Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Democrats Played Their Cards Right

Much as I wish we were starting a strategic withdrawal from Iraq, I still believe the democrats in congress played their hand correctly in the recent vote. They are neither cowardly or stupid, they are simply pragmatic. Bush got a few more months of rope to hang himself with, the democrat leadership (Clinton, Obama, and Pelosi) got symbolic votes in opposition, and the clock will continue to run.

If there had been just enough republican support to stop the funding, Bush and Co. would have had a free hand to screw up the extrication to the extent that a worst case scenario was bound to result. At the same time, the diehard republican base, now wilting, would have been re-energized in opposition. Stories of how our troops are enduring hardships and dying as a result of the funding cut-off would start coming out regularly. Polls show that many Americans, even some of those who oppose the war, are very sensitive to the troops and don't want them hung out to dry. The democrats could have won the cut-off vote and set up their defeat in 2008 at the same time.

The republicans got us into this war, and they will have to get us out. By the fall of this year the futility of continuing will become apparent to many more citizens, and the republicans in congress will follow their instincts. They will force Bush into a significant cutback in the force by early next year. Iraq will be in the same chaos it is in now, or worse. Americans will look at this outcome and be constantly reminded that republicans spent $1 trillion accomplishing nothing much. The democrats will win the presidency in 2008 and get larger majorities in both houses of congress. They will look back at this vote and say "We played our cards right."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Let Bush Fail on His Own Terms

It seems like President Bush is speaking at a military facility just about every other day at this graduation time of year. Yesterday it was the Coast Guard Academy, I believe. The venue may change from friendly place to friendly place, but the message never changes: "We've got to fight them there or they'll follow us to our homes", and "Your children are at risk!". Meanwhile, the surge goes on, lots of GI's and Iraqi's are killed each week, and the Iraqi government sits on its hands. What to do?

I say, let him go. He's veto-proof in congress and he's committed to his stupid strategy and dumb-ass explanations for why we're still in Iraq. We've already spent a fortune on this misguided adventure, so what's a little more to prove it was a dumb idea beyond a shadow of a doubt? September will be here before we know it, and nothing will have changed. At that point even the republicans in congress will be looking for a way out and trying to figure out how to explain three years of unqualified support for this nitwit. Then we get out for good and leave Iraq to the Iraqi's. Hundreds more GI's will die or be seriously wounded while all this plays out, but there's no way to avoid it.

In my view a democrat cut-off of war funding would be foolish at this point. It would give Bush and all the republicans the "out" they so desperately need. So, let them fail on their own terms, then pick up the pieces and go on. The neocons need to be shelved for a long time, and this may just be the best way to make that happen.

Onward, George! The lemmings are still behind you! Don't worry about that cliff called September, "Plan J" will certainly make you the hero you've dreamed of for so long...

Monday, May 21, 2007


Our local Rochester paper reported two more motorcycle fatalities this morning. A 34 year old man lost control on a curve and slammed into a parked pickup truck. A 50 year old woman lost control on a curve, hit a guardrail, and was thrown from her motorcycle. It's a routine story these days. That's why the emergency room staffs call motorcycles "donorcycles".

I've owned three motorcycles and put quite a few miles on them. For many years I commuted to work in good weather on my Silver Wing, sharing the four-lane with cars and trying to stay out of their way. I was fortunate enough to only put my bike down three times, twice when I erred in judging the road surface or the behavior of other drivers and once when I was hit from the rear by a truck while I waited at a yield sign. I was lucky - no broken bones.

There's no question that riding a motorcycle is one of the great "highs" that one can experience. The feelings of power, control, and freedom are unmatched by almost any other activity. To be "one" with your motorcycle is to extend your own mobility by a factor of 100. As one becomes more skilled in guiding the bike, every curve becomes a challenge to overcome with just the right amount of entry speed, lean, and power out. Even a ride to the grocery becomes an experience to be savored, and there is joy in hearing the high-revving motor start up at the turn of a key. If only there was less danger...

