Cute Today, Killer Tomorrow

Baby animals are adorable. Even the baby animals that grow up to be rampaging beasts that will tear your limbs asunder and start devouring your still living guts before your heart stops beating. I am sure there are several political metaphors to be made there. Have fun with them.

That being said, I must say that Warner Brothers was way off in their depiction of the Tasmanian devil. Yes, that is a baby Tasmanian devil pictured above, or to the side, or wherever this layout decides to place the accompanying picture. That one is probably about 6 or seen months old. Warner Brothers missed the very distinctive white patches on the chest and above the tail, and made Taz brown instead of black. I can understand the lightening of the fur to brown to better display the facial tics that the cartoon Taz is known for, but the white patches should have stayed.

While the rampaging temper depicted in the cartoons is more or less true to life, Tasmanian devils are more likely to feed on carrion than hunt their own prey. They only grow to be about 2 feet long and the largest ones tip the scale a bit shy of 30 pounds, so they are not much of a threat to large animals. They will munch on rabbits and other small animals, but don't pose too much of a threat to humans.

Yes, I understand I am being unreasonable to expect anthropomorphized cartoon versions of animals to be accurate depictions of the creatures that inspired them, but I am not asking for a full-out National Geographic documentary here. I think losing the white chest patch is like trying to depict Bugs Bunny with short ears. I am perfectly fine with them having Road Runner stop to chow down whenever he sees a pile of birdseed on the road, even though real life roadrunners are generally more carnivorous, eating bugs, small rodents and rattlesnakes. It adds a sense of whimsy and humor to the cartoons, but some distinct visual characteristics should be kept.

Since I got onto this rant about Warner Brothers cartoons, here's an interesting fact I learned a couple of weeks ago. Henery Hawk, (yes, that is spelled correctly), the little chicken hawk, was created before Foghorn Leghorn. I had always assumed that Henery was created as a foil for the big rooster, but it turns out that it was actually the other way around.

Well, enough learning for one day. Go out and have some fun. I'll try to get back to regular blog posting again.


Saliva Boarded

It has been three weeks since I have posted anything in my little corner of the underworld, and it is high time that I change that. I know that there has been a lot going on in the world recently, but honestly nothing has really inspired me to do anything more than make incredibly astute concise observations (okay, let's be honest, snarky comments) on Twitter. You can find me there @tank_demon, though it is highly likely that you arrived here from Twitter in the first place.

So, what has influenced me to write when MH370, the Blade Runner Trial, Bundy Ranch, Chelsea's Womb, Easter and the Purple Wedding weren't able to?

Would you believe that there is a connection between snoring and water boarding? It is a very personal connection, but there is a definite connection.

I am snorer, like Captain Spaulding the African explorer. Apparently I shake the walls while I sleep. I make sounds that scare small children and attract lovesick moose. My snoring has influenced roommates to find other accommodations (true story.) I am told that it is not sleep apnea, though I have never had a sleep study done to verify this one way or the other. When I last requested a sleep study, the request was denied because, other than snoring loud enough to be used as a foghorn, there were no other indicators of sleep apnea (not overweight, no high blood pressure, decent general fitness.)

Honestly, snoring never bothered me. It sure as hell bothered my wife, and whatever poor bastards had to share a tent with me during field exercises, but being that I was already sleeping soundly by the time I started emitting sounds, my snoring was somebody else's problem. Yes, there was the occasional sore throat in the morning, but physically the worst that happened was that I would inexplicably wake up in the middle of the night. I sometimes thought that was the result of snoring loud enough that the noise of it would wake me, though my wife has told me I have times during the night when I would just stop breathing altogether, so maybe the reason I awoke was to get my respiration back on track. I am leaning toward the latter theory as the proper explanation.

It was the wee hours of Easter morning, around 2:00 am, when I awoke with a sense of unease. I did not startle myself out of a nightmare, but out of a deep sleep, probably phase 3 at that point, yet the sense of unease was there.

Unease escalated to near panic when I tried to take a breath and found it impossible to do so- something was blocking my airway. I tried harder and felt more than heard the gurgle of air trying to pass through saliva. During my sleep, I had rolled over onto my back and, mouth agape, I was snoring. Okay, I assume I was snoring, I don't have video/audio evidence of that, but it does fit with my personal history and the events of the night. So, while snoring, there was a build up of saliva in my mouth, and during one attempt at a deep breath, that saliva filled my throat and prevented the air from getting to my lungs.

I was able roll over onto my stomach and cough it out, which allowed me to immediately return to normal breathing. A few more coughs and all indications that there was ever a problem were totally dissipated. I got up go to the bathroom to see if I could cough out anything else, but it seemed to have all been cleared, so I went back to my bed, turned the pillow over and lay down on my stomach. I tried to avoid thinking of John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix and Mama Cass. I also thought of how embarrassing it would be to choke on one's saliva when stone cold sober. I could just imagine the autopsy and my wife's reaction.

While lying down trying to get back to sleep, it dawned on me what I had just done.

I had just inadvertently waterboarded myself. 

I will imagine that some people reading this will find my assertion ridiculous, but I was scared, confused, didn't feel like I had any control over what was going on, and just wanted to get oxygen into my lungs.  I will concede that what I went through wasn't sustained, and I did have free movement of my limbs and body, but subjects of waterboarding generally have an understanding of what is happening to them and have some chance to mentally prepare themselves for the ordeal. Also, I would guess that they will not be resting their head against the pillow for the next few nights wondering if it might happen again and hoping that they will wake up in time to prevent catastrophe if it does.

I thought about it last night. I will probably think about it again tonight, but I expect that the memory of this incident will be relatively fleeting and I will have forgotten the whole thing by next week. In the scale of life altering events, I don't think this even holds a candle to that time about 11 years ago when the wheels and hood of the Jeep Wrangler I was driving on an icy highway decided to switch places.

I always did agree with the Bush administration that waterboarding, at least the way conducted by our interrogators, was not torture, and having just gone through the experience I did, I am still resolute in that conviction. Was it pleasant? Not in the least, in fact, like I said, it was panic-inducing, but it was not actually painful. It could have been life altering in the ultimate way for me if I had not awoke when I did, but for the prisoners under interrogation that was never even an issue. All effects of the ordeal have completely disappeared, and I am none the worse for wear, just like the few subjects of waterboarding at Gitmo.

This has not really been a hot topic of discussion since it was revealed that enhanced interrogation techniques actually did help in tracking down bin Laden, but if it ever does become a topic of discussion, you can tell anybody who claims that waterboarding is definitely, beyond a doubt torture, you can tell them that you know of somebody who does that to himself in his sleep.


Women's History Month

Alright, why wasn't I informed earlier that March is Women's History Month? Does the fact that I live in Riyadh have anything to do with it? I realize that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not the biggest supporter of women's rights in the world, so that might explain why it is not advertised so much around here, but I would have thought somebody on Facebook or Twitter might have mentioned it before now.

There is only one way to remedy this situation. I must post about it on my blog.


Okay, since nobody, not even my wife or mother reads this blog, I am going to have to do more. I am going to let all the women in my life know just how much I appreciate them, and do what I can to help spread the word about the importance of history for women, or women in history, or historical things that have to do with women.

There is only one way to properly recognize Women's History Month, and that is by linking to the story that is, for better or worse, forever closely associated with womanly perfection.

So, for those who have not properly acknowledged Women's History Month this year, remember to take some time today to let the women in your life know how important they are to you. Maybe read an article about Susan B. Anthony.

And for all you wonderful ladies reading today...

Break's over. Get into the kitchen and don't come back out without a roast beef and swiss on a Kaiser roll, lots of mayo and just a smidgen of mustard. And no lettuce this time- save that rabbit food for those anorexic members of your garden club.

(I can write that with impunity. Why? I did mention that neither my wife nor mother reads this blog, didn't I?)


Murphy's Laws of Armor

Those of you who have faithfully been following my blog (you there, sitting next to Santa Claus) might recall that I linked to Murphy's Laws of Armor back in 2005. It was a file from Armor Magazine. I just saw another website had a post listing Murphy's Laws of Armor, and went back to look how they compared to what was listed on the original post. Unfortunately, that link is no longer active. It will send you to a blank area of the Ft. Knox page. Maybe they moved the article with everything else when they changed the home of Armor to Ft. Benning, GA about 6 years ago.

If you haven't read them in a while, they are a good read.


Athletic Student Union Questions

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board announced that the members of the Northwestern football team have the right to unionize. Peter Sung Ohr stated in his ruling that college athletes on scholarship should be considered employees of the school, and as such can form a union.

First, why is the NLRB the one making this decision in the first place? Is it not considered a conflict of interest for an agency to decide whether it get to expand its own scope? This is a decision that should have been made by a disinterested third party.

