Glen Campbell

I’ve never been much of a country music fan, but I was saddened to read this today:

Glen Travis Campbell brought country music to new audiences. He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included smashes Gentle On My Mind, Galveston, Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy and that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Campbell died Tuesday at 81, according to his Universal Music publicist Tim Plumley.

‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Glen Campbell dies at 81 after Alzheimer’s battle

Lone soldier on guard, Vietnam, 1967

PFC John Sizemore, Co C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, stands guard on Hill 742 as the sun sets in the background. Nov., 1967. Image credit: U.S. Army/Wikimedia

For me, Campbell’s hit Galveston will be the one I remember him by. It starts out sounding like a song about a man missing the place he grew up and a girl he used to know there. It’s not until the second verse:

While I watch the cannon flashing
And I clean my gun
And I dream of Galveston

Jimmy Webb – Galveston lyrics

that you realize it’s about a man who has gone away to war. Released in 1969, the song spoke to a generation of young men and women who were either involved in the Vietnam War, or worried they were going to be there soon. Unlike America’s recent wars, Vietnam was fought by draftees, men who were sometimes there because they had no choice.

According to the Wikipedia entry Galveston was meant as an anti-war song by its writer, Jimmy Webb. Even as Campbell sang it, though, Galveston was about the price of war on a personal level, and clearly from the point of view of a man who didn’t want to be there. For some of us, Galveston was about what it meant to fight for your country in a far-off place. For others, like me, it was a reminder that there is a terrible cost to war, and that we ought to be sure it’s worth that price before we send our young people to fight one.

Decades later, I still don’t think we’ve learned that lesson.

But we should thank Glen Campbell for trying to teach it to us, anyway. For that song and all the others he sang, he will be missed.


Yep, Spring Forward

Put funky alarm clock here

Image credit: Found at Deviant Art

If you’re late for something this morning, it’s probably because you forgot to set your alarm clock forward. For some reason, we’re doing that again. I guess it’s because we in the Northwest love it being light at ten o’clock.

Never thought we had that much impact on the world.

Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday.

Fall Backward

An atomic clock with a circular clock face

One of the actual cesium beam atomic clock units used in the 1960’s “flying clocks” experiment the synchronise time around the world. And later in the Hafele–Keating experiment to prove relativity theory. Currently kept at Agilent (formally Hewlett Packard) Melbourne headquarters. It’s accurate down to the nanosecond, but they still put an analog display on the thing. Image credit: Binarysequence/Wikimedia

Once again, it’s the time of year when, for reasons that surpass understanding, we set our clocks back one hour. Once again, I’m writing to remind you, and me, to set all the bloody clocks back.

Yes, strictly speaking, we set the clocks back now because we set them forward in spring, but I think you get the idea.

Somewhere In America…

Somewhere in America, there’s a town where the trains roll down the main street every day.

CSX train passes through La Grange, KY

CSX AC4400CW engine 36 pulls a manifest train through La Grange, KY, July 13, 2013

Happy Birthday to the person who showed me this marvelous sight.

Afterword: No, I don’t know railroad locomotives that well. This site provides information on CSX General Electric locomotives based on their number. A manifest train, according to Yahoo answers, is a mixed-use train. They’re easy to identify, because they’ll usually have different kinds of cars.

Quote Of The Day

Andrew Napolitano, in a review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book No Place to Hide, which is about Greenwald’s meeting with Edward Snowden and the resulting revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA):

The government has argued that when it engages in all this spying, it is looking for a needle in a haystack. It claims it can only keep us safe if it knows all and sees all. Yet, such an argument cannot be made with intellectual honesty by anyone who has sworn to uphold the Constitution.

The Constitution was written to keep the government off of the people’s backs. The Constitution protects the right to be left alone and the right to be different. The Constitution presupposes the existence of natural rights and areas of human endeavor that are insulated from government knowledge and immune to government regulation, except in the most carefully prescribed circumstances. Those circumstances require that probable cause of crime be possessed by the government about identifiable persons and demonstrated to a neutral judge before the government may engage in any surveillance of that person—and all those NSA conspirators and all their judicial facilitators know this.

Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide Reveals the Secrets Behind Edward Snowden’s Revelations

Napolitano is, near as I can figure, a libertarian. He’s a legal commentator for Fox News. I doubt that he and I would agree on much of anything regarding economic or social policy. Yet we agree on this.

