Monday, October 29, 2007

Want To Screw Defense Contractors?

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, it also underlines everything that is wrong with Washington D.C., so bear with me.

I used to be a hobby buyer for a small toy store and I’m also a life-long builder of plastic models. I’ve built almost every plane in the US Air Force inventory, a fleet of battleships, destroyers and aircraft carriers. I’ve mastered 1/35 scale armor and figures and made cool dioramas. I’ve built the Starship Enterprise from A to E, the Millennium Falcon and all of those cool Aurora movie-monster kits. I’ve even done a few dinosaurs.

I love building models. Almost as much as I love blowing them up with firecrackers. That’s another thread.

The most common question that I used to be asked was where are the modern kits? You could find the M1 Abrams and Bradley but only from Tamaya (a Japanese company and very expensive), the UH-60 was only made in 1/48 and 1/72, but not in 1/35. You couldn’t find a 105 Howitzer or 90% of current US military hardware. It was frustrating because I could never get an answer. Eventually new Chinese based model companies started to pick up the slack and I could finally stock Los Angeles-Class submarines, Arleigh Burke destroyers and funky Oshkosh fuel trucks. I even stocked prototypes of the F-23, which was never built.

The thing was that these kits were always more expensive than their Russian counterparts by 15% to 25% and that never made sense to me because the details for a T-72 are a tougher cast than an M1. A modern Destroyer model, which has less clutter on its deck, was more expensive than a WWII battleship, which has all kinds of guns and deck items to detail (thus more plastic). Then, for every modern vehicle introduced model companies would release 7 to 15 new WWII kits. You can buy every variation of the Tiger tank; you can buy Nazi prototypes and even German tanks that only showed up on the battlefield in the last months of the war. The reasons that WWII kits are more popular vary; some of it has to do with the fact that WWII tanks, fighters, bombers and warships are just more interesting as a subject than modern equipment. I’ll never get tired of building B-17s, PT boats and the F4U myself so I understand this. Then there is basic politics, Japanese kids (who dominate the model building world) aren’t as hot on American stuff as they are on WWII German stuff. Some countries even restrict the model industry to only that country’s weapons systems (France), or that a percentage MUST be domestic kits. That’s why Heller makes some great, unique French stuff.

Then I found out the main reason that it’s so damn hard to get modern stuff. It turns out that the reason modern US kits are few and far between is due to Defense contractors demanding a licensing fee from model makers. Not just the primary contractors either, even sub-contractors have gotten into the game. Even if that sub-contractor’s equipment is not represented in the model (the numerous black boxes on an F-22 for example) they still sick their lawyers on the model companies. That slows everything down and drives the price of the kit up. Why would any model company want to produce the new armored cars, for example, when it’s just easier, cheaper and more profitable to roll out yet another sub-type of the Super Tiger from WWII?

This sucks, here’s why…

Who pays for the F-22? Who pays for those little black boxes in the F-22’s avionics bays? WE DO! Yep, John Q Taxpayer owns those F-22s and those little black boxes inside of them. In fact, if it wasn’t for Mr. & Mrs. Taxpayer, the F-22 wouldn’t exist and neither would all of those little black boxes. These defense companies are double-dipping, they are getting paid twice and it’s wrong. I paid for all of those Blackhawks and if I want to buy a 1/35 MH-60 variant I shouldn’t have to reimburse Hughes for a box that nobody could see even if it was part of the kit. In fact, that particular box is classified; if I have to pay Hughes then I want to know how it works and what it does.

This is just sleazy.

Now New Jersey Congressman Andrews has introduced a bill to end this scummy practice:

It’s not going to save the world, end the war or make healthcare affordable but it IS a quality of life issue. It’s also a chance to set a small wrong back to right again.

