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Thursday, December 30, 2004

1 down, 8 to go...

So Beth, my Mom, and I were watching some Alias (mmmm... Jennifer Garner) and we decided it was about dinner time. So Beth and I headed off to get some Pho for my Mom and I and some Pad Se-Ew for Beth. So we come driving back up to the house and my Mom's standing outside. We get out and her eyes are all watery and she said, "I think I killed your cat." Mom said something about the laundry room and crawling in the space between the wall and we had no idea what she was talking about.

So we all went downstairs to the laundry room to see what was up. Apparently my Mom was in the office and heard a thump thump followed by some meowing followed by a few more thump thumps and some more meowing. By the time that we got in there the meowing had stopped (which to a worried Mom could only mean that Sierra was dead). So Beth (the smallest of the 3 of us -- well the 2nd smallest of the 4 of us) shimmied between the water heater and the wall to see around the corner and into the space that neither one of us knew that we had until then. She could see that Sierra was alive and well albeit trapped because of various hoses and such.

So Beth figured out how far back Sierra was as best she could and I proceeded to pull out and unhook the dryer. We got a drywall knife and then cut a small hole in the wall. We were a bit too far, but I could see Sierra's tail. After a bit of coaxing, we got her to come on out of her hiding place. As we were all patting each other on the back and taking a sigh of relief I noticed that Sierra was heading back towards the water heater and I yelled "Watch her! Watch her!" She's not only curious, she's persistent.

Anywho, we nabbed her prior to having to go through yet another wall-cutting incident, put the place back together, put her litter box and food and water elsewhere and closed off the laundry room to all four-legged felines until we can get ourselves a door to block off the water heater space. It's kind of complicated, but at least we know not to take things for granted. Kitty-proofing is a never ending job I guess.

Hopefully if LaTricia (the girl we got Sierra from) is reading this (since I gave her the blog address -- I'm such a traffic whore) she won't want to storm right over here and take Sierra back. We're mostly good cat parents I think. Ummm. There really aren't any other places that she can get trapped in now. Honest!

Sierra enjoying a cat nap after her stress-filled evening

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Our New Kitty!

Well Beth and I decided to get a cat. After a couple of trips to the pound we decided to take a look-see on craigslist.com to see what we could find on there. As it turns out I think we found the perfect kitty. Her given name is Sierra and she's definitely an affectionate cat. Beth and I are looking forward to many happy cat years.

Oh, and the parents are happy because they know that it's just baby (grandbaby for them) practice.

The newest member of the Lane residence

Sierra is one affectionate cat.

The newest member of the Lane residence

Sugar Bear is a smidgen jealous.

The newest member of the Lane residence

When she wants lovin' she really wants lovin'!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas from the Lane's!

Family and friends gathered around for a great Christmas dinner

Oh the feisty Miller children!

So here's what I've been looking forward to for months. I hope everyone had as good of a Christmas as I have been having! Working clockwise from the top (starting with the bearded guy) we have brother Dave, my Mom, Syl (Warren's Girlfirend), Brother Bud (aka James), Warren (aka Dad), our friend Jeremy, Beth, and a blank space for me. In the middle is tom turkey, he kind of went to pieces (yuk yuk). Anyhow, this Christmas ruled and things are definitely looking up.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Looks like Gregoire might just win...

So I picked up the paper today and it said that Gregoire may just win the election. Apparently this has been a real soap opera of an election. She could win by a mere 10 votes. I really didn't see that coming.

She'd better be a good governor.

In other news the preparations for Christmas are going well. We're trying to minimize the amount of actual cooking that we'll have to do when everyone's here. Today is the day to decide what we're going to eat and to go to the Commissary to get everything we need. Dave just wanted to have a massive tray of sushi for Christmas. That would have been fine with me, but since I did blog about Turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, hommade bread sandwiches and since Beth is big into traditions on some things (Christmas dinners to be one of those things) Dave was overruled. I set the ball rolling and I couldn't change its course, sorry Dave. We'll have sushi another time.

I'm also wondering what life is like for the guys at Marez these days. There are things that people that are unfamiliar with the military may not consider. First off, General Meyers said that it was a suicide bomber not a mortar (I was thinking that would have been an extremely lucky shot). So the security at every FOB in Mosul is likely ramped up extremely high. After we got hit with mortars in November (when the 2 guys I knew were killed) we went for a week or so of living inside the palaces where we work and wearing our body armor and helmets whenever we were outside (including in the chow halls). Likely everyone in Mosul is much more nervous about actually being on their FOB now. The guys at Marez may be eating MREs until a new chow hall is done. They may be eating them longer than that since the Turkish contractors that serve us our food may have decided that it wasn't worth it. There were times when the Turks would walk off the job because it wasn't safe.

I don't want to say too much though. William Li asked me a probing question about a statement that I made the other day. I asked why the Army couldn't spend the money to keep the troops safe. That has been something that he has heard echoed from other vets and wondered if there was something that the general public doesn't know. There may very well be. The thing is that if I were to specify what I meant, I may be revaling vulnerabilities to people that want to kill us. If I thought someone would get killed because of something that I posted, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. Let me just say this: if the only protection people have is that their problems aren't revealed, then they have bigger problems than they think. There are simple measures the Army could take to protect its people -- although those things may cost millions of dollars. Maybe it's just me being selfish (since I could end up over there again) but I would think that the Army wouldn't mind dropping a few million dollars to protect its troops.

So the short answer is yes, there are things that you don't know. Steel HMMWV doors aren't the only measure of protection that the Army has been unbearingly slow to provide.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

This makes me sick...

So when I was in Mosul how many meals did I spend sitting in a cloth-sided dining tent? It must have been hundreds. Towards the end I was getting my meals to go and waiting until very late in the lunch cycle. The following article is why:

Workers and U.S. soldiers tend to the wounded after an apparent insurgent mortar attack on a dining facility during lunchtime on FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq today.
Workers and U.S. soldiers tend to the wounded after an apparent insurgent mortar attack on a dining facility during lunchtime on FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq today. (Richmond Times-Dispatch/ Dean Hoffmeyer)
OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq – Insurgents hit a dining hall tent at a U.S. military base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul today with a suspected rocket attack, killing 24, including two soldiers from the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion.

As of 11:15 a.m. EST, 64 were reported wounded; civilians may have been among them. It was around noon and hundreds of soldiers had just sat down for lunch.

The force of the explosions knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats. A fireball enveloped the top of the tent, and shrapnel sprayed into the men.

Amid the screaming and thick smoke that followed, quick-thinking soldiers turned their lunch tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot.

"Medic! Medic!" soldiers shouted.

Medics rushed into the tent and hustled the rest of the wounded out on stretchers.

Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters outside. Others wobbled around the tent and collapsed, dazed by the blast.

"I can’t hear! I can’t hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her.

Near the front entrance to the chow hall, troops tended a soldier with a gaping head wound. Within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag. Three more bodies were in the parking lot.

The military asked that the dead not be identified until families could be notified.

Soldiers scrambled back into the hall to check for more wounded. The explosions blew out a huge hole in the roof of the tent. Puddles of bright red blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor.

Grim-faced soldiers growled angrily about the attack as they stomped away.
"Mother [expletive]!" one mumbled.

Sgt. Evan Byler, of the 276th, steadied himself on one of the concrete bomb shelters. He was eating chicken tenders and macaroni when the bomb hit. The blast knocked him out of his chair. When the smoke cleared, Byler took off his shirt and wrapped it around a seriously wounded soldier.

Byler held the bloody shirt in his hand, not quite sure what to do with it.

"It’s not the first close call I have had here," said Byler, a Fauquier County, Va., resident who survived a blast from an improvised explosive device while riding in a vehicle earlier this year.

Byler started walking back to his base when he spotted a soldier collapse from shock on the side of the road. Byler and Lt. Shawn Otto, also of the 276th, put the grieving soldier on a passing pickup truck.

