Friday, August 31, 2007

Things, they are gonna change, part 2

Listen up, manufactures.
Future Ultimate Emperor of the Universe speaking.

Common sense, that's all I'm asking, that and a little attention to detail. Maybe a dollop of honest concern for the people who buy and use your product. I have trouble with my hands, I don't have a lot of feeling in the left one and I just don't have the fine motor control or hand strength I used to, and additionally I am developing arthritis. I got this way defending you. So, when it takes me ten minutes and a sharp knife to pry that Goddammed piece of shrink-wrapped, Kevlar strength, boa-constrictor of a plastic seal off the lid, so I can open a new jar of pickles - well, it pisses me off. Pisses. Me. Off. Damn, what is that stuff made from anyway? Nuclear weapons aren't protected as well as my friggin' pickles. My feelings on this matter are important to you, Manufactures, because as I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm making a list. You don't want to be on that list, believe me. I am a small vindictive person and there is no reason to suspect that I will change for the better after I become Emperor of the Universe. In fact it is likely that unlimited power will go to my head, power corrupts and Absolute Vodka corrupts absolutely. Or something like that. Whatever. Anyway the gist of this warning is that you can expect me to TAKE IT OUT ON YOU! For starters expect to be deported to the phlebotinum mines on Pluto (which, after I am Emperor, will be reinstated to it's rightful status as a Full Planet. I may even make it the Imperial Capital just to spite the Imperial Astronomy Organization. Certain small minded astronomers are already on my list). These mines are in hard vacuum, here you will slave away digging the precious ore from the frozen ground in leaky penal system spacesuits - and all replacement oxygen tanks will be sealed with your stupid anti-tamper plastic seals. Now imagine the warning bell pinging in your ears as the last few precious milliliters of O2 drain from your tanks, and you all clumsy and bumbling in your thick spacesuit gloves trying to peel that piece of shit off the next lifesaving tank. It'll help if you imagine my maniacal laughter ringing over the radio, a vindictive counterpoint to your panicked breathing. Fear. Terror. Regret that you didn't listen to me when you had the chance. Oh, woe is you!

But it doesn't have to be this way. A couple perforations in that plastic seal, a pull tag (with a long enough string that people like me can get a grip on it. Seriously, a half-assed solution pisses me off even more than indifference), something. It's your life, I'm sure you'll think of something.

Update: Okay, obviously we're going to need to add a subsection to the Imperial Constitution, Article X: Don't Be A Dick, that deals specifically with packaging, as in "Don't Be A Dick With The Dammed Packaging."

Attention, McCORMICK & CO, INC, of Hunt Valley, Maryland, manufacturer of spices. Are you just trying to piss me off? Did you not read the above Imperial Directions and Warning? Well, pack your long-johns, boys, you're going to Pluto. Which one of you geniuses thought that sealing the little pastic 0.5 Oz jar of Dried Parsley Flakes with an industrial strength manhole-cover glued, I say glued with construction cement apparently, to the jar underneath the little plastic strainer doo-dad was a good idea? I want a name, or the entire Board of Directors will never see this side of Jupiter orbit again. Seriously, underneath the plastic strainer? Which can't be removed with anything less than a friggin' back-hoe. Then once you get the dammed strainer doo-dad off, you've got to deal with the seal. No way to get a grip on it, no way to punch a hole in it, no way to get it off without a tool. Are you daft? or do you just plain loath your customers? Is that what the problem is? This is precisely why otherwise benevolent Ultimate Emperors of the Universe became Evil Overlords. Little Manny Noriega was probably a nice guy until he couldn't get the stinkin' cap off his tube of Clearasil Ultra. And Noriega was nothing but a pissant, imagine how I'll be if you don't pull your head out of your ass. I want that name, and I want it on my desk by morning, or it's going to get mighty cold, boys, mighty cold.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Having a Bowl

A small sample of my adiction... ur, hobby.

8" Alaskan (Baltic) Birch heartwood with carved filigree.

I harvest the wood myself, with a chainsaw and 4x4 ATV skid. The logs are then cut into 2 foot long rounds and cut lengthwise into raw stock slabs. The slabs dry for a week or so, and are then run through the thickness planer to give them smooth surfaces, parallel top and bottom. Then I mark a round using a compass or template, and cut out the round on the bandsaw. This then is a turning blank, which gets mounted on the lathe and turned into the basic bowl shape. Shape varies depending on the wood figure and how I'm feeling that day. Once turned, the unfinished bowl is moved to the downdraft station and I cut the filigree using a Foredom Tool (a professional rotary tool kind of like a Dremel flex shaft on steroids) and a carbide carving bit. The filigree is cut following the wood grain, the patterns are naturally freeform. After carving the bowl is saturated in oil, Tung, Walnut, or Danish. This one is finished with Danish oil, and later will get a coating of glossy polycrylic. A bowl this size (about 8" in diameter) takes 4-5 days to complete.

Disco Sucks!

The inevitable backlash against the LOLcat meme begins. Soon all the cool kids will be wearing LOLcat bites T-shirts. Remember you saw it here at Stonekettle Station first.

Educated Dog disdains to comment.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bagged, Tagged and 4x4.

