Archive | August 2013

CIA has no intelligence on me

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I have pulled out the Dom Peringnon and dusted off the tuxedo for a celebration, for I have NO Central Intelligence Agency file.

The past few weeks the plight of Ed Snowden, either the most brilliant guy to have a stripper or dancer or acrobat or actress as a girlfriend or the most vile traitor since Benedict Arnold depending on which poll you wrap your legs … beliefs around, has inspired me to finally find out what the Federal G has collected on me – Shelby G. Spires, aerospace writer for 20 years and a person who has been on many a secure federal installation.

So far  – zilch. As the letter below gets around to saying at the end of the first graph, but continues to call me a boob if I want to repeat a search on me for something that may or may not exist.

The CIA has nothing on me. If they did and it were classified then they would have to tell me. Pretty much the same thing the National Security Agency said and The Pentagon.

The U.S. Marshall’s service cut the difference and told me I didn’t fill out the form properly, and the FBI seems to split hairs about what constitutes a file and a “wrap sheet.”

Just to show me how they are right, good and proper about NOT having found anything, I got another USG fact sheet, this one specific to the CIA, telling me all of the legal reasons why they don’t have to dip too far into their records for a stupid jerk like myself. Well, OK … thanks.

Geez, I don’t know whether to feel good about anonymity, depressed or just wonder, vainly it would seem for a long time, that the super special top secret room has a file on me.

Actually, I kinda figured this would all turn up nothing but a few blog posts, although I still await my NSA appeal process to play itself out. I have filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests over the years as a military and aerospace writer, but never one as Joe Shelby.

And you know what, it felt good to be Joe Shelby. One hell of a lot better than John Q. Shelby, I can vouch for that. And sometimes, years and years later a FOIA request can turn up some interesting stuff, such as this one, which shows a lot of stuff about a CIA sculpture named Kryptos the NSA busted the code on a decade ago. Those guys … so lovable and fun at heart.

I also have the deepest respect for the CIA, not so much for their might or unsung, Jack Ryan-esque victories, but because their mailroom KNOWS how to send out a letter that will not be tampered with. Good on ya, brothers and sisters from Langley:
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The Colonel …

 

 

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Space … the final cash receipts

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I covered the U.S. and international space program for a decade, 2000-2010, along with aerospace programs like missile defense and rocket development.

Often I get asked questions like “Why did NASA get rid of the space shuttle?” … They didn’t Congress and the Bush White House stopped that program. “Why don’t they (NASA) build something else?” NASA, aerospace engineers, every kid in the third grade, wants to build new launch vehicles – read rockets – but ROCKETS COST GOBS OF CASH, and the U.S. Congress only likes to spend GOBS OF CASH killing people or putting them in jail or bailing out mismanaged banks.

I recently wrote this to a friend of mine when he asked, maybe it will help anybody out there who has similar questions.

“It is not NASA that doesn’t want to replace a launch system, ie the space shuttle. It is Congress that approves a five year or decade long plan, only to modify or stop it three years later.
There were several programs started to replace the shuttle. (In 2002) The Orbital Space Plane was going to be a smaller version of the shuttle, and was based on about three decades of NASA and aerospace industry research. 
In 2005, the Bush Administration and Congress stop work on the Orbital Space Plane
(after billions were already spent) and approved the Orion spacecraft, then intended to be a six person space vehicle, and the Ares rocket system (both since cancelled, restarted and heavily modified) were intended to be the replacements.
The Ares rockets were a two part launch system – ie two separate rockets, the Ares I and the Ares V. Ares I was to launch the capsule with the people who would orbit Earth. The Ares V would loft huge amounts of payload along with another fueled stage that the Orion capsule would link up with in Earth orbit and then use the fueled stage to blast it to the moon, Mars, Jupiter or points in between.
Projected costs were very expensive — projected (by some) close to $1 TRILLION DOLLARS over a decade and a half to go back to the moon — and Congress (read their 20 something year old aides) took the knife to the bits they did not understand. This pretty much ended the return to the moon and sent Ares into a development spiral of changing missions, which change the systems which added costs. 
There just isn’t enough support in the 50 states of the union to understand/care about what NASA wants to do. NASA had solid support in the 10 states that it has centers in and where aerospace work is done. Generally states with a large military presence, mostly the South and the West, will support NASA because they think it is still a space race with the Russians (now our partners in the International Space Station) or the Chinese.
Most people are woefully ignorant of what aerospace provides in terms of research – especially medical research. They think it was all Tang and Velcro, two products that predate NASA by years (Tang) and decades (Velcro).
Now, the Obama White House wants a private shuttle type program for crew to station. This has its ups and downs. Generally private companies don’t have the safety standards and tend to cut corners when it comes to safety. With the world watching, a private spacecraft tragedy would set human spaceflight back decades.
When focused, NASA has a great safety records. They lost two crews in 30 years over 134 shuttle launches. I don’t think a private company could repeat that. However, it is private contractor companies who run NASA launch systems. The Federal Government tends to add weight to any consequences that may come from an accident.
Funny enough, Sierra Nevada, a private aerospace company, wants to build the DreamChaser spacecraft (the winged vehicle in the photo with this reply). It is based on a NASA design from some two decades ago that the Japanese Space Agency took and improved but scrapped due to costs.
In short, to answer your question: NASA, aerospace companies and other nations want to build new spacecraft, but they cost A LOT OF MONEY because they are basically handbuilt. There is no Ford Motor Company for spaceships. That is what happened to the space shuttle – it COST TOO MUCH MONEY – and was a lightening rod for those who do not care or do not understand the benefits of space exploration. “

