2 November 2001
How cool! SisterBetty.org was noted by the Railway
Preservation News. I'm honored!
If you enjoy my tails of train journeys, I have
another one in the works and I should have it posted by Monday. (Update:
and here it is.)
5 November 2001
From time to time I look at the server logs for
my website. I had to laugh when I saw the recent search engine queries
that brought people here:
To the best of my recollection, I've never written
about Hanoi hookers, spy sisters or automatic trikes. Perhaps my
memory fails me.
why fantasy tales are better than reality
- spy sister
There is some measure of comfort in seeing how
ineffective search engines really are - at least I can hope that when people
search on "anthrax" they'll end up on a site about crocheting or lawn bowling.
12 November 2001
“The ability to identify with a particular
place or group is fundamental to the development of a sense of identity.”
- Michael Curry, Living in a Visible World.
What does it mean to be part of a place?
We place tremendous meaning on the places people
are from, merely mentioning them carries great weight in conversation.
My three older brothers and I were visiting my mother’s church in Bakersfield,
California two years ago. After the service, my mother introduced
her children to some of her friends. First my oldest brother, then
the next, then the next. She hesitated when introducing me and then
said: “This is my son, from San Francisco.” And
all the ladies nodded in grave understanding. In that moment, my
place defined who I was.
Whether from Los Angeles or Oklahoma, New York
or Florida, London or Paris, the places we come from form part of our identity,
if not for ourselves, then for those around us.
But what does it mean to be part of a place?
Does simply residing in a location make us part of it? Does the act
of living somewhere for some undetermined period of time somehow absorb
us into that locale? Or does being part of a place take a conscious
effort, some expenditure of energy, by which we integrate ourselves into
the fabric of the place we occupy?
When I first moved to San Francisco, I took up
residence in the neighborhood known as the Castro. While I moved
several times, I always stayed close to the center of the place.
I walked to the same gym, shopped in the same stores, came to know the
look and the face of things and came to be known. I felt attached,
as if part of me was sending the first tentative roots into the hard concrete,
like a tree perched on a cliff, somehow holding on with fingers finding
tiny cracks in the rock wall. As the city changed in a whirlwind
of money and technology, I stayed and felt part of that place.
Then, after four years, I lost the ability to
stay there. Evicted from my apartment to make room for someone able
to pay more, I found myself living in the Tenderloin, which despite years
of economic boom, remained the urinal of the city. I found myself
walking quickly from my parking space to my apartment, my apartment to
the gym, my gym to my parking space, and no where else. I escaped
the place whenever I could and avoided the topic of where I lived in conversations.
During my day, I noticed many others, like myself, who tried to avoid the
human feces on the sidewalk as we fled the neighborhood for jobs elsewhere.
Certainly our actions influenced the place, so had we become part of it,
or just visitors on an extended visa?
Perhaps it’s important to note the difference
between the neighborhoods extends beyond just the place and to the groups
of people who fill them. The Castro, once largely an Irish, working
class neighborhood, became largely a gay, middle class neighborhood in
the 1970’s. The Tenderloin, once a Jewish enclave, is now a lower-income,
immigrant neighborhood. While I felt part of the group in the first,
while I feel compassion for the plight of the second, I don’t feel included.
So it’s reasonable to say that place extends
beyond mere geographical location and more accurately describes the groups
of people who occupy those locations.
What happens when we associate neither with the
place or the group occupying the place? What makes us part of that
place? What happens if we are unable to connect, do we float above
the place, like ships on the surface of the sea, without anchor to anything
below? And if we feel no connection to place, then how do we conduct
ourselves in relation to the people who form the community of that place?
If a tree attempts to grow upward without sufficient
root structure, then it will fall. Is the same true of our attempts
to grow as human beings without sufficient connection to place in all of
its forms? Can we reach upward toward the divine without being rooted
A friend of mine, commenting on the many places
he had lived in the past few years, said he wanted to stay where he was
now, to live, as he called it “in an adult manner” – becoming part of,
and setting down roots in that place. At first I disagreed with his
premise that maturity had much to do with remaining in one place, of becoming
part of that place. But then I wondered, was he right? Does
becoming part of a place, our limbs and lives intertwining with those already
there, somehow allow us to see a part of life that constant motion somehow
13 November 2001
Having read much of what Fidel Castro has said
and written over the past four decades, I have never ceased to be amazed
at what this man, so reviled in the United States, produces. Of all
the political leaders I know and have heard, he alone stands as a consistent
voice of reason. It's no surprise then that the political powers
in Washington wish to keep him isolated. Recently,
Fidel Castro gave a speech about the world financial situation - a
different view of the world than you hear from the government in the United
20 November 2001
Winter brings huge, thundering surf to the coast
near my office. Driving to work yesterday, the surf was the biggest
it has been in months. You could see the waves forming far out at
sea, like distant vibrations of what was to come. As they neared
the shore in rapid succession, they grew bigger, topped in white.
