"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Rules" for grocery shopping

BizWeek bit on Marion Nestle and "supermarket IQ" :

"The Rules" For Eating Smarter
Noted author and nutritionist Marion Nestle talks about her latest book -- and how to boost your supermarket IQ

" After tackling weighty issues about food in her previous books -- Food Politics (2002) and Safe Food (2003) -- nutritionist Marion Nestle was surprised that people kept asking her a simple question: What should we eat? That refrain became the topic of her latest work, What To Eat (North Point Press). In it, Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, cuts through the marketing claims and maze of offerings in today's supermarkets to provide advice for making healthy choices. She spoke to Contributing Writer Amy Cortese about her findings"

Of note :

How should shoppers navigate the supermarket?
I call them "The Rules." Rule No. 1 is that supermarkets want customers to spend as much time as possible wandering the aisles because the more products they see, the more they buy. So it's best to stay out of the maze of the center aisles, where all the junk foods are, and just shop the perimeter, where the healthier, fresh foods are.

Rule No. 2 is that products in the best locations -- eye level, ends of aisles, cash registers -- sell best. So companies pay the supermarkets to slot their products in prime real estate. These products are mostly junk because they are the most profitable and most heavily advertised.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Net Neutrality cont.


NYTimes :
Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End
By ADAM COHEN Published: May 28, 2006

"Forces favoring a no-fee Web have been gaining strength. One group, Savetheinternet.com, says it has collected more than 700,000 signatures on a petition. Last week, a bipartisan bill favoring net neutrality, sponsored by James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, won a surprisingly lopsided vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Sir Tim argues that service providers may be hurting themselves by pushing for tiered pricing. The Internet's extraordinary growth has been fueled by the limitless vistas the Web offers surfers, bloggers and downloaders. Customers who are used to the robust, democratic Web may not pay for one that is restricted to wealthy corporate content providers.

"That's not what we call Internet at all," says Sir Tim. "That's what we call cable TV."

Not exactly Robbie the Robot

Interesting piece in NYTimes Science section on autonomist probes and devices, able to make some decisions on their own :


THINKING MACHINES Missions that might use artificial intelligence include a blimp on Saturn's moon Titan, top, and a rover that changes shape to navigate rough terrain.

The "Morphing Rover" is among the coolist...

Net Neutrality

Been following this for a while

Mostly via David Isenberg (isen.blog)

Also from Doc:
The Doc Searls Weblog : Tuesday, May 30, 2006:

"If we want to play hardball against the carriers, we need to join these citizen journalists, and expose what they're doing at the state level.
To do that, we should take our campaign to the local and regional newspapers, which don't like the cable and phone companies, either. Or the TV stations. This wouldn't be hard. Just gather your facts, call your local muckracking reporters, and turn them loose.
If we don't want to play hardball, we need a whole 'nuther strategy. One that starts with defining the Net in terms other than carrier-owned pipes. (Which is the default right now -- even for many of us on the pro-Neutrality side of things.)
My vote is to go for complete work-arounds in counties and municipalities, while trying to contain the damage in Congress and the state houses."

So I guess I'll weigh in

1) politicians like the cableco's/telco's because they can be taxed.
Either they can serve as toolbooth revenue raisers (charging tolls on the use of the connection), or as business entities that can be taxed.
Either way, they are the means of taxing the net.

2) Doc's call to rally the troops.
Not via standard TV or print.
Viewership slipping as is readershop.

Besides, to be blunt, viewers and readers tend to be passive
Eloi - (Wikipedia) From H.G.Wells The Time Machine

"...the Eloi live a life of play and toilless abundance, it is revealed that the Morlocks are tending to the Eloi's needs for the same reason a farmer tends to cattle - because the Eloi comprise most (if not all) of the Morlock diet and the Eloi are no longer capable of acting in any other role.

In Neal Stephenson's essay on modern culture vis-a-vis OS development, "In the beginning there was the Command Line", he demonstrates similarities between the future in The Time Traveller and contemporary American culture. He claims that most Americans have been exposed to a "corporate monoculture" which renders them "unwilling to make judgments and incapable of taking stands."
Just give 'em "American Idle" (pun intended even if bad) and USA Today

Instead, what about online communities?

Worlds of Warcraft
Second Life

Maybe something for slow

"SL and WoW respectively represent the state of the art in the narrative and non-narrative, game and non-game metaverse, but their cultures, aims, and the experiences they provide are dramatically different. WoW players often dis on SL users ("Oh, it's just a boring social world"), and vice verse ("You can't *do* anything in WoW"), perhaps based partly on a lack of understanding and shared experience. Some people say WoW is prototyping the future of work and some people say Second Life represents the future of the Internet. Obviously something important is happening with each.

Enter SLoW. A first attempt towards uniting both ends of the virtual world spectrum by providing a temporary bridge (or at least a window) between them."

Wouldn't dealing with Net Neutrality be a perfect task for those with the most at stake?

Ethanol follow up

Some other materials on Ethanol

BizWeek May 22
Fill 'Er Up -- But With What?:
"An alternative to gasoline is inevitable, but it won't come anytime soon. Here's why"


Ethanol: Myths and Realities:

"Ten questions -- and answers -- about the fuel that's supposed to save the economy"

Forbes weighs in with Field of Dreamers - Forbes.com

"With work and luck, ethanol could displace imported petroleum. Will it help break the U.S. addiction to oil?"

"Even studies by ethanol fans concede that achieving energy independence via ethanol requires bullish assumptions. Among them: that refiners will get at least twice as good at making ethanol. That the average efficiency of U.S. vehicles improves to 42 miles per gallon, 68% better than the 25mpg now achieved. And that people will move closer to where they work. If all those fantasies become reality, the U.S. could, in theory, meet all of its transportation fuel needs with ethanol by 2050 without adding to today's current cropland, according to an exhaustive study by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group based in New York."

More likely later

Jeremy Siegel on Boomer Demographics

From BizWeek

When Boomers Cash Out
A buy-and-hold legend sees tough times ahead :

Wharton School professor Jeremy J. Siegel became a superstar back in 1994 when his book, Stocks for the Long Run, showed how stocks beat out every other investment since the 1800s. Coming just as the 1990s stock boom was revving up, the analysis turned the finance professor into a guru of the buy-and-hold approach to investing. But even as he hit the lecture circuit back then, Siegel recalls, he began to be troubled by the outlook for the future over the very long run. People would come up to him after a talk and ask: "What happens when the baby boomers begin selling their stocks and other assets to fund their retirement?"

Despite professor Siegel's dour view, with the idea that we will need to sell assets to Indian and Chinese investors, I'd bet that prospects will remain good.

