Saturday, September 24, 2016
Healthcare in America has been a public and political obsession for quite a few years now. Its availability and cost rarely go unmentioned on evening newscasts. The rising cost of ACA/ObamaCare was fodder for the recent political party debates and will continue to be for the candidates in the general election.
But there is and has been free diagnostic care available to most any able-bodied citizen, and I’m letting you readers in on it now. All you have to do is get involved with charitable organizations that require a certification of your good health. Here’s an example:
· Donate Blood at the Red Cross:
The first thing you get is a blood pressure reading. This is a huge indicator of overall health. Next, you get a measure of the iron in your blood which could indicate anemia. Your pulse is measured, since an elevated heart rate can indicate a variety of health issues. Once your blood is taken, it is lab tested for a host of things to include your blood type, e.g. A positive, O negative, etc., Hepatitis B and C, red blood antibodies that can indicate pregnancy, TB, HIV, Syphilis and other venereal diseases, antibodies that can indicate infection or the virus that causes a form of Leukemia. The Zika virus has recently been added to the list of infections for which donated blood is tested. If an infectious disease is discovered in your blood, you’re contacted by letter or phone and offered a chance to receive professional medical counseling. How’s that for free? All you need to do is donate a pint of blood, and you can do it every two months.
· Volunteer at a Veterans Administration Hospital in a patient-contact capacity:
I’m a volunteer driver at our local VA hospital, and my gig puts me in contact with veterans coming in for or going home from their appointments. Drivers are provided a free annual physical, and that physical includes blood work, blood pressure, TB, urinalysis, hernia, physical mobility, reflexes, sight and hearing. Recently, I was offered (and accepted) a Hepatitis B shot series and got an ‘immunity’ result afterwards. As a vet myself, I’m hounded to get their free flu shot. Don’t want to drive? There are several other patient-contact volunteer gigs in the hospital facility.
· Find a Clinical Trial to participate in:
As a guy with fair, sun damaged skin, I’ve participated in a half-dozen Clinical Trials involving topical ointments. Trials will differ in the variables required of volunteers, but I’ve routinely had my blood pressure checked, blood work performed, urinalysis and even EKGs. Icing on the cake is that I’m paid for each Trial for my mileage and time, often several hundred dollars. Since each drug is in ‘Trial’ phase, one might receive the actual drug or, rather, a placebo that has no medicinal effect. That is, of course, how the drug company determines the drug’s efficacy. If one does get the actual drug, then there’s a ‘treatment’ benefit as well.
Our society offers free (or nearly so) health programs for older people, e.g. Medicare, and for low income folks, e.g. Medicaid, CHIP, etc., so it’s unrealistic to expect people in these circumstances to pursue such avenues for care. Working, mid-career adults most often have employee health plans. So, the people who should be exploring just these sorts of opportunities are the students or under-employed and/or part-time ‘Millennial’ young adults who had been expected to sign up for the ACA/ObamaCare but refused to do so. Collectively referred to as “Young Invincibles”, since they believe their youthful vitality gives them immunity to illness, they have the time and energy to take advantage of one or more sources of free care. Indeed, since each option I listed is heavy on tests that look for problems rather than treating ones that are discovered, they allow an opportunistic approach wherein a person delays ACA participation until a problem is discovered.
So, if you have a son or daughter of that ‘Invincible’ generation and are pulling your hair out over their cavalier attitude towards expensive health insurance, maybe suggest they start giving Red Cross blood donations regularly. While such a ‘mini-physical’ every couple of months may not motivate them, ask them to consider the benefit that their ‘Invincible’ blood will provide for adults and children whose health is less robust.
VA Hospitals are located in most large cities, and they maintain websites for volunteer opportunities, for example:
Though volunteering has rewards for any generation, it’s older, retired folks who most often have the time and inclination to do so. However, for Millennials, whose political focus on social welfare issues is well documented, finding four or five hours a week to help out at a VA hospital could be a hugely enlightening and informative experience. Each shift would, indeed, be a free history lesson as they hear first-hand the unfathomable tales of men and women who lived in an America the younger generation will have a hard time believing ever existed. Receiving, for themselves, some free diagnostic health information will seem trivial by comparison with those ‘lessons’.
Clinical Trials can be found in local media and on a government website:
The time and duration of such trials may be an impediment for many people, but the free medical diagnostic tests and financial reimbursements provided can more than make up for the inconvenience. Moreover, for younger professionals in the healthcare or related industries, to participate in the ‘business’ of medicine, to actually see and participate in the creation of a new drug, might foster a career-directional epiphany of immense value.
Free medical care was the focus of this posting, but we all know that nothing is truly without cost. The organizations involved incur large expenses for the examinations and tests provided. But as non-profit or governmental organizations (Red Cross, VA), our society as a whole ponies up the money. The costs of Clinical Trials conducted by for-profit drug companies will be factored into the cost of new drugs, and those costs are borne by the consumer. Blood donors, volunteers and Trial participants are paying with time, inconvenience or, literally, their blood. Thus, a young citizen who receives, as a benefit of serving his or her community, a clean bill of health, might gain a new perspective on ‘Entitlements’, and learn the economic lesson that something valuable that’s given away, will always be in short supply.
