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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Innovation is not a room.

If you've spent more than 5 minutes in the corporate world you've heard the word “innovation” more than is healthy. Innovation is held up as a panacea for all corporate woes. Every company no matter how large wants to be innovative. So they build a room.

 I'm serious. A company recognizes that it has become stagnant in a fast moving economy. They desperately need to change the core of how they do business. So they build a room. The room has wacky art, comfy chairs, video games, no walls and maybe, just maybe, some beer. They take pictures for cool office weekly and declare the job done. They are now innovative. Except, of course, they're not.

Which brings me to my thesis and the title of this post.

Innovation is not a room.

For those on the outside looking in this seems obvious. However it's easy to see where these executives went wrong. They see that the most innovative companies have cool workspaces and get the cause and effect backwards. So they put down bean bag chairs and wait for the next iPad. Innovation is not a room. Innovation is the result of a culture that supports its employees, praises spectacular failure and has an insatiable curiosity.

I suspect it's not all ignorance. The real path to innovation is not that hard to see but it would require the people making the changes to lose their jobs. That's innovation secret number one.

1. If you don't fire or demote all of your current managers and executives you will never be innovative.

No array of license plates on the wall can counteract soul crushing management. You can't have the same leaders and a completely new way of doing business. There in lies the rub. Who will make the change that puts themselves out on the street? Which brings me to innovation secret number two.

2. You're going to need new people.
Your people are damaged. Your company damaged them and you've got not way to fix them. If you don't bring in new, undamaged people, you'll never make fix your people. I'm not saying fire all of your workers. I'm saying surround them with new management and coworkers. An influx of enthusiasm is the only cure for cynicism. New people also bring new ideas and a fresh way of looking at things. This leads me to innovation secret number three, and this one is scary.

3. Set your people free

Let your employees try new things. Give them concrete goals and then leave them alone. Listen to their ideas. This is basic empowerment drivel but you can't just pay lip service to it. You have to make failure not just ok but expected. Innovation dies in a culture built on fear. You can't motivate your employees with a pink slip. All that gets you is what you want to hear. It's like an abused child talking to a father who has had one to many, survival becomes paramount. Nothing new has ever came from playing it safe. Except maybe helmets.

You'll notice my solutions focus on people. Chairs simply aren't creative. People are what got you to where you are and they are the only thing the will get you where you need to be. A wacky office is nice. Having the best people, treating them well and trusting them is better.

The sad truth is I don't think I'm saying anything most executives don't know. I'm just saying things they won't do. They aren't payed to. They are paid to max quarterly earnings. Creating a brand new corporate culture that actually supports creativity takes more than a quarter. Profits from that culture take years. So they build a room.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Should the US care about workplace safety in Bangladesh?

It didn't stay in the news long, but the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh is a stark reminder of the horrors suffered upon the world to support the western standard of living.

Everyday workers around the world risk their lives in factories that can only be described as hellish. They take up this risk to produce products sold by American companies in the United States. These companies seek out manufacturing in the developing world to skirt safety regulations and to pay virtual slave wages. When questioned after an event like we saw in Bangladesh these titans of industry claim both ignorance and future vigilance, failing to see the contradiction in those claims. They claim they couldn't have know about the working conditions because the factory sewing their labels onto t-shirts were simply contractors. They claim that when they did do inspections everything checked out fine. However due to the most recent tragedy that generated bad PR they will make sure to up their inspections and launch a full investigation. We should just forget the fact that their policies and procedures didn't work before because they will definitely work now.

Well that's just not good enough.

Large multinationals can't be trusted to care about the lives of their workers so it's time for the government to step in. That's why I'm proposing the Foreign Workplace Safety Act. The act would require the production of all products sold in the United States to be conducted using the same safety standards as production facilities in the United States. The act would provide for both civil and criminal penalties for companies that violate the statute. Under the law abused workers in other countries could sue their employer and their employers customers in U.S. courts. OSHA would be given the authority to investigate claims of unsafe workplaces and employee abuse across the world. If a company is found guilty of continually violating this law by running unsafe facilities or purchasing products made in unsafe facilities they can be barred from doing business in the United States.

The "Foreign Workplace Safety Act" would have two main benefits. Primarily it would help improve working conditions around the world. It would protect the basic human rights of workers who make the goods we all enjoy. Secondly the law could help American manufactures competitiveness in a global market. If we assume that companies avoid producing products in the United States because of safety regulations the law will level the playing field.

