Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who is the Hero?

There is a meme going around arguing that Samwise Gamgee is the real hero in Lord of the Rings, not Frodo.  The argument hold some water.  Sam is the one who keeps his head and ensures the Ring (and Frodo) take the final step to Mordor.

However, as I've been re-watching the trilogy, I've been watching with this argument in mind.  Is Samwise Gamgee the real hero?

Well . . . Not by himself.

As we learned through the Hobbit and the the Fellowship of the Ring, some Hobbits have a resistance to the power of the Ring.  Resistance doesn't mean immune.  It took decades for it to worm into Bilbo's mind, but it easily corrupted Golum's mind.  Right when Bilbo's inner strength reached its end and he was becoming subject to the Ring, Frodo takes over.

The Ring can suck in humans without much, if any, physical contact.  The Elves fear it and won't touch it.  While Gandalf goes into a chain smoking trance after almost touching it.

That Ring has some seriously bad mojo to make the powers of the time steer clear of brushing up against it.

Now, add this into the whole mix: as Sauron grows in power and intensifies his search for the Ring, the Ring's malevolent power grows.  As we're reminded several times, "The Ring wants to be found."  The Ring knows that Sauron needs it and forces are in play to prevent Sauron from obtaining the Ring and his power hungry, total Middle Earth dominance life goal.  I suspect the Ring feels this and wants to do everything it can to help its creator and master.  That means working on everyone it comes in contact with or close enough contact.  It wants to be found

Frodo is the ring bearer--he gets the burden of carting around a malevolent force of nature that corrupts the souls of everyone who possesses it.  We don't see too many other Hobbit, other than Bilbo and Frodo and Gollum, hold the Ring for more than a few seconds or minutes.  Sam does gets a short stint holding it while Frodo is wrapped in webbing and taken by Orcs and encountering Shelob.

Frodo's initial stint as the ring bearer is as its keeper in the Shire.  He doesn't wear it or use it or keep it in close physical proximity.  He keeps it hidden.  It isn't until 17 years later, when he is constantly bearing it or putting it on, that the Ring really starts working on him.  We could speculate that if the Ring had been left with more time in Bag Ends with Frodo, it would eventually draw Frodo (or some other hapless Hobbit) into physical contact in order to corrupt Frodo quicker.  In addition to close proximity, Frodo gets a love tap from a Nazgul blade that weakens him.  He spends the next year and a half with the Ring in constant contact and he's been weakened by an injury he will never fully heal from.  The Ring has an ideal opportunity to work through Frodo's inherent resistance and internal strength.  Before it was a matter of decades maybe, now it is a matter of months to work through Frodo's resistance.

Sam, on the other hand, barely holds the Ring (a short time as bearer mentioned above) and struggles to give it back to Frodo.  Yes, Sam ensures that the Ring and Frodo get to the heart of the mountain and he goes through extraordinary efforts to get them there, but it is still Frodo and Gollum that get the Ring in the lava.

Frodo has suffered a slow internal struggle to maintain his resolve and will towards goodness.  Sam has been there to encourage and support Frodo throughout the entire journey, and even literally carried Frodo through parts.  If Sam had carried the Ring, he would likely have been crushed under its onslaught of malevolence within weeks, if not days.

Frodo couldn't have done it alone.  Sam wouldn't have been able to carry the Ring for longer than he did.  Separately, neither could have simply walked into Mordor.  Together, they managed to get there.  They both are heroes.  With Sam's deferential personality--especially to someone almost 2 decades older than he is--it is natural for Sam to let Frodo take the glory, even foist it on Frodo rather than claim his part.

Like all battles, rarely is it the actions of one person that decides the outcome of a battle once it has been joined.  It is the coordinated efforts--sometimes planned, sometimes not--of people during the battle that determine success.  That is the case here: Sam's support and encouragement to Frodo combined with Frodo's inherent resistance to the Ring carry the day, while the others in the Fellowship cover down on the other aspects of the war.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kentucky Vacation - Why Kentucky?

