I’m still fighting the remnants of the Cold From Hell (possibly complicated by an allergy to blowing cedar pollen which hits a lot of people around here) but at least I am starting to feel a little more in the Christmas spirit. Not much more, but at least I am enjoying the Christmas music on the radio, and just last Monday I was inspired to go ahead and sort out the last of the Christmas presents that I wanted to give to some people I am fond of. So, all that is sorted. Our Christmas dinner is sorted also. Blondie will be out doing deliveries for Edible Arrangements until the last minute, so practically everything to do with Christmas was done in the last day or so.

Which leaves me looking out at next year, and considering what I will do, and what I can do, as the fiscal cliff approaches; no matter how you slice it, 2013 is going to be a bumpy ride. So, in no particular order of importance, I am resolved to – More »

So a little over six weeks to go until Election Day; I guess we can call this the final heat. Texas is pretty much a red state stronghold, although there are pockets of blue adherents throughout. Yes, even in my neighborhood, there are a handful of defiant Obama-Biden yard signs visible, although outnumbered at least two to one by Romney-Ryan signs. It amounts to about a dozen, all told; I think that most of my neighbors prefer keeping their political preferences this time around strictly to themselves.

I wasn’t all that wild about Mittens as a candidate, personally; too much the old-line country-club establishment Republican for my taste – but he’ll do, especially if Tea Party small-government fiscal conservatives overwhelmingly sweep the House and Senate and assist in keeping his nose to the small-government and fiscally conservative grindstone. So I will vote for him with reserved good cheer and considerable hope. There is too much at stake to consider otherwise. The next President of the US will have in their preview the elevation of at least one, and possibly two or more Justices to the Supreme Court, and that is just one consideration. Our foreign policy is even more shambolic than usual after four years of Mr. Hopey-Changey, the Middle East is melting down, our embassies in countries with a strong Islamic component are all but under siege, our rights to free speech are under threat in the guise of accusations of Islamophobia when exercising them in certain directions, we are more bitterly divided across class, regional and racial lines than any time that I can personally recall, the price of gas and electricity is skyrocketing, and our economy appears to be on extremely shaky ground. Which the mainstream media – god bless their little cotton socks – increasingly is reporting by putting a nice smiley face on the bad news, in the finest tradition of official government press organs everywhere, especially those where an in-law or second cousin of the Big Man is the owner of the largest newspaper and the sole national broadcaster. Those officially licensed pervs at the TSA are still feeling up three year olds and octogenarians in wheel-chairs the length and breadth of this blessed land, California’s best option may yet be to fall into the Pacific Ocean … and Texas needs rain.

A Romney-Ryan administration will, it is hoped, do something constructive about many of these problems, or so is our deep and abiding hope. At the very least, they might be able to delay the crash that many of us expect will be just around the corner anyway. It will be a hell of a job, anyway, being undermined, slandered and sabotaged by the die-hard big-Statists infuriated at the prospect of being cut off from the money trough. Our mainstream news media will definitely not be in their corner, along with most of what Angelo Codevilla called the ‘ruling class’. But suppose … just Obama/Biden wins on November 6th. It’s not entirely out of the question, and I am sure that there will be many who will rejoice initially, until all those chickens launched in the last four years come home to roost. So, do we want the pain of the economic and political crash to come in a series of agonizing jerks or one heartrending pull? Might it be better to have all the bad things that almost certainly will happen in the next four years land upon the administration responsible in no small part for launching them? Could it be that the Obama administration and the Democratic party generally having to wholly own the disastrous situation that they created and encouraged? Might the corruption, the abuse of state power, the sheer bloody incompetence bring the Democratic Party down entirely? Given enough rope in the form of a second Obama term, might they eventually hang themselves?

There is a lot of ruin in a nation – four more years of this may be more than we can handle and still be a confident, forward-looking and united country; the land of the free and home of the brave. Can we risk such an ordeal … even if it gives us a chance to put the new ruling class off their high thrones in the halls of power, if not once and for all, at least for the forseeable future? I have no idea, but this is certainly something to think about in the next six weeks.

It looks like Mittens is our man, as far as the GOP presy-nom goes in this year of Our Lord 2012. Not my personal first choice, as I retained a sneaking affection for Rick Perry as one of the very first among our dear establishment Repubs who glommed onto the Tea Party from the get go … but, eh … this is not a perfect world, probably will never be a perfect world. Speaking as an amateur historian, it’s more interesting as an imperfect world anyway. As far as I’m concerned in this current election season, Anybody But Obama will do for me. I don’t care wildly for establishment career Republicans, especially the ones embedded in the Washington D.C. establishment like an impacted wisdom tooth … but in a realistic world, we work with what we can get.

Of course, one of the sneaky push-backs generated as the campaign season wears on through summer and fall will be objections and veiled – or not so veiled – criticisms of Mitten’s Mormon faith. That is, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LDS for short, the common reference within those communities particularly thick with them. (In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which saw the Enterprise crew voyage backwards in time to our tumultuous century, Captain Kirk attempted to cover for strangeness in Mr. Spock’s conduct by saying, “Oh, he did too much LDS in the Sixties. That line raised an enormous horse-laugh in the theater in Layton, Utah, where I saw that movie in first run: Probably not so much as a giggle, everywhere else.)
In the event of his nomination as GOP candidate, I remain confident that every scary trope about Mormons will be taken out and shaken vigorously, as representatives of the U.S. establishment press furrow their brows thoughtfully and mouth the successor-to-JournoList talking points, and members of the foreign press corps (such as the BBC) worry their pretty, empty heads about those crazy fundamentalist Americans going at it again. Christian fundamentalists on steroids, is what it will boil down to, I am sure. Polygamous marriage, every shopworn cliché about Religion American-style that you’ve ever seen in books, movies and television will be put out there. How our press nobility can accomplish this and still look away from the nuttier-‘n-squirrel-poop ravings of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago without giving themselves existential whiplash, I can’t imagine. I am confident that a prospective Romney presidency will be painted as about one degree off from A Handmaid’s Tale, and there will be plenty of blue-state punters who will eat it up with a spoon. I would hope that the sensible ones would be able to stop hyperventilating long enough to listen to reason about all this.
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To: Various
Re: Current Situation in the Gulf of Mexico
From: Sgt Mom

1. To our various house-broken major-media news-hounds: So, here we have a situation, producing an oil leak from a busted oil well in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, of such a copious quantities that it has been described as the equivalent of the cargo of the Exxon Valdez every four days, and this has been going on for . . . . 60 days and counting? Yes, I know the crisis has come on a little slowly, not nearly as fast as Hurricane Katrina – after which then-President Bush had about two days grace before being raked viciously over the coals for not swinging into the federal government into action instanter than instant and fixing everything immediately! Exacting standards for performance in coping with the results of man-made and natural disasters should most certainly be applied for other than Republican administrations – and we are looking forward to see you apply them. Not holding my breath on it – but definitely looking forward to it.

2. Gratifyingly, there are definite signs of this dawning on those who have an ambition of being more than Baghdad Bob Gibbs press pool lap-dog. Perhaps this new awareness may have come in time to save y’all from the general impression that you are as partisan a collection of hacks who ever lightly edited a government/corporate press release and knocked off early for an expenses-paid luncheon. Or maybe not. And speaking of Robert Gibbs, doesn’t he just remind you of the fat, smug authority-figure suck-up from high school, whom hardly anyone could stand except for a handful of other authority-ass-kissing sycophants? The one who was beneath contemptuous notice by the athletes – but that the bad kids once ganged up on, pantsed, painted a rude, rude word on his pallid buttocks in indelible ink, administered a swirly in the nastiest toilet on campus and then chained him to the flag-pole? With his trou around his knees so that everyone could appreciate their lack of spelling skills?

3. So, don’t tell me that y’all in the White House Press Corps haven’t had that fantasy float through your heads. I have my ways of knowing these things. When you do, get footage of it, even if only on cell-phone cameras, please, please post on YouTube anonymously. You know the drill.

4. To the innocent citizens of the locality formerly known as Great Britain; I am sorry, sorrier than I can ever say . . . especially as this affects pensioners and ordinary investors – of both our countries who had investments in BP. Me, I thought we still had a rule of law, which applied equally to individuals and entities. The so-called ‘Chicago Way’ I had thought was confined to . . . well, Chicago. And gangster movies. I know very well that many of you indeed are not fat-cat capitalists, in frock-coats and top-hats, lighting your cigars with $50 bills, or the current Euro equivalent. The remarks of the current resident of the White House, and those of certain of our own citizens, and our own national media with regard to dreadful matter are, to put it kindly, unhelpful. I apologize again for them. I will note, for the record, that I did not vote for him. Believe it or not, quite a good few of us did not, so if you would be so kind, don’t lump us in with those Americans who were too starry-eyed over Mr. Hope’n’change to think straight.

5. I do wonder, however – if the situation were reversed, and a wholly American-owned drilling company experienced a disaster of the same magnitude in, say, the North Sea, and the resulting oil plume threatened your coastline – what the tenor of public and media comment in your sphere would be, then. Just wondering – I’m deeply cynical, that way. BTW, from the tone of British and European media coverage of Obama in the 2008 election season, I was left with the distinct impression that his victory being welcomed with hosannas of happy joy by one and all. How’s that hope’n’change working out for y’all? Miss GWB yet?

6. You know, seeing how the offer of efficient Dutch skimmer ships was turned down, how an exemption for the Jones Act to permit foreign ships to assist with the clean-up wasn’t obtained in a timely fashion, and how permits for the construction of sand berms to shelter fragile Louisiana coastal wetlands were delayed, and then the deployment of barges equipped to suck up oil were sidelined while the Coast Guard ascertained that they had sufficient safety gear on board, and how the well is still gushing . . . well, one might wonder if the continuance of this crisis is an advantage to the Obama administration. After all, Rahm Emmanuel famously urged that a good crisis shouldn’t be wasted. Shut down drilling for oil in the Gulf – which is a body blow for that industry – allow by inaction the fouling of the coastline, which affects tourism and local commercial fishing . . . My mother often cautioned me never to attribute to malice which could be easily explained by simple ineptitude, but in this case I might be persuaded to make an exception.

7. Finally, I would suggest that readers pick up some extra bags of frozen Gulf shrimp, the next time they are at Sam’s or Costco – the price is gonna go up, if it hasn’t already. But don’t forget – we can see November from our house.

Sincerely,
Sgt Mom

(Later – Found through Facebook link …

Just because…

I’m tired of Yahoo f**king up.

I’m tired of never getting any answer to the mailings and emails that I send about my books.

I’m tired of being treated like crap because I’m a writer and there are another ten-thousand of writers just like me (only most of them are F**king worse!) on the next bus. And that most of them seem to be better connected than me.

I’m tired that most of the ones that I am connected to, appear to to blow me off like an embarrassingly incontinent relative.

I’m tired of being stalled on payment on work that I have done.

I’m tired of having to work like a dog just to get a one-hundredth of the interest awarded to crappy, mediocre writers, just because they’re the flave of the moment. Or they have well-connected friends and fans.

I’m tired of looking at things that I should like to buy, but can’t because I can’t afford them. Oh and I am really, really tired of jugging bills. (please don’t construe this as a bleg, I am just venting.)

I’m tired of non-essential stuff but non-the less non-functioning stuff around my house that I can’t afford to fix. Like, giving the animals the vet care that they deserve.

I am really tired of Pajamas Media – my reason for sticking with them is…

Oh, yeah – I am really tired of Old, Traditional, Established Media. That’s what my reason is. Otherwise, I can’t see that I am really getting anywhere with the PJ Media association, anyway.

I have a couple of glasses of chablis in me. And tomorrow, or the day after, I will have to go into a couple of employment offices and make a pretense of being all about them and tending to their coporate needs, just so that I will have enough to fund the last bits of the Adelsverin Trilogy. Like mailing copies of same to reviewers – three-quarters of which will take the copy of Book One and never do a damn thing with it. Except take it down to the local second-hand book outlet and get a couple of dollars for it.

Pardon me while I swallow the vomit in my throat.

