Thursday, March 31, 2011

Latest From the Shop: Lathe Turned Table Tops

The wife of an acquaintance of mine found a beautiful small wrought-iron two-level table frame.

Lovely, simple, and elegant.

Ideal for a sun room or a porch, a perfect perch for a Christmas cactus or a vase or some kind of porcelain Foofery.

You know, like that.

Problem was, it came with a couple of Jiminy-Fixit inserts made from grade-B plywood by somebody who might have once pounded a nail into a 2x4 as the sum total of his woodworking experience.

The wife was unhappy with this situation and asked her husband to make better ones.

Unfortunately, the sum total of his woodworking experience was that he once pounded a nail into a 2x4, it bent, he smashed his thumb and vowed never to risk damaging a hammer like that again.

All was not lost however, my acquaintance once gifted his lovely wife with one of my turned exotic hardwood pens and as my office is full of my craft, he suggested to his wife that much less pain would ensue for all parties if I was assigned the task. The wife, knowing him (and not knowing me), agreed to this foolish course of action and suggested that he ask me and offer to pay.

He did.

And I said, “Sure, couple of small table tops. No problem. Have it done in a jiffy.”


I took the table frame home.


I was busy that first weekend and didn’t get to it.

I was busy the second weekend too.

And the third.

Eventually I just sort of forgot about it.  Which I’m sort of prone to do. At least I think I am anyway, I forget. I often sit in the shop. I talk to my cat and drink a beer and maybe another beer. Time passes. Eventually my wife comes to make sure I haven’t killed myself by lopping off something vital on the tablesaw. I’m not really sure what happens there in my happy place, and I don’t really care.


After about a month or so, my friend politely asked me about it, “Say, wife wants to know…if it’s not too much trouble…”

“No problem, Friend, this weekend for sure.”

“You’re the best!”

“Aw shucks!”

And I went home and put the table frame in the middle of my main work area, between the primary saw and the big lathe, where I would see it and remember.


Somewhere around the sixth week, or maybe it was the seventh, I moved that damned table frame out of my way because I was tired of tripping over it. 


Time passed.

I communed with ShopKat and Mr. George Killian (God bless that Irishman).

Somewhere, stars flickered and went out.

Summer fled and winter was upon us and I switched from beer to whiskey as befitting the change in weather.

My acquaintance mentioned in passing that the wife thought a plant would look good on that table. In the spring. You know.

Boy, you don’t have hit me over the head with the obvious. Well, I mean, you can, but it won’t help.


It seems that some more time passed. The exact amount is open to debate, but radio carbon dating appears to be involved.

My acquaintance finally cornered me in my office.

“She’s threatening to kill me, then cut up my body with a chainsaw and feed the pieces into the leaf chipper.”

“Have you tried buying her flowers? That’ll usually get you another week.”

“Have mercy, you flinty bastard! You have to help me!”

“Anything. You want I should drive you to a shelter? We could get some beers on the way, you know it’s almost spring?”

“Please, God, I’m begging you. It’s been six fucking months!”

“Really? Six months. That’s it? I’ve procrastinated for far, far longer than that. There was this one time…”

“Oh God, please!”

“Hey, it’s not me she’s threatening to go all Fargo on.”

“I’ll pay you double!”

“Hmmm double you say?”

“Triple, you fucker! And I’ll bring you coffee for a week.”

“Well, now we’re talking. Besides what are friends for, right? And hey, Buddy, for your own sake, be careful around this woman, she sounds like a real psycho.”


Turns out, I did manage to find a little time this last weekend.



The tops are 1” thick, kiln dried Alaskan birch heartwood, 16” from point to point. After I made the basic six-sided tops, I turned them on the big lathe and cut a recess to insert the black walnut medallions.  The tops were then turned smooth and sanded on the lathe.  Then taken off the machine and finish sanded and buffed. Then I  remounted them and added the decorative circles with a face-beading tri-point and the #1 Wagner texture tool at low speed.  The tops are finished with two coats of Tung Oil and a hard waterproof poly-acrylic.  Then buffed to a satin glow with a micromesh pad on the FESTOOL ETS-150.

They must have been satisfactory.

There was a large latte on my desk this morning.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

America: Land That I love

America: You Keep Using That Word…  continues to spread like bird flu across the web. 

It’s been ten days now since the post went up, and interest in the article shows no sign whatsoever of slacking off. The hit counts have nearly doubled each day and continue to rise.

Thanks for that.

Only a small percentage of the responses currently clogging the Stonekettle Station inbox like undigested jelly donuts in Rush Limbaugh’s large intestine are negative.  While some do border on outright psychosis, I still haven’t gotten any actual death threats – though a number of self-described Christians claim to be praying for my immediate immolation and condemnation to fiery torment for all eternity (which as I’m sure you know, is exactly what Jesus would do. Nobody could lay down the hate like Jesus. I apparently made some church’s email list. Again. Sigh).  I have been aggressively policing the comments under the post and I will continue to do so. And folks, really, read the commenting rules first, before you make a comment. I’m getting tired of having to delete personal attacks.  You are allowed to disagree with the post, you are allowed to hate it even, and you are allowed to say so.  Politely. However, if your rebuttal consists of a personal attack against me or other folks here, I will either sic the dogs on you or I will delete your comment.  Period.  I don’t care if you don’t like it – it’s my site, I pay the rent on it, and I damned well don’t have to put up with jerks.  Again, you can disagree, but you can do it without being a tool about it. 

The general response remains overwhelmingly positive – the story appears to have struck deeply at something bothering a lot of people. And I mean a lot.  And that, my friends, is something we should all think about, me included, because that chord, that one right there, is really the only thing truly wrong with the United States of America.

We’ll come back to that.

The previous post, America: Explained, is my rebuttal to criticism directed at the original piece.  You should take the time to read it, if you haven’t already, it covers most all of the general complaints. All but one.

I left something out.

I left out the biggest criticism, the one I’ve gotten most in many forms, to wit: Why do you hate America so much?

I get this a lot, and have even before I published America: You Keep Using That Word…

Why do I hate America?

That’s it, huh? That’s the best you can come up with? Why do I hate America?

Folks, I don’t hate America.  In point of fact, I spent almost all of my adult life in uniform defending it and why would I do that if I hated my country?  Really, please explain that to me. I salute the flag out of respect for all that it represents.  I stand at attention for the National Anthem and sing along as best I’m able – and, hell, like any good initiated Chief I even know all the verses. Do you? I’ve lived in and travelled this country from one end to the other, literally, from Florida to Maine to California, Hawaii, and Alaska, thousands of miles across the continent and over the seas through every single state in the Union and every one of her territories except Puerto Rico. Have you? I’ve hiked America’s national parks and stood awestruck before her monuments from the Washington Mall to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse all the way out to the American Japanese War Memorial on distant Attu Island. Have you? I’ve visited her museums and her festivals and strolled the streets of her cities. And I’ve stood upon her battlefields,  I’ve walked America’s military graveyards, at home and abroad, with my hand on those cold granite headstones and gave thanks to the men and women entombed there, for their sacrifice so that we may be free – and even now the mere thought of those places and their endless rows of stark white markers brings a lump to my throat. I know some of those men, I served with them, I was trained by them, and I led their sons and daughters into war. They were my brothers in arms and I miss them.

Does that make me a better American than you?

No, of course not.

So, tell me again, how I must hate America.

I love the United States and always have, but my love is not uncritical. 

Uncritical love is not love at all but rather infatuated obsession. That’s what blind patriotism is, infatuated obsessive self-love. Blind patriotism is masturbation, it isn’t about loving your country, it’s about loving yourself.  Blind patriotism does not make you a better American than your neighbors, it just makes you blind. Like true religious faith, true patriotism isn’t a competition, you don’t get a prize for being better at it, or louder, or more militant, than those around you.  That kind of patriotism is a lot like those parents who think their kid is the most beautiful, perfect, special, wonderful, smart, funny, charming, exceptional, and talented kid in the whole wide world and who can do no wrong – and the kid is really a spoiled rotten stupid jerk who will one day grow up into a spoiled rotten stupid jerk of an adult.

The original post, America, was inspired by a bumper sticker, here’s another one, one that sums up the blind patriot succinctly: America, Love It or Leave It

That’s it? Those are my only two choices? STFU or GTFO?


