Thursday, April 29, 2010

Behind Friendly Lines

by 13 Stoploss

Michael Yon is the exception.

As an independent journalist, Yon has written from Iraq and Afghanistan more frequently than any other journalist, and he has been praised for his insightfully accurate observations about the state of the wars; he has won numerous awards for his work, has written a best-selling book, and has been quoted in various mainstream media outlets as a credible and experienced source. Among military bloggers, Yon has enjoyed a rabid, cult following for his tireless dispatches in support of the troops.

But recent informal comments by Yon on his Facebook and Twitter pages have left some fans disgruntled with the star writer’s conduct, despite the notion that a greater story may further illustrate growing deception and crony’istic censure enacted by top military brass overseas.

Yon has alleged that top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has enacted a smear campaign against him, after his recent disembed from a unit in Afghanistan. Yon suspects this disembed is the result of lucid, less-than-flattering dispatches he has written that portray top commanders as having questionable merit and competence to lead.

Further evidence of McChrystal's incompetence,” writes Yon, “is the ease with which he jerks a writer from the field and gets a laser on himself/staff for lying. And then his own staff commits defamation and libel. They fight like children. They are giving me their ammo. It's saddening. We cannot win such a complex war with people like that in charge. This is not a winning team.

It wouldn’t be the first time a journalist has publically questioned the official military story, but few, if any, have done it informally via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter—real-time technologies not previously available to journalists of any era. Until recently, journalists were more subtle and understated in their criticisms, which is the case withHiroshima, by John Hersey.

In 1945, a nuclear bomb named “Little Boy” was dropped from a B-29 Bomber onto the city of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 people and leveling more than 70% of the city. Just months after Hiroshima’s destruction, and after the war had ended, Hersey, a noted author and journalist,traveled to Hiroshima to interview survivors for a lengthy, narrative feature for The New Yorker. What followed is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest narrative nonfiction works of the 20th century.

The immensely successful article follows the account of six survivors, from seconds before the blast, to the scurry for survival in the days after. But the greater story subtly concerns the period of reconstruction after the bomb, when the United States Army restricted Japanese investigation and research into what happened. Weeks passed before survivors learned that an American super-bomb was dropped from the sky. Hersey, for whatever reason, decided not to write a pro-US, pro-bomb historical account that thankfully ended the war. Instead, his narrative was sympathetic to the innocent civilians who had lived through the experience and for that, the American Occupation Government in Japan discouraged the distribution of Hersey’s article.

It doesn’t matter why the American Occupation Government suppressed local research into the event—only that it did. In this instance, the military’s restriction of information provides an historical precedent:

In 1971, The New York Times printed the “Pentagon Papers” a top secret and extensive list of public deceptions commissioned by the Department of Defense concerning the history of American involvement in Vietnam. These papers show, among other things, that an American bombing campaign in Vietnam was well planned before America’s first involvement in the war.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush, acting on information provided by top-secret satellite images, alleged, “within three days, 120,000 Iraqi troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. It was then that I decided to act to check that aggression.” [emphasis mine] A reporter from the Saint Petersburg Times, having obtained Russian, commercial satellite images over the same area at the same time, had found nothing but empty desert.

And on February 5, 2003, Colin Powell claimed to know what, in fact, US intelligence reports did not show: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and there was not a valid link between 9-11, Al Qaeda, and Iraq.

Of course, there are many more instances in which our government is either not telling the truth, or is intentionally hiding the truth—and there is a difference. This short list serves to remind that some of our recent and most famous (tragic) wars are the result of government deception. What this means is that we have continually had a government that is willing to deceive us, and the rest of the world, for its own intentions—and that is wrong. Always wrong.

Through many of these leaks and investigations into government practices, it is inevitably the investigative journalist who brings to light the crimes committed by our elected officials, and those our elected officials hire. Today’s journalists who cover America’s wars have far less access to troops and leaders than they used to—and far less than they need. Now, journalists rely exclusively on the military for transportation, embedded assignments, and official news releases.

As a journalist in training, and former Sergeant in the United States Army, I see this as a serious infraction on journalistic integrity. One of the detractions against embedded journalism is that journalists often do not have access to local populations and are seen as too sympathetic to invading forces. Indeed, when a journalist is required to sign a contract with the military, which effectively limits what he can and cannot say, then what journalist can act any more than as a tool for propaganda?

To Yon’s credit, General McChrystal has a less than stellar history (his bio shows where he’s been, and what his soldiers have done), and has demonstrated a penchant for distortion of facts (Pat Tillman investigation).

I have in my possession compelling evidence of General McChrystal’s smear campaign,” writes Yon. “It’s been sent to my attorney. The sad part is that McChrystal is incompetent even with a smear campaign. Official statements by his people—in writing—have been defamatory and libelous. A writer must be able to spot libel just as ...a soldier must be able to spot IEDs. It’s part of the job. If you can’t spot it, you will get hurt.

