What I Have Learned

What I Have Learned

Thinking is freedom,
Self respect is strength,
Letting go is liberty,
Character is fulfillment.
Life is a gift,
Love is all giving.

Don’t rush,
Don’t get greedy,
Don’t get angry,
Don’t expect courtesy or appreciation.
Be peaceful,
Be happy.

Life is a gift to you,
Love is your gift to others.
Life may reward your love given,
but who knows?


Obsesión — Español-English

Pedro Flores (March 9, 1894 – July 14, 1979) was one Puerto Rico’s best known composers of ballads and boleros. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_Flores_%28composer%29

Pedro Flores’ song “Obsesión” was written before 1935, the date of its recording for Columbia Records. This is a male’s love song in the ancient tradition of declaring love and pledging fidelity by showing passion, “obsession,” in an effort to win the affections of a wisely playing-hard-to-get female. Such songs come out of times and cultures where decorum was expected and practiced, so the obsession being displayed here was understood to be only a sincere amorous expression that was uninhibited in relation to antique social norms. It was not intended to be anything like the psychotic behaviors we are now accustomed to seeing erupt unhappily, and too often, in our mad modern hyperactive inattentive mind-numbed zeitgeist. “Obsesión” soon became very popular and many women singers, also, have made it their own since its early years. This song translation is poetic, not literal.

(Pedro Flores, letras según la grabación de “Como Es El Amor” por Panchito Riset y Daniel Sanchez con Pedro Flores, 1935)

—> (instrumental)

Por alto está el cielo en el mundo,
por hondo que sea el mar profundo,
no habrá una barrera en el mundo
que un amor profundo
no pueda rompér.

Amor es el pan de la vida,
amor es la copa divina,
amor es un algo sin nombre
que obsesiona a un hombre
con una mujér.

Yo estoy obsesionado contigo
y el mundo es testigo
de mí frenesí,
y por más que se oponga el destino
serás para mí(ííí). (1)

Por alto está el cielo en el mundo,
por hondo que sea el mar profundo,
no habrá una barrera en el mundo
que un amor profundo
no rompa por tí.

—> (instrumental)

Yo estoy obsesionado contigo
y el mundo es testigo
de mí frenesí,
y por más que se oponga el destino
serás para mí(ííí). (1)

Por alto está el cielo en el mundo,
por hondo que sea el mar profundo,
no habrá una barrera en el mundo
que un amor profundo
no – rompa – por – tí(ííí). (2)

1. se extiende el “í” de “mí.”

2. Rallentando, se extiende el “í” de “tí.”


(Pedro Flores, lyrics following the recording of “How Love Is” by Panchito Riset and Daniel Sanchez with Pedro Flores, 1935)

—> (instrumental)

As high as the sky is above us,
as deep as the ocean’s cold darkness,
never will barriers between us
stand fast against my focus
unbroken by love.

Love’s the bread of every soul’s lifetime,
love’s the cup of fulfillment divine,
for love is that something so nameless,
a swirling where one man obsesses
on one woman’s love.

I am so completely obsessed to love you,
this world is just background in view
of my frenzied mind,
and even if destiny opposes, it’s true
you have to be mine –. (3)

As high as the sky is above us,
as deep as the ocean’s cold darkness,
never will barriers between us
stand fast against my focus,
I’ll break them in time.

—> (instrumental)

I am so completely obsessed to love you,
this world is just background in view
of my frenzied mind,
and even if destiny opposes, it’s true
you have to be mine –. (3)

As high as the sky is above us,
as deep as the ocean’s cold darkness,
never will barriers between us
stand fast against my focus,
I’ll – break – them – in – time –. (4)


3. The “i” of “mine” is extended.

4. Rallentando, the “i” of “time” is extended.


Panchito Riset y Daniel Sanchez con Pedro Flores – Como Es El Amor (Obsesión)
[The original, the year is 1935, music from Puerto Rico.]

Barrio Boyzz
[Jazz a cappella quartet in concert; both crisp and honeyed. 1996]

Suzzette Ortiz
[Suzzette plays the piano and sings, both with great sensitivity; live. A touching performance giving the song a woman’s voice. 2010.]

Daniel Santos & La Sonora Matancera
[Puerto Rico’s great singer with Cuba’s great band, a recording from probably the late 1940s.]

The Latin Jazz Coalition
[A Latin Jazz band in a live outdoor performance in Queens, New York City; the Afro-Cuban Currents Concert, 2006.]

Irene Atienza & Douglas Lora
[A Brazilian duo perform live; Irene sings, Douglas plays classical guitar. Intimate and nice. “Amor es un tango sin nombre que obsesiona un hombre por una mujér.” 2013.]

Beny More y Pedro Vargas
[A duet with Beny More and Pedro Vargas. 1950s.]

[Japanese instrumental trio: flute, guitar, conga; wonderful live performance. 2010.]

Virginia Lopez y Trio Imperio
[Light soprano voice of the 1950s, very atmospheric of its time. Virginia, a Puertorriqueña, was born in New York City’s West Side.]

Guasabara Cuarteto
[Potent Puerto Rican jazz combo and singer propel this bolero through their own extended and modernized version; studio live. 2013.]

Placido Domingo & Maggie Carles – Perdon & Obsesión
[A medley of “Perdon” and “Obsesión” as duets in concert; big voices. “Obsesión” begins at 3:33. 2009.]


