September 27, 2004

Chris Vs. Little Rock (#1)

The flight out to Little Rock on Sunday night was as mundane as one would expect. I met Kevin, the Business Consultant and Tina, our Project Manager when we landed. I'd never met Tina, but she was able to guess which passenger I was from the crowd. (The fact that I was carrying my UGA Accidentals suit bag with my name on it apparently didn't enter into it.) The Embassy suites that we're staying in is nice, but the rooms are twice as big as any one businessperson would reasonably need. (Two TV's, two double beds, a wet bar and a living room for one person?)

It was only 9:30 when we headed to our rooms, and even with it being an hour behind my usual schedule, I couldn't just call it a night. I walked out in search of a place that I could have a beer and read my book. Unfortunately, there is little need for places to stay open later than 10 PM in town, even the local Starbuck's. I returned to the hotel and broke out my last resort, the PS2.

Monday morning, we met for breakfast downstairs at 7 and took off to the Fidelity offices at 8. We were joined by Mike, a programmer from Denver and Gina, a Consultant from Texas. The usual kick-off meeting and pep talk followed, and I spent the day debugging various issues. We broke for lunch and drove to Cotham's Hamburgers, a local joint that advertised itself as "Home of the Hubcap." Four of us were curious, and couldn't pass up the opportunity, so we ordered it.

The Hubcap burger was a huge slab of meat, easily two inches thick and 7 inches across. We each cut it in half and forced ourselves to eat that half, along with some tasty Jalapeno cornbread, and took the other half home in a box. On the way back to the hotel at the end of the day, Kevin's laptop case fell on top of his burger box. When he took it out and had a look, the burger didn't even have a dent in it.

Figuring that we could all have the leftovers for dinner, (and since none of us was remotely hungry after that lunch,) we opted to stay in and take advantage of the hotel's "Manager's Reception", which was dollar drinks from 5:30-7:30. To pass the time, we bought a $4.50 pack of playing cards with "Arkansas Sunrise" on the back and I learned to play "Texas Hold 'Em" poker. Once we got a hang of the game, we played for $1 per hand (which would in turn be used to buy the winner's next drink).

The family next to us had two blond-headed boys, probably three and two years old. I couldn't help it, I missed Melissa and my little guy. Tina caught me staring and asked, "You have any kids, Chris?"
"Yeah, one."
"How old?"
"About that old," I said, motioning to the toddler, who was emptying a sugar packet into the Koi pond. In accordance with federal law, I passed around the picture of him.

After 3 1/2 hours of cards and well-mixed drinks, the group was pretty happy when we called it a night. Before retiring to our rooms, we all hit the gift shop to satisfy our munchies. I went back to my room, Drumstick in hand, and ate the remainder of the Hubcap. I'd never watched "World Poker Tour" before, but now that I actually knew what the hell they were playing, I was fairly interested.

It took longer than I thought to finish off that burger, so Melissa called me at 8:30, which was bedtime for Matthew a time zone away. The daily status was exchanged, I told the little guy goodnight, and Melissa that I loved her and hung up. After I did, I took a slow look around the empty room. It has been a long time since the prospect of being alone and bored in the evenings was a problem for me. I wasn't about to turn in at 9:00, so I flipped on the PlayStation 2.

Tuesday passed just like Monday. Learning our lesson from the previous night, we decided to forego the lunch at a place ominously called "The Whole Hog BBQ", and eat at Popeye's. On the way back to the office, we each bought a roll of dimes from a bank, in preparations for another round of Texas Hold 'Em that night.

[Aside: Honestly, I thought I'd have more to write, but every day was pretty much the same. Little Rock has lots of great places to eat, but little else. Nice enough people, but very little to write home about.]

While taking the 45 second trip up four floors in the elevator, a bearded man riding with me was wishing out loud. "It'd sure save some time if we had some technology like Star Trek, where you'd just push some button on your watch and you'd just appear where you're goin'. Would beat these slow elevators." Then, as the doors opened, he took it back. "But then I suppose we'd just have to get more WORK done in the day."

It's tough to be out here by myself. Well, not entirely, I'm lucky to have a great bunch of co-workers on this project. But while it's fun to pass the time playing cards, it's still just passing time, postponing going back to my room and going to sleep alone. I really miss coming home at night and having Matthew give me an excited hug and kissing Melissa. I miss the feeling of total comfort in my house with all of us there. I miss hearing what the two of them did during the day, and being able to forget about work entirely.

There's a small stream carved into the ground floor lobby of our hotel, and Koi swim up and down it. I took a break from the cards to get a drink and I noticed one of the fish off by himself, hardly moving. I though he might be dead, but he was still kicking, if fitfully. Just around the corner, not ten feet away, the rest of the Koi were swimming all around, having a grand old time. And this one was alone, isolated from the group, barely flipping his fins. I never thought I'd ever tell a fish "I know how you feel."

I'm going to have to get used to this, at least for a few months. I ship out for three more weeks this fall, one of them in December, and it'll be just the same.

September 17, 2004

LinkNews Digest [09/17/04]

[Sorry, most of these are from last week, but I had to post the pics and report from DCon.]

Hefner & Stan Lee Team Up for "SuperBunnies"

LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- A silk pajama-clad superhero fights crime with the aid of a superbuxom team of specially trained Playboy bunnies. If that sounds like it must be a cross between the oeuvres of Stan Lee and Hugh Hefner, that's because it is.

MTV has ordered an animated pilot for "Hef's Superbunnies," a collaboration between cartooon veteran Lee's newly launched Pow! Entertainment and Playboy's Alta Loma Entertainment division. Hefner's name and likeness will be featured in the pilot, and he also might provide the voice of his cartoon alter ego.

Hefner said he sparked to the notion of being involved with an edgy, sexy animated series as soon as Lee, the mastermind behind such Marvel comic book legends as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, approached him with the "Superbunnies" concept.

"This project is going to be a lot of fun," Hefner assured. "It's going to be more than just an action show. It's going to be very satirical with a lot of cutting-edge aspects to it."

'Weird Al' Yankovic Attacked by Moths

DU QUOIN, Illinois (AP) -- Things got hairy for parody singer "Weird Al" Yankovic as a flock of unwanted fans rushed onstage during his performance at a state fair in southern Illinois.

Green moths swarmed Yankovic, some nesting in his trademark long curly locks.

"My band asked me if I could find a concert where we would be attacked by insects," Yankovic told his audience Wednesday at the Du Quoin State Fair. "I said I would see what I could do."

Yankovic didn't seem bugged by the uninvited guests, though, as he plugged along with songs and costume changes during his self-described "rock and comedy multimedia extravaganza" to support his recent album, "Poodle Hat."

