Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Was it Wasted Time? Was I just Swimming Upstream?

That last post dredged up some unpleasantries, which I feel compelled to address. Hadn't really intended this to be multi-part, but here goes...

This is going to be a long one... might want to grab a snack.

(Rambling Nostalgia Alert! Part 2)  

First of all, I will answer the rhetorical question I posed in the subject line. (Answering a rhetorical question... who knew?) I don't believe in wasted time. I believe every second of every waking day teaches us something, if we only tune our ears and listen.  Whether it is in the form of a relationship, religion, philosophy, science... we are immersed in thought and knowledge. One has only to open their mind.

Do not fear wasted time, for it does not exist.

 Click here if you want to read Part 1)

I don't know if anyone would classify me as "genius" because sometimes I do some pretty stupid stuff. But I'm not a stupid person. Whatever that means.

In my last post, I wrote of my Uncle Curt, a man that I admired. He worked with his head and his hands, and from my perspective, was pretty successful.

When I was a kid, I learned many things.  I was often left alone, neglected even. But that gave me opportunities to explore and learn all by myself.  When I was attended to, I learned carpentry, I learned to overhaul Volkswagen Beetle & lawn mower engines. I learned some masonry, some electrician skills, some plumbing, etc.  I walked through the woods with no fear, I learned to cut trees & firewood via an axe, bow saw and chain saw.  I don't always like to attribute any of those things to my father, but it is an inescapable truth.  I learned from many sources, and he was one.

My dad would sometimes say "I know a little bit about everything, and a whole lot about nothing."

I still like that saying.

A different manner of expressing it is "Jack of all trades, master of none."

When I was in Middle & High School, I was interested in skilled trades. But nevermind, I was grouped with the "gifted" (aka smart) kids, whatever that means. I don't think I was particularly smart, I was just good at following instructions. I was put on the "college track" of classes, starting with pre-algebra.

I hated those classes, and I did not excel. I had started to rebel, and putting someone in a class they don't want to learn something they don't care about is a recipe for disaster. In fact, those were some of the worst grades I ever received.  Almost straight "Fs"  Yet the advisors kept trying to get me on the PACE (academic competition) team.  I refused. Instead, I played football, basketball, and ran track, until I became academically ineligible. My family didn't care what I learned or how I performed... why should I?

I wanted to take shop classes. We did not have shop at my school, the county had a combined vocational education facility in the center of the district. I told my guidance counselor what I wanted to do, but I was deemed "too smart" to take shop. So I took French, Algebra & Trig, Government instead of Geography, Physics & Chemistry, etc. I could do the work... but I didn't want to. And I am still infuriated by the elitist attitude that skilled trades somehow do not equate to being a "success."

From "The Breakfast Club" in the early 80s

So I was kept on the track, hell-bent on going to college, even though it was not my choice. My feet were forced into shoes that did not fit.

Somewhere along the way, I knew I did not want to go to college. I knew I would be wasting time and money. I decided on the military, and after talking to a few recruiters, settled on the U.S. Air Force, which is the direction I was leaning anyway.

I reluctantly took the SATs, not wanting to burn any bridges.  I did OK, 1160 overall, nothing stellar, especially considering that I did not study or prep at all, and was even accepted into East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City, TN. I don't really know why I wasted a day and the $10 or $20 test fee, because I actually took the time to write back and essentially told them "Thanks, but no thanks... See ya in Boot Camp." (If you were working in the registrar's office and are reading this, I'm sorry I wasted your time.)

During one of my later High School years, I was called into the principal's office along with a few other guys. As "disadvantaged" students, we were being offered some kind of scholarship application or some other crap.  I said I wasn't interested in any scholarship, didn't want college, and essentially asked to be excused. The Principal (Mr. Jim Short, FYI) was visibly pissed at me for being honest.  I still resent that man.

He also tried to give me unexcused absences when I went to visit my recruiter during my Senior year, visits which culminated in my signing up for the USAF. I had multiple days I missed, several of which necessitated overnight trips to the regional recruiting center or Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Knoxville, TN for my physical exams, testing, specialty selection, etc.  By this time, I was over 18 in age, and I tried to excuse myself, but he would have none of that. I had to have "an adult" write me a note, an attitude which further infuriated me. I was simply biding my time to get my diploma, that piece of paper which The World says we need, or we'll apparently collectively starve.

He was also the asshole who made us Seniors come to school the day AFTER our graduation to get our diplomas. (We had missed a few days due to snow; graduation was "hard coded" but he made us come to school for... nothing.  At our ceremony the night before, we had been handed rolled up blank papers.)

I still despise that man. A textbook bureaucrat who, in my opinion, personified what is now wrong with our educational system. A different time... but not so much a different attitude.

The SATs meant nothing,other than a High Score, not unlike a video game. I did not practice or study. I did not waste very many quarters.  But I did take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) which DID mean something to me.

