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Archive for July, 2007

SGT Generic Part 1

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

One experience I’ve found to be nearly universal to all military personnel, and also anyone who has ever had a job, is the stupid boss.

There are plenty of people who are not exceptionally bright. In fact by definition, one half of the population is of lower than normal intelligence. Most of the time, this doesn’t make any difference in their everyday life, any more than being able to lift a little less, or running a little bit slower.

But true stupidity goes beyond simply being under average intelligence. To be truly stupid you need to have the magic combination of poor reasoning skills, a deficit of useful information, and an absolutely iron-clad conviction that you are a frigging genius.

We’ve all dealt with it at some point or another. What made this particular case so special is the circumstances.

PSYOP is one of those rare military units that encourages creativity, careful thought, and empathy. Our job was to interact with foreign nationals and try to get them to behave in a way consistent with U.S. policy. Naturally this means we needed to understand the various cultures from around the world that we needed to interact with.

This brings us to SGT Generic. I am calling her that for two reasons. The first is that, as much as I want to tell my funny stories, I don’t see any need to antagonize someone for a mistake they made five or six years ago. The second reason is that I can’t remember what her name was. I worked for SGT Generic for one month, while I was assigned to EOC detail. For anyone familiar with EOC, you know what that particular hell is like. For anyone who never had the pleasure, it’s basically being a combination receptionist, gofer, and lawn care specialist all at the same time and without the prestige.

Me, SGT Generic, and a few other lower enlisted were all tasked to EOC at the same time. Which meant that she was in charge. Which basically meant that she sat on her butt and watched CNN and yelled at us for not doing enough to help her.

Examples of things we did wrong:

“The floor is a mess over here! I shouldn’t have to tell you to vacuum this up! What’s wrong with you?” – Referring to the popcorn she had just spilled.

“If you’re not doing something else, you should be helping me look up the answers to this.” – Referring to the correspondence course she wanted my help cheating on.

“You stink! What the hell is wrong with you?” Talking to a soldier who is drenched in sweat having just mowed the lawn at one in the afternoon, in North Carolina, in the summer.

So basically she’s your typical useless low-level leader.

One of the few perks you get while working on EOC is that you are allowed to watch the news during the day. During a slow period was a story that vaguely touched upon India and some issues involving the Hindu faith. SGT Generic became loudly confused after viewing this.

At first myself, and the other soldiers present just figured that her knowledge of this particular culture was incomplete. No problem, we gave her a brief rundown on the highlights of that particular belief system, purely layman level stuff.

“There’s no way people in India believe that!”

We assure her, that yes, that is what most of the people in India believe.

I just want to take a moment to remind you that the participants in this conversation are part of a military unit specializing in cross-cultural understanding. And that SGT Generic was in charge of several of us.

“Why would they believe in reincarnation? It isn’t in the Bible, anywhere!”

“They don’t follow the Bible. Hindu’s have their own holy books.”

And then she adopted the tone. The one you use when you are trying to explain a very simple concept to a small, and possibly slow child.

“But everyone follows the Bible. Even Jews use the Bible, they just don’t use the whole thing.”

And as one, the various soldiers who worked for this very special lady, allowed our heads to smack onto our desks, and contemplated the fact that she was the one in charge.

Another retarded debate

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Last part, then I’ll write something funny again, promise.

Last week I wrote about my views on the execution of the retarded, and received only one violation of Godwin’s Law.  I did see some debate in my comments section going both ways.

I want to clarify my position in a couple of ways.  Some people feel that the retarded, like children, are not completely responsible for their actions.  I agree with this sentiment, but feel that this is a factor when determining innocence or guilt.  In order to be guilty of a capital crime, there is generally a requirement that the guilty party knew what they where doing, otherwise it would be manslaughter, rather than murder.

Now having said all that on the subject, I have to add one last part.  Although I believe in executions in principle, I am actually against the death penalty.

I understand all of the arguments for the executions, and I agree with most of them.  Simply put, an execution is a dynamite way of preventing repeat offenders.  And I believe that once somebody crosses certain lines, they are saying “I do not value this society, and I shall place my own selfish desires ahead the lives of my fellow citizens”.  And I think once that line is crossed our society has better things to spend our recourses on than providing for people like that.

In fact, I think the list of crimes that deserve execution should be expanded to cover rapists, child molesters, corrupt politicians, and some of the more nefarious shenanigans practiced by corporate executives run amok.

