Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

White Flag

Its been 8 weeks since they closed the World.  8 weeks of no commuting into NYC to work.  8 weeks of my daughter finishing her final year of high school in her bedroom.  Zoom lessons.  Masks and 6 feet apart everywhere.  Boardwalks closed.  Women everywhere have long hair and nasty roots and who knows what kind of bush under their yoga pants.  Men have never had beautiful lawns.  Puzzles are a thing again.  Its like the 60s all over again- the 1860s!!

And I have tried to stay informed, but not overwhelmed.  There is never any cable news.  I cannot in good conscience watch one of Trump's briefings.  But I know what's going on out there.  Through it all things have remained fairly calm in my World.  We have a roof above us.  We can source and prepare foods.  And we have worked a bit, thankfully- although of late not so much.

But its kind of enough already.  

And listen, I am not one of those virus deniers.  I know at least 5 people who have gotten the virus.  Of those 5 or so they are all better now.  The shit exists, and is taking out several people.  For that there is no argument.  My work has taking me to several NYC hospitals and I am witness to several refrigerated morgues that were not parked there pre- pandemic.  

It pains me that our health system was so compromised in the front end.  Perhaps we will have a respite and be able to rebuild and replenish the embarrassment that was our preparedness.  What if this was a strain that attacked a younger demographic??  That is, ones that could have hung on longer.  What if the .005 percent dying was in their 20s or teens?  

After 8 weeks though it's time.  We may need to see how this ends up on OUR terms, please.

If we cannot maintain distance or come up with a "new normal" maybe we should be don't deserve to live.  If we fall into the same patterns immediately after having the past few months- are we worth saving?

People need to work.  People need to socialize.

Now, we are staring at a mental health crisis that could far surpass the toll Covid-19 takes.  Not to mention domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, food abuse, etc...

Its trade off time, now.  

Of course the essential workers and front line health care folks need a break and deserve our thanks.  Opening shit certainly piles on to their (already overwhelmed) plate.  No one wants them home with their families and safe more than me.  But this should lead to a surge in vocations, right?  When we go to War the Government seizes on it to enlist soldiers.  The health care boom should happen now.  Let.  It.  Commence.  

Otherwise, we are all gonna lose our collective minds.  Maybe we all sign a waiver?  Let us loose and if we become a health care burden please shut us down.  If we get sick within first 3 months and are too far gone please exterminate.

Sweden hasn't distanced or shut down and their folks are doing ok.  I mean there is illness and such, but not egregious.  It's interesting.  Grant you, Scandinavian and pretty much every other Western country is healthier than us as a rule.  However, we are only making ourselves more vulnerable sitting around watching all the shows and eating all the chips...

Side note- As I'm listening to Deja Vu, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's masterwork, I remember that yesterday was May 4th- the day four students were killed at Kent State. Did you all listen to "Ohio" yesterday?   It was barely on any of my feeds.  They were clogged with Star Wars May the 4th bullshit.  Speaks to our priorities.  

We can't be trusted to heal ourselves at home.  We don't learn.  We struggle to retain.

Perhaps this is our final rehearsal.  Learn from our mistakes.  Make the necessary adjustments.  Love one another.  Accept one another.  Laugh more.  See art.  Value life over profit.  Surrender to your heart.  Listen to your gut.  

And let this act as halftime speech.  Get us the fuck back in the game!!!  

This isn't a rifle carrying lunatic at the State House either.

This is a calm, measured tone from someone who is willing to risk a little bit.  So I can go to work, and talk with a friend, eat a nice meal, take in a museum.  Without it we are all dying a little faster too.  Its not a virus, but its still taking a toll.

Maybe we are capable.  Maybe this is our chance to be leaders again.  One way to find out.

Knock Knock..

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Social Media and the Pandemic- are you doing it right?

I was guilty of too much screen time before all this nonsense hit.  I have been reluctant to post much for the past several years.  But I would be lying if I said I wasn't aware of whats happening on my friends' feeds.  Wake up- scroll.  Have a snack- scroll.  Catch up on emails- scroll.

And now this?  Scroll.  Scroll.  Scroll.

So this won't be one of those feel good or emphatic posts.  Fact is, how can I provide a guideline of any sorts when we all vacillate between some rules to no rules at all.

