Monday, January 28, 2008

WSR - Website update

I've been working on my Website, and although it's not a real professionally designed, and for that matter a professional looking one, it's mine, and I enjoy doing all the work on and with it. And in my travels on the Internet and looking at other photographers' Website and pages I look for new ideas in design and presentation. And recently I've been playing with background colors.

The problem is that I don't have much of a sense of color in design and I prefer more warm and earth colors. So trying new colors for the background I end up with one of three reactions. The first is the obvious, "Oh my God, that is really ugly.", in an instant, no thought or emotion, just it sucks. The second is the next obvious. "Well, it's different, and maybe better.", so I'll use it for a few days to see if it gets better or worse.

The last is the target, "That's cool.", which means I'll keep it until I find a better one. The real problem is that I'm blue-green color blind, which is why the background is a shade of brown, hopefully what I see is what you see, or as best which can be read by your computer and browser. And this gets into the second topic, browsers.

I won't argue browsers, it's a touchy issue with real Website designers. As I say in the browser optimization Web page, I design with Safari, Apple's standard browser, and I check the pages with Netscape, Firefox and Opera. I recently added OmniWeb, but I'm not so enamored with this one. I don't have Microsoft's IE browser so I can't and won't test it.

Why since most users use it? Because you can't. There are so many flavors, all with their own quirks, you simply can't account for all of them. And Microsoft is notorious for not being W3C complaint with their browsers and with the Web development and design software packages. And so I simply won't apologize for your lack of a good browser. And from what I can see and have been told, Safari is the least robust and most W3C complaint browser, meaning if it works in Safari, it should work anywhere.

Anyway, the changes. If your computer is color correct, the background should be a light milk chocolate, or "cbbe9c" in the hexidecimal color code. I'm still working on a new overall design or a better image presentation design, but I haven't learned enough flash or other packages yet. That will be the next generation of the Website.

One thing I have noted with checked the design is that each of the five browsers are just enough different you can't really expect the identical presentation. Some have preferences you can select which browser you want it to mimic, which is nice, but all are just a tad different. If you are interested, I design for a 900x1024 browser size, which you can check with a blank image which is exactly 900x1024.

This is the size of the space I start with and work from there. All my Web pages are developed for 600x800 presentation inside that Web page with vertical scrolling. This size was the suggestion of a friend who's a former journalist and Web designer. It has to do with the normal movement of the eyes when viewing printed pages. And it's why I hate Websites that use pages which are considerably wider, especially full screen. That's dumb.

Anyway, that's the update.

Monday Thoughts

Ok, the weekend is gone. It's snowing here in paradise, at sea level, down to the beach. But much of the lowland snow will be gone by early evening overnight at the latest, as the temperatures warm. Typical, but the snow will stay a few days in the surrounding hills and outlying areas where the temperatures aren't moderated by the water. It's still beautiful.

And I love the silence of falling snow. It absorbs every sound except of yourself. You hear the snow and yourself. Nothing more. Nothing less. And huge snow flakes falling gently on the mind. Always a moment to savior.

And the world goes on. To the news.

All the money we've given Pakistan and we still can't get them to agree to let us into their country to fight Al Qaeda. The arrogance. But who's arrogance? We're currently flying over the Tribal areas in Pakistan with drones and even firiing rockets into village we suspect have Al Qaeda members. Pakistan insists they're fighting the Taliban who is aligned with Al Qaeda who is their target.

Then it's reported that we've been holding secret meetings with Pakistan's military and Security office officials for "joint" operations, only to be rebuffed in private and public. Gee, those Pakistanis just don't understand our mission? Or do they, and they know that it would infuriate the Taliban to retaliate against the Pakistan military as they already have, except with a vengenance? What don't we understand?

We don't understand that President Musharraf is hanging on to his country with threads and we're not only helping him with aid, we've made the mistake to tie all our interests to him. But Musharraf knows that he can't tilt too far to our side without offending most of his own country. If he fails, we fail, and will likely lose a a moderate ally - moderate meaning it's an ally as long as the checks keep flowing.

We know if we don't support Musharraf, we've lost and he's lost. Even a simpleton like me with a basic understanding of things can see it's a very volatile and vulnerable country held together by a strong military and our money. Either breaks and it breaks. So, it makes me wonder what all is going on behind closed door we don't know about?

Onward. Can someone put a sock in Cheney's mouth? Why does he keep arguing for complete control and legal survellence of citizens? He keeps arguing that we should have broad surveillence laws to catch terrorists, and he's willing to sacrifice the Constitution to do it. Let's hope the Democrats are smarter, but being an election year and the Republicans will use fear as a weapon in the campaign, I'm not holding out for much hope.

We need our civil rights and liberties back to keep the corporate and military industrial complex from stealing our democracy and republic. We're going down the wrong road to fight a few terrorists, and at what price?

Companies do cost-benefit analyses to assess if something is worth doing, and if the risk are sufficiently small versus the damage if it fails. Why isn't Congress and the government doing this with fighting terrorists? It's not a war against terrorism, but a handful of international terrorists. Let's weigh the costs accordingly because we're sacrificing the 99.99999% of our population for the 0.000001% potential terrorists.

Ok, I keep ranting on this topic. We didn't need the Patriot Act then and now, and we don't need an updated version. We don't need a Homeland Security Administration with broad oversight on many agencies. It's all cosmetic shit to make us feel good but doesn't work. It's an impulse buy, like the Hummer, to make us feel macho, but we can't afford to drive, so it sits in the driveway except Sunday afternoon drives in the country.

I'm deeply saddened our country has gone off the deep end and won't come back. Future generations will live in a world where everything is known about them, and all their movements monitored and questioned. And every "bad" moment or act will be taken as a threat, to be detailled into your life report and held against you later. Is this what our country is about? What happened to Freedom of ...., anything.

