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Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Joined the VFW

After years of delay, I finally walked into my nearest VFW post and joined the organization. I’ve always been eligible to join because of my service in Korea, which is technically still a war zone; I just didn’t know it. After I found out, I had to send to the National Personnel Records Center to get records of my service, since I couldn’t find copies of my orders. What they send back was very limited, and it didn’t show conclusive evidence that I had been there long enough.

Then I found out about the Korea Defense Service Medal, created in 2002 and retroactive to 1954. I applied for retroactive award and it was finally approved. With that documentation, I was able to go down to the VFW and join.

A fellow ex-service member asked me why I wanted to join. To me it was pretty simple. I’m a pretty private person, and it’s not natural for me to go out glad-handing everyone I meet. I tend to have few friends, but the ones I do have are very special. I just want the opportunity to bump into a bunch of new people with whom I already have a lot in common. The VFW provides me with that opportunity, and I strongly support their service missions.

Growing up, I was always impressed when my father talked about his experiences as a member of the Lion’s Club. I’d like to belong to a service organization, and of all the opportunities available, the VFW best represents my interests. With all the combat vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan right now, I’d like to be their supporter and advocate. And with all my traveling of late, and the fact that I expect to be doing a lot more over the next year and a half, it would be nice to be able to go to just about any place in the world near a US military base and be able to find and walk into a VFW and find company.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 16:43 PST

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Monday, March 12th, 2007

The Battle of Glorieta Pass

My interest in history, always strong, has become even stronger over the last four months. It seems to have been kicked off by seeing Picacho Peak rising out of the Arizona desert as I was driving down the I-10 interstate back in November.

At the time, I was struck by the peak because of its dominance of the surrounding terrain. I was working on an interstate pipeline corrosion control project, and as part of the data management and presentation part of that, I was trying to get open source and otherwise free GIS software working on my computer. This proved to be difficult, but while playing with digital line graphics, elevation models, orthophotos and plain-old USGS maps, I had been struck by the way this coalescence of contour lines just sort of popped out, even before I ever saw it.

Maybe it was because I was still relatively unexposed to the glory of the American Southwest landscape. I remember driving the I-40 a couple of times, taking the I-70 once through Utah, and seeing the Grand Canyon, but that was a long time ago. Since then, I had been kept content in my high desert/mountain experience within the San Diego – Bakersfield – Las Vegas triangle. So the sight of Picacho Peak and its little brother, Newman Peak, coming up over the horizon really struck me.

Then I came back to the office and was informed that it was the site of the westernmost battle of the American Civil War. The Civil War? In Arizona? I had to look that up.

So I did, and this lead me to the New Mexico campaign of the Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley and his Union opponent, Colonel Edward R. S. Canby. What a fascinating story, and as I spend more time in Arizona and New Mexico, the more it intrigued me. Three loosely affiliated interests came together – geography, history, and military strategy. I found myself pausing on hilltops to examine avenues of approach, wondering how far the dust kicked up by mounted and marching troops could be seen, looking how the natural spurs and draws would be far more difficult to haul a supply wagon across than the improved road I was driving on.

All this forced me into diverting my most recent long haul, from Kansas City to El Paso, so that I could visit the Pecos National Historical Park so that I could walk the ground of the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Yesterday I wrote about the Native American and Spanish history value at this park, but the real highlight for me was taking the Civil War battlefield tour offered only on Saturdays. As it turned out, I was the only one signed up for the tour, but the park ranger there still wheeled out the van to take me around. When he found out that I already had some familiarity with the history, but that my limited on-line research was missing a lot of details, he seemed especially pleased.

I almost hadn’t bothered to go out of my way to see this place, but my reward for doing so was one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had in a long time.

We started at Kozlowski’s Ranch, a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail east of the pass, that served at the initial Union encampment on the night of 25 March, 1961. Looking over the field where the tents were pitched, I got my background briefing.

We then moved to the site of the first encounter and engagement, Apache Canyon, where Union and Confederate troops ran into each other on 26 March, when both must have been conducting a reconnaissance in force.

Next, we went to Johnson’s Ranch in Cañoncito, the site of the initial Confederate encampment. Because I’ve never seen Thermopylae (and nowadays it doesn’t look the same, anyway), I have never seen such an impressive bottleneck, so well suited for a military defense. Of course, the Confederates were invading.

On the afternoon of 28 March, while both sides were duking it out at Glorieta Pass, a force of 450 men under Major John Chivington and guided by Manuel Chavez, who had stolen over the mountains, descended a rugged cliff to destroy the Confederate supply train that had been left behind at this site. The beautiful bottleneck was bypassed.

