Archive for May 2013
A new track on SoundCloud “Jonathan Schuppe Interview”:
Jonathan Schuppe is a crime and government reporter who has spent much of his reporting life in and around Newark, NJ. In that time, he’s seen first hand the results of shattered lives and their effects on children. But he tells a different story in his new book, “A Chance to Win.” Don Merrill talks with Mr. Schuppe about a special man who got a bunch of inner city kids interested in forming a sports team. And not basketball or football.
A new track on SoundCloud “Jonathan Goldstein Interview”:
Jonathan Goldstein is the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company program “Wiretap”, a satirical look at relationships and existentialism from the perspective of a middle-aged Jewish man. That perspective is now also in print in Mr. Goldstein’s first book, “I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow.” Don Merrill talked w/Jonathan about his love for words and their power for good and ill.
That’s what military service is called. It’s a term of art for those who dedicate their lives to the protection, preservation and defense of our country and its people. My love for those troops, who are, right now, in Artillery Batteries in Incrilik, Turkey, or Infantry Battalions on Korea’s DMZ, Armor at Fort Bliss, or on a submarine under the Arctic, and even in space (Astronauts are US Air Force) is unwavering.
Let’s make a distinction between the troops and their leadership. Their leadership is swayed by money (defense contractors flood the Pentagon to lobby the military to push Congress to continue funding for programs the military doesn’t even want), by influence (the revolving door between military service and work in the private industry is more obvious than a red light in a backstreet Parisian whorehouse), or entitlement (if the officer in charge of the military’s anti sexual harassment arm can be arrested for sexual harassment, then we have a problem).
Other failings of leadership? There are plenty. Arlington National Cemetery management of remains so poor that they aren’t even sure who is buried where, or who is in the caskets they inter. Walter Reed Army Medical Center coincidentally closed after revelations of despicable treatment of wounded soldiers. And the VA, unable to come to an agreement with the Pentagon over a computer system to help distribute help and manage the medical records of returned soldiers, while those soldiers wait years for that help.
Clearly, these armchair warriors, as Bruce Hornsby accurately termed them in “The End of Innocence” do often fail. By contrast, the soldiers who follow those orders rarely do. It is no wonder that in talking about the horror of battle and the service to our nation, Abraham Lincoln didn’t mention the bureaucracy when talking about those who gave their last full measure in the service to an earlier United States.
There was a recent discussion on Linkedin about whether corruption is an inherent part of human nature that we must all live with as part of the cost of doing business, or whether it could be eradicated for a much more pristine outcome. I am not so naïve’ as to think that we will always be able to overcome our base natures. But if we willingly buy into some of it, shouldn’t we, for the sake of morality, try to be all in?
Namely, if a civilian leader understands that military power yields to civil power, shouldn’t civil power wielders understand the responsibility they have to carefully hold and fiercely steward the lives of those men and women who fight our wars? And if a military leader understands the oath of service, shouldn’t they be willing to do whatever it takes to protect their troops with every ounce of everything they have, whether at the front of a convoy in a humvee or behind a desk? Should civil leaders and military leaders be complicit in padding the pockets of the military industrial complex while using our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers as gear grease in that machine? Should we support regimes who we befriend solely because they are the enemies of our enemies? Should we participate in conflicts with no clear strategy for winning, no clear path for leaving and no good rationale for joining? Poor leadership says, in order, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
I have served as both a civil servant and a soldier. And I can tell you, without hesitation, if you respect and love your boss, you will figuratively and literally go through hell for them. You will be cause you know they will protect you and kick your ass when you need it. As corny as it sounds, you know it’s because they trust you, they get out of your way and let you do the job they hired you for, trained you for. They love you and you love them.
And if you don’t love and respect your boss? It’s because you see your boss is more concerned with themselves. You see that your boss takes your effort and gives you no credit. You see your boss working to undermine you. You see them not as they portray themselves, but as they are; weak, cowardly and full of betrayal. This person you do not love, or respect. These people rely on patronage, and tenure. On manipulation of the rules. They are surrounded by the fat of their position, whether literal or figurative. They may seem enlightened and proactive and think of themselves as such, but they are pedestrian and reactionary. They are seduced by themselves. Poor leaders never think they are poor, which is part of the tragedy. They do not realize that they simply are not worthy of being followed. For the good of the people they serve, they need to be extricated and forgotten in every way except as lessons to future leaders. They know who they are.
The troops, that’s another story. My best memory of troops is one morning, me and a small group from a detachment I was with out of the Pentagon, were on our way to morning mess at Fort Bliss. It was about 0400. And because Fort Bliss is a large, sprawling post, it has a very wide and very long company road. And on this morning, there were several Battalions of troops marching to breakfast. Each battalion was calling its own cadence, and they were trying to out call each other. I looked up and saw a black sky full of stars. I looked up the company road as far as I could see and saw troops singing. And I looked down the company road as far as I could see and saw troops singing. A chorus of thousands of voices singing different songs, but all singing the same music. And I cried because it was so beautiful.