The 276th, with about 500 troops, had made it a year without losing a soldier and is preparing to return home in about a month.

"We almost made it. We almost made it to the end without getting somebody killed," Otto said glumly.

At least two other soldiers with the 276th were injured, but it was not clear how serious their wounds are.

Insurgents have fired mortars at the chow hall more than 30 times this year. One round killed a female soldier with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in the summer as she scrambled for cover in one of the concrete bomb shelters. Workers are building a new steel and concrete chow hall for the soldiers just down the dusty dirt road.

Lt. Dawn Wheeler, a member of the 276th from Centreville, Va., was waiting in line for chicken tenders when a round hit on the other side of a wall from her. A soldier who had been standing beside her was on the ground, struggling with shrapnel buried deep in his neck.

"We all have angels on us," she said as she pulled away in a Humvee.

Wheeler quickly joined other officers from the 276th for an emergency meeting minutes after the blast.

Maj. James Zollar, the unit’s acting commander, spoke to more than a dozen of his officers in a voice thick with emotion. He urged them to keep their troops focused on their missions.

"This is a tragic, tragic thing for us but we still have missions," he told them. "It’s us, the leaders, who have to pull them together."
Just hours before the blast, Zollar had awarded a Purple Heart to a soldier from the 276th who was wounded in a mortar attack on another part of the base in October.

Zollar eventually turned the emergency meeting over to Chaplain Eddie Barnett. He led the group in prayer.

"Help us now, God, in this time of this very tragic circumstance," Barnett said. "We pray for your healing upon our wounded soldiers."
With heads hung low, the soldiers trudged outside. They had work to do.

Lots of things going on in my head about this. First off, I was in Mosul but I wasn't at FOB Marez. In my final couple of weeks there we had been attacked by mortars every single day at lunch time which is why I was getting my food to go and eating it in the palace. Of course, I'm happy that I'm not in Mosul anymore which makes me sad that one of my first thoughts is for my own pathetic ass. Man, it just sucks so much. Why the Army can't pony up enough cash to adequately protect their troops is beyond me. I monitored the C-130s that brought these guys to Mosul, now in a wierd, maybe dumb way I almost feel culpable. I know I'm not obviously, I don't make those kinds of decisions or have any kind of pull, I know they'd be there if I existed or not, I know that I didn't fire the rocket. But still.

The 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division has a policy that when there is an incident and someone is killed they turn off the phones so nobody can call home. In a way I guess I can see how it would make a bit of sense in that they want the official channels to be the ones to notify the families. Still, I think it's a failed policy. If you know that your friend or family member is in Mosul or worse if you know your friend or family member is at Marez you just have to hope that they aren't one of the unlucky 24 or the hundreds of others that probably suffered ghastly injuries. You get to look forward to days of the kind of worry that I can only imagine with no phone calls. Ironically, you may be hoping that you wouldn't get any phone calls since they may be official ones.

I can tell you that 1/25 has their phones off today.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Man it's great to be able to run errands...

I had a lot to get done today and although I got most of it done, I didn't quite get everything done. The biggie that I neglected was cleaning the house. Actually the house is clean it's just all cluttered with all my crap all over the place. I'm going to have to work extra super hard to clean it up since Beth is coming home tomorrow (yippee!). Finally things are going to get back to some kind of version of normal.

Well scratch that. They're going to be normal++ since we're going to be having so many people around during the Christmas season. It's going to be a helluva lot of fun and it all starts tomorrow. First Beth is landing at around 1300 (that coupled with the fact that I have to learn how to feed our friend's/realator's/ex landlord's cats means that I've got to hustle with the house cleanup tomorrow morning) then later on that night my Mom is going to be flying in. In a couple of days after that Beth's Dad and Syl (his girlfriend) are going to be driving up. It's going to be a T Town Giftmas and our joint is going to be packed. Actually, it'll be the first big family holiday get together that Beth and I have ever hosted. It's going to rule!

One little political snippet just to show that I'm not all fun and games.

From Atrios:
NEW YORK -- A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.


The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

If Bush did authorize the torture, he could be found guilty of war crimes. From the Third Geneva Conventions Part I, Article III:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(All emphasis was, of course, my own)

It is conceivable that the world could witness George W. Bush on trial for war crimes at the Hague a la Milosevic. Wouldn't that be interesting. I wonder if he'd scam a way to make it so Cheney coul sit with him on the witness stand at the trial if it were to happen? I shouldn't joke at such a serious matter. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A response to a blog post...

Since I've been travelling, it's been a little bit since I've had a chance to debate on Craig Harmon's blog Continuum: From Left to Right. Craig is definitely partisan and like all of us gets embroiled in attacks from time to time; however, he has specifically designed that blog to provide a location that people can come and debate where personal attacks and overly emotional arguments are not allowed. While Craig and I got of to a bit of a rocky start on his more partisan blog The Left Ain't Right, I think he's definitely on the right track on the Continuum.

Unfortunately my trip made me miss the Continuum's previous subject of what it takes to build a sound economy. One poster Samantha, who is as best I can tell an extreme right libertarian, posted an entry that can be found here. Essentially she is all for an absolute free market. Absolutely anything that regulates the market except for private property laws and "Christian ethics" is anathema in Samantha's opinion -- including things like liscensing and child labor laws.

I, being the extreme left libertarian that I am, felt compelled to respond to the post since I found it particularly disturbing. Her ideas, if enacted, would absolutely undo every protection our country has in place and would quickly lead the US to its demise. Be sure to read her post, and then read my reply below:

The purpose of a government is to protect its citizens, to foster an environment where the people can prosper and have free influence on the governing body. The governing body was designed to be transparent and minimally invasive to the lives of private citizens. This country was founded on such liberty.

Of course this is the ideal and no human institution is perfect. Among our greatest failings is our inability to predict with much accuracy the events of the future. It was simply impossible for the founding fathers to envision the industrial revolution. The concept of a corporation or a market was absolutely alien to them. That these bodies of men we call corporations would ultimately create the very same inequality among citizens and erosion of liberties that the founding fathers fought so valiantly against was simply in the realm of the unknowable. But the absolute brilliance of the founding fathers was that they gave us a system that could change and adapt and could solve new problems. It is still not perfect but our government is the result of their prediction that they could not predict the future.

In the early part of the 19th century the United States would have been very close to meeting nearly all of Samantha's ideals. This was a time at the beginning of the industrial revolution, things like the FDA were yet to be invented, trade barriers were more physical than legislated, there were no labor organizations or labor laws, and the western world was in the midst of the Victorian era of hyper-religious sensitivities. It was the times that lead to the roaring twenties and it was the first American economic explosion which lead directly to the first American economic depression.

Life in the 1920s in America wasn't all about doing the Charleston in speakeasies for everyone. Finding a job was difficult, finding a job that paid a worthwhile income was next to impossible. Families had little choice but to send their children to work in sweat shops just so the family could put food on the table. The ratio of corporate executive compensation to worker compensation was higher than at any time in American history except the history we've been making since the 1980s. Corporations were drawing more and more power and money and giving their workers less and less. When the market crumbled under the weight, the people found that the corporations had given them nothing, no job, no health care, no cushion to protect them in hard times, and no way to affect a change.

That is why the government stepped in first by creating jobs building up the American infrastructure and then by legislating rules beneficial to workers at the expense of the corporations. At last workers could unionize so they could pool their resources and take on the unimaginable power and wealth of the corporations. Finally, if workers did not get compensated fairly they had a means of getting that compensation other than being unemployed. For the first time in American history people could be certain that they could have lives outside of their workplaces and know that their young children would not have to endure the horrors of sweatshop labor. And if a worker was forced out of a job, they could be confident that they would have a safety net until they could find themselves work again. This was the renaissance for the American worker and I contend that it solidified a generation's will to fight and die for others in World War II. This was the foundation of the American dream and the economy did not plummet; rather, it skyrocketed. By the 1950s America's economy was 50% of the world's economy despite the fact that businesses no longer had free reign.

