Thursday, April 30, 2009


A guy kills his children by throwing them off an 80ft bridge.  The judge sentences him to death. 


But there’s more.


“Circuit Judge Charles Graddick handed down the death sentence to Lam Luong and said he would order prison officials to show Luong photographs of the four children each day he is on death row.”

The man is already being sentenced to death.  What justice is served by showing him pictures of the children he killed every day he is awaiting his own death?  Is it merely to cause permanent and severe pain or anguish in the prisoner?  (And since the anguish would be for the rest of his life, I think that counts as permanent.)

The 1975 UN Convention on Torture defines “torture” as:

… torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Does forcing this man to look at pictures of the children he murdered each and every day for the rest of his life qualify as torture by intentionally inflicting “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental … for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he … has committed”

Languishing on death row awaiting your death would fall under the “inherent or in incidental to lawful sanctions”, but does the additional harsh treatment amount to torture?

Khalid Sheik Muhammed killed more than 4 children.  And potentially had plans to kill many, many more.  And his pain and anguish was merely temporary.

"Think what you want, as long as we approve"

Because apparently I’m supposed to give a shit what some pageant queen thinks, I’m still being bombarded by Miss California’s answer to the question posed by Perez Hilton.  I’m not at all sure why I should give a shit about either one of their opinions, but apparently I’m supposed to.

The answer to the question regarding her opinion of gay marriage:

I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.  And you know what? I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised.”


She says “I think that I believe that…” and apparently what she thinks she believes is wrong.  There is no room among those who are far more tolerant than anyone else to think you believe something that they disagree with.  Consequently, she is being pressured to change what she thinks she believes.


Because that’s the tolerant thing to do.


Make someone say they think they believe something they do not think that they believe.


Or else you put pressure on their employer to fire them and/or proceed to go on a character assassination binge.

That’ll teach them to think that they believe something that is not approved by the tolerance police!!  Take that pretty pageant queen who’s opinion on anything I’m supposed to care about!!  The celebrity blogging queen who’s opinion I’m supposed to care about thinks you’re wrong, and because he’s more tolerant than you he’s going to do everything he can to destroy you until you say that you’ve changed what you think you believe!!


Because that’s what tolerance is all about.


For what it’s worth, we are a free society where the right to say and think whatever you want is perfectly legal and protected from infringement.  That does not, however, mean there will be consequences to voicing your opinion.  Say or do something stupid and you very likely might lose your job.  If she had grabbed the microphone during the midget wrestling portion of the pageant (or whatever the hell they do) and blurted out “AND ANOTHER THING!!” and gone off on a rant, yea, that would count as a stupid, unsolicited opinion.  But in this question session where their opinions are apparently being solicited, if there are right answers to the questions—right opinions and beliefs to have—they should be informed ahead of time of such.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Still not panicking

I’m not sick and I’m not worried.  It’ll be ok…  deep breath, move along.


I’m going to dust off the old 2 wheeler this week.  Now that the seasonal bikers are done with their once-a-year bike ride I’ll be able to hit the trails and not worry about running into people who don’t know how to ride their bikes.  That’ll be a good feeling.  Tests are complete (mostly), presentations are complete, papers are written, now it’s time to unwind a bit, and unwind I will.  So that garden won’t get watered before noon.  It’ll survive.  Those projects that have been lining up will have to wait another few hours.  They’ll be there when I’m done.  Somewhere, somehow, the world will go on while I’m in the saddle.


Of course, that’s all assuming I actually make it out to go riding.  I still have to actually get the bike into the shop for a long overdue once over after the last time I took it out, rode it hard, and put it up wet.  The tires probably need replacing.  The chain needs cleaning and lubrication.  The cables need to be tightened and possibly replaced in some cases.  Hell, it might be easier to just go for a run.  Sigh.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about energy independence.  I’m no longer convinced that centralized power production and distribution is synonymous with “energy independence”.  It’s just shifting the dependence from one source to another.  More on that later.  Meanwhile, don’t panic.  Unless, of course, the completely unbiased and non-inflammatory news media tells you to.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kind of funny

The City of Hardin, Montana has an empty jail.  Its construction loans are in default and the city is desperately trying to find a tenant.


The federal government has a full jail they want to shut down and, consequently 240 prisoners that need to be moved within a year.


The City of Hardin wants those prisoners.  Montana’s congressional delegation doesn’t want those prisoners.


Why?  ‘Cause they’re prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.


Apparently, the only reason why they are prisoners is because the prison was built at the naval facility and if you elect a young, charismatic President who promises to shut down the prison, the problem with terrorists and all those prisoners will just magically go away.


