Friday, January 20, 2012

Glitz, Glamor, Salt, Reasonable Profits Board

Hot topic around the Academy, SONY is making a picture about the "Maersk Alabama", the ship which in April 2009 was taken by pirates in the Mediterranean. Several midshipmen from the USMMA found out about the casting call in New York directed to "all merchant mariners". Although sea time (which the USMMA upperclassmen have) is recommended, at least two Plebes have been pre-screened and approved for the casting call. Word came through the vine that one of the directors wanted USMMA midshipmen participation in the casting. Although midshipmen from the USMMA and cadets from the other Maritime Academies regularly sail on US-flagged ships, including the Maersk Alabama, I'm not sure if any cadets were on board the ship at the time. SONY is casting mariners for authenticity (can you make a Hollywood actor look salty?), and their ability to provide knowledge to the filming crew and star actors, Tom Hanks included. Filming will be in Morocco this Spring.

Midshipmen who have received call-backs from the casting agent will get a long weekend to go to the casting call, and have a little time to relax in the City.

A link to the announcement of the casting call sent to the Alumni Foundation, which trickled down to midshipmen in 4th Company:

And an USMMA grad's take on being selected as a prime candidate for the role of 2nd Mate for the casting call:

It seems like the movie industry has come a long way in attentiveness to settings since they regularly featured skyscrapers in downtown DC (non-existent). Don't have a list of those movies which commit that venial sin, but Seth MacFarlene's cartoon sitcom "American Dad", based in Langley, VA, shows silhouettes of skyscrapers in rooftop scenes downtown.

And a little talk:
There's a soundbite going around Facebook about six members of Congress wanting to set up a presidential-appointed "reasonable profits board" for oil and gas companies to determine a reasonable profit, and tax everything- up to a rate of 100%- above that amount. Sounds like an FDR Plan from 1942. It seems as if the disbelief is aimed towards the "reasonable profits" quote, not the concept of having companies pay taxes on oil extracted (or shrinking R+D and "depletion" tax benefits).
With loosening of total state control over business, Cubans are embracing the capitalist spirit.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Gentle Slide Towards Recognition

A Happy New Year to our readers!

Draft: Editing not complete.

I was at my desk yesterday cleaning out and reorganizing folders I use for class when three firstclassmen midshipmen officers entered the room, talking. I shot up to attention, before being put at ease so that I could continue on with my business. The two were talking about rearranging the standard arrangement of room furniture for third- and fourth-class rooms, and were going to give their recommendations to the higher-ups- the commissioned officers. They were just chatting to each other; the people who look at plebes with stern faces and tell us to "get on our face"- do pushups- were concerned with finer details like room design. It was easiest to use a plebe's room, since there would be less items lying around on top of the drawers in the room. Ideally, there would be nothing on top pf the drawer or dresser in a plebe room.

Wondering whether two drawers that looked the same size were actually the same size, they measured my roommate's drawer under the desk, and the one inside the wardrobe. They were not the same size; one is two nches deeper than the other. They tried moving the dresser from in front of the window to under the desk, beside the already-present drawer. In moving the dresser, they uncovered alternative bedding- a sleeping bag. "He's got to hide that better", remarked the Company Commander. (Only firstclassmen are authorized to leave out unauthorized bedding during the day).

If they had heard what sounds like cans moving around inside a drawer (the one under the desk is a personal drawer), they might have instincitvely asked:
"What's that rolling around in there?" They know what plebes keep in personal drawers, in addition to leisure reading material, office supplies, extra uniform supplies, and socks and shirts folded the way laundry service folds- rather than the "proper" way: there might be snacks, Red Bull, bottled Frappucinos, headphones, "civilian" clothes.

A plebe's collection of food and snacks grow soon after the end of Indoc: it starts off with Power Bars and Gatorade (less sugary than the drink staple Powerade served in Delano!) The belief that health and wellness checks (the only time personal drawers can get inspected) will result in Class Twos being issued (up to six weeeks of restriction for "Failure to Comply with Direct Order" to follow the Plebe rules) keeps a plebe from keeping even those "unauthorized" granola bars in his or her room. If a package with food comes in the mail, it is to be handed over to the guardianship of the MIDN Company Training Officer, the firstclassman who deals with plebes specifically. The CTO gets tired of playing rationeer with the grub, and hands the responsibility of being custodian of plebe grub to "team leaders", thirdclassmen who were just plebes a few months back themselves. They know the real deal: keep it in a personal drawer.

