Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

More 511th History: Meeting a British Sergeant Major

I saw the following sketch from Monty Python, and it reminded me of a story which I will relate in a moment. But first, take a quick look at the video:

Here's the story: several years ago, (more years than I would care to admit), I was sent to a remote British outpost somewhere in Europe to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a few weeks. Although I was working with the RAF, the post was actually shared between the British Army and the RAF, so I saw plenty of people from both services during my tenure there.

The work that we were doing was somewhat secretive, so there were several security checkpoints through which everyone was required to pass in order to get to the building where work was done. This usually meant a lot of time standing in front of locked gates, looking up into a camera, saying your name into an intercom, and then waiting for some disembodied security guard to push a button to let you through to the next checkpoint.

One morning I was waiting at one of the gates when a Sergeant Major from the British Army stepped up beside me, and I swear he looked just like Michael Palin in the video that I shared - complete with dress uniform cap and a riding crop tucked under his arm.

I'm not quite sure how things work in the British military, but in the U.S. Army we were taught to render the "Greeting of the Day" to our superiors, so I stifled my urge to laugh as I snapped to a more formal position, and then I exclaimed, "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" He made no reply, and his eyes barely flickered in my direction; somehow his expression managed to register no emotion or formal acknowledgement whatsoever.

But as the two of us continued our vigil outside the locked gate, his countenance slowly began to change. It was barely perceptible, but gradually the corners of his mouth began to turn downward, while at the same time his arm began to flex and the riding crop began to bow under the mounting tension. My silent companion was like spring which was steadily wound tighter and tighter, and sooner or later I knew that spring was going to break.

Eventually the buzzer sounded and the gate opened, after which the two of us parted ways as we headed off into our separate sections of the building. In a few minutes I was regaling my RAF colleagues with the tale of my awkward experience with the Sergeant Major, and there was plenty of laughter all around. But that being said, I was quietly certain that my RAF comrades-in-arms were surreptitiously rejoicing over the fact that they were not serving in that Army Sergeant Major's chain of command.

Posted: Dec 15 2015, 02:39 by bob | Comments (0)
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My Thoughts about the New Star Trek Beyond Trailer

As a long-time Star Trek fan, I watched this newly-released trailer for the latest installment in the rebooted Star Trek franchise with a great deal of anticipation:

Star Trek Beyond - Trailer (2016) - Paramount Pictures
http://youtu.be/XRVD32rnzOw

This trailer brings up an interesting point: I once read that all good science fiction must challenge something and/or push society to be better, which is why all of the individual Star Trek television series dealt with issues of war, morality, science/technology, racism, power struggles, etc. If you go back to classic Science Fiction like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, etc., they all challenged similar subjects.

However, the most-recent Star Trek movies have not challenged much of anything; they are simply action flicks. At the moment this latest movie seems more like it's going to be "The Fast and the Furious with Aliens." That might not be so bad if all you're interested in is two hours of mindless fight scenes, chase scenes, and sex scenes, but that's not good "Science Fiction" in the traditional sense.

So at the moment I am unsure about this upcoming Star Trek movie; I will have to wait until next year to know how it turns out.

 


June 22, 2016 Update: I found the following article rather insightful about what makes good Science Fiction:

10 Laws of Good Science Fiction10 Laws of Good Science Fiction

While I realize that true creativity follows no rules and knows no boundaries, I still agree with a lot of what that article has to say.

Posted: Dec 14 2015, 09:01 by bob | Comments (0)
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Time Marches On

Here are a pair of photos of my dad and brothers with me, and there is a difference of 25 years in between the two images. I stumbled across the second image as I was going through some old photos, and it was taken in 2011 at my daughter's wedding. The first image I have posted on Facebook before, and that photo was taken in 1987. It's kind of amazing to see what the passage of time does...

I don't know what the deal is with those other guys who all appear to have aged, but I haven't changed a bit.

Smile

Posted: Dec 05 2015, 01:17 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Christmas in the UK

OK, I will admit - we followed a few of these traditions at our house... I'm not saying which ones, though. Smile

How to Have a British Christmas
Anglophenia Ep 20

Posted: Dec 02 2015, 22:51 by bob | Comments (0)
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Thought for the Day

From Coleman Cox (in 1922):

"Never dispute the woman who says she has a model husband. Webster's Dictionary says a model is a small imitation of the real thing."

