Archive for the 'Memorials' Category

Dec 06 2013

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95 yesterday. Clearly the world has lost a great man. He was great not just because of his struggle against apartheid-but when the tables finally turned, he did not give into the natural instincts to take vengeance on his oppressors-but to seek a middle path that made a nation that needed all of its citizens regardless of the color of their skin. South Africa will now find out if his legacy can survive or if the nation will go down the same rathole that other nations have gone down. Given the track record of his successors, I am less than totally optimistic.

Now cards on the table-I am one who is very much ambivalent about British colonialism. While I recognize its racial underpinnings and the foolishness there in, at the same time I side with Niall Ferguson who made the conclusion that the nations that were once part of the British Empire have, in general, fared much better than those that were not. In spite of the many bad things that British colonialism engendered-the simple truth about Africa remains that there are too many nations on the continent and until they start to unify and put their tribalism behind them,  they will accomplish little of greatness.

And thanks to Nelson Mandela, South Africa could be a leader in that process. His legacy is unique one.

Which is why I shake my head in such complete astonishment, at the sheer buffoonery of some commenters -who have keyed on just his early life. Nelson Mandela's life cannot be examined in an American context. Those who try to do so are fools and idiots.

I advise anyone who rants and raves about the idea of Mandela being a communist, to go back and read "Cry The Beloved Country" sometime. And then go read it again. Apartheid stayed afloat on a river of violence and oppression, and while South African tried to halt the advance of history, the world went on to pass it by. What made Mandela great was that when he finally got the chance to assume power-he well understood the powder keg of emotions that had been repressed for so many years-and worked to make the transition to black majority rule a lot more orderly than many would have expected. For the complicated world of South Africa, that was nothing short of a miracle.

Most Americans who rant and rave about Mandela's Marxism don't understand context-nor do they appear to understand much of South African history since the "vortrekkers" arrived in the 1800's.  First and foremost, Mandela was an advocate of economic and social justice. There is nothing wrong with that-and if anything he was ahead of his time. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". The National Party used the fear of communism much to its advantage all through the 60's and 70's. And like it or not-the United States aided them for a long time in that effort. Or do we forget the fact that even Saint Ronnie aided and abetted apartheid?

Ronald Reagan was angry. It was October 1986, and his veto against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act had just been overridden — and by a Republican-controlled Senate, at that.

He had appeared on TV a month earlier to warn Americans against the Anti-Apartheid Act, decrying it as "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Congress disagreed, and one month later, it produced the two-thirds majority needed to override Reagan and pass tough new measures against South Africa's apartheid government. These measures included a ban on bank loans and new investments in South Africa, a sharp reduction of imports, and prevented most South African officials from traveling to the United States. The Act also called for the repeal of apartheid laws and the release of political prisoners like African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent the last 23 years in prison.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the evils of apartheid today. Blacks were denied citizenship and the right to vote. They were forcibly relocated into impoverished reservations. People of color were barred from operating businesses or owning land inside white areas, which comprised most of the country. Sexual relations or marriage between people of color and whites was strictly forbidden. Racial segregation was enforced in public areas, including schools, hospitals, trains, beaches, bridges, churches and theaters. To enforce apartheid, the government often resorted to police brutality, the imprisonment and assassination of political dissidents, and the murder of black protesters.

The United States had a complicated relationship with South Africa. Hawks in the U.S. national security complex had argued since 1948 that South Africa was an important ally in the fight against communism. Their arguments persuaded presidents from Truman to Nixon to stifle criticisms of apartheid in the interest of maintaining good relations with the white South African government, whose leaders surpassed Joseph McCarthy in their anticommunist zeal.

Reagan thought he was right. But he was wrong. And so are people who are fixated with Mandela's so called "communism". Like a lot of my viewpoints of today and yesteryear-the world in the aggregate has rejected them. I my long for the sun never setting on the British Empire and all male warships-but the world has passed those ideas by. It is what it is.

Let me repeat. You cannot look at Nelson Mandela's life through any prism but a South African one. Go back and study some of the history.

And then honor a truly great man who hopefully set his country on better course than many of his counterparts in Africa. He's not Ghandi. But South Africa is not India either. 

"What's the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?" Which side of the aisle you are on. 

And never forget he lost 27 years of his life to a prison cell. That changes people.

God speed and give you rest and peace, Mr Mandela.

 

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Oct 27 2013

Lou Reed , Rest in Peace

Published by under Memorials

It is with great sadness, that I note the death of Lou Reed, at 71. He was a master artist of his generation-and contrary to what Phib thinks, added much to the general discourse. As did most of the baby boom generation.

My favorite song by Lou Reed was not so popular. Nonetheless, it was a great song to sit by the fire-with a glass or four of Scotch,  and contemplate one’s life.