We're losing our freedom and spirit to feel free.

Enough. The economy. Ok, the best solution I've read is simple. Forget tax rebates or any stimulus plan. Simply repeal the Bush tax cut, and it 2-3 years we'll be back on track in the right direction. Not hard Congress. So what don't you understand?

Oh, I forgot. You're for rich people and corporations. You're Bushies... No real backbone or real interest in people, just your people.

This one I love. The FDA is now, just now remind you, requiring drug companies to include the risk of suicide in the studies of reactions and side effects. Like Duh? Or what? Some drugs by themselves or in combination are mentally and emotionally lethal to people, and they're just now coming around with all the news about it to include it in study requirements.

Wow, the FDA is on my side? Not!

Ok, parting jestures? The Washington Post reported article) that the White House has no comprehensive e-mail archive system. This includes daily archives of e-mail for critical periods where e-mail correspondence would be important to understand what was really said that just their word. Lost. Your government too.

Me thinks something is being hidden from the American people, like the truth behind their lies?

Second, the Center for Public Integrity report on the Bush Adminstration's Iraq War card. And you don't think Bush and Cheney shouldn't be impearched for high crimes and misdemeanors? Inventing or distorting information and lying to the American people, Congress and the U.N. to invade and occupy a soverign nation, which didn't have any connection with Al Qaeda and 9/11, isn't enough?

So, where has our country gone. To soldiers dying in foreign lands for what? Enough said for now. I'll enjoy the snow for the time it's in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Mid-week thoughts

Ok, it's another Wednesday and a week of news have passed, and a lot of words passed the eyes and ears. And sometimes my eyes and ears need a rest. The news of the world is sometimes overwhelming and often depressing. But that is the reality of the world today especially with the state of information communication and global networks. Everything within minutes on and Internet. And sometimes it's why I like to sit down with a bunch of newspapers and a large double shot mocha. It's slower, my brain speed.

And the news which struck my notice to cut out and save?

And this time no rants about George. At least until my brain says, "Wait a minute..."

First, cyber attacks on utilities infrastructure. There was an article about the CIA worrying about cyber attacks from groups outside the US into the operating infrastructure of the power utility companies. They say that there have been attacks from outside the US on the "national infrastructure network." And while I respect the CIA and their concern about the communication networks many operate, I don't have concern about the actual utility operations and facilities, at least through the Internet.

Why? Because no utility is dumb or stupid enough to put their actual operations and management on a publically accessible network. They will have the managers who communicate with other utility managers, especially for buying and selling power or energy supplies, but none put the actual operations systems on that network. And whatever interface they have to connect between operations and other computers , which is rare anyway, will be isolated so it can't be attacked through the Internet.

I learned this years ago when I visited some local utilities when discussing new annual contracts for our work. We often get to visit the actual operations room where their entire grid and their connections to other grids is controlled. They more than emphasize the operations is an isolated, stand-alone communcations network. And any computers connected to the Internet were separate, and if connected to the operations computers, was protected from outsiders.

Now this may not be the case with some smaller utilities which can't afford such secure computer systems and communications networks, but that doesn't mean they don't know and have done the work to prevent cyber attacks. If I have any real concern about the whole utilities' systems isn't the computers so much as the actual UHF/VHF radio system used to communicate between operations and hydroelectric dams, signal transfer sites, and other facilities.

These would be hard to break into because they're all line of sight between the operation(s) center and remote sites using relay sites, meaning you would have to get in between the line of sight signal paths which isn't that easy. So, while the CIA is concerned as we all should be, I put a lot of faith, so far anyway, in the companies to know what to do. The greatest threat will always be an insider than an outsider.

Second, selling the US. Not the government's policies or international diplomacy, but the corporate assests of US companies. We're selling them at an alarming rate due to the discounted US dollar compared to other currencies. Foreign conglomerates and even some government-owned (eg. China, Russia) corporations are buying whole companies. And many others are investing in US companies to become major shareholders.

In addition to that many foreign companies are setting up US plants, such as Toyota, BMW, Sony, etc., to have faster access to US markets. And these companies generally pay more, sometimes 30% more, than US owned companies. Gee, makes you wonder about the problems US companies say they have with US workers?

On a similar note, in an interview, they reported that 70% of our accumulated national debt is owned, or rather promisary notes held, by foreign banks and government, including the biggest bank in China owned by the Chinese government. Not only are they selling us cheap goods, they're holding the mortage to our country.

Third, radical islamic jihahism. Ok, a long term for the situation. It's not a war on terror or terrorism. It's not a war. It's a international struggle against groups of adical islamic jihahists. And while we like to point out they're the problem, we forget a problem takes two sides, oppression and rebellion. You can't have insurgents without an oppressor. We're it.

But my point is that to solve the problem from our side it takes all sides. A USA editorial Tuesday (22nd) has an interesting essay by George Weigel about the need for bipartisanship between the parties and amongst all American. We're all in this together.

Anyway, I updated my Blog, and found an interesting photo. Have a good week and I'll write again soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mid-week Thoughts

These are Tuesday through Thursdays clippings from the newspapers and stories from the radio news shows, namely NPR, PRI and other non-commercial news. The weather turned better here in paradise, which means it's only slightly better than shitty, er, rainy, windy and cloudy, with occasional sun breaks and temps in the mid-upper 40's. Ok, it aint Minnesota cold but hey they have their paradise and I have mine. And I'd rather face a rain/windstorm than a snowstorm.

Ok, the news, the obvious, Iraq. Two things.

First, the Iraqi Defense Minister told the press they will need the near-full US military presence to at least 2012 and likely 2018, and this is predicated on the full support of the US to provide the Iraqi military with all its needed equipment, included a fully equiped army and air support. Hmmm..., are we ready to give Iraq tanks, helicopters, planes, and missles? Do we trust them that much they won't go the way of corruption into the hands of someone else, as we know 190,000 pistols, rifles, rpgs and other small arms have?

