Archive for September, 2014

Once again to ‘the gates of hell’

Published Sept. 6, 2014

Americans and Britons are weary of war. Our nations have been a bulwark against jihadists since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And for a decade, we fought in Iraq against a rogue dictator and Al Qaeda. So soon after we withdrew our forces, it looks like we’re going back in again.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has taken control of large parts of Syria and northern Iraq and unleashed a reign of terror unlike anything we have seen in that region.

The rampaging warriors have committed mass murders of military prisoners and ethnic minorities, and their videos of the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff have outraged the world.

This week at a NATO meeting in Wales, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron said ISIS must be destroyed, and are trying to come up with a strategy that may again involve more boots on the ground.

American airstrikes were initially to prevent the annihilation a religious sect trapped on a mountain without food and water. Our military provided advisers to help the Kurds, who were successful in taking back the Mosul dam, so vital to the region’s infrastructure, and America and Britain have dropped humanitarian aid to besieged minorities. But it isn’t enough.

After the murder of Sotloff, Vice President Joe Biden said that when Americans are harmed, we will not retreat or forget.

“We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice,” Biden said.

Those are strong words, but what is needed is strong action or we will appear weak and encourage the enemy. If we make that kind of promise, we have to keep it.

Father Andrew White, the “vicar of Baghdad,” is a peacemaker who has negotiated the release of 46 hostages. But in a recent BBC radio interview, he said there is no negotiating with ISIS.

“You cannot deal with this evil Islamic State group. They are impossible to engage with,” he said. “They are about death and destruction.”

John Quincy Adams said America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” After our deeply flawed policies in Iraq, I’m as wary as anyone of meddling in other people’s conflicts. But what if the monsters have vowed to destroy us? They’ve said they’re coming for us, and some of the Islamic State’s foreign fighters are Westerners, including Britons and Americans with passports that allow them easy entry into our countries in a matter of hours. The world of 2014 is a different place than that of Adams’ world of 1814. Isolation is not an option.

While the United States and the United Kingdom should lead, as we always have, this can’t be seen as the West against Islam, which is what ISIS wants — a return of the medieval caliphate and war with Christians and Jews.

Our leaders should follow the example of President George H.W. Bush in forging a coalition that includes Islamic nations. Secretary of State John Kerry is working to put one together. Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others that are threatened by jihadists must join us if we are to destroy this dark force.

The campaign must be better planned and coordinated than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but if we wait many months, it will be too late. We must strike back soon.

Who’s afraid of the big bad mouse?

Published Aug. 30, 2014

I’m not a coward when it comes to close encounters with other creatures. I’ve calmly stepped around snakes, stared down Rottweilers and stood amidst of a herd of bison.

Mice, however, give me the heebie-jeebies.

Shrinks have a word for it — musophobia — and they say it’s one of the most common irrational fears.

It’s irrational because mice are not as big as bisons or as mean as Rottweilers. But they are foul-smelling, hairy creatures with beady eyes and big teeth that gnaw through walls and eat electrical cords. They move at lightning speed, scale walls like Spider-Man and can jump many times their height. They’re like real-life comic book villains or fairy tale trolls that hide under your bed, raid cupboards and poop all over the place.

It isn’t that I’m afraid they’ll bite me; it’s that I’m afraid I’ll get hantavirus, which results in fever and vomiting, shortness of breath and other unpleasant conditions.

When I was 17 and my family moved into a new house in the country, our first stay was the Night of the Rodents. Every mouse from miles around found our open flue, and the traps were going off like gunfire.

I was lying in bed, listening to the battle, when a mouse ran across my neck and shoulders, down my arm and dropped from my fingertips into the wastebasket, so I just took it outside and set if free.

Years later, I was reading on the couch and heard rattling in the newspapers next to the stove. I set a trap behind the papers, and presently, I heard the spring smack against the wood. I sprang up — only to find the mouse and trap were missing.

What the heck happened?

I pulled the stove away from the wall and looked behind it. The mouse had absconded with the cheese, leaving the trap on a little metal bar halfway up the back of the oven.

I re-set it with another bit of bait, and SNAP! Empty trap.

Before bed, I set the trap again, this time under the oven. During the night, I heard it go off, and instead of switching on the light, I grabbed a flashlight by the door and aimed it under the oven. In a moment, there came the fell beast, weaving like a frat boy on a bender and coming toward the light.

I grabbed a broom and bludgeoned it.

