Friday, November 17, 2017

At Least Bear Never Did This in Navy


Some Naval Aviator in hot water now after citizens claim to see phallic sky-writing in this doodle. Bear is certain it is a dog fight exercise followed by extending away and returning on reciprocal course to reengage.

Whidbey Island aviator reduces Washington state mom to tears after having to explain the design to traumatized kids.

And you thought Bear was bad. You want to see bad? Give Bear wunna dem bad boys and he find sumpin better to do with it than that!

SURRENDER DOROTHY

Bear would totally do that.

The Pope Video "Mission in Asia"



Oh, by the way, did you know there was another Pope Video. Neither did Bear. He keeps forgetting to pick the lowest hanging fruit of them all.

A lot of different cultures and religions exist in Asia. They have some pretty cool clothes, especially the ones who wear red turbans. Christians are the minority. They had better dialogue.

The End.

About the only thing the Bear can make of such thin soup (other than to complain about its thinness, although we know the fare by now) is how old words that used to mean one thing when Catholics used them now have a different meaning slipped under them.

"Mission," used to have a specific meaning in Catholicism. (For that matter, so did "intention.") It was an organized effort to bring the light of the Gospel to foreign lands where it had not been preached, or preached improperly.

In the current Pope Video, Pope Francis uses the word, "mission," but not in that sense at all. Now, it is in a more generic sense of "task." And, as always and only, that task is to "dialogue" with those of other faiths. No matter how many times you repeat it, though, "dialogue" is never going to sound a call to action like "Go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations."

"Dialogue" just gets more meaningless and boring every time we hear it.

Some things correct themselves, which is something we might want to remember.

Anyone with any sense knew Lumen Gentium's ringing endorsement of the Church's real "mission" at the end of its Hall of Faiths (and No Faith At All) was nothing but bush-wah. And so it proved to be.

The Bear doubts St. Francis Xavier is impressed.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Great Lesbian Mutiny of '91

"Port of Call: Manama"


USS Samuel Gompers AD-37 (inboard) a.k.a. "The Love Boat"
dwarfs a guided missile cruiser.

This long, improbable and unedifying tale comes from the Bear's "And Now it Can Be Told" files, answering the question, "What did You Do in the War, Daddy?" So grab yourself a Foster's lager (Arabic for 'Beer'), kick back, and prepare to lower your opinion of the Bear. Because, as the sign in some bar in Manama said, "The More You Drink, the More You Can Win." What a wonderfully irresponsible advertising campaign! Like Navy JAGs needed any encouragement.

Be forewarned, this is not so much a blog entry as a chapter in the Bear's memoirs, so if you have better things to do, which you almost certainly do, this is long. Blame a commenter who encouraged the Bear to tell it. It will probably be of interest mainly to ex-Navy types and homosexuals. (Welcome to all of you brought here by search engines keying on "bear" and "homosexual!")

Our story is from an era before "don't ask, don't tell," still less today's outright approval. There was a time when just being homosexual was grounds for administrative separation from service. It's true. That's how things stood at the end of Operation Desert Storm, when the Bear was earning his Southwest Asia Service medal by a zealous defense of lesbians and other miscreants in the Gulf.

(The heading comes from a series of Navy recruitment commercials in the 70s. Saturday Night Live's 1979 send-up is at the end of this article. "It's not just a job. It's $96.78 a week.")

Filipina Bands, Old English Rockers, and a Narrow Escape from Fire

Bahrain is a small and tidy island nation connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. Its capital of Manama is pleasant, although the pill boxes scattered about probably say something about its stability. It is the headquarters for the Gulf's Fifth Fleet. It has a decent nightlife for a Gulf nation and, at least when the Bear was there, a surrealistic variety of expat bands.

The Bear has only ever once been propositioned in a bar. It was in Manama by a white-robed Saudi gentleman. Poor Bear did not understand his intent until after enjoying several Foster's from his generous new friend. Boys Beware! (A 1961 educational film is also at the end of the piece.)

The Bear remembers one talented and well-choreographed Filipina band singing "The Name Game" to "Muhammed" and other Arabic names (now, that's talent). There was also an old English rocker playing his guitar behind his head like Jimi Hendrix. The Filipinas exited stage right as smoke started filling the club and the Bear and his buddy did not leave until they were the only ones who weren't wearing fireman gear.

Sometimes it's hard to know the difference between stage effects and a deathtrap. Especially after a lot of Foster's.

Neopolitan JAGs versus Orso Siciliano

The Bear's home base was the Naval Legal Service Office Detachment at Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. We were a disreputable appendix to the actual office in Naples. Officers with career potential seemed to wind up in Naples. Obvious terminal O-3s like the Bear landed in Sig. (The Bear can speak only of his time there; things are probably different now.)