All of my scores were in the upper 90th percentiles, except administrative/clerical.  That involved copying and doing office-type stuff, as I recall..  I wanted to go into electronics maintenance, because I had learned some basic stuff from my uncle & my dad.  But I found out that my color vision was deficient, and if you ever look at a resistor or bundles of wires, you'll find that everything is color-coded. Deficient color vision is usually inherited from the father's side.  (Thanks, Dad!) And I've passed it to my son, who wound up with a desk job in the Marines.

Anyway, at the MEPS, they told me "The Air Force won't waste scores like yours, so just sign here." My Presbyterian minister, Mr. Paul Taylor (ex-Navy) had beat it in my head "DO NOT SIGN AN OPEN CONTRACT!" So while sitting at the Knoxville MEPS, I made the recruiting staff earn their pay.  I simply told them "Nope, I ain't signing."  They fished around, hunted & pecked and made phone calls.  Ultimately, they found a job called 291x0 "Telecommunications Operations Specialist" if I remember the nomenclature correctly.  It was supposed to involve using a lot of computer shit, so I signed up.

Side note/tangent alert:  If any human could ever convert me from my heathen atheist ways... it would be Mr. Paul Taylor. When I first met that Presbyterian minister, he was outside the church, smoking a cigarette.  Unfortunately, he has passed away. I'd love to sit and talk with him again.  He used to come over for dinners and hang out with us sinners.  He studied the Bible in some of the original languages, and was a good man. (BTW, I still don't know if it's atheist heathen, or heathen atheist...?)

Ultimately, I got lucky, but not at first.

Turns out that being a 291x0 has a lot of administrative work to do. It's a government job, so of course there is paperwork, often in quintuplicate or more (at least it seemed that way.)

While waiting for my security clearance to be finalized, I worked the base telephone switchboard. In the early 80s, at Minot AFB, ND, it was much more labor intensive than a desktop telephone might suggest. Minot AFB was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. And SAC took care of 2/3 of the nation's nuclear triad. The nation's B-52 bomber fleet, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Minot had both.  (The U.S. Navy was the other 1/3, via Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)

Minot AFB had B-52 bombers, cocked and ready, sitting on the alert pad, waiting for the order to launch. Crews were constantly ready to get their warbirds into the air. Even going for lunch or a haircut was not an escape.  There were Klaxon horns and alert lights everywhere.  And the ICBMs were a few turns of the key and button pushes from flying. It was said that if North Dakota ever seceded from the Union, it would be the world's third most prominent nuclear superpower.  Minot AFB had the 23rd Bombardment squadron, and 3 squadrons of ICBMs.  I don't know how many nukes the bombers had but it was a lot. And 3 squadrons of Minuteman III ICBMS meant 450 individual warheads.  Grand Forks AFB was similarly equipped.  Every time I went on shift, I thought of that, and I felt the burden of the nation's nuclear arsenal on my shoulders.  Every mundane task I did related to that, and sometimes the tasks were not so mundane. When you patch together every key commander on the base via conference call, some on radio, some on their telephones, and you personally hear the bombers roaring in the distance, you become acutely aware of your role.

(That is a link to a previous post, but when you re-live the end of the world repeatedly, it alters your paradigm of life... I have endured the death of billions repeatedly.)

This was the type of telephone switchboard I cut my teeth on, a Stromberg-Carlson model:

Make all the Hee-Haw jokes you want...
it took a while to learn this stuff....
Meanwhile, back from my tangent...

When I wasn't practicing to eradicate the human race, I was busy connecting remote missile crew members buried under a wheat field to their wives so they could have phone sex. Otherwise, I practiced my teletype skills.  On one of these high-tech gadgets:

I also learned to read 5-level paper tape:

Couldn't do it right now, nor could I read a punched card... but I was formerly fluent.  I handled more cards than a blackjack dealer in Vegas, I'm pretty sure.  And they were worth more. Paychecks and savings bonds used to be printed upon these. Mind you, without the columns of numbers, but the hole positions told you the info. Pre-magnetic ink, you could run one of these through a card-reader and get all the account info you needed:

I don't know how many levels of tangents I'm into here... but trust me, I'm working my way back. But first, another tangent:

Somewhere along the way, my supervisors discovered that I was pretty good with details. So in addition to remembering phone numbers, reading 5-level tape and punched cards... someone decided that I should handle and be responsible for nuclear launch codes. I was re-assigned to the COMSEC (Communications Security) Account.

No photos... Even if I possessed any, I'd be violating my life-long nondisclosure agreement.  I worked in an office adjoining the equivalent of a bank vault. I have been personally chauffeured to work in a military vehicle with lights flashing & sirens blaring when I could not make it due to ND blizzards... I have been held at gunpoint when I made a mistake authenticating before disabling the alarm.

Despite the foul-ups you may occasionally read about in the media... the USAF don't tolerate no fuck-ups.

