When useful talk fails

I re-read my last post and wasn’t overly happy with it. I think I missed the points I wanted to make, or I should say buried them. However, it might have some use as a unifying document – either all sides will hate it or they’ll all be equally confused about what I’m trying to say. The thing is full of verbal switchbacks.

I am running out of useful things to say about the situation in Iraq and must now resort to gibberish. However, I take some comfort in knowing that I’m in highly placed company in this regard.


Recovering Iraq: Step 1. Accountability

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Invaders from the south and west seize the great cities on the Tigris and Euphrates. A despot’s capital falls to sudden assault. A warlord from Tikrit vows to rally the Muslim world.

This week’s news? No: 2000 B.C., 539 B.C and 1187

From Bowling Green Kentucky Daily News

Confirmation in the news that the National Museum of Iraq has been completely plundered; the worst fears have been realized – everything’s gone. All of the treasures, most several thousand years old, have either been stolen or destroyed.

Another weblogger wrote that she was tired of the Iraqi complaining. “Why don’t they just arm themselves and protect their own hospitals”, she says, but with a great deal more invective and vehemence. Luckily this isn’t a complaint we’re hearing too much but I know it’s on people’s minds. The same people who take our own stable infrastructures for granted, or who conveniently forget our own looting and destruction following significant natural and political events. However, perhaps that weblogger will be heartened by this story.

The Iraqi people, as a whole, deplore the looting and destruction and many have fought it directly; some have been killed for their efforts because if there’s one thing in plentiful supply in Iraq now, it’s guns. And confusion. Exactly who is to protect what from whom? Are the same police that supported Saddam Hussein going to be supported by the people. Who is Republican Guard soldier and who is a shopkeeper defending his store?

Accountability. We need to hold those in charge accountable for, at a minimum, short sighted thinking and planning. Looting was not unexpected in the aftermath of war, especially a fast war such as the one in Iraq. We only have to look at Kosovo to see the problems that can occur in a country when the existing, albeit repressive, government is removed.

The primary difference between Iraq and Kosovo is that the UN started moving peacekeeping troops into the region as quickly as possible, knowing that it had a role to help maintain the peace until a new infrastructure could be built. They made mistakes, they’re still having problems, and they don’t have the monetary support for their current effort, but at least they acknowledged that they had a responsibility. They didn’t ignore it, hoping it would just go away.

In Iraq, though, the attitude has been more along the lines of letting the looting burn itself out, and let the people form their own police keeping forces. At least, that’s the only plan I’ve seen so far. There is a belief that Iraq will sort itself out in short order, and with minimum intervention. Let the people have their little celebration. Garner, the person who is supposed to ‘govern’ Iraq had this to say on the looting:

“This will come under control,” he told Sky television. “You have to quit the war before you can handle that (looting). It will subside.”

Speaking from Kuwait, Garner said: “Everybody’s concentrating on looting and I think that’s a little unfair on the coalition.”

A little unfair on the coalition. I don’t know how a sane person can respond to this statement without body movements extreme enough to cause injury. But that’s nothing compared to Rumsfeld’s dismissal with, “Yes, it’s untidy; but freedom is untidy,” at a press conference on Friday. Today his response on the museum is:

Rumsfeld said he had “no idea” whether museum officials had asked U.S. troops to guard the building that housed treasures dating back 5,000 years.

Scholars from throughout the world have been working with the Pentagon to ensure protection of Iraqi antiquities, including those housed in the Museum for protection from bombing and looting. In fact, this effort has gone on for months, with petitions and plans submitted to the government. If the US can guard the Ministry of Oil building, why couldn’t it protect the hospitals and the Museum?

Accountability. One military officer in the field noted that which should have been noted by Garner and Rumsfeld:

‘Once the Americans allowed this, it was ‘Game On,” said Lt. Erik Balascik of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

What Lt. Balascik is acknowledging is that we’re setting a precedent in our relationship with the Iraqi people – one of indifference to their every day lives as long as we maintain ‘control’. We are saying, in effect, that we won’t intervene in lawlessness. In a country with as many diverse ethnic, religious, and tribal groups as Iraq, this is a seriously bad mistake.

