Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Please Don't Thank Me for My Service

This article was originally posted here, but I reposted it on my blog, here.

I wrote this article out of frustration - in a short time, I'd been getting a lot of people thanking me for my service in the Marines. It's become easier (and more polite) to just say "you're welcome" and move on - but I just wanted a place to park my true feelings about the matter.  

“DON’T thank you for your service? But why?!”veteran
I’ll tell you why: because I, like a good portion of service members, joined for my
own selfish reasons. I wasn't thinking about service to country, freedom, the Constitution, or anything noble like that – I just wanted to get by and live my life, hopefully getting out of the Marines with a few skills that I could use to acquire a real job.
I’m sure that there are many service members and veterans out there who feel differently – and they have every right to feel that way. I just want to let people know that there is more to the story than the patriotic "symbol of freedom" cardboard-cutout soldier/sailor/airman/marine/coastie that you were taught to revere (or at least respect).

“But…you protected our freedom!”
No, I was a simple POG (Personnel Other than Grunt) – I did my job, and after being discouraged from being innovative or creative by various superiors, I gave no more effort than was required to perform the minimum. It was like any other crappy job in the civilian sector, except I wasn't allowed to quit, because I entered into a contract – an indentured servant by any other name...
Yep- that's me! August 2001
Also – I keep wondering how starting conflicts in other parts of the world constitutes as “fighting for freedom” or “fighting terror.” It looks more like imperialism - you know: a country using its military power to subvert and control another territory  for its own gain (otherwise known as “nation-building”). Don’t believe me? Take a cursory glance at a map of our military bases worldwide. Is there anything that we do in Japan or Germany that they couldn't do for themselves?
Another question – if you believe that it’s okay that America has military bases abroad, then how would you feel if another country decided to plop a military base anywhere in the lower 48 states? If you’d be angry about that, then ask yourself this question: If it’s not okay when it’s done to us, then WHY is it okay when we do it to other nations?!
...and I'm not even going to get into how much freedom we have - if there's any left.

“So, how do I show my appreciation for the sacrifices that American service members have made?
Easy – don’t treat us like anything special. I understand that you may have been taught to respect uniforms (whether uniforms in general or military uniforms in particular) as a symbol of power that somehow commands respect – but just stop. Stop right there.
Also, you may be feeling some misplaced guilt – perhaps the reasoning that since you didn't have the health/courage/strength/whatever to “serve,” you should respect people who do. Feel free to relieve yourself of that guilt right now. No harm, no foul – it won’t be held against you. I promise.I_want_you_to_die_for_slogans
You see, it really bothers me (and others) that service members as of late have been turned into a powerful patriotic symbol; it borders on hero worship. It’s seen as unpatriotic or un-American to not show your respect to service members or veterans. But see – idolizing the military isn't patriotic. The fact that politicians are doing this (and encouraging you to do it, too) exposes how deeply America needs heroes now. Think about it – our culture seems more than willing to glorify the military – people who are paid by you to destroy and kill at the behest of the political class. Have you ever asked yourself why this is?
It wasn't until I was in the military that I realized the real depth and scope of the corruption and waste that abounds in the U.S. military. I remember  budgets that we were encouraged to overspend – because if you didn't show a need (however trivial) for that money, you wouldn't get as much the next year. Because of this, there's no incentive to be thrifty or resourceful. I remember that we paid many times the market price for simple supplies that made it possible to do our job – and those supplies were of frighteningly substandard quality, produced by government contractors, of course.
But no –WE didn't pay for it. It was you.
Politicians turn our service members and veterans into propaganda tools, and rant and rave that we shouldn't cut military spending – “But think of our service members,” they whine, insinuating that a cut in military spending would result in a cut in pay or benefits. Voters are then sucked into it again, by the magic of political rhetoric – either not knowing or refusing to acknowledge that military spending could be cut drastically without even touching service member’s pay or benefits.
Companies favored by the government for one reason or another (a politician owns stock in the company, served on the board of the company, has many constituents that work at the company, the company gave him a fat check or an earnest promise in exchange for his/her support, etc.) are given government contracts on a silver platter. These are often exclusive – no other companies bid or compete. There is no incentive for them to produce goods at a lower cost or better quality to save the government (nay, the taxpayer!) money. That’s what we call “crony capitalism” folks – unlike regular capitalism, which encourages innovation and creativity and taking measured risks, crony capitalism is when a company utilizes political connections to secure its future at the expense of the American taxpayer. In essence, they’re parasites - just like the government representatives that they target.
This is your money, America.
horrified_dollarWhat’s even more disturbing is that many people blame the corporations for this. But to do so is blaming a symptom, not a cause. When government is allowed to regulate, expanding its power ever-further, it behooves corporations (large and small) to hop into bed with politicians and infiltrate the regulatory agencies to take advantage of the system using regulatory capture, or simple cruelty.  Your government set up this system. The corporations simply took advantage of whatever openings they could find. Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.
So, every time you see a service member or a veteran, I want you to think of that person as a poor sucker, just like yourself, forced into a system that quashes innovation and discourages individual freedom for the sake of fleecing the populace to enrich favored corporations and their political lackeys. Please, stop idolizing the military. Many service members don't want their military service to define them - it's dehumanizing, to say the least.
So, think twice before you thank a veteran or a military member for their service. Just treat them with respect, like you would any other human being - and they will likely return your respect, with gratitude.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

