Thursday, March 27, 2003

I'm tempted to make this site anti WorldCom and Verizon instead of anti Paypal. My company's internet access has been down since 2:50 p.m. yesterday. In fact, I'm typing this update in notepad, with the hopes of copying and pasting it into the Blogspot update app. later on.

Because of the yelling I've been doing at increasingly higher up (and yet so far no more effective) chain of command, it's reminded me of something that happened when I first got out of Basic Training and was at my permanent unit.

When I first got to my new unit, everything was going pretty smoothly except that I didn't get a paycheck when the first pay period rolled around. I'm assured it's just a little routing glitch, the check is in the system they just don't know where to send it, etc. The next pay period rolls around and I still don't have the first check nor this one. I'm starting to get concerned because the little money I had when I got to my unit is rapidly vanishing (hey, beer costs money, right?) I had an account back home that money from each paycheck was being directly deposited to, and that money was going in, so I knew the pay was somewhere, just not in my greedy, alcoholic hands.

There's a chain of command in the military (you might have already guessed this), and I, being the young, scared soldier that I was, dutifully went through mine. When the first check didn't arrive, I informed my tank commander (a Sergeant, E-5) and he went to Finance and bitched. When the second check didn't arrive, I let the E-5 know, who informed our Platoon Sergeant (E-7), who went to Finance and raised holy hell. When the third pay period rolled around and I still didn't have any money (actually, I'd had my mother send me some from the bank account back home to tide me over), I told the E-5, who told the E-7, who in exasperation told our First Sergeant (E-8).

Of course, having seen the escalation that had happened so far, I sort of expected tactical nukes to start raining down on Finance now that the First Sergeant was there. This guy was a first-class asshole, and he didn't give a shit for his soldiers (that I could see), but he seemed to enjoy getting involved in issues like this if for no other reason than to have an excuse to chew some ass.

I was in the E-8s office when the E-7 explained to him what was going on. The E-8 called Finance, identified himself, and in a calm manner explained the reason for his call. (This E-8 always held the phone like it was dripping some unidentified slime that he didn't want to get on his shoes. It wasn't effiminate in the least, but you could just tell that he had utter contempt for everything around him.) He kept looking me up and down while he was talking, with what I thought looked like a snear but decided that it was probably just the look this person gets on his face when he's talking on the phone, especially when he finally drops the polite, calm manner and starts chewing some well-deserving ass. Of course, I was wrong; he was snearing.

Anyway, the E-8 is explaining to the Finance person that I hadn't gotten paid in a month-and-a-half, and that he (the E-8) wanted the situation rectified. "I've got a soldier with no money," he snears, "who can't buy himself a beer tonight or a hamburger. He can't even buy him some soap to wash his nasty ass." (Again, this was all said very calmly, but with a snear probably directed at me.)

The first thing I thought was "That's cool, this guy is going to bat for me." The second thing I thought was "Hey!" I mean, yea I didn't have much money but soap wasn't that expensive. I was washing my nast... er, my ass, which was decidedly unnasty, thank you very much. The third thing I thought was "Shit, this isn't going to get me anywhere. He's being all polite and everything and these guys aren't going to do shit."

Well, as I said, this E-8 was pure dick, and his reputation was well known. I had all three paychecks in hand the next day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Once again, the one letter every 30 days (and 200 word limit) that my local newspaper imposes on the readers causes me to have to use this forum to respond to a few of the more ridiculous "Letters to the Editor" that were in today's paper.

In
Respect the limits of human authority
, Kenneth Mothena objected to a commentary which said, in essence, that leaders who follow a religious leaning when making decisions are more likely to make bad decisions than those who consult experienced authority. This troubles Mr. Mothena because, as he puts it, "[s]eems to me this man... is stating that man is more dependable, more knowledgeable than God."