 

Let me give you a piece of advice,  Phib. The Baby Boomers produced some of the greatest minds of the last 60 years.

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Aug 23 2012

The forgotten war….and the forgotten people

Published by under Memorials,Military

Not that any Americans might have noticed this week, but the 2000th American died in the War in Afghanistan this week. I mean,  its hard to pay attention to the  tragic sacrifice of brave young men-when there are such meaningful issues like "what is real rape?" to argue about, after all.

The man's name was Specialist James A. Justice. He was from Grover NC and he was assigned to the 503rd Regiment, 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade. He was 21 years old. He died of injuries suffered during a small arms fire fight in Afghanistan.

Now I have made my opposition to America's endless war on terror pretty evident over the years. I am not proposing to re-hash that here. But I do want to ask just one simple question: "Why is no one in this election discussing the sacrifice this and 1999 other Americans made-and what it will it take to stop 1000 more Americans from losing their lives in the region North of the Khyber Pass?"

After all 98% of Americans will never know what it was like to experience the danger he did. The country does not ask it from them-and so they can live lives of blessed ignorance that there are a relatively small group of Americans being put at risk every day-for an Afghan government and an Afghan people that have yet to prove they are worthy of the sacrifice.

This a subject more important than silly arguments about abortion and rape. We dishonor these brave folks sacrifice if we don't understand why they were where they were-and what it will take to bring the rest of the US forces home. As soon as possible.

The country needs to be talking about the fact that 2000 Americans have died in this far away land. When will we?

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Mar 09 2012

Another tragic loss of a blogger

Published by under Memorials

It has been a really lousy week all things considered-perhaps indicative of the way the rest of the year is going to go I suppose. This week has been full of nothing but bad news and death. Two bloggers-both of whom I knew on active duty have perished.   Of Lex-and the tragic accident that took his life far too young- you probably have already heard and will hear a lot more about. This evening and this weekend he will be remembered fondly with hosted pints of Guinness in pubs all around the country.

But there is another writer who also passed into the clearing earlier this year-in January as a matter of fact, but most of us in the E-2 community only became aware of it last week. A person I knew very well and crisscrossed paths in the Hawkeye community for the better part of 20+ years. He too, was a professional and able Naval Officer, Naval Flight Officer, outstanding tactician and member of a family.  When I was returning from Ramstein-I received word via e-mail that he had died quite suddenly. It was equally as much of a shock as the other news.  As this particular week comes to a close-I can’t help but wonder if someone will host a pint of Guinness in his honor.
 
I kind of doubt it-and someone should. So this is a post to hopefully do just that-honor the passing of a fellow warrior, Jeff Huber.

 
 
Jeff Huber served in the E-2 community for just about the entire period I did. He started on the “left”coast serving in VAW-112.  He held a variety of squadron tours-also breaking new ground as an E-2 NFO serving as a Carrier Air Wing Operations officer-unusual at the time for Naval Aviation-before returning to the community to serve as XO and CO of VAW-124. I was a guest of honor at his outgoing change of command in Fallon Nevada-unique in several ways, not the least of which was because it was held airborne during an active strike training mission-with his Sailors observing the flow of this mission in the TACTS debriefing room in the main NSAWC headquarters building. He then served in the demanding job of a Carrier Operations officer on USS Theodore Roosevelt. Following that tour of duty, Jeff chose a divergent path and hung up his uniform, retiring and moving on to a very different avocation as professional writer.
 
I should also probably mention that Jeff too-like Lex-had served at NAS Fallon for a time, during the early years of the evolution of the Strike Warfare Center. This was long before the place became the monster organization that it is today-long before the shotgun marriage of the major aviation weapons schools in 1996. His tour at Strike was new ground for the E-2 community and led the way for the folks who followed him to the present organization of NSAWC.
 
In his post Navy career Jeff took the path definitely less traveled by-and to what I believe would be the chagrin of most of the fans of the other blogger,  wrote candidly and unsparingly in his criticism of his former employer-and of the foreign policy of the nation it served during the first decade of the 21st century.  Chagrin is probably something of an understatement given that one of the places Jeff wrote for was the Great Orange Satan. He also wrote for Military.Com-and he published at Anti-war.com, a choice that earned him no respect with the diehard conservative set. Most recently he had a blog, Pen and Sword, that was primarily focused on foreign policy. He also had been published in Naval Institute Proceedings, Aviation Week and on Reuters. He established his own company in 2002, dedicated to the production of writing content.
 
He was a published novelist, and was in the process of finishing up his second book when the reaper took him. His first book, Bathtub Admirals was published in 2008. I suspect a modest seller-but a good attempt at satire of an organization that well deserved to be satirized. It was both an easy read and a hard one for me-because I basically “knew” most of his characters –and who they were based on. His second book Sandbox Generals I hope will be published someday.
 