Next, how far reaching is this decision? The article I read stated that the ruling would not apply to state schools because they are out of the NLRB's jurisdiction, but what of athletes for sports outside of football? Can you say that football players can unionize because that sport rakes in the moolah, while the women's water polo team can't because it runs at a deficit? The ruling specified that athletes on scholarship are considered employees- what about walk-on students? Could they join the union also? In most universities, the football and men's basketball programs provide the revenue for all the sports programs at a school. What programs will have to be cut as a result of the extra expense a unionized football team will bring? Then again, if only students on athletic scholarship are considered employees, could schools get around that by restructuring things so it appears the scholarships are for something else?

Representatives of the proposed union state that they have goals of payment for sports-related medical expenses. This is fair, but should not take unionization to accomplish. They also want to cut down on head injuries. (Hey, why not all injuries?) This is pretty hard for a school to accomplish unilaterally. Will the players refuse to get on the field if the refs don't abide by special rules to keep their noggins from knocking? Then they state another possible goal of allowing student-athletes to pursue commercial sponsorships. This is a big red flag for me. Like it or not, unionized or not, the school and its athletic programs must conform to NCAA rules if it wants its teams to compete. How will conflicts between a union contract and NCAA rules be resolved? Will this lead to direct government oversight of the NCAA?

If the unionization comes to be, how will that affect recruitment? Right now, Northwestern is the only private university in the Big 10, so it will be the only school potentially affected by this new unionization reality. Will students be more attracted to unionized programs than non-unionized schools? Will private schools cut back the number of scholarships offered? I don't know. I really don't know what role unionization will play on a recruit's decision on where to matriculate. If the NCAA rules stay in effect, then I don't see much in the way of change, as payments and gifts to players will still be banned, and being unionized might not give those schools any real advantage.

There is also the possibility that administrations find unionized athletic programs less attractive to continue, though I would think that a non-unionized football program that earns over $23 million a year will still rake in some money after unionization, but at what costs to other programs?

Quite simply put, I am against unionization of college sports. I don't think that scholarship athletes are employees of the university any more than students on scholarship for academics are. I also think that having different rules for different schools or for different classes of athletes within a school is a recipe for disaster. It will have an adverse effect on competition and make rules of conduct for athletes much more difficult to enforce.

The administration at Northwestern University is appealing Ohr's decision. I do hope for the sake of  college athletics as a whole, that they get this decision overturned.

007 Reasons Bond Kicks Ass

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have viewed all the James Bond movies, the 23 by Eon Productions, plus the David Niven/Peter Sellers parody version of Casino Royale and the 1983 Connery movie Never Say Never Again. I even found a one hour version of Casino Royale that was done live on CBS in 1954 featuring Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre and Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond.

So, after all that Bonding, what do I have to say about the James Bond franchise?

Let's get it out of the way right at the start- these movies are mostly ridiculous. The situations, the stunts, the way he gets into and out of hot water. If you are looking for stark realism, you have definitely come to the wrong place. That being said, however, if you suspend disbelief just a smidgen (okay, sometimes quite a bit more than a smidgen,) you have a really entertaining franchise going for you.

So, here is a list of the 007 most awesome things about the James Bond movies, along with a corresponding groan inducing misstep, and a lament for what might have bee.

007- Awesome- The man can do anything. Just watch as he skis, scuba dives, flies planes and choppers, and drives like a NASCAR pro. At one point, he even uses the skid of a shot up snow mobile as a snow board. That's not even mentioning his prowess with the Walther PPK.

Groan Inducing- Attention to details. Alright, reality is not this movie series strong suit, yet there are some disbeliefs that are harder to suspend than others. In the original movie, Dr. No, before setting off onto Dr. No's fortress at Crab Key to find out exactly what the hell is going on there, Bond discusses with CIA Agent Felix Leiter the time crunch they are under. So, what is the first thing that Bond and Quarrel, the local who is assisting him, do when they get there? Hunker down to get some sleep. Good plan, James. I also had big problems with the scenes of all the soldiers on Ft. Knox falling over in response to Pussy Galore's pilots flying by, not the only because the message about faking the fainting would not get to all the soldiers, not only because there would inevitably be civilians around who were not informed of the plan and wouldn't react properly, but because it was expressly stated that the operation would be taking place on a Sunday, so none of those masses of troops would really be formed up doing drill and ceremony all throughout the post. (Sorry, 23 years in the Army, four and a half of them at Ft. Knox, make me a bit more sensitive to that one that most other people would be.)

Lament- Everybody has a favorite James Bond. For most people, that favorite James Bond is not George Lazenby. What of the actors who could have been Bond, but things just didn't work out? Many people know that Pierce Brosnan initially missed his chance to be James Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights because of obligations to filming his television show, but that narrow miss was rectified in 1995 with Goldeneye. What I am really thinking about is the initial casting of the role. Yes, the franchise hit it big when they put Connery in the role of 007, but among the candidates for the role was Cary Grant. Yes, Cary Grant was probably a bit long in the tooth when the franchise first started filming, but he had everything you could wish for in a Bond. He was suave. He was charming. He was good looking. He had the accent. (Alright, he really had a cockney accent, which absolutely would not do for bond, but he was really good at affecting an upper class accent also.) Cary Grant was everything you would want in James Bond. Who else could have stepped into the role but never got the chance? I think Daniel Craig has done a fine job in the role, but I think Clive Owen would have been a better choice.

006- Awesome- Mr. Bond is a man who is almost defined by his vices. Though he seemed to have given up smoking some time in the 1970's, James Bond always remained a drinker, almost to the point of alcoholism. But more than a mere drinker, he was a connoisseur of alcohol, preferring the Dom Perignon 1953 to the 1955, at least until Bollinger started the product placements in about the third movie. And his vodka martini was always shaken, not stirred, except for that one time in Goldfinger when it was said incorrectly. Actually, this one is a bit of a surprise, being that Bond is the most British of Brits, why would he prefer his martinis with vodka instead of gin, which is much more associated with England? Hell, a vodka martini isn't really a martini anyway, but it is still really cool that Bond likes to get his drink on. Then there is the gambling. For much of the series, baccarat was his game, though James could also be counted on to be successful at blackjack, and, more recently, poker. This, of course, ignores the random killings in which he is involved.

Groan Inducing- How many different members of the leadership of SPECTRE has Blofeld killed off? Why? Usually it is for some forgivable faux pas. Yes, if you are the leader of an evil organization, you probably will take violent action against somebody who is stealing from you, as was the case of "Number 9" at the beginning of Thunderball, but for simply not having your scheme go as expected because it was thwarted by the good guys, as happened to "Number 5" at the end of From Russia With Love is something else entirely. Sure, James Bond totally screwed up the entire scheme, so maybe a reprimand was in order, but death seemed a bit harsh, especially since he did have at least a partial point that his plans could have been better executed. Killing the leaders of your organization is not generally recommended for building cohesion. First of all, he was one of your top lieutenants for a reason, and is probably not going to be that easy to replace. Then there is the entire loyalty thing. If your underlings think you don't have their back through honest mistakes or failures, what do you think they will be doing when things start getting shaky? They will be looking to make a deal as quickly as possible with whoever it is that can protect them from you, that's what they are going to do. Yes, I understand that it reveals more about what type of organization SPECTRE is, and what type of leader Blofeld is, to kill off people at his whim because they let failed, but it doesn't seem like the best way to build an organization.

Lament- Shaky cam. Yes, this is a lament about the rebooted Bond franchise that started with Daniel Craig stepping into the role of Bond. From the first appearance of Sean Connery in Dr. No through Pierce Brosnan's final appearance in Die Another Day, everything that happened before was part of the legacy of Bond. That changed with Casino Royale. It was a brand new start to the series, with that exploit being Bond's first mission as 007. It is also, apparently, when they lost the budget for tripods. The action sequences have become much more garbled and confusing, and get filmed with the herky-jerky motions of a hand held camera. In addition to this, there are several more cuts per sequence often from several points of view, so one does not get the sense of continuity that one would from just putting the camera on a tripod with a wide view and letting the audience see what is developing.

005- Awesome- While there are many things for which you can fault the character of James Bond, what you can never deny is his devotion to England. The man is a patriot. Even in the events where he has disagreements with M about the what he should be doing, most notably in License to Kill, his devotion to protecting queen and country are admirable.

Groan Inducing- I understand, Bond is a British secret agent, so the stories have to be a bit Brit-centric, but in the modern world, how many of the schemes conjured up by the villains would really be concerns of the Brits that the Americans weren't all in trying to cover? Would Felix, the CIA spook, really have left it up to Bond to investigate Dr.No's Crab Key when it was NASA rockets being shot down? Would Elliot Carver have steered a British ship into violating Chinese territorial waters in Tomorrow Never Dies? I don't think so.

