June 2007


The Armed Services Officer, Chapter 3: Responsibility and privilege, pp. [27]-[33]:  This is the chapter where the practical starts stepping in and the theoretical becomes a little less of a high flight.

When I went to school at Texas A & M University, there used to be two acronyms floating around campus: ‘R.H.I.P.’ and ‘R.H.I.R.’ and stood for “Rank hath its responsibilities” and “Rank hath its privileges”.  In the common parlance, they were both terms that were supposed to encourage stoicism: do your job, no matter how distasteful or inconvenient, and don’t look at what others have that you don’t.  Unspoken in the Corps of Cadets, I think, was that what you don’t have you can get by assuming the responsibilities of each progressive year at A & M.

The ASO tracks a theoretical progress out in real situations.  Some officers are in situations where promotion might be faster or slower, just as in business promotion.  The ASO is very direct on this point.

There is a comon saying. . . that greater privileges grow out of larger responsibilities, and that the latter justify the former.  This is part truth and part fable.
In military organization, as in industry, business, and political life, the more important a man’s position, the more lavish he is likely to be in his office appointments and living arragements, and the greater the care that is apt to be taken in freeing him of trifling annoyances.
But that is only partly because of the need for thim to conserve his time and energy.  When men are successful, they like the good things. of life.  Why deny it?

So a combination of incentivizing (“privilege a reward for effort and enterprise”) and efficiency create the trappings of higher office.  Rank is like a double-sided suitcase, with higher rank meaning more baggage.  And at one point, baggage is used as an example: 

In the early stages of World War II, it was not unusual to see a junior officer walking on the public sidewalk, hands free and looking important, while his wife tagged along, trying to keep up, though laden like a pack mule.  This was because somone had told him that is was not in keeping with an officer’s dignity to be seen heavily burdened.  In the nature of things, anyone so lacking in gallantry as that would stimulate very little respect for the officer corps. [29-30].

I think the unspoken part of this example (ha ha) is that anyone who treats his wife that poorly is bound to be a burden on the troops he commands as well.  A similar reading of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, under feminist lines, compares the fate of the unlucky horse through various owners as an exploration of the plight of women across class and personality of “owner”.  But never mind that now:  the idea is that there are universal codes of conduct, and those whose fortunes are somewhat dictated by a leader will invariably scrutinize that leader for indicators of fairness, temperament, style, and content.  Along with assessment, those observers begin to calculate a rudimentary comparison of benefits conferred and responsibilities undertaken: a ratio of efficiency factors versus prestige factors, and a ratio of prestige factors to contributions made.  It is a calculation that stock owners need to make with the presidents of companies, voters make when in the voting booth, and HR representatives make when deciding whom to hire and whom to promote.   The ASO notes in particular however, the friction between leaders and their staffs with this problem:

What puts most of the grit into the machinery isn’t that privileges exist, but that they are exercised too often by persons who are not motivated by a passionate sense of duty.  . . . .  [28]
In recent years, we have learned a lot about American manpower. (. . .) American young men when brought into military organization do not resent rank and are amenable to authority.  Indeed, they expect that higher authority will have certain advantages not comon to the rank-and-file, because that is normal in society in all of its workday relationships.
But they do not like to have their noses rubbed in it by officers who, having no real moral claim on authority, try to exhibit it by pushing other people around.  And when that happens, our men get their backs up.  And they wouldn’t be worth a hoot in hades if they didn’t.  [28-29].

Then the rest of this chapter talks about American military culture as it modifies this explanation of rank and privilege:

It is a paramount and overriding responsibility of every officer to take care of his men before caring for himself.  . . .  Hw deeply does this rule cut?  In line of duty, it applies right down to the hilt.  When a command is worn, bruised, and hungry, officers attend to their men’s creature comforts and make sure that all is going well, before looking to their own needs.  If a command is so located that recreational facilities are extremely limited and there are not enough to go around, the welfare of the ranks takes priority over the interests of their commissioned leaders. 

 Preserving service reputation is also included in this chapter, where poor conduct by a member of the armed services can be corrected by an officer who is using “judgement, tact, and [a required] nerve.”  Likewise, an officer has a duty to befriend a service member who has been left in uncomfortable or dangerous straits, such as a picked pocket or transportation delay from leave.   

