Sunday, January 31, 2016

On A Mission Far From Home

"We Stand Alone, Together." Motto of the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, US Army.

The movie 13 Hours of Benghazi was both deeply disturbing, and heart wending. It has been heralded in some circles as an indictment of certain political figures. In others, it is largely ignored as "propaganda," an attempt to influence public opinion by dramatizing an unfortunate incident at a dangerous American outpost. It is probably neither.

The author, and the men upon whose experiences the book is based, (13 Hours). begin by saying that they express no opinions about things with which they have no firsthand knowledge.  The essential facts, which have tended to be obscured by overarching geopolitical realities: 

America had a consulate facility in the Libyan city of Benghazi. It, and the diplomatic staff (including the Ambassador) were protected by former military Diplomatic Security Service employees. In the film, the compound is elegantly beautiful, with a large pool and gleaming white walls. Interior touches - chandeliers, lavish furnishings and broad staircases, are Middle Eastern in flavor, upper GS rated American government posting.

About a mile away, a "secret" annex houses several dozen CIA operatives. Their murky mission involves arms of some kind, the ready availability of which is painfully evident throughout the movie. Their bodyguards are private contractors, Global Response Staff (GRS), all ex-military. A smattering of these burly, heavily armed men are former Tier One special operators, primarily SEALS.

The context of post-Gaddafi Libya is both confusing, and reminiscent. There are echos of the failed humanitarian mission to Somalia, (In The Company of Heroes) an attempt in the early 1990s to resurrect a country where casual murder, starvation and tribal fratricide survived the efforts of American intervention. The Libyan government and its associated operatives try to maintain order, and provide security for US personnel. Their efforts, and necessarily their results, are uneven.

The consulate is attacked and set ablaze by a hundred or more of heavily armed assholes. Embassy employee Sean Smith is killed. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a popular figure in Libya, dies of injuries related to the fire. Remaining members of the diplomatic staff are evacuated by the CIA's GRS contractors to the annex.

The annex is assaulted repeatedly during the nighttime hours, resulting in sustained small-arms combat. Initial efforts on the part of the aggressors to move heavy weapons in place are stifled. A group from Tripoli arrives as reinforcements. One of them, former SEAL Glen Doherty, is killed in a mortar attack, as is GRS member Tyrone "Rone" Woods. As day breaks, Libyan forces friendly to America arrive in numbers sufficient to turn the tide, and evacuate the facility occupants to the Tripoli airport. An aircraft departs filled with the able and the injured, leaving behind several of the contractors, guarding the bodies of the four dead. A C-130 taxis up to exfil them. It is not a US aircraft.

"Still no Americans," one of the operators observes.

That is the power of this book, and this movie. It is a "bromance" of sorts, the story of rough men willing to do violence in the interests of peace and freedom. Most of them are married (to second and third wives) with small children at home. They are well paid, which explains in some ways why they are so far from home. But... In the book, one of the men ponders, as his plane approaches the gate at Tripoli airport, what sort of adventures await him. He has once again entered harm's way because that's what he does. In the end, when the bullets have temporarily stopped flying in that stricken land, they all wonder aloud if they haven't just accomplished something few men on Earth would even attempt. They, and dozens of others, are alive because the GRS members are fierce, accomplished, unspeakably brave warriors.

There is a scene, as the fighting reaches its crescendo, where a CIA agent begs for military help. A flyby of F-16s would rattle the attackers, and give the Americans some breathing room. The scene shifts to an airfield, six American fighters parked neatly in rows. A solitary individual stands guard at the otherwise deserted hardstand. The author, his contributors, and the movie makers offer a clear invitation throughout:

"This is what happened. Make up your own mind about what it means, and whether it matters."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

For Stuff

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Hunter S. Thompson.

We here at Bikecopblog strive to maintain our relevance when the going gets weird. I have started...and deleted, several posts this morning that were simply awful. Maybe it was the late night doing absolutely nothing productive (unless watching YouTube clips of Tombstone meets some obscure productivity standard). Maybe it was the middle of the night piercing alert tone from Pat's phone about a "forced fondling" near DU. Or, maybe the current news cycle (I usually enjoy a good political exchange, but...seriously?!) leaves me with nothing to write about.

So I consulted the staff. No, not the several talented guest writers who appear from time to time. The office help. CJ and Jed. The dogs. Since dogs are generally positive creatures who dispense unconditional love and affection (when not gagging to the point of retching up the cardboard they just ate), rather than follow the lead of National Review and be against something, here is what we are for.
Warm, sunlit naps. Finding the one sliver of sunshine peeking through the window and basking in it is a simple pleasure. Better if it is on the back deck, where the fresh air soothes and rejuvenates.