Corporations are filled with brilliant, industrious people that are well versed in manipulating the government. Monetary power goes a long way and many of the corporations grew to have more spending power than some countries. It is this unprecedented influence that the architects of the new deal were unable to fathom and is the fault of the system that we have today. The corporations have successfully lobbied to erode many of the economic protections that were in (or inferred from) the new deal. The 1980s (and more so the 1990s) ushered in a global marketplace where corporations are at the same time found in a country and not subject to that country's rules. There is far more sweatshop labor now than there ever was in the 1920s -- although not in the US. Physical barriers to trade are all but inconsequential so the last remaining barrier are government-imposed restrictions and tariffs. Environmental laws that have been under constant attack to the point that people in government question the validity of the science that says those laws must stay.

While manufacturing previously made up the lion's share of the economy in the US, that has since dwindled as evidenced by the empty factories in the rust belt and the exodus of factory jobs to the underdeveloped countries around the world. What the corporations have become better at than anyone could have imagined is disseminating information. Where our main products once were tangible, we now are mainly in the business of selling ideas. And it is the ideas that we are getting sold that are the most disturbing: that laissez faire is the best means of controlling the market, that individual freedom is tied in with corporate freedom, that fewer environmental laws actually makes sense, that corporate mergers equal more choice, that a bland, homoginized world where one cannot tell one place apart from the next is the ideal, that as go the corporate stock prices goes American prosperity. These ideas are not founded in reality but they are certainly excellent for the corporations' bottom lines.

As a country we must not only do what we can to stop the erosion of the new deal programs, we must also fight to build up the those laws that have been eviscerated by the corporate machine. After all they were designed to protect us and our nation's economy in the first place. Furthermore, in the new global economy, our country must accept and embrace its interdependence with every other country on the planet and take the lead to enact treaties and laws that will protect not only our own people but every people everywhere in the world. Laissez faire business practices are not new or novel ideas and our own history has shown that they simply do not work. The free market isn't free, the price for a free market is far too heavy for civil liberties and our environment.

There are many books on the subject a couple that I've read are No Logo by Naomi Klein and Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber. Both of those books have impeccable references and lists of other books that you can read to learn more.

The only difference between Samantha's ideas and the administration's ideas is that Samantha is clearly a libertarian and the administration is among the most authoritarian that we have had since the Victorian era. I have no doubts that the Bush administration would dearly love to enact many of Samantha's ideas; however, they simply can't get past the idea that Americans need to be told how to live which takes a great deal of income and a massive government so limiting taxes to absurdly low levels simply isn't possible. I'm hoping that calmer, smarter heads will ultimately prevail and we'll find ourselves with a robust and ethical economy as opposed to a corporate anarchy.

If we don't, we will be going the way of the Romans soon.

I hate the Bank of America.

I'm posting this selfishly half hoping that it will spark a little bit of outrage with the people who aren't in the military out there. I just got all of our held mail yesterday and just this morning went through it all. I was surprised to find out that there were three letters from the Bank of America in there. For anyone who doesn't know, our government travel cards are given to us by the Bank of America. There is no APR and our limits are high enough that if we need to get airline tickets, hotel rooms, and rental cars we don't have to worry about it. Anyhow, the letters were along the lines of you have an unpaid balance of $135, if you don't pay it we'll contact your commander and charge you an extra fee.

There are apparently a great deal of people who misuse the government travel card. People buy car stereos or trips to strip clubs when all they're supposed to use it for is travel expenses. Previous companies have had to eat a lot of expenses from people not paying things back or taking advantage of the 0% APR for personal stuff and have bailed out of the program. When the Bank of America signed on, they had a bunch of strict rules. I can definitely understand that they wouldn't want to be involved in a money-losing scheme, but they are so inflexible that it's ridiculous.

First of all, we have to use the government travel card to get rooms or airline tickets or rental cars. Instead of a convenience for people without the means of paying out of pocket and getting reimbursed, it is a strictly enforced rule. You cannot file your travel voucher without dispersing part of the payment directly to Bank of America unless you have your commander's signature. The kicker is that you are required to pay your bill on time no matter what. You could have used the card in a hotel in Germany on your way to a 6 month tour in a foxhole in Pakistan but if you don't find a way to pay your bill when the Bank of America says you have to pay your bill, they will charge you $29 a month until that bill is paid. It doesn't matter if there is absolutely no possible way for you to pay your bill, you could be a POW and they wouldn't care; if you don't pay the bill, you're getting charged. And keep in mind you don't have the option of not using the card. Moreover, they are absolutely unwilling to waive that $29/month fee and even if it isn't your fault, you'll have to pay it and the government will not reimburse you for that fee. So the government forces you to use the card, the government may put you in a position to not be able to pay the card thus incurring the fee, and the government will not reimburse you for the fee that they made you incur. It's aggrivating. Of course, my philosophy is, screw that, I'm going to use my own credit card if at all possible.

And that's part of the reason that these letters were odd, I don't recall having to pull the card out any time recently. The first two said pay us or else we'll charge you and tell your commander and the last one said we've just told your commander and we're going to charge you $29 in two weeks if you don't pay us. So, obviously, I called them right away. The wait wasn't all that long and when the lady came on the line I told her that I had a couple of letters that said I had an unpaid balance that I needed to take care of. So she asked for my vitals and then started to tell me how to pay the bill. The thing is, I couldn't really remember using the card for anything at all since around May which I recall paying off. So I asked her what the charge was. She said it was for a hotel room in Norfolk, VA. You may have noticed the fancy maps that I've put on the right side of the blog. They're a little small, but they denote the countries and the states that I've visited. If you look closely, you'll notice that I have never been to Virgina, not once ever. And I've never had a TDY planned for that location. The charge was apparently made on the first week of September and I KNOW that I hadn't made any travel plans for Virginia in September because I was busy getting my crap together to go to Iraq.

So I told her that and she put the charge in dispute. I asked her how they handled the letters to the commander. It seems right to me that if a letter like that was sent out because of a legitimate error, they should send out another letter that explains the situation. Yeah, no such luck. The lady said that they only send letters to commanders when people haven't paid their bills and that they don't send out any other letters. That, to me, is a giant crock of poo. If they are going to get us in trouble, the least they could do is to get us out of trouble if the situation warants it. The Bank of America is there to serve the members of the Government including the members of the military not the other way around. This absurd policy is not serving our needs, it is serving the selfish needs of the Bank of America.

Why does the Bank of America hate America?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Honey ... I'm home.

Well that was perhaps the longest trip in the history of trips. Here's the rest of the story.

After I had posted my previous entry, I had a few hours to wait for the C-17 to depart. I called Beth and we talked for about 30 minutes. Someone else was waiting for the phone so I let him use it and I farted around on the computer for a little bit. Everything that is any kind of interesting is blocked on that base so I got tired of that pretty fast. What to do, what to do? Oh I know, I'll watch a movie on the TV in the little waiting area in the C-17 ops building. I thought I should probably ask them if they cared.

"Hey guys, do you mind if I watch a movie on this TV back here?"
"Not at all, in fact, have some popcorn!"

Well I just thought that was a fantastic idea. I went ahead and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Things were looking up. Of course if I were going to have some popcorn, I'd need some water and there was none to be found. I asked the guys if they had any and they said they didn't. Well I figured I'd be the nice guy and run and get some cases of bottled water that they have sitting around outside. When I got back, I noticed a very acrid smell. Just then, it hit me that the popcorn was burning. So I ran back to the waiting room and found white smoke pouring out of the door of the microwave. I promptly turned it off and as I was unplugging it the fire alarm went off. *sigh*

It was no big deal really, just some amazingly bad smelling smoke that really stings the eyes and the embarrassment of nearly burning the place down coupled with the fact that my wife works with these guys and word travels fast in the Air Force. So as I was cleaning the microwave I couldn't help but think that it was the perfect end to the perfect trio of days. I would only find out that the popcorn incident wasn't the final blow when I bashed the hell out of my head on the bus door as I was loading my bags. I pretty much needed to get home soon.

