Thursday, September 30, 2010

Danger is Where You Find It

This is not from the Onion.

Thanks to J.D. Rhoades for bringing this to our attention.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Not Balls, Chutzpah

So the real problem here is that Democratic voters aren’t loyal enough? This from the guy who let the stimulus, health care, and financial regulation bills get watered down because he was too concerned about offending any Republicans to get out in front on anything until the last minute?

Where was this scolding tone when Harry Reid postponed the debate and vote on extending the Bush tax cuts until after the November election? Where has he been on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or any number of things that would have rallied his supporters and could probably have been done with a mere stroke of a pen?

He says he’s met about 70% of his campaign promises, as though all campaign promises are created equal. How many were watered down, just so he could check the box? Does the Executive Order to prohibit texting while driving count the same as not doing anything about climate change?

Democrats have been accused in the past of taking their core constituency for granted, taking the attitude, “Who else are you going to vote for?” Well, in my case, not this arrogant prick. He’s already talked me into voting for only local candidates in November, and I’ll sign on for any primary challenger in 2012.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not Enough Balls Among Them To Shoot Pool

I should have known Harry Reid couldn't keep it up.

Republicans have handed Democrats what could be a key to maintaining control of the Senate and House in the upcoming election: their steadfast support for keeping all of the Bush tax cuts in effect, including those for people making over $250,000. Imagine the sound bites to be obtained by forcing these guys to give floor speeches to support this porition just a few weeks before the election, especially since many of those same Republicans are willing to let the cuts expire for the poorest American if they can't get their way.

All it would have taken was for Reid and the Senate leadership to stand up and call their bluff. As the title of this post implies, that was its downfall; Reid has postponed debate and the vote until after the election, which shows he's as stupid as he is cowardly.

The upcoming voting includes three elections to fill Senate seats that are currently interim positions. By law, whoever wins these elections on November 2 must be seated immediately, which could well cost Democrats three seats they may desperately need for the lame duck session.

Now watch these chickenshit bastards whine about voter turnout if they lose in November.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Gifts

I got a phone call out of the blue from The Sole Heir last week. These are not unusual occurrences; she’s good about making The Old Man™ feel like he’s still at the party with random calls and appearances.

This particular call was prompted by her having to walk through the practice room wing of the music building to get to a professor’s office. Every room filled, different music in different keys on different instruments all filtering into the hall as she walked by; Charles Ives’s idea of heaven.

Her response? Call The Old Man™ to tell him what she’d done, and that it occurred to her, “This is what it must have been like for Dad every day.”

That’s Gift One; to have the thought and take the time. Not too many nineteen-year-olds would do either. Made my day.

Gift two? She got me to thinking about it, how it felt for that to be an everyday occurrence. How it was the most energized time of my life, waking up knowing I was going to learn things I didn’t even suspect at the time, and that everything I learned would make me aware of fifteen other things I needed to know and had better find out. It was intimidating and exhilarating at the same time, the intimidation overcome by the exhilaration and the mindless confidence of youth.

Then I got to thinking of how much better my life has been because I made one decision: to change majors from Medical Technology to Music Education. I would have made a nice living in Med Tech, and enjoyed it. Music allowed a working class boy from more or less rural Pennsylvania to be exposed to a lot of things he had no business expecting, contrasting life experiences a lot of people don’t get.

I’ve played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra and German beer bands. Played in Heinz Hall and Meyerhoff Hall and a corrugated metal building that housed a private school built so white kids wouldn’t have to school with Nigras. I’ve played the Fourth of July at Stone Mountain in front of 250,000 people and dedicated a tree. Attended receptions in homes worth several million dollars and eaten homemade Brunswick Stew off a paper plate while sitting under a tree. Played football games in sub-freezing temperatures and parades where I wrung the sweat out of my jacket afterward. Performed next to players now working in major orchestras and high school students now working at Popeye’s.

