Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I am not moved by the defense of NJP when talking about reforming the military justice system

A couple of caveats, here.  I am a veteran, so I have spent some time in the belly of the beast, so to speak.  (And as a snipe, it's definitely the belly of the beast - down below the waterline, at the widest part of the hull, keeping power and water and heat going to the rest of the ship.)  However my personal experience with women serving was minimal:  Some awareness of female boot camp companies going through at the same time my boot company did, female officer instructors at NNPS, and one short middie cruise in 1993 my ship hosted that included some 12 or so female middies. 

So, I cannot say that I have any direct knowledge of the extent of the sexual assault problem in the military.  However, indirect indica were aplenty.  First was the rape awareness training we got in boot camp that claimed that something like one third of all women in the Navy - not the military in general - were subject to sexual assault during their time in the Navy.  Then there was Tailhook, and how it affected things through the fleet.  And the attitudes some of my higher-ups had about the whole thing.  I had one E7 complain to me that the officer who was assaulted should have known what was going to happen, and should have kept quiet about it.  And he was not the most sexist or traditional of the senior people in my division, let alone aboard ship.

Another factor was my awareness that the nuclear Navy was and is something of a world to itself.  I said and did things while I was in that would have gotten someone in the non-nuke service written up for insubordination.  Some of it was simply accommodations made for a talented, and even respected, misfit; but a lot of it was simply that Rickover's Navy has some very different traditions and attitudes than the rest of the fleet.  In the nuclear navy, if an enlisted member believes that an evolution is going to be unsafe they are trained to stop things.  Now, doing that too often, or in error, is not going to be career enhancing, but in general as a E4 I was telling officers what we would be doing to the engineering plant.  With respect, of course, but there was no question whose expertise was leading the course of action.  Everything I've heard while I was in, and since I've been out, is that that sort of autonomy for junior enlisted personnel is very rare outside of certain specialized services and situations. 

All this has left me viewing the reports of the problems with military sexual assault with a very open mind, and one that finds the reports both appalling and credible.  And dreading what's going to happen when more enlisted women feel empowered enough to speak up - since for a number of reasons the majority of the cases that make it to public awareness are involving female officers.  And simply looking at the numbers, it's reasonable to think that officer assaults are only a tithe of the incidents out there.  And as bad as the retaliation against female officers has been - what enlisted personnel have dealt with is worse. 

I have been offering my support, such as I may, to Kirsten Gillibrand's efforts to reform the miltiary justice system.  In particular the action of Lt. General Craig Ferguson overturning the conviction by a court martial of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson for aggrivated sexual assault brought home to me just how impossible it is for anyone to trust the to military, at this time, to treat such cases with the gravity they deserve. I see now, that Wilkerson is retiring at the rank of Major in the wake of this, claiming to be the innocent victim of political pressure.  If that's what it takes to get his raping ass out of uniform, I'm all for political pressure. 

Today I read that there's an alternate, and more conservative, bill before the Senate to reform the military justice system.  Based on my admittedly brief readings the big difference between the two bills is how they'll handle reports of sexual assault.  Gillibrand's solution is to set up a military office with military lawyers who will evaluate each claim and see to the appropriate action;  the competing bill is to offer more emphasis on the need to treat such reports seriously, but to keep the decision on whether to proceed within the command - and to especially allow for the use of NJP (Non-Judicial Punishment) on such cases. 

For anyone who hasn't been in the military NJP is what happens when someone screws up and breaks the rules badly enough to warrant punishment, but not so badly as to necessitate a court martial. 

NJP offers a lot of benefits, in general, to both the accused, and the command involved - and thus to the service.  It allows for the punishment to be kept in house, and while close confinement (something that's often redundant aboard a ship at sea) is one of the worst punishments available, and the command can usually demote one rank from the servicemember's permanent rank, the long-term effects for the person so punished are rarely career-ending.  It's faster than a court.  It's cheaper, too.  And it doesn't leave the command in question requiring a replacement.  It is the rolled-up newspaper the military uses to try to keep its servicemembers from going completely off the rails. 