Posted: Nov 30 2015, 17:50 by bob | Comments (0)
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We Need Less, Not More Idiots

A friend of mine recently posted the following video from Jacob Appelbaum on Facebook:

"We Need More, Not Less Democracy"

I have a lot of problems with this video, and I would love to go through this speech line by line and address each ridiculous point that Appelbaum makes, but that would take more time than I have available. Granted, Appelbaum makes some valid points in this video; for example: "We will not bomb Syria [or any other country] into peace - at best we may bomb it into submission. Submission is not the same thing as peace." This is true, however - submission as an alternative to war is still a palatable solution for many people, but I digress.

That being said, when you set aside a few bright points, you quickly realize that for all his flowery rhetoric, Appelbaum is an idiot. For lots of reasons. Here are just a few.

Appelbaum is an idiot because he naively believes that spontaneous peace erupts in the vacuum that would exist if a war suddenly ceased. There are a million things wrong with that argument. First of all, Appelbaum's point of view presupposes that everyone wants the same things that he wants, whether that is "peace" or something else. However, Appelbaum is too shuttered behind his self-imposed exile of naïveté to realize that - even at the most-basic level - everyone has a different definitions of peace and security. This difference of opinion has led to wars in and of itself - here's a simple example: some people foolishly believe that peace means "no war" for everyone, but it doesn't. For some people the word "peace" means removing the possibility that there may ever be another war, which typically means disarming everyone. While universal disarmament sounds attractive, many people justifiably lack the faith to believe that peace will continue to exist, and therefore disarming means that they will be ill-prepared in the event of another war, which threatens their sense of security. Because of this all-too-realistic expectation, when one nation is told to disarm, they might choose to say "no." So what can the rest of the world do when faced with this situation? The remaining nations can choose to: 1) do nothing, in which case the world will have a heavily-armed nation which is waiting for the next dictator to gain power and start a shooting war, or 2) forcibly disarm that nation, which means that everyone is going back to war in order to promote peace. Yes - everyone laying down their arms forever would create "peace" by the textbook definition, but that peace will not last. Someone sooner or later will want something that someone else has, and no amount of socialism, or communism, or redistribution of wealth, or any other left-leaning solution will ever alleviate that fact. If we managed to somehow create a world in which everyone's essential needs were met - e.g. food, shelter, security, health - someone will still "covet their neighbor's wife." That is human nature. We should still strive to provide food, shelter, security, and health for everyone, but we need to provide these things under the full knowledge that no matter how equitable we try to divide whatever resources are available, everyone will always have a different definition for what is "fair." And that's how wars begin.

Appelbaum also fails to realize the logic (or illogic) of the adversary in this situation, which I will explain based on my years in the intelligence services. Nations of the west are perceived as "wrong" because they believe things that go against certain non-western points of view. A case in point is freedom of speech, and examples of how this difference is perceived has manifested itself in the acts of terrorism at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the art exhibition in Garland, Texas. In both of these cases, artists believed that it was their right to express themselves through their art, whereas other people believed that it was their right to kill these artists for expressing themselves through their art. (Yes, you can blame radicalized religion in this specific instance, but that doesn't matter - the same situation will present itself for dozens of other root causes which have nothing to do with art or religion.) However, in this specific situation, the attackers believed whole-heartedly that it was their right to open fire, because - from their perspective - the artists fired the first shots in this "conflict," and as such they were justified to retaliate against west. However, because the attackers genuinely believed that they were responding to provocation, the west is wrong if it chooses to retaliate. And if the west retaliates, the attackers are once again entitled to bomb, kill, maim, etc.

What Appelbaum is too naive to realize is that you cannot reason with enemies who believe that they have been attacked and therefore allowed to retaliate when you have not actually attacked them. Appelbaum foolishly believes that with enough diplomacy and "democracy," the opposition will magically realize the wisdom and logic of his arguments, but that's simply not the case. When Appelbaum says stupid things like, "We need more, not less democracy," he is clearly assuming that democracy is a gift which is wrapped up with a pretty bow and found under a religiously-appropriate form of ritualistic foliage at a certain time of year. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-democracy; but when some nation doesn't want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Force democracy on that nation? If so, then he's at war again. If a nation has a despot in power but the bulk of its people want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Encourage their rebellion? Train their rebels? Take sides when civil war erupts? If so, then we're looking at another political quagmire like the dozens of intrusive maelstroms in which the United States has been embroiled (or has created) all over the world. This is - once again - the trouble with idiots like Appelbaum; they believe that democracies happen spontaneously with no wars or loss of life, and that's just not the case. Revolutions are often protracted and painful; liberty comes at an extreme cost.

