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Friday, November 1, 2013

Monkey See Monkey Do: Or Get New Monkeys

Psychology 101
If you start with a cage containing five monkeys and inside the cage, hang a banana on a string from the top and then you place a set of stairs under the banana, before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray all the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while another monkey makes an attempt with same result ... all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, all of the other monkeys beat the "tar" out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys, replacing it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment...... with enthusiasm, because he is now part of the "team".

Then, replace a third original monkey with a new one, followed by the fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked.

Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs.

Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.

Why, you ask? Because in their minds...that is the way it has always been!

This, my friends, is how Congress operates... and this is why, from time to time: ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME.

Your Congressional Representative?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Should The United States Use Military Force Against Syria?

I have not met, or heard, very many people who quickly answer this question "yes" or "no," myself included.  There are many, many variables as to whether the United States should engage in some sort of military action against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against Syrian citizens which killed hundreds of women and children in addition many more men.

When the allegations of chemical weapons being used in the Syrian civil war first arose my immediate thoughts went to something I have said often in the past.  It is in answer to a question no one in the press seems to be asking, "where did Assad get the sarin nerve gas?"

My answer is the same answer I had when no chemical or biological weapons were found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003: from Saddam Hussein.  Separating oneself from the vitriolic emotions that many experience regarding President George W. Bush and the Iraq War and just looking at times lines and past history there is a strong case to be made that Hussein supplied Assad.  With months, even years, to prepare for some sort of international action against him for biological and chemical weapons (WMD or weapons of mass destruction), Saddam had plenty of time to move weapons across the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Without delving into intense detail, those with a good sense of recall will remember that Hussein had used chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war, told the United Nations after the first Gulf War that he had stockpiles of biological and chemical agents that were weaponized, later when UN inspectors went into the country they were often stalled or refused the ability to inspect sights for weeks or months if at all, and several foreign intelligence agencies besides our own reported that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons.

So how did an arsenal of WMD agents that Hussein acknowledged having, that several countries confirmed him having and that he had previously used suddenly disappear?  Suddenly is not the right word as Hussein had months between the UN passing a resolution calling for inspections and that Hussein better comply or else.  Or else was Congress voting to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq.  There was plenty of time between the UN debates and vote, the debate in the U.S. and subsequent Congressional vote and the invasion for a man who controlled every aspect of his nation to move weapons across the border to a very friendly and receptive dictator in Syria.

So back to the question at hand: Should the United States use military force against Syria?  My answer is yes. But...

I firmly believe that the United States has a moral imperative to strike against anyone who uses chemical and/or biological weapons.  While many Americans are uncomfortable with the idea, we are the world's "policeman."  I see no other nation in the world with our moral compass and our power to ensure everyone plays nice, and for those who don't impose penalties.  While nice to have support from other nations when undergoing our duties enforcing moral imperatives, I do not feel it is necessary. Because of this I strongly feel the United States must act against Bashar al-Assad and his military for the chemical attack(s).

What complicates the answer to this question is the recent history, i.e. since Obama has been President, in the Middle East.  In 2002 then Senator Obama spoke out against the Iraq War, not because Hussein may or may not have had WMD, but because he felt it was "a dumb war."  Saying Hussein " a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power" Obama also acknowledged Hussein's possession and use of WMD.  His argument against the war was that Hussein "...poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors." 

Since becoming President the threshold for military force (which in my opinion is the same as war) has loosened considerably.  Obama called for bombing in Lybia to assist rebels in deposing dictator Muammar Gaddafi--there was no imminent and direct threat to the United States or Lybia's neighbors.  While using bombs to get rid of one rogue government, Obama did nothing to assist a growing revolution in Iran, a government that does pose a threat to the United States with its funding of terrorists.  Obama cheered from the sidelines while Egypt's long term ruler Hosni Mubarek was toppled and refused to express concern when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power.  Later when elected President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the Egyptian military the Administration issued a fairly meek protest.  Syria has been engaged in a civil war with three parties vying for power and until earlier this year when the United States began supplying weapons and training to some rebel forces there was no effort to unseat Assad.

