Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Accelerating My Life...Not Today

I picked up the mail last night and there was an official looking letter sitting on top of the pile. Actually, the letter looked like many others that I have received, except the return address was D.O.N. That made it official enough for me.

I was hoping that the letter wouldn't be something that I didn't want to see, so it was with a little trepidation that I unsealed the letter. Turns out, it was an advertisement from the Navy.

The letter started off telling me that It takes more than a scholarship to turn a college experience into a remarkable success. (Their bold lettering, not mine)

The next bold lettering told me Plus potentially over $155,000 while you pursue your studies. It's the Navy Baccalaureate Degree Completion Program. (They really like bold lettering)

A generous military salary, food allowance, and housing allowance could total from $2,376 to $4,300 a month all paid to me, to spend how I want!!! With no military obligation until you graduate.

I had to laugh. I wasn't even laughing at the fact that they were pitching the position of an Ensign in the Navy to a retired enlisted dude. Well, maybe I was laughing at that part a little bit, but I know there are a lot of college students out there and that they don't check the background of everyone before they send out letters.

What really made me laugh is that I will graduate in five weeks. I imagine that the Navy saves a lot of money by only offering to pay for the last five weeks of a student's college education. While I don't expect them to know my background, it seems pretty foolish not to check that I am graduating this year. This part, I would expect them to check.

Anyway, the letter finished up telling me that I should shift my career into high gear and accelerate my life. Sorry, Navy. I think I am going to shift into neutral and coast for a few weeks, then start working at a more sedate pace, but thanks for the offer.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Khmer Rouge and The Killing Fields

Cambodia has convened a genocide tribunal and has started the trial of Kaing Guek Eav. He is also known as Duch. Duch was the commander of a prison where an estimated 16,000 people were tortured and brutalized before their deaths. Read the AP news article here.

I have done a fair amount of reading and have watched numerous documentaries about the atrocities committed by Nazi during World War II and The Holocaust. The reign of terror imposed on Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge did not kill as many people as The Holocaust, it was no less brutal and resulted in the deaths of 1.7 million people.

Perhaps the reason that this particular genocide has always had special meaning to me is because we had refugees from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia move into my town when I was in high school. At the time, my hometown consisted almost entirely of white families and Native American families. The addition of Asians was impossible to miss. I remember one guy from Laos that was 19 years old and spoke very little English. Some people laughed at him when he first came to our school because he was too old for the grade that he was in and didn't speak English very well. A few days after he arrived, he joined a gym class. In the shower, you could see scars from two bullet wounds on his back and a large scar from a knife across his chest. Nobody ever laughed at him for being different again. It was quite an eye-opener for a high school kid.

The 1984 movie, The Killing Fields, tells the story of a Cambodian reporter trapped in the country when the Khmer Rouge seized power and began to murder any Cambodian with education or foreign connections. If you have not seen this move, I would recommend that you watch it. This will give some context for the genocide tribunal that is now taking place in Cambodia.

I remember reading about Dith Pran, the reporter whose story is detailed in The Killing Fields last year. He had died of pancreatic cancer in New Jersey. What I didn't realize was that he had died precisely one year ago, on March 30, 2008. Fitting that the opening remarks of the trial of one of the butchers of the Khmer Rouge should start on the anniversary of Dith Pran's death.

If you really want to learn more about the genocide, I would also strongly recommend that you read the book "First They Killed My Father", by Loung Ung. I read this book a few years ago and thought it was amazing. It tells the tale of a five year old girl and her experiences during the genocide. Some of the stories that are in there are pretty heart-wrenching. The children were forced to become soldiers and kill adults that did not fit into the Khmer Rouge's mold of what a perfect citizen of Cambodia should be. There was another story about how guilty she felt for stealing a few grains of rice from her family because she was starving. Some pretty sad stuff in there. It was a pretty powerful book and, again, I strongly recommend this to everyone.

Hopefully, the tribunal in Cambodia will help to bring some closure to the survivors that have been permanently scarred by the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime. Justice is long overdue and I hope they find some measure of it in these trials.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New SecNav??

I just came across this AP article that says an ex-Mississippi governor will be nominated for Secretary of the Navy.
President Barack Obama will nominate former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus to be secretary of the Navy, a person familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press on Friday.
I have not personally heard of Gov. Mabus before. Guess I will be doing a little homework.

Graduation Fair

I will be finishing my last semester at Washington State University in about six weeks. We had a "Graduation Fair" here earlier this week. All of the graduating students received a notice telling us about the fair and we had to go there to order items such as caps and gowns. They will be renting caps and gowns from the bookstore starting next week, but I decided to get mine now while it is still early.

