Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rush Limbaugh is insane

So, I usually get offended/angry/frustrated with the random nutjob things that come out of Rush/Hannity/Levine's mouths during their harangues on the radio. I'm a liberal, they say things that are just wrong, and I get upset. Sometimes I worry about my blood pressure. But Rush's particular windbag conspiracy nut ego has recently taken a huge leap off the abyss.

First, just before the election, he claimed that even though the FBI was looking into ACORN fraud allegations, they "wouldn't find anything" because the FBI, like other government institutions, is populated by liberals who would cover up any findings they might have made.

Okay - whacko.

Second, yesterday he starts talking about Schumer causing a run on a California bank in June, and postulates that it was a big conspiracy by the Democrats to inject the bad economy into the political race, and the reason it has gotten so bad now is because it got out of hand. Really whacko.

So then, today, he's just off the map. I invented a Lucidity Scale for an ex-girlfriend a few years back, and at the moment Rush is at the Zero mark, possibly even lower. Apparently the water main break in DC this morning (which was horrendous), is some kind of vague liberal conspiracy in preparation for Obama's stated push to rebuild the American infrastructure.

Oh - and apparently I'm left handed because I was poorly potty trained. So, thanks for that, mom, I guess. ;)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This scares the crap out of me

If I have learned anything as a social scientist (and as a contractor, frankly), it's that human behavior is so widely varied and, frankly, individual, that attempting to generalize on any level besides the most basic is pretty much a lost cause.

But of course, the scientists keep plugging away.

Now, we have a computers that supposedly "detects happiness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and sadness with 85 percent accuracy." Okay, sure, some innovative computer work, good for them. Maybe we can get some better CGI art out of it.

The problem is that "other applications of emotion recognition software might be to detect terror suspects on the basis of their emotions, not just on their physical characteristics."

Look, some of the shit America has done in GWOT has been beyond criminal. Are we going to surrender this activity to a computer? I've seen some very scary ideas floated around the various IC firms in the past couple years, and this ranks up there with the best (worst) of them. Quantification has its place - but never in the determination of an individual's current mood. Just ask my girlfriend, who constantly complains about my "happy face."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What does "decorated" really mean?

So, Matt Apuzzo has written an article discussing the most recent Blackwater indictments. To the average reader, I would suspect this article might make them question the indictments, as Apuzzo mentions that "each man has received honors for his service in some of the world's most dangerous places, from Bosnia and Afghanistan to Iraq." Unfortunately, either Apuzzo is carrying water for someone, or he is just completely clueless when it comes to military medals.

I did a very basic search of these "decorated veterans" and discovered that decorated is really a relative term. By Apuzzo's definition, every single soldier who went to Iraq is a decorated veteran. I've previously discussed the problems with the current platitude that every soldier is a hero "just for serving" which I think is total bullshit. This change in the definition of heroism demeans the soldiers, demeans real heroes who perform above and beyond in fields like medicine, firefighting, police work, and sometimes even the military. But the man who sits behind the Finance Desk and hands out cash to soldiers so they can buy some kebabs on the street is not a hero. (Well, he might be a hero to me, since he allows me to buy some kebabs, and there's nothing that compares to ground sewage-fed lamb roasted over a wood flame.)

Between them, these are the "medals" the "decorated veterans" and heroes achieved (I've neglected a number of Navy-specific medals which correlate with the Army ones below):

Driver & Mechanic Badge: this is my favorite. Awarded to enlisted soldiers who have received training, and subsequent qualification, to operate or repair military motor vehicles.
Army Achievement Medal: to recognize the contributions of junior officers and enlisted personnel who were not eligible to receive the higher Commendation Medal or the Meritorious Service Medal. (the lowest award you can get)
Army Commendation Medal: presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy force, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star , the Valor device ("V" device) may be authorized as an attachment to the decoration. Please note, that with the exception of a Marine in Fallujah, none of these men even lists a "V" device on their Arcom. And NONE of them have a Bronze Star.
Army Good Conduct Medal: awarded to any enlisted member of the United States military who completes three consecutive years of "honorable and faithful service". Not exactly an "award" so much as a good attendance record.
Armed Forces Reserve Medal: complete a total of ten years service as a member of a Reserve or National Guard component of the United States military. Again, an attendance award.
Army Service Ribbon: awarded to any member of the U.S. Army (including Reserve and National Guard components) who complete "initial entry training."
National Defense Service Medal: for service during the War on Terrorism. "Service" incidentally is any active duty service, at home, abroad, on a base, etc. All the active duty soldiers in my Basic Training class received one of these.
Combat Infantry Badge: presented to officers, warrant officers and enlisted soldiers who participate in active ground combat. (Notice, although a person with a CIB has seen "combat", it doesn't imply anything about their actions in that combat. Frankly, in Iraq, you can earn it if a mortar round goes off close to you...)
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal: awarded for participation in "any military campaign of the United States for which no other service medal is authorized." In other words - a deployment before the Iraq Campaign medal was formalized (or maybe a deployment to Bosnia).
Overseas Service Ribbon: performed military tours of duty outside the borders of the United States of America.
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal: those military service members who have performed service in the War on Terrorism from September 11, 2001 to a date to be determined. This not an overseas award, this is for those who were called up to serve in the United States. So, all those National Guard guys guarding the airports, the soldiers working at MUICs, etc.
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal: originally for an overseas deployment anywhere, nowadays it just means you were deployed under GWOT to somehwere besides Iraq or Afghanistan.
Iraq Campaign Medal: awarded to any member of the U.S. military who has performed duty within the borders of Iraq (or its territorial waters) for a period of thirty consecutive days or sixty non-consecutive days.
NATO Medal: deployed with a NATO mission. (Note there is a NATO meritorious medal as well, which none of these men earned...)
Presidential Unit Citation: granted to the unit a soldier served in, not the individual. Soldiers who were in the unit when it received it get to wear the award forever, but it has no bearing on the actions of the individual.

So, all these decorations mean is that these men were in the military and deployed somewhere. Nothing else. No Bronze Stars, no "V" devices, nothing that would indicate actual "heroism." In one way or another, they are all awards for attendance.

And just to establish my credentials:

Army Service Ribbon. Army Commendation Medal. GWOT Service Medal. GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Combat Action Badge. National Defense Service Ribbon. Iraq Campaign Medal. (All awards for attendance).

I usually tell people I got an ARCOM for sweating. EVERYONE gets them. The fact that this medal is the highest medal these five men have between them suggests to me that they didn't really do anything.

Except panic and shoot up a crowd of Iraqi civilians. I'm not going to use the term legal or illegal here, because that is up to the court who is hearing the case. I simply wanted to take apart the phrase "decorated veterans" and point out the silliness of the term.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Google Analytics

So, since blogger is a google subsidiary, I set up google analytics a few weeks ag ot otrack hits on my blog, mainly just to see how many readers I actually had. Apparently the number is 43.

I would be proud of that, except that the average time on site is less than 10 seconds, so a lot of that 43 is people doing a search, clicking on my blog, and realizing it's not what they were looking for. Apparently Google thinks that my blog is the third most likely site that someone is looking for when they search for hot marine chicks.

The other interesting thing analytics can do is tell you where your viewers are coming from. Apparently I have a pretty loyal following in Colorado, California, and New York. I have a decent guess which of my friends are coming from there. But there's one that flummoxes me: Hoboken, NJ.

So, if you're my Hoboken reader and would like to identify yourself to me, please feel free to drop me an email, 'cause I'm dying to know.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Army Chaplains

I may have mentioned in the past that I dislike Army chaplains. I have had nothing but bad experiences with all but one of them (and he was my unit's chaplain for about a week at Basic Reception). For the most part they tend to be right-wing, proselytizing, fundamentalist christians. I have nothing against these people per se, I am a libertarian at heart - but this is an official government position, and as I understand it, the chaplain is simply there to oversee the spiritual well-being of the troops, and offer advice as requested. I actually got into an argument with a chaplain the last time I was in Iraq over whether or not I was going to go to heaven or hell because I professed my atheism in front of him (we were on a mission and he asked me specifically about my beliefs).

