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Monday, May 31, 2010

Full Metal Jacket

You may have seen the movie Full Metal Jacket—a film by Stanley Kubrick. I enjoyed it, although the 2nd half of the movie doesn't quite live up to the promise made by the 1st half. My wife and I watched this on DVD the other day. I was surprised and intrigued when she expressed grim satisfaction that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman—R. Lee Ermey—was killed by Private Leonard Lawrence—Vincent D'Onofrio. "Why are you so happy the drill sergeant was killed?" I asked.

She replied at length and with quite a bit of heat. I don't remember her exact words but hopefully the following summation will capture her opinion.
When I went through basic they didn't do any of that. The drill instructors weren't allowed to touch us. They didn't use curse words or humiliate us. The idea that people were treated that way in the 60s and 70s really pisses me off. This is a free country, not Nazi Germany. How could they do stuff like that?
My defense of Drill Sergeant Hartman fell on deaf ears, although I'll post it here in the silly hope that one day my wife will condescend to read my thoughts on this issue.

What is the purpose of a drill sergeant? I believe the short answer is to prepare soldiers—marines in this example—for war, and to train them to be effective combatants in war. If a person is unable to bear both the physical and mental adversity of boot-camp then that person obviously doesn't belong on a battlefield. A drill sergeant is responsible for turning out—as Ermey so eloquently puts it—Ministers of Death praying for war. The Marine Corps basic training is no place for touchy-feely sentiments, or even common dignity, it's literally about life and death, and even more importantly, it's about winning battles.

My wife would say, soldiers don't charge hills anymore. They call down air-strikes and then soldiers just move in and take over the now empty area. Why do they need to be tortured for thirteen weeks by sadistic little control freaks? To which I would reply: Drill Sergeant Hartman was a Marine. He was training Marines. You don't join the Marines to sit in a bunker and call down air-strikes. Often you're first in. Often you're behind enemy lines. Often, you don't have the option of calling in an air strike!

Well times they sure have changed. Now it looks like they might even start giving medals for not killing the enemy. They call this a medal for Courageous Restraint.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Elena Kagan and Free Speech

There's been plenty of talk about Elena Kagan. Most of it is of the imbecilic type. She walks and sits like a man, wears dowdy clothing, has never been married; sexual preferences unknown. Every last sentence of this sort by the thousands of journalists and bloggers, who think we care, is all completely irrelevant. I wanted to know how she would rule on issues I care about. I found one Washington Post editorial that gave me some of what I was looking for. Elena Kagan the new solicitor general for Obama chose as her first case to argue before the court, the case of Citizens United vs. FEC. In this case a grassroots organization wanted to air a politically motivated criticism of Hillary Clinton. The FEC held that Citizens United was a corporation and that its political message violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

The Supreme Court decided that corporations have the right of free speech just as individuals do. The BCRA was enacted to try to limit big corporation impact on those running for elected office, a seemingly worthy aspiration but an ultimately misguided one, for here was a grassroots organization that happened to be incorporated, yet it was being muzzled by the Federal Election Commission as though it were EXXON-MOBIL or Philip Morris.

Those in opposition to the Supreme Court majority ruling—a 5/4 majority on strictly partisan lines—say that now big corporations can attempt to brainwash all of us into electing their choice. Aren't ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX, all corporations? Why don't they fall under the FEC's umbrella of corporations trying to brainwash us? I have to wonder whether Elena Kagan was defending the BCRA because she truly believed that this grassroots organization should be silenced, or because of her political affiliation. If the former, she is apparently against the right of free speech, and if the latter, she's just another DC politician, and perhaps not principled enough to be entrusted with a life-long appointment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life in a war zone called Earth

Today the world's population stands at 6,697,254,041. I suppose since it's been such a long time since we've had a population reducing world war, or a devastating plague like the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed more people than Hitler, nuclear weapons and all the terrorists of history combined, everybody is feeling a little bit crowded right now. Maybe this population pressure explains the apparent insanity that seems to be infecting mankind at epidemic levels.

In an earlier post I criticized police for shooting a 7-year old girl. I stand by that condemnation; however as always, events occur that alter my viewpoint just a little bit. Today—May 21, 2010—two police officers were gunned down by two suspects in a routine traffic-stop just 30 miles from where I live. The two suspects—names not yet released—were later killed in a gun battle in which they critically injured two more police officers.