I've stopped riding my motorcyles because the risks are too great. As an EMT I've been on the scene of crashes where cyclists, driving safely, were not seen by automobile drivers. They had no time to react and avoid the crashes which left them severely injured. But for luck, I could have been them. So I've decided to forego the thrills of motorcycling in order to avoid being a potential organ donor.

If you're a motorcyclist or thinking of becoming one, weigh the risks carefully. According to government statistics, your risk of death on a motorcycle versus a car, per mile traveled, is 18 times higher. You can lower your risk by wearing a protective helmet and clothing, and by driving well within your limits, but you can't control other drivers or make them see you, and you can't rule out the possibility that you will make one fatal mistake in judgment. If you have significant family responsibilities, the cost of your mistake will be multiplied.

I'm all for organ transplants, so if you ride a "donorcycle", make sure that you've checked the box on your license that gives your approval to be an organ donor. Drive safely, and good luck!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The End of an Adventure

About 3:30 this afternoon I pulled into my driveway. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I had hiked 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey and New York. This time, for the first and final time, the trail won. I left home looking forward to a rather benign section of 235 miles over 16 days, but I left the trail exhausted, conquered in three days by seemingly endless steep, rocky mountains. Terrain like that (above right), and much steeper, just kept coming until I had no more to give. Mother Nature had her victory over this 62 year old who still thought he could hang in there with the kids. But no hard feelings, Mother. I respect you.

So ends the long trek that started on top of Springer Mountain, Georgia, on March 20, 1999. Through snow in the high mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, through the wilderness of Southern Virginia where I once got lost, through a night where I sat out a hurricane on a mountaintop near Richmond, through close encounters with a copperhead and a timber rattler, it ends in New York where my last view was that of the Hudson river near West Point. I finished over 90 days and 1,400 miles of hiking, but came up almost 800 miles short of my goal in Maine. So now I join the huge throng who shared that objective and were outlasted by Mother. But it was a good run, and my regrets are few.

If you ever meet anyone who has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, you should know that that person has world class fortitude. Both physically and mentally it is one of the more difficult challenges one could accept. My hat is off to all of the approximately 10,000 people who have accomplished the feat since 1934.

Perhaps it's time to take up cycling, and, of course, continue my blog. Life goes on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On the Trail Again!

I've enjoyed reading my blogger friend's posts this past week while I spent most of my time playing with my children and grandchildren. And since getting home three days ago I've been frantically completing my three sets of non-profit financial statements and getting my pack organized for my next foray on the Appalachian Trail which begins today.

It will take me 15 days to walk from Vernon, NJ, to North Adams, MA, which is about 235 miles. That is, unless I do something stupid or a Hurricane comes roaring up the eastern seaboard. Perhaps there will be a library computer along the way, so I may be able to post while I walk, walk, walk. Once at my destination I will have only two more May hikes before I reach Mount Katadin in northern Maine and finally get to stop this nonsense after 2,180 miles.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Trent Lott is talking about "progress needs to be made before September or we'll have to talk about Plan B". Come on, Senator Lott. How about "Plan H"? I feel so bad for the soldiers who are now being mobilized to continue the insanity in Iraq. President Bush is a sad character, but I can't feel sorry for him when he's killing people in a hapless foray to save a lost cause.

Keep up the good work, fellow bloggers! I look forward to catching up with you upon my return from the forest.

Friday, May 04, 2007


While the Bush White House and the Democratic-controlled congress wrangled over funding the Iraq war, the Republican candidates for president in 2008 debated their various positions on the issues, including the war. Not surprisingly, none of them condemned the initiation of the war by Bush in 2003 and none of them called for the party's rejection of Bush, Cheney, Rice and the others who kicked off the debacle that will cost perhaps a trillion dollars and 4,000 lives, and leave an Iraq in chaos. Their stance seems to be, "We are where we are and there's no need to talk about how we got here." I disagree. There must be consequences for one of the most monumental screw-ups in American history.