What if parenting was like that? If your child isn’t perfect, always, you bail?  Turn it around, what if a child’s love for a parent was like that? Unquestioning, uncritical at first, but as you grow and learn you realize that your parents aren’t perfect. So then what? Leave and never look back? Screw them, is that it?  That’s how you define love? You're only proud of them if they’re perfect and without flaw? What kind of pride is that?

Think about it. No really think about that for a minute.

Love it or leave it is a logical fallacy, one of false dichotomy, one that far too many Americans indulge themselves in these days.  Remember what I said, you’ll go blind. 

Love it or leave it are not the only two choices

If they were, the United States Constitution would be a far, far shorter and less ambiguous document.

Uncritical love, blind patriotism, and logical fallacies do neither your country nor your children any good whatsoever.

America: You Keep Using That Word… wasn’t about one flag or another. It wasn’t about a Dodge RAM or a Toyota Prius.  It wasn’t about black diesel smoke or white diesel smoke.  It wasn’t about some silly bumper stickers. It wasn’t about the North or the South.  It wasn’t about liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans. It was about Americans of any and all stripes who claim to love this country, but seem to hate everything about it.  I never described the driver at all, yet thousands saw themselves in the driver’s seat or saw someone they knew sitting there. All of us know the person inferred in America. America was about those people, those Americans who see only two stark choices, love it or leave it, us or them, freedom or tyranny. And for some, that was just a little too close for comfort.

In America, I asked two simple questions:


What, exactly, are you proud of?

What, exactly, do you love about America?


Immediately I began receiving letters, lists of things people love about America. 

A counterpoint to America is being passed around and posted here and there, mostly on conservative orientated forums. I’ve received a hundred or more copies. I find it odd that many folks love America so darned much, but can’t take time to articulate their own reasons why so instead they forward something they found on the internet penned by somebody else. Seems to me, if you love America that much, you ought to be able to say why in your own words.

Regardless, the very first thing listed in nearly every single one of those letters is military strength. 

I love America for her military might.  I’m proud that America can kick ass. I’m proud that we have the mightiest warships and the fastest fighter planes and the biggest tanks.  I’m proud that we’ve got all the nuclear bombs.  America, hell ya!

This puzzles me.  What happens if somebody else builds a bigger aircraft carrier? A faster fighter? A tank with a bigger gun? Will you be less proud of America then? 

I’ll tell you what I love about America’s military strength, I’ll tell you what makes me proud of my country. 

Ten years now we’ve been fighting two highly unpopular wars. Ten years. A decade now, and more. And today, as I write this, we’ve embarked on yet another one. This generation, these eighteen, nineteen, twenty year old kids, with their goofy haircuts and their tattoos with the rings through their eyebrows and studs through their tongues? Yes, that generation, the Me Generation, the one we call selfish and lazy and fat and self-involved and long, long removed from the Greatest Generation of all, yes that generation. Well, Sir, they come of their own free will to join the unpopular fight. There are few recruiting commercials on TV, no posters in the train stations, no draft – certainly nothing like in previous conflicts.  And still they come.  They’re hard and they’re smart and they are out there right now, in the dark and dangerous corners of the world fighting under the Stars and Stripes and some have gone back four and five times and more. And still they come, rallying to the banner of our nation and the trumpet call of duty.  Our forces are engaged across the globe, they are tired and sore used.  And still they come, these proud young people. We are stretched thin, bruised and bloodied. And still they come, every day there they are in the recruiting stations signing the instruments of enlistment.  We are hardfought and hardened and weary beyond belief.  And still they come, knowing that they may never return.  Their comrades in arms, their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, their friends, have been killed, maimed, blinded, disfigured, and still they come, risking all to stand between hearth and that desolate shore.

I’m not proud of some airplane, some ship, some bit of technology, or some fucking war – I’m proud of them.

I’m proud of those kids, who of their own free will stand into harm’s way each every single goddamned day, again and again and again, and when they fall others take their place.  Not all of them are Americans, not yet, but they all serve America freely and of their own volition.  I’m proud of their shear raw courage, their guts and determination, their commitment, their belief, and the fact that America still produces men and women of such resolute character in boundless surplus.  I was proud and humbled to lead them, and I’m proud that they will lead the next generation. 

But you know what else I’m proud of?  I’m proud of the ones who didn’t go.  The ones that protested the wars. The ones who demanded peace and railed against the wasting of their countrymen.  The ones that stood firm in their conviction and gave voice to their dissent.  I’m proud of their passion and their willingness to stick up for their beliefs.  Their courage and determination and commitment are no less than that of their warrior brothers.

No nation made up purely of soldiers can survive, when there are no more enemies, it will turn upon itself like a crazed badger clawing out its own guts.

No nation of pacifists can long survive either.

America must have both the warriors and the peacemakers if she is to be truly great, and both are equally important.

One letter said, I love America because we won the Cold War. We won the Cold War? Won? We didn’t win, the Soviets forfeited.  Nobody won the Cold War, least of all the human race. Thousands died, and for what? We spent trillions, and for what? We laid waste to vast swathes of the Earth, and for what? We built weapons that could destroy the world a thousand times over and which we still live in fear of, and for that you’re proud?  We could have had colonies on the moon and Mars by now, we could have been halfway to the nearest star, pushing the boundaries of the human spirit and ensuring the survival of the entire race.  We could have fed the world forever, we could have ended hunger and poverty and disease and remade our planet into a paradise for all of mankind. These self-righteous sons of bitches who speak to me of my divine judgment – I wonder what their defense will be when asked why they could have changed the world, and didn’t.

No, I’m not proud that we “won” the Cold War.

But I’ll tell you what I am proud of, I’m proud that when the wall finally did come down, when the Soviet Union did finally crumble into dust, we extended the hand of friendship to our erstwhile enemies. Sixty years of hate and fear, of mistrust, of suspicion, won’t vanish overnight. But with every single day that passes we move further from the brink, and despite the hatemongers and the warhawks and the fearful pundits who would gleefully reignite the Cold War in all its mad insanity, one day friendship will be the only thing our children remember. I spent much of my life staring down the loaded gun barrels of Soviet battle cruisers, my son will fly free to the stars with Russian shipmates.

Universally, the letters spoke of American Exceptionalism. Well you got me there, I hate that word. Word, hell, exceptionalism isn’t even a word.  America isn’t exceptional. Oh save your fake outrage. Espousing Exceptionalism isn’t patriotism, it isn’t love of country, it’s arrogance.  It’s saying I’m better than you because I’m special and you’re not.  Exceptionalism is what that spoiled rotten stupid jerk of kid up above uses as an excuse to act like an ass.

No, I don’t love American exceptionalism.

I’ll tell you what I do love though, I love that there was a time when America was exceptional.  Back when America was founded it was a republic different from all that had gone before.  A beacon of light and liberty the likes of which the world had never seen.  That is no longer so. Not because we’ve lost something, but because other nations have become our equal – many through our help.  Democracy, freedom, liberty, equality, justice, these are not finite resources, they exist in unlimited supply forged in the fire of the human spirit. You don’t get less freedom if someone else gets more, no, in fact for every person on this planet who becomes free, that finds life, liberty, and justice, all of us gain just that much more.  I love that I live in a country that is one beacon among many. I love that I live in a nation that is no longer alone. To claim exceptionalism is to spit into the eye of all that we’ve accomplished.

There was more, people wrote to say they were proud of American’s mountains, its vast forests, its rivers and lakes and beaches. Why? They didn’t make those things. America isn’t a rock or a tree or a basin full of dirty water. A country isn’t land, a country is people.  America is made up of Americans, black and brown, yellow and red and white. Gay and Straight. Young and old. Truck drivers and Prius owners. Cowboys and tofu eaters. Conservatives and Liberals. Democrats, Republicans, and yes even TEA Partiers. All of us, each and every one, we are America.  There are those who deplore multiculturalism. Ha. Look around you. America is many cultures, many languages, many beliefs, many people. E Pluribus Enum, from many, one nation.

That’s America and I’m damned proud of her.

This generation, the one fighting for America right now, they understand that better than any other before them.

This generation of Americans, more than any other, is what I’m proud of.

They give me hope for our country and for the world, someday history will call them the Greatest Generation.


