Monday, November 24, 2008

Reminders of the past...

This past weekend, I had a chance to re-connect with an old friend from High School that I haven't seen in 15 years, save a brief howdie in 1999.

Jason and I literally kept talking until 1:45 in the morning. Talking with him, I began to miss those days, and I couldn't figure it out. On the drive home, it hit me: It was the friendships.

There is something about being in a large cluster of friends everyday without much in the way of formality.

I remember being in a large group of friends in High school group, Jr. High, going to Camp Cedar Crest and hanging out, being crazy, and being free to be goofy with one another.

Dating usually meant you brought someone into your group of friends.

Nobody was really really dating seriously at that time (get real people), so the concept of isolation from one's friends because of a dating relationship was usually a sign of a high maintenance relationship that wasn't going to last summer or college separation.

Talking to Jason, I began to realize that the way he included people was the formation of my current desire to include people in everything I do.

But, most importantly, some of the pain of my arrival to Santa Barbara began to come into focus.

The part I miss most from High School times is the lack of pretense in relationships. The ability to simply be one's self around other people, and not put up an act to keep people from possibly being uncomfortable with so much personal knowledge of each other; Being transparent to friends you could trust implicitly, because you hadn't learned, or needed, to put up guards.

Every year for the past few years, I make a trek up to Stanford around Christmas-time to visit another old friend. I look forward to it all year, but it has always been more than just a chance to unwind. Talking with Jason, the reason became clear: I could be myself. This other friend (now married to a lovely young lady, equally as friendly) is much the same. There is no need to hide, put up barriers, etc. This is someone with whom I can be my silly, goofy self with, and there hasn't been a need to keep them at arm's length. I can be silly, goofy, and vulnerable without having to worry about being hurt.

At a wedding yesterday with Tab, I realized the extent that I had emotionally not allowed her words and actions to affect me, keeping her at arm's reach internally, despite her earnestly seeking me out. Interacting with her at the reception, now armed with this renaissance viewpoint, I think I fell in love with her a little more. I could be in real trouble here. :)

Side note: In talking with Jason I found out I unwittingly embarrassed him at a High School outing in front of a girl he was very interested in at the time. Evidently, it was so thorough that he didn't stand a chance. He can finally laugh about it now. I had no idea. Oops.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflection on warnings from the past...

Last night, I finally got a chance to watch a film I've been meaning to see for awhile now, Downfall.

It chronicles the final moments of Adolf Hitler and his immediate advisers in the final moments of the F├╝hrerbunker. It is taken from a wide variety of sources, including his secretary, Trudl Junge, whose interview takes place right before the start of the movie.

An amazing performance by all involved. In reading up on the background of the film, they address the touchy subject of making a movie where Adolph Hitler is not portrayed as a raving, screaming, larger-than-life evil madman at all times. He is being portrayed as being kind to his dog, kind to his soon-to-be wife, etc.

He is portrayed as being almost resigned to carry out his extermination of the jews and betrayal of the protection of the German people as part of the "laws of nature", with the weaker being destroyed by the stronger, and thus not fit to live in his vision of a rebuilt Germany.

It's amazing that those who don't want history to repeat itself demand he be portrayed as someone with no balance. They want to see a characterization of him as someone who was vicious all the time towards everything he touched.

This is dangerous because it leaves others to wonder why anybody would follow such an obviously deranged character. They then carry on their lives feeling themselves immune to such shenanigans because they are under the mistaken notion that anyone that evil will be as easy to spot as movie villains.

I realized that in order to learn the lessons of the past, you have to take all sides of the man. One reviewer put it succinctly: "We know from all accounts that he was a very charming man —a man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism."

Please don't get me wrong. He was an evil, evil, evil man, and I don't advocate anything of his means, or his ends. Sun Tzu said in "The Art Of War" that: "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles"

What jumped out at me, however, was the amount of hero worship that everyone displayed. Even until the end, people were blindly putting their Hope in him, waiting for him to pull off a Change They Could Believe In that would save Berlin, save Germany, and save his vision of a third Reich.

The message of the movie seemed to say that blindly following someone simply because they seem inspirational is dangerous, and can send you down some really bad paths you won't realize until it's too late.

It's a good thing that we here in the US don't suffer from that at all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fire update...

So it turns out Tab's house pulled through fine. One wall in the living room was damaged (we haven't surveyed it yet).