Wind From Hurricane for Sale on eBay

MIAMI - For anyone who didn't get enough of Hurricane Frances as it blew through Florida, remnants of the storm are for sale. More than 170 items were listed on eBay's Internet auction site Monday, a day after the eye of the Category 2 storm came ashore.

The starting bid for Tupperware filled with wind was a penny. Photos showed Broward County residents running around with the containers "catching" the wind. Surprisingly, someone had already bid $10 for one of the four containers.

Carol Baroudi, industry analyst and author of The Internet For Dummies, said "I think these are all tongue in cheek. I don't think anyone's serious about these things. I think it's trying to find a sense of humor, which is a good thing."

Ebay has canceled auctions that coincide with tragedies, such as items billed as debris from the space shuttle Columbia or pieces of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (news - web sites). Ebay officials did not return a phone call seeking comment about the Frances auctions.

"It's a different kind of thing," Baroudi said. "So far I don't think it's crossed the line of totally tasteless. I don't see anybody being victimized by this stuff. I've seen a lot of positive stuff here."

S*it Really Does Happen

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch driver was covered in hundreds of liters of manure when a tank burst on a lorry carrying fertilizer, police said on Tuesday.

"It was a nice night ... so he probably opened his window when he stopped at a traffic light, and then -- (it) happened," said Dana Kragten, spokeswoman for police in rural Drenthe province. "The tank had a small window which burst, probably due to pressure ... The man said he had no time to back away his car or close his window."

Police said the man, whose car was sprayed with an estimated 1,700 liters (370 gallons) of liquid manure, escaped injury though his car had to be towed away

Iraq Deemed Civilized With Women's Workout TV

Iraq's Iraqiya TV is preparing a series of tutorials about aerobics, intended mainly for Iraqi women. The programme will be aired nationally twice a week in the morning to encourage Iraqis to work out. The programme is called Allah b'il Khair ya Iraq, meaning To Your Good Health, Iraq, and will feature students from Baghdad's college of physical education.

Once criticised as being amateurish, and a mere tool of the US-led coalition, al-Iraqiya TV is being incorporated into an Iraqi national broadcaster. A programme like Allah b'il Khair ya Iraq - with its aerobics show - should provide welcome relief for some Iraqis from the daily routine of conflict and bloodshed on television screens.
Link (BBC)

Rotten Tomatoes of Varying Color Hit Schroder

BERLIN (Reuters) - The mushy remains of a tomato thrown at a prominent member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats has posed a legal dilemma for authorities trying to assess how to punish the thrower.

Police investigating the fruit, thrown by an unemployed protestor at the premier of the state of Brandenburg, said on Thursday they have concluded it was a yellow tomato. Had it been a soft red one, the man would have faced a lesser charge of causing malicious damage. A harder, green tomato could carry the tougher charge of bodily harm.

A yellow one is somewhere in between. "In these types of cases it has to do with the consistency (of the fruit)," said Caecilia Cramer-Krahforst, spokeswoman for the court in the eastern city of Cottbus.

No decision on the charge has yet been reached.

SPD politicians have been facing the wrath of the public in recent months especially in the economically depressed east where many people face painful jobless benefit cuts from next January.

Real-Life "Cannonball Run" Shut Down

MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- Spanish police temporarily seized luxury and sports cars driven by people they suspected of participating in an illegal road rally named after a 1981 film starring Burt Reynolds, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Police said they were tipped off by a driver of a family car who said he had been overtaken by high-powered cars bearing rally-type markings in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

The managing director of Cannonball Run Europe, Tim Porter told Reuters on Tuesday that entrants in the rally of the same name had been fined by Spanish police, citing a law which the Spanish embassy later told his organisation does not exist.

"I think it is absolutely outrageous the police can make up laws as they go along," Porter said, adding that another of the rally entrants detained was charged with suspected speeding."At least half a dozen of them were picked up in a service station drinking coffee."

Police said they tracked down and impounded 71 cars including Porsches, Ferraris and Rolls Royces and took statements and addresses from their mostly British drivers. "We suspect (the racers) of belonging to an illicit group, which organised illegal races which could put the lives of other people in danger," a Catalan regional police spokesman said.

Storm Front

Last year, when my division split off from ALLTEL and became Fidelity Information Services, we kept our place in the ALLTEL building. Since then, we've moved most of our numbers to a Buckhead office of another company that we've bought up. The scant few of us still in Alpharetta are being re-consolidated to a single wing off the 2nd floor.

We were supposed to move yesterday, but my cube doesn't have a desk in it yet. My managers are working on it, but it's okay by me. I'll be in Little Rock next week, and with only four people in this section, no one is around to complain when I crank my MP3 80's CD today. It's a great feeling to be at work and hearing Thomas Dolby's "Hyperactive" blaring from my computer:

"At the tender age of three
I was hooked to a machine
Just to keep my mouth from spouting junk
Must have took me for a fool
When they chucked me out of school
'Cause the teacher knew I had the funk"
Hurricane Ivan hit us last night, when Justin was paying us a visit. A lot of debris, some huge wind gusts and two power outages, but we're all right. When the first power outage hit, Melissa and Justin went up to Publix to get some storm supplies. This consisted of batteries, candles, a lighter and a case of Flying Dog beer.

Justin is now Matthew's godfather. I think it's only fitting. He was the first guy to meet Matthew in the hospital, except for our pastor, and he's the man that's consistently been there for us. He's also the only friend that I have that Melissa is friends with directly (i.e. not in just because he's MY friend). Even though he's a single man with no parenting experience, he's proven himself to be kind and trustworthy time and again. It just feels right, and this brings the legacy of The Aforementioned Friend to a proper close.

September 15, 2004

"Well, they never Arkansas her..."

It's your basic Good News/Band News situation: The good news is that I don't have to worry about my billable hours until February, because I'm now full-time on a project. The bad news is that I will have to go out of town every few weeks to be on-site in Little Rock and New Jersey. Next week, it's Little Rock, Arkansas. A dozen or so skyscrapers built on the Mississippi River in the middle of nowhere. Not exactly the "Social Armpit of America", since that title is still being defended by Cleveland, Ohio, but close enough.

This will be my first week-long trip away since Matthew was born, so I wanted to do something to help Melissa out. I left a message for Justin, asking him to look in on Mel and the kid next week "In a sort of Vincent Vega and Mrs. Marcellus Wallace sort of way. You know, not a date, just good company is all. Take her to JackRabbit Slim's, maybe enter the Twist contest."

Melissa grinned as she overheard this. ("Pulp Fiction" has a special place in our hearts, as it was our first date.) "Just as long as I don't end the evening with a cardiac needle sticking out of my chest," she insisted.

