Saturday, March 31, 2012

Movie Review: "Four Lions"

The Spousal Unit and I watched a DVD this evening, which moved back and forth from comedy to tragedy. Four Lions is the fictional story of four friends, three Pakistani-British, and one Anglo Brit, all muslims, who have formed a small jihadi cell in London. I won't reveal the plot, but if you are a fan of extremely dark humor, and are interested in a take on the culture of Britons of Pakistani origin, this film should be added to your movie rental list.
Personally, Four Lions left me feeling both sad and enlightened, which is a rare mix these days. Plus I felt guilty for laughing at scenes which were plainly intended to be funny...and were...but then again, not so much. Yep, that's what a conflicted Leprechaun writes after having his head screwed with.
See Four Lions, then let me know what you think/feel about it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goldbricks and Fobbits and REMFs, Oh My!

A wise old non-commissioned officer I used to work with, told me he classified problems in one of two ways: "The situation is either a snowball, or an avalanche...the trick is knowing the difference!" SFC Gore often added a caveat to his theorem, something to the effect of "...but sometimes what starts out as a snowball turns into an avalanche!"
Without going into details, I find myself encountering situations at work more and more frequently which begin as snowballs, but thanks to what I'll politely refer to as the "REMF Multiplier", are needlessly morphing into avalanches.
It is downright amazing how the REMF Multiplier can completely dismember a unit's formerly-high morale in the space of a few months, even overcoming that unit's highly effective, positive leadership. Even though I have witnessed similar occurences during my various careers, perhaps it is a symptom of my previously-diagnosed PDD (Pessimism Deficit Disorder) that I still get blindsided by those avalanches from time to time.
I imagine that SFC Gore would counsel me thusly: "Sir, it's time to seriously think about getting your ass out of the snowfield, and leave it to those effing REMFs!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom...

Today is your birthday. I'm sad that you aren't around any more, but you sure aren't forgotten.

Has America Created A "Warrior Class"?

One of the benefits of being back in the Army is entry into the exclusive society that surrounds our armed forces these days.  It is definitely a different culture now than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Eleven years of being at war, with no draft to alleviate the pressure on our volunteer force, will have that effect.

As a result, I'm beginning to believe that a Warrior Class is forming, and this may create far-reaching challenges for our country. There has been a lot of discussion about how only one percent of our population has served, or is still serving in our military, since September 11, 2001, (aka the Global War On Terror, or GWOT.). That one percent, whether active duty, reserve, or National Guard, have almost all served at least a year of combat deployment...and most in the Army have two or more years of combat duty under their belts. While the sheer numbers of combat vets are smaller than immediately after World War II, the predominate difference in demographics lies in the fact that we OIF/OEF vets were 100% volunteers...not a draftee among us.
Our military members are justifiably proud of stepping up to serve when not compelled to do so, especially when the chance of being deployed was about 90%. Even those of us that strongly disagreed with the decision to invade and occupy Iraq are generally okay with the concept of not letting our unit brothers and sisters down. Professional warriors tend to think that way..."Band of Brothers" isn't a slogan, it's reality.
The American Public, as a whole, has been exceptionally supportive of our military during the GWOT. For those of us who were in the armed forces during the Vietnam War era, this attitude stands in marked contrast to the days when soldiers were spat upon in airports, and ROTC buildings were firebombed. I have really appreciated this difference, but many of my younger compatriots routinely express indifference, even annoyance when a civilian says, "Thank you for your service." On various social media sites, in groups where soldiers comment on current events or routine stupidities, many military folks post derisive blurbs about how civilians ought to keep their "thank you's" to themselves, because it doesn't mean anything coming from a non-veteran. And while those same groups brush off civilians, or even military spouses who have the gall to express an opinion about a military related topic, they are just as brutal in their dislike for anyone perceived not to be hard core combat troops, which generally means any Person Other than Grunts, or POGs. By the way, the term "Fobbit" is interchangeable with's the GWOT's equivalent of Vietnam's REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F****r), or WWII's Goldbricker/ Garritrooper (Garrison Trooper). And God help you if you happen to be a lowly reservist or National Guard member, even if you've served in combat three times longer than your active duty critic!

