Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009


Last year at this time I celebrated Christmas with my colleagues in the CSTC-A's public affairs shop in Kabul, Afghanistan. While it was a charming, restful day (something very rare) for us as we shared the holiday with my friends at Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan, it still felt a bit vacant without my son, family and close friends.

Yesterday and today being home with those who mean the most to me meant a great deal to me, but I am ever mindful of our servicemen and women serving overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq and in countless other countries.

Please keep each of them, as well as the many peoples of other countries, in your thoughts, prayers and actions (yeah, I mean charity for those less fortunate than us).

Merry Christmas everyone. Here is hoping that 2010 is a great year!











(The photo is from the December 24, 2008, Christmas Eve services at Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan. photo by the author)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lead, follow... get out of the way!

This country, one of the world's leading contributors in pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our atmosphere, needs to get its act together (bet you thought I was going to say something a bit more urbane, didn't you?) and lead the rest of the world in saving our world from utter destruction!

We talk and talk and talk, then talk some more about creating new "green" jobs; about cleaning up our environment; about taking the technological lead; yet STILL our country has not had the balls to break its dependence on foreign oil; or find a way to utilize clean energy such as wind power, solar power, geothermal energy or ocean currents to power our cities; to go "green" and to repair the environmental damage our thoughtlessness has set in motion.

And still the evidence piles up daily with each new study clearly indicating our recklessness is leading to the extinction of more and more plant and animal species including the polar bear; the decimation of fish populations such as tuna in our oceans; the death of the ocean's coral reefs; and the ruination of the tropical rain forests of South America.

The fragile balance we call the food chain is on the verge of collapse and yet we act as if nothing is wrong! It would be a crime against this planet if are the root cause of vast extinctions worldwide. It is bad enough we kill our own with barely a second thought but to murder defenseless creatures is a unconscionable.

Last week, former Vice President Al Gore, Jr, mentioned on the David Letterman Show that enough solar energy hits our earth every single minute to power our planet's energy needs for the rest of our lives (and beyond)... IF only we would do the work to harness it. Wasted energy! and we do... nothing! Absolutely nothing about it!

If it is not evident that we are heading towards an ecological collapse, nothing is... and all we can do is talk about trading energy units and how excessive it will cost to combat this problem. The real question is at what cost will we suffer by doing nothing?

Today, as I walked through the local Barnes & Noble bookstore where I work, I saw a book that showed a lone polar bear swimming amongst the broken ice floes of the frigid Arctic Ocean. This left leaning liberal is not ashamed to admit the photo nearly moved me to tears when I considered the photo's dramatic implications.

I am not so naive to realize that the photo was an obvious attempt in manipulating my emotions... and it did! I don't care. If we cannot see how our planet's ecological balance has changed dramatically in the past fifty years (AND will continue to do so even more), then we deserve everything we will get by inaction!

And even in the most remote of possibilities that current scientific leanings are wrong or alarmist, what possible harm could come of developing new, clean energy sources for our planet's use?

My thoughts on this subject are obvious. And to our political, business, engineering and scientific leaders I say... lead! follow! get out of the way! BUT dammit, do something!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

Today is World AIDS Day. According to the CDC, more than one million Americans are infected with HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS; and nearly 35 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, with most living in thirdworld nations in African and southeast Asia.

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1st. The World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in 1988. World AIDS Day encourages governments, national AIDS programs, faith-based organizations, local community organizations and people everywhere to raise awareness and direct scrutiny on the global AIDS epidemic. With hundreds of organizations and NGOs (non-government organizations) working to eradicate the disease, much work remains to discover a vaccine that would finally put an end to this scourge.

Former President Bill Clinton's foundation has worked tirelessly to ensure that poor third world nations have access to medications that helps bring relief to those afflicted with HIV yet who are unable to afford treatment. Former President George W. Bush also directed attention to the worldwide problem by allocating funding for medicines and other humanitarian aid (yes, once in rare moment I can find something good to say about W), albeit he also implemented "strings attached" that many, including myself found repugnant... nonetheless, he did much to help those in need.

Remember, the best means of safeguarding your sexual well-being and your health is sexual abstinence. The remaining options are practicing safe sex, not sharing intravenous needles (don't use illicit drugs and do not drink excessively--lowering one's inhibitions is an invitation to reckless behaviors that makes infection possible), stay educated, know the facts... and get regular HIV testing so that your HIV status is not a mystery.




Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just because...













Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! My sensors detect the presence of an intruder!










Capt. Bugs: Ain't I a stinker?

Daffy Spock: Most illogical.

Doctor Sylvester: Dammit, I'm a doctor not a critic!

Chief Engineer Montgomery Pig: b'd, b'd, captain, my poor engines, they're breakin' up!

Nurse Tweety: I tat I taw a bowl of plomeek soup!

Red Shirt Yosemite: Awwwh hate you!

Tasmanian Sulu: rrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, warp two, Captain!

Happy Thanksgiving Day

Even in these rough times we have so much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my son Wes, my parents and my siblings. I am especially thankful for my friends who are as much my family as my relatives.

Having served in Afghanistan last year I can say without doubt that we are the most blessed people in the world. I invite everyone to take a moment to make a difference for those less fortunate than us.









Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day

World War I, "the war to end all wars," officially came to its end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

U.S President Woodrow Wilson first called for an "Armistice Day," a day to honor veterans of World War I on November 11, 1919.

Not until June 4, 1926 was an official act of Congress made that brought federal recognition of the holiday honoring veterans of war.

The holiday known as 'Remembrance Day' or 'Armistice Day' in other countries is concurrently observed on the day Germany signed the armistice, thus officially bringing one of the bloodiest, most costly wars (up to its day) to a close.

In the United States--Veteran's Day--in the intervening years, has become a federal holiday and amended to recognize veterans of all wars, past and present.

We live in a country where we have more freedoms than any nation on earth, and while our country is far from perfect, our servicemembers work tirelessly to ensure that that tenet of our lives never changes. Perhaps it is a cliche, but the adage 'Freedom is never free' is more appropriate today than ever before.

Happy Veteran's Day!



---

Today, I would like to thank Applebees restaurant for their act of kindness. This year, in recognition of Veteran's Day, the franchise offered all U.S. servicemembers and veterans all over the country a free lunch or dinner. Taking them up on their kind offer, I went to dinner tonight with friends and we found a packed house with veterans of all ages. In fact, I met a World War II veteran and another from the Vietnam War!

The franchise gained a customer in me because of this very kind act! Thank you, Applebees!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bigots

This goes out as old news, actually.

But tell me what's wrong with this photo? How can people be so exuberantly gleeful when they are spreading so much hurt and pain?

This photo makes me ill looking at people who so happily celebrate the hurt they have caused.

The reverberations of last's week's hateful vote will spread like concentric waves after throwing a rock in the water of a lake; the ripple effect will assuredly touch countless lives.

How can people band together to spend millions of dollars so to deny all citizens equal rights? And why are people's civil rights being put forth for people to vote upon? To be trampled on? To be denied? To be bartered?

