Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

“I Can’t Do It”

February 2, 2010

I’ve heard these words a lot recently. “I can’t do it.” “It’s too hard.” “Just tell me what to do.” Etc. This is either my son, a student who won’t read the directions on a worksheet, or a teenager who has not brought a writing utensil, binder, book to a reading class, or  can’t remember to complete or turn in their homework. The students won’t try unless it’s spelled out to them individually and repeated 100 times. Even, to my horror, from my own son. If everyone knew how hard I had to work to make him play with his portable Nintendo system, they’d wonder why I tried at all. It’s work

I asked my parents how much they had to remind me to do homework. They remembered that it was a lot harder to motivate me than I recall, coincidently. Apparently I refused to practice anything that I couldn’t do successfully the first time. If my little brother did better than I did at something, that was the end of it; I wouldn’t try again. One of the qualities that has made me successful in college, at my banking job, in the Army, and (hopefully) as a law student is that I wouldn’t give in and would continue to work until I’d exhausted every avenue of approach.

The frustrating part of all this? That I was the one who frustrated someone previously. Being a self-identified hypocrite is a tough, bitter, non-chewable pill to swallow. It’s like seeing a pill and assuming it has to be chewable. So you bite into it, but it cracks a tooth and there’s a horrible taste in your mouth that toothpaste can’t get rid of. That’s what this feels like.

The other part of this that I  just don’t understand is when did it all change? Most likely, there is no identifiable date. “Oh, look! April 5th, 2002 I suddenly kept all my appointments and buckled down at work!” More like a slow process of improvements gained through long hours at the grindstone of character.

Whatever. Typing this post is taking too long. I quit. I’mma gonna play some Wii now.

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Childish Lit Crit

November 21, 2009

“Fox in socks and Knox in box.” These are just a few of the words that I have had the pleasure of trying to stumble my numb tongue over tonight. I think Dr. Seuss’s use of the “Tweetle beetle bottled muddle puddle paddle battle” is the same last straw it was for Mr. Knox. But it was a lot of fun to read this book to my son tonight for more reasons than the pure oratory athleticism it requires to make it through the book in less than 15 minutes.

Childrens’ literature is written and illustrated by adults. I’ve read a fair share of it to my son, but so much of it, like fiction in general, is just not worth reading. The plots are so obvious that my four year old can tell me how it is going to end before we’ve finished the first reading, and they either aim too high or too low for children. These books should have a lasting appeal in case I don’t happen to read a book during the three month period in my child’s development that he would find it interesting. I think, (and not originally, might I add) that the books penned by the author with the incredibly famous pseudonym of Dr. Seuss stand up to this test.

My son, right now, can’t read. He’s four, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. He likes the rhyming and silliness of the situations that make up a Dr. Seuss book. (I use the doctor term because I think he’s earned it.) But I, the parent with an English Degree, enjoy the clever rhyming, unique metrical style, punning, and the artwork that was also done by the same person. People usually are blessed with a superior talent in life, where the good Dr. Seuss was able to illustrate as well as he wrote. These qualities of the books cause parents to smile as often as the child, and that is the true beauty behind the absurdity of books like “The Cat in the Hat comes Back.”

What are some other childrens’ books that will stand the test of time as well as Dr. Seuss? I am always looking for new recommendations and would like to hear yours.

End of Term of Service Speech

June 23, 2009

Below is the speech I gave today when I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal as I leave the military.

Thank you for the kind introduction, Sir.

I quickly wanted to thank a few people who aren’t here. I do this so their accomplishments can be recognized the next time you see them, even if I am gone.

SFC Davis and SFC Cooper taught me a lot about being a soldier, an NCO, and how to take care of soldiers, and when that means rewarding or when that means being tough. Between those two NCOs, I learned no one has any excuse not to do well on PT, soldier skills, or office work. SFC Davis is still teaching me things 4 years later, and I am still running on the track, in marathons, and forward in life, thanks to SFC Cooper.

SGM Tyler is the epitome of what a paralegal and NCO should be, which is why he’ll shortly be the Regimental CSM. I don’t have to expand any further on that. Thank you SGM.

To the officers I’ve worked for, I want to thank you for all being such friendly professionals. When you show consideration of your subordinates opinion by going so far as to explain any improvements or changes necessary, that shows a lot of respect and care for soldiers, and it was deeply appreciated. You’d have every right to just tell me “Go and get this done because I told you to,” but you take the time to explain it to me. You will be successful with leadership like that.