Why Kentucky? 

That was the question we invariably were asked by every person we told we were going to or in Kentucky for vacation. 

Our short answer has been and will continue to be: why not?

Why go anywhere for vacation? As we were taught growing up as military children: We go places because there is something there to experience. 

The long answer goes back to something we noticed in Japan and solidified while we were driving cross country from Gig Harbor, WA to Newport, RI. It was in Kentucky when it really struck home: we had seen and experienced more of Japan than we had of our country. 
We witnessed several Japanese suffer from the problem of "seeing more of a foreign country than the one we born in and from." Our Japanese acquaintances were always amazed by where we had been that they had not, and often those were places they had not heard of. 

As an example of seeing more of Japan: this picture was taken at the Izumo-tiasho in 2013.  It is the location of the convocation of the all Japanese gods during the 10th lunar month.  Several of our Japanese friends did not know what we were talking about until we explained what it was and then told us they had never been.

Why should we leave our country as undiscovered except in stereotypes, assumptions, and misconceptions created by movies, news, biased versions of history, and ignorance? If we are going abroad as unofficial ambassadors of the United States, then, in addition to being a prime example of our country, we should carry with us as complete an understanding of what it means to be American as we possibly can.  

It is fine to say "I've driven through Kentucky," but it is something else to say "I experienced Kentucky." The first is impressive only in the fact that the person has seen the scenery of the state--another state on the tally of states physically visited--while the latter requires some comprehension of the people, their culture, and the state's interaction with history. 

Inside the Kentucky State Capital Building in Frankfort.  I recommend going for the tour.  We spent an hour wandering through this beautiful building.

We drove through the state last year on our way to Virginia. We saw the state from Interstate 64 at 70 miles per hour with a stop for lunch and a single rest stop. We read the religious and political billboards and probably made assumptions of the local views. We did not get a feel for Kentucky. 

We did see signs for attractions that we thought were interesting, such as the Bourbon Trail and Mammoth Cave. After making time to see Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Saint Louis Arch, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse (the latter two we stopped at on our cross country drive in 2004), we looked at how much time we needed to tour a single bourbon distillery or see the cave. The time crunch to get to Virginia did not allow for the several hours needed in driving and touring these attractions specific to Kentucky. 

When we realized that we had never really looked at the fly-over states, we promised to come back and experience Kentucky. It looked like there was more than the perceptions we get from television, and we needed to explore that. 

Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels in their racks.

With Jessica's best friend from college and her boyfriend, we rented a house in Louisville for a week as our base of vacation. From there we were able to drive to the capital, Frankfort, several bourbon distilleries, and several other things. We went zip lining in old mines in Louisville. We toured Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. We sampled local cuisine like the Mint Julep, Hot Brown, and Derby Pie. We toured Kentucky's state capital building in Frankfort, which included the state supreme court, law library, and both houses of the state legislature. We listened to live bluegrass and chatted with locals. We went to four different bourbon distilleries, which included various embellishments on their company's unique history, but all included history lessons ranging from racism to national legislation on proper labeling. We also sampled four variations of bourbon and now understand the difference between Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, and moonshine. 

Samples at Maker's Mark.  They gave us a taste of Maker's White (also called White Dog, which is also Moonshine), Maker's Mark, Maker's 46, and over-matured bourbon.

We set out to learn about our country, including the places our prior assumptions eliminated through stereotype. We now know that Louisville is a testing ground for chain restaurants because the demographics of Louisville match the country as a whole. We know that the Louisville Slugger the company takes its name from died in his forties and was an alcoholic because of ear problems from a childhood illness. We understand that it was Jim Crow laws that pushed African-American horse trainers and jockeys out of those positions when they were prevalent in the early years of the horse racing and the Kentucky Derby. We learned that Prohibition closed all but 4 distilleries overnight and put their employees out of work and into the bread line. We experienced the differences between bourbon made with rye and bourbon made with wheat, and know what kind of bourbon we like and don't like. We experienced the temperament and culture of Louisville and the bourbon history of Kentucky.

