« July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

August 2008 Archives

August 3, 2008

Books: Charlie Wilson's War

I read Charlie Wilson's War while I was in Montana. Read may be inaccurate; I became completely obsessed with the book and worked it into nearly every conversation I had. For those not familiar, the book is a history of the secret CIA war that was waged in Afghanistan in the 1980's, when the Soviets were occupying the country and created a puppet government sympathetic to communism. The mujahideen freedom fighters were supported by the CIA to the tune of a billion dollars a year, even after the Soviets were pushed out of the country. (I hope I didn't ruin the ending for anyone...)

When I picked up this book, I was expecting another "US Government Does it All Wrong" sort of thing, a la the Woodward book State of Denial, and any number of books about 911, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The thing is, the operation in Afghanistan in the 80's was the biggest success that anyone could ever have dreamed of. People were scrambling to take credit for it in the end; Afghanistan was the Soviets' Vietnam. So you see these Americans fighting to get money and weapons for the mujahideen, and you're rooting for them, they're the heros! It's just such a perfect example of black and white turning into a muddy gray.

I haven't seen the movie, but I can only think that it must've sucked, or it would've been a huge hit. This is a fantastic book. Read it if you like politics, mystery, secret spy operations, history, or if you care about the future of the middle east.

The day I finished the book, I was walking through downtown Bozeman and saw a spray painted image on a dumpster. It had the Uncle Sam "We Want You" picture, with the words "You Bought the Bombs!" stenciled underneath. All I could think, is yeah, but buddy it's way more complicated than that.

August 14, 2008


I've done a fair amount of traveling in unknown corners of the country this summer. When folks find out I'm a Californian (it's far too complicated to explain that I am actually a Nebraskan), generally the response indicates that they don't like the idea of Californians moving into their sacred state (I'm talking to you, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, et al...). They may claim that California used to be nice, before so darn many people moved in. They may tell you about the big houses being built in the mountains by the ostentatious jerks from the Golden State, or they may cleverly tell you that they don't want their state to be Californicated.

My kneejerk reaction is to tell them to shut the fuck up, because this is America and if someone wants to move from one place to to another, it's their right to do so. If you don't want big houses in the hills, you're going to have to get involved in local politics and change the zoning laws. If you don't want lots of traffic on your city streets, you're going to have to become a proponent of public transit. And if you don't want someone else fishing in your favorite stream, you're going to have to get up early. Who are you to tell me where to spend my money and make my home? What makes you think you own the local culture? You are a part of the culture, you can work to affect it, but you do not own it, and if you want the culture of your hometown to be one way or another, you're going to have to work for it.

When I first moved to California, Teddy said something which is one of my favorite, uh, witticisms. He said "You know, people in other places are always afraid of Californians moving in and messing things up. Californians just say, 'Of course you should move here. It's great.'"

California is beautiful. We got it all, weather, cities, food, wilderness, jobs, and yeah, people. We have all kinds of people from all over. They come here because there's still some good life left and they want a slice. And for the most part, they are welcome. I welcome them, anyway. Come out to California. Life is great out here.

raisin' it up, waxin' it down

First, Zappa:

When I fled the hot, smoke-filled California Central Valley for Bozeman for three weeks this summer, I wasn't sure what to expect. I like California a lot, but I'd been given a romantic image of Montana by a certain mechanic at a Yreka bike shop, and of course, by Frank Zappa. So when the fires started and it wasn't healthy to be outdoors in California, I came here.

After three weeks and one and a half years in Montana and California respectively, I think it's safe to call myself an expert on both. So, in order to help my loyal readers understand the pros and cons of the two locales, I've quantified their strengths and weaknesses below.

Cows: California ones are happier. +1 for CA.
Fishing: Since the start of my fishing career, I've caught 4 in California (+4) and 5 in Montana (+5).
Cycling: I have only met 3 cyclists who were actually on their bikes in Montana, and they were all from somewhere else. +1 for CA.
Fires: So far, more in California. +1 for MT.
People: Everyone in Montana seems to be from California. Most folks I meet in California are from the Midwest. Everyone knows Midwesterners are the best folk around, so that's +1 for CA.
Thermal features: Wyoming wins.
Zappa songs: He wrote a song about Montana, but most of the acid he did probably came from California. +1 for CA.
Food: +1 for CA. Although it costs less in MT.
Mosquitoes: OMG +1 for CA.
High elevation lakes: +1 for MT.
Bears: Montana has grizzlies, which might eat you. +1 for CA.

I'm not sure who wins, you do the math. I like 'em both, and I know one thing for sure:
Thank God for that.

August 16, 2008

A little context, please!

Attention news media: if you're going to cite numbers, give them some context. Example:

Americans drove 12.2 billion fewer miles in June 2008 than they did in June of last year. That was the biggest monthly drop in a downward driving trend that began in November as soaring gas prices started to pinch consumers. Overall, Americans drove 53.2 billion fewer miles November through June than they did over the same eight-month period a year earlier. -MSNBC

I think that's just great. Americans drive too much. We should drive less. But I have NO FUCKING CLUE how many miles we usually drive. 20 billion? 100 billion? A trillion? Gimme some context or this information is completely useless. The sad thing is, that's what they're going for.

I see this sort of thing all the time - when hearing about the number of barrels of oil in ANWR, the number of pounds of CO2 saved by CFL light bulbs, or any number of common issues. In fact, I see it so often that I start to wonder whether I'm being deliberately underinformed. The news media post articles about problems of the day, without disseminating any real information about them, because numbers without context are not informative. We can feel like the problem is as good as solved, look, 12 billion miles less driving! That's a lot!! Pat ourselves on the back, and go about our day. Come on, we can do a little better than that.

See also: gallons of oil buried in ANWAR, pounds of CO2 released to atmosphere by my TV, federal government subsidies to AMTRAK, deer and moose killed by speeding cars in Yellowstone National Park, et al.

About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Katieblog in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2008 is the previous archive.

September 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33