The problem as I see it, is not a matter of whether or not certain crimes deserve it.

The problem is that our judicial system is *really* bad at separating the innocent from the guilty.  It’s just horrible at it.  And even though it sucks to spend ten years in jail for something you did not do, at least they can un-incarcerate you. They can’t un-kill you.

My belief is that our legal system was founded on the principal that it is better for the guilty to go free, than for the innocent to get punished.  And no matter how rare an occasion it is for an innocent man to be executed, once is far too many for me.

I’d be a better man if I was ashamed of this

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

I’m probably going to hell.

The other day at work we were talking about the Supreme Court ruling governing the execution of the retarded. The general belief was that retarded people didn’t understand why they were being executed. And thus killing them was unfair.

I have slightly different take on the subject.

I think stupid is a very poor defense, especially in a capital crime situation. And in this case, the argument seems to be “But they’re too stupid to understand that it’s wrong to kill people.”

To me, that does not seem like a particularly compelling argument to keep someone around.

When I expressed this to my co-workers, I received some shocked expressions. One of them said “Don’t you think that executing someone who doesn’t understand why is cruel?”

Well it doesn’t have to be. It could actually be far less cruel than a regular execution. Just go to their cell, pop a mouse ear hat on their head, and tell them they’re going to Disney Land.

“Dih-Nee-Lan!” He’ll exclaim as he is lead down the hall to the gas chamber. (I’m imagining he sounds like Adam Sandler from ‘Bulletproof’)

“Dih-Nee-Lan!” As he’s strapped down.

Dih-Nee-Lan!” As gas starts to fill the room.

Dih-Nee-*!” As he asphyxiates.

Yeah I’m going to hell for that.

I want to serve in the 397th

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

From the comments section of Cephalopod Surprise

“Someone send me this and stated that it was a must read, “it kept me rolling”. Guess what, personally I saw nothing funny about this. Waht I saw was what appeared to be a lazy PFC (E3) that somehow joined or was drafted, if he is that old, and fought the system the whole time he was there. He forgot that some of those “unemployable wives of military officers”, and by the way they also had the NCO and Enlisted wives clubs, served a very good purpose, and it seem that understood the “spirit of corps” that these functions whould bring, plus funds to help those in need.
Yes, I was a Private but did make a career of it and retired as an Officer, but through the struggles that military life always seem to bring, with the long separations plus two tours in Vietnam, I am gratefull that those wives did take the time to do thigs like this, as it help relaxed and at times help financialy. I know, we were one of those families that sought and were help.
As the old saying goes, the military is what you make of it, and takes special families to adopt. I am proud that I was able to served my country without complaining.”

I normally let comments like this go, but I am feeling crotchety today.

Tony, I pity any soldier that had the misfortune of serving under you. Your comment paints a picture of the very worst sort of Army leader.

To your credit, I re-read my post. And it does look like I am speaking about ALL family support groups, as opposed to the ones I have served with. I cannot accurately comment on every FSG in the service as I was only ever around PSYOP from 1996-2002. But I never once saw an enlisted family member involved. And it was a rare day that I even saw one treat enlisted as human beings. Most of the wives seemed to think that they possessed the same rank as their spouse, and that enlisted were there to serve them. As far as service to the families of soldiers, I never saw that as well. I always suspected that FSG was like the Army Emergency Relief. In theory it was an organization designed to take care of all the Army personnel. In reality it was just there for the officers.

In my post, I described mandatory fun activities, and mandatory volunteering. Since you mainly described me as the culprit I can only assume you endorse these practices.

Mandatory fun is an insult to the men and women who volunteer to protect this country. In this country children do not enlist. Adults do. As an adult I am quite capable of determining how I want to enjoy my free time without being led around to planned activities like an infant with a play date. I’m not saying that group activities don’t serve a purpose. I’m not even saying that all group activities need to be training related. I’m saying that if you have to order people to show up to it, at least have the decency to not pretend that it is for their enjoyment.

Next issue: the whole mandatory volunteering. Let’s just call it what it is: blackmailing soldiers into following orders that their chain of command cannot legally give. You talk about me bucking the system, yet how should this act be interpreted?

If my NCOIC was legally allowed to order me to purchase a pie why didn’t he just order me to acquire one? Because I wasn’t issued any damn pie, because we weren’t assigned to the 235th Combat Pastry Division.