Sorry to vent but this is something I’ve followed and feel strongly about.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Party Girl" by Anna David

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, WTF? Axxman, what are you doing reading a book about some hot Hollywood reporter? Well, everyone in a while I like a good novel that takes me into a different world. Now, the last three books I’ve read were a couple of books by James Joes about Counter-Insurgency and “Blood & Thunder” A Tale of the Old West. In the last five years my life has been consumed by all things United States Army, Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Terrorism. Essentially reading about how good men train to kill other, not so good men and it can be very depressing at times. Now, I like to take a break here and there and one of my favorite ways to break up the military stuff is to tune into G4’s “Attack of the Show”, which is a silly, snarky show that covers video games, computers, technology, movies and other pop-culture stuff. It’s an hour long and a pleasant oasis of non-serious activity. On Wednesdays the do a segment called “In Your Pants” which covers sex and relationship advice and the co-host of this segment is a cool lady by the name of Anna David. She writes columns for a variety of magazines about sex and relationships and she comes across as being wise beyond her years. A wisdom that can only come with mileage. She’s usually dead on with her assessments and has an amazing ability to articulate how a woman feels during certain physical acts as well as how the female mind often perceives the world differently than men. So when I read that she had her first novel come out I made a point to hunt it down and buy it.

I’m glad that I did and I think that you should grab a copy too.

Through her character, Amelia Stone, Anna David slips the reader through those red velvet ropes of Hollywood, beyond the red carpet and into the world of a Gossip Magazine reporter. Using the fictional Amelia, Anna incorporates her biographical accounts into a story of a smart, educated young woman who’s keen and hilarious observations of the Hollywood party scene juxtapose harshly against her failure to realize that she has become a Cocaine addict.

The story starts at a wedding where Amelia’s adventurous nature, fueled by coke, gets her into an encounter in a pool house bathroom and later she finds herself in bed with two men. Definitely a great way to open a book if you ask me. From there we follow Amelia as she works a Movie premier, here Anna shows some skill as a writer because this brief chapter sets the tone and style for her story because buried underneath the humorous observations about certain actors and the catty remarks about skinny actresses it becomes apparent that Amelia is simply biding her time until she can get into the lady’s room and do coke. From there, Amelia ends up at a small party at a Malibu beach house where a game of “Truth or Dare” breaks out.

From there we follow Amelia as she goes to some Rock Star’s house where he insists that she interview him in bed. Shortly afterwards we watch as Amelia is surprised as she’s fired from her job because of her cocaine use. It is here where Anna David’s story-telling shifts into a different gear because this kind of story has been told a zillion times before and she manages to keep it original and true to her character, which is very hard to do even for someone who’s writing from personal experience. To be blunt, Anna does a masterful job of writing from an addict’s perspective as Amelia goes from a good paying job at a magazine, where all she does is go to parties and premiers and next finds herself picking up dog crap from a pet of a high caliber Hollywood exec for $10.00 an hour. Amelia’s coke-fueled rationalizations leave her oblivious to her circumstances as she spends what money she has left on more cocaine.

I can relate to this. I’m an alcoholic and it wasn’t until I’d stopped drinking that I began to realize that the reason my life sucked was due to booze. While I was a drunk this fact escaped me. It never occurred to me that these amazing women in my life kept dumping me because I had a drinking problem.

For the first half of the book, the only reliable man in Amelia Stone’s life is Alex, her coke dealer.

Anyway, from there we see the inevitable crash and Amelia passes out in her own vomit next to a dumpster following an amazingly dangerous encounter that I’ll leave for you to read about; and then it’s off to Re-Hab. Once again, Anna David keeps this story from becoming a cliché fest as she cleans herself up even though they’re all in here. This is due to this being more autobiographical and Anna’s sense of humor and honesty keeps the story above average. Often, writers who stray into re-hab stories either over dramatizes, over emotionalize or over do the whole event. Sure, it’s often a life-changing event for them but too often these stories end up dripping with self-indulgence that Anna manages to skate over in a classy way. You get enough emotion so that you get a good feel for Amelia’s transformation (more of an escape, actually) from coke-head to sober person without being beaten over the head or having our intellect insulted.
Once Amelia’s out of re-hab the story then becomes another challenge as she is hired to write a column about her crazy adventures for a prestigious magazine, crazy adventures she doesn’t plan on having any more in her new and sober life. She learns that the re-invented Amelia Stone can have just as many wild nights sober as the old Amelia Stone did.