American Sphinx – The Character of Thomas Jefferson: A Review

So many Jefferson biographies don’t give the full picture of the man – they gloss over Jefferson’s hypocrisies and his highly compartmentalized mind, focusing on his grandly idealized vision for his beloved American republic. This one pulls no punches – Ellis tries his hardest to be fair and balanced in his appraisal of Jefferson, and all-in-all, it was an entertaining read. It has many humorous passages (especially in the chapter on scandals) that moved me to read them aloud to my husband so that he could enjoy them as well – which I've found rare in biographies.

I feel that something has to be understood here: Thomas Jefferson was a person, just like the rest of us. Yes, he may have been a Founding Father, but he was not a god. He is not beyond reproach. I know it sounds odd for a libertarian – someone who champions many of the philosophical and political ideas that Jefferson put into words – to say this, but it’s true. He was human; he had faults.

In the beginning, the author gives a note as to what this biography covers and why. He made executive decisions to leave out some parts on Jefferson’s life, because he wanted the book to be accessible to laymen (i.e. those who aren't in academia). So, if you’re looking for a really in-depth study of Jefferson, his philosophy, and his life – then you’re not going to get it here. This is the basics; it gives the layman a chance to become familiar with the broad strokes of Jefferson’s personality, his life and his work.

The historically reliable descriptions of Jefferson differ, but the author’s conclusion based on study is that he was tall, stood ramrod-straight, had reddish-blond hair, and sang under his breath incessantly. He was a poor orator, but a gifted writer – in fact, during his presidency, he only gave two speeches, but he spent an estimated 10 hours a day at his writing desk. I was able to identify greatly with Jefferson – as someone who is also a poor public speaker, loves solitude and rural settings, and is genuinely hurt when my work is altered or criticized, it was rather comforting to know that there have always been people with my temperament. He was a thinker, not a doer – and often had trouble translating his lofty words into real-world solutions to real-world problems (which made his friendship with John Adams all the more surprising). He became disillusioned and changed his position from time to time – as we all have done at one time or another (yes you have – just admit it right now and save time).

Much attention is given to his political views – especially state’s rights vs. strong central government, as well as his views on slavery and his personal debt. This biography rounds out his ideas, and gives context to the situations in which he penned them. Ellis also gives a broad overview of the Sally Hemings scandal, and there's an appendix in the back with a more in-depth treatment. Where I definitely disagree with the author is his handling of Jefferson’s last years. He claims that many historians see Jefferson’s last years/writings as the bitter musings of an angry old man – but Ellis is having none of it. He claims that Jefferson is fervently protecting and promoting the ideals he believed in all along: he’s just concentrating them, or taking them to their logical conclusion. I have a hard time agreeing with this. Jefferson was an idealist, which made his life one of consistent disappointment. We can all imagine having lived such a life – where the people of the country that you had served for 40 years don’t seem to appreciate or understand the way you think things should be. It would make you angry and bitter. I won’t say that he was dotty in his old age – from all accounts he was quite lucid, even in his eighties – but the sadness, anger, and a lifetime of disappointment show poignantly in the letters and actions of his last years. If it were anyone else, we’d say “well, he’s old – give him a break,” and I’d probably say the same thing for Jefferson at this stage in his life. It’s simply cruel to beat up on an old man, even if he is long dead.