I was at a conference a few weeks ago and an Army chaplain stood up and talked about how the Chaplain corps was attempting to find a place for themselves in the new doctrine of counterinsurgency (like counseling christian troops perhaps?) and saw themselves as religious mediators with the religious leaders in foreign countries. I was flabbergasted. First - BAD IDEA. There's enough of a belief that American forces are a second generation of Crusaders without fostering it by sending out Christian fundamentalist wackos in uniform to talk to them. Second - based on belief #1, it's actually a violation of Centcom General Order #1 - no proselytizing. (do you know how hard it is to actually find a copy of General Order # 1???)

Well, all right, it's a changing world, changing needs etc. But then I was reading this blog, which has a wonderful powerpoint demonstration of how Chaplains should be telling soldiers to believe in God, creationism, etc, in order to live a better, more moral life. I don't usually care about things like Ten Commandments in public places, Nativity scenes, menorah's, whatever. But the United States Army is an official institution of the United States Government, which is specifically non-denominational, and seeing as how many Chaplain's briefings are mandatory for soldiers (or made to look so), this essentially amounts to forcing religion on a soldier. That sickens me.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Zoo Lights

So, last night I headed over to the Zoo Lights at the National Zoo with some friends. It was unfortunately disappointing. I suppose that if it weren't for the $12 admission, it might have been worth it.

Luckily, animals are animals, and the zoo decided to leave open a few of the buildings housing them. The Great Ape house is usually a good place to go at the zoo, so long as you walk past the depressing gorillas (you KNOW they know where they are), and go view the orangutans. I think it's because the orangutans have the Think Tank and the bridge to same to keep them stimulated.

And, apparently, they have the late night sex. Perhaps the most amazing thing about it was that, unlike the elephant masturbation (a common occurrence with the adolescent male at the zoo), children and parents just kept on watching. Maybe they just thought the orangutans were playing. In lots of positions, and always connected at the hips... It's good to know that I now have some first hand evidence that humans are not the only animals that have sex in the missionary position. Or cowgirl (no reverse cowgirl that I saw, though).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Movies that are better than the book

I could have sworn I posted about this earlier, but I can't find it on my blog. So, my current list of films which are better delivered than books:

1) Children of Men. P.D. James might be able to write mysteries, but her attempt at A Handmaid's Tale fell pretty flat (in the book, it was men who had the problem, not women, which changed the whole dynamic).

2) Lord of the Rings. Eat me. 1200 pages, over half of which is elaborate description of hobbits walking across the plains was a bit much. The movie was distilled, while maintaining the themes and ideas of the main story. Watch the movie, it's only eight hours, compared to the days you will spend wading through heavy prose.

3) Starter for Ten. Hardly surprising given that David Nichols is actually a screenwriter.

4) Bourne Identity. Touchy - the film is really only better because the novel is so dated.

5) Bridge on the River Kwai. Although a great book, the film really captured the experience better.

6) The Prestige. Don't like epistolary novels in general.

7) V for Vendetta. Although a great story, the art in the comic book was a bit lacking to me.

8) Spartacus. Same as Bridge on the River Kwai, see above.

9) Stardust. The book was obviously written when Gaiman was still figuring out his style, the movie later in his career. Better story arc, stronger characters.

10) Count of Monte Cristo. I end with this one, because although it was not a particularly great movie, it inspired me to read the book. Unfortunately, at 600 pages, it was too much.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

Went to see this this afternoon - Excellent Film!

I'm tempted to try and read the book, but looking at the storyline of the book, I wonder if it will be one of the few movies that are better than the book.

God, of course, has a sense of irony, and the afternoon after my trip to the cinema, I returned home to find out that Mumbai had exploded.

I will be interested to see how these events play out in the media.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Academics talk best to each other, not the outside

So, last weekend I attended the American Anthropology Association's Annual Conference. This was on a lark (cheap plane tickets happened to show up at the right time), and the first lesson I learned was - DO NOT go to a conference on a lark. Otherwise you will be spending a lot of time overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people, and have no one to talk to. Sounds a bit whiny, doesn't it? I would write the whole thing off as poor planning on my part, except that there were a few people who were welcoming and willing to talk to anyone who came along: the military people. I think academics are just clique-ish. This is something I've noticed before, and is the root of my dislike of academic language in general - it is a way of keeping the Others out of your special places.

Which moves us to the next point - there were five or six different panels on "public engagement" of anthropology. Unfortunately, these panels all pretty much devolved into anthropologists talking about how they can be activists against the government. Lost in academic language and political espousals, these discussions were really more of a choir. At one point, while decrying the problems of HTS and Montgomery McFate, there was a woman behind me saying "mm-hmm" at every point. She might as well have been proclaiming "Amen!" to an inspiring sermon.

Finally, I have to say that when academics talk to each other, and not the outside world, they actually have some interesting things to say. I went to a session on pubic and body hair, predominantly delivered by grad students, which was thoughtful, engaging, and interesting. There were a number of thematic elements (MTF transsexuals apparently place a large amount of symbolism in "adding" things to their bodies - especially body hair), as well as some gender issues (men are willing and open to discuss their pubic hair maintenance, women not so much), although there was an interesting moment when the researcher on this project stated (with apparent certainty) that the men she was interviewing "there was no flirting involved." Sometimes the inability of women to realize when men are hitting on them astounds me.

Oh, and a final note - for students of human behavior - who thought it was a good idea to schedule FOUR HOUR sessions?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cultural Construction of Sexuality

I used to love Desmond Morris' television shows. The idea of presenting human behavior in the same manner as one would present animal behavior of various sorts was a great way to remove our cultural biases toward the exceptionalism of humankind (is human exceptionalism a term? If not, it should be - Oops, apparently it is).

What's funny is that I remember an episode detailing the similarities between breast and buttock cleavage. And I just took it for granted, ten years ago when I saw it rerunned on the Discovery Channel. Cleavage = sexy.

Except recently I started thinking about the bras from the 50's with their "lift and separate" approach, which was hardly conducive to a style of cleavage equivalent to the buttocks.

So perhaps fashion does construct sexy... more than just a thin vs curvy dynamic as models yo-yo back and forth in weight. We know that erotic parts on bodies are different from culture to culture, Africans tend to prefer the buttocks, while Americans prefer the breasts. Evolutionary biologists work desperately to explain how cultural features can come from evolutionary drives, so breasts = buttocks = display of estrus = sexual receptivity. Unfortunately, as pointed out in some articles on Slate a few months ago, evolutionary biology is like a conspiracy theorist - an explanation can always be found, no matter how pear-shaped the facts.

1) Women cheat as much as men. Of course, say the evo-bio's, women would choose a long-term partner for security, and then mate (cheat) with the young, healthy, sexy man who can provide good genes, even if fidelity/responsiblity isn't one of those genes.

2) Women cheat less than men. Of course, say the evo-bio's, pregnancy is a resource-intensive process, and women will look to mate with men who can provide those resources. So those who can provide will pass on the provider gene to their offspring and thus be more successful

Any way the data goes, evo-bio can find a reason for it. That's not really science.

Although I would love to hear the explanation for the torpedo boob look.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tidbits

A very funny allegorical description of Monopoly from an anthropologist. It actually took me three paragraphs to get the joke. But worth it.

And gay men have a great sense of humor.

Methinks they doth protest too much

I don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but I hate it when people (anyone, although I have to say I see it more on the Right) wrap themselves in the flag in order to make disparaging comments or accuse another group.

Happily, I recently read this story, and it all makes sense. I remember watching an old episode of Firing Line, the argument being evolution versus creation. First off, William F. Buckley is the man. Even if you don't agree with him, you have to admit he can debate with the best of them. And he spawned Christopher Buckley, who made my "heroes" list with his support of Barack Obama, and the subsequent dismissal he got... from his father's magazine! But back to my point, during this debate, there were four evolutionists, three sane creation scientists (maybe polite is the better word, or "willing to actually debate on the merits of an argument"), and one die-hard creationist. This latter individual spent the entire debate with a smirk on his face, attacking the others (even his own side) for their so-obvious failure-to-be-Christian. And he aggravated me, so much so I think that might have been my first decision to be a die-hard evolutionist. I'll let you take the irony of that in the context of this post however you want.