Yesterday, I got tagged by Steve Buccheit over on Storybones with a bloggy challenge. Four things in several categories (for some reason I’m picturing Steve as Jack Palance in City Slickers with a finger raised, One thing, Jim, one thing…) I find this a fun and interesting assignment, so without further ado:

Four jobs I have had or currently have in my life:
1. US Navy Chief Warrant Officer: not for the faint of heart, but if you’re the right kind of person the single most satisfying job on the planet. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel diminished now that I am no longer on active duty. I think I wrote a post about my feelings on this subject a while back.
2. US Navy Enlisted Cryptologist: Same as above.
3. Chef: before I enlisted in the Navy I was a professional chef, one of the worst jobs on the planet. No matter how good or talented, or how classy the establishment (and I worked in the best), you go home at night smelling of grease, the customers are assholes, and the owners always sleep with the pretty waitresses and treat you like shit.
4. Assembly Lineman: I once worked (briefly) as a lineman on the paint line for the auto industry. It sucked beyond all descriptions of suckatude and soured me forever on anything having to do with Organized Labor.

Four Countries I have been to:
Only four? I’ve been to many places, thanks to the US Navy. Some good, some bad, all interesting and mind expanding.
Australia: Damn but I love this place. The Auzies are wonderful people, and the country is everything America aspires to be, and isn’t.
Spain: I lived in Espana Sur for three years. Incredible food, incredible people, and an astounding wealth of history on every street. Nobody ever dies of a stress induced heart attack in Spain, no hurry, no worry, we’ll just do it manana…
Iceland: Breathtakingly beautiful, bleak, and amazing. I also lived here for a while. The people are the descendants of Vikings (or at least the people Vikings kidnapped from elsewhere and dragged to this tiny island nation). Proud, aloof, unbelievably well educated, ancient, and spellbinding raconteurs.
Iraq: Chaos, war, displacement, hatred, Arab. And yet, I recall the Shiite Ship’s Master of a leaky smuggling vessel with piecing black eyes and a beak of a nose who offered me Muslim hospitality in the form of bitterly strong coffee, and spoke lovingly of his daughter and how he hoped the War would bring enough change that she could attend school and grow up to be her own person, Ishna Allah. I hope that he survived, I did my best to make it so, and I hope his daughters grow up in a better world.

Four places I would rather be right now:
Are you kidding? I live in Alaska. I’m at home with my wife and son, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Four foods I like to eat:
1. Spanish (NOT Mexican): In small town southern Spain, the evening streets are awash with the aroma of garlic and sea green extra virgin olive oil pressed from Spanish olives grown on the Costa del Sol. Paella made with fresh saffron, patatas tortilla on fresh crusty bread with black olive tapanade, tapa hopping, calamari fresh from the Marcado Publica, with lemon (stomach growls, feed me! Now!).
2. Seafood of any kind: Fresh Alaskan silver salmon smothered in a raspberry/birch-syrup glaze on the grill. Alaskan red salmon hot smoked over alderwood using the traditional Athabascan method, with brie. My specialty, seafood pasta: smoked salmon, scallops, and shrimp in a sherry reduction cream sauce over farfel bow-tie pasta. Fresh
Maine lobster boiled in beer and seawater, direct from the lobster pound across the street from our little house in Millbridge (still lively, and fast!).
3. Irish: Irish stew made in the traditional Darina Allen Ballymore method – with fresh lamb, baby carrots, pearl onions, white potatoes and barley done sloooowly in a cast iron Dutch oven. Sheppard’s Pie. Irish potato cakes fried in bacon grease, made by a redheaded lass with a lilting accent and mysterious smile from the
Shannon River valley.
4. Cheeseburgers: That’s right. Handmade, greasy, char-grilled over open flame and covered in sautéed mushrooms and topped with blue cheese. With kosher dill pickle spears and steak fries accompanied by a bitter Irish Red Ale so cold it makes your teeth ache. Henry’s in the Gas Lamp district,
San Diego makes the best.

Four personal heroes-past or present:
1. My wife, Becky: Childbirth, and that’s all I have to say about that.
2. My dad: nothing has ever gotten him down. Ever. He’s the toughest SOB I know, for a little runty little Irishman. He’s beaten everything,
Korea, alcoholism, poverty, men three times his size, electrocution, broken bones, cancer. The stories I could tell…
3. Teddy Roosevelt: a man of deep conviction, a man born into wealth and privilege who chose instead to spend his life in service to his fellow citizens, a man born with debilitating asthma who overcame it through perseverance, iron will, and strength of character. Rancher, writer, raconteur, trust buster, a man who led the charge up both San Juan and Kettle Hills into the teeth of death, adventurer, and the first President who ushered a black man through the front door of the White House as an equal.
US Navy Captain Pat Rabun and the last crew of the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, USS Valley Forge, CG-50. Without doubt, the single finest Skipper and crew ever to sail under the banner of the US Navy. They were men and women of honor, conviction, and unlimited courage. I will always remember you and what we accomplished, even if history does not - we few, we precious few, we band of brothers.

