Saturday, December 06, 2008

Getting Over Hating People

Since I drive a long way to school and work I have a long time to think about stuff. Last week the radio station (yes I listen to the FM radio, my tape deck died years ago and I don't have money to get a CD player) was having a "Totally 90s Weekend" and they played that one Blind Melon hit. I'm not a fan. The thing that I'm ashamed of is that I was happy when I learned of the death of their lead singer, Shannon Hoon, in 1995. At the time I hated the music of the 1990s and the retro-hippie shit/grunge thing that was going on. So when I heard that Hoon had died of an OD I laughed.

So last weekend when I heard the song and I remembered how I enjoyed the singer's passing I felt bad. I felt bad about myself, so I spent the next few days thinking about this concept of hating people that you have never met for reasons that really have no direct (or even indirect) effect on your life.

I never met Hoon, Hoon never did anything to me and yet I celebrated his death. At the time I was a hard-rock guy who was having trouble dealing with the fact that the 1980s were gone and the music went with it. Still this is no excuse. It was a shitty thing for me to do and I'm sorry about it. It wasn't fair to Hoon, the guy needed help and was probably a lost soul long before he OD'd and there I was applauding his failure. The guy had a family who loved him and he had fans who loved his music, his life was as valid and valuable as mine. It wasn't just Hoon either, Kurt Cobain's death made my friggin' week. His band hammered the nails in the coffin of a brand of music that I was too stupid to realize was long since dead. Those kids gathering in the park to mourn him was a huge source of amusement for me. What an asshole I am. Kurt Cobain was another guy who I'd never met and had never done anything to me personally. Worse, he didn't do anything to anyone else but himself. I hated Nirvana back then and yet today I have a couple of their albums. The guy was an original.

So where does this hatred come from? Was I so much better than those guys? No, not really. On top of making me a giant douche bag it also takes a lot of energy to hate people you've never actually met. I wonder what that hate did to me physically? Did it make my ugly? Shorten my life? Make me fat? Today I don't really hate as much as I used to and I'm making an effort to let what hate that I do have go. I think the big change came when I learned to be happy for other people and their success. When I was young I had a lot of jealousy and resentment and I've made a great effort to let all of that go because it came from a bad place to begin with. I wish I'd learned this earlier in my life.

So to Cobain and Hoon I offer my apology, I'm sorry I felt the way that I did and I'm genuinely sorry that you guys aren't still around.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Show "Life on Mars": How Would I Handle Something Like That?

ABC television debuted a show called "Life on Mars" which probably won't be around too long because it's over the heads of a lot of people. The story is that NYPD Detective Sam Tyler gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. He's still a cop but everything else is different. The series also stars Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli and has a great supporting cast and cool music. The show itself is a solid police drama but it has it's fun side as Sam has to adjust to the world of 1973 New York City.

I have always loved the idea of time travel. Mostly going backward in time to witness events like the Constitutional Convention, Gettysburg, the JFK Assassination, Titanic and other events in history. Then sometimes I wonder what if I did go backwards in time somehow? How would I cope in what has to akin to living in an alien world? I was born in the mid-1960s so going back to the 30s,40s or 1950s wouldn't be too much of a stretch but what about the 1840s? The shoes must have been uncomfortable and the clothes scratchy. People smelled bad because they bathed once a week - MAYBE. Work for a nickle a day? .25 cents if I was college educated? Mattresses were mats stuffed with straw on a rope frame, which would suck if my oil lantern ignites.

Oh, and crapping in a chamber pot that I either keep under my bed or in a night stand next to my bed. I have an image of Mary Todd Lincoln getting up in the dead of night in the White House and pulling the chamber pot from her side of the bed and curling a long one out and then placing it back inside the nightstand and going back to sleep. Yeah, I can't even stand to think about it let alone living that life.

Then there are the diseases like Small Pox, Measles and Polio. What if I get sick? 1840s medical care makes the back of the average ambulance look like the Mayo Clinic. There's a lot of things to think about if time travel ever becomes a reality. I think that depending on the year I would be equally lost in the past as I would if I were to go 150 into the future.

Heck, think about life in 1960...

You had to walk into the bank to withdraw cash and the bank opened at 9:00am and closed at 5:00pm (banker's hours). Few people wrote check fewer businesses took the two credit cards that were available (Master Charge and Diner's Club). Gas was cheap but your car didn't have seatbelts. Sneakers were not worn in nice restaurants and everyone wore a tie on a work day. TV was black and white and your music was played on a record player with one speaker. The television networks signed off at midnight, usually to the national anthem. Smoking was allowed just about everywhere. You had a lot of restrictions that you do not have in 2008.

Time travel still sounds fun just as long as it's not too far backwards and I can return to the present when I want to.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Random Hike Can Be Good For You

The thing that I hate about being a grown-up is that I always have something to do that isn't fun. Most of the time it's five or six things that I have to do. So my fun time during the week is pretty slim. I'm lucky if I can squeeze in an hour of video games here or a chapter of a book there. The danger of this is that I quickly become stuck in a rut and I seem to stay in that rut until I force myself out. The evil fact is that ruts are comfortable, even the ones that suck, and this is because people like routine. So every once in a while I have to shake myself out of yet another rut. School was a great way to break out but once Summer break started I can't seem to drag my ass out of bed before 10:30am . I wouldn't mind this except that I'm not really enjoying sleeping late.

So Wednesday came and I had to drive into Monterey to deposit my paycheck and I thought maybe I'd get in a short walk somewhere later. On the way back from the bank I found myself in Borders trying to find a DVD to buy so that I could blow off my walk. This made me mad, once I realized that this was what I was doing I left the store and drove to Fort Ord (my home away from home) and parked my truck. I grabbed a bottle of water and hauled ass into the tree-line. I decided that I would walk down to East Garrison to survey the development of that part of the base. I'd heard that it was stalled because of the housing crunch but I needed to see the damage for myself and this was a great excuse to do a long walk. You see, it's about 3 1/2 miles from where I'd parked to East Garrison so I was looking at a minimum of six miles to walk round-trip.


It was a perfect day, in the upper 70s and no wind. I had my jungle boots and boonie cap and I figured I was set. I quickly discovered that in the five weeks since school had let out that I had slipped out of shape but this just made me mad and I pushed myself harder than I probably should have. Fort Ord will kick your ass. The first mile was a gentile uphill grade that lead into rolling hill country. Worse, about every 500 yards there are patches of sand that can stretch for 50 yards just to kill your momentum. Still, it was nice to be out on the Oak trees and moving. I didn't see a lot of animal life this time around except for lizards which I mostly heard zipping thought the oak leaves on the ground. I kept an eye out for Rattle Snakes but all I would find were their unique tracks in the sand. I was also not too thrilled to find a nice set of Mountain Lion tracks heading the same way that I was. Mountain Lions love to circle human housing developments, I think they are just curious but I'm sure they're also stalking prey. Still, I didn't see one or come close to one and that's just fine with me.