This is, in my opinion, bullying of the worst sort: taking deliberate advantage of those that you have a solemn duty to protect.

And it doesn’t say much about you as a human being or a military leader that you find such behavior acceptable.

Next the issue of “Lazy PFC … fought the system the whole time he was there.”

You’re reading an awful lot into this one army story. And you know what assuming does right? Just because I made my own fun on occasion, in no way means I didn’t do my job, to a high degree of professionalism. I’m proud of the fact that I served, what I did when I was there, and the people that I served with. I received no punishment more severe than a counseling statement the whole time I was in, and have been commended many times on taking care of the soldiers I worked with.

That’s not to say that I never fought the system. Sometimes the system is wrong and needs to be fought. Sometimes questionable leaders do questionable things to the troops, and thus they need to be questioned. But this isn’t even really about one of those times.

In this instant I was issued a questionable order, and I followed it. I just followed it in a way that brought me and my fellow soldiers more joy than the chain of command intended.

Most soldiers have a sense of humor. Hell, remember the LTC who took a squid to the face? He laughed his ass off once he got over the shock. Little pranks such as this, are part of what made the occasional insanity of military service tolerable. There is most assuredly a time and a place for such things, and in my opinion, they do more for the mental health and welfare of the troops than any number of “scheduled pre-planned enjoyment sessions” that the leadership can think up.

And lastly, as far as the claim that you were proud to serve without complaining. I’m going to have to call bull on that. You expect me to believe that you went through twenty years of service, during a war, and never had a reason to complain once? I’m sorry anyone who says that is either a very bad liar, dangerously insane, or was a trooper in the elite 397th Ice Cream Social & Hooker Regiment.

In summery, I’m glad I served. And I’m grateful that you served. But I think you might not have as much cause to be overbearingly proud as you seem to be.

Please think of the children

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Imagine that a web server is a giant bed. Now imagine that all the websites are little orphan children sleeping together.

Well in this analogy Digg.com is basically a leather clad Archbishop, who stormed into the room bellowing “WHO’S YER DADDY?” And my website, in a panic, tumbled off the bed taking all of the covers with him. My site huddled on the floor, hiding under the blankets, leaving none for the other children.

Well my web host at first thought there was a denial of service attack happening. Once she found out that I had merely been Dugg, she sprung into action. She phoned my wife and asked if she could temporally suspend my site, pending some updates. This would allow her other customers to keep their sites up while the update occurred. Of course my wife agreed, and she got to work.

So, she reconfigured our site to balance our CPU and memory usage spike so that our site would continue serving and responding quickly without causing a problem for everyone else on the server. She was on the phone with my wife, and getting this sorted out, in spite of a 102 degree fever and barely able to speak. So if you want a really good web host, with outstanding customer service run by a woman who knows her stuff, check out Draknet.

A lot of people can tell you tales of how their site went down when they got Dugg. I’m not one of them. I have one of the few hosts that is able to survive The Digg Effect.

Because Draknet would never leave a pile of orphans to be menaced by a clergyman.

The Show That Almost Was

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Pop quiz:

What do Macaulay Culkin, former Daily Show writer Chris Regan, and this web-site have in common?

Answer:
They almost worked together on a television show for FOX.

I will repeat this news, just in case. At one point, FOX, the TV network, was interested in making a television show based off of my material.

A little background. When the web-site went up for the first time, it was mainly due to the efforts of a friend of mine, Diana. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in the things I couldn’t do. She insisted that it needed a website. So, with my permission, she made one. She also pestered me several times to update it, and pretty much without her, nothing would have happened.

At some point a Producer in LA found my list, and thought “I bet this could make for a decent movie.” So he had an underling try to locate me. They tracked down my friend Diana, who was the original web-mistress. Diana got in touch with me, ironically enough while I was driving through Los Angles while I was moving back to Texas. She just told me “Some lady wants to make a Skippy’s List movie.”

Now a year or so before that, some college students and gotten a hold of me, pretty much wanting permission to make a short film featuring a few of their favorite items. I figured this was more of the same.

Nope. This was a bona fide Hollywood production company. And they wanted to know if I would be willing to sell the rights to make a movie. Well, of course I jumped at the chance. My family was overjoyed as finally someone with a Jewish last name could become associated with the entertainment industry.

