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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Darned Good Inlaws

I have some right fine in laws. Harvey and Beth Jacob have really been there for us. Aside from that, they give good card. I finally took down their 15 May birthday card.

Thoughtful relatives,
Better than a night at play,
In Latrobe P A!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Bears Not Rare

Bear on the porch,
The back porch,
A second year bear,
One of five
Hanging out
Round here,
I’d bust ‘im in the butt,
With rubber buck
But The Rose,
Would grimace,
Hide her face,
I’ll hold my fire,
For now.
Further observation.
Patience has its limits.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Good Bye to a Beautiful Puff of Smoke

I am involved in a kitten rescue organization called For The Cat's Sake. My job is to socialize kittens to make them more adoptable. Sadly, some young kittens die, for reasons that aren't completely clear. Recently we lost a little gray kitten. He was about seven weeks old, but he insisted on playing with the older guys. He had great spirit, and was cute as a button. He would try to claw his way up my pants leg; I would would help him get all the way up to my lap, where he would squeak and frolic. I forgot what his original name was, but I thought he looked like a little puff of smoke. He ended up being renamed "Puff". Yesterday I got a call from the lady who runs our kitten facility. Puff was dying. Rose and I rushed over. Puff was taking nourishment, but he didn't look good. He died overnight.

Little Puff,
Short and sweet,
Playful and petite.
You said
A beautiful Hello,
Then sadly had
To go.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Klaus - A Hurricane Story

It was another beautiful Caribbean sunset, but with extras. The clouds were especially thick along the horizon, and other clouds seemed to shoot up into the sky toward us from the east in broad swirls. After the sun had set, the smaller ships began to feel the swell build from the North Atlantic. By 2145 the Moon and stars had disappeared above the thickening clouds, and even our 550 foot ship was rolling a good twenty-five degrees. I made my way to the bridge, hand over hand, grasping for something to keep my balance with every step. Making my way through the gray joiner door, I was about to open my mouth to request permission to come on the bridge when an out of sync wave tossed the 7800 tonne cruiser a full forty degrees onto her starboard side. I flew across the deck, swinging on the hinged door, my back now facing forward. In the dim red night lighting I saw the bubble of the inclinometer read the ship's forty degree roll just before my hands reached up to grasp the heavy weather bar that ran across the entire width of the bridge. The ship held at the maximum extent of her roll for a second before snapping upright. In that moment I hung from the bar, my feet off the deck. When the ship had righted herself, I took a deep breath, and called out in a soft voice "request permission to come on the bridge." "I believe you're already here," answered a cheerful voice out of the darkness. It was the Captain. "Aye aye, Sir."

The chart house was illuminated by red night lighting. It appeared to flash on and off as the quartermaster moved about in there, working on his charts. I slipped in. The anemometer had the wind speed already up to fifty knots. The ship's motion was so wild that the wind direction indicators were twirling around unpredictably up on the mast. I turned to the chart table. Inside its case, next to the three brass Hamilton chronometers, was the ship's barometer, the single most important piece of weather prediction equipment onboard. I gave its crystal a gentle tap. 27.85 inches. It was moving down fast.

The Bosun piped "All Hands" and passed "All hands stand clear of weather decks during heavy weather."

The commander of our battle group had heroically and effectively flown fighters in Vietnam. But he apparently had no skill as a seaman. His aircraft carrier command had been a just reward, and although he had been a hero in the air, he was demonstrating that it was not heroic to steam a group of ships into the teeth of a building hurricane.

If he had been a seaman, he would have known that he was steaming his ships into the storm's dangerous semi circle, and that turning 180 degrees would head his ships to safety. But discussing common sense with some people is like discussing a bicycle with a goldfish.

I figured I should check the seas out, so I told the Bosun where I was going, asked him to keep an eye on me, undogged the port bridge wing door, and went out into the storm. Although there was no moon, I could still see the angry spray flying off the wave tops. Each time the ship came over a wave the bow would spray water out in both directions with a loud crunch. Then the bow would dig into the sea and come up, throwing tons of water back up at the bridge, soaking me. Klaus might not be a hurricane yet, but he was knocking on the door. By morning, we would be in the hurt locker.

