Liberal Jarhead's Diary
  • Full name: Jim Finley

  • I'm a 48-year-old retired Marine - I enlisted at seventeen in 1976 and retired after twenty years; I was enlisted for nine years and commissioned for eleven, retiring as a captain, and served in positions from mortar gunner to telecommunications company commander, as well as spending time as a drill instructor, a career planner (the guy who tries to get people to reenlist), and rifle and pistol marksmanship instructor. While I was in I went to school nights and weekends for ten years and ended up getting a B.S. in aviation management and M.A.s in education and counseling psychology. When I took off the uniform I started a second career as a psychotherapist and addictions counselor. In March 2006 I retired a second time from a position as a psychotherapist at a prison mental hospital (while I was with Corrections I also worked at the state Corrections Academy, where I screened CO applicants, taught mental health-related classes, and sometimes filled in as a weapons instructor when things were slow.) Now I'm writing full time - I've written or co-written three successful books on the treatment of addictions, plan to write more on psychotherapy and program management, and would also like to write novels, probably military/ political science fiction. I live in Albuquerque with my wife Jan, who's working on her Master's in Social Work and thinking about working at the VA when she graduates in May of 2007, and our stately senior citizen cat, Casper. Jan's also interested in progressive politics and has been an activist in various ways for many years. She's now wrapping up an internship in her MSW program working with veterans with PTSD at a VA community readjustment center in Santa Fe, and will graduate in May and probably go to work for a hospice program that's already offered her the job. Once Jan is done with her degree, I plan to go back to school, just for personal interest. In July I'll start on a bachelor's degree in simulation/computer game programming. Over the coming years I plan to take classes in other areas, probably concentrating on history, sociology, economics, and cultural anthropology. We live on the same block where I lived as a teenager, and one of my two brothers lives down the block in our old house. We get together every weekend. My other brother lives in Puerto Rico. Both my brothers are also disabled vets, both also Marines. I have two adult children. My son lives in Oceanside, CA (he and Ken are neighbors!) and works as a program manager for a plastics fabrication company; he's also working on bachelor's degree in chemistry. My daughter lives here in town - she's a dancer who wants to be a professional singer and clothing designer; being bilingual, she's also worked as a translator at a health clinic for Spanish speakers with no English. She has two sons who are six and three, and Jan and I babysit them several days a week, which is delightful. I'm also a devotee of history and science fiction, a movie collector, and a heavily but tastefully tattooed gun and knife collector; I've never shot anything alive, but I'm hell on paper targets. I'm hooked on crosswords, cryptograms, Sudoku, and Kakuro (I'm addicted to trying to figure everything out.) I like to cook, especially Italian and Mexican. On the political spectrum I'm somewhere near Dennis Kucinich's wavelength. When the TV is on, it's almost always the Science Channel, Military Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, or National Geographic Channel. I tend to stay up most of the night and sleep late, which is a lot easier since I gave up the day job in 2006. I love the desert and the mountains and have never felt at home anywhere except in the Southwest.

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April 23rd, 2007

Simple, Elegant, and Wrong

For every problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong. – H.L. Mencken

This is in response to several articles in the newspapers over the last couple of days about the Virginia Tech mass murder and about other things, and a still-ongoing argument on another string about the best way to prevent future mass murders.

I’ve read of at least four responses to the tragedy in Virginia. First and foremost, of course, can be summed up as “Take away the guns!” Next most popular seems to be “Lock up all the crazy people!” The other two are, “Poverty is the root of all evil, so get rid of poverty,” and “By golly, we just need to be quicker to confront bad behavior and then we’d nip this kind of thing in the bud.” They’re all, on the surface at least, simple and elegant, and they’re all wrong, or at least incomplete. But we humans do have an unfortunate tendency to be too lazy to want to study complicated things, so we want quick sound-bite fixes, and if someone tries to tell us, “it’s not that simple,” too many of us don’t stop and consider the possibility that – gasp! – they might be right. No, we just screech that they are villains or fools, and if they try to say anything else, we just screech louder. Sometimes we cite polls of people whose opinions are no more based on fact or expertise than are our own (democracy is a beautiful thing, but the fact that we’re all created equal doesn’t mean we all equally know what we’re talking about.)
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Science, Miscellaneous, Military, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Middle East, World News, Homeland Security, Environment, Health, Police State, Terrorism, Patriot, Technology, Global Warming, Iraq War | 5 Comments »

