Whistles From the Graveyard

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The Book of the Week is “Whistles From the Graveyard, My Time Behind the Camera on War, Rage, and Restless Youth in Afghanistan” by Miles Lagoze, published in 2023.

In 2009, the author joined the Combat Camera division of the U.S. Marines in the war in Afghanistan. Very few people will recall now, that in 2003 the George W. Bush administration aired an ABC-TV reality show (that was soon cancelled due to poor ratings) of his version of that war.

It seems U.S. presidents after Nixon have accepted the fact that they are in a fish bowl, so they have made legacy-oriented practices a point of pride, maximizing propaganda on projects for which they have wanted to be remembered, mostly through their privately-funded presidential libraries.

The most unethical presidents have kept materials to themselves, to be discovered after their deaths as a way to prove they were not just leaders of the free world– but king of the world (Nixon, George W. Bush, Trump).

After the Nixon tapes, the following wanted to be best known for:

  • Ford: the celebration of the United States’ bicentennial;
  • Carter: Camp David Accords– a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt;
  • Reagan: his bringing about the fall of the former Soviet Union (all by himself (!); never mind the heavy dose of his wilful ignorance and plausible denial of the CIA’s international adventures);
  • George H.W. Bush: America’s glory in winning the First Gulf War;
  • Bill Clinton: resuming the dialogue on national healthcare in a big way, and (the lies of) his administration’s giving rise to almost a decade of peace (except for a few terrorist attacks) and prosperity (including balancing the national budget);
  • George W. Bush: (the complete and utter nonsense of) his administration’s bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq (good luck with accessing those classified documents);
  • Obama: pushing through national healthcare and getting rid of Osama Bin Laden (even he hired a videographer in order to make his entire administration a reality show, but king of the world? His political enemies accused him of going on an “around the world apology tour”);
  • Trump: building a wall (?) protecting the nation from a pandemic (?) However, he kept classified documents, and grabbed as much money and power as possible during his time in office, just in case a court rules that executive privilege would protect his every move only during his time in office.

Anyway, according to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and a Bibliography), the author wrote that medical discharge from the U.S. military confers enormous monthly payments (compliments of American taxpayers) for the rest of one’s life. Some of the young men who volunteered to go to war, changed their minds about fighting, and wished injuries upon themselves in order to get medically discharged. Not the author.

Even so, the author was reluctant to use his gun during the few times when he was told to. Most of the time, he was a camera operator of footage containing frat-boy shenanigans; some of it cold-hearted, sadistic, disgusting, and always insane (mutilated bodies, cruelty to animals, etc.).

After he came home upon completing his four-year military contract, he and a friend decided to make a video of the war, which he posted on YouTube. He described his role as “The souvenir aspect of war tourism for the young and depraved of American society.”

Read the book to learn more about the author’s experiences, and how he and his military buddies fared after they came home.

The 188th Crybaby Brigade

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The Book of the Week is “The 188th Crybaby Brigade, A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah” by Joel Chasnoff, published in 2010.

The author related his experiences as an American who joined Israel’s military (Israel Defense Forces; IDF) of the late 1990’s, and had various rude awakenings. He observed a major lack of skills-training and deterioration of leadership. Plus, he wrote, “What disturbs me about our endless fun isn’t just that it’s so often misogynistic, racist, and in the case of Ziv the redhead, outright insensitive, but how easily I go along with it.”

At 24, he was the oldest member of the testosterone-fueled group of mostly immature 18-year old boys who had too much time on their hands. The book’s major themes reflected those in Catch-22 (the same kinds of craziness) and “Portnoy’s Complaint” (only insofar as their gender led them to behave the way they did).

In February 1997, a helicopter accident that killed 73 Israeli soldiers, led the IDF to change its training and treatment of its ranks. It was a time similar to that just after the Yom Kippur war, when the Israeli military realized that it was unprepared to defend the country.

However, unlike in the second half of the 1970’s– in the late 1990’s, the IDF gave certain soldiers a pass, via an honor system. Ultra-Orthodox scholars could avoid military service altogether– a very emotionally charged controversy in Israel. Moreover, due to civilian complaints from families of soldiers, the military became less of an abusive hierarchy, and more socialistic, allowing soldiers to falsely claim they were injured or ill, to shirk the rigorous aspects of military life. The soldiers who weren’t crybabies, were subjected to harsh weather and severe sleep deprivation at the hands of an “arrogant, impudent, and thoroughly incompetent” captain. The other leaders were sociopathic sadists with weaponry.