A Block Island Sea Story

Early Fall, 1961

            The Gee Jay II was a 22 1/2 foot MacKenzie Cuttyhunk Bass Boat. She was a sturdy craft. Her builders, Morse Marine on Cape Cod, had made her a no nonsense boat; not a working boat, but one for serious fishermen. Old man MacKenzie would have been proud of her.
            If you ordered her in stock colors, you probably got her with a black hull, and a dado brown painted cap rail with gray decks. There wasn't a bit of varnish on her. They had built her stiff. She didn't work at all in a seaway. Her frames and ribs were solid oak, her planks mahogany. The planks were fasted with bronze rivets, making her tough as nails.
            She had a small cuddy cabin, enough for storage, temporary shelter, and a head, but no bunks. Just inside the cabin entrance was a shelf that held her gray and white Appelco marine radio. In those days, marine radios were large affairs, with vacuum tubes. Each such radio was somewhere between the size of a toaster oven and a microwave. It fed a tall antenna, which sat on the starboard side, by the windshield. The tubes meant that the radio also acted as a heat source for the cabin. It was on this same radio that Dad and I had once listened to the agony of the doomed Italian liner Andrea Doria as she sank slowly into the unforgiving waters of Nantucket Sound after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm in the fog bound approaches.
            The Gee Jay was powered by a single 125 horsepower Chrysler Crown, a flat head six, which was a converted truck engine. It was popular, but ours in particular was not known for its reliability, which resulted in my father having a close relationship with Mr. Al Feiler, the largest marine engine mechanic in the Salt Pond area. He went 300+ pounds, easy.
            We kept the Gee Jay II at the Snug Harbor Marina, near the south end of the Great Salt Pond. The marina was strictly a working affair, filled with charter boats and some serious private fishing boats. If you had a luxury yacht, this wasn't the place for you. There wasn't a floating dock in the place. You kept your boat at an eight foot fixed finger pier, and it could be a long climb down at low tide. When you came in, you pulled in to the main dock, gassed up, cleaned your catch, then moored at your finger pier to hose down your boat. The charter boats weren't the kind of "head" boats that are so popular now. If you wanted to go fishing, you called the office, and booked a day trip in advance on the boat of your choice, flat rate. Typically you could bring up to three friends with you, and you had the undivided attention of the captain and mate. Those guys knew where the fish were, but they kept it to themselves, unless you happened to know them really, really well. My father knew one of them, Honky Clark, but that didn't mean we necessarily got the inside skinny all the time. Honky was the kind of guy who lived on his boat. During the winter he picked up odd jobs at Holgate's Boat Shop. He didn't talk much, except to swear when he made a mistake, but he did show me how to cut in a waterline over Easter vacation one year. That was about as close as you could get to Honky, unless you were his mate.
            Dad kept his ear glued to the radio when we were underway, trolling for intelligence. Fishermen on the radio were blabbers, but notoriously closed mouthed about where the fish were. They generally spoke in code, if they spoke about what was biting at all.
            On this morning we got underway about seven, under a partly cloudy sky that promised to get sunny. A boat is responsible for any damage caused by its wake, so we cruised slowly toward the breachway leading out of Salt Pond, passing the fishing villages of Galilee to port and Jerusalem to starboard. Galilee was a pretty big port, with its own fish processing plant, and fifty or sixty draggers, most  of which were at sea by the time we got underway. I could see them dragging their nets on the horizon. These were the days before the big factory ships, when you could still see the draggers within easy sight of land, their outriggers already deployed. Jerusalem had maybe ten boats, mostly lobstermen. I doubt if anyone in one town knew folks in the other.
            A gentle wind gave the pond's surface a scaly appearance, but the flags fluttered only intermittently, so I figured we were in for a nice day. Once we passed the breachway into the Harbor of Refuge, Dad cranked the Gee Jay up to cruising speed and headed for Block Island.
            The Point Judith Harbor of Refuge is a protected area formed by a breakwater. The breakwater was created by depositing tens of thousands of boulders, leaving two entrances. On one end of the breakwater at each entrance is a tower with a light and fog signal. Each tower was a tapered latticework, with a light at the top, and a white enclosure about halfway up, which contained a fog signal. As we passed the tower at the western entrance, leaving the protection of the breakwater, we picked up the long, slow swells from Rhode Island Sound, and for just a moment we could smell the muscles and seaweed growing on the half tide rocks. Every few waves the Gee Jay would come down off a wave, and the spray rails would throw water out away from us with a low hiss, as the boat shimmied into the sea. The little bass boat punched through the swell beautifully, a tribute to old man MacKenzie's design. Within twenty minutes we could see the sand dune-like eastern cliffs of Block Island's Mohegan Bluffs peeking through the haze.  It was looking like a nice day, but when you are eleven, every day with your dad is somewhere between pretty darn good and great. I took out a thermos, and poured a cup of beef bullion for my father and I to share.
            In another hour we were off the north side of Block Island. We could see a sandy beach, and a low lying light house about three miles off. Dad throttled the engine back to bare steerageway, and turned the bow to starboard until we paralleled the beach. At this speed the engine exhaust made a "glug, glug" sound, but you couldn't actually hear the engine at all. He put a line in the water with a long hook covered by a piece of surgical tubing. It had a piece of pork rind on it. He let out about eighty feet of line, and slipped the rod into a holder on the port side. We were in about thirty-five feet of water. With the engine this quiet, we could listen carefully to the radio chatter, which was constant.
            As we drew even with the shade of the east side of the island, the westerly wind died, and the sea became like glass. The currents formed little road-like streams on the surface. Sixteen years earlier, a periscope had pierced this same calm water. Perhaps a U-boat captain had admired these tall, sandy cliffs.
            Neither of us knew it, but just a few miles to the east, on the bottom, lay the bodies of over sixty German sailors, asleep in their watery grave since their U-Boat had been sunk in 1945, on a day not unlike today. A few years hence they would be re-discovered, but for now, we trolled in the sandy shadow of Southeast Light, hoping to get into some bluefish.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Thoughts on a Bicycle Ride

