Friday, 3 February 2012

The Testing Game

In 1977, as I joined the Air Force....they wanted me to know that they did drug testing.  I was young and naive....and just didn't really think much about it.  Other than one test at the recruiting station....I didn't have to mess with any of this business for about a year.  Being from a dry county in Bama, and protected by Baptists....I had no real perception of drugs....other than Bayer aspirin.

Six months later, I arrived in Germany, and got an education on illegal drugs.  In those brief two years, I came across just about every kind of user that you can imagine.  From weed to LSD, from uppers to downers, various pain-killers, etc.

I had the one guy in our shop who smoked mary-j-u-wanna in the morning as he got up, and did it again at lunchtime.  He was supposed to be a heavy-equipment operator, but most of the guys begged the boss to just let him ride in the truck or shovel stuff.

I worked with one guy who had a permanent revolving appointment with the doctor on a monthly basis, and got the maximum amount of pain-killers that the doctor would issue.  He had faked a massive back injury and at the age of 22....he was heavily medicated on pain-killers almost twenty-four hours a day.

We had some dimwit gal who went into Frankfurt one night, got loped-up on LSD....and the folks were smart enough to put her into a taxi to get her back to base.  When they dropped her off in front of the building....she just stood there....for almost thirty minutes (this was around midnight).  Some guys walked by....asked some if she needed help, and she just mumbled away.  They got her into the building and just left at the door....where she stood around a while...mostly looking at the amazing fingers on her left and right hands.

By the end of 1978, the Air Force had upped it's drug testing program and finally started picking up folks...a few here, and there.  To be honest, I doubt that they ever had a reliable program and that ninety-percent of those using drugs were slipping through the cracks.

In the 1980s....the Air Force improved it's program again, and more folks started to get picked up.  By the 1990s, the Air Force had added cocaine and crack.....plus steroids and growth hormones.  Before I retired, they came to admit that they had this pretty long list of forbidden things, but they really couldn't test for all of them....so they typically picked out their hot "dozen" of the month or quarter....and you simply were guessing if they'd select you for a round of drug testing, and if they might even have your preferred drug on the hot "dozen".

This all comes up today....because the military announced this week that they've decided to add three more items to the forbidden list.....and start testing for them.  The items? Vicodin, and the anti-anxiety medications Xanax and Valium.

It's a curious list.  All have been out for more than a decade.  Prescriptions?  Well....my guess on an average base of 3k military folks....there's at least forty people on a regular prescription of Vicodin, with another hundred people who might illegally obtain it and use when they have pain.  Xanax and Valium?  I'd be betting that at least two hundred folks have some dosage of the drug which is legally prescribed to them.  I worked with one young gal about ten years ago, who was given the maximum dosage possible for Xanax for her weight group.

My humble guess is that the generals have finally come to add up the drug bills and grasp just how many bottles of Valium are being handed out at the base clinic, and they worry about this.  They probably figure twice as many folks use Valium and a fair number obtain it from their friendly neighbor who obtains the stuff from Mexico.

Working for the Pentagon, I still have this umbrella of drug testing over my head.  On any given day....my boss might call and indicate that my number came up, and I've got eight hours to show up at some toilet in the Pentagon and give a cup of life-sustaining liquids to be tested.

The curious thing here that I see....is that from a historical prospective....in 1944, there wasn't a single guy in the US military tested for anything.  So eighty years later....we are approaching the point where fifty-odd items are on some list to be occasionally tested, and folks in management add and worry over the numbers each and every month.  We've come a long way, and it's probably not a positive way.

A Lousy Deal

Being a vet, I rarely, if ever, stand against advantages for vets.  Today....I'm probably taking a stand against a deal for vets.