Cardo o Ceniza — Español-English

María Isabel Granda Larco (3 September 1920, Cotabambas, Apurímac, Peru — 8 March 1983, Miami, United States), better known as Chabuca Granda, was a Peruvian singer and composer. She created and interpreted a vast number of Criollo waltzes with Afro-Peruvian rhythms. Her best known song is “La flor de la canela” (The Cinnamon Flower). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chabuca_Granda

I have taken greater poetic liberties for my English translation of “Cardo o Ceniza” than has been the case with my previous translations of Spanish songs. I see this song as a male fantasy of female orgasm, as that fantasy is imagined by a female (the songwriter and all the subsequent female singers). I have chosen to present these orgasmic lyrics in more poetically florid English than I would normally use, since the only other alternative I could think of was a clinical explicitness that risked making a mockery of the sentiment. As is always the case, poetry and song lyrics are best in their original languages.

If this song did not resonate with so much of the sexual fantasy life of males worldwide, it would not be so popular. Without such resonance this song would be like so much of feminist literature, which can be quite explicit and yet attract little male interest. The song is basically a lament about a woman’s inability to find partnership despite being generous and passionate in the giving of her love. We assume the wayward lover is male, but the lyrics are general enough to allow for a lesbian interpretation. The sexual yearning of the female voicing this lament, her submissiveness to the longed-for lover, and the obvious power he holds over her despite her misgivings and prior disappointments at being used, are all very popular male fantasies even as a number of them are thoroughly dishonorable. That resonance with the male id, along with the identification many women will have with the substance of the lament, all make for a universally popular song.

The music of the song is quite nice, always necessary for making a song popular with foreign audiences who do not understand the lyrics.

Cardo o Ceniza
(Chabuca Granda 1920-1983)

¿Como será mi piel
junto a tu piel?,
¿Como será mi piel
junto a tu piel?,
¿Cardo, cenizas,
como será?

¿Si he de fundir mi espacio
frente al tuyo?
¿Como será tu cuerpo
al recorrerme,
y como mi corazón
si estoy de muerte,
mi corazón
si estoy de muerte?

Se quebrara mi voz
cuando se apague,
de no poderte hablar
en el oido.
Y quemará mi boca
de la sed que me queme
si me besas,
de la sed que me queme
si me besas.

¿Como será el gemido
y como el grito
al escapar mi vida
entre la tuya?
¿Y como el letargo
al que me entregue
cuando adormezca el sueño
entre tus sueños?

Han de ser breves
mis siestas.
Mis esteros despiertan
con tus rios. (1)

¿Pero, pero como serán
mis despertares?
¿Pero como serán
mis despertares?
¿Pero como serán
mis despertares,
cada vez que despierte
cada vez que despierte

Tanto amor
y avergonzada,
tanto amor (tanto amor)
y avergonzada.

Thistle or Ash
(a translation of Chabuca Granda’s “Cardo o Ceniza”)

How will my skin feel
pressed to your skin?
How will my skin feel
pressed to your skin?
Thistle or ashes,
how will it feel?

Should I open myself to you?,
open myself for you?
How will your body feel as you
drape me completely?
Will it make me come alive
or will it feel deadly?
Will it make me come alive
or will it feel deadly?

My voice will fade away
silenced by the rush,
with no whispered sighs to hear,
no breaths in your ear.
My mouth will wet ravening,
burning for love,
fired by every kiss
thirsting for love,
fired by every kiss
thirsting for love.

How will I whimper to your love
and cry out as mine comes?,
to escape into your life
as now both take flight.
What of the sweet surrender,
the sinking of let down?
Dreams fade in sleep so tender,
will you remember?

My times of peace
are all too brief.
What love I can give is freed
from love received. (1)

Tell me, tell me, how will it be
the morning after?
Tell me, how will it be
the morning after?
Tell me, how will it be
the morning after?
Every time I wake alone
with all my shame,
every time I wake alone
with all my shame.

I love so much
and end so shamefully,
I love so (very very) much
and end so shamefully.

Note #1. Literally: “my estuaries awaken with your rivers.”


Chabuca Granda – Cardo o ceniza
[Modern (<1983) folk-style popular music from Peru; the original version of this song.]

Pamela Rodriguez – Cardo o Ceniza
[Current youth-oriented Latin-American popular music, a cover more popular than the original, “the hit.”]

Niyireth Alarcón – Cardo o ceniza
[An elegant current version from Colombia.]


Haunted by the Vietnam War

Perhaps the period in my life during which I experienced the greatest amount of dread were the years 1968-1969, when I was being called by my draft board to be inducted into the United States military for service in the Vietnam War. Ultimately, that never occurred and I have no dramatic stories to tell, either of suffering and heroism or criminality under fire, or of stirring anti-war resistance and subversion. But, I have vivid memories of that time and believe my dread of the Vietnam War has cast a long shadow onto my consciousness. Whenever I hear or read about people in their later years saying about the disinterest by current youth in the formative experiences of these elders “you have no idea what it was like in those times,” I now understand what they are feeling, based on my own relatively easy survival of the Vietnam War, and the ease with which I am taken as obsolete today.

