Friday, December 7, 2012

I am a Writer

Seems funny to say that after so many years of trying to develop. At first it was only an affirmation of desire, an attempt to bolster flagging confidence. Then it became a reality. I published a book and people bought it. Not enough to make me rich (not even close!) but enough to see there is a market for the kind of writing I like to do.

Recently a dear friend's daughter chose to do a bio piece on me for a school project. I was flattered and happily complied. Since we lived far apart I took her questions online. I would draft an autobiographical essay of sorts to address a category of interest.

One essay concerned growing up an Army brat in the Vietnam War era. Another dealt with my experiences as a Sailor in the Navy while yet a third covered my post service life. The following gave her insight into how I came to love sitting in front of a glowing screen clattering away at the keys in my own way trying to tell yet another story in an interesting way. This is my journey to being a writer.

I am a Writer

Writing is something I love to do . . . now. I didn’t always feel that way about it. Growing up I didn’t like it much. I preferred drawing and speaking; I told my stories verbally and with pictures. Writing was too slow for me.

Yes I loved to tell stories. It grew out of my love for books that predates kindergarten. Our parents were denied access to education and recreational reading material. Here in the South the prevailing attitude was that a Black person (“neegrah” if they chose to be polite in those days) should have only as much knowledge as they needed to perform the functions assigned to them. My parents both thirsted for more and read everything they could get their hands on. When they got married they seemed to have a pact that their children would never lack for stimulation from the written word.


The Process

            How the story gets on to the page varies from writer to writer. Some are meticulous planner. They create a detailed outline and only then begin to build the story. Some imagine the story in their minds first, then sit and pour the story out in one continuous first draft.

I fall somewhere in between. I begin with a basic framework for a story and as I write I fill in the gaps as needed. Writing is a journey of discovery for me. I know where I am going but not exactly how I am going to get there. The way I described my writing to my wife is “I am not the writer exactly, I am the first reader.”

I recall writing my first novel, marketed [as a trilogy for the KINDLE] under the title of TULA WARS. I needed to move the main character with a group of officers across a university campus. I could have simply left it there but life is seldom simple. There is a dynamic tension between people in everyday life. All that is needed is a word or a look to spark an encounter for good or ill. Placing military men on a campus is a scene pregnant with impact that should be examined.

I set up a confrontation between anti-war protesters and the service men and wrote it through. I imagined a young man speaking rashly to the officers then losing his nerve. I had a woman step up defiantly only to be stunned by what she heard. I left her to ponder what she now knew.

Much later in the book (note: published  in book three in the series) I wrote about my character back in the military and forming a company of soldiers. He got a group of the first female soldiers to be trained in the use of battle armor. He and his staff interviewed the women to identify those who had the greatest potential for leadership to place as squad leaders. One very impressive candidate stood out above the rest. When Captain Alex Phelan asked the final question, “Who in the galaxy talked you into doing anything as silly as running around in powered armor getting shot at by giant insects?” She answered “You did.”

I was as surprised as my character as I wrote the words. She goes on to explain that she was the student from the college campus so long ago. She looked different now. Her hair military short; older, wiser and much fitter than she’d been as a civilian student. She had matured, finished her studies and graduated. She had never forgotten the words he had told her and was disgusted that so many of her male friends just did not have the courage of their convictions. Even the professors seemed to shy away from putting body behind word when it counted. If those men would not do their duty to protect the species then she needed to be around a better class of men.

Often my stories stem from my vivid dreams. I feel fortunate in that I dream in color and can retain large portions of those dreams when I wake up. The dreams are also experiential. That is I exist inside of the dream, sometimes as an invisible observer of other “people” and sometimes as myself participating in the events. I can also be others in my dreams.

Another source of stories is the “what if” question. What if the Russians had attacked in 1962? What if I had joined the Army instead of the Navy? What if the South had won the Civil War?  That is called speculative fiction and is popular in the Alternate History genre now. I ponder a “What if” question and let the story flow from there.

 Writing for fun and profit

One of the biggest obstacles to writing was technology. I could not drag a clunky typewriter around the world as part of my kit and I did not like the idea of trying to keep track of reams of handwritten manuscripts. Just the thought of creating a 200-page novel by hand still makes my wrists ache.

My early development was stymied by that problem, slow and painful hand writing manuscripts. That is why I started out with short stories. In 1988 I wrote my first sci fi short. Worst piece of fiction, ever! Fortunately, I was dating a very good editor at the time that tore it to pieces! I started all over and got better with each try. Before I went back to sea I bought a “small” portable electric typewriter with a tiny, 1-line LCD screen. It could display an entire sentence (if it were short) so I could proof it before printing. It was primitive but a huge step up.

The neatness and appearance of my writing also improved. After I left the Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, I went to a tender in the Repair Department. I found I had plenty of time to write when we were at sea. We had no repairs to do while underway and I did not have to stand engineering watches. It was like a vacation for me after three carrier tours.

We had a journalist on board and he started going over my writing for me. One evening while I was delivering my latest sci fi piece to him I passed the captain sitting in his office. He was a nice guy and I was pleased when he called me in. He was pleased to see that I was pursuing a writing career and asked to read my work as well.

He said, “I sit here largely bored because everyone is terrified to tell me anything.” Fortunately, I am not intimidated by anyone and love to talk to everyone. From that night onward I would stop by with my latest work and sit and chat with him about it.

