Battling Bastards III (Ben Steele)

Reading or writing about events like Bataan, we often focus on man’s inhumanity to man – that dark side of our nature, which we often shun until memoir time. Throughout known history, our capacity for cruelty is well-documented. Genocide (killing to eliminate a group, race, ethnicity, religion, or language) is too common. While respecting victims of atrocities, I want to focus on survival, with one survivor in mind.

Ben enjoying it.

When survivors tell their story, they become windows to history, guiding and motivating our chant of never again. From their dark stories, we learn to prevent future atrocities. On the bright side, survival stories are inspirational. What others endure, survive, and subsequently achieve are symbolic of human resilience: that remarkable human physical and spiritual asset.

I discovered Benjamin Charles Steele long before I met him, as I was feeding my curiosity about Bataan by reading books. I only read five. “Only,” because so many books and articles have been written about the Death March, many by survivors or their families.

 

One of those books, Tears in the Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, focuses on Ben’s story. While the Normans included much more within the pages of their ten-year project, they trace Ben’s life experiences, particularly during the war years. I recommend it.

 

My signed copy

Born in 1917, Ben Steele grew up on his parent’s Montana ranch. The family lost the ranch during the Depression Years, when he was about 15. Ben continued to work as a ranch hand, which interrupted his education several times before he finally graduated from high school in 1939. The following year, Ben joined the Army Air Corps. Eighteen months later he was a prisoner of war (POW) in the Philippines.

Ben may have developed a passing interest in art when had delivered art supplies. But, he had little exposure, and no formal training. Ben received his formal art degrees after the war.

For much of his early POW time, Ben was ill (Beriberi, dysentery, pneumonia, blood poisoning, and malaria). He worried about adding mental illness to the list, as so many others had. So, he began to draw. Risking severe punishment or death to stay sane, Ben started a self-prescribed therapy to fight off life-threatening melancholy. He had seldom drawn anything during his life.

Feeling guilty about my unused art supplies.

Unknowingly, from his sick-bed in the wretched Bilibid Prison, he was launching a seventy-four-year, successful art and teaching career. This late high school graduate, Army enlistee, and future college professor, was barely hanging on to life. While starving and hardly existing in some of the bleakest living conditions imaginable, Ben used charcoal and sticks to do his first primitive drawings.

“I used to sit there day after day. I thought I’d lose my damn mind. I wanted something to do, so I started drawing with anything I could find to draw with. I’d draw on walls. People around me said, ‘Why don’t you draw the guys? You know, there are no photographs taken of this stuff.’ So, I started drawing stuff around the camp and sketches of people and portraits as close as I could. I wasn’t very skillful.” ~ Ben Steele

Eventually, Ben was moved to mainland Japan where he worked as slave labor in coal mines. The only two of his original drawings to survive the war were done there. The original drawings he did in the Philippines were in the possession of a fellow prisoner, catholic priest, and army chaplain, named Father Duffy. When the ship Duffy was on sank, the drawings ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, as he recovered in a Spokane, Washington, hospital, Ben reproduced his lost drawings from memory (part of his therapy).

When the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, Ben worked 75 miles south. He heard the blast. Soon the war ended. Ben and others were on the road home and toward recovery from the three-and-a-half-year ordeal. Ironically, some survivors eventually fell victim to mental and emotional problems resulting in suicide, death from substance abuse, or other such maladies. However, most survived, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of them.

Once a cowboy….always…

When Ben’s art was displayed in a building on White Sands Missile Range in 2011, I was there for my last Death March. By then I’d read Tears in the Darkness, and other books about Bataan. So, I knew Ben’s story.

When I went to see the art the day before the March, Ben was there. His daughter was escorting him in his wheel chair – he was 93. We shook hands. He signed my book about his art and we talked, mostly about his life as an artist.

I immediately knew I was talking to a Montana cowboy, who happened to have been a POW, college professor, well known artist, an American hero, and a witness to much about life’s realities.