Later that night, I pick up the phone and hear "Say it with me. In the fifth...your @ss goes down." I smiled and repeated it back to Justin. He's always been dependable to keep up with us, and check up on Melissa when she's been feeling down. I just wish that we could say the same about other former friends.

[Quote from Rockapella's "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"]

September 13, 2004

Reflections on 9/11/2004

[This post was compiled over the past three months, starting as an explanation of the mindset of America after the attacks to my British friends. As usual, I just couldn't stop writing.]

After 9/11, Americans looked on the world as if we'd never seen it before. War had changed. America was used to fighting against countries, entities with tangible borders and representatives. People you could negotiate with, places that Generals could point to on a map and say "Bomb this." Well not anymore. Now loosely-based militant organizations could kill thousands of people at will in suicide attacks. Immediate, deadly, intangible, untraceable. Used to be that you had to have a sizable army, weapons and a power base to wage war. Now all you need is ten men, a few box-cutting knives and the element of surprise.

This all led to a national paranoia. Terrorists could be anywhere, and since no one, not even the CIA, had any idea where to start looking for them, the cry went up to support George W. Bush in whatever actions he deemed necessary. National panic and grief had given him near-absolute power. Any politician who disagreed with Bush's sweeping reforms was labeled "unpatriotic", which was nearly all it took to ruin a political career in those times.

It felt like the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthy's "Red Scare" rolled into one. Bush was our appointed leader, and if you oppose his carte-blanche access to collecting personal information on every person in the country, or allowing the government to "roll back" personal freedoms, you must have something to hide! If you speak out against The Leader, you are weakening our great nation, even helping the terrorists! Soon, each car without an American Flag, or a sticker of it, was looked at with suspicion.

When country singing group The Dixie Chicks said in a London concert that they were "ashamed that Bush came from Texas" (their home state), droves of angry listeners forced a boycott of their music on radio stations. They became the national scapegoat for "anti-Americanism," and were called everything from "Osama's Angels" to "The Dixie Sluts", not because they spoke out against the war or America, just because they expressed disapproval for George W. Bush in general. Tour dates were cancelled due to protests and they were booed off the stage at awards ceremonies.

Fellow country singer Toby Keith, appealing to the lowest common denominator, showed doctored pictures of the Dixie Chicks shaking hands with Osama Bin Laden at his concerts to audiences, who cheered in approval. Toby Keith's patriotic slant made him a triple-platinum success with such hits as "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue [The Angry American]" (Highlight: "And you?ll be sorry that you messed with The U.S. of A. / `Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass, It`s the American way").

In the months following the tragedy, most Americans remained holed up in their homes with the CNN News Ticker running throughout the day. Vacations were cancelled because people were afraid to fly and because popular tourist destinations like DisneyWorld might be the next target. Purchases were put on hold as people spent more time focused on family and friends and less time on filling their downtime with trinkets. This trend was applauded, for a short time, by commentators, as "a returning to what really matters in our lives."

Families are all well and good, but while the trend continued, the economy was taking a nose-dive. When consumer spending started to slow down, businesses used patriotism as a selling tactic. Local businesses started flying the flag over their doorways to show that they, your corner coffee shop, were definitely not in league with the terrorists. General Motors ran a "Keep America Rolling" campaign, insinuating that it was our patriotic duty to buy American Sport Utility Vehicles. ("...which consume more gasoline, refined from oil which was bought from countries like Saudi Arabia, who openly support terrorist organizations," the ads failed to mention)

While America was on the defensive, our own home-grown terrorists seized the opportunity. Several envelopes containing Anthrax spores were sent to various government offices, causing nationwide panic. "Don't open your mail!" went the paranoid call from the county seats across the country. If this came at any other time, we all would have dismissed it like the "razor blade in the Halloween apple" incident. But since we were already vulnerable and paranoid, it was taken somewhat seriously. Sure, I'm supposed to believe that terrorists would spend thousands of dollars making deadly Anthrax and waste it to kill some two-bit computer programmer in East Bumble, Georgia. A few months later, the attacks stopped and the fear subsided.

It took a while for America to collectively clear their heads and gather their wits. When they finally did, they realized that America had changed around them. In the fear and fervor, we had given up many of our rights for a promise of security, and some of us found that it wasn't a square deal. This country was built on the rejection of absolute rulers and the idea that all citizens had the right, even the duty, to disagree, dissent and protest when the government got out of line. The patriotic rhetoric started to wear off. Perhaps "they" didn't "Hate us for our Freedom" as Bush suggested, maybe they hated us because we feel justified waging war in other countries and setting up shop with little to no evidence to support it.

War in Afghanistan, to root out Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, soon gave way to war in Iraq, with precious little explanation. When we couldn't find Bin Laden, the guy Bush vowed to America that he would catch, his approval rating started to slip. So we shifted our forces to round up a bad guy that America had already beaten into submission once before: Saddam Hussein.

The original justification given to wage war in Iraq was that they had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's). By this point, most heads were clear enough to ask "why NOW?" As far as WMD's go, Iraq might have a weapons lab at best, and even if they had operational missiles, they could not possibly threaten the United States with them. North Korea, on the other hand, DID have nuclear weapons and the capability of striking the west coast of America. They even threatened to do so once. So North Korea was a more likely target if Bush was looking to protect us, but no, Iraq was the biggest threat.

When it became clear that we weren't going to find said weapons in time to make our case, the invasion was re-packaged to Americans as "Operation Iraqi Freedom." 'It is our duty to liberate the people of Iraq for humanitarian reasons,' went the new reasoning. 'Saddam is a ruthless dictator and must be deposed.' But why stop chasing Bin Laden and focus on Saddam? Americans are all for removing mass-murdering dictators like Hitler or Milosevic, but weren't we in the middle of a War on Terror here? What about al Qaeda?

"Oh, there are reportedly some al Qaeda-linked individuals in Iraq, too," Bush added. Sadly, that convinced many Americans to buy into it. Terrorism had become the boogeyman, and Bush became the camp counselor telling spooky stories around the campfire: "Look out!! It's over there!!! No, over THERE!!"

In an address to the nation, Bush actually told us that if we went into Iraq, we would root out al Qaeda and "the attacks would stop." Even more amazing than that, he kept a straight face. Either he's a better actor than DeNiro, or he actually believed it when Rumsfeld told him this. Either prospect gives me the creeps.

It's been three years since the attacks, so what have we accomplished? Let's review.

(1) Al Qaeda has evaded us. When we turned our attention to Iraq, we left nothing but a skeleton crew to hold the fort in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda slipped through our fingers and is likely planning a string of sequels, since the original attack proved so effective. By bombing a Spanish commuter train, they turned the tide of an election in favor of a candidate who promised to remove their troops from the Middle East. Unnamed terrorists are presently holding blackmailing small-potatoes countries into recalling their troops by taking hostages. The Philippines have already pulled out.

