Sunday, November 27, 2005

Today's installment of Meet the Press featured a discussion with Senators Joe Biden (D - DE) and John Warner (R - VA). Warner is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is arguably the best-informed member of the senate between his chairmanship and his place on the intelligence committee. Interestingly, and highlighted on the show, Warner has expressed frustration at a gap between his information and the information available to the White House. Reflecting back on my own stance toward the invasion of Iraq (I thought it was the right thing to do at the time), I definitely feel guilty and a bit embarrassed. In retrospect, all the evidence was just too thin. After Powell's presentation at the UN, I remember thinking, "Well, he must know something he can't disclose. Colin Powell wouldn't put himself on the line for a bunch of aluminum tubing." So, I assumed the government -- especially the President and the Senate -- had superior information. Clearly, the intelligence information was completely lacking. In fact, one big conclusion has to be that the US intelligence system, both domestically and internationally, is simply not prepared to handle the level of complexity in tracking terrorism world wide. The armed forces seem to have been completely reconstituted following Vietnam and the end of the Cold War. The information systems dedicated to battlefield monitoring and direction (example in this Time article) sound remarkably advanced -- on par what you would expect from the US as global IT leader. But from the way Warner and other supposedly well-informed leaders discuss intelligence, it basically sounds like we have no idea what is really going on anywhere in the world besides hot battlefields. The painful twist about the Iraq war, is the President was given permission to enact war if intelligence indicated that weapons of mass destruction existed. The very declaration of war from congress was ambiguous -- when in history has there been a declaration of war that is contingent on further interpretation of intelligence information. In my view, the legislators clearly abdicated responsibility for the choice to go to war. They essentially left the decision to go to war at the President's discretion. If we were all to do it again, I wonder if it would be possible to insist on categorical proof, to authorize the military and the CIA to discover through any means available whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Microwar? Instead of UN inspectors, could we have sent armed units to really investigate the situation? What would Iraq do, declare war on us? The question of how to handle our suspicions is critical, because we will have to make the same decision soon with Iran. Can we forcibly seek information? Is it feasible? War is an explicit challenge to the sovereignty of the opponent -- I see a comparable need to challenge the sovereignty of the countries we suspect are developing WMD. Call it a microwar; a war to collect the information we need to make better decisions about larger scale action. The military seems adequately prepared for such missions, and I think the public is ready to support them explicitly. With microwars, the job of the CIA would be far more viable. Rather than being required to offer conclusions formed by distant or narrow observations, the CIA would simply have to stipulate whether they need more information. Targets would be chosen for their potential data payload. Rather than try to dismantle a country's infrastructure or military, we would be fighting to make accurate assessments of what the heck is really happening in the world's hotspots. Microwar is a potential solution to the "World's Police Force" dilemma. A common critique of the Iraq war is "there are hundreds of other warlords and tyrants around the globe, are we supposed to depose all of them?" I would argue that we needn't depose all despots, but we definitely need to topple some of them. The critical missing piece is: how do we figure out which ones to ignore and which ones to attack? The Powell Doctrine emerged from the Vietnam war as the dominant philosophy for the US military. The summary version is: In armed conflict, act with overwhelming force so as to guarantee complete victory. I would argue that there is a corollary applicable to intelligence. We need to deliver overwhelming force so as to guarantee complete knowledge of the enemy. The CIA acts covertly, and frankly, I think the commitment to covert operations diminishes its effectiveness. In the Cold War, we had to tiptoe around our enemy. We were trying to avoid explicit violations of the Soviet Union's sovereignty, because we didn't want to incite a real war. This