The administration came out yesterday and now calls for a new program.  There are two parts to this deal. First, they want to establish grant money for towns to hire up GI's leaving the service, for police and fireman jobs.  If you were a town of four thousand, and wanted to add two more full-time fireman jobs onto the payroll....you'd ask for this grant.  Naturally, the grant would only cover a certain amount of time. My guess is two years.  Then you as the town....would have to find tax revenue methods to pay for this guy's salary, and eventually his pension with the town.

You can imagine a town council jumping onto this idea, but not asking how exactly they would cover these two new guys in the years to come.  Around 2014, you'd have the finance officer of the town come up and mention that you were $110k short on your payroll estimates over the two new guys.  You eventually decide that one guy has to go, and you will find some revenue new money from the new property tax to cover your extra fireman.

On the cop side?  Well.....you can imagine some town with five full-time cops and feeling great about getting grant money to hire some former US Army cop.  Time passes, and now the pressure is on for more traffic tickets to cover this guy's actual salary which the town never forecasted over.  My guess is that half the military guys hired to be cops.....will be released from their first job within three years over this salary coverage problem.  Some will filter out to smaller towns where they become the one and only cop....instead of the town hiring the mayor's nephew who has no experience.

The second program?  Well....the administration envisions this conservation program that goes back to the 1930s.  They would hire up these GI's, and put them to work rebuilding trails, roads and levees on government property.  Course, this might make sense if you had purely infantry guys.....but what happens when the guy comes up and he's been a cook for ten years?  How about the Army computer technician....who you'd like to be paving roads in some national park?

In the 1930s....you had this vast population in America that had no skills or backgrounds....and turning them into brick-layers, carpenters, or ditch-diggers was not a big issue.  If a guy has a skill and is fairly intelligent....he's not going to stand up and accept some job that he's simply not qualified for.

Then you come to this odd problem.  To accept this conservation job....you'd have to pack up and move to some remote area of Idaho, Mississippi, or other state...far from the urban areas that you might be used to.  You'd likely have to accept living in some old house or cheap trailer.....waiting for the funding to eventually run out....then you get tossed out on the street as a former GI-turned-ditch-digger-turned-unemployed.  Grants never last forever, and in this case.....you have a limited amount of time to dig ditches.

The odds of these programs passing Congress and the Senate?  My guess is that they will find 'some' funds and allow these to float through.  Maybe at the end of this deal....five thousand guys end up as cheap labor guys in some conservation program.  Most will take to drinking after a while because of the conditions and lousy pay (it probably won't even pay what they were making in the Army).  A couple thousand guys will make it as cops.....then most will find that it's just not as good a deal.

I'd prefer not to stand against any deal for vets.....but I suspect that most folks will be disgruntled in the end over this safety-net that the government offered up.  And if you really wanted to toss a better pitch.....why not offer a higher preference to be hired via Homeland Security, and collect real pay?  Start laying off the lousy TSA guys, and find GI's who are dependable and more intelligent.

Lessening Odds

A bunch of smart guys came out today and said they had found this new planet....name GJ 667Cc.  There's this neat thing about this newly discovered planet.  It's about five times the size of Earth, and they think it has all the necessary ingredients for life (mostly water, which is a vital element).  So they'd kinda hinted that they want to identify it as a "super-Earth".  Along the way, they note that it's got a star (sun), and that it takes about 28 days to make an orbit around this sun.  And.....it's awful dang close to us (22 light-years).

Life?  Well....statistically....as each month passes and folks identify more planets....the odds are going into one direction.  It might have been one in a billion forty years ago.  Today.....we might be closer to one in a million.  In five years?  We might be at one in 100k planets.  And eventually....we will reach the odds of one in two chances of finding a planet with life on it.  At that point.....most of our perceptions in life chance, dramatically.

For half the folks out there, it's going to be a pretty rough time.  Most of their religious thoughts will be challenged, and those stupid movies from the 1970s with 'bad aliens' are going to come back to cause worries.  The truth is that we might just walk into some situation where we find a race of redneck-like folks....who mostly eat catfish....dig septic tanks on a regular basis....clean their handguns every Saturday morning....wear clean underwear whenever they leave the house.....sip whiskey from a glass cup only.....admire tube-topped ladies greatly.....prefer the NCAA bowl situation continue on....and enjoy hugging any gal who likes even halfway like Dolly Parton.