Some may claim that The United States can't enforce their standards on other countries but the Foreign Workplace Safety Act is not without precedent. In 1977 congress passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in order to curtail bribery by companies that do business in the United States and to level the playing field for American companies abroad.

The time has come for all Americans to face that fact that our lifestyle is supported by the oppression of millions. The Foreign Workplace Safety Act won't reverse that fact instantly. It may however let me buy sneakers and still sleep a night.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Is the Constitution Obsolete?

So I was inspired by this headline.
Bloomberg Thinks Boston Bombing Renders The Constitution Obsolete

Here's the thing though.

Maybe it is.

Don't get me wrong I disagree with Bloomberg on this and just about everything else. However we should always consider if sections of the constitution are obsolete. I think American political discourse is hamstrung by an over reliance on the constitution. The constitution isn't holy scripture. It's a legal document. Saying that something is wrong because it violates the constitution is like saying something is wrong because it violates the clean water act. It's a valid legal argument but it conveys no meaning.

Americans need to learn how to speak about our rights without relying on the constitution. Unwarranted searches are bad for a litany of reasons. Not one of which is because some 18th century slave owners decided to write it down. The rights reflected in the bill of rights must exist even if the constitution didn't. If they don't then no amount of ancient ink will protect them.

On a side not the whole idea of "constitutional" rights instead of rights is why we have things like indefinite detention. If your right to trial depends on the constitution someone can decide the constitution doesn't apply to you based on the circumstances. However if someone accused of a crime has the right to trial because it is simply the right thing, then the circumstances don't matter.

Not a terribly original idea I know.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

NRA's Snow Job on School Shootings

The NRA is desperate to change the conversation in the aftermath of Newton. So desperate in fact that they have created a new organization dedicated to "School Safety".  On April 2nd Asa Hutchinson held a press conference to highlight a report by the NRA's National School Shield Initiative (video below). It's quite amusing to watch the contortions Mr. Hutchinson is willing to go through to try to change the story from "School Shootings" to 'School Safety". It's a slick word change on par with the "pro-life" movement. If you watch between the lines Mr. Hutchinson also tries to shift blame from guns to schools' lack of security measures. It would be impressive if it weren't so disturbing.

The other major goal of this press conference was for the NRA to attempt to position their new National School Shield Initiative as the authority on school safety. Some of their recommendations would intertwine the NRA's new agency with Federal and Sate school safety policy. For example they want States to change their education adequacy requirements to include a safety analysis and plan. Conveniently Mr. Hutchinson also announced the NRA will have safety assessment and planning tools for schools to use on the National School Shield Initiative website. It's quite a brilliant move, albeit evil. By using their massive financial and political power to create an organization centered on "school safety" the NRA can jump to the front of the debate and crowd out other voices. Voices that might not have the best interest of the gun manufactures at heart.

Most reports have focused on the recommendations which are absurd on their face. Instead of regulating guns Mr. Hutchinson would have us turn our schools into miniature gulags surrounded by fencing and staffed with armed guards. A far cry from the school experience I remember. Many of the recommendations smack of starting with a solution of "more guns" and working backwards.  I don't want to spill too much ink on this because others have covered it better but I have to weigh in on one recommendation.

One of the key recommendations is to train school staff to carry a weapon in the schools. Mr. Hutchinson makes a point to say "...this is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach". However he feels that if a teacher wants to volunteer to carry a gun in school they should be allowed to. Now think back to your time in school which teacher do you think would volunteer to carry a gun? It's not going to be that cool math teacher that let you hang out in his class during lunch. It's going to be the power tripping English teach that got their rocks off by pushing kids around. Only this time he'll have a gun.

Read the report here

C-SPAN Video 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why are Republican's embracing Sequester? Just ask Ted Cruz

Image by:Ted Cruz for Senate
If you've watched the news lately it's likely you witnessed the Republicans newest sequester debate tactic. Claim it won't be so bad. I'm not the first to point this out. However I might be the only one who wasn't surprised by it. That's because I heard Sen. Ted Cruz outline this strategy in front of a group from The National Review in January.
Ted Cruz explains why Republicans are crazy like a fox

Since I know some of you won't watch the entire video it comes down to "leverage". Sen. Cruz believes that in divided government the only thing you can control is forcing inaction. Since inaction on this issue hurts the Democratic Party and the President, Sen. Cruz thinks the Republicans don't need to compromise.