Now, tell me again why I hate America.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

America: Explained

As many of you probably know, this post: America, You Keep Using That Word (I don’t think it means what you think it means) has gone viral.

Amazingly so.

I am both flattered and a bit puzzled by this event.

I started Stonekettle Station the day my retirement from the US military was final, when I could speak freely about anything I pleased without violating my oath.  Originally, Stonekettle Station was an experiment.  I had things I wanted to say, but I didn’t know if others would be interested.

I didn’t know if I could write.

Rather I knew I could write, but I didn’t know if I could write well enough, distinctly enough, to rise above the noise floor of the Internet. 

Oh sure, you can always create a site that becomes popular, that gets tens of thousands of hits a day, that even makes money, if that’s your goal. I used to be one of the country’s top experts in Information Warfare, I certainly knew how to attract attention on the Internet, LOLcats, tech reviews, movie critiques, de-motivational posters, 9/11 birther conspiracy theories, hate, or pictures of frolicking naked people along with aggressively encouraging trollage and flame wars in the comments section – but I wanted to write. Over the last few years I have endeavored to write well about the things that interest me. Readership has grown slowly but steadily, expanding beyond the original core group of UCFers (if you don’t know what the UCF is, don’t worry about it. But if you like what you find here on Stonekettle Station, you should definitely check out the UCF blogs linked down the right side of this page).  I’ve worked hard to cultivate an intelligent and interesting bunch of regulars, mostly by aggressively weeding out the trolls, banning the deliberately stupid and the willfully ignorant, and banging together the heads of people who just don’t seem to get that you can disagree without being an asshole about it. It seems to work, I’m extremely happy with Stonekettle Station and its readership – though of late I’ve had much less time than I’d like to devote to it.

A number of my posts have found widespread interest, the most recent being this post, which followed the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. Upon occasion famous writers have linked to the site and sent hordes of their readers my way.  Some stuck. Posts regularly get picked up and reposted here and there across the web and bring in a few more regular readers each week.  Slowly and surely Stonekettle Station has grown based solely on the strength of the  writing and word of mouth instead of gimmicks and I find this encouraging.
Previously, the highest number of hits on a single post was about 18K when the Scifi writer, John Scalzi, linked to this post from his very popular Whatever blog.  And while I certainly appreciated that particular boon, the spike in pageviews was because Scalzi found that post amusing, and not because my writing struck a chord with tens of thousands of people.

And then there was America, You Keep Using That Word...

Over the last week, the America post has, so far, pulled in over 150 thousand pageviews – and still counting – here on Stonekettle Station and a rather large number on other sites where it was reposted with permission (If you reposted the article in full and you didn’t ask me first, you need to send me an email).  It’s been linked to 2000+ times from Facebook alone, along with numerous links from Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and various forums.  And I have received several hundred emails in response to the post which I’m still gamely trying to answer – be patient, I’ll probably get to you sooner or later, maybe.  Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive and it’s apparent that the post struck a resonant chord with a large number of folks and it continues to spread across the internet.

I find this immensely gratifying for a number of reasons, not the least of which is knowing that there are a very, very large number of Americans who truly do understand what their country really stands for, who really do understand what America means to a significant fraction of the world, and who are people I’d be proud to call friends and countrymen.  The fact that I’ve gotten positive comments from a General Officer, a handful of senior military officers (both retired and active duty), a large number of senior enlisted, a slew of city councilmen and public officials, and Americans from all walks of life and from every state in the union gives me hope for the future of this country – indeed, for the world.

And in fact, I did get more than a few letters from Conservatives that said essentially, “I don’t agree with everything you wrote but you made me examine my own position, thanks. Keep writing.”  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the hell out of those more than all the rest.

However, as those of you who are familiar with Stonekettle Station might expect, not all of the reactions have been positive.

Yes, I know, you’re shocked. Shocked.

Oddly, I haven’t yet received any death threats – and I’ve gotten death threats for posts much less pointed than America. But I have gotten a number of emails that stop just, barely, short of threats.  I’ve gotten the usual screeds questioning my manhood, my patriotism, my military background, my morals, my integrity, my agenda, my affiliation with the New World Order, and whether or not my parents were ever married.  I’ve gotten an even dozen that are in the format I’ve come to call TEA Party Tourette's, i.e. incoherent froth and spittle, random capitalization, punctuated with serial ellipsis and exclamation points, full of fierce damnation and God’s wrath – I’m tempted to post those here for ridicule, but it would be like taunting the class spaz.  Amusing, yes, but more than a little mean. I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, you know me after all, but that’s another post entirely.

Of the rest, the negative responses seem to fall into a couple of distinct categories:

Attention Deficit Disorder

It’s too long! You could have just said ‘You hate everybody’ and let it go at that! I lost interest after the second “you hate…”  In fact, all of your stuff is too long.  You could have summed the whole thing up in one line.

(I picture a small child at this point, arms all stiff, doing that impatient dance four year olds do. It’s tooooo loooong, toooo loooong)

Hell even folks who liked America, warned readers “It’s really long, but worth the read…”
I hear you. I do. And if I ever want to write witty de-motivational posters or greeting cards, I’ll be sure to remember this.

Look, folks, I spent most of my life writing short, succinct military fare.  But, I’m longwinded. I know this. It’s part of my charm, as anybody who knows me personally will tell you. I’m a wordy bastard and I know it, I do it on purpose, l like it that way. I like to explore ideas in detail. What’s the point of having the bandwidth if you don’t use it?  That’s one of the reasons I’m a blogger and not a journalist or a columnist, I don’t like to color inside the lines and here on my own blog I don’t have to. Something I’d point out to you: wordy as America was, it went viral and has been read by hundreds of thousands of people.  I think I can confidently say that if I’d wrote “Saw a truck and I thought of Americans who hate everything. The End” it probably wouldn’t have been read by very many people.  I realize you hate that, but there it is.
Start your own blog and write what you like.

But in order to heed your own admonishment, you should probably stick to Twitter – and if you’re Charlie Sheen, mayhap you’ll get a hundred thousand folks to read your 140 character post.

Me, I’ll just keep doing what I do, it seems to be working for me.

Oh Noes! Liberalism!

I saw this response mostly on forums, though I got some email that said essentially the same thing.  To paraphrase, “Obviously written by a [liberal, socialist, communist, Nazi, America hater]. I hate people like that. Dismiss!”

All I can say is, thanks for proving my point.

Nuh Uh!

I got a number of letters explaining why the Confederate Battle Flag is really a symbol of patriotism, of rugged individualism, of true American spirit. How it symbolizes a real American’s fight against tyranny and the federal government of the United States. How it’s got nothing to do with North and South and a war long over.


You keep telling yourself that little fairly tale, Bubba, and again, thanks for proving my point.

Say What?

I saw one forum where the entire America post was dismissed because, “Diesels don’t emit white smoke. The whole article is suspect.”  (I guess the commenter has never seen a diesel truck with a high performance chip and twin stack exhaust on the Palmer Hay Flats at -10F.  And yes, I do know that it’s actually a condensation trail and not smoke – note the “contrail” description in the original post. I claim poetic license. Also, I know a thing or two about diesel engines, just saying).  Note that he dismissed the entire article based on what he perceives as a single flaw in a bit of window dressing. I will bet you even money this guy is either a global climate change denier or a creationist, or both, and that America describes him to a Tee.  I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

A commenter on another forum called me an “obvious liar.”  The commenter declared that the driver of the truck in America must have been a liberal because, and stay with me here, the post identified the vehicle in question as a “RAM,” i.e. a Dodge.  Not getting the logic? Yeah it took me some reading too, but apparently the gist of the reasoning goes like this: GM and Chrysler took Obama’s bailout money and are owned by the government, therefore only liberals would drive one because they are now socialist machines. Ford, which didn’t take bailout money, is a Conservative’s truck. 

You win. I have no retort for this.

Can I be honest? I don’t actually remember what make the truck was, I just thought “RAM” sounded funnier when I penned the Old Spice Guy paragraph.

Angry Man!

As always, a rather large number of folks read what I wrote and then decided that I must be a) a very angry man, who b) hates America.

I don’t suppose there is anything I can do to convince these people otherwise, even if I were to bake them a plate of cookies and sing You Are My Sunshine accompanied by flying bunnies on kazoo and banjo while giving them a baby oil neck massage as they watched Glenn Beck.