That's not what the commentary writer said at all (though it is true.) What he said was that following a religious writing, whether it's the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or whatever, leads to bad decisions because so much of what we face in today's world is never addressed at all in these writings. That just makes sense; these supposed "words of God" were written for a very specific people in a very specific time and have very little, if any, relevence to our lives today. Sure, you can maybe point out some "timeless truths" in these writings, but if, for instance, you are contemplating going to war with another country you had better base that decision on facts provided by your expert advisors, not some misguided principles you find in your holy book of choice.

In Someday science will trump evolution, Lawrence Buzzard makes the standard Creationists claim that the theory of evolution violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics. I actually responded to this one with the following, and hopefully it will get printed soon. You won't have to wait, however, as you get a special preview!


In "Someday, science will trump evolution", 3/26/03 Letters to the editor,
Lawrence Buzzard assures us that "[w]ith little research, one finds that the
theory of evolution more closely compares to the fable of 'The Emperor's New
Clothes.'" Considering that he has fallen for the standard Creationist
error that the theory of evolution violates the first and second laws of
thermodynamics (it doesn't), it's easy to see that Mr. Buzzard's problem is
exactly that: little research.

For the past 100 years or so, science has done nothing but affirm the theory
of evolution. Of course, Mr. Buzzard has a ready answer for that: a few
mean, old scientists have intimidated us all into believing a lie. A good
sign that a "theory" that flies in the face of accepted science is a bunch
of bull is when the crackpot advancing this "theory" claims that some
conspiracy is preventing the truth from coming out. I encourage everyone to
study the evidence for themselves (a good place to start would be to read
what the first and second laws of thermodynamics actually state) instead of
uncritically accepting what some misguided creationist assures you is the
truth.


Comments anyone?

Sunday, March 23, 2003

"Unfortunately, there probably are people in other lands who are praying against the president and against us. So I think it's important for us to have our share of prayer warriors."

The above quotation is attributed to Terry Posey of Greenville, S.C. in a Washington Post article titled "'Prayer Warriors' join the battle." Posey claims that his website, prayforourpresident.com, had over 52,000 visitors in the first 24 hours after President Bush's speech in which he generously gave Hussein 48 hours to go into exile.

Posey, like so many Christians in America, seems to believe in a God who is just waiting for the right amount of prayers before he will act. Posey's God either has no idea what's going on in the world or has no idea how he should respond until enough people pray for a particular outcome. Then, and only then, is this God's course of action clear to him.

Even those Christians who are quoted in the article as recognizing that there are other human beings involved in this conflict believe that their God is only going to if enough people pray. Apparantly, this God is not going to provide wisdom to the leaders, or work to keep as many people as possible safe during the conflict unless urged to do so by his followers. There is no Godly plan for the world, and he just sort of makes it up as he goes along, depending on how many people pray for what.

The article reports that Cathy Hawn, of Edmonds, Washington, prays at least twice a day, every day, for the president and U.S. troops. However, "we don't just pray for George W. Bush to win. We pray for the Iraqi people. We don't care what faith they are; they have children and families just like we do."

A fine sentiment, to be sure, and certainly a little easier to swallow than Posey's, but no less puzzling. Christians often describe their God as being omniscient (all knowing), and as having a plan for the universe. How many times have we had to hear some Christian explain that it's in "God's plan" that a 3 year old child had to die of starvation because his or her parents were too busy buying alcohol and lottery tickets to feed the child when asked "how could God let this happen?" If God really had a "plan" (for the sake of argument, let's forget that I don't believe in God), how could any amount of prayer from anyone or any group make any difference whatsoever?

Of course, it's not just American Christians who think so little of their God. Even the Pope was quoted (in another article) as saying that the war in Iraq "threatens the fate of humanity." Isn't that just peachy? We humans, who are no match for the Christian God in any way, can take actions that could derail the plan he has for us. Well, again, there's not a plan as such, is there? God's just sort of winging it, kind of waiting for the latest Gallop polls to tell him which way to turn. And here we mortals go and try to muck it all up by having a war.

Unfortunately, today has seen some setbacks for coalition forces. I guess there are too many Iraqi sympathizers and too few Posey's and Hawn's out there to sway God in the right direction.

