Thursday, May 31, 2007

Iraq ..... the President's Schoolyard

The matter of the War in Iraq is consuming Americans. It should as they are paying a very high price for it. A substantial majority of public opinion wants an end to it. A substantial body, but not substantial enough, of political opinion wants an end to it too.

But for the President, it will define his term in office. It will not define it kindly.

I read a piece that puts the issue into decent perspective, and I want to share some of the ideas I found, and add to it.

For the President, this war is about winning. He thinks it can be won, and will not stop until either the clock runs out on his term, or he wins. The main issue here is the belief that the war was ever *winnable*.

As Iraq slides further into civil war and chaos, we are assured that just a few more thousand troops and we will prevail. We will win. It's an illusion. As time rolls on, and the troops deployments increase, the death toll rises and violence breaks out in areas that had been relatively peaceful thus far. I heard it described as playing *whack a mole*. The US gains some measure of control in Baghdad, and as it does, violence erupts in other provinces. Many military experts have insisted all along that to subdue Iraq would require upwards of half a million US troops, not the 160 000 currently deployed. Even then, it would be like clamping a lid on a kettle.

All through the occupation benchmarks, targets, objectives have been set. As the deadlines came and went, so did the imperative to meet them, and new ones were dreamed up. Now we are told that the surge requires until September for a proper assessment. In September, we will be told that there are some very encouraging signs, and January will give a clearer picture.

How do I, a simple man with no experience or knowledge of military affairs, know this? Because we have been there before. Four years and 3500 US deaths ago we were told that the US had won .... major combat operations in Iraq are over .... declared a President, standing beneath a banner proclaiming *Mission Accomplished*, bought and paid for by the White House.

Since then, the actions of the President have resembled those of a child playing a game with another. We will play best of three, or first to five goals, or ten points. When he loses, he shifts the objective .... best of five, first to eight goals ...... then best of eleven .... well, you get the drift.

So we are back to the original point ..... it is about a President who thinks this war is winnable, and will not stop until either he wins, or someone tires of the game and takes their ball home. At which point he will declare victory, or blame the other side for bottling out.

Meanwhile, because we are saddled with a President, and his apologists, who all think we can win; then we all lose!

I might remind the President of another point, were I ever to get the chance. 9/11 and Iraq are not linked, never were and never can be. If you prefer it in simpler terms:

When you go Bowling, you get no credit whatsoever for scoring a Strike in the lane next to the one you are playing in.

Just for Tom and Joe

Your Monster Profile

Lethal Worm

You Feast On: M&Ms

You Lurk Around In: Las Vegas

You Especially Like to Torment: Cops

Who controls whom?

We have lost it. Finally, as we staggered dimly groping our way into the 21st Century, we lost. Too many Sci-Fi films have made mockery of an age where machines take over. They go from passive, but useful lumps of metal, plastic and silicone, forever tasked with spending their existence serving mankind, to Masters of the Planet.

My WebHost is a case in point.

Some time ago I purchased an additional domain, for a woodworking project. The WebHost (1and1 Internet, the biggest in the world) refused to accept my Debit card details. Specifically, it was having trouble with the address. This is a card they have had on file for two years, and have happily charged a not inconsiderable sum to.

Now my websites are locked .... poof .... they are no more. Try one of the links, and you get the infamous Error 404 page. It's a pretty blue and white logo, with nice hints of red and yellow, but of the info you were looking for, nuttin'. The picture is missing from my profile here because it is hosted on my webspace. So, if you are reading this, and there is a picture, then it's fixed.

I do what all self-respecting customers do when their service is suddenly interrupted .... I call, and politely enquire as to why. I am informed, equally politely, that I am pondlife, with no care or concern about the welfare of this giant corporation, because the bank declined my card, and only vermin who don't deserve food, let alone a website, ever have cards that are declined. And it couldn't possibly be for any reason other than that I am the lowest of the low socially, I probably live in a trailer, almost certainly am a criminal, and if not my kids probably are, and they wouldn't be at all surprised if I was an illegal immigrant as well.

Of course, they didn't put it quite like that.

That was my interpretation of the sneer, when I tried to suggest their system was broken. Broken because it now seemed to have indegestion swallowing a card it had happily snacked on before, not because there were insufficient funds, but because it didn't like the address! Well Pardon Me!!! We can't all live at an address with a personal approval rating from 1and1 Internet.

So, patiently, and with great forebearance, I lead this hapless girl through the timeline. We managed to agree that I wasn't an axe-murderer, that I had indeed attempted to inform the company of the correct billing details; that I had even managed to contact their billing agent direct, and pay the bill (they had less trouble running the card than an Olympic Pole vaulter would have hopping a small creek), and that all was *hunky dory* with my account.

