Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

Anyone remember how we got into this mess?

Saudi Arabia Will Grant U.S. Request for Anti-ISIS Training Program

Sept. 10, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — Saudi Arabia has agreed to an American request to provide a base to train moderate Syrian opposition fighters, American officials said on Wednesday.

US pulls out of Saudi Arabia

29 April 2003

The United States has said that virtually all its troops, except some training personnel, are to be pulled out of Saudi Arabia.

But our correspondent says the US troops have become a potent symbol of Washington’s role in the region, and many Saudis see them as proof of the country’s subservience to America.

Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam’s holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden.

It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident – blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks – to justify violence against the United States and its allies.

I Surrender

“Behold, the Underminer! I’m always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!”

—The Incredibles, Pixar

“The key question is whether workers who have been unemployed for a long time eventually come to be seen as unemployable, tainted goods that nobody will buy. This could happen because their work skills atrophy, but a more likely reason is that potential employers assume that something must be wrong with people who can’t find a job, even if the real reason is simply the terrible economy. And there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the tainting of the long-term unemployed is happening as we speak.

“…

“So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.”

—Paul Krugman, “The Jobless Trap,” The New York Times, April 21, 2013

Hey, I’m still here. Is this thing on?

It’s not the longest period of time I haven’t posted anything—a whole two months went by just between posts in mid-November and mid-January—but it’s felt like a long time.

It’s been a crazy six months, and the last month hasn’t even been the craziest part, although it’s been rough in a way all its own. Most of it’s not germane to the quotes above, so I won’t bore anyone with every detail, but Krugman—as he often does—speaks the gospel.

I got my official State of Oregon Private Security Provider (Unarmed Professional) card yesterday, a little over a month after going through a two day training course with some folks who, frankly, had a lot of trouble reading aloud the simple questions we were prepped for on the exam. They passed, too. So forty hours a week—mostly in the middle of the night—I’m a security guard. The card is comically cheesy-looking, on the thinnest of white card stock, chunky in form because it’s a quarter-inch shorter on the long dimension than a business card, just black type over a blue-green state seal, and unequal margins between the type and the edges of the card as little as 1/16″ on one side.

It was seven-and-a-half years ago that I was hired for The Last Director Job in Portland (although there was one other), and it’s been almost six years since I was laid off from it. Over the intervening period, I’ve applied to literally hundreds of positions—even applied for the same position when whoever took it moved on. Very few of those resulted in even a rejection letter. Even fewer got to the interview stage. Seriously, less than ten in nearly six years. And I wasn’t holding out for a job with the salary I’d been getting. I had a little bit of freelance work, so I was more than willing to take something for less money just to smooth out the valleys: I applied to delivery jobs and convenience stores (something I’d actually done). But no takers.

It was twenty years ago, in the flush of the first year publishing my book review magazine, that a columnist from the Oregonian put me on his list of “the most interesting people in Portland.” I was preceded (alphabetically) by discount furniture salesman Tom Peterson and then-senior VP of operations for the Trailblazers Geoff Petrie, and followed by Oregon wine-making pioneer Nanci Ponzi, and Medical Teams International founder Ron Post. The review got me a front-page photo on the cover of the Portland Business Journal in September.

That was twenty years ago, though, and now I’m watching electronic monitors on doors in Hyderabad (rather, one of the Indian Hyderabads, I’m not sure which one), Noida (an Indian city with a population greater than Portland I’d never heard of until a month ago), Grenoble, Munich, and other places—countries if not the actual cities—where I once though we might visit. When I’m not watching the monitors, I’m walking through literally two miles of empty corridors of software engineering offices (plus some assorted other buildings) thinking about poor life choices. I was making a security badge for a woman shortly after the bombing in Boston, and she mentioned that she’d graduated from electrical engineering school there in 1983, which was the same year I would have graduated EE from Oregon State if I hadn’t lost my job, moved back to Eugene, quit school when the ’82 recession hit, yadda, yadda….

It’s not as if I was resting on my laurels after the book review died. I went out on my own as a freelance multimedia developer the next year. I started off renting a cubicle from one of my clients; moved into a (cheap) downtown office with Brad Hicks, a designer I’d met working in the printing industry; then eventually moved with Brad and Peter Sylwester to a space on Hawthorne Boulevard. I taught at Portland State University’s Professional Development Program. I wrote a book, then a few more books. I gave a presentation at Macromedia’s User Conference in 1997 on time-based animation—a topic that’s old hat sixteen years after the fact, but one that was relatively new to a lot of multimedia developers at the time. I also talked about using Bézier curves for animation paths so long ago that my primitive page on the subject is still on the first page of Google searches for “bezier curve.”