Friday, March 21, 2003

All during lunch today I was watching CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, FOX News, etc. as they were reporting that the Pentagon has stated that this is "A-Day", the beginning of the intense air barrage on Iraq. At the time, all was pretty calm in Baghdad and other locations, but they kept building it up and talking about it. When I left, nothing was happening.

By the time I got to my truck and was heading back to work, though, the radio station I listen to was reporting that the bombing had started. They cut in live to a reporter who is in Baghdad and was reporting on the action. He sounded pretty shaken up, and by the sounds of the bombs and anti-aircraft fire he had good reason to be. At one point he kind of groaned and said something like "the anti-aircraft fire has now shifted, and is actually pointing back over this hotel. I really don't like that at all." Yea, no shit.

So anyway, I'm in the truck listening to this, hearing all the explosions and firing, and I had to pull over. I don't know what happened, but I felt like I couldn't breathe. After about 10 minutes I was able to pull myself together (still listening to the live report, though I probably should have turned it to music or something) and get on back to work, which is where I am now. I just don't feel very productive right now.
As a veteran of the first "war" in Iraq, I sometimes waffle between supporting our current operation there and wondering if we should really be there. On the one hand, I'm not sure that America has a real interest (other than oil) in going all around the world trying to right the wrongs we think are there. Obviously I believe that America has the right to protect themselves in any way necessary, with or without the rest of the world's approval. And if it's certain that Iraq poses a threat to America in some way, then I have no qualms with us taking the actions necessary to protect oursleves now. I'm just not entirely convinced that this is about protecting ourselves.

On the other hand, there's no way we should have left the region during the first "war" with Hussein still in power. I know the arguments for letting him remain the dictator there, I just disagree with them. We knew that he would continue to pose a problem, we knew that he would eventually wind up defying the very UN resolutions that allowed for the cease fire during that action (and some of us weren't at all surprise at how quickly he started defying them, knowing that it would happen almost immediately), and we knew that eventually it would have to be addressed. I think we (meaning Americans in general) were naive to think that the UN and the original coalition would remain intact and steadfast in our resolve to enforce the provisions of the cease fire. I think even the US's resolve wavered during the '90s, in large part because of the political climate at the time.

All-in-all, I support our current actions concerning Iraq because it is, in my mind, what we should have done originally in 1991. I don't agree with President Bush (yes, I call him "President" because, like it or not, he is America's President) on a lot of things, including some of the stated reasons for our actions in Iraq at this time. Nonetheless, I think it's the right thing to do even if we're doing it for the wrong (stated) reasons.

I mean no offense by this, dear readers (however many or few you may be) but I do not at this time care to hear whether you agree with me about this or not. I can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting someone with a dozen good arguments for or against the war in Iraq, and I don't care to debate them. It is not my intention with this current series of postings to encourage dialogue or open a discourse. The arguments have been made on both sides of the issue, but now that war has started, the arguments are mostly moot. We're there, it's started, so our only option at this point is to finish it once and for all. There will be some short-, mid- and longterm reprecussions to this war, but I think the future will prove to be better for our actions than it would be without them. You won't change my mind, and I have no interest in either changing your mind or exchanging a bunch of "I agree with you" correspondences.

I have some things to say about what is happening now, and I might offer some insight by comparing it to my experiences 12 (or so) years ago, and for those areas I do welcome feedback, good or bad. Please understand that it's just the issue of whether or not we should be fighting Iraq that I don't want to argue. Since it's my blog, I will at times state my opinion of that (it's inevitable that if I'm writing about the war I will have to say something about why we're there and if it's right or wrong) but I don't think I have to give anyone equal time to disagree. If you want that, create your own blog.

Now, if I haven't totally alienated all of my potential readers, I'll continue now with just a few words about what's been going on in the past day or so.

I just heard this morning that 8 British and 4 American soldiers died when a transport helicopter (I'm not sure, but i think it was a Chinook, which we commonly called "Shithook") crashed. It was apparently not due to any enemy action, but was instead most likely a mechanical failure. Even 12 years ago this wouldn't have been a surprise, though of course it's just a goddamn shame. I wish that no soldiers would die during this action, including the Iraqis, but obviously that's entirely unrealistic. But dying because of a mechanical failure is just so fucking stupid. I just hope that it wasn't caused by some maintenance that should have been done but was overlooked.