10. April 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Old West, Pajama Game, World

Juan Nepomuceno Seguin was a man whose good and bad fortune it was to be always on the border between the Anglo Texians and the Mexican Tejanos, during his lifetime and after. He was born in the first decade of the 19th century, a native of San Antonio. He came of a prominent local family; his father Erasmo Seguin was a signatory to Mexicos first constitution of 1824. Juan Seguin married into another prominent local family, and was himself elected to the office of alcalde, a sort of cross between mayor and justice of the peace while in his late twenties. Altogether, he was a promising young man in local politics, when Texas was merely a far-distant province of Mexico itself, and gradually becoming disaffected by the dictatorial actions of the Centralist President of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and the self-styled Napoleon of the West.

When Santa Anna soon dissolved the Mexican Congress, and threatened to come down like a ton of bricks on those who disagreed with his way of running Mexico, moderates such as Seguin were thrown into opposition, right alongside their Anglo neighbors. Stephen Austin granted a captains commission to Seguin, who raised a company of scouts. When General Martin Cos was thrown out of San Antonio at the end of 1835, Captain Seguins company of nearly forty men were among those doing the throwing. He and his company were among the small garrison of the tumbledown mission compound known as the Alamo. I have read of speculation that Seguin might have been detailed as its commander, given his local prominence and background but that he personally was too valuable, first as a scout, and secondly for his local connections. He was sent out of the doomed Alamo as a courier. At Gonzales, when Sam Houston began gathering his ragged Army of Texans, Seguin gathered up the remains of his little band of Tejanos, who served as scouts and as rear-guard, as Houston fell back into East Texas.

When Houston finally turned to fight Santa Anna, at first he wanted to leave Seguins company out of his line of battle, fearing that in the thick of it all, Seguins men might be in danger from their own side. After the massacre of the defenders of the Alamo and the Goliad, many of Houstons army were not inclined to make distinctions between Mexicans. Houston first suggested that Seguins Tejanos guard the camp and the baggage.

Seguin angrily refused, insisting on a place for his company in the line: he also had lost some of his men in the Alamo. All of those he had left to him were from San Antonio, and they could not return to their homes until Santa Anna was defeated; they had just as much or more cause to hate him as any Anglo Texian. It was their right, to take a part in the fight. Houston relented, asking only that Seguins men must place pieces of cardboard in their hatbands, to distinguish them.

In Stephen Hardins book A Texian Illiad— a history of the Texas Revolution, illustrated with careful sketches of many of the soldier participants — there is one of a member of Seguins Tejano volunteers. His clothes and equipment are of the borderlands: American shoes, short Mexican trousers, a fringed buckskin jacket, a rolled serape and a Brown Bess musket, a gourd canteen and a wide-brimmed vaqueros hat with a rosary around the crown and a slip of cardboard with Requerda el Alamo scrawled on it.

More about Seguin here :
His monument in Texas is the town of Segiun, a little south of San Antonio.
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29. March 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, General, GWOT, Iran, Pajama Game, War

From our POW Code of Conduct

.I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist. If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

This code of conduct was created and adapted for all the American services in the wake of the Korean War, when American (and other nationalities) POWs were both brutally mistreated and exploited for propaganda purposes by their captors. While some service personnel may be a trifle foggy on the exact requirements of the Geneva Convention until the need for familiarity with those conventions floats up to the top of their personal to-do duty requirements, the POW code of conduct is branded on our consciousness. Well, that and the bitter knowledge that the last military opponent of ours who paid anything like strict attention to Geneva Convention requirements when applying them to captured American service personnel were the Germans in WWII.

So, we have quietly gotten our heads around a couple of facts, one of the most important being the brutal reality that Americans best not surrender. The odds of surviving long enough for the International Red Cross to make that all-important visit to verify your well-being are practically non-existent. Snuff videos made available through various pro-fundamentalist Islamic media throughout Middle East make it pretty damn clear that no surrender in the first place may be the most viable career option.

Even if a prisoner is lucky, and the market for death-porn is flooded, the odds of being used as a hostage, and paraded like a puppet in front of the video cameras are pretty much a given. Exactly how far one can or ought to go in resisting this kind of exploitation is a judgment call. Admiral James Stockdale, as the senior American POW in North Vietnam chose to mutilate himself rather than be paraded in public for propaganda purposes, and threatened suicide if the North Vietnamese continued to continue torturing other POWs.

Pvt. Patrick Miller, of the 507th Maintenance Company was taken prisoner during the dash into Iraq in 2003, (at the same time as Pvt. Jessica Lynch) and was one of the five surviving members of his unit paraded on Iraqi television. I remember seeing the clip of the five on the news, and thought that he was the only one of them who seemed to be defiant. He answered back with his name and rank, and looked like he was about to spit into the camera, even if he and the others were entirely at the mercy of Saddam Husseins goons. In the long run, ones response to the extreme of captivity and threatened (or actual torture) depends on training, and maturity. But sometimes it depends on strength of character, and maybe a large lashing of stubborn bloody-mindedness, which are harder to predict in advance and inculcate with training. But I digress. I have a point, and I am getting to it.

This week, its the fifteen British sailors and Marines, taken by Iranian goons, and paraded in front of cameras, while Tony Blair and the British media agonize over how to react, what should have been done, and what can be done to get them back without loosing any national self-respect, and their families try and maintain a stiff upper lip under the hot searchlight of media interest.

It pretty much looks like it was deliberate and well-planned, done expressly for the purposes of getting hostages to toy with, probably with an eye for a prisoner exchange, and building up their image internally. They announced their intentions to kidnap coalition personnel some weeks ago, but at this point in the war, American personnel are probably just too damn hard to catch unawares. So, go for the easily gathered harvest, and drag it out as long as possible. I am afraid that if it drags on for a long time, as long as the Teheran embassy hostage crisis that it will become as much of a political hot potato. I can see the Blair government in a cleft stick; having neither the means or the will to respond with gunboats, or the 21st century equivalent. Being that the war in Iraq is resoundingly unpopular (as near as I can judge from a distance) I wonder if there is any stomach for that kind of response anyway. And while the diplomatic alternative grinds slowly away, over weeks and months, and the hostages families fret and worry, and the national media pounds away, involvement in the coalition may become even less popular. Getting the hostages freed may come to seem to be such an overwhelmingly good thing that no one will care very much about the price paid for such an end.

I hope that there is a Stockdale, or a Miller among the captured British sailors and Marines. I hope that they are not being tormented, as Admiral Stockdale was, at the hands of the North Vietnamese and I hope that they are resisting as best they can, for the sake of their own self-respect as members of a proud military with a long tradition of defiance and resistance to captivity. I hope they will return knowing in their hearts that they held to the code, and to their comrades, and never in their hearts surrendered.

(Also posted at Blogger News Network)

Among the books in my tall stack to read, in preparation to revise and polish the current epic is one with the very dry title of “Texas Log Buildings; A Folk Architecture” – which has actually proved to be a bit more interesting and informative than it looked at first glance. I am a sucker for knowing how things are constructed or put together- which is good, especially since I need to write a description of building such a thing as a log building. Little details like how many days it would take to build one, what size it would generally be, and the layout – these little details count.

Previously, the one description of the process that I could bring readily to mind was “Little House on the Prairie” – and it turns out that Pa Ingalls was not building that cabin to much of a standard. He may not even have been all that skilled as a carpenter, but since he was working on it mostly by himself, and in a place where the swiftness of getting a roof of some sort over his family counted for everything – allowances were made.

That was almost everyone’s first and most urgent need, upon settling on a new grant or homestead, that and planting some kind of crop in the ground; building a cabin, to meet immediate shelter needs. This book differentiates very clearly the difference between a log cabin, and a log house. A log cabin was small, twelve to fourteen foot square, windowless, with a dirt floor. They were scratch and hastily put up to use as a temporary dwelling place, whereas a log house was larger, permanent, and much more carefully constructed; even quite elaborate as to comforts. For much of the 19th century, at least in Texas it was a matter of some embarrassment to still be living in a log cabin after a couple of years; rather like living in a trailer would be. In fact, many log houses were covered with siding and paint as soon as their owners could afford to do so. If they had lived in a little cabin before building the permanent house, the cabin was frequently reused as a smoke-house, or a stable.

Pace “Little House” and a whole raft of western movies, I’d always visualized such houses and cabins built out of the whole, rounded logs, with simple interlocking half-round notches (called a saddle notch) cut close to the ends, and about a foot or so of the log hanging out beyond at the corners, rather like a “Lincoln-log” house. This method of construction turns out have been employed by the relatively unskilled and/or those in a tearing hurry. The majority of Texas log structures were built of timbers which had been at least roughly shaped on two sides, and carefully notched at the ends to make a square corner. With the exception of part log, part dugout shelters built in far western Texas, where trees were scarce, most log structures were also raised off the ground on corner piers, to prevent rot and termite infestation, and to take advantage of air circulation.
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25. March 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Pajama Game

Growing up, my dad always had a vegetable garden. In fact, he always had a large vegetable garden. We had very few store-bought vegetables because Dad grew so many in the garden and canned them that we had enough some years to last more than just one winter. Unfortunately, though not at the time, I was not allowed in the garden because I might mess it up. I therefore didnt get lessons on how to weed, the proper way to hoe a planted garden, how to thin plants, etc. I didnt care either because I always figured I would just buy it from the store.

Now after years of buying from the store, I realize that my parents were right. Fruits and vegetables are better home grown. Now I am starting my own garden. So far, its really small, and really more of a test run to see if I can actually grow one. The small area I have chosen for my garden spot only has a small area fit for growing currently. The previous owners had put a bunch of wood chips down in the area to use for a play area for their kids. I havent managed to get a full half of the chips out of the area yet, so I only have about 1/3 of the area available.

I sat down back in January and decided what I wanted to plant. I finally settled on lettuce, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, green peas, carrots, snap beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, eggplant, bell pepper, cayenne, jalapeno peppers, watermelon, and cantaloupe. Of those already planted, I only managed to get 4 pea plants up, a handful of turnip greens, a handful of lettuce, a couple of handfuls of carrots, and Im not sure that any of the spinach has come up. I also put out some strawberry plants that still look as dead as when I pulled them out of the bag. I started the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers indoors, and aside from what Notch decided to munch on, I have almost all of them to come up and look real good. I could probably put them out this weekend, but I am going to leave them outside in the containers over this week to harden them before transplanting.

Now flowers are another matter entirely. Mittens, the stray cat we adopted, has decided that every place I have put potting soil is a toilet. Now fortunately, she isnt doing any real business in them, but still shes digging. Bad kitty. I suppose I am going to be forced to put netting (like vinyl chicken wire) over all my flowers and pots until she takes her business back to the leaves. But I digress. I didnt have good luck with flowers last year. I can only blame myself as I didnt keep them weeded, watered, and fertilized as I should have. I will put some of the blame on the software engineering course I took as I had absolutely no free time during that term and it was spring term. This year, I will have the time to do proper weeding and watering. Then I will see if I do truly have what my mom calls Susies green thumb referring to my paternal grandmother who could grow anything anywhere.

19. March 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Old West, Pajama Game

(earlier parts, here, here, here and here )

But first, before they were welcomed to Ketumsees main camp, the interpreter Lorenzo de Rozas told Meusebachs party that as a demonstration of their good faith and confidence, they should empty all their firearms, firing them into the ground, or into the air.
For the forty men of Meusebachs peace venture, it was a pivotal moment, for they were far beyond the safe frontier, and surrounded by what was estimated to be five or six thousand Comanche, the acknowledged warlords of the Southern plains. They had assembled on a hillside near Ketumsees encampment on the San Saba, mounted on their best horses, in all their finery and carrying their weapons, on either side of a flag on a tall staff; warriors on the right, women and children on the left. It was a splendid and heart-stopping sight. In the event of Meusebach having entirely miscalculated the Comanches desire for a peace treaty there would be no aid, no cavalry pounding to their rescue. About the only thing that would be a certain guarantee in that event would be that every one of them would die, in as agonizing a manner as the most creative sadist could devise.

