Thursday, October 20, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Night Shift

When I was in college, a billion years ago, I worked several odd jobs, to make a few bucks. Most were in the kitchen, washing dishes. Typical grunt work. I made a buck. I spent a buck. Once my roommate needed a new clutch disk in his Barracuda. Maybe it was a Firebird. I don't remember. We spent the day lying on our backs in a parking lot replacing it. And the evening in the gym shower room cleaning up. I wasn't going to bring that grime into my room!

Then I got some other jobs outside. One was for a paper mill in Providence, RI. I was a security guard. Me and another third shift guard would sit in the guard shack, talk about crap, and go on patrol every hour on the hour. I remember talking to him about the Constitution. He thought the protesters at Kent State deserved what they got. I was appauled. We still worked together. That's how it goes.

I'd walk through several stations. The stations consisted of key boxes in various locations around the plant. I had to visit each key location, take the key out of its box, on a chain, and place it into a clock that I carried with me, and make an impression. The key would register that I was at that place at that time. It left a mark on a ribbon of paper inside the clock.

Nobody ever looked at the paper.

That's how they did security back then.

There were numerous buildings. One was a silo of recycled paper. It looked like the New York Times threw up. Sometimes the recycled paper contained pornography. That made for some interesting posters at the key stations.

The paper was shreaded and mixed with natural wood pulp and boiled and extruded into a paste. The paste was then wrapped around huge hot rollers that wound the paper up and around many other rollers in one huge building. I always felt overwhelmed when I went to the key station of that building. Imagine looking up and seeing several hundred rolling pins, each thicker than you are tall, all winding sheets of steaming paper in one continuous sheet. At the end coiling and slitting it off into huge spools.

So I punched the clock. And went to the next station. Another post.

One night, just before dawn, I saw a sight while I was going off to a distant shack. The moon was a clear crescent. There was a bright light, maybe Venus, in its embrace. Providence was quiet. The sky iridescent. The air expectant. It was a night to embrace the sky. A night for Van Gogh.

I knew a man. He lived in a one room appartment in downtown Providence. He was pretty poor, on his own, alone, but managed on his social security check of 65 dollars a month. He got by. That was during the wretched inflation years of the Seventies where so many saw their livelyhoods go up in smoke. I don't know how he survived. I never forgot. I'm still afraid of poverty.

Hospitals were good gigs. I'd patrol the parking lot during visiting hours. I thought of it as being a scare crow. I was there to be visible and to make the visitors feel secure and make sure nobody snapped off any antennas while they were visiting their injured loved ones. Then I could sneak off and do homework or steal food.

I had a friend. A janitor at the hospital. After hours he and I would let ourselves into the kitchen and steal cakes and desserts. He had a master key, of course, and these were the spoils of war. Well, the spoils of Pinkerton. One of my duties was to open the morgue when the undertakers came. "Mr. Blue," came the intercom. "Code 10." I don't remember the code number exactly, but I was Mr. Blue and the code meant to get downstairs to the morgue and unlock the stiff.

Undertakers were a sorry lot. Dead people even sorrier. I had a friend going to college in Boston at the time. I visited him one weekend. I hate driving in Boston. The roads are too revolutionary. We had a nice time. His roommate was studying to be an undertaker. I took a peak at some of his textbooks. They were all about how to reconstruct faces. Gruesome. I prefer the living, thank you.

Once I was in the phone room flirting with the telephone opperators. There was a security box on the wall and I was leaning up against it, looking cool, of course. I accidentally clicked a toggle switch off, then frantically back on again. It took less than a second. All of the emergency doors in the hospital swung noiselessly closed! No sirens, thank God. We had to bring them back to their electromagnetic state of equilibrium and assure the staff that the end of the world had not happened. My security buddy was not happy with me that night. I did still get cake, though.

Another hospital. Another janitor friend. I made friends with the off shift staff, of course. We used to get together and eat dinner, or whatever you call it on second shift. We'd talk about current events or something. One evening the papers were full of a home robbery and assault. Someone invaded a house and assaulted the occupants. He was outraged.

"What would you do?" he said. "If someone came into your home and threatened your family?" "I don't know," I said. "What do you mean? You'd defend your loved ones!" "I hope so, but I don't know what I'd actually do. I know what I'd like to think I'd do, but I can't say what I'd actually do in any situation until I have been there."

I still don't know what I'd do.