It's a little like having a slob live with a neat freak. Since the neat freak is the only one who cares about the house being cleaned the slob can use inertia to get out of doing his share of the work. This is the same tactic used by freshman in college dorms everywhere. This tactic has one tragic flaw. If this tactic is used too often the people doing the work will eventually decide they've had enough and force an inertia showdown. In college this means you can't bring girls back to your apartment anymore because they run when they see the bathroom. Unfortunately when used in the United States Government it means kids can't attend preschool and workers lose their jobs.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let GE teach our kids

Image credit

So this will be a quick. I was listening to  Gov Kasich of Ohio give his State of the State Address and one section really stood out. You can follow the link below.

Gov Kasich's big idea to fix education 

If you didn't watch the video Gov Kasich proposes bringing "our business comunity, our job creator's into K through 12 and the 2 year and the 4 year school's and help to design the curriculum... "

I'm sure they'll make sure that history of the labor movement is covered properly. I'm sure they won't skew the study of economics the way the Koch Brothers are already doing. I'm also sure this is the craziest damn thing I've ever heard.

Our public schools are being squeezed from both ends with metrics that make no sense and budgets being slashed.The last thing teachers need is to teach nutrition according to Frito Lay or Constitutional Law according to the Corrections Corporation of America.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Debate We're Not Having

Man: Hmph, sounds like she's hitting a baby with a cat.
Lisa: You have to listen to the notes she's not playing.
Man: Pssh, I can do that at home.
-From Lisa The Simpson

That is one of my all time favorite moments from the Simpsons. If we can set the well worked barb on jazz fans aside for a moment, I think Lisa has a point. I'd like to apply this advice to our current political situation.

We find the popular discourse centered around 3 main political themes at the moment. Guns, Immigration and artificial disaster points. Out of those three issues only the immigration debate is set to produce meaningful legislation that would help millions who need it. For the moment I'm going to ignore the deeply cynical reasons a path to citizenship is even receiving a debate and just be glad the government might actually do something useful. Conferring legal status to immigrants might finally end the quasi-slavery that dominates the U.S. agricultural industry.

I've covered why I'm apathetic about gun regulation in a previous post. To sum it up, get rid of all the semi-automatic guns or shut up.

That leaves the government by emergency we've been living under since 2010. A mix of legal and political tricks that have left the government in a free fall since the Republicans took The House. Each emergency with a hard deadline and dire consequences if compromise isn't reached. Each comprise setting up another arbitrary deadline with even more dire consequences for inaction. These disasters have dominated the news cycle and ground actual governance to a halt, preventing any meaningful changes to our society. This is of course exactly what the republicans had in mind.

So what note's aren't they playing?

Facebook pays no income tax. HSBC supported terrorism but wasn't prosecuted because the assistant Attorney General in charge of the case thought “the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized “. President Obama appointed an SEC chief who not only defended Wall Street criminals but will still draw a paycheck from their law firm when she leaves the SEC. None of the finical regulatory agencies can remember the last time they took a wall street firm to court. Banks rigged the LIBOR average effecting Trillions of Dollars of loans and investments.

Just to be clear the note is this; Wall street and big business are nothing more than a glorified cartel. The leaders of which should be in jail and the operations of which should be split into thousands of smaller companies.

Of course this has all been covered by the media (I mean I provided links) but the subject is treated as a side note with little to no response from Washington.

Less than 5 years ago reckless speculation and fraud cause our economy to collapse. Wealth concentrated in vast sums created a feedback loop of influence and power that threatened the livelihood of billions of people. The government managed to avoid a great depression by the smallest of margins but failed to learn any lessons. Nothing has been done to avoid the next collapse. Congress and the President fawned over Jamie Dimon even after he allowed his company to lose 6 Billion dollars that was meant to be used as a hedge fund. In other words, this man can't even make safe bets but our politicians think he has useful wisdom. They should have clapped Dimon and his ilk in irons. Instead we're bouncing from deadline to deadline. Looking for ways to fill a deficit cause almost entirely by the bank generated finical collapse. Never stopping to deal with the Robber Barons of today and the return of the Gilded Age.