And the Multi-billion dollar of right turn rocket development continues on … but the view graph cartoons get better.

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(NASA’s John Houbolt explains the critical weight-saving advantage of the LOR scheme. Because the lunar excursion vehicle (“L.E.V.”) in Houbolt’s plan weighed only 19,320 pounds, compared to 82,700 pounds for the lander required for direct ascent or EOR, the total weight that must be boosted to earth escape could be reduced by more than half using LOR. L-62-5849)

Suck it Tea Party nerds … I get free (State sponsored) weather info

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It has rained every day on my home, for the past several months. The ground is starting to develop a business plan for selling bottled water. 

Every

Day

It

R A I N S 

People always say, well mostly people who have to find a reason to talk say, “Well, WE need the rain.”

I never understood that until a year or so ago, but I remembered how I once passed the time at my grandparents house by reading “The Farmer’s Almanac.” Loads of stats there on things like rainfall, moon phases and why women cannot get off the phone with their sisters after you tell them her sister wore a pretty dress at dinner that night.

That last one wasn’t in there.

Anyway, there was a serious rain deficit since 2010 here in Middle Georgia. The yard was starting to turn brown, and big patches of dirt were showing up. I didn’t want the dust bowl to swirl around my Mustang, and I started to worry last September or October.  

Now, being a writer/reporter/editor, over the years, I have written/read/assigned/edited my fair (and not so fair) share of weather stories.

Mostly these revolve around three weather events:

  • It hasn’t rained. 
  • When is it going to stop raining.
  • OH DEAR GOD IT IS GOING TO SNOW AND I HAVE NO BREAD AND MILK!

But, also, two-plus decades of award winning journalistic experience taught me at least one valuable lesson – HOW to get free stuff or use taxpayer services. 

So, I called the extension service here, (actual name University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service) which is really just one guy that was happy to get out of the office, to come out and tell me why my lawn looked dead and what could I do to keep the dust bowl away. 

He told me several things. I had to aerate the lawn, which boils down to poking holes in it.  I needed to put sand on the grass to build it up and keep the weeds down. Top of all, I just needed to fertilize it. 

I nodded, nodded and nodded some more and took notes in my reporter’s notebook and reviewed in my mind how I just hate grass. 

Of course, the Extension Agent cost me nothing to give his advice. I had somebody aerate the lawn, threw the sand advice out the window and paid somebody to fertilize the ground. 

Then the rains came. 

And came. 

And they CAME. 

They are still coming, and in the process I have become my Grandfather. 

Everyday I have gotten into the habit of checking a taxpayer supported website for my rainfall information needs – http://www.georgiaweather.net/ … and it was great. I could in a moment find the amount of rainfall to date (like 55 inches plus so far … way up from the 27 or so inches this time last year … and insanely much more than the 19 or so inches this time last year) or the amount of water retained in the ground – called the water balance and really the most important figure. All sorts of great info on the weather … 

And then the free ride stopped. Something happened to the weather station. UGA tells me they have alerted – get this – “the phone company about the lines that run to it.”

WTF … TPC … THE PHONE COMPANY. What can they do about it? I need my rain info, dudes. 

Personally, I think a Tea Party nut went down there and let go with a 12 gauge at the complicated, government run, tax payer funded weather station. 

Something is up. It has been 36 hours and I cannot get my weather stats. The National Weather Service isn’t that accurate, and frankly Weather.com sucks. 

Listen, I didn’t pay state taxes all those years to not be able to have rain info piped into me in a flash. GET ON THIS UGA. 

The fact is … Network TV is jacked

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Every year I look forward to the new shows on the Fall line up … and for the last 13 years or so, I have been way disappointed.

Just never bought into the “reality” of television since 2000, and I realize Shelby G. Spires is in a demographic all his own, and like so many evangelists and preachers before them, the soap sellers cannot reach me.

