Posted in Sports

The Next Time You’re Told To Be A Team Player Consider This…

I suspended the article that I was doing castigating George Lucas in favor of castigating Kyle Williams instead.

This is one of these time-significant articles that need to be knocked out while still fresh in my mind.  In a year I won’t remember any details of the fabulous year that the 49ers had exhibited for the 2011 season.

They were this close (picture 2 fingers held a millimeter apart) from performing in their 6th Super Bowl, but backup punt returner Kyle Williams fumbled the ball away not once, but twice, and nearly a 3rd time.

So, the next time someone accuses you of “not being a team player,” consider what would happen if you were replaced by someone inferior – what that would do to “The Team.”

Ted Ginn Jr usually handled the kickoff & punt returns for the ‘Niners this year, but he hurt his knee during the playoff game against the New Orleans Saints the week before and was deactivated for the Championship game against the NY Giants.  The 49ers were already fairly banged up in the receiving department, even finding it necessary to promote Joe Hastings from the practice squad (Who? http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/30/SPE71MJ608.DTL).  Also, with Ginn out that meant someone else was going to be the punt/kick returns guy, and that fell to Kyle Williams (something that I suspect will not be repeated next year).  Williams had only taken 2 punts all year, vs Ginn’s 38, and Reggie Smith’s 4, but Williams had the potential for larger gains – as a receiver his yards after catch were twice that of Ginn.  On paper he may have looked like a good choice, but I guess he just wore the wrong gloves.

Three (count ’em, 3) times Kyle Williams fumbled the ball.  The 1st time was in the 1st quarter, just about 2 minutes remaining, on a questionable (i.e., stupid) trick play where Alex Smith tossed the ball back to Kendall Hunter sweeping from the right side to the left, and Hunter tossed it to Williams, who came from the opposite direction.  Now, the 49ers have always used razzle-dazzle;  probably every game dating back 20 years has at least one gadget play in it.  Not all of them work, and this one was one of them.  The fact that Williams was able to recover his own fumble didn’t change the fact that that play not only lost them 10 yards, but the down as well.  At least on a holding call you get to play the down over with the 10 yard loss.  The 2nd time was in the 4th quarter with the ‘Niners ahead 14 – 10:  Williams was attempting to field a ball that had been punted by the Giants, and he apparently couldn’t decide to go after it or get away from it (usually, it’s the latter – given the shape of a football it doesn’t bounce in a predictable fashion).  The ball grazed his knee, and was therefore considered “live.”  The Giants pounced on it, and recovered it at the 29 yard line.  With the short field it was just a matter of time for the Giants to capitalize and pull out ahead 17 – 14.

The 3rd time is not always a charm.  In overtime, with the score 17 – 17, Kyle Williams fields the punted ball – this time cleanly, catches and secures it, and has it stripped out of his hands as he tries to run downfield.  Again the Giants pounce on it, and again they have a short (23 yard) field to work with.  In overtime, however, any points are winning ones – you only need to be close enough to kick a field goal, which means that anytime you’re within the 30 yard line (which would be a 47 yard FG attempt) you’re within range.  Obviously , the closer you get the better your chances.  A couple of plays later the Giants would kick the field goal that would advance them to the Super Bowl, while the 49ers kiss the rest of the season good-bye.

I’m not going to say that the 49ers would have won without the Kyle Williams’ mistakes – Alex Smith completed less than 50% of his passes, couldn’t complete a 3rd down pass if his life depended on it, and the soul of the offense, Frank Gore, only had a handful of carries.  Regardless, the Giants were held to only 17 points through 4 quarters, the same as the anemic offense displayed by the 49ers.  They shoulda won that game.

On the lighter side, since the NFL Pro Bowl game is played in Hawaii just a week before the Super Bowl, and participants in the Super Bowl don’t play in the Pro Bowl (something that will certainly be addressed very soon), San Francisco can now send the 8 selectees (most in the NFL) to Honolulu.  Of course, that game is meaningless – it’s an exhibition – something that a player can add to his resume, besides spending a week in paradise.