And are we ready to provide military training for another 10 years? And what about sharing intelligence? Are we ready to show them our technology for information and intelligence gathering? Or worse, provide them either access or the equipment? We don't share our miltary secrets with friendly nations, nor they with us, so it's a real question if we don't share or support with equipment and they decide to ask China or Russia for the same stuff.

Second, the Bush administration is talking with the Iraqi government to agree to longterm agreement for longterm US support. Bush wants to secure agreements under that 2012-2018 time frame before his leaves office. This virtually ties the next President to the agreement unless Congress acts to styme it if not prevent it without their approval. But Bush wants to see a permanent US presence in Iraq for decades.

Real scary stuff, thinking of 120,000-160,000 or more troops for another decade in a country fewer and fewer people are liking us except for our money and arms.

Remember Bush promising Isreal $30 Billion in military aid last year and then promised Saudi Arabia $20 Billion? Well, as part of the deal we're selling Saudi Arabia 900 satellite guided missles for $123 Million, in part to offset Isread but now also Iran. Gee, the Saud family is building a military nation to protect it from its own neighbors, and we're happy to sell them the arms, because if we don't China and Russia will.

I was listening to an interivew with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. When he was asked if he felt it's time for Congress to review the Department's budget as it's the largest in history and the largest in the government, he said the whole State Department budget is $36 Billion, which is less than the Defense Department spends on health care for the military forces. Huh?

We've become not a nation of diplomacy but one of militarism. Our diplomacy is our arms and armed forces, not our intelligence, compassion, ethics, morality, and justice. We're the world's bully, front and center, and the military now sees our "national security" the one and only role of government, even at the expense of everything else, like the people, freedom, civili liberties and rights, justices, education, healthcare, infrastructure, environment, and on and on.

In order to be the superpower of the world we intend to pay for it with everything else we have. We'll bankrupt the country to protect and save it in the name of it. Is this what we're about?

Don't believe any of it, or only some? Well, after a federal court judge ruled the Navy's new sonar system and war games violated environmental laws, and ordered they revise their plan according to the rules he spelled out, Bush issued an exemption, in the name of national security. The Navy doesn't have to comply with the judge's order until the appeals court hears the case. In short, we have to comply with the law but our government doesn't because it doesn't want to comply.

Gee, talk about arrogance in the name of national security. What good is a nation to secure and protect if it's wasted by our own government in the name of corporations and war?

Keeping on the topic of George. When God meets God meets God. George's trip to the Middle East. He wearing his faith on his sleeve, and frequently espousing it in the face of Judaism and Islam. What is he thinking, "My God is better than yours."? What happened to secular diplomacy? He really thinks promoting his christianity is good?

Well, it turns out it's landing on deaf ears as his plan to save the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. No one is listening George. So what don't you understand about "lame duck"? He plans more trips to ensure he's serious and wants a deal. Like he's the boss and they had better mind? George, being a west Texas sheriff doesn't sell outside the US.

Ok, I'll stop with George tirade, and pick on Cheney, which is actually scarier. Cheney is pushing the Department of Interior to open Alaska and artic seas to oil and gas drilling before he leaves office, so when he return to private industry, they'll reward him handsomely for all the money they''ll be making at our expense.

And the key which could derail this is the same agency who is delaying listing the polar bear as endangered. This would cancel any drilling leases, or at least postpone them indefinitely until the bear is removed from the list. So on one side they're not doing the right thing for the people and bears and on the other selling leases to the same lands and waters. Gee, our VP is thinking of us or his corporate friends?

Remember this doesn't change with Presidents. The leases, if sold, are sold, and the next President can simply refuse to allow drilling until the environmental studies are done and the courts have decided. It's a half done deal, and Cheney knows this. And you really trust his smiling face? I don't trust him anymore than I can see a snow owl in a snowstorm.

And now for something different. Microsoft. They're being sued again by the European anti-trust regulators. Twice even. Once for Internet Explorer which we know was bundled to steal business from competitors, and once for not releasing the secrets to its operating system for other companies can make better software packages for PC's. In short, they failed to live up to their promises made 3-5 years ago.

And everyone knows MS' makes inferior products, except the PC junkies who swear by them because it's all they know. And we know MS has never fully complied with the W3C standards for Web browsers where Opera, Mozilla, Netscape and Safari have and are far better browsers. Every Web designer and developer hates IE for all it's flavors and IE-only tricks that aren't W3C comliant.

Ok, I hate PC's and Microsoft, and make no bones about it. My Website and pages are W3C compliant and I don't care if users with IE have problems. I design with Safari and test on the other three, and I leave IE out of the mix because I don't have it on my Mac. I left MS in 2005 when I retired and never looked back. There isn't anything a PC can do a Mac can't do better and easier. So I'm not losing any tears of their losses.

And if you really think Microsoft's case is fair and right, especially the one about XP and Vista so bundled it can't be parsed apart, explian why they sell scaled down versions of it to companies for computer aided manufacturiing and production systems, to companies and governments not wanting all the software, and for smaller devices? They can't because every part of either can successfully be removed to build a smaller package. They've lied to everyone and the courts for years.

They're the just the PC bully the Europeans caught them.

Ok, onward. Drugs. The New York Times this week that both Cholestrol and anti-depression drugs trials were frauds and the FDA approved drugs on only those trials that produce positive results. All the equal number of studies with negative or neutral results weren't published or rewritten to be positive.

Gee, this is news? The big business of drugs and patents, and you wonder why the drug companies are the most profitable and richest in the world? After all it's the same here as in Europe too. It's not about our health, but money. So, if you're taking drugs for depression and cholestrol, maybe it's time to rethink things and talk with your physician about if it's really working or giving the appearance of working.

