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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Wrong Choice

What’s normal? What’s extreme?

Joe Stack flies his aircraft into the side of an IRS building. Maybe the best thing that can be said about that, is his act only killed one other person, although he injured several. His wife and kid left behind, Stack decided it was necessary to climb into a light aircraft and carry out an act of terrorism. His reasoning: violence is not just an answer to the problems of the day – in his own words, “it is the only answer.”

In the same day, the news is finally made public that Iran is now very close to combining nuclear weapons with Intercontinental delivery systems – and simultaneously authorities roll up a terror plot at Fort Jackson involving five suspects who are part of an Arabic translation program. The five were apparently involved in a plan to poison Army food supplies.

As people try to distance themselves from Stack in interviews and as the military does their CID thing with the five “09 Lima” troops who were actually detained in December, and the Iranian government seeks to join the big-boy club of Atomic world-enders, we sink in more than $800 billion in debt. We are collectively dragged under by the whole “green planet,” environmental thing, which has only just begun to make fools of a long list of bribed scientists and new-industry types. All their hands will be eventually caught in that particular cookie jar. The Vegas mayor refuses to meet with the President and job loss has reached levels well beyond the point which Obama himself identified early on, as a level on parity with the Great Depression.

Could any of this be worse? Could there be any more messages out there to tell us we are swimming in dangerous waters?

Stack’s writings, posted on the internet, prior to his suicide / attempted-homicide run on the IRS building, called for revolt, identifying Americans as zombies. He cites draconian restrictions, “pompous political thugs,” and “mindless minions” as the elements destroying the country. He uses the term “cruel joke” and identifies himself as a “fool.”

Whatever happened to Stack, he lost his mind and sought to join the ranks of indiscriminate killers we have identified as terrorists. Regardless of the term eventually used to label him, however, his assertion that violence is the “only way,” is the craziest and saddest part of it all. From Stack’s point of view, life has reached the point where it is necessary to kill others. Odd, isn’t it, that this is the same point of view shared by Al Qaida, Iranian crazies and others across the world. “Nothing changes unless there is a body count,” is what Stack writes in his final words, evidently neglecting to see the obvious – that a body count doesn’t necessarily change anything for the better. Real power does not come from the barrel of a gun, despite the mass-murderer, Mao’s assertions and those in our own government who seem to want to agree – and Stack, who went even further, by actually pulling the trigger turning his aircraft into a bomb.

Killing is a fever. War is killing on a massive scale, shifting the fever into the realm of epidemic or pandemic. In all of these instances, the work of the grim reaper is halted only because he grows tired. Fevers burn themselves out. Meanwhile, they manage to kill fairly indiscriminately. Death is an equal-opportunity kind of thing and in the end, “body-count” often simply means, there’s just a lot of people needlessly dead. The dead aren’t nameless zombies. They are always artists and thinkers and writers and craftsmen, tradesmen and businessmen, homemakers and lovers – all manner of folks who are the same as you and I. And of course, they are also often children and entire families.

Have we forgotten so quickly the terrible September day when so many of our countrymen died? Have we forgotten the exterminations perpetrated in our more distant past? How could Stack have arrived at his conclusions in the face of all that? For that matter, how can any terrorists arrive at their conclusions?

Maybe it’s another kind of fever? Maybe it’s the fever of madness – and if we’re real lucky, it will all burn itself out.

Otherwise, we are facing something worse. Multiple plots on U.S. military bases suggest more than coincidence is at work. Iranian missile tests combined with the level of activity in their nuclear program, as well as reports of Russian assistance, adds up to an imminent attack on Israel or others. A cold war with Iran is not very likely, as in order to be cold, it needs to involve cool heads.

Ask yourself this: If a former businessman can lose himself enough, to fly an aircraft into a building, and if members of our military are involved in killing and attempting to kill fellow troops, how far away do you think we are from nuke-equipped Iranian crazies, lighting candles at the slightest provocation – or for no reason at all? How easy will it be for Iran to provide their atomic weapons to others willing to pay for them? What’s the result then?

What’s normal and what’s extreme?

I would suggest that Stack falls into the latter category with all the other self-deceived and insane. He was born innocent in 1956 and chose to end his time on this world with an act of terror. He could have done anything instead of that. He could have chosen to help others despite his own personal woes. He could have adapted, overcome and found a way to contribute to real solutions today. He could have fled and flown his aircraft somewhere a long way from anyone he ever knew and all his problems. He could have just disappeared, to start again somewhere else. He could have done some good with his remaining time on the globe, and like everyone who enters their names on the rolls of the lost, he could have made a much better choice.