Moving on, the article about which I write gives me comfort, as it allows me to relax my fingernails as they dig into my palms while listening to them wrap themselves in the flag, or in the case of Sean Hannity, wrapping himself in the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Right wing wackiness

So we all know that 2012 is going to be the end of the world. This is based on some weird mathematics using the Mayan calendar, which predicts that the intersection of the long year and the short year will occur in 2012, and therefore that will end the world. Sure, and 2000 was the end of the world before, we certainly love to discuss the apocalypse*.

We love it so much in fact, that there have been numerous movies about it, plus some horribly written books, and even a non-religious award winning essay on what's going to happen leading up to that fateful year. It's amazing to me how easily a number can infatuate us.

Now the Christians, those who believe in "suffer not a witch to live," are buying into the Mayan calendar (hurray for hypocrisy), and tying it to the ascension of the anti-Christ. Oh wait, sorry, I mean Barack Obama. Some of these associations are subtle, while some are a bit more direct. Read this blog for a pretty coherent collection of incoherent things being said about Obama. (It took me a few minutes to realize that it was actually non-partisan, there's so much creepy stuff posted to it about Obama) The most recent incarnation of this fear can be seen in the new "Letter from a Christian in 2012" (opens a pdf file) detailing the collapse of the country just four years after Obama's election - doing all the things which the anti-Christ is going to do.

Now, as post-apocalyptic literature goes, this letter ranks somewhere below The Turner Diaries, that classic of postmodern fiction (sarcasm). The two works do share a certain worldview however, the irony of which is lost, I'm sure, on the people who would pay attention to either one. The attempts of any of these works, Turner Diaries, military coups, or stacking the Supreme Court, to create a destruction of American civilization in a few short years is really ludicrous. Now, I don't believe that it can't happen, and I look around me at the venom and hate spewed by both sides, especially when one side invents hate-spewing and self-mutilates in an attempt to blame it on the other side, and I see it happening slowly, but at least Heinlein had the sense to set his civilization's collapse in the far future.


* Apocalypse actually means revelation. Hooray for the stoopids who have managed to convert the meaning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spurious Talk Radio Arguments

So, conservative nut #23 was on the radio today ranting about ACORN, which is "under investigation in THIRTEEN states" regarding possible voter fraud. Okay sure. However, let us not forget that investigation is not the same as indictment, especially under our current administration's political games.

So then, conservative nut #23 plays a tape of a college student in Ohio being interviewed about being approached by ACORN representatives to register.

So, she tells the interviewer, "yeah sure, I'll fill out more than one ballot" because "it's hard work getting people to sign petitions, I feel bad for them." Conservative nut #23 explodes at this, because this girl is apparently contradicting everything democracy and the United States stands for by filling out a form more than once. Then, and this is the clincher, he goes on his rant about voter fraud. Now - I want to point out, at no point did this woman say she had registered under different names or addresses, and even stated at one point that she had not been asked to do so by the ACORN representatives. But he keeps going on, equating the multiple signatures on the ACORN forms to planned voter fraud. And this is how they get you, not by comparing apples to oranges, because everyone (hopefully, these are talk show listeners) will catch that, but by comparing oranges and tangerines.

As reported by Slate, ACORN, although it has had its share of problems, has never been found to have anything near the amount of illegal activities that the conservative nuts (#'s 1 through 105) want you to think. They'll throw words like suspected, investigation, and allegations at you, but I've never heard a single one actually mention a specific incident.

For instance, check out this article. According to it, "She is among the more than 4,000 people whose names are listed both on Harris County’s voter rolls and also in a federal database of death records, a Texas Watchdog analysis has found." Okay, voter fraud bad. Then they follow a little later with this little treasure: "The findings come as the group ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has faced scrutiny in multiple states for allegedly improper voter registrations," and complete the picture for the reader with "That’s as officials in at least six states may have improperly removed tens of thousands of voters from the rolls or prevented them from registering, the New York Times reported Wednesday." So, it would seem that ACORN was involved in Harris County, Nevada, and Six Other States! Except they weren't. The only actual fact about ACORN in the article is that their offices were raided in Las Vegas. Everything else is just conflation. Liberal biased media my ass.

Sometimes my country scares me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fashion Update

Okay, so for the college student:

the eighties are back. Headbands are go, as are ripped jeans and tights. Floofy shirts seem to be making a comeback, although based on my observations it still seems to the drama set which migrates there. Hair is slowly becoming feathered, I predict that by the end of the school year, we will see the Margaret Cho making an appearance.

Hand holding is right out, by the way. During four days on campus I saw one couple holding hands while walking around. I'm not certain of the significance of this at the moment, but I'll think about it and come up with a theory.

For the men, popped collars are still a must, although I have no clue why.

For the adults:

Baby dolls are back in in a big way. Black is, as always, in fashion, but we seem to be moving to a shinier fabric, fake leather appears to be quite popular. The word for heels seems to be the taller the better, podiatrists rejoice, with the oncoming recession it would seem that your skills will still be needed.

Adult males seem to have outgrown the popped collar, although I have seen some men who are old enough to know better still doing it. I assume they never stopped doing it, they are just happy to look young again, despite the belly and the receding hairline.

For the military:

EBO is out. This worries me, as much of my job is based on it, but hopefully we can move to more direct advisories, which will keep my job potential safe for the foreseeable future. I can't really get a feel on what the new thing will be, although I'm getting a Gentile sense (as in Gian Gentile, not my lack of foreskin) that "kill em all" might be back in vogue.

More later.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

WTF!?!?!?!?!?!

So, I'm having a conversation with a friend of mine tonight. And he talks about Tim Kaine's restoring 1500-some felons' right to vote in Virginia. I hadn't heard about it, so I look it up Hopefully, the Google results will be the same for you as they were or me. Because for me, the top five results were one blog, one Post article, and one Times article. Not bad. However, note that that is only three of five. The other two including the first hit are blatant Aryan Nation websites. And by blatant, I mean BLATANT, complete with burning cross and Nazi flag avatars...

I don't know what to make of this. All I know is that it freaks me out.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Disingenuous Post of the Week

From an article about Obama and McCain possibly not having enough votes for either one to become President:

"Each state, along with the District of Columbia, is allotted a number of votes in the Electoral College that correspond to the number of representatives it has in Congress."

Although technically correct, DC is indeed allotted a number of votes equal to its representatives in Congress, that representation is in fact ZERO. It is only a Constitutional Amendment which allows them to vote for President, independent of their actual representation in Congress.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

WOO-HOO!!!

All chapters written.

Well, drafted anyway. I have another few months of edits to go, but it's all downhill from here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I found it!

The only thing more boring than a Terry Gross interview.

A Terry Gross retrospective of interviews done as an obit.

RIP

Schadenfreude

Filthy Rich

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Women and Violence

So, far be it from me to be misogynist (heh), I just came across this article on Vikings. Apparently, the Viking attacks began as a response to a lack of women and stress on obtaining the same. This was a result of the practice of female infanticide common to the culture. Fewer girls = fewer potential wives, so young men sally forth to obtain resources to obtain wives. And, although not mentioned in the article, if some of them die off in raids, that helps to reduce the strain on the others.

This accords with my own theory of polygamy and violent culture. As Tim Harford points out polygamous societies can actually be economically beneficial for the women involved, as it provides them with an amount of upward mobility not available in a monogamous society. This theory does not account very well for the problems this raises for other members. However, the balance can be returned if we posit that these young men, rather than being disenfranchised and run out of the community, are put to use in some way which will thin out their numbers. So it's hardly surprising that most traditionally polygamous societies also tend be a bit more . . . visceral than other cultures. I would also invert the claim that polygamy causes violence, as discussed after the riots in France. Instead, it is cultures predisposed to violence which leads to polygamy.

Just my thought.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lucky Ones Movie Review

So, I just got back from seeing The Lucky Ones.

I wanted to like this movie, I really really did. The premise seemed good, it was about soldiers without being about Iraq, and especially seemed to be about the way that soldiers are treated at home after serving in Iraq. Unfortunately, the only scenes in the film were the ones I had already seen in the trailer. That being said, there is one scene at a party which is perfect when a pro- and anti- war guest are having an argument using the three main characters as props in their argument rather than as real people. And when they finally do turn to the soldiers and ask "So what are you guys doing over there?" Tim Robbins gives the best response: "We're mostly just trying to stay alive." To which the pro-war guy snorts and says "well no wonder we're messing it up." Okay, it's a bit biased (pro-war guy has to admit it's not going well), but at least it gets to the view of the soldier.

