Monthly Archives: May 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Another year, another three-day weekend, so naturally I end up with the mental gears grinding away on something far from festive. Go figure.

My train of thought started rolling innocently enough, when a friend shared a link to a reposted essay titled ” Happy Memorial Day? What’s so happy about it?. Apparently written by a military widow who lost her husband sometime in 2006 (based on some reference points), it speaks rather poignantly about the inappropriate use of the word “happy” in connection with a holiday meant to honor those who died while in military service. It also goes on to talk about the importance of parents teaching their children about the real meaning behind the day & how it goes beyond grilling and beer.

To be honest I filed that away as an interesting read, mentally reviewed the various discussions with my own son about those sacrifices and thus reassured that I’d met my parental responsibilities in this area to date, moved on. Truth is, all the well-written rants in the world aren’t likely to make a dent in self-absorption syndrome that plagues our country today and I wasn’t in the mood to go out of my way to find another windmill to tilt at for a few days. In short, the author was right but I’m not delusional enough to think I’m going to change much outside my own very tiny orbit.

Within the same 24 hours, I noticed a Facebook post from someone I’ve known my entire life, noting that his dad was among those who fought on Iwo Jima back in 1945. He would survive that horror and eventually return to the small town where I grew up. I made a mental note of that fact, one of those things that I knew/remembered but hadn’t thought about in a number of years … and carried on with my routine, not particularly festive but a routine nevertheless.

That brings me to Sunday afternoon, sitting in the den with my back to the TV, talking to my wife & halfway listening to the PBS rerun of The War she was watching. It was the “whatever happened to” part of the episode where narrator Keith David details the post-war lives of some of those featured earlier in the show, including some comments from what must have been a former prisoner of the Japanese (civilian maybe?) who explained how she didn’t talk about her experiences much since she quickly realized that no one really wanted to hear about them even when they asked, instead preferring to talk about their own stateside “suffering” due to rationing and the like.

Right about there, something started to click in my head … or at least the mental machinery lurched into motion.

I mentioned that schoolmate’s grandfather, the Iwo Jima veteran, to my wife. We talked about how, given that I was very young during the years I saw him most, I thought of him in a number of ways but that “veteran” wasn’t one of the first 5 or 10 things I think of when remembering him. That’s not to diminish his service in the least, it’s simply that there were other things about him that stood out to a small child. Even then I recall being aware of how liked & respected he was in the community, a reputation as a good man (no higher praise than that where I come from), a respected business owner, and the best doggoned butcher to ever grace a Georgia meat counter. That he was a veteran, much less of such a historic time & place, wasn’t something that entered my consciousness & that’s a shame because it would have elevated him to iconic status for a combat history obsessed kid like me.

That recollection took the conversation with my wife to various relatives, all gone now I believe, who were also survivors of World War II. We swapped the second hand accounts we got from closer family members, about how those who served talked (or didn’t) about the things they saw and endured. Matching stories from relatives on each side about how the night the “river ran red with blood”, from the similar descriptions we may have had a combined three relatives all fighting at a tributary of the Rhine, none of whom knew the other was there at the time. From the European Theater to the Pacific, the common post-war experience seemed to mostly be one of stoicism as much as possible, certainly none whose service was outwardly a primary characteristic.

Those stories passed down through generations led me to think about some of the other veterans I’ve known through my life. One who hit the beach at Normandy, another who survived the Tet Offensive, a former CSM of the Army, another who survived the Battle of the Bulge, an great uncle who was on board the ship as the Japanese signed the surrender documents in Tokyo Bay. My dad and all nine brothers who wore one uniform or another. An early SEAL trainer. Friends, cousins, classmates, co-workers, their children & their families. Loved ones, related or not, who’ve proudly served during times of war, peace, and often both.

I can almost hear you out there now “Jon, it’s Memorial Day, not Veterans Day. This is about the fallen, not the survivors”. I know, but hear me out. What started forming in my mind is how the two groups are related, bonded by something most of us honestly can’t quite fully grasp.

When privileged to talk to those veterans, one of the common threads was the bond felt by those survivors to those who didn’t make it home, a relationship fraught with emotional turmoil but a relationship so dear to them that they would never abandon it no matter the cost. They walked among us everyday, often unrecognized as to their background just as I described earlier, while carrying in a unique way the burden of bearing witness to tragic history, both extremely personal and on the grand scale. I thought also of the latest generation of combat veterans, men and women who will likely remain largely just an anonymous in that regard. They won’t be thought of immediately as “a veteran”, they’ll be a classmate’s parent or a neighbor or a pillar of a community or the guy as the garage. Heroes that walk among us, whether we’re aware of their presence or not. In many ways, that’s also a legacy shared by the fallen: unknown to the vast majority of us but most assuredly their impact surrounds us every day.

