I slept the sleep of the tortured: fitful, broken, and too short. And when I awoke, I knew that not enough time had passed, and so I tried to sleep more, but it never came. ~ L. Liwag

Flower Shop in Paris 

  

“The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.” ~ Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

On Saturday, I finally made it into the pool. The dogs have been swimming for a few days, but I wanted sun. The air was filled with the sweet smell of my gardenia bush in bloom, and there was just enough breeze to fool me into thinking that it wasn’t that hot. I was lulled into a wonderful feeling of comfort, arms flung wide, staring up into the clear blue sky, just a few cumulus puffs dotting the sky here and there. 

Silly me. I didn’t even think about putting on sunscreen except for my face. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I stayed out for hours, just enjoying the water, the breeze, the dogs . . . I got sunburned on my arms and chest. 

Beh. 

I never used to get sunburned. Ever. I would give my friends a hard time whenever they burned, taunting them with my olive skin. I suppose this is payback. The other thing that I got from the sun was a migraine, a killer migraine, one that has only this afternoon subsided into a tightness in my forehead. Poor, poor, pitiful me. 

I remember endless summer days spent in the sun, lying on the beach with my friends, or on the catamaran with my friend John, or water skiing with the guys. Good times. Never burned, just browned. When I worked at the newspaper, I finished at 3:30, still early enough to catch some afternoon rays. The summer before I got married to my ex, I worked and sunned. Last summer of my life in which I was able to be carefree and careless with time and money.

an orchid’s scent
its incense perfuming
a butterfly’s wings ~ Basho
Flower Shop in Kuala Lumpur

So today, it’s 75 degrees, almost 20 degrees cooler than this weekend. There were a few thunder boomers last night, but nothing major. 

Last night I watched the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Ann Moss. Wow. What a puzzle, but very deftly done. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie combined two different timelines, one ongoing and one flashback. Lots of visual clues, riddles, a few red herrings. The plot revolved around memory, what is real, what is thought to be real, what is imagined. The main character, Leonard (Pearce), suffers from anterograde amnesia: he cannot make new memories. 

I would highly recommend this movie if you liked The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. That being said, Memento is not as easy to discern as either of those two, not that either of those films were straightforward in any way. Nolan directed the movie in 2000, followed by a few movies with which you may be familiar: the two new Batman movies, The Prestige. If you are interested in an analysis of the movie, Andy Klein wrote a thorough deconstruction for Salon.com. 

Memento had been on my list of movies to see, and I find it very rewarding when I finally see something I’ve had on that list and it turns out to be worthwhile. The other movie that I watched was Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. This was another one that has been on my list, and unlike many people, I liked it. No, Cruise does not attempt a German accent, but that didn’t bother me, better no accent than a poorly executed accent. 

The plot, in case you don’t know, is based on the July 20 plot to kill Adolf Hitler and real-life Operation Valkryie, which was a plan to call up the German reserve army to maintain order in the case of an emergency. The historical drama depicts the plot, led by Claus von Stauffenberg, the last of 15 failed plots to assassinate Hitler.   

The 2008 movie had quite a cast; aside from Cruise as von Stauffenberg, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, and Tom Wilkinson all had roles in the Bryan Singer (X-Men) film. I remember that there was a big controversy in casting Cruise because of his scientology beliefs. 

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” ~ Lou Reed

 


Flower Shop in Bath, England 

 

Alexis came by on her way home from work today. I helped her to find some information on patient assistance with some of the medications that she takes. Having filled out numerous forms for myself, I am fairly familiar with the process. She will not be able to get health insurance at the thrift store as they do not offer it to their employees, even the full-time people. Yet another reason to hope for some kind of healthcare reform. 

I know that I’ve been featuring more political posts than usual, but it seems that every time I sit down to read the daily news, I come across yet more inanity, something that I find very hard to ignore. Ignorance, racism, sexism, hate-mongering—it’s all so disconcerting. 

What is happening to us, to American society? Has the election of a man of color caused so much unrest among those who oppose him—or liberals, or Democrats, or blacks, or whatever it is—that seeing conspiracies and promoting fear have become the societal norm? Has the so-called American way-0f-life been imperiled by putting a black man in the Oval Office, in the same way that electing a Catholic in the 1960s threatened the very fiber of our being? 