Last month when I attend the historic march for Equality in Washington, D.C. I saw a man carrying a placard that read, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't have one!" So why cannot *these* people take care of their own lives and let others tend to their own? Rhetorical question, I know.

Some people just cannot help themselves in throwing their judgment around without thought or care who they hurt.

If so-called Christians are so worried about the sanctity of marriage, why aren't they working to pass laws to outlaw divorce? Why don't they devote those misspent millions of dollars to provide counseling to protect troubled marriages? So let me ask another question... did the sky fall when gays were permitted to marry in Vermont? in New Hampshire? in Massachusetts? in Connecticut? or in Iowa? or in Europe where gay marriages have been legal for decades? No?

This is Christianity at its worst! And it certainly doesn't display the love of God that I follow and love. Justice denied for some is injustice for all.

So my question is, what are these people so afraid of? This is just wrong in so many ways!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dad

Yesterday was my Dad's 72nd birthday!

My Dad, Douglas Robert Mappin, was a good man who was a great mentor and teacher to his seven sons and one daughter. When I think of him I am mindful of the military tenet that demands its servicemembers lead by example. Dad, a 26-year veteran of the Indiana National Guard, lived and breathed that principle... in his military career, with his job and with his family.

He led. I can think of few men who were so principled, so honest and so perfectly suited to be a leader in the National Guard or as a father.

After his passing--he taken from his family and friends far too young--memories have slowly begun to fog, but I have memories still cherished of the man, the friend and the father that he was. I know, from conversations with my son, that he was too young to have many memories of his grandfather. The point is, sadly, as the years pass images have become less prominent, but thankfully, I have some that will never fade.

I leave it to my brothers and sisters to their memories nor can I speak entirely for them. Their memories are their own, after all. I do know there has not been a day we each have not missed his easy humor, his smile, his laugh and his incredibly strong principles and ethics.

Dad was, like many of our parents, a product of the Great Depression. His work ethic was incomparable. In retrospect, I think we kids sometimes wished that had not been the case. You see, my Dad held three jobs for a good number of years. He was a tool and die maker for a company in North Manchester, Indiana. He proudly served in the Indiana National Guard. And in the last few years of his life, Dad had dreamed of running his own business.

He took that leap of faith to develop and hone his own business skills. Not too long before his death, Dad had quit his full-time job to devote full attention to his own tool and die company on the northside of our hometown Rochester, Indiana.

But this was just one aspect of his life.

Dad had a great ear and always the time for when we needed his advice. I remember his words of advice the day I married; the day I became a father; the day I separated from my wife; and the day I decided to enter college, and I remember how proud he was when I told him I was going to be a teacher.

If there was one thing I remember most about my Dad is the pride he had in each of his kids. And if not pride, the concern he showed even more so when we were troubled. I am sure that at one moment or another, each of the eight of us put him through the test of parenthood. I wonder how many headaches we each caused.

While Dad was a great father, I have only vague memories of what kind of husband he was (young kids are so self-centered after all. I am ashamed to say I did not even know when his and my stepmom's wedding anniversary was until after he had died).

I have only the vaguest of memories of what kind of relationship they celebrated together. I do recall a few times of watching he and my stepmom together. Not long after he had suffered a heart attack, I remember them sitting in the living room one time holding hands. In that regards, Dad and my stepmom led a quiet, private life. But I know how hard they both worked to provide for each of their children.

Now while I said I can only guess what kind of husband he was, I look at my brothers Bryan, Rob, Scott and Matt and look at their marriages. Each of them lead lives that I believe were shaped by Dad's (and Mom's) example.

Funny, when I look at my brother Matt it is like looking at Dad, who we (my siblings) have often commented upon, is nearly the image of our Dad.

Dad was also a loving son. His mother, my grandmother, Valda Mappin was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease when I was a young lad. Dad, being an only child, did the best he could to ensure her life was safe and as healthful as possible. So in addition to being a father of a large clan, working multiple jobs, he still found time to devote what energies he had to his mother.

I suspect he felt he didn't have enough time to do everything he needed to do.

Perhaps my strongest--and favorite memories about Dad were him spending time with us kids. He played with us, taught us and often took us camping at a nearby campground. Fishing at Lake Manitou on his pontoon boat and roadtrips around the state were always fun as well.

One of our favorite jokes involved Dad's long-time penchant for finding the ugliest fir tree tree for Christmas. Dad always cut his own tree and in my mind, I think he sought out the puniest, ugliest tree he could find every year. Thinking he took pity on that one tree, we found a way for it to shine in beauty for that holiday. In fact, one year the spindly, sparse tree had to be tied to the wall so that it would not tip over. We laughed so hard! But Christmas Eve was always special in Dad's home (and still is to this day, to my stepmom's credit).

In any case, I am sitting here remembering Dad. One of my friends over the weekend told me that he thought it sweet that I mentioned it was Dad's birthday--even after all these years, but I cannot help it. He shaped our lives in ways I cannot imagine.

He lived long enough only to see the birth of his first two grandchildren. I remember his pride when he first held my son Wes, his first grandchild.

He did not live to see my brother Rob nor I join the military, however, I do remember how proud he was when both Bryan and Teresa joined the Armed Forces. I remember crying on the plane flying to boot camp when I recalled my stepmom telling me how proud Dad would be if he had lived to see me, his first-born, joining the Navy.

Dad did not live to see any of his kids marry (except for Teresa and I). Like his Dad before him, his life was cut far too short (both died at the age of 47). While Dad was so proud of his children and wife, it only seems fair to say how proud we were of him as well.

Perhaps the best tribute I can give my father is knowing that each of his eight kids, me, Teresa, Bryan, Mike, Rob, Chris, Scott and Matt all finished school and have all gone on to lead fairly happy lives with their own families.

This past year, a hometown reporter wrote a piece about me while I was serving in Afghanistan, but one of my proudest moments came from reading a letter to the editor. That letter, written by a man who joined the National Guard because of my Dad's leadership, said I "sound" just like my Dad. That, to me, was one of the finest compliments I have ever received in my life.

I do wish that Dawn, Tracy (Rob's wife), Tracy (Matt's), Alana and Lori (my sisters-in-law), the grandkids would have had the chance to have met Dad. They would've loved playing with him and including them in their lives.

I think I speak for each of my brothers and sister when I say I miss Dad dearly. Here's to you, Dad. We love you!

Those who are dead are not dead,
They're just living in my head.
--Coldplay

Memorial


Monday, October 12, 2009

March for Equality 2009




















































I have been pretty remiss of late. In recent weeks I have started two postings only to get shut down by writer's block (the scourge of every writer at one point or another... those two posts remain unfinished, awaiting my creative muse to return). I apologize and would like to comment on my day yesterday after arriving in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday, I had the distinct honor of attending the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. While I got into town too late to meet up at the White House where the march began, I was at the Capitol Building lawn ready to greet the marchers as they came en masse; to record the events for posterity. And for my own purposes, to commit to memory a very special (and long) day.

Some unofficial accounts placed nearly 200,000 people present for the march and subsequent rally, something I doubt, but I will certainly agree there were lots and LOTS of people gathered to voice their passion, their frustrations, their demands for respect and equality and their love for this country of ours.