At his core, this happy man who was pleased with life and was the same cowboy who joined the Army Air Corps 71 years earlier.

“Little things that probably bother a lot of people don’t bother me. I figure I’m probably living on a little borrowed time, and I’d better enjoy it!” ~ Ben Steele

Another WWII veteran I knew, Joe P., said virtually the same thing to me last year. Both men died in 2016, in their late 90s after living full and happy lives. Perhaps their life choices were reflected in the last three words I quoted from Ben, “…better enjoy it!”

Life has its ups and downs; reality in art, literature, history, and personal stories enable us to look both ways, to the dark, or to the light. Enjoy life, but mind the gaps.

The Battling Bastards, Part II

This is based on my experience with the Bataan Death March Marathon. It is the second of three posts on this subject. To read the first, click here. The next post in this series will focus on Ben Steele, Bataan Death March survivor, Montana cowboy, and artist.

Why Do This?

The doctor looked at me, with my wife listening, “You can get all the cardio you need walking. If you were on active duty, I would profile you so you could not run. I suggest you stop marathons, and consider not running at all. You will not have a heart attack. With this problem, you will likely be dead before you hit the ground.”

Before that, between ages 59 and 65, I’d completed 15 marathons. Four of those, I walked. Each took me about nine hours to finish, in the Chihuahua Desert, north of El Paso, Texas. Training for such endurance events is hard. Participating is fun, but demanding. I discovered the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon when l was searching for an off-road, full marathon for walkers. About 85% of this “March” participants walk it.

In early March of 2008, we flew from San Antonio to El Paso, rented a car, and drove 45 miles north to the US Army post at White Sands Missile Range in southeast New Mexico. I checked in at registration, looked around the base, then drove 17 miles to Las Cruses for the night.

Well before dawn the next day, my wife took me back to White Sands and stayed with me as a hoard of 5,000 marchers and runners, plus many friends, and event staff descended on the large outdoor breakfast area, next to the starting-line assembly corral.

The Emotional Start

Sunrise and the start are at about 0600 hours. Everyone arrives long before dawn. After we parked, drank coffee, juice, and I scarfed up whatever I could eat, marathon ritual requires queuing up at one of the numerous port-a-potty toilets. I watched as some male participants strolled over to the golf course to give it a watering, I would have too, but they were run off by staff. It was dark, their backs were to us, it made the loo lines shorter, and the area had little grass. I didn’t see the problem, but dropped the idea.

Greeting Survivors at Start

The opening ceremony at sunrise was the most patriotic and emotionally stirring that I ever witnessed. I was in the starting corral by that time, and being surrounded by my tribe added to my feeling of being part of something special. After few short speeches, accolades, and expressions of gratitude; a low altitude, noisy flyover of fighter jets from Holloman Air Force Base marked the final countdown to the starting gun. The crowd got quieter as the excitement and tension grew.

Greeting Survivors at Start
Greeting Survivors at Start

We were startled by a loud, unexpected blast when the starting gun was a thunderous, awakening, cannon blast. This was an Army post, so of course. As we slowly worked our way through another narrow gate and into the crowded final corral, a marching band of kilted drummers and bagpipers led the parade of 5,000 hopefuls through the 15 feet wide, by 50 feet long, starting area. Lining the sides of the narrow start area, the Bataan Death March survivors, most sitting, old and frail former POWs shook hands and spoke with as many participants as possible. Since the Bataan Death March is 75 years old now, few, if any, actual survivors remain.

The Pipes and Drums Lead the Way

We heard a distinctive beep as each marcher walked over the starting strip. That sound is an electronic signal from a timing chip attached to a shoelace. I noticed a barefoot participant, who tied it to his ankle. I would see him two more times; once, struggling in agony just past the 10-mile marker. I notified the next staff member I saw. The next time he was riding on the back of a golf cart on his way to a medical tent. Since then, footwear has been required. The military is good at making rules for common sense. I’ve seen barefoot marathoners before, but they ran on paved roads. This was a rough desert environment.