Unfortunately, these good moments are lost in a daze of boring transitions. I don't know what it was, the dialogue was good, the sentences followed one after another, they made sense coming out of each character's mouth, but it just kept falling flat. The only thing I can think is just simple bad direction.

It's like the director was channeling Bruce Dickinson but just kept telling his post-production staff: "no, this is going too fast, we need more boring."

Finally, I think the film would have benefited immensely from some research on actual soldiers. And I think the Army would have been overjoyed to give the filmmaker access - this film presents soldiers very positively and realistically. What is 50 year old Tim Robbins doing playing a Staff Sergeant?!?! He should have been a SFC at the VERY least, but preferably a First Sergeant, which would have added to his character and allowed him to act in a more paternal role throughout the film. And what was up with Pena's mustache? Now, in the beginning, he has a goatee, which is fine, he's on leave, he doesn't have to conform to AR 670-1. But when he's back in uniform, he has a mustache that clearly extends down and around his mouth - no NCO would stand for that (and seeing as how he himself is an NCO, he would know better). They did handle USERRA well, coming up with a very plausible way for him to lose his job while deployed.

In comparison though, and despite what you might hear from other reviews, this is still a MUCH better film than Stop Loss

Plane Travel

So, to add to a previous post about plane travel, here's a new one.

First, from the blog Abu Muqawama, what is going on with the TSA?

Second, a rather poetic description of security at airports:

"Just the Turkish Bath cum I Love Lucy Assembly Line in which I just lost an hour of my life."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Irony

So, I'm on campus today, and apparently Trojan condoms are doing some kind of outreach. I didn't go in, but I just thought the tag line was utterly ridiculous:



Why is this ridiculous you might ask? Well, although I'm all for teaching safe sex, perhaps using as a tagline something for which you must have sex to do is not the best idea.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hollywood-ization

Just a short post. I hate Saturday Night Live. I have hated it since sitting through a five minute sketch consisting of Phil Hartman trying to convince Woody Harrelson to sit on his lap (any amusement you might have received from that mental image is funnier than the sketch in question.

However, I have to say that their send-up of Sarah Palin was quite funny. And got to another point which I failed to mention in my previous discussion of Franzen and Meyer's airbrushed pictures. (Sorry, Mom, I still think Franzen's cover picture was heavily airbrushed to make him look more like Guy Pearce - your depth is indicated by the fact that you find him attractive based on his literary appeal, I think).

Sarah Palin is everything feminists don't want, which has been rehashed constantly around the web. She's pretty without substance, powerful, but just subservient enough for patriarchal men to accept her - since they know that at the end of the night she goes home, makes dinner for her family, and probably gives her man a footrub (in both the literal and biblical sense). This was totally characterized when Republicans think that giving up a seat to a woman is somehow supporting women's rights rather than a stupid piece of paternalistic BS.

And this is what I think SNL got spot on with that parody - Hilary is the smart, credible, and (dare I say it?) experienced politician, but she is maligned and disliked. Palin is (dare I say it?) stupid and vacuous, but people love her because she fits our Hollywood conception of a woman. Or to be more precise, our just outside Hollywood concept of what a woman should be.

And I think SNL made up FLRG/Flurge/FLIRG/etc.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Ice Cream Conspiracy

I'm going to begin with a long, meandering anecdote that has nothing to do with ice cream.

When I first deployed to Iraq, it was 2004. I actually left for training in December of 2003, so I was essentially out of the world then. I spent nine months in Iraq, and my trailer was handily across the street (I use the term lightly) from the PX and the Burger King. So about once a week we would walk over and treat ourselves to a Whopper and a soda. Now, I'm a McDonald's guy, give me a cheeseburger or a Big Mac over a Whopper any day of the week, but BK has the AAFES contract, and you take what you can get. (Side note, there are now a wide varieties of other choices in the same complex: CinnaBun, Popeye's and Taco Bell).

I think that I would have been better served had there been no fast food, but since I had the constant reminder while eating the Whopper that it wasn't really a Big Mac, I think it was worse. Anyway, when I got back, I was really aching for some authentic McDonald's fast food, so I head to the local McD's, pull through the drive thru and order a two cheeseburger meal, supersized. I then proceed to get into an argument with the teller over the purported existence of the Supersize value meal. Unbeknownst to me, Super Size Me had been released a couple months after I left, and a couple months after that McDonald's had caved and removed the Super Size meals. Oops.

But hey, I actually do believe in the Toxic Food Environment. Food is cheap, the economy is bad, "let them eat cake." And the portions are ridiculous - more food than I can eat in one sitting, especially with the "appetizers" which have more fat and calories than a Big Mac.

Now, this is where we get to Ice Cream. I remember when I was growing up buying a half-gallon of Friendly's Double Chocolate Ice Cream with my dad. That was a standard size. Then apparently a few years ago the ice cream industry shifted from half gallon containers (2 quarts) to 1.75 quart containers. And I never noticed. I guess I might have been distracted by the other things in my life (like going to Basic in 2002 and then deploying in 2003) to notice the difference.

But then, the other day I was in the grocery store and buying my favorite ice cream (Chocolate Fudge Brownie) when I noticed that the container seemed a bit off. I couldn't quite place it, it just seemed a bit small. So I start walking up and down the ice cream aisle, looking at each brand of ice cream and comparing the sizes. Breyer's - same. Edy's - same. Ben & Jerry's - well, they've always sold by the pint, so I can't really compare. But I also remember a few months ago when all the stores were having a buy one get one (or sometimes two) free offer on ice cream. And sure enough, ice cream has shrunk yet again.

Only difference between this and McDonald's - it's about price. It's not about the interests of the consumer. The price of milk has increased, apparently, and the ice cream companies didn't feel like raising the price of ice cream above the cost of a gallon of gas. What kind of world are we living in when we can't even afford a half gallon of ice cream?

But I guess the economy is still strong

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What's with celebrity authors?

And by that, I don't mean celebrity like famous. Stephen King - famous. J.R.R. Tolkien - famous. Dan Brown - famous.

I mean when publishers are attempting to create celebrity out of their authors, which is especially funny when that celebrity buys into the Hollywood conception of fame and beauty. After all, you can't be famous unless you're beautiful.

Example #1 - Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections was, admittedly a good book. Not as good as Franzen wanted it to be (apparently it was his attempt to write the "great american novel" after being called out on his complaints that no one has written one recently...). And it does, of course, have the distinction of being the only book removed from the Oprah Winfrey book list. (I'm pretty sure that despite the controversy, Million Little Pieces is still "on" the list.) Franzen didn't want to be associated with the "pop" culture of Oprah's other books, as it would apparently demean his literary aspirations. (I would like to note at this point that included on the list before Franzen was added were Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, and Joyce Carol Oates - maybe Franzen was just a sexist...) However, getting to my point. Here's the picture of Franzen off his book jacket:



Now, here's a more candid shot of Mr. Franzen at a reading:



Not completely damning, I must admit, but you can definitely see how the first image was tailored to strengthen the chin and heighten the cheekbones.

Now, exhibit #2 - Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame - soon to be a Major Motion Picture. Ms. Meyer drew my attention when she declared she was too upset about a leak of her manuscript onto the internet to release her next book in a timely manner. I don't know if she's thin-skinned or whiny. And I don't really care. What I do find funny is the press photo that accompanied the story, seen below:



Very pretty woman. Almost like a grown up version of Michelle Trachtenberg. Unfortunately, if you thought Franzen's image was interesting, here's Ms. Meyer's candid shot:



Now, I'm not pointing this out to be sexist. I (hope) I'm pointing out the inherent shallowness, and even sexism of the celebrity industry. Franzen's photo got a little touched up - it's acceptable for a man to not be "sexy." Meyer's photo looks like it went through a Victoria's Secret makeover - god forbid a woman should be less than perfect in today's mass market.