Having said all that, the San Francisco 49ers had a miraculous season.  Last year they struggled to get a 6 win/10 loss season.  In fact, the best record that they’ve been able to manage since their last playoff appearance in 2002, was 8/8.  This year they had 13 wins against 3 losses.  They had a killer defense, especially against the run.  Normally, the quarterback position is the most recognized “leadership” position on the field, and Alex Smith was criticized at the beginning of the year to be inadequate as QB.  But, during their struggles year after year the 49ers management fired coaches and/or offensive coordinators, blaming them for the poor performance on the field, and some of them probably were a bad fit – until Jim Harbaugh.  I think he’ll do nicely.  He’s certainly seen something in Alex Smith that the critics missed.  It would have been something for this coach in his 1st year as an NFL head coach to have taken this team to the Super Bowl, and he got damn close.

Damn close.

Posted in Society, United States

What Is Wrong With You People?

Over the past month or so the “Occupy Wall Street” events have been front and center in the media.  Just the fact that the liberal media is reporting these things with something close to compassion made me suspicious.

Understand this – I’m a fairly conservative individual; not staunchly conservative (like Rush Limbaugh), and maybe even a little more of a Libertarian leaning than I’d care to admit.  I believe that everyone in the US decides how to live their own life.  None of us should be relying on the Government for handouts, yet we have Government-funded Retirement and Medical (Social Security & Medicare), and if the current administration gets their way, Medicare will become Over The Top, Super Duper Medicare On Steroids.

In my humble opinion, the Social Security Administration should not exist.  This is the largest Ponzi scheme  in history (http://tiny.cc/4bz4m).  We’ve been paying into this since the 1930’s, and it now pays out more than it takes in (http://tiny.cc/fl9hn).  When there were 10 – 20 taxpayers paying in to Social Security and fewer living to ripe old ages it was affordable.  Now, thanks to longer lifespans and a smaller labor pool in comparison it’s no longer affordable.  Consequently, those that will be paying in for the next 30 years will receive the least in benefits.  By doing the math you can see that the SSA will be broke, sooner or later.  If the gov’t decides to continue it so that those who pay in to SSA today don’t get screwed when it becomes their turn to collect, that money has to come from somewhere or someone – and we are the somewhere or someone.  That means more taxes, and more taxes, until our employed population once again outweighs – by 10 to 1 or better – those who collect Social Security.  In the meantime, we’ve become a generation of people with their collective Hands Out.

So, what has this to do with “Occupy Wall Street,” and the ever-growing movement in the US?  First, keep in mind that “Occupy Wall Street” didn’t even get its start in the United States.  It came from Canada!! (http://tiny.cc/hs1dv), from the Adbusters Media Foundation (http://tiny.cc/40ts2), an organization against consumerism (http://tiny.cc/jxvor).  Consuming is what America does best,  and, looking at myself and other Americans, perhaps more than we should.  This is why we have Starbucks, McDonalds, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Sears, and every auto dealership in the world available just a short distance from even the most remote town in the US.  It is the dollars that we spend that allows McD’s to advertise on their storefronts that “Billions Have Been Served.”  Every individual – even the homeless – have cellphones, PCs, televisions, and microwave ovens.  Every individual at driving age has a car.  We spend, even when we don’t have the money.  We spend, and when we max out the plastic, we get more plastic.  So, I can sort of understand part of the Adbusters philosophy, but, like many activists, I think they go too far.

You have to understand that sometimes when people stand up against the “System” that they do that because they see others doing it and figure that it must be right.  During the civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests in the ’60s there may have been real justification, and a feeling of right and wrong.  Segregation was “wrong.”  The Vietnam war was “wrong.”  Of course, you can’t have a protest without someone else having an opposing view.  Today, the “System” being protested is Capitalism.  Since FDR brought us “The New Deal” in a failed attempt to govern the US  out of the Great Depression, we’ve continued sliding down the slope where we become dependent on the government for more and more, and ourselves less and less.  It wasn’t until we had to manufacture ships, planes, and weapons like crazy, because we found ourselves at war in the Pacific, as well as the Atlantic, that the Depression died. We Consumed.  Jobs were created to meet the demands, people found themselves employed, and able to buy STUFF that they couldn’t buy since 1933.  People started having money to go to moviehouses, to see the newest moviestars, and to watch reels of How the Battle Was Going.  We bought houses and cars, radios, clothing, food.  We were worried about Our Boys Overseas, but not about how are we going to able to feed the family tonight…  Government didn’t get us out of the Depression – World War II did that.  Government can’t get us out this economic downturn that we’re having now – in fact, the more the current administration attempts, the more it backfires.  Do we need a war?  A big one?  One where we get to make Lots Of STUFF, need to hire Lots Of People, Recruit Lots More into The Service?  Restart the Draft?  We wouldn’t want a Big War, involving nukes or anything like that – we just want something tidy that the Americans could rally around, become gainfully employed, and get patriotic again.  Desert Storm did it, so did 9/11.  Too bad that the “War on Terror” didn’t give us specific targets.  We had to create them (Hussein & bin Laden).

