Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Brain



Because nothing can't be politicized nowadays, a meme started making the rounds this week asking why everyone accepted the predictions of the solar eclipse without question.  It was meant to chide global warming "deniers" or global warming "enjoyers" like me.

But what the meme creator is missing is that no one was demanding major economic and social changes in order to "prevent" the eclipse.  There was no adoption of international treaties meant only to limit the growth of Western economies.  Nobody was proposing shutting down entire industries because of the eclipse.  Cheaper forms of energy weren't being replaced with more expensive and less reliable power sources.  And nobody wanted to ban certain types of light bulbs for use during the eclipse.

If anything, the eclipse did more to "speed up" climate change--and it was those "most concerned" about it that were doing most of the damage.  Consider that Alaska Airlines provided a charter flight that flew into the shadow of the moon over the Pacific Ocean and then went back to the airport from which it took off.  Jet fuel was wasted and more carbon was put into the atmosphere just so about 200-people could see the eclipse "first".  A cruise ship company also sent out a boat with Bonnie Tyler singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart"--for people who wanted to be the "last" to experience the eclipse.

Then there were the millions of Americans that drove hundreds and thousands of miles to be in the "path of totality"--and then idled in heavy traffic in towns not able to handle so much congestion.  The TV networks that broadcast all of the climate change alarm reports and specials on the horrible future that awaits all of us, broadcast live for several hours from locations all across the country--sending their satellite signals back using trucks idling for hours burning diesel gas.  NASA--home of so many of the "concerned climate scientists" flew several planes in the eclipse path (granted, for research purposes).  And millions of plastic and chemical-coated "eclipse glasses" are on their way to landfills across the country this week--where they will sit for decades.

And all of this carbon burning and energy usage went toward those "concerned about the environment" to spend about two minutes in the shadow of the moon.  Of course, they described it as a "lesson in how fragile our planet is"--oblivious to their own hypocrisy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Unwinnable Wars

It sounds like President Trump is going to follow in the footsteps of all his predecessors dating back to Harry Truman in continuing to fight unwinnable wars.  The US used to be pretty good at winning armed conflicts--beating Britain twice, Spain, Mexico, the Confederacy, Germany twice, Austria and Japan.  But now, we don't "win" any of our wars.

Of course, it's nearly impossible to win wars when your strategy is "limited engagement".  We are more of a "total war" kind of country--where sheer resources and overpowering force can be brought to bear against our enemies.  Limited engagement handcuffs our military and gives our enemies the benefits of time and space to outlast our willingness to fight.

Did FDR ever say "Our fight is not with the German people but rather with just the Nazis?"  or "Our only goal is to drive out the War Council and allow the Japanese people to live in peace"?  No distinction was drawn between the people within those countries that wanted to destroy us and those who may not have harbored any ill will.  Everyone that died in the fire-bombings of Dresden and
Tokyo and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "enemy combatants".  And it was only when those nations' ability to wage war was destroyed, that the wars finally came to an end.

Compare that to today's military strategies, where small bands of American soldiers win hard-fought territory--driving out Al Qaeda or ISIS from a city or village--only to see those fighters return in a year or two.  Of course, it would help if the people that we are "liberating" in those areas would see the terrorists as their "enemies" as well--instead of their brothers, sons and nephews.

And that is why we have a North Korea to continue to menace the world 70-years after that war.  And its why Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on as our longest wars.  "Limited engagement" means "unlimited fighting". 

So that is why I continue to promote the withdrawal of our troops from the current theaters in the War on Terrorism.  But we will leave with a warning: If there is another attack upon our soil, we will determine where those attackers came from and what countries provided them shelter, training and aid--and we will not differentiate between the residents of that country and the terror groups they shelter.  And then return to those countries with the overwhelming force necessary to eradicate them from the face of the earth.

Wars like that will mean sacrifice on the homefront--like our grandparents experienced during World War II--and that will be good, because when you feel the effects of a war every day, you are more likely to want it to end as quickly as possible.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Casting a Long Shadow

So I was wracking my brain trying to remember what it was like the last time we had a major solar eclipse here in the US.  It was February 26th of 1979 and I was in first grade at Saint Mary's Catholic School in Clarks Mills.  For some reason I couldn't come up with any mental image of what the eclipse was like and it frustrated me.  And then I remembered, the nuns of Saint Mary's wouldn't let us outside for the eclipse that day--going so far as to cancel recess--because they weren't going to let all the kids blind themselves looking at the sun.

