Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Harrison County (WV) Receives Prestigious FUGAWE Award

            In recent years, my county has undertaken a task that it should have left alone.  Harrison County, like all others in the state, is implementing a brand new location numbering system that will make emergency 911 response more efficient.  And like the typical government solution for a non-existent problem, it’s as screwed up as government employees can make it.

            Apparently, the old street numbers and rural route box numbers just weren’t adequate for the 911 response system.  Never mind that the mailman found the address.  Never mind that the TV cable guy found the address.  Never mind that the county tax assessor found the address.  Never mind that UPS and FedEx found the address.  Never mind that the utility companies used the old address as the service address.  It doesn’t matter.  The 911 people want their own unique system of house and building numbering.

            The public be damned.  We have to comply.  It’s homeland security, by God, and the SWAT teams and bomb squads don’t have time to read mailboxes.

            The county’s 911 mapping and numbering specialists are hunters—modern-day Nimrods if you will.  The pejorative term, Nimrod, attributed by some sources to Bugs Bunny’s describing Elmer Fudd’s prowess, also describes the 911-ers well. 

            I live on Davisson Run Road which, until now, began at its junction with US 19.  The Nimrods have held a mirror to the road map and reversed my road.  The Nimrods say that Davisson Run Road begins at its junction with US 50.

            The “US 50” they refer to is actually the third incarnation of US 50 which was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The intersection they refer to is actually the junction of Sun Valley Road with US 50, not Davisson Run Road.  Sun Valley Road (also called “old Route 50”) is the second incarnation of US 50 which was built in the 1940s.  Davisson Run Road turns off of Sun Valley Road about ¼ mile from the US 50 intersection.

            Under the old system, the postman began at US 19 and all the buildings on the right (north) side of Davisson Run Road were even-numbered.  The Nimrods have reversed that.  The north side is now the odd-numbered side of the road.

            I did live at 640 Davisson Run Road.  My new address is 2361 Davisson Run Road.  Why?  As it was explained to me, I live 2.36 miles from US 50 and the “1” designates the odd side of the road.

            The Nimrods could care less that I have to notify some 300 people and businesses that I have moved but really haven’t moved.  The Nimrods have the law of the land on their side.

            For the Nimrods, I want to give them a prize—the FUGAWE Award.

            The FUGAWE Award was invented by Col. Glover Johns, the U. S. commander who broke the Berlin blockade in 1961.  Col. Johns would, from time to time, hand out a FUGAWE Award to a junior officer who screwed up royally in a training exercise.  The story behind the name of the award goes like this:

            Prior to the attack on Gen. Custer at Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull gave all of his chiefs explicit instructions on how to attack the US cavalry.  The chiefs then went to their designated places to wait for the signal to attack.  When the signal came, one of the chiefs rode off in the wrong direction.  When he realized he was lost, he stopped and yelled as loud as he could, “Where in the fuck are we?’

            Back at the base camp, Sitting Bull heard only the faint echo of the chief’s cry: “Fugawe.”

            On behalf of myself and all the other peons in Harrison County, I offer the FUGAWE Award to the Harrison County Commissioners, the 911-ers, and any other deserving county employees.

            It’s our way of saying: “We know where we are.  Where in the fuck are you coming from?”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

If Not War, What Is It?

John and Theresa Heinz Kerrey at recent US Senate committee hearing-----

Sec. of State John Kerrey testified before his wife and the US Senate that launching missiles at Syria is not an act of war; therefore, a declaration of war by Congress is not necessary.  What Kerrey proposed is an "action."

As in: 

"A Syrian naval ship bombarded downtown Boston yesterday damaging buildings and killing civilians.  Secretary of State Kerrey called the attack an "action", not an act of war.  Therefore, Pres. Obama and Sec. Kerrey do not plan to ask Congress to declare war."

Sec. Kerrey plans to dress as Paul Revere and ride horseback through Boston screaming, "This is not war!" later today.