April 21st, 2007

USMC Creates Wounded Warrior Regiment

This is far from the only such effort by the services, but this is the one that is covered in this week’s Marine Corps Times: the Commandant of the Marine Corps has ordered the creation of a Wounded Warrior Regiment to help wounded Marines (and Sailors serving in Marine units) who have been wounded and are now negotiating the red tape of the military and VA health care system. The headquarters of the new unit will be at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, and it will assign the wounded warriors to either Camp Pendleton near San Diego or Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, one battalion at each of those bases (they won’t have to be physically located there; they can be treated wherever their families live, but those battalions will take care of their paperwork, pay, and so on.) The commanding officer has already been assigned and is putting together the staff, and the regiment will be up and running sometime this summer. There are already “wounded warrior” barracks at both Pendleton and LeJeune, but this will unify tracking of the treatment of those service members and give it a more powerful advocate and greater accountability.

As the story says, the regiment will ensure people get a satisfactory level of care, help them cope with evaluation boards and insurance claims, and will oversee case management for them, no matter where in the country they live. It will act as a clearinghouse for charitable donations, and will also take care of Marines and Sailors who are being transferred to the VA system, including staying in touch with them after they leave the military medical system and periodically checking to see whether their needs are still being met.

This is right and good. This is how it should be. This is supporting the troops.
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Posted in General, Miscellaneous, Military, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Homeland Security, Health, HERO, Patriot, Iraq War | No Comments »

April 20th, 2007

Shameful - or Shameless - Exploitation

Yesterday our doorbell rang, and when I answered it, I found a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing there. The one in the lead gave me a brilliant smile, shoved a pamphlet my way, and announced that they had the explanation for the mass murder in Virginia right there.

I wasn’t thinking fast enough to respond appropriately, so I just snapped, “I’m not interested,” and closed the door in their faces. The more I thought about it, the more angry and disgusted I got; a few minutes later I was wishing I had verbally blasted them, told them how evil I think it is for them to be exploiting this tragedy this way.

Well, they’ll probably be back. Maybe I’ll hold off on posting that “Evangelists Will Be Killed and Eaten” sign on the door until I’ve had another chance to talk to them.
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Posted in General, Current Affairs, Religion, Miscellaneous, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag | 9 Comments »

April 10th, 2007

The Pragmatic Party: Proactive Beyond Left or Right

There are desirable changes that nearly all of us agree on, whether we call ourselves red or blue, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. We may disagree passionately about exactly what the problems are or what the solutions should look like, but almost all Americans want to see our country and people safe from terrorism and other threats; the current wars brought to conclusions that are good for our own country and for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan; our society dealing with less homelessness and poverty; our budget deficit and balance of trade cleaned up; and our kids growing up safe, healthy, literate, clean, sober, and non-pregnant. Although people have intense convictions all over the spectrum about how to achieve these things, and about whether or how much we should be worried about a slew of other things, most of us share the sincere belief that we are speaking out in the best interests of America and Americans – we almost all have sincere good intentions.

So how do we get past the party-line dogmas and arguments and find ways to work together to make things better? The next two or three decades are going to be critical. A lot of things are changing faster and faster, another fact we can probably agree on, and we need to quit fighting over the steering wheel and collaborate to direct our own collective fate, or go over a cliff. To continue the metaphor, one of the most important parts of driving competently is to drive defensively, to look down the road and all around, spot threats coming before they get too close, and outmaneuver them. In other words, to be proactive. Our current mode of operation as a society and a nation is more often for all sides of a disagreement to refuse to let go of the wheel even if it means wrecking the car – in other words, we’d rather go into the ditch than in the direction the other guy wants – and then to argue about whose fault it was.

