Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cause of Death: Knocked Out By the Hero


Much to the chagrin of many people, I think too much. It happens all the time. Almost unconsciously. For some strange reason, whenever anything happens I can't just relax and let it go without having an opinion or attempting to fit whatever it is in my personal schema.

This includes movies. Even those that come with a disclaimer that "plot is sacrificed for the sake of explosions, porn, or kick-ass kung fu". Yup, even those I do too much thinking about.

Needless to say, an odd thought entered my cerebellum this weekend as I watched Star Wars: Episode III.

Did the Empire have a Casualty Notification process? How did they convey the news of the deaths of Imperial Officers and troops to the family they came from?

(I know most Stormtroopers were clones, at least through the Clone Wars Era. They didn't really have families, unless the Empire sent all the notices to Boba Fett, as he was their only next of kin. But the officers and other staff members had to have families. I don't think they were clones.)

I can't fathom the scope of the job of the Imperial Casualty Notification Office. Especially after the destruction of each of the Death Stars.

Here is how I think an Imperial death notice written after the Death Star explosion may have read:

"Dear Sir or Maam, 
Perhaps you heard, the Galactic Empire recent suffered a grave loss at the hands of rebel scum. Your son, (insert officer's name), was killed when these rogues destroyed our bastion of security, the Death Star. He, along with 31,622,963 fellow Imperial military members, lost their lives in the service our beloved Emperor.
In these sad times, be assured your loss is our loss. Your son was a valued member of our armed forces and the Emperor and Lord Vader have vowed to find and punish those responsible for his death. They will join us or be destroyed. 
Sincerely,
Galactic Empire Secretary of War/Defense"

(By the way, on the subject of remembering those who perished in the Death Star explosion, check out this hilarious College Humor.com video of Stormtroopers reminiscing.)

Of course, the idea of death notices should not be limited to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. What about the scores of other goons, henchmen, minions, and lackeys who were beaten, pummeled, or generally defeated at the hands of heroes? Who informed their loved ones? Did they have loved ones?

Take for example this scene from Bruce Lee's classic Enter The Dragon.



By my count, Bruce Lee knocked out 49 thugs in this 4 minute clip. Some just received a kick to the head, while others were flipped through glass, tossed into water, mauled by prisoners, or had their necks broken. It is, without a doubt, a cornucopia of kung-fu casualty creation.

But again I wonder, were the loved ones of these baddies informed of their unfortunate demise? Whose responsibility was it to write the families of these men and let them know their son, brother, husband, lover wouldn't be home for any more Thanksgivings, Christmases, or any other holidays? For whatever reason, I imagine a stereotypical middle-aged woman in a secretary role slaving over a typewriter filling out form after form after form and then getting them signed and put in the mail as soon as possible.

I wonder what she would put as the cause of death. Knocked out by hero?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Soldier and the Citizen



When went on active duty in August 1995, I was told the Army was “different” than it used to be. Career NCOs preached that the military wasn’t as “tough” and that it was getting “sensitive”. I heard rumors of recruits using “stress cards” to stop drill sergeants from yelling at them. There were complaints that women had to do less, had easier jobs, and should be held up to the same standards across the board, including physical fitness.

I never understood any of it. I have always subscribed to the notion that the military was a reflection of society and should even be more forward on social causes than the general populace, not less, whether in the areas of sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Recently, I’ve read several articles by authors who feel the military system is changing too much. Articles like Philip Ewing’s October 2011 piece “It’s No Longer Our Military, It Hasn’t Been For Years” and Robert D. Kaplan's 2007 piece “On Forgetting the Obvious” speak about a changing in attitude towards the US military and how that attitude is slowly permeating our fighting forces, and how this nonchalant attitude towards national security could render the military less effective than in years past. Both authors claim those in the service understand their mission more than the general population of the United States and therefore the American citizenry should be forced to do more, including possibly drafting citizens (or maybe non-citizens) into the military.

But these arguments are flimsy at best, false propaganda for the military-industrial complex at worst. They are the same arguments people used to keep African-Americans in separate units, keep openly gay Americans out of the military, and continue to keep women from combat arms positions. The bottom line is that these arguments do not reflect the reality of today’s American culture. They do not reflect a global world view in which cultures are connecting and merging more than ever before. Yes, there are cultural hotspots, both in America and across the world, but they are growing smaller and we are learning how to deal with them better with every passing day.

This growth in multi-culturalism has created a new and different American identity – one not based on nationalism or even civic pride, but based on smaller communities of brands, industries, groups, sports teams, or even forms of entertainment. I would not be surprised if Mac, iPhone, iPod, and iPad users rate their loyalty to Apple higher than they do to America. For many, this would be an unspeakable wrong, but if it is true, it is the reality we live in.

