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September 29, 2012

McNamara, 'Rummy,' And Misery Revisited

McNamara, 'Rummy,' And The Misery Revisited

by Jim Richmond

The old man next to me at the dinner table in New York City was still recognizable. But barely.


Gone was the black hair; replaced by a few white strands combed to hide his scalp.


Brown, age and liver spots dotted his now sunken cheeks and pencil-thin face.


Only the eyeglasses were familar from TV news clips in the mid 1960s.


It was Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under LBJ, who with his “Whiz Kids” from the auto industry, carried out LBJ’s dictums in Vietnam; while trying to apply business medium_RobertMcNamara55.jpgmanagement systems to the Defense Department.


McNamara served longer than anyone else in American history as DOD Secretary. 


But when he retired, many believed McNamara had failed in Vietnam.  And had setbacks in modernizing the U.S. military.


So, here it was, in the early 1990s, as I sat next to him at this  black tie, charitable fundraising dinner in New York


I was nearly tongued-tied. Not that I didn't know what to say to or ask McNamara.  As a Vietman vet, I had questions.


But the evening, the timing seemed inappropriate, wrong.   My questions would be too pointed, I convinced myself. 


So I let the chance go by. Confined  comments to small talk about economics and the World Bank, which McNamara headed after leaving government service.


Vietnam still seemed like the big, silent elephant at our table.


I recalled this unsatisying experience the other evening  as I viewed, again,   the 6-hour Frontline  series "Bush's War," telecast on PBS, and watched another Secretary of Defense, who, next to McNamara, served the longest  tenure in American history as DOD Secretary: Donald Rumsfeld.


The PBS-TV series depicts  Rumsfield as a no-holds-barred White House infighter, who took on the State Department and the generals, to advocate,  with Dick Chaney, for  a quick, decisive  invasion of Iraq after 9/11.




Like McNamara, Rumsfield is proven myopic in his global and battlefield perspective of a geographic region and a very different type of military conflict.


And, also like McNamara, Rumsfield experiences  setbacks in efforts to reinvent, streamline  and downsize the Defense Department -- some reflecting a new reality after 9/11. (He gets a large measure of the blame/credit  for the latest BRAC efforts to close the Battle Creek Federal Center and other military installations  over the past 25 years or so.)


New York Times stories (and Bob Woodward's books and articles) have profiled McNamara and Rumsfield:  Their  micromanaging, impatience,  arrogance. (Rumsfield was a member of the Kellogg Company Board of Directors for a time.  There are less than flattering local  stories in that venue.)


Since his DOD departure, the 80-so-old Rumsfield has been out of public view....probably savoring his later years in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the former slave plantation he owns  and calls "Mount Misery,"  infamous as site for  captivity of Frederick Douglass at hands of  "slave breaker" Edward Covey.


Rumsfield is reportedly a multimillionare from his business turnaround years as head of G.D. Searle and other multinational corporations.


We probably won't know -- for sure -- the outcome of the Iraq War for decades -- just as we are only now rewriting outcomes of the Vietnam Conflict, in light of the 'new' Vietnam's pell mell rush toward capitalism. (The Domino Theory turned out to be about capitalism, not communism.)


McNamara died in 2009 at age 92.  Wish I could have collected on a rain check from that dinner chat of long ago.


Ask those questions about Vietnam.


Hope "Rummy" is happy on  Mount Misery.


September 28, 2012

'Kill Chicken , To Frighten Monkey'



Nothing New with Bo Xilai’s Dalian, China Corruption: 

Kill Chicken, To Frighten Monkey 

Bo Xilai was mayor of Dalian, a lovely city in Northern China, next to the Yalu River and the border with North Korea, when I travelled there frequently in the early 2000s to visit with Chinese inlaws, who were also intertwined in local Communist party politics.  I don’t recall meeting Bo Xilai, but his type of behavior was common. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/29/world/asia/bo-xilai-expelled-from-chinas-communist-party.html?ref=global-home



The Chinese love fish head soup.  With the head left floating in the broth.

The cheeks of the fish head are considered the most delicate and desirable. 

The guest of honor at the typical Chinese dinner is offered opportunity to eat the fish's cheeks.

Which I did one evening.

Dinner with my Chinese wife and her family in Dalian, northern China, just across the Yalu River from N. Korea.

         A typically crowded, noisy, smoky Chinese restaurant -- families having dinner, business/communist party officials soaking up free food and drink.

About 20 family members and their friends, sitting around a table -- rotating food platter in the middle and stacked with perhaps 30 different food dishes.

Suddenly, my wife's uncle, face aglow and eyes watering from the  toasts, a poo-ba in the Dalian Communist Party and host for the evening, yells at the waiter in Chinese about the quality of the fish head soup.


