Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tad's First EP Release

Long ago, in another life, I was a community college music student. One of my favorite experiences was the Electronic Studio class, which put me in a lab with a half dozen of the top-of-the-line keyboards, sound manipulators, and Macintosh sequencing programs available in 1992. Before leaving that life to enlist in my new one, I made a couple of cassette recordings. Last week, I found those cassettes, and since my sense of humor is so much more developed than my sense of self-respect, I decided to post some of those recordings online:

No One Called Larry - Old School EP

You don't need to be a member to visit, so feel free to listen and download as much as you like. (I hope you like, at least.) And remember, I get 1/2 cent royalty on each track that you play on that site, even if you aren't a subscriber!

I'm actually most proud of the way the "Birthday Disco" turned out, and of my arrangement of DeBussy's "Beau Soir". "Manic Atari" was something I did on Emlyn's little Casio, before we started the class, and "Manic Atari II" was the version I did on the Ensoniq in the lab; the two versions of "North West Side" are the results of a project that Emlyn and I did together as a joke. Emlyn's much larger and better selection of tunes can be found on also.

Now, one of these days, I hope to put up a "real" No One Called Larry album... but I don't like making promises, because life has a way of interrupting. But let me know what you think, and I'll keep you posted as events warrant.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tad's Sad Little Essay Contest Entry

Holy Cats... I should have known not to trust the Navy!

There is an essay contest afoot at the U.S. Naval Institute's "Get the Gauge" site. They asked contestants to submit their funniest military story, and as you know, I've specialized in those over the last dozen years (give or take).

Well, voting is underway here:

Normally I would tell you "read them all and vote for the best", but for two factors:
*There are too many stories to count, let alone read
*One of them already has 99% of the 138,564 votes.

So, I ask you, my dearly beloved and devoted fans, to please spread some love around, and try to get me into third place. My story is called "Three Strikes" (and it's the first part of the Basic Training story I posted here last month).

Vote early, vote often, and spread the word!

Edit: Update! Apparently, due to a glitch in their system, the voting is going to be reset. This means there is still a chance we could hit first! So go vote... and then feel free to read other stories. ;)

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Veteran's Message to Barack Obama

I've been stewing about this all day. Let's have a little perspective, shall we?

I am a veteran. I have all my limbs, and actually suffered only the usual mental traumas of peacetime service, because I served during the immediate post-Cold War Clinton years. I spent maybe a total of 20 weeks separated from my family in total over nearly 7 years, and that was by choice, to attend a cushy language school. But still, I remain a veteran.

My wife is a veteran. She was gung-ho, duty driven, and would still be in if she hadn't been railroaded by an idiot commander. She had plans that would have done us all proud, and put herself through 22 months of intensive training, only to become a military spouse and watch my frustrating experience from the sidelines. But still, she is a veteran.

And now the entire McCain election campaign has become awash with talk about veterans. Mike Huckabee spoke at the Convention in St. Paul about the school teacher who brought her new students in on the first day to an empty classroom, made them spend the day guessing how they could earn their desks and chairs before having veterans bring the furniture in to demonstrate that "these guys earned your desks FOR you". Every knows all of the gory details of Sen. McCain's Vietnam experience. All of this is meant to guilt us into repaying his service by honoring him with the Office of President, as if the most "veteranly" veteran should be qualified to run the country.

This morning, one of my Facebook friends posted a YouTube video made by an Iraq veteran who accused Sen. Obama of "disrespecting all veterans" by calling the Iraq War a mistake. The rationale here is a Republican favorite: the idea is that the sacrifices made by our soldiers somehow magically make that war "right". The claim is that we are "winning" in Iraq, and that because this soldier (among many others) lost a leg, that redeems the countless civilian casualties and human rights abuses that are inevitable when one country invades another.

Speaking as a veteran, I feel compelled to respond: BOLLOCKS.

The fact is that when the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. occurred in 2001, the stated intent was to draw the U.S. into this war. By 2002, everyone knew that Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks, and yet TO THIS DAY, people still connect 9/11 with the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. That connection was never real, but it was what Osama bin Laden counted on when he set his plan into motion: the U.S. would want revenge, and to the U.S. public, one Muslim enemy is as good as another. He was right about that, and so, thanks to the emotionally charged rhetoric of war-mongering Republicans and the spineless reaction of Congressional Democrats (including Hilary Clinton), bin Laden got what he wanted.

By provoking the U.S. into invading Iraq in March of 2003, al-Qaida "won" the war.