Mass. Gov Devaul Patrick will present the 'revered' former Senator and now Sec. of State with a ceremonial 'action light' [lantern].  The Boston Pops will play Beethoven's 1812 Overture for the ceremony.

President Obama's aunt and uncle will attend as representatives of Boston's illegal immigrant community as a show of solidarity behind the President's decision to avoid war.  Obama's aunt told reporters, "Little Barry didn't win that Peace Prize for nothing."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Ed Snowden", the movie

Movie treatment for Ed Snowden: Government Mole

Ed Snowden is introduced as a high school dropout--a loner who avoids social relationships.

Snowden joins Army to try and please his father, a career soldier, but is discharged after breaking his legs in a training accident.  This rejection further strengthens Snowden's loner behavior.

Snowden, like many of his kind and age, seeks a life in the artificial world of his computer where he further avoids personal contatcts and believes he can control his life and its outcomes.

He lands a job at CIA as a computer analyst, and then moves to NSA.  He soon finds he is allowed access to secretly-captured data.  As he progresses, he is promoted, and his security clearance is elevated to Top-Secret.

He soon realizes that access to secret data affords him the "cred" to impress others.  Though he has few friends, and most are computer nerds like him who have no social life, it still raises his self-importance in his own narrowly-defined world.

Each year, he finds himself needing to copy or download more secret data than he did the year before.  He becomes addicted to amassing data in the same way a bipolar person goes on shopping sprees--the need to buy, not the need for the goods.

As would be expected, the more data he hoards, the more paranoid be becomes.  He is sure his co-workers are watching him.  He believes the NSA is spyng on him the way it spies on others.  His paranoia starts to race, causing him to wonder when he will be caught infiltrating the NSA databank.

When he truly believes the NSA is onto him, he changes jobs to Booz Allen, the NSA consultant.  There he finds a relaxed security atmosphere.  He feels he can now download huge amounts of data without being discovered.

As his paranoia of being caught lessens, his paranoia takes a different form--he soon thinks of himself as a victim of government spying.  Hence, Snowden believes he must tell the world about the NSA spying on everybody. 

Snowden makes plans for escape and his 'whistleblowing' to a newspaper called "The Guardian."

Snowden escapes to Hong Kong and plans his exile.

He is approached by the Chinese.  He sells the data he has stolen.  He further works a deal with the Russians.  Snowden is unrepentant--he only sold the data (for far less than it was worth) to have money to live on for a few years.

All such movies have an unexpected development:

In this case, Snowden had downloaded a big secret that he did not realize.  The NSA spyware also allowed the NSA to track and follow money movements through ATM machines using a backdoor to the banking systems ATM network.  The big banks, which the US government holds great sway over since the 2008 collapse, had no choice but to allow the NSA into their network.

A Chinese computer nerd discovers the ATM backdoor, hacks the password, and finds he can further worm his way into the USA banking system.

One day, the Chinese take control of the ATM network and jam the US banks from transferring funds or making electronic deposits or payments.  The US economy completely shuts down causing total panic and upheaval in the USA.

For the sequel:  The Mole Rises

In a post-apocalyptic world, ..............

Friday, May 31, 2013

Blue Ribbon Commission Needs a Plan B

                In August 2012, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed members of the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.  He charged that commission with determining the needs of the state’s highway program and evaluating the means to pay for the plan. 

                Recently, the commission reported that the Division of Highways needs about $1 billion additional revenue per year to properly maintain and improve roads and highways.  As for paying for it, the commission suggested raising various taxes by $400 million annually, leaving a huge gap between needs and funds.

                Good grief!  Pippi Longstocking could have mailed that plan in.  I expected more from a blue ribbon commission.  

                Fellow West Virginians, we cannot afford an additional $1 billion in highways expenditures each year.  We can’t even afford an annual $400 million increase in taxes.

