Archive | September 2013

Coffee shop stream of consciousness

There are enough cars on the roads in this part of town that it’s not worth trying to drive out until after seven.

I’m at a local coffee shop. The furniture is bad. I imagine it deters lingering. The music is catchy. That’s a problem for me. I end up listening through to the next song each time, neglecting my sentences.

There is a woman sitting outside, right in front of my window seat. I’ve been watching her sketch out a very realistic outline of Texas, replete with the curves and contours of the Rio Grande and Gulf Coast. She shows her boyfriend every few minutes, who leans over, his earbuds tugging at his shirt. It’s very good work, but I wonder if she might have saved time buying a version online. Maybe I’m missing the point. Yes, I am probably missing the point.

She sketches the word “home” inside and starts to shade the state. Nice. I can see that on a t-shirt.

It’s late enough that some high schoolers are delaying their home arrivals after debate team practice. I’ve been hearing every second of prattle. They hate Mexicans. They feel so much smarter than the exchange students because they speak English. They seem to love simile—everything is “like” something. They don’t remember who sings this song (it’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). There are apparently better people to follow on Instagram than one of their classmates. They are laughing at a poem someone posted on Facebook. It’s silly.

The sun is low enough only the treetops and clouds remain ablaze. Elsewhere there is the growing gloom. On my arrival in afternoon it was shade, now shadow, soon twilight.

The high schoolers leave.

Two women to my left are talking about their moms. They’re at first pretty—braided hair, clear skin, skirts that end a tad below their belly buttons. They say “fuck” a lot.

One by one, the shop begins to exhale its patrons. One by one, they go to their cars. Seven seems to be the time to rejoin the roads. There’s clanging and banging. Baristas are cleaning. Maybe it’s my signal to scram.

Not yet, friends. Discovery just came over the speakers. You sure know how to pick ‘em.


Leaving our Iraqi friends to die…again

As many of you know, I’m not the biggest fan of Congress these days. They are the most unproductive in history (link). They are witheringly unpopular (link) (yet we continually re-elect upwards of 90% of them (link)). They are the most polarized since the Reconstruction (link). The House does little but try to repeal Obamacare (now tallying 42 failed attempts…42 times to undo a law they already passed….) (link). The Senate has been inept on a half dozen things anyway and now does little but spend its days under threat of filibuster (link).

But we know that, right? I mean, it’s just politics and all. Besides if those damned Democrats/Republicans would just do this or that, everything would start to work itself out. ‘Oh well,’ we say.

Yeah, I’m not here to talk about that.

The headline that got me going yesterday was this:

“Unless Congress Acts Time is Out for Iraqi Allies Waiting on Visas” (link)

Many of my friends served. Many didn’t. Many went to Iraq or Afghanistan. Many didn’t.

People regularly asked me what it was like over there, if I made friends, if I went shopping, how the food was over there. And I don’t blame them for questions like that. It’s the frame of reference that most people have. You visit another country, you see the country, the people, the sights etc.

No, Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t like that (though I’ll henceforth only speak about Iraq, since I personally didn’t deploy to Afghanistan).

Iraq was a war zone (largely still is). It sucked. I wrote tons of blog posts about it back in the day. Like the one called “Whatever She Said” (link) and “Reaching New Levels” (link).

We weren’t really welcomed as heroes as then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said we’d be. We were considered by many groups to be nothing more than occupiers. For my time there, we hunkered down in our bases, stopped all of our civil affairs outreach efforts, bided our time and endured the bombings, mortars and attacks.

We clocked in, spent our year there trying to maintain the status quo, and clocked out. People got their promotions and their combat pay and their war stories. Lost a few friends along the way.

My unit worked with several Iraqi units. Our mission was to train them up. You can check out one of my old news stories about it (here).

Beyond the happy waving and cheers, those guys were messed up. More than half were absent at any given time. The Iraqi colonel in charge ran a secret little internal thug squad that extorted his own troops. Their weapons would end up in the hands of insurgents. We’d find them when on local patrols, trace their serial numbers back to the Iraqi army troops, they’d say “Insha’Allah” and we’d repeat the process a week later when we’d find the same weapon in another local insurgent cache. Good money in arms selling.