Looking up at the cliff, I was awed. Even in my best shape, with modern equipment, this place would have been tough. The Colorado volunteers must have descended in at best a controlled fall, and in broad daylight under fire. I could easily imagine the fury with which they must have attacked the wagons and remaining Confederates – after what they had just gone through, they were pissed! And after wreaking havoc for four hours, they climbed back up the cliff and returned across the mountains through the night. I imagined the adrenaline high that powered their return and was jealous.

Finally, we traveled to the site of the climatic battle, near Pigeon’s Ranch. The Union soldiers had been surprised by the approaching Confederates while taking a water break. They formed a hasty defense in place, then under pressure, retreated to a second line at the ranch house. This second line was fronted by a winding creek and flanked by two hills that gave a commanding view of the Confederate route of attack. This was a kick-ass defensive position, and where the fighting was fiercest. Finally, the Confederate Colonel William Scurry forced Colonel John Slough’s men back by flanking their dominant positions from even higher on the walls of the valley. Slough fell back to a third line, but there was little time before nightfall, and just then the Confederates found out that the only food, ammunition and medical supplies they had left were what they were carrying in their pockets. The battle was broken off.

Locals call this engagement “The Gettysburg of the West”. That, in my opinion, is a huge exaggeration. Yes, this battle was significant, because it was the turning point where the Union stopped the Confederate effort to capture the Colorado gold fields and a passage to the West, specifically California. But the scope of the battle was far less – the number of troops involved, the casualties, and the consequences. At Gettysburg, Lee had the chance to begin a penetration into the Union homeland that could have achieved the Confederacy’s ultimate objective – forcing the Union to accept the South’s succession. But a Southern victory at Glorieta Pass would only have delayed the inevitable. Hell, Glorieta Pass was technically a Southern victory. But the destruction of their supplies forced the Confederacy to abandon the entire campaign. Sibley’s effort to take the West was doomed to failure because he did not have the resources to complete his aspirations of western conquest. Had he won at Glorieta without losing his wagons of food and ammunition, he could have pressed further – but there is no indication that he could have continued on and taken Fort Union further north. He had failed to take Fort Craig, with its immense storehouse of supplies, during his march up through the center of New Mexico. Sibley had counted on being able to live off the land in some of the harshest territory that exists in the world, and he expected that local sympathizers would assist him in doing so, when his forces were mostly Texans, and the majority of the local non-Native population were Hispanics who, until fourteen years prior, in 1848, had been subjects of Mexico, and the US annexation of Texas in 1845 had been the impetus for the Mexican-American War that lead to the cessation of the New Mexico and California territories. He had also counted on being able to take and hold Colorado, when most of the forces that faced him at Glorieta Pass were Colorado volunteers.

But still, walking the grounds of this conflict was an intense experience. The park ranger who guided me mentioned that one historian, upon viewing the site, had said that it was not a battlefield, it was a battletunnel. I could not agree more.

I’ve had experience in having to either defend or attack on a limited front. Most of those times, the boundaries were artificial – the limits to my left and right were dictated as being within the responsibility of allied forces; so the group size that I was training with, whether platoon, company or battalion, had to be imagined as part of a larger force. But the battlefield of Glorieta Pass was limited only by the terrain and the troops available – roughly 2 000 on each side. Slough’s decision to send a quarter of his force off on a difficult flanking maneuver was risky and brilliant, but ultimately relatively safe. His thrust to meet the Confederates had been in defiance of orders – which had been to defend the Union supplies at Fort Union at all costs. He could have sat back and waited for them to arrive, and then followed Canby’s example. Although Canby lost the Battle of Valverde near Fort Craig, he had been able to retain possession of the fort and its supplies. Sibley bypassed him, but in doing so, cut off his own lines of communication (read: supply link) back to Texas. He could only have done so if he wasn’t expecting further resupply from there. If Slough hadn’t stopped the Confederates at Glorieta Pass, he could have withdrawn back to Fort Union and held there, because Sibley didn’t have the manpower, equipment and supplies necessary to have taken the fort. Sibley couldn’t have bypassed this second point without risking losing his gains in New Mexico to a counterattack from the south by Canby.

