Thursday, November 29, 2007

Moving and Not Moving

Yesterday was moving day here at Rez Dog Central. My furniture and household goods arrived. I was especially happy to see my bicycle. The load wasn’t big but it took two movers about three hours to get it unlimbered and into my second floor apartment. Watching the big pieces come up the stairs made the cost well worth it–and I didn’t have to drive a large vehicle 1500 miles. I don’t anticipate another long distance move. If I do I will hire movers again. If I can’t afford the cost, I’ll sell all my stuff. Traveling cross-country is best done light.

The apartment is by no means full (which is good) although the load represents only about half of my accouterments. The rest will remain in Phoenix until we come up with a permanent living space in Olympia. In the meantime, what I have here will do just fine.

Yesterday was also moving day for the US Army. I saw a M1A1 Abrams tank crossing Legion street. It was mounted on a rail car as part of a train leaving the Port of Olympia. I believe that it’s a 2nd Infantry brigade returning to Fort Lewis after 15 months in Iraq. The war feels much closer here in Olympia than it did in Phoenix. In Phoenix, one might know someone in the service or a National Guard member called up. Here, Fort Lewis is a big part of the community. This is the place where the sacrifice of the military and their families is readily apparent. Martha Raddatz gives a good account of life in the military community left behind when a unit deploys in The Long Road Home. She writes about Fort Hood, Texas and the 1st Cavalry Division (my old unit) but the story is a universal one.

Military community notwithstanding, much of Olympia opposes the war. Bumper stickers and window signs galore calling for an end to the war and impeachment. My contacts are limited so far and tend toward the progressive, anti-war persuasion so they may not be fully representative but I’m pretty sure that Olympia is no different from the rest of America in wanting an end to the war.

What may be different is the passion in Olympia. While I was out of town, local activists blockaded the Port of Olympia to prevent unloading military equipment returning from Iraq. I heard about the blockade by email that also reported strong action by the Olympia police. Nothing more. Until I returned and started hearing and reading local reports. The town is very divided about the blockade. Many think that if people are going to break the law they should expect to suffer the consequences which in this case included pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets and that’s just fine. Local activists, on the other hand, describe a police riot, with the police initiating violence at a peaceful protest against using a public asset for an illegal war. Among the resisters is a member of Olympia’s City Council who was prominent in calling for de-militarization of the port.

The local paper apparently ignored the police violence and made it sound like the blockade itself was violent. The Evergreen State College paper has good coverage and photos of the event. Maybe it’s just the stark night time light and newsprint reproduction but the police DO look alien and thuggish, fully kitted out in riot gear. The cover photo of the officer aiming what looks like a shotgun point blank at a civilian is particularly chilling. I heard an interview with three of the women who organized the blockade. They spoke of their frustration with a continuing war and in particular the suffering of women and children who are increasingly the victims of war. About 30 plus women linked arms to block the entrance to the port. Others came to support them. Others came to oppose them. All accounts of the counter protesters describe them as hateful and provocative. The college paper also makes it clear that after a few assaults by the police, some of the anti-militarization demonstrators turned ugly. Apparently, Olympia police are regarded as dangerous by the activist community. One story describes a sense of relief when a confrontation seemed to end without expected use of force by the police (the force came shortly thereafter). Another account reports that the activists had medics on hand to treat pepper spray victims.

Let’s see. In Phoenix, maybe 50 to 75 people will turn out to demonstrate against the war. In Olympia, that many people will blockade a port against a police force with a reputation for rough tactics. I’m truly awestruck. Maybe the up close proximity of the war creates an equally strong resistance. That would seem logical. The one question I have about the whole affair is the symbolism of preventing the troops’ return. If I was one of the Stryker drivers delayed 16 hours by a blockade, I’d be pissed and ready to just drive over the motherfuckers. I understand the point of demilitarizing the port but I would exempt equipment returning from the war. It’s the stuff going out that must stop, which to its credit, activists attempted during a previous deployment. That blockade was also unsuccessful but don’t recall any other details.

Some local sentiment blames the whole affair on “Greenies”, students at The Evergreen State College, effete, inexperienced, privileged kids out for a thrill and a good time. The women I heard on radio dispelled that stereotype; all were older and long time community members. The city council member who supported the blockade is hardly an outsider (to me anyway). It’s not outsiders and agitators questioning Olympia’s participation in the war, it’s the local community asking a fundamental question that it confronts on a daily basis. A LTE today from a civilian police employee describes the outpouring of support for the officers who were harassed and provoked by lawless demonstrators. Other citizens are outraged at the cost of the disruption–about $300,000 maybe $500,000–caused either by misguided idealists or lawless hooligans. There’s a lot of tut-tutting going on.

Also today was a memorial service at Fort Lewis for three dead soldiers from the base and the announcement of another KIA. The Tacoma paper carried the story of a major who was awarded a Silver Star for bravery in action. The story also included short descriptions of seven other Silver Stars awarded to Fort Lewis soldiers. Chinooks have been flying over Olympia much of the day.

This is no place to escape the war.


Sunday, November 25, 2007


The Washington Post Magazine today has an article about research on MDMA in treating post-traumatic stress. MDMA is a psychedelic drug known on the street as Ecstasy. The story is interesting for its exploration in some detail of how MDMA allows subjects to recover the sense of inner peace and safety that was lost during the trauma. One researcher was quoted about what the limited studies to date actually demonstrate. “The plural of anecdote is not data.” The difference being, to my analytical mind, confidence that what you see actually represents reality.

That’s a good thought to bear in mind because all too often what we have are anecdotes. Real data is hard to come by, requiring careful planning, execution and analysis. Real data is expensive and depending on the market we cut corners. For the health and safety market like drug research and approval we cut fewer corners (supposedly) than say, in the political market, where anecdotes and image make up much of the media content.

The distinction is also important to me as an auditor/evaluator. I’m somewhat hesitant to use the auditor title since most think it means accountant. The word has other meanings, my favorite being those related to the Latin verb audire, to hear. To listen. My skill set is investigation, analysis and reporting. I can track down and piece together a story. Anecdotes (ie, interviews) aren’t worth much as evidence. What counts are facts. What Is. What you can demonstrate and prove. Someone may give you a heads up but that tip is worthless for proving anything. There has to be something there. Finding what’s there makes the work interesting.

Speaking of work, now that I am properly relocated, I am seeking work so that I can finance this adventure. I applied for a research position that looks interesting, maybe even worth working full time. I am networking to see what freelance work I can find. I will also market my skill as an investigator, analyst and writer to anyone looking to solve problems. That’s what my career as an analyst/auditor taught me to do.

Thirty-three years ago when I began working as an assistant legislative analyst for a newly-formed investigative committee, my colleagues and I called ourselves “bureaucratic guerrillas”, a small, elite band of investigators working behind enemy (ie, the Commonwealth’s various departments and agencies) lines, fighting waste and fraud in government. The years since have taught me that other state workers are not the enemy and that truth is elusive in government. I still like the idea of the bureaucratic guerrilla as someone who can fight through the maze of regulation, obfuscation and stupidity that seems inherent in so many human endeavors and certainly in government.
My first assignment is a volunteer one. I hope to work with the local Veterans For Peace chapter here in Olympia in establishing a veterans advocate program. This is a program where advocates are trained to assist veterans and GIs in securing benefits they have earned that the military seeks to deny them. I only know a little about the program but think I’ll be a natural for it. I’m a veteran. I know government. I believe my country–that is, me–owes this generation of veterans a great debt. I will do what I can to help. After all, I am a bureaucratic guerrilla.