Sunday, March 30, 2008


As I've been watching the March Madness of basketball, I have been quite amazed at how surreal are the times in which we live. Think about the issues in our country: we are in the throws of a political campaign, war is raging in Iraq with no end in sight and a reality on the part of the "decider" which borders on insanity.

We are in a financial recession. I mean, even someone who knows only what I read, can see that we are in a mess: sub prime loans, big debt; Record numbers are losing their homes, we are talking hard working people, not some sleazy opportunists with big bellies and a roll of cash. There are some of them, but not the majority who are being foreclosed.

And, of course, our Leader is a master at denial. I've always liked the man, really; but denial has become such a trademark that it is smothering the country. In a sense, I don't know what I want us to do. I guess admit the jam we're in and treat it like this is life changing which it is. I am decidedly biased mainly because I cannot conceive that we would go for another eight years of what we have seen; worst deficit in history and two wars. But, then again, I don't get it. I've always felt that politics is corruptive in a sense. Elect someone and then immediately, reelection is the goal. This is all old news but I want to jump up and say, what is this? It is not business as usual. We have wars, financial crisis, wake up and smell the roses.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Why are they joining? I think it's because they have nothing better
in their lives. They're mostly from mid-America where there are no
more jobs for them. No factories or mines and very few small farms
anymore. And most schools don't inspire young people to go on to
higher ed.
Comment in a letter to AP


I think it's a little more complicated than your comments. First of all, the military has spent and are spending millions of dollars in Madison avenue type advertising, enticing these kids. And, it is true, that most come from socioeconomic categories that as much as we hate to say, are, lower middle class or lower in terms of opportunity. (Wow, we hate to admit that we have a class system in America--I do anyway). And, let's face it, we have developed a caste system in that our military officers are college educated, often from the Academies, paid for by the taxpayer, of course--they come from middle class or upper middle class families, while the enlisted come from the lower socio economic classes.

And, in many ways, the military is a good deal: good pay, perceived benefits, and often just the discipline that kids need. Ask many parents? So, why do they join? I think that some of it is the feeling of their invulnerability. They don't think in terms of war but in terms of adventure. If I were a youngster with maybe not stellar prospects, not knowing what I wanted to do, then the military would definitely be a possibility. All I could see would be, "I want to be an airborne ranger."

There are many other questions that have to be answered for the military--the biggest one is that the Volunteer Army has been so sold as successful, that it is hard for the American public that cares to think in any other terms. And, we don't have the moral or political will to do what we ought; institute some sort of National Service. Until we have a crisis truly and another course has to be considered, we will continue on in what we're doing. And, the fact that we have almost no leaders, John McCain, an exception, even if he is somewhat tainted in my opinion, (We surely respect his POW time) not just because he is a Republican but has always been in an elite kind of category, i. e., his Dad/Grandfather were Admirals. I would be more impressed if his Dad/Grandfather were Sergeants.

Maybe one scenario is that if we were to get to the point of overwhelming crisis, repetitive tours that are intolerable, not enough enlistees, cannot afford the Volunteer Army, etc., then we might see another course of action, i. e., the draft.

And, let's don't forget patriotism and tradition for some of these kids: although maybe a small number but they're there: and, these kids who are serving are good soldiers from what I see. And, I for one, appreciate their sacrifice. In the long run, most of the kids who've chosen the military are going to feel that there service to the country, even in a sorry war, was worth it. They did something that many of their peers did not.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

WE F..... UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hank, the Admiral shared with us this article, written by his Professor Brother. Here is the link,

Hank, I think your brother is "right on." Unfortunately, it is a "voice crying in the wilderness" and has been for 8 years. I am amazed that the President finds himself at this spot where he can literally walk away and leave a mess to the next Prez. However, he has done this, in my opinion, with many allies, mainly those who even today will put the same spin on Iraq as he does: yesterday, with 4000 dead, his view was this is a payment for peace. John McCain has begun to frame the war in terms of his goal is to save American lives. Not remaining in Iraq or the war on terror. It remains a mess with no real "out." My view. And, most Americans think really that we are on the right course in Iraq. The surge has worked. Nothing has worked other than we have paid off those who were killing us and we don't know what will happen when the money goes.

What is interesting about your brother's comments is that his view is pretty much the same of most who legitimately point out how we have violated all sorts of principles and our own declared intentions by invading Iraq; but it really doesn't matter to this president and his minions. As one who gave him the benefit of the doubt in the beginning and only became so opposed as we mismanaged it unbelievably, still my disgust at this stage is that he merely salutes and hands this quagmire off to someone else.

