Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cheney, Mancow, and Ketchum

This past week has been interesting.

Our ex-VP Cheney's snarl has been all over the airwaves justifying "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding, which he claims are not torture.

Matthew "Mancow" Muller's been explaining how he took on waterboarding, intending to show how it can be endured. Instead, he found seven seconds of waterboarding unendurable and concluded there's no doubt it's torture. "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow told listeners. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture." (Quote courtesy of Alternate Brain).

Fortunately there are good folks like David Ketchum, whose "All Things Counter" blog is on my sideboard. David recently wrote, based on his current experience in Cambodia, "I am just hoping that one day, we'll be able to take the long view of things. Coercion, violence, threats, fear - in the long run, these things always destroy, no matter how necessary and/or practical they feel in the moment."

So, Mr. Cheney, there you have it. A right wing apologist calls waterboarding what it is - torture - and a real American patriot explains that the tactics you espouse "always destroy". Please, go back to Wyoming and organize a hunting party for your friends. There are lots of ways for you to be scary.

Sonia Sotomayor

Who in their right mind could object to Sonia Sotomayor going onto the Supreme Court?

I read her bio and I heard her speak. She's another one of the brilliant ones who came out of nowhere, with great parental support, to rise to the top. Rush Limbaugh and Tom Tancredo, among others of the wacko right, have no standing to challenge her credentials. Her accomplishments speak for themselves.

I'm looking forward to the fight over her nomination. This is a wonderful opportunity to see the so-called (by themselves) republicans lose a few more percentage points of support, especially among Hispanics. A blue Florida is just a few untimely remarks away!

We needed another woman and a Hispanic on the court, which should reflect America. Another couple of women would be nice, down the road. But, for now, Sonia is a really good start. Go get'em, lady!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day we celebrate the service and sacrifice of our veterans - the dead, the wounded, and those who put on the uniform and survived unscathed. For some, like me, serving in the armed forces was perhaps the most formative and positive experience of their lives. For others, serving resulted in their mental or physical destruction or their death. In peacetime or wartime, the military is a hazardous occupation where you're told where to go and what to do - and you do it. Your country owes you its gratitude.

Tonight I think of my nephew Will, who pilots a helicopter as a Navy ensign. I think of my grandson Michael, who guards our Marines from a foxhole in Iraq. I pray they will not lose life or limb while they serve, and that they will keep their humanity while they practice or perform the art of war.

Tonight I also think of those presidents - John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush -who sent our troops to Viet Nam in 1965 and to Iraq in 2003, our wars of choice. I do not honor them - I detest them. The soldiers who fought deserve our respect, but these leaders deserve our scorn. It's a crime to send our soldiers into war if our country has not been attacked or in immanent jeopardy. How can these men ever be honored? What other accomplishments can offset the human tragedy they initiated? The office of Commander in Chief is a curse, not a task to be relished. Please, Obama, get it right!

When will war become obsolete? Doesn't the world have enough resources for all to share and all to prosper? Doesn't the world face greater long long term threats than conflict between countries? Haven't we memorialized enough broken men? It's time for change.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Love Spring in Rochester, NY!

Rochester, New York, is a northern city sited on Lake Ontario, the easternmost of the great lakes. As winter winds cross those lakes they pick up moisture that we see as snow - 101 inches of it, last winter. So, those of us who live here really appreciate Spring.

Rochester is known as the "Lilac City". Lilacs grow well here, and they are everywhere in all the colors. You can see pink and white lilacs in my back yard, to the right. Soon the day lilies and peonies in the foreground will be blooming, and the irises. Spring comes late in upstate New York, but it comes on strong! On Memorial Day weekend the gardeners go crazy with their planting of flowers and vegetables.

Rochester is fortunate to have avoided the real estate meltdown. We never had a "boom", so there was nothing to "bust". The city has not grown because the two major employers, Kodak and Xerox, have downsized a lot over the years. But we have many colleges and universities, health care facilities, and smaller high tech businesses that employ highly-paid professionals. Consequently, real estate prices have continued stable at about a 2% growth rate over many years, and homes are still a very good value. You could buy a home like the one in the picture, on .8 acres in a good location, for around $250,000. That would be the down payment on this property in some areas of the country!

I'm going back on the Appalachian Trail, June 1st. There's a 135-mile section that goes from near New York City to western Massachusetts that I've got to conquer. With my schedule, it will take two hikes (4 and 5 days, respectively) to accomplish that. After this section is done, I'll have a straight 519 miles from Vermont to Maine left in my long, long effort to do the entire trail. Perhaps I can knock off a few of those miles later this summer. What would life be if we didn't have goals?

Last night I got my computer set up to work on the SETI project. In the background, a program runs on both CPU's to analyze interstellar radio waves picked up by those giant antennas in Arizona (the ones featured in the movie, "Contact"). Perhaps I will be the one to identify the first coherent radio signals from another intelligent civilization...but, probably not. It's fun to try.

I hope Spring has been wonderful where you live. As it has for eons of humanity, Spring brings forth the optimism of the new and confirms the cycle of life. It reminds me of Genesis 8:22, where an ancient writer quoted God as saying, "While the earth lasts, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall never cease". How sweet it is to be part of the pattern!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chicken-Hearted Republicans

I've got to tell you, these congressional republicans give me many a belly-laugh, with the latest having to do with their stance on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. It's a joke.