He didn’t. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Light of change - or of endings

I love bug zappers because of the pretty light.
This was brought to mind by a Eugene Williams quote. He didn’t love bug zappers – he loved spiritual something-or-others, but, you get the point.

Actually, I don’t even know who Eugene Williams is, but someone on Twitter was in the middle of one of their endless, mind-numbing, quoting exercises and dragged the moldy corpse of Williams out into the light of day. Anyone who is a fellow twit, knows what I’m talking about, but those who haven’t taken that questionable, evolutionary leap, would need to subject yourself to three years of immersion in regurgitated quotes from the dead or mummified – or something in the terminal, non-moving, or museum exhibit status.

I think it’s a reflection of our society. I think we’ve travelled the fast-food highway of intellect and arrived at some vaguely recognizable neon-lit destination with an all-to-recognizable menu of voices droning on about this or that. I’ve been trying to reflect a little on the stuff of life in the past week. I’ve been communing with technology and discovered myself lacking.

I can’t help but remember a friend and fellow reporter, who admitted to me one day that she was a little afraid of computers and where they were taking us. She didn’t want to learn how to use the sparkling new Apple Quadras, which had been lovingly installed and networked at a daily still using a 50+ year-old offset press. This was long before cell phones and the internet and personal digital assistants, etc. It was long before “blue tooth,” or iPods or “i-anything.” I used an Apple Newton 2000, and it was frighteningly powerful technology. My friend’s name was Lisa, and she said something prophetic that day. She said, “someday soon there’s going to be two kinds of people – those who understand this crap and can adapt to it, and those who simply can’t. It may be the end of everything.”

I thought that was interesting and sad and maybe a bit truthful. It was also kind of scary, because Lisa was a former Titan Missile System Officer. Basically, her job was to wait around in a silo for the end of the world, then make certain she and her fellow officer turned their own set of keys, perhaps adding to the nuclear afterglow.

Earth as a cinder - makes you think doesn’t it?

Might make you think of some famous dead guy’s quote about the flicker we all represent in eternity’s pale blue light. Might even make you run another search on the internet and copy and paste some dried-up, retread drivel, making yourself appear for a brief moment to be worldly and educated. One more gasp – one more silent gaze at a glowing screen. One more press of a gently illuminated “Enter” key.

But myself, I think of the bug zapper. I think of the long flight toward the pretty light – oddly enough, itself blue and inviting. I think about the tiny creature’s short life and all the small, bug-world innovations, insect politics and plodding daily affairs it has taken part in. I wonder how far apart we really are as organisms.

From my vantage point, my personal flight, doesn’t seem that long, folks. I have seen the past years rush by in a stream of barely-recognized consciousness. I’ve seen people’s aging and endings – and the same waits for each of us, somewhere in the draining sands of tomorrow’s hour-glass or atomic clock; or whatever it is we’re using to count the passage of time these days. “Maudlin,” you say? “Depressing midnight, babble from some unseen hand, clacking away at some remote keyboard in some forgettable part of the world.” Why are you even reading this drivel?

I can’t answer that question. I know you’re staring at some glowing object in the process of reading this, and although you’re not growing wings, the crackle of electricity is there – so close – and you have been drawn in. But is it the real danger here? Or is it the technology and culture and course of society - our own failing, transitory natures, which represent the real danger?

Was Lisa right?

Here’s my take on it, after reflecting on that conversation, since 1997: She just might be. But Lisa’s imagined end-game only needs to come true, if we become the mindless drones only useful for dying in some kind of crackling, crisping end. Lisa’s truth is only given life, if we ourselves hand over our imaginations and sense of wonder to the stale, spoon-fed, tasteless pap of re-written, politically correct, progressively-driven, history. Contribute nothing – create nothing and offer nothing of yourself, and we all will indeed, visit some kind of Greek Tragedy on ourselves.

Because there are really two kinds of light – the one, which leads to something new, undiscovered, bold and transformative, and the one which leads to a small pop and a long fall.

We choose. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Memories of Snow



Snow in New Mexico is unexpected. When a storm hits, it’s usually late at night on the high desert, and when you wake in the morning, it is to a perfect, even landscape of crystal white.

There are many places in the world where such an event goes unremarked and unnoticed. The windshield scraper and wide, flat shovel are constant daily reminders that you’d rather be living somewhere warm, like New Mexico, for example.

It isn’t warm here today.

But the unending white transformation of our brown horizon as I look out the window, reminds me of so many other things. A kaleidoscope of images roll through my mind as I touch a finger to the cold window glass. Around that touch, the window fogs briefly. Maybe I sigh.