Not long after we began the XO, the second in command, came during one of our chats. The captain explained he was proofing my writing. The XO thought some of the other officers would like to pitch in to help me develop. Now I had to print three copies of anything I wrote and deliver: one to the captain, the second to the wardroom and the third to the journalist. That got expensive for ribbon until we got a copier! But I greatly improved my style in that year on board which I consider a good thing.

I long for that quality of feedback today now that I am more established. The captain usually sent his copy back with comments. The most common being, “Great story, but too short. Make it longer!”

With his encouragement I increased a short story (On Sparta) from 3,000 words to 32,000. Now I have gone back to that story and made it the background of a novel currently in progress.

Game Master

I came to writing through two paths. The first was most obvious. I was a military brat and writing letters was a big part of our youth. We didn’t have texting or emails in those days. The only way to keep in touch with dear friends from our last post was via snail mail. It was also often our only link to our fathers who were often deployed to the war.

At one point I had a lot of pen pals all over the world: four in the Philippines, four in Germany, two in New Zealand, two in France and five more in other countries (all girls, of course!) I kept getting compliments on how my letters seemed like mini stories. I later took that to heart and considered the profession.

Also, during that time we had little to do with our time while on deployments on the ships. No video games, no DVD players – we barely had computers them. One of my coworkers brought a Commodore 64 with its massive 4” screen. Not much to do so we did what most people in my age group did, we played Dungeons & Dragons. We didn’t know as much then as we do now.

Fortunately, that was not the only RPG around. More games came out over the next few years. The ones I enjoyed the most were space-based sci fi games like TRAVELLER, RIFTS, ROBOTECH and STAR TREK.

Sometimes it was hard to find a game to join even on a crowded ship stuck at sea. One of the main things you look for in any games is a consistent game master whose style you were comfortable with. All too often you had a person running the game who enjoyed the “god-like” power over the domain he created and the poor souls submitting to his authority. Having a longtime character killed off on a capricious whim from some smirking idiot soured many people on gaming.

It didn’t take long before people realized I had potential to be a game master. I subbed for the GM a few times and was widely praised. I invested in a few books to learn what was actually a subtle art of game mastering with a light touch. The best GMs were actually nearly invisible to the game itself. The players played their roles and their decisions shaped the course of the game. I only provided the framework of the world their characters inhabited.

My most memorable experience was my single adventure run as a STAR TREK game master. I set the characters on a frontier world inhabited by a group of disenchanted Black intellectuals. They had fled Earth a century earlier and set up an advanced society based on the sciences. In time their world became important to both the Klingons and the Federation. It was a world that could not be easily conquered so diplomacy was important to resolve the challenge.

The players spent the next three days dealing with the locals, justifying the Federation claims of peace while having a long history of war. They also had to discover and foil a plot by younger scientists to overthrow their government (aided by the Klingons).

At the end of each session each player had homework. It was usually in the form of questions asked of them by the scientists. They didn’t have to do it. But the success of the mission depended on each member doing their part. So no one could sit back and say, “I’m only the communications officer” and role dice once in a while to see if they managed to make a phone call. Everyone had a part to play.

At the end of the long last day the players were exhausted; and thrilled! They said it was the best game they had every played of any kind, ever! They never saw my hand guiding events, never heard ominous dice roles after any given decision. It was simply a face to face encounter with fate every time we chatted. To them it was gaming; to me it was storytelling.

That is how I began building stories. I start with a premise, the question of “what if.” I build a framework for the setting. Then I set my characters free to explore the world and create their fate. All of their successes add up but challenges always loom. There are a few basic rules I have for writing that apply no matter what genre I am writing in:

1.      never kill a character unnecessarily

2.      make each death count

3.      only stupidity is instantly fatal and

4.      people learn more from their failures than they do from successes

 That last can be understood simply. If what you do works, you’ll do it the same way next time and the time after that. If what you normally do fails then you are forced to reevaluate your strategy and formulate alternatives. You have learned something new, overcome an obstacle and become more flexible. That is character development, in writing and in life. Those are the most successful stories to sell and the most satisfying of lives to live.

The Beginning

Writing is a tough road to travel. Ask anyone who has ever tried to pursue it. The percentage of "overnight successes" in this business is the same as hall pf fame quarterbacks in the NFL compared to the number of total boys playing high school football; far less than one in a million.

Still it is my chosen life. I do it not just for the money but because I love it. I have lived an interesting life and have always enjoyed relating stories about the people, places and odd things I've seen. If I never sold another book (Lord above forfend!) I would still do this. That makes all the difference between wanting to be a writer and being a writer.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

USS ENTERPRISE Nuclear Chemistry Emergency

I served four tours on three ships in my Navy career: USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) twice, USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72), and USS SAMUEL GOMPERS (AD-37). I traveled to many parts of the world, mostly in Asia, though I rode the Enterprise through the Suez Canal for my first return trip to Europe. Out of all the “adventures” the Navy gave me, I consider this one the defining moment of my career. Now, with twenty years of perspective I wonder if I handled it properly.

Let me start by saying no radioactive material leaked out of the reactor plant and no one was injured in this incident. The main goal of maintaining the state of chemistry in the water in a nuclear power plant is so the parts of it do not rust or wear out. In addition, tiny bits of rust passing through a reactor core become dangerously radioactive.

So it is in the best interest of the operators and the general public to keep the water as pure and as free of acid as possible. I worked in the division (shop) whose job it was to monitor and adjust chemistry when needed for the eight reactors powering the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65).