It was easy to get discouraged at the state of the Iraqi military. However, the guys who had it the worst were the interpreters and other Iraqis who closely pledged to help the Americans.

You see, the Iraqi army troops themselves could just feign enthusiasm for the Coalition Forces. Once we went back to our side of camps, they could meet with whatever insurgent leadership they wanted—make whatever back alley deals they felt they could cash in on.

But it was the Iraqis who were outright pro-American or pro-Coalition who had it bad. They had prices on their heads.

Iraqi insurgent and militia groups would want Iraqi army soldiers to turn them in for a reward. And they would. It got to be pretty dicey. Interpreters would have to wear masks around their own countrymen. They’d live apart from them, for fear of their lives. They would lie to their families about the work they did, saying they were away at another part of the country, helping at a farm or getting work in a machine shop; because their own families would turn them in. I wrote about it briefly in an old post “Adjusting” (link).

We had three interpreters. They lived with us on our side of the camp. As a photographer, I had to make sure I never photographed them or even mentioned them. I didn’t know their real names. We called them Magic, Big Mohammad and Little Mohammad.

I loved those guys. They were so brave. They talked about trying to build a better country for their families and friends, even if those friends felt they were betraying them. “They hate me,” Little Mohammad said once, “but they’ll thank me some day.”

They were all hoping to come to the US one day. They knew that even if things improved in the country, their lives would always be in danger. For as much as they didn’t want to leave, the three I knew at least felt the only real future they had was away from their homeland.

I’ve wondered how they are through these years–if they’re even still alive. I know there’s no way I could ever be reconnected with them. I just remember the missions we’d go on, the villages we’d visit and the stories they’d tell about their families. I remember how hopeful they were about their country’s future, even if that meant sacrificing their own livelihoods to help it get there.

Then of course the US pulled out and let Iraq fester and go to sh*t.

Seeing the headline about how our inept Congress can’t even get these allies the visas we promised them got to me. This SNAFU just seems like another instance where we’re leaving our allies hung out to dry.

Was Iraq a failure? I think history will say it was. But we don’t have to let die those poor noble guys who gave up their safety and lives to help us. Geez.


Bar Scene Wildlife: the Brutally Lonely

When evening plans fall through, I often head out to a local bar and pass the time. I don’t have TV and of course I don’t know how to read, so books are out. Being out and around people is as good a pastime as any.

I’m no psychologist. I’m not a behavioral scientist. I have no official qualifications that would land me on anyone’s spectrum of experts when it comes to analyzing the reasons why people say or do what they do…just unofficial qualifications.

I have a metric crap-ton of time logged at bars. Often alone. I went through a few years of chatting it up with women-folk when eyes would meet, but not anymore thanks to smartphones. Everybody just buries themselves in FB status updates and checkins when not immediately around people.

So, apart from the normal groups of friends, the only thing for the single guy at the bar to see is the soft glow of electronic devices on detached faces…or the solemn dispositions of the only other people available: the brutally lonely.

As this entry is number two of my anecdotal discussion of the American Bar Scene, I decided to describe a common type of bar patron: the brutally lonely. These gents tend to be a little older—old enough that they don’t bury themselves in technological distractions when there’s a pause in conversation. They are either chatty regulars, knowing all of the bartenders by name, or they’re the more buttoned-up, “just off of work” types. They’ll be alone—sometimes forming loose tribes at the ends of the bar, away from the clustering throngs of pre-made groups. Sometimes they’ll just look forward or at the TV. Sometimes they’ll be turned around to watch people.

The gregarious ones will start to chat if you’re close by. The reserved ones will take a “hi” or bit about the weather to smile and perhaps start in. You usually have to bait out the reserved ones, though sometimes they’ll turn out to be more gregarious with a small effort.

Regardless, once you show yourself as a willing ear and engage one of the brutally lonely, you’ll have some real talk. Sometimes it’s a fire hose of information. Sometimes you’ll have to employ some interview techniques to keep things going.