And with the majority of the things that can get a servicemember in trouble, I think it's a great thing.  Brawling, drunken behavior, and other things that often crop up can be handled quickly, and efficiently.  While allowing the servicememeber a chance to correct his or her behavior. 

NJP, when there is such a horrible epidemic of sexual assault within the military is not the answer.  When you have general level officers excusing a convicted rapist because he knew the officer in question couldn't possibly be guilty - it's a clear flag that at this time the military cannot be trusted to judge for itself when a sexual assault is the result of a behavior that may be corrected, or one that requires the most stringent sanctions. 

I recognize that by taking NJP away from commands in the case of reports of sexual assault is going to reduce the command's authority.  And create problems for units all over the globe.  Particularly with staffing which can often be a truly fragile construct. 

But when the officer in charge of coordinating training and doctrine to prevent sexual assault in a branch of the military is convicted of sexual assault, himself - when a general feels justified in reversing the verdict of one of the rare courts that actually got impaneled in response to a claim of sexual assault - when multiple boot camp instructors are convicted of using recruits for sexual pleasure - it is impossible to deny that there is a major problem with sexual assault in the military.  Too many people have come forward to report the chilling effects of the way they were treated when they tried to report their own assaults, and found that the command not only didn't listen to their complaint, but would retaliate against them. 

In the 20 years since Tailhook the military has had a chance to show it could take sexual assault seriouisly.  It has squandered that opportunity.  It is time to take a more active stance.  And if that means that authority of the commanders in the field is being beaten a bit about the edges, they had their chance. 

NJP does not work for sexual assault.  Maybe it will again in the future.  But not until the culture in the military changes. 

We need stronger measures, and that's what Sen. Gillibrand's bill offers. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Russian Homophobia, Civil Rights and the Sochi Winter Olympics

In the wake of the ever widening persecution against LBGT persons by the current Russian regime, including the passage of laws that specifically allow the targeting of tourists for failing to properly display the necessary degree of homophobia, I cannot understand why the US Olympic committee is willing to consider putting anyone at risk by even showing up for the winter games in Sochi.  Even with a promise from Putin's government that no Olympians will be detained under the new law that doesn't protect any coaches, support staff, or family members from the harsh penalties of the law.  

The concerns for tourists coming to celebrate the games should be manifest to anyone who has been paying attention to the atrocities that the authorities in Russia are turning a blind eye to, including skinhead Neo-Nazis luring underaged teens to be beaten and forced to out themselves on videos - all in the name of protecting children from pedophiles.

Unless, and until, the Russian government should find it possible to extend human rights and civil protections to their own LBGT citizens the US, and the US Olympic Committee should not spend so much as a single cent in Sochi.  These games must be boycotted.

Similarly the State Department should be pressured to issue grave travel advisories for any Americans considering travel to Russia, because of the dire threat of civil oppression based upon a vaguely worded law that will allow prosecution for failing to join the Russian Orthodox Church's campaign to eradicate homosexuality.   

It is time to take a stand, and Sochi is the place to do it.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Property requirements and wishlist.

Obviously my house-hunting wishlist is to find a sufficiently wonderful house for a sufficiently wonderful price I don't feel the need to move in six months.

Ideally what I'd want would be a two to three bedroom house, colonial by preference, on a postage stamp lot, in the middle of protected forest - and with no neighbors not more than 10 miles from a Wegmans. 

For some silly reason I don't think I'll be finding that.