“Party Girl” is a darn good book and an excellent first novel from Anna David. It’s a book that people who’ve dreamed about going to Hollywood to “Be a Star” should read. It’s a book that someone who’s smart and at risk should read, maybe you could get it as a gift for them. The narrative about cocaine use is bluntly honest and unglamorous and illustrates how a smart person can find themselves in trouble quickly and not even know it. Anna shows that as an addict, people become unaware of themselves and will rationalize all kinds of destructive behavior in their quest for their next fix. “Party Girl” is also a wonderful look at Hollywood and the people that populate the entertainment industry and the industries that feed of the entertainment industry. People who don’t believe in other dimensions should read this book because Anna illustrates the netherworld of the “Special People” of Hollywood, who move through the night like Vampires and hide in the shadows of the spotlight. There’s an insightful remark Anna makes about watching old TV shows; she becomes depressed because:

“These people were once this town’s big deal. They ate at all the right restaurants, and got invited to all the right parties, and had their names in Variety and were adored, and I’ve never heard of any of them, and now they’re gone and who the hell cares about them today?”

If I were governor, I’d have that written on a giant plaque and put it just below the “Hollywood” sign.

Smart Stuff.

Smart book.

Check it out.

Kinda Blue

October has always been a time when I start to feel a little down. I don't know why. As a dude who loves a good ghost story I should be stoked because the TV and newspapers are full of true ghost stories. Then there's all of the Halloween parties with the slutty outfits that the ladies wear (I use 'Slutty" in a good way) yet I don't seem to get anything out of it like I once did. I think it's because the year's almost over and that means I pissed away another year of my life. At least I have my book which keeps me going but that has been slow because the Army doesn't keep records as well as you'd think that they do. If it were a fiction piece I could have been done already but I need to document and check facts and that just takes time.

So I'm frustrated , I'm frustrated in October. Yay.

Then the holiday season comes and I'm reminded again about how much money I don't make and the number of friends that I have who appreciate Christmas as a time for simply being with the people you love and sharing yourself have thinned out and all that are left are the materialists. As I've aged I tend to embrace the Christian aspect of the Holidays as a time of hope, it makes me feel like a better person and it's much cheaper.

I think that the real issue is that this is going to be my 43rd October and this year is seemed to show up right after April. Time has its way with everyone and I am no exception, I feel like I'm watching my life through the window of a bullet train. WHOOSH! Its not all bad though, I'm losong weight and I have an exercise routine that is helping with that. Things have been quiet at home and stuff seems under control. I'm not even as down as I have been in the past so who knows, maybe this October thing is just a mid-life phase.

I hope.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Into The Woods Again.

I love to hike.

Before I wrecked my back I used to love long-range monster hikes where I'd cover 14 miles in 6 hours. I have no idea why, I think it was just the idea that I could haul ass through some serious terrain with no problem. I also think it was because I secretly hoped I'd just keep walking and never come back; just live out there in the woods and become a wild-man. That just never happened. Since I live in Monterey County I have access to all kinds of environments to explore and enjoy. I have the Central Coast Savannah, which is the low rolling hills filled with Sage and Oak Trees and mostly brown grass. All that it's missing are Zebras and Elephants and it could be Central Africa. Then there's the Coastal Mountain ranges and canyons. Seriously steep ridges that rise sharply to a height of 2000 feet. Certain times of the year you can see migrating whales. Then there are the Redwoods.

The Redwoods can be found either down in Big Sur or up in the Santa Cruz area. There are more tourists down in Big Sur but up in Santa Cruz it's more of a local mix. The park I like will remain nameless but it's the only one in Aptos, CA., so if you need to know the Google is your friend. The Redwoods had been in the back of my head for a few months but I'd always find a reason not to go. So on my last day off I just forced myself to drive up and I'm glad I did. Wow! It was the perfect day.

It was the day before we would get some rain and if you've ever been in a forest before a storm you can feel the trees exhale in anticipation. So as I started my little jaunt I was greeted with the rich aroma of Redwood bark as the trees prepared for a good drink. The Redwoods drop their needles which creates a carpet to walk on, you make no sound as you walk and so long stretches of the hike are almost silent. The wind becomes your partner as if whispers through the trees, I wonder what secrets I would learn if I spoke it's language because the trees seem to not only understand but they were having quite a conversation. The Aptos Creek runs along the side of the canyon and it leisurely babbles it's wonderful song on it's way to the sea.

