Sunday, December 26, 2004

Worst Christmas...


On our way to Canada today, a day late and with nothing but bad stories to tell about our Christmas. I'll post all the gory details later, perhaps.

I hope that all who come here had a much better Christmas than we did. And that the New Year is much better for us all.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Turn the Other... "Cheek"

I've been getting e-mails from the folks at Turn Your Back on Bush for quite a while and have supported their efforts. Seems that the AP Newswire picked up a recent story on them and I thought this was a good time to direct you to them. If you haven't heard of them go visit their site and help them out.

On inauguration day, we will gather as citizens for the public events of the day and join the rest of the crowd. At a given signal, we will turn our backs. Until the moment we turn around, there will be nothing to distinguish us. By leaving our signs and buttons at home, we will avoid all of the obstacles that Bush and his supporters have used to keep anyone who disagrees with him out of sight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

That Depends...

One of my favorite writers was Stephen J. Gould, essayist and popularizer of evolution and its attendant theories. A concept that he often wove into his essays was "contingency."

Basically what Gould meant by contingency was that the evolutionary paths of species were so dependent on conditions throughout its history that if you could rewind the "evolutionary tape" of any species and play it back, results would almost certainly never be the same. If you wound it back far enough, there's no certainty that intelligent life would evolve and if it did, there's no certainty it would turn out to be the same small branch of hominids we happen to occupy. Here's the man himself:

History includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on minute and unmeasurable difference in initial conditions, leading to massively divergent outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities in starting points. And history includes too much contingency, or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable antecedent states, rather than immediate determination by timeless laws of nature. Homo sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness.
I've adopted the concept to how I think about lots of things in life. It certainly helps me to not regret the past. Like everyone, there are things I always thought I'd do differently if I could. But I also know that I'm very happy in my life now. Using contingency to frame my thoughts of the past, I know that if I changed one thing in my past, it's highly likely I would not wind up "here" again. I think that when you can accept the past, it makes it much easier to be happy in the present.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Snow Berries

The past couple of days we had about 10" of snow. It's the first real snow of the season and we're about 14" behind normal. I snapped this two mornings ago before heading off to work.

Screw Up and Move Up

Freedom Medals?


Besides sullying the reputation of a prestigious medal, I suppose The Freedom Medal now represents the epitome of advancing to the level of your incompetence.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

What Life is Really All About

A long walk in the snow at night. Watching the flakes come down, swirling in the street lights and the headlights of passing cars.

The blush of warmth as you step inside.

A glass of very good chardonnay.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Sometimes it's the very small and simple things that mean so much; that make you so very glad to be here; to be alive.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Let Them Eat Armor

It's fun watching Rummy twisting in the wind, isn't it? Even Bush, according to the media anyway, "sided" with the soldier who put Rumsfeld on the spot.

Actually I'm surprised the question made it through the screening that the military usually does on those kinds of events. Perhaps that says something about what commanders in-country really feel about their situation.

The worst thing I've heard about this situation is that the factory that armors the Hummers is not running at anywhere near capacity. If this doesn't finally blow up in their faces...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reduced Posting Ahead

Things at work are changing a bit and I'm going to be relatively busy for the foreseeable future. I'm doing several new things - and the holidays are coming up as well - so I'm going to have much less time to post than I've had in the past couple of months. Hopefully as I settle into my new situation I'll find time to post more often.

For now, I'm not closing down The Fulcrum. It just might be a day or two between posts; or I'll try to find the time to write during the evenings. I hope you'll keep coming by and for sure I'll be reading all of my regulars as often as possible.

Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sometimes It's Better to Forget

As a cadet at West Point I studied military history every year. We absorbed the lessons of warfare from The Peloponnesus to Viet Nam. World War II took up a great portion of our studies, not so much for the lessons that old-style warfare could teach us - although there were many of those - but for the changes that war wrought on our world and their long-lasting effects.

This past week or so has brought the anniversaries of two great events in WWII; The Battle of the Bulge - which signaled the closing act in the European Western Front; and the attack on Pearl Harbor. On Monday's local Public Radio broadcast, an interviewer was speaking with veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and today, discussions of Pearl Harbor were everywhere. I saw countless pictures of veterans, well into their dotage, standing as tall as possible with their ribbons and their old uniforms draped over gaunt frames.

All of the coverage was aimed at preserving the memory of those times and those battles and although all wars have their horrors and their atrocities on all sides, it really was the "last good war." If there can be said to be such a thing. As I looked at the wrinkled and wizened faces of these veterans and thought of our newest veterans, I had a thought that was, perhaps, terrible - or maybe just one that shouldn't be spoken aloud while fervently wished for.

What if, I thought, when the last of these veterans have had Taps played for them, we forgot about their war?