It was a very different world in 1979.  You couldn't order a pair of "solar eclipse glasses" from Amazon Prime and have them delivered to you the next day--just in time for viewing.  I saw some film clips of old newscasts this weekend showing people watching the eclipse through smoked glass plates.  Kids were taught how to make "pinhole projectors" from cardboard boxes and pieces of white paper so you could see the shadow of the eclipse while looking away from the sun. 

There was no "live coverage" of the '79 eclipse either.  I think our school had one television to be shared by all grade levels--and it was hooked up to a VCR unit that was the size of a microwave oven today.  We didn't have much to watch on TV in the classroom back then--as "audio/visual" meant a filmstrip projector and a record player with the "beep" to let you know when to advance to the next frame.  Besides, the three TV networks at the time weren't going to pre-empt afternoon soap operas just to show the moon passing in front of the sun.

Today, even those on the other side of the world will be able to "live stream" eclipse coverage from nearly the entire length of the eclipse as it passes over the US from the ground, from airplanes flying along the eclipse route and even from space.  Played on an Ultra High Definition Screen, it will be as crystal clear as if you were standing in the narrow seventy-mile path of totality--and you won't have to fight the insane traffic as people from all over the world try to find a spot across the country to view it.

And that streaming video coverage may unfortunately be the way that we here in the Fox Valley have to watch the eclipse.  In keeping with one of the worst weather summers ever, we are going to have mostly cloudy skies here this afternoon--potentially blotting out the sun.  Apparently, just one day without rain and clouds was too much to ask for.

If the clouds do linger this afternoon, I will log on to NASA's website and get the total eclipse streamed live.  That pretty much counts as "experiencing it in real life" nowadays--and Sister Clara doesn't have to worry about me blinding myself.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Confederacy of Idiots

Jeez, I take a few days off and America decides to re-fight the Civil War.  152-years after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, there is actual bloodshed over how the history of the war should be remembered.  As I've stated here before, those who fly the Confederate flags in front of their homes or who have the giant Stars and Bars on their vehicles are idiots who support a losing cause.  And those that think that taking down statues is somehow going to alter history (on both sides) are just as big as idiots.

If no statues were ever erected in honor of General Lee, would he be any less remembered for the major role he played in US history?  Would military historians spend no time studying his tactics--which allowed an under-manned, under-supplied, and under-funded army to win more battles than they lost for the better part of four years? 

It was under-reported this week that the National Parks Service issued a statement that Confederate memorials on the Gettysburg Battlefield--and other Civil War sites around the US will not be taken down or altered--as they stand as important historical monuments to men that actually existed.  Despite what hatred you think existed in the hearts of those soldiers, Pickett's Charge did happen.

Seeking to capitalize on the media frenzy this week, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has ordered the removal of a memorial to Confederate soldiers that died at Camp Randall.  Soglin believes it to be offensive that terms like "valiant" were included on the monument.  He says that a "proper" memorial will go up in its place--with his version of history.

And what comes next after all physical symbols of the Confederacy are removed from our nation?  We still won't have forgotten about it, because millions of pages of books are dedicated to the cause--not to mention countless hours of film--documentary and drama--that do not portray every soldier, politician and resident of The South as white supremacists and traitors to their country.  Textbooks will be the first to be re-written--with Civil War reference books and period pieces heavily scrutinized and removed from school libraries.  Public library shelves will be stripped bare next--or new print editions with modern interpretations will be published to replace those that accurately detailed the War Between the States for 150-years.

The folks at Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and Mount Vernon may want to start polishing up the resumes, because those versions of "living history" appear to be short-lived as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Primary Objective

A couple of months ago, it looked like the Democratic party was going to struggle to field a viable candidate for governor in 2018.  Big name after big name announced they were going to pass on challenging Scott Walker--who will be running his fourth campaign for the office in just the last eight years.  But as President Trump's lack of public support and Congress' failure to pass healthcare reform drags down the Republican party at every level, a surprising number of Dems see this as a chance to take advantage of potential backlash next year.

Based on how many people have already formed campaign committees--or who tell the media they are going to run--we could have a primary field as large as ten candidates before anyone even starts paying attention to the race.  And with that many people in the contest, it's highly unlikely the August 2018 primary will yield a majority candidate.

But wouldn't it be fun if we selected our nominees for governor the same way we do our candidates for President?  I'm talking about a protracted primary campaign that would allow candidates to build momentum throughout the year--or for a darkhorse to emerge from nowhere on the strength of a good showing in some part of the state, causing the frontrunner to have to rethink their strategy.

