Saturday, June 12, 2010


And it's oil, oil
Ah, drifting to the sea

Oil, oil

Don't buy it at the station,
You can have it now for free

Just come on down to the shoreline
Where the water used to be

--Steve Forbert, "The Oil Song"

The BP oil spill gets enough commentary that I don't have much to add to the outpouring of words. Suffice it to say, I think the whole affair represents the simple logic of capitalism, namely, profit ahead of all else with costs minimized in every way possible. It also clearly demonstrates the complete inability of public entities to curb that relentless drive for profit.

Far better commentary may be found at Slate where William Saletan points out the absurdity of attempting highly complex, risky technical procedures in an extreme environment where a human being cannot survive. Ranger Against War takes a slightly different perspective, namely that attempting highly complex, risky technical procedures without fully understanding and preparing for possible catastrophic consequences is a fool's errand.

Of course, attempting highly complex, risky technical procedures is absolutely essential if we are to satisfy our addiction to petroleum. Like a desperate junkie, we push the envelop to keep the drug flowing. The junkie squanders whatever resources he or she has and then taking ever more risks to find a fix. So do we as petroleum becomes ever more scarce.

Perhaps we should have listened to Jimmy Carter. Or Steve.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Graduation Day

Today was graduation at The Evergreen State College, Washington's unique liberal arts college located on the outskirts of Olympia. Two friends that I know through my work with veterans graduated today. One is a mid 30's Iraq veteran. The other is a 72 year old retired veterans' advocate. I went out to join the celebration. It was the first graduation ceremony I've attended since my own baccalaureate 40 years ago. That event was certainly non-traditional by Virginia standards, coming barely a month after the Kent State murders and an extended student strike. But today's event was much more fun.

It says something about Olympia that in less than two years I have made friends who graduated today. That never happened in Arizona. It also says something about the community that its signature college is so free spirited. The procession was led by the Artesian Rumble Arkestra (the same band that plays at the Friday vigils) who never sounded better and certainly kept the affair from being too serious. The commencement speaker was Josh Blue, a comedian who graduated from Evergreen in 2001. That kept things from being too serious as well. Caps and gowns were optional and graduates appeared in a variety of apparel. Many crossed the stage with family members. Two graduates walked with their service animals. One graduate juggled sticks as she approached the stage. A group on the edge of the crowd strung tightropes between several trees and spent much of the ceremony trying out their balancing skills.

It's an event worth attending just for the entertainment value. In many respects it was a graduation ceremony with parents, friends, balloons and flowers--all the things you'd see at any college. But how many people get to walk across Red Square to take their degree?


Uneasy Lie the Dead

Apparently, lying at rest among America's honored dead is no easy feat. An internal investigation at Arlington National Cemetery found all sorts of foolishness:
more than 100 unmarked graves, scores of grave sites with headstones that are not recorded on cemetery maps, and at least four burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped in an area where excess grave dirt is kept.
All this a result of what investigators called a dysfunctional and chaotic management system riven with conflict and antiquated record keeping.

The very end of the story mentions that burials at Arlington have skyrocketed since 1990 but staff at the cemetery has dropped by 30 percent. Suddenly, Arlington National Cemetery--a national icon-- sounds like just another military bureaucracy that simply cannot keep up with the pace of America's wars but still has time for personal infighting.

Just getting buried in Arlington National Cemetery can be even worse, though. Funerals must be scheduled, which can mean up to a month delay before interment. The honored dead must be put in storage. In April 2009 the Washington Post ran an expose' of the very poor storage practices and facilities--leaking caskets, unpleasant smells and moldy remains--that left many families, shall we say, distressed.

As for me, cremate and scatter. Maybe the body handlers won't mix up the packages.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

I Forgot to Add

In my paean to local cycling yesterday, I neglected to mention two important contributions to my cycling happiness.

One is the opening of the Martin Way overpass on the Chehalis Western Trail. The overpass replaces a street level crossing that was considered dangerous. I never had problems getting across Martin Way and would have much preferred the Pacific Avenue overpass be constructed first. The Pacific Avenue crossing is a signaled intersection but it's a long, long red light for cross traffic and there's no way to make a run for it. But I wasn't living here when the decision was made and have also learned that the Pacific Avenue overpass involves some right-of-way and business visibility issues so it's more complicated. In the meantime I can enjoy sailing over Martin Way.