You think about those things on the night shift.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Lies of War

I am very concerned about the increasing demonizing of Russian president Vladimir Putin in the western world. That's what governments do when they are working people up to a war fever. The first casualty of war is the truth. Well, the second casualty is the reputation of your enemy. They're demons, not people like us! It's OK to kill them. Time for the two minutes of hate!

We were allies with Stalin in WWII, a known butcher. The Red Army was responsible for 80% of the destruction of the Wehrmacht. They lost over twenty million people, one million alone starved to death in the siege of Leningrad. Kennedy worked with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crises to a peaceful resolution. Remember Khrushchev? The guy sitting at the table at the UN, banging his shoe and shouting, "We will bury you?" Ya, that guy. We even negotiated with him.

Every president from JFK to Reagan negotiated with the Kremlin. Both sides were afraid of MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. Both sides cooperated to maintain the balance of power and to significantly reduce the threat. Nuclear stockpiles were reduced by over 90% from their all-time high during that time. Reagan worked with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. They built a new Russia. Obama has worked with Putin on several occasions on Iran, Ukraine, Syria, and another nuclear treaty, which Russia recently pulled out of as nuclear tensions have started escalating.

Before wars break there is a blitzkrieg of lies. Saddam Hussein's WMD. They lied to Colin Powell to get him to testify to the UN about nonexistent WMD's. And Bush 2 later admitted that Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Syria didn't use Sarin gas on protestors. Libya. Gee, they didn't even tell lies about Libya. They just went in and destroyed the country. The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. Are we getting programmed for another regime change and scorched earth, this time in Russia? We may find the experience unlike those before. Russia was invaded in living memory. They may take our saber rattling seriously. All this for the people Bush 1 referred to as "the crazies in the basement?"

Trump wants to negotiate with the Kremlin. Works for me.

Unfortunately, mad is no longer an acronym. It is a description of the mood in Washington.

Vladimir Putin is the democratically elected president of the modern democracy of Russia, which is only 26 years old. He enjoys an 80+% approval rating from its citizens. He is not a dictator. He does not want to bring back the Stalinist USSR. He wants to integrate Russia with Europe, not conquer it. He is no threat to the Baltics. He did not invade the Ukraine-even Kissinger admitted this in an interview with der Spiegel. He only invaded Georgia after the Georgian military had besieged the Russian population of South Ossetia.  And once the threat was neutralized, he brought the army home when he could have annexed the whole country had he been serious about resurrecting the USSR. He personally oversaw the security of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He didn't want a repeat of the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attack. Instead, he wanted to show the world that Russia was capable of hosting a modern Olympic games and could be relied on as a partner. Instead, he got a coup d'etat in Kiev.

He was formally asked to assist the Syrians fighting terrorists by the democratically elected president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, who also is popular with his people. Since Russia's intervention last year, the Islamic State terrorists have been significantly weakened and the civil war nearer a conclusion. But all we hear of is alleged war crimes? CNN reporters shedding crocodile tears over children in hospitals?  Has anyone looked at what US backed Saudis are doing in Yemen? And the Saudis are not big on Democracy, either. And do you remember Madeline Albright's, "500,000 dead Iraqi children are worth it?" Worth what!?

Is Putin perfect? Of course not. He's the president of the second most powerful country on earth which means he's not Mister Rogers. But he can be negotiated with just like all of those we negotiated with in the past. He's better than most, even. He may not be George Washington, but he certainly is not Joseph Stalin, either. He is above all a pragmatist.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Israel

I went to school in Israel in 1975. As an exchange student. Of sorts. I grew up as a Catholic, rejected all religion in my teenage years, became an atheist, blew it all away. Fuck you, God. Then was saved by a high school Christian outreach. I was re-baptised and everything. I became a Christian in fact, face, and deed.

When I had a chance, I spent a year in the Holy Land. I lived and studied at a Christian school in Jerusalem called the American Institute of Holy Land Studies. I learned Hebrew. Some, though my Hebrew was never very good. I learned history, geography, and local color. I remember going into the Old City in the morning and getting warm bread at bakeries just at the surface of the street. You could bend down and look in and see the ovens. Or getting falafels from street vendors. Chick pea, tahini, fried, with tomato and cucumber in a pita bread embrace! Perfection! Across the valley was the Mount of Olives! Nice walk on a clear day.