I hope everyone enjoys their Memorial Day weekend, nothing wrong with that as far as I can see. I think what I’m trying to say is that as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation, and we definitely should give them more than a passing thought on this day (and the other 364), I believe we also pay tribute to them in honoring those who served with them — everyday, not just one day a year — the two groups are forever intertwined.

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Me & Popeye

“I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam” — Popeye t. Sailor Man, circa 1933

On the surface, any sense of kinship between and the iconic middle-aged sailor is probably hard to find. I hate spinach.

I lack his degree of muscularity regardless of what I eat, I can’t swim, and my only noticeable speech impediment might be my accent (although I insist that I’m not the one who talks funny, it’s everybody else). Then we reach come upon his famous declaration and the affinity becomes much clearer, even if you squint.

“I yam what I yam”. What a beautifully unapologetic way of putting things. Simultaneously taking credit for any positive traits and accepting responsibility for any negative ones. It shows a firm sense of identity and a healthy degree of self-awareness. It’s unequivocal, devoid of any attempt or intent to deceive himself or others.

As the hip kids said (at some point), “I’m down with dat”.

If you know me well enough to read this blog then I’m probably about to preach to the choir a little bit. Indulge me. Just consider it a quick but important primer for those who may be less experienced, clarification for those who’ve had intermediate levels of exposure but are not quite sure of the parameters or just as a helpful Idiot’s Guide for those who are a little slower on the uptake.

What you see is what you get folks. I’m me. All day. 24/7, 365. I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in ages, I’ve never played a doctor on TV, and I’m not inclined to appear as any character other than “himself”. In a nutshell, I figure God knows my heart & I see myself in the mirror everyday, those are the two judges I deal with when I try to sleep at night. I’m just too old & too tired to invest any significant energy in trying to impress anybody or fool anybody else.

In the internet era in particular, I’ve encountered people who kept trying to “figure me out”, who wanted to know what sort of character I was playing online. Eventually they generally reach the conclusion that I’m telling the truth when I insist that I’m the same guy in person that I am in cyberspace. Good, bad, indifferent … but consistent.

Sure, I’ll alter word choice sometimes based on the audience, elevate or degrade my default vocabulary but that’s in the interest of communicating more effectively. What I don’t change is the meaning or the intent, the message will be generally consistent whether I’m talking to my son, my parents, my oldest friends, or my newest acquaintances. Whether we’re talking about politics, pot roast, or pitching changes, I’ll tell everyone the same story. I may alter the depth of that commentary to suit the venue, the nature of our relationship, time/space restrictions, my available energy, my mood, or my interest in the subject but you’ll find consistency in the message across all those variations.

Subject to the limitations of my patience, I may choose not to share certain things with everyone at the same time. I also try to be conscious and respectful of venue. I’m not likely to kick down your door to force some random opinion down your throat, but if you step across my threshold then you’re going to be served out of the same punch bowl as everyone else. That’s an important point right there, one I’m compelled to expand upon because it relates to what prompted this missive in the first place.

For a large percentage of the people who interact with beyond the most casual of ways, the relationship is ultimately voluntary. Mutually voluntary. If you aren’t paying me, I’m not paying you, and we don’t find ourselves being held against our will by forces too powerful to overcome, either of us can walk away when the cost of the interaction outweighs the benefit. Not only can we, I’d suggest that we should part if we reach that point. You know that old saying, about how life is too short to dance with ugly partners? I’d argue that life is too long to inflict discomfort on yourself without a net gain. We’ve all got X number of days here, those come with a certain amount of suffering built in. What possible reason is there to inflict more than the required amount upon yourself if the absence of an adequate payoff? If you’ve got enough masochistic tendencies that you enjoy that kind of thing that’s your business I suppose but I’m still not under any compulsion to hand you the whip, much less required to beat you with it.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here, just so we’re crystal on a few things:

1) If you don’t want to know, don’t ask me. I’m rarely willing to feign being bashful just to make things easy for you, it taxes my patience too much (and as my son will readily tell you “Daddy has only one nerve left”)

2) If you don’t like my answer, that’s much more your problem than mine. I’m not going to lie to make you happy, since that makes me unhappy. You are not required to like it, or even agree with it … but that isn’t going to change the answer.

3) *If you don’t like the music, it’s probably time try a different station. My playlist has considerable variety but I’m not changing the core format any time soon.

