Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Westboro Freaks

The Supreme Court came up and heard arguments today from the tiny Kansas church has has shown up at the funerals of various GI's killed in Iraq....attempting to cause protests.  The Westboro Baptist Church has pushed the limits of patience for a lot of folks over the past five years.

One father finally stood up and has taken them to court.  It wasn't very clear who might have done better today in explaining their case to the Supreme Court.

I sat and pondered over this mess.  Based on the arguments given by both sides...it was pretty lousy, and the judges offered up some pointed questions but never got the reactions they sought.

My argument?  This freedom of speech piece of our lives carries enormous weight.  Typically, in a case like this....free speech wins hands down.  Both liberal and conservative judges would agree on that normally.

So I sat there and in five minutes came to a short but direct confrontation against this free speech argument.

Free speech ends in a theater when someone stands up and attempts to yell "fire".  No one argues about that.

So I turned to the Westboro folks.  Religion typically means that I can go up to a funeral and spew anything of a whacked-up nature that I wanted.  But there's this strange element of religion....you tend to use your free right within the church.  You don't end up as a hard-line Baptist standing in a Catholic Church and condemning everyone to hell....going on and on for an hour.  The priest will call the cops and they will escort you out....it's very simple in this case.

Go try to play the Jew at a Islamic Center in Philly.....and see how long they let you stand there and spew out various negative comments against Muslims.

So lets go to the next step....funerals.  If you are the officiating religion at a funeral....the family has given you rights to say whatever you please....as part of the religion.  They didn't give those moments to a unannounced religious group to just show up at a funeral and start condemning your dad son or cousin to some religious hell.

I came to realize several factors about the Westboro Church.   First, there are no blacks.  Take a look over at videos at various protests....they simply don't have any blacks, and I would strongly suspect that if twelve black men showed up at the church and attempted to join....they would be escorted out.

The Westboro Church uses every penny of its resources to take folks to the four corners of the US.  It's like some camping expedition....they just toss in sleeping bags and hope to get to the target protest.  It's interesting how no one ever realizes the convoy or attempts to destabilize the convoy.

At the end of the day....these Westboro guys are a bunch of doped freaks without much of a life.  They are easily motivated and I suspect any minister could come up and tell them something....and they'd just believe.  Why Iraq war vets were ever picked on....is mostly comical.  They could have picked dead political figures, dead football players, dead NASCAR guys....but no, they had to pick dead vets.  It's mostly about getting attention in the national media and little else.  

The Meaning of $75

Over the last day or two....this topic of the house fire in South Fulton, Tennessee has come into discussion.  Briefly, this guy....Gene Cranick....had a trailer house, and it caught on fire.  Gene hadn't paid the $75 fee (per year) with the local town fire department.  His neighbor did.  Gene's home burned down, and when the firemen did arrive...they went to the neighbor's house to ensure that the fire didn't spread to it.  Gene offered to pay them money....any amount....but the answer was no....you couldn't get into the $75 deal once the fire started (or for any amount, period).

Folks are torn on this issue.  Some folks think it's terrible you just let the house burn and make no effort.  But then, you've got all these folks sitting out there and thinking they don't need to spend the $75....and then believe they can get in on the deal after a fire starts.

This is why cities tend to have property taxes and avoid the fee business within the city zone.  There's no argument....they arrive and put out the fire without discussion.

The issue here is that folks around this county only started having a fire department in the last twenty years.  Before the 1990s....when a house caught on fire....it just burned down unless the neighbors mounted an effort.  So when civilization finally arrived in the 1990s....some folks were still living in this 1980s mentality (like Gene).

My pondering upon this topic led one observation.  It's not what occurred that day or before that matters now....it's the general attitude after the fact.

Folks will now question the political leadership of the town on a constant basis.  The mayor will have complaints lodged at him in public.  The council will be insulted at the general store or the local coffee shop.  The members of the volunteer fire department will have relatives verbally assault them at church, reunions, and family bar-b-q's.  In general, the real negative of this situation will be around for a decade as folks don't feel neighborly anymore.

The positive is that some church will step in, and do a charity benefit or two....to help Gene buy a new trailer.  I suspect that some folks will find goodness to help Gene recover to some degree.  Will Gene pay the $75 fee for the new trailer?  I betting he won't....mostly because of hostility and anger.

Years ago at Gunter AFB, Bama.....this goes way back.....the commissary caught on fire on a Sunday afternoon.  Naturally, it was closed (this is in the old days when they never opened on a Sunday).  Across the street were some senior NCO's at the Air Force Senior NCO Academy.  Those who weren't drunk or passed out....stood there at the picnic tables and observed the fire.

The fire trucks arrived, but they stood there....not really reacting.  This interested the old NCOs....so a group walked over.  We'll just talking about a 500-ft distance.  So they ask why no one was jumping around to put out what was currently a small fire.

The base fire chief responded that he couldn't do nothing until the Base Commander arrived (he was at some off-base bar-b-q and he was rushing back...but it'd be another twenty minutes before he got there).  The NCOs were curious about the reasoning....and the problem was this base rule that any building that might hold money and catch on fire....required the Base Commander to be in charge of the actual fire and 'rescue'.  It was some rule from the 1960s that had survived on.

The NCOs stood there for a minute....watching the fire spread and then offered to act on their own account.  They would handle the hoses and just start putting out the fire by themselves...with no help.  The fire chief thanked them but they weren't "real firemen" so he couldn't let them get involved.  The NCOs responded that they were beyond "real firemen" and were obliged by stripes to take charge.