The idea is that we can't close Guantanamo because we can't bring any of these terrorists back to the U.S. and put them in prisons here. They would be too dangerous. They would threaten our security.

Now, this chicken-hearted complaint comes from those elected by the guys who think that Americans with guns can resolve every problem. You know, the kind of Americans who drive pickup trucks and drink beer from cans and watch "24" on Monday nights and guard our prisoners in prisons. You mean we can't trust these red-blooded Americans to competently guard a couple hundred Muslims in an American maximum-security prison? Our guys aren't good enough or smart enough? I'd never have guessed it.

On the other hand, I recently heard that a Montana town funded and built a nice new prison as a commercial project, but now they've got no takers to fill it up. They desperately want the Guantanamo guys, out there in the middle of nowhere, where there's no place to escape to and likely no local terrorist sympathizers, either. But, no-sirree, they can't have them. Too dangerous!

Now, let's think about this. We've got Mafia chieftains, Latin American drug lords, big time gang leaders, serial killers, and even some governors and congressmen in our prisons. We can't deal with a few backward Muslims? If we can't, then we are the bumblers that our republican members of congress seem to think we are. I don't sell us that short. Montana wants the bad guys. Let's let them have them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pictures by Popular Demand

ThomasLB asked for pictures of my recent AT experience. Here's a few.

To the left is me, from my hike two weeks ago. I've been working out since January, so I'm a little more brawny than usual. The poles are typically used by AT hikers, since they help to keep one from falling off the mountains, a problem that presents itself on many occasions.

To the right is a view from halfway up Mt. Greylock, which has an elevation change of 2,800 vertical feet - think 280 stories up and 280 stories down. It was drizzling when I took this photo, and the drizzle changed to a driving rain and dense fog by the time I reached the summit. The wind was also intense, but - luckily - no lightning!

This handsome young man uses the "trail name" of Taj Mahal. We all have trail names - mine has been "X-Man" for ten years. I met Taj in a shelter at the top of Mt. Greylock, where both of us were taking a break from the rain and 60 mph winds. He'd been hiking for a few weeks, thru PA, NJ, NY, CN, and now MA. We spent a cordial hour together, part of it spent trying, unsuccessfully, to build a fire in the fireplace. Taj is an unemployed computer jockey from New York City who figured a jaunt on the AT was a good way to kill time until the economy recovers.

Here's a nice little strean with convenient stones on which to cross it. The white mark on the tree is called a "blaze", which shows AT hikers where the trail goes. Often, without blazes one would be totally lost in minutes. Not a good thing.

I love the Appalachian Trail. It's beautiful, varied, difficult, quiet, and very long. Having now hiked 1,462 miles of it, I only have 716 to go. Almost there! I'll knock off another 139 miles in June, I hope. Anybody want to come along?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Costly Hike, and Dumping on Democrats

I'm back. It took me 14 hours of hiking to cover the 23 miles of Massachusetts "Birkshires" that I needed to clean up. Unfortunately, I had to drive 9 hours and spend $175 to make it happen.

Thursday I did the 14 miles up and down Mt. Greylock, which is a serious mountain. It drizzed or rained all but two hours, and the winds gusted up to 60 miles per hour. Fortunately, the mountain is tree-covered except for the summit, so I didn't get blown off it. Also, the rain was cold, so all the energy I put into climbing and descending went into keeping me warm instead of creating an ocean of sweat.

This morning I raced the 9 or 10 miles into Dalton, Massachusetts, completing this pretty easy section in 4.5 hours so I could get back to my car and drive home in the afternoon. How did I get back to my car? Easy. There's an older guy in Dalton named "Tom" who makes a career out of helping AT hikers. I just knocked on his front door, introduced myself, and asked him to take me back to my car. Ten minutes later we were on our way. Gratis. Tom wouldn't take cash, gas for his car, or my offer to add to his personal "fund for desperate hikers". Don't tell me there aren't a lot of really good people out there; "Tom" is one of them.

I watched Pelosi's lame explanation of her non-awareness of the Bush torture program. Nancy doesn't do much for me. In fact, neither Reed nor Pelosi seem up to the jobs they hold. What is it about the democratic party? Without Obama they'd be lost.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Blackberry Boy

My oldest son, Kevin, visited last week. Since he last visited, he'd changed his Treo for a Blackberry, so he showed me his new gizmo. Kevin is a sales manager, and he keeps his life in his PDA. He "encourged" me once again to upgrade my humble cell phone, the one I barely know how to use even though I'm a computer techie of sorts.

Yesterday I bought the Blackberry with the entire communications package. After one day of use, I don't know how I ever got along without it. It really simplifies my life, especially since I don't have to drag my laptop around to all my stopping places. It's simple to operate, small enough to be unobtrusive, and it's kind of cute. The camera is good enough to take a real picture, and you can send the picture to someone almost in real time. For a few more bucks you can add GPS capability to your shirt pocket. This is technology that makes sense!

Please join me in welcoming me to the 21st century.