However, I am still kind of an asshole.  So I am gonna point out a couple things that have, lets say, antagonize me.

First, politicizing Covid-19  isn't helping anyone or anything.   Every 30 year old + human on the planet has some sort of online profile by now.  We need not do homework on where you stand as it pertains to our government.  There are camps that blame this mess on China, and the caliphate, and all things anti-"Big American Industrial Machine."

Side note- if you are 30 and do not have an online profile you can assume the government has a file (probably pretty large) on you.

The opposite side will inundate you with graphs, charts and Washington Post/New York Times articles until you mercifully block them or buy in to Trump as "anti-christ."

They are both right- and oh so wrong.

Because right about now no one gives a fuck.

We wanna know how we are gonna afford to put food on the table.  More importantly, we wonder  where to procure the food and will there be anything left?

And let me be clear,  I can be persuaded about how the government's reaction was slow.  Catch me in the right mood (its usually 4am) and maybe I will like your offensive meme.  But I probably read or saw the same damn thing you posted days before!  More importantly, I am capable of forming my own opinion.

Did I mention the scrolling?  We are all OVER informed at best.  And probably a little under informed at worst.

Our anxiety is piqued.  Our minds are constantly distracted.  Do we then need your hot take on why the left wants to take your arms and never let you open your business again?

We get it, we really do.  You care- one way or the other.

But we don't care that you care, do we?   We all have our own shit to deal with.

And sorry, that means the election to.  See you in August- hopefully.  Change your profile pic to a MAGA or Biden icon and move on.  But really, you don't even need to do that.  We know your deal.

Lets stick with the TikTok's of your family acting like d bags.  Keep sending this recommendations for books and music that has kept your mind moving.

From such adversity comes tremendous art.  This is the golden age of TV.  What are you watching?  Binging on?  Tell us!!!  We need that common bond.   Here is an opportunity to explore your mind and the people that live in your home.  What makes them tick?  Do they know then you think?  What is his or her name and are you sure he or she is part of the family?

Show us the folks clapping at health workers.  Send a link to a service or community in need.  Be BEST!

Sadly, this is a reckoning of sorts.  The old way wasn't working.  What will we want to do when the new normal beckons us?

Right back to the vitriol of a campaign?  Is that what our future is?

Or will we want to spend more time outside breathing in the fall air?  Maybe we can hit the museums a bit more?  Theatre?  Remember concerts???

There will be plenty of time to point fingers and bitch about the establishment so soon folks!  I promise you, your voice will be heard.

For now, can I just be a dick and ask to think thrice before you post?  Pretend the person seeing it is one step away from throwing in the towel (cuz sometimes they are!!!)

Now post that vid of the dog jumping into the leaves and end it.

And since I brought it up...

Better Things on Fox is wonderful.

Top Chef is a guilty pleasure and the best kind of porn on basic cable.  Remember cuisine???

New Yorker Cartoons is a must follow.

and here is my best tunes of 2020 to date...

Peace kids!  Lets be safe out there.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Senior Year/Pandemic

Back in the 90s it was all I could do to get into college.  My grades sucked.  My attitude sucked.  I came from little means and from afar it probably looked like I had a one way ticket to Palookaville.

Thankfully I had some athletic ability and a coach who doubled as our schools guidance counselor.  He arranged for some trustee at a small Northeastern PA school to grab some head cases and bring them all for a campus visit.  I remember it being kinda late for all this.  January?  February?

I had taken the SATs a few times and distinctly remember falling asleep during one test.  You guessed it, my scores didnt afford me the luxury of being lazy in the classroom.  Listen, I was undiagnosed adhd with some ocd sprinkled in for good measure.  That is my diagnosis from having lived on Earth nearly 50 years.  It has gotten better, but I am clearly still ill.

In any event I took the tour.  The campus had some pretty buildings.  It was located on the Susquehanna River and charming.  My big takeaways were 1) it was so mountainous headed into town they had runaway truck ramps and 2) the school seemed to have interest in me.

It would be the only school I visited.   My coach/counselor pleaded with their Admissions department a few weeks later to accept me.  "Hes a good kid, will work hard to give it his all.  He just needs a chance."

That was it.  That was the extent of my process.    There was really no other choice.  The plan was to go to college.  First in my family to do so and my parents probably went further into debt to make it happen.

