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Friday, January 31, 2014

Rank Offenses: Military Insignia Explained to Non-Veterans

First of all, I’d like to state once and for all that I was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force and my leaving had nothing to do with a certain incident on a Greek island involving two topless Swedish tourists (consenting adults), a huge sheet of plastic, and four gallons of high quality olive oil—any rumor to the contrary is a horrible slander instigated by Al Qaeda. Next, I’d like to say that nothing irks vets more than to see movies screw up U.S. military uniforms.  Every veteran is an expert on how a uniform should be worn. This isn’t because vets are all fastidious dressers, but simply because the military puts a LOT of emphasis on the uniform. If you showed up at your post with your uniform looking like it does in many movies and TV shows, you’d be escorted directly to the nearest military prison while given ample opportunity to review current dress code norms. It’s time to set the record straight on military insignia and dress.

In the short version explaining military insignia, enlisted men and women have their rank (in the form of stripes) on their sleeve while officers have it on their shoulders. Although the insignia are different for each service branch an easy rule to remember for enlisted people is that the more stripes the higher the rank. For officers rank progresses with silver trumping gold from bars, to clusters, to an eagle, and then stars.

As far as the medals and decorations military folks wear on the uniform, things can get a lot more complicated. Most of the ribbons you see above the breast pocket of uniforms are given out simply for doing your job. As Woody Allen once said about life, showing up is about 80% of military decorations. Then there are other badges, tabs, and patches that elite units pay for with blood, sweat, tears, and usually enormous amounts of alcohol, at least at some phase of the operation. Quite often when dealing with decorative ribbons and uniforms it’s difficult even for military people to tell the difference between a true hero and someone who was just along for the ride.
Everyone should remember that just showing up for military service is a hell of a sacrifice and merits respect. At least that’s the opinion of this pacifist (mostly), peace-loving vet.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In Praise of Acting Badly

I'm rooting for the half-naked guy no matter what he did.


You can keep your stiff upper lip and your chin held high and your bitten bullet; when I’m faced with even the slightest bit of adversity I find that getting completely hysterical is often the best course of action. When the shit hits the fan the last thing I want to do is keep my composure, whatever that is. And even if I did have composure why on earth would I be interested in hanging on to it? It’s just going to get covered in fecal matter. Weren’t you listening? The excrement has struck the fan, man! Now it’s all over your stiff lip because I used you as a human shield and ran for it like any sensible person would. The Youtube video of my rather undignified retreat is a small price to pay…and I don’t have to take a shower like some people I know.  

Keep calm you say? You keep calm; I’m too busy trying to throw a couple of these women and children out of the lifeboat to make room for me and my luggage. I’ll calm down as soon as we row away from all of these poor slobs dog-paddling around us trying to make their way on to my boat. I paid a lot of money for this cruise and there’s no reason why hitting an iceberg in the middle of the night should get in the way of my comfort.

It is my personal opinion that unrestrained panic is way under-rated as a problem solving device. Panic unleashes lots of pent-up energy and adrenalin, sort of like being high on PCP.* I’d like to see a calm person lift a parked car off their own foot, pretty much child’s play for someone high on PCP or a panicky type. Panic gives us superhuman powers like the ability to outrun the cops while half-naked…or at least panic makes us think this is possible.

There is an old saying that goes “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” To bring this into modern times replace “squeaky wheel” with “hostage pleadinging for their life like a spoiled child” and “grease” with “the only adult male passenger released by the terrorists” and you have a happy ending to your story. If you don’t hysterically beg for mercy how will they even know that you don’t want to be shot on the tarmac?

*You just don’t hear much about PCP or “angel dust” these days. It kind of went out of style like acid-washed jeans. Sic transit gloria mundi. I probably cite this Latin quotation too often in an effort to show off but I think it’s truly appropriate here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Winter that Wasn't

For all of the mouth-breathers who point to the recent cold spell along America’s east coast as proof that global climate change is some vast hoax I invite you to take a look at the weather here in Valencia this month of January. Of course, only children confuse weather for climate and a few days of cold or heat do not point to anything in particular. My observation that we haven’t had anything approaching winter temperatures here in this corner of Spain is simply anecdotal. I rely on climate scientists to study the phenomena of weather more thoroughly and I put my trust in what the vast majority of them are saying about the dangers of doing nothing about man’s effect on the global climate.

On a recent American political discussion show one guest—a Republican strategist—was completely flummoxed when the subject of climate change was introduced. This person who is obviously educated couldn’t possibly believe the load of shit Republicans are serving up on this subject, mostly that global climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the all-powerful university scientific lobby. The way Republicans cling to their ridiculous views on the subject reminds me of kamikaze pilots flying into enemy vessels without a moment’s hesitation to sacrifice all for their beliefs.