Finally, my final note is that Meyer's books are being made into Hollywood films. Another vampire author, Charlaine Harris is having her books made into an HBO series. I guess HBO doesn't care too much about the touch-ups, because here is Ms. Harris' photo off her very own website (and I couldn't find a single picture that was substantially different from this one):

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Philosophers and pop culture

I'm a big fan of Gilles Deleuze, and for that matter, Michel Foucault. Apparently a lot of other people are too, even some who I wouldn't have guessed at. I find it very interesting, though, that in Europe, it's not just academics who will point at these philosophers and others like them (Derrida, *shudder*), but pop culture icons. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that somewhere out there is something very specific to the S&M subculture that's named the Foucault. But that's appropriate to his particular oeuvre, if you know what I mean.

Deleuze has influenced a number of different elements of European culture, including science fiction, which was unfortunately made into a horrible movie. In fairness, I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the book, and I can't even begin to imagine how they could translate the complexities of a (pretentious) Deleuzian approach to schizophrenia and a Teilhardian approach to evolution into a two hour action movie. However, much like an S&M tribute to Foucualt, the meandering overly-pretentious writing by Dantec (even including himself in one of the later scenes), fits the Deleuzian oeuvre.

Sometimes, though, this sort of stuff surprises you. Let's consider another theme of the Deleuzian approach, the Body Without Organs. Like his other stuff, it's heavy, it's pretentious, it's everything this is not. For some reason, a pop band that is more bubble-gum than Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, or even the Jonas Brothers names itself after a Continental Philosopher. Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

And why does this only exist in Europe? Why do we not have pop bands or science fiction authors influenced by Deleuze? Or hell, let's even look at some of our American philosophers, William James, John Searle, or even Noam Chomsky. At this point, I would take something based on Borges - at least he's American in the broader sense.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Notes from the Science World

Anthropology in the News always has some interesting links, especially when those links lead to other links.

First, I just want to point out that only the Canadians would perform a scientific study using hockey. It would be interesting to compare these results to Army studies, as you could definitely point out that someone like Patton (for example) had a wider face compared to someone like Eisenhower. There ya go, 100% certainty with my n of 2 - now that's good science!

Second, and one I have a little more issue with, apparently mathematician Marcus du Sautoy really hated the Eighties... According to Dr. du Sautoy, eighties fashion, based so prevalently on asymmetry, flies in the face of acceptable evolutionary practice, and should be "consigned to history." Way to maintain your scientific objectivity, Doctor. He even states that "As a student in the 80s I was never attracted to the music of the likes of Flock of Seagulls or Human League. Now I know why." Or maybe you were just unpopular... The revival of Eighties music and the affection my generation has for it would certainly put the lie to your conclusions.

Now, from a historical perspective, much of eighties fashion was based on punk, and punk was deliberately anti-establishment - especially in its approaches to style and fashion. So it's hardly surprising that eighties fashion wouldn't be "acceptable" or "mainstream" (although considering the very idea of "fashion" what is?). And it is this inversion which I think is so essential to understanding eighties fashion: the asymmetry of it would easily be offset by the rebelliousness and individuality of it, which is also something which people look for. Although the current paradigm for homosexuality seems to be based on female fecundity, there is also something to be said for the idea that homosexuality is linked to artistic ability (NOTE: not that homosexuals are more artistic), and thus there is an advantage to carrying such a gene, even if not expressing it. However, we do know that spouses of artists seem to be more accepting of adultery (I can't find the stupid story, I keep getting self-help links on google :( ), suggesting again that these is something special about personal expression.

So - maybe the asymmetry of eighties fashion reflects the artistry of that decade, and should be viewed as something a little more complex than a simple evolutionary attempt to find a mate.

And finally, no mention of how asymmetry can in fact highlight the underlying symmetry of an individual...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This is the stuff that infuriates me

I just read a short editorial by Ward Connerly, whose name I don't know exactly, but sounds familiar (although it might be because it sounds a bit like Ward Churchill...). In this editorial, he quotes What Would Martin Say? about the wonderful things Martin Luther King Jr. would say about modern America. Of course, he then ends it with: "After applauding the programs, quotas, set-asides, and preferences that helped make at least some of this progress possible, he’d end them all — every last program — by shouting, “Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”" Now here's the problem... like almost every other conservative, Mr. Connerly stops there, not completing the quote: "But then after the glittering successes had stopped blinding him, he'd see far too many young blacks acquainted with the justice system..." (etc.) Clarence Jones is not saying that America is a wonderful racism-free place, as Connerly would have you believe, he's actually saying that despite many advances, like still sucks for most African Americans (which I completely agree with).

Now, Connerly's editorial is offensive on many levels. First, he misquotes. This is offensive to me because he obviously assumes that I'm not smart enough to look up the original source material and see that he is wrong. For his main audience (conservatives), this is probably true, as why should they bother looking it up when its inherent truthiness provides it with all the support it needs? What is scary to me is that I don't think any of them will look it up. Of course, misquoting has a long and glorious history among conservatives. And just because I hate her so much, another one.

Now, here's the second problem with Connerly's essay: it takes a black man to question Obama's credentials on affirmative action. I know the Rushes and Hannitys have been questioning affirmative action for years, but in order to increase the cachet of the argument, it has to be made by someone who could (did? I don't know) have benefited from those same programs. If we have really reached the point at which racism is gone and equality exists, it wouldn't have to be a black man making the argument to get taken seriously. Using a black person (and I fully believe that National Review has used Connerly for just this purpose) to decry affirmative action is like parading a Soviet defector during the Cold War as propaganda. (And again, just because it's funny.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

if you ever want to feel old...

go to a wine tasting. I mean, seriously. I swear some of these kids who showed up were teenagers on summer break from high school, or at the very least freshmen in college. Good for the young kids to get out and enjoy the stuff, but I feel so OLD! And yes, I'm getting up there, mid-30s now (joy), but these kids are younger and younger every year. Or I guess in the words of a friend of mine, I keep getting older, but they stay the same age every year... (forgive my crassness)

However, I must say that it was a very good tasting event, very laid back and relaxed. In all honesty, it almost felt like I was in the Napa, CA depicted in Bottle Shock, complete with one guy who had just bought a vineyard and was looking for volunteers to help out with this year's harvest. Good wine, too, I hope he makes it.

In other news, apparently one of my old high school teachers was arrested for being a pedophile. Don't really know how to take that one, yet. He seems to have a lot of public support, and I'm waiting to find out if the whole thing is a railroad, which I suspect it is, the case seems a bit forced at the moment.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breastfeeding and the Big Sort

So, I just finished reading The Big Sort, a book which I heartily recommend to everyone. I would describe it as the Freakonomics of political science. In essence, it is a description of how people in America are dividing themselves geographically based on political beliefs. Of course, it does go a bit beyond that, and I've even found some bits that fit into my own dissertation (which is actually quite remarkable, considering how qualitative my dissertation is).

Then, today, there was this article on breastfeeding from the (I kid you not) Journal of Human Lactation. Reminds me of a joke:

"What kind of doctor is your father?"
"He's a naval doctor."
"Oh, how they specialize these days"

(the funniest part of that joke is that my father is, indeed, a naval doctor...)

Back to my point, however, at the end of the article, "Many personal characteristics, such as a mother's age and education level, influence whether a baby is breastfed. Surprisingly, the new study found that where babies live also plays a role. 'We are finding that breastfeeding rates aren't just explained by the individuals who live in these areas, there's something about the areas themselves and breastfeeding,' said BYU co-author John Hoffmann." Too bad Mr. Hoffman didn't read Big Sort, because it certainly goes a long way to explain the hidden variable of geographic and ideologic connections with breastfeeding.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ironies of Airline Tavel

Well, I was supposed to be elsewhere this weekend, but God did not want it so. A number of different reasons, not really worth going into here.

I have a morning meeting, I do that, then take the Metro to the airport. Get to the airport, and I am flagged for "extra search" or whatever they call it. Now, I can honestly say, after spending 30-some odd hours in a hangar in Charlotte, there's not much commercial travel can throw at me that I don't take with a smile. However, I find it very ironic that I have just come from a classified meeting, military CAC Card in hand, and I'm the one selected for additional screening...

Oh, and this jump the line crap at security really pisses me off. Now yes, you're willing to go through a background check and get fingerprinted and whatever, and in return you get to jump the line at security. I have no problems with that element. What I do have a problem with is the $128 they charge you for this service. Hey sure, background checks take time and money, keeping up the database, whatever. But you know what, there's an awful lot of people (myself included) who have already done all this - it's called a background check and a security clearance. If these "clear"s can jump the line for providing that info, shouldn't I be able to as well?

And what's up with the name... is this another example of the Scientologists trying to take over the world? Or maybe it's just a woman thing...

Pastiche

So, postmodernism is something that's notoriously difficult to pin down. I typically try and use the idea of pastiche for my students, to give them a general sense of the post-modern self-referential viewpoint. As an example, I've been using Scream, especially contrasting it with movies like Scary Movie (pastiche vs spoof).

So, I saw Tropic Thunder tonight. Wow. I am actually amazingly impressed by the levels of humor and pastiche that are going on in this film. And it's more than just Robert Downey Jr.'s performance (which is excellent). The whole film has wonderful references, Apoc Now, Private Ryan, Tootsie, River Kwai, a Nick Nolte reference that is not done by Nick Nolte, and a set of "trailers" which completely tell you everything you need to know about the main characters without any exposition whatsoever.

Oh yes, and Tom Cruise puts on one of his best performances. Ever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

trolling the News

So - this has nothing to do with anything.

First, a story about Patrick Moberg, whose life imtitated art when he tracked down a woman he had seen on the NY subway and fell in love with on first sight. Oh well, maybe we'll finally get over the romance idea and realize successful relationships are about shared interests and compromises.

Second, and much more important, gymnast Paul Hamm dropped out of the race for the Olympics this year due to a broken hand. Kind of a shame, but at the same time, it leaves the field open for him to represent the United States on Ninja Warrior again. Of course that's if he doesn't mind getting his ass handed to him by the greatest fisherman who ever lived.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Get Off My Side

So - I just finished watching Manufacturing Dissent, a Canadian film in which the documentarians attempt to secure an interview with Michael Moore, surrounded by snippets of Moore's films, controversies, and (essentially) misrepresentations. Now since it is a Canadian company, I have to assume that there isn't much of a political agenda here. Maybe some, but I definitely get the feeling that the writer, Debbie Melnyk, is more upset with him for manipulating his facts than she is for his left-wing looniness. (In fact, she's done a couple other films in Moore's style, with narration, etc., so I think she's an honest fan).

The problem is, as this movie shows, that Moore (in addition to being a crackpot) just blatantly manipulates his footage. Apparently (maybe others follow this more than I do), he completely changed the timeline in Roger & Me, deleted footage of anti-GM rallies to portray Flint as apathetic, and actually interviewed Roger Smith. Twice. But he cuts that out.

Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 are also address in the film, including an interesting interview with the managers of the bank who gave him a shotgun when he opened a bank account. Whole thing was staged beforehand, and again, edited to show it as weirder than it actually was. It didn't really address 9/11, either because the film itself came out only about six months after it, and also because, frankly, that movie had so many holes and blatant manipulations they didn't really need to.

Finally, it shows that Michael Moore is a man with some serious emotional and psychological problems - which leads to his desperate need for attention and his flawed view of reality. As one person in the film put it: "Michael Moore could only exist in a political vacuum. If the left had had any spokesmen, people would be laughing at the man, not with him."

I guess, in one way this is a good thing - to me the strength of liberalism has been its ability to engage in debate with itself. I have never met a conservative who will say that Ann Coulter is a crackpot, or Rush Limbaugh doesn't know what he's talking about. But it seems that more people are telling Michael Moore:

Got Off My Side!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Caution - VERY SENSITIVE and TOUCHY ISSUE

Okay, so I'm late to this Jezebel thing. Hooray for Slate, they do the searches for you.

So - apparently the founders of Jezebel were on a comedy discussion show, got drunk, and made fools of themselves. The problem, most people seem to agree, is that it's a comedy show, and suddenly it turns to the most taboo of subjects - rape.

Here's the link to the taped interview session. I'm not going to link to any other sites, just put "moe", "tracie", and "shoot the messenger" into google and you'll find the commentaries.

There is definitely something unique about the subject - and it is still taboo to talk about. But as I like to say, I'm a combat vet goddamn it, I'll do whatever the fuck I want. There was a book I read a few years ago which caused a lot of controversy, called A Natural History of Rape, which goes into the biological advantages of rape to a male who can not otherwise succeed in finding a mate. Remember, it's all about the genes, not about the organism, or about the community. Now, this book created a lot of controversy. What I found really interesting about it, though, was that the authors say they are going to use "forced sexual aggression" rather than "rape" in their discussions in order to avoid the emotionally laden term, but in their introduction conclusion, and title, they revert to the loaded term.

Returning to the Jezebels, the main disconnect (god I hate that word) - seems to be between older and younger generation feminists, with the host (wo)manning the cannons for the older feminist group. My only comment here is the truism she quotes: "Rape is not about sex, it's about power and violence." Now, I am not about to argue that the two are NOT connected, but I quote from one of my favorite talk show hosts: "Yeah, its just like every other violent act that ends with an ejaculation." Trying to deny the sexual element of rape is like trying to deny the violent element of it. At the same time, I want to stress that personally I think the act is horrible, on the same level as a life-threatening beating. I just don't think the subject, the act, of rape is a monolithic entity in which "got too drunk and didn't have the facilities to say no," "went home with a stranger who turned out to be psychotic," and "man broke into my apartment and held me at knifepoint," can all be equated. Repeating "rape is about power," leads to all sex is rape, and ends up in a big feedback loop in which since sex is rape and rape is bad, sex is bad, and we add on more negative feelings to sex, which leads to guilt about sex, which leads to guilt about rape, etc.

And I think that, speaking as a true cultural relativist, we as Westerners have such a strong response to rape, it is the after-effects which cause the greatest emotional trauma to the victim, what sets it apart from simply an act of violence. The Jezebels, in their odd drunken way, seem to be expressing a point that to them, rape is no big deal. This, of course, gets the host up in arms. But - and this is the important point - power is granted, not taken. (In case you haven't noticed before, I strongly believe in human agency.) The power which rape holds is the social power granted to it by our prudish forefathers, who said that all sex is tainted, combined with a bit of weird perverted New Age mysticism about sex being "sacred". Maybe we're just animals and sex is just sex...

Sex, rape, and power are interconnected, yes. But you can't take the sex out of the equation. Or, rather, maybe we need to put the sex back in the equation.

So - if nothing else, maybe the Jezebels, by being so flippant about the conventions of rape, and discussions about rape, signify that we might be able to separate the two ideas (rape and power) so that we can gain a better understanding of both issues. Maybe being flippant about the emotional consequences is the only way to break the power that power has over rape. Or maybe I'll just get flamed and lose all my female friends.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

*sigh*

I like Obama. I think he is dynamic, attractive, smart, and would make a good leader. But really... I think the dems are gonna lose this one. As the Daily Show has put it: it's only a matter of time until the Democrats once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And what really pisses me off about this is that I don't think the Repucblicans/Conservatives have to do anything.

He's
Doing
It to
Himself.

Now a point on the last one. In 2004, John Kerry won support, in my opinion, because of statements like this:

"I'm tired of these Republicans who spend so much time denigrating Democrats and other people's commitment to the defense of our nation," Kerry said at a rally on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. "I'm tired of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and a bunch of people who went out of their way to avoid their chance to serve when they had the chance. I went [to Vietnam]. I'm not going listen to them talk to me about patriotism." (Washington Post) This statement held a certain truthiness for me, and I remember hearing him say it and thinking "Yeah!" Then he caved on the Swiftboat ads.

I really think that Americans respond to politicians who take on the stupidity of Americans. Now, Obama's made a couple gaffes. (See that horrible seal). And, yes, he is struggling with the Secret Muslim charges. But still, he needs to come out swinging, and he needs to stick to his gun. The flag pin was the first step on his downward spiral. Speaking as a former servicemember and veteran, his statement that wearing a flag pin is not true patriotism inspired the same "Yeah!" response as Kerry's statement. Then he went and put on a flag pin. Now he's turning down the endorsement of a liberal, Democrat, politician, just because he happens to be Muslim. This just makes him appear scared. And we defeinitely don't want a scared president.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How Many Soldiers are There Really?