I made East Garrison in two hours and saw that it had been graded into a generic set of lots for the future homes. About half of the old buildings are still there and that's good but they're fenced off and who knows how long it will be before I can get close to them again. I hate fences. I then decided to continue to the Pre-Ranger site and survey the grounds there. This called for some serious bush-whacking and since this was a "Walk" I didn't bring my compass. However, I knew where I was and I knew that I'd eventually hit a main trail but it was interesting navigating the maze of Poison Oak and coastal Sage as I wove my way through the Oaks. It's a great way to test my nerves because it can get confusing in the bush and if I lose my cool I'm in for a bad time. No problem this time, I followed a game trail (bad idea in Mountain Lion country) that lead me to the trail above the old civilian firing range and down to the road that would take me to the pre-Ranger site. The site is still untouched and that made me feel good. The old sign is only hanging by one D-ring but it's still readable. I walked up the road and did a quick survey of the Monterey Pines (since Fort Ord closed in 1993, there are 40 new trees out in this one location) and found that there were 24 saplings reaching for the sky.

Then it was time to turn around and head back. By this time I was hurting, my feet were sore and my right ankle was in a little pain thanks to my boot. I headed back as best I could and I just let my mind wander. This helped with the pain and made the time pass a little faster. The thing I hate about Fort Ord is that there's always one more hill to climb, it takes the fun out of the return trip on a long hike because it never fails that I find myself cresting a steep hill and find that I have to climb yet another steep hill. The worst part is that I don't remember this next steep hill being here on the way in. Fort Ord is a unique place in many ways in that there are geologic features that occur only within Fort Ord and nowhere else on Earth. One of the main features is Fort Ord's magnetic field, according to the U.S. Army, the old base has the greatest magnetic declination from true-North of anywhere in the U.S.. The normal declination in Monterey is 15 degrees, but it's 18 degrees at Fort Ord. The reasons for this are that Fort Ord is a geologic hinge that sits between to faults. As the Peninsula pushed northwest away from the coast the land that is Fort Ord was shoved eastward into the base of the Santa Lucias and then twisted south by the San Andreas, which lies to the east. Fort Ord's soil has a high Iron concentration and all of that Iron is what drives compasses crazy.

Anyway, sometimes I think that the screwy iron-rich soil plays tricks on my head because it's so damned easy to get lost out there. The hundreds of trails twist and turn and the rolling hills disguise small gullies and ravines that make no sense. I found six more small canyons on this hike alone that I'd never seen in all my many missions on the base. I'm always puzzled as to how I could possible miss large geologic features but that's just the way it is on Planet Ord. This just added to my growing aggravation as I slowly made my way back to my truck. I reached my vehicle as the sun started to set and I dumped a bunch of water on my head and changed my shirt. It was nice to get back to my vehicle. Then I climbed in and started up my beast and slipped it into gear and began my take-off roll towards the front gate and the highway.

In spite of being sore and sunburned it was a good day. I'm glad I did it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Advice For Those Returning To School After Many Years Away.

Okay, Sports fans, I finished the Spring semester with 2 "A"s and a "C". Spanish was the "C", it kicked my butt because I farted around too much the first half of the semester. I had to downshift into high gear to save the class. I'm already signed up for Fall, I have Spanish and Marine Biology (and I may add an English class too but I'm not sure yet). Most of the folks who read this blog tend to be over 30 so I'm going to share some tips about returning to school. I'm doing this mostly for myself while things are still fresh.

1. Think about your schedule. If you are taking more than one class, try to arrange them so they don't conflict. Example: I had a Communications class that followed my Spanish class, so all that cool Spanish stuff just dribbled out of my brain. If I were to do it over I would have taken a later Spanish class and then parked my ass in the Language Lab for an hour afterwords.

2. If you can avoid early morning classes, do it. Two days a week I had to climb out of bed at 5:45 and while it isn't the end of the world it did suck. It did get me into the language lab for a full hour in the morning but I'm not sure that it was the better move. I had to work around my job so I had no choice.

3. By a serious backpack. Running back to your car is for the birds. A cheap backpack will let you down. I bought a cool pack with all kinds of side compartments to store cool stuff and stuff I needed.
  • Cough drops. These things saved my life.
  • Extra pens and pencils. I went to Staples and bought them by the box.
  • Masking tape and glue sticks.
  • Stapler.

4. Ask questions if you are not clear about something. I actually missed my first homework assignment because I didn't bother to clarify what she expected from me.

5. If you think that you need extra gear to get through class, buy it. It became clear early on that I would need a protractor, a compass set, rulers and colored pencils for my Marine Science class. I also bought a special organizer that had a built in calculator and a clear plastic clip board with a ruler on the side. All these things just made the labs so much easier and gave my work standout quality.

6. If your study partner sucks, get another one. Nice guys get a "C" in Spanish.

7. Don't wait for the teacher to tell blabbing students to shut the fuck up. Hey, you paid good money to be in this class, those two airheads are screwing you out of an education. You can bring your concerns to the teacher or you can confront the offenders after class and politely tell them to knock it off.

8. Figure out a way to get in more studying time. I thought that I could get time in at work, and I did but I couldn't count on getting that time on a daily basis. I tanked my Spanish mid-term because it came after Spring Break. I was so busy that I had zero time to study. I'm also buying a third pair of reading glasses to keep in my room to have at the ready.

9.Idiot-Proof your routine. Adults are masters of sabotaging themselves, I know I am so I developed a ruitine that kept me focused. The big backpack was one, since I had all of my books I had no reason not to study in the lab or the library or both. I had more pens and pencils than I needed in my pack so I was always ready. I made sure that I was a ready as I could be.

10. It's easier to get there early than to stay late. My Marine Science class was at 11:00am, so if I got to school at 8:30 I could kill an hour in the Language Lab and then study my notes in the library for an hour and a half before class. I know that I bitched about getting up early but there is a difference between being there early and HAVING to be there early. The flip-side was that on my days off it was all that I could do to stay an extra hour to study. I was thinking about all the other things I needed/wanted to do and I'd quickly develope happy feet and haul ass out of there.

If you're thinking about going back to school then do it. Take a class, even if it's just for fun. Plus, young people make you laugh.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Blackhawk X-1 R.A.P.T.O.R. Backpack. (A Review)