I see a lot of similarities to the 1960s, and that’s not a good thing. Yes, the unrest of the 1960s caused major social changes, changes that were desperately needed. But the 60’s also saw discord elevated to levels unparalleled, discord that morphed into senseless violence (race riots, Ohio State), attempts at oppression (Hoover’s FBI). Chillingly, the war in Iraq has now surpassed the Viet Nam War as the longest American war (eight years, eight months, and counting). And the country had a young, idealistic president who many feared just because of who and what he was. 

Remember, the 60’s led to the election of Richard Nixon, gave power to men of questionable scruples, such as Henry Kissinger, and led to a political climate that fostered the events of Watergate. Remember?

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash, your picture in the paper nor money in the bank, neither. Just refuse to bear them.” ~ William Faulkner
Flower Shop in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

I know. I am still a starry-eyed idealist in many ways, but that is balanced by my stark realist side. I believe in equality for all peoples, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or creed. I don’t understand why that is such a hard concept. I also believe that children should not die of hunger or dysentery, that there is no difference in the capabilities of the sexes, and that there is no such thing as a good war. At the same time, I know that people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Steve Blair—who thrive on discontent, who cultivate a fear of otherness, who opine loudly as if the tone and timber of a voice is all that is needed to make it right—people such as these have millions of followers. 

And quite frankly, that scares the hell out of me. It also frightens me that I sometimes self-censor on this blog because I do not want the crazies to find me. In essence, I am allowing myself to be repressed out of my own unwillingness to cater to confrontation. Bearing that in mind, I do not apologize for my political posts, even though this is not a political blog. I do not apologize for who I am, for what I believe, or for where I stand on the issues that are important to me. 

I’m certain that I will continue to have political posts because people will continue to amaze me with their brazen bigotry. People will continue to astound me with their asinine declarations. As long as events continue to occur that make me stop and say WTF, I will continue to opine, and if you find my posts offensive, then exercise your Constitutional freedom not to read me. 

I won’t hold it against you. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Mazzy Star, “Take Everything” 

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“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pentagon War Dead

Fallen Troops on Transport Plane Arriving at Dover Delaware

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.” ~ John McCain

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky

(Yes, I—screaming liberal that I am—have begun my post with a quote by John McCain. I know that this choice probably surprises those of you who have read me on a regular basis and know how much I opposed McCain’s bid for president. That being said, I will in no way dishonor the service that Senator McCain gave to this country, nor diminish the sacrifices that he and his family made. And as I was searching for the perfect quote to begin my post, I happened upon this one by McCain. I believe that his quote, spoken as someone who has seen war firsthand, sums up exactly what I am trying to say.)

Yesterday was Good Friday. I did not post. I was absorbed in my own little world, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. Days like that are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. And that is what I did.

But then, I went to bed early as I was not feeling well. How many times have I written that in this blog, “not feeling well”? I’ve lost count.

Today when I finally got myself moving, I was trying to think about what I wanted to post. What’s on my mind? What am I thinking about? What might catch a reader’s interest? So I sat down and began my usual routine by reading my comments first, always something from Maureen on White Orchid, and an interesting comment by my friend Sarah. Then I went to My Comments section in my dashboard.

This section on Word Press lets you keep track of threads of which you have become a part. So I was thinking about how aggravating it is to continue to see comments on a thread in which I have absolutely no interest, when I saw a thread from WillPen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/), one of my favorite blogs.

“I finally saw that the story was not about the media at all. It was about honoring the heroes who sacrifice their lives to serve us all. ” ~ Courtney Kube

The comment made in the thread, which was regarding a previous post on WillPen’s site, was posted by regular visitor, Starshine, who always shares interesting tidbits and feeds to good posts. But this one brought me up short. It was a link to two different Daily KOS posts, both about U.S. casualties in the wars.

The first post, by greenies, was entitled IGTNT: With A Family’s Permission We Bear Witness. IGTNT, which stands for “I Got The News Today,” marked a bittersweet anniversary with this post: five years of posts in memory and gratitude to our fallen service members and their families.(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718378/-IGTNT:-With-a-Familys-Permission,-We-Bear-Witness).