What is the filter through which Obama picks and chooses who to assist in deposing and who to let fight it out?  How is Assad any less worthy of being ousted with strong and direct military assistance than Gaddafi?  Perhaps the answer lies to the north of Syria and Assad's ally Vladimir Putin.  If only Gaddafi had stronger alliances with other dictators he may still be alive and in power.

The primary source of my hesitancy for the United States striking against Assad is my concern the scope of our action will be too limited and inconsequential.  Will the action be akin to bombing an aspirin factory, a la President Clinton in the Sudan?  Unless our military action is strong, severe and has a lasting negative impact on Assad's ability to wage war against his own people then I feel any action we take will be to prop up Obama's "red line" statement.  Anything less than an plan of action that takes out Assad's air force, significantly damages his army and/or takes out Assad and/or his top military officials to me bombing just to bomb.  

A limited missile strike against a few targets is akin to spanking your grown drug addicted son in hopes it will change his behavior.  Assad needs more than a swat on the butt, and does the world community.  Slapping Assad on the wrist by killing a few members of his military, who he sees as expendable anyway, gives tacit consent to future despots who want to use chemical or biological weapons. 

Assad needs to be removed from power, either by terminating him or capturing him and putting him on trial.

As for the power vacuum this would create, from all I have ingested over the past few years on the Syrian civil war there are three factions: Assad and the government, Al-Qaeda and a "Free Syrian" or secular faction.  It is the latter group that the United States should support and act accordingly.

The financial cost to the United States, how the Arab street or other dictators will "feel" about the United States and threats from Putin should not factor in our decision to punish, convincingly, Bashar al-Assad.  What makes the decision to engage militarily in Syria is the moral principles of our nation, using chemical weapons on civilians, whether with missiles or as part of ethnic cleansing is wrong and anyone who engages in such murder needs to be eliminated.

My hope is that very soon President Obama personally lays out the imperative as well as Secretary of State Kerry did in part of his statement on Sunday.  My hope is that President Obama will provide a clear objective as to the intended result of military action in Syria and that the objective is nothing short of removing Bashar al-Assad from power.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


By the numbers:

4965 miles on the Summer Road Trip III
12 nights Leslie and I were on the road
7 nights Blaire and Jenna were on the road with us
33 nights Jenna was "on the road" including her nights at camp
19 nights Blaire was away from home
10 states Leslie and I travelled through
7 states Blaire and Jenna travelled through (missing Nevada, Arizona, Utah)

A couple of impressions from SRTIII that will linger for a long time.

First, how well everyone got along despite being in close quarters for literally 24-7.  Every mile, every meal, every hotel at night and in the morning we were together.  A few very minor spats, but the key words being "few" and "minor spats."  I am very proud of the girls for their road-princess attitudes, and not princess in the "she's a princess" negative type way.

Second, how social media added to the enjoyment of our trip.  As many know Leslie and I were posting often on Facebook, and the girls were putting pictures up on their Instagram accounts.  The comments from a wide range of friends and acquaintances from their having been where we are travelling to and sharing their experiences to positive comments enjoying our photos and travels.  It seems like quite a few people were on our trip with us as their vicarious travels brought us pleasure that we could drive them around the country.  Added to this are the numerous positive comments to me directly from those who have waded through my grammatical and spelling errors in this blog updating our progress. Thank you to everyone for our support and at times cheering us on.

Third, here's the sappy part, how blessed I am to have the perfect travel companion for this and every journey.  If any young couple asks me for advice before they get married I think I will suggest they take a very long road trip, by car, and see how well they spend so much time together without a break or a place to go be by themselves.  That Leslie and I can do this year after year says everything about our marriage, our compatibility and our love for each other and many of the same things in life.

We ended our journey driving from Medford, Oregon to San Francisco to see Dad, Ankie and sister Sharon.  It was a beautiful day out on Dad's deck, sunny, slight breeze and about 65 degrees.  We visited for a while and then it was back into the Honda Odyssey for a short hop to Novato and Sharon and her husband Bob's home for our final night of the trip.  A fantastic dinner of grilled tri-tip, baked potatoes and salad with some wine from George Lucas' vineyard and we were well nourished for our final leg.