Evidently, a bush caught fire right outside the place. According to her roommate, Tab's other roommate kept the door unlocked, so the firemen were able to make entry to the house and clean the fire. Which makes me wonder if there is now water damage to the house.

Which isn't bad, because Tab kept a lot of her chick flicks in the living room. (hee hee hee)

After travelling to LA to get away from the fire, we stayed at my parent's place in Woodland Hills, which was directly downwind from the Sylmar fire (too far away to be in harm's way, unless you count smoke inhalation), we had to travel to Costa Mesa on the 405 (going through the cloud created by the Palos Verdes fire), and later to Azusa (Corona Fire cloud).

Joe's All-Socal Fire tour is done for the year. Our monthly intake of Carbon Monoxide is complete, thankyouverymuch.

All of our clothes smell like we have been at CPAC bonfires for a month. My clean clothes, which hadn't been anywhere near any of the fires smell like smoke from association in my trunk.

Thank you for everyone who prayed for Tab. From the description of the damage, it would appear that all her possessions everything came through ok, except for the possibility of smoke smell.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Incidental heroes, and hopeful re-beginnings...

(Originally sent out in the wee hours of 14NOV08, then re-tooled to correct an erroneous assumption we had made due to the house being pelted with live embers.)

Soooo.....tonight has been more eventful than I had originally planned, with circumstances too contrived to be anything but divine timing.

After an exceedingly dull day at work. (UML....whee?) I was scheduled to go running with Tabitha and Mike Beck. Sooo, we are driving down to SBCC, when I notice a wildfire kinda close to where I estimate Mike Beck's house to be.

So I give him a call.

He re-assures me in his "Don't worry, I've got the situation well in hand" way that I am so terribly jealous of, that the fire is way far away from his place.

After we park at SBCC ten minutes early, I get a second call, with him telling me that after seeing the fire, he's kinda worried himself (vindication!!!), and that he's going to run up to his place and make sure.

So, the two of us are sitting in my car, Tabitha bored waiting for Mike, and suggesting that maybe we should start the run or at least stretch out before he got there, when I think about where the fire is in relationship to Tab's home.

I called my brother and Derek, but neither of them could get to the phone. I called Justin. He was in SLO, and hadn't heard about it at all. Finally, I get ahold of Sanford. I asked if he was in front of a computer.

Then I remembered who I was talking to.

He informed me the fire was north of the 192 by Hot Springs Road. Suddenly, Tabitha was not so lethargic. "That's my neighborhood" she said, no longer quite as bored.

We cancelled running with Mike, and raced up to her house. As we went higher and higher into the mountains, the smoke got thicker. I was reminded of all the people who told me that smoke inhalation, rather than flame, is the most dangerous part of any fire. Putting that away, we scurried up the road to her house.

People were leaving the neighborhood in droves. The entire scene reminded me of stereotypical movies and cartoon scenes when the lights come on in a dark room and all the roaches scurry away to safety. Except all the roaches in this case were cars. And we were the lone roaches going back in.

About 3/4s of the way up, my "low fuel" light came on. Yup, Joe was being macho, and trying to delay getting fuel until the last possible minute. Now the mental movie had us coming back down the mountain, and running out of fuel halfway back down.

Getting up to her house, the smoke betrayed the location of the light beams, reducing visibility. As we parked, I began noticing the ash flying into the beamwidth.

Stepping outside, the smell of a really big CPAC bonfire hit almost immediately.

Tabitha got into her place, and started to go through her stuff, leisurely at first, but with increased vigor as I impressed upon her the probable need to quickly pack as if she were EVACing her place forever. (Order of importance: Medicine, Photos, Computers, Firearms, Stocks/bonds/mementos.)

We called her roommates and asked if there was anything we could get while we were in the area. Only one answered, and gave us a location and list of things we could collect for her in case she didn't make it in time.

Loading up the car, I noticed a live ember fly up over the car. I continued to load, and the roommate arrived. She was in a panic, as the smoke was noticeably thicker, with the lights from the flames in the distance getting brighter, indicating a closer proximity.

The roommate arrived with somebody from work who was helping her pack. As I mentioned earlier, she was quite distraught, and her friend was calming her down and directing her as to what was important. However, she was still so shaken up that when she loaded some papers of hers in the trunk, it spilled in the fire-induced high winds and spread into the street, blowing about, making the roommates sense of despair that much more tangible.

While loading Tabitha's stuff in the car, I very quietly took the roommate's stuff I had previously loaded in the car out, and put it in her car.

Looking back, the roommate's friend said, "we have to go. Now."

