RANGER AGAINST WAR: October 2013 <

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting It

Everything a lie. Everything you hear,  
everything you see. So much to spew out.  
They just keep coming, one after another.  
You're in a box. A moving box.   
They want you dead, or in their lie...  
There's only one thing a man can do --  
find something that's his,  
and make an island for himself.  
--The Thin Red Line (1998)   

It is always nice when people "get it". Two friends to RangerAgainstWar recently did so.

Juan Cole at his site, Informed Comment, posted, How the US Government Betrayed the Constitution and invented an Imaginary Fascist One. An excerpt:

". . .How corrupt our system has become is evident when even the New Yorker emphasizes that a secret Senate report found that torture in the Bush years was 'unnecessary' and 'ineffective.' Not that it was 'unconstitutional.'"

Next, Alan Cring in the Examiner.com nails the Republican's failure in the healthcare debate:

". . . What could have been a small but effective movement to shape and, in some ways, thwart the excesses of the emerging distributed authoritarian state expended its capital in an angry rage against a program that somewhat poorly addressed a real and widespread need of the citizenry for affordable health care available to everyone.
"The Tea Party failed. The Affordable Care Act will be implemented, and it will become entrenched and relatively popular, but that's beside the point: in their blind hatred of the man in the Oval Office, the Tea Party members focused their wrath on an artifact of the emerging, grim governance of the new America rather than on the fact of the governance, itself.
"Handed a battle they could not win, they charged. Their less rash allies saw the carnage and stepped away. Their foes now dance in the streets. The general populace wanders away to see what's next on TV."

Well done to both.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Shocked? C'mon

--Roma girl ("Maria") and Louise Brown,
who was the first "test tube" baby

 Every sperm is sacred
Every sperm is great
If a sperm is wasted
God get quite irate 
--Every Sperm is Sacred, Monty Python 

I'm shocked --shocked -- 
to find that gambling is going on in here!   
--Casablanca (1942)

I'll bite and comment on the Roma-child-abduction-in-Greece-story -- the latest salacious media effort to distract us.

Let me be clear: this is not worthy of being a national news story; this is press distraction #12,456, ... If anything, this might be of regional interest in the location of the camp in Greece. This is NOT news we can use.

The AP story states,

 "Maria's case has drawn global attention, playing on the shocking possibility of children being stolen from their parents or sold by them."

Shocking? What blather, yet we are lulled into a predictable outrage.

Children, like animals, have always been in too great or too short supply, depending upon your position. They are sold like every other thing on the common market any day of the week, and some people are glad of it. They pay transaction fees to adopt, often covering the mother's obstetric bills plus living stipend. Attorneys often transact these contracts.

At the lower end of the socioeconomic strata, for those whose babies are not so desirable a commodity or whose mothers are not savvy enough, babies in the United States may be abandoned on the doorstep of a hospital or a fire station with no charges pending against the mother, just like in days of yore. The problem of surplus babies is seen occasionally in the report of a newborn found dead, often abandoned in a dumpster.

But the story here is NOT the story. Neither the Associated Press nor the thousands of impassioned commenters at the various outlets which ran the piece will address what it is, though.

"Horrid woman; monster mother" cries the vox populi. Her defenders will say, "don't pick on the Roma -- this is racist!" But it is beyond monsterhood and bigotry, this story IS economic and misogynistic, betraying us all as hypocritical voyeurs; but beyond that, something darker yet.

In this case, the Bulgarian biological mother said she did not have enough money to raise the child, and so gave it to a family willing to raise her. Now, genetic tests have been performed and the mother who did not wish to be further involved will forcibly be held to some sort of accounting. (It now appears that the media attention has prompted her to look like a "good mother," and she is requesting the baby back; since her economic condition is still dire, the baby will probably go back on the market, soon.) All because the child did not "look" like she belonged where she was.

What is the problem? The world can be a mean place, and really, not everyone can be president. Young women not in a position to raise a child traditionally have placed their offspring with a more capable family (if abortion is not a choice), and carry on with their lives. College newspapers routinely run adverts from "well-off" infertile couples who will pay a young woman "in trouble" in order to adopt her hopefully genetically sound, soon-to-be-born child.

Money is usually involved in adoptions, whether it is to a church-sponsored orphanage (children's home for wayward girls) or a contractual promise to the biological mother to pay for the child's expenses through college. For many parents who seek outside the United States for an adoption, fees to the transacting facility can be exorbitant.

Is it the overlay of the church sponsorship or the humanitarian idea of doing good that absolves such transactions from taint?

What if the Roma mother had sold the baby? What in capitalism prohibits selling the fruits of our labors? We sell all manner of bodily extrusions. We sell our sperm, eggs, and our hair. Surrogates may sell time in-utero as a growing medium for someone else's fetus. Prostitutes rent their vaginas, legally in Nevada, and some would call that an empowerment. Sexual therapists (ala "The Sessions") can also use their bodies for pay.

