Monthly Archives: January 2017

Lost at Sea

By lex, on Mon – February 21, 2005

Which has a dramatic title, but is really only a wee, tiny little sea story that doesn’t go anywhere in particular.

But which I’ll share with you anyway.

In the spring of 2002, the carrier on which I had the privilege of serving was returning from a relatively successful in port period in Mazatlàn, Mexico. By successful, I mean: No one was incarcerated (overnight), everyone came back to the ship (by the time we left port) and what very little had been broken had already been paid for. Since Sailors of all ages, stripes and varieties are, as a class, much given to howling at the moon once ashore (and away from home), we reckoned this a successful port visit indeed.

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Iwo Jima

By Lex, on Sat – February 19, 2005

Was it only 60 years ago?

Somehow it feels like more ancient history.

The WSJ has a great op-ed up today from historian Arthur Herman on the sacrifices made on the beaches, and in the Grinder. After a sustained pounding by naval gunfire and bombers, the Marines went ashore for over a month of bloody murder.

Even before the attack, the Navy’s bombardment of Iwo Jima cost more ships and men than it lost on D-Day, without making a significant dent in the Japanese defenses. Then, beginning at 9 a.m. on the 19th, Marines loaded down with 70 to 100 pounds of equipment each hit the beach, and immediately sank into the thick volcanic ash. They found themselves on a barren moonscape stripped of any cover or vegetation, where Japanese artillery could pound them with unrelenting fury. Scores of wounded Marines helplessly waiting to be evacuated off the beach were killed “with the greatest possible violence,” as veteran war reporter Robert Sherrod put it. Shells tore bodies in half and scattered arms and legs in all directions, while so much underground steam rose from the churned up soil the survivors broke up C-ration crates to sit on in order to keep from being scalded. Some 2,300 Marines were killed or wounded in the first 18 hours. It was, Sherrod said, “a nightmare in hell.”

And overlooking it all, rising 556 feet above the carnage, stood Mount Suribachi, where the Japanese could direct their fire along the entire beach. Taking Suribachi became the key to victory. It took four days of bloody fighting to reach the summit, and when Marines did, they planted an American flag. When it was replaced with a larger one, photographer Joe Rosenthal recorded the scene–the most famous photograph of World War II and the most enduring symbol of a modern democracy at war.

Yet, in the end, a symbol of what? Certainly not victory. The capture of Suribachi only marked the beginning of the battle for Iwo Jima, which dragged on for another month and cost nearly 26,000 men–all for an island whose future as a major air base never materialized. Forty men were in the platoon which raised the flag on Suribachi. Only four would survive the battle unhurt. Their company, E Company, Second Battalion, 28th Regiment, Fifth Marine Division, would suffer 75% casualties. Of the seven officers who led it into battle, only one was left when it was over.

This was my father’s generation, the tale of his time. He was a merchant marine officer on the New York to Murmansk run, and saw some horrible things along the way – but nothing, I am sure, to match the Hell on a small island that was Iwo.

But it was not just his tale, World War II and the fight against fascism – from the current distance, viewed down the lens of history it seemed to be national narrative. Somehow our national participation has grown in size over the passing years – not quite as remarkably perhaps as has the size of the French Resistance: Many more resistance fighters were “active” members after the liberation was complete than ever were during the years of Vichy collaboration. But in our national myth, everyone was there – fighting if they were men, joining the nurse corps, or serving in factories (remember Rosie the Riveter) or keeping the home fires burning if they were women.

But it’s not really true of course – many fought, and the nation was at war, but life went on at home, even with a draft. Even with millions of men under arms. One of my friends from church is a member of that generation, and he was one of those who made his way through the war in business, because the country didn’t really stop while the soldiers went to war. And my friend, when he talks about those times, nearly always seems to regret that his part of the tale did not involve heroic service in foreign lands. He is now over 80, and has accumulated a number of regrets – but it is this I think, that he regrets most bitterly. And it is not that he should, because the industrial capacity of the nation won the war nearly as certainly as did her soldiers, Sailors, airmen and Marines.

I grew up in Virginia, which means of course that I grew up within convenient range of many battle fields. I have walked the Wilderness, looked down upon Fredricksburg from the heights over the river, visited Appomatox Courthouse. I have been to Cold Harbor, looked up upon the Little Round Top at Gettysburg and wondered how it could have happened that men could shake out battle flags, form up lines and walk up that long field into the plunging fire.

But all of that is truly ancient history.

These World War II veterans are among us still. We can still hear their voices. And they can still teach us.

I have been to Iwo Jima – when I was stationed in Japan, we used to fly down there to practice our carrier landing patterns prior to going aboard ship for carrier qualification. It is a small, small place to have held such death. One wonders that it did not sink under the weight of the blood of 28,000 who died there on both sides. I have walked up LST beach with Suribachi to my left, glowering down from its fog-shrouded heights. Looked right and seen more rising terrain, an elevated sea wall to the right. I have made the long climb through soft volcanic sand and finally waist high grass, to get to an uncertain summit, and everywhere, seen the mouths of cave and tunnel systems in which the fanatic hordes poured out in counter-attack after counter-attack.