It’s time for the reasonable people of all parties and philosophies to start acknowledging that it’s possible for intelligent, thoughtful people to disagree with us without that making them villains or idiots. We need to re-combine and re-divide along different lines – I would propose the formation of a new party, we could call it the Pragmatic party. The key of the Pragmatics’ platform would be that loyalty to our nation’s best interests trumps concerns of left versus right, trumps differences of religious or spiritual values, trumps the kind of politicking that sees it as a reasonable thing to cause or allow bad things to happen as long as the other guys get the blame.
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Science, Miscellaneous, Military, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Budget, Homeland Security, Environment, Health, Patriot, Global Warming, Iraq War | 4 Comments »

March 31st, 2007

See How Your Legislators Scored on Supporting Veterans

The DAV (Disabled American Veterans), an organization loathed by the Bushies for standing up to them about really supporting the troops and veterans, has a scoring system rating legislators on their support for veterans via votes on legislation affecting those vets. The most recent year for which they’ve tabulated scores – see how your state’s Congresscritters did. Here’s the link: In the case of my state, New Mexico, the three Republicans scored 42, 40, and 0 out of a possible 100 points. The two Democrats scored 92 and 100. ‘Nuff said.

Posted in General, Politics, Miscellaneous, Military, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Homeland Security, Patriot, Iraq War | 1 Comment »

March 30th, 2007

Out of Control… So What Else Is New?

To the surprise of very few, progressive groups right here in little old Albuquerque have found out that before the September 2004 Republican convention in New York, the NYPD had sent undercover officers all the way out here to infiltrate their meetings and spy on at least one of them.

The New York Times reported Sunday that in a yearlong investigation, the NYPD spied on liberal groups in at least 15 cities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Shortly after the story broke, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg reassured reporters that only groups seen as potentially violent were targeted and no groups considered peaceful were spied upon, and that the only information collected was related to whether they would disrupt the Republican convention. Both parts of that statement were quickly revealed to be lies, as more information revealed that in some places, groups definitely known to be peaceful were included, and that information collected and reported included details on the groups’ general political activities. Shades of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and COINTELPRO. What would have been next, a repeat of the FBI’s undercover campaign to break up Martin Luther King Jr.’s marriage and the “anonymous” messages trying to blackmail him and urging him to kill himself that were later tracked back to Hoover’s FBI?

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has declined so far to say whether they knew about the NYPD’s domestic espionage activities here – their spokesman said they’d have to investigate to find out. Sounds like stalling; if they wanted to answer the question, it would take about 20 seconds to have the information at his fingertips. The APD has a well-earned reputation for a storm-trooper mentality (APD is about 1/10 the size of the also-infamous LAPD, but APD spends as much every year on defending itself against lawsuits for excessive use of force and other violations as does LAPD), one example being the APD’s 1968-Chicago style police riot in 2003 in which officers on horseback and on foot assaulted a peaceful antiwar demonstration with batons and gas, resulting in multiple lawsuits and the police oversight commission’s ruling that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable. So it’s not a stretch to think it possible that they knew NYPD was in town and what they were doing.
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Miscellaneous, Quickie, Campaign News, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Homeland Security, Police State, Legal News | No Comments »

March 29th, 2007

American Evolution

We recently got a satellite TV system after several years with no TV access, and there are fascinating differences in the ads from what we saw years ago, differences with marked social and political implications.

Commercials reflect the concerns of the target audience. Marketers work hard both to create demand for products – usually by trying to convince us that there’s something wrong with us and the product they’re pushing is the way to make it right – and to figure out what already-existing concerns and demands they can target. If there are sociologists and anthropologists centuries from now, one of the best sources of information they will have on our culture is what we watch on TV, with the ads among the most useful parts.

The first thing that jumps out is the increased sophistication and cleverness of some of the ads. Amid the expected shouting hacks and glib talking suits, there are more ads that are funny or otherwise attention-grabbing. The Geico commercials running now – the Cockney gecko, the sensitive cavemen, and the over-the-top celebrity reps for stoic customers – are cute enough to make us look forward to the next in each series (even if we’re perfectly happy with our current insurance company and have no interest in switching.) There are some others that are just about as good.
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Religion, Television, Economics, Science, Poll Results, Miscellaneous, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Budget, Environment, Race, Patriot, Global Warming, Gay and Lesbian Rights | 17 Comments »

March 26th, 2007

A Blue Island

New Mexico doesn’t look like an island on the map, but I’m happy to report that it has become clear that it is. With the seriously red states of Arizona, Colorado (hell, Colorado means red in Spanish!) and Texas to the west, north, and east (and Mexico to the south), this state is an outpost of progressive policy. Having lived in Arizona, I can say that the difference is major.