It's the kind of day that makes you believe in Magic.

I had a secondary motive for coming here. The epicenter of the 1989 Earthquake is right under the park and that earthquake was landmark event in my life. It was one of the things that lead me to stop playing guitar and to pursue more serious things in life. I'll have to tell that story later but coming here is to me just like those old guys going back to Vietnam or Normandy. Something happened here that almost killed me 18 years ago, I like to come here every once in a while and say "Howdy". The great thing is that my last back surgery did the trick and I was able to move around without pain and that means that I'm coming back here again soon. The earthquake was the first life-changing event and my back injury was the second so knowing that I can enjoy the outdoors again has been a great relief to me. Maybe I'll get my foot speed back too, who knows.
The one thing that came to me on this hike was how sad that it is that there are people who'd come here and think "What a great place to build a shopping mall!". I genuinely pity these people because anybody who could stand in a forest like this and only think of cutting it down is spiritually dead. I felt true sadness for people like that because when they win, and get to tear down places like this, they lose and lose big. Well, one can always hope, right?
The rains came the next day and this means that next week that creek will be a little deeper and much faster. I can't wait to return.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why I Don't Hunt Ghosts Anymore.

I used to hunt ghosts. Really. I'd go to people's homes or businesses and check out their claims of things going on that didn't make sense. Out of eleven "Cases" I was able to explain to the folks what was really going on. In ghost hunting you learn quickly about heating and plumbing issues as well as general construction. Most of the people were relieved but a few were bummed out that they didn't have a ghost. Back in the 1980s, before Electra Magnetic Field detectors and affordable infra-red cameras an investigation was done in the library and at county records pouring through microfilm. Then you went to the house and did a perimeter walk and then inspected each room and then interviewed the inhabitants. Often times the problem was an over-active imagination coupled with a plumbing problem and since the average plumbing job at that time was 40 years old you had all kinds of sounds being made. The thing that I loved the most was the history aspect of it all; forgotten crimes, Spanish land-grants and all sorts of colorful people made it all worthwhile even though I never found a spook.

Don't get me wrong, I've run into a few ghosts. They are certainly real, they're just not what everyone thinks they are. That's another post.

Now, I don't know if I've ever talked about getting kicked out of M.U.F.O.N. for being a government spy (which ticked me off because Spy's make three times as much as I do ) but the short story there is that they weren't interested in facts and became hostile when I suggested that whoever was flying around the night skies might not be friendly (again, it's a long story). This is when I learned what JFK Assassination Theorists already knew, out here on the wacky fringe things get ugly when your theory contradicts some other guy's theory. That's because often the other guy has written a book, does conventions and your theory is a threat to his livelihood. Go to a Psychic Fair or UFO Convention sometime and you'll see what I'm talking about, there is a lot of petty ugliness between "Researchers". However bad the UFO guys are the worst of the bunch are ghost hunters as far as immature reactionaries go.

Oh man, where do I start?

First off, you have the groups that are ruthlessly territorial and are almost gang-like in the way they protect their turf. There are stories of one group hoaxing another as well as tales of cars being vandalized. Then you have the groups that charge people for an investigation, these guys are frauds because there is little accepted proof that ghosts exist so it's akin to an exterminator charging to get rid of Fairies. Then there are the ghost hunters who are just green with envy when another group gets it's picture in the paper or is featured on TV. Man, these people can just ruin your day.

I'm glad I'm out of that world. Now, I need to stress that not all ghost hunters are assholes, it's about half that fit the bill these days. The thing that has those guys all in a twist these days is the "Ghost Hunters" show on SciFi. All kinds of names are thrown around and accusations of frauds and hoaxes are thrown in the direction of the TAPS crew. Basically though it boils down to jealousy, the TAPS guys are on TV and they're not. Boo Hoo. Check the boards sometimes and you will see some petty stuff written about the guys from Rhode Island, it's pretty sad to say the least and worst of all it speaks to the over-all unprofessionalism of many ghost hunters. At the end of the day it's just TV, you turn it on and have some fun, there is no reason to make such a big deal out of it. But some people just can't help themselves.