After all the drug(s)' effect could be disguised in the other changes you make in your life, like exercise, lifestyle, food, sleep, work/family changes, etc. Ever wonder why you're taking it? Because your doctor said so? Why? Did you ask him if the drug really works?

Ok, the reality is that I don't trust drugs. All those side effects really scare the life out of me. I had a father who was on 11 drugs late in his life, half to offset the side effects or other drugs. Like one for diabetes, which required one for blood pressure, which required one for cholestrol, which required one for liver damage, which... Get the picture? My Mom finally got him down to a half dozen but those were only prolonging a body that had long given up.

I don't take drugs except for short periods for temporary illnesses and one for my dental work, which now is considered optional. My dentist has said it's my decision and will write prescriptions if I want as a precaution. And that's the key. It's precaution than a fix. I do take half a dozen health supplements, and have for over a decade, but I can't honestly say if they're really working either. I stop one or two occasionally for a few months, and if I notice a difference I go back on them.

So we make our choices. I know my health supplements don't have serious side effects, and at worse are simply placebos. I can't say that about drugs when I read the page(s) of technical information about each one.

And now a good decision. The Department of Interior has refused to grant Tribes the right to purchase off-reservation land for casinos. I'm not a fan of Tribal government's power, but it's our history which has come back to haunt us 150 years later. But one good thing is that Tribes can't buy land. They have to get any land declared Tribal by the Department of Interior, and that's the holdup.

Tribes can build casinos on reservations, as many have already, and which have shown to be just as bad and corrupt and other casinos (ok, I hate gambling of any kind - hey, it's my view that's all). And they have acted as bullies at times on some issues, like fisheries (Washington State), fireworks (unlimited sale), liquor/cigarette sales (not collecting taxes), and so on. And they've shown they don't share even in their own Tribe.

And much of their money still comes from the government throught Bureau of Indian Affairs - which is one agency we could do without (again, my personal view from experience). It's the old argument they want independence from us then want our money to do it and sustain them if they fail. But wanting off-reservations is a step too far. They're identified as soverign nations in the US, but they're not soverign to act like this, to buy land, build a casino, and not pay their fair share of taxes (being Tribes).

This was a good decision and should become permanent.

This one is interesting. A former lobbyist and congressman was indicted for giving money to charities which eventualy gave money to terrorist groups, namely Al Qeada. And the charity has had its assest frozen in the US and indicted, but no documents prove what they did was illegal. The government only decided after labelling them on a list of Islamic r Arabic organizations. The government has never proven these organizations violated the law, only they suspect without evidence.

So, let me see here. We supported Al Qeada and the Taliban (movie Charlie Wilson's War) for nearly ten years including Osama Bin Laden himself. That wasn't illegal? And we have supported the people these Islamic and Arabic organizations are helping, but that's not illegal? But a citizen does it and it is illegal? Whew, mind boggling.

And almost all of the cases like this eventually either fade away as charges are dropped or the individuals are found guilty on related minor charges, not those of "providing material support to terrorist groups."

It's funny that the government has identified all the Islamic or Arabic organizations, especially those with remote ties to Palestininan or Iraqi groups, but no jewish group supporting similar acts against muslims. Why is that?

Parting jesture. We all know the history of the discovery of the Americas and the conquest by European countries, mostly introducing new diseases to the native people which turn decimated populations to 10-25% of the numbers before the Europeans. Remember your history?

Well, it seems now they discovered the discoverers brought back a souvenir. Syphilis. It seems Europe before the discovery of the Americas syphilis was a near extinct disease, that is until 1490's, after Columbus' return, when it was reported again. Gee, my love, guess what I brought home?

Well, the natives got their revenge eventually. We traded diseases, and experienced the first globalization. And we thought it was a new idea.

So that's my parting thought. If you think your life is tough, think about this little guy, and if you run out of friends to talk with, create one Have a good weekend.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday thoughts

Ok, it's Sunday January 13th, and I'm neither a Dallas Cowboy or New York Giant football fan, so the gave is on but in the background. After three games this weekend, my football synapses are kinda' fried. And I wanted Jacksonville and Indianapolis to win too. Can't win them all since Green Bay won. Ok, one of three ain't bad.

Anyway, the news?

First and foremost, CBS Sunday Morning has an excellent story on the views of Bush's trip to the Middle East by the media networks there. Really good stuff as the world sees it totally differently, like duh, but very enlightening and, in my view, understanding, as they make one interesting point or question depending on your perspective. Whats' a radical, fundamentalist religous idealogue? The Islamic Jihadis? Or President Bush? Or both?

The point is well made that Bush is not that much different than some of the Middle Eastern government he criticizes, including Iran's. Change the religion and the leader, and it plays the same. Not? Ok, when Bush makes statements or speeches about Iran, change Iran to US and the words almost play the same. He talks about state-sponsored terrorism, nuclear threat, military intervention, curbing human and civil rights and so on. Everything we've done in Iraq, Bush says Iran could (also) do.

So who's the evildoer there? Are we really supporting building a democracy or building a country that allows us to establish permanent bases, like we did in Iran under the Shah, have in Kuwait and have in countries bordering Saudi Arabia - they buy our military hardware and training, so it's much the same as us, for geopolitical control of the Middle East to prevent other nations from controlling the oil in Iraq?

Ok, this is harsh considering things, but also consider we supported brutal dictators in Iran and Iraq - remember we supported the rise of Suddham Hussein and his regime from 1980-1989 in his war with Iran, we put the Shah of Iran in power and supported him until his overthrow, and we continue to support a non-democratic government in the Family of Saud in Saudi Arabia and other smaller middle east countries.

And we're trying to prevent Russia and China from supporting Iran, and we're losing badly as the harsher the rhetoric Bush gets, the more support they get from those countries. And the more we provide a voice for Iran. We're actually making Iran bigger than it really is in the Middle East. We seem, and especially Bush seems, to be saying do as we say, not as we do.