Unexpected treats. The main meals of a day have their virtues, especially if you are spoiled silly by housemates who put pork in a crockpot and cook it until it is melt-in-your-muzzle tender. No - weekend breakfasts involving humans and their bacon are a little corner of heaven. Steaks done in the back yard, cut into tiny pieces and served after the humans are full. ANYTHING that lands on the floor.

Homecoming. Not football games and pom poms. Okay, maybe the return of the humans deserves cheers. When the humans walk in the door they are usually stressed and tired. Giving them a sleep ring (sometimes dragging the insulted cat across the floor with it) or a partially chewed up stuffed alligator toy as a token of esteem... Priceless. Tail wagging and nuzzling time!

Bedtime. After a long day, climbing into bed, staking out territory and falling asleep in the company of the most important beings in life.

Feeling loved.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

"Twenty-one, and strong as I can be.
I know what freedom means to me.
And I can't give a reason why,
I should ever want to die."

Twenty-One, The Eagles (1973)

Noting the passing of The Eagles great Glenn Frey.

By all accounts, Glenn Frey was clear about his opinions. One comment in the immediate aftermath of his death suggested that the 1980 break-up of The Eagles was an inescapable result of his direct nature. Fair enough.

The Burgundy Basin Inn, circa 1975. In the tiny hamlet of Bushnell's Basin (NY) there were only a handful of businesses then. A strip mall contained. among other going concern's, Bert's Pharmacy and a small grocery store. Across a one-lane bridge and down a country road was the little bar and party room we all just called "The Basin." The day I turned eighteen my dad took me there for my first public drink. We chatted, I supposed at the time, as men do - that is, about women. Later, it became a place to meet friends when we had returned home from college.

My friend John and I frequented the joint, solving the world's problems while bartender (and ex-cop) Vinnie dispensed adult beverages and peanuts. We also discussed, in the awkward and self-conscious manner of recently post-teens, what it would be like to be...well...a grown-up. Uncertainty dominated the conversations, even as we made bold promises that we would go forth and do all of the things our graduation speaker had urged upon us.

The jukebox was, by modern comparisons, a relic. Actual records actually played - 45's ingeniously removed from an internal rack and thrust onto a turntable turned on its side. We both had a "theme song," something that seemed to lend words expressing things we couldn't otherwise say.

Mine was Ol' '55, from The Eagles' 1974 On the Border album.

Mournfully sung by Glenn Frey, it's about a guy who'd spent the night with his lover. He was driving home in his '55 something, as the sun came up, wishing he could have stayed a little longer. Never having had that experience, the moment seemed to me both elusive, and evocative. The slow tempo, crying slide guitar and Frey's echo-of-love rendering offered just the right tone for a painfully shy, terribly uncertain small town boy trying to garner hope for his future.

Those nights at The Basin seem a long way from Colorado in January 2016, sitting in my 4X4 Tacoma and seeing on my smartphone that Glenn Frey was dead. His voice, his music... In a little song on a big album I'd grasped at a tomorrow I fervently hoped would eventually be mine. I headed home, to the love of my life.

"Pulled away slowly, feeling so holy. God knows I was feeling alive."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Five Curtain Calls

Sir Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman): "You're just going to have to figure out what it wants. What is its motivation?"
Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen): "It's a rock monster. It doesn't have motivation."
Sir Alexander Dane: "See, that's your problem, Jason. You were never serious about the craft."
Galaxy Quest (1999).

Noting the passing of Alan Rickman.

"It's our favorite Christmas movie!" my daughter noted as we discussed the death of actor Alan Rickman. She was, of course, talking about Die Hard, the quintessential tough guy movie starring Bruce Willis as the good guy, and Rickman as the slick, amazingly bright and deviously murderous bad guy. Having hatched an ingenious plan to break into an impenetrable safe in the Nakatomi Building, his team is foiled by one last locking device. Fortunately, federal law enforcement intervenes. Rickman's Hans Gruber says with characteristic irony "You ask for a miracle, I give you the F...B...I."

If one picture is worth a thousand words, Rickman could make one word conjure a thousand images. In the first Harry Potter movie, playing the sublimely sinister Professor Snape, he puts the already-famous Potter on the spot with a question the protege cannot answer. "Pity," Snape says. One would run out of synonyms for the word disdain before the true depth of a single utterance received its due.

It was in the movie Galaxy Quest that the Greer family discovered Rickman's best voice. "A treasure trove of movie lines" is how our daughter described his performance. His character, a Shakespearean actor forced into a Spock-like role in the truly mediocre Sci Fi series, laments an oft-recited, tiredly maudlin line. Until, the cast of the TV show is thrust into a real-life space battle. A crew member lay dying. Dr. Lazarus (Rickman) says, gravely, repeating the hated phrase - "You shall be...avenged."