Hmmm. I had been trying to get away from the strategic situation to the tactical at Glorieta Pass. I’m talking like a general, when my experience is far less. I was never an officer – I was a sergeant. My highest official position was squad leader, although at one time I ended up as an acting platoon leader, and in that situation my company commander took great pains to explain to me what I needed to do and why I needed to do it to affect the mission of the company. I also pulled duty as Battalion Staff Duty NCO – basically an acting Sergeant Major. I guess I soaked it up like a sponge. But then, I loved the military, and I had good leaders who constantly focused on training me how to do the jobs above me. I’ve never forgotten those lessons, and I think I’ve managed to advance my level of thinking even after I left. Maybe that’s why I took so much pleasure in walking this battlefield, being able to see so many critical factors – terrain, troop deposition, fields of fire, visibility, cover and concealment, supplies, risk of alternatives, even how morale could affect singular actions. Maybe a good wargamer could take all these factors into account, but he or she would have to be really good, and experienced at using an accurate model. My way of thinking has been shaped by being having to accomplish missions with no sleep for several days, of trudging miles and miles and doing more when I got there, of going without food and limited water, of following orders even when they made no sense to me at the time, and most of all, caring about my fellow soldiers, my mates, and doing for them so that I deserved to be cared about by them.

Will I ever get to a point in my life where being in the Army wasn’t the best thing in my life? I don’t think so. Moreover, why would I ever want to?

Tomorrow night I hope to write about my experience of visiting Fort Craig.

Posted by Greg as History, Posts About Me, Travel at 22:33 PST

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Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Following the Santa Fe Trail

Back to writing again. The big problems with WordPress appear to have been fixed, but there are still some tweaks required to get everything back the way it was, and I’ve been needing to review my plugins to make improvements anyway. Plus I need to revamp my categories.

It was time to drive from the Kansas City, Missouri, area (actually Lee’s Summit), where I’ve been living the last six weeks, back to El Paso, Texas. I’ve made the drive three times before, each with a variation. Once through Dallas, to see an old army buddy and his family; once through Killeen to take care of some business at Fort Hood, and once straight through. All these routes go through Texas, and the shortest one was 1 750 kilometers (1 087 miles), which I did straight through in 17 hours. Driving through Texas is a long, boring affair.

On this occasion I had some time over the weekend to spare, and I wanted a change in the scenery and to indulge in a little sightseeing. So I cut across Kansas on the I-70 (not much of an improvement over Texas), and started heading southwest in Colorado. I spent the night in Colorado Springs, and the next morning, started heading south on the I-25. The Rocky Mountains were off to my right, and I was driving through the foothills until I hit the Raton Pass and entered New Mexico. I was now following the Mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Actually, the Santa Fe Trail started in Missouri, but the I-70 runs a little north of the original trail, although the terrain is similar.

When I got to the vicinity of Pecos, New Mexico, I took a little time out for history. I visited the Pecos National Historical Park. I was there to see battlegrounds of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, called “the Gettysburg of the West”, but I had an added bonus in that the Park hosts the ruins of a Spanish mission dating back to 1621, and a Native American pueblo dating back to the early 1400s, although it had been settled since 1100. I intend to write more about the American Civil War battle later, but now seems a good time to write about the Native Americans and the Spanish.

When I first came to the United States, my family was in a hurry to absorb as much of the American experience as we could, because we intended to go back to Australia. Since we were living in southeast Pennsylvania, we had ready access to a lot of Revolutionary War era and Civil War sites, and as a teenager, I visited a lot of battlegrounds. It was only later, when I was in the US Army, that I really learned to appreciate the significance of terrain. After I got out of the Army, I didn’t live near American historical battlegrounds and didn’t visit them. I was also older, and had more of an appreciation for history.

Standing on the site of the Native American pueblo, I was able to look out at the surrounding terrain and truly appreciate the brilliance of its location. The hill had a commanding view of the terrain for miles in all directions, but because it was in the mouth of a mountain pass, there were only two avenues of approach for other people, most of whom could be presumed to be hostile. There were ready water sources and surrounding fields for raising crops. At the foot of the hill was an open area that served as a site for trade. The plains-roaming Apaches could approach, camp at the foot of the pueblo, and trade between the agricultural Pueblo people and the hunter-gatherer Apaches could be conducted in safety for both.

The ruins of the Spanish mission were also fascinating. Much of the adobe walls of the second mission church, dating from the early 1700s, remained, built on the foundation of the earlier one, and low walls remained of the rest of the mission. You could stand in the monastic cells, the kitchen and eating areas, walk on the flagstone floors, and see the utility of the drainage. Having lived in California, I’ve been to many Spanish missions, but none had the sense of history, of what it was actually like to live here centuries ago, as this place had.