Remarkably, it is Yon’s most ardent supporters who are now calling him out. A comment left on Yon’s Facebook page states, “You need to chill, and listen to the writers atBlackfive concerning your situation. If you haven’t read their letters of advice you should.... soon.

Blackfive, a popular, ultra-conservative, pro-military blog written by a slew of retired and former veterans, is calling for Yon to take a break and to reassess whether his work has become more about himself than the war.

In Micheal Yon Wake Up Call, “writer” Uncle Jimbo asks Yon “to wake the hell up.” The article is hardly inspiring and instead of analyzing Yon’s content, Uncle Jimbo begins by apologizing, as if his commentary holds the weight of absolute truth. Jimbo continues his wakeup call with ared herring, a formal fallacy of irrelevance, or ad hominem—attack on the person, by stating that Yon didn’t go “to war,” but as a journalist, merely went “to the war.”

Interestingly, whether Yon went to war, or to the war, with a gun or pen, he has no doubt seen and experienced more of the conflict than most who are actually fighting the wars. In fact, more than even Jimbo, whose only intellectual offering comes in a disclaimer at the bottom:

I have not embedded...ever. I am not going to embed because I don't want to. I like being in the rear w/ the gear. I have plenty of stamps on my passport, have toured the most craptastic places on the planet, and now don't deploy anywhere w/o room service. I respect what Michael Yon has done, I just think he is acting like a jackass.

What this amounts to is frivoled and uninformed commentary that is neither strong in rhetoric, nor adequate in providing specific reasons why Yon’s “competence” is called into question. To be an effective writer, one must eminently “show, not tell,” and after reading Jimbo’s article, there is little advice, and too many unsubstantiated statements.

To his credit, writing is not Jimbo’s craft. But, apparently, Blackfive writer “The Laughing Wolf,” C. Blake Powers, is a writer. In An Open Letter to Michael Yon, Laughing Wolf suggests that Yon should “stop, step back, and think.” That is a fair suggestion for anyone, in any situation. But Laughing Wolf, too, employs the use of many informal fallacies that negate the effectiveness of his argument:appeal to authority (Uncle Jimbo, Michael Yon Wake Up Call), argumentum ad populum(Yon’s confronters), appeal to consequences and cum hoc, ergo propter hoc (the assertion that the lowest common denominator of four disembeds is Yon, himself).

Clearly, writing is more than just an appropriate use of grammar. Behind the fa├žade ofBlackfive’s “advice” to Yon, which is nothing more than a call to “stop doing what you are doing,” and “slow down,” we find an important characteristic inherently biased in the Blackfivemission: to propagate the tireless advocacy of the military and to verbally criminalize those who oppose them (hasty generalization, or an appropriate observation?).

Because of Yon’s informal status updates on Facebook and Twitter, he is now a traitor. As a former soldier, he should know not to talk dirty against the Chain of Command, right? By bashing military command in Afghanistan, Blackfive, and others, are effectively saying that Yon is no longer a part of the “good ‘ol boys club,” that his work is now selfish, and that he is something less than what he used to be.

But is he?

Is Yon anything less than an investigative journalist? Isn’t it his job to uncover dirt—even dirt that we may not always want to hear or believe? Hasn’t Yon proven himself sufficiently credible at doing just that? Hasn’t he always flown arrogantly in the face of the mainstream with his views? And, isn’t his work heralded for its candid and honest portrayal of what the mainstream media is not covering (appeal to emotion, or valid thinking?)?

This is more than about being a hero for the military—it’s about journalistic integrity. Unfortunately, that just isn’t something I expect the Facebook and Twitter detractors and “writers” at Blackfive to understand. After all, freedom of speech works precisely because of the military’s hard-won effort to preserve the rights of every American’s access to it.

In Vietnam, journalist Michael Herr (whose experiences, along with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, are the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) had free access to any Huey he could find, and often lived for days on any base or camp for as long as he could stand. In World War II, photojournalist Robert Capa was a part of the landing on D-Day, and John Hersey, working for Life and Time, had “accompanied Allied troops on their invasion of Sicily, survived four airplane crashes, and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy for his role in helping evacuate wounded soldiers from Guadalcanal.” You can’t get any closer to the troops than actually swimming and flying with them!

Along with exposing government corruption, these journalists and photographers have given us the most iconic and genre-defining works of art ever made. It is precisely that closeness that enabled these writer’s and photographer’s incredible work over the last century, and it is precisely that closeness our government is now restricting.

Ultimately, the debate should not be about whether Michael Yon has “lost it,” or needs a break. The real argument is whether Yon is being silenced because he has spoken critically and publically (and perhaps arrogantly and tactlessly) of commanders. If that is the case, then his blacklisting should not come as a surprise.

