Archive for December, 2014

Unbroken

It’s been 73 years since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and it’s clear that the world still doesn’t understand the Japanese.

As a marine (no longer on active duty), and as a civilian, I have spent considerable time living in Japan (Tokyo) and working with the Japanese and other Asian cultures (Korean, Chinese, Okinawan, Filipino). In the course of my travels, I have done a fair amount of study, too. On the subject of the behavior of the Japanese military during World War II (actually going back to the Russo-Japanese War which started in 1904), the documentation is extensive, extremely descriptive, damning and undeniable.

Of course the Japanese Army treatment of Korean “comfort women,” and the infamous “rape” of Nanking leap to mind. That is, the treatment of civilians.

Having had several members of my family (mother, father, uncles on both sides) serve in World War II, and a familiarity with Hitler’s conduct thru books and documentary videos, it is surprising that statistics show that approximately 40% of American POWs died at the hands of the Japanese, but only about 1% died at the hands of the Germans. I just can’t wrap my head around the German brutality of the (“non-German”) civilian population, but the relatively humane treatment of enemy military personnel; and the Japanese brutality of everyone not Japanese. Apparently, the German warrior ethos included respect for fellow warriors; whereas the Japanese respected absolutely no one who is a “gaijin.” (Actually, being a Nihon-jin in Japan from about 1920 on was no picnic, either.)

Yes, the Japanese have erected several monuments in recognition of the war: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (Mabuni/Hill 89), for example (both of which I have visited).

But, while Japan hides in denial, others have admitted to horrors, and sought forgiveness and have moved out of their past (e.g., South Africa Truth Reconciliation Commission – TRC). In Hungary, the Budapest House of Terror has been converted into a museum to remember the victims and present factual information. The fine monuments/museums to the Holocaust need no further comment.

It is against the backdrop of George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” that I fear for the Japanese. I don’t think anyone would accuse the Millennial Generation in any country of being particularly interested in anything before the cell phone and internet. But, if the older generations don’t make the information available, how can we correct their myopia?

Frankly, learning that Louis forgave those that “guarded” him while incarcerated in the prisoner-of-war camps, especially “The Bird,” shocked me. Not so much that he did (unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet the man); but because my reaction to his treatment was exactly the opposite. I understand why he did, and I applaud him for it. I pray I am never put in a similar situation; but hope I can remember him if I am. (Might be the only way I’m going to get past the Pearly Gates.)

Thanks to Louis for the life-lesson he has taught so many. Thanks to Laura for writing his story. And, thanks to Angelina for telling such a beautiful story about such a beautiful life.

It’s been 73 years since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and it’s clear that the Japanese still don’t understand the world.

references:

http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2014/12/26/japan-conservatives-protest-angelina-jolie-film/
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/12/23/japan-unbroken/20803301/

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/12/13/national/jolies-war-movie-unbroken-strikes-a-nerve-in-japan/#.VJ8pg8_HAQ
http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/index_e2.html
http://www.jahitchcock.com/mabuni.html
http://www.terrorhaza.hu/en/museum/first_page.html
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners
Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking
Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai

Tests May Soon Predict Alzheimer’s. Do You Want to Know?

Hell yeah!

What really caught my eye was the statement by a bioethicist that people should not know. Because, as Craig Klugman says in the article, “”Living in fear will change how a person lives their life.” So, that means what, I should stop getting a colonoscopy every five years?

But Mr Klugman is implying that people believe they are going to live forever, so telling them they are not would reduce them to jellyfish. Hello? I’m sorry, sir, but the sooner people like you help people get the most out of their lives, while they can, the better for everybody. And, I won’t mention the possibility that our BFF, Uncle Sam, decides for us if we should be tested or not…

Bioethics, indeed.

So, I’m 60+ years old; not quite into the danger zone, but I can see it from here. My father had early onset Alzheimer’s, his brother pretty much died from it. I have first hand knowledge of what it looks like, and I would very much like to know.

Not that I’m sure how much difference it would make for me: regardless of what is finally going to get me – whether it is a drunk-driver on the interstate, or something that chips away for years – I should be exercising more and eating better now. I forget who, but I have always loved the statement: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” (I’ve seen the quote attributed to both Mae West and Mickey Mantle.)

I think, if I knew I was going to slowly lose my mind (or, lose it instantly, but not for awhile), I would write more (thus this post) and probably record my voice reading some of the stuff my Dad read to us kids (James Whitcomb Riley being a favorite). Not to try to relive my Dad; but because my wife is pregnant with twins; I’d like them to be able to hear my voice. I’ve forgotten both my Dad’s and my older brother’s.