I’ve been known to tilt at windmills, true, but I’m going to just let this one go past – you, on the other hand, can live with that charming homoerotic mental image. You’re welcome.

And finally, Strawman!

Ah yes. At last, something with a grain of constructive criticism.

The gist of the objection being that the driver of the truck in America is a strawman.


Well duh, Captain Obvious, of course he is.

Folks. I’m not a reporter. I’m not a journalist. I don’t pretend objectivity. I’m a blogger. I’m a writer. A storyteller. A raconteur. I have spent the better part of four years developing the particular voice of Stonekettle Station, a gruffly humorous descriptive style influenced by more than two decades of leading and teaching military people, of telling entertaining sea stories as any good Sailor should, and by some of my favorite writers, from the gonzo Hunter S. Thompson to the libertarian Robert Heinlein to the conservative military fiction of Jerry Pournelle to my personal favorite curmudgeon-at-large, Fred Reed.

Go back and read some of the posts here. Please. Note that that they all have a similar format, I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what that is exactly, but if you look carefully you’ll see that there are many layers underneath the surface, note the use of particular words and descriptions, the digressions are dead giveaways – I’m looking for readers with whom that sort of thing resonates, because that’s the sort of thing I enjoy reading.   America uses that well established format – the truck, and its supposed driver, are simply foils.  Something to get your attention, something you could identify with, to set the mood, to establish the scene, to place you into the world as I saw it at the moment I wrote the story.  Hint: The Old Spice Guy paragraph should have tipped you off immediately.

In the story, you never saw the driver, did you? The driver, the strawman, represents an idea, a generic political viewpoint, nothing more. 

You, the reader, filled in the details based on your own bias. You fleshed him out (and it was a him, wasn’t it? With a southern drawl maybe? And a mullet?)

Look, a strawman is not always a bad thing.

Think of Star Trek. The original series. Remember Spock? He was the foil. The Strawman – especially in the pilot episode.   His supposed cold stoic emotionless machine-like logic was used by the writers to emphasize the larger than life human elements – that was the character’s entire purpose. What? You thought it was just so McCoy could make humorous quips at the end of each episode? The gimmick worked so well that it has been copied endlessly ever since. I was once a military war planner, a guy who wrote weapons and combat doctrine. We used strawmen all of the time.  Stand him up, knock him down, learn along the way until you have something that works.  The term itself comes from this practice, a target made of grass that you hone your skill against, that you use to make a specific point or teach a specific lesson.  A strawman is only bad if you allow it to become a logical fallacy. Such is not the case here. The driver of the truck, the strawman of America, could be any one of a dozen real world people. It’s somebody you know, isn’t it? Of course it is, otherwise so many people wouldn’t have identified with the post, it would not have gone viral.

Don’t believe me?

Ask yourself this, when was the last time you heard Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or Glenn Beck spend an entire show talking about the things they love about America?  When was the last time Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, or Sharon Angle went an entire hour on the air without describing something about America that they hate?  When was the last time you read any article on FoxNews, Yahoo, or a Tea Party forum that didn’t include a comment section full of descriptions of things conservative commenters hate? Be honest.  Every single one of those hates I listed in America were taken directly, directly, from Yahoo, from TEA party chat rooms, from transcriptions of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter – and I could have made that list a lot longer.  A lot longer.

Still don’t believe me?

Still want to tell me that certain conservatives don’t think this way?


Folks, every single thing that I listed in America, this guy hates.

And, unfortunately, because his opinions and those of people just like him often go viral, his viewpoint has become increasingly common here in these United States.

Sure, liberals do the same thing, and I touched on that in my other bumper sticker inspired post (which has also gone viral, thank you very much), the difference is that liberals rarely display the same shallow fair-weather knee-jerk “patriotism” displayed by the driver of the truck that inspired America

And that hypocrisy is what America was actually all about.

If the questions made you uncomfortable, if the various hates described struck just a little too close to home, if the article made you angry, if it made you think about your own hates and bigotry and viewpoint even just a little bit – well, you know, that was the whole point.

People keep asking me what I love about America. The answer is here: Part 3 – America: Land That I Love

Comments on this post are now closed: If you feel the need to comment, read part 3 and comment there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Denial: A River In North Africa, Near Libya

Last week, the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, said that forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi “will prevail” eventually.

Clapper was testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

His assessment regarding the situation in Libya was in response to a question asked by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Clapper’s answer wasn’t the one Graham wanted to hear.

“The situation in Libya remains tenuous and the Director’s comments today on Gaddafi’ staying power are not helpful to our national security interests,” said Graham.  “His comments will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Qaddafi. It also undercuts our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.”

According to Graham, this isn’t the first “questionable” comment from the Director of National Intelligence, the Committee was also upset when Clapper responded to a question regarding who he thought posed the greatest threat to America.  Before responding, Clapper specifically asked the questioner, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), if he was asking about nation states.

Machin said, “Yes, which nation states pose the greatest threat to America?”

Note the specific term Nation State.

Clapper then asked if the Senator was asking about mortal threats to the United States.

Machin confirmed that he was indeed asking the General’s opinion regarding which nation states posed mortal threats to the United States.

Note the specific term mortal threat.

Clapper responded, “Certainly, the Russians still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal...which does pose, you know, potentially a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that. Certainly China is growing in its military capabilities. It has a full array of what are conventional or strategic forces that they are building. So they, too, pose potentially from a capabilities standpoint a threat to us. As a mortal threat." [emphasis mine]

The committee was taken aback by Clapper’s unexpectedly incorrect answer.

See Clapper – who has access in real time to literally unlimited intelligence, both military and civilian, whose only job it is to be the nation’s top expert in current and emerging threats, who spends likely eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, studying those threats, who is a retired US Military General and expert in enemy warfighting capability – accidentally gave his actual honest opinion instead of the pre-approved rubber stamp answer, which as I’m sure you all know is: Iran and North Korea.

Which then begs the question, what was the point of the Committee hearing in the first place? Since it’s rather obvious that all the Senators already had all the answers to all the questions.

You know, this entire process would be a lot easier, and cost the taxpayer a lot less money, if the Senators would just give the generals a pre-printed cheat sheet. 

Hey “teaching to the test” is such a spiffy idea for educating our children, the same thing ought to be good enough for Senate testimony – We could call it No General Left Behind…

But I digress.

Clapper’s point, that China and Russia are the only entities who possess the wherewithal to actually destroy the United States (and a significant portion of the rest of the human race, not to mention most of the flora and fauna on the planet for that matter) was completely lost on the Committee, likely deliberately so. Note that Clapper was quick to qualify his statement by clearly saying that neither Russia nor China were likely to use their capability, but it exists nonetheless. 

Look here, if you buy the whole “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” bit then it should obviously follow that if you have a child and a loaded gun in the house, the biggest potential threat in your house is not some random crazy kicking in your door, but rather the single biggest threat to you and yours is the child. And no, I’m not calling either Russia or China children, so don’t go there. But you should also remember that doesn’t mean that the folks who might control those weapons in the future will always exercise such mature judgment.  And speaking of childish behavior, Graham was further outraged when Clapper confirmed that Russia and China regard our nuclear arsenal as a threat – as does much of the world. Graham apparently does not understand how such viewpoints and concerns, ours and theirs, might have direct influence on foreign policy, or on defense strategies (you know, the things the Senate Armed Services Committee is responsible for. And there I go again, digressing), or how they might shape the national budget, or provide a mutual starting point for diplomacy, or … well, yeah, never mind.

Iran and North Korea can snipe around our heels – and hell, maybe, maybe, lob a nuke or two – but neither country can come anywhere near posing a mortal danger to the United States, which, as you’ll recall, was the actual question asked of General Clapper and which he was careful to clarify as the actual question before answering (And honestly, what do you think would happen if North Korea did lob one of their paltry few nukes at North America or their neighbor to the south?  I mean really? Beginning the exact moment that missile impacted, North Korea would henceforth be referred to only in the past tense, like the lost city of Atlantis – destroyed down to the last blade of grass in a cataclysm of fire falling from the angry heavens and rising from the furious seas. Because, seriously here folks, otherwise what the hell is our nuclear arsenal for? But, again, I digress).