But what of the prisoners?  Eh, someone else’s problem.  And when someone else steps up and offers to solve that problem?  “Not on my watch”, says the good senator Max Baucus from Montana.  Nope, this problem will just solve itself.


This is when you can trot out the over used phrase “in these uncertain times” and shine it up as an economic issue where the addition of the prisoners will generate jobs and make things a little better for the town of 3400.  But it’s not even that complex.


The reality of the thing is that despite protests that these people who were picked up on battlefields and turned in as terrorist collaborators should be treated like prisoners within the normal criminal system of the United States of America, nobody really wants to treat them like normal criminals in the United States of America.  They don’t even want these guys locked up like pedophiles.  They want them exiled on a small communist island in the middle of the Caribbean, but they don’t want the lock up on the small communist island in the middle of the Caribbean. 

What they want, I suppose, is to just blink their eyes and make it all go away.  You know, if we act nice and listen then the terrorists will just love us to pieces.  You know, because WE’RE the problem, not their own malfunction.  All we have to do is play nice.  Maybe if we elect some democrats.  Maybe if we elect a black guy.  Maybe if we close Gitmo.  Maybe if we pull our forces out of Saudi Arabia (we did that, Al Queda still hates us).  Maybe if we just…  oh, I’ve got an idea!  Capture them and lock them up forever.  Or shoot them before they “love” us to pieces, and our loved ones have to go and identify one of the pieces so that we can get a proper burial.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The tax protests last week were amusing (and the coverage was just downright comical).  The problem is that they were long overdue and the angst was misdirected.


It’s also quite clear to people who think while they fill out their taxes that the federal tax burden TODAY is just about as low as it’s been for the average person in the US.  Add to that a decrease in the payroll taxes that hit earlier this month and protests about over taxation seem a little …  uh, nearsighted.


However, if you take that historically low tax burden and put it up against a trillion dollar deficit (inherited from the previous administration), which will be followed by another trillion dollar deficit (created by the current administration), followed by a series of deficits higher than any other ever recorded in the history of the republic, save the two deficits previously mentioned, and you can see an impending problem with math.


Somewhere along the line, taxes are going to have to be raised or spending is going to have to be cut.


Or the dollar is going to have to be inflated.  A lot.


But, of course, the protesters didn’t get a chance to make that statement when they were being berated by “reporters”, nor is one certain that they could have formulated that sort of rational argument.  But something is going to have to give, and my hunch is that it won’t be spending.

Quite enough already

The great “potato harvest” is happening this weekend!  This is going to be quite a treat—I’ve never done anything quite like this.


Also, the shard and peas are being declared “finished” for the season and those beds, along with the ‘taters, are going to be prepped for the summer.  The lettuce is likely going to be declared “finished”, too, since those plants have decided to send long, tall growths out and may be flowering soon (yea, lettuce flowers, who’d have thunk it?).


Things we’ll do differently next year:  properly trellis the peas with chicken wire or some other fencing, shrink the area for the peas a little, move the shard to a more hospitable location, plant some earlier beans to get a jump on the long storage pantry foods.  I like where we have the tomatoes and peppers.  Those are tall plants so they’ll probably stay in their little patch for next year.  The potatoes, however, got much bigger than I expected them to.  They’re going to have to move.  We’re also going to plant a LOT less sprouts and broccoli (about ½ to ¼ as much) and a lot more varieties of stuff—maybe beets or something else I’m not sure if I like—just to have a wider variety of food and lower amount of wasted food.  We haven’t been able to eat all our lettuce, and I have no idea how we’re going to eat all of the broccoli and sprouts—we’re going to get a ton of that stuff.  Strawberries are definitely on the list for next year, too.


The peas were a big disappointment.  They grew well enough, I suppose, but we just didn’t seem to get much production out of them.  Maybe we didn’t harvest frequently enough, but there never really seemed to be enough to really bother to harvest.  Then, when the plants grew bigger, they just crushed the rope trellis we put up, so that certainly didn’t help matters.  Remedial action is just going to be too much of a pain in the butt and it’s toward the end of their season anyway, so this weekend will likely feature those fellows getting yanked right out of the ground and any residual peas will be considered the final harvest for those guys this season.

Context context context

In the first 140 words of the NYT story on harsh interrogation tactics, they use the following descriptive words:  brutal, extraordinary, gruesome, alluring.

But, of course, we’ve already known that the media has long since taken leave of any semblance of objectivism.  Point the finger at Fox (deservedly) all you want, but they certainly don’t have the monopoly on ridiculous bias.  They just have, apparently, the wrong bias.