But I didnt fuck it up.  Coach was right and I did get my shit together.  I double majored.  I deans listed.  I managed to spend time getting to know myself and various drugs and drink.  It was a proper college experience without ANY real foresight on what/how to do it.

Fast forward to 2020 and I am prepared to send off my only child to college.  The process, to say the least, has been markedly different.

Before we began in earnest our official tours, sometime in her junior year, this was a young woman who has been on many college campuses.

A trip to DC inevitably meant a walk around Georgetown.  Vacations in NC were often times sidetracked with strolls through Duke, or UNC Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and NC State.  She knew the formula well.  How are the cafeterias gluten free options?  Does their gym have Peloton machines?  What kind of entertainment do they bring in?  A list, right?  Otherwise what are we talking about really?

Ok maybe it wasn't that obnoxious, but holy shit these schools are friggin amazing.  On a visit to LA last year we walked Loyola Marymount.  Overlooking the Pacific and City of Angels on pristine lawns it was easy to fall in love.  But who can go to school there??  It is too pretty!!   I cant send someone 3000 miles away and expect her to go to class.  It is a country club with classes.

Good news is she got deferred!

Not really good news, but you get the point.

The greater issue is how can these kids enjoy their final year?  I detailed my senior year process, not that others should follow.  Admittedly my process was too lax and I was fortunate.  I had classmates that were in a different grind and made significant efforts to get to "the" school.  However I would see  those same students gathered around the keg each weekend.  There was ample time for fun and the innocence of age 17.


Yeah, so, about enjoying senior year...  I started that train of thought a few weeks back.  Remember, when there were things??

Now NYC school seems like distant memory.  My daughter will likely spend her last half year of high school in her bedroom.  No prom.  No final sports season.  No walk down the aisle in her schools majestic church.

This is the new normal.  

And enough of the self pity and "Oh shit she has been robbed of those memories."  Sure, it is unfortunate.  But as I was saying above the high school experience had been a bust anyway.  She may have had some great memories.  Her (and her mother's) planned Italy trip didn't happen either.  BUMMER FOR SURE!

Interrupted.  All of it.

OK, so now what?  My daughter is gonna be fine.  So, too are her classmates.  If anyone is able to learn remotely and adapt to an ever changing world, its these kids.  College and/or whatever future will happen.  Things will get back to normal.

But how will WE handle it?

This is the cleanse and purge we so desperately needed.

The Earth is cleaning its air and water.

We are less reliant on cars for a bit.

We are seeing how the blue collar and service industry is more vital than many perceive.  How much do you think fast food workers should make now?  How about gas station attendants?  Grocery store clerks?  Bankers?  TEACHERS???

This is where the inequality between classes comes back and bites us?  If we were invaded by several countries our military would be ready to handle anything and everything!  Do we need all the weapons?  Why do we buy guns when a virus hits anyway?  Can you shoot this thing dead?  We do love our shiny weapons?  Can our country really be full of small dicked fraidy cats?

The bigger question is:  Can a brother get a hospital bed?  Respirator?  Affordable Health Care??

Is this the Country we want?  Is this the best we are?

So this cleanse should be teaching us to value ALL workers.  The chain should be reassessed.  It must be.

The way we work must be different.  There will be more remote or stay at home labor.  Meetings will be virtual or replaced by emails.  Shouldn't they have been years ago anyway?

That is not to say offices will be obsolete.  But it must be re-imagined.  Will employers be mindful of what is needed?  Will they pivot correctly?

Will this get us off our asses?  Will we get outside and walk/bike/work out more?  We should!  We have been the past few weeks.

Move.  Change.  Pivot.  The signs are all there.

Macro changes have forced us to look inward.  Do we need to horde toilet paper?  Do we need ALL the things?

Or do we only need a connection?  Cooperation?  Shared views of the joy that has been staring at us all along?

The news of the day is horrifying, don't mistake me.  I have to be in NYC here and there for work and the vibe and scene is eerie.  I measured a job yesterday in Holmdel NJ (at a large mall like structure.) NO one was in the massive building and I was certain I was in a reboot of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.  It is dystopian.  It is scary.  I get it.

It is not, however, end times.  This is an opportunity to look within.  To find out what really matters and how you plan on spending the rest of your days here.

We have been given a look into how fragile this all is.  How will you be remembered?