The second is that I finally completed riding the length of the Yelm-Tenino Trail. It intersects with the southern terminus of the CWT and is out of range for most weekend rides. I rode western seven miles of the trail earlier this year when Maggie and I were looking at some property in the southern part of the county. A couple of weeks ago I rode the eastern half and met Maggie in Yelm when we went to help my cousin do chores in Tacoma.

It doesn't take much to keep me happy.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Summer Happened

The sun came out in Olympia yesterday and suddenly it was full, green, leafed-in summer. Or so it seemed. Foliage and flowers have been budding for weeks now but the gray rainy weather made summer's advance far less obvious. Yesterday, summer was very obvious with a high temperature around 69 and LOTS of sunlight. It. Was. Glorious.

Certainly, it was a perfect day for a bike ride. Some clouds but mostly open, bright skies. I rode out to The Evergreen State College and took the long way home. That's when summer truly became obvious. Vistas formerly visible through bare branches are now wholly obscured with foliage. Grasses and vines are overgrown in many vacant areas of the city. The air has a moist, fecund smell. Everything is green, green, green. I caught a few glimpses of Mount Rainier and the Olympics along the way. The snow capped peaks sparkled in the distance. About as perfect a day as can be had.

Today is cloudy with showers. Last weekend was pretty much the same but I still rode twice. The Saturday ride was dry but overcast. Sunday's ride was unexpected. The day started out with showers but lightened up around noon. I took off, figuring that I might dodge any rain or that I could tolerate what I encountered. The day smelled wet, the landscape bathed in a soft gray light. Light rain began just after I reached the turn around point about eight miles out. I got wet but it was still pleasant enough.

Well into my third year in Olympia, I am one happy cyclist. Olympia is an easy town for riding a bicycle. Plenty of trails, bike lands and drivers who are not only aware (mostly) of bikes and courteous (also mostly). Despite the Pacific Northwest's reputation for rainy weather and gray skies, I've been able to ride every week this year.

Yesterday's clear skies also brought out a couple of Hueys. They flew over my place earlier in the morning and were on station south of Olympia much of the day. I saw and heard them, a couple of times at treetop level, during my ride. The sound of those rotors always command my attention.


Littoral Combat

Did you know that the United States Navy is building a fleet of littoral combat ships, ships designed to operate in the shallow waters. A littoral is defined as "the region or zone between the limits of high and low tides". Here in the northwest, a littoral combat ship would prowl deep into the farthest reaches of Puget Sound and could come within easy range of the Capitol Building in Olympia.

Here's one now.

Close in naval combat is not exactly a new idea. In Vietnam, the US deployed the now infamous swift boats for combat in the Mekong Delta and other shallow waters. But compare the swift boat below to the littoral combat ship above and the difference in scale and capability is obvious.

All this came to mind when I spotted an ad from the LCS contractor, Lockheed Martin, on a Washington Post webpage touting the ship. The ad used the term "littoral combat dominance" which has echoes of the the US military's "full spectrum dominance" concept. Obviously, the Navy is planning to get its share of the spectrum with the ability to bring its destructive capabilities right up to the shoreline.

The DOD press release describes full spectrum dominance as forward thinking:
"We should not expect opponents in 2020 to fight with strictly 'industrial age' tools," the report states. "Our advantage must ... come from leaders, people, doctrine, organizations and training that enable us to take advantage of technology to achieve superior warfighting effectiveness."

The technology and capability may be 21st century. War is hardly new.

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June 6, 2010

The D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy may be the most sublime military action in history. Just think about it. Courage and determination challenging a powerful evil foe. The good guys prevail after hard and desperate fighting. Hitler's fate is sealed. The war in Europe ends 11 months later.

D-Day is sublime because the men who stormed those beaches in the face of certain death made it all work. They overcame their fears to perform with daring, skill and just plain endurance.

Whenever I think sheer courage, I think Jun 6, 1944.