Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole."

The Great Iraq Swindle: via Rolling Stone

Contractors in Iraq. Intentional clusterfucking via the Bush Administration.

With every paragraph, anger and the desire to throttle every one of these evil motherfuckers increases.

The full article at the link should be required reading for all Americans.

The Great Iraq Swindle: : Rolling Stone:
"How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat...

...A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

...When Congress gets wind of the fias­co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.


Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now ­assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

...The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport ­security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax­payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."

But even being the clumsiest war profit­eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it ­really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush.


Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."


Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further.
But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction ­effort, you will find versions of this excuse every­where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."


The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

...In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War ­started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres­sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could)."

How I could have fewer friends [by telling more truth.]

"No!" you say... "How could that even be possible?"

This is how, and it's... tempting.

The half-assed way I naturally do it already causes rancor and strife though...

But I've seen this book/article name-checked a half dozen times this past week. Universe is trying to tell me something, clearly.

I Think You're Fat:
"...What I mentioned to my boss was this: a movement called Radical Honesty.

The movement was founded by a sixty-six-year-old Virginia-based psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. He says everybody would be happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time. This would be radical enough -- a world without fibs -- but Blanton goes further. He says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you're having fantasies about your wife's sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It's the only path to authentic relationships. It's the only way to smash through modernity's soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.

...[Blanton says] "You'll have really bad times, you'll have really great times, but you'll contribute to other people because you haven't been dancing on eggshells your whole fucking life. It's a better life."

"Do you think it's ever okay to lie?" I ask.

"I advocate never lying in personal relationships. But if you have Anne Frank in your attic and a Nazi knocks on the door, lie....I lie to any government official." (Blanton's politics are just this side of Noam Chomsky's.) "I lie to the IRS. I always take more deductions than are justified. I lie in golf. And in poker."

...No topic is off-limits. "I've slept with more than five hundred women and about a half dozen men," he tells me. "I've had a whole bunch of threesomes" -- one of which involved a hermaphrodite prostitute equipped with dual organs.

What about animals?

Blanton thinks for a minute. "I let my dog lick my dick once."

If he hadn't devoted his life to Radical Honesty, I'd say he was, to use his own phrase, as full of shit as a Christmas turkey. But I don't think he is. I believe he's telling the truth. Which is a startling thing for a journalist to confront. Generally, I'm devoting 30 percent of my mental energy to figuring out what a source is lying about or hiding from me. Another 20 percent goes into scheming about how to unearth that buried truth. No need for that today.

...Now, my editor thinks I'm overreaching here and trying too hard to justify this article's existence, but I think society is speeding toward its own version of Radical Honesty. The truth of our lives is increasingly being exposed, both voluntarily (MySpace pages, transparent business transactions) and involuntarily. (See Gonzales and Google, or ask Alec Baldwin.) For better or worse, we may all soon be Brad Blantons. I need to be prepared. [Such bullshit. -- Ed.]

...In his book, Blanton talks about the thrill of total candor, the Space Mountain-worthy adrenaline rush you get from breaking taboos. As he writes, "You learn to like the excitement of mild, ongoing risk taking." This I felt.

...The next day, we get a visit from my wife's dad and stepmom.

"Did you get the birthday gift I sent you?" asks her stepmom.

"Uh-huh," I say.

She sent me a gift certificate to Saks Fifth Avenue.

"And? Did you like it?"

"Not really. I don't like gift certificates. It's like you're giving me an errand to run."

"Well, uh . . ."

Once again, I felt the thrill of inappropriate candor. And I felt something else, too. The paradoxical joy of being free from choice. I had no choice but to tell the truth. I didn't have to rack my brain figuring out how to hedge it, spin it, massage it.

"Just being honest," I shrug. Nice touch, I decide; helps take the edge off. She's got a thick skin. She'll be okay. And I'll tell you this: I'll never get a damn gift certificate from her again.

... It reminds me of an issue I raised with Blanton: Why make waves? "Ninety percent of the time I love my wife," I told him. "And 10 percent of the time I hate her. Why should I hurt her feelings that 10 percent of the time? Why not just wait until that phase passes and I return to the true feeling, which is that I love her?"

Blanton's response: "Because you're a manipulative, lying son of a bitch."