A lot of extremes I would not have had a chance to experience otherwise. The downside is that I rarely feel fully at home in most places. My blue collar upbringing meant I was never truly comfortable in the chi-chi settings, but my education and experience made it hard to listen to some of the conversations taking place in the American Legion when I went home. It forced me to think about things I likely would not have thought about, and to examine positions in a more detailed manner. It taught me the power of self-discipline and perseverance, and how to pick my battles and to know when to quit. Made me a better father than I would have been, and a better son than I had been.

What it didn’t make me was enough money to live on, so I moved on. No shame in that, and no time wasted. Learning to live a more fully examined life is never a waste of time, and it was nice to be reminded of that.

Thanks, Bink.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Rules of Engagement

I just finished reading Lone Survivor, The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and The Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Luttrell earned the Navy Cross for his efforts in what was envisioned as a relatively risky—but not impossible—mission that turned into a cluster fuck of immense proportions, resulting in the deaths of not only Luttrell's three teammates, but their entire rescue team when the Taliban shot down their helicopter. ("Cluster fuck" is not meant as a pejorative; the best plans can fall apart due to an inopportune breeze.)

Despite Luttrell's repeated liberal bashing, this lefty finds it hard to believe anyone could fail to find the story of SEAL Team 10 unmoving. While Robinson is inclined toward purple prose in places (notably when describing Taliban, the "liberal media," or other "lefties"), the battle sequences are told in a straightforward way that makes them even more effective. The duty and honor displayed by everyone involved is humbling; all three NCOs won the Navy Cross, and their leader later was awarded the Medal of Honor. (It says something about the esprit de corps of SEALs that when displaying their awards, the Medal of Honor falls below their SEAL insignia.) Luttrell doesn't appear to have much regard for those who agree with me politically, but my respect for his courage, loyalty, and endurance is unbounded.

What he lacks is a sense of irony. The limiting effects of the Rules of Engagement is a constant thread throughout the book. His team had a chance encounter with three Afghan goatherds as they were settling into position on their mission. There was debate about whether to kill the supposed civilians to keep them from talking to the Taliban. They were allowed to live and sent on their way—according to Luttrell—so the SEALs wouldn't have worry about what the media would say if it ever rolled back on them. To him, there was no question the military situation called for their deaths.

Of course, the goatherds did tell the Taliban, and operation Redwing was a catastrophe from that point forward. Luttrell bitterly blames this on liberal politicians who set the ROEs. Let's think about that for a minute. The events in Lone Survivor took place in 2005. Rules of Engagement are presumably set by the Department of Defense, in coordination with the State Department, and, presumably, the White House. That would have made the three principal players Donald Rumsfeld, Condaleeza Rice, and George W. Bush. The Bush Administration was not well-known with suffering a lot of input from liberals. The Rules of Engagement were, for better or worse, Bush's responsibility.

But are the ROEs essentially wrong? Luttrell understandably sees them as responsible for the deaths of his team and their initial rescue force. He advocates turning the SEALS loose, and trusting them to make the right decisions. That would have sufficed in World War II, where the ROEs were, essentially, "engage and destroy the enemy." The Afghan War is more of a "hearts and minds" affair. Every civilian killed might spawn two more terrorists, who might—might—eventually kill more people than were lost in Redwing. It's impossible to say, but not unreasonable to assume that earning trust among the locals will be made considerably more difficult if they think you'll kill them if they become inconvenient.

The irony comes in because Luttrell actively undermines his own position. The Pashtun village that sheltered and cared for him for several days took him in under their custom of lokhay, which requires a village to defend to the death anyone given sanctuary. The elders placed their entire village under threat of death from the Taliban to protect Luttrell, not because he was an American, but because it was what they do. (Many in the village found themselves in this position in spite of the fact he was an American.)

The Taliban did not eliminate the town to take Luttrell, though he would have been quite a prize. As the author himself says, they couldn't afford to wipe out the whole village, as it would have denied them the support of other villages for miles around, support the Taliban could not do without. In essence, the Taliban's own Rules of Engagement were largely responsible for Luttrell's eventual rescue, as they could have taken him well before the Rangers got to him.

