Saturday, October 21, 2017

“He knew what he signed up for ..."

Our president has gotten a lot of criticism for the insensitivity of this comment to the mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Niger.  Deservedly so.  

But I'd like address the notion that "'he knew what he signed up for." I'd argue that soldiers tend to see the glory of war and becoming a man, but not the terror and agony of war.  Partly because veterans tend not to talk about the grisly details of war.  Partly because war and soldiers are so glorified.  


Soldiers Don't Talk

This letter is from a German officer, Rudolf Binding, who had studied medicine and law and was 46 years old when WW I broke out.  So he was well educated and older than most soldiers, yet he writes about how unknowable the reality of war is to those who haven't been in it.  From Spartacus, Letters From Soldiers, WW I.
"I have not written to you for a long time, but I have thought of you all the more as a silent creditor. But when one owes letters one suffers from them, so to speak, at the same time. It is, indeed, not so simple a matter to write from the war, really from the war; and what you read as Field Post letters in the papers usually have their origin in the lack of understanding that does not allow a man to get hold of the war, to breathe it in although he is living in the midst of it. 
The further I penetrate its true inwardness the more I see the hopelessness of making it comprehensive for those who only understand life in the terms of peacetime, and apply these same ideas to war in spite of themselves. They only think that they understand it. It is as if fishes living in water would have a clear conception of what living in the air is like. When one is hauled out on to dry land and dies in the air, then he will know something about it.
So it is with the war. Feeling deeply about it, one becomes less able to talk about it every day. Not because one understands it less each day, but because one grasps it better. But it is a silent teacher, and he who learns becomes silent too." [Emphasis added.]
There were 39 responses to a Quora question (there are over 100 now as I write) about why soldiers often don't talk about war.  Military1 reposted two of the answers.  First fromMichael Hannon:
"I once read a reply to a question: “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible.” We are forever changed. There are many reasons why a vet does not want to talk about their experience. Likely many are still processing that experience."  [Emphasis added]
He also adds this related comment::
"Know that every vet does not like to hear, 'Thank you for your service.'
Thank me for unimagined feelings of terror, fear of the unknown, questions on trust that will never be answered, seeing indescribable fear in others and incapable of helping them, learning my confidence has limits, questioning my ability to protect anyone … the ‘thank you’ often awakens unwanted reminders of confusing memories."
The second was from  Roland Bartetzko:
"War takes its toll on every human psyche. It changes profoundly how you think about yourself and the world around you. I saw soldiers that were fighting a war for more than four years. From kids they turned into serious old men. One says for every year of fighting in a war you get 10 years older. These guys barely talked at all anymore."
A slightly different view of this comes from Afghan-war reporter Ann Jones in Mother Jones.  She describes the contrast between what the got compared to what they expected when they signed up.  She writes about those killed or wounded in the war, about the silence as they are whisked away to be buried or to have their shattered bodies repaired:
"Later, sometimes much later, they might return to inhabit whatever the doctors had managed to salvage. They might take up those bodies or what was left of them and make them walk again, or run, or even ski. They might dress themselves, get a job, or conceive a child. But what I remember is the first days when they were swept up and dropped into the hospital so deathly still. 
They were so unlike themselves. Or rather, unlike the American soldiers I had first seen in that country. Then, fired up by 9/11, they moved with the aggressive confidence of men high on their macho training and their own advance publicity."

The theme of all these comments is that soldiers have no clue of what they are getting into.  They don't know in part, because those who do know, according to these writers, don't talk about the real stuff.

Our culture glorifies war

Not only is there silence about the terrible realities of war, but we glorify soldiers and war. We regularly thank them for their service.   It's not that the negative information isn't available.  These quotes above all come from the internet and are readily available to those looking.  But most aren't looking to be dissuaded.  They're looking to become men, to be heroes, to follow family tradition, to get education funding when they get out, or to escape dysfunctional families or poverty.  I read a number of books about war as a teen - works like Upton Sinclaire's World's End which made the horrors of war clear to me.  Books that showed me that the soldiers on both sides got into their uniforms the same way - through recruitment to a higher nationalist, patriotic cause.  Taught me that the soldiers on both sides were more similar to each other than different.

