I Hate AFN Commercials….


“I left Okinawa in 2007 and the scars of those atrocities still weigh heavily on my mind.”  ~Anonymous quote online about the traumatic effects of extended exposure to AFN

 

I HATE the Armed Forces Network (AFN).  I have blogged about this before, and it’s one of my most popular blogs in the Far East FlingTeam American Forces Network, F’Yeah.  Notice that I capitalized, italicized, bolded, and underlined that word….  Hate.

And it’s AFN’s fault.

Vaccine for Stupid

It appears, from the actions of our “leadership,” that since we adult servicemembers, dependents, and government contractors can’t be trusted with actual television commercials, and that we as people who are willing to venture into harm’s way can’t safely ride a bike or we wary of snakes, the military has decided for us what we should see and hear while here in Okinawa.  To that end, “they” give you the “Armed Forces Network.”  And escape from AFN’s long reach is impossible:  “they” super-saturate their programmed propaganda across the spectrum of radio and television dials.

Well, maybe not a spectrum; there is only one AM and one FM radio station in English, and AFN cable is like only 8 channels or so.

The good news?  AFN is “commercial-free.”

The bad news?  AFN has replaced slightly entertaining and marginally (if only potentially) informative commercials with extremely annoying disinformation.

A random AFN commercial may be charming or stupidly silly on first exposure, but after hearing/seeing it for the 67th time…this month…they become infuriatingly tedious.  And over time, this tedium builds, in my case, to a level that I can almost characterize as anger.  Ironic when I stop and think about it:  I haven’t heard a commercial about anger management…YET.

To emphasize my point, here are a few radio sets that I’ve heard in the past week while in the car riding to, from and around the bases here.

Set 1:     Identification Theft (it’s on the rise, you know, and you’re NEXT); “Recipes for Disaster” (don’t marinate your meat on the counter, but in the refrigerator and under 40 degrees F; Smoke Alarms (make sure your alarm is up-to-date and batteries are changed)

Set 2:     Military Postal System (sending items in boxes marked toxic, flammable, or radioactive); Smoking Hazards (get this for scare tactics:  erectile dysfunction for men, wrinkles for women – can anyone say, “sexist”?); WIC Overseas (oh, and who can forget, “Don’t Shake a Baby”); Family Readiness & Spouses (coping with deployment and some of the more inane rules of living overseas)

Set 3:     VA Benefits (set to a “best of” collection of sappy made-up songs); Foster Parenting (can you even do that here in Okinawa???); Bullying (it happens all the time, every day, to apparently each of your children); Strokes (the three C’s, which I can’t remember….)

Set 4:     Baby-Sitter Training (they’ll be required to have a personal AED next); Habu Dangers (“very aggressive, extremely dangerous,” and seemingly everywhere waiting for your slightest misstep)

We are all suffering, AFN.

We are all suffering, AFN.

From a quick review of the above NONSENSE, AFN misinformation breaks down into just a few generalized groups:

Supposed Safety:  The simple message underlying all of these “safety” related spots are, frankly, that we are just too stupid to live our lives safely, and that to counteract our impending demise from snakes or dust mites, we must therefore be constantly bombarded of the impending consequences of everything that can remotely be considered a danger.  Terror on public transportation, really?  Maybe if we are on holiday in Gaza….

Public Dis-Service Announcements:  So, the military attempts to make up for, say, the overly-restrictive and insulting liberty policy here  (read my blog about the Epic Leadership Failure), by providing member services, like spousal support.  These are the WORST commercials you can imagine, complete with lame musac-like tunes, and a flat, lifeless announcer that sound so bored that the listener actually would go out of the way to avoid such service.

Self-Serving Advertising:  Yes, the 18th Force Support Squadron is awesome, and we know ALL ABOUT the unit golfing opportunity….  The FM radio station, self-labelled as “JACK FM,” likes to talk about how cool they are by “playing…whatever.”  Yeah, whatever the military censors allow them to play.  C’mon.

Obscure Oddities:  Women and Infant Children (WIC) plays way too many times here.  Besides the audience being quite low for the airtime, it’s downright criminal that so many servicemen and women qualify for such benefits in the first place.  And really, ANF?  How many people are sending packages in the same boxes that they received those explosives in at work?

Here are a few more sets to, taking AFN’s lead, to emphasize and re-emphasize my point:

Set 5:     Terror on Public Transportation (it’s surely going to happen to you if you’re not on-guard); Fire Safety and Being Electrically Responsible (tell the Japanese to wire their homes better); Habu (again); MPS (again); WIC (again); Pay Your Taxes (it’s YOUR responsibility)!!

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Set 6:     Asthma (it can kill); Vacuuming the Floor (seriously); Bicycle Helmets (save lives, but somehow we all survived)

Set 7:     WIC (yet again); Touring the island by Air (the one thing on the list that is quasi-interesting and informative); Your ID card (don’t lose it!); Reading & Literacy (uhmm…..); News (AP news, which offers a rather random summary of world news in 40 seconds)….

Why is AFN filling our brains with such nonsense?  ENOUGH ALREADY.

This conga line of bruising sound-bites blankets us here in Okinawa in what ways that can only be making things worse.  Why the leadership can’t see or understand this is one of the basic failures of management overseas.  We are not asking for all the bad news and negativity; hell, AFN doesn’t even have to play commercials in the first place.

Jim Lehrer, in analyzing the effect of the media and its constantly negative reinforcement, coined the phrase “learned helplessness”.  Some people will accept the America Culture of Fear on face-value, at detriment to and in their lives.  At worst, it seems obvious that continual negativity or a negative bias can stimulate depression, even if we all are laughing at the ridiculous paranoia exhibited by AFN.  Like it or not, the service members here are hearing these messages…everyday, over and over.  And if some chose to really concentrate on all the bad communications, they may find themselves worked-up emotionally, resulting in even more unwise decision-making, much like an adolescent does when resenting the overbearing “advice” of their parents.

fear itself & spiders

In general terms, negative media messages outweigh good news at times by as much as 17:1.  The propaganda distributed by AFN is really no different.  Studies have shown that we care and focus relentlessly more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers; the more remote the chances and the more horrific the consequences, the better.  We tend to get more fearful than happy.  And each time we experience fear we our stress hormones get turned on, in a vicious cycle feeding on itself.  AFN simply cannot be good for any of us.

Is there any way to avoid AFN’s monopolistic reach into our psyches?  Yes, but it requires buying Asian satellite TV and playing your iPod through your car radio (I do both).  AFN should realize that they could, instead, focus on the glass being half-full – or at least say the dangerous thunderstorm is filling our collective cup.