Here’s the article, courtesy of MSNBC:


The whole problem with any kind of harsh interrogation technique—from run of the mill good cop/bad cop shtick to hour upon hour of questioning to slapping someone across the face—is that it is so very easy for the human element to take over and the slap becomes a punch, becomes a kick, becomes something far beyond simply extracting information.  ESPECIALLY when time is of the essence and you’re in an environment of elevated threat and consequence.  Who wouldn’t want to beat a guy until he gives up the location of the box where the boy is buried alive and suffocating?  You beg and plead for only so long until you get angry—then you’ve got a problem.  But, of course, with the luxury of hindsight everyone knows how to do things better, even when they specialize only in tearing down and don’t have ideas of their own.


But now we have a new, bigger problem.  An American President is suggesting that there might be prosecutions of former administration officials over what amounts to policy disagreements.  Say what you will about the previous administration, but I don’t think anyone from that gang suggested prosecuting former officials over policy disagreements.  It shouldn’t be illegal to give an opinion on the law—even if it turns out to be a flawed opinion.  If you carry out criminal actions based on that flawed opinion, then maybe there are grounds for prosecution against you, and you’d likely have civil recourse against the individuals who ruined your life, but for the state to prosecute over an opinion?  Talk about troublesome.


Is that the “change you can believe in”?  Disagree with us and we’ll prosecute?  More than anything else, if that materializes, it’d be simply stunning.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interesting development

This is an interesting development (from

“President Barack Obama left the door open Tuesday to prosecuting Bush administration officials who devised the legal authority for gruesome terrorism-suspect interrogations, saying the United States lost "our moral bearings" with use of the tactics.

The question of whether to bring charges against those who devised justification for the methods "is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said. “

Ok, so it’s comical enough that Barack Obama’s news network has decided that the interrogation methods are “gruesome”.  MSNBC took leave of any hint of objectivity long, long ago so that shouldn’t come as any surprise.

The interesting bit is that after deciding the agents who actually carried out behavior which was described as legal under our own laws (though, as I said before, troublesome at best and clearly actions which, whether legal or not, should be avoided) would not be prosecuted, he leaves the door open to prosecute those who’s worst offense is misinterpreting the law.  Which is to say, I suppose, it’s ok to shoot the gun as long as someone in authority told you it was ok, but it’s not ok to be someone in authority who mistakenly said it was ok to shoot.

Curious.  Very curios.


This whole sorry experience is why this vast grey area shouldn’t even be approached to begin with.  Identical actions, in separate contexts, can be given different meanings.  Slap a soldier in SERE school?  Training.  Slap a prisoner?  Harsh interrogation technique.  Slap him 4 times?  6?  25?  Somewhere in there it becomes torture.  But where?  Is subjecting a soldier to water boarding with no intent whatsoever to extract information torture or training?  Is subjecting a prisoner to water boarding with the sole intent to extract information torture or interrogation?  What if you’re not interested in extracting or using the information?  The answer becomes more clear there, obviously.  If you change the facts you change the findings.  Context matters.


It was a similar problem we would discuss in my former life in the non-profit world.  Child abuse was less a function of the actions and more a function of the intent behind the actions.  A spanking is not abuse, but when does a spanking become a beating?  Both can look identical from the outside, but I guaran-damn-tee the child knows the difference (if he’s old enough) and the adult very likely knows the difference, but possibly only after the fact.  You may think you’re only trying to get the baby to stop crying when you shake her, but only after you’ve calmed down do you realize that you were angry and/or frustrated and taking that anger/frustration out on that precious baby.  It’s not a clinical definition of abuse, but my hunch is that discipline becomes abuse when anger is included in the equation.


That same definition can probably translate over into crime and punishment, as well.  Prison sentences can become abusive when they’re levied not because “A” did “B” to “C”, but rather because the “B” that “A” did was “SOO HEINOUS” that the punishment had to be tripled.  You don’t merely want to incarcerate them, but incarcerate them with the big, scary mother fuckers who’ll gang rape them on a nightly basis.


Or attach electrodes to their genitals.


Or water board them.


Or lock them in a room with an insect, because they’re afraid of bugs.


The legal system is intended specifically to prevent emotional retribution.


Whether it’s legal or not (and, according to the right or wrong opinion of counsel, it was legal) somewhere it crosses the line from discipline, or interrogation, to abuse, or torture.  And, as I said before, even when it’s legal, if you don’t know where that line is, it’s probably better to not approach it lest you find yourself far, far on the other side wondering just how you got so far off track.  Or, as the President put it, how you lost your “moral bearing”.