The author was assigned to the tank division. A class lecturer told soldiers-in-training that Israel’s presence in Lebanon was necessary due to terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and their various factions. Monetary help from Iran, Syria and the former U.S.S.R., funneled to Hezbollah, supposedly made the terror groups’ resources actually superior to the IDF’s. That’s why the death toll of soldiers in Israeli tanks in Lebanon was so high, and why soldiers were killed so much sooner than troops in other divisions, even sooner than those in the infantry.

Each Merkava tank was equipped with: “…one ton of explosives in the form of depleted uranium 120-millimeter missiles, hand grenades, two MAG machine guns, a crate of .5-caliber shells and five hundred 35-millimeter bullets.”

The younger generation did not understand the mentality of their grandparents because they hadn’t personally experienced the Holocaust. They had, however, heard about or seen needless deaths and ruined lives resulting from America’s meddling in Vietnam (plus Laos and Cambodia), and Israel’s own constant fighting against its Arab neighbors and Palestinians, and its aggression in Lebanon (1982)– and they wanted no part of that.

Every major Israeli leader whose name is known worldwide (especially by American Jews fifty and older), was an old-school war-hero who also worked in Israeli intelligence (except for Golda Meir) and saw major combat, right up through Netanyahu. Since the 1990’s, leaders of the U.S. have been draft-dodgers rather than war heroes. Apparently, times are changing in geopolitics, war-mongering and energy (oil) needs and usage.

Read the book to learn how the IDF fanned the flames of racial tensions (hint: it was not because the light-skinned Ashkenazi soldiers had their private jokes), how the author struggled with his own religious identity, and many more details on the late-1990’s culture of the IDF.

A Storm Too Soon – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Storm Too Soon, A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue” by Michael J. Touglas, published in 2013.

This suspenseful story recounted the abbreviated May 2007 voyage of three Darwin-Award candidates who began to sail from the northern coast of Florida across the Atlantic Ocean to Gibraltar. Hazards included, among others– sudden, unexpected storms, spilled contents of container ships and inaccurate maps (due to recently washed-away sandbars).

“Every screw, rivet, line, seam, porthole, and the rest of what makes up a sailboat has to hold under the assault of the seas.” Unfortunately, the entire contents of the captain and crew’s 55-foot sailboat had a difficult time staying afloat, when an unseasonable squall broke a window that immediately let in 80-foot-high waves and 80-knot wind gusts. Miraculously, the life raft stayed intact. However, the various tools they had for sending distress signals to the Coast Guard were less than ideal, for different reasons.

Predictably, the three men were at high risk for drowning, harm from sharks, dehydration and hypothermia. In a case like this, rescuers who approach them via C-130 plane and helicopter, risk their lives in numerous ways. First, the plane searches an area equivalent to the needle-in-a-haystack cliche.

Read the book to learn many more details, and the fate of the participants in the above story.

North By Northwest / My Old Man and the Sea

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The first Book of the Week is “North By Northwest, A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaska Waters” by Captain Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen, published in 2010.

Born in the Seattle area in 1966, Hansen was of Norwegian ancestry. He was mentored in fishing for a living by his grandfather, father, and the Norwegian fishing community. His older male relatives had been sourcing seafood for decades. The community had been growing in the upper Midwest in the United States since the early 1800’s. It was a lucrative, male-dominated career– a subculture bearing a resemblance to military life in certain ways:

  • Teamwork was required of five or six men who lived in close quarters, doing rigorous physical work under life-threatening conditions at all times at sea;
  • There were numerous ways to: become seriously injured, and / or suffer serious financial losses rather than reap huge financial gains from selling expensive seafood;
  • The crew consisted of a hierarchy whose entry involved initiation rites in the form of practical jokes that were not always harmless; and
  • Even during the off-season, the men’s drinking fostered male bonding that allowed them to mitigate the emotional stress of their work, and maintain their relationships in the old-boy network.

After high school, Hansen apprenticed as a deckhand on his father’s boat. The men were away at sea from nine to eleven months of the year, using “pots” (large, unwieldy cages that trap the seafood) to catch: red crab in the Bering Sea and near Nome in Alaska and near Adak, blue crab at St. Matthew, and opilio crab at Dutch Harbor.