strategy clearly still applies to Russia, China, India, and other emerging world powers. But in the case of incompetent, corrupt, yet dangerous governments, why should we tiptoe? Why can't the US military take overt, forceful action to discover the data critical to our decisions in handling these rogue nations? I do not feel that my trust in our elected officials to properly evaluate the need for war was misguided. However, I was clearly wrong in assuming that they had perfect intelligence. What I, and every other conscious American, should be demanding is accurate intelligence. Accurate intelligence about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and any other state that is threatening in part due to instability. What do we do in Iraq now? Russert referred to Sally Donnelly's piece in Time, regarding a recent closed-door session Sen. Warner convened with 10 military battle commanders. Warner said little about the meeting, insisting that he had committed to confidentiality for the military officers involved. However, Russert naturally beat him over the head until he responded to the leaked interpretation of the meeting in the Time article -- are there too few troops in Iraq? Warner gave this answer ultimately (see transcript): "There isn't a young company commander, there isn't a lieutenant, there isn't a battalion commander who at times wishes he didn't have more people. But those requests go up, and in this instance, those requests were reviewed by senior officers." It makes intuitive sense that there are troop requests that have to be denied -- just like there are budget requests throughout the military and the government that have to be denied. No matter how many troops were committed and stationed in Iraq, there would be parts of the system that would be underserved and parts that would be bloated at any time. The question I would want to ask the battlefield officers is -- are we manned enough to make progress? Are you well enough staffed to execute your appointed responsibilities over the next 24 months? Part of the long-term strategy is to build an Iraqi military capable of handling its own problems. This is a key part of Bush's strategy, and also one of the most criticized. In the immediate days following the decimation of Saddam Hussein's regime, the entire Iraqi military was disbanded. The result is a complete lack of Iraqi military officers. According to the pundits, this completely hamstrung the Iraqi army. How can we possibly withdraw our troops if there is no Iraqi officer core. So my question is: why can't our plan be to slowly withdraw all our enlisted men and commit to a very long-term mission for our officers? The goal would be to develop and maintain an effective Iraqi military, and the primary measurements for this goal would be the successful commissioning of Iraqi generals. I don't have a statistical figure, but assume it takes 30 years of service to reach the rank of General. That means we would have to be prepared to supply American military leadership in Iraq for at least 30 years. That is a very long time, however, it is a viable plan that requires only a small number of US personnel. It would also put the day to day, house to house combat of the counter-insurgency in the hands of Iraqis.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Section 1, "We Have Some Planes" A complete and detailed summary of the events, the first sub-section dealing with the intimate details of the flights is difficult to read. I actually read this sub-section several months ago, and found that I couldn't continue. I recently picked up the report again, on the advice of a friend who had read it while serving in the Army. He explained that he had read the entire report, found it fascinating, and felt that everyone should read it. So I toughened up a touch, and started in again. The only thing scarier than the actual hijackings is reading about the complete lack of coordination and communication. In particular, the FAA was totally disconnected from the military and the executive branch of government. The final twist was the difficulty in keeping the Secretary of Defense, The Vice President, and the President in close contact. Naturally, Secretary Rumsfeld was unavailble during and immediately following the attack on the Pentagon (he was actually assisting with rescue efforts). All of the participants acted with the level of intensity and ingenuity the situation required, but the report makes evident how unprepared the government and military were for this kind of attack. The planes turned missiles were dramatically effective at inducing confusion, and had they been an overture rather than the central movement, we would have been easy prey.