Four books I have read:
1. The Two Ocean War, Samuel B. Morrison: WWII, in a nutshell.
2. Nova, Samuel Delany: a dark disturbingly strange and vivid tale of the things a man will do for love, hate, revenge, and exploding stars.
3. The Dying of the Light, George R.R. Martin: a dark disturbingly strange and vivid tale of the things a man will do for love, hate, honor, and an old flame on a melancholy dying world beneath the fading light of Fat Satan. Goddamn but I wish GRRM would go back to writing fiction set in this universe. With Morning Comes Mistfall, Tuf Voyaging, Nightflyers, The Glass Flower, The Way of Cross and Dragon, The Stone City and the bone chilling alien In the House of the Worm are some of my very favorites. GRRM’s aliens are not of the Star Trek variety (i.e. recognizable humans with funny looking foreheads and all too human motivations), nor are they jumped-up cats like so many characters in modern Scifi, no they are alien, their motivations and minds are not human and you may never understand them, this may cause you discomfort. Martin’s work makes me feel small, in a vast and ancient universe.
4. Newton’s Wake and the other works of Ken MacLeod: While I am certainly no communist, I love an author who’s outlook and opinions are alien to my own (I can imagine no more boring world than if everyone was just like me. That’s why I love works by a writer who’s ethnic, political, cultural, and/or sexual orientation is the polar opposite of mine). MacLeod is a visionary genius of the post-human world. He does me, his reader, the greatest service of all – he assumes I am not an idiot and he makes me think.

And just because I can never not fiddle, let me add Four movies that I love:
1. The Thirteenth Warrior: On the surface a bloody adventure/action flick, but if you watch carefully you’ll realize that it is really a coming of age story with layers of subtlety and an incredible musical score. Antonio Banderas’s brilliant performance as a man truly out of his depth but game anyway. Watch his face carefully during the warrior selection scene, here’s a guy who knows he is witnessing a moment in history, and yet has no idea what’s going on. You can see it in his face as he laughs uncomprehendingly along with the Vikings, caught up in the moment – and then the hammer falls. Stunned disbelief, What the hell are you saying? And here he takes the first step into a world much larger than he ever imagined. But more than anything, this movie is about intelligence, using your mind and not just brawn. And the Vikings know this, they value and respect Ahmed Ibn Fadlan not because he is a warrior (he's emphatically not), but because he has something they don't, insight, education, and a viewpoint different from their own. They are no dummies either. And phenomenal performances by actors Dennis Storhoi and Vladimir Kulich. Goddamn I love this movie.
2. Mister Roberts: For Jack Lemmon’s brilliant performance as Ensign Franklin Thurlow Pulver, Soldier, Statesman, and friend to the working girl. Captain! It is I, Ensign Pulver! Now, what’s all this crud about no movie tonight? And Cagney puts his long suffering face into his hands as the credits begin to roll. Classic.
3. McClintock! The Duke at his absolute hysterical finest, and Maureen O’Hara. Yeah, it stereotypes the crap out Native Americans, the mythical Old West, the Chinese, and John Wayne himself, so what? The fight at the clay pit is the best brawl ever filmed, and the dynamic between Wayne and O’Hara is worth the price of the DVD. And the line Don't say it's a fine morning or I'll shoot ya! Sums up my feeling most days perfectly. Donovan’s Reef and The Quiet Man are close seconds.
4. The High Road to China, Tom Selleck and Bess Armtrong. A massively underrated and unappreciated movie. The dynamic between Selleck and Armstrong is as good or better than Wayne and O’Hara in McClintock! or, for that matter, between Selleck and Laura San Giacomo in Quigley Down Under. A utter blast of a popcorn movie, I wore out my VHS copy and the goofy bastards of a movie studio just won’t release it on DVD. For the life of me, I can not imagine why.

Anyway, there you go, Steve, hope you’re happy.

Things, they are gonna change, part 1

So, I’m out in the shop this morning, carving filigree into my latest masterful work of art (yes, yes, I’ll post some pictures sooner…or later. Don’t beg, it’s unseemly) and the phone rings. It’s my son calling from school, he’d forgotten his PE clothes and could I bring them up? Argh! This kind of stuff really cuts into my retired time. Anyway, I find the clothes, run up to school, have a nice chat with the office ladies, and as I’m heading back out the front door I see a woman approaching. So I do the thing where you hold the door open for somebody because it’s the friggin’ polite thing to do… and she breezes right past me chatting on her cell phone. Not a word of thanks, not a little smile to say she appreciated it, not a nod of acknowledgment. And there I am, doing the Must. Not. Make. Fist. Of. Death. dance.

Okay here’s the thing. I spent most of my adult life defending the Constitution of the United States. I admire the Constitution. I think it’s one of the greatest documents ever penned, embodying some of the greatest principles the human race has yet devised. But I also think that it’s lacking in a few critical areas. After I take over and crown myself Emperor of the Universe I’ll be using the US Constitution as a template for my own governing documents, however I’ll be adding a few extra Articles. One of which will be titled: Don’t be a Dick, which will be divided into several subsections, such as: Don’t be a dick about your religion, Don’t be a dick on public transportation, Don’t be a dick on the highway, etc.