I can unequivocally state there were a number of moments that tugged at the heartstrings. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP gave a speech that was a huge home run ("We have a lot of real and serious problems in this country, and same-sex marriage is not one of them. Good things don't come to those who wait, but they come to those who agitate!").

Both activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones voiced their hopes and concerns with equal zeal... and why not? These men are professionals and know their craft well. Perhaps, to me, other moments... somewhat more low-key, captured my attention completely.

The first was when Judy Shepard, mother of slain college student Matthew Shepard (has it really been 11 years now?) took the stage. The instant Judy's name was announced the audience fell completely silent out of respect for her... and her family. Her comments were brief, powerful and softly stated. But make no mistake, sometimes the softest voice delivers the most impact-- and this she did. My respect for this woman rivals that of the mother of slain Sailor Allan Schindler, who was brutally murdered by his own fellow shipmates in 1992.

One moment was offered by one of the co-founders of the march. Sadly, I don't recall her name, but her tearful plea for President Obama to follow through on his promises to the community were heartfelt. She offered her concerns for her family, her children and their future-- and we all understood and felt her pain.

Other moments involved the power of music, actually there were four... were each delivered separately and speak to music's ability to transcend above political and social paths. The first was when the Washington, D.C.'s Gay Men's Choir sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' How amazing that that old Paul Simon song still carries so much strength all these years later (a song I know well from my high school swing choir days)!

The last moment (in order of performance anyway) was when the young Broadway cast of 'Hair,' who took the day off from their New York City stage, came to perform 'Aquarius!' and join in what was often (that day) called 'the right side of history.'

I was struck by how young and beautiful the cast was, but when I looked around at the crowd surrounding me I noticed just how many young people were present. And they were not there to ask but to demand the respect and equality all of us deserve. The moment was clearly reminiscent of the old Vietnam War-era protest marches.

Two events brought tears to my eyes. Why? With all the noise, hate, shouting and screaming so often waged against gays and lesbians, I was touched by this simple fact. Even with all the disrespect heaped upon the gay community, they showed that in spite of that, they/we love our country.

At the point where we stood together, side by side, and sang the 'Star Spangled Banner,' our national anthem, I was moved beyond words! People everywhere stood at attention, hands over their heart, and sang... and sang proudly. And later on, when we sang, again with reverence, 'America the Beautiful,' I would defy anyone not to have been moved. Say what you will about our very diverse community, but it cannot be said that we do not love our country any more, or any less than any other American.

Here's the point... at least the one that was obvious to me, this march was a call for everyone to phone in, to write, to meet with their community leaders, their congressmen and congresswomen, their senators and our President. To be silent no more. The time for indecisiveness is long past and it is time that every.single.American be treated with equality, with respect and with peace.

So what are we asking for (and if you think about it, we shouldn't have to do this)? We expect the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts: the right to marry with the same rights, respect and benefits; the right to serve our nation's military openly and respectfully without having to lie or hide who we are; the right to be employed without fear of reprisals for being who we are; and the right to live free of fear of being victims of hate.

And it is time our government live up to its motto, 'we the people' and practice the 14th Amendment of our Constitution as it would any other law of the land.

Equality is a God given tenant of our existence. Yesterday's march was our voice saying enough is enough... So either help us lead the march or get out of the way. As was mentioned in one speech, "Equal rights are for all, all of the time, not just when it is convenient."

photos by the author

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Catch-22: Afghanistan

For those who want us out of Iraq and Afghanistan... keep wishing, but don't hold your breath.

Why? Okay, for starters--thankfully--the U.S. and coalition forces are slowly making their way out of Iraq. This is old news. But even if we leave we probably will have some presence there for a long, long time. Witness this: World War II is more than 70 years distant, yet the U.S. has a huge presence in Europe as a member of NATO as well as remaining in Japan. South Korea and the Korean War is more than 50 years behind us and, like Europe, we still maintain military bases in South Korea (where one of my friends is stationed today).

I am not naive enough to state that our presence in Europe and Asia is unwarranted, but I am pointing it out as a point of reference to my thesis that the U.S. Armed Forces forces will most assuredly remain in the Middle East as a vigilant watchdog for more years than I imagine the Bush Administration ever contemplated, and therein lies a problem.

It is obvious to most of us President George W. Bush, his paranoid vice president and "yes-man" staff did not think things through prior to launching a war against Iraq. If they had, they might have (or should have) reconsidered opening the can of worms that they have. But so they did, and now we have to live with those consequences and move on--and hopefully rectify what I consider was a hugely disastrous foreign affairs blunder.

This whole situation of our war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is complicated and was exasperated by the events of September 11. Whether readers want to admit it, our preemptive war with Iraq really had little to do with 9/11, but more to do with the Bush Administration's misguided desire to punish Saddam Hussein for his past sins. I do wish to clarify that I am not saying Hussein was a leader we could live with--I am saying other means were available to force him to "play nice," but think he basically drew a line in the sand and lost--and handed the Bush Administration an excuse to attack.

Bush's spin doctors were most expert in drawing conclusions that were erroneous at best, and blatant lies at worst, to gain national and world support for toppling Saddam Hussein's empire. It saddens me to this day that Secretary of State (Gen.) Colin Powell's reputation was used (and severely diminished) to launch a needless war in Iraq.

But I digress.

Today, public support for the Afghan War is beginning to show signs of waning.

Just this week ABC News and independent commentator George Will came out (ala Walter Cronkite's reluctant admonishment that we abandon our war effort in Vietnam) in favor of pulling coalition forces out of Afghanistan, saying we cannot accomplish our goals...

Will says, "So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."

To some degree, I cannot fully support Will's position, but I do understand it. I disagree with his assessment that we should scale back and wage war from the skies. In the past, this has proven imprecise, unreliable and deadly to many innocent victims. We already have claimed more Afghan lives who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, thus weakening our friendship with the Afghan government, which in some ways is not necessarily a bad thing (the Karzai government, like many before it, is corrupt beyond compare.

As a Sailor in the US Navy I find this approach of detached warfare somewhat cowardly. I do, however, agree with Mr. Will's position regarding Pakistan.

Already, critics are calling this "Obama's War." This is rather unfair assignment as this was a war launched by President Bush in response to the actions against us on September 11, 2001. I do not, however, have the same harsh words over this one issue. The Afghanistan of 2001, one ruled by Taliban tyranny also played host to Al Qaeda. As news commentator Ted Koppell said on National Public Radio it was here where Al Qaeda was given safe refuge; it was here where the events of 9/11 were nurtured, planned and launched (with the aid of certain factions in Saudi Arabia) and it was here where American launched a manhunt for the world's most hated man, Osama bin Laden.

Where I part ways with President Bush in regards to the Afghan War is simply this: He blinked. He lost focus; and he lost the game. By allowing his hatred of Saddam Hussein to consume him, he lost track of why we went to war in Afghanistan. We weren't at war with Hussein, but with Al Qaeda. But he forgot that and we lost ground; we even lost the "high road."

