Friday, February 27, 2009

The Dover Ban - Why Everyone Still Gets It Wrong

Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the ban on media presence at the return of “transfer cases” containing the remains of US service personnel who have died overseas would be lifted. I offer my sincere appreciation for this proposed change in policy.

However, after studying the proposal (and the objections of groups such as Military Families United), I can’t help but be struck by how much misinformation exists about the return of our Soldier Dead.

First, “coffins” (as generally reported) are not coming back to the US. A coffin infers that the deceased is already identified and prepared for burial. Rather, the “transfer cases” containing the remains are nothing more than big ice chests.

(The picture of these transfer cases was taken by the author at the U.S. Army Morgue in Baghdad, Iraq)

Second, once the as yet not officially identified remains are received at Dover, they go through a meticulous identification process in a state-of-the-art facility that is the envy of the rest of the world. Military deaths are often a messy affair, and dedicated men and women work diligently to assure that each and every body part is associated with the appropriate service person who has given his or her life.

AFTER the remains are officially identified (Dr. Craig Mallak, Chief Medical Examiner for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, has stated that remains only have a tentative identification when they arrive at Dover), they are prepared for burial, which includes a full military dress uniform and the casket of the family’s choice.

What this means is that, at the time of arrival in the U.S., these fallen soldiers are the country’s unnamed emissaries who carry the nation’s sword and shield. As such, they belong to the country as a whole, not just to a particular family.

Therefore, to say that we leave the decision to the family about whether or not to have media present at the return of the dead gives a decision to a group that does not yet have an official claim on the dead.

Certainly, it doesn’t take much prescience to understand that, if we have a single death in Afghanistan AND a day later a plane shows up carrying these remains, it would be possible to say with confidence that a certain transfer case does, indeed, carry the remains of someone whose identity is clearly known.

And, if this fallen soldier’s family wants privacy from the beginning to the end, then there could be a potential conflict in satisfying this request.

To try to resolve any actual or potential conflicts in any situation, especially one in which the issues are subtle yet deep-rooted, it is necessary to have a thorough grasp of the theoretical basis of such issues.

In this case, that of allowing media presence at the repatriation of our Soldier Dead, it all boils down to the question: “To whom do the dead belong?”

I assert that the dead belong to both the family and to those they serve. This means that, until the dead receive formal identification and are officially handed over to the Next of Kin, they belong to each and every citizen of the United States, for it is on our behalf that they gave their lives.

As such, there will be those of us who agree that these men and women died for a worthy cause, and there will be those who disagree with this premise. Undoubtedly, some of those who disagree may attempt to use the formal recognition of the receipt of our dead to convey their disagreement.

And, undoubtedly, there will be those who agree with our call to arms who will, in their own way, use the receipt of our dead to support their position.

Dissension and the employment of images of our war dead for one reason or another is inevitable, and should be looked upon as a peculiar feature of our process for displaying and resolving conflict. It is part of our heritage and, as such, should not be squelched.

In conclusion, there is no pleasing everyone, but I would dare say that, while some families may feel that they have lost control of how their loved ones are portrayed, many more families will be comforted by the embrace of many millions who, heretofore, have been “banned” their chance to both offer and receive comfort.

Michael Sledge
author of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen

Kindle 2 - What Sleek Beast Slouches Toward Store Shelves?

I did it. I bought a Kindle 2. Yes, a battle has raged within and a victor has emerged. But, the battle between the electronic book and the paper book models of providing printed text to the reader is really only a side show to what Kindle 2 represents.

First, a quick review on Kindle. Kindle is Amazon's foray into the electronic book business. You order a sleek, light device that holds up to 1,500 books. (You can also download magazines and newspapers.) Its screen uses state-of-the-art "electronic ink" that is energized to show up much as liquid ink does. The readibility is marvelous.

You can order a book either through Amazon on through Kindle itself. The book is then, magically, sent to your Kindle through "Whispernet", which is Kindle's Sprint phone wireless service.

I won't go into all the features that Kindle provides in searching, marking, and noting, but I will say that such features, including the dictionary, are a great aid to readers/researchers.

It is the use of the Whispernet where Kindle's real power lies. It won't be long before you can Google Search on Kindle, or, better yet for Amazon, pull up Amazon's site and order from it...that is, order items other than books!

Undoubtedly, you will also soon be able to buy an accessory keyboard and, thus, obviate the need to lug your laptop around for quick trips to the coffeeshop.

Kindle has the potential to reach far beyond the providing of books and newspapers. It represents a potentiality to provide the "information user" with a new tool that will supplant one or more (how long before you can "talk" on Kindle as though it were a cellphone?) of your electronic devices.

The King is dead...long live the King.