Today: Don’t be a dick with a cell phone:
Your conversations are exactly that, your conversations. The people around you have the right to be left out of it. If your phone can’t pick up your voice at anything below 80dB, then get one with a more sensitive mic. Anybody caught loudly discussing their OB/GYN exam or their intestinal polyps on a cell phone in the frozen food isle will be forced to wear an orange helmet with a light on top that flashes out “I’m a dick” in Morse code. Your conversations are exactly that, your conversations – unless you use the “walkie talkie” function in public, then you are including the people around you in the conversation by involuntary default. Since you’ve now made your conversation their conversation, they are highly encouraged to participate by making orgy noises. If the gist of the conversation appears to be conservative republican style topics, participants are encouraged to make gay orgy noises. If the conversation appears to be more Democrat in nature, participants should make noises as if they are slaughtering an endangered species of their choice. When in line at the cashier, you have a responsibility to the people behind you. Hang up and pay for your shit in a prompt and courteous fashion. Then take your booty and go outside before resuming your conversation, otherwise the person directly behind you in line is permitted to slap you in the back of the head, hard. After which the cashier will taze you repeatedly until your cell phone battery catches fire. Shut up and drive. No Seriously. Otherwise you will be locked in your car with rabid baboons and a cell phone with just enough battery power for one, fifteen second phone call. If you can connect to the 911 operator maybe you’ll live, if not, too dammed bad. Anyone caught using a cell phone during an elementary school recital, public movie, concert, or sex will be punished by having the offending cell phone set to vibrate, wrapped in barbed wire, and inserted into an orifice chosen by the audience. Under no circumstances, up to and including a life threatening emergency, will cell phone use be permitted while the user is relieving him or herself. Ever. And finally, if someone holds a door open for you, stop talking on the phone for a minute, nod thanks or the Fist Of Death will be unleashed.

Thank you, and good night.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You know it's time when...

In October of 1984, as a newly minted Seaman Apprentice fresh out of boot camp, I was a student at the Naval Technical Training Center, Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida. I was strolling along the outdoor catwalk on the 2nd deck of the 3700 Barracks when I passed a wild-eyed Irishman who was carrying a 4-pack of Guinness Stout. Guinness freakin’ Stout, in the land of Bud Lite. Surrounded as I was by Sailors who drank only what ever the cheapest pizzle was on tap at the EM Club, a guy with a pack of real beer was truly an unappreciated novelty. I think I said something like, “Heeeeeey, Guinness!” in the tone of stunned amazement. And we struck up a conversation.

It’s funny, those moments when your life changes. I like to think that even if we hadn’t met on that catwalk, Shawn Riley and I would have still have been friends. I like to think it was inevitable. Twenty-two years after we first met, Shawn called me and asked if I would be the guest speaker at his retirement in San Diego. By then he was a Senior Chief and I was a Warrant - we had a certain obligation to put on a good show. And we did, Riley’s retirement was the best dammed ceremony in the history of retirement ceremonies. It was unusual. It was legendary. And it was fun. My speech was a masterpiece of scurrilous wit, watching the tape afterward, Shawn and I were thrilled to hear scandalized gasps from the audience. Someday I may publish the full text of that speech. Today I’ll give you just a piece of it.


How do you know? I mean when the time comes, how do you know when to give it up? To retire? What are the indicators? Here are a few I came up with; I think you’ll recognize the format:

- If, when the Chief’s list comes out, you don’t recognize a single name on it, it might be time to retire…

- If, when the Master Chief list comes out, and some smart Alec points out that everybody on it is ten years younger than you, it might be time to retire…

- If, the cover music in the SCIF (* the secure area, we played cover muzak to prevent eavesdropping) gives you a tension headache because it’s too damned loud, it might be time to retire…

- Now we’re all used to having young Division Officers, but if the XO was born five years after you graduated from high school, it might be time to retire…

- If, when you’re shooting pool and drinking beer in the CPO Club, and you realize that you’ve been discussing kitchen renovation for the last two hours, it might be time to retire…

- If, every duty station and ship you’ve ever served in has been disestablished, decommissioned, or renamed, it might be time to retire…

- If, you keep ice packs in your refrigerator for your knees and not for your beer, it might be time to retire…

- If, your medical record is more than five inches thick, or comes in two volumes, it might be time to retire…

- If , when you overhear the Junior Officers talking about what a miserable SOB the “OLD MAN” is and then you eventually realize that they’re talking about you and the not the CO, it might be time to retire…

- If, you start chewing out a young Sailor for something he did wrong but halfway through your tirade, you can’t remember what the offense was, it might be time to retire…

- If, you find yourself driving around base in a Recreational Vehicle, and it’s your primary mode of transportation, it might be time to retire…

- And finally, if, when you go down to the barber shop to get a haircut and not only does the barber trim the hair in your ears without asking, but he spends more time doing it than cutting that little fringe around your bald melon, well then, Shipmate, King Neptune is sending you a message, it’s time to retire.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gone to Anchorage

I'm off to the VA this morning - because I feel the urge to fill out more forms. I may have killed an entire forest by now. But, I think I'm wearing them down, eventually I'll smother the bureaucrats under several tons of paper. Then I'll climb over the pile and get to the doctors. Whoohoo! Shoulder surgery, here I come.

Actually I'm kidding, so far the VA has been a pretty decent organization - as giant government bureaucracies go. Considering how strapped they are, what with Bush's Folly and all, I'm surprised they can even get to a retiree like me. More later.

Die, Miserable PDF Format, Die!