Lament- This series of movies needed a much better fight choreographer early on. Much of what was happening between the combatants in hand to hand combat scenes looked like the clumsy fumbling of under rehearsed extras in a zombie apocalypse flick. I realize it is probably hard to get people with only limited training in real fighting or martial arts to make things look like a tangle between Jet Li and Michael Jai White, but for most of the Connery/Lazenby/Moore and even a bit into the Dalton era, the fights were kind of disappointing. In fact, the best fight scene in the entire series didn't involve Bond at all. It was the fight in which Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yoeh, kicks the collective ass of about 5 assailants in Tomorrow Never Dies. The fight coordination improved when Timothy Dalton took over the role in The Living Daylights, and improved some more with Brosnan. I would say that the fights in which the current Bond,  Daniel Crag, finds himself do not have the artistic choreography of his two predecessors, but they do honestly convey brutality and one gets the sense that the combatants are playing for keeps when watching them.

004- Awesome- Theme songs. The James Bond theme itself is extremely cool, with the horns and guitar riff. Perhaps only Star Wars and Jaws have more iconic theme music. Then there are the theme songs that play over the opening and closing credits. The best of the bunch is "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney, with additional shout outs to "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me, and "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale. Obviously, not every song was a hit, but the music was usually on it, but sometimes you have to take a-ha's "The Living Daylights" to go with Adele's "Skyfall." The same theme song was usually played over both opening and closing credits, but for a few films in the Brosnan era, they had a different song for the start and the finish.

Groan Inducing- I am a great fan of the action sequences throughout the series, and am more than willing to turn off my disbelief for the sake of entertainment. I did, however, have a huge problem with seeing Bond use a parachute and a makeshift board to surf a tidal wave caused by a glacier collapse in Die Another Day. Yes, they established that James knew how to surf in the opening scene of that film, but it was really just too much. I think even Snake Plisken surfing the tidal wave in Escape From LA was more realistic. Normally when seeing a super stunt in the Bond flicks, my reaction is "That's cool!" even when Bond had to climb out of a helicopter in flight to get from the back passenger area to the pilot's seat to take the controls, but this time I saw what was on the screen in front of me and my reaction was "That's not happening."

Lament- Judi Dench continued her role as M in Casino Royale. As mentioned before, between Die Another Day and Casino Royale, the slate was wiped clean, and everything that came before no longer existed, as far as the James Bond universe was concerned. While Judi Dench did a fine job as M, I think keeping her on after the re-boot was a mistake. Not that she didn't do a wonderful job in the role, but a clean slate should have been a full clean slate. A different actor could have brought something to the role we hadn't seen before. I am looking forward to seeing what Ralph Fiennes does with the role as director of MI-6, and it is nice to see an actor of his reputation in the series, but I would have liked to have seen the change of actor earlier.

003- Awesome- Some say that you are known by the company you keep, others by the quality of your enemies. James Bond usually had a few doozies for villains. From the mysterious Dr. No swatting NASA rockets out of the sky to the shadowy organization known as SPECTRE with its leader Ernst Stravo Blofeld, these were people with big plans and cunning, sneaky and brutal ways of bringing them to fruition. Perhaps not every enemy had a nuclear device ready to blow, but there was always enough menace to make your knees quiver. That is before even mentioning the henchmen, who were often more memorable than the main villain of the film. Who can forget Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, or Oddjob from Goldfinger?

Groan Inducing- Why did it seem that the entire MI-6 headquarters was always shadowing Bond on his missions? Moneypenny, M and Q would show up everywhere, from a scuttled ship in Hong Kong to submarines in the middle of the ocean. I would have thought with the entire organization to run, and 8 other members of the double-oh series working other missions presumably just as important as the one Bond is conducting, why does it seem they are always popping up? Stay back in London and control things from there. A couple of encrypted message would usually be all that is required to get Bond the little background information you are able to give him.

Lament- Villains again. Didn't I just write that the villains are awesome? What is there to lament about the villains? Perhaps the quality of the actors playing the role. Blofeld was played by a few different actors in the flicks that actually showed his face. It would have been nice to keep a single one from one film to the next. But the quality of the actors playing the villains wasn't always the greatest. Playing a Bond villain is a big role, and should be able to garner some of the top names in the business. Yes, we get to see Telly Sevalas play Blofeld in one film, but who portrays the chief bad guy in For Your Eyes Only or Die Another Day? Would you not have preferred Claude Rains in the role of Auric Goldfinger? Would Robert De Nero not have been a better choice than Robert Carlyle in The World Is Not Enough? Also, occasionally the goal of the baddie is in need of some work. The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker had bad guys with basically the same scheme, kill off the planet so that the remaining few can live in what the baddie deems paradise, under the ocean in the former case, out in orbit in the latter. Who would I want to see as villains in the future? There is a lot of hype for Benedict Cumberbatch, who would be good if the situation is right, though he is getting a lot of exposure in villain roles elsewhere. I have thought that Idris Elba would make a great James Bond, so why not a great Bond villain? How would you like to see Jet Li as a henchman? There have not been very many women a the chief antagonist other than Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough. Maybe the time for Meryl Streep or Glenn Close has passed, but can we look forward to a scheming Milla Jovovich? Can I nominate Scarlet Johansson to have a scene torturing Bond?

002- Awesome- Where would James Bond be without all those gadgets? Yes, they are definitely on the fiction end of the science fiction spectrum, but who doesn't want a watch with a magnet strong enough to change the course of a bullet, or a car that shoots heat seeking missiles? In the first movie, Dr. No, the only thing Bond gets from Q is a Walther PPK. Bond does not want to trade in his Baretta for the Walther, but M would hear no objections and reminded Bond that he spent a good six months in the hospital because the Baretta had failed on him, so Bond reluctantly took it. Ever since that first upgrade, Bond has had to stroll through Q's developmental department in each new film, and Q is always acting annoyed by his presence and seeming lack of seriousness or regard for the equipment.

Groan Inducing- Everybody knows not only who James Bond is, but his MI-6 designation as 007. Every time an enemy has him in custody (which happens surprisingly often in the franchise) his captor reads off the dossier; "James Bond, double oh-seven, license to kill." How effective an agent could he really be if everybody knows that the man with the Universal Exports business card is really one of the elite of Britain's secret service? While he does not use his own secret designation as 007 when speaking to anybody outside of MI-6, he is not too careful about giving away the information about others. When strapped to the table in Auric Goldfinger's manse, he tells the villain he will never get away with his plans because they will just send 008 in his place anyway. He doesn't say "somebody else," he says specifically who they will send and what his MI-6 designation is. But it does seem that everywhere Bond goes, his reputation precedes him. I would have thought that he would make a lot better use of aliases, and keep his designation number a more closely guarded secret.

Lament- This is probably just an extension of my previous lament, but other than his fellow members of MI-6, there is not much continuity in casting for Bond roles. In particular, I am thinking of CIA agent Felix Leiter, who appears in 9 of the 23 Eon Production films and was played by 7 different actors. Jack Lord was the first to play him in Dr. No, but wanted too much to reprise the role in Goldfinger. Since then the character has bounced from actor to actor until License to Kill recalled David Hedison to the role after a 16 year break. In that film, the character is fed to sharks by a drug cartel and loses a leg. He is not seen again until the Casino Royale erased the history and allowed for the character to return, though not in as close a friendship with Bond as previously. Now Jeffery Wright has played the role twice, and could continue the with it in future films. It would have been nice to once or twice see a Bond girl reprise a role, but other than a few character actors, such as Robby Coltrane as a Russian gangster, you usually do not see too many actors reprising their roles in the James Bond movies.

001- Awesome- The Bond Girls. I love candy, and eye candy is no exception. You might have noticed that I left philandering out of the vices section earlier. That is because I had a premonition that this topic might appear later down the list. James Bond gets the girl. Always. He is the type of charmer to make a evil woman turn to gold, a frigid woman melt and a lesbian eschew the company of women. The only men in history who had an easier time with women are Elvis and Cassanova. And the women were always hot. Not local prom queen hot; we are talking lead melting hot on an international scale here. Interestingly enough, my favorite Bond girl appeared in the only movie with my least favorite Bond. Diana Rigg played the Contessa Teresa di Vicnezo. Not only was she my favorite Bond girl, but apparently she was also James Bond's favorite, as she was the only one who he married. Whoever your favorite is, you can pretty much be assured that the Bond girl, whatever her acting ability, whether she is an ally or an enemy or even a little of both, will be a delight to watch.

Groan Inducing- Okay, super evil genius criminal masterminds, what the hell is wrong with a bullet to the head? As much trouble as he causes your organizations, and as little as you all seem to have against killing, why is James Bond alive at the end of any movie? He is either in the villain's custody or control in pretty much every movie, but they all decide to keep him alive thinking that he will not be able to upset their plans. So, how'd that work out for all of you? I think the most egregious example of this is from Goldfinger. Bond is unconscious and in Goldfinger's control. At the time, Goldfinger just wants Bond dead. So, does he put a bullet in his brain and end it all there in one fell swoop? No. Goldfinger has Bond tied to a table so that he can regain consciousness and be cut in half with an industrial laser. Still, not a bad way to kill someone, if  bit delayed. The problem is that Goldfinger lets Bond talk him out of killing him, so Bond is alive and well to foil the plot to radiate the gold in Ft. Knox, making it unusable, which would shoot the price of gold up like a rocket, making Goldfinger a much richer person than he already was.

