Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I have a friend who was in New Orleans when Katrina hit. I got a couple of emails from him via his crackberry to let me know that he was alright. I got another email today letting me know that they are bussing him to Houston so he can catch a flight back to DC.

Like most people, I'm just kind of stunned at the level of devestation. I've never been to NO and I've always wanted to. And I will one day. If there is a city to go back to. I hope we don't abandon the city and I don't think we will. But I think the long term impacts of this are still only beginning to take shape.

I was hoping that in the aftermass of this diasaster, that the country would get together and put politics behind it like we did for 9/11. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Some religous nutjob is blaming "Girls Gone Wild" and "Southern Decadence" as the reasons for God's fury against the Big Easy. The left is screaming about how the national guard is in Iraq, not in the US, and the impact that's having. The President just loosened polution standards so more gas can be made available.

I just don't know. Is it too much to hope that we can focus first on saving the lives of the people in that hard hit area. Then try to rebuild. And then try to figure out why our response was so crappy. Lessons Learned are done AFTER you've solved the problem. To figure out how you can solve the next problem better, faster, cheaper.

Someone did make a sad point. With the bankruptcy bill that was passed earlier this year, we just added another obstacle to the already suffering people who have lost so much already. Their ability to rebuild their lives has been significantly hampered.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

"About Average"

Trying to describe the way I look is difficult. I'm not happy with the way I look so it's a subject I tend to avoid. When pressed into giving an answer, I generally go for the "rubgy player" look. Stout, a bit muscular, etc. I do have a small layer of blubber around my middle which causes the 35" waist, but I also have some decent muscles which is why I have a 44 in chest. So it's a mixed bag.

On most internet personal sites, they give you a limited selection. For example, on you get the following: No Answer (for those just ephemeral people), Slender, Athletic and Toned, About Average, A Few Extra Pounds, Big and Beautiful, Full Figured, Curvy, Stocky, Heavyset, other. Now is an equal opportunity site, so it needs descriptors for both men and women. I'm never going to pick Full Figured, or Curvy. I'm not that gay. So since I'm a little bit heavy and a little bit muscular, I put "about average." Now in the interest of full disclosure I will also add that I have several pics of my whole body, and yes they are flattering pics, but it should give any interested parties a reasonable idea of what "about average" means, to me.

Needless to say, "about average" can mean different things to different people. For example (and you knew this was going somewhere, didn't you?), I recently exchanged several emails with a gentleman from We talked on the phone and it sounded like we had a lot in common. The pics in his profile were okay, mainly face shots, and a couple of him from a distance or behind other people. He described his body type as "about average." During the conversations he had mentioned taking the Metro to the mall and then running home. And he had mentioned how much he liked his gym. So the impression I had in my mind was someone who worked out, but wasn't some muscle god. Someone who exercises and is healthy, but who actually eats. Someone who may have love handles, but not a complete set of spare tires around the midde. After several conversations via phone and email we agree to meet for dinner. The person I met at dinner was not "about average" in my mind. At 5'11" I'm guessing he was atleast 240. And not muscular at all. And the problem I had is that I sat through the dinner the whole time thinking that either this guy knowingly mis-represented himself, or that I'm completely shallow. And of course, the truth is probably somewhere in between. I was nice and friendly during the dinner, but this was just not going to happen.

I shared this little episode with my sister and she said that while at the Dr's she saw a health segment that said that only 3% of Americans don't smoke, eat vegetables, and exercise regularly. That statistic is just shocking. But probably very accurate.

But back to me, because, as the title says, it's all about me . . . . I do need to lose weight. The personal training thing has been good and I've seriously gained some muscle mass. But I haven't exactly been dropping the weight. And yes I know when I convert fat to muscle I may not lose weight. But my pants aren't getting any looser either. So my trainer has decided that we're going to do weekly weigh ins. My first one is tomorrow night. So we'll see. Maybe soon I can move from "above average" to "athletic and toned."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Why I Love Jon Stewart

I’ve discovered that I don’t have to stay up late at night to catch Jon Stewart’s Daily Show anymore. I can take a quick break at work and watch the highlights on Comedy Central online.

On Thursday, he had the on the show Christopher Hitchens and they started talking about Iraq. And forgive my paraphrasing since I couldn’t find a transcript:

Jon Stewart: “There is reasonable dissent in this country about the way this war has been conducted. . . . . They believe this war is being conducted without transparency, without creditability, without confidence.”

Then later he says: “I ridicule the president because he refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults. He falls back on platitudes, and phrases and talking points, that does a disservice to the goals he himself shares with the very people he needs to convince.”

Christopher Hitchens: “You want me to believe that you really secretly want to be on his side, but that you just wish he was more persuasive.”

Jon Stewart: “I secretly need him to be on my side. He’s too important and powerful a man not to be.”

Jon’s right (as usual) on two counts.

1) Tell me the truth. I’m a big boy, I can handle it. We need more troops. We’re going to be in Iraq longer. Acknowledge the mistakes that have been made and then tell me how you are going to fix them. Admit that we can’t solve the problem by ourselves and that maybe we need to ask for help. Maybe it’s time to give some of the Haliburton contracts to the French? Or the Germans? Give me details. Give me enough information so that I can trust you again. Just don’t tell me that we’re going to “Stay the Course”and tell me everything is going to be okay. I’m a citizen of this country and you work for me. I deserve to know the truth. I want to know the truth!