For the first time we drove south from Northern California to Long Beach on Highway 99 instead of I-5.  It may have taken longer but it was a much easier and enjoyable drive.  There are multiple stretches with three lanes, the agriculture diversity is better than I-5 and most importantly the drivers are far less aggressive.

Of course what made the drive more enjoyable for me was having satellite radio and listening to the final round of the PGA Championship from 9:00 to its conclusion just before we pulled to the curb around 4:30.  Yes, golf on the radio--thankfully my travel companions were okay with it, the girls watching videos on my laptop and Leslie engrossed in a book.

At 4:30 we turned off the van and unloaded for the last time, on this trip.  Already thinking of next year's trip.  The girls haven't been to Colorado.  And of course we were so close to the Canadian border this year, what about heading north and driving home through our northern neighbor?  Hmmmm, decisions.....

The girls with their Aunt Sharon who spent many years
at Camp Birchwood as a camper and counselor

Dad, aka Opa, with his girls on his deck in San Francisco

Almost home! Just before we climb in for the final leg
from Sharon's in Novato to Long Beach

Friday, August 9, 2013

Emerald City

In January Leslie and I went to Seattle for a weekend, it was my first visit there and we had a great time.  It was cold (low thirty degrees, high forty), foggy (we had dinner at the top of the Space Needle and the only thing we could see was the bright pink neon elephant sign for the car wash right below the needle) and windy.  I loved it and told her that if we ever win the lottery (make that when we win the lottery) we are buying a condo in the Emerald City for when we visit frequently.

After our visit the past two days my plan for lottery money has not changed.

The drive from Bonner's Ferry to Seattle was another great drive with interesting contrasts as we put several hundred miles on our odometer.  We dropped through the wooded mountains and foothills into Spokane and Eastern Washington.  Not long after that the trees melted away and we were once again in the midst of a wheat belt.  Eastern Washington mirrored Western Montana with plains type terrain and fields becoming lush forested mountains--no duh since the northern Rockies separate the two regions.

Slowly the flatlands become more hilly and after lunch we crossed the Columbia River.  We slowly and windily climbed from the river and after cresting one hill I almost jammed on the brakes as looming in the distance was the massive Mount Rainer, covered in snow and visible from more than 150 miles outside Seattle.  It was stunning to have it just appear out of the horizon so suddenly.

The drive into Seattle was slowed by road repair and then traffic into the city but we finally arrived at our Best Western Loyal Inn around 4:00.  The weather was quite different than our trip in January, about 50 degrees different as it was 85 degrees when we arrived, as well it was very clear.  Our hotel was perfectly located and after unloading the Honda Odyssey we walked to the Space Needle, it was about a ten minute walk.

The 360 degree view from the Space Needle on a day like we had on Wednesday afternoon is indescribable.  Seattle's location on the Puget Sound, Lake Union with the islands and mountains plus the city itself make it a very unique setting and the Space Needle maximizes that setting for visitors.  We spent about an hour walking around the outside platform and snapping photos.  One event that was very neat was the helicopter for one of the local television stations taking off from its roof-top landing pad that was several hundred feet below us.

After the Space Needle we went to a sports bar and restaurant nearby for dinner and then walked around a bit, getting the obligatory Starbucks and then headed back to our hotel.

Thursday morning we were up and eschewed the free Best Western breakfast for Top Pot donuts, "hand forged" donuts and a place Leslie and I discovered in January.  The donuts are fantastic and naturally for Seattle the coffee is better than we are used to.  We were meeting Leslie's cousins for lunch around noon by the Pike Place Market so we walked down to the market.  The fish throwers get most of the attention for the market but the totality of the shops and what they have to offer is what makes the place special--and a primary reason for my declaration that lottery money would buy a condo nearby.  The variety and freshness of the fruits, vegetables, fish and meat makes it a must go to place if you like to cook.  Add in the crafty stuff and all the different food purveyors and you have a place that can take your whole day from breakfast to dinner.

