More 511th Stories: Live Rounds on Guard Duty
During my tenure in Germany, the Army had decided that soldiers on guard duty would no longer be issued live rounds. Apparently this decision was based on a large number of suicides which seemed to occur when soldiers were left alone all night pulling a miserable duty shift in a miserable part of the world. However, what this meant for me personally was that every night that I pulled guard duty at Sickles Army Airfield, I was supposed to guard an entire flightline of very expensive Army aircraft with no way to defend either them or myself. (Remember that "Military Intelligence" is an oxymoron.)
Actually, I didn't even have an unloaded M16 as some guards had in other areas of the world; apparently some of the locals had discovered that the guards were carrying unloaded M16s and attempted to steal one by overpowering some poor guy on guard duty. After that incident had occurred, no one carried an M16 on guard duty anymore. This meant that the only two things with me which resembled weapons were a cheap, wooden Billy Club and my three-battery Maglite.
However, this was not that case when the 511th deployed to the border; whenever we were within the 1K zone, we always had three live rounds in one of the guard weapons and a sealed case of rounds hidden in reserve. Depending on the deployment site, the guy on radio watch would have the three live rounds in a magazine in his M16, and the roving perimeter guard would carry an unloaded M16. (Once again, this was to serve the dual purpose of cutting down on suicides and preventing a loaded weapon from being stolen.) The three live rounds were supposed to be enough to fire warning shots if a potentially-threatening situation ever presented itself, and the sealed box of rounds was kept in reserve for the unlikely event that full hostilities erupted.
That being said, in all my time at the border, even though one of the guards had three live rounds in a magazine, there was only one occasion when someone ever felt the need to load them.
During one of our deployments near OP Alpha, SPC Terry was on radio watch and I was the roving guard when a group of three nosy civilians bypassed our "You Will Be Shot" signs and started poking around the perimeter of our site. Everything was surrounded by a triple-ring of concertina wire so they could not get close to any of the equipment, but still - we didn't want anyone nosing around our location.
I think it was SGT Bullard who tried to warn them away in German, but they weren't leaving. After a few, tense minutes of arguing back and forth with the civilians, SPC Terry had had enough and started to walk over to our position. And as he did, he pulled back on the charging handle of his M16, and when he released it we all heard the audibly familiar and oddly reassuring sound of a 5.56 round as it slid into the chamber. There was no mistaking what that sound meant; that M16 was now ready for business - all SPC Terry needed to do was to rotate the M16's safety knob to "Fire" and point the weapon.
And yet these civilians still would not leave, so CW2 Klebo ordered one of us to "Hit one of the civilians hard enough to knock him on his ___." I don't recall if it was SGT Bullard or someone else from our group who complied with the order, but someone other than me used his M16 to execute a textbook "Butt-Stroke to the Chest" maneuver and the guy went flying backwards, after which the injured imbecile unleashed a tirade of German expletives as the three civilians quickly hobbled back to their car and angrily drove away.
To this day, I still think that these clueless civilians had it coming; they had walked past several signs which made it clear that entry into the area was forbidden and the use of deadly force was authorized, plus we had someone who was fluent in German explain several times to them that they needed to leave. Despite all of our efforts, we eventually needed to make our point in a more forceful manner; and if the situation had continued to escalate, it was good to know that someone with live rounds was standing only a few feet away.
I Guess I'm Not So Special After All...
I've been going through my emails, and I'm beginning to get the feeling that all of those "Hot Deals Just For You" messages that I've been receiving for the past 20 years aren't just for me...
How One Jerk Ruined MapMyFitness For Me
As you may have seen from several of my earlier posts, I'm a big fan of recreational road cycling. Over the past few years I have ridden thousands of miles, and I have blogged about several of the "Century Rides" in which I have participated. During the average month I love climbing on my bicycle and riding through the surrounding desert three or four times per week.
Earlier this year I had shoulder surgery, and cycling became an important part of my recovery program. When my doctor and physical therapist both said that it was okay for me to start riding again, I spent several painful weeks working through the shoulder pain and slowly increasing my mileage, but it was ultimately worth the effort.
That being said, I also like to track my rides on the MapMyFitness website, and over time a playful competition developed between myself and a few of the other riders on some of my favorite desert courses. I am too old to be a serious competitor, so I was always a few minutes behind the fastest riders. But I usually rode more often than a few of the other riders, and therefore I was able to earn enough points to maintain my standing.
However, earlier this year someone moved to town who - for some inexplicable reason - decided that he needed to cheat.