In World War II—and earlier wars—the enemy wore a recognizable uniform. How polite those old time wars were. Now the enemy is anyone—and perhaps to police everyone. Why would anyone volunteer for a job like this? Not for the pay! It could be that it's what their family has always done. In other cases perhaps some officers chose their profession because they enjoy the power they hold over everyone else—the power to speed recklessly, to blow through traffic lights, carry a gun and shoot it, and especially the power to tell everybody else what to do.

This is a horrible tragedy. The slain police officers will get a heroes burial and a twenty-one gun salute. I believe their family and their fellow police deserve this tribute. Donation drives are in full swing, and the people of my area are all giving generously, as they should. But what about the 7-year-old girl who was killed accidentally by police? We can't call her a hero. She didn't die in the line of duty. How many people will show up for her funeral? How many friends and colleagues will offer support and money to her family?

I understand why police are so paranoid; this tragedy today is all the reason anyone would need. I still don't believe it justifies crashing into a family home where children are present, with drawn guns and fingers on triggers. It explains it, but it doesn't make it alright.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

7-year old gunned down by Detroit police

I came across this CNN article while reading the Drudge Report. A police officer—who apparently shall remain nameless—while participating in a raid, somehow gunned down a seven year old girl. Oh yeah by the way, Detroit police are all really very sorry about it.
Upon entering the home, the officer encountered a 46-year-old female inside the front room, Godbee said. "Exactly what happened next is a matter still under investigation, but it appears the officer and the woman had some level of physical contact.

"At about this time, the officer's weapon discharged one round which, tragically, struck 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones in the neck/head area."
See how they're trying to spin it? There was physical contact! So, of course his gun went off. My only question then is why was he waving a gun around in the first place?

I've said this before; the police are given too free a hand, and forgiven for far too much. Oh he may lose his job over this—though I doubt it—but it's not enough. Who hired him? Who trained him? Who are his gung-ho friends, and how were they trained? I know being a police officer is dangerous, but if your first response as a police officer is to pull out your gun, maybe you are in the wrong line of work!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hypocrisy

The Religion of Peace—Perhaps the biggest lie of our time?

George Burns was born in 1896, died in 1996; he lived to be 100 years old. This is an unusual accomplishment, but what is even more unusual, he lived this long even though he committed three egregious acts of public blasphemy. Had he been born in 1296, he would have been the recipient of numerous acts of inventive torture, followed by a Burns-Bar-B-Que.

But here we are in the good old twenty-first century. Luckily for George, mankind has matured enough that we don't kill people, just for poking fun at, or ridiculing our religion...Most of mankind doesn't anyway.

There is however, one religion whose practitioners kill blasphemers on sight, one religion whose clerics issue fatwas authorizing the murder of particularly noteworthy blasphemers. Naturally I will not mention the name of this religion. You are probably aware of the death sentence hanging over the head of Salmon Rushdie for his work The Satanic Verses.

Recently Trey Parker and Matt Stone—the creators of South Park—aired episode 201, watched by 3.5 million people. This episode featured the most important prophet of a certain peaceful religion dressed in a bear costume. Networks across the world refused to air this episode, and where it was released, it was heavily censored due to death threats. This wholesale media blackout occurred say network executives, for the safety of their employees.

The "Religion of peace" has an army of terror, and very few people are willing to stand up against it. Way to go Matt and Trey!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Copywrite, Pricing, and Piracy

I just got a Kindle, and of course the first thing I did was hunt for common complaints. I found this blog: Vanderblog, by an author who is angry that Amazon users gave his book a rating of 1 out of 5, simply because the Kindle version instead of costing the usual $9.99 was priced at $37.50. T.J. Stiles was attempting to justify his book price of $37.50 based on a mathematical calculation of the estimated number of copies that would sell.

What a concept! I just had to look into this further. It reminded me of textbooks. If you weren't aware of the reason school textbooks are so expensive, it's because the number of units sold is relatively low, while the costs of printing, binding, warehousing, and distribution are all high. Additionally—as Mr. Stiles points out in his blog—their are mysterious fixed costs. These costs would not be a factor in any business except the publishing industry—which includes music, books, movies, and television. These costs are actually the same costs my dog incurs when I fail to give him his weekly fleabath. Part of the price you pay for any intellectual property is sucked away by a host of parasites who have this "right" for some undisclosed reason.

However, very few of these factors are applicable when the book is an electronic edition which takes up no space, can be reproduced an infinite number of times for free, and transmitted electronically for essentially zero cost to the seller. In fact, the way I see it, the only thing being sold here is a non-transferrable license to view the content of this one document. When a Kindle reader has finished reading this eBook, he cannot donate it to a library, give it to a friend, sell it, burn it to provide warmth on a really cold day, or even wipe his butt with it.