I ended up getting to Frankfurt on the C-17 that I was waiting for while popping my popcorn. Actually it was pretty uneventful except for the fact that I actually spent a few hours in Iraq (ahhh the Irony). I was pretty sure that we were either going to get attacked, the plane was going to break, or there would be some other pressing reason that I would have to stay there while the C-17 left without me. None of that happened and I ended up getting to Frankfurt in the mid-morning.

So about 24 hours ago I hopped on another C-17 heading for McChord. It was scheduled to make one stop but it was really the only choice I had. I get out to the jet and find that it's filled to the gills with pax and cargo and they very nearly didn't have any room for me and 3 other people. My fortunes had changed apparently and we were on our way shortly. Oh by the way, we get to make two stops, one in England and one in North Carolina now. The stop in England was uneventful albeit long but I was pretty sure that I'd be spending the night in NC.

For safety reasons, an aircrew can only work so long. Their duty day starts one hour after they are alerted and basically ends when they land. Because of the stop in England and because of some delays in NC, we were pushing up against the duty day for the crew. If things had been any slower in NC, we would have stayed there overnight. Once we started engines and they closed the door, I knew that we were well on our way. It took a long time to taxi and the load said that they were having trouble with their hydraulics. Now, given what I'd been going through since the 9th, the following scenario ran through my head: 1) this jet would be done, hydraulics problems do not lend themselves to flying or easy fixing, 2) we'd be there for more than just a night and I'd have to check in my guns, my secrets, and haul my damned bags all over the great state of North Carolina, and 3) there wouldn't be another jet along for days and each time other jets came in, they would think that ours was fixed so I would be stuck there until mid-January or so. Hey, you read my last post didn't you?

At any rate, none of that happened. We ended up taxiing out to the runway and I felt good as they pushed the power up and released the breaks. And as they almost immediately pulled the power back and slammed on the breaks I felt like my premonition was about to come true. I couldn't believe that we had just aborted the takeoff. I just knew that I was going to be there... Wait, what's this? They're pushing the power back up? They ended up taking off right from where they had come to a stop on the runway. I don't know what the problem was or how they fixed it, but I'm glad I was in a C-17. If that had been a KC-135, we'd have to use up the full runway to stop, taxi back to the end of the runway and then depart all the time keeping the hot breaks and tires in the backs of our minds.

Anywho... Nine full days later and I'm back in my house in Tacoma. It's a little late to call anyone so I'll be making all my "I'm home" calls tomorrow. Actually, there are a lot of things that I need to do tomorrow, but I'll start off with the "I'm home" calls. I'm glad that this trip is done. If I ever have to go again I can guarantee I'm going to do things differently (first off by not having so many heavy ass bags). But then again, I'm hoping that I won't have to go back.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Worst. Day. Ever. (post contains language that is not suitable for all audiences, parental discression suggested)

Alternate titles include:
- I just flew from Mosul to Kuwait to Qatar and boy, are my arms tired
- I hear the Middle East is beautiful this time of year
- How I quit wanting to get home and learned to love traveling the Middle East
- For fuck's sake can't a guy get a break???

So you know how I said that sometimes things work way better than planned? I may have been a bit too optimistic. If my perception of the actual existence of luck or karma is wrong, that those actually do exist, then I have no luck and I am the Karma Police's Rodney King. Of course one could also say that I am an incredibly bad decision maker. Here's why.

I did get to Mosul earlier than planned and it was a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. I didn't even have to do much dragging of bags since there were people there to help me. That was good, I was happy to be on the move and things were really looking up. That's when I posted that (now hilarious) post about things working out way better than planned. As I was posting that (little did I know) a flight headed to Kuwait City International (KCIA from now on) took off. Keep that airport, KCIA, in the back of your head.

A little later my flight to Balad, Iraq was running a bit late, but there was confirmation that it was in the air headed this way. They were showing the first Lord of the Rings movie and I figured that I wouldn't be able to see all of it since Peter Jackson doesn't believe in editing. So after that movie ended, I went to see when the plane was expected since it was obviously late. Apparently the time had been pushed back until 30 minutes or so from that time but it was still on its way. No big deal. I'll just go start watching the second Lord of the Rings movie that was now playing and I'd be on my way in less than an hour.

When the second Lord of the Rings movie had ended, I went to go see what the deal was again. Apparently a helicopter had crashed on Mosul airfield and all other air traffic had been diverted. "Holy cow are you serious?" So I called the AMD, they said the flight that I was waiting on was going to be rescheduled for the following day (the 10th) at around dinner time. Keep this in mind, I could have taken that flight, been to Balad Iraq and then in Frankfurt by the wee early morning of the 11th. So I hung up with the AMD and I looked at the schedule and the next flight that was leaving was one going to an Air Base in Kuwait called Ali Al Salem -- not KCIA. Since I was trying to just get a move on and I wanted to get out of Iraq, I elected to put myself on the flight going to Salem and forego the Balad flight.

Success! The Kuwait plane arrived, offloaded a bunch of people and stuff and on loaded me and around 9 other guys. All my goddamned bags had been palletized so there wasn't an issue with having to drag my bags and the plane only had 10 people on it so there was all kinds of room. The initial happiness that I had came back once again. Hell yeah, I was on my way!

We landed in Kuwait and we were taken to the MCT (the people that I would be trying to get another flight from). The pallet with our stuff was dropped off and I went in to talk to the MCT to get myself on a flight heading to either Balad Iraq or Al Udeid Qatar (keep Al Udeid in mind). The lady who I talked to initially said that there was a Balad flight with a show time of 1700 local. I looked at my watch and it was exactly 0700 local time. That means I would show up in 10 hours and I wouldn't leave for 13 hours. All the other flights were full and the lady said that I should just get myself to KCIA (the international airport, remember?) because they always have flights that are going to Frankfurt. That didn't seem like a great idea because I misunderstood what she was trying to tell me. I thought that she wanted me to get on a commercial flight. So I called Beth to tell her what the deal was and Beth told me that she'd hoped that I got on the flight to KCIA from Mosul (the one that took off as I was writing the blog post two down from this one) because there were 2 C-17s going from KCIA to Frankfurt on the morning of the 10th, one at 1200L and one at 1400L. By this time it was around 0730L on the 10th and I was in Kuwait and they have Shuttle busses that take people to KCIA. So change in plans, I was going to go catch a C-17 and be on my way!

So I talked with the lady from before, told her I misunderstood what she was trying to tell me and asked what I needed to do to get on the shuttle bus to KCIA. She told me to talk to the people in the guard shack just 100 yards away and they would put me on a bus to camp Doha (a major Army installation in Kuwait) and from there I could get another shuttle to KCIA. Apparently a shuttle to KCIA had left right as I got there at 0700L and the next one was supposed to arrive at 0945L. They said to just go wait in the MCT and they'd call over there and have them tell me when the bus arrived so I could hop on and be on my way. At about 0940, I decided that I'd probably just head on out there since I hadn't heard anything. So I gathered the few bags I had with me and walked out to where the bus would be leaving (maybe 200 yards away). As I was walking there was a bus that pulled out and I looked at my watch and saw that it was 0943L. That surely wasn't my bus. I sat there for maybe 5 minutes and no other buses had shown up so I went to talk to the guys in the guard shack.

