Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Military band costs still attract media attention

Military bands have been in the media spotlight lately. For the last few weeks, we've been filling each others' in-boxes with links to the series of Washington Post columns concerning the cost of military bands.

The spotlight grew brighter and less flattering today, when NPR picked up the story. Walter Pincus, the author of the Post series, appeared this morning on "All Things Considered." (Audio of the show, and links to the the Washington Post articles are here.)

Pincus says the Marine Corps fessed up to spending $50 million on their bands annually. The Army had trouble coming up with a figure, finally estimating almost $200 million for their four or five thousand musicians.

This could get strange. The current Senate and congressional campaigns are, to a great degree, about runaway government spending, so we can see the temptation for congressional candidates to wave this story around as a flagrant example of waste. On the other hand, the story has been publicized by those no-good liberal media outlets, NPR and the Washington Post. Politicians who claim to hate government and it's profligate ways, however, tend to be those who support our military. Will they side with the East Coast elite media enemy?

All I know is we've been through this before.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sorry for the inconvenience, old shipmate

The randomness of credit card security measures has always mystified me. I show my driver's license when I charge a four-dollar quart of ice cream in a convenience store; then I drive across the street, swipe my card at the gas pump and put twenty bucks-worth of gas into my tank without cross-examination.

In 1986, I decided to start testing these security measures by signing fictitious names on credit card receipts. For a few years I signed as "Francis Malarkey," "Feodor Mussorgsky" and "Festus Muldoon." Not once did my roster of vaguely Frank Mullen-like signatures attract  a second glance from a cashier, waitress or salesman.

In the early '90s I decided to stop the shenanigans. I did away with all those aliases and began signing all credit card slips with one name: Fred Muzer.

Fred was a shipmate with whom I served in the 1970s at Navy Bands in San Francisco and Newport. We were friends and housemates, and the fact we were both "F.M"s confused a lot of people we met, but, believe me, it hasn't shaken anybody in the credit card industry.

I've been signing Fred's name since about 1992. Fred, old pal, if you're getting billed for mysterious purchases of unleaded gas, sour cream at Amtrak tickets to Denver, don't panic; you're playing a vital part in my efforts to test the nation's economic security.