Sunday, February 28, 2010

The US Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corp of Engineers is one of those organizations that you don't hear much about until something goes wrong. We hardly heard them mentioned at all until Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Then everyone is asking about what happened to the levees? It is odd how accountability is rarely an issue until we hand out blame.

The Corp was started when General Washington and the Continental Congress, during the American Revolutionary War, appointed Colonel Richard Gridley as chief engineer of the army. One of their first projects was to build fortifications around Breeds and Bunker Hill in Boston. Most of the actually engineers at the time were French civilians hired by Washington. The Corp didn't become a separate entity until 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson.

Today's Corp consists about over 30,000 civilians and over 600 military personnel. Some of the more famous projects that Corp has worked include the Panama Canal, the Washington Monument, the Pentagon and the Manhattan Project.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


One of the greatest resources on the net is Snopes. I used it today to debunk an email my wife received from a friend about a Facebook virus. The email was a little bogus and we confirmed this on snopes. It is go to place to confirm not only rumors about computer viruses but urban legends in general. Snopes was founded and still run by a married couple, Barbara and David Mikkelson. recently reviewed Snopes' political links and they were deemed unbiased in regards to Bush, Palin and Obama. gets its name from some lesser known novels by William Faulkner often called The Snopes Trilogy (The Hamlet, The Village and The Mansion). The Snopes are an unpleasant southern family. The patriarch Ab is a barn burner (are there any Faulkner works without a barn burner?), a sharecropper and a horse thief. I could find over 20 characters named Snopes in Faullker works referenced on several different web sites. Until today, I had not heard of any of them.

Friday, February 26, 2010


A MacGuffin is a plot device that writers use to grab the reader's attention and drives the plot but doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with the rest of the story. MacGuffins are used a lot in film, particularly by Hitchcock. He invented the term.

My favorite example of a MacGuffin is the $40,000 in the movie Psycho. If you think about the plot, you don't necessarily think of the money, you think of the Bates Motel or Norman's relationship with his mom ... or perhaps the shower scene or the eerie scene on the stairs ... What a great film! You have to really think about the film to even remember the $40,000. It is what brings Janet Leigh's character, Marion Crane to the Bates Motel. She stole the money from her employer and she is run away. The money is only important in that it brings her away from her normal safe world into the scary world of Norman. Upon first watching this film, the money is a distraction which you quickly forget about after the shower scene.

A more recent example is R2D2 in the original Star Wars. George Lucas refers to this androids a MacGuffin because he drives the plot of the film but it has little to do with the story. All the characters in the film are brought together by R2D2 but the droids has no importance other than that in the story.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The New Hendrix Album

March 9th of 2010 is a very exciting day for musicheads like myself. Valleys of Neptune, the latest record by Jimi Hendrix, is being released. Hendrix died over 40 years ago, but there is still previously unreleased music sitting around waiting to be released. These songs were recorded in that dark period after Electric Ladyland when fans didn't know whether The Experience had broken up or not.

The new album is expected to be one of the best records of the year. It includes seven unreleased songs: "Valleys of Neptune," "Hear My Train a Comin'," "Mr. Bad Luck," "Loverman" "Ships Passing Through the Night," "Lullaby for the Summer" and "Crying Blue Rain." Also, new instrumental cover of Creme's "Sunshine of Your Love" and Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart." Three redo's of his old classics "Stone Free," "Fired" and "Red House" will also be on the album. This is very exciting. Hendrix is arguably rock's best guitarist.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Presidential Polling

CNN released results from a poll this week that shows that over 50% of Americans think Obama shouldn't run for a second term. This sounds shocking but I just heard one of my favorite journalists, Jack Beatty (someone I trust), say that Ronald Reagan had similar numbers in his first year. I haven't been able to confirm this anywhere on the net, but to be honest I didn't try that long. It makes sense to me though. The unemployment rate was extremely high when he took office. He inherited Carter's mess much like Obama inherited Bush's. People want miracles and don't have the patience that an economic recovery could take. I won't expect the employment situation to be good until 2012 or so which doesn't bode well for a re-election. Whether he caused it or not, doesn't seem to matter much. He owns it regardless.

I lived through the Reagan era and I have to admit he is not one of my favorite presidents. I cringe when I hear someone raving about him. They seem to think that everyone liked him ... wanting to put his face on currency and mountain sides etc. In my search for the Beatty data today I stumbled on some other interesting data that does show that I am not alone. I found an article on the Gallup web site that shows the average presidential approval rating since WW II. Reagan's approval is not only not the highest but surprisingly low. He is only high if you compare him to the three presidents before him. Some say that his greatest accomplishment is that he restored the electorate's faith in the presidency. He didn't restore mine, but the numbers show a different story about the average. They are certainly higher than Nixon's, Ford's and Carter's. Big whoop! Bush 43 is not in the list yet. The article is from 2004 so the numbers were not in yet. I would love to see them added to this graph.