If you ever become a villain (not that such sweet, affable people as my readers would ever consider becoming villains, but, hey, mental diseases happen) and a goody two shoes (maybe too drunk and oversexed to be a real goody two shoes, but you get the drift) comes around trying to thwart your schemes of world domination, do not hesitate to bury the guy. Unless that guy is, as unlikely as it might be, me. If I come around attempting to thwart your evil schemes, just give up quietly and let me bring you in. It will be a lot less painful for all involved, (especially me.)

Lament- At one time in the early 1980's, Stephen Spielberg expressed his desire to direct a James Bond movie, though he said that he thought nobody would ever let him. Upon hearing this, George Lucas said that he had another option, and we have three wonderful (and one damned near god-awful) Indiana Jones movies as a result. My lament is not that Stephen Spielberg has never directed a Bond movie, because, to be honest with you, I really would not want to see that, but the men chosen to helm the Bond movies never seem to be on the A-list of directors. When I first started my binge watching earlier this month, I saw Dr. No and From Russia With Love and thought that it would have been absolutely awesome to see a 007 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. What kind of a take would Sam Peckinpah have on the franchise? Usually we end up with good films with a lot of action, but how would the world of Bond look if we handed the megaphone to some of the really top tier director talent available? I have read that the producers really don't want to give up the control of the franchise that top directors would require, which is what I really lament.


64 Problems but Ukraine Ain't One

The headline might be a bit misleading, as I am not going to write about Ukraine. I am not really going to be writing about the NCAA Men's College Basketball Championship either, except tangentially. I just a few minutes ago saw a tweet from the OFA account that uses Obama's name and it quoted the president as lamenting that, by only being able to pick one winner, the fans of the other 63 colleges involved would be mad at him.

Poor, tormented Mr. Obama.

So, we see that the President has filled out his brackets for March Madness, and we all expect that he will be embarrassingly wrong with his predictions. I don't see anybody really getting upset over his predictions either, because whether or not you find the fact that he thinks your favorite team to go our in the first round, they have no influence over the actual games. At the end of the tournament, we will look back at his brackets and have a good laugh at his expense. Some will laugh louder than others, but nobody really thinks that the President's predictions should be taken seriously, not even those suffering from the deluded belief that Obama is the most supreme super-genius to ever occupy the White House. That is truly a good thing.

 I saw the tweet from the Barrack Obama account earlier and thought, "Don't be such a baby. So people get upset over what is essentially a meaningless distraction. The results of the actual games will either vindicate you or your detractors, no harm done." No harm done, because we are in America and sports are a fun and the Presidential Brackets are but a meaningless distraction. Could you imagine a scenario where the leader's predictions of sports outcomes were to be taken seriously? Say that Iraq had their final 64 tournament about to kick off and Saddam published his bracket. Would the players take his predictions to be more than a fun outlet? How much influence would this have on the players on the court or the outcome of the game? I used to hear rumors that the Hussein sons would torture athletes who mad poor showings in international competitions; what if national competitions were also given the same importance?

Alright, the scenario where a dictator makes his predictions and the games then turn out according to those predictions because the players fear the retribution that could take place for those who dare mock la grande fromage by losing at the wrong time or beating a team to which you were supposed to lose is incredibly hyperbolic. Still, it is nice to think that we are living in a world where the desires of  the ruling class do not really affect many of the mundane aspects of life.


Little Ado About Everything

Yes, once again I have allowed myself to neglect this little blog for too long. I usually write out longer posts on a single subject, but this time I am going to attempt to hit a lot of subjects really quickly. machine gun style.

At this point, I don't see how Ukraine keeps Crimea. They don't have the werewithal to keep Russia from snatching it, and the EU, and US sure aren't going to stand up to Putin over that little bit of land. What we should be doing immediately is easing regulations here to make it easier to drill and gather natural gas, and allow its export to Europe. As long as Russia can monopolize the energy supplies of Europe, the EU will be perfectly willing to throw Baltic and Balkan states under the bus to keep from a confrontation. An alternative supply of energy sources probably won't be enough to stiffen Western Europe's spine, but without it there is no way they will be willing to take any actions.

Flight MH370. Weird story that sounds like it could only be a story on Coast to Coast radio. I initially assumed it went into the water, but even if it was whole when it went down, the impact on the water would probably have left some debris. The Pacific Ocean is a big place, so a crash is still my default assumption, but word getting out that the engines were still sending signals for hours after it disappeared from radar is freaky. How low would it have to fly to be below radar detection? 

Florida 13 Special Election. I have not gotten in the weeds about the candidates in the race, and I am rather happy that the Republican won, but I get the impression that Jolly really is not the type of person I really want to see in Congress. I realize that Congress is, always has been and always will be filled with douchebags, and generally even the douchiest Republican will be better for the country than an angelic Democrat, but we should take no pleasure in sending questionable people just because of their party affiliation.

Speaking of douchebag Congressmen, what is up with that crybaby Cummings? The meeting was over, and he acted like an undisciplined child in Toys R Us who was just told he can't have a new G. I. Joe. The real question I have is why did Issa recall Lerner if she wasn't going to say anything?

Rugby- RBS Six Nations has its final matches this weekend. If Ireland beats France, they have take the trophy. If they don't, then it looks like England will win the championship. The Ireland vs. France match up should be the most competitive game this weekend- look for England to stomp Italy and Wales to beat Scotland by at least two tries. If form from the fourth round of play keeps up, the Ireland/ France game might not be all that competitive either. I just plan on sitting back and enjoying the games if my internet stays connected and my livestream doesn't konk out.

Alright people, have a good day. Remember, being awesome isn't just a state of mind, but you can't be awesome with a inferior mental attitude.


The Cost of Not Expanding Freedom

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062 last week, which is labeled "An Act Relating to the Free Exercise of Religion". It was passed seemingly in response to court cases in other states that mandate businesses to provide services for events they find violate their religious tenets, including the case of a baker in Colorado who was told he must provide wedding cakes for the weddings of gay couples. 

I have read claims likening this bill to the re-institution of Jim Crow laws, and the belief that this bill becoming law will usher in widespread discrimination against gays, and possibly other groups. People who support this bill state that it protects the religious freedom of business owners.

This situation reminds me of a not as well known controversy from about seven years ago. Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport would refuse service to people carrying alcohol, stating that transporting alcohol would violate their religious beliefs. The Metropolitan Airports Commission there even went so far as to impose a thirty day suspension of a cab driver's license if they refused to pick up a passenger for having alcohol, which was upheld by a state appeals court.

Honestly, I don't see the big deal in a cabbie at an airport refusing service, since there are usually a myriad of taxis waiting to transport passengers at airports and if one cabby refuses you, the next one is just as good. Even if the percentage of Muslims driving cabs in Minnesota is so high that some passengers with a bottle had to wait up to 20 minutes to find a cab willing to take them to their destination, is the time inconvenience for these people really any less egregious than the inconvenience the cab drivers suffered for having to transport the alcohol?

Almost everywhere you go, there are competing interests vying for your business. If one florist doesn't want to provide petunias for your party, go to the one next door or across town. There are plenty of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers to fulfill everybody's needs, so you shouldn't have to sue one to get what you want. I personally would not want to give my money to somebody who didn't want to serve me anyway, and I would be sure to tell all my friends, family and whatever random strangers will lend me an ear all about that business's disdainful lack of service.

I see the overarching principle at stake here as one of personal freedom. If the government forces a person or business into conducting any transaction, that is a violation of their personal rights. It is not even a matter of asserting a religious conviction, just a personal preference. This right of association is a personal right, and does not extend to the government itself, or governmental agencies and employees. While a priest can refuse to officiate at a gay wedding, a clerk of court cannot refuse to certify the marriage certificate in jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal.

Just as there are limits on the right to free speech, (I am sure you are all familiar with the old crowded theater trope by now,) there are limits to this freedom of service. While it is perfectly acceptable for a doctor to refuse perform abortions, he should not be allowed to withhold needed care for a woman because of complications from an abortion performed by another doctor, and an ambulance driver should not be allowed to deny transportation for any reason other than immediate personal safety. However, the general principle is that people should be left alone to choose who they associate with, whether for business or social reasons, without any government interference.

Not everybody believes that businesses have the right to deny service. There have been threatened boycotts of Arizona if this bill becomes law.

Allow that to sink in for a moment before I continue.

There are people who are threatening to boycott Arizona over this bill, and they don't find it to be a violation of logic.

People who want to boycott Arizona over SB 1062 are basically asserting their right (and it is undoubtedly their right) to decline doing business with or in the state because they find it morally wrong for the state to say its residents have the right to decline doing business with those they find whose actions are morally wrong.

The proposed boycott seems to have a good chance of keeping this bill from becoming law. In fact, because of the boycott threats, especially an implied threat from the NFL that the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played in Arizona in 2015, could have a change of venue if the bill becomes law, has influenced three members of the Arizona Senate to write a letter to Governor Jan Brewer asking that she veto the bill.