2) I secretly want to support the President as well. I think all Americans do. Red, Blue, Purple. In the Navy we were told to respect the rank/position of someone, even if you don’t respect the person. I respect the Office of the President. I respect the Commander in Chief. It’s almost ingrained in me. I can’t help it. And again, secretly, I want to respect the person in the position. But I can’t until he respects me. I can’t until he treats me like an adult and a citizen. He is very powerful and I need him to be on my side, but he’s not. And I can’t be on his side until he starts telling the truth and answering the hard questions. Leadership is a bitch. When things go wrong, you’ve held accountable. So stand up and say the buck stops here. Be a leader. For all American citizens. Then I might respect you.

Monday, August 22, 2005

My First Chief (Part II)

Let’s call him MMCS (Machinist Mate Senior Chief) X. He was a loud, big, salty senior chief. And by big I mean fat. Huge really. His uniform was so tight that I feared for the day when the thread holding his buttons would break. I was sure that those khaki buttons would cause more than a flesh wound when they came flying off his uniform. I’m not sure how he ever managed to climb through the scuttle when the hatch to the main engine room #1 was closed. During General Quarters when we would do fire fighting drills, everyone had to don their OBA (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus) to go into the main engineering spaces to fight the fire down there. Everyone but him. There was just no way that he would fit through a scuttle with an OBA on. And yes this is all before the Navy established weight standards, and before they actually took them seriously.

I’d like to say that my relationship with MMCS X improved over time. But it didn’t. He was a loud, big, crusty, senior chief and he was in charge and he just didn’t like snot-nosed, wet behind the ears Ensigns like me.

Don’t get me wrong, he was never openly disrespectful of me, he was smarter than that. But he definitely did his best to put me squarely in my place as much as possible.

As a junior officer on board the ship, I had several responsibilities. I was responsible for M Division (approximately 40 enlisted men), the Main Engine Rooms and all of their equipment, but I was also supposed to get qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer. So in addition to standing watch, I would have to manage my division, and then also participate in officer training exercises on the bridge. It kept me very busy. So I needed to depend on my Senior Chief to help me out. And he really did.

“So what’s the status of the evap,” the Cheng asked at breakfast. I swallowed my toast thinking that if the Cheng was asking the status of the evaporator, then there must be something wrong with it. “I’ll find out Sir.” I responded. And I would. And this would become part of the little running battle I would have with the senior chief.

There was only one officer (at the time) who stood Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) duty. The rest of the time, the engineering chiefs would stand watch. And when something broke, or there was a problem, they would call the Cheng to let him know. But for some reason that same information wasn’t getting to me. After getting tired of being completely caught off guard by questions about something wrong in my spaces from the Cheng at breakfast (or lunch or dinner), I had a little talk with the Senior Chief. I told him that any time he calls the Cheng with an equipment problem, that he should call me. Call me if I’m on the bridge, call me if I’m in my stateroom. Just call me. No I can’t do anything to fix it, but call me so I know there’s a problem.

And yet, it continued to happen. And I would call him on it. “Oh sir, I meant to call you after I talked with the Cheng, but then I had to do something else and then I forgot. I’m really sorry,” he would say without a smirk or hint of disrespect. But he hadn’t forgotten. He was maintaining his control and his relationship with the Cheng and I wasn’t going to get in the way of that.

Realizing that my ability to change the Senior Chief’s behavior was limited, I decided to take a different tact. I called all of my first class petty officers into a meeting. I told them that while on watch the EOOW reports to the Cheng. However, they all worked for me. I don’t care what happens in the boiler spaces, but if there is a problem in the main engine spaces, they were to call me. And I oh so gently reminded them that while the engineering chiefs (and a particular Senior Chief) might not like them calling me, that I was giving them an order and it was I who signed their personnel evaluation forms.

I lost a lot of sleep in the next couple of months, but I wasn’t caught off guard by the Cheng anymore. My senior chief did make a snide comment about the LPOs (leading petty officers) spending too much time on the phone, but I ignored him.

Still the battle continued.

One day while sitting in the engineering log room approving supply requisitions, I heard the LPO from the Main Engine room call for the EOOW who was doing a boiler inspection in the boiler spaces. There was an oil leak on one of the ships turbine generators. I quickly turned off the computer and headed to the Main Engine room. As I opened the door from the Mess Deck to the alcove where the hatch to the main engine room was, I ran into MMCS X.

“Hey Senior Chief, how’s it going down there?” I asked.

“It’s going great Sir, no problems at all, ” he responded. But quite obviously blocking my way.

“Well I thought I would go down and take a look.” I said.

“Don’t you have something else you need to work on Sir. We’ve got it all under control down there.” And he hadn’t moved an inch.

“Senior, I really think I want to go down and check out the space for a bit.”

“Well Sir, I don’t think you want to go down there right now,” he responded.

I stared at him, but he wouldn’t move. Causing a scene on the Mess Decks was not a good idea. So I turned around and walked away from him. And I walked quickly to the water tight door that leads to the escape trunk for the main engine room. I climbed down two levels using the escape trunk and entered the main engine room on the lower level. There were several of my guys down there and they were a bit surprised to see me come out of the escape trunk, but were more focused on stopping the leak from the SSTG (Ships Service Turbine Generators). After several minutes, they got the leak stopped and started to clean up the spilt oil. Having oil in the bilge water is dangerous and a fire hazard. As I started to climb up to the upper level in the engine room, which is where the EOOW sits, I heard the Cheng’s voice. “Where’s Ensign R? He should be here.”

“I’m not sure Sir,” my Senior Chief responded.

As I climbed up the last bit of stairs, I answered, “Oh I’m right here Cheng. Just wanted to make sure the guys were cleaning up after the leak.”

“Good. Okay if you’ve got this under control, then I need to get back to the watch in Combat,” he said and then climbed up the ladder out of the engine room.

The senior chief looked at me and didn’t say a word.

