Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shut Up & Agree with Me: I'm a Veteran (and that makes me an expert).

Author's Note: I wrote this before Stan McChrystal stuck his foot in his mouth. 

Details on this i.d. card that could be used by terrorists, Democrats, or Jehova's Witnesses have been deleted.


I am a veteran, so dangnabbit, don't you dare disagree with me.  On any opinion I express about the following topics, you should be a good American, and not question me:

1) The Iraq War
2) The Afghanistan War
3) taxes
4) abortion
5) the Dodgers
6) the Lakers
7) fishing
8) birding (that's birdwatching to you mamsy-pamsy pinko commies who don't know how to adjust the rear sights on an M-16)
9) the school district
10) cooking
11) evolution
12) religion
13) socialism (bad)
14) capitalism (good)
15) gay marriage (why do they want to suffer, like the rest of us?)

These are the topics that come to mind off the top of my head.  There are myriad others.  If you need help, or advice, post your problems under he comments section at the end of this post, and I will give you sage advice that is guaranteed to bring you success.

After all, I'm a veteran, so I must know what I'm talking about. 

Here's what some of you lily-livered, white-flag waving Left Coasties are thinking right now:

"You were in the Army?  No way!  You're shittin me!"

Yes, it's true.  It was time for me to stand up and be heard.

Just kidding!

Not kidding about being in the Army a long time ago.  That really happened.  Just ignore everything else above that I said. 

But, don't just ignore my rant about how you should accept everything I say, because I'm a veteran; do the same thing the next time a guy in a camouflage shirt or hat starts ripping into you, and accusing you of hating America.  Do it when some guy who can't hike up a flight of steps--without passing out--screams, "I wore the uniform! What have you done?"

Come up with flippant answers to pronouncements like that, and practice them at home in front of the mirror, so that when the time comes to use them, you will deliver your insults with the aplomb of Olivier doing Hamlet on stage.

Now I'm going to reveal a big secret that they don't want you to know.  Not everybody in the U.S. Armed Forces is a Republican.  I'm using the term Republican as shorthand for having a certain set of core beliefs, but allow me to elucidate:  People in the military tend to be social conservatives.  The military has a higher percentage of registered Republicans vs Democrats, but that doesn't mean that they thought invading Iraq was a good idea.  That doesn't mean that they think, "We could have won Vietnam, if only the politicians had let us."

I just finished reading Charles W. Sasser's excellent "None Left Behind", about the hardships that the 10th Mountain Division suffered in Iraq while taking and securing a Sunni insurgent infested area near Bagdhad known as the Triangle of Death.  I highly recommend this book with one caveat;

I find his telling of the stories of the individual soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat team to be well-written, compelling, and believeable.  I think that high school students should be required to read this book.  Especially anyone thinking of signing up, as soon as they graduate.  It's when Sasser strays into the history and politics of the Iraq war that he quickly digs himself into a deep hole.

To go into detail would be hideously time-consuming, but Sasser justifies the invasion of Iraq with vague notions of bringing peace and democracy to the Middle east, and--incredibly--has the gall to claim that had Liberals not obstructed the Bush White House and the Pentagon, the war would have been won years ago.

I need a five minute break to go outside and laugh.

Okay, I'm back.

I guess he's so busy writing books, that he never read either of Thomas E. Ricks' books about the Iraq War

Sasser also twists the words of various politicians, like every conservative's favorite punching bag: John Kerry.  I think that chapter pissed me off the most:  Sasser selectively quotes (mid-sentence) and then lambastes various Liberal politicians for saying that the troops fighting and dying in Iraq are those Americans too dumb to go to college.  Wow.  That old reliable stand-by: accuse Liberals of being elitists.  Of course, the conservatives hurling these accusations are the richest people in the country; but we'll just ignore that, right now.  Here's what Kerry and others have said:

The price of education goes up each year, making it harder and harder for young people to go to college, or trade tech.  This increases the cycle of poverty.  At the same time, we continue to export jobs overseas.  This leaves young people with few choices, so they join the military. 