Searching further I came upon this blog: Rampant Piracy... In this article, Jason Kincaid makes the argument that the new Kindle DX is so expensive that only eBook pirates will buy it. That in fact textbooks are so expensive to young and poor college students that this piracy will become De rigueur, and thus poor college students will set up scanning stations in every dorm, disassembling old textbooks to scan while downloading what they need for their next term.

I suppose that if textbooks continue to cost $150.00 per unit, that eventually students will do exactly what Mr. Kincaid expects...unless textbook publishers start releasing $9.99 Kindle versions of all their textbooks instead of operating those printing presses, those book binderies, those warehouses and distribution networks, and paying all those employees.
As technology changes what we can do, it also changes what we must do.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The contradiction of capitalism and kindness

In the following post I will use the word Christian often. However, when I use this word, I am not subcribing to the limited definition that a person would receive from the King James version of the Bible, I am describing a collective group of people who believe in a creator, hold a common view of right and wrong, and believe that people should be good to each other, even if their viewpoint or particular religious teaching is different from someone else's. This definition of Christianity would include Baptists and Mormons and Buddhists, but would not include fanatical violent religious groups whose practitioners enjoy sawing people's heads off and strapping on backpack bombs.


I read this Christian Business blog, and I highly recommend it. It is very insightful. In a nutshell, since Christianity is about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, and capitalism is about getting from others as much as you would have them give, there doesn't seem to be any common ground.

Imagine a Christian business, I'm not talking about a Bible Bookstore, I mean a business that operates on a certain moral level. Let's say it's a bakery. Give it a pithy name like "Our Daily Bread" or "The Miracle of the Five loaves." This place might plan to charitably feed the poor with unsold bakery products, and perhaps somehow bake scripture into its bread. The idea would be that the owners of the bakery are Christian and want to be good to people. Great idea right?

Vagrants would start hanging around the store pan-handling from legitimate customers and next the owners would have to call the law to disperse and/or take these homeless unfortunates into custody. This doesn't sound very Christian. So, another good idea bites the dust before it's even begun, because you just can't rely on the downtrodden to remain discrete.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spicy Beef Stew Recipe

Here's a great crockpot recipe for a thick and tasty beef stew. Warning, this is a spicy recipe and may be too much for grandma or junior.

2 lbs beef (roast, etc., cut into 1 in cubes)
16 oz peeled baby carrots (fresh not canned!)
1 cup diced vidalia or sweet onion
16 oz beef gravy (I just buy this premade)
1 package beef stew seasoning
2 cups water (mix stew seasoning in water before adding to crockpot)
3 or 4 peeled and lightly chopped potatoes (1 potato = about 5 slices)
16 ounces Italian cut green beans
1 tbs salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbs Tobasco Sauce
2 oz House of Tsang Szechuan Spicy Stir-Fry Sauce

Add meat, vegetables, gravy, water, and stew seasoning to crockpot. Cook in crockpot for 8 to 10 hours on low heat. Serve Grandma and Junior, then...
Mix in salt, pepper, Tobasco Sauce, and Spicy Szechuan Sauce and enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bureaucracy

Often called “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. They occupy less than 1% of the world ocean surface, about half the area of France, yet they provide a home for 25% of all marine species, including fishes, molluscs, echinoderms and sponges.

When I think of the laws on the books at the Federal, state, and local level, it reminds me of a coral reef. The only problem with this analogy is that Coral Reefs are useful. However, laws built on top of laws on top of laws...not so useful. We hire lawmakers to a term of office. Their job is to make laws, amend laws, and repeal laws. They make laws, no one can dispute that! Every year another layer of laws are laid down like calcified snail tracks on the reef that hems in and restricts the actions, ideas, and spirit of the American people. However the legislature seldom amends, and almost never repeals any law from the vast unfathomable wasteland of defunct and now obsolete laws on the books. Home of sponges indeed!

More laws should have an expiration date, and be immediately purged from the books when that date comes. Many laws do have this expiration date, but many more don't, and thus the vast incomprehensible labyrinth of red tape, the infinitely massive immovable object known as a bureaucracy. Perhaps we need a fourth branch of government, the Delegislative Branch. Since the Legislature is too busy making laws to review and repeal old laws, perhaps we need an elected branch hired to perform just this function.