What’s most surprising is that the government has finally assumed complete control over who can have access to tell the war story. Such control will no doubt have a perverse impact on the future of unbiased reporting.

"If a writer wants to make money," writes Yon, "he should avoid truth and tell people what they want to hear."

And that is exactly what the government wants to hear.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bite The Bullet

by The Usual Suspect

There comes a time when you just have to say, "Fuck this, something has to change." The hate, the malice, that instant-trigger-switch that flips and turns you into someone that you normally aren't... you can't have that stateside and expect to live a normal life. You can't keep everyone at a standoff distance forever. Your mind shouldn't turn to violent thoughts to solve every altercation.

Some dumbfuck damn near plows over me in his pickup while texting. I can see his front tire tearing the skin off of my face as my skull disintegrates into my backseat. All I can think about is ramming him off of the road, ripping his dazed ass out of the driver's seat, breaking his front teeth out with the barrel of my pistol and blowing the back of his head off. I live, you die. That's not normal. That's not how a normal person mitigates threats.

"You threaten MY life with your fucking ignorance? FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! Don't talk, don't beg, don't run, JUST DIE!!! DIE MOTHERFUCKER! DIE! DIE!!!"

You get sick and tired of clearing your house every time you hear a strange noise or notice something out of place. Sick and tired of being a stranger to your friends and family. You notice the way people look at you. Like they don't know quite what to think, they kind of recognize you, but they can't quite figure out who the hell it is that is living in your skin. After a while, maybe they even stop telling you when you've had too much to drink. They just know that when they start seeing the signs, that they should take you home. Away from the public. That they know that they can't fix it, they can only try to contain it. A walking liability. You're a hushed name that nervous voices whisper when they try to figure out if you're going to be all right, or if you're going to be a statistic.

You can't smoke a cigarette outside without watching traffic, without knowing what kind of cover you can take in a jam. And even then, you laugh at yourself, thinking that .50 cal will punch right through that shit.

Mouths talk about the war, mouths that haven't even left the country, and your mouth fills with the taste of bile. When you get used to having an enemy that kills your friends and tries to kill you, it sticks in your craw. Come on home, and now you have no enemy, but good fucking luck with all your efforts trying to stop looking for them. Look hard enough, and you'll find an enemy. That idiot not watching the road. The money-grubbers blasting the middle class into extinction, the liars, the thieves, the bullshit advertisements and idiot-box programming that shoves stupidity into our brains where complex thought SHOULD be, they all become targets worthy of violent death. Why not? Better men have died for far more asinine reasons. Why shouldn't social poisoners be put to the sword?

You find yourself scoffing at the weak stomach of the common populace, at the liberal media and their pandering crybaby bullshit. Like war is fair, fuck off. Nothing is fair and nothing makes sense, liberal media makes money but changes nothing.

Then you catch yourself thinking things like all of the above, and things much darker than can be put into text. And hopefully that's when you decide that you've had enough. Me, I've had enough of this shit. And that is why I'm leaving for a while. I'm going to treatment. You cannot live to the fullest with baggage like this, and if they have programs out there to help with it, then you're goddamn right I'm gonna use them.

I don't want to go. I do, and I don't. But fuck, atleast you know that in that place, people are going to understand you. You'll be able to say all that fucked up shit that you can't say to all the normal people that you envy now.

There are many, many times that I wish I would have sat on that rooftop and waited for the blast. BOOOM. Out with a bang. Die as an angel, not a falling demon that lingers full of piss and hate until the bitter end. What would you have? A damn good paragraph or a downward spiral epic-length story that only gets worse with time?

You can't hide it from the people that care about you, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many drugs you take. The people who really know you, the ones that truly matter, they can see through all of your faces, they know the differences, and they may not understand what it is that they are seeing, but they will know that things aren't right, and they won't rest either. You'll be alone together, a million miles away, speaking different languages.

What do you do? Disappear? Fall off the grid? Drink or smoke yourself into a coma? Keep fighting until you finally die?

Fuck that, I choose the other road. I'm not going to quit on myself or the people that rely on me. If that means that I have to lock myself up in V.A. care for a while, then so fucking be it. Small price to pay for peace of mind if you ask me. You can't raise children like this, and life doesn't have an adjustable difficulty level. You take the shit sandwich they hand you, and you take a big fucking bite, and if you're badass enough, you chomp it down and ask for seconds, and you learn how to process it and make it work for you. This universe doesn't pity the weak, and hatred is some pretty weak shit.