Anyway, to complete my thought, many soldiers allude in internet commentary that they hate the current administration for not being tough enough, having the willingness to lay waste to the Middle East, for not having served in the military, or for taking away their benefits. Some even suggest that a military-led revolution might be a good course of action.  While I certainly don't believe that the majority of our military personnel would countenance the extremist views, the gap between GWOT service members/veterans and the rest of society seems to widen each year. With support for the war in Afghanistan rapidly shrinking, and recent instances of war crimes or stateside mayhem committed by current or former GWOT vets, the public is definitely less effusive in their gratitude. Add in the media's increasing tendency to portray all of us war vets as damaged PTSD-deranged simmering volcanos of hate and discontent, and we're suddenly separated by a virtual Grand Canyon.

Groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have done yeoman work to help find common ground between vets and the public, and try to balance the media's sensationalism with rational, factual responses...but on the social media sites, an awful lot of service members criticize IAVA leadership for not being radical enough, or (ironically) being out of touch with soldiers, because most of the staff are no longer on active duty.

I started wondering if it this way after the Civil War? WWI? WWII? Korea? (I know it was like this after Vietnam, though the media seemed to pay a lot less attention to veteran's issues, and the public pretty much didn't embrace their military back then.) Again, the key difference was that during those previous wars, the military swelled its ranks with draftees, or volunteers "for the duration" of the war. Once it was over, they were discharged back into civilian life. While the transition issues were pretty similar, (I highly recommend reading WWII's premier soldier-cartoonist-writer Bill Mauldin's  book, Back Home, for a former G.I.'s point of view), none of these wars lasted ten years, nor involved such a small percentage of the U.S. population.

I don't have a definitive answer to my own questions...but it sure is something to consider.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

And Speaking of "Customer Service"...

I was all set to attend a 3-week Army training course next month...orders in-hand, travel and lodging arranged, physical fitness level improved to acceptable levels, and military leave arranged at work. However, once again "Murphy" raised his ugly mug, and all plans came to a sudden halt. The cause of this? Why, it should come as no surprise to regular readers of my blog that the lumbering, slow-witted bureaucracy that is the U.S. Army threw itself once more across the pathway of progress. Specifically, I needed to have a current "Over 40" physical exam, complete with an EKG, in hand when I reported in to Ft Leonard Wood, MO. When I discovered this requirement several weeks ago, my unit administrative dude attempted to get it authorized through our battalion (located in Southern California), since our headquarters reserved that authority for themselves. (It apparently wouldn't do to have old geezer-warriors having EKGs at the drop of a hat, or something?) What our own admin guy could have no doubt accomplished in an hour, the staff weenies down south advised would require at least a month. Heilige Scheisse!  I also tried to arrange an appointment through the local Army hospital, but that route presented an entirely different set of roadblocks. So, with time running out, and no apparent solution in sight, I had to cancel going to this course, which meant I also had to cancel all of the airline, rental car, and lodging reservations, which took two weeks to arrange through the "less-than-awesome" Defense Travel Service website.

The one upside to this defeat is that I will be able to devote more time to a work project which is fast approaching an immovable deadline...but on the whole, I would have much more enjoyed shooting, ramming cars, and driving fast than being hunkered down in my cubicle, cross-referencing nuclear regulations. (Who wouldn't?)

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you!

I suppose it would be an "epic fail" to let this Irish holiday go by without posting some sort of acknowledgement...and I could very well be in danger of losing my nickname to boot!

I've got the pleasure of attending what should be an excellent party tonight with colleagues. The food and fellowship is always great at this particular gathering, with none of that lame green beer or other fake Irish schtick in evidence. As the designated driver, I will wait until returning home to raise a glass of Jameson's, but I'll have fun all the same. Slainte'!

