Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama Messiah Video

A friend just forwarded this YouTube video to me. If you're at all into politics, it's a must-see!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

San Diego Visit

I just got back from a trip out to San Diego to visit friends and family. Had a great time. I left Thursday on US Airways out of Charlotte on a direct flight to Sandy Ego. (US Air was having a very bad day that day. They changed our plane to a smaller one, but the flight was fully booked, so a lot of us were on the "bump" list. I managed to get on, but EVERY US Air flight in our area of the terminal was cancelled or late.) Spent Friday through Sunday with Rick, Julie, and Jackson. Came home yesterday (Monday). This US Airways flight was also fully booked, but it left and arrived exactly on time. Here's some memory-joggers from the trip:

Jackson and I played a game of "red ball" ... the only rule to this game was that we had to use the red ball.

A little grampaw/grandson bonding over the jet skis ...

On Sunday, we went to visit the USS Midway, which is now a museum.  I used to work with the Midway back in '79 and '80, when it was homeported in Japan.  Now it's a museum.  (Damn, I'm old.)  But it's a really well-done museum with lots of interactive stuff.  Really cool.

Another of Jacks and me.  He did not want to stand still for this picture!

Monday, July 21, 2008

News from Serbia

News today out of Serbia is that Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. (See the CNN report here). Most Americans are probably skimming right over that bit of news and going on to the latest on Angelina Jolie's twins. But to me, this is important stuff. I was part of the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in 1996, right after the conflict ended. It was an extremely tenuous period. All three sides (Bosnian, Croat, and Serb) were ready, even eager, to go after each other again. But international pressure, lack of resources, and their own people's disenchantment with war finally led them to halt the violence. Still, there were occasional attacks across the boundary lines during my time in Sarajevo.

One time, I inadvertently crashed a working lunch for negotiations between the Bosnian and Serbian sides. I've seen friendlier faces at an Appalacian family feud. It was a damn good thing their weapons were checked at the door.

The whole peace process almost came unglued one night when a Serbian general took a wrong turn and wound up at a NATO checkpoint at the border between Serb and Bosnian sides. The NATO soldiers arrested him, as they were supposed to do under the accords signed by all sides. Holy moly, you'd have thought we launched an unprovoked attack on the Serbian Motherland! Things were hot and testy for quite a while, and the Serbs were a millimeter away from pulling out of the agreement. But eventually everybody understood that the Serb general really did take a wrong turn, nothing more, and relations returned to their "Appalacian family feud" normality.

What's this got to do with Karadzic? Well, at the time, there was a huge push in Western countries for NATO forces to arrest Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the senior Serb general in Bosnia. It was a thirst for blood masquerading as "justice". However, the NATO commander at the time, Admiral Smith, didn't want to do it. His rationale was that NATO was there to bring peace to the country. Once peace was established, then you could bring about justice. But if you wanted "justice" first, then there would be no peace.

Admiral Smith was right. Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia have been at peace now for twelve years. It's not the greatest peace, and they're certainly not bosom buddies, but there has been no large-scale violence. And rather than NATO military forces shooting their way into some Serbian stronghold to bring Karazic to "justice", it was Serbian forces themselves who arrested him. They finally got tired of dealing with economic sanctions from the European community. And they're better prepared to deal with disgruntled Serbians than NATO is.

Let's hope this experience is not lost on those negotiating in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Pictures of Jackson

I'm going to San Diego on Thursday to see Rick, Julie, and Jackson. This'll be my first time in SD since Rick and Julie were married and the first time I'll get to see Jackson. Yes, I'm really excited. Expect more pictures!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Courtroom Drawings

I spent Tuesday sitting in court again. The state of North Carolina is suing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) over pollution from its coal-fired power plants. The trial is being held in the federal court here in Asheville. Our local TV station, WLOS, asked me to give them some images of the principal characters, which in this case are the attorneys. So here they are:

Judge Lacy Thornburg is presiding over the case. He's been a legal heavyweight in NC for many years, including a stint as the Attorney General.

