I'm a fan of Those Bitches. The reason is totally simple. You don't get the same can of Alpo you get almost everywhere else—just like I endeavor to do here. The more people who hate 'em, the more I like 'em.
Everyone is ignorant of something (me too). Everyone is stupid at times (me too). Everyone is wrong often enough (me too). Very nearly everyone is a failure by their own fantastical standards...and very nearly all the time. If that's not your blogging raison d'etre, then you're just lost in noise trying to make a buck off idiots. Have fun with that.
I'm never afraid of being totally wrong. So very many others seem to be so, to me; and so ironically, they're almost always wrong about most stuff all the time, even if only because they're right, but with shoddy motivation. They shy away from all correction mechanisms. I embrace correction, so I can totally, selfishly be right, or more right. Continuous Improvement Process, until you're dust—no other way to live.
...I'm overjoyed to have been wrong yesterday, if it means I'm more right today.
So now I'm going to be shamelessly self-indulgent and talk about military stuff I've either never talked about or at least, not in this way all at once. Storm the Beaches.
The Subject Matter; Diversions on the Theme
I rarely read or comment on any other blogs, anymore. This one keeps me busy. I typically get notified of the most important stuff from the perspective of readers and that's enough. Not sure how JB's recent post got to me, but I felt compelled to spend a bit of time in comments, quite a bit, as it struck home:
The allure of the post for me goes beyond the eternal, cosmic gratitude I have over sailors maintaining the Holy Grail metaphor of The Potty Mouth.
Throughout all of the much that comes to follow, keep in mind that in my roughly 4 years of time actually at sea in my 8 years of navy service, I always held to one favorite ideal about going to sea, way before internets or anything of the sort:
"The fist day at sea is always my favorite. That's the day you get away from all the people trying to help you." — Capt. J.G. Weber, USN; Commanding Officer, USS REEVES (CG-24) circa 1985.
Going to sea, at least back then, was a chance to find yourself in independence and isolation socially, unlike anything available today short of a long, mountainous backpacking trip.
Jim Weber was leaving the Yokosuka-based ship after a few weeks back in port, following a 3-month deployment, to western Australia and back. He would be moving onto a Chief of Staff gig for the USS Midway battle group Admiralty. That deployment saw us go from home-port Yokosuka to Subic Bay, PI; from there, through the Straights of Malacca. Then across the Indian Ocean to tool around on station in the asshole of the plannet: The North Arabian Sea...where the air is still, the limited-visibility "fog" is dust & sand. You can count hundreds of viperous sea snakes in the still waters on a 4-hr bridge watch. The relative humidity is 100%, the temp is over 100F, and sweat and sand is the same thing on your skin: indistinguishable. The water is covered in a thin film of petroleum from tankers "stripping tanks" before heading into the gulf, to load petroleum cargo. The elements of the experience strike of a medieval fantasy with knights on a quest.
Crossing through the Straight of Hormuz, from the North Arabian Sea and into the Persian Gulf is to enter Sea World. The Persian Gulf is a sea of life and of wonder to behold—especially juxtaposed to the hundreds of "candles" from offshore oil rigs lighting their "farts" throughout the dark nights, spanning the horizon in all directions.
From there, it was on to Diego Garcia, smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean at 7 deg south latitude—a tropical atol and oasis...with an officer's club with a fully stocked bar—after 50 solid days of teetotaling, since Subic. ...I may have barfed on the grass one night, waiting for the shuttle back to the ship.
The next stop was Perth, Australia, for a few days. I took leave. Checked into a hotel where I kept the blinds closed 24/7, slept, watched TV, and ordered room service for days. ...I may have had a visit from a young woman from Germany, who had a job there.
Upon the return to Yokosuka, lots more work began, as I had to make myself the enemy of almost everyone, from top to bottom. We'd been at sea for 3 months. The ship was a rust bucket on the exterior. I was 1st Lieutenant (translation: in charge of the entire exterior), and we had a change-of-command ceremony coming up, for which to look prim & proper. So, just as everyone wants massive time-off leeway after 24/7 duties over 3 months, I publish a "Ships Instruction" document signed by the captain: a detailed plan for all hands on deck, for assholes & elbows to get the place looking respectable for the ceremonies. This actually got me cussed out in Yokosuka bars by drunk enlisted men from other divisions. I got scorn from fellow division officers as well.
