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Atomized junior

Saturday, May 31, 2008

 There was a morning one day last spring; I was biking into work. I work in a library at a large public university so invariably this involves emerging into a roiling bustle of people as I get on campus. On the other side of the street I saw a beautiful women, lovely and graceful. She was in plain fact hot. "I never get to know women like that" I thought. However; as I passed and glanced over I realized it was Huyen Trân. For the remaining fifth of a mile, till I got to the bike rack and locked up, this gave me a few things to think over.

 One thing I've never done in the seven or so years I've been writing to this web log is write about food. I know I eat. Well, indirectly I know this. The government's height to weight ratio scale advises me, for the data points at hand, that I am in no imminent danger of starving. I thought perhaps I could write a little about lunch which is really my favorite meal. More particularly by way of illustrating contrast, some of my lunches against some of Trân's

  A word about my lunches. If asked in the late afternoon all I could really tell you is that it was probably ham and cheese, or tuna fish, maybe hummus (if I bought lunch out at the food coop that day), but I would be fairly certain it was a sandwich, because it's always a sandwich. 

  Now let's consider five Viet Girl lunches. These are not recipes, I don't know enough about food to set down recipes, more breve descriptive statements based on observation and some restrained inquiry. To the ends of my limited ability to even describe such things. However, I can assure you these all appeared smelled and tasted completely wonderful. Concerning containers and heating, generally it was her preference not to use microwave reheating but to set a tupperware or gladware type container into a larger one of very hot water. For details beyond my notes you will have to ask her.

  1. Rice (generally ordinary white rice often but not always with soy sauce as accompaniment); mustard greens, a pickeled egg.
  2. Rice; lettuce & celery, ground fish, with fish sauce and lemon.
  3. Rice; pulled squid (thin, perforated almost sheet-like in appearance), with red pepper, lettuce.
  4. Rice; thin tenderloin roast beef, mint, in a thin lemon, garlic & red onion broth (the beef boiled briefly in water salt lemon, skimed, squeezed, dried, then introduced to the broth.) salted and peppered to taste.
  5. Rice; shredded pork, a thin cabbage soup or maybe it was a stew.
  6. Bonus round: Rice; a little ground pork, a green onion, with a single, but very large goose egg. Obtained, I was told in Germantown, near Gaithersburg.

 As rice seemed to be the unifying principle to Trân's lunches. Some thoughts on rice are appropriate here. What is rice? Rice - Wikipedia. Rice is a simple grass. There are two (domesticated) species:  Oryza Sativa, and Oryza glaberrima. There are three types of the former which constitute most of what we know as rice: Indica, Sinica-Japonica, Javonica. These break down by how they are grown. In a field nourished only by rain water is dry rice. Or dependent on irrigation systems or river flooding and immersed in water for most of their growing cycle is wet rice. This rice is most common and is of traditionally higher yield, but natively rice is a marsh grass and evolved to take in nutrients in a water bourne environment.

What meaning has Rice though? At one point Nina, another coworker who is from the Philippines, happened by, "Rice" she said, "My husband likes rice - everyday - I do not like it so much." Trân glanced up at her and briefly a look passed over her face as if some grand apostasy had appeared before her (it was very similar to the look she gave me when she learned I was protestant). She declined to respond. Rice is food. A synomyn complete in itself for the entire idea of nourishment and health. One might almost say Rice is life. If that seems an over-statement, that did not stop the FAO from giving a book that title a few years ago Rice is life : International Year of Rice 2004 and its implementation [] ). Even Rice Almanac lets you know from the cover how it feels Rice almanac : source book for the most important economic activity on earth [].  In marketing rice: purity and wholeness a perfection of appearence are interwoven completely in the trade. The milling process involves cleaning pearling buffing and polishing steps (with talc) before rice is presented for grading. The best rice is unbroken and jewel-like in appearance. Rice is the embodiment of culture, ways of life. The measure of seasons and days. In the transplanting of the seedlings, a hand-measure of aesthetic and orderly line across the land.

