Friday, October 31, 2008

A Two-War Military

We are, without doubt, on the cusp of yet another "brave, new world." The global environment seems to be changing at a faster pace than with the post-World War II independence movements. New safe harbors are popping up, as are new dangerous waters. And, as we approach the adolescent years of the 21st Century, an old superpower is once again flexing its arms, and an ancient superpower is waking from its centuries-long slumber.

On top of all that, terrorism has taken on a new life. No longer dedicated regional acts of violence, terrorism has walked on the world's stage as a superpower unto itself. And American needs to be prepared.

The old saying goes that, "to secure peace is to prepare for war," and it remains as accurate today as it was when it was coined. American needs to be ready to fight wars on two fronts. Only these are not the fronts of western and eastern, or Pacific and Atlantic. These are the fronts of conventional and unconventional warfare.

America has oft made the mistake of downsizing her military when things "seemed safe," usually after the conclusion of a large or protracted war. And, every single time she's done that, she's had to remobilize. Every single time. Bar none.

I assure you, that pattern will not change.

The danger here is that we might make the mistake of downsizing while currently engaged in combat zones. Yes, one can argue that downsizing now would be an effective way of forcing ourselves out of the conflicts we are in, but, regardless of politics, that would be a serious mistake.

Terrorism isn't going anywhere. Trust me, it's not. As long as people somewhere, anywhere, disagree with other people, terrorism and guerrilla warfare will exist. Somewhat thankfully, our government and our military realize this, and our armed forces are transitioning themselves to fight such wars (what the Pentagon painstakingly refers to as "long wars"). This is fine, for we need that capability.

However, we're placing too much emphasis on the so-called "long wars." And we're doing so at the expense of our ability to fight conventional ones.

Russia is clearly staring NATO in the face, waiting for NATO to blink. China is clearly preparing itself to do the very same thing. And what's our response? To downsize.

Already, the Navy has canceled its admittedly ambitious 21st Century destroyer program, and the Army is cutting funding for its Future Combat Systems. Of the FCS, the portions of it that aren't getting the axe are primarily geared for, you guessed it, "long war" operations.

Most people don't seem to realize exactly how small our military has become. Yes, for a number of years, it was probably too big, but no longer. In the 1980s, the military was nearly 600 ships and over 30 combat divisions (including reserve forces). Today, the Navy stands at just over 200 combat ships, and 18 combat divisions (10 active, 8 national guard). Simply put, we don't have enough manpower to do anything.

Both the Russian and Chinese navies are growing, with each indicating that they are constructing new aircraft carriers to support blue water operations. Already, both the Russian and Chinese armies outnumber ours by an alarmingly disproportionate amount. And we're not talking combined, mind you. Including organized reserves, each outnumbers us on their own.

The solution is obvious, though expensive. Cut the fat out of the programs that have obvious fat, but don't further shrink America's military. In fact, grow it. This can be partially funded by doing away with the independent Air Force as well as taking the Marine Corps away from the Navy. The rest can be funded by slicing the fat from those programs that need it.

We need "long war" capability. That is clear. But we also need conventional capability, for at least as long as Russia and China remain possible enemies. For those critics who feel China poses little threat, please inform me exactly why they're expanding their military at a rate rivaled in the past 100 years by only the mobilization efforts of World War II.

Let's not be stupid, here. Let's secure peace.

Unfortunately, to do that, we must prepare for war.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wish Her

Emotionally speaking, it had been a long, arduous summer preceded by a long, arduous winter. Career moves and lack of moves, temporary changes in scenery, stagnant education and writing progress, and even the multiple flea infestations from their multiple animals. Worse, both of their professions kept them apart most weekdays. He, a struggling artist whose business acumen didn't make him feel better; rather, it reminded him of more lucrative and less undesirable prospects. She, a rising star in both the art and corporate worlds whose lack of perceived stability didn't excite her; rather, it reminded her of a childhood lost.

To put it simply, everything was draining.

Weekends, however, were a different story. Sure, they'd both bring their trials and tribulations to the dinner table, which often was merely an order out of steak or pizza eaten nonchalantly on a torn couch in front of the television, but the perks were worth it. He could smell her, and she could imagine her very own Bruce Lee or John Lennon in person. She rarely wore perfume, but the natural scent of her skin combined with the arousing scent of whatever soap she used never failed to turn him on. He rarely exercised or exhibited any musicality, but his fairly frequent diversions into pretending to do a karate chop or compose a song for her never failed to make her smile, and perhaps laugh.