War is Good for Business (http://tiny.cc/m5iia).  Rule 34 of the Rules of Acquisition.

So, we’re in economic doldrums.  The employment rate is hovering just below 10% nationwide, and we’re frustrated.  The richest 1% of the population is richer than ever, while the 99% remaining aren’t.  It isn’t that the 99% are worse off; some are, some aren’t, but they’re disgruntled, so spake the media.  Here comes Adbusters, swooping down from the North, like a Canada goose migrating for the winter.  They stir up trouble, claiming that Life Isn’t Fair, and that those Rich Bastages $houldn’t Be $o Rich, and They $hould $hare $ome Of That Wealth.  And, frustrated Americans With Their Hands Out to the US Government, say, “Yeah, you’re right.  Let’s have a sit-in, just like our parents did in the 60’s.”  So they did, and it spread, and of course, violence broke out.  And there’ll be more, because the media will focus on it.  Quiet demonstrations do not get media attention.  Loud, boisterous ones, with rocks, broken car windows, Fire, Explosions, Tear Gas!  That’s what will make the news, and sheeple being sheeple, the violence in Oakland will beget violence in L.A., and there will be competition between media sources to find The Next Hot Spot, and on and on.  This will stop when the media either gets bored with the subject, or Something Bigger comes along.  Either way, the Occupy movement will wither and die.  People will go back to work instead of trying to make trouble at Citibank.  They’ll earn money.  They’ll consume, and become, once again, The Good Little Capitalists that they always have been.

Capitalists are Not Evil (http://tiny.cc/b5wj3).  My bank teller makes $20,000 a year.  She’s a Capitalist, so am I, so is Bill Gates, so was Steve Jobs.  If my teller had to pay 10% on her income taxes last year then that would have been $2,000.  Bill Gates’ annual salary is about $8,000,000, and a 10% tax would cost him almost a million dollars ($800,000. http://tiny.cc/ttnsa).  Whether or not he paid that much in income tax I don’t know, but I don’t believe that he should pay a higher percentage of his income than my teller.  Defending him, though, is ironic, because he is one of Those Ungodly Rich Who Wants Higher Taxes Taken From those who make more than $200,000 a year (http://tiny.cc/xodr1).

If we, as a nation, expect that the wealthy should put a higher percentage of their wages into the pot, so to speak, then we are talking about redistributing the wealth.  Now, if I were rich, and simply because I was rich, expected to donate gargantuan sums of cash to government services, I’d tell the US Government to go jump in the lake.  It’s my money – I earned it (or inherited it, or one it in the lottery).  However I got it I Went Out And Got It. I did not stand around With My Hand Out.  Anybody who thinks that the Government should demand more from the Rich to Give back to society is a socialist.

Socialists are Not Evil either (http://tiny.cc/av6ob).  Russia, North China, North Korea, North Vietnam are all examples of the Socialist ideology (http://tiny.cc/1msbb).  Many of them are adopting Free Market (aka Capitalistic) tendencies now, though.  Do we really want to be like them?  Look at Greece.  Their Government has paid so much out to the people in social services (healthcare, social security, etc) that the country as a whole, Has Their Hand Out (http://tiny.cc/aocmr).

So, going back to the Subject Of This Piece, “What Is Wrong With You People?  Those of you involved in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and its off-shoots,  believe that Capitalism is Evil, that Wall Street is a symbol of Evil Capitalism, and that Evil Capitalists should share their wealth.  If you don’t believe that, and are part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement then you’re just one of The Sheeple attending a Cause for the Cause’s sake.

Posted in Events, Society, United States

Avoid NYC Skyscrapers – They Fall Down

It’s now been 10 years since 9/11…

OK, Class, Can you tell me how many buildings fell at the World Trade Center, on the 11th of September 2001?  Two? No, try again.  Three?  Yes – Three.  Two were hit by rather large aircraft, and one… was not.  This was not a workshed attached to one of the two Towers (with a capital “T”).  This was a 47 story monster; half the size of the two Towers, on the next block,  and … it … just … fell; collapsed upon itself, just like the Towers had earlier in the day.