Okay, he's right. It's manipulative and patronizing to shut up and listen. But it's exhausting not to.

One other thing is also becoming apparent: There's a fine line between radical honesty and creepiness. Or actually no line at all. It's simple logic: Men think about sex every three minutes, as the scientists at Redbook remind us. If you speak whatever's on your mind, you'll be talking about sex every three minutes.

...The thing is, the separate cubbyholes of my personality are merging. Usually, there's a professional self, a home self, a friend self, a with-the-guys self. Now, it's one big improper mess.

...I inform our twenty-seven-year-old nanny that "if my wife left me, I would ask you out on a date, because I think you are stunning."

She laughs. Nervously.

"I think that makes you uncomfortable, so I won't mention it again. It was just on my mind."

...Blanton says he doesn't believe sex talk in the workplace counts as sexual harassment -- it's tight-assed society's fault if people can't handle the truth -- but my nanny confession just feels like pure abuse of power.

...In fact, all my relationships can take a whole lot more truth than I expected. Consider this one: For years, I've had a chronic problem where I refer to my wife, Julie, by my sister's name, Beryl. I always catch myself midway through and pretend it didn't happen. I've never confessed to Julie. Why should I? It either means that I'm sexually attracted to my sister, which is not good. Or that I think of my wife as my sister, also not good.

But today, in the kitchen, when I have my standard mental sister-wife mix-up, I decide to tell Julie about it.

"That's strange," she says.

We talk about it. I feel unburdened, closer to my wife now that we share this quirky, slightly disturbing knowledge. I realize that by keeping it secret, I had given it way too much weight. I hope she feels the same way..."

And here's a slightly more balanced approach...

Approach Anxiety » Blog Archive » Do Something Awesome For Yourself: Stop Lying:
"...I never lie.

You see, I realized that when I did lie, 95% of the time I was lying to make someone else feel better.

If I was tired and didn’t feel like going out with a friend I’d made plans with, I’d make up an excuse instead of saying “I’m tired and don’t feel like going out.”

If a girl I was seeing asked me how I felt about her, I’d tell what I thought she wanted to hear, rather than how I really felt.

Once I started not lying, I felt this huge rush of relief.

Because you know what? FUCK EVERYBODY.

It’s not my responsibility.

...It doesn’t always mean I go around saying the truth to everyone every time I see it (”Wow, you gained weight.”) Or even that I need to answer someone if they ask me a question.

But I won’t say anything that I know to be untrue.

It really makes things a lot simpler.

...It isn’t always totally comfortable. Once in a long while it hurts a bit. Or leaves me slightly embarrassed.

But not as much as you might think.

I feel it’s an important step to shaking the Nice Guy Syndrome, that voice inside my head that wants to please everybody, be all things to everyone all of the time.

You can’t do it.

All you can be is you.

And if somebody doesn’t like it, well… fuck them..."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dean-O, baby.

Just cause...

I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords.

Bush's alien overlord peeks through window during speech - Boing Boing:
"Jim says: 'Jamais Cascio pointed out this CNN video of Bush giving a talk on subprime mortgages. Check out the alien behind the window in the background.'"

Ah, marriage.

Overheard in the Office | I'd Rather My Wife Didn't Understand Me:
"Opinionated coworker: My wife's mad at me because I think she's an idiot.

Main Street and Grant Avenue Columbus, Ohio"

Airline asshattery.

Surprised her outfit wasn't labeled an act of terrorism by these numbnuts.

"Southwest Airlines is apparently now telling its female passengers how to dress.

Kyla Ebbert was reprimanded and nearly kicked off a flight for daring to wear a tank top, miniskirt, and cardigan. (This picture is of the outfit she was wearing at the time. Scandalous, no? How dare she walk around in 100-degree weather wearing that?!)

...Uh, newsflash: 50 years ago, Southwest was requiring its own stewardesses to wear skirts just as short as Ebbert's... So much for the good ol' days of modesty."

Today's reason why Japan rocks...

Lady Ninja Obstacle Course!

Kunoichi: The Ultimate Obstacle Course [For Lady Ninjas] : Japan Probe:
"This week women from across Japan competed in Kunoichi 2007, the female version of the Sasuke ultimate obstacle course (or “Ninja Warrior” to you American readers), and it was pretty damn cool."