I am hopeful we will all be part of the solution- and make each day better than the last.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

This Election Year, (Almost) All Bets Are Off

I haven't written a new blog post in over a year. I was finally moved to do so after a humbling experience.

I realized that I knew nothing about politics anymore.

For years I thought I was pretty good at reading the political field and understanding what was going on. I predicted that NJ governor Jim Florio would be beaten by then unknown Christine Todd Whitman before anyone else I knew. I predicted Obama's going all the way well before he beat out Hillary for the nomination. I held forth on every election to everyone who would listen. 

Then I predicted Donald Trump would fizzle out, the public quickly tiring of his style. I was so sure that, even though not normally a betting man, I bet four different people that he would never be the GOP nominee. Cue "the humbling".

I figured I had gotten too set in my ways, and was using an old map to read new terrain. Maybe even my own political views are blinding me.

Could I reboot my perspective? Or do I just mutter "hell in a handbasket" to my middle-aged self and sulk? 

One belief I always have had (and you could call it a bias or a type of faith, depending on your taste)  is that the world is, ultimately, comprehensible. It makes sense, if regarded properly. People act rationally, once you understand their perspective and motives. There are right anwers, or at minimum "least wrong answers" to every question. In short, our lack of understanding is not because the world cannot be understood, but rather because we are asking the wrong questions. As author Henry Miller once said "Chaos is a name for an order not yet understood".

I'm trying out a new map. 

So here goes:

One way to look at liberal democracy is as a system for the non-violent selection and change in leadership. Throughout history, and in most countries in the world today, leaders were whoever was strongest or had the support of the military. In a liberal democratic republic like ours, a leader needs the support, or votes, of its citizens. Citizens who are presumed to be knowlegable and responsible enough to all have a say in who gets to lead. 

The next question naturally arises - what type of leaders should citizens elect? And here I challenged myself to see if there is a way to define a good leader regardless of their political views. A "baseline" for elected officials.

During a class on leadership I was introduced to writings of Edwin Friedman. Friedman was a leadership training consultant whose clients included leaders of all types of institutions: clergy, CEOs, military, university professors, and elected officials. 

Freidman thought that the most important characteristics for leaders was not expertise in techniques or data analysis, but rather the leader's own "presence". 

Friedman did not think a good leader was someone who "brought people together". Or someone who "felt your pain". Or strove for "consensus".

Drawing from systems theory, Friedman thought that a leader's own functioning would support attainment of goals for an organization (regardless of type) rather than attempting to make the broadest number of people happy.

He said a good leader was one that challenged others to grow, take responsibility for themselves, and be creative and imaginative --- in short, to become better leaders themselves.

How does a good leader do this? Friedman's view was as follows: 

A good leader is self-differentiated, in that the leader has a clear set of values and goals, and is willing to take a stand and define themselves based on those values and goals. The leader will say "this is what I stand for" based on their own hard won understanding of themselves. They will not test the winds or rely on polls to determine their policies or vision.

Because the leader is self-differentiated, and does not need the approval or acceptance of others, the leader is able to stay connected and in relationships with people who disagree with the leader. The leader will not "circle the wagons" around their own party or inner circle. They can exchange views with their political opposites without resort to personal attacks.

This permits the leader to maintain a non-anxious presence, even in the midst of anxiety and turmoil. The leader is able to continue to relate to others while maintining their own sense of direction and values. The leader is more likely to ask questions than dictate advice. And in the face of an anxious public climate, will not "blow with the wind" but will follow their values and goals.

As a result, the leader is non-reactive, and maintiains their sense of self even in the face of challenges and attacks. A poor leader will respond to attack by interfering or attempting to regulate the relationships of others, continually try to coerce others to their own point of view, and, as indicated above, will be unable to relate to people with whom they disagree. 

It follows, according to Friedman, that a good leader can therefore persist in the face of sabotage. Leading always results in resistance, and resistance, rather than being a negative, is a natural response to a leader's success. A good leader knows that when things change they usually get worse before they get better. And a good leader will sacrifice being liked or popular in the short term to achieve their goals in the long term.

The above list is a pretty tall order. Friedman once said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that even the best leaders probably only exhibit these characteristics 70% of the time.

