Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Are we stingy?

I doubt that anything I can add about the earthquake, tsunami and resulting deaths would be better written or more profound then what is already out there. 70 thousand plus dead, with a final total of dead no where in sight is a tragedy so great, it boggles the mind. Consider if Redmond and Bellevue were instantly depopulated, and you might see a similar amount of devastation. Nothing we have been through prepared us for what this means.

We endure earthquakes, tornados, floods, volcanoes and hurricanes in our country. A few hundred dead makes a huge headline and we collectively feel devastated. And yet it pales in comparison.

We responded to the tragedy as we normally do: with money, aid and even an aircraft carrier.

And then a UN official says we are stingy. I think its an unfair comment.

True, if you look at our gross national product, $35 million is peanuts. But it isn't chump change either, and it also doesn't account for private donations and US based charities and aid organizations. As a people, as a nation, I don't think we are stingy at all.

A radio caller today whined that the UN and the world community never helped us after a hurricane so its unfair that they put such an expectation on us, but that's not fair either, as no hurricane left us with 70 thousand dead and more dying and we have an infrastructure and ability to help ourselves. Indonesia does not.

But still, it occurs to me that when we pledge $100 Billion+ to liberating Iraq, $35 million is a somewhat small price to help a country in immediate and grave need. Neither the Indonesian or Iraq chose their tragedy, and I think both are equally deserving of aid.

I also wonder about what it means when each of the main political parties casually spends millions of dollars just to reelect a candidate. Maybe the Democrat and Republican Parties can unload some spare change to the Red Cross?

Then I remember that I probably spend thousands of dollars annually on soda, espresso and potato chips, or other non-essentials. What does that say for me, I wonder.

So while I wouldn't say we are stingy, I might wonder if we, our leaders and our Government sometimes don't have our priorities as straight as we think we do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Darwinism in the election process

Ok, call me a Scrooge, but it seems to me that if you cannot follow simple directions, the same directions our children follow in tests at school, then maybe you are too dumb to vote.

Take where I voted, King County, Washington.

It was a simple ballot, just find the person you want to vote for and fill in the circle next to their name. Easy as pie, right? In the case of the Governors election, it clearly said to vote for one person. Just one. One. One.....

And they even have people there at the polling place, to answer your questions.

So while watching the local video footage of the hand recount, you would not believe how many ballots were rejected for being an "over vote", or having too many people selected. They would vote for both candidates, or vote for one and write someone elses name in the write in spot....I was also amazed how many people think a "x" makes the circle completely filled in.

No offense, but this is pure ignorance.

As the recount goes to court (again), I wonder why the Government has to try so hard to allow people's votes to count when they clearly didn't follow simple instructions that a 10 year old can easily understand? What happened to a sense of responsibility for the privilege of voting?

And make no mistake, voting is not a right, it is a privilege.

So why is it the Governments responsibility to protect your ballot from your own mistakes?

Darwin's theory of natural selection suggests that the strongest survive and this strengthens the species.

Wonder if it works for the smartest?

One final quote:

Nature encourages no looseness, pardons no errors
- Ralph Waldo Emerson



Saturday, December 18, 2004

When Christmas itself is a surprise

Christmas is a time of surprises. From the smallest child looking with awe at a stocking filled with candy, to the adult who opens a gift from a loved one that was just right, there are all manner of surprises we experience each holiday season.

But what about when Christmas itself is a surprise?

For the last couple years my mom has been living with my sister in California, while she struggles against lung cancer. I called my mom today, to wish her a happy birthday. Something she said in casual conversation made me pause.

She was talking about adoctors visit earlier this week, her first in 3 months. She has been responding well to Chemo, and they had decided to skip it for a couple months.

The results this week were very positive, and she will apparantly be skipping Chemo for another 3 months.

So while we were dicussing this, she mentioned, as she has before, that she basicially ignores birthdays. But she also said, that this one, and Christmas itself this year, felt just a little strange.

You see, last year at this time, she was fairly convinced she would not see this birthday or this Christmas.

So for her, its not presents or visitors or food that makes her Christmas a surprise, its being here to see it at all.

Its just another reminder for me that Christmas isn't about trees and lights or about music and pagents. Its not just food and candy, and presents and gifts.