A big percentage of these young people don't join the military because they want to fight America's enemies.  They're not unpatriotic, but that's not why they're signing up.  They're signing up to get that college scholarship, or other veterans' benefits.  Granted, there are some who sign up for ideological reasons, but they are not the majority. 

Before and after Sasser attacks Kerry et al for disrespecting our brave soldiers, he tells the individual stories of infantrymen who joined the Army because they literally had no where else to go.  I wonder what their SAT scores were...

In chess, the front row of pieces—the pawns—are also known as the foot soldiers. This symbolism is no accident. Unfortunately, the men of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team were the pawns in a game between the Bush Administration, former members of Saddam Hussein’s military dictatorship, and various ethnoreligious factions that he had suppressed over the decades. Unaware of various backroom deals, along with clandestine meetings with representatives of various factions in hotel rooms in Vienna, Amman, and Istanbul, the guys on the ground only knew that they had to stay alert 24/7, and avoid any anomalies on the roads that they drove. It is easy to imagine an enlisted man not in on the politics to return to the U.S., and make statements based on his first-hand experiences that ignore the larger realities of the Middle East. Unfortunately, like their symbolic brethren on the chess board, the grunts are moved around the battlefield in which their survival doesn’t matter; the king has to live for the game to be won.


There is a new demographic group in American colleges: war veterans.  Talk to one.  Next time you're at Starbucks, and see some kid with short hair, big muscles, and a military tattoo of some sort.  Talk to him or her.  Ask them their opinions about a variety of subjects.  I've met several vets on campus who have a very unflattering view of the war, the Pentagon, and the Bush White House.  These are the guys who got their Humvee blown out from under them.

Somebody--a fellow vet who didn't know that I, too, am a vet--challenged me (more than once, actually) with "I served this country, what have you done?"

     Well, first of all.  I don't define my life around what I did in uniform.  Why not?  Well, let me count the ways:  I was a low-life grunt, low-man on the totem pole.  As a college drop-out (I went back to college 10 years later), I really resented having people stupider than me yelling at me all the time.  Also, I never went anywhere.  I have never fired a shot in in anger.  And I'm glad.  Not for ideological--read pacifistic--reasons.  I'm just glad that I don't have to deal with the psychological repercussions of having killed another person.  I lose sleep when people I don't know die in front of me at work in the ER (when kids die, that always takes a bite out of me--that 10 year old who died 2 summers ago still hurts.  I don't know how firemen do it).  Also, I didn't serve my full 4 years, because my mom got really sick.  I was on the phone with her (back before cell phones,  in the days when we stood in line at the public pay phone on base) one morning, and realized what was going on.  I talked to the sergeant, he talked to the captain, the captain talked to the light bird, who contacted the Red Cross.  The Red Cross carried out an investigation, in which they talked to my mother, the neighbors, and her doctor.  Next thing I knew, my ass was on a plane from Fayetteville to L.A.

1) How to assemble, disassemble, clean, and fire the M-16 assault rifle
2) How to assemble, disassemble, clean, and fire the Beretta 9 mm semi-automatic pistol

3) How to take out an enemy tank with the TOW missile (do they still make them?)
4) Where to stab somebody with a knife or bayonet
5) Where to slam somebody in the head with the butt of my rifle
6) How to push gauze dressings into a belly wound
7) How to use a compass and a map
8) oh yeah: How to assemble, disassemble, clean, and fire the M-60 machine gun, and
9) How to assemble, disassemble, clean, and fire the Browning 50 caliber machine gun
10 How to shoot down an airplane with the Red-eye missile.  Or was it the Stinger?  I honestly can't remember, any more.
11) Betty's a Bitch: the Bouncing Betty land mine pops up and explodes at groin level, so don't step on the trip wire, if you want to take Mr Happy and the Twins home.

Well, the most important thing I learned in the US Army was this: you can do anything.  If that moron across the yard can do that, so can I.  Damn, it's a confidence builder.