September 23, 2016
Saturday, September 3, 2016
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighting advances in DNA analysis triggered a memory for me of an idea (widely held) I’ve had about using DNA technology to bring families back together. Somehow, some way, our society needs to bring motivated men back into contact with children that they’ve voluntarily abandoned or from which they’ve been involuntarily driven or, as important, that they didn’t know they’d fathered. The DNA match program I envision would include men who want to establish their biological relationship with children they know or suspect they’ve fathered and/or who’d like to find children they didn’t know they had. That some mothers aren’t sure of or don’t know the fathers of their children is just a fact of life, and that fact makes a DNA match program all the more worthwhile.
Everyone who follows the news is aware of the gun carnage in many inner cities (425 deaths year-to-date in Chicago), intractable poverty, low rates of employment, low graduation rates, and, in general, a pall of despair hanging over such communities. It has been argued that high rates of out-of-wedlock births that create thousands of boys and girls growing up in fatherless homes plays a huge role in the aforementioned problems. So, it is reasonable to believe that a program to reunite biological fathers with their offspring in high crime areas (initially) might have a positive effect on family behavioral patterns. The “Alpha-male” is a scientific fact.
Recent statistics show 73% of black kids are born of single mothers. Whites are at 29%, Hispanics at 53% and even Native Americans are at 66%. Not all of these kids live in dysfunctional households, but crime statistics dictate that many do. Thus, a young woman struggles to raise her children, often on Public Assistance, in neighborhoods populated by other women in similar circumstances, and eventually this matriarchal sub-society becomes the multi-generational ‘normal’. Men are hanging around to be sure. But the matriarchal sub-society keeps them marginalized at arm’s length for perverse economic necessity. As those kids reach adolescence, the mother/grandmother/aunt often loses control of them, and disaster looms as the kids gravitate to gangs for a sense of belonging, camaraderie and the gang’s own perverted role as disciplinarian.
Arguments against the choices women make, e.g. having babies without marriage or, indeed, any substantive relationship with the father(s), are attacked, if the mother is a minority, as politically incorrect at best, racism at worst, thus ensuring that the trend continues. So the cycle of poverty, violence and hopelessness moves along decade after decade with those Americans caught up in that cycle effectively playing no productive role in our overall society. Rarely mentioned, again due to political correctness, is the eroding of our broader culture as the pathological manifestations emanating from such dysfunction spreads into it.
Would the reintroduction of the biological father to a child’s life be a net positive, and why would a guy want to suddenly discover he has one or more children, possibly with one or more women? Because a lot of the men who have fathered those children feel regret, some don’t have much going on in their lives, don’t have much to take pride in or be proud of and, frankly, are getting older and would like to have an opportunity to have a real ‘family’ experience before it’s too late to do so. Sadly, some of the fathers might be incarcerated. Likewise, a father might find out a son or daughter is incarcerated. No matter, in my view. The reestablishment of ‘blood’ presents an opportunity for a brighter or more substantive future. Let the chips fall where they may.
Why would a child of one of these absent fathers want him back into their life to any degree, large or small? How about someone to look up to, someone who’s looking out for them, normal human curiosity, filling a void, wanting a grandfather around for their own children, wanting to fill that empty seat at the Christmas Dinner table. The reasons one has to search out a son or daughter or father are highly subjective. But consider the effort so many adopted children expend to find birth parents. Who’s to say that such desire wouldn’t exist among other fatherless children?
Some of the mothers would balk at a father suddenly appearing for their minor children. Others might leap at a chance to introduce a father-figure to an unruly son or daughter. However, many potential reunions would be between adult children and their fathers, outside the control of a possibly resentful mother. That’s a ‘family’ dynamic that will have to work itself out as the new relationships evolve.
Skeptics might say that only ne’re-do-well fathers would seek matches with children in hopes of reaping financial gain from them or their mothers. Conversely, the kids/mothers might hope to gain financially from their emergent fathers. Both scenarios could happen, but so what? Maybe some lives will be enriched literally as well as figuratively. But reality will set in quickly as it always does, and the substance or lack thereof of the new relationships will depend on the individuals involved.
How does a DNA match program get going? Advertise the free service that allows anyone to voluntarily enter a DNA database with the intent to be cross-matched with unknown/missing family members. Set up pilot programs in several target cities using ‘faith-based’ organization volunteers (the LDS Church/Mormons would be my first call). Storefronts with nurses taking cotton swab samples from the interior cheek surfaces of participants or opening and labeling mailed-in samples is all we’re talking about. The criminal justice system should have no reason to impede an inmate’s participation by mail. Lab services will be donated or discounted. DNA match results would be mailed or emailed simultaneously to parents and children or their guardians. At that point it’s up to those individuals to decide what to do next, but they’d be highly encouraged to move forward to a physical get-together. Such first meetings might be worthy of a reality TV series. Who knows? Maybe the Discovery Channel would fund the entire program for the ‘exclusive’ production rights.