The silence of those who have experienced war, is intensified by the unrelenting glorification of war and soldiers.  From Hollywood movies, video games, to history books, to family traditions, to military recruitment posters, and to the respect soldiers are given (verbally at least, but not in terms of help once they get back to the US).

Look at this army recruitment video.  It's a call to serve one's country, to be part of something bigger than yourself, to be a hero.  It doesn't show anyone dying or learning to walk on a new prosthetic, or committing suicide.




The heroic music, the emphasis on saving lives, the medical images, the theme of being trained to solve the world's problems.

Our media don't look critically at these kinds of US military recruiting videos.  Maybe they should look at our military ads the way this CNN critiques an ISIS recruitment video.  Maybe then the vulnerable teens who are enticed by these kinds of ads will be more savvy and get a better sense of what they are getting into.  (Probably most would not.  But some would.)





I'd guess the soldiers who died in Niger didn't even know where or even what Niger was when they signed up, let alone expected to die there.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mario And Marlene After Their 3 Day El Capitan Climb

After watching the slackline walkers at Lost Arrow, we took the shuttle to El Capitan and looked up at the giant rock to look for climbers.  I could only find a couple.  (I did not take my telephoto lens on this trip, so this was the best I could do.)



Let's put this into the context of the whole rock.



I know a lot more now about El Cap (as the rock climbers all called it) than I did when I talked to Mario and Marlene.  I've watched several El Cap climbing videos and realize that where I saw a big rock, the climbers saw various routes and various features that are all named and ranked by difficulty.

At the meadow below El Cap,  I asked this photographer which climbers he was following, he said all of them.

Which leads me to believe, now that I have had  time to poke around online, that he might well be Tom Evans who has a website call Elcapreport.com which I got to because I saw several vehicles with that url on them in Yosemite.  He's got much better shots (yes that telephoto does much better than my camera) there, with a set of photos of climbers on El Cap from this week.



There can't be two photographers who know as much as he did about all the people on the mountain. (Well, sure there can, but I'm betting it's him.) Marlene and Mario (in the video below) are in the background. They had started up the Triple Direct route on Friday and reached the top on Sunday and had just hiked down when I met them.

This is probably a good time to just watch the video.  Remember these two had just spent three days climbing El Cap and a fourth hiking down with heavy packs.  I didn't quite catch what they were saying about their route, but I've looked up the routes on El Cap, and it was clear they were talking about Triple Direct.  So listen for it.




I took this screenshot from Triple Direct El Capitan.


It looks a little different with the shadow, but you can figure it out on my picture above.

We went back to El Cap when we drove home on Tuesday.  Here are some more pictures to help you put this all into some context.  In the one below, you can see some climbers, and you can see what I mean about all the crevasses and other features that, if you take time, you'll get to recognize.


Click on any of these images to enlarge and focus - I saved some in higher res than normal

On Tuesday, I walked through the woods closer to the base.  Here's a sign I passed on the way.



And another:


Here's a look at part of the base from a clearing.


Again, saved this in higher than normal resolution, so click to dramatically enlarge

And here's most of El Cap from below.  The wide angle lens does distort it, but this gives a better sense than the other pictures of how big this mountain (It really seems more like a rock than a mountain) is.  (I googled "Is El Capitan a mountain?"  Wikipedia calls it a "vertical rock formation.")



And here you can see El Cap on the left (and Half Dome on the other side of the Valley in the distance) just before we entered the tunnel out of the valley and headed south.  It was still a bit smoky, but not near as bad as when we got there.  