And I kept thinking of the COs and the Command Master Chiefs from that Leadership training in San Diego. “Trust your Chief. It’s his job to help train Ensigns. He’s there to help you.”

Sure he is.

MMCS X retired from the Navy about 6 months after I came aboard.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

My First Chief (Part I)

After I graduated from USNA, I was assigned to the Surface Warfare Office School (SWOS) in San Diego. In addition to navigation and some seamanship stuff, it also gave us brand new Ensigns an idea of what the real Fleet was like. How to order equipment using the supply systems, how to write personnel evaluations, some basic overviews of the different weapon and engineering systems on the ships.

At the end of the 16 weeks of training, we had a one week Navy Leadership class where they brought in the COs (Commanding Officers) of some of the ships homeported in San Diego. It was interesting to hear their perspective on what our life was about to become, what they were looking for in new Ensigns at their command, and their recommendations on how to succeed once we hit the Fleet. Their number one piece of advice: “Listen to your Chief (Chief Petty Officer). Trust him. He’s there to help you be a success.” The next day we had the Command Master Chiefs from several of the ships. As the senior enlisted on board the ships, they had a good perspective as well and they also had some advice. “Trust your Chief. Learn from Chief. Your Chief is there to help you.”

After SWOS, I stuck around San Diego for eight more weeks of Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) school. The USS Reeves was a steam ship, so I was learning about the intricacies of a M-class boiler, the main engine turbines, the generators, evaporators and all of the various support systems that not only move the ship through the water, but provide electricity for the ship, the weapons systems, etc, and also air conditioning, fresh water, etc. The engineering plan on a ship is amazing and quite complicated. I graduated from EOOW school in late December and got to go home for Christmas before flying out in mid January to meet my ship which was homeported at the time in Yokosuka JA.

The trip itself was a bit of a haze, a long, tiring, haze. Colorado to LA. LA to Tokyo. At Narita, we found the bus to take us to Yokosuka. The bus dropped us off at the Personnel Detachment on base where we ended up taking cabs from there to the ship. It was mid afternoon by the time I walked up the gang plank, turned to the ships stern and saluted the US flag (called The Ensign) and reported aboard USS Reeves. I hauled my sea bags into the wardroom and a few minutes later, the Chief Engineer (CHENG) came up to greet me. He was also the Senior Watch Officer, so he was in charge of assigning officers staterooms, etc. He helped me to my stateroom and told me that I would indeed be working for him, but that he wasn’t sure what job I would taking. It would either be the M Division Officer (M for Main Engines) or the B Division Officer (B for Boilers Officer). After dumping my bags in my room, he took me up to meet the CO who welcomed me onboard. The CO mentioned that the ship was having their winter party the following night and that I should attend. I said Yes Sir and that was that.

The next AM, I went to the Engineering Department’s Officer Call which is a meeting for all of the officers and chiefs in the engineering department. The CHENG introduced me to the team, but I’ll be honest and tell you it was just a blur. I can’t remember names to save my life and I was still jet lagged beyond belief. Since the winter party was that night, the plan was for the ships crew to only work a half day. I also figured out why a winter party. The ship had come back from deployment in late December, just before Christmas, so there was no time for a Christmas party. So a winter party instead. I had also gotten teamed with a LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) who was supposed to be my running make (aka mentor) on the ship. He came by and picked me up to go to the Winter Party.

Have you ever been at a party and not know anyone? It was like that. Oh I had my running mate who ditched me to be with his girlfriend. And I can’t blame him. I had seen the CHENG go by and the CO, but that was pretty much everyone I knew. So I sat there by myself at one of the tables. I knew I couldn’t leave. Leaving early from a ship’s function is just not right. So I sat there sipping my Coke. I was jet lagged and getting drunk, or even tipsy, at a ships function on Day 2 is not a good career move. So I sat there watching the festivities. Alone.

Until a very large man came and sat down with me. He looked familiar and I remember that he was one of the chiefs at the Engineering Officer’s call meeting we had that morning. But his name, no I didn’t remember that. He started talking to me, asking questions. Where I went to school? Did I go to EOOW school? Things like that. Innocuous, but going somewhere and I wasn’t sure where. He had finished one of the two beers he had brought over and I could tell that he a little more than tipsy. With a slight slur to his words, he asked me what I was going to be doing on the ship. I told him that the Chief Engineer had mentioned either M or B Divisions but he hadn’t decided. “You should be the B Division Officer,” he said as he opened his second beer. I responded that I probably wasn’t going to get to provide any input on the decision. But he didn’t listen to me. “B Division is a great division. Great group of men. Lots of good stuff going on in that division. You would do great in that division.” He kept on rambling about B Division and the benefits of me being the B Division Officer and I responded with the “Oh really?” or “Interesting” comments to keep up my end of the conversation. He was really trashed at this point and after awhile he stopped talking and was just looking at me. I smiled weakly. Trying to be friendly but also trying to figure out an escape plan that didn’t offend this Chief. The silence hung in the air for a bit, and then he spoke.

“Do you know why I want you to be the B Division Officer?” he asked. I shook my head no.

“Because I’m the M Division Chief and I don’t want to train another fuckin’ ensign.”

I looked at him. I can’t remember what I said. But I got up as gracefully as I could and left. I took a cab from the club and went back to the ship.

At the next morning’s Engineering Officer’s Call, the CHENG announced that I would be taking over the M Division. I looked at the Chief from the night before (in uniform now I could tell he was a Senior Chief), my new Senior Chief, and he didn’t look at me at all.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Emotional Ketchup Burst

So I snapped yesterday at a meeting with my customer. During a heated exchange, I said, "The problem is that I can't reconcile what you tell me to do and reality." Umm. Not a good thing to say. I did manage to turn the conversation around when they were joking about unauthorized use of funds and I said, "I'm too pretty for prison." Which is so true. Unless I'm going to the same prison as Jack Abramoff. He's so dreamy.