George Orwell - tatted up magickal outcast.

Makes him that much cooler.

Gordon Bowker: George Orwell: a paranoid rebel with tattoos on his knuckles | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited:
"...Another document notes that he had tattoo marks on the backs of his hands - not evident from published photographs.

Adrian Fierz, son of the friend who helped Orwell find his first publisher, spotted the tattoos and asked about them. "They were," he recalled, "blue spots the shape of small grapefruits - one on each knuckle."

As this information was on Orwell's 1927 passport it can be presumed he acquired the tattoos in Burma. He was never a properly "correct" member of the Imperial class - hobnobbing with Buddhist priests, Rangoon prostitutes and British drop-outs. As Orwell himself noted, rebellious Burmese tribesmen thought tattoos gave magic protection from British bullets, and, as he himself grew more rebellious, perhaps he felt in need of his own protection against official hostility. The tattoos were probably a sign to members of the British establishment in Burma that he was not "one of them" - an attitude he sustained throughout his writing career. That attitude, highly fruitful for his writing, was also what made him a suspect to the intelligence authorities."

It's all relative.

Petraeus, Petraeus, Petraeus...

The mantra is repeated ad nauseam...

Things to keep in mind...

One, the numbers are bullshit...

Crooks and Liars » Playing games with Iraq numbers:
"Specifically, Gen. Petraeus is expected to say there’s been a 75% drop in sectarian attacks, a 56% drop in overall attacks, and a 17% drop in civilian casualties. All of this, it turns out, is suspect, and in some instances, contradictory...

As Ilan Goldenberg summarized, “So to recap. The violence numbers do not include: 1) Sunni on Sunni violence. 2) Shi’a on Shi’a violence 3) Car bombs 4) Getting shot in the front of the head.” Something to keep in mind when Petraeus reports on Iraqi “progress” next week."

Two, this is more awesome than anything that will actually occur...

Via the always amusing John Cole - Balloon Juice:
"Oh, and for the record, here is my prediction for how the Congressional testimony will go:

1.) Petraeus will enter the room, and Joe Lieberman and several other moderate Democrats will faint when they see him in Class A’s with lots of ribbons and medals.

2.) Petraeus will offer a mixed report, citing temporary tactical advantage and listing points of progress. Lots of cheese charts with arrows pointing in the right direction, but little to no sourcing, will be on display.

3.) Lieberman, freshly revived from his initial fainting, hears Petraeus utter the words “our brave men and women in uniform,” and promptly passes out again.

4.) Petraeus mentions, in passing, that we are facing difficulties. Democrats fail to press him. The difficulties are not mentioned specifically, but in vague generalities.

5.) Petraeus states the situation is too tenuous to drawdown troops before fall of 2008.

6.) Lieberman is revived yet again, only to hear the phrase “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” and promptly falls to the ground in shock and horror. Ron Paul gives him the finger.

7.) Afterwards, numerous Blue Dog Democrats state to the media that the General was impressive, and has assured them that we are making progress, and, as such, they are reluctant to do anything.

8.) Republicans, when speaking to the press, state that this is clear proof we are winning, and evidence that we do not need to cut and run like some of the Democrats want.

9.) Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Warner all state how impressed they are, but note that they have some unspecfied concerns and that we need to proceed cautiously.

10.) Some cranky Democrat notes that there was no real information presented, and wants to have some hard data to compare to the numerous negative reports we have received from independent organizations. Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, NRO, and the Weekly Standard promptly call him a traitor. Malkin breaks out a cheerleader outfit. Michael O’Hanlon goes on Hardball and claims the GAO is the most corrupt organization in Washington.

11.) The rest of the media cover the story until about 7:45 EST, at which point it is learned that Lindsey Lohan may have smoked pot while in rehab. The Petraeus story dies.

12.) Seven more members of the military die."

Cute Onslaught.

Building up some karma here.

Plus, my sleep, of late, sucks.

This should help right?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Most people who get to know you well don't like you because you are kind of a jerk-off. "

Which Heroes character are you?
Your Result: Nathan Petrelli

You are Nathan Petrelli.
You can fly, but you couldn't care less about your power. Most people who get to know you well don't like you because you are kind of a jerk-off. You have a lot of charisma and power, and constantly use both to benifit yourself.

