Monday, September 15, 2014

What Veterans For Peace Said

A draft of my thoughts on Obama's war against ISIL was rendered moot when I read the statement issued by Veterans For Peace.  So I will simply quote my brother veterans who say it well.
Veterans For Peace is disappointed but not surprised by the so called strategy President Obama presented last night. We are disappointed because it is more of the same. The U.S. will continue to be “the greatest purveyor of violence” on the earth. It will continue to follow a failed policy of war-making in the Middle East.  It will continue to waste precious financial resources which should be directed toward human needs and to support the U.S. economy.  It will continue to put U.S. service members into harm’s way when other solutions are possible and it will continue to take the lives of innocent people, most of whom will undoubtedly be women and children who are always disproportionately impacted by war.
We are not surprised because it has been made clear to us that our leaders are not interested in finding solutions other than war to solve international conflicts.  After thirteen years of war what has been accomplished? Iraq and Afghanistan are in shambles, the Taliban has not been defeated, al Qaeda has further decentralized to at least thirty countries, ISIL has emerged as a power of sorts in Iraq and Syria and a State Department report outlines that terrorism increased by 43% in 2013. By any objective measure, U.S. foreign policy in the Iraq and Afghanistan from Bush to Obama has been a failure. Yet more war is put forth as the answer, even though President Obama himself in the recent past said there is not a military solution to the violence in Iraq and last night explained that ISIL does not pose an immediate threat to the U.S. Why then do we continue down this path?
President Obama outlined a strategy no different from what the U.S. has done for the past thirteen years. It is not a plan for success, it is a gamble that war will work this time when it has spectacularly failed thus far. We at Veterans For Peace challenge the American people to ask whose interests does endless war serve? Who is paying for these wars, whose children are dying in these wars and who is getting paid to finance and provide weapons for these wars? We the people are being driven by manipulated fear to support polices that are not in our interest. Peace is harder than war, but it is cheaper in blood and treasure. After thirteen years it is time to take another path, the path of peace.
If only...

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Friday, September 05, 2014

VA Lies and Helpful Agents

This morning I called the VA 800-827-1000 number to check on the status of client clalims.  Since this is the same number individual veterans call for that same purpose, the menu options don't work for me as an accredited advocate so I always kept punching zero until the system finally handed me over to a live person.  Today I tried the "if you are calling from a rotary phone, please hold" option.  After a short period of silence the the touch tone phone menu came up.

Bait and switch, if I ever saw one.

The upshot of the call was that I punched zero until I got an announcement that all representatives were busy and that I should visit the e-benefits page or call to schedule a call back time.  Used to be that they would put callers in a cue for a call back in the order in which we called--usually within the hour.  No more.  Scheduling a call back sound good like a good option.  The one time I tried that the system scheduled the call back almost a week later on a work day when I could not take the call.

Trying the 800 number came after calling a separate information number available for veterans service officers and advocates.  The wait time on that line was 20 minutes.  The hold "music" is pretty godawful--series of notes repeated over and over.  I thought the other line would allow me to wait out the hold without hearing the music.

When that turned out to be a dead end I called the advocates' number again and got a representative with no wait.  We spent almost an hour reviewing the status of five veterans.  He was very helpful and provided information on five veterans.

And I didn't have to listen to that godawful hold music.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hoh River, Olympic National Park

Spent four days in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park week before last under clear, sunny skies.  Maggie and I camped at the campground adjacent to the visitor center and the Hoh River.  We planned to stay one night and then head for a more remote area along the Quinault River but the Hoh was peaceful, pretty and relaxing.  We had plenty to do and saw no need to move to any other place.

The Hoh River is in a wide, rocky channel easily accessible from the campground.  The rapidly flowing main channels run gray with silt.  The quiet side channels are clear.

Arriving on a Wednesday afternoon, we found a good site where we could easily level the truck and set up.  The site was well separated from others and had some screening from the loop road.  It was also convenient to the restrooms but not close enough that its lights were intrusive.

Set up included mounting the whirligig we inherited from our late friend Mel.   Steady wind throughout much of the day kept it in motion, a nice piece of whimsy that recalled fond memories of our friend.