Not because of WMDs as he claimed; not because Hussein was a threat to U.S. security as he claimed; and not because Hussein was killing his people (that argument, I could have supported). Saddam was not the first nation to thumb his nose at U.S. concerns, but he was the first to suffer from a U.S. led preemptive war.

President Bush lost the game in Afghanistan and now--eight years later (next month)--we find ourselves immersed in the longest war in our history and many are beginning to question for what gains and at what cost... and why?

Having served as a Navy photojournalist in Afghanistan for a year, I am proud of the work our troops are doing in the streets of Kabul and countless other cities. We are there, not as conquerors nor bullies, but as teachers, mentors, humanitarians and as a protective friend. However, as the violence against the Afghan people escalates--and against us--that role is beginning to change... and as a result plans are being made to circumvent a return of Taliban rule.

When we invaded Afghanistan in 2001 we were welcomed by a people as we put an end to the Taliban tyranny that for all intents and purposes propelled that nation backwards to the 13th or 14th century.

For those of us leading comfortable lives here in our safe and sanitized world, most of us cannot imagine the horrors of the day-to-day lives of the Afghan people under Taliban rule. Women were stoned to death for refusing to submit to male dominance (the old adage of "barefoot and pregnant" would find a willing home in the Taliban's eye); girls were forbidden to attend schools; men imprisoned for refusing to wear a beard; no music, no television; beheadings in public squares... all used to invoke terror and subjugation. This is what the U.S. led coalition forces saved the Afghans from.

Move forward eight years to today and now the Obama Administration finds itself in a quandary. In 2007, then Sen. Obama, on the road as a presidential candidate, made it very clear he was not in favor of the Iraq War, but reluctantly concluded that our presence in Afghanistan a necessary evil. Today, plans are afoot to send in more troops to face an increasingly bloody Taliban threat who want "their" country back.

The sad matter of fact is, they (the Taliban) are beginning to make inroads. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the Taliban is making life increasingly more difficult for the Pakistan government as well. Today's military strategists believe Osama bin Laden and the top Al Qaeda echelon are hiding out in the twisting mountains of Pakistan, aided by members of the Taliban.

This is dangerous for both coalition forces and the Pakistan government. For Afghanistan, this is problematic since the border between the two countries is extremely porous making it easy for Taliban terrorists to move back and forth with relative ease.

Coalition forces training the Afghan National Border Police are making this a more difficult aspect for the Taliban, but for Pakistan, the presence of the Taliban is creating its own dilemma-for both Pakistan and for the coalition forces hoping to bring a lasting peace that would bring a revival of long poor Afghanistan (where the average Afghan earns approximately $400 a year).

Not wanting to appear as alarmist as the expert Bush Administration, the Taliban's influence in Pakistan is increasing and this puts us--and Pakistan in a terrifying position. Terrifying for Afghanistan, terrifying for India, terrifying for China and Russia and terrifying for the entire southeast Asian continent.

Why? Because Pakistan possesses the bomb. It is no secret that Pakistan has built approximately 100 nuclear warheads, standing ready for launch. World leaders as well as the Pakistan government are fully aware of the consequences if that government were to fall to the Taliban. The entire region could be destabilized with one careless action from Pakistan if its government fell to a zealot Taliban force (especially if they remain aligned with Al Qaeda).

So... back to Afghanistan, where we are definitely damned if we do, damned if we don't. This is the ultimate nightmare... and why it is unlikely the U.S. will leave the region any time soon.

But one can certainly hope.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

15 books

As a writer--and especially a reader--I love the written word, so without any further explanation here is a fun exercise.

The rules: This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Email 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Only 15...

1. When Worlds Collide by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie (this book and its sequel are the ultimate doomsday novels showing mankind at its best... and worst... I love the fact that the writers had the balls to do exactly what most authors would never dare to do... end it all. While the book was written in 1932, it still strikes me as an incredibly emotional read. For years, I have been trying to write a prequel... Let me tell you now, writing a novel is really HARD!!!)

2. After Worlds Collide by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie (I first read this book and its first installment when I was in the 4th grade.... I've revisited these two books more times than I can count, even as recent as when I was stationed overseas. I highly recommend them both!)

3. Maurice by E.M. Forster (one of my all time favorite love stories written in 1913-14... The author considered this book so controversial that he refused to allow it to be published while he was alive. He left instructions that it could be published a year after his death, which was in 1970, and the book was released the following year. Oddly enough, the 1987 movie based upon it is remarkably faithful, which almost never happens).

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (yeah, yeah Charles Dickens is long-winded. But then the book's roots was a newspaper serial where the author was paid by the word--you do the math! At 39 chapters, this book captured me from page one).

5. Silas Marner by George Eliot (this too, was my mother's favorite novel as a child). I've not read it in years. It is one of the most moving books I've ever read. Most modern readers probably know this, but George Eliot was a woman... but Victorian English society in that time frowned upon female writers... interestingly enough, Charles Dickens once commented he thought the "male" author was a woman... Maybe I should revisit the book?).

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (another book that launched my interest in science fiction... I discovered this book about the same time as #1 and 2 on this list. This highly regarded, esoteric award-winning novel is well worth the read! Like many other books on my list, this popular book launched a series).

7. Trapped in Space by Jack Williamson (books I read in childhood really had a profound affect on my life.. I have often wondered if it would read as good now 40 years later).

8. Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg (this was a Scholastic Books selection I bought when I was in the 6th grade. This is basically a sci-fi version of the American revolution. It was the author's first book).

9. Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov (I read this long before I had the chance to see the movie... both stand on their own and both are amongst my favorite stories ever committed to paper and film).

10. 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (what can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? For some it was the ultimate "trip" (one of my high school friends got high when he saw the movie and totally tripped on it), for me the book was an incredibly good voyage into the unknown--as was the movie).

11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I believe this was the author's sole novel. As a former teacher, this and Dickens' Great Expectations should always be required reading).

12. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (in more recent years, the trilogy expanded to seven books before the author's untimely death [some written by other sci-fi authors]. The original three, Asimov's way of imagining the rise and the fall of the Roman Empire, were written during the "golden age of sci-fi," it remains one of my favorite series.).

13. Star Trek The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry (this was the Star Trek creator's sole work on the written page. It fills in some holes left by the movie and was a quick read. You didn't really think Star Trek wouldn't make the list, did you? BUT with over 700 novels published in the series I really had a hard time picking just one).

14. Star Wars by George Lucas (okay, Alan Dean Foster really wrote it. I read this book a full six months before the original movie came out in 1977. Remembering it now, I could not put the book down, as I read each page I thought, "oh my God, how are they going to put this on film???" To be honest, this book and The Empire Strikes Back shall be the greatest stories of the entire franchise).

15. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (this title is a series... seven books so far, but who's counting? It captures the 1970-80s San Francisco's gay culture in a very compelling, humorous and thought-provoking fashion. Who can ever forget the sweet, lovable Michael "Mouse" Tolliver or the antics of 28 Barbary Lane?).

Okay, I am cheating as I am adding an honorable mention: The War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold (This book was originally intended to be a trilogy, but it has expanded to four completed novels with an additional three planned... that said, the last installment was published in 1993 and frankly, I wish the author would complete the series as it is a superior, psychological science fiction series!).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Verklempt!

