Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The End of the World, Part III

(Click here to go directly to this post)

Sometimes I wish I had a switch with which I could shut off my mind.

I suppose that might be why I drink, to become "Comfortably Numb," to turn a phrase from Pink Floyd's song of the same name.

I was just shoveling snow from my driveway, and for some reason, the 1983 song "99 Luftballoons" by Nena crept into my head.

Here is the original German version:

And if you don't speak German, here it is in English, so you can grasp what the song is really about. While not a word for word translation, it gets the point across... WW III is started in Europe from a false alert triggered by toy balloons:

You and I, in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
'Til one by one, they were gone

Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message, "Something's out there"
Floating in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic lads, it's a red alert
There's something here from somewhere else

The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine Decision Street
Ninety-nine ministers meet
To worry, worry, super-scurry
Call the troops out in a hurry

This is what we've waited for
This is it boys, this is war
The President is on the line
As ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine knights of the air
Riding super high-tech jet fighters
Everyone's a super hero
Everyone's a Captain Kirk

With orders to identify, to clarify and classify
Scrambling in the summer sky
As ninety-nine red balloons go by
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine dreams I have had
Every one a red balloon

It's all over and I'm standing pretty
In this dust that was a city

If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here

And here is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go...

The End of the World, Part I

The End of the World, Part II

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I Got Plowed Tonight (Part I)

And not in the way you might think.


Local grocery store closes at 10 PM, went to get a gallon of milk for in the morning, and a few other items at around 9:30 PM Saturday night.

On the way home, doing the speed limit, driving my wife's Taurus, minding my own business, heading east in a 25 MPH zone... I see headlights not slowing down for a yield sign from my left.  Impossible to stop in time, so I swerve to the right... nearly got out of the way, but the rear quarter panel got clipped.  Spun me around 180° and suddenly I'm facing west.

Had I not swerved, the car would have been T-Boned and I would have Buick grill prints on my left butt-cheek. Instead, it was a glancing blow.

The top of the left rear wheel is slightly canted inward. I managed to slowly drive it the few blocks home, but smelled some burnt rubber when I stopped.  The wrap around rear bumper panel is fractured, the alloy wheel is at the very least scuffed, and the quarter panel near the rear door is dented.  Could have been worse.

Something's bent that ain't s'posed to be bent...
As soon as the car came to a rest, I was out of there and ready to ruffle some feathers.  The gal driving the other car rolled down her window, and while I wasn't profane or obscene, I did give her a piece of my mind.

Her first words?  "You don't have to yell at me!"

Now, anyone who knows me should, by now, know when I am yelling at them.  I will grant that my voice was probably raised, but I was NOT yelling.

Anyway, I explained that I was upset... I took a few deep breaths... and I got down to business. I got her info, I made sure I copied her license plate number, and when asked... "she doesn't have insurance."  Priceless.

Perhaps I should have been a dick and called the cops.  The Sheriff's Department volunteer who lives across the street came over and offered to call them for me. I declined. She said she and her husband would pay for the damages.  I don't think they know what they're in for, cost-wise.  But my policy covers uninsured motorists.  We'll see what happens with the adjusters, legal team, etc.

I've got a feeling this gal needs a break. She lives in a rental trailer court, has no insurance, and was hurrying to work at 9:45 PM or something like that.  I don't really believe in true "karma" but I do use the phrase "what goes around comes around" for lack of a better term. At the very least, she'd be looking at "failure to yield" or something like it, plus "no insurance."

Ultimately, if we are all kind an honest to one another, I think the world will be a better place. I'm a cynical sum-bitch, but I do believe that most people are decent.  I am wary, but my thirst for blood is temporarily sated.

We'll see if my faith in humanity is misplaced.  This is a uniquely fresh post.  Time will tell if I get to add another layer of scar tissue to my view of others.