Late in the afternoon, I left Pecos and drove the short remaining distance to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe has a reputation of being a great place to visit, and I was interested in seeing what was there. It’s a dusty, modern American small city that did not look impressive at all at first. The surrounding hills are littered with new homes built to look like old adobe buildings, but after seeing the real thing, they look as fake as a three dollar bill. My previous impression of the town was that it is full of aging hippie artists, but after seeing it, I can correct my view. It appears to be full of aging ex-hippie artists who, when they get together, probably spend most of their time trading stock tips. I checked into a room in the outskirts and plugged in to see what is really supposed to make this place an attraction. Their tourist site appears to be big on plugging arts and culture – 250 museums! I’m more interested in history, so I found the way to the historical center. I got in the car and headed there.

It didn’t take me long. I drove in and drove around. I stopped only because there were stop signs. My assessment of Santa Fe: if you’ve got a lot of money to spend on pretty things that you don’t need, it’s probably a great place to visit. I headed back to my room and went to bed very early.

So now I’m up, I’ve spent some time writing, and I’m ready to hit the road again. I’m going to take the I-25 south to El Paso; technically no longer the Santa Fe Trail but the El Camino Real, following the Rio Grande River. Hmmm. Isn’t the same name as the mission trail going up through California?

On the way, I see that I can stop by Fort Craig, as long as I’m willing to drive a few kilometers on a dirt road. Since I drive an SUV that I actually use to drive off road, this is no big deal. I’ve been told that I can’t visit the site of the Battle of Valverde – it’s on private land (Ted Turner’s name was thrown in.) I have the time, and it would round out my tour of retracing Sibley’s New Mexico campaign.

Posted by Greg as History, Posts About Me, Travel at 07:07 PST

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Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Tears of Nostalgia

Crockett answered, and with a caveat that brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes. The link he provided, which he said reminded him of me, was my Going to Combat song, sort of like my modern-day envisioning of the music that would play during my personal reenactment of the Ride of the Valkyries scene from Apocalypse Now. And right thereafter, YouTube gave me a link to one of my favorite songs ever, The Smiths “How Soon is Now“.

Gods, the late eighties was a great time for music, or maybe it was just the music from the Best Time of My Life. Whatever.


Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 11:01 PST

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The Lost Boys

In my entire military career – three years in Active Reserve as an 11B, Combat Infantryman; four years on Active Duty, 12B, Combat Engineer; and two years in Individual Ready Reserve – nothing was every so right in the world as when I was stationed at Fort Devens, MA, assigned to 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 39th Engineering Battalion (Combat). Other people came and went, also fondly remembered, but the core of our group was the squad leader, SSG John Dionne, myself as SPC, SPC Jonathan Crockett, and PFC Juan Estrada. The last three of us were roommates in the barracks, but we often hung out at the home of our squad leader. I was the Not-John.

Gods, the stories we have to tell about those times. We worked hard, played hard, excelled in our profession and got into plenty of trouble. We called ourselves “The Lost Boys”.

We were an eclectic group, with hometowns from Boston, MA, San Diego, CA (born Tijuana, Mexico), Fargo, ND, and West Chester, PA (born Ferntree Gully, Australia). Two of us earned our US citizenship while serving together. The bonds we formed shaped us and the rest of our lives.

Those bonds have proven themselves over time. Although this took place more than seventeen or so years ago, we’ve all still stayed in touch. But one of us, Crockett, whom by nature played the real wild card, and spiced up our adventures by his unpredictability, held out as the prodigal son – the hardest to keep in touch with, though no less loved.


A couple of weeks ago I got a lot of hits on an old post that someone had shared with his/her community. I noted the activity, but nothing came of it except that one person seemed to keep coming back, browsing through the rest of my blog. This person was coming from an IP than could only be resolved by geolocation to somewhere in the US, but I traced the IP to an ISP that served Montana and the surrounding states.

Now I, like all diligent webmasters, have to deal with the frustrations of lurkers – those strangers that hang around, keep visiting, but never pipe up through a comment or email. I’ve learned, like so many others, to put aside the wondering – the lurker will either finally speak up, or just disappear. But this time I was in for a pleasant surprise. Checking my logs, I saw a visit that terminated in my Contact Me page, and forlornly trotted off to check my email in case the link had been used.

This time I is was in for a pleasant surprise. The link had been used – there was an email!

And what an email. It was from the long-unheard-from Crockett. Son of a bitch! You better answer my reply, and soon.

