Updates and Getting It So Wrong

With the King Fire so close, I have been focused on the fire so blogging has been intermittent. The fire is at 73,379 acres this morning with, thankfully, slow growth last night due to cool moist weather last night. Although we are living in a blanket of smoke this morning, hopefully as the winds shift from westerly to northeasterly, we will get a break. I will post some pictures and create a King Fire page. We have been packed up and ready to evacuated, but things are looking up as the cut fire breaks and light backfires within a mile or two of the house.

The first thing that crosses my political mind is that we now have 4425 firefighters living here and saving our asses. The community shows their appreciation in so many ways, and yet I don’t think they ever stop and think about their hatred of government and smaller is better, and recognize this is the beast they are starving. The fire is costing $5 million a day and when it is all over in November they will go to the polls and vote for the guys who will further slash these budgets and deny global warming that is causing this problem. Why they can’t connect the dots, I have no idea.

If I had my life to live over, and I had good eyes (which kept me out of pilot training in the first place) there is nothing I would rather do than be part of the fire fighting air campaign. It would be a government job and I would never get rich, but what a contribution to our safety working as part of a team for something meaningful (and of course I love to fly). For those of you who want some cheap thrills, you can download an App called Police Scanner 5.0 for your iPad or iPhone, and then listen in to the air campaign (California, El Dorado County). Took me back to my Vietnam days and forward air controllers as they directed in attacks, but this time, dropping retardant. It was the cool professionalism of these people that took me back to the old days.

Some of the crews out here are inmate crews and they do a wonderful job. I read where most of these guys find the work rehabilitating, yet have a hard time getting a job in fire fighting when they get out because of their criminal record. Go figure. It is one of many things we get so wrong.

One current event commit in the category of connecting the dots: The Scottish bid for independence. In many ways I was divided on this one. My heart said yes, my mind said no. Paul Krugman probably gave the best reason for them staying with Britain and that was economic. Without their own currency, their economy, whether dependent on the British pound or the Euro, would be out of their control, and the very reason they wanted to leave, independence, would be crippling dependence on other’s monetary policy.

My heart said yes because they were sending a strong message, not just for to the British conservative government, but to other leaders of the world that they need to represent the common man, not the special interests that is driving policy away from what helps the common man. Scotts are basically progressives and the European, American, and British drive to austerity policies have hurt everyone’s economy, only benefiting the rich.  Here in America, our government controlled by the right (give me a break, House in Republican hands, and nothing passes in the Senate without Republican minority approval (except some judicial nominations)), they are not representing what the average person wants, from infrastructure investment, to minimum wage hikes.

The latest is the massive student debt, estimated at over $1 trillion, and we can’t pass legislation to help reduce that debt load by refinancing much of this debt to the lower interest rates because Republicans block it.  What we are doing with conservative policies or lack thereof, is creating indenture servants.  If you have been watching Ken Burns wonderful series on the Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor), it will dawn on you that the stuff they were fixing early in the 20th century is trying to be rolled back in the 21st by Republicans.  The whole ideal that we only succeed when we all succeed is lost on them.  So back to my title, we are voting for all the people who have got it so wrong, and expecting different results.  We are oblivious to our own history.  Oh well.

The Roosevelts – Teddy

When you are sitting here breathing smoke, wondering if the fire is going to move your way this morning, and waiting for updates once the morning fire momentum has been established, it is nice to have Ken Burns and his Roosevelts to distract you. Watching that show reminded me of how little I remember of my history. I had forgotten Teddy got into the Presidency when McKinley died. It was happenstance. He was the VP and thought his political career was over.

And what a gloriously complex figure he is. A Republican who is a progressive in the truest sense and glorified in war. Some things never change. But the one thing he understood well was that capitalism was out of control. It was the time of the Robber Barons and forcing the working man into almost slave like conditions. Like I said, some things never change.
His understanding that we only prosper if we all prosper drove many reform bills to protect the working man. That was the role of government and he was determined to make it so.

That lesson is totally lost on the Republican Party of today where the finance guys and corporations are basically out of control and we have a shrinking middle class mostly because of Republican belief in flow down. He also really believed in preserving the environment and preventing business from taking away our natural treasures. See the Republican Party today that wants to drill on public lands, reduce coal regulations, and dismantle the EPA and you wonder if they missed the train on history and lessons learned.

