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May 31, 2004

Quoting Now


And, assuming the "transition" goes off more or less as planned, what will have been gained--other than a couple of marginally useful 30-second campaign spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign? All the blood and treasure and international credibility sacrificed over the past year will have been spent simply to end up roughly where America stood in Vietnam in 1963--desperately trying to prop up a corrupt, quasi-colonial regime with virtually no domestic legitimacy.

Posted by pk at 10:03 PM

DevSite, Now With the Flavor of Resignation

Having resigned myself to not making any moves to MT3 anytime soon, I'm repurposing dev.puddingbowl.org as my testbed for changes to Puddingtime!. There are so many layers of cruft, weird back-end design ideas I can't explain to myself anymore, and assorted other "why did I hardcode that when MT gives me a perfectly good tag to keep it portable" gremlins that I might as well start trying to get a handle on them now.

The content on the site will be static (it's just a reimported dump of the stuff here as of ten minutes ago), but the templates will be whatever I've got coming down the pike for here.

So far it reflects the introduction of a three column design and a few other things in hopes of densifying the page a little. It should also go without saying that a casual glance now and then will reflect egregious errors in the process of being solved.

Posted by mph at 9:10 AM

May 30, 2004

The Film That Launche... Never Mind (Updated, Now With More Loathing!)

Had the good fortune of Dunetchka volunteering to babysit this afternoon.

Decided to see "Troy," because it was supposed to be, if nothing else, a big movie. Swords, sandals, epic and whatnot, and if I'm going to pay movie dollars and spend theater time in front of a flick, it needs to be big. Everything else I can catch on DVD.

It's hard to muster the will to devote complete sentences to this turd, so I'll keep it short:

I kept wishing I was at "Return of the King." If nothing else, Peter Jackson knows how to make a big story look and feel big. "Troy" reeks "small." And you might think to muster the will to let it off the hook for the simple reason that the historical Troy is, apparently, sort of small, and that thousands and thousands of years ago, not much of anything in the way of armies and whatnot were probably really huge. If the historic Arthur was a late Roman hill chieftain with more political guile than anything, then maybe Achilles could really be Brad Pitt. But that's not it. The producers tried to make it all look Large, and they just fell flat.

Compare and contrast with "The 13th Warrior," in which the original Big Story in the English language was rendered in its appropriate historical context of a kingdom that amounts to little more than a squalorous shack in the mud and a hero who's little more than a wandering sell-sword. Pick the nits you will with the movie, but it knows how to make the bigness of Beowulf come through. Sure, his struggle is with a bunch of savages in a lonely, wretched, grimy backwater, but the essential heroism of the character shines through. I could watch it for nothing more than the funeral prayer of the Norsemen.

"Troy" runs in the opposite direction, making things look bigger than they probably were, but feel smaller than the epic force of the personalities that drive the tale through the ages. In fact, someone on the scrip-writing team realized this, because they keep reminding us of Achilles' place in history and how he Will Be Remembered. By Brad Pitt.

Stultifying, dull, and when one of the chorus said "You've lost a cousin and now you want to make me lose a cousin... will it never end?" Alison and I started giggling, because our numb asses were telling us it had already never ended eight or nine times over.

The real entertainment came when the couple behind us clucked with delight and surprise at the Greeks coming out of the big horse.

"Oh! Clever!"

Update: There's one scene that keeps bugging me as I think about it, (and I meant to write about it earlier but lost the will) because it represents the lost opportunities: Achilles standing before the gates of Troy, calling for Hector. It could have been the iconic frame of the film, and they had 90% of the ingredients, but the angle they shot it at meant Achilles was swallowed up by the curve of the walls instead of having nothing but horizon behind him. The shot scale was right, the idea was right. But Achilles becomes a black smear against a grayish brown smear when he should have been a silhouette, defiantly standing before an entire city.

One other thing: Sean Bean (Boromir in the Jackson "Lord of the Rings") played Odysseus, and he did o.k. considering he's pretty much reduced to a moping water carrier for Agamemnon. If the production team that did "Troy" followed up with a remix of "The Odyssey," I'd say they found an o.k. guy to do it, but I'd feel sorry for him, because I'm guessing they'd probably haul in Destiny's Child to be the sirens and John Goodman to reprise his role from "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and it'd just be sad.

Second Update:

The standard test for a movie is how I wake up feeling about it the next morning.

This morning I woke up to Alison saying "The cub's awake."