Anyways, after the meeting the rest of my team was just astounded that I had snapped. The frustration level is very high and I'm not handling it well. And I'm starting to get to the point where I don't care who knows it. Which I know is bad.

As a leader, when things are going bad, you need to appear positive, strong, supportive. Regardless of your setting. So me walking around the office scowling at the insanity or unreasonableness of my custeromer is not the image I need to project. And I know that. But who long do you wear this mask. And when can I take the mask off and just let my frustrations out?

I'm not a vulcan. I do have emotions. And again I do think a good leader needs to have a sense of calm and serentity around him, but not be catatonic. When there's a crisis, you need to be engage and active, but not crazy. When there's a personal problem, you need to be empathetic and sympathetic, not board stiff. So why isn't it okay to sometimes express those emotions? Isn't bottling up those emotions bad.

In his book, Generation X, Douglas Coupland called it the "Emotional Ketchup Burst." It's "The bottling up of opinions and emotions inside oneself so that they explosively burst forth at at once, shocking and confusing employers and friends-most of whom thought things were fine."

The next time, I'm afraid there's going to be ketchup everywhere.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Priscilla: Queen to Whole Foods

The Center hosted a screening of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert tonight at Stead Park. Since I hadn't eaten dinner yet, I thought I would zip over to Whole Foods to grab a bite to eat. After I had picked up a sandwich, I went to the express line only to find out that the cashier's name was Priscilla!

So I said to her: "I'm going to see your movie." She looked at me confused for a moment and then smiled. And then it hit me, yeah, I'm sure she's heard that joke a thousand times today. Oh well, I guess that makes a thousand and one!

Monday, August 15, 2005

An Analogy

Them: "How much does it cost to build a building? We need to know so we can ask for a budget."
Me: "What kind of building do you want?"
Them: "I'm not sure. Come up with something that makes sense."
Me: "Okay, we'll build this type of building (insert requirements) and it will cost $5M."
Them: "That's too much. It needs to cost less."
Me: "Okay, what don't you want in the building?"
Them: "I want it all. It just needs to cost less."
Me: "Well I can probably cut some of the requirements and get it down to $4M."
Them: "That's still too high. We'll just ask for $2M."

A month goes by:
Them: "Okay, here's your $1M to build the building."
Me: "Um, thanks. But we need to re-plan since that's less that what we said it would cost."
Them: "Just develop a plan and get going. We need this right away."
Me: "Um, okay."

Another month goes by:
Me: "We're on track for the building. It will have 5 floors and will be an office building."
Them: "Does it have a cafeteria?"
Me: "Um, no. We didn't plan on a cafeteria."
Them: "It needs to have a cafeteria."
Me: "Is there additional funding for a cafeteria?"
Them: "No."
Me: "Okay, I'll see what I can do."

Another month goes by:
Me: "We're on track for the building. It will have 4 floors and have a cafeteria."
Them: "I thought you said it was going to have 5 floors."
Me: "I needed to work in the cafeteria, so we lost the 5th floor."
Them: "Who told you to do that? Who made that decision?"
Me: "I guess I did. I was told there was a requirement for a cafeteria."
Them: "Well that was the wrong decision."
Me: "What should we have not done so we could do the cafeteria within the budget."
Them: "You should have done everything and the cafeteria."
Me: "Ummm???"

Another month goes by:
Them: "We're going to be using the building as an apartment building. Does it meet all of the housing codes?"
Me: "Well we built it to be an office building."
Them: "But we want to use it as an apartment building. Will it pass all of the housing codes and inspections?"
Me: "It will pass code for an office building, but I'll need to check on the housing code."
Them: "What will it take to change it to meet code?"
Me: "I'm not sure. I need to check. But we're in the final stages of the building, so if we make changes it's going to effect the schedule and there will be additional cost."
Them: "No we need this building on schedule as an apartment building and there is no more funding."
Me: "Umm, okay, even if I can make some changes to pass the housing code, it's a 2 month wait for housing inspectors, so it won't be ready by the original due date."
Them: "Well your failure to deliver this building on time will look bad on your past performance history."
Me: "Ummm??"

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Everything I Know I Learned from Madonna

Yep, last night was Madonna-rama at Nation. One of my friends told me that if I didn’t go, my gay card would be revoked. So I gave in to peer pressure and went. But going to Nation at my age requires planning. You just *can’t* get to Nation before 1130, it’s simple not done. Plus, the main dance hall doesn’t open till midnight, at the earliest. So after a power disco nap Saturday afternoon, I was ready for my night of clubbing. Dressed in cargo shorts and a tank top (the requisite circuit boi uniform) I picked up my friend and we headed to SW DC.

The place was packed and I did see some “Boy Toy” belt buckles a la “Like A Vigin” and some cowboy hats a la “Don’t Tell Me.” Personally I liked the “Kabbalist Do It Better” t-shirt.

Nation on Saturday night is predominantly gay, but last night it was very mixed. And it had a great vibe to it. I will say that most of the time Nation doesn’t do it for me. The music is good, but there are usually no, or very little, words to the music. The endless techno beat is good if you are rolling on X, but for those of us who are not flying, some words are nice. And that’s what makes Madonna-rama so great. Not only are there words, but everyone knows the words. Everyone is dancing and singing and just having the best time.

It was hot and sweaty in the big hall. Shirts were off and sweat was rolling off everyone’s bodies. You bumped into someone and you felt your sweaty back slide across theirs. And everyone was moving to the groove.