After talking to Marlene and Mario and watching some YouTube videos of people climbing El Cap, I'm more inclined to see these folks as much saner than lots of people think about climbers.  You have to be pretty well organized to undertake an adventure like this.  These people are not, as many of the tourist observers at Yosemite seemed to think, suicidal.  They have lots of equipment to ensure their safety.

Here are two YouTube videos that get you much closer to what it's like to climb El Capitan.
These are two very different stories of climbers on the same mountain.  Both fascinating stories that fill in a lot more than I got this week.




These videos show us how much more we are capable of than most of us think.  But it takes work.



I think I need to check out the rock climbing wall when I get back to Anchorage.



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why Voter ID Laws Work To Block Legit Voters, And The Same Logic Will Throw People Off Insurance

Part of me has watched the battles over voter-id laws with relatively little personal investment.  Yes, I could see the laws were aimed at blocking black and poor voters and students by making it harder to vote.  For those who don't have drivers' licenses, passports, other other official photo id's, it could be difficult.  And if you don't think these laws were aimed at potential Democratic voters we have examples like Texas where  student id's were not permitted while gun licenses were.  Even the US Supreme Court refused to overturn lower court rulings that blocked the North Carolina and Texas voter id laws.

But, I thought, the Left should focus its money and time on just getting people their id's rather than fighting the laws.   I know that it means finding all these people, but it might be more productive.

Well, I don't think that anymore.  Recently I got a notice from my health insurance company  that in order to keep my wife on as a dependent, I needed to send a copy of our marriage certificate and some other recent bill with both our names that show we still are together at the same address.  (I'd note it wasn't really my health insurance company, but rather a company contracted by them, or maybe the State of Alaska, to audit the health insurance company.)

I knew that we had a copy of the marriage certificate somewhere and so I didn't pay much heed.  But as I started looking for it, I couldn't find it.  I did get a lot of things cleaned out and thrown away.  I called and asked,

"Look, why now?  We've been married 46 years and no one has ever asked for our marriage license.  Nothing has changed.  And yes, I can send you a bill that has both of us named at the same billing address."

No, we need a copy of your marriage license AND the bill.  I asked for the the rule or regulation or law that required that.
"I don't have it."
"Can I talk to your supervisor?"
"No one is here."

I persisted and she finally said to call the State of Alaska retirement system.  They told me new federal regulations now require an audit to insure that dependents are verified with appropriate official documentation to prove the relationship.

I looked some more.  I found a couple of our wedding invitations and made copies of wedding pictures.  I knew this wasn't likely to do any good, but with our natural gas bill showing us with the same last name at the same address as of this month, I thought I tweak their common sense and humanity.

The response was they have neither.

So I went online to find out how to get a copy of our marriage license.  If you have a computer and internet access and a credit card and you know how to use all this stuff, it isn't that difficult.  But it does cost $15 for the copy and $9 for processing.  And if you aren't careful, the default setting is overnight delivery for another $24.  I had to back it up before I pushed the pay button to get USPS mailed for free.  And it will take about three weeks it says.  (And it isn't the county that does this, but another private contractor.)

I have access to all those resources - computer, internet, credit card, money, and knowledge to do all the work.  But I'm sure there are people who don't and will lose their dependents' insurance coverage because of this new law.

And I now have a very personal understanding of why the new photo voter id laws have the affect of blocking people from voting.  It's mildly insulting and highly absurd to insist only on a copy of a marriage license for people who have been dependents on their insurance for over 40 years.  And not accept other evidence of their marriage.

I understand that there are people who will abuse the system.  But human common sense used to take care of this sort of obsessive auditing.  No one asked for proof that I was really married to my wife when we arrived in Alaska and I filled out the University paper work and got covered by their insurance.  We had the same last name and two young children.  That was enough.  Proof of marriage might have been asked of people who might appear not married - different last names, not living together, etc  And it might be requested when there is a change in status.  You check the people who do not meet the common sense tests.