In the evening, lounging at the table after dinner, drinking hot chocolate and Irish whiskey, we could watch the light filtering through the trees.

Much of our activity centered on the visitor center which was within walking distance of our campsite.  Like thousands before us, we photographed the iconic phone (not quite a) booth.  The missing phone equipment presumes that visitors have their own communication options these days, an assumption belied by both Maggie's and my lack of cell service.  Which is one reason we are here.

Three trailheads lead from the visitor center.  On the first afternoon (after a very leisurely, cool morning) Maggie and I joined the guided ranger tour on the Trail of the Mosses.  The tour was informative and did indeed educate me about the symbiotic nature of forest life.   It was a three-quarter mile walk with some moderate ups and downs.  We saw a lot of moss and other plant life.

After dinner, we walked a short distance up the Hoh River trail, looking for wildlife in the early evening.  We watched a woodpecker work its way up and down a dead trunk, looking for insects.  Every now and then it must have found a good spot because it would stick its head as far into already deep holes left by other woodpeckers and really dig in.  The only wildlife slow enough to photograph was a banana slug.

As we neared the visitor center Maggie spotted a large owl perched on a dead branch.  It was facing away from us but turned its face in our direction.  Its body was about two feet long and had black (or deep burnt umber, hard to tell in the low light) and white irregular horizontal bands from head to tail.  Neither of us have been able to identify it from our bird book.

That evening we attended a ranger talk about elk and cougars.  He said if you are in the park long enough you will see an Roosevelt elk.  As if on cue, a 13 point bull showed up in the campground early next morning.  It was browsing on the grass and blocking my way back to camp when I left the rest room.  I took the long way back to wake Maggie.  By this time the elk was browsing in the path between us and the next site.

Then it browsed in the woods  beyond the campsites across the loop road.  Most campers got a look at him and nobody did anything stupid.

Later on Maggie and I walked about a mile up the Hoh River trail where we saw more forest and additional portions of the river.

We got back to camp in time for some horizontal time before dinner.

We returned to Olympia on Saturday, taking our time to explore places along the Route 101.  We stopped at Ruby Beach where it was foggy and cool.  We got a photo of the beach but not of the family-run Mexican restaurant in Aberdeen where we stopped for dinner.

It was a fine trip even if I did very little actual walking.  These days the arthritis in my right hip makes walking much over a mile painful so I keep the distances down.  I am finally going to have the joint replaced later this month and hope that I will be back on the trail without pain soon.  Unfortunately, hiking season will be mostly over by the time I recover--by then we'll be getting toward winter travel season.  I'm not prepared for that so I will have to find other uses for my newly rejuvenated hip.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Preparing for War

Anne Applebaum assesses Russian actions and intent and asks if the west and its preminent superpower shouldn't be preparing for an all-out war.  The question is sobering  Too much fighting, destruction and death has already occurred in eastern Ukraine and evidence suggests that Russian forces are intervening directly in support of separatist rebels.  Applebaum quotes any number of Russian exceptionalists (yes, they have them, too) along with Vladimir Putin to support a reasonable conclusion that war is likely and the world should prepare for it.

Her logic is hard to dispute.  It's certainly consistent with my understanding of Russian history and culture.  Her conclusion has a hard reality:  if you think someone is out to harm you, it's prudent to be ready to prevent that.  All that makes sense.

But given that the threat arises from historical and geopolitical relations among ethic groups and nations, its underlying causes will not easily be resolved by war and re-aligning borders.  War may, in fact, further inflame the conflict by sowing new resentment and division among people already suspicious of one another.

For me, seeing a situation spiraling into violence means the most logical policy is to find ways to stop the spiral.  I expect my government leaders and other nations' leaders to be smart enough to figure out how to work with all parties to stop the spiral and find alternatives to war.

That is the best preparation for war.  That may seem like a hopeless dream given our bloody human history but the alternative is to accept the inevitability of war as a constant.  I am not willing to accept that.