On the one hand, this makes no sense to me: the MapMyFitness website is supposed to be about tracking your health, so why anyone would want to cheat seems beyond my comprehension.
On the other hand, some people like to compete with each other, as I mentioned earlier about myself and a few others on the MapMyFitness website. And where there's competition, some people like to win - regardless of what it takes to do so.
All of this leads me back to the cheater. What this guy likes to do is ride several of the courses with several cycling GPS devices and upload the results from all of his devices to the MapMyFitness website. I wasn't aware of this before, but the MapMyFitness website is poorly-designed in such a way that it allows people to do this, so it doesn't bother to check if a person is uploading multiple rides for the same course at the same time. This seems like a pretty trivial thing to check, so it was amazing to me just how easy the MapMyFitness website made cheating possible.
Needless to say, once this guy started uploading his fraudulent ride data, it became impossible to compete with him. I usually rode one of my favorite courses twice each time that I rode, and this guy would ride the same course two or three times. But since he was uploading the data from three GPS devices, the MapMyFitness website was giving him credit for six or nine rides. At that point it didn't matter how many times that I rode each course - there was no way that my honesty would be able to keep up with his dishonesty.
Now you would think that the folks at MapMyFitness would care about this, so a few months ago I decided to bring this to their attention. Here's what I sent them:
I have been a member of MapMyFitness for several years now, and an MVP member for some time. To be honest, from a workout tracking perspective, MapMyFitness has a lot of stiff competition from Strava, Ride With GPS, Garmin, etc. There is one reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competitors - and that is for the friendly competition with other members. Over the past couple years, a few members have competed with me for Guru and Sprint King on a few of the MapMyFitness courses, and the opportunity to challenge or be challenged by someone else has created fun and attainable goals for me to strive for. This has been especially beneficial for me recently because I spent the latter part of last year and the early part of this year recuperating from surgery due to a series of cycling accidents last year, and the challenge of competition got me back on my bicycle again. As I mentioned earlier, this spirit of competition is specifically the reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competition, and why I became an MVP member.
However, over the past few weeks I have realized just how easy it is for someone else to cheat, and as a result it has become apparent that honest behavior on my part will never achieve the numbers that someone who is being deliberately deceitful can attain. While I realize that MapMyFitness cannot actively police all of the activities that its users post, I think some things are easy enough to detect. Consider the following workouts from one person in question:
It is readily apparent that this user is uploading the same workout from three different Garmin devices, so each time that he completes a course his numbers are multiplied by three. With that in mind, on days when he has completed some of the courses in our area more than once, his numbers are simply unattainable by anyone who doesn't resort to his methods of dishonesty. Following my surgery I can barely make it 20-25 miles before I have to quit for the day, so there is no way that I could ride the 90-100 miles that I would need to ride in order to overcome this person's deceit.
As I mentioned earlier, I realize that MapMyFitness is more or less on an 'Honor System' and it cannot actively police all of the activities which are uploaded, but it would be easy to detect this specific user's behavior by simply checking if any user is in a course more than once at the same time; when that happens, do not count one of the courses.
Unfortunately, I also realize that my complaint will likely fall on deaf ears, and as a result I will probably cease using MapMyFitness in the near future. Since the one feature for which I chose your service is apparently suffering from unchecked fraudulent behavior, I feel that am left with little alternative. Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, there are other choices available to me.
To be honest, I did not expect a response, so I was surprised to hear back from them. However, the banal substance of their response was ultimately worse than hearing nothing:
Kyle (Help & Support)
Thank you for writing in about this.
We have a system in place for identifying users that circumvent the rules on both challenges and courses. Sometimes, these are missed and certain users are able to manipulate the system, but we actively monitor and check leaderboards and challenges for cheating. We appreciate you reporting this to us and I have passed this along to the appropriate team.
Cheating participants will not be awarded prizes.
Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns
It may sound like I'm being overly harsh to what seems like a polite response, but the truth is - the scammer rocketed to the top of the leaderboard on several courses, and MapMyFitness didn't do anything about it. The year is barely half over, and this fraudster has already amassed scores which cannot possibly be attained by anyone who refuses to stoop to his level of deception.
So I used to look forward to the friendly competition on the MapMyFitness website, but now that's something of an impossibility. No matter what any honest person does, they simply cannot compete with this schmuck. It's amazing how all it takes as one jerk to ruin something.