The article does point out that trying to reverse Alzheimer’s is probably not going to work; I think there are lots of ways of dying that are like that. Which means that prevention is key. Right now, we don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s, so we haven’t a clue how to prevent it. I’m all for testing now; yes, on me, too. Take some blood, establish a baseline, see what happens. Unfortunately, all we can do now is try to “test in the present to make a diagnosis on the future.” Let’s get on with it, I say.

Not buyin’ it, eh? How about the survivors? Ever think about them? The article shares a story of the family of a woman who was affected by Alzheimer’s before anyone realized it. The family suffered financially; although I think the emotional toll was much higher. I know I wish I had had more conversations with my Dad before he was no longer able to recognize who I was. If I could do something that might benefit my siblings (all younger than me), I’d sign on the dotted line.

I’ll go with Alireza Atri who says that people can “take charge, prioritize, and prepare for things earlier when lifestyle changes are more likely to produce a benefit.” Amen.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2014-12-11/tests-may-soon-predict-alzheimer-s-do-you-want-to-know-.html

Pick a club

My brother-in-law is a hog. A Harley Hog, that is. He’s got the bike. He’s got the look. And, living in DC, he participates in Rolling Thunder every year (would that I could). Point is, he wanted to join this particular club and he was willing to pay the price of admission, as well as the membership dues. Things like a motorcycle made by one, specific company. He did not go knocking on the door of the local chapter sitting astride, say, a Honda.

Any (and all) clubs, groups, associations have requirements for membership – that’s what makes them a club. They are founded and maintained on certain, (usually) well defined interests. Political parties in the United States used to be like this. When all members adhere to and support the group’s basic tenets, rules, philosophy, the group is cohesive and is strengthened. But, clubs can often lose their focus, especially when they try to find new members. Kinda like the Democrats enacting new laws to force everybody else to be more liberal. Unfortunately, with politics (in any country), you are subject to the whims of the ruling party, whether you’re a member of that party or not. Not so I imagine, with the Hogs: if you don’t ride (or, at least own?) a Harley, you’re not welcome. However, no one will force me on to any particular motorcycle, or on to any motorcycle at all, for that matter.

So, it just defies my understanding why anyone would want to be a member of any particular church if they weren’t willing to follow its rules (doctrine, dogma, teachings). If I want to believe objects have spirits, fine; but Christians don’t worship rivers or mountains, any more than you would join a rose society because of your prize petunias. Why an animist would even consider joining a Christian church is beyond me. To my knowledge, Christian churches don’t prevent anyone from communing with nature. Christians, by definition, worship Christ, and in 2000 years, haven’t seen the need to consult tea leaves or chicken bones. If you want to stick pins into a doll, ok; but Christians don’t. You do your thing, I’ll do mine, ok? So, why is it asking too much that you don’t make it the law of the land that I have to buy pins and dolls for you? This isn’t Germany.

I want to have hot dogs on the Fourth of July, not quiche on Bastille Day. I want to pledge allegiance to the red, white and blue of the United States, not the white, blue and red of Russia. I want to observe Christmas by attending midnight Mass celebrated by a celibate, male priest. I believe human life begins at conception and procured abortion is murder. Civil law has redefined marriage and inconvenient life – but Divine Law hasn’t (unless I missed the memo that GOD takes His marching orders from Capitol Hill). You want to stand in front of the Pearly Gates and justify yourself based on the decisions made by a committee of your peers (read: politicians), go right ahead. Frankly, I don’t want my Church to conform to your society. I like the fact that Christ was the ultimate revolutionary.

I will continue to render unto Caesar, but not because I feel it is my responsibility to pay for your lack of responsibility. I will continue to pay my taxes and buy health care for my family – and yours. It is mere coincidence that the guy in the White House agrees with the guy in the Bible on that one.

Put another way: I like being Roman Catholic. Which, despite its name, doesn’t mean it is a chameleon that finds new ways to constantly reinvent itself. The more it ignores the capricious and arbitrary fashions of the hour, the better. When I need shifting sands, I’ll go to the internet; when I need something built on rock, I’ll go to Mass. There are many who say the Church doesn’t fit the times. Not able to ordain women (let’s see: Jesus was male, His first thirteen apostles were male; what am I missing here?). Not embracing homosexual behavior (doesn’t exactly embrace serial killer behavior, either). Finding that human life is not a matter of convenience, or the calendar. Ok, I’ll hold the door open for you. I am quite sure you’ll find someone to embrace your inability to have a backbone, to have values, to believe that some things – like Truth – don’t change.