So Everything I Know I Learned from Madonna:

  1. “Music makes the people come together – Yeah!” – Music
  2. “Nothing really matters - Love is all we need” – Nothing Really Matters
  3. “You're so consumed with how much you get, You waste your time with hate and regret” – Frozen.
  4. “Don't want to grow old too fast, Don't want to let the system get me down, I've got to find a way to make the good times last, And if you show me how, I'm ready now.” – Where’s The Party
  5. “Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free” – Into the Groove
  6. “You deserve the best in life, So if the time isn't right then move on, Second best is never enough, You'll do much better baby on your own.” – Express Yourself
  7. “It makes no difference if you're black or white, If you're a boy or a girl, If the music's pumping it will give you new life, You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it.” – Vogue
  8. “I think when love is pure you try, To understand the reasons why, And I prefer this mystery, It cancels out my misery” – Rescue Me
  9. “I traveled round the world, Looking for a home, I found myself in crowded rooms, Feeling so alone.” – Drowned World/Substitute for Love
  10. “Why's it so hard to love one another, Why's it so hard to love” – Why’s It So Hard.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ugly Hot

It's just awful here. Like a mad, Englishman, I went out during the noon-day sun to run some errands. Okay, not so much "run", but maybe more like walk. Or casually stroll. The air was just thick with humidity and just walking I could feel the sweat starting to bead on my skin and then slowly roll down into my eyes. Lovely. After that little escapade, I spent the rest of the day inside.

STSW: Green Day Rocks! I've loved a lot of the songs of their latest album even though the punk thing isn't my usual thing. But I saw their video for "Wake Me Up When September Ends" on VH 1 and it's just so powerful. Crooks and Liars has a link to it. I highly recommend watching it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Mad Max DC: Beyond K St

Okay I will admit that I have one of the easiest commutes in the DC area. DC has the third worst traffic in the country and I cannot even fathom having to drive from Fairfax into the city much less Herndon, Leesburg or even, dear God, West Virginia. I live in Dupont and I drive to Rosslyn. So that's maybe three miles one way? And I drive because I'm at the beck and call of my customer who is not metro accessible. But I digress. Yes I am very lucky to have a really short commute. Not I-66, 395, or the beltway for me. But that doesn't mean that I don't have to deal with the bonehead drivers that love to come into the city. And today was a beauty. I had not one, not two, but three guys who were in the right lane make a left turn in front of me. I had one guy decide that one lane wasn't good enough for him, he needed to use two. One guy who not only cut me off, then decides to park in a non-parking lane.

So it's times like these that I want my Volvo (back off!) to be packed with weapons. Not weapons of mass destruction. Not rocket launchers or big ole machine guns. Nope, I want to push a little button in my console a la James Bond and have a paint ball gun pop out of the hood. It would come with a heads up targeting screen that displays on the front windshield and when some idiot cuts me off, I'd blast them with a couple of paint balls. So, how's that black paint looking on your precious red SUV Mr. "I Own The Road"? How's a little blue paint on your yellow cab Mr. "I'll Pull A U-Turn Any Time I Want"? Go ahead, make my day!!

Spinning The Subject Wheel (STSW): What's with guys in business suits and flip flops? Did I miss a memo? Again? The last couple of days I've seen a couple of guys in like dress slacks, dress shirts, tie a bit undone, and flip flops on walking down L St after work. Today I saw some guy in a full suit with flip flop? Okay I can understand women wearing tennis shoes going to/from work. But guys wearing flip flops? If your dress shoes hurt that bad, they you've bought the wrong kind.

STSW: So I'm at the gym tonight doing the bike and watching the news. Appparently Jack Abamoff finally got indicted. They showed a picture and all I can say is YUMMY! Tall, a bit older, very professional looking, good build, and looking damn good in that suit. So is it bad that I've got the hots for a guy who's been funneling money to Tom DeLay and is probably going to jail? Wait, don't answer that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Gen McCaffery's Report

I’ve got a guy in Kuwait right now. He’s coming home on Saturday and then heads to Ft Bliss for training before going into Iraq. He’s going to both Baghdad and Mosul. I’m not happy about it at all. My boss sent me a copy of GEN McCaffrey’s trip report from Kuwait and Iraq. It’s kind of long, but here are the parts that concern me:

2nd - The point of the US war effort is to create legitimate and competent Iraqi national, provincial, and municipal governance. We are at a turning point in the coming six months. The momentum is now clearly with the Iraqi Government and the Coalition Security Forces. The Sunnis are coming into the political process. They will vote in December. Unlike the Balkans-the Iraqis want this to succeed. Foreign fighters are an enormously lethal threat to the Iraqi civilian population, the ISF, and Coalition Forces in that order. However, they will be an increasing political disaster for the insurgency. Over time they are actually adding to the credibility of the emerging Iraqi government. We should expect to see a dwindling number of competent, suicide capable Jihadist. Those who come to Iraq--will be rapidly killed in Iraq. The picture by next summer will be unfavorable to recruiting foreigners to die in Iraq while attacking fellow Arabs.

The initial US/UK OIF intervention took down a criminal regime and left a nation without an operational State.

Is this one of those reports that’s targeted for a specific audience? This has the sounds of the “insurgencies is in its last throes”. And yet the death count, both US and Iraqi keeps rising.

January thru September 2006 will be the peak period of the insurgency --and the bottom rung of the new Iraq. The positive trend lines following the January 2006 elections (if they continue) will likely permit the withdrawal of substantial US combat forces by late summer of 2006. With 250,000 Iraqi Security Forces successfully operating in support of a government which includes substantial Sunni participation--the energy will start rapidly draining out of the insurgency.

