Sunday, December 27, 2020

Working Around Hurry Up and Wait


Anyone associated with the United States Armed Forces should be intimately familiar with the concept of “Hurry up and Wait.” For those who don't have a clue, that phrase is used to signify a screwed up situation in which a person or group is forced to quickly complete a task, or reach a destination by a certain time, only for nothing to happen at that scheduled moment. In the military this usually occurs when other required tasks have not been completed.

Although in my experience it was dumbass officers and their inability to plan or outright fear of making a decision that triggered most Hurry up and Wait scenarios. Either way, back in 1999 I was forced into a Hurry up and Wait/no-win situation between my wife and the South Carolina National Guard that I so successfully navigated by changing the rules Captain James T. Kirk would have approved.

It started on Saturday morning on a typical drill weekend with my squad and I performing our usual duties. That involved our preventive maintenance checks on both our communication equipment and the military vehicles and took most of the morning. Nothing exciting and my squad went about the duties efficiently but still having a good time catching up with each other.

After chow, the rest of that day was spent on various soldier's training classes with neither the officers nor senior NCOs saying anything about important tasks that were supposed to be accomplished. And when we had the final formation later that afternoon, everyone in the unit went home thinking the Sunday drill would be a breeze.

The next morning though something had radically changed. The First Sergeant's demeanor at roll call that morning was icy at best and when the company CO (Commanding Officer) appeared, the entire unit knew something bad was up.

The company CO was at best a mediocre officer with little imagination and less personality who rarely left his office during drill weekends. Past experience had shown when he did walk out on the armory drill hall floor among the troops, something quite bad was about to happen.

The CO told everyone that the battalion commander, his boss, wasn't happy with our performance and that no one would be going home that day until he had a happy smile on his face. That to make the battalion commander happy would require a visual inventory of all our equipment. Something that probably should have started bright and early the previous morning to have a chance of being accomplished in a reasonable time.

Once the CO said his piece the First Sergeant took over and instructed the cooks to begin planning an evening meal, which meant we'd still be at the armory well past eighteen hundred hours. (6:00pm)

Here's where this situation was really going to screw me over. My son, who was four years-old at the time, was supposed to have his first soccer game around 2:30pm that day. Throwing more troubling gasoline on the fire, my wife and I were supposed to supply the after game snacks for the entire team. These snacks, consisting of twenty juice boxes and twenty packs of cookies, were being stored inside my car which was in the armory parking lot.

My wife's attitude about the National Guard was in no way going to get her invited to the wives' support group. Simply put the Guard had a really bad habit of fraking up any family plans. If something important or fun was going to happen in our area that month, you can bet a large sum of money that it would occur the same weekend as drill.

Naturally, after formation everyone was assholes and elbows to try and get everything done so we wouldn't have to stay so late. Remember National Guard troops are “citizen soldiers” who have civilian jobs and didn't want to be dead tired the next morning at the start of a normal work week. Even worse, some people work nightshift and would be going to work around eleven o'clock that night.

Contrary to what can only be called propaganda put out by the National Guard, most civilian employers hate having workers who also play weekend warrior. Having an employee in the Guard screws up work schedules and has a habit of pissing off coworkers who end up covering for the individual who is playing Guard soldier. Patriotism in America may be a mile wide but its depth can often be measured in inches.

My main issue was my son's soccer game. Missing that game was going to get me in big trouble with my wife and the rest of the team because of the snacks. But all during that morning I had absolutely no idea how I could break away in time or even get the snacks to my wife since she wouldn't be allowed on armory property.

Despite what the CO said about needing to make his boss happy, the rest of the morning turned into a Hurry up and Wait nightmare. All the unit officers got rounded up for an important meeting which somehow brought a stop to all activity. None of the NCOs wanted to proceed without assurances that their decisions were the right ones.

By chow that early afternoon I was getting pissed. I would have accepted the circumstances and continued to play the good soldier had the inventory continued like it was supposed. But when you had about one-hundred seventy or so troops just sitting around doing nothing it was time for me to think out of the box.

That outside the box thinking took the form of an old fashioned telephone booth inside the armory drill hall. Remember this was 1999 when cell phones hadn't yet become totally widespread. Yes, the phone booth was a relic even back then, but a nicely convenient one.

The drill hall floor was a buzz of activity, so no one really paid attention to me as I stepped inside and closed the door. Plus this phone booth was on the far end of where the company offices were located, so there was little chance anyone high up in the leadership would see me and later figure out my plan.