He missed her smile. It was the very first thing that drew him to her. It lit up a room like a fucking bonfire... or an atomic bomb. He wished she was there to share it with him. He wished a lot of things.

He wished she was there to watch their favorite television programs, usually some hell-bent drama centered on off-kilter male authority figures who showed little regard for the authority of others, but were damn good at their jobs. He wished she was there, and his increasingly full DVR drive reminded him of his longing almost constantly.

He wished she was there to cuddle and coddle their pets, a menagerie of misbehaving dogs and ridiculously apathetic cats who never ceased to amaze or befuddle either one of them. He wished she was there so he could show her the new and interesting ways their lazy cat, Sagremor, found to use his master's body as a pillow.

But most of all, he wished she was there so he could touch her, hold her, and push her away half-jokingly when she complained he wasn't rubbing her shoulders the way she wanted him to. He wished...

He just wished she was here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dinosaurs and UFOs

Life has existed on Earth for well over 500 million years. For roughly 450 million of those years, that life was dominated by fish, reptiles, amphibians, and for 160 million of those years: dinosaurs.

Think about that for a moment. 450 million years of evolution (or adaptation, or un-intelligent design, whatever) resulted in advanced versions of reptilian hunters and gatherers. And while we can't be sure, it's safe to say that had the dinosaurs continued their reign on Earth, what we would have today is not a world inherited by man, but a world inherited by further-advanced versions of those same reptilian hunters and gatherers.

Which means what? Well, in all likelihood, little or no "intelligent" life as we know it. In other words: no us.

What does this have to do with UFOs?

Everything.

I've stated this before. While I completely believe in the existence of alien life (seriously, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that complex organisms are alive and well on countless other planets in the galaxy, never mind the universe), I'm not entirely convinced the Earth has been visited by aliens flying UFOs from across the galaxy.

And why not?

The dinosaurs.

To me, dinosaurs are the natural evolution of things. Advanced reptiles evolved first because, among other things, they are the "easiest" large life forms to evolve. Mammals were evolving concurrently, sure, but didn't dominate our planet's landscape until something "a little extra" lent a hand along the way. That "a little extra" something was a meteor impact that effectively wiped out the reptilian-based world that the Earth once was. Somehow mammals endured and, when all was said and done, took their turn as king of the Earth's mountain.

Primates came along with their prehensile thumbs and their developing problem-solving abilities and, bingo, here I am typing away on a virtual document in a virtual world so you can read a virtual rant on a screen projecting a virtual page.

What does this have to do with dinosaurs?

Everything.

While I believe that life is out there and is quite abundant, I also believe that life is relatively rare (when discussing the sheer size of the universe). The cosmic variables required for a planet to successfully develop life are far too complicated and far too finicky for life to simply be (as Star Trek would have you believe) in nearly every solar system. In my opinion, this probably means that there are many, many places currently in the universe with what are essentially advanced dinosaurs. Alien civilizations, again in my opinion, are probably extremely few and equally far between.

Now, why would I believe in lots of alien dinosaurs and few alien civilizations?

Because, combined with the small mathematical chance of developing life in the first place, what it took for humanity to develop was another small mathematical chance: the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Make no mistake, we (humanity) are only here because of that meteor. To put it simply, intelligent life as we know it only exists because an external force wiped out the stupid life, giving us a chance. To put it in another way: our civilization only exists because of two mathematical improbabilities.

So, one in a billion for life to show up in the first place, plus one in a billion for civilized life to show up in the second place. That doesn't equal a whole lot of civilized life in the galaxy.

Do I think there are civilizations among the stars? Oh, certainly, but I think only a handful, if any, are significantly more technologically advanced then we are, and I think that most life on other worlds is comprised basically of alien dinosaurs.

One thing's for certain: no one ethereal entity designed all this stuff.

Monday, October 13, 2008

1140-Yard Benchmark

Let's face it, the 1000-yard benchmark signifying a wide receiver or running back's quality is lame. Oh, sure, way back when the football season was only 14 games, it meant something. It meant even more when the season was only 12 games (before 1961). But today, the benchmark is run-of-the-mill, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a team without someone who reached 1000 yards.