On a complementary point of view, Appelbaum is also an idiot because he genuinely believes that if everyone stopped fighting, the terrorists would suddenly stop acts of terrorism. This is a very, very foolish belief, and many a conquered civilization throughout the history of the world has believed that refusing to fight means the other side will stop fighting as well. That is NOT the way that human nature works; a potential adversary who also happens to be a pacifist is simply an easy target, and not a laudable peer. Martin Niemöller was a noted theologian and pacifist in the mid-twentieth century who adequately summed up the inevitable effects of pacificism when he wrote, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." Niemöller's comments were certainly meant to express his sense of self-condemnation for refusing to help out when he had the opportunity, but Niemöller's attitudes at the time were a direct result of a prevailing sense of anti-war pacificism which was sweeping across Europe prior to WWII. Many thousands of people at that time believed that peace at all costs was the only answer, and these people are directly responsible for the Nazis gaining power throughout Europe. Chief among these pacifists was Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister during the 1930s, who foolishly believed that if the world simply gave Hitler everything he wanted, (through a program called "appeasement"), then Hitler would eventually stop asking for more. Chamberlain's naïveté is equally as condemnable as Appelbaum's. (The latter of the two being a petty academician who has never actually had to face the prospect of war, and therefore he can safely pontificate about his unrealistic visions of the world from the security of what he thinks is an ivory tower, but it's really a house of cards.)

Another sheer indicator of Appelbaum's idiocy is his circular arguments about the failures of the world's intelligence services and the need to reduce the amount of government surveillance. Appelbaum is too stupid to realize that these are not exclusive concepts: if you want the world's intelligence services to succeed, that means you need more surveillance. If you want more privacy, that means the world's intelligence services will not succeed. Period. Note that this does not mean that I personally advocate more government surveillance; I am simply aware of the fact that intelligence services do not succeed where there is no data to analyze. To suggest reducing the amount of surveillance data while condemning the lack of intelligence results is a really stupid thing to do. But then again, considering that the source of this suggestion is Appelbaum then stupidity is a given by this point.

In the end, most of Appelbaum's arguments are circular, and he's too stupid to realize it. He has an admirable level of passion, but he obviously lacks the intellectual wherewithal to grasp the basic concept that the rest of the world does not see itself as he sees it. To restate what I said earlier, everyone has different definitions of what constitutes peace, security, fairness, equality, justice, etc. These are ideals, and we should certainly strive for them, but we need to do so with the full knowledge that there will always be wars, insecurity, inequality, injustice, etc.

Consider the following quote John Stuart Mill:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need be, to do battle for the one against the other."

Ultimately, war is an evil concept envisaged by evil people, but conversely peace without consequence is most-often a stupid concept embraced by stupid people. War has it's place, and peace has its place; and sometimes you paradoxically need one to have the other.

Posted: Nov 29 2015, 17:07 by bob | Comments (0)
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The Power of Positive Thinking

I saw a would-be motivational poster today with the following quote from Norman Vincent Peale: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

I don't mean to be nitpicky, but if you fall short of the moon, you're still going to be light years away from the stars, although you can ardently admire them as you burn up on re-entry.

But if you really miss the moon, and by that I mean hideously overshooting your intended target to an exponential degree, your long-dead corpse might one day make it to the stars, although that will still be thousands of years after you choked to death due to lack of oxygen.

Posted: Nov 25 2015, 13:23 by bob | Comments (0)
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El Tour 2015 - The Day After

I posted the following to Facebook, but I thought that it would be good to repost here...

How I spent my Saturday - riding 104 miles around the city of Tucson with 9,000 other people from around the world. This year I abandoned my usual habit of riding for time and I tried to simply have fun with it. Sure, it took me a lot longer than last year, but this year I didn't want to sell my bike when I was done...

2015 El Tour de Tucson

Posted: Nov 22 2015, 20:46 by bob | Comments (0)
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Ride Notes for El Tour de Tucson 2015

A year has passed since my last adventure riding in the El Tour de Tucson, so it was time for this year's ride. 2015 marked the 33rd anniversary of this annual event, and once again I signed up to ride the full 104 miles. If I was going to subtitle this years ride, I would call it "The Ride Which Almost Wasn't," but I'll explain what I mean by that a little later.