The offshore flow holds back the tops of the waves until finally they tumble
down in giant billows of white foam. In spots, colliding waves send
plumes of froth and spray high into the air, higher than the houses and
buildings built right to the edge of the ocean. The atmosphere becomes
heavy with the smell of brine and sea salt and I could taste it on my tongue.
Driving to the office, I wanted to turn the opposite
direction and head down the potholed streets of this seaside town, down
to the beach and the pier. I wanted to sit on the edge of the beach
and watch each wave as it charged the shore and then receded. I felt
a pull in my chest to wait and watch the ocean for as long as I could,
and I knew that could be a long time. I thought to myself, “I bet
a lot of other people would like to join me.” And I pictured hundreds
of people sitting silently on the beach, staring out at the ocean and the
winter waves. Simply sitting. Quietly. Gray fog hung
overhead, the sea dark blue and noisy, and the people watching. Silently.
It was a pleasant thought.
21 November 2001
With the engine of patriotism revving on all cylinders,
the United States Armed Forces have been quick to get in the act.
While we waited for a movie to begin tonight, the Air Force shared it’s
cinematic message with the audience – complete with a choir singing emotional
songs, flags waving, planes flying and watery eyed service members saluting
I spent the better part of a decade serving in
the United States Navy, and was discharged honorably seven years ago.
Here are some of the highlights of my military career. Some of the
names I’ve forgotten, others I never will:
- Onboard the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), a black sailor
used a ten-pound dogging wrench to beat to death a white sailor who had
taken the black sailor’s seat in front of a television.
- On the same ship, IC3 Brady complained to the ship’s
doctor that he had lost his appetite, was losing weight and passing blood.
Despite having access to a full hospital on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65)
just minutes away via helicopter, the doctor ordered Brady back to work.
Brady’s health deteriorated until he could no longer get out of his rack.
The ship’s officers screamed at him to no avail. He died of untreated leukemia
before we reached our next port.
- Onboard the USS Long Beach, a trained machinist mate,
MM3 Jambo, refused to perform a blow-down operation on the main steam generator,
citing his belief that the pipe would not hold the pressure and could injure
sailors working in the area. He was placed on report for failing
to perform the operation. Several weeks later while underway, I and
another watchstander were in the engine room when a pipe next to the one
in question ruptured, flooding the lower level of the engine room.
Without quick response from the crew, the engine room would have flooded.
- Following these incidents, when a member of the crew
provided documentation to the San Diego Tribune that the USS Long Beach
was leaking radioactive material into San Diego Bay, the Commanding Officer
of the Long Beach pointed to MM3 Jambo as the most likely suspect, given
he had voice a concern for safety (as we were purportedly trained to do).
- During security drills aboard the USS Long Beach,
Marines stationed onboard to guard our nuclear warheads routinely used
their rifle butts to vicously strike sailors standing at attention in the
- In order to comply with maintenance orders for the
reactor systems on the Long Beach, sailors had to enter the reactor compartment
without being properly documented. This resulted in a sailor being
locked inside the reactor compartment for hours before anyone realized
he was there.
- The Executive Officer of the USS Long Beach, performed
live with a Thai prostitute on stage during a port call in Thailand.
When he discovered photographs of the event were taken by an enlisted man,
he threatened the man with courts martial unless the pictures were turned
over. Unfortunately, the pictures had already been sent back to the
United States and were in possession of the sailor’s parents. The
sailor reported that the Executive Officer attempted to use the Naval Investigative
Service to recover the photographs.
- At the order of the Division Officer and Division
Leading Chief Petty Officer, I and my fellow reactor operators were repeatedly
ordered to change logs relating to reactor operations after the logs were
complete and approved. Although we were required to monitor the reactor
operation, we were told that “nothing is ever out of normal” and logs were
modified to make sure this statement was true.