Meusebach quietly ordered all his men to empty their firearms. And in response, the Comanche warriors who carried firearms also emptied theirs. Chief Ketumsee and his senior chiefs came forward to greet them with handshakes and with elaborate ceremony; Meusebach and his party were conducted into the village. They were invited to stay within the Comanche encampment, in their skin lodges, but on the excuse of finding better pasture for their horses, Meusebach graciously declined. They set up their own camp, but might as well have not bothered, because almost all of Ketumsees tribe came to visit over the next day or so; men, women, children and all, and mostly on horseback As one of the German visitors later wrote Horses play an important role in the life of the Comanches when there is a scarcity of food, horses furnish a supply of meatfrom early youth both sexes are taught to ride we saw children who had been nursed by their mothers until their third year, leave their mothers breast, jump on a horse and light a cigarette

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I am not one of those given to assume that just because a lot of people like something, then it must be good; after all, Debbie Boones warbling of You Light Up My Life was on top of American Top Forty for what seemed like most of the decade in the late 70s, although that damned song sucked with sufficient force to draw in small planets. Everyone that I knew ran gagging and heaving when it came on the radio, but obviously a lot of people somewhere liked it enough to keep it there, week after week after week. A lot of people read The DaVinci Code, deriving amusement and satisfaction thereby, and some take pleasure in Adam Sandler movies or Barbara Cartland romances no, popularity of something does not guarantee quality, and I often have the feeling that the tastemakers of popular culture are often quite miffed — contemptuous, even — when they pronounce an unfavorable judgment upon an item of mass entertainment which turns out to be wildly, wildly popular anyway.

300 looks to be one of those wildly popular things, for which the intellectual great and good have no explanation. This amuses me very much, because I think I do. As I wrote last week the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae is one of those stories which has kept a grip on us in the West for nearly three thousand years Courage, honor, duty, clear-eyed self-sacrifice in a cause, for the lives of those you hold dear, for your city or your country those are values that hold, that define who we are and what we stand for.

Its all about stories, and our human need for stories; stories about other people, stories that explain, that make things clear for us, that inspire us to great deeds, to set an example or spell out a warning. We need stories nearly as much as we need oxygen. And we will have them, bright and sparkling and new, or worn to paper thinness in the re-telling. We will have stories that have grown, and been embellished by many narrators, with heroes and minor heroes and splendid set-piece scenes, and side-narratives, like one of those sea-creatures that collects ornaments to stick onto its shell any which way, or a bower-bird collecting many brilliant scraps and laying them out in intricate patterns. A longing to hear such stories must be as innate in us, as it is to those creatures, for our earliest epic, that of Gilgamesh may be traced back to the beginnings of agriculture, and towns, and the taming of animals, and the making of a written language. It may go back even farther yet, but there is really no way to know for sure what those stories were, although I am sure the anthropologists are giving it the good old college try.

Our values are transmitted in the stories that we go back to, over and over. A long time ago, I read this book, which recommended, rather in the manner of the old Victorians, that children be given improving books to read, that their minds be exercised by good examples. I was initially rather amused and then I went over the reading list in the back. I realized just then how many of those books the author cited I had read myself and how many quiet demonstrations of honesty, courage, ethical behavior, loyalty to family, friends and community, of doing the hard right as opposed to the easy wrong had been tidily incorporated into such books as the Little House books, or Caddie Woodlawn, or All of a Kind Family, or Johnny Tremain. We imbibe all these values from stories and lest we think that these sorts of moral lessons are obscure and tangled things, best suited for a long theoretical discussion of the life-boat dilemma in some touchy-feely ethics seminar, the author (or someone that he quoted its been a long time since I re-read the book) brought up the old black and white movie A Night to Remember the movie account of the sinking of the Titanic. The whole story of the unsinkable ship is laid out, based on research, and with the aid (at the time it was filmed) with many still-living survivors; running full-tilt into an ice-field, hitting an icebergloading the relatively few lifeboats while the band plays, and the ships engineers keep the lights and power going, of husbands putting their wives and children into the boats and stepping back to leave more room, knowing that the ship is doomed of steerage passengers taking matters into their own hands and finding their way up to the boat deck, and deck-hands trying to launch the very last boat as the seawater rises to their knees. Twice a hundred stories, and at the end of it one has a pretty good idea of who has behaved well and honorably and who has not.

Stories. We need them, and well keep coming back to them. And to the best ones, we will come back again and again.

To all men living on this Earth, death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than by facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the Temples of his Gods?”
— Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome

So Blondie and I were intrigued by several different premises – intrigued enough to actually go and see the movie 300 on opening weekend; she because it starred Gerard Butler and several acres of well-oiled, well-built male hunkiness, and me because – well, it sounded interestingly unlike the usual Hollywood bucket o’krep poured out for the plebeians. For a start, no car chases, or machine gun fire, and most definitely not a remake of a TV show which wasn’t that good to start with, or a movie which should have been left alone. Neither one of us had ever read the wildly popular “graphic novel” it was based on. (Do I have to call them graphic novels? I always slip and call them comic books, it’s the same way I call “mobile home developments” “trailer parks” and it’s a movie, dammit, not a film.) Blondie hated the movie version of Sin City BTW, and I would like to serve notice right here and now that I would usually avoid movies which incorporate buckets of splattered gore, and collections of human grotesqueries – but the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae is one of those stories which has kept a grip on us in the West for nearly three thousand years. Every forlorn last stand, against overwhelming odds has harked back to the King of Sparta and his picked band, standing in a narrow pass. And that many of those so choosing would have known of it— like Travis at the Alamo— testifies to the enduring power of their story.

Through the rise and fall of Greece itself, and the Romes that followed it, into the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and into this century, the story of Leonidas and his stalwart few resonates – as much as the righteous and politically correct would have it not so. (like this reviewer. Note to Mr. Smith; Bite me. Sincerely, Sgt. Mom). Courage, honor, duty, clear-eyed self-sacrifice in a cause, for the lives of those you hold dear, for your city or your country – those are values that hold, that define who we are and what we stand for. To have them set out unapologetically in a movie like this is as jolting as a triple-latte with a shot of brandy, after a diet of nothing but mineral water. Some years ago, I lamented that Hollywood just couldn’t bring themselves to make a movie about the war we are in. (here) Perhaps this may be the closest that they can bring themselves to do it, without running the risk of having the gentlemen from CAIR parked in the outer office.

This is not one of those movies where you go for authenticity about Greece, Sparta and the Persian empire. I can just imagine scholars of the classical world hyperventilating and gibbering incoherently for the next decade on that topic. Ancient Sparta was not anything like a democracy as we know it, Spartan women probably wore a few more clothes and took no part in public life, Greek warriors in battle wore little more than a leather Speedo and a flowing cloak, I very much doubt that anyone has ever been able to use a rhinoceros as a war-beast – and Xerxes probably wasn’t a 7-foot tall mulatto with a lot of body piercings. Some of the dialog clunks a bit, though. I can tell, because I was mentally re-writing it. All that is beside the point.

Because it is not just the story by itself; there was the look of it, the whole visual spectacle. The word that kept coming up in my mind, over and over was “painterly”. That the story of 300 was created by some who is an artist was obvious in the very first frame. Every scene was set up as if it were a painting or a classical frieze, a vase-painting; all of it harking back to something that an artistically literate person would recognize. The flow of a cloak, the jut of a bearded chin, the fall of golden sunset on a craggy mountain pass, the way a man holds a spear and shield – all of it evocative and visually rich in a way that doesn’t happen much in movies. Without having read the book, I can’t say if the movie version was true to Frank Miller vision , but it definitely made for an arresting look. We did notice some little grace notes that seem to be quotes from other movies; the fields of wheat from Gladiator, Xerxes’ monumental throne looked the one from the Elizabeth Taylor vehicle in Cleopatra and the assorted war-beasts from Lord of the Rings. (Also Blondie was bugged throughout the movie as to where she had seen the actor who played Dilius – he was in Lord of the Rings, also. She could have asked me, of course!)

All in all… ticket price and time well-spent, especially for Frank Miller fan. There are also some bonuses for the straight women and gay male demographic as well. It seems to be going over very well in flyover country, too.

10. March 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: European Disunion, Pajama Game, World

Sgt. Moms post got me to thinking about some of my past experiences in Europe. I first started travelling there on business in 1987, when I spent quite a bit of time in Burnley, Lancashire in northern part of the UK. At that time, we had just entered into a joint venture with Lucas, aka The Prince of Darkness, to develop a multifunction column switch for a U.S. auto company. Despite the seemingly endless rains (the sun broke through only one day on my first visit, with the local weatherman reporting that the temperatures soared into the seventies this being July), it was quite a nice place with a small town feel to it. They serve a particular type of beer there called bitter, which, once one acquires a taste for it, is a pleasant way to end the workday. The locals were friendly and very welcoming of us Yanks to challenge them to a game of arrows (darts) at the local pubs. We had contracted some test equipment to a tool shop in nearby Nottingham, necessitating a trip to evaluate their progress. Accompanied by our hosts and some engineers from Chrysler, we took the motorway to Yorkshire, travelling by the Major Oak, which is alleged to have been used by Robin Hood as a hiding place. It turns out that the managing director of the tool shop had some sort of relationship (brother or something) with the curator of Nottingham castle, so after our business was concluded we enjoyed a personalized tour. What a neat place, whether or not you believe in the legend of Robin Hood. Afterwards we retreated to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a pub across the square from the castle that has been in continuous operation since 1189 with the name inspired by the start of the third crusade. At one point our host asked us what we thought of all that we had seen that day. The auto company engineer thought a moment, and replied (WARNING UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD) Well, its all very nice, but what have you people done lately? My only beef with England is their aversion to ice water. If you ask for a glass, you will get one ice cube. Thats it.

Another of my favorite places is the Principality of Liechenstein and its capital city Vaduz, located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The hotel where we stayed is about a bucolic setting as can be imagined. There was a cow pasture just outside my hotel window, with (sorry California) some of the happiest cows I have ever seen, each wearing a traditional cowbell and munching on the prolific wildflowers. As we were leaving the hotel in the mornings, we would pass groups of children in their neatly pressed uniforms heading to school, singing and playing stickball. While the locals seemed quite friendly, they viewed us with a little suspicion, as though wondering whether we truly were the barbaric Americans that had undoubtedly heard about. One night, our hosts took us to a fine restaurant located high up on a mountain in nearby Switzerland, overlooking the upper Rhine valley, with the river itself being little more that a creek at that location. On our return down the mountain (WARNING UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD), I pressed our host to treat us to a yodeling performance. I was firmly informed in no uncertain terms that We do not yodel! I would like to return one day, although I am concerned about their national security.

Paris may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I find its residents to be among the most hostile toward Americans not in any specific way just a general distaste. I found Toulouse, on the other hand, to be quite the opposite. My last visit was on short notice, so the hotel where we stayed was an unknown quantity, though proving to be a hidden gem. The rooms were quite small the building dated to the eighteenth century though most of them opened into small interior courtyards. The owner made a general-purpose room available for us to work on our presentation. He had never seen the sort of hardware we had laptops, projectors, PowerPoint, etc. and was fascinated with the process. Each day, he would go to the market to buy fresh breads and pastries for us, serving them with the most wonderful espresso Ive had before or since. In exchange for showing him the finer points of creating a presentation, he responded to my curiosity about the espresso machine with a compete tutorial on its complicated operation. I remembered enough French to get the basics, but I suspect that, on my own, I would have blown it to smithereens.

In general, I have found that positive attitudes toward Americans are inversely proportional to the sophistication of the city in question. I suspect that much of this is because cities like London and Paris are not so different from cities like New York or Los Angeles, where cynism is the currency of the realm. American influence has shaped much of post-war Europe and, to the extent that things are not going well, Americans are getting the blame. The irony of all this is that, as I alluded in my comment to Sgt. Moms earlier post, many of the ideas imported from America by Europe are those held so dearly by the left in America secularization, liberal immigration policies, socialized (name the government program), etc. The further irony is that the fury of those attitudes is largely directed to those in the U.S. who are most likely to resist the very policies that have failed so miserably in Europe. I am looking forward to my upcoming first trip to Ia?i Romania. Their recent history suggests a more likely aversion to these far-left liberal influences.

One last point I would make is that the Europeans also blame crass commercialization, another bane of society, on Americans. It is, more accurately, a by-product of capitalism, and I would accept it over the alternatives any day. More than any other region, Europe should have learned this (anybody remember the Dark Ages?)

