Friday, May 25, 2018

Field grade officers

I had a enlightening interaction with a field grade officer while I was in Alaska last week. Here's a quiz to see if you can think like one.

You're a field grade officer who has lent out the keys to your car to a lower ranking person who is staying in the same hotel as you. How do you get your keys back?
  1. Ask the front desk to call their room, and have them meet you someplace.
  2. Call the person directly (you have their number), and meet them at their room.
  3. Tell one of your subordinates to call the one with the keys, and have your subordinate instruct the person to bring the keys down to the lobby, where you are.
If you picked the most complicated answer because anything else would be beneath you, congratulations. You can think like a field grade officer.

If it's an ounce of work for you or a pound of work for others, always go with the latter.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"God willing"

If you're familiar with Middle Eastern culture, you'll have heard the phrase "Inshallah (إن شاء الله)," meaning "God willing." It's used in a variety of circumstances, but it's such a ubiquitous feature of the region that most people assume it's a strictly Muslim thing.

Yet the idea pre-dates Islam. It may come as a surprise, but the phrase "God willing" appears multiple time in English translations of the Bible. Sometimes it's "if God is willing," or "if God wills it," but the thinking is the same.

The New Living Translation uses "God willing" in three passages:
  1. Acts 18:21. "As he left, however, he said, 'I will come back later, God willing.' Then he set sail from Ephesus."
  2. Romans 1:10. "One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you."
  3. Hebrews 6:3. "And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding."
In the Arabic Easy-to-Read Bible, Acts 18:21 is rendered like this [I put "Inshallah" in bold]:
لَكِنَّهُ قالَ وَهُوَ يُغادِرُ: «إنْ شاءَ اللهُ سَأعُودُ إلَيكُمْ.» ثُمَّ أبحَرَ مِنْ مَدِينَةِ أفَسُسَ.

As for the other two passages, my Arabic's not good enough to understand how "God willing" is translated, but I think my point is substantiated.

The apostle Paul, knowing he had little control over the situations he found himself in, took action, but understood God would work things according to his own will.

Perhaps Islam has a better understanding or acceptance of this, but the idea is at least as old as Christianity's first century.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Supremely unhelpful

An elevator in Fairbanks, Alaska

Also, I'm trying to figure out when to pick this lime from my lime tree. Here's some advice I found online:
To determine whether a green lime is ripe enough for harvesting, gently twist one from the stem of the lime tree and cut it open. Harvest time is appropriate if the fruit is juicy inside; otherwise, you’ll have to wait a while longer. [Source]
No help at all....

Friday, May 11, 2018

Equal rights to cake

Just as in the U.S., bakers in the United Kingdom are being sued for refusing to create wedding cakes for gay couples. [Source]

"David Scoffield, lawyer for the bakery’s owners, argued Tuesday that the family should not be compelled to create a product "to which they have a genuine objection in conscience.'" In this case, a Bert and Ernie cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage."

"Scoffield told the court, 'The notion that Christians may exercise their faith on Sundays but forget about it when they step into work on Monday is not real freedom of religion and is not freedom of conscience.'"

Now, while I think it's disturbing to sexualize characters from a children's TV show, I disagree with the argument that freedom of religion allows refusal of service. In its structure, this is the same argument used to justify segregation and anti-miscegenation laws.

Defendants, nominally Christian, say that treating certain classes of people as equals is "against my religion," but no one dares to question the consistency of that religion.

For example, with regards to anti-miscegenation, people cite Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 7:3 or Nehemiah 13:26-28 to say there should be "no mixing of the races." My maternal grandmother subscribed to this line of thinking.

This group then ignores New Testament passages like Galatians 3:27-29, which wiped away those old distinctions. (Interestingly, it stresses this applies to "all of you who were baptized.")

So it is with bakery defendants in the United States. In California, Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe distinguished between cake sale and cake creation when ruling against an injunction on a local bakery, saying that the defendant in the case could object to the latter, but not the former. [Source]

As a legal position, this is a good middle ground. In other circumstances, a bakery owner can refuse hate speech they find objectionable, but they must at least sell the cake to anyone.

However, when considered as a Christianity issue, the bakery owner is incorrect. Consider what she said to the Bakersfield Californian, a local newspaper:
"I am very happy to serve everything from my cases to anybody," the bakery owner said. "But I cannot be a part of a celebration that goes against my lord and savior." [Source]
Conservatives (and I use this word rather than "Christians") will argue that the Bible is against gay marriage, and will cite passages such as 1 Timothy 1:9-11 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 to say Christians shouldn't have anything to do with gay marriage.

Perhaps, but I have yet to hear of a bakery owner who cites Matthew 5:31-32 in refusing to make a cake for someone's second marriage.