The second post, entitled No One Could Have Asked For A Better Brother, was by noweasels (see link below), and although quite long, it was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend both posts to anyone who cares about our troops. The post brought to mind that the first anniversary passed in February of the death of one of my friend’s fiances. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, and he had already been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too many times. But it was what he did, what he loved to do, and he died serving his country in the company of his brothers, his Seal unit.
 

 

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” ~ Aeschylus

military-flag-draped-caskets1In February of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lift of the 18-year ban by the Pentagon on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was imposed by Bush senior during the first Iraq war. Many people argued that the ban was the administration’s attempt to hide the very human cost of war so that the country would stand behind the president’s actions.

Others, Republicans and Democrats, have argued vociferously that the ban should be lifted: “We should honor, not hide, flag-draped coffins,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “They are a symbol of the respect, honor and dignity that our fallen heroes deserve.”

Sunday, April 5 marked the first time that the media was allowed to witness the ritual of returning the remains of fallen U.S. service members.

While I have long been vocal about how this imposed cloak was a disservice to our fallen warriors, there are others who are still opposed to lifting the ban, citing the possible misuse of the images for anti-war propaganda. Apparently, those families who do not want any pictures to be taken or any videos shot will have the final say in their participation. I can respect that need for privacy and hope that the media does as well.
 
Courtney Kube, Pentagon Producer for NBC News, movingly comments that “While the family witnesses the event just a few yards away from the media, the Dover rules strictly prohibit the media from taking any photos of them. Even though we all do our best to avert our eyes and give them their privacy, their presence is palpable and heartbreaking.”  (http://fieldnotes.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/04/08/1885755.aspx).

“If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.”  ~ Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

But we must remember, the images of war help to educate the public. During the Viet Nam war, the images sent back home from war photographers and the footage beamed into American living rooms became the initiation of the American public to the stark realities of war. No heroic songs. No heroic slogans. Only young men dying in a brutal war that divided the nation in every conceivable way: class, race, and politics to name but the obvious.

That is why I was completely dismayed by the continued non-coverage during this Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. My belief is that if the people in our society and societies of other countries participating in these wars—regardless of political party affiliations— see the ultimate sacrifices made, then the war will cease to be an abstract idea, something thousands of miles away in a distant land that doesn’t really affect our day-to-day lives.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” ~ Herodotus

But war isn’t distant. It isn’t abstract. War is ugly, and it is brutal. And it should affect our day-to-day lives. As Americans, we should always be mindful of the prices paid to keep our country free, that these prices affect families in our own hometowns and neighborhoods every day of every week of every year that we are involved in battle.

The following statistics are taken from a Daily KOS post by noweasels:

To date, 4266 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Iraq. The death toll thus far in 2009 is already 45. More than 31,000 members of the military have been wounded, many grievously. The Department of Defense Press Releases, from which the information at the start of each entry in this diary was drawn, can be seen here. The death toll among Iraqis is unknown, but is at least 200,000 and quite probably many times that number.

To date, 676 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The death toll thus far for 2009 is 46. 452 members of the military from other countries have also lost their lives. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/10/718820/-IGTNT:-No-one-could-have-asked-for-a-better-brother).

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

army-bugler1
Army Bugler at Military Cemetery

My father’s own casket was draped with the U.S flag at his funeral. He had a 21-gun salute. A veteran of World War II and Korea, and a non-military veteran of Viet Nam, he fought for a country that was not his original homeland. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. He earned the right to that flag-draped casket and that salute. And as much as it tore my heart out, he earned the right to have “Taps” played when he was laid to rest.

Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky
Gleaming bright
From afar
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.
 
 

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” ~ Hugo Black, Supreme Court Justice

The wars in which our country has been immersed since Bush 2’s declaration of victory continue today. Tomorrow, someone may have a knock on the door that they never could have foreseen and have prayed intently against ever hearing.

For too long, the citizens of this country have not been allowed to grieve collectively about our fallen military men and women. Without imposing upon the rights of their families, I believe that the lift of this ban could be healthy for our country. As one person commented on Kube’s story:

When you cry for and mourn a fallen soldier (especially one that you didn’t know), I believe that you are really mourning all of the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. I think that witnessing and really feeling these moments allows us to realize just how much the sacrifices these men and women have made actually mean to us.

and another:

I caught myself wanting to stand during the ceremony in my den.  This is something that this country has been missing since the war in Iraq started—honoring those who have given their lives.  We need never forget the sacrifices of the fallen heroes and their families.