The reason is that, as I’ve explained before, there is a danger in not having the freedom to debate and discuss the issues we face as Americans:

Those who maintain that somehow all this intrusiveness and secrecy is necessary to keep us “safe” have clearly never considered what it’s like to not be safe from your own government. They haven’t considered what the cost is of corruption that can’t be punished because it can’t be revealed, or how many lives bad policy and bad government can cost. If they had, they’d know that what they were saying is utterly foolish. We lose more people every month for lack of health care, and for letting people who shouldn’t be near them have guns. We lost more people in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did to terrorism. We lost way more in Vietnam. All that death is due, at least in part, to foolish government policy. While we spend vast sums of money on surveillance equipment that may not even work, we don’t educate our young well enough to operate all those whiz-bang weapons we always seem to have money to build.

The Illusion Of Safety

Unhindered, unsupervised surveillance by any government agency is an open invitation to that government to use it to target its enemies. When the government can secretly target people it considers its enemies, its citizens will be a lot more motivated to stay off that list. Staying off that list, inevitably, will entail not saying what the government doesn’t want to hear about itself. When that happens, all hope of correcting any of the things that ail us will disappear. Alexander Solzenitsyn taught us that, among others.

It’s surprising how many “progressives” and “liberals” still don’t get it.

The Value Of Fresh Air

Sometimes, there’s an odd, sad poetry to what I see on Twitter. Here’s an example from today:

Hamsher and Chait on fresh air

A screenshot of my Twitter feed, April 24, 2014

Yes, they really did end up right next to each other.

One Twitter message concerns the children of an American hero who blew the whistle on the torture being done by the Bush Administration. He was sent to prison while the torturers and the people who approved that torture were not. The other message concerns a rancher who thinks he doesn’t have to pay for using public land to graze his cattle, and who needs to learn more and talk less. There’s so much of what’s wrong with America these days in these two messages about the value of fresh air.

Earth Day, 2014

As part of its Earth Day activities this year, NASA is asking poeple to submit “selfies” of themselves wherever they happen to be today. You know, this sort of thing:

Le BPA Trail et mois

Me on the BPA trail last year on Earth Day.

That’s me at one of my favorite places in my neck of the woods, the BPA Trail. Sadly, this photo doesn’t qualify for NASA’s campaign, since I took it last year. Unfortunately, my photos often require, ahem, post-processing before I can publish them. But if your self-portrait photo skills are more timely than mine, feel free to submit something at the link.

Meanwhile, happy Earth Day.

Belated LOLz

Finally, I found a graphic that works for this thought:

Easter Bunny in conference

Image credit: Found it here

Happy belated birthday to someone important in my life. Everyone else, disregard…

Fort Hood On My Mind – Again

A view of the 1st Cav Museum, Ft. Hood, Texas

A HWWMV (left) and US armored personnel carrier at the 1st Cav Museum, Ft. Hood, Texas. Image credit: Adam Bartlett/Wikimedia

It was a few years ago that I last wrote about Fort Hood, Texas. That, too was because an armed person went on a rampage there. I spent considerable time during the 1980s and 1990s in that area, and have visited several times since. That makes it extra hard to read something like this:

CBS News identified the shooter as Ivan Lopez, 34.

He was reportedly in uniform at the time of the shooting.

Fort Hood has confirmed the shooting, but has issued little other information.

“Fort Hood’s Directorate of Emergency Services has an initial report that a shooter is dead but this is unconfirmed,” the post said in an updated statement at around 6:30 p.m.

The Associated Press earlier quoted a U.S. law enforcement official as saying the suspected gunman is believed to be dead.

Some of the wounded were taken to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on post and others to Scott & White Hospital in Temple.

Four Dead And 14 Injured In Fort Hood Shooting

It’s still early, so there are conflicting reports about what happened. At the moment, I don’t even take that death toll seriously. When the news agencies and officials have a chance to double check things, then we can believe what we’re told. On Twitter today, someone posted this handy checklist of how to treat early reports of an incident like this, where people are frightened and they and the news are taken by surprise:
Image credit: On The Media (PDF)

Image credit: On The Media (PDF)

This is why I won’t write anything more than to extend my condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

UPDATE/Afterword: Apparently, another person with a gun is loose at Kent State University, Ohio. All that seems to be known at this point is that at least one shot was fired, and the campus is locked down.

Hopefully, this will be all the damage from that incident.

That Which Survives

This article is republished from an earlier version on the old Slobber And Spittle. Some minor alterations have been done, but little has changed since then, and a couple of Twitter conversations have brought it to mind.