How do we break up the banks? This is the debate we're not having. Not even close.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

From Ditto Head to Occupy an Unexpected Journey

So, AIG is thinking about suing the US Government. The entire concept of that action makes me so angry I'm speechless but thankfully Mat Taibbi isn't. I won't launch my own tirade about this story because Mr. Taibbi covers it beautifully. However, I think AIG's potential actions make a good backdrop for the tale of my conversion.

I think many of us have flashpoints in our lives. Events that change the way we view the world in some fundamental way. These events can be large, like the death of JFK, or small, like an act of kindness from a stranger. My flashpoint was much more geeky, the collapse of our financial system. This was the event that moved me from a hard line fiscal conservative to a member of Elizabeth Warren's fan club. This change was not easy. Ideas long entrenched would not be overcome without a fight. But if Alan Greenspan could be converted, what chance did I have?

It was December of 2008 when I came home from 10 months in Egypt. I had been deployed as part of a peace keeping mission on the border of Egypt and Israel. I had heard that the economy had hit the skids and all of my conservative sources ensured me that the lap dogs of the Federal government, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, were to blame. They made banks give loans to bums that couldn't pay the bills and the rest of us were left to pick up the tab. This sounded as right as anything I had heard. Government interference in the market was the only thing that could have possibly created a failure this complete. The free market wasn't perfect but it damn sure was self correcting. A company making bad loans to people wouldn't be long for this world because the free market would find a way to punish them. In this way my internal logic was complete. I was sure only poor people and the government could screw things up this badly. Enter onto the scene one of my oldest friends Ryan.

Ryan and I have been friends ever since we got separated in 7th grade science for talking too much. He was a bleeding heart liberal and I was an intelligent conservative. It never bothered me that his political ideology was completely wrong. We had fun debates and could at least agree that The Simpsons was the greatest show ever made. When I returned from Egypt we picked up where we left off, debating the issues of our day. Ryan was wrongly asserting that systemic corruption and wild gambling by private banks ran our economy into the ground. Further more he had the crazy notion that had we not gutted government oversight of the banks the crash would not have happened. I of course knew better. That is until he recommend two Frontline reports “Inside the Meltdown” and “Breaking the Bank”. Later I would watch “TheWarning” but by then the damage was done. My entire worldview of the inherent good of unregulated markets was crushed. The corruption of Wall Street, the failure of regulators and the abuse of the borrowers was laid bare. I was wrong, I had been wrong, I was never right. It hit me like a ton of bricks but the evidence was overwhelming.

The crash of 2008 would stay with me. I am quite frankly obsessed with the failure of the markets. I have become a harsh critic of both Wall Street greed and a government that has acted as their lap dog. The more research I do the more sure I am that the financial industry must be brought in line. "Inside Job" did an amazing job of outlining the conflict of interest that exists in the academic disciple of economics. Neil Barofsky's book “Bailout” outlined the failure of TARP to help the little guy and the incestuous relationship between the federal government and Wall Street. Everything Matt Taibbi has written makes me want to laugh and cry. I feel a need to consume all of this information. Not only because it changed how I view the world but because it gives me a vision for how to fix it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The cost of the 2nd Amendment

I may be the only man in America that just doesn't care about guns. If they wanted to ban guns tomorrow I wouldn't blink an eye. At the same time I couldn't care less if you own enough weapons to overrun panama. It's simply not an issue I feel strongly about. However because I can't get enough of politics I've listened to much of the debate about gun control that has arisen from the tragedy at Newtown. What I've heard disturbs me because neither side is being honest. The debate is fundamentally flawed and someone needs to set the record straight.

This debate about gun control is tip toeing around the central fact. Mass murders like the one at Newtown are the price our country pays for the second amendment. Even the most ardent supporters of gun control are not willing to admit that fact. The legislation that is being bandied about will do nothing to stop future mass murders. The only way to make sure something like Newtown never happens again is to outlaw, seize and destroy all civilian owned semi-automatic weapons. If our legislators want to address the problem, that is the debate we should be having. We as a country need to ask if the Second Amendment (as interpreted in Heller) is worth a Newtown every few years.