            We add several different chemicals to adjust the pH or the water and to scavenge oxygen. When pH is high (well above 7) and no oxygen is present then metal is much slower to rust despite being in close contact with water. That is why the Enterprise has lasted with more or less the same engine rooms and reactor plants for coming up on 52 years!


I joined the Navy’s nuclear power program before I graduated high school.  I shipped out to boot camp in Orlando, Fla. at the end of the summer. Nine weeks later I went to my first school in Great Lakes, Illinois. I completed that school and three more besides in the next two years in Orlando and New York before finally reporting to the ENTERPRISE in the shipyards in Puget Sound, Washington.

By the time of this incident in 1984, I was on my second tour on the ENTERPRISE and attained the rank of first class petty officer. I was in charge of the Aft Chemistry Group; that is the two plants near the back of the ship. We had responsibility over four of the reactors and 16 of the steam generators. Six teams of two rotated keeping watch over the operating plants in each group around the clock every day the ship is on its own power.

The Incident

One day while the ship operated in coastal waters near California I received a call from my team on watch in the morning. The Top Watch (the senior member of the team) informed me that he had an out of spec chemistry problem. He gave me the numbers and told me he had made a mistake. The plant was supposed to go online earlier that day and he had prepared chemistry to support it.

Now when you open the steam valves of a reactor the chemicals in the water seem to disappear. They don’t really but they are not in the steam the way you want them to be. So after we bring a plant online we add more chemicals, which my team did.

Unfortunately, the plant shut down immediately after that which brought all the previous chemicals out of hiding. It took more than three hours for all of my teams working together to get things back to normal.


Normally when incidents happen a report has to be filed. The supervisor gathers the logs and statements and submits a written report that makes its way to the high offices of the Navy Yard. However in this case, the Chemistry officer insisted I give an oral report to the senior navy staff on board the ship. I suspected his intent was to place me in the awkward position of explaining something that few people truly understand. That officer was one of those given to letting personal biases affect his leadership (or lack thereof). He chose the wrong person.

I was fully versed in the vagaries of nuclear chemistry and had worked on those plants for years. Endless days and nights of watch in the chemistry shack left me closely attuned to the plants and how they behaved when conditions changed.

I had a day to prepare my report which was plenty of time despite my fatigued condition. I did extra research to find out the latest theories of crystal formation in water under intense neutron flux. That was the key. I won’t explain that here because it is esoteric chemistry that few people understand as I later discovered.

The Presentation

            The content of my report is still classified decades later (75 years by government policy). The audience consisted of my entire division, its officers and several members of the naval reactors inspection team. Normally, those men do not attend these reports but again, I suspect my boss was trying to increase the pressure on me. No problem.

            I spent the next twenty or so minutes giving a lecture on where the chemicals go when temperatures and pressures change, how radiation affects crystal structure and the response to changing power levels.

            When I was done the room was silent. I asked my Chemistry officer if he was satisfied with the answer. I could tell he was lost. I asked his boss, the Chem-Radcon Assistant (a man with an advanced biology degree), he seemed likewise lost. No one seemed to understand enough to know if what I had just explained was accurate.

            Except Master Chief Bowers, one of the greatest chemists in the history of naval nuclear power. He had authored much of our Chemistry manual and the fleet’s top expert on all things chemistry. I asked if he thought I gave an adequate explanation for the unexplainable. He said, “Yes, but you got it backwards.”

            I looked over my equations and charts for a moment. Master Chief prompted me on the open-ended crystal formula; I had it! It took several minutes to work it back but I was able to give the correct chemical process to his satisfaction.

            The meeting ended and all of my notes left with the officers. Master Chief gave me a pat on the back before leaving. No more challenges to my competence came up again for that tour at least. Regardless of why the officer placed me in that position I enjoyed it. Not because it gave me the chance to show off, but because it was a challenge to figure out what the engines of my ship were doing. In presenting my report I gained greater knowledge of how chemistry works.

            The lingering thought, the final loose end for me is  . . . what if I was right in the first place? What if Master Chief was testing my confidence in my report? I don’t think I will ever know. If I had more time to prepare or maybe had more rest before standing in front of that crowd I would have been more certain. Nonetheless, I am pleased with the way I handled the challenge from an officer whom I later learned was racist(never a good thing in a military officer but all too common). He threw down the gauntlet and ended up eating it. That in itself was good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Lunch is not Racist

I ate dog meat. No, not dog food; dog meat. The flesh of a canine killed and prepared in a local dish. So did President Obama. The difference is I didn’t do it on purpose.

While living in the Philippines I had a dish prepared with dog meat served to me on at least two occasions that I know of. In both cases I found out about it after the fact. Now I’m a world traveler and pretty much an omnivore, but I draw the line at eating dog meat because I am a dog lover. Like most Americans (and Frenchmen) who love their dogs, my hairy little companion is more like a child than a pet. I would no more eat a child than I would a dog; not on purpose. No matter how many times my Filipina wife explained this to people someone always missed the memo.

I say that to illustrate the point that culinary customs vary widely across the globe. You have to be prepared for surprises (some unpleasant) when traveling abroad – especially if you have the nerve to get away from tourist zones. What is normal for you may be taboo in a foreign land. And what is repulsive for you might be a delicacy to your host.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

I read this article this morning and nearly choked on my coffee. Teachers in Portland were being taught to be aware that a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be sending subtle racist messages.

“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” Gutierrez asked. “Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”

The message seems to be that our American meal choices should be “more inclusive” so that foreign students will not feel left out.