Somewhere along the way, the USAF decided to merge multiple career fields. Mine was 291x0, and in the hodge-podge, mish-mash, I popped out as a 491x1.  I'm not even going to try to recall the heraldry... I worked with computers, only more of 'em.  (Also, FYI, the "x" denotes skill level. 1 is helper, 3 is apprentice, 5 is journeyman, 7 is craftsman, 9 is superintendent.)

Data cards, 5 & 8 level paper tape, magnetic tape, and a big room full o' equipment with a halon fire suppression system with our Sperry 1100 mainframe.

Thems were the days.

Not dissimilar to our computer room at Minot AFB.

16 Gigabytes was equal to a wall full of refrigerator cabinets.  My iPad now has 4x that.

I hung out at Minot AFB for 7 years. "Only The Best Come North" was the motto over the main gate.

Why not Minot? Freezin's the Reason!  Only the Chosen are Frozen!
Heard 'em all!
The main gate has been updated, but I think they still have the motto.

One day I had a particularly nasty day of red tape with work. Before I headed back to my office, I went by the personnel office.  I filled out a new assignment preference worksheet. I volunteered "Worldwide" "Remote."  That is the administrative equivalent of Russian Roulette, or "Anywhere but HERE." Having been there for 7 years, I was pretty much guaranteed a bullet.

Within two weeks I had two assignments. The later one (which I did not take) was to Stuttgart, Germany.  The first one was to Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (HQ AFCENT) in Brunssum, The Netherlands.

That was an experience, and would be another tangent (or multiple) in itself.

I became the administrator and responsible for the IBM 5360 mini-computer in the Support Group's supply system. My system tracked everything from pencils to Post-It notes, from toilet paper to tents.  Big noisy printers, 8" floppy discs, daily back-ups, and ... air conditioning.  I don't think Europeans had yet discovered it... but my office had it.  Not usually hot, but on those few days... I was a popular dude.

IBM 5360. Mine did not have sneakers... but I kept her hummin'...

Hmmm.... Calculator, Time & AC groupies.  I think I missed a few boats.  The UKAF (British Air Force) gals wore garter belts with their skirts.  I happened across that bit of info when some gal crossed her legs "inappropriately.... (damn, Adrienne!)  I never relished paperwork more than those days....Benny Hill skits & music ran amok through my mind!

Well, anyway... garter belts, legs, European beer, and all the other stuff got to be not enough. When the guys I worked with would go home on a long weekend, my family was 5 time zones away. When my time was up, I could have extended. But I chose to bring my Volvo & family back to the U.S. of Terra Firma.  Which began a whole new set of odysseys... but those are other chapters, yet to be fully explored

The synopsis of the next chapter involves building a network from scratch, learning the inter-webs, dead mice, steam tunnels, staple guns, and Survival Instructors who can build a fire with two toothpicks, but can't choose a complex password to save their lives.

So, perhaps Jim Short, in his effort to be Mr. Control Freak did me a favor.  I found my own way from under his thumb. I meandered the stream of time and learning, and am still doing so.  I'm not financially prosperous, or rolling in the dough, but I am happy.

And best off all, my shoes fit.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Slide Rule? Abacus anyone?

Ahh... the good ol' days...

Back when I had to walk to school, barefoot in the snow.  Uphill.  Both ways.

(Rambling Nostalgia Alert!)

When I was a kid, I had a really cool uncle, on my dad's side.  Uncle Curt.  I admired that man greatly, and I loved hanging out at his place.  He lived with my grandmother, supported her, and was a life-long bachelor, as far as I know.

He used to say "Sambo, you ain't a' courtin' are you?"  Meaning he wanted me to eschew females too, I suppose.  Of course, I was a' courtin' whenever I could, but I didn't tell HIM that!  Didn't quite connect with him in that mentality... thus the following pic:

My Uncle Curt & my daughter Leslie, in the Summer of 1990, I think.
There had been some courtin' going on, to say the least!

But this is not about his philosophy.

The stuff he had was a wonderland for me. I know my sisters didn't always feel the same way, but I usually lost track of time while there. We would usually visit on Sundays, and that alone made it worthwhile, because we'd get to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. On cable.  (No adjusting the antenna, no fuzzy picture!) And in color! If we weren't ushered to the car too soon, we'd also watch The Wonderful World of Disney (aka "Walt Disney")

He also had collections of books; science, nature, geography related... entire sets, I think from Time/Life or something like that. I don't remember the sets he had, but there was a bookcase full of them. I don't know how many hours I spent with my nose buried in those books. That alone was enough to lose myself for hours... but there was more!

He had a typewriter, and when I asked, he would let me play with it. It was not electric, but I didn't care.  I would write nonsense, other times I would start my Great American Novel... never to be finished.  He had a desktop calculator in his office, and would let me play with that too.  I was amazed that a small "box" like that could contain every arithmetic problem I could present. (I had no concept of binary arithmetic, twos complement, registers, floating points, integers, etc.  I simply thought it had EVERY possible problem & solution stored within. I now know that computers & calculators are simply very fast at counting on their fingers.)

