Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Wait is Killing Us

The object of war is not to die for your country. It is to make the other poor, dumb bastard die for his. George S. Patton, General, US Army.

They are starting to come one right after another. Manchester, now London. Nail bombs at a teenage concert. Now another vehicle attack, coordinated with mass stabbings. Twenty-two dead in Manchester, the youngest eight years old. At least seven in London.

Churchill famously said "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." Reagan remarked "Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction." A CNN host's comment, regarding President Trump's statement that America must take measures to protect ourselves - the President is a "piece of shit."

Suspects are in custody, others were killed by police. Fine. In 1991 the world mobilized because a madman invaded Kuwait on a pretext. ISIS has invaded Europe, without pretext or apology, and the world prays for the victims, awaiting the next mass murder as though it's a flu epidemic.

These are bad people. They occupy territory, advertise themselves as sovereign, wave their flag and make actual, violent war on civilizations with whom we are (apparently) friendly and here we sit.

Enough.

An American platoon leader, surveying the results of a firefight in Iraq in the early 2000's, told a reporter asking about the war's progress: "Well, we've killed all the dumb ones. Getting to the smarter ones will take some time."

Let's make time for the smart ones.

 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Respecting the Rank

"Captain Sobel?" Major Dick Winters (Damian Lewis), as Sobel tries to avert his eyes from Winters'.
"Major Winters." Captain Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer), nodding.
"Captain Sobel! We salute the rank, not the man."
 Points, Band of Brothers,  (2001)

Dad was a patriot, in the strictest sense. He had once written the blank check to Uncle Sam every military member tenders - "Payable, up to and including my life." He'd fought as a Marine on Saipan, and Iwo Jima. In 1946 he returned home to Philadelphia, to finish high school.

He was also a Republican. He understood and accepted the need to stand up to communist aggression in Vietnam, but didn't much care for the way it was being handled. President Johnson had made glaring errors, he thought, and American kids - he always called them kids - were paying with their lives. LBJ was the object of derision during the inevitable dinnertime discussions.

My brother Dave and I picked up on the vibe. One afternoon, intent on putting a few holes in a target, we repaired to the back yard, BB gun in one hand and the cover of Time magazine in the other. A cover featuring President Johnson and VP Humphrey. We didn't get very far.

"I don't care for your selection of targets," Dad said, using a hushed tone that signaled disappointment. "Find something else."

That was the lesson for the day. No yelling, nothing belaboring the point. We were 14 and 12. The message - respect the office, don't cross the line - was read loud and clear.

Which makes the recent internet hoo-rah about the red-haired woman and the Trump mask all the more puzzling. Didn't anyone teach her manners when she was young? If not, why not?

Maybe she's lucky, I guess. If I pulled an asshole stunt like that, it would be on me. I was taught better growing up, by a guy who knew how to respect someone with whom he disagreed. Maybe, at some point, somebody forgot to teach that to her.

Or, maybe she's just an asshole.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2

The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur...  The Constitution of the United States.

It really is that simple. Legalistic pretexts have arisen within the last generation, to avoid the complexities of actually conferring with people and convincing them you're right. Nevertheless, the "Paris Accords" are an agreement to which the Obama Administration was a signatory. The United States was not.

Maybe the PAs are stupid, evasive and a pretext for the waves of ever encroaching globalism that carries before it the banner of "Everything not obligatory is forbidden." Maybe they are sensibly-negotiated and scientifically defensible accords leading to a better future. I'm not Mark Ruffalo - I don't pretend to be a scientist. I read the conflicting experts and am very confused.

The treaty was never presented to the Senate, let alone approved by a 2/3rd vote. Consequently, if Mr. Obama wants to reduce his carbon footprint, that's his decision. The rest of us are no longer bound by the treaty he and his administration negotiated. That's the way this works.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lost, Never Forgotten

Flight crew of “Lady Be Good,” from the left: 1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, pilot; 2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, copilot; 2nd Lieutenant D.P. Hays, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant John S. Woravka, bombardier; Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, engineer; Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelly, gunner; Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, gunner; and Staff Sergeant Samuel E. Adams, gunner.

The Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator, set out with it's crew in April 1943 to participate in a bombing mission over Naples, Italy. Bad weather scattered the formation. Although radio contact was made with the bomber late into the evening, the plane did not return and was presumed lost at sea. 

In fact, the aircraft had overflown its base. Fifteen years later, the remains of the Lady were located deep in the Libyan Desert. The crew had bailed out, one of whom was killed in the process. The rest found each other and began the long walk back to the coast.

The never made it.

All but one of the crew were eventually recovered and returned to the US.

This Memorial Day, we remember this crew for their service and sacrifice. Thank you. May God bless you.

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

To A Degree

How many times had she been through the dissertation? One might as well ask how many grains of sand were on the Santa Barbara beach the afternoon we flew in for her defense.

The small commuter airliner (redundant?) had barely lifted from the runway before the tray table was down, the markers out. More edits, several margin notes - clarify this, revisit that... There has to be another way to write this. While I gazed at the Earth below and listened to an audiobook, she went over a document she knew well. Only too well.