His waking noises were of the non-urgent variety. The kind that imply that maybe, if I'm quick and deft, the binky can go back in the mouth and he'll be good for another 30 minutes. So I did my best imitation of a "glide" across the hall (we don't have enough of a hall to go "down" it, and I'm not really capable of a glide, even when fully awake and limbered up), gently opened the door, popped in the binky, and set about the business of prepping the morning bottle. Ben didn't take long to really wake up, so I fetched him (parent-eye view of a newly awakened Ben) and fed him while watching a Futurama episode from the TiVo.

And on and on. Diaper change, session in the bouncy chair while I washed bottles, session in his brand-new door bouncer thing until he turned away from me accidentally and freaked out at the sudden change in environments, some time spent bouncing him on my knee and making human beatbox noises, the rest of that Futurama episode, Al waking up, and then ninety minutes had gone by and that makes it about time to get another bottle ready and get ready to put him down for his early morning nap, which will run for 45 minutes, an hour tops. If we play our cards right, the second morning nap (which follows second breakfast, which we always say with a Tookish lilt) goes another 45 minutes, and that sets him up for the post-lunch Monster Nap.

Which brings me back to "Troy," which I didn't even really think of until I fired up the aggregator and caught a memepool entry pointing me to Troy in Fifteen Minutes.

Representative sample:

Some Voiceover

ODYSSEUS: If there's one thing we Greek heroes hope, it's that you remember us.


ODYSSEUS: ...That's not exactly what I meant.

And TiFM pointed me at a Salon bit about the inexplicable majesty and grace of a ululating soundtrack diva (daypass registration required).

And that's about what it took to get me to even think of "Troy" this morning. I might have made it to noon without the Internet.

Posted by mph at 9:10 PM

May 29, 2004

Tardy But With Good Intentions

Final word on MT3 (for now) over on the devblog. At some point, they shuffled the bit on their page about donating out of easy sight, which makes it kind of hard to do any "voting with dollars."

I'd much rather send them a fair amount for how much I've used MT 2.6 to this point than buy a cheap license (or even cheat and buy an extra-cheap license) and give the impression that I'm voting for their shoddy behavior so far or expressing confidence in the rather troubled MT 3. I just want to say "thanks for the good software to this point, I'm going to stand pat a while until I can tell whether Six Apart is a company I want to do business with."

Anyhow, since it's turning into "clear the decks and pay the bills" weekend, a letter is off to Mie at Six Apart, with whom I've had some contact regarding other questions, asking if there's any way to make that distinction. Hope so.

Posted by mph at 10:31 AM

The Daily Grind & Catching Up

I was poised to buy a new Macintosh to replace my old desktop computer, then the recent unpleasantness happened and I decided there's no way I can make myself do it, even if I could finally get to experience OS X on a G4 (which is where Apple probably knew it belonged all along... another story).

I explained it to the Firefly crowd last night: Knowing what everyone knows about my two bad Apples, if I were to go out and buy a third and something went wrong with it, you'd all be entitled to point and laugh and call me an idiot. All of the Firefly people are also Mac people, so they probably wouldn't point and laugh... they'd probably act like I had a sickly but adorable cat and secretly wonder what I was doing to my computers. But the point is that I'd feel deserving of the mockery, and I can think of at least one person who probably would at least secretly point and laugh, and another who's so full of Apple-hate that he'd tell me I had it coming for even touching a Mac to begin with.

Because I'm occasionally compulsive about writing letters of disgruntlement, I composed one to Apple expressing my disappointment with the fact that the two machines I've bought from it have been plagued with wide-spread engineering problems, and how it dissuaded me from being willing to gamble on Apple again, and how this was pretty disappointing to me. I hit the Apple web site in search of an address to put on the envelope. Couldn't find one. I looked a lot, too. After about fifteen minutes of trolling around looking for someone or something who looked likely to at least act accountable if a pissed off customer wrote or called, I gave up and settled for visiting the "tell us" part of the Switch campaign pages and pasting my letter into a form there, adding a polite p.s. asking for a human with an address to whom I could send a real letter. I'm betting "no response." Ed's pretty sure they probably get disgruntled switchers and near-switchers all the time, sitting up at all hours of the night composing lengthy and abusive screeds. My letter was not abusive. It was written to express the fact that, for as much as I'd like to give them my money and take a nice, new Mac home, I can't bring myself to do it anymore, because both times I've bought machines from them, the machines have been defective in a "we just didn't engineer this right" kind of way.

It's pretty disappointing, because I really, really like OS X. It feels good, there's good software for it, and it doesn't have that weird, brittle feeling Windows does whenever, for instance, the "bing-BONG!" of a new USB device being plugged in happens two or three times in rapid succession, as if the machine is saying "m-m-m-mouse!? y-y-y-you j-j-just p-p-p-plugged in a m-m-m-mouse!? Doh Boy!"