I have read the text of Arizona's SB 1062. Why is it so controversial? Reading the actual bill, I couldn't tell you. It does not substantially change the law in any way other than to clarify that the use of that particular part of the Arizona Revised Statutes (the state law) can be used in trials that do not involve the state, state agencies or subordinate governments (e.g. county governments). It also clarifies what a person must establish (which I read as a synonym for "prove") in order to invoke the statute. This is where I have to really question the purpose of even passing this bill. Does it really expand or safeguard personal freedom? I do not see that it does. Does it encourage discrimination as opponents of the bill claim? I would say it no more encourages discrimination than the current law does.

I am not a lawyer, and have not followed the cases of the Muslim cabbies and Christian baker, or the few other related cases, closely enough to know what laws the states those cases were litigated in have on the books that purport to protect the religious rights of businesses, and I honestly don't know how much of a real effect this law will have on day to day life. It would seem to me, it should not really change much one way or the other. As I already wrote, it appears to only extend existing law to one's interactions with other private citizens, and I don't see why one should be compelled to violate one's conscience in service to other citizens if one cannot be compelled to do so in service to the state.

So, my final take on SB 1062 is that its intent is perfectly reasonable in hoping to protect the rights of Arizonans (Arizonians? Those sun-burnt kids and the retirees?) The people in support of the bill have a better moral case in that matter than those who oppose the bill. However, I do not believe that the statute as amended by this bill really expands or safeguards religious freedom any more than the statute as currently written does.

Not only do I see the bill unnecessary for this reason,but also I would take into account that three of its supporters in the senate have, for all intents and purposes, changed their vote on the bill after the fact. The margin of victory was 17-13. If we now consider these senators as having changed their vote, the new margin would be a 14-16 failure. For these reasons, I think that Governor Brewer should veto the bill.

I do not see the efficacy of signing the bill into law as it is. The minimal benefits of the bill are not worth the probable costs that will result from the expected boycotts of tourism and business transactions. I do not see a purpose of starting a war when the entire purpose of the battle would be to re-establish the status quo antebellum.


Sticks, Stones and a Blindside Tackle May Break My Bones...

I read a report on ESPN's website, or mobile site, or some site claiming an affiliation with ESPN, that the NFL is considering instituting a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for use of racial slurs. Actually, the story pretty much states one epithet in particular. It is a bit uncertain whether the penalty would be invoked for all ethnic/homophobic phrases.

My initial reaction upon reading this was, as long as you can still tell another player that you are going to run down to the red light district and pay $15 dollars to violate his mother after the game, there really shouldn't be a problem.

I try to avoid the use of ethnic slurs and demeaning language, and support efforts to cut them back, but trying to penalize players for what they say to one another on the field is a bit on the ridiculous side. Nobody likes to be called names, and nobody likes to be talked down to, but you should know when stepping out on the field that, along with the possibility of being injured, there is a good chance that the players on the other team will be saying mean things to you in hopes of breaking your concentration. Part of your job as a competitor it to ignore it and carry on with the task at hand.

There is also the question of how far is the league going to even try to take this. The article to which I linked only referred to one particular slur, but mentioned the rules committee could discuss others. Will they differentiate between uses of that word? Will an African-American player who says the word but pronounces it with an "a" get the same penalty as a European-American who annunciates the "er" ending? Does this mean we can expect the home team to get penalized if a song by the collective band of  Easy E, Dr. Dre and Ice T is played over the stadium PA system?

More than that, suppose a cornerback tells a receiver, "You ain't getting by me, boy." Is that going to warrant a yellow flag? If a nose tackle tries to get an offensive guard discombobulated by telling him "Wow, those pants really do show off your assets, baby," will that get the ref's whistle blasting?  Should a player be kicked out of the game for asking an opponent who is complaining to the side judge after every play, "Does that whine go with cheese and a cracker?"

I honestly don't know how much of a problem this really is in the NFL right now anyway. I am not anywhere near the playing fields during the games, so I don't know what they really say. I know that bullying has become a visible issue as a result of Richie Incognito's bullying of Jonathan Martin, so the league probably feels some pressure to do something about the situation, but that was mostly in the locker room and the practice field and the game time rule would not have much effect on that. Having spent over twenty years in the military and knowing what we would kid each other about, and remembering how we would refer to the enemy, I can imagine that participants in a violent game might be prone to a few off color remarks occasionally, especially during tense situations.

Should players be more respectful of one another and just shut up and play the game? Of course they should. Efforts toward increasing sportsmanship during sports is a great idea, but to invoke such a severe penalty against a player and his team for something that does no real harm to other players and gives no undue advantage to his own team is taking it too far. This isn't Scrabble. Let the players' actions decide the outcome of the game, not their words.


Have a Happy Birthday, George

You might call it President's Day, but the official designation of the holiday is George Washington's Birthday. Go see Frank Fleming at IMAO for the details.

And George Washington would kick Napoleon's ass in a fight any day.


Oil Shocks

I would have been less surprised to learn that bigfoot is real than to read what I did in an op-ed by Yousuf Al-Khuwailit in yesterday's Saudi Gazette.

The article was titled An Impending Danger and was basic boilerplate that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia needs to take steps to become more responsible in its use of energy resources. This is a basic awareness-raising article that people in the US have been used to seeing forever, and was no real surprise to see here in Saudi Arabia. The surprising part was the third sentence of the article:
There are also dangerous indexes that indicate we might become importers of oil instead of exporters within the next two decades.

Saudi Arabia importing oil? The very thought is unfathomable. According to US Energy Information Administration figures and my calculator, Saudi Arabia's daily oil consumption is less than 1/4 of its daily oil production. Those figures are through 2012, but I think the ratio is has not changed much in the last 14 months. There are warnings from Saudi Aramco, the country's oil company, that energy needs in the Kingdom are about to dramatically increase, but to quadruple in two decades?

What does that mean for the United States? The U.S. is currently experiencing an oil boom, with improved methods of gathering (fracking and horizontal drilling) that allow for the exploitation of previously unreachable oil supplies. A country that as recently as 2012 imported over 7 million barrels of oil a day (US EIA figures again-those numbers are coming in handy) is now considering relaxing its ban on exporting oil that has been in place. This is all taking place while an administration that is, if not openly hostile to oil production increases, not going out of its way to be supportive of any fossil fuel industry.

This is a great time for the United States to exploit our resources, and to be ready to expand on our production. Yes, improved technology and alternative sources of energy are nice to have, but when the opportunity to increase jobs, and cut into our normal trade deficit comes along, we should do all we can to take advantage of it.

Ability Is Not Enough

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
                                                                                                             - Calvin Coolidge

Todd Kincannon mentioned on Twitter that Mark Wohlers is the hardest throwing person on the planet. That and the opening of Spring Training put me in a mind to write about Steve Dalkowski, who most likely actually was the hardest throwing person on the planet.

How hard did he throw? Let me put it this way- the man is legendary in baseball circles for the speed of his fastball, despite the fact he never played in the majors. How many people become minor league legends? (I saw Minor League Legends open for Depeche Mode in '94.)

During the course of research to refresh my mind on the stories about Dalkowski, I decided against writing a full post about him, for the simple fact that the post I intended write was already done seven years ago by Steve Treder at The Hardball Times.

Looking again at the story of Steve Dalkowski does bring to mind a couple of questions though. Dalkowski had an amazing gift in his arm, but what came of it? Instead of the fortune and fame a gift like that could have garnered if properly focused, he has become a cautionary tale of what might have been. Perhaps some of his raw ability to throw a baseball was contravened with a possibly below average intellect, but even a desire to succeed resulted in working on his craft instead of relying solely on natural talent would have helped. Maybe if Dalkowski had been able to focus himself to the job of pitching not only when he was on the mound, but also when he was away from the field, we would be reading an entirely different baseball record book today.

Focus is one of the most difficult things to maintain, and there is really no Viagra type pill to keep up motivation. But successful people seem to have the common denominator of tenacious desire to succeed and the wherewithal to do whatever it takes to achieve it. This will to succeed can spill overshadow other aspects of life.

To stay with the sports theme, Michael Jordan is given remarkable natural ability to run, jump and shoot a basketball. So was Allen Iverson. Michael Jordan was known to be the first one at practice and the last to leave. Iverson is best known for whining that his coach expected him to work during practice. Which one do you think has 6 NBA Championships to his credit?

But it is not just on the playing field and practice court that success is created. You must actively avoid harming your chances at success. Treder's article shows how drinking ruined not just Dalkowski's career, but his entire life. Similarly, you see very few CEO's talking like Spicolli or Jay and Silent Bob (okay, just Jay. Silent Bob doesn't really talk much and doesn't sound like much of a stoner when he does.)

While this is a lesson best learned during the formative years of childhood, it is still better late than never. So, people, get it in gear, straighten up and fly right, and don't just dream, but set goals. Once goals are set, get to work. Achievement is a matter of sweat.


My Favorite Item from the Bill of Rights

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
                                                                              Constitution of the United States, Amendment III

I love the Third Amendment.