These are, after all, people.  They may be bad people (allegedly), but you don’t kick people.  Not even bad people.

The countdown is on

Just 2 more weeks until I get a few days off from constant studying.  Whew.

I’ll be able to spend the extra time in the garden, killing loper worms and watering my budding tomato plants.


Maybe I’ll even get the bike overhauled and back in riding condition and put in a hundred miles or so in the off time during May.  I should have plenty of time if I actually dedicate as much time to riding as I dedicated to studying.

Congrats to all who braved the hills and weather on day 2 of the MS150.  I’m crossing my fingers that the field next year will be a little thinner than the 13000+ that have regularly taken to riding that ride, many of whom have no clue how to ride within a group of any size.  For my money, that’s about the funnest ride there is, but it’s also one of the least safe, unless you can manage to steer clear of the crowds—which happen to be everywhere.


Finally, all the media hyperventilation over the “torture memos” has gotten out of hand.  First of all, the memos aren’t “torture memos”, although the reporting on the memos is a bit tortured.  They clearly lay out a legal opinion suggesting that the proposed techniques would be protected under US law stating, effectively, that since the techniques are used in SERE school on our own men they won’t cause lasting pain or suffering and would, therefore, be ok.

Add to that the apparent (mock) outrage that KSM was water boarded 183 times (!!!) and it basically makes me want to vomit.  Would it have been better had he only been water boarded 100 times?  50?  10?

Ah, but therein lies the rub.  Even the legal opinion states that any one of the techniques proposed might not be considered torture, but several combined, possibly over a long period, becomes torture.  It’s a very fuzzy grey line that’s probably best not approached because suddenly and without even expecting it, you can find yourself far, far beyond that line on a path paved by justification.


The 1975 UN Convention on Torture defines “torture” as:

… torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Based on this definition, the actions taken do not live up to the “severe pain or suffering” as it is defined by the US legal code (per the memo) nor did the interrogation intend to “intentionally” inflict on the subjects.  That’s not to say forcing someone to hold their entire body weight up on their fingertips while leaning against a wall is not pain or suffering, or even intense pain or suffering.  But, apparently, the intent was not to inflict severe pain and suffering, merely to get information and the pain and suffering, which was not severe, was incidental to the interrogation techniques.

It’s a dubious argument, and tortured logic.  The problem is that context matters.  It’s not enough to say that because these techniques are used in SERE school, and they’re not torture in SERE school, they’re not torture in a prison where you’re attempting to extract information.  But, then again, it’s not enough to say that just because they’re used in a prison where you’re attempting to extract information they absolutely, definitely, without question are torture.

The soldiers going through SERE training can always quit the training, after all.  There will be consequences—in some cases severe consequences—for that action, but they are always free to make the training stop.  So too, one would presume, would the prisoners who are resisting traditional interrogation techniques.

The problem that keeps nagging at the back of my mind isn’t so much the concept of harsh interrogation techniques and the image of the benevolent warden being forced to do whatever is necessary to protect his pretty little curly haired baby girl back home.  The problem that keeps nagging at the back of my mind is covered by the second part of the definition up above:  “punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed”.

Much of the justification I’ve heard is not merely “gathering information to prevent another attack”, but also “and besides, these guys massacred thousands of people on our own soil”.

After all, shouldn’t we kick a bad dog?  Isn’t that what you do to a bad dog?

Except, they’re not dogs.  They’re people—human people.  And other than being “enemy combatants” on some level, the interrogator might simply be wrong.  Just because they allegedly got it right once or twice doesn’t mean they got it right once or twice out of one or two attempts.  Who else was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation” techniques but yielded nothing?  How many innocent men are on death row?  How many more innocent men would be on death row if confessions were coerced by walling or stress positions or any of these other “enhanced techniques” because the interrogator is convinced the guy knows something.

Hell, under those conditions I might have flown one of those planes if it meant the treatment might stop.  I don’t want that to happen to my son because someone in the government is CONVINCED he knows something that he’s not telling.

It’s very troublesome to have two sets of rules.  Very troublesome indeed.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


Why is it that when various liberal groups demonstrate against the WTO meetings and republican candidates for whatever office, they’re expressing their anger and frustration.


But when various conservative groups (finally) demonstrate against ridiculously out of control spending that will saddle us all with higher and higher tax burdens they’re “whipped up by conservative commentators and bloggers”?