You’ll hear about wife troubles, women troubles (or wife and women troubles), troubles with their kids, troubles with the law, troubles with their jobs. You’ll hear about betrayals, cheating spouses, how one of their daughters just had an abortion, how their son is in prison, how a partner stole money from them or even a tearful telling of the loss of a truck to the repo man.

Sometimes the stories are pretty severe. Sometimes I don’t know if they’re just making it all up. Either way, it’s a bit of raw exposure to the person. Even the ones who I think are lying are telling me something about themselves: that they feel the need to concoct this incredible story to chat with a stranger.

They’ll say they feel irrelevant at their jobs, they fear their wife will never want to have sex again, they feel that this diagnosis is just the start of something bigger. And they’re at the point where they tell gobs of information to a total stranger.

The overarching theme through most of these stories, though, is loneliness. Sometimes they’ll just come out and say it.

“I’ve never been so lonely until I got married,” one guy said to me earlier this week.

As an aside, this lonely-while-married thing is a concept I only recently wrapped my head around. I mean, I knew it happened—I’ve seen some nasty, NASTY breakups and divorces in my time (the military marriage/divorce cycle can be insane). I guess I’ve always focused on the idea that having someone around would be less lonely than sitting alone in the house. I’m still naive about a lot of stuff. Still have lots to learn. Had a guy tell me once, “You don’t really understand how marriage should work until your first divorce.”

Anyway, there was a video that was being passed around recently called “The Innovation of Loneliness” (link). It wasn’t one of those “ZOMG changed my life” sorts of videos, but it was pretty good.

It touches on the old concepts that hyper-connectivity is actually just the illusion of connectivity. It also quickly mentions Dunbar’s Number (link), which perked up my ears.

Dunbar’s Number was discovered by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He proposed that human’s can only comfortably maintain about 150 stable relationships…which is interesting since many of us have ten times that many “friends” on Facebook, right?

Neolithic villages would grow to about 150, then split. Roman army units would be limited to about that number. Companies after the 16th Century typically function best when limited to groups of that size. There are others that peg the number at closer to 300, but the general idea is that humans can only handle a relatively small number of connections. Once additional ones are made, others atrophy.

The video goes on to say that here in the West, people are celebrated for their individuality—individual achievement, individual acumen, individual capacity. Collectivism is seen as anathema.

The video concludes that we’re more lonely than ever because of things like social media and technology. How the contest to be celebrated individually and connected virtually leaves us empty shells of unengaged potential and miasmic loneliness.

So perhaps all this technology and Internet stuff is why they’ve reached this point. Perhaps we’re all destined to spin and spin in our frenzied busyness just to end up farther apart. Perhaps these guys are just a symptom of deeper social issues.

WHO KNOWS? I can’t say. I still feel for these guys I see at the bars, though. I don’t know what to do with them other than just be there to listen. Maybe that’s enough.

The talks are innocent, just venting. There’s usually no mention of meds or suicide or anything crazy. We’ll chat. Sometimes we’ll go into spiritual stuff. Sometimes I’ll just let them say their piece. Most of the time I learn something (even if it’s what not to do) and I feel my life has been enriched in meeting someone new.

And it’s less lonely than sitting at home, at least. Or is it?

Man, at what point do I just become one of these poor bastards? Maybe I need to invent another category of bar patron to put myself in….

(Update: Someone mentioned a Louis C.K. talk about loneliness that just posted. Thought it was apropos. Check it out HERE.)


We will always forget

September 11, 2001.

I was a part of a drama troupe in college. We had arrived on campus a couple of weeks before the other students so that we could read through mountains of skit scripts and formulate our show.

The six of us had sequestered ourselves in an out-of-the way rehearsal room near some faculty offices. On 9/11, we were finishing up our reading sessions. There were few students on campus, as the term hadn’t started.

So on that morning, we were already busy reading and joking. Our faculty advisor called. “Check out the TV. Someone flew a plane into the world trade center,” he said and hung up.

We didn’t think much of it. “A Cessna? Like a small, prop plane?” we wondered. Reminded us of the small plane someone had flown into the White House a little while before.