In nothing but tennis shoes and a bathing suit, I have found myself panting and out of breath, and thought about the men who waded ashore that day, 60 years ago today, with 80 pound packs and the noise and their brothers falling all around them like blades of grass beneath a mower. And I have wondered how they did it, and if we, whom they made, are made of the same stuff.

After Fallujah in November, I believe that at least some of us are. As for the rest, perhaps in 60 years’ time we will learn about how our great campaign to once again liberate millions from tyranny and throw down fascism of a different stripe was truly national in character. I am sure that if this great task we are embarked upon is successful, that will be the narrative.

Success, it is truly said, has many fathers.

———–

Update – thanks to Oyster, for this pic, taken from Suribachi, looking down the beach:

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Friday Musings Feb 11 2005

By lex, Fri – February 11, 2005

Vodka martini (Ketel 1), very dry. One olive. With Brie cheese and crackers, if it do ya.

I save the olive ’til the end.

It’s raining again in Sunny SoCal. And in combination with the olive, I believe this has affected my mood.

——–

Big day on campus today – we had a change of command. Out with the old flag officer (and a wonderful gentleman) in with the new (no one really knows, yet.) So we were all a-flutter in our service dress blues, and your humble scribe was the formation commander. If any of my USMC readers would have seen the appallingly random and shockingly inconsistent result attended by the command, “At a close interval, dress right – DRESS!” they would maybe forgive us more than they have already.

We’re just saying.

———

Driving down the 5 today (in the autovoiture, it being a rainy day), just south of the La Jolla swoop, I espied a single representative of the state of California’s finest pulled over on the shoulder, lights out. Which I took as considerate, knowing as I do the inevitable custom of SoCal freeway drivers to jam on their brakes and rubberneck at the sight of a CHP light show. Which, in combination with the rain, would have no doubt made for a pile up of epic proportions.

Very clever, these CHP.

Anyway, there was a car down in the holler off the road edge, a BMW M3 by the grille, in the brambles, facing the wrong way and with the blinker tapping out a slow dirge to eventual battery depletion. Nothing more could I see, but I imagined all in a moment the inevitable human drama – the slick road, the excessive speed, the panicked stop, the spinning of the wheel, the road edge flying up, the sound, the silence.

This goes on all around us all the time, and we do not see it.

It’s the rain, I tell you. Or perhaps the olive.

———-

I cannot tie a necktie, and it drives me to distraction.

I hope I do not sound more than ordinarily arrogant (for a fighter pilot) when I say that I tend to be good at things. You know, stuff. I pick it up quickly, whatever it is. I’m not bragging, it’s just the way it is, and I have gotten used to it.

You should too.

Which is why my inability to tie a proper necktie drives me to distraction.

I don’t have to wear a necktie very often. It’s been flight suits, for the most part. Open collared khakis, for the rest. Sometimes I wear a tie to church.

Sometimes.

But.

I was getting dressed today for the change of command today, and as I buttoned up my shirt, I lifted up the (previously tied) necktie (that someone else had tied for me) and lowered it over my head, only to discover that the end of the tie did not quite reach down to my belt buckle. Which of course, it is absolutely supposed to do.

No – it fell short of my belt buckle by a measurable distance. Leaving me feeling, in my service dress blues, a bit like Popeye’s hamburger-chomping friend Wimpy. Which simply would not do, for so many reasons. Most of which having to do with his 1940’s attitude, mustache, waistline and name.

So.

I determined that I would retie the damnable thing. How hard could it be?

Bah!

I must have retied the thing a dozen times, trying to get the length just right. Never mind the knot. And the clock kept ticking.

I’d make the finest possible adjustment in starting positions, on my way to the essential half-Windsor – and find the tie end reaching to my knees. Or nearly.

A centimeter’s adjustment would I go in the opposite direction – and the thin end would extend below the fat end, neither reaching to my belt. Meh.

Finally, at the last possible moment, I created a knot that would not, by itself, shame the naval service. And that reached all the way to my belt.

Fully satisfied (may I say smug?) with my success, I came home, and in a moment’s distraction, pulled the knot apart.

D’oh!

 

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A Ride In A Ford Tri-Motor

Two days ago, I had an interesting flight. The EAA has been flying 2 of these around the country, stopping at various cities and offering rides to the public.

For $75, I got a ticket. I thought that was quite a bargain, considering the cost of flight these days.

We took off from Sacramento’s Executive Airport for an 18 minute flight around the city.

I think the Trimotor was historic for being one of the first true airliners (not a mail plane that could haul passengers). But between the Depression and the coming DC-2 I think it had a pretty short service life.

They built 199 of them.