In April I bought myself a birthday present. One of the smartest buys that I have ever made. I bought the X-1 RAPTOR from the cool folks at Blackhawk!.com and I love it.
As you know, I returned to school in February and found myself trucking around $350 in textbooks. I had a day pack that I use for hiking and it was quickly pressed to it's limit. As school progressed I found that I had to spend more time in the language lab to study. This mean that I had to hump around my Spanish textbook, workbook and notebook every day along with my Marine Science gear. My poor budget pack popped the chest strap one day and I knew that I needed something more serious. Since I've been researching my book I've become familiar with all kinds of military load-bearing equipment and for a while I used to wear web-gear when I hiked because it was perfect for day hiking and it scared the hippies. Sadly, my web-gear was stolen and I've used a $20 backpack to get around. I became aware of Blackhawk! from the Cav Store when I was looking for Nomex gloves (another story) and I sent away for their early catalog. Blackhawk! had great catalogs with cool pictures of Navy SEALs doing Navy SEAL stuff and they were the closest thing I'd experienced to the old Sears catalog as far as repeated cover-to-cover reading.
So once I decided I was getting a new pack I gave Blackhawk! the first look. At first I thought that I'd go with one of their hunting packs because I wasn't sure how well a military-style pack would go over on a college campus. They make nice hunting packs but they didn't look like they could pull off the dual-role mission. So I looked through the combat packs and settled upon the X-1 because it was big enough but not huge and the price ($230) was in my range. I ordered it in Olive Green so it would be neutral, they make it in desert tan and Army MARPAT camo pattern but OG seemed the way to go. I ordered it with Next Day delivery but there was a snafu. I e-mailed customer service and they e-mailed me right back (within ten minutes) and explained the situation and told me when to expect my pack. Well damned if it didn't show up exactly when they said it would, so I was happy even before I opened the box. I used to be in sales and I'm big on customer service and Blackhawk! has that covered. They should be proud. So I open up the box and lay eyes on my new backpack. I have to be honest, it wasn't love at first sight but that would soon change. This thing has a hydration bladder that holds 100ml of water, I didn't know that when I bought it and I was concerned about how this would effect the load carrying capacity. The inside of the main compartment features straps to secure gear, I assume for silent movement on a mission and I wonder how they will factor in my stuffing this thing to the gills.
So I load it up, I put all of my books in the main compartment and then put my Spanish dictionaries in the secondary compartment. Yes, that's right, it has a secondary compartment. I load all of my pens, pencils and reading glasses into the left side compartment. This compartment is clearly designed for M-16,M-4 magazines and features internal bands that are perfect for clipping my pens on. On the right side it has two thinner compartments. One that is clearly for a flashlight or maybe a sniper scope. I loaded a flashlight into that one. The second one is larger and has Velcro and an elastic chord, I assume this would be for either a radio or GPS or some kind of important piece of equipment that you don't want to lose. I stuffed a stapler, scissors and scotch tape into that one. Finally there is a small outer compartment that I stuff my cough-drops into. I assume you would put maps or MRE's in here. So once I had it loaded I waited until Monday to see how things went.
Monday I grabbed my pack and headed out the door. I stuffed it behind the driver's seat and it sat there like a Sumo wrestler, very cool. When I got to school I hauled it out and slung it onto my back. Good fit. I went to tighten my shoulder straps and was surprised to find that I could do this easily. This is the heaviest amount of weight I've had on my back since my operation and while it's not a combat load or anything close it is heavier than my old pack could handle. The easy adjustment makes the load comfortable to carry since I can shift the weight into my sweet-spot. The pack has an innovative foam back panel that is ventilated so I don't sweat like a pig during the long walk from my truck to my class. It is just a damned comfortable pack to wear. As it turned out, it is also much larger than I first though. I have actually "Lost" my Spanish dictionary in it because I forgot which compartment I'd put it in. The pack is solidly constructed from 1000 denier nylon and breaks-in well. The compartments are zippered and pretty quiet. I've been hauling the pack around every day and I'm really happy with it, I cannot wait to get it out on a hike if for no other reason then it won't be as heavy as it is during school.
I would argue that this pack has made my grades in Spanish go up because I can now hit the language lab every day without walking the quarter-mile back to my truck to swap out books. I think I'm going to have this pack for a very long time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Screw Tibet

I have been watching the hypocrisy that is the Olympic Torch protests and shaking my head a lot. The kicker came last week when the torch came to San Francisco and the city did something right for once and changed the route at the last moment. Protesters had a hissy-fit for the rest of the week because they were denied something or other and that San Francisco played into the Chinese propaganda machine.

Screw them and the horse they rode in on.

Here's my problem. Less than ten days before most of those same people who were out there protesting Chinese oppression were in the streets protesting the war in Iraq and demanding the U.S. withdraw. Six years ago the people of Iraq (the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south) were also living under the exact same oppression that the folks in Tibet live under today. Sanctions had not worked, innocent Iraqis were being tortured, raped and murdered and President Bush wanted to believe that Saddam's ties to international terrorists made him a threat to the National Security of the United he invaded Iraq. He invaded Iraq and freed the oppressed people of Iraq from the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein. No, there weren't any WMDs and Iraq's over-all threat to the U.S. will be the subject of debate for the rest of the century but that honest fact is that Bush did a good thing. Any true American recognizes this. Now Iraq isn't going to turn into Omaha, Nebraska. Not ever. Whatever it does turn into it will be much different than what the White House had envisioned but there is a chance to establish a true democracy in the Middle East and this makes our continued presence in Iraq paramount to allow the new government to take flight.

Yet these people protested this fact. They protested against liberty.

During the second faze of Iraq, when the insurgency started, the protesters in San Francisco marched in support. This in spite of the fact that the insurgency was targeting educators, doctors and intellectuals which in other countries always draws a huge outcry; yet the SF protesters marched in support of the insurgents. Then last week they march in opposition to China for doing the exact same thing that their Iraqi Insurgent heroes continue to do. What is it that the protesters believe? Why is oppression and murder okay when committed in Iraq by our enemies but not okay when committed by China? What am I missing here? Alright, I'm not actually missing anything. These people are so socially and politically inbred that they are intellectually dead. No person who's intellectually living thinks that pulling out of Iraq is a smart idea. They may not like the war but they understand the bigger picture.

Let us examine the history of these morons. It underlines their hypocrisy.

Remember when most of these folks started marching in the streets? It was during the Vietnam war. We were fighting to keep the Communist North from taking over the South. All that Communism was coming from both the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China and it was spreading into Laos and Cambodia. It wasn't being spread by a willing population but by brutal tactics. For some reason the college kids thought that this was okay, I suggest this because they would often march carrying posters of Chairman Mao. For some reason the U.S. was the bad guy in the war and we needed to get the hell out of there so that those poor Vietnamese folks could determine their own future. So eventually we did just that. Let me underline what the anti-war toads were saying:

"What ever communist countries do in Asia it's fine by us!"

This should include, if I follow the logic, the way China deals with Tibet. We were fighting the way China does business in SE Asia, that was the god damned point. So you cannot turn around and feel bad because of Chinese oppression in Tibet. Those protesters of the 1960s sealed Tibet's fate.

Either America is in the liberation business or it is not. You can't have it both ways. If you want us out of Iraq then Tibet has to suck on it too. Seriously, what are the grand plans to get China to leave Tibet? Sanctions? China makes everything and has enough backdoor deals to get the stuff it doesn't make. Maybe a strongly worded letter from the UN? Oh, do please try that one, I love to watch Chinese people laugh. China isn't going anywhere, Taiwan is talking about re-establishing relations and the US is in debt up to it's eyeballs to China.

Why should China listen to us anyway. If you're not willing to send guys with guns to free Tibet then they've got nothing to loose.

Grow up.

Monday, April 07, 2008

My Brilliant Plan To Reform Washington - Green Friendly!

