Saturday, September 13, 2014

13 September 2014 Uncle Sam needs your help again

          “Come on all you big, strong, men; Uncle Sam needs your help again…
So go the opening words of The FISH Song by “Country Joe and the Fish.” 
          The song linking the nature of foreign war with the San Francisco music scene of the middle 1960’s is indelibly stamped into the gray matter of much of the Boomer generation.  The song was penned by Joe McDonald, a veteran of the U.S. Navy.  I had committed it to memory before becoming one of those “helping Uncle Sam.”  I can still pull up the lyrics and the melody with no hesitation. 
          Of course, I can also easily recall the increasing numbers of troops poured into S. VietNam, and to the air war over N. VietNam.  I, and thousands of others who had reason to be concerned, watched the presence of U.S. troops in S. VietNam begin with advisors on the ground to help the S. Vietnamese build an army that might actually stand a chance of fighting the Viet Minh ( later Viet Cong) and the PAVN forces that reached southward of the 17th parallel.  The loss of advisors led to security forces to protect the advisors.  It then became necessary to defend aircraft on the ground and the troops that had to service the aircraft.  In just a short period the number of U.S. troops had climbed to over 100,000 in country.  By the time I vacationed there, the total sacrificial boots on the ground exceeded 500,000 pairs.  Over 3,000,000 men and women serving in uniform for the U.S. took part in the ground and air wars that lasted ( for the U.S.) from 1954 – 1973. 
          Despite the millions of tons of explosives, napalm, and white phosphorous dropped from the skies over VietNam and neighboring nations, there was nothing to cause anyone other than LeMay and his disciples to imagine that a ground war could be won by air strikes.  It didn’t work in Europe during WWII.  It didn’t work in VietNam.  War always comes down to the level of the infantry unit. 
          Now we are seeing the same arguments put forward to justify a return to Iraq and surrounds.  Despite more tons of ordnance delivered by manned and unmanned airframes, ground is still captured and held by the queen of battle.  If we allow ourselves to be sold another excursion to Iraq with side trips to Syria, we’re only proving once again that our political leaders have no awareness of U.S. military history; or that of any other nation.   However, ideology is not something that any number of troops can eliminate.  We need to take another hard look at the cost of our military involvement in the Middle East, at which companies and which countries benefit from U.S. troops bleeding and dying, and what sort of effort can be expected and demanded by surrounding nations. 
          At least, in the VietNam, we were smart enough not to step into the same swamp twice.  It appears that we are going to make that encore mistake now. 

"Give me an "F"!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

11 September 2014 question of the day where were you

At home in Palmetto FL.
Watching buildings fall, people die, and the porosity of our borders exposed to a populace that had been allowed to believe in the inviolable safety of life in the U.S. as compared to other western nations.
           At the same time we were watching the rapid development of TS Gabrielle as it bore down on us. What normally would have been an around the clock news event in 2001 was mostly ignored by the media that was repeatedly following every pronouncement to extinction. The usual flight out of the storm's path that would have jammed the airlines as the wealthy left their waterfront homes did not take place due to the national ground stop.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