I've thought lots about this. There are two people, I think, who had a chance to change the course of history; two in the persons of Colin Powell and Condi Rice: I think, surely would love to see your brother analyse that. They didn't, they went along. Not sure anything could have stopped Bush; but, what if Powell had said to the UN: "after careful consideration, I don't think there is enough reason to invade Iraq and for the time being, I recommend against it." It might have worked even in the face of those like Rumsfelt, Chaney, Pearl, and Wolfowize (sp).

Oh well: don't want this to be a penguin experience for you guys like you are still reading anyway.

God bless.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Larry Evans, author of Stand By! is one interesting guy. Recently, he joined us at breakfast and regaled us with 9 war stories immediately. We have a rule in our group that you are only authorized three but before we could stop him, he laid nine on us. I just finished his memoir. Very interesting, not like we say with a blind date, great personality and interesting. Truly, interesting. I love Memoirs and always the issue in a very personal memoir as this one is--how do we deal with our lives as it relates to people and events. In Stand By!, he merely recorded his but with a flair and aplomb that held the attention. Way to go!

Larry has lived about three lives in one, especially before he settled in. And, I always love to hear about "draft" stories. It is an experience that youngsters today don't know. All of us had to contemplate the military draft in our lives before we could do anything. Larry's is pretty humorous. He wasn't "draft dodging" but he did not go easily into the night.

I learned lots about his family. And, he was pretty forthcoming with his assessment of who they were. With a memoir, one always has to consider: what will these folks say or think or feel about what I've said? And, humorously, he shared yesterday that his wife was still a little miffed at him for sharing a few of his sexual exploits, post marriage.

In our little group, we always asked a question: Was it a Penguin experience? Know the story: this grandmother sent her grand daughter a book on penguins. The mother said, "Write your grandma and tell her thank you for the book on penguins." She wrote and said, "Grandma, thank you for my book on penguins. However, it told me more about penguins than I care to know."

Well, Stand By!, was not a penguin experience. He made one of the best statements about Vietnam that I've ever heard: here is what Larry said about his time above the Nam.

"I flew 144 combat missions in Vietnam and I slept in clean sheets every night. My tour was very different from the guys on the ground. When the movies like Platoon and Born on the 4th of July first came out, I was often asked if they reflected the real war. I would always answer that it certainly was not the war I fought, but from what I knew of other's experiences, those movies were pretty accurate. The Vietnam war to the man on the ground had a special horror. When slogging through the jungle, he truly didn't know if his next step would blow his legs off, emasculate him, or kill him. That is horror. Mine was a more traditional war. Yet, I got shot at on nearly every mission, and had I been shot down, the consequences could have been horrible. But, in my case, I was able to return from every mission, going to the "O" Club, have a few drinks, and talk about what a hot-shit pilot I was."

Thursday, March 20, 2008



I listened to Barack's speech and for once a politician seemed to be confronting the reality of the elephant in the room. The "elephant" is racism. We all know it is there but we deny that it is real and that it does have an impact. 91% of African Americans in Mississippi voted for Barack. That is reality. Is it racism? I don't know but it is the "elephant" in the room. Barach admitted the race card in America.

To be honest, race is an incredibly perplexing mass of contradictions. And, nowhere more than the Church. In this instance, the United Church of Christ where the potential president of our country worships. Because I understand the UCC (United Church of Christ) church as I was once a pastor for eight years in a UCC Church. Like so much of our worship experience in life, the man or woman in the pew understands very little of the workings of the bureaucracy and there is bureaucracy regardless of what it is called. For example, as a Presbyterian, my Church order is that the minister belongs to a Presbytery which is kind of preacher's union as opposed to the Church membership. The only reason this is relative is that it is another example of the obfuscation of the inner workings of the Church. I often joke that Jesus could not get into the Presbytery. Another example is that the UCC Churches governed themselves, like the Baptists--they are autonomous. The local Church may not be anything like the National Church leadership. And, there is a demographic aspect to the UCC, meaning many of them are mostly peopled by African Americans. And, without a doubt, the UCC Church is the most liberal in America.

What does that mean? Well, it means they are often outside the traditional view of what the Church is. They are at the forefront of social issues, i. e. gays, abortion, and a myriad of issues that would lean to the "left." Many UCC churches are what they call, "Open and Affirming" meaning that they go out of their way to recognize the gay community. Consequently, they have many openly gay ministers.

Now, think about this: the most vitriolic opponent of gays on a theological basis are often typically black churches and undoubtedly some of them are UCC. This is one example of the dichotomy and almost impossible situation when attempting to nail down a UCC Church. I use to go to pastor's meetings and come back and say, "Who are these people?" In many ways, it was very refreshing, they at least acknowledged the "elephant in the room" whether it was the gay issue or race. And, they are passionate about it. I once was having lunch with a UCC pastor and casually mentioned the "gay agenda." Mostly, I was running my mouth but this pastor became apoplectic that I had used a term that often the "right" wing used. Sorry.