We talked a few times, and I waited for something to happen…and I waited…and waited. And finally forgot about it, and just concentrated on my school work.

About a year later Mr. Hollywood Producer got back in touch. They wanted to make it a TV show now. They explained it to me as a cross between ‘Scrubs’ and ‘MASH’. Every episode would start with an item from the list, and then be a flashback explaining the circumstances of the order. Chris Regan from the Daily Show was going to write it, and Macaulay Culkin was set to star in it.

After a few weeks of that, they told me that FOX wanted it, and that it was time to sign an ‘Option’.

For those that have never gone through this process, it is quite interesting. It basically goes like this.

(Note details have been changed slightly to protect the innocent, and because it sounds funnier this way)

Producer: Okay we make your material into a show, we’ll give you a small amount of money sometime if we feel like it, we own all your stuff forever, and we’ll set rape your pets every Thursday.

Me: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this…..

Producer: Okay, how about we only rape your pets every other Thursday.

We finally came to an agreement, in which I get some money up front, credit for creating the list, and the ability to make quite a bit if a TV series took off.

And I waited to get my check, and find out if I was gonna be on TV.

And I waited. And Waited. Eventually I was able to get a hold of the producer again. FOX didn’t want it for this season. But maybe they would want it later. I casually mentioned that I had not, in fact, gotten any money yet. He sounded shocked, and assured me that he would get right on that.

Nearly one year later, still no luck on the show, and still no check. So I felt it was time to flex my muscles with this guy. I was going to make sure he knew that he couldn’t just get away with “forgetting” to pay people for their intellectual property.

I sent him a very cross email. I gave him a week to fix things. After a week passed, I sent him a certified letter, telling him I now considered our contract to be void, due to non-payment.

That afternoon, and I am not making this up, I received the check.

And he apologized, acknowledged that the contract had been voided, and told me to keep the check anyway.

There’s nothing more annoying than being righteously pissed off at someone who goes and starts apologizing and acting reasonable.

So I got a neat story out of this, and I made a little money. And if anyone out there ever thinks “This would make a good TV show” remember, send those letters to FOX.

Pardon the mess

Monday, July 9th, 2007

This site is going to look funny for a while. If you see something happen and just can’t even read, give it a minute and refresh your browser. Upgrades and changes are happening right now.

Cephalopod Surprise

Monday, July 9th, 2007

This story is specifically why people I know thought I should keep writing stuff. It never made it to my list, because I never received any orders governing it.

Early on in my military career, way back when I was a PFC, my Battalion would occasionally have “Fun Runs”. A Fun Run is just like running for several miles. Except that it’s fun. Because people that outrank you say so.

This is pretty much the Army equivalent to declaring “Our office is so much fun! On Friday we get to wear Hawaiian shirts!” It’s awesome if you happen to love Hawaiian shirts, but just kinda sucks if you have taste.

One of the features of the Fun Run was that afterward the Battalion would gather together and hold a pie auction. The point of the pie auction was that if you bought a pie, you could pick any soldier who was present, and hit them with the pie. So as you can imagine, an awful lot of repressed rage got transferred into pie kinetics after these runs. The important thing to know here is that by tradition, the first pie always got thrown at the Battalion Commander.

This whole exercise was to raise money for the Battalion Family Support Group. In theory, this was an organization that would help the families of deployed soldiers manage during the long separations that military life often inflicts. But in reality, FSG was more like a cross between the homeowners association from a sit-com, and a social club for unemployable wives of military officers. And when I say social club, imagine the kind that gets taken down a peg by a scrappy band of misfits in an 80’s comedy movie.

To sum this up: the Family Support Group was not very popular with most of the soldiers.

The night before one of these delightful Fun Runs, I received special instructions.

“Bring in a pie for the auction.”

I’m not sure how much the pay has gone up, but back in those days if a Private First Class had a child he automatically qualified for food stamps. So I didn’t have much money. And most of what I did have was generally earmarked for important things, like strippers and alcohol, and more strippers.

A pie doesn’t cost that much I guess. But it was the principle that bothered me. The Army has billions of dollars and I have barely any. And now they want me to buy stuff for them.

Now technically, it wasn’t an order. It would be against regulations for my supervisor to *order* me to spend my own money on the Family Support Group. It was just, technically, a suggestion. And it’s just peachy to make suggestions. And if soldiers choose not to follow the suggestions, well, someone has to be assigned to that toilet cleaning detail.