The waiter slinks off.  Replaced by the Restaurant Manager dragging behind him a cook clad in a filthy uniform. 

Wife translates for me:

"Cook is fired!," restaurant manager proclaims to Uncle.

‘New’ waiters bring a platter of complimentary green beans with hot, spicy pepper slices, and bottles of pungent rice wine.

Chinese uncle smiles, leans over, says something to Wife.

I ask: “What did Uncle say?”

She whispers: “Kill chicken, to frighten the monkey.”

September 27, 2012

Father Knows Best


Father Knows Best

Every night now, when I arrive home from work, pull the Respectmobile in the drive, and unlock the back door, my cat Dinky rushes into the kitchen, does a little twirl, a pirouette, of welcome.

It’s not exactly a Margaret Anderson/Jane Wyatt, “Father Knows Best” kiss and a hug at the door.

But it does quite nicely.

Quite nicely.

For now.

September 25, 2012

Rust Bucket...But It's OUR Rust Bucket Aircraft Carrier


Rust Bucket...But its OUR Rust Bucket Aircraft Carrier.

Chinese are such proud, nationalistic people....

I was sitting in a fancy Dalian restaurant in 2002, overlooking the Yalu River harbor and this rust bucket, second hand Russian carrier at long rest, when my Chinese uncle and Communist Party boo pah, pointed out into the harbor, and said: "Soon, we have almost NEW carrier!"

Having served 3 years on a USA barely post WWII carrier, I knew what I was looking at...but nodded politely.  

Ten years later, they have the old "jump" carrier back in shape and, Im sure, stuffed with the latest electronics, and ready to do braggery and buffery with the Japanese, Vietnamese, USA, etc. in the South China Sea.


September 21, 2012

Searchin for a Heart of Gold...and Gettin Old




Searchin for a Heart of Gold....and Gettin Old.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh44QPT1mPE

People like Neil Young, Janis Joplin and others were a common sidewalk sight, when I was living in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco in '69.

As Young notes in this story about himself,http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/magazine/neil-young-com... I, too have spent a lifetime being most happy when I was 'going to, or away from someplace new or, in contrast, singularily familiar.' As long as I was moving, both physically and intellectually.

I've also tried, a bit like Young, through world travel and living, dialogue, reading and writ

ing to remain open minded and a bit unpredictable. Hasn't made for the easiest, most comfortable life; but it has never been boring. 
NeilYoungToday.jpgToday, Neil Young -- this age contemporary -- is also a visual reminder of how old we are getting :-). 

Well, enough on that.... I don't have to work today, so think I'll get in the Bug, drive over The Gate, sip a glass of founders estate Cabernet at Beringer Brothers Winery, and see if I can find Young's ranch. Not that he'll unlock any of those fence gates. 

Anyone wanna come along? We'll be back before dusk. :-)

When Autumn Leaves Begin To Fall



When Autumn Leaves Begin To Fall

Autumn is my favorite time.

Bright color of the leaves.

Chill in the air.

The innocent enthusiasm of college football.

Halloween fun.

But it’s also a bittersweet season.
Each year, as red leaves turn to yellow, fade and fall, I’m reminded of the story about the little girl, losing her Mother to a rapidly advancing and incurable disease.
The doctor, and the little girl’s father, try to prepare the child for the loss.
“When will my Mommy die?” the child asks the doctor, who replies: “When the leaves begin to fall.”
Six months later, in mid-October, the father looks out the window of their home. 

There, in the front yard, is the little girl, trying to paste fallen leaves back on the Maple tree.
Of course, we can’t paste leaves back on a tree. Any more than avoid death of those we love.
Still, at the end, we have our memories to cherish.

My tiny, Irish mother doing the family wash by hand – with crooked arms broken in childhood.

Her saying, late in life and lonely, “Come on Jimmy, let’s go sit on the porch and talk.”
Yes, I remember.

When autumn leaves begin to fall.


Jim Richmond with his mother at McNamara Family gravesite in Atchison, Kansas, USA,  shortly before her own


death in 2003.

September 20, 2012

Bright Red Roofed Cupola Important Part of Battle Creek History


Bright Red Roofed Cupola Important Part of Battle Creek History

Driving west on Michigan Avenue from downtown Battle Creek area, one suddenly sees on the right a model hot air balloon and bright red roofed cupola of the Leila Arboretum’s Children’s Garden. 

The cupola is at the heart -- the center -- of the Children’s Garden as it also was, for all of Battle Creek, near the turn of the 19th Century when the Battle Creek Sanitarium drew thousands of patients in search of better health, and, not long after, the birth of the related Battle Creek breakfast cereal boom.