So hopefully you give yourself a second chance, and try some kind of therapy, something. Something other than a bottle of booze, a bongload of Alaskan Thunderfuck, an eight ball of uncut blow, the finest China White, the purest meth, the highest stakes Hold'Em table, the sluttiest sloid, the fastest car, the toughest opponent, the meanest cop, the meanest train, the quickest bus, the biggest bullet, the fattest pill, the highest cliff, or the slowest, most decadent rotting decay you can allow yourself.

Whatever, ride through and out of Hell or don't. At this point, it's every man for himself until you choose to take care of yourself, in which case....

Welcome aboard. We're in it together. Again.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

300 Words

by 13 Stoploss


The words of the platoon sergeant ring sharply into the cold, morning air and ten, cleanly shaven, barely-awake young men obediently snap to the position of attention. Every cadet’s eyes stare blankly ahead as the leader of each squad, one by one, renders his salute and squad’s accountability status.

Every morning at 0600, under a silhouetted canopy of trees set against the slowly, lightening hue of a navy blue-painted sky, the cadets meet for one hour of intense cardiovascular and muscular-strength and endurance Physical Training to condition their bodies to successfully pass the Army’s Physical Training Test.

The Army PT Test contains three timed events: two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two-mile run.

For conditioning, the ROTC platoon follows a CrossFit regimen that incorporates high-intensity, low-rest elements of these exercises, among others.

It is the “among others” that often induce vomiting and dry heaving on a daily basis.

On this morning, it took only twenty minutes for the first cadet to “fall out,” and as he leaned against a small tree—his head hunched between his knees—the first splatter was expelled from between his lips like the frothy head of the too many beers he had the night before.

A shuffled deck of cards, with a given exercise per suit, and a number of repetitions according to the card, was rigged for a repeated drawing of the Joker.

And Joker’s are funny like that. Instead of a number of “Squat Thrusts,” or a 200-meter sprint, the Joker represented thirty “Burpees,” a modified pushup-plus-jumping-jack-like explosion that really shows the world how happy you are.

How happy?



Times thirty.

By the end, every hollow-eyed, sweat-drenched forehead and breathless, gaping mouth gasped in agreement—they were happy—happy that 0700 had finally come.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Different take on the Wikileaks...

Jon Heavey is a pretty stand up dude. I've met a lot of good people in my time, but I haven't met a lot of people actually trying to make a difference.

So, check out the debut of this up-and-comer, in the HuffPo, and pass it around. Here's a guy trying to be the difference, and I have a world of respect for men like this.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sounds about right

I was reading about the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Craig F. Walker, of the Denver Post, and a selection of 20 images from his "high school to basic training to Iraq" feature, when I noticed an interesting detail.

The second image, dated 16 June 2007, shows the subject, Ian, kissing a blonde girl named Ashley at a party before departing for Denver MEPS.

The twelfth image, dated 15 December 2007, shows Ian and Kayla in one of those not-so-swanky military jewelry shops--the ones that finance anyone with a pulse for 30% interest, picking out and getting financed for a diamond-cut engagement ring.

The eighteenth image, dated 18 December 2008, shows Ian laying on his cot, talking to Kayla on a cell phone, from Iraq.

Finally, the last image, dated 24 August 2009, shows Ian and Devin with their right arms raised at the County Clerk's Office, "swearing to the accuracy of their marriage-license application."

Yeah, that sounds about right...

I don't remember how many times I've seen this scenario played out in my five-year career, but enough so that it seems common.

A shame, for sure, but I know for certain that some people marry for the benefits.

Know how much separation pay is? What about BAH and BAS? Almost enough to double the pay of a lower-enlisted soldier...

I remember a friend of mine, in 2003, married an emancipated girl from Washington that he met on the internet. She had no access to his bank account during the deployment, but he gave her a $400 monthly allowance and bought her a $3000 car so she could return to Washington. When their marriage failed upon our return, after two months, they divorced, and that was that. My friend married his recently-divorced high school sweetheart later that summer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Post-9/11 GI Bill Advance Pay Recoupment Letters

Wow, great for me! Except that I merely paid the debt with my credit card since, like most other veterans, I am living off the Ch.33 BAH and couldn't afford it to be cut. Which also means I now have to pay an extra finance charge, and interest, for charging the debt to my credit card. I'm actually lucky that I had that much room on my credit card to take on...

I still think the VA should have reduced my debt by $1200. Since they don't plan on paying me the $100 per month x 12 months initial pay-in to the MGIB until AFTER I complete my degree with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the least they could have done is said they won't pay me at all, but reduced my debt.

Also, check out the dating on these papers, received in chronological order...

If you think things are bad now...

by 13 Stoploss

Can you imagine tens of thousands of veterans storming the capital in today’s context? It hardly seems real that just over thirty years ago, the veteran community and anti-war protesters were organized enough to accomplish just that. I even remember hundreds of alien and gas-masked life-lovers protesting the streets outside my local city mall over Operation Desert Storm/Shield.