Our founding Fathers had figured it out; put the nation's capital in the middle of a swamp and it will deter folks from getting too comfortable in the seats and corridors of power. It worked for about 100 years too and the few career politicians were so slimy that they belonged in a swamp.

The problem is that the founding fathers didn't anticipate air conditioning.

So today, Washington D.C., instead of being filled with poisonous snakes, mosquitoes and toads is now overrun with even lower forms of life. There seems to be no way to dislodge them either.

Thus I have devised a plan:

Outlaw AC within Washington D.C. and mandate that no lawmaker take a vacation between June and October.

It's so simple, we can simply turn up the heat on these people and make them go away. Not just lawmakers will succumb to the heat either; lobbyists and career upper government management types will wilt in the heat and leave DC for cooler climate. Think of the energy the East Coast will save as well. I'm not sure of the exact ratio but removing one career politician from Washington D.C. is like putting 10,000 Americans back to work.

I don't know why I have to think of this stuff. Get on this you people.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Want Clinton To Take It To The Convention

Don't quit, Hillary.

No way.

The Democratic Party needs a good dose of DEMOCRACY for once. The choice is not clear and there should be a debate and maybe even a full on fist-fight on the floor of the convention. That's the way it used to be and it's refreshing to see it looming once again because the Party needs to decide what it is to become and what direction it will go in the future. The first President Clinton moved the party away from is weak, leftist ties and moved it towards the center and this allowed it to become a realistic option in 2006 to replace a screwed-up Republican Party in the Congress. Democrats elected in 2006 were not far-left freakazoids but (YIKES!) fiscally responsible, level headed thinking types. These were not Howard Dean/Nancy Pelosi flakes but serious roots for a productive and respectable Democratic Party of the future. Obama represents a giant step backwards to the policies and philosophies that brought the party down and turned it into a bad joke. To force Hillary out of a race that is clearly not settled shows a darker side of the Democratic Party that for some reason the party leadership can't understand how much this turns the average American off. Fair is Fair.

Then again, if the Democratic Party was at all interested in fairness they would have counted Florida and Michigan primaries. Instead the Party decided to - PUNISH - the voters in those states for making the choice to move up their primary elections so that they would have a say in the choice of candidates for the White House. PUNISHED. PUNISHED for exercising their right to vote and when they damn well please to.

What a wonderful message to America: "Fuck you, it's our way or the highway".

That is the message to Floridians and Michigan voters, if you otherwise you are a fool. Speaking of fools, all of this can be laid at the feet of Howard Dean, the Democratic Party Chair, a man who is in the wrong position at the wrong time and is undermining the Party's forward progress with every decision he makes. The downward spiral will speed up with an early Hillary departure as Americans would then focus on Obama, who is a troubled candidate in so many ways.

This process should be taken to the convention floor where a genuine debate might actually take place. I think that this would be a bright moment in US history as the democratic process gets a full workout for the first time in a great while in the United States.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Point Lobos, Because I Can

Wednesday found me with four hours to kill on the Big Sur coast. I was in a great mood because I had just had my breaks done and I'm now mobile again. My Marine Science class had intended to go on a field trip but it was rained out half way through so we scheduled a make-up session and I chose to tag along with the PM class so I could have Thursday off all together. This meant linking up with them at Garapada Beach at 6:30pm and since my last class wrapped up at noon I had to figure out how to kill all of that time. I have no money so shopping was out and I needed to begin a new fitness regime so I headed down to Point Lobos.

Since 2001, I haven't been on that side of the hill. Carmel is my home but it sure ain't my town any more. Driving through the city I silently grieved for my home town that has lost it's way. The building of over-sized homes in Carmel is an obscenity and I'm glad I don't live in a place where such vile tackiness is allowed. I drove past my boyhood home and the folks there are keeping te place in great shape. I then headed down Pacific Coast Highway 1 to Point Lobos. Since I'm a broke college student I parked on the highway and walked into the park for free and first went to the east side of Whaler's Cove. The place has been overgrown with young Monterey Pine which were planted by the state to replace the ones killed by the Pitch Canker pandemic that wiped out thousands of pine trees. I made the shoreline and I began my transformation back into the spiritual creature that I keep hidden from the world and spent time photographing rock formations as the ocean hissed it's ancient song to me in the background.

Once I'd seen enough at this location I turned and went south on a trail the bisects the park at it's widest point and too me into the beautiful Forest. It has begun to bloom so in the mid-afternoon light the forest glowed green with highlights of purple wildflowers. I could hear cars speeding past the park a hundred yards away and I felt sorry for those people because this place is so amazing and they were missing it. At the mid-point of this trail I encountered a dead Monterey Pine that was still standing tall, it's branches weathered and bare. I stopped for a second to really think about what I was looking at; this was a tree that sprang to life about 120 years ago and had seen many changes. Even though it was all but dead it wouldn't surrender to gravity, at least not now and stood there defiant in the forest daring God to knock it down. It made me think about if I had been alive 120 years ago, how would I have defined myself in the world? Who would I have been back then? Would I be so different? I mulled over these questions for the rest of the hike until I made it to the south shore of Point Lobos. I never answered those questions either, I just didn't have a clue.
I worked my way along the shore photographing rock formations. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston photographed many of the same places 60 years ago and I already know that I will return soon with black & white film to duplicate some of their work. I stopped at the tide pools and lost myself for a while inside of the mini-worlds offered in each one. Tiny fish, Hermit Crabs and larger crabs seemed to lounge around as they waited for the sea to return. Then it was time to head south so I walked the mile back to my truck and drove down to Garapada. When I arrived the sun had begun to drop making a quarter of the horizon vanish into a bright, shimmering light. The wind was cold and I bundled up. I went down to the beach to shoot pictures in advance and then decided to get back to my truck because it was freezing. Once I returned to the road I looked out and saw the spout of a whale about 500 yards off shore. I grabbed my binoculars and saw the giant tail disappear into the water. So I decided that I would sit in the bed of my truck and count whales until the gang showed up and that's exactly what I did.
I counted 28 Gray Whales. Just a great way to kill an hour and a half if you ask me.
I love it here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Science...Who Knew?

I'm now heading into my seventh week of school and it turns out that Marine Science is my strong suit. I mean, it's a great class and I'm doing great with the subject. I mean today we looked at rocks but not they're not just rocks they're Igneous, Lithogenous or Biogenous rocks. Holy crap, those were three words that weren't in my vocabulary let alone being able to tell you about them.

It seems I've found my major.

Monterey is Disneyland for Marine Scientists of every stripe, I'm going to be one of them.

I'm still writing my book and all but Marine Science looks like something I can make a difference in. It seems that most scientists are so focused on their specialty that they have little knowledge of other things. Subjects such as local history and folklore would give scientists of every discipline an advantage in their studies. I can bring that to Geology and study of the Marine environment.

This is going to be fun.

Friday, February 22, 2008

So I Watched "Outfoxed" In My Communication Class...