P.S. Anyone who stumbles across this post who was a member of 1st Squad or 2nd Platoon, hell, anyone from my past, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve had abortive attempts of contact through Classmates or (Montenguise, Shadowen), but I never get anything from my replies. Keep trying! I’d especially love to hear from the honorary Lost Boy, Johnny Saalfrank, but since he followed my lead, went to SFAS and didn’t break his foot, he’s probably either in Afghanistan, or making a fortune as a mercenary (oops, private contractor) in Iraq.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 10:16 PST

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Opening Up

I’ve been keeping mum about personal stuff lately, even including simple things, like, Where the Hell is Greg? Which is a pity, because I’ve been doing some interesting stuff and traveling a lot, and normally I like to post my travels, as you could see when I occasionally mentioned where I was in the last few months. But recent events have lead me to conclude that I can start loosening up. So, I’ve taken the opportunity to install the Inline Google Maps plugin for WordPress, and now I’m going to give it a shot. Bear with me; I have only fooled around a little bit with the Google Maps API before, and could see that it was a very powerful (and complex) tool. So I’m trusting that Mike Kornieko got it right (and that my GM API key is correct.) Let’s find out!

Current meatspace coordinates: 32.26965, -107.73858 (latitude & longitude, WGS84)
Local appellation: Deming, NM

Deming, NM

Results: Well, I can see that there are a few kinks to be worked out!

First, the plugin takes a link to Google Maps and reinterprets it to place the inline map. So every previous post that links to Google Maps, such as my Minot, ND post, is now screwed up, because I don’t have it set up properly for the plugin. I can’t even see the original version in my WordPress editor, so I may have to turn to a database archive to recover the original.

Second, I found out by experimentation that the map will overwrite all text adjacent to it unless I make sure I have a blank line separating the text from the link in my WordPress Write Post editor.

Third, the displayed map looks quite different from the image I copied in Google Maps, and the marker is in the wrong place! Although I took pains to refine my coordinates to a resolution of a few meters, the marker is about 30 km (~20 miles) to the north of my location! That’s a pretty serious error. You can see just how much it’s off by cutting and pasting my coordinates in Google Maps, and comparing it to the image here.

Fourth, the map size is specified in pixels. Normally, I like to specify images in the width of the remaining space after my WordPress template stakes out the space needed for its left and right sidebars, which varies according to the screen resolution used by you, my visitor. I could deal with this by either modifying the plugin code to accept the percentage variable I want, or by trying to pass a calculated value for pixels using PHP variables to the plugin – either of which takes more work than I want to do. For now, I’ll leave the settings as they are, which makes the map a little too small for my preferred resolution (1024 x 768 on my laptop LCD screen, higher when I was using my 19″ at home.) But the smaller map is still comfortably visible, and I still get visitors using only 800 x 600, and believe it or not, in my second hat as IT support for my company, I’ve found users still stuck in lower resolutions that don’t want to change.

So there’s quite a bit of work to be done. But I really want this capability on my blog, so I guess when I find the time (ha, ha!), I’ll take a crack at it.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Posts About Me at 06:46 PST

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Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Discovering Barry Goldwater

I woke up early this morning and, tired of my early-morning sports shows (you may have noticed that my blogging about the San Diego Chargers dropped off just as everybody else finally noticed that they were, in fact, the best team in the NFL – it wasn’t fun anymore, and besides, there’s just too much on now about basketball, which I don’t like), flipped through the channels and landed on HBO’s Mr. Conservative – Goldwater on Goldwater.

There’s always danger involved in watching a single documentary and coming out of it saying “yes, this is what I believe” – although it’s a sign that the documentary was really well made. So I did a quick search to see how others viewed this presentation. Right away I saw criticism and praise, and the approach of both really cemented my interest.

During the show I had noticed the surprising mix of political figures who had deigned to be interviewed and included in the documentary. Included were George F. Will, the political commentator whom I most admire and respect, and Sandra Day O’Connor, who I think was the best Supreme Court Justice that has served since I’ve been old enough to have a political opinion. But criticism from the current Right Wing focused on the parade of current Liberals – Hillary Clinton, Al Franken, James Carville, Ted Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. And am I so out of the mainstream of current Republican politics that I was surprised to see Walter Cronkite labeled a Liberal? Still, I would have been very interested to have heard the comments of William F. Buckley, Jr.