Hiro Nakamura
Claire Bennet
Matt Parkman
Peter Petrelli
Issac Mendez
Niki Sanders
Which Heroes character are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

YouTube - Leonard Nimoy's Highly Illogical

There really are no words.

My god, it's full of insane.


Wicca teacher says he has a winning ticket in Mega Millions -
Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett says a New Age book store made it possible for him to become an overnight multimillionaire.

He and his wife, Denise, were on their way to the shop where he occasionally teaches Wicca and Reiki healing when they stopped at a liquor store and bought two $5 Mega Millions tickets for Friday night's estimated $330 million jackpot.

On Sunday, he said one of his tickets was a winner.

*That's "Fuck You! It's magic!"... thanks, internets!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lesson learned? Go ahead and drive drunk. DUI for Sleeping in a Parked Car: Comments:
"I guess the lesson for drunk bar hoppers is, go ahead and drive home, because the penalty is the same, whether you drive home or sleep off the booze in the parking lot."

New Jersey Upholds DUI for a Man in Parked Vehicle:
"A New Jersey appellate court yesterday upheld the principle that convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) can be imposed on individuals who were not driving. David Montalvo, 36, found this out as he responsibly tried to sleep off his intoxication in his GMC pickup truck while safely stopped in the parking lot of the Market Place Deli on a cold February morning last year. At around 5am he awoke to see a Hamburg Police Department patrolman standing over him. The officer had opened the door of Montalvo's truck to rouse the man and insist that he take a breathalyzer test. Montalvo refused.

He was arrested and forced to make a conditional guilty plea to the charge of DUI, intending to challenge the police officer's actions as a violation of the Fourth Amendment."

More police insanity.

Rights? What rights?

Reason Magazine - Hit & Run > Two More Isolated Incidents:
"Lillian Scott said she and her husband were in the living room discussing family plans, their 15-year-old daughter was in the garage with two friends and their 16-year-old son was in another room feeding the Scotts' 5-month-old baby.

That all changed at 9:35 p.m. she said, when Temecula police officers ---- four or five, she's not sure ----- carrying rifles charged though the unlocked front screen door and ordered the couple to the floor.

"Two of them came over and put handcuffs on the two of us," Lillian Scott said. "We asked what we had done wrong and didn't get an answer."

Elsewhere in the house other officers handcuffed their daughter and her two friends.

"(The officers) told them to get down on the f---ing floor," she said.

..."I asked if my baby was OK and the officer told me if I moved he was going to put a bullet in my head," Scott said.

The officers apparently figured out they'd hit the wrong home when they'd cleared the second floor, then realized they were only supposed to be in a one-story home, something you'd think they might have verified before tearing down the front door. Here, at least, the city has been apologetic, and is talking about making a settlement offer to the family."

Idiots, I swear to god...

A few more choice comics from Questionable Content.

Digging this webcomic more and more. Check it out... I recommend thee!

Invoking the mighty Bruce Campbell always works.

We have a winner!

Oddly, also how I express affection.

Yep, we guys sure know how to "punish" the ladies.

Apparently I'm not the only Naval Academy alum that reads PostSecret.

PostSecret: Sunday Secrets:
"(PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.)"

[I wish I could tell them it'll be okay... I probably didn't "belong there" either. Nobody ever really "belongs" anywhere. It'll all work out.]

The Kokusai Spirit BBQ.

Sandy and Hisako-san's community group - Kokusai Spirit - held a BBQ on Saturday night. A good time was had by all...

Not too many pics because, as you can see, I was performing the requisite manly grilling duties.

I don't think I've ever seen a little girl cheese harder than in that pic above. Too cute.

Hisako-san enjoying the fruits of her BBQ planning labors.

Below, Anton, his wife Miyuki and his co-worker Eri [Erin? Dammit, I'm horrible with names...]

Above, Murai-san and Yoshi-san represent for the Fukutsu Board of Education. Well, you know, besides us filthy gaijin ALTs.

The monthly reading list for June, July and August 07.

Summer vacation, gone before you know it. Faster than in the states of course, cause it's only a month long here. But still.