Politics, Plagiarism and the Press
To be honest, I could care less about the Trumps, or the Clintons for that matter. From my perspective, this is going to be a lousy election year. But that being said, the amount of attention that a single, stupid, and seemingly-insignificant speechwriter gaffe is generating in the press and social media these days is enough to make me want to hurl. (Although I will admit to finding #FamousMelianaTrumpQuotes pretty amusing; almost as much fun as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.)
In case you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the following article should catch you up on what happened at the Republican National Convention (RNC) yesterday; Melania Trump's speechwriter lifted a handful of phrases from a speech by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) eight years ago:
The Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal
The above article does a good job of pointing out just how much was copied, which amounts to around two paragraphs in which Melania Trump's speech was either substantially copied or paraphrased from Michelle Obama's speech. In my college days, if I had used the same level of copying or paraphrasing in a term paper without proper citation, the best-case scenario is that the entire paper would have been rejected, and the worst-case scenario is that I would have justifiably received an "F" in the class. However, as the above article points out, Melania Trump is not alone in the recent history of presidential campaign plagiarism.
To begin with, and what is most amusing to me, is that the same speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 DNC leveraged a few phrases from Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" book without proper attribution, although to be honest I think those few phrases were probably added by Michelle's husband since he was a big fan of Alinsky's work. (However, if someone wanted to be as obnoxious as everyone in the press is being today, one could make the argument that Melania Trump's plagiarism is simply carrying on a tradition of campaign speech misappropriation by potential First Ladies which was first established by Michelle Obama.)
Nevertheless, if the gaffe in Michelle Obama's speech was indeed the fault of her husband's, that would not be too surprising, as Barack Obama has often quoted other authors' works in the past without proper attribution. Here are just a few examples:
Obama by the Numbers: Twice-Told Tales, and Nine in a Row
Obama's State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism
The Obama Plagiarism Scandal
Bush speechwriter accuses Obama of plagiarism in State of the Union
You might be tempted to take the following video with a grain of salt based on its origin, but it does do a good job of showing the levels to which Barack Obama (or his speechwriters) will go when leveraging other people's speeches:
When Obama Plagiarized Speeches from Deval Patrick and John Edwards
And of course, I could go on about John McCain, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and a host of others, but let us not forget Joe Biden, who seems to have made a career out of plagiarism. I love how Joe Biden not only stole material from other people - he actually stole other people's life stories and substituted them for his own. He also fabricated his academic records, and eventually his web of intentional deceit forced him to drop out of the 1988 presidential race. Of course, Biden went on to become the Vice President later, proving to future generations of politicians that outright plagiarism will not necessarily be the end of your career. Nevertheless, here are just a few articles about Biden's many transgressions:
The Write Stuff? Why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten.
Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report
Biden Admits Plagiarism in School But Says It Was Not 'Malevolent'
The Biden Plagiarism Scandal
All of this is just to say, a lot of people in politics have plagiarized other people, and the frequency with which it occurs does not make it right. However, from where I am standing it seems as though the way in which today's press has latched onto this single incident with such venom while essentially giving a multitude of other offenders a free pass is more than a little lop-sided. I guess we can see which candidate the mainstream media has chosen, as they have done in the past.
To be honest, nothing in this mini-scandal is going to do anything to sway me any more against either candidate; at the moment, the following image seems like my best option. And just to make sure that I give credit where it is due, I am pointing out - for the record - that I plagiarized it from someone else.
POSTSCRIPT: The following information was interesting, albeit somewhat outside the original scope of the blog, so I intentionally omitted it from my main narrative. However, I thought that it was worth adding to the end of this post. In an odd turn of events, Barack Obama has also been accused in the past of plagiarizing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in turn was guilty of plagiarizing other people:
Boston U. Panel Finds Plagiarism by Dr. King
So the saga of Melania Trump quoting Michelle Obama who quoted Saul Alinsky has a rich tradition in politics. Perhaps nothing is original anymore?
Blast from the Past
So I'm driving through Tucson today and channel-surfing on the radio trying to find a station which actually plays music instead of back-to-back advertisements, when I stumbled across 96 Rock playing "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush, and I think to myself, "Wow, how many times has this exact scenario played out over the past thirty-some-odd-years?"
Seriously - hearing the same band, playing the same song, on the same radio station, and even driving down the same street in the same town. This has happened way too many times to count... but trust me, it's a good thing every time it happens.
A Hot Time in the Park Today
So, today's ride through Saguaro National Park was a little warm...
