Archive for May 2014

Negotiating with Terrorists!

Oh my god! That weak SOB is negotiating with terrorists! Or so the criticism from Republicans is going. Oh, and lets not forget, soon they will be back on the battlefield threatening us!

Well we are pulling out and we need to get everyone home as we lose our leverage. And in my world keeping anyone at Guantanamo without due process and a fair trial is a travesty of our system and besmirches American justice and ideals. Since we can’t try these people because we tortured them and evidence is shoddy at best, better to return them to the battlefield if that is what they choose so we can kill them.

Why is this hard? Oh I forgot. The Republicans have no ideas about how to deal with our real problems in the coming election except to hate Obama.

Vine and Wine

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Growth in the vineyard, 5/31/2014. If you look closely you can see the Grenache on the left, Mourvedre in the middle, and the Syrah at the bottom of the hill (Counoise in the foreground).

Vine – Used to be Vine/Wine Friday but I get behind. The picture above shows you the growth in the vineyard this week. It is over my head and I have been busy thinning (removing unwanted growth and shoots) and spraying for mildew which is probably a waste of time with the dry winds we have been having, but who wants to take a chance. Knock it down now and you have the rest of the summer to not worry about it.

The growth this year is vigorous, even more so than last year. The plant pushes out shoots where you don’t want them and on the shoots you do want, pushes out laterals that have to be thinned off. This requires walking through the vineyard, plant by plant, and thinning. See the picture below.

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Thinning and pushing up through the wires. Still needs major thinning at the cardon to expose the grapes to morning sun to ripen (later in the year).

The plants are heavy with “potential” fruit and I am already seeing early flowering on the grapes. Yep, grapes flower and they pollinate via, wind, bugs, bees, birds, whatever. The picture below shows what the “flowers” look like and you have to look closely. They are the white dots coming off the potential grapes. The white specs on the leaves are mildew spray. Next is fruit set and I won’t know how I look for real until about three weeks from now. If all of the potential fruit sets, I am going to have to drop fruit in a major way because the plants have way too much fruit. No, Virginia, the idea is not to produce the most fruit you can, but quality succulent grapes. That requires reducing what is hanging and balancing leaf cover to crop.

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Flowering of the Grenache. White specs on the leaves are mildew spray.

For the next week or two I will be focused on thinning plants (laterals and unwanted shoots). Try to be out in the vineyard by 6 am and out by 10 am to avoid the sun. Sometime in there I will have to start weed-eating to trim where the mower missed so I have a nice neat vineyard for the summer. No, it never ends.

Wine – My recommendation for wine is quite simple, A Bumgarner Petite Syrah while it lasts. She who must never be mentioned here and myself went over to his winery this afternoon for a tasting of the Petite Syrah coupled with Tri-Tip, Lamb, Portobella Mushroom with cheese, and blueberries with chocolate. It was magnificent. I have no idea what you people out there do with your time on a Saturday afternoon if you don’t live in wine country. Carpe Diem.

Literature and Theater

There is an interesting piece in the NYT about an 11th grade literature class going to Broadway to see Of Mice and Men and then having the opportunity to meet with the actors to discuss the play. Shades of my Ashland adventures with she who must never be mentioned here where they routinely allow patrons to meet with cast members and ask questions.

The questions mostly were about the play and about the craft of acting. But one response reminded me of a lesson I learned about theater, art, and acting:

“My class read it a couple of months ago, and we watched the movie,” Ms. O’Brien said. “I absolutely loved the book, but I felt more of a connection in the play.”

Actors bring the story alive. It is their craft and in that craft, we get a clearer picture of what the author intended (hopefully). I was never a big Shakespeare fan until I saw it brought to life on the stage. I would imagine that this has to do with our ability to bring the fantasy alive in our heads while we are reading it. But Shakespeare was meant to be acted and I can never thank those actors enough for awakening me to this experience. There is wonderful art and craft to great acting and that is surely to be appreciated and admired, and no where better than on the stage. Movies are great, but they are a poor man’s substitute for live performances.

One other thought. I saw the movie Chef yesterday and I highly recommend it. It is a light hearted tale about a man’s joy in his craft and his reconnecting with what is important. But as I looked around the theater, most of the attendees were like me, old. The young were watching Godzilla in 3-D. I guess that means there won’t be many really fun movies to watch for those of us who think spectacular special effects are secondary to the story.

Republicans, a Scourge on the Planet

“The big-money coalition attacking solar and wind power scored a huge trophy this week. On Wednesday, the Ohio legislature became the first in the country to roll back renewable-energy standards for power generation, a victory for fossil fuels, soot and greenhouse gases. Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill shortly.”