We spent quite a while watching the cheese curds being stirred at Beecher's Cheese and even longer watching a woman who I do not think speaks English making piroshkys at Piroshky, Piroshky.  When noon rolled around we met Leslie's cousins Mary and Melinda at Steelhead Diner (I had the manila clams with sofrito and broth--yes they were delicious).

After a very good lunch and the cousins catching up on each other and other members of the family we walked down to the waterfront.  Jenna really wanted to ride the ferris wheel, dad did not.  Dad won.

We went down a few piers and purchased tickets for the ferry to Bainbridge Island. The tickets were cheap ($7.70 for Leslie and I and $6.20 for the girls) and you only pay one-way---the ride back to Seattle is free. Perfect timing as they started boarding the ship right when we showed up.  It was a beautiful day, we stayed out on the deck,  hanging out on the bow, in shorts and shirt sleeves, I imagine that is not something that you can do to many days a year.  The ride is fun and not much more than half an hour.  Once we got to the island we walked about ten minutes into the town and headed right to Mora Iced Creamery.  Yet more delicious food in the Seattle area, some of the best ice cream anywhere.

Looking around we saw there was not much else we wanted to see so we headed back to the ferry and once again had perfect timing as boarding started as soon as we got in line.  We had a fun time watching all the cars load into the hold.

Once we landed in Seattle I took leave of the girls to go back to the hotel room to do some work, a good opportunity as well to avoid the ferris wheel ride they were headed to.

Leslie and the girls walked back to the hotel from the ferris wheel, stopping for some shopping and browsing on the way. After we all gathered in the room we headed out on foot for dinner.  Leslie found an Italian restaurant in one of the guides, La Vita E Bella.  We walked up and there was an elderly gentleman sitting on a stool playing an accordion on the sidewalk where they had tables set up. We sat outside and enjoyed a very good dinner, ambiance with the accordion player next to our table and the incredible summer weather.  After dinner we walked to the Icon Grill, which is across from the Westin where we stayed in January and they have "dessert happy hour" after 9:00 every evening.

A first in Smith Family history, we ordered three desserts to share and none were finished--we were quite full.  On our full stomachs we walked back to our room and I collapsed.  The best day of our trip, long walks, good food and a wonderful city as the setting.

Today we drove to Medford, Oregon.  The drive down I-5 was horrible, after 4100 miles the drivers in Oregon are the worst of anywhere we have been.  No one respects the "Slower Drivers Stay In Right Lane," cut you off when passing a truck and generally made for a very stressful drive for the first two hundred miles.

The last hundred plus miles was gorgeous, even with a huge down pour as we wound through the mountains that had us down to below forty miles an hour and greatly reduce visibility.  We pulled into our hotel about 6:00 and headed across the parking lot to the local diner for a passable and forgettable dinner.  Now we sit in the room having a cocktail, reading, blogging, texting and watching "Shark Tank."

Tomorrow we return to California, Leslie and I for the first time since July 30th, Blaire since July 22nd and Jenna since July 8th.  We plan on pulling into sister/aunt Sharon and Uncle Bob's place in Marin County sometime in the late afternoon.  Sunday we will stop by my folk's place in San Francisco for a brief visit and then head home to Long Beach via Highway 99 down the valley and gut of California.

Here are the Seattle pics in random order as I'm having some issues with loading pics tonight:

Top Pot donut case--the lemon old fashioneds, mmmmmm......

Mount Rainier looming over the Pugent Sound as seen from the ferry to Bainbridge Island

How close was our hotel to the Space Needle?

Our hotel/room from the Space Needle

Obligatory Space Needle shot--look how beautiful the sky is

Downtown Seattle with Mount Rainier ever present

One of the many flower stalls at Pike Place Market

One of many fresh produce stalls at the market

My beautiful travel companions on the ferry to Bainbridge Island

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Quite a ride today on the Summer Road Trip III.  Our route was west on Highway 2 until we met Highway 89 which took us north to Glacier National Park, traverse Glacier NP and then hook up again with Highway 2 on the southwestern edge of the park and then continue to Bonner's Ferry, Idaho.  Where I sit, exhausted, looking out our hotel window at the Kootenai River about fifteen yards below us.  The drive showed the contrasts of Montana, the Great Plains and the Northwest.