Of course we won't ask that question. To guns rights activist the notion is absurd. The second amendment is holy doctrine and can never be questioned. To gun control advocates it's a fight they don't believe they can win, so they won't even try. Everyone is afraid to admit that, like all of our freedoms, owning firearms comes with a cost. But it is in both sides favor to have that debate. Tally up the balance sheet and decide if the right outweighs the cost. We may decide that being able to deliver lead as fast as your finger can twitch isn't something every gomer needs in the 21st century. However we may also decide that an individual needs protection as much today as they did in 1788.

No matter what the tally we are not served by dancing around the issue. These are serious times and we need leaders that act like serious people.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

We have an obligation not to be dicks.

“We have an obligation to the shareholders”.

This phrase is touted by CEO's all over the world as their own personal dharma. The answer to every moral query is to repeat this phrase.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase it states that the people who run a a company have an obligation to do whatever is legal too make money for their shareholders without regard for morals. This concept was one of the deciding factors in the Supreme Court case of Dodge v. Ford. While the in's and outs of the legal status of this concept are quite complicated it is enough to know that this is not a legal requirement. Yet to quote the Harvard business Journal quoting the Journal of Business Ethics (I'm to lazy to find the original source)

“And yet, in an important 2007 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, 31 of 34 directors surveyed (each of whom served on an average of six Fortune 200 boards) said they’d cut down a mature forest or release a dangerous, unregulated toxin into the environment in order to increase profits. Whatever they could legally do to maximize shareholder wealth, they believed it was their duty to do.”

There have been a lot of articles written about the complex business ethics and law involved with this concept but I want to take a different route.

Hey assholes stop being dicks!

Seriously. The legal ramifications aside everyone is human and needs to act accordingly. I will concede that corporations exist only to make a profit. But these corporations are ran by people who need to step in and stop the profit machine when it's about to do something horrible. If I hit someone with my car and drove off I couldn't tell the cops “hey cars exist to get me where I want to go not to stop when someone is hurt”. Cars and corporations don't have a soul that's why we have people.

Life is hard. All around the world things fall on a spectrum somewhere between shitstorm and total disaster. The least we can ask of anyone is to not actively make life worse for the rest of us. I don't begrudge a man who earns his money. A man who works hard and creates something that his fellow man can use has earned his wage. However when that man decides to cheat, lie to, abuse and extort his fellow man for a couple of bucks then I take exception.

In Buddhism the path to enlightenment has 8 steps and the 5 step is “Right Livelihood”. The concept is simple. One must earn their living in a way that doesn't harm others. This concept is over a thousand years old but seems out of place in boardrooms across America. What I'm proposing is nothing new, I've just updated it

Don't be a dick, life is tough enough already.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bullshit Artist

Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.
Dole Office Clerk: What?
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!

-History of the World: Part I

In this short exchange form “History of the world: part I” Mel Brooks brings the paradox of comedy into sharp focus. No matter how important a point a comedian is making there will be people for whom it is just beyond their grasp. To those people, that which they cannot grasp is “bullshit”.

The truth of the matter is comedy is about the truth of the matter. Real, useful, meaningful comedy allows us to explore the truth in life. The problem is no one likes to hear the truth. The truth is like the fat girl at the frat party. You know someone might just fuck her but she's got to be sluted up and someone's going to have to be drunk. The fatter she is the sluttier she's needs to dress and the drunker he's got to get. The same logic applies to the truth.

There are truly horrible things in the world and in our minds. We would be content to pretend they don't exist and that we don't want to have anything to do with them. But if someone dresses the truth up and slips you a roofie you might be buying it breakfast in the morning. This is the job of the comedian. We take the unwashed truth of the world and give it a makeover in the hopes of sending it home with the audience. Yes some comedians see fit to deal in the banal but they aren't worth the time to insult. Subjects like spouse abuse, racism, poverty, mental illness and drug abuse all fall under the preview of the “bullshit artist”. These are issues that we often refuse to face on any level deeper than to admit they are horrible and to tell our children that “we don't discuss these things”. But when properly delivered a joke about rape can send you into the aisles laughing.

So the question becomes, why? Why hold this mirror up to the world? Most people know it's shitty out there. Do you really need to remind people how hard things are? These are legitimate questions. Yes, I agree that most people know how hard the world is. The problem is they never deal with most subjects on any emotional level. If you laugh at something then you've had to internalize the concept and give it merit. You may not “agree” with a joke but you did give it a positive reaction and that might give some pause to think. If you find yourself questioning your own actions that can only lead to good. Either you'll confirm your previously held beliefs or you'll change for the better.