(2) Instead of waiting for the terrorists to come to us, we sent our troops to the terrorist countries. US Forces invaded their countries, toppled their governments, and now stand around, waiting to be shot. Every week convoys are ambushed, sentries are shot, bombs are set off, and our soldiers die. It seems that the only people that middle eastern militants like to kill even more than each other, are Americans.

(3) The word "Hero" has lost all meaning. At first, "hero" was rightfully applied to some brave men & women, many of them in Fire & Law Enforcement, whose sense of duty led them to make the ultimate sacrifice. Then, the media has stretched it to also mean "victims" of the attacks and anyone else who does something even remotely helpful. A boy who recycles cans to help his school is not a hero, he's just a good citizen. Get over it.

(4) The Terror Alert system is a failure. We learned that a Yellow alert level is like a yellow traffic light: "Go ahead just like you were, but if something happens, don't say we didn't warn you." It's always yellow ("Elevated"), and even on the off chance that it DOES change, the administration can't tell us why or what to do about it. An actual headline read "Ridge Predicts Massive Al Qaeda Attack -- No Details."

(5) The Bush Administration took advantage of the new-found power and lack of questions to push through some pretty scary changes under the media's radar. The Patriot Act, which grants staggering surveillance powers to the government and which was supposed to "sundown" after a few years, is being made permanent. The "Clear Skies Initiative" removed the requirement for companies to replace older, heavy-polluting equipment with cleaner ones, effectively negating any government regulation of pollution levels. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which kept employers from firing you for missed work due to illness, pregnancy or need to care for a loved one, was quietly done away with. Earlier this year, it even became legal to fire government employees solely because they are gay. These stories went miraculously unreported in the media.

(6) Airport screening is so tight, you have to hand over anything remotely dangerous, down to toenail clippers and toothpicks. On average, you now need to arrive two hours before your flight in order to get through the inspection lines. Meanwhile, workers in Mexico and Canada walk unchecked across the border every day on their daily commute. Terrorists are keenly aware of this fact.

(7) Thousands of people are being held in Guantanamo Bay and other makeshift prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq as "Enemy Combatants", even though most have never fought against the United States. This handy designation allows the US to keep them imprisoned without being charged with a crime or given rights to legal counsel until just recently. It also means the government can hold them indefinitely, without need of evidence against them. Some have been held since 2001.

I wish that there was a tidy wrap-up that could be made, but there never will be one. Most wars had a definitive ending, when the country was defeated or surrendered, and we could breathe a sigh of relief and try and put it behind us. There is no such luxury with Bush's "War on Terror", it will continue until Terror stops, which is never. Terrorism is an idea that is found the world over, it has no borders to invade, no leader to overthrow, no diplomats to negotiate a surrender.

It's important to note the wording of "The War on Terror." It's not the war on Al Qaeda or Bin Laden, That would be too specific and people would want it to wrap up if we ever destroyed them. It's not even the "War on TerrorISM", just Terror in general. By keeping the name and goals generalized, Bush has written himself a blank check to go anywhere to wage war without having to get approval from the public for each individual action.

Last month, at the Republican National Convention, Bush was using the tragedy of 9/11 to show himself as a strong leader in a crisis. Think about that for a moment: 9/11, the most costly failure of intelligence in our country's history, was being spun as a positive for Bush. Simply because the towers fell on his watch, he's touting himself as a great leader. What sort of twisted logic is that? If I hired a security guard and my house got broken into while he was on duty, I'd consider that a failure.

The Saga Ends

(Call this one "The Saga of The Aforementioned Friend and The Princess of MeMeMe : Bonus scene after the credits")

The Friday of Dragon*Con, The Former Aformentioned Friend sent Melissa and I a "breakup letter." He and I were supposed to be going to the event together, even working on a costume for him, but he quietly backed out of that like everything else. He'd been writing the letter for a while, judging by it's pure length of rant. Par for the course, he put the blame for the friendship ending squarely on us, and took none for himself. Melissa read it, but I told her to forget about it for the weekend, so his attempt to ruin DragonCon for us would not succeed.

Melissa, however, was never content to leave lies uncorrected, and I love her for it. They had a brief, heated argument, Melissa set him straight and he hung up on her.

I left the e-mail unread in my in-box until the next week. She said her peace, but there was just too many dodges and lies in his letter for me to ignore. Some good friends convinced me that responding to him would accomplish nothing, and I agreed. But I have some shred of pride, so I composed a response of my own. I only wanted to correct a few accusations that he made, but I ended up writing a 3-page letter, longer than the one he sent. This letter had everything I wanted to say in it, from my rebuttals to saying my own peace. It was the perfect catharsis.

And I had every intention of leaving it unsent. I knew that sending it would do no good, he wouldn't learn a damned thing. No one ever learns anything from a breakup. After the point of no return is reached and both sides are spewing the laundry list of faults that the other posesses, all comments are dismissed as psycho-babble. I knew that it would do no good.

The final straw was the short letter he wrote Melissa after their final argument. It such silly "I hope that someday we can be friends" Shiny-Happy-People bullsh*t, that your average 13 year-old would consider it trite. This was it. I was not content to leave things like this, with him thinking he was a big man, offering us this olive branch at the end. My pride may be small, but it would not stand for that.

So I sent him the letter this morning. I apologize to my friends for not heeding their advice. This wasn't my proudest moment, giving in to the game of verbal revenge, but he was my best friend just a few months ago, the godfather of my only child, the person that I most trusted in the world, and he was not about to leave with his delusions of innocence undisturbed. Betrayal has it's own particular sting, causing a slow burning scorn as it spreads across your pride, converting logic to an irrational desire for revenge, justice, some sort of karmic equilibrium.

I had to send it. It was a moral imperative.

September 10, 2004

Chris vs. Dragon*Con 2004


Melissa took off to the Con around 3:30, leaving Matthew with her parents for the weekend. On the way, she witnessed two car crashes right in front of her, one in which a truck was sent airborne. After the accident, she noticed a familiar-looking Gray Saturn in front of her.
Mel met up with a bunch of her "Arms of Middle Earth" group that has been organizing stuff on the internet, and they're all headed to the LOTR-themed "Night in Bree" with band Emerald Rose.


>>9:05 AM :Mel's dad drops me off at the hotel and I find Mel in short order. After registering downstairs, I head across the street to the Hyatt to see the "Arms of Middle Earth" group off to the parade. I'm a little nervous, like every year, since this con usually holds every ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend that Mel and I ever dated. It's a crap shoot which people from our past we'll run into any given year. It doesn't help my nerves that 3/4 of the women here all look like Alyssa. Or she looks like most of them. Either way, I've got more false alarm panic attacks per day than a pregnant woman with Braxton-Hicks.