Whereas Kaplan bases his idea on theory (making it difficult to factually counter), Ewing tries to use selected statistics to promote his argument. He cites Robert Burns’ recent article on military member’s views on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as reason for a civil-military disconnect. Burns discusses a Pew Research Center study claiming military members believe the wars are worth fighting more so than civilians. Ewing states this as a reason the American public doesn’t “get” the military’s mission. However, this logic is put to the test by another Pew Research Center statistic that says military members on the front lines believe the war is worth fighting more than those who haven’t seen combat.

So the closer people are to something and the more they put their time and effort into it, the more they believe in it? That has nothing to do with politics, the military, or war. That’s human nature. There are automobile commercials that hinge on that very premise.

There is no doubt in my mind a non-volunteer army would not work – forcing people to fit into the American military culture would be resisted. It was resisted in the 1960s and would be even more resisted today. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. How can elected leaders force those who voted for them to die for them? Lawmakers don’t force people to vote or participate in the political process, why force them to be involved in the military process? Just like voting results are their decision, if the majority of the American people want to be under Chinese, Russian, or even Sharia rule, that is also their decision. That’s the true definition of democracy. If a minority moves from another land, becomes a majority, and enacts their own laws and rules, then that is the natural evolution of the laws of the area. The Native Americans can attest to that. Maybe the American general populace of Ewing and Kaplan will react only after such rules have been enacted. But again, if they do so, that’s their decision.

In my experience and what I have told prospective recruits for years, is that you have to want to be part of the military lifestyle. Especially in today’s American culture where we promote individuality and the celebration of differences, assimilating into the military way of life is not for everyone. The strict rigidness of the military is so different from the business world or civilian life. For those used to an artesian perspective, the military does not promote a sense of creativity. For those used to a business perspective, the military lacks adaptability as there is no “competition” and the inability to expressively define freedom creates an ambiguous end-product people with a business mind are not familiar with. One-size-fits-all might fit the military, but we cannot expect it to fit a majority of Americans unless they are willing to voluntarily put their individuality aside.

Ewing and Kaplan also claim the general public has lost touch with the military. If we want to incorporate military members into the greater society in America, we need to remove the social isolationism of the military, a phenomenon that has been growing since the end of the Civil War and the emphasis away from militias and on a national force. There are a few steps we can take besides forcing citizens into the military.

First, we can remove base housing in America. Make military members our neighbors. Let them talk about their jobs at our BBQ and at kids’ soccer games. This is will not only educate non-military citizens about the military, but also move the sense of community from the base to the neighborhood, where neighbors would be more likely to assist the wife or husband of a deployed neighbor before a unit-mate who is left behind.

Second, we can remove base/post exchanges and other life support facilities. I understand why those facilities are essential overseas. They provide a sense of comfort and security. But in America, they are a hindrance to the society understanding the jobs and functions performed on a military base. Let the troops shop at Wal-Mart, which often times even has greater discounts than the PX/BX.

In a perfect world, the actions of a military should reflect the desires of a populace. The people vote for politicians who represent them. A part of that citizenship decides to join the military to protect the citizenship. The politicians decide, and in some cases vote, to send the military to war. If the people disagree, they can vote out the politicians and vote in people who will end the conflicts.

That is why in a way, I tend towards supporting the idea of removing the military’s ability to vote. The military should not be able to vote on their own future. They are a tool of the citizenry.

Additionally, the over-classification of the military adds to disconnect. Not enough people file Freedom of Information Act requests for the masses to know exactly what goes on with the military they financially support. Of course, there are classified special operations and intelligence actions that might jeopardize national security, but how about unclassified operations? How about opening the books on who does what and how they do it and make it easily available? How about ride-alongs and things that would get kids interested? That’s a public affairs issue. The military needs to get their message out better. Don’t rely on the media. The military needs to create its own perception. Encourage soldier blogs, tweets, and endorsements.

It is not the public’s fault the military is changing. That is the natural evolution of societies. If Americans want to abandon the traditional pro-American cause as the Russian people abandoned the Czar in World War I, that is their choice. Grasping at straws and suggesting those in the military, or those with military affiliations or backgrounds, know best in regards to how the military should be socially constructed is pretentious, elitist, and against all our citizen soldiers should stand for.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda



A few weeks ago at Barnes and Nobles on a block far, far away, I saw a book called The Strange Case of Origami Yoda on the “Interesting Books for Halloween” shelf. As a Star Wars fan since a long, long time ago and a fan of origami since the fourth grade, this book piqued my interest. Admittedly, it is a book written for kids, but that didn’t stop me from reading the back cover and eventually buying it. That's what happens when on the front cover paper Yoda is.