  Rice exemplfies systematic agriculture, the effect of technology old and new. Rice was a tricky crop and required study of weather, nature and accumulation of knowledge to master. In the last few hundred years it was understood that rice wanted civil engineering; vast manufactured irrigation systems extending hundreds of square miles in order to flourish. This led to rice's triumphant rise from luxury crop; desired and with ancient pedigree, but not dominant. Not widely available at affordable cost - to an international traded commodity and dietary staple. It is with this over arching idea that Latham opens his overview of current rice practices Rice : the primary commodity []. This is a small and somewhat recent book on rice. The big book on rice is Grist's Rice []. The last steps in this story are the green revolution of the 60's and 70's, building on the now reliable crops that irrigation systems engendered. And establishment of all-critical milling operations closer to regional centers of production. So that surplus rice could be made a commodity, traded and earn money for the farmer. Since Latham wrote his book, which I read most of, Vietnam has assumed one of the top positions in international rice trade and even has a web site dedicated to just that  Vietnamese Rice | Home.

  Success brings challenge, though. The rate of ever-increasing yields is tapering off, the rate of world population increase is not. Demand and price are up considerably particularly this year. There is increasing fear that rice could become unaffordable to some dependant on it. This has placed a critical focus on Catholic Charities such as Operation Rice Bowl.  In Asia nearly all cultivatable land is already in production, although in many places capital investment in infrastructure (irrigation) has waned dropping productivity. There has been a diminishing return to investment on new hybrid introduction which must be continued to stay ahead of pests. The increasing costs of modern fertilizers for the hybrids already narrowed the measure of yield against cost. All this has left the International Rice Research Institute - or Rice Web (IRRI)  the premier rice reseach institute in Los Banos, Republic of the Philippines, set up with Ford and Rockefeller foundation funding in the 1960's looking for a new break through or new land to bring under cultivation

 Addendum:  Feeling guilty for have reworked Trân's lunch recipes into a single paragraph rather than a fuller treatment I had originally intended. I talked to her about these few things on rice I had just learned.  Discovering then that after Saigon fell and for the years her father was imprisoned, her mother ran a small rice farm, ten acres or so, in the Mekong delta. Somewhere in the vicinity of Vinh Long I think, and this is where Trân lived when she was young. Their farm even included its own milling, polishing grading, and packing facility. Which she indicated was largely run without the contributions of electrical power. She knew all about voracious planthoppers, the problem of lodging stalks, and the protective little fish (and crabs she says) that live in the flooded paddies, which are mostly smart enough to swim away with the water when the paddies are drained. She allowed herself a moment to reflect on the modest fullness and self sufficiency of the small farm life. Trân, it turns out, knew more about rice culture than I will ever be able to learn. But even this teaches me.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Re: Public

 Natural disasters reveal a societies structure. They reveal a cultures hidden joints and weak points. These parts are habitually papered over by the surplus of normal give and take an appear non-the-worse for it. But strong winds strip this away: China: 40,000 dead, 5 million homeless after quake - , Myanmar Raises Cyclone Toll to 78,000.

 Particularly emergencies reveal the nature of the governing elites relation to the people. They do that with growing clarity through three phases of a disaster. Immediate reaction: the first responders. These are the actions of the police, fire and health professionals in the affected area.  The next phase is the aftermath, when the central government reacts and directs additional resources to the area to provide relief for the exhaustion of initial efforts. The last phase is the restoration of normalacy and efforts to bring the area back into national productivity. Things are cleaned up and rebuilt. Peoples input is heard, and the bureaucracy is examined. What joins all this is these are all points where resources and money are allocated. 

 All societies aim at a certain ideal state. One of harmony; balance and prosperity.  Towards this end they claim a government by for and of the people. In practice quite universally a bipartite affair: the governed and the governing. What we really desire is to not be left ungoverned. That these halves remain a whole. It is an unmistakable marker of illegitimacy when a government does not respond well to a crisis.

 Political theory traditionally had its ideas of how a society ends up with a governing structure. Social Compacts, moments of singular unity when agreement passes through a group and they become a people. It doesn't make much difference in the end whether this moment is a mystery, mysticism, or memory, as long as the people concede it must have happened. The government gains authority and responsibility. They set a cultural optimality and set it above the level of individual experience. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, is more critical than the unfettered autonomy of the one.  From this arises a model of order, and a repression of anything deviating from that order. This order good or bad will result in general happiness or suffering respectively. Which is judged and felt by the individual, whose well-being in the end is tied to the ability to take actions and make decisions to bring their own life and body back into balance. Even the perception of good or bad order is a perception of individuals tied to their own set of experience convenience and adjustment. 