Individually, I love our soldiers. The vast majority of them are good-hearted people who want to make this world better, and all of them believe that what they are doing is right and good. I hope they keep doing what they believe is right and good, and I hope that the Iraqi people are beginning to appreciate those intentions. However, our military is a weapon that was used on them, and the hand that wielded that weapon belongs to everyone who agreed to use that weapon in anger against an adversary who had not harmed us.

Our soldiers put themselves in harms way to try to bring peace to a shattered land. They are trying to create a safe environment for the Iraqis to build schools and improve their infrastructure; they bring toys and candy to the children. Those are all good things, but what I can't understand is this: Why does anyone expect that to make up for the mistake we made by invading in the first place? Would any of you forgive an army that rolled into our cities, killed our government, and allowed rampant looting, just because they then built us some schools? Would you look upon foreign soldiers with favor because they gave your kid a Hershey bar? Or a teddy bear?

No, you wouldn't.

I still refuse to believe that the Iraq War was about oil. If it was, then it failed. But I believe that the War was a political gamble, meant to cover up for a multitude of inadequacies that have been revealed by the events of the last several years. Judging by the words I hear from people like this YouTube veteran, it worked. There has been no progress in repairing or replacing Social Security, no reform in our abysmally unfair and opaque Immigration laws, and large steps backward in protecting our health and our natural resources.

And now, the Republicans want to give us their Second Choice a crack at things; the man they couldn't get behind 8 years ago. And even he isn't the main attraction in this election; the Base is being galvanized by a "yummy hockey mommy" who thinks that abortion is the most dire threat to our nation, and that Iraq is a Holy War that God wants us to fight while we continue to whore ourselves to the oil companies.

None of that is made right by the sacrifices of our soldiers. And none of that is made right by claiming a special moral high ground for veterans. If you are a veteran who feels hurt by the events of the last several years, you have my sympathy; but it gives you no political credibility. And it gives you no right to speak for me publicly.

My wife and I are veterans, and our message to Barack Obama is this: you have promised us change, and you have shown us a staggering amount of dignity during a very difficult time. In your acceptance speech to the National Convention, you pledged to get us off of our addiction to oil, relieve the tax burden on our working families, and to deal with socially divisive issues in a fair and pragmatic manner. You, sir, will get my vote, because I believe that these goals are possible, and no one else will say that.

And while I would never presume to speak for all veterans and soldiers, I guarantee I do speak for more than a few of them.

May the deity of your choice bestow blessings on everyone; because we certainly need them.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Helping a Fellow Writer

Some of you have heard/read me gushing about my favorite podcast, Escape Pod. Of the many fine authors to appear there, a couple are semi-regulars. One of my personal favorites, Jeff DeRego, is the author of the "Union Dues", a series of short stories with a take on super-heroes in a real world setting.

I just learned that Jeff had emergency bypass surgery at the end of last week, and that there is a PayPal donation account available for anyone who would like to help the family (details at the Escape Pod site).

I don't have much to offer in the way of cash, but I did what I could, and now I'm asking you all to take a moment to consider helping out, too. This isn't a random plea for charity, as I see it; this is a chance to show the power of our social network, to make a difference and help a friend. If nothing else, I hope you'll follow the links above and check out Escape Pod and the Union Dues stories.

If you can help with some money, fantastic. If you like science fiction (or fantasy... or horror... or superheroes) I think you'll enjoy the stories.

But the best part is, you know if you ever need help from us, we're here.

Three Strikes; AFBMT pt. 2

Six Little Words (pt. 1)

"Who likes bowling?" asked our Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor (TI), Senior Airman Young.

It was the morning of day one, and we had been permitted a total of two hours or sleep - just enough to assure that even the most stressed out insomniac would have dropped from sheer exhaustion - only to rise to the 0400 wake-up call: "Geddupgeddupgeddup Get UP!" It was all calculated to keep our defenses down.

Which is why so many of us were dumb enough to raise our hands at his question.

Thus, I began my Air Force career in my underwear and on my knees, scrubbing the latrine with four other 18- to 24-year-old recruits. Heads freshly shaved, and smelling strongly of new uniforms, quivering after almost two days of mental anguish, we scrubbed the drab tiles and scoured toilets until they were as clean as the medical facilities. We went so far as to use Brasso polish on any exposed pipes we could reach, and to fold the torn edges of the toilet paper roll into neat triangles.

