Category Archives: U.S.N.

Do As I Say

Today the Pentagon announced that it was dropping war crimes charges against five detainees at Guantanamo Bay after the prosecutor who was to try them resigned, and accused the military of withholding evidence that could clear the men. Of course, because our government is making up the rules for the war on terror as it goes along, with little regard for the human rights we supposedly esteem, new trial teams have been appointed for the men while, according to published reports, the military reassert their case. It is likely that the men will be charged later and forced to face the kangaroo court that the current administration refers to as a military tribunal.

Jose Padilla is an American citizen who was declared an enemy combatant after being arrested on U. S. soil. He was held without any charges being brought against him for over three years. After being convicted by a Florida jury he was given a seventeen year prison sentence. When he was eventually charged in a civilian court, none of the accusations leveled against him were related to the alleged, domestic dirty bomb plot he had initially been detained for.

When I visited Gitmo many years ago before the first Gulf War I looked beyond the wire fence that surrounds the U.S. Naval Air Station, and I saw a barren panorama spread out before me. Today there is prison where I stood and looked out through the wire, and the men held captive there are predetermined as enemies of the state.  Like the naked land that stretches out beyond that fence, the future for those being held there is as bleak as the landscape.

In the directive issued March 28th, 2003, that details the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, it specifies that captors should “not relate terrorism to Islam”, and that “it is inappropriate to equate any religion to such heinous activity”. After the Abu Ghraib abuses in Iraq that came after it, the directive has the appearance of being mere lip service despite the fact that Cuba is a long way from the Middle East.

At Republican rallies, back here in the United States; the Democratic rival is announced derisively as Barack Hussein Obama, his middle name making the implicit connection to TERROR. In television ads that are running infrequently due to the McCain campaign’s depleted war chest, republicans continue to infer a link between Senator Obama and domestic insecurity, sticking with dogged determinism to the strategy that got them into such a mess. I guess you dance with the one that brought you.

Believe it or not, all human’s are created equal and are entitled to a speedy and fair trial, and we are all still welcome to exist regardless of what we believe is God. These things aren’t solely an American birthright though, everyone who lives should share these entitlements, and more, simply because we are human. America cannot hold the World up to a standard that values human rights if we think that our citizens have more of a right than people in other countries. Either all men are created equal or not, and if we cannot match our actions with our words then maybe we should be saying something different.

Dark days are ahead if we do not get a handle on the systemic hypocrisy that plagues us after the last eight years of Bush. We could wind up with even more troubles than we already have. No one wants to live in a world where government employees eavesdrop on private phone conversations, and then joke about the strangers personal lives while on a coffee break.

Joe Biden said something I agree with, that growing up in his neighborhood; if you had a problem with someone you said it to their face. I would go the Vice Presidential nominee one further and say, don’t feed me a line of crap and glad hand me to my face, if you know that you are going to turn around and do the exact opposite. Because of America’s diminished standing and influence around the world after the last few years, I hope that everyone feels exactly like me on November 4th when they go out and vote.

Peace.

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That’s Crazy Talking

During last night’s debate, John McCain continued to define his status as a maverick who stands apart, by sounding the alarm and warning us not a moment to soon, that the very fabric of democracy was in danger of being torn apart. Because of voter apathy, our democracy is not what it could be,surely though it is strong enough to resist the stress that tests. It is not in danger of being destroyed, least of all by a small band of rogues.

En route to becoming an overnight sensation and some sort of symbol, a guy called “Joe the Plumber” was mentioned by Mr. McCain more than twenty times. Today we found out that his name is actually Samuel Wurzelbacher and that, though he isn’t recognized as a plumber by the union or licensed as a plumber by the state, he does happen to work for a plumbing company. In the wake of Governor Palin’s nomination, no one accuses the McCain camapign overly vetting the people it chooses to represent them.

Things truly took a desperate turn when Senator McCain turned reports of  outbursts at his own rallies around on the Democratic Presidential nominee, and damanded that Obama “repudiate“, recent “hurtful” comments, by Senator John Lewis. McCain went on to claim that both candidates need to “absolutely not stand the kinds of things that have been going on”, forgetting how things had gone on at his own events, while he just stood there and winced.

