Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Big Chill

The arctic weather that has frozen the Northwest is finally giving way to warmer but still wet weather. Forecasts for the next few days call for rain to wash the remaining snow away. Now the main worries are local flooding and collapsing roofs, including the parking cover at my apartment building. The latter did not fall on my vehicle but I'm not sure that the corner that did collapse is any worse than the rest of the structure. Maggie and I finally got our truck out on Christmas Day; streets in the area had been passable on previous days but our parking area has a definite slope to the left and lots of ice. It was easier to walk or arrange rides than try to make our way out. These days, there's enough clear pavement to keep from sliding into parked cars.

Anyway, here's what it looked like.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Reality Check

The Washington Post today carries a short article about about the Iraqi PM canceling a visit to Iran. About two-thirds of the way in, this statement appears.
Iraq approaches the provincial elections as a far less violent country than it was during a nationwide ballot in 2005. Roadblocks and barricades effectively partition the capital into hamlets, snarling traffic but restoring a semblance of normality. That was reinforced Thursday when the government declared Christmas a national holiday for the first time, a bittersweet reprieve for the country's beleaguered and rapidly dwindling Christian minority.

The statement states a very real fact about Iraq at the end of 2008--that nation is far less violent than in past years. In the view of America's conventional wisdom, America has achieved success in Iraq. CheneyBush's bold surge of troops turned the corner. The fact that the quoted statement is immediately followed by an account of a murderous attack in Baghdad in no way diminishes the achievement. Of course, Iraq will experience violence, that's just the nature of the culture. In the neo-con fantasy world of American policy, circumstances clearly warrant no change.

I cite the statement because it is the underlying premise of American thinking about Iraq and America's war policies. It conveniently ignores the history of the war and its disastrous consequences in favor of a temporary de-escalation of violence in a civil war as the participants conserve and nurture themselves in anticipation of the next round. For BushCheney, the moment allows him to leave office bleating "success" just as Nixon clung to "peace with honor" even as he abandoned South Vietnam to its own devices and American air power in a vain attempt to stave off inevitable defeat.

The trick actually worked for Nixon. at least until Watergate consumed his presidency. Between 1973 and his demise the following year, "peace with honor" took Vietnam off the table for most Americans. When Saigon finally fell to the North Vietnamese, Americans simply shrugged and Nixon was already planning his rehabilitation. CheneyBush will forever claim the rightness of his policies and enough Americans will believe him to give his story eternal life, just like the "we could have won in Vietnam if the hippies/press/Jane Fonda/liberals hadn't betray our soldiers."

If you look past the white noise of "surge success" and "building a democracy in Iraq" the reality is still grim. As always, Juan Cole is the best source for sober reality in the Mid-East. I recommend his "Top 10 Myths About Iraq 2008". He disputes the belief that the 2007 troop surge is the sole reason for the drop in violence.
The major reason for the fall in the death toll, however, was that the Shiites won the war for Baghdad, ethnically cleansing hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from the capital, and turning it into a city with a Shiite majority of 75 to 80 percent.... Now, a Shiite militiaman in Baghdad would have to drive for a while to find a Sunni Arab to kill.

In other words, the bloodbath we were fighting to prevent happened on our watch.

Reality. It will bite you in the ass if you don't pay attention


Thursday, December 25, 2008

From Solstice to New Year

For me this dark time of year is the time of the Solstice and change to the New Year. It's a time to celebrate another year of life and look forward to the next. Since America was formed by men of Western Judeo-Christian tradition (some more so than others but all tolerant of it), the nation has long since celebrated Christmas. In my lifetime this winter holiday has come to be recognized as something far more universal than the Nativity Story. That has been certainly true of my own life. I long ago abandoned Christmas as a religious celebration. Somewhat later, as I became aware of our environment, Planet Earth, the solar system, galaxy and the immense vastness of the universe, I reverted to the spirit of the Pagan Yule. I also celebrate the Summer Solstice but that is a more personal observance since much the world ignores it or notes it only in passing. The near universal celebration and festiveness of this time of year seems to reinforce my own sense of joy and wonder.

So I observe the holiday along with the culture that surrounds me. Maybe it's the idea that somehow we can live in harmony with all other beings, all life, our environment and the planet that supports it all. But it's also about reconnecting and touching base with old friends and celebrating with those close to me. So I decorate, send out cards and emails. Hell, I've even bought a couple of gifts.

