Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ode to My King Street Vase

Walk This Way posted a picture of King Street, Charleston, on February 26, and I thought of the Roseville vase bought in the King Street Antiques store during a visit to Charleston. A beautiful little guy, and now he sits on the West Coast. I asked Patty to write an ode and she gave me an ode and a haiku, but what I wanted was a limerick. So she gave me a limerick, too.

"Pick one", she said,
And only one, was what I read.
"Don't be wishy-washy, make up your mind."
I thought, "That is unkind!"
On a sister's feelings she should not tread.

O Vase divine! Curvaceous and fair,
Thee grace my shelf
Like a house elf
Caught dancing in midnight air.
Mere words cannot describe!
Your beauty I imbibe
As thro’ the eyes of a lover.
Quick, run for cover!
Porkchop is on a tear
And has not a care
That my vase he might knock to the floor.
Sadly, I must escort him out the door.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Children of Cuba

These are some of the children, hanging out after school and watching the progress on their playground built by It's Just the Kids, and at the end of the week when the playgrounds opened.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

With a Shield on My Arm: Americans in Cuba

Yesterday afternoon, "Anonymous" posted the following comment on “Americans in Cuba: It’s About Time”.

"I agree that anyone wanting to go and visit cuba should have the right to do so as a free citizen from any country.
I do have one question for you and that is : Did you visit any of the many political prisoners in the many cuban prisons just for daring to express what they feel?
Did you meet any of the thousands of mothers, wifes and sisters who have lost their loves one in the florida strait?
See is very easy to express your admiration for a system that you are not affected by, what you consider good is nothing more than adoctrination of the cuban children by the illegitimate goverment of the castro brothers."

When we traveled to Cuba to build our playgrounds, we did so with instructions to remain apolitical in order not to jeopardize our license. I was mindful of this in writing about the travel restrictions and, reading the article again, I believe I have held to this agreement. If admiration was expressed in my article, I hope it will be seen to be for Bill Hauf, the founder of It’s Just the Kids, for his initiative, courage and persistence to take goodwill ambassadors directly to the peoples of Cuba.

I am unsure what section of the article seemed to express admiration for the Cuban system. I will say this, though - I cannot but have admiration for the Cuban people who are resourceful, hard-working people let down by misguided governments. I’m not even sure “misguided governments” is the best way to say what has happened between neighbors.

There is no right on either side, only wrongs, with what has happened over the last 47 years between the American and Cuban governments. One does not have to visit the Cuban prisons or meet the grieving relatives to be “trembling with indignation” at the injustice and disservice to both peoples.

I would ask the reader to consider other questions here:

What has kept the U.S. travel and trade restrictions in place for almost a half century when clearly this approach has not achieved the expressed goal of bringing a democratically elected government to Cuba?

Have we learned anything from the US policy toward Cuba to keep history from repeating itself, or indeed do men like war?

If we are interested in seeing the Cuban children less indoctrinated, would this purpose be better served by a free exchange, travel and trade, between the peoples of the two countries?

How long would Castro have remained in power if the Cuban people had free access to American travel and trade?

What could happen if American peoples traveled to struggling countries with the shield on their arms of playgrounds and teachers and schools?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Americans in Cuba: It's About Time

Since a US travel and trade embargo was imposed in 1960, Americans have been restricted from travel to Cuba without a license from the US government issued only for charitable or humanitarian purposes. Americans have traveled to Cuba illegally by going through other countries but in recent years the Bush administration has enforced restrictions even on licensed travel, cutting the flow of Americans to Cuba to a trickle.

If HR 654 co-sponsored by Charles Rangel, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, passes the House and Senate in the next couple months, Americans may finally have the right to visit this enchanting island. The bill won't lift the trade embargo or allow American citizens to bring back souveniers. President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation weakening the travel ban or the embargo against Cuba. But finally, there seems to be bipartisan support as well as popular American support to end the travel ban.

We have made peace with Vietnam, Germany, and Russia but we can't seem to make peace with our hemispheric brothers and sisters. It has become a pissing match between the US Government and Fidel Castro. Indeed, this billboard posted on the north shore of Havana, facing the US reads, "Senor imperialists, we have absolutely no fear of you".