“If we don’t bear witness as citizens, as people, as individuals, the right that we have had to life is sacrificed. There is a silence, instead of a speaking presence.” ~ Jane Rule

boots-and-rifles-memorial
Soldier's Cross: Boots, Rifles, Helmets, and Dogtags of the Fallen

We must continue to bear witness, as painful as that may be. We must continue to hold in our hearts and our thoughts our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and school mates. It is the very least that we can do.

So the next time I complain about not feeling well, about having a headache, or how my back is in so much pain, I need to remind myself that I am here in my house, writing what I want to write, when I want to write it because of the men and women who haven’t had a real shower in weeks, who sleep without pillows and soft mattresses, who wear the same dirty clothes day after day, who carry with them the smallest of talismans to remind them of home.

I must admit that they are doing what I could not. Many are over in that desert for the third or fourth time. Living in a community filled with military families, I am aware that people all around me are waiting for their loved ones’ safe return, and hoping against hope not to get  the letter and the knock on the door.

And so I will leave you with this quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a video to remind you that your bad day will never be as bad as those who have been sent to war:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

 

 

If the content on this post has offended anyone in any way, I apologize.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

Veterans’ Day: A Memorial to My Father

dad-sailor-boy
Dad on the Far Right

My father, Exequiel Liwag, was not a man who liked to call attention to himself. For example, it was not until we were going through his personal items after he died that we found out that he had won the Bronze Star for Valor during World War II. But that was how he was: unassuming.

He loved thrift stores, even though he could afford to wear better, he didn’t really see the point. He loved his 1966 Ford Falcon. That was his baby. He adored his grandchildren, and when he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, the one thing that he said that he regretted was that he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up. He loved to work in his garden, and he used his machete from the war to hack away at the weeds, squatting down on his haunches like a native, doing battle with crab grass and weeds. And he loved to fish. He would go off at night and fish off the old Harrison’s pier, the wooden one before the hurricane washed it away. (He would hate the new one, all rebuilt and yuppie with bright lights and a cafe.)

My dad, like many Filipino men of his generation, first served in the Philippine guerrilla army before joining the U.S. Navy. However, the difference is that he lied about his age. He was barely 17 when he joined the Navy, and he had already seen combat in the jungles of the Philippines. His family had hidden in the caves for safety from the Japanese, and his mother lost the youngest children in the family, twin babies, because of the harsh conditions and a lack of food. My dad joined the Navy so that he could send money back to his family, something he did for many years after the war was long over, which enabled his brothers and sister to come to the states to get educations and better lives.

He also served during the Korean conflict—never really called a war, and then he had a breather during which he had extended shore duty, heading the household staffs for several admirals, which is how I came to attend public school in London. While he was still on Navy ships, my dad slipped on an icy gangplank while disembarking and injured his back, an injury that caused him back pain for the rest of his life.

He retired from the Navy after putting in his 20 years, and he tried to stay on dry land, but it wasn’t for him, so he joined the merchant marines, which is how he came to be in the middle of yet another war: the Viet Nam war. During this conflict his ship took on heavy fire, and we received word that his ship was badly damaged. For a while, we did not know his fate because, of course, the world was not wired the way that it is today, and it took much longer to get news.

Luckily, he was not hurt, and he was just transferred to another ship. During Viet Nam, his tours were six to nine months at a time, and he was always in harms’ way.

I don’t ever remember him complaining. I just remember his body slowly curving more and more over the years. His left hand atrophied as the muscle wore away, and his back always ached. But he stayed at sea until he couldn’t go any more.

My father came from a country thousands of miles away. His risked his life time and time again, first for his family in the Philippines, and later for his new country and his family in the United States. He never questioned whether or not he was doing the right thing. He believed that his country, the United States of America was the greatest country in the world. He sang the national anthem off-key, but he sang it proudly. He saluted his flag, and he believed in his country.