We buy micro capsule hotels (=test tubes and Petri dishes) in which to grow our test-tube babies (Louise Brown, the first "test tube baby", celebrated her 35th birthday this year.). Henrietta Lacks' genetic lineage (HeLa cells) has furthered medical research since her cells were obtained in the 1950's (but we now find that problematic as her family was neither notified nor remunerated for the biological material.) Some buy organs, while others wait for an accident to snuff out a life in order to get the needed part. Because we are uneasy about bodily matters, we have gerrymandered a shifting map over what may be transacted and not. We are a psychologically cobbled, hodge-podge of a people.

Beyond the child-selling story is our preference and sympathy for certain biological types.

It is the blonde child who holds our stare ... Madeleine McCann in Portugal, JonBenet (who's still in the news today), Caylee, and now “the blond angel” --so-dubbed by the Greek news media -- (or, "future pickpocket", depending on how you see matters.) Children are abducted daily yet fail to make the press. Why? The others are not so photogenic. While we rail against eugenics -- quietly grumbling about funding the defectives or the generationally poor who live off the system -- who gets the press? The blond child.

In the incident early in the Iraq invasion, it was Jessica Lynch, and not her truck mate Lori Piestewa, who got the press. She made for good cover: Lynch was a typical blonde, blue-eyed West Virgianian, Piestewa, a heavier and darker Hopi-Mexican-American. Though it was Piestewa who fired her weapon and was killed while Lynch cowered on the floor of the truck, it was Lynch who was lionized in the press.

Beyond our preference for fair-haired baby faces, we may fear what the rejection of such a child by her biological mother portends, for if such a one is disposable, what of us who try through various means, cosmetic and otherwise, to appear wanted and lovable? Our chances seem diminished when the ground of that desirability is shaken.

If we cannot say who we are or what we do, we will not be able to engage in sincere dialog. War can then become squidgily about female liberation, while our own women lack gender parity. Neither women nor men are free (independent) because we are by necessity engaged in transactions -- buying or selling what we need. That is what affluent (or poor) people do. One's on top, one's on bottom, and capitalism ostensibly allows for some flow between the layers. Each has more or less freedom, but none are absolutely free.

But please, let's not be shocked like Captain Renault.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Defensible Terrain

 --Paresh Nath, UAE 

Does our ruin benefit the earth?
Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine?
Is this darkness in you, too?
Have you passed through this night?  
--The Thin Red Line (1998)

 There were many lessons from COP Keating.
One of them is that our troops should never, ever,
be put in a position
where they have to defend the indefensible 
--President Obama, bestowing the MOH
on SSG Romesha

{Today's piece is an outgrowth of the commentary to Ranger's recent piece @ sister site MilPub ("True Colors").  The wide-ranging discussion by the largely military community there was kicked off by the topic, Command Outposts (COPs) in Afghanistan. He felt he should attempt to integrate their collective cache of knowledge on 50 years of institutional military experience from an Infantryman's perspective.}

Per President Obama's statement above, defending the indefensible is a no-go, so why do it?

Why do we engage in combat, both offensively and defensively? The question applies to a rifle squad as well as a theatre Army. Whether fighting a counterinsurgency (COIN) or unconventional or guerrilla wars (UW/GW), why do we fight? Do we just fight to kill, or is there a military logic beyond the killing?

We put our soldiers into combat for one purpose: to facilitate future operations which will lead to a militarily achievable purpose that reflects a political reality. We do not fight for  hopes or dreams, but for observable and verifiable achievements.

Why do we defend COPs -- small battle stations set on the frontier of a battle area? What should Commander's planning and guidance indicate before we even occupy the ground?

Obviously, any occupied terrain should be defensible. There must be mutual support to include logistics, personnel and supporting fires of all consideration. Historically, adjacent units provide direct fire to mutually support a friendly unit in distress. Defense is either hasty or planned, mobile or static. It is generally thought that static defense is to be avoided (think Bataan, Corregidor and Wake Island.)

So for a COP to be effective, it needs defensible terrain with adequate resources; wishful thinking does not count. Then it needs depth to the battle space, which implies a connection among all of the involved units. Reserve units historically are positioned within supporting distance, with reliable avenues of approach. This also allows engaged units to fall back to the reserve position if the situation deteriorates (or upon receipt of such orders.)

Strangely, all reported Afghan COP battles have lacked this feature. The soldiers in these COP battles could not withdraw to a friendly position on defensible terrain.

Soldiers should not be fighting for non-quantifiable metrics such as the love of the Afghan people for their government, for instance. Ranger cares that our soldiers fight and die, if necessary, for a purpose beyond the ratings bump of a saccharine news byte.

The United States can hang four Medals of Honor (MOH) from four COP fights around the necks of four extremely heroic soldiers, but that does not alter the nature of the fight. What did our good and true and loyal soldiers die for out on those hillsides? Will Afghanistan ever be a beacon of democracy? Do we even care?

Beyond that, to risk a Thin Red Line-like reverie ...

How did the Taliban become an enemy of the U.S.? Why is it our business to kill them? Are the people of Afghanistan our enemies or our friends? Further, what of other countries whose business we have  been getting into -- Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq? Can the forces of arms achieve anything beyond the imposition of death? As the character of Capt. James 'Bugger' Staros thinks in "The The Thin Red Line", The tough part is, uh... Not knowing if you're doing any good. That's the hard part.

Now, a soldier on a COP does not ask these questions, but we as citizens should and must before sending the first soldier down range. It is to our eternal shame if we do not.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Game of Kings

 --Minimum Security cartoon

 If we affirm one moment,
we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence.
For nothing is self-sufficient,
neither in us ourselves nor in things
. . . in this single moment of affirmation
all eternity was called good,
redeemed, justified, and affirmed 
--The Will to Power, 
Nietzsche, Friedrich

 The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me,
 he complains of my gab and my loitering.  
 I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world 
--Song of Myself (LII), Walt Whitman  

The government's default crisis has come and gone with nary a comment from Ranger on the grand theater provided, but it did cause him to mull the state of the United States, 2013:

--America is not great because of the himbos and bimbos that occupy our leadership positions. We are great because the people make this country great, artificial crises and phony wars to the contrary.

--Neither political party was correct in the recent crisis; democracy occupies the middle ground, and not the political extremes. The radicals on both sides are counterproductive and lack the attributes of greatness required to lead this nation.

The radicals in both parties lack the moral, spiritual and mental stability required to move forward ... progress usually being the sign of effective leaders.

--The religious overtones of the radical right defy logic, reason and practicability. Their unity lies in their hatred leveled at President Obama, a man who is our elected leader (whether we like him or not), and whether he is cast in greatness, or abject mediocrity, is irrelevant as we elected him above all others.

Hatred, intransigence and "No" cannot be the hallmarks of a great nation.

As mentioned in #1, we as a people possess greatness, but that no longer translates into the ability to identify potentially great leaders. When a one-term Senator can stall the process of democracy (Ted Cruz) and the Speaker of the House (Boehner) cannot control the assembly, then perhaps we should examine the foundations of our political system.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

A Who Dunnit

--the elephant in the room, Bansky

 But I ain't losing sleep and I ain't counting sheep,
It's so funny how we don't talk anymore 
--We Don't Talk Anymore, Cliff Richard

  Who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Come on tell me, who are you? 
--Who Are You? The Who 

I'm looking through you
Where did you go?
I thought I knew you
What did I know? 
--I'm Looking Through You, The Beatles

This small story is rife with implication.

The Jacksonville Times-Union ran the following Tuesday in their "Law and Disorder" column:

Man shot in arm during walk

A man in Jacksonville was shot once in the arm Sunday night in the area of West 38th and Main streets.
The victim was walking home from his cousin’s house when a man in the street asked, “Who you is?” said detective M.E. Pichardo.
The victim replied, “Who you is?” back and the shooter pointed a handgun at his face before hitting him multiple times in the head with the gun, Pichardo said.
The victim then said, “You got it, you got it, you got it” and kept walking on his way until the shooter shot the victim once in the left arm, Pichardo said.

"Who you is?" Is there any more poignant cry of confusion, both grammatical and situational?" Was either party able to ascertain who the other was? Wouldn't it be wise to beat feet and hit the bricks at a rapid rate after such an inquiry?

As on the national level, if you are not the right tribe, name, club, crew, peeps, gang, we might have to take you out. If you are not a fast-talker, your inability to respond might just be the end of you.

The exchange lacks the clarity of the more military, "Halt, who goes there?", followed by a password, followed by an "advance and be recognized." It also indicts the efficacy of Florida's No Child Left Behind policy, and whatever succeeds it. Though the subject of the repetition in the last graph of the declarative, "You got it" is unknown, its insistence without clarification is a standard of poor Southern speech.

When adjectives fail, Southern dialect allows simple repetition to serve as an intensifier or descriptor, as in, "It's a good, good day", meaning something like, "a very fine day". Triple repetition is not unheard of to express a superlative feeling.

So, from this short bit we can surmise what happens when ignorance meets aggression, or aggression arises out of ignorance: an inexorable walk towards violence. You could blame the gun for what happened, but that explosive outcome is only the thing which got the interchange press.

In fact, these brutal meetings of confusion play out daily in every block of every city; yours, too. If we do not get a slug in the arm we sustain a figurative bloodying of our heart or soul. We all suffer from the Invasion of the Body Snatchers' terror expressed by these two men. "Who ARE you?" I thought I knew you, but I find that I do not.

"Who you is?" How does one answer? How does one even ask?

...on the brighter side, "Who you is?" is always better than "Who you was."

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

True Colors

 --Capt. William Swenson receiving the Medal of Honor,
October 15, 2013 

Show me a smile then
Don't be unhappy
Can't remember when
I last saw you laughing 
--True Colors, Cyndi Lauper

Reportage on the on the most recent Medal of Honor recipient from the Wars on Terror -- Army Captain William Swenson -- carries a misstatement:

"The recognition of Swenson for his gallantry marks only the second time in the last 50 years that two American service members have received the Medal of Honor for actions in the same battle.

"In 2011, Dakota Meyer, a Marine sergeant who also is now a civilian, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in that Sept. 8, 2009, battle in Afghanistan" (Obama: Washington can learn from Medal of Honor recipient.)

Ranger presumes the article's "second time" refers to the to the MOH's posthumously awarded to Randall David "Randy" Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon for their actions in the Battle of Mogadishu in Oct. 1993. 

In fact, however, the Vietnam War Battle of the Ia Drang Valley (LZ X-Ray) in 1965 produced three Medals of Honor recipients, a battle within that 50 year window. Somehow, we still give that war and its participants the short shrift. 

The MOH recipients from the Battle of LZ X-Ray:

--1st LT Walter J. Marm (15 Feb 67)
--Captain Ed Freeman (16 July 2001)
--Major Bruce Crandall (26 Feb 2007)

It is only appropriate that the MOH be awarded to an Infantry U.S. Army Captain. Capt. Swenson did what one would expect from an officer under dire circumstances; he deserves our praise.

But let us not forget Marm, Freeman or Crandall, or any other recipient from recent wars. 

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Why Can't We be Sensible?

I'm a little bit country
And I'm a little bit rock 'n roll
I'm a little bit of Memphis and Nashville
With a Little bit of Motown in my soul 
--Little Bit Country, Little Bit Rock and Roll, 
Marie Osmond 

I am large,
I contain multitides 
--Song of Myself, Walt Whitman 

We don't usually support I'm-not-gay Charlie Crist, so when we saw this cartoon, we wondered, why? I mean, it is being just as mean and petty as the Republicans to poke fun of his sexual orientation. Thinking back, it was probably his hypocrisy on the matter that galled, but that is a requisite for office (politician, thy name is "hypocrite".)

Crist was a moderate Republican Florida governor who was on the short list for Vice President in 2008, and rushed to marry before possibly being disqualified for his sexual orientation; his gambit failed anyway. He was an adequate governor for Florida. But the cartoon sparked a thought:

Why can't a candidate/person be both "moderate Left" AND "Moderate Right"? Sometimes conservative and sometimes liberal? How can one claim to be completely one way or the other? Is the problem that we cannot find a good fit because there is no one good fit?

Our fairy tales suggest there is a shoe that fits (Cinderella), or a bed the right size (Goldilocks). Perhaps we have already addressed the "Big Issues" which leant themselves to clear bifurcation: Sweatshop exploitation of women and children; meat and food standards, animal rights, minority rights, social security. Not to be naive -- of course exploitation continues on all fronts, and we will never legislate morality or bigotry. But the Big issues -- those which cleave people together -- are gone.

Some matters demand liberality, while others do not. At least, ISTM. Where can a thinking person go, politically, and is this why the enervation of the Democratic party?

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Like Us or Die

 --Privacy, Schot

People can be so cold.
They'll hurt you and desert you.
Well they'll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don't you let them 
--You've Got a Friend,
James Taylor

Killers! Murders! You liars! All of you liars!
You're only happy when you can see something die!
Why don't you kill yourself to be happy!
You and your God's country! Freedom! 
--The  Misfits (1961) 

"Who cares about your friend!
The thing we've got to think about now is
how on earth are we going to get down to earth?" 
--James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

So many absurd tragedies pepper our lives, despite the best efforts of Joel Osteen, the massive Self Help industry, and the Tea Party et. al. to keep us on the straight and narrow. Traveling, one reads about much of this detritus littering life's highways.

Take the case of one Marvin Enoch "Buddy" Potter Jr., found guilty last Friday of two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Billy Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23 (Mr. Potter spared the life of her 6-month old son, who was found in his dead mother's arms.)

The Johnson City Press (TN) reported both victims were shot execution-style in the head. But what drove Mr. Potter do this most heinous thing? The obvious guess is, this was a crime of passion, a sad tale, oft-told. But you would be wrong.

The motivation was the "unfriending of Mr. Potter's daughter, Janelle," by the newly-deceased twosome. Well -- that'll learn them, as they say in these parts.

The story mentions Mr. Potter's "700-page VA file", but it was not only a deranged Mr. Potter who did the dastardly deed: His wife, Barbara, Janelle, and friend Jamie Curd are also facing upcoming trials for their part in the murders; It is uncertain whether they will be tried together or separately.

Clearly something is awry. We don't know how to handle our new toys. "LIKE ME!" ... it is the cry of the entitled adolescent.  Is it the ego grown too large, the pain of rejection too unbearable, that allows for such grotesque frivolity as that of Mr. Potter's band of misfits?

Where is the art of negotiation? Arbitration? From whence did this entitlement mentality arise, and where will it end? As it is on the personal, so on the national. Like me, or else.

As an aside, I saw a MacGuffies Reader at an antiques shop recently. These were early education primers which taught not only grammar but moral lessons, as well. We have grown too sophisticated for such "one-way" truths; wouldn't want to step on anyone's idea of right or wrong.

When I was a child, there were the characters Goofus and Gallant in the Highlights magazines. Goofus was the cool guy, the Jimmy Dean-to-be; Gallant was a bit staid and perhaps boring, but he did the right thing, which was the hard thing. The magazine highlighted these differences as being one of choice. Well, all that is passe now in the world of situational ethics.

We are so far estranged from the truth, we do not even know what constitutes friendship.

What I do know is, with friends like these, you don't need enemies.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thanks for the Fish

 --Catfish dinner at Top O' The River 

 I guess you could say I'm a loner
A cowboy outlaw, tough an' proud
Well, I could have lots of friends if I wanted
But then I wouldn't stand out from the crowd 
--It's Hard to be Humble, Mac Davis 

The only thing new in this world
is the history that you don't know
--Harry S. Truman

RAW's first travel of the fall is drawing nigh. He accomplished business and personal goals in the Ohio Valley, and ambled through West-by-God Virginia to witness the scenery and leaves.

Like the song says, "Almost heaven, West Virginia", but no cigar, sadly. The topo is lovely and the colors dramatic (though it is a week or two until peak there) but the state is a fail in the same way that so much of the South is: they can't manage amenities for travelers. We traveled great stretches of breathtaking scenery with nary an accommodation. After asking at a jiffy mart, we were told the IGA grocer down the road had four rooms in the back to let; Ranger wisely passed on that one.

He got on fairly well in WV much as he did in AL: The folks find his quick-talking ways a curiosity, and he has laid his money on the table and taken his goods before that feeling wells up that he is in fact a Northerner and therefore to blame for the War of Northern Aggression and dire state of The Confederacy.

The bearded owner of a gun shop near the ironically-named town of Union pretty much summed up the whole shooting match. He had lived in Hatteras, N.C. for 30 years, but could not stand it after experiencing first tourist season. He wanted to "get home" (WV), but home is a place without running water. He and his wife hope to get some one day, but for now, they walk across the yard to the local jiffy mart to use their facilities.

Now happy to be back home in WV, I asked his opinion of the town of Lewisburg due North which we had just left; it seemed one of the few going prospects in the state (aside from the Northeastern peninsula abutting the D.C. area.) He said that aside from the "so-called gourmet shops and yuppie tourists," he didn't see what the town had to offer.

"What do they make there? What's real about it?" Well, what's real is, they have running water and nice restos, but for those accustomed to a hard-scrabble life, the question is genuine and heartfelt. I picked up a shoe-stretching tool from an actual cobbler's bench in his shop with a $2 price tag. He said they used to have three cobblers in town, but now none. "Everyone travels 30 miles to Walmart for shoes you can't re-sole."

Yet as a pawnshop/thrift shop owner, what in fact does he produce? His metier is constricted by the whims of the buying public and re-selling their castoffs or the things they can no longer afford.

Along with the depressed state of things comes an abiding faith in religion and the occult, and it easy to see why the supernatural figures so large in media output. Every obit read the same: He/She left her/his earthly home to go and be with his/her father in the everlasting hereafter, enjoying a sort of non-stop orgiastic galactic cruise ship tour. A truck today was painted with hot rod flames and the text, "Burning for Jesus" (whatever that means), a U.S. flag flying from the truck bed. It is a comfort, no?

While they may be slow in the draw in WV, Tennessee was another matter. Ranger had wanted to see the town of Jonesborough, TN after having read its depiction in a travel mag as "quaint and welcoming." Not. It was as dilapidated and populated by empty storefronts as most towns in the Appalachian corridor. Most formerly respectable lodgings seemed overdue for radical retrofits.

Without imposing our thoughts, most people we encountered seemed taciturn and somber, concerns of the everyday weighing upon their outlook. The overriding take-away from this cursory tour was the immense lack of exuberance amongst the encountered locals -- even the proprieters seemed disinterested and lackadaisical. The sequester and Obamacare was beyond their ability to synthesize.

The only person who seemed aware was the welcome station attendant who was disappointed that the National Radio Astronomic Observatory (NRAO), in Green Bank, West Virginia, was shut down due to the sequester. There is no doubt that wealth exists in the form of the weekend homes along water bodies or lined up on hilltops, but the bifurcation between those who weekend and the locals is vast.

Having never traveled Appalachia so closely, we did not know what to expect (though Ranger had lived many years in upper L.A., he did not socialize widely, by his account.) Matewan remains a viable depiction.

Next, Ranger had wanted to see the town of Jonesborough, TN, after having read its depiction in a travel mag as "quaint and welcoming." Not.

Ranger's clipped ways got a frosty reception from the local antique mall owner. When he inquired of a veterans discount she snapped, "My daddy was in Vietnam, and Korea and WWII, too, and he didn't get no discounts." Ranger indelicately said, "We're not discussing your dad, we're discussing ME." Lisa judiciously ducked away into the neighboring ice cream parlor, but this also proved tetchy terrain.

The shop had only been operational for nine weeks, and was manned by a former cop- wannabe Marine manque. Ranger pulled his same innocent inquiry and was again met with a fusillade: "I'm a retired policeman -- I've been shot four times, had a knife pulled on me once, and I don't get a discount." Ranger helpfully replied, "Well, you entered the wrong line of work!" To which he added, "You should've planned better like I did." In a final snarkey shot across the bow he said with a fillip, "I've been shot at and missed, and shat upon and hit."

Ranger received no military discount at all that day, though he did get a few weak, "Thanks for your service's". I suggested he was about to score two for two and evaced to the bench outside.

While sitting there eating what appeared to be the last scoop of mocha java in the store, the ex-cop came out to make a second pass; fisticuffs threatened to ensue. But new customers drew him back inside, and we progressed on to the local resto for dinner. The same dire situation occurred there as elsewhere. We ordered peas as a side, but the waitress returned to say they were out; they had no oil or vinegar for the salad; the "butter" was margarine.

Almost everything seemed cobbled together in our travels, done on the fly. Not fit for prime time in any sense. While the Rust Belt is a sump, wealth exists cheek-by-jowl. In the Southeast, it is just "pinched and poor", as Ranger says. They've got B and B's, but nothing to do upon arrival, and the towns roll up at five. I can picture Dixie Lily biscuits on the breakfast tray and Folgers coffee with Coffee Mate which they called "cream".

We stayed at two praised golf resorts which had stopped serving complimentary coffee in the lobby. this year. Everyone from mom-and-pop motor-ins to InterContinental Hotels offer complimentary a.m. coffee service even if that is their sole perk, but not this year, surely a sign of the times in the Deep South. The gas stations don't have soap in the windshield water, either, and an alarming number of businesses lack bathroom soap or hot water, as well.

The trip ends in North Alabama, in a town whose motel has a channelized parking lot lest troublemakers try and make a quick getaway. "Please use both locks for your safety" proclaims the motel door sign. We have seen so many odd signs. The above-mentioned resto had an 8-part tryptich tutorial posted in the bathroom on how to wash one's hand: "First apply soap ..." Things are just different in Ohio; and WV, and AL. Very different.

We stopped at a resort in Mentone, AL -- The Mentone Springs Motel -- for coffee, a faded 100+ year old Victorian B & B charging $250 for a very basic fusty room. In an exchange so typical of all that preceded it, the waitress could not answer if the springs were open, the only attraction in the area (they were not). Cream was brought in the little plastic packs stacked in a creamer, and she thought the regular sugar was raw (Turbinado) sugar. You cannot have a viable resort if you fail to understand the attractions and fail to provide quality amenities, food and service.

Dinner tonight was at the "Top O' the River" resto in Gadsden, AL, featuring catfish ... served in a pie tin. Very nice for fried catfish in ALA, but I'm looking forward to waking up to a sauteed baby kale and Jarlesburg scramble, and some great smoothies.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013



I am a camera with its shutter open,

quite passive, recording, not thinking 

--I Am A Camera, Christopher Isherwood

 The observer is the observed 

--J. Krishnamurti 


Somebody help me,

I'm being spontaneous!

 --The Truman Show (1998) 


Shortly after checking in to his lodgings in a Cleveland suburb, Ranger witnessed what felt like a flash mob in the motel lobby (above). It was a convergence of parents and students en route to attend a parochial high school prom.

Outstanding were two points: the jarring contrast between the abject poverty we had seen half and hour away in the inner city (dates shared color-matched formal outfits), and the quality of the viewed experience.

Half of the people were photographing others, while half were photographing themselves on their Smart Phones, presumably to immediately upload to their Facebook page.

What are we as a society if every event must have the intermediary of the ever-vigilant camera? It no longer suffices to savor dinner and a conversation. No -- the meal must be posed and documented before it may be consumed. We are functioning as our own CCTV.

How can a people complain about governmental intrusion when we post our data voluntarily?

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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Cat House, or, War Zone C

You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you?
Perfect organism. Its structural perfection
is matched only by its hostility 
--Alien (1979)   

On the whole her frame of mind showed 
a marked divergence from the purring complacency of Attab, 
who was again curled up in his corner of the divan 
with a great peace radiating from every curve of his body. 
But then he had killed his sparrow 
--The Philanthrpist and the Cat, Saki

 The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
with distant gay traces
that used to be there you could see where 
--Lush Life, Billy Strayhorn

New idea for Ohio state motto: "Ohio -- At Least We're Not Michigan." Don't get us wrong -- Ranger's home county is not much better. It is just that the derelict homes there were never once grander; they are mostly like Navin Johnson's family home in "The Jerk".

In a Bette Davis moment ala Archie Bunker, Ranger said of inner Cleveland: "What decrapitude!" (his elision of dilapidated + decrepitude.)

This morning's waitress did not dis me, so there's that. Jarringly for a Sunday morn, however, one of  two elderly women having a hard time at the paper box in front of the restaurant exclaimed, "Sh*t", as I walked by. It seems just another sign of society's general comedown. It made me think, "What will the tattooed, Jay-Z and Eminem devotees be like in their dotage?"

Lisa's definitely not a Midwestern girl. She has sometimes thought Ranger obtuse, and that he is intentionally so, but after a taste of this area has decided that for someone who has spent the majority of his life here and in the Southeast -- specifically Georgia, Alabama and FLA -- he's doing pretty good, gosh darn it.

So to the post's photo:

The cats own this home on 77th Street. Note the mother calico in repose on the porch -- she is surrounded by seven kits. Greenery has overtaken it, providing a soft lying ground. They have cleverly placed a sign outside, "City -- do not cut grass," to allow for more lush hunting grounds for the rats and other small rodents that compose their primary diet.

It was weird seeing the postman walking down these abandoned streets, with perhaps two operational abodes among the now-abandoned, plywood-boarded worker's homes. To head off potential break ins, pray-painted signs proclaim, "PVC only -- all copper gone"; it is unclear who might care about break-ins. The broken windows and jimmied doors suggest a robust squatter population. Pitiful to see the odd resident actually on a ladder attempting a repair; there will be no re-sale dividend for being the one upkept house in a dead zone, but it will keep the rain out.

Ranger was pulled over by a cop for driving slowly and rubbernecking in the upscale neighborhood of Bratenahl. Less than a minute after pulling into and leaving the driveway of what appeared to be an abandoned house, the lady p'liceman pulled him over, saying, "The residents don't like people entering their driveways." We were probably being shadowed shortly after we entered the street, labelled as potential hoods scoping out the area.

But a mere three minutes away in the vicinity of St. Clair and 77th Street we loitered for half an hour with no police presence. We're guessing the residents there see new blood is seen as positive as it might signal a potential drug buyer or a potential target; being a homie, Ranger is not a mark. Additionally, the residents seem enervated drinking booze as many do from paper bags at 11 a.m., so it is unlikely they could muster the energy to score an assault or call the police, or that the police would even respond.

So that's a Sunday in Cleveland.

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Rake's Progress

--The Rake's Progress, Wm. Hogarth 

But all you are is mean
All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life 
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean 
--Mean, Taylor Swift

Subtitle: Down on Main Street, emphasis on down.

We will continue with our travelog apiece. But first, here is the Red Holland Harbor lighthouse we saw yesterday in Ottawa County, MI:

But today was Ohio, and in Vermillion we encountered preparations for Sunday's annual "Wooly Bear Festival". Now while true that vermillion is not orange, dear readers, Ranger's power color orange of creation and optimism yet raised its head there.

Wooly bears are the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth, celebrated for its mythical association to winter forecasting.  The truth is divined in the width of their orange bands. A woman told me these caterpillars can go into a state of deep freeze and awaken the following year, and can do this for 14 years. The women told the story at a roadside garage sale where they were selling many electric tools where Ranger was regaling her daughter with riveting tales of his successful efforts before leaving Florida with an easy-out bit on an old rifle; such talk seemed to suffice to enthrall the average Ohioan.

Lisa was miffed after a breakfast experience, and though she now feels more at pity for the offender, this is her catharsis.

It was an unimpressive joint, with an unusual handwritten sign in the window: "KARMA has no expiration date: 00.00.00". To explain:

Preferring smaller portions, when eating out she often shares an entree or orders a half-portion; often, that will be the child's portion. So it was in Port Clinton this a.m. A dollar less delivered a half-portion of the identical adult breakfast, but that is fine and what was expected. What was not expected was the rude response to her inquiry regarding the matter of the drink which was stated as included in breakfast on the menu but was not, in fact.

Now, water with lemon is my usual choice for hydration when feeling parched, as was the case this morning. But being part British, when tea is on offer, refusal is not an option. But specificity was the order of the morning, and I said clearly, "IF the drink is included -- as it says it is on the menu -- THEN I will take a tea." I expect nothing more, but nothing less, than what is ordered. A child's portion and drink was that thing.

However, the drink charge did appear on the ticket, and I inquired. But instead of receiving a calm explanation of the charge, she was confronted by a harpy in Aqua Net:

"Fer gawd's sake, ya ordered the children's breakfast!"

"Yes ma'am, I did, and got what I expected too, save for the drink. I asked the server if it was included, and said I would take tea ONLY if it was." At this display of humble earnestness, she refused to look at me.

"Pay for yer drink, for Pete's sake!" And off she stomped. Meanwhile, Ranger was in the back of the restaurant regaling her husband, the restaurant owner, with advice on how to apply for veterans benefits (he was a cook in the Army prior to owning the restaurant.)

It should be noted that the older couple dining in the booth behind us had just told this woman about a recent diner in the town who had left a scathing review of another resto on Facebook. "There's always one bad apple" said he, in an philosophico-Ohioan fashion. And dontcha know, after the woman's tirade, this couple approaches her and says of me, "There's your bad apple. See ya tomorrow"! WTF?!?

Now, this woman seemed to have everything a Midwestern woman could want: a frosted bouffant, jewelry from QVC, nails by her local Vietnamese nail shop, eager Mexican busboys, and a restaurant in a somewhat faded resort town. Yet she could not manage a tad of politesse.

She lacked the one necessary thing for being a successful restaurateur -- she had no joie de vivre, no bonhomie. She also lacked bog simple common courtesy and the desire to understand and satisfy her customer, the bread and butter of her business ... me.

Ranger surmised that the rudeness came as a result of a scarcity mentality in a poor economy. He also opined that larger women often cannot understand their smaller sisters' desire to eat less.

Why do some women get so bitter? Was her husband spending too much time in the kitchen? Was she worried about Goss's wilt -- Ohio's coming corn blight? Did she just take a dislike to me because a did not sound like a Canadian goose?

I will never know, and because their place will never be reviewed on Chowhound, I will be unable to share my story. But with you, kind readers, I share my feelings of deracination.

Don't worry ... karma has no expiration date.

Tomorrow: this beats most cat vids

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Friday, October 04, 2013

The Slough of Despond


Your RangerAgainstWar writers have just exited Michigan, probably for good.

No doubt the Upper Peninsula and the Southwest coast is lovely, well-maintained, and a redoubt for the mostly wealthy citizens of the tri-state area and Amway reps, but we left feeling a certain rift with the citizens of "Pure Michigan". Actually, I felt like a stranger in a strange land (apologies to any MI Ranger readers.)

It is probably a Midwestern thing; the natives are very conservative to boot. Ottawa Beach had erected a plaque mentioning sometime resident President Gerald Ford, and then it struck home: Ford, Mitt Romney ... THIS is Michigan, and, of the upper echelon. "Cool" and "hip" are not the proper descriptors.

Hey -- it's not that FLA is a sack of hipsters ... it is just that we have enough heterogeneity as the land of grifters and witness protection program denizens to allow for some interest, Flannery O'Connor style, whereas Holland, Michigan and environs is predominantly Germanic (duh).

Being culinary travelers, there isn't much on tap anywhere. Traveling back across Ohio almost felt normal. We traveled through Holiday City (pop. 52) in the cornfields, and couldn't figure out what was "holiday" about it. Next was "West Unity", and the rupture of the potentiality bade poorly. We are still open to the messages the universe might provide Ranger in his personal journey, though.

We are in Port Clinton, a beachside retreat down on its luck. We had read about it in the NYT this summer and wanted to see if it checked out (Crumbling American Dreams); it does. Everyone wants his piece of the coast, and the builders during the boom era obliged with Soviet-era concrete condominiums which are now being raffled at bargain basement prices. The wealthy still manage to have their $500 K houses on the beach, out of sight of the riff raff.

Ranger will visit some friends and family over the ensuing days. The gustatory pleasures will be humble but genuine: fresh dairy products and Eastern European cuisine, which is to say, cabbage rolls, kolaches and Russian tea biscuits. Thoughts are many, but road travel precludes much writing. Stay tuned -- we will toss on various ramblings in the next week or so before return; it's all good, as the ersatz hippies say.


Children of the Corn

--Orange, the color of earnest novitiates

Did you ever know someone who said that we'd be
wild and crazy and free and then you find out she'd
been using the imperial "we"?

Me used to be a angry young man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can

 --Getting Better,The Beatles

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive
where we started and know the place for the first time
--Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot

The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let's get together
Before we get much older

--Teenage Wasteland, The Who

In solidarity with the United States' government shutdown, RAW will "congress" for a bit (not that we do not have tons of thoughts, queries and wonderments to share soon.)

He enjoyed an impromptu writing seminar this week with his friend, the inimitable mystery writer, Mr. Z. It was on his way to conduct some business in the Ohio area, and Ranger took a brief time out in his college town to reflect upon his personal journey. He lodged in a motel that abuts a cornfield.
--Lisa with Ranger's power animal

Mr. Z. expounded upon people's fascination with things supernatural, so we thought we would entice you with our own version of RAW, Paul Coelho-style. Is Ranger the next Benjamin Button?  To explain:

Ranger shares a certain skill with Bill Clinton -- he has a photographic memory. He stores data like the winning score of the last home basketball game in 1966; such things might be considered dead wood in need of pruning. To that end, he is on an introspective journey to sort the memories, lurching ahead like the ENIAC. Hopefully, his mental valise will be lightened after the effort.

Upon entering town, we saw a road sign and stopped for dinner at the local VFW post -- he, hoping to meet some brothers in arms. It was not to happen, but the dinner was well-attended by locals, and he was adopted by a kindly local couple who built their house near a cornfield and their florist shop in 1964 and never left. They seemed riveted by every small detail Ranger offered, in that homey Midwestern way: "Y'don't say?" punctuated every minute tale he shared.

Near their house at the end of a cornfield stood a wonderful old structure they explained served as  a conduit in the Underground Railroad ... could this mean Ranger is making his own escape to freedom from mental burdens?

"We don't know where we'll put ya, but we've got a sofa." Ranger's re-birth had begun.

A representation of Ranger's "power animal" -- the falcon -- stood in greeting in the motel lobby. He is "Freddy Falcon", the mascot of the BGSU sports teams. A native American soapmaker back home suggested that the falcon or hawk was his totemic protector.

That evening, he also found an orange silk tie in the walkway outside of his room, orange being the color of the 7th chakra symbolizing creativity and renewed faith. Buddhist novitiates wear the color. He then saw an older white man in Saugatuck wearing an orange pimp hat -- twice, and later in another town, two men in sequence but not related wearing orange formal shirts. His journey continues apace.

We will update you as the pilgrimage continues ...

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