So it's only right that I wish the blessings of the season to all visitors to this space. I would remind all of you that you are among the most privileged and well-to-do people on this planet just by virtue of owning a computer. And because you possess resources, what better way to join the spirit of the season than by sharing with others, each in his or her own way.

Anyone who has been reading this space for any length of time will also know that this time of year is inextricably linked to Vietnam, arriving one year and leaving the next that's why this Christmas story speaks so directly to me.

Peace be with you and with your spirit.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Velo Wrap

My 2008 bicycling year has come to a premature end at 915 miles. Breaking a thousand miles would have tied a personal best from over a decade ago. That goal looked possible in early November, iffy by December and "Not Gonna Happen" as of today. Olympia has had two near-record snow storms since Wednesday along with well below freezing temperatures. Looking at all the snow and ice, I know that I will not break 1,000 and even getting out for another ride may be unlikely if the weather keeps up this way, which is more or less predicted for the next 10 days.

Nine-fifteen isn't a bad year--that's almost two-thirds of the total miles on my bike odometer since I installed it about 10 years ago. That tells me that I've ridden more regularly this year than in a long time, which is evidence that Olympia is a good place to bicycle. Cycling has been my primary form of active recreation this year. I walk regularly as well but getting out on my bike ramps up the adrenalin and circulation. I love the feel of the air moving past my head as I zip through neighborhoods, cruise along bike trails and scream down steep grades. Hell, I even like climbing some of those steep grades; it's a verification of strength and endurance that is comforting at age 61.

Cycling has been a great way to learn my way around town. During the year I explored a variety of routes in all directions from my place. Before I started working full-time, I had the luxury of weekday rides with trails much to myself. Now that I ride weekends, I have more company but other than needing to get a bell or horn to warn others of my approach (no one ever seems to hear my shouted announcements and I don't like shouting, anyway), the ride is still pretty much a solo event where others don't really intrude.

My routes take me to all areas of Greater Olympia which also include the cities of Tumwater and Lacey and parts of Thurston County. I see everything from small town neighborhoods, commercial areas, major roads, bike trails, farms even forests. I've climbed the most of the hills either side of the Deschutes River and Budd Inlet. My cyclist view of Olympia is far more intimate than from a car and much wider than on foot.

If I were hardcore, this snow and ice would not deter me. Friday morning I saw a cyclist at an icy intersection. The first snow storm had ended during the night after 36 hours and it was still dark. The rider looked well garbed for the occasion and had a very good headlamp. A commuter, I assume, since neither the day, time nor weather were particularly suited for pleasure riding. I ride for pleasure, which is why I think my bike will remain parked for the remainder of 2008.

2009 may not be a thousand mile year either but even a leisurely and likely estimate comes out to 750 miles. I can ride with that.


What the General Did Not Say

Wesley Clark has an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today about relations between Democrats and the military. One passage caught my eye:
Finally, let's put aside the partisan legacy of Vietnam once and for all. We all grieve for the losses there and for the needy, homeless vets today. But almost no one now in uniform served in that conflict, and most of the Democrats who will be moving into offices at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and in Congress are too young to have been part of the bitter national debates over the war. Iraq just isn't Vietnam, and the debates over a U.S. withdrawal need not tear the country apart -- especially if we in the military recognize that the Democratic Party that I have been associated with is every bit as patriotic and service-oriented as any other group in the United States. (italics added)

The general is correct that re-playing history into the present does not constitute serious discussion of contemporary challenges; we should certainly not allow ourselves to be trapped into some ironclad historical model.

That's why I say that if we want to put the partisan debate about Vietnam behind us, we also must discard the polarizing specter of Munich and the even more damaging concepts of American Exceptionalism and Triumphalism. Munich tells us that all negotiation with an adversary is appeasement, that adversaries are always evil and that evil only responds to force. is the only real solution. Exceptionalism and Triumphalism insist the United States exists on its own plane with rights, privileges and exemptions from the lessons of history.

General Clark offers good advice about ways Democrats and the military can work together to serve America. As far as thad advice goes, it's a positive step. An even greater step would be for Americans to discard our myths and fears about our place in the world and to learn how to compete in the world as it is and will be.

The piece is also notable for acknowledging the passing of the Vietnam Generation. We're almost history and certainly the rancorous legacy of that war should be forever interred. But I for one will not go quietly if I think the grievous errors, lies and distortions are not exorcised from our national debates as part of that interment. I earned that right and that duty in Vietnam

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