But over the years I've gotten pretty good with all my clones. I've assembled most of the machines in my house (two full-time servers, a testbed, and a desktop) myself, and the one I didn't build from the case up isn't recognizable as the thing I was sold. When something fails, I check my warranty folder to make sure I'm not still covered, drive down to Pacific Solutions, plop the broken part on the counter, ask for one like it at about the same price I bought at last time (which usually means something faster and better), I go home, crawl under the desk, screw the part in, and I'm golden again. Sometimes, when a motherboard goes, it's like getting a whole new computer. With the exception of hard drives, I almost anticipate something going wrong. You know... "Yay! The video card died! Unreal Tournament is about to totally kick ass!"

So confronted with entering into a potentially codependent and abusive relationship with Apple, which always involves sending the dead machine away and waiting around for five days for it to come home, I lost my nerve. Life in clone-world for those of us not willing to buy pre-assembled boxes is a little harrowing, but there's always a sense that if something goes wrong, the solution is either down at the computer store or sitting in the parts bin down in the basement.

Perhaps the funniest part of it is the way it's taken two years for me to pull out of my move toward being an actual Switcher. I bought the first iBook on the strength of word-of-mouth and consuming curiosity about OS X. I bought the second one to replace the first, thinking the product line had been around long enough to work the bugs out. I had it in my head that I'd be a real Switcher the day I found myself yanking the Windows/Linux machine under the desk and putting it in the closet as a permanent spare. But it isn't going anywhere and I just got a clone laptop from work that pretty much makes it stupid to dosey-do operating systems. So Al's going to be getting a lot of use out of the iBook until it dies or we win the lottery or we sell it.

I reserve the right to lay eyes on Leopoldo's new 1.5 GHz PowerBook one too many times and completely change my mind, at which point everyone can point and laugh over that.

And in other news:

Someone asked about the new work situation I alluded to. I don't like bringing work over here much for a lot of reasons. Up until going full-time again, I was freelancing and didn't really feel like broadcasting who I had contracts with or what kind of work I was doing because I've known writers who got burned for looking too busy, or busy with the wrong people. So a weblog with a lot of work mentions just seemed like a needless raising of the profile.

I also had a few contracts that stipulated some severe "never tell anyone you did work for us" clauses, and I didn't feel like testing the waters of common sense on them. Sure, you can ask the person who handed you the contract what that clause means, but asking anyone what something that clearly means one thing in English what it might mean in lawyer is how people get their hearts broken over contracts all the time. Seems safer to assume that it always means what it obviously means when you say the words out loud, and probably something less obvious, too. So that left a whole area of potentially fruitful work-blogging untouchable, because the burden of being elliptical was too much and I take even seemingly random and weird work confidences seriously.

But those work conditions don't apply anymore. It didn't take us long, once Ben had been born and Al was faced with being back at work, to realize that the ideal situation would involve me not stitching together gigs. It's kind of empowering to go out and get freelance work and put food on the table that way, but it's also nerve-wracking. People who can do it for years and years and succeed at it impress me. It was cool while it was just Al and me, but we've got Ben now and there's a certain "gain security" switch that gets flipped.

I'm still not likely to do much workblogging now, though. The product pretty much speaks for itself, and as much as I think there's some interesting stuff going on in the subjects I deal with, they're not going to be something I need to blog about much.

And that brings me to what I'm doing, just to be social and get it out of the way, which is editing a couple of sites for the company I used to work for before I went back to school in late 2002, and writing a weekly column for another. One site is called Crossnodes, and it deals with networking somewhere below a typical CIO's level of interest and somewhere above an end user's. I've got several regular freelancers to work with that I worked with a lot the last time I was editing, so it was pretty cool to take the site back and learn they were all still around. On top of the editing, I've got a daily news brief/editor's note to write up. That's more of a challenge because it's a relatively tight deadline with a limited pool of information from the previous 18 hours, but it's fun. I get to have an opinion.

The other site I edit is called Instant Messaging Planet, and it concerns itself with instant messaging from the ever-popular enterprise perspective. I'm on record with a low opinion of the state of IM, so no keeping work out of blogging on that score.

Finally, my weekly big column is the Enterprise Unix Roundup, newly given its own section on the page at ServerWatch. To the extent any column about enterprise Unix can be light and analytical, that's how I try to keep it. It's a good fit for me, because my recent background has been all about Linux. I've got quite a few social opinions about Linux, Free Software, and a few of their associated prophets wandering the landscape, but I don't get paid to write about them except for the occasional side-swipe. I don't care to mention them too often here, either.

