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March 22, 2014


The American justice system has its flaws. The rich get away with more than the poor because they can hire the best law firms. The use of precedent overwhelms the system and creates loopholes and unintended consequences. And, in today's mobile, online, instant news society, the law doesn't always keep up or make sense to the masses.

The goal of this system is to provide an unbiased result based on the facts of the case. The biggest benefit to it is that an (supposed to be) impartial judge or a jury of one's peers is used to arbitrate between the accused and the accuser. This is especially essential for instances where the hierarchical power system in place most everywhere (between employee and employer, between the government and the individual, etc.) would unnecessarily bias one side against the other.

However, there is one glaring area where an impartial system does not exist: the military.

In the military, everything is kept "in house." In many cases, your commanding officer (or that person's commanding officer) is used to administer justice. Even when something actually makes it to military court, many of the people involved may be the accuser's superior officers. Even if they are not, they have something to gain or lose based on what is accused and what the verdict is.

The military has a sexual assault problem. The rates for all types of sexual misconduct are much higher per capita in the military than in the private sector. Both men and women are attacked, as sexual assault is mostly about power and not about the act of sexual intercourse. So, the fact that women are in the military doesn't make sexual assault more prevalent -- it just means that women are now being attacked along with the men.

The problem, though, is that those who are attacked are forced to go through their own chain of command in order to report the assault. In some cases, this means going to either the person who is performing the assault or who is the direct commander of the person who is committing the act, or that person's immediate superior (if the commander in charge is the one performing the assault) in order to levy a charge of sexual assault. These individuals have direct and biased reasons not to send the assault charge up the chain command: first, a charge of sexual assault looks negatively on them as the leader of the person(s) in question and could negatively influence their ability to move up the chain of command; and, secondly, they may like the conduct, person, or performance of the accused more or less than the accuser.

There have been many reports of sexual assault and outright rape in the military over the last 20 years. No one branch has been spared the scandals of these allegations. There have been movies about it, including a recent documentary about the problem, The Invisible War. Even if you consider that movie biased against the military, the facts presented and the incredibly myopic way in which the military is shown to respond (for example, making it the assaulted person's fault for being assaulted, or the program to make sure you have a safe buddy to walk around base with at night, etc.) shows the military culture to be biased against women and "weak" men and stuck in a version of the past where these sorts of things just "didn't happen." (Of course, they did, but like the nostalgia films from the 1950s, the military's response just seems to gloss over and simplify how very real and present the problems actually are.)

While that movie was able to briefly change the way the military works, much more is needed. (The military took away the unit commander's decision whether to prosecute these cases.) When Congress confronted the military leadership and demanded answers, strongly considering changing things so that sexual assault would be prosecuted in civilian court systems, the military leadership determined that it would hurt morale, undermine the command structure, and somehow bring down the military as an institution to take away military prosecution of sexual assault. And Congress backed down.

My question is why? Many companies work on a similarly hierarchical command structure yet having a judicial system outside of that structure hasn't toppled those businesses when a sexual assault charge is levied. In no other stratosphere of life does having an independent and unbiased judicial system hurt the process -- and, as I argued at the beginning, it actually helps the process by trying to ensure as fair and balanced a process as possible. (Yes, we can argue all day about how actually fair and balanced the judicial system is, which is why I noted some of the problems with it, above. The fact is that it tries harder than most other judicial systems to be unbiased.)

The military is an insular system. They need that in order to do what they do. But when that insular system, in essence, rewards sexual assault predators with a system in which they can get away with the act more often than not, the system has to change. Taking sexual assault cases out of the system so that both the accused and accuser get a fair court hearing and verdict is paramount to this process.

As we consistently learn, whenever an institution is left to police itself, be it Congress, banks, brokerage firms, churches, or, now, the military, it fails because the participants are biased for a variety of reasons. It is time for the men and women of our armed forces to be safe and able to bring these charges to a fair, unbiased court system outside of their chain of command. The military has proven both unwilling to change and unable to cope with this problem, so the government should force the issue. Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

March 13, 2014

Now Comes the Hard Part

I had my last physio session with my therapist yesterday. While he recognizes that my back is still weak, he likes the direction it is going, he thinks I've got a lot better mobility and flexibility, and he thinks I'm on the right path. To that end, he gave me some suggestions and "graduated" me from the program.

My father in law has a device specifically made to help strengthen the back. He loaned it to me and I have been using it multiple times a day for the last two weeks.
* Not the exact model I am using, but a very close design
By doing a "reverse sit-up," I can stretch and strengthen the back in the specific area I had the herniated disc. In addition, I can use the handles to do a nice, deep push-up.