One more thing:  The military is really organized and efficient.  I get really frustrated working with people who have never been in the military, because they don't have that sense of unit cohesion, etc. for getting the job done.  The one exception is the emergency medical environment.  Same mentality.  My office job at the university? Oh my god, don't ask.

I spent close to 20 years feeling guilty about getting out of the Army early (yes, I got an honorable discharge).  My mother's health deteriorated further--she eventually died, and meanwhile, I gained 70 pounds.  During the Gulf War kept wondering if they were going to recall me, but they had enough guys, thank you very much, to pull off the job.

Oh, wait.  that's another point where Sasser contradicts himself.  He whines about Liberals who want us to lose in Iraq, and didn't want the war to happen, in the first place, despite all of the good reasons to kick Saddam's ass, but he conveniently forgets that Dad (Bush Sr.) refused to go all the way.  Remember General Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf?  He wanted to go all the way to Bagdhad, and said that out loud, so they forced him to retire.

Here's a good paper to write for your history class: Comparison and Contrast of Arguments against invading Iraq in 1991 vs in favor of invading in 2003.  Hint: the same people made the arguments for and against.

Sasser talks about the frustration of soldiers on the ground with Rules of Engagement; rigid guidelines that describe when they may or may not shoot at people. Understandably, any and every Iraqi is a hajji—a hostile—who should be shot to stop them before they shoot Americans. It’s Vietnam all over again. In order to save the village, we had to destroy it. Again, Sasser blissfully contradicts himself by stating that the liberal politicians should get out of the way, and let the soldiers win the war (the reader is left to assume that this would consist every Iraqi male between the age of 8 and 80), while in the same chapter praising the Battalion Commander, Lt Colonel Michael Infanti for progressive thinking, and being one of the first combat leaders on the ground to start thinking about why the war isn’t going well—concluding that counter-insurgency tactics need to be implemented. This, of course, means winning over the civilian population, and convincing them that the Americans—and their values—are preferable over the insurgents.


Sasser was a Green Beret. The Green Beanies—U.S. Army Special Forces—are the best of the best. It is very hard to get into the Green Berets. This level of elite unit membership attracts two types of men: idealists and pragmatists (plus the rare occasional nutjob who sneaks in, but they always wind up dead, or in the stockade). The men from both categories are physically fit, but their strongest muscle is the one between their ears. The general public thinks that elite units like the Special Forces or the Navy SEALs are weight-lifting, protein drink-consuming muscle men who crash through windows, roll on the floor, and shoot the bad guys between the eyes before they fire off a shot. While these types of commando raids are part of their job description, the main purpose of special ops is infiltrating enemy territory—Indian Country (Sasser uses this term, along with a lot of other old-guy lingo like "Freedom Bird" that reveals his age.  I'd like to think the young guys serving today have come up with their own slang)—and executing a specific task. If you meet a Green Beret, he won’t tell you that he speaks fluent Russian, Arabic, French, Italian, or Pashto. If you ask him, he’ll probably deny it.

As an aside, those of you who voted for Prop 187 should think about this: when they join the Special Forces and learn Farsi, Pashto, or Arabic, Hispanics do a much better job of passing themselves off as locals, compared to blond, blue-eyed pogues like me.
Sasser—via his writing—comes across as an idealist. Unfortunately, it’s idealists who cooked up the scheme to invade Iraq. It’s good that we have men like Sasser in our country, who work really hard, and sacrifice at a level that most of us would scoff at while downloading new apps on our iPhones. Problem is, letting guys like him decide which way we’re going is a sure path to trouble. Precisely why the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution the way they did; firmly placing the military under civilian control.

I’ve known a lot of Green Berets, and none of them were like Sasser. Admittedly, I am judging him based on reading one book by him, and looking at his picture on the dust jacket. In the photo his Tom Selleck moustache, proud visage, and puffed out chest give me the impression that if I had a coffee with him at Starbucks that he would start off by telling me what a moron I am for paying too much for girly-man designer coffee, and proceed to dominate the entire conversation.