It is not at all controversial. Only once in the history of the United States has the Third Amendment been used to decide  court case (Engbloom v. Carey, 2nd Circuit, 1982.) There have in reality been violations of the amendment, usually when lands and buildings are used without the requisite legislation during wartime, but the Third Amendment has generally been well respected  by the government.

If restrictions on the quartering of troops are so uncontroversial and nobody ever thinks to put soldiers in private homes anyway, the strawman I am constructing just asked, then why even bother having an amendment to cover it?

Quartering of soldiers was a fact of life during the colonial times. Families had to give up living space, or space that could have been used to earn money renting to boarders, to make room for uninvited Redcoat guests. Let me assure you, despite the image created on screen of soldiers in highly maintained rooms who make their beds so coins can bounce off them and who are absolutely adamant about placing everything exactly where it belongs, soldiers in real life are not always the people you want as a roommate. Soldiers get to be loud and obnoxious. For them, drinking is a sport, and soldiers coming home late and none too quietly is not unheard of. Is this type of soldier typical? Honestly, no, most soldiers are great friends and companions, but there are enough of the sluggard type to say it is not really unusual.

It is not just the forced cohabitation with a low life that is the problem. The very fact that somebody has been placed in your house against your will is unsettling. Having a soldier in the house could seem like you are being monitored, like you are living under surveillance, as a tourist in  communist country might have a handler while over there. If you had a Redcoat at your dining room table, do you really think you would be free criticize King George? If you had a soldier watching the evening news with you each night, would you be as quick to complain about President Obama?

Memories of this time before the Revolution lingered, so when it came time for the first Congress to get around to adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, quartering of troops was still a violation remembered by many in the young country, which explains its inclusion in the Bill of Rights. So, while there was a reluctance for that Congress to put soldiers into private homes anyway, they wanted to ensure that is would not happen to future generations. They also wanted to ensure the populace that the national government could be trusted to safeguard their rights.

I like that the Bill of Rights a covers items that we no longer even think of as targets for violation. I think that the country would be much better off if we had more of the amendments from the Bill of Rights that we viewed in the same way.


Wi-Fi Sigh

"In a country where we demand free wi-fi with our coffee, we should certainly demand it in our schools."
                                                                                      -Barrack Obama

Does he realize that most students don't even drink coffee?

Not really funny, but when it comes to education reform, wi-fi in schools is hardly a priority, though the folks at OFA who run Obama's Twitter account seem to want #Connected to trend today, so they are touting some of the president's ideas. In addition to the wi-fi, they want paid more funding for expanded pre-K.

In a normal school though the high school level, I don't see what difference Wi-Fi would make to education. Most classes at those levels do not require a bunch of research, and the students should be learning how to conduct research using print media anyway. Teach them the basic research skills before expanding.

This is not to say that wi-fi and expanded internet access cannot be helpful to education, but to deem it a necessity, or even a priority, is a mistake. Yes Google and even Wikipedia can be great research tools, but honestly, the biggest use student would get out of wi-fi would be the ability to update their Facebook status without biting into the data allotment on their calling plan.

The expanded pre-K plan has its own problems. Any educational benefits from pre-K disappear after just a few years, meaning that, by the time they reach third or fourth grade, children who attend pre-K do not seem to perform better than students who did not attend pre-K. With this in mind, is it really a good use of public funds to expand a program with very little, if any real benefit?

There are reforms that can be encouraged that would help education, but for some reason the president does not seem to be as interested in them. I am not going to say definitively that the reason is the NEA, but I am not going to discourage anybody from inferring it. One basic reform is encouraging school choice through voucher or alternate funding programs. While Oliver Brown might have sued the Topeka Board of Education to allow his daughter to attend the nearest school, today many parents see better opportunities in schools that might not be right around the corner. They should be allowed to place their children in the schools that best suit their preferences.

Basically, I want to see whatever money we do spend on education to make a difference for out students. Wi-fi might be a nice for schools to have, but it is not necessary, and should not be a spending priority.


Feeling Far Away From Home

Some things that I thought I would miss about home while I am working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia turned out to be not all that significant. The lack of alcohol doesn't bother me as much as I thought it might. Yes, being able to come home from work and have a beer is always a wonderful, almost magical,  thing, but it isn't as necessary as I once believed. Pork products (not only bacon, but also the schnitzel that I make at least once a month) are a little bit harder to do without. Other things that I did not even consider to be important when I hopped on that airplane to leave the States seem to make me yearn to be back in my homeland more than I imagined. Super Bowl Sunday is one of those times.

I was in the Army for over twenty years, so this is not my first time out of the country. I had a good idea what it was going to be like to be separated from family, but every time I leave the States, different things bring my longings for home. This time, it's the Super Bowl.

After retiring from the Army, I discovered that the skill set I had developed during my time of service translated pretty well to a job working in Saudi Arabia helping their National Guard develop training programs. In fact, my skill set seemed to match so well, I did not even go through an interview process. Upon seeing my resume and application, I was offered a position contingent on being able to pass a physical and acquire a visa.

I had seen a company representative at job fairs on two different military posts and had assumed that multiple positions at the company would actually be a pretty good fit for me, but I did have some concerns. There were the obvious family concerns about living in a foreign land while leaving behind my wife, plus our grandchildren. The youngest had her first birthday about a week after I left. I also was not exactly sure that I wanted to expose myself to the Saudi culture, with its very strict adherence to Sharia laws.

There was also the concern about whether I really wanted to take a job helping the Saudi military. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Usama bin Laden and was home of a majority of the 9-11 hijackers. Looking into it, the kingdom actually has been a pretty decent ally of the U.S. In fact, since being here, it has been Saudi Arabia getting disappointed with the actions of the U.S. in regards to Syria and Iran that have caused most of the diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

Obviously, I took the position, because I am here now. The company I work for has us all living on a single compound that is in many way similar to a military compound. We stay in a walled, limited access compound with our apartments and some recreational facilities inside. The compound is protected with company hired security and is watched by the Saudi Arabia National Guard. The company provides internet access, but limits daily data usage. Cable television is also available, though I have not brought a television. I get my entertainment through websites and movies from the DVD library. Also, thanks to Vonage, I can spend hours a day speaking with my wife back at home, thought the 8 hour time difference means our schedules don't mesh all that well.

Because I live on the compound, the culture shock aspect of the move has been greatly diminished. I have to commute every day through the world's worst traffic (the highway fatality numbers here are well over double, almost 21/2 times that of Texas, which has a similar population), but work with Americans at the office. Generally the only time I venture off the compound otherwise is to go grocery shopping two or three Saturdays a month.

The most frustrating thing about being over here has got to be the time zone difference. About thirty one hours from now, the Super Bowl will be kicking off. I will just be getting up and ready to go to work. Between the early hours we keep at work and the time zone difference, I will probably be on my morning commute for at least a quarter of the game. That's if I can find someplace to watch it online. I really don't care about who wins the game, though either way I want to see a Richard Sherman post game interview. But more than that, even if I were able to sit and watch the game, I would still be missing out on all the commercials.

I know, generally the commercials are a good time for a bathroom break, but this is the Super Bowl. The commercials have become a cultural phenomenon all their own now. Some of the most poignant and impressive uses of any visual medium will be on display for all to see. (You can agree that the Dodge commercial featuring the Paul Harvey "God created a farmer" voiceover and the Budweiser Clydesdale reunion commercial were both vastly more entertaining than Transformers 2 or any episode of Girls.)  Except me, because whatever channel shows the Super Bowl over here will not be showing the American commercials.

And where am I supposed to catch the Puppy Bowl? Missing the Puppy Bowl is one of the true outrages of being overseas. Yes, most television events I can do without. The awards shows haven't interested me in twenty years, and I never much cared for basketball, so, for me, missing March Madness matters minimally. I seem to only take the World Series seriously when a Chicago team is playing (so, almost never.) I will be trying to follow the Olympics starting next week, and there are regular series that I can't keep up with now (when does The Walking Dead return?) But missing the Super Bowl and the Puppy Bowl is pretty bleak.

Other than Christmas and my  and my wife's shared birthday, there is really no time of the year that I miss being in the States more than this weekend. Of course, I still have quite some time left over here. I know that St. Patrick's Day, my anniversary, and Independence Day are still on the horizon for me. I know that those days will make me long for the States again, but, like the Super Bowl, I wonder what other events will trigger my homesickness.


Assorted Notes About State of the Union

"The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress."

Who else noticed that some of the progress that the president pointed out was not really all that impressive when you look at it closely. Yes, the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in 5 years, but the labor force percentage is the lowest it has been in over 35 years.

Then there is the oil boom of the last few years. This is not a result of administration policies, but in spite of them. New technologies have given us (well, not you and me "us," unless you happen to be a engineer for Exxon or BP, but "us" as in the country) the ability to drill oil from wells that were inaccessible just a few years ago.