BTW I thought it looked very similar to the German Junkers JU-52 . I learned that the main designer, William Stout (whose company Henry Ford bought) – copied German Professor Hugo Junkers ideas for all-metal aircraft. 

I asked one of the docents where you get parts for a 90 year old engine – and he said that they were P & W Wasps – (I think even the venerable Stearman had them) – parts were readily available.

So thanks to my trusty iPhone 6 SE you can ride with me – from start up to the 18 minute flight. 

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By lex, On Sun – January 30, 2005

“Yeah all those stars drip down like butter,

and promises of sleep…”

R.E.M. Monster – Let Me In

That’s the way I hear it anyway. Amazing thing about R.E.M. is that there is no “official,” authorized lyrics compendium, so you’re left with discographies put to pixel by untold thousands of angst-ridden, post-adolescent pseudo-poets who have attempted with uncertain success to transcribe the maunderings of one Stipe, Michael , 1 each (see also: tortured artists, musical).

In many of his early albums, and certainly on the over-driven Monster, Stipe’s lyrics seem so borderline incoherent that they amount to the audiophile equivalent of a Rorschach test. Which I think is a fascinating concept.

In my own long past, oft-lamented youth, I broke up with one paramour for no better reason than the fact that she evidently believed that the chorus of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” actually consisted of the words, “Love is a fantasy.” (note: It does NOT!).

It wasn’t the only reason (the relationship was going nowhere), but it certainly caused all of my ghostly and insubstantial misgivings to coalesce in one obsidian edifice, around which your humble scribe, deeply enthralled by the idea of Higher Love, rolled and jabbered, shaking his ape-like fist against the uncaring and unyielding sky.

home-january72005

 

“Love is a fantasy”! As if.

This opened up a rather revealing window, I thought, into her whole weltanschauung, if not her actual psychological health. For the latter, no final example exists from my years as a free-range rover than the young lady in the Greenwich bar, dressed all in leather (with engineer cap) who sidled up to me appraisingly, and after sipping from her Budweiser, told me (gratifyingly) that she thought I was kinda cute, and added (bloodcurdlingly) that she thought I’d look really hot – tied down, and afraid.

Now, the world is a richly variegated place, and frail humanity many-faceted in its explosive proliferation. So there are no doubt those for whom, dressed as I was in khaki pants, a button down shirt and docksiders, the forgoing formulation would have been exactly the precise verbal and visual combination calculated to send them into paroxysms of joyful anticipation. Maybe even lust. Who knows.

For me, it had an opposite, rather “chilling” effect. Like, “Love is a fantasy.” When it’s clearly “battlefield.”

Clearly.

So I think the lyrics to the “Let Me In” song include “promises of sleep,” and not, as others might contend, “promises are sweet.” Because taken in context, that would mean nothing at all. And I refuse to believe in nothing.

At all.

Plus, I know exactly what “promises of sleep” means.

Because (and this is where he gets back to the whole “Sea Stories” theme), I have just gotten back from being at sea, where I was reminded of certain personal facts:

We are instructed that the average person needs eight hours of sleep a night.

I know that I can hum along happily pretty much forever on seven.

I know that I can function almost indefinitely on six hours per night. But that I will hit it hard when I get ashore, and sleep on both ears.

And I also know that while you can catch up on sleep, you can’t get ahead. Which is a shame, really.

I know how it feels to lie in bed awake with too much left to do before the alarm clock rings, thinking to myself, “If I get to sleep right now, I’ll get six hours sleep,” followed by, “If I get to sleep right now, I’ll get five and one-half hours sleep.” Etc.

I know that I can survive on five hours sleep a night for at least three weeks. I haven’t had to go longer than that, and I never enjoyed a moment of it. Sleep becomes a dream you have inside a dream on five hours sleep, after several days. It becomes the measure of your life’s worth.

I know that I can make due on four hours sleep for four days if I must, but that I am likely to get sick at some point after that.

These are some of the things that are impressed upon you, or rather, re-impressed, when you go back to sea again. Because like the memory of pain, you may remember that a thing may hurt, but remembering how much it hurt is impossible. You remember that a warship never truly sleeps, at sea – there is always someone awake, someone working. The watches on the bridge, keeping the ship safe. The watches in engineering, keeping the plant running. The night shifts working to make flyers out of aircraft down for discrepancies tomorrow. The random sailors whose job it appears to be to shout at one another just outside my stateroom at 0200, just as I am falling asleep, leaving me to start again with, “If I go to sleep right now, I’ll get four hours sleep…”

That must be their job, to shout outside my stateroom, since that is what they do.

So today I came home, after a short week, and a long seven nights at sea. We’ve done the debrief, had the celebratory adult beverage ashore, and headed home to our inport cabins. Where your humble scribe promptly threw himself into the rack, turned the ringer off the phone, pulled the blanket up to his chin and the spare pillow over his eyes and slept on both ears for three hours.