The Arizona Senator came across like curmudgeonly Grandpa Simpson in response to a question about Joe Biden.  He praised Biden and condemned him, before the  solidifying his own image as an angry old man by using the word “cockamamie“. Intrigued my McCain’s use of a term that sounds nothing but ironic when uttered by anyone under seventy, I discovered it’s origin is in the word word decalomania, which was an art form that was popular in the United States during the late 1800’s. Cockamamie, the slang term that derived, last saw wide usage in this country about forty years ago during the 1960’s.

The pariotism of John McCain remains unchallenged because he endured more than five years in a cell during the Vietnam War at the hands of merciless captors. For his service to this country we all owe Mr. McCain a debt of gratitude. The time he spent in that cell, though it could be used as an explanation for Mr. McCain’s unwillingness to adopt any viewpoint other the his own, even for perspective, is a testament to Mr. McCains immovable courage and sense of duty to his country. John McCain’s time as a POW is also one of the reasons that he does not have either the temperament or the decision making skills to be the President of the United States during a time when this country needs someone who comes across as steady, even handed and rational.

A. K. A. Lamont Cranston

I’ve got headaches and toothaches and bad times too, but on the upside I have life, for what it’s worth. Yesterday over ten thousand people in China had their existence cut short by a cataclysmic earthquake that took lives and buried the dead in one fell swoop. A little over a week ago, the nation of Burma was devastated by a cyclone that washed more than one hundred thousand lives out to sea with the tide. Ken McDunn had it right when, after the accident onboard the ship he got a tattoo that says; “The Shadow of Death, A Fact Of Life”.

 

Mc Dunn is one of a kind and we met in boot camp years ago.  He got there a day before I did and we served our entire enlistment together, assigned to the same school, and later the same ship. McDunn was skinny and pale and a real life skin head, whose buddies were all on trial for murder. On Sundays, the one day that we were allowed to look at a newspaper, he would point out the articles that recounted the trial of his fellow skinheads who eventually wound up in prison. When we met, Ken had no tats, but by the time we had served our two year enlistment with the USN, his upper body was nearly covered with ink.

 

Like myself, Ken was not happy with his decision to enlist and chafed at the lunacy that is characteristic within the armed forces. We were in a drill company in boot camp and as a result tobacco was forbidden. Ken’s parents would send him chewing tobacco in the bottom of a Pringles can that they had removed all the chips from before replacing them and resealing the can. We would volunteer for the overnight watches so that we could indulge our nicotine craving while everyone else was sleeping.

 

The store on base was restricted for recruits that were still in boot camp, but McDunn didn’t care and would strut right in there like he belonged and buy cigarettes for the both of us that we secretly smoked at any chance we could get. It was big risk for him to break the rules and it could have resulted in an extra week in boot camp, but Ken was a genuine iconoclast who believes that authority exists only to be challenged and usurped.

 

When we graduated from boot camp Ken and I had one mission; like many freshly minted recruits in the armed services, we struck out to find some whores. The working girls that we came upon were supremely sketchy and he took the fat one, while I got the skinny one. They took us back to their filthy, one bedroom apartment and Ken and his girl went into the back bedroom while my gum cracking wraith and I took our place on the fold out couch. I’ll never forget the bored expression that she looked up at me with while my pale, skinny ass bounced up and down like an over revved piston. All the while she kept popping her gum and saying, “Are you finished yet”. It turned out that the experience did not match our expectations that had been eight weeks in the making.

 

When the ship was out at sea Ken would do something that, to this day, I find hilarious. Being assigned to a ship meant that when we were away from port we were on duty 24/7 and there was no way to escape, but Ken found a way to get time off even when the ship was in the middle of the ocean. Periodically he would collect up some snacks and soda pop and a book and then he would vanish into one of the ships many vacant crawl spaces for days at a time.

 

The first couple of times that  he did this it caused quite a stir, inspiring man over board drills and panic within the ship’s hierarchy, but after a few days Ken would reappear, rested and ready resume his duties, albeit in a lackluster fashion. Of course he would be punished for his unauthorized absence, but he didn’t care, and I knew that he would do it again regardless. They always came to find me when Ken pulled one of his disappearing acts and I would always assure them that he was still onboard and would come back when he was ready, he just needed a little time off to get lost in a book.

 

Authority can always be countermanded so long as there is a will that contends, but the power of nature is undeniable. When the earth shakes so mercilessly that humans are crushed under their own toppled creations, or the ocean encroaches upon the land to drag the living into its abyss there is little resistance that can be offered. There is nowhere to hide when the shadow of death stretches its pall across a landscape.