People use the phrase “does not suffer fools well”. It gets overused IMHO-but was very appropriate when used in the context of Jeff. He really had no use for incompetence, ignorance or sloth in the service-and he viewed with increasing disdain the path being chosen by the service he loved-as all of us did-but has clearly made some horrendously bad choices. Unlike most of us-Jeff spoke up about it, and no one was spared from his incisive and rather apt commentary.
 
A lot of people did not like his writing style-the word “vitriolic” gets used and overused.  I view it differently-it was passionate. There is place for passion-and it’s not just in certain locations. More importantly his facts were accurate.  If anything his writing was equally as condescending as that which springs forth from so called “great writers” who defended the opposite position.  Kind of makes me wonder-what is a great writer anyway? It used to be someone who knew how to tell a story well. Increasingly-in the blogosphere-the definition corresponds to : ”someone I agree with”.  To dismiss Jeff because he did not support America’s misadventures abroad is to completely mis-read and not understand his intent. Did I agree with all of his conclusions? Absolutely not, but I could still enjoy his commentary anyway. More importantly, Jeff knew how to tell a story.
 
Now, I am a slightly biased observer. I liked Jeff and before my departure from the United States for Japan, counted him as a friend. We viewed our own aviation community in a similar vein and I was a squadron CO at the same time he was an XO. Later-when I was in charge of the E-2 Weapons School- I flew with him and his squadron.  Those were tough times for Naval Aviation-made tougher so by the cowardice that passed for some of our senior flag leadership.  One has to have lived through the period of the 90’s- and the traumatic changes that ensued- to fully appreciate the perspective he brought to his writings. Subsequently,  I also agreed  100% with his assertion that the Iraq war was a manifest tragedy for the United States of America and that the country benefits nothing from the so called “long war”. Jeff recognized, probably earlier than most, that world had changed-and the United States needs to change or find itself unable to effectively compete in the 21st century. If some people disagreed with him along the way-well that diminishes his message not one bit.
 
Furthermore-to judge Jeff’s life on his writings alone is to do him a grave injustice. Jeff gave a significant portion of his life to the service of his country. He learned a difficult skill in a difficult aircraft and became exceptionally good at it. He flew from the decks of carriers and was subject to the same risks as literally thousands of his brothers. He did so voluntarily-and in the process suffered personal costs and penalties for it.  He paid for his right to publish controversial opinions-he paid for it in spades. He broke new ground in the E-2 Community and was one of the most tactically astute NFO’s that I ever served with. An innovator-many of the ideas and concepts he worked on and practiced became accepted operating procedures in the E-2 Community. On top of that-he was a good guy;  the work hard, play hard kind of individual that the Navy used to cultivate-but now tries to run out of town on a rail. Talk to the folks who served with him in the period of time we served in the E-2 Community and you will find much well earned respect.
 
Nonetheless,  it is his writing that broke him out from the herd-and his writing was the type of writing professional naval magazines like Proceedings used to encourage, but now only pretends to. In writing this post I went back and took a look at all of Jeff’s Proceedings articles-there were many-and I marvel at just how right he was about several things.  He wrote well of the whole no fly zone experience in the 90’s. The piece below shows his wit-along with his insight:
 
In all fairness, the no-fly zone concept is not completely without merit. An informal survey of aviators from all services produced this list of the NFZ's finer attributes:

· Something to do on six-month cruise besides eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom (Navy only).

· Six-to-twelve week temporary overseas duty every couple years or so provides excellent excuse to complain about quality of life (Air Force only).

· Makes taxpaying public think it's getting its money's worth.

· Counts for Air Medal points.

· Brings families together. Multiple generations can swap firsthand Southern Watch stories at reunions.

· Get issued neat-o desert cammies and flight suits.

· Flying over barren, scorched desert makes you thankful you weren't born there.

· Great deals on cool aviator watches in Bahrain and Dubai.

· Operating in high stress, irrational-to-the-point-of- lunacy environment prepares military aviation's best and brightest for futures as general and flag officers.

· Something to bitch about.

Among the best-sounding justifications for no-fly zones is that they provide a long-term refinement process for the joint force air component commander (JFACC) concept. Standing NFZs, this argument states, constitute a living laboratory of joint air power command and control–sort of a wild purple yonder petri dish. Still, hard-bitten cynics continue to beg the question, "Are we accomplishing anything with this cockamamie NFZ malarkey, or are we just JFACCing around?"
 