Every other citizen of the world has the right to travel to Cuba. If caught traveling illegally to Cuba, Americans can be levied up to $65,000 in fines. Indeed, a San Diego woman who traveled to Cuba with a Canadian bicycling group received a fine of $10,000. Even with a travel license, it is illegal for Americans traveling to Cuba to bring back anything except original art. Not even a T-shirt. Bringing back a Cuban cigar is a felony.

In 2005, I traveled with 48 other Americans to build playgrounds in Cuba. It’s Just the Kids obtained a license to be used from 2003 to 2007 for trips to Cuba for this sole purpose. (Bill Hauf, a San Diegan, had noticed on a trip to Cuba that the children had little in the way of playgrounds and things to play with, and It's Just the Kids was born.) Volunteers built three state of the art playgrounds in 2003, four playgrounds in 2005. The Treasury Department interfered with the license in 2004 such that the group was unable to go. Again, when we planned to build three more playgrounds in 2006 the Treasury Department placed restrictions that made the project unfeasible. It took 49 of us to build four playgrounds in a week in 2005. At the last minute in April 2006, the US government would allow only nine volunteers four days to build three playgrounds, of course an impossible task and the trip was canceled.

The 2005 trip was in incredible people-to-people project for all of us. We had to sign an agreement with the US government to work every day to ensure we wouldn't have time to spend money in the Cuban economy. We worked our butts off in the sweltering heat to finish early and have time to see the beautiful, albeit crumbling architecture and take in the nightlife. But it was the experience with the people that was the most amazing.

In each community a piece of vacant land was donated for our project, and Cubans were selected by the community to work alongside us.

With this piece of land and raw materials shipped from the US, working together with the Cubans, we assembled beautiful playgrounds. They prepared our lunch of good Cuban food every day and brought out the music to play while we worked.

At the end of one of our projects, the community held a program attended by the people and children of the community. The American and Cuban flags were set at the same level and the American anthem played following the Cuban anthem. There wasn't a dry eye on either side that day. The Cubans made it clear they had no issue with the American people, only with the American government and policy.

Best of all were the children.

They came after school to watch the progress of their playground, let us take pictures, bring flowers to the volunteers, and sing.

And when we opened the first playground, they rushed in to enjoy. It was another day of teary eyes for many of us adults.

So let us hope those who represent us in Washington will deliberate this current bill beyond politics and at least lift the travel restrictions.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


When I was in high school, I remember hearing Huntley and Brinkley reporting every night on the day's "body count" in Viet Nam. As some of us realize now, those numbers didn't include all of the casualties. After reading a post over at Mother Jones' blog, I'm thinking that our government is (gasp!) misbehaving again. Hope she won't mind my quoting her:

"One of my friends won’t be going into DC anymore. She’s a nurse, and she was forced out of her job because she asked a pertinent question about the war in Iraq while she was at work. She worked at a military hospital, and asked a forbidden question behind closed doors away from the patients and their family members. She asked a group of military nurses why the Pentagon does not count the patients that die in the hospital as casualties of the Iraqi war. The numbers we hear in the media only include those who were killed on the battlefield, and not those who died in hospital beds as a result of their injuries. My friend is a civilian, and her question was not well received. She was summoned by her boss at the end of her shift, and she was basically asked if she was Un-American. The writing was on the wall and she eventually was asked to resign. She won’t have trouble finding a new job. General William Sherman said, 'War is hell.' The man knew what he was talking about."

I've said it before and I'll say it again...I'm ashamed that my generation learned so little from our experience in Viet Nam.

Oh, one more thing - that's a lucky hospital that has so many nurses it can afford to let one go because she asked such a question. And shame on those military nurses - sorry, Vicki! - for ratting her out/not asking the same question themselves. (Guess that was really two more things, hm?)

It just boggles my tired and bleary mind.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seven Baby Birds, Sitting on a Sofa

Seven baby birds sitting on a sofa,
Waiting for the party to begin.
Some of them are happy,
But one's screaming mad...
Looks like Isabella poked her with a pin!