But there was that other side of Teddy that was truly frightening. He glorified in war and did not find one he did not want to get into. He felt it was the measure of the honorable man and got all four of his sons involved in WWI. He was truly bloody Teddy in the way he slaughtered game. He seem to lack that sense that life is precious even for the creatures. He took his measure in his guns and his ability to kill. Sadly the Neocons today seem to have that same bloodlust with a slight twist. That would be that they get other people to fight the wars they so approve of.

In many ways he was a man of his time, bigoted to the point that he was probably the turning point for blacks to desert the party of Lincoln and turn to the Democrats. His views on imperialism and his treatment of lessor nations gave one a sense of his feelings of superiority. Yet he could identify with the common working man in his own country. Yet he was the first real Progressive understanding government’s role in making us great, and having a grand distain for the business class that thought the only measure in life was how much you could earn. We certainly owe him a lot for that. To bad most of us can’t remember our history and we fight the same old battles.

King Fire

Fire is about 6-8 miles from the house

Fire is about 6-8 miles from the house


On a more personal note, the King fire here in El Dorado County, CA is that fire I have always worried about. If you have Google Earth search for Pollock Pines, CA, and then go just a little to the North to see the South Fork of the American River. Google Earth gives you a 3-D view of the canyon where the fire is raging and gives you a true perspective of the steepness and inaccessibility of the area right next to civilization and Highway 50. If you go further to the west to Slab Creek Reservoir, I live right above the dam.

Large Air Tanker Overhead

Large Air Tanker Overhead


Helicopter and Bucket
















It is my worst nightmare because I live right on the edge of the drop off, about 6 miles west of where the fire is raging. I always thought that if a fire starts down in there, there is no effective way to control it.  As I track the progress and the fire reports, it is raging basically out of control with the effort of over 1000 firemen on just keeping the fire contained in the steep areas and prevent it burning down Pollock Pines. It has doubled in size this morning from 4000 acres to 8000 acres and growing. It is like an air show over my house as tankers fly loads of retardant to the fire and helicopters buzz right over on their way back to Placerville AP for gas dragging their buckets behind them.

It is very dry and conditions are ripe for a totally uncontrolled burn. Right now the prevailing winds are north/northeast, but at night it reverses and that is the real danger point for most of us. If the fire starts heading west, we are all in deep do-do. While we are clear during the day, at night the smoke becomes so thick it is like a heavy fog. We have located all our critical stuff (The four P’s, People, Pets, Pictures, and Papers) and have small bags packed if we have to leave, but right now it is not an issue and it is not moving this way. You could add Phone and Personnel Computer. Everything else is replaceable.  So you get ready, have a checklist, and remember almost nothing is not replaceable except the ones you love.

I can’t imagine fighting this thing in the heat (90′s) and the steep terrain. One good thing is the community really rallies around each other providing homes for people and livestock. And yes firemen are heroes. They can do more good in a few days of work, than I did in my whole career. Thank you.


Empathy and Voting

There was another article about how the Kansas experiment where Governor Brownback actually did all the stuff Republicans wish they could do, and the state is floundering, appeared giving his Democratic rival a real chance in a very red state. Here is a description of one voter:

In his 40 years living in Kansas, Konrad Hastings cannot remember voting for a Democrat. He is the type who agonizes over big purchases, trying to save as much money as possible. He is against stricter gun laws, opposes abortion in most cases and prefers less government involvement in his life.

I find this fascinating. He is frugal (conservative economic ideas), against government action on guns, but for government action to prevent a woman’s choice, and prefers less government? It is all about what he has personal experience with. Women and choice are abstractions, as well as the damage done by free access to guns, but the impact to the economy by supply side economics is hurting him, so he is willing to rethink his ideas here.

It’s the empathy thing. Conservatives don’t have any, so unless their own lives are affected directly, they have no sense of the damage their policies do to others. In that vein, he will never get that his push for frugal government is exactly what is also degrading his economy. He is stuck in the microeconomic model (home budget) and ignoring that governments work within the macroeconomic model, and he never will get it because it is not his personal experience.

These are the people who elect our government in mid-term elections. Democrats and independents stay home and we have the mess we have because they stayed home. Think about Ferguson where the government is totally out of touch with their citizens (we have no racial problem) and the fault lies with the citizens. Only 10% of the population turned out for their last election. If you don’t vote, you gave away your power to that 10%.

