Grandpa Tim tells a story

Reconnecting on Facebook with old friends from Lincoln Parish Fire Department inspired me to write down one of the memories I have of the place.  It’s a tale fraught with adventure and danger, sure to keep you riveted to your seat and/or make you decide you’ve had enough internet for the day.  It’s the story of That Time I Was Alone at a Friggin’ Structure Fire.

A mid-December afternoon in 1998.  I’m at the apartment in Ewok Village thinking of good reasons to skip work at KLPI.  Rank has its privileges after all, and it’s far too nice a day to wa – *BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP* – a house fire!  And it’s near Station 13, which happens to be the station I’m a Captain at.  To the Ranger!

Driving down the backroads of Lincoln Parish is no small challenge.  Doing it really, really fast in a light pickup is practically suicidal.  But it can be done, and so it has to be.  Heading west I see a dark column of smoke through breaks in the trees.  I know it’s going to be a working fire, and I know that volunteer turnout can be light in the early afternoons given that many people have something called a “job”.  I pick up my hilarious-in-retrospect mid-1990’s cell phone and call Danny (our chief Neill was out of town that week) to let him know that this isn’t a false alarm and we’ll need lots of help.  I guess I should have been more explicit in my intentions because he never did get on the radio.

Station 13 is a block past the street that the fire is on.  I look to the right as I speed through the intersection and it looks like the road ends in a huge cloud of black smoke.  This is going to be a good one.  I screech to a stop in the parking lot and kill the engine, making sure to leave it in gear.  No need for a repeat of that embarrassing incident at Station 3 a few months earlier.

We gotta go. It’s been almost 10 minutes since the page went out.  Punch in the combination to the station door…  hit the garage door button… hop in the truck.  It starts right up… wow, and I don’t even have to wait for the air brake tanks to fill!  With a belch of diesel smoke and an obnoxious blow of the air horn Tanker 13 is finally enroute.  I get on the radio to let everyone know that this is a working fire and we’ll need lots of help.  Department policy says that I should get out and shut the garage door before leaving, but don’t they know there’s a fire right around the damned corner?!  I tear out of the driveway without giving it a second thought, heading back the way I came.  Of course it would have been helpful to give a second thought about my turnout gear, which is currently sitting in the back of my pickup back at the station.  Damn.

12 minutes now.  As I turn onto the street I had passed just a few minutes ago the smoke looks even thicker than before.  Climbing up a small hill I can finally see the source and it’s definitely a house, single story and fully involved.  Neighbors up and down the block are standing near the street looking at the fire, turning to look at me as they hear the siren approaching.  I reach for the radio to call on-scene just as I catch sight of the power lines laying across the street about 200 feet in front of me.  Now I can’t tell you what the exact stopping distance is for a 1992 Mack tanker-pumper carrying 3,000 gallons of water and travelling at 40mph, but I can tell you that I needed a new pair of pants after that panic stop.  And a new shirt, and new everything else – the abrupt stop sloshed the water in the tank, causing an inland tidal wave of at least 50 gallons to shoot forth from the overflow stack and into the window of the cab. What, you didn’t think I needed new pants because… aw, sick!

Water.. everywhere..  No time to ponder the embarrassment though – this thing is really cooking!  I tell all incoming trucks to come in from the north to avoid the power lines, then engage the pump and hop out.  Usually there’s someone already pulling hose off the truck by this point, so it’s right about now that I first notice I’m the only firefighter there.  Seriously, seriously weak.  I pull the front crosslay line and run it a few hundred feet out, then run back to the truck and do the same with the rear crosslay.  As I’m trotting back to the truck already out of breath, I notice a big fat propane tank a few feet from the rear side of the house.  Oh crap.  Back at the panel I charge the first line, quickly run the RPMs up to a ballpark range for 100psi, run back out to the nozzle, and open it up on the tank.  I feel a slight twinge of guilt for spraying the tank instead of the burning house, but I’m only one person and the house won’t be there if the tank goes.  I’m standing about 100 feet away but without gear my skin feels like it’s sizzling.  The bath I took in the truck is helping with the heat but not for long.  Thankfully I look back at the truck and see someone else gearing up.  A few seconds later I hand off the hose and head back to the pump panel to stand under a water leak.

From there on out it pretty much becomes a standard incident.  No one killed, no one hurt.  The house is a total loss, an unfortunately common occurrence for volunteer departments in rural areas.  As I recall it started in a faulty electrical outlet and spread into the attic unnoticed due to the lack of smoke detectors in the house.  As an added bonus, in keeping with the tradition of getting in trouble at major fires I was eventually “spoken to” about leaving the station door open.

So that’s the story of the time I did the work of an entire engine company by myself.  At the time it was just another crazy incident, but it’s really stood out in my mind over the years as an example of why I sometimes miss that unpredictable life.  Hope you enjoyed it!