The civilians in the JAG Corps are so different than the civilians you see working elsewhere. This is a good thing. From Mr. Parker’s efficient but excitable manner, to Christine Hauser and Beatta Korz’s kindness in helping me 100s of times. Thank you.

I am leaving the military after 4 years, and at times it has been a hard career. I can think back to Iraq, trying to bend my head around regulations that were not written to accommodate the Arabic custom of “inshallah;” all those court-martials full of witnesses who were not going to arrange for their own travel; hundreds of Article 15s and chapter packets, hundreds of clients who wanted to know if their Power of Attorney would really let their spouse do anything. And that was just the desk work, not the countless formations, vehicle maintenance, and flutter kicks, how I especially hate flutter kicks. Do I even need to mention the omnipresent sand in Iraq?

In spite of all that, I’d sign up for the last four years again in a heartbeat. The OSJA of 1st AD did some amazing things in garrison and in Iraq, and there is a large part of me that wants to go with yall again. No one will ever take that deployment away from us, and the amazing things we did there, with the support of the rear detachment and our families. Unfortunately, that part of me, my heart, is held on to by my family who are going through a troubled time, and need me to assist them back in Texas.

But I will be jealous every time I read the good news coming out of Baghdad in 2010, knowing this office is working behind the scenes to make the world a much better place. The first time a teenager says something too smart in my high school class, I’ll wish for the days of compulsory respect and the power to prescribe pushups. Every time I see Old Glory flying, I’m going to miss making that salute as I stroll by, because it will remind me of the 4 years I spent serving in America’s Tank Division.

Thank you all for helping me grow these important 4 years of my life, making it so memorable, and being my trusted allies, mentors, and friends.
May God bless you all.

Even More Paris Pictures!

May 5, 2009

I went to Paris again, this time with coworkers. It was fun. I actually got inside the Louvre, which was a pleasure denied to me last time. I almost, more or less, made this trip to go to the Louvre, but I also got to see Paris at night from the top of the Eiffel Tower, which was amazing. The city must spend a fortune lighting up all the monuments and attractions so you can see them so well from the top. It was definitely worth the second trip up the elevator lines. You can see those pictures if you click the link on the left side of this blog.

The first time I went to the Louvre, we got there 15 minutes before it closed on a Tuesday, which was 5 PM that day. This time, we got there right at opening, and I spent the majority of the 4 hours I spent inside looking at sculptures and ancient artifacts. The logic behind this is that I can study paintings by looking at pictures of the paintings. Some small details, ones I don’t know enough about painting to appreciate, will be lost on me, I understand. But sculptures are something that are meant to be engaged in a 3D environment, walked around, and studied from different angles. I saw ancient works of Art like Venus de Milo, up to contemporary French pieces, and many masterpieces like the Borghese collection. It was wonderful.

Also, I got to see a lot of half naked marble women! I saw some less than decently clothed men too, but that’s the price I pay for being a student of the liberal arts. Jokes aside, it is suprising the attitude towards the representation of the genders. During times that are classically depicted as sexually repressive, when the “flash of ankle” was scandalous, you could go to the local manor and see a representation of Diana, Hercules, Aphrodite, Mars, Liberty, or a other classical subjects completely naked, or wearing a misplaced sheet.

The one thing I did notice is, hairy men were only in style during the 1960s and 1970s, because every single statue of a man, if he wasn’t wearing a cuirass or some other kind of armor, was hairless, except for his Grecian curls or Roman stubble. I suppose men waxing their chests has a history longer than most other cosmetic practices. Who knew there was the oldest profession in the world first, then hunter-gatherers second, artists third, and a close fourth was someone to give you a good bikini or chest wax?

They really did have it all back then, except for electricity.

Post Vacation Weekend

April 25, 2009

I don’t have a car. The weekend shuttle service the garrison used to provide for us was stopped. The German city bus comes 3 times during the middle of the day on Saturday, and once on Sunday. A Taxi costs 15 Euro to get into Wiesbaden, about 12 for Mainz. There is a bowling alley on post, a library, 4 places to eat, and a store with the selection of a very large convienence store. A bar is on post, and it is cheap as well, but everyone who drinks there is in the Army or a dependent, and probably outranks me. We have playgrounds, but you have to go to the schools to use them.