War is horrible, obviously, and to be avoided at almost any cost. I say “almost” because I have reluctantly come to believe that in rare circumstances the necessity to prosecute a war can arise. The difficulty here is in choosing when a situation truly deserves to be recognized as one of those rare occasions that is worthy of justifying war. There is no formula nor algorithm for making such determinations, the justification for going to war is beyond pure logic. Such justification must not only be seen intellectually as rigorous, but emotionally as essential to the self-definition of the people going to war, both as a society and as individuals. Such a broad and deep consensus could only arise in reaction to the most dire of existential threats, which I can only imagine to be truly rare. When greed, ego, religious fanaticism and lust-for-power are denied protection by military force, then no problem of popular freedom and resource allocation is beyond negotiated settlement. We can live without war if we cast away the irrational absolutes that drive us to it.

Unfortunately in our world today, it is still possible for one group of people to face the hostility of another group of people motivated so viciously by their irrational absolutes that the effort required for a necessary defense amounts to a war. The dreadful work of prosecuting such a war inevitably falls on the young and strong members of a society, despite the fact that the policy imperatives and political disputes precipitating the war were carried out by the older, more prosperous and most secure members of that society. How can the sacrifices of war be justified to its young warriors?

I can think of only two justifications: the war is necessary for the survival and self-respect of the society, and the society is worthy enough to merit the sacrifices made by its warriors for its continuation.

I do not believe that either of these conditions were met in regard to the Vietnam War. Yes, I am not very “patriotic.”

But what about today, with crises in the Middle East, and the threat of “terrorism?” The discussion of war becomes murky when we begin considering militarized police actions in response to terrorist attacks, bombings and massacres carried out by non-state gangs operating internationally. The militarized policing forces called upon to hunt down and eliminate such gangs would be (or should be) troops of highly trained professional soldiers-agents with extensive technical support, not masses of conscript soldiers. A “people’s army” is what you call upon to save an entire society under existential threat; a group of professionals – volunteers well-trained and reasonably subsidized by society like King Louis XIII’s Musketeers – is what you call upon to counter violent threats to social peace and tranquility that rise above the level of common criminality. But even though such professional soldiers are volunteers who may be called upon to earn their socially subsidized living by occasionally confronting danger, they are still our brothers and sisters, and our society must never be hasty or casual about sending them into harm’s way.

So, the two justifications for war remain: is the situation truly such a threat to the survival of our society and our worthy concepts of ourselves that it requires an armed response?, and does our society deserve the inevitable sacrifices of our warriors?

What do I mean by “worthy concepts of ourselves?” Primarily, our vision of a free and equitable society, and a solidarity with people in other nations regarding basic human rights. Again, this is a topic that can be made as murky as one wants, but the fundamental point about solidarity here is that: “to maintain my self-respect, I see it in my interest that people elsewhere be free from threats to their lives, dignity and freedom, and I would wish that they could feel the same toward us.”

Of course, the devil-in-the-details with “solidarity” is in what practical steps one society takes in response to the problems of another. Again, the judgments here go beyond logic and rest upon who we think we are, or want to be. As one specific example consider Cuba’s military response to the threats to Angolan and Namibian independence in the 1980s, and its medical response to the threat of the Ebola epidemic in Africa in 2014-2015.

As always, the enemy in our minds is humanity’s various irrational absolutes. “In politics the choice is never between good and evil but between the preferable and the detestable” (Raymond Aron). Does our society deserve the sacrifices required by this war? “This war” is whatever war is now being promoted. Any call to war, on terror, drugs or whatever, should be taken as a call to thoroughly examine American society and rectify its many glaring inequities, to make this society much more deserving of the sacrifices of its potential future warriors. Americans who might be sent out to fight and die for their country in future wars must be given a justification sufficient for their sacrifices, a justification which can be experienced daily as the living reality of our society. This goes far beyond the superficiality and commercialism of our time, and which even the word “socialism” cannot illuminate sufficiently in our imaginations.

What follows are my notes about the Vietnam War, which was frothed up in my memory by several recent encounters and e-mail messages. There is nothing earth-shaking here, just my own thoughts that echo the title of Staughton Lynd’s recent fine article:

Haunted by Vietnam

Beware, there will be a great deal of hype later this spring about the 40th anniversary of the “end” of the Vietnam War, with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. Don’t fall for the phony patriotism, instead ask for a transformative politics making this a much more deserving nation. There are still many people living with their personal consequences of the Vietnam War. The movie Same Same But Different (more below) is all about that. Not thinking about it is not an end.

My notes, referred to above, were originally sent out as e-mail, and now follow.

15 February 2015 [Presidents’ Day weekend]


I can’t help sending out this broadcast message, as I have been moved to think back to the time of the Vietnam War. I myself was not in it, by the luck of the draft lottery of December 1, 1969, and prior lucky bureaucratic congestion from early 1968.

The most important part of this message is for you to see this one hour documentary about American veterans of that war, who returned to Vietnam to work on constructive and humanitarian projects. In the documentary, they tell why they have chosen to do this. Watch, and listen carefully.


Same Same But Different


I am grateful to Louis Proyect (http://louisproyect.org/) for bringing this film to my attention. You can read his commentary about this film (see it first!) at his blog, at this webpage:

Two Documentaries on Vietnam

Louis’ blog entry has embedded trailer videos of the documentaries he comments on, and soon leads to his complete commentary article at Counterpunch, here:

The Mirror of Vietnam

The second documentary Louis comments on is “Last Days in Vietnam” by Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and her documentary has been nominated for Best Documentary in the upcoming Academy Awards. Don’t see this, it’s a piece of shit aimed at the head-up-the-ass stupidity that swallows garbage like “American Sniper” with reverential awe.

