Archive for December, 2013

An Informal Study on Assumptions

Posted: December 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

It began with a post on Facebook.

I’m going to do a little informal study. Normally, I can’t stand assumptions, but, for a change, I would like for people to make assumptions about me just to see what they are. Naturally, family members are not allowed to participate, because you already know most of the answers. First question: which languages did I learn to speak first?

While the small and entirely voluntary sample of friends and acquaintances is but one variable ruling this study out as scientific, it still surprised me that nobody answered correctly.

The first respondent said, “English for $300, please.” Well, he was half right.

The second assumed that I count, “fluent baby barf, gurgle, and fart” as languages. That made my day.

“French,” said the third, who then clarified, “I assume that you knew English because you grew up in the States, but I think you would have learned French first. I seem to recall you knowing that. Yet who knows? I might be way out in left field here.”

That respondent was not too far off, as she had indeed overheard me speaking French. But I didn’t start learning French until I was in my teens.

One guessed that because I know Irish dance, one of my first languages had to be Irish. I only wish! Sadly, the opportunity to learn Irish naturally, without sitting in classes or- as I did- listening to tons of recordings and poring over books is rather limited.

Another guessed German. That was a much better guess, as I do have German relatives who taught me a bit, making some German expressions a regular part of everyday conversation even while speaking English. However, it’s still not correct.

No. The two languages I learned to speak first are English and Spanish, and I learned them both simultaneously as a baby.

Why I don’t speak Spanish as well now is the result of something else I learned as a child. Some people don’t like seeing their assumptions proven wrong. They are uncomfortable with those who defy their expectations, so they spread the misery. One of my biggest childhood mistakes was giving in to those expectations and giving up Spanish.


So yet another clueless privileged celebrity compared his career to going off to war- this time Kanye West.

Dear Mr. West,

You don’t have to take any of the risks you do while performing. No mission, nobody else’s lives, and no matter of national security depend on any of your stage antics. And if you’re in any real danger during your stage show, you can just blame your tech crew, faulty equipment, or even your own fool self if you’re not wearing a harness to keep you from falling during the stunts you choose to pull. Nobody’s setting IEDs in your path. Nobody’s trying to shoot you just because of a flag patch on your shoulder. And your shows aren’t what will prevent more 9-11s.

My challenge to you is to try to enlist. Failing that, as you likely will, at the very least sit down with some veterans and shut your mouth long enough so you can listen and learn what war really is like. Then humbly apologize to them. They may fight to the death to protect your right to mouth off, but that doesn’t mean you have to trivialize their sacrifices.

Thank you,

a writer who will only compare herself to Valerie Finnigan

I didn’t forget what day it was.

It was a Saturday. I had to go to work. One of the residents wanted to watch television, and I turned on the TV to see news that Merrill Newman was released from prison in North Korea and returning home. We rejoiced over that.

It was in December. After work I went to a Christmas festival and bought some home baked rolls to save and serve for Christmas dinner. I had wanted to deliver a gift to someone particularly deserving on my way home, but having forgotten that, I settled for driving home directly. It was just as well, as it got dark very quickly, and the weather was abominable.

The temperature peaked in the teens, but it didn’t feel a single degree above zero. The wind- always a fixture in eastern Idaho weather- showed its real strength, bringing gusts so strong and snow so blinding, it didn’t just make my long commute home a nerve-wracking experience. I considered tbe possibility of the wind tearing away my American flag, blowing it down the street, and depositing it two blocks away to freeze under rapidly accumulating layers of snow. It did strike me as a good idea to break with tradition that morning, though, and not put my flag out. When I returned home, I joined my husband and kids in decorating the Christmas tree, thankful to see our flag safe and dry indoors.

Yesterday was the seventh of December. I made sure that my kids remembered what happened on another December seventh, when a storm of a far worse nature hit our shores, making landfall in Pearl Harbor. My grandfather most certainly felt its impact, living- as he did at the time- in Germany with American and German citizenship, forced to examine his loyalties and priorities. This year as always, I remembered him and his service during World War II as a US soldier. But this year I wanted to do something for another soldier whose world was rocked by the attack on Pearl Harbor. His loyalty as an American was questioned even more than my grandfather’s was all because of his ancestry. He also managed to avoid being placed in an internment camp. But, unlike my grandfather, he didn’t have to choose a side. He knew where his loyalty lay, and was only compelled to prove it to a nation that should never have doubted him.
Hero Shiosaki, having served in the all Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, saw some of the worst action on the European front, where my grandfather, due to getting out of Germany when he did and due to his MOS within the army, did not have to fight. Mr. Shiosaki’s service and the sacrifices he and his brothers in arms made did not get the timely recognition due them, though they were nonetheless “most decorated and decimated.” He most recently was awarded an Idaho Hometown Hero medal back in August for his continued dedication to his fellow veterans and to educating our young people, as mentioned in the Blackfoot Morning News.