More seriously, my list of things that I feel are non-negotiable are a lot simpler:

  1. Right Angles.  I spent a year in a row building in the NYC/NJ area that had not a single right angle because of settling of the structure over the past century.  Never again.  (Even though we're talking about 89.45 degrees, or so - you'd be surprised just how accurate the human eye can be for noting such angles as being off.)
  2. Off Street Parking.  I don't really give a shit if there's a garage or not.  I simply don't care to be stuck on snow days trying to find a place to put my car so it won't get towed or ticketed.  There are advantages to a garage, if it is sound and not in need of huge repairs, no question there, but. . . that's an 'it's nice' feature - not a necessity.
  3. No obvious six-legged roommates.  
  4. Move-in ready.   All major appliances in place, and working.  Including furnace/boiler; hot water heater; stove; oven; and fridge.   If I can get them:  washer/dryer.  Also by preference, none of any of these more than 20 years old.  Working bathrooms.  No plumbing issues.  No heating issues.  No open walls.
  5. Oh, yeah.   No dyslexic plumbing.   No burners that can't stay flat.  Some kind of ventilation from the kitchen - if only a stupid window.
 Things get a bit more complicated when we start looking at my wants:

  1. No galley kitchens!
  2. A dishwasher!
  3. Washer/Dryer
  4. More than one electric outlet per room.  Preferably several, and update electrical post 1960.  
  5. No enclosed porch
  6. If a garage a garage that is sound.
  7. Fenced in yard.
  8. Relatively easy road access.   Either room in the back to turn the car around or not backing out onto a road as busy as Clifford St. 
  9. Preferably zero abandoned properties still standing on the immediate block;  as a practical limit no more than, say, two.  Likewise, no more than two lots where former structures were bulldozed by the city.  

Other decisions I've made:  No condos.  Add in a set of HOA fees and something doable becomes a nightmare very quickly.  (Besides I want more space between me and neighbor.  No more upstairs mosh pits.  Similarly - while I understand the reasoning, and see the potential benefits, no duplexes.   Probably the best argument against it is that I have no fucking clue how the VA would react to such an income source.  But really the biggest hurdle for me is that I don't trust myself to pick good tenants.

Besides, all the duplexes I've seen in my price range have galley kitchens.  Inevitably.

I think that's the main stuff that I want to bring to the meeting with the Realtor tomorrow, but we'll see.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I remember Oklahoma City

I remember Oklahoma City.

I remember the confusion.   I remember the questions.   I remember, too, the rush to judgment.  The blind accusations that it must have been some kind of foreign strike.  (If I recall there were suggestions of PLO asssociation.) 

I don't want to do anything like that with this strike.

So, I do not make accusations. 

However, I am thinking of the reasons why I don't think this is the work of Al-Qaeda.  Nor any other foreign group. 

Patriot's Day, in Massachusetts is a big thing linked inextricably to the Minutemen and the Revolution.  And all the things that have been being fetishized in certain circles who claim to want to save America for Americans. 

Add to that that the Boston Marathon is a hugely international event these days...

I can't think of anywhere a bombing would be more likely to be considered to be both a hearkening to the Minutemen and a condemnation of globilization.  

Which has me wondering just who might be behind this bombing. 

I make no accusations.  Logic isn't proof. 

But I won't be surprised if this logic turns out to be related to the facts, either. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A review of Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and some thoughts

This is the review of Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay I just put up over at Goodreads.

How can I explain my reactions to this book? 

First off, looking at the work, itself, without placing it into any larger context, it's well-written, and the characterizations range from excellent to cardboard. The saddest part, for me, was that in general the most compelling characterizations were for generally minor characters. 

This book can be considered to be split into two stories - the story of the modern day narrator - an ex-pat American journalist Julia, married to a Frenchman, and still somewhat apart from her in-law's family dynamic; the other story is that of a ten-year old girl, Sarah, living in Paris under the German occupation. The action for both stories starts with the Vel d'Hiv round up. For Sarah it's when the French police come for her whole family; for Julia it's when her editor tells her to write up a piece about the round-up for the ex-pat centered magazine she works at. 