After all, aren’t liberal groups whipped up by liberal commentators (aka “reporters” and “anchors”) and bloggers (dailkos, etc.). 


Oh, that’s right, I forgot…  the main stream media has NO bias, only the ultra right wing conservative Fox has a bias.  It’s not like MSNBC or CNN are totally in the tank.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Have you done your patriotic duty, yet?

No, I haven’t run in awhile.  I’m feeling it, too.  I need to get out there and put in some miles, there just isn’t enough time in the day for me—or, more accurately, I’m not carving out enough time in the day.  Between school, work, church, the garden, the house, and a myriad of other projects taking 30 minutes to go torture myself is just not particularly high on the list.  I’m going to figure it out, though.  Marathons don’t run themselves.


Speaking of gardening, the looper worms are back.  One of those little bastards just about destroyed one of my sprouts plants.  He’s dead.  Damn dead.  And any of his friends are going to starve to death thanks to BT.  Micro organic pest solutions are so wonderful and I don’t have the slightest problem with killing so many destructive little worms.  Broccoli is popping up, sprouts are forming, lettuce is still producing prodigious amounts of yummy salad, and I’ve GOT MY FIRST TOMATO!!  Yes, a little Roma tomato has formed on its bud.  I’m so happy I could pee.


From the brief reports I was able to hear this morning the appearance of US naval vessels near a ship that was under threat from pirates caused the pirates to back the fuck off.  Hmmm…    Interesting turn of events.  Meanwhile the UNSC finally lived down to expectations and couldn’t even muster the relevance to issue a resolution, merely a statement.  Hooray.  At least they’re tacitly acknowledging that their resolutions don’t really mean anything if nobody is willing to enforce them.


Finally, have you done you patriotic duty?  Today is, after all, the last chance to file your income taxes and be, as Joe Biden would say, a patriot.  While you’re at it, be sure to send in an extra few bucks—especially if you think taxes should be higher.  After all, if you really think taxes should be higher, you shouldn’t need a law to be enacted to require you to pay more in taxes.  If you REALLY think taxes should be higher, then you should be willing to just volunteer to pay taxes at the rate you THINK they should already be set at.  And I know people are just lining up to pay more in taxes—that is, after all, what you voted for.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Score one for the good guys!

Congratulations to the good guys for handily taking care of a few turds in the Indian Ocean.  I’m a big fan of snipers.  They work hard, have nerves of steel, and save bullets.  It’s a very cool thing they do to be able to reach out and get THAT one and ONLY that one.  One second you’re talking with your fellow terrorist turd, the next second laying face down in his cocoa puffs.  And to be able to do what they did—pick off a moving target on a moving platform from a moving platform in windy conditions—is flat out awesome.  Kudos to you, and kudos to the commander in chief who gave the authorization to actually do something.


The AP, by way of MSNBC, is telling us he passed his first international security test.

Which means that whole North Korea testing intercontinental ballistic missiles in clear violation of UN resolutions was either not an international incident, not related to security, or not a test.  It was just, I don’t know, maybe a thing that if nobody mentions it’ll just go away.  Until North Korea finally gets the technology right.  Just a few more “communications satellites” for their world beating satellite communications industry!


Coloring Easter eggs is a fun tradition for us—if you can call something done two years in a row a tradition.  The wee lad helps us pick out the colors for the eggs and helps us drop the eggs in the dye and has a grand old time making the eggs turn colors.  He doesn’t like to eat the eggs, though.  Odd bird, that one.


Anyway, this year he was actually old enough to comprehend the whole “find the Easter eggs” thing, so I decided that the Easter Bunny would sneak in on Easter morning before we went to celebrate our savior’s triumph over death and hide all of the wee lad’s eggs.  In their place the bunny left a small handful of candy.


Junior comes downstairs—still a little groggy—and relaxes with the missus on the couch for a second, then points and says “mama, an egg!”  He spotted the first egg.  I go to the kitchen to get the egg carton and explain that the bunny must have come and hidden all his eggs.


His eyes get big, his lip pouts out, and he starts to panic.  “MAMA!  EASTER BUNNY ATE ALL MY EGGS!!”


We calm him down and quickly explain that the Easter bunny didn’t EAT the eggs, he HID the eggs.  The tears stop, crisis was averted, and all was again well with the world.  We even found all the eggs before the dog ate any of them.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Day 4--Security inaction

The inaction watch continues today to day 4.  It’s beginning to look like the UNSC might ACTUALLY do absolutely nothing at all, which is even less than a sternly worded nothing.  Stunning.


