Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Contractor Problem

Blackwater. Halliburton. Blah dee blah. We all know who (or at least what) they are; most of us know what they do. But what we don't know is why they are even here.

The short answer is the one answer most of us turn to, since we lack the knowledge and interest to be able to answer the question in detail: corrupt government.

Unfortunately, this is not the accurate answer, nor is it even a relevant one (despite some truth behind it). Contractors exist because of the American way of life. And that is, for lack of better term, one of capitalism. For those of you who didn't know, our country runs on a business model in which any industry or service can be turned into a lucrative venture with which a clever entrepreneur can exploit.

In this case, it is known as the military-industrial complex. A complex, somewhat ironically, that we were warned against embracing by a former 5-star general and President, good ol' Ike. Unfortunately for Ike's successors, there were no laws governing the limitations of such a complex and now our military is paying the price.

Let me back up for a moment and posit a thesis: any military that is not entirely self-sufficient is doomed to fail.

And therein lies the problem.

We all know (or at least should) that our military is currently far too small. The Navy is comparitively small for our needs and continues to shed its logistical duties to (gasp) civilian contractors. The Army is undeniably tiny and is at its breaking point, and also continues to shed logistical duties in favor of civilian support. Additionally, however, the Army is even losing some of its tactical duties to civilian contractors. I know this is a few years late, but... what?

Obvious problems aside, private armies such as Blackwater look great on paper (at least in the pamphlets), but in practice are a horrific waste of money and a terrifying transfer of what used to be typical military duties. This entry is not the place to get into the minutae, but, in essence, taxpayers are getting screwed. For a job that a standard, disciplined soldier would have done 30 years ago, we are paying exhorbitant salaries for civilian contractors who, by the way, don't have the same accountability as a servicemember. $60,000 a year for an unaccountable "bodyguard" versus maybe $30,000 a year for someone who answers to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice? That's like firing your child who lives with you for mere room and board and hiring a replacement for room, board, and a $30,000 per year allowance. Oh, yeah, and a replacement who doesn't necessarily have to do what you tell him or her to do.

I don't know in what world the theater oversights are doing business, but that arrangement can't possibly sound good under any amount of propaganda.

Not only that, these very same private armies are recruiting our best and brightest soldiers and sailors out of our armed forces. In other words, the government is paying these companies to compete with itself. Which, as everyone should be able to figure out, drives up costs continuously and astronomically.

I could keep going, but the bottom line is: we're fucking ourselves.

I'll return to this subject again in the future, but on a closing note, I do need to point out that this phenomenon is not only the fault of the government and these greedy corporations, it's also the fault of the American people. It's no secret that finding people who actually want to serve is becoming harder and harder every day. Kids these days feel like they're owed something, and that's bullshit. Disagree? Then why are all these self-serving punks whining about not having free college?

JFK said it best: "Ask not what your country can do for you..." Well, you know the rest. And if you don't, you obviously don't give a shit anyway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Gasoline Hypocrisy

Gas is expensive. No shit. We all see it driving down the highway; we all feel it paying at the pump; we all complain incessantly about it whenever we damn well please. It sucks, and it sucks worse that high gas prices are likely here to stay.

But... what are we doing about it? Complaining? Yes, we've already established that. Berate ExxonMobil and the other large petroleum companies? Oh, yes... damn their profits. Damn them. Never mind that they are companies and they exist solely to turn a profit. Fuck it. They're easy targets. Still, what the hell are we doing about it?

Have any of us started new carpools to get to work and back? Have any of us started planning shopping trips with our friends and neighbors in order to save that precious gas and cut down on congestion? Have any of us jumped into the world that is public transportation?

Short answer: no, no we have not.

Oh, we'll complain. Oh, we'll adjust our spending to buy fewer DVDs and more generic groceries in order to accomodate our growing fuel costs. But, no... we'll be damned if we give up our personal rides in order to look like the dork riding in his friend's passenger seat. Appearances and status are everything, and, fuck me, it's worth $4 per gallon.

And besides, the growing clamor of so-called "worldy" people pointing out the fact that Europe and Asia spend WAY more on gasoline than we do is somehow causing us to justify putting up with expensive fuel. Call it the frog in the pan trick.