                Now if the Marcellus shale starts producing a trillion barrels of crude oil each year, that’s different.  But barring a fracking miracle, we’re still a poor state.

                The blue ribbon commission owed it to the governor to posit that there must be a fundamental change in our highway philosophy.  From top to bottom, we need to question every aspect of our highway program.  We need to examine costs.  We need to examine priorities.  And we must question even the hint of perpetuating the status quo.

                This commission could have given Gov. Tomblin support to go to the people and ask them: “Do you want salted roads in winter, or do you want potholes patched in the spring?  You can’t have both.”

                It’s that simple.  We cannot have everything we want.  

                When I say we need to question highway costs, I mean every cost.  If the Division of Highways spends $500 on paper clips each year, then we need to ask why the division can’t get by on half that amount.

                The Division of Highways might very answer that question with: “Paper clips save money.  Removing staples is labor intensive.”

                Fine.  The question still needs asked and answered.

                The Division of Highways needs to question every aspect of its contracting methods as well as contract plans and specifications. 

The Division of Highways needs to ride herd on design engineers to save money, not build monuments.  

The Division of Highways needs to examine each and every position on the organization chart with an eye on efficient operation, not employing the politically faithful.

There will be public hearings about this subject in the coming months.  If you go to one, ask the state what it’s willing to give up or change before you get mesmerized by doubletalk and open your wallets.  Ask for an accounting of the books.  Ask what you, the taxpayer, get for your present taxes.

It has long been said that when it comes to highways, West Virginia has champagne tastes and a beer bottle budget.  This attitude has brought us to the present dilemma.

When I was fourteen, I walked into Ed’s Package Store on Milford Street in Clarksburg and bought my first six pack of beer.  I picked Pabst Blue Ribbon because I thought it had to be the best.  Ever since, whenever I see the words “blue ribbon”, I go into a mild stupor reminiscent of my teenage years.

Pippi, do you have a Plan B?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Words Matter In Making Kids Smarter

    The average SAT verbal test score peaked in 1967 and has never recovered.  Yes, it is true.  Your college-bound son is dumber than his predecessor who drag-raced his Pontiac GTO on Saturday nights.  All of the excuses that have been made to rationalize lower SAT verbal scores have been debunked.

    Writing in the Winter 2013 issue of “City Journal”, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., a professor emeritus in education at the University of Virginia and the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, offers an explanation of lower SAT verbal scores in his essay, “A Wealth of Words.”  I recently read in the “Wall Street Journal” that UVA boasts an 87% four-year graduation rate.  Therefore, I take Dr. Hirsch’s remarks seriously.

     Dr. Hirsch’s philosophy is that a strong vocabulary is all important when it comes to learning and intelligence.  He also stresses that the way we teach students to build a vocabulary has changed for the worse over the past fifty years.  Hence, the dumbing-down that we can no longer rationalize, or worse, ignore.

    In my experience, I have noticed that the first vocabulary a child learns is dependent on the local vernacular.  If you were raised in West Virginia, you probably learned that the grassy strip between divided highway lanes is the medium.  The correct word is median.  West Virginians have generally referred to the road shoulder as the berm.  No matter where one lives, the local vernacular has a strong influence on children.

    Once in school, a child begins to learn the English vocabulary.  This is a necessary step.  We need to learn the English vocabulary and its proper usage if we hope to communicate with people who live outside of our

    And then, we learn the vocabulary of our trade or profession.  From jargon to technical terms, every vocation has a specialized vocabulary.  “Stuff” and “things” might get you by for a while, but your job demands that you know specific words for specific objects or tasks.

    A doctor once told me that he counseled an illiterate, male patient who was suffering from spinal meningitis.  The patient later told his wife and family that the doctor told him he had “shinin’ mighty Jesus.”  The patient almost certainly recovered because he believed Jesus had intervened!

    Dare I digress to remind you of the importance of a second opinion?  

