Saturday, February 28, 2009

China Beach

My wonderful husband went out and bought me a cool machine the other day and now for the past couple days I have been dubbing China Beach episodes from VCR tapes onto DVDs. It's not been easy...going through the tapes (over and over) to try to dub them in order. Some episodes are pretty messed up, but there is enough there to get the story and/or the gist of it. It's been nice to watch them again - it's been years and years since the last time.

Watching China Beach again brings back memories I had of the time when I first watched it. I was still in High School when it first came out (1988) and I can remember wanting to be McMurphy. I can remember wanting the camaraderie, the friendships that seemed to be forming before my eyes as I watched. I can remember wondering why my father, who went through the same things, didn't seem to have any friends from those days - but that's something to explore on another day.

By the time the third season started, in the fall of 1989, I was a senior and already thinking about the career and friends I would have following the Air Force Academy. I watched China Beach and dreamed about serving my country and making a difference in the world. Then in 1992, I had medical leave from USAFA and stayed with my father in MA for a year. China Beach was in re-runs on Lifetime. Again, I spent time watching China Beach and dreaming of returning the Air Force Academy and the career and friends I would have after graduation.

Fast forward to 1998 and I am getting ready for my first deployment. I was heading out to the United Arab Emirates for 60 days, only 60 days - I wanted to stay longer and I wasn't even there yet. Finally, I was getting to go somewhere and do something. I was going to make a difference. I was going to have new experiences and meet new people - people that would share these experiences and become lifelong friends.

Some of those things I dreamt of actually happened, some didn't. All I can say in the end is that China Beach had a lasting impact. I have never forgotten it, and imagine it is something I will continue to think of, and watch, long into the future...I just wish they would come out with the series on DVD (I am missing one episode from both season three and season four).

During my first deployment, I wrote the following:

Coming Home

Dog tags chanting in the wind –
M-60s pointing at the wire

Tents placed in rows –
uniforms and civies hung side by side

Favorite shows watched again and again –
painting a picture of endless possibilities

M*A*S*H and China Beach –
someone else’s ideas; a dream made real

Doing something important –
something to be proud of

Set apart from others –
by location and sense of duty

A wish to serve –
to go where others won’t

Sunsets over sand dunes –
foreign tongues and customs

The sense of déjà vu
finally coming home . . . Read More......

Cost of War

According to an AFP article "Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday lifted a ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing a controversial policy dating back to 1991."

There are many reasons, valid and contrived, for why the ban was imposed in the first place. And many reasons why it should or should not be lifted.

Gates said that he lifted the ban in order to allow the families to make the decision themselves. Makes sense. However, what if people (families) use something that should be a solemn and respectful thing to promote their own political views? One photo can be used over and over - crop it, blow it up, whatever, it is possible to make one photo look like many. In the photo accompanying the article above, all you see is a cargo hold full of flag draped coffins. The photo is actually from the first Gulf War. Yet, just looking at it, especially without a caption, it could easily be confused for a casualty from the current war.

Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware who sued the Pentagon to force the release in 2005 of pictures taken by military photographers at Dover, said lifting the ban was important so the "American people could see the cost of war" and that without the photos that aspect is "invisible, undebated and undiscussed by American people." What I find sad about this statement is that the "cost of war" is there in every list of names published in a paper or magazine or scrolling on the screen on TV. The "cost of war" is there in the fresh graves at Arlington and other military and community cemeteries around the country. If the "cost of war" is not debated or discussed by American people it is not because it is invisible.

Is it just that people don't see it? Have people become numb to the "long" war? Have they become cushioned from the "cost" because of some false sense of security? Have they lost sight of the fact that they can feel "safe" in their homes because there are others willing to pay the "cost" for them? Will seeing a photo of a flag draped coffin change any of that? Read More......

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Data

I have been reading the Sherlock Holmes Collection (Vol 1) and thoroughly enjoying it. I don't know why I never read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories before.

In some ways, I wish I had read them a long time ago. I fear I have watched way too much Star Trek: The Next Generation to read Holmes without picturing Data. There are at least two episodes (which I have watched numerous times) where Data portrays Sherlock Holmes on the Holodeck and tries to solve mysteries as Sherlock would have. So, as I am reading the "real" Sherlock Holmes, I keep picturing Data with a hat and pipe. It's a bit distracting. However, I am enjoying the stories so much that I am sure by the time I am done, I won't picture Mr. Data anymore and will just remember the well written stories.
Read More......

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rochambelles

"They're not women, they're ambulance drivers." - General Philippe Leclerc

According to the book Women of Valor: The Rochambelles on the WWII Front the Rochambelles were "the only women's unit on the European front lines of WWII." The women formed an ambulance group and joined Leclerc's Second Armored Division. The book describes the formation of the Rochambelles, their journey to North Africa and eventually France where they were part of the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Paris and finally ended at Hitler's Berchtesgaden.

I have read many biographies about women in war and until now most of them were biographies of WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). I'm glad I branched out a bit and read about the Rochambelles. For women whose traditional role was to be wife and mother and not much else, what they did was simply amazing. They, like the WASPS, were able to step out of the expected role and take on a new role - that of driving ambulances, saving lives, sometimes living outside in freezing cold temperatures and being shot at or hit with shrapnel from mortars.

There are so many stories out there from WWII; still so much to learn...unfortunately there are not many left to tell the stories or to teach us. Books like Women of Valor, help tell their stories. I only wish I had been as interested in history when I was a child as I am now - maybe then I would have taken the opportunity to ask my grandparents for their stories and for the opportunity to learn from them. Instead, I will continue to read biographies such as this one and try to learn what I can about these great people who sacrificed everything for their country and for freedom.
Read More......