Cupola.Original.jpgThe large handsome louvered cupola originally topped a pillared wrap-around porch of the grand fieldstone building (the largest in the United States) which opened as the Phelps Sanitorium on Washington Avenue, across from Emmett Street on October 10, 1900.

In 1911, the “Fieldstone Building” was acquired by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, as an annex to the Battle Creek Sanitarium.  It was later used as a hospital by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. After years of attempting to raise the significant funds that were necessary to save and restore the then condemned Fieldstone Building, it was concluded the enormous expense was too great of a burden for this small community to undertake.  In December 1985, demolition began on what was North America’s largest fieldstone building.

Garth “Duff” Stoltz, a former employee of the Fieldstone Building and a Battle Creek historian, led a group of Battle Creek citizens in an effort to preserve some part of this unique building for history and future generations.  Thus began the quest to save the cupola as a memento to what once stood tall in the Battle Creek community as a symbol of health and scientific discovery.  

Because the demolition company owned all remains of the building, Stoltz and the Adventist Hospital purchased the cupola for $2,600. 

In 1993, Dr. Tom Bruce of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Board President of Leila Arboretum Society (LAS) at the time, approached Stoltz and Ronald Brown, president of the Adventist Hospital to consider donating the Cupola to LAS.  Through the perseverance of Dr. Bruce, Stoltz and Brown agreed to donate the Cupola to LAS in exchange for a donation of $2,600 from Dr. Bruce to the Adventist Church. 

            LAS wanted to restore and preserve the cupola and make it once again available to the community.

Cupola.Installation.jpgIn 2000, the Leila Arboretum Society began the design process for its most unique project to date, a Children’s Garden.  Design consultants Jane Taylor and Deb Kinney, who teamed up to create the award-winning Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University, developed the plans for LAS’ new Children’s Garden.  When a picture of the Cupola was shown to Taylor and Kinney, they were excited and started developing all of the mini-themes of the Garden around the Cupola, thus making it the centerpiece of the Garden.  In 1985, demolition began on the building.

The cupola became the design centerpiece for the Society’s new and unique Children’s Garden: A 16-foot tall, 8-feet in diameter octagon structure made of wood, tin and metal complete with a working door and a 16-foot wood mast perched on top of its signature bright red dome.

Battle Creek Architect and historian Randy Case and his firm Architecture + design Inc. designed and specified the work in the children’s garden and the cupola restoration.

Today, the cupola sits high above the Children’s Garden on 16 columns, paired and identical to those that originally existed on the front porch of the original Fieldstone Building.  These columns rest on top of a 3-foot high foundation, which is made from fieldstones saved from the original Fieldstone Building, creating a gazebo. 

The entire structure stretches 48-feet in the air, creating an amazing site for travelers on West Michigan Avenue.  Visitors begin their visit to the Garden at the cupola, and by exploring historic plants, wheat and corn, and the particular role they play to not only science but also to the history of Battle Creek.

Stop by and visit the Leila Arboretum’s unique Children’s Garden, open daily and on weekends.  No admission is charged.

September 13, 2012

Larry Bridges Loves Being 'On The Road' In Urbandale


Larry Bridges Loves Being ‘On The Road’ In Urbandale


I was sitting, waiting for tires to be put on the front end The Respectmobile, at 8 a.m. this morning, chatting it up with Larry Bridges, who recently moved his "On The Road" Towing from Upton Avenue to W. Michigan Avenue in Urbandale.

"Hey, did you see the story on us, front page of today's paper?," he asked. Sure enough. (Below's the link.)

Larry and I ended up talking about City Commissioners, the upcoming election, religion, his marriages, growing up days in rural Kentucky, and the ups and downs of the towing business.

All I know is that if you want HONEST service on a tow....or need tires...or minor service work like an oil change, you can't go wrong by calling Larry or his son Eddie, at On The Road, 269.964.9009, or stopping by 1382 W. Michigan Avenue.

"We love Urbandale. Our business has tripled since we moved here," Larry said.

Here’s the link to this morning’s newspaper article:


Photo Caption:  Larry and son Eddie in front of their relocated business on W. Michigan Avenue in Battle Creek, Mi, USA.

September 12, 2012

Kids Help Organize Recovery Festival

 Author's note: kids actually planning and leading an important community effort they really care about... Are you out and about Battle Creek on Sat. 29th? Stop by, check it out, buy some terrific pizza and support a worthwhile, grassroots community initiative. :-)  -- Jim R.


Kids Help Organize Sept 29th

‘Voices for Recovery’ Festival

Area youth and more than 10 service organizations are joining together to plan and help host a day-long “Voices for Recovery Festival” enhancing awareness and support for programs and people involved in recovery from alcohol, drugs and other forms of addiction.

