Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Trump, Korea, the Marines and a Photo

By Bob Gaydos
The photo that inspired a nation ... in spite of the facts.
The photo that inspired a nation ... in spite of the facts. AP/Joe Rosenthal
“Well, that’s good,” I said to myself with a tension-reducing sigh. Congress is taking August off and the Senate actually took steps to keep Trump from making any recess appointments should he decide to, say, fire the attorney general or anyone else. That probably didn’t sit well with the Donald, but what the heck, I figured, he’s going on another vacation, so what trouble could he possibly get us into?

 Yeah, I know. A momentary lapse of judgment on my part, perhaps prompted by a need for some relief from the constant drumbeat of incoherent, inarticulate, insensitive, insulting, indecent and incredibly embarrassing flow of bigotry and B.S. coming from the White House. A vocabulary-challenging administration.

I guess he figured a man can’t play golf and tweet all the time, so why not go mano-a-mano with North Korea over nuclear war. Ramp up the language and fire up the still-remaining base of support who don’t want to think about Russia or losing their health insurance because, after all, the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming. And Kim what’s-his-name, too!

It has come to this: Trump’s own staff members are telling us to ignore what he says. Don’t worry, says the secretary of state. Senators and generals are ignoring what he says. But the world is not ignoring what he says because, like it or not, he speaks for this nation.

I don’t like it.

Not when he talks so cavalierly about taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people because of his ego. Not when he shows no awareness of the devastating power of nuclear weapons. Not when he displays no comprehension of the wisdom of trying to avoid war through frank and honest diplomacy: You have weapons; we have more weapons. We will suffer greatly. You will be destroyed. No one wins. What do you want to allow your people to see what a magnificent leader you are by giving up your nuclear weapons and giving your people a better life? Let’s talk.

What gets lost in this frenetic, theoretical talk about war is the simple fact of the individual lives that will be ended. Even efforts by some politicians to lower the threat level to Americans by saying any war with North Korea will not be nuclear and will be fought on the Korean peninsula ignore this fact. It is obviously intended to relieve Americans’ fears of war on their homeland, but conveniently overlooks the fact that, in addition to Koreans, it will be young American men and women fighting and dying on the Korean peninsula, which they have already done once before. Failure to negotiate a peace settlement after that war has led to a divided nation and well-armed ceasefire for more than half a century.

Trump’s ”fire and fury” remarks regarding North Korea coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to hasten the end of World War II with Japan in 1945. The reasoning by President Harry S Truman and his advisers at the time was that a traditional military invasion of Japan with a million or so troops would cost  hundreds of thousands of Allied deaths given the Japanese strategy of everyone, soldier or not, fighting to the death.

Whether or not one agrees with Truman’s decision, he and his advisers were undoubtedly correct in their assessment of a traditional invasion. Not long before the bomb was dropped, U.S. Marines fought their bloodiest, most courageous, most decorated battle on Iwo Jima, an island fortress defending the Japanese homeland. As recounted in often painful detail in the book, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley and Ron Powers, the conquest of Iwo, commemorated with the planting of the American flag on Mount Suribachi, was the result of sending wave after wave of young American men, with no cover, to attack a heavily armed, entrenched, literally underground, Japanese army and eventually overwhelming the enemy by determination, incredible bravery, and sheer numbers.

That is a strategy. A terribly costly one as it turned out for thousands of American families who lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends on the beaches of Iwo and on the slopes of Suribachi. It was thought to be necessary by some, at the time, in order to defeat an enemy that didn’t recognize any so-called rules of warfare. Maybe it was, but a nation that respects and cherishes its young people still ought not casually consider sending them off to die or be wounded in any war, however justified it may sound.

That’s what I hate most about Trump’s and others’ flippant remarks about war. They ignore the cost in lives, in futures, in dreams, by wrapping everything in a flag of patriotism. Duty. Honor. Courage.

In addition to being a chilling account of combat, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” which I’m reading as part of a stash of used books I recently bought at the library, provides a perfect example of Americans refusing to take an event at face value and, instead, repackaging it to fit their preconceived notions. It is about one of the most famous photographs ever taken -- six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo brought hope to a war-weary nation, became a famous monument, propelled a successful bond tour to support the war effort, inspired a John Wayne movie. Today, it remains a stirring symbol of American courage.