This year, its about living, and its about love. Its about rejoicing just to be able to have the ability to rejoice.

I just wanted to pass that on.

Karl

Friday, December 17, 2004

Will the owner of Ballot 81 please stand up

So the election madness in Washington continues.

Today it was reported that the Canvassing board for King County was reviewing a bunch of ballots as a part of the hand recount for the Governor's race.

One of the ballots, #81, was a write in candiate for Christine Rossi. For those not local, the election at contest is the Governor's office, between Christine Gregoire (d) and Dino Rossi (r).

Apparantly one of two things happened: Either the voter was expressing his indecision by merging the names, or someone in the state named Christine Rossi just got a vote (and there are several people names that in the Puget sound area).

Happily, our canvassing board, two Democrats and one Republican, decided they needed to determine the Voter intent and after careful deliberation, they award the ballot to Christine Gregoire.

I am sure, completely confident that the fact that Gregoire is trailing in the election, and that the canvassing board has a majority of Democrats on it is pure coincidence.

Christine and the Democrats of Washington State have learned their lesson straight from the pages of Al Gore's "win at all costs" manual: Keep counting till you get the result you want.

We need to find Christine Rossi and let her know she was just disenfranchised.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Responses to news from Iraq

Yesterday I posted a letter from a guy in Iraq, and the responses were
mostly what I had hoped for.

I tried to keep all editorializing out of that post, only asking for support of the people, not support necessarily for the war.

The person who wrote it wanted, I think, to paint a multi layered image: the grim harshness of war, the toll on the people, a clear picture of the people there, a clear image of the enemy and the resolution and determination they feel for their effort.

Most responses indicated people got it:


I want to thank you for sharing this with us!!! It really opened my eyes!! My husband is in Iraq right now, and now I understand while he was home on his R & R, he was a changed man. I tried to understand some of the things he talked about, tried to respect the things he didn't want to talk about and just tried to go about a normal day while he was home. Now, after reading this, I really understand some of the things he is going through over there. He has said one thing to me, that is in this letter also.....It is worth our military being over there. He said it feels so good knowing that he is helping other human beings gain the same rights we enjoy. Again, thank you for sharing this!!!


Another said:


I will be praying for our troops this holiday season, its tough to be gone for the holidays hoping everyday your life back home hasn't fallen apart, that you still have a wife and your kids are alive and all along someone is trying to kill you, but you gotta go on, gotta do your duty, your life as well as many others depend on it.


Another--


Good Post Karl.. It is an eye opener as I have never really talked to asoldier who has experienced this first hand except for a step son and he was only there for a short period and didnot actually participate in the war itself... He had a really safe job there thank God. God Bless Them All.


and one other


I agree .... great post. It's funny how the mainstream press reports only the negative stories about what our men and women are doing over there. I've had the priviledge to speak to a couple of Marines who've been involved in fighting the insurgents. They were both proud (as they should be) of what they're doing over there. One had been wounded with shrapnel twice, but only went for medical attention once the fighting was over. He didn't want to leave his buddies. Before this war began, many people were talking about how concerned they were about this generation (the "ME" generation). After the stories I've heard about these brave young men and women, I have no concerns. God Bless Them!


But then there was one that kinda torqued me a bit, and I admit blew my cork.
Here is what he said and my inline responses:


From: "*removed*"
Sent: Thursday, December 16, 2004 2:38 PM
Subject: [DADL] RE: News from Iraq

Sorry Karl but I am not certain why you didn't just post this on
your blog instead of on DADL.
(Note: the DADL is a discussiongroup-karl)



I did both actually.....as well as in many other forums. I figured the message it contained was important enough.



It did make me think of the DA song 'Father Explains' from Kalhoun but I suspect that may conjugre up quite the opposite ideas you may have
intended.



Not really, since you may not understand why I posted it.

I don't support war as a rule. I opposed it. But war is the reality, and all the protest marches wont change that.

I think we as people, as Christians even, owe it to the people who are
involved to remember their struggles and keep them in our prayers, both
civilians and Military.



I am not certain why "names have been withheld for obvious reasons" in that soldier's email as the writing seems to be toeing to the official White House line and therefore no reason to be hiding.



