Saturday, September 18, 2021

We Blew It!

The latest UN report on greenhouse gas emissions paints a dire picture for the future of life as we know it on Planet Earth.  The report estimates that even if the  most recent action plans submitted by 191 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions are met, the planet is on track to warm by more than 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century — far above what world leaders have said is the acceptable upper limit of global warming.  That change will not end life on Earth--life will adapt and evolve as it always has but the transition will be ugly.  In the past the kind of changes we can expect within the next century occurred over eons and did not involve highly complex societies designed on the basis of a stable.  Environment.  I won't mourn the demise of homo sapiens.  In general, I think it's a fair reward for our stewardship of our home planet but it's unfair to future generations born into a rapidly changing world for which they have no responsibility.  It's even more unfair to the many other species that will die with us.

As an aging Boomer I can't help but think that my generation blew it.  Oh sure, Boomers didn't create the current political/economic system--it was well under way when we were born--but we didn't live up to the predictions that we would be change agents.  Those predictions were overblown at the time but were still an integral part of our generational identity, either explicitly or in the conventional wisdom.  In reality, we largely accepted things as they were, occasional demonstrations and other resistance notwithstanding, and went on to live our relatively privileged (depending on sex, race, class and other determinants of societal worth) lives.  

What we did not do was take climate change seriously from the beginning.  Early warnings date back to at least 1912 but were not fully understood.  In 1965 The American Association for the Advancement of Science raised concerns about atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change.  By 1988 the dangers were better understood and pointed to a changing world.  In that same year the first Baby Boomer was elected to national office.  The Boomer was Dan Quayle and the office was Vice-President and, while both are relatively insignificant on their own, the event represents our the Boomers' ascent to power.  We were already well-represented at other levels of government.  From 1993 through 2021 every President has been a Boomer.  You'd think that the generation that celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 would have been sufficiently aware to recognize the dangers posed by those early warnings.

That's not to say we did nothing.  International conferences and panels and made recommendations and pledges were made but nothing fundamental changed.  America and the rest of the industrial world continued to burn fossil fuels and now we face a much shorter timeline for dealing with what is a rapidly deteriorating situation.  The promise of generational progress is that each generation leaves the world better off than it found it.  That was easy enough when we had an entire world to exploit (and the indigenous peoples of those exploited areas weren't part of the deal).  As I write now at the beginning of the 21st century's third decade, meeting that intergenerational is highly unlikely.  

Unlike my generation, future generations will address the consequences of climate change.  They have no choice.  We did and we blew it.

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Thursday, September 09, 2021

Twenty Years On


As the nation approaches the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon the media are running stories about that day and its aftermath. President Biden is planning to visit those two sites and Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the fourth hijacked plane crashed after passengers aborted the attack enroute to its target. It was a day of fear, tragedy and heroism. Certainly a stunning blow to post-Cold War America. Suddenly, we all felt vulnerable in a way that had never occurred during our decades-long stand-off with the Soviet Union. In the immediate aftermath, the media and politicians called it “a day that changed everything”. The nation was united in fear, patriotism and the demand for action.

As it turned out, the unity did not last and many of the changes were not for the better. Clearly some kind of response was warranted but that response turned into two decades of war that largely fulfilled Osama bin Laden’s objective of bleeding America. The Cost of War project estimates that US has spent $8 trillion on military and related expenditures since 2001 and over 929,000 people (overwhelmingly not Americans) have died as a result of our military operations since 2001 . In the process, the US abandoned core Constitutional principles such as the right to trial and prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment as we sanctioned extraordinary rendition, “enhanced interrogation and indefinite detention. At home, America turned into a militarized, surveillance state, all in the name of a “war on terror” and national security.

Attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks made some sense since that organization claimed responsibility for the attacks. Its most prominent leader and training camps were sheltered there by the Taliban government. But giving the president a near blank check to conduct military operations in pursuit of terrorists was not a wise idea. George W. Bush and the war hawks in his administration were more than willing to use that authority and distortions about 9/11 to launch a whole new war in Iraq just because they could. The lone member of Congress who voted against that authority, RepresentativeBarbara Lee, noted at the time that the nation was reeling in pain an grief from the 9/11 attacks and was not in a position to make rational, considered decisions. She urged the nation to stop and think before entirely abdicating its Constitutional responsibility and simply allowing the president to launch wars on his own. She was vilified for her vote. America wanted war and we got it.

What we got was two decades of war that weakened America more than the actual 9/11. What we did not get was an end to terrorist attacks. We got a “Homeland” and some measure of safety from international terrorism. We got increasing restrictions and intrusions on daily life. We also got years of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, instability throughout the Middle East and beyond, a metastasizing terrorism threat throughout the world and ongoing “contingency operations” to stamp out those threats. In the meantime, domestic terrorism grew within our own borders and our cherished democracy fractured.

Our military response was not the only alternative available at the time. Some argued for pursuing terrorist organizations as criminal enterprises. Following the money and tracking connections were established techniques that had been successful against organized crime. It would have disrupted their activities and killed many fewer people. But that and any other alternative were shouted down in the paroxysm of patriotism and fear that followed 9/11.

So America went to war. First, it was the “Global War On Terror”. Then it was the “Long War”. And, finally, it became the “Forever War”. No one was actually certain about our actual goals but we were at war and simply would not give it up. And, as long as only a small percentage of families bore the brunt of combat and the US could put the wars on its credit card, Americans were willing to let it go on. Ultimately it became a festering wound on America.

Twenty years on, the 9/11 attacks continue to haunt America. It is right and proper to remember the day’s victims. It is also right and proper to remember how it all went wrong.  We can’t change history but we can change the future. The US may have the most powerful military in the world but we haven’t learned that not all international conflicts are amenable to military solutions.  


Vietnam.  Afghanistan.  Iraq.  Maybe we'll get it right next time.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Requiem for a War


The last US plane flew out of Kabul August 31 officially ending America’s “longest war’. 


After 20 years, the US finally acknowledged, if not defeat, an end to our occupation of Afghanistan. While many Afghans experienced a form of an open society during our occupation, many others experienced the horrors of war and many others living in rural areas continued to live under the rule of a highly conservative patriarchy. As a soldier who served in another American defeat, I can sympathize with the many service members who wonder if their service in Afghanistan has any meaning at all. Maybe, just maybe, those efforts will leave behind some spark of a more open, tolerant civil society that will force the Taliban to be more judicious in creating their Islamic Emirate than the last time they ruled. That’s small consolation for the lost blood and treasure but it’s better than nothing. I’m not holding my breath, though.


The commanding general announced the completion of our mission in Afghanistan but the war will continue, just not with US boots on the ground. Instead, we will fight “over the horizon” seeking out terrorists who plot to do us harm. And not just in Afghanistan but wherever we identify a threat. So the beat will go on. The US has been officially in a period of war since August 2,1990. That includes the Persian Gulf War, the Balkan wars, the no-fly zone operations in Iraq, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, anti-terrorism operations in Africa. America has no shortage of targets, a Congress that is all too willing to leave war-making to presidents and presidents more than willing to act in that vacuum. at incl at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. So just because we are off the ground in Afghanistan don’t think that the war is over.

As America comes to terms with its defeat in Afghanistan, the architects of that mission are claiming that if only the US was willing to stay long enough, we would haveestablished a secular government that could compete with the Taliban. That’s bullshit. Aside from going in to smash Al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan after 9/11, the US never had a clear mission or understood Afghan society to build that structure. The report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction details how it all went wrong. The Washington Post has documented how three successive administrations misled the the American public about the war. And we in the public let it all happen. As long as the costs fell on the relatively few Americans who actually had to fight the war, Americans were willing to accept the blandishments of success that was just around the corner. It fell to Joe Biden to be the one to say”no more”.

