Archive for December, 2011

I have seen several media references to (paraphrased) and stating “…Bill Maher’s Diss of Tim Tebow…” First, I don’t really think it’s necessary, but just in case: “diss” or “dis” (or however you spell it correctly, as if that were possible – to correctly spell a word that is most definitely NOT a real word anyway) is NOT a real word in the first place.

Second, at least initially, all those years ago, when we still understood the etymology of the word “Dis” or “Diss” (not that it’s a real word anyway, so how can a non-word even have etymology anyway?!) to DISRESPECT or be DISRESPECTED, those who were in the know may have or maybe even probably – used it correctly (not that that is really possible; that is, saying, “Dis”, or “Diss”….it not being a real word and all….) and so understood that the message was that a person, and in this case, Tim Tebow, was being or had been disrespected. To this point, there is no real value or usefulness – nothing to be respected (thought I’d throw a slight curve in there, just to keep you guys on your toes) in Bill Maher’s disrespect (again…) of Tim Tebow. It seems to [once again] demonstrate his true colors as a shallow and petty person, apparently without much to go on.

Now, having established that (and not with absolute certainty), suppose it is generally understood that Bill Maher disrespected Tim Tebow in some respect (there…again…), I can now take a step back and address what he did: Bill Maher disrespected Tim Tebow for what? – his public display of Christian belief, his words, his other behaviors, his skill as a football player, as a quarterback?

So what?

Is that really all Maher’s got?

Bill Maher is most often described as a comedian. So he’s trying to be funny. Is that the best he can do? Now that’s funny. I suspect that deep down in his heart-of-hearts he really wants to be respected as a real social-political commentator with some real and recognized expertise. Or if not that, at least he probably wants to be listened to. Or perhaps he might even want to be taken seriously. What? A comedian taken seriously?! My guess even a comedian –and probably every comedian – wants to be taken seriously, like, “That guy is seriously funny.” Or at least taken seriously enough to be paid real money for his, uh, talent and skill (which he is, I believe – paid real money, that is).

With respect (there it is again) to Bill Maher and his humor or talent as a comedian, or commentator, or whatever it is that he really produces, that is also funny. I supposed there is some chance that Bill Maher might even want to be thought of as (or maybe even become one day) a respected (sorry; I couldn’t help it that time) journalist. Ok, let’s just say for argument’s sake he does; I don’t know. Ok, no. I’m sure that’s not it. He probably just wants to be funny. (And, as I said, that’s funny….but not very.)

So anyway, here’s my prediction: someday, we – most of us, a lot of us, the general population, only us Hoosiers, I dunno – will not even know that “Dis” or “Diss” (whatever) is not a real word (because it’s not); we’ll go around saying, “Oh no, uh-uh, no u di-int!” And “don’t u dis me gir-rl!” and stuff like that. Besides, who of any of us has even heard let alone knows the word etymology? Certainly not me.

My son, at his young age, and as well-trained as he is now, is working hard to introduce (or maybe just “intro”) the concept and language of “My Bad…” when he deems it appropriate. I never deem it appropriate.

And so in the end the question will be, “What’s “Dis?” (or “Diss” – whatever), and the answer will be, “Whot? (Or perhaps “Wot?”) U mean Dis or Diss?” or “Wot, u mean This?” And the answer could either be “No, “Dis”, like u kno, “Diss” or it could also be “No, like u kno, “Dat” or “Datt” or “That” (unlikely, I think).

And so the idea of disrespect will be lost, and the importance of clear, purposeful and meaningful, and certainly beautiful language – spoken and written – will be lost.

Oh, that’s already happened.

Postscript: My guess is that when it comes to language, written or spoken, there are about a zillion people that would have benefited from a day spent with William Safire. I am not sure that would include Bill Maher, and that’s not funny.

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Nearly two months ago I stated in an essay considering and reconsidering the sexual child abuse case in State College Pennsylvania that I believed that anyone convicted of such a horrendous crime should receive life in prison without the possibility of parole; anyone who murders a child should receive a death sentence.