Posted by mph at 12:30 AM

May 27, 2004

A Pudding Duckling Leaves the Nest

As mentioned yesterday, Ed is headed off to MetaEd: The Blog That Goes Ping, his new venture on his new, cool domain.

I've known Ed only via his presence over the 'net via ISCA and Bitrot BBS's, plus our frequent daily IM sessions. He's the first person I ever gave Web space to without so much as hearing his voice, and that's a comment on, well... how cool I think Ed is. So go visit his new site. If it's anything like the old one, there'll be something for just about everybody.

Posted by mph at 7:51 PM

May 26, 2004

This, That From SixApart

For anyone following along, the MT licensing thing (along with my quest for a few straight answers) trudges on over at the dev blog, this time with a nice but inappropriate offer for a beta tester's discount and a second form letter telling me SixApart is listening.

Meanwhile, Ed's verging on leaving puddingbowl to put some wear on his excellent new domain. He's also managing to make Textpattern look more and more attractive by the moment.

Posted by mph at 8:37 PM

May 25, 2004

Rotten to the Core? (Updated)

A visit to the Mac store support desk:

Me: This is a G3/800 iBook. I bought it two months ago. Two nights ago, I was typing and I noticed the screen going crazy on the right side. Sort of flickery. I noticed it did it when my ....

Clerk: When your left hand was resting over the hard drive. Mmhm.

Me: It did seem to echo the behavior I've read about a logic ...

Clerk: the logic board problem. Mmhm.

Me: Funny thing is, I looked up the serial numbers when I first heard about this, and ...

Clerk: There are more numbers now. Yours is one of them.

And that's about that. My second iBook, and the second one to be plagued with some sort of stupid, widespread quality control/design issue. The repair people are very friendly about the matter, in a blase "yeah, so your iBook's fucked, what's new?" sort of way, but I'm left wondering what the hell is up with Apple. My first iBook was an early snow G3/500. They had some glitches but I thought "ok, newish series... sometimes there are bugs." I took it back twice for those bugs.

The latest is many, many revs down the line, and it's hosed, too.

No big theme here. Just noting that I've bought two Apples in three years, and they've both fallen victim to mass flaws.

Related Pudding:

and as a special bonus, a harrowing tale of Dell's eeeevil support phone people from my LinuxPlanet days:

Posted by mph at 8:45 PM

Memo to the Blogosphere: Whatever

  1. Ed's over on MetaEd asking for some help from his visitors so he can figure out which way to take things.

  2. From a while back on Polytropos, I remembered a list of blog pledges proposed by someone of some note to someone else, mostly negative. I won't do this, I won't do that, etc.

  3. Last year this time, I was working on talking pk into staying with Puddingtime!:

    Weblogs become a sort of "know me by knowing my grazing habits" hyperlink mix tape... a collage of references that use the massive amounts of raw material provided by the Web to create a composite or mosaic of the person doing the compiling. Where lots of mix tapes are acts of brotherly love or desperate calls for bootie, many Web logs are substantially "cooler" in tone (witness memepool's fetishistic use of the oblique and laconic reference), but the intended result is the same: love my blog? Love me. Or at least recognize I have good taste in re-mediated content and spend mad time finding it, yo.

  4. pk returned the favor today by sending me this quote:

    Yesterday, after a brief phone conversation, a definition flashed through my head: Blogs should be whatever you were going to say before you thought of a reason not to say it. Away from the editor's demands, outside the parent company's parenting, and against any disincentives to frank critique, you throw up whatever's running through your veins and making you feel itchy or happy or mad or simply different than you did a moment before. If it becomes something else, is there any point?

So, in order:

  1. Ed, see items 3 & 4 above. It's why I visit. If you start trying to create "content," something will be lost. I reserve the right to read what you've written, spend a solid 24 hours thinking of a rebuttal to something you liked for a single sentence or small thought, then show up in comments and bitch at you about it, but it's not personal. Or rather, it is personal but not in a mean way.

  2. Please add:

    I will abjure from making comment on how dumb the rest of the blogosphere is, even if it's in the form of self-conscious lists that pretend to be about me but are really about how dumb the rest of the blogosphere is.

    Please don't implode in the process of adding this pledge. Or don't add it at all and get on with your bad self, because as much as I think those pledges are self-conscious, self-important twaddle, it's not really my business what you put on your page, and I need to go concentrate on not imploding myself, now.

  3. Yep. I need to remind myself of that more and get on with my bad self, too.

  4. Ed, go back up and read that again. It's true. I'm going to read it again, too.

Posted by mph at 7:26 PM

May 24, 2004

Flinty Moore

I admire the filmmaking of Michael Moore. But give him a mic or a keyb, and he can be counted on to go a good three to five steps over the line. He's excitable, that's all, but he makes it hard to defend him, and easy for people like Jim Lileks, who helpfully brought this to the attention of his readers, to slander and dismiss Moore and anyone they can brand as his ilk, and anything any of us says, ever.