I give Biden credit for calling an end to the Afghanistan war. It brings a lot of fire down on his head and will be an indelible part of his legacy. Neither George Bush nor Barack Obama were willing to pull the plug. Donald Trump at least understood the war’s pointlessness but managed to undermine the Afghan government in negotiating a US withdrawal with the Taliban. Where Biden fucked up was in not being better prepared to deal with the immediate collapse of the Afghan army and other security forces that the US had laboriously assembled and supported for two decades. I’m no expert in these matters but it seems that part of the logistics for withdrawal should have been a contingency plan for the immediate collapse of the Afghan government and military in the face of a Taliban offensive. Maybe the evacuation was that contingency plan and was the best Biden could pull off under the circumstances. In the end it was an impressive achievement but it looked bad and left enough of our allies at risk of Taliban retaliation that it will be a black eye on America for years to come.

The Afghanistan war is over, at least for most Americans. For the service members who served in in that war, it will never be over. I know that from experience.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

Rolling Stone drummer Charlie Watts died on Tuesday at age 80. Along with bass guitarist Bill Wyman, were the “quiet” members of the group, laying down a solid rhythm for frontmen Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. From the beginning he was a Stone apart—married, an artist, gainfully employed, a very sharp dresser, more jazz than rock and roll and always a first-rate drummer. As a teenage Rolling Stones fan my attention was easily drawn to the more flamboyant members of the group but something about Charlie Watts always caught my eye. He didn’t seem to quite fit into the rock and roll lifestyle. He simply played drums well in what he called his “day job” and pursued his other interests, particularly jazz, as time and the touring schedule allowed. Somehow, he managed to ignore the trappings of celebrity and fame.

Even so, Watts wasn’t entirely able to escape the dangers of his work environment. He developed a heroin addiction in the 1980s that threatened to cost him his career and family. His addiction was bad enough that Keith Richards(!) told him he needed to get help. He did just that and continued to play with the band for the rest of his life. Funny thing about Watts’ drumming is that it stands out without being over dramatic. Listening to the Rolling Stones songs I don’t focus on the drumming—it’s part of a complete package that makes up the song but it’s also essential to the to the song. I’m not well-versed in all of the intricacies that define good drumming but I do know that Watts added heft and authority to the group’s music over six decades.

My interest in the Rolling Stones waned in the 70s and beyond as they became more of an institution and a large scale touring act. I think the last Stones album in my collection is 1973’s “Goat’s Head Soup”. I was much more drawn to their earlier, more hardscrabble music and thought their later music was more derivative than original. Even so, I was aware that the group never lost its appeal and, as the decades rolled on, continued to make outstanding music, completely reinventing the role of aging rockers and never simply falling back on their greatest hits of yesteryear. Those hits remained part of the act but never exclusively so and the Rolling Stones were always contemporary. Mick and Keith may have been out front gathering attention but Charlie was always behind them with a solid, creative beat.

Godspeed, Charlie. It’s been one helluva ride.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

21st Subdued Stringband Jamboree

If I were a journalist I would be way behind on deadline but I’m not a journalist and can write on whatever deadline I want. So here’s my report on the 21st  Subdued Stringband Jamboree that took place August 12-14, 2021 at the Deming Logging Show Fairgrounds east of Bellingham, Washington. This was my second Jamboree—I attended previously in 2018 and always planned to return. I skipped in 2019 and the pandemic forced the event to go virtual in 2020 so I was definitely primed to go when organizers announced that 2021 would be a live event, although considerably reduced in attendance due to the continuing Covid threat. Attending any large event is still risky these days but the reduced crowd size and vaccination requirement seemed like a reasonable accommodation to reality. Besides, I was really craving to hear some live music.

