29 May 2009

Blog Has Moved

Hey, guys,

For all future blog posts, go to the new site at http://servicemembersunited.org/?cat=13. This will be my last post on blogspot. See you on wordpress!


27 May 2009

Sand and Seals

Sand flies through the air, for a second providing a brown tinge to the haze already obstructing the sun. A few grains land on my face, in my eyes, on my tongue. I don’t mind, as I know I will be looking at moments like this nostalgically in just a few days. In moments the bluish-grey returns, an ever-present mist as much a part of Monterey as the local seals barking less than twenty feet away, their language muffled only slightly by that same fog. We used to joke that the barking signified the beginning of mating season, periodic as it was. Or periodic as we thought it was. I suspect we only noticed the barks when the comfort of regularity was interrupted by uncommon events.

Brown suddenly rises, falls. Sand again hits my face. I wipe a little off, wincing as the grains remind me of the sunburn from a few days ago that still has yet to heal. Sand mixing in with greasy sunscreen somehow remains less appealing - as it does when you are young and impatient with practicality – so I don’t castigate myself too much for carelessly staying out in the sun too long. The pain is more an annoying heat, anyway, and doesn’t last more than a minute.

Brown, grey. I wipe sand off my cleanly shaven head, pale in contrast to a pink face because the hair was removed the night before. I had sworn to my roommate I would bic my head if I were to pass the DLPT, a promise I would not have kept were it to anyone else. Debts of gratitude somehow make honoring ridiculous bets more feasible.

Once more the brown obscures my vision, this time accompanied by angry grunts and mad noises. I realize the sounds are not as sudden as I thought, as I jump out of my self-indulgent thoughts into a tirade of frustration.

“…failed! Again! What is wrong with me, Chappy? I studied so hard for this, so hard - you were there! - and I missed again by one point. One point!” Sarah kicks another clod of sand up in frustration.

I duck to avoid this latest attack, no longer motivated by the prospect of nostalgia. “With only one point, I can’t imagine they won’t let you try again,” I appease, rather unconvincingly. Another attempt was highly unlikely. The only reason we as a group were allowed to retake the DLPT the first time was a result of the command feeling external pressure due to the abnormally high attrition rate of Korean linguists.

“Every night I fell asleep listening to my tapes, Chappy!” Sarah continued, as if I had not spoken. I’m suddenly reminded why I had spaced out in the first place. “I don’t know what happened, but I could not understand anything during the test. The audio was horrible!” She was right, the audio was horrific: no joke, a test for Korean language listening ability required the speaker to fill his mouth with cotton and caramel before recording the audio with his mouth on the receiver. This alone was not justification for complaint, if not for the fact that the average rating for the listening test for any other language was typically at least a half tier higher than that of a Korean linguist. Sarah’s 1+, one point shy of the necessary 2, was understandably hard to swallow. I had passed by the same margin.

“Well, what did the command tell you?” I interject, trying to steer the conversation towards finding a solution. I already knew the answer, however, justifiably earning Sarah’s withering look.

I had accompanied Sarah back to Alpha Company after we had received our scores. After Sarah had revealed her score to a platoon sergeant, he looked over at me and asked if I had failed as well. I shook my head slightly, not wanting to bring attention to my own accomplishment when Sarah was feeling so miserable. The platoon sergeant understood, and quietly told Sarah to “take a weekend pass, and we can discuss options on Monday after formation.”

Of course a weekend pass was not the solution, not when Sarah’s friends were packing and leaving for Texas. I had already scheduled the movers to pick up all the random junk I had accumulated over eighteen vigorous months at DLI. It seemed I would have to leave a few things behind. Not yet, however. Today was for Sarah.

I make a quick joke about Doritos and squirrels that to this day only Sarah would appreciate, and finally a hint of a smile sneaks on her face. Good. Now to get her to laugh.

Eventually the fog remains a steady grey as we talk and reminisce over the next few hours. And as I go to bed that night and wipe the remaining sand from my lips, I at last let myself be excited for the future.

30 March 2009

Two New Developments

First, Ellen Tauscher can no longer head the Congressional repeal effort, mainly because the new Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security will very soon no longer be in Congress. MREA will be lacking leadership, at least for a few seconds. Congressional momentum is effectively stalled.