"Dogs and cats - living together..."

Speaking of Caddyshack and Bill Murray, I just love the Ghostbusters scene of Venkman, Stantz, Egon, and Winston trying to convince the mayor that the city is in the throes of the Apocalypse.

Here's an amazing real-life story about cats and dogs living together.

If it wasn't 6:45 in the morning, I'd put Ghostbusters on the ol' DVD and be a couch potato. Guess I'll get ready for work instead.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Sick, sick, sick...

Even before Sonnjea challenged me to come up with a limerick for the ground squirrels, I had wracked my brain and come up with this pathetic little ditty.

Oh no...in the hillocks are ground squirrels.
The thought of it just makes my toes curl.
The sheriff is waiting
For them to start mating.
Can't wait for this story to unfurl!

Someone put me out of my misery! Arrrghh!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

San Diego, We've Got a Problem

Patty is going to have to change her limerick. I had a conversation today with the deputy in charge of the grounds and it appears our pests are not gophers.

“No,” Deputy Ayala says, “these are not gophers, they’re ground squirrels”.

“How can you tell?” I ask.

“Because when it pops up and you see a ground squirrel, it’s a ground squirrel, and when you see a gopher, it’s a gopher.”

Honest to God, that was his word for word answer.

“Well, how do you know we have ground squirrels?”

“Because I saw a ground squirrel”.

I was curious how Ayala was going to approach the gradual disintegration of our property since these critters seemed to be taking over the place. Indeed, the perimeter patrol deputy reported near injury stepping into one of these guy's holes.

“We don’t exactly have a policy and procedure for this. Truthfully, I’d just like to bring in my .22 and take care of this”.

He wondered why weren’t the cats taking care of this problem. I asked whether he had taken a look at the jail cats lately. Chasing squirrels for dinner is low on the priority list for fat cats.

Later in the day another deputy commented the ground squirrels weren’t as bad as the dozen skunks that took up residence on grounds five years ago. Apparently they were aggressive and confrontational with the perimeter patrol. "The place was pretty smelly for a while."

Like any good Googler these days, I checked online to see what these guys look like and some interesting information came up. Not only are they hard to get rid of, seems they nest and reproduce in their tunnels in the spring. I think we have a problem.

Ode to Kathie's Gophers

Well actually, it's a limerick. Sonnjea's got me thinking in limerick meter now, too - bless her!

The jail yard’s all dug up by gophers.
Bill Murray asks, “Where are my soakers?”
Arnie says, “Stop it, your jerk!
We’ll put ‘em to work,
‘Cause these guys are surely no loafers!”

I obviously need help.

Nora, the Piano-Playing Cat

I'm a sucker for anything cat-related. I'll check Janet's blog every morning before work just to see if she's posted new pics of Thor and Loki. This evening, I found a link through A Mindful Life to such a cute YouTube of a cat named Nora playing the piano. Isn't she a hoot?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tunneling North of the Border

Think there’s a tunneling problem only at the Border? Guess again.

I work in a jail. Most modern jails are concrete high rises. Our jail houses 700-800 inmates in single level structures on several acres of semi-arid land, surrounded by landscaping, flowers, and lawn maintained by inmate workers. It’s a woman’s jail. Women do that kind of thing, even when locked up.

Escape attempts out of the jail are not uncommon. Inmates scheme to get a paramedic run to the hospital, bolt for open gates, try to climb razor-wired fences.

But now we have a new phenomenon. Gophers -- trying to get into jail. In the last two weeks a gang of gophers tunneled under the walls and razor wire into our San Diego jail which will remain unnamed for security reasons.

Other illegals have taken up residence with us. The raccoon family who learned to navigate the razor wire to get into the chow hall at night. A few, now fat, homeless cats -- who knows how they got in? .

And now the gopher invasion. At first only a few holes and tell-tale hillocks were evident.