Those wishing to run fast were out of the corral immediately after the band. Last to start were the “heavy” military and civilian groups, with each person carrying a 35-pound backpack, plus water and other consumables for the course of the day. The pack must weigh at least 35 pounds at the start and finish.

A Killer Experience

More Death March survivors were stationed along the route. The idea was for marchers to meet the survivors, shake hands, talk briefly, and then move on.

Meeting Death March Survivors

It normally goes like this as I take his outstretched hand, “Howdy, Sir. My name is Bill Reynolds. Thank you for serving our country and winning the war.”

Then, he might say, “Hello, Bill. My name is John Richards. Thank you for marching to honor me, my friends, and what we did.”

I always wanted to stand and talk longer, but others were lining up behind me.

Marathon Smoke Breaks?

While this is no race for a best time, top finishers within each category receive awards. Only a small percentage of participants run all 26.2 miles, and none of them run their fastest marathon. This event is a patriotic history lesson, a physical and mental challenge, an amazing sight to see, and a motivating experience. Most of the course is on Jeep trails more suitable for tanks. The ubiquitous sand mixed with irritating gravel and scree finds its way into all shoes and boots. Gaiters helped a little.

18 Miles Done

The six-mile, 1,200-foot climb to the half-way point, 13.1-miles into the march, is on Mineral Hill at 5,397 feet. It’s notorious for ending many a marcher’s day. By that time, dehydration, bloody blisters, twisted ankles, sun burns, human exhaustion, and all manner of mental and physical maladies are screaming at marchers to give it up and ride the golf cart to the finish line, which about 15% must do, if they’re not taken away in one of the many ambulances that continually haul off the more seriously ill and injured. Even the young and fit fall prey to this challenge when they fail to pace themselves, especially if they neglected training.

 

I had read about the infamous Sand Pits, which we descend into just after completing 20 miles. These arroyos are 15 to 20-foot deep ditches, lined and filled with several feet of washed-in, soft sand that made walking even more demanding.

Sand filled arroyo

These pits alone are a challenge to walk through, but after enduring six hours of arduous walking, it’s agony. The subfreezing morning high-desert temperatures were long-past, yielding to the sun and its rising mid-day heat, making those arroyos The Pits of Misery, indeed. I used my hiking poles as I felt my exhausted, 61-year-old aching body, painful feet, and stabbing blisters demand that I end this insanity.

Warriors

Many other marchers were combat veterans and wounded warriors, some who had been seriously injured. Seeing men and women with all sorts of physical and mental war injuries, many wearing various kinds of prostheses, some blind and being assisted by guides, but all doing what I was doing; I was emotionally moved, and I hushed the objecting voices in my head. I may have had more than 30 years on most of those folks, but I did not have to carry a spare leg in my backpack, in case my prosthesis broke or malfunctioned. I didn’t need a guide because I had been blinded by an IED in a foreign country.

Comrades

After 21 miles, my emotional state totally changed. I became weepy, extremely happy, and excited simultaneously. I felt honored and privileged to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and being with the people I was with. I felt guilty for complaining internally about my plight. Then, considering that the Death March survivors I had met faced 65 miles as POWs, starved, thirsty, beaten, and guarded by an enemy solder more than willing to kill them, I found the strength to put my burden behind me and finish this.

The Longest Three

Then, 23 miles in, the last big medical tent appeared as I managed to climb the hill out of the sand pits. The base was in sight. The finish line would be there. The final three-mile hike was on a long, flat, dusty, dirt road. It was hot, dry, and slow going. Eight hours had passed since the starting cannon was fired. I was walking on near-zero energy, constantly glancing up hoping to see some sign of the finish line, but I was only able to see the same view, with the now onerous Organ Mountains to the right.

Medical tents were busy

As I was dragging my old ass along, a young lady in full army combat uniform greeted me with encouraging words as she passed. I was thinking that her 35-pound pack must be more than 25% of her total body weight. Most of my pain numbed, but with every step I knew I had blisters.