Not literally of course; history will see to that. But many of these men and their sons and grandsons have had a profound impact on our government and on our foreign policy. They have made those decisions in the light of their memories of World War II. But the experience of those who've fought since then is different. Certainly nobody would call either Korea or Viet Nam a "good war." And while Gulf War I went quickly and relatively painlessly (at least for our side), certainly nobody will come away from our current debacle in Iraq with fond memories.

Maybe, when these old men are gone, then we can begin the process of developing a more realistic, a more adult view of warfare and the horrors it imposes on the world. Perhaps as the memories fade into the pages of history books, the more recent memories, seared into a new generation or two will hold sway over our public psyche. It might be only then that Americans can truly learn the lessons that even the ancient Greeks knew. War is hell.

The Beatings Will Continue...

...Until Morale Increases.

Seems that we're all getting tired of working more hours, doing more jobs all for less pay so that our companies can book more to the bottom line.

The productivity of America’s workers grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the slowest pace in nearly two years, the government reported Tuesday.
Or as a certain Red Queen might have said:

" takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

CIA: Iraq F.U.B.A.R.

Baghdad Station Chief agrees with me.

The classified cable — sent last month by the CIA’s station chief in Baghdad after the completion of a one-year tour of duty there — painted a bleak picture of Iraq’s politics, economics and security and reiterated briefings by Michael Kostiw, a senior CIA official, according to the Times.
And as usual, the CIA's assessment - from the ground - differs from BushCo.'s - from The White House and other, secure, unspecified locations.

The assessments are more pessimistic than the Bush administration’s portrayal of the situation to the public, government officials told the newspaper.
The truth is so damned inconvenient...

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Halt! Who Goes There?

On the weekends, I tend to read a few blogs - when I get the chance - but not to write any posts. No matter how badly things are going in the world, up to a certain point, there are some things that matter more than others. Time with my wife and resting up from the last week being high on that list.

But this weekend, something a little odd has happened. Yesterday, Saturday, I got more hits than any other day of the past week; something that never happens. I also got hits from some unusual places. Anyway, I don't have any idea why. Perhaps it was just coincidence, or maybe some folks just had nothing better to do than to stop by here.

Whatever the reason: hello to you all. Leave a comment or two to let me know where you've come from and how you found The Fulcrum.

Oh, and happy weekend!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fascism by Degrees

I could never before imagine reading something like this about my country:

U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants are allowed to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government conceded in court Thursday.
And there is no way in hell I would have ever thought that someone in my government would make the following argument:

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon asked if a detention would be illegal if it were based solely on evidence gathered by torture, because "torture is illegal. We all know that."

[Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General] Boyle replied that if the military’s combatant status review tribunals (or CSRTs) "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause (of the Constitution) prohibits them from relying on it."
If that last sentence doesn't send a chill down your spine, you're dead. That motherf***er just said that the Constitution of our United States has nothing to say about using information gained by torture - "evidence of questionable provenance." Nice euphemism.

If I could get my hands on Mr. Boyle, I'd fold up a copy of the Constitution until it was all sharp corners then shove it right up his ass.

No Joy in Job-ville

Our "robust recovery" keeps right on rolling. Unless you're a member of the Reality Based Community, that is. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) says job growth wasn't so great last month:

U.S. employers sharply slowed the pace of hiring in November, surprising Wall Street and rekindling worries about the strength of the economic recovery.

Nonfarm payrolls grew by only 112,000 jobs last month after a revised 303,000 increase in October, the Labor Department said Friday. That was the weakest gain in five months, and well short of the 200,000 jobs economists had expected, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC. Just before the report was released, traders were pegging the increase at 220,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percentage point to a three-month low of 5.4%, as expected.

In its revision, the government said employers created 54,000 fewer jobs in September and October than previously thought. Employers added 119,000 jobs in September and 303,000 in October, down from previous estimates of 139,000 and 337,000, respectively.

Economists say the economy needs to generate at least 125,000 jobs a month just to keep up with new entrants into the work force. The average since August of 2003, when employers resumed hiring after a long slump, has been slightly above that threshold at 152,000.
And don't be fooled by that dropping unemployment rate number, many economists feel that's due to people just giving up looking for work right now. So, if you got a job, hold onto it like a lifesaver in rough seas. And if you're wondering why it seems like your income just isn't keeping up with costs these days, you're not imagining things:

Average hourly earnings rose one cent to $15.83 in November. In annual terms, earnings increased 2.4%. The average work week shrank for the first time since August, declining six minutes to 33.7 hours.
With anything related to petroleum rising at double digit rates and many food items going up that 2.4% increase is, in reality, a pay cut.