"The shuttle for KCIA left just a few minutes ago, sir."
"What? I thought you said that it was supposed to arrive at 0945L."
"It got here early and I called over to the MCT and 16 guys got on the bus. The bus driver called over here at 0945L and asked if they could leave early. Since I called the MCT like I said I would, I figured it'd be okay."
"You have got to be fucking kidding me. That was my bus that left? Holy fucking shit, I've got to catch a flight at KCIA in just a few hours. When is the next bus?"
"Let's see, my sheet says the next bus will arrive at 1145L."
"Fuck, man! I have a flight that's going to leave really soon, I've got to get there what the fucking hell am I supposed to do?"
"Sorry, sir, there's nothing we can do."

Holy shit was I pissed. I was more pissed then that I had been in an extremely long time. I just wanted to throw things and beat people up and yell at the guy that let the bus leave without me and just generally have an all out flying off the handle fit. So I walked to where the busses wait and yelled at the gravel for a little while. What the hell good would throwing a fit do anyhow? I was fucked; there was no changing that now. My only hope was that the next shuttle bus would get there early, maybe 1115L and would take off by 1145L and I might still have time to make the 1400L C-17. The next shuttle bus showed up promptly at 1145L and did not move one inch until exactly 1245L. We did not arrive at camp Doha until 1315L and the guy whose job it is to ride around on the bus all day said that the next shuttle for KCIA wouldn't come until around 1430L to 1500L. Furthermore, just to add insult to injury, that shuttle takes about 1.5 hours to get to the military side of KCIA (which is where I wanted to go) because they had to go to the commercial side first, where they would sit there for an hour and wait for any arriving people that needed to go to Camp Doha. He said that their bus was going to be there until 1415L and I could go grab some lunch.

So I went to the PX, grabbed some lunch and made my way back to my bags. The KCIA bus actually showed a bit earlier than expected and we departed at 1400L. True to the guy's words, we arrived at the military side of the airport at exactly 1530L and both of the earlier C-17s had already left. I wasn't too worried because I knew that there was another C-5 sometime later in the day. All hope wasn't lost.

"Excuse me," I said to the passenger terminal (pax terminal) guy, "I need to hop on a flight to Frankfurt please."
"Okay sir, may I see your out processing sheet please?"
"I'm sorry. My What?"
"The out processing sheet that you got from the 62nd out processing unit at Camp Doha."
"What are you talking about?"
"You have to out process at Camp Doha before I am allowed to put you on a flight."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"No sir, I'm not allowed to put you on a flight unless you have first out processed through Doha."
"I have to out process through Doha? How am I supposed to do that?"
"Well the Doha shuttle is waiting outside."
"You can't be serious."
"Sorry sir."
"But I need to get to Frankfurt."
"There's nothing I can do sir."
"But I... I just... Isn't there..."
"The only other way to get on a flight is if you have ACM orders."


When I was working on getting my orders from McChord AFB before I left on this TDY, it took me forever. They kept getting things wrong and there were all kinds of problems getting the right things. One of the things that I had to fight the hardest to get was Additional Crew Member (ACM) / Mission Essential Ground Personnel (MEGP) authorized. Essentially, if you have that one little thing on your orders, "ACM/MEGP Authorized" you can fly anywhere on any airlift aircraft no questions asked. I fought for it and now it was going to pay off big time.

The pax terminal guy sent me upstairs to talk to the airlift operations people so that I could be put on the flight orders as an ACM on the C-5 that was supposed to arrive later that night. Sweet! They were very nice, and everything was looking way up. It was about dinner time on the 10th (when a Balad flight was taking off out of Mosul most likely) so I decided to go grab some pizza from the little trailer that they have set up just outside the pax terminal. I went back in and watched Searching for Bobby Fischer on AFN in the pax terminal and ate my pizza. Just as the movie finished, the pax terminal people paged that I had a phone call. It was Beth.

"Hey babe, your C-5 cancelled."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, I looked in SMS and there isn't anything departing out of there for at least 24 hours."
"Son of a..."
"There's an L1011 that is going from here to there. It says that pax can have weapons and it leaves in 4 or 5 hours."
"Yeah I guess I could... Crap, wait, I can't go ACM on an L1011 and I can't go space A unless I out process through Doha."
"Well why don't you do that?"
"Because to get there, find the out processing place, out process if they're open, and get back would take at least 4 and maybe 5 hours. I just can't do it. Let me talk to the pax terminal folks and see what I can do."

The lady that was working now was very interested in helping me out. There was obviously a shift change and I asked what I could do to get myself on a flight to Frankfurt. She said well you can give me a patch. Rrrrrip! I took off my 615th patch and handed it to her.

"Let's see, there's an MD11 leaving in just a little bit, we can get you on there."
"Okay, let me have your orders."
"Awesome. So how do I handle all those damned bags?"
"Are those all your bags?"
"Oh no, just five of them and that gun box."
"You have a gun?"
"Uh, yeah."
"Is it in a box that is obviously a gun box?"
"Well ... yeah."
"You can't go on R&R chartered flights with guns and all we have is R&R flights."
"Oh man!"
"We have a C-130 going to Al Udeid. GDSS says that there is a C-17 going to Frankfurt tonight from there. I'll put you on that."
"You have got to be kidding."
"I'll send a couple of guys out here with a truck to help you with your bags."

So I went and sat down in the waiting area. Less than an hour later we were lining up and heading on our way to the C-130 that was going to take us to Al Udeid (we call it "the Deid"). The 130 took off at 2130L and landed at almost exactly 2300L. I tried to go straight into the Al Udeid pax terminal but it turns out that it had moved and they had revamped their processes. Everyone had to get an in briefing with the ATOC no matter how long they were going to stay there. What's more, before you could leave the building you had to check your weapon in. Even if there was a flight leaving in an hour, you had to check your weapon in, no if's and's or but's about it. So I had to sit there and listen to a briefing that I'd heard a half-dozen times before and fill out the transient data sheet and circle that I wasn't interested in an alcohol rations card when I could have been doing something productive like, oh I don't know, trying to get myself on a plane.

I got to the pax terminal counter at about five minutes to midnight on the 10th. The information that I had said there was a plane leaving the Deid at 0110L on the 11th. I knew I would be too late for the manifest, but I figured they'd probably help me out and get me on the plane anyhow. I was hoping the process would be quick since I really had to crap. When I heard the distinctive sound of the C-17 taking off, I realized that my luck had not changed. I had in fact missed that direct flight to Frankfurt.

"I'm sorry sir, you missed today's flight to Frankfurt," the Udeid pax terminal guy said.
"Yeah. I know," I sighed.
"Okay, let's see, we have a flight leaving for Frankfurt on the 12th at about 0530L."
"You don't have anything tomorrow?"
"No sir, I'm sorry, we don't."

Well I just wanted to curl up in a ball. I could see the totality of my trip to that point. I imagined that I had decided to go to KCIA straight from Mosul. I imagined that I decided to go to the bus in Salem at 0930L as opposed to 0940L. I imagined that I had decided to catch a flight to Al Udeid or Balad from Salem instead of catching the bus to KCIA. But I hadn't, I was in the Died, I was stuck and there was nothing I could do about it. If there is luck, I had none. If there is fate, this was my fate. If there is Karma, it is kicking me in the balls repeatedly.

So I put my name in for a flight on Sunday, I went to the bathroom as soon as I could, I checked in my weapon, and I went to go get a room. It was nice to get a shower and to be able to sleep on an actual bed. I got up and had some lunch and called Beth. She told me that I should talk to the guys at the C-17 ops in the Deid and that they could help me out better than the pax terminal. That made sense so I did just that.

Fortunately they had a flight that leaves out of here tonight and gets into Frankfurt in the morning of the 12th. That is what I'm waiting on right now. I've got a hard time believing it'll go. I'm sort of downtrodden at this point. I've been trying to think of the bright side in all of this. It isn't raining, that's good. It isn't 145 degrees, that's good too. I am getting paid to travel, that's something. I'm out of Iraq, that's really good. This isn't the worst thing in the world and I need to keep my head up. Everything that has happened so far has happened. What is past is prologue to this, none of it matters. Things are looking up, and even if I have to stay here for another day for some reason, at least I have showers and stuff.

