Thoughts on Inflating One’s History

I’ve been thinking about Brian Williams’ problem.

First, to put the issue in perspective, Walter Cronkite and the journalists of his era to whom Brian Williams is being compared didn’t deal with this odd conflation of real news and whatever the hell the Kardasians are. We don’t even know what the news is anymore.

Brian Williams did go into the combat zone and put himself in danger to report from there. He did not get shot at. That kind of sucks.

I spent September, 1967, to August, 1970, in the operating rooms in the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, at times working more than once around the clock on the Marines coming off the med-evacs from VietNam. We put most of them into good enough shape to survive the ride back to the States, but not all and it was a fucking mess pretty much either way. The memories, good and bad, from there have never left me; but I never got shot at, and that’s always bothered me.

I was a REMF. The guys down at Charlie Med in VietNam were doing the heavy lifting, and I was just cleaning their patients up to send them home. Even when I did “go to VietNam” it was on an aircraft carrier. We had a couple of accidents on the flight deck, but accidents happen everywhere. I was there without being there. I was never in it. Do you think I’ve never thought about embellishing my service?

The thing is that I know these guys, and they will know if you lie to them. Accept the privilege of having accomplished what you did accomplish. I know that, if I had ever actually been ordered to Field Med School for duty with the Marines, I’d have been kicked out of the Navy then and there for my flat feet. I wasn’t supposed to be there… but it still bothers me.

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“The Beginning of Love…”

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.
Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

-   Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

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Thoughts on violence in our culture

I am mindful that we are, at our core, omnivorous territorial predatory mammals. We believe – we hope actually – that we are civilized enough to live in communities, but I wonder whether or not we really are.

I was going to write a post about cops killing people and now we have cops being ambushed, and now I wonder if it isn’t all the same thing. I wonder if most, if not all, of this mess doesn’t come back to partisanship; a “we-they” view of the world.

I recently  went to a FEMA training with a dozen members in various divisions of LAPD, and I had a chance to talk with those at my table about why I thought the organization I work with partners so much more easily with Fire than with Law although Law is usually responsible for evacuations. It came back to their respective views of humanity; law enforcement is always scanning those present for the bad guy.

Law enforcement in our culture is a paramilitary culture that often appears to behave more as an occupying force to keep the population in line than as friends and neighbors doing a job. Few officers even live within the communities in which they serve anymore. I think that lack of inclusion, in combination with possession of deadly force on one’s belt and the need to make snap assessments and decisions, leads to mistakes in judgement.

I’m not a sociologist – and don’t much care for sociology – but I can totally see a cop pulling up on a scene, jumping out of his car as he assesses the scene and reaches for his… baton? taser? pepper spray? service weapon? What criteria does he use in making the choice? (Why is it always a guy?)

On the other side of the conflict are those who also feel they are not a part of the community as a whole for a variety of reasons, or who are perceived as not being a part of the community. Again, it’s the “apartness” that gets people killed or leads them to strike out against the avatars of community standards.

The big argument I keep hearing for man’s supremacy is our cognitive abilities; but at every turn in the road we always seem to revert to that primal state. We judge our universities by their football teams.

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“sic transit gloria mundi”

I am mindful that everything is transitory. As Heraclitus said: “No man steps in the same stream twice for the stream is not the same, and neither is the man.”

Since I moved back to California I’ve been working together with some really fantastic people to recreate a delivery system for disaster services for the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. Granted, the work was getting done before, and it’s not like we tested our model against the coming major earthquake, but it was our model and there was some pride in our handiwork. That’s going to be transformed now by decisions above our paygrade, and that hurts; but it puts me in mind of the reality that everything changes.

In North Carolina I had the opportunity to participate in forging a 27-county Western Carolinas Region from the 16 counties of Western North Carolina and the 11 counties of Upstate South Carolina. That involved a certain amount of angst among those who had to exchange their time-honored ways of doing things in the face of new realities – although we were always sensitive to the impacts of the changes on folks. As I write this, that Region has been dissolved and the counties reapportioned into a Western North Carolina Region and a South Carolina Region.

Before going to North Carolina, the Pomona Chapter was subsumed into the San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter which was subsumed into the Los Angeles Region while I was gone.

The HMO I worked for after college was subsumed into United Healthcare.

Every ship I served in while in the Navy has been decommissioned.

Is there a point to it all then? I believe that there is. I believe that the choices we make, and whether or not we act on them and how are probably our only real legacy. Who knows how long that will last? How far and for how long will the ripples spread?

I did what I did with what I hope were good intentions. I have felt satisfaction in doing things well enough to accomplish their purpose, but I don’t think it’s been about me. I try not to make it about me.

Still, seeing that “wrecking ball” coming again… it hurts.

Happy Birthday, Max!

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A 10th Blogiversary

Ten years ago today I posted for the first time on Always Question. The timing was more than a little odd, if I’d stopped to think about it., but I didn’t.
I do enjoy writing for the blog, but rarely make time for it anymore. I’m more pessimistic than I used to be, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it; but writing helps me organize my thoughts, look at things from a slightly different perspective.
I follow several people on FB, but that isn’t the same as visiting and commenting on their blogs, and I certainly don’t write the same way on FB. How is it then that I post an almanac every morning on FB without fail, and very seldom post here? Is it avoidance of thinking about things?
Happily there are seldom any more Navy Corpsmen (or Marines, for that matter) being killed. There was no easy way to capture and recognize the folks who were wounded however seriously, but recognizing those killed was important to me.
I don’t check the Defense POW/MIA site as often as I used to lately because recovery efforts seem to have fallen off in recent years, but also because it’s slipped from my consciousness.
I need to reengage, to get back into the practice of examining and analyzing and questioning – always questioning. There is plenty to question.
For today: “May no fears affect you.
May no illnesses afflict you.
May no dangers come your way.
May you enjoy good health and long life.”

