28 April 2005

DeLay hating and Bush baiting

Ever eager to pander to a wealthy minority, during last year's debate about loosening restictions on trade and travel to Cuba, Tom DeLay said the following on the House floor:
"Every dime that finds its way into Cuba first finds its way into Fidel Castro's blood-thirsty hands... American consumers will get their fine cigars and their cheap sugar, but at the cost of our national honor."
This is a matter of public record. It's in the House transcripts; perhaps DeLay forgets those exist from time to time, or wishes they didn't.
It's an interesting quote, given the picture you can see at this link. You may have to click on the ad that covers up the picture.
Yep, that's Tommy boy, in a 2003 picture. This means that the picture was taken just about a year before Tom made the above quote. In the picture (as you can read in the accompanying article, from Time magazine), Tom is smoking a Cuban cigar. That's right, Tom went overseas, bought a Cuban cigar, smoked it, was stupid enough to get his picture taken (do you think he's going to blame this on some sort of anti-Christian liberal hate group?), and a year later castigated Americans for wanting to buy Cuban cigars.
This is, technically, illegal; not that that usually stops people. It's certainly nothing the Ethics committee is going to investigate. But it is further evidence that Mr. DeLay is a jackass.

A Fox News poll (one you can assume does not have a liberal bias) found Bush's approval/disapproval rating at 47/43. That's pretty crappy, actually, and, as it was a Fox poll, you can assume it makes the situation look somewhat rosy for the Prez. But there aren't many roses here.
More interesting is the poll question about Bush's social security plan--namely, almost half of Americans don't really understand what Bush wants to do or why he should do it. Some are flat wrong about the president's proposal. This despite the man's 60-day all-expenses-paid-by-you-the-taxpayers nationwide tour to "explain" his plan and talk to regular Americans about it.
What's the deal? Is Bush that bad at communicating his intentions? Actually, no. As I recently learned, Bush's so-called "town hall meetings" have had guest lists. The "questions" from the pre-approved "audience" are all written by Bush handlers. So, in reality, Bush goes around the country on your dime, prohibits anyone who might disagree with him from attending his town hall meetings, talks to his ardent fans for an hour and gets shots of cheering crowds for the nightly news, then wonders why half of America doesn't understand his plan.
He's an idiot.
Here you'll find an Albuquerque article about the scripted nature of these events. This is another report from Kirtland, Ohio. Here's news of an incident at an event in Denver. There's this longer piece, a discussion of an article from the LA Times that documents the Bush/Rove team's tactics for selling this social security plan. About two-thirds of the way down you'll find a fascinating quote by a young man who two generations ago would surely have signed up for the Hitler Youth. And according to this article from Tampa, event organizers in Fargo, North Dakotadrew up a list of 'banned' people among the local populace, including anyone who had ever sent a letter to the local newspaper critical of the President. Do you hear that, folks? If you say anything bad about the president, you'll be blacklisted and refused entry to his "town hall meetings." I wonder if Bush has ever read (or, indeed, heard of) Bradbury or Huxley.
At the very least, next time Bush comes to "rally the troops" at a hangar here at MacDill, I can proudly report that I've said something bad about him and, thus, I won't be allowed (forced) to attend.

I'm going to Utah! Hooray! Three days of hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks with Kelly and Angela. I'm going to play the luddite while I'm out there and not bring my computer with me or watch any tv other than The Weather Channel, so this blog won't be updated again until next Wednesday. Then I intend to post a bunch of pictures (if I can figure out how) and make you all jealous.

27 April 2005

A fun email

I saw this email when I logged in at work this morning:

From: 6 CS/MacDill Helpdesk (SCBNN)
Sent: Tuesday, April 26, 2005 9:05 PM
To: MacDill All
Subject: Finance Pre-Deployment Briefings

This e-mail is sent on behalf of Lt Col Tony Grogean, 6 CPTS/CC

$$$ Finance Pre-Deployment Briefings $$$

    Finance is conducting two out-processing briefings to financially prepare members for the upcoming AEF deployment. The first briefing was held on 20 April 05 in the MXG Auditorium and was attended by over 60 members. The briefings include information on:

      - Combat Zone Entitlements
      - Travel Advances
      - Accrual Vouchers
      - Final Settlement Vouchers
      - MyPay Access and Restricted Access
      - Financial Powers of Attorney

    $$$ Reminder: The next and final briefing will be held on Wednesday 27 Apr 05 at 0800 in the Base Theater $$$

Here's what's important to note: the next and final briefing was held this morning at 0800, just as most people are reporting in to work. It would have been great to know about this briefing, because I could have directed my deployers to attend the briefing; same for other deployment managers across the base.