That may sound militaristic to some. But what it was was a brotherhood and a sisterhood of people who do what nobody else does knowing they may, at any moment, be asked to die doing it. My love for the service was sealed in that moment. And though I may no longer be in the military, I will always be military. So, when I see the troops coming home, wounded, inadequately cared for, neglected and forgotten, I think, “I am healthy. I am strong. I can think cogently. I will do what I can to help right this. To not forget this.”
I can tell their stories. I can donate money. I can be a witness.
Amat victoria curam
A new track on SoundCloud “Enola Aird Interview (Short)”:
Eliminating the negative messages that have been aimed at black people has been a daunting task. But Enola Aird, President and founder of the Community Healing Network, says she and her organization will be well on the way to doing that by 2019, the 400th anniversary of slavery having been introduced to the US. Don Merrill talks with Ms. Aird about the work of CHN and the plan to accomplish that laudable goal. Hear the full length conversation at http://www.convers.us.
People are always ready to tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or what you’re doing. And while it’s true that sometimes, you can’t see the forest for the trees, nobody knows your situation better than you and in the end, you are the main one who has to make your choices and live with them.
People get passionate about the spillover, though. Maybe they’re really, really invested in your decision and your choice changes something in their life that they don’t want changed. Or maybe it’s a credibility issue; if you break away from their opinion or expertise, they lose their authority somehow, so their goal is to shoot holes in yours. But even the “experts” can be wrong, and the people who have the gut feeling can be right. I found this on the Wikipedia about the Monk TV show while researching the last post.
“During the first season of Monk, the series used a jazzy instrumental intro to the show by songwriter Jeff Beal, performed by guitarist Grant Geissman. The theme won the 2003 Emmy Award for Best Main Title Music. When season two began, the series received a new theme song, entitled “It’s a Jungle Out There”, by Randy Newman. Reaction to the new theme was mixed. A review of season two in the New York Daily News included a wish that producers would revert to the original theme. Shalhoub expressed his support for the new theme in USA Today, saying its ‘dark and mournful sound,…[its] tongue-in-cheek, darkly humorous side…. completely fits the tone of the show.’ Newman was awarded the 2004 Emmy Award for Best Main Title Music for “It’s a Jungle Out There”.”
Sometimes, the only opinion that matters is the person down in the arena who is actually fighting the lion.
I need me a Greek Chorus. Everybody great has had a Greek Chorus. I’m not saying I seek greatness, but I am saying I need three smart heads around me to keep me out of the ditch where I occasionally end up sometimes. There are lots of examples, especially in contemporary TV, where the power of three heads was better than two and a lot better than solo. To wit …
Dr. Gregory House: Chase, Cameron and Foreman. Are they his foils or his slaves or his torturers? Whatever they are, when he lost them, he went downhill. You can’t replace passion, reason and, uh … whatever, with an entire classroom.
Captain James T. Kirk: Bones, Spock and Scotty. Again, passion, reason and something in-between. You need that something in between that is part, “Jim, don’t do it” and “Captain, we don’t have the power!” Again, you’re not necessarily going to argue with three brains that know your one brain all too well.
Marshall Matt Dillon: Doc, Kitty and Festus (or Chester). A gritty brain trust from the mid 19th century that never steered James Arness wrong. Doc was old but feisty as hell. Kitty was a gravelly voiced barroom beauty with a mean sucker punch. Dennis Weaver as Chester was eager and loyal and was replaced by Festus who I just loved. Festus was a man for the ages. If you had a Festus, you had nothing to worry about. Newly never seemed to fit in the clique. Never.
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs: For our more modern times, Ziva, McGee and DeNozo. Are you seeing a pattern here? The person with the Greek Chorus is usually someone with great responsibility. They’re almost a tragic figure in how the Gods have positioned them to do their duty in the world. Mark Harmon’s character drives his charges as hard as he deeply loves them and savagely protects them.
Colonel Robert E. Hogan: Kinch, LeBeau and Newkirk. A passionate Frenchman, a methodical Irish con man, and an African American geek genius. Together, they advised, protected and beat up on Bob Crane’s cool concentration camp colonel. Although Hogan’s Heroes was comedy, Crane probably could’ve used a Greek Chorus off set.
Detective Adrian Monk: Randy, Sharona (or Natalie) and Leland. Tony Shalhoub’s brilliantly played OCD suffering character was best served by his chorus by their compassion for him. The totally understood this heroic figure that they saw shot down by the murder of his wife, and they did everything they could to clear the path for him so he could at least function. Eventually, their love for him led him to redemption and recovery.
Oh, and let’s not leave out many of the reality talent shows; The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and of course, American Idol. Although most choruses are represented in threes, (American Idol had Randy, Paula and Simon for eight seasons, until the ninth, when they added a fourth judge), many other reality shows have four or more.
In many cases, the Greek Chorus foretold of impending disasters that would befall the hapless person they were singing about by pointing out weaknesses that would bring them down if they didn’t change course. Or, it represented the fears or hopes or rage of the main character that he or she could not openly express because to do so would jeopardize their position of authority. While I ain’t the boss of nobody, I wouldn’t discount the advice of three people who knew me as well as I knew myself. Think of the places we could go? Maybe I’ll put something on Craig’s List.