08. March 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Old West, Pajama Game

That there would ever be any sort of peace between the Comanche people, the horse-lords of the Southern Plains, and the settlers who steadily encroached upon the lands which they had always considered their own particular stamping grounds in 19th century Texas verges on the fantastical. That it lasted for longer than about a week must be accounted a miracle of Biblical proportions; but there was indeed such a treaty, negotiated and signed about mid-way through the bitter, brutal fifty-year long guerrilla war between the Tribes, and a group of settlers newly arrived in Texas.

The need for a little patch of peace became a matter of urgency upon the arrival of nearly 7,000 German immigrants under the sponsorship and auspices of the Mainzer Adelsverein, or as it was formally known; The Society for The Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, in a brief space of years after 1844. The Verein, as it was called in Texas, was formed by a group of high-born and socially conscious German noblemen, who conceived the notion of establishing a colony of German farmers and craftsmen in Texas. Their motivations were a combination of altruism, and calculation. This settlement plan would generously assist farmers and small craftsmen who were being displaced by the dwindling availability of farm land, and by increasing mechanization. But it would also establish a large, homogenous and German-oriented colony in the then-independent Texas nation, from which they hoped to profit materially and perhaps politically.

Unfortunately, their organizational skills and economic resources were not anywhere near equal to their ambitions; ambitions which in turn were only equaled by their astonishing naivety about the frontier. Their first commissioner in Texas was well-intentioned, well-born, and utterly clueless: every scammer, con-man and shady land-speculator west of the Mississippi must have seen Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels coming for a considerable distance. In a remarkably short time, Prince Karl effortlessly managed to piss-off most of the elected officials of the independent State of Texas, spend money as if it were water, burden the Verein with the Fisher-Miller Grant, (a large and almost useless tract of land smack-dab in the middle of Comanche territory), and amuse (or appall) practically everyone with whom he came in contact. Among the most risible of his personal peculiarities was the fact that he traveled in state with a large and specialized entourage, including a personal chef and two valets to help him on with his trousers of a morning. This went over with the rough denizens of the frontier about as well as could be expected.
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Some heartburn noted this week in some quarters about the Washington Post story about the treatment and the living conditions of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Hospital, and why the milblogosphere is not having a conniption-fit over that, with many dark hints about how we would be screeching like a cage of howler-monkeys if it had happened under another administration.

Not having a background in medical administration, or any particular knowledge of the set-up at Walter Reed, or even personal knowledge of anyone undergoing treatment there, Id have to defer involvement in this fracas except for a comment on the reported decrepitude of the building where many of the out-patients were living. From the description it sounds like, and most probably is, a dump.

All of these might come as a surprise to the dear little civilian writers of the WaPo and its ilk, who see the nice, shiny public side of the gold-plated bases, and assume that the rest of the base, post or fort is similarly bright and shiny and new. Au contraire, as they say in France, and twas ever thus: George Washington lived in a house at Valley Forge, but everyone else lived in something considerably less commodious.

The reason that no one in the mil-blogosphere is hyperventilating over that aspect of the story is that most of us have lived in, or did business in worse, during our time in service. Peeling paint, leaking plumbing, sagging floors, corroding pipes, herds of rampant vermin wandering untrammeled in cheap and badly-maintained structures that are two or three decades (or more) past their best-if-used-by date? Been there, done that, got a raft of horror stories of my own.

Lets see, there was the old high school on Misawa AB, back in the days when it was a sleepy little Security Service base; it was housed in three long sheds which had been stables when Misawa AB was a Japanese Army cavalry post in the late 1930ies. On a hot summer day the place still smelled distinctly of horses. It was slated to be replaced during the Carter Administration, except that Jimmeh passed on the defense spending bill which would have paid for it; another good reason to despise him even before bungling the Iran Embassy hostage crisis. Even the relatively newer facilities on MAB then were no prize: famously the hospital barracks was in such bad shape that a guy once walked into the upstairs shower room and crashed straight through the floor into the downstairs shower room. This was the place where I developed my life-to-date habit of storing all non-refrigerated foodstuffs in sealed jars, since the barracks I lived in then had roaches. Lots and lots of roaches.

The infrastructure on Zaragoza AB wasnt too awful— this was an Air Force Base, where we do cling to some standards— but the water pipes were so corroded that tap-water on base came out colored orange, about the color and consistency of Tang. People living in base housing spent a lot of money on bottled water.

The infrastructure at the Yongsan Garrison, ROK was not that much better. A couple of decades of living with the expectation of relocating the mission elsewere had left the electrical grid in such shakey condition as to make power-outages a part of the expected routine. The water pipes were so corroded that I earned fame everlasting on the day I walked into the Air Force female dorm bathroom and noticed that the shower-heads emitted a bare trickle. I took out my trusty Swiss-Army knife, unscrewed the shower-head-plate and emptied about a quarter of a cup of crud out of each. This was also the place where some of the Army troops were domiciled in Korean War-era Quonset huts. In the fall, CE had to hold training classes for the dorm managers to teach them how to run the antique kerosene heaters that warmed them… the heaters were so old that the average soldier would never in his or her life laid eyes on artifacts of such antiquity.

The AFRTS station building in Greenland had mice so tame that one of the board operaters tried to train them to sit up and beg for food. A broadcaster friend of mine who was stationed at a Pacific Island Navy base was warming a pan of canned chili in a saucepan, when a huge rat jumped into the hot chili… and jumped out again, and skittered down the hallway of the dorm, leaving little rat-footprints of chili con carne.

Maintenance of facilities; it’s one of those dull, dull issues that hardly anyone ever pays attention to except those who have to deal directly with it on a daily basis. It’s not one of those sexy military spending issues; it is more of enduring headache, for there is never quite enough money approved for a tenth of local needs. What there is, winds up being spread as thin as a pat of butter on an acre of toast.

Overseas bases, and facilities that are on the verge of being closed generally get last call; and I’d note that politicians and investagative reporters are usually among the first to make a lot of hay when there is money spent on an aging military facility about to be closed.

So call me grimly amused, when they are making hay about money not being spent on an aging military facility.

Just for the heck of it though, the next time I have an appointment at BAMC, here in San Antonio, I’ll snoop around and take a look at what the outpatient troop quarters look like… but the last time I looked, six months ago, they all looked pretty good.

Any recollections of infamously awful troop billets are invited, of course. Misery loves company.

Among one of the small stories that I remember hearing, or reading after the monster tsunami that struck South-East Asia on the day after Christmas several years ago was the one about the clouds of mental-health professionals, breathlessly hurrying in to offer grief and trauma counseling to the understandably traumatized survivors only to discover that well, most of them were getting along fine. And if not fine, at least reasonably OK; yes, they were grieving, they were traumatized by all sorts of losses, their lives and livelihoods, their communities and their families had been brutally ripped apart, but a large number of the survivors seemed inclined to be rather stoic about it all. They seemed to be more interested in pulling up their socks, metaphorically speaking, and getting on with it. It appeared that, according to the story, their culture and religion predisposed them to a mind-set that said: the incomprehensible does indeed happen, wheel of life, turn of fate and all that, and when it happens, pull up your socks and get on with it.

The peripatetic grief counselors seemed a little at a loss, that their services were in so little demand in the face of (to them) such obvious need. I was also left wondering if wall-to-wall counseling was somewhat akin to taking a ton of over-the-counter remedies for a case of the flu or a cold. In most cases, youre gonna get over it, anyway.

When my parents lost their house, lock stock and contents in the Paradise Mountain/Valley Center fire in 2003, Blondie and I were monitoring the whole situation from a distance. This was the house that my parents had built together, after owning the land for nearly twenty-five years previously. It had everything in it that I remember growing up with, from the spiky Danish Moderne teak dining room set, to a complete run of American Heritage magazines, from the days when it was in hard-cover and without advertisements, and every shred of mementoes and furniture inherited from our grandparents and Great-Aunt Nan everything that had not been diverted to my sister Pip, my brothers and I. My parents were left with two vehicles, the clothes they stood up in, their pets, and a small number of things my mother put into her pockets when she did a final sweep through the house as the fire roared up the hill, or that the firemen grabbed off the walls when the heat of it began exploding the windows inwards.

They were rocked for about a day. And then they borrowed a camper, and moved right back onto their hill, and began planning to rebuild the house. As my mother philosophically explained many times to us, their friends, and those members of the disaster-relief community offering counseling and therapy, she and my father had gotten off rather lucky in comparison to others. They were retired, and did not have to rebuild a business, they had escaped the fire with their pets and themselves physically unscathed, and they were completely insured. All they had lost were things. And one more thing: they had lived in fire country for many years, and always in the back of their mind was this very possibility. They knew the risks and accepted them willingly. The odds caught up with them, at last but they pulled up their socks and got on with it. I own to being quite proud of my parents for being so stoical about the whole thing really, it harks back to my current obsession, the 19th Century. Ive been reading a lot of memoirs, and accounts of fairly shattering events, and yet the people writing them afterwards seem remarkably un-traumatized and quite grounded, following upon events that by twentieth-century mental health practice would have justified a life-time valium prescription and a couple of decades of survivor-support meetings. As I told Mom and Dad about one of the characters I am writing about , Today, hed be in therapy for post-traumatic stress but hes a Victorian, so hes only a little haunted.

I have to admit to a sneaking affection for the Victorians; at once terribly sentimental and operatic in their emotions, but at the same time fully aware that bad things could, and indeed happen fairly often. Husbands buried wives with depressing frequency, also wives burying husbands ditto, and parents buried small children ditto and vice versa; accidents of industry, transportation and war occurred with similarly discouraging frequency. Victorian death rituals are infamous for what we have thought, during the enlightened century just past, to be terribly over-wrought, indulgent and well, just too morbid. But I do wonder, if maybe they might have been better able to cope, and emerge being able to function after catastrophic tragedies, knowing that the possibility of such experiences was always out there. Sure, there were people back then who were entirely shattered by various traumatic experiences, and self-medication with a variety of interesting substances was not something of recent invention— opiate addiction positively soared among injured Civil War veterans— but still and all, one does wonder.

Discuss among yourselves, if interested!

So we whiled away an overcast Friday afternoon by going to the movies. There were three reasons for this: I feel I am duty bound to boost the first-weekend attendance of any intelligent and interesting-looking bit of historical film going, Blondie will watch Ioan Gruffudd in anything; double points and drooling slightly especially if he is costumed in tight trousers, tall boots and a shirt romantically opened halfway down the front and where was I? Oh, third reason. No car crashes, explosions and machine gun fire.

Be warned though: when it comes out on DVD, it will make an excellent drinking game. Every time you see a British actor you recognize from Masterpiece Theater, knock back a shot for every presentation he or she was in. I guarantee everyone at the party will be paralytic by the end of the first half-hour, forty-five minutes max. It does have the distinct vibe of those lush and lovingly produced British television epics of a certain sort: all it lacks is the genteel host, sitting in a leather armchair, turning the pages of a book and setting the scene in orotund tones. The settings and costumes, and period details were as immaculate as they always are in these efforts. Rooms didnt look like sets; they looked like rooms; many of them crowded and cluttered, and sometimes rather dim.

The first few minutes seemed a little awkward, rather jarring in setting up the characters and premise, and I mentally rewrote some of the dialogue. Bad habit of mine, having been intensely steeped in period literature, but either I adjusted or the writing got better. I think the latter, for a lot of the later dialogue was on-point.

The story was of that of William Wilberforce; a name not terribly familiar to Americans, and his long and discouraging struggle to outlaw slavery in the British Isles and in the British Empire as it was at the end of the 18th Century. The accounts of the abolitionist movement taught in our schools is pretty much focused on the American abolitionists at a later date, many of them inspired and even encouraged by Wilberforce himself, so this story is not a terribly over-familiar one to most Americans. William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, to give a couple of examples- them we have heard of. Often and at length.

The structure of the story might be a little hard to follow, initially: it hops back and forth, telling the story of Wilberforce, as a fairly well-born and well-connected young Member of Parliament, a forceful orator and able politician, and a good friend of William Pitt the Younger. He is young and dashing, beloved by his friends even his household staff is fond of him, and accustomed to his eccentricities, among which is a fondness for all kinds of animals not normally considered as pets. He is also extremely and unashamedly devout, and in an effort by his good friend Pitt to find him a cause by which he might serve both God and Mammon (in the form of Pitts government) he becomes devoted to the cause of abolishing chattel slavery, to the endangerment of his health and sanity.