A few minutes later he called again, “Stop what you’re doing and get to a TV. I’m serious.”

We did. We rushed over to the nearby cafeteria building. TVs were on and several people were huddled around in the largely empty building. Like most people that day, our lives were forever changed.

About a year later, in August, I was on tour with the same drama troupe. We were at a picnic in an area of New England. There were several children sitting outside, flipping through a 9/11 memorial coffee table book. They were making fun of the pictures, talking about how silly the men looked in their firefighting gear, how silly the people looked as they ran down the street with ashen faces. They laughed and laughed.

And I remember being bothered by that. I remember thinking, ‘You kids shouldn’t laugh about that. You should show some respect.’ I did say, “That is something we don’t joke about,” but didn’t make a big deal of it. They were kids.

Soon after my time with the troupe was done, I joined the military. I served my years and went to war. Every September, we would rouse ourselves and remember, giving tribute to the 3,000 lives lost that day, steeling ourselves toward our larger cause.

But as the years go on, 9/11, like any other commemorative day, will fade.

Oh certainly WE won’t forget. We lived through it. It affected us deeply. We can picture ourselves, where we were standing, what we were thinking. For many, it influenced life changes. For many, it involved losing friends, burying them on foreign or domestic shores. WE will never forget.

But as the years go on, 9/11, like any other commemorative day, will become a historical footnote.

People who weren’t born then, or who were too young to truly feel the day’s effects, will learn about it in school, tie ribbons to such-and-such or attend a ceremony. But it’s not the same.

I can’t know what it felt like to have heard about the shooting of JFK, I can see it in documentaries. I can’t know what it felt like to hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor, I can only hope that a film director can properly capture the day’s meaning…or in the case of Michael Bay, endure as he turns the “day of infamy” into a PG-13 love story with popular starlets.

These days lose their potency. Because it is the doom of man to forget.

There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. — Ecclesiastes 1:11

Memory, like all things, decay. It’s a part of the natural cycle. We forget our loves, our hurts, the joys of simple things. We grow tired of our favorite dishes, of hearing stories read to us, of seeing sunrises, of our collection of movies, the patterns of our furniture. We constantly want new things, new experiences.

As the years march on, fewer and fewer will remember. Bumper stickers will fade and peel. Fewer companies will put out commemorative videos or change their profile pictures. There will be fewer FB posts. Kids will fuss at having to stand still for the moments of silence. Emails will go out, telling employees they must attend the nearby ceremony, so the department ‘has a good showing.’

It reminds me of the lyrics to a song written about WWI:

So now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glory
I see the old men, all tired stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question

There are new Playstations. There’s a new season of Game of Thrones. New presidents come around. New policies enrage or enliven us. There’s a new phone. People gather together to give respect to days of memorial, but it’s not with the same intensity and passion of younger anniversaries. People move on.

And, you know, that’s okay.

Because it’s also a source of strength. It’s perseverance. It’s optimism, perhaps unrealized. It’s hope in the future. It’s the ability to try again—to defend again, to build again.

Some might say, “Yes, but if we forget, won’t we be doomed to repeat our mistakes? Won’t history repeat itself?”

Ask some of your historian friends, history is repeating itself. We do repeat our mistakes.

Yes, it is the doom of man to forget.

However, it is the boon of man to persevere.

And Americans, especially, as beloved or hated as we may be, are known for this spirit of perseverance, unbounded courage, innovation and hope. It’s why people historically have flocked to our shores. It’s why people historically have built lives here, despite poor circumstances.

It’s why, even with the fading of the embers of the passions from 9/11, I don’t despair.

I’ll take my place in time, make my stands, say my words. I’ll let who I am be who I was.

And life will continue.

I will not forget.


If face-to-face with the president, you’d shake his hand

As some of you know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of President Bush. I didn’t like his wars, I felt that his tax cuts cost the country more than they stimulated in growth, and I thought he came across as a goof.

I wrote snarky FB updates, shared snarky FB posts, laughed at his expense, called him names, etc. I was younger and dumber.