This tower (with a small “t”) was known as WTC Building 7 (7 WTC), and it was the 3rd largest building on the World Trade Center complex.  It contained a bunch of financial facilities, Federal offices including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department Of Defense (DOD), Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and New York’s Office of Emergency Management.  It was developed by Larry Silverstein, who also developed the new WTC 7.  Given the relative ease of the first WTC collapse, one may wonder if Larry Silverstein was really the right choice to build the new building.  I’m sure he was.  The chances of something like that happening again are astronomical – that another skyscraper could collapse like that one did.  It’s never happened before – well, except for those other two in the same vicinity, on the same day, but they were hit by aircraft, so they have an excuse – and should never happen again.

Let’s take a “building inventory” of the World Trade Center:

Building 1 – (aka 1 WTC or the North Tower) – 110 floors, tallest building in the world from 1971 – 1973, shared with 2 WTC.  Collapsed at 10:28 A.M., apparent result of a terrorist attack.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Trade_Center)

Building 2 – (aka 2 WTC or the South Tower) – 110 floors, tallest building in the world from 1971 – 1973, shared with 1 WTC.  Collapsed at 9:59 A.M., apparent result of a terrorist attack.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Trade_Center)

Building 3 – (aka 3 WTC or the Marriot Hotel) – 22 floors, destroyed when 1WTC and 2 WTC fell on it.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3_WTC)

Building 4 – (aka 4 WTC) – 9 floors, destroyed when 2 WTC fell on it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4_WTC)

Building 5 – (aka 5 WTC) – 9 floors, damaged beyond repair from debris and fire.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_WTC)

Building 6 – (aka 6 WTC) – 8 floors, destroyed when 1 WTC fell on it.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6_WTC)

Building 7 – (aka 7 WTC) – 47 floors, collapsed approximately 7 hours, 20 minutes after the 2 WTC collapse.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_WTC)

What caused the 7 WTC collapse?  “Official” reports indicate that debris and fire caused it (http://wtc.nist.gov/NCSTAR1/NCSTAR1-9index.htm), while “conspiracy nuts” say that it looked more like a “controlled demolition” (http://www.wtc7.net/). Not being a specialist in this field, but, having seen videos of other buildings collapse, I have to side with the nuts.  Take a look at these Youtube vids of controlled demo of other buildings (http://www.youtube.com/user/TheLoizeauxGroupLLC).  Especially interesting is the Kingdome in Seattle and the Ocean Tower, because they look cool.  Las Vegas does this sort of thing fairly often (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=las+vegas+demolition&aq=f).

In fact, I’m actually going to say it:  ALL 3 buildings look like they were the result of “controlled demolition.”  In fact, when I watched it on TV 10 years ago, that was the first thought in my mind, (“Why, that looks just like a controlled demolition”).

In this day & age, with computer simulations of everything under the sun (and more), has there ever been a simulation of the events that occurred on 9/11?  I’m sure there has, and the sims have probably been “tweaked” to demonstrate the point of the presenter, instead of showing the bare physics of the events.

Perhaps it seems too incredible to think of a scenario where 4 (count ‘em, 4) jumbo jets are stolen out from under the collective noses of the FAA, the US Navy, the US Air Force, and the Executive Branch of the US (i.e., President Bush), and all diverted to very visible targets in New York City and Washington DC (2 for each location).  Then, when needed the most, our own Home Defense Network took a nap!  Three of those planes hit their marks, and we’re to believe that a handful of rowdy passengers brought the fourth one down short of its target, something that the MOST ADVANCED MILITARY FORCE IN THE WORLD failed to do.  That’s going to require some more study.  In fact, there’s a lot about 9/11 that’s going to require more study.

If you’ve made it this far, I have a question:  what is “pulling?” (http://www.wtc7.net/pullit.html).  If it’s what I suspect then I have to wonder if all buildings developed by Larry Silverstein have built-in “self destructs.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHtJW0NxEjI).  If not, and if pulling is what I suspect, then some company pre-wired explosives, at the very least, in 6 WTC and 7 WTC.  Silverstein not only knew about it, but, apparently ordered it!  Don’t forget – this guy is also the developer for the new World Trade Center.  Does it have locations for explosives in the blueprints?