But the assumption is that a leader of this type would challenge citizens to become more mature, more self-differentiated, more responsible for their own lives, and more likely to creatively take on challenges.  

As a work colleague from the UK noted to me "The US doesn't really have its 'A players' running this year, does it?". I guess its not surprising that so many people are describing their choices as "Anyone but A" or "Never B". 

Which candidates running today best fit this model of leadership? Frankly, I don't know. They are all certainly below 70%. 

When I vote this year, while certainly not ignoring the political views of the candidates, I am going to use this as a guide.

This year, all bets are off (except the four bets I already lost) 

*for further reading check out Friedman's book Failure of Nerve, which this blog post draws from. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Sunday

Steve Largent's Seahawks will beat the Pats 27-17.  

Winter's cold has gripped the Northeast and seems poised to hang on for a while.  February is upon us.  A short, but cruel month.  Valentine's Day is here to remind us that you are doing it wrong, if you are doing it at all.

A bloated Super Bowl awaits us this weekend.  The past few weeks have reminded us how our proud game is nothing more than the WWE with helmets.  We now have "deflate-gate" in our collective heads.

In Paris they march a million strong to support each other against the threat of terrorism.  We worry about how much air we have in our balls.

Never mind the combatants beat each other for 60 minutes with lasting health consequences.  And lest we forget the violence that takes place off the field.

Its been a rough year for the NFL.  However you can bet (which they love by the way) that they will record record profits for the year 2014.

As harsh and ugly the sport, and more specifically the folks that oversee it (yes, you Mr Goodell), you can bet we will have a blast at my Super Bowl Party this Sunday.

Maybe it is the diversion we all need.  Just wish it was a little more civilized.

How long until we are all cheering for someone like Jason from Rollerball.  And I am talking about the James Caan film too- I refuse to accept a re-boot.

The Academy Awards are a nice diversion too.  My colleague Doc S wrote a nice piece about Best Pic Nom American Sniper you can read here.  What of all the controversy over the protagonist Chris Kile.  Seems like more folks thought Henry Hill was a more likable chap than this accomplished soldier.  Its war people- there are a lot of gray areas- and you don't have to like it all.  Speaks again to how we are incapable of hearing, or more specifically understanding contrary opinions.

There were days, not long ago, I would have seen all the nominees.  Ever since they went to 20 nominations, or whatever the hell it is, it has been tough.

Hollywood has an editing problem, so the bloated nominations fit in nicely.

I know Doc S thinks Boyhood is this years best.  That film, Wild, and The Grand Budapest Hotel were the only ones I have seen, so far.  Of the three Boyhood is a stand out.  The 12 year filming is an interesting side note, but the film is far more than that.  Richard Linklater has always been great at capturing "small" moments.  And Boyhood is a collection of them.  That is, life after all.  As much as we like to think of a finish line.  In reality, who among us is going to retire at 65 and buy a nice home in the south?

The blueprint is more like:  work til you die.  Enjoy each moment when you can.

So, when you are stuck in the thick of it- take some time for you.  What do you like to read?  What gives you happiness?  If it is your work, I commend you.  If not, waste no time and remember it is ok to be selfish sometimes.  No, not in the Ayn Rand way.  In a, let me sneak an hour in to get to the gym.  Let me see that new movie.  Or, as is the case with this reporter, what new music can I delve deep into.

Below are this months selection.   Enjoy Responsibly!

Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield)
Panda Bear "Boys Latin" from Jimmy Fallon

The first of several bands, solo projects, acts that I want to dislike.  Noah Lennox is Baltimore, MD raised and now calls Lisbon, Portugal home.  His music can be described as John Waters meets Cristiano Ronaldo.  See what I did there?  It's a stretch.  But, like Waters he is experimental.  His synths and layered vocals are NOT for everyone.  This song, from his much hyped record Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, has a slow build- that at first I could not take much of.  Give it some time.  Maybe it grows on you too?  For deeper research take a listen to his other project, Animal Collective.

Sleater Kinney "No Cities to Love"

Admittedly Carrie Brownstein in Portlandia entertains me more than her band Sleater Kinney.  Their reunion album and upcoming tour are fine, for nostalgia alone.  The first single, "Bury Our Friends" never resonated with me.  Their second release plays far better.