It is probably fitting that his last post at his blog was about the “malaise” that has influenced and affected the blogosphere in general and those that write about military matters in particular. His post was unsparing in its thoughts and for the most part well on the mark. Jeff called it as he saw it-and for that we are all much richer. That’s he’s not still here to make us think- makes us that much poorer as an aviation community and as a nation. I am proud to have known you Jeff-thanks for the learning and thank you for everything you did. I will remember him and miss him. Jeff Huber will not have thousands upon thousands toasting his memory this weekend-although through his writing he  too was known to thousands of people- in person he was known but to us honored few. I knew him-and I will never forget. And I will toast his memory for the rest of us Hummer Moles. Here’s to us and those like us-damn few left.  May God bless him and grant him peace.
 
Clell Hazard: I am not a "peacenik", Captain; I just don't agree with the reasons behind this particular war, and I feel if we're gonna fight it we oughtta goddamn fight it right. -from the movie Gardens of Stone.

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Mar 07 2012

A tragic loss

Published by under Memorials

When I woke up this morning , as I made the coffee and stumbled to my computer-it seemed like it was going to be a good day.

After I got the computer on line-I knew differently. This is a terrible day and so will the days that follow. A widely followed blogger, an able and versatile aviator, and a professional officer-well versed in the literary arts is dead.

I feel bad in a lot of ways-and I feel that there is a big hole in the "community" so to speak-it represents a tragic loss, not just for his family and friends-but for the "discussion' of events.

Now,  cards on the table-my blog has a complicated relationship with his-and the words written here about his opinions were not always complimentary. Especially in recent years. I did not agree with his take on national politics-nor did we agree on other things, and we had different views of what the Naval Profession was about..The reasons for that are long, complicated and involved-and had a lot to do with the fact that we were at the same duty station once, on different sides of an intercine Naval Aviation civil war-as well as other issues. I retract or regret none of what I wrote-they were valid criticisms at the time and they remain so today. They were aimed not so much at his content-but at the reactions of his commenters, who contrary to what they believed,  could be downright mean and intolerant.   At some point down the line I will attempt to explain these issues in greater detail. 

Now is not the time.

But there was always deep seated respect-tinged with a more than bit of envy of his new employment. While I had stopped commenting over at his blog a couple of years ago-I still read it everyday. He was getting to fly and do something really exciting-unlike most of us mere non pilots who ended up in retirement walking the floors with cubicles.

Lex, on the other hand, had found a way to break those shackles and return to the skies he so clearly loved. His writing about flying was truly a thing of beauty and I always enjoyed reading his flying stories.

And what Lex could do was fly. As was written in the book "Flight of the Intruder" he put an airplane on, wore it -as a man would wear a well fitting suit- and moved about with precision. That is a unique skill-not given to very many men.

Lex will have the distinction of being mourned by literally thousands of people he never met. While it is no consolation-he at least was in the process of doing something he truly loved. Probably in the grand scheme of things-that's a pretty good legacy in and of itself.

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Feb 06 2012

Christopher Hitchens

Published by under Memorials

I wanted to wait a while before writing about the genuine sadness I felt when I heard about the death of Christopher Hitchens. He was a great writer, a man who understood how to paint a picture with words, and as an Englishman who cared deeply for the United States-probably saw the politics in that country with more clarity than many "native Americans" did. Not that he was 100% right all the time-his endorsement of the Iraq war and Bush's misguided "freedom agenda" are calls he got very wrong. But even when wrong-he was eloquent. And more importantly he could carry an argument on the strength of his words-even when the strength of his ideas-were prone to disagreement.

Now those who hated Hitchens-really hated him.  I think primarily, because his ability to be contrary , just really annoyed them-and so rather than take on the arguments he made on merit, they chose to attack him personally. Especially after 2007 when he published his book, "God is not Great" wherein he laid to waste a lot of deeply held beliefs of others. The assholes among us-would say he got his just desserts. What they fail to realize is that we are all poorer for not having his insight and erudition. What people never realized, as one writer expressed in a eulogy, was that :

 It would be easy to simply say that nobody is perfect and dismiss Hitchens’ support for some nasty right-wing causes as blemishes in an otherwise admirable career, but that would not do the man sufficient justice. While many of his political positions were mistakes, the important thing to take away from his stalwart defense of them is that Hitchens never pandered to an audience. Having arrived at his positions through careful moral deliberation, Hitchens would aggressively advocate for them until either his goals were achieved, or further deliberation caused him to change his mind. Hitchens would not hesitate to alienate his existing fans if he thought it would be necessary to do so in order to confront injustice. Today, when most newspaper columnists appear to simply express positions calculated to best corner the market potential of a particular slice of the political spectrum, Hitchens’ approach is more needed than ever, even if it makes us angry from time to time.


Furthermore, Hitchens relished the role and meanings of words and speech-in a way that most of us can only wish we could attain. He found-in his arguments ways to praise those he disagreed with-even when most of us could not. Otherwise, how could he have written some of his praise of the King James Bible, while being totally skeptical of the contents therein?