Click here for Part II

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Census, Part II

(In case you missed it, Census, Part I from Feb 8, 2014)

It's hard to believe that 5 years ago, my brief career with the U.S. Census Bureau began.  In early 2009, the Spokane LCO (Local Census Office) opened. We were responsible for Eastern Washington, from the Cascade Range to Idaho, from Canada to Oregon.  I worked there for nearly 2 years, and although the job was often very frustrating and I detest government bloat and waste, I also met and worked with some of the most wonderful people I've ever known.  I guess a shared sense of misery brings out the best in us?

So here is a sampling of your tax dollars at work. Most of these items were promotional in nature, intended to publicize the Census effort. Most of these were left-overs as we shut down the office in late summer, 2010.  I really suspect that many of the ones that were given out wound up in the trash, closet, or the trunk of someone's car.

First is a bottle of "Corn Huskers Lotion." It was generic, and it was deemed necessary to facilitate fingerprints for background checks.  This was not a promotional item.  Apparently, Corn Huskers Lotion causes the ridges of ones fingerprints stand out and to be more receptive to ink, and in the latter stages of the operation, bio-metric scanning.  We had enough Corn Huskers Lotion to keep an adolescent boy happy for centuries!

Census hand sanitizer (It's ON Our Hands?)

Census "chap stick"

Census mouse pad

Census chip-clips

Census luggage tags

Census note pads

Census ice scraper

Census car air freshener

Census coffee mugs (These are actually quite nice if you don't mind the logo)

Census water bottle

Census jumbo cup?

Census insulated tumbler

Of course there just hafta be Census hats!

Census headband/ear warmer

Census gloves!

Census winter cap

Census scarf

My Census office staff shirt for "Open House Day"
Reverse side

Census T-shirt like we gave out


Census blanket (rolled up)

Census tote bag

Census shopping bag

Another tote

Foldable shopping bag

The infamous "official" Census bag carried by field workers.

And last, but most certainly not least, my personal favorite and perhaps the most
useless piece of junk I saw... A Census Rubik's cube.  The sides are not even all the same
color... how the f**k is one supposed to solve it?

Now, this is certainly not an all-inclusive list. There were coloring books, posters, etc.  And let's not forget the actual materials used for conducting the operations. I wish I knew how much excess we destroyed, as well as how much we paid FedEx for overnight shipping of completed materials to the National Processing Center... only to have it wait days or weeks to be processed.

There were wasteful practices, in which some people who were originally cooperative became infuriated by the time they were visited by a Census worker for the 5th or 6th time over multiple phases of the operation (different phases, different protocols... I won't try to explain it here.)

I could go on and on. I wish I could somehow stop it, I even have a page or two of notes.  But ultimately, I'm like a mouse in a flour mill, trying to stop the mill wheel.  You get crushed by those with more authority who can almost always find a way to justify their actions & decisions.

The last time I tried hard to be responsible with tax dollars, I was in the Air Force. I was handling a purchase of several hundred thousand dollars of computer and software items, and I was spending the money as if it were my own.  I was shopping around with various vendors, and would have saved tens of thousands of dollars.  I was called into a meeting with my CO and the section head who "wanted" the stuff (I don't say "needed") right away!  I was humiliated in front of him, and threatened with dismissal from my position.  Ultimately, he got what he wanted, and most of it sat in storage and began to become obsolete while a new building was constructed, because 1 year in computer terms is like dog years, right?


Rant = Over

Anyway, it's early... gonna try to grab a few winks before the sun comes up.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


You know, my thoughts have been filled with so much hate and fear.

I am only just beginning to peel back the layers.

I am a thinking person, but I also am a creature of impulse, of animal instinct.


In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too

Census, Part I

In 2009, with nothing better to do, I found an application for the decennial census online.

Now, it is fraught with controversy, some consider it to be the U.S. Government taking control, of peering up your sphincter with a microscope.

In case you were wondering, in case you think your representatives pulled it out of their collective asses or thin air, the very words for the law come directly from The Constitution of the United States:

From Article I, Section II:

"The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting 
of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten 
Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."