The trouble is....we just don't know.  But we might ought to start thinking numbers here.  One in a million is a fairly good number to avoid worrying.....but when you get down to a one in two chance.....well....you'd best have a vastly different view of life in your mind.

The Nobel Mess

This is what we know.  There's this guy in Norway, who has the job of being a peace researcher for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He's ticked off and pretty upset.  His hostility?  Well....he says that folks who run the Nobel Peace Prize don't grasp that the intent to take down the world's military, and make the world a safer place.  He bases this on the intent of Al Nobel.....the rich guy who started Nobel Prize business originally.  Al has been dead for over 110 years, so it's not a simple task to figure out his rules and instructions.  To be kinda honest....folks have taken vast liberties over the past hundred years.

So this researcher wants a formal inquiry, where groups of guys would form up and investigate the process, the candidates, and how things have been over the past three years (that's how far they can go back and yank back the prizes.....apparently, someone wrote a rule where your prize could be yanked back).

The standards for the Peace Prize have kinda drifted along over the years.  So folks got it for just making up peace treaties.  Some got it for standing up against corrupt regimes.  Al Gore got it for sizing up global warming and making Nobel folks happy about saving the world.  Jimmy Carter got his for mostly promising the Egyptians and the Israelis a bunch of cash and military weapons each year....if they'd just agree to a peace treaty.  President Obama got it simply by winning the President's job of America, and the Nobel folks figured that he would tear down Gitmo and dismantle the US military (neither as happened yet).

What does this add up to?  Well....it's kinda like a Baptist church accusing all its deacons of being lazy Baptists and not carrying out God's word.  Or, it's like all the guys who work at Jack Daniels meeting and swearing that they just won't ever drink or sip the stuff they manufacture.  Or, it's like everyone at Ford Motor Company....driving a Toyota.  Or, it's like Democrats standing up and suddenly all voting for Canadian oil to run across America.

I pondered over this for a while.  There are a vast number of folks today....that the minute you see a tidal wave sweep the Pacific....they want to call up the US military to save thousands of people (mostly because the US military is the only organization in the world that can move heaven and Earth, if ordered, to do a job).  There's also a vast number of people who kinda remember the Nazi occupation of France, and how some Americans landed at Normandy.....to establish a force to oppose Nazi relations in Europe.  And there's a vast number of people in the United States, who think that a fair number of radical Islamic folks need a kick in the seat of the pants.

So this Norwegian peace researcher will get his committee, and some folks are going to have to explain in public how exactly the current rules conflict with Al Nobel's intention of the 1800's.

There's a funny way of viewing this mess and Al's 1800's view.  In the late 1800s....the US was this minor league military force....whose greatest achievement was the Battle of New Orleans and Gettysburg.  On the world's achievement list....neither probably amounted to a major episode.  Al Nobel was dead for twenty years by the time that World War I rolled around, and he never got to see the US walk into the situation and stop the war within eighteen months.  Al Nobel never saw Nazis kill off seven million Jews.  His perceptions of the late 1800s?  They might be mostly worthless.

The problem here is that a bunch of whacked-up folks have talked themselves into believing the Nobel Peace Prize means something, and they have to keep this running.  One groups wants just to reward folks who save mankind, and the other group just hates mostly Americans, unless they act European or elitist, so they want to award anyone who is mostly anti-American.  My humble guess is that we might actually see a case where they end up with two Nobel Peace Prizes.....one for peace and one for mankind.

The comical thing here is that some folks with the Nobel crew....are still waiting on President Obama to deliver.  And if he ever did.....they might have to figure out a way to give him a second award (just my humble opinion).