Saturday, August 07, 2010

Trash Run

American trash disposal practices in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning to come to attention as veterans report medical problems and some die after being exposed to the smoke from trash fires.
The burn pits were used to dispose of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam food containers, mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals. The garbage was tossed in, doused with fuel and set on fire.

And then many people inhaled the residue of what one veteran called "Iraqi crud."

Of course, the military and contractor say everything is okay. Yes, a few people may get sick but most don't and, besides, it's a war zone. It IS a war zone and the toxic by-produces of American materials are another hazard, just like the bullets and IED's. Unlike hostile weapons, though, trash smoke's dangers are long term. A 2008 study showed no long term effects, the Army claims but that study is at best based on a limited time period. Keep in mind, Agent Orange's effects were not acknowledged until long after the war.

Burning trash is nothing new in the Army. We burned our firebase trash in Vietnam. Our shit, too. The trash burned in a trench away from but near the base. The garbage detail would use a quarter ton truck to collect trash and haul it out to the pit before returning for additional runs. At the end of the day, we tossed a white phosphorous grenade into the pile of fresh garbage and were done. I guess the engineers filled the trench back in when the battalion closed the base.

Medics (in their "public health" role) burned the shit. Latrines collected waste in cut off 55 gallon drums that could be removed, stacked, doused with diesel fuel and burned. But the waste had to be occasionally stirred to ensure complete burning so the medic had to tend his fires and stay out of the smoke. I recall the smoke from the shit fires but my exposure was minimal, if at all.

Garbage run and shit burning were both good opportunities to smoke pot during the day on the firebase. These were places and activities that lifers willingly left to the lowest ranks and stayed away. Shit burning had the additional advantage of providing cover for marijuana's odor.

I suspect this generation of veterans will have recall the smoke as more than minimal. Just another cost of the Never Ending War.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 06, 2010

Half Summer Velo News

The sun is half way toward the fall equinox about now so we are definitely heading for the down side of summer. A month ago, first light came before 5:30. These days it's dark for another 30 minutes at either end of the day.

Today I made my first early morning ride in Olympia--out at first light. I used to ride very early back in Phoenix out of necessity but the climate here is far more conducive to riding in the sunlight. Today I have things to do and I'll be in Seattle the next couple of days so I did a short 14 mile loop first off.

The morning was cool and overcast. I started out wearing shorts and a mid weight jersey but threw on a wind jacket within the first quarter mile. A few miles later I was warm enough to ride without the jacket. Olympia is pretty quiet between 6 and 7 am. About half of my route was on the Olympia Woodland and Chehalis Western trails which were mostly empty. Even coming through some of the neighborhoods on my return, few cars were about. I saw mostly other cyclists, walkers and runners.

Today will be much cooler than the past few days, which were in the mid 80's--not bad but hot enough. We had even hotter weather a couple of weeks ago--high 80's mid-90's. I rode from Tenino back to Olympia via the Tenino-Yelm and Chehalis Western trails on an 87 degree afternoon. Along the way I noticed large numbers of (mostly young) people congregated at every river crossing, jumping from bridges into the Deschutes River, hanging out on its banks or swimming in pools. When the CWT came alongside the river at about the mid point of my ride, I, too, succumbed to the waters' lure. The water was shockingly cold and I did not stay in long but it washed away the sweat and cooled me down. Wet shorts, tee shirt and hair kept me cool for rest of the ride home.

Last week's ride was perfect, low 70's, partly cloudy, partly sunny.

A fine summer, indeed.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Pound of Cure for an Ounce of Problem

A story in yesterday’s Washington Post got me thinking (yet again) about the scale of the “terrorist threat” to America. The story, about an American-born alQaeda wannabe jihadist arrested in northern Virginia, hypes the threat of al Qaeda reaching out and influencing young Muslims in this country. Government officials speak of al Qaeda success in establishing culturally sensitive beach heads in America. For all the hype, though, the story identifies a total of four Americans affiliated with al-Qaeda.

That’s right. Four, all of whom are known and fairly vocal about their views. Not exactly fellows who just blend into the woodwork to threaten America. One, the subject of the story, is in custody. The others are well known. The number sounds especially insignificant since I had just read Robert Higgs’ essay on the US intelligence apparatus. Looking even well beyond American jihadists,Higgs puts the entire “terrorist threat” into a realistic scale.
the number of persons seeking to carry out a terrorist act of substantial consequence against the United States and in a position to do so cannot be more than a handful. If the number were greater, we would have seen many more attacks or attempted attacks during the past decade—after all, the number of possible targets is virtually unlimited, and the attackers might cause some form of damage in countless ways. The most plausible reason why so few attacks or attempted attacks have occurred is that very few persons have been trying to carry them out. (I refer to genuine attempts, not to the phony-baloney schemes planted in the minds of simpletons by government undercover agents and then trumpeted to the heavens when the FBI “captures” the unfortunate victims of the government’s entrapment.)

Higgs' analysis undermines much of the rationale for the “war on terror”. Looked at realistically, “terrorism” is small potatoes in the gamut of dangers faced by most Americans.
The true dimension of the terrorism problem that forms the excuse for these hundreds of programs of official predation against the taxpayers is small—not even in the same class with, say, reducing automobile-accident or household-accident deaths by 20 percent. …Even if the expected damage from acts of terrorism against the United States were $10 billion per year, which seems much too high a guess, it makes no sense to spend more than $75 billion every year to prevent it....

In my professional career, I have often dealt with the concept of internal control, the means by which an organization ensures (or tries to) that it accomplishes its important objectives. Internal controls can also prevent bad things, such as fraud or organizational failure, from happening. One of the primary definitions of an effective internal control is that it not cost the organization more than the cost of the problem it addresses. From a business point of view, this is impeccable logic.

Apparently impeccable logic is not an important concept in the war on terror.

(h/t Bad Attitudes)