There were times when his country let him down. When we tried to live in the Philippines after he retired, he wasn’t allowed the same benefits as other retirees. I was too young to remember why, but I remember that it happened, and that my parents were upset by this. I remember, too, that he was upset when he found out that the money that he had been paying into survivor benefits for my mother wasn’t going to amount to very much and that he could have been paying that money into an interest-bearing account that would have yielded much more. But he had invested into the U.S. Government, never thinking for one minute that his government would not protect him and my mother.

When my father died, he was entitled to a veteran’s funeral: a flag-draped casket and a 21-gun salute. We requested that “Taps” be played. Actually, I made that request. I had no idea that unless you were some kind of officer of rank, you didn’t actually get a bugle player; you got a cassette tape version of “Taps,” which, I suppose, is better than nothing. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way. It was just a shock to the system to hear a tinny cassette and not a proud bugle.

Pretty much everything I learned about honor and duty I learned from my father. He worked hard all of his life, and he devoted a large part of that life to this country. He came from a small country thousands of miles away, just a boy really, and he gave this country whatever it asked of him.

I once said that if had to vote for only one issue in this past election, it would be for veterans’ rights, and I stand by that. How a country treats the men and women who serve it and die for it is a direct reflection of how that country feels about its citizenry as a whole, for its veterans represent its citizens. Our veterans go to war to protect our freedoms. They go to war so that the rest of us do not have to. They go to war so that we can say what we want whenever we want. They got to war so that I have the freedom to express myself in this blog. They go to war so that we can vote for whichever candidate we choose in a free election process. How we treat them when they come home should be as the true heroes that they are.

Our veterans should not have to fight for medical treatment. Our veterans should not have to fight for benefits. Our veterans should not be living on the street. Our veterans should never, ever be called names or be made to feel ashamed for doing what their country asked of them.

My father was a veteran. I am incredibly proud of him for the service that he gave to this country. That is only one reason that I am proud of him, but it is one of the more important ones. I still miss him terribly. But on this day, he, like thousands and thousands of others, deserves our support, our thanks, our recognition, and our undying respect.

As always, more later. Peace.

07-lost

Platoon and “Adagio for Strings”

Last night, in my usual inability to sleep mode, I was flipping through the channels, and I caught the tail end of Platoon. Usually, when I see this movie in the listings, I keep right on going. I figure one viewing is pretty traumatic, and twice is enough, so I will not subject myself to another. But last night I was feeling pretty down, and I just couldn’t help myself, so I stopped on the channel. Sometimes, you do things to yourself that you know that you shouldn’t, and you know exactly what the outcome is going to be, not of the movie, but the outcome of your reaction.

Platoon is one of those movies that is so visceral that I dare anyone to watch it and not be touched in some way by it. The scene in which Willem Dafoe’s character Elias is killed is so gut-wrenching that I still find myself holding my breath when I watch it, even though I know that his arms being thrown towards the heavens are his body’s death paroxysms from sprays of bullets to his back.

But Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about the Viet Nam war is made all the more real by setting this homage to human brutality to one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” And so, as Charlie Sheen’s Chris is being airlifted out in the closing scenes, Barber’s Adagio is hauntingly ripping at what is left of your last tenuous semblance of composure.

And then, because I was already an emotional wreck, I thought I would watch Babel. I didn’t make it past the first hour.

But I am reminded of the movie’s tag line: “The first casualty of war is innocence.” And this brings to mind a startling statistic of which I was not fully aware until just recently: We have been fighting in Iraq longer than the U.S. fought in either WWI or WWII. World War I lasted 4 years and just under 5 months. The U.S. role in World War II started in December of 1941; it ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945. However, the U.S. was involved in Viet Nam over a decade.

Granted, wars are different now, and the Iraqi war is not Viet Nam. But we continue to lose troops. And we continue to bring troops home who are not the same as when they left. And John McCain’s voting record for veterans is abysmal. Go here if you want details http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-89976.

My dad was a veteran of three wars, and if I could only vote on one issue to decide who gets to be the next president of the United States, it would be how this person would treat the men and women who fight, and die, and sacrifice almost everything for the rest of us, not just when they are giving up everything in a foreign land thousands of miles away, but when they come home and ask for something more than due them in return.

The first casualty of war may be innocence. But the last casualty of war should not be its veterans.