>>9:15 AM: The 501st Garrison of stormtroopers are slowly gathering in the hall with about twenty people dressed as Cobra troops (from "GI Joe"). I've never seen lady stormtroopers so ample that they needed a Bullet Bra welded into their chestplate, but this is 2004, gotta think progressively. Personal note: Lara Croft in a short, plaid skirt somehow works. Kind of like her early years in Catholic school or something.

>>9:25 AM:
Okay, a Spiderman in a painted body stocking, complete with visible red thong underwear? That's just not right. And here's a tip for any woman visibly wearing black bikini briefs under control-top pantyhose: If your underwear looks like a blindfold on a beach ball, PLEASE cover up a bit more! We're glad you love your Brazilian Wax, but please keep it to yourself.

>>10:00 AM:
I staked out a spot next to the Hard Rock Cafe for the parade. A Morrisey-looking Superman makes good with a very convincing Supergirl.

>>10:27 AM:
Before the parade group passed me, the brave lad who dressed as Gollum (Maybe "dressed" isn't the right word...) lost this ring on the road. The hobbits were looking for it like a lost contact lens until Melissa found it. As she picked it up and held it out to him, she snapped back into character: "What Am I DOING?? Frodo giving the ring to Gollum?" She ran away from Gollum, with him ambling after her. When the group's Sam character saw this, he brandished his sword and chased after Gollum, shouting "Get back here you stinker! Mr. Frodo! Look out!"
After the group got back to the hotel and had a breather, we were all off to the Food Court for some drinks. As we went across the bridge, I saw two men with "Repent or Perish!" t-shirts rolling up their signs with accusatory slogans on them. What jerks. In all the world, I don't think a few hundred geeks dressing up like movie characters are the biggest threat to Christianity.

>>10:45 AM
The Food court does not have Lambus Bread. I never imagined that there were lady Balrogs, but sure enough, we have one. Not surprisingly, she's overheated. Q: What kind of sub does a Balrog eat? A: Toasted.

>>11:15 AM
An attractive blonde, not looking geeky at all, asks me if I know any D&D groups that she could join. After my jaw's round-trip to the floor and back, I gave her my card. "Yeah, I think I know a couple of groups that would be interested in having you over..."

>>11:32 AM
Fellow Gem Clear Warrior Josh Krach ("not crotch") writes comic books for a collective called Studio Phoenix, whose panel I'm attending. His wife, Kathleen (another friend from UGA) is not feeling well, but hopefully the four of us are still on for lunch. During the panel, member Dan Jolley describes relationship dynamics:
"Editors are like small woodland creatures: You need to approach them slowly and feel how to get them to eat out of your hand, but big arm movements will scare them off."

>>12:30 PM
Melissa and I were supposed to finally get together with Kathy and Josh to catch up, but Melissa and the Ringers (good name for a band), were attempting to cross the road, being stopped every five feet or so for pictures. When we finally get the group together in the food court, there is nowhere for the group of 12 to sit together during the lunch rush. Kathleen, now 5 months pregnant, needs to sit down and eat soon. We decide to split up for now and get together later, so I catch up with J & K while Mel leads the Middle Earthies to Blimpie.
Over lunch, Kathleen and I debate the advantages of having multiple siblings. She says her sibs and step-sibs have done nothing but make her miserable, but I argue that you learn something from every relationship, doubly so for the bad ones. Look at what I learned to avoid after Laurie Handler!

>>4:27 PM
One thing I love about DragonCon is the fact that most people aren't self-centered bastards. They are courteous in lines, even while waiting for Peter Mayhew to sign something. Even the costumed people are personable, and you see most of them spending just as much time behind a camera as in front of one. The Costuming, on the whole, is more an homage to people's favorite characters than a plea for attention.

>>5:41 PM
Geeks do occasionally breed, as evidenced by a stormtrooper dad followed by an Imperial Officer mom with a baby ewok in a back carrier.

>>6:15 PM
Bruce Hopkins (Gamling from LotR) describes seeing the city of Edoras for the first time:
"The landscape opens up to this pristine valley, mountains on three sides, rivers winding through this huge plain. Then there's this...pimple. Right there in the middle of the plain. It WAS like a pimple, and the city of Edoras was the pus on top."

Bruce talked about a literacy program that he and a few other stars of the film worked on. The idea was if kids read the complete Lord of the Rings saga, they would be taken out to see the movies when they came out. Over 15,000 children took part in the program in LA alone.

>>6:55 PM
Back at the room, Melissa, her Sam and I were getting ready for dinner. Melissa's phone rang and Sam answered "Hello, Melissa's pants?" The reply came "What is Samwise doing in Frodo's pants???"

>>7:30 PM
A very large party slowly makes its way towards Pacific Rim, a sushi restaurant down the block. Phil, Anya and some of their friends (including one couple and their baby who were taking refuge from hurricane Frances) sat one end of a long table. At the other end, Josh & Kathleen, Mel and I, and seven others from the "Arms" group, some still in costume. Then Mel made an apology:
"Chris, I'm sorry that I've been off most of today, and I haven't given you much attention."
"What am I, Mr. Bigglesworth? I don't need constant stroking and attention to continue living. You're fine."

>>9:30 PM
The group gradually breaks up, and Mel & the "Arms" people go off to the Hyatt to meet up with the others. Josh asks me "What's it like to be a Hobbit Widow?" I decide to hang with them, and join Josh's co-workers Dan & Marie for a drink in the Marriott garden bar. We sit along the balcony, talking geek stuff and judging the costumes as they pass.
"Oh dear God, do you see that woman in the purple shirt?"
"Eesh! We're going to need a bigger boat."
Kathleen talks up this Playstation horror game called "Fatal Frame" where you go around capturing ghosts with a camera. We debate for a few minutes on whether that "cameras capturing your soul" was a Buddhist or Shinto belief.

>>10:30 PM
Our spirits were dampened when we were, literally, dampened by spirits. Some jerk poured out a strawberry wine cooler from one of the upper floors, and it rained Bartles & James on half of the bar. After washing up, we agreed that the evening was over, and wave goodbye. I make a pass through the Hyatt lobby across the street looking for Mel, but it's wall-to-wall costumes and elbows to arseholes trying to walk through it.

>>11:08 PM
I head back to the room to call it a night. After convincing Anya that her costume makes her look like a goth elf, and not a withered old bat, as she insists, she heads out to join the fray. I wish her the best of luck and turn in.

>>11:35 PM
If geeks have some all-party fraternity with a name like "Kappa Tappa Keg", they have set up shop next door. At least 10 people are in there with a suitcase of Bud Light. They appear to be testing the theory that sound waves, if shouted loud enough, can eventually reach the moon and return as an echo. They later expand this experiment to see if rude words work any better than ordinary shouting.