Because even if you can’t get ahead, you can catch up.

Those are the promises of sleep.

 

 

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Home Again

 

By lex, Sun – December 19, 2004

Wow – glad that’s over.

Or almost over – we still have the debrief to go on Monday morning. Jump up in front of the three star with my merry band of principal warfare assistants and subject matter experts, pontificate (but not at length, not as who should say “great length” – he’s a busy man – so are they all, all busy men) and then sit back down, await the momentary frisson of approbation that comes with a exceptionally difficult job, done exceedingly well, and then move on to the next thing. Which right now, happens to be Christmas. So I’ve got that to look forward to. Which is nice.

But no, the Christmas shopping is by no means complete, thanks for asking.

You might have advised that I try to shop at sea, via the internet, but that would only mean that you had never tried to shop at sea, via the internet, before.

You know those itty-bitty straws they use in night clubs to mix the well drinks? Imagine that you have been without water in the desert for six days, while forced to do push ups and sit ups in the burning sun, in between wind sprints. Now imagine being asked to drink your table spoon-sized ration of water through one of those cocktail straws it and you’ll have some idea of what surfing the World Wide Wait can be like at sea. It’s not like we don’t have bandwidth. Bandwidth we’ve got, great huge frothy galumphing amounts of bandwidth – it’s just that none of it is apportioned that way. For Christmas shopping, I mean.

Oh, sure – if you know exactly what you want: Google up “Airborne Laser Volcano Lancing ,” for example – you can probably get that done. That is, unless you were for two times in the preceding three months while at sea the victim of credit card theft, and the credit card that you actually have in your wallet is now cancelled, and now there is no reliably secure way to email or fax your new credit card number to the ship.

In that case you’re pretty much SOL, airborne lasers on your shopping list or no.

Neither am I one of those preternaturally organized, invariably smug and sand-poundingly self-satisfied shoppers that has crossed every item off their Christmas list by the preceding ides of March. No, I greatly prefer the carefully controlled lab experiment in chaos theory which comes from traveling across the country to Virginia, my own, my native land, on the 22nd of December, going pied-à-terre in the world’s most maddening shopping mall on Christmas Eve, and catching the sport at its very best. The pleasures are simply indescribable.

In fact, the only thing more wonderful was last year, when after several hours of hurling myself repeatedly (and it must be admitted, with little success) upon the altar of consumerism, I found myself looking about longingly for a store that sold any of the following items: Firearms and ammo, razor blades/rubber tubing, rat poison, quality braided rope of not too rough a texture and capable of supporting roughly 190 pounds, moving at, say, 32 feet per second, squared. While thus (fruitlessly) engaged I saw the actual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who stands in precedence to your humble scribe in roughly the same proportion as he himself stands to single-celled organisms) doing his Christmas shopping in the same circle of hell as was I. Or me. Myself.

Whichever.

And so seeing this, I grasped at the beginnings of wisdom. These I will share with you, constant reader, free of charge: Death may indeed be the great leveler of men, but Christmas shopping is repeatable, and as a form of practice for the real thing, not to be lightly cast aside.

All that being true, then it can’t get any worse, you say?

Come, let me disabuse you: Have I failed to report that the Biscuit (age 13) now considers it nothing less than normal, indeed quite natural, that a portion of each trip to the shopping mall must be spent inside the world’s most humiliating store (for a man to enter, anyway)? I feel like a vampire at the church doors each time I go near the place. I stand there in front stammering “No, fine actually!” to all the several passersby who, alarmed at the sight of my violently blushing complexion, wonder if perhaps it isn’t possible, even likely, that I’m having a stroke or seizure of some sort? Because from my perspective, there simply isn’t a plausible or creditable reason for me to be on the same level as that store, not to mention standing on its threshold. Which is not to say that I’m a prude. It’s just to say that, well… I’m not exactly sure what it’s to say, but it’s deuced uncomfortable, old chap. To all of this, of course, the Biscuit is either sublimely unaware, or acutely unconcerned. And I can not quite decide which.

But this is all to look forward to, and perhaps one of you would prefer to be caught up:

We’ve been busy. Long time readers of this blog (I mean you two, over there) will know that your humble scribe has been at sea more or less continuously since the 12th of September with some all-to-brief intervals of sand crabbing in between to remind myself where I park my car, which office is mine (there’s that sandwich!), and to reacquaint my family with my gross physical characteristics. But as I mentioned above, our own Long March is over, for the now, and the workload should become a little more normal in the discernible future.

Why such much? Glad you asked: For the Iraq War we got every ship to sea that we could, and so all the carriers that went and joined the war in 2003 all came back pretty much at the same time. Which meant that they were all pretty much ready to go to sea again at the same time. Which was the last four months. Which is where me and my merry band come in.