Next stop, Frankfurt. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Best laid plans of mice and men...

Well the first, best option didn't happen. Now I'm pondering my other options. I think I'm going to take whatever gets me to Germany the quickest. Unfortunately that means that I'll also have to go a lot farther. On the plus side, this will get me out of Iraq on the first flight out.

If that one craps out, I have something to fall back on. It's going to be a very, very long day for me.

Oh hell yeah...

So sometimes things don't go so well and sometimes things go way better than planned. I thought I was going to have to drag all my crapola all over the middle east begging for rides to somewhere that could get me to somewhere else that could get me to Germany. I wasn't looking forward to the long ass day that it was going to be. The plan was to leave my base at around dinner time on the 9th and not get into Germany until 0100 on the 11th.

As it turns out there was a flight added today that will make this trip a short little one-hopper to freedom (the idea not the FOB)! Oh man oh man oh man I'm so excited.

I've been trying to decide what lyrics would be the best to post for this occassion. Really, this song has been running through my head for weeks so I've got to post it. It's such a fun song and it came with my MP3 player.

Frank Black & The Catholics - San Antonio, TX

motel alone decor perplexes
ringing in my ear and now the phone
in San Antone the State of Texas
hearing you my dear I’m all alone

put me in the cab I’m flying away
I’m glad to say I’m finally leaving here
put down the flaps I’m getting off
just two more stops the skies are very clear
I’m sitting in the back I’m flying away
I’m flying away I’m flying away

she had a dream call it a vision
he’d given her a little silver tool
and now it seems that day has risen
I’m bringing you your supernatural jewel

put me in the cab I’m flying away
I’m glad to say I’m finally leaving here
put down the flaps I’m getting off
just two more stops the skies are very clear
I’m sitting in the back I’m flying away
I’m flying away I’m flying away

The Alamo I’ve never seen it
maybe I’ll go there but I don’t know
and if I go well I won’t see it
thousand mile stare will take home

put me in the cab I’m flying away
I’m glad to say I’m finally leaving here
put down the flaps I’m getting off
just two more stops the skies are very clear
I’m sitting in the back I’m flying away
I’m flying away I’m flying away

How perfect is that song huh? Okay, so the internets will be hella limited I'm thinking. Moreover, I'm going to be spending time with Da Beffa and not with the computer. I tell you what, you may want to check back in on the 14th or 15th or so. I should be home home by then and I'll have all the internets I can stand.

So if all goes right, I'm going to be signing off until then although I should be able to make the occassional "I'm in [wherever]" type posts maybe. Mom, Dad, I'll call you guys when I get in the industrialized world.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

My outprocessing checklist is done!

I had heard that there was some kind of sit-down that people had to have with the Chaplain before they went home. It's the Army's way to reduce the numbers of horrible murder suicides of some soldiers once they get home. The chaplains get a certain amount of psychological training and it really showed with this guy. He had a lot of pregnant pauses and I could tell that he was waiting for me to say something. Him: "You don't look depressed." *long pause* Me: "Um." *long pause* "Uh, nope, just excited to go home." I wonder if that talk actually prevents any violence back on the home front. He didn't get into any religious discussion which is good. I didn't foresee that going anywhere good.

Apparently my flight back to Germany then home is going to be a lot more painful than I thought. I was hoping to do it with only one short stop along the way. Boom, boom done. But no. I may have to drag my bags all the way to Qatar. We'll see. No matter though, it's winter so it's cool, and I'll be on my way to see Beth then on my way home:) Nice!

Oh yeah something else. Part of my outprocessing checklist is a doctor's exam which is mostly just a questionnaire and some kind of briefing. Everyone wants to brief you when you leave and they only want to do it at ceratin times. I was there before lunch and they told me to come back at 1300. Fair enough. When I went back, there was a bunch of people there and when I poked my head in the aid station, I saw that they were working on a guy on a cot. Then they moved him to a holding area that is actually outside (since the aid station is pretty small. When they moved him I saw that he was an Iraqi Regular Army (IRA) guy with some severe burns on his arm and his hand wrapped in bandages. I'm not sure what happened but he was in a lot of pain. Whenever medics do anything they strip you nakid so even under the blankets this guy was shivering because he was outside. I felt pretty bad for him. There was another Iraqi guy there to keep him comfortable which is good.

So it turns out that the aid station didn't even have the stuff to do the exam and they didn't even have the questionnaire. That plus the fact that they were apparently getting in 3 other guys that were much more seriously injured made me want to just get the hell out of there. So I did. So that guy was only the 2nd injured person that I had actually seen in theater (the other guy was loaded onto the C-130 that I got off of on the 1st day that I got here -- nice). It's not that there aren't a lot of injuries, it's just that they don't come where I am. By the way, according to the folks at The Stars and Stripes:
As of Tuesday, 20,802 troops have been treated at Landstuhl from injuries received in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

That's a hell of a lot of injuries and WAY more than the official figures. How many of those guys are horribly burned, missing legs or arms, are blind, or have traumatic brain injuries (or a combination of these and other, maybe worse injuries)?

Okay, so that's all for me today. I'll have some time tomorrow and maybe even the next day to post some things so I will. After I get on the plane, I won't have a chance to post until I get to Germany (at the earliest -- maybe not until I get home). So more tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The last charge of Wyatt and his Immorals...

I'm back to my FOB finally. Only two more days left and I'm leaving. Getting the hell out of here. See ya! Man I've got a headache.

So here's something funny. The name of the base where I work normally is called FOB Freedom (I know, the irony right?). So whenever I'm trying to make my way back here on a helicopter, I always go in and when they ask me what they can do for me, I always tell them that, "I need a ride to freedom." Pretty soon I can ask someone for the same thing and get to a whole different place.

Well, it's not that funny I guess.

The words you say
Never seem to live up to
The ones inside your head

Soundgarden - The Day I Tried to Live

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I'm going on the the road again today...

The next trip I make after this will be to Germany then home! AWESOME! Anyhow, everyone knows the drill, I won't have much time for posting or commenting or emailing or calling so don't worry too much. I'm only going to be gone for about 48 hours so it shouldn't be a big deal. After I get back I'll only have another 72 hours left in Iraq.


Investigation of the exit polls...

I don't have time to write much, but I just found a site that analyzes the exit polls and compares them to the actual results. The site is called Scoop. Here's an interesting tid bit. This is a graph that shows the extent of the deviation from the exit polling in each state:

As you can see there are an unusually large number of states that deviated in Bush's favor -- what's more, they deviated to such a large extent. The exit polls are polls of voters actions rather than intentions to they are considered to be highly accurate. Data like this would indicate a problem.

If I had the time, I would determine which of those states used Diebold and ES&S machines to count their votes. Maybe one of you has the time?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Realizing what we're up against...

To be honest, I assumed that my thoughts on how the Democrats can start winning elections again would get most of its comments from any conservatives that happened to stroll on by (as they do from time to time). I figured the comments would be on the order of Craig Harmon from The Left Ain't Right (and who has now started a new blog called the Continuum: from Left to Right). I assumed that the harshest words would come from conservatives that like to believe the far left are "radicals" or even "moonbats". Apparently I was wrong.

William Li (a friend of my brother-in-law Dave I think) has been the only one to leave comments about my thoughts about why the Democrats need to embrace the far left. He hasn't stated explicitly that he is a Democrat, but he did say "we" when referring to the Democrats. He's also made it clear that he isn't interested in the policies of the far left or the far right. From what he's written, I've concluded that he is a fiscally conservative socially liberal Democrat who would feel quite comfortable with Clinton, Lieberman, Gore, the Johns, or just about anyone from the DLC as President. William has been back to at ease at least twice so I also am assuming that he won't mind clarifying his position on there if I'm wrong.

