Monday, May 31, 2010

Metal Memorials

Moving words from Army of Dude:

“Hey man, just so you know, I’m going to set this thing off.”

I don’t have a metal plate in my head or shrapnel in my legs, but I carry with me something that might as well be lodged deep under my skin. After Vietnam, soldiers and civilians alike would wear bracelets etched with the names of prisoners of war so their memory would live on even if they never came home. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued the practice, but with a twist. The same bracelets are adorned with the names of friends killed in action. The date and the place are also included as a testament to where they took their last steps. One of the first things my platoon did after coming home was order memorial bracelets from the few websites that specialize in military memorabilia. You don’t even have to type in the name or the date; their system uses the DOD casualty list. All you have to do is filter by name and a software aided laser will burn the selection onto an aluminum or steel bracelet. What emerges out of this casual and disinterested practice is jewelry teeming with the amount of love and commitment found in ten wedding rings.

Every trip to the airport has the same outcome: additional security checks and a pat down from a TSA agent. I tell them it’s the bracelet that the metal detector shrieks at. “Can you take it off?” is always the question. “I don’t want to take it off” is always the answer. To some screeners my answer is a poke in the eye of their authority, a wrench in the system of their daily routine. Others recognize the bracelet and give me a gentle nod and a quick pat down. I suspect they have encountered other veterans like me and realize the futility of asking to have it removed. In a glass booth at the security gate is where I most often get the question, “Who’s on the bracelet?” Those who realize the significance of it usually want to know the name. I stare down and rub my fingers over the lettering. “Brian Chevalier, but we called him Chevy.”

At times the memorial bracelets seem almost redundant. The names of the fallen are written on steel and skin, but are they not also carved into the hearts of men? Are the faces of the valiant not emblazoned in the memories of those who called them brothers? No amount of ink or steel can be used to represent what those days signify. My bracelet says “14 March 2007,” but it does not describe the blazing heat that day, or the smell of open sewers trampled underfoot or the sight of a Stryker, overturned and smoke-filled as the school adjacent exploded under tremendous fire. It was as if God chose to end the world within one city block. When Chevy was lovingly placed into a body bag under exploding RPGs and machine gun tracers, worlds ended. Others began.

The concept of Memorial Day nearly approaches superfluous ritual to some veterans. It's absurd to ask a combat veteran to take out a single day to remember those fell in battle, as if the other 364 days were not marked by their memories in one way or another. I try to look at pictures of my friends, both alive and dead, at least once a day to remember their smiles or the way they wore their kits. I talk to them online and send emails and texts and on rare occasions, visit them in person. We drink and laugh and recall the old days and tell the same war stories everyone has heard a thousand times but still manage to produce streams of furious laughter. I get the same feeling with them; Memorial Day does not begin or end on a single day. It ebbs and flows in torrents of memory, sometimes to a crippling degree. Most of us have become talented at hiding our service and safeguard the moments when we become awash in memories like March 14. The bracelet is the only physical reminder of the tide we find ourselves in.

Perhaps it's best to let civilians hold onto Memorial Day and hope they use the time to reflect wisely. A time to remember old friends or distant relatives that they did not necessarily serve with but still honor their sacrifice. Not just soldiers are touched by war. Chevy was a father and a son, and his loss not only rippled through the platoon and company but a small town in Georgia. The day serves as a reminder that there are men and women who have only come back as memories. Maybe the reflection on those who did not return is a key to helping civilians bridge the gap with veterans. Occasionally my bracelet spurs conversations with friends and coworkers who did not know I was in the Army or deployed to Iraq. I still don't feel completely comfortable answering their questions but I'm always happy to talk about the name on my wrist. His name was Brian Chevalier, but we called him Chevy.

Till the Last Shot's Fired

h/t coffeypot

The Arlington Ladies

During a recent Army funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, a woman escorted by a member of the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), stood silently near the gravesite.

Not related to the Soldier being interred that day, she is one of about 65 women, known as the Arlington Ladies, who volunteer to attend Army funerals held at the nation's most hallowed cemetery. So every time a Soldier is buried there, an Arlington Lady is present.

They attend funerals in the heat, in the snow and in the rain. They are present for the burial of the youngest Soldier who was killed during his first tour in Iraq and for the World War II-era Soldier who spent his last years in the Old Soldiers Home in Washington, D.C.

The Arlington Ladies stand a silent vigil at funerals attended by dozens of mourners and at funerals where a Soldier has no next of kin - no friends present to render a final salute. In fact, that is the very reason they attend funerals.