There were Naples JAGs sent to Manama, too, but they play no part in this story because they were no fun at all. They all probably became O-6s, at least. They were always doing silly things like PT on their own and got one of the thousands of SUVs Japan threw at the Gulf in support of the liberation of Kuwait.

They also got gas masks.

Bahrain had been struck by a SCUD missile earlier, but the enemy threat of poison gas, at any rate, had been all but eliminated by the time the Bear arrived. Even so, Sigonella JAGs rated neither a vehicle nor gas masks, and that pretty much says it all.

No doubt, they were spies, too, and reported everything we did to the CO in Naples. Fortunately, Naples could not find Sigonella on a map if their lives depended on it. (Naples is not a nice place like Sicily, either. We probably imbibed some of our attitude from the delightful Sicilian traditions of subverting authority and enjoying life.)

Come to think of it, the Naples JAGs must have gone back to collect medals and promotions before the time of this story or it might have had a very different ending. If you have ever enjoyed either the wonderful television series or John Mortimer's books about Rumpole of the Bailey, we were Rumpole and they were Samuel "Soapy Sam" Ballard.

Where was the Bear's dear driver, bodyguard, factotum and lawfully wedded spouse Red Death, during these high times? Stuck back in a little town called Belpasso on the knees of an active volcano with four small children. Her Navy wife experience was more like Apocalypse Now: Charlie didn't get much USO. She was dug in too deep in diapers and moving too fast chasing kids. Her idea of great R&R was a little cold pasta and eel meat.

She had many of her own adventures, though. If you want to cause a stir, wear a black dress when you do your vegetable shopping in Sicily. Also, "requires ten stitches" translates to "gets a Band-Aid" at the local asilo, or "Baby School." God bless her for raising four tough little Sicilian kids where she didn't even speak the language.

The Desert Storm Allies on Parade

The Bear flew from Sigonella to the Gulf on a chartered Hawaiian Airlines DC-8 four-engine narrow-body. He landed at night to see out his window a rearing horse when the airplane rolled to a stop. It's a different world. His three-quarters empty bottle of Jack Daniels (long flight, ancient airplane) was confiscated and there he was, looking for a cab to the Manama Holiday Inn.

The next day, he went to work. Possibly the day after.

The pier at Manama was like a model UN where allies did their best to reinforce stereotypes.

Here was a Japanese contribution with crew members departing for liberty with cameras around their necks. A German ship had very competent-looking tanned sailors in tropical uniforms. A British ship had pasty kids that looked far removed from the tars of Nelson's day. On the quarterdeck of an Italian ship, the duty sailor had made an instrument from glasses of water and was playing it with two spoons. There was even a pitiful little ship of unknown purpose flying the Kuwaiti flag with, "Thanks America," painted on it.

At the time, the Bear noticed Russia's absence from the WWII lineup, but the Soviet Union was in its death throes, and didn't like us, anyway.

The allied ships were small, all minesweepers to the Bear's recollection. At the end of the long pier were two big American ships. On the right was an oddity: the Fifth Fleet command vessel, painted look-at-me white for some reason.

And towering over everything like an enormous floating factory was the slab-sided USS Samuel Gompers, a destroyer tender everyone called "The Love Boat.".

Getting Snuggly Haze Gray and Underway

Navy ships have nicknames, official and otherwise. The Bear remembers an LST in Valencia that had so many sailors barred from liberty it was known as the "USS Liberty Risk."

The early mixed-sex crewed Gompers was known as "The Love Boat," and, like all unofficial names, it was well-deserved.

Homosexual admin boards made up a good part of he Bear's MOJAGs (away missions to various ports and ships underway) in those days. Gompers was unusual in that they had saved up some lesbian cases, a novelty for us. There was not really the mutiny claimed by the shameless click-bait title, but the Bear never forgot the unintentionally funny meeting with the Love Boat's captain.

There was about to be a change of command and the captain was very insistent that his "lesbian problem" got cleared up before he handed his ship over to a new skipper. "I want a clean ship," he kept telling two of us JAGs. He was so earnest and even a bit Queeg-like about the purge both of us chuckled later, even when we were sober. We started calling it "The Great Lesbian Mutiny" to get into the spirit of things.

Of course, to be fair, naturally he wanted all pending legal matters resolved in advance of the change of command, if possible.

The more the Bear learned about the case - and there did seem to be quite a bit of enthusiasm behind the charges - the more he found "The Love Boat" to be a fitting nickname. There was plenty of enthusiasm to go around and not limited to lesbians. The Bear still fails to understand how the lesbians posed any greater threat than their occasional change-of-pace male partners or everyone else who was getting snuggly haze gray and underway.