So, this thought combines a number of different elements:

1) Soldiers are a type
2) Iraqi insurgents believe American casualty numbers are highly deflated
3) There is a strange flashing light on Camp Victory
4) A pretty good movie

So, it goes like this:

While in the Army, and especially on my trips to Iraq, I have noticed that soldiers are a type. In fact, there are about a hundred types (this is a rough estimate). But I have seen Brigmans, Smittys, Silbers, Morinis, Gutierrezs, Me's, Hamiltons, Doties, and only a few more. Sometimes two or three times a day. So, this leads me to my theory: there are really only about a hundred soldiers in the Army, and they just push out clones of them when they need them. Now - I know, how do they do this? We'll get to that later, but for right now, just bear in mind that you are required to have a DNA sample on file with the Army...

Next, according to the insurgents, the American press lies about how many soldiers have died, and in fact MANY more soldiers have been killed by them over the years. Yes, I know, this sounds kind of silly, as lying in this case is definitely in their interests to make themselves sound more badass than they actually are. And, of course, there seems to be a long tradition of this in the Iraqi culture... However, let's assume for the moment that our press agents really are in collusion with the government:

What is happening to our troops in Iraq that even though we are losing huge numbers in insurgent attacks, we still have a relatively constant size force in Iraq?

Well, it all goes back to that mysterious flashing light. You see, my friends and I have, at various times, noticed a strange, very quick, very bright, flash at night on Camp Victory. Unfortunately, it was always out of the corners of our eyes. Well, one night, while walking home at 2 in the morning to my tent, I happened to be facing exactly the right direction, and I see a massive lightning bolt arc UP from behind one of the headquarters (I won't mention which one, because then the insurgents will know which one to hit). Ah-ha! Apparently we're running some kind of large Tesla machine there, but for what purpose?

Now, we get to it - go watch the movie mentioned above, and it all becomes clear! We are cloning soldiers, then when they get hit by an IED or an incoming attack, pushing a clone out of the Tesla machine on Camp Victory!

This post is intended in every way to be humorous. I am not making light of soldiers deaths, body counts, or any other statistic produced by the American Press.

No soldiers were harmed in the making of this post.

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. รณ 2257 all bloggers and soldiers depicted in this post are over the ago of 18.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back

So, I will hopefully be updating this a bit more often, I'm trying to get in to a regular schedule of work again, and I've noticed that working on this blog was part of my schedule before.

So - I was watching the news (Daily Show - counts as news), and I've noticed something. Apparently Afghanistan is back in the news and important. And how do I know this? Well, I've noticed a very interesting trend in American news coverage. And more specifically, the pronunciations in said news. I first noticed this during the late eighties/early nineties, climaxed by the Tailhook scandal, and harassment became hare-iss-ment. So, context established, I noticed that in news reports the "Talibon have reappeared in Afghanistan" (I'm not going to bother typing a phonetic for Afghanistan because it has been pronounced so many different ways by so many different people). So, by my logic, Afghanistan has come back to the news.

I don't know whether that's a good thing or not, I'll leave it up to smarter minds.

Oh, and Lara Logan is smoking hot. Sorry to objectify.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Christian Punk'D?!?!?!?

So, I'm reading this Slate article about Christian something or other (rock, etc.) And they mention that there's a Chrsitian version of Punk'd - with the following example:

"In one episode of Prank 3:16, the pranksters fake the Rapture and throw their victim into a panic because she's afraid she's been left behind."

Guess she should read more Tim Lahaye...

And unfortunately, her insight about Christian rock in this context is hardly new and enlightening, even in Slate. Take this description: "You shoehorn a message that's essentially about obeying authority into a genre that's rebellious and nihilistic, and the result can be ugly, fake, or just limp" and then compare Rob Long's discussion of Christian rock and why it is creepy: "rock music—and most other forms of entertainment, when you really think about it—is fundamentally about carnal desire. And Jesus, when you really think about it, is fundamentally not."

Pretty much the same stuff. Rock music is sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Hurm, that's a bit redundant, I guess). Christian rock is no-sex-before-marriage, body-is-a-temple, and well, I guess rock and roll?

So, maybe what the Christian rockers need to do is rather than steal from regular rock, look a bit more underground... is there Christian punk? Cause they could totally steal from these guys

Friday, May 2, 2008

John Boyd on Numb3rs!

As I've said a number of times, I am a big fan of John Boyd. Well, I missed last week's episode of Numb3rs, and I just got around to watching it On Demand. Anyways, Charlie hands a pamphlet to Colby, who looks at it and says "OODA Loop?" And Charlie says "It was actually invented by a fighter pilot who used it for air combat." Now Colby responds "My specialty was ground combat." Like that explains why the supposed former Marine officer in Afghanistan engaged in special operations wouldn't have heard of the OODA Loop. And, unfortunately, they don't even mention Boyd's name...

Oh well, at least the OODA Loop got some mention - although again, I wish they would pay attention to the ODA vs OODA loop. I mean, who really needs the second O, in a theory which attempts to speed up the reaction time of a warfighter?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I went to a show and saw Matt Lesko

Oh yeah, and Eddie Izzard was there. He was very funny (as expected), and I think he was wearing lipstick. I know what you're thinking - he's Eddie Izzard, why wouldn't he be wearing lipstick? He's a transvestite! (Actually, he's a transvestite executif). Well, the thing is, this tour he's just wearing normal clothes. Well, normal if you count jeans, a black t-shirt, and tails with red velvet lining normal. For the record, when he came out, my friend Dan leaned over to me and says "He's got your sense of fashion." So, yes, to me that would be a normal outfit. Sans lipstick.

And, I have a question... who spends at least $50 to see a show and doesn't even know what the show is? And I mean, literally DOES NOT KNOW. The people sitting behind us, in between chatting about housing repairs they were doing on their respective homes, turn to someone sitting beside them and say "so who is this guy anyway?" And the response "He's a comedian" seems to totally satisfy them. WTF??? Can you get season tickets to DAR Hall or something? Who would do something like that?

Only one Riches joke, but lots of jokes about God. And dinosaurs going to church. And wikipedia. And apparently Eddie Izzard is a Mac user...

But, really, more important than Mr. Izzard (write FX, make certain his show gets picked up for Season 3!), is the fact that Matthew Lesko was there. And if you think jeans and tails is off, you shoulda seen his outfit. It was actually a very respectable greyish-blue wool suit, with bright silver question marks. Kinda made my night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I See Hot People

Sp, one thing about being in Iraq for such a long time is that your hot-meter gets all sorts of out of whack. On my first contract there were only a few attractive women, and on the second one, although there were more, they were all soldiers, and anyone who has seen a woman wearing ACUs knows that no matter what they look like underneath, with the uniform on, they all look like this . (By the way, do you have any idea how hard it is to find pictures of female soldiers? Try typing the search into google search, you get lots of maxim articles...)

So, point being, I come home, and it's like everywhere I go, I see attractive women. I went to the Container Store and Barnes and Noble last night and they were EVERYWHERE. Then this afternoon, I go to the post office, stop at the little dive next door for some lunch, and there are incredible hotties in there, too. Now, since I know (based on the incredibly scientific survey techniques of Travel and Leisure magazine) that Washington, DC is the second least attractive city in the US. So these can't be objectively attractive women all over the place. I must be ewaring my desert-goggles or something. Shoot, I don't even notice the nose thing anymore...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Laxk of Updates

So, I've been busy getting my life straight again ($450 of library fines, had to go down and get that sorted out, got it down to $50 by actually returning the books that had been sitting on my bookshelf during my adventures abroad). It sucks when you don't have USERRA on your side for these problems. Not that I ever pointed out to people over the phone that I was in Iraq as a contractor and not as a soldier, you kind of let them draw their own conclusions.

But, I also felt I needed to cut back a bit so I don't die. Just kidding. But I don't really have any goofy KBR stories anymore, so I'll have to cut my comments back to news stories and my own experiences.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

One more military vehicle

So, in addition to the vehicles previously posted on, I can now add a Chinook to my list. Definitely louder than a Blackhawk, although that might be because we flew with the back door open (for the door gunner). And there's no nifty complicated webbing to hold you in your seat in case of . . . unforeseen problems. So I flew the whole way back to BIAP with one hand on my luggage and the other with a death grip on the bench we were all seated on. It was, interesting. But, a day at Striker during the dry season is much preferable to four days during the rainy one. Plus, I got to have some North End Pizza - which is the best pizza I've ever had. I still find it amusing that you have to go to Iraq to have really good pizza.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Racism Increases

So, if there's one thing that traveling does, it really improves your opinions of stereotypes. Well, maybe improves is the wrong word, its more like... strengthens. First of all, Americans are pretty bad travelers. Now, I will grant you that Qatar is a vastly different "Middle East nation" than other ones, more urbane, more Western-ized. Nonetheless, it is still a Muslim nation, and a 14-year old girl parading around with her half-shirt and low-cut jeans is probably not appropriate. I was very tempted to make a comment to her father (her pedophile?) about the sensitivity he shows to other cultures.