I just took it all in stride, never saying much; just walked around (MBWA—Management By Walking Around...my most remarkably simple and effective technique, forever), making sure everyone just saw me looking at the work progress. "Has to be done...unless you want us to look like a bunch of ugly fucks; a rusted-ass ship...with US flag bunting on the rails...and all to the tune of Stars & Stripes Forever..." I'd say, in the wardroom, to my fellows giving me shit about the morale probs I'd caused for them.
The job got done and it was that one thing that set me off on the next 7 years...always being the top-rated junior officer with my BS in BusAdmin from Oregon State U...always laughing at the 4.0, honors, MIT engineer graduates with eidetic memories I was competing against—but who were as ill-suited to the rigueurs of 24/7 at-sea work as a litter of kittens. ...Shit, I could write a whole book about the spectacular failures at sea of mommy & poppy boy highly educated elites; failures that would embarras the lowliest bandana'd redneck or bling'd hiphop seamen.
Capt Weber's parting shot to me when he called me up to his stateroom during his last day of command, in order to give me my Top-JO-on-REEVES FitRep: "Well, Ensign Nikoley, you've gotten yourself off to a good start."
He was a man of few words. Just an enormous command presence that was never, ever flashy, flamboyant or emotional either way. And, he taught me good ship handling by never saying anything explicitly. I suppose he recognized good raw material and so, he just used body language and grimace nobody else saw or heard—and the occasional clearing of his throat—all reinforced by my continued improvement. I'll address shiphandling below.
Radical Change in the US Military
The most effective elements of militaries that developed their craft before us—for me: particularly the British and their seagoing expertise—resulted in the most efficient, effective, massive destructive killing force earth has ever seen. WWII was the high point in terms of effectiveness, America proving up on world, muti-theater scale. But then, the geopolitics of Korea and Vietnam—puppet wars between two superpowers—combined with the changing culture of the 60s and the demise of conscription... It nearly destroyed the US military as it was construed (you've seen the movies). Good. Conscription is evil anyway.
They came up with a decent idea: let's trade. Given the increasing technology in use by the military at the bleeding edge, 'we can make this a professional military of destroyers and killers,' and they will follow orders to their potential death because they'll feel obligated by the nature of the deal they struck (or whatever): 'we'll give you the times and experiences of your lives, more responsibility at 20 that you'll get at 40 in the civilian world, very good career potentials—even for the enlisted. In return: 'you'll be a recognized integral part of it and will promote it and will follow an order to your death should it come to it.' Corollary: 'we will have the best science and technology have to offer, and you get to play (train) with the toys as much as you want.'
It's perfectly logical, too. It's the deal I struck: risk vs. reward; add cool. At its core—and this is critically important to understanding the entire post—it's also about fewer typically human problems; because they always come with humans; and the military is, by design, an engineered, extra-human blunt weapon of mass destruction and death in the service of geopolitical realities. In other words, enlistees & officers get to focus on their side of the bargain they struck. Young male and female dynamical drama would be an example of typically human problems that the military always wanted to do without, in operational theater. It was all logical, whether under conscription where everyone is just a cog in the geopolitical chess game while reciting moronic admonitions about "patriotism," or whether in an all-volunteer, professional force, reciting moronic admonitions about "patriotism."
In the all-volunteer force, we took all comers of sound mind and body into the trade. Males only, in operational roles...but front-line-operations is the only thing a young officer has at his disposal to excel, for his end of that bargain. I was a SWO (surface warfare officer). So, I had the task of learning, front-to-back, all intelligence on the capability of all weapons systems the Soviets could offer up against us from ships and aircraft. There were dozens. You had to know how to theoretically defeat all of them, to a gnat's ass. There was much more, though.
You Had To Be Good At a Bunch of Stuff
Physical equipment management. My first job was being in charge of about 16 guys, to operate and maintain two electro-hydraulic missile launcher systems for the RIM-2 Terrier. 40, 27 ft long missiles fore & aft, 80-total, stored in two massive, electro-hydraulic "magazines" (enormous "revolvers" with lifting electro-hydraulic rams to feed them to the shuttle rails, then onto the launcher). After many mods since their introduction in the 50s, in my tenure by the mid-80s, they had gone from a 1 missile, 10 mile kill radius to 16 missiles in the air at once, about 90 mile kill radius each, each in a different direction (mainly due to fire-control, tactical data and guidance system improvements) Oh, yea: actually, there were only 72 RIM-2 Terriers. The other 8, 4 each end, were "BTNs"—tactical nukes. At the age of 23, I was in charge of the maintenance and security of 8 nuclear missiles. Try that in the civie world.