Jeremy also fails to factor in the fact that China will "hit the demographic wall" in about 15 years.
(echo of the one child rule)

The piece quotes Mike Milken that boomers will remain healthy and work longer.
The models of "work" may change, but I agree.

What's more, Siegel underestimated the potential of U.S. technology and entrepreneurialism. "With all this wealth, the problem is not who's going to buy assets, it's are there any assets to buy with all the liquidity [there will be] in the world," Milken said."

On the other hand, we have Europe.
While Jack and Suzy Welch may have a point about revival of business in Vive L'Europe -- Just Not Yet
"A new cadre of business leaders and entrepreneurs will help end the Continent's malaise"

I doubt that business leaders can defeat declining populations.

"Consider a few statistics. Over the past 35 years, according to Joel Kotkin of the New America Foundation, the U.S. economy has created 57 million new jobs. In the same period, Europe, with a combined GDP about the size of the U.S., has created just 4 million. Meanwhile, the European unemployment rate hovers around 10%, double that of the U.S. Demographic statistics are similarly bleak. France, Germany, and Italy all have shrinking populations that (naturally) are also aging. And Europe is poorly positioned to reap gains from the growing science and technology sector: R&D spending per capita in France, Germany, and Italy, for instance, is about half that of the U.S."

Eastern Europe may well be more dynamic, but yet further to the East we have the declining Russia, in even worse shape than Europe.

Odd Couple

Reading Jack and "Suzy"'s column in recient BusinessWeek and something kept nagging me about the photo.

Then it occured to me... Suzy, at least in this shot, looks like...

Armand Assante.

Note that I was impressed with "Neutron Jack" many years ago and we have a large position in GE.

Land Use

NYTimes review of a couple of books on Federal Govt. influence on land use.

Far from being a local issue, there have been longstanding national factors.

Of note : From Roger Kennedy, head of National Park Service under Clinton "...postwar patterns of American development to two of the 20th century's most notorious top-down thinkers: Hitler and Stalin. Among other things, he writes, Hitler taught Eisenhower the usefulness of autobahns for the quick movement of troops and materiel, and the difficulty of destroying industrial infrastructure if it is well dispersed. And after Stalin got the bomb, Mr. Kennedy goes on, American leaders concluded that the nation would survive thermonuclear war only if its population moved out of the cities and scattered.

A result, as Mr. Kennedy and others have argued, was federal mortgage incentives, insurance programs and other initiatives that dispersed people into unsettled areas. The biggest incentive of all was the creation of the interstate highway system, built, officials said at the time, not to enhance commuting to the exurbs but for the nation's defense."

With the end of the Cold War, Metroization (did I just invent a word?) may reappear.

Monday, May 29, 2006

What a difference a week makes

Paraphrase the great Dinah Washington tune ... What a difference a day makes

A week ago I looked out at a bit of standing water on the roof, there was a skim of ice .
There were reports of snowflakes in Cedar.

Today, mid 80's
Spent day doing the "summer stuff"
More garage cleaning.
Powerwash screens and swap out the storm windows.
Yesterday was rig the dock with electricity (for lifts) and set raft.

Quite a change.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Model "Net" Business

Good profile of The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

It's become one of my favorite sites for useful (???) information
Well, for when you just flat can't remember an actors name, or where you might have seen them before.

As I long suspected, due to tie to Amazon (who owns it), there may be move to make a business out of downloadable movies.

Pricing drives Progress

Modest piece in Sunday NYTimes on resource "constraints"

It posits concerns that the world will run out of resources
( have we heard this one before? )

"Oil, copper and even people will someday be noticeably scarcer than they are today, and technology may not always provide a way out.

In the last few years, rapid growth in China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies has coincided, not surprisingly, with an upward trend in the prices of commodities like oil. In the short term, there's not enough time for suppliers to cope with ballooning demand; that's part of why prices rise."

Then answers with

"But market dynamics in the long term are likely to be more significant."

In my opinion, there is plenty of land, but there is the old adage, of "location location location"
Note that in the US, the middle of the country, esp. the Great Plains are depopulating, while the coastal populations are growing.
More :

"The supply of crude oil will benefit from technological improvements, Professor Jorgenson predicted. "People figure out clever ways to explore for oil, to produce it and transport it," he said. "All of that goes in the other direction."

There is also the chance that a burst of innovation will lay low the entire market. Imagine, for instance, what would happen if scientists finally developed a portable nuclear fusion reactor — the kind that could power a house or a car. But it's tough to say when, or if, that will happen. "The whole fusion program — people have being saying for the last 40 years that it's 50 years out," said John L. Staub, an industry economist at the Energy Department's energy information administration. "Well, it's still 50 years out."

And even ignoring technological changes, Mr. Montepeque said, it's a dangerous game to make dire long-term forecasts about the supply of commodities like crude oil — or any forecasts at all, for that matter.

"Being sensible people, we can say that the amount of oil, coal, shale, gas is finite," he said. "Do we know how much there is down there? The plain answer is, nobody has any idea."

There are a couple of areas, however, where scarcity is more predictable. "The long-run scarcities are for human labor and land," said Peter H. Lindert, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. He said their value, in terms of goods and services, would continue to rise forever.

Odd Weather Phenomenon

Pretty good thunderstorms starting sometime around 3AM
Finally broke

Then I spotted this fogbank moing across the lake
Best guess, about 25MPH (West to East / Right to Left)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006

Auto Perspective

"Maximum Bob" Lutz (Vice Chair of GM) on automotive technology.

Hint : an insider's point of view.
From Autoweek 5/23 online

With fuel economy as a top issue, how do you feel about all the alternative powertrain ideas?

Long-term, there's no single solution. There are large petroleum reserves; and the internal-combustion engine, as we know it, I don't think is going to go away any time soon. But it will be supplemented by renewable fuels, which we believe in greatly.

There's some benefit to the environment for ethanol, but the number one reason it should be a national priority is that it's the fastest and easiest way to reduce the dependence on imported oil.

All of those biofuels are now technically within everyone's grasp. We have the hybrid program. In the longer term, we have the hybrid and fuel-cell programs.

The various forms of gasoline-electric hybrids will continue to prosper, and what we see as a really good possibility is E85 hybrids.

Any chance of a pure electric vehicle?

Yes and no. We are getting close to battery technology using nickel-metal hydride. We're getting close to a generation of batteries which may provide that elusive combination of range, recharge time, safety and cycle life; to where the pure electric vehicle, in about eight or 10 years, becomes a feasible alternative.

Art Appreciation

Of course this image barely captures the essence of the work.

There is much subtile detail, esp in the moon.

Ran into our dealer, well at an event tonight.
Turns out this is now rather rare, and appreciating nicely.

But, hung in our entry, we appreciate it almost every day.