Now, hundreds of hillocks and holes dot the jail landscape. The sheriff seems at a loss how to handle these guys. Trustee workers rake over the hillocks and every morning even more appear. These guys are inviting their friends! Can’t build a wall to keep them out -- our governor knows that doesn’t make for good relations. Can’t shoot them -- no firearms allowed in the jail. The dogs? That won’t work unless the gophers smell like drugs. Pepper spray down the holes? Call out the Tactical Team? Set up a guest worker program?

What to do?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Message to Anonymous

Yesterday afternoon, "Anonymous" posted the following comment on "A Brief Report from Viet Nam":

"The Pat Dizzine you spoke of is my x husband and we are still close. I know the pain they suffered as well as I know the pain those who loved them indured. I watched as no one said a thank you, I hope our young men never suffer the indiffernce. We need to be sure that never happens again. I wonder if John would like to be in touch with Pat, if he has not already. I have always wanted to write a book on the after effects the families of the soldiers that came back. Pat is a man of great honor and was very brave, I remain proud to have been married to him, and to have had his children."

I wrote a comment back, asking Anonymous to please e-mail me her information and I would be thrilled to connect John and Pat back up. Receiving no reply as of this evening, I'm posting this in the hope that she will return and see my request.

My mind is boggled...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Family Friendly: The Moods of Isabella

Isabella's mother, Jennifer, came along during my medical training, soon before her father was drafted during the Vietnam war, and was raised by a single parent --plenty reasons to have a rough go of it. When Jennifer was an adolescent I thought I would run away from home. By the time she turned 21, she was able to say "I gave you a rough time, didn't I" and from then she has been the best daughter a mother could want.

Jennifer had Isabella, so good natured a child I haven't been able to reap the "just wait until you have children" reward.

There is rarely doubt about what Isabella is feeling. Her eyes and face and little body convey the thousand words.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The lighter side of John

Spring of 1977 in Monterey. I'm chatting with my roommate Vicki, her boyfriend John, and a few other friends in the downstairs bar area of the NCO club. (The NCO guys don't mind taking us non-NCO girls into their lair.)

John's seated across the table from me. "Watch this," he says, and proceeds to take a drink. As he brings the glass away from his mouth, I notice that a fairly large, half-moon shaped piece is missing from it.

"What the...?" I exclaim. "Whadja just do?"

"Took a bite out of my glass and ate it," he says, grinning at me.

"But, but...you're not bleeding!" I say incredulously. Saucer-eyed, I look around frantically at the other people at the table - none of whom, by the way, are freaking out like I am.

"I'm fine," he says with a twinkle in his eye. "I've done it lots of times."

(Thirty years older, I still don't know how he did that.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vietnam: To Edit or Not to Edit?

I have to admit I was a little bummed out about the rejection from the San Diego U-T’s blog roll. I even considered asking Patty to edit out the objectionable language from the Vietnam piece and asking the U-T to reconsider our blog based on the merit of the blog as a whole. This is difficult to do for one who is brought to knees and tears with visits to the Vietnam Memorial and whose entire graduating Ohio State University medical class in 1967, including a husband, was drafted into the military. That is, all but the seven women -- out of 150 total students. One hundred and forty three young doctors, many of whom served in Vietnam. My marriage was a casualty. I listened to a number of these young doctors returning from Vietnam recount the horrors of war from a perspective different from John’s, but it’s all much the same. I had my own form of survivor guilt from having escaped the draft while my friends and classmates of four years were left no choice.

Heather’s comment about the Lowcountry blogroll gives a perspective, but -- tell me, should an offer be made to the San Diego Union Tribune to edit John?


Kathie's been getting more interested in the whole blogging thing, so I suggested to her that she submit our site for consideration to a blogroll out there. The San Diego Union-Tribune's blogroll didn't look nearly as fun as ours over here, but I sent her that link anyway. Last night, she sent me the following message.

"I think your friend John sunk our San Diego blogroll boat. This is the response I got today:

Thanks for the suggestion -- nice blog, but too much use of the F-word -- we try to avoid linking to sites that can't pass as "family-friendly."