Call me a dreamer.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

24 August 1814

In honor of today's bicentennial,


Saturday, August 09, 2014

Not Too Hot August Velo News

Western Washington has had the longest run of sunny, warm and occasionally hot (over 90) weather this summer.  Today is predicted to be one of the cooler days (84) but mid-day temperatures and high UV make cycling less pleasant than I care for, especially if I have an alternative.  Which I do:  mornings.   The temperature was 50 when I got out just after sunrise today, around 7:00.  That's higher than some mid-afternoon temperatures during winter, so I can deal with it easily.  Still it was chilly enough that I was comfortable wearing a jacket over a long-sleeved shirt first couple hours of the ride.

Since much of the year here does not lend itself to early morning rides, I enjoy the chance to get out early during the summer.  It's a habit I developed out of necessity riding in Phoenix.  I soon learned to enjoy the empty streets, the low light  and the quiet.  During summer in Olympia I get a chance to indulge my fancy.

This morning offered some fine highlights.  Heading east on 33rd Avenue I could see the road undulating under a green archway, the strong morning light filtering through the foliage.  The scene recalled summer mornings hiking the Appalachian Trail and reminded me how luck I am to be out on a beautiful morning like this.  Returning over Woodard Bay I stopped to watch the tide going out.  A sea otter head popped up in the water, then several more.  I saw six total and from the slightly larger size of one and the way the others followed its lead, I'm pretty sure it was a mother and six pups out foraging.

The day was beginning to warm up by the time I reached the northern end of the Chehalis Western Trail at 9:00.  Enough to shed the jacket for the final nine miles.  The air was still cool, though, since much of the trail is still shaded.  I never broke a sweat and felt strong throughout the ride:  25 miles and home by 10.  A good way to to start the weekend.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Early Summer Velo News

...begins last week in Danville, Virginia where I spent my childhood and teenage years before leaving for college in 1966.  I went back in late June to join my brother bicycling the town.  He rode there a few years back when he stopped overnight en route farther north and mentioned that the ride offered a different perspective as an adult to a place we'd both ridden extensively as kids.  We decided to to the same together at some point.  Last week was our opportunity; my brother was driving to Danville from Atlanta for a high school reunion and he kindly brought a bike for me.

My first ride was a solo one on Friday night. I hit town around 5:00 pm and took off in 91 degree weather along the River Walk Trail which follows the north bank of the Dan River eight miles through town.  When I lived in Danville much of the north bank was occupied by Dan River Mills.  The mill and its 10,000 jobs decamped years ago; the buildings came down in the 00's.  In their place is a very nice bike trail that provides access to the river not available in years past.  I rode about five miles before turning around.  Despite the heat, I was reasonably cool; much of the trail is nicely shaded.  I crossed the river on the old railroad trestle and explored the warehouse district and downtown.  The Danville Knitting Mill building where I worked three summers during college is still standing but completely shuttered.  About half of the commercial spaces on Main Street are empty.  The old Woolworths store at Main and Union Streets is now a church.

We got a late start on Saturday.  My brother's reunion group had an event in the morning so we got out around noon.  We rode over to our old house and checked out the neighborhood.  From there we headed across the river following one of the routes we rode to school.  I am pleased to say that I did not have to walk my bike up the steep Monroe Street grade like I did when I was a kid.  It did kick my ass, though.  We visited the National Cemetery where our parents are buried and marveled at the diverse and eclectic architecture throughout the surrounding neighborhoods.  Some houses were nicely restored while a house next door is shuttered and deteriorating.  Millionaires' Row on Main Street has been largely restored--I recall seeing some of those impressive homes abandoned and shuttered in years past.  We were out for a little over two hours before the heat got to me and we bailed back to the hotel.

Sunday morning we went out early.  The morning was cool and pleasant.  We followed the River Walk Trail, retracing some of my Friday route before continuing farther east toward the airport where we encountered some hills after miles of flat trail.  By the time we made it back to the hotel, the day had warmed up considerably.

In all, the trip was what I hoped for.  Seeing Danville as an adult from the perspective of a bicycle gave me a new appreciation for the town.  The river trail takes advantage of a natural resource that was largely ignored when I lived there.  The varied architecture gave me a new appreciation for the city's heritage.  And it was way cool to do something with my brother in the town where we both grew up.  

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