But something happened in the last twenty years. We had another war and for a new generation. There were protests and graffiti, and headlines, and embedded reporters riding in the turrets of our heaviest armor en route to Baghdad, but this time, we became spectators, sucked into reality none wanted to really live.

We are now more connected, but in that, we’re somehow less connected. We are so attached to the TV tubes feeding our brains that we’ve become detached from the streets and the crowds and the people actually affected by the very ideas we would be protesting! Video on demand, RSS feeds for our email, and byte-sized twitter statements link us to the commentary of others reporting on things happening seconds after they happened and for which none of us are actually experiencing. And it continues to be the distraction keeping us off the streets. We think we have more freedom because we have a greater selection of technology to buy and consume and use, but the reality is that we are tethered to it.

Last week, I read about journalist Bob Greene. This morning, I read his latest article, “If you think things are bad now…”

Editor's note: CNN contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose new book is "Late Edition: A Love Story."

(CNN) -- We have a tendency, when things in the news get bad, to tell ourselves that it's never been quite this dismal before.

We are tempted, when disputes become particularly acrimonious, to believe that the current bitterness is unprecedented.

So it's beneficial, once in a while, to look at our current problems in light of what has gone before.

And to remember just how much the United States has endured.

The newspaper USA Today reported last week that there has been a sharp increase in the unemployment rate for male veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The paper said that such unemployment has tripled since the recession began, having reached 15 percent last month. More than 250,000 of the male veterans were said to be unemployed last month, with another 400,000 having left the workforce for various reasons: to raise children, or attend college, or because they have just stopped trying to find work.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said: "It makes you almost want to go out and rip off all the 'Support Your Troops' bumper stickers. If you want to support your troops, give them a job."

Can't argue with that. After what American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are asked to sacrifice, there is something melancholy about the thought of them coming home and having trouble finding a way to support their families.

The nation is likely to work on a solution to this honorably and in good faith.

There was a time, during parallel circumstances, when that wasn't the case. It was one of the darkest moments in American history, and few people speak about it anymore.

The shorthand for it was "the Bonus Army."

In the spring and summer of 1932, with the Great Depression gripping the country, tens of thousands of World War I veterans and their families gathered in Washington to demand what they felt they had been promised. They set up shantytowns, and vowed to stay put until their entreaties were met.

The federal government had, in 1924, issued service certificates -- redeemable for bonuses -- to the soldiers who had returned from World War I. The certificates were intended to reward the veterans for the time they had spent fighting for their country. They were like long-term bonds -- they could not be redeemed until 1945.

But something happened between 1924 and 1932: The economy collapsed. Poverty and joblessness were everywhere. The veterans, many of them hungry and destitute, came to Washington asking Congress to allow them to collect their bonuses early.

It didn't happen. The U.S. Senate voted down the bill.

So there were the military veterans, amassed in the nation's capital. Out of money, out of luck, almost out of hope, they refused to leave. The government ordered their evacuation. Many of the veterans resisted; the police shot and killed two of them.

With that, the president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, fearing that radicals had infiltrated the veterans, ordered the Army to take over the involuntary evacuation.

And this country was confronted with the news that the Army was moving against the old soldiers.

At the highest level of the Army assigned to the task were men who would later become extraordinarily famous. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was in command; Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the go-between with the local police force; Maj. George Patton was in charge of the cavalry.

Bayonets were drawn; tanks and soldiers on horseback advanced into the crowds; acrid gas was unleashed on the protesting veterans; the makeshift camps were torn down. Even though President Hoover didn't want it to happen, MacArthur sent his troops across a bridge to the site of the veterans' main living quarters. A fire broke out; it was never determined with certainty who set it, but there it was: the American veterans' cobbled-together homes in flames, as the Army drove them out.

There was no television back then; it is almost impossible to fathom what would have happened if the country had been able to see, live, the military moving relentlessly against former members of the military who were asking for the means to survive.

As rugged as the economy is now -- and as difficult a time as some veterans are having as they look for work in a dismal hiring environment -- no one foresees a day when soldiers will again be ordered to roust former soldiers and their families.

Later in their lives, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton all lamented, with varying degrees of emotion, having had to play a role in driving the Bonus Army out of Washington. Their commander in chief had decreed that it must be done, so they carried out his orders.

We've come a long way since then; no president with an eye toward his legacy would order the Army to do such a thing, and it's hard to believe that military officials would not, behind closed doors, try everything in their power to avoid having to use American troops that way.

But as much as things have changed, certain truths haven't. We ask our soldiers, in times of war, to cross the oceans and fight in our name. When they come home -- those who do come home alive -- we tell them, in bad economic times, that the jobs for them are just not there.