Even the line about our deficits being cut by half is not really all that impressive when you look at it. First off, what year is he using as a baseline? Weren't 2008 and 2009 really incredibly bad years for deficits because of TARP and the stimulus (Didn't Tarp and the Stimulus open for Fall Out Boy at Ravinia in '03?) Cutting in half a redwood still leaves a lot of lumber to deal with.

"Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home."

I agree that corporate tax rates do need to be cut. Ours are among the highest in the world right now and could easily be cut in half. In fact, I would even be happy to see a tax amnesty for companies bringing money that they have money earned overseas here to be invested in the U.S.

I must admit that I sense a bit of disingenuousness in the president on this one. I really don't think he is all that interested in cutting business taxes or making it easier for them to re-locate to the U.S. And when he says ending loopholes, what he really means is seeing companies pay more for their foreign investments. This tactic is much more stick than carrot. Besides, when you have a National Labor Relations Board that vetoes Boeing opening up a plant in North Carolina, you can hardly be said to have a real interest in attracting investors or creating jobs. If you are going to treat domestic businesses that shabbily, why would foreign investors want to come here?

"Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs..."

Here President Obama is still speaking about the tax reform to close the loopholes that encourage companies to move operations overseas. He wants to use that money to help build better infrastructure.  I just want to point out that tax reform does not save the government any money, and it is contemptible to even suggest so. There is only one way to save money, and that is to not spend it. Either you forgo certain goods or services so you can keep the money, or you find those goods and services for a cheaper price. What the president really means here is that we can use money from increased tax revenues for other purposes.  Please note that this is the same paragraph that the president promises to cut back on bureaucracy to streamline projects getting approved. I honestly think that bureaucracy is on President Obama's list of "My Five Favorite Things in the World."

"Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do."

 Once again the President is speaking like all money that you or a company does not pay in taxes is a gift from the government. If you think that oil, coal and natural gas companies aren't paying their fair share of taxes, say so, but don't say the tax code is giving them money.  It is particularly galling in this instance, since more of the money you pay for a gallon of gas goes to the government than to oil company profits. Are there actual direct subsidies to fossil fuel companies? Yes, but they don't amount to $4 billion, and they would not be ended by "a smarter tax policy."

There is also the matter that subsidizing any industry has its problems. The price of corn is artificially high because of subsidies for ethanol, (companies developing ethanol pay more for the corn, meaning all corn prices go up.) even though, as energy sources go, ethanol is terrible. Not just bad, but terrible. I mean the type of terrible that needs to be said in Charles Barkley's voice. This actually effects the price of all food, as farmers see the profitability of corn and switch from other crops, like wheat, to grow corn. Now there is less wheat available so the cost goes up. Also, as far as subsidies go, wind and solar power get far more in subsidies per kilowatt hour produced than any fossil fuel.

"Today, women make up about half our workforce.  But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work."

First of all, female advisors in the White House earn less than the males. Remove the beam from your own eye before trying to get the speck out of your brother's eye. That 77% is a bit misleading. Outside of he White House, males and females with the same job experience and same degree of responsibility tend to get paid about even.

"In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty."

So he is going to sign an executive order that affects absolutely nobody. Government contractor jobs aren't generally the type that pay minimum wage, even to the people who wash dishes in military dining facilities. For the private sector, there is always the possibility that an increase in the minimum wage means fewer jobs. In a business that has ten minimum wage employees, the cost for the business in wages will be about $80.00 an hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour will raise those costs to about $110.00 an hour.  To keep costs about the same, the company would have to fire three employees, or they could raise prices to try to cover the difference, or a combination of the two.What happens if raising prices causes business to slack off? Would the loss of revenue result in even more lost jobs?

"Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote." 

Then you should support Voter ID laws.
This is not because identification makes it more difficult to vote, but because it helps prevent fraud and gives people the assurance of a fairly run election.

Personally, I think we are trying to make it too easy to cast a ballot these days. While I can find a way to grudgingly tolerate "early voting," (even though it does put the local precincts in a jam to get volunteers, or even paid personnel, to man the polls,) I do not like the idea of computer voting. That is just a situation begging for fraud.

My ideal situation is for all states to periodically clear out the voting registration records and require everybody to register every few years. Citizens would be required to actually show up at the town hall or courthouse to register. No motor voter, no ACORN voter registration drives that are carnivals of fraud.

To go with this, I would like to see states waive fees for vital records. There is already a requirement for states to issue free identification cards if they require ID at the polls to vote, but they need to go further than that. Sometimes vital records are hard to acquire, so replacement birth certificates should also be free.

I support better methods for ensuring military members and people traveling away from home get the chance to vote by absentee ballot, but there needs to be safeguards to ensure that these ballots are not abused.

"When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Iraq."

And now al Qaeda has control of Fallujah.

Besides Fallujah, the president also seemed to neglect the fact that there have been two separate accidents recently that involved trains carrying oil. It sure would be nice if that Keystone XL pipeline were build to avoid that type of thing. No mention of the numerous people who had health insurance a month ago who no longer do. Nothing about the NSA (yes, he gave a speech on the subject last week, but this is the SOTU, it deserved mention.) No mention of the IRS targeting conservative groups. Surprisingly, when he was speaking about his hopes to do an end around the 2nd Amendment, he didn't say anything about stand your ground laws, and he didn't try to twerk, so it could have been worse.

The only part of the speech that was really worth paying attention to was the end when he was speaking about SFC Cory Remsburg. Obama actually did a pretty good job at speaking out about SFC Remsburg, his service and his struggles and courage during recovery. It was a very nice tribute to a the man, and a wonderful way to end a long, droning, not overly well delivered speech.


Party Time-SOTU vs. Super Bowl

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this week we have two great party events, so make your preparations. Okay, technically the Super Bowl is next week, but party prep has to be done this week, so I am counting it. So, to be sure your party is a big success, you should probably consider which one of these events better matches the style of party you want to host. To help you out, let us look at some of the differences between a Super Bowl shindig and a State of the Union soiree.

First, have a look at attire. At a SOTU party, you get bonus points for a Windsor knot. At a Super Bowl party, the only thing that should be knotted are the pretzels.

To be well dressed at a SOTU party, look to what the audience at the event wears. Suits for most of the men and some of the women, conservative dresses for the rest of the women and a few of the men. Robes for the Supreme Court justices, but that does not mean to go looking through your closets for that Harry Potter costume from three Halloweens ago. For the party, follow tradition Suit and tie or conservative dress, no décolletage, please. You should also be able to pull off dress pants and a blazer. If you want to be really daring, see if you can get away with khakis and a sweater vest.

For the Super Bowl party, most of the crowd at the stadium will be looking like Eskimos. Since most parties will be taking place inside, this is probably not necessary. Wear a comfortable pair of jeans with a nice polo or t-shirt, even better if you can wear a football jersey over the polo. Do not go out and purchase any special attire to commemorate the event or of either of the participating teams. If you are a fan of either the Broncos or the Seahawks, of course dress in your team colors. If you support another franchise, too bad. Your team sucks and is not playing in the Super Bowl, so leave your Cleveland Browns shirt at home. If you want to be really daring, see if you can get away with khakis and a sweater vest.

Next, food choices. If you are at a SOTU party, expect to see some brie and water crackers. Yes, I realize that you are not a big fan of brie and water crackers. In reality, nobody is a fan of brie and water crackers, but we are trying to set a certain ambiance here, and that ambiance requires brie and water crackers. Also appropriate for this type of get together would be a vegetable tray, and maybe some shrimp cocktails. Remember, boring but serviceable. The food should be there for a quick nosh, but not tasty enough to distract you from the conversation. You are there for the speech, not the munchies, so eat before you arrive.

At a Super Bowl party, the food is a big part of the socializing. All manner of chips (potato, corn, tortilla) and dips (onion, queso, salsa) and similar items (pretzels, peanuts) should be available. There can be more substantial items too, such as sandwich platters and Buffalo wings. Pizzas are always nice. It is also possible to go a bit non-traditional, by providing quesadillas or egg rolls. The point is, you should be looking at having a lot of food with a large variety.

One final note on food- bacon is always appropriate no matter what the occasion (with the possible exception of a bar mitzvah or bris.)

Liquid refreshment- that would be the drinks. For the State of the Union, a nice red wine. I would suggest a good cabernet. You may serve a nice bourbon or other American whiskey, but please avoid the scotch- this is the POTUS talking to the United States Congress, so even if a good deal of the speech is spent discussing foreign policy and immigration, keep the booze domestic and protect our borders. (Of course, a martini is a timeless classic appropriate for any occasion.)