It's very good to be home after a week on the road. I had a very rewarding experience, working shoulder to shoulder with the good folks of a county on the Columbia River Gorge. We crafted a solid emergency management plan during the week, which should serve their citizens well when the 'guacamole hits the fan', so to speak.  I've said it before here, that the best part of my emergency management job is providing planning assistance to the folks on the front lines. The attitude of self-reliance is common in these rural/agricultural jurisdictions, and people seem to work well together. I had fun, though by Friday I was pretty well tuckered out, and ready to get back to the Spousal Unit and pups.  By the way, if you happen to be driving through The Dalles, Oregon, I highly recommend stopping for lunch at the historic Baldwin Saloon. First opened in 1876, it's a nicely-preserved "iron-front" building. Lots of great grub on the menu, and friendly service.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Keep Hearing the Siren Song of Retirement...

...and I've got to plug my ears!
When dumb, repetitive bureaucratic idiocy occurs in my world, and it occurs in close proximity to a good round of golf, those seductive siren songs start calling, "It's time to retire, Leprechaun!"  There's a lot of conflict from those thoughts. I like my job, well at least the actual work, and my boss and colleagues are great. I also enjoy doing my Army Reserve duties, which provide excellent incentive to stay in shape, and there is ample opportunity for Fun, Travel, and Adventure these days!

So aside from golf, what songs are the sirens crooning? Well, I have a number of friends who are of similar age, and retired from law enforcement or the fire service, like I did in 2006. They are all living in places like Arizona or Hawaii during the winter, spending time with grandkids, and yep, on the golf course, or fishing, or doing the occasional consulting job. I admit to envying these guys, and even more so when the bureaucratic idiocy mentioned earlier rises to painful levels.

I also hear dissenting voices..."Suck it up, Buttercup!" "You'll be bored, dude!" "Life is not meant to be enjoyed, until you are REALLY old!" Those comments certainly represent conventional wisdom, but I'm rarely accused of being a slave to convention!

The comment board is open...What do you think?
UPDATE: I just made the mistake of watching Office Space. Definitely not a good movie to encourage someone to continue working in a cubicle! (Though my boss is nothing like "Bill Lumbergh", and so far, nobody has removed my red Swingline stapler from my desk!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Ding Dong, The Laptop's Dead..."

My Hewlitt-Packard laptop finally decided that it was going on the 120-Day Disabled List (Baseball reference required, as Spring Training is ON!). It performed reasonably well during my time at Ft McCoy, Ft Lewis, and Iraq, but it never really recovered after ingesting all Middle Eastern that sand and dust. Lately, my laptop started going dark while in the middle of projects, freezing up for an hour or so, and refusing to obey my commands altogether. No computer of mine is going to get away with ignoring CTRL - ALT- DELETE, boy howdy!
The last straw came last night, as I was attempting to do a critical task on a Department of Defense (DoD) website.  It had taken me about an hour to input all of the data required, and just as I clicked on "Submit Form for Digital Signature", Mister Laptop emitted the computer noise equivalent of "Take This Job and Shove It!" No amount of rebooting, cajoling, or threats to insert a Yanni music CD seemed to have any effect.  I went to bed, defeated and despairing. This morning, I got Mister Laptop running, but not much else. (Fortunately, John, our unit administrator and worthy soldier, was in the office today, and offered to assist with my DoD task...which is now done!)
Back to Mr. Laptop...It was clear that I would need to replace him, permanently. Since our primary computer is a Mac, with which Army software is largely incompatible (surprise!), I needed to regain that capability, and fast.
Thanks once more to a supportive Spousal Unit, we figured out a way to make it happen without breaking the bank. A smaller, faster Dell laptop fit all the parameters. Now I'm on dueling computers, writing this while creating system recovery disks, setting up internet favorites, and downloading the required security certificates to log onto DoD systems. Let's hope the new "Mr. Laptop" gives the same yeoman service as the retired veteran did!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Every Day's a Holiday!"