Its called general privacy, and I don't know for sure if anything written here stretches the borders of official limits. The details are not the important part, the overall sentiments are. I figure the guy who wrote deserved that respect. Had he wanted world wide exposure for his name, he would have sent it to CNN.


Finally, I also will be praying for those men and women there, many of whom now claim to have been deceived by the Armed Forces into staying at
their battleposts.

*Name removed*


Oh boy, rant mode ON!

Your comments are prejudical and frankly, in my opinion ignorant.

No soldier has to stay, they can refuse to serve and go to jail anytime they want. It's an all volunteer force, and none of them are coerced. They can make that choice anytime. If they dont like, they can pay the price and leave. Period. No one can force you to fight.

As a veteran I *chose* to leave when my ideals parted way with the military's ideals, so I am no stranger to disagreeing with the military. That was my choice. I gave up my retirement, for which I was 3/4 vested and now I get a minimal disability check for my efforts.

But when I served, including during Desert Storm, I knew the price. While I was never deployed, I came scarily close, and had the war continued another month or two I would have. I was in the midst of a divorce, and my deployment would have meant losing custody of my kids completely, yet it was a threat I had to face, I had made that committment.

During that war, I heard constant whining of how this was not what people signed up for. I saw doctors violate their commisioning oaths and refuse to honor their committments. Sure the Army was ok when they needed a cheap way to med school, but Uncle Sam now wants payback for the training, and calls the committment due and suddenly they are in boo hoo status. Same thing with soldiers who joined for college money, or whatever reason they joined, and suddenly they are conciencious objectors looking for sanctuary in a church as soon as the fight becomes real.

It disgusted me. Any person in the military, particularly in the Army and Marine Corps who claims that they had no idea, and that this wasnt what they signed up for, is full of crap.

The truth is, yes it was. They volunteered to be part of a Military fighting force, the arm of force of a Government, whether soldier, technician, medic or cook. When they enlist they know the consequences, hell they get constant briefings and reminders. When you are ordered to fight you fight.

Even if you are a consciencious objector the reality is you can still be sent into harms way. There are NO safe places in the military.

As far as in Iraq, whether you like it or not, more soldiers feel pride at their service then the ones who feel shame, and I think most think there is a worthy cause there. Once again, IMHO, you listen to the reports of the few, and ignore the many.

I pray for peace and safety for my former coworkers over there, for the finace of my wife's best friend, for my nephews, and the children of my friends over there.

I pray for peace for the Iraqi's because they had no choice either, and most of them dream of a day of peace and safety, something many of them have never known in their lives due to that brutailty they lived in.

I pray for peace because war sucks, plain and simple.

You can pray for whatever you want.

Oh....and congratulations. You just made tomorrow's blog.

I will be nice and clip your email addy out. Since names are not an issue, I assume I can leave yours in. (* I did post it, but it has since been removed *)

Sorry to all, Rant mode off, and I guess I wont post anything positive about the war here again.

Karl

********

Now in all fairness to *******, maybe he didn't intend it the way I took it. Honestly, my ire was addressed to the ignorance of the people claiming deceit more then him.

So belated apologies to *******, if thats the case.

But to those who enlisted, and who cry out unfairness or deception, remember you took an oath to obey. You signed on the line and raised your hands and swore an oath willingly and without coercion or force of any kind.

If you suddenly find you can't deal with the consequences, there are options open to you. But don't blame the military for requiring you to keep your word when you swore you would fight if ordered to do so.

It's called the Armed Forces for a very good reason.

Here's a reminder of the oath you swore( US Code Title 10 > Subtitle A > PART II > CHAPTER 31 > ยง 502:

I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God


News from Iraq

So, I was sitting here today considering what to post on my blog.

I was gonna post some more rantings on the idiocy surrounding the Washington State Governor's race,( and trust me, there's plenty to rant about) but a co-worker got this from a friend in Iraq and forwarded it to me. I thought I might interest some of you.

When I consider my living and sleeping conditions, my drive to work, and my working environment, I feel a little sheepish considering how others live.

I can't change anything in my life to make a difference to this person, but I can at least add him to my prayers, along with the rest of the men and women serving.

This is not a spam letter, this is real. Names have been withheld for obvious reasons.