>>12:?? AM
Melissa stops in to get something, then heads back out with Rebecca. She plans on getting up at 7:30 to be in costume for Emerald Rose's 11:30 concert. "Let me get this straight. You're getting up at 7:30 in order to be fully costumed and dressed for an 11:30 show?" "Well, yeah." "Have fun."

Melissa wakes me up as she comes in, and apologizes that she isn't going to see me tomorrow. (technically, it's later today.) I tell her I understand and goodnight. She tries to explain something to me, but I stop her. "Let me be clear on this: I do care, honestly, about what you are trying to say, but please tell me tomorrow."


>>9:00 AM:
She is Pippin today instead of Frodo. I'm meeting her at the concert at 11:30. She and Merry tell me that one of their group was almost car-jacked last night, but he threw a punch and knocked the woman out of his car.

>>9:45 AM:
I leave a note for Phil & Anya, who appeared mysteriously in the middle of the night. "A&P: Give me a ring on my cell when you two are ready, and we'll get breakfast (or lunch, depending). -Chris"

>>10:00 AM:
By chance, I run into Mel and the fellowship at the food court. After Mel tells me that Anya & Phil got in around 4 AM, I decide that they won't make breakfast. Melissa, as Pippin, is speaking a bit o' Scottish, and misunderstands me when I say that it just isn't right hearing her talk like that. As Pippin, it's pretty good Scottish, but it's slightly disturbing coming out of the lips of my wife.

>>11:10 AM:
Here's why I don't mind being a Hobbit Widow for DragonCon: First, Melissa gets to hang out with some friends, dress up and be silly for a couple of days each year. She's a great wife and mother, so she deserves that at the very least.
Second, it allows me some time to do some geeky things by myself. Failing that, it leaves me with a few hours of quiet time in like-minded company in which to ponder my place in life. This was and is my crowd. And come Monday, I'll return to my home, complete with a beautiful wife and a great kid, which is something that many people here this weekend desperately wish to have themselves. So it reminds me to count myself lucky for the many blessings that I have in my life.

>>11:30 AM:
Emerald Rose, the Celtic band who played at "The One Party" for the Oscars this year, is sounding good this morning. The Middle Earth contingent is off stage left, dancing around and generally being camera flash magnets. EmRose does a song that has, inexplicably, become an audience participation Macarena dance number. The hobbits are more than willing to teach the crowd, and Gollum even takes over center stage to show the people how to do the Hunchback Macarena.

>>12:30 PM:
We take of for "elevensies" at the food court a bit late. Anya was supposed to meet us, but I can't raise her on the cell phone. I go back to the room to look for her, only to happen upon Phil in just a towel, coming out of the shower. I quickly head back to join the others, but I've now lost my appetite.

>>12:30 PM:

Merry's Favorite Drink: Chik-Fil-A Lemonade, Coke, 1 Large Pixy Stick and water. She was neither drunk nor high when she concocted this, only bored. Reminds me of my own "Pan-Galactic GargleBlaster"

Merry: (Brandishing a 2-foot PixyStick) "I challenge you to a duel!"
Merry's Friend: "Hmm, no. That sounds like a lot of work."

>>3:00 PM:
We negotiated a 2PM checkout, but we had to store our stuff in Sam's room. We meet up with Anya and very...very slowly make our way down through the Exhibitors' Hall. Mel picked up the first 3 DVD's of her new anime interest, "Gundam Wing." Anya is arguing with her mother on the cellphone for ten minutes before she rejoins the group, still at it. Anya tells her to put "The Cone" on the dog's head repeatedly, and then denies that Phil and she are going to Nepal for Christmas.

>>3:30 PM:
I steal off to the Comics Room downstairs to get Dan jolley to sign my Bloodhound #1, and I pick up a copy of his Firestorm for good measure. I shake Josh's hand once more and we promise to get together for dinner before they move again.

>>4:30 PM:
Our group gets in line to meet Craig Parker, who played the elf Haldir in "The Two Towers". Meanwhile, I get in line to see George Lowe, the voice of "Space Ghost - Coast to Coast". I say I'm a friend of Joey Googe, who did the "Pal Joey" episode with Space Ghost, and he remembered Joey. He was a really personable guy, and I really got my $20 worth for an autograph, because filled up tha page with various character ramblings and "Any pal of Joey...(sorry I killed him)". Back at Craig Parker's table, Anya, Mel, Sam and our Canadian Frodo chat it up with him and take some group pictures.

>>5:10 PM:
We regroup downstairs with the rest of the fellowship. Mel is off to Sam's room to lie down for a bit and I head downstairs for Phil's autograph panel. I really wanted to get a copy of his novel "Wet Work" or the short-story magazine that carried "Full Throttle" for him to sign, but they both were out of print. I settle for issue #2 of "Evil Ernie" in which Ernie lays waste to The CDC in Atlanta and sets the pseudo-alpine town of Helen, GA ablaze. You know, this Ernie fellow is all right in my book.

>>6:30 PM:
Most of the "Arms of Middle Earth" group gathers for a final dinner outing. First, we head to Mick's, but they close at 7:00 on Sundays. A company of hobbits checks out Hard Rock Cafe, but there's a line out the door. We try the Champions place in the hotel, but they can't seat a party of 20 either. We called around, but no place could seat such a large party, so we eat in the hotel Sandwich Shop. The food is surprisingly good, and there's room for all of us to sit, so it's probably for the best.

>>8:30 PM:
The group heads off to their final showing: "The Sunday Night Costume Free-For-All Photo-Op Riot" in the Hyatt lobby. I kiss Mel goodbye. Shortly after, David Carradine passes me by in an impeccably tailored suit. The man just exudes cool.

>>9:15 PM:
It must have been the largest costume group shot in DCon history. 34 LotR costumed characters commanded a 30' radius of picture-takers. Aragorn (Dusty) did the "It is not this day" speech, the hobbits sang and danced, and the crowd cheered to the unveiling of the new & improved Gollum. (Canadian Frodo gave him a latex skull cap and spine accents with latex and spirit gum. Amazing work on short notice.)

>>10:30 PM:

After an hour and a half of "Flash mobs" on the floor, the whole of middle earth goes to Dairy Queen for drinks and ice cream. The picture was a bit surreal. We all sit at another long table and call it "A Hobbit Thanksgiving."

>>10:55 PM:
In appreciation for her organizing efforts, Melissa leads the whole group to pull Gayle, our beloved Balrog and owner of the "Arms of Middle Earth" group, from her downstairs panel and thank her personally. Afterwards, we all head back to the lobby floor.