The database must be separate and firewalled from the databases maintained by many state criminal justice systems for the obvious issue of personal privacy. The Wall Street Journal article mentioned above was in regards to solving ‘cold’ criminal cases. The program would collapse if participants even thought that their data would be shared. Once the intended matches are effected, the data would be destroyed.
Naïvely but hopefully, I envision, several years hence, that many urban communities will see plummeting out-of-wedlock births, kids staying in school to graduate, crime rates falling to historic lows and dads saying goodbye to wives and kids at the front door as they head off to work. That will necessitate vast improvement in local job opportunities and, equally important, a concomitant reconsideration of the myriad social welfare programs that made dads superfluous to being with. Good luck with that.
September 3, 2016
Sunday, June 26, 2016
On this 66th anniversary of North Korea’s ignominious invasion of South Korea, June 25th 1950, I’m suggesting a political solution for the intractable conflict between North Korea and the rest of the world. My solution taps into an aspect of pan-Asian culture that is little known and less understood in the Western World.
For shear volatility, nothing, even Radical Islamic Terrorism, can compare with a lunatic leader, Kim Jong-un, flaunting his missiles and nuclear weapons in the face of the civilized world. Something new and different needs to be tried before an error in his technology or judgement triggers another war on that peninsula.
I’ve never heard or read anything about a negotiation approach being employed in dealing with Kim that, to me, seems simple and guaranteed to be successful in at least reducing tensions in the short run, and perhaps changing the entire course of history in that part of the world. It starts with Air Force One landing in Pyongyang bringing a new US President on an official visit to the world’s most unfathomable leader. The President will be bringing along an outline for a paradigm shift in North Korean history that requires presentation by the World’s most powerful leader in order to force Kim to take it seriously. Once the doors to Kim’s conference room are closed, the President stands up and says:
“Mr. Chairman, we are here to offer you an opportunity to cement your place in history. We wish to make you the Father of Modern North Korea. The operative word is ‘Modern’, and here’s what we propose……….”
Those who study the history of International Communism and the nations and leaders who’ve succumbed to that palsied ideology can agree on one commonality, and that is the wish of each leader to be venerated, often to god-like levels. Note the massive portrait of Mao Zedong that looms over crowds at Tiananmen Square in Beijing with (best guess) dimensions of 50’ by 30’ and a weight of 1.5 tons. Go back to early 20th Century Russia and one will see giant portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin and Stalin paraded through Red Square on May Day. Though Marx and Engels would have been appalled at such displays, Lenin and Stalin reveled in such egotistical ostentation. The portraits are paraded in Pyongyang as well, but add to that the mausoleum for Kim IL-sung and his son Kim Jong-il which was built while their people starved.
Time takes a toll on the reputations of such leaders, e.g. Stalin’s body was removed from its place of honor in the Kremlin Wall, Lenin’s Tomb no longer has an honor guard, and their name-sake cities have long-since been renamed. Leaders of other Soviet-era Warsaw Pact regimes demanded demigod status and have similarly been dumped in history’s trash bin. The President’s strategy with Kim Jung-un is to plant the seed that the Pyongyang mausoleum will one day be Kim’s alone and, most importantly, that his place in North Korean history will not be fleeting.
The 1945 Yalta Conference of the soon-to-be-victorious Allies divided the Korean Peninsula at the 38th Parallel, presenting the Soviets control of the North as a reward for belatedly going to war with Japan. A puppet dictator, Kim IL-sung, was soon installed. The South was under American protection, and we all know the tragedy that soon followed in 1950 through 1953. Kim IL-sung remained dictator until his death in 1994, when his son Kim Jong-il took over. By then, it had to be obvious to the new dictator that the two Korean societies were progressing at diametrically opposite rates. He had to be aware of the prosperity and economic power that was flowering below the Parallel. Yet he dug in his heels and set the stage for the North’s societal atrophy. He and his cronies lived comfortable lives, and for the millions in his charge he cared not at all.
The point is, the negotiation strategy I envision would not have worked with either of the first two Kims. I suspect neither was a deep thinker; indeed, both may have been functional illiterates. They each in turn ate, drank, conspired and murdered until their bodies and brains wore out and they died. Too harsh? We can only look at the results of their governance and guess where their energies were focused.
Kim Jong-un may not yet be beyond reach and repair. He is young, ruthless and, by virtue of his apparent success at consolidating power, of at least average intelligence. One must assume he spends hours on the Web marveling at what goes on in the ‘real’ world while he floats in the cesspool of human despair and decay created by his predecessors. But what can he do? He is a prisoner of his own dictatorship. Weakness will get him overthrown and killed by one of his scheming generals. However, he and those scheming generals all have a few ‘wants’ in common. First is their own personal safety, life itself. Second is their own personal power, the basis of their safety. But there’s something else that each wants, indeed needs, desperately, and that’s to be revered and remembered as great men.