As we continued our run west on Hwy-2 leaving our hotel in Shelby before 9:00 this morning we continued to be surrounded by vast fields of wheat, hay and ranch land.  About half an hour after we started we crested a hill after a long slow climb and before us mountains sprang out of the prairie land.  It was very apparent where the Great Plains would end and the Rocky Mountains began.  After another half hour we turned north on Hwy-89 at Browning. Soon everything around us began to change.

First the road changed.  We left the sturdy two loan with wide shoulders to a rough two lane road with no shoulders that seemed a lot less wide than what we were used to the past two days.  Trees bordered both sides of the road as we slowly climbed.  We say a sign that said Range Cattle.  "Huh," I thought.

A bit later I said, "hey look those cows are outside the fence."  As about 4-5 cows were right alongside the road.  The girls thought that was pretty neat, I thought that was pretty dangerous.  A few turns on the winding road later there was a cow in the middle of the road and several on the side.  For the next twenty miles we routinely see cows on the side of the road, in the woods and in small pastures.  "Range Cattle" means no fences and cows going where they please.

Around 10:30 we entered Glacier at the St. Mary's gate.  Our plan was to take the Going to the Sun Road through the park to the West Glacier gate, a trip of about 50 miles. With slow downs for road construction, traffic and stops to take a look it took us a little over two and a half hours to go through the park.

What a two and a half hours it was.  The mountain peaks in Glacier don't seem to be connected.  I commented that it looks like a bunch of kids had a mountain making contest and each kid made their own mountain and set it down next to the other kids'.  The distance between the peaks seems much wider than I recall from other mountain ranges and the peaks seemingly jump straight out of the valley floors.

The drive is tight with you either hugging the edge of a cliff dropping hundreds of feet down or you hugging a cliff face dropping to the road side and you are worried about scraping off your mirror.  All the while trying to take in the incredible beauty you are driving through, without hitting anyone driving or walking.

We had brilliant blue skies and sunshine and the temperatures where in the mid-50's.  We climbed as high as just over 6600 feet, when we went through the Logan Pass dropping down to just over 3000 feet when we exited.  We intended to stop at Logan Pass where the Continental Divide is however there was no parking--rangers were waving people along and not letting anyone stop, and the nearest parking roadside was about a mile down the road; no we were not willing to climb one mile at 6000+ feet to get a picture.  Something I learned about this point in the Divide the water flows west to the Pacific or northeast to the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay.  Further south in the park is Triple Divide Peak, everything west of this point goes to the Pacific, everything east and north of the point goes to the Arctic via Hudson Bay and everything east and south of the point goes to the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico.

After we exited the park we grabbed some lunch in West Glacier at the local diner/restaurant right outside the gate and then headed westward.  The Montana we drove through after Glacier was completely different than the Montana we drove through yesterday and this morning.  No more vast fields, instead dense forests, large valleys, running rivers and large lakes.  No more stretches of one, two even three miles with no turns in the road.  Instead we wound up and down mountain sides, through valleys that were several miles wide and among tall pines.

The mountain, forest, lake, river drive continued as we followed the Kootenai River to the former logging town of Bonner's Ferry, our home for the evening. Tomorrow we will finally leave Hwy-2 after a 1,275 mile run from Cass Lake, Minnesota to Spokane, Washington where we will pick up I-90 for Seattle.

Here are pictures from our day:

Rockies rise from the Plains as we drive Hwy-2

The peaks of Glacier as we approach from the southeast
on Hwy-89

Still outside of Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

A normal site at Glacier NP

You can see the road cut into the hillside
on the right

Looking up a rock face, water constantly drips,
not runs but drips, down this formation

The Kootenai River looking east, we are about
30 miles south of Canada

Kootenai River looking west

Main Street (yes it is Main Street) Bonner's Ferry, Idaho