But, when was the email sent? Why, it was sent at 9:05 yesterday night. They gave us 10 hours, 55 minutes advance notice about this briefing--and they gave that notice at an hour when nobody was left at work and there was no time to inform people about the briefing.

I'd like to know how many people actually showed up. Maybe that was their point. Finance is widely regarded as the most appallingly ineffective unit on any base in the Air Force, known for routinely failing to do their job correctly and for creating new initiatives, such as the new Defense Travel System, to force everyone else to do their jobs for them. This is just more evidence of how inept our finance system is.

25 April 2005

Toldja so

It seems Joe Trippi and Ron Brownstein are reading my blog. How else could have they concluded that there's a huge opening here for a third party?

In fact if you go all the way back to November, to the second post on this blog... well, what if the Democrats do decide to follow the Bush strategy of polarize, polarize, polarize? Gee, they'd leave the door wide open for a centrist to form a new third party. Score a few wins there and the scenario I envisioned just might have a chance.

I particularly like the last paragraph of the article, which I'll quote here:
"In such an environment, imagine the options available to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) if he doesn't win the 2008 Republican nomination, and former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, now that he's dropped his flirtation with running for mayor of New York. If the two Vietnam veterans joined for an all-maverick independent ticket, they might inspire a gold rush of online support — and make the two national parties the latest example of the Internet's ability to threaten seemingly impregnable institutions."

That about sums it up for me.

23 April 2005

Not so much knocking, as shouting STELL-LLLLLAAAA!

Today, for about the 73rd consecutive day, I read another poll saying essentially the following: Americans are growing weary of Bush, of the GOP, of Congress, and of the direction the country is taking under their leadership. And yet Americans remain unconvinced that the Democratic party is a truly viable alternative.

If ever there was a big, fat opportunity for a centrist third party to rise up and demolish the existing ineffectual two-party structure, it is now. Who will lead the charge? Are there any courageous pols in this country? Or even (perhaps preferably) any non-pols?

I'd do it myself, but... well, the military isn't big on political activity. We need somebody we can push forward for this.

Piling On

I hate Tom DeLay. In my own defense, I hated him long before all the recent allegations came up. But the recent allegations do make me feel justified.

Today I read a quote of his, made in 1998 and quoted in the Columbus Dispatch (that's the Columbus in Ohio). I think this is a great quote and says all you need to know about DeLay's attitudes toward the judiciary--attitudes he's held for a long time and which, I'd reckon, make him somewhat more fearful of facing said judiciary in the (I hope) inevitable upcoming investigation. Ahem:

"Judges need to be intimidated."

Evidently, so does everyone else who disagrees with this disgusting excuse for a man.

22 April 2005

Free speech jackassery

Florida state representative Dennis Baxley has decided that apparently the notion of freedom of expression does not apply to Florida public universities. Baxley is miffed that the editorial cartoonist at the University of Florida drew an unflattering picture of him in a cartoon. Complaining that "liberal elite" on Florida university campuses are trying to humiliate him for holding conservative views, Baxley appeared before a meeting of the presidents of all of Florida's public universities to ask them to "protect conservatives" on Florida's ultra-liberal campuses.

I think we all remember how Florida universities in particular are havens of communist and Maoist sympathizers, bastions of anti-war and anti-Bush sentiment, and how very anti-conservative they are. They make UC Berkeley look like the Vatican.

Baxley, of course, is no mere mealymouth here. He sits on the state house's committee on higher education, and thus has great sway on funding for these institutions. When he moans and complains, the university presidents have no choice but to listen.

I find it interesting that a conservative who rails against the idea of special priviledges for any group (gays, blacks, Jews, people who don't like cats, evangelicals) is now standing here saying that his own special group needs to be protected from discrimination.

Mr. Baxley, of course, is a notable public figure. Florida's public universities are, well, public. In cases like Tinker v. Des Moines, New York Times v. Sullivan, and Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., the Supreme Court has noted that freedom of speech does, in fact, extend into public educational institutions; and that for a public figure to complain about being libelled, he must prove "actual malice," meaning that the item published must have been known to be false by the publisher at time of publishing; and that statements of opinion (the UF newspaper's opinion page would, presumably, contain opinions) are not libel. Thus Mr. Baxley has absolutely no valid standing for his complaint.

But for the fact that he holds the purse strings, the university presidents would have laughed him out of their meeting. Instead they've all decided to go home and really look hard at their anti-discrimination policies. These are the same policies conservatives rail against when used for admissions decisions; but now that conservatives constitute a special group needing special privilege, well, now those policies need to be more strongly enforced.