Now we move on from the house. He had a workshop which fascinated me far beyond what Charlie's Chocolate Factory could ever hope to do. There were gadgets and gizmos and what-cha-may-call-its.  Some things I knew a little about... some were enigmas.  Two things I distinctly remember were a metal lathe and a motor winder.  The lathe was used to shape & fabricate metal parts. The tray beneath was usually filled with razor sharp coils of metal shavings. The winder, which was used to rebuild large electric motors, had arms inside for wrapping coils of copper, and it had a counter to match coil counts.  As much as that place technically fascinated me, it was also fun. He had built three shop stools with wheels for sitting. One was short, the other two were of average height. Being the smallest, I took the low center of gravity "built-for-speed" model. My sisters & I would race around the concrete floor like demonic possessed clowns.  They usually won.  I think they were more possessed than me.

Something like this, except screw height
adjustable, and with only 4 wheels.
The shop was also built (like a bridge) over a creek, and one could take the floor drain up and drop stones directly into the water below.

These things alone were enough to occupy me, but I have yet to approach the Inner Sanctum, the Holiest of Holies.

There was the train shop.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.

Curt was a collector of Lionel O27 trains.  I only saw small portions set up on the floor in the house from time to time, but somewhere along the way, he acquired massive amounts of rolling stock, locomotives, track, accessories, etc.  I suppose he intended to set it all up "someday" which never came.

But when no one was watching me (which was par for the course...) I'd slip off and sneak over the inclined concrete bridge, up to that shop, remove the lock from the hasp (it only LOOKED secure) and sneak inside. I wasn't really supposed to be there, but I gradually became more bold, spending more and more time in that building, until it seemed like hours... and no one called for me.

I looked at first, salivating, a kid in a dreamland toy store. On later visits, I would open a box or two, piece together a few sections of track on the workbench, cautiously roll a box car and tanker car along, couple them together, then put them away and pull out a passenger car.  The only thing missing was electricity, otherwise, I'd have had locomotives running.

I can not tell you the specific models... otherwise I'd post images. Suffice it to say, the images in my mind are better than anything I can find on Google.  I've tried.

I think Curt was successful, he was inventive and as far as I know, had plenty of money most of the time. He owned a bulldozer and a backhoe, and showed me how to run each one when I was about 10 or 11. I'd have trouble remembering it all now, but it was so much fun to do that when before, all I had was toys in the dirt.  The real thing is much more fun!  You folks that do it for a living may laugh at me, but it takes fine skill to run an excavator, backhoe, etc.

That same summer, I worked with him on a spare piece of land he had acquired. He put in a mobile home for family get-togethers and so we'd have a bathroom. I helped him garden, I learned to run a tractor, I spent hours in the hot sun, and the family patch brought in acres of corn, potatoes, and so on.  I probably wasn't as helpful as I'd like to think I was, but for a 10 or 11 year-old, I worked my butt off.

Late that summer, Curt asked what I would like.  He had given me some money along the way, bought snacks, etc, and I wasn't expecting anything in particular. I had enjoyed the hell out of spending time with him, learning stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to experience... but when he asked... that 24 inch Free Spirit 10-speed bike (red, white & bicentennial blue) in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog sprang to the forefront of my cerebrum.  At the time, it was the princely sum of about $110, and as far as I know he chipped in, or bought outright, that bike for me.  It was the first bike that I had which was not a hand-me-down, or "Frankenstein-ed" together from spare parts. (Yes, one of my early bikes I put together from 3 identical bikes which were crushed in a barn collapse where some of my cousins had them stored.)

Several years later, when I was in High School, I lived with my maternal grandparents. Otherwise either my father or I would have wound up in the morgue. How Curt & my dad could have come from the same womb eludes me. But as they say, one can choose their friends, not their relatives. One of those winters, my grandparents went to Florida and stayed with their daughter (my aunt) for a couple of months. I had school and lived in the log cabin behind their house. The main house had a coal fired stove which also heated the water for the house. Having a warm or hot shower would involve getting up 2 or 3 hours prior and building a fire. Me? High school? I was up past midnight! I chose to simply have a cold shower before school. I'm not talking a "Who used up the hot water?" cool shower.  It was like ice water! I dealt with it. That summer, I had a major hand in building a new laundry/utility room for my grandparents. They had purchased an electric water heater, I ran the wiring, but we had not yet plumbed it in before their Southern Sojourn.

Curt learned of my bathing habits. He brought over his pipe dies and he taught me how to cut and thread galvanized pipe. We screwed it all together, and by the end of a day, we had a functional electric water heater and I had hot showers. I wish I could have learned 1/10th of what that man had in his head.