Mike Sledge

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nerd’s Revenge – Gaston in Beauty and the Beast

Or: Oh, The Power In The Hands Of Those Wielding The Pen

Recently, while baby-sitting one of my granddaughters, I watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. We all have seen it more than once and are quite familiar with the tale, but this time I was really caught up with the fun the writer(s) must have had when doing Gaston, the thick-headed, dull-witted, egotistical, narcissistic, and bicep-bound bully who insisted on marrying Belle, despite her obvious objections.

Why did Gaston want Belle, when he could have had any of the other “bimbettes” in the film in a moment’s notice? Because she was “the best” and didn’t Gaston “…deserve the best?”

There was never a worse mismatch: Gaston loved to hunt, Belle loved the animals; Gaston hated reading (“How can you read this? There’s no pictures!”) LOL!

And imagine Belle’s disgust when Gaston described how she could look forward to fulfilling her dream by marrying him, bearing him many “…strapping boys…like me!” and could dote on him, massaging his feet (his toes sticking through holes in the socks, mind you!). I’m sure sex with him would have been a mutually satisfying experience, an image that the writers at that time could only intimate.

Yes, the scriptwriters missed little. One can only imagine them thinking, “How can I make this guy more of a jerk?” One can also only imagine that the writers had had sand kicked in their face at the beach, or had taken note of who dated whom in high school and college back in the days when “men were men”.

Of course, a Gaston can’t exist without an adoring crowd of inadequate men willing to pump up the ego of their hero so they can live vicariously through his exploits. As Gaston is the “paragon” of strength, the fawning Lefou is the epitome of a member of the support system such a mindless brute requires. During one scene, in which Gaston’s minions cheer him up after an ignoble rejection by Belle, Lefou says, “Gaston is the best and the rest is all drips!”

The writers, of course, know how the game is played, and have both Gaston and Lefou intone, “No one plots like Gaston, takes cheap shots like Gaston.”

One could say that Gaston does have a redeeming moment at the end when he exhorts the Beast to fight him, but his challenge is really an empty one for two reasons: 1) the Beast is clearly dejected, and 2) Gaston knows that he will be extolled as sone worthy of extending his gene pool if he fights a worthy opponent.

However, Gaston’s veneered request for a good fight is peeled away when he stabs the Beast in the back.

Yes, the Disney writers certainly had a great deal of fun, undoubtedly drawing upon their own and shared experiences with men of muscle, and those around these pillars of brawn.

Mike Sledge

Monday, February 16, 2009

Shot To Death - Twice

You can never tell when you will learn something new. Yesterday, our local news anchor was reporting on a tragic post-Valentine's Day murder/suicide. She said, "...[the woman] was shot dead...twice."

I'm going, like, Oh, this is interesting...the victim was eithCheck Spellinger a vampire or a zombie: dead once, came to life again (so to speak) and then killed again.

The murderer, after killing his girlfriend twice then turned the gun on himself. I guess that, now dead, he can come back to life and then be tried for murder.

Which begs the question: Which killing of his girlfriend would he be tried for? The first or the second? Could he be tried twice? Probably not, given double jeopardy law.

At least, if given the death penalty, he would be executed only once since, after all, he had already taken his own life once.

But, if politicians, actors, and even A-Rod can resurrect themselves from a celebrity death (usually death by stupidity) I guess it's not too much to expect a physical resurrection of ordinary folks.

Of course, what I'd really love to see is a resurrection of command of the English language.

Mike Sledge

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Know Where Fat Comes From

I have no doubt that this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine will go to some significant advancement in treating adult hypertension that comes from raising children. Likewise, an eminent scientist who has determined why you only get flat tires in the rain will receive the physics award.

Eventually, though, I feel that all due recognition will be given to my interdisciplinary discovery concerning fat: I have discovered where fat comes from.

This discovery, which I have named the “Unified Fat Theory” or “UFT”* for short, states that: “Fat cannot be created nor destroyed.”

Like all important theories, the UFT was postulated from observation. I noticed that when I reached 35, all of a sudden this extra inch was hung around my middle. Since I had not changed any eating or exercise habits, this fat had to come from some place.

Upon talking with my wife, I found out that the same had happened to her, and to my friends, and to her friends. Since they, too, had made no major life style change, then this fat had its origins elsewhere.

From this basic Unified Fat Theory concerning the stability of fat in the universe, there are several corollaries. First, since fat cannot be created nor destroyed, yet we all gain and lose weight, then it follows that fat only moves to and from a “fat bank” into which lost fat is deposited and from which fat is withdrawn, and that the books must always balance.

For instance, when you reach a certain age, there is an automatic draft upon that fat bank with a corresponding deposit to your account (hips, legs, stomach). After you age, or lose weight through disease, the fat is redeposited to this bank.

Second, fat does not have to be deposited directly to that account. It can, instead, be transferred from one person to another.

Third, the likelihood of fat being deposited to your account from another person who is losing weight is directly related to your proximity to that someone. If you take an office of five women, one of whom decides to go on a diet, woe to the other four, because they are bound to gain what the dieter loses.