Oh, and don't those extra six minutes every week really feel good?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hearts and Minds? Check!

The residents of Fallujah, when the military finally lets them back into their now destroyed city, are really just going to love us. No, really.

Nor is it clear that the city's residents will favor the Americans over their enemies. Last week, Hamid Humood, a 38-year-old cigarette seller who had stayed in the city during the battle, was one of those seeking American food and water at the Hadra mosque.

"They are all liars, the government and the Americans," Mr. Humood said. "The mujahedeen didn't hurt us. They helped us."

Need I say more?

They Knew...

Steve Bates, The Yellow Doggerel Democrat, in a comment on this blog, stated that he hoped Bush would be "disgraced in front of the American public" like Nixon and forced to leave office. He also resurrected the term "high crimes and misdemeanors." There are so many things which could potentially blow up to give Steve his wish, but the situation in Iraq seems to be the one thing with the most potential.

The lies that got us there, the incompetent planning for the post-war period, the no-bid contracts to Halliburton, GITMO and abu Ghraib; they are all just ticking time bombs in Bush's second term.

Today, MSNBC has a report that could speed up the ticking of one of those bombs:

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.


The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.


Herrington asked the officer [the officer in charge of a secret detention facility in Baghdad] whether he had alerted his superiors to the problem, and the officer replied: "Everyone knows about it."
And there's the rub, no? Everyone knows about it. Since this was a joint CIA - Army mission, at the very least, the Secretary of the Army and the Director of the CIA knew about this. These kinds of things are not just thrown together by even the Theater Commander. It's likely that the Secretary of Defense knew about it as well. And if Rummy knew...

Tick tick tick tick tick...

Hard Headed

But not hard enough.

I owned a motorcycle for about 7 years. During most of that time I lived in California where the weather is just about always perfect for a bike ride. Trips up and down Highway 1 along the coast were always beautiful and I might see anything from eagles to whales to topless sunbathers. One thing I never - ever - considered (the law notwithstanding) was riding without my helmet.

Much of my family is in police work and I've spent many hours on the road with them. I've seen what happens to the human body when it meets an unyielding surface like asphalt or concrete. I've taken a few physics and engineering courses so I understand things like acceleration, kinetic energy and torque which helps me understand just why people are injured and killed in accidents. Understandably, I have very little sympathy for these morons (WSJ - subscription):

Over nearly three decades, bikers have pushed successfully to weaken or eliminate helmet laws in 29 states. Most of that activity came in the 1970s, but recently, bikers have been active again. Since 1997, five states, including Texas, have repealed laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. The other four are Florida -- which, like Texas, is a major biker haven -- and Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. Federal statistics show that, on average, in the years after the recent legislative changes, helmet use dropped, and motorcycle deaths increased.
They use the usual arguments against "big government" and riders making responsible choices, but despite their successes over the years, they remain unpersuasive, except to weak-spined politicians. When those politicians give in, here's what happens:

In the six years since Texas repealed its law in 1997, the annual rate has jumped nearly 30%, to an average 10.95 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles, compared with an average of 8.46 deaths for the two years prior to the repeal. In Kentucky, the average rate has jumped to 9.9 in the five years since its 1998 repeal, up 55% compared with the average for the two years before.

In Florida, in the three years since repeal, the rate is up 21%, to 8.94, compared with the two-year average prior to the repeal. Last year, 358 motorcyclists died in Florida. That is just 10 fewer deaths than occurred in California, the largest motorcycling state, which has 43% more registered motorcycles than Florida. California has a mandatory helmet law.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths rose 12% in 2003, to 3,661. That is the sixth straight year motorcycle deaths have risen. Twelve percent is the largest annual increase since 1988. The national fatality rate increased 4.4%, to 6.82 deaths per 10,000 motorcycles, the highest such figure since 1990. That rate is four-and-a-half times as high as the auto-fatality rate.

The jump in motorcycle deaths in 2003 came in a year when total highway fatalities dropped, federal statistics show. Alcohol-related fatalities fell 3%, to 17,013, and deaths of passengers not wearing seatbelts fell 6.5%, to 18,019. Federal officials attribute those declines to states passing tougher seatbelt and drunk-driving laws.
Riders who advocate repealing mandatory helmet laws will say that it's their choice about whether or not to protect themselves. And while the choice may be theirs, often the choice of who pays for their stupidity when they have an accident is no choice at all. Those riders without adequate catastrophic medical coverage - and every encounter between brain-pan and asphalt is catastrophic - are treated and the costs are spread to either the tax payers or to other insurance payers. That is; you and me.

I know this is a bit off of my usual topics, but it's one that never fails to really tick me off. Mostly because I can't abide stupid people, but also because it affects my wallet. Putting the two together is the perfect way to get me going...