I did not want to give him a medal. I just wanted to show that writers and artists in the comic book industry have not forgotten the valor and dedication of the 442nd. And since Blackfoot was about halfway home from work and road conditions were a little better, I made sure his family got a copy of Journey of Heroes today- better a day late than never! For those who haven’t read Journey of Heroes, don’t wait until next Pearl Harbor Day to get a copy. You can order it here.

With my town in the grip of frigid weather and icy roads, some might think it reckless of me to venture out at all. Nevertheless, I had things to do. I had to pick up some ingredients for my Christmas cake, and- it being Wednesday- I had to make a trip to Outland Comics. I was expecting some new books in my pull box.

My trip through the great outdoor deep freezer proved worthwhile. I discovered my four wheel drive worked well enough to get me out and back home safely. With the Christmas cake now in the oven, the whole house smells like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, all kinds of good stuff. And I found time to curl up on my favorite chair with the dog and cats and read.

Issue 117 of The Walking Dead packs in quite a bit of action for what’s supposed to be a filler issue. I expected to see the fallout from Rick’s attack upon Negan’s base. I expected to see setup for Negan’s retaliation or another strike from Rick. I expected Negan’s characteristically profane vocabulary. I expected zombies.

I got all that and more. I did not expect to see Ezekiel’s tiger Shiva get in on some zombie killing action. I did not expect to see quite that much profanity in the single cluster F-bomb Negan dropped upon realizing the danger his base was in. I hated Holly when she was first introduced, and I had definitely not expected to do a complete one eighty. Whether she dies or survives in the upcoming issues, she will do so with some greater respect from me. But I won’t get attached.

And Robert Kirkman had the grace to save the biggest shocker for the end. Negan revealed something that shows he’s not just a ruder, cruder version of the Governor. His methods aren’t just different. He’s playing an entirely different game. There are a variety of ways it could play out, and I’m curious to see how.

And of course I’m curious to see who will make it out alive.

I read books like Amazing X-Men for the opposite reason I enjoy books like The Walking Dead. There are no heroes in The Walking Dead, at least not of the sort I like in superhero comics. The very, very best are mere human beings trying to make the best of the zombie apocalypse- and the very worst are, too, in their own way. But nobody triumphs. While there are small victories, they may not last, and they most certainly come at a price. Ultimately, the best we can hope for is that the characters we like live well, die well, and don’t come back as zombies. But we can’t take even that for granted. And we don’t. It’s as realistic as we can expect anything from zombie pop culture.

But sometimes I get more than my fill of grit and grief from real life, and that’s when I turn to books like Amazing X-Men. I don’t expect superheroes to be perfect, but I find stories of good people fighting the good fight and winning inspiring. I’m entertained by the crazy situations superheroes endure. I like feeling confident that the good guys will prevail, and I feel satisfied when that confidence is vindicated. Sadly, I hadn’t been getting as much  of that out of superhero comics over the past several years.

Today was different. To paraphrase Sean Pigeon’s contribution to the letters pages, I read superhero comics because I too like “that they allow the impossible to be possible.” I generally loathe the cliche Major Character Death, especially since there’s no more shock value, the readers know it’s a gimmick even if the creators don’t believe so, and the character will inevitably return due to popularity, a movie coming out, or concerns about maintaining trademarks. However there is something to be said for losing one’s self in, as Mr. Pigeon again put it, “a world where we can be reunited with lost loved ones.” Lost loved ones who won’t claw and bite us to death, that is.

This is the first time I am bothering with a story arc involving a dead character’s return. Normally, I prefer to just pretend such characters never died- unless we’re talking about Jean Grey, and we aren’t. Nightcrawler’s passing, besides being something that I thought shouldn’t have happened in the first place, was rather shoddily handled, so I was fully prepared to pass on reading his inevitable return. But I had faith in Jason Aaron’s ability to write a fun book and his grasp of a good, fun, and multifaceted character like Nightcrawler, and he pleasantly surprised me with Amazing X-Men 1. While I still have questions about where the Bamfs come from, I was similarly pleased with this second issue.

The biggest surprise- even bigger than the appearances of Professor Xavier and a couple of historical personages- was seeing Northstar, who I never took to be a very fun character even when writers allowed him an occasional witticism, actually cutting loose and enjoying himself at the bad guys’ expense. The other characters are quite well handled, believable, and while not perfect, definitely likeable, pitted against a delightfully madcap variety of demons, pirate demons, and even Jack the Ripper and Billy the Kid.

And just like Kirkman did in this week’s issue of The Walking Dead, Aaron saved the best for last. “Now comes the fun part,” Nightcrawler promises.

I expect that promise will be kept in the next issue.

Much has been written about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan and has been held captive by the Haqqani network ever since. I would say that not enough attention is given his cause. I believe the plight of others also warrants attention. Some people refer to Sgt. Bergdahl as the only American prisoner of war still living. That he was captured at all and is still a prisoner of war is more than bad enough to me.

But is he the only living American POW?

Let’s not forget that the Korean War technically never ended. Armistice was declared in 1953, but that did not stop hostilities or violence. I had once written about David Mills, who was captured during the Korean War when he was only seventeen. He was rescued in 1953, but sixty years later, North Korea hasn’t stopped detaining foreigners- and often in very harsh conditions.

Kenneth Bae, aka Bae Jun-Ho, was caught with pictures of starving North Korean orphans in November, 2012. For that, he was charged with plotting to bring down the North Korean government and sentenced to fifteen years hard labor. After several months, he was moved to a “special prison” due to his deteriorating health, but he is still being held prisoner.

The latest would be the capture of eighty-five year old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, who was taking an officially authorized tour of North Korea and wished to, as he said, “meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers.” For that alone, he was accused of “hostile acts” against North Korea. He also was shown on video reading a “confession” in often rather broken English to various “offensives” committed some sixty years ago, “offensives” such as killing civilians.

When a man who speaks fluent English apologizes for “offensives” rather than “offences” and reads statements like, “I want not punish me,” that smacks of a false confession to me. I hate to wonder what was done to compel him to read that.

Similarly, I also hate to wonder about the 516 South Koreans who were abducted since the armistice and are still being held prisoner in North Korea.

I think they all qualify as prisoners of war. My own thoughts and prayers are with them, as well as with my fellow Idahoan Sgt. Bergdahl.

May they all come home to the warm welcome they deserve.

As my mother-in-law and I were making preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, my mother-in-law let me in on another reason to be thankful. A trio of ladies- Debbie O’Neil, Stefanie O’Neill, and Michelle Marie Murrell- have organized a unique campaign on behalf of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Now if you haven’t been reading this blog or any of the relevant news over the past four and a half years, Sgt. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in June, 2009 and is currently held by the Haqqani network. Now I’m always willing to do whatever I can to help bring a prisoner of war home. That Sgt. Bergdahl is a fellow Idahoan and that my family holds his parents Bob and Jani near and dear only added to my desire to help out.

This also is not just any campaign. I’ve signed all the petitions. I’ve sent out the emails. I’ve got the stickers and a silicone bracelet. No, this promises to be much bigger. It is a chance for everyone to send Bowe a Christmas card and remind the President to get cracking on bringing him home. The goal is to send at least one million cards.

So I grabbed a box of greeting cards and stickers the American Legion had sent me and got instructions on what else to do here:

Then I got to work, not that it was very difficult. I could sum it up in a few easy steps.


1. Obtain a greeting card. Add an appropriate message if you like. The card I sent says, “To Sgt. Bergdahl, greetings of the season and every good wish for the new year… including for your safe and swift return. Mr. President, bring Bowe home!!!!”


2. Address the card as follows:

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

c/o The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500

Some have chosen to add “ATTN President Obama.” Some are also choosing to send cards to their senators and representatives and even to Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, International. Whatever we do, we have to remind our politicians as they talk about troop drawdowns that they can’t forget about Bowe.


3. Tell your family and friends, so you can send cards by the handful or even boxful. And then if we keep pushing and keep Bowe’s plight on the minds of our politicians, he just might be able to come home for Christmas.