Colorado Suite
Spring Moonrise over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains


Misty Morn

Heavy fog, won't lift till mid day.
Part of the Crystal River, one of my favorite spots to shoot.

It's About Time!

Since the Federal Telephone Excise Tax was imposed to pay for the Spanish American War, I guess we can now declare victory.
Or is it all part of the Hispanic Immigration debate?

Phone Tax Laid to Rest at Age 108

"Bowing to changes in technology and pressure from taxpayers and phone companies, the Treasury Department said yesterday that it would scrap the 108-year-old federal excise tax on long-distance phone calls. The move will bring consumers and businesses about $15 billion in refunds on next year's tax returns.

The decision, which applies to cellphones and Internet phone services and some landlines, follows a series of court reversals for the government. Large businesses had successfully sued the Internal Revenue Service to recoup the taxes they paid. Phone companies also wanted the tax abolished to relieve them of having to collect it."

Then the companys pissed and moaned ...
"Phone companies have opposed some of these taxes because of the expense of collecting them, and because it drives up the cost of their services, making them less attractive to consumers."

Excuse me !
Phone companys are billing machines.

A little bit of code should be able to assign a 3% fee.
This is EXACTLY why the politicans are willing to bury "net neutrality" and let phone and cable companys charge for service, to be the tollbooths on the "Information Superhighway" ...
You can't tax what you can't meter.
But if you are a politician, and you let the phone/cable provider run the toll booth, you just tell them to fork over a percent of the proceeds.

Oh yeah, and great timing.
I just canceled a couple of phone lines, along with most of our long distance service (switched to cell).


Atmosphere and shots both saturated

Heavy fog/mist on Tucker lake

Leads to images like this

Just shot near shore, spiderwebs and vegitation, old and new

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Music to my ears

Running in
Getting the Carb's sync'd
Bit of a bitch with tri-power non-progressive linkage

But sounds sweet

Hopefully on the water next week

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Along the Borderline

Cue up Wille's tune (Along the Borderline)

Dick Morris, consultant to left and right, credited as architect of Clinton's "triangulation" strategy.
Consultant to both sides, and maybe a crazy toe sucker in his personal life, but seems to know politics very very well.

His analysis is that Bush has it spot on with his border policy.

"He began with the wall — the border fence. Whether made of concrete or of high-tech instrumentation, he has finally embraced the reality that border agents, no matter how numerous, cannot police a 2,000-mile border. And Americans have no reason to have faith that they can. Only a fence can control the massive flow of immigrants across our borders and give Americans some sense of control over our own country.

By addressing the problem as one of sovereignty, Bush said it just right. A country that can’t control who comes in is not sovereign."


He also satisfied the core demands and needs of the Hispanic community, assuring that the Republican Party will have a future as their ranks in our voter population swell. He set out a path by which Latinos can come here legally, matched with jobs and willing employers. If illegal immigrants disappeared, so would much of our economy, and Bush realized this in his guest-worker program.

His attempts to differentiate between legal paths to citizenship and amnesty were a bit strained and will undoubtedly attract much-deserved criticism, but his attempt was a good one. The fact is that those who do learn English, resist drugs, remain arrest-free, pay taxes, contribute to FICA and remain employed should become citizens after the passage of a certain time if they wish to do so. These are the sort of citizens we want and need, regardless of their accents or their skin colors.

And by emphasizing English, Bush repeats the fundamental credo of the melting pot or of our national motto: “Out of many, one.”

Neither Left nor Right

Austin Bay, who I found via Jim Dunnigan's site
(suppose I should find link, see prior posts)

Good piece on Iraq, Iran, Darfur, intervention, unilateral/UN

"Iran’s mullahs are demonstrating once again the limitations of UN multi-lateralism– sharp minds on the left and right recognize this. A lot of people staked their hopes for peace and a better future on UN multilateralism. The Iranian situation also illustrates the limits of US unilateralism — how many times can the world’s superpower go it alone? Lefty neo-interventionists are certainly seeing the limits of UN multilateralism vis a vis Darfur– and a few of them understand the hypocrisy of damning intervention in Iraq while calling for intervention in Sudan/Darfur. The so-called neo-cons –at leas those who lack military experience– have learned that war is never a cakewalk."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Pox on Both Houses

Following may fit why I'm a devout and practicing Independent.
But of note: I think that politicians have often been self serving and venal.

Couple of recent readings.

George Will in Newsweek:
'His Brother Was Worse!'

"The Republicans' implosion began in March 2005 with their Terri Schiavo derangement, the attempt to intrude federal courts into a state's jurisdiction and a family's tragedy. Fourteen months later, after Katrina, Harriet Miers and the "Bridge to Nowhere," Republicans completed their immolation by briefly borrowing an idea from the epitome of failure, the Carter presidency. They flirted with the idea of a $100 rebate to almost everyone—even people without cars—as balm for the sting of annoying gasoline prices. Remember President Carter's 1977 idea to stimulate the economy with a $50 rebate? Actually, the $100 idea was even more risible: 100 of today's dollars are equal to 30 dollars in 1977."

and on the other side :

"Finally, if the Democrats, with all that they think they have going for them this year, fail to capture either house, they may become unhinged, as the Republicans did after they failed to defeat Truman in 1948. Republicans then succumbed to McCarthyism and other fevers, from which they were rescued by Dwight Eisenhower. Who would be the Democrats' Ike? Senator Clinton? Not likely."

In contrast, from Rick Coates in Northern Express"
A Voice of Reason
A piece on Bill Milliken, longest serving Govenor of Michigan.

Bill Milliken, during his days as governor, rose to the elite ranks of the leadership in the Republican Party. He was elected chairman of the National Governors Association, and in 1978 his fellow governors selected him as “the most influential governor in the nation” in a survey taken by U.S. News & World Report. His rise to national prominence had him on several short lists as a potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate and surely a lock at a congressional or senate seat. But Washington didn’t interest him.
“I saw the direction politics was taking and it didn’t interest me,” said Milliken. “There were calls and even offers, but they just didn’t fit with the life we had chosen after I left Lansing.”


"In his address to a packed room on Mackinac Island at the Detroit Chamber of Commerce sponsored Mackinac Policy Conference, Milliken expressed his frustration with politics today.
“If anything, the political climate has deteriorated over the past 25 years. We have seen a growth of meanness, bitterness and excessive partisanship, which can only work to the detriment of the state and the nation. The focus has turned to winning elections rather than developing sound and responsible public policy,” said Milliken. “Too often that focus on winning boils down to just raising the most money and appealing to the worst instead of the best in people. Political discourse these days too often is focused on spin and staying on message rather than involving a genuine exchange of concepts and ideas.”
He added:
“One thing I learned a long time ago is raising the level of your voice doesn’t raise the level of your discussion,” said Milliken. “Sadly too many of us have lost sight that in the end, we are all in this together. When I was in Lansing we had our differences and they could be intense at times. But we were able to resolve them in a climate that maintained a sense of civility and mutual respect.”
He received a standing ovation for his comments, but one wonders if anyone took to heart what he had to say."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

He's Baaack ...