Second, SecDef Gates has confirmed the Obama administration intent of keeping DADT on the back-burner. Executive momentum: also stalled.

Analysis: DADT is not getting repealed anytime soon, for reals this time. Though, as I've said in previous blogs, this should not be surprising to anyone. Let's not be dramatic by wasting our time whining re: campaign "lies," and instead utilize this opportunity to grow our base.

I've got a longer anecdotal blog coming up. In the meantime, I invite you to check out new SU blogger Dylan Knapp and his blog An Army of Fun. When you're done with that, cruise through the rest of the SU blog-roll. We really have collected quite the phenomenal team, and I couldn't be prouder.

13 March 2009

Not That I Needed to Prove My Point Further

Last night I had the opportunity to share dinner with a good friend from SLDN’s board and a new friend who works under what seems to be an individually a socially conservative Congressman with a very socially conservative constituency. The SLDN board member shares my frustration with the framing of the topic as a gay issue. The Congressional lawyer shared that his Congressman would never sign on to repeal of DADT, fearing the wrath of his constituency for supporting a ‘gay’ cause.

Case in point.

09 March 2009

Now, Let's Not Get Too Excited

It’s March, and not much progress has been made in repeal since Obama took office. This should not be surprising for anyone with any real grasp on both the Washington machine and the past history of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ though there are quiet grumblings the gay community is being thrown under the bus ala Clinton, etc, etc.

Enter Nathaniel Frank’s new book, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. With quite a few interesting bombshells regarding DADT casually placed among some pretty neat stories of some gay and lesbian service members you may or may not be familiar with (plug, plug), Unfriendly Fire may well be this generation’s Conduct Unbecoming.

Well. The book actually launched last Tuesday at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. Slated to speak were Nathaniel Frank – the author – and Larry Korb, former Assistant SecDef under Reagan and participant in a Blue Ribbon study and panel regarding the fiscal cost of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I’ve shared a panel with both in the past (preen, preen), so I knew both were quality speakers able to provide an engaging question and answer period much more substantive than you usually get at these sort of talks.

There were rumors that Representative Ellen Taucher would make an appearance at the event, though very few were aware of her intentions to announce the reintroduction of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (hereafter MREA). Suddenly this talk became much more relevant in the eyes of the media, and subsequently much more politicized and much less candid. Boo.

Now, the fact that MREA was reintroduced was not a surprise by any means. The bill has been in a constant state of limbo since Marty Meehan first introduced it in 2005, and has been a means to bring attention to the issue and show a slowly growing base of Congressional support. What was surprising was the tone of Taucher’s speech: Outside of somewhat outdated talking points you’d hear from pretty much anyone marginally familiar with the issue, Tauscher seemed insistent on framing the argument as a civil rights issue, deliberately and ostensibly dismissing more tangible and politically viable reasons for repeal.

Put differently: Tauscher, one of our more vocal powerful allies in this issue, sees repeal of DADT as a gay issue, not one of national security. And guess which party is more of a stickler for civil rights. Immediately MREA became much more polarized than it needs to be, than it should be. I would argue the movement to repeal DADT is to be blamed for this faux pas.

The week before the announcement, Alex and I had been making the rounds on the Hill, doing behind the scenes meetings with moderate Democrats just so we could get a good gauge on how close we really are to repeal, and to see whether or not Tauscher really has the votes she says she does. I can tell you right now that she doesn’t.

What we were told: [Insert Representative] is not ready to take a stance on repeal as [he/she] does not believe the current bill (MREA in its previous incarnations) fully accommodates all the sweeping changes that are associated with repeal of DADT. The new policy – as it stands – is flawed, and there is no reason to push forward a policy change when the current policy works just fine.

When asked for elaboration on the ‘sweeping changes’ of DADT, the standard responses of people who are simply uninformed would inevitably present themselves, namely new harassment policies, barracks accommodations, etc. While there may be a need for a deeper plan, these particular issues are either already taken care of, or are not realistic.