My office partner, Brad, came out of a design and marketing firm catering to high-tech clients. One of the clients who stuck with him when he went solo was acquired a couple years later. I used to do the print production on brochures for both companies. A dozen years later, I’m working there as a security guard.

Sometime correspondent Dennis Perrin (author of Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donahue and Red State Son) went from being a New York writer, comedian, and activist to being a janitor in Michigan. He’s back on the circuit again, in DC and NYC, but it took seven years and getting his hours cut and in the process his marriage broke up. And he had more success prior to his fall than I did (my email tag: “I was never enough of a been to be a has-been”). My resume’s a lot more technical; time erodes those accomplishments a bit more quickly.

Lots of people have suggested re-training. I did plunge into Xcode and iOS development several years back, with the hope that I’d build up enough of a skillset to make myself palatable to the numerous mobile developers in the Portland area, but for whatever reason that hasn’t happened. My ambitions for personal projects always seem to outstrip my knowledge, though, and I run into obstacles somewhere beyond the simplest tasks. My game sold about 40 copies. I’ve tried to train up in a couple other disciplines, but whatever I chose, I’m not going to have the expertise for the jobs I see. Unless one of those disciplines is time travel engine building and I can find three-to-five years of on-the-job experience.

Tried to sell a book on politics about post-Vietnam foreign policy, going so far as to meet the late George McGovern. Wrote a graphic novel series proposal based on an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for thirty years. Shopped some of the work that Barbara’s written over the years. Blogged—a lot—on politics and headed to Philadelphia to meet up with Atrios and the gang to see if I could get some ideas. But it’s been 0 for whatever.

At the end of February, I submitted an application for a Flash job in Seattle. Now, I’ve been working in Flash as a programmer for over sixteen years. I know I’m not a Flash superhero and frankly, as a freelancer, most of my work’s pretty pedestrian: kiosks and the like, done on small budgets. If I was working on big-budget jobs, there wouldn’t be an issue. But it was sort of a gut-punch when, after being asked to submit some code samples, it took less time to be rejected than it took for me to put the samples together. If I can’t get even an interview for a Flash programming job, I have a hard time imagining why anyone would look at my resume and think I was qualified for anything else.

Then, a week later, I got the call. The very first job offer I’ve had in five years and nine months. And I took it with the sinking feeling that it meant the end of whatever chance I had of regaining a professional career.

It’s a different lifestyle at the bottom end of the pay scale. In inflation-adjusted dollars, I’m making less than I was when I left the bookselling job I had during my second college stint. And I gave notice at that job on April Fool’s Day, 1991. I work four graveyard shifts, then a day shift, so I don’t actually have two “days” off. Monday and Tuesday, I’m getting off work right at the morning commute; I spend close to a full shift in transit each week. And I’m actually one of the lucky ones, I get paid more than most of the folks I went through training with because we use computers.

The sleep schedule thing has had me cat-napping on the couch a lot; I don’t think I’ve spent more than two or three nights a week in bed. That, in turn, has affected my functionality on the freelance projects I have. Working long hours isn’t a problem. Programming when your sleep cycles are messed up might be.

And that’s a definite concern going forward. I took the job because I haven’t had enough freelance work to support my end of the household expenses. But if I lose the freelance work (each of the small jobs I’ve had in the past couple months pays roughly a month’s wages), I’m back in the same financial bind, but with no chance that I’ll get a bigger project. Neither revenue stream by itself is enough, my time is more restricted, both in terms of flexibility (take off for Adobe MAX for the chance of learning something new? I’ll get a week of vacation starting April 2014) and volume (difficult to learn something new when you’re working two—or one-and-a-half—jobs). I live in constant fear of my computer dying (my iPad screen kicked the bucket yesterday) or an OS update that forces a software update cascade. That portfolio’s not getting any fresher.

The thing is, we’re still better off than most. The house is probably going to be paid off soon—one good decision I did make was to push to get us something permanent back in 1990 while the neighborhood was still full of skinheads and junkies. My small retirement account is gone, but Barbara has hers. We’ve got health insurance. But the downward pressure feels awfully strong.

Gun Belt

So, some Oregon sheriffs in what I’m going to dub the state’s “Gun Belt” have decided that they’re not going to enforce whatever laws they think infringe on the rights of gun owners, come the Obama/Biden/Hitler/Stalin clampdown on assault weapons and big-ass magazines. They’ve managed to get a lot of national press,papers are full of letterssupporting and denouncing them. Everyone’s happy with the controversy.

You can kind of see the wheels set in motion, though, for the following scenario in the counties where these guys and their ilk across the country take their stand. Some bozo (B) with a bunch of guns gets a pass from Sheriff X. B’s cousin D takes one of the items X should have xonfiscated from B (according to federal law, aw least) and kills or maims citizen Y. Y’s family sues X and the county government he works for for failure to enforce the law.