What can you do?  Encourage AFN to deliverer a more balanced and multi-dimensional point of view.  It is, quite probable, a losing battle.  Until our leadership wakes up and pays more attention to the critically small details of life overseas, nothing will really change.  AFN is a mega, government-corporation with entrenched GS civilians and military officers who believe in their own silly rhetoric.  The situation is probably even beyond reach of the III MEF Marine Corps General-island; that shouldn’t serve as a pass to you, General Wissler….

Tell me what you think about AFN.  It appears we are not alone:  ANF “haters” appear to have their own FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-AFN-Commercials/211760985324

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BTW, the base exchanges here all sell hordes of smokes, booze, and smokeless tobacco….

Beauty & Honor Entombed: Ishigaki’s Toujin Grave Site


“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.”  ~ Simone Weil

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Stunningly beautiful.  Emotionally moving.  Serenely set.  Imagine, at great expense and personal effort, accepting the wrongs of those far-removed and in the past so that future generations can realize a nobler future through such splendor.  On Ishigaki Island, this happened not just once, but twice, with amazing effect.

Shisa Lion Dog at Toujin Tomb

In 1852 the American-flagged ship Robert Bowne was carrying Chinese laborers – “Coolies” as they were known at the time, a derogatory slang term for unskilled Asian workers, usually of Chinese or Indian descent – from mainland China to California.  The 410 Chinese indentured servants, realizing during the voyage that they were essentially slaves, successfully mutinied and made a break for the Southern Ryukyu Islands, landing on the beaches of Miyako Island.

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America's Railroad

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America’s Railroad

After most of the Coolies had found refuge ashore, some of the remaining members of the crew took back the ship and set sail without haste, abandoning those left behind, including some of the ship’s crew.  The Ryûkyû Kingdom, seated at Shuri Castle on Okinawa Island, long had a proud tradition of aiding castaways, and ultimately welcomed the Coolies, even at great risk of further Western involvement in their island archipelago.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, stunningly beautiful Chinesel tomb WM

Initially, the people of Miyako cared for these hundreds of castaways at great burden for such a small and lightly populated island.  Weeks later, the warships USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon, bent on retribution.  After making port, American and British troops seized as many of the Coolies as they could find, though some escaped and fled elsewhere.  Being hunted as mutineers, 128 of the accidental Chinese immigrants were shot dead or committed suicide over capture and slavery.  When the three warships departed the Ryûkyûs, it was with only 70 captives of the original ~380 who escaped.

Chinese Coolies

Chinese Coolies

While the survivors eventually received protection from the royal Shuri government, many quickly caught the plague, for which they had no exposure or immunity, and died one after another, suffering and afraid far from their native homeland.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon's head WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon and characters 2 WMThe local Yaeyamians, being an open, friendly, peaceful and very superstitious people, erected the Toujin Tomb (or Toujinbaka in Japanese) in 1971 in memory of and to help console any restless and cheated spirits of those Chinese who so distraughtly agonized and perished.    Toujin is an archaic Chinese term for continental Asian peoples; the tomb can also be referred to as the Tang People’s Memorial, echoing the southern Han ethnic makeup of the Chinese entombed there.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, visitors to the beautiful tomb WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Jody poses in front of the most beautiful monumentIt, by FAR, is the most beautiful burial place that I have ever visited.  The mausoleum, conceived with unmistakable Chinese influence, is intricately decorated with brightly-color and heavily-lacquered tiles depicting dragons, horse riders, and other Chinese appeals, amidst well-maintained gardens along with a few other gravestones and monuments.  The structure is amazingly well-maintained, and in the right light of day (we visited about 5 pm in July), it has the appearance of being brand-new.  The vault is immediately emotionally moving, even though there is no English provided to enhance a Westerner’s understanding.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Chinese wise men adorn the tomb WM

But that is only half the story of the Toujin Tomb site.  Although the kindness shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves is a testament to the benevolence of the Yaeyama people, the same can’t be said concerning three Americans who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki in the spring of 1945, less than four months before hostilities ended with Japan.

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

15 April 1945 0730H:  On this day, USS Makassar Strait, a US Navy aircraft carrier, launched ten strike mission against Ishigaki airfields using bombs, napalm, and high-explosive rockets.  Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire resulting in the shoot-down of Avenger #31 (Bureau No. 68767).  The crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Tebo, and his two enlisted crewmembers:  Loyd and Tuggle.

ishigaki_map_noted_zoom2

All three suffered horrendously.  Two were quickly beheaded after being tortured, but for Radioman Loyd, his terrifying ordeal had only begun.  Flaunted through the city center of Ishigaki and castigated by an angry mob eager to place blame for the death and destruction raining down from above, in Loyd was taken out personal and dreadful vengeance.  He was publicly executed by multiple stabbings from the bayonets of numerous Japanese soldiers and sailors, many of whom would go on to face war crimes charges.

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

The summary execution of these American Prisoners of War (POW) led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges, seven of whom were eventually put to death.  It may strike some as an injustice and undue escalation of violence, but like General LeMay is often quoted, if the United States had lost the war, then most of the American military and civilian leadership would have been likewise tried as war criminals [quote paraphrased].  To the victor go the spoils, but in this case, it seems that everyone involved eventually suffered.

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Decades after this dark affair, a local professor, Takeo Shinohara, recognized the collective need of the Ishigaki people to remember this black chapter in their history and attempt to make amends, much as was the case of the Coolies in the Toujin monument.  Thanks to these active pacifists, the fate of these three Americans is now openly acknowledged in an attempt to console the wounds of both East and West.  A fitting memorial honoring the memory of the Americans who were killed was christened in 2001 on the very same grounds as the Toujin TombTwo engraved plaques, in English and Japanese, describe the events that befell Ishigaki in the spring of 1945.  The English text reads:

On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors.  After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters.  The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929.  Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded.  Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers.  This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

LT Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illinois

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas

Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle. Jr., 20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001

The Joint Committee of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.

If more peoples of the world would similarly concede, perhaps not their direct culpability in the past, but in their collective inheritance of wounds good and bad, we all could, perchance, realize better futures.  I remain overwhelmingly affected by both these monuments, and have gained a new-found respect for those Japanese, Okinawans, and Yaeyama who truly wish to positively transform the world.  One monument at a time.

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Address: Toujin Grave/Kannondo Temple 1627, Arakawa, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024, Japan, Tel: 0980-82-1535.  The site is positioned right across the road from the Kannonzaki viewpoint (with its disappointingly small and closed-off lighthouse), and Fusaki beach lies just a kilometer further up the road.