So, I persisted .... Why don't my websites work, and why is my Blog bereft of it's picture?

Well the system, apparently, takes 24 to 48 hours to unlock accounts. Ahh ... so it's the *system*. Ok, how can we ask the system to be closer to 24 hours, than 48 hours? .... We can't, it's the system.

At this point, I inform this young woman (who really was trying to help once we had punctured the sneer), that the company runs the system, and not the other way around. There must be somebody in the company who can tell the system to open this account.

Apparently not ..... the system is the system .... All Hail the System.

So, it's off with the shoes, Margarita in hand I'll kick back on the porch of the trailer, and enjoy the view of the cars on bricks, the loose dogs and litter for 24 more hours, while I wait for my probation officer to make his weekly call, and for 1and1's System to put my picture back.

Toodle Pip!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Do the dishes!

I did them :)

Jodie's rant here

Memorial Day

Today is a solemn day in America.

Over recent years, Memorial Day has come to be seen as the unofficial start of summer. It is a day of cook-outs, boating, swimming and family gatherings. But it wasn't the original purpose. Memorial Day is the day America honours it's fallen warriors. There will be, and are as I type this, ceremonies being conducted all over this land to do just that.

On this day, this year and for the last 4 years, it is particularly poignant as young men and women are dying in combat overseas. Specifically, they are dying in countries many Americans can't even find on the map, countries that pose little or no real threat to the borders of the USA. Arguably, Afghanistan has some justification, Iraq has none.

When we take a few seconds out from eating steak and hotdogs, swimming and sport it is worth remembering that a big battle still awaits.

The battle, here at home, to end the senseless conflict, the tragic destroying of another land, the futile and pointless squandering of the lives of so many brave young people who only dimly grasped the notion that they may really die when they joined up.

When you turn on your TV, and see the President using today of all days, to vainly attempt to justify his abuse of the military, his callous disregard for their families, his woeful inaction towards better treatment for the injured, and his criminal use of the nations resources, against Americans and foreign captives, then remember .....

The battle to re-establish morality, to end the violence and restore an Administration that acts in the interests of all the people ..... that battle is just beginning.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What was the most venomous thing in our yard?

Yesterday we had a party. It was held to celebrate Michael's 6th Birthday, and it was a good party. We had the pool open, a Jupiter Jump, enough hotdogs and chips to make the Oklahoma National Guard feel at home, and the weather was, at least, tolerable.

Actually it rained .... a bit. Not enough to spoil anything, but enough so that I couldn't mow (good), and enough to keep the temperature below 90F (even better)

Michael had an absolute blast, and so did all the many other kids here. In the end, that was the point, so we claim the event a success.

Now let's talk about the adults for a moment.

This party was remarkable mainly for the fact that it is the first time since Michael's father left this house 3 years ago, that both sides of the children's family have occupied the same patch of (over-long) grass at the same time. The 2 weeks leading up to the function were punctuated by periods of Jodie worrying that the knives were all going to be used to cut food, and not find their way between the shoulders of varying family members.

Here is the reason. Jodie's family, and our friends, are decent, tolerant (well maybe not Tracy) and supportive. They are quite the nicest bunch of people I have met in many a decade. Jodie's ex-inlaws are dull, boring and filled with anger, resentment and enmity towards anyone not sharing the shallow end of the gene pool with them. The picture (right) shows two of the nice people, Jim and Ashley, Jodie's Dad and niece.

We have spent many happy hours, over the last three years, with Jodie's family, at many events from Baptisms to Thanksgiving, and rarely, if ever, has there been a cross word spoken. These people actually like each other. They even seem to like the weird Limey Jodie imported a few years back. Well they are at least polite enough not to object :)

Here are the Clampetts. Denny is the kid's Dad. He is the one in the foreground, who made a special effort to dress for his son's party. Now Denny I understand. He is not highl
y educated, but a hard working man who genuinely feels he does his best for his kids. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much of a grasp of their actual needs, so he gets it wrong, sometimes comically wrong, often tragically wrong. No matter, he works, he supports, and he visits with them.

Then he launches a futile legal action that deprives his kids of a good deal of money that, instead of being used to bring up his children, is used instead to meet the down payments on the Mercedes driven by various attorneys. He is a racist and a homophobe. To his credit, he is slightly less so than his father, and that is, I guess, to his credit. Nonetheless, yesterday he was respectful, and we were happy to have him here.

The rest of the tribe get no such credit. Jodie was concerned that I might be uncomfortable, given that this family has directed, albeit indirectly, a good deal of resentment in my direction. I assured her it was no problem at all. After all, they were coming to my house, to sit under a porch I built, on furniture I made and eat food I had not only had just been out and bought, but had cooked for them. I was perfectly relaxed. Besides, they are all way too busy concentrating on their own petty squabbles to worry too much about me ..... but for the record ...

One refused to meet my eye when introduced. Her problem
. She also just fell out with her sister, and spoke to her probably even less than she spoke to me. One shook my hand, then wouldn't utter another word the whole time there. He did manage a good few hotdogs though, and he sat in my chairs, and was entirely unable to find anything to criticize. His wife was a little more forthcoming. At any other time she would have been downright rude, but these are strange times, and by comparasion she was fine.

Any way, they came, they partied and they left. They all went off to a restaurant for dinner, and I was going to say that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, but really, I don't care. They won't be coming back anytime soon, and even if they do, so what?

Jodie left that family after the best part of 10 years trying to make a life for herself and her kids. What took her so long? It's really quite curious watching these folk, and wondering about Jodie trying to fit .... she doesn't, she never did and she is a better person because of that. They will never see it. They are someone else's problem now.

There were other people here. Nice people, non-judgmental, or at least able to reserve judgment and enjoy family. They will come time and again, and we will enjoy them coming, time and again. We visited with friends, we partied and we sung karaoke until late. They went home happy and relaxed.

Tracy, by the way, is adorable .... quite one of the best friends a person could wish for.

Tracy's husband, Cory, has eagle eyes, and he found this lurking under the edge of th
e air conditioner. It is a Black Widow Spider. Technically, it is now an *ex-BWS* .... we squished it, sorry.

This little blighter is nasty. It is highly venemous, although, to be fair, rarely fatal. Being fair to spiders is an amusing
concept, but hey, I like insects :)

It is was one of those *moments* when I realise I am a long way from much that is familiar to me. On the other hand, which ever side of the Atlantic you live on, squishing spiders is pretty much the same process.

Let's take a look at the birthday boy:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell is dead.

As another human being, I sympathise with the loss to his friends and family. Like the rest of us, Jerry Falwell was a family man, and he will be missed as any of us would be missed.

Jerry Falwell was, however, more than just a private individual; he had a public persona as the Evangelical Minister who founded the Religious Right, and turned it into a political power in this country.

As a public figure, Jerry Falwell left a stain on this land that no amount of Oxyclean will remove. It will take generations for his demonstrably un-Christian views and teachings to be erased.

Jerry Falwell did more than any other single individual I can think of, to set back the cause Freedom, Liberty and Justice For All in the United States.

Whatever might be said in the next few days and weeks let us remember that if you are black, gay, pregnant or simply wishing for your leaders to represent ALL the people, then today one of the obstacles to human decency died.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day USA

Today is Mother's Day here. It is big in the US, way bigger, although no more significant than in the UK.

Julia Ward Howe wrote this, in 1870, when Mother's Day was proposed:

"From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace..."

In churches large and small, from shore to shining shore, I expect this sentiment was the central theme of morning services today.

Happy Mother's Day America.

Friday, May 11, 2007

sigh ....

I don't mind in the slightest, when I open the toilet to find the poop of our 4 year old sitting there.

What is less appealing, however, is the complete lack of visible evidence that any toilet paper was used.

Cute, isn't she?

America? Which America?

When I lived in England I had a view of America. It’s normal, we all do. America is a big influence there, as in many other parts of the world. My view varied over the years, as I grew up and influences on me changed; but also as I developed an independent perspective on the world around me.

Growing up, America wasn’t a nice place. The ideology my parents subscribed to held the United States responsible for a great deal that is wrong with the world. It was a view I grew up sharing, and, in truth, I can see where that comes from. It’s never quite gone away. It should have, because, as always, it’s never that simple. Let me give you a small example of how this view forms:

In theory, America is a Capitalist nation, where the vested interests of business outweighs the personal interests of the people. Of course it is never put quite like that, but judge me not by what I say, rather judge me by what I do! The old Soviet Union, on the other hand, was exactly the reverse. Again, it’s never quite so simple and Judge me not ……. Well you get the drift.

So let’s jump back a few years to the moment these two great cultures had a defining episode, and one which might, had two people of great wisdom and commitment not put country above personal considerations, have been a disaster for us all. The episode is known as the *Cuban Missile Crisis*.

I am not going to rehearse the argument. That has been, and continues to be done by scholars, and others, much better and more completely than I have time for. Rather, I would like to look at the conventional wisdom in the West. I’d like to briefly look at the two main contenders, and see what they predict for us all, in our differing environments.

America had John F Kennedy. A young President who has been pretty much raised to Sainthood here in the US. It is he who is credited with *bringing us back from the brink*, he who is seen as the strong, determined leader. He who represents the American Way. Kruschev is the enemy, the warmonger who was ultimately defeated by American might and resolve.

This is an unfortunate view. It is unfortunate that the tone of a nation can be set in this manner. I have little doubt that JFK had some very fine qualities. I equally wonder how much more just a society might this be had he been allowed to complete two full terms, then remain and still be influencing policy today. We’ll never know.