Since 1973, the Arlington Ladies have ensured that no Soldier - old or young - is ever buried alone.

The Arlington Ladies serve, they say, because it is an honor for them to let families know the Army has not forgotten the service their loved one gave to the United States. And their service, like that of the Soldiers they honor, is representative of the Army's value of selfless service.
Army Times

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thoughts to consider on this Memorial Day

It' s not that I have any disrespect for veterans, living or dead, but our Constitution wasn't written by the Generals, no foreign power is any threat to it and that we still pay any attention to the Bill of Rights owes as much to the "activist" courts and the ACLU as to anything else. It owes nothing whatever to the Tea Bag flag wavers who hate government power unless it's carrying guns. It owes nothing to Macho flag wavers from John Wayne to Bomb-bomb McCain.

Memorial day has become an encomium not to dead soldiers; an expression not of profound grief. It's not a day when we mourn our losses or of any remembrance of the horror of war and militarism, but to celebrate living veterans, sing praise to the Armed forces and to the glory of war itself. It's a day we now use to decorate ourselves, congratulate ourselves on our military prowess and this in a country that's been fighting all my life but hasn't been on the winning side of a war since 1945. It's a day too often used to obscure the real threats to freedom with red white and blue bunting and it's good to remember that the same folks crowing about military defense of freedom are quite happy to require anyone with tan skin to carry proof of citizenship at all times, quite happy to give the local police the power of Federal Marshals and to forget all about warrants and probable cause. What army is going to protect us against our own smug racism, bigotry and expansionism?
The Swash Zone

This Memorial Day

To bracket stories of soldiers who gave way to fear, there were other such tales of bravery and valor, but those were the exceptions. As we listen to flowery words this weekend and shake our heads over politicians who get carried away to exaggerate their wartime experiences, it may be the time to remember a simple truth.

Fighting a war, like everything else important in life, is for most a matter of showing up, doing what has to be done and not running away, and there is a thin line between those who can do it and those who can’t.

The rest is rhetoric.

Connecting the Dots

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper meets Rudyard Kipling

Strong stuff....wise words.....

RIP Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper, the high-flying Hollywood wild man whose memorable and erratic career included an early turn in "Rebel Without a Cause," an improbable smash with "Easy Rider" and a classic character role in "Blue Velvet," has died. He was 74.

Hopper died Saturday at his home in the Los Angeles beach community of Venice, surrounded by family and friends, family friend Alex Hitz said. Hopper's manager announced in October 2009 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The success of "Easy Rider," and the spectacular failure of his next film, "The Last Movie," fit the pattern for the talented but sometimes uncontrollable actor-director, who also had parts in such favorites as "Apocalypse Now" and "Hoosiers." He was a two-time Academy Award nominee, and in March 2010, was honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Glenn Beck has Nazi Tourettes

Friday, May 28, 2010

Glenn Greenwald quotes the Constitutional Insurgent!

OK...probably not, but he does write something today in Salon that I have espoused in the recent past:

One of the favorite self-affirming pastimes of establishment Democratic and Republican pundits is to mock anyone and everyone outside of the two-party mainstream as crazy, sick lunatics. That serves to bolster the two political parties as the sole arbiters of what is acceptable: anyone who meaningfully deviates from their orthodoxies are, by definition, fringe, crazy losers. Ron Paul is one of those most frequently smeared in that fashion, and even someone like Howard Dean, during those times when he stepped outside of mainstream orthodoxy, was similarly smeared as literally insane, and still is.

The reason this is so significant -- the reason I'm writing about it again -- is because forced adherence to the two parties' orthodoxies, forced allegiance to the two parties' establishments, is the most potent weapon in status quo preservation. That's how our political debates remain suffocatingly narrow, the permanent power factions in Washington remain firmly in control, the central political orthodoxies remain largely unchallenged. Neither party nor its loyalists are really willing to undermine the prevailing political system because that's the source of their power. And neither parties' loyalists are really willing to oppose serious expansions or abuses of government power when their side is in control, and no serious challenge is therefore ever mounted; the only ones who are willing to do so are the Crazies.

Thus, for the two parties to ensure that they, and only they, are recognized as Sane, Mainstream voices is to ensure, above all else, the perpetuation of status quo power. As Noah Millman insightfully pointed out this week, those on the Right and Left devoted to civil liberties and limitations on executive power find more common cause with each other than with either of the two parties' establishments. The same is true on a wide array of issues, including limitations on corporate influence in Washington and opposition to the National Security State.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

If you can stomach it....