In light of the news out of Fort Wayne I just learned of today – only two days after Christmas – and perhaps out of my strong emotional response (and again, at the risk of responding so quickly that emotions can be more peaked than knowledge), I am ready to revise and restate what I believe should be the penalty for such evil. It has saddened me beyond words and angered me upon hearing of this terrible thing, and I feel compelled to respond.

My opinion is this: If convicted, Michael Plumadore (and according to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, he has confessed) –and anyone who murders a child – should first be given a mandatory 1-2 year prison sentence to serve immediately prior to going on Death Row. Further, he must not be placed in protective isolation. If he lives through that period, then his execution must be carried out without delay. The State Legislature and Governor should ensure legislation is in place (if not already) that in cases of this kind of crime, and especially where a confession is involved, from the time of conviction to the execution of sentencing, no more than a few weeks go by.

The justice system in the United States is the fairest in the world, just as our way of life – our freedoms, our opportunities, our laws, the constitution that binds us all in equal freedoms and responsibilities – makes our country the greatest on earth. And so it follows that our legal system can often times seem to be fair to a fault.

Perhaps the fairness extended to victims like Aliahna Lemmon and to those who knew her and loved her should be revisited. Anyway, I think so.

(Yet further, I believe the material assets (primarily of such a criminal, what little there may be, should be seized and sold to pay for all incarceration and related costs. Perhaps such a legal provision already exists in Indiana – I hope so but I am not aware of it.)

To any extent that Indiana State statutes are lacking specifically in these matters, I would hope to see legislation proposed in some form immediately.

My philosophy on the death penalty may be unconventional if not controversial.
From a philosophical perspective, I believe successful punishment – true punishment, by definition, requires comprehension and contemplation over some period of time. (I am now addressing heinous crimes – murder, sadly, being but one; I am not talking about the appropriate discipline a parent exercises with a child out of love, firmness, and compassion.) From this perspective, then, I believe the only real purpose the death penalty serves is specifically to rid Society of a threat deemed so extreme and imminent that Society can no longer abide it. In this way, one could infer I do not support the death penalty. As a punishment I do not. As a necessary method of ridding Society of unbearable threats and costs relating to these crimes specifically – I do.

The problem, philosophically speaking, in a death sentence as punishment per se, is that there is no opportunity for consideration or contemplation at the moment of death; it is all and only during that period of time leading up to the moment of death. In that way, I believe the reference to the death penalty as “punishment” is incorrect; it is the experience over the time elapsed during confinement that defines punishment, or at least the possibility of punishment (sadly there are those who, because of what or how they are, cannot or otherwise will not experience “punishment” – they are beyond the reach of acceptable human behavior, and perhaps, seemingly, beyond the touch of human kindness).

Perhaps such a being can only be dealt with by God…if, as we are free to believe – or not – that God exists. Or, as so many believe, such a being has removed one’s self from the opportunity for God to deal with him – what may be referred to as “separation” from God; we are after all, free to choose, aren’t we? And so what of those who are determined by the legal system to be incapable of choice? Are they then to be held accountable in the same way? I will not pursue this here; it is enough to pursue the one who is deemed, at least by Society, to be capable of choice or understanding, that is – sane, if somehow we can ever call it that). As it turns out, we cannot in our humanness alone rely on God to deal with this terrible thing. If we accept such thought, we must render to God what is God’s, and render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

And even for those of us who do not accept such thought, the decisions now required because of this earthly and evil tragedy are in Caesar’s domain. This is why I believe there must be some period of mandatory prison time required prior to execution – and not due to legal appeals and other delays – those injustices must be done away with. Whether the perpetrator of a crime of this kind lives through that brief period of time in prison prior to execution is neither of interest to me nor of any concern for me personally.

In short, there is no punishment in death, only in the comprehension and contemplation of what is to come. Execution should serve to make Society safe from an evil it cannot afford. Michael Plumadore and those like him deserve both.

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Part 1: The Reading Table
Some of my fondest childhood memories are as a third grade student at Consolidated Elementary School in West Terre Haute, Indiana. My teacher was Mrs. Monts, and amongst so many happy remembrances of her class, the one I seem to go back to most often is of the reading table in the back of her classroom.