Contrary to the Rambo image, Special Ops guys are thinking men, with really good reasoning skills. They collect and analyze data, before carrying out a plan. They are problem solvers. I have to wonder how many of his colleagues at Fort Bragg read his books on the sly, smirking, while turning the pages.

This leads to an important point: we men need to stop comparing our lives and accomplishments to our fathers' and grandfathers'.  My father (born in 1914) fought in World War II  (on the wrong side), as did my step-father.  Your dad fought in Vietnam.  Your uncle fought in Gulf One. 

So what? 

Why do we keep trying to prove our worthiness to our dads by going off in uniform, so that some guy we never met can shoot us in the belly?  That is a really weird concept: we need to prove our worthiness by replicating our fathers' and grandfathers' horrible experiences.  Hello?

What have I done?  Well, my wife doesn't know this (she doesn't read my blog) , but I've done little things that were merely gestures, but nonetheless made me feel better, like the Marine private who I hustled onto the train last week, who didn't have a ticket, yet (the last train of the morning was rolling into Claremont).  I told him, "get on the train, I will talk to the conductor.  I decided that I was going to convince the conductor to let me buy the kid a ticket at another station, and pay his way.  Didn't need to: the conductor let the kid ride for free.  Oh, god, that kid was so young.  A baby-face, and I know where he's going.  looked like he was 17 (probably 18 or 19).  When he comes home, he will have dark circles under his eyes.

What have I done?

Well, despite a step-father who said that I will never amount to anything, I worked at night full-time as a security guard, while going to school 2 years, full-time in the hospital, and graduated with a good GPA and great scores on my national boards.  Three years later I did it again, working as an x-ray tech all weekend long while going to school for nuclear medicine Monday through Friday. Then, while working full time as a nuclear med tech, I went back to college.  While working full-time (and being on-call in the ER for CT, I went to class 2 to 4 nights aweek at Cal Sate Dominguez Hills, and on the way home, I sat in the convalescent home with my mother and held her hand for half an hour every day. I would leave her at 9 or 10 or 11 at night, drive home, and write papers for class. 

Here's a sad thought: Working in Southern California emergency rooms, I have x-rayed or scanned more people who have been shot, than if I had done my full 4 years in the Army, inlcuding Gulf One.  Same goes for my friends Juan Mas, Dave Moody, and John Welsh--who have never worn the uniform.  But, getting back on topic:


We should respect our veterans.

We should listen to their opnions.

We should seek their input.

But, we should not blindly agree with or accept whatever they say.  We need to critically examine what they say, its implications, and the motivations for what they say. 

They're trying to sell you a package deal that goes like this:  Only a veteran should run for president; some draft dodger like Dick Cheney isn't qualified because he never served, blah blah blah.

Well, no, dummy.  There is nothing anywhere in the Constitution that says that.  Quite the opposite: This country was founded as a democracy with a civilian government that has full oversight over the military.  Not only does it make sense for us to haul in Dave Petraeus to testify about how things are going over there on a regular basis, it's how the system was set up to work from the get-go

Let me leave you with this parting question: who was the greatest military leader of the Civil War?

1) General Grant
2) General Lee
3) Stonewal Jackson
4) General Sherman
5) none of the above

The answer, boys and girls, is (5) none of the above.  It was Lincoln.  If you don't know why that's true, then you don't know your American history.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Night Owls

Hiked up the fire road in Claremont Wilderness Park, tonight, hoping to re-find the owls that I heard there last week.

This time I had a powerful flashlight.  Got there at 7:30, and deliberately hiked past the section of steep oak riparian canyon where I heard some weird owls sounds last Friday.  When I heard the family of owls last week, I didn't have a flashlight with me, and the owls sounded like they might be female Spotted Owls, but I wasn't 100% sure.

Before the sun went down, two Great Horned Owls hooted at each other.