This over legalism represents a breakdown in humanity and community.  But we've had bureaucracy for a long time without this sort of anal legalism.  This does seem like an intentional move to force some people off of insurance.

Just as the voter id laws are intended to prevent people from voting, not to prevent fraud.

Here's a Mother Jones article that backs up my comments about voter id laws.  It starts with an example that is very similar to our situation with the health insurance.
"You can’t say Andrea Anthony didn’t try. A 37-year-old African American woman with an infectious smile, Anthony had voted in every major election since she was 18. On November 8, 2016, she went to the Clinton Rose Senior Center, her polling site on the predominantly black north side of Milwaukee, to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton. 'Voting is important to me because I know I have a little, teeny, tiny voice, but that is a way for it to be heard,” she said. “Even though it’s one vote, I feel it needs to count.'”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Perfect Yosemite Moment - 8 AM Hike To Mirror Lake

The fantasy spurred this trip to Yosemite was a chance to relive the magic I remember of Yosemite as a kid.  So Monday morning I got up early, caught a shuttle to the Mirror Lake trail, then wandered up the trail, by myself.  Well, just me and my camera.  I paused a bit reading the sign that warned of Mountain Lions and that you shouldn't go alone.

It's such a beautiful trail.  My pictures don't do it justice.  But for an hour or so, I was alone in Yosemite hiking to through the quiet woods to a spot I remember vividly as a little kid.  There were warnings that by October the lake is really mostly sandy beach, but I was willing to try to find some reflection in Mirror Lake.

Here's a bit of the trail that goes through different kinds of terrain.



It's about a mile hike from where the shuttle bus lets you off.  And relatively flat.  Not like the Vernal Falls hike.

















Later I thought about all the huge boulders everywhere and how it's clear that they come from the walls of granite that surround you everywhere in Yosemite.  They most come down sometime.  Fortunately, not while I was there.



And everywhere you are, if you look up, you see those massive chunks of granite towering above you. The wide angle lens takes away the closeness and sheer size of rock, but the regular lens can't catch the whole rock.


I didn't see any mountain lions, but I did see a huge pile of pretty fresh bear poo.  I'll spare you the picture, but I did check with a ranger because it was very different from the bear scat I'm used to in Alaska.





















And there was enough water to get a good mirror image of the mountains of  rock above.












It was still very smoky from the Northern California fires.  Our car had ash on it each morning.





With the low water level revealing the sand, it looked a lot like a Zen garden.


And here's one of those walls above Mirror Lake.


It was a magical hike.  All alone on this beautiful trail.  I didn't see anyone until after I'd been at the lake about 20 minutes.  It was what I went to Yosemite for and was wonderful.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lost Arrow And Other Fun In Yosemite Today [UPDATED With YouTube Video]

I have so many pictures of so many things, but I want to give you a preview here.


Here's how we first saw the Lost Arrow, though we didn't know what it was called at the time.  A man was looking through a humungus telephoto lens up at this jutting rock high above us.  Here's the start of the legend of the Lost Arrow from the Yosemite library website.

"Tee-hee-neh, a beautiful Indian maid, was betrothed to Kos-soo-kah, a young brave, who was fearless and bold with his spear and bow. At dawn on the day before their marriage, Kos-soo-kah made ready with other strong braves to go forth into the mountains to hunt bear, deer, rabbit and grouse for the wedding feast. Before leaving, he slipped away from the other hunters to meet Tee-hee-neh, his bride, who was waiting nearby.As they parted Kos-soo-kah said, “We go to hunt now, but at the end of the day, I will shoot an arrow from the cliff between Cho-look, the high fall, and Le-hamite, the Canyon of the Arrow-wood, and by the number of feathers you will know what kill has been made.”  [There's an editor's note that says this legend may be fictitious.  I guess that refers to the fact of it being a legend, not the story itself.]
The rest is here, along with other Yosemite legends.



