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Showing posts from June, 2016

Every Time I Put My Helmet On, I Could Die

In Michigan earlier this month, a drunk, high or otherwise screwed up pickup driver ran over nine bicyclists, killing five and maiming the other four.

So many cyclists are on social media acting surprised.  They shouldn't be.  Riding a two-wheeled vehicle is dangerous anywhere.  Sharing a road with hundreds of two-ton vehicles makes it more dangerous.  When the drivers of those vehicles hate bicyclists, someone is going to get hurt, and that someone is not the driver of the two-ton vehicle.

And the hostility on the road from the two-ton cowards in pickup trucks is increasing.  The Republican nominee trashed John Kerry last week for crashing on his bike during a State Department trip.  Dumpy Trump told his even fatter fans that he, Donald Trump, would not fall off a bicycle.  Because, of course, Trump would never get on one.  Many conservative talk show hosts have attacked bicycles for various reasons that can be summarized in a fat man's envy of men who are in shape.

Most of…

Who Avoids Our Wars? The Rich, The Entitled

Watch News coverage of Trump rallies, and you will see Trump supporters portrayed as white, poor and stupid.
There certainly are Trump voters who are poor and stupid, but I have not met them. I have only seen them on the News.
The Trump voters I know personally have college degrees, are very wealthy, and believe the world started falling apart in the 60s and 70s when they were kids.The college degrees of the Trump voters I know are technical and professional.I have not met a Trump voter with a degree in arts or literature.
I recently met a tall, energetic engineer named Tom. He is retired but still works as a consultant.He owns a dozen cars, eight of them show-quality American muscle cars of the 60s and 70s.He has a home that would house a village in much of the world, no kids, and enough garage space for his entire car collection.
He has lived in Houston for more than 30 years, but grew up in suburban Chicago.As a high school student in the late 60s he was bussed to a different subu…

Who Fights Our Wars? Volunteers

This week my family and I volunteered at GAIN, a ministry that sends food, clothes, seeds and other supplies to refugees around the world.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was sorting clothes with a guy named Bill.  He is a retired soldier who enrolled in ROTC the same year I enlisted in 1972.  Bill retired after 22 years of active duty.  He served in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down then went to the Gulf War and retired in 1993.

We talked about living in Germany, eating C-Rations and starting our military careers during the Draft.  Both of us like the draft Army better.  His fist command was a mechanized mortar platoon. Bill told me about one of his draft soldiers who was a math whiz and could set up accurate fire with his "Four-Deuce" 4.2-inch mortars faster than more experienced soldiers.

I told him about my gunner who was a mess as a soldier, but a brilliant gunner.  We both liked an Army with soldiers who did not want to serve, but served anyway.

Bill knew David Pet…

Ban Shakespeare!!

Open Culture published a funny Infographic about the way people die in Shakespeare's plays.

I shared the image on my facebook page.  A soldier I know who is against any regulation of guns made the comment "Ban Shakespeare."  
When I read the comment, I knew he was trying to be funny, but he is also part of the culture that is slowly wringing the life out arguably the greatest author ever.
Part of his belief that everyone should have guns comes from his belief that he needs to defend his family and himself from invaders, thieves and dangers that lurk everywhere.  
The chart carefully tabulates the means of every death in Shakespeare, but does not measure the how close the dead person is to his or her murderer.  When you summarize Shakespeare that way, nearly al the deaths are by friends, neighbors, family or coworkers--if I can call members of the kings court coworkers.

And then you get to the terrible irony of many gun deaths in America.  The huge number of guns means t…

Great Dad, Ordinary Dad: So Different for Sons

My son Nigel and I walking to Church
Young boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers.
The son of a house painter who works for his Dad during the summers then joins the family business has comfortable relationship with who his father is and what his father does.  The son learns over years of apprenticeship that he can do the kind of work Dad does. Dad is not pushing him to do something "great."  Nor is the son striving to do something beyond his reach.
I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if I had not tried so hard to be my Dad. I simply did not have the physical ability to do the things my Dad did, so I spent 50 years striving to make up the deficit I felt.  
My Dad, as I have written elsewhere, was a middleweight boxer and a minor-league pitcher for the Reading Phillies.  I have no ability to play stick-and-ball sports, nor did I have any ability to box.  My biggest fight at age 17 was a school-yard fight that sent me to the hospital with seve…

Where Have All the Liars Gone? Killed by Facebook Every One

Of all my memories of basic training in 1972, the two most vivid are marching in the rain at 4 a.m. and listening to the other 39 guys in my platoon tell incredible lies.
A pimply-faced 19-year-old Lothario told me with no shame at all that a half-dozen cheerleaders were back home in Arkansas or Idaho were pining for his embraces.We all grew up in during the peak of the “Muscle Car” era in America.The same studs who left a bevy of beauties each had a Corvette, a Hemi Cuda, a 440 Six Pak Road Runner, or an SS427 Chevelle waiting in the barns and backyards back home for their return.
Their erotic and automotive attainments were even more impressive when you considered that in February 1972 when we started basic, trainee pay had just doubled from $168 to $283 a month.You would think that young men who could afford six paramours and Corvette would not take a job for $71 per week, even with free room and board.
Lies that would make Mark Twain blush were as much a part of the atmosphere as…