This is the front of of Churchill Downs.  Off to the left is the Kentucky Derby Museum, which does tours of Churchill Downs.  Barbaro, the horse, is actually buried under the statue.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Collection Services

The wife and I have been seeing a specialist about the lack of children running around our house.  We’ve been looking for a tax deduction and it hasn’t come it yet.  So, we thought a specialist could help.

As expected, we were referred out of Navy Medicine to a place friends of ours have found success with.  The first appointment went well, I thought.  We were told about the basic tests that need to be done before we could set out a plan for fertility.  The wife has plenty of follow up appointments.  And I will be there for as many of those as I’m allowed.  I have leave for something and this is a good reason to use them if needed. 

Naturally, for the male part of the equation, I only have one requirement.  A deposit.  An appointment for a collection. 

I’ve been calling it a donation.  And, for some odd reason, I’ve been looking forward to making my contribution to the fertile baseline analysis.

Well, success.  Deposit made.  And I’ve been crushed.  My illusion (heavily influenced by Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy sketch) included more than there was.  I built up an image in my mind that out did the reality.

To begin with, we—I keep saying “we” but it really should be “I” because the wife doesn’t supply this part of the test—I was given a six ounce sample cup in a small white bag with directions for “semen collection at home.”  Yes, at home

My imagination went wild . . . got to rated R before this question popped into my head, “how do we get the ‘sample’ to the urological doctor for analysis?”  The Doctor’s response was we need to keep it at body temperature.  “Keep it in your armpit,” she said.  Uh . . . I can think of a few other places that may keep it warm too and be a little more comfortable.  I was just imagining driving like a bat out of hell (maybe 10 miles over, almost like a Rhodes Island native—they usually drive 20 over the speed limit) with the wife sitting shotgun with a 6 ounce cup of little swimmers held tight between her legs.  What do I tell the cop who pulls me over?  “Sorry, officer, I’ve got a time limit before the little guys begin fading away.  This is a pre-pregnancy emergency!  My sperm is going to die if you don’t let me get them to the doctor to be analyzed!”  Not looking good for the home collection.  On the more practical side, a 45 minute drive, not including finding the correct office, which would put us into the Danger Zone (before the sample is no good for analysis).  Home collection is out.

With the idea of home collection out, I moved onto the second, more realistic option—collection at the urology office.  I called, made an appointment, and asked the studious question, “What is the process?”  I was trying to allude to what restrictions there were and materials available.  This is probably the one part that lived up to Jeff Foxworthy’s sketch—there would be some videos and magazines.

Finally, the day arrives.  We abstained for a few days (not an easy feat), and I arrived (only a little late—I had a 2 hour window I could come in) ready to perform.  (Is that a pun?  Oops.)

The attendant, a 20-something blonde about average height, called me back and led me to the collection room, explained the process, pointed to the materials, and told me to mark the time the “sample” was collected, and finally she left.  First off, the “collection” room was just like any other examination room; it was falsely sterile, totally uncomfortable, and not conducive to . . . collection.

She was nervous and uncomfortable, and that was making me both amused and nervous.  I kept thinking to myself: No need to be nervous, you’re not going to be tested here.  You’re not going to stay and watch—why are you so nervous?  Oh, jeez, I hope you’re not staying.  Are you judging me for coming in for a deposit?  Does porn and masturbation make you uncomfortable?  Am I being a jerk or is she?  Does that make her a medical jerk? 