Quote of the year

This is one of those rare moments that I’m completely speechless.

“‘I urge the Congress to be very careful about running up enormous costs for future generations of Americans,’ Bush said at a White House meeting on the economy and taxes.

Why I don’t live in England

Why I Voted for Obama

“A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?

“That is a debate I am very happy to have. We’ll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism.”

This was his response to Republican allegations that he lacks patriotism because he doesn’t wear the little American flag pin on his lapel everywhere he goes.  And that response uses precisely the strategy I’ve been waiting for someone to use for years.  Under identical circumstances, I’m fairly confident that Hillary would have responded by listing the patriotic things she’s voted for and how many GOP proposals she’s supported or championed, etc.  In other words, the same old tired Democratic capitulation to accusations from the right regardless of how absurd they are.  By responding to such stupidity the defender lends credence to the accusation and is automatically at a disadvantage.  Obama rejected the Republican framing of the flag pin issue entirely, as he should have, and turned the issue on its head, as it should have been.  I know it’s just election year politics but the mere suggestion that the flag pin somehow determines patriotism, especially when it’s leveled by the people who capitalized on public fears to send our military to fight an unnecessary war for an indefinite period of time with no planning beforehand, is nauseating.

I’m no Obamamaniac, but I recognize the power of an individual who draws millions of new young voters into the process.  A massive influx of idealistic, not-yet-disenchanted voters can provide the energy and momentum necessary to start changing the political dialog in this country.  Perhaps this will end up being the Bush administration’s biggest domestic legacy – infuriating so many people to the point that they finally decided enough is enough.

Nanpa school

This guy is truly a man among men. He teaches a class in Japan on how to pick up women:

“I always teach my students that sex comes first,” he says. “Then you figure out whether the woman is worth marrying later.”

Bonus points: his technique even got a 26 year old virgin named Hachioji Robocop laid!

Note to Self

If anyone questions (again) why I would not consider voting for John McCain for president, it’s this.

He genuinely appeared to earn his “maverick” title in 2000.  He said things that made sense, even when they weren’t popular, and he gave people a sense that he valued, well, values over politics.  Since Al Gore was still a wooden stick figure back then, it’s quite likely I would have voted for McCain had he not been sabotaged by the Bush campaign in the South Carolina primary.

In the intervening years, unfortunately, he has relinquished any claim to his independence.  He has joined the ranks of the Party Over Country Republicans, voting against what I can only assume is his conscience (although perhaps he’s lost that too).  It was less than a year ago that he voted against another anti-torture bill only to remain silent while the president slipped another of his “this doesn’t apply to me” signing statements into it.  Now that he’s trying to capture the far right vote he has abandoned even that thin veneer of the appearance of moral certitude. He’s in full pander mode now, willing to say or do anything necessary to attract the votes of people who think gay marriage is the biggest problem our country faces.

So that’s it in a nutshell.  The Republican party is in a dangerous state of groupthink right now, and the result is the present state of affairs in our country.  I’ll be glad to consider them again for positions of leadership once they demonstrate that they’ve turned over a new leaf.  In the meantime, I’m not holding my breath.

Years from now when we’re looking back at the politics of this decade I hope we will be able to point to this week as the turning point in what had been a familiar congressional game of empty threats and paper tigers.  The US House finally did what Harry Reid and his Senate couldn’t muster the courage to do – they stood up to Bush.  What terrible tragedy befell them for their unthinkable insolence?  They won.

Despite all the laughable posturing and despicable fearmongering that we’ve come to expect from this administration, not to mention the overinflated importance of a bill that clearly had little to do with protecting us and much to do with administrative ass-covering, the House stood on principle and refused to be browbeaten into submission yet again.  It’s far too early to declare that fundamental change is at last underway, but it’s a heartening sign of the potential of things to come.

The progressive wing of the Democratic party, with which I am allied because they appear to be the only political contituency left that cares about the Constitution and the rule of law, is making great inroads into ousting old-school Democrat incumbents and replacing them with fresh progressive faces – Donna Edwards in Maryland’s 4th being the most recent example.

Lots of interesting things going on that lend themselves to a hopeful attitude.  The pragmatist in me says “just wait, the Dems will bork it up like they always do” but the long-absent and very well rested optimist in me believes we’re in a fundamental shift right now that will become more apparent as the weeks go by.

I’ll be interested in seeing the eventual analyses of this period, specifically the conditions that led to such change.  Was it Bush fatigue, Obama’s emergence, global warming, some combination of those and other causes?

Who knows.  What matters most right now is that little light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy FISA Day

Today is the day that the United States Senate, led by Harry Reid, sells the rule of law to our telecommunication companies for a few million in campaign donations.  This afternoon, without any knowledge of what happened or who the government wiretapped, our brave leaders will retroactively immunize the telecoms for breaking several laws that were enacted specifically to stop the activity they engaged in.