To see real heroes, see Same Same But Different.

My daughter, Ella, had asked me about my recollections of the times of the Vietnam War, for a high school project, and while I told her about my own slight experiences of that time, I could see that any real transmission of the living experience was impossible. Seeing Same Same But Different is perhaps the best I could offer her, now, to answer her questions most usefully (for her own future).

Another prod to my recollections of the times of the Vietnam War was a group e-mail I received last Christmas, about “remembering those [US soldiers] who served” and died. I reproduce that e-mail (names deleted) and my response to it, down below, to add to my overall comments about this topic today.

By chance, there are some other articles on the Vietnam War in this weekend’s edition of Counterpunch:

Vietnam: Some Real History

Revising the Meaning of the Vietnam War
[A critical review of “Last Days in Vietnam,” by a Vietnam War veteran.]

Michael Uhl is a writer associated with Vietnam Full Disclosure, a website dedicated to publicizing truthful history about the Vietnam War (Pentagon-produced history is unreliable in this regard), and produced by a group of veterans of that war (including a woman nurse who treated combat wounded). See that site for many articles and commentaries:

Vietnam Full Disclosure

Robert S. McNamara (Kennedy and Johnson Administrations’ Secretary of Defense) had publicly estimated that 3.5 million people, from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, died as a result of the American prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia.

If any of you still enjoy reading books (as in paper), you can learn the historical background to the Vietnam War from

The Untold History of the United States
[A good library or bookstore can get a copy for you.]

Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

The most complete detailed [and truthful] history of the Vietnam War is

Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience
[Kolko, a Canadian and historian, interviewed leading figures in the war during its course, in the U.S., South Vietnam and North Vietnam.]

A recent book on the nature of American military operations in Vietnam (a.k.a. war crimes) is

Kill Anything That Moves

I say more about Nick Turse’s book in the appended e-mail commentary, down below.

An incredible 1971 book of photographs of the war, which was republished in 2001 by Phaidon Press is

Vietnam, Inc.

I think Philip Jones Griffiths’ book ranks with Euripides’ “Trojan Women.”

One of the most affecting books I have ever read was Noam Chomsky’s deeply moral intellectual protest of 1970, against the aggregated atrocities we now label as the Vietnam War, and is

At War With Asia

This book is specifically about the American bombing of Laos (the country that has suffered the highest amount of bombing per capita, ever, and also subjected to defoliant chemical warfare by the U.S.). One of my best blog entries is about this book, its sources, and its effect on me.

On Reading “At War With Asia,” by Noam Chomsky

For Ella’s benefit:

The way I “remember” the Vietnam War today, and “honor those who served” is to buy you-know-who a chocolate milkshake every now and then, and to try to get us out into the country with him for a plant-identification ramble on some summer day.

I remember the story our friend told me about his time during the First Battle of Khe Sanh (the “Hill Fights” of 1967). The Marines were under such intense shelling for so long that they were starving (being cut off from resupply), and conditions in the camp were horrible because of the destruction, carnage (piles of dead) and the tropical rain turning ground into mud. He says he lost count of the barrages after about seventy-something, and the many concussions he experienced made him deaf in one ear. After a long stretch of this punishment, a brief and welcome relief came in the form of some hours of clear sunny weather without any shelling. As he sat in his spot, he noticed that a grasshopper had alighted near him, probably also seeking relief in sunshine without explosions. In an instant, he flashed out his arm, grasped the grasshopper, popped it into his mouth whole, crunched and swallowed. That was food. He told me he had done this without any thought whatever, and afterwards he realized what amazing things we can do when motivated by starvation. From what he’s told me, I have been able to identify the battle he was in as that for Hill 881, the First Battle of Khe Sanh (articles below).

Battle of Hill 881

Battle of Khe Sanh

The Hill Fights: The First Battle of Khe Sanh

About E. F. Murphy’s book:
“While the seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968 remains one of the most highly publicized clashes of the Vietnam War, scant attention has been paid to the first battle of Khe Sanh, also known as “the Hill Fights.” Although this harrowing combat in the spring of 1967 provided a grisly preview of the carnage to come at Khe Sanh, few are aware of the significance of the battles, or even their existence. For more than thirty years, virtually the only people who knew about the Hill Fights were the Marines who fought them. Now, for the first time, the full story has been pieced together by acclaimed Vietnam War historian Edward F. Murphy.”


My wife chides me about “old man ranting,” which is to say complaining angrily, or at all, about the political and social stupidities of our time. Who cares what I think?, nothing is going to change, and if there is any slight change it will not be because of anything I have said or written. True enough, amen. So, I don’t plan to write any more in this vein. But, every now and then I have to let out some steam, and this whole “remember the Vietnam War” meme is one, of I hope very few, such occasions. MG,Jr.


XXXXXXXX sometimes sends me items from “right wing news” sites, and the item below about the Black Wall is one such message. My response to it, on “remembering” Vietnam War veterans, is further below.