Legal Exigencies Require an Interesting Choice

A little bit of the Navy stuff went a long way with the Bear. Ships are cluttered, confusing, cramped, and unpleasant places (especially for a Bear) until you get used to them, which he was never permitted to do. Little nonsense unsanctioned by tradition is tolerated by the Navy, even from JAGs, the limits of whose power were never quite understood by line officers. (Once, just when the Bear was starting to feel at home on USS Wasp underway, he got sent home by helicopter in disgrace over some silly misunderstanding.)

The Ursus Arctos is a land animal. The Navy was probably not the best idea the Bear ever had. Authority rubs the fur of Bears the wrong way, too. The Bear was an excellent criminal defense lawyer. As a lieutenant in the United States Navy, however, the Bear admits he was not the very model of a modern naval officer.

After weighing complex legal factors, having the purest sympathy for our clients, no doubt upholding the lowest traditions of the Sigonella detachment, and, honestly, a bit piqued that our clients were being singled out for behavior which was not only famously widespread, but winked at when they got a bit snuggly with male sailors, too, we conducted our entire investigation and case preparation from the place of our choice. Gompers was in a hurry to wrap things up and nobody was in a mood to ask questions.

All legal work was conducted at the pool of the Manama Holiday Inn. Both beside it and in it.

Every time a helicopter passed overhead, the running gag was that we hoped it didn't have a CNN crew on board, or we would be on national news.

The Bear's Court-Martial

It sounds much worse than it really was and it was truly all in good, clean fun. We knew the evidence and the outcome was not in doubt in my case. We figured at least our clients' final days in the United States Navy might be memorable for something other than sitting in a greasy, stifling hot ship with everyone talking about them.

They could splash around in innocent childlike fun with their little friends.

Of course, had our actions been discovered, we could have been, in theory, mind you, in trouble. By a long stretch, someone might even have considered a court-martial under Article 134, UCMJ, which covers "fraternization." A close reading of the relevant law and regulations, however, does not mention anything about swimming pools, and seems to cover less innocent interactions between officers and enlisted personnel, such as loaning money and dating.

Anyway, with USS Samuel Gompers, "prejudicial to good order and discipline" was a problematical concept at best. We had to conduct the business of our mission somewhere, and a ship is claustrophobic, distracting, lacks privacy, and is not conducive to a trustful attorney-client relationship.

Not to mention, you waste hours wandering around lost until you find the quarterdeck or die.

We exercised sound operational and professional discretion to promote a good attorney-client relationship under exigent circumstances. It was, after all, technically a theater of war, with temperatures over 100 degrees, and we were under constant threat of death by smoke inhalation, sunstroke and, possibly, drowning.

If you think the pool was a bad choice, what about inside the air-conditioned hotel? The Bear and his buddy were always in public view and always with each other.

It goes without saying we would have done the same if our clients had been men.

In the end, my buddy's client beat the rap. A damning letter sealed the Bear's client's fate.

Oh, and he never really got court-martialed, either.

A Bear's Defense, in All Seriousness

It may or may not have been a good story. In truth, the Bear feels less pride in it than the relish with which he tells his tales suggests. He recalls that whole period as surreal.

The Bear admits to lack of good judgment both as an officer and a lawyer. And, even with our buddy system, it was stupid to put ourselves into a situation that could have been a near occasion of sin, certainly looked bad, and could even have escalated to disciplinary action. We were just lucky word never got back to either the Love Boat's command or our own. It was pretty inexcusable.

For all the smart-ass M*A*S*H* inspired fun, it was a reckless way to start a legal career. And, it was a pretty shabby way for a married Bear to behave, even with non-lubricious motives.

Red Death knew Bear was living it up in a swell hotel with great food, tennis courts and a swimming pool, drinking Foster's by the gallon, and doing a little gold shopping for her. (Decent prices for 22 caret gold bangles is sort of Bahrain's thing.) But conducting business with female clients and witnesses at the pool was probably the last thing she imagined. 

Shame, shame, shame on Bear. Really.

But every MOJAG generated some crazy story. At the time it seemed to be on a continuum of capers.

As JAGs, we were not quite like anyone else in the Navy. On MOJAGs, we were unsupervised, hard-drinking (in port), and, unless we were with another JAG, isolated behind enemy lines. It's hard to convey what a psychologically challenging place a large ship can be. You don't know anyone, every square inch is already being used by somebody else, and you have no idea even how to get from A to B. If Bear had to so much as to visit the head (toilet) he had to wake somebody up to show him where the damned thing was.

