Thursday, July 31, 2008


I started working security for concerts again this year. It's not a bad gig, if you don't mind taking crap from large crowds of self-centered morons: you get to hear lots of concerts, and they pay you for it. Maybe they don't pay you real well, and maybe you end up at a lot of concerts that you don't really want to hear, but still...

I actually started working concert security while I was still in the military. It was a fundraiser for the squadron: we had trained security guards, and the money that those guards would earn went to the squadron, for picnics, squadron parties and whatever else.

I started doing it again because I figured that they could pay me for it, and I have 21 years of experience working security, mostly for nuclear weapons, which didn't give me a whole lot of usable job skills that don't involve killing people. So I figured that I might as well use what I've got, and really, it's kind of nice to go back to what I have some talent in.

Here's a few things I've noticed about concert security.

1. Kanye West gave away books at the end of his concert, titled something like "Thank You and You're Welcome (a Kanye West Production)." This was a ridiculous waste of money for a number of reasons, to include:
a. The books were kind of stupid,
b. Books on manners don't go over well in the thug-lite community, and most importantly,
c. These fuckers don't READ!. I saw dozens of copies scattered in the bushes on the walk out of the venue.

2. The average concert crowd, in a venue that sells alcohol, tends to be several thousand DUI's waiting to happen. A pro-active police forceshould consider setting up alcohol checkpoints on every road out of the concert. The traffic isn't moving anyway, and putting it under active police control would only improve things; plus, it would get the drunks off the road (and I suspect that they're a good part of why the traffic can't seem to get anywhere).

3. When you're working in the seats (essentially as ushers, ensuring that the only people going into a section are the ones who belong there), you'd be amazed how many people assume that you're going to remember them. A section in Journal Pavilion contains about 20 rows, each with about 40 seats. Each entryway goes into two sections, which means that you're dealing with up to 800 people a night. And every one of them thinks that they're memorable. (OK, some of them are memorable. Like the girl in the catholic schoolgirl outfit with no underwear. But most of them? Not so much.)

4. When I'm ushering, at least once a night I get somebody seriously drunk trying to get into better seats because they're tired of General Admission (the lawn). We get drunks offering money, "I lost my ticket," and every so often somebody just tries to rush in, like we aren't going to stop them. (I only clotheslined one guy, one time, and it pretty much looked like an accident, so we're clear.)

5. I worked with a girl who had a Michael Jackson tattoo on her ankle. It turned out that she was going to Vegas to see Janet Jackson, because, as she put it, "this is probably as close as I'm going to get to Michael." In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have said "Well, if you were an underaged boy..."

I worked the Mayhem concert on two weeks ago, which consisted of Disturbed, Slipknot, and about ten bands that nobody has ever heard of, with names like Walls of Jericho, Piles of Herpes, and Manic-Depressive Psychopaths. (OK, only that first one was an actual name. The others were so ridiculously unmemorable that they all merge into one untalented mass.)

I've listened to Disturbed a few times; they aren't bad (although I didn't know that they'd done a cover of "Land of Confusion" by Genesis - Phil Collins must be so proud). But most of the bands fell into the standard speed/thrash metal model - play really loud and really fast, and nobody will hear that you really don't have a lot of talent; plus, if you scream your lyrics it doesn't matter that you can't sing, either. It was like listening to Motorhead, as produced by Phil Spector after chainsmoking pipes of crack for a week (OK, you can't really chainsmoke crackpipes - or if you can, the mechanics of it are beyond me - but you get the idea).

A couple of snapshots of the Mayhem Tour:
1. Sometimes, you can't fix all the problems, and you just have to concentrate on the little things. We can't let people stand on the chairs, for example (they fall, they get hurt, and we get sued, because you aren't allowed to let people live with the consequences of their own stupidity). So I saw a kid standing on his chair, and I told him to sit down. He complained "but I can't see through HIM!" So I kindly asked the husky guy in the cowboy hat to sit down, which led to me getting a loud, beer-soaked explanation that said, in essence "this is a rock and roll concert - this isn't Barry Manilow! If they can't see, they should stand up! This is my seat! I paid for this area right here, and I'm gonna stand in it!" (In retrospect, "So why did you pay for a chair if you don't plan to sit in it?" was probably not the best question to ask.)

2. Journal Pavilion, the venue for the concert, was open-air. It rained buckets for about an hour mid-afternoon, which cut the heat, but made the rest of the night interesting. Like, did you know that paper tickets don't stand up to rain well? And those tickets are the way we can tell what seats people belong in.