Why do I say this despite this state’s having very narrowly ended up in the red column in the 2004 presidential election? Well, we have Dem majorities in both houses of the state legislature and a Dem governor, Bill Richardson; and looking at the results they produce, it shows. Some of the things accomplished:
• This state is one of the leaders in the country in energy policy, despite the petroleum industry being a major part of the economy here; the legislature passed, and the governor signed, laws creating policies to reward the energy industry for shifting to renewable sources of power and giving homeowners a healthy tax credit for installing solar panels and other energy-saving features in their houses. Makes sense, I guess, with Richardson having been secretary of energy.
• In another pro-environment move, the state government and the Guv successfully fought the Bush administration’s Interior Department when it tried to open up two pristine wilderness areas with fragile ecologies to the oil and mining industries.
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Miscellaneous, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Environment, Immigration, Impeachment, Technology, Global Warming | 1 Comment »

March 25th, 2007

Some Good News We Can All Agree On

Despite the horrible mismanagement and neglect of patients at some military hospitals, most notably Walter Reed, patients report that others are doing a great job. This is from the Marine Corps Times, issue of 3/26/2007:
When a roadside bomb tore off part of his right arm, Army Spc. Alroy Billiman leapfrogged from Army hospitals in Balad, Iraq, and Landstuhl, Germany.
After spending two weeks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Billiman was transferred to Naval Medical Center San Diego. The 27-year-old infantryman, who deployed to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, couldn’t have been happier about the care he’s received.
“This hospital is freaking awesome – the staff, the Navy corpsmen, the nurses, the doctors. I’m very blessed to be here,” he said, speaking March 12 during an afternoon “open house” arranged by officials to showcase the Naval Medical Center’s Comprehensive Combat Casualty Care Center, known as C5.
“All those bad things I said about the Navy, I take back,” he said, laughing.

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Posted in General, Miscellaneous, Military, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Health, HERO, Patriot, Iraq War | 1 Comment »

March 17th, 2007

A Birthday Commemoration

Today is the birthday of the most important and influential man in my life, my stepfather. If he were still alive he’d be 84. He died on November 1, 2003, and I miss him.

His name was George Douglas Dickinson, but if you asked what his middle name was, he’d say, “It’s Omar, but you can just call me by my initials.” He was the funniest, kindest, and wisest man I’ve ever known; he was and is my role model, and I’ve spent my life trying to be more like him.

George came into our lives in the summer of 1969, when I was ten years old. My mom had just managed to get my two younger brothers and me out of our father’s household, though we didn’t know yet that we wouldn’t ever have to go back. My father was what I now know to be a classic psychopath – a man without a conscience. He was a hulking man, brilliant, brutal, and the scariest person I’ve known. He’d had my brothers and me for three years after he and my mom divorced, and he’d damn near killed us. I weighed 50 pounds (my just-turned-six grandson weighs 70, and he’s big but he isn’t overweight), was ghostly pale and bony, and terrified of my own shadow. Mom had just started the long process of nursing us back to health when she and George met and started dating. In spite of the fact that I was scared of everyone, men in particular, and big men in even more particular, I felt safe with big old George.
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Posted in General, Miscellaneous, Gonzo's Grab Bag | 4 Comments »

March 17th, 2007

The Other Two Americas

Someone or other once said that there are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two types, and those who don’t. You could say the same thing about countries.

John Edwards has summed up the divide between the haves and have-nots of the U.S. by describing two Americas, because the differences between these groups in terms of health care, education, housing, and other aspects of life are so great that for all practical purposes they live in different countries. As my wife and I drive home from brunch at our favorite restaurant, we may be physically only a few feet away as we pass a frazzled-looking woman in a fast-food restaurant uniform sitting at a bus stop, but we are living in separate universes.

But that’s not the cultural divide I’m writing about today. The one I have in mind is at least as stark and possibly more dangerous to our integrity as a society. Rather than haves and have-nots, this is the chasm between the thinks and the think-nots.
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Posted in General, Current Affairs, Religion, Education, Science, Right Wing Nut, Miscellaneous, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Environment, Police State, Terrorism, Patriot, Gay and Lesbian Rights | 7 Comments »

March 6th, 2007

Supporting the Troops… Or Not, Continued

Note: information in this post is taken from the Marine Corps Times, issue of 2/26/07.