I turned to see the winds had shifted, and were coming in our direction now. The fires were close enough that they were lighting the street. Just then, a cloud of embers landed in the street.

I rushed into the house, told Tabitha we were leaving immediately, and "was that the last of it?" She said yes, made sure she had her keys, but couldn't find her phone. I wish I could tell you that I said something re-assuring and inspirational, but I believe my exact words were, "F*ck the phone. You can get a new one."

I have never been so glad in my life to hear the sweet sound of an engine turning over. Say what you will about Fords, but this engine came to life as if it was just as eager to leave this stereotype of hell on earth as we were.

Barrelling down the mountainside, I struggled to remember what the manual said about the "Low fuel" light. Did that mean 30 miles? 50 miles? Was that only until the reserve tank was used?

Traffic seemed to flow until we got to the first round-about. Because of police EVAC and blockading, traffic ground to a halt. As Tabitha used my phone to make calls, I sat there quietly sweating, and wondering why and how I had succumbed to the male necessity to stretch things out to the ultimate end. "A half tank" I resolved, "from here on out, I will always leave a half tank". I probably won't, but it's like a new year's resolution: You make them with the best of intentions.

We got onto the freeway, and I breathed a sigh of relief as we made the turn off of the 101 and onto the 217. Getting off at Hollister, I went immediately to the Exxon Station. I filled up, and called around to make sure that anyone else we knew in the area was ok. We tried to locate her cell phone, and we thought we heard it in the car, but it seemed unlikely.

Getting back to our place, we stopped at our neighbors who had a TV and asked if we could tune in to see if there was any new news about the fire. Jeff and Leah are the most awesome neighbors anyone could ever ask for. They invited us in, and when they heard about Tabitha's ordeal, immediately offered her some wine, which she readily accepted. While watching, they practically insisted that we eat some leftovers they had (a *wonderful* combination of pasta, garlic, Parmesan, and cauliflower), we sat and watched the fire devour more than a few homes.

We returned a few things to the roommate that I forgot I hadn't given her at our previous encounter. She was surprised that I had thought to bring her PCMCIA wireless card as well as her laptop and power supply (hello? geek here!), as well as a box that had Bond Certificates in it.

We then made the trek out here to my parent's place. And here I sit, at 0146 in the morning. The news reports that we read at the time seemed to suggest that, barring a miracle, my GF's house was nothing more than crispy crunchy ash.

We got out the critical stuff at the time: laptop, majority of day-to-day clothes, medicines. We even found the cell phone after a bit of digging.

But, all this would not have been possible had one person not been at his station, and helped us out: Sanford, I owe you big for this one. Next time you get up here, it's Middleton's for you, my friend.

I made a stupid mistake early on in my last Computer setup (RAID0). As a result, I lost everything when one of the drives failed. I lost all of the emails that I had kept since 1995, all the funny pictures I had made or found online, all the love letters and IM fights, all my digital homework, programming files, all the goofy stuff I had been up to since 1996.

It felt like a past that identified me with my surroundings of the time had been lost; like a part of my life now had the capacity to fade away, the digital reminders of life previous to my current one were that much more tenuous. Easily lost, and with all likelihood, only being recalled when something jogged it, either in conversation or by association.

That is how I imagine it must have felt for her as we initally considered the house a total loss.

At the time, we made some attempt to quantify it: all her books, chick flick DVDs (which means the fire wouldn't have been ALL bad), all her clothes not in my car, her chair, bed (which used to be my brother's, then mine.), would be gone.

I had to make a restart when I bid adieu to those RAID0 drives (burn in hell you faulty 150GB Maxtors). It's a sick feeling. But at some point you can do nothing more but resolve that you are going to move on from that point.

So here is to holding out hope that her house is still standing, complete with books, knick-knacks, and one way-too-big-for-her-room chair.

However, if the chick flicks were to somehow go missing, I know *I* wouldn't shed a tear. :)

(present day, now)

We came to LA ahead of schedule to spend the weekend with my parents. Tonight, while cuddling on the couch after swing dancing, I noticed the smell of fire. Having been in the proximity of fire so recently, I dismissed it as being attached to various pieces of clothing that were involved in the fire. Come to find out that it was actually the Sylmar Fire that blew directly into my parent's direction.

So, we escaped the Montecito fire, only to be in the Sylmar fire. Aren't we lucky?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I'm breaking my own rules...