And, of course, Barack's pastor is one of those fiery black preachers who keeps the brothers and sisters worked up. And, Wright is good at it. In the community, he is famous. It is the way that he raises money.

And, in a sense, it is a cultural issue for Wright and all Churches mostly peopled by black Americans. The "elephant in the room" is a black Church life style which doesn't appeal to many of us. Is that racist? I don't think so. When I go to a worship service, I want quiet, peace, liturgy. In a mostly African American Church, you have music as a big part of the service--spiritual rock and roll would be my term. I really don't know what the technical term is. I do know this: the same phrase is repeated over and over and over and the beat is rollicking. It is a style, the same as lots of modern worship in white churches don't appeal to me, much like "praise bands, etc." Is that racist, I don't think so, it is just what I like. I don't like kids in baggy pants hanging down around their knees either but if they want too, OK. When I was in Korea, I had a gospel choir, a black gospel choir and they wanted to sing every Sunday. When they did, it lengthened the servcie by 30 minutes. People quit coming. I cut it out. Am I a racist?

Part of the black worship experience is a fiery preacher, inciting the congregation. Are Reverent Wright's comments true? As far as racism in America still exists, sure. Is he anti-American. I don't think so--taken out of context, to the outsider and someone looking for it, it sounds like it. His rhetoric is mostly figures of speech. What he says is not helpful to the racial climate of America and fuels the bigoted types like Bill O'Reilleys and the other "shouters" as they love it and have fuel for their bgoted programs. Do most of Pastor Wright's parish or congregation take what he says literally. I doubt it. Maybe not any more than moderate Muslim types would listen to a Mullah. I'm not familiar enough with the worship to say so but rationally think so.

An elephant in the room which we will not admit is that we don't have to like Rev. Wright's form of worship.Yet, most politicians feel they have to pander to the style of worship to be accepted in the black community. However, there is legitimacy to being able to say, it just isn't my style. It is yours and that is fine with me. I see many white politicians at these traditionally black churches and they are trying but it is just not them. As a Protestant who often attended mass, I didn't have to do all the bowing and scraping. It is their stuff and I enjoyed the litergy. It does not denigrate the worship, it is just different styles. It reminds me of Baroness Scharader of Sound of Music fame attempting to play with the Captain's children. We all remember that awkward scene.

I've heard it said that the most segregated place on Sunday morning is the Christian Church. I think so and is there anything wrong with that. There is no law that says it has to be that way. And, the closest to a true integrated Church is the military but even there, it is a choice. This is almost an aside but I think true: there are many African Americans and the only thing about them that is black is their skin. What do I mean? They also have preferences and it is not the universal black experience that we think all blacks have to have. At least that is what several have said to me. Barack appears to be one. He does not deny his blackness but doesn't go out of his way to acknowledge it.

After a posting like this, I almost feel that I should throw in a disclaimer. I am a Southerner and someone who sounds like me is sometimes thought to automatically be a racist. And, racism in the South still exists. We have integration in the workplace but we have almost zero socially. What does that mean? I don't really know and am not sure there really is a definitive definition. I think Barack is on the right track, however. We can never move on, deal with it, whatever until we confront it. Way to go Barack!

As a parting shot, I want to present the comments of a friend about the issue of Barack's pastor. Her comments point up the depth of the "elephant in the room."

It is difficult for me to answer the question about Obama. I really think he is smart, but would a white man with his lack of experience be running for President? Don't have the answer. He is a great speaker, motivator and nice guy, but do I think he is ready to be our Chief Executive? No! Can't believe an intelligent person could sit in a church year after year and hear such hatred and intolerance. If this is the norm in Black churches then we will never have racial harmony. I can promise you this kind of racial bias is not preached in even the most "extreme" churches in the South.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Denial, Arrogance, Parellel Universes

The President contends the so-called troop surge he ordered in January 2007 has been a success and was necessary at a point when "the fight in Iraq was faltering." Here is what he said, "The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around; it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror."

This is what VP Cheney said, "Five years in Iraq has been a successful endeavor. For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be the place where al Qaeda rallied Arab masses to drive America out. Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al Qaeda out."

REALITY AS OF NOW: Large-scale attacks by terrorists and insurgent groups continue. Bombings killed six Iraqis and wounded 51 in northeastern Baghdad and Mosul on Tuesday, and the death toll from a Monday suicide bombing in Karbala rose to 50.