In a way that seems odd to me-but totally on context with American thinking-people remain fixated with Hitchen's atheism. I actually find it totally understandable-even if I don't come to the same conclusions that he did. As my Canadian counterpart wrote:

Under no circumstances would I associate myself with anyone running around Africa and telling the locals that AIDS was bad, but condoms were worse, so I quit. But I would never presume to say that Church's position wasn't biblically sanctioned because it is. I just happen to believe that the sanction is moronic and demonstrably lethal to the most vulnerable people on earth. If you believe that "God hates fags", you sure as shit better not have a tattoo while doing so because that just happens to be the next verse in Leviticus.



Essentially, that's what God is Not Great is about. If you wrap yourself in some supernatural, superstitious ceremony, you should also be called to account for the true – and sometimes breathtakingly so  - evil that's done in it's name. If the world was populated with rational adults, rather than overly tall children, that book would not have been as controversial as it was. 



The facts are the facts. And the facts are that the Catholic Church didn't renounce the biblical interpretation that the Jews were responsible for the murder of Christ – the basis of 1,000 years of Christian-propagated pogroms – until Vatican II, seventeen years after the Holocaust ended. And, to my way of thinking, that's more than enough reason to renounce Christianity. 

I personally believe that Hitchens' non-belief was prompted by his anger at God's non-interventionism, which in the face of the tremendous amount of suffering in the world-is a rather reasonable and moral position. Hitchens expressed his sheer surprise at this irrationality by denying the existence of God. There he and I part ways. I firmly believe in God-but I also acknowledge that-when it came to Deities-mankind lost the toss, and got one that was more than happy to be vindictive and unfair. As has been acknowledged in other texts-the Bible does a very poor job explaining suffering. But the fact that it does-does not lessen the possibility that God exists, rather that-like Lucy-He's still got a lot of explaining to do. In that regard the Gospels are a little light. Hitchens took the path of refusal. I prefer that of resigned acceptance-with just a tinge of resentment that he does not intervene to fix our problems. I think that elsewhere on the other inhabited planets-there are deities using their godlike powers to help the mortal members of that planet's population. It just is not happening here. And that's kind of the point, He can do that whether we like it or not-only God is God.

But it still does not lessen my admiration of a man who could express his contempt so eloquently-and with a biting wit and cutting language.  In the face of his demise-he wrote words that were simply brilliant. Borrowing from the Canadian Counterpart again:

 

One can't truly appreciate Christopher Hitchens without exploring the way he conducted the last 18 months of his life. Instead of engaging on a maudlin celebration of his own mortality, Hitchens instead used his esophageal cancer as a point of intellectual exploration, especially in his Vanity Fair column. If you read anything today, it should be "Topic of Cancer" and  his most recent essay "Trial of the Will."



It was on the topic of his own mortal illness that he truly broke through a journalist, and produced some of his most beautiful writing.  There was no sentimentality or self-pity in those columns, particularly "Trial of the Will", published just a week before his death. It was an intellectual and philosophical exploration on what it is to die, written by someone who was in the process of doing just that. "Tuesdays With Morrie" it wasn't. 

We are all much poorer for his loss. And for the nitwits who criticize him even in death-well, that just confirms they are nitwits.  Your time is coming."It didn't matter if you agreed with him or not because he was smarter than you are and would argue circles around you. Even when he was wrong, he could make a persuasive case that he was right. That isn't normally the job of a journalist, but it is the raison d'etre of a writer. "

And above all else. more than I can ever hope to be-Hitchens was a writer.

God rest you and give you peace.

And yes-its perfectly fine for a believer to wish that -as we should for all men. For those who don't believe that-I have nothing but contempt. I just wish I could express that contempt as well as he did.

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Sep 11 2011

9-11-2001

Published by under Memorials

Yes, I remember exactly where I was that day. I had been out and about and had just returned to the BOQ where I was living then. The S.O. called me and told me the World Trade Center had been attacked. I thought there was a mistake in translation somewhere. I flipped on NHK and then saw the truth-right about the time the first tower collapsed.

I know people who were working in the Pentagon that day. That was equally horrific as was the tragic loss of Flight 93 that day.

Jeffery Goldberg has expressed it well-”That is the crucial truth of 9/11. Osama Bin Laden had gathered to him men who were devoid of love, and who found in al Qaeda a vehicle for expressing their hatred of humanity. On the 10th anniversary of the murderous rampage committed by soulless men, we should remember the victims, and count our own blessings, and recommit ourselves to the suppression of evil and the protection of the innocent. ”

I will always remember and will never forget. But in doing so, it also means that I will never forget what came in its aftermath, much of which was-to put it bluntly-misdirected effort, in response to a unique event, the likes of which most of us had never seen before.