Here is a compilation of remarks on the floor of Congress, debating the repeal of Don't Ask - Don't Tell. Excerpts from the leading LYING, HYPOCRITICAL, ANTI-AMERICAN pathetic excuses for elected officials. Disgusting, oxygen thieving bastards every one of them.

The Principles of John McCain

"The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."  --Sen. John McCain, October 2006
"At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."  --  --Sen. John McCain, February 2010
"These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."  --Graucho Marx

Courtesy of They Gave us a Republic 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tea Parties Are for Little Girls and Their Imaginary Friends

That is all.

Friday, May 21, 2010


you won't find me quoting Ralph Nader. But thanks to RealityZone, I will break that mold:

"The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the
velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door.
That’s the only difference."

- Ralph Nader

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stupid is as Stupid teaches

For those not following the attempts to revise historical fact down at the Texas State Board of Education......all that you really need to know are the words to Chairman Don McLeroy, concerning the substance of textbooks:

“I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,” he declared at one point. “Evolution is hooey.” This bled into a rant about American history. “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.” 
Washington Monthly

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Republican values...from one day to the next

Indiana Republican Representative Mark Souder one day:

“I do believe that as a moral country, as a country that was founded in these values, we have always paid tribute to these values of traditional marriage and that the thrust of this bill, which a number of these amendments have tried to address, have highlighted what is clearly a deep cultural divide in this country. And that when it’s thrust at us, we’re going to defend it.”

......And the next:

"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.”
The Advocate

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A provocative essay on "Lock-And-Load Populism"

From Greg Grandin of TomDispatch:

Americans, it’s been said, learn geography when they go to war.  Now, it seems, many get their history when they go to a Tea Party rally or tune in to Glenn Beck.

History is a “battlefield of ideas,” as Beck recently put it, while looking professorial in front of a blackboard filled with his trademark circled names connected by multidirectional arrows, his hands covered with chalk dust.  In this struggle, movement historians like Beck go all in, advancing a comprehensive interpretation of American history meant to provide analytical clarity to believers and potential converts alike.  As paranoid as it may be, this history is neither radical nor revisionist, since the Tea Party activists and their fellow travelers pluck at some of the major chords of American nationalism.

It’s easy to dismiss the iconography of the movement: the wigs and knee breeches, the founding-father fetishism, the coiled snakes, and, yes, the tea bags.  It’s no less easy to laugh at recent historical howlers like the claims of Dick Armey, who heads FreedomWorks, a corporate Tea Party front, that Jamestown was settled by “socialists” or the Texas School Board’s airbrushing of Deist Thomas Jefferson from its history textbooks.  It’s fun to ridicule Beck, as Jon Stewart recently did, when he goes all “Da Vinci Code,” and starts connecting Woodrow Wilson, Mussolini, and ACORN in order to explain 2008’s economic collapse.

But historical analysis is about making connections, and there is, in fact, coherence to the Tea Party version of history, which allows conservative cadres not just to interpret the world but to act in it.  And yes, it is all about race.

Read more.......

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Ronnie James Dio, whose soaring vocals, poetic lyrics and mythic tales of a never-ending struggle between good and evil broke new ground in heavy metal, died Sunday, according to a statement from his wife and manager. He was 67.
Dio revealed last summer that he was suffering from stomach cancer shortly after wrapping up a tour in Atlantic City, N.J., with the latest incarnation of Black Sabbath, under the name Heaven And Hell.
"Today my heart is broken," Wendy Dio wrote on the singer's site, adding he died at 7:45 a.m. "Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes before he peacefully passed away.

DIO was one of my first exposures to music other than what my Mother and her friends listened to....not that there's anything wrong with Roberta Flack....

Godspeed Ronnie....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who'da thunk it?

US, French and British forces march in Red Square to celebrate the 65th Anniversary of V-E Day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A MUCH nicer picture of my Bike

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Brotherhood of War

Why is it that although they're good people and good friends, I can find nothing truly in common with my coworkers who have not been in combat? Though almost all have spent 20+ years in the Armed Forces, a genuine rift is apparent between myself and my compadre Allen, and the others we work with. I suppose it comes with being recently retired.

Don't get me wrong, most are great guys and have served their country with honor and dedication. I just find myself increasingly alienated by stories of peacetime service without the temper of the horrors of war.