Our second view of the Lost Arrow was from the Lower Yosemite Falls view point where you get a better sense of where it is.  Here's some more history of it from a climbing website, SummitPost.
"There aren't many climbs in Yosemite that lead to a true summit. But of those that do, the Lost Arrow Spire has to be one of the most famous and exciting of all. The Lost Arrow Tip was first climbed in 1946 by a party that used some rope tricks to rig up a tyrolean traverse, a popular way to end the climb today. The first actual climb to the top was accomplished by Yosemite pioneer John Salathe and Anton Nelson in 1946. They climbed the Lost Arrow via the Lost Arrow Chimney ( V, 5.10a ), the first grade V big wall done in the U. S. Today the Lost Arrow Tip and tyrolean traverse return are one of the classic climbs of Yosemite!"



It's at 6912 feet.  And all that is leading to the fact that the man with the big telephoto lens pointed out that there were ropes from the Lost Arrow to the rock to the right and someone was crossing it.  I didn't have my telephoto with me, but in this shot below, you can see the rope and the black silhouette of the climber to the right of the Arrow.  The black spot on the left seems to be, well, a spot.  

click image to enlarge and focus a little bit
This led us to wander further down the valley to see if we could see the "dozens" (we were told) climbers on El Capitan.  That's for another post.


[UPDATE 10/18/17:  When I uploaded a video with two El Capitan climbers, my video got posted with a bunch of El Capitan videos.  Which made me realize I should find a Lost Arrow video there too.  There are a number (obviously since people doing this want to document their feats!)  So here's one from Agustín Copp showing this traverse.





And here's Andy the Slackliner crossing.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Smoky Yosemite

I first went to Yosemite around 1950 or 51 as a very little boy, but it had a profound influence on me.  The last time I was here was about 1972 or 73, Thanksgiving, with snow.  It's when I learned an important lesson.  You can't pour hot water into a glass mug when it's 10˚F.

Since we were driving to San Francisco for a family gathering of sorts, I decided it was time to go to Yosemite again.  Even if there were fires in Northern California.

So here are some shots.  I'd write more, but I'd rather not spend so much time on my computer.




These were our first two views into Yosemite Valley.  
Lots of smoke.  And the remnants of an earlier fire.





Click image to enlarge and focus



Despite the smoke, it's still very humbling to be on the valley floor.  You can't check in for the tents till 4pm  (though they said we could check back between 2 and 3), so we caught the shuttle bus to the trail head for Vernal Falls.  It's only 1.2 miles to the falls (the trail goes on to Nevada Falls), but it's a 1000 foot vertical gain.  The trail starts easy enough.



And eventually we made it to the falls, which were worth the hike.  Even though this is a relative trickle from when the falls are full, the height is awe inspiring.  Toward the end I wasn't sure how my knees were going to react.  It's clear that this sort of work out gets harder as one gets older.











This is a view from the bridge below the falls,  The falls are in the V between the grey rocks and hazy sky.
















Here are the steps just before you reach the falls.  I was thinking about my knees as I went up and wondering how the trip back down would go.  It wasn't as bad as I feared, and I was reassured when I saw much younger folks going down almost as cautiously as I did.






There were some signs of fall here and there as we hiked back down - much quicker than we went up.



I think this is the Merced River, below the falls.  We're almost back to the road and the shuttle at this point.  We were able to check in and find our spartan tent - all food has to be out of the cars and in the food locker outside the tent.  Had a short nap and then came to post before dinner.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Jelly Fish And The Smoky Gate Bridge

We spent time with grandkids at the California Academy of Sciences. Many of the displays are amazing, but none so much as the fish - lots of fish. But yesterday the jelly fish were my favorite.






































Later we met with an old friend and ended up eating ice cream at Ghirardelli Square and then walking out on the old curing pier where we got views of the famous San Francisco landmark Smoky Gate Bridge.