Enuf of that, onward.

This is one you simply gotta have a WTF moment. The gun company which designed and produces the highend pistols for the City of Los Angeles Special Investigations Section (SIS) is marketing this gun to the public as the SIS model. For $1,200 you can have the same gun as the police. So, is private industry really on government's side as they say?

Pakistan. While the President and the military say they might begin covert, and maybe in overt, incursions into Pakistan to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, President Musharraf said if they do, those forces will be met with Pakistani forces. What doesn't our military understand about borders? Do we feel we're so much the world's police we can ignore the defined, sovreign borders of another country, especially one considered an ally?

The military says it has to do this becuase of the turmoil in Pakistan. Those who specialize in this region of the world say this would only exacerbate the turmoil and intensify the Tribal leaders with the Taliban and Al Qeada against the US, and maybe even the Pakistan government for allowing the attacks.

We know the military has always wanted to go into Pakistan in the hunt for and fight against the Taliban as they have used Pakistan as a safe haven. We also know the military has long conducted covert missions and surveillence in the Tribal areas of Pakistan. And no one can dispute militarily the border is a hindrance in that war. But the border is real and there, and must be respected, along with the decisions of the Pakistani government and leaders. We would only do the same if the situation were reversed.

Let's hope discretion is better than international stupidity.

The surge. I've written a little about is simply as a casual observer from the news I read. It's obviously working militarily. That's the good news. But we don't have 160,000 troops there as reported but closer to 180,000 with all the additional support troops, And sure enough it's providing a save place for Iraqis to live. But at what costs in terms of lives.

The Iraqi and US have reported different numbers of Iraqis killed since the war ceased in 2003, even Bush quoted less than 100,000 and the Lancet estimated 600,000 from a random sample model that has been reviewed and verified as a good model. Only the number is in dispute.

Well, now the World Health Organization has estimated a minimum of 151,000 have died. Ok, it's now likely between 200,000 and 400,000 with several million who emigrated to neighboring countries and several million more displanced or moving elsewhere as ethnic groups shift their geographic areas. And the point?

Well, as the Wall Street Journal ask, if this is what the surge is about? Are we providing a safe place for Iraqis to live and work? And with the benchmark of a stable national central government, now likely going the way of regional ethnic governments, what happened to the benchmark? Or are wil still years away, and from or for what?

Sadly the next President will have to address this question, why are we in Iraq now? It's not a war. It's not a fight against terrorists. So is it a military occupation of another country? If Bush likens Iraq to Japan and Europe after WWII, why isn't it working like that? Or do you like the analogy you'll overlook the reality?

How low can you lower the standards to call it a victory? This is what we're doing, or rather Bush is doing as he switches the blame to Iran and other factors than our inability to understand the situation to find a real solution. Even the active and retired generals keep saying it's not a military victory that works there, so what will?

And why are we still bombing the daylights out of areas of the country (40,000 lbs of bombs from B2 bombers recently)? None of the candidates are saying what they expect if we leave, they keep putting the face of staying until we win face, which we know is endless. Will we hear in the Presidential campaign that the next President will get us out of Iraq in four years or not run again?

Remember Nixon in 1968 to promise getting out of Vietnam by 1972? We didn't leave then so why should be believe we can leave a country we totally devasted? Any bets the surge keeps geting extended until 2009 for the next President to explain? And how many more Iraqis will die? Throughout all the talk about the Iraq war we keep forgetting the dead and injured Iraqis. Who speaks for them?

Ok, I've beaten on Bush too much now, I'll pummel men's rights, or men's right they don't deserve. Abortion. Men's groups are now pushing for legal rights over women's bodies when they get them pregnant, using the "we're having a baby" logic. This really is a WTF moment. Who's has the baby?

The men are saying they're equal partners in the baby's life in the woman and she does not have the right by herself to decide for herself. I've already written my view, about women's right and life itself. I won't add anything more except to men, "Sit down and shut up!"

Parting jesture this coming week? Well, Giants at Green Bay? Hmmm, I'll take a good game. Chargers at New England? Ok, I'll take San Diego. Yup, the Patriots need to go home.

And a smile to leave you with, here. Have a good week.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Interesting midweek news

Ok, I punditized my view of the candidates. Not much but hey, we're all entitled to speak our mind. But reading newspapers this week some articles caught my attention at little more than the normal onslaught of news, as well as some other thoughts listening to NPR's news and talk shows and Charlie Rose's talk show.

I think there is no doubt to anyone the surge is working, but only as long as the US troops are there. We seem to forget it's not everyone against Al Qeada, but the Sunni versus Shite violence and politics. Right now we're supporting both sides with money, arms, intelligence and training to prevent each other from fighting each other while we fight Al Qaeda. What happens when we wind down our occupation and withdraw the troops?

While the Iraq war supporters can tout the surge all they want (editorial in WSJ 1/10/08 by McCain and Leiberman), it's all about a military tactic, and not a strategy, let alone the political and civilian answer. The government is still ineffective, if not corrupt - at our expense, our money - and maybe addicted to the US. The Iraqi military and police is ineffective and corrupt - billions of dollars lost and nearly 200,000 US-supplied arms unaccounted.

The infrastructure still broken with years to go, again with us writing the checks - remember they promised this would be done with oil revenues, and is routinely attacked by insurgents. The healthcare, education and commercial systems aren't. They barely exist beyond basics. And we were promised more in the runup to the war. And we can't keep blaming the Iraqis, Al Qaeda and the post-war breakdowns for the problems.

And so, if the surge is working, what is working for? And for whom? And at what expense? And who's not doing their fair share? And who's dying? If victory is determined by when we can come home, when will that be and at what cost in money and especially lives?

Ok, the news.