Jeff Dillon
Principal Content Producer, News
Forums & Weblogs Administrator
The San Diego Union-Tribune
P.O. Box 122512
San Diego, CA 92112-2512"

Ouch! Perhaps I should have provided a warning upfront that the post was R-rated. My apologies to anyone who was offended.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Brief Report from Viet Nam

Back in the day, as Kelly would say, I spent a little while in the Air Force. Interestingly, I had been anti-military during the Viet Nam war; when I found myself without a path a few years out of college, I did the expeditious thing and enlisted. Lucky for me we were at peace by then.

I made some really good friends in Monterey. One of them, John, and I still write. He is four years older than I, happily married more than twenty years to my DLI roommate, and has spent just about all of his adult life in the military or in a civilian job with a DOD contractor. I've always loved getting letters from him because his writing, while not always (OMG!) grammatically correct, is intelligent, graphic, and usually hilarious. In the last five years, however, John's letters have become few and far between - partly because it's physically difficult for him to sit still long enough to write (too many jumps out of a perfectly good plane), and partly because he's been struggling to write a book about a month-long battle in which he fought in the mountainous backcountry of Viet Nam.

This morning, I received a long e-mail from John. I've pasted it below, word for word as he wrote it. Pull up an easy chair because it'll take you a while to read. When you're done, tell me - what does one answer to a letter such as this?

Dear Patty,

I was trying to write you from a street-side internet cafe but some old but well-dressed mamsan was standing over my shoulder, trying to read what I was writing. A bit weird, especially the way she kept grinning at me when I turned around to ask what she wanted. I'm back at the hotel's internet access now. Guess I should tell you that I am in Nha Trang, on the coast of South Viet Nam, wind blowing thru the open hotel doors, waves of turqoise blue crashing just across the street; palm trees and bamboo gardens swaying, making that South Pacific Exotic Movie sound you always hear in those films, like when Burt Lancaster is smooching what-er-name on the beach. Yep, Viet Nam is hell, alright. OK, where was I. Spent 10 days in Hanoi. People up there were pleasant, did not hustle you, didn't even stare at us oddly dressed fat obnoxious white round eye persons. They just went about the business of earning a living and pulling themselves out of the shit of a 10 year period of american sanctions against this country. We suck, but more about that later.

Hanoi was OK, crowded, cold! somewhat noisy from all the motorbikes beeping their horns, but friendly and they dont seem to hold grudges.

Saigon sucks. It is everything I dislike about Asia. Hustlers, noise, filth, ungracious dipshits going about their business of squeezing as much as they can out of us po' white folk. (Of course, looked at another way, it is just a free market economy, no different than the endless commercials on TV for crap no one needs; those "hustlers" are just business people trying to make a living; gotta keep reminding myself to maintain a little perspective.)

And, AND way too many goddam french!! Oh jesus jump up mary do I hate french people, more so now that I witnessed one of the rudest displays I have ever seen in my life, foisted on a poor harmless waiter in the restaurant across the square from the Caravelle, by a pair of french couples. I mean the kind of rude behavior you only hear about in french-people jokes or in the movies. Ohmigod but did they confirm every thing i ever thought about the french. They. Really. Do. Suck! I made sure afterwards that the waiter knew I was an American and definately not french. First time in my life I have gone out of my way to advertise the fact that I'm a Yank.

Nha Trang has become the Pattaya Beach of VN. Tourists, trekkers, Europeans, a very few yanks, mostly frogs and brits. And 20-something backpackers. Hotels, beach restaurants, actually not too bad. The beach is gorgeous. But goddammit where the hell are all the bomb craters! Where are all the unexploded rounds, the burnt out tanks and APCs? Dammit we taxpayers paid good money and a lot of it for a war and I'd sure like to see some evidence of my investment!

Which is to say there is virtually no sign there ever was a war here. Almost none. You gotta look real hard to find it. Under Doi Moi Vietnam set itself on a course of free enterprise, making money and becoming an economic power in Asia and boy howdy are they doing it. 2nd fastest growing economy in SEA and it shows. The official government policy is "We make war no more", unless attacked and we all know how THAT works out. Believe me, we backed the wrong side.