Representative Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is sponsoring a bill that would allow veterans to transfer their GI Bill benefits to members of their families. This would be a great thing for service members who can’t or don’t need to go to college themselves after leaving the service – perhaps because they already have degrees or skills allowing them to pursue the work they want to do, or are disabled to such an extent that they can’t go to school. They often have spouses or children who do want and need a college education.

On the Senate side, James Webb, D.-Va., has a bill in the works to update, or backdate, the GI Bill and restore it to something like the version that was in effect from the end of World War II until January of 1977, which fully covered tuition and fees and provided a modest living stipend to veterans going to college. R. James Nicholson, President Bush’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has warned Senator Webb that the Bush administration is not likely to support his efforts.
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Posted in General, Politics, Education, Miscellaneous, Military, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Budget, Homeland Security, Impeachment, HERO, Patriot, Iraq War | 6 Comments »

March 4th, 2007

Reconsidering Bill Richardson

As it’s gotten more likely that Bill Richardson will run for president in 2008, I’ve made some negative comments about him on BIO, based on my experience of him as a resident and state employee of his home state, New Mexico, where Big Bill’s currently serving his second term as governor. As the ’08 election inches nearer and his candidacy has become definite, though, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about him, and he’s grown on me; my stance has changed from negative to ambivalent. He may be our best shot at getting some of the changes we believe America needs to take place in the years after Bush leaves office.

His positions are pretty forward-thinking on some important questions, and (from my perspective) unfortunately a bit reactionary on a few others. Thumbnail sketch – Richardson’s record as a Congressman and Governor has been:
• Pro-education – he successfully pushed through a hefty pay raise for teachers here;
• Pro-choice and pro-women’s rights and minority rights in general;
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Miscellaneous, Military, Campaign News, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Middle East, Homeland Security, Environment, Patriot, Legal News, Iraq War | 9 Comments »

February 12th, 2007

Prison: What Would a Practical System Look Like?

Hint: It ain’t what we’ve got right now.

It’s not news to most people that our prison system is broken – systems, really, because we have three kinds. There’s the nationwide federal system, the variety of state systems, and the even wider variety of city and county jails.

Anyway, the whole mess is typically called the correctional system. That name implies that its function is to correct, i.e. to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens. Systems theory says that name is wrong.
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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Miscellaneous, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Budget, Health, Legal News | 11 Comments »

February 1st, 2007

Stages of Moral Development: Evaluate Yourself and Everyone You Know – Hours of Fun!

About 40 years ago, a psychologist named Lawrence Kohlberg who was teaching at Harvard at the time was fascinated by moral and ethical thought and action. He was a deeply spiritual person, and he was not just an ivory-tower academic. He had done time in a British prison for helping to smuggle Jewish Holocaust survivors into what was to become Israel over the Brits’ strenuous resistance; during the Vietnam war he was a leading voice of protest against what he saw as the immoral and unethical aspects of the U.S. government’s actions there.
Kohlberg developed a fairly clear framework to explain and track the process of moral development starting in early childhood and progressing, hopefully, lifelong. This framework comes with a couple of caveats. First, people’s movement along the continuum is not necessarily linear or consistent. People stop at various stages, skip stages, and sometimes regress to more primitive stages. Also, some pointed out that his framework could be seen as male-biased, because in our culture men tend to base their values more on rules and achievement and women more on compassion and community. Anyway, here’s Kohlberg’s ladder – comments in italics are mine, the rest comes from Morton Hunt’s book The Story of Psychology.

Stage 1: Naïve moral realism; action is based on rules, and motivation is the avoidance of punishment. This is the level seen in early childhood, where kids don’t question rules and some of them seem to spend most of their waking hours being tiresome tattletales. Also the stage seen in the kind of fundamentalist religion that assumes the threat of Hell is necessary to get people to act right. Tendency to be very literal and legalistic, seeing things in strictly all/nothing right/wrong good/bad terms, and to seek systems of rules (again, like fundamentalism) that spare the individual the onus of having to use judgment and maybe do something wrong. Examples: John Ashcroft, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush about half the time, Anita Bryant (remember her?).

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Posted in General, Religion, Science, Miscellaneous, Quickie, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Patriot | 2 Comments »

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