I'm taking Communications at my local Junior College and it's a cool class. I figure that since I'm writing a book and I'm thinking about doing something with film or TV I should get a serious background and I'm learning a lot of new stuff that I didn't know before. So today we watched about an hour of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism", the intention being to show the influence of Fox News upon the cable news industry. You can tell from the title that it's not a favorable portrait of Fox News but the film is flawed in many ways. In the end the hypocrisy of the story telling overwhelms a very important message about the sad state of what passes for journalism today.

To be fair and balanced (he he) I should tell you that I don't like Fox News over all. I like Sheppard Smith and I will watch Bill O'Reily once in a while depending on what story he's covering because the guy can be entertaining and even right about certain issues. Beyond that I find that Fox News gives me mental diarrhea. Working in a Motel with the TV on for eight hours has given me a front row seat and since I'm a news junkie I have one of the three cable news outlets on at any time (unless LOST, Smallville or The Office is on) and I have seen everything that passes for Cable News at one time or another. Fox's morning show, 'Fox & Friends" is so vapid that it actually sucks IQ points from my brain. The hosts are the stupidest humans in North America and I didn't think anyone could beat the Today Show in that department. I picture the office manager for Fox & Friends deciding to stalk the supply cabinet with the kind of paste they use in Kindergarten because the Hosts are prone to eating glue. Gerraldo Rivera? What can I say? Fox News and Gerraldo are a match made in Heaven. Fox News is my main source of missing college kids, murdered housewives and scary news stories. So "Outfoxed" should have made my day, but it didn't.

The problem with the movie is that all the source material comes from Left-Wing and FAR-LEFT organizations and even thought the film starts off well it quickly slides into an unfocused mess. At about the half-hour mark the film loses it's focus on journalism and heads into political issues. Fox has never tried to hide their point of view, they're like a Right-Wing Pravda and there's no point in emphasising the obvious. Yet the director cannot help himself and it quickly becomes a shrill, anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-Christian rant. From here there is a sad, intellectual blindness that hurts the film's credibility. The prime example is an on-air confrontation between Fox's Bill O'Reily and an anti-war activist named Jeremy Glick, who was using the fact that his father had been killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center to give himself legitimacy. O'Reily has a patriotic hissy-fit and everything that comes out of Glick's mouth just tick's him off even more. O'Reily kills the interview and they have security escort Glick from the studio. Not Bill's best day. The problem is that the documentary tries to say that O'Reily then misstated what Glick had said on the broadcast. They dispute O'Reily's claim that Glick claimed that Bush (George HW Bush) was to blame for the attacks of 9/11 and imply that Glick hadn't even implied this. Yet when you check the transcripts that is EXACTLY what he implied: that in - six months before the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, starting in the Carter administration and escalating while Bush's father was head of the CIA, we recruited hundred thousand radical mujahadeens to combat a democratic government in Afghanistan, the Turaki government.

Glick: Why would I want to brutalize and further punish the people in Afghanistan...
O'Reily: Who killed your father!
Glick:...didn't kill my father.
O'Reily: Sure they did. The Al Qaeda people were trained there.
Glick: The Al Qaeda people? What about the Afghan people?
O'Reily: See, I'm more angry about it than you are!
Glick: So what about George Bush?
O'Reily: What about George Bush? He had nothing to do with it.
Glick: The director - senior as director of CIA.
O'Reily: He had nothing to do with it.
Glick: So the people that trained a hundred thousand Mujahadeen who were...
O'Reily: As respect - as respect - in respect for your father, who was a Port Authority worker, a fine American, who got killed unnecessarily by barbarians...
Glick: By radical extremists who were trained by this government...
**I'll comment on this at the bottom**
The film shows this exchange in it's entirety and yet the film then tries to tell you that he (Glick) didn't say what he said. This is sad and a telling commentary about the true power of Fox News.
As Fox News rose in rating's prominence the competing cable news channels and even the network news agencies took notice. When I say they took notice, what I mean is that they began to freak out. CNN, once the most reliable news source in the world, has now become a sad, cowering shadow of it's former self. No longer news-driven, CNN now frames it's news into packaged stories just as Fox News does and they populate the morning with pleasant talking heads who seem to be gunning for Fox's reign of vapidness. Or is it vapidity? Anyway, CNN is like a sinking aircraft carrier, you hate to see it go but you cannot help but watch. I should state that CNN' downfall stems from other factors as well: relocating from Atlanta to New York and the sale by Ted Turner, who's maverick outlook on life was reflected by his news network. CNN is competing with MSNBC in the race to see which one can become the Liberal answer to Fox News. MSNBC's actions are probably less forgivable than CNN's because of it's lineage to NBC News, and there was a time when NBC was the best television news for about twenty years. MSNBC is a mess. They have decided to directly counter Fox News' flagship shows with alternative programming. Keith Olbermann runs opposite Bill O'Reily and just like O'Reily there is very little credibly news and a lot of opinion. So for that hour there is no real news discussed on two of the three cable news networks. MSNBC does have Chris Matthews, who's been around the track enough that you can get information from him that you can't get elsewhere.
The problem is that instead of being quality news outlets, CNN and MSNBC are trying to play Rupert Murdoch's game and we viewers are the ones who are losing out. Because Fox News's format is profitable the other cable news networks ( specifically the corporations that own them) are losing their grip on credibility from all of their drooling as they chase Fox's money train. The greatest evil today is that news agencies (papers, TV and radio) are owned by companies that do not understand news and need to make higher profits. While it is possible to get rich with a news organization you (if you are smart) have to live with about an 8% to 12% profit margin. Those margins give regular companies a heart attack, so when some corporation buys a news organization and they look at the books they immediately try to figure out how to boost that margin to 19% to 25% (or more). So they first start to cut positions and consolidate the newsroom. The first thing to go are the foreign correspondents. In the 1960s and 1970s viewers then could count on reliable coverage from just about anywhere in the world. ABC, CBS and NBC all had foreign correspondents all over the globe. They were invaluable because they lived in the countries that they covered and we able to offer perspective and insight that is lost today. The next to be cut are editors and with them go little things like common sense and rational thinking. Stories today just aren't as well sourced as they once were and this has eroded credibility with the public as increasingly stories run my major network and cable news outlets are proven to be wrong. The Internet today features dozens of blogs that do nothing but correct news stories and the bi product of this is that the public has begun to turn to blogs to get their news.
This is all due to Fox News and it's business model: Political one-sidedness+ sensational stories+sleazy stories+ loudmouth pundits = $$$. Who cares if any of it is correct of even true?
"It's not a lie if you believe it" George Costanza, Seinfeld.
Mr.Glick is confused, as many Americans are about who the Mujahadeen were. More specifically he is clueless as to who the CIA trained.
The CIA trained Afghan refugees in camps along the Pakistan/Afghan border. Foreign fighters were usually on their own and this included the Arabs. Osama bin Laden had been contacted by a third party and asked if he desired assistance from the CIA and he said no and for two reasons: 1. He felt that this was a Muslim cause and the west should but out and 2. He hated the United States even back then. So Glick's assertion that the CIA trained the men who would later make up Al Qaeda is false.
The Taraki government was not democratically elected. He came to power in a Communist coup. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan as his government began to fail. Glicks assertion that we had over-thrown a lawful government in Afghanistan is false. Worse, he overlooks the mass-murder of civilians by Soviet forces during their occupation.
George H W Bush was director of the CIA from 1976 to 1977. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It wouldn't be until 1981 that the CIA would get serious about training the Mujaheddin.
Once again Glick is wrong.
Al Qaeda is a sophisticated organization run by very smart men. Their capabilities are matched only by their sense of dramatic irony. The fact that their pilots all trained in the United States speaks to both.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Junior College 22 Years Later

The last time I walked out of a classroom at the Junior College it was 1986 and I had finished Music Theory. I got a "B".