On Dec 27, 2014, XXXXXXXX wrote:

At this Christmas time, I thought we should take a bit of our time to remember those who never made it back from Vietnam, those men and women who should never be forgotten. Merry Christmas to one and all…….

The Wall

A little history most people will never know.

Interesting Veterans Statistics off the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010.

The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 57 years since the first casualty.

The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, who was killed on Sept. 7, 1965.

There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.

39,996 on the Wall were just 22 or younger.

8,283 were just 19 years old.

The largest age group, 33,103 were 18 years old.

12 soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old.

5 soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old.

One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was 15 years old.

997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam

1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam

31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.

Thirty one sets of parents lost two of their sons.

54 soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia. I wonder why so many from one school.

8 Women are on the Wall, Nursing the wounded.

244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War; 153 of them are on the Wall.

Beallsville, Ohio with a population of 475 lost 6 of her sons.

West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation. There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.

The Marines of Morenci – They led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. In the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci’s mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966. Only 3 returned home.

The Buddies of Midvale – LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez, Tom Gonzales – were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ball field. And they all went to Vietnam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed. LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

The most casualty deaths for a single day was on January 31, 1968 ~ 245 deaths.

The most casualty deaths for a single month was May 1968 – 2,415 casualties were incurred.

For most Americans who read this they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.

Please pass this on to those who served during this time, and those who DO Care.

I’ve also sent this to those I KNOW do care very much, and I thank you for caring as you do.


MG,Jr. response to XXXXXXXX

Here are 2 of my (MG,Jr.’s) articles on history, which each describe many overall facts about the Vietnam War. I registered for the draft the day after Lyndon Johnson’s “I will not run” speech, and I was drafted in late ’68 and 1A all through 1969. In December 1969, I was finally released from the call-up (because of the first draft lottery). The entire experience formed much of my thinking about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” since.

A good friend of mine here is a 1966-1968 ex-Marine, who survived 3 helicopter shoot-downs (surviving 1 was unusual), and a siege at Khe Sanh (there was more than one). He lost hearing in one ear due to concussions sustained by the constant artillery barrages he had to hunker down under (which cut off food and ammunition resupply by land, and made it infrequent, inadequate and inaccurate by air). A Puerto Rican veteran of the Vietnam War [a different Marine from the previous one], who I met in college in 1970-1971, told me how the platoon commanders would send the Puerto Ricans (or “Mexicans”) out “on point” for the patrols. By 1968, half of US casualties (ground troops) were Black and Latino (“Hispanic”). After that the US military made an effort to balance out the hazardous duty, so by the end of the war the casualties fell in close to the proportions of ethnicities/race as they occur in the general US population. In 1968 I was convinced that had I been inducted (as an 18 year old) I’d never get to be 21, and I’m still convinced that was most likely.

Much of the reason the Nixon Administration decided to pull the US ground troops out of the Vietnam War was that by 1969 mutinies were routine (disregard of orders, such as to go out on patrol, and massive drug use, even though the military did give pilots amphetamines to pump them up for missions; also “fragging” was frequent). There were major mutinies of career military officers – whole squadrons of Navy fighter pilots (launching off carriers), and B-52 (Air Force pilots) – in 1972, and entire operations had to be scrubbed as an alternative to mass courts martial. Books have been written about that, as well as the “Winter Soldier” movie (where veterans share their stories, mainly about seeing and participating in atrocities).

A very recent book on the war is Kill Anything That Moves (by Nick Turse) and it draws its material from the “war crimes” files from the US military (which kept track of such things to quash potential prosecutions — Colin Powell was largely responsible for limiting the exposure of the My Lai story — saving the asses of Lt. Calley’s superiors right up to the Pentagon — and its much larger potential fallout: most operations were similar), which are stored at the US Archives (Wash. DC). Nick Turse (researching other history) was shown the material by an archivist, who noted that few people (historians) had bothered to look into it since the ‘60s; every effort had been made by the US military to bury it, and that effort has been a success.

People of my time and age, who were drawn into the War to one degree or another, knew about the things described in Turse’s book, but such stories were not widely reported by the mainstream media; and official government policy coupled with much popular sentiment was to bury the truth. My buddy, the ex-Marine (helicopter gunner) even had to fight to get his veteran’s benefits. A records center in Kansas City had burned and the paperwork about many vets’ service records was destroyed. The government had hired people to interview veterans claiming benefits, but those interviewers were charged with doing their utmost to deny such benefits. My pal had to point out names on the Black Wall and describe in detail where those individuals had been “in country” and how they had actually died (the reports made to families back home were often sanitized). My buddy obviously knew too many “classified” details not to be who he said he was, and to have experienced what he said he had. He told me these interviewers would try to “mess with your mind” to make you hysterical and go away, like “you just killed people, don’t you feel guilty?” My buddy’s wife (who was present as she herself told me, and is part American Indian) screamed at this interviewer and showed sufficient intent to “escalate” her intervention that the guy gave in and approved my buddy’s status as a veteran. My pal had described missions and deployments of specific units at specific times and places that were still officially denied by the USG. So, the combination of factual (and officially embarrassing) testimony, as well as the interviewer’s fear of probably being scalped otherwise, got my buddy recognized as a vet of the unit he had served in (during the years 1966-1968).

My own articles are straightforward history taken from public sources; though I remember the events very well as “news” and “current events” from those times, which I was focused on.