 

So long as we are the living we can continue to escape the things that displease us and avoid situations that are unpleasant. Eventually though, a bony, outstretched finger will tap every single one of us on the shoulder with a summons, and there will be nowhere to run. Until then, enjoy what you still have; life.

 

Errant Parent And The Day Hell Came To Visit

I heard an 18 year old porn star interviewed this morning on the Stern Show. Generally this is the kind of guest who is par for the course on Howard’s Show, but Summer Verona was not only introduced to the porn game by her step father, he also serves as her manager, and in this capacity, the step father is on set to supervise her escapades. We also learned that her step father is the one who takes it upon himself to make sure that her mons pubis is appropriately shorn for action and that he does the waxing himself. Now I am about as open minded as it gets and have very little problem with things that many would cringe at, but a step daddy shopping his wife’s barely grown daughter around to porn producers seems just a little inappropriate. Surely a step father grooming the genitalia of his wife’s daughter is over the invisible line that seperates icky from o.k..

This weekend in the New York Times there was an article about  how some of the soldiers that left for Iraq and Afghanistan confident, capable, and mentally stable are returning rattled, broken, and in some cases, as a menace to society. Of course when individuals are forced to confront the horror and devastation that a war machine and it’s weapons can inflict, it can wreak havoc inside a persons mind and things that were formerly considered reasonable can distort, and become entirely new perceptions and sensations.  It starts when you enlist, and the concepts of diplomacy and tolerance are forsaken on behalf of force and power. We teach our children not to raise their fists to one another, yet as adults we solve our most vexing problems through strength and violence, bending others to our agenda or else, as Reagan joked about The USSR, the bombing will begin in five minutes. The maxim is simple; a knife beats a club, a gun beats a knife, a bomb beats a gun, and a nuclear bomb is the trump card. You can check out the entire article at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/us/13vets.html?scp=1&sq=veteran+%2B+murder

Back in 1989 when I was serving onboard the U.S.S. IOWA (BB-61), I was primerman for the center gun  in turret number one on the day that Brian Gendron, the Primerman for center gun in turret number two was obliterated along with 46 other guys. Some of the victims that day were blown apart into tiny unrecognizable bits, and others who could surely could see their demise coming by the position of their lifeless bodies, were only strangled to death by the thick, acrid smoke, that accompanied the fire. Like myself, Brian Gendron had joined the Navy to earn college money,  and to say he eagerly awaited his discharge is an understatement of the highest order because he loathed the Navy, and as it turns out, rightfully so.

 The eleven hours that I spent in that hell retrieving the bodies of those guys, completely changed my life, and I can honestly say that I have never thought about anything the same way ever since. They offered us counseling and made psychiatrists available to anyone who wanted to talk to them, but the culture in the military is big on machismo and rugged individualism, so most of us chose not to speak with someone who might have helped us to make sense of the whole goddamned mess. When all of this happened I wasn’t even twenty years old yet and frankly I really had no idea how important it could be to talk about something so traumatic. The bottom line is the military had a responsibility to force treatment upon me and everyone else who was there that day, especially those of us who went into that turret to retrieve the fallen. To this day I have never sat down with anyone to sort through the dark cloud of emotions that were aroused by the events of that day and I wonder how my life might have been diferent had I not been there that day at all. At least I remain to consider such thoughts, of the four of us that sat together at breakfast on the morning of April 19, 1989, I was the only one left alive by dinner time that night.

 After I was finished with The Navy I asked my Dad why he did not talk me out of enlisting and his answer was that he did not talk me into it. Sometimes, what seems like the right decision turns out to be not so much, while at other times, choices may seem entirely appropriate to an individual while society at large looks on with disdain. Life can be tricky, and it’s truths will always be elusive, but there are two certainties generally accepted by most people; Veterans deserve treatment for PTSD, and parents should never take up the cause of hair removal on their childrens genetalia. Have a great day everyone. Oh yeah, one more thing; Rest In Peace Brian.

God Fuck America.

By the time I had lugged this machine up the hill from the ferry terminal, I was dripping sweat from my brow and my shirt was thoroughly drenched. I could not get connected to the web in my apartment by piggybacking because the signal was too weak, and Richard Merrill was my login name and  P.J. the terrier was looking up from my desktop, but I didn’t care. It is not every day that I am handed a laptop with no strings attached, but it is surely a pity that this coveted prize became mine as the result of  another man’s slow and  painful death. With this unassuming machine I might bring glory to an honorable man’s memory. On the flip side, the possibility exists that I could potentially bring ruin upon myself, an individual whose only accomplishment is the completeness of his failures.  Only time will tell.