The 9/11 Commission Report

Section 1, "We Have Some Planes"
A complete and detailed summary of the events, the first sub-section dealing with the intimate details of the flights is difficult to read. I actually read this sub-section several months ago, and found that I couldn't continue.

I recently picked up the report again, on the advice of a friend who had read it while serving in the Army. He explained that he had read the entire report, found it fascinating, and felt that everyone should read it. So I toughened up a touch, and started in again.

The only thing scarier than the actual hijackings is reading about the complete lack of coordination and communication. In particular, the FAA was totally disconnected from the military and the executive branch of government. The final twist was the difficulty in keeping the Secretary of Defense, The Vice President, and the President in close contact.

Naturally, Secretary Rumsfeld was unavailble during and immediately following the attack on the Pentagon (he was actually assisting with rescue efforts).

All of the participants acted with the level of intensity and ingenuity the situation required, but the report makes evident how unprepared the government and military were for this kind of attack. The planes turned missiles were dramatically effective at inducing confusion, and had they been an overture rather than the central movement, we would have been easy prey.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Home Again So... When we left, I wanted to blog every day... after soaking up the sun on the beach for a week, I wanted to not touch a computer. Mission accomplished. But I did take a few more pictures: - First full day in Hawaii - Hilo, Rainbow falls, Volcanoe - Beach Day -- seal in the water at the beach, sunsets - Final Day, Trip Home One heck of a trip, we could have stayed for 2 months... Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day 5 - First Day on the Big Island (just pictures) We flew to the Big Island from Kaua'i, stopping to change planes in Honolulu. The total time in the air was about 45 minutes, but with the 2 hours pre-flight and the hour in Honolulu, it took about 4 hours total. Arriving on the Big Island, we found it exactly as expected. Still no buildings at the airport, just thatched huts and little doorways. Still very few people around, and still lots of heat and lava rock. For some reason, the Big Island is just more relaxing. As usual, we had a chatty cab driver. He told us all about his battery powered home in Kailua (hillside above Kona town). He's got a single solar panel that keeps his array of truck batteries charged, and his lone electrical appliance powered up: his gigantic home stereo. He's planning a new electrical system next summer, when a range of "nanotech photovoltaic paints" are expected to debut. He also plays drums in a jazz band Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Mauna Lani resort and spa. Caitie diagnosed him with Tourettes Syndrome after he dropped us at the front gate. We arrived at the hotel around noon, so we went to the beach-side bar for some lunch and other bar-fare. We stayed on the beach for sunset, or "The Show", which draws every person on the west side of the island down to the beach. The big gag is to go "tzshhhhhhhhhhh" when the sun first touches the water. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Day 4 - Last Day on Kaua'i This was 100% beach day. We got a bonnet up by the beach, and did diddly doo all day long. Our flight was at 9am the next morning, so we got breakfast at 6am, and were picked up at 6.30am to head to the airport. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day 3 - Drive to Hanalei Bay (just the pictures) After the ride to Waimea canyon, we hung onto the rental for another day to head in the opposite direction around Kaua'i to Hanalei Bay. Allegedly, the South side of Kaua'i is the dry side, and the north is the wet side. Our hotel was on the south side, and we got a little rain each day, usually in the morning. So I kind of figured, "this whole wet-side dry-side theory is hype". The drive to the east (counter-clockwise) runs through a slightly more inhabited area of a very uninhabited island. There is the main town of Lihue, which has the airport, and the ship port of Nawiliwili (Hawaiins tend to name the good stuff twice, and use the good names for more than one place, for example Waimea and Kona are used all over). Then you hit Wailua bay, and then it's all verdant mountains, waterfalls, and untouched coastline. By untouched, I mean rugged. Kaua'i gets so much rain that there are rivers every few miles draining the mountain rain to the sea, and the estuaries are mellow at low-tide, and churning at high-tide. We found out from locals that many of the rivers are seasonal, as are the waterfalls we could see all along the mountains. Unfortunately, the weather was so dark and rainy that we couldn't really photography the mountains or the waterfalls. They were both covered by grey clouds. Even with the rain, though, the landscape is amazing. The mountains are quite tall, but more impressive is the steep grade. The peaks cut near-vertical lines, and somehow remain completely covered in lush green vegetation. We were unable to reach the end of the road, Haena State Park, because the road was washed out by a roaring stream. Since the rain was still falling, we decided to turn around instead of fording the temporary river. We found out later this was a good decision (I got a haircut, and barbers always seem to know everything about their locale). Apparently the whole coastal road, and the housing around it, will flood this time of year, forcing the local magistrates to close the road. If you time it badly, you can get stuck on the far side of Hanalei Bay until the rain stops and the water recedes. Another useful fact from Owen the Barber: the swollen rivers often nab wild boars and chickens on their way from the