Kim has the unprecedented opportunity to take his place in history in general and Korean history in particular as the ‘Father of Modern North Korea’. In a society that venerates its ancestors, he’d be at the pinnacle of veneration. Imagine how that exalted status would resonate with such a young man who has always lived in his grandfather’s and father’s collective shadows. That will not change unless he finds a way to transcend those mythic figures, at least in the muddled minds of his captive population. So far, he seems fixated on establishing his bona-fides by building a nuclear capability with which to threaten the rest of the world. Even his one ally, China, is disturbed by this activity. To invade South Korea would generate a monumental blood bath that he knows he won’t survive. Not much of a legacy, to be sure.
Now is the time for the American President to approach Kim and offer him, literally, the adoration of millions of people. His enslaved citizens could immediately see substantive improvements in their daily lives. Kim can set the stage, start the process and begin reaping the worldly rewards as a proverbial prophet/savior without having to be martyred beforehand.
A Consortium of established democracies and Mideast Oil oligarchs will be his negotiating partner after the President breaks the ice. In the first official visit, the Consortium will offer a stunning array of financial incentives for both Kim and his cronies. Assuming the negotiations move steadily forward, they’ll be given periodic rewards with more to follow as progress continues.
De-militarization and de-nuclearization are the first and foremost negotiation items. So, first on the agenda would be a methodical draw-down of his huge Army. After setting a size for a standing army at parity with that of South Korea, the rest of his soldiers would go home until they are presented with and allowed to select from a myriad of paths for future labor. A further quid pro quo to build trust would be a withdrawal of US troops from the South.
What would his hundreds of thousands of former-soldiers do without their constant preparations for war? Initially, they’ll be able to build or improve their family homes with basic construction materials provided by the Consortium. Next, they’ll have an entire country to rebuild to include construction and upgrade of roads, bridges, ports, farms, an electrical grid, hospitals and clinics and, very importantly, a cellular and wireless network. A new banking system with the ability to finance consumer debt and home loans would need to come on line as the population begins to enter the workforce. Motorola and Apple will be happy to provide dirt cheap smart phones for these new consumers. Electric cars and scooters sold by Kia and powered up on the new electrical grid will fill the new roads, driven by the former soldiers now joy riding with their wives or girlfriends. Immediate cross-border social and commercial intercourse with the South would be encouraged. Women will be emancipated and educated as a national priority since their energy and enterprise will ensure that the men remain family focused.
Kim would evolve into a consummate politician, traveling around his beleaguered countryside as it begins to emerge from the Middle-ages. He’d cut ribbons for new roads, attend harvest festivals for newly productive farms, flip the switch on new cell systems, and on and on. He’d be welcomed with true warmth and gratitude for the first time in his life. Hopefully he’d be ashamed of his previous visits where his sycophants and ordinary citizens were beaten and threatened into perfunctory shows of love and respect.
Where’s the money come from for all this? Consortium member countries will provide grants, loans and foreign aid in return for exclusive ‘Pay to Play’ trade access to 25 million consumers for decades to come. That’s 25 million people who have never experienced a single quality consumer good from toilet paper to televisions. In other words, the participating Consortium countries would sell into the one remaining economic blank slate left in the world. The UN could be utilized to monitor the trade agreements and make sure non-contributors are kept away from the North Korean marketplace.
I will end this posting now since the topic simply begs for more and more detail and elaboration that is inappropriate in such a forum. I maintain, however, that no representative of any nation has approached Kim Jong-un since he’s gained power and asked him about what his legacy might be and what he would think of the title, ‘Father of Modern North Korea’.
June 25, 2016
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Last Saturday was Armed Forces Day, a non-Federal holiday that generally has the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard opening up their various posts and bases for visits by the general public. I’d not have known about it except for an email reminder from the Veterans Administration. This Day is, of course, overshadowed by next week’s Memorial Day and November’s Veterans Day.
As a veteran and lover of history in general and American history in particular, each of these military-oriented holidays serves as a reminder of the thousands of stories that are held in the memories of current and former military members, and that these stories are gone forever each time one of these guys or gals passes away.
I’ve been a volunteer driver at our local VA Hospital for several years now, and can personally attest not only to the volume of stories that go untold, but also of the sheer pricelessness of many of them. My morning routine is to pick up the vets at home and take them to the hospital or one of the VA’s outpatient clinics. Then in the afternoon, take them back home. Some we see only once, but many are what we call ‘frequent flyers’ who we see repeatedly for trips into clinics for chemo, psych-treatments or a variety of chronic illnesses.