3. There was a girl in the front row of general admission who apparently spent the evening having a vertical seizure. Absolutely no rhythm, but very enthusiastic. Plus, midway through the last set, she pulled off her shirt, leaving nothing but a halter-top and shorts. With a normal woman, the way she was jumping around, you'd think that she'd pop out of the top. Fortunately for her, she didn't have anything to pop out. (There were a lot of bare-chested men with larger cup sizes wandering around the park.)

4. Also in the front row, there was a young lady with a lot more rhythm (but, sadly, similar tits, and a certain resemblance to a horse). The primary difference between them would be that this girl had a boyfriend standing behind her, grinding his crotch into her butt the entire time. I'm reasonably certain that they weren't having sex, but I'm pretty sure that the young man was getting the denim equivelant of a hand-job out of the bargain. (The French call that "frottage," if you're curious.) (There, don't say you never learn anything here.)

Last week, I worked Crue Fest - Motley Crue (which hasn't been musically relevant for about 2 decades), one band whose only hit was five or ten years ago, and a bunch of bands with one minor hit each. At least the talent level was higher than with the Mayhem tour. And oddly, the piercing-to-tattoo ratio in the audience was fairly similar in both crowds.

Hey, did you know that Motley Crue has a new album coming out? Do you really care? (If so, why?)

The oddest concert experience I've covered would have to be Vicente Fernández. For those of you who've never heard of him, he's one of the top five or so ranchero singers in the world. (Ranchero is a variation of Mariachi - I had one guy try to explain it as the country-and-western version of Mariachi, but I'm not sure I buy that one.) Some snapshots of that concert:

1. I really wanted more guitar solos. There were some spectacular players up there.

2. At almost 70, this guy can hold out a note. He also sang at full volume for about three hours; I understand that he's been fined for going over the time allotted to him by the venue.

3. This was the widest range of ages I've seen in any concert: from little children to ancient, doddering centenarians. And everybody seemed to know the words to all the songs, which they frequently sang along with, at full volume.

4. The dress to this event ranged from coat-and-tie (or bolo), through country-and-western regalia, and into gangsta-wear. There were more cowboy hats than there were at the last country show I worked.

5. There were also some of the ugliest boots I've ever seen - all kinds of colors and designs, some of them sticking out almost eighteen inches to two feet. And most of these people would probably have gotten really upset if you suggested that their pink-and-purple boots weren't particularly masculine.

Overall, if you want to hear a wide range of music, and don't care if you see the entire event, I'd recommend security. But only if you have a high tolerance for drunk idiots.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Letter to Andrea Mitchell

I sent an email today to Andrea Mitchell, NBC news lady. Somehow, I doubt that I'm going to be getting an answer.
Ms Mitchell,

As the Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News (and I realize that you were on Hardball when you said this), you made the following statement.

"(Barack Obama) didn't have reporters with him. He didn't have a press pool. He didn't do a press conference while he was on the ground either on Afghanistan or Iraq. What you're seeing is not reporters brought in, you're seeing selected pictures taken by the military, questioned by the military and what some would call fake interviews because they're not interviews with a journalist so there's a real press issue here. Politically it's smart as can be, but we've not seen a Presidential candidate do this in my recollection ever before."

First of all, does the presence of reporters make something more "real"? How else would you characterize your description of "fake interviews"? Is it simply that you're cranky because you were left out? What particular aspect of a person's character makes him or her a "reporter," and therefore the only true source of questions during an interview? This sounds a little bit elitist of you, Ms Mitchell.

But let's go one step further. Our mainstream media seems enthralled by Senator McCain; the lot of you can't seem to do anything but stare at him with goofy grins and big doe-eyes, transcribing every word that he says, eating his barbecue, and occasionally altering interviews to put him in a better light (like Katie Couric recently did for CBS).

In March, Senator McCain went to Iraq. His visit was not announced, he didn't bring his usual collection of media sycophants with him, and he didn't give a press conference until he arrived in Jordan. But you didn't then complain that anything about his trip was "fake."

I'm just curious why you (on this and many other issues) hold Senator Obama to a higher standard than you hold Senator McCain. Is it out of respect for the elderly, perhaps?
Like I said, I don't really expect an answer, but I'll be sure to update if I do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Big Guy vs the Big Bang

There's a lot of confusion in America today regarding atheism. Personally, I'm an agnostic with atheist leanings ("doubting agnostic," maybe?), mostly because I think that atheism is, in itself, a belief system, taking one core belief on faith. I don't see this "god" thing as real likely, but I don't have evidence one way or another, so I don't vote. And it doesn't bother me. Zen Agnostic - "I don't know, and I don't care."