Attention World: I, your future ruler, hereby proclaim that from this day henceforth any organization that insists on putting required on-line forms into a format that cannot be saved to disk will be dealt with. Dealt with in a particularly heinous manner, just as soon as I assume power. I am making a list. Ignore this warning at your own peril. I'm not saying I'll kill you, I'm saying that you'll wish you were dead. At a minimum you will be required to fill out a thousand-page form every day for the rest of your miserable life. And you will be forced to do it by hand, in pen, any mistakes and you have to start over - and your printer cartridge will be perpetually low on toner. Don't make me get all Evil Overlord on your ass, because I will.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

There's an Anemone Eating My Head

No, that's not a sea anemone eating my son's head, it's a ... well, I'm not sure how to describe what it actually is, now that I think of it. It did cost me $10, and it's made out of some kind of silicone I think, and it was in the little store section of the science shed at the Alaska State Fair and my son just had to have it, but other than that I've got no idea what it is. It was a fun day at the fair, sunny and hot (for us anyway, it was in the 70's and I was roasting), I got my annual buffalo burger and fresh-garlic smothered homemade potato chips, and bought a quart of Chikaloon birch syrup. Toured the craft sheds and watched the Alaskan Wood Turners Association demonstration for a bit.

As always when there is a large crowd, I came away with a couple of observations:

First, when did it become fashionable for women to show buttcrack? Seriously, are a lot of women joining the Plumber's Local or what? Lately it just seems that wherever I look, I've got female asscrack staring me in the face. I don't need this. Ladies, it's not attractive. Really, it's just not. Please, as a public service, pull up your britches, wear a longer shirt, something. Thanks.

Second, my son is an expert on Motocross. I don't know where he got it from. He begged me to take him to see it and I agreed. Now, understand, I have no interest whatsoever in loud noises made by 2-stroke motors and I don't know an 80cc Freestyle from the 125 Supercross Lite but it was a beautiful day and your kid is eleven only once, so what the hell. My wife bailed on us, so I got a beer (MGD. Ugh! Cheap shitty beer in a flimsy plastic cup is just another reason I avoid any event where rednecks gather in large groups) and we settled down in the bleachers to watch a bunch of crazed fools fling themselves around a muddy track and into the sky. After an hour or so came the freestyle demonstration. Holy. Freakin'. Crap! I've done some fairly dangerous things in my life, but these people are insane. They were jumping 30 -40, maybe 50 feet in the air while doing tricks called superman, tailwhip, cordova, and I forget what else. Yeah, yeah, you know all about this stuff, but I don't, and I'm pretty dammed sure I've never taken my son to see it before. And yet, somehow, my kid not only knew what each trick was called, he knew if they were doing it right. He knew when it was time to groom the track, and looked around for the water trucks. He knew the specifics of each racing category. How is this possible? Guess those video games he plays are more realistic than I thought. I'm going to have to pay closer attention.

And third, Stupid. Yep, big ol' stupid, sitting in the bright Alaskan sunshine, right there outside the livestock shed. Female, probably mid to late 50's, wheelchair bound, plugged into two very large personal O2 cylinders via a thin plastic tube under her nose and ... smoking? Smoking? No way. I do a double take. Holy shit, she is smoking. WTF? Hey, let me clue you in on something, Stupid, to wit: Oxygen + ignition source = Whoosh! Flash! Burning-Hair-Smell! Right smack in the middle of a large, dense crowd. Bad, Stupid, bad, no biscuit.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Gotta Have Fun

As part of my plan to conquer the universe, we're off to the Alaska State Fair today. I look forward to the fair all year, and the ASF is the best there is. Food, fun, and for a change it's not raining, what could be better?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Ten Laws of Stupidity (updated)

In the last post I gave notice of my intention to become Ultimate Emperor of the Universe, henceforth to be abbreviated UEU™ (spoken as “Hey, you!"). Well, as I’m sure most of you know, you can’t just take over the joint without having all the details worked out, otherwise chaos will result – and nobody wants that (you listening, Mr. President). In order to properly work out said details you need to scout the lay of the land, i.e. gather accurate and timely intelligence prior to commencement of actual military operations. It also helps if you know something about the people you intend to conquer…ur, liberate. Sorry. Being a former Intelligence Officer, and therefore a Certified Observer of the Human Condition (hang on, I’ve got a piece of paper that says so around here somewhere) I have noticed a few things about certain segments of my future subject population, which I have codified into Wright’s General Laws of Human Stupidity (also known as Wright’s Stupid List) as follows:

1. Stupid is logarithmic (i.e. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups): Two stupid people are 100 times more stupid than one stupid person alone, three stupid people are 1000 times more stupid than one stupid person, four stupid people are 10,000 times more likely to get drunk and surf naked on top of pick-up trucks in an attempt to get on America’s Funniest Home Videos than just one stupid person, five stupid people are 100,000 times more likely to spontaneously become Scientologists than just one Hollywood actor by himself, and so on. Stupidity adds up pretty dammed quick. If you don’t believe me, plot the numbers on a graph for yourself, numbers don’t lie, it’s scientific.

2. Stupid is a self attractor (i.e. you can never have enough stupid) There is nothing so stupid that somebody won't think that it's a good idea. Do something stupid, and more stupid will come to see what the fuss is all about, you don't even need to advertise. Example: Wal-Mart.