The committee members were variously flummoxed, aghast, offended, confused, appalled and outraged by Clapper’s comment and clearly incapable of seeing beyond their own agenda and opportunity to score political points.

Again, Clapper was quick to clarify his assessment, he said that he does not believe Russia and China are the greatest threats to the United States overall, "My greatest concern, though, does not lie with a nation state posing a threat to us as much as it is in the area of terrorism.”

Ah, terrorism! Finally. The correct answer at last.

But it was too late.

Predictably, Graham is now calling for General Clapper’s resignation.

Now don’t get me wrong here, General James Clapper has put his foot in his mouth more than once. For example: In 2003, as Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Clapper famously, or rather infamously, attempted to explain away the mysteriously missing Iraqi WMDs.  He said that those weapons were “unquestionably” shipped out of Iraqi right before the invasion, an assessment that left the rest of us in the intelligence community scratching our heads. No evidence to support that statement has ever been found and Clapper’s “unquestionable” statement has been questioned ever since.

I know, I know – Ah ha!



Those mythical Iraqi phantom weapons of mass delusion and the manufactured intelligence that led us into war looking for them are exactly the point here.

For the Senate Armed Services Committee to publically castigate Clapper for his answers in the particular manner that they did is symptomatic of the exact leadership failures that led directly to both 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Graham’s grandstanding is directly analogous to Donald Rumsfeld’s public ridicule and dismissal of General Eric Shinseki because Shinseki didn’t give Rumsfeld the oral gratification that arrogant little prick demanded.

Graham’s message is quite clear:  We are not, in any way whatsoever, interested in hearing anything that contradicts our preconceived notions.  You will regurgitate the party line and only the party line or we will have your head.  National security policy will be determined by partisan politics and party agendas not the world as it exists.  As politicians with not one percent of your military and intelligence experience, we have determined that Iran and North Korea are the primary threats, now you give us an assessment that supports that and keep the rest of your opinions to yourself.

This state of nonsensical denial is responsible for much of the situation our nation finds itself in today, from Wall Street to Detroit to Iraqi.

And it’s leading us right down the same goddamned path into Libya.

Those of us in the military and the intelligence community are oh so very familiar with this imperious Rumsfeldian dismissive worldview. We can see the naked emperor’s big white wrinkled ass from miles away.  We recognize the cloying putrid stink from the very first wiff, it smells just like dead soldiers rotting in the hot middle eastern sun, it smells like yellow cake uranium, it smells like Iraqis cheering us for their freedom, it smells like IEDs and burning Humvees, it smells like Mission Accomplished! It smells like we’ll be home for Christmas, it smells like billions for fat defense contracts and pennies for VA funding. 

Oh yes, we recognize this rotten-toothed stench all too well, it smells just like Lindsey Graham’s fetid spittle-flecked breath.

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, giving a coalition of Western and Arab nations the authority to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and calling for a cease fire.

In the West and the Middle East, people cheered this development. Yay! Fire up the aircraft carriers and the fighter jets, boys, we’re off to war again. Hurrah!

In Tripoli, Libyan Foreign Minister, Mussa Kussa, said his country was obligated to accept the UN resolution and that Libya would observe the air exclusion zone and cease fire. Sure.

In Bengahzi, the rebels, what few are left, celebrated through the night. But they kept their weapons close, oh yes they did.

And for good reason.

Today of course, of course, the fighting continues as Muammar Qaddafi’s forces finish off the last few pockets of revolutionaries and the no-fly zone means exactly jack-shit because by the time UN forces show up it’ll be all over except for the shouting – well, shouting and tortured screaming and retribution and like that, I mean.  Off hand, I don’t remember what the Arabic is for Iraqi Kurdish Revolution but I suspect we’ll eventually call the Libyan uprising something similar. See, as it turns out ruthlessly vengeful crazy Muammar has no intention whatsoever of going off quietly into that good night – and he’s not above killing every goddamned body who tries to make him leave (you know, just like he killed every goddamned body who opposed the revolution that swept him into power 40 years ago).

Yes, yes, this is my surprised face.

Turns out those Libyan revolutionaries, those students, those civilians, are no match for Muammar Qaddafi’s forces armed as they are with tanks and armored vehicles and automatic weapons and communications and intelligence and formal military training and lots of experience dealing with enemies and rebels and urban warfare and absolutely no compulsions about using any of it on civilians either.  See, if Muammar falls, then anybody wearing a Libyan army uniform is going to get pulled out of their APC and hung in the town square.  Libya isn’t Egypt, Libyans fucking hate their army. So, those soldiers damned well know what’s good for them, i.e. win, or go to the wall.  And they’ve got all the weapons, a no-fly zone won’t change that.

And so, today, it’s all over but the shouting.

You know, just like General Clapper predicted last week. 

Oh sure, the UN will now stumble in and bumble about waving its little pipe-cleaner arms and making nasal sounding bleating noises.

And they’ll admonish Qaddafi not to take revenge on the rebels. But he will, and we’ll pretend not to notice – because, see, by UN Charter and international law, resolution 1973 doesn’t actually give anybody the authority to actually oust Qaddafi.  Read that again, neither we, nor any other signatory to the UN Charter may invade a sovereign nation in order to effect regime change (Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. Yes, I know all about the United State’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq to effect regime change there – I was there. You’ll need to take that issue up with the UN, but you might want to watch Colin Powell’s testimony before the Security Council a couple of times first.  Also, if you’re seriously proposing doing another Iraq, in Libya, I’m going to smack you right upside the head with the Shovel of Doom. Seriously. Sit down. Now). 

And so (unless we do, indeed pull a George Bush and proclaim Libya a threat to the rest of the world), Muammar Qaddafi will remain, Castro like, Saddam like, in Tripoli.

The US, French, and British jets will roar ineffectively overhead.  They’ll drop a few bombs and kill a few Libyan soldiers.  The UAVs will soar like predator hawks across the land, unleashing their missiles and vaporizing a wedding or a funeral or school field trip by accident.  Oops, sorry.  Qaddafi will go back to funding terrorism and bombing Berlin discos and blowing up airliners in revenge for this insult.

Eventually Americans will get tired of paying for it all and start to wonder why the national debt isn’t getting any smaller even though they’ve cut funding for Planned Parenthood and NPR.  At that point, American Attention Deficit Disorder will kick in and shift the national focus to some other place requiring some radar guided democracy and we’ll wander off on some other grand crusade and then Qaddafi will take his revenge unfettered by pesky interlopers.

Ask any Kurd who rose up against Saddam following the first Gulf War.

They’ll tell you.

Of course, it’s unlikely to be the answer Senator Lindsey Graham wants to hear.

One has to wonder if Graham will then demand the Kurds’ resignation too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

America: You Keep Using That Word…

… I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Updates and link at the end of the article//Jim

So, I’m driving into Anchorage this morning.

Along with the usual herd of jackasses who, despite living in Alaska still don’t seem to know how to drive in snow, one vehicle in particular caught my eye.

It was one of those enormous black pickup trucks, with the huge knobby tires and smoked glass windows and chrome roll bar complete with half a dozen giant chrome halogen lights and a ten foot high antenna whipping about in the slipstream  and pipe organ-like exhaust pipes jutting up from behind the cab belching thick plumes of white diesel smoke like the twin contrails of a fighter jet on full afterburner.

The great steel beast wasn’t, in and of itself, unusual for the Glenn Highway at 6AM – or even unusual for Alaska in general, where giant manly trucks full of patriotic manly Viagra-fueled studs are quite common.

What caught my eye were the bumper stickers:
- Proud American emblazoned across a red, white, and true blue Captain America shield;
- In God I trust, In big government I fear. We must protect the country we love!;
and my perennial favorite: I love my country, it’s the damned government I hate.

Now, to be perfectly honest, those bumper sticker slogans aren’t particularly unusual on the Glenn Highway at 6AM either – and normally, they wouldn’t be enough to rise above my “What the hell?” threshold.

Not by themselves.

No, what caught my eye was the giant Confederate flag treatment in the back window.

Wait, what?

Proud American.

Confederate Flag.

Proud American.

Confederate Flag.

And suddenly I’m the Old Spice guy: Liberals, look at your little sissy Prius. Look at it. Loser. Now look at this awesome RAM truck. Look at it! It gets five miles a gallon. Look at the patriotic slogans! They’re American. Now look at the Confederate Flag! The Confederacy. It’s American. Now look back to the bumper. Back to the Flag! The bumper!  Now I’m a Confederate! Look again, I’m an American! A Rebel! America, hell ya! I’m on a horse…

Proud American. Confederate flag.