The public Interest Declassification Board told the President and his administration they've delayed the declassification too long and classified far too many documents that don't deserve being withheld from public access. This is new? No, but the Board warned the the sheer bulk of documents being created will be overwhelming the in the future. And the Board's report criticized his administration for not saving many electronic documents such as e-mails.

And what documents will George Bush write his memoirs with, his or the "lost" documents, or cite classified documents we can't see or won't be able to see for decades? From his memory? So, will you buy a memoir by him?

Iran's small boat "attack" on a US warship. considering what happened to the USS Cole, there should be concern, and I trust the US Navy to do the right thing. But I don't think it's worth strong verbal threats by George Bush about attacks on Iran if they do more of this. They've been doing this for some time, and it's not new to the Navy. The Soviets did it for decades, and other countries have done this to us and other nations.

And we've done it to other countries. Would the US Navy admit they've conducted secret incursions into Iranian waters to test their defense system? We've been doing this for decades too to assess the capabilities of other nations, so doing it against Iran isn't new to them. It's the simply games navies play with each other. So, let's cool down and let the Navy do their job, and not play it as political rhetoric.

Gotta love Blackwater. They know the rules but then proceed to decide they don't have to follow them. And years later we learn they've treated Iraq as their personal property. There's an article in 2005 they dropped CS gas from a helicopter and a security vehicle on a checkpoint because their people were stuck in traffic. They're immune to prosecution for anything they do, and while we curtailed their presence, they're just one of many private security firms doing similar things.

Onward. Love this one. The Justice Department can't monitor corporate fraud, so they hire consultants to do this for them. Except they use no-bid contrats to former Justice Department attorneys' firms. We're talking ten of millions of dollars to oversee settlements with corporations worth almost $4 Billion. And the problems?

First, reviews showed that the Justice Department may be and in some cases is too lenient with the settlements. Second, trusting private industry to oversee private industry opens the door to corruption that can't be monitored by the government. Third, the Justice Department doesn't oversee the contract to verify the oversight is working and the corporations are complying with the settlement.

Gee, it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Not.

Ok, that's enough for this week. My brain is fried. So, I'll leave with a thought, expressed in a photo. We should all be so innocent? Sadly, we can't, but we can smile at life, so enjoy being alive, and being in a country where free speech, so far, is a right and (generally) protected by our Constitution.

Is Bush naive or what

I've been listening to George's speeches and press conferences on his first trip to the Middle East. And I'm really dumbfounded, really. His first statement, "I come with hope to foster a vision for peace." Ok, but does he really understand? I don't see it, and either he's blind to the truth and his staff, or his staff is blind and not giving him proper information.

Just listen to NPR's story. Does he really think after 6-plus years of neglect for the area and his staunch support for Isreal and Hamas that he can get peace in a region that hasn't really seen it for nearly 40 years. Is he trying to accomplish something in his tenure to show he's a peace advocate. Like the US' support of Isreal in the recent summer war in southern Lebanon, when we gave cluster bombs to the Isreal military to test them on the Lebanonese people?

What didn't he learn or wasn't informed about two previous presidents Carter and Clinton who had some success at brokering peace there? He thinks he can do better than they could after years of diplomacy by simply showing up with a hope and a prayer, called his plan? Did anyone on his staff or any of his advisors take him aside to say, "George, this isn't the time or place to get into work taking years to establish your credibility let alone anyone listening to you."

Or did he say, "Hell, no. I'm George Bush, and I can do anything. God is on my side. They'll listen to the President of the most powerful nation on earth." I wonder if he only went over there to prepare for a November peace meeting so when he leaves he can say, "Well, I tried to solve their problems, but they didn't want to listen to me.", and say he was a good president for being presidential? Does he forget the job isn't about appearances but substance?

It's funny that the press there isn't putting much coverage in their media, and what is published or aired is either pro-Bush by his supporters, such as the Isreali government owned media, or anti-Bush, by most of the rest of the media there.They seem to be diplomatically calling him both a lame duck and just this side of an idiot in his "vision."

What doesn't he understand that coming in at the last minute with his one-minute manager mentality won't work in a region that has fought for generations doesn't work? He expects the people there to suddenly wake up to their situation and declare him a political savoir? Like he's done in Iraq? Does he really think his presence actually carries any weight there, especially after Secretary of State Rice made the US look ugly over the years with her vists and statements? Remember she was uninvited by the Lebanonese government?

And he thinks embracing Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas will ensure the Palestinians will follow his lead. And what about Hamas and the Gaza Strip? They're supposed to throw down their arms and agree to follow Abbas as their leader? And then he meets with the Isreali leaders who have advocated removing Palestinians from their former lands? And denouncing the violence on one side, the Palestinians but not the Isrealis, will mean what? To be dominated by Isreal who has vowed to reclaim the land the Palestinians have and now hold?

And to make matters worse he assigned a general to represent the US. What the fuck is he thinking? A general has the diplomatic skills to negotiate with the diversity of interests in the region to accomplish anything? Or is he so stupid he think a general will set them on the path by the force of his will? Like they will obey orders? And the general, representing the military, will be respected as a diplomat?

I'm sorry he's our President and seems to be so blind and naive to think anything is possible so late in his presidency. And I hate to watch the damage he'll do that the next President will have to undo and then set right.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Campaign thoughts

Ok, I read and listened to the analysis of the New Hampshire primary, the endless tallking heads spouting on and on about things they think but don't really know. So, if they can espouse their opinion, I can do likewise from the sidelines. Really? Not. But hey, the power of the Internet, be a blogger and express yourself. And be warned, it's just my opinion of what I hear and read.

So what do I really think of the candidates? Like it matters? Ok, to me maybe, but I haven't decided yet. I'm a totally independent voter with fairly definite views.