That reminds me of a 1970s song, “All in a Mouse’s Night,” by the English prog rock band, Genesis:

There I was with my back to the wall,

Then comes this monster mouse, he’s 10 feet tall,

With teeth and claws to match.

It only took one blow!

I moved to another apartment nearby, but they found me. One night I was awakened by what sounded like an intruder breaking down the back door, but it was a mouse slamming its trap against the kitchen cabinet as its life ebbed away.

The dull guillotine was just punishment for it leaving droppings between my sheets and causing me to spill blood red wine all over my clothes.

Years passed before I had more encounters with mice. Then this summer, a horde of the critters took up residence in the newsroom. Somebody put out peanut-butter flavored glue traps, and we caught a couple. I came in and found one stuck to the glue, still squirming. Do you think I screamed like a girl? No, I bravely called for Alice, who brought a plastic bag. Then I dropped the trap — live mouse and all, into the bag and took out the garbage.

A few days later, I kept hearing a metallic thud, and thought it was boys throwing a ball against the window. I opened the blinds and was about to yell, “You danged kids! …” when Pete cried out, “It’s there!”

The mouse was trying to jump clear of the top of the trash can, but was falling back against the metal bottom.

Pete tried to catch it, but it got away.

We haven’t seen any more mice for several weeks, but I can’t help wondering: Is one lurking here somewhere, waiting to run up my leg or across my keyboard and cause me to spew my coffee all over the monitor?

The thought makes me shudder.

Road diet — Two minutes isn’t too long

Published Aug. 9, 2014

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan is remembered for uttering a simple truth: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

I’ve been reminded of that lately when I listen to talk about the “road diet” on Bardstown’s North Third Street.

“Road diet” is civil engineers’ lingo for reducing the number of lanes on an urban thoroughfare.

Third Street (U.S. 31E) from downtown to just south of Ky. 245 was a four-lane drag strip through the Historic District and had more car crashes than any similar stretch of street in the Department of Highways’ District 4.

So the state converted it from four lanes to two — one going each way and a center turn lane — as well as bicycle lanes on both sides.

The intent was to reduce rear-end collisions and T-bone crashes that happen when drivers turn out of parking lots across three or four lanes.

Wherever road diets have been tried, they’ve resulted in reductions in injury accidents and negligible delays, if any. In fact, they often improve traffic movement and travel time because the turn lanes let traffic flow freely.

I knew what the reaction would be, though, to the U.S. 31E road diet because: a.) people don’t like change; and b.) it’s all about perception.

Soon after the road diet was implemented, I interviewed a woman who said it now took her all day to get through downtown, so she avoided it. She was sidewalk shopping on North Third at the time.

Another woman gave me the name of a hair stylist who was moving out of downtown because of the road diet, but when I called the beautician, she told me, heavens no! — she was moving to downtown and was excited about it.

At our office, employees grumbled. It’s “horrible,” one said. “It’s worse than it was,” said another.

And when the City Council held a meeting in July to get input, several disgruntled residents talked about how badly the road diet had snarled traffic.

I hadn’t noticed it myself, and I live on Third Street. So the morning after the public meeting, I tried a little test.

Using the stopwatch on my iPhone, I turned north (or left) from Barber Avenue onto Third. I had to wait in the center lane a bit, but it took only 30 seconds to get across. I then veered right onto Forrest Avenue, turned around, and came back out onto Third, going south. It took 15 seconds to get out. Traffic was heavy both times.

At 3 that afternoon, I turned from the Peebles parking lot on U.S. 31E, heading south, and followed an 18-wheeler all the way downtown at 25-35 mph. It took three minutes to get to Flaget Avenue.

I circled around, came back onto Third Street from Broadway and went back to Ky. 245. Got there in two minutes.

I tested it again that night when I was coming back from Bullitt County. At precisely 6 p.m., I turned right onto Third Street from Ky. 245, and got to Flaget Avenue at 6:02.

I posted the results on Facebook.

Friends said it would be different when school started.

It wasn’t.

On the first day of classes for Nelson County Schools, I was up early to get pictures of kids going back to school. It took me two minutes to get from Flaget Avenue to Ky. 245, despite a school bus stopped in the opposite direction. Coming back from Ky. 245 it took me two minutes.

In fact, no matter what time of day I drive that stretch of street, unless I hit several red lights or get behind a backhoe, it takes two minutes.

I can live with that, especially if it means others are less likely to get hurt.

September 2014
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