For more information, see:

http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Robert_Browne_Incident

http://www.shipleybay.com/archives/Memorials/Ishigaki/Stars_and_Stripes_2001-06-24.pdf

Should the Rising Sun Finally Set?


“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.”  ~ Unknown

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Who would ever wear a swastika T-shirt?  No one would who has a basic knowledge of recent history and a common sense of decency.  Although perverted by the Nazi party, the swastika has become permanently representative of a political regime that committed acts so horrible that their flag became the very symbol of crimes against humanity.  Put another way, the Nazi flag is not just offensive to a few, but has become to be one of the most recognizable insults to the very ideal of human rights that we in Western democracies (mostly, at least) hold centrally sacred.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

But the peoples in those same Western democracies, for whatever reason, do not apply the same logical justice or even emotional reaction when it comes to the symbols of Germany’s fellow Axis power – and partner in crimes against humanity, Imperial Japan.  It’s hard to explain why it is so easy to find contemporarily popular images of the Rising Sun in Japanese pop culture, given the memory of Nazi German that persists elsewhere.  Don’t get me wrong, the Japanese people underwent a complete paradigm shift in their beliefs and culture at the end of World War II, and they are perhaps the most peaceful, non-violent society to which I have been exposed.

Nothing says "party" like dressing up as a Nazi.

Nothing says “party” like dressing up as a Nazi.

But think about it another way:  we in the West are taught clearly about the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.  Reflect on just how many books, documentaries, movies and memorials are dedicated to the holocaust, and how much it remains in the forefront of our collective consciousness.  It’s an impossible reality to escape…unless you happen to be the President of Iran.  But how many of us were ever really educated about what happened to many Asian countries during the war in the Pacific, all of which occurred during the exact same timeframes that the Nazis were brutalizing Europe, Northern Africa, and Russia.  I ask you this:  how much do you really know and understand about Japan’s sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of Asian “comfort women,” the Japanese government and military-sanctioned human experimentation program call maruta, and the “Rape of Nanking” where upwards of 300,000 Chinese civilians were tortured, murdered, and mutilated?  Perhaps if we all were better informed….  But more to the point, I think, things would be different if Japan, from the inside-out, was more ashamed of their decade of horrific war crimes, and if they outwardly acknowledge events of the 1930s and 1940s instead of constantly attempting to skirt the central issues, more and more poeple would all equate their barbarisms with those of Nazi Germany.  But what country wishes that upon themselves?

486px-Construction_sheet_of_the_Japanese_flag_no_text_svg

The national flag of Japan, officially called Nisshōki (日章旗, “sun-mark flag”), consists of a white rectangular flag with a centered large red disc representing the sun.  It is, however, more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, “circle of the sun”).  The flag has had a troubled past since the end of World War II, but in 1999, “The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem” was passed which designated the flag Hinomaru and national anthem Kimigayo as Japan’s official national symbols.  Although no earlier legislation had specified a national flag, the sun-disc flag had already become the de facto national flag of Japan for many decades.  But this is really not the flag in question.

800px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan_svg

Perhaps the most well-known variant of the Japanese flag is the sun disc with 16 red rays in a star formation, historically used by Japan’s military, but especially associated with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy of the first half of the 20th century.  The ensign, known in Japanese as the Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki (十六条旭日旗), was first adopted as the Japanese War flag in 1870, and remained in use until the end of World War in the Pacific.  This is the genesis of Japanese being referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

How can this connection ever be broken?

How can this connection ever be broken?

Use of the Hinomaru was severely restricted during the early years of the American occupation of Japan after World War II, but these were quickly relaxed.  The Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki, however, took much longer to be re-accepted.  After falling out of use and favor (for a whole slew of really good reasons), modified versions were none-the-less re-adopted in 1954 with the re-establishment of military defense forces in Japan.  It is now used as the war flag and naval ensign of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), respectively.

Flag_of_JSDF

The modified flag currently in use by the Japanese Self Defense (Ground) Forces

The naval ensign (modified) is also incorporated into many commercial products and advertisements throughout Japan.  However, as the flag was used by the Japanese in the conquest and occupation of much of East Asia during the war, it is considered offensive in South Korea and China where it remains forever connected with Japanese militarism, imperialism, and brutalities.

usa-z-battle-flags-of-confederate-states

This situation, in my opinion, is very similar to our (America’s) struggle with the Confederate battle flag, popularly referred to as the “Stars and Bars.”  Much like the situation in Japan, while the flag remains associated with aggression, repression, racism, slavery and militarism, it was not the national flag of the break-away Confederate States of America (CSA), referred to by North and South alike collectively as “the rebels.”

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

Although the Rebel Flag is often displayed in the Deep South as a “proud” emblem of Southern heritage, it is almost impossible to escape its deep association with and as a shameful reminder of slavery and segregation.  For many years some Southern states flew the Confederate battle flag along with the U.S. and state flags over their statehouses, while others incorporated the provocative emblem into the design of their state flags.  As is to be expected by all sides, the display of the Confederate battle flag remains a highly controversial and emotional topic, owing to charged disagreements over the nature of its intended – and resulting symbolism (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).  And we in American have largely banned official government-sanctioned use of the flag.

At one time Japan did dream of war....

At one time Japan did dream of war….

Germans also has faced their own flag-inspired demons.  In particular, Germany maintains a keenly watchful eye over the public use of Swastikas and other nationalistic emblems to help forge against any reemergence of a militaristic or overly nationalistic regime.  In general, at least in so far as appearances go, Germans seem to be much more regretful and weary of their past war crimes, and have been proactive in attempting to make right of their many wrongs.  The same can’t be said or seen about Japan.

These are real pictures from a real marriage.  Wow.

This is a real picture from a real marriage. Wow.

Why is it then, that here in the West, symbols or banners that relate back to Nazi Germany or the Confederate States of America are subjects of public debate and legal sanctions, while Japan’s use of their imperial, militaristic symbols go, not unchallenged, but without change.  As recently as the Beijing Olympics, Japan was warned not to stir fervor over (horrific) war crimes in China committed by Japan by using sun-rayed flags, but the practice was common and the Japanese government unapologetic.  In fact, the Japanese Prime Minister recently officially stated in 2013 the government’s position on use and display of the flag as “no problem”.  No one would ever allow the hoisting and waving of a Swastika at an international sporting event in Europe!

I guess it's possible to make even Nazis...loveable.

I guess it’s possible to make even Nazis…loveable.

If humanity is to truly abide with the lofty notion of human rights being universally inalienable, we – all of us – must be true to these utopia ideals.  While personally I can see past the historic and ill-conceived use of such symbols and can appreciate them as part of history and even heritage, it is unfair to the collective human race that we selectively remember war crimes and atrocities in an unbalanced West versus East fashion.