My plan revolved around calling one of my brothers and having him phone my unit and say he was involved in a car accident in Columbia and would need a ride back up to Easley, South Carolina where he lived. Which is more or less a two-hour drive from my location.

Thankfully my brother answered the phone and over the course of fifteen minutes we quickly ironed out the various details required to make my scheme work. Yes, it is better to tell the truth but in this instance the means did justify the end.

After hanging up I did my best to sneak away from the phone booth hoping no one would remember seeing me there. All that remained from then on was hoping my brother, who was nursing a nice beer buzz would remember to call my unit and give me a solid excuse to get the frak out of Dodge.

A nervous thirty-five minutes later the loudspeakers mounted on the drill hall floor and outside in the motor pool call for Sergeant Johnson to report to the office. I tried to play extra casual with everyone as I reported but no one will ever say I could be an actor.

Some seriously young Second Lieutenant I had never seen before handed me a note saying my brother was stranded up around north Columbia after being in a car accident. That he was okay but needed a way back home since his car was banged up pretty bad.


The Lieutenant was going to cut me loose right then but the First Sergeant, a grizzled veteran who knew all the bullshit tricks stopped me as I was walking out. I handed him the note and repeated what the Second Lieutenant told me but I knew he wouldn't buy the story. The First Sergeant, took a deep breath then looked at me with an expression that confirmed what I feared. He clearly knew the whole story was a heaping pile of bullshit.

But instead of chewing on my ass and kicking me out of the office he said go get your brother and we'll see you next month. I have no idea why he went along with my scheme. I wasn't on his shit list but then again I wasn't in the group of soldiers he tended to favor. Whatever the case, the time was coming up on two o'clock and if I hurried across town I would make the start of my son's game.

I arrived at the game five minutes before it started and only earned a stern look from my wife. My son's team had their asses stomped but me being in my army BDU's serving juice boxes and cookies was a hit with the kids.

The following month, I learned that the rest of the unit wasn't dismissed until nine o'clock that night. No one ever made a comment about me skipping out the previous month but I sure as hell did my best to stay under the First Sergeant's radar from that moment on.

Yeah, I have no regrets and put into a similar situation I'd do it again.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

News from Proxima Centauri-- Or the Galactic HOA is Watching



 It's a terrible thing to write, but few things really excite me these days. I don't worry too much about feeling that way since life, experience, and circumstance has a way of blunting the child-like enthusiasm that made everyday an adventure when we were younger. Still, it's nice to occasionally have something come out of left field and rekindle a hint of that former awe and wonder.

Proxima Centauri is a M-class red dwarf star about 4.2 lightyears away from our planet and it looks like in 2019 we received a radio signal from some source in that star system. While most likely this curious signal is just some misinterpreted radio broadcast from a purely earthly source, it has passed many of the initial checks and still cannot be explained. So yes, there is a remote chance that this radio signal originated from an advanced alien intelligence.

What really is freaking out the astronomers is that this signal is being received on the 982 megahertz frequency, a region of the radio spectrum not typically used for satellites orbiting the Earth or space probes heading out into deep space. Adding to the mystery, the frequency of this signal shifted during the broadcast which was consistent with the movement of a body orbiting that star. However there was no detected modulation of the signal, something that would allow extra information to be encoded. In essence the signal was just a long distance dial tone, empty of any significance.

There are a couple of more little tidbits to this development that make it even more intriguing. First that while Proxima Centauri is so dim and small it can't be seen with the naked eye, it's the closest star to our solar system. Secondly, we know Proxima Centauri has at least two planets orbiting it. One is an Earth-like world, called Proxima b, orbiting in its Goldilocks Zone, a region of space where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. Understand, for Proxima b to be warm enough to have liquid water on the surface its yearly orbit of its star is just eleven hours.

Proxima b's closeness to its parent star is definitely a double-edged sword. While it gets enough warmth and light to possibly have Earth-like conditions, like liquid water on the surface, it is then subject to Proxima's massive solar flares. Most tiny and cool stars like Proxima, paradoxically produce massive flares that scientists believe would strip away any planetary atmosphere in a matter of a few decades. Some planetary theorists do suggest that a planet orbiting a red dwarf with a strong magnetic field might be able to deflect the worst of the solar flares, allowing it to retain its atmosphere.

Making Proxima b even less desirable real estate is that due to its closeness to the parent star, it is probably tidally locked with one side permanently facing the light and heat. While the opposite side is perpetually locked in a frozen night.

The other planet, Proxima c, is much larger than Earth and is so far out from its star that its takes 5.2 Earth years to complete one orbit. This world has the mass of seven Earths and is either a mini-Neptune gas planet or a super-Earth. While you can't rule out a very different form of life, this world and any moons orbiting probably was not the source of the signal.