The southerners are industrious but with a hint of the old American/French blackmarket rip-you-off mentality. The Northerners however are just flat out industrious. they work 7 days a week (really) a solid 10-12 hours a day and they work hard. Its still a beautiful country but sadly they have discovered billboards, Vogue magazine and (and this one alone is enough to make me want to go back and enlist as a Viet Cong) Kentucky Fried Colonel. In this country of so much history and beautiful culture, in the most cultured city in Asia, there is a chain of those awful, poisinous symbols of pure Americanism. How could they let that happen?? I mean these people are capable of resisting 10 YEARS of B-52 strikes and they let one of the vilest chains of US fast-food waltz in here and open up!! Oddly, though, The Colonel is about 60 pounds lighter and bears an uncanny resemblance to another elderly chin-bearded gentleman. All the other bad things that go along with a robust economy are here as well-traffic, smog, high rises, industrial parks built on valuable farm land. Oh well, when you are faced with the choice of a full belly or postcard countrysides, I guess I know which one I'd pick.

After Da Nang I split off from the other 3 guys I was travelling with (and gladly), they went to Cambodia, I went to Kontum. Normally, it would have been nearly impossible for me to get that far into the Highlands but Tom Leckinger (in-country director of Viet Nam Veterans of America Foundation-VVAF) greased some palms and got me access up there. I'd hoped to find Dak Seang, site of my epiphany but doubted it would happen. Upon arrival Kontum I discovered the town had tripled in size. It is still a sleepy mountain town, laid back compared to the big cities but grown enough so that I hardly recognized anything. Got hooked up with a "tour guide" that speaks not only english and Viet (duh) but also Bahnar and Sedang. Had several adventures but most importantly discovered that Highway 14 went all the way to Dak Seang, and through Dak Pek (formerly-The End Of The World) and on northwards. Unbelievable!! To give you perspective, that would be as if a paved highway had been built along the top of the Andes and connecting to the deepest darkest part of the Congo. OK, weird analogy but my part of the Central Highlands used to be extremely remote, isolated and accessible only by helicopters flown by pilots with brass doo-dads.

Anyway, we took a 3 hour ride in his 4WD and went to Dak Seang, camp A-245. Arrived there to find a black marble slab with a lot of north viet names on it, DOB, place of birth and date of death all of them between 01 April to 29 April. Hhhmmm wonder why? Sorry, poor joke. Did not recognize anything at first. There is a rubber tree grove there, and a tiny 'Yard vill, whereas before there was only the camp and airstrip, no occupied vills in our AO back then. I recognized Nui Ek and the other mountains and so was able to place myself. The two hills, one east, one west, where Nguyen Van Superman popped up at every sunrise and sunset and would pump 5 rounds of 75mm recoiless rifle rounds at me. ME! And I recognized the mountain slope where we called for a Daisy Cutter drop on an estimated battalion. Pat Dizzine went out there during the siege (for a short guy he sure had a pair!) and did a body count. Hard to do when all that was left were bone splinter embedded into blasted trees. Sorry, mind wnadering. Back to reality...

After a while of scuffling thru the grove I began to pick things out. The hump in the ground that marked the row of sandbags of the south wall where the NVA swarmed over, straight into point-blank 105mm Bee Hive. The large open area where so many yards and their families died in the first minutes. And Main Street turned out to be the remnants of the airstrip. Still a lot of penaprime left to make a more or less paved road. I wandered past the southern perimeter, down to a gully where, just beyond, Danny Little and Johnnie Petit died. Dannny's body was never recovered. I shoulda gone on down there and looked for him. Next time I will.

I leaned against a rubber tree and contemplated things, looked down at my shoes, thinking about what was, and saw...

JEEZUZFUCKIN'KEERISTONAPOGOSTICK!!!! I was a-straddle an unexploded 105mm Willy Pete round! I stared in gory fascination for 5 minutes, too scared to move and then looked around. My brain and eye systems, now calibrated to the size, shape and color of UXOs suddenly discerned that the ground was liberally sprinkled with dozens of the awful things. They seemed to rise out of the ground. 105s, 82mm (with and without fins) 106 and 57 and 75mm Recoiless Rifle rounds, 60mm mortar ohmigod they were everywhere! And I'd been shuffling through them on my stroll down Memory Lane. Shit! Huynh strolled over and bade me follow him where he showed me the casing of what must have been a 500 pounder. Then he squatted down and scooped up a handful of very small, black, cylindrical hard things, a bit smaller than the eraser of a #2 wooden pencil. He touched his lighter flame to them and they blazed up quite merrily. Propellant granules from-who knows what-everything tube-launched I guess. The ground was covered with it.