So at any rate, let's just say that William Li isn't much interested in debate. He's more interested in chastizing me for how "silly, siller, and silliest" my thoughts are in his opinion and how wrong and "wronger" my arguments are. His arguments are clearly compelling to him so he doesn't feel the need to elaborate. He offers only anecdotes to try and illustrate how wrong I am.

That's fair enough, I can't claim to always be right. And to be certain, William Li's tactics and logic aren't anything new to a person who goes on a lot of different blogs and bulletin boards. Let's just say that I wasn't expecting this vile of an attack from the Democrats. William Li's argument essentially boils down to the Democrats adopt positions that help the country economically and create a rising tide and that the far left, the "lunatic fringe", should rightfully be marginalized. Furthermore, there is no shift to the right only an attempt to get power. All of this is wrapped up in a short, to the point analogies with just a hint of patronizing thrown in for good measure. Not just you're wrong and here's why statements, but more like you- are- so- unbelievably- stupidly- wrong- I- can't- believe- it- and- I'm- going- to- keep- telling- you kind of thing.

I'm really not worried about what William Li thinks of me or my arguments, I certainly wouldn't blog about politics if it bothered me that people thought I was wrong or stupid. My point here is that it really didn't occur to me that the most virulent attacks would come from a Democrat. But the more that I think about it, maybe I should have expected it. Democrats are just as likely to buy into the idea that the far left are crazy or radicals as anyone else. The far left insists that there are more important things than our country's GDP, that in fact if we were to do certain things that would actually reduce the GDP we and the world would be much better off. That isn't fiscal conservatism, that wouldn't result in the booming Clinton-era economy that has become the milestone for any President to live up to (I even subscribed to that theory before the election), and it may even increase other countries' standing compared to the US. That is just down right stupid to William Li and the more I look into it, the more Democrats I find that seem to agree.

William Li doesn't think the Democrats need the far left to win elections. He thinks that by wooing certain groups (farmers or IT pros specifically) that the Dems can come out on top without ever having to deal with the far left again. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course; however, the results of the 2000 and 2004 elections would indicate otherwise.

The Democrats are and forever will be hopelessly intertwined with those on the far left. Like it or not, no matter how much the Dems bash Nader, shun Michael Moore, embrace pro-war, pro-free trade, anti-gay agendas, or deny being a liberal the GOP will always tie them in with those on the far left. We've reached a point where people don't even have to know what the goals of the far left are to hate them. The words "Left" and "Liberal" have become equivalent to "Bad", "Terrorist", and "Evil". And what are the Democrats trying to do to prevent that? Nothing. The DLC has made a direct effort to make it clear that they would rather not have anything to do with the far left by adopting stances that are anathema to the far left. When the party that according to the popular culture is intertwined with the far left tries to distance itself from the far left by adopting the policies of the far right it only solidifies people's distrust for the far left and strengthens the case against the party. In short, by not legitimizing the far left, the Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot.

Moreover, those on the far left are going to be more than happy to widen the divide. Oliver Willis's "Brand Democrat" campaign has already been Ad Jammed for instance and let's not forget the massive political protests against the Democrats in 2000. This year the far left fell in line in much greater numbers to vote Bush out of office but the negative campaigning required to get the Anybody But Bush crowd's vote actually drove in more votes for Bush than it did for Kerry. And now we on the far left feel as if we are pawns in this game, and maybe that's all we are. My call to the far left is to vote your consciousness from this point forward. The Dems know they can't win without our votes and if we can make them understand that they can't get our votes without adopting our policies, we will all come out on top in the future. After all, you can't win without your pawns.

So thanks to William Li, I think I finally get it. It is now clear exactly what needs to be done to move this country back to the left and why it needs to happen. I also know that it won't happen just because I want it to or because of my lone voice and it won't happen any time soon. So I challenge William Li and any other Democrat that agrees with him to do it your way, try and get the farmer and the IT Pro vote. See how far that gets you. At a certain point, stop, look at what the country stands for, look at the state of the world and ask yourself, "is this really what I wanted?"

Friday, December 03, 2004

The pie chart from hell...

Well ladies and gentlemen, we may have reached the final Friday edition of the much loved Pie Chart From Hell! You know, the days go slowly, but the months go fast. Normally, when I'm at home and I want time to go slowly, I don't like realizing that another whole year has passed without even noticing it. But in this case, I'm glad that these 3 months have gone by pretty quickly. Although, I hope I don't have to make a return trip out to these parts anytime soon (read: I hope I never have to come back).

So without futher ado, the final pie chart from hell (updated to reflect a 10 Dec departure date) in it's all new huge version!

Just becase it cracks me up...

So posting the ISOU logo as a part of a recent post made me think that posting a site's logo (if applicable) would be an interesting way to link to it in the future. I was going to do exactly that for the link to Thudfactor that I had in the post about sex ed, but I couldn't make up my mind on how I wanted to do it, so I didn't. But I still want to post it because it cracks me up.

I had seen the name "Thudfactor" in the PBA blogroll for a while and it didn't really click with me what it meant until I saw his banner. Now I crack up every time I think of it.

New direction for the Democrats...

So there are about as many different ideas of how the Democrats can start winning elections again as there are people. The DLC's pro-war pro-business way didn't exactly produce results. They got a massive boost from the Anybody-But-Bush crowd (which, dear readers, your author humbly admits to belonging to) and Kerry got more votes than any other person in history except the guy he was running against.

The DLC (including Clinton and the current minority leadership in Washington) clearly wants to push the party to the right. As we've heard over and over again, the moderate voters are the key. The Republicans are all too happy to agree with the DLC, they'd have the Democrats embrace the right's policies until there was no difference in the two parties. The right will in fact try to make it sound as if any turn toward the left will spell doom and gloom for the Democrats which means that the Democrats should embrace the Zell Millers and Evan Bayhs and the Joe Liebermans. Zell spoke at the Republican National Convention, is that where Democrats should feel comfortable? Of course not. The Republicans aren't interested in saving the noble Democrat party, they (like Adam "Curb Stomp the Bastards" Yoshida) want to see it disappear forever and leading the Democrats by the collar to the right is exactly how they plan on doing that.

This has been something that I've been saying on this blog and other places since my post-election coming to terms with reality. It wasn't until now that I've gotten independent confirmation of that from other places on the internet. Over at Counter Punch Joshua Frank and Merlin Chowkwanyun argue that the very reason that we lost is because of the DLC's turn toward the right. It was this turn that made the Democrat's positions contradictory, Kerry with his legendarily unclear war positions, Dean with his "anti-war position" that would have been pro-war with UN approval and inspections, and the surprisingly anti-homosexual agenda of Clinton.

Even the last best hope, Dennis Kucinich, who at one point pledged to stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention, ultimately backed down to a solid member of the Anybody But Bush party when he vocalized his support of and asked that his supporters vote for John Kerry. It was ultimately the backstabbing and in-fighting within the Democratic party that squelched the anti-war sentiment and solidified the re-election of George W. Bush.

What Frank and Chowkwanyun argue, and I wholeheartedly agree with, is that this problem obviously cannot be solved from within the Democratic party. Those of us in the Anybody But Bush crowd, the anti-war, anti-globalism lefties out there need to make a clean break from the Democratic party and start voting on their priniples once again. The Democrats cannot win without us and we can't let The Democrats get us to vote against our morals ever again no matter who the candidate is. If we continue on the path of the party that has nominated an anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-war, staunch Mormon in the highest Democratic seat in the land, we are succumbing to the rightward shift of the Democratic party and the nation as a whole. We have already seen what this shift means, unilateral wars of choice, globalism gone wild, polluters writing laws that affect them, religion in the schools, and so on. We on the left have to prevent this movement to the right and that won't happen from inside the Democratic party.

(Hat tip: Cursor)

What the hell is wrong with Alabama?

I'm not sure another book ban is really what the world needs.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Abstinance-only sex ed is the best right?