In the Epilogue titled “The Future of an Illusion,” it actually says more about the author than the legacy of Jefferson. It’s quite obvious that the author is a Massachusetts academic when he writes about the “third wave” that changed the entire shoreline on which Jeffersonian “sand castles” had been built:

“The third wave arrived in the 1930’s with the New Deal. In hindsight, one could actually see it coming from the early years of the twentieth century, when the effects of urbanization, industrialization, the increased density of the population, and the exponential growth of corporate power over the economy combined to generate a need for a more centralized government to regulate the inequities of the marketplace and discipline the boisterous energies of an industrial economy.” [Emphasis mine]

It’s quite obvious that the author isn't an economist, or he’d realize how utterly ridiculous this sounds - that government intervention was somehow needed. The New Deal DESTROYED the economy, and likely kept the United States in the Depression for much longer than we would have been, had government not intervened. I shouldn't get started on the horrendous abuses perpetrated by FDR - I might never stop.

The author is also rather rough on the Republican Party in the epilogue, but in his defense the Jeffersonian rhetoric is much more common in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party (although, they have co-opted it from time to time, when the occasion suits them). He also makes a good argument that the world has changed a great deal since Jefferson – and I can agree. But what I can’t really agree with is that he comes to the conclusion that Jeffersonian philosophy really only applies to its time and place – I too think it’s quite idealistic, but I argue that it is this quality that makes the Jeffersonian philosophy timeless.

In conclusion, I’d recommend this for anyone interested in the life of Jefferson, his philosophy, or early American politics – but it’s definitely not for in-depth study. It has extensive notes in the back for further research if one chooses to do so, however. 

I’d give it four out of five stars.

A NOTE: Keep in mind that I’m not a historian. I too am just human, and I don’t claim to be perfect, or to know everything about Jefferson, his life, or his views. So before you get mad: I just read a book, and I'm reviewing it. Chill.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Answering the Questions Posed by the "Childfree Tag"

I saw a Youtube video on the Childfree Tag, so I thought I'd give it a go!

Here's the questions:

1. Do you dislike children?
Not all kids – just the loud ones.

2. Why did you opt out of parenthood?
I think pregnancy and childbirth are really, really gross.

3. Do you think your childhood experiences and/or your parents actions influenced your decision?
Absolutely – but it’s not that way for many childfree. I’m in the minority, or so it seems from my interactions with childfree people online and in real life.

4. What is the most common reaction/comment you get when people find out you're Child-Free?
I usually get a hurrah for me knowing enough about myself not to, then a “They aren’t for everyone!” Then again, I live in the Pacific Northwest which is a bit more liberal. Some people really get hassled for not having kids.

5. Do you have any Child-free friends or relatives?
Most of my friends are women whose children are grown and gone.  I have no “real-life” childfree friends, but plenty of online ones that I can gripe to in private.

6. Do you think people are aware that parenthood is a choice?
The ranks of the childfree have been growing, so I’ll answer yes to that.

7. How do you feel/react when your loved ones announce they're expecting? 
Since I live 1,300 miles away from my closest relatives, I congratulate them and move on.

8. What is the most ridiculous criticism of your life choice you've ever received?
“Why did you get married if you’re not having kids?” NO JOKE.

9. Are you worried you might one day regret your decision?
I look at it this way – I might regret not ordering the chicken fried steak, but I enjoyed the hamburger nonetheless. Short answer: No.

10. (For women) Don't you want to experience being pregnant?
Absolutely not. I find pregnancy creepy – it makes me think of the chestbursters from Alien.

11. Is your current partner Childfree as well?

12. Is it possible to be in a happy, fulfilling relationship without children?
Absolutely. In fact, I’m sure that if we had kids, we’d be divorced by now. We can each do our own thing and not have to worry about pawning the kids off on each other – or spending money on a babysitter, diapers, toys, etc etc.

