Sunday, January 31, 2016

T. L. Davis And Malcomb X

Studio 360 tonight (Public Radio) is about the autobiography of Malcomb X.

It turns out he is a hero of mine.

He was introduced to me by another hero of mine.

I wrote about that in Saigon 1967.

Here is that chapter.

“One of the enlisted men in 7AF DITD shared my outlook on the war effort. He had no use for it. Like me he was too proud to not do the work, but like me, he was willing to let anyone who was around him know that he thought it was stupid waste of time. As he let people know that, he did the work in a superior manner. He must have been consistent in his superior manner of doing things since the beginning of his enlistment because, still in his first term of enlistment, he had already made E4. That was not unheard of but it was only heard of in the case of consistently superior performers.

One of the maddening characteristics of the “war effort” was that there could be large expanses of time requiring little or no “effort”. In the midst of one of the high-level-visitor-from-somewhere-probably-Washington DC goat rodeos it was hard to remember that we weren’t always required to work fast, long and intently – on really stupid things. But there were times, sometimes seemingly most times, when there just wasn’t much to do. Even officers could run out of OPREP 4s to code or Certificates of Destruction to sign.

In those times I usually went to the Officers Club. So did most of the other officers in 7AF DITD.

But enlisted men, since they actually were the ones that knew how to do things, didn’t have that privilege. They had to stay behind, nose to the grindstone, even though many times there was no grindstone. One never knew when the grindstone would appear in the blink of an eye, and in such an eye blink, enlisted competence would be needed the moment the eye blink and accompanying grindstone appearance might occur.

There was a benefit to the enlisted men in this arrangement, however. That was that when things got quiet and sans grindstone, and the officers all disappeared, the enlisted men could do whatever they wanted until either the officers or a grindstone or both reappeared. That sort of equity made time go much faster, I was told in confidence by several sergeants in whom I had complete trust for accuracy and candor.

One day I was too lost in writing a letter to Ruth - my second or third for the day - that I hadn’t noticed the recent exodus of all my fellow officers. That left me there alone, the only source of potential irritation to the enlisted men in their otherwise officerless span of control of the war effort.

When I came up for air, psychologically speaking, I looked around and found myself alone with the massive enlisted corps.

“What the fuck” I thought to myself, and went back to writing.

That apparently marked me – to all the enlisted guys – as a nonconforming officer. But the one who apparently took special note was T. L. Davis, the guy that I mentioned at the outset of this story. I say he took special note, because, unlike the other men, he waited for me to come out of my letter writing coma again and started a conversation.

I don’t remember what we talked about. It must have been somewhat interesting, because I do remember talking with him for quite some time. And that first time set a pattern.

Whenever I found myself in need of a break from coding OPREP4s I either read a book, wrote a letter or talked to T.L. He was a really interesting person.

T.L. stood for Toussaint Louverture.

T.L. was from New York. He claimed to know Adam Clayton Powell. In the course of our conversations he recommended that I read a couple of books. They were both biographies. One was of Sammy Davis Jr. the other was of Malcolm X. Both were good books. The Malcolm X autobiography was life changing for me. Or at least it changed my mind completely about one utterly misrepresented human being and caused me to question the validity of most of what made up the body of fact that we all were brought up to know and accept as cornerstone truths.

T.L. was a singer.

He entered some sort of theatre wide armed forces talent contest and won in popular vocal and took second in classical vocal. It appeared to me the race card had been in play in the classical award. But who knew?

T.L. had a DEROS much before mine so after a time I lost a valuable conversation partner.

I got his address and sent him a letter a few weeks after he left, but I never heard back.

I had thought we were friends of some sort, but I guess that hadn’t been the case.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Thoughts About “Classified” Information

I saw today that the latest Hillary witch hunt is to be centered around the asserted “fact” that her now infamous email server has been found to contain information “above top secret”.

Later in the day I heard her interviewed by Ari Shapiro.  He, of course, asked her about this new assertion.

She declined to say much in answer other than that she would leave it up to the experts in whatever agency was conducting the witch hunt to clarify things.

But then she did say one other thing.

She said that the only item she was aware of which apparently had fallen into the “above top secret” category was a New York Times article that she had forwarded to somebody.

That unleashes for me a hoard of memories and forces me to publish here an excerpt from my little Vietnam memoir: Saigon 1967.


“The commissioned ranks of Air Intelligence had two separate specialty codes – 8054 for Briefing Office and 8044 for Photo Interpretation Officer.

When I was in Saigon I was a Briefing Officer. A Briefing Officer’s job was to “sell” the Air Operations people (the pilots) on various targets.

The Photo Interpretation Officer was in charge of identifying all potential targets and learning everything they could about those targets, working them into a great strategic mélange of information that could be accessed tactically in support of the strategy of winning the “war effort”.