Did a bit of reading, though not as much as it seems, as this is three months worth... but I never get through all the books I want to.

The stacked bookshelf remains, full of the unread, taunting me. The bastard.

So off we go.

A Fighter's Heart: One Man's Journey Through the World of Fighting
by Sam Sheridan. From the Amazon blurb -
"Sheridan joined the merchant marines after high school, eventually graduated from Harvard, and worked his way to Australia on a yacht. There, in 1999, he decided to indulge his fascination with fighting, hoping to test himself... After some months of training in Australia, he moved to Bangkok to train with a legendary Muay Thai champion. That experience--and his first professional bout--expanded into a multiyear odyssey in which he trained with Olympic boxers, Brazilian jujitsu champions, and Ultimate Fighting combatants."
For anybody who digs this kind of thing, at all, this was a great book. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Some excerpts I particularly dug, to give you a flavor -
"You have a specific responsibility to existence... to taste, touch and smell what there is to experience. You have to do everything. If given an option between doing something and not doing it, you have to do it; because you've already done the "not do it" part. This can be juvenile and dangerous, I realize, and there are a lot of things I have chosen not to do... But I feel that you owe it to the world to be curious. Somebody asked me if I was looking for something. I am looking for everything."
"You're always going to be hurt; you'll never be a hundred percent healthy. This is fighting. But my strength is greater than my weakness."
"They train hard to win fights, so that no one will be able to dominate them, to damage them where they have been damaged - but in the end, they train to make themselves better... Fighting is not just a manhood test; that is the the surface. The depths are about knowledge and self-knowledge, a method of examining one's own life and motives. For most people who take it seriously, fighting is more about the self than the other."
Read volumes 6 Blood Rites, 7 Dead Beat , 8 Proven Guilty, and 9 White Night of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, which catches me up on the series. Addictively entertaining, the mix of hardboiled detective genre plus magic. And written with a wry wit and great sense of humor. Shame the SciFi series [based on the books] didn't get picked up for a second season. This is one of the few series, along with Barry Eisler's John Rain books and anything written by Greg Rucka [whose sixth Atticus Kodiak novel is enroute as I type, praise jeebus] that I'll make an effort to pick up in hardcover, because the idea of waiting for the paperback is just frustrating. Volumes 6-9 feature the usual assortment of vampires, political intrigue, magic, noir and uber-coolness. It wraps up some earlier dangling plot mysteries and gives out some brand new ones. Plus, you know, Zombie Dinosaurs. I say again, ZOMBIE DINOSAURS. C'mon, how much does that rock?

You Gotta Have Wa and The Samurai Way of Baseball: The Impact of Ichiro and the New Wave from Japan, both by Robert Whiting. I don't even really like baseball, but Whiting's two books on gaijin playing ball in Japan and the effects of Ichiro's [and others] playing in the MLB is as interesting and effective cross cultural comparison as I've ever read. Wanna "get" Japan? These'll do it. Remember, there's no crying in baseball. Unless you're Japanese. Really entertaining.

Requiem for an Assassin by Barry Eisler. The sixth John Rain novel. John Rain, half Japanese, half American assassin for hire. This time up against a rogue CIA operative who kidnaps one of the only people Rain calls a friend. Despite the fact that the plot might sound like a "by the numbers" spy thriller, Eisler writes some of the best, most complex, believable and interesting characters in modern espionage. And reading the tradecraft and everything else is always fascinating, knowing the man actually worked for the CIA. Great, great book.

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss. From the Amazon blurb -
"This ugly-duckling tale will affect different readers in different ways, depending on their degree of cynicism... When his story begins Strauss is, well, a Neil: an unconfident, self-described AFC (average frustrated chump). He is also, it should be noted, a well-known rock critic who penned porn star Jenna Jameson's autobiography, leaving one wondering just how pathetic women really found him. After paying $500 to join a workshop for aspiring PUAs (pick-up artists) led by a magician named Mystery at Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel, Strauss becomes addicted to pick-up technique. He trains with several PUA gurus, including Ross Jeffries, a hypnotist rumored to be the basis for the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia. With his brains and dedication, Strauss renames himself Style and soon becomes a master of the game—able to get sex from beautiful women who once would have run the other way.But The Game doesn't get really interesting until Strauss deviates from his NC-17 Horatio Alger story and tells what happens when he moves into a Sunset Strip mansion with a group of other PUAs..."
The book is pretty damn fascinating, especially from a male/female psychology/relationship perspective. I dug it. A lot of it resonated with me... Like it said in Fight Club, my generation is a generation raised by women. Neither my dad nor my older brothers ever sat me down to talk about girls. No one ever taught me any social skills [as most who know me will attest - har de har], but women have a whole magazine industry dedicated to it and spend more than a little time talking about "relationships". Guys? Not so much. As an aside, one of the main characters in the book, Mystery, is now starring in his own Pickup Artist show on VH1. This show is pretty cool.