When we met at the gazebo on the waterfront in faux Scandinavian Poulsbo, it was more for the benefit of the living who had gathered, than for the benefit a dead patriot who could never serve his country again. The allegiance to his country that he had sworn in earlier days had been betrayed and now his remains were merely ashes, to be spread about at the discretion of the living. Though it is said that a memorial serves to celebrate a life gone by, the mood at such affairs is seldom celebratory and people generally do not cry when they are at a party.

The fact of the matter is that our country had sold him out, and now we had gathered in his memory surrounded by balloons and flowers. Asbestos exposure is what gave the man the cancer that took his life and now we were left behind to write our memories of and tributes to the dead man, on little scraps of paper that we would release skyward tied to the balloons that surrounded us. On one of the slips I wrote that; In Heaven It’s Tacos 24/7! Actually, I just thought about writing that, but it would have been much cooler if I really had.

Everyone sitting on those rented, steel, folding chairs could see the smiling pictures of Rich that had been taken in earlier days when he was still alive. On the table before us was a flag that had been folded, neatly and officially, into a triangle and placed inside a glass paned, wooden display case. As I sat there that day I looked around at the wife and children and grandchildren and friends and family members that had survived the man, and I thought that this was not a fair trade. Here was a bunch of people who had given up something irreplaceably valuable and unique, and in return all that they got was a stupid flag, and a worthless atta boy from the country that had exposed their loved one to the mortal danger that would eventually claim his life.

As far as I am concerned, this American empire cannot collapse soon enough. Where others pray for God to bless America, my prayer is that God fucks America hard and without any lubrication. It was almost twenty years ago I had my first taste of the systemic callousness this nation has toward those who have voluntarily chosen to serve in the military. These days a young person who is sent into harms way can easily return a mere shell of their former self as the result of traumatic brain injury or otherwise, and there is no assurance that they will receive the treatment that they require. There is no foolishness is loving your country of origin, but Americans would do well to avoid serving in their military because those idiots will kill you with their carelessness. Enough said. Peace.

Smacked, Back In The Day

 Until disease induced dementia inevitably overtakes my memories of a life lived poorly, I will never forget where I was on the day that Mike Tyson got knocked out for the first time. Those were the days. I was living in a pantry in New Jersey at the time. After my stint in the Navy I had somehow I had wound up in New Brunswick, living with two other guys on the second floor of a house, a couple of blocks from the campus of Rutgers University.

Al was one of the guys that I lived with, and it was because of a chance meeting with his girlfriend at the time, that I ended up sleeping in a room so small that the door had to be shut before you could lay a single mattress down. Today Al is a big time baller, he ended up as an editor at one of the major newspapers on the west coast, but back then he was just some burner who was into The Dead before I was. He is a great guy, now and then, and it is because of him, that I was watching the previously unheard of Buster Douglas, smack the snot out of the man who I, and many thought was unbeatable. His friends became my friends because we had formed a fast friendship based in common coolness.

You couldn’t torture the names of the guys that were there that day out of me, but I had hung around with them all many times and they were good bros. Their house was home to eight or maybe nine, and the common room had a large screen T.V. bordered with couches that made the space between them seem quite insignificant when we were all watching a movie or, as we were on that day, a big sporting event. It was a cool scene over at their place, and I had spent a lot of time with these guys, so it was a familial crowd that was present when I lost my mind watching Tyson’s unexpected demise.

Between us all was a pony keg that we could mostly all reach from our seats, and the room was packed, with standing room only spilling back into the dining room. We had all gathered early in honor of the squat silver tank with a spigot to refresh our thirst, but the occasion overshadowed the greatness of unlimited beer on demand. By the time the moment arrived, when Iron Mike’s big fat head hit the canvas, we were all primed and ready to see another Tyson knockout, but what we saw on that big screen in that little room surprised us all.