Coldplay definitely knows how to play a crowd. I, and 34,000 other fans were reminded of this when frontman Chris Martin "hired" us all to join the band during the "Viva" tour when they played the Alpine Valley Music Theater, near East Troy, Wisconsin, last Saturday night.

"We finally have more members than the Dave Matthews Band," Martin said as he joked with the audience. After prompting us to sing along, the audience attempted a line--poorly I might add--inviting Martin to chastise us by saying, "no, no, no c'mon we just hired you guys (okay, I am relating this as the "family-friendly" G-rated version)!"

We got it right after that.

Anticipation, excitement and elation were the emotions I felt leading into that night. How could I have not? My friend Shane and I had been planning this night long before I had returned home from my one-year deployment in Afghanistan (not counting some of the acts I saw while stationed in Kuwait in 2005-06, this was actually the first concert I had attended since seeing Elton John in the late 90s-- I really need to get out more).

If I had something to look forward to upon my return home, this concert clearly was it!

The light show, the uber-frenetic, pulsating show on big screen TV--seemingly programmed by someone with ADHD--the three-foot diameter balloons dropped upon us during the performance of their haunting "Yellow," the butterfly-shaped confetti, the "cell phone wave," the unwanted cloudburst mid-way through the show (which thankfully failed to dampen our excitement), the band moving twice to play on mini-stages amidst the audience and of course, their upbeat music (!) all added up to one big verklempt!

The band's charismatic, energetic performances fired up the crowd as they played songs familiar to the audience. The venue, while cavernous, felt intimate due to Martin's ability to connect with his fans.

For those of us in attendance at Alpine Valley, "Viva" is now history, however, my memories of such a great time definitely are not. What a show! For nearly two hours, the band covered songs from their current album as well as those of the past.

British alternative band Coldplay, members consisting of bassist Guy Barryman, Jonny Buckman on lead guitar, Will Champion on drums and lead singer Chris Martin, sounded great! Sometimes a band sounds great as a studio band, but true artists can move the audience both off and on the stage--happily, Coldplay is of the latter category.

I cannot imagine anyone leaving feeling disappointed by Coldplay's performance; the band was definitely there to please! "Viva" was a feast for my eyes, ears and spirit! I know I was overcome with verklempt. *

(* translation: think of Jonathan Winter's old line "I had goose bumps all over my body" and multiply that by a factor of ten!)

photos by the author

Run Sarah, run!










If anyone were to vote for this potential candidate, I would move to Australia. Maybe I should have said, "run voters, run!"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dreaming like a child





























































As an 11-year old boy (and younger) I can vividly remember watching the dark skies scanning the vista of stars every night, anxiously awaiting NASA's next mission. As I watched satellites traversing the darkness at night, sometimes I dreamt I was up there too.

Unlike some of my childhood peers who were angered every time NASA pre-empted regularly scheduled TV programming for a space launch, I was glued to the television set with either a book in hand, or a notebook to draw sketches of the launch, which would in turn end up taped to my bedroom wall.

Today when a space shuttle goes up or a new probe is launched for the outer planets, America yawns... and I wonder where our sense of adventure and curiosity has gone.

I turned 12 three weeks after Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin travelled to, descended upon and returned home from the moon. Like another of my heroes, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, I was excited beyond words when the Apollo 11 mission touched down at Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969.

Ask my mother, and she will tell you countless stories of my model spaceships, the old Mattell toy astronaut Major Matt Mason, the drawings I created, all the books I read and the imaginary games I played with my siblings or by myself that were firmly rooted in the imagination--travels to the moon, to the planets and beyond; and to other worlds orbiting faraway star systems and galaxies... present-day, I miss those immature but lofty dreams of us doing something bigger than ourselves.

Today, being the 40th anniversary of the historic occasion, I've often pondered over why the space race seems so distant and unimportant to so many people (or worse, those who believe it all was a cruel expensive hoax); and I am reminded of the dreams so many of us had back then and I would guess a lot of us today, feel are yet unfulfilled.

With NASA's current configuration, orbital science experiments being conducted and with the robot explorers on Mars I feel so much is still being done in the name of science, but feel so much more could be accomplished. Politically, I wonder if NASA will ever be up to the role it held in our imaginations during the 1960s.

I know there are countless arguments of why space exploration should be halted; I've heard and listened to them all: our tax monies could be better spent elsewhere; the dangers involved; that we need to take care of our problems here and now-- I can sympathize with, but cannot agree with the view that the space program is a waste of dollars and talent; there is just too much evidence to the contrary, in my opinion... and while sometimes, I cannot argue logically against those viewpoints, some things remain better felt with the heart than with the head.

BUT (and it is a big 'but') I believe man is meant to do things that are hard and sometimes impractical. Whimsy, curiosity, lofty, big things, challenging things, mind-expanding exploration, seeking answers are all part of our psyche. I worry if we become complacent and give up on the dreams of wonderment that we will become a stagnant and uninteresting people.

With NASA currently being tasked to return us to the moon (and Mars) sometime in the next 20 years, I hope that the excitement of going back to the moon can be re-captured, but somehow I fear that society just isn't interested. Movies, TV, video games, political discord and unrest, war and famine and the like, in my opinion, have all worked together to rob us of a great deal of what imagination used to offer us. Sadly, I do not think, in general, that we as a society dream like we once did in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

When I see photos of the wonders of the universe captured by our mighty Hubble Space Telescope, I marvel at the beauties of the creation that are far beyond our reach.

Just last week, I had mentioned to my son Wes that it saddens me that our space program has not yet achieved a manned space program equivalent to the one portrayed in the movie "2001 A Space Odyssey." To me, it is inexcusable that we have not taken full advantage of the successes of the Apollo space program or that the Space Shuttle program is being allowed to wither and die.

It is ironic that Walter Cronkite died this past week just as we are remembering the first manned trip to the moon 40 years ago today. Some of my heroes of the space program are still with us-- Armstrong, Glenn, Aldrin and the current explorers in the space shuttle program. To me, they embody the best of what makes humanity special.

Today, I celebrate the 40th anniversary of those historic footsteps on the moon. It was an incredibly exciting time for me as a youth and hope we can go forth and do so much more (yes! Mars!). I hope that we, as a people and society can recapture that optimism; that is when we are at our best. Sometimes I just think it unwise to place a dollar value on our dreams. It is, after all, our saving grace that...

We dream. We work to make those dreams become a reality. And then, we dream of something bigger and work some more.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Heroes



A legend died tonight.

The journalistic greats of my lifetime, they are all gone now. Howard K. Smith, John Chancellor, Peter Jennings, David Brinkley, Chet Huntley, Harry Reasoner and now the last--and the best of the old school journalists--Walter Cronkite, the face of CBS News during the 1960s through the early 80s, is gone.

Walter Cronkite died tonight at age 92 after a lengthy illness.

Respected.
Cronkite, the most influential journalist/news anchor of his time, personified accuracy, objectivity, empathy and integrity. Few journalists have had the longevity that exemplified his storied career.