But personally getting a laugh from darkness brings me hope. Like it or not we are all going to have to face things we'd rather not deal with. In our worst times we'll yell, cry and rage at a universe that seems not to care. But if we can find laughter in the dark times then we can find it anytime. I'd like to think that if I stand at the edge of the abyss and stare into oblivion that one of the damned souls around me will ask me to pull their finger.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Death march is as death march does

So the Columbians at north camp hold a ruck march race called the Columbian Death March. It's a 12 mile march with about 50lbs of gear. I was excited to try and take part in it because it's a big part of their military heritage.

In order to compete you have to have a teammate and beat out the other Soldiers in the USBATT in a qualifier. The qualifier is a 6.6 mile ruck march in full gear. I had trouble finding a partner in our age group in my company, our supply sergeant finally stepped up to the plate. He's a 29 year old prior Marine. I was a little worried because he smokes and isn't exactly Lance Armstrong I asked him to do a practice ruck with me but he told me he was fine.

The day started all messed up, times got changed and I didn't prepare the way I wanted to. At any rate I got my ruck set up right and I was ready to go. I kicked off at a good pace and was keeping up with the bullet catchers (grunts, infantry sorts). As I was going I looked back to see my partner lagging behind.

I encouraged him, I made fun of him, I did everything I could but he couldn't keep up. For those of you not accustomed to ruck marches let me tell you pace is EVERYTHING. If you have to slow or stop it kills, in addition to that we were losing time to the bullet catchers. Finally it got to the point where we couldn't see our competitors, I couldn't leave my partner because if I left him I lost automatically. So after about 3 miles of him dragging ass and me losing I told him to pack it in. We could have finished (I had already done it two days before) but if we were going to lose there was no reason to kill ourselves.

I freaking hate losing. So I was not a happy camper this morning. I've decided to take this guy's Marine card, he is no longer allowed to pull that hoorah stuff.

So that's the latest.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Your friendly Neighborhood comic book

Even though we can get off post most of our shopping is done at the Force Exchange, i.e. the FX. The FX is an understocked over priced store that carries all the out of date food you can eat. But what it lacks in selection it makes up for in being on camp.

Even though I may berate it, the FX does contain some American items that are hard to find in town. I have adopted in my daily routine at least on trip to the FX. I like to see if they have added anything new. One thing I always check for is the latest release of a couple of comic books that I have been reading since I got here.

It is really surprising how excited I get when they have a new issue in. Currently I am keeping up on four series; Capitan America, Fantastic Four, Batman and my mentor ... the Hulk. It has been years since I kept up on comic books but these new issues have been very impressive. The art is great and the writing is much better than it was when I was younger.

At any rate little things like the comic books help make the time go by faster.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

So I got this E-mail from Richard petty

Yeah not that guy. I actually got in contact with Dr. Richard Petty from OSU.
I came across his name while looking for articles on psychology and persuasion. Turns out this guy has been studying exactly what I want to study for over 30 years. He has a ton of work on his website, so much so I didn't even know where to start reading.

I decided to e-mail him and ask if he had some selected readings that would be a good start. He got back to me the same day and linked to a few documents that would give me a good start. I'm actually really excited to find someone who specializes in what I want to study. Hopefully I can keep the communication lines open and find my way into a grad slot.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My New Suit

Check out my new suit

I guess this could use a bit of explaining.

There is a tailor on post that makes suits. He has pretty good prices and it looked like he did good work. So I ordered a suit about 3 weeks ago and it finally came in. Everything was done really well except he got me the wrong size shirt. I'm not really sure how that happened because he made the suit to fit. So he is going to buy me another shirt. I bought a shirt at the FX and I'm pretty happy with how it came out. My suit is double breasted except you can't tell in the photo. I know this isn't the most exciting post but my suit rocks.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Northern Exposure

I just got back from a week in North Camp, I always enjoy going there. It's a nice change of pace and gets me away from the craziness of South Camp.

One of my favorite things about North Camp is that they have tons of plants. I get so tired of looking at dirt and lizards all day, it's nice to see birds and trees. They even have a man-made forest with a little walking path that runs through it. I walked down the path for a bit and then took a right angle into the middle of the forest. It was great to smell the trees and and it felt almost like being home. I know this may sound strange but, I saw a rabbit. I haven't seen a normal animal since we got here.