So, the next thought is, WHO WOULD RIG A BUILDING WITH EXPLOSIVES IF THEY WEREN’T INTENDING TO DEMOLISH IT?  Also, then, were the other Towers also rigged?  Could the happenstance of 2 jumbo jets slamming into those Towers have set off a chain reaction that set off the planted explosives, which brought the buildings down?  Following this path you start wandering into areas of logistical planning, and you’re forced to wonder just exactly what really did happen, and who was really responsible.  That’s for another time…

Posted in Events

‘Tis The Season…

Santa Claus is coming and the kids are getting greedy.

It’s Christmas Time

They know what’s in the store because they’ve seen it on the TV

It’s Christmas Time

It used to be the birthday of the man who saved our necks

But now it stands for Santa Claus – they spell it with an “X”

— Christmastime, Larry Norman (1947-2008)

So – another Christmas season is upon us. I was up by the Commissary a few days ago when I spotted a Nativity scene by the entrance.  It contained the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph kneeling in worship/prayer, and 3 Wise Men bearing gifts.  I said to myself, I said, “Self – what a nice thought to put such a (now) controversial piece of work here, but it’s wrong on so many levels.”

Before I get into what is wrong with this particular Nativity scene, and many of them in general, I just want to state, for the record, that most people are lazy, and are more willing to “go with the flow,” rather than break out and do things on their own.  As a result, there are people that have broken out of the status quo, and actually prey (not pray) on those that haven’t.  Let’s call the predators “Wolves,” and maybe we’ll call the others “Sheeple.”  You’ll probably think, “well, I don’t follow everyone else, so I’m not sheeple.”  Don’t be so sure.  If you receive an email from a trusted friend or relative, and it was forwarded to them from another friend or relative, and if that email contains a “true” story about some person or event, and you forward it thinking that since it sounds realistic, if a little quirky, then YOU”RE SHEEPLE!  For awhile I was getting inundated with emails about President Obama/Bush/Clinton that rang of truth, and almost always began with, “This is the honest truth!  This really happened,” and then in fact, didn’t – at least not the way it was reported.  Except for once – a particular day of weakness – every time I get an email like that (and you can always tell by the number of times it’s been forwarded) first place I check is Snopes (www.snopes.com).  This site handles just about every story that’s been circulated since even before the web came into existence.  Factcheck.org is another site popular to verify political tales.  By the same token, sheeple don’t question what they see on TV or the web, hear on the radio, or view in real life.  Getting back to today’s subject (which has to do with Christmas and the Nativity), I would be willing to bet that many of you would fail a typical 10 question quiz about the celebration of Christmas, because you never bothered to check for yourself.

In fact, here’s a quiz that I just made up.  All of these questions I derived from reading the Bible, but those of you who attended Sunday school in your youth should know these answers:

Christmas Quiz

Multiple Choice

The birth of Jesus is covered in how many books in the New Testament:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

What did Mary do when she found out that she was to be the mother of Jesus?

  1. She ran off to see her cousin
  2. She announced the news to her village
  3. She slept with her husband
  4. She and Joseph started considering names for the child.

What was Joseph’s reaction to discovering that his fiancée, Mary, was pregnant?

  1. He beat her
  2. He married her to avoid the shame of being an unwed mother.
  3. He wanted to break up and send her away
  4. He announced the news to his village

Mary remained a virgin even after Jesus’ birth (i.e. she did not have intimate relations with her husband)

  1. True
  2. False

What city or town was Jesus born in?

  1. Jerusalem
  2. Gethsemane
  3. Bethlehem
  4. Nazareth

Why was Jesus born there?

  1. Because that’s where Joseph and Mary lived
  2. Because they were passing through when Mary into labor
  3. Because they had to register for a census
  4. Because Joseph received a job offer there

What was different about Jesus’ birthplace?

  1. Kings and Queens visited him
  2. Light from Heaven fell on him
  3. He was born in a stable and had a feeding trough as a bed
  4. He smiled at a little drummer boy

How many wise men (kings/magi) visited Jesus at his birthplace?

  1. 0
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3

How did the wise men know of Jesus’ birth?

  1. They were in the region and heard about his birth
  2. An angel of the Lord informed them
  3. There was a new star in the sky
  4. Balaam’s donkey told them

Where did Jesus and his family flee to when King Herod was trying to kill him?