The last set of adjurations in this chapter deal with skipping rank to get things done.  Quite frankly, in public life this is less understood, but generally true: any time you skip a supervisor, you are asking for trouble.  But there are ways and ways . . . 

And even though people who work for bosses could use much of this advice, far more could bosses in the private world take these maxims to heart.  Because in essence, they are about a strict, but essentially servant-based, leadership.

And if I had been that J.O.’s wife, I would have clonked him with this portmanteau.

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In my home town, certain up-and-coming homeless people sell a newspaper with city news, homeless news, columns, fiction, poetry, games, and editorials.  One can purchase it for a dollar on the street from a licensed vendor, who retains USD .70 of the price paid.  I buy every issue.  It’s a nice counterpoint to mainstream news: you should hear what they have to say about criminal justice and that notably talent-bereft hotel heiress whose name will likely never hit this blog.

My all-time favorite article is how to make a bed on the street: how many layers of cardboard, etc, in order to sleep as well and safely as possible.  But this month has another how-to article: How to deal with panhandlers:  written by panhandlers:

1. Acknowledge people, whether you are going to give money or not.
2. Give from the heart: don’t question the use of the gift.
3. Prefer to give Food over money? Hand out cereal bars or fruit instead.
4. Hand them a Street Sense (this is the newspaper) in order to educate them about local services.
5. Know the boundaries: it is illegal for a panhandler to approach you aggressively.

Well, this is a nice mix of what’s true and what isn’t.  As a person who frequently follows (1) and (2), I know that sometimes I do not acknowledge panhandlers if they look like they will be difficult–or for that matter, if I feel like I am going to be difficult.  Second, anyone who has handed over “spare change” only to have it dumped in the street as a less than worthwhile amount, one learns that good will is not everything.  You have to pick your recipients, too, and that’s sometimes difficult to judge.

To me, panhandling is a sales job with an undefined product–it sells intangibles.  Sometimes those intangibles are defined, as in “fund drives” for the denizens of a particular park in New York, yesterday.  I was asked for oney by a guy in a tie but poor dental health, with an undeterminable name badge clipped to the shirt.  I gave that guy two dollars: he was either sincere or had put some effort into the con.  Other intangibles: one purchases the sense that one has cared for another, or is connected to humankind in general, or even “what goes around comes around”, meaning that random acts of generosity will come back to one in greater goodwill from others.  In another sense, it acknowledges that we are all here partly on the goodwill and sufferance and efforts of others.

I don’t give much, actually.  And as for having it come back to me: twice my life has been saved by homeless men.  Both times, it was from a mugging, and once in an extremely tight spot.  So you can call me a soft touch, or you can imagine that in general I think it’s good to make nice with the neighbors.

For those outside the D.C. area, you can subscribe to the Street Sense paper (24 issues/year) for USD 40.00.  Street Sense, 1317 G. Street NW,  Washington, DC, 20005.  This is a job for those that sell the paper, and it has helped many of the vendors develop jobs and even careers– or obtain homes in the DC area.  The road up and out of dire poverty has, at least in this case, a reputable background.

From 1862 to 1865, the poet Walt Whitman worked as a nurse in D.C’s Civil War veterans’ hospitals.  At that time, nursing did not have the same educational requirements: as Whitman put it, he would “visit the sick and wounded of the Army, both on the field and in the Hospitals in and around Washington city.”  He kept memorandum books of his experiences; ten years’ later, he edited the number of entries down and published them as written.  In the introduction, he wrote:

In the mushy influences of current times the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten.  I have at night watch’d by the side of a sick man in the hospital, one who could not live many hours.  I have seen his eyes flash and burn as he recurr’d to the cruelties on his surrender’d brother, and mutilations of the corpse afterward.        . . . .

Such was the War.  It was not a quadrille in a ball-room.  Its interior history will not only never be written, its practicality, minutia of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested.

