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Coffee and Castro

I awoke this morning to a cup of strong coffee and the news that Fidel Castro had died. The java and the news were welcome.

From the autumn of 1995 to the spring of 1996 I was deployed with my unit to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in support of Operation Sea Signal. Our mission there was to assist with a large influx of Cuban refugees who had been picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard while attempting to flee Castro’s regime in late 1994. The flotilla of makeshift rafts was so large that the US Gov’t had difficulty justifying sending them back as is normal procedure for refugees intercepted at sea. They were transported to Ft Sherman, Panama for processing. Due to the fact that there were some Castro plants in the group, riots were incited and there were US soldiers injured. The US decided to airlift the refugees to GITMO where there were better confinement facilities and better geographic proximity to both the US and to Cuba. Enter Me.

Our company’s mission, in part, was to oversee day to day operations of “Migrant Camp Delta”, one of several, and to assist the vetting of the refugees to determine if they were eligible for entry into the US. If they were ineligible for US residency, we quarantined them and transported them once a week, on Thursdays, back across the Cuban border and handed them off to Castro’s guys. And in a couple cases, we transported them to the airport and handed them off to US Marshals to return them to Castro’s guys.

The first morning of the Camp Delta mission, I found myself sitting alone in the Command Post at the top of the hill overlooking the camp. I had two gate guards posted about 250 meters to my front and down a hill. I watched the sun rise and listened to a Mr Coffee brew a cup of typically bad Army coffee.

At about 6:30 that morning, and one cup of coffee into my day, I watched an older gentleman walk out of the camp’s gate and up the hill to my CP. He entered, nodded to me, and without a word, began sweeping the CP and tidying up. I was perplexed. Who was this Cuban, sixty-something and why was he in my Command Post? Didn’t he know I was in charge and watching the sunrise?

Fifteen minutes later, he’d finished his self-appointed housekeeping duties and turned to me and asked, in Spanish, if I liked coffee. Again, I was perplexed. It had to be fairly obvious from the cup in my hand that I was enjoying the stuff… truth be told the coffee was awful but, in the absence of coffee, any coffee is good coffee. I told him that I did and he immediately poured the rest of my mostly full pot on the ground outside the CP. Now, I wasn’t just confused. I was angry.

Upon returning with my, now, empty pot, he introduced himself as Tomás and informed me that he was going to make me a “real” pot of coffee. He proceeded to make another pot… just as I had done earlier, and when it was done brewing, he threw out the grounds, replaced them with fresh grounds and recycled the fresh pot through the replacement grounds. When the pot had brewed for the second time, he poured a cup, doctored it up with creamer and sugar, and handed it over as if he had just produced me a culinary masterpiece. As it turned out, his pride in the concoction wasn’t misplaced. That was the best cup of coffee I had ever experienced.

That September morning, in addition to becoming a coffee snob, I learned all about Tomás and his life. He had been a Cuban merchant marine and could tell you, in days and hours, how long it took to get to any Communist port in the world from Havana. He had 2 sons who lived in Buffalo, NY. And… he hated the Castro brothers, Ché Guevara, and Communists.

That morning, for whatever reason, Tomás took a shine to a young infantry NCO, and proceeded to teach me all about Cuba and the evils of Communism, refine my spoken Spanish, and how to appreciate coffee. In fact, he swore that because my Spanish was without an accent that my family had to be Hispanic. I assured him that he was incorrect… but, he wasn’t having any of it.

There’s much more to the story of Tomás that I may include in another blog entry but, the point today is that, despite the mainstream media coverage that Fidel Castro’s passing is, in some way, tragic… I can tell you, based on the accounts of those in Camp Delta and others who were in a position to know, first hand, that Fidel and Rául Castro, Ché Guevara, and Communism are all evil. And any who would tell you otherwise are poorly informed fools and/or agenda driven liars.

There are few human stories more compelling or tragic than those that come directly from individuals who have lived under and survived under the repressive regimes of communism. Ignoring the facts just to put together a feel-good news story or to attempt to canonize a tyrant, post mortem, is a despicable act that should be condemned and exposed for what it is. An anti-human, miscarriage of history and a willful ignorance of real human oppression. Those “reporters” and government officials singing Castro’s praises today should be ashamed of themselves and if they aren’t, they should be condemned to spending a few years under a brutal, inhuman, tyrannical regime… exercising their “freedom of press”.

But, today, ding-dong, the witch is dead. So, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee, celebrate the death of a tyrant, and have a merry holiday season.

Nous Defions.