3rd - The Iraqi Security Forces are now a real and hugely significant factor. LTG Dave Petreaus has done a brilliant job with his supporting trainers.

169,000 Army and Police exist in various stages of readiness. They have uniforms, automatic weapons, body armor, some radios, some armor, light trucks, and battalion-level organization. At least 60,000 are courageous Patriots who are actively fighting. By next summer--250,000 Iraqi troops and 10 division HQS will be the dominant security factor in Iraq.

Is this really accurate? There are lots of reports of phantom troops, people on the roles who collect a check but never show up to actually do anything.

However, much remains to be done. There is no maintenance or logistics system. There is no national command and control. Corruption is a threat factor of greater long-range danger than the armed insurgency. The Insurgents have widely infiltrated the ISF. The ISF desperately needs more effective, long-term NCO and Officer training.

Finally, the ISF absolutely must have enough helicopter air mobility (120+ Black Hawk UH 60's) --and a substantial number of armored vehicles to lower casualties and give them a competitive edge over the insurgents they will fight. (2000 up-armor Humvee's, 500 ASV's, and 2000 M113A3's with add-on armor package)

Yep, I’ll agree with that. And who’s going to pay for all of that equipment?

4. Top CENTCOM Vulnerabilities:

1st - Premature drawdown of U.S. ground forces driven by dwindling U.S. domestic political support and the progressive deterioration of Army and Marine manpower. (In particular, the expected melt-down of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in the coming 36 months)

Wow. That’s a pretty honest assessment.

2nd - Alienation of the U.S. Congress or the American people caused by Iraqi public ingratitude and corruption.


3rd - Political ineptitude of Shia civil leadership that freezes out the Sunnis and creates a civil war during our drawdown.

Yeah, this could get much, much uglier.

4th - "The other shoe" - a war with North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, or Cuba that draws away U.S. military forces and political energy.

My bet’s Iran! Any takers? Any guesses on a timeline? I’m thinking in time for the 2008 elections.

5th - The loss or constraint of our logistics support bases in Kuwait. Clearly we need constant diplomatic attention and care to this vital Ally. If Kuwait became unstable or severely alienated to US Military objectives in the region-then our posture in Iraq would be placed in immediate fatal

6th - Open intervention by Iranian intelligence or military forces to support rogue Shia Iraqi insurgency. (Assassination of Sustani-armed rebellion by Sadr)

Yep, if Iran steps up, this could go from bad to worse really quickly.

7th - Continued under-manning and too rapid turnover in State Department inter-agency representation in Iraq.

8th - Lack of continuity in CENTCOM strategic and operational senior leadership. The CENTCOM military leadership we now have is a collective national treasure.

5. The Enemy Threat:

1st - The Iraqi Insurgency threat is enormously more complex than Vietnam.

There we faced a single opposing ideology; known enemy leaders; a template enemy organizational structure; an external sanctuary which was vital to the insurgency to bring in fighters, ammunition, resources; and relative security in urban areas under Allied/Vietnamese Government control.

Iraq is much tougher. The enemy forces in this struggle are principally Sunni irredentists-- but there is also a substantial criminal class determined to murder, rob, kidnap and create chaos.

We also face a small but violent foreign Jihadist terrorist element. These terrorists do not depend on foreign sanctuary. They can arm themselves with the incredible mass of munitions and weapons scattered from one end of Iraq to the other.

Finally, Iraq is encircled by six bordering nations -- all of whom harbor ill-will for the struggling democratic Iraqi state.

We must continue to level with the American people. We still have a five
year fight facing us in Iraq.

FIVE YEARS!!!! And we're going to start pulling troops back next summer? How's that for a little bit of a disconnect? Is anyone in the adminstration even talking about this?


a.. This is the darkness before dawn in the efforts to construct a viable Iraqi state. The enterprise was badly launched --but we are now well organized and beginning to develop successful momentum. The future outcomes are largely a function of the degree to which Iraqi men and women will overcome fear and step forward to seize the leadership opportunity to create a new future.
b.. We face some very difficult days in the coming 2-5 years. In my judgment, if we retain the support of the American people --we can achieve our objectives of creating a law-based Iraqi state which will be an influencing example on the entire region.
c.. A successful outcome would potentially usher in a very dramatically changed environment throughout the Middle East and signal in this region the end of an era of incompetent and corrupt government which fosters frustration and violence on the part of much of the population.

We got into this war for the wrong reasons. We need to finish this war for the right reasons. And I think we are trying. But we just seem to keep shooting ourselves in the foot with the lack of planning and lack of honesty. We need more troops, not less. We need to be honest with the US people and ask them to sacrifice their morning latte to help make a difference in this fight. We really have no choice. If we fail in Iraq, it will only become another Afghanistan hosting scores of radical Islamic jihadits who will threaten the moderate Arab countries in the region. Guess how much your gallon of gas will cost then!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Waiting For The Rain

All weekend I was waiting for the rain. It's August in DC. The dog days when it's just unbelievably humid. Most days, late in the afternoon, the humidity will peak, the clouds will roll in, and a nice little thunderstorm will entertain us for a few minutes. Well I guess it's entertaining if you aren't outside and getting wet. But I love thunderstorms. And I really wanted one this weekend. It was hot and humid, but apparently not hot and humid enough. And I sort of wanted an excuse to be inside on a weekend when I was just basically a slug and needed some downtime to recuperate.