(I warned you that this was a Rambling Nostalgic piece.)

The inspiration for this piece was me looking at one of my calculators, a Casio fx-260solar.  Oh, that's not the only one, and it's relatively new; I've got them lying about the place, they're also on my smartphone, my iPad, and of course on any of my computers.  Apple II, 68040 Mac, PowerPC, OS 8, 9 & X, Win XP, Win 7, yada yada yada...

But there was a time when calculators were not ubiquitous.  There was the time I borrowed my aunt's calculator, and as I rode my bike, the bag split and it hit the dirt road. The cost of repairs was many times more than what a new scientific calculator would cost now.  (I think it was an HP gadget, a pioneer in the field.)  Suffice it to say, I had to do my homework the old-fashioned way.

I never learned to use a slide-rule.

I came in at the close of the analog age, and the dawn of the digital age. And now for the tie-in with my rambling.

At some point, Curt bought my sisters & I each a calculator.  Just a basic add, subtract, multiply, divide, calculator with a red Light Emitting Diode (LED) display from Texas Instruments.

It was the greatest thing ever invented since the wheel.

Yep... this is it. Counts on its fingers
faster than I can ever hope to.

Of course, taking it to school resulted in a plethora of calculator groupies. (Try this, what does this equal? Times this for me! Of course the "million x million" resulted in the flashing red overflow indicator.) Then there was the popular 7734 (HELL) or 710 77345 (SHELL OIL) and turn it upside down.  My personal favorite was a joke about Dolly Parton going to her doctor and having various procedures done for breast reduction.  As one narrates, you punch in numbers and the end result is 55378008 (Upside-down: BOOBLESS)

Anyway, would that I could have sewn my wild oats and gotten laid by calculator groupies.  I guess I just didn't know how to work it.

BUT WAIT!  Tell them what else they've won Johnny!

At about the same time, Curt also bought me a digital watch. Serious James Bond super-secret squirrel shit.  He also bought one each for my sisters, but theirs had girly orange bands, and at this time I can not find an image online.  Mine was the masculine James Bond save-the-world version:

This is a promotional image... if you wanted to know the time,
you had to push a button to light it up.

I'm not positive that's the exact model, but it's pretty dang close.  When I wore that watch to school, I had Time Groupies. I was in 5th or maybe 6th grade, and people I didn't know would walk up to me and ask me what the time was.

If only I could have worked it.  Calculator & Time Groupies... could have gotten laid and STDs out of the way before AIDS paranoia.

(sigh) Hindsight.

I still miss Curt.  In some ways he was more of a father than my own biological unit. Of course he was imperfect, he sided with my father in disputes with my mother too many times. I could focus on that, but I choose to remember the good.

In 1997, while I was on leave from the U.S. Air Force and visiting my parents, a phone call came in to my mom's house.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but Curt had been in an auto parts store and collapsed.  I think he was heading over to see me & my visiting family, but I never got to see him, never got to say goodbye.  He died very quickly, perhaps even instantly. I was a pall bearer at his funeral.

I miss you, Uncle Curt
And thus accelerated my father's downward spiral... which did not end well. But that's another story entirely, one which I won't launch at this sitting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Amendment V

I like to watch cop dramas. Whether we are talking CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Castle, Bones, or what have you. Simple entertainment, check your brain at the door, we'll show you how it SHOULD be.

Simple formula, investigators track down the leads, bring in the bad guy, interview him or her, they roll over like a mutt being petted & squeal like a stuck pig to everything, usually within the 60 minute time window.

I have fun... but what bunk.

I suppose, if qualified, I could write a dissertation on the way they handle forensics, DNA, etc. But I'm not, so I won't.  Suffice it to say... it's almost pure fantasy.

The one that always gets me is how they roll & confess during questioning. Now, I'm not saying this never happens. But when a person does so... they do a disservice to themselves.

I'm not against the guilty being punished. But every person deserves to be treated fairly, and they deserve legal counsel, even though in many cases, that counsel is at best overworked, and at worst, incompetent.

In fact, the founders of the USA thought it important enough to enshrine our right to silence in our Bill of Rights.

Amendment V:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

So do think about this the next time you talk with a law enforcement officer.  It is human nature to want to help... but an officer is an agent of The State. They have no vested interest in your well being, your freedom, and have no duty or obligation "to protect and serve" no matter what is painted on the squad car door.

Casual questions, pre-Mirandized... that's one thing, that should generally be inadmissible, although if you're not careful, it may lead to probable cause for search, seizure, further questioning, and possibly even arrest. So do consider whether you want to talk at that moment. But the minute your rights are read to you, that means they suspect something. Even if you are innocent... your freedom, perhaps even your life, may be in jeopardy.

Be careful what you say... 
and never agree to be interviewed without an attorney present.

This video is nearly 49 minutes long... but it is worth watching. It is a law professor, and a police officer commenting on why you should not talk with the police.  I hope you watch it.