Its important, therefore, to look at 9-11 for what it is, a deliberate act of cold blooded murder. The fact that is so does not, however, provide a blanket absolution for the the myriad of flawed events that followed in its wake.  We have extracted our vengance for that horrible day a 100 times over.  The cost of doing so has been huge-and we will debate the wisdom of those subsequent decisions for years.

Guys like Dick Cheney, and George Bush and others-believe the horror of 9-11 gives them a pass on responsibility for flawed decision making subsequent to the event. I say no. The rat holes of the wars that have been pursued in the years following , and the very avoidable -and equally tragic-costs, cannot be just wiped away just because we were the victims on a particular day.

We can though, remember that day with honor-and vow to move forward into a better future than what those murderers tried to inflict upon us. All of our worlds changed that day-and I for one wish that day could be undone.  I want my world of September 10, 2011 back. But its never coming back.

9-11 will always be with us. But we can work hard to restore the world that once was before.

Comments are closed on this post.

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May 29 2010

Dennis Hopper RIP.

Published by under Memorials

Dead at 74.  I have always been a fan of his. Spike has a pretty good piece on his life. He was a unique actor who brought a voice to many of us Boomers.

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Nov 10 2009

Thoughts about Fort Hood…….

The tragic events at Fort Hood, happened as I was in transit last Thursday. I've been going back and forth as to whether to write about it-and indeed what to write.

First of all-I have found myself pretty saddened by much of the reaction of the news and the blogosphere-who have, in general missed the point, namely that this was a criminal act more so than any part of some terrorist conspiracy.

Many right wing blogs have gone overboard about two things: 1) the fact that Hasan was a Muslim and should have been caught and identified earlier and 2) Obama has handled things wrong here and this is proof he is bungling the war on terror. I partially accept the first conclusion and totally reject the latter. This is not a matter for the President per se-its a matter for the Army to fix itself.

Guys like this one-don't just snap. I think the signs that he was a substandard performer must have been there for a while. I can't help but think that had he been in any profession within the military besides the medical one-he would have been shoved out the door a long time ago.  To have an army psychiatrist giving talks on Jihad in a military context and not have anyone call him on it, or take measures to monitor him, or challenge him is -well, just amazing.

However, that does not make it more than what it was- a criminal act made by a man who had lost his judgement. Substitute the words  "angry Christian anti-abortion fanatic" in the place of the words" crazed Muslim fanatic" and you have the same crime nonetheless. The key issue here is not to overreact or go on a tirade. Either American is true to its ideals or it is not-and that means people have the freedom to worship as they see fit. Even in the military. They do not have the freedom though to violate the norms of the dialogue of their profession and its clear Hasan was allowed to do that.

This is a tragic crime-nothing more, nothing less. Those who are trying to read anything more into it-are asking for trouble.

Could it have been prevented? Perhaps-especially given the signs this guy put off. Then again maybe not.  I do believe that he could have been he could have been driven out of the Army earlier-especially since its apparent he was not the pick of the litter. 

Thomas Ricks has some great points that I do agree with:

1. The shooter obviously was a low performer. Why was he shuffled along through the system, instead of simply being let go? I worry that the military often keeps the bottom 5 percent of performers simply because it is easier than getting rid of them.

2. Was he not let go for fear of appearing prejudiced? If so, someone is guilty of moral cowardice, of failing to do the hard right thing instead of the easy wrong.

3. If, as reported, he tended to rant instead of practicing medicine, keeping him on a disservice to the wounded soldiers he counseled. What was his record of treatment, compared to other therapists? Did soldiers complain about him? This should all be reachable information.

4. Did Walter Reed have such a file of complaints about him? If so, was Fort Hood made aware of this when he was transferred? Or was this a classic case of dumping a difficult soldier on another command, in this case with catastrophic results?

5. There appear to have been a number of warning signs. Obviously, it is easy in retrospect to see them. But is there anything that can be done differently? General Casey, the Army chief of staff, said over the weekend that he is worried about a "backlash" against Muslim troops. I think the best way to prevent such an overreaction would be to re-assure soldiers that the Army is uncovering and dismissing Muslim soldiers who veer into extremism. 

There are no larger conclusions to be drawn here. I'd love to point out that this gives a big lie to the "fight them there-so we don't have to fight them here" argument in favor of protracted war in the Middle East, but I can't. Even if we were not in Iraq or Afghanistan, this thing could  have happened-and has happened before. I remain opposed to continued presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, however its not germane to this particular topic.

Its also pretty silly to draw some of the other conclusions that have been drawn-like the one from the idiot at Slate Magazine-who believes that since the gunman was brought down by a female MP, it somehow should drive the Army to lift its ban on women in combat units. Apples and Oranges and has been for a long time now.

Its also not a reason to go on some big witch hunt of profiling, or anything else. The rules were there to get this guy already-it seems apparent they were not followed.