Working from these two starts, de Rosnay paints a picture of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, using Julia's narration to expose the larger picture - discussing statistics, numbers, the extent of the planning, and other abstracts; from Sarah's narrative, we get a personal view of what those numbers might hide. 

When I speak of the characterizations, we get some compellingly sympathetic depictions of modern French characters, some people in the English-speaking ex-pat community that Julia orbits, and Julia's daughter Zoe. Sarah's characterization is also excellent, though kept at more of a distance. The biggest problem I had with the modern narrative is that one of the key characters within that portion of the story is Julia's husband - and he's a cipher. Now, some of that, I believe, reflects a deliberate narrative choice by the author - one of the themes for Julia is how examining the story of the Vel d'Hiv is forcing her to reexamine so much else in her life, too. 

While we get told that there was a great deal of physical chemistry between Julia and her husband, we never get any real sense of that in the narrative. It's not that I wanted to be taken into the bedroom with Julia and her husband - but I would like to be able to believe that the two characters being shown to me were people I could believe would go to their bedroom together. And I couldn't. The whole dynamic of that relationship was so unconvincing to me that I really could only connect with Julia's narrative when she dealt with other people. 

In the end the novel does tie the two narratives together in a manner that is plausible, and, if not precisely satisfying, at least having the benefit of verisimilitude. Along the way there are several well done climaxes provided to the reader - and perhaps the most satisfying, for me, came not in Sarah's story, but in Julia's. (I'll discuss that in a moment, when I start connecting the novel to other books, to history, and to certain philosophical points.) In the end I found this to be a very good book - not great, but certainly one I have no trouble recommending to any reader. 

From here on, I will make no further effort to avoid spoilers, and I am going to be bouncing around a lot with connecting this book to other books, fictional and non-fiction, about the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors. And especially about the duty to witness and remember. 

First off, some personal background: when I was a teen my interest in military history, the macabre, and especially survival stories brought me into that subset of WWII themed books dealing with the Holocaust, and especially Holocaust survivor's accounts. I read a lot of these, both age-appropriate ones, and those that were written for the adult audience, too. As such, I have a list of cliches that I expect to see in such stories.

While it has been many years since I was a teen, I found those cliches still fresh in my mind. And with one notable exception de Rosnay seems to have put all of them into her account of Sarah's experiences. Perhaps especially annoying was when they would be present in a manner that seemed to contradict other cliches. Some I can accept as being more-or-less representative of real experiences of survivors, since so much of what happened was contradictory. Other cliches, such as having two girls escaping together from the transit camp at Drancy, but only one of the two surviving, even after they found sympathetic shelter, seemed a bit egregious. While it served a narrative purpose, once more emphasizing how some people were cooperating with the occupiers in their efforts, it remains the incident that most threw me out of the narrative for either story - Sarah's, or Julia's.

(Especially since, if de Rosnay felt, for narrative purposes, she has to make Sarah feel a completely isolated lone survivor, it would have been even more emotionally effective had the gendarme who found the two girls attempting to sneak through the fence stayed with his original impulse - and let only Sarah escape, while taking her friend back to the camp. Granted, that would have tarnished, badly, one of the acts of grace that de Rosnay did make sure to include her narrative, but it wouldn't have felt quite so predictable. Of course, predictable fiction doesn't mean unbelievable fiction. Just often dissatisfying fiction.)

Which brings me to one of the things that I feel was very, very well done in the novel as a whole. While there is no attempt to whitewash anything about the complicity of the government, nor how there was popular support from some people for what happened, there was also no attempt to present that as the sole representation of the French reaction to the occupation or the treatment of the Jews. There are acts of grace all through Sarah's story, culminating not simply with the Dufaure couple, who take in Sarah - but with Julia's father-in-law, and his own father. (Since, of course, Sarah's story and Julia's do connect. See what I said about cliches earlier.)

None of which changes that Sarah went through a shattering experience. Nor is any attempt made to say that the one makes up for the other. Just a recognition that for all the complicity there were numerous individual rebellions, too.