Do remember that anything you say may be used in a court of law, against you.

I have first-hand experience with this.

In 2007, I was driving along U.S. Highway 2, between Creston & Davenport, Washington. I was slightly outside of Creston, and on a downhill grade in my direction of travel. I had not yet engaged my cruise control, and my car picked up some speed. It was a 60 MPH zone.

A line of traffic approached me from the opposite direction; cars, some trucks, and (I soon found out) a Sheriff's Deputy's car.  I was on the inside of a curve, the line of traffic was on the outside, and the officer was behind a few large trucks.  My radar detector chirped, (they are legal in most jurisdictions.) I glanced at my speedometer, and it was at about 63 MPH. I didn't concern myself... I reflexively tapped my brake and kept going.

Suddenly, I was treated to the visual cacophony of a light-bar in my rear-view mirror.  I stopped as soon as safe, and the deputy asked me if I knew how fast I was going. I said I did not, and he stated that I was doing 75 MPH (as I recall). I disagreed with him and said I was doing 63 at most. He wrote me a citation for 75, and snipped that my radar detector probably went off about the same time I saw him. (Smell any bias here?)  At this point I simply shut up.

So I challenged the citation in court. I had a really nice diagram and showed the judge why I thought the radar reading may have been inaccurate. (The angles and obstruction of the larger vehicles in front of the deputy were not conducive to an accurate reading.)

The judge agreed with me.

Then he dropped the bombshell.  I had admitted to doing 63, so he let that stand.  I was technically speeding, even though most officers will not bother with a traffic stop for that transgression.  My fine dropped from about $150 to  $93, so it was still worth my time... but had I been more careful with my words, I would have likely had the entire offense dismissed.  I licked my wounds and went home a little wiser.

I'm not saying I should have gotten off Scott-free... but since my lead-footing, 150 MPH days in Germany, I have generally followed traffic laws, and were I not ensnared by my own words, I would have likely escaped a fine from a biased officer with faulty physics.

So do remember this... to be quiet.

You do have the right to remain silent.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lambs to the Slaughter

Some people call me ornery. Some call me cantankerous. I don't really care.

Don't mess with me, and I will extend the same courtesy to you.

I just want to be left alone, and if my local reputation gives me that privilege, I am OK with that.

I really get angry & upset with people who think that it's OK to surrender their right for self-protection and preservation to a power they assume to be greater than themselves.

I do not mean to impugn those in the law enforcement community. I truly believe that most are honorable men & women, and that they will do their best to help us. But they can not be everywhere simultaneously.  And, yes,  in some cases, they are malevolent.

The Supreme Court of the United States has determined that the police have no legal obligation to protect you, or myself, or my children. If you are a female, you may be freely raped while the police consider their options (or eat their donuts.)

It has been repeatedly affirmed.

Castle Rock v. Gonzales

Warren v. District of Columbia

Barillari v. City of Milwaukee

Riss v. New York

etc.... etc...

More cases than I care to recount.

I get angry because of the power people extend to the state, and henceforth leave themselves at risk.  That is simply WRONG.

The power flows upward from the people, not downward from the government.

Yet, like lambs to the slaughter, led by a Judas goat who coaxes them to pacifism, they remain comfortable with the situation. I really don't want to die in a hail of bullets, I just want to be left alone.

But I grow anxious.

From whence cometh the power?  Are you a lamb or goat?

Or will you stand for what is right?

It is, after all, your choice.

Posse Comitatus

I ask...

How does our republic die?  How does our right to self governance wither?

How do the powers of tyranny triumph?

Does any person reading this even know the meaning of the Posse Comitatus Act?

Essentially, it keeps the Federal Government from bringing the full power of the Federal Militia to bear against its citizens.

It was passed in 1878, and has been a powerful check to restrain the U.S. military from being used against its citizens.  I am not a scholar of the principle, and I don't know how much weight it bears against the State Militia. (National Guard.)

So we've essentially got a law that keeps troops from turning their guns inward.  The powers of law enforcement are left to the civilian police and sundry agencies.


So instead, in the name of peace and domestic tranquility, we slowly militarize the police. We blindly surrender our rights... and we applaud as we do so.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

All Four Stanzas

The following is a piece by the late Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite authors.  He was a Russian immigrant, and was prolific in his writings.  We are lesser following his passing.

For decades, I have tried to find a recording of the U.S. National Anthem with all four stanzas. Short of commissioning one myself, this is a take on what it means.  I may as of yet seek a personal version.  If you know of one, please do share:

All Four Stanzas

By Isaac Asimov

I have a weakness--I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.

The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I'm taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.

I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem--all four stanzas.

This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. "Thanks, Herb," I said.

"That's all right," he said. "It was at the request of the kitchen staff."

I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas.

Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before--or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me; it was the anthem.

More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me.

So now let me tell you how it came to be written.

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.

