• Behind the Iron Curtain: Military Draft

    image-10When I was growing up© every able-bodied male over 18 years old was drafted to serve 2 years in the Army or 3 years in the Navy. Very few people were able to escape the draft based on health and other reasons. Going to college resulted in getting the lowest officer rank but even then a person had to serve some time and if you quit or got kicked out of school, guys in uniform came looking for you without delay. Threat of the military service was probably the single largest stimulus for getting into and staying in college for any male.

    Exactly 20 years ago, on July 8th, 1988 I had to report for duty at the local draft station. Several hundred young men gathered in the yard waiting for their fate to be decided by chance and lucky or unlucky circumstances. We all wore old clothes and had backpacks with personal items, we all tried to act brave pretending that this was just another day in our so far mostly care-free lives. In reality, for many of us it was the first day of our adult lives. Most of us have never been separated from our parents for more than a few weeks, many of us never traveled far away from home, we stood there looking like we could care less but our future couldn’t have been any more uncertain.

    In the middle of the yard on a desk there were stacks of personal files. Once in a while an officer walked in (they called them “buyers”) with a requisition for a certain number of people and grabbed a handful of files from the top of the stack. That simple act decided where the draftee would spend the next few years: the most unlucky ones were stuck for 3 years in the Navy where being short almost guaranteed a submarine; the others got the Army and shorter guys didn’t fare much better – they were a perfect fit for a tank. In 1988 they were still sending people to Afghanistan, so your file being on top in the wrong time could ultimately decide if you would come home in a zinc coffin. And then there were locations – anywhere from remote posts inside the Arctic Circle, to scorching desert sands; mountains, faraway borders, big cities, resort towns, or somewhere deep in the woods where you’d see people once in 6 months – military was everywhere and all these places needed new “meat”.

    My parents didn’t try our “Jewish luck” – a friendly (bribed) officer kept taking my file off the top of the stack until a good buyer showed up. I ended up only a few hundred miles away in the engineering regiment. My parents were happy – I was not too far, I never found out how much money and favors did it cost my Dad. I was happy – I didn’t end up in some horrible dump. “Friendly” officer was happy – he had a reason to celebrate. And the Soviet Army got one of the most worthless soldiers in its history.

    That hot day in July of ’88 is still with me. Anxiety and fear long ago faded away but I still remember the buyer grabbing my file from the stack, like a hand of fate grabbing my life and pulling it into a mysterious unknown future.

    I wrote a little about my first day here.

  • Old Photos: Kansas City Severe Local Storm Warning Center SELS

    One of my favorite scenes from the movie Apollo 13 is when a bunch of engineers remap the spaceship’s trajectory with nothing but a pen, paper and a slide rule.
    This almost seems impossible in this day and age, when we delegate all of our calculations to a computer. I may be a part of a dying breed of people who can still figure things out without the calculator, but I can’t take credit for this – in my day we just didn’t have calculators; I got my first one after the 8th grade. Trigonometric tables, slide rules, pen, paper or even a chalkboard were just as much a part of my education as computers in today’s schools. There is nothing wrong with using technology but it’s amazing what we can do without it.
    This was a long and winded introduction to the old photos of the Severe Local Storm Warning Center (SELS) which was located in Kansas City from 1954 to 1997 (brief history of SELS could be found here). Long before the word meteorologist was associated with associated with clueless jokers on TV, these people were saving lives without 3-D motion maps, scary graphics and “one degree guarantees”. I don’t know how accurate these guys were but given what they had to work with our modern TV meteorologists wouldn’t know where to start. Apparently technology does not a meteorologist make.

    ©Time Inc.Al Fenn

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  • Someone Hates Bob Shaw

    disclaimer: I have no idea who Bob Shaw is, and I was too lazy to Google him.

    As an outdoor advertising collector and billboard connoisseur I especially appreciate the home-made signs frequently seen along the streets and state highways. Judging by the effort and expense needed to produce these signs, someone has a real problem with that Bob Shaw guy. The least I could do was to get out of my car somewhere on the NW Barry Rd. (I think) and take some pictures.

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  • E-flipped

    My all-time favorite racket that is the Kansas City, MO earnings tax is in the news again and since I enjoy a good debate as much as the next guy I might as well put in my own 2 cents. I don’t consider it any more then an exercise in debate because I don’t expect the tax to be repealed any time soon. People of Kansas City may not be able to elect competent officials who can run an efficient city, but they know what’s good for them when it comes to $200 million of other people’s money.

    As always the Kansas City Post wrote a thoughtful and not just an emotional post so I felt like participating in the discussion. Obviously there are a lot of misinformed people who think that the e-tax is somehow makes out-of-towners like me share the burden of using the infrastructure and amenities that Kansas City has to offer.