The soldiers aren’t trained in peacekeeping and I don’t necessarily expect those whose job it is to ‘fight’ to also handle peacekeeping. But the soldiers should have had the support of peacekeeping forces whose sole responsibility was to help maintain the infrastructure of the society until more permanent changes could be made. At a minimum, government buildings, hospitals, and the Museum and other important places of culture should have been protected.

The US government made a mistake in its underestimitation and disregad of the lawlessness resulting from the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime. By holding itself accountable for this mistake, this could go some ways in repairing the damage it’s done to itself in the eyes of the Iraqis and the world. Continuing to disregard the problem, dismissing it, or only half heartedly working on finding a solution is only going to make matters worse, far worse.

But that’s not the only accountability. The peace movement is also making a mistake by focusing on an ‘anti-war’ message, and calling for an immediate removal of Coalition troops. Once we started this fight, there was no easy going back. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand that the coalition forces provide security, and then demand that they remove their troops.

I agree with those who say that the UN must have the significant say in the recovery operations in Iraq, but it will require coalition troops and money to make this happen. We can’t pull out – at the best all we can do is bring others in. Others such as the UN. And I also agree that we should insist on un-biased coverage of the story in the United States – but at this point in time, I don’t care who comes out ‘looking good’ as long as we start working effectively towards a safe and peaceful Iraq, and Middle East.

There will be a political reckoning to this someday, of that I am most sure of and dedicated to; but right now, my concern is focused more on protecting the innocent rather than on punishing the guilty. To view Iraq primarily as a weapon useful for beating the Bush Administration about the head is no less negligent then to view Iraq as nothing more than a game piece in a new Middle East strategy.

If there is a unified ’support Iraq’ movement in the world, then its focus right now should be on getting the coalition generally and the US Government specifically, to acknowledge that it has a responsibility to the people of Iraq that comes from invading the country; and that it must hold itself accountable for not attempting to maintain some control after the fighting stopped in each region. We need to urge the coalition to seek help from others who have more experience with peacekeeping, including the UN. The coalition and the US must repair relationships with other countries in postiion to help, including Syria, France, and Russia.

And most of all, if the leaders of the coalition can’t be trusted not to say anything to further enflame an already bad situation, that perhaps it would be best that they focus on working more, talking less.

The coalition has shown that for all of its capability with technology, it is lacking in people skills. And in this situation, this lack can be, and is, deadly.


Paperwork Blues

Enough with my bad self. If I keep writing posts in the heat of the night, folks will think this weblog is about me or something. However, I do have somewhat of an excuse for a po’me posting – I’m buried in paperwork for various reasons, and that’s enough to dim any sane person’s lust for life. In fact, the need to retrieve yet more paper to add to the process is one of the main reasons I have to head to San Francisco next week.

I’m finding that paperwork for taxes and other financial transactions is not a normal human activity. It’s similar to sitting on the floor and putting your feet behind your head – you can manage it after long practice, but it hurts like hell to start, and it’s not natural.

As welcome respite, I am glad to see that one of my attempts at rusty humor found its mark – Jonathon noticed my use use of ‘less flammable’ in regards to his recent writing:

As for those ‘less flammable issues,’ I can only assume that Burningbird is having a sly dig at my post about hunting and eating whales (if she’s not, I can’t begin to imagine what she’d classify as a truly flammable issue).

Loren liked my Dark Time post, though he wants a bear photo, instead. Dorothea, on the other hand, asked for pictures of cute little burnished gold goslings. No difficulty guessing who will get their preferred pic, here.

Just Shelley

Long Week

Too hot tonight. My bedroom’s under the attic and once the heat soaks in, it wants to linger awhile. However, as warm as it is, it’s way too early for the air conditioner.