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But then again, the flag that was the symbol of slavery on the high seas for a very long time before the American Civil War was not the Confederate battle or national flag.  It was, sadly, often the Stars and Stripes of the United States.

confederate_flag_erased

Now where does that leave us???

What are The Odds (The Right Way)


“Success is simple.  Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” ~Arnold H. Glasow

“If the odds are a million to one against something occurring, chances are 50-50 it will” ~Unknown

“I’ll enter the same calculations using what we like to call ‘The Right Way’.” ~Fred Randall, Rocketman

What-Are-The-OddsSo the day finally arrives and our household goods are actually on-island and scheduled for delivery.  The movers are due over sometime in the morning, and since our front door is usually ajar for Cleo’s sake (our cat; it’s hard to open doors without a thumb), I hear the moving trucks arrive and it’s only 7:45!  This is going to be a GOOD, early start to the day.

I am called down to inspect the customs seals that are placed on the wooded crates which are they themselves sealed with nails and metal banding.  As I approach the trucks, the first thing I do is count the crates:  we should have six remaining (one, and only one was delivered on-time back in October).

There were eight on the truck.

Well,” I think to myself, “they must have another delivery this afternoon.  No worries!”  After all, the name scribbled on the crates was “KING.”

The movers are all busy undoing the crates; hammering nails out here, cutting metal bands there, prying and splintering wood wherever wood happens to be, and staging moving equipment in order to get the 6,000+ pounds we have been expecting for oh so long up safely and securely to our 5th floor condo.  I am handed the move paperwork government forms in all their finest regalia (as you might imagine), and the customs seal stickers and numbers on those forms are pointed out for me to verify.  I like these guys; they strictly follow standard operating procedures.  Except…

Houston, we have a problem.

They seem to be missing some "stuff," too....

They seem to be missing some “stuff,” too….

None of the seals on the paperwork match any of the seals physically on the crates.  Not even close.  I call the head-mover-guy over and tell him, with a nervous smile, “No matches….”

He is very confused.

He takes the paper work, and looks back and forth between the numerous shifted sheets and the crates a number of frantic times.  He points out the name on the wooded sides of the crates written sloppily in fat permanent black marker, almost like really bad, conservative graffiti.  “Yes, that’s my name….”  There was even a leading initial “J,” for Jody we all assumed, since the move is in her name and under her social security number (I was simply an authorized agent).  He goes back to his paperwork, while I at the same instant spy in the upper corners of the crates a letter-sized piece of paper…too far away to read, but most certainly containing…the small print.

We really shouldn't assume as much as we do....

We really shouldn’t assume as much as we do….

The devil is always in the details.

Turns out, on closer and more careful inspection, this particular shipment was for a “Joshua King, E7, Kadena Air Force Base.”

I was dumbfounded.  What Are the Odds – WATO???  I had an old Skipper from my flying days in the Navy who used the phrase to great effect all the time.  Meaning, no matter how remote the odds may be, if you play with chance enough, your number comes up.  For instance, we used to “cloud-chase,” where we would weave around and through the puffy clouds which are always around the aircraft carrier, relying on the “big-sky, little-airplane” theory of airspace deconfliction.  “WATO?” our skipper would ask, rhetorically of course, but the point was firm.

This is especially true when attempting to navigate an asteroid field....

This is especially true when attempting to navigate an asteroid field….  Or get your HHG to Japan.

chances-of-dyingBut seriously!  There was another inbound shipment to Okinawa (our little corner of the world which we currently occupy), which arrived at the same time, on the same ship, for someone in the military with the same name, and even same first initial.  It seemed rather unbelievable, and certainly incredible enough actually to make me rather incredulous!

Trying to contain my growing frustration and anger, I don’t even take my eyes off the paper-plasted crates when I call out rather loudly (and probably rudely I imagine), “This isn’t my stuff.”

More confusion abounds.  It’s bad enough already that there is a really arduous language barrier between us.  Think about it; throughout Europe and South America, you can pretty easily get by without knowing the language.  The written characters of the language are easily readable and perhaps even wholly recognizable, and there’s a basic, generalized understanding of pronunciation.  Worst case, you can simply match up words and phrases.  Besides, many people in these regions speak English rather well.

Okinawa 2013, Kwuirky Home, dryer control translationAlmost none of this holds true in Okinawa, and the same can be said for many if not most places in Asia, at least those outside of the urbanized areas, particularly where westerners travel, visit, or do business.  Some of the language’s characters here are so complex that it takes a great deal of study to match; you should’ve seen me try to switch on the heat here using our air conditioner remote controls – all in Japanese; hypothermia was setting in by the time I could claim victory!  I explain to the moving crew that my wife’s first name is “Jody,” not “Joshua,” and the realization of the mistake slowly – and finally sets in.

I made Jody call me "Boris" for a day after supplying her heat.

I made Jody call me “Boris” for a day after supplying her heat.

The head-cheese-mover-guy is immediately on the phone with higher headquarters.  I interrupt:  “YOU DO HAVE MY STUFF, RIGHT?”  I’ll tell you this; it was much more of a demand at that point than a question.  “Hai!” came the polite response…with a smile…that just didn’t seem quite right.

It may be a good course, but not a good course of action.

It may be a good course, but not a good course of action.

How much faith do you put in a simple, single word response after going through all of this!?!  Not much.  In the military doing the things that I did, part of becoming quite deft at tactical and strategic planning and execution is that “hope” is not a good course of action, and “faith” is not proactive approach to any situation.

Sometimes faithlessness is punishable.

Sometimes faithlessness is disturbingly punishable.

I am immediately on the phone with the moving company.  I am placed on-hold; no doubt they are probably calling the head-cheese-mover-guy standing right in front of me on his phone to the same place…and both are most likely getting a busy signal!  The very nice and polite English-speaking Okinawan woman at the mover’s office comes back on the line and says, with some measure of relief, “We have your things here; the movers will be back in one hour!”

Now that is hard to believe; remember the thoughts about hope and faith above….  An hour to drive back to the warehouse, unload the trucks (there were two of them), find the right crates, load the right crates back on the trucks, and then drive back to my condo?  Seemed unlikely to me.  I was in no mood to be patronized.

We experienced drama that can only be properly captured in a pop #1 hit.  Sung by a boy-band....

We experienced drama that can only be properly captured in a pop #1 hit. Sung by a boy-band….

Not trusting the system any longer (it is a government-procured and controlled process after all), I asked her rather flatly:  “How many crates do you have.”  “Six,” came the replay.  Good, that was the right – and correct answer.  “What is the first name on the paperwork?”  “Jody-san.”  Right again.  “Okay, one hour; really?”  “Hai!  One hour!!”  I wouldn’t bet on it.