Busy week, starting with loss of an old friend.
While Lou had been felled by a stroke some 5yrs ago, and living in an "assisted living" home, his loss was still hard to take.

Board meetings and the like, run back home (almost always a 3.5hr drive) for my civic responsiblity of Jury Duty ... and got to the Courthouse only to learn that the trial had been postponed.

Ah well, took the rest of the day to attempt to make a dent in massive backlogs of cleaning and sorting ... well into Friday evening.

This morning we started off with a visit by a pair of loons (see top right), then off for fullfillment of a pledge to take more hikes.
Still got to trim down the lbs.

Then off to nearby town of Empire for :

Fun and a beautiful day, although a bit cooler than necessary ... low 60's but hard blue skies.

Got to sample various dishes from Asparagus Brats to ... "Tempura" Asparagus :

Followed by sampling of a couple dozen entries by local folk in a "cookoff"


All in support of local farmers.

We often use asparagus a couple times a week.
Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board - Asparagus Nutrition Information

Matter of fact ... asparagus tacos for dinner tonight.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Duck stuff

Very cool photos/posters at : http://ducati.artehouse.com

Such as Bruno Spaggiari at Imola '73

I have same as orginal poster (slightly faded) in my office.

Precursor to the run of 750SS Desmo bikes, and later 900SS
We raced both 750's and 900's in the '70's, winning the National Endurance Championship in '77.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Make Love Not War

Long projected threat to Russia, similar to some others, such as Europe and Japan, but potentially even worse.

This will impact the Eastern Church as well, shrinking population and influence while the Islamic populations to the south continue to grow.

"The Defense Ministry knows what the main thing is. Really, I am going to speak about love, women, children" — there was applause from the assembled officials — "family, and Russia's most acute problem today: demography."

MOSCOW, May 10 — President
Vladimir V. Putin directed Parliament on Wednesday to adopt a 10-year program to stop the sharp decline in Russia's population, principally by offering financial incentives and subsidies to encourage women to have children.

"Russia's population, now about 143 million, has been falling since the collapse of the Soviet Union, trimmed by emigration, rising death rates and declining birthrates. Both the government and demographers predict more downward pressure, including H.I.V. infections, that could shrink the population below 100 million by 2050."

The New York Times

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Off the Wall ... Predictions

Well, here goes.

Letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush.
What does it contain?
An opening to settlement of the impasses over Iranian Nukes? to go public about negotiations over the future of Iraq?

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that we may have a "Nixon goes to China" moment.
What am I talking about?

Having labeled Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" who better than George W. to proceed with negotiations with them?

The Persians (as some that I have gotten to know refer to themselves as) basically are the "odd folks out" by both ethnicity (non-Arab) and creed (Shia rather than Sunni) in SW Asia.
They could be America's "natural allies" in seeking to bring stability to the region.
The population is young, educated and interested in "Western" culture.
Sooner or later the Mulla's will have to surrender power.

Assuming that there is to be a rapprochement with Iran, oil prices will fall.
Maybe this summer.
Will help the Republicans in the fall…

But as "Jacko" said ... on the other hand ... a glove.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iraq No, Darfur Yes ... disconnect

Came across a most interesting rant on George Clooney ... from Down Under of all places.

Mark Steyn in "The Australian"

"I SEE George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have discovered Darfur and are now demanding "action". Good for them. Hollywood hasn't shown this much interest in indigenous groups of the Sudan since John Payne and Jerry Colonna sang The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish in Garden of the Moon (1938).

I wish the celebs well. Those of us who wanted action on Darfur years ago will hope their advocacy produces more results than ours did. Clooney's concern for the people of the region appears to be genuine and serious. But unless he's also serious about backing the only forces in the world with the capability and will to act in Sudan, he's just another showboating pretty boy of no use to anyone.

Here's the lesson of the past three years: The UN kills.

In 2003, you'll recall, the US was reviled as a unilateralist cowboy because it and its coalition of the poodles waged an illegal war unauthorised by the UN against a sovereign state run by a thug regime that was no threat to anyone apart from selected ethnocultural groups within its borders, which it killed in large numbers (Kurds and Shia).

Well, Washington learned its lesson. Faced with another thug regime that's no threat to anyone apart from selected ethnocultural groups within its borders which it kills in large numbers (African Muslims and southern Christians), the unilateralist cowboy decided to go by the book. No unlawful actions here. Instead, meetings at the UN. Consultations with allies. Possible referral to the Security Council."

Mark then goes on to outline the flaws of the UN (Chinese, who get 6% of their oil from the Sudan, and Russian vetos), and how the only kick-ass cowboys seem to be Anglophones (we can sometimes, sorta understand each other).

"And as I wrote on this page in July 2004: "The problem is, by the time you've gone through the UN, everyone's dead." And as I wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph in September 2004: "The US agreed to go the UN route and it looks like they'll have a really strongish compromise resolution ready to go about a week after the last villager's been murdered and his wife gang-raped."

Several hundred thousand corpses later Clooney is now demanding a "stronger multinational force to protect the civilians of Darfur"."



Well, it's an election year...

Gas prices are up (although I have a suspicion that they may trend down from here) and the politicians are foaming at the mouth to "do something" about it.

Why of course ... mandate higher fuel economy standards.
Rather than letting high prices nudge consumers into changing their behavior, we can beat up on the Auto Companys. Those "bad guys" who offer consumers what they want.
No consideration for the replacement cycle and lag time.

If the contry is "addicted" to oil, maybe we should RAISE the price.
Cigarettes are bad for you, so the govenment raises the price (taxes).

Kevin Wilson (Autoweek) puts it well:
"In case you missed the news, Congress recently revised the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law, raising the mile-per-gallon standards for light trucks. Never mind the howling about how the standard isn’t stiffened by nearly enough. Just ask yourself why this law passed now.

The answer has naught to do with global warming or our dependence on imported oil. Congress ignored CAFE for most of 20 years but passed a revision now because this year members want to show voters they have done “something” about those issues so we’ll send them back in November.

It doesn’t matter that the last thing an intelligent person would do to address these problems is to fiddle with CAFE. It doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for more than 20 years, because it tries to dictate supply without doing anything about demand. It does nothing about consumer choices or behavior. So, since 1985 automakers (mostly European luxury and sports car makers) have paid more than $650 million in fines for violating CAFE—just another cost of doing business, built into the price tags. "

Kevin concludes:

As much as we preach personal responsibility, though, American voters prefer a Congress that regulates over one that lets us face the consequences of our choices. The philosophy appears to be: “Don’t let them tempt me with a 6-mpg truck so I won’t buy one.” As long as that is the case, we’d better find a way to run our cars on meaningless legislation, a waste product we’ll have in abundance."

Monday, May 08, 2006


Charles Eames

"Style reflects one's idiosyncransies.

Your personality is apt to show more to the degree that you did not solve the problem than to the degree that you did."


Duh "Apprentice" ... Apearance or whatever

OK so here is the killer

Girls win, get to harvest grapes, crush grapes, make wine
Within one day, they are drinking the "wine" ... huh???

The Apprentice 5 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Does anyone have any doubt about the BS?

Flash to the issue of skipping commercials

At least we still have the mute button... for now.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Back Home

Spectacular time to be here (Leelanau County)
Cherry Blossoms
Spent a good part of Sat/Sunday cruising the county
Hundreds and hundreds of acres of blossoms

A man in Topeka, Kansas, decided to write a book about churches around the
country. He started by flying to San Francisco, and started working east
from there. He went to a very large church and began taking photographs,
etc. He spots a golden telephone on a wall and is intrigued with a sign
which reads "$10,000 a minute." Seeking out the pastor he asks about the
phone and the sign. The pastor answers that this golden phone is, in fact, a
direct line to Heaven and if he pays the price he can talk directly to God.
He thanks the pastor and continues on his way.

As he continues to visit churches in Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and around the United States, he finds more phones, with the same sign, and the same answer from each pastor. Finally, he arrives in Michigan.

Upon entering a church in Traverse City, Michigan
behold, he sees the usual golden telephone.

But THIS time, the sign reads "Calls: 25 cents." Fascinated, he requests to
talk to the pastor. "Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country
and in each church I have found this golden telephone and have been told it
is a direct line to Heaven and that I could talk to God, but, in the other
churches the cost was $10,000 a minute.
Your sign reads 25 cents a call. Why?"

The pastor, smiling benignly, replies, "Son, you're in Michigan now, and
it's a local call."

Outlaw the skipping of commercials ?

(image from Clockwork Orange - found on web, likely copyright by somebody)

Hopefully, we can keep the "mute" function.

From the NYTimes ...

"... patent application for a new kind of television set and digital video recorder recently filed by a unit of Royal Philips Electronics at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The design appears to threaten the inalienable right to channel-surf during commercials or fast-forward through ads in programs you've taped.

A second, calmer reading of the patent application revealed that the proposed design would uphold the right to avoid commercials, but only for those who paid a fee. Those disinclined to pay would be prevented from changing channels during commercials. If the viewer tried to circumvent the system by recording the program and skipping the ads during playback, the new, improved recorder would detect when a commercial segment was being displayed and disable the fast-forward button for the duration."

And then we have the absurd industry attitude towards DVR's or any other means of skipping commercials ...

"The television industry has not figured out how best to respond. Four years ago, Jamie Kellner, then head of the Turner Broadcasting System, remarked in an interview in CableWorld magazine that viewers who used DVR's to fast-forward past commercials were committing "theft," then a moment later described it as "stealing the programming." He did allow trips to the bathroom as a noncriminal exemption."

Of course the end result will be that, those who can (read educated and disposable income) will totally turn their backs on "TV" as it is known today and go to the net.

But then again, it's evolving (devolving?) back into the "Vast Wasteland" of years past.

I do like the rejoinder ...

"James Boyle, a law professor at Duke University, said that broadcasters offer a program knowing that only a fraction of the audience watches the commercials. Advertisers, he added, buy nothing more than "an option on a probability," and the viewer is no more obligated to watch every commercial than a driver is obligated to read every billboard."

Practice Practice Practice


A Star Is Made

Published: May 7, 2006

Issue is are you born with "talent" or is it developed by training?

"What might account for this anomaly? Here are a few guesses: a) certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills; b) winter-born babies tend to have higher oxygen capacity, which increases soccer stamina; c) soccer-mad parents are more likely to conceive children in springtime, at the annual peak of soccer mania; d) none of the above.

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, says he believes strongly in "none of the above." He is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?"

Later ...

"I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.

Ericsson's conclusions, if accurate, would seem to have broad applications. Students should be taught to follow their interests earlier in their schooling, the better to build up their skills and acquire meaningful feedback. Senior citizens should be encouraged to acquire new skills, especially those thought to require "talents" they previously believed they didn't possess."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh My My

Call it "Answer to a question I forgot to ask"

Hint : click on the "Oh My My" above

Somehow this doesn't make me feel all that much better ...

OK, so I've been given "special attention " once or twice by airport security.
Who only knows why
But then we have this :

Defense Tech: Watch List Snags Fellow Feds

How bad are the feds' enemy-of-the-state databases? So bad, they can't even keep fellow terror-hunters off their blacklists, Ryan Singel reports.

airlinetoy7.jpgThe Transportation Security Administration's airline screening system "tends to mistake government employees and U.S. servicemen for foreign terrorists," he writes in today's Wired News. "Newly released government documents show that even having a high-level security clearance won't keep you off the Transportation Security Administration's Kafkaesque terrorist watch list, where you'll suffer missed flights and bureaucratic nightmares."

According to logs from the TSA's call center from late 2004 -- which black out the names of individuals to protect their privacy -- the watch list has snagged...

* A high-ranking government employee with a better-than-top-secret clearance who is also a U.S. Army Reserve major...

* An active-duty Army officer who had served four combat tours (including one in Afghanistan) and who holds a top-secret clearance.

* A retired U.S. Army officer and antiterrorism/force-protection officer with expertise on weapons of mass destruction who was snared when he was put back on active-duty status while flying on a ticket paid for by the Army.

But will it run on Al-Jazera ?

NYTimes :

In Image War, U.S. Shows Video of Bumbling Zarqawi

In out-takes from the same video, Mr. Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, cuts an altogether different figure:

As the camera rolls, Mr. Zarqawi is flummoxed by how to fire the machine gun until an aide walks over and fiddles with the weapon so it discharges. Another scene shows Mr. Zarqawi hand the weapon off to several other insurgents, who absent-mindedly grab it by its scalding hot barrel.

And after his shooting scene, Mr. Zarqawi walks away from the camera to reveal decidedly non-jihadist footwear: Comfortable white New Balance sneakers.

Turning the tables of propaganda on the most hunted man in Iraq, the American military released the video out-takes today, which they said troops had discovered amongst a trove of information about Mr. Zarqawi last month in the dangerous town of Yusifiyah, just south of Baghdad.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Protien Bust

Disclosure : I have an interest in a company that sells carbohydrates ...


Meat Market's Glut Provides Lessons
excerpt :

It turns out the latest twists in the protein business illustrate a couple of significant lessons about today's economy. One is that for all the sophisticated computerized models of production and inventories, business still suffers from booms and busts. When the price of cattle or hogs goes up, farmers and agribusiness giants raise more of them, tend to overdo it and then push the price so low that they yelp. Hotel and office developers do the same thing.

The other is that disease, which can move among continents with alarming speed in a globalized economy, and disruptions to foreign trade can have huge ripple effects in domestic markets, even markets as large and self-sufficient as the U.S.

The protein glut reflects a confluence of forces. In the beef business, domestic demand was strong through 2004, helped by the Atkins high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet fad, explains Ted Schroeder, who tracks all this from Kansas State University. So beef prices remained high even though fears of mad-cow disease closed important Asian markets to exports. Exports represented nearly 10% of U.S. beef production in 2003, but less than 2% in 2004. Prices held up because the export ban was accompanied by a ban on imports of beef from Canada.

"When we had very high prices, that encouraged the rebuilding of the beef herd," Mr. Schroeder explains. Now the Atkins fad has faded and, to the disappointment of U.S. cattlemen, Japan continues to bar U.S. beef. Demand is down, but slaughterhouses produced 6.2% more beef in the first quarter compared with a year earlier. More supply, less demand -- and prices soften. Beef prices in commodity markets are down more than 10% from a year earlier.


The following is copyright material (I assume) from NYTimes.

As I think that it is too important to belong behind the "pay-per-view" wall, I've copy pasted the page.

There should be functional links to the individual blogs anyway.

Of note : we find that blogs are handy way to stay in touch with friends and family - outside the military, I set one up for my grandson soon after his arrival.


About Frontlines

TimesSelect has invited four members of the United States military — all active bloggers — to write about their daily lives. Three of the bloggers are now stationed in Iraq, and one has recently returned home.

First Lt. Lee Kelley, 34, is serving near Ramadi, Iraq, with the Army National Guard. His unit has been in the country since June 2005. Lieutenant Kelley, a native of New Orleans, has lived in Salt Lake City since 1996. His blog is called Wordsmith at War.

Warrant Officer Michael D. Fay of the United States Marine Corps Reserve has held the position of combat artist for the corps since January 2000. He has been deployed four times since Sept. 11, 2001, twice each to Iraq and Afghanistan. Warrant Officer Fay, who returned home from Iraq to Virginia in February, will continue to post writing and artwork in his blog, Fire and Ice.

Capt. Will Smith, 30, enlisted in 1995 and is now a captain serving in Tikrit, Iraq, with the 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve special operations unit based in Mountain View, Calif. Captain Smith, who lives in the Philadelphia area, keeps a blog at savvyskull.com.

First Lt. Jeffrey D. Barnett, 24, is from Huntsville, Ala. He joined the Marines in 2003 and is stationed in Falluja, Iraq, with the 1st Radio Battalion, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif. His blog is Midnight in Iraq.



10:10 pm

The Milblog Phenomenon and My ‘15 Minutes’

Warrant Officer Fay’s studio, with laptop for blogging, in Falluja.

In this life I’ve enjoyed a number of well-deserved titles- Father. Son. Brother. Uncle. Marine. Artist. Friend. Recovering Alcoholic. High School Senior Class Salutorian. I’ve also been the object of less desirable, but equally well-earned descriptors: Ex-Husband. College Dropout (thrice). Drunk. Defaulter. Lately a good former Marine buddy of mine has added a new one. He calls me a curmudgeon.

Recently I was invited to participate as a panelist at the first ever Milblog Conference hosted in Washington on April 22. The event was sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Military.Com. In the past year it seems I’ve acquired another title — milblogger. Like curmudgeon, only time will tell if this will be worthy of mention in my obituary, or whispered about in embarrassed tones by friends and relatives at the wake. “What a shame, a curmudgeon AND a milblogger.”

The conference was a combination tent revival and homecoming. Milbloggers are passionate about what they do, and our readers are equally passionate in seeking us out and reading our postings. A year ago I had no idea of what a blog was. Today, as witnessed this very moment by your reading, my thoughts and experiences as a Marine combat artist go out to the furthest reaches of the planet — what is affectionately tagged “the blogosphere.”

To a person, every milblogger at the conference started out with one primary mission — to keep family and friends in the loop about our real-time experiences out in the war on terrorism. My nephew, First Lieutenant Richard “Joey” Fay, before he left for Iraq last July with his Marine battalion, started one with the help of his wife, Kris. His intent was simple, keep kith and kin informed while cutting down on e-mail traffic. Want to know what I’m up to? Check the blog. (His blog can be read at Fayboy01.blogspot.com.) Setting the site up was both simple and free thanks to Blogger.com.

We milbloggers found a shared common philosophy in posting on our sites. There was some debate over what to call the unwritten law we all found ourselves spontaneously adhering to, but the three-part guiding principle was universal — Don’t post anything you didn’t want your mom, your commanding officer, or Osama bin Laden to read.

Those of us chosen to be panelists at the conference had something else happen. Not only were acquaintances coming to our sites, but so were complete strangers … by the tens of thousands. “If you build it, they will come” took on new meaning for us. Me — the last analog guy in a digital world, the gent with sketchbook and pencil — found himself on the cutting edge of information technology and political influence. I was posting digital images of field drawings still reeking of cordite. I would sit hunched over my laptop at Camp Falluja, fresh in from the field, cathartically pecking out dispatches even as my superior and cubicle buddy, Marine Corps field historian Lieutenant Colonel Craig Covert, implored, “Fay, you’re ripe! Please take a shower, NOW!” (Lt. Col. Covert’s blog, here.) I would click the “publish post” button, and somewhere in Pittsburgh a technical writer’s e-mail inbox would ping with a message alerting her. As Inspector Gadget loved to say, “Wowzers!”


10:15 pm

Through the Eyes of an Iraqi Man

The following piece is a short work of fiction. I wrote it through the eys of a local Iraqi man, who is a figment of my imagination. Much of the information and actual events I am privy to here are classified, but in this fashion I can share some of the realities about the Iraqi people that many Americans may not think much about or realize. Of course, it is not intended to represent a whole society or culture, but I know for a fact there are men like Abu, and I thought you might like to hear his “voice.” Like all fiction, Abu’s words and experiences are based, to some degree, in reality.
- First Lt. Lee Kelley

My name is Abu Hassin. I am sitting right now outside of my small home on a chicken farm east of Ramadi, only miles from the fishing village where I grew up. I am smoking a cigarette and drinking my evening tea while I write these lines in a notebook.

I am very happy that the Americans helped to remove Saddam. Who else would help us? I remember the day when Saddam was captured. I have not cried and laughed so much in a very long time. In December I was so proud to see my wife go out and vote. She is a brave woman. Before my mosque came to be used by insurgents, my imam prayed for the Americans over the loudspeakers. Do they know we pray for them? Some say the Americans want to stay in Iraq, but I think they want to go to go home.

There is violence still, yes, but there has always been violence in this land. Already life holds so much more promise for my people. I am old now, but for the children I am very happy. I am an elder in my village, so people listen to me. And I am sick and tired of these stupid men creating more violence. What will it solve? Don’t they understand that if they stopped the violence, the Americans would leave? The Americans call them insurgents, but they call themselves “freedom fighters,” as if the American’s want to take our freedom away. They are helping to free us!

I see these men acting so secretive and important, planning their attacks. I knew them when they were little boys playing barefoot in the dirt. I laugh at them. I am too old, so they leave me alone. They threaten me, but I know they will not harm me. I am not afraid of death anyway. My own father was dragged away in the night from my home by Saddam’s men. We were never told why, and we never saw him again. All three of my uncles fled the country. Now these “freedom fighters” threaten their own people, hurting Iraq because they cannot truly hurt America. They are silly children who think they are all grown up.


10:06 pm

The Little Inconveniences of Army Life

Categories: Capt. Will Smith

When you are away from home for a year in a place like Iraq, there is a lot to miss. Of course you miss your family and friends and all the important parts of your life, but the little things can also add up and cause you to long for home even more.

For example, I have been wearing the same clothes every day for nearly a year. What am I wearing today? A funny looking green suit. What will I wear tomorrow? A funny looking green suit. It sure would be nice to wear some blue or red clothes! (Oh, yeah, but then I would stand out like a bull’s eye. O.K., maybe green isn’t too bad.)

Also, since arriving here, I have enjoyed my meals “picnic style” — with plastic forks, plastic plates, and paper cups. There just isn’t anything like the excitement of steak night coupled with the challenge of cutting the meat with a dull plastic knife. At least my arms get a workout from all the sawing back and forth. The spoons in the little packages are large enough to fill sandbags with in a pinch. When sampling the delicious Baskin Robbins ice cream as a dessert, the spoon size requires me to contort my mouth into odd positions to get the dang thing to fit — and every so often the spoon will have sharp edges that slice the inside of my cheek.

Of course we do not have indoor plumbing. You haven’t lived until you have sweated inside a porta-potty in 120 degree heat, smelling that awful odor. In the winter, it is nice that you can escape the gut-churning smells but somehow karma makes up for it with cold toilet seats and the toilet paper disappears twice as fast for some unknown reason. (more…)


10:06 pm

Revisiting Afghanistan

Things are finally settling down enough to allow me the time to do the actual thing I get paid to do: create art.

(Slide Show): Artwork from 2002 and 2005 deployments to Afghanistan.

My first set of pieces will be based on a trip to Afghanistan last spring. I had previously gone to Afghanistan at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom during the winter of 2002, in the Kandahar region, Bagram and Kabul. It was winter and the landscape was raw and desolate. I told folks back home, in all seriousness, that everything had a bullet hole in it and the national flower must be shrapnel. In fact, I keep a jagged and rusted shard of the stuff on display in my bedroom as a reminder. I also returned with intangibles: visions of the trees in Kabul festooned with kites, and the weary windburned faces of marines standing watch on the farthest unforgiving edge of the civilized world.

Last May I returned to Afghanistan and went out with the Third Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment, a Hawaii-based infantry unit. The three companies of this battalion had responsibility for three provinces smack dab in the foothills of the Tora Bora mountains on the Pakistani border; Nangarhar, Konar and Laghman Provinces. The scenery was spectacular. The Afghanis themselves are a strikingly diverse nation. Many possess those penetrating otherworldly emerald green eyes made famous by Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl on the National Geographic cover back in 1985. There are blondes, redheads, oriental features, Arabic faces and distinctly European types; not surprising when you consider the conquering armies from both East and West that crisscrossed the wild valleys of the Pech and Kunar Rivers of these provinces.

The process of making art out of these experiences goes something like this: 1. Go through a couple thousand photographs and field sketches to identify themes. 2. Read personal journal, watch and listen to hours of digital audio and video recordings a couple of times. (I’ve got everything from personal interviews to firefights.) 3. Create a detailed work plan with projected pieces and the medium for each (I do oils, watercolor and finished graphite drawings). 4. Stare at list and get overwhelmed. 5. Procrastinate. 6. Ruminate. 7. Drink too much coffee. 8. Begin. 9. Fantasize about a simple life flipping burgers or handing out happy face stickers at Wal-Mart. 10. Finish. 11. Repeat steps 1-10.

Most artists will tell you that starting is the easy part; you also need to know when to end. (more…)


10:15 pm

Fighting With Honor

It seems to me, in this chaotic enterprise we call Operation Iraqi Freedom, that we’re providing a service to the entire planet. There’s a simple formula to prove this. The fewer terrorists there are planning and carrying out attacks on civilians — and for that matter, the fewer terrorists left alive — the better our world must exponentially become. By that barometer alone, we are doing a wonderful service to all those opposed to terrorism.

As an army, we are trained to be merciful but relentless. We do not enter mosques unless we absolutely have to. We try to respect Muslim holy days (Friday) and other religious holidays. We provide security so the citizens of Iraq can vote. We do our best to keep non-combatants safe. We understand that it is better to let an insurgent get away than to harm an innocent civilian. We form up in lines and walk patrols, or we load up in vehicles and drive in. We know the rules of war, engagement, and the escalation of force. We understand the Geneva conventions. We try to live by Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. We provide medical care to enemy wounded just as we treat our own. Our actions are constantly being analyzed, modified and improved, to ensure we only kill those who would do us harm.

We don’t run and hide. We are prepared for a fight and are not shy about it. We understand that war is a nasty business, but we are willing to fight the enemy face to face. These insurgents, on the other hand, set up explosive devices that can be remotely detonated, after which they run and hide like teenagers throwing eggs at a house. They fly airplanes into buildings full of civilians. (more…)


10:00 pm

The Conversation

Not long ago I was out with a patrol on a “knock-and-talk” operation, visiting Iraqis in their homes to give and get useful information. We happened upon a large house situated across from a small mosque. I knew it was a mosque because I read the Arabic sign above the door and recognized the loudspeakers rising above its roof.

Some children were standing in the entryway to the house’s courtyard, and they looked a little apprehensive as our Humvee pulled around the corner. As I exited the truck they moved away a bit and ducked back inside the courtyard, but still well within sight and hearing. I wanted to show them they had nothing to fear so I quickly shouted an Arabic greeting. That turned them around.