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Star Wars and the Holidays

Happy Star Wars Day!… er… Christmas Kick-off Day!… uh… Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving almost seems like an afterthought this year. Not sure why that’s true except that it’s not as infinitely marketable as Halloween or Christmas. It’s not a big candy holiday, professional football seems to be less a draw this year than in any other year in recent memory, and evidently the retailers are freaking out because of a recent poll showing nearly 70% of the public has no desire to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. But, for me, Thanksgiving isn’t about candy, football, or shopping. It’s the gateway celebration leading to and culminating in Christmas and the New Year. It’s about Star Wars, celebration, and food.

Star Wars originally screened on May 25, 1977. As a seven year old boy, I stood in line for more hours than I care to count during that summer vacation. I did it with my father, I did it with friends, I did it alone. Just to watch the movie, mesmerized, one more time. I must have watched that movie a dozen times that summer. And, I watched it countless more times during that original theater run.

The other movies, Empire, Jedi, and the Prequels were also originally screened in May of their respective release years. Which, I suppose makes good marketing sense if what you’re after is a ready made, youth audience with lots of time on their hands. But, how does that have anything to do with the holiday season? Very simply… it’s the story.

Thanksgiving is the traditional, American beginning to the Christmas season… at least in my lifetime. It’s been historically a time of slowing down, at the end of the year leading to Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, etc. It’s a time of reflection, of giving thanks for the bounty of the previous couple of seasons, and preparing for the new year ahead. As such, it is spiritual and renewing on any number of levels. And it is the time of year that I enjoy Star Wars the most.

Star Wars is the story of birth, growth, corruption and decline, redemption, death, and rebirth. It represents the cycle of nature. It is the story of life. George Lucas’ vision and plot was made superbly rich by a comprehensive back story and layer upon layer of creative civilization and timeline. The original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, was at release, a stand alone product and story. Only after a few years of evolved exposure, did audiences realize how much more it was in Lucas’ mind. A New Hope started in the middle of the story… as we all do as individuals. It was a solid stand alone but, in comparison to the still unfolding entirety of the Star Wars universe, it was minuscule. In fact, it is so big in concept… it is Biblical in scope. And in message.

All great stories, be they oral tradition, written, or video, have these things in common. Because they have these elements, and because the ideas are so central to being human, it is easy to relate to them and they become classics, enjoyed and retold over and over, generation to generation. And, as humans, it is in our DNA to take the opportunity of the lull in the seasons to pause, with family and friends, around our version of the yule log, and retell and absorb tales that make us feel truly human.

At this point, Star Wars is so ingrained in our culture that there is a burgeoning “Fan Fiction” industry, as evidenced by the video attached above. People connect to the story on such a level that they are inspired to contribute to the main story itself and do so with such a reverence for the original story that it is truly a value add and not a dilution of the original. And, at this point, based on when the current “official” episodes in production are being released, it seems that even Disney Studios understands the relationship in season to story.

So, tonight, on this Thanksgiving, 2016, I will enjoy the feast of the season, in the company of those I love most, light the fireplace and enjoy one or more episodes of George Lucas’ version of the universal, human story.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Banpen Fugyô

I am a student of a very old, martial art of Japanese origin. A fundamental tenet of my martial study is a concept expressed as ‘Banpen Fugyô’. Roughly (and un-poetically) translated: Constant change, No amazement’. The Japanese version of ‘the only constant is change’, sort of idea.

Approaching the world in this way could be perceived as being boring or stuck in the mud because you are actively working to mitigate wonderment. However, this way of seeing the world does not force you to ignore the wondrous… it simply seeks to acknowledge that change is life/life is change and to not be derailed by it when it occurs. A kind of ‘go with the flow’ approach to life.

I believe we are witnessing one of those once in a lifetime periods where the entire world is changing before our eyes. A pivotal moment in time that will destroy old paradigms and establish a new foundation to build upon.

To be honest, we as a culture have been treated to so much change, so rapidly with the advent of the digital age that we are almost immune to recognizing change any longer because it seems to flow as a continuum. For instance, the current generation iPhone (which was marketed as a technological wonder) will be rendered obsolete by the next generation iPhone in probably 6 months… and it will also be presented as revolutionary. The only thing keeping the technological change from coming quicker, it seems, is the necessary time to market the next big thing.

But, this post isn’t specifically about iPhones, or Androids, or social media, or any of the other techie things that have become commonplace. This post is about a revolution in human existence and how we see ourselves in the world.