Politically Correct Gone Amok

That is insanity. A person’s meal choice is just that, a personal choice. Nobody has to change their diet selections so that the person across the table feels “more at home” in your country. In fact, it would be insulting. “Yes, Pedro, because you look Mexican I am only going to eat tacos while you are here.”

It is an insult. I know because I have endured such incredibly crass treatment for years. While I was in the Navy I was one of the few Black people in Reactor Department on a massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.  One most ships the nuclear operators are 90% White. Over the years I developed a thick skin to avoid reacting when, once again, my White shipmates came racing back from the messdecks to announce to me that “they’re serving watermelon today!”

I cannot say if it was a racist impulse that caused them to think such news was desired or welcome – in most cases, I assumed a benign impulse. But it was irritating to have them think watermelon and fried chicken are staples of my diet just because I am Black. (Actually, spaghetti is; I love that stuff.)I was aware that a few of them said it with malicious intent.

Whatever is on your plate is no one else’s business; not the school’s or the government’s. It should taste good to you, be nourishing and filling. It should not make you feel guilty because the Somali at the next table grew up eating something else.

Guilt is the Issue

The above article (relinked here) had this passage: The Tribune noted that the school started the new year with "intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives," to help educators understand their own “white privilege,” in order to "change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance."
The goal of this whole program is to make White Americans feel guilty for every little things you say, do or possess because you are somehow undeserving. And it simultaneously wants me and all minorities to resent every mouthful of food you take as if somehow every swallow causes some brown, black or yellow person to starve to death.

The only way to overcome this insanity is to embrace our uniqueness, both as individuals and as a nation. America does not exclude anyone; not their culture, their religion, their fashion or their food. You can find a restaurant somewhere in the country serving every known cuisine on Earth here in America. You might not notice kosher foods at Wal-Mart, but it is there. You might not have any idea what durian is (it's the big green one, common to Asia) but those who want it can often find it when they want it.

The final nail in the coffin of this politically correct nonsense is this; McDonald’s is popular in most countries in the world. Those who don’t have it yet, are in line to get it, even in Muslim countries. American food is universal. Like much of our culture, people often prefer it to their own traditional foods in a short time. Not just “Mickey D’s”, KFC, Subway, and Taco Bell are all global fast food chains now with more opening every day. People want what we have. That is the opposite of racist.
Teachers and students; eat what you want and enjoy it. If anyone gives you grief about it, tell them to go overseas. I am certain they can find a burger anywhere, even in India.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gay Pride at the Expense of Military Pride

The beginning of the End

            In a few days another Gay Pride parade will take place on the streets of San Diego. What makes this one noteworthy is the prominent presence of active duty military members gleefully celebrating their lifestyle with other members of their community. What matters not is how Americans see this. What matters most is how our enemies will view it.

I fear we have given a gift to Hamas and Al Qaeda recruiters that they could not have dreamed of. America is already seen as weak and decadent, this will convince foreign fighters that the formidable American military – arguably the most powerful fighting force in history – is decaying from the inside. In this case, they might be right.

Taps for the Death of Military Tradition

The Army I knew is gone. The Army that gave my parents a way out of poverty in the cotton fields of Mississippi and Tennessee is no more. The Army which gave me a tour of the world, which let me see other cultures and learn other languages, is gone. I opened my social network pages yesterday and my heart broke.

Change has come quickly to the military in recent years. Changes not designed to enhance the war fighting capabilities; no that’s too expensive. These changes are meant to remake the entire military culture. Rather than have an Army that is ready to protect and defend the people of America, it has been made over to reflect the cultural vision that politicians want to impose on the American people.

The Roots of Change

Some changes are good. Desegregation in the military was a good thing. But many of the changes now in progress have a dubious benefit for the country at large and seem to be headed in the direction of less liberty for all to the benefit of a few.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when these changes occurred. One could argue that it began with President Truman signing executive order 9981 in April of 1949 but that was the end of a process that began years earlier during the manpower shortages of WWII.

Perhaps the original question of Blacks1 serving in the American military actually arose during the Civil War. In the earliest conflicts service from Black freemen and bondsmen was accepted without question. An estimated “5,000 Blacks” fought for American independence from England. The Civil War was the result of social questions about the humanity of Blacks living in American and the inhuman treatment they endured.

Several all-Black units served with distinction on both sides during that war. When that conflict ended many freed Blacks found a new live out on the far frontier with units such as the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Regiments. The Buffalo Soldiers left a legacy of bravery throughout the West and overseas when they served meritoriously in the Spanish American War.

Despite their record of achievement, White officers were reluctant to give them credit for their service and White society was equally reluctant to recognize those who had given so much for their freedom and independence. It took decades of work, patience and sacrifice before Blacks were able to force the issue to the Oval Office. Truman’s signature was the culmination of 85 years of toil. And it set in motion the social changes that eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement that finally granted full legal status to Black Americans.

Riding the Wave of Change

The role the military had in catalyzing change in America has not been lost on social engineers. From the early 70s throughout my own twenty year career and up into current times, those who would change America often test their techniques and tactics (with overt political support) on the people in America’s military. If you sit through yet another sexual harassment lecture know that those programs were developed a quarter century ago and refined painfully on captive audiences in uniform. I can tell you from personal experience that what they had in the beginning was crude, annoying and tedious—much like being forced to watch Soviet-era propaganda films – with no subtitles.