Finally she left.  And I immediately flipped through the magazines, which they covered with some sheet of paper with a description of what not to do.  I never realized Hustler had actual articles and ads in them.  Less visuals than I expected.  There were a couple of dvds, but the thought of popping those in just make me feel more like a pervert.  In hindsight I realized I was in a rare instance where society accepts the reality, and demands completion, of masturbation, which is generally hidden, joked about, and ridiculed.  The fact that society generally frowns upon this kind of self-attention results in most people rushing through it and not taking the time to actually understand their bodies. 

Afterwards (you didn’t think I’d give details here) I kept wondering to myself, did I provide enough?  Is my sample good?  Was there a minimum that they needed?  Who do I tell that I’m done?  Does anyone really provide a 6 ounce sample?  Do I get a lollipop or something for getting the job done?

I left the room.  Wondered around for a minute or two until the lady who checked me told me to have a nice day.

That was it?  Have a nice day?  No call you for a second date or exchange of phone numbers.  I felt so . . . odd.  This was kind of surreal.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thought Game on Syria

News media, supported by some intelligence agencies, says that Assad's government has used a chemical weapon against the Syrian people--probably targeting rebels.  President Obama stated that use of chemical weapons is a Red Line and that the US will take action to respond.

As a thought experiment I want to think about what "action" in Syria requires.

A) What is necessary for President Obama to send Forces to Syria?  What steps must the President go through to get boots on the ground? 

First, the President must have minimal support from the American public to get the military machine moving.  The popularity of the cause is important because it leads to political support in Congress, which releases funding for military action.  It is difficult for a military to sustain operations in an unpopular campaign where money, manpower, and priorities fluctuate based on political winds.  In an ongoing operation the military needs those items to keep going.  

Second, the President will need to work on the international opinion to build a coalition with a variety of international weight.  Coalitions and alliances can fight a war in a way that unilateral action cannot -- with international support comes legitimacy, at least in appearance.  Justifiable reason isn't enough to bring in the weight of the international community, the justification must be for a Just War.

The President will have to work through domestic and international politics to build support.  The President has latitude on military action without Congressional sanction, but they can still shut off funding to any operations by simply not funding operations for Syria or expressly rejecting the President's actions.  At this point, the primary blockage would be in the House of Representatives.  The House is not inclined to allow the President to seek any action that could possibly go well for him in public opinion.

In the international sphere, the President has to actually build a Coalition for some action.  There may be countries lining up to go in (Great Britain, France, Turkey, some others), but there are countries that continue to support the Assad regime.  Primarily, we're looking at Iran and Russia, and, I suspect, China.  

An United Nations Security Counsel Resolution (UNSCR), while not an absolute requirement, will add international legitimacy to the intervention and the ability to take "all necessary action" to protect Syria non-combatants.  However, with Russia and China supporting Assad, an UNSCR is very unlikely.  Russia and China both would benefit from the US and other Western nations loosing face over an UNSCR, but they could also benefit from sucking the US and the West into another Middle East conflict.

Assuming that Pres Obama is able to mobilize the nation and a coalition ...

B) What are the Strategic and Operational Objectives?  What are the National and International Objectives?  What is the conflict termination criteria (when do active combat operations cease)?  What is the combat termination criteria (when is there peace)?  What should Syria look like at the end of active combat operations and what should it look like after stability operations?

These questions, along with many others, are the ones that planners for Iraq (2003-2011) failed to address, analyze, and put any conscious effort into solving until after the Iraq fell.  It is one of the leading reasons that Iraq went from a corrupt stable country with a functioning police force and military to one that was unwillingly occupied and lacked any government, police, or stability.  US and British forces fought three basic enemies: first the Iraqi military, second the insurgents, and third the terrorists.  The second two are largely the result of a failure to plan for the post-Saddam regime.

As a Nation and as an International Community, before we step into a war we should have a clear idea of what we want by the time we get out of the war.  Post-war planning during the initial planning phase helps ensure that our operations are guided towards a strategic and operational end-state.  You need to see the destination if you want to know what road map to use and route to plan.  It also helps us understand the short-term goals and how those work into the long-term goals.

