Friday Musings 04/30/2004


By lex, on April 30th, 2004

Schizophrenia is a psychosis characterized by personality and thought disorganization, and it affects an estimated 1 percent of all people. Schizophrenics occupy more mental hospital beds than patients with any other single diagnosis.

Maybe I should entitle this weekly entry, “schizophrenia”? I mean, it does tend to be a little disorganized.

But mental disease is hardly a matter for wordplay and jest, so anyway, off we go:

How are you feeling right now? I mean, this moment? Odds are you’re feeling pretty well, and not even thinking about it. You’re sitting at your keyboard, looking into the monitor wondering, “now what’s he on about?”

I had a really bad 24 hours yesterday, and the night prior – the night I got home, of all nights. And as that awful night went on, I started thinking to myself, “how much would I pay right now, to feel as I felt yesterday, without even thinking about it?”

So if you’re feeling pretty well right now, stop for a moment and give thanks.

The last time I felt this poorly was after a port visit in Beautiful Karachi, Pakistan, in 1988 or ’89. We’d been warned about the risks of drinking the local water, but hey, I’d spent a summer in France, what could possibly hurt me after that? My only sin in the event was brushing my teeth with the hotel tap water.

And that was all it took.

The Karachi bug still takes the cake, I never want to be that sick again without getting to die at the end of it.


In spite of the fact that I was feeling like an extra in a George Romero movie , it was nevertheless required of me to go over to the fleet commander’s headquarters and debrief our latest exercise. Unfortunately, the Big Guy thought it fit to pomposticate (yes, I made that up) during my introductory remarks, which pinned me to the dais for just a few moments longer than I thought I had in me. Fortunately, my only emissions were of all the expected variety, and I was cleared to head for home as soon as my role was complete.

What, was that an over-share? Sorry…

A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.


The usually dependable James Lileks put up a bleat today (last night, probably – I think he fudges the system clock). Having had the advantage of once being a college newspaper editor, he talks about poor Rene Gonzalez * over a UMass, who wrote a counterpoint to the popular take on the Pat Tillman story, and promptly got his face blown off.*  Metaphorically of course – that’s the kind of risk a college editorialist takes, in this country, John Aschroft notwithstanding. Give the kid credit though, he admitted today to that his paper hadn’t been worth publishing, that it was insensitive and apologized to Tillman’s family.

Which is better than we can probably hope to receive from the editors at the UMass Collegian – they’ve wrapped themselves in the first amendment, True Heroes and all that, Speaking Truth to Power. Jonah Goldberg spent most of yesterday * dissecting this intellectual cowardice, masquerading as the moral high ground:

“There’s only one problem, the First Amendment has, mmmm, let me see: Nothing to do with this. The First Amendment protects against government censorship. This is a question about editorial judgement. Be men (or women) for pete’s sake. If you want to defend your decision to run the piece on the merits, great. But don’t pretend that the constitution made you do it.”

There’s probably not a lot a working man can do at this point to add to the debate, such as it is, except to note that, 1) It’s becoming harder and harder to offend us, in my view. Post-modernist moral relativism has so thoroughly permeated the public sphere that you really have to get out and try to make this big of an ass out of yourself.

2) For better or worse, the internet has allowed even the radical fringe (of whatever political stripe) apparently equal access to the pedagogic stage. There are people out there that are just a microscopically fine gradation away from those wearing tin-foil hats to keep the thought police out, who now have a way to spew their inanities (and insanities) all over the rest of us.

We really shouldn’t stare, it only encourages them. (If the preceding is ironic, it is unintentionally so, Eric.)

But back to Lileks, he wonders how all the angry people will react come the fall, should W. be re-elected. So many folks feel personally invested in this, that he’s concerned about the possibility of a resurgence of ’60′s style domestic terrorism, the Weather Underground, SPLA and all that.

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think so. The 60′s (ed. oh, God, not that again) were a serious time of social change, inside this country and overseas. There are quite a few otherwise rational people who have to stifle a gag reflex whenever the President comes on TV, who think the war in Iraq was a bad idea from the beginning, etc – but the other, ancillary issues which so energized the protesters of 40 years ago (the draft, civil rights, and so on) have already been settled – I’m hard pressed to think that anyone, even on the fringe, will seriously consider hurling molotov cocktails over universal health plans, Kyoto protocols and globalization.


So I was at sea for two weeks with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. An interesting experience. The embarked Marines are why the amphib Navy exists, and although they don’t come right out and say it, it’s pretty clear that they understand that, and want to make sure you do as well.