Look at it mathematically: for a player to hit 1000 yards, he has to gain 62.5 yards per game in a 16-game season. Every fan with any working knowledge of American football knows that 62.5 is a pedestrian amount, at best. In a 14-game season, a player would have to gain just over 71.4 yards each game, nearly a 10-yard higher per-game average than is necessary in the contemporary game. Every football player knows 10-yards per game is a nice chunk of change.

To put it in perspective, that just-over-71.4 yards per game would translate into almost 1143 yards per season. Which is why I'm proposing everyone, bloggers and press alike, adopt the "1140-Standard" of judging the NFL's so-called premiere players.

Because 1000 yards today is just too normal.

And, yes, the 3000-yard benchmark for quarterbacks has to go, too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Fall 2008 Television Season: Rants and Reviews, Part II

The ranting and reviewing continues, though remains incomplete.

More shows and my impressions:

Californication - after an absolutely hysterical first season, our favorite addictive writer is back and true to form. HD format aside, Showtime makes itself worth it just for this series.

Chuck
- what can I say? This show is ridiculous and charming. The opener picked up right where the previous season left off, in story, tone, and quality of writing. NBC's got a home run.

The Family Guy
and American Dad - for whatever reason, The Family Guy just never gets old. No, the reason is obvious: anything and everything is fair game for vulgar ridicule. And I do mean anything and everything. Throw in your gratuitous pop culture references and you've got entertainment even the dumbest people can get. While mysteriously under-appreciated, its sister show, American Dad, keeps up the game The Family Guy started. Sure, it seems to fill more of a niche than The Family Guy, but it's just as good and sometimes better.

House
- television's favorite doctor is back, and as good as ever. The new cast seems comfortable in their characters, Hugh Laurie plays as irritable as usual, and the writing rarely (if ever) slips. There's a reason House is one of my two favorite shows on television.

Life
- the other of my two favorite shows on television. I have to admit, the less-than-stellar season premiere had me worried. The disjointedness of the script, combined with a new police captain (played by the underwhelming Donal Logue) replacing my favorite lieutenant (the wonderful Robin Weigert) and Dani Reese's lame hairstyle, gave me cause for alarm. Thankfully, the second episode returned to form, even if Reese's hair remained.

The Mentalist -
like House and Life, this show centers on a quirkly main protagonist who is surrounded by competent "normal" people. Instead of being an asshole genius doctor or a wounded zen cop, the protagonist of The Mentalist is a former con artists (of sorts) who simply notices everything. Also like House and Life, this show is good. We'll see if it can keep it up.

Pushing Daisies -
a completely ridiculous concept. A man who can bring the dead back to life with a touch, and kill them again with another touch? Oh, and if the first person brought back to life is kept alive for more than a minute, somebody else somewhere dies. Completely. Ridiculous. And the most charming show on television.

The Simpsons
- what can anyone really say about The Simpsons? It's still around after all these years. It's still of reasonably high quality. Sure, it's not still the animated true sitcom it once was, and it's been heavily influenced by The Family Guy as of late, but it's The Simpsons. By now as American as apple pie (despite being animated in Korea).

Rant and Review Update: Heroes - if the last couple of episodes are any indication, Heroes is back on track to be great entertainment. Kudos.

Still to be R&Red are My Own Worst Enemy, The Unit, so expect a Part III (trilogies are cliché, I know) with those shows and more updates.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Tet Offensive: Warnings for Iraq

We lost the Vietnam War. Of this, there is no doubt. But we could have won. Oh, yes, we could have won.

The war, though far from smooth, had by 1968 become manageable in the eyes of the US military. Several semi-permanent bases had been established by the DMZ between North and South Vietnam. One in particular, Khe Sanh, was established close enough to the Laotian border as to serve as a relatively effective striking point to hit the famed Ho Chi Minh trail. Just when things were looking up, the unthinkable happened:

The Tet Offensive.

Despite being, by all rights, a military failure of the North Vietnamese, and successfully repelled by the Americans and their allies, the sheer magnitude of the offensive shocked almost everyone. Millions of Americans watched on TV as Walter Cronkite turned his back on the war, convincing those Americans to do the same. General Westmoreland, until then the commander of American forces in Vietnam, was replaced by General Abrams. What followed was a change in American strategy.

After Tet was subdued, American leadership decided to shift from trying to win the war with American military forces to trying to win the war by training and supplying the South Vietnamese forces to operate independently and defend themselves.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

The result we all know too well. By 1973, American intervention in the war was effectively over and, in 1975, South Vietnam would fall to the North. Not exactly the end we were hoping for.