You're viewed with suspicion by everyone, including your client (to whom you are just another officer) whose trust you must somehow gain fast. We traveled light, lived by our wits and a copy of the UCMJ, and the best of us stood up as Staff Lieutenants to ship captains and Marine COs.

You have to remember, we were also new lawyers, figuring out what worked on our own, without the mentoring and practical training most new lawyers get. We had real legal power limited mainly by our creativity and willingness to push hard and get pushed back - harder. There was definitely an "us-against-them" attitude between a few of us and commands.

But, most of all, the  Bear must admit to rebelling against authority that (again, Apocalypse Now comes to mind) singled out our clients for speeding tickets at the Indy 500 of romance that was the Love Boat.

Here is the background to his bad attitude.

Bear Contra Mundum

The Bear was not a line officer. He was dropped onto ships to face commands that were at least suspicious and sometimes hostile. Most saw due process and the attorney-client relationship as a threat to their authority. Courts and boards were an unwelcome distraction from the real business of cruising around being ready to kill people. Defense counsel were tolerated, and sometimes even treated very politely as guests, but everybody knew our job was to gum up the works in pursuit of the best result for our clients.

Some were more zealous than others.

So, along comes Lieutenant Bear. He was a deliberate and effective irritant in a system where all but the least sensible commanding officers instinctively knew how hot a clever O-3 JAG could make things for them. Bear was not cut out to be a naval officer, but was made for the role of defense lawyer.

In other words, the Bear has always been the lawyer you love to hate until little darling gets charged with sexual assault after a drunken college party. Or, as Robert Downey Jr's character in "The Judge" puts it: "Everybody wants Atticus Finch until there's a dead hooker in the bathtub."

The incident in which he was kicked off the USS Wasp is sort of a funny story, but became a major Sixth Fleet investigation after the Bear alleged command influence in a case already sensitive enough to get him kicked out of Israel and barred from reentry. (Red Death was waiting at the airfield for Bear's return from Israel when she was informed that, perversely, Israel had refused entry to the C-130 that was to bring him back. He later returned on Alitalia, which was much more comfortable.)

The adversary role against god-like ship captains and even whole countries was heady for a brand-new lawyer, especially when he got the last laugh. The rare wins Bear had came from learning what buttons to push, and, frankly, the lessons he learned early were not about being nice and "dialoguing." They stuck with him the rest of his career.

The temptation to twist the tale of the Love Boat's captain, even behind his back, by stretching an attorney-client relationship that was sometimes the subject of command interference was hard to resist. It was almost a poetic turnabout for two JAGs who had no future as such mainly because they enjoyed the tale-twisting too much.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story, then, is not about lubricity. It's really about pride. Pride is a powerful fuel and the Bear's career ran on it from the beginning to the very end. The Bear knows most of his readers are in favor of the death penalty, but being responsible for someone's very life in an adversary system is something most people can't even imagine. Even being responsible for years in prison, or an enlisted person's career in an adversary system is something hard to appreciate if you've not been there.

Note the key word: "adversary." Each side is doing its best within the rules of the game to beat the other. A boxing match has rules, too. It doesn't mean fights aren't brutal. And the stakes in criminal cases are very high.

There are probably good defense lawyers who are truly humble. The Bear is still trying to learn humility, and not doing a very good job. Pride is a powerful fuel, but those who think they can safely handle it are fooling themselves.

A Word About Military Policy on Sex

The Bear supposes this is long past being an issue to anyone. Nonetheless, he has seen it from both sides up close.

The Bear also prosecuted cases in the Navy. It was for a long time unique among the uniformed services to have prosecutors and defense counsel under the same command. (Others separated the roles to avoid the reality or appearance of defense counsel feeling like they were not free to be zealous advocates.)

A story Red Death likes to tell is how she was in labor when the Bear (then at Naval Training Station Great Lakes) had to drop by the nursing school on base to pick up some paperwork on a case he was prosecuting. (It was number four; we made it in plenty of time.) That case involved a homosexual sailor who got too curious and was charged with sexual assault. Bear was defense counsel on a similar case involving a Marine underway.

So, the Bear gets the argument that it's not fair to put straight guys in close quarters with gay guys who might look at them as objects of sexual desire, because he's seen a couple of cases involving bad things. In actual practice, the Bear doesn't remember enlisted people objecting to others believed to be homosexual, as long as they kept it to themselves. A sort of practical "don't ask, don't tell" which seemed to work. The Bear has no idea how things are working under the current system. He suspects it's probably not too bad.