The main theme of the social engineering in the military has been to redefine what it is to be a man. The big pro-homosexual push in the uniformed services advocated by President Obama fits nicely into that agenda. Only men were targeted because the assumption was that everything wrong with society stemmed from inherently aggressive male tendencies. If that could be changed then society in general would benefit – and be more peaceful, I assume.

The fallacy of this was those same aggressive male tendencies are precisely what is needed when fighting a war. A unit must be aggressive to achieve its objectives in the face of determined enemy resistance. If you are facing dozens of enemy fighters who are dug in using civilians as shields, do you want to follow Alpha-males like Gunny Highway (played by Clint Eastwood in HEARTBREAK RIDGE) or do you want to follow Beta-males like Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce (played by Alan Alda in the television series M*A*S*H)?

Despite many sound arguments in favor of maintaining an aggressive edge over our enemies—arguments I made myself—the social engineers were determined to complete their pogrom. These liberated feminists and their Beta-male allies have forged ahead unabated. I assume they think that if Americans stop being to aggressively brave our enemies will do the same and world peace will reign.

Implied Weakness and Implications

Action in and around Afghanistan seems to prove that is not going to happen anytime soon. Any sign of weakness in our soldiers, sailors and airmen is seen as a motivating factor for our enemies in the Islamic world (also in foreign capitals like Beijing and Moscow; our true competition). Thus we have given a gift to the jihadists with our latest social experiment.

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell may have been the right thing to do. I do not have the historical perspective to judge that and I am not serving on active duty so I cannot gauge the effect of the executive order. Despite the heated debate, that was an internal issue. The overt actions of the Department of Defense as evidenced in this article changes things dramatically.

The Army is going against the established tenet of avoiding political posturing by making this change.  It is likely the other services have issued similar orders permitting active duty servicepersons to wear their uniforms publicly as part of Gay Pride parades. The article calls this an historic event. The Gay service people are ecstatic over being able to show their pride in their orientation and military service. “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed in a video message to remove as many barriers as possible to making the military a model of equal opportunity …” and has committed to making the changes directed by President Barack Obama.

I am left with the question of how this will appear to our enemies. Islam expressly forbids homosexuality and the penalty is death by stoning, though most are merely publicly hanged. The national attention desired by Gay activists will happen. Media outlets from coast to coast will carry the San Diego parade live and in endless repeats for days while pundits debate the wisdom of the decision.

What concerns me is how it will play out on Al Jazeera.  As I said at the beginning, America is already seen as weak and decadent, this will convince foreign fighters that the formidable American military – arguably the most powerful fighting force in history – is decaying from the inside. Fighting American soldiers is tantamount to suicide, now, but if you believe that the will of Americans is waning, you start to believe you can win. That is a dangerous thing for our fighting forces on the ground.

Personally, my pride in the nation remains strong and I believe it will recover from the damage inflicted by these short-sighted, wrong-headed social engineers. However, for now, my pride in my service is diminished and tarnished by this shameful disrespect for those who came before. Perhaps in a few years it won’t matter, but today, it does, to me.

1. I choose not to use the politically correct term “African American” because it is historically inaccurate for most of our purposes. Without the luxury of full citizenship few Blacks could be considered “American” prior to 1967.

Note: in searching for relevant images for this blog I used the BING search engine. I input “Gays in the military” and set it for images. It returned about 70% Gay porn and images of naked young men mostly out of uniform. When I changed my filter to moderate to remove those image options, BING returned – nothing.

I got much more acceptable results when I switched to GOOGLE.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

AVENGERS vs. WATCHMEN: Hollywood’s Take on Superhero Movies

Rarely does a movie to make 20 million dollars in ticket sales on a weekend a month after it is released; rarer still to perform that well in the early summer.  The AVENGERS is a rare movie. It resonates with audiences around the world and people have the urge (myself included) to go back to the theatre and see it again.

As of this writing the movie has passed (cue Dr. Evil here) the 1.3 billion dollar mark.  Only James Cameron’s AVATAR and TITANIC stand ahead of it in total earnings; both are within reach—possibly before AVENGERS goes to DVD.

Meanwhile, I picked up a copy of WATCHMEN (2009) from the discount bin at Wal-Mart.  I love two genres of adventure movies: superhero and anime.  I missed this one in the theatre but decided to fill in a gap last weekend.  I was disappointed in the WATCHMEN.  By the end of the movie I regretted the time I had just lost and considered even the five dollars movie cost wasted.

Watchmen failed for many reasons; not just excessive violence, unnecessary sex and nudity, it failed because—for a superhero movie—the stars were neither super nor heroic.  All were deeply flawed, most were mentally unstable and none had the slightest air of nobility.   They were basically violent people who enjoyed dressing in costumes and inflicting pain on ordinary people.

The one powerful being in the movie, Dr. Manhattan, spent most of the movie naked with an enormous penis swaying across the screen.  He had the power to alter reality and move people and things great distances with his mind.  He just didn’t care – not about people, not about justice, not about much.

Flying men in tights, busty women who can throw a bus halfway to orbit without breaking a nail; these were the heroes of my youth.  All were larger than life, supremely confident, capable and always – noble.  They stood up against injustice and risked everything to right the wrongs of the world—even when the world did not show gratitude.

Everyone in my family is an avid reader. We read everything from encyclopedias to the TV Guide.  Interspersed with all the text books we could find was a growing collection of comic books of every genre.  We kept most of them in an Army foot locker my dad gave us.  Rainy days found us scattered all over the house watching thrilling battles unfold in the theatre of the mind.  Ink and paper were no boundary to our imagination.

