Posts Tagged ‘Army’

When the Cold Wind Blows

13 January 2014 1 comment

I arrived back from winter break into scarily cold temperatures in Minnesota. It went down to about -34 degrees Celsius, and about -48 wind chill. There was good news — my friend who lives in Faribault (which is right by Northfield) told me that this was about rock-bottom, as far as temperatures go.

I arrived back late on Saturday afternoon, and spent a slow Sunday on laundry, emails, and prepping for classes.

My first class of the term was on Monday, at the Weitz Center for Creativity. The Weitz Center is, unfortunately, some blocks away from most of the campus buildings, the misfortune in this case being the cold and the wind. It wasn’t that I found myself miserably cursing at the cold under my scarf — I’d actually been feeling quite optimistic at the prospect of starting classes again — but I did find myself, quite without any directed intention, singing out a half-forgotten tune to myself into my scarf.

In the early morning march
With a field-pack on my back,
With an aching in my arms
And my body full of sweat.

I’m a long, long way from home,
And I miss my lover so.
In the early morning march,
When the cold wind blows.


I remember genuinely enjoying the music of this old army song on a few occasions. The refrain consists of repeating the line at the end of the verse four times (which, when sung in the usual call-and-echo context, turns into eight). Each instance varies in melodic contour, and each arc fills the whole line, such that the lines bleed into each other if you hold the notes to their full value. Lyric-wise, too, it’s a nice song; simple but evocative.

While the wind at 0530 on Pulau Tekong can be quite chilly, the cold wind blowing in Minnesota is something else. Before braving the wind that morning, knowing that any exposed area of skin would be an invitation to frostbite, I’d had a proper plan for my layers and under-layers of clothes, made sure the hats, collars, sleeve-ends etc. matched up, and had laced up my boots army-tight for ankle support and water-proofing in the ice and snow. Perhaps it was the thought of these preparations with my head down against the wind that brought the marching song to mind.

I am dramatizing a bit — I fortunately wasn’t in any serious danger on my walk to or from class. It was cold, though, and cold enough to be dangerous to someone who didn’t know to respect it, but I’d been well warned and so sufficiently armored.

Monday and Tuesday were rock-bottom days, temperature-wise, but it’s been getting warmer since, so much so that it was a degree above freezing tonight and you hear the people in town saying, “It’s so nice out.”

During the week, though, my mind was mainly on class and registration matters. I had exciting first classes, and registration’s been smooth so far, with three solid classes for this term (three being the norm). I’ve also managed to prepare an appeal to overload a fourth class in computer science.

It was for this computer science class that I found myself self-administering a crash course in LaTeX. Week One was most clearly marked by the hours in front of computer screens looking up LaTeX tutorials and trying to code tables in it. The learning curve made my first two days with it pretty intense, but I feel pretty good about learning the skill in a pretty short amount of time. While I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised at my ability to sit for hours at a time in front of computer screens while trying to scratch out the right answers to my problem sets in exactly the right format, I’m not sure this borderline obsessive work-pattern has been entirely healthy for me; the rest of my week in school feels somewhat lost in the glare.

The weekend was also slightly surreal. On Saturday night I found myself betrayed by my wish for a quiet drink. I found myself joined at my table by a party of friends (a band and friends of the band), some of whom had been playing at a restaurant in town earlier in the night. When the first few of them sat down I was quite happy to share the space and converse, but I didn’t realize how large the party was, or how animated they would be once they were all settled in — it got to sing-alongs and some table-perching. They were very friendly, though, and I was mostly not uncomfortable, but it all felt slightly surreal.

At some point, I decided I’d take a quick look outside. I hadn’t realized that they’d set up an ice bar, and that most of the deck area had been decorated with ice sculptures. I realized that this weekend it was warm enough (perverse, I know) for the ice bar. In addition to the actual bar and the sculptures, the shots were served in ice too, and there’s an area for you to throw the ice-glass after you take the shot. Encountering all this also felt rather surreal, but something I appreciated was meeting the sculptor and talking about the stuff.

It’s Minnesota-warm, at the end of this week of Winter 2014.

Edit: Something I omitted the first time round: among the sculptures on the deck was an ice bear. I didn’t actually see the ice bear, because it had been mysteriously smashed, most probably by someone who had walked by. I only heard about it from the sculptor, in the course of his explaining some kind of spiritual significance of the bear sculpture, which was related to a very sad story about his son’s death, presumably on military duties. The sculptor wasn’t emotional during the telling, but from what he said, what he seemed to feel most strongly about was how the callous action of the passer-by who’d happened to smash that one particular sculpture was, ultimately, without a sensible explanation.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: , ,

Not A Refrain Sung Lightly?

19 November 2013 Leave a comment

The whole tawdry Purple Light ‘saga’ has been generating a ton of discussion in my digitally extended social circles, much of it in earnest, and all the more frustrating for that.