But how accurate is this *good guy*, *bad guy* scenario? Was Kruschev the evildoer? I suspect it’s not that simple. Nikita Kruschev was head of the Politburo and General Secretary of the Communist Party. Both positions required that he be elected by his immediate peers and colleagues. In the world of politics, both here and in Russia, such a position is not comparable to the US President. He is elected, indirectly, by the people, and can only be removed by Congress, or by term. Nikita Kruschev had many competing views, not to command, but to balance. JFK had only to follow his instincts. This is not to demean JFK, merely to compare their two positions.

Once those missiles left Russia, it is unlikely that Kruschev could have stopped them any earlier than he did. Had he attempted to do so, he could very easily have been replaced. What is important is simply that his replacement would have, by definition, been a politician with less inclination to turn the ships around than Kruschev; and then where would we have been? The only way those missiles were heading home was when Kruschev could convince the Politburo that the Americans were NOT going to back down, and that feat of diplomacy required JFK to play his part without over-reacting. Both men did what was needed, and a crisis averted.

It really does take two to tango. Kruschev needed JFK to be strong, and he was. The world needed those two men to *step up*, and they did. I am minded, at this point, to pause for a moment and wonder how the current incumbent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have handled it …. OK, enough doom and gloom for one day.

My point, if you are still with me, is that the emotional health of this great nation would benefit immensely from realizing that there are shades of grey. That Nikita Kruschev may indeed have been a bad guy, but on that day he played a full and active part in probably the greatest test of diplomacy the world has ever faced. It might allow some here to realize that military might is not, ultimately, the solution to anything other than the bottom lines of the military suppliers.

It might help Toby Keith refrain from such crass nonsense as this:

Now, this nation that I love has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin in from somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty started shakin her fist
And the eagle will fly
And there's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringin her bell
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is rainin down on you
Hey, brought to you courtesy
Of the red, white, and blue.

Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
You'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
Cause, we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

I adore many of your songs, Toby, but really … grow up!

Where was I ? Oh yeah …..

So my view of America was formed by events such as this, events that had a profound effect on many yet don’t, I find, come to represent the reality here at all. They do, however, represent the views of a large and extremely noisy section of society here.

I live in Oklahoma. If I can’t live in *Old England*, then I would probably feel more comfortable in *New England* than I do here. There you have it. That is the thing about America that Europeans don’t get. When you talk about America, you have to ask: Which one?

Oklahoma is the State that allows you to shoot someone who approaches you in your car. Chicago has all but banned handguns. New York’s Mayor believes Gay Marriage should be permitted, and he’s a Republican. Oklahoma Republicans think he is going straight to Hell. Federal Law bans the use of religious symbols in State funded and operated institutions. Oklahomans put the Ten Commandments on the lawn in front of courthouses (actually, that is probably just to remind the judges arriving for work which of them they broke last night). Oklahoma has Toby Keith, Pete Seeger was from New York.

Oklahoma is not alone, and it’s not only Southern States that are different either. Oklahoma no more represents the USA, than does Washington DC, Vermont, Florida etc, etc.

The USA is not easily categorized, it depends where you are from, what background you have, what problems you face. I know that is true of many places, to an extent, but here it is magnified to a point where the entire nation is split along racial, religious, social, economic and political lines in a way that would be quite startling to Europeans (I know this, I came here and am more than a little surprised).

Americans take themselves way too seriously ….. seriously! As a nation, but less so as people, they give the world the view that they are a violent, greedy and dangerous country to have in our midst. Americans do not see this at all, but it isn’t helped by the very bad habit politicians have of giving the dumbest names to legislation. The Patriot Act! Implied in the title is that to oppose it would be unpatriotic. Actually what the Patriot Act does is to overturn 200 years of the Bill of Rights, and is the most deeply unpatriotic legislation this country has, with the possible exception of the Who Needs Habeas Corpus Act (they called that one the Military Commissions Act). Quite frankly, the world needs a Patriot Act to protect itself from the current band of villains running the show here.

In Oklahoma we have the Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Act 2007. Cute huh? Well basically it allows citizens here to abuse immigrants without fear of reprisals. Why didn’t they just call it the Immigration Act 2007? Simple. Immigration has bugger all to do with the State Legislature, it is a Federal matter. Govenor Henry, who signed this worthless piece of paper into law admitted as much, but he did at least have the common decency to stop the religious right’s attack on women this month. That was, by the way, about abortion.

I’m gonna stop here, conscious though I am that this is incomplete. I am well aware that I started this entry to look at some of the reasons and causes of the divisions, and I haven’t moved on to the biggest. I will though, but it will be later today, or in the next few days.