So, what'd he say?

The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow--and they will win.


I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle. I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe--just maybe--God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.

It's not that I don't see his point about the Iraqi insurgents. Whatever one might think or know (in my case, not much) about their past or their vision for the future, I just don't think you can call people fighting soldiers "terrorists." Of course, there are terrorists there, bombing civilians, high-ranking gov't officials and the like--and there are low-rent thugs and hoodlums, too, kidnapping, raping, marauding. It's a big, wonderful melting pot!

But still, I see Moore's point. And he's not saying we should equate the insurgents with the Minutemen. I think most liberal arguments about Iraq are generally prefixed with "as far as the Iraqis are concerned," because, well, that's what liberals do: we see how the other side sees things and we think about that. We don't just stamp our feet and say, "But this is the way they should see it. And if they don't, we'll bomb them back to the stone age."

As for whether "they" will win, well, we thought we won a year ago, but it's been a bad couple months, so who can say? I am uncomfortable, though, as I think all Americans ought to be a year after the dispersal of the people we actually went to war on, with our self-declared right to declare, ourselves, just who is the Enemy in a country not our own.

But that hokum about how most Americans supported the war and now must pay with their children's blood until things have been set right--that's specious nonsense. Blood doesn't set things right of itself--in fact, it's people who believe that who have caused all the trouble--and saying we deserve to have the war go on so more of us die is only going to make more Iraqis die, too. Anything that prolongs the vicious cycle that we most certainly set in motion does nothing but forestall for everyone the arrival of anything like peace, justice, or forgiveness.

Plus, talk like that only encourages the crackpots who already believe that Moore sacrifices white American babies on an alter in his dirt cellar and prays for our subjugation before the fiery-eyed sons of Allah. Which anyone who watches his movies knows isn't the case. Michael Moore loves America and Americans. He just gets so apoplectic watching lying greedheads jack us around that he goes a little off his nut. Plus he likes attention.

But pay no attention to Mr. Moore's excesses. No doubt about it--mistakes were made. We got ourselves into Iraq, and we could use some help finding the exit.

Posted by pk at 11:15 PM

May 22, 2004

Anvil of Stars, Firefly, Sopranos, etc.

I just finished Greg Bear's "Forge of God" and "Anvil of Stars."

The first is an end-o'-the-world novel in the tradition of "Footfall" with a little "Lucifer's Hammer" thrown in. There were some truly poignant moments toward the end, during a final sequence of people meeting their end as the planet is, uh, has the thing that happens to it that was a real tear-jerker.

I liked it. I'm not sure what qualifies it as "hard sf," but I'm not sure what makes that sub-genre that sub-genre outside of a hatred of the lazy hand-off to "hyperdrive." On the other hand, I've also read fanboys wanking off about "Star Trek" being "hard" because Paramount has managed to both sate its bottomless greed and keep the scolds happy by publishing assorted "technical guides" that purport to explain how warp drive works, even though "warp drive" could have just as easily been called "spumone teleportrix mechanism" for all the writers cared about it except when it needed to be broken to introduce a plot wrinkle. Neither here nor there. No one seems to agree. I've read a few fan sites that say Bear's considered an extreme example of the sub-genre. I'm guessing that as long as you don't break any of the known laws of physics without spending a few paragraphs having the resident genius character explain why you can get away with that thanks to a new and special kind of particle, you're hard sf. If there's a lightsaber involved, I think you're out of luck. Amazon tells me there happen to be at least two anthologies of hard sf out there, so perhaps I'll just read one. I hope it's every bit as pedantic as the average kur05hin nitpicker.

The second of the two is a revenge novel that takes its setup and a few characters from the first. There's a hair bit of Octavia Butler's "Lilith's Brood" in there, and it made me think of "Ringworld" a bit. People have tried to tie in "Ender's Game" because of one similarity that could, applied with the same lack of discrimination and apparent impoverished reading background, make the book a retelling of "A Separate Peace" if you wanted to read it that way. You know... "it's like 'A Separate Peace' because there are kids involved and, uh, it's sad when that one guy gets his leg broken."

Anyhow, lots to think about. Good descriptive language that makes the universe (and the civilizations the characters come in contact with) seem huge and menacing instead of quaint and populated by Jawas. Since my recent science fiction diet has largely been Star Trek re-runs, I was really relieved to read a book about aliens that are ALIEN instead of "a collection of bad traits in humanity painted non-white and given bumps on their faces."