Generally, I break the ice with new riders by asking what military branch they served in, what time-frame, then maybe, “Did you get to go anywhere fun?” Almost without fail, my passengers, male and female, will provide me with enough general information from which I can start a conversation, get them talking and, typically, make a long rush-hour drive an entertaining and enlightening experience. Some have direct and hair-raising combat experiences, others didn’t see combat or even leave the US. But the stories can run the gamut from terrifying, to heartbreaking, to hysterically funny, to dull as watching paint dry. Regardless, I take pride in my ‘skill’ at bringing stories out of people who, quite often, would not share such information with anyone else, except maybe those who went through the experience with them. I’ve asked, “Does your wife know about that?” Answer: “No, she already thinks I’m crazy.” Or, “Have you told your (adult) kids about what happened to you?” Answer: “No, they don’t care about those old stories.”
Sometimes I encourage them to write their stories down for family or posterity. But few are motivated to do so. However, one old gentleman told me of witnessing the World War II episode where American and Russian troops first linked up at the Elbe River, having thus cut Nazi Germany in half. I asked if he’d written down the story. “Yes.” he said. “Would you like to read it?” I did and, with his permission, I forwarded that story and some others he’d provided to the Army Heritage Center Foundation where they are catalogued and entered into a database.
Here’s an example of the stories I’ve heard:
· A paratrooper who got hung up outside the door of the aircraft he just jumped from. Dangling from his static line and barely conscious, he’s unaware that the pilot has decided to have the runway ‘foamed’ with fire retardant so, at touchdown, the paratrooper will have a ‘lubricated’ landing. He survived being dragged down the runway at 100 mph until the plane could brake to a stop.
· An Army cook whose small unit was captured by North Koreans. As that cook and his buddies were being herded together for execution, they were rescued by American troops who had landed days before at Inchon.
· An Air Force ‘PJ’ whose helicopter was shot down while landing to rescue a downed pilot in North Vietnam. He was captured and put in a bamboo cage by the North Vietnamese and used as bait to attract more American rescuers. The pilot they’d originally come to rescue remained in hiding and in communication with another PJ team. That team came in with guns blazing, destroyed the North Vietnamese captors, and rescued both the downed pilot and the captured PJ. Unfortunately, the PJ was wounded by the attacking American rescuers but survived to tell me the story.
· A 1950s Army enlistee whose entire company (180 men) was given LSD via a Kool Aid-style beverage, then monitored for several months to see how they reacted. He continues to suffer episodic flashbacks 50 years later.
· A Special Forces officer escorting two Air Force officers that were assessing the repairability of an air strip near a remote Vietnam mountain camp. Since the washed out strip was unusable for aircraft landings, it became a resupply drop zone for pallets of rice, pumpkins and even cows and pigs that were parachuted from cargo planes. While the three men were inspecting the air strip, an Air Force C-7A ‘Caribou’ cargo plane began its approach to drop several pallets stacked with 100 pound bags of rice. As the men watched, the plane raised its nose and the pallets of rice slid out the rear of the plane. Unfortunately, none of the parachutes that were rigged to deploy as the pallets exited the plane did so, and thousands of pounds of rice now hurtled towards the ground and the three transfixed Americans. Each man separately gauged the trajectory of the pallets and his own direction of escape. With seconds to spare, the men bolted out of the way. The pallets and rice bags exploded on impact only feet away from the men and sent gravel, wood fragments and thousands of high velocity rice grains in every direction. Many hit the men with enough force to draw blood.
OK, that last true story was mine. But you get the point. You can’t make this stuff up, and if it isn’t recorded, it’s lost forever.
So, for those readers who have relatives or friends that served in the military, next time there’s an opportunity, please ask them to tell you a story, any story that was particularly memorable during their service. If it’s an amazing story, ask them if they’d write it down or if you can take notes so it can be shared someday. They’ll probably be reluctant because that’s human nature. But tell them it’s just another chance for them to serve their country. And if you’re a former service member, give it some thought and record your own stories. It’s surprisingly fulfilling and even therapeutic in some cases. You never know. One anecdote just might lead to the next Great American Novel.
May 24, 2016
Saturday, April 2, 2016
FEEL THE 'BIRD'
A week or so ago, Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders visited Portland, Oregon and spoke to a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters at the ‘Moda Center’, home of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. As Bernie addressed his thousands of fans, a tiny bird zoomed through the vast stadium, then dive-bombed down and landed on some equipment near Bernie’s podium, of course drawing the Candidate’s and the crowd’s attention. A few seconds later it flew up and perched right on the podium. For several entertaining moments, a grinning Bernie and the bird eyeballed each other to the delight of the crowd. Finally, the bird departed into the cavernous stadium, and Bernie, obviously enjoying the comical distraction, expressed that the event could be considered symbolic; indeed, that the wren or sparrow was actually a dove in search of world peace. The crowd roared its approval. Who knows? Maybe it was.
It brought to mind a funny experience of a few years ago at Denver International Airport. I’d been in Denver on business and was sitting in the boarding area of my flight home pounding on my laptop. A minor commotion had broken out at the ticket counter that was causing laughter, squeals and people ducking and dodging. As I watched, a tiny bird could be seen flying around the airline staff and customers near the counter. The bird was confused, if not panic-stricken, and seemed incapable of simply leaving the area. For some reason, I had an odd feeling of connectedness with that bird. I cannot explain it other than that I had an urge to intervene on the bird’s behalf. I closed my laptop and stood up, intending to head to the counter to see what assistance I could offer. However, the bird had found a perch well above the heads of the gathered travelers and I assumed the episode was over.
