Monthly Archives: January 2007

courage and conviction

I was reading the NY Times at home last night when I ran across an obit, towards the back of the A section.  The family name was familiar, and unique enough to pique my interest.  Turned out to be about our realtor’s father, who passed away earlier this month.
I’m in Seattle, reading the New York Times.  So clearly this man was well-known enough for his passing to rate a mention in one of the world’s premier publications.  What Dale Noyd was known for was being the first conscientious objector to base his case on the morality and legality of a specific war.  That war was Vietnam.  Captain Noyd was a decorated Air Force Captain, with 11 years in the service when he wrote an eight page, single spaced letter to his superiors asking to be allowed to resign his commission, or be classified as a conscientious objector.  The Seattle Post Intelligencer notes that Captain Noyd could have taken a much easier path to keep out of Vietnam (apparently taking an eye test would have done it).  It’s also worth mentioning that things came to a head when he refused to train a combat pilot heading for Vietnam, stating his humanist belief that his combat training should only be used as a deterrent, not for aggression.
The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, determining that the military had jurisdiction.  The military court did not permit discussion of Captain Noyd’s humanism, or about his assertions that the war was illegal and immoral.  They did allow testimony during the sentencing phase about the belief that risking one’s life (in war) for a core belief constituted a religious act.  The argument went that Captain Noyd’s beliefs constituted a religious conflict with this, so he should be excused.  This apparently resonated, and Captain Noyd received the minimum sentence of one year, with a dishonorable discharge.
While I think it’s a shame that the entire argument wasn’t permitted, the case is a striking example of courage and conviction.  He chose to give up much of what he’d worked for in order to remain true to a principle.
I dropped Erik (our realtor) a note expressing our condolences and some admiration for what his dad had done.  I expect that his dad was a more interesting and complicated person than can be described in a short article (always the case).  It’s still important that we remember examples of courage like this, in the hope that we can find something like this in ourselves in time.


Got an odd phone call yesterday from my parents, vacationing in Hawaii.  Apparently I left my cell phone keypad unlocked sometime last week, and inadventantly called them while in the middle of a meeting.  It was apparently a lively 45 minute call, but they won’t tell me what I said.  So I’m a bit wierded out by the idea.  What did I say?  Was I an unrepentent hardass?  Off-color jokes?  Juvenille?  Or, as is likely, all of the above.
I do remember banging my fist on the table for theatrical effect once last week, something I almost never do.  I forget the context, so it was clearly very very important.  But now I’m completely self-conscious.  Erk.

x-country skiing adventure

I’ve gone to x-country ski these past four weekends, as a way of getting a nice long workout in.  I’m finally progressing beyond the train wreck stage, and can move a bit more efficiently.  It’s not pretty, but at least I have a bit more control over where I’m going.  Well – unless I’m trying to go downhill.
It’s definitely lots of fun.  I took Kayla up to Hyak yesterday, and got her an hour-long lesson so that she could learn some of the basics.  She’d been on skiis several times, when we went to the Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat these past two Christmases.  Naturally she had a great time, and made a friend. 
Her friend was a girl named Taylor, who was there with her mom.  Both of them were skiing for the first time.  We met them out on the trails after the lesson.  Taylor’s mom was trying to put an errant ski back on.  She was sitting in the snow, with her foot up in the air, trying to moosh her foot and the ski together.  I might have laughed, but I’d been in exactly the same place before, so I stopped to help.  The kids wanted to hang out together, so we ended up spending a while with them.  I spoke with Taylor’s mom, Ashley for a while.  She’s a single mom, a tax accountant, and is in the Army Reserve.  She was apparently in one of the first waves to have served in Iraq (she’s an MP).  I tried to wrap my mind around how deployment works for single parents, but couldn’t figure out a way that isn’t very very painful.  Ashley’s hoping that she’s not going to be deployed to Iraq again, but isn’t sure.  This whole war thing feels different when you encounter the people it affects directly (to say nothing of families who have lost someone there).
Back in the snow we had a great adventure though.  We did a nice 4k out and back, then threw snow clods for a while before heading back.  We were both a bit hungry, so ginormous burritoes at Chipotle were in order.  It’d be nice to do this semi-regularly, and maybe try some of the ungroomed trails around as well.

bush to US on iraq : trust me


escalate or evacuate?