  1. Egypt
  2. Damascus
  3. Jerusalem
  4. Samaria

Answers:

1.            b             (Matthew, chapters 1-2, and Luke, chapters 1-2)

2.            a              (Luke 1:39-56)

3.            c              (Matthew 1:19-24)

4              b             (Matthew 1:25, Matthew 13:55, Mark 3:31, Mark 6:3)

5              c              (Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7)

6              c              (Luke 2:1-4)

7              c              (Luke 2:7)

8              a              (Matthew 2:11 – Jesus was most likely about 2 years old by then and the wise men visited him in the house.  Also, in Matthew 2:7-16 Herod asked the wise men when they had first seen the sign, and based on what they told him, ordered the death of all children in Bethlehem and the nearby coasts 2 years old and under, which would indicate that Jesus was certainly not an infant.

9              c              (Matthew 2:1-2)

10           a              (Matthew 2:13)

So, here’s what I saw wrong with that Nativity at the commissary.

1.  Mary was kneeling in prayer or praise at the manger.  Although it’s possible, it isn’t particularly logical to think that she was anything but in a prone position.

2.  When Jesus was born that’s when the wise men headed west, and they went to Jerusalem first, and then followed the star to Bethlehem, and into a house.  In fact, the book of Matthew completely skips the Nativity – doesn’t mention the inn, the manger, or shepherds watching their flock at night.  And, the book of Luke doesn’t mention the wise men.

3.   Already mentioned it – the visitors that Jesus did have, other than Joseph and Mary, were shepherds, that had been notified by an angel, of the birth.

So, what would my idea of a nativity be?  Well, we could keep it in a barn since we know that there was no room for them in the inn or house that they went to.  The wise men should be nowhere around.  Joseph would be there, as well as Mary, though probably lying down, and a couple of shepherds on site.  I could also picture a bright light from above indicating that Heaven is also watching.

The story of the wise men is also kind of funny.  First, nowhere in the bible does it say how many of them there were.  The number 3 is apparently based on the number of gifts that they gave (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but there could have been a caravan of 20, and they could have brought chests of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh in their original tree-forms.

We have these ideas in our heads that the birth of Jesus happened at a particular way, in a particular place, and woe to the people who try to change our views.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to actually be able to go back 2000 and more years ago, and be one of those shepherds.  Maybe Jesus was born in a house – maybe a common room – it was not uncommon to bring the animals in at night, and there would likely have been a feeding trough (manger) there, although the addition of the shepherds may have caused issues.  That, and the lack of other visitors (guests of the inn).  I only wish we knew more – there is so little mentioned, and the bible has such a stigma attached to it.  Folks think it’s hard to read (it isn’t), or that it’s contradictory (anything can be contradictory when taken out of context).  Maybe you don’t own one.  Go online.  Biblegateway.com has a whole bunch of different versions in a bunch of different languages (www.biblegateway.com/versions/).  No need to be afraid of it – it won’t bite.  Might even be an interesting experience.

Anyway,  I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and I hope you also have a safe & Happy New Year as well!

Posted in Military Community Interests

AAFES? What the hell’s an AAFES?

In my first blog I mentioned that I’m a part of the military community.  I have been for over 35 years.  During that time, especially overseas, our retail outlets, food, and fuel supply have been controlled by AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange Service).  About 10 years ago I was getting particularly annoyed by some practices that I felt were unfair due to the monopoly that AAFES had within the military community, and I published an editorial to The Stars & Stripes newspaper to complain.  It was such a scathing exposé that I can’t even remember what the subject was.  So, let’s go back.  Way back – to a simpler time.

Until 1970 all of the exchanges were regional, and the operations were humble.  The services that they provided were motivated by the need of the military community.  There was no tax, and generally speaking, there was no profit margin – they earned enough to maintain operating costs – and most of the remainder went back to the troops in the form of  Morale, Support, and Welfare programs (which provided services such as cinemas that carried brand new 6 month old (and older) movies in all of their 16mm glory, and “Bookmarks,” which were the book stores back then).  AAFES gained control of retail operations in the Continental United States (CONUS) in 1970 (http://www.shopmyexchange.com/pa/history/milestones.asp#1970s), and then all hell broke for lunch.  The spread that would ultimately enable it to become the 8th largest retailer in the United States began, catering to a very select customer base (or, as some might claim, a “captured audience”) – the military. It grew and grew, like The Blob (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhyRpvgm03g), consuming everything in its path:  exchanges, bookstores, laundry/dry cleaning establishments, food and alcohol outlets, theaters, military clothing, and gas stations.  Probably other facilities as well, but, well, you get the point.