One source immediately soothed me – The Cato Institute. Cato is where I have always turned when I have wanted to know the “official” libertarian view on an issue and the reasoning behind it, since my first copy of the Cato Handbook for Congress. I’m not saying that I let them decide how I should think, but they are an invaluable and authoritative resource on where we should be headed. I read their official blog post on this show and saw that I fit two of their three categories of people who call themselves “Goldwater Republicans” – I am pro-limited government, and I am libertarian. And their snide comment about George W. Bush reflects the problems I have with that administration.

I have, at times, called myself a conservative – but always, with the same breath, denounced those who currently have control over the definition of the term. I am happy to find that I stand in good company with at least the older version Goldwater, who said “I think every good Christian ought to kick [Moral Majority leader Jerry] Falwell right in the ass.” It’s instructive that the Wall Street Journal has taken pains to fight what they see as the modern day interpretation of Goldwater by trying to recast him back into an earlier version, and by doing so tries to reclaim current social conservatism as a foundation of the conservative movement.

What does the notion that Goldwater was a libertarian mean? First, it suggests that the cultural right has abandoned true conservatism. It implies that presidents like Reagan and Bush, who have relied heavily on socially conservative voters, deviate from Goldwater’s rugged and pure frontier conservatism. And then there is the implication, appearing frequently in the mainstream media, that Republicans must move back in Goldwater’s direction if they are to reclaim their intellectual credibility.

Well, I happen to think that the Right has abandoned true conservatism. And I do think the Republicans need to reclaim their credibility, and I think the results of the 2006 elections indicate that I am not alone. Last November, commentators pointed out that many libertarian-leaning people, who seem to comprise a significant portion of the swing vote (the ideologically unbound that, despite Karl Rove’s flash-in-the-pan success of relying on a “get out the base” strategy, usually control elections and the basis of power in the United States), had come to the conclusion, for once, that the Democrats better represent their interests. I haven’t given up yet on the Republicans, but I want to push them away from the religious right. At least, as long as the religious right makes abortion, oppresion of gays and government-sponsored Christianity their foundation. I’m seeing an emergence of a religious movement towards ecological conservation that is very promising. This, I believe, is actually a value that Goldwater would have supported. If the religious right started supporting the separation of Church and State instead of trying to legislate morality, I think I could get along with them just fine.

I still need to get a copy of Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conversative, but, based on the Cato Institute’s and the Wall Street Journal’s characterizations, it might to fair to start calling myself a Goldwater conservative.

In an amazing coincidence, my very last post mentioned my pleasure in enjoying the scenic beauty of Goldwater’s home state, Arizona.

Posted by Greg as Politics, Posts About Me at 05:20 PST

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Thursday, December 28th, 2006

High Desert Snow

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, but today, instead of flying, I was driving. I was passing through the Galiuro Mountains east of Tucson, heading for New Mexico, and it was snowing lightly.

Snow in the high desert is just the icing on the cake of the beauty of this land. I’m sure there are places in the American Southwest that are even more spectacular, but it sure was nice being distracted from the things that are going on in my life by a few incredibly picturesque scenes.

Geography has a major consideration in my work of late – I’ve been tracking cathodic protection readings by GPS readings. Although I first started trying to get geographical coordinates on CP facilities (and by extension, the structures that they’re on) back in 1995, the available technology has improved substantially over the years to the point that very accurate information is easily obtained. The trouble is, the tools to manipulate this data have not been so forthcoming. I’ve been keeping my eye on GIS systems for a while now, but the software has been prohibitively expensive for me to use with what I’ve been doing. But that’s changing – GIS has become a foundation for all kinds of civil engineering work and other fields, and now corrosion control data analysis is being dragged into it. Clients are just now starting to demand their data in a GIS-importable format, and I’ve got a whole new skill set to acquire.

But this skill set combines a lot of things that I’ve already been interested in – map reading, computer graphics, and databases. I’ve been boning up lately on the fundamentals, particularly on the basics of geodesy (projections, datums and coordinate systems). I’ve been trying to get a high end open source GIS system installed on my computer, but the Windows version just doesn’t work, and the Linux version seems to be having a lot of problems with dependencies, which is also helping me get more familiar the nuts and bolts of Linux, because I’ve been trying to configure and compile source packages instead of installing rpms.

But if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, while researching the geography of the region, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the history. I ended up with a fascination in Sibley’s 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which turned out to be the historical setting for one of my favorite movies – Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Yeah. Distractions. May as well put them to good use.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, General Science, OS, Posts About Me at 21:59 PST

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Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Making Certain Positions Known

After maintaining a blog – sometimes more, sometimes less – for more than a year and a half, I feel like I’ve staked out a little personal identity on the Internet. It just occurred to me, after preening over my latest number one hit on Google (“elbow and send”, if you must know, and I have no clue how long it has been that way), and catching the end of Boston Legal, where Denny and Alan apparently have different wishes on what is to happen to their remains, that I have a forum here, a place to express myself. I’ve expressed the quirky and mundane, taken my shots at the deeply introspective, and tried… aw, screw it. This blog has no focus or cogency other than to drop little bits of myself out there on the Web.