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I Missed California Politics

I didn’t realize how much I had missed California politics until recently. It’s very different here from North Carolina; still a pretty horrible way to choose our representatives, but more entertaining somehow. Neel Kashkari is a case in point.

The first time I saw his ad on television I thought it had to be a gag. Here’s this cross between Mr. Clean and Paul Bunyan splitting firewood with an ax, and going on about how he knows how money works. I’m thinking, “does he know that Lincoln was The Railsplitter and not the kindling maker?” I mean, I suppose it’s nice that he’s endorsed by Romney, and W, and Issa, and Pete Wilson, but a cursory glance at his biography tells me that he probably doesn’t know the first think about earning a living wage by his own sweat.

Looking at the pool of candidates for governor, I see that his Republican rival, Tim Donnelly, former head of the California Minutemen and a Tea Party candidate, is expected to beat him at the polls Tuesday, and that’s a shame; I think you could sell tickets to a debate between Jerry Brown and Kashkari.




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Donald Who?

I am reminded once again of how topsy-turvy our priorities can be.

Donald Stirling or Sterling who apparently owns a local basketball team allegedly made some racist remarks on a tape made by his ex-girlfriend. As terrible as that is, I don’t care.

Okay, I do care because it saddens me that people harbor all of this bigotry in their hearts, but this guy is just a landlord who owns a sports team; he’s not even a bigot who owns a chain of fast-food chicken outlets. I can’t stop going to games or watching them on television because I never started. Send him wherever they sent Mel Gibson and be done with it.

There are real things going on in the real world that really matter, and the news is covering this guy instead of that! It’s maddening!

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I have questions about raising the minimum wage.

I’ve probably said this before – the last time we went through this – but feel that it needs to be said: there’s a reason that economists qualify their opinions with “ceteris paribus.” It means a lot of their opinions are pretty much guesswork because it’s virtually impossible to change just one thing.

The President feels that raising the minimum wage will be just the thing to raise up low-income wage earners; and that’s factually correct. It will raise the wages of those currently earning the minimum wage, and of everyone earning less than the proposed minimum wage, and of everyone whose wages are calculated on the basis of the minimum wage. We used to call that inflationary, but now it passes for social engineering.

I don’t know how much the maintenance guy and groundskeepers in my apartment complex are paid, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to be getting a raise pretty soon. The owners/investors might be willing to eat that additional expense for me – I’d appreciate that – but it’s much more likely that my rent’s about to go up, and I’m on a fixed income and I don’t see the Tea Party voting a raise for me anytime soon.

My sense is that most low-wage jobs aren’t with Fortune 500 companies. I think they’re with small-business operators with very slim profit margins, and they’re going to have to raise their prices to stay afloat. It they can’t do that, I think they’re going to have to sell out which will lead to more consolidation and job losses, but that will probably take a little while to sink in and that should work out pretty well for the Democrats in the 2014 elections. My lease is up for renewal before that.



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Random Thoughts on the Shootings at the Navy Yard

I’m sorry, but I really want to write about some other stuff and I can’t until I purge my mind so here are three thoughts on these shootings.

I don’t see this as an appropriate basis for a push for gun control. Aaron Alexis took a shotgun to the Navy Yard. He got the handgun when he shot and disarmed a peace officer at the scene.

His access to the Navy Yard is a very real issue that should be addressed. Here’s a young man who was within moments of an other than honorable discharge, but because he took the early (honorable)discharge his clearance was never revoked? HP or whomever accepted his former clearance two and a half years after his discharge? In my humble opinion, that’s pretty sloppy work. Is the FBI still the lead agency on security clearances?

What is up with the Mayor and the DC cops doing the press conferences, and the FBI being the lead agency for a shooting aboard the Navy Yard? I know that Cote de Pablo is leaving the show and Mark Harman isn’t a real NCIS Special Agent, but WTF!?! Unless it’s because the FBI screwed up on Alexis’ security clearance and then it’s just them cleaning up after themselves. That would make sense.

Final side note: I’ve seen people describe Alexis as a “practicing Buddhist.” I’m not one to judge, and I’m certainly not a model for someone trying to be a practicing Buddhist, but I feel that perhaps a guy who is willing to carry a firearm and take a life to protect his material possessions is to being a practicing Buddhist as I am to being skinny, handsome, and rich.

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Admitting That I’ve Moved

I haven’t said anything about leaving Western North Carolina in May, and moving back to Los Angeles County.  A couple of folks have asked me if I’m dying or something along that line; and, of course, that is my destiny, but that’s not why I moved back.

I miss the work I was doing back there – I think a lot of it was good – and I miss the mountains every single day. I miss people with whom I became close. The fact is that I have family and people and a forty three year history in California, and I feel this is where I ought to be.

I miss the Western Carolinas Region of the American Red Cross. It is already such an achievement by and for some really incredible people who were completely unknown to me less than four years ago. I’ll miss hurricanes and tornadoes and storms (I’m a disaster services volunteer), but the simple structure of this thing is a piece of art. Volunteers going out in the day or night to assist people who’ve experienced the worst is what we do, but they’ve spanned cultures and ideologies and boundaries of all sorts and they’ve made it work over and over and over again. Awesome.

I miss Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and the opportunity to work with some beautiful animals and the dedicated people committed to finding homes for all of those beautiful animals. I could go on and on, but I should stop. It hurts my heart when I read of a dog (or cat) in need of a transport, and I’m not there anymore.

I’m back at work with the LA Region of the Red Cross, mostly with the San Gabriel Pomona Valley offices, working with Disaster Action Teams and training Disaster Responders. I feel like I’m making a difference. It is enough for now.

One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.   –   Henry David Thoreau


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