First, I'm not enamored with the Republicans. I liked John McCain but that was in 2000 against George Bush. He's since destroyed any credibility with me for pandering to the religious and conservative right, and supporting an increased war in Iraq. While he'll stay the course, I think the rest of his platform would be so flexibile to be useless. But I've always liked his honesty in his speeches about politics. He's best as a Senator.

Both Huckabee and Romney scare me with their religion embedded in their politics. That doesn't represent all the people as they claim but just those they approve of or those who argree with them. What I find ironic about Huckabee and Romney is that people are expressing the same favorable view of them for the same reasons they liked Bush in 2000. He appears to be an upright, honest man with solid values. Ok, but that's not a prerequisite for being President as we've seen with Bush. We were snowballed by this campaigning, so look inside them for what a President should be.

All the rest of the Republicans are toast now.

Second, my favorite Democrat is Bill Bradley. No one had or has his intelligence and knowledge, not even Hillary. Bill Clinton was ok, but I like Bill Bradley's respect for people and his view of the US in the world. I wanted to see a Bill Bradley - John McCain race for they were the (then) two best. The debates would have been great and either one would have made an excellent President. And we got the worst of the lot both in the 2000 and 2004 elections and worst of those for President.

So you see where I sit. And now the current Democrats.

Hillary Clinton scares me because if you look at her record and views beneath and behind the language, she's just to the right of center. I don't want a President who supports the current strategy, or lack of one, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don't need another 8 years of the same if not more of the worse. And all the rest of the issues, she wanders so much it's hard to know what she believes except generalities that sell but aren't real. They're just words.

And I really don't agree with the comment that women should support Hillary because she's a woman and the progress she and other women have made for women. That's sexist bullshit on the face of it, and I would suggest she may not be the best for women and she doesn't have the track record supporting women's issues any more than Obama and Edwards.

Somehow I struggle seeing her as President, and not because she's a woman, but because her personality and temperament. I have no doubt she has the intellect and experience to be a good President, but she's too much seen as a controlling and pandering. That may be good characteristics for a Senator but not a President, and why history has shown Senators don't make good President, few were elected and fewer were good.

Barack Obama doesn't scare me, but he doesn't have a track record to show what he means and will try to do - try because you still need Congress. Words are ok to run on, but you need substance of your past he doesn't have. I believe he'll be ok as President, but not without mistakes. Let's not forget John Kennedy made lot of mistakes including Vietnam. So while we criticize him, let's give him credit for his other experience in life and work. We do for the other candidates, so why not him?

John Edwards is probably the best of this campaign's lot. He's probably more traditional in the sense of a candidates but he's showing a trend to make positive changes for the country and people. His rhetoric sounds goods but it's the results that would make the difference. I hope he stays in the campaign to keep the others honest. It's a shame he's been over shadowed by the other candidates as he has a lot of ideas to challenge them.

Somehow, on a personal level I think Bill Richardson is an intereting candidates, but he has made too many mistakes in his career to stand against the Republicans. He'll likely make a good Vice President, as probably Edwards will also make. I like his realistic views on some issues which I think could challenge Clinton and Obama's rhetoric. And who doesn't like a President who would sit down with you at a tavern to talk about the world over beers?

And so, that's my thoughts to date. So to the candidates, keep the rhetoric up because I'm not really listening except to hear hot air and have a good laugh. You're cheaper than a comedian.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Saturday Thoughts

This is January 5th. With storms going through paradise, the winds are furious with the sky, creating and moving clouds faster than cars on a freeway. The rain is here, heavier than a hurricane at times and light as a summer storm other times. And everything in between. It's mostly gray with shades of sun and sky peaking through now and then before the winds come again in waves.

Ok, enough dribble about paradise? Beside the campaign? I won't write about the campaign. You've heard or read enough. They're too long, the pundits as well as the campaign. I think we should limit the primaries from May 1 to June 30, conventions in July and the campaign from August 1 to October 31 with nothing on or after November 1. Like it will happen.

Anyway, the news. Walmart. They found a loophole in the laws to save paying taxes. You know they're the company that preaches local support, but all the while they use teams of tax lawyers and accounts to keep from paying state, local and federal taxes. Yes, that's expected? But why then say they support local ecomonies when they really push their employee costs on the local governments while not paying taxes to compensate?

Well, they had this practice of leasing the land they own so they can get the tax write-off of the lease. The branched their land division off from the stores so it appears on paper to be a legal rent. The local branch rents land from the national company. Well, a North Carolina judge disagreed and refused their request for refund of $33 million. Yes, a refund. Not less tax but a refund after a state audit.

The state disagreed and refused to refund the company, or really the store which transfer money to the company. The judge ruled it's a circular arrangement that isn't, on its face, a reasonable transaction since Walmart owns both the company that own land and the company that owns the store. No one benefitted except Walmart. It was a paper exercise where no real money actually changed hands.

Ding, chalk one up for the people against Walmart. Now let's see this nationwide.

Second, whales. A federal judge ordered the Navy to abide by rules to protect whales with the Navy's new more powerful sonar which hurts whales. The Navy even admitted it broke the Endangered Species Act with the sonar and its use, but they said national security trumps environment issues. Sorry, Navy, the whales have rights too, as the judge said.

This is an interesting issue because the Navy with the sonar on subs and sonar buoys around the world tracking submarines, also track whales. Yes, they do and yes they know. After all sonar tracks objects bigger than a small shark, so they know where all the large sea animals are at any time. And you thought our Navy didn't know. They know, they just don't care.

A friend, a retired naval officer who was the war games office, and an article a few years ago confirmed the Navy's sonar knows where all the whales, sharks and other large sea creatures are in real-time. So the judge said they could follow the law then too, in real-time.

Ding, chalk one up for the planet.

Third, Ole George himself. He has said now that he doesn't follow the very same Executive Orders his office writes and he signs which applies to his office and administration. He says he doesn't have to. Gee, like do as I say, not what I do mentality? And strange, there is no law against it. So, Congress is considering it. Like he'll sign it or worse sign it with a signing order he won't follow it?