Only Rickman could extract such a deep, abiding affection with crisp diction, deep and supple voice and convincing delivery from such high camp. He was a supremely convincing actor of enormous breadth. He was a criminal mastermind, starship crew member and professor of "Defense Against the Dark Arts." Or, as has been universally noted by coworkers - a true professional who was also a good man.

Farewell sir.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

In Defense of the "Ists

It has become increasingly fashionable to append the letters "ist" to a word and create a pejorative, a word which is neutral on its face, but negative in its context. It's a little game people play as an alternative to arguing their points with - perhaps I'm a dreamer - facts.

Corporatist is an example. It derives from corporation, a benign word that names a particular business form. The apparent intent is to deride people who organize their affairs under these provisions of state law. Apparently, they are Mr. Magoo's Ebeneezer Scrooge (pre-ghosts.anyway) singing "Ringle, ringle ringle" as they celebrate the accumulation of gold coins. It deftly ignores the likelihood that the individuals so organized have discovered a social need, and are intent on addressing it (while making enough money to sustain the business and earning for themselves a sufficient return as to reward the risk they took and the hours they invested).

You are reading these words because Toshiba, a Tokyo-based corporation organized in 1938, built an affordable laptop with computing power superior to that of the Apollo command module. Staples, a company organized because a man in Boston could not buy typewriter ribbon on a national holiday, began business in 1986 and now has stores in, among other places, Littleton, CO. Xcel Energy is a holding company that owns the stock of energy corporations who produce electricity by the gigawatt and have excited sufficient electrons to power my computer.Well, you get the idea.

The New Year has passed, and with it the tradition of making resolutions. Many are aspirational rather than practical, but that is not for me to decide. I intend mine (sell a lot of books) with a gusto unrelated to the lack of control I have over the reading habits of others.

Some people, understandably, look in the mirror and discover a physique with which they are unhappy. Their solution is to purchase a health club membership, some fashionable clothing and venture forth tentatively into the hitherto foreign world of "The Gym."

One need not look very hard for them. They are confused by the machines, unsure how the exercises are conducted and, when muscles unused to these kinds of endeavors protest, they reappear fewer and fewer times until gym rats see them no more.

We can have unfettered access to our favorite machines, again. The "Resolutionists" we complained bitterly about in January have fled, abandoning the field to hardcore elitists. The poor souls are home, soaking their aching joints and pledging to resolve something else come December.

Why do we rejoice? Because we are selfish. We have discovered, through discipline and determination, the benefits - no, the joys - of fitness. We sleep better, feel better. Our self-image gleams in our mind's eye, with a physical prowess on which we build. It is paltry, perhaps, compared to the young men striving to advance a sufficiently inflated (we hope) animal carcass that we watch on New Years day. We are renewed and rejuvenated, nevertheless. If we are not adding years to our lives, we are adding a healthy life to the years we have.

And we make fun of people new to our game?

Good luck to them! I hope they stay. I hope they find the same love of fitness that drives the rest of us to the gym, the bike and the Cross-fit center. I hope the place is packed, which creates the need for Planet Fitness, a franchise-selling corporation based in New Hampshire, to build more clubs, employ more people and facilitate the glee of others in the raw power of getting in shape.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Good Bye to the Ultimate Sidekick

Noting the passing of Wayne Rogers.

The TV show MASH always seemed intended to be a platform suited to Hawkeye Pierce's (Alan Alda) sensibilities about war, the Army and nurses. He was the voice of truth, albeit an often inebriated one, in an insane environment. His conscience was the starting point for most every moral offered up by a show, one commenter wrote, that protested one war by satirizing another.

But every lead actor chewing up the screen needs a sidekick. This is the mostly calm, mostly quiet supporting cast member who doesn't seem to mind serving as set-up man. The good ones subtly reinforce the best intentions of the star, have their back and, when the ultimate outcome proves them all right, to celebrate the success with a pat on the back, a smile, and a step back.

No one did this better than Wayne Rogers, playing Trapper John McIntyre. Inheriting the role from Elliot Gould, who played it differently on the big screen, Rogers made Pierce's counterpart a best friend, a first follower and a man whose steady hand in the OR, and in their spartan quarters known as The Swamp, was often Hawkeye's better angel.

I have watched every episode, sharing the moments with my late mom, and then with my wife. At my mom's passing Pat and I agreed that a MASH-themed celebration of Mom's life would not just be appropriate, but would allow us to remember her from the happy times when we shared a love of this wonderful TV show.

Rogers left MASH after three seasons. He had other acting jobs before becoming a successful investor and financial planner. He passed away yesterday at 82.

As he observed, somewhere MASH is playing. I know there is a corner of heaven where it is probably on right now.