NBC is bringing Dracula back to life for its Fall 2013 schedule, and Fox has Sleepy Hollow about a “headless man who believes he is one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.”

Robert Greenblatt, current chairman of NBC Entertainment, is no Jack Donaghy. He must have been a blast at the Broadcasters convention last spring when the pilots are shown to advertisers and regional broadcasters.

“Bobby, whacha got for us next season?”
“Well, I got Dracula.”
“What, like Dracula on Mars or something?”
“Nope, just Dracula in Victorian London attacking women who look like his long dead wife.”
“What’s the angle, Bobby?”
“Well, he is pretty pissed over global warming … here have another bourbon.”

Dracula is mostly just Dracula from the original – public domain – Bram Stoker novel and play. And Sleepy Hollow makes me want to take a nap. Ichabod, of Washington Irving’s short story (and the excellent Johnny Depp 1999 movie “Sleepy Hollow”), has been transported to the present day … I know, I couldn’t read past that either.

All of this is going to make it real easy to buy into Andy Samberg (who at 35 is a true comic talent) as a straight-up NYPD detective in Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Samberg is great at coming up with funny three-minute bits that are take offs on 1980s MTV era videos – Jizz in My Pants is making me laugh right now – but can he be a cop making the French Connection?

I’ll give him a break, pal, and tune in – for about 20 minutes and if I don’t like it then I am off to “Miami Vice” reruns on DVD. Change of climate and real 80s chicks always pick me up.

Maybe I cannot go home again to Network Television, but I also just cannot bring myself to watch a Stripes rip off called “Enlisted” … from the WIkipedia page (I cannot even bear to link to its Fox page):

“Three very different brothers, each enlisted in the army, find themselves all stationed at the same Florida military base. When the majority of the base is deployed overseas, the brothers are assigned to the Rear Detachment – the soldiers left behind to take care of the base. While working together, along with the other misfits on the base, the brothers are able to renew and strengthen their childhood bonds.”

If them’s the facts jack on Enlisted, I am separating from that service.

I look forward to Fall 2014.

The Colonel –

Who wants to waste all those flowers at Elvis’ grave? Not me.

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I know the madness of Elvis Presley’s legacy. I have seen the insanity up close, by his grave and in his home.

I was in Memphis, Tennessee, at Elvis’ mini-mansion – Graceland – on Aug. 16, 1985; it was the eighth anniversary of the Mississippi-born King of Rock-and-Roll’s death, and people had flocked to his grave, located naturally behind his home, the entire week.

It was a crazy scene:

Flowered “We LOVE You, Elvis” were everywhere, and aging German tourists and woozy almost fainting grandmothers wandered numbly past Elvis’ grave. Fan clubs, from around the world, daily had thousands of flowers in intricate floral arrangements placed all around Elvis’ grave.

The King’s name is misspelled on his slab tombstone, and, for many, that meant, clearly, the boy from Tupelo that made good was alive and laughing at all of us.

I was 17, traveling with my mother and a school friend of mine, Brian Turner. We were in Memphis, Tennessee for a Home Builders convention. Well, my mother was, Brian and I were there to roam the Memphis streets and sleep late and cause some havoc with the ducks at The Peabody Hotel.

Right off, in Memphis, if you don’t know who Elvis was as a man and as an institution (because there are Urdu speaking people in Pakistan or somewhere who do not, or did not in the mid 80s), then it becomes pretty apparent this Elvis guy was important, revered man.

Elvis spirit is everywhere in Memphis.

Not in a “Elvis slept here and his ghost comes to us” kind of Bed & Breakfast way, but in a “Elvis Memorial Parkway,” “Presley Villa,” “Elvis Steak Platter” and “Elvis Memorial Hot Dog Meal” kind of $25 for a Elvis Memorial Coke and Fries way.

Elvis was spiritually around us, sort of like Star Wars and The Force, except it cost more, and everybody was exchanging cheap stuff for loads of cash in his name.

What do you do when you mother was a big Elvis fan and it is the day of his death? You go out to Graceland early in the morning, wait around for hours to take a tour and pay your respects to “the King.”

Graceland is a mid 20th Century ranch house hole in Memphis. It is really one of the smallest “mansions” I have ever seen. Elvis bought it in the late 50s and added on to it, and added on to it and added on to it.

He had a jungle room that was pretty cool – for 1965 about the time it was added on to his “mansion.” He had a billiard room that looked liked scraped vomit from the alley out back of a downtown Memphis bar. The look of it made you dizzy.

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(Ugh, I gotta go take some Dramamine pills now. Thanks Elvis, thanks a lot.)

He had a “TV Room,” with three console type television sets, each tuned to one of the “Big Three Networks” of the era – ABC, CBS and NBC. Elvis wasn’t much on remote controls and this was before cable television.

