I sometimes verge toward holding our fucking idiot president responsible for the fact that two of my brothers have risked their lives in the Middle East numerous times, but I try to stay rational about it. But….this? Despicable. Unforgivable:

HuffPo: Bush “Envious” of Soldiers Serving “Romantic” Mission in Afghanistan.

This is not bull-fighting in Spain. This is men and women, putting their lives on the line, often not really believing in the mission, but doing it anyway, because they feel a sense of responsibility. This is our youth — often, our underprivileged youth — fighting and dying because they were told to fight, because they were told our idea of ourselves depended on them being there for us. It is fodder for tragic novels, for reflection, for analysis. But it is not romantic.

And if you are really envious, go there. Fight. Subsist on MREs. Point a gun at someone who does not speak your language and may hate you not because you’re American, per se, but because you’re in his country and have leapfrogged diplomacy for conflict. Put your life on the line. Then come back and do it all over again, because you feel you owe it to us, or because you have no better options, or because you feel adrift. But don’t patronize us with your fucking delusions of grandeur, your sepia-toned imaginings of a conflict you wrought and yet seem not to fully grasp.

(HuffPo blurb from Reuters article.)

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A sketch of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge done by my great-grandfather, Stephen Thomas Hennessy, some time in what I'm guess were the 1930s.

A view of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge under construction, from either 1935 or 1936, courtesy the San Francisco Museum.

My mom just made a pilgrimmage to the grandparent’s abode in the Sierra Nevadas, where she took a series of photos of her grandfather’s sketches from the Bay Area in the early twentieth century. I don’t know much about Stephen, but I have culled a few facts and/or amassed some anecdotes that may be historical conjecture:
— He was born in Cincinnatti, had moved to St. Louis by 1920, and ended up in California in the 1930s (according to U.S. Census records)
— My mother claims he drove a motorcycle built by a Native American across the country
— He painted alongside S.C. Yuan and spent much of his time mimicking landscapes in Carmel-by-Sea
— Walt Disney approached him to work with him as a studio artist, but Stephen refused
— He sketched maniacally, on any material available to him (which included brown paper bags, tissue paper, and cardboard inserts discarded by dry cleaners)

I’ve created a set of photos of his work on my Flickr account. It’s got landscapes, a few fabulous figure studies, and, of course, those select sketches of the Golden Gate going up. My aunt, an artist herself, is rumored to have squirrelled away about 20 more.

The San Francisco Museum, from which I brazenly stole the above image for comparison, has a great repository of images of the Golden Gate Bridge being built.

America Hurrah’s Bill Roddy also offers pictures he took while the bridge was going up, which he later published as a set of postcards. Another comprehensive set was posted by history_eyes_05 on WebShots; numerous books on the subject have also been published.

… by genealogy. It happens every few months, an obsession with finding out my roots, usually quelled after a few false starts.

But today, I remembered. I remembered some details, and they led to census records, which led to yet more census records, all handwritten in entrancing, precise cursive, o’s and l’s looping across the page.

Some facts long sealed in the family vault, finally unleashed:
— My maternal great-grandfather had four sisters, one of whom was named Imelda, which seems rather avant-garde for the daughter of an Irish immigrant in the 1890s
— Contrary to anecdotal lore, it appears that my family is not quite so full-blooded German as it imagined it was: my paternal great-grandmother left from Hamburg in 1891, but she did not in fact live in the country or even speak German
— There is still much to learn: though I discovered that my paternal great-grandmother was not German, the record from the ship she crossed on lists her hometown as Kozojed, Boehmen (which is in the modern Czech Republic), but in the 1920 census, her hometown is listed as Sopron, Austria (which is in modern Hungary)

Whither the snapshot of a store in Hamburg, purportedly taken in the 1880s, emblazoned with our family name? Was the oral history I based all my colorful, childish elaborations on a false history? How do you try and unearth “truth” when no one alive has any recollection of these people, places, the smells, sights, memories? When you haven’t even talked to your own father since the halcyon days leading up to 9/11?

(These musings facilitated by the kind people at Ancestry and Genealogy.)

Visiting the in-laws in Florida. A note: JetBlue’s terminal at JFK, terminal six, is infinitely superior to Delta’s ramshackle terminal two. Long live Papaya King!

 vet.jpg

(Photo from NYT, courtesy the man’s family)

The New York Times began a new series today, “War Torn,” that focuses on crimes and wartime experiences of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings (or been charged with them) after coming home. The first piece, “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” is a heart-breaking, provocative, and essential piece of reportage. The paper also offers multimedia case studies, a slide show, an audio interview with a psychiatrist, and an excerpt from a related book.

 “Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories [of violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan]. Lakewood, Wash.: ‘Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.’ Pierre, S.D.: ‘Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.’ Colorado Springs: ‘Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.’

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killingi n this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.”

This story hits home for me, having two brothers that have spent time fighting in both countries. I don’t see either very often, and when I do, the subject is off-limits. Occasionally, something about their time there will slip out — one Christmas, right after Saddam had been captured by the U.S. (“like a rat!”), one of my brothers kept mentioning how he swore he saw Hussein driving a taxi around Baghdad, and how he should have just shot him in the fuckin’ head right there, while he had a chance, how he always regretted not shooting the driver in the fuckin’ head. Another time, when someone asked if he had killed anyone, my brother got quiet, then noted that people there got killed all the time, but that the military was very respectful, that he had helped bury dead combatants in mass graves as soon as possible out of respect for Islamic mores and customs.

It’s hard to hear these stories, and even harder to figure out how to process them (imagine how hard it must be for my brothers themselves). As I’ve begun writing this, I’ve gotten…increasingly agitated, simply because I don’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to work my concern for my brothers (and people I went to high school with, and other acquaintances) into everyday life. But as I continue to ponder the subject, looking forward to the next story in the series, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer:

“To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

It’s difficult to make sense of stories in which there may be no winners, only losers, only gaping holes where pieces of ourselves used to be. But it’s important to review them and cast a critical eye on them — and I applaud the Times for highlighting this important issue.

OK, I promise: Last gif animation of the day. Now, laugh! Laugh at the merriment!