4) *For your convenience regular exits are located at the front & rear of the aircraft. For your safety there are also emergency exits located over each wing, near the midsection of the craft. In the event of unexpected decompression please be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting passengers with theirs.

That’s about it I think. I hope you enjoy the flight.

* If you haven’t noticed already, I love analogies and parables. I find them to be very effective for communication and as a bonus, they’re often entertaining. Or at least I try to make them so, your mileage may vary.

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When the wicked perish …

… there is shouting. Proverbs 11:10

More modern translations than the KJV finish the quotation as some variation of “there are shouts of joy”. Sunday night and into Monday morning across the United States, I believe that’s a fair description.

With the confirmation of the death of Usama/Osama bin Laden, there has been an understandable air of celebration. The most visible figure of international evil in the lifetime of many Americans, to enjoy his removal from the population is most definitely a normal human emotion. Up to a point I believe I understand how some have found the reaction a bit hard to fully grasp, indeed I was a bit conflicted on the “correct” emotion to have myself. As a Christian, I’d have much preferred that OBL had chosen a different path. Thing is, he didn’t, and that’s a matter of his own free will. We didn’t put him in his eventual position, he did that, quite willingly. Although I’ve since seen it elsewhere numerous times, I appreciated an old friend who is now a minister mentioning the verse Sunday night. It provided a point around which to organize my own jumbled emotions and find my own understanding.

Along with the emotional and even spiritual implications of the scenario that’s been laid out, there’s also a variety of more Earthly angles that are put into play with the latest turn of events. Enough so that there’s at least three cents worth of comments rolling around my head, so let’s see if I can get those on (virtual) paper instead.

Might as well start with Obama. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, I’m thankful that he chose a decisive moment to be right. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, he made the right call when he signed off on this operation. At the end of the day, I’ll take someone doing the right thing even if for the wrong reasons. Yeah, I have all sorts of doubts about B.O.’s motivations but he still got it right and that’s certainly more than I would have hoped for. Worth noting here I think is that this is at least the second time he’s managed to land on the right side of a security related matter, the continued operation of Guantanamo being the other. That’s two more than I would have bet on getting from him in four years. Shallow comfort considering how often he disgusts me but better than zero. As I said elsewhere Sunday night, I’ll offer sincere thanks to every person – military or civilian, R or D, overt, covert or clerical – who played any part at all in putting this dog down for good. That includes Obama … although I still wouldn’t piss on the sorry sumbitch if he spontaneously combusted before my eyes. These two statements are not mutually exclusive nor even contradictory. They’re honest assessments of his performance on single incident (where I’m complimentary) and of his overall performance as President and as a net negative to the nation.

Speaking of ridding ourselves of bad rubbish, yes, I believe OBL is dead as a post. Despite the lack of pictures (yet), despite the lack of a body on display, despite my intense disdain for many of the people asking us to take their word for it, I still believe it’s true. The reason I believe it is actually pretty simple: I don’t think the powers that be would risk being exposed as having tried to fake it. Even in today’s socio-political climate, that’s a political career killer and if there’s anything I’m certain of it’s that the current administration does not want to have it all abruptly end. It’s going to, God willing, but I don’t believe they’d be so obliging as to speed it along. Think about it for a minute, if you didn’t know with as much certainty as humanly possible that OBL was dead how could you make the claim with enough certainty to believe any fraud wouldn’t be exposed? That’s a gamble that I just don’t see being made.

As for the operation itself, the existence of it surprised me as much as anyone but the success of it really doesn’t. I didn’t see it coming in the least but if you had told me that the unit best known as Seal Team Six was involved, I’d have liked our chances. United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), often shortened to DevGru, are badasses amongst badasses. I couldn’t help but smile at the opportunity of a lifetime they were presented with, smiled even more when I thought about their origins. Formed shortly after the botched rescue attempt in Iran during the Carter Administration, the first commanding officer of ST6 was none other than noted author and counterterrorism expert Richard “Dirty Dick” Marcinko. Through his best-selling books the “Rogue Warrior” popularized the “Ten Commandments For SpecWar” and those principles clearly apply today just as much as they did 30 years ago. Not sure anyone could define a SEAL any better than he did: “Sea-Air-Land Navy SpecWarrior. A hop-and-popping shoot-and-looter hairy-assed frogman who gives a shit. The acronym stands for Sleep, Eat And Live it up. “
Yep, that’ll do.