So if I liked these, what else from Bear might I like? And what else from someone else?

Also, while we're on SF:

There's been a group coming over to the pad to watch the DVD release of "Firefly," two episodes at a time. It's series from the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," and it's a science fiction western. With the series finale of "Angel" now past, it's the most anticipated thing I watch every week. Nate of Polytropos has posted an appreciation that's pretty apt. It's cool that the show is going to get a second shot at life in the form of a feature film, but it's a real shame it couldn't get five or six seasons to tell its story.

It's got all of Joss Whedon's creative gifts on display with none of the mandatory Revlon-friendly teen angst of Buffy, which isn't terrible but occasionally nags, especially when it takes the form of some of those god-awful bands at The Bronze. It's also free of the slightly more advanced (age-wise) angst of "Angel," which is less about teens operating in a vacuum devoid of legitimate authority and more about all sorts of stuff including the perils of dating in the big city. It just feels more grown up, and I know there are Buffy and Angel fans who will damn me for saying that, but there it is.

So we're about halfway through "Firefly," there are two episodes left of "The Sopranos" for this season (how will Tony B. get it? Who will do it? Will it be sad?) and "Angel," which I wasn't always happy with but watched all the same, is gone from the air forever (unless they make those tv movies). Time for a new fixation.

Posted by mph at 11:52 PM

May 19, 2004

An Object Lesson in Recruiter Deceit

Unfortunately the local TV station reporting the story doesn't have a copy of the item on its web page, but the Oregon National Guard says inactive reserve soldiers who re-enlisted in the National Guard to avoid mobilization and possible deployment to Iraq because of fraudulent high-pressure tactics will be allowed to back out of their new enlistments.

KPTV interviewed a blandly unapologetic National Guard Major named Arnold Strong, who rationalized the matter by noting that "we're a country at war," and said "to characterize this as unfair is, I think, inaccurate." Fortunately, the commander of the Oregon National Guard overrode Major Strong and said soldiers who believe they were deceived into re-upping "may be permitted" to end their enlistment.

The Oregon NG has enlisted over one hundred soldiers this week, apparently on the strength of the scare letters retention specialists sent out.

Major Strong is pretty much representative of the recruiter mentality, by the way. He and the people under him are under pressure to make their quotas, and whatever word came down about potential mobilizations surely made their eyes light up with the possibilities. Did they think twice about ruining peoples' lives with their pressure tactics? If they rationalized the matter as glibly as Major Strong, that seems unlikely. Par for the recruiter course.

Posted by mph at 10:53 PM

We Few, We Proud, We 6,500 Very Unlucky People

Looks like the IRR callup has been underway for a while, but is about to pick up the tempo:

The U.S. Army is scraping up soldiers for duty in Iraq wherever it can find them, and that includes places and people long considered off-limits.

The Army on Tuesday confirmed that it pulled the files of about 17,000 people in the Individual Ready Reserve, the nation's pool of former soldiers. The Army has been screening them for critically needed specialists and has called about 100 of them since January.

Under the current authorization from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Army could call as many as 6,500 back on active duty involuntarily.

TAPPED has more.

Posted by mph at 10:56 AM

The Fear Draft

A little more digging on the IRR callup matter shows local and military media are paying attention, but the national outfits haven't picked up on the story yet.

Short version: Army recruiters are taking advantage of a poorly worded memo to cold-call people with time left in their overall obligation and scare them into signing up with the National Guard or Reserves to better their chances of not getting called into the active component and winding up in Iraq. Oregon papers have interviews with two people who say they re-upped into the National Guard against their better judgment because of this deliberate misinformation campaign on the part of members of the Guard's retention program.

An Iowa TV station did a brief spot, reporting:

According to the Army Human Resources Command out of St. Louis inactive soldiers are not being called up at this time. Spokesperson Julia Collins admits that some Retention Non-Commissioned Officers in the field are spreading the misinformation .

Here's what's going on. For the past couple of weeks, the Human Resource Command has been contacting Individual Ready Reserve Soldiers, also known as the IRRS. They are surveying the soldiers to see how much active duty time they have left in their contracts.

At this point Collins says they are only gathering the information. "No decision has been made as to whether or not we would be placing any of these contractually obligated IRRS into Units."

A "Retention Non-Commissioned Officer" is the sergeant in a unit who tries to get you to stay in the army. When I was in and it was my time to go home, they offered a choice of duty stations and (because I was in a perverse mood when I asked for it) a slot in the special POW training school they ran at Ft. Bragg. Anyhow, they're pretty much recruiters for people who are already soldiers, and it sounds like some of them are trying to terrify Inactive Ready Reserve soldiers into committing to National Guard or Army Reserve enlistments to dodge a potential callup and deployment to somewhere like, oh, Iraq.