Blister Treatment at Aid Station

After my first Death March, I discovered that I had the biggest blisters I’d ever seen on the bottom and top of both feet, four black toe nails (one would fall off), and sore heels. I was exhausted.

 

Going Home; I Shall Return

Over the following years, my motivation continued to grow as I learned more about the events of 1942, and the perils of the men and women who surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor. I’ve read on-line accounts and at least five books about the experiences of the survivors. I became an amateur expert of sorts, drawn to something that had occurred several years prior to my birth, but affected my life in ways that I still cannot explain, 75 years later.

Nine hours Later

The next day, at the El Paso airport, Death March Marathon participants are quickly spotted in two ways. First, while active duty military are in Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU), many others wear the distinctive tee-shirt given to each participant. The second give away is the distinctive Death March limp. In my case, it was both.

Overcoming the challenges and obstacles of life is difficult, not impossible.
In the process, always look both ways and mind the gaps.

Who Ya Gunna Kill?

Intrigued? It's murder!
Intrigued? It’s murder!

Seriously? Would you? I spent a career in the military. Flying B-52s would have removed me from the carnage by five miles, but I never dropped bombs on people. Fly all day, spend a few minutes dropping whatever (normal or ‘conventional’ bombs, various kinds of nuclear bombs or missiles, or mines into water like harbors or ports), then home and to the club for a night of brews and pizza before going out again in a day or so. I just missed out on that fun (not) routine in Viet Nam.

I was trained to shoot three guns: two rifles and one pistol. But I never shot anyone either. I spent a career as a trained killer, but I’ve never killed. I don’t even hunt. And, at least for now, I don’t own a firearm. However, I have no doubt that I would kill. War is different. Self-defense is different. I am not a pacifist.

Per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the most dangerous regions in the world for murder and other violent crimes are Africa, Caribbean (toss in Brazil), and Central America. Canada comes in at 89th with about 516 murders, and the US at 92nd with 12,253 (both based on rate by population). Australia seems to have virtual love fest going on and is way down the list. But I want to look at this from a personal, more individualized perspective.

murder-3A few days ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek note on Facebook about how I did not whack some guy because my wife would kill me, had I dispatched the fool to his happy hunting ground. The fact remains, people kill people. I cannot imagine doing that except in self-defense or war. Neither of those would be considered murder, even in the biblical sense. Why do humans kill each other? Mental illness aside, why do we do it?

Here’s a little clip from J. D. Robb’s book, Glory in Death, p 138.

“Biblically speaking,” Nadine put in, “murder is the oldest crime.”

“You could say it has a long tradition. We may be able to filter out certain undesirable tendencies through genetics, chemical treatments, beta scans, we deter with penal colonies and the absence of freedom. But human nature remains human nature.”

Those basic motives for violence that science is unable to filter: love, hate, greed, envy, anger.”

“They separate us from the droids, don’t they?”

“And make us susceptible to joy, sorrow, and passion. That’s a debate for the scientists and the intellectuals. But which of those motives killed Cicely Towers and Yvonne Metcalf?”

Later they add thrill as basic human motive for violence.

Can this be for real? Do people kill because it’s fun? Sorry, that can’t be considered normal. But those other emotions can account for a lot of murders. Love, hate, greed, envy, and anger are common human emotions. And yet, people kill strangers for cutting them off in traffic. We call it road rage, but it’s anger. Statistically, murders of women are often done by male mates, partners, or lovers. What’s up with that?

The countries in the high murder-rate areas that I mentioned have significant drug trafficking problems, and many (but not all) have high rates of poverty. Figuring out motives and getting them into the right categories would be a challenge internationally. So, tell us. Who ya gunna kill?murder-4

It can be a dangerous world out there.
Carefully mind any gaps. Look both ways before crossing borders, fences, or red lines. And, watch for droids.

Passionate Disbelief: A Testament to Effort

hemmingway-first-draft

It may be just another from there-to-here story, but it is mine.