Its also pretty stupid to try to excuse this as PTSD or anything else. Its a crime and if he wakes up-he needs to be tried and punished. I think this guy did not want to go on deployment-tough. Its not an excuse.

I do wish the Chief of Staff of the Army had not said this: ""I think the speculation could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And what happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here," Casey said."

Diversity is not worth talking about here-criminal conduct is.

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Aug 26 2009

Senator Kennedy

Published by under Memorials

I have nothing of substance to contribute to the assessment of his career right now but just wanted to add my condolences. I’ve spent as much time as anyone bad mouthing him in my earlier years-and I did not agree with all of his positions. I will agree with those who say he was better than a lot of our current crop of Senators at getting things done legislatively.

My biggest question will be how long the discussion about this event can stay civil. My bet is not very long.

7 responses so far

Aug 18 2009

Another voice silenced…..

Published by under Memorials

Robert Novak is dead. And for that-we are that much the poorer.

 

That Novak would hire a leg-man to go around Washington sniffing out news reflected the virtue at the heart of his work:  His columns, while they resided on the op-ed pages, were built upon previously unreported facts that revealed and explained the machinations of government, the men and women in power, and the politics behind it all.  His job demanded he get a constant flow of new information, but curiosity and a thirst for knowledge were natural traits for him. 

Bob Novak was, above all, a reporter. Watching him work was a delightful education in reporting.  

The world needs more reporters-reporters who actually understand what that term really means. Novak was one of those folks.

 

 

 

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Jul 17 2009

Farewell to a friend…….

Published by under Memorials

Walter Cronkite is dead.

To those of us of a certain age-who now have to confront the daily morass that is the news media these days-not having Walter Cronkite on the scene is just a tremendous loss.

Walter Cronkite was unique man- a died in the wool print journalist who made the transition to TV. He reported the major events of the 20th century and while he obviously had strong opinions on the issues of the day (s) he was not the opinionated hacks we see on the networks today. (Especially on the sewer that is Fox news these days- I wonder what Mr Cronkite had to say about Glenn Beck).

Its a tremendous loss for the country.

Watch this interview with him about his famous editorial about Vietnam, given at the height of the Tet offensive:

 

 

They don’t make journalists like that anymore. And the new age of TV won’t create anyone like him. Guess I’m lucky to say I got to see him and the folks he trained.

3 responses so far

Jul 10 2009

Not sugar coating it.

Published by under Memorials

 Joe Galloway on Robert McNamara.

 

Well, the aptly named Robert Strange McNamara has finally shuffled off to join LBJ and Dick Nixon in the 7th level of Hell.

McNamara was the original bean-counter — a man who knew the cost of everything but the worth of nothing.

Ouch!

His regret cannot be huge enough to balance the books for our dead soldiers. The ghosts of those unlived lives circle close around Mr. McNamara. Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the Infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late."

Of course, it could be argued that McNamara was simple thirty years too early. Back in the 1960′s people actually believed that war was an abomination, a state to avoided, a theft of what is good and decent about society. Now if a blogger called the deaths of soldiers overseas for a foreign population a waste-he’d get blasted about being unpatriotic.

Avoiding that debacle, shaped foreign policy and military thinking for a good 25 years. It led to the Powell doctrine that said-if you do go to war, you go full bore, and before you go, you better know damned well what the means of getting out was.

Ah, but then came the 21′st century and McNamara’s prodigy, Donald Rumsfeld, gave us back counterinsurgency warfare as a be all end all. Which also gave us a war without end, amen.

 

 

I’d be bitter too.

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Jul 06 2009

Robert McNamara……

Published by under Memorials

Died today. Leaving Donald Rumsfeld now in the unenviable position of longest living , really bad, Secretary of Defense. ( Quote shamelessy stolen from my Canadian counterpart).

Most of the coverage has centered on Vietnam-for which he does deserve a healthy share of criticism. However Vietnam was many years in the making before he arrived and LBJ or a the right words from the right guys could have stopped him.

McNamara’s real legacy lived on long after Vietnam. The Pentagon stopped being able to buy anything well. There were exceptions of course-but the painful process known as PPBS is still with us.

The ghost of McNamara will haunt every discussion where the word-"metrics" are thrown out.

That is how he really harmed the country.

He did do one thing right-McNamara directed the Air Force to adopt the Navy’s F-4 Phantom and A-7 combat aircraft, a consolidation that was quite successful. Imagine if the Air Force had been forced to buy the F-18 E and F, how much better off they would be today. And how much money they could have saved on F-22′s-which could have been used to buy new B-1 bombers.

Update: Detailed NYT Obit here.

 

 

One response so far

Jun 30 2009

My pal Al…….

Published by under Memorials

When I came home from work today-later than normal-I switched on the TV in the bedroom to watch the news. To my chagrin it was full of nothing but Michael Jackson.