At the very least, if they were to acknowledge that they’re powerless to prevent North Korea from doing whatever the hell North Korea wants to do (as it was powerless against Iraq, previously, and Iran, currently), then they’d be doing something.  If they were to acknowledge that the only thing sanctions have succeeded in doing is keeping an entire nation’s population impoverished and 3 decades behind the rest of us, that’d be something.  If they were to finally decide to back up their “or else” with a real, live, honest to goodness “or else” (as only 2 members of the UNSC were willing to do against Iraq, previously), then that would be something.


But to continue to starve the people of North Korea under the premise that all the previous nothing you’ve already done will work only if you continue to do more nothing, well, that’s just stupid.


Seems the only thing that even remotely worked was cutting off this turd’s access to cash by threatening to cut banks that worked with him off from the US banking system, but we were the fools to think he was actually negotiating in good faith.  Or, maybe he was negotiating in good faith (at the time) because he thought he was negotiating with an administration that not only carried a big stick, but was willing to use it.  Apparently when “words must have meaning” today, the meaning is “yea, we’re not going to enforce anything until you actually blow up something.  Aim better, then we’ll act.”  Sorry, Seattle.  Sorry LA.  Looks like you’re going to be the canary in this coal mine.


So come on, guys, shit or get off the pot.  Either enforce the resolutions or drop the sanctions all together.  Continuing to do nothing simply isn’t working.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Anyone else notice an uptick recently in stories about gun violence?  Dude goes on rampage, kills family, neighbors, self type of thing?


Interesting.  Very interesting.

One of GM's many problems

I recently spent a week and nearly 3000 miles in a Chevy Traverse—one of GM’s minivans.  It was a 2008 model, so not the newest of the fleet, but it was still a nice enough ride.  While on the trip I was also able to spend some time cruising about in a Chrysler Town and Country.  It was also a 2008 model and a nicer trim than the Traverse, but beyond the added accoutrements it was a hands down better designed vehicle. 


The difference between the two vehicles speaks to the heart of one of the many the problems facing GM.



From the moment we fired up the Chevy it was clear that there was nothing “mini” about this van.  The engine was robust, the shape was robust, the interior was exceptionally spacious.  In fact, it felt like a full size van scaled down to minivan dimensions.  It handled the same way.  The thing was top heavy and steered like a truck—just like a regular van.  By comparison the Chrysler handled more like a car in large part because it was built from the ground up to be a minivan and handle something like a car.  Chevy went the other way and scaled down a big van.  The difference shows.  It’s glaringly obvious.



The interior cargo space of the Chevy was far and away bigger in all directions than the Chrysler.  More headroom, more legroom, more space behind the third seat.  Even in the cargo bay the walls went straight up (like a cargo van) rather than curving in like the familiar “tube” shape that has come to be identified with sleek styling.  The back of the van was more vertical than the Chrysler providing, once again, more space in the area near the hinge and down the window of the rear door.  All these things allow the engineers at GM to say “most cargo space in class” and “more headroom” and “most legroom” and “most everything!”  The problem is that the extra space went largely unused and provided us a boxy looking vehicle.  Sure, it was more space.  But it wasn’t exactly useful space.  I’ve got a ton of storage space in my attic, but I’ve got no ladder to access it with, so it’s simply useless space.  This was clearly statistical design with the engineers in mind, not marketing design with the customer in mind.  It just didn’t work for us.


Cup holders

Yea, cup holders are kind of a stupid statistic when it comes to cars.  Engineers can put 50 in a car and call it a good design feature, but most of them are on the roof near the luggage rack, so it’s just stupid.  The traverse had 2 in front—perfectly fine for us.  In the back, though, there were 2 for each of the middle seats (4 total), except that the holders for the left seat were on the back of the right seat, accessible when the right seat was folded down.  The same was true for the right seat.  Consequently, even though there were 4 cup holders for the middle two seats, if both were occupied there were no cup holders in the middle row.  For the back row we were able to identify 2, on a row that seated 3. 

That’s no big deal by itself—you don’t base a $35,000 decision solely on cup holders.  However, when you begin to consider 1500 mile trips across the country with a van full of kids and luggage, and you add in the boxiness of the vehicle, and the wasted space, and the other little things that were minor (yet noticeable) issues, cup holders can definitely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Besides, if they’re not a big deal, the engineers wouldn’t have any problem listening to the marketing guys who tell them that cars should have as many cup holders as they have passengers.



