Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Letter


Wife comes up to me at work yesterday (We work at the same office, just in different departments). She says she has to talk to me. She produces a letter, forwarded to me by my parents, and which they opened before they sent it to me.

The return address says "Department of the Army."

I can't describe here the abject terror that that sight put into me. Next thing I know, I've jumped back about three feet, and my wife has to reassure me that it's not a deployment order. I haven't been IRR'ed, she tells me, but she goes on to add that she would like to talk to me more about this when I get a moment.

The letter, as it turns out, is an address verification request. In order to maintain their records, the letter tells me, Human Resources Command needs to know where I'm at, should I need to be called up during a "national emergency." Enclosed is an address form, which I am instructed to complete and return within ten days of reception.

I've been out for three months now.

This means two things, of course. First, it means that my parents have once again denied my request to not forward any government mail. Not only have they denied my request, but they actually opened and READ it, against my orders, and then sent it to me, without so much as a call. No, "Hey, what should we do with this," or "Hey, you got a letter from the Army coming." Nothing. So of course, rather than confront me on the subject--obviously, we disagree--they've just decided to drop the bomb on me without a word. Thanks, guys.

Number two: it also means that the Army is already wanting to get back into my life. I've only been out three months, and already they're sniffing around, wanting to know where I am. They say it's just, "in the event of a national emergency," but frankly I think that two wars of dubious intent and execution, qualify. I also know that the Army doesn't really draw any such distinction. So while they SAY it's just a formality, I've been around long enough to know better. If they know who to call in case of a hurricane, they know who to call in the case of a pending IRR call-up for Iraq. And let me tell you, I'm not likely to be laying down any Mabey-Johnson bridge down in Galveston.

So I think we all know what this means.

I've been dwelling on what to do all day. On the one hand, part of me says: "No. Fuck them. They lied to me and everyone I've ever cared about. They're not gonna know where I live. They can go fuck themselves." On the other hand, what have I got to lose? I've already stated that I won't be going back. What's the worst that can happen--I fill out the form, they send deployment orders to my house, and I refuse to report? Either way, I'm going to be fucked out of my money for college. So what do I have to lose?

I dunno. I shouldn't even have to be worried about this. I have a new job, where I've been recently promoted, and a wife to worry about. The Army nearly broke me, nearly killed me. I looked at my options, and decided "No. This isn't who I am anymore." And yet, not even a fiscal quarter after my departure, they've decided that they still want to keep tabs on me. This is the great crime at the core of today's military: even after you do your time, even if you were a good soldier who decided that this wasn't for him anymore, that doesn't matter. You're Uncle Sam's bitch now.

Even after everything else, you're still just a pawn, a warm body. I learned long ago that that was all Uncle Sam ever saw me as.

So I have a choice: Either throw the form out, and wait for my parents to sell me up the river; OR, fill out the form and send it in, and then tell the Army to kiss my ass when they send orders to my door. Either way, the answer is still no. I'm not fucking going back. Not now. Not next year.

Not. Ever.

I gave those bastards my all. All for a war that amounted to lies. And still it wasn't enough.

Read more!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Kryptonite to Democrats

BoingBoing (yes, again, I know) has an interesting post on political video messaging, especially targeted video messaging, that I highly recommend.

What's important is that our 6 readers (heh) see the video that cshirky uses as an exemplar. He writes:
Dear Mr. Obama was a trifecta. For the base, a muscular but polite attack on the very issue that brought Obama into the spotlight. For the undecided, the emotional charge is much likelier to sway them than argumentation. And for the Dems -- nothing. The video might as well not have existed for all it was seen in Democratic circles. Since the video's sole speaker can't be criticized without making the criticizer look churlish at best, almost no Dems forwarded it, linked to it, talked about it.
Earlier, Shirky says you'll see similar messages again in 2010 and they'll be plastered all over in 2012.

Read more!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


The Onion, January, 2001.
Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.
I'd laugh if I could quit crying.

Read more!

Local Traditions Mean Jack To The Bottom Line

Cartoonist Brian Duffy among the staff let go by The Des Moines Register.
Duffy’s departure could mean the end of a tradition at the paper of front-page editorial cartoons dating back to 1906. The paper has won numerous Pulitzers for its editorial cartoons, including work by Jay Norwood Darling and the legendary Frank Miller. The Register is currently the only paper in the country that still runs a cartoon on its front page.
I've never thought of Duffy as a great cartoonist, but that's cold. More on the current Register layoffs. 4 months ago in August, Gannett laid off 1000 other newspaper staff nationally, including 26 positions at the DMR including Jane Norman, the only person making up the Register's so called Washington Bureau.