Flesh and Bone: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass. Second in the series. Fascinating forensic anthropology mystery stuff. Anybody who digs CSI at all would like this, I think. I enjoyed this one better than the first novel in the series, the writing felt tighter and better paced to me.

Unholy Alliance: A History of the Nazi Involvement With the Occultby Peter Levenda. I actually picked this up as a birthday present for a buddy of mine, but Nazi + occult? I soooo read it first. Remember kids, the world's not only stranger than you think, it's stranger than you can think. [I coulda sworn that quote was Heinlein, but the mighty Google finds attribution for it from everybody from Russell to Einstein to Heinlein.]

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore. Moore writes some damn funny books. [Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal remains a favorite.] His comedic stylings work in this book, ostensibly about a marine research biologist studying songs of the humpback whales in Hawaii. Until the day he sees the words "Bite Me" on the flukes of one of the whales. Hilarity and madcappedness ensues. Fun book, quick read.

THE Complete Keys to Progress by John McCallum. A collection of John McCallum's articles from the 1960s Strength & Health magazine. Inspiring.

Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp Novels) by Vince Flynn. Apparently, years ago, I read another Mitch Rapp book by Vince Flynn and passed it on to a buddy of mine. Forgot all about it. Apparently it was a lot more memorable to Kev than to me, 'cause when I went to Nagoya for his b-day, Kev insisted I take and read this installment of the Rapp saga. I knocked it off on the Shinkansen ride back to Fukutsu. And... well... I don't want to wax negatively on anybody who's doing their thing... but it was a little painful. Here's what I wrote to Kev about it.
"...I guess the steely eyed, nigh perfect, I'm breaking the rules and fucking over the system because in my heart I know what's really right as opposed to all these others who are soft and weak... well, I guess it's just not as entertaining when the idiots that run the US government REALLY think that way and have turned it all into such a godforsaken disaster.

But still, despite all that I was able to turn off the brain and the critical thinking and enjoy the explody and the gunfire until... I say UNTIL... he started in on the martial arts stuff. His dojo scenes, his fight scenes, and worst of all, his descriptions of training with the "Gracie brothers" [beating everybody in the dojo within a month, of course] made me want to jab my own eyes out with chopsticks...

You know, I don't wanna pat myself on the back for my insight and wisdom, but as I was reading it, I couldn't help but think "This is a guy who very much wanted to join the military, or thinks he wanted to join the military, but didn't for some reason. Cause his fantasy version of that world is outta control." And thanks to the magic of wikipedia [my personal deity], sure enough, Flynn was supposed to go Marine aviation, but didn't pass his medical qualifications. Short version, I AM A GENIUS.

[Comparing it to the John Rain series] by Barry Eisler who who actually worked for the CIA, and actually trained [and I think got his black belt] at the Kodokan in Tokyo. Like night and day from the Flynn books."
But still, if you can shut off the overly critical faculties of the brain and enjoy the explodo and the occasional right-wing diatribe, it's a fun book. Good plot too, here's the summary -
"When an al-Qaeda–style bomb attack on the motorcade of the Democratic presidential candidate, Georgia governor Josh Alexander, in Washington, D.C., a month before the November election kills the candidate's wife and several Secret Service agents, Rapp uses all the tools at his disposal to investigate the claim of the now discredited head of the protective detail that a mysterious figure in a red baseball cap set off the fatal bomb. Rapp soon finds that the motive for the outrage may be personal rather than political."
On the other hand, back in high school my dad turned me onto the Remo Williams/The Destroyer books. Some older folks might remember the mid-80's Fred Ward Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins flick. Inscrutable asian martial arts masters, spies, espionage, tournaments to the death. Good times. Those books, despite their constant evisceration of the left wing, and occasionally the right... I've always enjoyed the hell out of. It's that light touch that humor, parody and satire can provide, I guess. Anyways, there's 100+ "The Destroyer" books out there and on occasion I pick up one, devour it and laugh my ass off. It's hit or miss though since one of the original creators/writers has died and the other went on a long hiatus from the series. The substitute writers were always hit or miss. But now Warren Murphy is back on the series [with co-writer James Mullaney], guiding Remo and Chiun adventures, and they are definitely worth picking up.