And what a career his was! He covered events during World War II, the Nuremberg War Trials and went on to become the anchor for CBS Evening News. Often forgotten were his long stints with the programs "You Are There, CBS Morning News, The 20th Century, The 21st Century"--and countless, countless documentaries.

Storyteller.
Under his tenant as evening news anchor, Cronkite oversaw the most tumultuous years in American history--and we saw it all through his objective eyes. For viewers of the boomer generation, Cronkite was the voice we remembered when news broke that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. No one can forget Cronkite's moving announcement when he choked, knowing he felt the pain as we did.

In 1968, after providing coverage for the Vietnam War from the safety of the New York news desk, Cronkite felt it necessary to see the war firsthand for himself. After returning to the states, he reluctantly announced that America could expect no more than a honorable exit by negotiating a peace settlement with North Vietnam.

If any would question Cronkite's credibility, they need not have looked any further when President Lyndon Johnson himself declared "if I have lost Walter Cronkite, I have lost middle America."

Cronkite had often noted his favorite topic he covered was NASA's manned lunar landings. It seems only fitting he died on what is the 40th anniversary of that historic Apollo 11 spaceflight.

Inspiration.
On a personal note, I have often told my friends my heroes are journalists and writers. Cronkite in particular, was nearly a god in the world of reporters in my eyes. His example provided me a guide of what good news reporting should be.

For me, watching the Walter Cronkites, David Brinkleys, John Chancellors, Peter Jennings or the Tom Brokaws as they practiced their craft was my inspiration as a Navy photographer and reporter.

Last summer while I was stationed at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to ask (then) Senator Barack Obama a few questions; I remember thinking to myself what would "Uncle Walt" have asked if he were there?

Ethical.
In later years when interviewed on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, Cronkite explained what made a good journalist:

"The ethics of a … responsible journalist is to put his or her biases, his or her prejudices aside in an attempt to be really fair to all sides at all times," he said. "And my pride is that I think I did that fairly well during my years."

By all accounts, Cronkite succeded in that mission as his name was synonymous with credibility. He was named in a 1972 poll as "the most trusted man in America." The fact that even 14 years after he had retired from CBS News' anchor desk, he was still regarded as one of the most influential news reporters of our time.

His authoritative presence immediately lent credence to any story he reported upon. Even after retiring from CBS News in 1981, he spent his "retirement years" working for CBS, PBS, the Discovery Network and NPR.

Integrity.
He was a force that time could not diminish, yet his integrity was not limited to only his career but in his personal life as well. His marriage to his wife Betsy lasted mere days shy of 65 years, when she passed away in 2005.

In today's world of instantaneous news coverage and 20-second sound bites, Cronkite's brand of journalism will sorely be missed. In the coming days, I hope the news agencies afford him the same reverence bestowed upon the likes of entertainer Michael Jackson. The difference here, in my opinion, is that Cronkite was a true legend deserving of the praise that is likely to be heaped upon him by his colleagues and those whose lives he influenced.

And in closing I'd like to quote Mr. Cronkite himself:

"And that's the way it is on this Friday, July 17, 2009. Good night."

Yuck!

Okay, now they've really gone too far!

Today, one of the most awesome landmarks of the Chicago skyline was robbed of its longtime heritage. After 36 years, the Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America, became (ugh) the Willis Tower (all I can hear is: "what you talkin' about, Willis?).

Personally, in the future I will refuse to acknowledge its new moniker!

Other name changes in recent memory that boggle the mind: Chicago Comiskey Park became U.S. Cellular Field; the Hoosier Dome (before being demolished in 2008) was renamed the RCA Hoosier Dome.

There is something just plain wrong when significant landmarks are named after corporations; the selling of a famous landmark's name, to me, is akin to a mind rape. Okay, that is pretty dramatic, but I detest corporate America feeling it has the right to plaster its name on everything from stadiums to skyscrapers from streets to college dormitories and study halls.

What's next? Here are my suggestions for renaming some familiar landmarks:

* The Trojan Empire State Building (if you get my drift)
* Big Ben Gay Clock (Clock! I said CLOCK!!!)
* The Lavender Gate Bridge (could San Francisco's landmark have been mislabeled in the first place?)
* The New York Rudy Guiliani Subway (where one can get the shaft everyday)
* The Halliburton-Enron White House (oops, that wasn't too far removed from the truth during the "W" years)
* Sure Deodorant Statue of Liberty (raise your hand if you're sure)

Okay, okay so those are all pretty lame, but my point is that renaming landmarks IS lame. It is one of those things that I find wrong with today's America... that being that we are far too easily bought out by the almighty buck.

Chicago Willis Tower? Yuck! What were they thinking???

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Don't ask, don't tell, don't care

As anyone who is reading probably knows, I am a Petty Officer 1st Class in the U.S. Navy. I recently returned to drill status as a Reservist after serving for a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Something interesting happened to me at Naval Station Great Lakes Training Center last weekend that... well, to be honest really surprised me. And certainly increased my respect for our young Sailors who are currently training to serve and protect our nation.

I was shopping for computer software at the NEX (that is the Navy Exchange, an on-base department store, for all you non-military types). While browsing, I had my back to three young Sailors when I inadvertently brushed my hand up against one of the Sailors' standing directly behind me.

I immediately turned to apologize and his response both startled and amused me. By the same token, upon later reflection I was proud of this young Sailor's progressive attitude.

As I apologized, he said (while smiling), "Now you owe me dinner." and then he caught me off-guard as he leaned closer and demurely mumbled ala "Friends" Joey Tribbiani, "How u doin'?"

We all laughed and after talking "software-geek" for a few minutes we all moved on. So what is the point of this story? It's simply this.

There are a lot of people in the today's military upper echelons and political circles worrying themselves senseless over the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be permitted to serve in this nation's armed forces.

The fact of the matter is, gays and lesbians are--and have always served our nation in what I consider the finest military force in the world. They have served with honor and distinction ever since there has been a United States of America... even before there was a USA... and to the many people who have voiced dismay that gays and lesbians serve, I have to say that today's youth seem to have little patience for such archaic notions.

So why the fuss? Probably for the same reasons that America wrung its collective hands over the issue of African-Americans serving in a racially-integrated military force ever since the Civil War. Outright and blatant bigotry is the simplest answer, however, things are rarely so simple.

It is no secret our nation has had its problems dealing with segments of the population that do not fit perceived societal norms. Before President Harry S. Truman signed an executive ordering an end to racial discrimination in the Armed Forces, it was not uncommon for black servicemembers to face discrimination from all fronts while serving.

Today, many gay activists feel President Obama should act in a similar fashion. He, on the other hand, claims "don't ask, don't tell" must be abolished by Congressional action. And their anger is perhaps not so misplaced as then Senator Obama, during his campaign for the presidency said he would move to abolish this policy.

Even today, in the 21st century, both political and military leaders alike seem to have difficulty getting past old-time prejudices haunting this man's military. I won't go into the details relating to the more than 12,000 servicemembers discharged since the advent of President Bill Clinton's compromise today known as Don't Ask Don't Tell. Or that 265 servicemembers have been discharged since President Obama took office.