I was not a serious student when I was a teenager, the only reason that I'd even sign up was so that my mother's medical insurance would cover me. I took Arabic and did well in that class but my college transcript is a wasteland of drops and incompletes. Then my family situation changed and I was forced into working full time. Working full time meant that I no longer paid attention to the semesters and time of year so by the time I'd think about registering for a class it was too late. Time went on and I just settled into my life.

Then last December I was goofing around on the Net and went to the local JC's website and looked at the classes and schedules. I then registered and then signed up for three classes: Spanish 1A, Introduction to Communications and Marine Science. This week I went back to school for the first time and it has been fun and not the stressful encounter that I thought it was going to be. The teachers are all really great at what they do and I can already fumble around greeting people and asking them where they are from and where they live in Spanish. The biggest suprise has been Marine Science because it is shaping up to be the most fun of all three classes, this to the point of maybe making Marine Science my major. The teacher is really into his subject and interested in his students which makes for a positive environment.

The coolest thing about this turn at education is that there isn't the social pressure that I felt when I was a kid. I don't know anybody here now and I'm older than 95% of the students and thus I am free from the soap opera that underscored school in my youth. You know, worrying about how cool people think I am, worrying about looking lame in front of women and just the whole post-Highschool social pecking order that I'm no longer involved in. The saddest thing about the local junior college (or any local JC) is that you will have students who try to maintain their highschool's social climate. It's sad because they still act like it's highschool and they disrupt classrooms as they insist on talking durring lectures and they take their show to the student common areas where they perpetuate their immature behavior. I paid for my enrollment with my VISA card. I wonder how the hell they paid for their classes?

Anyway, I am a free man. A Grown up. I'm going to school to work for my future.

It feels good

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Bullwinkle Question

There has been a serious push to draft Bullwinkle into the 2008 Presidential race. I understand to felling behind it, the ugliness of the Democratic race and the snore fest that is the Republican Party, but is Bullwinkle really the answer?

Bullwinkle has always been a hack and the only reason he’s anywhere today is because he’s ridden Rocky the Squirrel’s coat tails. During his college days at Wattsamatta U, Bullwinkle spent most of his time in his mohair jacket partying and going to football games. He has never addressed the rumor of joining Skull & Bones even to this day. Worse, there are rumors that while in Indonesia, Bullwinkle J. Moose attended a madrassa and that the “J” of his middle name stands for “Jihad”. It is no surprise that Bullwinkle would team up with one Rocket J. Squirrel; perhaps they met at the same radical mosque.

Supporters point to Bullwinkle’s success in fighting Pottsylvanian terrorist Boris Badenov as his chief qualification to lead the United States in its war on terror. However, documents made public under the Freedom of Information act show that Bullwinkle’s success was largely due to Badenov’s incompetence and not any tactical or strategic prowess on Mr. Moose’s part. Some charge that the whole conflict between Bullwinkle and Boris Badenov was staged and funded by Israel’s Mossad as a “False Flag” operation. Whatever the truth may be one fact remains, Bullwinkle’s anti-Pottsylvanian operations cost the American taxpayer untold amounts of money. These days Bullwinkle can’t seem to make a speech without mentioning Badenov and this is yet another sign that there is no THERE there. If you take away Boris Badenov from Bullwinkle’s past and what do you really have?

Yet people seem to be attracted to his populist ideals. Me, I see his folksy charm for what it is: Buffoonery. Go ahead, draft Bullwinkle if you must but don’t expence me to get on board with this one.

Oh, and if he says anything about pulling a rabbit out of his hat? RUN!

The Bullwinkle Question

There has been a serious push to draft Bullwinkle into the 2008 Presidential race. I understand to felling behind it, the ugliness of the Democratic race and the snore fest that is the Republican Party, but is Bullwinkle really the answer?

Bullwinkle has always been a hack and the only reason he’s anywhere today is because he’s ridden Rocky the Squirrel’s coat tails. During his college days at Wattsamatta U, Bullwinkle spent most of his time in his mohair jacket partying and going to football games. He has never addressed the rumor of joining Skull & Bones even to this day. Worse, there are rumors that while in Indonesia, Bullwinkle J. Moose attended a madrassa and that the “J” of his middle name stands for “Jihad”. It is no surprise that Bullwinkle would team up with one Rocket J. Squirrel; perhaps they met at the same radical mosque.

Supporters point to Bullwinkle’s success in fighting Pottsylvanian terrorist Boris Badenov as his chief qualification to lead the United States in its war on terror. However, documents made public under the Freedom of Information act show that Bullwinkle’s success was largely due to Badenov’s incompetence and not any tactical or strategic prowess on Mr. Moose’s part. Some charge that the whole conflict between Bullwinkle and Boris Badenov was staged and funded by Israel’s Mossad as a “False Flag” operation. Whatever the truth may be one fact remains, Bullwinkle’s anti-Pottsylvanian operations cost the American taxpayer untold amounts of money. These days Bullwinkle can’t seem to make a speech without mentioning Badenov and this is yet another sign that there is no THERE there. If you take away Boris Badenov from Bullwinkle’s past and what do you really have?

Yet people seem to be attracted to his populist ideals. Me, I see his folksy charm for what it is: Buffoonery. Go ahead, draft Bullwinkle if you must but don’t expect me to get on board with this one.

Oh, and if he says anything about pulling a rabbit out of his hat? RUN!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Movies I’d Like To See.

The 300 To Yuma - Famed outlaw Ben Wade is captured by the law in Bisbee. Rancher Dan Evans is tasked to take Wade to the train in Yuma. When they get there they find the city under attack by Spartans and then the Rancher and the outlaw pool their resources to save the city and defeat the Greek invaders.

The Bourne Superbad Ultimatum – Jason Bourne is brought out of hiding by two bumbling teenagers who are trying to by booze for a party that they’ve been invited to. Bourne agrees to help them get laid but then is forced into action by two inept cops who are part of a secret CIA project called Operation Blackbriar. The people Bourne doesn’t kill get laid. Matt Damon stars.

Spiderman vs. Zodiac – The webslinger’s crime fighting abilities are called into question when the Zodiac comes to town and starts murdering people. Super-strength and the ability to walk up the sides of buildings prove useless as the Zodiac’s body-count increases. The Zodiac taunts police and Spiderman by writing letters to the Daily Bugle where Peter Parker works. Further confusion is spurred by the Bugle’s new cartoonist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is kidnapped by the Zodiac because he mistakes him for Toby McGuire.