One of the interesting things about AAFES is that it was – and still is – controlled by the DoD (Department of Defense), and is handled very much like a Board of Directors handles any Corporation, although Board Members may well be military, and the CEO is probably a Brigadier General, and the Board reports to the Pentagon, Congress, and the Commander-in-Chief (aka President of the United Staes).  Anybody who’s ever witnessed the extreme efficiency of the US Government in action can just imagine the top-notch efficiency that AAFES is afforded.

A bit of perspective is necessary.  In 1974, at the military commissary in Germany, I paid $1.25 a carton (20 packs/200 cigarettes) for Marlboros. these were tax-exempt for use outside of the US.  Germans were paying 4 times that on the local economy.  Alcohol was about as cheap, also tax-exempt, and the black market was very real for those products and many others.  A rationing system was provided to limit the amount that soldiers could buy, and the MP’s were usually vigilant of such illegal activities.  If you were “in the field” and were eating “C” rations, part of the contents in those rations was a 4 pack of cigarettes, and since it always seemed that there were more Pall-Malls than anything else in those packages we would make deals with non-smoking soldiers to give up their Salems or Marlboros.  “Smoke ’em if you got ’em” was a normal order given in formation when we were doing the typical Hurry-Up and Wait routine that the Army was well-known for.  We smoked in the offices, in the (work) shops, and in the barracks.  The First Sergeant, as like as not, could be seen “field-stripping” his cigarette (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkXu35iJpyU) just before calling the Company to “Attention.”  We also, generally, had a two beer limit for lunch, meaning that on post you were limited to only buying two beers at a time.  I knew many a soldier, when asked, would swear that he only had “2 beersh <hic>.”   Gasoline, as I recall, but didn’t buy it back then as I wasn’t driving, was around $.40 a gallon (or 40¢ a gallon if you can remember the “cent” symbol).

So, times have changed.  We’ve become a much more “responsible” military community.  Cigarettes now cost as much in the military, if not more, than they do at the US grocery stores.  Same with alcohol.  Gasoline has always been about the same as the US average, although now we pay well above that – about $.30 more on the gallon than the average.  (as of 22 Nov 2010, the national average is $2.86 – $2.94 per gallon of regular unleaded.  We’re paying $3.30, more than a dime higher than the most expensive in the US http://gasbuddy.com/gb_gastemperaturemap.aspx).  Cigarettes are pushing $40 a carton, and the difference between what the Americans pay and what the Germans pay for them is no longer so great, maybe 20% – 25%.  Alcohol has also come a long way to bridge that gap.  Why is that?  What have we done that’s caused this surge of the military economy to no longer provide these cheap, if hazardous, products for the military to use?  I’ll tell you wahat happened.  AAFES happened.

On one hand,  AAFES proclaims that people shouldn’t smoke, therefore they set the price so high as to make it unattractive to buy cigarettes.  Same with alcohol, same with gasoline.  Wait – aren’t these still tax-free?  Are you telling me that tax-free cigarettes, or tax-free alcohol, or tax-free gasoline costs as much – or more – than the same products in the states that are taxed “through the nose?”  What’s the reasoning behind it, I wonder…  Oh, I see, blame it on the DoD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army_and_Air_Force_Exchange_Service).  Obviously, the DoD is in the pricing business, and all because of the attempt to “deglamourize” alcohol and tobacco.  Oh, I get it – so instead of just deciding to stop selling the biggest causes of cancer and car wrecks, jack the price up to where they’re only attractive to addicts, not to “normal” people like you and me.  And, since addicts will pay any price to maintain their addiction, AAFES and the DoD can continue to jack up the price as far as they wish.  I have another suggestion: stop selling tobacco and alcohol.   Let the consumer buy them elsewhere.  AAFES and the DoD made a decision similar to this years ago when they decided which adult magazines were ok, and which were filthy smut (http://www.robsworld.org/dishonor.html), so I’m sure  they can make a similar decision today.