Our gardener was an Arab. Nice guy. Friendly. Spoke English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Our accountant. Also nice. Spoke all of those plus French. Our gardener dug up a skull in the garden once. He thought it might have been an English soldier from the 1940's. I brought it into my room and put it on a cabinet. I wanted to use it in a Christmas card.

I went on field trips. Down to the Negev. Up to Galilee. Into the Golan. Haifa. Along the Gaza Strip. To the Dead Sea. All rich in history. All rich in currency. All rich in today-story. All rich in. Well. Just, all rich in, All.

We had a bus driver. Fice. He was an Arab tour bus driver that liked driving for us on our field trips. Most other drivers didn't like driving for our school because they didn't bring us to gift shops. The drivers got a commission. Fice liked driving us students. He was a warm, friendly guy. He would bring out his water pipe and smoke it at night, while we were camping in some dark Mideastern desert. Sometimes we stayed in youth hostels. Sometimes in camps. Sometimes in hotels. We managed. Fice was there. Fice was nice.

Fice was a great guy. I bought a water pipe in a Jerusalem suk, probably near where I used to buy Turkish coffee, and brought it with me on a field trip. "Fice," I said. "How do you run this thing?" Fice showed me how to take a wad of tobacco in my hand, soak it in water, and squeeze it out. Then form a mound on top of the water pipe clay throat and place a burning coal on top of it, to ignite the tobacco. And then breath the smoke in through the long, decorated pipe and hose through the water in the vase. It gurgled satisfactorily. It was sweet.

My best trip was to the West Bank. A man, I don't remember his name, was a member of the Israeli Knesset. That's their Parliament. He was an advocate of the Arab Bedouin living in Israeli occupied land after the Six Day War. He had made an effort to reach out to the people living within Israel's borders. He brought medical attention, clean water, and comradeship. They said he had an Arab accent like a Bedouin. On one occasion our class visited a settlement in the West Bank. They had several camel hair tents set up. And a cistern for water-it was silted over because the Israelis were piping in drinking water now. The leader of this little group, Oman, Sheik, I don't know what he was called, welcomed us. He kissed our host and welcomed us into his tent. He wanted to slaughter a goat and give us a feast.

Our host said, No. These are poor people. They can't afford to lose a goat. Instead, they gave us coffee. Around the fire in the shiek's tent he brought forth beans. Coffee beans. And roasted them in the heat of the camp fire. Then ground them. In a mortar and pestle. And boiled the water over that same roasting fire and brewed the coffee therein. And gave us each a demitasse cup of the rich liquor.

That's the greatest sense of hospitality I've ever felt.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Nam

I am not a war veteran.

I got my 1-A draft card two months before the war was over.
Nixon ended the war.
I was not called.

In the late 70's I worked for a defense contractor in Connecticut. Electric Boat. I was a clerk. No, Tech Aide. That's what they called us. Glorified clerk. In an engineering department in the South Yard. I knew a lot of great people. Distinguished people. People I respected and was glad to call friends. Chester, who I commuted into work with, had been at Pearl Harbour. He told me what happened when the bombs fell. How he ran around like a mad man and about his friend who was late for work. When he finally got there, his desk wasn't. Chester was a wiry little Frenchman. "Chester the Molester," we used to call him. He could swear like a sailor, which he was, and sex-talk like a, well, like a Frenchman.

I met a lot of interesting people at EB. A lot of vets. WWII. Submariners. Pacific Theater. Viet Nam. Engineers. Draftsmen. Just plain people. I worked in a big room clustered with military grey desks, built like tanks. There were no partitions. No 'cubicles' like in the modern Dilbert sense. Your desk probably butted up against someone else's desk, with someone else beside you. Maybe you were lucky enough to face a concrete wall. Maybe near the central pillar where they put the coffee pot, though that meant you had a lot of traffic at your desk. If you wanted to talk to someone, you just yelled.

I sat in various places, as the office reorgs shuffled. Once I sat across from a black veteran. He was fascinating. Served in Nam. After his tour he asked to serve in a far north listening post. That's where serviceman were stationed to monitor the Soviet nuclear threat. It was cold. It was boring. It was dark 50% of the time. And you hoped it would never change. You had only one companion. Why the fuck would anyone want to be there?

The military screens people who request to serve there. They don't want anybody who will go coo-coo and start a nuclear war. So they asked him, "Why do you want to serve a tour of duty in a place like that?"