But in between coming home from the war, and going to sea again, the CNO , who by the way is (for a Shoe) an incredibly smart individual, besides being a powerful and handsome man, made some decisions. For one, he decided that it would be keen to institutionalize our capability to surge the force in case of emergency, rather than discerning a crisis on the horizon and then walking the strand and turning over rocks to look for ships, like we’d always done in the past. This strategy is called the FRP, or Fleet Response Plan (variously, the Fleet Readiness Plan, no one seems to be able to authoritatively decide) and it’s an Exceptionally Powerful Idea¹

Which is a precise formulation guaranteed to send staff officers scurrying to shopping malls, looking for stores which sell: Firearms and ammo, razor blades/rubber tubing, rat poison, quality braided rope of not too rough a texture and capable of supporting roughly 190 pounds, moving at, say, 32 feet per second, squared.

Because it’s all very well and good for service secretaries and four stars to have Exceptionally Powerful Ideas, but someone has to figure out how it’s all going to actually work. And that someone is us!

So yeah, we were busy, but now we’re not and that pretty much encapsulates all you need ever know about the naval service.

More later, as it comes to me.

 

——————–

Note 1:

In the beginning was the Plan

And after the Plan came the Assumptions

And the Assumptions were without form

And the Plan was without substance

And darkness moved upon the faces of the action officers.

And they spake unto their Division Heads, saying:

“It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh”

And the division heads went unto their Chiefs of Department,

And Sayeth unto them in turn:

“It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof!”

And the Chiefs of Department went unto the First Flag Officer

in their Chain of Command, and Sayeth unto Him:

“It is a container of excrement, and it is very STRONG!”

And that Flag went unto his Fleet Commander, and

Sayeth unto Him:

“It is a Vessel of Fertilizer, and none may abide its Strength”

And the Fleet Commander went unto CNO, and Sayeth:

“It contains that which aids Plant Growth, and it is very strong”

And the CNO went unto the Chairman and Sayeth:

“It Promoteth Growth, and it is very Powerful”

And the Chairman went unto the Secretary,

And Sayeth Unto Him:

“This Powerful New Plan will Actively Promote the Growth

and Efficiency of the Department, and this area in Particular”

And the Secretary looked upon the Plan,

And he saw that it was Good, and so the Plan became

Policy.

 

And that is how shit happens.

 

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Pet Peeves

By lex, on Thu – October 21, 2004

I got ’em.   You got ’em?

I had a boss, not long ago. He took a while getting to his point. His technique on any issue, so far as I could tell, was to come at it in concentric circles of serially smaller diameter.

Many concentric circles.

I found this maddening. Being a man of at least average intelligence, I was prepared to answer the question he was preparing to ask long before he got to it. But military decorum required that I let him wander his circuitous way to his target.

Waiting for him to get there always made me suffer.

I’m a direct attack kind of guy. I’ve got a question for you, or guidance, you’ll get that first. When I know you’ve received the message, then I’ll ask how the family is doing. Then maybe we can socialize. I’m not saying that’s better or worse, I’m just saying that’s the way I am.

It’s not that I’m anti-social – if there’s nothing much going on I’ll run my lines, talk to the folks and shoot the breeze. It’s just that I consider that sort of thing as separate and apart from the mission, whenever it is that I have one. I don’t like to leave people guessing, because I don’t like to have to guess. When the boss comes into the room with a bag of knots, the worker bees want to know what’s what, get him out of there and get to work on the problem.

I had an office that was at the end of a T-shaped passageway (that’s a hallway to you sand crabs). At the intersection, my office was on the right, one of my subordinates was on the left, and ahead was a fax machine – a dead end, in other words. This same guy had a habit, twice? Maybe three times a day, of coming down the passageway and parking himself at the T, staring at that fax machine.

And there, he would wait.

He would wait until someone, either me or my subordinate, would acknowledge his presence and ask him how he could be helped. And then he’d walk slowly into that person’s office, sit himself comfortably in his chair, and start his meandering way towards whatever it was he had eventually come to talk about.

I eventually came to realize that this was a control technique – a kind of passive/aggressive behavior. Knowing this did not save me, however, from playing along. I could, for the space of a few moments, choose to stare rigidly at my computer monitor, pretending that I was unaware of his darkening presence at my door. I could hope to at last my subordinate, hoping that he might volunteer to ask the boss first how things could be better.

In this hope I was always disappointed. My subordinate, safe in a more junior officer’s position of immense moral superiority when dealing with such tactics, could safely ignore the boss. And I, that infinitesimal bit closer to the throne, could not. Our service does not include as one of its attributes ignoring our superiors.

No matter how strongly we feel that they deserve it.

Anyway.

Tonight I’m at the gym. It’s been a while – I’ve been running every morning before work, but I haven’t paid my dues on the weights or machines lately. There just hasn’t been the time. And I’m looking forward to a relaxing session of hurting myself, just that little bit.