 A society perhaps can be thought of as a set of lines. A main line possessing a vector, a direction arising out of the discourse of myriad adjacencies. A separate far smaller parallel line representing the ruling regime which attempts to control the discourse and direction of the first. The distance across is the public space and the primary control is to allow only the public voice in that space. The ruler to the ruled, a public voice of referendum (when allowed) to the ruler. No other institutions or processes can be allowed in that space.

 Both Burma and China are authoritarian states. China nominally a republic of the people. Burma, in its guise as Myanmar, no more than an experiment in military tyranny. In both (and they are certainly not alone in this) power and privilege flow together readily to form a sustaining elite, a local nobility. China's rulers appeared to be concerned for its citizens. Alongside its own primacy of course, but the military and bureaucracies turned with a single and efficient face and headed out Teams Struggle to Reach Earthquake Survivors. Data was collected, needs assesed, media coverage organized. More singularly briefly China's people seemed ready and able to care for themselves. Critical public space was allowed open, to fill with spontaneous emergence of citizen assistance, philanthropy and covenanting identity Chinese Open Wallets to Aid Earthquake Victims. The party warming to its practical side seems inclined to allow this for now. As long, I expect, as no group declares or intimates it cares more or can do more for the people than the party Can Charity Change China? - The Burmese junta demonstrated absolute unconcern for the people of Burma Myanmar Farmers May Miss Harvest, and even appeared aggrieved that the people's misfortune called for some action or appearance of sympathy on their part. The US Navy which after the tsunami a few years ago was able to move supplies in at critical junctures has been disallowed and must sail away U.S. Navy Waiting for Junta's Permission to Deliver Burma Aid - The generals have from the day they invalidated the election of 1990 and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest never been less than Parasitic and Unobliging. Even a month after cyclone Nargis their denial their callous murderous disdain is untouched Myanmar Warned Over Forcing Cyclone Survivors Home - But I must not think bad thoughts. It is simply that the Burmese Generals, Than Shwe and the rest, believe manfully in the highest good: order. Order and obedience. The State Peace and Development Council maintains this. The three main objectives of the Union of Solidarity and Development are: 1) Non-disintegration of the Union 2) Non disintegration of national solidarity 3) Perpetuation of sovereignty.  Now I am, again un-troubled (see 2:57) and one with the lotus.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I watched the entire ten hours of PBS's documentary CARRIER | PBS (the life of an Aircraft Carrier) the other week. I think I was the only person of those I know who did. That put a bit of a dent in what all else I got done that week, but it was worth it. I was immersed engaged captivated. I spent most of year once on one of those things. A television special like this answers two questions for me: What was going on around me back then, what was it all about? And who was I then? The first because you never see more than a small slice of the total reality of a ship like that from your own perspective. Secondly you remember just enough to have this, let you understand how you may have appeared to others.

A picture named Ranger_VF21.jpg Big Grey and Underway The USS Ranger with VF 21 probably in the socal op area for the 1979 Westpac.

There were no real false notes that I saw in this documentary. I attribute this to the care of the film team, to their decision to live with the crew for the duration of the cruise and not just drop by to grab footage and clear out. Also they understood that the ship is (in any given instance) its crew not the steel. This, they said, was advice from the captain, and there is a quote to this effect prominently displayed on the documentary's web site. Further they understood enough to film the demographic center of the crew. Which largely is a peck of people in their first few years out of high school. The command master chief makes this observation at one point, he wouldn't need to say that to anybody whose been on a carrier. I don't think I ever met the Ranger's Master Chief. Of course I was with the air wing not ships company [technically detached to ship's company] and besides I took strenuous effort in those days to keep as much distance as I could between myself and any chief petty officer. Officers especially fighter pilots have had their lives vastly detailed and romanticized elsewhere in popular culture so that they need only be brought in to round this story out.

The film makers followed a select group of people around for the cruise allowing them to represent the crew at large and get to know some individuals well enough to see what things meant to them CARRIER . The Crew | PBS. I thought this worked well and there four crewman in particular that I saw myself relating to. First of all AN Christian Garzone: because he was a cut-up. He clearly lacks that instinct for crisp military severity, but beyond that he was a serious intelligent, and sincere person, and painfully young. He, I identified with. AOAN Chris Altice also. He was a lot like all the people of my cohort who I knew well: A fretter, not really sold on the Navy. One foot in one foot out. Frankly that described most of us then. SSgt Randy Brock was the image of the non commissioned officers (e4-e9) I admired and would sometimes imagine becoming, but their reality, people on their second and third enlistments, was not my reality then, and I don't think I understood them very well. Or gave them their due. LCDR Kevin McLaughlin was like many of the officers I knew. Being enlisted I didn't know any of them well, but the familiar officers. The pilots who would come down to the CVIC for post flight debriefings. The ones like the pilots in my own squadron. Something about LCDR McLauglin also reminded me of the 1630s I worked with. The documentary did not appear to talk to anyone from my own rating.