mountains to the ocean. Tiger Sharks and other junk eaters hang around the river estuaries waiting for an easy meal of drowned pig. So, if you want to swim, swim well up river in the completely fresh water and stay the heck away from the estuary when the river is running high from rain. Owen the Barber didn't stop there, he had a little local gossip about Bethany Hamilton, the local surfer who lost her arm. Owen told us (my haircut took so long, the shop was closed and Caitie had sidled up into the other barber's chair) that shark attacks definitely happened periodically, but usually under avoidable circumstances. Apparently, Bethany was on morning patrol, surfing right at dawn. She wasn't in school, because she is home schooled, and she and her friend were at a line-up near a river estuary (actually the one in our pictures). Rumor has it that she and her friend were trying to call dolphins by squeaking and chattering in the water. "All these little things -- the vibrations in the water, the estuary, being out there at dawn -- they add up." Owen explained that he, like many Hawaiians, believes sharks are protectors (for pure-blooded Hawaiians anyway). As evidence, he pointed out that most shark attacks were not fatal, just nibbles to see if the victim tasted any good. The only fatalities occur when the shark is so big that the nibble is your whole torso. Bethany Hamilton, he claimed, even said the attack was almost instantaneous -- in one moment her arm was just gone ("A nice clean incision" according to Owen). The traditional, friendly view of sharks basically boils down to: if they bite you it's all your fault. Like the old hawaiian adage "never turn your back on the sea," every once in a while a tourist or a newcomer will forget the rules of nature's polite society. If you're a descendant of the hardy folks that paddled 3000 miles from polynesia to populate the islands, well, you're expected to know better. That's why the big local scandal wasn't the Hamilton attack, but a young Hawaiin named Hoku Aki who lost his foot to a shark attack (he was out early after a rain too). As if losing his foot to what is meant to be a spiritual protector wasn't bad enough, this Aki had to get his leg amputated at the knee, to allow him to use a prosthetic (or so says Owen, but Caitie concurred that was to standard protocol). The final insult was all the media attention paid to the Hamilton attack, which happened about a year later, while this guy Aki got a two paragraph mention in a Scottish newspaper. Contrary to the barber maxim of shark nibbling, Aki apparently reported having to gauge the shark's eye to escape. Owen's theory (what can I say, the guy was a genius of local whatnot) is Hamilton was already known by a few surf reporters, because she was a rising star on the competitive circuit. When she was attacked, the surf-reporters were able to ignite the media frenzy that ensued. "Would you give your arm to be rich and famous?" Owen chuckled, "Not me. You gotta live simple, because eventually the well will run dry. Do you want gel in your hair?" Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Day 2 - Adult Pool to Waimea Canyon (see all the pictures) The day started pretty slowly. The morning was overcast, and while running, I got walloped with rain. While we womped down another buffet breakfast, though, the clouds cleared up and the day turned sunny. We had planned on spending the day by the adult pool, where we could really relax and have some quiet time. That plan lasted until about 11 O'clock, when we got deeply bored with our quiet time. Caitie, of course, had 5 or 6 back up itineraries ready. We had been debating which parts of Kaua'i we would visit. There are three really famous natural wonders on Kaua'i: The Na'pali coast, Waimea Canyon (apparently you have to always say "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" whenever you say Waimea Canyon [GCotP]), and Hanalei Bay. Waimea Canyon (GCotP) and Hanalei Bay actually border the Na'Pali coast to the west and east (view from googlemaps). The Na'Pali coast remains accessible only by boat, and then only on calm days. The boat rides sound amazing, but they require a full day and a horse tranquilizer to stave off Caitie's motion sickness. We couldn't spare either, so we dropped the boat from our plans. So, we decided we would drive to Waimea on Monday, and Princeville/Hanalei on Tuesday. We took off at about 2.30pm for Waimea Canyon (GCotP), and we were at the first lookout (check the picture) by 4pm. Not bad for making a half loop of the island. The drive out takes you through a few sleepy towns, and over some of Kaua'i's numerous rivers. The rivers are pretty amazing in the way they just open to the ocean. On the southwest shore, the terrain is flatter by the ocean, so the rivers have almost no current (or so it looked). So these lazy looking rivers just meet the ocean with no waves. Another interesting site is a small town along the Kaumualii Highway. There is a respectably sized canyon right along the highway, and more amazingly, there are several houses also on top of the canyon. Here it is on googlemaps. The Grand Canyon of the Pacific definitely lived up to its billing. The cliffs and waterfalls were complimented by six different rainbows. It was so beautiful that you felt almost cheesy, but then you could look straight down for 3,000 feet and get that wonder of nature feeling right back. After we got back to the hotel, we had a glass of wine and pupus at the hotel bar, complete with live music. Then we had dinner at Tidepools, a restaurant built over the hotel's Koi ponds. The setting and food were superb, although you did feel a twinge of guilt looking at the adorable Koi while cutting into your freshly seared Opakapaka fish. We bravely carried on until about 9pm, when we began dozing at the table. We had to get some good rest to be ready for the drive to Hanalei. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 07, 2005