The Gannett Company, owner of the Register, as well as USA Today and god-knows how many other papers, and the original McPaper institution, is laying off somewhere between 10-20% of it's payrolls. The Gannett Blog is tracking everything if you want the full skinny.

And the foamy whipped cream topping? CNN canned it's entire Science & Technology reporting unit.

Update: It's even worse. Political columnisthack David Yepsen, Iowa's version of David Broder, has been loudly seeking a job in Illinois as the head of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. They also have cut the Sunday Opinion section from 6 to 4 pages, dumped all the book reviews (which were canned anyway), and re-sized the physical paper layout and stock to cut costs.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If I was to talk about Radio Lab, most of you would say, "What?" Which is a shame, because Radio Lab, at least on my podcast list, is one of the smartest programs on any media as well as the most creative. And I say that as a die hard This American Life listener. My inner Ira Glass is right now trying to subtly remind me that its not a competition, but we all know better.

A few weeks back, hosts Robert Krulwich & Jad Abumrad, put forth a great program on Choice, which was late in some respects because the election was 12 days before it aired. The choice of the year, guys!

I can hear Krulwich now - "But Id, why did we need to say a thing about the election?" Well, Robert, bear with me . . all shall become apparent.
Jonah Lehrer helps us understand why by introducing us to George Miller's classic paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two", which explains the ability of the average human to hold about seven pieces of discreet information in working memory at any given time.
Classic is almost an understatement - we all interact everyday, some of us every hour, with the most famous application of the paper: the telephone call routing system. Miller found that the average normal human can handle or juggle about 7 pieces of discrete data at once in foreground memory, plus or minus 2 in variance. Its because of Miller that my phone number is (515)557-1785 (it's really not) - we not only give our number in in local terms as 7 digits, and then also in two or three chunks. You can also see derivation on Miller's work in the Web address system - this chunking also applies to single words or other simple datums.

Robert X. Cringely, a technology journalist, wrote about Miller's work in Accidental Empires, postulating that the people whom could hold more data in RAM (so to speak), more than 7-9 numbers, were likely to be gifted individuals.
It is the 0.15 percent . . we're interested in - the 3 out of 2,000 people who can remember more than nine numbers. There are approximately 375,000 such people living in the United States, and most of them would make terrific computer programmers, if only if we could find them.
It's more than about computer programming, of course, because being able to hold transitory information in short-term memory at the very least could be a great asset at parties, much less in board rooms or even the White House.

So if seven, with a little fudging, is the magic number, what happens when we give someone more than 7 pieces of data and expect them to make a serious decision?

How many times have we stood in a shopping aisle and muttered that our brain hurt?

In my case, I've stewed for weeks on certain decisions or purchases, wanting to assess all the variables and correctly identify all the needs or wants I want to fulfill. This plotting and planning sometimes takes on a senseless life of it own as my brain chases its tail around and around. Some of that is information overload.

A very devious guy, Baba Shiv, at Stanford put together a little experiment based off of those numbers. He showed that if you give someone a data set like a phone number with the implied intention for said person to reguritate it a little later, and then interrupting that person, you can bend their judgment away from good to worse choices.

How often have we stood in a voting booth and muttered about down-ballot candidate races?

Now remove that decision-making process one step further. How does someone, whom isn't a politics and news junkie like the fair readers of this blog, whom doesn't commit talking points and positions to long-term memory, and whom doesn't watch the election cycle for months on end, come to a decision? Whom on average, has only five to nine slots available to stick the datum of the moment.

Yeah. Scares me too.

The marketers, advertisers and their close relatives in political communications know this very well. In certain respects, they want to overwhelm the low-information voter and bend the decision-making process with less-than-noble talking points and appeals. In the age of 24/7 news and the Information SuperFirehose, it's then pathetically easy to blow away a person's judgment.

That flood of information can lead to avoidance and anxiety, and even to people refusing to make any choice whatsoever - and not ultimately voting.

Coincidentally, the next program to come off my randomized playlist was TAL's Ground Game episode. In Act One, it featured the Democrats for McCain stumping door-to-door in Scranton, PA. Listening to it, and the Radio Lab just previously, made you really think about how we form choices - and rationalize the ones that we feel so strongly about that we sacrifice our time and money for.

That's the story you didn't go for, Robert.

Read more!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Open Thread

Ya. It is an open thread, what of it?!

I still have pneumonia. I finally cooked my bird on Sunday and had a few people over. I way overdid it, so now I am back to couch living and trying to get well.

Thank gawd that kiddo and husband are back to work and school though, 'cause I was going to kill them. Boss wants and needs a project done, that is why my computer is on.

All you're getting from me is an open thread...

Read more!