At this point it looks like the Bush administration will walk away in early 2009, leaving their mess behind them as they look forward to reaping the benefits of their long service in office. The current congress will continue to pester them and make their lives unpleasant for the next two years, but they will continue their costly occupation of Iraq and be unable to make any progress on the major internal problems that they once promised to solve. Historians will be dissecting their many failures for decades to come, but they will be comfortable in retirement. Who, then, must bear the consequences? The only officials left to punish are those who supported the Bush war and who wish to remain in office after the next election. They must go.

It would be wonderful if the Democrats fielded strong candidates for 2008 for both the executive and legislative openings, but the election will be only partly about them. It must be an election of repudiation, an election where Republicans are swept out by an electorate that demands consequences for failure. The Republican-controlled congress, who acted as cheerleaders for the Bush administration's policies instead of fulfilling their oversight role, must bear the consequences for the disasters that occurred on their sleepy-headed watch.

The 2008 election largely will not be about issues going forward. It will be about the performance and accountability of those previously in power, and about the role the current presidential candidates played in supporting or not supporting the Bush administration. If these men believe that, somehow, they will be able to divert attention away from their votes and statements in support of Bush's decisions, they are mistaken. Democratic candidates will be airing commercials that "star" them making these votes and statements. It's no wonder that frank discussion of the Bush presidency was missing from their recent debate, but the hot lights of truth will soon be upon them. "Conseqences" will follow.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Pre-retirement Present - You're Downsized!

As you may know, I'm one of the lucky ones who was able to tell their corporation "goodbye" because I was tired of the BS. I loved my job, but my boss changed and all of the sudden I started getting a lot of "direction" that I had somehow been able to succeed without for many years. When my new boss called and asked me "How many of your people have volunteered" to take the latest voluntary reduction in force package, I said "I may take it." He said, "You can't do that!" I said, "I meet the requirements and I'm gone." Best day of my life.

Today I'm visiting my children in Phoenix, and I'm glad to be with my 8-month granddaugher. She's always happy - wakes up with a smile on her face. My two sons are doing fine. One is a music therapist who works with autistic children, and the other teaches 8th grade math in the "combat zone", a largely Hispanic area with lots of crime. The first son came here as a top salesman for a Fortune 100 company, the second has been a banker and a successful head-hunter. Now they work at jobs that they love and don't have to read 50 emails every day.

But today our visit was saddened by the news that the other grandfather, a man my age, was "downsized" from a bank one year before he would qualify for retirement and medical benefits. This news came one week after he received a "superior" performance report, and he had recently been awarded a nice trip for outstanding work. The reason given was that his job was redundant due to a consolidation, so he had to re-apply for it. It seems strange that such a "superior" performer would not be chosen to fill his current position, but such is life in the brutal world of U.S. corporations. I'm pissed. He did not deserve this shabby, life-changing treatment after doing his best and exceeding the requirements of his (actually, not "his") job.

Ten years ago when I was managing a large staff, my boss and I conspired to keep older workers on the payroll until they qualified for benefits they had spend years working toward. I remember walking into one fellow's office and saying "______, you're fired!" His response was, "Thank you very much!" In those days some people, at least, knew that individuals were due respect for the contributions made over years of following the direction of corporate masters. But times have changed.

To all who are working for a large corporation: don't ever forget that you work for "you". When you get your paycheck, remember that you and the corporation are "even". They will not hesitate to kiss you goodbye when it suits their purposes. You should be equally ready to kiss them goodbye. Keep your eyes open for positions that suit your skills and reward you better. Act like an entrepreneur even if your skills best fit a corporate life. Never for a moment consider the effect of your departure on a current employer or the tasks you are involved in, because that large employer won't consider the effect on you of their decision to toss you on the scrap heap for a reason you will never understand. That's the way it is in the new economy.

Good luck, grandfather! Don't look back unless you have a good case for an age discrimination suit. Bitterness, which initially tastes so sweet, will eat you up. Just go out and do what you have to do, even though you don't deserve to be in this position. Let me swear at the bastards that did this to you, and try to work for more humane work laws in this brutal country.