Then again, the general consensus is that if this signal from Proxima Centauri is from an alien intelligence the beings or entities that sent it are not native to that star system. The chance that two neighboring stars develop technical civilizations “stretches the bounds of rationality.” In other words, the big interstellar empty we thought was the galaxy is probably quite crowded.

Followup observations of Proxima Centauri since 2019 have failed to find the signal again with numerous other radio telescopes joining in the search. The overwhelming odds on this signal is of course that it's a false alarm. There was one infamous radio telescope episode several years ago where an intriguing signal from deep space turned out to be inference from the observatory's break room microwave.

Still though, if an advanced starfaring civilization wanted to make contact with a primitive technical species, setting up shop on the closest star to them would be way to gauge their reaction to any overturn. If we humans give a good impression, these aliens drop by and say hello. If we scare the living shit out of them, they toss a dozen or so antimatter bombs our way to save the galaxy from a possible horde of ravaging monsters.

Just a suggestion, it would probably serve humanity very well if we straighten up our act and actually acted like an intelligent species. The neighbors could well be watching. 



Scientists looking for aliens investigate radio beam 'from nearby star' 

The, December 18, 2020

Alien Hunters Discover Mysterious Signal from Proxima Centauri, December 18, 2020

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Shocking the Monkey


 Since the beginning of the Trump era far too many people have been struggling to reconcile the hateful nature of MAGA supporters with their common beliefs about the general goodness of human nature. This extends even to myself because during the initial phases of the 2016 presidential campaign I would have never believed such crude and corrupted individual as the Orange Buffoon would be nominated by the Republican Party, much less actually become president.

Understand, way back before the 2008 election both my stomach turned and my eyes rolled whenever someone spoke dreamily about the glorious nature of a “post-racial America” since Barrack Obama was heavily favored to win that election.

To assume centuries of racial discrimination and oppression would suddenly evaporate with the election of the United States' first black president definitely leaned heavily into the realm of fantasy. However, it did seem unthinkable to me that anyone would seriously consider a clearly immoral and outright racist individual as the Orange Buffoon occupying the highest office in the United States.

In short, I fully expected that Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz would have been the 2016 nominee. The former a simple but dependable rehash of his father and brother. As for the latter, I thought he was the absolute outer edge of the rancid Republican value of profit over people and the party's hateful and skewed societal views.

Recently though I was reminded of the experiments performed by Professor Stanley Milgram at Yale University in the 1960s. These experiments involved how people look at authority and obedience.

In fact Milgram's research can, in my opinion, best be summed up in one of his quotes from 1974. “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not such much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he acts.”

His experiment involved the recruitment of individuals using newspaper ads which each person was paid $4.50. These recruits were then told they would take the role as a “teacher” who would be asking a series of questions to a “student” in another room they could not see.

On a table in front of the teacher would be an intimidating device that Milgram said was a shock generator with the student in the next room attached to the business end of the machine. The teacher was told to give the student a shock every time they gave the wrong answer to the asked question . These shocks started at 30 volts and increased in 15-increments for every wrong answer going all the way up to 450 volts.

Increasing the stress on the teacher, the switches on the shock device were labeled with terms such as “slight shock,” “moderate shock” and “danger: severe shock.” The final two switches were labeled with nothing but “XXX” suggesting something darker.

Understand, while these teachers believed they would be applying an electric punishment for wrong answers, the students in the next room were perfectly safe and just play acting at the direction of Milgram.

As the experiment progressed the student's reaction to the electrically shocks got increasingly more desperate. The teacher would hear the student in the next room pleading to be released or even that he had a heart condition. Once they reached the 300 volt level the student would bang on the wall demanding to be released. Beyond that point the student went silent and refused to answer any more question. The teacher was instructed to treat the silence as an incorrect response and deliver further shocks.

At that point the teacher would ask the controller of the experiment if they should continue. The controller would respond with a series of commands to prod the teacher to continue:

  1. “Please continue.”

  2. “The experiment requires that you continue.”

  3. “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

  4. “You have no other choice, you must go on.”

You'd think a normal person playing the role of teacher would at least stop shocking the student once the supposed test subject started pleading that the voltage was too painful. But in reality 65 percent of the teacher participates continued to apply the maximum shocks to their unresponsive and unseen students. It was noticed during the experiments, that many of the teachers became extremely distraught and angry at the controllers but continued to follow orders all the way to the end.