Here's the NC team (left to right): Jim Gulick, Marc Bernstein, Anne Lynch, and lead attorney Mike Goodstein.

This is the TVA team (left to right): lead attorney Frank Lancaster, Maria Gillian, Harriety Cooper, and Thomas Fine.

Since there's no jury in this trial, Judge Thornburg graciously let me sit in the jury box so I could get these drawings.

The day I attended the trial, there was only one witness all day. He was an expert witness for North Carolina. He had two points to make: (1) TVA could have put pollution control measures in place anytime it wanted in the past and still can, and (2) the expert witness for TVA is an idiot. Everything else he said was a variation on those two themes. There. I just saved you 8 hours of listening to expert testimony.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Friend Bob

I've swapped a couple of notes with my friend Bob over the past couple of days. We've known each other for almost forty years now, since we were in high school. Since then, he's gone on to do quite well and owns a high-powered economics firm in the San Francisco area. Ten years ago, he and his wife Yukari adopted a lovely Chinese baby they named Annike. They took her back to China this past spring to visit her orphanage and see her homeland.

In addition to his other talents, Bob is a helluva good photographer. He put together two exceptionally beautiful online photo books based on the trip. One is basically a record of their trip. The other is about Bob's impressions of China as seen through the faces of the people he encountered there. I recommend taking a look at them both.

Click here for the family travel book.

Click here for the Faces of China book.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Truly Amazing Product

You really have to check out this amazing product on Amazon. It appears at first glance to be a hideously overpriced computer cable, but read the user reviews: it is, in fact, an item with miraculous powers to heal, comfort, and provide joy in wondrous ways.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Navy Musings

My first ship in the Navy was the USS Worden (CG-18). I was on her from Dec '78 to Dec '81. At first, we were homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, but never spent much time there as we were "the point of the spear", which meant we were usually steaming around in circles during exercises, or going from Yoko to Chinhae (Korea) or Subic Bay (Philippines). We were deployed to the North Arabian Sea during the disastrous hostage rescue attempt. We visited Mombasa (Kenya) and Perth, Australia, during that trip. Later, we changed our homeport to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and went into overhaul there. Basically, they tore the ship completely apart and put it back together again. I left the ship several months before we came out of overhaul.

So what brought these musings on? Well, I stumbled across a couple of videos on YouTube that featured the ol' "Wordenski Maru". Really cool to see the ship operating; brought back a lot of memories. These videos were shot long after I transferred, but they show the ship as I remember it. Well, almost: one video shows a 5" gun turret firing shells, which was from an older destroyer, as the Worden didn't have guns like that.

This video was taken while getting underway from Pearl Harbor ...

Missiles painted blue are training units that can't be fired. Missiles painted white are the real thing. And this video is the real thing!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jackson At The Lake

Riding a Wave Blaster is damn hard work ...

Aftermath of his first Oreo ...

Future cell phone junkie ...

Friday, July 04, 2008

Kite Runner

We watched The Kite Runner last night. What a powerful movie! It has a deep subject that is just as relevant to contemporary America as it is to contemporary Afghanis. Incredibly well-written, well-directed, and well-acted. Much has been written about the rape scene and how it has offended Muslims throughout the Middle East. In truth, the rape scene is important, but it is not the focus of the movie. It's about violence, bullying, and standing up to thugs. On a scale of one to four, The Kite Runner gets five stars.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Janet Hamlin, Illustrator and Courtroom Artist

I just added a link to Janet Hamlin's blog. Janet is a freelance illustrator and courtroom artist. Notably, she's one of the few to cover the Guantanamo Bay trials, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed's last month. She has a wonderful way with the figure - her drawing style is free, her figures very much alive and individual. Go take a look.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More On Iran

On the heels of the Seymour Hersch article that I wrote about yesterday, ABC News has published a report from a "senior defense official" (my guess is that it's probably Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense) that Israel is likely to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The attack could come sometime within the next 15 months, possibly even before the end of this year. The Telegraph newspaper in the UK had a similar article, citing our former UN ambassador John Bolton. He said it would probably come after the election, but before the new president is sworn in. Bolton may be an asshole, but he's a well-connected asshole and he's no dummy.