And yet, somehow, we still failed miserably. Each daily inspection would reveal some missed detail: a stray pubic hair stuck in a remote corner of the shower, a tiny gobbet of shaving cream clinging to the underside of the sink, and even a tiny, stray turd which had miraculously appeared in one of the urinals after we thought we had finished our cleaning for the day. Who poops in a urinal?

Our Latrine Squad was a roaring success compared to our "House Mouse," however. SrA Young, had reviewed our records and learned that Airman Speck and myself were the two "most educated" airmen in the flight, having both attended some college. Speck had a degree, though, and was made "Mouse" - a thankless job that added cleaning the TI's office and scheduling the 24-hour dorm guard watch to his other Basic duties. I silently offered a prayer of thanks that I had never finished that music degree! Speck seemed to take to the job, carrying a little notebook around to jot down SrA Young's instructions and requests from other recruits to swap dorm guard shifts with each other.

It was the Dorm Guard Monitor part of the job that brought him down. Part of the duty was "training" the rest of us in dorm guard policies and procedures: how to challenge visitors, what to say, whom to allow in, operating the door. Everything one needed to know was even printed on a large chart next to the door. If it sounds easy, that's because it was. Only, no one could get it right.

Strike one, day eight: 0330. Taylor was caught dozing at the dorm guard station by SrA Young's boss, Technical Sergeant Burns. TSgt Burns was a sour, angry man, aptly named as any shred of sympathy for us had long ago been charred out of him. He withered SrA Young with a blistering stream of invective over having incompetent dorm guards.

Strike two, day twelve: 1115. Reams (of course) allowed the squadron Superintendent into the building without checking his ID card. SrA Young, furious, warned Speck that the next mistake made by one of his guards would cost him his job as Mouse. Speck redoubled his efforts to "train" us, begging us to read the procedures in our manual every spare minute. There weren't many spare minutes, as we were also supposed to be learning everything in the manual for our final written exam: Customs & Courtesies, Air Force History, First Aid, Chain of Command, Code of Conduct, "Pillars of Service," and more. He would sidle up to people during "free time" and whisper cryptically, "Remember, call the dorm to attention for any officers that enter!" or "Announce 'Female in the dorm!' whenever a female comes in!"

The first of three Command inspections by the Major was scheduled for day 18. SrA Young savaged us at his daily inspection, and drilled us over every tiny mistake. Turning to Speck, he growled, "You better put somebody COMPETENT on dorm guard!" He was still smarting from the incident with the departed Reams, who had only the day before been forcibly ejected from our little ball game. We milled about, nervously fiddling with our gear, and trying to catch any last-minute errors before the Major arrived. That was when we heard Morgan start the door routine.

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

Fifty airmen snapped to attention, and the Major came striding in with his executive officer and TSgt Burns. They checked the latrines first (mercifully turd-free) and began working through the bunk and wall lockers in the East Bay. All went well, until...

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

SrA Young's face purpled as he watched the Major snap to. You don't call the Commander to attention, unless... Into the dorm came the Group and Wing commanders! The Colonel greeted the Major, and introduced the General, who was conducting a surprise visit, and had asked to see one of the inspections. The Major sent his XO, a jittery 2nd lieutenant, scurrying out to get the General a pad of inspection forms so he could join in. We were petrified, but things still seemed to be under control. Then, once again...

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

All eyes shifted to the sight of the General standing at attention, and then to SrA Young, who must have expected the President to walk through the door at that point - about the only reason to call a General to attention at all! Instead, the XO came nervously into the room. SrA Young's face went beyond purple, back around the spectrum to red again, and he ran, elbows pumping, down the center of the aisle between the bunks, his scream of rage building as he went: "No-o-o-o-o-o-oo-oo-ooo-ooo-oooo-ooOOOOOOOOO!!"

He slammed into the wall next to Morgan and screeched into his face: "TELL ME YOU DID NOT JUST CALL A GENERAL TO ATTENTION FOR A LITTLE STINKING LIEUTENANT!!!"

Morgan, already pale, turned green with horror, and - staying rigidly at attention - called over his shoulder. "General!" he squeaked, "At EASE!"

Thus, the job of House Mouse fell to me. Any hope I had to return to anonymity after shooting my mouth off the day before (when Reams made his ignominious exit) vanished as SrA Young's face split into a Grinch-like grin. "Oh, it's YOU!" he said. "Let's see if you're witty enough to train your flight to guard the stinking door!"