Once we've covered (B), our leaders and military planners can really focus the How.

C) What kind of Forces are necessary to accomplish the mission?  Do we need more that military forces, such as civilian chemical and radiation specialists, FBI?  Do we need to organize with the UN, NATO?  How are we suppose to handle Syrian allies?  Do we incorporate rebel forces in whole or in part or not at all?  Do we overlook connections to terrorists?

The answers to (B) will help here.  If the answer is simply to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons, then we may be able to rely on extensive air operations targeting stockpiles, factories, and specific units.  If the answer includes regime change, then we should have the top cover from the UN to put ground forces into Syria.  Without UN authorization, international intervention is suspect and limited.  Just because it is right, doesn't mean we can do it. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Best Beer Commercial - Ever

My wife said something to me in complete seriousness and it resulted in me thinking of a really good--probably the best--beer commercial aimed at the male population.

Scene setting: Open on a living room setting.  Sports game is on the large flat screen tv.  A woman is approaching the back of the couch with an enthusiastic male sitting on one side of the couch.  As the camera draws near the side of the male, he turns to look up into the camera.

Woman: Here's your chips and Beer [insert favorite beer], dear.

Guy: Thanks, babe.

Guy looks around for something to open the bottle, but does not have anything.  He looks back at the woman.

Woman: Do you want to use my bra to open it?

Guy beams up at woman as he reaches the bottle over to use the bra she is wearing.

Guy: I love you!

End scene.

This is what led to me having this completely male-oriented beer commercial:
I was sitting on the couch folding the first half of paper cranes for Jessica.  She went into the kitchen to get something to drink and asked if I wanted anything.  I said I was up for something, but not water or coke.  She came back in with a fancy root beer that comes in a bottle with a supposedly twist top.  Jessica asked if I need a bottle opener, but then noticed that the top had an arrow telling the drinker which way to twist.  I usually use something when I twist the tops off.  Jessica suggested her sports bra that was in the basket with folded laundry.  Her exact words were "Why don't you use my bra?" pointing to the sports bra.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I spent this Memorial Day as my day off for the month of May.  Odd because I’m in Afghanistan and you usually don’t get a day off in a warzone.  My boss instituted a department policy that we get one day off a month.  It is a rest and relax day—from the 15-18 hours we put in.  This generally doesn’t happen for every unit here.  But we’re in Kabul and have a little more freedom than other places. 

The reason I choose this day is because it was the best day for May that I had.  Early in the month wouldn’t work because of other commitments. 

My plan for the day was simple: take my EWS test, PT, and talk to my wife.  I don’t think I realized fully that today was Memorial Day until a couple of days ago when I received an email as a reminder for the service at 1030. 

Every week we have a memorial service for the past week’s fallen.  Each country to lose someone will read out the name and unit of the fallen.  I attend every week.  It is the least I can do.  I’m not on the front line like they are.  It is a way to ensure that we, at HQ, do not forget the human loss extracted from our countries. 

Today, we recognized an American day of remembrance and invited any and all of our coalition members to attend.  It was fairly well attended.  No names were read off, but General Allen gave the number of the fallen Americans, Coalition members, and Afghans who have died in this war since he took command last year. 

My usual Memorial Day plan is to enjoy the day off, have a good time, live life, and general not acknowledge the cost of war.  Not the way I have since arriving in Kabul.  I don’t doubt that I’ll revert back to my normal behavior when I get back, but I’d like to think I’ll always keep these weekly services in my mind and that when Memorial Day does come around I’ll do something in remembrance.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Darlin . . . While I'm away.


I'm only going to be gone a short while. I'll be back before you know it.

I'll be back right when you've learned to sleep without me. You’ll be starfishing in the center of our bed when I get back. You’ll have resigned yourself to the dog sleeping on my pillow even though you've tried to stop him—that’s when I’ll be on my way back. I’ll be back when you’ve learned to check all the doors before turning off all the lights and leaving a few dishes in the sink for the next day.  And I'll be back right when you can stop having someone mow the weeds in the back.

