 999,999,999 times out of 1,000,000,000, then guaran-goddamned-teed it is going to fail when you absolutely, positively need it most. That’s just the way it is, folks. Meet Murphy, famous for Murphy’s Law, if it can go pear-shaped, it will. And there are a million things that can go wrong at sea, even if you do everything right (and there’s no reason to suspect the crew of the Deepwater Horizon weren’t doing everything right. Again, sometimes shit just happens). I’ve been involved in a hell of a lot of hazardous operations and I’m telling you with absolute authority, mechanical devices that are guaranteed not to fail, will fail.  Period.  Metal fatigue, design flaws, corrosion, unanticipated failure modes, poor maintenance, human error or inattention, even if you do everything right sooner or later the damned thing will fail.  You have to plan for it, especially when failure involves catastrophe.  It’s one thing if equipment failure results in a loss of the galley cappuccino machine, it’s another entirely if equipment failure makes the wings fall off – at that point, frankly I just don’t see the industry getting the option, whatever the cost.  If, in the event of a BOP failure, in a worst case scenario, the only contingency available was containment domes, then they should have been already built and standing by just in case. Every single day that goes by while we wait for these things to be welded up allows yet another couple of thousand barrels of oil to leak into the Gulf.

Of course, this begs the question, what if the containment domes don’t work?

Such devices have never been tested at this depth.  Which makes you wonder why this method wasn’t tested before allowing drilling at this location?  Answer: Because the plan was not to have an accident in the first place, remember? Spending money to build and test the safety devices in deep water was a waste of money, it was an unreasonable burden – or so the Oil Industry lobbyists said. After all, they had the mandated blow-out preventer. Right?  This is, of course, akin to saying, “Well, I’m a good driver, and I haven’t had a major accident in a while, so I don’t need to wear a seat belt. In fact, seat belts themselves are a waste of money and an unreasonable burden because I’ve got an airbag and anti-lock brakes.” Sounds foolish doesn’t it? Stupid. But somehow that same exact logic is considered valid when we’re talking about the safety of off-shore drilling where the consequences of failure are a disaster on the international scale.

So, the containment domes haven’t been tested at depth.  And because they haven’t been tested there are a hell of a lot of unknowns and nobody in the industry will give odds on whether or not this will work.

And if it doesn’t, if the containment domes don’t work, well, then what?

Then we wait, maybe up to three months, while BP drills a bypass well.  Basically they drill down into the bedrock and then sideways until the drill reaches the leaking borehole.  They’ll shove pipe into it and divert the flow into the new bore and through another BOP (hopefully one that actually works) into a new riser pipe to a platform pretty much exactly like the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon.  It takes months because they have to drill deep enough, i.e. into bed rock, otherwise the pressure is likely to cause a blowout of the sea floor and another catastrophic leak.  This is also why blowing up the well with explosives as some naive idiots have suggested won’t work either. 

Three months. 

Right now the well has been leaking for a couple of days, try to imagine what the Gulf is going to look like twelve weeks from now.  I don’t need to spell out what’s going to happen if the oil cannot be contained at the source.  Those oil booms were never designed to protect a thousand miles of coast.  It’s impossible.  You all know what’s going to happen.  Believe me when I say all of us Alaskans damned sure know what’s going to happen. Welcome to the party, folks, we’ve been living with it for decades now.

And so here we are, down to the real question, a question for those people who’ve been shouting Drill, Baby, Drill since last November, who’ve been preaching the conservative mantra of Get Government Off the Back of Business:

Do you still think that removing government regulation from business is a good idea? 

Are you willing to live with the consequences?

Because that is indeed the real question here.

I think that unless a magical new power source is discovered in the near term, drilling off the coast of the US is inevitable.  I think that drilling in the arctic refuges is inevitable.  Now, later. Whatever. We need the oil and we’re going to drill for it. Notice I didn’t say this was desirable.  Notice I didn’t say I like the idea.  What I said was that it’s inevitable.  Our demand for oil grows every year, the overseas supply is controlled by somebody else and sooner or later it’s going to run out.  Sooner or later we’re going to have to develop the off-shore oil fields in our own waters – even our liberal president agrees with this assessment (and the fact that he does should tell you something about the current supply situation, the real situation, the strategic assessment they don’t tell the public).

I’ll be frank with you (and as long as I ruined my liberal cred with last week’s post), I’m not ideologically opposed to either drilling on the continental shelf or in the arctic.

Yeah, I know, gasp!

I’m not for it, but I’m not rabidly against drilling either – and I have to wonder if there isn’t just a bit of hypocrisy here when we protest drilling in our own backyard for environmental reasons…and instead export that nasty business to the rain forests of South American and the crystal blue waters of the Persian Gulf. I’ve been to both places, folks, and if you think you’re saving the planet by not drilling here, well, you’re deluding yourselves. All you’re doing is moving the problem into somebody else’s backyard – somebody who doesn’t give a flying fig about the environment by the way.

I live in Alaska, I know that oil can be extracted from the earth without destroying the environment, it’s possible. I’ve seen it. And we’re better at it than anybody else in the world.

But I also live in Alaska, I damned well know it’s also possible that you can just as easily destroy the environment too, for a long long time, if you’re not extraordinarily careful. If you don’t take every single precaution available. If you don’t enforce the laws and regulations.  If you let the lobbyists decide policy and pull your government’s strings. 

If you don’t damned well plan ahead.

Here’s one thing I do know for sure, if you depend on the industry to police itself, well, you’re an idiot.

And you’re going to need a hell of a lot of dish soap and paper towels.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Whatever happened to Google Wave?

Did it change the world as we know it?

Just curious.