And people wonder why I’ve taken up running? After going to England and France, stir crazy does not begin to describe this.

Take today for example: I wake up. I edit pictures from my vacation. I play a few video games. I listen to podcasts or music. I eat lunch. I am about to go on a run. I read some of a book. I start and finish a magazine.  I go outside to just sit and enjoy the weather. It’s not dinner time yet. I hear a small cracking sound, which must be the edge of my sanity.

The upside? I do things like clean, and research for my future job. That’s nice.

Also, I post more pictures. You can click the link on the left, “Photos” where you will see more pictures I took on my vacation.

My New Barracksmates, the Podcasters

March 23, 2009

I got my very own Army barracks room. This is great. It’s the same size as the room I’m in now, but all mine. Seriously, I’ve had the best  in my long history of many roommates (maybe it’s me…) but to be honest, I’d still rather just be barracks mates with Me, Myself, and I.

I had some help moving some of the heavier things, but mostly it was 100 small trips of stuff I could carry, without trying to pack and repack since I moved, literally, just down the hall. This is the first “move” that didn’t involve stairs. That, in itself, was amazing.

This is all well, and nice, but you may be asking yourself, “Self, why does Mark think this warrants a blog post?” Well, Self, the reason is… the result is completely counter intuitive. Perhaps I got content, or took my great barracks mate for granted (you’re still swell, Chad), but it is so incredibly quiet in here. This is deafening silence: where you can hear nothing, and all you can think about is how there is no sound. Then I get a bit lonely, and start listening to Podcasts.

I hope you listen to podcasts too. It’s like radio that you download in chunks. That’s the best way I can describe it. I listen to ones about history, current technology, video games, books, philosophy, several NPR shows (only the entertaining ones, no news), sermons from churches I used to go to, and other things too niche to describe fully here. Most podcasts have more than one person, since people are social beings and improv is easier with other people to bounce ideas off of. Even with just single host podcasts, it makes it feel like there is another person in the room and a conversation is going on. Granted, the conversation is one sided, but that just reminds me of being a teenager and talking to my dad. (Still love your lectures at 26, Dad.)

What did people do before radio to fill the silence? Did we have such great thinkers in “ancient” times because they had no one to converse with but their own thoughts? Is that one of the reasons for the fall in modern religious attendance, since the need to feel connected and personable is easily replaced with 1’s and 0’s off the Internet now?  Or are there people who really do enjoy the solace and solitude of silence, regardless of how they fill their head?

I think that may be interesting.

WebCams

March 15, 2009

I consider myself pretty technically proficient. I’m no savant, nor is my mastery gained through some dedicated program of study and research. My knowledge is practical and learned through application. This makes my current situation even more frustrating, because the on the spot troubleshooting skills and forum hunting that has served me so well in the past has completely stumped me on getting a webcam working. Is it a crime to want the people I skype or instant message with to see me? It’s narcissistic, probably, but not a crime.

I know it is a crime to pay for tech support… well, at least it’s embarrasing for me, which is the same thing. When your masculinity is measured not by your sports trivia or knowledge of cars, you better be darn good at whatever else abilities you have, especially since helping other people with technology is my niche.

I had an old webcam. Several years old. According to Logitech, it’s still supported, and it worked on my old computer, but this new desktop I built with Vista is ornery when it comes to anything more than a year old. It was a Logitech Quickcam IM. I’d lost the stand for it, and the clip for the monitor, so it sat on a improvised stand that involved duct tape and a Wii stand I don’t use. It worked.

Until a month ago, that is. So the final answer? I bought a new one. The QuickCam Communicate MP. It has a microphone in it and a makes a much better picture. Was I giving in? No, I didn’t count this as a defeat. Instead, it’s like I escalated the Cold War Arms race, and I’m just keeping up with Vista.  The right answer was to upgrade in the first place.

I’m sure there’s some greater moral about patience, stubborness, not placing my worth in my reputation, and the law of diminishing returns, but I’ll worry about that later. For now, I’m making funny faces and trying to catch myself looking at the camera.

Boo!

Summer Welfare

July 20, 2008

I’m not usually one to complain, but please, indulge me a bit. It will sound like it for a paragraph, but this is not complaining.