Now, the thing is, Americans don't hold a candle to some other ethnic groups when traveling. The seventy year old Indian grandmother carrying her infant grandson is my case in point here. We get to Dulles, waiting for our luggage, and this whole family, including grandmother, just muscles their way to the front of the group. Not like there was even any luggage out yet, they just felt entitled, I guess. Not a problem, the only thing is, this grandmother (with infant in arms) just stands there as the luggage does start flowing. She's obviously not going to help out with pulling their bags off the carousel, but is just completely oblivious to everyone around her. Especially as others begin to swing their 50-60 lb bags off the carousel and bump into her (and again, her 1 year old grandchild). Now, I will highlight this general attitude with the other woman on the plane who, in direct contradiction to the pilot's direction, gets up while the plane is still taxiing to open an overhead bin and pull her personal bag out. (And promptly gets yelled at by the unbelieving stewardess). And, finally, the man who took up two complete overheads with his own luggage. On a four-hour domestic flight, that's annoying, but on a 15 hour international jaunt over the pond, having to put your bags underneath the seat in front of you, and cramping your leg room, is almost a health risk.

And, for the record, Qatar Air is the way to go for flying to and from the Middle East. All the movies are VOD (United just has a bunch of DVDs on a loop, so you have to wait for all of the videos to finish before you can watch the next one), and they have Chinese, Korean, Arabic, and Bollywood films in addition to the regular Western ones, plus a random selection of TV and VideoJug to watch.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Passive Aggressive

So, beware of easy-going people, because a lot of times we're just passive aggressive, and our easygoing nature masks the fact that we are slowly building up dissatisfaction without saying anything about it...

I shouldn't be bitter - I think I'm cranky today. But always ask for what you want, or maybe even demand it, don't just let shit simmer.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Woohoo!

Well, the gods of travel were with me (Dionysus?), and I managed to make it off my FOB. With any luck, I will get to have some awesome pizza tomorrow, and be home by Christmas... err, next week. (Sorry, watching Band of Brothers, "home by christmas" has a ring to it, doesn't it?)

Army efficiency

So, as is always the case with the Army, things get messed up. On monday, I was on the list. Tuesday I was on the list, they tell me check back after 3 on Thursday. Well, from 3 to god-knows-when, their "system was down." I come in this morning, I'm not on the list. No one sees me on any list anywhere. Lucky me. And don't even get me started on the blank stare from the idiots in the office when I ask "How do I get this corrected?" Eventually, I get "well, we don't see you on the list." Thanks, guys, way to know your job.

So, eventually (after two hours), I find out my mission was scrubbed. Joy. And the Army could really give a shit about you if you're bumped. Its not like they make any effort to reschedule you, or automatically try and find a place for you on some other flight... nope. You need to put in all the paperwork again, and hope for the best. It's ironic that I can't effing leave, and a friend of mine can't effing get here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Life After Incoming

I haven;t posted in a bit, the internet in our rooms is down, and I usually have my thoughts walking home from the office, so it makes it hard to blog.

I did notice one thing, though. After an incoming, or sometimes, when you haven't had one in a bit and you're just waiting for the next one to come in, walking home at night is like walking into a basement, or in the woods, or in a dark alley, right after seeing a horror movie. You feel yourself start to move faster, knowing that as soon as you get to a hardened building your fine... and you move a little faster, and you have to consciously slow yourself down, because you know that every time you step it up a bit, you give in to the, for lack of a better word, panic. It's not really panic, because it's not the down-deep terrifying experience that panic really is, but it's certainly not a happy place to be. And rationally, you know that you're gonna be okay, at least statistically, so that's why I compare it to a horror film, something you've seen on television that isn't really real.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The PX

So yeah, I've griped about this a lot. But seriously. Things the PX has been out of consistently since I got here:

shaving cream
soap
toothpaste
chocolate

Now - I know that my feelings about chocolate being a life essential are not shared by about 50% of the population, so I'll give them a miss on that one. But, soap and toothpaste??? How can the management of AAFES be so bad that we are short on basic hygiene items???

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nine weeks and counting...

So, no matter what the experts at the CDC has to say about timelines, it appears that 3-4 weeks is not the standard amount of time.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Deleuzian Approach to COIN

So, as I said, I reread Dunlap's article a few days ago, and noticed that it was a lot more faceted than I had previously thought. However Gian Gentileargues that by focusing too much on COIN, we are losing our ability to fight conventional wars.

Now, we will leave the prospect of ever fighting a conventional war again on the side for right now. Let's just assume that it is, indeed, a possibility. A COIN fight is characterized by much harsher restriction on the abilities of soldiers to lay down overwhelming firepower than in a regular war. (Yes, there are lots of other things, but this is my analogy). Soldiers need to restrict their responses, learn to think about more than just overwhelming force, and (this is something frequently overlooked by supporters and detractors of COIN) take more risks and expose themselves to more danger. Now this last is a good thing, by the way. You can't have a commanding officer say to his men: "We're gonna go out there, kick some butt, and accomplish the mission, and everyone's gonna come home alive." It is an unfortunate fact that in war people die. But, when you place equal value on living and accomplishing the mission, neither is going to work out well.

So, that does all this mean? First of all, COIN will teach soldiers and commanders to take risks. Powell doctrine aside, that's what it takes to win, whether in COIN or in maneuver warfare. Great generals have never been made by taking the conservative approach.

Second, soldiers are conditioned to restrict their responses. Sure, SLA Marshall had some things to say about teaching soldiers to conserve ammunition and therefore not firing in combat. All very good points. But, and this is where we get into Messrs. Deleuze and Guattari, it is much easier to remove the restrictions on people than it is to try and enforce them. Soldiers learn to fire every round on single shot. But given the opportunity, every soldiers lives for the few moments he will get to fire his weapon on burst or auto. Rock and Roll, Let Loose, and Get Some! And don't think for a moment that soldiers on the roads don't completely bypass the "Semi" marker on their M-16s and go straight to "Burst" when someone starts shooting at them. We don't have to worry too much about soldiers NOT crying havoc when the opportunity presents itself.

Thus, learning COIN doctrine, and fighting the COIN fight, teaches soldiers to act within certain prescribed limits (which, I would also argue, Basic Training and regular warfare does too). Teaching them to not have those limits, and then trying to enforce them, leads to things like Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and My Lai. Rather, enforce the limits from the beginning. When the time comes, it will be much easier to let slip the dogs of war.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not for the worriers

The following anecdote should only be read by people who aren't given to worry. It's not disturbing, and I'm perfectly fine, but I felt a warning was in order.




So, apparently watching Band of Brothers is kind of a risk here. The other night I was watching the D-Day episode, and there's some incoming, which I can kind of hear past the headphones... its kind of like wathcing the show with Surround Sound, but a little disturbing as you go "What was that?" Well, I relayed this story to my team leader, who said that the same thing happened to him in 2004 when he was here, watching Band of Brothers and listening to it in 3-D

Hmm..

Yeah, so I was completely off-base with my "conclusion." Dunlap's article is a lot more complex than I remember from ten years ago, before I had actually gotten into military theory, history, and COIN. So maybe this would be a better conclusion.

In fact, in re-reading the article, I realized there is a lot to wrap my head around, and I think it might actually serve as good of a discussion today as it did in 1992. Not that I think he's right on everything, there seems to be a very strong similarity between his statements and those of people like Gian Gentile who object to the focus on COIN in the Army. In fact, the conclusions Dunlap and Gentile both make about the focus on non-traditional maneuver combat in the Army are pretty much exactly the same. I think, though, that they miss a couple things. Unfortunately, I'm having a bit of a brain-fry at the moment, and I can't really think about this enough to express it well. Give me a few days, I'll have a better post.