But, back then, in 1991, the Navy had no problem putting straight guys in close quarters with straight (or equal opportunity) females who might look at each other as objects of sexual desire. Its solution was and is to prosecute the few sailors who do make unwanted advances. (It is true, however, that the quarters are not quite so close.) The Bear has no idea how that is working out for them, now, either.

Out of all the homosexual admin separation boards the Bear did, none of them involved nonconsensual behavior. (Those were rare and went the court-martial route.) Many were excellent sailors who were discharged solely for being homosexual. Sometimes, it was the real-life version of Bill Murray in Stripes: "No, we're not homosexual, but we are willing to learn." In other words, it was an easy out for straight sailors really, really tired of the Navy. 

So, what is the Bear's opinion about the Love Boat, which was the shape of things to come? The Bear thinks it was a bad idea then, and is a bad idea now.

You put young men and young women in close proximity where they are not allowed to snuggle at all during very long cruises, and, well, call Bear crazy, but the results are foreseeable. The Love Boat generated a whole lot of pregnancies, too. (Nobody got separated for all the straight snuggling that was going on. In fact, the command couldn't care less about the Bear's client's snuggling with the boys, which seems odd, since the risk of pregnancy and consequent loss of a sailor would seem to be of greater consequence.)

A command doesn't need the drama. Or the pregnancies. And guys and gals don't need the temptation, and wives don't need to be thinking about their husbands transiting the Pacific with a bunch of fit, nubile young women.

The question of women in combat is different. The Bear must defer to his son's opinion on that, and he thought the women he met downrange were good soldiers who were able to handle situations that would have been extremely awkward for guys, especially in that culture.


The Fate of the Love Boat

Like the Bear, the USS Samuel Gompers reached the end of its useful service life. In 2003, it was destroyed as a target, a fate the Bear has so far avoided through care and a high constitution. There are actually three DC-8s still flying in commercial service as of 2016, but not for anyone you've heard of.

Mixed-crew ships are ho-hum.

There are no more homosexual administrative separation boards. Who knows what Navy JAGs do these days. But, as long as there is a Sixth Fleet and there is ouzo, there'll always be work.

The Bear has every confidence the Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily's Naval Legal Service Office detachment is now a highly professional unit exemplifying the best traditions of naval service and legal professionalism. It probably was the instant the Bear left, the last of the old crew.

The last military case he did was fairly late in his career, as individual civilian counsel in a drug court-martial at Scott Air Force base. He very much enjoyed the military's defense privilege of having the last word in a case.

He lost, anyway.


SNL Navy Recruitment Parody


"Boys Beware" - a 1961 educational film.







Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Why are Women Better than Men?

The Bear has observed humans for over a thousand years, and if there's one thing he's noticed in every age, it's this:

Women are better than men.

Looking back on 41 years of marriage, the Bear can say without fear of contradiction that his driver, bodyguard, factotum and lawfully wedded spouse, Red Death, is an infinitely better creature than her husband.

She makes it look so easy. It's not fair.

Sure, being a Bear with an appetite for ponies is a handicap, but seriously. She's a saint. Are there other husbands reading this that find their wives seem to have a talent for virtue that they could match only through excruciating toil, if ever?

Here's an example. The Bear was at the VA to get his license stamped by the Department of Fish, Game and Wildlife Bureau of Large Talking Predators for this month. That accomplished, he got into the car. (Note first that Red Death had waited for him - always does - with the patience of a saint. Note also that the only place the Bear ever seems to go is to the VA, which says much about what a prize for a hubby he is.)

"Let's go," Bear said.

"Wait. There's an old guy over there."

"So? I'm hungry? Let's drive through Steak and Shake!"

"The clinic is closing. There's nobody in the lot. He could be a crime victim."

The Bear might say there is a reason he calls his wife Red Death. Trust Bear, ballistically speaking, you do not want to attempt to victimize anyone in her vicinity. Her situational awareness and lethality is the real-life model for certain of his fictional characters. The Bear finally gave her a backhoe for Christmas a few years ago.

They are all legally justifiable, of course, but trials get in the way of her good works. But Bear digresses.

It was only then that the Bear even noticed some white-haired World War I veteran teetering next to a battered old pickup truck. Only after the Holy Spirit, speaking through her natural goodness, clobbered the Bear over his thick, furry skull with his utter insensibility to the needs of others, did he jog - jogged, you understand, an action he has not performed without the encouragement of a fat pony for decades - over to assist the old fellow.

Every day she knits hats for homeless people. She makes sleeping mats for them out of plastic bags. She visits the sick. She never misses Mass, even when she has a reason the Bear would consider more than sufficient for snoozing through the morning. She cooks wonderful meals, cleans and runs errands while the Bear pecks away in solitude at his dubious literary endeavors. Not only does she put up with a Bear as a husband, that Bear would blush beneath his fur to admit how she spoils him.