    As one of the commenters pointed out:

    You and Brent both neglect the costs inherent in coming to KCMO to earn a living and then heading home to the burbs. Examples:

    1) Do you use the toilet at any time you are in KCMO?

    2) do you use water to wash your hands or make coffee?

    3) Do you drive on our streets and rely on drainage systems to keep them from flooding?

    4) Do you ever drive in over here after the sun has gone down and use the streetlights? W

    5) What about the police, firemen and EMTs you would rely on if there were an emergency at your office?

    Consider your e-tax your little share of the burden.

    This is misguided but common sentiment. The building where I work pays utilities and property taxes, which my company passes on to its customers. This covers all my coffee, toilet flushes, hand washing and use of the street lights. If I am using a business like a bar or a gas station these expenses are built in the prices of goods and services. There are no free toilet flushes in this country and someone other than a taxpayer always pays for them in one form or another. Property and sales taxes also cover police and firemen, and EMT will promptly bill my medical insurance. Even if it wasn’t true, when any KCMO resident leaves the city limits he or she is using the same and probably better services without being charged, so at the least we are even.

    In these kinds of arguments people always mention the sport teams or other entertainment venues such as Sprint Center and Power & Light, theater district, the Zoo and other points of interest located in Kansas City. All these places are not free and if the cost of tickets and parking does not reflect the true operating costs they should just raise the prices and let people decide if they can or cannot afford the ticket. The same goes for the KCI airport which charges its own taxes as a part of the airline ticket; Downtown Airport expenses are included in the price of the UPS or FEDEX delivery services; pretty much anything you can name should not be subsidized by the city. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone asked Kansas City to subsidize these businesses and attractions, they chose to do this in order to generate sales taxes, create or keep local jobs and don’t need to act like they are doing just because they are so nice and neighborly.

    Then there is always someone who would accuse me of being against all taxes, but that’s not true: I pay income taxes in Missouri but don’t complain about it too much because it works both ways, Missourians who work in Kansas pay taxes there; unpleasant but fair.

    All the childish arguments aside, the only real reason for the e-tax is that it helps the residents to live in the city without paying the true costs needed to sustain the necessary services and infrastructure. If the tax is repealed, the general fund will be shortchanged by some $200 million with all the catastrophic consequences this may cause. The only problem is that while people like me are being robbed in order to maintain the general fund, many Kansas City residents don’t even have to pay property taxes.
    This is the building I see every day across the street from my work. Like a big middle finger from the city of Kansas City,MO it reminds me every day that the politicians who run it find it easier to take money from the people who have no vote in the matter, than resisting the developers, or sport franchise owners or corporations who instead of contributing to the general fund, prefer to contribute directly to the politicians in charge.

    The 25 year tax abatement is featured prominently on every side, high and low.

    The residents of this building are not poor, some condos are on the market for $300K and up with the penthouse possibly valued at $2 million. These are the proverbial “rich, the “top 1 percent”, the ones with deep pockets who should be contributing their “fair share” and yet they get to see me out of their panoramic windows, paying for their toilet flushes, stoplights and sports teams.

    I am not completely heartless (depending on who you ask) and I am willing to be forced to help my Kansas City neighbors who frequently entertain themselves by making snide remarks about the suburbs, while firmly keeping their hands in the pockets of people who live there. I always maintained that there are ways to make me feel better while being screwed, it could be free parking at the P&L or a discounted ticket to an event. I am not asking for much. For example many attractions in St.Louis are free, although not just to taxpayers – to everyone, but it’s still someting.
    In the meantime you don’t have to buy the stories about the impending doom and gloom if the e-tax gets repealed, the city has plenty of money to pay for the party room with a panoramic view, two pools, a tennis court and a 24-hr security/doorman. Maybe in the same pile they can find a couple of dollars to plow your street.

    And see if they owe you a refund.

  • Old Photos: May Day

    Another May Day is here and there is still plenty of time to celebrate by walking around with red flags, playing marching music and shouting the approved slogans:

    Long live the unity and close ties of the peoples of the nations of the socialist community! Let strengthen the indissoluble fighting union of the Communist parties of the socialist nations on the basis of the tested principles of Marxism- Leninism and proletarian internationalism!

    Fraternal greeting to the working class of the capitalist nations–a selfless fighter against exploitation and the domination of monopolies and for the rights of all workers, for peace, democracy and socialism!

    Warm greeting to the people of Latin America, carrying on a courageous struggle against the oppression of imperialist monopolies, against reaction and fascism, for free and independent development, for peace, democracy, and social progress!

    ©Time.James Whitmore

    US Communist Henry Winston at May Day celebration. ©Time.Stan Wayman

    Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in Red Square on May 1st.©Time. Stan Wayman

    Red Square, Moscow. May 1st,1961 ©Time.James Whitmore