    We are well into the digital age.  We have Google.  Most likely, a math-brained nerd invented “google” thinking he wrote “goggle”.  Goggle, a wide-eyed stare, is what the nerd thought.  But to the nerd, a word
requires no etymology or derivation.  In the math brain, a word is nothing more than binary code, a unique set of 1s and 0s.  Google was born a bastard and will live and die a bastard.

    As a nation, we have two full generations who are deficient in vocabulary.  What will our nation’s future be if we have three such generations?  The world won’t end, obviously.  But society will regress.  How far we regress and the severity of regression cannot be predicted.

    In the not too distant future, I see our dumbing-down affecting even the BBC—the stalwart purveyor of classical English drama.  As the demand for shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Upstairs, Downstairs” dissipates because viewers can no longer comprehend the dialogue, the BBC will most likely be privatized.  New programming will be attuned to the digital age, not to the past. 

    “Upstairs, Downstairs” will be re-made.  The upstairs people will text the downstairs people for all their needs instead of ringing bells, or orally communicating their whims to the butler.  The downstairs people, of
course, will serve the upstairs people.  The sequel will be called “The Dumbwaiter of the Baskervilles.”

    I have always believed that the English language is civilization’s greatest achievement.  There is nothing to compare to it because it builds on the best words from all languages.  The British Empire was not shy about
Anglicizing foreign words.  For example, anglicize comes from the Latin “anglici.”

    As well, I have always been fascinated with words.  My aunt Mary, an English teacher, gave me a collegiate dictionary in 1962.  It served me well—I took the SAT in 1967.  My dictionary, now 50 and held together with duct tape, still sits on my desk.

    With a great English vocabulary, you can fully enjoy intercourse.  With the digital texting vocabulary taking over society?  Well, that’s just masturbation.  Or words to that effect.

"A Wealth of Words", by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.:

Friday, March 1, 2013

West Virginia: Where All The Kids Really Are Above Average

Over the years, I have read the semi-annual postings of high school honor rolls with interest. Like you, perhaps, I look to see if anyone I know has made the grade. Occasionally, I notice clips about a local student making his or her college dean's list. It's nice to see youngsters doing so well.

But over the years, I have also noticed that the number of students making the honor roll or dean's list has increased far beyond a reasonable level. I define "reasonable" as being between one-in-eight (12.5 percent) and one-in-six (16.7 percent).

Before you criticize my stringency, consider that the education process is a game of skill. There is competition among students as well as competition against the machine — the memorization of empirical knowledge. The element of inter-student competition is critical to the learning process.

To determine a grade, we test the student. It's just like the game show Jeopardy — competition against the encyclopedia as well as between contestants.

As education is a game of skill, you have to look at the grading criteria with an oddsmaker's eye. What are the odds of a student making one A per semester? Then, what are the odds of a student making As in five disparate courses in one semester? The rules apply to Bs, Cs, and so on.

I have reviewed several high school honor roll lists and found that 45 percent to 50 percent of the students are making a 3.0 GPA or better. What are the odds that half the students in a given high school will make a 3.0 GPA?

This is easy to answer. Impossible. Unless you live in a fantasy world.

Years ago, I read about a West Virginia high school that had a dilemma. The school couldn't decide who to make class valedictorian because about a dozen graduating seniors had a perfect 4.0 GPA. I laughed, and I laughed. The school had a dilemma all right — a bunch of teachers and administrators who didn't realize the folly of their handing out easy As.

West Virginia students score poorly when compared to other American students in national tests. United States students are middle-of-the-pack average when compared to international students. Thus, we can imply that an honor roll student in West Virginia would most likely be an average student in Finland or one of the other five top-scoring nations.

Based on statistical analysis, the fact that half the student body makes the honor roll indicates that the curricula have been watered down. Based on anecdotal evidence, we have the examples of foreign exchange students who come here and find that they took all the advanced math and science courses that we offer to juniors and seniors by their sophomore years overseas.