We're idiots. All we do is complain and do nothing to alleviate the problem. Buy a Prius? For what? About 45 to 50 miles per gallon? Shit, a Geo Metro did better than that, and that was 15 years ago.

No, we have at our fingertips a multitude of ways to help ourselves, but we won't do it. Hell, we could force high school kids to take the school bus. How much gas would that save? Probably not an insignificant amount.

Anyway, before I start to ramble too badly, I need to wrap it up. Basically, change your driving/riding habits or shut the fuck up and pay the $4.

We're all just whiny-ass hypocrites.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Home

Strange thing happened to me this week. Well, I guess it would be more accurate to state that a strange thing happened to me again this week. The world reiterated to me that I have no home.

Most people consider a single place their home. Indeed, there's an interesting statistic that reveals that most Americans (and I'm sure this applies to most human beings) die within 50 miles of where they were born. I don't remember exactly where I read that, but I do remember thinking how odd that was.

As humans, we are the only species on this planet capable of going anywhere we choose, any time we choose. The world is ours to travel, to work in, to play in. Why should we die so closely to where we were born? Now, I do realize that many people simply return to where they were originally from after a lifetime of adventure, but I do also know that many people never even bother to leave the roost, so to speak. Again, why?

Anyway, this past week I worked in Atlanta, away from where I currently reside (a residence, I might add, that I do not consider "home"). And you know what? I didn't feel out of place, out of time, or any other comparative fish-out-of-water expression. I guess one could say that I felt at home. As much at home as anywhere else.

When I was in the Army I always found it amazing that people intended on returning to the very place they had left after their stint in the military was over. These people had just seen much of the world, done things they never would have done otherwise, and they wanted to return... "home."

I have my parents to thank for my attitude, I suppose. A father who never liked to stay in one place too long and a mother who has only seen her homeland a handful of times in the last 40 years.

Next year I will move again. To a place I have been before, but not one I ever properly called home, nor ever will.

I have no home. The world is my home. And I won't have it any other way.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

People Are Idiots

People are idiots. I state this because, well, it's true. For evidence, I point to the following:

1. Apparently many people believe that showing up for a single election and casting a single ballot for a single position (in this case, the President) will somehow change everything. Anyone with a real education and real political/government experience, however, can attest to the exact opposite.

2. Just as many people believe that using a turn signal requires that you look over your shoulder to see if you can change lanes, and then activating a turn signal. Um, no. The turn signal is not for the operator's benefit, it's for the operators of the other cars. Signal intent, see if it's safe, then do it. Not see if it's safe and then signal intent. If it's already safe, why the fuck would you need to signal anybody?

3. ExxonMobil exists for one reason and one reason only: to make money. They are not responsible to care about our energy woes, nor are they required to even give a shit. Don't get me wrong, they're still a bunch of assholes (evidenced by the fact that they do not intent to increase oil production AT ALL for the next couple of years or so), but the popular belief that whining about it is going to have some sort of alleviating effect has to go. Look elsewhere to solve the problem. Barking up a tree does nothing save make noise.

4. Quite a few believe that The Da Vinci Code is based on fact. It is not. Nor is Angels & Demons. Nor is anything Dan Brown has written. Still more people believe Dan Brown is an excellent writer. He's not. In fact, he's elementary hack. A shit writer with (admittedly) great plots.

5. The new movies of the Star Wars trilogy were horrible, horrible films. And, yet, they somehow made hundreds of millions of dollars. Hell, I could've proven the thesis of this posting with just this example.

6. So many people are buying into the Ethanol myth. Um... it's not much better for the environment than gasoline is (it's less efficient; therefore, we have to use more of it... and its exhaust is nearly as bad as gasoline) and it has the added effect of depleting food supplies. And everyone seems to wonder why the farmers are so pro-Ethanol. Hmm... BECAUSE THEIR PROFIT MARGINS JUST SHOT THREW THE FUCKING ROOF. See ExxonMobil explanation above.

I'd continue this, but I suddenly became very upset (from a completely unrelated cause).

Have a nice day... idiots.

Irreview, Book Review: The Story of English in 100 Words

Along with geoscience, another academic interest that has taken hold in me as of late is anthropology and, more specifically, linguistics.  ...