What’s wrong with Iraq this time around

Iraq was about all we talked about at work today, before the grisly incident of today became public. Actually I should say other people talked. I didn’t do much but listen.

This is about all I have to say.Last time around, I wouldn’t say we were above reproach, but there was something very different. Last time around we were liberators. George Bush went on the air and told the Iraqis we treated their prisoners with kindness. We stood in stark contrast to Saddam Hussein. We got in, did our work, then got out. We fought more like Israel than like the United States of the late 20th century.

Whether we were justified in going back in and going after Hussein isn’t an argument I want to broach. Someone asked me several months before we did it what I thought. I said I knew we were going to have this war. It was just a question of when, and how long.

It’s been a lot longer than the last go-round.

The stories of brutality to prisoners ignited controversy. Who’s responsible? Was it justifiable? As I listened to people arguing about it, I tried to place myself in the role of a soldier guarding these prisoners. Let’s say a superior told me to do something to them. If I’m the one doing the smacking around, it doesn’t matter if I was just following orders. The guys in the Nazi death camps were just following orders too. They have a conscience. They’re guilty.

But the Nazis worked in fear of retribution, you say.

Do you think our soldiers had no fear of retribution if they didn’t carry out orders? Doing the right thing might not get you killed on the spot in the U.S. military, but do you think it might keep you from getting promoted? Do you think you might be the one picked to go into harm’s way? There’s still plenty of room for retribution in today’s U.S. military.

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, "The buck stops here."

Today it’s not very clear where the buck stops. It’s pretty clear who those Islamic militants blame. All of us.

So what’s the right thing to do now?

Part of me wants to go back to George Washington. Washington warned against getting too tangled up in international affairs. World Wars I and II were different–we were dragged into those. Kicking and screaming all the way, in the case of World War I. We haven’t fought many good wars since those.

Part of me says it’s a different world today, and it’s not realistic to be the world’s only superpower and ignore international affairs.

Part of me asks what I would do if I were Donald Rumsfield or George W. Bush.

Well, I’m a Promise Keeper. One of the Promise Keepers’ mantras is that the man is responsible for what happens in his house. Even if someone else in the household does it, the man had something to do with it, so he has to bear some of the responsibility. That same attitude goes into the workplace, and any position of authority.

Frankly it keeps you honest.

If I were Secretary of Defense, I think I would have to step down. Not because I want to, and not necessarily because people were calling for me to. The reason? To send a message.

So, what of these militants who did this despicable and, frankly, disgusting act?

Some will call for a war on Islam. That’s not the way to show what freedom is all about. If I may go back to my childhood for a minute, when I was growing up, I was always told I was representing more than just myself. I was representing the orgainization I belonged to–be it the Boy Scouts, or the school I went to. So I needed to show people what those things were all about, through my actions. I didn’t always do it perfectly, and I still don’t. But I can honestly say that I did at least try.

Through our actions in the Middle East, we need to be showing these people what Freedom–yes, capital "f"–is all about.

We sure did a better job of that in 1991 than we’re doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying.

So what if we change our ways? Will we win them over? Not tomorrow we won’t. Freedom isn’t free. In this case, it’s starting to get really expensive. But I think it might have been cheaper if we’d done it right from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: Either way, it would have been a long and painful process. But maybe it would have taken one century instead of twelve.

We got our man. We got his obvious successors. We didn’t find what we were looking for. We accomplished some worthwhile things, but we kind of look bad too.

I think we have to decide whether we are willing to pay the escalating cost, or go back to George Washington.

Airshows, photography and Linux routing

Gatermann and I went out shooting again yesterday. More exploration of the warehouse district, and we found out that the warehouse district is a halfway decent place to watch an airshow. A couple of cargo planes buzzed us, tipping us off to what was going on, so I went chasing. I’m not the airplane junkie my dad was (few people are), but I’m still a sucker for exotic military planes. I borrowed Gatermann’s telephoto lens and took shots as planes went by. A pair of vintage P-51 Mustangs zoomed by, so I got a few shots of those. A couple of modern fighters made a brief appearance, but I couldn’t get them into the lens quickly enough to identify them. Chances are they were F-16s; not as common a sight as they once were, but you still see them.
I was hoping for a chance to see the Stealth Bomber; about four years ago I was in St. Louis on the 4th and as Gatermann and I were stepping outside to go get something to eat, we heard a low rumble overhead, looked up, and got a spectacular view of the rarely seen and highly classified B-2. Of course there wasn’t a camera in sight so we didn’t get a shot.