***

I am presently working at the American Embassy in Baghdad in the Governorate Support Team (GST). The GST is a team of twenty Special Operations Civil Affairs soldiers that act as the liaison between the American military and the various ministries of the Iraqi government. We focus mainly on reconstructing the Iraqi infrastructure. I am in charge of Education. I am currently working to refurbish several hundred schools in the Governorate of Baghdad.

The American Embassy is located on the Western bank of the Tigris River in an area of downtown Baghdad known as the "Green Zone." The Green Zone is a restricted area that is home to the American military command, the American Embassy and most of the Interim Iraqi Government. The Embassy is the Old Presidential Palace of Saddam Hussein and is surrounded by a fortified compound. The Old Presidential Palace is a beautiful building that is roughly two to three times the size of our White House. It is safe from direct gun fire, but is still vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks.

The environment I find myself in is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Everything is always covered in a fine layer of sand, including yourself, no matter how often you clean up. There always seems to be one, and just one, annoying fly buzzing around your head. Gunfire at a variety of distances is very common with the occasional explosion thrown in for good measure. Helicopters and fighters fly over the Embassy about every half hour 24 hours a day. It seems like there is always something burning somewhere when you look around outside. The air smells of burning trash most of the time. Sometimes I feel like I am stuck in a really, really long war movie with a 360 degree screen.

I live in a trailer in a small trailer park surrounded by sandbags behind the Embassy. When you think of a trailer, I am sure you are wondering if it is a "single wide" or "double wide." My little abode is more akin to the size and quality of the shed you put your lawn mower in. There is just enough space in my 6 x 8 room for two beds, two lockers and a small refrigerator. There is a small wall mounted air conditioner that has two temperatures, too cold and too hot. I also have one small window, but it is covered by cardboard so it won't shatter in case of indirect fire.

My daily schedule is pretty simple over here. I wake up at 5:30 am, shave, take a three minute shower (that is all of the hot water available), put my uniform, helmet, armor vest and weapons on (about 40 pounds of gear), and walk to the GST office. It is about a ten minute walk from my trailer to the office inside the Embassy. I am in the office by 6:30 -6:45 am and begin my work day. Once in the office, it is usually 12 to 14 hours of email, phone calls, and meetings. Aside from a cup of coffee, I seldom get a chance to eat breakfast, but try to get to lunch and dinner everyday in the Embassy Cafeteria. These are my only breaks during the day. I head back to the trailer some time after 9:00 pm and try to get to sleep by 11:00 pm. This is my life six days a week. I get a day off on Saturday which is pretty much reserved for laundry, watching a DVD or two on my laptop and catching up on sleep.

It is quite an experience when I have to go to meetings outside of the Green Zone, for example, when I have to go to the Ministry of Education. To travel outside the Green Zone, you have to travel in a convoy of four or more armored Hummvees for protection. The Ministry of Education is on the other side of the river, about half an hour away from the Embassy. To get there, the drivers of the Hummvees have to "drive like they just stole it" with their hand on the horn the whole way as a defensive technique. If you get stuck in traffic, your chances of getting shot at, rocketed or bombed increase dramatically. The drivers go well over the speed limit and drive anywhere there is space to fit a Hummvee. It is not uncommon to drive down medians, on the sidewalks or on the other side of the road into oncoming traffic. It is kind of like the military version of the video game "Frogger." Once you get to your destination, the convoy pulls security outside of your meeting place and you conduct your business. Once you are done, you repeat the convoy process back. I haven't had any problems so far on a convoy, but some of my co-workers in the GST have been shot at and one of them recently had a grenade thrown at him. Fortunately, trip outside of the Green Zone are a rarity for me.

Going on a convoy isn't the only risk over here for me, the war also make house calls to the Embassy and the Green Zone. About once a month or so, a suicide bomber gets into the Green Zone to blow something up. After the October Green Zone Market suicide bombing that killed several Americans, security has been increased. Every couple of days there are rocket attacks here, but it is only a few rockets at a time. So far in the past month, about ten people have been killed and about thirty wounded from rocket attacks, almost all of them guards that work outside. The enemy likes to attack the Green Zone checkpoints too. 20 people have been killed and the same number wounded by two car bombs at the same checkpoint this week. The checkpoint is only two miles away from my office. Fortunately it has been quiet the past two days.