There is very little to disagree with as far as the rightness of the actual actions taken regarding the offending lyric is concerned. AWARE was right to raise it. MINDEF was right to ban it. Singing songs about rape is wrong and damaging. With the last point especially, the opposite position is morally indefensible.

Yes, it is true that there are those who seem to want to defend their right (or something) to do the indefensible. Yet I would contend that most people recognize that this would be an error.

There are those others who manage to avoid actually defending the indefensible, and still manage to be implicated as doing just that. These tend to be the ones criticizing the military higher-ups, or resenting the angry feminists. I cannot defend those males who feel that their status is being impinged on in some way by qualified feminist criticisms. Furthermore, I think it is not an easy thing for critics to patiently and untiringly put across those criticisms and take the time to qualify them, and I am persuaded that it is already an injustice that such qualifications and such criticisms need to be ceaselessly reestablished. But these things do not make unqualified criticisms any less unhelpful.

For those who’ve tended to criticize the military’s response, I don’t think their response is justified, but I do think they have been misinformed. I’ve argued elsewhere that how the ban was presented in ‘The Real Singapore’ (from what I know, the first popular faux-news source to pick up AWARE’s announcement) was highly misleading. The easiest way I can put it across is that the report came across as something like, ‘Wah MINDEF ban Purple Light!’ This naturally elicited the response, ‘Wah lidat also ban.’ This was my immediate response, and I would be confident in saying that that would have been the immediate response of many NSFs and NSmen, if  only because the discourse about the tendency of higher-ups to concern themselves with trivial things and deal with them in ham-handed ways is a pervasive one. During your full-time NS it seems as though you’re confronted with examples of it every day. Many servicemen eventually realize that part of it is structural, due solely to the size of the operation, etc., although though it never actually disappears, because the fact is that military life is fundamentally tedious. If I checked my immediate response, it was because I have been persuaded not to be so ready to think of the higher leadership as incompetent.

This is precisely where those who persistently argue that by expressing ire over the reported ban, the general run of males, barring a few or even a generous many exceptions, have shown themselves to be ready to defend rape culture because they’ve been socialized by the patriarchy are wrong. Most of them who are annoyed at the ban are annoyed for a different reason, and if you’ve not served NS or experienced something like the constant tedium of military life, it is indeed something you would not immediately understand. Within the attendant discourse, the action of banning a song does indeed appear trivial.

The problem is that the banning of a song (or a verse – whatever) was not the substantial action. What was the substantial action was the institution’s acknowledgment that the verse is bad, that the singing happens, and should be stopped. This is a moral response, in keeping with the institution’s values (as they wrote). The moral issue was treated as such by AWARE and MINDEF. It was not represented as such by ‘The Real Singapore’ and subsequent reports.

Let me affirm that the existence of the alternate context and discourse does not preclude socialization by the patriarchy and its discourses. It is clear that this is pervasive as well, from many of our responses. And it is wrong that rape culture can still be lightly justified, either in the song or in our responses to this spurious saga.

At the same time, none of this makes the majority of readings-into about why so many young Singaporean males (either my news feed, or because the older ones are further away and wiser) are upset (‘butthurt’) any less patronizing or misguided. If these readings-into happen to occur alongside legitimate criticisms, so much the worse.

Categories: Perspective Tags: , , ,

Altogether A Good Thing

9 November 2010 3 comments

My pink IC was restored to my ownership today and I’m happy to say it didn’t change my life because I’ve been living it.

I thank my friends for the love; I thank former recruits for the privilege; I thank God for them both, for His provision of grace, and for the faith to have seen it through and to move on. Although I am a different person than I was twenty-two months ago, this development is altogether a good thing. The important things are love and faith, and they stay the same; there is love, there is faith.

(Hope I ever have, for the best is yet to be.)

Categories: Events Tags: ,

In The Clear

28 October 2010 Leave a comment

Despite my best efforts, I was force-fed my portion of ORD-angst. Some people are gratified by it and indulge regularly, but I always figured there were better ways to be gratified. In any case, I have to say, this was closer to rage than angst.

I say this knowing that I don’t leave those loose ends or set those situations up: may I not rage again before it’s over.

Categories: Exclamations Tags:

Unwilling Agents

18 August 2010 Leave a comment

It’s my second working day in my new capacity (or non-capacity, as many would have it). Before I started, I was anticipating the hoped-for flexibility, as well as hoping for opportunities to apply my skills to. I’ve received both these things, though the second one is something I’m revising my expectations of.

In my previous capacity, I was at the ‘front-line of responsibility’, a concept which makes a metaphor of a situation where the ‘front-line’ is both difficult to control in certain specific ways because it is a long way down the chain of accountability, and easy to fire at because of the sheer number of observable consequences of their actions and non-actions; more often than not, the approach of those nominally accountable and further from the ‘front’ devolves into condemning the cannon-fodder for the things they themselves do not control, as though that expenditure of energy makes up for the things they are not controlling.