Just last week, Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) announced he is sponsoring House Bill 1283 that will jumpstart the effort to see this bill repealed. Murphy, a former U.S. Army captain and a Roman Catholic, said:

“My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs and deserves the best and the brightest who are willing to serve- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented servicemembers from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear.”

"Old school" opponents constantly decry the dangers of damaging unit cohesion, breakdown of morale and discipline, all the same arguments used to justify racial separation in the 1940s and 50s. Of course, the changes were initially painful, but history has proven them beneficial.

The funny thing is today's youth, for the most part, could care less about one's sexual orientation and the ability to serve in our nation's military. Recent polls indicate that 75% of the American public concur. With such an overwhelming majority seeing no problem with gays and lesbians serving proudly and openly in the military, one has to ask why politicians and military leaders are dragging their feet?

So why did this young Sailor make me proud? Simply put, and it is similar to feelings I have always had about my mother. When I was a kid, my mom had little sympathy for racial discrimination of any kind. She instilled those same values into her six kids. I was proud that this Sailor's comfort in "his own skin" and his own sense of manhood wasn't so easily threatened. To this young man I met last weekend, I saw a glimmer of open-mindedness that gives me hope that when all is said and done, this too shall pass.

Perhaps today's leaders should listen more closely to our young. Cliches aside, they are our future... and they clearly could care less about one's sexual orientation.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Independence Day

As we celebrate this nation's 235th birthday, I want to wish everyone a wonderful and safe holiday!

We are a lucky people with bounty aplenty.

Having served three tours of duty in the Middle East, I am thankful for my son Wes, family and friends--and for the countless members of the armed forces with whom I served in the U.S., Kuwait and in Afghanistan.

God bless my fellow Sailors and members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving abroad. May we thank and remember them every day, for without them we would not have the freedoms we enjoy today.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"You're not of the body! You're not!"

You know, I have to laugh at some politicians. Yeah, so what else is new? Some of them make it so easy. The two latest and greatest missteps I find of particular interest occurred in the past two weeks.

Most prominently are the recent chronicles of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as he brings shame to his stature. Amazing, he acts as if his transgressions hurt no one--he is wrong, of course. He mouthed all the right platitudes with his tearful apologies, but he has clearly betrayed his obligations as governor, his duty to state and his voters, and most importantly, he has hurt his wife and his children--who he used to trot before cameras to enforce his familial righteousness. And yet he remains in office.

If you haven't read about it--or seen it on the news-- here's the scoop! He recently disappeared and--no one, not his family, not his staff--no one knew where he was. His aides told reporters the governor was out on a nature hike in the Appalachian Trails. THEN the truth became apparent. As it turns out, hiking the backwoods was the farthest thing from this man's mind.

Sanford was nowhere in America, not North America anyway, but in Argentina dallying with his mistress (on Father's Day, no less!)! In his confession, he admitted spending five days crying in the arms of his Argentinean lover, all on his state taxpayers' dime.

Yeah. Crying... really? Like I believe that. The governor has claimed he will repay his state for this amorous trip, but would he have done so had he not been caught? And then there's this, just days earlier Nevada Sen. John Ensign admitted he too, had an eight-month extramarital affair with a member of his staff. You really have to ask yourself, what is it with these guys?

Now don't roll your eyes, go with me on this one; in 1966, "Star Trek" aired an episode called "Return of the Archons."

The premise was not so far removed from the current woes of the Republican Party. The inhabitants of planet Beta III lived in a repressed society where uniformity of thought and sexual repression was the norm, not the exception. Except for periods called the "Red Hour," conformity was not only practiced but demanded. During those periods of the red hour, Betans went totally wild; their reserve of emotion ripped from them in total abandonment.

Violence against one another (sexual, emotionally or otherwise) left virtually no one unscathed.

What Betans found most frightening was to be singled out as being (gasp) individual... the words "you're not of the body!" could prove most damning!

This cry strikes me as nearly identical to the mantra of the Republican Party.

Now I am not claiming the Republican Party wears the mantle of impropriety solely. Lest I be accused of partisanship, I've not forgotten about the acts of former N.Y. governor Elliott Spitzer or 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards. We all know the Democrats have had their share of scandals; human feelings and weaknesses know no political lines, BUT the Republican Party has made family values the very mantra of what they stand for... and they have perfected the choir where their condemnation of anyone who doesn't agree with them is clearly heard, felt and all too often, punished.

What this really means is, "this is what we believe but don't hold us to it..." and of course, this is the Republicans' version of "don't ask, don't tell." In other words, "DO as I say, NOT as I do."

I tell you, any time a politician gets before a camera and microphone proclaiming "I stand for family values," I immediately wonder who is hidden in his or her closet, AND those who proclaim most loudly are, to me, most immediately suspect.

Back in 1998, Gov. Sanford (then Representative), who like so many other Washingtonian Republicans, stood in condemnation of President Bill Clinton when the details of his affair with Monica Lewensky became public. Sanford was on record saying the President's behavior was reprehensible and he should be removed from the highest office in the land.

Now all these years later, his words have come back to haunt him.

My question is why hasn't Gov. Sanford resigned his office? His recent actions only prove his hypocrisy as he has avoids the same question being posed to him. How are his actions any different?

These are the same men who work so ardently to protect the sanctity of marriage and family values. I think of men like former Sen. Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, Sen. John McCain, and countless others who, at the very least, stand on shaky ground when professing their morals best represent American traditional family values.

The reality is, these are the very men with whom I want to share nothing. I question what these men are afraid of, and what do they think they are really protecting us Americans from? Which brings me to a somewhat related topic.

In the recent film "Were the World Mine, a TV news reporter confronts two lesbians seeking marriage, "What about traditional family values?" he asks. One of the two women laughs and responds by saying, "We have families, we have values!"

Yes. But obviously not those shared by they who feel they have the right to demand conformity from everyone else, i.e., "my morals are superior to yours."

The problem posed by those who loudly proclaim they are against same sex-marriage think those "nasty homosexuals" who have dared ask for the same protections represent values different then their own. The falsity of this notion is that each and every person is raised in a family unit--whether it was in a father-mother family, a single-parent family, a grandparent, an adopted family, a blended family and yes, even some in a same-sex family... so really, whose values are different?

Family values have been assimilated and ingrained from the moment we are born. Is it so unthinkable, so unreasonable that gays and lesbians would want to perpetuate those same values in their daily lives?

To me, what is most important is to lead our lives honestly, courageously and happily and with the dignity afforded us by our creator. For those who claim their way is the best way--the only way, act as bullies "with a toy" they are unwilling to share; they are deluding themselves and running away from what they don't care to take the time to examine or attempt to understand. Here's the blunt universal truth: love is love. Period.

And finally, this is why Gov. Sanford and hypocrites like him need to examine their own values before passing judgment on others. Personally, I do not believe anyone has the right to make people's lives here a hell on earth. You know, the lines in the Holy Bible "judge not lest ye be judged" says it best.

I love this guy!

Bill Maher speaks for me!

Visit this link for a great moment recently aired on his program.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3kXpfEFjqQ&NR=1

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You want inspirational?