In the 1980’s, the fishermen were allowed to carry boxes of live crabs in the plane cabin on Reeve Aleutian Airways. When starting their winter fishing season, if they were extremely lucky, they could complete their flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor in Alaska on an icy twin-prop plane. They booked it months in advance, arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and prayed that the weather would cooperate.

Read the book to learn a little history about seafaring in general, including the context of the following quote:

“That winter he was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay, his body torn apart and burned.”

and much more about Hansen’s life and times in his community. By the way, he appeared on the reality TV show, “Deadliest Catch.”

The second Book of the Week is “My Old Man and the Sea, A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn” by David Hays and Daniel Hays, published in 1995. Father and son alternately described, beginning in the new year of 1985, their adventures at sea– sailing (with no motor) on a tiny yacht for fun from New London, Connecticut southward thousands of miles, and eventually, around the tip of South America from west to east (the less dangerous route). They began testing their boat in fall 1984, sailing through the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean Sea.

As they well knew, all kinds of discomforts and life-threatening dangers awaited them. That was the challenge of it. Even with all of their experience in purchasing the boat, making it seaworthy (over the course of two years), maintaining their (then-primitive) communications and navigation equipment (which required them to pack thousands of items for every possible scenario they might encounter), they still suffered injuries, seasickness, hangovers, etc. When sailing along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, the chart warned them to watch out for “… unexploded mines, rocket casings and torpedoes, and chemical warfare dumpings.”

On their voyages, they met with visiting family or friends to celebrate Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur. They attended a service at a synagogue on the island of Jamaica. The ark and dais were at opposite ends of the sanctuary, on a floor comprised of sand (representative of a desert).

Much later, when they arrived at a port in the Galapagos Islands, local law allowed them to pollute the water there for only three days; then they had to ship out. The authors described the area thusly: “In the name of white rice and virginity, Western man spent a good two hundred years raping, robbing, and leaving neat diseases here.” It was rumored to be a gateway to Atlantis, and the approximate population was three thousand.

The onshore entertainment consisted of the American movie “Blade Runner” whose soundtrack was poor quality, and whose reels were screened out of order, but the native people in the theater were undemanding.

The authors related that it is easily conceivable that about a hundred men could have made the sculptures on Easter Island over the course of a few decades, thus blowing speculations of alien-artists out of the water.

Read the book to: learn additional info about the authors’ adventures at sea (including their crazy pets), about previous trips made by them and others, see sample pages of their log, a diagram of their boat, and much more.

Flight of Passage – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Flight of Passage, A Memoir” by Rinker Buck, published in 1997.

In July 1966, the fifteen-year old author and his seventeen-year old brother flew from New Jersey to California in a Piper Cub they’d refurbished themselves. For fun. They weren’t attention whores. It was their famous father who helped publicize their flight. Completion of the trip was a major feat, as conditions were life-threatening from time to time. Built in 1946, the prop plane had no battery, no radio and no lights.

The media thought it was a big story: “America just wanted a good dose of innocence that summer and we perfectly fit the bill. The Jack-and-Bobby look-alikes bouncing out to California in their homemade Piper Cub was a heartwarming tale for the masses.”

Read the book to learn of: the brothers’ adventures; the issues the author had to deal with, between and among his brother, father and himself; other information on his family; and how his father’s view of black people changed radically when they saved his life.

ENDNOTE: The author focused mostly on the flight and ignored the ugly historical events then happening in the United States. Times have changed on two fronts in 55 years: back then, there was minimal security and a lot of privacy for ordinary Americans.

Once the media began to follow the author’s story and he and his brother became momentarily famous, though, hordes of journalists engaged in stakeouts at every place the plane touched down. Even so, the pilots didn’t hire a publicist and didn’t try to stay in the spotlight in any way. Even their father didn’t try to keep their space in the news cycle going. That is the antithesis of the current social climate in this country. Here’s a little ditty that shows how times have changed:

EVERY SELFIE YOU TAKE
sung to the tune of “Every Breath You Take” with apologies to Sting and the Police.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

ComplAINTS on privacy are a SLIPpery slope.
Lawyers spin disclaimers in ORDER to cope.
Look around, you’re hanging YOURself
on your own rope.
You feel so mad but can you TURN back? Nope.
You keep crying,
world– LOOK at me, LOOK at me, PLEASE!

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
spyware’s watching you.
Spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Made In America

The Book of the Week is “Made in America” by Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn, published in 1985. This book described what happened when Ueberroth became president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee which planned the summer games in 1984.