This upcoming mid-term election is one of the most important in our history, where Republicans using their mid-term successes have tried to restrict voting rights. It is time to get rid of these people and elect those who aren’t trying to maintain the status quo, but moving forward to build a better country. I just hope people figure this out.

Criminal Violence in the NFL

And we are surprised? Do you watch football? It is about sex and violence. I am not sure what a clean hit means if it permanently injures someone. Latest numbers say that one in three NFL players will suffer some brain impairment. And we encourage it.

Wife beating is a surprise? What is the female image in football? Eye candy dancing around in skimpy little outfits having no real impact on the game. They don’t even lead cheers, they just “dance”. So we have sex objects and violence, and we celebrate both with our all mighty dollar.

And what has “sportsmanship” devolved into on the NFL field? Intimidation, trash talking, and victory dances celebrating the self. It is macho childishness at a whole new level, bleeding down into college and high school sports, and we encourage it. So we are surprised when self aggrandized and immature young men strike their women or children because they dared to disagree?

We have a very profitable industry driven by a men’s club who pays exorbitant salaries to gifted athletes who become entitled with bigger than life adulation for violence on the field, and we are surprised about the misogyny and violence off the field. Are you brain dead?

Technology and Me (Boring)

I love to have the latest gadgets. But I am selective about my tools/toys. They have to make life simpler, not more complicated. I love my iPad, but I added a keyboard because it makes writing these blogs so much simpler. And quite frankly some apps for IOS are far simpler to use than having a full computer. I am thinking of scheduling programs (I am an engineer), watching baseball games outside, reading books, searching the web, and responding to email.

I have a MacBook Pro 13″ (2012) that I use at home and when I travel to work. At home it drives dual 24″ HD screens which is perfect for my work, writing and editing documents and proposals. In effect I have three separate screens (including the MacBook) to work from so I can compare full size documents side by side, and still see my email program or anything else I might want opened. If you are a Parallels user, you can have your PC programs running on one screen (Quicken, MS Project, etc.) and your Mac stuff on another and still have your laptop screen free for whatever. It truly simplifies my life*.

That brings me to the iPhone 6. It’s too big. I want my phone primarily as a phone, and backup device when I really want to travel light, but the iPad is about as small a screen I want if I am really reading, writing, or searching the web. I could not figure out why they did not give the iPad phone capabilities and just make it an extension of your iPhone**. But when I go out to dinner or are traveling about town, I want to stay fairly light and I don’t want something that takes up a whole pocket. So I upgraded my 4s to the 5s (great deals right now) and am quite happy. It will be interesting to see if bigger is better in the market place.

Then there is the perfect case for your iPhone. I don’t like things in my back pocket. And I don’t like carrying around a ton of stuff in my wallet. So I am looking for the perfect iPhone “wallet”, that lets me protect my phone while also carrying a few credit cards and my license (not to mention my Clipper Card (passport to all mass transit in the Bay Area)). But it has to stay small so it is still comfortable in my front pocket and nobody is asking about my rocket in my pocket. I bought about 5 different cases to test them out and I found the Sena Walletskin. Carries 4-cards plus your license, along with your phone quite comfortably. Depending on the activity, I could probably squeeze my Kaiser card in there too, just in case.

You know it is kind of amazing that with my iPad, iPhone, and computer, I am connected to the world, and besides my printers, it connects me to the world, allows me to work with people in all time zones and half way around the world, and stay in close touch with my family. And if we don’t let them control us, a battle most have already lost as they travel this earth in a zombie like trance staring at their phones, they could make us more productive and human. But I fear based on the number of people who walk right into me and out into traffic, we are losing that battle.

*For those who have older MacBooks that do not have dual video outputs, the DualHead2Go Digital ME allows you to utilize dual screens and I went cheap, but good on the monitors, LG full HD 24″ LCD monitors, and the Dual LX side by side arms to mount the monitors (this is the cadillac of mounts). I got the setup from Amazon for about $800 total and it has already paid handsome dividends when I have to display 11″x17″ schedules and develop a scheduling narrative from them.

**You want to make a billion dollars? Develop an app that allows your iPad to mirror your iPhone so you can dial and call from your iPad. Maybe the iPad 7.

When will This Insanity Stop?

Did you know that we have spent almost 120 billion dollars on rebuilding projects in Afghanistan? The Inspector General has just issued a report that says that the graft and corruption in that country puts that whole program at risk (McClatchy). Did you know that we are on track to spend $8 billion each year in the coming years on more rebuilding projects? All of it probably going to total waste.