The available seating for both vehicles was the same—7 passengers.  The Chrysler had an electronic rear seat which is nice, but the Traverse didn’t have that feature so it doesn’t count.  What the Chrysler DID offer, though, was the stow-and-go seating, which DOES count.  During the trip I had to remove one of the rear seats in the Chevy.  To accomplish this I had to physically remove the seat and drag that heavy sunnuvabitch back to the room to store it.  Were I at a store and had decided to buy something that required the cargo space, I’d have been unable to make use of it because I couldn’t have just left the seat behind.  Aside from placing the seats in a below deck storage compartment, the interior (or seats) could be designed to stash them along the side boards or to stack them closer toward the front.  But, no.  My only option was to hoist that heavy bastard out of the car and drag it to the room.  Meanwhile, the seats in the Chrysler just folded down and stowed in a hidden compartment.  This is a big deal.  It’s one of those pain-in-the-ass things that makes someone decide to spend the extra $2500 to buy the seats that stow under the floor boards.  But engineers look at it and see a quick and convenient solution—just take the seats out, then we don’t have to muck around with the undercarriage stuff.  Marketers look at it and say “the dad doesn’t want to hoist this heavy bastard out of the car after a trip to Disney World, make it work!”


All in all, the Traverse was a very well engineered vehicle.  It was relatively comfortable and easy to drive.  But if everything (including the price) is the same, I’d pass and buy the Chrysler.  Cut the price (and profit) enough, and you’d convince me the Traverse is a good buy.  And therein lies the problem.  Improve the produce you can increase the price.  There’s a reason Chrysler can fetch premium money for a Town and Country and Chevy can’t give away their Traverses, and it has nothing to do with health care costs for union members.

3 days and nothing

The second life experiment is over.  In a few days I’ll kill off that stupid avatar and never, ever go back again.  What a waste.


Meanwhile the UNSC has done even less than nothing.  While the world expected them to live down to expectations and issue a sternly worded statement which would, effectively, do nothing and be ignored, they haven’t even bothered to do that.  Just…  nothing.  Hoorah.  Hoorah.  We should definitely entrust our security to them.


The Taepodong 2 has a potential range of 6200 miles, and an improved version is believed to have a range of 9300 miles, according to

The lower coast of California is 6600 miles from Pyongyang (give or take).  Seattle is 5200 or so.  Hawaii is around 4500 miles.  But, you see, rather than blasting these things off the launch pad when we see them sitting there being refueled, we do nothing.  Nothing at all.  North Korea tests it’s missile, and the test is a failure.  We insist on another resolution that is promptly ignored.  They load up another to work out the kinks they found the last time they shot one off.  We take pictures and do nothing.  They test it, it’s a failure.  We insist on another resolution that is again ignored.  They load up another…


Eventually one of these rockets won’t be a failure.

But it’s not like the West Coast is at any risk…  eenie, meenie, meiney, moe, to which city shall it go?

Monday, April 06, 2009

So, what to do?

Instead of entertaining the empty headed and misdirected attacks from our favorite troll who belittles a stance not taken with words that are not his own, I’ve been contemplating something real—what to do about North Korea.  Not that my phone is ringing off the hook with calls from the State Department, or anything.

It’s fairly likely that the UNSC will draft a neutered document that appeases both Russia and China, yet somehow manages to be chocked full of desk pounding, fist shaking, foot stomping and teeth gnashing and still amounts to nothing.  The last round of “or else” sanctions clearly worked well, maybe doing the same thing again and again will result in a different outcome.

So, what to do?

There will be no invasion.  One key difference between Iraq and N. Korea is that we COULD send troops into Iraq.  We can’t do that in N. Korea.  The South Korean government will have none of that.  Not to mention we’re under a mutual defense pact and taking action that will directly threaten the well being of South Korea is a very, very bad idea under that pact.  It’d be like your wife picking a fight with the biggest dude in the bar, just to have you defend her and get your ass kicked.  No, that won’t do at all.  We need South Korea around to absorb the North when it finally collapses onto itself.

The real problem here seems that the UN takes ever harsher and harsher stances against NK (with great urging from the US and Europe).  Stances which, at this point, have taken away just about every luxury afforded to a nation in the world community.  They wouldn’t dare touch medical or food supplies, so NK really has nothing more to lose.  As in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the question was “bomb what in Afghanistan?  You’re just going to make the rubble bounce.”  So an even stronger sanctions regime probably won’t have the desired effect, unless you’re willing to take away the basic necessities—and China won’t let that happen due to the exodus of refugees that would create.

So, what to do?

You COULD tell China and Russia they can either choose the world or N. Korea.  If they’re so enamored with that little backwards nation (and others) they can simply have their choice validated by the rest of the world and we’ll let them have their little friends.  The problem there is that they’ll veto that plan, and rightfully so.  They don’t want to be saddled with that saddle sore, they want to use it as a thorn in our side.