9 September 2014 obsolete music media

Music, specifically genres of music, cycle in and out of popularity.  The mechanism to store and replay music have their own histories. 
          The earliest storage media I have seen/heard, was the cylinders that brought voice to Edison’s phonograph.  They had very limited capacity and were prone to damage. 
          Next, in my awareness at least, were the wax 78 RPM discs, widely recalled as “platters,” “discs,” and records.  These also had limited storage capacity.  They would shatter if dropped or otherwise allowed to contact hard surfaces.  They would deform if they were allowed to become to warm.  They reinforced the 3.0 minute playback format and gave rise to the term “disc jockey.”  We have about 15 “78’s”
          Spin-offs from the 78 RPM format gave us the 45 RPM single and the 33 & 1/3 RPM album.  These two products were made of a vinyl compound, less likely to shatter but still prone to heat damage.  We still have about 200 of these “33’s” in the house.  We programmed a two hour live broadcast using only “33’s” for WMNF radio in Tampa some year back.  We currently have a turntable that can play all of our old wax and vinyl records
          Reel-to-reel magnetic tape, residing on large reels attracted some tech weenies.  Mag tape is limited in durability, easily damaged by heat, dust, and other insults.  Storage requires a narrow temperature range and low humidity.  Tape aficionados quickly learned how to splice tapes.  The tapes became larger in width, allowing more channels per tape.  Thousands of VietNam veterans bought large reel-to-reel systems at PACEX, only to discover that the heat and humidity of VietNam, allied with the dust of the dry season, could eat tapes and decks in a very short time.  Many of these systems were handed down to troops rotating in. 
          About this time, cassette storage began to worm it’s way into the storage market.  Automobile audio offerings were the 4 and 8 track cassettes.  There is no viable market for these leftovers.  They may still be seen at the random flea market booth and at some estate auctions.  Prone to heat damage, irreparable if broken, We have none.
          The 8 tracks were replaced by the 2 track cassette recording capable of holding up to 90 minutes of music/cassette.  These were easy to produce cheap to buy at the lower ends of quality, and were favorites of concert tapers who used them by the thousands. Somewhat easily spliced if broken, heat sensitive, the automobile dashboard soon became a home away from home for commercial record label offerings as well as what came to be called bootlegs.  We have quite a few of these in the house.  Audio quality could be very high for analog storage.  It could also be dirty and next to unlistenable.  There was a great variance in soundboard feeds and audience tape quality. We have two tape decks that will work if cleaned and tied into an amplifier and receiver.  Neither vehicle will play these.
          The CD, CD-r. DVD storage formats appeared next.  Cheap to manufacture,  heat sensitive, originally thought to be a cleaner form of digital storage and replay compared to analog sources, the CD’s were later discovered to degrade with time.  Again, we have many around the house.  The recently traded Pathfinder contained both a cassette deck and a multi-disc CD player.  The Tucson has a single CD player, as does the Xterra. 
          This brings us to the point of flash drives, small devices holding immense amounts of data.  The audiophiles prefer a lossless digital storage system such as “FLAC.”  Most younger people, non-boomers, prefer an MP3 format.  It allows more data compression – greater numbers of stored items per unit.  They may not be able to discern the difference in a lossless and lossey playback.  Certainly, their lifelong exposure to high volume life has degraded their hearing; most of them have yet to discover this as they continue to boost the volume pots on all sources of audio input. 
          The Xterra has a USB connection that allows me to feed audio into the dashboard player. This replaces the 10 cd’s I had stacked and permanently resident in the Pathfinder.
           Currently, I have about 40 GB resident on two flash drives to use in those instances when the local FM public station is not proving my preferred content.  The player is satellite capable but the buy in and maintenance fees are more than I care to assume right now.  The process now requires ripping CD’s and cross-decking them to the USB for the Xterra.  I don’t want to pay to stream of download music that I already own in a usable format.  Nor do I care to have the music I prefer lost in some “service” that will form a new string of popular singles and albums such as is currently marketed to younger generations.  I’ve earned my right to be cantankerous and complain about “modern music.”



Saturday, September 6, 2014

6 September 2014 Try to remember

Or try not to remember

          The formative years of my youth included quite a lot of music.  I listened to the jazz musicians – big bands, small groups, and the random soloist.  The musical theater spun its own list of songs that received popular radio play time and were often covered by various vocalists.  These were often saccharine in nature, mawkish beyond repair.  “Try To Remember” fits that category all too well.  Unfortunately, it is also one of those songs that sticks to your brain like napalm.  Long after it has been heard, the echoes keep rolling around inside your brain like the smell of hellfire on tree lines. 
          That’s sort of a capsule encompassing the music and culture of my younger years.  The later years of the folk revival generated many “folk” groups putting a smooth outer surface on older songs, linking in some nostalgia, and touring from college to university to small club venues, carrying their polished, largely apolitical harmonious offerings to people who still preferred acoustic music powering songs that could be shared among party attendees putting away one last scotch and soda before traveling homeward. 
          The bland nature of those songs was in direct conflict with the political and cultural events of the period.  The folk music stuck around until Dylan introduced his electrified material, The Beatles cut Sergeant Pepper, and the generational demand to be heard shared airtime with the spread of FM stations in the bigger markets. 
          Think of 1965-66, there’s still a lot of folk influence to hear in the antiwar lyrics of the day.  But the touring groups still have their niche available.  By the end of 1976, there’s no folk music to hear beyond the late night public radio shows that are becoming something of “old soldiers’ homes” for a generation’s folk musicians.
          The culture has changed markedly as has the music.  “Sympathy for the Devil?”  Nothing better describes the nature of the VietNam War.  Add in “Fortunate Son” and “Morning Dew,” and the history is easily recounted. 
          But despite the change in my listening habits and the absence of the bland and mawkish from the radio and the streamed networks, every time September rolls around, the smell of distant napalm and the barely audible sound of “Try to remember” crawls into my consciousness.  I can’t predict how long it will stay, repeating, looping, demonstrating the longevity of mediocre music and the pervasiveness of random memories.  I’ll try to suppress the song.  But that’s much more easily said than accomplished. 
          So, it’s early September, the leaves are already beginning to change and to fall.  The days are getting shorter, the nights longer, and behind “Try to Remember,” I can already hear some syrupy voice ushering in the next season with “Oh it’s a long long time.” 
          Enjoy it or not, these earworms keep gnawing their way into memory.  What surfaces in your mind that you can’t eject or erase?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2 September 2014 The executioner’s face is always well hidden