I enjoy "Ghost Hunters" for what it is and I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the show beyond that. I don't think that the TAPS guys would want me to either.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Captain Old Guy

I had to whip into Monterey to deposit my paycheck which is something I enjoy because it involves a seven-block stoll through downtown. It's a nice October day and that means that there's fun mix of people on the sidewalk. Perfect day too, no line at the bank or at the drugstore so I was able to finish my business quickly. As I was standing at the corner waiting for the light to change I notice an old guy on the opposite corner wearing a Captain's hat, you know like the 'Skipper" on Gilligan's Island? This got me to thinking:

At what point did this guy look in the mirror and say " I've got it, a Captain's hat!"

See, I grew up around a lot of retired military and none of those guys ran around in their Caps once they'd retired. You'd think that the guy who'd commanded the Enterprise in WWII would wear his Admeral's Cap and a t-shirt that said " I Commanded the REAL Enterprise in a REAL war, so suck on it you dirty Hippie", yet he preffered Flannel and sometimes a fishing hat (when he was going fishing). You'd think a guy who'd shot down 12 ME109s over Germany would dress like Colonel Hogan every friggin' day but he didn't. So what promted 'Captain Old Guy" to dawn a $25 Captain's hat and wear it when he goes out on the town? Does he sit at the bar and tell stories about the sea and the "One that got away"?

In Monterey, CA, there are maybe fifteen old-timers who can be spotted wearing Captain's hats. To be fair, some of these guys are retired Sardine and Squidboat Captains and to be sure they'd earned those caps but what about the other guys? Sometimes I go down to the Warf and watch the fishing boats pull in and I've noticed that today nobody wears a Captain's hat, today they wear Giants or 49ers ball caps. I wonder how many of those guys will one day exchange their sports cap for a Captain's hat? I don't know what would be worse, guys sitting around in their Captain's hats or walking around Monterey one day and noticing that the old guys wearing those caps have gone and nobody has replaced them.

You go, Captain Old Guy!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Maybe We Should Just Bring Back Lead Paint

You know, for a great many years there was Lead in paint. The paint in your house, the paint on your car and just about everywhere else. If it is so toxic then how did modern man survive? Seriously, why isn't making extinct? Lead paint was everywhere and yet those people who grew up in homes with lead paint went on to cure Polio, develop Heart Transplants and fly to the Moon.

Maybe it's because they weren't stupid enough to eat lead paint chips? I think so.

Look, being exposed to Lead isn't healthy and taking it out of paint and gasoline was a smart idea but the presence of lead paint IS NOT An IMMEDIATE THREAT TO YOUR HEALTH. There is an entire Environmental Cleanup industry that has grown up around this myth and has even perpetuated it. They would have you believe that by simply walking into a building painted with lead paint will cause you harm. That's just not true. Think about the guys who won WWII, even their ships and tanks were painted with lead paint. Ike, Truman and Kennedy all grew up around lead paint with Kennedy even over-seeing the painting of his PT-Boat and inhaling fumes. If you buy into the hype then JFK should have been a brain-damaged vegetable before the Japanese sank his boat, yet somehow he was able to save his injured crew members and work out a rescue, not to mention that whole getting elected to the Presidency thing.

Maybe we should feed our kids lead paint chips...

We have become a race of fraidy-cats, yet our Lead-Fueled Grand parents weren't affraid of anything. They ate produce sprayed with DDT, they rode motocycles without helmets, they used to get into bar fights and up until 1966 they didn't even make cars with seat-belts. They just woke up every morning and walked out the door into this very dangerous world without a second thought. They most have been seriously tweeked from all that lead in their environment because not only did none of this stuff scare them they never filed a single lawsuit about having their feeling hurt. Poor bastards. Worse, if their Congressman had suggested regulating this stuff our Grand Parents would have lynched them.

How did we make it this far?