At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours." However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic  coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.

The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D. C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.

On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.

As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.

As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?"

After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven" --a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key's work became known as "The Star Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.

Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key

Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? 
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, 
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, 

Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave, 
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

"Ramparts," in case you don't know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer

On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist of the deep, 
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, 
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep.
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, 

In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream 
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave 
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

"The towering steep" is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail away, their mission a failure.

In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise.

During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore 
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion 
A home and a country should leave us no more? 
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution. 

No refuge could save the hireling and slave 

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave, 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave 
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand  
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation, 
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n - rescued land 
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, for our cause is just, 

And this be our motto--"In God is our trust." 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave 
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears.

And don't let them ever take it away.

--Isaac Asimov,  March 1991

Edit:  4/13/2014, here is a good version recorded in the 1814 tradition:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Well, not really any trains involved.  But I am reminded of an experience I once had, which I'd like to share.

In the summer of 1995, I was newly assigned to the USAF Survival School. My civilian boss, Dan, was a skinflint from hell, and if we had more people like him in government, the deficit would vanish overnight. We might also revert to the stone age, but I digress. (Internet?  Aw, hell... just carve it on a rock and throw it at 'em...)

Anyway, climbing into my Wayback machine, (spelling debatable) here we go:

1995... USAF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, WA.  We were parent organization to the Arctic Survival detachment just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, on Eielson AFB.  They needed some computer help, were trying to get e-mail and interwebs.  So myself and a guy named Greg were dispatched on the Holy Quest. To be their Prometheus, bringing them the gift of fire.  (Or internet.)

So Greg had the power of the Holy Credit Card, backed by the full faith & credit of the U.S. Government. We were told to use it in restraint.

We began by piling into a Chrysler K Car, vintage unknown. We drove from Fairchild AFB to McChord AFB. Approximately a 5 hour drive.

(Couldn't find a dark blue one with USAF markings, but you get the idea.)

We got a room in the base hotel, and checked in with Base Operations, somehow we got booked on a USAF C-5 cargo transport the next day.  Upper deck seating is not unlike an airliner, minus most of the windows.

(Almost NO ONE gets a window seat, and the lower deck can hold 6 Greyhound buses.)

We arrived at Elmendorf AFB, just outside Anchorage, Alaska. We stayed with a former co-worker (Paul) of Greg while we tried to find transport to Fairbanks/Eielson.  Meanwhile, Paul showed us around.  Got to see 5-6 foot king salmon trying to jump a dam under the almost midnight sun. Bald eagles flying like seagulls to feast on fish stranded by the tide, and the clear blue ice of a glacier under the mid-day sun.

Indelible images that I do not wish to forget.

We finally had to fly commercial airline to Fairbanks.  I think it was Alaska Airlines.  This may or may not be the type we flew:

We arrived at Fairbanks uneventfully, but still needed to get to Eielson AFB.  We were met by Mark, a big guy who was nicknamed "The Beast."  A good guy who I've worked with in other capacities since.  But he picked us up and got us to Eielson AFB.  We rode a USAF 6-pax truck, something like this one:

Throw on some serial numbers and you've got an historic relic.

We stayed in the Arctic Survival detachment's command post for free.  It was during the Summer Solstice, so there was no such thing as actual night. (Eielson AFB does not get the true midnight sun, but it is close, being just outside the Arctic Circle.) The windows were plastered with aluminum foil to facilitate the illusion of night, but one evening in particular, we were watching TV and realized it was 1 or 2 AM, but because the sky was still illuminated... we lost track.

While staying there, I saw the beauty of Alaska.  I saw Denali from hundreds of miles away, somewhat of a rarity, because clouds often obscure it. I saw moose walk in front of that 6-pax truck, and I looked up at them, and they were not the least bit concerned with me.

Ultimately, we got their computers hooked up to the interwebs & the base infrastructure.  Can't have our military personnel not be able to watch the latest funny cat videos, right?

So our time is up... how do we get home?

Why, a USAF C-12, of course!

USAF "Puddle Jumper"
Now, one advantage of this is something I can never put a price on.  I flew by a mountain. Anglicized, its name is Mount McKinley, named after a President who never saw it.

I prefer the Native name:  Denali.  "The High One" or "The Great One" depending on translation.

The highest mountain on the North American continent. Approximately 20,237 feet tall. The images I captured do not give it proper honor. You were not there. You did not see it, you did not feel it.  

That mountain spoke to me.

I felt so tiny and insignificant... yet so powerful.  I am not a person of faith, I am not generally spiritual... but that mountain spoke to me.

I do not know what it said. But until the day I die, I feel that it said something to me.

This is one image that I tried to capture:

(A photo I took from a USAF C-12... not very good.)

Here's a more "textbook" photo:

My attempt was not so good due to luck and equipment. (I was using a disposable camera.)

I may be incorrect in my use of the term... but that mountain is a massif.