A second American  journalist has been brutally murdered by ISIS.  There is a third captive  journalist already in the queue. 
          The U.Ss media and that of other Western nations have chosen to not air the entire video due to the graphic and grisly nature of the murder.  Wat we Americans are allowed to see is a fragment of the ISIS video that shows a docile victim, wearing an orange jumpsuit ala Guantanamo, kneeling in the dirt while the supposed executioner waves a knife around and promises more “executions” of Americans and other Westerners.  This seems to be the same murderer who beheaded the journalist Foley last month. 
          This hostage taking  and subsequent murder of the hostage by Islamic terrorists has to be stopped.  This murder of U.S, and Western allies must not be allowed to determine the course of politics in the Middle East.  Islamic fundamentalist must not be allowed to rampage, pillage, and rape their way to a statehood that would drag the regional culture back to the 8th century. 
          To begin, the ISIS killings are not “executions” but murders.  Executions are carried out by nations with legal systems that are acting in accordance with constitutions and legal frameworks.   ISIS is not a nation, the Koran is not a constitutional document.  Thus, the act of killing hostages is murder and should be treated and discussed as such by our media and our government. 
          I have no compunctions concerning the hunting down and execution of ISIS killers by our government or those of other Western nations.  
          In this age of resurgent anti-Semitism brought about in part by the repetitive bloody sacrifices of Gazan and other Arabs by their fundamentalist Islamic leaders and funding of the continual wars against Israel, the U.S., and other western nations, it becomes important that the pro-arab political correctness that exists widely across the U.S. be reversed and that the true brutality of ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the other gangs of thugs and brigands sponsored ultimately by Iran be honestly depicted as the murderous cowards that they are.
          What our media shows us is a much watered down glimpse of murders of unarmed, helpless  hostages using a particularly brutal and painful means.  The murderer and any other gang members in sight have their faces covered tp prevent them being identified by physical or electronic means.  This is consistent with many of the propaganda video emanating in the middle east.  Most, if not all the participants have their faces covered.  They apparently lack the courage to be known when committing rapes, robberies, murders, kidnappings, and other crimes that would cause them to be arrested and tried  in a country with a functional government.
          Dylan provided the title line today.  He also provided the tag.  When the West has grown tired of fundamentalist Islamic depradations, it will finally inite in action against them.  ISIS and others need to know, “it’s a hard rain gonna fall!”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

28 August 2014 The women are smarter

          It is interesting to connect with men I served with in VietNam.  The  bits and pieces of our every day existence , which we assume would match fairly closely, seem to have been less well matched than we think we recall.  Even within a company sized unit the discrepancies are much more evident to me today than they were then. 
          The EM, once assigned, tended to remain with  the same subunit.  The Officers were shuffled around more frequently.  They needed both staff and field assignments to further their career goals.  I can recall that I served under three company commanders.  Yet I can only put a name and face to one of them. 
          As a medic, I had far less negative or confrontational with African -American troops than  others did.  The major confrontations occurred between the senior NCO’s – men with WWII, Korean, and Vietnam experience – and the young African Americans who were draftees and too often unqualified for any of the military occupations specialist training slots, other than 11Bravo – Infantry.  They wound up in line companies for the larger part of their tours.  They might wrangle a short period just before DEROS to fill guard posts, push LIP day laborers, help with camp sanitation, etc. 
          My job was to take care of everyone in the company, not just those who shared my lack of melanin.  In doing that I had to be able to triage on the fly and reassess the situation as necessary.  I also had to listen to what people were telling me on the surface and deeper down.  People who were sent to enlist in order to avoid being sentenced to jail did not view their participation in the South East Asia War Games as necessary to advance their futures in the “world.”  They made it clear to the Senior NCO’s that they had not respect for their authority and no intention of doing anything not necessary to their own eventual DEROS and ETS.  Inside the wire, racial relations were iffy among younger troops.  Outside the wire, the hostilities were usually in abeyance.  Cooperating with the leadership group tended to make one more secure in their chances of a safe trip home.  More later

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

26 August 2014 Stir the memory pool and see what remains

          From 1968-69 only a few names made the journey back with me.  I spent much of my tour avoiding friendships and even casual acquaintance. 
          This month has been unusual.  Two names have floated to the pool’s surface and I’ve been able to make contact with them in one manner or another.  It’s been a very interesting period of reconnection.  One of the names belongs to a Sgt who worked in the S-3 shop, doing 12 hour days.  The other, to a Lt. holding multiple responsibilities that kept him sleepless. 
          Though we three were all assigned to the same company, our duties kept us largely separated.  The nature of the company was that it had more officers than most companies in an infantry company.  The brigade commander and his staff expected to be served by the non-staff EM and officers.  The company HQ personnel were responsible for the needs of the entire company as well carrying out the  security, communications, logistics, motor pool, health care, and other tasks that keep a military unit operational. 
          The Sgt. and I got along well.  The Lt. and I got along well.  The Sgt. and the Lt. don’t recall each other.  Although we lived within meters of each other, we were, at any given time to be at three different parts of our AO, depending upon what the Brigade was doing under direction from Division.  Neither the Sgt or I recall many names not related to our duties.  The Lt., by nature of his duties, probably had more contact with the EM and NCO’s than either the Sgt or I. 

          It will be interesting to see what these contacts lead to.