- Unable to contain the radioactive materials used
onboard the ship, we were ordered to use a loophole in Navy regulations.
By recording in the logs an item had been placed in the reactor compartment,
the ship could remove the item from the log. Then, the item was tossed
over the side of the ship. Presto, presto, no radioactive material.
- During battle drills, crew members were required
to use their sole set of protective gloves and hoods, which became worn
and useless over time. Replacement gloves and hoods were not available
and many crew members had unserviceable gear during times we were in real
- Docked in Panama, the Long Beach engineering department
officers used a ships boat to go alongside the USS Texas during the night
and spray paint a target on the side of the Texas. Had an enlisted
person done this, they would have been courts-martialed. During the
same stop in Panama, the Long Beach struck and sunk the admiral’s barge
belonging to the head of operations at Naval Station Panama.
- Onboard the USS Berkeley (DDG-15), for reasons I
was as uncertain of then as I am now, black sailors refused to work in
the engine room to perform routine maintenance. As a result, later
that night a race riot broke out in the enlisted engineering berthing space,
requiring outside intervention from base security forces. This was
These are just a few of the highlights – there
are more stories that either deserve more time than this or which I don’t
want to share.
So, if the commercials with boys in starched uniforms
riding proudly on ships/tanks/planes get your heart racing and your mind
thinking of heading to boot camp, just remember that life isn’t a commercial.
You’ll spend most of your time either sweeping hallways or standing guard
at bases no body cares about, and you’re more likely to die of boredom
than you are from enemy fire. Generally, the enlisted have no respect
for the officers and the officers hate the enlisted. You’ll be trained
to do a job that you do over and over until you can do it in your sleep
and then one day you’ll fall asleep doing it and kill someone. If
you’re lucky no one will notice. You’ll be asked to lie and punished
for doing so and punished for not doing so. In the end, if you are
quick enough on your feet, you’ll get an honorable discharge and no one
will ever know you got a blowjob from the guy who slept next to you in
Here is my dirty secret:
despite how absolutely fucked so much of what happened to and around me
in the Navy was, I think sometimes I’d still go back. You don’t have
to judge me for that, I judge myself harshly enough. Perhaps I’ll
write more about this another time.
29 November 2001
The CIA announced today that one of their employees
was killed at a prison in Afghanistan during a uprising of Taliban prisoners.
He was there to help in the “interviews” of these prisoners.
The CIA is famous for it’s interviewing, so much
so that it wrote a book that is widely used in third world countries for
such interviews. The Army used this book at its School of the Americas,
where it trained armies that are responsible for some of the worst human
rights violations in modern times. The CIA and its predecessors refined
the art of interviewing to a gruesome chamber of horrors that would never
be permitted within the confines of the United States, but for some reason
we feel justified in exporting around the world.
In the past decade, the concept of arresting and
trying leaders around the world for human rights violations has become
an acceptable part of international law. From the Noriega of Panama,
to leaders of Bosnia, to General Pinoche of Chile, governments have used
international law to punish those responsible for human rights violations.
The international community has worked to strengthen these laws, including
a historic meeting Rome last year to create world court for such criminals.
Nearly every nation in the world signed up, except the United States.
In fact, the United States would only sign if
such a treaty exempted our leaders.
In the hype of a growing economy, there was little
note of this treaty or the United States unwillingness to cooperate with
such a world court. (The United States also argued such a court violated
our sovereignty, while ignoring that many of the provisions were identical
to the World Trade Organization, an organization the United States promotes
with much vigor). And as our leaders now send our “interviewers”
to the far reaches of the world, it’s unlikely we’ll hear more about the
concept of our leaders being held accountable for violating human rights.
While it oversimplifies any situation to point
to a single cause, it is reasonable to say that the actions of the United
States throughout the world encourage, if not breed, the kind of terrorists
we see. When rendered powerless, how do people respond? Stripped
of any political, economic or social power with which to assert their rights,
terrorism offers a tasty mechanism for response.
The United States likes to hold the rest of the
world to a standard we are unwilling to subject ourselves, an in turn,
our leaders to. If we turned that light around in self-examination,
we might not like what we see. It’s easier to pin flags on our lapels
and send CIA officers to foreign lands than it is to pause and consider
how our actions, as individuals and as communities, impact the rest of