What a President, and Vice President too, they not only think they're above the law and us, they actually act like it too. Like that's new? Well, more so now.

Fourth, Afghanistan. Did you know since we routed the Taliban into Pakistan, or so we thought, that opium production has increased 300%. While we're fighing Al Qeada and the Taliban, the warlords under our protection have been rebuilding the opium production and all the efforts to irradicate it hasn't even dented it. It's flourished.

So what are we fighting there? Did you know that 93% of the world opium now comes from Afghanistan? At least the Taliban not only outlawed it, they irradicated it. We've help resurrect it. And while people argue the farmers could be growing other crops, we haven't shown they'll make enough money for farmers to survive. Opium keeps them and their families alive financially.

So who's failing here? Ding, maybe us?

Ok, a short week. I'm working on other longer essays, but for now. I'm off for a football weekend. I don't watch college football, but do watch the NFL playoffs. I don't favor any team, just good games. See ya' next week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Real News of the Year

Ok, enough of the revelry, and while many are still taking the week off, a continuation of last week, many are back to the real world outside friends and family. And after a few good days of weather here in paradise, the rain is back, and for the rest of the week into the weekend. But all this rain of late has brought us back to near normal snowpack, which at Paradise in Mt. Rainier NP is now about 9 feet at the 5,400 foot level and more in higher elevations.

Ok, enough gloating about our snowpack, which is important since we're now in until early March, the real snow season. We're past the periods where warm fronts can melt feet of snow in hours - which is usually early November to mid-late December. We can still get these storms but the upper elevations are usually cold enough now to inhibit significant snowmelt, and usually on a few hours of the passing of the storm front. And this time of year there usually is very cold weather behind these storms.

The news? Well, effectively yesterday it is now illegal to text message or use e-mail on any device while driving in Washington State. The law is a result of a serious accident caused by someone using their PDA to send/receive e-mail while they were driving. On top of that effective July 1, talking on cell phones while driving can only be done with hands-free devices, no more one hand on the steering wheel and one on the cellphone.

I for one applaud these laws. I've seen far too many drivers with cellphones stuck to their ear and not watching traffic. They become blind to the flow of traffic and cars and trucks around them. Like everyone, I've seen some really stupid driving at 60 mph on an interstate by someone talking on a cellphone, including being cut off by someone trying to merge or change lanes (cellphone in left ear and not looking), and pulling in front of a semi-truck who had to brake to avoid hitting them.

Ok, enough ranting. Not. The federal government took this into account over 3 years ago when they banned employees talking on cellphones while driving a government vehicle. You have to pull off the road to talk, and if you are caught, like it's not hard to hear them driving or ask them, "Hey are you driving?" while talking to them, you can be fired immediately for creating a hazard. I talked to a field person once who almost drove off a forest service road while driving. All I heard was, "Oh shit, that was close." He pulled off onto a turnout to finish the conversation.

Anyway, an interesting story, love in a sinkhole. Gives you a feeling things aren't so bad, and you can make a difference.

On the other side of the environmental coin, Three Gorges Dam is proving to be the worst man-made environment and national disaster in history as water rises behind the dam creating all sorts of problems, emigration, landslides, sediment accumulation, etc. The only thing the Chinese can do now is minimize the devastion and damage. It's said and done and we have to live with it.

The problem that folks have stressed with the dam is the silt and sediment going through the reservoir system. This is always a problem with dam, but especially so with this dam as the drainage basin produces more than a normal sediment load compared to other river basins. This sediment accumulates behind the dam and must be flushed through to the river below the dam so the normal sediment deposition keeps the lower river hydrology stabilized. It's the constant battle to balance the inflow and outflow of sediment.

Something else? Can I rant about the Iowa primary news? Not? Ok, enough said, I'm tired of hearing the same media rhetoric about or from the candidates. And gladly it's over by Friday with the analysis and pundits. But it's off to New Hampshire now. Geez, let's move everything to the summer before the election so they don't waste our time. Why is it that our nation has the longest election campaign of any major nation? Most of the European countries have about 3 months, and many there and in South America less.

Something else too? Or two? Well, Social Security, as told in the NPR story. The Social Security system is solvent well past 2040 with only minor tweaking now and slowly over time. We don't need private investment plans, major new taxes, decreasing benefits, or whatever else the politicians tell you. It's campaign hype and rhetoric, and remember to ask them the specific questions to prove their case.

Why? Because they can't. They're skimming the bad news to hype a problem that doesn't exist. Several prominent economists have long studied this and said that increasing the taxes slightly on higher incomes (six figures and higher) and raising the ceiling (maximum contribution) will solve the problems for another 75 years. It only takes a 1% tweak. That's not a big issue is it?

The real problem is that we have to do this now than talk about big solutions. It's the issue the politicians don't want to discuss, it doesn't help their voter approval as a problem solver and wins votes for their agenda, all of which will make the problem worse. You see the baby boomers aren't the problem, the polticians are.

Ok, enough for a holiday week. Parting jesture, a photo, and don't forget to look at this photographer portfolio going back over 30 years. Real world stuff. Have a good week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

Photo public domain by NPS

Nothing like a good photo of a beautiful place to start the year to clear the mind of the matters of the past year and see the new year in a refreashed way so everything is a possibility. At least for a moment, if not a day or even longer? We can always hope, and if we plan right and work hard, we just might get there, and at least we'll get somewhere along the road. And we should never forget it's not the destination that matters, but the journey itself and the people we share our life with along the way.

And so I wish you a happy and properous year to come for you and your family and friends.

You can get the image of this scene at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park from the NPS Webcam, where you can also get the recent weather, including the snow depth (in the photo at 9+ feet, normal for New Year's Day 2008.