13. Define parenthood in one word

14. Do you think you would be a good parent? Why/Why Not?
No. I was raised by an authoritarian abusive alcoholic mother – and when you are raised with that, you tend to absorb some of it. I had to learn healthy emotion regulation through Dialectical Behavior Therapy – and I barely know how to do it myself. I’m nowhere near equipped to teach a kid how to regulate their emotions. Also: spanking. I don’t think I could help myself, and with my temper, things could easily get out of hand. No thanks! I’m doing the WORLD a favor – trust me!

15. Do you have pets? Do you think you transfer the nurturing and love intended for a child onto your pet(s)? 
Yes, I have one dog. Since I decided that I wasn’t having kids a long time ago, that love was never “intended” for kids in the first place.
I also have several houseplants.

16. Which Child-free stereotype do you not fit?
I’m very much NOT a liberal.  This difference became apparent almost immediately upon interacting with other Childfree people online – most childfree, it seems, are Liberal .
Libertarian Porcupine - Don't Tread on Anyone!

17. Is it hard to find a Child-free partner?
For some people it can be. I lucked out – I met my husband when both of us were in the Marine Corps.

18. Which label do you prefer? Child-Free or Childless?
Childfree. I’m not “less” of anything.

19. Do you actively encourage the people around you to think about their reproductive 
Their reproductive choices are none of my business. If they ask my opinion, I’ll give it, but reproductive choice is a pretty personal/sensitive issue.

20. Are you worried about who will take care of you when you're old? 
No – we’re saving and investing wisely so that we can afford a decent standard of care in our old age.No need to guilt trip a kid into caring for us!

21. What is the best part about being Child-Free?
I get to do what I want, when I want – and it doesn’t affect a little human.

Well, that and the peace and quiet. I wouldn’t trade that for the world!

Friday, February 7, 2014

An Unlikely Compassionate Moment

Just when I thought I wasn't making any progress on compassion, it seems that I've had a breakthrough.

Last night, the sky opened up and dumped 4-5 inches of snow. I still needed to walk the dog, so I got all bundled up, collected everything that we needed, and started off on a short walk around the block. About a quarter of the way around the block, my dog was attacked by another dog; the man yelled for his dog but didn't attempt to go after it, and didn't chastise it after the incident. It was a white pit bull which blended in with the snow, and I didn't see it until it was too late. I carry pepper spray and tried to push down on the plunger, but it was cold and hard to depress – so I never got it to spray in time. I screamed, loudly. My dog was grabbed around the throat, shook a couple of times, then the dog ran off back into his yard.

I yelled: “Leash your fuckin’ dog!”

The guy replied that my dog was on his property; that he peed on a bush or something – as if that totally justifies a mauling.

I was terrified for the 10 minutes that it took for me to get home, replaying the incident in my mind, over and over.  What if the dog had grabbed me? What if it went for my leg, or knocked me down and went for my throat? What if it had tried to kill my dog? What if? What if? What if?

When I got home, my heart was still pounding a mile a minute. I checked my dog for bites, and he was unharmed. I was aware that I was grasping, clinging to this terrible, shocking thing that just happened to us – while my dog, 5 seconds after the fact, was wagging his tail and trotting along happily, enjoying the novelty of the snow. I thought “this is no way to live” – and I immediately sat down to meditate, to focus on this feeling so that I could explore my reaction some more. (I used the Breath, Sound, Body Meditation HERE)

After a while, I came to the realization that yes, the man should have restrained his dog – but there’s nothing I can do about that now. I’ll just have to trust that he’ll be wiser in the future because of this incident. The dog itself was just doing what many dogs do: protecting its territory.  Dogs don’t know that their owner’s property stops at the curb – they’re animals.

The breakthrough came when I realized that I felt bad about yelling at the guy. He was just minding his own business. It happened so fast; neither of us could react. But that’s over. Once words are spoken, you can never take them back.

I feel grateful for being able to stumble onto something so valuable. Someday, I hope to  alter my clinging mental habits and make compassion my default mental state, but I’m aware that it will probably take much time and effort.
But I’m sure it’ll be worth it.