First up was a three novel omnibus reprint "best of." And it was. The Best of the Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. Included are: The Destroyer: Chinese Puzzle, where Remo and Chiun are called upon to smash an Asian conspiracy that could lead to a US-China confrontation. The Destroyer: Slave Safari, in Africa, countless feuds that have blazed for many centuries are quickly being resolved by death and massacre. A massive conspiracy is unearthed surrounding the centuries-old slave trade, and only Remo can unravel it. And one of my favorites, The Destroyer: Assassin's Playoff, where Remo and Chiun find themselves in battle after battle against Nuihc, Chiun's nephew, as they battle for the right to be the Master of Sinanju.

And the newest book was The New Destroyer: Guardian Angel by Warren Murphy and James Mullaney.
"When a dozen border patrol volunteers are murdered in New Mexico, apparent victims of Mexican nationals, Dr. Harold W. Smith of the super-secret agency CURE worries the first salvo in a new border dispute has been fired. His worst fears are realized with the appearance of the charismatic Santa Ana, a uniformed, would-be despot with a silver tongue and a thirst for bloody revolution.

General Santa Anna has redrawn the border between the U.S. and Mexico to fit his own twisted version of reality, and thousands of illegal aliens are drawn to his message of liberation. The Southwest is on fire, and as the revolution explodes the entire nation is at risk. It seems the brazen general has planned for every eventuality. Except one...

...Remo Williams, CURE's one man enforcement arm, has returned to the U.S. just in time to prevent Armageddon. With his Korean mentor Chiun, the Master of Sinanju, at his side, America just might live to see mañana."
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy. Read Ellroy's The Cold Six Thousand years ago and really dug it. Here, Ellroy's fictionalized take on the '40s unsolved Black Dahlia case was likewise a really engrossing read. Ellroy's afterword to the book though, talking about his feelings about the case and how it all tied into his feelings about the murder of his own mother... well... it's a tragedy, and I sympathize, but it struck me as kind of creepily Oedipal. Or Oedipally creepy. I dunno.

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis is easily one of the best and most enjoyable books I've read this year. I've long been a fan of Ellis's comic book work, his way with character and dialogue, and his bitingly insane black humor that nevertheless somehow remains tinged with optimism. Can't recommend this book enough. Ostensibly, it's a noirish private detective tale that traverses the weirdness of the USA.
"Michael McGill, a burned-out private eye is hired by a corrupt politician to find a second "backup" US Constitution, which had been lost in a whorehouse by Nixon. What follows is a scavenger hunt across America, exposing its seedier side along the way. McGill is joined by surreal college student side-kick, Trix."
Buy this book people. Here's a taste.
"Want to know how much we paid Jim Nabors to shoot Reagan with a sniper rifle? Nothing. It was all done for the love of Rock Hudson."
"God, I hate that word. 'Appropriate.' It's like, hang a sign around my neck reading I Am a Boring Asshole."
"...people are the same all over. It's not like you're flying into a jungle when you go south. Texans, Minnesotans, Montanans, other 'ans' beginning with Ts and Ms - all the goddamn same, same mix of heroes and pricks, same old bunch of nice and nasty."
Rock, Iron, Steel: The Book of Strength by Steve Justa. No bullshit book on real world "functional strength" training. Excellent.