Courtney Barnett "Pedestrian at Best"

Lo-Fi Aussie Barnett is back quickly from her solo effort.  There is little, if any flash on Ms Barnett's vocals.  But what she lacks in enthusiasm she more than makes up for with wit, confidence and grit.  It isn't quite spoken word.  But it isn't quite singing either.  This is a girl who is clearly having fun.

Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim "Get It"

These New Yorkers can be polarizing, I get that.  Matt's voice is super high.  His synths, samples coupled with Kim's frenetic drums take some getting used to.  And if you don't like the first thoughts, odds are you won't stay with it.  Having seen them perform live a few years back I am firmly engaged.  What say you?

Avid Dancer "I Want To See You Dance"

Jacob Dillan Summers is Avid Dancer.  It isn't what you might think.  This is a rock outfit, very much new to the scene.  Occasionally I find a band with limited followers (they have less than 3000 Facebook likes and NO Wikipedia page.)  Let's make these guys more popular.
Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile "Wherever Is Your Heart?"

A little unsure how this hard singing pixie isn't as popular as, say,  Melissa Etheridge was in the 90s.  Big, booming voices and a penchant for jeans and a flannel shirt.  She will be releasing her independent label debut shortly and this is the first cut.  Huge voice from such a slight thing.  Alt country in the spirit of Wilco, Ryan Adams, and Emmylou Harris(think Wrecking Ball.)

Waxahatchee "Air"

Philly girl Katie Crutchfield is also bad with another record.  Sisters are doing it for themselves.  Moody pop delivered quite nicely.

Modest Mouse "Lampshades on Fire"

Northwest rockers will release Strangers to Ourselves on March 3rd.   It has been a little while since we have heard from them, and if "Lampshades" is any indication, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Toro Y Moi "Empty Nesters"

SC indie soul compliments of Chazwick Bradley Bundick.  His record, What For?, will be out in April.  Until then he has shared this song, which is a complete departure from his last album.  Not a complaint, simply observing he evolves with each record and the sounds are always quite rewarding.

Django Django "First Light"

London based band premiered the above song a few weeks back.  Their debut record a few years back was a critical hit.  "First Light" is a strong follow up and indication the sophomore slip may have been avoided.
Django Django

Look for us here and here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Off Target on "American Sniper"

"It takes all sorts to make a world" - English proverb

It was just after the Hollywood celebrity slap fight among professional Debbie Downer Michael Moore, professional stoner Seth Rogan, and professional has-been Dean Cain, and the ensuing political hyperventilation, that I finally saw "American Sniper".

Bradley Cooper is particularly good, as evidenced by the fact that this is the first movie I have seen him in where I forgot he was "Bradley Cooper". An Obama-supporting Democrat in real life (he's even fluent in French, for pity's sake!) he disappears into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
The combat scenes are spare and workmanlike, conveying the grittiness and shattering anxiety of combat without glorifying or aggrandizing the violence. I generally like action and war movies, but the action here set my teeth on edge.

Go see it for yourself. What I got out of it were two things that I think many people missed - both of which I think director Clint Eastwood, and Cooper, intended:

1) This movie is told entirely from Chris Kyle's point of view

This is not a portrayal of the War in Iraq, but how the war was experienced by one exceptional soldier.

Bradley Cooper is in just about every scene of the movie. Very little happens that is not part of his character's experience. He is only excluded in those scenes that show his rival enemy sniper preparing for battle, and even these have a very stylized Hollywood Western cast to them, as if it was how Kyle imagined it.

Similarly, the brief dinner table discussion showing how Kyle's values grew from his father's stern moral lessons seem stylized and simplified. Liberals complain this is right-wing propaganda -- but what I see how a man with a very black and white view of the world recalls his childhood.

Some also complain that the Iraqis are reduced to one-dimensional characters, that the nuances and complexities of the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the method of the prosecution of the war are not discussed.

I think this is because Chris Kyle was not one to reflect on them. He did not see that as his job. In Kyle's world there are good guys and bad guys. There is "God, Family, and Country", and those who seek to undermine or even destroy them.The who and why? Those were decisions to be made by higher military and civilian leaders.

While Kyle was certainly sensitive to the horrors he witnessed perpetrated by the enemy on his fellow soldiers, he is portrayed as claiming to be untroubled by the 160 plus people he killed (mostly men, but a few women and children ), saying he will "stand before my Creator and defend each shot".