When it happened we all unanimously rose to our feet, and everyone had something different to add to the cacophony that filled the room after Buster Douglas struck his momentous blow. Some of us screamed hype at Buster and some defamed Tyson, but we all screamed and not because we were out of beer, because we still had plenty. We lost our shit because the Big Man who couldn’t be beat got his clock cleaned by some guy none of us had ever heard of before. Pandemonium ensued among us, as the replay of a man who, nowadays sports a snazzy black facial tattoo, incoherently tried to stuff his mouth guard, lying worthless on the mat beside his prone body, sideways back into his mouth. Good times.

I Love Tacos, and I Love Burritos

T W T W 11/10/07 to 11/16/07 

                        Taking Saturday off of at work is usually a pretty sweet deal for me, but this time I had to attend the funeral of an Uncle that I really have a lot of love for. Upon arrival after a short ferry ride across The Sound, my mother announced that she was disappointed in me, that she just “wanted more for me”. I reminded her that the feeling was mutual, and that I had not sat around when I was 15 years old dreaming that my life would turn out the way that it has. Uncle Rich surely didn’t expect that the ships he served on with pride as a U.S. Naval officer, would eventually cause his body to contract Mesothelioma, and that his dreamtime would end leaving his wife with only memories, a dog, and a home full of things. What we have is now and with it the opportunity to continue to grow and change and evolve and love. There is no time like the present to put aside our expectations of what could have been. While we can we must, continue to dream of what still might be.

            Work was still pretty busy for so late in the season, and when you work with stone, there is plenty of opportunity to become physically ravaged over time. Of course the payoff is sweet when the lights go down and the clothes fly off, but moving pieces of rock around all day can take a toll and make you sleepy at night. It seemed like every customer this week wanted the piece of stone at the bottom of the pallet, which meant that after removing a literal ton of stone, I had to put it all back later after the person I was helping had left the yard. My coworker James saw a show about the Spartans on the T.V., and found that our job was remarkably similar to the training that they endured. Wheelbarrows take on new significance when they are piled with several hundred pounds of stone and pushed across the yard repeatedly.

            When I heard the Barry Bonds indictment announced on the radio this week I lost my shit, because I have been saying to everyone for the last six months that the Feds were going to come with it. Of course I grew up in the same area that he did and even went to the same high school as him in the years after he had been there. His reputation as being a major dick was well acknowledged. I also read the book Game of Shadows, which details the whole affair that has caused him to, with consuming devotion toward his record of personal achievement, be indicted for lying under an oath that granted him immunity unless he lied. My bias is clear and I am inclined to enjoy watching his martyr like pleas in the press that nothing was amiss with his body chemistry during his golden, glory years, and that he is merely victim of the white man’s media.  All of this insignificant drama is the result of one man’s narcissistic and over inflated ego and the culture that knowingly inflamed it. In America, that is what we are all about, we hold them up high just so that they make a bigger crash when we knock the pilings out from under them. Of course when the icon that we seek to upend is more than willing to contribute to their own undoing, a la Britney or O.J., it becomes an engrossing public spectacle that we can all enjoy together from our vantage point high above.

            Midweek, my Dad told me that he has prostate cancer, and that they are weighing the options to decide how best to go about treating it, of course this means going under the knife or chemo, but they caught it early so that is good. Really I have been thinking about a life without my father since my teens. It was because of a strange turn in my own life that I became familiar with death’s stern and sudden way, at such a tender age.  Since then I have of considered death as an omnipresent force that, ironically, overshadows all of life, and that cancer is its biggest producer. I smoke and have for twenty five years, so I am pretty sure that I cannot be very far down on cancer’s “to kill” list, but really it is a non discriminatory disease that will lead to the death of many people just because. As far as diseases go it is the big, mean, biting dog that freely roams and it will go for your nuts every time you encounter it.

            Finally this week I discovered that a guy I did a couple of plays with back in high school has hit the big time down in Hollywood as an actor. He is cast in a major role in a big hit T.V. show that I never watched before but will check out now that I know he is in it. We touched base through the email and he reminded me of a crazy thing that I used to do back in high school when I would jump, with all four wheel off the ground, the tiny Honda Civic that used to drive, on this hill near the school we attended, to the immense pleasure of my fearless, (maybe some fearful), teenage passengers. Of course I was congratulatory of his success and honestly so, but I also felt really bad about myself, that I had made so many stupid decisions along the way and had squandered so many opportunities that could have enabled my life to have heft and/or relevance. Self reflection is a key for growth and I certainly want to continue doing so, but it sucks to be when the one staring back from the mirror is a warped version of the person you hoped and dreamed that you would be when you were young.