In case you're curious, my wife is a choir director at a church, but her beliefs are some odd mix of Deism, paganism and cream cheese (microwave in a bowl for two minutes, mix and serve over crackers). It makes her happy, and that's what counts.

There was a recent Pew survey of religion in America (technically, that would be the "Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life"), and it appears to me that the definitions that are accepted by the Pew people (and often by the "average" American) might be a little flawed.

For example, if you go into the Pew results, on page 8, you'll find the statement:
Indeed, one-in-five people who identify themselves as atheist (21%) and a majority of those who identify themselves as agnostic (55%) express a belief in God or a universal spirit.
Now, it seems to me that statement is badly worded, and almost sure to be misconstrued by pundits and sermonizers.

But regardless of that, Pew files atheists and agnostics among the "unaffiliated" ("but... I'm a Rotarian! isn't that an affiliation?"), which also includes "secular unaffiliated" and "religious unaffiliated."

Now, if you search around this page, you'll find that, ignoring their various self-identified religous/irreligious affiliations, we find that between 5% and 8% of the national population "do not believe in God." Personally, I'd say that qualifies these people as atheists. But then you go here, where you find that only 1.6% of the American population self-identifies as atheist.

Somebody is failing in that basic vocabulary training.

Personally, I prefer the company of the secular to that of the sacred, but only until their various religions (or lack thereof) comes up. You see, there's very little that's more annoying than the smug, evangelistic atheist - and yes, I say 'evangelistic.' As in, they always want to explain exactly why they're atheists, exactly why the Christians are blind, unthinking fools, and why I should be an atheist, too. They're very devout in these beliefs, almost like cult members. You know, I was an atheist at first, too. About age 13 or so. But I grew up. I realized that many atheists have abandoned a blind belief in God for an equally blind set of beliefs.

See, atheism requires the belief that the majority of people in the world are wrong, and you are right. Atheism requires that you believe, and in fact have total faith in, the nonexistance of God.

Which usually means that they firmly believe that the universe was not created by the Big Guy In The Sky. That bad-tempered old murderer who apparently had therapy between the Old and New Testaments, and became a warm and fuzzy lover of children and small animals, is, in their eyes, a non-entity. They don't believe in God. Or gods. Or invisible sky-unicorns.

So how do they believe the earth came into existance? Usually, you can get them to say that they believe in the Big Bang. And that's when you have them.

To the scientific atheist, the universe was formed by a process called the Big Bang: the universe is a random collection of chemicals that just happened to come together in this way, and before that, those chemicals were a supercompacted ball of goo which exploded outward in an ever-expanding event

But there's nothing that annoys them more than to point out that they've merely abandoned one bit of unsupported faith for another. See, all you have to do to watch their faith get shaken is to ask a simple question.

What came before the Big Bang? Was there a previous universe that experienced a Big Crunch? Where did that initial ball of goo come from?

(Technically, that "goo" is usually described as a quantum singularity, or, in the words of one of the earliest Big Bangers, a "primordial atom," but let's skip past that.)

When I ask that question, I have been given the answer that "if you take two or three years of college physics, you ought to be able to figure it out." That's the pat answer for the scientific crowd. If you ask a Christian why they believe in God, you tend to get, "I can't explain faith to you. If you were a better Christian, you'd understand."

But to an atheist, if you question them on the Big Bang, the pat answer is "I can't explain physics to you. If you had a better education, you'd understand."

But here's the problem. The general theory of the Big Bang is made by extrapolating backwards based on the expanding universe. However, it's only a theory, because you can only extrapolate backwards to a certain extent, and definitely no farther than the Planck epoch.

There are, in fact, multiple different models of the early phases of the Big Bang, some of which only agree with others in their most general form. Most often, the theory is that the initial stages involved our hyper-compressed ball of goo, where the laws of time and space are altered.

Now, it seems obvious to me that the assumption of the universality of physical laws, on which the theory of the Big Bang is predicated, breaks down just a little when the entire thing is based on a state where physical laws are not followed. Since these theorems all postulate that general relativity is correct, but general relativity must break down before the universe reaches the Planck temperature, the entire theory is based on massive, unprovable assumptions; a proper understanding of quantum gravity might avoid the singularity entirely.

(There are other possible models, such as the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary condition or brane cosmology, which would just as effectively explain the universe, but they're based on unproven assumptions as well.)

Or, to put it another way, the whole thing is based on the argument of the Underpants Gnomes. "Step one — there's this quantum singularity, or primeval atom, or some other state that we can't describe. Step two... um... Step three — the universe is created!"