Officially, I haven’t written in my memoir for about two weeks. Sure, I typed over 50-thousand words for Nano in November, but so what? This isn’t just the telling of any story, it’s the recording of a part of my life. That first whack during Nano (something less than a 1st draft) is like putting primer on the wall before painting or prepping a canvas.

When I tried to make an outline, I ended up with a list of events somewhat out of order. Each time I had a memory or an idea, I quickly added it to the list. I now have a list of 165 items, memories, or events. There are a few duplicates, some ideas aren’t useable, and for some I still have no idea what I was thinking about or why I added it to the list.

I’ve glossed over a few how to write a memoir books. Now I’m slowly reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. I just finished Writing is My Drink, a memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor. Giving all this thought to autobiographical writing has enlightened me that I prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer autobiography to biography, and specifically memoirs. I like history. In fiction, I prefer real life/real world stories to Sci-Fi or fantasy. It’s complicated. I like them all. Anything done well is better than my favorite genre not so well done.

I’m even considering changing last year’s novel to an autobiographical novel, and rewriting it from third to first person. But that’s for later. For now, I want to keep working on this memoir. While I’ve not recently written much in it, I have been working on it. Organizing both it and meh-self has taken a bit of time.

About 80% of my writing is rewriting, and if you know how Nano goes (thou shalt not edit), that effort will require mooch-o rework. It’ll keep me off the streets, out of the bars, and out of most trouble for a while. I enjoy rewriting, editing, correcting, and improving my own work more than writing the first draft. Maybe that’s cuz I don’t have to create (think) and spell simultaneously.

Writers get it.
Writers get it.

I’ll be right here, in my 11×11 spare room. This is my work-space, set up with folding tables that I can take down to turn it back into a bedroom when we have visitors. While I sometimes find other locations to write, I prefer this one. I got all meh stuff around me. And look at these post-it notes behind me. Each one has one or more of the topics contained in my memoir. Those written in pink or orange highlighter are yet to be written. It’s how I’m organizing the thing until I learn Scribner.

A memoir of post it notes
A memoir of post it notes

Below is my view from the chair at my computer. The sock monkey on top is the kind that rolls around and laughs, in case I need a lift, or someone walks in here and asks me what I’m doing. A couple of windows to my right provide an uninspiring view of my neighbor’s rooftop. But I want to know when it’s raining — pluviophile, remember?

The view from my writing nest
The view from my writing nest

Here is a little snippet from my memoir. I was 17, would soon graduate from high school, and was Air Force bound in a few months. Shirley was my sister and Danny’s meh big brudder.

As a senior in high school, my guide and advisor regarding entrance into the military was Shirley’s husband, Jack M. This hard-core, active-duty, career Marine gave me all the advice he could – more than I could assimilate. Jack was a highly decorated First Sergeant (Sergeant Major to be) and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He would later complete two tours in Viet Nam, and he would resent being denied a third.

Sergeant Major M. was a true warrior. He was the guy you want on your side in a fight, but not necessarily the man you wanted in any situation requiring sensitivity, grace, or political correctness. Despite this, Jack was a boisterous and friendly Italian-American from Ohio who seemed to be liked by everyone.

Jack and Shirley were both Catholics, but were married by a Justice of the Peace because Jack was divorced. Eventually they were married into to the good graces of the Church, which seems strange because they never practiced their religion, or if they did, not for long.

One day Jack and I were browsing through a hardware store so he could tell me what to buy and what was good stuff. This was back when hardware stores had everything or knew where to get it.

Jack pointed at some hunting knives in a case, “Yer gunna want a good knife. Your own. Not too long, but you want good balance, feel, and steel that won’t break on bone. In the Marine Corps, everyone has a knife.”

I looked at him, “Jack, do you think I should join the Marine Corps and not the Air Force? It’s not too late to change.”

“Oh Jesus, no. First off, yer Mom would hate me, if not kill me. But I gotta tell ya, Billy. Yer Air Force material. The Marine Corps don’t work out fer kids like you. Shit, the Marine Corps is not for you.”