Sicko Hostel 2 – Two attractive young women are lured into a nightmare of torture and disfigurement. Turns out it’s just the county hospital. The real horror begins when the get the bill and their insurance refuses to cover it.

Rambo Driving Miss Daisy - Tormented Vietnam veteran John Rambo takes what he hopes will be a quiet job driving around a cantankerous old woman. Little does he know but her scheming grandchildren are planning to kill her and take her fortune. They didn’t count on Rambo being in the mix. Rated R for violence and incoherent mumbling.

23 Dresses – Catherine Heigel is a perpetual Bride’s maid who is stalked by a madman (played by Jim Carrey) who is obsessed by the number 23.

Harry Potter and the Black Snake Moan – Harry is forced to chain Hermione to a radiator in a secluded corner of Hogwarts when he discovers that she is under a spell cast by Lord Voldemort. Harry has to find a way to break the spell while resisting Hermione’s sexual advances.

Grindhouse Atonement – 13 year old fledgling writer Briony Tallis and her family live in an enormous mansion in the English countryside. She has a crush on the housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner, but he only has eyes for her older sister Cecilia. When the two finally fall for each other, Briony accuses Robbie of a horrible crime. Robbie is forced to join the Army. There he meets Bruce Willis who becomes the young man’s mentor. After his leg is blown off, Robbie has it replaced with a machine gun. After the war, Robbie and Bruce Willis return to England to clear his name and even the score. After Robbie kills Briony in a hail of bullets he learns that Cecilia has been kidnapped by Kurt Russell and they are now driving fast across the English countryside. Robbie and Bruce Willis steal a motorcycle and take off after them.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My New Hero

John Hockenberry is my new hero for pulling up the skirt of NBC and MSNBC:


Don't forget to click the link to the original story at the bottom.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Did People Go This Soft?

Man, just when I think that I can't be any more disappointed with my fellow man reality pulls up her skirt just a little higher and grosses me out.

We just came through a nasty Pacific storm, 7 or 8 inches of rain and up to 70mph winds made the Monterey Peninsula a semi-war zone. The wind knocked down Pine trees and they knocked out power. This was the case throughout Northern California and PG&E said that it was a record for lines down. In California we can count on these kinds of storms every three to five years, usually El Nino (El Ninyo) induced and usually in March when our rainy season kicks in. As far as storms go it was a big deal but not up there on the all-time list. I came to work last Thursday about three hours before the storm died and I wasn't expecting too much in the way of business because of the harsh travel conditions. I was honestly surprised to get a small number of guests who lived on the peninsula but we without electricity. Now over the next four days we would get more but in those cases those people had been in the dark for three or four days and that's different. No this first night the power had only been out five hours.

Five freakin' hours...

The one that got me was a lady who had an address that was maybe five houses down from the house I grew up in. She had bought the home about six years ago. I checked her in politely but my blood boiled silently inside of me. I couldn't believe that I surrendered my home to someone like this, the longest we went without power was three or four days and it was no big deal because we had a fireplace. Right now I live in a mobile home that has no heat and a leaky roof (oh yeah, baby, I get to replace a whole segment of rooftop all by my lonesome) and this person couldn't bear to spend one night in the dark in a well-made tract home in a great neighborhood. Hey lady, I will trade you right now, straight up. Unreal.
Then the next part I will add just to understand what is sticking in my craw (whatever that is), these people live in homes that average $1.5 million or more and they ALL asked if we had a "Local's Discount", which we do not. I don't get a local's discount at the Dentist or when I got to get new breaks for my truck, so the insult was just that much greater. My God, people, it wasn't like Hurricane Katrina, where you had dead bodies floating down the street and roving gangs of looters. You people chose to live in a nifty place, nifty because it's near the ocean and has all kinds of trees everywhere you look. Guess what, Sherlock? Some of the most terrifying storms you will ever see come off of the Pacific Ocean and they knock over those nifty trees. Guess what? If we get a shitload of rain the Earth starts to slide, and that means that highways could be closed for months. The longest Highway One was closed was 18 months. The Central Coast is not a place for wimps and the soft-hearted because it is a very unforgiving place. It's how we weed out the undesirables, just as they do in Texas, Oklahoma, the Gulf States and Alaska where you can get serious weather. Your character isn't judged by how much money you blew on your house but on how you roll with the punches and deal with the little stuff. Your power being out for a few days is little stuff.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Dumb Luck Shouldn’t Be Our Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Every once in a while you will hear someone say “There hasn’t been a successful terrorist attack inside of the United States since 9/11/2001” or words to that affect. Usually it’s in defense of the Bush administration and their spastic counter-terror (CT) policies in both foreign and domestic application. Guess what? That has as much to do with Al Qaeda (and other terror groups) and their in ability to mount an organized strike within the US as it does with anything the government has done to stop them. First off, to be fair, Al Qaeda fucked up by attacking the US before it had firmly established outposts in the South Pacific, North Africa, Central and South America in which to train and stage future attacks. They assumed that either the US wouldn’t attack Afghanistan or that America would suffer the same fate that the Soviets did in that God forsaken land. No, I don’t know why. Okay, I sort of do; ideologues tend to over-estimate their own abilities and under-estimate their enemy’s will and prowess. Usama bin Laden is a snob who thinks that his crap emits no odor, a typical rich kid turned revolutionary to which we should be thankful because had he and his crew been smart they could have seriously checkmated the United States.

No, I’m not going to outline how. Whose side are you on?

Besides, this is about how the United States has spent a ton of money on Homeland Security but in the key positions (the FBI and CIA) little has changed, not about Al Qaeda.

The first big clue as to things not being right (outside of the invasion of Iraq) came in a June 20, 2005 New York Times article by David Johnson quoting a 15-page letter to three US Senators a lack of detailed understanding of terrorism by past and current FBI counter-terror officials.