The immediate question has to be why did the teacher-participates continued applying painful shocks to an unseen student? The general answer is that the presence of an authority figure (controller) increased compliance. The fact that a trusted academic institution, Yale University sponsored the experiment lead many of the participants to believe it was safe, even after the student became unresponsive.

Milgram summed up his experiment with this statement: “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work becomes patently clear, and they are asked to carry out action incompatible fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

So you might be wondering how all this ties into my point. Having the Orange Buffoon as president clearly gave license to the worst aspects of human nature. The natural authority that comes with holding that office allowed the Buffoon to give voice to all those barely hidden hates and fears, giving them an environment they could easily thrive. Sort of like the way mold loves to grow in wet and humid places.

For me, the worst aspect of having to live through such a repugnant individual's reign is that the damage the Orange Buffoon's done will not whither away with him out of office. Because once a mold like him takes hold in a house the repair work to get rid of it will be extensive and costly. Truthfully, taking the mold analogy further, Lincoln warned us of a house divided being unable to stand. The Orange Buffoon's mold might have already metastasized to the point the house is now contaminated beyond the ability of anyone to save it.

Nothing proves this point more than all the Republican congressmen who signed on in support of the Texas lawsuit attempting to overturn the election results in critical swing states. This was nothing less than an attempted coup to reinstall a delusional thug who harbored dreams of authoritarian power. Even after the Texas lawsuit was struck down, numerous fools in the Republican party started speaking about their states succeeding from the Union.

Even if the Orange Buffoon is in jail or dies between now and 2024, there are plenty of others who will take up his debauched mantle. 



Milgram's Experiment and the Perils of Obedience,, September 16, 2019

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Looking for the Better Angels of Human Nature


How do you explain the existence of something like Donald Trump? I admit that I am bias but to the best of my knowledge he has no redeemable characteristics. On the surface, his presence in modern day America should be considered a bizarre accident of circumstance and timing. Truthfully, he's probably all too typical of human nature and the true character of America.

No, he hasn't launched any unjust wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. But he has separated young children from their parents and put them in cages in a manner disturbingly similar to concentration camps. He regularly displays an inherent racism that in saner times would shame the most socially indifferent person when it comes to the struggles of minorities here in America.

For someone who claimed he would hire nothing but the “best and brightest” to fill his administration more of Trump's picks have been convicted of corruption or forced to leave government service than any other president. Even more outrageous, his personal life is a study in the glorification of greed, lust, envy, pride, and wrath. As far as the other deadly sins of gluttony and sloth, Trump appears to have a handle on them as well.

It's truly hard to get an idea of what Trump wouldn't do when it comes to his advancement and the protection of his personal empire. Despite showing absolutely no civilized nor empathetic qualities how does he continue to have such a large number of followers?

This is a question I have pondered from the day he emerged as a real contender for the Republican nominee for president. Curiously enough, or maybe I'm suffering from my own delusions, but an old Star Trek episode gave me a partial working answer.

Yes, I know this seems crazy but bear with me for a few short paragraphs.

In the Original Series there is an episode entitled “Mirror Mirror.” In that story Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are accidentally transported to another universe while their alternate counterparts are sent to theirs.

The alternate Kirk and his crew are from a cruel and barbaric universe ruled by the “Terran Empire.” A place Trump and his family would, in my opinion, be extremely comfortable.

It takes the good Kirk and associates time to figure out what happened and to get back to the peaceful Federation universe. Good Kirk and his associates do get home and when that happens their evil counterparts are instantly transported back to their Empire.

At the end of the episode, good Kirk asks Spock how did he handle the counterparts from the Terran Empire. Spock more or less replies that he instantly saw them as what they were, prime examples of Homo sapiens and threw them all in the ship's brig.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beings, the appearance of Trump and his success shows that humans are always on the verge of showing our animalistic nature. That if things get tough we quickly revert to our basic primate nature and become something worse than tribal. All it takes is a slightly charismatic buffoon with a talent for exacerbating old fears and hates in weak-minded people.

Believe it or not, I'm not criticizing evolutionary biology. Because years of research has shown that our more “primitive” cousins the chimpanzees readily show empathy and compassion to their kind as well as the behaviors akin to the worst human characteristics.

The question for me is how do humans begin to supersede the worst aspects of their nature while enhancing the best? In short, what can we do as a species to move beyond or basic programming?

We our trying, the United States Constitution with its checks and balances was written by generally wise men trying to avoid the worst in humanity. But the history of our species is replete with cruel and barbaric episodes with many “good people” freely going along with evil deeds.

Showing that I need a new hobby, I spent most of the day pondering those questions. My only answer was a quote from a truly flawed individual. That the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.