Standing on the fire road above the canyon, I heard a male Spotted Owl calling, "Who?  Who-who; whoooo!"

I thought to myself, "Yes!  I was right!" and started walking down toward the dense oak riparian area.  Sure enough, I heard the females and babies.  I had my spotlight, but realized that I had forgotten my binoculars at home.


Got my spotlight on a group of small owls on a nest.  Damn, I can see them, but can't call it. 

But then again, I definitely heard a male Spotted Owl, so I'm not gonna worry about it.  I decide to not harass the owls on their nest with my light, and start walking downhill toward the parking lot.

A voice calls out in the dark, "Tom Miko, is that you?"

"Yeah.  Who's there?"

"Nancy.  My friend Kim is with me."

"Cool.  Follow me.  I found them."

"Found what?"

"Spotted Owls.  Babies, but I heard an adult male, too."

"That was us."


Nancy's friend, Kim, shows me her iPod , and pushes the button.  The iPod yells, "Who? Whoo-whoo, whoo!"

"Oh my god.  That was you guys?"


We walked back uphill to the spot, and Nancy yelled, "I hear baby screech owls!"  We took turns shining my light at what turned out to be a family of fluffy baby Western Screech Owls, begging to be fed, while Nancy let me see them with her binos.

Wow, they sound completely different from adult Western Screech Owls.

After we heard a couple of Common Poorwills, we got into our cars, and drove off in the dark. .

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Hoochy Mamas on my Train

I ride the metrolink train to work.  The majority of my fellow commuters from the Inland Empire (also known as "The 909") are women who work in jobs at large corporations, city, county, state, and federal jobs in downtown L.A.  A sizeable percentage of them dress not as if they were on the way to work.  They dress as if they were on the way to a bar looking for someone (a guy) to take them home.

Call me old-fashioned.

Well, it's not just me.  Mercifully, my employer frowns on such attire, so I'm not exposed to such (un)dress (along with 9 inch stilletto heels, and tattoos in embarassing places) in my workplace. 

I've often wondered why women dress like that when they're at work, or shopping at Target.  Now I know why.  While reading an essay by Slavo Zizek, I ran across this link to an article by his colleague, Susan J. Douglas.  She points out uncomfortable data and statistics that would stop Rush Limbaugh in his tracks. 

Speaking of Rush, Jay Leno said somethig awsome last night: "Rush Limbaugh got married this weekend.  His fourth marriage.  She's 30, and he's 59.  You know what that means?  When she's 40, he'll be with his 7th wife!"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stuck in the mud of Iraq

I just finished reading The Gamble, Thomas Ricks' second book about the debacle--I mean the Iraq War-- that we are stuck in.  I'm glad I read the second book.  I read the first book, Fiasco--essentially Part I--a year ago; quite a while after it came out.

For the sub-title to Fiasco, the first book, Ricks should have written "In which I--a pro-military Republican--detail how badly Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld have fucked up the Middle East".

I have really enjoyed both books, and cannot recommend them enough.  My perception--not my opinion--but my image of who I think Ricks is has changed from the frist page of Fiasco to the last page of  The Gamble.  When I grabbed Fiasco and started reading it, I assumed that Ricks is a classical Morrow-style reporter who is liberal in his personal views (the inevitable consequence of having both a functioning brain and heart) who none-the-less adheres to his journalistic duty to be objective.  Apparently, a lot of flag-waving morons out there have their own version of that belief: he's a no-good liberal commie pinko bastard.  At least said offending right-wingers admit that haven't actually read his book, before proceeding to crucify him. 

Well, that's ironic.

In the last 2 chapters of The Gamble, written during the 2008 election cycle, Ricks fires both barrels at anti-war liberals inside and outside the U.S. Government.  Apparently he's pissed at Obama for being against the war.  He does rightly point out that it's easy to run for president on a campaign promise to withdraw from Iraq next week, but once you're in office you realize that you're stuck with Bush's war.