After all, if teens don't have sex then they can't get any sexually transmitted diseases and they can't get preagnant. That reduces health care costs and eliminates the problem of abortion in teenagers right?

Well no, not exactly. Abstinance-only sex ed classes have not lived up to their goals. The fact of the matter is that, according to one study done since abstinance-only classes were mandated by the welfare reform bill in 1996, half of all high-schoolers indicate that they have had sex at least once before they left high school. Furthermore, "while the nation's teenage pregnancy rate is declining, young people 15 to 24 account for about half the new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States each year."

Now, thanks to Thudfactor, I see that apparently most abstinance-only programs want to use the devil's tricks to put the "Fear of God"™ about having sex into high school teens' heads...

[T]wo of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. In some cases, Waxman said in an interview, the factual issues were limited to occasional misinterpretations of publicly available data; in others, the materials pervasively presented subjective opinions as scientific fact. [Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says]

That sounds bad but hardly damning. Well how about this:

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman's investigators:

• A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

• HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called "Me, My World, My Future," teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.


Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."

They really are trying to take us back to the 1950s, gender rolls and all. Golly, that's keen! Let's apply a little logic to the situation. The fact is, no matter how much teachers or parents tell them not to (maybe because teachers and parents tell them not to) some teens are going to have sex. This is true even if the government demands that you lie through your teeth to scare them into not even looking at another person lest they get AIDS or get pregnant. So why lie to the kids? Why make sex out to be evil and rotten? Why pretend that if a teen has sex that they're going to be psychologically damaged for life (note: I'm not talking about a teen being raped or molested)? Why demand that everyone of every faith (or no faith at all) has sex only after they are married?

Ultimately this is about one group pushing their version of morality on everyone else. There'll be lots more of this in the next 4 years.

Well this is interesting...

In Search of Utopia
Pop quiz. What blog won the officially unoffical "Bad Ass Progressive" award over at ISOU?

Hint: You're reading it.

I don't know about the "bad ass" part, I feel pretty meger after all of this being in Iraq stuff. I do appreciate the sentiment though! Head on over to ISOU to check it out.

The last 5 Kids' letters...

Well, I must say, this has turned into a very popular topic. That wasn't the intention, mostly I just love the kids' letters and I wanted to answer them myself in case nobody around here bothered to do the same. I was thinking of a thing we did when I was in the 3rd grade. I remember it was getting to be springtime and looking back on it, my teacher wanted us to start getting an idea of the world around us. What we did was take balloons and fill them with helium and tie little letters that had our school address and a little about us. Then we let the balloons go hoping that they would land somewhere far away. I don't remember what I put on that note, but I do remember that I was the first kid to get a letter back. I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember that it was from a farmer. He said that the balloon had gotten hung up in a tree on his farm and that when they pulled it down they saw the letter and wanted to take the time to respond to it.

There aren't a lot of things that I remember from the 3rd grade, but I remember that very well. To an extent, I hope that these postings are something that the kids will remember for a long time as well.

So, the remaining 5 letters...

Olivia Koski asks:

"Is it boring in war?" Well Olivia, sometimes it's very boring. As with anything, I'm sure it depends on who you ask though. When I was flying on airplanes when the war started, things were exciting and a little scary at first. But as things calmed down for us and we got used to the routine it got boring very quickly. Fortunately we weren't there for all that long so I got to come home and be bored there.

But for many other people there are not enough boring times. Many people have way too much excitement in their daily lives when they are at war and they look forward to the times when they can sit around with nothing to do.

"What kind of food do you eat?" The Army has paid a company to come here and provide us with food that we're used to having back in the states. I had a cheeseburger today (I even had guacamole and bacon on it...yum!). For Thanksgiving they actually had Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, ham, and even cranberry sauce. The people that work for the company that makes our food are from a country called Turkey. Sometimes they have a line with food that you'd be able to find in Turkey. Maybe someday you should try Turkish food, it's really good! In fact, Turkish food is some of my favorite kind of food.

"Do you have pets or children or both or neither?" Well, right now I have neither pets nor children. But pretty soon (to the delight of my wife's Dad and my Mom and Dad) we'll have children. And we'll even have pets to I bet! I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm looking forward to it for a lot of reasons. Maybe one day you can answer questions about what you do for one of my children.

Thanks for the questions Olivia and keep studying hard!

Danny Gillis writes:

"What is your name?" My name is Mike Lane, I'm Kelly's cousin. Hi Kelly.

"Are you in the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines?" I'm an officer in the US Air Force. But right now, I'm surrounded on all sides by Army people. That's kind of unusual for us Air Force guys but I'm doing a job that the Army really thinks is important so I feel good about that.

Thanks for the questions and the drawing Danny!

Paul Boelter writes:

"What is it like in Iraq?" Well, right now in northern Iraq it's actually pretty nice weather-wise. The mornings are chilly and so are the days but the warm sun feels good on your back. The skies are usually clear and there isn't too much haze so you can see forever. Unfortunately, I don't want to spend any more time outside than I have to. We get hit with mortars pretty often and I don't want to get hurt (especially since I only have 9 days or so left to go).

"Sorry I got blood on it [his letter]. I fell at recess." It's okay Paul, I remember falling a lot at recess when I was a kid.

"Have you been in a fight or anything?" Nope, not me fortunately. That's not what I'm here to do. Mostly I just try to stay inside and leave the fighting up to the guys that know what they're doing. Sometimes that's the best idea.

"Will you ask a question to me if you write back? If so please write back to me" Absolutely Paul. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Paul also drew a picture on the back of his letter. It's of a tank and all the crewmembers and some other people. They're all wearing headsets and saying things like "Go" and "Move Out". Great stuff! Thanks for the letter Paul!

Pete (no last name given) writes:

"Is it cool in Iraq?" Well if you mean is the weather cool, then I'd say that right now it's cool, but in the summer is unbelievably hot. You probably mean is it fun or exciting or neat in Iraq. I would have to say no, it's not cool. In fact I'd really rather be home (and I will be pretty soon!). I think Iraq would be cool if there weren't so many people that were trying to hurt us. There are a lot of historical sites that I would like to see, but I can't. That's the breaks for now.

"What is your uniform like?" I wear what's called a flight suit. It's made of a material called Nomex which is fireproof just in case there is a fire on the airplane. I mostly like it because it's a lot more comfortable than the Desert Camouflaged Uniforms (DCUs) that everybody else wears. Plus, when people see me in a flight suit with the patches that I wear, they automatically know exactly what it is that I do and if I can help them out.

Thanks for your letter Pete!

The last letter is from Alex (no last name given). Alex likes to write letters, but he didn't have much to ask. That's okay. He did have one thing to say that touched me.

"My grandma is coming to Minnesota for my birthday. I really miss her." I agree Alex, family is very important and you need to make sure that you enjoy the time that you have with them while you can. Mrs. Scholl's and my Grandmother (we called her Gaga) and our Granddad died recently and we miss them very much too. Have a happy birthday and remember to let your Grandmother know you love her!

Well that's it for the letters. I'm going to make up a sign and put these letters out on the table so other people will hopefully write back! Kelly, tell your class that they can ask me any more questions that they want. If they can get on email they can write me at the address that is in my profile (just click on my picture). I'll respond to their questions both in a personal email and on the blog.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

And I had so much to say...

So the internets have been down all damned day long. I told myself this morning that I would get to the last 5 kids' letters this morning, and if I had I probably could have gotten them finished. But oh no, I procrastinated and instead I ended up doing a whole lot of nothing.

Actually I got some other work done (I'm briefing the Commanding General on Friday) so I guess it's good. Of course, I was just organizing my thoughts so it didn't take me all that long so I had lots of time to watch the Sopranos. I'm almost done with season 3. I guess I'll have to get season 4 when I get back.

Anyhow, there are other things that I'd like to post and if I remember what they are tomorrow, I will. Right now, I need to be a good son and go call my Mom!
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