The courts haven’t looked kindly in the past on suits of failure to enforce laws. Drunk drivers have been stopped by police, let go, and been involved in fatal crashes, and legal action against the departments involved have been fruitless. There are gaps in the enforcement of restraining orders that have been the bane of domestic abuse cases for years. But a creative legal mind might be able to piece together a winning strategy that would circumvent the courts’ customary reluctance to hold officers accountable for their lack of action.

A Man, A Man, A Plan, Not Approved

In a profile of Democratic US Representative Kurt Schrader in yesterday’s Oregonian, reporter Charles Pope inserts these two explanatory paragraphs after a mention of the Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:

Simpson-Bowles is a reference to Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who co-chaired a committee appointed by President Barack Obama charged with writing a blueprint for reducing the deficit. They did, producing a work that cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax hikes and changes in Medicare and other entitlements.
 

It was ignored.

As anyone who’s followed the history of the commission is well aware, it was established with a requirement that the “final report will require the approval of at least 14 of the Commission’s 18 members.” The report that came out of the committee received only 11 votes, however, and was therefore unapproved.

Yet Pope’s article—like much reporting about Simpson-Bowles—elides that part of the story, through unfamiliarity with the subject or willful ignorance.

There are two particular points in the quotes paragraphs that I thought were particularly misleading. “They did” in the second sentence clearly—to me, at least—refers to the committee and its appointed task of writing a deficit-reduction plan. While it’s technically true that a plan was written, it was never approved by the committee (under the committee’s own rules) so it seems a shade untrue to claim that they accomplished their task.

The three-word paragraph “It was ignored.”, set apart for obvious emphasis, further implies that the committee’s plan was one that had been agreed to. If the plan wasn’t approved, there’s really nothing to be ignored. What you have instead is a plan that didn’t meet the criteria for implementation.

I pointed out the fact that the plan hadn’t been passed by the committee in emails to the Oregonian Letters page and to the reporter, then received this note back from Therese Bottomly, the managing editor.

Thanks for your note. The story said they wrote the blueprint. It doesn’t say anything about the committee approving it.

My response added that reasoning was further clouded by the paragraph about the plan being ignored, to which Ms. Bottomly reiterated:

Hi, I think it is clear that when we say “they did” we mean they did write a blueprint. Thanks for reading.

I pointed out that this ignored the part about the unapproved plan being ignored. Her last response:

Hi, it might have been better to include that it did not clear the committee, but the overall point is there was a lot in there that could have been worked on. There is a lot of history to that plan the story did not go into.

I guess that’s good enough for the Oregonian. It doesn’t matter if the story’s facts are accurate so long as it feels right. Truthiness will out. My last note to the editor:

The history that it does go into is flat-out wrong, though, which is the reason I wrote. Merits or detractions of the plan aside, saying the plan was “ignored”—the longest of three words in a paragraph clearly meant to emphasize the point that no action was taken—itself ignores why the plan wasn’t implemented.

It was never approved. In order to be implemented, it had to get approval of the committee. Without an approved plan, there was no official committee report and there was nothing to ignore.

These are basic facts that were wrong in the story. You’re not doing the public a service by pretending it was accurate or that more explanation would have cleared things up. It’s simply inaccurate to claim that a plan was produced by the committee and then ignored—which is the gist of the two paragraphs I referenced in the article—when, if fact, no plan was released by the committee.

Callback to the Blog Motto

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.
Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.
Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

—George Santayana

Forward

—2012 Barack Obama campaign slogan

Hueydan

It was twenty years ago this fall that I published the first issue of my long-gone book review magazine. The main feature in that premiere—which came out just before the 1992 Bill Clinton/George H. W. Bush election—was a paired review of eponymous political books: Doug Rennie’s on the newly-published David McCullough biography of Harry Truman and my own of Huey Long by T. Harry Williams (a book published in 1969). Up until just a few years ago, the online version of the Long review was on the top page of a Google search for his name; since the 75th observance of his assassination, it’s been moved down a bit, largely by the establishment of hueylong.com.

I’ve tried to observe the date of Long’s death on this blog since its second year in 2005 in one way or another since 1995, when the 70th anniversary coincided with the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans and the devastation of the Gulf Coast.

This year, however, I promise to kick it up a notch for 2013. Inspired by Zappadan, the festival that takes place between the anniversaries of Frank Zappa’s death (December 4, 1993) and birth (December 21, 1940), next year, I’ll be figuring out something to do for Hueydan, between Long’s birth (August 30, 1893) and death (September 10, 1935).

September 8 is the date Huey Long was shot in the rotunda of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. He died two days later.

