"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Anvil of Life

To be smart as Hell and to not have a lick of sense are not mutually exclusive.

In my previous post Ready for a firestorm? :-)  (about an Ann Coulter article on the insanity of letting young people vote) a commenter noted...

"After reading Ann's full article, if it's true that 18-24 yr. olds broke for Obama by 19 points (I still question who's polling them and where because I don't recall any pollsters anywhere in my neighborhood) but if that's true, with a military service exemption, I would be for. Sigh. There really are millions of stupid Americans.

I replied in a comment of my own, and after further reflection, decided to tweak and expand the comment into the post you are now reading.

There really are millions of stupid Americans.


But, in the 18-24 range, I suspect it is ignorance more than stupidity.

I've always viewed ignorance as simply lack of information, whereas stupidity consists of going ahead and doing something when you damned well (or should) know better.

In 1962, I was in the USAF, newly stationed at Goodfellow AFB outside of San Angelo, Texas. One weekend, I went with three other Airmen down to Del Rio and across the border into Villa Acuña (now Ciudad Acuña) to check out "boystown" (the local red light district) and to buy and bring back cheap duty-free booze.

A little background necessary for what follows:

We were in the United States Air Force Security Service (now the Electronic Security Arm, I think).  (See update below)

When you enlist in the service, you are given a battery of tests on almost anything imaginable (of course, to see just what, if anything, you're good for).

The spook shops have the privilege of being the first to troll through the results and they pick from the top 2%. If they're interested in you, background checks will be performed while you are still in basic training ("Some people from the government were asking about you, but we lied and said you were Ok." :-) but they'll likely wait until they're sure you aren't going to flunk out of basic training before informing you.

In my case, about 2/3 of the way through basic, after being marched to a class one morning, and standing at parade rest waiting to go in, my drill instructor comes up to me and quietly tells me that, "at 1300, you will report to Bldg. ####, Room ###, in the Uniform of the Day. That is all."

The strangest thing is that, for the first time in 8 or 9 weeks, he's not looking at me as if I scuttled out from under a rock, but has a quiet smile, as if he's proud or something. Also, I'm the only one in my flight (40+ Airmen, the USAF equivalent to a platoon) to receive that attention.

Upon reporting to that room, I find a couple of dozen other Airmen, NCOs and Officers also there to see what the Hell this is about. We're told that they are seeking linguists to attend a one-year intensive language course at the Institute of Far Eastern Languages at Yale University (this was 1961 - The USAF departed Yale in the mid 70's 1965 and now uses the Defense Language Institute or whatever at Monterey, California).

The afternoon is spent on testing our aptitude on learning Mandarin Chinese, although some will be selected for other languages (Korean in my case).

I manage to do Ok, and am selected. I had to drop out of school after the 9th grade, and here I am chosen to go to Yale!  (Well, I did know how to read (see On Reading... for how lucky I've been in this area)). I suspect that I really needed a cap a couple of sizes larger at that point.

I spent a solid year at Yale, with some of the brightest people I have ever met, and that was the greatest thing in the world for me.

After graduation, we were then sent down to Goodfellow for the next phase of our training. Whereupon, the four of us embarked upon the great Villa Acuña sex and booze adventure noted way up yonder.

What I'm trying to convey is that our little bunch was absolutely as sharp as they come (including, modestly, yours truly :-).

And, just how was all that brilliance used?  Stay tuned...

To bring that booze back over the border, you had to be 21, and not one of us had reached that exalted age. So, we cleverly shoved the bottles under the seats as we approached the border crossing.

We had noticed that the Customs guards and Border Patrolmen were just waving through car after car of families that had come over to watch the bullfights and indulge in some very cheap shopping.

So, this bunch of super-smart Airmen (including myself) would later actually conjure up conspiracy theories, about informants in the liquor stores, to explain the mystery of why a Patrolman takes one look at this old Mercury pulling up with a Goodfellow AFB sticker on the windshield, occupied by four young punks sporting military haircuts, and waves us right over.

   "Do you gentlemen have anything to declare?"
   "No Sir."
   "Right!  Step out of the car please."

And they go straight to our hiding place and pull it out.

Not having enough to pay the fine, so help me, I actually asked, "Can I just leave it?"

To which one of the Patrolmen (probably really straining to keep a straight face) replied, "I've got news for you son; you are going to leave it."

Thankfully, one of the others was able to loan me enough to handle the fine.

As I said, being smart as Hell, and not having a lick of sense, are not mutually exclusive.

The missing ingredient, of course, was experience; the hammer with which we're forged on the anvil of life.

Update 12 Dec 2010 - "(now the Electronic Security Arm, I think)" Slightly off, and way out of date.  Its name often changed along with what was covered in its mission.

The various incarnations were...
  United States Air Force Security Service (USAFSS) 1948-1979.
  Electronic Security Command (ESC) 1979-1991.
  Air Force Intelligence Command (AFIC) 1991-1993.
  Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) 1993-2007.
  Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA) 2007-Present.



Anonymous said...

Hola, Interesante, no va a continuar con este artнculo?.

Paul_In_Houston said...

Hola, Interesante, no va a continuar con este artнculo?.

Google Translate renders that as...

"Hi, Interesting, is not going to continue this artнculo?."

To which I can only reply...

"Just living is a continuation of the article. I don't kow what I could add to it in a post (except more of the same)."

"Sólo la vida es una continuación del artículo. No kow lo que podría contribuir a que en un post (excepto más de lo mismo)."

(God knows what that looks like to someone fluent in Spanish).


Anonymous said...

ฉันอยากจะให้ความคิดเห็นที่รวดเร็วในการบอกว่าฉันดีใจที่ฉันพบบล็อกของคุณ ขอขอบคุณ

Paul_In_Houston said...

Google Translate identifies that as Thai, and renders it as ...

I want to make a quick comment to say I'm glad I found your blog, thank you.

Ok! You're very welcome, and I hope you don't find it boring. :-)

ตกลง! ด้วยความยินดีเป็นอย่างยิ่งและฉันหวังว่าคุณจะไม่พบมันน่าเบื่อ :-)

Paul_In_Houston said...

My site meter shows no trace of a visit at that time, for this post.

It's quite likely that I have responded politely to a spambot.

What can I say? I'm a nice guy. :-)


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