The U.S. may have lost the Vietnam War, but its war criminals got away with it.

My ex-Marine buddy is (now) recognized by the Marine Corps as a member on permanent disability. He spends some of his time helping out other old guys who are on downhill slides to their final exits. He saw many of his contemporaries (including best friends) fall in the war, and numerous others survive the war to get “screwed by the system” and then disappear in one way or another from the good life “back home” (saving tax dollars, I guess). Like my godfather, who was a veteran of the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944, my ex-Marine buddy does not tell war stories, nor does he see “war” and “action” movies, nor go to museums with “Vietnam War” exhibits. It’s best not to trigger dreams. He’s a happy fun-loving guy (like my godfather) because he’s happy to be alive, every day. He’s also a peacenik, and since the war has become an expert botanist. He has lots of metal plates, bolts and rivets in his body, as well a many healed fractures (including spinal) and replacement joints, and a permanent set of aches and pains.

Fifty-Year Look Back 1963-2013, Part I: 1963-1968
18 November 2013

Fifty-Year Look Back 1963-2013, Part II: 1968-2013
4 December 2013

Kind regards.

22 February 2015, George Washington’s 283rd birthday.


ADDENDUM, 17 March 2015

The My Lai massacre occurred 47 years ago, on March 16, 1968.

My Lai (massacre)

Hugh Thompson, Jr., 47 years ago

Hugh Thompson, Jr., 47 years ago

Hugh Thompson, Jr., with the help of his crewmen Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, were responsible for limiting the extent of the massacre (to 504) by landing their helicopter between advancing US troops and fleeing Vietnamese villagers, with Thompson ordering Andreotta and Colburn (manning the helicopter’s machine gun) to shoot the advancing Americans if they attempted to kill any of the fleeing civilians.

“Initially, three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors by several U.S. Congressmen, including Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Only after thirty years were they recognized and decorated, one posthumously, by the U.S. Army for shielding non-combatants from harm in a war zone.”

I still cry when I read the wikipedia article on Hugh Thompson. I did just now, again.

Hugh Thompson, Jr.

Ron Ridenhour, a US soldier in Vietnam, heard about the massacre from his acquaintances who participated in it, investigated it on his own while still on active duty, and on being discharged from the Army began a letter-writing campaign in 1969 to have the US Congress open an investigation. It was through Ridenhour’s efforts that independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh learned of the event, and eventually broke the Mỹ Lai story to the public on November 12, 1969.

Ron Ridenhour

Ron Ridenhour’s letter
to congressional representatives, begging for an investigation of “Pinkville.”


Four Hours in My Lai (1989)

This one hour documentary by Kevin Sim and Michael Bilton can be seen as a sequence of seven video segments, listed below. Note that in segment 4 Hugh Thompson, Jr. and Lawrence Colburn describe their actions to stop the My Lai massacre by aiming their own weapons at the rampaging American troops of Charlie Company, to protect a group of Vietnamese villagers. In segment 6, Ron Ridenhour (1946-1998) describes his own discovery of the event, months later, and his subsequent letter to Congress as an act of moral outrage.

The Hugh Thompson, Jr. (1943-2006) and Lawrence Colburn seen in this documentary were men who had yet to receive any public recognition of a positive nature for their actions on March 16, 1968, and subsequently. This documentary, which went on to win a British Academy Award and an International Emmy in 1989, began to change that. Sim and Bilton continued researching the story and conducted further interviews with Thompson and Colburn. They published a book in 1992, “Four Hours in My Lai,” based on the totality of the documentary material they had gathered. It was this book that sparked both public and official interest in honoring Thompson and Colburn. The third member of Thompson’s helicopter crew, Glenn Andreotta had died during military action in Vietnam in 1968. “Exactly 30 years after the massacre, Thompson, Andreotta, and Colburn were awarded the Soldier’s Medal (Andreotta posthumously), the United States Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy.”

Four Hours in My Lai 1/7
(60 minute video in 7 segments)

Four Hours in My Lai 2/7

Four Hours in My Lai 3/7

Four Hours in My Lai 4/7
(Hugh Thompson, Jr.)

Four Hours in My Lai 5/7

Four Hours in My Lai 6/7
(Ron Ridenhour)

Four Hours in My Lai 7/7


Hugh Thompson, Jr. (1943-2006)
(hughthompson.org is the foundation organized by Larry Colburn to honor the memory of Hugh Thompson by addressing his chief concerns.)

“Hugh Thompson’s courage and integrity brought the My Lai massacre to a halt. Today he remains a true inspiration for young people everywhere but especially those in the military. Hugh was living proof that doing what is right, without weighing up the personal cost, is the hallmark of great nobility.” – Michael Bilton, author of Four Hours in My Lai

To Swing Wide the Gates of Mercy (~2002)
(Hugh Thompson, Jr. and Lawrence Colburn, together before students)

BBC interviews Hugh Thompson Jr.

American Experience My Lai PBS Documentary (2010)
(Good presentation of the Army’s coverup and Nixon’s political undermining of justice.)


The Scene of the Crime
A reporter’s journey to My Lai and the secrets of the past.
By Seymour M. Hersh
March 30, 2015 issue of The New Yorker


The Virus of Cruelty in American Democracy

“Men are always the same – fear makes them cruel.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

Ignorance is lack of awareness, information and knowledge.