Another great thing about North Camp is being surrounded by all the other contingents. I got to hang out with the Fijians which was interesting. These guys would break out in song at random and sound like they have been practicing together for years. It was a really interesting experience.

That's all the writing for today, I'll be writing more shortly.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

With friends like mine...

Psst... Ahhh...

Sorry I was just enjoying my 20 oz diet Mt. Dew which was lovingly sent to me by my friends at the PAO and NCTC shops at the gap.

That being said they are a bunch of jerks.

You the Mt. Dew must be taken in context of the rest of the gifts they gave me. In addition to the Mt. Dew I received; a National Guard day by day calender, an ACE hardware calender, a dollar off coupon for Subway, a blank thumb drive, a Powerpuff girls bookbag with matching key chains, and finally the best of it all dress SGT rank. Have I mentioned I hate them.

Honestly thought it was really funny and it's always great to get stuff. The real lesson that we all can learn from this is that you should send me Mt. Dew.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Swiming for money

So today was water survival day. Once every month we have to go down to Herb's beach and see if we can survive swimming in the Red Sea in our uniform. If we survive we get our federal taxes back for that month, not a bad trade.

The whole process has gotten worse bit by bit as we have been here. The first time we did it we were in swim trunks and a T-Shirt. That wasn't too bad so they changed it to ACUs and water shoes, now it's full uniform and boots. Even swimming in full uniform isn't that bad until you add the rucksack and rifle. Luckily the Red Sea is more salt than water so you float pretty easily.

One cool thing about the beach here is that the water is very clear and there is a coral reef right there. I know nothing about fish but the ones swimming around there look awesome. They are really bright colors and look awesome. I assume fish are like fruit and the bright colored ones taste awesome but I'm not sure about that.

Life here goes on as normal. I finally sent some video back to Bob so at least I'm earning my pay. I'm anxious to get home but also nervous because I have no idea what I'm going to do. I really need to find a job. I applied for an awesome position as assistant editor at a Ski Film company but I haven't gotten a call back.

I'm also still looking into grad school. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that but I'm going to keep looking. The answer will come and I have some time. The only thing I know for sure is that I'm done with the Army. I'm just done with that whole thing.

Not a whole lot more for now. I'd like to know how you all are doing give me a heads up. and send me some Mt. Dew, I can't get that here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

So America rocks in case you didn't know

Well thanks to Sinai Liberation day I've had a three day weekend. It's been great to have a little free time to relax and this gives me a change to work on this blog thingy.

Last time we got to go out on the town my roommate and I made friends with one of the locals. Ahmed is 24 and runs one of the local essence shops. These shops are all over the place and they use various tactics to make you stay as long as they can so you buy something.

We sat down with Ahmed and talked for almost 2 hours. He told us that he was from Cairo and had been working in Sharm for almost 6 years. He and his best friend Sami ran the shop and were also the people that spoke the best English. Ahmed invited us back for lunch the next day and we decided to take him up on the invitation.

The next day we sat down for lunch at the shop and it was amazing. We had an assortment of beef, chicken, rice, some red sauce and flat bread. I had tried these dishes before at local restaurants but none had come close to what we ate that day. Everything was very flavorful and filling. It was probably the closest thing to a home cooked meal I had ate since Christmas.

After the meal we sat and talked for hours. Of all the things I've learned here the most humbling is how good we have it in America. Ahmed and Sami talked about how they loved the freedom we have in America. They spoke of how the Egyptians would love to change the government but the government is too strong. Ahmed taught me the Arabic word for America and when I pronounced it correctly one of the other workers responded in Arabic. I asked Ahmed what he said and he translated it as “the dream”.

Listening to them I truly understood what it means to be an American. I think that you can never really understand what you have till you speak with someone who doesn't have it. The poverty and oppression that is common place here can pull at he heart of even the most stoic of people.

I know this may all seem hard to understand but if I take anything away from this experience it will be this; I love my country. I may whine and complain, I may get sick and tired of the things I see in the media but in the end I was lucky. I was lucky to be born in a country that allows me to be sick and tired and complain and whine. I can say all this and never fear that the secret police will come knocking on my door.