The line-up included more than 20 performers and the music ranged from solo singer-songwriters to classic rock and roll , jug bands, Tejano/Conjunto, Celtic, and reggae. Amplified performances ran throughout the three days on two stages and when the stages shut down around 11:00 pm or so, acoustic music continued well into the night at smaller venues. Many of the acts performed at all three venues so attendees had the chance to catch different versions of each. If that were not enough, workshops offered the opportunity for attendees to play and smaller informal sessions occurred throughout the three days of the Jamboree. Music was literally everywhere.


So much music, that I could not catch it all. It did not help that the event took place during one of 2021’s severe heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. Shade was at a premium during the day so attending an afternoon performance required some endurance. I’m sure even more was required of the performers. Evenings were somewhat better but even then warm temperatures persisted until the later acts came on stage when it got noticeably chilly. That’s when I realized that the t-shirt ans shorts that were so comfortable earlier were inadequate.

I did not make note of all the performances I attended—I’m just not that much of a journalist. I can say that I heard only one act that did not particularly appeal to me. A few really grabbed my attention. On Thursday night John Elliot, a singer-songwriter, performed heartfelt songs that addressed topical issues with passion and humor. He introduced one song as a ten minute piece about public transportation which cleverly recounted the history of our addiction to fossil fuel. Another song, “It’s Bad But It Gets Better” lifted our spirits at a time when we could all use a lift. Hot Damn Scandal, a seven- member combo that included trombone, saxophone and saw, played music that ranged from rock to R&B and jazz. I couldn’t make out many of their lyrics but their energy engaged me fully. 


On Friday the Yogoman Burning Band, led by drummer Jordan Rains, played an eclectic mix of rock, reggae and R&B. Their set was very lively with much dancing in front of the stage. The Dusty 45s, a four man rock and roll band , performed a set that covered all of the bases—cars, women and one song that asked “why America never stops to think and wonder why”. They finished their set with an encore mash-up of surf music that segued into a cover of “Secret Agent Man” and ended with the lead singer playing a flaming trumpet while perched on the bass man’s upright bass. Saturday’s line-up included Jolie Holland singing her original songs. I couldn’t make out many of her lyrics but I loved the sound of her voice and music. Winston Jarrett, an 80 year-old reggae legend wrapped up the evening with a lively set accompanied by the Yogoman Burning Band. 


In addition to the music, the Bellingham Circus Guild performed a variety of acts on Saturday morning, everything from aerial performances, to silly mime acts, object manipulating and juggling. The Brasscadia Circus Band provided musical accompaniment and sound effects The final act was a juggler who juggled flaming batons while balancing a flaming scythe on his head. It was a fun way to begin the final day’s performances.


The many other performers were no doubt equally talented but with the volume of music available I either could not manage to catch them all or remember the details . Aside from the amount of energy required to attend all performances and the blazing heat during the afternoon performances, I missed many of the Saturday afternoon performances while serving as a volunteer in the kitchen washing a never-ending parade of pots and pans as the kitchen crew finished up lunch and prepared dinner. The Jamboree is powered by volunteers who attend for free. In past years that required two four-hour shifts but this year, in order to keep numbers down in response to Covid, volunteers worked three shifts. When I attended in 2018, I worked my two shifts on Sunday doing take-down and grounds clearing and did not miss any music. I couldn’t pull that off this year.

You might think that spending four hours in a hot kitchen on a very hot day would be unpleasant but it wasn’t for me. The work was fast-paced, and I was largely in charge of how I did it. The other kitchen volunteers were helpful when I had a question but otherwise left me on my own. A second volunteer joined me for much of the time which gave me the chance to meet someone whom I would not otherwise meet. We made a good team and coordinated the work fairly efficiently. She also alerted me to the availability of free beer in the walk-in cooler. The beer was nice but just spending time in that cooler was a welcome relief. When I finished my shift and walked into the heat of the day I caught the tail end of Gallowglass performing acoustic Irish music. As hot and tired as I was I stood at the edge of the crowd for their final two songs.