I recently worked on a proposal from U.S. AID to provide technical training to build up Afghan’s capacity in water and energy, training thousands of their personnel and sending a large number to regional universities to get their masters degrees. It also would have tutored over 1200 women in technology to integrate them into technological fields. It was a worthy program cancelled because of the uncertainty (we think) of the political atmosphere.

But one has to wonder why we aren’t doing this in our own country? Why aren’t we investing like crazy in our own infrastructure and mentoring our own girls and women to take part in the technological economy? Why is it so easy to get funds to rebuild broken and un-rebuildable nations, and we can’t even get a properly funded highway bill through Congress? Why can we nation build elsewhere, and ignore our own country?

We are rushing to fund another long slog in the Middle East to eradicate ISIS when the Arabs won’t do themselves, and this is going to further steal from our treasury to probably make things worse, and yet we fail to take the simple steps to truly make us strong, invest in our own people and infrastructure. When will this insanity finally end?

Some Retrospection

Who does ISIS today threaten the most? Arabs and Muslims. So why isn’t the Islam religion and its practitioners taking the lead to do something about this cancer on the earth, and begging us to help them? Instead we get a video of two Americans getting their throats cut and we are taking the initiative and begging them to support us. Why is that?

Well maybe one answer is that the governments in the region are a reflection of a defunct ideology, Islam. It is a patriarchal system of tribes. It is the good old boys network with a large touch of misogamy rolled in. Now I don’t say that from a deep understanding of their religion or culture, just watching their behavior. They are a 5th century culture trying to exist in a world of new ideas, by stifling democracy and freedom. It is a world that breeds radicalism.

You can look at this whole caliphate thing as a bunch of young men feeling left behind by the world, and withdrawing into themselves to create a society that makes them kings with total control over everyone else. If they establish it, it will crumble because it is a fantasy in a world where we are all connected and new ideas cannot be stamped out.

Now we are trying to save Arabs from themselves (see Iraq) and I wonder why. Are we being hysterical? Is our involvement really necessary and in involving ourselves, do we do just the opposite of what we intended, make the world a more dangerous place? Every terrorist attack from the Middle East has been a result of our getting involved in the Middle East, and being seen as the problem. See Bin Laden and company and 9/11 for what started this mess. It was our bases in Saudi Arabia that got him all riled up.

No, I am not arguing for appeasement, and there are times when we must take the lead, and well, lead. But I wonder if we are rushing into something we need not rush into. We have strategic interests in Iraq because we broke it. Our focus should be bringing them into the 21st Century of tolerance and inclusion if that is possible with a tribal society. But putting ISIS on a pedestal and attacking them in Syria to Assad’s benefit, may be a bridge too far.

We need to think about this. We need to wonder why the Republicans who can’t raise a finger to spend money on our crumbling infrustucture are rushing to be first in line to spend our treasury on weapons and destruction. We need to wonder why our response to a purely political problem (a defunct society held hostage by tribes and sectarian hatred) is always with force.

We claim to see the problem as political, but our fall back solution is always military intervention. Are we falling in the trap of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I think we are.

Happy Friday and isn’t it a great weekend while the wife beaters play on in the NFL? Maybe everyone ought to turn off their TV for one weekend and ignore them. Money always gets their attention.

On the Other Hand

Yesterday I wrote that if ISIS posed a clear threat to us, then the question was not if, but when we attack them. All the risks inherent in that strategy are risks we have to take (carefully) because better to act now than wait. But there is another side to this argument that truly gives me pause. Do everything we said we were going to do, just don’t use force except to prevent genocide.

The original assumption is without bold action by the United States. ISIS will grow (like Hitler in 1930′s Europe or al Qaeda in Afghanistan) and eventually we will have to take action, and it will be harder later than now. But with that bold action comes the following risks:

  • The U.S. will be seen to be taking sides in a sectarian war that has gone on for centuries and be forever pulled in
  • By destroying ISIS, assist Assad and his brutal regime in maintaining power (and helping Shiites against Sunnis)
  • By conducting an air war, kill thousands in collateral damage, and become part of the problem, not the solution
  • Solidifying Iran’s position against the Sunnis and again be seen as taking sides with the Shiites
  • Destroying ISIS to the benefit of al Qaeda

And the strategy to mitigate these risks involves unlikely scenarios of getting the Arabs in the region, both Shiite and Sunni to work together to defeat ISIS and to create an environment where Shiite and Sunnis both have a balance of power. And here is where the counter argument for doing “nothing” comes in (nothing as defined by doing everything politically, but not using American lethal force). What if the blowback is worse than the problem?