"For the money," he said.
"If I put up with six months in that place, I automatically have my pick of where else I want to serve. Berlin. London. Paris. Hell, I can go anywhere I want!"
"You're in."

Every day I learned something new. Something important. I learned how to read blueprints. How to read engineering documents. How to make sense of military specs-that's not easy, and how to put up with my coworkers. 'Networking,' as they say today.

I learned what it meant to be an engineer, a veteran, a technician, and an American.

Larry was a draftsman. He worked in the same department as I. I was in the tech aide coral. He with the other draftsmen. He had served in Nam. Been on the front line. He lived in Jewett City and was one of my car pool buddies. He would sometimes talk about his service. He was an infantryman. Front line. Grunt. He talked about prying open mines to get at the C4 inside. You could take it out and put it on the ground. Then light it on fire. It would burn OK. Just like charcoal. But if you said, "Hey, Fred! That's on fire!" and Fred stomped on it, it would blow his foot off. Larry wouldn't do that to anybody, of course. But it was something he lived with. Daily. Using C4 to blow up fish in streams. To make little holocausts. To kill gooks. To-I never learned what else. He didn't talk about it.

Larry had a girl he loved. He talked about that, too. And a psychologist he saw in Hartford regularly. For his war problems. They used to call it Shell Shock. Then Battle Fatigue. Then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It doesn't matter. He was in pain. He was holding something in that should never have been there to begin with. Larry and his girl had an on again, off again relationship. Like all of us. They did their best.

On New Years Eve, 1980, Larry put a rifle into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

I miss Larry. I hate war.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Choice of Life

I'd rather die than dominate.

Who am I to stand in the shadows and ask for more than my due? To look at others, some of whom suffer for my benefit, and spit on their suffering? Empires live by sucking the life out of neighboring kingdoms. And kingdoms live by sucking the life out of surrounding counties. And counties live. Well. They live by draining the life from the Baronies, war lords, and starving peasants at the bottom. And the bottom dwellers? Well. They hardly live at all, now, do they? How can they? All of their life force wafts upwards, each level a model of the all. As below, so above.

Once there was a villiage. And the villiage was happy and secure and prosperous. The children played and the adults made love with the land and the elderly imparted wisdom and then died, to wence noone knew. But they were happy and sad and solumn and grateful in good measure as their gods said they should be in order to know a good life, and that's the best one can ever ask for, now, isn't it? One hand in another. All in its place. As above...

And that was it's curse. Because prosperity is the enemy of the just enough. And the just enough is the goddess of the content. And the content is the demon of the more now. And we all know where goes the more now. It's never content. It's never secure. It's never happy. It disregards prosperity. It only knows one thing: More.

And we've all felt it. Oh, come now! Don't pretend! You say you are Egalitarian or Socialist or free market Capitalist or Democrat or Bolshevik or some such refuse. Pleasant words. As below... But what do you mean? Push the words aside. Ditch the rhetoric. What are you saying? In the nine tenths of your brain that doesn't have a dictionary, what's going on? I've got mine. You justify yours! That's all!

There, dictionary boy! Make it happen! Make me feel good about whatever my apetites are craving today! I don't care how you do it! Justify it later!

As long as I'm happy. No. Not like that. Don't look at me that way! I see you! Put your ego into my skull. Really! It's pretty empty as it is. You'll have plenty of room. Read my words as I write them. Read them as if they were your own. Write with me as I write. Speak with me as I speak. Say the words as if you were saying them yourself right now. Burn into your brain what burns in mine. And disregard your internal voice. One tenth of your brain speaks. The rest feels. So. Feel.

The world is ours. We made it. Lock and tinder. Fragment and frown. The gross and the Godiva. Look upon it and dispair... Or delight... As below...

So what do we say about the horrors above? The hideous monstrousity that rules us and drains us indiscriminately? The sucking terror that is us? Shall we elect it out of office? Tear it down? Foment rebellion? Bring in the guillotines? Raise an army? Richly satisfying though that might be? And then what? Hurriedly scramble to craft the next attrocity? Birth the next abomination? As below...

The world we see outside our window is the world we made. There is no other. Walk in it. Live in it. Die in it. Hate it. Love it. Abandon it. Embrace it. And me? I am overwhelmed by it. Astounded. At a complete loss. But I see a fellow, flawed soul in need walking down the road. He seems troubled.