I hated the job from the start. I was struggling enough with my own duties; every inspection found some new deficiency in sock or underwear folding, and even with the help of my neighbors, element leader, squad leader, and the dorm chief (our student commander) some seemingly impeccable item would draw a demerit every time. Adding the TI's office only made it worse, as I had less time to devote to arranging my underwear according to regulations.

The Dorm Guard schedule didn't help, either. I quickly wearied of hearing people ask for specific shifts, and of keeping track of who had swapped with whom. After being awakened twice on my first night to settle disputes between remorseful swappers, I declared that there would be no more trades. Shift assignments would be final when I posted them on the bulletin board each week. My only consideration was to keep someone sharp on duty when we were likely to get visitors; which could be any time.

I struggled on, failing inspections, irritating my fellow airmen with the schedules I posted, and trying everything I could to get my duffel bag folded correctly. SrA Young seemed sympathetic, since I wasn't a discipline problem, and he could see I was trying as hard as I could. I made point of keeping my bearing - which mostly meant keeping my mouth shut - even when threatened with the dreaded Recycling. Strike one was my inability to pass an inspection; I couldn't afford any other problems.

"Hey, Mouse," came a voice from behind me. Startled, I whipped around to see Muncie, a skinny, black kid with a gigantic head that bobbled when he walked. He sneaked into the TI office through its rear door while I was sweeping under the bed. "Mouse, you gotta put me on dorm guard at night."

"I don't do requests," I snapped. I didn't trust him, either. He was supposed to become an SP, the Air Force's Security Police, but he hadn't shown any of the qualities typically associated with cops. For example, at the rifle range, he dropped his M-16 the first time he fired it as though it had turned into a snake, and wailed "I cain't DOOO it!" until they came and took him away.

"C'mon, man," he persisted. "You oughta put me on at night... you need me!"


"'Cause I like to creep," he said, a gleam in his eye.

The thought of this weird little man - like Golem with glasses - lurking near my bed while I slept gave me the cold shivers, and I kicked him out of the office. Before he left, though, he hissed at me, "You'll be sorry!" and slammed the door.

I heard something fall behind the desk and shatter.

I dove under the desk, only to pull out the remains of one of SrA Young's prized awards: a model of one of the missile's he had worked on before joining the Training Wing. Before I could decide what to do, the door opened, and there stood SrA Young, looking down on a cowering airman, sitting on the floor of his office in his underwear, and holding his broken missile.

Strike Two.


We had all been warned: anyone failing this inspection would be sent to the Superintendent to be considered for Recycle. TSgt Burns had as much as promised that someone would go by the end of the week; we were SrA Young's first solo training flight, and TSgt Burns felt that our lackluster performance would only improve if he followed through on that ultimate of threats.

Three of us failed that inspection. We were told to line up at attention next to the door. TSgt Burns was called on the intercom, and the other two failures began to swoon and moan, tears welling up in their eyes. I was merely angry, and stood locked at attention, gritting my teeth.

On dorm guard was my friend, Jay. I had specially selected him for this shift so that someone I trusted would be on duty during the inspection. He had performed flawlessly... until TSgt Burns' face appeared mashed in the window and demanded to be let in. Jay did well, following the script on the door. Until, that is, TSgt Burns, the sadist, left the script.

"Sir! Please present identification!"

"You just called me! Lemme in, you piece of crap!" bellowed the Evil One.

Rattled, Jay managed to follow the directions on the board by the door, and said, "Please report to the orderly room for assistance, sir."

"I just CAME from there! You know who I am, now let me IN!" TSgt Burns himself had taught us the class on dorm guard procedure... especially stressing the policy against personal recognition. At this point, Jason was supposed to repeat the previous instruction, and then call downstairs for help. Instead, he said:


TSgt Burns blinked, and whispered, "What did you say?"

"I said, ‘NO, I can't do that, sir!" Jay shouted. You could safely say that he had lost it.

TSgt Burns went berserk, hurling himself against the door, screaming, and snarling like a pit bull after a rabbit in its hole. The thick, steel door shook in its concrete frame. Saliva dripped down the outside of the window. SrA Young strode to the door and let him in.

Crossing the threshold, TSgt Burns transformed into the picture of composure, and turned to Jay. "Who is your dorm guard monitor, airman?" Jay, standing at attention now, pointed at me. Me, against the wall with the other two blubbering on either side of me, an obvious trio of losers. My insides churning, I stood staring fixedly at a point about six inches in front of my face; precisely the space where TSgt Burns placed his face as he said:

"Pack your bags."

Strike Three.


To be continued...