The interlock between the strategic mélange and tactical execution was the Briefing Officer. Briefing Officers “sold” the Air Operations liaison Intelligence Officers – another, unknown to me, specialty code - on various targets.

In actual fact, there was no real relation between the targets we tried to “sell” and winning the war. We simply had an untold number of things that could be bombed and we needed to bomb as many of them as possible, as often as possible. We talked about strategic/tactical results, but the reality was, there were a bunch of guys running around in black pajamas causing untold trouble. It was thought by our leaders that if we put enough airplanes in the air every day over enough targets we would probably kill some of those guys in black pajamas. The mélange and the selling were nothing more than a grand charade in which we indulged to implement actions in service of our leaders’ assumption. The truth was that it was an elegant and macabrely massive application of the random walk theory. But that was not a truth that anyone would admit. It was too much like the works of Shakespeare from a room full of monkeys theory.

In my time in Saigon there was one violation of the application of the ongoing random walk approach to dropping ordinance on the enemy. That was a two or three month period in which the Mu Ghia Pass was bombed around the clock. At the Mu Ghia Pass there was a confluence of a number of trails that the enemy used to bring men and supplies into South Vietnam. The roads came from a variety of countries. That confluence at Mu Ghia was seen as a concentration point which the enemy had to traverse. “If we are willing to expend enough ordinance over a long enough time, without letup, we can stop them,” thought the warriors-in-chief.

After several months there had been no measurable decline in men or supplies from the enemy in South Vietnam.

The project was abandoned. We returned to a random walk.

Since the components of our strategic mélange lacked any actual strategic or tactical value, and since all the vast hoard of classified material supporting the creation and “sale” of the mélange wasn’t even accurate, or based in any rational conception of reality, I turned to another source.

I had noticed that Time Magazine (I had my Time subscription delivered to me in Saigon, albeit a version with very thin paper compared to the domestic magazine) had much deeper discussions of many of our targets. And Time’s discussion of the conduct and results of many of the missions with which I was familiar was much more in-depth, interesting and insightful than the information I could glean from classified sources. At first this irritated me. Why were my classified sources so boring, irrelevant, wrong and, basically, useless? Why couldn’t we do a better job? Why couldn’t we do a competent job of gathering and disseminating intelligence? Time magazine could; why couldn’t we?

Then an idea occurred to me. Why not use Time as my source wherever possible for my briefings? Who would know? I read the classified stuff. Nobody would know that I was only using the classified stuff as a fact checker where that was possible against what Time had to say. Where the facts were absent and Time had information so much the better. There was no way to question me.

My briefings, which had been up to that point encounters my audience bore up under as a professional duty requirement, quickly became lively well-attended events. I suddenly gained the reputation of being a young officer on the rise. And, best of all, I was assimilating and purveying information that was actually interesting enough to keep everybody, even me, awake and paying attention. But I had already made the career decision not to let anybody or anything make me really care.

That was probably a good thing.

On the strength of my vastly improved briefing skill I was chosen to replace a departing lieutenant whose primary function had been to brief every morning the brigadier general who was commander of the entire 7AF HQ intelligence function. The subject of these briefings was everything that had happened overnight. The problem with that, in addition to an aversion I had toward generals, was that the information available for preparing them was only our useless, boring, inaccurate classified information. Time magazine was weekly. Its information was a week old, not overnight. So I was back in the soup.

The difference this time was that the general really thought he was winning the “war effort” and wanted to know “what” and “why” and “who” and a bunch of other interrogatives about every subject. That information was either not readily available or was totally unavailable. Without Time Magazine I was dead meat. As a result my answers very quickly transmitted the impression, which was fact, that I didn’t give a shit and, in any event the interrogatives were so trivial as to be ridiculous.

I was quickly replaced with someone who gave a shit.”

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Cold Morning On Lopez Island

The animals and birds don’t care if it’s cold.

They just come out and do whatever it is that they do.

Here are a few of them from this morning.

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lopez rabbit 010916 00000

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Two Things I’d Like to See Happen

First, I would like President Obama to sign the republican bill repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The speech associated with the signing would go something like:

“After saying my prayers this morning I have concluded that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are right and that they and their party should fix our health care system.  I have done my best to that end, but they obviously know better. I am sure all of my fellow Americans who will lose coverage with this repeal will be immediately taken care of by Paul, Mitch and all the boys and girls in the GOP.  Good luck y’all.”

Second, I would like to see Donald Trump elected President of the United States.

That would pretty much bring the whole thing down around our ears in one swift fel swoop.

I hate waiting for the inevitable when the inevitable is so unpleasant.

Why not all at once, right now, and with great entertainment value?