Of course, the highest temperatures were when I was climbing Riparian Ridge... That was no fun at all, believe me.
Some of the Best Names in the Army
During my time in the Army I knew some people with very interesting names for their chosen profession, and here are just a few of my favorite examples.
When I was at DLI our unit had someone named SGT Kill. Considering the fact that the Army's unofficial job description is to "kill people and blow things up," her name was amazingly apropos.
At Fort Devens I knew a German Linguist named SPC Lauscher, whose last name means "eavesdropper" in German; it's like he was born for the job.
There was also a SGT Major at one of my units. He was actually a Sergeant by rank, and his last name just happened to be "Major," so for obvious reasons his name sounded downright powerful, didn't it? I never followed up to see how long he stayed in the Army, because his name could have been a lot more fun as he went through the ranks: Staff Sergeant Major, First Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major Major, Command Sergeant Major Major, etc.
But the following true story is the best:
When I reported to Fort Huachuca, I had already been in the Army over 4 years, so I had seen lots of instances of practical jokes played on new arrivals at each duty station. For example, a lot of pranksters employ "supply lists for newbies" to poke fun at their victims. (Everyone remembers new recruits asking for "Squelch Grease," "Chemlight Batteries," and "Grid Squares," right?) However, on one occasion when I actually needed something specific for one of our trucks, one of my coworkers said, "Go see Private Parts in the Supply Room." I laughed and replied, "Look, I didn't enlist yesterday; who really works in supply?" My colleague quickly responded, "No really - that's his name."
Feeling that I had been duped but still needing repair parts for my vehicle, I headed to supply, where I actually met with a guy named Private Parts. I'm not sure who had the bright idea of assigning a guy with that name to the supply room; that was either a cruel practical joke or a job that he was destined to do. In either case, I took one look at him and said, "Dude, the drill sergeants at Basic Training must have unleashed hell on you." He winced slightly and replied, "You don't know the half of it..."
An Open Letter to LIVESTRONG
I have recently been unable to read any articles on the www.livestrong.com website, and as a result I sent their customer support staff the following letter:
Despite having been on your mailing list for years and thoroughly enjoying your articles, I am no longer able to use your website because of your poor website design and engineering decisions. Look, I get it - LIVESTRONG needs to make money, and to do so you charge for advertising. And I realize that in order to increase your advertising revenue, most of your "articles" are now "click-bait slideshows" which require your readers to click through multiple pages in order to read a single article.
The problem is, your website designers have built an extremely-fragile house of cards, so more often than not I can only get one or two pages into a "slideshow" before your website ceases to work; e.g. pages hang, display timeout errors, etc. Because I actually WANT to read your content, I will try other browsers and other computers, but the results are the always the same; after a couple of pages I get nothing else.
In some cases I think this is because your website is trying to popup a modal dialog to ask me to sign up for your newsletter, which I already receive, so this is annoying for multiple reasons; I hate being asked to sign up for something to which I am already subscribed, and I hate your website crashing while asking me to do something which I have already done.
As a result, I'll probably stop trying to read your content. Oh sure, I'm just one guy so it's no big deal to you, but here's food for thought: I'm willing to bet that other website users are facing these same frustrations, so you're really losing ALL OUR BUSINESS and not just my business. So please, for my sake and yours, FIX YOUR @#$% WEBSITE.
07/16/2016 - Update: LiveStrong appears to have fixed their problems. Yay! I can read articles again!
Obama at Hiroshima
I have seen a great deal of Internet chatter over the past 24 hours regarding President Obama's speech at Hiroshima, with the central theme for most of the comments being a condemnation for any attempt by a United States President to apologize for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before I continue, let me make two facts perfectly clear: 1) I am no fan of President Obama, and 2) I fully support President Truman's decision to end World War II as expeditiously as possible. Let me address those two points out of order.
The second point in my introduction is difficult for many people of this generation to understand. Years of revisionist historians have deluded the weak-minded into a semi-apologetic state with regard to the decisions which were made in the latter years of the Second World War in order to quickly bring that conflict to a definitive end. By the summer of 1945, WWII had been raging for six years. Over 70 million people had perished as a result, and Japan's personal contributions to those death tolls were in the millions. However, the Empire of Japan impudently refused to surrender despite all indications of its imminent defeat. As a result, the U.S. would have had no choice but to invade Japan as it had done for Europe, and the war would have continued for several years. The expected number of military and civilian Japanese casualties which would have occurred as a result of such an invasion varies greatly depending on the source, but the numbers are generally in the millions; with the most-conservative estimates of at least one million per side of the conflict. So if we were to hypothetically assume a 'lower' number of just one-half million Japanese casualties as a result of an invasion of Japan, (and that number is excessively low by almost all estimations), then hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives were spared by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of invading. While I agree that arguing in favor of mass destruction seems counter-intuitive, the fact remains that a lower number of deaths is a preferable outcome - even if you are comparing a quarter-million to a million.