So the way the dialogue about what to do in Iraq is being carried out bothers me.
I have a lot of trouble getting past the idea that we shouldn’t have gone in to begin with.  I feel lots of anger at the Bushites over this war of choice.  It’d be interesting to tally up the number of civilian dead over the past four years and figure out how it compares to the number of people Saddam Hussein killed during his reign.  Comparisons like that are almost always nonsensical – but it does erode one’s ability to seize high moral ground when explaining oneself.
Most of my anger is about the completely dumb-assed single-mindedness with which our government pursued this war.  Now that we’re in, and mired in the sectarian violence predicted by Scowcroft and Co in 1991, we act annoyed by the vengeful Shiites we elevated to power in Iraq.  We’re somehow surprised that a distinct, long oppressed minority would not welcome a the Sunnis into power.  We’re also apparently shocked that destabilizing this country has turned it into a cauldron for terrorists from all over the region.  The failure of planning and foresight is stunning, and will take years for us (let alone the Iraqis!) to recover from.
After our withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, there was a natural reluctance on the part of the United States to act boldy on the international stage.  The decades-long Vietnam debacle also reinforced the whiny liberal tendency to try to apologize on the national behalf.  I resent the President’s putting us in exactly the same position again.  We’ve initiated a war which has killed tens of thousands of people, ripped apart the infrastructure of a nation, weakened our national resolve to engage boldly on the international front (particularly with nations like North Korea), and compromised our ability to play as strong a role in the middle east peace process (Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel).  It will take years to clean up the mess, and the price paid can never be recouped.
On the other hand, I think it’s utterly irresponsible for Democrats to suggest simply washing our hands of the situation.  We have a responsibility to pursue a peace which rebuilds Iraq from the inside and helps to stabilize the region.  This may not be possible, but we cannot walk away.  In addition to being unethical, walking away will marginalize the Democratic chances to lead the country out of this mess.  They need to cease governing as opposition and begin to lead.  In general, people will vote for the party with ideas, not against a party with bad ideas.  "Anyone but Bush" won’t play in 2008, because it just isn’t good enough.
I’d like to see someone suggest a practical and actionable plan which factors in the geopolitical, strategic, tactical, and operational issues.  It should involve a concentrated diplomatic effort paired with a period of stabilization, and then a drawdown of troops conditioned on specific milestones.  The scary part is that a workable solution may involve a very different Iraqi goverment, if the al-Maliki crowd doesn’t wise up to the notion of fair democracy very soon.
All in all – few good options for the Iraqi people, and for the people vying for elected office.  The terrible thing is that is our political world, electability will trump any difficult to sell solution.

getting outside, getting moving

Although I’m not running, I’ve still been pretty active.  I’ve spent a lot of quality time on the other aerobic training machines at the gym, and have learning a bit about cross-country skiing.  I don’t care much for working out inside, but the skiing’s been a lot of fun.
I visited the Snoqualmie Pass Nordic Center last Sunday.  Didn’t care for it as much as Stevens Pass, but had a great day for it.  Lots of sun, and quite a few hills.  I went up about 5k, capping it with a steeper climb, which turned into a fast ride back down.  The highlight was a hairpin curve with a dropoff on the outside edge … nothing too dangerous, but careening off would have hurt.  Of course I handled it like a dork, braking with one ski outside the track on the way down … people looked pretty amused.
My technique on the skis is improving, but I wouldn’t call myself competent.  After arriving I donned the skis at the start of the trail, and then clumsily tried to slimb up a short incline without sailing sideways or backwards.  Eventually I removed the skis and walked it.  Then, when I got ready to start, I realized that the loop on one of the poles was really really short.  Naturally they’re adjustable.  Naturally I didn’t know how to adjust it, and hadn’t even noticed when I rented the equipment.  Bad bad bad.  So I struggled along with a loop I couldn’t really use for a kilometer, before asking for help from a nice couple I met along the trail.  I felt foolish not knowing how, and more foolish for not having checked my gear when I rented it.
I fell a few times, including once right at the very top of a long hill.  Each time I probably looked like a toddler just learning to walk, or like I was panicking about the downhill.  I also felt like I had some trouble getting going very fast at first.  When I got into a rhythm, it felt like the snow was a bit icy for good skiing.
All of that aside, it was great to be outside in the snow and sun.  I’d like to get to the point that I can try some of the more challenging trails higher up, where the better scenery is.   
It’d also be fun to take Kayla up with me … always a good idea to groom a kid as my skiing companion.  Makes it easier to carve the time out to go.

unfiltering the cacophony

When I was on my way up to the mountains last week, I listened to an interesting discussion about the nature of unfiltered discourse (ie blogs, talk radio) with Seattle PI editorial cartoonist David Horsey. He’d posed the following question to readers, as the subject of his final Burning Question column :

"All things considered, is our understanding of the world made better or worse by an unfiltered cacophony of opinions?"

It’s about quality vs. quantity, news vs. infotainment, conservative vs. liberal.  It’s about as difficult to find reasoned discussion between people who might disagree on principle as it is to find a good course comparitive religion.  You can, but you really have to look.

As much as I dislike that the conservonauts rally their numbers via Limbaugh and Hannity and their ilk, I don’t think the answer is something like Air America.  I have conflicted feelings about AA’s financial troubles.  AA listeners might have more in common with me than Limbites do, but the whole AA thing is pretty unoriginal.  I can’t listen to it, not even for the few minutes I might be able to eavesdrop on one of the conservative gits.

First of all, by the numbers there are probably more ultra-right wing nuts in the various target audiences than there are ultra-left wing nuts.  No stats to back this up, just an opinion.  Second, where’s the talk radio for the swing voter?  This is the sweet spot – folks who identify with sides of an issue rather than political party.  Third, the worst sin you can commit in the entertainment business is to be unoriginal.

On election night 2004, I watched the late returns come in with my mom.  After the networks called the election for Bush, she switched over to an interview Charlie Rose was doing with David Halberstam and others.  They were talking about social dynamics and political culture.  It was pretty dry, but a whole lot more interesting than any of the crap you could see on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, {N,A}BC, or CBS.  I pointed out to her that the basic problem we face is that there are only a couple of hundred people who feel that same way, which is why we don’t see good stuff like that on the networks.  It’s not sexy, but if I want sexy I generally don’t watch news.

The left and middle just don’t know their audience as well as the right does.  It’ll be interesting to see whether or not someone tries to change this by identifying a set of least-common denominator values and fears that motivate this target audience.  It’s not often that issues are thrown into as much sharp relief as they are currently – so the time seems ripe.

Side note – Fox was among the first to link to the videotape of Saddam’s execution.  Shows you where their journalistic standards are.