In disgust, I threw the remote control at the TV. Fortunately-I missed. However it did little to assuage my ill humor-or at my disgust with the unfairness of the world.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. This morning at about 6:15 my cell phone went off. It had the Washington DC number of a high placed muckety muck within my company.

"Why is he calling me at this time in the morning?"

He was calling to tell me that he had received sketchy word that a coworker of mine, employed by the same company and hired by this man, had died suddenly of a heart attack. "Could I get a hold of someone and get some more information?"

Down here in Shopping Mall-there are not so many of us from our company. Most of our strings are pulled from up north. So I quickly ran through my list of numbers and hit the "call" button. Yes it was true-he had been taken to the hospital and had not survived. People from his section were already en route to the house-and his church was mobilizing a "food brigade" to make sure his wife was taken care of.  Please hurry into work and let the big bosses up north know what’s going on.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

This particular man had been my "sponsor" when I moved here from Japan. He did not have to do it-in fact many  companies here in shopping mall do not do such things-but the management of my company feels strongly on the issue. Being quite busy in his own right-showing a "newbie" the ropes of this particular corporate entity was the last thing he needed to be doing.

But don’t tell Al that.

He met me at the front desk bright and early. Got me through the maze that is getting set up here-and then over the next few weeks showed me the ropes.

Al had been a Marine in his former life-and like all Marines he was damned proud of it. In fact damn proud is probably an understatement.  An infantry officer back in the day-he had spent some time as an Aerial observer in OV-10 Broncos. Out of that experience he had formed a deep and abiding respect for aviation. Since he knew that I was a former Naval Flight Officer-we used to talk about flying a lot.

Al was also a Ham radio operator-enthusiastic about the hobby. He had his call sign on his car license plate. My father is an Amateur radio operator-and Dad  could never coax his miscreant son beyond a novice license. ( The code kicked my ass). It gave us another bit of common ground to talk about.

Politically we were very different. However, unlike what some in the blogosphere seem to think these days-that did not prevent us from having political discussions in a cordial and respectful tone towards each other. Since I work indirectly for the Navy-he never missed an opportunity to hammer home to me something in the news-whenever the Navy had a bad day in the headlines. ( Something that seems to be happening a lot these days). However underneath the pointed barbs was a respect for the naval service-just I have a deep seated respect for the Marine Corps he so dearly loved.  We knew we had to hang together in an overly Army saturated environment.

Al was, like me, a generalist. In an organization like the one I work in, full of  geeks engineers,  he never had-what he knowingly referred to as:  "the right skill set".

What Al did have, and I watched closely,  being of a like mind myself, was a PHD in the art of getting things done.  The organization we work for prides itself on "process" -so much so that it makes even simple projects a real chore. Al, quite properly held that process in the contempt it richly deserves. All the while however, he knew how to use it, to mold it, to bend it it to his will, in order  to get things done.

All the while shaking his head at how hard the ghost of Col Blimp (the patron saint of this particular organization)-had made of the getting there.

In recent months-he was frustrated. Justifiably so, if you ask me-especially given the changes that have transpired in our little place over the past year. We went to lunch from time to time-or had the occasional beer after work-and together we let vent to our frustrations. He talked a couple of times about chucking it all. Letting his wife take a job where they wanted to live and he would work in an electronics store.

Today makes me wonder if he should have.

However, he continued to give 100%-even if his overlords did not properly appreciate it sometimes.

Al was a guy who made some noise-when he was in the room, you knew it. No meek, mild, Casper Milquetoast practitioner of "buzzword bingo" was he. Some people just exist in a given situation. Not Al-he attacked the daily grind-with no loss of enthusiasm along the way. As a another co-worker put it, "Al was the kind of guy that if someone told him that he was tilting at a windmill, he would press on undeterred."  He wore the role of Don Quixote with pride. He was also true to the real meaning of the entire title of Cervantes book- as ingenioso  means "to be quick with inventiveness".

Al and his wife had been on a holiday back to the place they loved-and I am told they had a big family event where he got to see his kids-and grand kids. He was supposed to have been back to work today-after being on a well earned vacation.

They say that when it happened-it came quite suddenly. Which, as the logic goes, can be a blessing.

And no doubt later in the week I will hear pastors tell me how everything happens for a purpose.

That may be, however for this evening I will soon head to the cupboard for a bottle of Scotch. Through which I will become more than mildly schnockered -the better to curse the unfairness of the world. And give thanks for having been lucky enough to know a great man.

Which, ironically, brings me back to Michael Jackson. There are literally 1000′s of men like Al in this country. They enrich us all in ways we never really understand at the moment.  There’s no one on CNN weeping about them. Guys like Al make the rest of us rich-over and over again.

No disrespect-but the only guy Michael Jackson made rich was some record promoter.

Time for the Scotch-it’s just not fair.

 

 

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