Jack was right. The Corps had not worked out well for Danny. Why would it for me?

Jack picked up a knife and pointed it at me. “But, this knife here looks like a good one. It’s Solingen steel and I can tell ya, the Krauts make good stuff like this. Feel it and see how it fits ya. How’s the balance?”

Jack bought the knife as a gift for me. It had a straight, one-inch wide, thick steel blade. The handle was black plastic inlaid with a red and white diamond symbol, and a black metal sheath. I soon realized that Marines have many more good uses for knives than Airmen do.

Note: My Air Force career spanned over 45 years; 22 active duty, the rest civilian. In my last job before retirement, I worked on Eglin Air Force Base for a Marine Corps Colonel. I enjoyed telling him this story.

Only you can tell your story.
Just mind the gaps and look both ways.

I Want My Tribe

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

“War feels better than peace.”

tribe1That’s what it says. Not that war is better. It feels better. To put comments like that into context and perspective, you should read the book.

Tribe put me in touch with a part of myself that wants something which I haven’t had in long time–the feeling of belonging to a tribe. When I had it, it was temporary. I’ve lost my tribe, and I feel the void.

I don’t want to think we have a dystopian or apocalyptic world. But I realize that conflict and evil are pervasive in human nature. Also, all nature holds danger, evil threats, and risks to our survival. It has always been so and there is little sign of relief.

Junger’s book is supposed to be about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and American combat veterans returning to our normal and civilized society. It is about that, but there’s more to it. While vets are the focused subjects of the book, they are examples he uses to make an ultimate point about human nature and American society. I suspect that is why the book is so popular.

 

tribe3

Maybe we are not what we think we are. Are we as peace-loving as we claim to be? We’ve certainly done much to create a peaceful society in America and other countries around the world, with varying degrees of success–mostly minor or the opposite of what we intended to do.

tribe7

My favorite sentence in the book is just two words: “And yet.” (p. 109)

We crave peace, comfort, safety, pleasure, privacy, and independence. And yet, when we look at the history of human behavior under dangerous and stressful situations, something strange often happens to us. We are healthier and apparently (oddly?) happier—less depressed, when under stress. It should be the opposite, right?

I’ll not say more about the phenomenon because I don’t want to play spoiler. I want you to read the book. But, don’t use my library. There are now 184+ waits to read it. The word is out.

This book spoke to me. It’s my inner voice. Maybe I’m in denial. While I’m not overtly competitive and I’m so-so on some sports (I prefer playing to watching); I enjoy tension, drama, and mystery more than I like to admit. I have a love-hate relationship with fear and stress. I want them, and I don’t. WTF?

And yet.

tribe2

That voice is saying something. I know what it’s telling me. I know exactly what Junger is talking about—and I agree.

I avoid trouble. I want peace and love in the world. But I am a realist (in my mind, anyway). I enjoy conflict. While I’m unlikely to start trouble, when it’s forced on me, I’m in.

tribe5I despise fighting. I don’t enjoy pain or suffering, especially my own. But when I fight, I don’t want to stop. Something is deep inside me crying for more. Where’s my tribe?

When conflict is forced on me, I feel a change (a charge?) in my being–I feel strangely better. Got a tribe to protect and feed? I’m your man.

Consider the tribe concept in dealing with a crisis. We are all fighting for survival. We need each other. Your struggle is my struggle. We can share everything and overcome adversity for the good the tribe.

My personal paradox is that I’m an introvert and I enjoy my alone time. I value my privacy and a good night’s sleep as much as anyone. But I find the concept of a tribe fascinating, intriguing, and alluring—the challenge. The fight! Combat!

tribe10

Our survival didn’t just happen. When you consider natural human strength, we’re easy prey in the animal kingdom. While we’re most vulnerable alone and we need protection, there’s something comforting and rewarding about the danger out there and what the tribe does for us.

Read the book.

When you find your tribe,
join them and cherish them. But, look both ways.