The rain came today, twice. Once while I was at work. Which does me no good. I like to be some place relaxing during a thunderstorm. I want to be laying in bed and watch the rain dance across the windows. I want to see the quick flash of lightening and then count for the thunder. But this afternoon it was just a good solid rain and then it went away and it was still hot and sticky. Just after I got home from the gym, we had a good rain. A pretty decent downpour, some lightening, some wind, some thunder. I was curled up on the couch watching the movie "CAMP." So I finally got my thunderstorm. It was perfect.

Spinning the subject wheel:

So our Director of Process Improvement comes into my office and says to me: "How do you get your arms so big?" I could have kissed him. This was on Friday and I was wearing one of my gay shirts where the shirt sleeve is kind of small so it accentuates my biceps. And it obviously worked. I told him that my personal trainer was punishing me.

Spinning again:

I've got really bad stubble burn. I like facial hair, it's kind of sexy. But guys, I know this is girly, but you need to use conditioner on it or it will get hard and stubbly like a brillo pad. Anyways, I'm kissing this guy, maybe a little bit too passionately, and his goatee was just killing me. So now I've got really bad stubble burn on my lips. Which is NOT sexy, and it really hurts. I've been using Carmex like crazy. Hopefully it will go away soon. It's just killing me!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Iraq 2006 = Afghanistan 1989?

So the Bush administration is starting to talk about pulling out of Iraq. This isn’t committing to any time table, which is something they have beaten every democrat who has dared to ask that question. No, this is based on some analysis that by the next elections in Iraq (which coincidentally are about the same time as our elections), the Iraqi forces will be able to police more of the country, so our troops won’t be needed. We’ll be able start bringing our forces home.

After we’ve declared “Mission Accomplished” a couple of times now, we’ll finally start to pull our forces back. This is great news for the GOP since the complete mishandling of the war will be ignored by images of our brave soldiers coming home. The Democrats won’t be able to complain about the war since our troops are coming back. So it looks like a win-win scenario.

Except if you’re an Iraqi. Let’s see, even the most optimistic information says that the Iraqi police and military are not nearly ready to take over and provide the security and stability that a new democracy will need. Without the help of some outside forces, they will not be able to stop the insurgency. Now add in the fact that there are reports of militants infiltrating the police and the military and you’ve got a grade “A” recipe for disaster.

After invading Afghanistan, the USSR fought a ten year war against the insurgents. This fight drew every hard core Muslim to the country to help fight the invaders. The US provided support to the various rebel groups fighting the Russians since this was the cold war. After 10 years and 15,000 dead soldiers, the Russian’s finally declared success and left. Their puppet regime lasted a couple of years before the country imploded and then became the breeding ground for the Taliban and Al Queada.

Will Iraq turn into the next Afghanistan? Without long term military, economic, and political support from the US, I think the chances of Iraqi democracy taking root and flourishing are slim at best. The insurgents, the Sunni-Shiite-Kurd issues, and not to mention the rampant corruption are all obstacles to a safe, secure, democratic Iraq. And that’s if it’s left alone. There’s no doubt that Iran is already pulling some strings in Iraq and with the US gone, they will probably become more active in Iraq. A destabilized Iraq, influenced/controlled by Iran, is not a good thing. With every psycho Islamic jihadist going through the advanced course that is Iraq these days, once the US leaves and the Iraqi government crumbles, where does a hard working jihadist go to achieve his martyrdom? What about Saudi Arabia? The close ties between the US and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will make it a natural target for the jihadists. And can you imagine how the world economy will react to that?

Yes this is all speculation and more than a bit negative. But we got into Iraq and pulling troops out by a specific deadline is just stupid. We don’t have the troops on the ground as it is to secure the stability of the country and allow for the reconstruction. We need to be putting more troops in, not taking them out. Yes an Exit Strategy needs to be devised. But let’s make that something hard and concrete and something that isn’t a shell game. X number of trained and equipped police units. Y number of trained and equipment military units. Z number of elections. You need to identify good, hard, measurable metrics for success. And lying about the metrics isn’t going to help anyone. Not the US or the Iraqi people.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sea Stories

Well I've decided to write up some of my tales of adventure from the Navy. Why? I guess a couple of reasons. A week or so I found some old letters that I had written while on deployment and it made me think about my old Navy days. My life now is so different from then and I just want to try to capture some of that. I'm also trying to determine why the Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and all of the Iraq stuff is bothering me so much, but doesn't seem to phase my USNA classmates. Anyways, I'm still working through that so expect some interesting, hopefully funny, sea stories from me in the future.

However, while the Navy world seems very familiar to me, I guess it can be pretty confusing and I probably left some info out that I shouldn't have. So for my first sea story, I guess I should provide some context:

My department head had been standing Tactical Action Officer in Combat when the ship took position on the wrong ship. While this is primarily the OOD's (Officer of the Deck's) fault, the team in Combat didn't do him any favors. When the Captain got the flashing light memo, he went off. He relieved the OOD, and not trusting the Combat Watch Officer who didn't catch this mistake either, he put the TAO on the bridge. Apparently the Captain pulled the relieved OOD and the Combat Watch Officer out onto a bridge wing and flamed them to the point were there was just a burnmark on the bulkhead (wall).

The Captain did trust me. Which was odd as we didn't exactly get along great (and more sea stories about that later). He trusted me enough to have me stand the bridge watch for the rest of my time on board the ship. Which was good, and bad. But more on that later.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

We Call The Monkey Jack

Yep, had another one of those days. How bad was it? I personally think it's bad when you want to call the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Hotline on your own customer. Sure I'd lose my job, but shouldn't there be some justice in this world?