Today adds the “controversy” about the existence and possible release of photographs of the body. To the likely surprise of some, I’m against it. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe photos prove much of anything with today’s technology and I actually feel a rare bit of consideration for maintaining the moral high ground here. Americans were outraged less than 20 years ago when photos of a soldier’s body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were published, and rightfully so. I know many who aren’t pleased when newspapers elsewhere in the world publish photos with almost celebratory delight when Allied troops are killed … but now we’re going to do the same thing, and in an official capacity to boot? For as much as I usually lean toward giving back roughly double what you get in combat or conflict, I simply don’t see any real benefit here beyond giving terrorists a handy recruiting tool & I’m not inclined to provide their photography.

In the end, I understand most of the reactions I’ve seen but I’m concerned at a few of the others. Justice was served, I’m happy this asshole is fish food … but at the end of the day he’s one of great many who deserve the same fate. His actions, his willing obedience to evil, those are what earned him his Earthly fate. It’s what he did and was willing to do that cost him the privilege of continuing to breath, but as far as I’m concerned success or failure in those efforts shouldn’t really be the biggest determining factor. It’s the willingness to be a terrorist, not whether you’re any good at it, that ought to paint a bullseye on your forehead. Take out the more effective ones first, that’s entirely appropriate, but it isn’t the entire job . There are miles to go before we sleep, I just hope that this success isn’t used as an excuse for failing to continue the mission to an acceptable conclusion.

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A really live five

Started to get stoked to see A7X headline this week’s Project Cinco party, which started me thinking about the most enjoyable live acts I’ve seen. No particular order here, just five that helped set the standard that Avenged Sevenfold is living up to.

Scorpions – July 7, 1984 was my first arena concert (The Omni) and still perhaps the most influential on my expectations. Nobody was ever more consistent on stage than these German legends. Anything they did in the studio they could do note for note in person, seemingly effortlessly. Of course it was really anything but effortless, it’s what happens when you mix talent with hard work, the best example of musical professionalism I ever saw. Saw them again in ’88 in Memphis, in 2002, and most recently in July 2010 during the farewell tour with never a disappointing moment.

Metallica – July 9, 1988 at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, perhaps the hottest place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s not the heat, it’s the heat AND the humidity. How long ago was this? So long ago that Metallica went on second of five bands, sandwiched between Kingdom Come and Dokken. A lot more changed than James Hetfield’s hair (and mine) between then and seeing them again in November 2004, which was to that point the biggest show that I’d seen with my son.

Iron Maiden – Feb 2, 1985 at the Omni. There’s something about seeing your favorite band in person that sets it apart from all other concert experiences. No matter how long the show lasts, no matter how many encores the band does, it’s never quite enough … but you’re still enthralled by it all and you never forget the experience. There’s something about knowing every word of every song all night and knowing you’re amongst kindred spirits in the crowd, as well as being able to look down your nose a bit at the poor sods in the audience who were woefully unprepared for the experience. I’d see them again in ’87 and ’88, but my hopes of doing so again are fading fast since they seem to have determined themselves not to play Atlanta again for whatever reason, something like 15 years and counting now. Still, I’ve got the memories. Up the Irons !

Dio – Nov 12, 1984 at the Omni – The twin bill of Dokken and Dio was a really big deal to me at the time, but it’s the transitional role in my concert going experiences that makes this stand out even more to me now. I saw the legend as a teenager, saw him again in June 2002 in what would be more memorable because it was my then four year old’s first time at a concert where he really knew the artist well enough to recognize most of the playlist, then saw him for the final time in November 2002 at a club date. That’s probably the last time I’ve been to a concert without Will in tow and might be the last time I do that (for as long as he’ll have me around), it just wasn’t the same any more. It’s also the first major artist that I’ve really lost for good with his sad passing last year. Rest In Peace Ronnie, thanks for all the magic.

Various – 1988 and beyond, mostly at Danny’s on Cobb Parkway – It took me a little while to figure out who the fifth act on this list really ought to be. Truth is the first four were easy for the reasons I detailed in their entries but a lot of candidates for the last spot went through my head. Happily, the answer dawned on me and I knew it was right. It was the steady parade of garage bands, club performers, and less prominent touring acts that kept the live experience available between major shows. Those are the really the places that where you learn what you enjoy musically, away from the massive stage shows and the energy of thousands of fans. You get a better understanding of the line between performers on stage and the reality of them as people who put their (spandex) pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. It’s also a place where a non-musician can gain more appreciation for those who work just as hard in front of 25 people as they do/would in front of 25,000 people … and maybe you see stars before they become famous. So for bands like Panda and Roxx, this spot’s for you.

You’ll find 9 songs from Panda at
Panda

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