Among Wilberforces first political allies in this effort who are not related to him by blood are the amazingly twisty Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon), political genius extraordinaire, and Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell), a scholar with a bent for research and a passion for abolition. They are both given memorably amusing lines of dialogue: really, if I hadnt seen Cold Comfort Farm, I wouldnt have thought Rufus Sewell had it in him to be a comic, and sometimes rather touching foil. (He usually gets the rather grim and earnest roles.)

Other noted moments: Ciaran Hinds, as one of the principal opponents to abolishing the slave trade, Lord Tarleton. Recently come from battling those rebellious Americans, he is the representative for Liverpool, and shows off his damaged sword-hand, as a war wound. Most Americans would have dearly loved a very much larger piece out of Banastre Tarleton than that, so he makes a very suitable villain.

And there it is: the movie makes clear what a long and dedicated effort it took to bring this about. For it meant a lot of work; writing, and preaching and persuading, not just of the high and the mighty, but of the ordinary people. Of this are solid, and very real grass-roots movements made, or at least, those of them that last, one person at a time being convinced against their economic self-interests. It does not happen overnight: it takes a while, and if anyone should be seeing this as some sort of politically correct fable, expecting the righteous cause to effortlessly sweep all before it well, this should give pause. People grow old, grow weary and blind, loose their health and their illusions, and die before the cause is won. But when victory comes, it is sweet and just and one which all can take comfort in, having been brought around by reason and persuasion. And the occasional political sly maneuver.

Money and time well-spent, overall. Not quite as literary as Shakespeare in Love, but not as drearily PC as Amistad. (Blondie says that the male leads are majorly studly and straight, which knocks out a certain theory about actors who can swish about in cloaks and swords and all that.)

So, yeah, my heart hasnt really been in this blogging thing for a while no, no nonono, I am not working up to pulling the plug, its just that I have been diverted by another mission. As I said in a post a couple of months ago, Im just laying down to bleed a while, then up and fight again but I know how Timmer feels. Theres a lot of stuff going on, which in days of yore I would have been perfectly at home, piling on with the rest of us. Some of it is just the usual blogger shit-fit: Marcotte who? At where? Ummm. OK this is the blogger-face you want with your campaign? Its always a bad sign when you piss off more than you make friends with. Didnt anyone actually read hers and that other blog before taking them on board officially? Apparently not. Smooth move, Ex-Lax, as we used to say in junior high.

Anna Nicole Smith, news coverage of, 24-7. Umm, OK. Clear demonstration that the major legacy media are not serving us well, although the Princess Di-like coverage fairly well illustrates the adage about first time tragedy, second time farce. Were kinda over served in the farce department here, although the astronaut Lisa whats-er-fern is probably grateful for it.

Britney Spears, bald. Sorry, Im not stooping to the obvious here. (Although the remembrance of a cartoon entitled Her First Masked Ball keeps popping up in my mind. I think it was in National Lampoon in about 1979. You google for it, you pervert.) Girl, the trailer park is calling. It is your destiny!

Talk about flashbacks to the 1970s, though watching our major political parties and politicians maneuver over the last couple of days. Tragedy and farce, tragedy and farce, people. Only this time its going to be a tragedy and a tragedy again. Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. Its been like watching a blindfolded person walk over a cliff; for the purposes of scoring domestic political points, just go ahead and kiss off and abandon our allies (yes, we do have some, here and there, although you wouldnt know it from your abject flunkies in the legacy media) and pull our forces out of Iraq in 90 days or whatever other timeline you have pulled out of your ass which will look good in the polls. Yeah. Sure. Whatever.

Sell out our national credibility and commitment to a long and difficult mission for a mess of pottage and polls. Do whatever it takes to keep you in that nice little office you have scored for yourself. Just keep thinking of your short-term interest. Just keep hoping that all that jihadist narsty stuff in the woodshed will all go away, when George Bush exits the White House. Yep, just keep hoping. Get your friends and mouthpieces in the legacy media to help you out with that. Everybody will love us once again, once the Bushhitlertyrant is gone, and our betters are in control. Take a nice long drink of the Koolaid, comrade, you will feel so much better.

Me, I am trying to take the long view. With luck the blogosphere will circumvent the flee-all-is-lost-in Iraq meme, as best we can. No more kindly and authoritative Uncle Walty declaring without opposition after the Tet Offensive , that all is lost in Vietnam! Flee, flee for your lives! And also there is a means of fighting the our troops are bloodthirsty baby-killers and war-criminals meme. Heres hoping we can scotch that one, right at the starting post, although given that the so-called military expert for the Washington Post is singing that little ditty like his hope of heaven depends on it doesnt necessary ensure that that particular meme will go down without a fight. Its going to be a bumpy ride in the next two years: fasten your metaphorical seatbelt, and prepare to weather the shitstorm

Me I have the feeling that bad stuff is going to happen. And that I can do my best part now by going back to our stories, or recollections of who we are, and what we had to overcome. We have had hard times, bad times, times when we might have given it all up. We have to remember these stories. Our past, those stories that some of us know, and that some of us have yet to be reminded of, we will need them, very soon. Things will start happening, in the next months or years. Events will overtake the best intentions of us all, and so we need to be reminded of our history, our stories and our heroes and heroines.

They are a talisman, our hope, our light in the dark when every other light has gone out.

18. February 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, General, History, Pajama Game

I am not alone in obsessing what fuels the radical elements of Islam in their apparent desire to hasten the end of days. The various mechanisms that contribute to its propagation (indoctrination in the schools, grinding poverty, corrupt leadership and so forth) are nothing new, but this whole thing seems to be something of a different phenomenon. While I do not by any means consider myself to be a scholar of theology, anthropology or, for that matter, history, all of these topics provide insight into the pickle we find ourselves in. Nor is it my intent to write a scholarly paper on the things that Ive been reading, but to rather tell a little about them and why they are interesting. More »

18. February 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Old West, Pajama Game, Technology

What did a well-known naturalist, a daring mail-coach driver on the hazardous route through West Texas, a fiery newspaper editor, a tireless peacemaker and advocate for the Indians, and an amateur tinkerer/inventor all have in common, besides all being present in Texas in the 1840ies? Frederick Lindheimer, William Big Foot Wallace, John Salmon Rip Ford, Robert Neighbors and Samuel Walker all served at various times under the command of Jack Hays, the legendary Ranger Captain.

The Rangers of that time were nothing like their present-day iteration an elite State law-enforcement body. And under Hays captaincy, they became more than just the local mounted volunteer militia, called up on a moments notice to respond to a lightening fast raid on their settlement or town by Indians or cross-border bandits. They took to patrolling the backcountry, looking specifically for a fight and hoping to forestall raids before they happened, or failing that, to track down raiding parties, recover loot and captives, and to administer payback. There was only one abortive attempt to have them wear uniforms. Ranger volunteers provided their own weapons and horses, and usually their own rations, although the State of Texas did supply ammunition. They were famously unscathed by anything resembling proper military discipline and polish, as the regular Army would discover to their horror during the Mexican War. A contemporary newspaper caricature of a typical Texas Ranger featured a hairy and ragged creature resembling Cousin It, slumped on a horse and wearing a belt stuffed all the way around with knives and pistols.

All that Hays asked of his Rangers was that they follow him and fight. And so they did, for Texas attracted young and restless males with a taste for adventure, a bit of ambition and no small propensity for administering violence when called upon. They came like moths to a flame, before, during and after the Texas War for Independence; many of them gravitating like a trout going upstream into an enlistment as a Ranger or service in the local militia. During the early 1840s Hays commanded a company of fluctuating size, operating out of San Antonio, which turned out to be extraordinarily effective, and made his name a legend in Texas. Many who had only heard of him were utterly flummoxed upon meeting him in person for the first time. He was slight and short, quiet-spoken and almost shy, appearing to be (and a contemporary sketch and various descriptions conform this) about fourteen years old. In between forays and patrols he drilled his company tirelessly in shooting and horsemanship, copying many of the tricks of fighting from horseback used by the Comanche and other Plains warriors. Meeting the Comanche on anything like equal terms in a fight at short distance had to wait on a single technological innovation, and Hays was the first to put it to effective use.

Until 1844, the Rangers fought primarily with the same kind of weapons that Americans had always used: single-shot flintlock or percussion rifles of various type and design, augmented by single-shot pistols. While such rifles in well-trained hands were punishingly accurate, they were awkward and slow to reload, and nearly impossible to use from horseback in a running fight. Even single-shot pistols took time to reload, time during which an opponent with a bow and arrow could get off any number of accurate shots. But in 1839, motivated by some mad, god-only-knows, pie-in-the-sky, by-god-its-crazy-but-just-might-work impulse, the State of Texas ordered a quantity of 180 patent .36 caliber 5-shot revolvers from Samuel Colts factory in Paterson, New Jersey. A portion of them were actually issued to certain Texas Navy fighting ships, where they served about as well as expected, but they began to be largely used by the Texas Army and increasingly by Ranger units, to astonishing effect.

The early Paterson Colts were delicate, and needed constant care and maintenance: loading the cylinder and reattaching it to the barrel was a finicky and careful business. To modern eyes they are over-long in the barrel, heavy and clumsy in appearance. In 1843, they were expensive but worth every penny to the men who carried them into a fight with mounted Comanche warriors. Being able to fire five shots before needing to reload evened the odds considerably; and Hayss Rangers usually carried two; it was also possible to purchase extra cylinders, have them loaded and change them out quickly. Colts reputation in Texas was made, especially after Hays and a party of fourteen Rangers armed with Paterson Colts charged and routed a party of eighty Comanche, in a running fight along the Pedernales River.

A subsequent design improvement for military use in the Mexican War saw Ranger Samuel Walker working with Samuel Colt on improving the original design. This new design, a six-shot .44 revolver which weighed a whopping four and a half pounds made Colts reputation and his economic future secure. Subsequent iterations of the Colt revolver proved enduringly popular in Texas to this day. Traveling there in the early 1850s, Frederick Law Olmsted wrote There are probably in Texas about as many revolvers as male adults, and I doubt if there are one hundred in the state of any other make.”

For all its various shortcomings, the Paterson Colt, and its descendents filled a very particular need— the need of a horse- mounted fighter for a repeat-fire weapon that was relatively accurate at short range, rugged, easy to use, and capable of evening the chances of survival against a hard-fighting, and similarly mounted enemy. In the hands of Rangers, soldiers, lawmen and citizens, a Colt revolver was all that.

Except on occasions where a shotgun was called for, but thats another story.
(Next: An unexpected peace treaty with the Comanche)

04. February 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Military, Old West, Pajama Game

(Part 1 is here)

It was not as if the Texans were entirely defenseless against a surprise attack like the Great Linnville Raid. Poor in cash, poor in practically everything but land, the conditions of the frontier had attracted large numbers of the restless and adventurous, who were not inclined to accept any sort of insult lying down. With no meaningful standing army, defense of local communities depended on their militia usually composed of every able-bodied male. The sheer size of Texas and the nature of war waged by the horse-lords of the Southern Plains made it imperative that at least a portion of the militia be mounted. Over the twenty years after the founding of Stephen Austins colony the practice evolved for a mounted militia, ready to ride in pursuit of raiders within fifteen minutes after an alarm being sounded. Sometimes they were able to catch up and retrieve captives, or stolen horses. More often, the raiding Indians split up and melted like smoke into the wilderness, leaving their pursuers frustrated and fuming, their horses exhausted. It became quite clear, as more Anglo settlers poured into Texas, that the best defense was in the offense, to field a mounted patrol out ranging the back-country, looking to forestall Indian raids.