So, let me axe you a question, Bubba:  what exactly would you expect a Democrat running for president to say during the 2008 election??? 

Just curious.

Ricks rips into a bunch of Democrats for not supporting the military, who were (are) over there, bleeding and dying in Iraq.

As opposed to the dumbass NeoConservative Republicans who sent them over there to die.

Ricks points his ire at's September 2007 "General Petraeus or Betray Us?" ad as the most egregious example of stupid liberals accusing a good, decent honest American patriot of treason, without knowing the facts.

Here's the problem, Tom Ricks: at the time that put the ad in the paper, we were at a point in American history where the White House and the Pentagon had planned, initiated, and bolloxed up an unnecessary, unjustified war.  I mean--come on--you, yourself flat out say that in the first half of Fiasco.  By the time Petraeus sat down in front of the senators to testify, there were already 4,000 deaths--all in a war sold to us as necessary to keep Saddam Hussein from getting The Bomb.

After 4 years of "the government" lying to us, and getting a lot of 19 year olds killed, could you really expect the American public to believe some dude we never heard of--in a uniform decked out with ribbons and awards--to tell us the truth?

At the time, I too was convinced that the surge wouldn't work.  Okay, so the surge worked.  Even so, Ricks himself says in The Gamble that even though the incomepetent generals and admirals who organized and started the war got shoved aside (retired, fired, or promoted up into a position where they can't do any more harm) , and the new, younger, hipper, cooler studs with better ideas (Sean McFarland, Dave Petraeus, Dave Kilcullen et al) initiated a style of warfare that kept us from getting our ass kicked out of Iraq, that country is still a mess.  The best case scenario in Iraq is that we leave 10 or 20 years from now, and they don't get into bed with Tehran.

In plain English, while we have re-learned (Ricks details in Fiasco how there are hundred year old books on counter-insurgency, written by the French and others-- that our military ignored because--you know--we're Americans, so we're smarter than everybody else) how to fight insurgencies, the long-term problem of "fixing" Iraq (the Iraq that we broke) is not going away. 

I find myself in the embarassing position of admitting that my wife was right, back then.  She said that we can't just pack up, and leave Iraq.  We made a mess, and have to take responsibility for it.  I wanted us to pull out, and leave the Iraqis to kill each other at will.  Having read both of Ricks' books, I can see why my wife was right.

Shit.  My 5 year old son could graduate from high school in 2023, and go off to fight and die in Iraq.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Hairy Beast of Claremont

Well, I have to hand my crown and title of the Hairiest Beast of Claremont over to the little guy who crossed paths with me this weekend.  Went hiking Sunday at Claremont Wilderness Park, to see if the Black Swifts are back, this summer.  Not yet--if at all.  I have been searching the skies above the trail extensively in the afternoons on various days between 4:00 and 6:15 p.m.

I might need to arrive only at 6:00 p.m., and hang out until sundown.  But then again, maybe they just didn't come back, at all.  Hm...

On the way back down the trail I saw somebody staring at something on the ground.  Assuming it was a frog, I stooped, and found out it was a California Tarantula

The photo does not do him justice.  He was a biggie.

Rocket scientist that I am, I had left the Blackberry in the car, because there's no reception.  Now I had no camera.  Fortunately, a ladies' hiking club came cruising by, and asked me what I was looking at.  One of them took the picture with her Blackberry.

Monday I took the kids to San Pedro to look for the Belcher's Gull.  Met Charlie Walker, who said that now he thinks it's a Black-tailed Gull--which would be a nice California bird  (A bird that I have never seen in California, before.  I have seen them in China).  The last 100 yards of the hiking trail down the sea cliffs was too much for my 4 year old and 5 year old.  That, and the lack of toilets and a water fountain made me decide that I wasn't going to torture my kids just so that I could see a bird.  We abandoned ship.  I'm not losing sleep over my decision, though: the gull was flying in every day to a seal carcass that has probably been carried away by the tide, and is no longer there to attract the bird.  C'est la vie.