Nearly had an aneurism after trying, unsuccessfully, to convince my customer that it made no sense to send one of my guys to Kuwait for a week, the bring them back to attend a week of training to support going into Iraq, and then sending him back to the Middle East so he could go install a system there. What was the urgent, pressing, requirement to support that couldn't wait for one single trip? Because he said so. I'm not sure what pisses me off more: the fact that we're just going to fuck with my guy's personnal life for 3-4 weeks or the money that is being wasted by lack of a real plan.

Had to bring our graphics guy over to meet with the customer today. Met with him and spent a good 20 minutes deflecting the random spears and missiles, the incorrect technical comments, and just insane schedule ideas he had. We got kicked out of the meeting and sat in the lobby for awhile. My graphics guy nailed my customer's personality in under 20 minutes.

"Interesting guy. He's kind of all over the place. And it's all about power with him." My other favorite comment from my graphics guy was, "You know, you get more bees with sugar."

I looked at him blankly. I'm just so used to the twist reality that is my life. I looked at him and responded.

"You've got the wrong management technique. His motto is: "I've never stood so high as when I've stood on the backs of my fallen contractors."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Phone Rings . . . .

“Come up and take the Deck.” The voice said. As I slowly woke up, I realized it was my department head’s voice. But I was still out of it. It had been a long day and I was just too tired to really think.

“What?” I replied. Looking at the clock in my darkened stateroom, it was about 2100. I had the mid-watch in Combat and didn’t have to get up until about 2300.

“Come up and take the Deck.” He said again. But it still didn’t register.

“Sir, I’m not on the bridge this watch rotation. I’m in Combat. I’ve got the mid-watch.” I replied. Still groggy and confused.

“Come up and take the deck, NOW, LT X.” He responded quite forcefully.

The only appropriate response?

“Aye, Aye, sir.”

I fell out of the top rack. Threw my uniform on. Splashed some water on my face. My stateroom was on the 01 level aft, so I went down to the main deck, forward, and then started climbing up to the Combat Information Center (CIC) or Combat for short. After standing watch on the bridge for what seemed like forever, I was excited about standing watch in Combat. Sure I had done enough time in Combat to get qualified enroute to my Surface Warfare Officer qualification. But as soon as I got my SWO pin, it was back to the bridge. But for this cruise we were going to be doing a lot of anti air warfare exercises with the USS Abraham Lincoln, so I was pretty psyched to be back in combat where the real action was going to be.

I made it up to Combat and stepped into the overly air-conditioned and dark space lit up only green fluorescent combat system displays and focused red lights over navigation charts. It was dark to my eyes, but not that bad.

“Watch Sup?” I called out.

“Watch Sup’s on the bridge” someone replied.

“Watch Officer?” I tried again.

“The Watch Officer’s on the bridge,” came the reply.

“TAO?” I asked. My department head was standing Tactical Action Officer duty, so he should be here in Combat.

“TAO’s on the bridge,” came the response.

“Can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?” I asked in sarcasm and frustration. One of the first class petty officers came over to brief me before I went up to the bridge.

My ship, the USS Reeves (CG-24), was stationed out of Hawaii. We were assigned to the Lincoln battlegroup, but the USS Abraham Lincoln was out of Everett Washington, while the rest of the battlegroup (except for us) was out of San Diego. So our battlegroup exercises were conducted in the SOCAL OPAREA (Southern California Operational Area). However, San Diego is also home to two aircraft carriers. And one of them, the USS Nimitz, was conducting operations in the same OPAREA.

Aircraft carriers follow the wind. It’s all about the wind across the deck to support flight operations, so whatever course the carrier needs to maintain flight ops, the carrier gets. And at some point during the day, the Lincoln and the Nimitz began to operate in relatively close proximity. As the sun set, the Reeves was assigned plane guard position behind the Lincoln. The plane guard position is 2000 yards behind the carrier at 170 degrees. The plane guard ship is there in case there are any problems with the planes landing. At 2000 yards astern, we would be in a good position to recover any pilots who might have to eject from a bad landing.

Apparently as the sun set, the Officer of the Deck got confused and took station behind the Nimitz, not the Lincoln. And then to make matters worse, the Nimitz sent a flashing light message (which is typically used for Commanding Officer to Commanding Officer type personal communication) which said, “Who are you and why are you following me?”

Needless to say, this sent my commanding officer (who we lovingly referred to as the Anti-Christ) into the overhead and apparently heads were rolling.

“Sir they are calling for you on the bridge.” One of the enlisted guys said to me. I wasn’t fully prepped, but I headed out to the bridge. I stepped through to the bridge and then stood against the bulkhead for a moment. The bridge was dark. Pitch dark. I needed a few minutes to get my night eyes.

“LT X come up here now.” Said my department head. Relying just on memory alone, I stumbled up to the center gryo where I thought I had heard my boss. I still couldn’t see anything.

“You are on course 237, we’re at 2000 yards and 170 from the Lincoln. Flight ops will end at approximately 2200.” He said to me in a quiet voice. I started to ask a question when he said loudly, “This is LCDR Y, LT X has the deck.”

I wasn’t ready yet. I had questions. I still couldn’t see things very well. I could barely make out my boss handing me the binoculars that symbolize assumption of the watch.

“This is LT X, I have the deck.” I said loudly to the rest of the bridge team. And then he was gone. I looked at the gryo. We were still at 237. I needed to look at the radar, but I didn’t want to stumble over to it in the dark. I’d get my night eyes in a minute.

Then suddenly I sensed something behind me, and then a soft whisper in my ear:

“Do you know where you are?” the Captain asked.

“Yes sir” I responded.

“Then don’t fuck up.” He said. And then he was gone.

“The Captain has left the bridge.” The bosun announced seconds later.

Gee, this is going to be fun I thought. I never did make it back to Combat. Not on that cruise, or ever.