Syrian Chaos

Meanwhile, on NPR yesterday, they were breathlessly implying that Israeli intelligence officials were claiming the government had linked up with al Qaeda, just before an al Qaeda-style bombing that may have killed two of the government’s top defense officials. Meanwhile, back in the spring, SoS Clinton was warning that arming the rebels could aid al Qaeda. The written report on NPR’s web site said Israeli intelligence was concerned terrorists might use the Syrian state’s lack of control to stage attacks on the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Then, of course, there are still something like a million Iraqi refugees in the country who fled our last goodwill mission in the region.

Don’t Cross the Beams!

Mostly, the streams of my news feeds don’t intersect much: multimedia programming, politics, poker. Not to much crossover between them. But this morning, two news stories were right next to each other. The first was about how gambling revenues have slowed in the Chinese city of Macau, which has been given a certain amount of creative license by the normally conservative Chinese government because it’s been a money-maker.

When the junket business gets ugly in Macau, it can get gang war ugly. Last month, junket and casino operator Ng Man-sun was beaten by six men with sticks and hammers — at his own casino. Authorities are hoping it was an isolated incident and not the start of a gang war like those that plagued Macau in the 1990s.

The very next story in my news feed was about Newt Gingrich backer Sheldon Adelson (who’s since moved on to Mitt Romney). Adelson’s a major foreign investor in—among other places—Macau:

Where competitors saw obstacles, including Macau’s hostility to outsiders and historic links to Chinese organized crime, Adelson envisaged a chance to make billions.

Adelson pushed his chips to the center of the table, keeping his nerve even as his company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in late 2008.

The Macau bet paid off, propelling Adelson into the ranks of the mega-rich and underwriting his role as the largest Republican donor in the 2012 campaign, providing tens of millions of dollars to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other GOP causes.

Now, some of the methods Adelson used in Macau to save his company and help build a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion have come under expanding scrutiny by federal and Nevada investigators, according to people familiar with both inquiries.

Now, if only the next story is about some new touchscreen technology in Macau casinos, I’ll have hit the trifecta.

Overflight

Something that’s barely mentioned (and usually not at all) in all the talk in recent months about how the Israelis ought to whack the Iranian nuclear facilities, just in case they’ve got a nuclear weapons program cooking, ought to be obvious in the map (via Wikipedia) above.

The Atlantic ran a number of maps showing target areas, on the heels of a New York Times article about possible strike scenarios. The Atlantic only reprints a quote that any Israeli aircraft would need to cross “more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace.”

The Times article mentions that the “most direct” route would need to overfly both Jordan and Iraq, stating that after the December withdrawal, the US “no longer has the obligation to defend Iraqi skies.” Of course, the US has effectively controlled most of Iraqi airspace since the Gulf War more than twenty years ago and it’s had total control for nearly a decade. The US would need to turn a blind eye to any Israeli overflight in a way they surely would not if, say Syrian or Iranian jets flew into Iraqi airspace. Particularly if the operations would require “at least 100 planes” for bombing and refuel tanker protection. US air defenses in Iraq would look pretty incompetent if they claimed they didn’t notice something like that going on overhead.

Thirty years ago, the Israelis were able to pull off a strike on a nuclear reactor near Baghdad, overflying Saudi Arabia just south of the Jordanian border. As the map shows, though, even if they were able to get away with the same type of southern route, they’d still need to cross part of Iraq or the Persian Gulf, again fairly well-surveilled by US air patrols and radar.

To the north, of course, there’s Syria and (again) Iraq or Turkey.

The real question would be, I think, would anyone try to take on Israeli planes crossing their territory? At the very least, in addition to the US ignoring their attack, Israel would need to be sure that Jordan and/or Saudi Arabia had no plans to hinder operations. Saudi Arabia doesn’t exactly have any love for the Iranians but o massive overflight of Israeli planes might not be a particularly popular political move. People might start to wonder what all the jets and other military hardware the Saudis keep buying are for if not to enforce the soverignty of their soil. It seems unlikely that Syria would let Israeli planes fly unharassed, even if it was unable to completely prevent them from doing so.

Which puts things back in the US camp. All of the foaming at the mouth about how Israel is champing at the bit to launch an attack on Iranian sites comes down to whether the US is going to go along with it. There’s no way the US armed services can maintain credibility that they would have no knowledge of a sizable strike through most of the possible attack corridor. Everything south of the Turkish border to the Straits of Hormuz has been watched over by US land-, air-, or sea-based radar systems for two decades. The US isn’t likely to attack Israeli jets flying over Baghdad on their way to strike zones in Iran, but not telling them to back off in the same manner they would another country’s planes. Failure to do so will undoubtedly lead to charges of co-ordination between the US and Israel in any attack and extend any retribution to American-related targets.

Iranians are likely to remember that the USS Vincennes managed to shoot down an Iranian airliner—thinking it was an Iranian F-14—even though it was in Iranian airspace when it was supposedly acting aggressively.