While no doubt arguable, there is little doubt in this author's mind that Vietnam could have been won (or, at least, not lost) had the American home front not waned in its support for the war. But the Tet Offensive would provide most Americans with the ultimate image of the war, and that image was a bad one.

Ironically, as mentioned earlier, the Tet Offensive was a success for the American forces. Out of the hundreds of targets attacked by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong during the offensive, none were successfully occupied for more than a month. Even the American base at Khe Sanh, despite a continuous assault by the North Vietnamese, remained in American hands until General Abrams ordered it destroyed and evacuated after six months of battle. Another little known fact about the supression of the Tet Offensive was that the Viet Cong was essentially destroyed as an effective fighting force. The shift in American policy to passive intervention is what allowed the VC to rise to power once again.

Whether or not the Vietnam War was a just cause is not the issue here. For this thesis, that issue is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that the loss of Vietnam was a direct result of the shift from a malignant American military to a benign one. The shift from fighting for and with the South Vietnamese to simply supporting the South Vietnamese.

Again, sound familiar?

Whether or not the Iraq War is a just cause is not the issue here. What is the issue is what's going to happen after we leave. If done too early, we're doomed to repeat the experience in Vietnam. Politics aside, is that really what we want?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chargers ’08 - Second Year Coach Syndrome

After five games, it's almost no surprise that the San Diego Chargers are 2-3, exactly the same record they had at this point in the season last year. Okay, it is a bit of a surprise, but it can't be unexpected, can it?

Despite Philip Rivers' good start, everyone else is proceeding as usual. Norv Turner once again shows that he is unable to properly prepare a team in the off-season, Ted Cottrell once again reveals that he is far too conservative a defensive coordinator, and LT once again has problems catching swing passes.

Like I said: business as usual. Here's hoping that the rest of the season winds up like last year.

Unfortunately, precedent is against such a thing happening. I call this precedent "Second Year Coach Syndrome" and, no, this does not refer to all second-year coaches. Merely the ones who took over for already successful franchises.

Take a look at the San Diego Padres this year. Two years ago, in manager Bruce Bochy's last year, the Padres were among the best teams in the National League. Last year Bochy left and was replaced by Bud Black. This year? The Padres were easily one of the two worst teams in all of Major League Baseball. Why, you might ask? That's easy: last year's team was still very much Bruce Bochy's, even if he wasn't there to manage physically. To put it theologically, enough of his soul was around to get the Padres to that tragic tie-breaker game.

Still don't believe me? Then just look at the participants of Super Bowl XXXVII. Jon Gruden, in his first year as Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, and Bill Callahan, in his first year as the Oakland Raiders head coach, both led their respective team to the big game. Only, in each case, neither team really belonged to that coach.

The Buccaneers of that year were still very much belonged to their previous coach, Tony Dungy, who was inexplicably let go after taking the Buccaneers out of the butt-joke basement of the NFL and into the NFL elite.

Ironically, the Raiders of that year still very much belonged to their previous coach, John Gruden, who, though a perfect fit in Oakland, has been less than perfect in Florida.

While the Buccaneers have remained competent, they have only posted two winning seasons since their Super Bowl appearance and have lost both of their playoff games. The Raiders have won a mere 19 out of 80 games in the five seasons following that Super Bowl.

What does this all mean? Isn't it obvious? The spirt of Marty Schottenheimer, the strangely oft-reviled former head coach of the Chargers who also took a butt-joke team and turned it elite, is likely what propelled the Chargers to the AFC Championship game last year. Not, as general manager A.J. Smith would have you believe, the coaching abilities and game philosophies of Norv Turner (who, by the way, has a paltry 69-87 record as a head coach in the regular season).

I do hope I'm wrong. I really do. But, unless Norv Turner wins a playoff game this season, I'm going to continue to attribute last season's success to Schottenhiemer.

Time will tell.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Grammar War V: He, She... Shit

English, as most of us know, is a strange, erratic language. It almost completely lacks the masculine and feminine distinctions found in most other languages, particularly those of the Romance/Neolatin family. When it comes to singular pronouns, we have "he," we have "she," and we have "it". He, obviously, refers to males. She to females. And it to everything not human.

In this frightening age of political correctness, many parties take issue with the sole use of "he," even when prefaced by disclaimers found in the forewords of several texts. As a result, we often find the unnecessarily uneconomic use of "he or she," "he and she," he and/or she," and the absolutely ghastly "s/he."