My great friend, Jimmy, who much later became a bounty hunter in New York and worked as a consultant to police forces – a big, wall of a man… but here he’s just a child, bundled in New England winter gear, dragging a battered sled beside me as we make our way across a long field on his family’s farm at the end of Anthony Street. Neither of us knew where life would take us back then. But I can still feel the bite of the cold as it pressed into my clothes after many dozens of high-speed runs down that perfect hill. The thrill as you purposefully threw the sled over at the end and tumbled into the cold…

…Tumbling out the back of a slow moving truck in the dead winter on Britain’s Salisbury Plain. Somewhere out across the field was a Ground-Launched Nuclear Cruise Missile emplacement – two all-terrain tractor-trailer rigs connected by fiber-optic cable, surrounded by rings of well-trained security forces. On this night I was with a small team of Royal Air Force Regiment troops and we were playing the part of “aggressors.” Our five-man crew was detailed to find the deployed missile rig and destroy it. We were dressed in Soviet uniforms and gear for this exercise, acting like the real-world Spetsnaz, who were out there waiting to make the real attacks if we ever had the world-ending call to launch those nukes. It was cold enough to make you want to stay moving, numb and raw, but somehow the mud beneath us still soaked through everything as we low-crawled across that field…

…A field, flat like a spread of ground I walked one evening in Moscow, while Soviet power was still total. The snow crunched beneath cold boots. I was still without a hat, and the traverse was leaving me more than chilled. The KGB operatives trailing me seemed warm and comfortable as I would see them slip in and out of my peripheral vision…

…my peripheral vision almost as good as the starlight scope as I tucked myself up against a fence line and surveyed my observation area. As an Listening Post / Observation Post (LPOP), I was alone out there – able to call in a fire team if I spotted enemy movement, but that was impossible when they were standing right next to you. They had approached from a vehicle I couldn’t identify and now worked their way along the fence line to where I was. I had up-ended a trashcan and left it on it’s side, covering myself with the contents and staying there through the long night.
“What’s this junk?” said the one behind me, poking me in the back with the muzzle of his rifle.
“I don’t know,” said the other, his boots just inches from me. “But someone should come out here and clean this up.” They walked on, eventually far enough away that I could call command. The fire team soon rolled up and I saw it all …

… I saw my son’s face as I left him in 1992. A snow had fallen in Alamogordo and I had been attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. First stop Camp Pendleton, then onward to the Horn of Africa. I remember trudging through that snow fall to retrieve my mobility gear from a disinterested supply troop in a remote building, then driving in a blue Ford Taurus to the deployment area. Later, on a C-141, I thought back on that last glimpse of Nico and wondered if fate would return me, or not. Outside the scream of the aircraft engines I imagined I could hear the frigid blast of air as it roared past…

…A blast of cold air as opened the car door, climbed out and swung it shut. Climbing the hill toward the VA for one of the hundreds of trips I’ve made in and out of that hospital. I noted this time, that a huge bronze statue had been erected in front of the six-story structure. They had chosen to rename the facility in 2008 in recognition of one of the State’s most decorated war heroes. Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy was a Korean War hero – a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He acted against orders to rescue his wounded fellow Marines who were caught by enemy fire on Ungok Hill. He refused treatment until all were accounted for.

But Murphy wasn’t buried in his dress uniform when he died in 2007. He chose to be interred in his VA volunteer smock. He was director of VA Services in Albuquerque Regional VA for 23 years, and when he retired from that job, he donned the volunteer smock from 1997 until he died a decade later.

I probably met Jerry a number of times. I may have passed him in one of those hallways – I may have asked him for directions to one office or another. He was still working there when VA doctors and staff saved my life. I may have seen him many times. But I don’t remember.

And that, for me, is one of the coldest memories of all.

How many seasons – how many snowfalls go by when we don’t remember the things being asked of our sons and daughters in some distant land. It’s not necessary for you to understand or agree with the reasons they are there. But the fact that they are there, has meaning and purpose, and it will forever change them and maybe everyone they know or have ever known. They deserve our thanks and a handshake or hug when we do see them in our day-to-day life. Stop what you’re doing and go up and ask them where they served. It will change their day, and strengthen their belief that there really are people out there who care what they’ve sacrificed for the colors, for their loved ones and for the people in their unit they served with. That simple “thank you” makes such a difference.

Or you can go to your local VA and have a look around. Talk to some of the people there. Maybe you can do something to help. Maybe you’ll see some folks like Jerry. And maybe you’ll take a moment, recognize them, and say thank you.

Outside the seasons will still keep passing us all by – and more and more of those fine men and women will rest beneath the snow with each passing year. They won’t all get a bronze statue, like Jerry – a monument still too small to represent the man himself. But remember, whether you believe in the war they are fighting or not, they all walked through fire for you, and still are.

Find them and thank them while you have that opportunity.

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