My stories are not easily [if ever] shared, and only with those who would understand. Thus, I remain the quiet passenger......

Beer Review

Bear with me as I write this under the influence of the below mentioned beer. Being in Germany offers no small amount of Bier selection. And although I enjoy the hell out of a great Dunkelweiss, at most hotels and bars it runs around 4.00 Euro [give or take $5 - $6]. So low and behold, I walk across the street from my current hotel to a gas station and see 1 liter cans of a beer named Faxe.

In my best Deutsch, I ask the nice lady about the quality of such a beer that comes on an enormous can. She proceeds to tell me that it is a strong beer [duh, the can clearly states that it is 10% alcohol], and not for everybody.

Well.......I'm not everybody. I'm hooked! for 2.00 Euro, I can get a Danish brew that is 10% alcohol and has a nice dark blonde color with a hint of the carbonation found in Belgian ales.

Now, if I can only find it in the states......

The Star Wars Saga told in two minutes....

and with Legos!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Trail running in Germany

A relaxing run around the hills of Kaiserslautern [until I tackled the steps up the hill to the Soccer stadium].

My musical accompaniment:

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Iraq War Ledger

From the Center for American Progress:

Though the level of violence has declined from its 2006-07 peak—when dozens of bodies could be found on Baghdad’s streets every morning—Iraq still endures a level of violence that anywhere else in the world would be considered a crisis. Still, the end of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic allied with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy. The war was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits.

The tables and charts below tell the tale. We have grouped these costs into three categories:
  • The human costs, dealing with American and Iraqi casualties
  • The financial costs, dealing with the expense of the war and of the continued care for its veterans
  • The strategic costs, dealing with the impact of the Iraq intervention on U.S. power and influence in the Middle East and on the global stage
Before turning to those tables and charts, however, we would like to make two additional points.
First, it is critical to remember the shifting justifications for the Iraqi invasion. The Iraq war was sold to the American public on Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction and his alleged relationship with Al Qaeda. When both claims turned out to be false, the Bush administration justified the intervention on the idea that a democratic Iraq would be an ally in the “war on terror” and an inspiration for democratic reform in the Middle East. These arguments remain highly questionable.
Second, the authors would like to make clear that this analysis of the cost of the Iraq war in no way diminishes the sacrifice and honor displayed by the U.S. military in Iraq. Americans troops have served and died, and continue to serve and die, in Iraq at the behest of the American people and two of their commanders-in-chief. This is why it is important to draw the correct lessons from our nation’s invasion of Iraq. In order to do that, its costs must be examined honestly and rigorously.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The UK Election

Although being in Germany for the last moth has limited my TV news watching to CNNi and the BBC, I have always found British politics interesting [C-SPAN televises some sessions of the House of Commons]. If you're rather strange like myself, here is an excellent primer on how the British political system works.

And again.....Go Scottish National Party!!

Your daily does of institutionalized stupidity

On any other day at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Daniel Galli and his four friends would not even be noticed for wearing T-shirts with the American flag. But Cinco de Mayo is not any typical day especially on a campus with a large Mexican American student population.

Galli says he and his friends were sitting at a table during brunch break when the vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out. When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal's office.
"They said we could wear it on any other day," Daniel Galli said, "but today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it's supposed to be their holiday so we were not allowed to wear it today."

The boys said the administrators called their T-shirts "incendiary" that would lead to fights on campus.

So if some students wore foreign nationalist themed shirts on or around Independence Day, would they be suspended too? I'm not a flag waving, USA chanting jingoist by any stretch, but this is just ignorant.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Toasting a glass to the SNP

Here's to a good showing by the Scottish National Party in tomorrow's UK elections!

It's the Tea Parties, Stupid

From the Slacktivist:

Let's set such timid delicacy aside and state the obvious: The tea partiers are stupid. Look at them, listen to them -- these are stupid people behaving stupidly. They are hideously ill-informed and monstrously unconcerned with the fact of their being so ill-informed. Their stupidity fuels their anger and their anger fuels their stupidity. Spend five minutes listening to them and the overwhelming impression of resentful stupidity will only be reinforced. Spend hours listening to the speakers receiving the cheers at their rallies and hours more listening to Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or any of the other demagogic leaders of this mob of a movement and the conclusion becomes undeniably confirmed: Stupid, stupid, stupid.