That being said, the first point in my introduction should be self-evident. To put it mildly, President Obama has been a bad president; he has managed to consistently bungle both domestic and foreign policy. All of the goodwill from countries around the world who celebrated with the United States upon the election of our first African-American president has evaporated as President Obama's misguided policies have continued to erode world-wide opinions of our once-great nation. When regions of our country erupted with racial violence, President Obama is the one man who could have stepped in and asked all sides to lay down their arms and restore peace. This was President Obama's single-greatest opportunity to behave like the President of the United States, and having done so he could have created a lasting legacy. Yet he did nothing. In short, President Obama has consistently failed in his duties and responsibilities to this country.
All of this brings us to President Obama's actions during this last year of his presidency; he is desperately searching for what will become his "Legacy." Like most presidents, he wants to be remembered for the good that he has done, and he needs something monumental to overcome his many shortcomings as president. His recent overtures to the Communist dictators still in power in Cuba are a perfect example of the levels to which his political distress have plummeted; attempting to normalize relations with an out-spoken Communist-ruled country which possesses Cuba's horrific human rights record is unconscionable. (In past years I have spoken with political refugees who have fled that corrupt and inhuman regime; the sufferings of Cuba's people have been abominable, and to recognize the Castro dynasty as legitimate nullifies its victims' anguish.)
So it hardly came as a surprise to hear that President Obama intended to become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. As I mentioned earlier, he needs something significant by which to make himself remembered. And yet, I was immediately suspicious as to what he would say. Neither common sense nor the presence of facts to the contrary have ever stopped 'Great Liberal Minds' from apologizing for things about which they should not feel remorse. As such, it was with a small sense of trepidation that I watched President Obama's speech at Hiroshima earlier today.
Despite my admitted dislike for President Obama, I listened to his entire speech - and not just the sound bites which opposing Talking Heads have been posting. In addition, I vowed to keep an open mind as I listened. As a result, I did not see any part of President Obama's discourse where he "apologized" outright, nor did I necessarily consider any of his statements vague enough to be misconstrued as an apology. That being said, his speech was often redundant, naive, and simplistically idealist in nature.
Yes, war is evil.
Yes, many lives were lost in WWII.
Yes, peace is a good thing.
Yes, no one should ever use another atomic weapon.
I think everyone understands those ideas without having them drowned in waves of political rhetoric. But to be fair, some might argue that even though these these concepts are a given within civilized societies, they still need to be expressed. Perhaps that is so. However, those thoughts would have been considerably more palatable had they not been voiced in such a long-winded fashion. It took President Obama 17 minutes to convey a series of ideas which should have been whittled down to a five-minute speech at the most.
But the one thing which I heard that was truly deplorable was President Obama's continuous pontification about the need for peace in the world, yet his personal track record on the subject is atrocious and hypocritical. President Obama ascended to his office built on the empty promises that he would end U.S. participation in the wars throughout the Middle East, and yet he has continued to escalate the various conflicts, and through his mismanagement of declining situations he has made matters arguably worse in most areas of that region. I could go into detail about ISIS, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Israel, Syria, etc., but those subjects are really outside the scope of this blog.
However, what is within the scope of this blog is the president's continuous escalation of drone-based bombing campaigns. Personally, as a veteran I am openly in favor of killing terrorists with minimal risk to U.S. personnel, and unmanned drones fill that role quite nicely. That being said, President Obama cannot wax poetic about the necessity for peace and the end of bombing campaigns while simultaneously sanctioning innumerable bombing campaigns throughout the world. Such behavior is deceitful and duplicitous.
In the end, perhaps this is where President Obama may ultimately find his legacy. When several decades have passed and the dust of history has settled on his presidency, Obama may be remembered simply as 'The Great Hypocrite.'
Snakes in the Lane
I saw a four-foot rattlesnake in the bicycle lane during one of my cycling laps around Saguaro National Park today, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.
On the one hand, he's not riding a bicycle; but on the other hand, he's not in a motorized vehicle.
I think he gets by on a technicality.