It doesn't really matter whether George Bush or Ehud Olmert launches the attack. The end result would be the same. Let's step through it.
- An American or Israeli attack is launched against Iranian nuclear facilities. Some, but not all, of the facilities would be destroyed. The Iranian program would be set back months, if not years, but not ended. (Remember that the US intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) last December that said the Iranians stopped their program back in 2003, but didn't dismantle it. In other words, the attack would be against a program that isn't doing anything anyway.)
- The Iranians are a proud and nationalistic people, pretty much like us. And like us, they have an idiot in the front office who would love nothing more than to get involved in a war. The Iranian idiot is Ahmadinajad, whose approval ratings are on par with George Bush's. But to the Iranians, Ahmadinajad is their idiot, so any attack on him is an attack on all. So they'll rally around the flag, just like we did after 9/11. An attack on Iran will instantly give Ahmadinajad all the credibility with his own people that he currently doesn't have. And he'll use it.
- The Iranians could lob a few ineffectual missiles at Israel. Some might even hit it somewhere. More importantly, they'll shut off the Straits of Hormuz, through which approximately 20% of the world's oil supply moves. How? By launching a few attacks by aircraft, surface vessels, and surface-to-surface missiles. All they have to do is hit one or two tankers, maybe sink one, and no tanker owner will send his ship through there. Plus, it'll create an ecological disaster that would make the Exxon Valdez look like a kid spilled his Coke.
- Our Navy is permanently operating in the Persian Gulf just for this contingency. So the ships will get underway and try to keep the Straits open. But it will take time to knock out the Iranian capabilities and then convince the oil shippers that it's safe to go back in the pond. Months.
- Meanwhile, what do you think will happen to the price of oil when 20% of the world's supply is suddenly unavailable? We've seen wild price swings on minor things like a militia attack on a Nigerian oil rig. Right now oil is at $143/barrel; it could easily double or triple, meaning gas would be $8-$12 per frickin' gallon.
- Now picture what happens to the US economy with gas prices that high. People quit driving. (Great for the environment, not so good for the pocketbook of your average Joe). Trucking firms don't operate. Airlines scale back their flight schedules to almost nothing, or else go out of business entirely. With transportation costs skyrocketing, everybody else has to raise their prices to pay for it. Wages can't rise nearly as fast, so people will cut back their spending to just the basics. So tourism will come to an abrupt end. Goodbye ski resorts, beach towns, art towns, artists, Disneyworld, and much of the economy of every state in the Union. There are already rumors that GM might go bankrupt due to the drop in demand for its SUV's and trucks; if nobody can even buy their small cars, then they'll definitely go under. There won't be a ripple effect, there will be a tsunami of small, medium, and large companies closing their doors and throwing people out of work. Recession, hell, it sounds like a depression to me.
- And if the US goes into a recession/depression, so will the rest of the world. China's economy is built on providing cheap stuff to US consumers, so if we're not buying, they're in a world of hurt. Europe's economy is closely linked to the US's and is based in large part on oil as well, so their economic troubles will mirror ours. The "developing nations" won't have markets to sell to, so they'll suffer too.
- We've already seen riots around the world recently related to sudden spikes in food prices. What do you think will happen when all prices spike, while income doesn't?

I don' think this is a worst-case scenario. I think it's a realistic one. In fact, it probably understates the consequences, since there are always factors that nobody foresees.

And all this to get the Iranians to stop a program that they already stopped in 2003.

Take action now. Write your senators and congressmen. Letters to the editor. Picket. Whatever. We can't afford for this to happen.