So that night, I went out and I bought a premade pie crust. And a tub of Cool Whip. And then I stopped by a Korean grocery store and purchased a whole, frozen squid. And sprinkles.

I got back to the barracks, and started the preparations for the morning. Which pretty much just means I started thawing the squid in a shower stall. My roommate was a bit surprised when he got back.

“Is that a squid in our shower?”
“Yep.”
“What’s it doing in there.”
“Thawing.”
“Goodnight.”

The next morning I packed it all in a cooler, and set out for the Fun Run. After about three miles of fun the Battalion gathered for the auction. I quickly assembled the secret weapon, and added it to the pie table. I then notified the auctioneer about my special pie. Of course she selected my pie for the first auction.

The bidding started fairly briskly, as many people wanted to hit our Commander with a pie. But soon enough bidding started to peter out, and that’s when the auctioneer let everyone in on the secret.
“This is a special pie.”
“What’s so special about it?” called someone in the crowd.
“It’s a squid pie.”
“I beg your pardon?” said the Commander
“I said it’s a squid pie sir.”
“There’s no such thing.”

So she reached in, pulled out a tentacle, and waved at the Commander with it.
“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” asked the Commander with, all things considered, a reasonable tone of voice.
“It’s a tentacle sir.”
“PIE DOESN’T HAVE TENTACLES!”
“Normally you’d be correct. But this is a squid pie sir.”

And the bidding immediately picked up again. My pie raised close to five hundred dollars, which was a new record for the pie auction. I didn’t get into any trouble because nobody wanted to look like a bad sport. And I got to watch my CO take a high velocity mollusk to the kisser, which is a good morning no matter what branch of the military you are in.

3-12-08 Update: T-shirts are now available.

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The Washington Post Rick Head

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Several fans of my website saw this article.
Tom Ricks’s Inbox June 17 2007

Many of them took the time to write to Mr. Ricks to attempt to correct him. He was directed to my site, where it mentions the misconception that I am a woman. Mr. Ricks typically responded to people by saying that “Just because I make a web-site and claim I’m Santa Claus doesn’t mean people should believe it.” And at one point he told somone that the person who forwarded my list to him had stated that I was a woman.

So at this stage we have, incorrect information about me, my copyrighted material being reproduced without my persmision, and a member of the fourth estate publically challenging my copyright. All of this based on the airtight “Some guy on the internet told me” defense. Naturally I was annoyed at his arrogance and at his stubborn resistance to correction.

Now to be perfectly fair, I’m sure he didn’t intend any harm, and it’s even arguable whether or not any serious harm was done. His column wasn’t intended to be investigative journalism, it was just a lighthearted fluff piece. I was a tad concerned that at some point in the future I would hear “Well the Washington Post said a woman wrote it, so you’re a liar!”. Now from his point of view, I’m guessing that it is an official *BIG DEAL* to admit that you printed incorrect information. And to be fair, nearly anyone in the world could have emailed him claiming to be me. So I can understand his skepticism.
So I contacted Mr. Ricks myself, and explained why this relatively small piece of mis-information could cause me some issues down the road, and how reproducing copyrighted information without permission can be bad. I asked that he print a correction in a future column. His brief response was to demand proof that I actually wrote it.

I wrote him again, demonstrating evidence that I did in fact own the material, and that I was the only Specialist Schwarz enlisted during the correct time period, and that I even had witnesses to some of the events on the list transpiring. While I was writing this he responded. He told me my story checked out. This conjured to my mind an image of him using his military correspondent powers to track down Army personel I have served with and grilling them about me until he had enough details to know I was telling the truth. But in reality, he probably just made an underling look up my copyright in the Library of Congress database.

Since “My story checked out” he offered to run a correction in the very next column he wrote. Perfect. Win for the good guys, I get exactly what I asked for. (Granted he could have, I dunno, apologized or something but hey, who am I to correct his manners.)

Well he was true to his word as we can see here:

Tom Ricks’s Inbox June 24

And furthermore he wrote me back to say (Quoted directly from the email)

“I am glad it worked out for you. For accuracy’s sake, that wasn’t a correction, it was a clarification.
Best,
Tom Ricks”

Now I can understand not wanting to admit when you are wrong but this kind of silly semantics argument is really unbecoming on anyone who isn’t either a five year old or a politician. But hey, free publicity is free publicty.