Do you know how hot is gets here? Let me explain something to you. I have to shave every day. Since I have a roommate who works nights, I take my shaving stuff to the bathroom which is about 40 yards away in a separate little building. I brush my teeth, floss when I remember, shower, shave, and then walk back to the CHU, or my Call-that-a-Housing-Unit? On the way there, I feel a sensation akin to being baked. My pores on my face are open after having to shave, and the chin strap of my helmet, the collar of my ACUs, or anything else just seems to irritate it that much more. The sweat drips and stings quickly because the average temperature is in the 80s at night, and over 120 during the day. In the south of Iraq, it is even hotter. This is about as much as I can complain about this place.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I have it easy. Kirk, my brother, is in Afghanistan and has it a lot worse than I do. He bivouacs. The guys who were here in the invasion of 2003: they had tents if they were lucky, used holes in the ground as toilets, and used their canteens and water to shave. I’ve only ever had to do that for a week at the longest, and there were still porta-johns since it was training. I am extremely lucky. Even the war in 2003 was leagues better than what troops went through in Vietnam, either World War, or anything before. We’ve gotten to a point in modern warfare where accidents almost kill more soldiers than combat, which is a huge improvement over the Civil War era where hygiene and disease killed almost as many soldiers than the insane point blank rifle exchanges and charges.

So why do I even bother to mention this? Because I think some soldiers who are here are ungrateful. Soldiers of other current or earlier wars would love to only have the weather to complain about. And their attitudes towards other people’s gratitude is a little sickening.

Example: for some reason, despite not having it that bad, and having instructed my family members to just send me books or a computer game every once in a while, some very nice and well meaning people send us huge boxes of girl scout cookies. So, being an NCO, one my two principle duties is to take care of soldiers. A lot of soldiers come off of convoys, having come in from little rinky-dink bases, just to get help with their divorce, a power of attorney, find out information about how to become a citizen, and a lot of other things they don’t have internet or legal support for. I give them a couple boxes of cookies, make sure they have cold water, and pass out Gatorade packets to mix with the water if they need it.

Repeatedly, I have other people come into my office where I have computers and air conditioning, and a gym attached to the building. (I might as well be living in one of Saddam’s palaces.) These people who are on post come from similar facilities, where they have a hard structure with AC, plumbing, amenities, etc. But they ask for these cookies, as if the PX doesn’t sell 15 kinds of potato chips and 20 different kinds of cookies. Some of them come by multiple times just to get more cookies, and don’t even need legal assistance! I have no problem giving them water, because its hot and people never drink enough water, but do they really need these girl scout cookies? One or two cookies? Sure, and have a nice day. One or two boxes? Please. The dining facility here has a dessert bar. Do not ask for these cookies I have reserved for the troops who actually live in harsh conditions.

This kind of attitude, where individuals think “I must take everything offered to me, and try to take anything that looks available” completely boggles my mind. Some people would call this a “Welfare Mentality” but I think its more selfishness. If I lived in Sweden, or Germany, or Canada even, and was charged taxes to benefit from the universal health care, pension programs, or handouts, then that would just be the benefits of living in that kind of society. But I don’t. Even though the Army has 50 different programs to help me out, I’d rather help myself the majority of the time. I get things I need, and if I can’t get it, I’ll ask if it’s readily available.

People are under the misconception that things are so bad here in Iraq, and for a lot of soldiers, it is pretty nice. Just like with any charity, when you give, you need to take the time to make sure that your giving is received responsibly and actually used in the method you intended. So, if I get sent anything, I might have the odd Rice Krispy Treat, or a couple cookies, but I will give out the rest to these soldiers who are out and about in Iraq, and have it rough. Rewards should be for the deserving, not for the asking.

Games As Art

April 25, 2008

Anyone who reads this knows some stuff about me. They probably know that I have a degree in English Literature, have written multiple stories and lots of poems, like to sketch and doodle for fun, have a wide variety of musical tastes (except country. Everyone has limits), attend museums, love the cinema as long as people are quiet, had artistic friends who let me participate in their projects, and consider myself a well rounded individual when it comes to the arts. One of the few things I am proud of is that I know a little about most things, and those  I don’t know anything about, I can learn.

I also have been listening to a bunch of podcasts, which are downloadable radio programs, about gaming. Not gambling, board or word games, but video games. Something that comes up repeatedly is whether these games should be treated with the same respect in the artistic community as movies, literature, music, etc. I think they should.