This point can be illustrated by any number of examples. Let’s start with the technology of communication: Human beings began communicating via spoken language by face to face conversation. This evolved into various written communications in the form of cave drawings, etched tablets, markings on papyrus, and finally the Gutenberg Press made mass publishing truly possible and distribute-able. Then, with the advent of harnessing electricity, communication began to be possible via telegraph and then by telephone. Radio and then Television revolutionized true mass communication and how we stayed abreast of current events, real time, and entertained ourselves. Cable television created competition. Resulting in more choices and a 24/7 news cycle. No more waiting for the 5:30 national news to understand what was happening in the world. Cellular phone technology came to fruition allowing us to communicate on the telephone virtually anywhere, any time. Then came the internet and e-mail. Suddenly, there was no waiting for the written word… e-mail was delivered to any point on the globe instantly. Then… Smartphones. Everyone now carries a device that delivers telephone, text, personal computing, photography (still and video) and internet capabilities. Various social media platforms were created and have nearly made e-mail irrelevant as a person to person communication and enable everyone with an account to broadcast their every thought and to share things of interest to everyone else on that platform instantly. E-books enabled true self-publishing to become a thing… brick and mortar bookstores, libraries, and old line publishing houses are now irrelevant for the most part. With the new internet based platforms of streaming entertainment, instant video and text publishing, Television, newspapers, magazines, and physical books are fast going the way of the dinosaur. It truly is a brave new world but… the changes are now coming so quickly that we have become nearly numb to exactly how revolutionary each of these are and how far we have come as a race in terms of communication. On the other hand, our larger social systems have moved more slowly than our technology. However, that is changing as well. At a breakneck pace.

The last, real revolution in governance was the American Revolution which resulted in the formation of the United States of America. A true melding of Greek democratic and Roman republican principles and recognizing Natural Law, designed to decentralize government while protecting the rights of the minority… down to the smallest minority, the individual.

Following a long slow march of conglomerate thinking and now globalization of our sovereignty and economics, the world of society and government is changing. Digital currencies are on the cusp of replacing monies controlled by governments.

The government of Spain has been all but non-existent for a year because the electorate could not decide between their two, bad legislative choices. Guess what…? Despite lots of doomsday commentary… nothing bad has happened to Spain.

Summer 2016 saw the ‘Brexit’ where the citizens of the UK chose to separate from the unelected econo-bureaucrats of the European Union. Guess what…? Despite lots of doomsday commentary, economic and otherwise… nothing bad has happened to the UK. In fact, the British Pound has not been stronger in a decade and a half.

In November, 2016 the United States elected President Donald Trump who ran on a platform of reform, economic prosperity and a reclamation of US sovereignty. Amidst lots of negative press and dire predictions, guess what…? So far what we’ve seen, two weeks in, is a President-Elect approaching his new Administration as a business turnaround, the stock markets are at all time highs, and the US Dollar is at 15 year highs. Additionally, the new President appears to be using all available technology to take his message directly to the public instead of allowing the press to filter his message.

Now, I believe we are on the verge of seeing France going the way of the UK and the US in terms of restoring their national sovereignty and withdrawing from the EU. If Marine Le Pen wins their election next summer, I suspect they will also withdraw from the EU and will be followed out by the Iberian peninsula. The Germans are also due for a national election… and Angela Merkel is beleaguered by a series of unpopular and detrimental immigration decisions. I’m predicting that she will also fall to a more conservative, national sovereignty focused opponent… followed by a German rejection of the EU model… and once the Germans go, the Scandinavians will likely follow.

What is the point of the very lengthy diatribe above? Simply this. Change is present, constant, and inevitable. Human beings long for independence and freedom to exercise our liberty. That is what our history of technological advancement has been about. It is now manifesting in our choices about governance. The days of large blocks of governance and economic rule are going away. We are voting them away because, we have developed the tools to render them obsolete. We no longer have a need for them and they are hindering our ability to realize our individual liberties and responsibilities. They must go… and they will.

Gone are the days of prohibitive national borders for the purposes of association. Going soon will be the days of the Nation State. We are all soon to be islands, connected by technology to other like-thinking islands, forming our own, self-defined, extra-national, beneficial relationships and alignments. I don’t know exactly how that will look in the end… but, that’s where we’re going.

There are those who will resist this change. That futile resistance is reflected in the riots and unrest surrounding the US election. I understand. Change causes friction, friction causes discomfort, and no one enjoys being uncomfortable. But, understand that change is coming whether you want it or you don’t. It’s a giant wave, and it has quantum amounts of momentum. Surf’s up. Nothing to do but to ride the wave in front of us or to be crushed under it’s force.

Banpen Fugyô!