I wanted to pull up next him and roll down the window and ask, So, Just to make sure I’m clear on this, you’re a proud patriotic American who loves the United States which is why you display the battle symbol of a long defunct political/military organization that directly and without equivocation attempted to destroy that self same country. Is that correct? 

No, strike that. That’s wrong.

That’s really not what I wanted to ask him.

What I really wanted to ask is this: Proud American? Really? What is it exactly that you’re proud of?  You say you love your country? You say you love the United States? Really? Which part? What is it that you love about it? Specifically, what exactly do you love about America?

Because, see, so far as I can tell, people like you seem to hate just about everything that makes the United States what it is. 

You hate the President, you call him a Nazi and a socialist and communist and an enemy of America.  You’re embarrassed by him.  You hate his big jug ears and his oh so white smile and his funny alien name.  You hate his politics and his elitist education and his religion and his agenda and the way he speaks. You hate his wife and you hate his kids.  Now, to be fair, you hated the last president too and in fact you’ve got a beef with damned near every president except for Good Ole George Washington and maybe Ronald Reagan. You couldn’t stand Carter or that pig, Clinton, Nixon was a crook, Johnson got us into Vietnam and the best thing that Kennedy ever did was to take a ride in that convertible – too bad he didn’t invite little brother Ted along.  You hate the president all the way back to FDR.  Hell, you even hate Teddy Roosevelt because he was nothing but a goddamned anti-American Progressive – you know that’s true because Glenn Beck told you so (and don’t you hate it when people accuse you of getting your ideas from him? Like you can’t decide who to hate all by yourself).

You hate Congress. You hate the idea of a republic, of representative democracy, where Senators and Representative don’t do only what you want.  It’s we the people goddamnit. They’re all crooks. They’re all liars. They’re all corrupt greedy bastards.  They’re all ineffective. You hate them all.  They should all be thrown out – well, all of them except for your guy that is. What’s that? Oh you hate your guy too? Yeah, that figures.

You hate the courts, especially the Supreme Court.  Oh how you hate that they won’t let you make your hate the law of the land.  You hate the whole damned liberal American legal system. You hate the lawyers, you’d like to line them all up and shoot them first.  You hate that criminals get a legal defense, you hate that people can’t seem to see that they’re guilty, just drop them into a hole and throw away the key.  You hate those groups that keep using DNA to vacate death row convictions, the scumbags are guilty of something otherwise they wouldn’t be scumbags would they – but now they get to go free and collect a big fat settlement and, man, don’t you just hate that?  Of course, you hate paying for prison too, and as long as we’re on the subject you hate that prisons are big country clubs nowadays, what the hell are those scumbags complaining about? You hate those damned judges, they’re all liberal activists, everybody knows it.  You hate the fact that we can’t just string people up in the town square any more, those were the good old days you bet.  You’d like to see more military tribunals, that’s the ticket. Not like that’s going to happen, and boy don’t you just hate that too?

In fact, you hate the whole goddamned Federal government. You really hate the “united” part of the United States. You say you love the Constitution, and you do – the 2nd Amendment part anyway – but you really hate the parts that let other people say what they like and worship religions different than yours and give the Federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce and award citizenship to brown skinned babies and give people you don’t like the same rights as you and make the government a secular organization instead of a Christian one – yeah, you really hate that part.  You hate federal regulations and federal law and federal taxes.  You hate the Fed and the fact that our money isn’t based on the gold standard.  You hate that the government won’t let you sell defective products and contaminated food and unsafe toys coated in lead paint or snake oil that purports to cure cancer – that’s just bad for business.  You hate the idea of anybody other than you getting affordable healthcare or retirement or a home loan.  You hate Social Security, even though you yourself never bothered to save not one single penny towards your own retirement.  You think the military is “broken” and you hate those wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but you hate the idea of ending them even more because then the terrorists will “win” – and you hate that we haven’t yet declared war on Iran and North Korea and maybe even Libya because you hate those bastards too. In fact, you hate the idea of peace all together, goddamned sissy liberals, real Americans love the smell of napalm in the morning you betcha.
You hate the American political system. You hate political parties. You hate those filthy liberals, oh you hate them so much, that’s a given. But you hate the Republicans too, you hate Progressives and Centrists and Moderates and there’s nobody you hate more than those traitor RINOs.

You hate your neighbors, you do, you hate them. You hate the niggers and the spics and the chinks and the gooks and spooks and hajis.  And, man, there’s nothing you hate more than when they call you a racist and a bigot. You hate all those minorities with their whining about equal rights and political correctness and affirmative action. You hate that they get a free ride.  You hate how they can’t take a joke. You hate the greedy Jews. You hate the terrorist Muslims. You hate the child-molesting Catholics. And you just goddamned hate those atheists.  You hate anybody who wasn’t born again. You hate that guy with the long beard and the red turban who runs that store you hate downtown.  You hate those people who can’t speak English without an accent.  You hate having to dial 1 for English, my God how you hate that. You hate the fags in their little Speedos, demanding the right to wed just so they can mock your third marriage.  You hate immigrants, and not just the illegal ones either. You hate the idea that those dirty, diseased sons of bitches come here to this country and take all the good jobs.  You hate that your daughter is dating one of them. You hate that one of their kids can become president when there are plenty of good God fearin’ naturally born white men around – speaking of which, you really hate how white men have become the most persecuted minority in America, it’s shameful is what it is.  You hate the poor, the lazy bastards should just lift themselves up, stop being poor. You hate the rich, the ones born with a golden spoon full of coke in their noses and the ones who robbed their way to the top.  You hate feminists, those damned dyke bitches, and you hate that they think they should own their own reproductive organs.  You hate city people, the ones from New York and Los Angeles who think they’re better then you.  You hate those ignorant country bumpkins too, those pig shit covered farmers and their subsidies always sponging off your tax dollars.  You hate those college boys, those elitist snobs with their law degrees and science majors.  You hate people from the East Coast with their old money and blue blood, you hate them almost as much as you hate the fruits, nuts, and flakes from the West Coast, and by God, how you hate those crooked bastards from Chicago. You hate single mothers and women who breastfeed in public.  You hate fat people, those glutinous slobs taking up more than their fair share of the space.  Of course, you really hate it when that America hating Michelle Obama suggests that your kids eat right and maybe get some exercise so they don’t end up overweight, how dare she, how dare she, if you want to be fat, by God, you’ll be fat and no hate-filled bitch is going to tell you what to do. You hate kids with long hair and tattoos.  You hate old people, the Greatest Generation of assholes, always complaining about how much better things used to be, why can’t they just die already and quit sucking on the Medicare tit? Speaking of Medicare, you hate that too, even though you yourself can’t afford health insurance for you family – besides, the emergency room is free. Right?

You hate the environment. You hate the flora and fauna and the terrain of the great American landscape.  You hate the polar bears and the snail darter and that stupid spotted owl.  You hate saving the Redwoods for generations to come. You hate those national parks and the bureau of land management. You hate clean air and water that’s safe to swim in. You hate that you can’t just shoot every deer and dip-net every salmon.  You hate catalytic converters and lead free gasoline.  You hate the fact that the fascist EPA won’t let you dump toxic waste into Love Canal or strip mine Utah. You hate carbon and separating your paper from your plastics. You hate blowout preventers and containment booms and hearing about the Exxon Valdez – honestly, hasn’t Exxon suffered enough?  Drill baby drill that’s what you’re talking about.  You hate the word “Green” and you hope Al Gore burns in hell for all eternity because you hate that commie fucker more than anybody else – well, except for maybe Obama, but that just goes without saying.

You hate public education.  You hate the Department of Education, you didn’t used to, but you sure do now.  You hate it because it’s not in the Constitution – the Constitution which you hated having to learn about in school, in that government class you so hated. You hate the school board and school administrators and the school principal. You hate schools, you hate having to pay taxes for a new roof so the kids don’t get rained on and you hate having to buy classroom equipment and you hate those afterschool programs – well, except for football, that’s OK.  And, by God, you hate the damned teachers, you hate those lazy, greedy, selfish bastards.  You hate that the arrogant pricks laugh at your poorly spelled TEA Party posters and you blame them for your ignorance. You hate that you have to pay them a living wage, you hate the idea that the modern world means that teachers have to be highly educated professionals instead of some chalk scented school marm who was good enough for your great grandfather. You grandfather didn’t need to learn about computers or technology or world events or funny looking people in countries that don’t matter, and you hate it when people tell you that your kids aren’t living in that world anymore.  You hate that your kids might have to learn about actual science, oh how you hate that they might hear about evolution or global climate change or plate tectonics or that people didn’t, in fact, live with dinosaurs and that the world is actually a lot older than 5000 years despite what you learned in Church last week.  You hate the liberal colleges with their long haired professors and their weird ideas – and you sure as hell hate how higher education tends to make people more liberal, not less.

You hate the media.  You hate CNN and MSNBC and ABC and the Washington Post.  You harbor a special hatred for Arianna Huffington, a hatred that flares as brightly as a burning deep water drilling rig.  You hate Hollywood, you hate how it’s controlled by the Jews or maybe the Bilderbergs and their New World Order or perhaps it’s really secretly controlled by the Illuminati or the Muslim Brotherhood. Whoever is in charge out there, you hate how every movie seems to have gay people in it, or blacks, or an Arab.
You hate American capitalism – oh, you love Capitalism with a capital C, but you hate what those greedy conniving Wall Street fat cats have done to it.  God, how you hate those sons of bitches, the ones like Bill Gates who built his business from the ground up and became for a time the richest man in the world, and then – and this is the part you really hate – he started giving his money away.  Of course, it’s all a lie, he’s just giving it away for the tax break and how you hate that too, don’t you? And you hate those pricks in management, those prissy white collar MBA’s who have never done an honest day’s labor in their privileged lives.  Ah, but as much as you hate the executives and the management, that’s nothing compared to how much you hate labor. You hate unions. You hate that middle class Americans enjoy a living wage in safe working environments at a reasonable number of working hours per week.  You hate that they’ve thrown in together, bargaining collectively so that they might have a bit of leverage against those fat cats and greedy corporations you also hate.  You call them socialists and communists and you hate it when somebody points out that in far left socialist and communist countries workers have no rights whatsoever (and didn’t in America either, until the unions came along). God how you hate being confused with facts by liberal Nazi Commies who dare to question your cognitively dissociative reasoning.

In point of fact, other than the flag (the American one, not the Confederate one – though that works too, I guess), there doesn’t seem to be much about America you do like.

So, when you say you love America, what is it exactly that you love?

When you say you’re a proud American, what is it that you’re proud of?

Because, I’ve got to tell you, I’m just not seeing it.

Update Sep 01, 2011: 
This post has now gone viral three separate times. Current page views for this article today stand at well over 1.6 million – and that doesn’t include all the other places that it was reposted. Agree or not with what I wrote, it obviously touched a nerve with a large number of people.  This continues to leave me feeling a bit bemused, as does some of the hate mail I receive regarding the above piece (and on that note, if you want me to read your letter, you probably shouldn’t start out by telling me to move to Iran, Canada, or Hell, just saying).  This is the first of three posts. The other two parts are here: Part 2 - America: Explained (Follow up article and amplifying thoughts about this post) and here: Part 3 - America: Land That I Love (Follow up article and why I love this country). Before you go back to whatever forum you came from, read the other two pieces. Please. Before you write to tell me that I’ve created a strawman or to ask why I hate America, read the follow up pieces.  Please.  If you’ve gotten this far and you’re now firmly convinced that I must hate America or that I don’t know how to write, give me a chance to change your mind: read Part 3 - America: Land That I Love. Really.
A note about the Strawman:  I know I created a strawman, I did it on purpose. If you want to know why I did it, read Part 2.  However, with that said, read the comments under this article. Read the comments under the follow up posts.  I left a few trolls in for examples, sometimes you speak of the strawman and he appears. 
Comments are now closed: because I got tired of weeding out the tolls. if you want to comment on this post, read the two follow up posts. Comments on part two are also closed. If you still feel like commenting after reading the series, you may comment under part three, America, Land That I Love.

If you liked this post: you might like this one too:  Liberalism, Conservatism, and Insanity.  One of these days I’m going to have to put all these bumper sticker inspired posts into a book.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Fire in the Sky

This is where I was all night (Click on any of the pictures for larger images):


I’ll be running this first picture through the hi-res color laser printer.  Hell, I might have the local print shop turn it into a poster print.















Both of these pictures were taken from the bluff above Palmer, Alaska. 25sec exposures, F5, 400ASA, and a 35mm focal length using a tripod mounted Nikon D5000 and a wireless remote.





This shot was taken from 8-mile lot near the top of Hatchers Pass, about 45 minutes after the previous shots.  30sec exposures, F4.5, 35mm. The foreground was illuminated by the headlights of a passing car.
















From the parking area near the summit of Hatchers Pass.



And finally, brilliant green curtains over my shop:



It’s now 1AM the next day. I’m cold and tired. Goodnight.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Iditarod 2011

The following story of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race first appeared on Stonekettle Station in 2009.

With this week’s kickoff of the Last Great Race, and my well known passion for it, a number of folks have asked about the origins of the event. Here’s the story:


Those lines were part of a message sent by Curtis Welch, MD, on January 22nd, 1925 via radio telegram from Nome to all towns in the Alaskan Territory.

That desperate message was intended for the Territorial Governor in Juneau, and the public health service in Washington D.C. and it sounded an emergency of almost unimaginable horror. Dr. Welch was facing a disaster the likes of which are rarely seen outside of fiction.

At the turn of the century, during the boom town glory days of the Klondike gold rush, more than 20,000 people lived in Nome – in January of 1925, long after the gold and gold miners had run out, Nome boasted a population of around 1400, about 975 white settlers and 450 Alaskan Natives. The last ship of the season, the steamship Alameda, had left Nome harbor two months before, tracking south ahead of the encroaching winter ice. The sun had followed the steamship, disappearing below the southern horizon and leaving Nome locked in the grip of –50F temperatures and the endless Arctic night.

During the Alaskan winter, Nome’s only contact with the outside world was unreliable HF radio – and the more reliable dog sled mushers and their teams who carried the mail and what light cargo they could via the old Iditarod trail.

Shortly after the departure of the Alameda, a native child fell sick and died. At first Dr. Welch was unsure of the cause, but as more and more children sickened over the next few weeks he began to suspect diphtheria – an upper respiratory tract infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. In the early stages, diphtheria mimics the symptoms of tonsillitis, the flu, or the common cold – which is why Welch, with the primitive diagnostic tools available to him at the time, was slow to recognize the impending disaster. Left untreated, diphtheria destroys the nervous system, leading to a loss of motor control and sensation, and very quickly, death. Diphtheria is highly contagious, with fatality rates up to 10% in the general population and as high as 20% in young children and adults over 40. Among the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, the fatality rate is much higher. More than likely, crewmen from one of the visiting ships had unknowingly brought the disease north at the end of the shipping season, leaving behind a deadly time bomb. As Welch noted in his radio message, by January an epidemic was almost inevitable. Nome’s only doctor was staring straight into the specter of at least 300 immediate deaths – all of which would be his family and friends.

But the pending disaster was far, far worse and far more horrifying. Nome was the hub of the surrounding area, the native population around the town numbered well over 10,000. Those natives had no resistance to the disease at all.

Their expected mortality rate was nearly 100%.

Nowadays, diphtheria would be treated with antibiotics, Erythromycin or even the big gun, Procaine Penicillin G. But antibiotics didn’t exist in 1925, and the best treatment was diphtheria antitoxin. The antitoxin didn’t cure the disease but rather neutralized the toxins released by the diphtheria bacillus into the victim’s bloodstream – giving the body’s own immune system a chance to combat the infection without having to deal with being poisoned at the same time. Unfortunately, even today the antitoxin doesn’t neutralize toxins already bonded to tissues and does nothing itself to kill the bacteria. For the antitoxin to work, it has to be administered as early as possible, usually immediately as soon as a doctor makes the clinical diagnosis of diphtheria infection and without waiting for laboratory confirmation.

One other thing to note: the antitoxin is perishable. Dr. Welch had antitoxin on hand, all of which had expired.