At that point all I wanted to do was lie down in dark of my air-conditioned trailer but the Tejano music of Epi and CruzMartinez was easily audible from my campsite. A slight breeze was blowing and the site was nicely shaded so I ended up sitting outside, enjoying the late afternoon and the music. And the generosity of my next door neighbor who noticed my broken 20 year-old camp chair (it collapsed during the previous night’s performances) and offered me one of their extras.

Getting to meet the neighbors was also a fun part of the event. We were flanked on each side by folks from Bellingham. The neighbor who loaned me the chair had a large trailer (28 feet?) and a pretty sophisticated outside kitchen. On the other side was a small retro trailer that had been substantially rebuilt by its owner. I was particularly impressed with the creative plumbing for their water hook-up. Their campsite was set up as a theme, complete with patio furniture, an inflatable kiddie pool and a faux cardboard campfire. My Sunday volunteer shift was also a chance to meet other Stringband fans, all of whom were from Bellingham and regular attendees. We spent the day dismantling tents, removing signage, loading gear into trailers and doing general clean-up. Temperatures were lower that day but it was still hot work in the sun. Our crew leader wisely set up under the shade of a large cedar and we sheltered in that (relative) coolness whenever we could. Like the previous day’s shift, it was tiring work but in good company. Putting in the volunteer hours gave me a greater sense of connection to the Jamboree, more so than if I had just shown up, listened to the music and left. The free admission and three meals in the Canteen were a bonus but the connection with other attendees and organizers made the whole event that much more fun.

By Sunday night the 21st Subdued Stringband Jamboree was gone. Only a few tents and campers remained. What had been a lively community full of people and energy seemed to have simply disappeared. Without the crowd, the Deming Logging Show Fairgrounds was a vast empty space. Although I was part of the crew that helped dismantle the whole affair, I was still surprised at the emptiness. Still, sitting in the evening coolness under a partly cloudy sky I could fill that emptiness with the images, sounds and experiences of the previous three days. Those images, sounds and experiences will fade over time but will remain alive in memory for a long time to come.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

July Velo News


This is the new Chehalis Western Trail route under the BNSF RR near Rainier Road.  It actually opened last year but I’ve never thanked Thurston County for constructing it and recognized the vast improvement it represents.   Prior to this underpass, the trail was interrupted by the high RR embankment, turned left and paralleled the railroad for about 200 meters on a somewhat improved gravel surface out to Rainier Road where it made a hard right onto a narrow walkway under a trestle.  Two bikes could not easily pass in opposite directions under the trestle and just before the walkway rejoined the Rainier Road shoulder utility pole cut the walkway space in half.   Following the traffic lane under the trestle meant sharing a narrow underpass with traffic on a sometimes busy road.   Not a good option.  About a quarter mile down Rainier Road from the trestle, the trail climbed back up to its paved route.  BNSF rebuilt the trestle a few years ago and widened the bike and pedestrian underpass but you still had to ride out to Rainier road. In wet weather you also had to dodge or ride through mud in places. The new underpass eliminates all that.


The new underpass removed the last major obstacle on the the CWT.   When I first began cycling in Olympia in 2008 the trail only bridged Interstate 5 and Yelm HIghway; pedestrians and cyclists still had to cross arterial streets at Martin Way and Pacific Avenue.  The latter was especially bothersome since the safest crossing was at a very slow traffic light about 50 meters from the trail. Martin Way at least had a well-marked crosswalk and good sight distance for gauging oncoming traffic.  The Martin Way overpass was constructed in 2010 and the Pacific Avenue overpass was constructed four years later.  Those two projects eliminated the worst barriers. The narrow path under the tracks at Rainier Road remained although it was more nuisance than danger.  Now even that is no more. 


So thanks to Thurston County Parks and Public Works departments and whoever else made these improvements possible.