Although I have strongly considered preparing a living will, and often thought about having that serious sit-down talk with the most important people in my life, I never have seemed to have gotten around to actually doing it. And that’s just not sound preparation for a cancer survivor. But right here I can grasp an idea when it comes to mind and pound away at it.

So I guess I’ll start to lay out my views on some of those really important decisions about what to do with me when I’m not actually able to be there and provide my input. It might take some time for my true position to evolve, or I might just nail it the first time around. Here goes.

I don’t want to be kept alive on machines for an interminable amount of time after things have gone really bad and I’m not able to take care of myself anymore. I don’t want a machine to breathe for me, or pump my blood for me, or feed me if I can’t swallow. If I need one or all of those things to get through something from which I might recover – by all means, give my body the chance. But if I can’t pull off a recovery in a reasonable time – I’ll have to let the doctors decide what is reasonable, I just don’t know – then it’s probably over, and I don’t want my life sustained artificially beyond that. Don’t get me wrong – I want to live. Give me a chance, and if I’m capable of doing it, I will. I know from the close calls that I have had, the face-to-face encounters with death, that I have a strong will to live.

If the end is inevitable, I’d prefer to see it through. I don’t want to off myself to avoid the last six months, like those death with dignity advocates. Nothing against them, but I’ll take it when it comes, not before, and not after. If pain is involved, so be it. Pain is a part of life; I’ve learned to appreciate it for what it is. If my last days are destined to be spent experiencing that particular part, then let me have that much. Pain management is only for those who are going to survive.

Although I am often able to keep myself entertained solely with mental exercises, I don’t want that to be the only remaining thing in my life. If the body doesn’t work right anymore, but the doctors think the mind is still alive and there, I’m pretty sure that I’ll get tired of it eventually. Unless I can continue to contribute to humankind, say, like solve the mysteries of the universe, then it’s over. I don’t care what great thoughts might be rolling around in that head of mine; if I can’t provide feedback, then it’s a waste. Maybe technology will provide a way to for my mind to interact with the world despite a failed body – in that case, I’ll let you know my wishes. But otherwise, I want the coup-de-grace. I don’t want anyone to go to jail for giving me what I want; I have enough friends who would know how to do it right. Just give them the chance to hear about me, and they’ll show up when they’re needed. Don’t question them too much if they take me out to look at the ocean and I end up falling over a cliff.

And once it’s over – well, it’s over, as far as I’m concerned. My parts are no good to anybody, thanks to the melanoma. I can appreciate that we have come up with certain rituals for mourning. I realize that these rituals are meant for the living, not the dead. I’ll leave it up to you to have the final say on those rites. There have been many people in my life that have been special to me, and I want you all to be able to to say goodbye to me in a way that will leave you satisfied.

Intellect, not emotion, says that I have to put in a word for medical science. But if there is no pressing need, or if the remains aren’t in a suitable state, I’d rather indulge in something more symbolic. If you must know, the most romantic, captivating image to me, personally, is the pyre. Read Zelazny’s This Immortal. I realize, however, that this is no longer common or practical, and it might be a little too much for some. Spreading my ashes might be a viable option – as long as you don’t repeat the scene from The Big Lebowski! Well, I wouldn’t mind the coffee can, and maybe if I’m wrong and I was able to watch, I would appreciate the humor!

I’m also torn because I’ve participated in enough military funerals that I respect that particular ritual. I would truly appreciate some acknowledgment from my comrades of my service. They will be able to provide alternatives. Just, if you chose to go with burial, don’t try to forestall the inevitable and fill my body up with preservatives, and put me into an impermeable box. Let nature take its course.

Well, that’s my piece. I’ll let it stand as it is now – but I’ll keep checking on it. So, until you see this revised, consider it to be my final wishes. Of course, my ultimate preference is that none of you who ever reads this will be around to see it come to use!

Hmmm. Think I nailed it.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 23:10 PST

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Saturday, November 18th, 2006

2006 Chargers Playoff Hopes – Week 10

I haven’t had much time to write about the San Diego Chargers this season. Hell, I haven’t had much time to watch the games, nor to write. It’s time to start changing that.