2015ETTTMC ETT-2015

This year there were a couple of big differences from my ride last year, the biggest of which was that I rode with my friend Kevin, with whom I had recently ridden the 100-mile Cool Breeze Century. Kevin and I had been discussing the ride over the past few weeks, and I have been riding with a different philosophy - ride to have fun.

This may sound strange, but for the longest time I had been hating my rides. Seriously - I hated all of them. Of course, that is an untenable situation for someone who wants to be a recreational cyclist, so I had to figure out what was wrong with the way that I was riding. After some self-examination, I determined that my problem was simply that I was always racing the clock on each ride, and I was always trying to outdo my previous time. So a couple of months ago I decided to stop racing the clock, and I discovered that I was enjoying [sic] my rides a little more.

With that in mind, Kevin and I agreed to ride at a comfortable pace, and to stop for more of the Support and Gear (SAG) stops along the way. That being said, the El Tour de Tucson is an extremely well-supported ride with SAG stops every 5 or 6 miles, so we had plenty of opportunities to rest and refuel.

2015-ETT-Route-MapColor-10-30

One of the bright spots about this year's weather was that it promised to be warmer than last year, which was literally freezing before the race started.

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The 104-mile race starts at 7:00am, but seeing as how neither Kevin nor I wanted to race the clock, we agreed to meet at the starting point at 6:15am. (That was a whole lot better than last year when I got in line around 5:00am.) I woke up early, double-checked my pre-race cycling checklist, packed the last of my gear into the car, and headed across town to meet Kevin. As I drove across town I could see that the weather seemed to be pretty close to predictions, which meant that I wasn't going to freeze this year. (That was great news.)

WP_20151121_05_52_50_Pro.edited

I made it across town in short order, and I pulled into the parking lot at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC) shortly after 6:00am. TCC is near the starting line and has ample parking for lots of participants, so several cyclists were getting their gear ready as I parked and started to prep my gear for the day. I had loaded all of my equipment onto my bicycle, and as I was putting on the last of my cycling clothing I made a horrific discovery: I was missing my cycling helmet. (This is why I referred to this day's race as "The Ride Which Almost Wasn't.")

Wearing a helmet is always a good idea, but in this specific instance it was imperative; the race mandates that all riders wear a helmet in order to participate. I mulled over my options, and I did a quick estimate to determine how long it would take me to drive home, pick up my helmet, and drive back. I might have been able to get home and back by the 7:00am start time, but as I was deliberating what to do, Kevin called me. I explained the situation, and after he had a good laugh at my expense, Kevin said that he could wait for me to get back before starting. I mentioned that the timing chips on our race placards do not start until we physically cross the start line, so starting a few minutes late might not be that big of a deal.

However, as the two of us talked, I saw that Kathleen was trying to call me, so I put Kevin on hold and answered Kathleen's incoming call. She found my helmet lying on the counter, and she was asking if she should bring it to me. Thankfully Kathleen already needed to be on that side of Tucson around 7:00am, so the two of us set up a place to meet somewhere near the start line. Once Kathleen and I hung up, I switched back to my call with Kevin, and I explained the arrangements to him. Kevin said that he would wait for me near the start line for me, then I locked up my car and pedaled over to Kevin's location.

After Kevin and I met, the two of us rode over to the place where Kathleen and I had agreed to meet, and she arrived around 6:40am. She quickly handed off my helmet, (see the following photo), then Kathleen headed off to her appointment while Kevin and I got in line for the race. (Note: I'm wearing a lot of cold weather gear in the following photo, but as the day grew warmer I slowly removed all of my cold weather gear.)

WP_20151121_06_42_22_Pro.edited

It was already 6:45am by the time that Kevin and I got in line, so we were understandably pretty far in the back. But still, neither Kevin nor I wanted to race, so our place in line meant little to either of us.

WP_20151121_06_45_31_Pro.edited

An unintended bonus from my earlier debacle meant that Kevin and I didn't have long to wait when we got back in line. (Which was a good thing since the temperature had dropped to 39 degrees.) After everyone had sung the National Anthem and a few kind words were spoken by the event dignitaries, the ride officially began at 7:00am. It took several minutes for the back of the line to start moving, but once we began to roll everything progressed in an orderly fashion, and we were on our way.