Twenty minutes later boarding began, and I soon took my window seat about midway down on the right side. After, I’d guess, a third of the passengers had filed in and found their seats, yet another commotion broke out at the front of the aircraft. As had happened earlier at the ticket counter, people were squealing and dodging as a bird fluttered around their heads. The same critter had stayed in the area near the ticket counter and then actually flew down the jet way and into the plane. After a few moments things seemed to calm down, but then a flight attendant got on the PA system to announce that 1. our plane had an unwelcome invader, and 2. our plane could not take off for Portland until said invader was caught and dispensed with. Groans arose from the travelers, not in sympathy for the bird, but because Flight Attendant ‘Ratched’ (recall the nurse of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) said our flight might be delayed.
I fully expected the drama to be concluded at the front of the plane quickly, but decided to unbuckle my seat belt, stand up and stretch in the aisle. Suddenly there were more squeals and dipping heads up front as the fugitive critter once again took flight. However, this time it was flying right down the middle of the aisle towards the rear of the plane. In three or four seconds, the bird arrived at my seat row and I reached out with my right hand and snagged it into my fist. You’d have had to be there to believe it, but I got a cheer and ovation from the other passengers who now knew their flight would depart on time.
Being careful not to injure the bird, I opened my fist to see how it was doing. Obviously, the poor thing was terrified, but it was alive and squirming for its freedom. But now, Flight Attendant ‘Ratched’ was coming down the aisle towards me and holding open one of those flimsy airline blankets. She instructed me to put my hand with the bird into a pouch she’d created in the fabric and deposit the bird inside. I followed her instructions and withdrew my bird-free hand. I said something like, “Don’t smash him.”, but she did an about-face and headed back towards the jet way with her captive. I hoped that she opened the jet way door, shook the blanket and freed the bird, but I’ll never know. Her level of irritation with the bird was probably the result of an exhausting work day now made preposterous by something that, under less stressful circumstances, would qualify as slap-stick comedy.
But that still leaves my aforementioned feeling of connectedness with the bird at the beginning of its sojourn into Southwest Airlines history. In a matter of 30 minutes, a human sees (or feels) a small critter’s distress, is then separated by several hundred feet of jet way and aircraft, and then ends up with the critter flying into his outstretched hand. Unlike Bernie’s friend, my bird wasn’t conveying a desire for world peace, but maybe somehow it did have the innate ability to scan a crowd of other ‘critters’ and determine that one of those was its best chance to escape from the terrors of DIA. Anyway, someday I’d like to have a beer with Bernie and get his thoughts on it. If he gets elected, I think that discussion is worthy of the Oval Office, and Flight Attendant ‘Ratched’ ain’t invited.
March 31, 2016
Sunday, February 21, 2016
There have been, lately, numerous examinations of and articles about the suicide epidemic among Native American (NA) young people on their Reservations. The hopelessness created by Reservation poverty and its accompanying drug and alcohol abuse are the root cause of these deaths. Efforts to deal with the crisis have met with limited success, and something drastic, new and different needs to be tried.
In a previous Blog post (An American ‘Foreign Legion’?), I suggested a military-related partial remedy for urban gun deaths growing out of the drug/gang/gun culture so prevalent in large cities. I have another ‘military’ option to suggest as a partial remedy for the NA suicide problem. This program (let’s call it FA for ‘First Americans’), like the ‘Legion’, would physically remove the young people at risk from the environment generating their despair. But, unlike the color-blind ‘Legion’, this one would be purely for Native American youth, male and female. Why? Because NAs have chosen to retain their Reservations and resist amalgamation into greater American society and culture. They have voluntarily chosen to maintain tribal separation and cohesion, regardless of the social, cultural and financial costs. The ‘First Americans’ program merely builds upon the NA’s wish to maintain unique identity.
The suggestion borrows from a time-honored program of the British Army; that being its inclusion for over 100 years of a Regiment of Nepalese soldiers known as ‘Gurkhas’. While the story of the Gurkhas is fascinating, for the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that a racial and cultural subgroup can work with great effectiveness in concert with a more traditional organization.
So, I propose forming a modified US Army Infantry ‘Brigade’ of around 3500 members made up solely of NA men from established tribes, most of whom reside on Reservations. Non-combat support functions would be performed by both male and female NAs, thus giving women a place in the extended unit. Forget how Politically Incorrect this concept is (at this writing, February 2016, ‘PC’ may be losing its grip on our society), and remember that the foundation of such a unit is the NA’s own wish to retain separate cultural identity. Any NA wishing to join the US military as a regular recruit would still be able to do so.