As you can probably surmise from the two previous paragraphs, death and destruction is never that far away and I pray that none of my colleagues will be hurt or killed. Of the 300 Civil Affairs soldiers that I came over with in September, three have been killed and a hand full hurt. Fortunately, no one in my unit from Syracuse has been injured. The closest person in proximity to me that has been killed over here was a civilian at the Embassy who was shot to death last month. He worked closely with our office and we had to identify his body. This is one of those life events that I will never be able to forget. Nothing will ever quite be the same here after seeing my first dead American.

To be honest, I have become somewhat numb to the world around me and just try to focus on my work. It is sad to say that I can fall asleep to rocket explosions and wake up to machine gun fire without thinking much of it. I have come to the conclusion that worrying about the environment around me is kind of like worrying about earthquakes. You never know when something bad will happen, and when it does, you usually can't do anything about it anyway except ride it out.

So you are probably wondering at this point, is it worth me being here? You bet it is. I feel that I am making a brighter future for fellow human beings, regardless of their nationality. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the common man like me to make a difference in the world and give something back to our country in the process. I have met a good number of Iraqis and they have all been decent people who deserve better out of life. The average Iraqi just wants to go to work, support their families and be left in peace. Unfortunately a very small, violent minority is ruining it for the rest. Hopefully the work that I do will eventually improve the lives of the Iraqi people.

I ask that you use care when forming opinions about Iraq. We watch the same news here in Iraq that you watch and I honestly have to say that you are only hearing about a third of the story. I would categorize what you hear as the "bad news." The other two thirds are the "really bad news" and the "really good news."

With the really bad news, you don't hear about the rampant Iraqi on Iraqi violence or the poor living conditions the Iraqi people have to contend with, conditions that existed even before the war. The really good news is how the American military is doing everything within its power to change the really bad news. Unfortunately it seems that both types of news go largely unreported because it doesn't sell newspapers, improve ratings or support anyone's political agenda. I can honestly say from what I have seen here that we are bending over backwards to help the Iraqi people with the resources we have. Again, it is the small, violent minority in Iraq that is slowing our progress. I feel that the Iraqi people, with our help, will eventually overcome their current situation.

Well, I have to get going now. I hope what I have written was of interest. I wish you and everyone at home happy holidays and can't wait to return to the States. I miss you all and hope to meet up with you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Election madness

I was all prepared for the Federal election to go to crap, with the lawyers posed to apply recount after recount.

Instead there was a fairly clear mandate, and though a few challanges remain in isolated areas, for the most part, Bush Won Cleanly.

Instead, Washington has surfaced as the Florida of 2004 with its Governors race.
Christine Gregiore (D) and Dino Rossi (R) slugged it out for months in the media, making the presidential election look near tame.

When the dust settled, Rossi won by a slim 261 vote margin, out of over 3 million cast. State law mandates a recount in close elections.

This is where the fun began.

First, one county had 900 ballets sent in absentee, but not signed. They are by law rejected. So the democrats got the addresses of these poor negligent voters, and went door to door, and had the people sign affidavits declaring they cast them, and demanded they be inclusded. The news report insinuated they only targeted democrats, but i dont know for sure.

They election board included them. Also another 1500 ballots magically appeared in a another county. Amazing.

Final statewide recount: Rossi wins, by 41.

State law mandates a hand recount of the parties pay for it. The democrats raised the necessary $700k and it has begun. We may have it done by Christmas. Or not, since state law also mandates that if the hand count reverses the decisions, a state funded hand count has to be done to validate it. So make that sometime in mid January.

What burns me, is two things: The democrats have taken a page from Al Gore's book of strategy, "keep counting till you like the answer". The other irritant, is the republicans claiming they would be satisified with the results, and that Gregoire should concede gracefully like they would. Bullshit.

They can say it all they want, but the realityis they want to win as bad as the Dems.

The two party system we seem to be stuck with, the us vs them philospohy and the win at all costs attitude of the modern politicans has left us with a void of leadership, where charisma replaces ability, where Judges and lawyers determinethe results rather then the will of the people, and where political parties are the litmus test, rather then charactor or issue.

All I can say, is that if they spent as much effort doing their jobs as they do getting elected to them, then the world might actual be a better place.