There’s this guy, not much more than a kid actually. In the full flower and pride of youth, blooming, ridiculously healthy. And he’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Vote” on the back. And on the front it says:

“Reject Bush

And all his policies

And all his ilk.”

And it was so in my face, in that same sort of passive aggressive way, for the better part of an hour.

At one point, we’re at the water fountain together, and as he turns around I can’t help but sneer just that little bit. And he says to me, “What?”

Which is too bad for him, because if he’d caught me earlier, before I’d had the long, rambling dialogue with myself in my own head, I would have been stuck with, “Excuse me?” But no, I’ve had time to think about why his t-shirt kind of pisses me off. So I tell him:

“Dude – that shirt is everything that’s wrong in our society today – the first line is rejection, not affirmation. You’re not advertising anything positive, not proposing an alternative – you don’t know what you want, but you know what you don’t want and the only way to describe that is juvenile.”

He turned pretty red in the face in that, and started to bluster, but I wasn’t quite done. “You asked,” I said, “And now I’m telling – all of his policies? What on earth is that supposed to mean? Is it code language of some sort?”

But I didn’t give him a chance to answer, because frankly, I was on a roll, and he had become the avatar of all passive/aggressive people that have always driven me off the tracks, and I finished with, “And ilk? That’s the worst part – that’s like coconspirators. It’s dehumanizing. One of the biggest problems in society today is that my side of the political sphere thinks that your side is naive, or at worse misguided. Your side thinks that mine is stupid or evil.”

And he called me a “f*$%# fascist!” and we parted company. Neither of us, I suspect, the more enlightened.

Which pretty much ruined the workout for me.

But I was set thinking – the one piece I couldn’t work a good answer up for was “all of his policies.” I mean, how do you answer that? What does it mean?

I turn things over in my head, I gnaw and worry at them. So it was also revelatory, after (unfortunately long after) our “discussion” at the water fountain had concluded: What can a President really do, all on his own? Without the other branches of government giving assent, or getting in the way and asserting their own rights? He can’t declare war – that privilege belongs to the Congress. And Congress, you’ll recall, had (if not declared war) at least authorized the use of force in Iraq.

But recognizing that would spread the blame too far and wide – many democrats had also voted in support of the use of force resolution. It’s hard to demonize the entire Congress. How to explain that away?

Ah – Bush lied. That’s the ticket, and why it was so important for Michael Moore and all to say that Bush was lying when he spoke and acted as he did on the WMD issue. Because, if he was just reacting to the information which his intelligence services provided, subsequent to a horrible attack that had in one morning killed nearly 3000 American non-combatant citizens, then there really wouldn’t be any good reason to attack his “policies,” except in the light of 20/20 hindsight.

So I think that’s what I learned today. Why the “Bush lied” meme is so important to some on the left.

It makes everything else possible.

 

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All Kinds of Leadership

By lex, on Thu – August 26, 2004

Well, my paean to the world for sea stories has already borne fruit – I’ve written in these pages the glories of the US Navy Chief Petty Officer’s mess, but Steve, a DoD contractor, has his own story to share:

Lex,

Not exactly a sea story, but the exact moment when I decided that the Navy was a good thing:

I enlisted right out of high school, shipped off to boot camp the day after graduation. I was a Nuclear candidate, and knew I would “look forward” to two solid years of school. After a mediocre “A” and “C” school, I was doing well in the last six months of “Prototype” – a submarine up on blocks where we learned how to apply all that theory we’d studied.

I finished my quals – I was a Naval Nuclear Reactor Operator, a push-button third class about to re-enlist for an obscene amount of cash, assignment to the Truxton. The world was my oyster. Living large. Enjoying suburban Connecticut in the spring.

A week before graduation, I went to the green table for a judgment call I made as class leader. CO didn’t agree with my call, busted me a paygrade, and kicked me out of the Nuke program. (As an aside, I’m not sure if he realized NJP was on the day before my 2 years’ service point, so I was docked about $6/month – E-4 under 2yrs to E-3 over 2yrs, but I digress.)

They sent me to the Transient Personnel Unit at SUBASE New London. TPU sucked. The Nuke washouts (still PO3’s) were there, as well as those less-than-desirables from the riverfront that were “awarded” base restriction by SSBN/SSN CO’s – the real dregs of the submarine community.

I was no longer Nuclear. Having heard nothing but how great the Nuclear Navy was for the past 2 years, I was pissed to have spend the rest of my contract in “the conventional” Navy, you know, with all those *other* people.

Classic depression set in – I was a textbook case of a sailor gone bad. Drinking and brawling and all the other bad things folks do in self-destruct mode. In hindsight, pretty understandable, but pretty dumb, too.

Until STSCS(SS) Dra~, the crustiest, saltiest department head I’d ever (or since) met, called me into his office for missing afternoon formation, or something just as assinine. My attitude was that I was basically about as low as I could get, what could he do? Take away my birthday? Send me to the fleet? Bah, that was already going to happen.