Some people who aren't in show business have "catch phrases"...(A movie example would be Arnold Schwarzenegger's ubiquitous "I'll Be Back!") My boss invariably responds to bureaucratic silliness with, "It is what it is."
My own catch phrase is one borrowed from one of my favorite senior sergeants during the early 80s. SFC Carl Gore, a short, perpetually cheerful, and highly competent supply sergeant/logistics staff guy, would greet us each morning with, "Every day's a holiday...Yes, Lord!" SFC Gore's lopsided grin, coupled with his West Virginia twang, never failed to make me smile. When I became a cop, I adopted the first part of SFC Gore's catch phrase because it helped to balance the cynical attitudes of my fellow officers. It does convey my personal philosophy, and whenever I utter it when things aren't going as planned, my own outlook improves.
So, how does a person select a catch phrase for themselves? If you have reached a point in life where you need or want to do such a thing, the selection process must be honored. You can't force it, and it has to be consistent with your personality. I knew a young cop who adopted Sgt Roger Murtaugh's (Danny Glover's character in the Lethal Weapon series) expression: "I'm getting too old for this sh*t!" Since my colleague looked like he was 14 years old, with a voice to match, this particular catch phrase just didn't fit. (He eventually discarded it, much to everyone's relief.)
Do YOU have a catch phrase? How did you select it? Does it seem to resonate with others whenever you say it?

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Yesterday's Technology...TODAY!"

That's apparently the motto of U.S. Army Information Technology (IT), and it's showing no indication of changing for the better anytime soon.

Back in the old days, when men were men, and electric typewriters were cutting edge, it could take several staff hours just to produce one error-free officer or enlisted efficiency report. "White-Out", or correction tape was prohibited, so one little mistake resulted in the offending form being ripped from the typewriter, cursed roundly, and a fresh form inserted.  In the late 70s, when I was a tank battalion adjutant (personnel officer) in Germany, the battalion commander and I pooled our funds and bought our new civilian clerk one of those new word processors, and a daisy wheel printer. Once she got the hang of it, the clerk would set up the tabs and margins on her little green screen, type the words, I'd proofread it, and then she'd insert the blank form, and Voila'!... an error-free report!

When I came back in the Army in 2008, I quickly discovered that despite the tremendous advances in computer technology being successfully utilized in the civilian sector, such advances weren't even close to being fully implemented. Oh, sure, lots of processes and routine mandatory training were supposedly "On Line"...but were in reality a major obstacle to efficiency.  Frustration reached a crescendo while in Iraq, as all of our investigation reports had to be created and stored on a remote server, which required reliable internet service ("Strike ONE!"), computers which were rugged enough to withstand the hostile environment, ("Strike TWO!"), and an IT team that could troubleshoot and repair/replace machines and system infrastructure...("SteeRIKE THREE...Yer OUT!") Some agents even rustled up a couple of clunky Iraqi knock-offs of old Smith-Corona manual typewriters, so they could at least write up case reports. Naturally their initiative was "rewarded" with disdain, and a reminder that we were a "digital agency"...never mind the fact that we also had to maintain paper case files as our primary record.

What sparked this evening's rant was my participation in continued computer silliness during our Battle Assembly yesterday and today. Most of us were assigned to complete two online training modules, each designed to take no more than 60 minutes. Finding a computer which would recognize our access cards took about 45 minutes. Finding where these training modules were hiding within the Army Online Training Website took another 20 minutes. So now each of us soldiers have expended around 65 minutes, and had yet to actually start the dang classes! Of course, things continued to deteriorate. For one course, I logged in, completed the training (I timed it, and it took me 72 minutes), and then clicked on the link to take the final exam, and print my certificate of completion...without which the whole process never existed. (Very existential, I'll give the Army that much.) Upon clicking the test link, I got an error message which informed me that I "didn't have permission to access that website." I tried using the "back arrow", and clicking on the link again: Same no-go. I then figured my best tactic was to refresh the screen, which usually works quite well in a "normal" situation. Here, this approach yielded a whole new message, happily informing me that I had erased my progress, and needed to start the training over from the beginning. Here's the "coup de irony"...I apparently needed to complete the module and the test in order to have permission to access the secure website where the test link should have taken me. I could almost hear Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez shouting, "RE-JECTED!" like in that cheesy "Just For Men" hair color commercial from a few years ago. I ended up leaving drill early, so that I could go home and complete the second training module from my home computer. (Using my iMac and broadband internet connection, I finished the training in 15 minutes.)