1st Corollary, the bigger the stupid, the stronger the attraction (i.e. the overall attraction of stupid is proportional to the aggregate size of the stupid): If you put a McDonalds inside a Wal-Mart, ahhh then you’ve created something akin to Disneyland for booger-eating, mouth-breathing Rednecks. They’ll get up early and come from miles around, they’ll make a day of it, they’ll put on special T-shirts, and they’ll invite friends and welfare dependent relatives along too. In fact, the attractive properties of stupid are so strong that the stupid will be pulled right out of bed and into the store without time to don clothing – take a look around and count the number of pajama bottoms you see masquerading as pants.

2nd Corollary, the bigger the idiot, the stronger the attraction (i.e. politics): There is no politician stupid enough not to attract a following.

3. Stupid evolves (i.e. stupid is the ultimate survivor. This is not the same as stupid is intelligently designed, that falls under Special Stupidity – However, all of the General Stupidity rules do apply to Intelligent Design, it’s just that General Stupidity cannot completely describe the phenomenon): If something new is added to the environment, stupid will rapidly evolve into the new niche. This is provable and repeatable; you just can’t get more scientific than that. For example: the world has changed since 911 and the old rules don’t apply anymore. Our stupid forefathers never foresaw threats to the Union, the idiots. So, in order to defend the Constitution of the United States and guarantee the inalienable rights of all Americans, stupid has evolved into an enormous new bureaucracy who’s mission statement is to search for terrorists in baby formula and old ladies’ orthopedic shoes at our airports. Also it helps if you monitor phone calls, email, and library records of every American citizen. It is a fact that if you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t have anything to worry about. Amendments IX and X of the US Constitution are just, well, stupid. Failure of the bureaucracy to stop terrorism does not invalid this observation, it just means you need a bigger bureaucracy – so far it’s worked like a charm in the War on Drugs.

4. Stupid abhors a vacuum (it also abhors other household appliances): Just a little stupid will multiply until it fills every nook and cranny of an organization (sometimes referred to as the “Microsoft Law”). On July 20th, 1969 – less than 9 years from the date that the goal was set by JFK – NASA landed two men on the moon. Fast, flexible, innovative, practical, common sense – those were the words that described NASA in those heady days. Thirty years later these rocket scientists managed to slam the Mars Polar Orbiter into a planetary atmosphere at interplanetary speeds, because nobody could agree on whether to use English or Metric units of measurement – so they used both. Hey, man, math is hard, it could have happened to anybody. The amount of stupid in the system is directly proportional to the number of administrators in the organization. There is also a direct correlation to the amount of Power Point slides. However it has not yet been determined if Power Point slides induce stupid, or if stupid generates Power Point slides.

1st Corollary: Stupid is capable of spontaneous generation (or it seemed like a good idea at the time): Still using NASA as an example: if a big ole’ hunk of ice falls off the spacecraft during launch and slams into the fragile heat shielding tiles, then it makes perfect sense NOT to conduct a survey of the damage using an available photosat. Engineers are whiners, a real administrator knows that the best way to check for damage is to plunge the ship into Earth’s atmosphere at twenty times the speed of sound – I mean, seriously, that’s the only way to be sure. Don’t get me started on the O-rings or astronaut diapers.

5. Stupid doesn’t discriminate (i.e. Stupid is an equal opportunity lender): Stupid doesn’t care if you’re white, black, brown, yellow, red, or other. Stupid doesn’t care if you’re poor; invest your entire welfare check in booze, cigarettes, and a guaranteed retirement plan run by the state lottery commission, stupid still loves you. Stupid doesn’t care if you’re rich; even if you are a vapid heiress to the Hilton fortune, believe me when I say stupid adores you. Stupid loves the middle class, having trouble making the mortgage payment? Stupid will send you a variable interest credit card so you can buy more middle class essentials, there’s nothing better for the economy than stupid. Stupid loves you if you’re a Democrat; stupid especially loves the No Child Left Behind idea – talk about investing in stupid’s future. Stupid loves you if you’re a Republican because stupid thrives in a faith-based economy. Stupid doesn’t care if you’re smart; in fact, stupid loves smart guys – need proof? One word: midichlorians.

6. Stupid loves technology: (i.e. there’s no such thing as idiot proof, the stupid is baked right in). Symantec's Internet Security, and we’ll just stop right there.

7. Stupid is insidious (i.e. the stupid contents may have shifted during transport): Stupid creeps in through the tiniest of cracks. Of course you want your son to grow up with good, wholesome examples and experiences, of course you do. And what could be more wholesome than the Boy Scouts of America? They go camping, that’s wholesome. They tie knots and shit, that’s wholesome too. They’ve even got a wholesome motto: Do a good turn daily. Scouts help little old ladies across the street – just as long as the little old lady in question isn’t an atheist. Or a lesbian. Or an atheist lesbian. Friggin’ girls anyway, they’re nothing but evil. Who took the apple? Who? Damn right, the chick, that’s who. Hey, who wouldn’t want their kid to be part of the Republican Youth movement?

8. Stupid is tenacious (i.e. stupid endures): You can stomp it out. You can pour week killer on it. You can take it bungee jumping. You can send it on a fact finding trip to Iraq. But stupid just won’t die. And why should it? Scientists are idiots; they don’t even know what the word “Theory” means. Teach the controversy, that’s all stupid is saying.