Okinawa Dec 2013, Qwuirky Home, living area

Our Qwuirky Home, with our Goofy Goods

Our Qwuirky Home, with our Goofy Goods

And I would’ve lost.  In the end, the movers did return within an hour, and, perhaps, more incredibly, they returned with the right stuff (the efficiency and responsiveness of the Japanese service industry is the subject of a blog of its own).  The crates were unloaded, our things are here (that quality of the move will be discussed later), and the movers were still gone by about 1 pm, ultimately righting a major wrong in our world…

Okinawa Dec 2013, Qwuirky Home, dining area and computer workstation

…against it seemed, all odds.

What moving horror story do YOU have to share?

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Opportunity Knocks


They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” ~Henry Ford

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” ~Mark Twain

During our first week or two after arrival on Okinawa, Jody and I did a lot of rounding on the shops and concessions available to us on both Kadena Air Force Base and Marine Corps base Camp Foster, the two American-based shopping meccas.  Both locations offered a more normalized “BX” (Base Exchange) experience than any commercial area out on the economy, but also included a wide variety of Asian-based concessioners, both locally based and from throughout the region.  If one is alert and persistent enough, unquestionable treasures can be found and gotten in some of these shops.

During one of these shopping forays we happened onto an Asian furniture concession on Camp Foster.  The couple that was fronting the store were, I believe, from Korea.  The woman spoke passable English; her partner, an older gentleman, did not.  But his English was still much better than my Korean!  Their store was full of Asian-inspired furniture from China, Tibet and Korea, including some very unique and inspiring pieces.  As we were perusing through the shop, literally bloated wall-to-wall and eight feet high with fittings and fixtures of all types, shapes, and sizes, we spied something which immediately caught our collective and collectors’ eye.

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A genuinely exclusive piece.  At once quite old.  And easily assumed that it might just be quite rare.  It drew us in, and stole our imagination with its provocatively emotional keep-sake calls of matrimony past wanting to nurture present love.

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We were told it was a Korean wedding box, about 150-200 years old.  Not a box really, but a collection of nesting boxes all held secure in a wood and iron frame to make a portable yet efficient chest.  When placed together as intended, the trunk is carried by a large square wooden pole that would be placed through the trunk’s handle, and then placed on the shoulders of two or more bearers (depending on weight  I would assume).  The item is also painted with various colored shapes and symbols, and that is covered by a thick layer of lacquer.  Unfortunately, most of the painting’s more colorful elements have been lost to time and the elements, and as a result, the painted illustrations have darkened mostly beyond recognition.  And, in many places, the lacquer coating has cracked extensively and literally chipped off, taking the underlying paint with it in most areas where this has occurred.  The means and methods of construction utilized are really breath-taking: hand-worked iron plating and nail fasteners alongside carved lattice-work in the wooden handle and base.  Bracing the entire set are more forged iron pieces on the sides.  When taken in totality, the crate cries not just “ART,” but emotes a history that you can literally feel, and I insist you can almost hear the stories that are safely sealed in its very inanimate essence.

I was taken aback, stunned at the find, and almost sold on the spot.  But now the hard part:  how do you put a price on such an intimate historical keepsake, and how much would that price be?

opportunity-knocks-quotes

The original price was something like $5,500.  That had been marked down on the tag to I believe something on the order of $2,500.  There is little doubt that our Korean capitalists could tell we wanted this piece.  So, negotiations were in order, and I initiated by low-balling a price of $1,500.  They balked, as expected.

You see, we were still in our temporary lodging, and had no place to keep this chest.  It’s not that large, but we had no room.  We still did not know where we were going to live, and whether this element would “fit” in that place, both in style and in placement.  We were hemorrhaging cash at the time, having had to buy two cars and purchase insurance and titles (~$9,000), and knew we were going to have to put out at least $4,000 in initial housing costs (security & agency fees).  Plus, we just bought our own way out to Okinawa and had yet to even apply for reimbursement (~$2,500).  So, financially, and hell, even pragmatically, it didn’t make any sense to purchase this treasure.

But it was a piece of treasure.

We should have seized the opportunity.

We should have seized the opportunity.

Jody left the decision to me after talking through all of the pros and cons of purchasing.  I decided, silently and internally, that if the sales people would drop to my initial almost silly price of $1,500, we would walk away with this coffer and figure out all the rest latter.  How often would this type of opportunity present itself?  As the saying goes, opportunity only knocks once.  Answer the door.

In the end, they would “only” come down to $1,700, and even then only hesitantly after explaining at length that they couldn’t possibly drop the price anymore due to the nature of this gem:  handmade, one-of-a-kind, an antique, complete with what must surely be an emotionally vivid history – all things true, and which could not be adequately argued against.

So, we walked away, not really knowing if the piece was actually worth that kind of cost anyway…plus all the other reasons not to buy.  BUT, at dinner that evening, we began researching this idea online.  After Jody’s attempts failed to turn up anything significant, I took a stab.  I search for “wedding box pole handle asia antique,” and BINGO, there it was (see below):

yhst-40539389554149_2260_284464092Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier

This from the SilkRoadCollection.com website:

Item # RB1023X, Price:  $3,000.00

Approximate Age:  circa 1800, Origin:  Shanxi Province, China

Material:  Mixed Woods with Iron

Dimensions:  Width: 32.5″ (82.5cm), Depth:  20.5″ (52cm), Height: 40.5″ (103cm)

Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier:  A museum quality antique, with its original iron work and much of its original lacquer.  This Chinese antique wedding carrying box would have traditionally been used to carry a bridge’s dowry when moving to her new husband’s family home and/or to carry food to a wedding or other special event.  The square hole in the center of the handle is where the carrying pole would have been inserted.  The handle has pierced lattice-work carvings at each end.  The remaining rugged patina reveals red and black layers of lacquer.  Of special interest are the iron metal work, handles, flat work and bars used throughout the box and the brass nail heads.  Even the base is adhered to the box with metal rods and fasteners.  The four compartment areas of the box open at each end by shifting the compartment above in a different direction. The upper compartment has a lid. The lips of each compartment interlock by nesting into the bottom of the upper cabinet, securing the compartments in place. Today, this carrying box can be used as a side table by placing a glass top over the upper compartment’s lid; as well as for storage.

So, not only was the set genuine (although it was Chinese vice Korean), it also appear to be a *steal* at the price I negotiated!!  We were somewhat shocked:  there is nothing more expensive than a missed opportunity!  So, we elected to go back and purchase the chest right after dinner, suspecting that the vendor would already be closed for the evening.