When I arrived, I was directed to stand in a line to check in with the registrar's office. I stood in line for about twenty minutes. When I got to the front of the line, they asked for my student ID number. They punched it into a computer and told me that I was good to go. The only thing that they were checking was that I had applied for graduation. The deadline for applying to graduate was several weeks ago, but they do allow late applications if you are willing to pay an extra $75 fine. None of the four students in front of me had applied yet and they were hit with the fine. They didn't seem too worried about it. I guess maybe they were spending Mom & Dad's money.

After they verified that I had applied to graduate, I got sent upstairs where there was a HUGE line. It stretched past several booths where they were asking for money. The first was for donations for the Senior Class Gift. I didn't really get this one. I guess we are all supposed to donate money so that a plaque with "WSU Class of 2009" engraved on it could be hung up somewhere on campus. I don't know. Maybe it was for something cool. In any case, I declined to contribute.

The next booth was for Jostens. I remember this company from my high school graduation days. They came to our high school to sell the students outrageously priced class rings then encouraged us to go door to door selling some cheap crap to our neighbors, friends, and families so that we could earn money to buy their class rings. Jostens was selling lots of stuff at the graduation fair. The first Jostens booth was selling class rings. I didn't even bother to look at the price. I never regretted not having a high school class ring and don't think it will bother me to miss out on a college class ring either.

The next Jostens booth was for graduation announcements. The girl that I went to the fair with purchased two orders of 25 announcements. It cost her about $180 for these fifty announcements. Wow!! Over three dollars each. Even custom printed announcements shouldn't be that expensive.

Next were diploma frames. Another Jostens booth. The diploma frames were $160 each, with a "free" cap and gown rental. I think I will go to Walmart for my frame.

I finally broke down at the last booth. This was where you actually rent the cap and gown. You can rent a cap and gown for $30. They even let you keep the cap and tassel as a permenant memento. I sprung for a souvenier tassel that was made using Crimson and Gray colors. That cost an extra $7. We don't get to wear those tassels, though. Nearly everyone has to wear a black tassel during the ceremony. I think that the Veterans Affairs office on campus will have red, white, and blue tassels available for veterans. I seem to remember that the veterans are allowed to wear the red, white, and blue tassels during graduation.

Anyway, the Graduation Fair turned out to be long lines where students were sold many overpriced items. I felt fortunate to walk out of there spending only about $37. Lots of students were getting swept up in the moment and buying lots of stuff. I guess I just don't get it. Maybe I would have been right there next to them twenty years ago, but now I think that I would rather keep dollars in my wallet. I suppose I will eventually buy a nice frame for my diploma, but I sure hope I can find a nice one for less than $160.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Uncomfortably Numb

I think that I am becoming numb to all the news coming out about AIG. This past weekend, I read about the bonuses that were going to be paid out. My first thought was that these bonuses were not necessarily large bonuses and that perhaps they were being paid out to a large number of regular employees, like secretaries and maybe that guy in the mailroom. When the news came out that a big chunk of these bonuses were over a million dollars and being paid to the clowns that are the backbone of the unit that was responsible for the multi-billion dollar losses, it didn't even phase me. No surprise whatsoever.

It kind of reminds me what I used to tell the guys in my division when they complained about getting a bad deal on the boat. I used to say that eventually, they would go numb. There isn't much difference between getting kicked in the nuts 100 times or getting kicked in the nuts 101 times. You just go numb. Even with the numbness that has set it, I really do wish that AIG would quit kicking the American taxpayer in the nuts.

Luckily, there are a lot of people out there that are still capable of being infuriated. When Senator Charles Grassley made the comment that these AIG executives should apologize or commit suicide, there wasn't much of a public outcry. I know that they wouldn't do that, because these guys at AIG have no shame at all.

The current CEO of AIG said that he finds some of these bonuses "distasteful" and that he shares the anger that many Americans feel. He also says that "Mistakes were made at AIG on a scale few could have ever imagined possible." I know these guys have contracts, but I think these contracts should have a clause that says "If you make mistakes on a scale that few could have ever imagined possible, you will not receive a seven-figure bonus."

The other news item that I have taken notice of is the wrong-headed idea that war veterans with private insurance should have that private insurance billed when they are injured fighting our wars. I have to say that Shinseki and Obama are just dead-wrong on this issue and I can't believe they have admitted that they were even considering it. I am very pleased with Senator Patty Murray, the senior senator from my state. She has already told Shinseki that this proposal would be DOA if it was sent to congress.

Since a lot of private health plans have deductibles and co-pays, it is putting a ridiculous burden on the soldiers wounded in defense of our nation to have to pay their own way for injuries sustained in the line of duty. The costs of treating these injuries would also count against the cap on the money the insurance companies pay out to a family, meaning that less money from the private insurance would be available if another family member developed a catastrophic medical condition. I suppose that they would have care available through Tri-Care, but if they are paying for private insurance, they should have the option to use that private health insurance in case Tri-Care is unwilling to foot the expense for a test or procedure. Hopefully, we will only hear one more thing about this proposal, and that will be an apology from Obama and Shinseki for even considering it.