In fact, although the theory does have some notable successes (for example, its ability to accurately predict the comparitively abundant supplies of the elements around us), the Big Bang theory cannot and does not provide any explanation for the initial condition — even the best particle accelerators can't probe far enough into the high energy regimes that result from the supercompressed matter and energy that the theory claims resulted in Step 3 of the Underpants Theory of the Big Bang.

So, the problem is not that I don't understand it, it's that the scientists formulating it only understand it to a certain point.

And that's where it all breaks down for me. These people have abandoned a belief in a tantrum-throwing Invisible Sky Fairy, because they say there's no proof of His existance: you have to assume that He is up there. But then, in response, they turn to a belief in a model of universe-building that is also founded on unprovable assumptions.

This isn't the perfect argument, but I like it. It's simple, it's clean, and, as a bonus, it really ticks off the more militant atheists. Which is always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Jesse Helms, 1921-2008 - no great loss

How's that old joke go? "You should only say good things about the dead. Well, he's dead. Good."

Jesse Helms died on July 4. Some people might say that's fitting, since he was sincerely patriotic. I'm willing to say right now that those people are racist by default.

You have to appreciate that Jesse Helms was a man who stuck to his principles. Sick, twisted, evil principles, but still...

He was so openly racist that people apparently gave him a pass based on... hell, I don't know, entertainment value? They couldn't believe he'd actually said it? He once referred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as the "University of Negroes and Communists".

He said things like, "To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn't have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing."

"The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights."

When a caller to CNN's Larry King Live show praised guest Jesse Helms for "everything you've done to help keep down the niggers," Helms' response was to salute the camera and say, "Well, thank you, I think."

When there were political protests in Mexico, where he was investigating as to whether or not there might be communists in Central America (because he was so talented that he could just sniff them out, apparently), he said "All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction." (My grandmother used to call them "Latins," too)

Probably his signature quote would have to be "I've been portrayed as a caveman by some. That's not true. I'm a conservative progressive, and that means I think all men are equal, be they slants, beaners or niggers."

But it didn't have to be skin color. He'd cheerfully hate a man for loving another man. "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy."

"I've never heard once in this chamber anybody say to the homosexuals, 'stop what you're doing.' If they would stop what they're doing there would not be one additional case of AIDS in the United State."

"The New York Times and the Washington Post are both infested with homosexuals themselves." He went on to say that the Washington Post "caters to homosexual groups. Just about every person down there is homosexual or lesbian."

He only liked other politicians if they were conservative, and not even all of them. "I didn't come to Washington to be a yes man for any president, Democrat or Republican," he said in an interview in 1989. "I didn't come to Washington to get along and win any popularity contests."

His run-ins with Ted Kennedy were legendary: "Let me adjust my hearing aid. It could not accommodate the decibels of the Senator from Massachusetts. I can't match him in decibels or Jezebels, or anything else apparently."

He once passive-aggressively threatened Bill Clinton, saying that the military hated him (a charge that the military refuted, incidentally). He said that Bill Clinton "better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."

But he also once said, " the l8 years and 5 months I've been in the senate, none, none have been more capable than Dan Quayle." Which shows how polarized his thinking was; Quayle was only marginally more literate than George Bush.

About democracy: "Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has gotten into the wrong hands." (Presumably the hands of slants, beaners, niggers and homosexuals)

He even had room to hate the little things in life: "If God had wanted us to use the metric system, Jesus would have had 10 apostles."

He once sent out a mailer to his constituents that said "Your tax dollars are being used to pay for grade school classes that teach our children that CANNIBALISM, WIFE-SWAPPING, and the MURDER of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior." (I bet nobody slept through that class.)

I've actually heard the statement "Well, he was racist, but that's a sign of when he was born. He gave up all that later in life." Crap. He just hid it better. He learned not to use racist labels in public, but he still had the philosophy.

He made a TV ad for his 1990 election campaign: it showed a pair of white hands tearing up a rejection letter; the voiceover said, "You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of racial quotas. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is." Harvey Gantt, in case it isn't obvious enough, is black.

When he was opposed by Gantt again in 1996, he paid for a series of ads that accused Gantt of taking advantage of minority privileges to get contracts for his business from the state.

In 1992, when Carol Moseley-Braun became the first black woman to sit in the Senate (and the only black senator at the time), Helms told Orrin Hatch, "Watch me make her cry. I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries." Then he followed her onto an elevator, talked about how good things were before slavery was abolished, and started singing that great anthem to picking cotton on the plantation, Dixie.

The man was a classless act. I don't think that it's possible to say enough bad things about him. If there is an afterlife and a just God, Helms will hit the Pearly Gates and get handed a shoe-shine kit. And the first pair of shoes he'll shine will be Martin Luther King's. And then maybe Malcolm X.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An Open Letter to Captain McCain

Dear Senator McCain,

Just so we're on the same page here, let's review.