But the photo itself was not of a heroic moment. As the authors recount, it was a lucky shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal at a second flag-raising, after the heroic one following an assault up Suribachi a day earlier. The Marine commander wanted a larger flag flying over Iwo. The men who planted the second flag happened to be there. Photos were taken. One was dramatic. They became heroes back home, sought after everywhere for much of their lives. As often as the three flag-raisers who survived Iwo Jima tried to tell the real story of the flag, they were ignored. The photo was too powerful. It said so much of what Americans wanted it to say. Needed it to say.

Bradley’s father, Jack “Doc” Bradley, was identified as one of the six flag-raisers, but even that remains questioned today. A medical corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo, all he and the others ever said was that the real heroes were the Marines and Navy corpsmen who died on the island -- 6,800 of them. The Japanese suffered 22,000 casualties, mostly deaths. American casualties exceeded 26,000. One battle. One island. Two flags.

As a nation, we have a tendency to try to make things -- flag-raisings, presidents -- fit our perceptions (our hopes and wishes perhaps), so that we don’t have to face reality. War is brutal. Talk is cheap.

The Iwo Jima photo, while it does not represent an actual heroic moment in combat, has come to symbolize the heroism of U.S. Marines, especially at Iwo Jima. It has obtained true, lasting value because it represents something real -- the courage, determination, resilience, loyalty, and brotherhood the Marines demonstrated on Iwo Jima and, indeed, have demonstrated throughout their proud history. If you need to raise a flag, they are there. 
They are the real deal.

Take as many photos of Donald Trump as you want. Wearing that silly Make America Great Again cap if you want. Wrap him in flags and give him tough-sounding words if you want. Gild the lily all you want. It doesn’t matter. The image will never match the reality of the man's history. Gutless and callous and phony to the core.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Test your knowledge on addiction

Addiction and recovery
By Bob Gaydos
The more things change, the more some other things seem to stay the same. This is particularly true in the field of addiction and substance abuse. With (a) an opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, (b) a growing nationwide movement to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal and even recreational use, and (c) a growing consensus that the “war on drugs” has failed, a new administration in Washington seems determined to stick to the old, law-and-order approach to addiction.
This suggests that, while we may be in the midst of an unprecedented technological revolution, some of us may still be operating with outdated information. That’s why, from time to time, I devote a column to facts about alcohol and drug addiction. After all, if we’re going to treat it as a war, or as a crusade against a major health issue, we should know what we’re up against.
And, since Americans love quizzes, I’ve put one together to test your addiction IQ. It’s updated from one I offered a few years ago. Quizzes may be fun, but obviously this is a serious issue. The questions and answers are based on reports and other published materials of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
What’s your addiction IQ?
  1. a) 10 million; b) 20 million); c) 40 million; d) 60 million Americans 12 or older have substance abuse problems.
  2. a) 15%; b) 25%; c) 50%; d) 75% of all high school students have used addictive substances, including cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine.
  3. More than a) 50%; b) 60%; c) 75%; d) 90% of people with a substance problem began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18.
  4. a) 26%; b) 36%; c) 46%; d) 56% of children under age 18 live in a household where someone age 18 or older is smoking, drinking excessively, misusing prescription drugs or using illegal drugs.
  5. Seven in 10 people with the chronic diseases of high blood pressure, major depression and diabetes receive treatment. How many people who need treatment for substance problems receive any form of care? a) 1 in 10; b) 2 in 10; c) 3 in 10; d) 5 in 10.
  6. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines risky drinking for women as: a) 3; b) 7; c) 10; d) 12 drinks in a week.
  7. The NIAAA defines risky drinking for men as more than: a) 12; b) 14; c) 16; d) 20 drinks in a week.
  8. Among people with a prescription drug use problem, nearly: a) 25%; b) 30%; c) 50%; d) 75% have another substance problem.
    9. Of every dollar state and federal governments spend on substance problems: a) 2 cents; b) 5 cents; c) 10 cents; d) 25 cents goes to prevention and treatment.