It is widely regarded as impolite, or uncharitable, or counterproductive to speak of this egregious stupidity. To call it what it clearly is is considered "condescending."
But to view this as condescending is to misunderstand and misrepresent the stupidity of the tea partiers as something both innate and intractable. It is neither.

These stupid people do not have to be stupid. Their stupidity is a choice, an act of will. Or, rather, an ongoing series of acts of will. And their only hope for liberation is for them to make better choices -- to choose to see what can be seen if only they would stop actively choosing not to see it. To choose, among other things, to be receptive to empathy.

The stupidity of the tea partiers has nothing to do with innate intelligence or with acquired intelligence. It has nothing to do with smartness or brainpower or where anyone falls on the bell curve of Stanford-Binet test scores. It is, rather, a moral stupidity, a moral imbecilism that produces simple imbecilism -- the inevitable intellectual consequence of a selfish refusal to listen to what empathy is shouting from all sides.

Well said Sir......well said.

And the rest of the world hates us why?

What the President said in that speech [in Cairo] was that he hoped to return to the days when we had a partnership with the Muslim world. That America 20, 30 years ago enjoyed some type of good relationship that now has gone awry. I don’t see it that way. I don’t see that somehow we need apologize for anything that America has done. Are we a perfect nation? By no means. Are we better than any[one] else because of the exceptional nature of who we are? Yes.

Eric Cantor, R-VA

Listen, I'm damn happy that I'm an American and wasn't born is say, Rwanda. But this "we're better than everyone else" line is childish schoolyard gloating - counterproductive and immature.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Somebody tell me why we're there? Part II

Courtesy of RealityZone:

McChrystal's announcement earlier this year that ISAF would establish a "contiguous security zone" which would include the bulk of the population of Helmand and Kandahar provinces may have been a response to the recognition that the Taliban had formed its own zone of political dominance in southern Afghanistan.

However, given recent evidence that foreign troops have been unable to clear insurgents from Marjah, and that local leaders and elders in Kandahar are opposing US military operations in and around the city, that objective now appears to be well beyond the reach of US and NATO troops.

Not Forgotten

James Speraw, a curator at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, holds up a set of dog tags left at a grave at Section 60, at Arlington.

Without a national memorial to the more than 5,300 servicemembers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, Section 60 has become its own community of remembrance. Thousands of mementoes left at their graves stand testament to the grief of loved ones.

Crown Royal whiskey bottles, war medals, birth announcements, wedding photos, Christmas ornaments, G.I. Joe action figures, painted rocks, church bulletins, a fishing lure, even a rubber duck are among the items left at the graves of the more than 600 from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are buried at Arlington.

Families gather for birthday parties for the fallen, leaving behind cupcakes and balloons. War orphans drop off handmade valentines. Twenty-somethings with crewcuts and military boots smoke a cigar and set an empty beer bottle next to a buddy’s white grave marker.
It’s created a quandary for Army officials who hadn’t seen the phenomenon in past wars. What do you do with such items?

Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, where the National Park Service collects and stores such objects daily, Arlington is a working military cemetery with strict rules to keep it pristine. Because there were no collection procedures in place, most of the items left at grave sites simply ended up in the trash.

That changed in the early fall when the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort McNair in Washington quietly stepped in at the request of then-Army Secretary Pete Geren. Now, each Thursday, typically three curators in dark jackets carrying cameras walk through Section 60 to collect and catalog nonperishable objects left at the graves.

The project is a pilot, and it’s unclear whether it will become permanent. For now, the 1,300 items collected so far are stored at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Somebody tell me why we're there?

Some sobering reading from The Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan:

The overall assessment indicates that the population sympathizes with or supports the Afghan Government in 24% (29 of 121) of all Key Terrain and Area of Interest districts. 

Finally, in order for the ANSF to successfully transition to security lead, there is a requirement for a minimum acceptable rule of law capacity (i.e., governance, courts, judges, prosecutors, and correctional capacity) to support the security effort.  Defining sufficient rule of law capability, and the resources required to achieve it, is outside the scope of this report but is being addressed by the interagency and international community.  Without the necessary supporting rule of law structures, the ANP will become ineffective over time.  No matter how many police we train or how well we partner with them, without sufficient rule of law and governance, transition will fail.

Can we discard this folly and actually bring justice to those who attacked us? 

The trouble with Democrats

Just when the Democratic Party looks marginally saner [by the barest sliver] than the Republicans, the Grand Poobah opens his mouth:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "Now, what we’re doing, I want to be clear, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that's fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."