On the less sappy front I'm ready to come home. I miss everyone a lot and I'm pretty much militared out. I am very busy, which is a good thing. I have a lot of projects backed up because my main edit hard drive went down. I'm working that situation out and should be back up and running soon.

Also it's hot as all get out here. Yesterday it was 102 and we're not even in the hottest part of the year yet. On the plus side I have a great tan. I have a lot more stories, but I've written all I want to for today. See you all soon, love you all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Way up north

As always it's been a while. It's been kind of hectic around here. We finally got someone else in the office. He's going to be taking over the job of dealing with VIPs. This allows me to spend more of my time working on public affairs stuff.

I just got back from a week in north camp. Their public affairs guy had to go home on emergency leave, so I had a ton of work to do. They put together this magazine called the sandpaper, and it was about half done when I got their. Problem was, the half that was done was done wrong. I had to bust my ass to get that thing into shape. It was kind of cool though because half of the magazine is in Spanish. We republish the same stories but have a Columbian translate them for us. Maj. Taylor, the new guy in charge of the office up there, and I worked out that if we flipped everything upside down on the back, then all you have to do is flip the magazine over to read whatever version you want.

I had to try not to laugh when Maj. Taylor asked if I knew Quark. Thank god I spent so much time in the office at the Slate or I would have been killed trying to do everything that I did in Quark. I had to fix so many stupid mistakes their guy made that it would have taken forever if I wasn't Quarkified.

The real reason I was up their was to film the ARE games. It's a competition between the Egyptian army teams and the MFO teams. It was two games, soccer (A.K.A. Fotball) and volleyball (A.K.A. volleyball). The guys from the Egyptian team were amazing and the MFO team wasn't too bad either. I dont' know from soccer but volleyball, wow. The MFO team was represented by the Fijian team which won the tournament in north camp and apparently crushed all commers. Watching the two teams play was like watching really good college volleyball. Them MFO team got crushed but it was a cool event. I was amazed at how good everyone was.

We had to drive to main land Egypt for the event. That was a LONG bus ride. The country out that was is beautiful, which a lot of this area is. We drove past desert ,that actually looked like desert from a movie, for the first time. Big rolling sand dunes with little ripples in them, a lot like the windows xp background. The Beauty of the countryside draws a stark contrast to the ruin of the cities. Most buildings are half built and trash dominates the landscape. It is sometimes hard to imagine that people spend their whole lives like that. In Sharm, where I live most of the time, things are run down, but it is also a tourist trap. So you see the squalor but you also see beautiful Hotels and you don't realize what things are like. As you drive around up north you see more the everyday life. It really does make you happy for what you have back home and at the same time it makes you wish you could do something for them. Really though, until they no longer have a dictatorship and decide they want to move out of other dark ages, it won't happen. The few that embrace the modern culture seem to live well and the rest are slaves to their faith.

Enough of that depressing stuff. We did get to drive under the Suez Canal which was awesome. The road we were on took us right next to the canal for a while. It's pretty amazing to think that people built that. It's at least as wide as most rivers I've seen and ships were backed up waiting their turn to get through the passes. It's something most don't think about much, but shipping is the lifeblood of most of the world.We took a tunnel underneath the canal to get to mainland Egypt. On the way back I managed to hold my breath through the whole tunnel, once again showing Pittsburgh prepared me well.

Today I'm heading out to town. I need this day off and I have my handy dandy flask, of course that's another story. I miss you all and I'll be home as soon as I can.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

So I'm in Washington

I packed my bags at 1:30 a.m. this morning and was eating breakfast while most of you were at last call. We screwed around until about 4:00 a.m when the buses rolled in. We packed in the buses and made our way to the airport. It was cool boarding the plane because we rolled right onto the runway and went up a set of stairs like they used to in the 1960s. Also it was a little weird because everyone was carrying a gun. The plane was small, SMALL, see so small I had to use large letters. Other than having no room it wasn't that bad, we had two meals and they were pretty good. The coolest part of the trip was seeing the Rocky Mountains. On one side there was a sea of clouds and when they hit the mountains they broke up and it was clear sky. So now we are at Fort Lewis and it's a nice post, brand new buildings and very cool looking, except where we are staying. We are in run down WWII barracks and are sleeping in bunk beds. All in all it's not that bad, the Cav is the Cav and I've come to terms with it. I'll keep you guys updated when I can, no time to proof read must publish.