True or false
   10. Having a high tolerance (feeling less effect from the substance with continued use) is a sign that the person is not addictive.
   11. Because they use substances at lower levels than men, women typically progress from substance use to addiction more slowly than men and experience the health consequences of substance use, such as death, cancer, heart disease and memory problems, less intensely than men.
   12. Addiction, substance use and abuse are the largest preventable and most costly health problems facing the U.S. today, responsible for more than 20 percent of deaths in the U.S.
   13. Addiction, substance use and abuse cause or contribute to more than 70 other conditions requiring medical care, including cancer, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy complications, cirrhosis, ulcers and trauma, and account for one-third of all hospital in-patient costs.
   14. Total costs to federal, state and local governments of addiction, substance use and abuse are at least $468 billion per year – almost $1,500 for every person in America.
    15. Addiction can’t be a disease because it is caused by the individual’s choice to use drugs or alcohol.

Answers: 1(c); 2(d); 3(d); 4(c); 5(a); 6(b); 7(b); 8(d); 9(a).
10: False. High tolerance is a warning sign of a possible substance problem.
11: False. Women generally progress more quickly than men in addiction and suffer more intensely.
12, 13 and 14: True. Just putting out some perspective on the scope of the problem.
15: False, according to National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: “While the first use (or early stage use) may be by choice, once the brain has been changed by addiction, most experts believe that the person loses control of his or her behavior. Choice does not determine whether something is a disease. Heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer involve personal choices, such as diet, exercise, sun exposure, etc. A disease is what happens in the body as a result of those choices.”
Keep score yourself. The only way to fail is to ignore the issue altogether.
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More info:


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lining up for the smell of death in D.C.

By Bob Gaydos
People viewing -- and smelling -- the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.
People viewing -- and smelling -- the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.
  There was a distinct stench of decay in the nation’s capital last week and thousands of visitors showed up to get a whiff -- heck, a full, deep inhalation -- of it. What’s that? No, no, this had nothing to do with the White House or Congress … stick with me. The odor emanated from, of all things, a flower.
  The corpse flower. These large malodorous plants are not for sale at your local garden store. For one thing, they’re huge -- this one is 8 feet tall -- and bloom rarely. Unpredictably, really. And then for only two days at most.  This makes such occasions an excuse for people to line up around the block, as they did at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, to look and smell.
  A plant scientist who is public programs manager at the U.S. Botanic Garden, told the website LiveScience “... once you get into that room, it really hits you pretty hard. It reminded me of a dead deer on the side of the road in the Florida Everglades with a big pile of really soggy, moldy laundry next to it. It was really, really unpleasant.”
  I think I know what the man is talking about. In my neck of the woods in upstate New York, about 75 miles from New York City, some farmers have taken to spreading what they say is fertilizer on their land, but which, to noses familiar and comfortable with normal fertilizer, smells like dead deer times ten. Death smell, we call it. Really unpleasant. The farmers never said it was the corpse flower, though. Duck eggs is the story they’re going with.
  Unlike the corpse flower, no one around here lined up to take a good, deep whiff. You really only had to drive by to get it. A lot of people did complain to public officials, however, and that may have stopped the practice. Lately, it’s just been good, old-fashioned cow manure.
  In Washington, though, Amorphophallus titanum was holding forth last week to no apparent purpose. While it rarely blooms and no one can say when one will bloom, the plant can be long-lived and botanists say the blooming has a specific purpose. Get this: The corpse plant uses its death smell to attract flesh-eating bugs such as beetles and flies that will carry its pollen to cross pollinate other corpse flowers.
  So its purpose is simply to perpetuate itself apparently. Thank you, Mother Nature. One bloomed in the Bronx last August, but the plant is native to the rain forests of Sumatra and I suppose it makes sense in the ecological framework of western Indonesia. As for the D.C. transplant, I’m not certain.
  This particular plant, which blossomed for the first time, is said to have grown from 4 feet tall to 8 feet tall just in the time it was put on display in the greenhouse -- less than a week-and-a-half. It reeked of death for a couple of days then withered.
  The folks at the Botanic Garden said this particular plant was the first corpse flower to bloom in Washington, D.C., since 2007. So for eight years -- from 2008 to 2016 -- there was no call to line up for the smell of death in the nation’s capital. This year -- bloom!
  Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about the plant’s purpose. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something. Let’s see … what blooms big and garish without warning for no purpose other than to promote itself, attracts a crowd, appeals to flesh-eating bugs, stinks to hell for a brief period and then withers and goes away for a long time?
  Maybe they’ll have a clue at the White House.