For the Super Bowl, lets have a beer. Let's have another one. Once again, celebrate your country by keeping it domestic. The big breweries will do a lot to entertain you during the commercial breaks, so don't feel ashamed to support them, but don't feel beholden. It is perfectly fine to purchase a local or regional brand.  Please remember that your guests are there to enjoy the football game, so this might not be the time to introduce them to the craft rutabaga infused pale ale that you discovered while antiquing last June. Good old, regular lagers and pilsners, please. And nothing that says "Light" or "lite" or "ultra" or gives any other indication that caloric intake was in any way a consideration in the brewing. Those items are not really beer. Also, have soft drinks available for any designated drivers or youth in attendance, but not Gatorade. You aren't actually playing, Skippy, so your electrolyte levels are fine. You should try to avoid mixed drinks and hard liquor. Drinking should be part of the socializing aspect of gathering for the game, and you want to have something that you can swill if the occasion calls for it. (Of course, a martini is a timeless classic appropriate for any occasion.)

Activities. Yes, for a SOTU party you are there to watch an event, but speeches can get to be really boring. Try to liven things up. Here are some suggestions:
Teleprompter Pong- Every time the president turns to read from the left teleprompter, the guys in the room say "PING." When he turns his head to read from the right teleprompter, the gals say "PONG."
Have a pool to see who comes closest to guessing the number of times the president asks permission to "be perfectly clear." The Las Vegas books have been extremely derelict in their duties in setting the Over/Under for this phrase to pop up in the speech, so I am going to set it at 5.
When the president says, "Let me be perfectly clear," the whole room should call out "Permission granted," (or "permission denied" depending on the type of people your parties attract.)
When he says "Sebelius" respond "Sebelius? Damn near killed us!"
If he says the word "energy," everybody chug a Red Bull.
When you hear the word 'inequality," ask somebody that earns more than you to give you a dollar, then tell somebody who earns less than you to get lost.
At the words "climate change," take off your jacket. When he says "global warming," put your jacket back on.

Looking for additional activities to make the Super Bowl more fun? Las Vegas has you covered.  Personally, I don't believe in gambling, but I bet most of you already have wagers on the game. But why stop there? That's right people, you can gamble on just about anything related to the Super Bowl. What team will win the coin toss? Over/Under of total points scored. Who will score first?  Will the first score  be a TD, field goal, safety or extra point. (Bit of free advice, don't take extra point in that one- it's burned me way too many times.) Who will get the first first down. Who will win the MVP. Will any of the players get treated for frostbite? Which coach will throw the challenge flag first. Will the Budweiser Clydesdale commercial feature a pony?

I hope that this article has been helpful in your decision on whether to host get together for the State of the Union or the Super Bowl. Feel free to expand on these ideas, and leave suggestions in the comments.


Play in the Polar Vortex? Are you High?

It looks like a there is a very good chance that the weather is going to be extremely bad in New Jersey for Super Bowl Sunday. Is there any chance of moving the game to Madison Square Garden? There is precedent.

At the end of the 1932 Season the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans  (now known as the Detroit Lions) ended the season tied. The Bears record was 6-1-6, and the Spartans were 6-1-4, both being counted as having .857 winning percentages. The normal tie-breaker rule for this situation at the time would be to give the title to the victor of any regular season match up between the teams. If the teams split a regular season series, the team to win the later game would get the championship. During the 1932 season the Bears and the Spartans played each other twice, but both games ended in ties, so the league decided to have a first ever play-off game to determine who would be awarded the championship. (Quick note- at the time, ties were not counted toward a teams win/loss percentage. If ties were counted as they are today, as half a win and half a loss, Green Bay with a 10-3 record and .769 winning percentage would have beaten out the Spartan's .727 and Bears .692  percentages and  would have been considered the champion.) 

The game was scheduled to be played at the Bears home, Wrigley Field, for Dec. 8, 1932, but because of blizzard conditions all that week and weather forecasts for the day of the game predicting temperatures of around 0 degrees and wind chills well below that, George Halas was able to convince NFL officials to move the game indoors, to be played at the Chicago Stadium. 

Because of the venue, the game was played on a field 60 yards long by 40 yards wide instead of the 100 x 53 1/3 regulation field. This lead to a few particular ground rules for the game. Kickoffs would be from the 10 yard line, there would be no field goals allowed, and the hash marks would be moved ten yards from the sidelines, with the ball placed on or inside the hash marks on all plays. The goalposts were  moved from the end line to the goal line, where they would stay until 1974.

The stadium had a good deal of dirt already in place, because the circus had been in town the week prior. Of course, the circus included horses and elephants, so there were definitely parts of the field you did not want to get tackled on.

The Bears ended up beating Portsmouth by a final score of 9-0. The Bears scored a touchdown on a controversial pass from Bronco Nagurski to Red Grange in the 4th quarter. The Spartans claimed that after receiving the hand-off from the quarterback, Grange did not drop back to 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball, as was required by the rules at the time. The Bears added a safety later in the fourth quarter to ice the victory. Since the game counted in the official regular season standings, the loss actually dropped the Spartans to third place.

Besides placing the ball at or inside the hashmarks for each play and the changed location for the goalposts, the NFL also changed the rule about the forward pass, making them acceptable from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. The biggest change, however, was that the league really liked the idea of a playoff to determine a champion. In the February league meetings, they split the league into Eastern and Western divisions, with the winner of each to play in a Championship game each year.


Another Sad Anniversary

Adolf Hitler was convinced that all his actions were morally justified.

 A large minority of his countrymen agreed. Hitler's belief in the superiority of the Aryan Race and the attempted genocide of Jews, Romany and other ethnic groups he felt were inferior is almost universally found to be revolting today, but at the time the terrible treatment of these groups was, if not actively pursued, at least passively accepted by the society.

Trying to convince people that actions they take or beliefs that they espouse are immoral is a very difficult undertaking. Unfortunately, it seems that convincing people that evil is actually moral seems a lot easier to do than to convince them that the evil they are doing is wrong. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it seems evil is always the easier route to travel. To correct Martin Niemöller, the reason he did not speak out when they came for his neighbors was not just because he was not a member of their group, but because there was no stigma attached to keeping silent, while voicing support could be very uncomfortable.

What brings to mind the fact that morality can be so skewed is that it was 41 years ago that the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. Since that time, an estimated 55 million human beings have been legally killed as a result. Not since the 13th Amendment was passed have a class of people in the United States been denied their rights in such a stark and brutal way.

It still saddens me that not only have we not been able to overturn this horror show of a decision, but also that the decision still seems so popular. Usually the population seems to be about evenly split between the pro-life and pro-abortion supporters. This afternoon I saw results from a CNN/ORC poll from May of 2013 that showed 25% believed in abortion in all cases, 11% for "most" cases, 42% for "some" cases and 20% believe it should never be permitted. These numbers seem to contradict a Quinnipiac University poll from July, 2013 that shows 20% favor abortion in all cases, 38% think it should be legal in most cases, 25% think is should be legal in some cases and 12% think it should be illegal, but do they really? Neither poll gives a definition of what they mean by "most" or "some" so there is wide berth for interpretation.

The issue of abortion is a very emotional one. It is very difficult to convince anybody to change their opinions on the issue when emotions are the basis of argument. Personal moral beliefs are very difficult to change by arguing facts, especially when the opposing sides in the argument don't eve agree to a common language. The pro-life advocates use the word "baby" while pro-abortion groups say "fetus." The pro-abortion groups speak about a woman's right to choose, while their opponents speak of a child's right to life.

The mass market media seems to have taken the pro-abortion position, evidenced by their seeming attempt to bury the ghoulish refusal that Barack Obama gave to changing the law in Illinois that would force doctors to give care to babies that lived through attempted abortions, (off on a tangent here, but when you find out that there are abortion procedures that can result in live births, and you do not re-think at least some of your abortion advocacy, there has to be something wrong with you.) The media did its best to ignore the trial of Kermit Gosnell last year, so that a month later when they held out Wendy Davis of Texas to be a hero for trying to block a bill that would prevent the types of abuse that Gosnell committed, she was able to claim that she had never heard of the man. (If I may indulge you on another tangential journey, does anybody else get sickened by the opposition to laws imposing actual medical standards on abortion mills. Pro-abortion advocates used to argue that we needed to make/keep abortion legal to move it out of the back alleys, but when we try to pass laws to ensure that there are no abortions performed in back-alley conditions, they scream like howler monkeys in opposition.) Wendy Davis is now all but a shoe-in to become the Democrat nominee for governor based on nothing but the media attention garnered by her publicity stunt.

Still, we must learn the lesson from Martin Niemöller, and speak up now. Yes, it could get uncomfortable. We might be told by some governors that we are not welcome in their state. We might feel we are fighting a losing battle when places like California are considering allowing people without licenses to practice medicine to perform abortions. It might seem pointless when a group that has no other purpose than to help women avoid and survive breast cancer is told that they have no regard for women's health because they want to stop supporting a group that does not provide breast exams simply because that group is the largest abortion provider in the country. But we need to show that we still support the rights of the unborn.

In just a few moments on the National Mall in Washington, DC, thousands of people will be braving Algore conditions to march in a show of support for defenseless human beings who were created at conception to enjoy their rights that the Creator endowed them, among these being the right to life. I am not able to join them physically today, but I am sending my prayers. So far there have been 55 million human lives snuffed out before they could so much as draw a breath. How many more will there be before we end the slaughter?