Over at his blog, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, James Ala wrote this in response to a comment I’d left at his site:

it really begs the question “why bother contesting for a leadership position if you are not going to lead?” From Poppy Bush onwards we have been inflicted with empty suits that captured the Executive as resume padding. It has been all about blind ambition linked to ego gratification; with no real desire to do the heavy lifting the job required. You can see the downward spiral from Pappy Bush, to Bill Clinton, to Shrub and, finally, to Obama.

Each iteration, each candidate, was ever more solipsistic, ever more nihilist, ever more ego driven, ever more the unprincipled political hack. Each was ever more the dog chasing the bus; totally lost when said bus ended up in the dog’s possession.

I wish I was a systems engineer, or someone who could discern how systems work. I do not have the mental discipline or the framework to achieve that kind of analysis. I just know that our system of government, especially [its] political process is fundamentally flawed. I keep looking at the results of the process and keep being amazed on how badly it fails at delivering a more perfect union.

Going Along To Get Along

Since I am, or at least was, an engineer, let me explain the political system to you.

It’s not a system.

At least, it’s not in any sense that means anything. A system is designed to accomplish something, whether it’s a documentation system, a refining system, or a computer system. Whether that something is making a project’s design understandable, processing ore, or delivering porn and kittehs to your screen, the goals are clear enough that the people designing them can figure out how to accomplish them. What is the goal of our political “system”? Beyond electing candidates, I don’t see any. We as individual voters set those goals, and as any thorough survey of the blogosphere will demonstrate, there is no universal agreement on what those goals are, nor even what categories of goals there might be. Even progressives of like mind find it hard to agree, and we’re but a vanishingly small portion of the electorate.

I do, however, see an evolutionary process. Evolution isn’t a system. It doesn’t have any goals beyond surviving long enough to reproduce. As long as a type of organism can do that, it continues. There is no ultimate goal to achieve. There is no perfect ocelot or flawless poppy. There are only ocelots and poppies that survive long enough to spread their DNA around, and those that don’t. That’s how politics works, pretty much everywhere. Only the details, the environment if you will, are different.

And that’s the little bit of understanding I can offer. Politics is an evolutionary process, and survival is getting and staying in office. Understand the environment, and the reasons politicians are the way they are will be more clear. From what I’ve noted, the politicians who are most successful are those who somehow manage to convince voters that they’re all about whatever the voters are about, which usually entails not actually being about anything in particular. That’s certainly Barack Obama’s modus operandi, and it appears to be Mitt Romney’s, as well.

As any decent introductory biology text would tell you, biological evolution has two basic drivers – variation and natural selection. “Variation” is the ability of organisms to be somehow different from their parents. Mutation and sexual reproduction both create variation. “Natural selection” is the environment’s job. The conditions that exist in an organism’s environment determine whether it will survive long enough to reproduce. If the organism is able to produce offspring, its DNA is passed on.

In the area of politics, we the voters are the environment. The money, the news, the personalities, and all the other stuff that goes into shaping what the candidates offered do and believe, is the variation. Our choices as voters determine what politicians succeed and which ones don’t. In the end, if voters choose their leaders for fatuous, self-centered reasons, then what we will end up with is fatuous, self-centered candidates.

This is why there’s a series here called “The Price of Freedom”. It’s about why it’s important to understand the issues, to understand who the candidates are and what they really believe, and to not leave your thinking to the cool people on television or radio who, often as not, are also in the business of telling you what you want to hear.

In the end, whatever we as voters choose is what we will end up with. If you choose evil, you end up with evil. What’s worse is that the evil is what you’re selecting for, so it will almost certainly get worse. There are plenty of other choices available. If the ones the main parties offer aren’t good enough, I’d suggest choosing the one who best represents what you want. If enough of us do that, the variation will change. The Tea Party proved that.

In this environment, if you select what you want, you might get it. If you don’t, then you certainly will not.

Afterword: I think it should go without saying that the picture of Dr. Evil, a character in the Austin Powers movies, is just a reference to something that’s become a cultural icon. It does not represent an endorsement of this article by the producers, cast, or production staff of this movie.

The title of this article is, of course, the title of a bad Star Trek episode. Still, like the Enterprise crew members trying to survive on the same planet with Lee Meriwether’s homicidal avatar, we seem to be stuck with a problem we can barely understand, let alone deal with intelligently. Needless to say, the creators of Star Trek aren’t in any way responsible for the contents herein.

It’s humor. Get over it.