The fire chief backed off because he really didn't want a conflict going on.  The Base Commander arrived around fifteen minutes later, and the fire damage was a fair bit but under the circumstances....acceptable.  I worked for one of the senior NCOs who watched the fire....and ten years after the event....he was still a bit hostile over the episode.

Fires tend to become personal things.  Even if it's not your property, you tend to get involved in the discussion.  I suspect the neighbors around Gene's place will talk about this for years, and hold a grudge against the local town for quiet a while.  Yeah, it'll be a personal grudge, against the fire department and the town council.  It's sad thing....over a simple $75.

The Obama Speech Today

I sat in the Pentagon cafeteria today....watching TV around lunch.  The President's speech on community colleges came on.  I sat for ten minutes watching it.  I kinda lost interest after a while.  The emphasis here is that America needs more kids in community colleges....like the speech four weeks ago where America needs more kids in regular colleges.  Everyone needs to attend college....at least by the imagination of this administration.

Maybe out in fantasy-land America....where every government agency hires folks with degrees...it makes sense when the President says this....but I kinda have my doubts that the heartland functions like this.

I came to this ratio idea about five years ago.  In terms of Masters or PhDs....the nation needs about one percent of the population in this category.  These are the folks who turn into doctors, run business units, professors, and ensure our water supply stays safe or continuous.

Around ten percent of the nation actually needs a full-up four year degree.  It makes sense for teachers, accountants, lawyers, engineers, and real technicians.

Around twenty percent of the nation would fit into the two-year degree area.  And another thirty percent ought to get twelve months of some kind of accreditation....and then just turn them loose.

The other thirty-nine percent?  Nothing.  These are the guys you need driving Pabst delivery trucks, cooking pizza, clearing septic tanks, and driving your big rigs around the nation.

I realize I'm cutting off a bunch of folks from four year colleges and even community college....but frankly, we are pushing folks through some accreditation process, with classes of minimum to no value in the end result.  Half the journalists you end up seeing at some TV station...spent four years studying their field, and they will spend the rest of their life explaining how three cars impacted on the interstate each day?   And dad pays $100k for this certification to explain how cars impact?  I just don't buy it.

In the end....you really don't want a bunch of over-educated folks on your hands....because they will never reach any happiness in life.

A Guy's Palace in the Backyard

I came across this simplistic cabin, which this company built up in Washington state.

It's the kind of thing that some guy could dream up....get two buddies to help him over a 3-day weekend, and probably build for less than $10k (mostly on nice windows and a concrete floor.  It'd fit into any backyard, with a fireplace...a refrigerator....and a satellite dish of course.

I like it because you could sit in it on a July evening and get the feeling of an enclosure but also have some protection if a storm picked up and rained. It'd be great in the winter if you had some fireplace and had folks over to sip a Pabst in the evening.

It Used to Be Simple

Typically, when guys get around to an argument and start shooting each other....it's at one of three locations.

First, there's the bar where you drink and argue over NASCAR, NCAA football, politics, or some leftover situation from the factory or office.

Second, there's the nightclub where you meet some gal....whose old boyfriend arrives to find you buying a drink for her and then you realize you really screwed up even acknowledging her or her ample tube top.

Third, and final....it's the bar-b-q in July where your relatives have drunk a keg or two of beer....and argue over your life's failings, your wife, your lack of a job, or your political leanings.

Typically, this was a short list.  Until today. From this weekend, we had these two students at Mid-Atlantic Christian University (a Bible college), who got into an argument, and settled with a gun.  One guy is dead, and the other arrested.

I sat and pondered over this....wondering how two guys at a Bible college could get into an argument that demanded a weapon.  A woman?  An argument over drugs?  A discussion over NCAA football with booze?  A simple discussion over Bible verses that went wrong in Ecclesiastes?  It's an episode that will have to be explained in court....and a jury will wonder why a gun had to be used in a Bible college.

Our Mark Center

About four miles down from the Pentagon, driving south on I-395, there's the new defense building going up.  This picture is from a year ago, and folks there are advancing toward completion.  It's officially called the Mark Center, although some folks have started to call it Pentagon South.

It's a billion-dollar facility.  When you add up the property that they bought, and the buildings associated with it.  Supposed to hold 6,000 employees.

The driving force?  Well....back in the late 1990s, folks were realizing that traffic toward the Pentagon and Crystal City (where a number of leased buildings are located) was ridiculous.  So everyone was thinking of building this new structure right next to the interstate, and a couple miles south of the main gridlock.  At least, they were thinking that way a decade ago.

As they bought the property and thought they could buy up the woods next to the property....they came to discover that it was protected.  They advanced on construction.....but just never came back to talk about how folks would get from the interstate to the building.

Adding to this mess, there is no METRO subway station within any reasonable distance.  It's at least 1.5 miles away.  Buses?   Well....there's a route currently going nearby but nothing that could handle 2,000 employees during rush hour.  Parking spots?  Well....it's got a plan for 3,000 cars nearby but congress acted to limit folks to 1,000 spots until it's explained how they will get from the interstate to the building.  So far, nothing is clear about that part.

The Green guys are happy about this mess because no ramp can be built anywhere the building.  So the facility is worthless. I'm expecting meetings in the spring with a bunch of Virginia folks to sit and talk over this mess and how the Pentagon can buy itself out of bad planning.