This interior history of U.S. military engagement lives on most acutely in veterans who have suffered battle fatigue, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that on any given night, 200,000 veterans are without a home–and a total of 400,000 veterans homeless for at least a portion of the year.  Twenty-three percent of all homeless people in the U.S. are veterans.  Others estimate that it is more.  In 1998, one census carried out at Gospel Missions identified more that 40% of its population was former servicemen from Vietnam.  In 1996, and again ten years later, a one-day survey of 139 homeless shelters nationwide took a poll.   Here are the stats:

Korean War Veterans:  10% in 1996; 4% in 2006
Vietnam War Veterans: 43% in 1996; 39% in 2006
Gulf War Veterans:  10% in 1996; 16% in 2006.
Total veteran populations: 63% in 1996; 59% in 2006.

With a significant population of veterans already in the worst economic straits, the returning veterans of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq will continue to put a burden on the systems of the VA, homeless shelters, local mental health and emergency medical practices,  and other city services.  For these veterans, I believe we should expect numbers of distressed military personnel very similar to those of the Vietnam War.   Vietnam was an insurgent war, with guerilla forces that blended into countryside, villages, and cities.  So too, Afghanistan, with unrelenting community diplomacy required; large numbers of civilians affected by Taliban measures and by miscalculations/collateral casualties.  The same can be said for Iraq, with an even more bewildering array of political alliances, hostile forces, and chaotic community fighting.

Sometimes one reads that PTSD started with Vietnam: as Whitman’s passage above shows, this cannot be true.  The name of the affliction has changed, but our veterans have always suffered from it.  And the community at large also remains much the same.  Whitman’s “fervid atmosphere”– we now call “at the mall”, or “at Wal-mart.”   In the end, the only remedy for the veteran’s painful, interior history of war  is Whitman’s solution: to be involved, either as advocates or personally, for the Veterans whose lives are at risk in combat and then return home to find that combat memories still leave their lives, and potential, in continued grave risk.  Whitman knew:

May 12 [1863]–A Night Battle, over a week since.–We already talk of the Historics of the War, (presently to accumulate)–yes–technical histories of some things, statistics, official reports, and so on–but shall we ever get histories of the real things?—-There was part of the late battle at Chancellorsville, (second Fredericksburgh,) a little over a week ago. . . 

I’m almost done with the newest bibliography for the obsessed with books.   “Elevated Erudition” includes the Classics, philosophy, and myths, anonymous gems of literature, and so forth.  Its title might be a bit snobbish, but that’s far from the intent.   Some of us want to read on our own, and can’t afford to be constantly in school.  

Even so, some of the work, like for instance Kant’s heavier philosophies, I would never tackle alone.   That and calculus were like Waterloo for me.  With Kant, I was lucky to have a great teacher, Wellington’s best aide; with calculus, I was somewhere near Napoleon’s backside.  If you ever come here for a bibliography of mathematics, you will come in vain. 

I have to ask myself: why this seemingly-obsessive effort?  First, it’s been a nice review of things I’ve read before.  I’ve been taking little dips into the books and remembering great passages as I go along.  Second, I love books in general: particular editions for their beauty, funkability, or utility.  I love small beautiful books like the Everyman Pocket Poets new; art books sufficiently large to really show the works within; scuffed browned copies of Modern Library or well-illustrated children’s books bought used and with other people’s names in them.  Norton Critical Editions have great backgrounders, but some have more background than content.  Library of America makes a beautiful series–beautiful paper, oh!  But sometimes a too-beautiful book is not the best choice.  For instance, when I read philosophy, I have to make margin notes.  I’m not scribbling all over a LOA.  And to only read Whitman in the library would be contrary to nature: you have to carry him around until he becomes shabby from being tossed into the pickup truck, the picnic basket, the backpack.  If you read Leaves of Grass in the gilt edition, you might not do that, and miss something important.

Translations
Also, as for publishing these bibliographies, it reminds me how hard it is to get the edition that’s readable or right.  This is particularly true with translations.  For me, that is the occasional limit of The Modern Library–sometimes the translator is not the best one.  And what is the best translation: umm.  One example:  Thucydides was translated by Thomas Hobbes, and that gives one a little of both Hobbes and Thucydides, in terms of studying political science.  Then Thucydides and Hobbes were both gone over by the great Greek translator, David Grene.  And it’s very readable.  That’s the great translation, as far as I’m concerned.   But it’s not always so easy to decide (and that was my third pass at the right Thucydides, too). 