I happen to believe that American kids are as smart as any kids on the planet. The fact that they have lousy test scores is the fault of the grown-ups. From top to bottom in the education hierarchy to home life and parenting, there is plenty of blame to go around. Unfortunately, the kids pay the price.

If you believe what you read in the newspapers, there is a movement afoot in West Virginia to reform the education system. Translation: The landscape will stay the same; turf battles will redistribute the goodies; our Hansels and Gretels will remain lost, just in a different part of the forest.

Before the powers that be reform the system, I would urge that they maintain the status quo. I look at the situation this way: In twenty more years, it is virtually guaranteed that nearly all of our public school teachers will be former high school honor roll graduates.

We're bound to have better schools if we stay the course. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if 80 percent of the student body in 2033 makes the honor roll.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bridge Designer Earns Fitting Tribute

In recent years, our state has named bridges for people. Personally, I would never want a bridge named for me. When bad things happen to a bridge, the name sticks. Forever.

Do you remember the Silver Bridge? Or how about "Galloping Gertie"? You wouldn't remember them if they did not have names.

I can see the news report about my named bridge. "The David G. Allen Bridge collapsed today as a result of corrosion of the suspension cables caused by years and years of bird dropping accumulation. Engineers for the West Virginia Division of Highways reported that they believe Mr. Allen's middle name is ‘Guano.' A spokesman for the division said, ‘We thought it was a gesture of honor to name a guano-covered bridge after Mr. David Guano Allen for his past service as assistant highway commissioner.'"

After all these years of naming bridges for people, the state has finally gotten it right.

Recently, the Goff Plaza Bridge in Clarksburg was re-named for the late John C. Giese. Mr. Giese was a civil engineer who designed some 600 highway bridges in West Virginia during his six-decade career.

There is only one drawback in naming a bridge for Mr. Giese. The bar has now been set about a mile higher than anyone else can jump. So who do you honor from this point forward? For that matter, how do you reconcile the selection criteria for past honorees once John Giese's reputation enters the mix?

John Giese designed the Goff Plaza Bridge in the early 1980s. The bridge is a tribute to John's engineering skill as well as his common sense. The Goff Plaza Bridge represents the best mix of form and function that I have ever seen. John Giese did not design bridges to flatter his ego. He designed bridges that were uncomplicated and cost-efficient to build.

The original Goff Plaza Bridge was a long span over Elk Creek and its flood plain. When John was asked to submit a design to replace the bridge, he did what no other modern engineer would do. He proposed shortening the new bridge by half and building an earthen fill and roadway to span the void.

It's much cheaper to build an earth fill than it is to build a concrete and steel bridge. By doing this, John saved the taxpayers some $500,000. Perhaps the savings were even more. But you get the picture.

Of course, it follows that John got a smaller paycheck for his work. Engineering design fees are based on a project's cost. But that was John. Over the years, he saved us millions of dollars.

For a design engineer, John Giese had a remarkable keenness for understanding the construction process. When he designed a foundation slab, he understood that the major cost in pouring concrete is the labor needed to build forms and tie the reinforcing steel bars.

I used to enjoy watching John critique another engineer's fancy footer plans. He usually drew a rectangle around the whole footer area and would say, "Build it this way." Yes, his plan required more concrete. But the cost of extra concrete was always less than building complicated forms. Besides, more concrete makes a stronger foundation. Which is, after all, the purpose of the foundation.

John Giese never designed the biggest bridge in West Virginia. Nor the longest. Nor did he design bridges that appear on postage stamps and quarters. He designed the most important bridges — the ones that get you to and from your home every day.

He designed a lot of the bridges that we take for granted. And we'll always be able to take them for granted as long as the highway department inspects and maintains them.

For the record, I was assistant highway commissioner when the John Charles Giese Memorial Bridge was built. And my middle name is not Guano.