5650984ce03cc.image

Here's a time-lapse video from the Arizona Daily Star of the race start; Kevin and I are in there somewhere... (We're on the far side of the street at 1:13, but good luck finding us!)

A little over a half-hour into the ride we hit our first adventure of the day - crossing the Santa Cruz River, which was thankfully dry this year. Nevertheless, it's always amusing to see hundreds of cyclists hand-carrying their bicycles across the dry riverbed. Although one of the best parts of this experience it is always the Mariachi band on the far side of the river.

565098640cf1d.image 
DSCF1533
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Kevin and I rode through southeast Tucson along with the thousands of other cyclists who were participating in the 104-mile course, and yet we were able to ride close enough together to carry on a conversation as pedaled our way through the first several miles of the race. We met a lot of interesting people along the way, too. One of my favorites was a nice guy from the FBI who was riding his first century ride; we met up with him on the Houghton Road climb and East Escalante Road, (which are the last parts of a difficult climb to the highest point of elevation and we dropped him).

ProfileOfRoute

Thankfully I train on the east side of town all the time, so I ride Houghton Road and East Escalante Road several times a year. Another great part about hitting the highest point of the ride is that we get to ride downhill for several miles on Freeman Road.

56509cfc70821.image

About 3½ hours into our trek we reached the half-way point of the ride, which is also the second river crossing. We also took this as an opportunity for a short break, so we rested up, refilled our water bottles, and ate a few snacks. After that, we were back on our bicycles.

393340_214371252_XLarge 393340_214378302_XLarge

The next obstacle on our ride was the steepest climb of the day - East Snyder Road near North Rockcliff Road. Although it's the steepest part of the course, it is also thankfully one of the shortest climbs - perhaps only 200 meters or so. (But still, every year dozens of riders have to walk their bicycles up the hill. Neither Kevin nor me, though. Hehe.)

There's not much to say about the next couple hours of riding; we took advantage of a few rest stops, one of which was serving Eegee's frozen drinks. (Those were totally worth stopping for.) Once again - I hated the ride up La Cañada Drive, though.

393340_214339290_XLarge 393340_214429413_XLarge

When we were around 10 miles or so from the end, Kevin asked me how close we were to my time from last year, to which I replied, "Last year I had already finished the ride an hour and a half ago." (That seemed somewhat demoralizing for Kevin.) Nevertheless after 8¼ hours we rode across the finish line, and my second El Tour de Tucson was over.

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Kevin and I riding towards the finish line.

Ride Stats:

  • Primary Statistics:
    • Start Time: 7:02am
    • Distance: 104 miles (103.5 miles on my GPS)
    • Duration: 8 hours, 17 minutes (6 hours, 58 minutes on my GPS)
    • Calories Burned: 3,502 kcal
    • Altitude Gain: 3,209 feet
  • Speed:
    • Average Speed: 14.8 mph
    • Peak Speed: 31.8 mph
    • Average Cadence: 78.0 rpm
  • Temperature:
    • Average: 65.6 F
    • Minimum: 35.6 F
    • Maximum: 95.0 F
  • Heart Rate:
    • Average: 143 bpm
    • Maximum: 175 bpm

When I arrived home, I posted the following synopsis to Facebook: "How I spent my Saturday - riding 104 miles around the city of Tucson with 9,000 other people from around the world. This year I abandoned my usual habit of riding for time and I tried to simply have fun with it. Sure, it took me a lot longer than last year, but this year I didn't want to sell my bike when I was done... "

393340_214400417_XLarge.edited


UPDATE: A few months after the ride, one of our local television stations put together the following video. There's a bit too much advertising from several of the corporate sponsors, but apart from that it gives a good overview of the event.

Posted: Nov 21 2015, 21:22 by bob | Comments (0)
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Discussions versus Arguments

When I was younger I learned the following axiom from Robert Quillen: "Discussion is an Exchange of Knowledge; an Argument is an Exchange of Ignorance."

Copyright Universal Press Syndicate
© Copyright Universal Press Syndicate

I beg to differ; these past few days have shown definitively that Facebook is the exchange of ignorance. Pick an issue - any issue - then sit back and watch both sides of the debate slug it out. Neither point of view ever convinces the other to change their mind, and in the end there is nothing to show for their efforts but legions of hours wasted on senseless squabbles.

Posted: Nov 17 2015, 21:49 by bob | Comments (0)
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