Initially, a special training facility would be established to deal with the special needs of the first batches of recruits, e.g. to assess deficits in physical ability, overall health and learning skills and identify cultural stresses that require special focus in the training regimen. Over time, however, the NAs would, as they do now, train as usual with non-NA enlistees, at Ft. Benning, Georgia’s Infantry training facility. Upon completion, they’d head to the ‘First Americans’ Brigade.
‘Warrior Societies’ have been part of NA culture at least as far back as their tribal oral traditions go. Such societies truly flourished when the plains tribes became horse-mounted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Cheyenne had ‘Dog Soldiers’, the Sioux their ‘Strong Hearts’, etc. and membership in such ‘fraternities’ was hugely important to the tribe’s young men, giving them status and a pathway to tribal leadership. Fast forward to our 21st Century crisis on Native American reservations where a sense of ‘belonging’ is sadly lacking and nothing seems to be on the horizon to reduce the scale of the tragedy.
NA populations are as diverse as their histories, and blending, for instance, Sioux and Crow, Navaho and Hopi, etc. might not be good for unit cohesion. That’s where the ‘Brigade’ structure would be utilized internally to enhance its effectiveness and ‘esprit de corps’. The Brigade would be made up of, say, three or four Battalions, and each Battalion would include three or four Companies. So, depending on the available recruits from the various tribes, the Army could build a Battalion with, for example, one Company of Sioux, another of Crow, yet another of Arapaho, etc. Another Battalion might be three Companies of Cherokee. The combinations are countless. But imagine these various units competing with each other for effectiveness in the usual Army skills of marksmanship, physical endurance tests, training exercises, etc. All soldiers benefit from this competition, but tribal pride could add a degree of intensity that their leaders would marvel at.
Who would be the leaders? Taking a step back, a Brigade is typically attached to an existing Infantry Division, for instance, 10th Mountain, 101st Airborne, etc., and a Division could include three or more Brigades. So, initially, the ‘First Americans’ leadership would be Field and Company-grade officers from the Division. Eventually, NA officers who’ve graduated from West Point, Officer Candidate School, or an ROTC program from a university would meld in. This would take time, but in five or six years from inception, the FAs would have 100% NA leadership.
How would the Army utilize the FAs? Just the same as any other highly trained Infantry Brigade. The only difference would be that the members are all Native American. No special treatment, no special considerations. Nothing complicated or tricky. How they perform as a unit within that Army structure would be the basis for the ‘story’ and traditions that grow from their service to their country.
Now, imagine an annual event where recruiters from the ‘First Americans’ Brigade arrive on a given Reservation to interview, test, assess, etc., local candidates to fill vacancies in the elite Army unit. Imagine that kids, both boys and girls, have been dreaming of joining FA as long as they’ve been aware of it, know many tribal members who have served in the unit and, further, witness the respect the tribe bestows on those current and former members. Consider how these kids have been preparing for this day by staying in school, staying in shape, abstaining from alcohol and drugs, avoiding pregnancies, volunteering in their community, all in hopes of ‘making the cut’ and winning a slot in the FA. Those coveted slots mean that the recruit has joined a Warrior Society that will eventually become an integral part of tribal custom and history. How could any job on a Reservation compete for prestige with being a member of the ‘First Americans’, much less languishing without job or other prospects?
A ‘First Americans’ Brigade suggestion is way outside-the-box, and, to some, it might bring comparisons to segregated African-American units such as the ‘Triple Nickles’ Parachute Infantry Battalion of the 1940s and 50s, or even the ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ of WWII. But, those units were outgrowths of our segregated military, and the members had no option to serve in similar capacities outside those organizations. The FA would be an option available only to Native Americans if they found a normal enlistment less appealing; nothing more or less.
Somehow, America needs to break through the cloud of despair and dysfunction that hangs over many Native American Reservations. The ‘First Americans’ Brigade will give many NAs a way out and off those Reservations via a new opportunity that harkens back to their storied warrior history. When their enlistments are up, they’d return (if they wish) and infuse their discipline, organizational skills and experience to their communities. Positive improvements in overall Reservation life and governance are all but assured.
What’s the first step? I suggest a simple series of focus groups of young NAs at problematic Reservations. I’ve no doubt the results would be positive and the enthusiasm exceptional. Then it’s just a matter of the next President calling in the Army Chief of Staff and saying, “General, thanks for coming. I’ve got an idea I want to run by you. Have a seat. Coffee? OK, now what would you say if……..?”
February 20, 2016
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Thoughts on Veterans Day, 2015
Veterans Day generated conflicting emotions for me for decades, no doubt due to the residual effects of my Vietnam service. I worked many jobs, both before and after graduating from college, and I don’t recall even one offering employees, let alone those who were veterans, a day off. So the day just came and went for me. Although hard to imagine now, Vietnam vets were considered pariahs by a small segment of American society long after the war ended for the US in 1973. In time, more successful conflicts in Grenada, Panama and the First Gulf War lifted the pall that had hung over the image of the Vietnam veteran. ‘Welcome Home’ parades were held in large cities, the ‘Wall’ was opened in 1982, and a lot of vets were able to come out, open up and move forward. Still, Veterans Day seemed to be for the World Wars I and II and Korea guys, not for us.