If our soldiers want to work, we owe it to them to make it easier for that to happen. There may never again, we should hope, be a Bonus Army camped in the streets of Washington, pleading for help. The best way to prevent such a sight is to provide the help before the despair of the unemployed veterans reaches that breaking point. You might call it our patriotic duty.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

I have six remaining classes to fulfill my journalism degree. After that, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I certainly don't expect anyone to hand me a job, nor do I expect that I will find something without a fight. It wouldn't be worth it without the fight. But, really, what is out there for us?

I know there are a lot of veterans really struggling right now and it seems to me that there are ultimately two remaining answers for those who are not well connected or lucky: Joe can go back, or Joe can say "fuck that." We already know what happens if Joe goes back in. But if Joe takes option B, it's a life of booze and debt and unemployment.

Somehow, I just don't see Joe finding the nerve or the desire to hike to Washington and tell the man how he really feels--not that the PoPo would allow a veteran shanty-town in this century anyway. And secondly, I don't think the too-plugged-ins would care enough to join or fight to set down their iPhones or to walk away from their HDTV's.

So, Bob Greene, what do we do with those who are already despaired and unemployed? Are we going to create jobs for which there are no need and no money to pay for? And who will hand out these jobs? Are you simply suggesting that those in the fortunate position to make hiring decisions give jobs to veterans (we're resilient and adaptive and capable, but we're also unskilled and under-experienced)?

Whose duty is it? The Department of Veteran Affairs? President Obama?

Or is it my own?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Muster Duty

by The Usual Suspect

Got the big manila envelope in the mail from Human Resources Command, Department of the Army. Calling me back? Ripped that sucker open and skimmed for anything called "Operation" whatever.

Skim skim skim, no whammy no whammy no whammy annnnnnd STOP!

Muster duty. Show up, provide current information, do some crap on the computer, listen to the sales pitch on the Reserves until you're old enough to live in a nursing home, then they let you go. Get paid a little bit for it, too. Don't see what all the fuss is about.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Asymmetrical Warfare

by 13 Stoploss

Every morning at 5:15, Kevin Farrington gets out of bed to wash the dishes, make breakfast for his wife and daughter, and feed the chickens, ducks, and goats that, along with a 1,200 square foot garden, make up his “backyard homestead”—the source for a large portion of his family’s food supply. With a county population exceeding three million, most busy locals scurry through a daily landscape of freeways, fast food, and office buildings; but on this day, Kevin was planning to till the garden for the next season of crops.

Kevin is not like most Orange County residents; a strong sense of tradition and a desire to preserve life the way it used to be is what motivates him to live a natural, meatless, and consciously simple life. An affinity for antique tools, cars, furniture, and home distilling, among other things, are a way for him to identify with a period of time that has been seemingly washed from the American landscape. It is also a way for Kevin to resist the political and big business forces that promote an agenda of constant consumption, and a too-rapid pace for change.

The Farrington home sits at the front of a one-quarter acre lot in “unincorporated Tustin”—a fancy way of saying not Santa Ana. Kevin’s uncle’s father and grandfather finished construction on the house in 1947 where it was placed along the east side of a ten-acre orange grove not far from the Tustin Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Today, a church and an elementary school separate Kevin’s house from the oldest house in the neighborhood—his parent’s home, built in 1919.

Throughout the neighborhood are several newly constructed, stucco super-mansions, which have been erected on tiny, subdivided lots. In an older looking neighborhood characterized by small custom built houses sitting on large plots of land, these new homes are hard to miss; the absurdity of this juxtaposition is humorously exhibited every evening when Kevin and his wife leash the goats for a walk down the street.

“It wasn’t long after the construction of my house that the area began to grow, and, to our collective detriment, Orange County is now ‘The OC.’”

Inside, Kevin’s home is small and cramped, but from behind handmade drapes, a large, open window allows an orange glow to flood a spacious and cozy living room adorned with custom renovated couches and end tables from the 1950’s. A small, V-2 replica, rocket ship lamp sits on one table, and an “A Christmas Story” inspired female-shaped leg lamp rests atop the other. Along the right wall, collections of old and first edition books fill several wooden bookshelves; in the small dining area to the left of the living room, adjacent to the kitchen, is a refinished, antique dining table that sits neatly between a retro-styled bar and a corner hutch with family stemware and home-blown glass cups and dishes. Even the kitchen, with a retrofit 1950’s Wedgewood Stove, follows the retro pattern, an aesthetic Kevin has long admired.

“I don’t really want to live in the actual past, but I mourn the loss of designs and manufacturing that gave us those things we now see as antiques.”