The documentary made be more aware of the frission of my own changing attitude towards the Navy over the years. I've always had a natural sympathy with sailors and those in service, but I've thought about it more the last several years, and have worked towards a greater understanding of the life they lead, and the work they do, while at the same time arriving at a much sharper view of what is called National Security and the role of the professional military (and its attendants) in a nation which intends democracy. Dreams; though, are the final realm of how you feel. I've had reoccuring dreams of embarking on a second cruise, dreams of intense mundaneness, which began as soon as I left the fleet. I imagine if I could I'd do it again.

A ship has a history and life beyond any particular crew of course CARRIER . The Ship | PBS. But if you know these stories, you know the ship, the ship abstracted. The documentary got all the key things in place, the work, the ports, military life of an airfield. The emphasis on everydayness sometimes masked the critical and highly visible nature of a forward deployed carrier. The purpose and progress seemed distant. You get close to a central truth of carriers if you view them through the lens of being a special type of air-base. Their movement potentials a facet of their whole only. Their primary nature as an air power military instrument. All the same, the logic of their best use, is understood through the traditional notions of sea-power. The emphasis placed on the thirteen carriers required the Navy evolve as a hybrid institution (even further allowing for Marine airpower dedicated to the separate idea of ground troop support to coexist with it). This has made the Modern U S Navy a very complex entity.

A picture named CV61_NotUnderWay.jpgCV 61 catching some rays on a quite day

A good deal of the fun with a show like this is looking for the differences (and similarities) between the USS Ranger then and the USS Nimitz now. Primarily - going for the big and obvious: women and email on board ship. We didn't have that. I wrote the same thing here six years ago, at that time it was a real eye-opener. This was on the occasion of an NBC documentary on 17 April 2002 on life aboard the USS John C Stennis, CV 74. I see I even wrote then (06 May 2002): "It seems to me every five to ten years somebody runs a piece like this - one of the networks, Frontline, Nova, somebody - and I usually watch it." I believe the Stennis is the ship that replaced the Ranger in the fleet. John Stennis, a US Senator, was a democrat. I didn't even know DoD let ships be named after democraters, warms my heart it does.

It was interesting to see a fuller look into gender integration at sea, and a couple of years after the previous documentary. It largely confirmed my suspicions that with a little practice this is a viable way of crewing a warship. Which undoubtedly makes long at-sea periods less of a mind warp (which really kicks in only when you get back to port) and makes rotating to shore billets easier for everyone. Email still strikes me as a bit of a double edged sword. I saw that while they shut down email at times to preserve operational security, Email, ubiquitous communication with home in general seemed to be the accepted norm. Curiously overall it didn't seem to make people happier than the rather sketchy fleet post office mail I recall. Many would think I'm wrong here, but it's a matter of formalism, of unity of principle. The distance is the reality here. Hourly communication with home only allows elements of closeness an illusion that isn't real to enter. I can see this making things more difficult for many.

Another thing that frankly surprised me was how much the tools, the mission and daily life were essentially unchanged from my cruise on the USS Ranger USS Ranger Museum Foundation. Its still planes, wires and catapults. Even with these 3rd generation nuclear super carriers. These ships CVN-68 Nimitz-class are essentially just bigger versions of the Ranger Forrestal class aircraft carrier - Wikipedia. The biggest difference the nuclear power plant debuted with the USS Enterprise just a few years after the USS Ranger (though not again for a decade until the USS Nimitz) The other essential modifications were accomplished with the USS Kitty Hawk and subsequent ships Moving the island back behind the second starboard elevator and moving the port elevator to aft. The jets are incrementally better, Guided munitions have come into their own, but it's still jets and jet pilots. Nothing substantially different is slated to replace it Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier - Powerset.The areas of concern are still Korea Taiwan and the Persian Gulf (although the Shah is less of a concern). Its still about being prepared to keep the sea lanes trade routes open which means its still about high-granularity maritime surveillance (though they didn't say so). For the people it's still about water and port calls. Some of the documentaries most evocative scenes were the rough weather scenes. I can still remember an episode on the Ranger where briefly our task force entertained the idea of squeezing by a typhoon in the straits of Formosa north into the Philippine sea to continue routine flight operations. The Typhoon enforced its own ops plan and we ended up spending three days north of Luzon with it, while it passed by. I recall the protractor we taped to the overhead with a nut suspended from a thread so we could measure the angles the ship took to. It can be really amusing (in a warped sort of way) when a big ship like a carrier starts to roll in a heavy sea.