Such a Corps of Rangers was formally established on the eve of Texan rebellion against Mexico. Distinct from the militia and the regular army, the mounted ranging companies continued to serve after the war, in various forms and degrees of effectiveness, most of them locally supported. The citizen-rangers of the local companies assembled for short periods of time in response to specific dangers, their numbers ever-flexible. They supplied their own arms, horses and equipment. By the time of the Linnville Raid, most of them were veterans of the War for Independence, and had years of experience in the field otherwise; men like Mathew Old Paint Caldwell of Gonzalez, and the McCullough brothers, who had handled Sam Houstons two artillery pieces at the Battle of San Jacinto. Ben McCullough had even been trained in outdoor skills by no less than Davy Crockett himself. Companies from settlements along the Colorado assembled under Edward Burleson, including Chief Placido and twelve Tonkawa Indians, who had their own score with the Comanche to settle, and twenty-one volunteers from Port Lavaca. Other volunteers gathered from Bastrop, Cuero, Victoria and other towns scattered along the river valleys between the coast and the start of the limestone hills.

Barely a week after the burning of Linnville, companies of volunteer Texans were closing in inexorably on the withdrawing Comanche raiding party, at an open plain by Plum Creek, a tributary of the San Marcos River near present-day Lockhart. Burdened by loot, captives and a slow-moving herd of stolen horses and mules, the raiders, a huge party of Penateka Comanche, led by a war chief called Buffalo Hump, had not split up and scattered as was their usual custom. Unknowing, Buffalo Humps war party were closely pursued by part of McCulloughs Gonzales company, who began seeing exhausted pack animals shot and left by the wayside. Caldwell and the other leaders had deduced the route by which they were returning, and had arranged their forces accordingly. They let the Comanche column pass, under a great cloud of dust and ash, for the prairie had recently been burned over.

Not until the Texans rode out from cover in two parallel lines converging on them, did the Comanche warriors even know they had been followed. Some of their gaudily adorned chiefs rode out to put on a show, intending to cover the withdrawal, taunting the waiting Texans, riding back and forth. A Texan sharp-shooter brought down the most flamboyant of the chiefs, and when several warriors rode out to carry his body away, the order for a charge was given. The Texans smashed through the line of Comanche fighters from both sides, and into the loot-laden horse and mule herd. As the herd stampeded, the whole raid dissolved into a rout, a hundred bloody running fights, with the Comanche fighters penned in and ridden down. The battle ran for fifteen miles, with some of the survivors chased as far as Austin. It was later estimated that the tribe lost about a quarter of their effective fighters. They never raided so far into the settled regions of Texas again, in such numbers and after the Plum Creek fight learned to give a wide berth to volunteer Ranger companies.

One such company was based in San Antonio, composed of local volunteers and funded by local businessmen, many of whom also participated in the patrols. The captain of that company was a surveyor by profession, born in Tennessee and raised in Mississippi, who would live to a ripe old age as a politician and lawman in California. Quiet, modest, self-effacing, Jack Hays became the very beau ideal of a captain of Rangers. He had been among the volunteers at Plum Creek, but made his name in the decade afterwards, astounding people who knew only his reputation upon meeting him for the first time. He was slight, short and refined in appearance, and looked about fourteen years old. But he was a also gifted leader of irregular fighters, possessed an iron constitution, and procured for his men an innovation which allowed them to carry the fight against the Comanche Indians on something like equal terms the Colt Revolver.

(to be continued)

30. January 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Memoir, Pajama Game

I didn’t grow up in a military family, at least not active-duty military. But we were replete with veterans. Dad fought in Korea with the Marines, his dad was with the Army in WWI. Dad’s older brother was in the Merchant Marines. Both of Dad’s younger brothers served at least one tour with the Marines, and Mom’s great-grandpa served with the Ohio Infantry in the 1860s. Come to think of it, Mom’s baby sister joined the Air Force after she graduated high school, in the early 1950s. My brother joined the Marines in 1973 to avoid being drafted, but got a medical discharge before ever completing boot camp. The military was seen as a valid career option, a respectable choice, as well as a place to grow up. We saw it as a rung on the ladder of success, a starting point from which one could reach the moon, if one so desired.

I enlisted in the military twice – the Army National Guard while I was in college, and the Air Force after I graduated. Total time in service was just shy of 12 years, I think. Both times I joined for basically the same reasons – I didnt see any other clear options for my life, and I wanted to serve my country. And both times, I would say the former reason carried more weight than the latter, but that doesn’t negate the desire to serve. And my time in the military, and the experiences I had there, crystallized and solidified my love of country, and strengthened my belief that while the U.S. isn’t perfect, it’s a damn good country.
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30. January 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: General, History, Old West, Pajama Game

In his one-volume history of Texas Lone Star, T.R.. Fehrenbach cites one particular reason for Texas having such a distinctive culture relative to the other states. And there is a distinctly different feel to living here; of all the places in the States where I have lived or visited; only Utah and Hawaii came even close to it, for similar reasons. Hawaii is an island, and was once itself an independent kingdom. So was Utah, metaphorically speaking: an island of Mormon separatists in empty vastness of the Great Basin. They are still generic American places, although one has frangipani and fabulous beaches, and the other has spectacular mountains and religious conformity.

Texas is more of a reduced and concentrated American essence; a demi-glace as it were. Like Utah and Hawaii, Texas started as independent political entity and did experience a certain degree of isolation, especially in the early years of settlement by Spanish, Mexican and American arrivals, but Fehrenbach cites one more reason; that Texas was at war for a good fifty years.

This war was fought mainly on one front (occasionally varying the program with other hostile factions), and a bitter and protracted fight it was too, beginning with the early days of Stephen Austins colony in the 1820ies. It had something of inevitability about it, for it was fought mostly against the Comanche Indian tribes; only in the early days of the American colonies east of the Appalachians s had there been a war as prolonged and vicious. In most of the other territories later become states, either the Indians were not particularly warlike, settlements were sparse and easily defended— leaving the resident Indians to withdraw to the back country— or such conflict between settlers and tribes was briskly concluded within a few years and to the settlers decided advantage. But in Texas, war with the Indians lasted until the last ragged band surrendered to the reservation life in 1875; a period of fifty years during which no settler ever felt entirely secure, even in the center of what were larger towns at the time.

There was a dreadful inevitability in the collision of restless Anglo-American borderers, many of them that contentious Scots-Irish breed of whom it is usually said that they were born fighting, with the Comanche. But the Anglo-Texan borderers occasionally took a break from fighting; to farm, or ranch, to plant cotton or practice some more peaceful trade; the Comanche never did. For the Comanche lived entirely by war, by ransom and plunderespecially for horses, which they valued over practically anything else. They were restless and ever-moving, accustomed to hardship, feared by other tribes, whom they pushed out of the way, taking what they wanted, when they wanted it. There was no other occupation; no other means of advancement save by being a fearless warrior and raider. Such a harsh life eliminated the unfit brutally, as brutally as they eliminated their own enemies. At the high noon-time of their peak, they were the lords of the harsh and beautiful country of the southern plains, from the Arkansas River, to the Balcones Escarpment. They ranged and raided as far as they pleased, occasionally interrupted by a fragile peace treaty.

One of these treaties came to a spectacularly violent end, in the middle of San Antonio in the spring of 1840, during the course of what had been intended as a peace conference. In token of their good faith, a contingent of Penateka Comanche chiefs were supposed to surrender a number of captives, and sign a treaty. They turned over only a few, one of them a teenaged girl who had been savagely abused during a year of captivity. She told the Texan officials that the Comanche held more than a dozen other captives, but intended to extort a large ransom for each, one by one. When the chiefs and the peace commissioners met in a large building known as the Council House, the commissioners asked after the other captives who whose release had been promised. The leader of the chiefs — who had promised to bring in all the captives— answered that they had brought in the only one they had. The others were with other tribes. And then he added, insolently, How do you like that answer?

The short answer was the Texans did not. There were already soldiers standing by: they were ordered to surround the Council House, and the chiefs informed that they would be held hostage until their warriors returned to their camps and brought back the rest of the hostages. Almost as one, the chiefs drew knives and rushed the soldiers guarding the doors. The fat was then in the fire, as the warriors who were waiting outside in the yard entered the fray, and a short and vicious running fight erupted in the street leading down to the San Antonio River. The Council House fight vigorously re-ignited the war between Comanche and Texan, when a huge Comanche war party came down from the hills in the fall, sweeping down the empty country between the Guadalupe and Lavaca Rivers. They terrorized the town of Victoria and burned Linnville on Lavaca Bay. The citizens of Linnville watched from the refuge of boats offshore, as the Indians looted the warehouses and homes. They departed, with two hundred horses all laden with plunder, but what happened on the return from that spectacular raid set in motion a gathering of forces and personalities who would eventually reduce the proud lords of the Southern Plains to a handful of desperate, starving beggars.

(to be continued)

Its been kind of a frenetic waltz this week which is a round-about way of explaining why I didnt write much original stuff this week. I just got obsessed with the new book; yeah, this one has taken hold, and when Im on a roll, Im on a roll, and nothing else seems quite real, or very important.

See, the first book well, it was actually the second book, if you count the memoir which you really cant because that was all basically little scraps of reminiscence stitched together the first book was pretty easy to write. I sat down and wrote the first draft in a pell-mell rush, all over the space of about two months. The plot was pretty much already there, from start to finish; being based upon real people and real events has the effect of handing me the hardest part on a silver platter already. All I had to do was flesh them out a little, do a little guessing as to how they might have related to each other, come up with some amusing conversation, and a lot of description hey presto, there you go. 120,000 well-polished and carefully chosen words. As a celebrated wit whose name I cant remember at the moment was supposed to have said, Its easy, just open a vein, and let it flow.

It actually was easy, because I was able to think about them for a long time, before I actually buckled down and did the writing. For me, thats what I need to do about half the time; to work out in my head what needs to happen, and how to go about making it happen. Sometimes I need to bounce ideas off other people: believe me, that kind of feedback is above price. Its were the best ideas develop. And sometimes the magic is happening. I sit down at the computer and stuff just happens. I cope up for air, and theres half a chapter written, and its pure gold, and its already four in the afternoon, and where the hell did the time go?
Anyway, the last book was something I lived with for a long time, before I actually buckled down and put it all on paper.

(Its still in front of a publisher, by the way and there are two more I will submit it to, in case of rejection. (Have to wait and do it sequentially, these people are anal about simultaneous submissions!) As my writer friend on the West Coast says, trying to find a publisher for a novel is kind of like trying to find adoptive parents for a minority Down s syndrome child: they are out there, but it takes a bit of looking.)

The new book; now, the one about the German colonies in the Texas Hill Country? I have built the scaffolding of plot and character for that from scratch although there are some real people in it, some of who are very interesting people in their own right and who will take over, if I dont keep a firm grip on them (You sit down, and behave, this story is not about you!)
What is really curious to me is how many of the fictional people, and the plot events just seemed to spring up from something I read in the course of doing research. A sentence here, a paragraph there, even just a single name and a whole character is launched, obstreperous, amusing, and fully alive to me. There were incidents and events that I just kept circling back around towards, without knowing quite why: I just had the sense that they would have something important to do with the story. I had to set them aside like pieces for a mosaic, and figure out how to fit them all together later. There are also some characters who start out in the plot as a sort of extra, with one or two lines, but one way and another they turn out to be a little more important and before you know it, there is a fully functional and almost essential sub-plot when all I had really needed was you know, like two lines! It may take a lot longer to work through the first draft, then sit down and expand, edit and polish to a high shine. Im guessing six months, at least, especially if I have to take (bleah) more paid outside work!

At this rate of proliferation, there just might be two books in this epic: the first one to cover the immigration, the building of the settlements, and the peace treaty with the Comanche, and the second to cover the Civil War and aftermath. There is no end of incident to cover, not to mention operatic levels of drama, murder, revenge, stolen children, madness, true love, sudden death all this and civil war, too. And maybe a cattle stampede, just to vary the program. Just by way of a tease, I think I shall post a sample chapter. (Suggestions and feedback are welcome, always. And any introductions to a literary agent will be extremely welcome, being that the big publishers are closed to me, unless I have one and they are even harder to find!)

Later: Entry deleted and re-entered, in order to allow comments. Something about punctuation in the title often screws these things us. Don’t know why – Sgt. Mom)

(Just for fun, this is one of the stories that I bashed out just after I retired, a sort of update of Kiplings’ Sergeants Three, and a way of explaining what women in the military were really like. Enjoy!)