You had to be a competent ship driver. My first ship—USS REEVES (CG-24)—was about 8,000 tons. Momentum. It was a 1,200 PSI superheated steam plant. That means it's not like the modern gas turbine or even diesel plants, where there's essentially a direct mechanical or electrical link between the bridge and the plant. Here, we're talking about humans physically opening and closing big steam valves; so, you have to get the intuitive physics and human action in executing orders down: you give an order verbally, realizing the time it takes for that order to get telegraphed to the engine room, resulting in hands turning valves to the appropriate inlet pressure. Then, you figure from experience how much of that order in time you want; and then, you give another order often before even seeing the results of the first. It all gets executed as ordered, in the order given and in the relative time increment. It's a verbal flow that results in human physical action and physical results in how an enormous ship moves in water.
To get a relative idea, imagine getting in your 8,000 ton car, and all gas-pedal commands—whether pushing or letting up—had a 10-20 second delay before seeing any result (your last input still in force), your brake was replaced by a "reverse gas-pedal" with a 30-second delay before even starting to have any noticeable "reverse engines" result, and steering was a 5-10 second delay. In this scenario, precision is in very careful circumspection and patience. Momentum.
An easy, practical scenario to bring the complexities home: you're coming into port and in this case, a simple head-in mooring, port side to pier. We'll assume zero wind acting against the many billboard-equivalent sides of the ship either way, and no water currents (not typically the case, IRL). We'll also not include rudder inputs, which at such a small speed have little effect anyway. We begin from a very good setup, about 3 knots at an approach to the pier of about 30 degrees. You don't want to either hit the pier or run the bow into the rocks. What you want to do is get that first line over. From then on it's pretty cake—with a single-screw ship you just apply gentle pressure via the propeller, and in a twin-screw ship, you can go 1/3 forward on the port engine and simultaneously, 1/3 reverse on the starboard engine, and twist the stern in. Mine was a twin screw.
As you approach, you want to hit a point where you're nearly "dead in the water" about 10-30 feet off, the range where they can easily get a line over. You have 8,000 tons of physical momentum to stop, but not stop & reverse. Just stop. Right where you want it. From experience, you know this will take about 10-20 seconds of both engines in reverse, about 1/3. But it takes 20-30 seconds for your command to the con to find its execution. You have to anticipate. You're at full stop, just coasting in at 3 knots. You give the "all engines back 1/3" order 2-30 seconds before you want it, all while you're still coasting in. Once you give that order, regardless of what has actually happened, you give "all engines stop" about 15 seconds after you gave the first order.
If you did it right, the bow "spring line" will go over to the pier. Shiphandling is the highly intuitive and artful, seat-of-the-pants applied to the physical, and it's one of the things we loved for separating those who are worth a shit in this realm from those who need to go get a middle manager job in some shithole somewhere in the midwest, manufacturing widgets to sell at WalMart. Have fun with that.
You have to be an officer of men, managing men and their higher loves, and deal with the extra-human humanity of the whole spectacle. Which means all the standard administrative stuff (though I ignored 90% of all paperwork), plus all the human bagage because, all these guys' lives are essentially in your charge. And so you deal with it all. In the civilian world, you deal with the fallout of human familial or relationship problems. In the military as officers, you deal with the whole damn family from top to bottom.
Scenario: You're about 25, a US Navy Ensign, handed the captain's most important JO role: First Lieutenant, in charge of the deck division of 65 guys—basically half rednecks, half hiphops. A few goths—or whatever they were in the mid-80s. One of your favorite guys is this midwestern redneck, Tom Petty lookalike, who's smart and works hard. He also has pics of his very hot blond mignon back in Indiana who he wants to bring over; but he's not married to her. He wants a month leave to go take care of that. OK. And once official, it's done. Navy pays all to bring her on out to Yokosuka and house them up. Baby on the way, too.