When I was searching for photos that could inspire, initially I was searching for a quadriplegic runner. Then I found this one and was touched by its subject-matter. It wasn't until after I had decided to use it that I really paid attention to the details. At first, I thought it sweet that a little girl would run with this man, her daddy perhaps? BUT the details finally sunk in and then I caught it... if you want inspiration, this photo is it... 'nuff said?

About the photographer: Andy Hooper was born in Dorset in 1963. He studied at Salisbury Art College where he gained a Higher Diploma in Photography. Winner of the prestigious Royal Photographer of the Year, Andy is a multi-award winning photographer. He is based in Surrey with his wife and three young children.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You won't believe this

This week I had planned on writing about our leanings toward political and social identity groups, but somehow the events of yesterday sidetracked that idea... and to be honest, this week's comments are far removed from anything I ever expected--or wanted to talk about.

So you ask what happened yesterday? Well, you are not going to believe this.

Since returning from Afghanistan I have not had much luck of establishing a regular sleep schedule and I find myself asleep (annoyingly so) during the day, as was the case yesterday afternoon. While napping, I was instantly awakened to the noise of three loud slamming bangs against my front door that shook the house and sent my cat Billie running for her favorite hiding place.

I jumped up, ran to my front door, opened it to see three male teens running away from my house. I then examined the door which is now cracked, the door jam splintered and it immediately dawns on me the the three had just tried to batter my door down! In broad daylight! In the afternoon, no less!

Naturally I immediately called the local police department with a police officer arriving just shy of three minutes. He records my information. One by one--four police cars in all--appear within seconds after that! I compliment our police force for being so prompt!

In any case, the officer toured my yard looking to see if anyone is hiding out in the backyard--or for any evidence left behind. Not finding anything, we talked for about fifteen minutes about what just happened.

The officer tells me that this kind of thing has been happening with a disturbingly increasing frequency. One: he tells me my neighborhood is experiencing difficulties. No kidding! This is not my first brush with such idiocy! While serving in Afghanistan last year some local kids (and not apprehended) were playing with matches and nearly burned down my garage and in August someone--in the dark of night--stole my central air conditioning unit!

Seriously. It is bad enough that these events have occurred, but more so since I was overseas defending our nation and not here to protect my home. It is downright insulting!

Two: the officer tells me things are getting worse as our country's economy turns south. Last month, a similar event occurred, only this time the perpetrators, also reported to be teenagers, gained entry and beat up an 89-year old lady while ransacking her home. This too, occurred in the light of day.

One has to ask, what the hell is going on in my city, and in our country?

Having resided in my current home for the last thirteen years--and in South Bend for 27 years, I have seen the ups and downs (mostly downs) of my neighborhood. The police officer tells me this used to be a nice Polish neighborhood. I agreed, but I know those days are pretty much a memory.

Sadly, my neighborhood has turned into an area that is depressed with many abandoned homes and perhaps the most telling change is that it has primarily become a rental community rather than like its origins where families owned their homes, improved their homes, lived in their homes, raised their families here, and took pride in their neighborhood.

That too, seems to be of a bygone era.

Our local government, well aware of the problem, has in recent years taken some superficial steps to remedy the problem (such as tearing down longtime abandoned buildings, more police patrols, etc.), but not fast enough to suit my tastes.

Ironically, I see some similarities here of some conditions I observed while stationed in Afghanistan.

When poverty takes root, it isn't long before one can see civility and citizenship slide away to be replaced by despair, ugliness and crime. Three: When I mentioned to the officer I was shocked someone would do this in broad daylight, in a home where I have a home security system. His reply was rather disturbing.

He said that these kind of crimes follow a similar scenario: The burglars burst into a home, look for light, easy, valuable things to grab such as DVD players, TV game systems, computers and other valuables... and if necessary, rough up a resident if they happen to be home, and then run for cover.

The criminals, and that is what they are, are in and out of the house in a matter of minutes--much faster than police can usually respond.

After the police have left me standing in my front yard, I make the usual phone calls (I hate to say 'usual' in this kind of situation) to get matters under control. I hear the expected comments: "I'm shocked! Can I help? Are you okay? Please, sell your house--get out--please!"

Now you can call me stupid, but leaving, to me, is not really an option. I like my home, simple it may be, but it is mine; I plan on living here and retiring here someday; AND seriously, who wants to be run off by the random acts of cowards and criminals?

After my friends John and Sherri come over to help me begin the process of repairing the door I began thinking of what I need to do to make sure this does not happen again.

John tells me we need to fortify my house. Sherri questions this, saying, "who wants to live in a fort?" A sentiment I happen to agree with, but when it comes down to it, I can be logical about this situation or I can be reactionary. I choose the former, but... to some degree John is right.

Let's face it, crime is not a matter of logic. And not wanting to be a victim, I have begun considering what options are available to me... some are cheap and easy, some not, some are hard choices and again, some not:

* Move out... not really a choice as far as I am concerned.

* Buy a gun for protection. This, perhaps, is the hardest choice to ponder. In my case, not bloody likely as I have always despised guns! Sure, I know how to use one. I just do not want one in my home (give me a good working phaser, however, and I could probably be coerced).

* I called the police late last night asking if I "could pick her brain" for a few minutes. I asked for advice for someone who does not want a gun... she suggested I keep mace in strategic locations (it does one little good to have mace in the upstairs rooms if criminals were to burst in and you are on the first floor)... she also suggested keeping mace on my car's key chain.

* Ask the police to inspect your home; they are always happy to give helpful tips to crime-proof your home.

* Make sure your doors are sturdy. Mine are--obviously, since the criminals (luckily) did not succeed in busting the door in. Next, and this should be a simple idea, but one so many people never give a moment thought: Lock your doors--day and night... whether you are home or not... ALWAYS!!!

* Keep all windows locked at all times. Outside your home, plant thorny bushes below the windows to make it painful for any would-be intruders, dissuading them from an apparent easy entry.

* Have a home alarm system installed (I have had one for years). If you have an alarm system, test it quarterly (for example, making sure its batteries are working).

* Bond with your neighbors so that everyone keeps an eye out for each other.

* Enclose your property with a security fence.

* Install night-time security (with motion detector) lights.

*Watch your neighborhood for strangers who seem to have no visible purpose being in the area.

* IF you happen to be home when criminals break-in, try to remain calm, do not confront or antagonize the criminals--and if at all possible, get out before you can be harmed. Your things are replaceable, you, on the other hand, are not.

* For some, buying a dog is an answer-- for me, not possible as I am allergic to most dogs.

* Most importantly, know the local police station's phone number... as a reminder, for emergencies call '9-1-1.'

You know, I could get angry (and believe me, yesterday I was); I could wring my hands crying; I could get all reactionary, but really what would that accomplish? And frankly, I refuse to give such lowlifes the satisfaction.

So now a day afterwards, I am sitting here at home tonight thinking about taking care of this situation. But to me, there are matters far more pressing. I am still seeking meaningful employment, still trying to get acclimated to home-life after being deployed overseas for a year, and I really hate having such stupid distractions.

But as they say, this too shall pass--and still, who would have believed it?