Based on a tip from our cab driver, Sue, Caitie and I drove 7 miles or so past the Waimea lookout to where the canyon meets the Pacific. This gorge is the beginning of the Na'pali coast, which is largely inaccessible. You can, however, take a nice boat ride along the coast (no time in our itinerary unfortunately).
In the long standing tradition of self-portraits, Caitie and I got ourselves, Waimea canyon, and a rainbow in a single shot.
Ho-hum, a rainbow.
Day 1 - Sitting the Bony Keister Down (All Pictures no blather available here) After 15.5 hours in the recline position, we and our bags made it from point A to point B in tact. We hit the hay at about 10pm, and slept peacefully until Caitie's internal clock jolted her awake at 5am -- a convenient 2 hours before sunrise. Nothing opens and no one stirs around here before 7am (not that that is unreasonable...), so Caitie did her best to let me sleep. She moved as quietly as possible as she turned on all the lights, the TV, the radio, the ceiling fan, the AC, and opened our lanai door to let in the sounds of water -- falls and fowls. After she made the bed with me in it, we decided, together, that waking up at 5am each day would be "really great" and we could make coffee in our room and watch the sunrise. Nothing like a 5 hour time change to instantly make you into a morning person. Stop 1, Day 1 was the gym. Pretty nice digs: 3 lane lap pool (didn't go, won't go, avoiding swimming. See entry on Lowell Triathlon for details why), treaders, steppers, bikes, weights, and little towels soaked in ice and eucalyptus. Pretty solid, but as the sun was coming up, I took a run instead. The coastline by the hotel is covered in jungly-looking vegetation that ends abruptly in cliffs, so there isn't a very long path along the water (a mile maybe). So I ran along the road instead, which was pretty popular with other joggers (pronouned yoggers) and a few mountain bikers. The island is so lush that even the main road made for a scenic run. The hotel has the requisite buffet breakfast necessary for Fawcett travel approval and ratings. The buffet is actually located immediately under our room, further guaranteeing that we will be overserved from the very first of each day. When they blaze up the waffle irons and omlet pans, I think there is a sympathetic drop in my blood-sugar, and I lose all capacity for verbal communication. All I have to say is giant apple-turnover with coconut syrup. Following breakfast, Caitie and I conducted a thorough, almost scientfic photographic cataloging of the hotel grounds. The place is five acres, and filled with salt-water swimming "lagoons". They are the preverbial cement-ponds of Beverly Hill-Billies fame. The lagoons have faux lavarock, faux sand, and real kayaks. There is also a beautiful, albeit scary as heck, beach that features some impressive surf (local radio claims the surf is flat to a foot this week, but trust me the waves are ginormous and also fearsome). I took a dip and was only mildly concussed. (3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16) After a hearty day of lounging, Caitie and I headed off to that healthiest of communal dining experiences: the lu'au. Not only is a lu'au all you can eat, it is also all you can drink. You find yourself grateful for the steady flow of Mai Tais, because they set you up at long tables with complete strangers, and then force you to get to know each other via line/hula dancing instructions. The food was delicious and plentiful. The roasted and shredded pig was fantastic (how could you go wrong), and the desserts were outstanding too. The most familiar looking but unusual tasting award went to the "Hawaiin Jello", which is a molded gelatenous rendering of pineapple. It giggled on the plate, but was... al dente on the pallate. As if a roasted pig weren't impressive enough, the lu'au also includes a live show. There's hula dancing (cooler than expected) and fire dancing (way cooler than expected). We tried to take pictures and a few movies, but they don't really do justice. Suffice to say the primary fire dancer exposed several, mostly sensative, parts of his body to the giant torches he was dancing with. Our personal favorite was the fire kissing, in which he appeared to ignite his tongue with the torch. No wonder Kamehameha had to unite the islands by war. (17,18,19,20,m1,m2) Tomorrow, the plan is to sit by the "adult" pool and have some frozen drinks when it is 5pm at home.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Aloha from Kaua'i

Considering the trip covered 6000 miles, the travel was pretty darn easy. We made it from door to door, unpacked, washed up, and hit the hay in 15 and one half hours.

The only part of the whole trek that I dreaded in advance was the cab-ride to Logan. Luckily, we spent under 20 minutes getting there, which is a local record, and made the whole she-bang seem easier.

We landed in the dark, so I have seen as much of Kaua'i as I did yesterday: not one thing.

First thing I checked was the view from the balcony (looks over the grounds to a nice break). Then I verified the facilities, by which I mean I double checked that they provide beach-side wifi. They do. Let the good times roll.