Ignorance can be overcome with personal effort.
Reducing ignorance is work, remaining ignorant is easy.

Stupidity is the defense of ignorance.

Stupidity is lazy and cowardly.

Stupidity shields religious belief from questioning,
and bigotry from exposure and eradication.

The imperative for greed arises out of the fear
of being excluded from the ranks of the secure.

The Republican Party is a conspiracy for theft.
It is a political virus finely tuned to exploit the national weakness of popular stupidity.

Just as lying is the sound of theft, so is hypocrisy the signature of the Republican Party.

The greed imperatives aggregated as the Republican Party
react to humanity with xenophobia and otherization, expressed as:
– racial and ethnic prejudices
– misogynist sexism
– sociopathic attitudes towards wage earners, the poor and the destitute
– homophobia
– pedophobia (as with the destruction of public education).

How can the Republican Party gain votes (ballots, as opposed to dues) for a program that aims to disenfranchise otherized populations, subjugate women, and impoverish most of the public?

You would have to be stupid to vote for that.


Hence, Republican Party efforts to manage the public focus on capturing the DNA of popular stupidity, by injecting viral control directives into the nucleus of public attention, to effect the auto-enslavement of the vast majority of the nation.

The attack on science and the coddling of religion are all part of the strategy
to strengthen the force of stupidity and expand popular ignorance.

Your stupidity is your enslavement, and their triumph.


Conformal Mapping of Dickinsonia Costata

Dickinsonia costata

Dickinsonia costata

Dickinsonia costata was one of nine species of Dickinsonia life forms, which resemble bilaterally symmetric ribbed ovals, which lived during the Ediacaran Period (635–542 Mya) and which went extinct, along with all the biota (life forms) of that period, by the beginning of the Cambrian Period (which occurred during 542-488 Mya).


The Ediacaran biota were enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped organisms living in the sea, and are the earliest known complex multicellular organisms. The adult phase of life in most Ediacaran species was spent at fixed individual sites, such as barnacles, corals and mussels do today. In contrast, the Dickinsonia moved around to feed.

My curiosity about Dickinsonia costata was sparked by reading Richard Dawkins’ description of this organism in “The Velvet Worm’s Tale,” which is in his book The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (highly recommended).

What intrigues me is the similarity of Dickinsonia costata’s ribbed planform to the mathematical result known as the conformal mapping of a circle in cylindrical coordinates to a line segment in cartesian coordinates. I wrote about my use of this mathematical transformation to solve a problem in electrostatics in the blog entry

DEP Micro-device 2D Electric Field.

Conformal Mapping Circle-Line

Conformal Mapping Circle-Line

The left side of the diagram looks like a very simple model of a Dickinsonia costata planform. Hyperbolas branch out perpendicularly from a central line segment and fan apart, while ellipses of greater circularity with increasing distance from the central line segment cross the hyperbolas at right angles. The right side of the diagram shows a unit circle, which corresponds to the central line segment on the left, and radial rays (corresponding to the hyperbolas on the left) which are crossed at right angles by larger diameter circles.

The equations of the transformation conformally map each point of the radial (radius-angle) two-dimensional geometry, from the unit circle out, to corresponding points in the cartesian (length-width ’square grid’) two-dimensional geometry, from the line segment out. An inverse conformal mapping relates each point in the planar cartesian geometry to a corresponding point in the planar cylindrical geometry. Note that the interior of the unit circle corresponds to the collapsed now infinitesimal ‘interior’ of the line segment, and these spaces are excluded from consideration.

This conformal mapping is very useful in solving the problem in electrostatics of calculating the falloff in voltage from a flat strip electrode (the 2D part is the plane with finite line segment) that is infinitely long in the third dimension (“into” the paper or screen of the diagram). Physically, the ellipses of increasing circularity with distance from the line segment are contours (“surfaces” in a 2D view) of constant voltage. If the line segment (strip electrode) has a positive voltage, then the equipotential ellipses have decreasing voltage with increasing distance. If the line segment electrode has a negative voltage then the ellipses increase in voltage with distance. The rate at which voltage falls off from its value at the strip electrode is most rapid close to that electrode, and decreases (flattens out) with distance. The hyperbolas, which cross the elliptical equipotential contours, are the paths of greatest increase (for +) or decrease (for -) of voltage from the far distance into the line segment. The hyperbolas are lines of electric field, which is high where those lines are steep near the electrode, and which is low where those lines are flat, out at great distance.

It is much easier to arrive at the mathematical formulas for the equipotential ellipses and the hyperbolic field lines by first solving the corresponding problem in cylindrical coordinates, where the equipotentials are circles and the field lines straight radial rays, and then using the conformal mapping to arrive at the 2D cartesian result.

If we now imagine the unit circle and its corresponding line segment (in the above) to be the sensing centers of living and mobile organisms, then we can see that the radial rays and hyperbolas, respectively, are the paths of fastest communication with and reaction to the surrounding environment, and that a bodily bounding circle or ellipse, respectively, is a contour of simultaneous sensation of that external environment. Here, I am thinking of organisms that are flat and that do most of their living and moving two-dimensionally, that is to say more or less perpendicular to gravity.