So, what to do?

You could always take the completely unexpected course of … lifting all sanctions against N. Korea.


Yup, lift all sanctions.  Write a letter to “Dear Leader” and tell him that since he wanted to be a full participant on the world stage, he’s got his wish, and best of luck to him.  Give companies tax incentives to flood their shores with everything from corn dogs to Barbie dolls.  The calculation would be that he has neither infrastructure nor the ability to manage that nation under the tsunami of liberalizing ideas that would be flooding toward him.  Real reality would eventually overtake the “reality” he’s been feeding his people and his regime would collapse under the weight of the world, as soon as the shelter protecting that stupid little backwater is removed.

After all, we didn’t win the cold war with bullets and tanks, we won it with Pepsi and Coke.

But they will prefer to do nothing and shake their fists and proclaim, once again “or else!!” as more people die, until the next time, when once again they will do nothing, and shake their fists, and proclaim, once again “or else!!” as more people die, until the next time…

The familiar refrain

Ok, here comes a series of familiar refrains:


I didn’t run this weekend, but I really, really wanted to.


Did some gardening and built my first ever gate (with the much appreciated help from a friend).  The gate looks and works great—I’m very happy.  We harvested enough lettuce and peas for salads all week long.  I’m not sure how much longer the lettuce will last.  The stuff should start dying soon, but if this cool weather persists the lettuce may stay with us into June!  That’s just 4 kinds of wrong.  Meanwhile, the stupid chard is just not developing like I hoped it would and the rotten little stumps are just sitting there being small.  Bah!  And I see a picture of a child holding a leaf of Swiss chard and the thing is as big as the boy.  Mine are barely as big as my palm.  BAH!  Stupid effin chard.

But it’ll grow.  I’m sure it will.  I may have put it in too late so it didn’t get to take advantage of our winter (that weekend in January, remember it?).  Even if it doesn’t, it’ll make for good compost.


A rouge government defied a UN security council declaration over the weekend.  In defiance of the world, N. Korea launched a missile over Japan in order to “put a communications satellite into space”.  As the world watched and giggled, it fell into the ocean.  Nobody believes they were launching a com satellite.

Nobody, that is, except Russia and China—at least publicly—and the citizens of North Korea.  Calls for condemnation are being met with “yea, but it was just a harmless satellite launch”.  Sort of like “but they already destroyed their stockpiles”.  “Just a harmless satellite” is a lie to cover “tested intercontinental ballistic missile” just like “destroyed the stockpiles was a cover for “maintained their program so that it can be reconstituted when sanctions are lifted”.

Only this time, nothing will happen, except maybe continuing to strangle the corpse.

We’ll shake our fist, and follow Europe’s lead, and say, with conviction, that they better shape up “or else”, and “or else” will mean, as usual, “or we will shake our fists some more”.

Hurrah.  Score a win for the new new world order.

Sorry, North Koreans, we just don’t care enough.

And Seattle, sucks to be you.  You’re going to be the sacrifice this time.  Or maybe it’ll be LA.  Oh, or maybe San Francisco.  That might earn Dear Leader a visit from Mother Nancy so that she can talk to him…  because that’s what rouge leaders need.  A good talking to.  Not a hemp necktie.


For what it’s worth, I think N. Korea is a joke.  I don’t believe for a second that they’re capable of doing a tenth of the things they say they’re doing.  They’re not reprocessing nuclear material, they can’t build a nuclear bomb, they can’t successfully launch a missile anywhere (except into the ocean).  Everything they’ve done has been a failure, but their own people don’t know it.  Internationally, KJI is a joke.  Domestically, though, everything they’ve done has been successful.  As far as those fools know they have a little satellite beaming down music to them right fucking now.

But just like running a red light in the middle of the night on an empty street is a harmless little crime that hurts nobody, it’s still a crime that warrants the response of law enforcement officials, if there’s one around to see the infraction—and the absence of one does not make it legal.  Standing in my front yard, blasting round after round into my own grass is a harmless violation of a serious law and the punishment will not seem to fit the crime, but it will still be legitimate and just. 

KJI is harmlessly violating serious international agreements.

Only this time, we’re not going to do anything about it.

Because in today’s world, “words must have meaning” so that you can avoid taking any action.

If we wait long enough, though, maybe we’ll get a provocation that finally warrants action.  But of course, then it would be too late and the second guessing and conspiracy theorists will start weaving interesting tales for all to read.