There is an elaborately gradated hierarchy aboard naval warships, and few places where this phenomenon is in more plain view than at “knee-knockers.” A knee-knocker is a hatch coaming: The passageway will narrow from a width sufficient for two to walk abreast to a narrower “doorway,” with only room for one person to step through. These have two purposes – first, they provide an anchor for water-tight doors, in case there is flooding or fire. Secondly, even if no hatch exists, they prevent sea water used for fighting fires to all slop to one or another side of the ship, thereby affecting stability. The coaming is higher at knee level, hence the name: Misstep and you’ll knock your knees (or shins, anyway).

But the important thing is that only one person can fit through at a time. The usual method for determining who gets to go through first is seniority: A seaman yields to a petty officer, who yields to an ensign, who should yield to a lieutenant, who in turn yields to the commander, and so on, right up to the admiral.

But what if two of the same rank approach at the same time, you ask?

That’s where it gets a little more interesting. Usually it’s either the larger person, or the one with the larger ego. Therefore a 250 pound deck ape will usually brush aside a 130 pound electronics technician. And a fighter pilot never yields to anyone of equal or lesser rank.

But here’s the thing about amphibs and Marines – they don’t yield to Navy guys of whatever rank. Not right away, at least. You’ve got to stare them down. Sheesh, it’s like they own the place.

Which, in a way, they do.


The Marine infantrymen are almost painfully young looking. Just big, playful puppies in pixelated cammies, with rifles. Which they carry with the same degree of casual confidence as a yuppie might carry a cell phone. Their berthing spaces are cramped and crowded, and so they’ll spill out into passageways and ladder wells to talk, play cards or read. Just like their fathers and grandfathers did.

They are not much older than my son, and while I watched them train for war, I also watched images of their brothers fighting and dying in Fallujah. And a part of you wants to give them a hug, and tell them thank you, and that it’s going to be OK, but the rest of you knows that this is probably not a very good idea. Because while they’re young, they’re also hard, and there are very few that have earned the right to give them a hug, and anyway they wouldn’t want it.

And when you pass through the mess decks at lunch time, and they’re all in there eating, and the news comes on, you see them stop talking, stop eating and look up at those images from Iraq and you wonder what’s going through their minds as their eyes narrow to the screen. Knowing that they know that they’re up next.

I think that movies form a part of our cultural mythology these days, the way fire side tales did for primitive societies. And these kids grew up watching movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers” and “Blackhawk Down,” and inside themselves I wonder if they think that they know what it’s going to be like – if they haven’t already been in combat before, many of them have. There will be noise, and shooting and confusion, and people will die, but not Josh Hartnett, he will be in the stadium at the end after a lot of killing and a long run. And he’ll be served water by Pakistani army soldiers, looking exhausted and poignantly heartbroken at the comrades he lost along the way.

Because we are all the leading men in our own narratives, we are all Josh Hartnett, the guy that lives. Because it’s not possible to really empathize with the guy that dies, he doesn’t write his memoirs and he’s never the leading man. It’s some actor whose name you don’t know, that dies.

And as a naval officer, looking at these young Marines, it was a little sad to know that while most of them who thought this way were probably correct, some of them almost certainly were not.


Spring is in the air in San Diego. How can you tell? The folks who have allergies start to complain of them.

There’s a bush outside our headquarters, a fairly common shrub whose name I do not recollect, if ever I knew it. In the springtime, it sprouts small, creamy white berries which bring me back to the Virginia of my youth and sing to me of springtime, and honeybees. Because the yard in front of my house had such bushes, and the smell is evocative of a time and place long past.

Smells will do that for me. To this day, I cannot open up a new box of uniform shoes without flashing back to plebe summer at the US Naval Academy, in July 1978. We had been harassed down to the uniform store to purge ourselves of our civilian slops. Hoisting what felt like several hundred pounds of new uniform items up to our rooms, we were required to expeditiously change into our new rigs, and stow away all loose gear. The smell of the uniform shoes and fresh cottons was everywhere. Somehow I associate that smell with fear and surprise, even to this day.

Everyone has their own “loss of innocence” tale from their youths. Mine was laying on the front lawn one warm summer’s evening, under the cherry blossom trees. It was warm, but not yet hot, and the blossoms were just past their bloom. The sun was setting, and through partly closed eyes, as I treasured the prospect of the coming night, I saw a cherry blossom detach itself from the tree, and settle gently towards my face. I smiled in anticipation of its soft and fragrant touch.

It ended up being a bee, which unprovoked, stung me on the cheek as soon as it landed. I discovered that night that I was allergic to bee stings. I was seven years old.

What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing. Nothing at all, just a musing.


This weekend I am alone with son number one and the primary daughter – the Hobbit and the auxiliary daughter having absented themselves to the desert with the girl scouts.

Wish me luck.

*06-30-18 Links gone. No replacement found – Ed. 

Back To The Index 

Leave a comment

Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Life, Navy, Neptunus Lex

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s