Other important aspects of the argument for repeal that were for the most part unknown: the usage of testimony from chaplains and psychiatrists as submissible evidence for discharge, the corresponding effects of DADT on the recovery of PTSD victims, the lack of training on the policy throughout the services and the associated non-uniform implementation of the policy by commanders, the many, many cases of open homosexuality within ranks that create no issue whatsoever, and so on.

These Representatives, these moderate Democrats from whom a good many people are expecting positive votes when repeal of DADT hits the floor, do not know the standard, non-civil rights oriented, arguments for repeal, and so do not feel comfortable enough to take a stance in districts they’re holding onto mostly because Republicans are not very popular right now.

I have said this ad nauseum, and I will say it again: We cannot win this fight by creating partisan debate, and we cannot win this fight by framing it as a civil rights or gay issue. DADT is not a gay issue. Unsigned moderates will not flock to our side no matter what the polls say (well, not yet, anyway).

The public may be ready for repeal, but Congress is not. Let’s not get too comfortable, and assume repeal is inevitable. We’ve got a ton of work to do, still. And as the debate becomes more imminent, our time grows short.

Let’s not screw this up again.

24 December 2008

For Margaret

Over the past week or so my partner Alex's mom, Margaret Nicholson, has been in the ICU at Duke with a serious respiratory disorder. A week ago we didn't think she'd last longer than a day. Needless to say, the days leading up to Christmas have been difficult.

Yesterday Margaret woke up, and has been talking up a storm ever since. Well, as big a storm as someone as intubated and heavily sedated as she has been can create. There's some delirium and funny stories I'm sure she'll appreciate later, and of course there's still a chance of regression, but I feel comfortable enough now to put into writing that it looks like she'll be okay.

Heartwarming Christmas miracles aside, Margaret is one of those people that is encouraging in her purity, and just somehow...gets it. I'm not quite sure what 'it' is, but when encountering Margaret's generosity and overall good nature, one begins to suspect she possesses some sort of deep secret that only age and a small town life can reveal.

While considering what to write in today's blog, I came across a poem that seems to somewhat describe that 'it.' I've read it a few times before, but for some reason, today it resonates deeply.

The poem is called Desiderata and was written in 1927 by Max Ehrman:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
- Max Ehrmann

I'm sure in a few months I'll find this blog post ridiculously cheesy, as some of you may be finding today. I think for now I'll indulge in the moment, and worry about my reputation as a writer when cynicism once again sets in.

13 December 2008

Papers and Obligations

It always takes me forever to begin a research paper, the one I just wrote being no exception. It’s about the dynamic of the multilateral relationship between Beijing, Pyongyang, and Washington – one of those that you pretty much already know the likely conclusion of your research before you start, but you take on as a topic anyway because there’s a lot of data out there and it’ll be an easy A. Plus, there’s tons of background information there that may eventually be useful for my thesis. Good stuff. Well, boring stuff, really. But I like it.

If the paper were broken down into smaller projects throughout the semester – each with deadlines – and eventually brought together into one big paper, it would be a much easier to handle – more palatable, I should say. Actually, I take that back, as we did do precisely that when I was an undergrad, and we bitched about writing papers then too. I think there was just an overall aversion to doing more work than necessary.

Or maybe we were avoiding the risk of learning something outside the classroom that wasn’t spoon-fed to us by our exasperated professors. Avoiding, I say, because this information may be known by no one else inside our classroom – professors included – which presents a twofold obligation: a). to take the information into account when presenting anything related to that nugget of data; and b). to connect that information to your reputation and risk being debated on the topic. In other words, we would risk being treated as an expert when we had neither the inclination nor the background to claim that title. And last thing we ever wanted to do was to fail expectations. At least, the last thing I ever wanted to do. Perhaps I’m projecting.

Eventually I just reach into that part of myself that numbs my surroundings and is focused on getting the job done, and then do just that.

10 December 2008

Ask Not DVD Update

For those of you who either can't make it to any of the 'Ask Not' screenings or can't wait until June to watch the somewhat truncated version of the documentary on PBS, Ask Not is available on DVD as of...well, a month ago, actually. I will say that the documentary captures Servicemembers United's message quite well, and is very useful for convincing those straggling friends of yours who don't understand why it's so important to push for DADT repeal. Go back a few posts and you'll catch my admittedly biased semi-review of the doc. For more thorough reviews, just google 'Ask Not' and 'Johnny Symons' (the director), and you should get a better picture of exactly how powerful the film is.