“The Pentagon has warned that global warming and its consequences pose a significant threat to national security. (Republicans in the House responded with a legislative amendment that would forbid the military from even thinking about the issue.)”

The real question you have to ask yourself is, does unfettered capitalism with its focus on short term profits end up eating our young*? The theism of the market place is killing the planet and we do nothing except elect the kind of morons who eschew science and rational thought to maintain their faith based belief system.

But not to worry. I have the latest music app from iTunes and can boogey on. Did you see what I pasted on my facebook page about the great meal I had the other day? Oh, and did you see that inspiration phrase I posted about love and forgiveness? Don’t Worry, Be Happy as Bobby McFerrin used to sing. Here, smoke one of these.

*The Canadian governor of the Bank of England, lays into unfettered capitalism. “Just as any revolution eats its children,” he says, “unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. … Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital”

Fracking and Coal

Remember when North Carolina outlawed the use of climate change data in land use planning in costal areas? What me worry comes to mind. Well they have topped that. North Carolina has laws on the books that make fracking illegal, but no more. Although they promised their voters the toughest environmental controls in the country, they passed legislation legalizing it in two weeks, no hearings, and no public comment. And are you ready for this: IT IS A MISDEMEANOR PUNISHABLE BY FOUR MONTHS IN JAIL IF YOU DIVULGE THE CONTENTS OF THE FRACKING FLUID. Boy there is a state I want to live in where ignorance is the best they can offer as public policy.

Meanwhile on the coal front, pundits are pointing out how when President Obama releases his regulations on coal plants Monday, coal state Democrats as well as all Republicans will squial like a stuck pigs. But not to worry, short term political goals are far more important than the health and welfare of our children. Is this a great country or what?

Another Who Said It Best Today: Jonathan Chait

In his NY Magazine op-ed, Jonathan points out how President Obama’s major policy achievements from Obamacare to regulation of the Environment came from Mitt Romney. Tells you just about everything you need to know about how far to the right we have drifted.

Who Said It Best Today: Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court

In an op-ed today in the NYT, Linda Greenhouse, who follows and reports on the Supreme Court, said what I think is the ultimate truth about the John Robert’s Supreme Court:

This is an opinion column, and here is my opinion: the court’s majority is driving it into dangerous territory. The problem is not only that the court is too often divided but that it’s too often simply wrong: wrong in the battles it picks, wrong in setting an agenda that mimics a Republican Party platform, wrong in refusing to give the political system breathing room to make fundamental choices of self-governance.

… The evidence is everywhere: from the way the court invited and then accepted a fundamental challenge to public employee labor unions in Harris v. Quinn, a case argued in January and due for decision any day; to its brick-by-brick deregulation of campaign finance; to its obsession with race and with drawing the final curtain on the civil rights revolution.

… I wonder whether the Supreme Court itself has become an engine of polarization, keeping old culture-war battles alive and forcing to the surface old conflicts that people were managing to live with. Suppose, in other words, that instead of blaming our politics for giving us the court we have, we should place on the court at least some of the blame for our politics.

Dangerous is an understatement. They are delegitimizing government and the fairness of our courts. They are turning the average citizen away from politics as a way to solve problems. In a way, they are paving the way for what might result in revolution if enough people no longer feel that government is responsive to the common man.

Well enough good news for today. I have jury duty this morning and I will try to banish all my prejudices and give each person a fair hearing and judge the case on the facts presented, not on my predispositions. Kind of like the opposite of politics.

Apparently President Obama Sucks at Management 101

The VA scandal is only the latest. Let us not forget the rollout of Obamacare. Just the two of these examples have given his enemies tons of ammunition and have hurt our country. I could also bring up the decision to look forward not back at torture, leaving an oozing wound to ooze. See Senator Feinstein’s war with the CIA over the report of what we really did and if it was effective.

I think the man just doesn’t have any real experience dealing with bureaucracies and trying to bring about change. He seems to employ the Captain Kirk (StarTrek) method of just telling his lieutenants to make it so. Let’s look at the problems with the VA, although all of the management lessons not learned applied to the rollout of the Obamacare website.

Clearly you can’t personnaly manage everything, but there has to be a priority list. The VA problem is not a new one, with long delays reported in the early 2000’s. But candidate Obama made a promise about taking care of our veterans as one of his most important priorities. Then he appointed General Shinseki, then looked the other way. Make it so General.

