Friday, November 11, 2011

Observations of a Veteran

On The American Way of Life
Originally presented as an essay for Memorial Day.

I am a soldier.
I have served overseas and I have seen the enemy.
I have been shot at, and have hidden in a bunker as bombs exploded all around me. I have talked with other soldiers at some length; soldiers who have also been shot at, bombed, and mortared.
Not one of us was ignorant of the American way of life when we enlisted. We all know about backyard barbecues, where people gather to drink cheap beer and eat disgusting hot-dogs and hamburgers that may actually contain real meat... Possibly.
We know about the commercialization, where shopping has become more important than honoring dead soldiers. (Or a living Savior.)
We know about American Idol, which people find more important than paying respect to - or even thinking about - those who have fallen in battle.
We are fully aware of the ungrateful, the disrespectful, and the actively hateful people who have no interest in or respect for what we do.
And yet, we still do what we do.
So why do we do it?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
We do it so that people can have backyard barbecues with bad hot-dogs, good shopping, and yes, even American Idol.
We fight so that people can live the lives they choose without fear that somebody is going to tear them from their homes in the middle of the night - or as happens all too often in parts of the world, in broad daylight. We fight so that children never have to think about the evils that men can visit upon each other. We do it so that people can have their toys and their beer, and can say whatever they want, without worrying that someone will come along one day, waving their AK-47s, and take away everything they have worked all their lives to attain. This still happens in many parts of the world, and we fight to keep it from happening to our own people.
Many people complain that by participating in these very American activities - shopping, watching TV, barbecuing, and so on - that people are somehow dishonoring or cheapening the memory of those who have fought so hard to make this life possible for them.
I disagree.
I believe that every time an American buys a cheap toy for his child, every time he pushes the button on the remote control of his 60" plasma TV, and every time he buys a beer at a NASCAR race, he is honoring those dead soldiers by taking advantage of the opportunities that they have spent so much of their blood to win for him.
Any parent who has worked to give his child a better life than he has had can understand this. The parent struggles and sacrifices so that the child will never have to know struggle and sacrifice. The parent takes some pride and satisfaction when he sees that his child has it easier than he ever did.
Why would it be any different for a soldier?
Many people make a lot of fuss and bother about how modest and humble soldiers seem. "The quiet professional" is considered quite a compliment.
But look at it from our point of view:
We do our job for the purpose of preserving what we already know. It was our way of life long before we decided to go out and defend it. We know what we are buying with our blood and sweat. When we come home and see how Americans behave, we take a certain quiet satisfaction in knowing that we helped keep people free to enjoy the beach on a saturday afternoon, or pay too much for cotton candy at a carnival in the park.
This is especially true when we have been to places where such things could never happen; Places like Afghanistan, where religious fanatics sweep through town and demand either your money or your children to fight their battles, and if you refuse, they kill you and take your money and your children anyway.
In places like this, there is no money to support NASCAR races or carnivals in the park, because warlords sweep in wherever there is any prosperity and take all of the wealth for themselves. In places like this, people have no time to go to the beach because they are constantly working to produce enough food to keep themselves alive. Often, after they have produced that food, somebody will come along and take it from them. For most of these people, there is no hope for a 60" TV, a nice car, or decent medical care.
Soldiers who have been there have seen this for ourselves, and when we get home, we know just how good the average American has it.
I am not proposing that we stop rendering honors to those who have fallen in battle; Indeed, we should honor them more often than we usually do.
What I am proposing in this essay is that it is not any form of dishonor to their memory when we enjoy the the things that make us so uniquely American. Do not worry that people go shopping on Memorial Day, or get a little crazy on the 4th of July.
These are the things which make us American, and it is for these things that we willingly offer our time, and occasionally, our lives.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Please Stop Screwing Up My Language

The English language is a precision instrument, much like a surgeon's scalpel. Many have used it to great effect: Poe, Dickens, Twain, Agatha Christie, Steven King, J. K. Rowling, and many others use exactly the right words to get exactly the right meaning across to their readers.

As with any tool, practice makes perfect. You can't even get the best use out of a hoe until you actually use it and learn its peculiarities. With a tool that has as many moving pieces as the English language, you can expect to spend a lifetime mastering it. Even learning to use it well takes a lot more time and effort than many people are willing to give.