Such a cuteass couple: blond, blond and in nine months, most certainly blond, too. I took a bit of a special interest. I gave them one of my Japanese kerosene space heaters as they were setting up their apartment off base while on the list for base housing.
Fast forward about a year or so. Her apartment is the well-known, go-to place for gang bangs and cock-suck fests for 5-10 guys at a time, when he and our ship is out to sea. It got dealt with. She got sent back home to Indiana.
Scenario: Seaman Nixon came to me with a problem. I'd seen him as someone with real potential in certain skills and always in full effort applied. He was a 20-yr-old black man in 1986. Not just a black man. A black man; with a gorilla shaped head (small cranium, large jaw), skin the blackest of the blackest of the black, large white teeth and eyes so pronounced you could see any tinge of yellow.
He also had an enormous heart. He just wanted to be good and respected as such; and when he finally burst in my stateroom: crocodile tears. He very well understood that regardless his genetic lot in life, he had to perform and be somebody. The tears were merely a consequence of good trying, with little result, and consequent frustration. I managed to hold back my own tears until he left. The next day, I told my Senior Chief: "don't ask me why, but I want Nixon in charge of those three white guys over there on that detail." Nixon had experience, so he would teach them what he knows. "Hold him accountable for teaching them well," I finished.
There are a million other stories, but you hopefully get the idea. There's many parts to it, many implicit in the foregoing. One thing I wanted to make explicit, however, is the nature of the military itself.
I loved it. I did super well at it and was solidly on my way to having my own ship command and perhaps the 'A' thing beyond that—though in peacetime, Admirals are political beasts too, so...
But, what I want to convey is that I always LOATHED the God & Country, Flag Waving, "Our Troops" BULLSHIT. This was even before I took up my atheism and anarchism. It was a well-paying job that sent me all over the world where I actually maintained my own off ship and off base living, gave me cool toys to play with, and the most extreme form of human capital management one can possibly get experience in.
In exchange, I agreed to follow orders to the death if things ever came to that. Never did.
Simple. Pimple. And, the best deal I ever struck. Thanks, taxpayers...even though since, I've paid more in corp and personal taxes than most and their extended family tree will pay combined for the next 10 years.
The Comments at Judgy Bitch
Link to her post again. Initial comment. I've edited them a bit here, for better clarity.
OK, I have to add a bit of my perspective. As background, I was a navy officer for 8 years. Three aboard a more ancient CG than Cowpers, two on 7th Feet Staff and a few more on exchange with the French navy as a navigator on one of their cruisers, then a destroyer. One correction. Cowpers is a Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser, not a destroyer (goes to mission mostly, now, not necessarily size, as it used to be—size doesn’t matter . Anyway, Cowpers is of the same class as Vincennes. I was the staff duty officer the night Vincennes, under our fleet-level operational command, thought they had shot down an Iranian F-14. ...Until my friend the spook officer called me into the spook hut. “Problem is, the Iranians don’t appear to be looking for a downed F-14. They’re looking for an Airbus.”
Here’s part of the problem from my view, quoted from your post:
“Researchers at Technische Universitat Munchen in Germany have found that women who are cheerful aren’t perceived to have leadership qualities, so it probably wouldn’t have helped the Sea Witch out that much had she been all candy apple sweet as pie to her crew, either.”
I’d say it’s averages where in the military with its culture, the overlap between good men and women commanders in OPERATIONAL commands is rather small. Also, recognize that there are just tons of men who are crap for commanders. It’s a kind of a “rock star” deal.
The vulgarity is an ethic of sorts. We’re all as foul mouthed as can be, but we balance that be being meticulous about context (when, where, with and to whom). Boot camp and basic training are one place where it’s specifically taken to such an extreme as to become caricature...not to mention good recruiting fodder for the right sorts of people.
Even though there were no female ship captains back in my day, rest assured there were plenty of men just like Graff, and we all had a word for them: “Screamers.” There’s a disparity between what sorts of people get promoted in peacetime vs wartime (you can guess), but Screamers usually get stopped somewhere along the line with minimal damage, at least in peacetime. Think of it as their screaming being direct evidence that they've fulfilled their personal Peter Principle.