The Festival, open to all but especially for other youth, will be Saturday, September 29, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bill’s Pizza Factory, 256 Helmer Road (across from airport), and will spotlight live performances by five local musical bands, a Battle Creek Blaze Football clinic for kids, rap poetry readings, kids basketball tournament, a clothing drive for kids’ new or gently used items, disk golf demonstration and lessons, face painting and variety of other activities.

Primary sponsors are the Substance Abuse and Prevention Council and the Alano Club of Battle Creek, along with a wide variety of other organizations involved, including The Haven of Rest’s Life Recovery Program, Starr Commonwealth, the Drug/Sobriety/Juvenile courts, City Parks and Recreation, the VA Medical Center, CityLincC, Kinetic Affect, Starrstruq Dance Academy, Battle Creek Knights, The Mylstone Project, United Ways and HandsOn Battle Creek.

A planning committee of area youth from the Alano Club’s Kids2Kids Program, originally funded by Post Foods and the Battle Creek Community Foundation, has had a central role in planning and in coordinating the activities, according to Danielle Evans, program manager of the Club.

“We are excited by the incredible collaboration by area organizations for the Festival, and because youth – themselves – are actually providing much of the leadership and work for it,” Evans noted.

Ten percent of all pizza sales during the Festival will be donated by Bill’s Pizza Factory to support the programs and outreach services of the Substance Abuse Council and the Alano Club.

For more information, call the Substance Abuse Council at 968-4699, or contact Evans at 269-317-3874, email: mhd712@sbcglobal.net.

September 10, 2012

No Free Lunch in Calhoun County Jail

jail.JPGNo Free Lunch

In Calhoun County Jail

My phone rang late one recent evening.

“Jim? It’s Tommy,” the voice on the line said. 

“Where ya been, Tommy?,” I asked the guy, who I knew casually from several years ago, when helping raise money for the new Alano Club (12-step addiction recovery) facility on Territorial Road.

“Been in the (Calhoun County) Jail ... 87 days,” Tommy said. “Can you do me a favor? Drive me over to Meijer’s tonight to buy groceries?”

Tommy, in his ‘50s, lives with his parents, who are in their 80s and in poor health. 

Tommy is a chronic alcoholic, to the point where he's “disabled” by his alcoholism, and collects $900 a month in Social Security Disability.

So I drive out, pick Tommy up at his parents’ house, and we stop by the McDonalds on S.W. Capital before heading to Meijer’s on B Drive to get his groceries, and then back to Horrock’s, for some hot chili sauce he has a post partum craving for.

On the ride, and over a soft drink at the McDonalds, I learned a lot about life in the Calhoun County Jail, where, Tommy said, “Everyone but the illegal immigrants pay for every fu*ck*n thing they give us.”

It was hard to work up much sympathy.

But, evidently, Tommy was pretty much on target about the Jail and the money thing.

The Jail charged him $37 for every night he spent in the place, he claimed.

He complained he'd paid for a new pair of underpants ("or ya had to sleep naked on your bunk"), his toothbrush, for having his blood pressure checked, for a couple of aspirins, and extra for some condiments to put on his two hot dogs and four pieces of bread daily fare, which consisted mostly of grits, oatmeal, bread, Kool-Aid, and the hot dogs.

Tommy said he was only in the Jail for a few days before catching an antibiotic resistant staph infection that left him with blisters and boils, also common in hospitals and nursing homes.

Reveille was at 5:30, then breakfast, then two hours to sleep back in the Jail “pod” which houses about 48 inmates on two floors, two inmates to a cell.

After lunch, more sleep or reading religious (only) materials, dinner, followed by taps and lights out around 9.

About 600 inmates are in the Calhoun County jail at any one time, Tommy said.

"I met rapists and murderers in there, but mostly guys who owe lots of child support.  And heroin addicts.  Heroin's big," he told me.

“What’d you learn from the experience?,” I inquired, as we carried the groceries up the steps into his parents’ house about 9 p.m.

“Just I never wanna to go back,” Tommy said.

I started to pull out of the driveway to leave, backed up, and said: “Tommy, DON’T drink. Get to a (12-step) meeting. Call if you need a ride or wanna talk.”

Tommy doesn’t have any chances left, before spending time in a state prison. Or much time before dying from his alcoholism, if he continues to drink.

I’ll help him when I can.  If he starts helping himself.

You can’t make a person stop drinking.
Note: I continued to take Tommy to the grocery store about once a week for a month, since neither of his parents drive. Then, he started calling me at night, drunk.  The last time, about three weeks ago, he was incoherent and said he'd just falled down the stairs to his basement bedroom and that there were spiders  and rats crawling in his hair.  I called 911 and later learned two County sherriff officers and an ambulance forced his admittal to a local hospital. “Tommy’s” name  and a few details have been changed.