Now in management 101, if you have a problem you need to identify it and then come up with metrics to measure progress. Then you need to put someone in charge (General Shinseki) and then make sure you ask the right questions, eyeball to eyeball. President Obama only got half of that right, I guess because he doesn’t understand how bureaucracies (public or private) hide their problems. Sure they had a system to measure wait times (which was totally corrupted) but where were the patient interviews? Where were the independent audit?

So if you understand what I know about bureaucracies, you would have put General Shinseki in charge, but then face to face asked how the metrics were set up, what was the check on the numbers, and how do we measure real customer satisfaction and audit the system. Then you check along the way and make sure who you appointed will speak truth to power. To understand why the VA hid data is understand how we put incentives in place to achieve an impossible goal with only punishment for failure. You can see the parallels with the rollout of the Obamacare website.

But not only is this a failure of management, it is a failure of leadership. Republicans are pointing to the failure of the VA as an example of why true socialized medicine won’t work. It is not true of course, and we have tons of data from other countries to show it is not. Second President Obama had a powerful argument to make for providing more resources to the VA if he had identified the problem. As it is, Republicans will say we can’t throw good money after bad and try to wreck the VA system instead of fix it. In the Obamacare example, just what are the Republicans running on in 2014 again?

Now I threw in the torture thing because he thinks that an executive order will take care of things. Bureaucracies just bide their time and fall back on bad habits as soon as we are not vigilant and do not learn from our mistakes. He has left a culture and belief in place that will take this shortcut to failure again.

I could go on and on (financial reform, pivot from jobs to debt, the Grand Bargain, accountability on drone strikes, surveillance), but the lesson for us little people out in the hinterlands is that talk is cheap and results are all that counts. President Obama makes bold statements, but the follow through is not there. People don’t care about bold statements, holding those accountable (scapegoating: firing only works if it causes change that fixes the problem), we care about results.

A leader who has charisma and can motivate us, becomes just more hot air if he can’t follow through. So far, on some of the most important things we care about, he has not and he leaves the door open for his and my enemies.

Snowden, He is Baaack

Well Bryan Williams has scored a one-on-one interview with Mr. Snowden and so the media was all a twitter about it today. Now I have made my feelings about Mr. Snowden’s leaking quite clear (The Snowden Rage, Revisiting Edward Snowden, ect. Just search the blog on Snowden), I think he did the country a great service. Democracy cannot function without transparency.

So anyway today Secretary of State John Kerry showing rage and contempt for the man, made my favorite two false arguments about Snowden. First, if he wasn’t a coward and a traitor, he would come home and face our justice system. What is ludicrous about this is that there is no way he would get a fair trial. First of all powerful people such as Secretary Kerry have already decided his guilt, and some in the intelligence community have indicated they would like to see him dead. Second, any trial would include redacted testimony, hidden from our eyes to protect “states secrets”, and any whiff of fair goes out the window. See the Chelsea (Bradley) Manning trial.

The second false argument is that only a coward would hide in a country like Russia that spies on its own people. Except he did not choose Russia, the United States forced his hand and that is where he ended up as the only safe harbor against United States “justice”. Remember when the President of Boliva and his plane were denied safe passage through Europe and were forced to land because they thought he might be on it?

Certainly there ought to be secrets that ought to be kept, but we have gone beyond the pale, everything is classified, and there are millions with security clearances to conduct the government’s business. Oh, and if it keeps us safe, please provide the data that demonstrates that. Yeah, I know, it’s classified. Thanks Mr. Snowden. Keep your head down. You embarrassed powerful people and revenge is what they want, not justice.

U.S. to be Out of Afghanistan by 2016!

My thought is why not tomorrow? It is not going to get any better. Oh wait, by then the Afghan army will be stood up. Right. What I find amazing is the criticism. Could we be leaving too soon? Why give them a date when they could wait us out? And the answer to all that nonsense is just how long should we stay? Forever? But what if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan and becomes a threat? And just what did we do last time? Bomb them into the mountains caves.

I am just appalled at the people who want us to stay there and they give us no exit strategy, and of course it isn’t them that has to go there in what could be a never ending war by their standards. Like everyone before us, we must learn that it is their country to save, and we have our own problems. It reminds me of the pullout and fall of Saigon. The world is going to end and the communists are going to take over the world. Had some delicious Vietnamese shrimp lately? Taken a tourist trip to Ho Chi Minh City?

It was a mistake, we can’t police the world, the terrorist threat will move to where they need too, and Afghanistan is not really in our strategic interests. Let’s not have one more American die trying to save a 5th century country where graft and corruption is rampart. Let’s use the money to rebuild America.