Never underestimate the pettiness of a politician.

18 April 2005


Am I the only person who finds it unseemly, the way many political pundits are covering the papal conclave? Like it’s a horse race?

I’ll be the first to admit that the most interesting part of American politics, aside from scandals and idiots, is the horse race, it’s the only reason why anybody actually pays any attention to the stuff any more. Even the British press has gotten on this bandwagon about their upcoming election. However, while we have an 11-month slog (from the earliest primaries in late January to the Louisiana runoff in early December), the Brits only to have suffer this crap for four weeks at a stretch.

But when you apply the same sort of coverage to the selection of a new pope, I wonder whether it isn’t actually misplaced. I would refer again to my Terri Schiavo post and the discussion of the Frankennews Effect, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing here. The coverage of the pope’s funeral was an example of the good aspects of the information overload age. But now the funeral is over, and, casting about for a way to fill their time without actually doing any in-depth coverage, the news channels and talking heads are debating which Cardinal is ahead in the ‘race’ to see who becomes pope.

I’m not Catholic, but this still strikes me as inappropriate. And even worse, in my view, is the continual insinuation that since the Cardinals have a nicer facility to stay in this time around, they’ll probably take longer to decide. As if their living conditions were the primary factor in choosing a pope for the last two thousand years, as if they’re looking upon this as a vacation or something.


17 April 2005

Arrested Development

I am watching the season finale of Arrested Development on Fox right now. I've been remiss in not mentioning this program before tonight, since you won't be able to watch it now, unless it goes into reruns during the summer, which I doubt.

This is the best sitcom on television, and, while I watch very little broadcast television, as far as I'm concerned it's the best program of any sort on tv. I think it's better than Seinfeld, and that's really saying something.

I note that tonight's episode ended with a "on the next season of Arrested Development..." I will have to look this up online to see what's the deal. I know there's been a lot of question about whether this program, which has won pretty much every award available for a sitcom, will in fact be renewed by Fox for the next season. Whether this means it has been reviewed, or whether instead the last few episodes already shot for this season will be aired later, I don't know. But it does mean that there will be more Arrested Development, sometime.

If you've never seen this program, I urge you to go out and buy season 1, which is available on DVD. It's about the funniest thing you'll see. Then you can tune in next season and see what happens.

16 April 2005

Raw chicken

I believe that raw chicken may be the single most disgusting substance with which I come into contact on a reasonably frequent basis. I have no babies around, and the cat's mess is hidden in clumping litter. But raw chicken...

It's like chicken jello. The fat seems more solid than the meat itself, and it's all but impossible to separate the two. Gooey, sticky, slimy, probably swarming with salmonella... Like a raw oyster, or perhaps a booger. How does something as disgusting as raw chicken turn into something as regular and plain as cooked chicken? It's a mystery of culinary physics.

I am reminded of an old acquaintance of mine, Bruce Brown, who in first year design school at Clemson (back in 1995) was charged with creating packaging for a new product. He decided to create packaging for a new fast-food chicken franchise. The name? Sam 'n Ella's Chicken. Mm-mm! Bring home some of that Sam 'n Ella's fried chicken!

Anyway. I was just musing on this while preparing dinner. Raw chicken.

15 April 2005

Legislators, Lobbyists, and ethics

This is probably all very boring to many of my readers but I find it interesting and it's my blog. Mandy Dawson, the idiot state Senator who asked lobbyists for money so she could take a trip to South Africa, has been reprimanded by the Senate. Whoop-ti-do.

I don't know what I was expecting. I know what I was hoping for, but I guess I wasn't really expecting that. The St. Pete Times today has an article--one of several in the state--discussing Mandy's misfortune. She was kicked off the ethics committee, at least, since even as ethically challenged a body as the Florida Legislature knows it's unseemly to have a member of the ethics committee facing an ethics violation. Now if the UN would just follow the same rules and kick Libya and Sudan off the Human Rights Commission we'd be all set.

I like the article's discussion of what Mandy was doing while the charges were read--namely, responding to emails via her Blackberry. Yep, that's contrition all right. She sure seems sorry about what she did. Then she takes the floor to talk about a puppy she had when she was a little kid. What does she think, she's fucking Nixon? Give it up, honey.

Senator Pruitt said that what she did was, at least in part, for her own gain. Look here, it was entirely for her own gain. Her caucus was taking a trip to South Africa. It mattered not a whit whether Mandy was on that trip or not, not a whit to the South Africans, not a whit to Mandy's constituents. The trip was taken to drum up business. One person would have been enough. Mandy did not need to go for any conceivable public policy reason.