How can a commander in chief be this devoid of reality? Well, in a sense, it is understandable if you look at the President's personality. He has a personality that appears to be anything but reflective. Admitting errors is not part of who he is. An example: with disastrous results, the invasion did little but depose a tyrant: few Iraqis have even the basic necessities and would readily admit that they were better off under Saddam. And, yet, the President insists Mission Accomplished. And, think about this: as the Commander in Chief, all your underlings tell you only what you want to hear. They are like courtiers in the King's Court: you are great, wonderful, infallible, building your legacy: bomb, bomb, bomb.

The President with little reflection and maybe not overly savvy or smart, take your pick, will listen to those like Cheney, Rove, Wolfiwitz, Pearl, Rumsfelt who have their own political agendas; and, suddenly, the President has been manipulated into decisions that have disastrous results. And, then in the face of reality, only the most die heart political types, and there are plenty, would say, don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.

For the life of me, I can't figure it: I wouldn't expect someone who has created a quagmire to admit it but I would expect them to at least maintain a low profile. The fact exists and just not in my opinion, that there is very little about Iraq and our involvement that is not somewhat screwed up. The only hi-lite is the performance of our soldiers who are just doing their jobs but because of the politics of it, they often come out looking bad themselves. We have a public that has less than stellar investment in our soldiers. Mostly, they are not involved. More and more, the troops are realizing that the support of the American people who care is benign at best. The politicos debate endlessly about their positions: troops in or out, the tremendous cost, 3-5 trillion--it goes on and on. The Generals have been incredibly politicized and when one surfaces to suggest another course, he is unceremoniously shown the door.

And, of all the difficult things, in just a few days, we will have lost 4000 young lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than were lost on 9-11. These are young men and women who will not get to live out their lives and chase what most of us still believe in: the American dream. And, the sadness of it goes far beyond anything that I can say. All the families that will be affected will wrestle with it and most will accept the idea that their loved ones were fighting for their country. And, he or she was: the country sent them off to war. But, possibly, the reality in the back of their minds for many will be: was it worth it? It is not a matter of antiwar, it is a matter of utter foolishness. I guess the best thing that we can say at this point is that this Commander in Chief will not be around for the 6th Anniversary.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I don't want to say, "poor" Governor Spitzer but I will have to say I feel sorry for the guy in an odd sort of way. At first, I thought, "How can a guy be this stupid in addition to so hypocritical." I've always liked his crusading spirit. In the world in which we live, not easy to be a crusader at any level. Think about it. Who else do you know went after those making the obscene money on Wall Street through insider trading. Afterall, he got Martha (Stewart). At least we know this, us common folk didn't have a chance at the info that the Wall Street bigwigs did and Spitzer nailed some of them. I always kind of cheered and now to discover that he has been hanging out with the ladies of the night even if in cozy quarters, is slightly unnerving. Two rooms no less: sneaking out while his caretakers were sleeping, having their own trysts, whatever. And, he didn't do it like once but was a regular customer.

Lots of commentary you can put on it for sure. The amount of money--you've got to be kidding me but since I don't know the market--thousands of dollars. Sad, regardless. And, the spectacle of his poor wife standing beside him when she should have been showing him the door. Basically, my first thought was that he should be hung up by his ankles and his gonads cut off. So, that is the hypocrite part.

The media circus is unreal and yet, I, like many, have been glued to the sorry episode while asking questions. What is it about men in our culture that would make them risk it all for a sordid tryst or engaging in "what is the 'is' " of the Bill Clinton era? I don't know. My buddy, Michael, says it is power, then greed and finally stupidity. For a smart type like Spitzer to think that, as a high profile politician, he could get away with something like this is beyond me.

I'm sure there's lots of psychobabble that could be put on it: sex addict, expects to get caught, immoral character or some sort of other addiction: alcohol is a convenient one.

And, then again, I get to thinking about issues like how did they catch him? Big Brother. A wire tap. An example to me of how all of us are vulnerable. Obviously, most of us won't be chasing expensive call girls and we don't have the profile, but theoretically, it could happen. I don't like it. And, then my favorite TV show that just finished, The Wire, was built around the whole concept of wire taps. And, some of the very things that Spitzer put into play while he was Attorney General to combat human trafficking actually jumped up and bit him in the posterior.