“In a 15-page letter, the lawyer, Stephen M. Kohn, wrote that the F.B.I.'s top counterterrorism officials said in sworn depositions that they did not know the relationship between Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, a South Asia offshoot of the terror network. Nor were they aware of the link between Osama bin Laden and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a spiritual adviser to Mr. bin Laden with whom he had been associated since the 1980's.”
The article then goes on to explain that in spite of 9/11, the FBI doesn’t see experience in counter terrorism as the top qualification to lead their CT department. This is like an NFL team hiring a head coach that has no experience in football. There had been other stories too, stories about the FBI still being too slow to hire Arab linguists and even firing the ones that they had and stories about how the majority of FBI agents still not having access to the internet (where terrorists like Al Qaeda can be found with a few key-strokes. They’ll even answer your e-mail questions) but not hiring experienced CT professionals is the most telling as to the potential trouble the US can find itself in. 9/11 was as much a failure of the FBI as it was a successful terrorist operation. In-fighting between the FBI’s counter-terror desk (The FBI had both a Counter-Terror desk and a bin Laden desk. They didn’t speak to each other) and the CIA’s “Alec Station” (the special CIA unit tasked with tracking Al Qaeda and bin Laden) left gaps in information that both sides needed to get a clear picture of Al Qaeda’s activities inside of the US. It became a battle of egos as Michael Scheuer and John O’Neil as they argued over petty issues of procedure and jurisdiction. Things only got worse when the White House’s Richard Clark waded into the mix and things were so bad that Al Qaeda could have hijacked 20 planes that morning. It is clear that the FBI is more interested in protecting the status quo of it’s infrastructure than modernizing and retooling to meet the modern terrorist threat. They still see terrorism as a crime instead of an ideology and while terrorist share many common traits as criminals they tend to be better educated and highly driven to succeed.
The CIA is just not up to the task of CT, they are still tooled and structured to fight the Soviet Union. The prime example being the destruction of the video tapes showing interrogation of two Al Qaeda prisoners, the problem isn’t that they were destroyed (that was smart) but that they even recorded them in the first place (or that anybody outside of the prison even knew that the tapes existed). The CIA had such great success in Afghanistan in the 1980s, yet after the Soviets withdrew the CIA also turned away from that country as well as not even thinking to keep track of the various foreign Arab and Moslem fighters who’d come to kill Infidels. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of Communist rule in Russia the CIA under the Clinton Administration had turned to Industrial Espionage and using it’s abilities to steal contracts out from under European companies (Airbus for example) and giving US firms the edge during negotiations. The irony here is that the airlines almost went under after 9/11. After the Director of National Intelligence was established by Congress, the CIA’s reaction was predictable, four-year-old-girl-who-can’t-have-a-pony-like, lots of huffing and puffing with a list of excuses for non-performance. Adding insult and injury was the Bush Administration’s Deputy Secretary of State, Dick Armitage, leaking the name of Joe Wilson’s wife to a columnist and then the President himself laying the intelligence failure on Iraq squarely on the back of the CIA. In their defense, the CIA had been re-tasked in 1992 away from Iraq; they stripped the country of all but one American agent who also covered neighboring countries, and left the bulk of intelligence gathering to spy satellites and other technical assets. The Clinton Administration’s National Security Council (NSC) felt that Saddam Hussein made the perfect “Boogie Man” to entice investment in both Black Sea Oil futures and the new massive pipeline that was being built at the time. While technically Hussein was “Contained” he represented a threat to the region’s oil supply due to his unpredictable nature and his admitted WMD stockpile. So bad (worthless) was our intelligence on Iraq, during the initial days of the 2003 invasion US Army units ran head-long into Republican Guard tank divisions that they had no idea were in front of them. Thankfully they were no match for American armor and they were quickly dispatched. Some of this was due to what the CIA felt was a rush into war, they had an entire warehouse of captured Iraqi documents from the first Gulf War that they had never translated and they ere being pushed by both the White House and Congress, the latter rushing the vote to authorize force against Iraq even faster than even Bush had desired. While the Republican Guard targeting information isn’t the CIA’s direct responsibility that incident underscored the extent that we were blind in Iraq and it reflects the black hole that encompassed our knowledge about the strategic goings on of the Baath Party.
I once asked a gentleman who had served with the US Army Special Forces in Vietnam and then as a field agent with the CIA what needed to be done to fix his former employer. He replied without hesitation: “Fire everyone at CIA and close it down”.
The NSA is just overwhelmed and vexed. Tasked with the intercept of foreign communication signals (Telephone, radio, government and military communication), the NSA was trying to keep up with the explosion of international cell phone use before 9/11, but since the attacks the NSA has been strained in it’s mission to keep and eye on the various bad guys around the world while trying to add protocols for the new targets in Central Asia and North and Central Africa. 9/11 even caught the NSA flat-footed although it was the NSA that issued the lone advanced warning of Al Qaeda’s plans to hijack commercial airliners in August of 2001. They just didn’t know where the planes would be hijacked, so the warning was issued through the State Department as a warning for Americans traveling overseas. The revelation of domestic “Wire Tapping” has contributed to their vexed feelings as domestic eavesdropping is not something that the NSA does. Their massive antenna point outwards and to intercept inside of the United States would require a number of logistical steps and a mountain of legal hurdles that the NSA just was not equipped to initiate. Worse, when the story about “Warrentless Wire-Taps” was leaked, the key agency involved, the only agency that had legal permission to eavesdrop within the United States and the agency that leaned on the NSA to fudge the Constitution was never named. This is because the same agency probably leaked the story to the NY Times in the first place. I won’t play games, it’s the FBI is the only agency that can spy inside of the United States but they don’t have the kind of equipment to monitor on the scale that the NSA does, so the NSA was enlisted against their will and then when the FBI found out the size of the NSA’s net they closed up shop and ran to their source at the Times. So the NSA finds its reputation needlessly tarnished because the FBI, once again, didn’t know what it was doing and eavesdropping occurred in a way that didn’t have to happen. Then the FBI points its fickle finger at the NSA and the NSA is left hanging because the NSA just doesn’t discuss what it does or what it doesn’t do outside of secret Congressional hearings – period. The tragedy here is that the NSA is probably the best suited to track terrorists and the NSA is a key player in tracing their various recruiting and financial networks. The problem is that a number of stories in the news have revealed some to the NSA’s capabilities and folks like Al Qaeda went dark. They now use curriers, men with written or oral messages, who travel directly between cells so that no phone calls or e-mails can be intercepted. So even after 9/11, the FBI is still making enemies inside of the intelligence community.
The Director of National Intelligence has just made things even worse; who does the President call in an emergency? In a time when a clear line of communication is needed the Government has chosen to make a complex machine that barely works even more complex still. The 9/11 Commission was the generator of this bad idea, they were hailed as the gold-standard as to what was wrong inside of the intelligence community but they were the third commission to make recommendations for changes in the US intelligence services, the other two were in the 1990s and there have been as many as forty before those. The CIA and the Pentagon have been at each other’s throats since Vietnam and that rivalry has only gotten worse. The Pentagon pushed hard after 9/11 to be given its own intelligence agency, and was rewarded with one in 2002. So the CIA has just engaged in one giant hissy-fit ever since then. To make matter worse for the CIA, the military has been successful in rolling up Al Qaeda, Syrian and Iranian insurgencies between 2006 and 2008. They were able to do this thanks to a number of factors but primary amongst them was good old fashioned detective work. Since the surge of 2007, new Al Qaeda cells are shut down as soon as they appear. Yet this is great if you’re in Iraq, not so great if you’re trying to get out. It is unclear if the Pentagon’s intelligence agency has the ability to see big-picture trends and it’s likely that they don’t share their intelligence with their civilian counterparts. The events of 9/11 were made possible because of loop-holes and sloppy government practices that extended well beyond the DoD and Intelligence services, issues such as expired student visas and the specter of racial profiling that kept airport security from listening to their hunches. None of these problems have been addressed, a few years back the government issued a student visa to Mohamed Atta, the man who had flown the American Airlines 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center a few years before.
The United States needs to grow up, we can have a robust counter-terror strategy that is effective and doesn’t violate the Constitution. Just by giving the various agencies that already do exist the recourses to do their jobs (money, equipment and properly trained personnel) Americans could sleep well knowing that they’re as safe as possible.