Bill’s Top Five (No taco today)

Top five3The internet is loaded with lists. Lists are recommended for writing/blogging because we read them. My wife likes to read lists to me. Neither of us have any idea why. This is my personal short list with explanations for why the item is here. In a way, it’s a gratitude list, but that’s not exactly what this is about. It’s about me, not the list. Please comment with your top five. I’d like to know if you share my opinions.

I call this the top five inventions now affecting my life. Back in history, each of these might have been considered magic. In a way, I consider them the magic of science. Many discoveries, inventions, and innovations were necessary predecessors to make these possible, and for those I am also grateful (things like electricity, fire, internet [actually came later], printing press, writing, etc.) Some are closer to my heart than others. Bill’s top five inventions are (random order):

Top five2

The computer. The PC, laptop, and gadget after gadget (smart phone) using the science and technology to make my life better. I sat in front of one of these things for years at work and then spent more time on-line at home. Now in retirement, I use my laptop, smartphone, or iPad more than 8 hours a day. I type/keyboard with all ten fingers, like to write, and can make a mess with a typewriter. (electronic digital computer, 1939, Atanasoff and Berry)

Top five6Global Positioning System (GPS). I was a Master Navigator in the United States Air Force. Navigating was my profession. I was also a bombardier faced with the challenges of dropping things on targets (to put it nicely). 35 years ago, I was delighted to have technology that would tell me how fast I was going and in which direction. I used the sun and stars to determine where on earth we were, errors of miles were not unusual. I actually had mechanical/analog computers, which were also often wrong.

What I would have given for a GPS! Sometimes, we dropped hundreds of bombs hoping one might find the target. Today they use a (as in one) GPS-guided ‘smart bomb’ that can hit someone’s dinner plate. They need only one bomb per target.

Driving home, I can see a map of the roads all around me, traffic conditions, my position, and my arrival time. In 1978, the first satellite was launched and it was Y2K before GPS devices became available for personal use (instead of military only).

The Spell Checker. I often joke that the only thing worse than my handwriting is my spelling. Top five5Actually, I have no idea which is worse. Together, they conspire to make anything I handwrite virtually useless. Even I can’t read it. Professional, highly trained code breakers would never figure it out. It’s like a disability. Fellow writers often proclaim the great value of writing by hand. One page and my hand hurts. My head hurts from trying to make it legible. And my brain is pissed from focusing on scripting and spelling and not on content.

My poor penmanship has been replaced by computer writing software. Part of that software has been written to show me wrongly spelled words, and sometimes it even fixes some of them. Look – I fully understand all the pitfalls and problems of spell checkers. I’ve read the cute little poem (joke) about this. If your handwriting and spelling are adequate, good for you. Mine aren’t. This software has saved my ass from the constant embarrassment of ugly hand writing and atrocious spelling.

Example of coronary artery sents and placement
Example of coronary artery sents and placement

Stents. I am a medical science advocate. I may not agree with every practitioner, but I agree with mine. I inherited several things from my father: fondness for beer, a temper, and a circulatory system that likes to clog-up. It eventually killed him as it probably will do for me one day. But not today.

Several years ago my leg went numb while walking. A doctor said, “I think I know what’s wrong and what we can do about it.” He put three stents into my iliac arteries. They worked. Years later, I was told that coronary bypass surgery was too risky for me due to my calcified aortic arch. A Cath Lab team lead by my doctor inserted four stents to open my clogged/blocked coronary arteries. Six months later, I had two more inserted. Not heart attack required. Stents work immediately and the recovery time is measured in hours. I have a total of nine. Dad had none.

 

Top five1Airplanes. I like to fly. Much of my first career was spent flying or teaching others how. My second career was still associated with teaching others to fly. I like aviation museums. I also like books and movies about flying.

When I moved, I left Florida in the morning and was at my new home in the Pacific Northwest by dinner time. A forty-hour drive flown in seven. Until teleporters are perfected, we can travel to any place on earth during the same day, provided we do it in an airplane.