Six Weeks Left

I only have six weeks of classes left until I graduate. I can't express how happy I will be to finish school and enter the work force. The workload has been pretty tough over the last few weeks, but I made it through and am currently on spring break. I have spent the first few days of break doing some spring cleaning in the apartment and catching up on some other things that have been pushed to the side in an effort to keep up in school.

I was having a chat with the department secretary a few weeks ago. The department secretary spent some time in the navy before she came to work at WSU and we frequently have chats about one thing or another. She was asking how everything was going and I confided in her that I was running out of steam and was ready to be done with school. She accused me of having a Short-Timer's Attitude. She's right.

I have been receiving letters from the Business School at WSU encouraging me to apply for graduate school. I don't know how many people get these letters, but I seem to be the only Chemical Engineering student receiving these invitations to apply. I don't really know why I have been singled out. I have pretty good grades, but not the best grades in the class, so I guess it isn't based solely on GPA. I haven't participated in any extra-curricular activities. I am kind of curious why they put my name on their apparently short list.

Anyway, the letters say that there is funding to accept five students into a program which results in a PhD through the business school. The funding is available for up to four years. It is geared towards engineers and actually sounds like a pretty good deal. There is a stipend available in exchange for teaching a few classes. It is actually more generous than the GI Bill. Some other benefits include a full tuition waiver, several scholarships to cover various fees and textbook expenses, expense paid travel to conventions, a free computer, and assistance in finding summer jobs. I am not really interested, but if I was ten or fifteen years younger, I guess it would be a great opportunity.

The last two years, virtually the entire class of graduating Chemical Engineering students had firm job offers in hand at this point in their final semester. This year, there are only three of us out of about twenty students that have a job lined up. Tough time to be graduating. A lot of my classmates are getting pretty anxious about finding employment. Hopefully, some companies will be making some offers soon, but the number of companies that have been attending our job fairs at the university has been down over the last year and the ones that do come are not looking to hire very many people. We did have a few engineers from some of the companies at Hanford on campus a few weeks ago. They are looking to hire several engineers, so there are some prospects out there. Unfortunately, I don't think many of the students here are interested in working there. Still, if it comes down to choosing between no job and a job at Hanford, interest may increase.

Monday, March 9, 2009

US Navy Ship Harrassed by Chinese

Update: 3/9/2009 3:48 pm: Here is another article with more details.

A United States ship operating in international waters in the South China Sea was harassed by several Chinese ships on Sunday. In this article, the United States ship is identified as the USS Impeccable. There is an article in Wikipedia about the USNS Impeccable which is an ocean surveillance ship. I suppose this is the ship they are referring to in the article.

The Pentagon says that the Chinese ships approached within 25 feet and that when the Impeccable asked them to clear a path so that they could leave the area, two of the Chinese vessels got directly in front of them and littered the path with pieces of wood. The article says that the Pentagon identified the Chinese vessels as a Navy intelligence ship, a bureau of maritime fisheries patrol vessel, a state oceanographic administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers.

I did get one laugh out of the article. When the crewmen of the Impeccable turned fire hoses on one of the Chinese vessels, the Chinese responded by stripping down to their underwear.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fallout for December Marine Jet Crash

You may remember the Marine jet that crashed into a house in San Diego last December. At the time, I had assumed that there was probably some sort of prohibition against flying a crippled aircraft over a highly populated area and that whatever happened to the jet happened while the pilot was already over this area.

Well, you know what they say about assuming things. Turns out that there was an alternative. Air control at North Island announced three times that the plane could land at North Island approaching over water rather than over a densely populated area. Several Marines were punished for this tragic error in judgment that resulted in four deaths when the jet crashed into the house.

Four officers at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego have been relieved of duty for directing the F/A-18D Hornet to fly over the residential area, the officials said. Nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands.

With his jet having engine problems, the pilot should have been told to fly over San Diego Bay and land at another base that sits on the tip of a peninsula, the officials said.

This incident was a terrible tragedy, costing a husband his wife, children, and mother-in-law. It is all the more tragic for having been preventable.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The High Price of Gasoline

Poor Juan Zamora filled up the tank on his Camaro. How much would you think it would cost? Did you guess $81,400,836,908? That is what was charged to his PayPal debit card. Eighty-one billion dollars. Guess there were a few misplaced ones and zeros on this electronic transaction.

The part of the story that really made me laugh was that he had difficulty trying to establish that it was not a legitimate charge. Technology is wonderful.