I grew up without learning to fly or deflect bullets.  But I still wanted to live up to the ideals of the costumed crime fighters.  I wanted to stand for the little guy and risk it all, if necessary, for the safety of my home and family.  My Navy uniform was never as cool or fitting as any member of the Justice League but the same heart beat in my chest as my ships sailed over the horizon.

The Movies

The first superhero movies left a lot to be desired.  Technology and imagination in Hollywood were inadequate to the story they were trying to tell.  It seemed to me for years that those making the movies had never read a comic in their lives and had no idea how the stories played out in the mind of a child.

Later we finally got the Christopher REEVE’s version of SUPERMAN (1978).  Still campy, but not as bad as Adam West walking up a wall beside Burt Ward in the BATMAN movie and series of the previous decade.

The greatest blessing for science fiction and superhero fans came with the development of CGI (computer-generated imagery).  Clumsy and glaringly fake in the beginning, by early in the 21st century the CGI was indistinguishable from real life.  Real actors blended seamlessly with their avatars in AVATAR.  And finally, it became true that “you will believe a man can fly.”

A v. W

So how did Watchmen go so wrong and what did Avengers do right?  Simply put, Avengers took what worked in comic books; the elements that had sustained the paper industry well into the age of videogames, and put it on the screen.  Adults could go to see the Avengers and bring along their children.  They can introduce them to the heroes we only saw fly in our imagination while reading by flashlight under the bed or up high in a tree fort.  We can stand up and cheer for the good guys and genuinely hate the bad guys.

On the other hand, the makers of Watchmen did as Hollywood does – tear down the things ordinary people cherish and cover them in sleazy sex and bloody gore.  There really aren’t any villains in Watchmen because the “heroes” are so bad that villains would be redundant. One hero commits forcible rape, another becomes a prostitute, another is a flaming Lesbian, still another goes insane (though it seems all of them are insane to a degree).

At no point is the audience presented with a personality they would want to cheer for, to emulate or even call on in an emergency.  Hollywood took out a stack of comics, crapped on it and asked us to sit back and watch.

How bad was it?  Do you see anyone wearing Halloween costumes from the movies?  Do kids want pajamas in the image of the Night Owl or Dr. Manhattan?  No, not even rebellious teens embraced the Watchmen.   It was simply that bad.
The lesson for Hollywood is loud and spoken in a language they can understand.  Give us true heroes; let us stand and cheer for the good guys.  Avengers is even pro-American yet it is racking up monstrous sales all over the world.  There is still something about right and justice and just plain goodness that resonates in people even overseas.  Give us back our heroes. If you must make flawed, pornographic versions of our stories, please, keep them to yourselves.  The rest of us want to take our families out for a good time without having to explain what that glowing blue thing is dangling on front of the camera.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bring My ENTERPRISE To Life!

The First Mission

On July 4th, 2033 the world’s first starship orbits high above the East Coast of the United States.  The president stands in front of a crowd of the invited guests and dignitaries from around the globe.  One of the banks of cameras feeds his image in direct communication to the tiny bridge module.

Captain John Forrester tries his best to look like the calm military man he has cultivated in a distinguished career but everyone knows the excitement he has jumping inside of him.  Most of the world is standing idle watching the interchange on televisions, phones and virtual screens everywhere at once.  They are waiting for the historic moment when a living man, a crew of 57 men and women, sail out of the Solar system for the first time.

The speeches end and the applause dies down.  With one final salute to the screen, Captain Forrester sits down, looks to the emblem welded to the wall; with a small wink to the past, he says, “Engage.”

Dreamers find a way

Seems like a fantasy, doesn’t it?  Something fan boys and geek girls have dreamed about since James T. Kirk passed into syndication five decades ago.  But some people here and now, in the real world are not willing to let that story sit on faded pages anymore.  A vision of independent development is growing on the Internet and the stars are moving closer to mankind than at any time before.

Build the Enterprise is a focal point for that energy.  People around the world long for the far frontier and frankly, governments and space agencies have let us down. After an incredible decade plus of heady achievement the United States and Russia got bored.  Neither side saw any value in continuing their expensive space programs when down to Earth problems seemed more pressing.

However, the populations of many countries did not share in that sentiment.  As one of those children of the Space Age I fully expected to have bases on the Moon by now and possibly on Mars.  I even hoped the process would have become efficient enough so that ordinary people like me could have a chance, no matter how small, of going up there.  Our government let us down.

The Tower of Babel

The book of Genesis in the Bible tells of an effort by mortal man to build a city and a tower whose top is in the heavens.  The Lord came down Himself to see the tower and declared that “ the people are one and the all have one language and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them (Gen, 11:4-6).”

Language is the key.  Language is the spoken expression of culture.  Today English is the uniting language; more precisely, the American language is the common language of commerce, science, art and culture.  It is the primary language for one nation to communicate with another and the most commonly used second language for people of the 200 nations and thousands of cultures.  American English draws the people of the world together.

And why should it not?  America is a country built up of the melding of diverse immigrants from around the world drawn to its shores by the common dream of liberty and self-realization.  America has spawned most of the great innovations of the past century and it has done so through the efforts of Jews, Italians, Germans, Russians, Poles, Africans and Asians as well as too many more to list.  The aggregate effort combined with opportunity and freedom makes anything possible.  The computer you are reading this on is proof of that.

President Kennedy proposed the preposterous goal of landing a man on the Moon during this decade (the 1960s).  The entire world scoffed, but gasped in awe and fear as the American people achieved his goal—on time.  Imagine what we could do now, with today’s technology if given one uniting purpose.