Beam us up, Scotty. There's no intelligent life down here.
“Beam us up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life down here.”

I could add things like the internet, automobiles, digital music, and sliced bread. But five’s enough. Right?

Frat Friday (Book Review)

Islam3 bookThis blog is about a book. If you look at my ‘about’ tab, under Frat Friday, think of topics 1, 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, and 13. While I will not include my personal religious or political opinions today, the book I want to talk about is about religion and politics. It is a lot about hate, causes, and it’s certainly in the news. The religion is Islam. The book is Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. It is a dialog (not a debate) and only about 120 to 140 pages long. I preferred the audio version with Sam and Maajid reading their parts, but it’s a good read.

Ratings

On Amazon, 315 reviews awarded an average of 4.5 stars with 92% being either 4 or 5 stars. Most of the low critiques are more personal attacks on the authors with little concern for future readers of the book. I read the book and will read it again.

The writers/talkers

Both men are intelligent, experts in their fields, and well-spoken.

Sam Harris
Sam Harris

Harris is a well-known American atheist, philosopher, neuroscientist, and author of several books.

Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz

Nawaz is a British Muslim and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. He is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he left in 2007 when he renounced his Islamist past. He now advocates Secular Islam.

“What is Islamism? Islam is a religion; Islamism is the desire to impose any version of that religion on society. It’s the politicization of my own religion. What is Jihadism? The use of force to spread Islamism.” ~ Maajid Nawaz

“The only conclusion I can draw from everything you’ve just said is that the problem of ideology is far worse than most people suppose.” ~ Sam Harris

The essence and differences

While the two people in the dialogue have vastly different views on religion, they each allow a pass for the other in order to have this discussion. What they do agree upon is that there is a significant problem and threat within the Islamic faith regarding danger from some of the members. I’m not sure that they agree on who is dangerous, or how many, or exactly why.

(Not addressing this conversation, but similar ones.) “The people I really worry about when we have this conversation are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims – all vulnerable…in many cases violently assaulted or killed….” ~ Maajid Nawaz

It may take more than one pass through to glean their exact positions. Precision of understanding and clear definition of terms are goals of both men, something Harris works to ensure. They agree that the discussion needs to take place, but efforts are confounded by people on both the fundamentalist right (mostly Muslims) and what Nawaz refers to as the regressive left (or liberals).

“…The general picture is of a white, liberal non-Muslim who equates any criticism of Islamic doctrines with bigotry, ‘Islamophobia,’ or even ‘racism.’…they deny any connection between heartfelt religious beliefs and Muslim violence….de facto organs of Islamist apology – The Guardian, Salon, The Nation, Alternet, and so forth. This has made it very difficult to have public conversations of the sort we are having.” ~ Sam Harris

The biggest problem for America, if not the world

Europe currently faces a much greater problem than America in dealing with Islamists. By comparison with Europe, America has 3.3 million Muslims (1%), while France (9.6%), Belgium (6%), and United Kingdom (4.5%) have Muslims as significantly higher percentages of their total population. What Harris and Nawaz agree on is that attempts to discuss how to solve the problems created by Islamic Extremism are taboo topics.

I think they have a point. While Sam points to the fundamentals of Islam as problematic, understanding of his basic premises regarding religion (and the same can be said of virtually any contemporary, well-known atheist) reveals that he gives no religion a pass – especially no Abrahamic religion.

The context of what is said

“One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.” ~ Sam Harris

The best way to follow what these two men are saying is to know the context of what they are saying supported by their beliefs or philosophy. To do this, it would be helpful to read other books, particularly Harris’s The End of Faith.

They’re both attacked continually and called insulting names and threatened. Both spend a good deal of effort justifying their positions and protecting themselves. Both have done TED talks that are worth viewing to understand their positions.

Sam Harris link to TED.

Maajid Nawaz link to TED.

The video is good up to the Q&A part, but kind of long. Link to Youtube discussion at Harvard University (over an hour).