There is that first liberty, and the plebe might come back with some grub. If you can't share it all, keep it. There hasn't been a health and wellness check yet. Then Cookie Cafe starts up, and the mothers who run the close-to-weekly cookie event insist "I couldn't bear to tell (Johnny's) mother that I couldn't take some to go". What a good alibi for being found with cookies in your drawer! Oh-- and if you want to eat the grub, you better wait til you can close your door at 10pm.

But in fact, it took a certain plebe two trips (that were observed by midshipmen officers) to the NEX to buy unauthorized food and drink in a boiler suit, with buttons popped, before being put on the mast list (the list that tells you that you need to see the Company Officer to explain yourself). It was then we learned that having unauthoried food and gear in our personal drawers wasn't such a crime.
By November, Plebes are participating in team sports and other activities in full swing; and sometimes it's just not possible to make it to breakfast or dinner. Enter food and vending privileges. These are also doled out as payment or reward to Plebes who give up an hour or two to do something for the Regiment, such as helping set up or take down table or counting pushups for the Fitness Test. Upperclassmen also take classes too, and are worried more about their own GPA than whether or not that bag of chips you have on your desk was authorized or not.

But then, what is a health and wellness check, and do they ever happen?
Yesterday, one company had a health and wellness check. 4th Company, but in time, all the companies should be checked. Although most rooms would undoubtedly pass without problem, there are possibly life-altering consequences (it's that serious) if something is found. By something we are not talking about Twinkies or even tobacco, but liquor mostly- and evidence of illegal substances. With the only penalty possible being instant expulsion, you've got to be moronic to even consider using that stuff: this sentiment rings through the Regiment. But liquor-- it appears on Midshipmen spirit T-Shirts, is use is humorized in morale emails, and, by George, the upperclassmen even drink it (in moderation) on liberty! What if a midshipman actually had a bottle of the real thing wrapped in a shower towel?

Because possibly ending someone's career isn't a laughing matter, the search has got to be done "right". Two Company Officers, and a series of high-ranking midshimen officers, proceeded through the main deck of the Regiment (transiting via companies except through zero deck- the basement level- is not permitted by underclassmen) towards the company that was getting inspected. Turns out, the COs only looked into firstclassmen rooms. In their minds, perhaps, the firstclassmen should be the ones to set an example for the plebes. For plebes, it is a good feeling that our police are policed.

Being 21 or not is irrelevant on campus*: no midshipman is permitted to have a hard drink on campus, unless you're a firstclassman at the pub or a formal event in the Officers' Club. Being under 21 just gives the investigating CO a few more words to say to the penitent. Interestingly, although plebes are more likely to get written up for having that stuff on campus, the first class has the most to lose: commissions have been lost to bad choices. If any midshipman needs to act like an officer, it is the first class. And they have the privelege of going out any day of the week, unlike the rest of us! There is more understanding of a Plebe making that kind of mistake: Ocassionally, a plebe does become curious about "that kind of thing"--in uniform. Often, they are good kids who never even got close to the cooler in high school, but New York presented too big a temptation. Make that mistake early, do the time- Class I for bringing discredit upon the Academy- (6 to 12 weeks restriction, plus up to 100 Extra Duty- community service- hours), and don't do it again. That was your one chance for exploring bacchannalism, by the way.

I'll note it here that CO's "pick on" second and firstclassmen the way that firstclassmen have plebes. To CO's, it seems, all eyes are already on Plebes, and thirdclassmen are already accountable for the actions of two plebes at any given time.

So keeping that sparkling water in my personal drawer on the down-low, I trudge on as a plebe looking forward to that Recognition day--probably before May- that we win, for almost finitude, some upperclass priveleges.

*Maybe at many colleges it's only enforced in Freshman dorms, but, having lived in a class rates environment, I find it hard to understand the rational of hard drink privileges in the dorm set merely by being 21 (State colleges usually have that requirement for on-campus dorms), rather than setting it as a class privelege- say, a Sophomore- or Junior- year onset privelege. RA's at some colleges have floor maps showing which rooms are "wet rooms" and which ones are not- some require both roommates to be 21, some do noe. One of my high school classmates happens to live in a "wet room"- though his roommate is 21, he is an observant Muslim, and doesn't associate- buy, sell, or drink- with that stuff. On that note, I don't even see the need to allow that stuff in the dormitory. Allowing it just encourages its use; no need to mention how trying to age-restrict in the dorms is a complete joke: a closed door, no loud music, and a less-than-nosy RA is all it takes to "express one's adulthood" by chugging away in a less-than-mature manner.