ROOMIE! The Cursed Bunk, The Daily Zombie Movie and My Deployment Roommates

Behind me is the "Cursed Bunk" at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
My deployment to Iraq in 2009 began with training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  When we arrived, we were assigned rooms.  I was in a four-man room with Sgt. Nickey Smith, Sgt. Miguel Ramirez and another sergeant who was gone in a couple of weeks.
He was the first of four guys who slept in the "cursed" bunk during the two months we were in Fort Sill.  The first guy was quiet and was suddenly gone.  Some paperwork problem and he got sent home.  The next guy spent a night or two and got reassigned somewhere.  
Then came roommate #3, Specialist Big Dude.  I wrote about him in 2009. He was a really good mechanic, a really good shot, and a really hopeless soldier.  He weighed 335 pounds.  He had anger issues, and he watched a Zombie movie EVERY day.  Really!  He was with us for almost a month and every every Big Dude climbed into his bunk and watched a Zombie movie.  Then he would talk to his wife about the Zombie movie …

Fast Response, Sad Answer: NO!

Today I got three emails from the office of Congressman Joe Pitts.  One had an attachment of more than a dozen pages explaining exactly why I was not eligible for a military retirement.

I knew why.  So I asked again if I could get a waiver of some kind.  The Army gave me an age waiver to get beck in the Army at 54 then gave me a waiver to serve in a war after Age 60 when I volunteered to go to Afghanistan three years ago.

But no waiver for retirement.

I tried.

The Army said no.

Machiavelli on Leadership: The First Principle of Power, Book 13 (part 2) of 2016

Paul Ryan is getting criticized by leaders of his own party and others for being a hypocrite, endorsing Donald Trump while at the same time saying he is a racist.

Whatever else Ryan may be, he is consistent in following the first and central rule in Machiavelli's The Prince: The leader must take power and keep power, without power he can do nothing.

Ryan made it very clear he is endorsing Trump because Trump will sign Ryan's economic agenda and Hillary Clinton would not.  Trump says he will appoint Conservative Supreme Court justices, Clinton will not.

In one odd potential twist on the outcome of the election, some potential scenarios indicate Ryan will be out of power if Trump is crushed in a landslide.  If Ryan is out of power and out of favor as a result of supporting a failed candidate, his economic agenda has no chance at all.  But if Trump wins and has a Republican House and Senate, Speaker Ryan will have the best chance to put the country on a Republican economic pla…

Just Like Dad, Not in a Good Way: 19 Years, No Retirement

Congressman Joe Pitts
On May 3, I was honorably discharged from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  I had 19 years and 21 days of service.  At that moment became "Just Like Dad" in a way that my Dad would never have wished on me.  
My father, George Gussman, enlisted in December 1939, at the age of 33 as a private soldier.  He was at the end of his career as a middleweight boxer and a minor league pitcher and decided to enlist.  He was supposed to be discharged in mid-December of 1941, but there were no discharges after December 7.  The next year, the Army sent Dad to Officer Candidate School, partly because he had warehouse experience and partly because he was so old, 36!  Despite leaving school in the 8th grade, Dad studied hard and got commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He commanded a maintenance company of Black soldiers at Camp Shenango, Pa., then a German Prisoner of War Camp in Reading, Pa., during the war.
After the war, Dad served in the Army reserve till 1958 when …

Enlistment Extended for the Duration

My father enlisted in the Army in December of 1939.  His enlistment was for just two years.  He was planning to get out in December of 1941.  In a very early version of the infamous Iraq War policy known as "Stop Loss," Dad was "extended for the duration" of the just declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.

Dad and thousands of other soldiers in the peacetime Army of 1941 remained on active duty until late 1945 or 1946.

Except for Stop Loss the long Iraq and Afghanistan Wars did not stop discharges after a normal enlistment period of three or four years.  It was another way that these terrible wars were so different from World War 2.

By the time the war ended nearly fifteen million Americans were serving uniform.  Soldiers got leave, rotated home, but the rule was everyone served for the duration.
Among the many things wrong with Iraq, Afghanistan and Viet Nam was the partial commitment.  Even though my Dad never left America, he knew he would be serving until …

Command Sgt. Major Christopher Kepner Named Top NCO of Army National Guard

In a ceremony yesterday one of my favorite people in the Army was named the top sergeant of the Army National Guard.  Christopher Kepner is now the Command Sergeant Major of the entire Army National Guard.

He will move to Arlington, Va., and serve full time in his new job.  You can read my interview of Kepner here. He is a strong leader and has strong opinions on leadership.  The fist time I heard him speak it was at a leadership meeting for all the sergeants in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade:

He led an NCO Development course for all the sergeants in the brigade.  He began that course saying, “You need to do only two things to be a leader in the United States Army.  First, keep the men safe as much as possible. Second, make sure your soldiers maintain standards in every area. And how will you know if you are doing these two things? You will eat lunch by yourself for the rest of your career.”

Book 14 of 2016: The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
― Dorothy Parker
In 1978, Clint Swift, a staff writer on the Stars and Stripes newspaper in Darmstadt, West Germany, acted on Dorothy Parker’s advice and gave me a copy of The Elements of Style.  Click on Clint's name for a longer version of that story.
In the four decades between then and now, I have re-read Strunk and White at times when I start to learn a new language and when the self doubt common to all writers starts to attack my mind.The Elements of Style, like a good coach, reminds the player that practicing fundamentals is the way to stay at the top of one’s game.
I also start to use “one” as a pronoun after re-reading Strunk and White because it is the original and best gender-neutral singular pronoun and is a lovely, if stuffy, way around s…