Such ambivalence was not uncommon among my generation of vets, and I’m pleased to see that attitude take a 180 degree turn. Vietnam vets are getting old, and the raw emotions of the 1960s and 70s have been soothed. The country has changed and so has Veterans Day. Indeed, the day is now awash in events, parades and free meal offers that can be, well, embarrassing; not that it stops me from heading to McCormick & Schmick’s every year for my free entree.
Any society that distains its military is in big trouble, and you don’t have to go back to ancient Rome for the proof. France’s failed battles (Indochina, Algeria) to retain its colonial empire resulted in finger-pointing at its soldiers--a contributing factor of the right-left political rift in that society that is even more pronounced than in the US. Soviet abuse of its military in Afghanistan was part of a downward spiral that helped destroy the USSR. British soldiers were “scum” to the Duke of Wellington, even as they, under his command, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. A society that inspired Kipling to pen, “and it’s ‘Tommy this’ and ‘Tommy that’, and ‘chuck him out, the brute’. But it’s ‘savior of his country’ when the guns begin to shoot.”, came to its senses in time to save itself from the Kaiser and, later, Hitler.
Most ‘civilians’ can’t fathom the emotional baggage that many vets haul around, especially those who served ‘in harm’s way’. Those vets never quite meld completely back into polite society, preferring to keep a discrete mental separation between themselves and those who can’t imagine such experience. Perhaps it’s an overt reaction, perhaps a subconscious one. But I believe the reaction is, partly at least, a vet’s belief that society is always ready to pounce on the soldier when the nation’s foreign endeavors go awry. No one signs up to be a scapegoat. As a result, many vets (not to mention active duty soldiers) prefer each other’s company, if they have a choice. Civilian/business life categorically does not provide that choice, so vets compartmentalize and store away that part of their lives to ‘fit in’. In some cases, vets can drive their military experiences so far down into their subconscious that it becomes almost a shock to have them reemerge decades later.
My dad was like that. Only when I returned from active duty and he felt a camaraderie with me was I (and no one else I’m aware of) told details of his World War II experience. Ed Gritzbaugh took part in the Normandy (D-Day) invasion and nearly died in the crash of his 101st Airborne Division glider near St. Mere Eglise, France in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. One of his recollections was of his stretcher being carried by German POWs. Another was being strafed and bombed by German planes while lying on that same stretcher on Utah Beach. He didn’t share those details with me until I was also a ‘vet’. Vets talk to each other because they know what to ask, they know they’ll be understood and they know they won’t be judged.
Both our sons served in the Army after their respective high school graduations; Andrew, with the 101st Airborne in the Balkans, then with the Oregon National Guard in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia; Jack, two tours in Iraq with the 101st. My Army service in Vietnam allows us to enjoy a camaraderie that can be, at times, (per my wife) far too loud and profane. She’s right, of course, but she does not yet realize that such loud, profane interactions are a celebration amongst peers of (literally) simple survival. It’s tantamount to shouting from the rooftops; an act that surely would be even less acceptable.
That, to me, is what Veterans Day is about, that vets are ‘different’ and need to wear that ‘difference’ as a badge of honor, not as a blemish to be hidden. My sons have joined a ‘club’, of sorts, that I’ve read constitutes roughly 7% of the US population; that percentage being those currently serving in the military (less than 1%) plus those still living who’ve ever served (6%).
‘Vets’ are simply this: participants in and survivors of a collective ordeal that results from the foreign policy decisions of our two-party political system. Only a small percentage may have been in combat, heard shots fired or fired their own weapon at an enemy. But, unlike their protected countrymen, each felt that sinking feeling as they reported for conscription or signed away their freedom, sat in a chair and winced as a vendor shaved their civilian hair into a pile on the floor, lined up for endless inoculations, lined up for ‘chow’, dropped for pushups for a shrieking Drill Sergeant, lived with strangers in a bunk-filled barracks, trained endlessly, waited for orders, shipped out to god-knows-where for god-knows-how-long, missed home and family, lost young loves to those still in town, lived in conditions that would bring fellow citizens to tears and for pay that would attract few resumes.
A recent survey found that, within the 18 to 34 ‘Millennial’ age group, only 12% admitted to being ‘patriotic’. Yet, military service thankfully attracts enough young men and women who don’t live within themselves, from all walks of life and all sections of the country. In large part, this is due to the exposure of these young people to veterans, some of whom may be family members, job bosses, classmates at the community college or just the guy down the street who’s reached some under-stated level of success and sports a USMC bumper sticker on his Ford F-150.
So to my fellow veterans on Veterans Day, ‘Welcome Home’ and thanks for displaying, to that tiny percentage of our youth that will follow your example of military service, the aura of quiet dignity that you earned while in uniform. I am proud to belong to your very exclusive ‘club’.
November 11, 2015