For Republicans to support this is a given; they’ve followed Bush in zombie-like lockstep throughout this disaster of a presidency.  What’s really disappointing is that the Democrats can’t muster enough votes to oppose this painfully obvious end-run on the rule of law and the wishes of the people.  Their desire to “go along to get along” is in stark contrast to the two-thirds of America who are clamoring for them to put a stop to this bullshit once and for all.  As Glenn points out today:

Analogously, in 1973, The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for its work in uncovering the Watergate abuses, and that led to what would have been the imminent bipartisan impeachment of the President until he was forced to resign in disgrace. By stark and depressing contrast, in 2006, Jim Risen, Eric Lichtblau and the NYT won Pulitzer Prizes for their work in uncovering illegal spying on Americans at the highest levels of the Government, and that led to bipartisan legislation to legalize the illegal spying programs and provide full-scale retroactive amnesty for the lawbreakers. That’s the difference between a country operating under the rule of law and one that is governed by lawlessness and lawbreaking license for the politically powerful and well-connected.

I know one day this will get corrected, but it will be too late.  The constant fearmongering we’ve lived under for 7 years will be a distant memory, and no one will quite understand why the decision was made, but no one will be held responsible regardless.  The telecoms will have skated away with fistfuls of cash for their selfless cooperation (which, incidentally, ceased when a bill for $30k wasn’t paid on time) despite laws that clearly state what they did is illegal no matter who authorized it – President or otherwise.

On the bright side, this episode confirms a suspicion I’ve had for some time.  Every time Cheney comes out of the woodwork to rattle the terror cage, the topic is something uncomfortably close to administration wrongdoing.  In this case, were the telecom lawsuits permitted to proceed, we would learn the extent to which the White House violated the law in the years prior to warrantless wiretapping’s legalization. Thus, Cheney is revived and dispatched to some hyperconservative gathering to generate headlines that will remind the nation of the terrorists who are hiding under our patio tables and park benches.

When it comes to White House lawbreaking, Cheney is the canary in the coalmine.  Watch for his next appearance and try to figure out what he’s drawing attention away from.  50 points to the winner!

The War Card

The folks at publicintegrity.com have assembled an incredibly comprehensive reference site detailing the runup to the Iraq War. The first sentence on the front page:

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

This is definitely one to bookmark for the next time someone tries to obfuscate and deflect blame onto the CIA, Congress, war opponents, or pretty much anyone else except those actually responsible. It’s amazing how clear the entire charade becomes when it’s laid out in a timeline. Browsing through it brought back those “has the entire country gone MAD?!” feelings of disbelief all over again.

While the topic of the war would be better served by a congressional investigation, it’s painfully clear that the current Democratic residents of the Hill are both incapable and unwilling to pursue any of the charges leveled at this administration, much less the most serious of all. (Note to future historians: we’d love to know why the Dems don’t have the sack to perform even their most basic constitutionally-appointed duty of executive oversight.  Please find out why so it doesn’t happen again. America thanks you.)

It’s the Economy, You Fucking Moron

How’s that for an attention-grabber? 🙂

The media has finally started focusing on the state of the economy, and only a few years late – good job guys.  Somehow there was no “emotional center” to a story about an ailing economy perilously balanced by record debt and insane mortgage lending practices, at least not until the house of cards started tumbling down.

Now all the talk is about how to fix things.  And, as usual, the people in the White House are ignoring the advice of experts on how to go about doing that.  Rather than listen to our own Federal Reserve Chairman, the Administration’s proposal provides -ZERO- relief for those below the lowest income tax bracket.

Why? My gut suspicion is that conservatives are appalled at the idea of giving tax rebates to people who don’t pay income tax in the first place.  It’s not an unreasonable position in and of itself, but once again the conservative ideology is incompatible with the larger-scale reality of what’s happening.  So incompatible, in fact, that the GOP would rather cut off its nose to spite its face.  If rescuing the economy involves giving some money to people disproportionately to what they paid in, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it.  (It’s also worth pointing out that these people do pay taxes, just not on income, so this isn’t a free giveaway. But even if it was a free giveaway to the almost-poor, would you really prefer a national recession over that?)

FACT: it’s in everyone’s best interest to have a strong and vibrant economy, be they rich or poor.
FACT: people with lower incomes are much more likely to spend a rebate than those with higher incomes.
FACT: business tax cuts have only modest effects at best, according to the Fed’s own economists, and they also have adverse effects on state budgets.

The White House needs to put ideology aside and propose a solution that will have maximum effectiveness.  That means swallowing their pride, admitting that, while it sucks, low-income people really are the key to turning this ship around, dispensing with the petty counterproductive arguments over fairness, and putting pen to paper with the resolve of true leaders rather than ideological extremists.