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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Monday, July 25, 2005
Control is an Illusion

1n 1989, John McPhee wrote a book he called The Control of Nature. In it he described three attempts by human engineers to control nature. The first history dealt with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engaged in a life and death duel with the Mississippi River at Atchafalaya; the second with Iceland and its volcano; and the third with the hills of Los Angeles.

Was just treated to another episode of a similar history these past few weeks. There is a road that we use almost daily to get into the booming metropolis from our house, at least I did before I retired. I use it frequently enough even now to get back and forth to my favorite golf courses to be aware of its status.

The local engineers decided to fix a drainage problem on this road. The road runs in a straight line for exactly 4 miles losing or gaining some three hundred feet in altitude depending on the direction you travel. They spent six weeks in May and June tearing up the existing road, re-crowning the bed, improving the drainage channels on either side of the road. The engineers installed drainage tubes along the south side of the road for local roads to cross over while retaining the drainage channel the engineers envisioned. The north side borers on ranch land with a single road joining from that direction. The tubes are 2 feet in diameter. Along that 4 mile stretch, there are probably no more than a dozen side roads but that meant a dozen or so pipes installed with terrain before, after and around each pipe appropriately graded.

It was a work of art. There was no rock larger than a pound along either side of the road to mar the beautifully dimpled contours the engineers left behind.

They worked long and hard and completed the project damned near on schedule which merits a Legion of Accomplishment medal of some kind, anyway. They completed their work and the locals like uswho traveled the road were able to appreciate their efforts for exactly 4 weeks. Then, the rains came on the 23rd day of July.

When nature decides to rain in the desert, she does so with an awesome display. She dumps as much water on a 50-mile square in a half-hour span as the Mississippi sends past Atchafalaya in a comparable amount of time. The Mississippi, though, for the most part, has some borders it honors. The desert just sends all that water from high ground to low ground. That means top to bottom, left to right. Water in whatever spot it lands runs down hill whichever way down hills lies and keeps going till it gets to the bottom. Eventually, it all ends up in the river in the center of the valley and for a little while an Arizona river actually looks like a river.

Those nice channels alongside the road? They were the low ground. Every loose rock within eight square miles under ten pounds weight got washed into that channel. All the loose dirt from all the grading got washed down that channel. It took no more than five minutes before every pipe was clogged with rock and dirt and debris. Not able to go through, the water went over and around moving all that dirt and rock onto the road. When the storm passed by, the lines of demarcation between paved road and drainage channels were invisible. 4-wheel drive vehicles and nasty old pickup trucks drove the road anyway spraying dirt and rocks aside until eventually there were again two lanes a little bitty sedan might navigate upward or downwards on the road. The grader who appeared on the road Sunday morning to push the rock and dirt off the pavement smiled and waved cheerily to all who passed. It wasn’t his design, he just got paid the overtime to temporarily clear the road for safer travel.

This is not a new phenomenon. Those rains happen every year in July and August. A few years back, some Easterners hired to do the weather on Phoenix TV decided to call them monsoons and the name, inappropriate as it is, has stuck. The monsoons come every year and turn our valley greener than Richard Llewellyn remembred the Walesof his childhood. Every year, they are just as strong, move just as much desert;they are monotonously predictable.

Except for the engineers who maintain our roads.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-07-25 16:47:22


Friday, July 22, 2005
Killing

When is killing justified?

Everything living dies. The world is made that way and, if I were of a religious bent, I would be forced to conclude god created it that way. God created bodies that will wear out and little bitty bugs that will attack and destroy it. In either case, god made certain we’d end up dead. You could say that god kills me. But, then, she kills everyone, so it probably isn’t personal. When is killing justified?

Events of recent days caused me to think about the issue again. A retired soldier, killing has been a fact of my life for all my life but I seem to have never satisfied myself with a good answer to the question. Soldiers in war are justified killing the enemy because that’s what war is all about: the mass execution of quantities of the other side sufficient to make them stop fighting. All the while trying to lose as few of our own as possible. For the soldier it is a straightforward proposition. For the politician, justifying war is another matter altogether. Now that I am no longer a soldier, I find myself much more critical of the politicians who send soldiers off to war.

Had myself convinced for a number of years that the only justifiable killing was that necessary to protect innocent lives. Not my own, mind you. When it comes to me, I should probably turn the other cheek. But when it comes to innocents such as the Lady Who Shares Her Life With Me, that’s an easy answer. You stumble into a situation where the choice is that you kill the bad person or an innocent dies or is severely damaged, then you kill the bad person. My thinking was based on the notion that killing to save someone else seems ethical, moral, and reasonable.

There’s a guy named Rudolph who got sentenced day before yesterday. That was his reasoning. He killed and maimed some people in order to save future innocent lives. I do not agree with his thesis and my gut turns at what he did yet the rationale is the same that I had convinced myself was right and proper.

Fighting terrorist with ruthless intensity is easily justified on the same basis – for both sides. Killing people in a tube in London can be justified by the same logic. I cannot abide the act but I can understand the logic.

Does it really come down to the point where killing is okay when I can live with it and not okay when I can’t?

There is an answer to the question, isn’t there?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-07-22 08:33:17


Friday, July 22, 2005
You say 'potato'

ABC News Headline: Feds: Media Law Would Undermine Terror War

Lead paragraphs: (AP) “The fight against terrorism would be undermined by a law to protect reporters from going to jail when they refuse to reveal their sources, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Democrats, meanwhile, continued to pelt the White House over presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity. The Senate legislation has gained attention with the recent jailing of a New York Times reporter who declined to testify in the federal investigation into the leak.”

Laurie Kellerman, AP

CBS Headline: W. House Slams Media Shield Law

Lead paragraph: (AP) “Under fire for presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity, the Bush administration on Wednesday labeled as "bad public policy" legislation to protect reporters from being jailed when they refuse to reveal their sources.”

AP, Unattributed

CNN Headline: Senate Considers Media Protection Bill

Lead paragraph: (AP) “Under fire for presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity, the Bush administration on Wednesday labeled as "bad public policy" potential legislation to protect reporters from being jailed when they refuse to reveal their sources.”

AP, Unattributed

Fox News Headline: Senate Panel Ponders Reporter Shield Law

Lead paragraphs: (AP)“The fight against terrorism would be undermined by a law to protect reporters from going to jail when they refuse to reveal their sources, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Democrats, meanwhile, continued to pelt the White House over presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity. The Senate legislation has gained attention with the recent jailing of a New York Times reporter who declined to testify in the federal investigation into the leak.”

AP, Unattributed

NBC Headline: Senate Considers Protecting Reporters

Lead paragraph: (AP) “Under fire for presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity, the Bush administration on Wednesday labeled as "bad public policy" legislation to protect reporters from being jailed when they refuse to reveal their sources.”

AP, Unattributed

My, my! And we thought we could wordsmith.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-07-22 08:31:53


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