Mandy also didn't have the money to pay her own way. Too bad, so sad. She grew up poor, you'd think she'd understand that sometimes you can't afford to do what you want. I want to buy a Cessna and a penthouse in Trump Tower Tampa, but I don't have that kind of money. I'd love to take a vacation to South Africa, too, but again, money inserts itself as a prohibiting factor. How many of Mandy's constituents could have afforded to go to South Africa? Probably very few. So why did Mandy need to go? Bottom line, she didn't. But, as a legislator, she understood the give and take that we politely call lobbying, and she knew that if she wrote to some lobbyists and asked them for money, they'd have a hard time saying no. A lobbyist is loathe to upset anyone he or she lobbies, and rightly so. Do you think perhaps Mandy's door will be open just a bit wider to the three folks who sent her checks than the ones who didn't? Honestly, what do you think?

What it comes down to is that there was no public policy reason for Mandy to go on the trip, and her inability to afford it is no valid excuse for her to soliticit funds from people paid to tell her what legislation to support. Merely removing her from the ethics committee hardly qualifies as good enough in this circumstance, and Mandy's own words and actions relating to the affair clearly indicate that she has learned nothing whatsoever from this episode. The only like change in her behavior in the future will be an attemp to better hide her ethical lapses.

Mandy Dawson may have worked hard to get where she is, but if this is how she works, there's no value in it and she is deserving of no accolade, nor of continued electoral support. But that's merely the truth, and the truth, as we know, has no bearing on the world of politics.

14 April 2005

Small personal update

I took Lexapro for a week. This replaced St. Johns wort for reasons I mentioned in an earlier post, but I haven't been altogether happy about the situation. I had headaches every morning, and the drug made me so sleepy I couldn't accomplish anything. Since lack of accomplishment has been one of the causes of depression, a medication that prevents me from doing things is, of course, not acceptable. Based on this, the doc has now put me on a different med, this time Wellbutrin. We'll see how this works out.
In any event, I have decided to take the LSAT, probably on June 7. Whether or not anything more will come of it hardly matters at this point, but at the advice of my therapist and in the name of general good sense, I'm going to start making plans in the event of a career change.

12 April 2005

Another legislative journey Redux

A few weeks back I reported on the exciting South African trip taken by Florida State Senator Mandy Dawson, as part of a legislative trip to drum up business for Florida ports.
Dawson, who sits on the Senate's Ethics & Elections Committee, wrote letters to nine lobbyists and the treasurer of a statewide political action committee, asking them to send her $2500 to help defray the cost of the trip, which she called a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

Dawson now says that "This was not a joy and pleasure trip." But it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A cynical observer, and I am one, would note that Mandy could have taken this trip any time she wanted and spent her own damned money on it, too. The only reason this was such a rare opportunity was because only as a 6-year incumbent of the state Senate did she have the power and connections to extort money from others to pay for the trip.

The trip cost $2500 a person. Mandy asked each of her ten lobbyist friends to send her $2500. What, exactly, was she expecting? To take four of her closest friends? It is a bit of a concern that she won't reveal the identity of her traveling companion (though a bit of professional research could turn it up rather quickly, I imagine). (I'd like to point out here that this trip cost only $2500. I recently reported on a trip by Congressman Ander Crenshaw to South Korea that cost over $24,000. So Mandy may have been breaking ethics rules, but at least she was doing it on the cheap.)

Clearly the good senator knew she was doing something wrong. Her own aide expressed concern that using Senate letterhead for the request might be a bad idea, and Mandy said in the letter that, "due to ethics rules" (a misuse of the phrase "due to," but I'll let it pass), the checks should be made out to the legislative Black Caucus and not to her. She knew she was skating on thin ice, but went ahead anyway.

I have a suggestion for Senate President Tom Lee. Get Mandy Dawson off the Ethics Committee, out of the Senate, and bar her from running for office again for ten years. Then revoke the lobbying licenses of Larry Williams and Ron Book and censure Alan Mendelsohn. Make an example, and it's less likely to happen again.

The St. Pete Times has more.

08 April 2005

Soul Baring

A comment from the last post:
How does it feel/ has it felt in the past when you left for work for what you thought would be a regular shift and you ended up in Central Asia? Or perhaps that's just my strange mind buzzing on about nothing...

That's not quite how it is. Perhaps there was a time when that might happen, but the Air Force has long since wrapped itself in thousands and thousands of pages of regulations, some of which are designed to prevent that sort of thing and generally succeed in doing so.