Alas, they were closed.  But worse, the piece was completely wrapped in plastic.  Was it sold???  Could it have sold in just a matter of a couple of hours??  No problem; we’ll go back the next day and see, and snatch it up if it wasn’t.

We did go back.  Sometime just after noon the next day (Saturday).  And…

…and the store was EMPTY.

So too was waiting....

So too was waiting….

Seems there are a certain number of vendors that make the military rounds from base to base throughout Asia, and stay at each for only a couple of months.  That morning, they had literally loaded up their freight containers for shipping up to somewhere in Honshu.  We pleaded to get the trunk; there was simply no way to get it back out of the shipping container….  So, we left our brand new Japanese cell phone numbers with the owners, who thought they might be back in late October or sometime in November (it was late August at the time).  This did not make me feel better; the odds of that chest not selling at the asking price were slim over time, especially for someone else who did their proper online research and knew what they were looking at.  All it would take is a sentimental sap like me or Jody properly armed with some knowledge and a healthy checkbook or line of credit.  And, even if the chest made it back to Okinawa (say 20%), the odds of that woman hanging onto our number to phone in a sale were even more remote (say 5%).  Taken together (and for you mathletes, to get the total odds, those two individual probabilities must be multiplied together, making the product much smaller), the odds were excessively low.  Something akin to 1%.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

A missed opportunity.  And then regret sets in….  We pledged that we would not let it slip away again.

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a lot of things....

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a LOT of things….

Fast forward to mid-November.  I had, starting in late October, kept a keen eye out for this particular vendor’s return.  They never did take up residence, and when November was well underway, I thought, in the classic vernacular of Naval Aviation, “NO CHANCE PADDLES.”  On one excursion over to Camp Foster, I saw across the street from the Exchange complex a rather large furniture tent sale set up in a parking lot.  I didn’t bother going over since these types of parking-lot tent sales we had visited up until that point were all, well, rather pointless.  Jody even happened to mention the tent sale a couple of days later after her independent shopping journey; we were eagerly in the market for some bar-height furniture for our balconies (which we had found earlier in the year, but wanted too long in an eerie replay of this story…without a – spoiler alert – happy ending).

Quotation-Francisca-Olivia-chance-opportunity-life-rest-regrets-Meetville-Quotes-19619

So the following week or so, we decided to stop by the tent sale since we happen to be on Foster doing some shopping.  What could it hurt?  It seems there is always something that we need here in Okinawa.  I was expecting and prepared to be let letdown, but it became apparent that this was no Exchange furniture bizarre; rather, it was an Asian furniture vendor, and it appeared to have a lot of items similar to our coveted and missing vendor of earlier in the fall.  I found the man working the area, and he was not one of the sales people we had encountered previously.  I inquired about the couple we had spoken to, and to avoid his clearly broken English, he gave us the international symbol for “I dunno:”  the shoulder shrug….

We continued to walk through the maze of Asian delights, and around a far corner I froze:  could it be???  “Jody, come here!” I exclaimed!

She came up to me and stopped, both of us about 10 feet from the chest we could spy.  I could hear the circuitry firing in her head in time with my own:  could this be our chest?

Our Chest!

Our Chest!

We examined the container.  While we couldn’t exactly recall some of the details of our earlier encounter, there quickly became little doubt that this indeed was the trunk we had coveted…and lost.  And we both agreed, months prior, that IF the chest wound up back on-island, we would not miss the opportunity a second time.  I mimed for the salesman to come over….

Carved wood lattice work.

Carved wood lattice work.

“How much is this piece?” I inquired without even looking closely at it.  “That is $1,500,” he more than casually and quickly replied.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

“Are you kidding me,” I thought!  Not only did we “find” the chest again, it was being offered at the low-ball price that I initially used to start negotiations!  I looked at Jody in disbelief; she returned the expression.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

So, after some closer inspection to make sure that the parts were there and that there was no undue damage other than 200 years of physical wear, emotional tear and numerous international travels, we told him, in no uncertain terms, “SOLD.”

Nesting boxes with lid.

Nesting boxes with lid.

Ironically, when we went to pay and he actually examined closer the pricing of the chest, he realized his mistake with a smile, and said simply something to the effect that we got a very good deal on this particular transaction.

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance.  Or she just likes to photo-bomb....

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance. Or she just likes to photo-bomb….

Yes, we did.  But better yet, our regrets from a missed opportunity were all but erased, exchanged for the priceless joy of having a genuinely unique and evocative yet eloquent place to store all our wedding mementos.  The odds of opportunity knocking twice in this fashion are low (probably not astronomically, but close), but the connections here are unlikely and are reminiscent of an early blog where I covered equally unlikely associations (see Long Odds and Unlikely Connections).  The universe sometimes – maybe the majority of the time – generally unfolds pretty much how it should.

regret-chances-we-didnt-take

I have said, for years, that one of the very worst things in life is a missed opportunity.  And because of it, this darker facet of our shared human condition, we all suffer from some level of regret.  Oh, those people who claim “no regrets!” are exactly the type of people who say that to themselves to make themselves feel better about all the miss opportunities in their own lives….  In this particular case, we were lucky; opportunity came knocking twice after we failed to answer the door at the first calling, and regrets were not avoided but subverted.

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This story could have very well had an ending full of lament and regret.  And although we can all strive to limit such unfortunate occurrences in our lives, we all live, to some degree or another, with missed opportunities and the regrets which result.  What story do you have about a missed opportunity, or better yet, when has opportunity give you a second chance?

regret

And more importantly…ANSWER THE DOOR!

Quotation-Charles-Dickens-opportunity-regret-space-Meetville-Quotes-93636

Tattoo You? Absolutely.


The Price was WRONG
The Price was WRONG

“Outside of having kids, getting tattooed is one of the worst mistakes a person can make, yet somehow (much like having kids) millions of people do it every year.” ~Aviva Yael

“She said, ‘a tattoo is a badge of validation’.  But the truth of the matter is far more revealing.  It’s a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”  ~Jimmy Buffett, Beach House on the Moon

Do you have a tattoo?  If so, what’s the story behind your ink?  If you don’t have a tattoo, what might you consider getting emblazoned permanently on your skin?  I think many people, even most people ask themselves such questions silently and without witness, and although tattoos are more popular than ever, how many really go to the permanent extreme?  And, perhaps more interesting, why do people reach such a dramatically inked conclusion??