Still, at the ‘front’, the experience of the effects of mismanagement and ineptitude is seldom direct, and one seldom sees the face of the promulgator.

It’s my second working day in my new capacity, and today I saw the face of the enemy. One can be inept, and still have agents, albeit unwilling ones, if one has office. Today I was in a foreign office, having swiftly (yet still belatedly) realized that my position was unfavorable after the second exchange of sentences; I barely managed to extricate myself, and I’ll have to be more careful in the future. For now, I’ll have to continue revising my attitude to responsibility and decide how far I’ll be willing to game to be an effective agent.

Categories: Vagaries Tags:

Warriors’ Feasts

31 July 2010 1 comment

On Wednesday I attended two successive AGMs for two organizations of which I am a nominal member. Most who attended probably felt as uninvolved as I did, but our presence was necessitated by the fact that the meetings needed 70% attendance to proceed.

I understood a few things which I accepted as formally correct, but which seemed strange to accept all the same. To be able to gather together once a year in the name of something is enough for legitimacy, by most standards. Actions can legitimately be taken by a small minority in the name of the organization, and if the uninvolved majority remains uninvolved things will proceed. If the organization has enough members, each member need only make a nigh unnoticeable contribution of time or money, and the collated amount will be quite large. It will be at the disposal of the involved minority, because the majority bleeds too little to notice.

These aren’t new or strange thoughts; I think it was Malcolm Gladwell that used the analogy of the wine bottle at the large dinner table. In any case, Time printed similar things to do with bleeding about Europe a couple of weeks back.

Speaking of large dinner table, I attended a gathering of a different sort yesterday night. There were over forty present, mostly current and former commanders of what was once Zulu company (the name’s been changed).The breadth of experience and effort represented inspired awe; the sheer size of the gathering was hard to take in. The newest commanders didn’t know the older ones, but as for myself, having been both a recruit and a commander at the company, I had at least seen all but the oldest batches. The actual overlap time of our association was between two to two-and-a-half years’ time, but that encompasses about ten batches’ worth of experience. In conversation we could wonder at the extent of changes that have taken place, exchange stories of people or events, sometimes the same people or events seen from different positions, and consider the fact that things are different for us because we walked through the place we had in common in our personal histories. The paths diverge before and after, but because of the common segment, wherever we happen to be at the moment looks deceptively like a stage of the same journey someone else has gone through, or is about to go through. And there were great stories.

Mine is a company in an establishment in an organization, and the organization, establishment and company all happen to be convenient and inevitable targets for ridicule or resentment. The company is seldom seen in anything but an unflattering light. Even if I don’t see it negatively, it is my workplace, training ground, bunk room, kitchen and toilet. I see it every day, but almost never have I been able to appreciate the truly great things it represents; good things have usually been enough to keep me going, and even those were a challenge to keep hold of during the bad times, but to think that, without us realizing, great things were transpiring, and that we were in the midst of it all – that was a new thought, and a good one.

My recruits graduated yesterday, and the stragglers leave tomorrow morning. The end is in sight, and now I need to make ready for what comes after. I think that will come a bit easier, with the knowledge and conviction that having brought things forward, I will leave the richer for the time spent, and surer of the way ahead.

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

News From the Battles

17 July 2010 Leave a comment

The situation has been disorganized and stressful because of the simultaneity of the developing conflicts, but at the moment some clarity is emerging from the picture. I have three reports to make.

From the Business front, the news is positive. As always, we were confident; the mission was of a kind that we could be reasonably sure of accomplishing, though the particular conditions were surprisingly adverse. As is usually the case in this sort of scenario, we spread ourselves thin, and our forces are all but spent, but on this front, at least, the objective will be met.

The situation on the Passion front was a lot less predictable. We did not prepare for the environment, which nearly proved disastrous. The terrain was hard and resisted our best efforts at many points. We managed to avoid complete failure only because there were a few alternative paths to be found, and because some of the blocked ways proved navigable after the difficult initial stages. The boost to morale was critical, and we were able to make up for lost time.

From the Solidarity front, I report defeat. This was our most prolonged, if intermittent, engagement, and it was time that eventually took its toll. Our enemies have had the singular aim of isolating our objective, an allied base, and up until now we have been able to provide support through previously prepared channels. However, the condition of the infrastructure has been worsening, and the links have become increasingly difficult to use. We have also relied on diversionary tactics at times, but recently we have been unable to maintain the increased activity level that entails because of the commitment of our troops on other fronts. From the beginning, our enemies have been curtailing our ally’s operations quite effectively, and their capabilities have been reduced over time as a result. Independent action on their part is not to be expected. We have been effectively isolated from our objective.

Very well. Your reports have been noted.

Sir, how goes the war?

Categories: Reflection Tags: