Achilles in Viet Nam

I am about 40 pages into the most shattering book. The book is called Achilles in Viet Nam. It’s written by Jonathan Shay. Shay is a psychiatrist specializing in treating Vietnam veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome.

If you remember the Iliad from high school literature class, you will recall that Achilles, betrayed by his commander (Agammemnon), falls into a rage that alienates him from all but the other soldiers closest to him. His rage and his alienation lead him to commit acts that he would normally not consider acceptable. Shay likens Achilles rage and disenfranchisement to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He uses the Iliad to illuminate the profound changes and suffering that combat veterans endure.

I am only 40 pages into the book, but already I have found it very affecting. I think that everyone, whether they supported the war or not, needs to read this book, before the next wave of sad, hurt, confused and lost boys starts coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We sent them over there, even those of us that were opposed to their going. If past performance is any indication, they deserve more than they are going to get from us, the army, and the V.A.

I live just about next door to the largest infantry base in the world. I have been out at the bookstore, the microbrewery downtown, the movies. I have talked to guys, watched soldiers interact. Some of these guys are here among us already and some of them are suffering. PTSD is more common than most folks know. Men like Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad (the Beltway sniper) were both veterans of Gulf War One. Is it possible that they might not have done such monstrous things if they had been treated for PTSD?

Before you take this and run dead in the wrong direction with it, let me clarify that statement- I am not saying that these men are monsters just because they are veterans. I am saying that they came back to the United States with pain in their hearts, because people aren’t really equipped to see other people’s heads burst or to see other people burn to death so close that they can smell it. These guys came back to the “real world” and there were people beating each other up to get Tickle Me Elmo dolls. Tim McVeigh said as much in his writing before he set off the bomb- He wanted to bring the suffering home to Americans.

For every angry guy that comes back and acts out, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of guys that are quietly unable to sleep, to concentrate at work, to show affection to their families, or just to reintegrate to society. They suffer and suffer and suffer. You have to read this book. We owe these guys, even those of us that thought this war was specious and unnecessary.

Ai, mi corazón.

Val Prieto’s dog has died. Val is a good guy, and while he and I don’t always see eye to eye on things political, we do agree on a few things:

1. Cuban food is better.
2. The chow/lab mix is the way to go.
3. There is no better friend in the world for a guy than his dog.

I am a big fan of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I learned to speak Spanish so I could read him in the language that he wrote in. Here (in English for you gringos) is one of the reasons why:

My dog has died.

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Alfred Yankauer

Done with exams

Damn, it’s nice to be done with exams. I can finally have free time again where I am not thinking “I should be studying.”

Now, about that job…. This teacher shortage that we keep hearing about may be limited to semi-urban and urban areas. There sure doesn’t seem to be a shortage around here. I have had a hell of a time finding a job. At this point I am going to be substitute teaching while I take some night classes in the fall and hoping for a last minute (or mid-year) job offer to come through.

I guess that’s okay- I can concentrate on learning to program C++ and getting ready for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. (and as a sub, I can take the time off that I need to get up there and run the race.)

Anybody know a school that needs a history teacher?

I fixed it…

Wow, was that a pain in the ass. My blog has been down for two days while I worked on Finals- I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how to fix it. Started messing around on the command line with permissions and finally got it to work.

Gotta run now. Feel free to comment away- I have fixed them and now they work.

What Max said

Former Senator Max Cleland is calling out the Bush White House for delaying the 9/11 Commission’s report to suppress the inconvenient fact that the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and 9/11 was, as Colin Powell so succinctly put it, “Bullshit!”

He was quoted extesively by the UPI yesterday:(as excerpted here.)

“”The reason this report was delayed for so long — deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created — is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over … before (it) came out,” he said.

“Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.”

(edit)

Although the committee completed its work at the end of last year, publication of the report has been delayed by what one committee staffer called “vigorous discussion” with administration officials over which parts of it could be declassified.”

Max is mad as heck, and when he was confronted by Frank Sesno on Bill Moyers “Now” about his anger, this is what he had to say:

“SESNO: I want to ask you about one final thing here, and that is the Commission itself, which is supposed to be independent. And your take on Iraq. You had a bruising, bitter political contest. Is this sour grapes for you?

CLELAND: No. No. I tell you what makes me mad. Is when I see the names of those youngsters that are being killed out there every day. I say, “God help us.” I’ve been there. I’ve seen this movie before.”
[Read more…]

Hard Drives

Wow, the price of hard drives has just plummeted. I am probably the last person to figure this out, but I am looking at two hard drives right now. One is for my wonky (s)laptop- 20gb for $99. The other is for an old PowerMac 8500 that I am going to put linux on and use as a file server. (it has to be SCSI for this machine.) It used to be that SCSI hard drives were $100 a gb. There’s a computer shop that has a used 9 gb in town, he said $20 to $30. He had to check and see what the guy who owned the shop said.

Here’s a survey question: What do you do with an old hard drive to protect your data from being compromised by someone scavenging it and scanning it? (This is not such an important question for me, but I have a friend that is kinda, er…. famous, and he no longer wants to use this one machine. He just wants it blank- nothing. People would pay plenty of money to see what he has on his hard drive. Thoughts?)

What happens if…?

Doing some serious thinking this morning. For once I got eight hours of sleep and then had three cups of coffee.

The Report on the 9-11 Hijackings has been (for the most part) made public, and there are plenty of pundits chewing on it. It appears from what I have been hearing that large chunks of it have been redacted and that the whole thing was held up for six months so that the Administration could CTA.

In the meantime, I have been mulling over the true impact of the war that was waged in the name of ‘”protecting our freedom.” I have been conducting a random poll of jingos and boosters of the war. It’s far from scientific and mostly just me using this question like sonar to figure out what people are thinking: “Do you feel safer now?” What I mean to divine by asking this is whether or not this tremendous projection of force halfway around the globe has in any way *seemed* to increase certain folk’s sense of their own immunity to terrorist attack.

Never mind that probably some of the least safe world citizens right now are our own troops in the ground in Iraq. Never mind that the war we left behind in Afghanistan is starting to swirl like a sandstorm behind us. Never mind that you’d have to be an idiot not to see that one of the unintended consequences of our invasion of Iraq has undoubtedly been the largest and most successful recruiting drive in Al-Qaeda’s history.

When I ask most people this question, they invariably answer “Yes.”

Let me throw this thought at you:
[Read more…]