Monday, November 9, 2009

"Temporary" Taxes

A great example here of why you should always throw fits whenever the legislature wants to pass a "temporary" tax.

The Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax
As a result of the damage from the 1936 flood, the Pennsylvania General Assembly imposed an emergency tax on all alcohol sold in the Commonwealth. The "temporary" 10% tax was initially intended to help pay for clean up, recovery, and assistance to flood victims. The tax was never repealed and in 1963 the tax was raised to 15% and again in 1968 to 18% (not including the statewide 6% sales tax). The nearly $200 million collected annually no longer goes to flood victims, however, instead going into the general fund for discretionary use by lawmakers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Let me preface this by pointing out that I spent four years in the Navy, and started boot camp about a month after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Both of my paternal uncles also served in the Navy. My dad's brother was a Russian linguist during Vietnam and his brother-in-law was a nuke on subs for 11 years.

I live in Hampton Roads, home of the largest navy base in the world. This area is also filled with people in every other branch of the military as well. I work at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, fixing one ship after another, to make sure that those ships will not fail their crew when they're deployed. Most of those sailors are good, hardworking men and women. Some of them, like in any group of people, are assholes. But what I'm about to say isn't directed at either of those groups. There's a very special group of military personnel that has motivated this rant. For that select group, I have this to say:

Simply being in the military does not make you a fucking hero.

Let me clarify this a bit. First, there's nothing even remotely heroic about any part of most of the jobs being done by people in our military. Admirable, yes. Heroic, no. Second, and more importantly, if you ever feel any compulsion to call yourself a hero, you aren't. I've met REAL heroes. Not one of them thought that what they did was heroic. Most of them just get embarrassed talking about what they did if people start calling it heroic.

Here's an example of a real hero.

Brian Thacker lived next door to my parents, and flew hanggliders with them. None of us ever knew that he'd been awarded the Medal of Honor until I spotted a picture related to that award in an open box when we helped him move. I had to ask my parents what it was, because I was only 12 or so at the time. Later on, in high school, I was given an assignment to interview someone to talk about their experiences in the 60s. I interviewed Brian, and he described his experiences in Vietnam in detail, except that he never mentioned receiving the CMoH.

Now, because it just can't be posted in enough places as far as I'm concerned, here's the text posted at the link above.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Thacker, Field Artillery, Battery A, distinguished himself while serving as the team leader of an Integrated Observation System collocated with elements of 2 Army of the Republic of Vietnam units at Fire Base 6. A numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force launched a well-planned, dawn attack on the small, isolated, hilltop fire base. Employing rockets, grenades, flame-throwers, and automatic weapons, the enemy forces penetrated the perimeter defenses and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, 1st Lt. Thacker rallied and encouraged the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in heroic efforts to repulse the enemy. He occupied a dangerously exposed observation position for a period of 4 hours while directing friendly air strikes and...against the assaulting enemy forces. His personal bravery and inspired leadership enabled the outnumbered friendly forces to inflict a maximum of casualties on the attacking enemy forces and prevented the base from being overrun. By late afternoon, the situation had become untenable. 1st Lt. Thacker organized and directed the withdrawal of the remaining friendly forces. With complete disregard for his safety, he remained inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire with his M-16 rifle until all other friendly forces had escaped from the besieged fire base. Then, in an act of supreme courage, he called for friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and, at the same time, inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces. Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for 8 days until friendly forces regained control of the fire base. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by 1st Lt. Thacker were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the military service.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

It's nice when this is the type of decision I have to struggle with. I could buy this, or both of these. On one hand, I've got a couple of stripped AR receivers that desperately need to be assembled into something useful. On the other hand, the DVD sets are 60% for a few more weeks.

I'm pretty sure the frugal Scottish side of me will win out over any part of me that really wants a 6.8SPC rifle. Granted, it would probably be a harder decision if ammo wasn't so scarce right now. Finding 6.8SPC ammo, or even brass, is bound to be far more challenging than finding baking ingredients.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why realistic novels wouldn't sell

a.k.a. Why people don't understand the way I think.

Recently, I started to re-read Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga. As I was reading it, I came across the following passage:

"Follow that trail for two days until you come to a small valley. Cross it, and on the north face you'll see a waterfall. A trail leads up from there, and atop the plateau you'll' be near the top of the falls. Follow the river upwards, until you reach its source. From that lake you'll find a trail again moving upwards, again to the north. That is the only way to Moraelin. You'll find a canyon, which winds around the lake in a complete circle. Legend says it is the tracks made by the mourning Elf Prince, wearing the ground down around the lake. It is called the Tracks of the Hopeless.

There is only one way into Moraelin, across a bridge made by the moredhel. When you cross the bridge over the Tracks of the Hopeless, you will be in Moraelin. There you will find the Silverthorn. It is a plant with a light silver-green leaf of three lobes, with fruit like red holly berries. You will recognize it at once, for its name describes it: the thorns are silver. If nothing else, get a handful of the berries. It will lie close to the edge of the lake. Now go, and may the gods protect you.'


As I read that, I got an image in my mind of how that would go if I was the hero getting those directions.

"Follow that trail for two days until you come to a small valley. Cross it, and on the north face you'll see a waterfall. A trail leads up from there, and atop the plateau you'll be near the top of the falls. Follow the river upwards, until.."

"Wait, which side of the waterfall was it the trail?"

"The north side. Now once you reach the source of the river, you'll find a trail again moving upwards, again to the north. You'll find a canyon, which winds around the lake.."

"Uh, how do I get to the source of the river again?"

"It's after the trail at the north of the waterfall. Were you listening at all?"

"Sorry, it's just a lot of information. Any chance you could write this down?"

"Oh sure, I always carry a pen and paper when I head out to the woods for weeks. Because that survives really well in the rain."

etcetera, etcetera.

I've heard people gripe at times that engineers are just way too literal about things. But they just have no idea. There's a reason I'm much better at editing than I am at writing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mainstream Media

I guess the protests in Iran must have all ended yesterday, because the only thing I've been able to find on any news since then is about Michael Jackson's death. Yes, I get that he was only 50, and that he was a pop music icon. But non-stop coverage about it? For God's sake, protesters are being killed in Iran for having the audicity to stand up to their government. How does that not even rate a few minutes here and there anymore?