To the Moon and Beyond

Captain Forrester gazed down on the North Polar Region of the Moon. Not even three hours have passed since he left Earth orbit and he has been here 20 minutes already. The Apollo 11 mission took 88 hours to make the same journey.  Forester’s ENTERPRISE had not used more than 10% of thrust for this historic leg.

Below him four passengers disembarked.  The crew shuttle Armstrong and the cargo shuttle Aldren released on schedule.  Their business on the Moon would take another week as they assembled the first long-stay module that would be the core of the first Lunar Base.  They would fly back to Earth on their own when the mission ended.  No one gave voice to the fear that the ENTERPRISE’s mission might fail and the shuttles were designed to self-return for that contingency.

Be that as it may, ENTERPRISE had business with other planetary bodies.  Losing the shuttle cut their mass by 20 percent.  The trip to Venus would be with a faster, more nimble ship.  Gravity pulled and the stars beckoned.

Another twenty minutes passed before the shuttle announced safe touch down on the surface. Free of back stop duties, ENTERPRISE turned her nose sunward aiming for the “second star to the right, straight on past morning.”

Nothing they propose will be withheld from them

The government let us down.  President Obama killed the space shuttle program and slashed budgets for future space manned missions to nothing.  He intended to use the power of his office to keep man tied to the ground.  He did not reckon with the power of the America people.

Innovators like Burt Ruttan have found many ways to get around government reticence.  Wealthy dreamers like Peter Diamandis fund competitions to explore space through the private sector.

Firing most of NASA’s rocket scientists didn’t kill progress either.  Just the opposite; firing them flooded the market with thousands of the brightest minds in the nation now free from government restraint and bureaucracy.  They can pursue long held personal projects in private labs and can profit from any patents generated by their work.  Enlightened self-interest is the impetus behind many great inventions.

Man will get off this one planet because he dreams of doing so.  Trusting corporations to provide the change was as fruitless as leaving it in the hands of bureaucrats.  Many dreamers and innovators from around the globe will contribute to the effort but as usual, the bulk of the effort will come from the American people.

Nothing unusual there; Americans are used to leading the way.  Two generations have passed since the last Apollo mission returned from the Moon.  Meanwhile the rest of the world is engaged in a race to go there and the leaders are nearly a generation away still from being able to mount a successful mission—this despite having access to far more powerful computers and better rocket technology.

That old scientist might have been right after all.  If not for the American people, the trip to the Moon really would have been a century away.  Perhaps Captain Forrester will be able to watch the winner of the Silver Medal race to land on the Moon – from somewhere beyond Pluto.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Obama’s Media Propaganda Machine Targets the Military

Today I read an article about veteran’s and military members shifting strongly toward President Obama. The writer asserts that “Disaffection with the politics of shock and awe runs deep among men and women who have served in the military during the past decade of conflict.” Apparently Margot Roosevelt has no idea what Shock and Awe is or she would know that it has nothing to do with the way we have waged war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places for the past four years.

Or military has been mired in a limited war or “Operations Other Than War (OOTW)” during that time. They have been hampered by ROE (Rules of Engagement) the likes of which two generations of military leaders have been trying to avoid since the Vietnam Conflict ended 40 years ago—yet another promise not kept to the Vietnam vets.

This article is an obvious attempt to make Obama seem more attractive to the military community and from the comment section it seems to be effective to some degree. I like to think military people who have been out at the pointy end of the pen writing history would be smart enough to know who has been driving that pen for the past four years. Ms. Roosevelt goes on to state “factually” that “If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population.” Of course, there is no poll cited for her statement because she made it up.

From 2001 until 2008 the media made a point of broadcasting the numbers of KIA weekly and the running totals reported every night. We heard "This has been the deadliest week for US forces since (whenever)" on a regular basis. Each Sunday’s PARADE section of the paper had the full color pictures of those killed in the past week.

The media did not do that because they suddenly cared for the military (they haven't since WWII). They did it to erode faith in the GOP and President Bush. Democratic candidates ran on promises to end the bloodshed. Obama rose to the top of the heap by being the biggest anti-war dove in the pack. He attacked Bush on all facets of conducting the War on Terror and swore to end the violence and bring the troops home in a year. How's that working out for you?

Was it Mitt Romney or BH Obama running around the end zone spiking Bin Laden's head for the 253rd time? Wasn't it Obama saying "Mitt Romney wouldn't have the courage to pull the trigger" on bin Laden? In light of his actions, posturing and words, which candidate seems less likely to send troops to war? Obama is clearly trying to seem like a military war hero and he is willing to send troops anywhere for any reason to prove it.

Obama did not keep one of his promises on the war. He did not reverse any of Bush's policies in fighting it; he even claimed credit for every success those policies generated. The fact is, he could not care less for the men and women in uniform. He is still reluctant to return a salute. The troops have spent more time at war, not less. And despite media collusion, soldiers have NOT stopped dying under his watch. They still return in flag-draped coffins; the media has found it prudent for their man in office if they don't publish pictures of them.

And that is the worst of it. Living or dead, the democrats see military people as tools for their own political ends and not the brave protectors of Liberty that most Americans know them to be. They are . . . WE are . . . your sons, husbands and fathers; wives, mothers and daughters. We deserve a man in office who will care more for the lives he sends to war than the tiny ticks in poll numbers as he goes off to another round of golf.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Moving Wall

I took dad down to Southaven, Mississippi to see the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall today.  The display has passed through here in each on the previous years but this is the first time he wanted to make the pilgrimage.