Yeah, it has warts; what collection of human beings doesn’t? Jesus was divine, he did the best He could with the material He had available. Fishermen and tax collectors. The fisherman, the one who I would have thought dependable, denied Jesus not once, but three times. At the Cross, Peter was nowhere to be found. And there was that part where Jesus was telling the religious police that tax collectors and prostitutes would get into Paradise before them; doesn’t say much about tax collectors, does it? Not sure who got slammed there. Can anyone forget the Renaissance Popes? NOBODY should. I, for one, would like to rip those years out of every history book. St Peter’s Basilica notwithstanding.

If you don’t like my club, you are free to leave. Roses have thorns; but at the end of the day, they are roses. No doubt Harleys have issues, but what machine doesn’t? If you prefer a rice rocket, have at it. But, I don’t ask you to sing kum-bay-yah, why must you demand that of me? (yeah, I find the fact that I did, at one time, really far out).

The damn island

The good news is: I survived the plane crash. The bad news is: I am all alone on this island. Of course I am thinking of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” But, why? Every year about this time, as everyone I know is getting excited about Christmas, I take the time to review the calendar year that is coming to a close and think about the year that lies just over the horizon.

It has been a good run. I found employment as a field representative, which was absolutely perfect for me, for a time. I loved the globetrotting. I loved actually being helpful to customers. And, there was ample pay to grease the wheels of the constant relocations (about every 30 months, on average). On the one hand, it was a sad day when I was assigned to the company’s central call center because that was the end of a life that I dearly loved. On the other hand, I was overseas when my father died, and I felt I needed to be near my mother. So, for the past five years, I have been spending a lot of time with her – this, a very good thing.

But, for purely political reasons, and not the financial reasons which might be easier to accept, the call center is moving, and I am not moving with it. I do hate this call center job. With a passion. Mostly for all the politics that I am subject to (after nearly 17 years in the field, I was blissfully distant from the petty machinations of the people who were more concerned about their own careers than doing the right thing). It has, however, been a paycheck, which has allowed a life-style that I have grown accustomed to.

Consequently, 29 years with the company are coming to an ignominious end at the first of the year. The good news is that I have not lost my paycheck just before the Holidays.

Back to the movie. At one point, Tom tried to hang himself; I’m certainly not there (I would never give the company the satisfaction of knowing it had destroyed me). At the end of the movie, Tom has lost the girl that kept him alive for the four years he was on the island. But, he’s standing at a crossroads, somewhere in the middle of Texas, with possibilities that extend beyond the horizon. On the island, his future converged and it looked like a hopeless dead end. Having survived his ordeal, he is looking at a future that diverges – unlimited possibilities.

The bad news is: I can’t see beyond the damn island.

True, no one in my work group has yet gotten a lay-off notice; and management keeps up a constant litany of “we will do everything we can to make sure everyone has a job.” If I had any respect at all for management, that would be reassuring. Unfortunately, if I have learned anything in my very long tenure, I have learned not to trust management. They think they walk on water, and don’t realize they’re not wearing any clothes.

I do have enough time with the company to retire; but wasn’t planning on taking that step this soon, so financially I can’t swing it. How much is enough? With a daughter who has returned (can we say “boomerang”?) and is expecting in January, and a wife who is expecting in July; whatever it was I had planned will be about four mouths short.

So, at this festive time of year, I am immediately confronted with the choice between pulling out the stops for Christmas, or hunkering down. My wife and I have tickets to the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s long-standing tradition of “The Nutcracker.” I made this a holiday tradition when I moved to Seattle back in 1985. Why this will be the last performance, I don’t know; but it is another ending. That will be our Christmas present to each other. Our daughter gets baby clothes.

There are some who look at a personal tragedy and say it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. Hard to imagine Tom’s character saying the island experience fell into that category. And, being forced out of a job I hate is not exactly a tragedy; but, what am I to do now? Dunno. I have absolutely no clue in the world.

After the debacle of trying to hang himself, Tom’s character made a life for himself on the island, and he was open to new ideas. He monitored the seasons, and specifically the winds. He was able to envision a sail in part of porta-potty. (Quite a stretch; something to keep in mind.) It has been said that “good luck” is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. For non-believers, “good luck” is all there is.

Christmas is, more than anything, a beginning. A new, radical, unheard of beginning. For some, completely unexpected. Maybe this Christmas for me will not be more eggnog and fruitcake, but something worth getting out of bed for? Gotta keep that possibility in mind.

But first, I’ve got to get off this damn island.