Which leads to my second point:

2) Some of the characteristics that make one an excellent soldier may not be something all of us find appealing in another human being.

Kyle was a highly skilled professional soldier, and by all accounts a brave and effective one. He was also a sniper.

Kyle remained mostly high above the ground. He saw the enemy from a distance, trying to kill his comrades. And his job was to kill the enemy to protect them. A sheepherder, as he learned from his father, protecting the sheep from the wolves.

I've read a few books by former Special Forces members (Eric Haney's book "Inside Delta Force" is particularly good). Many SEALs and Delta Force members conduct intelligence and counter insurgency operations within foreign countries. They immerse themselves in the study of history, geopolitics and strategy. They speak multiple languages. They absorb the indigenous culture in detail so they can both build alliances with,and sow dissension among, rival factions.

That's not the type of soldier Kyle was, at least as portrayed in this movie.

He questions a potential Iraqi informer, and its clear that, despite multiple tours in Iraq, he knows not even a word of the local language, and seems baffled by local customs. To him, they are faceless "savages". Perhaps learning more about them would have made him hesitate to pull the trigger.

Several of Kyle's fellow soldiers express grave doubts about the overall mission in Iraq. Kyle rather coldly attributes a comrade's death not to the enemy ambush, but to the soldier's doubts. Doubt, for Kyle, could lead to his death, or the death of the soldiers under his protection.

In fact, in his fourth tour in Iraq, Kyle feels himself wavering while targeting a child (not his first) trying to fire an RPG at a company of Marines. Soon after, in the midst of a battle where he otherwise bravely acquits himself, he calls his wife,  tearfully telling her he is ready to come home.

I think this movie shows that for certain types of soldiers, with certain types of duties, someone who sees the world as black and white, as enemy and ally, as true believer in the cause and apostate, is the best person to have in that role.

Sometimes we all think that everyone has to be the same, and, particularly nowadays, we seem very anxious about anyone who disagrees with us, or sees the world a bit differently than we do.

I mean no disrespect when I say that Chris Kyle may not necessarily have been the kind of guy I would want to have a beer with. And likely the feeling would be mutual.

But if I were a combat soldier, he sure seems like the guy I'd want on top of a building watching over me.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Call Me Doc S

"Call me Ishmael" - Moby Dick, Herman Melville

In lieu of the expected list of New Year's resolutions to lose weight, save money/spend less money, or finally writing that screenplay, I'm focusing on attitude.

I think we have become an exceedingly anxious culture. We see doom and threat everywhere -- in our food, in our realtionships, and in our political leaders. Every event is fraught with neurotic significance. I think this is, in part, fueled by our immersion in the online world (of which I consider myself a passionate devotee) 

Every crime, every tragedy, every mistake is magnified and repeated and commented upon at an exponential rate. And much of our discussion around it is a swarm of chest beating, tough talk, and posturing. We complain that our leaders fuel this fire, but they are only giving us what we want.

Its almost like our anxious psyches mirror the increase in allergies observed over the last twenty years. One theory posits that because we have become so "clean" via antibiotics, our immune systems are hypersensitive to a wider range of "foreign invaders"

Perhaps this is happening to our spirits as well. Perhaps we have become so fat, warm and secure that our sense of living is hypersensitive to the new, the different, and the unusual that "invade" our minds.

One of the most important books in my life is Moby-Dick. I was forced to read it for an honors English class in High School and write a report on it. I hated every minute of it, not only trudging through its dense 19th century prose, but the hours I had to spend at nearby Lafayette College library reading books talking about its allegory, symbolism, and literary significance.

Since entering adulthood, I have re-read it (in part and in whole) at least ten times. In retrospect, it served as my primary "religious" text before I eventually picked a more established religious practice.

It is, I think, a core American spiritual text.

As a result, I think Ishmael's quote above is an apt statement to kick off the new year.

I always liked the mystery behind the first sentence of Moby-DIck. It suggests "Ishmael" is defining himself anew (he does not say "I am Ishmael"). 

There is nothing so essentially American as making a fresh start and plunging into a new adventure in hope of new and better things to come.

So, like Ishmael, let's all take our restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety, and, instead of stewing in it, find a ship bound to voyage, gather a sturdy crew, and head out to sea.