While none of the ports they made matched the concentrated debauchery of Subic Bay, they seemed to have fun. Guam only contained aspects, more civilized bar hopping experience, sand and sun like a day-out on Grandee island (the recreation facility at the mouth of Subic bay). We visited Pusan and Phattya beach, stopped at Yokuska twice. I visited Tokyo on one of those occasion. They visited Kuala Lumpur and Bahrain. And they visited Perth, which the Ranger never quite made it to - due to the incident. I'm still bitter about that. C'mon it was 600 ft long and three stories high, w'dya mean you didn't see it?

The Navy in todays world, may seem difficult to get a grasp on. The wars we find ourselves fighting now are not the Navy's fight. The Nimitz came and went from the Persian Gulf on that cruise flying several hundred sorties I imagine, of only uneventful reserve air support. Here as it often has been over the history of the United States; the Navy's role, its participation in defense, is strategic defense. Keeping the lid on - on all the various cans of worms out there. Simply by being sufficient potential force to answer for any action. I admit to a certain tendency to read between the lines here and for all the noise about the sprung threat to the homeland, to see in the quiescence of the carriers, that the danger of certain vectors of radical Islam, while real, are not a major strategic threat. And are undoubtedly capable of being dealt with smaller, smarter, and logarithmically cheaper than they are now.

Since world war two we've had an army group in Germany a portion of another in Korea. Large but formaly established units with dependent facilities. Air force squadrons cycle between stateside and forward bases, England, Turkey. Since the first gulf war the Air Force also took on onerous enforcement of the Iraqi no-fly zone from bases in the middle east. The Army is now in the middle of one of the longest set of repeated field deployments into an active combat zone in its history. Navy life; though, has always been about deployments and separation, it's never been a comfortable family life. Whether ships were sailing into hostile waters or not when you're out there, you are away.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Somewhere in the course of writing the previous post one of those hay fever related spring-time colds caught up with me and pretty much brought mental forward progress to a halt for a few weeks. The FEC post seemed weak and I lost interest in it and began writing on the PBS Aircraft Carrier 10 hour special which aired last week. Inspired by that, I also began working on some stories from my own days living on an Aircraft Carrier, and the people I knew then. I regard myself as being promised [Jordan E., I haven't forgotten] to write up as many incidents events as seem worthy, that I can still remember. You have to get to a precarious balance of storytelling and remembering to make the exercise worthwhile. I want to stay with the real people I knew, and not invent or combine people or incidents for effect if I write these. It was a while ago now, and requires some effort and technique to get back there.

I had made a start on a couple of these, and was pleased with them so far. This is where things take an unfortunate turn. I had my backpack stolen the other day. In this pack, which I carry to and from work on a bicycle daily, were (amongst other not-less consequential junk) my iPod, A digital camera (a new and rather nice Sony DSC) and my Alpha Smart Neo, a portable word processor, on which I had taken to doing all my draft writing. I had filled up all eight registers with a great mass of at least partially coherent writing. This is now all gone. This is the second time in four (five?) years I've had a camera and iPod stolen. I am less than content on this score. The FEC piece was still somewhat fresh in my mind, plus I had an outline in the MacBook for it. So I was able to reproduce that without too much trouble, or loss. There was the piece where I compare what I bring to work for lunch against what Tran brings - some small discussion of rice occurs. For the Carrier post, which I will rewrite next, I have only a scribbled outline on paper, and some other thoughts I remember from writing. For the stories; I set down some notes today on how I was approaching it, but come up with only patches of the words and sentences I wrote. I worry a little from having lost and retyped files before, that the replication often seems more ossified and hurried than the original, rarely improving on it. However, the way I write perhaps it won't make much difference.

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