Written by Virginia writer Tom Angleberger, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is an investigation by a 6th grader named Tommy into an unusual classmate named Dwight. According to Tommy, Dwight is a weirdo. He plays with his food, says random things, and wears the same clothes for weeks on end. He is not ashamed of his weirdness and when other kids point out how unusual he is, he turns it up to another level.

While other kids in 6th grade are all about who is “cool”, who is a “loser”, and who is “weird”, Dwight embraces his role as outsider.

Then one day, Dwight shows up with an awkwardly-made green origami Yoda on his finger. He claims Origami Yoda knows all and can answer any question. Assisted by several other classmates, including the pessimistic Harvey, Tommy cites several examples of Yoda guides the kids through embarrassing moments, movie reviews, and most importantly, their relationships with members of the opposite sex. For many of the boys, Yoda’s advice is key to avoiding looking like a fool in front of the girls they like.

Throughout the book, Origami Yoda helps in more ways the kids realize. He helps them with their confidence, helps them not to panic, and helps them to not be scared of the unknown. Even if that unknown is the feelings of the cutest girl in class. He also helps them understand the weird kid named Dwight.

Although he doesn’t make them Jedi like the real Yoda did, Origami Yoda does make the kids better people.  And that’s what’s most important in this very likeable book for kids and Star Wars fans of all ages.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book review: Ivy League Stripper by Heidi Mattson



One of the biggest lessons I have learned in 2011 and since I have been laid off of two jobs is that people have to do what people have to do to survive. Some people can sit on their laurels, confident that they will have a job and money coming in. That’s not to say they are completely secure, but they at least don’t have to worry about how they will pay their bills.

In Ivy League Stripper, Heidi Mattson faces the unfortunate consequence of being accepted to a premier college and not being able to pay the bills for it. Like others in the ranks of the unemployed, broke, or despondent, she is forced to hustle. Like many college students, she initially hustles at a school job and a restaurant, but when those jobs don’t come close to paying her enough for her education, she takes a bold step – she works at a topless dance club.

At first Mattson faces her own preconceptions of working at a strip club. Taking the role of a “foxy boxer”, she first works in a mock-athletic fighting entertainment capacity.  Her description of the job and how her and her co-workers “fought” each other to entertain the crowd reminded me a lot of pro wrestling. Although Mattson gets her share of bumps and bruises, she learns how to “sell” the moves and put on a show for the mostly male crowd.

While “foxy boxing” makes Mattson a few bucks in her quest to pay off her college loans and tuition, she soon moves from the ring to the pole and becomes a full-fledged topless dancer. Here she makes much more money and learns the ins-and-outs of the adult dancing profession while still, however, taking the approach of a distant observer. She writes about other strippers and their lifestyles and their quest for more money, to include capitalizing on the male obsession with huge breasts. She writes about some of the shade characters who populate her club on the regular, from mafia wise-guys to depressed cops to socially awkward romantics.

But Mattson’s biggest lesson doesn’t come from the stage, it comes from her heart. While doing what she has to do to pay for her education, she realizes that she is living a life her family, particularly her mother, might not understand. While she is rationalizing her occupation as a money-making decision, she fails to see the sociological impact her dancing has on her small-town, ultra-conservative family. By the end of the book, she is forced to face her family and their preconceptions of her. She has to prove to them that the stereotypes of her profession do not define her and that besides being more street-wise and aware of the shady characters of the strip club industry, she is still the same person and still has the same values her parents strove to instill in her.

By the end of the book, Mattson delves into the conflict she has with seizing her sexuality in a culture that worships her in private but is afraid of her in public. While men enjoy her powerful image on the stage, she feels seizing that same confidence and control (without the handcuffs and feather boas, of course) is looked down upon outside of the club. While women are increasingly more well-received for their brains and intellect, they are discouraged for using their God-given gifts of beauty to their advantage. Meanwhile, being a professional wrestler and selling a violent fantasy is not only acceptable, but glorified.

Mattson is a strong, intelligent woman who also happens to be beautiful. In order to accomplish her dreams, make money, and succeed at the capitalistic game we call the American Dream, she uses all of her strengths to her advantage with no shame. For that, she should be acknowledged as a role model.

I really enjoyed Ivy League Stripper. I enjoyed reading about Mattson’s self-discovery and hustle. It was very eye-opening, especially considering Tampa is one of the premier strip club cities in the US. I wonder how many of the local girls who use their bodies to make money have a similar story?