I recall a low, round table with those tiny chairs situated around, for perhaps four kids, all small enough to be seated comfortably. Even now, twice a year, I get to sit in near-replicas from my third grade room – each time my wife and I make a visit to our now-fifth grade son’s classroom for a parent-teacher conference. With my butt only about 14 inches off the floor and my knees forced high on a steep angle upward, my am right back Mrs. Monts’ room (except I am pretty sure the chairs fit me better then).

The reading table was a special place for me. The world of books she had for us provided a gateway to adventure and knowledge and other times far beyond our little place in west-central Indiana. There stood a short bookshelf against the east wall behind me; somehow my recollection always puts me in the chair closest to the shelf, my back to it, facing the front of the classroom to the west. I see it full of books, perhaps two or three shelves-worth, three or four feet long and two or three feet high. But of all those books, there was one in particular that stands out in my memory. I don’t remember the exact title of the book, but I can picture it: an illustrated history of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the then-relatively new Arizona Memorial. That year, my third grade year, began in the fall of 1969. The Arizona Memorial was just seven years old, and I was barely eight.

Part 2: Gifts
By the way, it was in this place and reading this book, that I remember so fondly remember a special relationship with Mrs. Monts. To a third grader she was an elderly, giant of a lady; not heavy, but tall. She wore those dresses that seemed so common in my grandmother Yeager’s family – a single slip-over sheet of a small flower pattern, heavy-heeled black shoes, horn-rimmed glasses, and had the finely styled grey, beauty shop hair. Very matronly, she demonstrated a stern dignity but also particular warm interest in me and it was she who introduced the Pearl Harbor book to me, and later gave it to me. In retrospect I have often wondered if she took a special interest in me because my parents had gone through a divorce and as all children do in such circumstances, and without understanding it, I was struggling. It is fascinating now to look back on that time – on the one hand, to remember my third grade experience and mind, and on the other hand, now, to understand it and consider all that was happening from an adult’s – and a parent’s – mind.

Aside of the book and most of all her teaching, she gave me two other gifts. One was an intimate, personal view into her own life – that of her sons. This is where I should restate something I said in a previous essay about my time at Consolidated: I think my memory is faulty, only partially recalling events as they really were, and either forgetting or perhaps embellishing others.

I recall that she had several sons, though I cannot be sure of just how many now. It seems that one served in Vietnam; perhaps he was there at the time; perhaps I am wrong about this altogether. And that one died in a house fire.

The one I do remember best, and by name, was John; in fact, I later knew him quite personally. Just a few years later, as a new Webelo-aged Scout without a Den (I was the only fifth grader in Pack 426 at that time); I was given special permission by the Council to attend meetings and activities of Boy Scout Troop 426. John and several others – all in my mind giants, athletes, true outdoorsmen, larger-than-life Big Brother types, and me – the little kid tagging along. They were all Life and Eagle Scouts and brimming with muscles and experience. They took me along to camp with them at nearby Green Valley; to canoe in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and hike the trails of Bear Wallow in Brown County. I was in constant awe of these guys. It was the best experience a little kid could possibly have.

So this first gift – that of the knowledge of her sons – leads into the second. Sometime during that year she brought to school a hunting knife that had belonged to her son. I have always believed it was from the one who had died, but I do not know this. I realize now that it was in fact not a valuable or collectable knife; it had a simple, cheap, two-piece plastic handle molded to a relatively thin steel blade. It was secured in a riveted leather sheath. But none of these matters now, because it didn’t matter then; I didn’t see it that way then, and even now I see it as one of the most valuable possessions I have ever had. She brought it to school, and in my mind’s eye I see her handing it to me as I sit at my chair at the reading table, she having come in the back door to the classroom, right next to the reading table, saying, “This belonged to my son.” Can you imagine?! A Teacher bringing a Large Sheath Knife to School and Giving it to a Third Grade Kid?! Stunning. And I am thankful for that experience in my life.