Much more common would be the situation where you are relaxing at home on Saturday afternoon, and get the phone call telling you that you are now in crew rest and will be leaving in 12 hours. Sometimes this is only for a simple local mission. Other times it's for a week-long TDY. When the Iraq war kicked off, people got the phone call at home, went to work 12 hours later, and didn't come back for four months. Lucky for me, I was in training at the time and didn't go anywhere more frightening than Oklahoma. A friend of mine complains that he "missed the war." I used to feel the same way. In that sense, my sanity level has actually improved over the last year.

But whether you have 12 hours or 12 days notice, there is still something unsettling about a job where you are approximately equally likely to spend the night at home as somewhere else. Sometimes this is a good thing, like last October when I spent four nights in Honolulu waiting for our receivers to get fixed. That was nice. I'll let the AF send me to Honolulu anytime. Only a couple weeks before I'd spent two nights in the Azores, and I feel much the same way about Terceira Island as I do about Honolulu. But then there are the times when you go to Qatar. Or Kyrgyzstan. Or Iraq. Or Perry, Georgia. It would be nice if it all evened out in the end, but it doesn't. In the military, you will get a chance to see the world; just not the parts you want to.

Between February 2004 and February 2005, I was TDY or deployed 187 days. That's slightly more than half the year and second highest among the copilots. Colleagues in the tanker community at McConnell or Grand Forks AFBs are often deployed as much as 220 days a year. In our squadron, a boom operator named Nate Hooper was deployed 223 days in that span, the highest TDY rate in the squadron. The AF does get off easy by comparison to the other services, but it's hard to pity a drowning man when you're suffocating yourself. (Also, as AF people often say, I joined the AF because it wasn't the Army, so don't tell me how hard the Army has it. I know. That's why I'm not there.)

In the same span, at least a third of the squadron members were TDY less than 30 days. So it's not evenly spread across the board, which as you'd expect makes things harder to take. Since December 2003, I haven't been at home for 60 straight days once. I have been in Kyrgyzstan for 60 straight days, however.

I don't know if I have it in my power to describe in writing how this whole situation actually feels. For some people, certainly, this makes our job interesting and enjoyable. I had hoped to be one of those people, but it turns out I'm not. If you can live in the moment, many deployments and nearly all TDYs can be very enjoyable (we even had a good time in Alpena, Michigan), and that is the only real chance you have. But eventually, the moments string together and you realize that a year has passed and you've accomplished absolutely nothing that has any meaning to you. And then you get depressed and start seeing a psychologist and taking SSRIs.

Being a flyer is very hard (although, after pilot training, the flying itself isn't). The schedule is built about a week in advance, and that's usually all the time you have to plan for what's coming next--although often deployments are scheduled farther in advance, though this is changing. Some trips are short and fun, some are long and unpleasant. Some are short and unpleasant. It's hard, if not impossible, to manage a regular social life under such circumstances, and I certainly have failed at this. The only thing that makes the lifestyle remotely livable is the flying, and thus it's true that to be an Air Force pilot, you absolutely have to want to fly more than anything else in the world.

When I was in pilot training, an IP told us that if we could see ourselves doing anything else but flying, we should get out of the flying business and find another career field. We were all headstrong and convinced that we were doing the best possible thing we could do, so none of us listened to him. But he was right. If you can see yourself doing something other than being an Air Force pilot, you won't be happy as an Air Force pilot.

Frankly, you have to love the flying more than anything else in the world. If you love the flying you can tolerate the lifestyle. But for me at least, and I'm sure for other pilots out there (probably even some in our squadron), the flying isn't enough anymore. It doesn't make up for the lifestyle, and week by week the gap grows larger.

In that light, you can understand why suddenly having sixty days of comparative normalcy in my life is a good thing, even if it means more uncertainty down the road.

05 April 2005

A post about flying

Or, as the case may be, not flying.
I've been placed on a long-term non-flying profile. So for 60 days I won't be doing any flying.

I'm unsure exactly how I feel about this. In some sense it's relieving, perhaps a step in the right direction. In another sense, it's a significant concern; the profile is required because of medication, medication I'm not entirely comfortable with. And at the same time, it looks like a nice opportunity--for 60 whole days in a row, I know I'm going to come home to my own home every night. If you've never worked a job where that was not a foregone conclusion, you can't really grasp the significance. Rest assured it is a very pleasant prospect.

Regardless of what's coming down the road here, career-wise, I am looking forward to these next 60 days with the hope that I can get on sort of a regular schedule of writing and pottery in the evenings and maybe make some actual progress on these things. We'll see how it goes.