In the backyard, there is a multitude of hand built fence posts and chicken wire partitions that separate the garden, beehive, duck pond (a large, circular, aluminum trough), and chicken pen from a grassy strip of traditional “backyard” leisure space. Along the rear wall, in the chicken coop, is an “English-styled, pitched-roof, lean-to” that Kevin built for the ten chickens. On the side of the house near the elementary school is a shelter and pen for two pygmy goats, where everyday, children walking home from school peer into Old Man Farrington’s backyard to bleat at the bleating goats. On the other side of the backyard, behind the detached garage and workshop, the garden flourishes with an avocado tree, apricot tree, two navel-orange trees, a blood-orange tree, a nectarine tree, peach tree, plum tree, apple tree, pear tree, and a native grape vine, as well as an ever-changing rotation of tomatoes, potato’s, beets, broccoli, arugula, wild cilantro, corn, onions, squash, beans, and a bell pepper plant.

For the last nine years, this backyard homestead, which started with a few herbs, became Kevin’s increasingly obsessive, but functionally realistic experiment with veganism—the result of a persistent stomach illness, a desire to support small, local, and independent farmers, and a growing revulsion for big business’ unethical treatment of animals for human consumption.

“Any marginally well-adjusted human being cannot watch a slaughterhouse operation without wincing or turning away. It is a natural human behavior to react in such a way to suffering and pain, because what is out of sight is out of mind.

“The vegan thing was progressed into gradually while I was reading about the continued death of American farming. I decided that if I wanted to say I supported family farms, I actually needed to. And after years of not even thinking about it, I could not continue to say I was a Jeffersonian Republican and support the massive corporate welfare of the modern farm bill. It just doesn't make sense in a logical way, to support the small business verbally, while doing everything one can to destroy them with one's dollar vote.”

Behind the avocado tree, a shovel strikes the earth. It slides in, half buried, and pulls out a winters worth of compost and soil. Against the shared perimeter wall, next to Kevin’s only adjacent neighbor, the soil turns up a curiously thick, green beetle—a larval June bug, known locally as a “Japanese Beetle.”

“Take a flat blade shovel and dig down. You’ll see all these tube-like holes—and these larval beetles will poke out and stare up at you. The quantity of these things is staggering, and if I don’t get rid of the ones I see, they’ll eventually eat whatever I plant.”

Again and again, the shovel brings more beetles to light—in just a few minutes of work, over two-dozen are found. Nearby, a small, plastic trashcan lid is lying upside down on the ground. For every beetle he finds, Kevin picks it up and tosses it into the lid. In the sun, the beetles, each roughly the size of a man’s thumb, wriggle helplessly like upturned roly-poly’s. Their undersides are strangely translucent and their muscles squirm with the agony and tension that comes with fright. Some are able to ascend the inner surface of the bowl, but ultimately slip near the rim before sliding back to the bottom—a Sisyphus-like punishment until enough are collected and thrown into the chicken coop. There, the cock puffs up and blitzes toward a victim, and the hens, too, scatter madly for the mid-afternoon treat.

As Kevin yanks back on the cord to start the tiller’s motor, he scampers at the sight of a large, listless tree rat lying belly up in the grass. After a brief visit to the garage, he returns with a pump-action pellet gun and a rusted tin of pellets.

“I’m assuming it was poisoned—you just don’t see them out in the day. It didn’t even move.”

Six point-blank shots later, partly the fault of a malfunctioning and powerless weapon, the rat’s eyes roll back, and the gun is exchanged for a garden spade.

“Ah! I hate this! You know… two or three years ago, I couldn’t have done that.”

In the backyard homestead, Kevin’s moral passion is displayed most earnestly. One simply doesn’t wake up one day and decide to become a vegan or to enact a drastic change in lifestyle. How does a man raised on cream puffs and Pepsi eschew the convenience of modern foods for the rigorous and self-sustaining practice of growing his own?

I have always been resistant and suspicious of change, and that is an elemental earth quality. There's not much more earth bound than horticulture. I remember trying, as best I could, to make a garden and grow stuff when I was maybe seven or eight years old. It was where someone had recently washed out paint, so my mother, who was very irritated with me, promptly said that if anything grew she wouldn't eat it. It's odd, but I really do feel that these qualities, while certainly augmented by skills I've learned in life, were deep in my blood well before I was aware. I think it's a combination of the German farmers and the English aristocrat that makes it up. I have a lot of Welsh in me too, but that's mostly manifested in depression and a love of whiskey.”

After a wet winter, the garden is overrun by wild cilantro; various shapes, sizes, and colors of squash lay forgotten in the sun, and dozens of pimply, near-ripe avocados hang from the bowed branches of an overgrown tree, but the tilling is finished, and exactly when the next round of crops will be planted is unknown. Lately, with schoolwork, and an eight-month young daughter, the garden hasn’t received as much attention as it needs—an obvious thorn in his side—but he makes do, and perhaps in that is an understanding that all can relate to, regardless of whether the work is in the office or in the garden.