She always puts others ahead of herself. She's a doer of the Gospel, not just a hearer. She burns more calories in a week helping others than the Bear does in a year of pony-chasing. She probably burns more calories saying rosaries for Bear than that.

What's really weird is she has not read nor does she have an opinion about Amoris Laetitia and rarely mentions Pope Francis. The Bear is at a loss how she can be so virtuous without obsessing over the state of the Church.

You're probably thinking, "Oh, dear, the Bear is really in the doghouse and is trying to talk his way out of whatever horrible thing he's done."

Or, maybe, "Women aren't really more virtuous, their corruption is on the inside: spite, envy, jealousy, calumny and gossip with other women when men aren't around."

Or, even, "Well, sure, a woman is better than a Bear, but not a man."

The Bear would answer, no, pretty sure that's not true, and you might have a point. But not with Red Death. You can't be so consistently good on the outside while hiding spiritual decay on the inside. Not over four decades plus.

Helping others, domestic industry, and a tight shot group even with a short-barreled revolver, she is the living example of the Proverbs 31 woman.

But, then again, she's a woman.

The Bear sometimes suspects the "patriarchy" he learned about in his theology courses must have reversed the roles of Adam and Eve.

It seems far more likely there was no serpent, Adam picked the apple because he was hungry, and his wife went along so she would fall, too, and remain with him as a good example.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thoughts on Fall Cleaning

Fan Mail, not from Some Flounder, though.

The Bear's Secretary Divulges Odd Discoveries

You do Spring cleaning. Bears do Fall cleaning, getting their caves ready for hibernation. He found all sorts of odd and wonderful things in his secretary this morning. (A secretary is an essential old piece of furniture: a tall cabinet with bookshelves on top. a fold-down writing surface that reveals many little drawers and cubbyholes, and big drawers below.)

Was the generation before boomers made up of hoarders, or was it just the Bear's family? Perhaps it was because the Bear's adopted parents were so poor growing up. When the Bear's mother passed away, the task of disposing of everything in her house and garage was staggering. Much of it was sheer junk.

And, yet, this morning, the Bear found a folded envelope with "first haircut" written in his adopted father's hasty and difficult to read handwriting. The hair was blond and looked as if it were cut yesterday. (The Bear did not turn gray, except around his muzzle; his fur just got dark.) How do you throw something like that away? Not because it means much to the Bear, but it meant enough to his father to keep a tiny part of his childhood forever.

A silver pocket watch that was Red Death's first Christmas present back when we were dating. The Bear wound it up. It works just fine, so he found a mismatched chain that used to belong to her grandfather and put it in his pocket for the first time in 30 years or more.

The Dead Hand of the Past

And, yet, we try to avoid too much sentimentality when it comes to things. We just don't keep much, preferring to spare our children the pang of having to throw away things that will not mean a lot to them. The Bear thinks parents are often afraid to let their children grow up to be their own persons. After a certain age, continuing to parent them is unhealthy.

That need for control can even extend to the dead hand from beyond the grave. Countless stories were told about hundreds of items with the expectation that they would be passed down generation to generation. By analogy, the law of wills and estates wisely forbids gifts that depend on an heir doing some particular thing. Many of a parent's fond dreams get buried long before the parent, although many parents don't seem to recognize that.

The Bear and Red Death are not hoarders, or even keepers. In fact, we just rented a giant trash bin to clean out the garage. Even so, we have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff. Some things are just hard to throw away. Most of what has accumulated is stuff we just never got around to getting rid of.

The Bear wants to die with empty paws. He feels strangely non-attached to the things around him. He has seen others die trying to hold onto everything. "Naked I came out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." Job 1:21. In a similar way, he realizes his cubs are all grown up now. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they don't need him anymore.

Thank God! If adults still need daddy, there was something wrong with daddy.

Unexpected Treasure

You should always keep some things around, though, to find years later during your Spring cleaning, or Fall cleaning, to bring a smile or a tear.

At the bottom of a bookshelf the Bear found two original final drafts of Judging Angels, printed out at Staples and spiral bound in two volumes. The published version is completely different, especially toward the end. And yet, he still loves the "wolf-witching" (no, Bear hadn't read or seen Game of Thrones) and a resolution that depended upon cleverness and tear-jerking sacrifice. It was sweet and melancholy and unresolved, like Wagner's Tristan Chord.

Of course, there's a reason Judging Angels got published as a much different story. It's indisputably better. The original draft will always be a private treasure. Okay, 99.9% private. Here's the very end of the original draft. Don't worry, no spoilers. This is the... Let's call it the "No Place Like Home" version.