You may not like the questions asked, you may question the questions, you may not like the microscope... but it is in "such Manner as they shall by Law direct."

On a lark, I filled out the application, I got a job, and it became a lesson in civics for me.

When I was a kid in 1980, my mom did the job, I think she did what we called "ADCAN" in 2009 (Address Canvassing) in which it is verified that yes, there is a house there, and yes, this is the mailing address.  Don't shoot me please, I'm just doing a job. Thankyewverymuch.

I expected to just be a schmuck knocking on doors, but boy, was I ever surprised.

I wound up being hired on at the Spokane LCO (Local Census Office) and I became a part of the office staff.

Initially, I was part of the IT staff, we supported and accounted for the Handheld Computers (HHCs) which were used for ADCAN.

Apparently, the contract was an abortion, and everything went the way of a Led Zeppelin.  (It crashed, in other words) The colossal waste became an even bigger colossal waste. Everything went paper. Gawd... I can not even begin to describe the waste I saw. I thought I saw waste when I was in the USAF... it does not even fathom...

In addition, I went from being an office schmuck to being a supervisor. I really don't care to recall the irate calls from the citizenry. Some simply wanted to vent, some I think had a mental illness. Ultimatley, I was a temporary employee... I gave it my all for the 2 years or so that I worked there, but when pushed, I pushed back. (What? Were they going to fire me?)

I was a polite civil servant... but when someone pushed my buttons, you can bet I pushed back. One man made a point of being an ass, and he called repeatedly. I did not let him get away with it. We got in a hang-up war, and I think I won.

Anyway, lest I venture into lands long forgotten... my original intent was to purvey the merchandise that your Commerce Department deemed fit to promote the 2010 Decennial Census.

Working in the office, I was privy to much of the Bullshit.  So here, after some rambling, is a sample. You'll see it in my follow-on post.

Trust me you'll be unpleasantely amused.

As they shall by law direct...

Edit: Feb 20, 2014 Census, Part II

The Times They Are A-Changin'

When I was a kid, I had access to stuff that I should not have had access to.

I was curious, I poked around in places I shouldn't have, but no one really looked after me.

I was an afterthought, I was a pest.

I learned to be alone.

I went for long walks in the hills, I explored, I walked through railroad tunnels, I walked across trestles, I tempted fate by standing on my tippy-toes over 100 feet in the air on a railroad bridge, in reverse, sometimes hoping for oblivion.

No one called my name.

My grandfather, among his many vocations, was a coal miner. He had dynamite and blasting caps in his possession

Have you ever taken blasting caps to school?  I did. How's that for show & tell?

Have you ever taken a loaded .25 semi-automatic pistol to school?  I did.

Have you ever lined the driveway with flares in a fit of drunken rage?  I did.

I had access to all that, yet I never once harmed another person.  I could have taken dynamite to school, I could have built a bomb, I could have shot up the school. (At times, I was an angry young man.)

Instead, I did not.  I had the means and the method... yet I did not hurt anyone else.

What has changed?

Oh, the times, they are a changin'

Friday, February 7, 2014

The End of the World, Part II

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

-- Variuosly attributed to Winston Churchill, George Orwell, etc.

I do not sleep soundly in my bed at night.  I sleep with demons, and they do not rest lightly.

Sometimes they speak with the voice of thunder, with trails of fire.

Have you ever seen B-1Bs or F-15Es take off at full afterburner into the sunset?  It is a truly glorious sight... until you consider the death that will soon rain down on someone else.

I saw the Minimum Interval Take-offs (MITO) into the frigid cold mornings of the North Dakota sunrise, and I wondered if my daughter would grow to be a woman, to ever find love, to feel safe.

I had a Top Secret security clearance, and I held codes in my hands, the keys to the nuclear apocalypse. Some of the pieces we called "biscuits" because they would be broken open when the launch order came, much as one might crumble bread.  Even though there were safeguards in place, and I alone could not launch a nuclear attack... I still feel the weight of that burden.