Not that that will help the families of those soldiers. Nor the families of the Marine who this morning was confirmed as the first American to die in action. No matter how "well" this war goes, or how "successful" it's considered (based on meeting our stated objective, lenght of time and number of lives lost) the families of those soldiers (and, almost inevitably, the reporters over there) who die will always know in the back of their minds that some failure occured.

In the first "war", my entire Battalion (around 1,000 to 1,500 soldiers) lost one man. It was before the war started, and we were in a holding area becoming acclimated to the weather (surprisingly cold for a while there, as it was January), training, and waiting for our equipment to arrive on the ships that was bringing it to us. We were building sandbag bunkers around the perimeter in case of an attack when one of them collapsed, trapping a Sergeant First Class (E-7) under 600-700 lbs of sand and wood. I didn't personally know him, but a lot of my fellow soldiers did. I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of glad that I didn't know him, though the people who did said he was a great soldier and person. Then again, what else are you going to say when a man in your unit dies, especially when the possibility of your own death seems so real?

More people are going to die during the next few days, weeks or months, however long it takes. That's a given, as much as I hate to think about it. I fear that everyone of those deaths will make me feel bad, but I fear even more that at some point the reports of those deaths will start to take on less and less significance.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

War has started in Iraq, at least on a limited basis so far. Without wanting to sound overly dramatic, but having been in the position 12 years ago that they're in now, I know what our soldiers over there are going through. They're tense and anxious, but few of them will admit it to either themselves or their fellow soldiers. One in a thousand (or maybe less) actually want to be there, but at a guess I'd say a higher percentage of them agree with what we're doing there than in the US population at large. Most of the soldiers have probably been concerned about whether or not the training they've gone through up to now has been good enough, but the chemical warnings that have gone off today may actually help to settle them down.

That's kind of a universal thing from the first Iraq war, I've discovered. One of the things you always train for in peace time is chemical warfare and getting into the MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear. If it's an all-out attach, you have to first put on the protective mask (never call it "gas mask"), and then put on the pants, jacket, boots and gloves in that order, all in less than 7 minutes (for testing purposes.) Most soldiers I knew in the Army hated that particular test, because it always seemed like there was no way you could get all that stuff on and tied and cinched correctly in just 7 minutes.

In 1991, right after the air campaign started, SCUD missile launches became a daily routine. They were never on target (we often considered ourselves safer if they were actually aimed at us than if they were aimed somewhere else), but were assumed to have chemical agents payloads. Everytime one was launched, we were given the chemical alert and had to go into full MOPP gear. The very first time was (in hindsight) very comical, what with all the panicky soldiers fumbling around trying to get that gear on and in place correctly. The hell with 7 minutes; we wanted it on NOW. By the third day (and probably the 12th alarm), people were calmly putting the gear on, waiting until the last minute to put the mask on. Why? Because we could get it all in place in less than 2 minutes (and that was taking our time), and we wanted to get a last smoke in before buttoning up.

The point is, it becomes apparent that at least one aspect of the training you did before hand worked. That gives you a little more confidence that, when the chips are down, you're going to be able to perform.

Right now, though, the guys are going through the worst of it. Action has already started, but they aren't in it. They can only react to events; they aren't in on the action. Once they get moving, with destinations, targets and other goals in front of them, they'll start to settle in and the anxiety level will start to go down (while the fear level will probably go up, but that's okay.) Once they start doing their jobs, they can focus on that and put other things out of their minds, at least for a while. They won't have much control, but what little they will have is better than the absolute none they have right now.

And for a while, they'll be able to put out of their minds the fact that the actions they are taking are directly resulting in the loss of lives. When they do think about it, they'll think of the people who die as the enemy. Later, when it's over (however long that takes) they'll start to think of them as people; soldiers much like themselves who probably didn't want to be there either.

More later.