A Very Different Ending

Now the flashing sign said: BRING ON THE DANCING GRILS. The nihilistic message had been replaced by the lure of dyslexic dancing girls. He thought it a vast improvement. Bring on the dancing grils!

His choices were the stuff of headlines in Heaven. He had a stack of bad clippings in his head from the Future Past Edition.

He sped along a highway that was, for all he knew, the stuff that dreams were made on; toward a home that might exist only in his heart. It didn't matter. He was happy to be alive, even turned inside out.

His cell phone broke into his thoughts.

Did he want to collapse the wonderfully open world to a point of cold certainty just yet? He pulled it out and glanced at the screen, and furrowed his brow beneath the brim of his baseball cap. 

"Hello?"

Now, this was unexpected. When the brief conversation was over, he shrugged, shook his head, and turned his frown into a smile.

Pop Quiz

Work in Progress for a Work in Progress.


The above picture depicts which of the below?
  1. Red Death contributes to nest-building material.
  2. Concept art for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."
  3. A symbolic representation of the typical redhead.
  4. A badly botched infiltration.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran's Day - The News Van and the Hearse



Every Veteran has Signed a Blank Check

The Bear trundled over to his conveniently located Veteran's Administration Hospital for his flu shot yesterday. A news van pulled up in front, no doubt to find some ancient veteran to interview and do the obligatory Veterans Day story.

In the little half-circle drive before the entrance was parked a long black hearse. Someone's Veterans Day would be very different for his family. Was he one of the old Korean War or Vietnam War veterans? Was he a veteran of Afghanistan who committed suicide? What was the story behind that hearse?

The Bear is 60 in human years, which is not considered "old," he understands. He does not feel old, even if he is not young. Yet the hearse reminded the Bear of his mortality on one of the most beautiful autumn days he could remember.

It told a truer story than the one in which the news people were interested.

The Bear's adopted skin family has a strong tradition of military service. He wishes to talk about that, but up front, he wants to say something else.

Every person who serves in the United States military deserves your respect, he believes, even those who did not happen to see combat. When you raise your hand and take that oath, you are signing a blank check that does not even reserve your life. (Bear does not think that is an original analogy, but does not remember where he heard it.) 

At a minimum, you and your family must go where you are told, and if your wife and very young four kids must learn how to live in a Sicilian village on the knees of an active volcano, then that's what being a military wife means.

And the Bear renders a separate salute to military wives, the true unsung heroes.

The Bear was frequently sent without advance notice to nearly every country touching the Mediterranean Sea, ships underway at sea, and the Gulf besides.

Separation goes with military service. It is hard on families.

There are no front lines anymore. Rear echelon military personnel are at risk from terrorist attack. Much of what is routine in the military is still dangerous. The Bear has landed on some very tiny-looking helo decks at the back of relatively small ships after a long helicopter ride over water. ("Remember, when the helicopter hits the water, the first thing that will happen is that it will turn upside down...") There is hardly a veteran who has not been around things either designed to be deadly, or potentially deadly despite being designed to be safe.

Whether you get shot at or not, you have promised you will go where the shooting is if ordered.

Whenever the Bear feels like a fraud at the VA hospital because he never saw combat, he remembers the hardships and risks, and, above all, that blank check that every veteran signs. 

Bear's Family Military Tradition

His Grandfather on his mother's side fought in France during WWI, was blown up by an artillery shell and reported KIA to his family. He survived in the bottom of a crater, eating whatever food he could find on the bloated body of a German and drinking the water at the bottom of the crater.

When he was found alive, French doctors used maggots to eat the necrotic tissue from his wounds, on the theory they would not touch healthy tissue. He returned home and went back to work in the coal mines, being given a job he could do with one arm.

His only son, the Bear's favorite uncle and the brother of Bear's mother, served in the Pacific theater in WWII in the Navy.

The Bear's grandmother's brother (on his mother's side) was a Marine in the brutal fighting against the Japanese for Pacific islands. His helmet, pierced by shrapnel, is still displayed in a museum, for all the Bear knows. That helmet saved his life.

The Bear's mother was a WAVE in WWII, serving with blimps out of Moffett Field in California. Perhaps the enormous hangers are still there.

Blimps would prowl the west coast for Japanese submarines. There was a very real fear of a Japanese attack. In fact, crazy Jack Warner thought the huge roofs of the buildings housing his sound stages might be mistaken for the nearby Lockheed plant. He painted a big arrow on top of them with a sign that said LOCKHEED so Japanese bomber crews would not bomb Warner Brothers by mistake.