I saw the planes take off toward Saudi Arabia, I helped prepare them for their missions.  I knew where they were going, I knew that people might likely die because of what I was doing.  I did it in 1990 - 91, I did it again in 2003.

I also saw the bomb-laden aircraft take off into the evening sunset from both RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, to rain down destruction in the night upon Serbian forces in 1999.  Do you know what it is like to do your job, and see the results on CNN the next day?

How many of you have ever wondered how many people you had a role in killing?  That is not even an issue which should enter a person's consciousness. Am I a mass murderer? How many body parts have you created with your actions? How many orphans or widows have you created?

I saw bomb-laden aircraft depart the balmy airstrip on Guam, to know that their contents would fall upon the Taliban fighters who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001 & 2002.



While "Global Shield" was real imaginary pretend stuff, when we pretended to blow the crap out of one another... Desert Shield and Desert Storm was real, so too was Operation Allied Force.  We threw massive amounts of stuff into the sky and let it rain back down.

I do not know who I killed... but I had a hand in each of those deaths.  I do not even know how much blood is on my own hands.

I have seen these visions, I do not casually carry this burden.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The End of the World

I'm not really sure how to proceed with this one.... (Like that's slowed me down before, right?)

When I was a young man, when I was a kid, as I grew up. bladdey, bladdey, blah... I was fatalistic.  I often thought of the Cold War, of the pending nuclear apocalypse.  I grew to know that I was near the Holston Defense Plant, in Kingsport, TN. I familarized myself with terms such as "blast radius" and "fallout zone"  

I still remember the signs adjacent to my elementary school doors, of the promise of safety...

A fallout shelter, the sign professed.

It was a lie.

I grew to know the lie.  I worked at that school during the summers, I scraped gum & boogers off chairs, I painted buckets of graffiti.  I saw the "safety" offered. The safety consisted of some stale crackers, perhaps some tins of water. (I never tested it... blick)

I considered stocking an old coal mine (there were plenty, my Grandfather had numerous ones on his land; I knew of others) with Beanie-Weenies, beef jerky and Ritz crackers.

Not much of a life to continue, in retrospect. I thought of whether it was best to spend eternity eating Beanie-Weenies and stale crackers, or to be instantly vaporized in a flash.

That was my paradigm for survival.

Much like post 9/11... we seek the illusion of safety.

My thoughts even encompassed my life.  I joined the United States Air Force straight out of high school in 1984...

When I was in the U.S. Air Force, we practiced being at war. We thought of others trying to vaporize us, to kill us.  Do you understand what that does to one's psyche... to constantly be looking over ones shoulder, to wonder if it is safe to let ones guard down?

The USAF, allies and the USN (Navy) held an annual exercise called GLOBAL SHIELD. I played along with the home version. I held a Top Secret security clearance, I saw the message traffic because I worked in the communications center. I saw the unraveling of the world as we know it... message traffic was simulated... but the world was falling apart.

Fortunately, I was considered "mission essential."  Even when we were pretending to blow one another other up, I had to be on standby for the real thing.

The process is called MITO (Minimum Interval Take-Off) It is an effort throw the maximum amount of aircraft & bombs safely into the sky, in the least amount of time.

Consequently, I got to see what the end of the world looks like.  This is REALLY what the end of the world looks like... these are nuclear armed planes, ready to bomb our adversaries into the stone age.

That is not Delta or United Airlines stacked on the deck... that is the other half of your oblivion awaiting you.

I saw the planes take to the sky, I saw the vapor trails into the sunrise... I felt the thunder, I feared for my child asleep... I wanted so badly to hold her and tell her the lie... that it would be OK.... but I could not.

You want to live the lie?  Been there, done it.  Go for it.

It is all a lie... yet it is true.

The End of the World, Part II

The End of the World, Part III