And so he radioed for help.

No ship could reach them, and in fact couldn’t get within 500 miles of Nome by then. No plane, not even the most advanced aircraft in the Alaskan Territory at the time, the Postal Service’s DeHavilland DH-4, could fly under the winter conditions – their open cockpits and liquid cooled engines made that utterly impossible.

The only solution was dogsled.

The antitoxin would have to be transported via a relay of sled dogs, from Tanana to Nome, a distance of 674 miles through astoundingly rugged territory in temperatures that were at record lows, -50 to –60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wild Bill Shannon led off, mushing out of the train station in Tenana with the twenty pound package, about 30 doses, of serum in his sled at 9PM on January 27. Shannon’s team was composed of nine dogs, all inexperienced, led by Blackie. Shannon was forced onto the frozen Tanana River, with temperatures approaching –62F he ran behind the sled to stay warm. He mushed into Minto with his face frozen black from the cold, hypothermic and severely frost bitten. He left three dying dogs in Minto, and headed out for Tolovana. Another dog died on the trail.

Edgar Kallands picked up the relay in Tolovana. When he arrived at Manley Hot Springs, they had to poor hot water over his hands to pry them off the sled’s handlebars.

Meanwhile the world waited. Nome’s plight had caught the attention of the entire globe . Famed Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, even offered to make an attempt in an airplane. The Navy proposed sending one of its ships as far north as possible, then assembling a plane on the ice pack and launching it towards Nome. Many other ideas were suggested. All were rejected as too risky and foolhardy. Nome would live or die with the mushers and their dogs.

The serum went north, from Manely Hot Springs via native mushers arriving at Bishop Mountain on January 30, at 3:00 in the morning. The temperature was –62F, and dropping. Charlie Evans mushed out of Bishop Mountain and lost both of his lead dogs on the trail, legend has it that he himself held the traces and led the remaining dogs into Nulato.

Tommy Patsey took the next leg out of Nulato and across the Kaltag Portage. The serum was handed off to Victor Anagick and then to Myles Gonangnan at Unalakleet at the edge of the vast Norton Sound.

A storm was rising. The type of storm you’ll only find in the deepest of arctic winter on the ‘Sound. The kind of storm that comes from winds driven across two thousand miles of frozen ocean. Gonangnan took one look at it and decided not to cross the ice – he knew the storm winds could easily push the pack ice and open leads to the frigid black water below, cutting the team off from land and dooming 10,000 people to almost certain death. He choose instead to circle the Sound in whiteout conditions and with wind chills approaching 70 below zero in gale force winds. He arrived in the native village of Shaktoolik at 3PM on January 31st damn near froze to death. Henry Ivanoff, took the serum and headed out into the storm.

At the same time the serum was heading north, Leonhard Seppala rode south out of Nome to meet the relay in Shaktoolik. Sappala crossed Norton Sound on the ice and turned east toward Shaktoolik in blinding conditions. Just outside Shaktoolik, he meet Ivanoff who had gotten tangled up with a reindeer and was struggling to free his harness and dogs.

Seppala took the serum and turned back into the teeth of the storm, again crossing the ice of Norton Sound. His lead dog, Togo, managing to find the way with almost supernatural instinct. Togo led the team unerringly from Ungalik to the road house at Isaac Point on the far side of Norton Sound, and in one day they covered a distance of 84 miles through one of the worst arctic storms on record. They rested at the road house, and then departed into the full power of the worsening storm, and as they ran across the ice the 65 mile per hour winds begin to open leads behind them and the ice began to break up. Seppala managed to make the shore, just ahead of the buckling ice and crossed Little McKinley Mountain – climbing nearly 5000 feet in the process. Seppala reached the road house at Golvin at 3PM on February 1st and passed the serum on to Charlie Olsen.

Olsen lost the trail in the storm and suffered severe frostbite to his hands while trying to save his dogs, but he made it to Bluff on on the evening of February 1st. Gunnar Kassen was waiting for him.

Kassen attempted to wait out the storm, but instead of lessening it kept getting worse. Kassen, afraid that drifts would block the trail, departed Bluff at 10PM into a 60 mile per hour headwind and whiteout conditions so bad that he could not even see the wheel dogs harnessed closest to the sled. He missed the lodge at Solomon and was two miles beyond it before he realized his mistake – so he kept going. Beyond Solomon the trail became an endless nightmare. The winds flipped Kassen’s sled and the precious cylinder of antitoxin fell out and was lost in the snow. Kassen froze his hands feeling around in the drifts for it. He found it, righted the sled, and continued on to Point Safety, making it ahead of schedule on February 2nd. Kassen’s lead dog, Balto, had performed an almost unbelievable feat of navigation through the storm.

Ed Rohn, believing that Kassen would have to wait out the storm at Solomon was not prepared when Kassen arrived. Because it would take time to ready Rohn’s team, and time was of the utmost importance, Kassen elected to continue on rather than wait. Kassen and Balto covered the remaining 25 miles and arrived two hours later on Front Street, Nome at 5:30AM on the morning of February 2nd.

Not a single glass ampoule of the antitoxin was lost, and the serum was thawed and ready for use by noon. Altogether the teams covered 674 miles in 127.5 hours under extreme arctic winter conditions in a hurricane force gale.

That was the first relay.

There were more, carried by many of the same men who ran in the first relay.

And later there were plane flights.

Nome was saved and so was the Alaskan Native population.

Rarely in fact or fiction has there ever been anything to match the skill, courage, and dedication of those men and dogs.

Today, we remember the events of that long ago time with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race. 

It began humbly enough.

The Last Great Race had its origins in the mid 1960’s, the idea of Dorothy Page and Joe Redington Sr (later called “The Father of the Iditarod”), as mostly unnoticed competitions between enthusiasts of a slowly dying and mostly forgotten way of life.  Snow machines and technology had long ago replaced dogs on the snowy trails of the north, and mushing was a skill likely soon to be lost in the frozen blizzards of history – along with diphtheria epidemics and open cockpit mail planes. 

Later Redington, along with local school teachers Gleo Huyck and Tom Johnson, came up with the idea of extending those short races all the way to Nome – many, including Dorothy Page thought they were crazy. But in 1973, the very first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race followed the old traces 1100 miles from Anchorage to Nome and forty years later The Iditarod is an ingrained part of our state’s history – and more than any other event, responsible for reviving and preserving dog mushing in North America.

The race begins on the first Saturday in March after a two week winter festival known as The Fur Rendezvous (called simply Rondy by Alaskans) with a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. The whole city turns out for the celebration and people come from all over the world to watch the mushers and their dogs run through the streets.

Though the majority of the teams are Alaskan, there are competitors from all over the world – from places you’d never think to imagine.  Take #6, Newton Marshall, he’s from Jamaica. This is his second year and he delighted the crowd along 4th street by dancing on the runners of his sled. You should have heard the cheering and laughter:



This year there are mushers from all over the United States, from Canada, New Zealand, Norway, and Scotland. Everybody has their favorites, from four time winner Lance Mackey to the famous DeeDee Jonrowe to Ray Redington Jr, grandson of the race’s founder. For us, my family, it’s Allen Moore and Aliy Zirkle, husband and wife, and friends of ours from Two Rivers, Alaska.

Sunday, the day after the ceremonial start, the race begins in earnest on a frozen lake 70 miles north of Anchorage in the tiny town of Willow.  Some years, we’ve been on that lake at thirty below in blowing snow, but not this year. This year it was a gorgeous Alaskan day, clear and mild and not a cloud in the sky.


(click on the picture for a larger image)


Here’s Allen Moore, Bib #5, out of the gate and on his way to Nome.



Twenty-six minute later, Aliy followed him in position #18.  Click on the picture for a larger image, Aliy’s joyously blazing smile will tell you why she’s one of Alaska’s favorite mushers.



My wife and I saw old Joe Redington race his last Iditarod in 1997 at the age of 80.   He died two years later, in 1999, and was buried in his favorite dogsled in the town of Wasilla where it all began.

His legacy is a very big deal in Alaska, it’s a celebration of much more than a mere sport, it reminds us forcefully of our history here in The Great Land, it speaks directly to a triumph of the human spirit in this harsh and beautiful place. 

More, the race reminds Alaskans every single year of those long ago men and their dogs who dared greatly, and won.