One of the themes throughout Julia's narrative is that of looking away from unpleasant history. Especially history that touches on one's own family, or nation. Julia goes on, time and time again, asking her friends - usually other ex-pats, then even her sister living on Long Island - whether they'd ever been taught anything in school about the Vel d'Hive round up. The clear implication, and I believe it was mentioned at least once, was that Julia felt (and here I can't help but think she was speaking for the author, too) that it was a major failure for those person's education to have left such a horrible event unremarked.

Now, here we start to get into questions of 'who can criticize what.' Or to put it in a more crude fashion, how close need a person be to be able to validly criticize another nation or culture's reaction? Because Julia is an American ex-pat, I think it's quite reasonable for de Rosnay to refuse to have Julia make specific criticisms of the French people and government for how they've been willing to buy into the idea of the Holocaust having been something imposed upon Europe entirely by the Nazis. (More on that in a few paragraphs)

There are several places where the narration invites such criticism from the reader, but wisely de Rosnay keeps Julia from making such criticisms herself.

However, the criticism that Julia seems to focus on is that American schools should be teaching the Vel d'Hiv round up. And I can't agree with that. American curriculum, I think, would be satisfied with making a small stab at the idea that the Holocaust were something uniquely German, or unique to the Nazi party. The truth is a bit murkier, and the Vel d'Hiv round up illustrates that - there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Europe, and even in the US, at that time. The Dreyfus Affair was only completed in 1906, after over a decade of back-and-forth about the role of Jews in French society. The cooperation provided not simply within occupied France, but from Vichy France, towards the racial goals of the Nazis is something that should be part of US curriculum.

But even more, the US curriculum needs to focus on the questions of our own domestic issues of the time: Why was the MS St. Louis refused permission to debark her passengers in the US? What made that acceptable? What justification was there for gathering up the Nisei into concentration camps of our own? What conditions and attitudes created the mutiny of the African American sailors after the Port Chicago disaster, or any of the other mutinies involving African American troops during WWII?

Rather than focusing on the mote in our neighbor's eye, let's shed some light on things that people like to keep hidden here. That, in my opinion, is a better focus for US curricula than an exhaustive discussion of the Vel d'Hiv round up.

One of the things that becomes increasingly clear to me as I get older is just how convenient scapegoats are. If the scapegoat can be tarred with the whole guilt for some terrible event, it has the effect of taking away the stigma of sins from anyone else who might be at fault as well. To use an example from American history, the Cherokee's Trail of Tears is often presented and remembered as something that Andrew Jackson did to the Cherokee. The reality is rather more disturbing: The Trail of Tears didn't even happen while Jackson was President, but during the term of his successor, Martin Van Buren. The Supreme Court explicitly said that the relocation was legal. The popular support for the relocation was hard to overstate.

But for most Americans, now, it is something done solely by Andrew Jackson. (It certainly helps that while Jackson had his own virtues, it is also accurate to say the man was a cast-iron son-of-a-bitch.)

Similarly, every nation occupied by the Germans during WWII finds it convenient to buy into the narrative that the Holocaust was something imposed upon them by the Germans, or more often, by the Nazis and the Gestapo. This puts the blood guilt onto a foreign group, and even better if it can be a currently marginalized foreign group. And ignores how, with exceptions like Denmark, the governments of occupied territories often complied with the racial agenda of the occupiers.

If we forget such failures of governments, if we allow a veil of silence to be drawn over such incidents - we prevent the sort of questioning attitude that is our best defense against a repeat of similar atrocities in the future. Which, I think, is a position that Julia (and Tatiana de Rosnay, herself) would agree with me about, even if we continue to disagree about the validity of including the Vel d'Hiv round up, as part of a US curriculum.

Friday, January 4, 2013






K1-W1  (a rare land-based B1-RD)

SM-EW variant