I'd like to believe that in the higher headquarters, like the Pentagon, none of these digital hedgerows exist. In fact, I'm 100% certain that this is indeed the case. Because no fighting force could be so darn successful as we are, with crapola IT at the top. That's my fantasy, anyway, so please don't disillusion me if that's not the case. Thanks.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Adios, Facebook! (And it didn't even take 12 Steps!)

I became acquainted with Facebook during my deployment to Iraq. I had envisioned this blog as being the best platform to keep in touch with friends, colleagues, and family, but one work colleague sent me an email, urging me to give Facebook (FB) a try. Her argument was that FB was more timely, and easier to keep track of multiple friends and their activities. I was skeptical, believing that FB consisted of insipid updates about what TV show friends were watching, or what they had for breakfast/lunch/dinner.  Well, after setting up an account, I discovered that there was indeed some of those trivial posts, but also a lot of good connections. I renewed contact with respected cousins, nieces, nephews, an aunt, old friends from high school, college, law enforcement, and the "Old Army", and found it much easier to write a quick status or post a comment on a friend's wall, than to construct a blog entry.

As my "friends list" grew (as of tonight, there was a grand total of 260), I spent a lot of time tracking what was going on in my new world. While FB may not have been an addiction, I found myself unconsciously wondering how folks had reacted to my last brilliant status update, or witty reply left on their "Wall". My ethereal social network continued to grow, and I truly enjoyed making the acquaintance of some very impressive people...many of them "friends of friends" spread out around the globe. Some were (are) celebrities, like the talented clubhouse reporter for our Major League baseball team, a superb best-selling mystery writer, a QVC Network host, while others were future superstars, like an Army attack helicopter pilot who is a PhD candidate and soon to be astronaut.

Being a sociable person by nature, I thrived on the ability to interact with so many people on a regular basis, and enjoyed the challenge of writing to amuse, inform, spur a debate, or simply entertain. It's very seductive, having such a large audience out there 24/7! Naturally, the downside to FB was how easy it became to divide my attention between my Spousal Unit and my FB pals. What moved my FB use to a new, and darker level was my acquisition of an iPhone...which I immediately used to download the FB app. Now, constant updates flashed on the darkened screen, alerting me that "Somebody just did SOMETHING!" which of course I just had to see. Didn't matter if we were watching TV, eating dinner, or talking about random stuff...the siren call of a status update or "like" invariably caught my eye. Yeah, it sure sounds similar to the pervy dudes who are out with their wife or girlfriend, but just can't help swiveling their necks to check out some young babe strolling in the opposite direction. My Spousal Unit made a few softly-barbed comments about my wandering iPhone habit, but generally refrained from actively rebuking me.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that my behavior was not real functional. What made the need for change even more apparent was the growing numbers of political postings, mostly by far right-wingers, who denigrated anyone who thinks differently than they, labeling them as "libtards", "traitors", "communist/socialist/terrorist", or just plain unpatriotic. (I do have several very conservative friends and colleagues who avoid this behavior, and are capable of having a very civil discourse with those of a different persuasion...for which I am very thankful!) I got just as annoyed by the strident left-wing folks, though these types tend to display a much lower "Adam Henry Quotient" than their Ultra-Conservative opponents. So when Facebook started to resemble less of a social gathering, and more of a Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film (cue the "Horst Wessel Lied"!), I realized it was time to bail out.

I will still keep in touch with my friends, colleagues and relatives via email, in-person visits, and phone calls...but it won't intrude constantly on my time with my excellent Spousal Unit. As an added benefit, I hope that discarding my former FB creative writing outlet will spur me to work more diligently on my novel and blog. So, Adios, Facebook, and Vaya Con Bozos!