Nor have I heard of any bakery owners conducting investigations to ensure they don't make cakes for violators of Mark 7:20-23. Homosexuality may be a sin, but so is sexual immorality. What makes heterosexual immorality more acceptable to Christians than the homosexual sort?

In a word, well, either ignorance or hypocrisy. Either they don't know or they don't care. Take your pick.

The problem with treating the Bible (and by extension, Christianity) as a rulebook that applies to other people is that 1.) that makes no sense to non-Christians, and 2.) it also applies to oneself.

If at any point a Christian feels homosexuals don't deserve a wedding cake with their choice of lettering, they should consider this: perhaps not, but neither do we as Christians. Proverbs 18:22. Is there anyone who has been so blameless in their life that they can say they deserve what the Lord has given them?

It is true that there are people in this world who are dead in their sins, but the whole point of the Gospel (the "Good News," right?) is that they don't need to be. Colossians 2:13-15.

As Christians, we don't win by decrying celebrations "that go against [our] lord and savior." The win is when someone decides for themselves that living in accordance with the Good News is more important than anything else.

We don't get to that by insisting on our "rights" under secular law. Jesus knew that, and went the other direction. Philippians 2:5-8

We should do the same.

I'm still not fully comfortable with gay marriage. I probably never will be. But since when have matters of justice and fair treatment (the legal sorts) ever been about what makes white, heterosexual, middle class men comfortable?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

PULHES goes up

In the Army, you want to have a low PULHES score and a high physical fitness score. A 111111 means you have no physical limitations. If you have a "no running" profile, that raises the "(L)ower extremities to a "2." Anything with a "3" means you have to go through a medical evaluation board. [Source - full list of definitions]

I already have a "3" in (P)hysical Stamina due to multiple sclerosis, but today my (H)earing went up to "2" because of hearing loss in my right ear.

What's really strange is that there's no telling why. According to the audiologist, there's no problem with nerve conductivity in my cochlea.

That would mean there's a problem with mechanical conductivity, but there's no occlusion, damage to the eardrum, or mass behind the eardrum (according to a CT scan). And because it's been this way since 2016, there's no way I could have messed up the test by failing to push a few buttons.

The only way to get a better answer would be to cut open the eardrum in an exploratory surgery, look behind, and then stitch it back up and hope it heals.

Fortunately, the federal government does NOT do this sort of thing, which I am totally fine with.

It's a little bit of a bummer, but I can still distinguish words and hear the things I need to. Also, my left ear is still working fairly well, so there's no need for a hearing aid.

I suppose, if anything, it's just one more thing I can add to my list of stuff that's wrong with me for my veteran's disability rating.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

How to get rich off per diem

As an unpaid intern back in Shanghai in 2006, I kept my lunch expenses low with Tang and peanut butter sandwiches (filtered water was free at the office). One day, the deputy section chief walked past my desk and commented, "That's how you get rich on a government salary."

I have another tip for readers: how to get rich on Temporary Duty (TDY). This is where the Army sends you someplace and pays you a per diem while you're there. Recently, I went to Washington State for 12 days for an Army course, and managed to save a pretty good chunk of money.

First, determine how much per diem is. For Fort Lewis, you get $48 for the first and last days, and $64 ($59 for meals, $5 for incidental expenses) for every day in between. [Source] I arrived on a Sunday and left on a Friday, so that's 13 days total -- $800 even.

Second is how to skate by on next to nothing. For this, I picked a hotel that offers free breakfast and has both a microwave and a refrigerator in the room. And I brought my favorite fork and Tupperware container. At the commissary, I bought a carton of grape tomatoes, a bag of baby carrots, two bags of salad mix, a jar of olives, some salad dressing, and some pepperoncini peppers. The salad, carrots and tomatoes last four days; the olives and peppers lasted for the whole trip.

So for breakfast and dinner I ate at the hotel, and I went out only during lunch. By doing so, I was able to enjoy myself fairly well, save over $600, and still lose a pound or two.

I love TDY. It's almost like having a part-time job.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Operational Contract Support, Day 9

Today we went over Resource Management, how to be a Contracting Officer Representative, and the Contingency Acquisition Support Model (CASM) software. We also got to hear from the head of the local contracting office, a GS-15 who's worked in contracting for about 30 years.

We also took the end-of-course exam, which I did fairly well on. I missed four questions out of 30, which -- together with the first exam -- was about average for the rest of the class.

So with that, the course is done -- I completed the evaluation, got my certificate, and said "thank you" to the instructor. Tonight I'll get a good night's rest (I've come down with a bad cough) and then leave the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area tomorrow.