I'll be back soon. Right after your birthday, before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the switch to Woodlands and soon after school starts up.

We'll be back to our habits. We’ll be doing those small, frequent physical touches every few minutes. We’ll be watching the Little Couple, Dirty Jobs, and Mythbusters while surfing the web, throwing the ball for Joey, and discussing our day. We'll be back to you watching one of your train wreck shows while I do the dishes (acting like I’m not interested in the show), and me playing PS3 games and you cooking wonderful dinners (while you follow the plot of the game).

But I know you're worried about the next six months. I won't lie and tell you I'll be 100% safe. I'll do my best to stay out of trouble. I don’t lend myself to foolish or impulsive decisions. I’ll be back and with you soon.

You'll worry about me. I can't stop you. And everything will be harder by the small things that come up while I’m gone. The batteries in the smoke detectors should be good—we just replaced them all. These small things make it harder.

I can’t stop you from worrying, but, maybe, I can help you with some of the small problems. I have a list of things I want you to remember, things that I hope will help you while I'm gone. They are things I'm worried about.
  • When you are tired it is okay to take a nap. But not too long because you'll never to get sleep at a decent hour and tomorrow will suck even more. 
    • It is perfectly okay to sleep on the floor at work.
  • When you are frustrated at the chores and feeling like they will swallow you whole, take Joey for a short walk. When you get back the chores will still be there, but Joey will be happy and you’ll feel better for getting outside with him.
    • I recommend putting music on full blast and rocking out to Sarah Brightman while doing the dishes or whatever chore is easiest. 
    • You'll probably need to move to Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood for the filing.
  • When you are not hungry and haven't eaten all day, call one of the many friends you have and invite them over for dinner. I don’t know anyone who honestly doesn’t like your cooking. 
    • Eating alone sucks, but starving your body doesn't do any good either.
  • When the battery dies in the smoke detector, after you stop screaming and crying, get the dog and leave the house. Call the XO, the SJA, Tasha and Matt, Cecilia and Tommy, or any number of our friends with someone tall enough to change the battery. Someone will help you. Our neighbors will help.
    • Please do not stack the step ladder onto a coffee table and do it yourself. 
    • Do not attack the detector with a broom or any other stick. We’d have to pay for the damage
    • However, if you do any of those things, please record it--we could send it to AVF if it is funny enough. 
  • When you don't think you can go to work . . . you'll still go to work. Your work ethic wouldn't allow you not to.
  • When the day starts too early and you can't go back to sleep, read a good book.
  • When the day ends too late and you can't get to sleep, read a good book.  And call in sick if you haven't slept at all.
  • When you find time on your hands, go take some pictures.
  • When the dog is being a pain in the butt, don't throw the ball. Go to the library and browse the shelves.
    • Throwing the ball will not help. He’ll just bring it back and want you to do it again. It never stops.
    • But he doesn’t seem to bring the ball to you as often as he wants to just be pet. 
  • When it seems too tough to keep up a strong front and you can't stop from crying, go ahead and cry. 
    • Cuddle the dog, blow your nose (not in his fur), take some headache medicine, and watch a good chick flick. 
    • Pride and Prejudice, When Harry Met Sally, Valentine’s Day, and Pretty Woman are good choices.
  • When the night is dark and making noises, just keep thinking "I am the baddest beast in the dark! The Night should be afraid of ME!"
  • When you miss me so much that it hurts, remember that I miss you and I love you with all of my heart.
I worry about you being without me. I worry about the problems that will happen while I'm away. I know there will be problems, like the light bulbs and smoke detectors. I know you are strong, determined, and independent. But I still worry.

When I’m having a hard time, I'll put on some Brad Paisley and think about time well wasted. Then I'll get back to it.

I love you.

Now, blow your nose and take those headache meds.