>>12:30 AM:
Phil sees me writing in my journal and asks "Are you writing the Great American Novel, Chris?" No," I answer, "Just writing out the police report in advance." A few minutes later, Melissa re-appears. Remember the "Where the Wild Things Are" chicken that cornered her in the elevator last year? Well the girl that was in the suit found Mel and apologized, and they've made their peace.

>>12:42 AM:
The batteries in my camera are gone and I've taken all 136 pictures to fill up my card, so I'm finished for the night. I wish they would have lasted until the end, because the "Where the Wild Things ARe" group from last year stole the show again this year, dressed up as the Muppet Band. (The former chicken was now dressed as "Animal".) I also missed taking pictures of the Stormtrooper Pimps, Stormtrooper Austin Powers, the GI Joe team and Captain Chaos (from "Cannonball Run")

>>1:30 AM:
A few of us, myself included, decide to turn in. Our Sam's friends took off today with the room being paid for, so we crash there instead of trying to drive home so late. I tuck in while Mel and some others go back out.

>>Sunday, 8:40 AM

Sam, Mel and I head downstairs, but we don't press the buttons fast enough, and our elevator returns to the top. "Now who the hell is calling this elevator back to the 25th floor?" Mel asks Sam. The door opens and I think "Who's this guy think he is, unshowered with no shoes and a crumpled transformers t-shirt on?" Mel and Sam, on the other hand, recognize him immediately as Bruce Hopkins (Gamling). He heads off to in search of the sauna.

>>10:30 AM:
We have one last group meal together, and Merry is dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow this morning. Lots of pictures are signed, hugs and promises to e-mail are exchanged all around. Samwise, ever-faithful, accompnies Melissa and I to the parking garage and gives Mel a tearful hug goodbye.

I tip the valet and we drive back into the real world to pick up our son and rejoin the human race.

(See all of the pictures)

September 09, 2004

Crying from The Onion

If there's anything more consistently funny than The Onion's Horoscopes, I've yet to find it.

Sagittarius: (Nov. 22—Dec. 21)
Romance and a felicitous atmosphere for new projects are foretold by the moon passing through your sign this week, as well as—wait a second! That's no moon!

Testing, Testing

...And we're back! We had a little trouble the past couple days with Blogger. Apparently when I renewed my domain this week, I had to do an InterNIC Address Fly-by from ICANN, run the SMTP Routing through Yahoo, and the DNS went all 404 on me.
In any case, The site is up for another year and I'm able to post again. I'm currently working on posting my Dragon*Con stuff from the weekend. Pictures are already up In my Gallery and now on! (I'm credited as "Fiver's Husband.") I'm halfway done with transcribing my weekend journal, so I'll get that up soon as I can. Thanks for bearing with me.

September 07, 2004

Wet Smoke

A few pitiful souls are out in the company courtyard, smoking in the rain while standing under lunch table umbrellas. That's determination, folks. It reminds me of Greg Lee from UGA, who took his first Marlboro Red of the day while taking a shower.

Some of them are looking up, nervously, as if worried that the canvas umbrellas will suddenly turn into those man-eating humanoid bats from "The Beastmaster".

September 03, 2004

Face Time

I finally cleaned up, shaved my south-side goatee and got a haircut. Just as I feared, I look like I'm 23. I'll probably get carded this weekend at Dragon*Con.

And one question for all of you: Did I have this much real estate on my chin BEFORE I grew the goatee? Either that or my mother has a lot of explaining to do about her "Special Friend" Jay Leno.

LinkNews Digest [09/03/2004]

Dawn of the (Cloned) Dead

Viable embryos have been created from dead people by fusing their cells with empty cow eggs, a controversial fertility scientist claimed on Tuesday.

Panayiotis Zavos, of the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine, Lexington, US, say his team has shown that cells taken from humans after death could be used for cloning. This latest work is purely experimental and no embryos were implanted for cloning, said Zavos, announcing the results at his own press conference in London, UK.

However, the claims were immediately met with both revulsion and scepticism from the UK scientific community.

The work is “both scientifically questionable and ethically unacceptable”, says Richard Gardner of the UK Royal Society's working group on stem cell research and cloning. “It is grossly misleading to suggest that you can replicate a loved one by producing a cloned person with the same genetic material.”

“This man preys on the strong desires of the most vulnerable people in society - giving them false hopes,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the UK's National Institute for Medical Research. Other scientists argue that, even if cloning a person were possible, the risk of major birth defects is huge.
Link (New Scientist)

'Till Death Do Us Join?

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African man who shot his pregnant fiance dead before killing himself will be posthumously married to her at the weekend.

Police Captain Mohale Ramatseba said David Masenta shot 25-year-old Mgwanini Molomo after a quarrel before turning the gun on himself. But Johannesburg's Sowetan newspaper said family and friends wanted to remember them as a happy couple destined for a happy life together.

The groom's corpse would be dressed in a cream suit and his bride's in a gown for the ceremony, at which a priest in the rural village of Ceres in Limpopo will bless the union before the two are buried, the Sowetan said.

"In African culture, there is no death -- there is merely the separation of body and soul," said cultural expert Mathole Motshekga. "It is also important because the families are married together."

"This does not mean the relationship has irretrievably broken down."

Furniture To Die For?

JEDDAH (Reuters) - Three men were trampled to death in a rush to claim vouchers at the first IKEA furniture showroom in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, hospital officials said.

Sixteen shoppers were injured at the Sweden-based furniture store's showroom in Jeddah. Medics revived some 20 customers who had fainted in the crush.

The stampede was triggered by an offer for the first 50 shoppers to received $150 vouchers. An official at IKEA's Saudi agent said more than 70,000 people showed up at Jeddah.

Hospital officials said two dead were a Pakistani and a Saudi national. IKEA is known for simple, reasonably priced furtiture products

Atlanta Man Drives Home with Headless Friend

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man who drove home with a friend's headless body after a truck accident then went to bed while the remains dangled out the window faces charges including vehicular homicide and drunk driving, police said on Monday.

John Hutcherson, covered in blood and visibly inebriated, was arrested in bed on Sunday morning after a local resident out on a stroll observed a headless, bloody body hanging out of the 21-year-old man's truck, Cobb County police said.

Hutcherson was due to make an initial court appearance on Monday.

Police said that Hutcherson and his friend, identified as Francis Brohm, 23, were returning from a bar outside Atlanta early Sunday morning when their black 1992 Chevrolet Z-71 pickup hit a curb near a telephone pole.

Brohm, partially outside the window at the time, was decapitated by a guide wire on the telephone pole, according to police, who recovered his head at the crash site. "Alcohol is believed to be a contributing factor," police said.

Ahh, Georgia: Home of the "Walk it off" school of emergency medicine.