(Years later, on a week-long canoe trip down the Wabash River, I lost it in the murky water, having thought I had it well secured in a strap of my glove I was wearing while paddling. It slipped out and with a distinct “plop” went down for good. I remember the desperate moment deciding to – then not to – dive in after it. My new best friend and canoe mate, Chester Bean, paddling in the bow, was witness to my agony and tears. But I soon recovered, moving on with what was, was still able to have a great week, and a good life beyond that week. Still, all these years later, I do not entirely regret having the knife with me that day.)

Now, in my thoughts about Pearl Harbor, the book Mrs. Monts introduced me to and gave me in third grade remains my primary reference point. I still picture, though vaguely now, its watercolor artwork spanning the landscape layout. Then, as a small boy, I had no conception that someday I would see it as it really is.

Part 3: Being There
It all came to me in an entirely new dimension in 1997 when I visited there for the first time, odd though it may seem at first, as an Air Force officer on assignment at Pearl Harbor. I was assigned to the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific – JICPAC, which is in part located at Hickam Air Force Base, connected to Pearl Harbor, and in part located on Pearl Harbor itself, at an area called Makalapa. During this trip, and once again the subsequent year, I dutifully visited the Pearl Harbor Museum and Memorial on the far side of the harbor, across the road from JICPAC headquarters at Makalapa.

The museum, and in particular the short film presented immediately prior to boarding a shuttle boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial, were a powerful experience. To go onto the memorial itself, and to stand above the sunken remains of the Arizona, and to see the slightest appearance of the Arizona’s oil rise from the shallow depths and spread its rainbow sheen across the surface, then finally stand before the massive marble wall of names of men sacrificed there – is an overwhelming experience.

Now, as I try to recall the details of my first two of many trips there for the Air Force, I do not think I was aware of the USS Utah or the memorial to her crew. The Arizona is what everyone knows of and everyone goes to see. But in fact, there are dozens of sites across Pearl Harbor, and in fact, all across the island of O’ahu. Even on Hickam, where I also worked for a time, evidence of the attack on December 7, 1941 is easily found. The Pacific Air Force (PACAF) Headquarters building, a substantial concrete structure, still bears the scars of Japanese fighter plane’s bullets, left in the wakes of their strafing runs; a visible testament to the strength, resistance, and resilience of a great nation “awakened”, as Admiral Yamamoto, Japanese naval commander and mastermind of the attack, lamented not long after.

Battleship Row was the secondary target of the multi-wave attack on December 7th. It was actually the United States aircraft carriers the Japanese wanted most to destroy. But they were at sea, thankfully, and much to Japan’s chagrin. So Battleship Row instead absorbed their fury. But it was directly across Ford Island that another ship was sunk. The USS Utah, a training ship, was struck and subsequently capsized by two torpedoes. Roughly 58 men lost their lives aboard her, perhaps more.

During my first trip to Pearl, I went to Ford Island with my wife by ferry (she had come out to spend my second week of duty with me, arriving on the weekend). It was early evening when we boarded and crossed the harbor. When we arrived it seemed by all accounts the island was deserted or nearly so. We walked from the dock to a small convenience store that remained open, though, and later discovered that among others things on Ford island, there was a quaint and historic residential section; small bungalows arranged neatly along the south side facing the water. And just a bit further, on the edge of the water was the USS Utah memorial. We didn’t visit it then; it was nearly dark by now, and frankly, in the low light, and after having walked across the vast expanse of what seemed to be an abandoned dirt runway in the middle of the island, what little we did see of the memorial didn’t seem like much, and not wanting to miss the ferry returning to Makalapa, we turned and headed back.

Part 4: Discovery
A year later I returned for another two-week stint at Makalapa. I found that in the course of the past year a bridge had been built across the harbor to the northwest end of Ford Island. As I was a runner, and as the idea of wandering around the island intrigued me, I took off after work on day for the bridge, and at about half-way across I approached a security checkpoint where a Navy security officer checked my identification and saluted me on. (In subsequent years I found this was no longer possible, as access was generally restricted to personnel who either worked or lived on the island.) When I reached the island-end of the bridge, I hung a right and slightly crossing a portion of the golf course, I ran along the shoreline, wanting to hug it and stay off the course. I aimed for the Utah memorial, just a couple of hundred yards further along the northwest shore.

