Friday, May 30, 2014

Memorial Day 2014 - Who Would Have Known

Who would have known. We thought our Army son being posted in a safe place for the four years of his active service would spare us from the significant stress that families experience who have their sons or daughters deployed to war zones. We had not expected that 42 months after his discharge, we would come to realize the strains of war are not only experienced by deployed military personnel, but can be for any involved in the making of war - we also learned about the frailties of an overloaded Veterans Administration health care system strained beyond its capacity to meet the needs of Veterans due to the cumulative effects of aged populations of Vietnam Veterans, Baby Boomer Generation Veterans, and Veterans from more than ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the midst of recent revelations about problems with the VA health care system and Congressional inquiries and 42 months after the reality of our son's condition surfaced, a fourth review panel has acknowledged the long string of diagnoses by his care givers since December 2010 - validation and relief, regardless of the reason for approval now.

We determined that the following condition 
Was related to your military service, 
So service connection has been granted:

Other specified trauma and stressor related disorder,
Adjustment-like disorder,
Dysthymia (claimed as posttraumatic stress disorder),

We denied entitlement to the 100% rate 
Because it wasn't shown
That you are unable to work
As a result of your service connected disabilities.

We determined that the following condition
Was not related to your military service,
So service connection remains denied:

Posttraumatic stress disorder.
I came across a series of insightful postings for Time Magazine by a retired Army psychiatrist named Elspeth Cameron Ritchie under the discontinued banner Battleland - Military Intelligence for the Rest of Us . Her postings regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) discuss the complexities of military-related service and the diagnoses of PTSD and other mental health issue for military personnel - it is not just about PTSD. Another article that points out additional complexities of health and military service is found here. The broad awareness of PTSD is important, but as Ritchie points out, a focus on PTSD alone is not helpful.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Shop Around The Corner

Red accent
Until we moved to Annapolis, we had not experienced "local" shopping. Our grocery store was in walking distance, though only a couple of times in seven years did we walk there to shop. But, neighborhood shopping areas were common with the different communities around the area. In Paris and Montpellier, Cafes are abundant, and so are the smattering of grocery and florist shops that I noticed as we walked or rode cabs to the different venues I traveled - shops around the corner. The bright colored accents of shop signs and the products sold contrast against the buildings that are drab, for the most part. In the remake of Sabrina, the subtle background of the Paris scenes was accented by red highlights - like the use of a red scarf to the side of the shot of two lovers kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower. A review of a book about the Colors of Paris was posted by CNN - a brief descriptive concept on the author's book goes beyond the subtle glimpses in the movie - maybe a subliminal inspiration.

Across the street from Institut National Agronomique
A close up of the produce for sale
A cafe somewhere near Ministry offices
On the central mall in Montpellier
More on the mall
A Paris crepes vendor

Friday, May 23, 2014


Pink Martini
I thoroughly enjoyed Paris - that which I saw. I had little time on my own or to tour, but took in the sights that were available as we walked or rode in cabs. I don't know how to speak French - it is always humbling that when I meet with folks in different countries that they can speak my language, but me not able speak theirs'. Where ever I walked, the novelty of this new place followed me. I wondered what it would have been like to have found a music store and been able to listen to old-time French songs - the kind that would have been played in a lounge with people sitting around small round tables, as they talked while glasses of red wine resting near their elbows bend below hands that held cigarettes as smoke rose above their heads. The Portland band Pink Martini plays music that sounds like it was made in Paris. Telling nonsensical stories that fit places far away from Oregon - maybe that is why the French are sympathetic to Pink Martini - Sympathique.

Ma chambre a la forme d'une cage
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre
Les chasseurs à ma porte comme les p'tit soldats
Qui veulent me prendre

Je ne veux pas travailler
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
Je veux seulement oublier
Et puis je fume

Déjà j'ai connu le parfum de l'amour
Un million de roses n'embaumerait pas autant
Maintenant une seule fleur dans mes entourages
Me rend malade

Je ne suis pas fière de ça vie qui veut me tuer
C'est magnifique être sympatique
Mais je n'le connais jamais

Our pilot son once thought he would play in an orchestra - be a professional musician. When in middle school, he played the horn in a youth symphony that twice accompanied Pink Martini in concert - a fun introduction for us to the world of multilingual music.
Translation of Sympathique
by Pink Martini

My room is shaped like a cage
The sun passes his arm through the window
Hunters at my door like p'tit soldiers
Who want to take me

I do not want to work
I do not want breakfast
I just want to forget
And then I smoke

Already I knew the fragrance of love
A million roses do not smell as sweet
Now a single flower in my entourages
Makes me sick  

I'm not proud of that life that wants to kill me
It is wonderful to be sympathetic
But I never understood it

Work Is Fun, And Even More So Here

A new trade agreement between the United States and the European Union is being processed, and since there are a lot of concern and misunderstandings about what agriculture looks like in the U.S., the Counselor's Office with the Foreign Agricultural Service in Paris worked with me in developing a presentation giving an overview of the diverse mosaic of American agriculture.

Rarely do I have to put together my PowerPoint slides a week before my scheduled presentation dates (click here to read about the rare opposite last-minute extreme). But this time I had to submit the file a few days before I left for Paris. I am glad that I did because that left me plenty of time to work on other projects that were due right after I returned from France, and more importantly, it gave me a little extra time and a lot less to worry about so I could take in the elements during my compressed schedule once I arrived in Paris. As it turned out, the venues where I spoke and the transit sights dripped with history, so when speaking or walking or riding between meetings during the four days I was in France, I was treated to a bit of a tourist experience just in that.

Académie Nationale de l'Agriculture français
The French National Academy of Agriculture - Académie Nationale de l'Agriculture français - is a public institution under the President of the French Republic, with the Minister for Agriculture as the honorary president. The Academy's mission is to help inform citizens and policy makers on all aspects of agriculture and the environment. I was greeted in the executive director's office that was lined by bookcases filled with volumes of tomes to the practice of agriculture. During my welcome to academy members who came to hear my lecture, one of the officials showed a stack of books reporting on a visit to a farm in America owned by Thomas Jefferson. I noted that the books are a century older than the time when my European farmer ancestors emigrated to the United States in the later half of the 19th Century.

Institut National Agronomique
The Institut National Agronomique is the premier agricultural university in France. The campus has been combined with two other institutions to form the Institut des sciences et industries du vivant et de l'environnement - also know as Agro ParisTech. This was first time I have lectured to students and faculty in a long time. The lecture room had steep stairs leading down from the rows of seats that looked down on the lecture area below. The seminar advertisement is posted here. I haven't seen many other universities in the heart of a cit: Columbia in New York City, George Washington in the District of Columbia. There is not much difference here - the halls are filled with students that look much like U.S. students, but it is a little odd to walk into a common gender bathroom.

French Sénat
The French Senate building is spectacular - as impressive as the best of the U.S. Capital Building. This must have been what President Washington was thinking about when he directed that the U.S. capital be build as impressive as those in Europe, so our fledgling country would be taken seriously by those in the Old World. Much of the common areas in the building are ornate, with as large as life portraits on the walls and large marble sculptures. Once we walked up to the conference and office floors, nicely laid out corridors replaced the ornate decor that first greets any lawmaker or visitor.

Agropolis International
Agropolis International in Montpellier is an association of French higher education and research institutions that work in agriculture, food, biodiversity, and the environment. Their efforts are directed at Mediterranean and tropical regions involving a great range of stakeholders and partners involved with economic develop in France and internationally. The bullet train ride from Paris to Monpellier took only three-and-a-half hours. Traveling through the plains south of Paris, then through Burgundy, and watching the transition from continental Europe to the Mediterranean south made me feel more like I was in California than France. The seminar presented was presented to the Agropolis faculty, with the announcement found here.

Only a couple of reporters were among the groups I met with - not the biggest news of the day. A press article is posted here. Much like Washington, D.C., Paris is a working capital where the government buildings are public places. The significant difference being centuries ago government offices were built as palaces for nobility or mansions for the well endowed - the American capital was build on a swamp at the beginning of our republic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Going Up The Country - First Meal In France

L'Auberge St. Severin
I had a whirlwind work trip to France this past week - leave the U.S. Saturday/Arrive Sunday morning - four days of presentations and briefings - return Friday. My host graciously showed me the sights around Paris after picking me up at the airport, and again in the afternoon. After seeing Notre Dame, we walked though some of the medieval section of Paris, and along the way, stopped at a cafe for an early dinner. The L'Auberge St. Severin had nice atmosphere, the service friendly, and my food seemed fine to me. The strategy I used for ordering, it had to be seem distinctly French. What I ordered seemed to be country-oriented. The result:

Creme brulee
Of course, also a nice glass of house red wine.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

We're Going To IHOP

When we moved from Fresno to Corvallis in 1988, we subscribed to cable television for the first time. One of the best perks was getting ESPN as a part of our basic cable package - our son Dan loved it. Since he could first read, he would look at the baseball box scores in the newspaper to track the progress of our favorite teams - the Giants and Athletics - so now we could see live-action sports reports from who became our favorite talking heads: Kenny Mayne, Steward Scott, Keith Olbermann, and others - always using colorful phrases and metaphors woven into their evening reports. "He is as cool as the other side of the pillow," Scott would report following a replay of a great basketball move resulting in a completed basket.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) hits the game winner against Houston as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Houston Rockets in game 6 of the NBA playoffs at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. Bruce Ely / The Oregonian
We are in Oregon this weekend for our son Mike's 30th birthday. As it just happens to be, the Portland Trailblazers were up three-games-to-two over the Houston Rockets going into last night's first-round game. As has been the entire series, the game was going into the last few minutes with no assurance who was going to win. With 0.9 seconds left, inbound play to Damian Lillard for a long range shot, snap of the wrist, release, 10th-of-the-second clock in the background, all net, game over, Blazers win, advance to the second round of the Western Playoff's, Portland celebration mixed with Houston disbelief - plenty of fodder for the next-morning replays.

Our family is still spread out - newly distributed again, but at least all in the west-half of the county. The Blazers are still one of those family linkages we can all rally around. Happy Birthday Mike. More texting across the miles after this weekend as we together watch the second round of the playoff's. As we heard in his game recap this morning: "We're going to IHOP," Kenny Mayne said of the winning Lillard shot.