The sight from the road is at once unimpressive and moving. The tiny white names etched in the black panels blur into haze from a distance.  Fifty-eight thousand names written small still take a long display. 

We came on an overcast Friday which seemed appropriately somber. Finding parking was easy; much less crowded than the throngs still crowding to see THE AVENGERS movie a few miles away. 

I noticed most of the people there were mostly older men; veterans drawn to the memory of a faraway jungle from their youth.  Some of their children (like me) accompanied men too old to drive themselves anymore.  Some lost the ability to stand on their own; possibly that long ago.  Few young people came.  Even in a conservative area like the MidSouth, young people have little interest in a war as remote to them as the Civil War was to me in my teens.

The traveling wall is different from the main wall in Washington DC.  Of course the panels are lighter and smaller to save weight and the font is smaller, the names closer together.  My father pointed out that the names also lacked the unit designations making it harder to find the right Smith or Johnson.

My father had so many names in his mind spread over four tours in country in eight years there was no way to find anyone in particular.  To him, all of the names on the panels were brothers in arms and he felt enough just being in their presence.

I didn’t know anyone personally despite having grown up in an Army family during the war.  None of my friends’ fathers came home in a box.  Inwardly I wanted to see a name that stuck in my mind from the book and movie WE WERE SOLDIERS; Jimmy Nakamura, the young mortar-man who had just found out he was a new dad. I couldn’t find him but someday when I got to the big wall I will look him up.

Eventually it was time to go. The ghosts of the past perhaps appeased for a time, perhaps tired of clinging to the living bid us adieu—for now. The sign at the entrance read “Welcome Home Brothers.”  The message was not for me but for the few remaining stragglers like my father absent from muster on the other side. I am content to keep him with us for a little while longer. The other formation can wait; they have all the time in creation to fill remaining files.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trendiness, Not Truth

The Coolest Kids in the World

America has seen its share of young radicals in the past fifty years.  From the anti-war protests of the 60s, to the anti-nuclear rallies of the 80s, to the “I have no idea why I’m here” protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the past year; any excuse for a protest gathering will suffice. All of them have in common masses of college educated mostly White kids from affluent families. 

There is also a barely hidden strain of Socialism, anti-Americanism, and an ever-present hint of smug superiority.  These kids and their organizers believe that anyone who really knows what’s going on is on their side.  Any opposition is merely proof of your ignorance.  Other countries have their protest-otaku but they also come from the same social strata.  The truly spoiled among them share international causes like helping “the poor, oppressed terrorists” of Palestine.  Almost invariably, the international target is the Unites States or Israel.

If questioned directly most participants will admit they don’t fully understand their position either.  But they are certain of the rightness of the cause.  Why?  Because all the “cool kids” are supporting it, therefore they become cool also, by extension.  In the long run it doesn’t matter what is being protested, as long you participate in the latest protest trend it counts in your social standing on campus.

The targets of domestic protests have commonalities as well.  They are always pillars of American society.  Whatever is traditional, good for, or beneficial for the majority of Americans is a perfect candidate for protest.  The Civil Rights protests are an exception.  They were a just cause for a significant portion of the population and did not originate on college campuses.  The Trendy White kids didn’t even acknowledge the cause until it was almost fait accompli.  Everything that makes American unique and honorable (therefore special) must be torn down.  The overarching term is Counterculture.

Molding young minds

High school is supposed to be a time of maturing.  It is the time when we finish the journey from childhood to responsible adult.  At least that is what it used to be.  Since WWII American affluence has afforded younger generations the luxury of delayed development.  Immature students arrive on campus unprepared for the realities of life beyond the hometown.  I think that was the plan all along.

Well-educated high school seniors with a firm grounding in history, patriotism and traditional values were once the consistent product of public education.  Liberal professors with their socialist doctrine could not persuade them nor could they survive for long outside of a few private Eastern universities.  The steady decline of public education now leaves young people unprepared to meet these social engineers on an even plane.  Their indoctrination begins without having to overcome resistance.

College professors belong to a class of nonproductive citizens known as the Elites.  These are men and women who possess two consistent characteristics: they believe they know better how you should live your life and they hate our shared way of life.  They hate the country and laws that provide them with a high standard of living and comfort so much that they are determined to destroy it.

The Means Justify the Ends

The United States is a good country and a great place to live despite all of the protestations from the anti-Americans hear and around the world.  There is only one proof needed; most of the protesters refuse to leave it.  America’s borders are always open to her citizens.  Anyone desiring to leave need only make travel arrangements.

Contrariwise, Socialist countries in any part of the world spend the majority of their energy trying to control their populations.  High walls, guard towers and spy networks labor full time to prevent “citizens” from escaping.  Where do most of those “blessed workers of the State” dream of living?  In the US of A, of course.  They know viscerally what esteemed professors on American campuses do not; tis better to live poor in America than to live than to life anywhere in a Socialist state.

That is the fallacy of most protests; the thing they champion cannot bring about the improvements they profess.  Real world evidence and multiple dialed experiments prove that.  The Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua; every place Socialism has taken root has resulted in misery for the population, starvation, death and deprivation.  There is no reason to believe any form of Socialism can succeed in America and certainly there is no reason to believe that it could possibly improve the lives of the average citizen.

But that will not deter the protesters.  It doesn’t matter the cause or the effect; what matters is looking good while being arrested on television.