Of course, this whole discussion boils down to what people identify as art, and some people have definitions even outside my own, like Yoko Ono and her “performance” or “experiential” pieces. At the heart of it, as I see art as “expression given form.” Most people are familiar with the narrative that books, movies, and even music uses to phrase their expressions, and no one can discount the telling images found in photography, sculpture and painting mean something, but many people are hesitant to classify games as art because most people are not used to interacting with art.

The quality and actual content of the expression is trivial, if we are to look to a governmental definition of art. Pornography has long enjoyed the protection of the first amendment, as has Pulitzer prize winning stories from journalists. The formulaic summer blockbuster that involves explosions and gun play is as much art as the tear jerking journey of a woman’s passage into adulthood told in countless books. One person might not like one expression as much as the other, but that is entirely subjective.

And games? Does something change because people interact with them? Most statues were meant to be seen in multiple angles, and music performed live is very different from listening to the CD. Caricatures, improvisational comedy, and opportunistic photo shots all display an element of immediacy and interaction with the subject matter.

On the other side, there are enough controlling factors in a game where you can call it art. Only the assets put into the game are able to be experienced by the gamer, and there are classical elements of previous art forms such as narrative, music, visual arts, voice acting, and architecture which blend together to make a whole. Having an Opera with out the music, the singing, the actors, or in the case of Phantom Of the Opera, the audience, would subtract from the piece in it’s entirety.

Here are some games I would reference for making a stronger argument than others. For a narrative, the  Role Playing Games Neverwinter Nights 2 and Planescape each clock in at over 600,000 words each, and contain stories that personally made me question aspects of my life, and introspection. Half-Life 2 and Bioshock show how narrative and immersion can be blended to a point where you begin to evaluate the consequences of your actions, and see things from another perspective. 10 million people play World of Warcraft and have appreciated the amazing scenery and vistas that other humans have created for their enjoyment. Running across the Barrens and looking across the plains, delving through the Wailing Caverns, or standing in the lush Ashenvale forest makes me wish some of these locations were real.

I know some family members who are older than other read this blog, and I know I have friends who, despite being the same age as I am, don’t understand some of my enthusiasm for playing video games. That is ok. I never did understand my parents’ penchant for gardening, but I know the result was a beautiful back yard that I could appreciate on a nice day (after I helped dig the pond, the bog garden, build the flower boxes, mow the darn thing every week, etc). I just hope that one day those people who have not had the same opportunities I had, can acknowledge the potential for games to be as much a work of art as a painting, poem, or movie, even if they don’t enjoy them personally.

New Year’s Start

January 11, 2008

It is now 2008, and I am finally in the same year that I will redeploy in. This is amazing, and a huge morale booster. For 3 months, all I could think was that I still have another year here, and now I am within that mark. Unless, of course, my request to volunteer and extend here gets approved, but first I would have to submit it. Perhaps you think I’m crazy for mentioning it, but follow me on this thought process.

I am in Iraq, thousands of miles from my family, forced to share a room with a roommate, wearing a uniform every day, working long hours, and getting paid double what I would in garrison. I can’t drink, and get one day off a week, which might go away during a big operation and is only a priveledge, not a guarantee.

When I redeploy, I will be thousands of miles away from my family, forced to share a barracks room with a roommate, wear a uniform almost every day, work uncertain hours, and get paid almost half what I get paid here in theater. I can drink, but shouldn’t, and get two days off a week usually.

I am not blind or stupid. Well, I’m not blind at least, so I see the differences in those paragraphs as much as you do. Sure I will be in safe, green Germany for 7 months and have the opportunity to travel, but I don’t want to travel alone. I’m a very social person, despite reading and video games being my choice ways of spending my leisure time.

Here? The main thing is I don’t get to see my family. I would be able to call and chat online a bit more often in Germany, but for a little safety and a little German culture, I would be taking a pay hit of almost $1,500 a month. Plus, I spend a lot of that while I’m buying groceries, eating at the DFAC, going out with friends, buying video games and bus tickets, traveling will be expensive if I do any, and, if you hadn’t heard, the Euro is a lot stronger than the dollar right now. Listing it that way, Germany doesn’t sound too much more appealing.

Of course, since I have the luxury of almost another year to figure this out (see how nice that is? Almost a year, not more than!), I can enlist your aid and ask for you to send me your own thoughts at my email address. Please send me an email, and I hope to talk to you again soon. Until next week…

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