Consider this, we make expensive cars that deteriorate in 10 years or so. But we make instruments of misery and awful chemicals that last at least 40 years and probably forever. That battle was 37 years ago. Those granules lay in the harsh sun, mud, rain and had not even begun to crumble and were still alive. I'm thinking we might have our priorities wrong.

I took a lot of pictures so that I can bore you with them when I get home. I finally traced out where everything was.

Huynh says that in 2001 when they built the vill, they found some underground tunnels and large concrete covered bunkers. Probably my commo shack, Beikirks dispensary, the operations room. In one of those bunkers they found piles of "jumping up jacks" (his term for toe poppers). The villagers filled in the underground passageways and bunkers. that stuff is still down there and they are afraid of messing with it. I guess the jumping up jacks will be OK, covered up with feet of soil and rocks, but the UXO laying around on the surface really disturbs me. No one mentioned any kids getting blown up so I guess they know what the stuff is. But a lot of it showed signs of being moved, mortar rounds stacked into piles. I am meeting Tom Leckinger in a few days and maybe he can make something happen. The V V A F has a UXO clearing operation and hopefully they can get Dak Seang cleared up.

After 3 or 4 hours I wanted to go back home. So I walked down to the western end of Main Street (the ol' airstrip) and paid my respects to the names on the black marble slab. God Bless them every single one. They were far better soldiers than I. I sat there 20 minutes or so. Then I mumbled a prayer for Johnnie Pettit, Danny Little young Albert Barthelme and the 9 crewmen of the Caribous that were shot down; I silently said another for the Montagnards and their families, living and dead, and the NVA that died trying to over run the camp. And then I took of my St Michael medal and laid it on top of the slab. I'd worn it for decades to remind me of that month. That slab is probably as good as any place to store it for now.

On the way back to Kontum we deviated and stopped by the site of Ben Het. Nothing there but the hills now, and collapsed tunnels and bunkers. The airstrip of course. The 'Yards use Ben Het and Dak To airstrips for drying tapioca during the daytime, and at night the teen agers come out and do what teen agers do. Huynh calls Dak To "Airstrip of Love".

Throughout the country the i have seen occasional displays of weaponry, tanks, crashed aircraft, cannons and such. Collected for the curious to look at, and for kids to climb on. But none of it is preserved. They've gathered the stuff together in a few places, made little signs to tell the tourist what it is, and left it there, rusting away. In our parks and museums where we have the ubiquitous M-48 or the odd Huey we tend to take care of them, repaint them in their original colors, put up wordy signs telling us who drove this tank, who flew that chopper, where this F-4 was based out of. The Viets let it rust away.

I think they have the better idea.

Hard to believe there was once a war here. Wars. The awful frogs. Japs. French again. Then us. Then a 10-year occupation by russians. And somehow they survived it all and are thriving. I found out that instead of the domino theory becoming reality, the viets after 1975 actually stabilized this region. In '75 they were attacked by the cambodes, followed soon after by the chinese way up north. In both events the vietnamese kicked asses, drove the enemy back across the borders and after that things began settling down. Laos and Cambodia are both soup sandwiches of course, tho Cambodia is developing a tourist indistry. Mainly for the very hardy and Euro-trekkers. But there hasn't been much trouble over here since. Our stupid 10 year embargo caused some really bad times here, but they somehow survived that as well.

Somehow we always seem to fuck it up. I think it begins in our state department, those ivy league snot gobblers that gave us every other debacle we've had in the 20th century. Looking around here, I'm thinking that way back when, in 1948 when Ho asked us for help (not once, not twice, but 8 times!) instead of backing france (ALWAYS a bad mistake) and delivering Arclights later on, we shoulda delivered franchises instead. Every body want a full belly and a fat wallet. Only a few deranged individuals want warfare and fortunately those maniacs tend to end up in Ranger battalions and Special Forces and The Regiment, where they can be closely watched.