One very slow news day at the tail end of the buildup to the first Gulf War, I decided to hunt up my three friends: Sergeants Leroy and Maculhaney, who were attached to the mobile AFRTS station, and Orvis who was attached to Combat Camera, where she was stubbornly campaigning to adopt the motto “You Kill Them, We’ll Capture The Moment.”
“You lookin’ for Deege?” At the station, Ty Reese, Maculhaney’s friend and cohort on assorted broadcasting crimes waved to me from the studio trailer door. He had
kicked it open with his foot, and kept it in place by hooking his
toe around the edge of it. He also had a fistful of
plain CD jewelbox cases in one hand, a coffee mug in the other hand, and a three-day old copy of the “Stars & Stripes” tucked between his elbow and side,. Altogether it was an impressive display of organizational juggling.
” Just missed her… she’s off shift, probably heading back to her hooch. It’s two down, three over from here….Hey, that anything more current?” He eyed the newspaper I had brought out from my hotel downtown with positive hunger, and I answered regretfully,
“I bought it for Mackie, but I’ll ask her to pass it on to you when she’s done…its yesterdays’ Washington Post, though.”
“Ma’am, at this rate, I’m about to subscribe to the West Podunk Gazette Recorder, if’n they’d promise delivery to our hooch, and four pages of funnies on Sunday!”
“I can spare you a week-old copy of Time.” I fished it out of my bag, and Ty deftly snapped it under his elbow with the newspaper, saying
“Inquiring minds want to know… whaddy they say at the press briefings
that they don’t show on CNN?”
“That the doughnuts are stale, and the coffee is cold,” I said, wryly, and Ty grinned like the genial maniac that he was,
“Life is just full of these little tragedies, ain’t it?” and withdrew into the studio. I had met several more of the broadcasters, since I got to know Maculhaney and Leroy. While military radio broadcasters did not vary quite so much as the civilian variety, being more or less the same age, and displaying about the same amount of experience, education and physical fitness, they were a little outside the other military professionals I had met so far. The military broadcasters were intelligently verbal, aggressively impatient with the slow on the uptake, and needled each other on air and off with wit and creativity. Hanging out with them frequently sounded like an endless improvisational skit created by an off-the-wall comedy troop with a taste for lavatorial humor and an encyclopedic memory of twenty years of popular music.
I followed Ty’s vague directions. Although I had visited many times, the tent city lamentably looked all alike. Halfway there, I caught up to Maculhaney, just as a large tan vehicle rumbled past, missing her by inches.
“You ought to be more careful!” I said, “I’d hate to be deprived of one of my deep background sources.”
“Ehh, they wouldn’t dare run me over… the paperwork would never end,” Maculhaney was casually dismissive.
“So you like living dangerously?” I asked and she answered
“Well, statistically, the only things I have to worry about are an airplane crashing on top of me, and the Viet Cong overrunning the compound. Drunk drivers and colonels who hate rock and roll are a much more significant hazard… stick with us, and you’ll just have to worry about falling aircraft, and substance abuse.”
“Thanks. I think,” I said, as the door to the female NCO hooch fell closed behind us. I knew by then, others lived there besides Maculhaney, Leroy and Orvis, but those others came and went, as the military mission required. Since they had been there nearly the longest, they had done the most toward making it, if not precisely homelike, a little less bleakly comfortless. The latest innovation occupied the center of Maculhaney’s bed, nestled in her upturned helmet on what looked like an old terrycloth towel, a tiny piebald puddle of fur.
“Do you know there’s a cat in your hat?” I asked, and Maculhaney replied
“Yes, but I’ve always more favored green eggs and ham better…. I forgot, you hadn’t met the Wee Morsel.” She gently slid her fingers under the sleeping kitten, and lifted it out. It barely filled the palm of one hand. Sleep disturbed, the tiny thing mewed a nearly silent, feeble, protest, and I said,
“Good lord, its eyes aren’t even open! Where did you get it? Doesn’t it have a mother, someplace?”
“It did… she was a stray that some of the Army guys were feeding. They had her sort of tamed, but something went wrong, after she littered. The guys found her dead, and they went looking for the kittens. This one was the only one still alive. D’you know we have a veterinary detachment here, for the bomb dogs? Well, they took the kitten to the vet, and one of the Army guys is an old buddy of Leroy’s husband. He is such a softie for our dumb chums, he begged Lee and I to take over, and we’re such softies ourselves that we said we would.”
All the while, Maculhaney was cuddling the kitten in one hand, and taking out a bottle of
some thick, yellowish fluid out of the refrigerator with the other. Setting the bottle on the table, she took an eyedropper from some mysterious store in her battledress pockets, and began dribbling the fluid into the Wee Morsel’s tiny pink mouth. “He… I know it’s a he, got itsy, bitsy teensy balls…is about a week and a half old. We’ve been feeding him like this for about four days, and I think it’s working. This stuff is condensed milk and water, with an egg yolk and
some corn syrup mixed in.”
The Wee Morsel sucked avidly on the eyedropper, wrapping his paws, fringed with translucent little claws, around it. It’s ears lay close against the skull like delicate new leaves and the black and white fur was still so thin and short that the pink skin underneath could still be seen.
“Whatever are you going to do with it?” I asked, fascinated. I already had an idea for a
human-interest essay taking form.
“Don’t know,” Maculhaney refilled the dropper, deftly easing it into the tiny mouth, “Depends on if it lives… poor little thing! I’ve hand-raised kittens before, but they were older than this.”
I noticed, however, that she stroked the Wee Morsel’s head delicately, and as tiny as it was, it rose to meet the caress.

The events of the next week or so pretty well drove the existence of the Wee Morsel out of mind. Leroy told me later that she managed to buy a wicker travel basket on the local economy, when it became apparent that the Wee Morsel was going to live, and needed a more suitable home than Maculhaney’s helmet. I presume that he shared the subsequent hours and days in the shelter during Scud alerts, since Maculhaney and Leroy were conscientious mother-substitutes. I honestly did not become aware of his existence again until several weeks afterwards, during another one of my visits to what Orvis described as “Mi dump, su dump.”
The black and white kitten drifted silently across the floor, after I had poured myself another cup of Leroy’s ever-present herb tea, and regarded me solemnly.
“Good heavens, he has grown,” I said, and Leroy laughed, and picked him up by the scruff of his neck and dropped him in my lap.
“He sure has, he’s eating solid grown-up cat food now, and sleeping all through
the night!”
Orvis, scowling at the letter pad propped against her knees, remarked
“Amen fo’ that!”
“Wait till you have kids,” Leroy said knowingly, and Orvis replied
“They the trouble that lil’ thang has been, then I won’t ever… waking’ up all nights, all hours, jus’ cause that thang let out a peep!”
The “lil’ thang” regarded me with ancient yellow-green eyes, and licked my wrist with a raspy pink tongue, before swarming up to table-top level, and crouching down, brief tail wrapped around haunches, to watch Leroy cleaning and reassembling a videotape recorder.
“The Prophet Mohammed is reported to have cut the sleeve off his robe, “I
said seditiously, “Rather than disturb his pet cat, asleep on his arm,”
Orvis retorted unprintably, and Leroy scratched the Wee Morsel between his tiny ears,
“Aww, don’ say that, Sunny… you just mad ’cause he put a dead scorpion on your pillow. That means he likes you.”
“A mighty hunter before the Lord,” Maculhaney remarked from her cot, where she was reading the latest “Atlantic”, “He is looking for your affection and approval. Be a sport and play along, or we shall never be able to place him with a suitable human.”
“I thought one of you would be taking him,” I said, and Maculhaney said,
“I have two already, and they don’t either of them takes kindly to interlopers. They are both elderly and cranky… it just wouldn’t be fair.”
“Mitch is allergic to cat dander,” Leroy said, “He can’t even stand to be in a room where a cat has been. I’ll have to wash everything that this lil’ fellow has touched, else Mitch ‘l be sneezing an’ coughing ’til next Christmas.”

“But what are you going to do when him, when you rotate home?” I said, and
Maculhaney answered,
“Oh, don’t worry about it, we’ll sort out something,”
I let the matter rest, for the moment. I knew as sure as the sun rose in the morning, Leroy and Maculhaney between them would see the piebald kitten to a loving home, with a commodious litter box and tuna on demand.
Away in the desert towards Iraq, Desert Storm broke and fell, and in a matter of weeks, Kuwait was liberated. I threw in my lot with a couple of old reporter friends who had plotted a lighting trip in a rented Range Rover— another story I have told elsewhere. By the time I visited Leroy and Maculhaney again, the kitten was a gangly adolescent cat, wearing a bright red harness and leash, and riding Maculhaney’s shoulder, as she walked along the main road through
tent city. I had the driver let me off, and the first thing I said was,
“Wasn’t there a popular song about taking the cat for a walk?”
“Norma Tanega, “Maculhaney answered instantly. Of course, she would know that.
“‘Walking My Cat Named Dog’… 1967ish, I believe.”
She set the Wee Morsel down at her feet, and he scampered obediently at the end of his leash as we walked together. Nearly as many people stopped to pet him as spoke to Maculhaney. I had never seen a cat take very well to a leash before, and when I remarked on it she answered,
“I don’t think he knows he’s a cat. I’m not at all sure what he thinks he is, but he definitely thinks he’s something more than a cat. He doesn’t meow, for one. He tries, but all that comes out is a tiny squeak. And he’s very much an inside cat. He won’t go outside, unless one of us takes him. Since he has been handled constantly since birth, he has bonded very well to humans… we are pretty close to finding him a good home.”
Inside the female NCO hooch, she unsnapped the leash, and the Wee Morsel made a beeline for Orvis’ area,
“Long time, no see, Reporter Lady,” said Orvis, in pleased surprise, “Dammit, cat, get outta there!” She scooped Wee Morsel out of an opened portabrace bag, “Go catch a rat, ‘r somthin’! So where’ve you been keeping yourself? ”
“Here and there,” I said, “I got a ride into Kuwait, stopped on the way back to liberate a cup of Leroy’s Red Zinger.”
“How did you find it all?” Maculhaney asked, and looked at the canvas ceiling
when I said,
“Basically, by following the road signs… actually? Looted to a faretheewell. They even ripped the sinks and toilets out of restrooms. I talked to some guys on the road out of town, they insisted there was a wrecked Iraqi truck full of sanitary napkins further up the road… do you know why a group of guys would rip off a truckload of sanitary napkins?”
“I haven’t got an earthly idea,” answered Maculhaney
“It sounds like a setup to a joke,” Orvis said, and Leroy suggested.
“Maybe they were trying to corner the market… looking to be the kings of the sanitary napkin black market.” She capped that with a suggestion based on a crude slang expression and an ethnic slur, which was as apt as it was not repeatable in polite company. Maculhaney looked pained when the rest of us snickered guiltily, and I said,
“That’s a headline that will never see the light of day. I actually thought about doing a story about your furry friend, here. I talked to my editor last night, and he’s already drooling. Sort of human-interest thing. Resourceful American military women rescue and nurture a helpless little kitten, and seek good home for it. Played right, it would have people lined up to adopt the Wee Morsel, and get him a ride back to the States in royal comfort. It could put your names in the headlines,”
“And our asses in slings, “Orvis said, bluntly, “Cat, get yo’ furry butt outta that bag!” She lifted Wee Morsel out of the portabrace again, and plunked him on her cot, where he licked his paws and pretended it had never happened. I looked at Leroy and Maculhaney, and they looked equally unenthused.
“It’s a good idea, “Maculhaney finally allowed, with a diplomatic touch of polite enthusiasm. “It could work, too. But it only has about an eighty per-cent chance of working the way you wanted it to.”
“Not even that good. I say sixty to seventy-per cent, “Leroy said, “Which means a twenty to forty per-cent chance of rebounding on us. It’s a great idea… but I’d rather do this our way.”
“But why?” I said, “A story would make you all look great. It would make the military look great… it’s a win-win situation. Explain to me why it wouldn’t work, as you see it.”
“‘Cause you don’t know diddly ’bout how the military really works,” Orvis said bluntly, “Fo’ all you been hangin’ with us, you still ain’t got a clue.”
“Explain it to me,” I said, exasperated. “How could it make trouble for you?”
“Because this whole thing with the Wee Morsel has been… well, definitely against the rules,” Maculhaney explained with her usual air of cynical detachment. “We have been keeping a pet in the barracks. Diverting Air Force time, energy and resources towards a questionable end. What if someone living here in the last four months had been allergic? That Army veterinarian wasn’t over here to look after sick kittens. Those egg-yolks I got from the guys in the mess
certainly weren’t suppose to be fed to them, either.”
“We got away with it because no one here complained,” Leroy added, “But I guaran-damn-tee, if you write your story, someone would raise a stink, no matter how cute other people think it ‘ud be, no matter how many other people think it plays “abide with me” on the heartstrings! And it would just take one… some damnfool congressman, or some bastard of a retired colonel with his shorts in a twist about what women are doing in his military. Trust me, someone would see it their duty to see us nailed to the wall. And we’d be screwed, even if we weren’t just ordered to dump him back where we found him.”
“Which we wouldn’t do, to start with,” Maculhaney said, “‘Excuse us for caring, but
we’re rather fond of the Wee Morsel.”
“People over here now are pretty cool with it,” Orvis chimes in. I was interested to notice that she was ticking Wee Morsel’s whiskers, “Hey, nothing’s too good for our boys and girls in a war zone, we entitled to whatever keeps us outta the rubber room at Malcom Gow. But the war’s about over, and the regular rules are gonna apply here. An’ the biggest of the
rules is, “thou shalt not draw unfavorable attention”. ”
“Making a gesture might work, in the short term. It would get Wee Morsel back to the States and some cute pictures in the Sunday supplements, but when it all dies down, those that make the rules will be remembering that we rocked the boat. Like Leroy said, they’d see us nailed to the wall. Quiet honestly, I don’t think my career can stand it.” Maculhaney said, gravely and Leroy said,
“Mine for damn sure can’t!”
“But it’s a sure-fire story, “I protested, “Isn’t there some way I can write it… maybe without mentioning names?”
“Lose our names, change some of the details,” Maculhaney considered it soberly, “If you can wait a bit… once everyone rotates home, and starts to loose track of who was where, and did what with whom. It would still be a cute story…”
“And as cold as a plate of vichyssoise, “I conceded, “Well, if that’s the only way it will fly… at least get me a picture of the Morsel to go with it.”