On 20 February I had back surgery, and I have only recently been cleared to get back on my bike. Given my limited ability to walk, the bike has meant freedom. This is a beautiful time in the Virginia Piedmont. You see so much more from a bicycle seat than you do from a car seat. This evening, while riding, this came to mind:

The Redbuds
Are no longer buds,
They're flowering,
Telling their Story,
Of spring glory.
Can Dogwoods
Be far behind?
A white bud,
A red cross,
Look over your shoulder,
The wait's almost over.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

We Have Been At War a Long Time

From My Memoires:

Syria, Virginia

            I was paging through my Apple iTunes files today, and came upon an old favorite, Lee Greenwood’s I’m Proud To Be An American. Dated 1992, a full twenty-five years ago, it’s not necessarily a patriotic song. It’s more a song of admiration for one’s country. There’s been a lot of water over the dam since then. As if to remind us, yesterday United States Naval Institute Proceedings published We Have Been At War A Long Time by Captain John Byron, USN (Ret). The author reminds us that if you have a sixteen year old grandson, he has never known a time without war. We aren’t talking about war as a distant abstraction, where the Hotentots are fighting the Xhosa. We are talking about war where Americans are fighting and dying, though not to protect the United States, or even United Fruit.

Over eighty years ago a retired Marine named Smedley Butler wrote a small volume called War Is a Racket. I have the book. He wasn’t just a disaffected jarhead; he was a retired Major General, and the recipient of two awards of the Medal of Honor. He had become cynical about the employment of U.S. Forces overseas. If he could see the proliferation of our forces in over eighty countries today, he would chuckle at how things had only gotten further out of control.

U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan as long as we pay the Afghan government to host us. That government will never stand on its own. Afghanistan remains the graveyard of empires, and the “government” in Kabul, as well as the Taliban, must surely chat amongst itself in wry amusement when no Americans are about at the thought of our quest to establish a western democracy in their country. The Russians must be pleased as well.

As a former CIA field officer recently pointed out, we once had the Afghan war won, but we refused to leave.

To the southeast of Afghanistan, we are back in Iraq, to the tune of 14,000 troops. Once we finally leave that contrived state for the second time, either the Iranians will keep Iraq propped up, or it will fall down again - another one of our brilliant shots at a Muslim Middle East western style democracy for people who do not understand the concept.

We have special warfare troops all over Africa, training other country’s soldiers, most of whom serve corrupt regimes that often don’t even pay them regularly (that’s why the Malian Army ran away in the face of the Tuareg rebels marching on Timbuktu in 2015).

We have an ever increasing presence in Syria, with an apparent aim of opposing the current ruler, but no clear objective. Admittedly, continuing that civil war does bleed Iran of its ability to do evil elsewhere but at what price in human carnage? Vladimir Putin and the mullahs of Iran intend to keep the weak kneed ruler of Syria in power for their own reasons, and they have the focus that American presidents never have, so we are wasting our time in that unhappy country.

We seem desirous of depriving our own citizens of every possible social program, yet there is no end to the funds we are willing to expend on military energy world wide in efforts that appear to lead nowhere. None of these efforts benefit the United States in any way. They merely expend energy and national treasure as the “worlds only super power.” (Not for long. China has stolen most of our intellectual property, and our important secrets. Next, she will steal our place in the world).

If your son or daughter is killed in one of these adventures, these overseas adventures become less abstract. But in any case, the incomprehensible cost of these operations should give you pause. When the Congressional Freedom Caucus pledges to shut down the government if we don’t cut spending on social programs, tell ‘em to go where the real money is:

- Overseas Contingency Operations that are over funded - the extra money is harvested for military hardware goodies each year
- Two different flavors of new ICBMs - shore and sea based (one new one isn’t enough?)
- A brand new bomber
- A new fighter with flaws that should make the Pentagon blush
-    A new class of aircraft carrier so over gilded while at the same time flawed that the designers should be ashamed to claim ownership. If one of the ship’s new electro magnetic catapults must be taken down for repair or maintenance, all must be placed out of commission. What moron signed off on that design?

When we created the new “professional acquisition corps,” we were supposed to be getting a bunch of real pros, who would avoid the big mistakes, and streamline the process. It looks like we just got a new corps, instead.

Yes, war really is a racket. I’ve worked in the Pentagon; I have seen how this shit is sold. Yet no one is ashamed. It isn’t just that the Pentagon cannot get enough. The likes of Congress and HRH, Donald Trump can’t either. Smedley Butler was right.