Make no mistake; I am not in any way equating the Taliban with our military. I am merely pointing out what Luttrell, and many conservatives, fails to grasp: winning a war is not just winning all the battles. It means creating a sustainable peace. In this case—to paraphrase Casey Stengle—it means keeping the 60% of the population who are on the fence from joining the 20% who will hate you no matter what. I mourn—as should we all—SEAL Team 10, and those who died trying to rescue them. We can ever repay that debt. The best we can do is to try to pay it forward, to ensure valor and sacrifice such as theirs is requested only when absolutely necessary.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

From the Archives

The idea of being an opinionated asshole didn't just jump into my head when I learned about blogs. I'd been doing pretty much the same thing via email to a select of people who used to be my friends for several years. A Facebook comment from a friend brought the following to mind, from July of 2003, titled "Location, Location, Location."

There has been a certain amount of culture shock since The Home Office relocated to the People's Republic of Maryland last March. On the plus side, traffic in Maryland, bad as it is, is better than in Virginia. The risk of being shot in a public library is also greatly diminished. (For those of you who are not local, the Virginia House of Delegates voted down a bill that would have made it illegal to carry a firearm into a public library. No point in being unprepared if you happen onto a terrorist reading the Koran.)

Living in Maryland has its down sides. Living in Prince George's County has even more. Here are a couple of indications, provided solely as a public service, should anyone consider moving to this area.

I recently took the Sole Heir Correspondent to a local Taco Bell for a cold drink in the midst of an errand-running expedition. Our order was taken by a young woman who I do not wish to unfairly disparage, so I will use her real name, since she is probably as incapable of reading this as she is unlikely to make the effort.

Nicole gave us the standard PG County fast food greeting, which consists of not quite making eye contact while silently waiting for me to decide she's ready to take my order. Taco Bell offers three drink sizes. I ordered a small and a medium. No flavor was required, all Nicole had to do was give us the cups; the soda dispensers are self-service.

The conversation went something like this:


Me: We'd like a small and a medium drink, please.

Nicole (still not looking at me): We ain't got small.

Me: You're out of small cups?

Nicole: Ain't no small.


A brief period of silence followed, broken by the Sole Heir telling me sotto voce, "Dad, I think they just have medium, large, and extra large."

Finally catching on, I told Nicole I want the smallest size, and the one in the middle. She handed me two identical cups, which Taco Bell describes as "large," and I would call "medium," seeing as how they were of the intermediate size of the three options. As she handed me the cups, she asked if the order was for here or to go.

Huh? Her entire contribution consisted of handing me two cups, one of them incorrect. I had to get the drinks, lids, and straws. What earthly difference could it have made to her, or to Mr. Bell, where I drank them? I was tempted to order one for here and one to go, but I was afraid we'd get into a discussion about which was to stay and which was to go, even though they were both the same size.

Prince George's County has the well-earned reputation of being the metropolitan Washington area's equivalent of a third world nation. Proof of that was found in a call to the cable company that same week.

The cable call was prompted by a promotion the company was running when I ordered my original service back in March. Comcast would provide free installation and three free months of every channel Showtime offers if I signed up for digital cable. If I didn't want to keep the Showtime, I could cancel after the third month. I had tried to cancel a couple of weeks earlier, but they wouldn't let me, saying it was too early to cancel, and that if I cancelled too soon they would have to charge me for the installation after all. When the valid cancellation window opened, hesitation would require paying for a month of Showtime I could live without, since I had watched it exactly zero times since moving in.

I called the number I saw on a televised ad the previous night and was immediately directed to a pleasant young man who looked high and low for my account information without finding it. It was finally determined that I had called the Montgomery County number, and he couldn't help me. He could, and did, transfer me to the Prince George's County number.

I didn't get a human right away on the PG County number. First I had to choose the language in which I wanted to transact my business. Fortunately, English was the first choice. Immediately after pressing "one" for English, I got to listen to a thirty-second spiel informing me of Comcast's Cable Amnesty Program. It was not thought to be necessary to inform Montgomery County residents of the illegality of cable theft. In PG County, it opens the conversation.

Welcome to Prince George's County, Maryland, where the showcase high school offers a course in Japanese to show its advanced and cosmopolitan makeup. All it really does is teach its illustrious graduates to ask "You want fries with that, motherfucker?" in a sushi restaurant.