We are outta here tomorrow early, going to Da Lat. I am tired and burnt out on this trip and I'd just as soon spend the remaining 6 days back up in Kontum. If I ever come here again it will either be alone or with a couple of very select individuals.

My companions here are a former SP/4 intell clerk stationed in Saigon, a former Swift boat sailor that was in Da Nang and Nha Trang and an early 60s era helicopter pilot that spent his time in Schweinfurt. Good guys, really. But not looking for the same things as me. Its been OK, but they wanted to see every single temple museum pagoda ancient ruins and tourist site there is. The went to Cambodia and visited Angkor Wat for cryin' out loud. Me, I'd rather come back with an aid bag and clean up some 'Yard kids of parasites and skin rashes and such.

Speaking of which-just briefly and then I'll sign off-the 'Yards are doing marginally better. Only Saigonesians call them Moi anymore, and a few Yards have attained high positions in the government. Its still rough, but at least the government stopped "ethnic cleansing" to claim the Highlands for coffee. In fact there is a moratorium on cutting any more trees, because the viets are concerned that they have cut down too many forests already, and are reforesting now (thanks to the Finns).

I've been in this chair too long and my legs are killing me so I'm gonna go take my Pok Time (or Pot time, remember the mid-afternoon naps they used to do here?). Speaking of which, they don't really do that much anymore. Nor is there any more beetle nut chewing (oh how I miss those black rotted teeth ha ha).

I'll send another Spot Report soon. I've heard Da Lat is beautiful and I am hoping it is quiet, like the rest of the Highlands. Please God, no more french tourists.

more to follow...


p.s. this came back cuz I sent it to your old aol address. So here is a short update. I am back in Sai Gon now. Da Lat was beautiful, sort of like some small European Alps town. And COLD. Got down in the low 40s at night which to us New Yorkers would be a spring day but having been here a month I got used to the hot weather. Anyway, it was nice. Took a too long bus ride from Da Lat to here Ho Chi Minh City (formerly know as Sai Gon) and have been here 3 days, decompressing and wishing I was home. I was really hesitant about coming here and almost bailed out before the trip started, but I am glad I made it. I was able to shed some things, sort of leave them by the side of the road as I travelled around. I rejected all that New Age Yuppie Cathartic Closure Crap that I was told I would experience. The nightmares have not gone away, and I still feel pain and sorrow for the Montagnards we betrayed and the fellas I left here. But privately, for me, it's been a good experience. No, goddammit I did not achieve "closure". How I hate that term; it's used by every touchy feely idiot that has never ahd a traumatic experience. I will never be closed on some things but at least it was gratifying to see that this country not only survived our best efforts but is actually thriving. 2nd fastest growing economy in Asia. And the government seems to have stopped murdering the Montagnards for their ancestral lands in order to grow coffee. The Viets have become more sensitive to the minorities here, and especially for world perception of "ethnic cleansing". They fucked up in the 70s and 80 but seem to be on the righteous path nowadays. Thriving, like I said. No one starves any more and the worst hazards (besides way too much UXO) is the street traffic, always a good economic sign.

This could easily lead into a discussion of America's current debacle, and our leadership, but I think I will save that discussion for another letter to you. I have changed my opinions on an awful lot of things, and my hatred for our government and it's so-called leadership has increased by several orders of magnitude. Lemme know when you want to get down and political, girl.

Take good care Patty. I miss you and as always I still love you. Drop me a line when you can. Catch you laters.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Still Mulling Over Another Inconvenient Truth

CNN news today: The world’s leading climate scientists liken global warming to a “runaway train” that will not be rectified for centuries.

Is "men like war" a similar runaway train? Will it take centuries more to rectify?

How about this factual information from today’s San Diego Union Tribune? Sewage effluent from the wastewater treatment plant outside Boulder, Colorado, can change male fish into females in just seven days.