I apologize if I seem to be all over the map in this blog.  Sometimes my thoughts come flying in at me so fast that the best I can do is swat what I can onto the screen (to extend a metaphor a little farther than necessary).  The bottom line is that the US military, their families, and the civilians who support them are largely dependent on the monopoly that AAFES has become, and the practices that they follow – no longer concerned about the of the customer but of the bottom line, just like every other corporate megastore.  What can the military customer do about it?  Not a hell of a lot, except complain.  Would Walmart be an improvement?  Does AAFES need to go back to their roots?  You tell me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Here We Go Again…

Years ago, I thought it’d be kind of cool to start a blog.  I had all kinds of ideas, found a free site where I could post my thoughts, cranked out the first one, then, I cranked out the first one, then… I… cranked out the first one.  My sister commented years later that that was typical “Pipering.”

So, here we are again.  I’m older now; not necessarily wiser, and I still have lots of ideas.

Since we’re just now meeting it’s necessary for me to introduce myself, as well as introduce some of these ideas.  I’m a retired soldier, living and working for the servicemen and women in Germany ever since.  I’m a computer hobbyist – been working with PC hardware since the early 80’s – my first PC was an Atari 800XL that I bought from the Sears catalog somewhere around 1983.  Over the years the hobby has morphed into a profession, and although I still tinker I no longer drool over each issue of Computer Shopper (which is no longer in print, anyway).  I grew up in northern California – Richmond – to be exact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richmond,_California).  Yeah – Richmond:  Coach Carter (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0393162/), Laci Peterson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Laci_Peterson), 2009 Gang Rape (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2328582/15yearold_gangraped_outside_richmond.html), and let’s throw the Iron Triangle in there as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Triangle,_Richmond,_California).  9th Most Dangerous City in the United States.  That’s a lot of attention for a relatively small city (56th largest in California).  Richmond’s shining moment was probably when one of its own – a classmate of mine named Chris Darden – was one of the prosecuting attorneys who tried – and failed – to convict local and national sports legend, O.J. Simpson, for the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._J._Simpson_murder_case).  Ah, we also have Rosie the Riveter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter)!

I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent, and not very good at keeping my mouth shut.  I think, and I have opinions, and sometimes I get myself into trouble when my thought and opinions find their way past my lips.  I’m vocal, prefer to get to the point, and often fail to speak in a manner that some people would call “tactful.”

Some of the opinions I have have to do with my local community – things that may not – at first glance – interest you because they may not involve where you live, but I’m hoping that I can frame them in such a way that they can gain interest elsewhere.  Plus, my community is a military community, and I’ll be addressing things that affect most, if not all, of the military communities.  I’ll also discuss issues of national importance: at least, of importance to me, hopefully to some of you as well.  Between the world-wide military communities and the U.S. interests I guess I’ve covered most of the world.  What’s left?  Space – The Final Frontier?  Maybe.

Just to finish up – while I was typing this the demise of Computer Shopper came to me.  When I first started buying it it was a monthly magazine, 800 or so pages – the size of a phonebook, with about one article buried between 30 pages of ads.  Of course, the magazine itself was primarily a source of advertisement for anything that you could possibly think of that might have anything at all to do with technology, and they catered to all manufacturers – Atari, Commodore, Radio Shack, IBM, Apple, and numerous other companies all got equal time.  Years went by and many of those companies dried up, with the rest consolidating until there was basically 2 PC types:  MACs and PCs, which still holds up today.  Computer Shopper got up to about 1200 pages as I recall, and then started dwindling.  Ziff-Davis bought the mag, reduced the number of ads to where the articles could actually be found and read, reduced the size of the magazine from tabloid to something more in line with the other computer magazines on the stands.  CNET bought it, reduced the amount of ads to where there no more than you would expect to see in any other periodical, changed the paper stock to a glossy, slick style of 100 pages or less.  By the time SX2 Media bought it the magazine was a shell of what it used to be.  Over the years, with the commercialization of the web, many of the articles were also being published online, and ultimately, in 2006 the magazine that we knew as Computer Shopper ceased its print version.  Computer Shopper became a victim of the very technology that it touted.

Let’s wrap this up for today.  Later I’ll introduce you to one of the largest retailers in the United States – that you probably aren’t even aware of.  Also, I have (to quote from the classic movie, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), “a couple of thousand g**damned questions” about 9/11 that I want to ask.

Thanks for reading.  Comments are welcome.  Enjoy your day.