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Wind of Change

A few years ago, I had posted something on Facebook in a moment of nostalgia. I had just swerved into ‘Wind of Change’ by the Scorpions on the radio and it kicked over some memories that I put to “paper”. I think that given current events, I’d like to resurrect, share, and expand upon that original post. I’ve snipped and pasted the pertinent section of the original text here, in bold, along with the Scorpions video:

“Heard this song on the radio yesterday and was flooded with memories from the time it was released. 1990. My adult world was still shiny and new. I had just been stationed in Germany and the Wall had just come down.

This song was an anthem of hope based in the Cold War winding down and the idealism that once the Soviets were de-throned as the world’s “other” super-power, the world would be a better, free-er place…”

Ok… so my aging ass was nostalgic a couple years ago and spewed it all over Facebook. That makes me unique… how? Well, it doesn’t. But, I started thinking about this in the context of the recent election and thought I’d put some words to “paper”, again.

No matter how you feel about the results of the recent Presidential election, it would be difficult to deny that there is change in the air. Opinions run the gamut of “morning in America” to “it’s the end of the world as we know it”. Personally, I’m hopeful about the end result. But, let’s get back to the idea at hand.

In 1990, I was a newly minted, US Army Airborne Infantryman, a paratrooper, stationed in Germany. I was 20 years old and as I wrote above, “my adult world was still shiny and new”. The atmosphere in Germany at the time was electric. The Berlin Wall had just come down, the Post Exchange was selling pieces of it in little plastic baggies as souvenirs, and East Germany was about to be officially reunited with West Germany. The West Germans weren’t terribly thrilled about the reunification because, according to the prevalent social theory at the time, the East Germans would come flooding over what had been the border and saturate the job market with low cost, unskilled labor, causing the economic double whammy of increased social fiscal burden of a population boom coupled with the potential of employers hiring the former East Germans in place of West Germans in effort to cut labor costs. As it turned out, the unwashed hoards from the East didn’t engulf the West, the German economy did not collapse under it’s own weight, and life proceeded pretty much as normal to the degree that if, today, you were to ask most anyone 35 or younger about “East Germany” you’ll probably get a perplexed look.

Irrespective of the West German economic fears, the hopeful message of “Wind of Change’ was the cultural zeitgeist of the time. The world saw a coming together of peoples who had been separated by postwar, Communism and tyranny. Things were getting better and President Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor with chimpanzees for co-stars cum California Governor, had driven it to happen through the superior ideas, economics, and military firepower of the United States. Truly heady times.

Conversely, the cultural zeitgeist today, amidst similarly large potential change, tells us that the world is coming to an end. To hear it told, all is lost as a result of Donald Trump, New York real estate mogul and reality tv star, winning our Presidential election. The campaign was particularly nasty and divisive. Or, maybe it was simply reflective of a nasty political and social environment that had created its own divisions. Things were changing, as they tend to do, in ways that many felt threatened traditional American culture and values. The final vote reflected both that perspective and that desire for a reset.

I tend to think that the Trump era will yield results similar to the Reagan era. But, the response to the two are contrasting and interesting. Now, in fairness, when Reagan was elected he was widely seen as the anti-christ by his detractors… similar to the way Trump is perceived. Reagan was not remembered fondly by most Americans until after his presidency. But, there was not a time that I remember during Reagan’s tenure that there were the riots and utter societal melt-down we see currently in the United States.

I am generally positive about the prospects of the Trump administration, and time will certainly tell whether or not I’m correct to be. But, in the end, time marches on and “change is the only constant”. It’s all going to be ok, despite the rioting and overly emotional college kid outbursts. The economy will ebb and flow, and for the time being the United States will continue to be a force for good in the world. In another 4 years, those who are discontent with the direction the country has taken will have another opportunity to change it to something they prefer.

This sort of historical give and take has always fascinated me and is, at root, the human story. The story of vision, change, and hope. A desire to help to tell that human story is why I started writing. Maybe it’s simple arrogance to think that I can add in any small way to the bodies of work that literary luminaries before me produced. And if that’s true, so be it. But, I’m genuinely enjoying the writing process and I am hopeful that I am producing content in ‘Yeoman Rising’ that someone, besides me, will enjoy and get something out of.

All in all, welcome to the Yeoman Rising blog. I’ll be around and will attempt to write things that provoke thought and provide some levity from time to time. I opened this post with a video that represented a message of hope from nearly 3 decades ago. In an attempt to provide helpful counterpoint, I’ll leave you with a different video perspective that may better represent current attitudes about “today”.

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