I had the chance to see him when he visited Fort Hood in 2005. His visit sparked all sorts of security craziness on the base. Roads were closed, vehicular traffic around the speaking venue was prohibited, and we soldiers had to be thoroughly searched upon entering the cordoned off area.

It was quite a production, actually. We had to be around our headquarters building at 0300, so we could be in formation and counted ‘all present’ by 0400, so we could march the 3-4 miles to the venue by 0530, so the thousands of us could be searched and processed through the gates, so we could fill the outside venue (a military parade field) by 0800, so we could be ready to hear him when he arrived by 0930. That meant I was awake by 0130 to get on the congested roads by 0215 (most of Fort Hood was involved in the visit). He was late, not showing up until 1030-ish (hey, he’s the president…). We had to hear about an hour long speech, then wait for him to leave—like in the chopper and out, leave. Then we had to march back and were dismissed in the late afternoon. Long day.

It was kind of the crowning “uggh” toward a president I wasn’t the most enthusiastic about, anyway.

But you know what? When I saw him, I clapped. And I meant it. When I saw him relatively close up, I cheered. And I meant it. The anticipation, the influence and fame the man had as a result of his office…it’s intoxicating for someone first experiencing it. And there’s something else going on there, something that has been written about monarchs and the presidency for centuries—a general reverence of authority and a love of country.

All the grumbling and name calling and things said in quiet inbetweens go out the window when you are face-to-face with the subtle majesty that comes with physically meeting the elected leader of the free world. I realized that he is a supremely accomplished man of power and prestige.

I shut my mouth and showed some respect.

Later in 2010-ish, I was traveling through Houston, in the George W Bush Airport. I came upon a crowd of people as I was going from one terminal to another. The commotion was from the airport’s namesake and former first lady, who had come to welcome the day’s freedom bird, the chartered airliner carrying uniformed soldiers back from deployment.

Again, people all around were ecstatic to see Mr. and Mrs. Bush. I was too. Because when push comes to shove, you shut your mouth and show some respect.

Later I was working at USAA. One of my duties was to serve public relation functions. USAA sponsors the Army Navy football game every year. It’s this big thing where all the friendly rivalry between the two services (and all of the DoD, really), comes to a head. It’s a very easily likable game.

Anyway, President Obama was going to be there. Cue a few of my nay-sayer coworkers: “Oh if I see that guy, I’m gonna…” “Man, I really hate that guy, he’s so…” “That scum-sucking piece of sh*t!” “What a coward. If I ever got a chance to, I’d…” “That Muslim SOB. Not even an American…”

I rolled my eyes.

Sure enough, when the game was still building up, when the cadets and the midshipmen were filing the stands, the president and his entourage arrived on the field to shake hands and pose for pictures. I got close enough to snap the pic at the top of this post (link)

And you know what? When they saw him, the nay-sayers clapped, and they meant it. They cheered and they meant it. All the grumblings and name calling and things said went out the window.

Afterward, so many of them were showing the pictures they snapped. They were swapping stories about seeing him and the rushes they felt. You could see the excitement in their eyes.

Because he was the president. And you should respect the president.

Look, you can disagree with a man—strongly disagree with a man, but it’s pathetic how we feel we have to emphasize our points with vehement hyperbole.

We can’t just say we disagree, we have to say the current president is the worst. Worse than the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Worse than Kony and the LRA. Worse than Ariel Castro. THE WORST EVARRRRR! We start talking about him being un-American, we call him a coward, we list the thousand talking points Fox News gave us as to why he’s about to usher us into a 1,000 years of darkness (link).


You know how some people wish for the ‘good old days’ even though they probably weren’t as good as people think they remember? How maybe they romanticize aspects of those days and long for those idealized notions?

Well I’ll do that too, for a minute. I wish for the ‘good old days’ when a man might get shot in the face if he called someone a coward. When breaking your word was seen as a major deal. Because all I see these days are champions of keyboard courage—people who will attack through emails and messages or, worse yet, through anonymous comments. (And yes, I realize the irony of pointing out the flaccidity of keyboard courage from behind a keyboard.)

Nevertheless, I wish we didn’t give so much credence to insults flung by talk show pundits and through Facebook comments.