Bear's mother was taught to hold the handling bar of the blimp with an overhand grip, because experience had taught that sailors sometimes froze with an underhand grip and were borne irretrievably skyward. She forget this rule and had a long drop of about 20 feet. Luckily it was broken by a sailor on the ground.

Sometimes she actually went out on patrols, and the necessities of nature were pretty much left to the imagination of the crew. She told the story that the commander of the blimp would order "eyes front" whenever she did whatever it was she had to do.

She was very proud of her military service, and nearly up to the day she died, she would tell nurses and doctors about it.

Bear's father was in the Army Air Corps, but, probably lucky for Bear, did not see combat.

All three of their sons served in the military. Bear's two skin brothers served in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. The Bear served as an Arabic linguist, XVIII Airborne Corps, 265th Army Security Agency attached to the 101st Airborne (Airmobile) Division. Later the Bear served as a U.S. Navy JAG Corps officer in the Gulf during the liberation of Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm.

The Bear's own twins served in the U.S. Army. One was over in Korea as linguist. The other was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and saw action during the March 1st 2014 deadly Green on Blue attack and other engagements in Kandahar province.

Reflections on his Own Undistinguished Military Service

The Bear is not old in human terms. Most of the veterans he sees are much older than Gulf War veterans. Many of them are combat veterans. Other than the sarin gas our side decided to release at the end of Desert Storm, the Bear's liver was the only thing put at any certain risk, although where he spent most of his time in the Gulf had been the target of Saddam's missiles.

He spent Desert Storm shuttling back and forth between NAS Sigonella in Sicily and the Gulf, sometimes staying in the Manama, Bahrain, Holiday Inn for over a month, qualifying him for the Southwest Asia Service Medal. How did he earn anything, he sometimes wonders, when he remembers all the time spent in the pool or playing tennis, and the fantastic buffet featuring a different national cuisine every night?

He has many stories about that period, but you would not believe them, and perhaps they would  not be edifying.

For all the family tradition, the Bear strongly discouraged his twins from enlisting. The picture the recruiter paints is different from reality and no parent wants to see a child go off to war. We would obsessively check the official Facebook Page of his unit in Afghanistan, because we learned they would take it down after deaths. They would bring it back up only when the families had been notified and the appropriate memorials posted.

That nice official photo with the flag has a different purpose than to be proudly displayed by parents. It's for the memorial if their child is killed.

It is a strange and guilty sort of relief that someone else's son is dead, not yours.

But, the Bear thinks 911 had an effect on them. He suspects they were keen to deliver some payback, in some way. It was only by credible threats of breaking both of his legs that the one twin was dissuaded from going into the 82nd with his brother.

Now they're out, and choices have consequences. The Bear is very, very proud of them. (Although the still wishes they head listened to the voice of experience.)

The Bear salutes all Veterans.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Appalachian Bible Folk Magic

I found this, so I'm not the only one.
Today's personal Bible reading in Ezekiel surprised me with some very old memories.

The verse was Ezekiel 16:6. "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, live."

The context is God addressing Jerusalem as an abandoned infant who grows up to become his pampered spouse. Much whoredom followeth.

My family on both sides were dirt-poor coal miners in southern Illinois. (My dad was literally a hobo riding the rails as an orphan at 14.) My grandfather's great-grandmother on my mother's side was Cherokee (the fictionalized heroine of my mom's novel, Yellow Leaf). They had come via Tennessee, and before that, the hollers further east.

(The real Yellow Leaf was an herbalist. Some of her less favorite husbands suddenly got sick and died, leading to much family speculation,  but that's another story. Marrying Yellow Leaf was not an actuarially sound decision.)

I grew up with stories about "the Ragan verse." Everyone on my mother's side had memorized Ezekiel 16:6. This was not unique to them, because one story was that a black Pullman porter knew the verse and its special use, too. An internet search reveals that the folk magic surrounding this verse was pretty common.

The special use was as a magical incantation to stop hemorrhaging.

Many a tale was told of one member of the family or another saving neighbor or stranger from bleeding to death by reciting this verse. Indeed, I was made to memorize "the Ragan verse" as a very small child by my mother for this express purpose. I was instructed you had to recite it three times.

Is it possible that someone with absolute faith in God's ability to answer prayer could effectively intervene to stop bleeding by the appropriate citation from Holy Writ? Or is it the worst kind of superstition and the exact type of abuse that has made the Church historically leery of Bible reading outside of the protection of the magisterium?

I never had occasion to use it. I might as a last resort. It couldn't hurt.

Direct pressure and, if feasible, a tourniquet would be my first choices, though.

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