On Sunday, June 29, General Wesley Clark went on ABC's Face the Nation, and made the statement "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," a statement which your campaign has now spent four days screaming about.

First of all, he made that statement in response to Bob Schieffer's statement "I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean..." But let's ignore that for now.

Clark also said that you were a hero; his caveat was that your war record doesn't really apply when you're submitting your résumé for president.

And then, on Monday, Senator Jim Webb waded into the fray by defending Gen. Clark. What he said was, "And John McCain's my long-time friend, if that is one area that I would ask him to calm down on, it`s that, don't be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them because they don't, any more than when the Democrats have political issues during the Vietnam War. Let's get the politics out of the military, take care of our military people, or have our political arguments in other areas."

And again, you and your staff seem to think that the best way to handle this is to scream that they're demeaning your war record, and that it's all a plot, a coordinated attack against you.

So you know, I am also a military veteran. In fact, I did two tours in the Middle East before I got out. And I think it’s obvious that I’m not connected to the Obama campaign: to be honest, I don’t know anybody who works in politics. So it would be difficult for me to be part of any kind of coordinated campaign.

Regarding the comments from Gen. Clark and Sen. Webb, I have a couple of questions for you. First, are you trying to imply that time spent in a POW camp somehow makes you a suitable choice for President of the United States? Which part is going to help you the most? The time spent locked away from everybody else? (You know that there’s going to be other people aboard Air Force One, right?) Or is it the continued humiliation by people from other countries? Actually, considering what George Bush has done to the international image of America, that one might be a useful skill.

Or are you trying to claim that, unlike Gen. Clark’s statement, being shot down in a fighter plane is, in fact, a useful job-skill for a president? If that were true, then the only suitable candidate for president in the history of the United States would be… well, you. And maybe that Chris Burnett guy who got shot down over Bosnia. But I don’t think he went into politics.

Of course, that would also mean that the only suitable president in the history of the United States would be have been Kennedy, and even then, only if you extend the definition to include sunken patrol boats.

You know, in general, I’m really not sure that being present at, or a participant in, any kind of major disaster should be considered a usable guidepost into the fitness of a person to hold office. Because, frankly, there are some questions that need to be answered. For example, I realize that you’ve based most of your campaign strategies around the fact that you were held prisoner by the Vietnamese. Have you ever heard of a condition called “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome”? I think that in your day, they were still calling it “battle fatigue,” but it existed even then. Are you aware of the remarkably high rates of PTSD among former prisoners of war? Is it possible that this is one factor leading to your notoriously volatile temper?

Secondly, is it possible that you are so touchy about your war record because it really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny? I mean, according to the records, you graduated from the Naval Academy at the bottom of your class, with a ranking of 894 out of 899. Normally, you don’t get a fighter pilot slot with a record like that: is it possible that you traded on the fact that your father was an admiral? Maybe pulled in a few favors?

And you didn’t have a particularly distinguished career as a pilot, did you? I mean, you crashed two planes and ran into power lines once, right? Did that have anything to do with your well-earned reputation as a party animal?

I mean, I’ve heard that you reformed after you got back, but is that really the type of thing you want people to bring up when you’re trying to establish yourself as presidential material?

And while we're on the subject, speaking as one veteran to another, I think you really ought to stop pushing your military career while you're on the compaign trail. For one thing, I've known a lot of officers in my time, and there were a lot of them who I wouldn't trust to walk my dog if I was away for a weekend.

But (and this is the important part) if you are going to bring it up, you have to allow people to respond to it without getting all cranky. For example, do you remember what you said about Hillary Clinton's Woodstock museum? "I wasn’t there... I was tied up at the time." See, you threw it right out there in the middle of the public arena. So if you're allowed to bring it up, isn't it a little hypocritical to get all pouty and stampy-feet when somebody else mentions that maybe it wasn't as important as you tried to make it sound?

Not all of the people in the military agree with you. Not all former military members agree with you, either. In the eyes of many of us, a short temper and a willingness to go to war does not make not a good foreign policy. On the other hand, a short temper and an inability to keep simple facts straight (like the difference between Sunni and Shi'a, for example) can be signs of PTSD. Have you been getting any counseling since you came back from the POW camp in Vietnam?

Oh, and incidentally, when you set up a commission to counter these terrible things people are saying about your military career, maybe you shouldn't hire one of the former members of "Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth." Or at least, don't wave the fact in people's faces by calling your little group "the Truth Squad." It just looks bad all around.