If and when you're ready to buy the DVD, it's available at http://asknotfilm.com/anordertwo/. For public/school copies for mass screenings, the best thing to do is to contact Johnny directly, here: info@persistent-visions.com.

As far as future screenings go, I believe a few weeks before the doc launces on PBS there will be a nationwide screening at 50 theatres to promote the film. More on that later.

Seriously, this film is incredibly powerful, and one more useful tool in the fight against DADT.

07 December 2008

Sometimes You're Caught Off-Guard

The last thing I expected to see last night while watching National Geographic was a friend’s death on camera. I won’t say which show it was, and I won’t claim we were close. We did train together, and I recall liking him a heck of a lot, which is not surprising, as he was well liked. One thing that I most deeply recall about him is his overall uncommon genuineness and dedication to his family.

I don’t think I can go farther without sounding trite.

06 December 2008

A Change of Heart

You know, this post was initially intended to be a warning that the Proposition 8 aftermath and the associated gay militantism could scare the upcoming administration into shying away from tackling DADT anytime soon, but I think continuing on that line of thought would be defeatist and pessimistic, as future developments within American politics are already panning out in a predictable fashion, as they tend to do. So, no lecture today, unfortunately.

Why such a swift change of heart? Two reasons:

a). The American public has a ridiculously short attention span.

I know, duh, right? But, for a second there, the rise of civic engagement surrounding the Obama campaign seemed to be forcing a reexamination of cynically held truths of American political involvement.

Fast forward one month after the election, and – Proposition 8 musical and court challenges aside – most of the violent protests and newsworthy events have already died down. The initial reaction to the passage of Proposition 8, while exciting, was also unsettling, as there was an accompanying subtle threat that a significant civil rights surge could begin a few months before the advent of the Obama administration, when the same kind of surge would be much more useful four years ago - or perhaps even four years from now. Should the level of response initially exhibited continue through January, I think at best an awkward situation for the Obama administration would have been created, and quite possibly gay rights activists would have looked foolish to the greater American public for taking attention from much more pressing issues, specifically the economy.

It seems, however, that gays are indeed just as American as anyone else – crazy, I know – and Americans hate focusing on anything longer than necessary. This may change, but I’m guessing we won’t be seeing any large Prop 8 protests during Obama’s inauguration. Or at least any warranting media attention. Which is a good thing.

b). I don’t think Obama has any intention of actively pushing repeal of DADT within the first few years of his presidency, anyway. Why? Outside of dodgy comments regarding the issue that have made their way to the media, I have spurious and dubious observations of my own, based on Obama’s official civil rights agenda:

  • the first two items on the gay rights list are Hate Crimes and ENDA, both of which should be ready to go through Congress immediately;

  • if the placement of the first two items are any indication of priority, the placement of repeal of DOMA and passively opposing any sort of Federal marriage amendment before the repeal of DADT is telling;

  • the wording used in the agenda, similar to sound-bites in the media, stress working with military leaders in repeal. While this is absolutely how the issue should be approached, it also subtly states Obama will not make the same mistake Clinton did, and force military leaders to examine the possibility of open homosexuality in the military under sharp Congressional and media scrutiny. Which in turn indicates every incentive for Obama not to even address DADT within the first few months – perhaps even years – of his administration.

What does this mean for the DADT movement in general? Mainly that we still have our work cut out for us. Given the same lack of attention span of the American public mentioned above, DADT needs to stay in the media through repeated events and research that show even more appalling costs of the policy for it to remain a priority on the gay rights list. Most importantly, more time means more opportunities for meetings with key individuals that will eventually be party to the inevitable debate once the policy does hit the floor of both Houses.

In other words, Servicemembers United is just as important as it ever has been. Rest assured, we will live up to the high standards we have set for ourselves through the Call To Duty Tour and the Flags on the Mall event, and we aim to only set the bar higher.

I have no doubt that 2009 will be an exciting year.