No sooner than he picked up on that, he’s around the desk and I’m up against the wall, feet six inches off the deck, his hand on my chest firmly anchoring me to the wall. (Note for all you young’uns out there: no yellow card, no timeouts, no counselors worried about my emotional well being. The door was closed and I now knew why.)

“Look, you dumb ess-oh-bee, you’re not an effing nuke anymore. You sucked. You’re not good enough. You’re not in that pretentious club anymore. They don’t want you. Get over it.” …or words to that effect.

(cue the dramatic music, some dust in my eye because Senior Chief couldn’t make *me* cry…)

“So, you’re at the bottom of the top 2% of the Navy. Or your at the top of the bottom 98% of the Navy. Think about it – you can do whatever the hell you want. Captain’s Mast? Hell, I’ve got four!”

(cue lightbulb) Dang, I thought, all those really cool things that the “real” navy does that nukes can’t do (like go topside once in a while) – all at my fingertips. The whole navy, outside of nuclear engineering spaces, was available to me. All I had to do was get it.

Senior Chief took me under his wing for the next three weeks, showed me everything about the “real” Navy, and sent me off to the fleet as one smart(-ass, but less so) quad-zero non-rate.

I have never worn E-3 stripes on my jumper more proudly than at his retirement ceremony two months later. Because I knew why it was important. And I knew he was talking about me (and others, no doubt) when he said what’s become a cliché – getting young sailors onto the right track was the greatest thing he accomplished in 27 years.    

 

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Friday Musings August 20 2004

By lex, Fri – August 20, 2004

 

Another week down – ordinarily that would be worth a “woo-hoo!” if not a “yabba-dabba-do.”

But now each passing week brings me and my hardy crew closer to a very busy fall schedule. Oh, it isn’t like we’re going to be strapping on body armor and shouldering rifles in the blazing summer heat – but we will be gone a lot. And, we’ve just received a heroic injection of uncertainty and confusion, just when my ops planners had finished placing the last card upon the precarious house we were building of them.

Plan early, plan twice. Needs of the service.

Good news! SNO got to come home for the weekend, after his first week away. He had a great time, telling me that he’d never packed so much into such a short period of time. Sounds like he did a great job all the way around, and he was very proud of his accomplishments. The butterflies are gone now – and he’s got his own sea stories to tell.

I sat back gratefully, and let him spill it all out – it came out in a tumble, each story reminding him of the next, which in turn reminded him of another. My temptation was to add to the narrative, to compare stories, but I resisted – this is his own time to speak, and mine to listen.

And now there are two of us in the service – I hardly know what to think.

Could eighteen years have passed so fast?

frimusings08202004

 

Ah, look at him now…

frimusings08202004a

Taller than I am, fitter than I was and a whole lot better looking than I ever hoped to be. Evolution, I suppose.

You’re maybe wondering about the mustache? That started to turn gray too.

There was a picnic for the parents who could come by, the Biscuit came with her friend – the Biscuit received far more attention from the assembled midshipmen and Marines than a father would have thought entirely appropriate. She didn’t seem to mind the attention.

Meh.

frimusings08202004b

 

Supercharged from her experience, she decided that the only thing for it was to go to the mall.

Dunno about you, but I’m really looking forward to the time that the stores start selling jeans that go all the way up to the wearer’s t-shirt again.

———————–

I’ve got a bone to pick with the newspaper delivery guy – I don’t know what we did to earn his enmity, but every morning I find our combined Union- Tribune and WJS subscriptions in the driveway gutter. Oh, they’re wrapped in plastic against those sudden summer showers (what?), so the actual paper doesn’t get wet. But still, folks have their automatic lawn sprinklers set for 0600 every day, so the package is always just a little wet and dirty.

It’s a ridiculous complaint, I know – but I also know that PSYOPS must be continuous to be effective, and that no one else on the street ever seems to have their news in the gutter every morning. Don’t know what he’s driving at.

———————–

Driving.

The closest land-based TIAD I ever had (that didn’t involve flipping a Jaguar XKE) was in Kuwait, commuting between Camp Doha and Al-Jabber base on the Dead Sheep Highway. Well, that probably wasn’t it’s real name, but it was as aptly descriptive as whatever you might find in the native tongue.

Turns out that the sheepherders there are required to bring sheep that die for whatever reason to the road edge, in order to be accounted for by the flock owners. In the viciously overheated summer months, the sight can be pretty appalling. You don’t want to know about the smell.

DSH is essentially a two and a half lane road with no markings. East bound traffic is supposed to hug the right shoulder, while the westbound traffic hews to the opposite side. Passing traffic splits the difference.

So I’m in a mad haste to get from Jabber back to Doha (it seems that I’m always in a mad haste to get somewhere, when I’m driving) and coming up on a lolly-gagging semi. Talking on the phone to an Air Force officer at the embassy, I decide that it’s safe to pass the semi, even though another is coming in the opposite direction. Plenty of room for all three of us.