A final thing: that militarycorruption.com deal about the “drag race at sea.” Oh, my, so breathless. I can show you dozens of photos in my personal stash a lot closer than that. It’s nuthin’. You simply can’t tell anything from that snapshot that's out of the ordinary and there are a whole number of reasons why ships would be even closer than that underway: replenishment, mail or personel transfer….lots of stuff, and I’ve been there for it all, and supervised it all as the 1st Lieutenant deck officer.
Reply from JB:
Interesting. Thanks for this perspective.
So do you feel she is being treated fairly then?
I’m happy to reflect that the military is still one of the places where not always, but far more often than IRL, everyone eventually gets exactly what they deserve, or close.
I figure she ought not to have gotten that far. The progression for SWOs (surface warfare officers) is division officer, department head (usually some bullshit stuff in-between), XO, CO. Unless you're just total shit, most JOs get a pass as a division officer and will be able to go to department head school, then get sent to 2 separate 18 months tours...either 2 as an engineering officer (2 types of plants or size of plants); or, one tour as operations officer, another as weapons officer. This is the proving ground for a 30-40-something. This is where the navy is supposed to separate the men from the boys from the Screamers from those suited to drive desks on land.
She probably ought to have gone to a shore assignment and a desk after that 1st Dept head tour.
Liz pipes in:
So…you were there when they shot down the Iranian passenger plane? That sucks! Must’ve been quite a night.
Liz, it was pretty surreal. And on the eve of American Independence Day, ’88. We were sitting in harbor, Yokosuka Japan, USS Blue Ridge, a command & control ship that has the roughly 70 officers of US 7th Fleet permanently embarked.
Yea, I was SDO (staff duty officer) and the only other officer on duty was the spook. Since we were in port, most everyone else was at home. So, I got the privilege of calling COS Archie Clemmens (retired 4-star, now), then he called the Admiral.
Weirdest of all was being relieved at about 7 am after a sleepless night (you can imagine) and driving across the peninsula to my beach house in Hayama, listening to Armed Forces radio just as the news broke to the public.
A couple of months later, we happened to be in port Subic Bay at the same time as Vincennes on their way back from deployment. Some of the officers were staying for R&R at the same hotel as I, out in barrio Barretto. A very quite, reserved & somber group. You can imagine, even though there would have been only a small handful of individuals directly responsible.
Then in reply to a couple of really good comments you can read at the thread.
Goober and Vladimir both:
Hell, when I was in my initial “boot camp” like training, complete with six MC Gunnery Sergents al-la “Officer and a Gentleman,” but without the local tramps, karate practice, love affairs, proposals, and suicide—though I have done the upside-down cockpit in a pool, and it’s a piece of cake—they really schooled us—male and female candidates alike—every night when everyone else would be watching TV.
“SCHOOL CIRCLE! NOW!”
I’ll never forget it. These were long, conversational lessons on the ethics of being a good officer, from the perspective of a career enlisted man who was your nemesis for 8 weeks. I just wonder how many officers who turned out to be shit were snobby about all that while in their track. I wasn’t, and I continued to learn from Chiefs, Senior, and Master Chiefs in the navy who were hierarchically subordinate to me (and plenty of 1st Class POs too—in fact, I once fired a shitty Chief who was doing his FIRST TOUR AT SEA after 20 years in the Navy; gave him a desk job and made my two 1st class electrician mates heads of the division).
…One of the commanders of the school was a Navy LCDR, a female. Short in stature, blond & petite, but I remember her the most. She had a command presence. Who knows? Brothers, perhaps? Military family? A great dad? A high achiever mom with social sanity? A natural? Smart mignon?
Nobody knows. And conversely, when a male is an absolute wanker, who knows why, how it happened?
The essential takeaway is that on any individual level, it is and should be individual. I’ve known complete shit and complete greatness both ways, gener-wise. It’s just that because the military is a tradition of maleness, it’s rarer for the ladies. And in some ways, not their fault particularly. Guys who want to be in the military have a literal library of stuff that speaks exactly to how they need to be. What do women have?
Is the blunt force object of the military (precision in ethics and hierarchy, in order to make a very efficient and effective mass killing machine that is not particularly good at making critical distinctions in the heat of shit) the place for social experiments? Sure, the EU lets everyone in, but then again, they didn’t have to spend the trillions required to protect them and stave of YET ANOTHER FUCKING WORLD WAR. I used to tell the French Officers this when I was on exchange: “tell me again about your social system, most developed in the world. Only, when you do, please thank America for defending your asses for the last 40 years so you could spend your money on trains, pensions, and healthcare.”