Ahem... but I digress.

Greg & I had been living out of suitcases, with an indefinite itinerary.  We made it back to Elmendorf AFB (Anchorage), and then were finding ourselves stranded.  Once there, we finally used the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government to buy ourselves some tickets to Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

We made it there, late at night.  No rooms at the inn.  We went to Denny's to regroup, and I settled on steak & eggs. Wound up finding a "by the hour" motel. We were so freakin' tired that we didn't care that there was only one bed.

We conked out, atop the covers, and we each had one foot on the floor.

We got back in our Lee Iacocca special and found our way back to Fairchild AFB... and by then I was hating my boss.

Dan, I still hate you.  But without this experience, I would not have seen many things....

You were a cheapskate asshole...  but I kinda wish we had more like you in government.

-- Sam

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Childhood's End

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)

I took the title for this post from a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. A fascinating fictional piece that I have not read since about 20 - 25 years ago, but I plan to buy a copy and read it again.

I don't know how to escape this conundrum. No matter how reserved I might try to be, somehow I am probably going to piss in someone's Corn Flakes.  Because I am comparing religious faith to childish belief in fairy tales. I don't know any way to say what I want to say without seeming condescending.

When I consider religion, any religion, it all sounds like fairy tales to me.  If you have faith, read the core tenets of any religion other than your own.  Try Scientology first. (that's always a fun one). You'll likely have to do some Googling... it's not really common knowledge, and you won't find it on their official site.

L. Ron Hubbard is probably still laughing, even though he's been dead for a long time.

Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Greek, Roman or Norse mythology, or Native American lore.  In addition to the spiritual side, they all ascribe supernatural origins and explanation to natural phenomena. Again... read up on the core tenets of Scientology.

(Unfortunately, I have to use a Wikipedia link here... the official Scientology website does not get into the principle of Lord Xenu sending the billions of Thetans in DC-8 style craft to die in Earth's volcanoes due to H-bombs... or something like that.)

Now, as far as I know, most of my friends & relatives come from Christian theologic backgrounds.

Step aside from your sacred cow.  Imagine I am an outsider, or even an alien.  You can not use the power of the sword to convert me, as the Spaniards did in the 1500s.  You must sell me your Sham-Wow by telling me why it makes sense and is the greatest thing ever invented.

Convince me why you are right when you:

Tell the story of your man made from dirt and his rib-woman.

Tell the story of why, when they sinned, we are all tainted.

Tell the story of how all life was confined to a boat while God punished men by killing pretty much everything.  (Including dinosaurs & unicorns?) I guess the fishes & cetaceans got a free pass, yes?

I could go on and on... but ultimately, the core tenet of Christianity is Zombie Jesus.

Yes, he is said to have died and rose again, becoming not unlike the Walking Dead.  And we practice cannibalism by drinking his blood and eating his body.

I do not ask you to explain these tenets.  I ask you to tell me why they are any more sensible than the ludicrous ideas of Lord Xenu and his banished Thetans.

The Bible is true because The Bible says it is true.  Yep.  Got it.  Cha-ching.  No sale.

I do not have the answers, I do not even have all the questions.

But when following the chain of life, evolution, and geology in reverse, I use the principle of Occam's Razor, which in short, says the the simplest solution is the most likely one.

I do not know how the Big Bang came to be. According to Stephen Hawking, there was no time prior, therefore there is no "before" the Big Bang.  That is difficult to comprehend, but so too is an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient God.

I call impasse on this chess game... but I still use Occam's Razor.  I can only speak for myself, and I will not be going door-to-door to proselytize my atheism.  It is a shoe that fits my foot, but I am willing to help you find one if you ever want to discuss it in more detail.

The simplest solution is the one with the fewest parts.  And it keeps a safe from falling on your head. (Please see the following video for a chuckle which emphasizes my point...)

(And here's the entire episode, if you're interested:

(But do be sure to practice safe sex...)

I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:

My God... it's full of stars!

We had a brief power outage during the night, from about 1 - 2 AM. My wife and I were up, so we burned some candles and talked for a while, but when I went outside to see how widespread it might be, I was once again awe struck by the beauty of the stars.

All the street lights and other forms of light pollution were gone. I had forgotten how dark the night could be. We've just had a new moon, so the only light to see was from the stars & visible planets.

Every star has its own color, and I also saw Mars & Saturn to the South, Jupiter to the West. Mars was as blood red as always. No wonder it represents the god of war.

I was only outside briefly, but I haven't seen it this dark locally since I was on Guam. When we'd have an outage there, in the interval before the generators kicked in for the runway lights, it was perhaps as dark as I've ever seen the world.

Over 1,000 miles from the Philippines, nearly 4,000 from Hawai'i, in the middle of nowhere in the vast Pacific.

At those times, the stars seem almost so close that you can touch them.

(From 2010: The Year We Make Contact)