I see that I haven’t posted about the Chargers since my preseason prediction on 11 August. That’s a pity, since I really got into the swing of things last year, and this year I had hoped to better. But things are as they are. Although I’ve been voraciously consuming all sorts of oddsmaking, power rankings and sports writing in the meantime, I haven’t made the time to cackle with glee over how I foresaw a much better outcome by this point in the NFL season than most of the pros.

Due to personal, geography/broadcast and travel problems, I’ve missed watching a lot of Chargers games so far. In fact, I’ve been dismayed to notice that, prior to last week’s game against Cincinnati, the Chargers’ season record was 5-0 when I didn’t watch the game, and 1-2 when I did. True, some of those missed games were given low priority because they were against easy opponents; and I listened to them on the radio as best as I could, trying to keep AM radio tuned in as I drove across various deserts. Was I a jinx? The Bengals game ended that thought, even if I had to wonder that watching might in fact be hazardous to my health. (Note to self – cut down on the trans fats!) I’ve been comforted by the thought that I know these players and how they move – that I can see in my mind’s eye what they look like when they’re making the moves that I can only hear or see on the game summary.

So here we are with a 7-2 record, the day before Week 11. Tomorrow, the Chargers go to Denver to play the Broncos in one of the most important games of the season, hoping for a win against an opponent that knows us all too well in a place that seems to be cursed for us. The Chargers are the highest scoring team in the league, going up against the team that has allowed the fewest points. It’s going to be a great game, and we’ve got Al Michaels and John Madden to provide commentary – the best coverage out there. But we’re doing it without Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo, and maybe an up-to-par Eric Parker – putting the onus on our improved-but-still-weak secondary against Javon Walker – and Marlon McCree, the secondary’s leader, has still to be sensitive about the criticism he got from the mis-read hit he put on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh last week. The Broncos offense doesn’t have a great scoring record, and quarterback Jake Plummer has been inconsistent, but the battle for points in this game is going to be tight.

Since Madden knows the true value of how well our offensive line – Mike Goff, Shane Olivea, Nick Hardwick, Kris Dielman, and Marcus McNeill – has been performing, and since he has to be the number one fan of our defensive tackle, Jamal Williams, I’m going to expect that his commentary is going to be colored in favor of the Chargers. I’ve noticed that a lot of pro writers have come out predicting a Chargers win, despite the average 2.5 point line favoring Denver. But odds are determined by public opinion, and on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team – especially in this decade’s AFC. Public opinion can be wrong. This game is going to be a meat grinder. This game, like so many others, will hinge on turnovers, and San Diego seems to have finally learned how to take that to their advantage. I kind of like that San Diego is going into it as the underdogs – in our rebirth 2004 season, we often did best as the underdog. Since I expect that the AFC Championship game is going to be San Diego vs. New England, which we will win handily – I expect that this game will be the most pivotal in the AFC this year.

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This post is titled “Playoff Hopes”, remember? There’s just no way to under-emphasize what this game means. A San Diego loss would mean that that Denver advances to clear leadership of the AFC West division, and with the divisional record and a relatively easy schedule remaining for them, they would take the West, even if San Diego wins the rest of their games. That puts San Diego into the position of getting into the playoffs as a wild card, and maybe having to play Denver at Denver again, where the loss would but them at a distinct psychological disadvantage. But a win changes everything. We take the West for now, and with our undefeated home record, we can hold on to it. If Baltimore and New England stumble just once each during the rest of the season, we’ll slide into a bye for the first week of the playoffs and face whoever puts the Indianapolis Colts into their place. I think it will be the Patriots, but I hope it’s the Ravens. We’ve played them before, lost, and redefined the team in accordance. That redefinition will take us to the Superbowl.

Can we beat Chicago or the NY Giants? I think the question is whether we can beat them by less than 14 points. My dream Superbowl this year, let me say it now, is going up against Drew Brees and the Saints. That game would be tough – Drew knows us even better than the Broncos. Although San Diego General Manager A. J. Smith has been proven right more often than wrong (I still chafe at passing up on safety Troy Polamalu), giving up Brees will be the defining point of his career. So far, after anointing Philip Rivers as the San Diego quarterback, I’ll continue to place my confidence in A. J.

Back to tomorrow. Let me pull out this thing – what is it? Oh, a crystal ball! I rub; the smoke forms, then clears – whoa! San Diego 27, Denver 21. Cool! Did I mention Nate Kaeding?

Posted by Greg as Football, Posts About Me at 12:04 PST

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