"Little Old Lady From Pasadena", Revisited

Giuseppe Cannella had a big surprise for his mother-in-law when he put a jet engine on the back of her wheelchair.

Mr Cannella says the chair can now do top speeds of more than 60mph and has proved the star of a model plane championship during the Bank Holiday. A model plane enthusiast himself, Mr Cannella has been putting on shows at Barkston Heath near Grantham, Lincs.

"It is just the wheelchair with the engine bolted on the back and steering on the front," he said.

Link (BBC)

Seti@Home Finds Signal from Space

LONDON (Reuters) - An unexplained radio signal from deep space could -- just might be -- contact from an alien civilization, New Scientist magazine reported on Thursday.

The signal, coming from a point between the Pisces and Aries constellations, has been picked up three times by a telescope in Puerto Rico.

New Scientist said the signal could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon or even be a by-product from the telescope itself.

But the mystery beam has excited astronomers across the world.

"If they can see it four, five or six times it really begins to get exciting," Jocelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Bath in western England told the magazine.

It was broadcast on the main frequency at which the universe's most common element, hydrogen, absorbs and emits energy, and which astronomers say is the most likely means by which aliens would advertise their presence.

The potentially extraterrestrial signals were picked up through the SETI@home project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through the huge amount of data picked up by the telescope.

Club-Goers Drop Drugs, Drawers In Police Raid

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Around 80 men were caught with their pants down at a men-only nightclub when detectives burst in on a late-night drug raid.

Inspector Dennis Adriao told Reuters Monday four men at "The Factory" nightclub in New Doornfontein were arrested in the early hours of Sunday after drugs were discovered stashed in their socks and shoes, which most patrons were still wearing.

"Men had to pay at the entrance and leave their clothes at the door. Police were tipped off there would be drugs but they got a bit of a shock because they didn't know it was a nudist night," he said.

The owner of the nightclub was also arrested for serving alcohol without a license, and around $4,500 worth of liquor was seized, Adriao said. Drugs were also found dumped on the floor by people who managed to avoid arrest, he added.

You Want REAL Retro?

You think you're a retro-gamer, with your Namco Museum PlayStation disc? Hah! And that gaming-system-in-an-atari-Joystick? Don't make me laugh! When I was young, we had two games: Pong and Tennis. Try a REAL classic game.

It's funny how muscle memory can last two decades: When I sat down to play Night Driver, I wrecked a few times and then got past my anxiety and began cruising, headlights off, down a road lined with sticks. Warlords took the floating dot of Pong and Breakout to a new level: each player, tucked into a corner of the TV screen, protects his or her own bricked fortress while deflecting the bouncing blip at the other three opponents.

Other games that offered a welcome homecoming were the blackjack table in Casino; Video Olympics (a.k.a. Pong a.k.a. digital racquetball), which still lets you put a little "English" on it; Circus Atari, a physically challenging game involving a teeter-totter and flying Atari men; and of course, the mindless Breakout and Super Breakout.

Liberators or Occupiers (pt. 2)

Here's the Acid Test: I propose an Experiment, Zell. Double-or-nothing, let's see if the Bush Regime and the soldiers are on the same page.

Let's put an average American soldier in front of a burning building with Iraqi people inside and a burning oil pipeline. Which do you think he/she will try to save first?

Now, try the same test, except have our President choose.

September 02, 2004

Liberators or Occupiers?

In Zell Miller's speech at the Republican National Convention last night, he made these remarks:

"Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator. And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators...No one should dare to even think about being the commander in chief of this country if he doesn't believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home."
First, I have to say that for people in the National Guard, who signed up to be "Defenders of freedom at home," they are none to happy to find themselves being used as "Liberators abroad" instead. It's shameful that the armed forces swooped into Iraq with guns blazing, and promptly left the duties of policing the country in the hands of the inexperienced, under-funded National Guard.

Imagine that Fox's Rupert Murdoch purchased the Super Bowl in mid-broadcast, only to declare that he was shutting it down effective immediately, and everyone had to vacate the stadium. "And if you have any complaints, please talk to my Public Relations team," announces Murdoch, gesturing to a nervous-looking group of four part-time PR reps. Murdoch himself quickly exits the premises under heavy guard, leaving the reps to deal with an angry mob of 40,000 angry football fans. Now imagine that the stadium is in the desert, the doors have been locked from the inside, and every third fan has a gun, and you are starting to realize what the National Guard stationed in Iraq must feel like.

Now back to the liberators vs. occupiers point. I won't deny the men and women who are stationed overseas the justification for what they are doing. One effect that military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have had IS liberation from some form of oppression, granted. However, the core purpose of these actions was nothing as lofty as freedom.

We went into Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda to defend our country from further attacks. Unfortunately, the groups were so entrenched and accepted into the population that we had no choice but do some civil and social re-engineering to rid the areas of terrorist supporters. Liberation was just a convenient side-effect that was agreeable to our goals.

The invasion of Iraq was a bit more hazy. First, the rationale was a weak link to Al Qaeda operatives and supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction. When that idea fell through, it became "Operation Iraqi Freedom" under the new idea that we were going in under the guise of liberators.

Unfortunately, there was this earlier stint that we Christians did in the middle east, called The Crusades. Well, they're still a bit sore about that whole attempted "reclaiming the Holy Land" thing. (It didn't help when some soldiers started flying the American flag over some buildings.) To counter this mistrust, we have had our leaders playing down any imperialist interests that we have in staying in the country, including calling for other countries to staff the peace-keeping forces. However, this call has gone largely ignored, just as other nations' requests to hold off the Iraqi invasion was ignored by America.

So are we Liberators or Occupiers? The answer is both, but not as much of either as we'd like.

We're less welcome as liberators than the Bush Administration promised that we would be. Make no mistake, thousands of people are happy to be free of a dictator and have basic amenities like electricity and running water. However, some who used to be in power, and others who want to be in power now, would like to say "Thank you America, we'll take it from here, goodbye."

As occupiers, we have posted troops in the country to keep order, specifically, our kind of order. Our government is trying to subtly change the country so that terrorism cannot thrive, but their culture is so vastly different than our own that this is no easy task. All we have to work with is experience of what works for us, namely Democracy, but we have to moderate our policies and yield to their culture. As the British did for India (before they were forced out), The Bush Administration apparently desires to "civilize" Iraq and Afghanistan, clean them up a bit and turn them into countries that you wouldn't mind having over for dinner.

In conclusion, we cannot declare our soldiers liberators or occupiers. Zell Miller is taking cheap shot with this comment, because no one will take anything away from the troops themselves. Like employees of a large corporation, individual soldiers act only on the instructions of their leaders, so it is the policies of these leaders that determines our role. In November, the people will have a chance to vote for the leader whose policies are most like our own, and that will ultimately determine which role we take.