Ueberroth was elected in early 1979. He immediately had to begin to direct the preparations for the events due to the large scale of the ceremonies and athletic competitions to come. Eventually, thousands of people would work behind the scenes in finance, security, transportation, revenue raising (sponsorship), site selection, etc. in order to optimally enhance the image of the United States in the eyes of the world. Just some of the resources involved “…27 stadiums and facilities located in three states, nine counties, and 29 cities– including satellite soccer sites in Palo Alto, Boston and Annapolis… tougher than staging ten Super Bowls a day for sixteen straight days.”

Ueberroth had previously been a successful entrepreneur, running a travel business. As Los Angeles Olympic Committee president, he had to work with a board of directors consisting of 62 members of the committee, comprised of a few Olympians, and many local bureaucrats and businesspeople.

Numerous Los Angeles taxpayers strongly favored private rather than government funding of the Olympics. They forced the Committee to strictly adhere to soliciting donations from private sources. This was just one of many instances in which Ueberroth became a prime target of people’s wrath in connection with the Olympics. A group of radical aforementioned taxpayers went so far as to kill his two family dogs with poisoned meat. As the planning process progressed, he, his wife and four children were subjected to constant harassment and even death threats.

Everyone was banging down Ueberroth’s door with demands, complaints, suggestions and ideas. He had to worry about teams whose diplomatic relations with other nations were less than ideal, such as Turkey. An exception was made for it and Israel to allow them to hire their own security services.

The security of teams traveling from their accommodations to their various sports venues had to be tight all the way. For example, between UCLA in Westwood (site of accommodations) and Anaheim (the venue), law enforcement jurisdictions included the state police, the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Anaheim Police Department if all went well. If there was a detour, other agencies might have to join in.

Folks who wished to express their dissatisfaction had a Constitutional right to assemble outside the grounds of the athletic venues; the job of security was to protect the people inside.

American President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were conducting arms-reduction negotiations at the same time that the Soviets were pushing to get special advantages for their own athletes. The Soviet Union was spouting propaganda so as to be seen as a freedom-loving sovereignty while keeping its athletes on a short leash to prevent their defections.

Not only that, Ueberroth hoped to minimize unexpected, expensive mishaps out of his control like labor strikes, natural disasters and sponsorship fickleness, not to mention diplomatic power struggles. The rules were more or less dictated by the Olympic Charter in an American presidential election year, in which, eventually 140 nations participated, the highest number up to that time.

Read the book to learn of the subsequent actions of other countries due to the Soviet Union’s behavior and the infinite headaches that Ueberroth had to deal with in organizing the Olympic games.

Diary of a West Point Cadet

The Book of the Week is “Diary of a West Point Cadet” by Captain Preston Pysh, published in 2011. This slim volume tells of a West Point student’s experiences as a member of the Class of 2003.

Pysh (rhymes with “fish”) was originally from a small farm town in Pennsylvania. He was a growth-oriented, goal-oriented individual who survived the military-style draconian training meted out at the academy because he understood the lessons behind the rigor. The place had a demanding, exacting atmosphere– forcing the students to find creative solutions to problems in serving the upperclassmen. Only about one tenth of the students majored in electrical, mechanical or civil engineering. The author was passionate about aerospace engineering. The highlight of his college career was his senior project– an experimental device for NASA that he and his project-group members tested in a KC-135 aircraft.

Read the book to learn more about Pysh’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in navigating the high pressure, military-career oriented institution that is West Point.

Side Note: This book appears to have been written: a) with the aid of speech-recognition software (which has yet to be perfected) or b) simply never edited after the first draft, as it contained an annoying number of misspellings, skipped words and grammatical errors.

The View From the Vue

The Book of the Week is “The View From the Vue” by Larry Karp, originally published in 1977. This is the personal account of a medical intern at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in the 1960’s. The place had a reputation for treating poor, mentally ill patients, as well as the medical facility to which lazy doctors from other facilities transferred poor patients.

The author related a series of anecdotes of the kinds of patients who frequented the hospital and the experience he received in diagnosing their sometimes then-rare ailments, such as abdominal pregnancy, and common ailments– J-O Rat Paste and lead poisonings. He also related a few interesting factoids of that bygone era, like “In these days, the name cards on the foot of each bed were color-coded according to the religion of the patient. Blue was the Jewish color.”

Read the book to learn of how his wife was allowed to assist him in his work as an unpaid intern of sorts (a situation that would never exist these days), and what transpired when he developed sleep-deprivation syndrome.