I generally don't write about politics, but recent events have forced my hand. (And yes, I am opening myself to outside critique in this public forum).

Recently, someone asked for us to view the Obama campaign with "I sincerely hope those who don't believe in Obama for whatever reason will turn their hate and pessimism into support and optimism. I hope they realize through the eyes of the people at that acceptance speech that this is a rare opportunity for positive transformation. Will it be positive? I can't say, just as anyone else can't, but I hope because at this point we have no other positive course of action. Criticize his faults as they are definitively revealed, stop focusing on what you anticipate will be his downfalls, and give the man a chance to be what so many hope he will become. I genuinely believe he will surprise us all in a positive way. Really, what productive outcome are you hoping for by constantly posting stuff like this?"

So, "c'mon guys, let's all get behind our president now. It does no good to argue and bicker!"

I posted a lengthy response, then decided it needed to be said in a larger forum,

My interest in this is not to praise or dig at Obama, please understand.  My only concern is that I simply don't like the duplicity that is being shown here.

So, here we go:

When Clinton was a "Lame-duck" president, and Bush had won the election, the comparisons were already out between Bush and monkeys. His intelligence was already being questioned, and he was being portrayed as nothing more than an un-intelligent hick.

What is at root with the new urge to be civil to Obama is the Bush-bashing that began before he even set foot in the white house. With the other side taking over, the fear is that all turnabout might be fair play, now leveled at the other-side's golden boy. The roles have been switched, and now someone else can sit in the back to deride and second-guess every decision that the POTUS makes.

(The original poster brought up Halliburton as an example of Bush's negligence)

Halliburton, being a large company, with many large contracts in which other construction firms simply can't compete, would be a wise investment by any stretch of the imagination.

The reason for this is quite simple: They are the only Construction company that:
A) Can be trusted (unlike the large construction firm attached to the Bin Laden Family)
B) Can afford to provide military protection
and:
C) Can tackle large projects like city-building.

To run Haliburton's name through the mud in an attempt to bring down Bush is patently unfair. That's like claiming that EDS is evil because they are the only ones that could take on the Naval/Marine Corps Intranet project. You have to work with your best tools. It was the press who notified the president that his actions were benefiting the company his outside financial handler was investing in.

Halliburton was given a $307 million dollar no-bid contract to rebuild parts of Iraq. At first, that seems a conflict of interest. However, digging into google (search parameters, "clinton halliburton bosnia"), you'll find out that Clinton gave them a $407 million dollar no-bid deal to rebuild parts of Bosnia. And his financial advisor made larger investments in Halliburton.

(He also brought up the war)

As for the war. There were three things that lead to the war:

A) A need to get out of Saudi Arabia.

The Royal family is, at any given moment, a trigger pull away from being ousted like the Shah of Iran in 1979. They know it, the extremists know it. 9/11 was perpetuated by people who were incensed at the presence of US troops on "holy ground" (Saudi Arabia). The Royal family asked for the US to make plans to leave. It would be RIDICULOUS for the US to simply walk away from the middle east. So we needed a new base.

B) Saddam's despotism.

Saddam's flaw was not that he is a dictator or despot. What put the nail in his coffin is the fact that he was paying $25k per suicide bombing against our allied country, Israel.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/04/03/world/main505316.shtml

This was stepping up pressure. In response, Israel would find the name of the beneficiary of the money, evacuate everyone from the building, bulldoze the building, then leave them alone. In this way, all that money would be spent re-building their homes. This was making things difficult for our allies, and they requested help in finding a solution.

We knew the Iraqi people were under an oppressive regime, their leader was making things difficult for our ally, and was smack dab in the middle of the middle east.

The (correct) thought was that once we were there, and the Iraqi people are able to fend for themselves (which they are starting to do), our reward would be to rent space in the middle of nowhere to conduct our base of operations.

C) WMDs

They were there, but the press was kept in the dark until it was safely transported away:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25546334/

Thank you for playing.


Now, you are asking, "Why do I bring all this up?"

With all the Bush has done, what he has accomplished, the other side has made him out to be an insane, self-serving, maniacal dirtbag. They have second-guessed him every step of the way, and have blamed him for their own problems:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MGT_cSi7Rs

What the Obama supporters are concerned about is this: at this point he has been put on such a high pedestal that there is no earthly way he can meet their expectations.

When that happens, they are afraid that the same snarky, blindsided, nasty, nonsensical prejudgement that they have employed on W for the past eight years will be applied to Obama.

It will be interesting to see how he handles it.