Monday, February 16, 2009

20/20 Hindsight or Cognitive Bias?

In a survey by 65 historians, former President George W. Bush was ranked 36th out of the 42 men who have served as US President through 2008. The survey participants ranked each former president on a scale of one, "not effective" to 10, "very effective," on a list of 10 leadership qualities including relations with Congress, public persuasion, moral authority, international relations, economic management, pursuing equal justice for all and crisis leadership.

Within the article, one of the survey participants, Dr. Edna Medford (Associate Professor and former director of the Department of History’s graduate and undergraduate programs at Howard University) made a statement that really resonated with me. She said “Today's concerns shape our views of the past, be it in the area of foreign policy, managing the economy or human rights.” This statement made me think of one of my previous posts, as well as a follow-up post from a friend of mine.

When I chose the words “20/20” and discussed former President Bush being judged based on hindsight – I should have included a discussion concerning some of the more obvious cognitive bias that may have led to where we are today.

There are many to choose from, though I suspect that “experts” out there may have more to say on the subject than I ever could. Hindsight bias, outcome bias, historian’s fallacy, and the fog of war technique seem to fit the bill here. Very basic definitions from Wikipedia show that hindsight bias is “filtering memory of past events through present knowledge, so that those events look more predictable than they actually were.” The example they use is the attack on Pearl Harbor – looking back, with what we know now, it seems impossible to believe such a surprise attack was possible. Outcome bias is the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made. The historian’s fallacy occurs when one assumes decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision. Finally, as stated in Wikipedia, in the “fog of war technique” approach, “the actions and decisions of the historical subject (such as a military commander) are evaluated primarily on the basis of what that person knew at the time, and not on future developments that the person could not have known.”

The fog of war technique and historian’s fallacy seem to fit very well with what I discussed in my post about judging fmr Pres Bush’s decisions regarding his actions following 9/11. In the present, we have considerably more information and different information than what was available immediately following September 11th, 2001. It is a mistake to judge decisions made 8+ years ago using today’s perspectives and today’s information.

I am not saying those decisions were right or wrong, simply that those decisions should be judged based on what the decision maker knew at the time. I choose to believe that George Bush, as our President and as an elected official, made the best decision he was able to for the good of our country, based on the best information available at the time. If one does not, or cannot, believe that about our elected officials in the highest office in the land, what does that say about our election process and democracy in general? Read More......

Friday, February 6, 2009

Creek Fever

I don't watch scary movies because I don't want those images stuck in my head. I have a hard enough time with images stuck in my head from when I was a kid and watching scary movies was cool.

So, if I know that I can't ever get stuff out of my head once I have seen it, why is it that I keep watching sappy, unrealistic TV like Dawson's Creek? Sometimes, especially lately, I wonder if the reason I am so hard on my own life is because I somehow expect it to live up to the fantasy life I have seen on so many TV shows and movies.

It seems as if all my life I have wanted some ideal. At times, it's just me wanting to be perfect - for my real life to be a reflection of the life I feel I should be leading. Other times, it's my personal life. I want my family to be close and loving - people I know I can turn to no matter what, who will accept me and love me, no matter what. I want my friends to be the kind of friends who know everything about me and still love me. People who accept me for who I am but will also push me to do more and to be better.

In real (not reel) life, I feel like a stranger in my own family and most of my friendships seem to last only a few years and then somehow drift away.

Why do I watch Dawson's Creek when I know those images won't leave my head? When I know that, at least for a while, I turn into this strange kind of introspective geek who examines everything: events, what people say or didn't say, what I said or didn't say, every look, etc...if only I had the vocabulary of the "Creek Kids," then I could pretend I was one of them for a while...I definitely have the self-absorbed-life-revolves-around-me vibe going. At least for a little while.

Having moved around so much in the last 20 years, it's easy to see why I don't have the kind of life-long-lived-around-the-bend kind of friendships they show on Dawson's Creek. For better or for worse, I have a few friends that are friends no matter how long it has been since we last spoke. The kind of people who care about me enough to pick up where we left off 4 months ago, 2 years ago, or in some cases, 10 years ago or more. Those are the friends who really matter. The ones I wanted in my life back then, and want in my life today.

So, why am I hung up on the others? The ones who meant a lot at one point and are no longer part of my life for one reason or another? Maybe they were just meant to be in my life for that one season. They were there when I needed them, or I was there when they needed me, and then we both moved on. I can see how that makes sense, yet I still can't let it go. I feel as if it's some kind of judgement on me because they don't want to be in my life anymore. It's a struggle to just let it be and move on.

Maybe it's because I wonder if by fixing whatever went wrong in those relationships, then I can learn how to "fix" whatever is wrong with my familial relationships. If I knew how to fix whatever I did, maybe it would work to make my family love me more, want to be with me, want to share their lives with me, and would make them care enough to be part of my life...And again, I ask myself why I can't just let it be?

I have made a new family with Tom. And I am blessed with the love of a few wonderful friends. That should be more than enough. Most days it is. It's just when I catch "Creek" Fever and get too introspective that I let myself wander down this road. I just need to remind myself that I watch Dawson's Creek because it reminds me of friends who have wandered in and out of my life.

Whatever else it does or doesn't do, Dawson's Creek makes me remember my friends, old and new, and those who have moved on to other things. I am blessed whether they are still part of my life or not because for at least that one period of time, when I needed them most, they were there. So, I'll continue to pull out my DVDs and have a Dawson's Creek marathon every now and then. I'll get all angsty and introspective. And I'll remember my friends and count my blessings. Read More......