I obliquely (there’s that word again) mentioned a job interview and contract offer this last week. I haven’t said yay or nay on it yet, but will most likely say nay. First, there’s the hourly rate 30% lower than my minimum hourly rate. And when the group decides not to fill a ‘lower paying’ job and have me do it in addition to the duties of the job I interview for, but don’t put this burden on the guy going for the same position (with less experience), well, I just don’t know if I’m hungry enough for the job. I once mentioned I was worried about finding a job, and here one is. But there is some shit I will not eat.

One good thing about this experience though is that it’s forced me to make some decisions I’ve been putting off. One was a financial one, and the other has to do with profession.

The computer technology field has one of the highest burnout rates of any profession. At some point, you just get tired of punching in the code, or learning yet another new technology, yet another new language, or specification, or tool, or model, or whatever.

In the last 20 years I’ve worked on 14 computer books, written I don’t know how many articles, spoken at conferences and worked at companies like Nike, Intel, Boeing, Harvard, and so on—actual work building big systems and small. I’ve worked with 20 different programming languages, on most major operating systems, against most databases. Yet after all this, when I interview for a senior developer’s position, and interview well, I’m still given what amounts to tasks that are normally assigned to project assistants. This wouldn’t be terribly significant if the guy I interviewed with shared in the tasks, but such is not the case.

Was the reason for the discrepancy because of gender bias? Because I haven’t worked in a position for a year? Because I was too easy going in the interview, and not arrogant enough? I don’t know. But I think the real reason why is that I’m burnt out on the profession, and it shows.

I read Sam Ruby’s weblog and Mark Pilgrim’s and Danny Ayers and I see this wonderful interest and enthusiasm for the technology they write about. At one time, I would have joined in, but lately, there just isn’t anything there. Between one moment and the next, it was gone.

Oh, I still like to tinker, and I have a fun and whimsical article on RDF and poetry and photographs I’ve been working on — but my days of typing code into a computer from within a cube are gone.

The odd thing is, rather than being sad about what is the end of a 20 year career, I actually feel relieved. More than relieved. Sometimes you just have to face the fact that you need a change. That maybe you would be happier building furniture, even if you make less money.

Of course, this means I also have to face some tough financial facts, too, which I also did this week. My creditors will be paid, just much more slowly. I still have to find work, but the focus of the work will be changing. For instance. one job I am looking seriously at is teaching English in South Korea, work I’m exploring with the expert help of Stavros the Wonder Chicken.

I’m also exploring the option of returning to school, but I’m not sure what I would study. My interests are, in order: writing, photography, history, politics, cooking, marine biology, and astrophysics. And I’m lousy at math so we see how far I would get in astrophysics. Let’s face it, cooking’s about the only interest guaranteed to get me a job in this lot. Maybe I should run for office? Would you all vote for me? Are you in my district? If I studied writing, I can find out my writing errors. Same with my photography. Photo Journalist, perhaps? Lot’s of call for them I bet.

The possibilities for the profession are endless. The possibilities for employment are less so, but change isn’t easy. If it was, chaos would be order and order would be chaos.

Joking aside, this was not a lightly arrived at decision. And, being honest, I’m more than a little nervous about it, and about my future. I need to work, I need to pay my bills, and I need to feel worthwhile. I just can’t code anymore.

Through these weblogs I’ve read about the experiences involved with changing professions from people such as Jonathon Delacour and Jeff Ward and Allan Moult. Others such as Dorothea Salo and Steve Himmer begin new adventures in academics, or move to new locales such as Stavros and Gary Turner. Even among those that stay in the same field and country, sometimes decisions that are difficult but necessary have to be made. Decisions not always aimed at putting money in one’s pocket.

Through their willingness to share their experiences with their writing I am both encouraged, as well as forewarned by frank discussions about the difficulties. Starting over again at 48 is both exciting and scary. If I can only figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

You know, all of this is just a long winded way of saying I don’t got code.