Verse can be translated for meaning, for rhyme schemes, or for the sense of the words.  Sometimes I’ve had to choose, and it’s not always easy.  Easy ones for me to discount include verse that has been translated into prose (which usually makes it boring even as it makes it easy).  I detest a translation that has rendered everything but the racy parts.  This is frustrating: I don’t share his/her language skills or sensibilities.  Similarly, I detest the translations where all the references have been dumbed down for moral purity.  This approach pretty much ensures that students will be bored with Sophocles, Aristophanes, Francis Villon, and Chaucer for the rest of their life. 

And then there is Ezra Pound–literature’s Schliemann–who tried to bring cultures and works into English that had not been translated before.  In his quest to make them relevant and timely, he forswore most of the academic rules of translation, making each work at once a translation and his own.  Because of his contributions and his attitudes, he has been one of the academy’s thorny thickets ever since.  So, with his translations, you either read for enjoyment alone, or because you are a Pound scholar, or, you want to say something nasty about his translations with respect to your own.

But to return to my own pleasures with this project:
On the inside cover of a very shabby schoolbook on Ezra Pound, Kenner’s The Pound Era, I found an inscription from ten years or more ago: “this book is a part of my soul.”  It’s past time to re-read that book, I would say–and would I have plunked it on my bedstand had I not typed these bibliographies?

Whoa!  Lots of projected spending up ahead.  In fact, insane amounts:

Great idea, wrong venue:
The DesMoines Register opined on June 24 that the Farm Bill include Mental Health Clinics for Farmers in the bill.  Food producers could access mental health clinics which historically have been absent in rural areas.  It’s a great idea to have rural health care–but isn’t this something we need in a Mental Health Bill? 

Sad story, wrong cause and effect
Since farmers are greying, and the “young are turning away from the farm”, only agricultural businesses are farming nowadays.  The Phoenix Examiner-Enterprise suggested on June 24 that the bill include incentives to young people to start farming by giving dollars in aid and lower interest rates to start-up farmers.  The reasons young people going away from the farm is that there are barriers to entry–okay, I got that–but this is because we are funding agribusiness so that small farmers can’t compete.  The biggest vector for farm unemployment is agribusiness: their crops are highly mechanized and include economies of scale.  So instead of Adding to the Farm Bill, how about we cut big payments and re-introduce competition? 

Healthy food, or commodity program: Your choice:
On June 24, Edward Marty wrote in the Birmingham News that a good farm bill would include initiatives for healthy crops, and the distribution of these crops to local schools and food banks.   However, the Enid Oklahoma News reported that Representative Lucas (R-Oklahoma)  came out blasting Ron Kind  (D-Wisconsin) for trying to remove commodity crops from the bill.  The commodity program is the worst feature of the Farm Bill, a waste of billions of dollars per year that go to big agricultural consortiums for the kind of food we should not eat.  Ron Kind is also in disagreement with another Wisconsin representative, Mr. Peterson, over his plans to greatly overhaul the program.

The Muskegon Michigan Chronicle pointed out that big commodity farms, which certainly have the profit margin for better work, do not produce as healthful a product as small farms.  For both environmental and food safety reasons, they want the Farm Bill to consider dumping the agribusinesses.  Makes sense to me.

This is such an important bill!  Please remember: it is your dinner table, your refrigerator, Your legislators, Your government, and your tax dollars.   We have the chance to save money at the grocery checkout and in our taxes all at the same time.

Search Farm bill here at Ramblin’ Gal for other posts on this issue. 

So, I’ve been going through my Ezra Pound books in order to make yet another library page, and I opened the ABC of Reading to find out whether or not I would include the book on the list of stuff I’m typing to whatever purpose.   So I’m sucked in from the Dedication:

The book is not addressed to those who have arrived at full knowledge of the subject without knowing the facts

No period at the end.

Oh yeah

It’s a Wordsworth sonnet.

The world is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the Moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
Are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.  –Great God!  I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Proteus

That’s Proteus; and a lea (I had to look it up) is a grassland or meadow.

Wordsworth: Poems.  Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets.  New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Etching: Atown.comics

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