Clinton, Bush 41, Eisenhower, Johnson and Kennedy all had a higher average approval rating than Reagan ... and there is no talk of putting any of them up on Mt. Rushmore.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Few things frustrate me more than hypocrisy. I do agree, like Walt Whitman says, that we are large and we contradict ourselves. Anyone that has ever struggled with a complicated issue finds themselves contradicting themselves as they intellectually tackle a subject. It is merely human nature to paint yourself in the corner when you intellectually attempt to delve into a challenging subject. This is not what bothers me. What bothers me, infuriates me, are the people who spend a good part of their careers saying one thing in public and doing the opposite in private. I am talking about the politician that is outspoken opponent of gay rights while in private he is having illicit affairs in airport men's rooms ....or the Governor who as an Attorney General became famous for this prosecution of prostitution johns while secretly being a long time member of the The Emperor's Club .... or the politician who touts his family-life as politic capital but supports a secret love child, pounds every women on his staff or has a Argentinian mistress. It is contrasting realities between the public image and the private reality that makes voters so skeptical. I have few doubts that this a major cause of our low turn outs at the polls ... the on-going belief that nothing that they say or do has anything to do with who they really are.

The year 2009, in politics, could easily be called the Year of Hypocrisy although I do not know if it was worse than any other. We may remember the year by the improprieties of Tiger Woods or David Letterman. They certainly deserve some scorn for their behavior, but neither of them preached a chaste life. The public will probably forget the Larry Craig's, Elliot Spitzer's, Mark Sanford's and Jon Edwards' scandals. Sex scandals generally don't bother me so much because it is usually someone's personal life and that is none of my business. But if we are talking about someone like Idaho Senator Larry Craig ... it really is our business. The man was outspoken against gays while meeting gay prostitutes in airport men's rooms around the country. Again, the hypocrisy is maddening.

These are just sex scandals. When the hypocrisy involves a much bigger issue ... like the federal deficit ... it is more than maddening. It is something that obsesses me a little. Like I want to reach out and choke someone. If you turn on Fox "News" (I put in quotes because they are really not a news channel) you would think that the deficit spending that President Obama is doing is out of control. I agree the amount of spending his administration is doing is concerning but compared to the previous administration's flippant spending, I am not too concerned.

Here is a good article from the New York Times that puts it in perspective. It was published about a half year ago so I am sure some of this has changed some. It puts the current deficit in four categories of causes:
  • Recessions or the business cycle (37%);
  • Policies enacted by President Bush (33%);
  • Policies enacted by President Bush and supported or extended by President Obama (20%); and
  • New policies from President Obama (10%).
So only 10% of the current deficit is based on Obama policies. But if you watched (and were stupid enough to believe) Fox "News", the Republicans and the Tea Bag crazies, you'd think that it was 100% Obama's. It is a current Republican talking point that Obama's spending is driving the deficit out of control and they are very good at staying on message, but they are being complete hypocrites on this subjects.

Here is the hypocrisy, Bush spent in the following manner and came up with no way of paying for these:
  • the war in Iraq
  • the war in Afghanistan
  • the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003
I don't remember any Republican pundits being outraged by Bush's spending. I remember a lot of reasonable people I know, some Republicans, some Democrats and some just concerned citizens being outraged. But Fox "News" not a word. Apparently, they only get outraged when black Democratic presidents spends money.

Here is a great graph I stole from Wikipedia (thank you). It shows the growth of the deficit. Notice how Bush inherited a surplus from Clinton. He also inherited a thriving economy. But come 2009, Obama inherits two very expensive wars which have never been paid for but also an economy in the tank.

You can take each of the things that Bush spent our money on and debate their virtues or lack thereof, but whatever a President spends money on ... shouldn't they also come up with a way of paying for it? If they can't come up with a way of paying for it ... like your household budget ... shouldn't the President just not do it. If it was an emergency, like stimulating an economy on the way to a depression, I can understand. If Roosevelt can do this during WW II shouldn't Bush have been able to do it.

I am not a huge fan of the Democrats. I mainly vote for Democrats because the Republican alternative is just not acceptable. Their hypocrisies don't cost me as much money.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Rock n' Roll Jihad

When I was younger, college age, my friends would refer to me as a rockologist ... basically someone who knew a lot (probably too much) about rock 'n roll. I am in my 40's now and I still maintain some knowledge of current rock and pop music, but I am not like I used to be. I am not a fanatic like I was, but rarely do I find out that one of the best selling rock n' rollers in the world is someone that I never heard of.

Salman Ahmad is a Pakistani rock 'n roller. He grew up in New York City listening to rock music, the same rock that I grew up to. When he was a teen, his parents asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He pointed at a poster of Jimmy Page. His parents were not too happy about this and sent him back to Lahore, Pakistan after he graduated high school to study to become a doctor. He studied medicine and, today, is technically still a doctor. In the time that his family left Pakistan, it had changed drastically. The Taliban had become more popular in his absence and Sharia law was being enforced in much of Pakistani life. He once pulled out his guitar at a talent show at school and played Eddie Van Halen's Eruption. This was his first run in with those that thought music was incompatible with Islam.

He gave up practicing medicine after his band, Vital Signs, first album, Vital Signs I, sold over a million copies in 1989. They are commonly known as Pakistan's first rock band. His current band, Junoon, is having similar success. They often have to appear under different name because their music is banded in Pakistan.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Japanese City Blocks

Japanese city streets address are different from the US's. In Japan the streets don't have names, but the blocks are numbered. The houses on the block are not numbered in order of position but by chronological order. So if someone told you their address in Tokyo, they could say they were at house #1 block 17. That would mean they were the first house built on that block. #2 on block 17 could be on the other side of the block nowhere near #1. This could be very confusing for us American who give addresses by street name. In Japan, the street is just the space between the blocks. In the US, the blocks are meaningless.

Here is a good visual of this: Japanese Addresses