Sunday, September 28, 2014

This Is The Next War That I'm Already Against

I've been pretty quiet about America's latest military adventure in the Middle East but my silence should in no way be interpreted as support for the bombing campaign against ISIS.  As an infantryman and a student of history, I know that the only way to defeat a force like ISIS is to match it force for force, to destroy and degrade its capabilities and to take and hold territory.   Can't do that from the air no matter how often the flyboys say they can.  Holding territory means "boots on the ground".

Right now the boots on the ground in western Iraq and eastern Syria are mostly ISIS.  The Iraqi Army pretty much disintegrated in the Sunni regions and with the exception of the Kurds,  a few Iraqi units now fighting for their Shi'ite homeland, some Iranian Revolutionary Guard advisors and (now) US advisors, ISIS doesn't face much likelihood of being forced to give up territory any time soon.  Meanwhile, the US does what it always does--bomb, bomb, bomb.  Which might do some good if there were any forces on the ground to follow up the aerial attacks. 

Locals, the ones most at risk from ISIS are the most logical source for those boots on the ground to resist ISIS.  No others have quite the same motivation that the locals do.  Sure, other countries in the region and beyond may have interests and concerns about ISIS but for the time being, those concerns are somewhat remote.  Locals are fighting for their homes.  In this case the locals--Iraqi Sunnis--have chosen ISIS over the central government.  They feel far less threatened by ISIS than they do by the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government.  Until Iraqi Sunnis change their mind, ISIS won't encounter real resistance, our bombs and rockets notwithstanding. In the meantime, those bombs and rockets will give proof to many of those locals that the US and the West are waging war against Islam.

That's one reason to object to the latest strategy--I don't think it will work and is likely to exacerbate the problem.  A second reason is that America's interests are at little risk from ISIS.  ISIS is not an existential threat to the US; their fighters will not be soon behead people in American town squares.  ISIS jihadis, with US passports may pose some risks but those risks are often countered with effective intelligence and good police work. 

Dropping bombs in the Middle East does nothing to reduce those risks.  It may well worsen them.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Almost Fall Velo News

The big velo news is that I turned 9000 miles on my bike computer during last week's ride, ending at a nice, symmetrical 9009 before going in for hip replacement surgery two days ago.  Nine thousand was a nice milestone before what I hope won't be much beyond four weeks.  Even with the break, I don't expect to have much difficulty reaching my annual goal of 1040 miles per year.  Since I've not been able to hike due to the painful hip, I managed to get in plenty of mileage before the surgery.  Seems as long as I didn't have to carry my weight, I could ride with with a tolerable level of pain.  That, plus the incredibly dry, sunny weather we've had in Olympia this summer made for plenty of of opportunities to get out.

Summer is the only time of the year I get to ride in the early morning these days.  Early morning rides have always been a favorite.  When I rode in Phoenix they (often before sunup) were almost a requirement during much of the year.  I came to very much like having the streets to myself.  Here in Olympia, early morning rides mean near freezing temperatures and often wet so I don't get the chance very often.  So this summer's been a real treat.  Mornings on even the hottest days (high 80's to mid-90's) here are delightfully cool.  At their coolest, summer morning temps are still warmer than afternoons during other seasons.  Today and tomorrow look like the last of the warm summer days for 2014.  By the time I am riding again we should be heading for the Big Dark and the rain that comes with it.

The surgery went well and I have been feeling pretty good, all things considered.  I was in the hospital one nigh after the surgery and came home yesterday.  The three day pain block the surgeon used on the incision has worked well so far but I am definitely sore and moving slowly.  The pain block wears off tomorrow so the next few days may be a challenge but my surgeon prescribed both strong and less strong painkillers and I also learned some pain reduction and relaxation techniques from a hypnotherapist.  I think I'm good to go.

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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,