“There is not time enough in a day, and I feel the crushing weight of everything I can't do.”

Still Writing

by 13 Stoploss

From "The New University"

What do Campbell’s Vegetable Soup, A-1 Steak Sauce, Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, Mott’s Applesauce, Yoplait Yogurt, Nabisco Wheat Thins, Robitussin Cough Syrup, Heinz Ketchup (and Hunt’s Catchup), PowerBar, Thomas English Muffins, Starbucks Frappuccino, Coca-Cola (and Pepsi-Cola), Stove Top Stuffing, KFC Potato Salad, McDonalds Big Mac (bun), and Subway’s Deli Style Roll, have in common?

Every one of these food products, among the hundreds of others not included in this list, contains a controversial common ingredient: High-fructose corn syrup. As a result of a double-dog-dare by the New U staff, any food or product containing HFCS was off-limits to me for an entire week. Never one to back down from a challenge, I took the bait, but soon realized I might have made a mistake.

To get a better idea of what I was up against, I needed to arm myself with knowledge of what exactly I could and could not have, and, what the big deal was anyway. While it’s absurd to me that Wheat Thins and Subway deli rolls are being artificially sweetened, my initial thought was “So what? Sugar is sugar, right?”


Goodbye morning-ritual specialty coffee, goodbye Monster energy drink, and goodbye evening Coke and Rum. Clearly, the challenge was a bit more difficult than I had imagined.

According to Dr. Katherine Zeratsky of the Mayo Clinic, “High-fructose corn syrup is made by changing the glucose in cornstarch to fructose — another form of sugar. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose.”

At a basic level, refined (processed) sugars are used commercially to sweeten foods and preservatives (unrefined sugars, or natural sugars, are those that are found in fruits, vegetables, and grains). While some sugars are clearly used to fuel our bodies, oftentimes sugar is stored in our bodies for later use. The trouble, for many Americans, is that there is less use and more storage. Dr. Zeratsky stresses that all sugar intake should be moderated more closely, especially for those who are less active.

“Many beverages and other processed foods made with high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Regularly including these products in your diet has the potential to promote obesity — which, in turn, promotes conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease,” Zeratsky said.

Due to tariffs on imported sugar and large government subsidies for American corn farmers (over $40 billion since the early 1990s), HFCS has become the cheapest and most popular sugar substitute in America. Because HFCS has a longer shelf life, and is easier to blend and transport than table sugar, it is virtually unavoidable in most major supermarkets, restaurants, and fast food chains — and that is exactly what makes it so controversial. While fresh market chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are shunning major brands and products that use HFCS, anti-boycott efforts by the Corn Refiners Association have sought to disprove this perception by promoting HFCS as a “natural” and “nutritional equivalent” to honey and table sugar.

Perhaps the lab results are mixed, but I’m not convinced by the CRA’s propaganda. I’m reminded of the classic tobacco ad, “More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” And though the CRA isn’t making an appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam), I take issue in how the abundance of artificially sweetened foods has completely saturated American food products (both Japan and the EU have a manufacturing quota on the use of HFCS). Why in the world is HFCS being used in Vegetable Soup and Wheat Thins? English Muffins and hamburger buns, and Subway deli rolls, too? (Shame on you, Jared!) Is that really necessary?

During spring break, I recommitted myself to working out — not just because pool weather is approaching and I want to bring back the chiseled abs, but also because I wanted to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. I love food as much as the next guy, but functionally, this challenge came at a time when I really needed to be more aware of my diet. If food is fuel for my body, do I really need all the crap I had been eating? Does that food do anything other than satisfy a mouth-watering craving?

In nearly every instance, the answer was no, and no. Although old habits are hard to break, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are actually closer to my home than Albertsons and Vons. For the entire week, I drank fresh-ground, organic coffee — black — and brown-bagged a fresh-cut turkey (no artificially sweetened glaze for flavoring) wheat wrap and assorted HFCS-free snacks for lunch. I didn’t eat out for dinner; instead, I ate fresh, lean meats, and a slew of the finest local and organically grown produce. And the truth is that it was good. But I did have one cheat — BevMo carries Mexican Coca-Cola, which is made with cane sugar, which I drank (with rum). In moderation, of course...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Quit

I quit.

Been thinking about this for a long time now. Dropping school, this blog, and writing altogether. I have nothing else to contribute and I'm tired of whining and playing Army/Stoploss victim. I’ve learned in school—my journalism program, that I don’t have what it takes. I’m not a writer—I just know grammar better than non-writers. Just another bullet in a long list of failures for me.

Thanks for the support and comments over the last two years, but I’m gonna follow my heart this time and focus on my photography and a job offer I’ve been sitting on for a while.

- Jason