This year, a B-52 came from out of nowhere. It was huge–I mean HUGE–and very obviously not an airliner. I’d never seen one in person before so I didn’t identify it immediately. I got it in the camera, zoomed in on it, and figured out what it was. I got several shots. The B-52 is an oldie but a goodie; we used it heavily in Vietnam and in the late 1970s we intended to replace it with the B-1. Carter cancelled the B-1; later Reagan re-initiated it, but it was a disappointment. The B-1 never fully replaced the B-52 and now there’s talk of decommissioning the B-1 completely.

The B-52 was followed by a series of stunt pilots. I guess that’s good for oohs and ahhs, but I wanted to see weird airplanes.

The grand finale was the B-1. It totally snuck up on me; I think Gatermann spotted the thing first. I recognized it but the camera couldn’t catch it–the autofocus wasn’t fast enough. I switched to manual focus and waited. And waited. I spotted it looping around on the east side of the river; most non-classified stuff makes two passes. But you can’t get a good shot from that distance with this lens. I never saw it come back. It didn’t really look like it was landing (Scott Air Force base is across the Mississippi River, in Illinois), but I couldn’t find the thing. I gave up, turned around, and started walking back when Tom yelled and pointed. I quickly turned around, and the B-1 was just barely in range. I pointed and shot as it disappeared behind a warehouse. I think I got it.

I shot more than a full roll of just airplanes.

After airplanes and lunch, we headed out to CompUSA. Gatermann wanted a KVM switch; I wanted Baseball Mogul 2002. A Belkin 4-port switch was $200. A Linksys was $150. Gatermann grabbed the Linksys. I came up empty on Baseball Mogul. We went back to his place, hooked up the Linksys, and it was a real disappointment. It doesn’t pass the third mouse button. Numlock doesn’t work. And it has a slight ghosting effect on the picture. I didn’t notice it but Gatermann did. Stepping the resolution down and lowering the refresh rate didn’t help a whole lot. He’ll be taking the Linksys back. (To Linksys’ credit, the box is made in Taiwan, though its wall wart is made in Red China. I’m not a fan of financing World War III, nor am I a fan of slave labor, so I try to avoid products made in Red China whenever possible. Gatermann does too. I’m not sure what his reasons are but Red China’s treatment of the seven prisoners of war after their pilot kamikazeed our spyplane probably has something to do with it.)

Bottom line: Belkin’s KVM switches are better. I like the Linksys’ metal case better than the plastic case on my Belkin, but the Belkin performs a lot better and its buttons feel more solid. I also like the ability to change displays from the keyboard, rather than having to reach over to the switch like the Linksys requires.

I’m generally not impressed with Linksys’ products. Their DSL router, though it looks really slick, doesn’t forward ports very well. If you just want to split off a cable or DSL connection, it’s great. If you want to learn how the Internet works and run some servers behind your firewall, it’s going to frustrate you. It’s just not as stable as Gatermann’s Pentium-75 running Freesco, which we cobbled together from a bunch of spare parts. Get a used Pentium-75 motherboard with 8 megs of RAM, put it in a $20 AT case along with a $15 floppy drive and a pair of $15 PCI NICs and download Freesco, and you have something much more versatile and reliable for half the price. And a lot of us have most of that stuff laying around already.

And Linksys network cards are absolute junk. Their workmanship isn’t good, their drivers aren’t stable, and the cards have a tendency to just die. Or they age really poorly, spitting out tons and tons of bad packets as they carry out their wretched lives. Netgears are much better, and not much more expensive.

I also gave Gatermann’s Linux configurations a look. Freesco didn’t appear to be forwarding port 80, even though we configured it to, and Apache was installed and I’d verified it was working by opening a browser and going to 127.0.0.1. I tried a variety of things–including forwarding the ports manually from a command line, using the ipportfw command if I remember right–but it never worked. Finally, I tried hitting the Web server from a Windows PC inside Gatermann’s private network. It was denied too. Workstation-oriented Linux distros tend to come locked down really tight by default these days, which is probably a good thing in general, but it makes it really hard to just turn on Web services to the world. I know it can be done but I wouldn’t know where to begin. So I had him download TurboLinux Server 6.5, which will probably solve all his web serving problems.

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