Because just like in actual fistfights, it’s normal for people to talk a big game until they are actually facing someone who is about to rearrange their face. Then all that smack talk gets deflated. All that hate and consternation gets replaced with the realization that words and actions have actual consequences.

Actual consequences. Amazing.

So disagree away. VOTE. Write your Congressmen. Hell, record a video of your objections with whatever story is in the headlines for that day. Build support. RUN FOR OFFICE YOURSELF!

But mean what you say and say what you mean. Have facts to cite, not just emotions and hate-filled rants that veer toward the absurd.

Let’s freely disagree, but ultimately show some respect to our elected leadership. We might just discover the maturity and decency of yesteryear we often pine for.


Ariel Castro won? Maybe…it’s complicated

My friend Todd over at “Had a Few Beers” recently wrote a blog about the suicide of Ariel Castro this past Tuesday (link).

In case you missed it, Castro was the guy who had kept several women chained in his house for more than a decade. They were bound, tortured, beaten and raped for years and years. Castro even fathered a child by one of them. You can read about it in any of the 100 stories written (link).

In exchange for life in prison, he pled guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years. After less than a month in custody, he hanged himself in his prison cell (link).

I was batting around the idea of writing a blog on this topic, then saw Todd’s. He brought up some points that I thought were worth exploring—not in a refuting way, but more like a companion piece, maybe? I dunno. Todd knows I luvs.

First, before we get in to attempted logic and rhetoric (always a crap shoot with me), it’s important to recognize the emotional impact of this guy’s actions. I can’t even begin to imagine the levels of pain and psychological damage this monster inflicted.

I wanted to get that out there first. It’s important to let suffering seep into our psyche sometimes and be revolted. We have a tendency to treat people like we would statistics on an Excel spreadsheet—all numbers and hardly any feelings. We’ll talk about ‘them’ and ‘they’ and not realize they are people, with parents, friends, teachers who tried to impact them….

It’s important to remember that people in this case were hurt—severely—over the course of 11 years. It’s important to try and put ourselves in that situation and empathize.

These women were chained to beds, raped, starved, forced to miscarry…unbelievable things that happened while everyone was flipping out about iPhones and the housing crisis and how terrible John Carter was.

A few houses down from normal people griping about normal things…these women lived in a different world…might as well have been another dimension. It was a nightmare. And the nightmare happened…every…day. Christmas, weekends, the first snow of the winter, when the alarm clock goes off and Castro gets up, there’s also the clink of chains….

Second, before I get all kumbaya, hopey-changey and lose some of you, I wanted to introduce an aspect of myself.

I am devoted to the defense of the exploited. Not only through causes or organizations, I will absolutely negate someone’s well being when I see them abusing others, in a bar, next door in an apartment, wherever. Furthermore, I would completely end someone who sought to bring harm to my loved ones. I do believe there is such a thing as righteous indignation.

I’m not a vigilante, but I’m not a pacifist. I grieve when I hear stories about human trafficking. I hate the exploitation of people.

I’m normally a very happy, go-lucky dude. But some of my friends have seen me when I turn. It doesn’t happen very often—like at all. But if that moment comes, you will know it.

So, hi. Nice to meet you. Anyway…

Castro killed himself. He was caught, arrested, tried, sentenced and he killed himself.

As Todd pointed out in his entry, in response, people tend to fall into one of two camps: the ‘rot in hell’ camp and the ‘at least he saved us tax dollars’ camp.

Also, as Todd points out, both sides are pretty much off kilter. Todd says that’s because both sides have been robbed of their vengeance. Castro was able to get by with very little punishment—punishment that we can mete out.

But where Todd, as an atheist, gets to the point where he shrugs his shoulders in anger, I, as a theist, operate in an additional sphere.

I do believe in an afterlife. I do believe we will stand before our creator. It’s my thing. Can’t prove it empirically, like Todd says. Just is my deal.

However, what Todd said to the ‘rot in hell’ group is true, though. If Castro had a moment when he asked for God’s forgiveness, through Jesus he’d get it. When it came time for the rest of us to chill with God in the next age, yes we might very well see that Castro dude.