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes. Dean Karnazes is an an ultramarathoner who has won races 135miles in length. This is his story. It is awesome. From the Amazon writeup -
"Many would see running a marathon as the pinnacle of their athletic career; thrill-seeker Karnazes didn't just run a marathon, he ran the first marathon held at the South Pole. The conditions were extreme—"breathing the superchilled air directly [without a mask] could freeze your trachea"—yet he craved more. Also on his résumé: completing the Western States 100-mile endurance run and the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon through Death Valley (which he won), as well as a 199-mile relay race... with only himself on his team. This running memoir paints the picture of an insanely dedicated—some may say just plain insane—athlete."
On Writing by Stephen King. I've never actually read a Stephen King novel. Or, I think, sat through a whole Stephen King movie. [Except Stand by Me.] But the man's effect on popular culture is HUGE. Neither do I have any aspirations to write. Regardless of all that, King's tome on the creative process and writing a book is utterly fascinating, and makes me want to scour the libraries to read as much of him as I can. Just an incredibly interesting book.

Payton by Connie Payton, Jarrett Payton, Brittney Payton. I can't say that I watch much football anymore. Even a few years ago, when I lived in the states, not so much. In fact, haven't seriously watched it since high school, when I played a little bit. That being said, on those Sunday afternoons when I'd sit down with my dad to watch a game, there was absolutely nothing so incredible, so inspiring, so beautiful, or so goddamn cool to watch as Walter Payton running the football. This book and the included DVD were absolutely fantastic.

Also read this year's 2007 JET Journal/Essay compendium. Same mix of interesting and not so interesting as any essay collection, though I'd have to say, overall, the 2006 edition had stronger material.

Graphic Novels:

Justice League: I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League
by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. In the mid-80's these guys wrote the Justice League comic I grew up on. A mix of high adventure, second string heroes and goofy humor made for great comics. In the midst of the grim n' gritty, Dark Knight, Watchmen, Image comics, they offered another take. Here the guys give "their" team one more go, and it IS good. We shall never see the likes of these again...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Vol. 1
by Joss Whedon and others. Buffy rocks. That is all. From Amazon -
"The definitive comics collection of all things Buffy starts here. This first massive volume begins at the beginning - The Origin, a faithful adaptation of creator Joss Whedon's original screenplay for the film that started it all. The newly-chosen slayer's road to Sunnydale continues in Viva Las Buffy and Slayer, Interrupted. Next, high school, the Scoobies and an English librarian lead the way into Season One continuity. Plus, The Goon creator Eric Powell provides pencils to "All's Fair," featuring Spike and Drusilla at the 1933 World's Fair."
Checkmate, Vol. 1: A King's Game by Greg Rucka (Author), Jesus Saiz (Illustrator). How could you run a covert ntelligence agency in a world of superheroes? Here, Greg Rucka shows you how it's done. For my buck, nobody writes better spy stories, in prose or comics, than Rucka. From Amazon -
After the explosive events of INFINITE CRISIS and THE OMAC PROJECT, the United Nations formed this new agency to bring down heroes and villains that get out of line in a world that's more dangerous than ever. Now Checkmate uses unique abilities to deputize human and metahuman forces throughout the world.
Agents of Atlas by Jeff Parker. Classic comic book goodness. And it definitely is...
The spy. The spaceman. The goddess. The robot. The Gorilla. During the late 1950s, the U.S. government allowed FBI Special Agent Jimmy Woo to forge a team of unlikely heroes. Together, they stormed the fortress of a criminal mastermind to rescue President Eisenhower - but the group disbanded soon after. Now, almost 50 years later, an unauthorized S.H.I.E.L.D. mission goes down in flames - and from the ashes arise forces from the Golden Age of Marvel!

The tale of an indie rock boy and his robot. [and his friends.]

Lots of great webcomics out there. I read Sinfest and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on the regular. And a couple weeks ago I came across the really well done Questionable Content. Now, having read all 950+ strips and getting caught up, I can give it the "two big thumbs up." Funny and always worth a read.

Most recent strip here. Cast of characters here.

And here's a handful of some strips I dug. Witty, snarky, dry and deadpan. Just a really great strip.

It all makes sense now...

OVERCOMPENSATING: The Journal Comic With a Seething Disdain for Reality.:
"What more can be said about Religery? You either like it, or you're surreptitiously goaded into liking it... from the moment you're born. It's our way or eternal suffering and whatever you do, do not kiss people with the same genitals as you."