Pretty much abeam the same direction semi, and committed to passing him at this point, the USAF officer delivers some mildly disappointing news about some issue that was not significant enough to remember, when I startle him by screaming, “Frap!” Or anyway, words to that effect.

A sedan trailing the oncoming semi decide it was time to pass his man as well. The road is plenty wide enough for three of us, but it was categorically not wide enough for four of us. I tucked as close as I could into “my” semi and essentially closed my eyes. I’ve no idea how I didn’t hit the sedan, only that when I opened them again, I was past my man and the other semi and sedan were receding into the distance in my rear-view mirror.

And the USAF officer wondered whether I knew something he didn’t, or if I was just reacting poorly to his news.

My passenger was a stalwart young man – a combat wingman of mine, in fact. He never said a word.

That’s a good wingman.

——————————-

Under what should have been the caption, “Not Clear on the Concept,” the NYT reports that anarchists are set to disrupt the RNC convention in New York. The were conspicuously absent from Boston, as I recall, a fact which no doubt brought great pleasure to Bryan Strawser.

I’m no classical scholar, but know enough Greek to understand that “anarchists” should be opposed to all forms of government, not just the kind led by one or another political party under the same constitution. These guys need to go re-read their source documents. Or else change their label.

Whatevah.

——————————-

As a midshipman at a fencing tournament in NYC a couple of years decades ago, I was standing on a street corner wondering what to do (in New York!) with two teammates when an alarm went off at the laundromat next door. From out of nowhere, five or six beefy representatives of New York’s finest came barreling out of the gloom and caught some poor unfortunate who had hoped to walk off with what must have been seven or eight dollars worth of quarters.

But on the way in, one of them had brushed against a young tough in a leather jacket who had been drinking beer from a paper bag on the street, together with several of his friends. As the cops, having bundled the thief into a waiting patrol car, stood around talking, their breaths jetting out in gusts of fog in the crystal clear, bitter cold, winter night, the aforementioned tough guy thought it fit to lodge a civil complaint, right there and then.

Yo! You guys made me drop my beer!” the young man said, to the clearly astonished, momentarily speechless group of police officers.

“What did you say?” one of the cops finally asked, as all turned to look at him.

“When you was running in there, you knocked into me and made me drop my beer!” the young man said, his body language going from confrontational to defensive as four of the cops slowly surrounded him, clearly enjoying the moment. His friends, meanwhile, all did their best Claude Rains imitations.

My teammates and I, children of a gentler world, watched raptly as this theater played out before us.

The cop that had brushed into him suddenly, almost gracefully, grabbed a fistful of hair and gave the tough guy a couple of quick slaps across the face – nothing really hard, but certain to sting his pride, if not his cheeks, and said, “Well, you wasn’t supposed to be drinking it out here on the street, was you?”

The other two mids and I exchanged glances. Life in the big city, our eyes agreed. Move along.

So, yeah. Anarchy. In a post-9/11 New York City.

They should make sure their dental plans are paid up.

I’m not endorsing police brutality. I’m just saying.

—————————

Have recently bought a new digital camera, nicest one I could afford. Frankly maybe a little nicer than I could afford. It came with a bundle of software from Nikon, which appears to do much the same thing as does Apple’s iPhoto. Comes with it’s own free webspace for publishing, too.

I can’t really tell if the Nikon Picture Project software (now there’s an inspiring bit of marketing: “What should we call it? I know!”) has any advantages over iPhoto (and in any case I end up tweaking my work in Adobe’s Photoshop Elements) so I’m reduced to copying the photos into both application sets.

Which can’t be the way to go.

Thanks for bearing with that. I know it wasn’t easy.

—————————

Is it just me, or does anyone else think this story is kind of funny?

Oh, I know it doesn’t particularly tend to cast the TSA in the most favorable light, but still.

Think if he’d been on a no-drive list 35 years ago…

Yeah, that was a cheap shot.

But still.

————————-

Y’all had enough? I have.

Have a great weekend!

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Ben Stein’s last essay

By lex, on August 16th, 2004

A good read, sent to me by an old friend.

For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column for the online website called “Monday Night At Morton’s”, from that famous restaurant which was often frequented by Hollywood Stars. Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life. Reading his final column to our military is worth a few minutes of your time because it praises the most unselfish among us; our military personnel, others who protect us daily and portrays a valuable lesson learned in his life.

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today’s World?

By Ben Stein

As I begin to write this, I “slug” it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is “eonlineFINAL,” and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end. It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world’s change have overtaken it.

On a small scale, Morton’s, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton’s is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to. How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today’s world, if by a “star” we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.

A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.

Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.. A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists. We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton’s is a big subject. There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament….the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive, The orderlies an d paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery, the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children, the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.

Now you have my idea of a real hero. We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human.

I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin….or Martin Mull or Fred Willard–or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister’s help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. 

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