In fact, there will probably be a whole lot of people chillin’ with God who we didn’t think were good enough. I think we will be floored at who is actually there…and people who aren’t there, even when they seemed so pious.

C.S. Lewis wrote a short book called “The Great Divorce” (link). It’s an allegory, hardly supposed to be taken literally; but in it, a group of people who have been living in a rainy dreary English neighborhood take a magic bus up into the sky and into this verdant majestic world of plains, mountains, rivers and forests. They find that they are nearly transparent and that the sun hurts their eyes, the blades of grass pierce their feet and even drops of water can crush them.

The people are from ‘hell’ and are visiting ‘heaven.’ The fantastical tale centers around glorious, light-enshrined heavenly people coming toward the dreary ghostly people from hell, trying to convince them to stay. If they stay, the idea is they’ll grow stronger, solidify and all that. Again…an allegory. As if Plato’s cave thing was any less bizarre (link)!

One by one, the people from hell decide they’ve had enough and get back on the bus. They are fed up with how they’re being treated, or offended that someone who had done them harm had gotten ‘in’ while they were being kept out, or that someone who was politically or ideologically ‘wrong’ was clothed in light while they were shrouded in shadow.

The whole point was they couldn’t get over themselves. They rejected God’s judgments.

What Todd mentions about judging is partly true. God ultimately judges. We are given things to discern and judge too, sure, but ultimate reconciliation between an individual and God is between the individual and God. We can see evidence of people living changed lives…good fruit and bad fruit…but there’s no formula to know for sure.

In the C.S. Lewis book, the hellish people were so stuck on a situation from their Earthly life, they couldn’t see past it. They felt they knew best. They didn’t think it was fair about such and such. They didn’t think it was right about this and that.

In the Christian texts of the Bible, Jesus instructs those who would follow his example to forgive. He instructs us to love our enemies. He instructs us to treat others as ourselves. In fact, the most important things to do are love God and love others as ourselves.

In doing so, we rise above ourselves and live in another level, for another purpose.

That’s why, for those of who don’t believe in God, Christians seem absolutely crazy.

Adding to the crazy is another situation, though. There are those who call themselves Christians who have decided instead to cultivate hate and vengeance in their hearts, and to use the Bible to justify it. These are a lot of the ‘rot in hell’ crowd. They get some sort of glee out of the idea that such a monster like Castro will burn or be tormented forever.

They can’t get over themselves to see what God might have done even in a life like Castro’s—even at that last second situation that Todd wonders might have happened. These hate-mongers end up being a lot like the hellish people in the Lewis book.

Did he ask? Was he forgiven? I don’t know. Does Castro deserve to be forgiven? Nope.

But, nether do I.

Even though I haven’t done the monstrous things that Castro did, I’ve done things and contributed to causes that have inflicted suffering on others…perhaps monstrous suffering…and I can’t hide behind my country’s flag when the time comes.

But I’ve been forgiven too.

I’ll probably be surprised to see several people on the day after I die. Shoot, some people I’ve wronged might be surprised to see me.

And if it’s too much for any of us to take, if we can’t accept God’s grace could forgive someone like Castro…or drug dealers…or pedophiles…or whoever…perhaps there will be a bus for us to get back on.

There might be a few people who reject grace at the last second because of those who accepted it at the last second.

Castro is out of our hands. I’m angry and heartbroken at the suffering he inflicted and I pray for healing. But there’s no neat bow for the situation—no tidy bit of closure.


Hey active duty people, the president doesn’t need your Syria opinions!


This morning I ran across this article in Business Insider (link). In it, supposed members of the military are holding up signs to hide their faces. Written on the signs are statements saying they are against military action in Syria—obviously a timely topic.

I’ve been seeing some people responding across social media and getting amped up over it. A friend asked my opinion. Figured it’s as good a blog post as any.

Given how few members of the public serve in the military (link), my mindset and response might be alien to most. On the other hand, given how off my damned rocker nuts I am, my mindset might be alien to my vet friends too. We’ll just have it out, then, shall we?