Al Qaeda, and ISIS are really creations of the Arab sectarian wars, aided and abetted by our invasion of Iraq. The Arab world has funded and grown these cancers to fight their religious battles, and now their cancers have grown out of control. Can the United States really enter this battle without taking sides and be then responsible for the whole region, and by extension, be the focus of all hostilities?

More importantly is a better strategy to not become embroiled in the fight, but aid and help different factions to defeat intolerance with other non-lethal (American) force? I don’t know the answer to that. Apparently President Obama and his advisors think they can walk that fine line between both strategies, but the conventional wisdom and emotion right now is to strike back at ISIS and political leaders do not make the best decisions in that atmosphere.

What has been missing in this whole debate is the Arab perspective. Where are the experts on the region who understand the dynamics of their politics, not ours, to project what might happen? Remember in the last war we jumped in with military solutions to complex sectarian wars and the result was not good. So I guess I am holding my judgement until we hear from those that know the region and have a more stable and tolerate approach to a balance of power. Maybe a debate in Congress is just the ticket to slow things down while we get some more insightful enlightenment.

Oh, and one thing I forgot. This morning Times is reporting that Republicans are leaning to support Obama on ISIS. When was the last time they got anything right? Really makes you want to stop and think this through.

ISIS (ISIL) for Dummies

So what is it we need to know about ISIS to make a rational decision about what our course of action should be going forward. You won’t hear this discussed much with talking heads because it is so much easier to bring up all the complexities and risks with going forward than talking about whether or not we have a choice going forward.

Remember the movie Argo? There was a scene where the American embassy employees hiding in the Canadian Embassy are presented with the plan to escape and several think it is crazy and won’t go along. You are wondering what the hell is going on in their mind because there are no other options, stay and die, or give it a try.

It is the scene repeated in real life when in an airliner where the passengers got hysterical about a possible sick passenger (Ebola which he did not have). What’s there to get hysterical about? You are trapped and unless you jump, you have to wait for the pilot to land.

My point is simply this: Is ISIS a threat and doing nothing is not an option? Americans are a bit hysterical right now because there have been graphic images of two Americans beheaded and we demand action. But Assad has killed over 170,000, and Americans are brutally murdered each day (Remember Sandy Hook?) because of the available access to guns. We did nothing about either.

Now on the other hand is ISIS a threat to our future and if not now, will it be much worse later with even less options? Some have argued that our reaction to ISIS is an over reaction and they will burn themselves out. Others have argued that do we not remember what happened when al Qaeda got a foothold to train and organize in Afghanistan? If ISIS is a threat, then we have no options, we have to take action, with all its inherent risks.

Now I don’t have an answer for you yet. I think they are dangerous and could become a national threat through destabilizing the countries around them. That case needs to be made, but I am leaning that way. If that is true, we are in the no options scenario, so now what will work given all the risks in this endeavor?

Well, the answer is to somehow degrade ISIS without taking sectarian sides, not advancing Iranian Shiite’s interests and not leaving a power vacuum in Syria, not aligning with Assad, not having “boots on the ground”, and having an exit strategy. You get the almost total impossibility of the task, and yet a task we must undertake for our own security (if you buy my premise which I am still open to considering). So while pundits sit around pointing out all the bad stuff, what is their plan if we have to do something?

The President laid out his plan tonight and it was, of course, the only way forward given all the risks. It is going to be a slog, and yes there will be boots on the ground in training and advising roles, but basically the Sunnis and the Shiites have to come together to battle these guys with our support. To do more and we become embroiled in another counter productive land war. It is their war and they have to win it and we have to keep the peace between the Shiites and the Sunnis so they can win and sustain their win.

For Syria there are no good options and while arming the opposition might help, eventually we are going to have to be their air support to even the war, if that is even remotely realistic. But it is the best we can do and it is all we got, and if you buy the threat argument, there is no choice. So quite whining and get on with it. We will see if the Republicans want to turn it into a political football playing the “he shouda way back when” game or pointing out all the risks without offering an alternative, or grow up and support a very difficult war with no easy solutions. That’s when we find out who the real Americans are.