Honestly, in my opinion, we need to figure out a solution before many grammarians (including myself) go stark raving mad.

Here are some proposals:

1) They - seriously, it's already colloquially accepted, with only the most involved text-Nazis pointing out the improper use of "they" as a substitute for "he or she." I'm perfectly fine with this, and I don't point it out in edits unless I'm specifically asked to. I use it, you probably use it, and given the proper use of antecedent, it's not going to confuse anybody.

2) The - this one would be hard to swallow, as it's already one of our two most common words used. But the logic is there. He, she, they. Simply drop the y, and we'd have a gender-neutral pronoun that follows the same pattern as the other two.

3) Person - while technically correct, it is, admittedly, a bit awkward. Instead of "if he or she decides to continue," we have "if person decides to continue." Many get around this by using "said person," but that's quite unnecessary. Just for the record, I don't like this option.

4) Phe - another awkward one, but one that also follows the pattern. Based on the word "hermaphrodite," this also offers a certain logic.

5) Shit - no, I'm not joking. Why not legitimize the word? Think about it. Our three singular pronouns are he, she, and it. Look closely. See the logic? Okay, so I am joking, but the relation is quite evident.

6) Xhe - a completely baseless modern "cool" word that uses an underachieving (yet overexposed) letter of English language. On top of that, in speech, it would be pronounced like a Chinese combination of "she" and "jee." And since I made it up, I quite like it and will use it from here on out. Nyah.

Words you probably don't know:

allopatric - occuring in different geographic areas or in isolation

fulvous - of a dull browny yellow

lustrate - to purify ceremonially

Friday, October 3, 2008

What She's Got; What She Hasn't

I don't usually get involved in the extracurricular affairs of my girlfriend, but I am now. One of my girlfriend's friends decided to get into a spat with my lovely companion, and had the absolute gall to ask my girlfriend "What do you got?" as if this other girl was some sort of superior life form.

Well, let's just work our way through this, shall we? What does she got? Here's what:

1) A masters degree. No, two of them. And a bachelors degree. Oh, and an associates degree.

2) Job offers at two of the premiere Hollywood agencies. Because her education and work experience was attractive to high-level managers.

3) A car she paid for with her own money.

4) An earned-income approaching six figures.

5) Real tits.

6) The pride associated with never having given a blowjob for cheap drugs.

So, let's turn the tables. What does the other girl got?

1) High school diploma.

2) Job offers at, er... wait, no, she doesn't work.

3) A car her husband bought her.

4) An income her husband earns.

5) Distractingly bad over-sized fake tits. But at least she doesn't have to worry about drowning. So I guess artificial buoyancy is a plus.

6) The pride associated with never having given a... oh, wait... no, she doesn't.

And that just about sums it up.

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Motion Pictures That Make Me Say Wow

Everyone has a favorite movie, and most of us have several, as we tend to be incapable of consistently heralding a "best" as our moods change from moment to moment and our tastes change from year to year.

We all, however, have the ability to identify movies that make us say "wow." Some of those pictures only do it the first time we see it, while others have the extremely rare ability of eliciting the response with every viewing.

Let me back up a moment.

I am, obviously, writing this quick little rave because I just watched a film that made my jaw drop. No, it wasn't action-packed, and, no, there wasn't a glut of sex (one or two scenes, only one of which might make a Puritan blush). Hell, it wasn't even American. While I will mention that film here, I will not go into detail as I intend on making my girlfriend watch it, and I don't want to give anything away.

Without further ado, the list:

The Matrix - yes, it might be a little passé to admit now, but everyone who saw this film in theaters was blown away, whether by the effects themselves or the accidentally philosophical plot. For me, the second and third entries in the trilogy took the power of the first movie away, but that doesn't change the fact that it once blew my mind.

Irreversible - a French film centering on a rape and the events that led up to it. It has, without doubt, the most disturbing scene I have ever watched in a movie, and probably ever will see in a movie (tall claim, I know). There is also a scene involving a fire extinguisher and man's face that could once make me wince. This one's a whopper.

Road to Perdition - in my opinion: the perfect movie. Why? I don't know... I just really, really like it.

The Lives of Others - this is the German film that I finished watching less than an hour prior to this writing. Again, not going to give anything away just yet (rest assured I will come back to it in the near future), but... wow.

There are more, naturally, but I'm keeping this short. What films can do or have done this to you?

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all -...