I was always captivated by this tattooing scene in "The Bounty"

I was always captivated by this tattooing scene in “The Bounty”

I am inked, and it’s one of my past Far East Flings.  And while the physical tat was implanted here in Okinawa in 2005, the genesis of my body-art goes back many years.  My ink is not for daily public consumption, generally speaking.  It is positioned so that it can be covered by a collared shirt, and a short-sleeve tee only hints at its presence on my upper back.  Back in 2005 when I was still on Active Duty, the Navy’s tattoo policy was referred to as the “25 percent rule,” which stated that no more than 25 percent of any limb or part of the body that does not show while in uniform could be tattooed.  Tattoos on those portions visible were required to be no larger than an open hand for lower arms (fingers together), and no larger than a closed fist for women on their legs that would show in a uniform skirt.  The neck has always been and is still off-limits in the Navy for tattooing….  Although I’m the last to follow the rules of “The Man,” at the time I was bound.  So, initially my tattoo was small, and relatively hidden on my upper back.

Modern rules have changed the Navy's love affair with ink

Modern rules have changed the Navy’s love affair with ink

I had been contemplating a tattoo for quite some time prior to 2004-2005, but the real dilemma in a tattoo is exactly what Jimmy Buffett captured in the opening quotes:  no matter how well thought through, and how well graphically and symbolically planned, a tattoo is a permanent symbol of something that is more likely than not temporal in nature.  Sure, we all like to think that certain core elements of our internal nature don’t change or meander with the wanderings of time.  And while that may be true for the most central elements of character (once we reached something like our mid-20s), for most everything else we are continually and constantly shaped and molded by our environment’s intersection and quite possibly conflict with our inner-selves.  It can’t be helped; we, in this shared human condition, lead both evolutionary and, at times, revolutionary lifestyles that are seldom, if at all, static.  Change is really one of the only constants through time.

So, what to choose?  This is the short, simple question that kept me at bay for literally years.  But my plans and schemes were evolving.  You see, starting in the late 1990’s, I began to change my opinions and views of man, mankind, and the nature of violence, armed conflict, and the devastation and suffering they cause for mere political aims.  Up until that point, I was more than happy to be on the “tip of the spear” flying attack aircraft off of aircraft carriers as a Bombardier-Navigator in the mighty A-6E Intruder.  Carry a nuke or two?  Sure!  Toss cluster munitions on troops in the open?  NP.  Drop a string of “dumb” 2,000 pound bombs across more than 600 feet of city streets to take out one simple telecommunications building in the heart of Basra, Iraq?  Well, if you say so.  Of course there are losers and winners in war, so might as well be on the aggressive, winning side….  Or so I thought.

Me and the Mighty All-Weather Attack Bomber, the A-6E Intruder (1991)

Me and the Mighty All-Weather Attack Bomber, the A-6E Intruder (1991)

That all changed rather abruptly in 1998.  Two things struck home, in relative quick succession, coupled no doubt by a universe unfolding pretty much how it should.  While training to go over to Italy in support of the Bosnia conflicts at the time, I went to see the then new movie Saving Private Ryan on the Army Ranger base where I was stationed.  Most people seeing the flick were in uniform, and were there at that particular base training for the exactly that as was portrayed on the silver screen.  Needless to say, after the movie and upon exiting the theater, there wasn’t a word spoken.  By anyone.  The only other time I’ve ever experienced anything like this mass silent contemplation was after seeing The Passion of Christ.  That’s pretty good company I would say.  Up until that point war movies had only really touched on the nerves that Ryan was able to make sing, and certainly it should give anyone pause in considering the glory of warfare.

Savagery cleanly and clearly portrayed

Savagery cleanly and clearly portrayed

And then off to Bosnia I went where I was the NATO Training Chief at the Combined Air Operations Cell (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy.  Now, this – being “forced” to live in Italy in a flat with a rental car and weekends off – was pretty much the best unplanned thing to happen to me in the military, besides maybe being “forced” to Okinawa the first time.  BUT, there is no free lunch; every good deal comes with a price, and no good deed goes unpunished.  And the price was seeing a truly devastated region of the world…from the ground, up close and personal…not from 20,000 feet in a relatively safe, sterile cockpit.  Sarajevo was an occupied city, and suffered a level of destruction reminiscent of the old WWII photos of any number of unnamed bombed-out German cities late in the war.  The only thing keeping the peace was literally armored personnel carriers (APCs) and combat troops stationed at every intersection.  There were no-go minefields everywhere signified with what appeared to be yellow crime-scene tape.  Most all the glass was gone – shot out and destroyed, cemeteries were vandalized and degraded, and many of the destroyed buildings were left as-is out of fear of bobby-traps inside.  The hotel were the allied forces headquarters was located was formerly a resort spa and hot springs; the massage rooms in the basement had been turned into torture chambers, and the locker rooms served as executioners’ hallows; there were bullet holes all over the walls to serve as silent witness to the brutality and genocide that had occurred there.  It was a truly shocking experience for me, something that began, finally, to open my eyes to the personal role that I was playing in the military-industrial complex that is, quite simply put, cold and numb to the human condition.

Bosnia devastation; might as well by 1944

Bosnia devastation; might as well by 1944

Then in the fall of 1999, I found myself on the ground in East Timor (Indonesia) as part of the military stabilization force sent there to stop a brutal civil war and more genocide.  Cities burned to the ground and massive amounts of people which the military refers to as “Internally Displaced Persons (IDP),” or, citizen refugees in their own country.  I was at the Dili Airfield when the first of the IDPs were returned to their home regions within East Timor.  The streams of people coming off the C-130 transport aircraft were overcome with emotion at being returned and reunited with their homeland; women would come up to me crying, hugging me, utterly and emoting what could only mean thanks, happiness, and sadness all at the same time.  Men would drop to their knees with their hands clasped in a profound combination of prayer and thanks.  And, in a scene out of any number of nameless WWII movies, I actually got to play the American GI who hands out MRE ration candies and food to all the children, who, without exception, and even though surely quite shell-shocked by the whole affair, responded as all kids do – with a great big if not shy smile!

Me in a flak vest at Dili Airport (1999)

Me in a flak vest at Dili Airport (1999)

These experiences forced me to generate a new view of the world, one where any type of violence waged en masse on a people, country or region has unimaginably horrible and long-lasting consequences.  There are always innocents who pay the price in any war.  And when the rich wage war, which they have always done and continue to do, no matter the country concerned, no matter the political party that beats the drums of war, and no matter how righteous and well-intentioned the military forces involved may be, it is always the poor that die, and everyone suffers.

I started to have way too many questions....

I started to have way too many questions….