My friend and mentor told me years ago that writing for publication was an exercise in literary masochism engaged only by intellectuals too obsessive to relent. "By the time your novel is published, you'll recreationally write a horrible death scene for your main character. And then, delete it and move on." It was true.

I watched, fascinated in the between-the-fingers way one views GoPro clips of spectacular Russian highway accidents on YouTube, as my wife began her pursuit of a PhD in Leadership and Change. There was the initial question about acceptance into the University. Technical writing skills needed honing. Residencies, reading, group on-line chats. This person dropped out, that person has moved to candidacy. The dissertation proposal...proposal...proposal. Revise, resubmit, rinse, repeat.

One morning our truck was - literally - idling in the driveway. Bags packed, dogs packed. Somewhere off the coast of Florida a cruise ship made its way to the harbor where we would board. An airplane taxied to the gate, our seat about to be vacated, just for us. Her advisor, on the phone, told her "Take a deep breath, you can do this." And she sent a revised document, closed her computer and rushed for the Tacoma. We raced to the kennel.

And forgot the dog food.

"Advancing to candidacy" is a cruel euphemism drained of the horror in store for the candidate. A committee of kind souls is there to shepherd the soon-to-be doctor through the process. Often, they do so with a carefully studied stoicism, knowing the rigors of preparing the document for a proper defense. Writing, writing, writing. Missed grandkid time, preoccupation, sleepless nights, vacations scheduled around deadlines. Vacations spent in front of a laptop. More reading, more research. As the end nears, less sleep. Indispensable, heart-felt calls from close friends - classmates - urging her on, encouraging her. Commiserating about their own harrowing journey. Finally, the fateful day comes. Get on a plane, and explain why one is deserving of a PhD.

Fewer than half who begin the journey are successful. Two percent of Americans have climbed this mountain, and breathed the rarified air of an achievement so demanding that horribly bright people are routinely denied success.

My wife is one of the graduates. We stood in our kitchen, several days before we flew to Santa Barbara. We stared at each other, and the tears just flowed. Happy tears, proud tears, profoundly respectful at an accomplishment of enormous import tears. She stepped back, threw her arms in the air and yelled "It's going to happen!"

Never in doubt. Nicely done, Doctor Greer.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Cue James Earl Jones

I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin' in the gym and bust me in my ass while I'm on the treadmill? Detective Edwards (Will Smith), Men in Black (1997).

I just want to be left alone. I'm an introvert, late middle aged and tired. I have to get some miles in my legs so I can try to keep up with a bike class next month. There is a foot of snow on the ground.

So I make my way to Planet Fitness, dress out and sit on a stationary bike. Perfect, except...

No matter which of the five upright bikes I choose (they don't have spin bikes) I am staring at four TVs, with the following channels:

MSNBC
CNN
Fox
Some business channel

All of them are non-stop politics.

I'm all for being up on political discussion. Facebook friends know that I'll engage from time to time - often succumbing to a contrarian streak a mile wide. Fair enough. But this shit doesn't ever stop!

I get it. This guy's a menace. Well... They all are. And so are you. You are the reason people can't agree. You are telling them 24/7 not to!

This is where I was last week. I had no cell coverage, no FB. (HT Sara Patterson Bright).

I want to go back.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Odd Couple

I took my phone off of airplane mode as we taxied in at Dallas Fort Worth airport. It "exploded," as is the common expression denoting a cacophony of tones and vibrations. I'd received a number of text messages. One, from a cycling companion, gave chilling news.

A friend - a cherished work friend - had taken his own life.

Over the course of the next hour, awaiting our flight to Nassau and vacation, I processed with other men and women who knew my friend well. In the early hours there was little additional information. No explanation.

We taught Report Writing together at the police academy. We had for a number of years. We'd polished and honed, examined and reexamined the curriculum. He called us The Odd Couple. 

I was Felix, fastidious and exacting. He was Oscar in the blue collar sense. It had less to do with our personal preferences and more with our presentation styles. I am contained, controlled. Structured and refined. Liberal polysyllabics, virtually no profanity. Decades in the classroom teaching law has gotten me there.

He was six feet of "In Your Face." He told stories painting with a broad brush. Were it not for a liberal use of profanity he might have been struck mute. He could make a point the way street cops make them - bark on, zero quarter. It was the way he saw it - like it, don't like it...all the same.

Of course, like all couples we fought. Like all writers, too. I'd express a point of order. His eyes would light up, his back straight and he'd take a sip of his omnipresent iced tea. "Oh?" he'd say. But that was never the end. He was profoundly patient with his little friend. He would listen, we would discuss. In the end, it wasn't an uneasy truce. We had an accord.

We would begin every new academy with a story he told, the moral of which was to write good reports. It was of his best friend, a young man with his whole life ahead of him. His friend committed suicide at age 16, something that still haunted him all of those years later.

I thought about that, gazing at the stunning waters off Nassau, Bahamas. Beside me, the love of my life. We touched glasses and made a toast to my friend. When I got home, clearing on-line messages, I found an exchange between my friend and me. Early April, a promise to get together for margaritas and Mexican food. To discuss business, but...also, just 'cause. It would have been today.

Fair winds and following seas, partner.