I'd rather live than dominate.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Divide That Unites

The world is at war with itself, the Each with the Other, the One with the All, the Right with the Wrong and the Other Right with the Other Wrong. We all divide ourselves into Us vs. Them. Sometimes it's a big Us like our Holy Country vs. that Ungodly Abomination. Sometimes it's a smaller Us like our religion vs. theirs over there. Christians vs. Muslims. Or our religion vs. their slightly different one. Catholics vs. Protestants. Or Protestants vs. other Protestants or other, other Protestants or other, other, other Protestants. The saddest Us of them all is the Us of only One. One vs. the All. This is where divisiveness dissolves into narcissism. The sickness of singularity.

And what do we say about the Other? The Not Us? That they dress funny? Talk funny? Teach hate? Eat their young? Eat our young? Or maybe that they are just that? Not Us?

What do you really know about people who have a lifestyle or opinion that disagrees with you? Well, you know three things:

1. They are people...
2. Who disagree...
3. With you.

They are not terrorists. They are not misogynists. They are not ignorant, toothless hillbillies. Or east/west coast PC liberals. They are not shrieking, bomb throwing Bolsheviks. They are not agents of Satan. They are not rapist fiends. They are not cartoon villains.

They are people... who disagree... with you.

In fact, they are You. You with the same prejudices. You with the same surety of their own righteousness. You with the same families and children at home that they want to protect from the horrors of the other Other and preserve the way of life that they love and mourn its passing. They are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. People who, under different circumstances, would gladly share a meal and a schnapps. People who know how you feel.

So people fight and do deplorable things. In the name of their uniqueness they justify the murder of innocent people. All because They are right and the Other is wrong. And They are afraid.

They are You if You were They. Why are we fighting ourselves?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Nuclear Football

President Obama wants to spend a trillion dollars (with a T) to upgrade our nuclear arsenal to the next generation. Never mind that nuclear weapons have proven to be useless. During the cold war their only purpose was so superpowers could say to each other, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours! OK. Now let's talk." Even those bad old Bolshevik Soviets understood that the world had fallen into a Damocles' Dilemma where each one's sword pointed at the other one's head. They negotiated with presidents from Kennedy to Reagan to do two things. One, insure that there would be no accidental nuclear strikes and two, reduce the risk by removing the sword once and for all. We have been buying nuclear material from Russia and turning it into nuclear reactor fuel. Megatons to Megawatts, it's called. Talk about turning swords into plowshares.

And now. The most powerful nation in the world, the one that should be able to negotiate from a position of strength and benevolence, the one that should be able to say, No more! to the cycles of fear and suspicion, wants to build the next generation of a useless product that can kill by mistake?

The genie was let out of the bottle in 1945. Oppenheimer famously said, when he witnessed the first nuclear detonation, "I have become death. The destroyer of worlds." And so it began. One nation after another wanted the nuclear bomb. For status? For protection? To bluff? To use? Noone wanted to use it. They just wanted to show it off. I'll show you mine...

Since the only time nuclear weapons have been used in war in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there have been numerous treaties limiting their creation and use. lists the following:

1959 Antarctic Treaty
1963 Hot Line Agreement
1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty
1967 Outer Space Treaty
1967 Latin America Nuclear Free Zone Treaty
1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
1971 Seabed Treaty
1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I (Interim Agreement)
1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty
1974 Vladivostok Agreement
1976 Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty
1977 Environmental Modification Convention
1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II
1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty
1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty - INF
1988 Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement
1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
1993 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II
1996 Treaty of Pelindaba
1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty
2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)

That's 24 treaties limiting the use of something that should have never been created in the first place. During this time the total number of nuclear weapons went up a staggering amount and then down again by over 90%. Why reverse that? Why go up again and why build even more clever atomic cherry bombs? So our descendants can spend their time writing more treaties?

I propose a new treaty. One I hope will be the last. I've even got a clever name for it: STOP. STrategic Ordinance Prevention. Let's make this international. Not just the current nuclear powers of America, Russia, China, Israel, France, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Make this a United Nations resolution banning all research into new nuclear weapons. Input from all nations, guarantees all around, inspections, sharing of information, loads of suspicion. Why, all the diplomats, military types, and inspectors might be so busy looking over each other's shoulders they won't have time for war.

That would be best use of nuclear weapons I can think of.