And, let's face it, a reality, Spitzer probably didn't have a lot of money in the bank with anybody, in terms of good will. Another buddy thinks it was merely payback time. Nobody mentions this. The Guv hung himself for sure but think about it: Spitzer had nailed all these Wall Street tycoons, made enemies when he was Attorney General. He had no money in the bank. We saw in The Wire, which was more truth than fiction that at the highest levels, politicos cut deals to enhance their own careers or go up the political ladder. Spitzer didn't get the chance for a deal. No Police Commissioner came to him early on and said, "we have you on a wire tap. This could be scandalous, watch it." Or, they could have said, we're going to downplay this one for you. Don't think those things don't happen? They do and not just on TV. Watch The Wire, you'll see. Spitzer had no money in the back.

And, finally, let's invoke the Jesus principle, not like the Prez recently when wanting to make his case for the Iraqi war to a bunch of like minded so called Christian broadcasters: he invoked the idea that all men should be free and tied it to the Christian view. Broadly speaking, that's surely true but doubt Jesus would have said it to justify a war. But, one incident we would do well to take note of:
according to the Gospel of John, the Pharisees, (Jesus enemies of the moment) in an attempt to discredit Jesus, brought a woman charged with adultery before him. Then they reminded Jesus that adultery was punishable by stoning under the law of Moses and challenged him to judge the woman so that they might then accuse him of disobeying the law. Jesus thought for a moment and then replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” The people crowded around him were so touched by their own consciences that they departed. When Jesus found himself alone with the woman, he asked her who were her accusers. She replied, “No man, lord.” Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more." Now that is a sermon.

Let's let Spizer fade away (we know it's not going to happen because of the media and now that his paramour has been identified, she'll get her 15-30 minues of fame and write a book which will be made into a movie)--he's been punished, disgraced, embarrassed, finished. For those of us who have an ounce of charity, let us apply the "Jesus principle." Amen.


Now that is a concept in this world. Most of the principled folks that I can call up are fictional. I always think of Gus, in the TV mini series, Lonesome Dove. When Blue Duck, the notorious savage Indian, stole Lorena, a member of the "oldest profession," Gus, the renaissance man, did not sit around and wonder what he should do. He immediately went after her because it is what a "principled" person does.

Who is a nonfictional one? Well, maybe the top commander in the Mideast who was forced out because he rankled the Prez and all his less than stellar crop of administration figures. I don't know the man and stick to my belief that most who become generals and admirals do lots of compromising along the way or else they wouldn't make it. And, let's face it, his job, although sounding high falooting, is more figurehead than anything. But, getting rid of the opposition is a trademark of this present crowd of "deciders."

However, let's give the good Admiral the benefit of the doubt: he stuck with his principles. And, the whole idea of "principled" is worth thinking about as obviously it is way down the food chain for most of our culture.

How about some more fictional examples? Kevin Costner in Open Range says, "There's some things worse than dying." (meaning not standing up for your rights). I liked it too when the gunfight is inevitable and he says to the chief gunfighter, "Are you the one who killed my friend?" An affirmative answer brings the gunfighter's demise. Then my all time favorite movie, Scent of a Woman , when Al Pacino, as retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade says in the famous speech scene that no doubt contributed to his getting an Academy award. "I don't know where Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm no judge or jury but I can tell you this, he won't sell anybody out to buy his future. And, that my friends, is character" (Principles); and, then who can forget him saying in the same speech, "I have come to the crossroads of my life and I've always known what was the right way to go. But, I didn't take it and know why? It was too damn hard. And, here's Charlie, he's come to the crossroads in his life and he's chosen a path, the hard path, the right path." Principled.

And, who can forget Clint in Unforgiven: "you better give Ned a proper burial or I'm going to come back and kill you and your families." (Principles) And, what about Omar Little late of The Wire, the best show on TV. I'm still sad it is over but Omar robbed drug dealers and was often a modern day Robbin Hood. Omar had principles. I could go on and on.

The fact is that most of the principled types are fiction and easy to understand: writers and movie makers can make anything they want happen with their characters. Down deep, most all want some "principled" characters as their heroes. But, real life is lots more difficult. One only has to read a daily paper to get how hard it is--Plenty of examples of unprincipled acts.

Now, here's a recent example of an unprincipled happening. The former Attorney General who is now a consultant, just got a lucrative government contract worth millions for one of his clients without competitive bidding--given by someone who worked for him when he was in government.

And, then heaven help us, I can almost not bring myself to say John McCain is unprincipled but how could a guy who was tortured for five years go along with "water boarding" in the guise of getting info out of bad guys. And, against the rules of our own Army merely because the CIA wants it. Please, the CIA, who often appear to be able to screw up a two car procession, says they need the authority. Practically, let's face it, we are talking philosophy here. On some remote hill in Afghanistan, who knows what some American soldier might do but for us as a nation to uphold such a barbaric practice is simply morally indefensible. I can tell you this for sure: Randolph Scott would not do it.