To cut to the chase…I do have a problem with what these (alleged) service members did. However, I probably understand why they did it. However however, I still take umbrage.

As a disclaimer, we have no idea if these people referenced in the Business Insider article are actually in the military, though their uniforms look pretty well put together, so signs point to ‘yes.’ Civilian posers typically do a terrible job at pretending to be in the military.

Anyway, assuming they are legit vets, let’s look at why they probably did it and then why it’s a problem. We’ll have to take a little romp through recent history.


The longest ‘war’ in US history. Remember when we first rolled in there? Yeah that was 12 years ago. Our involvement in WWII was four years, as a point of reference.

Did you know some people deploy there constantly—often for a year at a time, with a short break and then another year there? Did you know there are still 60,000 US troops there? Still? Yeah, that gets tiring. And it spikes suicides (link), divorces (link) and other fun stuff (link).

Did you know that we, the country who “does not negotiate with terrorists” are negotiating with terrorists (link)? Peace talks with the Taliban and (indirectly because of their ties) with Al-Qaeda itself. We’re hoping to make nice with the people we rolled in to eliminate.

That might ruffle the feathers of the vets who’ve sacrificed limbs, friends and marriages to serve there—might make it seem all for naught. Right?


Remember when we first rolled in there? Yeah that was from 2003-2011. People also often deployed there constantly—often for a year at a time, with short breaks and additional years there. Also contributed to the mental/emotional/physical and spiritual trauma of the American military.

Remember all those WMDs we found there? Or all those direct ties between Saddam and 9/11? No?

Think that also might ruffle the feathers of the vets who’ve sacrificed limbs, friends and marriages to serve there—might make it all seem for naught?

Skipping ahead past Somali pirates, Libya, drone strikes, Pakistani entanglements…well, that brings us to Syria.

The Syrian civil war began in 2011 and has, by many UN estimates, killed more than 100K people (link).

It’s another entry into a long line of politically, socially and religiously entangled regimes that is the Middle East, as summarized in a brilliant letter to the editor of the UK’s Financial Times (link):

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad! Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood! Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US! Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states! Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

So…I completely understand the exasperation of my uniformed brothers and sisters. It seems like another hopeless, ongoing perpetual conflict. I completely sympathize and empathize as to why many might feel compelled to speak out against their leadership and urge for not intervening in Syria.


My umbrage seethes over this idea that men or women would use the uniform of the United States to undermine the leadership of this country.

Referring to the alleged vets in the Business Insider article, they may think they are being slick by staying anonymous—that they aren’t hurting anyone—that they are simply using free speech or whatever…But they’re not. They represent something far larger than their individual political ideologies and agendas.

By doing this, especially doing it as a nameless/faceless member of the military, they are in essence showing themselves off as any soldier—any sailor—any Marine—any airman. The groups who would do us harm can now fan the flames saying, “the resolve of the US is weak…even their own troops rebel against their leaders.”

In fact, Syrian hackers took over a US Marine’s website today and did just that (link).

It’s not a matter of arguing for or against Syria—for or against future war. That’s not the issue here. They are catapulting themselves into the negotiations and national-level discussions in opposition to the US leadership. They are hijacking the system.

Look, I hate war. I served, though. I went to Iraq, even if I didn’t think it was on the up and up. I served with distinction. I was decorated. I gave parts of myself to the maw of war that I won’t get back.

I served because I swore an oath of enlistment (link). In it, I didn’t say “only the wars I like” as if I was some damned mercenary, selling my gun to a cause of my choosing.

Nope. I said I would sally up and serve wherever the elected leaders of this country said I should, regardless of any personal objection. It’s how it works. It’s why people stand up and clap for vets on Memorial Day. It’s because they realize it was a choice to serve, no matter how much it might have sucked.

And it’s how veterans deal with war. They don’t engineer them. They simply serve. And, while they’re serving, they should shut up in public about any objections.

So, while I would be glad for the US to stay out of Syria, were I still serving as the fourth-generation of my family to wear the uniform, I would go if asked. I’d serve with honor…and I wouldn’t take the wind out of my leaders’ sails by posting some damned pictures giving aid and comfort to possible enemies.


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