Fourth, fat attracts fat. Once you start gaining some extra pounds, you are likely to gain even more.

Lastly, up to a certain point, fat likes age. The older you are, the more likely you are to gain weight.

I believe that there is a “fat” bug which is a carrier of this fat. This fits in very nicely with the corollaries above. One bug always attracts more. An ailment spread by bugs is more likely to infect those in close surroundings. Older people have lower resistance than younger ones, and are thus more susceptible to infection.

Somehow, these bugs are run though the fat bank system, are loaded up with fat, and then later unburden themselves on some poor, hapless soul.

In conclusion, I feel it vital that we turn our attention to the Unified Fat Theory and attempt to develop means by which we can delay or, even better, defeat the mechanism of transference of fat, and I will be happy to volunteer some of my buddies at the downtown Y for experimentation.

Mike Sledge

*This UFT is not to be confused or conflated with the more common use of UFT in physics: Unified Field Theory

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Misunderstanding X-Ys

A few years ago my daughter and I were riding in a car (important fact because of road/wind noise) and I said, "Men do funny things because of their X-Ys." And Jes replied, "Men do funny things because of their ex-wives?"

Yeah, that too!

Mike Sledge

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The American Way of Looking (Appearance, that is)

Jessica Mitford’s 1963 The American Way of Death was a startling expose of the funeral industry in America. Like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, it led to Congressional investigations and, ultimately, more regulation over an industry whose members—from funeral home directors to real estate developers—habitually squeezed the last bit of profit out of a transaction that was rooted in the grief of bereaved family members.

I’m sure the Ms. Mitford would roll over in her grave—actually, she can’t because she chose cremation at the cost of less than $500—if she knew the latest trend of ridiculousness and insanity that had permeated the funeral business: plastic surgery on the dead. However, this trend (we can only hope it is only a fad) owes its promulgation not to the somber men in dark suits who knowingly pronounce that “Momma would love this engraved, pearl-coat upscale model” casket, but to the vanity of the living.

I guess it just had to be this way...after all, vanity plastic surgery has increased faster than the rate at which Obama nominees begin paying “overlooked back taxes”. To be sure, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that right at 350,000 women had breast augmentation in 2007. This is up 60% from 2000. What? We’ve got 60% more women in only seven years?

Imagine the entire population of the city of St. Louis, MO going out of their homes and standing on the curb. Now, imagine each of those persons to be a woman with a newly-enhanced bust line. That’s 350,000. Instead of having a single silver arch as the Gateway to the West, there would be a double arch side by side, showing where America cleaved.

For a less-invasive procedure, botox was done over 4.6 million times in 2007, half of which were by Patrick Swayze. (Oh, wait, that was an overstretched face job he had.)

Statistics are still being gathered on post-mortem plastic surgery as to quantity and cost, but I would rather imagine that plastic surgery medical classes would give a BIG discount, since there’s no worry of a student screwing up and killing the patient.

It is obvious that we care what we look like, even if “we” are no longer “we”. And, since we all can’t have Beowulf’s funeral pyre and a mound set upon a headland as a guide for sailors, we can at least anticipate people saying, “Oh, but doesn’t she look so good.”

Mike Sledge

A beside:
If one does elect for post-mortem perky boobs and also plans for a cremation, then the procedure would have to be done in reverse: gels leave a mess on the floor of the crematorium!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

If Your Dog Poops In The Dark....

Do you have to clean it up?

While walking my dogs early one morning—way before the sun came up and certainly way before I really wanted to don clothes and grab leashes and poop bags—I thought: “Do I really have to pick this up? No one has seen it.”

Such existential thoughts as this have plagued minds since the first cavemen wondered: “Do I have to adhere to the practice of ‘Leave No Trace’ since future archaeologists will be dependent upon my making a mess?”

Perhaps the most famous question along this line is: “If a tree falls…?” This philosophical question quickly leads to many other paths, such as “If something is not observed, did it really happen?” Certainly, our recent political leaders have given us their variations of this theme, while, of course, providing their own answers: “If no weapons of mass destruction were found, the world is still a safer place.”, and, “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

My favorite theorem on observation and existence is the “observer effect” (often conflated with the “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics) which states that the act of observation affects the position/existence of the thing observed. A good example of this would be the person who cheats on his or her spouse, and says, “This didn’t happen”…presumably because the infidelity act was unknown (unobserved) by said person’s spouse.

I, though, prefer to conclude that the observer effect means that if it was dark enough for no one to see me when my dog poops, then that pile of poo simply does not exist.

However, try as I might to rationalize, using Presidential examples and up-to-date physics theorems, Descartes pulls me back to reality and I think, “It smells therefore it exists.”

And if I/we make a mess, we must clean it up.

Mike Sledge