I approached them slowly and I began to speak with three of the boys, who turned out to be brothers. My conversation is transcribed below. Not everything is included, as there were lots of shrugs and hand signals used to make ourselves understood, but they seemed to understand most of what I was saying in modern standard Arabic, which is surprising given the Iraqi dialect. (A linguist later explained to me that children are usually taught modern standard Arabic in school, and, therefore, are probably the best at understanding me.) The older brother, Amar, led most of the conversation. I was thrilled to understand what he was saying and for him to understand me without the the help of a translator.

Me: Welcome.

Them: Welcome.

Me: How are you today?

Them: Praise be to Allah.

Me: Good, praise be to Allah. Is that a mosque?

Amar: Yes, a mosque.

Me: It is a small mosque.

Amar: Yes, small.

Me: Do you play soccer?

Them: Yes, we play soccer.

Me: Good. Are these your brothers?

Amar: Yes … sisters. (He used the English word “sisters,” apparently excited he knew an English word).

Me: Oh, not sisters. Boys are brothers. Girls are sisters.

Amar: Oh, brothers!


10:00 pm

Just Drop Me Off When This Is Over

When this is over, take my weapon. I won’t need it for a while. Take this body armor. I would look silly wearing it at the beach. Witness as I grow a goatee. And watch me indulge, at least for a while, in fast food, massive amounts of sleep, alcohol, channel-surfing and many other things that I have lived without for long enough now that I remember liking them more than I actually do.

I have two wonderfully resilient children to whom I’ve dedicated my life, and who will one day soon forget that their Dad was gone for so long. They are incredible, intelligent and well-adjusted — and for that I thank my wife.

They won’t notice if I’m gone another day or two.

So just drop me off when this is over.

I truly appreciate all the support, but I don’t need parades or awards or speeches from the governor. I don’t even need a ride. Just leave me on any interstate that has a friendly shoulder with nice loose gravel to kick at, or in a subway car full of morning New York commuters, or in a hotel room looking out at the arch in downtown St. Louis. Leave me in Atlanta, or Portland, Ore., Gig Harbor, Wash., or in a lighthouse on the coast of Maine. I’ll gladly be dropped off anywhere in North Dakota, Maryland, Alabama, or Florida. How about a rest area in Flagstaff, Ariz., or a four-way stop in Twin Falls, Idaho? I’ll be fine on my own, whether you leave me in a quiet forest, at a state fair, or in the middle of a mosh pit.


10:00 pm

Life Never Ends

During my recent trip to New Orleans, I received a phone call from the father of Lance Cpl. Nicholas G. Ciccone, the subject of my April 3 posting. I had been expecting a call from Mr. Ciccone. The family wants to arrange a private viewing of his portrait.

Mr. Ciccone generously shared with me the circumstances around discovering the existence of his dead son’s image. Matt, the stepbrother who contacted me, overwhelmed with thoughts of his beloved brother, couldn’t sleep one night last week. So he did what many of us do during occasional dark nights of the soul — we Google. Matt Googled his brother’s full name, and up popped a couple of sites with the drawing. Some light entered the dark night.

I can barely tell you how gratifying it was to hear this. A few days later I received an e-mail from his mother with effusive thanks. Several cousins of Lance Cpl. Ciccone have contacted me and the thread running through their messages is not simply their love for this young man, but that they have all been thinking of him intensely during the past few weeks. Whether parent, sibling or friend, all have articulated in one form or another a common feeling — they’ve regained a piece of him, that he’s returned, if only for just a short period of time. I am humbled.


10:00 pm

Listening to the Land

(First Sgt. Gregory Westbrook)
War comes in waves and cycles. First, there’s a little apprehension and a lot of excitement about the unknown future. There’s bonding, adventure, hardship and growth. After a while, even though the pace is still rapid and new occurrences are born daily, monotony sneaks up on you. You’re always alert, sensitive to the sounds around you, but the nuances can become muted. You have to be a good listener.

Native Americans would put their ears to the ground to hear or feel vibrations of, say, a train coming, or a cavalry of soldiers on horseback. Out here we have intelligence analysts with their collective ears to the ground. They listen to the Americans fighting in Iraq and to the people of Iraq. They help us understand the sounds of the land. They spend their days poring over intelligence reports about things like the disposition of the Iraqis and enemy tactics. The intelligence flows from the battlefield, all the way up the chain of command. It is continuous, like a tide.

Some intelligence may be bad, or from an unreliable source. But some can be very helpful. Here’s an example: A few months back, a soldier noticed a hand print on the side of a house in the Al Anbar Province. For some reason, the soldier thought the hand print looked out of place amid all the dirt and cracks on the house, so he reported this small detail to his intelligence analyst. We finally realized that this symbol was being used in the area to let terrorists know that the house was “friendly” to them. If you were an insurgent who had just fired a mortar or a rocket-propelled grenade at an American base, this hand print designated the home as a place you could seek shelter.

We have many interpreters, or “terps” as we call them, who help us immensely. These are Iraqi men and women who appreciate what we’re doing for their country and want to help us. (more…)


10:00 pm

A Lazy Sunday

It was another semi-relaxed Sunday here at Camp Falluja.

A couple weeks ago the Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General passed that all non-essential personnel shouldn’t come into work until 11 a.m. on Sunday, or should generally get a few hours off. The 11 a.m. thing is kind of a farce because almost everyone is essential, but my team and I try to take the afternoon off if we don’t have any operations going on. Such was the case a few Sundays back. It was the first one in a while I had spent totally inside the wire.

I spent the afternoon with my roommate organizing our room. We had both received a plethora of care packages and stacking and organizing all our new belongings (mostly food) was a challenge. Getting rid of the empty boxes requires a long walk to the dumpster, something we try to avoid by consolidating as much as possible. I turned off my chow supply from home after only a couple boxes because I quickly saw I would not be able to eat it all nor would I have a place to store it. My roommate did that a little later, about eight boxes into the game with more on the way. He’s tried to give this stuff away any way he can, mostly by displaying it next to the coffee mess at our workplace.

I actually gave away some food as well. The marines at work hadn’t taken to using my previously owned coffee pot, so since it had been sitting there for a couple of days, I bundled it up with some coffee and filters and gave it to the Ugandan gate guards outside our building. They said “Thank you,” but didn’t really seem enthused. Maybe they thought I was asking them to hold my I.E.D. Either way, they now are capable of making their own coffee, whether they choose to or not. (Update: I have seen the Ugandans using the coffee pot lately.)

I also got a haircut from one of the marines at work. He is what I call a “closet barber.” (more…)