…And so, the issue really comes down to women in the military in the first place. I grant that they can be good, great, amazing commanders, soldiers and sailors on every single level. It is possible. They can also be just as shit as anyone else in all of those roles.
The 2nd CAPT of my first ship, USS REEVES (CG-24), came from being captain of a tender ship. These are mobile repair units. Can’t do everything a shipyard can do, but they do a lot. Back in those days, tenders were the only navy ships to which females could be assigned. Basically, his deal: there were some great female sailors and some bad ones, just like the guys. The problem is: THE OBVIOUS.
You already know what I mean: Drama. He had to deal with tons of drama brought on in a NATURAL SOCIAL SPHERE that was specifically designed because of its singular mission, to be a professional UNNATURAL, EXTRA-HUMAN SOCIAL SPHERE. All these arguments over the years like “can’t have women in combat roles because guys will protect them instinctively,” is utter bullshit. Guys protect other guys and risk life & limb to do so all the time, and get medals for it.
If one wants to make an argument about having females in combat, it’s not about competence, or that they will be favored. It’s about a whole social realm that’s hardwired and simply takes over. Drama. Endless drama.
So all of that to essentially convey what I think about women in the military (in operational—i.e., mass destruction and killing—roles):
- They can be as good as the best, as worse as the worst.
- Male military culture highlights the bad females, while having had centuries of knowing how to deal with the bad males.
- Is this an extra-human endeavor—mass destruction and killing in the face of geopolitical realities—or has it just gone from conscription to profession to now, a social experiment? ...Because the Euro pussies who counted on us over 40 or 50 years to protect their asses, so that they could spend all their loot buying influence and votes by means of every bread & circus program one can imagine? Are they now the earth standard, ahead in making the military a professional social experiment rather than the "necessary evil" it might better be perceived as?
- In the spirit of Judgy Bitch: Everyone is Wrong. Women aren't ill-suited to operational military service because they aren't competent for whyever. I've seen enough incompetent men and competent women in the military to know how false that is. Neither are they ill-suited because "men will compromise mission to protect women." Ha! The quotidien dynamics of 20-something male buddyness vs. the yin-yang of the "whole women thing" almost guarantee that 20-somethings will be saving their drinking buddies first.
The US military is a geopolitical blunt instrument for both projecting power in an abstract way, and being as effective as possible when shit hits fan. In my view, that ought not be further expaned upon and certainly not socialized in the pursuit of feminist egalitarianism in a world designed to be hierarchical. It's enough, more than enough, already.
I got out in 1992 because I saw the writing on the wall. I was in it, beyond the on-the-job-training, for the geopolitical realities as I saw them in the 80s: a cool standoff between two superpowers who could literally destroy the world with button pushes. It was MAD. The Soviets and the United States both did an admirable job of being MAD to each other over that time and I have very high respect for the Soviet military as professionals in that time (I'll save the stories for another issue some day).
I didn't actually know in 1992, that when I decided to punt on what I'd hoped to be a career I loved—embroiled in the best that hands on operational tech and human management had to offer—that the demise of the true geopolitical enemy, the Soviets, would become such a shame in terms of so many others sticking around for the pure pursuit of career extension.
I just detected the search for a new enemy. Wanted no part of it. There wasn't anyone close to the threat the Soviets posed, not within a light year.
...Nowadays, I remember being pulled out of bed at 2am in the South China Seas, to once again go to the Combat Information Center (CIC) to help control and intercept—with fighters from the carrier over 200 miles away—the nightly raid of Bears out of Vladivosok. They were seeing, just for shits & giggles, if they could get within air-to-surface-missile launch range of the carrier. They can, of course, in peacetime...but not without being under US armed-fighter escort, no exceptions.
What I remember most is that out of hundreds of attempts over 2 years, they handed it to us One Single Time and got within 200 miles without US fighter escort. Our ethic: they never get within 200 nautical miles of the carrier without being under armed escort.
We, Alpha Whiskey, were fucking rock stars at that.
Now, people pretend that 14th Century, Dirt Scratching Savages are some kinda threat. Just ignore them, or get out a Walgreen's fly swatter.