Bear on the porch,
The back porch,
A second year bear,
One of five
I’d bust ‘im in the butt,
With rubber buck
But The Rose,
Hide her face,
I’ll hold my fire,
Patience has its limits.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
mostof 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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.