Strangely enough, now that I don’t have to ride out to Rainier Road I do so regularly.  I got used to riding out to the road during the new underpass construction so a couple of months ago I just followed Rainer Road for a few miles to 89th Avenue where I could pick up the trail and make a bit of a loop.  It turned out to be a decent enough route:  busy but not intensely so and an adequate shoulder.   The route provides some elevation change, not much but definitely more than the CWT following a RR grade. The landscape is mostly open fields with two Christmas tree farms, pasture and older exurbs. Just north of 89th Avenue is a place that sells concrete landscaping stuff. 


Two weeks ago I continued on Rainier Road south of 89th Avenue about a mile to Steadman Road which intersects the trail farther south to see what that was like. Rainier Road was much the same for the mile to Steadman Road. Steadman Road is pretty but has no shoulder whatsoever. Traffic was light when I rode through but I would not enjoy riding in busier traffic. 


That, however, may be my only option soon. The County announced that the CWT will close south of 89th Avenue in July for construction of improved fish passage in Spurgeon Creek.  The existing culverts restrict salmon from reaching spawning grounds and the state is under court order to remove those barriers in order to protect Native American treaty rights to salmon.  Culverts on Latigo Road which parallels the trail across the creek will also be replaced although tat least one lane of the road will be open to traffic.  The County regrets the closure but says that summer is the only time to construct the project without disturbing spawning season.  But they are unwilling to recommend the Rainier-Steadman route as an alternative since not all trail users are experienced cycling or walking on narrow county roads.  I think Latigo Road might offer a shorter alternative but that involves routing users through a construction zone and the County is loathe to recommend that either.


The project is under way now although the trail was still open Friday. A crew was setting up diversion pipes for the creek and had installed a silt filter downstream of the project. Two guys were hauling sandbags over the trail embankment. One guy climbed most of the way up the east side of the embankment and handed a sand bag off to a second guy who went over the top, across the trail and tossed the bag to the other side. I assume they will place them in some purposeful manner since the pile looked pretty random to me. 


The closure will be a bit of a nuisance but I can live with it. I have other routes to ride and can handle the Rainier-Steadman detour if I want to go south of 89th Avenue.  In the end, the salmon get to spawn and the trail gets an 88-foot bridge over the creek and a scenic overlook that offers a good view of a large wetland adjacent to the Deschutes River.


Monday, May 17, 2021

Big Liars Tell Big Lies



Much ink and many pixels have been devoted to the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump continues to bellow his Big Lie about a stolen election. Republican legislators insist that “irregularities” must be addressed. And the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in support of Trump’s Big Lie continues to cast a shadow over American democracy. One of the amazing things about this entire “debate” is that it is wholly divorced from reality. Simply put, no credible evidence of any significant fraud in the 2020 election has come to light. Scores of judges—Republican and Democrat—rejected Trump claims of fraud and other electoral misfeasance. Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security found "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." (Followed immediately by Trump firing the official who announce that conclusion.) Even Trump’s sycophantic Attorney General, Bill Barr, rejected Trump’s claims.

Nonetheless, the claims persist and are now working their way into legislation that restricts opportunities for citizens to vote.  Georgia, Texas and Arizona hava already enactead new voting restrictions and bills are pending in many other states.  So far no supporter of this legislation has offered credible evidencel that the changes will improve election security or administration.  Apparently speculation and euphemisms are sufficient for making voting for difficult for many Americans and targeting the many volunteers without whom the system would not function at all.

A particularly egregious aspect of the Big Lie is the complete dismissal of the incredible job by election officials and volunteers throughout the nation in 2020.  In the spring of last year, in the middle of the presidential primaries, election administrators were suddenly confronted with managing large gatherings of voters in confined spaces and keeping everything everything sanitized to prevent transmitting a deadly virus with which the country had little familiarity.  Not surprisingly, some states did better than others.  At the time the media was rife witconcern about whether the country could hold and election in the midst of a dire public health threat.  Some wondered if the election would have to be postponed.  In the end, state and local officials, assisted by dedicated volunteers pulled off what all credible sources agree was a well-run, high turnout election in a very uncertain environment.

The Big Liars would have us believe otherwise.