What I've been doing is, every time I go down to put wood on the fire, a set of 10 push-ups and a set of 10 back extensions. Since I feed the fire about once every 60-90 minutes, this means I get about 8-10 sets in each day with plenty of rest between. This has helped my arms, chest, and back to start feeling stronger as well as burning a few more calories than previously.

Next up is to add back in my stationary bicycle and work on my stamina, which is poor (to put it mildly). This will work the legs as well as being good cardio work. My initial goal is to get to riding for around 45-60 minutes (enough time to watch one DVRed show on TV). I was just reaching that point when I had the herniation and the subsequent issues with my back. All of my gains were lost (and then some) during my recuperation (since I couldn't do much lifting, twisting, or, well, walking during much of this time).

Once I reach that stage, I'm hopeful that my back extension and push-ups have made a nice difference to my upper body, I've lost some weight, and can start adding in some sit-ups and strengthening leg-work. Also, as we move from winter to spring, I hope my wife, our friend Dre, and I can start going back to the Nature Park and walking. Now, the two ladies walk me into the ground and I usually take a course that is half what they do, but my goal is to one day keep up with them. Plus, the Nature Park is a nice, quiet, natural setting, which is nice to visit.

I have also started using the food and exercise trackers on again. I have set up it to help me lose 40 lbs, so it is limited my caloric intake to 1500 calories a day (from the standard 2000). I may lower it when I see over the next two weeks how I normally eat (with all my health issues the last six months, my diet is all over the place; I need to get a new baseline with the exercise program to see if I can make the calorie intake more aggressive). I'd rather have a steady, sustained weight loss than crash and rebound. Right now, the caloric intake suggests 8 lbs a month loss, which seems fine (2 lbs a week). My wife uses this tracker and she managed to lose about 20 lbs with her exercise schedule (Zumba twice a week plus walking on treadmill or on streets every day). Losing the weight off the gut will help the back stay strong, as well as help my feet, knees, and other joints. My arthritis makes it difficult to be too aggressive with exercise, and I have to stay away from too much high-impact stuff.

Anyway, today is as good day as any to start really hitting it and moving forward, right? Last year was our year of no procrastination. We managed to get a lot done around the house, with paperwork, and similar. I'm carrying it over to this year and trying to keep the train moving forward.

March 3, 2014

More TV Woes

My wife wanted to buy her mother a Blu-Ray player that was both wi-fi capable and had a USB port, so she could share with her mother movies and other files from our very large collection. Seems simple enough, right?


My MIL has some very nice, but older, technology in her house. Also, her house is old enough not to be wired for internet. Hence the desire to have the player by wi-fi enabled. Her 36" CRT TV is a rugged, nice machine, but it is old enough not to have current, modern connectors. She doesn't have a receiver through which she runs everything.

Knowing/discovering all of these facts as we pursued this avenue, we stumbled on the need to get an HDMI to RCA converter in order to plug the Blu-ray machine into her TV. This is because we could not find a Blu-ray player that has RCA jacks AND wi-fi AND a USB port; if they have wi-fi, they pretty much all have only an HDMI port.

After our trying and not finding the device, or eschewing going to some places because we were sure they wouldn't have such a device, we headed to The Source, a primarily electronics seller in this city (kind of Radio Shack). There were two people working there, a male about early-20s, 5'6", with dark hair and a female about the same age and height and with blond hair.

I asked if they sold any HDMI to RCA cables. They both gave us very quizzical looks. The girl started to say, "I don't think they make those," while the male said no and started smiling and laughing and generally got "attitude" and, well, snotty. He asked if I was sure such a thing existed. Since I was sure (I had looked it up online and they are readily available for $40 and lower, depending on make/type) and was starting to dislike his attitude, I said, "I'm absolutely sure. So sure that I will bet you any sum of money you'd like to wager on it."

I've worked retail. Was pretty good at it, actually. And, when you run across a customer who is asking for specific things and is showing intelligence, confidence, and competence about what he/she wants, you should trust that customer and work with him/her to your mutual benefit. This guy didn't understand that concept. Instead, he started talking very negatively about the ramifications of doing this conversion, how the picture would be "horrible," and how we really should get a new TV. To which my wife replied, "Are you going to buy us a new TV?" She was getting steamed at this yokel, basically, laughing at us.

I was getting irritated too. This guy, at various parts of our conversation, laughed openly at us, ducked his head and continued laughing, and generally was unpleasant. He spoke so negatively about the device we wanted to purchase, and then had the gall to say, "I'm not trying to be negative about it or stop you from buying it, but it's not going to work for you." Really? Are you sure. Because I've seen the reviews of these devices online and, for the most part, people are pretty pleased with being able to buy a $100 Blu-ray and a $10 connector, rather than spending $800 on a new TV, $100 on a new Blu-ray, and $20 on the HDMI cord required.

His attitude toward us was getting to us both, but I started to step forward when my wife grabbed my arm and said she wanted to go. She was done talking to this ass-hat and didn't want me getting into it with him. Over my shoulder as we left, I made some disparaging comment about the store and that guy (to which I heard a, "What... what did he just say?" from the male to the female employee).

The somewhat ironic conclusion to this story is that we went home, looked online at the plethora of such converters and cables, and tried to decide which would work best for us. My wife found that The Source store we had visited had one such converter in stock and for sale (albeit, it was for HDMI to Composite, not HDMI to RCA which is what we specifically asked for). Had the ass-hat male employee bothered to look, he would have found that. He would have then known:
  1. Such a thing does exist.
  2. Not to be a jerk to us, because we actually knew what we were talking about.
  3. To check his computer for relevant other devices and discover if The Source carried the specific item we needed and could order it in for us.
Instead, this employee felt entitled to laugh at us to our face, sardonically suggest we buy a new TV, and felt it was appropo to show gross negativity toward what his customer needed. Out of the half-dozen or so better ways he could have expressed his negatively that would have been helpful and left us with options, he instead convinced us never to shop there again.

In the end, we're probably going to chip in and help my MIL buy a new TV sooner, rather than later. Once she has a new TV, she'll have the ports she needs and we can consider getting her a Blu-ray.

Oscars, 2014

The Academy Awards were on last night, and I watched pretty much all of it. And it was boring. Very, very boring. I have fairly specific desires for what I want to watch during the Oscar telecast; last night's show wasn't it.

  • Opening. I like the opening song and dance number. Either that or some sort of funny and interesting monologue. Whatever it is showcases sort of the theme and general direction of the show. Ellen's opening was brief, which is always nice, but also boring and not very funny, which is unlike her. And, not surprisingly, the show itself was sort of boring and not very funny.
  • Tributes. Unless there is a reason for it (i.e., a significant-year anniversary or the passing of a legend), I don't want to see tributes. Last night's show had a ham-fisted tribute to animation and one to movie heroes that both felt tacked on and without focus. Why were they added? Taking both together, that was at least 10 minutes that could have been cut from the show.
  • Presenters. I hate them. The host should present most of the awards (up to all but the Big 4). This gives the host a chance to actually do something during the telecast beyond introducing someone who is going to flub his/her lines, not be able to read the teleprompter, say something uncomfortable or that can easily be misconstrued, and/or butcher someone's name. The transition time from the host to the presenter and back again could be spent just having the host present that award. All those small minutes saved would add up to somewhere around 30 minutes of time saved on the far end, I'm guessing.
  • Presentations. I like having the previous winner of X presenting the current night's award for Y, however, I want the presentation to mean something. In Oscars past, we have had affectionate presentations to each award nominee. I liked this. Keep to about 1 minute per, show clips in the background (or overlay it for the TV audience), and have a professional help the presenter with the writing so it is short, sweet, genuine, but to the point. Last night, they each came out, barely said anything, had the pre-recorded list, and then presented the winner -- boring.
  • Death. Last night's In Memoriam was really done well... one of the best of recent memory, until they had Bette Midler come out and sing after the presentation was over. Either have her sing during or don't have any singing at all... there's another 5 minutes you can save. Also, remember that we are trying to celebrate the life of those who died; their accomplishments in their chosen field, how well they were known and liked in the industry, and their impact on film in general. This should be a happy, but solemn, moment.
  • Pace. The big categories everyone wants to see are Song, Screenwriting (?), Supporting Actor and Actress, Lead Actor and Actress, Director, and Best Picture. Since, generally, the Oscars telecast is about 3:30-4 hours long, that means you should have one of those awards presented every 25-30 minutes of the telecast. Don't suddenly cram a bunch of the biggest awards into the last 30 minutes.
  • Clapping. Start each telecast with a statement to the audience to hold all applause until the END of the presentation. Often, the clapping drowns out what the presenter or pre-recorded piece is saying, or it shows obvious favoritism (one person gets hoots, hollers, and a lot of clapping; the next gets a polite smattering of applause). Also, if it is a live presentation, the clapping often causes the presenter to pause, adding to the overall time of the show. Just wait until they are done, clap the same amount for everyone, and then allow specific applause for the winner.
  • Closing. Have some sort of closing presentation, not too long (maybe 4 minutes) that wraps up and ends the show. Doesn't need to be another song and dance, but something that sums it all up and eases you back out of the show. The way last night just sort of had Ellen come on stage and say good night was a bit terse. People who get into it are still amped up over the show and need something to ease them down and out.