We have an Iowa County here in Wisconsin, so let them be the first to vote in this process next January.  Just like the state for which it is named, it is mostly rural so candidates would really have to work to get out and meet voters.  We could even let them hold caucuses instead of a formal primary vote just to make it more interesting.  From there, we could hold the first primary in someplace like Marinette County in February--again with a small population base for easy campaigning.  There could even be a "Super Tuesday" in April where Milwaukee and Dane Counties--and maybe 15 more around the state--could hold their primaries all on the same day to allow a clear front-runner to emerge.  From there, staggered elections the rest of the spring would force candidates to travel to all corners of the state to hawk for votes.

A true primary process would certainly make for a more interesting race and give us more to talk about for the next year than just campaign finance statements--which will be how the Democratic nominee will actually be selected.  Whoever runs the most ads before the August primary will probably win.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Second to Midnight

In the past, when there has been a perceived threat of nuclear war we always has a comforting sense that the people involved in the rhetoric or the standoff were men of reason and caution.  Kennedy and Khrushchev, Reagan, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were not rash men.  Their statements were measured.  They appeared firm but also gave the other side a way out of the situation that didn't involve embarrassment or perceived weakness.

Do you feel that level of comfort in anyway this week?  "Reason", "caution" and "measured" are anything but the terms you would use to describe Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump--and that is what makes this international confrontation so much more dangerous than any other in the Nuclear Age. 

Phrases like "fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen" is the kind of stuff you expect to hear from the dictator of some third-world nation like North Korea or from one of the Militant Islamic Terror groups--not from the President of the United States.  And it is statements like that which erode international support for your position--because you come off as just as insane at the attention-desperate despot that is threatening you.

Besides, when has any adversary given their enemy the "heads up" on actual military attacks?  Did emperor Hirohito appear on state radio and say "The United States must allow us to expand our empire without opposition in the Pacific or we will bomb Pearl Harbor"?  Did Harry Truman hold a press conference to announce that unless Japan surrendered he would drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Did Osama Bin Laden issue an internet video announcing Al Qaeda's plans to hijack planes and crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?  It's only when the threat of attack is all you have, that you threaten attacks.

One of the best campaign ads that Hillary Clinton ran during her first failed campaign for President featured the "Red Phone" ringing in the middle of the night, asking voters if they wanted the "inexperienced" Barack Obama to be the one answering that call.  Unfortunately, that kind of stuff doesn't matter to Democratic primary voters who thought it would be cool to elect a "first ever" kind of President.  I was surprised she didn't bring it back last year, given the even more ill-prepared opponent she faced in that race.  Anyway, if that phone rings in real life, are you confident in the person who will answer it?



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Long and the Short of It

The PGA of America is trying something almost revolutionary for the world of professional golf this week--it is allowing players to wear shorts during their practice rounds for the PGA Championship.  In a sport where old traditions die very hard, this is an almost stunning move into the 20th Century.  Of course, the PGA isn't allowing shorts during competitive rounds when the vast majority of people are watching on TV--wouldn't want to get too carried away here.

While I am a traditionalist, I applaud the idea of allowing professional athletes to wear clothing that helps their performance.  Yes, golf is still a gentlemen's game, but today's golf shorts are a far cry from what you see in those dreadful photos of your father or grandfather playing in "short shorts" with the high waist bands and no belts back in the 1970's and '80's.  Plus, today's modern golfer tends to be more athletic and toned than his predecessors--so chafed thighs or thick leg hair are less likely.

There were a few fashion faux pas yesterday at Quail Hollow.  Phil Mickelson came out in black shoes and black anklet socks for his practice round.  Definitely not a good look.  If you are going shorts, white shoes and white socks are a must.  I'm sure that all of the equipment makers liked seeing their pros modeling their performance shorts--all of which are available on-line and at your local golf shop.

What's interesting is that while the PGA is encouraging its players to show a little more skin, the LPGA is telling its ladies to please wear more clothing.  Earlier this summer the women's golf tour issued new apparel guidelines that mandate the length of shorts and skirts and required shoulders and cleavage to be covered. 

As you might expect, this announcement was met with immediate backlash on social media and from talking heads on TV--accusing the men running the LPGA of sexism and misogyny.  "Why are men threatened by women's bodies?" and "Women should be allowed to dress in whatever way they want without judgement by men" were the common responses.  However, all of that talk went away when a number of LPGA players said that it was the women on the tour themselves that demanded the new dress code--as they were tired of seeing buns hanging out of the bottom of outfits and tops that looked like the player was going to beach and not the golf course.

I have a feeling the new dress code for the LPGA will stem the growing tide of "golfer/models" on tour and return the media spotlight to those that actually play good instead of just look good.  As for the guys, the greater depth in talent should keep any Justin Bieber wannabes from turning the fairways into the fashion runways.