The Army Times, which is not, despite what some people think, a military organ, says the Army's in the midst of identifying and screening 118,000 IRR soldiers to figure out who's available for callup. The Times has a different spokesperson who's being a little less evasive, or at least softening the blow a little less:

None of the 118,000 IRR soldiers has been called up involuntarily so far, said Lt. Col. Burt Masters, a spokesman for the Army’s Human Resources Command in St. Louis. Some IRR members could be called up once the screening is finished, he said.

And the Oregonian followed up this morning:

Thousands of recent U.S. Army veterans nationwide were told to choose by Monday a new assignment in the Army Reserve or National Guard -- meaning a potential return to active duty -- or the military would decide for them. The Army now says the order was a mistake.

The consequence of the error appears to be a sharp increase in enlistments in Oregon and elsewhere by reservists who feared being assigned a unit without their consent. They face possible deployment to the Middle East.

Also from the Bend Bugle:

"We are proactively contacting unassigned soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve to show them the benefits of serving with the Oregon Army National Guard," said Lt. Col. Scott Haynes, commander of Army recruiting and retention for the Oregon National Guard.

"We just want to let these service members know that the Guard is an option and for some of them it is a preferable option," Haynes said.

So in other words, a memo went out noting that the Army's conducting a census of soldiers in the Inactive Ready Reserve (that is, soldiers who served some amount of time in the regular, active duty Army or in a Reserve or Guard unit but still owe a period of time under which they're subject to mobilization). Retention specialists in the Guard and Reserves have seized on the non specificity and sloppy execution of the memo to cold-call people in the IRR and tell them they can either come back in to the Guard (helping the retention people meet their monthly warm body quota) or they can take their chances with getting mobilized, assigned to an active, deployable reserve unit (which means they won't be able to duck into a safer Guard assignment), and finding their asses in Iraq.

Says one new member of the Guard who got out of the active component just last year:

"The recruiter said I would have less chance for deployment," he said. "It was my impression that very bad things would happen if I didn't join."

Feel free to characterize this as a clusterfuck:

Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, commander of the Army Reserve, declined comment on how the mistake was made, a spokesman said. How the mistaken order was issued is a mystery, said Steve Stromvall, the civilian public affairs director for the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Atlanta.

"God only knows at this point where the miscommunication started," he said.

and, worse:

News of the Army's move on ready reserves blindsided senior members of Congress, including John Warner, R-Va., chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee.

Several members of the committee said they were not told of the order, despite being briefed on the Iraq war separately on Tuesday by Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

"Not aware of it," Warner told The Oregonian after Cheney met Tuesday with Senate Republicans over lunch. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he also was unaware of the order.

Posted by mph at 8:18 AM

May 18, 2004

But The College Money Will Be Waiting

pk wrote to point out the Daily Kos noting a TAPPED bit :

A friend of mine who is currently an inactive Army reservist forwarded me some memos he received regarding future mobilizations -- memos that indicate that we are not far from some kind of conscription in the next few years. According to my friend, recruiters are telling inactive reservists that they're going to be called up one way or another eventually, so they might as well sign up now and get into non-Iraq-deploying units while they still can. There's also a 'warning order' -- i.e., a heads-up -- from the Army's personnel command that talks about the involuntary transfer of inactive reservists to the active reserves, and thus into units that are on deck for the next few Iraq rotations.

Kos clarifies what the inactive ready reserve (IRR) is all about:

[...] every enlistment was for eight years. The only variable was how many years you were active duty. In 1989, when I enlisted, the options were two, three and four years. I believe the two-year enlistment option has since been eliminated.

In any case, you would finish off your active duty service, and would be 'inactive' for the remainder of that eight year term.

During that inactive time, you don't report to a unit or anything. You just live the civilian life and wait for your time to be up so you don't have to worry about the very real possibility that the military will call you back in if it needs you. You also get brochures from various reserve components trying to remind you of how much fun you had when you were in the army and offering you more opportunities for more fun one weekend a month, two weeks a year.

If something I spotted last year is true, there might be a crop of soldiers who enlisted for new, super-short 19 month enlistments. The shorter enlistments, as I recall, typically went to either low-skill specialties with short training periods or low-skill combat arms specialties. I knew at least one generator mechanic who was in on a two year enlistment. It's the Army's way of making sure it has a bumper crop of soldierized personnel waiting in the wings in the medium term. They'll know how to act like soldiers, they'll have a sense of how an active duty unit works, and they'll be on tap for a good five or six years without costing the military the expense of maintaining them as active duty soldiers.