What I find amazing is that many people who are handed this amazing tool actively refuse to learn its proper use. While some use it well, others try to use this surgeon's scalpel as a machete, or worse, a sledgehammer. Consider the numerous so-called modern "musicians."

Shakespeare wrote: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
[insert name of rap "artist"] wrote: "Smack up some bitches and hos, yo."
Or the average teenager: "Hey I want 2 cum ovr their 2 c u it's definately ben to long"

This is why some literature is "great," and most of the stuff cranked out nowadays is "shit."
Comparing them is much like comparing a live Mozart symphony to something that came out of a Gameboy, or perhaps a center cut of prime rib to a Big Mac.
Teenage texting language is more like the difference between the Mozart and a guy making fart noises in his armpit. When we see this, those of us who love the language start plotting how to slip poison into the Big Mac sauce.

Is it any wonder that people who live in poverty are usually the very ones who have refused to learn the proper use of the most effective tool that mankind has ever created?
It is certainly not politically correct to say this, but the tool that they have so cheerfully abandoned to rust away in the overgrown fields of their minds is the very tool that would have lifted them out of their poverty, both social and financial. In other words, the blame for most poverty lands squarely on the shoulders of the impoverished. They seem to prefer the Big Mac, because getting the prime rib requires that they, like, work, and stuff.

There is hope, though. Even as neglected and dilapidated as it is, this tool can be restored, and it can start benefitting even the most culturally impoverished person, any time he decides to clean it up and learn how to use it properly. The longer it is neglected, the longer it will take to clear out the weeds, but the rewards are worth the effort.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


There is probably nothing more disturbing to a driver than the realization that despite everything your antilock brakes can do, it is not quite going to be enough.

On a related note, why is the rear end of a car built like a fortress, and the front end like an eggshell? I ran into a Kia, and there is a small dent in her bumper. My Mercedes' whole front end is smashed. The hood is wrinkled, the grille crumbled into hundreds of pieces, the light lenses and brackets are destroyed, the radiator got pushed into the fan... only the fenders and the directional lights were undamaged.
I understand the whole idea of energy-absorbing construction, but why does it have to absorb that much energy from a 10 MPH collision?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Movie Night

The wife and I went out to see "The Help" last night.

This is one of those movies that takes some contemplation to understand.
On the surface, it is a comedy/drama that will make you laugh and cry.
On a deeper level, most modern Americans will also experience a sense of disgust at the institutionalized repression of blacks in the early '60's South.
The movie does a great job in sharing with its audience the atmosphere of a culture which demands, by law, that black people be treated as second class citizens. It shows that even white people were trapped by this evil; Even those who hated the system had very little ability to live by their own conscience. The people who loved the system would destroy them if they tried to change anything, just to keep their hateful system alive.
Such a system is, thankfully, difficult for most Americans to imagine. It is good for us to have such a reminder.

I have heard the criticisms of this movie: Shallow. Heavy-handed. Schmaltz.
Maybe all of these are valid.
Who cares?
It was a good movie on many levels. I liked the attention that was paid to the appearance of historical accuracy. The costumes, hairstyles, cars, buildings, and so on.
The acting was great. The characters were believable and had distinct personalities.
The relationships between the characters were meaningful. It is surprising how few movies achieve this, and without this quality, this movie would have been a complete waste of time. Instead, this movie nailed it, and that makes it one of the best movies I've seen in years.
And finally, I believe that America has left this kind of institutionalized bigotry in its past, except for small pockets of the lunatic fringe here and there, but movies like this are a great way to teach new generations about what has been, and what can be again if we do not guard ourselves against it.

So in short, it may not be an all-time classic, destined for greatness, but it is a very good movie, and I would recommend it to anybody.

As a side note: Yes, I really do believe that America has left this shameful practice in our past. There are people who make a lot of money and gain a lot of power from fighting this system, so it is not hard to see why they keep screaming that institutionalized bigotry is as bad as ever. If they ever admitted that America has evolved away from it, they would have to go out and find a real job.

Getting Started

I've only ever done one blog before now, and that was on MySpace - which should indicate how long it's been!

I'm a procrastinator by nature, but now and then, I get a burst of creative energy. Typically it passes after a couple minutes.
At the moment, though, I have remembered wanting to make a blog, and I am at the computer, so here we go.


One final word of warning - I plan to leave thoughts lying around here; step in them at your own risk.