Talking about old friends, at one point I asked my four year old granddaughter if she knew who G was and how I knew her. "No." So I told her the story of how we met 53 years ago when we were both University of California (G from UC Berkeley and me from UC Los Angeles) studying at the UC program in Germany and that we had been good friends ever since.

 We take so much for granted.  My granddaughter had no idea who G was or how I knew her.    She just accepted the fact that we are visiting this (to her) stranger without asking who she was and why we were visiting her.  So I told her it's always ok to ask her parents about the people they are meeting and how they know them and why they are visiting.

Friday, October 13, 2017

SB91, Anchorage Assembly, Public Anger Over Crime

I went to the Assembly public hearing Saturday October 8, 2017 to allow the public to give their opinions on Senate Bill 91 which was intended to curb the rise in prison population by cutting back many of the penalties for low level crime and by increasing rehabilitation for those convicted.  
Dick Traini
This is a state law and hearings were set in Juneau, but Anchorage Assembly chair Dick Traini felt most people wouldn’t testify in Juneau and had a special session in Anchorage which was videotaped     
The pictures are most of the people who testified when I was there.  I just wanted people to get a sense of the number of folks and a sense of what they looked like.  But I must say that a number of folks surprised me and reminded me not to judge people by appearances.    Everyone was civil, most were pretty rational and they focused on the facts of their experience with crime and the police response.

























































I missed the first 20 minutes or so, but what I heard was a lot of . . . anger was there, but mostly it was frustration.

Frustration that the reduced penalties of SB91 for many crimes under $1000 had been put in place, but not the rehabilitation.  So criminals know that nothing can happen to them, that police won’t bother for low level crimes.  Two different people told stories of people regularly taking power tools from big box stores and just walking out and employees are told not to do anything.  They have to just watch them get in their cars and go.  The speakers said this went to barter for drugs and/or other items.  One big box store employee said it happens daily and losses have been in the $800,000 per year range.

Lots of people complained about home break-ins and stolen cars where police didn’t come for hours.  Where they are told on the phone, “There’s nothing we can do.”

There was concern that sex workers wouldn’t report crimes because they, not the criminals would be arrested.

There was also testimony  from people who had served time or the children had and the importance of good rehabilitation to their lives.

Amy Demboski got credit from some for recognizing these problems early on.  And she said she wasn’t for abolishing SB 91, but for fixing it.

One man said there were three things that needed to be done:
1.  Rebuild Neighborhood watch
2.  Put God back into schools
3.  Bring back the death penalty

Most people were rational, had facts, and recognized this was a complex problem .  A few just wanted the repeal of SB 91, but most wanted it fixed - most notably that people convicted of crimes get rehabilitation, job training, and hope and help to find employment when they got out, so they aren't forced back to crime and drugs or alcohol.


There were maybe 100-150 people who were in the chambers during the 4 hour session.  Not that many, but they were all very passionate.  The Assembly listened carefully, sometimes asked questions.



During a break, I asked if there were any police in the room to hear the anger toward the police for not showing up for hours and for saying, “Our hands are tied, there’s nothing we can do” about people who committed crimes.  Later, Assembly Member Chris Constant said there had been a representative of the police department there for a while.

This past Tuesday, the Assembly passed a resolution that didn't call for a repeal of SB91, but did call for fixing it.  From KTUU:
"All members but Amy Demboski voted for changes only, specifically an increase in funding for alcohol and drug treatment, probation, police, corrections officers, and prosecutors.
“I’m afraid if we say repeal this it will not be revisited. I think these were very courageous legislators who did this and I don’t know that we have that now. After seeing this beat up no one is going to touch it again.
We’ll be back to a system that has simply failed and wasn’t working,” said Assembly Member John Weddleton.
The resolution also recommends restoring probation limits for some misdemeanor offenses, time that was cut down to less than a year under SB91. When it came to recommending a full repeal all members but Demboski felt it was better to fix what exists today."