My own IRR time ended four years after I left active duty. I signed out of Ft. Bragg in December of 1997, my actual active duty period ended after a few months of terminal leave in January of 1998. My IRR obligation ended in late 2001 or early 2002 (depending on how a few variables were taken into account... fortunately it ended up not mattering).

That last day of my obligation was one of quiet reflection and some relief: I spent four years being as good a soldier as I could manage. I even volunteered for things the army's not allowed to order people to do. I spent several years feeling relatively secure after I got out, then watched the invasion of Afghanistan and went through a bout of wondering what I'd do if they called me back in with just months to go before I could quit worrying about it.

At the time, having spent some GI Bill money and knowing full well what it meant when I took the oath of enlistment, I was pretty sure I'd go where ordered and do what I was told to do. I'd signed the dotted line, and an IRR call-up means the next step is drafting boys who didn't have a chance to make the choice I did. Regardless of how much my feelings about going to war had changed in the interim between driving out the front gate at Fort Bragg and watching the country go to war in Afghanistan, the thought of effectively turning to an 18-year-old kid and saying "You can go in my place" was repulsive.

That's a lousy hand to deal yourself. I hope this isn't really happening.

Posted by mph at 4:21 PM

Name That Death-Cult

Which apocalyptic zealots trouble you more? The ones with knives in a desert somewhere? Or the ones who get meetings with the White House?

The problem is not that George W. Bush is discussing policy with people who press right-wing solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East, or with devout Christians. It is that he is discussing policy with Christians who might not care about peace at all—at least until the rapture.


"We're in constant contact with the White House," he boasts. "I'm briefed at least once a week via telephone. . . ."


Three weeks after the confab, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing U.S. policy, endorsing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in exchange for Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip.


[A]n evangelical worries that, in the Republican Party, people who believe this "are dominating the discourse now, in an election year." He calls the attempt to yoke Scripture to current events "a modern heresy, with cultish proportions. I mean, it's appalling. And it also shows how marginalized mainstream Christian thinking and the majority of evangelical thought have become." [emphasis mine. pk]
It demonstrates, he says, "the absolute convergence of the neoconservatives with the Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby, driving U.S. Mideast policy."

The real war isn't between Arabs and Americans, or Christians and Muslims. It's between superstitious fanatics and regular people who just want to live our lives.

Posted by pk at 12:24 PM

You Can Hear Their Teeth Grinding

The "journalists" at the Washington Times "cover" Massachusetts marriages :

The Goodridges were greeted by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino when they applied for their license yesterday. They "wed" yesterday afternoon in a Unitarian Universalist church.

The other six Goodridge plaintiff couples were also scheduled to be "married" in ceremonies across the state.

I don't have much more to say about that except to note that the evident fury the Times' editorial staff is feeling entertains me immensely this morning. I wonder how they'll handle "President" Kerry?

Posted by mph at 7:51 AM

May 12, 2004

Sound Moral Reasoning

Overheard on CNN this morning in a "man on the street" piece about the prisoner torture (let's lay "abuse" to rest, shall we?) scandal:

"Well at least we didn't cut peoples' heads off."

Coming soon to a war crimes tribunal near you.

Posted by mph at 10:31 AM

May 10, 2004

Apples and Guard Dogs

Rounding a few things up before my first day back in the world of full-time employment.

While trying to put together a bit of journaling this morning, I came across this quote from M.K. Gandhi:

Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, pre-supposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still. Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A dog barks and bites when he fears. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him.

and also

My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach non-violence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes.

And there's more from Seymour Hersch about Abu Ghraib today:

In his devastating report on conditions at Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, Major General Antonio M. Taguba singled out only three military men for praise. One of them, Master-at-Arms William J. Kimbro, a Navy dog handler, should be commended, Taguba wrote, because he "knew his duties and refused to participate in improper interrogations despite significant pressure from the MI" --military intelligence-- "personnel at Abu Ghraib."


The Pentagon’s impatience with military protocol extended to questions about the treatment of prisoners caught in the course of its military operations. Soon after 9/11, as the war on terror got under way, Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly made public his disdain for the Geneva conventions. Complaints about America’s treatment of prisoners, Rumsfeld said in early 2002, amounted to "iosolated pockets of international hyperventilation."

Don't tell that to this person:

How sad that the media has put our young men and women at risk by blowing out of proportion the magnitude of the abuse of prisoners in Iraqi prisons.

An isolated incident will be the cause of retaliation by people who know how to abuse and torture.

Unless we already have them on our payroll.

And Andrew Sullivan says "those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it."

And Josh Marshall brings things back around to Karla Faye Tucker, which is exactly where they belong.

Posted by mph at 8:26 AM