I arrived ready for a breather, so slowed to a walk and headed onto the white concrete walkway which extends out into the water, as if reaching out to touch the hulking remains of the ship then stopping abruptly to maintain a respectful distance. I read the plaque, looked up at the proud flag waving in the saltwater breeze, stared at the rusted disappearing steel and rotting wood, then turned to walk back. As I did, a white navy van pulled into the adjacent parking area. As I noticed the small group of sailors in their utility blue dungarees and denim shirts climb out, my first thought was they were simply coming to do what I was doing, having just gotten off duty for the day. But as they moved toward the long walkway as a group, they adjusted and formed a perfectly straight line, four abreast, upon reaching the beginning of the walk. I was twenty yards away now, standing at the huge rocks that held the water and shoreline in harmony. I had turned to face them and watch.

They began a slow, solemn march forward all the way along the concrete corridor until they reached the flag pole. Then, as if by some unseen command, they stopped and waited. A minute later, as two of the sailors rendered the most deliberate and artful salutes I had probably ever seen, the other two men retired the colors with the same solemnity. They detached the flag and folded it as if they were the focus of attention at a military funeral. After completing the folding so that the flag was now just a dark blue triangle under the arm of one of the men with only [presumably] 13 bright white stars showing, the four sailors retraced their slow march to the end of the walk, froze momentarily, then relaxed. They climbed back into the van and within a few more moments they were gone. Only a slight cloud of dust from the tires turning out of the parking area remained. I noted the time was just a few minutes after seven o’clock.

I was floored. I was touched. And my sense of profound appreciation for what they had just done was palpable. I remember a rush of emotion – pride and gratitude, I think. Perhaps other things too. It’s hard to articulate.
I knew at that moment I had to go back the next day.

I did, and this time I took my camera. A little bulky to take on a run, but I saw this as a unique and powerful opportunity I wanted to capture somehow. I was able to shoot a good number of pictures that next day, and as I did so, it all clicked with me.

While virtually all Pearl Harbor visitors go to the Arizona Memorial, and rightly so, it seems that no one knows about this solemn and extraordinary honor rendered to the men of the Utah that is demonstrated twice every day, year round, without fail. There are no crowds, no announcements; there is no flourishing pomp and circumstance. Just the absolute commitment to remember and honor their follow sailors – the promise to be there every day, no matter what; the commitment of one brother to another, spanning the decades and into perpetuity.

It seemed to me to be every bit the equivalent of giving in secret, not seeking the attention of anyone but God; earnest prayers spoken in secret, humbly and confidently offered to the only one who can really answer them.

(Photos courtesy AFP/Getty Images, Wesley Fryer, US Navy, respectively)

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Hoosier To Visit Hawaii For Pearl Harbor 70th Anniversary
WRTV – theindychannel.com, Indianapolis

Jon L. Hendricks - The Times

After seven decades, Pearl Harbor fresh in vet’s minds
WSBT-TV, South Bend-Mishawaka

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Pearl Harbor survivors lost on eve of 70th anniversary

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Aging Pearl Harbor Attack Survivors Passing The Baton: Survivors Association Dissolving This Year
WRTV – theindychannel.com, Indianapolis

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DALE McFEATTERS: Remember Pearl Harbor, and the Utah
The Indiana Gazette

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Veteran looks back on attack
Tribune Star, Terre Haute

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Date of infamy slowly fades away
Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne

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The date which will live in Infamy
Courier & Press, Evansville

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USS AZ - AP File Photo

Pearl Harbor survivors return to sunken ships after death
Post-Tribune, Merrillville, Hammond, Gary, and NW Indiana

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Muncie man writes book on his World War II experience
The Star Press, Muncie

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Friendships forged on day of infamy endure
The Republic, Columbus

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War Stories: In Their Own Words

Editorial: Pearl Harbor marked the beginning of the end for Japanese Empire
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson

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Mt. Vernon Band in Hawaii to commemorate Pearl Harbor 70th Anniversary
Daily Reporter, Greenfield

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Vet says you’re never too old to be honored
Daily Clarion, Princeton

Daily Reporter - Greenfield

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