This all had a profound effect on me as a warrior.  I had no qualms about supporting Kuwait in 1990-1994, where I deployed twice via aircraft carrier under the Bush 41 and then the Clinton Administrations.  I had no issue stepping in to help stop the wanton violence and undeniable genocide and ethnic cleansing being doled out throughout the former Yugoslavia.  But when it came to the “Global War on Terror (GWOT)” and the rhetoric of the Bush 43 Administration, I had grave misgivings about our country’s goals, exit strategies, let alone the reality of what really could be accomplished with yet another imperial western power waging a modern crusade against the Middle East.

We are responsible for 18%

We are responsible for 18%

Okay, maybe the GWOT shouldn’t be quite characterized to such an extreme, but I felt we were clearly on the wrong path, and that going back into Iraq in 2003 – Iraq has never been about any “war on terror” – would be perhaps the worst mistake our country would make for the 21st Century.  We’ll see.  I was beginning to have a harder and harder time in the military, and found myself questioning authority, our country’s leadership, and my own role in the whole quagmire.

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So, in 2004 I found myself quite troubled at deploying, on no-notice, to Iraq with the 31st MEU for an 8-month cruise aboard the USS Essex in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The only conclusion I could reach at the time was that I would do whatever it took to protect the lives of US servicemen and women; the political aims and military objectives quite honestly I could give a shit about.  The 31st MEU during that period from the fall of 2004 through the spring of 2005 lost over 50 marines (55 if memory serves me correctly), a price much too high in my mind for what was accomplished – or not – in Iraq.  In my opinion, one marine’s life wasn’t worth today’s outcomes in that part of the world.

We are all humans....

We are all humans….

This long story slowly led me to the conclusion and that we – mankind – are our own worst enemies.  It is not nature, not the environment, pollution, or global warming.  It is not about energy or other natural resources, nor about freedom or the type of government one country may have, or even about what supernatural power or being to which you may or may not pray.  It is in our very capacity to do harm, so quickly, so easily, and with so little thought about the unintended consequences and 2nd and 3rd order effects that always result in and when killing.  Individually we are all responsible for these aftereffects; however, it can verge on the obscene when a population either endorses or even encourages unbounded aggression.  This formulation and collusion of ideas, combined with my traumatic exposure to scenes of massive death and destruction in Banda Ache, Indonesia, after the tsunami of 2004 changed my very core.

Landscape of Thorns:  A timeless warning

Landscape of Thorns: A timeless warning

So, how to translate all these conflicted and dark feelings into permanent art, to be adorned on my body?  That was still difficult.  I knew the direction I wanted to take, but continued to toy graphically with how best to symbolize such feelings succinctly, yet in a way that would translate well onto my skin.  I remembered back to a Discover or National Geographic article from years prior an article that focused on a team of professionals from many varied walks of life who were given the responsibility for designing a warning “system” that would cap our proposed nuclear waste dumping sites in the mountains of the west (see an interesting blog here).  Oh, and it had to last a minimum of 10,000 years, and it could not be language-based or centric.  Think about it – that stuff stays dangerous for a mighty long time (some of it with a half-life of 220,000 years), and there’s no guarantee that language or our current notions of denoting “danger” would apply to the peoples – or even aliens – that could trespass that far into the future.  I can no longer recall the details of the article, but I remember an artist’s portrayal of a series of very long, sharp spires and blades made of the hardest metals and stone (spike fields and landscape of thorns), somewhat loosely based on the sharp points of the biohazard symbol in common use today.

spikes01

That was it!!  The biohazard symbol!  I could scale it to fit the Navy’s silly “25% rule,” and could position it so that it was high on my back, but hidden in uniform.  I could add a touch of color by shading the inside yellow, helping the bold, thick black border to standout against my skin (and through my already graying back-hair – yikes!).  So, I began toying with the graphical treatment in earnest.  BUT, still, there’s that idea of permanence on your body, and when are you “sure enough” to pull the trigger, umm, or go under the needles?

Biohazard-Symbol-Desktop-1024x576

I became sure once I discovered my wife cheating on me with Okinawa’s revolving buffet of boys, courtesy of Gate 2 street and Club Fujiyama’s (among other places).  But those details are for a different blog…which will be covered soon.  However, my ink already started to dry, philosophically speaking, as soon as I knew my marriage was liquefying down the drain.

The pain of a disintegrating 16 year marriage and 18 year relationship was almost too much for me on top of all the other emotional turmoil I was attempting to deal with at the time.  But this pain also fit perfectly into the motif of the now congealing tattoo conception swirling around in my head.  My biohazard idea of mankind being warned against itself could – and was for me – extended to include those wars, conflicts and smaller upheavals we all find almost omnipresent in our daily lives.  Like those suffering a marriage in catastrophic collapse, or perhaps for those that agonize as the product of a double-crossing, back-stabbing best friend or close coworker.  Sure, this all fits!  I become more and more sure of this direction.

But the coup de grace for me was this:  enduring the physical pain of the tattoo would be, for me, a form of corporeal catharsis, where I would forever and always associate the pain of that particular encounter with the emotional pain I was suffering at the time.  I would endure, and be better for it, by channeling much of my turmoil to be vanquished…or at least contained by this other form of suffering, a memory that is still vividly alive with me today as it was back in the fall of 2005.

More sophisticated needles were used in my case (thank goodness)

More sophisticated needles were used in my case (thank goodness)

After some finalizing of my design, and after carefully selecting a tattoo artist and shop that ended up being located almost directly across from the Camp Foster “Commissary Gate” (it is still there), and after scaling appropriately and checking placement of the stencil actually on my back, the artistic performance started.  I had my iPod, I had my earphones, and I cranked the angry white punk music I was so fond of at the time:  New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Chevelle, Disturbed, Finch, Evanescence, Hawthorne Heights, Matchbook Romance, Senses Fail and Nine Inch Nails to name but a few (Interestingly enough I still listen to angry white music, but now it’s more of the rock genre:  Metallica, Linkin Park, Korn, and The Offspring).  I recall jamming, listening to a playlist created especially for this event (how I wish I had a hardcopy to better remember it by!), and I reminisce suppressing the pain below, much as described by Chevelle’s Send the Pain Below:

But long before, having hurt,
I’d send the pain below,
I’d send the pain below.
Where I need it.
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So that is the story of my first ink, but it is not the final story.  Much like Buffet’s quote at the opening, the permanence of that ink reminder in 2005 reflected only what become a temporal phase in my life…although it took another five years for my psyche to drift far enough away from this viewpoint for me to again seek a change and new ink.  Unfortunately I do not have, handy at least, a clean and clear picture of that initial tattoo, and I don’t want to spoil an upcoming follow-blog posting about my most recent ink’d transition I undertook in 2011.

And that – and a pic (or two) of my ink, my friends, is for my next Tattoo You installment.