“Deal,” Leroy said, “As soon as you get a picture of him, then you can publish your story.”
We shook hands on it, and I passed the rest of the afternoon in the manner of most of my other visits. I had intended to visit sooner, and have no one to blame but myself that several more weeks passed, and by that time, the tent city was in the process of being struck. The tents were empty, and half of them were down: I only recognized my friend’s hooch because of the shelves that Leroy and Orvis had built, forlorn and abandoned outside, with a pile of some other trash
and a stack of Maculhaney’s old magazines. With a pang of disappointment, I walked toward the radio trailer, dreading to find that gone as well, but it was still there, although the contents were rapidly being disassembled and packed into a series of bulky square anvil cases, under Leroy’s stern eye.
“At least you’re still here,” I said, and she looked at her watch, and answered
“For another forty-six hours, and approximately twenty-two minutes… but who’s counting?”
“I didn’t know you were so short,” I said, and Leroy cackled with laughter,
“Sugar, I am so short, I can’t even carry on a long conversation! Maculhaney left yesterday, matter of fact. Sunny’s been gone for, oh, nearly three weeks now. She sent me this…” Leroy fished out a scrap of paper from her breast pocket. “It’s her parent’s address, an’ that picture we promised you.”
I looked at the Polaroid, and recognized Orvis, skimpily and unfamiliarly clad in shorts and a tube top, sitting on the edge of a verandah, somewhere in the South by the look of the lush garden just visible beyond. The Wee Morsel himself lay adoringly in her lap, and I could think of nothing to say but
“I didn’t even think she liked cats… Orvis is the person you were trying to place him with? I can’t even think of a time she wasn’t shooing him out of her area, or complaining about him leaving dead scorpions on her pillow! Whatever made you think she would take him?”
“Well, the way he kept making up to her! Sunny, now, she never had a pet, growing up, with her father in the Army and all, so she had to get used to the idea…. There was this night when she was all upset about not hearing from her husband, and that cat just crawled up on her bunk, and began licking the tears off her face, and purring and pushing his face into hers. I never seen a cat get so upset because someone was upset, before. Maculhaney didn’t, neither. That
baby cat just decided it was Sunny that he wanted for his human.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, then?”
“We couldn’t, “Leroy answered, “She hadn’t really said yes, at that point and we was still trying to work out the logistics. It was her Daddy helped the most, though. He was flying home commercial, and took him along as live cargo on his flight. It all went as easy as pie… you didn’t need to write no sob-story stuff about him. We got it all scoped out.”
“It certainly sounds like it,” I said, “Since I have the picture, can I
write my story, now?”
“Be our guest,” Leroy laughed, and added, “You ain’t gonna use our real names, though? I’d hate people to know what a softie I am…jeeze!” her attention snapped to one of her sweating young troops, two of whom had just contrived to drop a large square case onto the ground, and she snarled “Be careful with that amp Airman, it cost more than you’ll make in your next two
promotions!”
“They’ll never guess,” I said. “Never in the world.”

What with the day job (which lately has stretched into evenings and weekends) my blogging time has been nil. While I have a few topics in my head that are deserving of in-depth consideration, today I am inclined to touch on various and sundry observations.

I finally got Red Haired Girls Mac Mini to run Windows a project done in starts and stops since last month. Having already invested a small bundle on the computer and various accessories, I could not bring myself to buy yet another Windows package in order for her to run the dozens of Windows games she has. I decided to try using a Windows XP Pro disk that came with a since decommissioned Gateway, however, Apple Boot Camp software requires a disk with SP2 already integrated. In the course of working around this, I discovered a handy little program called nLite which combines all of the required updates onto a single disk. Also of possible interest to Loyal Readers is that it allows you to go into the basic Windows installation disk and eliminate all the crap that you dont need (Transylvanian keyboard support anyone?). This not only saves hard drive space but speeds up the boot process as well. Windows seems to be functioning, except that the Mac drivers for the Airport 802.11 connection don’t work while in Windows mode (probably a godsend). Sometime in the next thirty day grace period I will have to go through the BS of activating Windows. More on that later.

In addition to Radioparadise, a very cool Internet radio station suggested by Kevin Connors some time back, I was recently turned on to Pandora. This free site allows you to set up personalized radio stations by choosing artists or songs that you like. As similar material is played, the user is able to provide feedback that apparently fine-tunes the algorithm to improve automatic selections. The only downside is that there doesnt seem to be any way of ripping the music to a file.

My day job has recently brought me back into frequent interface with the ops side of the house; Ive spent the past few years in the relatively parochial world of patents. For the most part, my recent project has been a stimulating experience, with opportunities to work with some very bright and motivated people. However, there seems to be a certain genre of manager that I call Dilbert II, The New Generation. They can usually be identified by such phrases as Ive been working on a PowerPoint presentation all morning (as a non sequitur opening statement in a meeting of at least a dozen people who could not care less), or Thats an excellent question (in response to an obvious question asked in frustration because another Dilbert II type has repeatedly ignored it). Dilbert II person usually then proceeds to ask (what he thinks is) a very good question which, more often than not, confirms to everyone present that he is completely lacking in any clue as to what the issues really are. As a footnote to this particular rant, Timmers recent post What Is An Airman? indicated that this is not a purely civilian phenomenon. I mean, an Airmans creed of not pencil-whipping training reports?

The last rant reminds me of a question I have been meaning to ask. Does anyone remember a hilarious USAF training film on ejection seat development that was shown at least into the early seventies? All of the tests for each development phase were conducted with a different holiday theme, i.e., present were the Easter bunny, Santa, etc. In the first, the test pilot struts to the device with total and complete confidence after which the test is a complete failure and he gets fairly well banged up. Subsequent tests, although showing improvement in the technology, are equally brutal on the pilot. Toward the end, the technicians have to drag him to the test stand, covered in bandages, smoking cigarettes, and, as I recall, swigging from a bottle of hootch. That film defined for me what it means to be an Airman, and if anyone has it I would love to buy a copy

A couple of recent news items caught my attention (and raised the hairs on the back of my neck). First was the unidentified stench that pervaded New York city and which was first thought to be a natural gas leak. Subsequent investigation ruled that possibility (and the general accusation that New Jersey stinks) out, but no cause was ever identified. Then there was the individual who was captured on an LA subway surveillance video (who knew they had subways in LA?) pouring six ounces of mercury onto the ground. He then apparently called 911 which led to the dispatch of a HazMat team eight hours later. The authorities claimed that there was no indication that either incident was terror related. Maybe they dont have hard evidence to that effect, but the former sounds like the LA response team performance was being probed, and the latter sounds like a dry run for a dirty bomb/poison gas/biological agent attack. Remember kids, we are not being paranoid if they really are out to get us.

I have decided to go back and read several of the Federalist Papers to remind me why it is important to pay attention to the 08 campaign season. Im with Timmer on this one; I really dont want to chat with Hillary. And the notion of her executing Article II Section 2. constitutional powers positively makes my skin crawl.

21. January 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Memoir, Military, Pajama Game

I originally posted this on DragonLady’s World, but have updated it some for readability, and a thing or two I just left out of the original.

I cant write about why I got out without first talking about why I joined. There were many reasons for both. During my last undergrad course (the internship), I was looking for a post graduation job. The box factory was fine for summer work, but I didnt spend 6 years getting a 4 year degree to stack and pack boxes. My professor put me in touch with a former student who worked at the Frigidaire factory. The company was looking to fill a position working with her, as she was a single point of failure type of job. By that, I mean she was the only one who could do what she did, and if something were to happen to her, they would be hosed. I was called back for a second interview as they had narrowed the applicants down to me and one other person. Then the company decided not to fill the position.

I was bummed. I started hitting the temporary agencies to get something while I started a new search. By this time, I had my B.S., and was not looking forward to more factory work. (My degree is in Industrial Technology with a Manufacturing concentration.) This was the point that every recruiting commercial I had ever seen flashed through my head. I decided to join the Guard. I talked to Army vet hubby first. He told me that I would be happier with active duty than Guard, and to join the Air Force, not the Army because the Air Force will take care of you. So, I called the recruiter, and he processed me both as enlisted and officer. I was joining no matter what, and as it turned out, OTS board results would not come out until after I was scheduled for basic training. My enlisted job was guaranteed, and rather than risk losing my guaranteed job (which I methodically picked primarily because it looked fun and easy and combat wasnt in the title or description), I chose to enlist rather than wait for OTS board results.

I had thought about joining the Guard in high school. My parents always spoke about the military with great respect, and built up this honorable entity for me regarding the US military. Now, of my moms six brothers, five were in the military: two Marines, one regular Army (he was drafted during Vietnam), and two National Guard. Of my dad and his three brothers, only two were in the military that I know of. Uncle Lawrence tried to enlist in the Army, but they didnt want him because he didnt finish high school. He was drafted after Pearl Harbor, and volunteered for the Army Air Corps, mainly because he thought the LT who told them about it was full of it. He said by the end of the day, he was on a train headed for FL for Air Corps training. My dad volunteered after Pearl Harbor, but the Army wouldnt take him because he was missing two fingers on his left hand, and they considered him handicapped. Then they tried drafting him four or 5 times. He said he almost made it through the physical exam once without anyone noticing his hand. He was at the last station, and was a signature away from making it when the doc noticed. He finally moved to Alabama and joined the state militia there (which eventually became the National Guard) for the rest of the war. I also had several cousins on both sides of the family who served in the military. Anyway, I mentioned joining the Guard in front of a friends dad back in high school. By the time he got finished describing his experience at Ft Polk, I had changed my mind, which was his intention.

Now, that all makes it sound like I joined just to have a job, but with patriotic or family history leanings. Both are true, but not the only reasons. The hubby and I were not in a very good place in our lives, and really needed to get away. Also, neither of us had any kind of health insurance, and I knew we would eventually want to have kids. Both kids were born during my first assignment. I got to see the world, though Kuwait was not on my list of places I wanted to see. I got the GI Bill that is helping pay for graduate school. Most importantly, I finally got some much needed self-discipline.