The cartesian ‘strip electrode’ form of Dickinsonia costata gave it a head and tail (a fore and aft) as well as a left and a right (a bilateral aspect). In fact, the left and right sides of the Dickinsonia organisms were not mirror images of one another, but instead had an alternating pattern according to glide reflection symmetry. That is to say, a boundary rib or ridge or depression line on the right side emanates from the central line segment at a point midway between similar boundary hyperbolas on the left, and vice versa.

The fore-and-aft left-and-right layout of the Dickinsonia species meant that they had an internal coordinate system with which to reference the headings (directions) of sensations of the environment, and reactions to it in the form of motions.

It is probable (that is to say my uneducated guess) that they ingested nutrients by absorbing them (sucking them up) through their undersides from the algal mats they skimmed over in the sunlit shallows of Precambrian seas.

They could have moved straight ahead by alternately expanding the forward part of their bodies while contracting the rear, then contracting the forward segments (between the hyperbolas) while expending the rear ones, to produce a wave-like forward motion. Clearly, some point of contact would be necessary with the surface below Dickinsonia in order to gain traction for motion. Another possibility for motion would be an oscillation of the (nearly) elliptical bounding edge of the body into a wave-train that moved from head to tail (fore to aft), as a flounder, sea ray or skate does today.

Paleontologists have speculated that the Dickinsonia segments between hyperbolas were filled to overpressure with fluid (compared to the seawater exterior), so it is reasonable to speculate that these inter-hyperbola segments were plenums whose volumes (and widths) were modulated hydrostatically, for forward motion and for turning. A left turn could be effected by expanding the forward right side while contracting the forward left side, and simultaneously contracting the aft right side while expanding the aft left side. A right turn would require the opposite pattern of contractions and expansions.

It is possible that improvements in responsiveness and maneuverability were gained through evolution by collapsing an earlier cylindrically symmetric planform into the fore-and-aft left-and-right planform of the ‘strip electrode’ Dickinsonia organisms. If so, then Nature has made elegant use of the conformal mapping of a circular center of life into a linear one.



Correcting Publisher’s Errors in Einstein’s “Relativity”

In 1916, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) wrote a book in German for the general public about his theory of relativity, and he continued to add to it until its fifteenth edition in 1952. That book is called Relativity, The Special and the General Theory, and its English version is an “authorized translation by Robert W. Lawson.” That fifteenth edition has been in continuous publication since, and its copyright is held by “the Estate of Albert Einstein,” dated 1961.

It is a wonderful book. “The author has spared himself no pains in his endeavor to present the main ideas in the simplest and most intelligible form,” and Einstein’s exposition is a model of what every scientist should strive for in the clarity of their writing, and every journal should seek to publish to serve humanity’s interest in the widest dissemination of knowledge.

The particular edition of this book that I will comment on is published by Three Rivers Press, which is a trademark of Random House, Inc., and this edition of the book has the identification code: ISBN 0-517-88441-0. The publisher (NOT Albert Einstein!) — somewhere between the editor and the typesetter — has introduced errors into the text, and the purpose of this article is to show the corresponding corrections (to the three errors I have noticed). Page numbers are cited for the specific edition noted here.

Page 46 (Theorem of the Addition of the Velocities. The Experiment of Fizeau), footnote, in the second sentence (at the third line of text), a second closing parenthesis is needed for the expression for W, which should then appear mathematically equivalent to:

W = {w + v∙[1 – (v∙w)/c^2]}.

Note that the velocity w (of light in a motionless liquid) is much much greater than the velocity v (of the liquid in a tube). The speed of light in a vacuum is c. W is the “addition of velocities,” of light with respect to a liquid that is itself flowing along a tube, where W is observed from the frame of reference of the tube.

Page 129 (The Structure of Space According to the General Theory of Relativity), footnote, in the second sentence (at the third line of text), the symbol (label) “x” should instead be the symbol (label) “ƙ,” the Greek letter kappa. This makes line 3 consistent with the mathematical expressions in the previous lines of the footnote.

Page 124 (The Possibility of a “Finite” and Yet “Unbounded” Universe), the equation shown in the book is multiply wrong. The equation should be a mathematical statement that the ratio [circumference/surface diameter] = [pi] x [sine(nu/R)/(nu/R)], and this is always less than or equal to pi.

π ≥ π∙{ [sin(nu/R)] / (nu/R) } = [circumference/“radial” arc x 2]

The Greek letter “nu” can look like the lower case script “v,” which appears in the denominator of the erroneous formula on page 124. The first error to correct in that formula is to replace the lower case “r,” which is shown in the argument of the sine function, with the same “v” as in the denominator (and which “v” I will call “nu” further below).

The second error to correct is to replace the equal sign (=) with a multiplication symbol (×, or ∙), or to make that multiplication implicit by eliminating that equal sign and enclosing the entire ratio (corrected as above), to the right of the pi, within parentheses or brackets.

The lower case “r” that Einstein uses on page 125 refers to a quantity (an arc length along a “great circle,” my “radial arc x 2”) that is shown as the product 2x[R]x[theta] in the display that follows.

The following display shows what Einstein is describing on pages 124-125, and how the equation shown above comes about. The quantity (ratio) that should be printed on page 124 is shown within a hatched bean-shaped outline in the display. I leave it to you to enjoy that display, and I hope the trustees of Einstein’s legacy can cause future printings of “Relativity” to be free of textual errors.

Finite Unbounded

Finite Unbounded