9. Stupid is fun (i.e. stupid loves a good time): If you make an entire movie devoted to stupid, say like Jackass, the Movie, stupid will flock to it like a herd of cud-chewing bovines to the slaughter house (see, Rule 2). It’s just harmless stupid, and it’s instructional. Nothing says good clean family fun like shooting bottle rockets out of your ass. And afterwards you can put a saddle on the stegosaurus, and teach the kids how to ride. Don’t worry about the velociraptors, they’re vegetarians.

10. Stupid is profitable (also known as the L. Ron Hubbard rule): Nothing, nothing, is so stupid that you can’t make a buttload of money off it. Take a toy from my childhood for example, Jarts. Penetrating wounds for the whole stupid family. Or, a more modern example: start a war based on false pretexts and fudged intelligence reports, stupid, right? Ahhh, but wait, you can snatch victory from the jaws of quagmire, just call the folks at Halliburton and Blackwater Security. I hear they’re using Jarts against the terrorists now.

And that will just about do it for today.

You Gotta Have a Plan

In his farewell address before the US Congress in 1951, General Douglas MacArthur closed his remarks with the poignant statement, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away … And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just – fade away..."

Always a man of his word, MacArthur did exactly what he said he would; he just slowly faded away, becoming thin and transparent, wispily disappearing from public view, until he finally vanished completely on April 5, 1964. This is too often the fate of old warriors. A life in the military can consume you, and when that part of your life is over, it is often difficult to begin again, sometimes too difficult. It is incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never again do those things that were so much a part of your every day life for so many years. You will never again put on the uniform, never again stand on the deck of a warship in pitching seas, never again take the beach, or stand braced in the open hatch of a 60 ton Abrams as it powers through everything in its path. You’ll never again streak across the sky, heading out to intercept a bogy at twice the speed of sound. You may have good friends, but you’ll never again have the camaraderie of your fellows in arms, that unique symbiotic bond that you have with even those you can’t stand. It is incredibly difficult to go from commanding men in battle to taking directions from some pimply faced twenty-year old Assistant Manager in your new job as shelf stocker at Home Depot. One day you’re shouting orders like “Follow me, men!” and charging up the boarding ladder, six months later you’re saying things like “Hi, welcome to Wal-Mart” and the most dangerous thing you do is retrieve carts from the parking lot. For a lot of us it’s demeaning, humiliating even. Some of us can’t bear the thought of it, so we hang around. We become contractors or move into lousy government service jobs so we can stay near the military. And it get’s worse. Retiree cooties: you can see it in the gate guard’s eyes when you show your official old-fart blue ID card on your weekly visit to the local base commissary and exchange. You can see it in the eyes of those in uniform, those dammed young kids, and even if you don’t advertise (no retiree hat, no retiree T-shirt) somehow they just know you’re no longer one of them. And it just kills you, because everything after military life is one long anti-climax.

This is why whenever you talk to an old vet all we ever talk about is our time in the military. We bore the ever living crap out of everybody who knows us with endless tales. Eventually they stop listening, or they roll their eyes so much that it leaches away the enjoyment we get from telling the stories yet again. So, eventually we join the AMVETs, the VFW, or the Legion and spend every Saturday night down at the post getting drunk and telling the same dammed sea stories to each other over and over. We bitch endlessly about the stupid officers and malignant NCOs we served under, the endless deployments we endured, the shoddy equipment we were forced to make due with, the shitty food we choked down, the lack of sleep, the greedy defense contractors, and civilians who-don’t-understand. We state gruffly how we much we hated Korea, or Vietnam, or Iraq or whatever toilet we were stuck in, fucking hated it, man. But we can’t stop talking about it. And we never get tired of it, or each other. A significant fraction of us don’t last ten years, MacArthur made it thirteen, that’s better than average, but then he was an above average kind of guy. We end up drinking too much, we start eating too much and too often, we stop exercising, and our marriages fall apart with alarming frequency. And many of us just slowly fade away.

Well, I’m giving notice, here and now: I have no intention of just fading away. I’m going kicking and screaming, hoopin' and a hollerin' all the way. That’s why it is important to have a plan and set goals for your post retirement life. All of which leads me inexorably … here.

I have a plan.

The broad outline of which is: I intend to use this blog to become Ultimate Emperor of the Universe. Relax, I didn’t say Evil Overlord, I’ll be a good Emperor, you’ll love me, you’ll cheer me in the streets, you’ll name your children after me (you’d better, or else there will be consequences. I mean otherwise what’s the point?).

Details to follow.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who the hell am I anyway?

Greetings Earthlings, my name is Jim Wright and I come in peace, mostly.

I have thought about starting my own blog for many years, however, until recently I was an active duty US Navy Officer, and as such I didn't feel free to speak about things that interest me, things such as politics, the government, and the current batch of jackasses that have hijacked our society. Now that I am retired, I feel no such constraints, and so we begin.