The best thing about Graceland was the automobile and aircraft exhibit that was at the trolley/ticket area where people wait to get on a bus that will take them to Graceland. Arranged in a parking lot were a jet aircraft, several cars and a pinkish-gold glitter painted Cadillac that people said was Elvis’ favorite car – EVER. You could climb all over the thing and have your picture taken in the driver’s side, back then.

I liked his jet plane. I am not a Caddie kind of guy.

Today, I think the environment is more controlled for the Graceland tour – you know with terrorists and everything roaming the Earth there could be some “up-to-no goodnicks” ready to do some nogoodness on the cars.

After a few hours, we finally boarded a bus for Graceland. And about 15 minutes after you get there, the tour is pretty much over, having seen a living room, a recording studio, the already mentioned vomit inducing billiard room, Elvis’ grave and a garage.  In 1985, people lived upstairs, so I could not see the vaunted toilet where Elvis slipped from this life to the next (for those who believe he actually died on Aug. 16, 1977.)

The lack of a John tour disappointed me greatly.

Elvis was a great entertainer. He was beloved, worshiped even, by a couple of generations of people from around the world. The Germans love Elvis to this day, rating him higher than “Knight Rider’s David Hasselhoff” and that is a high honor.  I make light and fun of the insanity and the money spent on a tribute of a dead singer, but I do respect Elvis.

I always feel a bit sad about Elvis. He came from a small, Southern town and he trusted people. He trusted his business manager, Col. Tom Parker (who was a colonel of juggling accounting books), and he trusted his doctors. One of Elvis’ doctors was called Dr. Feelgood by the Secret Service when he treated President John F. Kennedy with a mixture of meth and steroids turning patients into addicts, and another prescribed pretty much whatever a celebrity wanted to ingest. All got paid heft fees.

I can’t help think what Elvis would have become, what he could have done for the entertainment industry, if he had straightened out his mind and body in the 1980s. CI can picture a healthy, lean 50-something Elvis, ala Howard Hughes vs. Sen. Owen Brewster, shutting down those silly Congressional hearing of 1988 that led to music ratings?

“Thank you, thank you very much, Senator Gore, for the invitation, but parents should police their own kids. Now, I have to go take care of business over at the Drug Enforcement Agency. Just say NO.”

In the reality of 1985, Elvis was dead, and I was a bigger Duran Duran and Billy Idol fan. I came away from Elvis’ home thinking that the King of Rock-and-Roll died a loon, a crazy man – he had a collection of 3,000 badges, hundreds of guns and, the photos were on display, in full cape dragging Sonny and Red along, popped in on President Richard Nixon once to volunteer to give up his singing career and become a full time, crime fighting drug agent for the Government (presumably on Saturday night, as well as every night).

The other thought, which I said pretty loudly at Elvis’ grave, was “Man, if I worked here, my girlfriend would NEVER go without flowers.”

The Colonel (not Tom Parker).

NO FBI file … and the Pentagon doesn’t know me

 

 

In my ongoing quest to find records about myself the Federal Government of the United States my have on file, I have found the Federal Bureau of Investigation claim no investigation records concerning me are on file. (But they got my gender wrong, and the makes me want to question their accuracy).

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However, thanks to their cool “FBI Fact Sheet” I have discovered that those times I was finger printed by NASA and the United States Army, and my personal character cleared and vouched for by FBI boys and girls, are not included in a “file,” but are part of something no less sinister than a “rap sheet.” 

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As cool as it is to be told the FBI has been around since 1908 and they do not keep files on every US citizen – thanks comrades – but, now, I KNOW I gotta FBI rap sheet, pal, and it is as long as … my thumbnail, probably, but what else could be on there?

To find out, I gotta roll all 10 of my inked fingers on fingerprint blotter. Send that card – AND $18 – to the FBI just to find out. 

But I am troubled by all of this denial of a “file.” The FBI sent a long list of exemptions, most of which I didn’t understand. I admit some ignorance in legalese no pertaining to contracts and things that explode, but what the hell does THIS mean:

(b)(3) specifically exempted from disclosure by statute (other than section 552b of this title), provided that such statute(A)  requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on issue, or (B) establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld;

I haven’t seen that much withholding since I had an overtime check for 80 hours of coverage of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster a decade ago. WTF FBI? 

And, I am told that “rap sheets” and “files” are different entities entirely. AND they cannot get my gender correct. I admit to a certain amount of androgyny in the 80s … well, actually NEVER. I have always been partial to my identity as a male, and it pains me that the FBI cannot get my sex/gender correct.

The Pentagon, via the DoD Defense Security Service, succinctly told me they had no investigation files on me and to buzz off. Even their website is well ordered and to the point. Gotta love the military shorthand.

And that is no joke. 

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The Colonel