A bit about me, who I am, and why I am the person that I am: I grew up in Michigan's lower peninsula, in the rural country around Grand Rapids. This was in the 60's and 70's. To be perfectly blunt about things, I was a geek with the usual geek interests. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), being a geek wasn't a popular lifestyle choice, but I had a pretty strong sense of self even back then and was never particularly concerned with what other people thought of me. Still, I had a pretty happy childhood and have little regrets. After high school, I did a couple years at the local Junior College, had a couple of minimum wage jobs, and eventually figured out that the Standard Midwestern Life(tm) probably wasn't for me. In those days, and to a large extent even now, if you lived in Southern Michigan you either worked in the auto industry, the furniture industry, or raised cows - none of which appealed to me. I grew up reading Science Fiction (especially the works of Robert Anson Heinlein) and listening to my dad's sea stories from his time in the Navy, and more than anything that's what I wanted: adventure, the kind of adventure that Heinlein talked about. So, in 1984 I screwed up my courage and enlisted in the US Navy as a Seaman Apprentice. I figured to do a standard hitch, five years, learn a skill, see the world, meet exotic women in foreign ports, you know, the usual - then get out and find a real job. It didn't exactly work out that way. In the 80's the Navy's recruiting slogan was "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." Well, they weren't kidding, it was an adventure in every sense of the word. Those were the days of Ronald Reagan, we were building up a 600 hundred ship navy, the Soviets were the "Evil Empire," and Ketchup was a vegetable. Say what you want about Reagan; whatever he was, he was dammed good to the military. In future posts I'll probably tell you about some of my adventures, and there were many, but today I'll simply say that it was everything I'd hoped for - and then some. I saw the world and met some incredible people, people that I admire and respect to this very day, and realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Eventually I made Chief Petty Officer, and later was commissioned to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. CWO's are a strange breed of cat, they are unlike other Naval Officers - they swill black coffee by the gallon, are perpetually grumpy gruff SOB's, and are emphatically not gentlemen, and they never get invited to functions where polite people gather. If you're not familiar with the Navy, think of CWO's as the Navy's trouble shooters - they are expected to be the absolute, unquestioned experts in their particular specialty, and experts at everything else too. Their authority comes from their experience and ability to GET THINGS DONE. They are expected to break the rules (within certain limits), they are expected to improvise on the fly, and more than anything they are expected to accomplish the mission - no matter what. They lead by example and command enormous respect. They get the dirty jobs, the ones that nobody else can do - or would want to do. And being a Navy Warrant was the perfect job for me, in fact, there were days that I would have paid them for the privilege of being "The Warrant." When I was enlisted I was a cryptologist, a fancy word for code breaker, but later I moved into the emerging field of Information Warfare, eventually becoming one of the Navy's foremost experts in tactical application of the field (kind of like being the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind). Most of my career is classified and don't expect me to talk about it here. I served all over the world, both afloat and ashore, and deployed to a number of combat zones including Iraq. I worked for, with, and led some of the finest people in the world and I have enormous respect for my brothers and sisters in arms, they are amazing people doing largely thankless jobs for little return, far from home often in the dark and wretched corners of the world. And they do it not for glory, or money, or patriotism, or for a college education, and they certainly don't do it for "freedom and democracy" - though all of those things are important. No, they do it because that's who they are, because they have conscientiously chosen to place their precious selves between their fellow citizens and war's desolation. They do it for honor and because they feel it is their duty. They do it because they are professionals. There can be no higher calling.

No matter how much you love something, eventually the time comes when you can no longer do it. For the last sixteen years my wife has placed her own life on hold to follow me wherever and whenever the Navy willed. She did this without complaint (mostly!), and I can't thank her enough for her unwavering support over the years and all those long long times she waited for me to come home from some distant shore. But, eventually you get tired of picking up and moving every couple years, you get tired of sinking roots in a place and then having to pull up and leave it behind, you get tired of the disruption to you life. You just plain get tired of living out of boxes. It can be especially hard on a child, new school, new friends, new place every couple of years. And so, after 23 years I decided to pack it in. I retired without fanfare on 1 Aug, 2007 to the wilds of Alaska where I intend to live a quiet life of fishing, hunting, woodworking, and writing. So far, its working out pretty dammed swell. We live outside Palmer, Alaska, a tiny town 50 miles down the Glenn Highway from Anchorage, the last bastion of broadband internet before you hit the the Alaskan bush country. I have a very large wood shop, bigger than most people's houses, stocked with whatever equipment I can scrounge from Craigslist. I work in Alaskan native hardwoods, turning bowls on the lathe and making fine handmade furniture. I fish for salmon and trout and spend time with my wife and son. I cook. My wife has began a new career, finally getting to use her MBA, working for a terrific company in Anchorage and with good people.

I still do a little consulting for the military and eventually I intend to become a writer full time. This blog is a first step in that direction. I intend to update every day, or whenever I feel like it, writing about whatever I'm interested in at the time. Expect subjects to include: Things That Make Me Go Hmmm (all things California, etc), Things That Piss Me Off (religion, politics, Intelligent Design, people who drive too slow in the fast lane, etc), Things That Irritate Me (that Head-on commercial, talk shows, cell phones, stupidity for the sake of stupidity, etc), Things that I Like (tools, movies, breasts (kidding, I'm kidding - maybe), writing, humor, cooking, gadgets, etc), and Things I Intend To Accomplish Before I Die (become Emperor of the Universe, etc). I hope you enjoy it.