Tuesday, June 10, 2014

That Football Team from Washington D.C.

For a while now, there has been a simmering debate as to whether the mascot and nickname of Washington DC's NFL football team is offensive, should be changed, etc.


There are some who say it is a racial slur. Some say they don't care, and some say they like it. And among these some, frequently quoted, are "some" American Indians.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am (by family lore) part Cherokee. I don't know exactly how much, and I'm not unique in that regard. (Early settlers & Cherokee mixed it up quite a bit, apparently.) However, I am culturally "white" although I have a strong sympathy for Indian causes. I am also married to a wonderful woman who is a card-carrying member of The Confederated Tribes Of The Colville Reservation.

She, by the way, has little bearing on my opinion regarding this matter. For some time, I have wondered if the name of the team should be offensive.  (EDIT: By this I mean I am uncomfortable with the name, but I don't feel it is proper for me to impose my views on those I think should be offended.) After all, there are other names which invoke the American Indian, both professional and collegiate.  Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Florida Seminoles, etc.  Each has its own origin and history, and the Seminoles even have the blessing of the tribal leadership (although I've heard that some of the transplanted Oklahoma Seminoles feel their voices have not been heard.)

I could really digress here, into some of the caricatures of mascots and emblems... Chief Wahoo, the tomahawk chop, etc, but I'm trying to stay on topic.



NONE of the other professional teams, or college teams that I'm aware of, derive their name from a stereotypical physical trait of ANY ethnic group!

Blacks are not black, whites are not white, and Indians do not have red skin. I daresay that my skin is more red after a day in the sun than your typical ethnic Native American, but again, I digress. I will say that I think Washington's mascot is a handsome dude, and my primary irritation is the name, not the image. But others may disagree with me.

So here's a tangent, but I'll bring it back together again... I promise!  When speaking to complete strangers, or among mixed company, I tend to employ my "grandmother filter."  By that, I mean would I say something in her presence or not? How many times have you had a complete stranger just start throwing profanities & obscenities around with no thought of who is present? Perhaps you may think it makes me a wuss, but I gauge my audience. I don't cuss & swear until I know you better, and if you ask me to not do it, I try to refrain.

Likewise, at some point, I formulated an "Indian Filter" with regard to this issue. If I were walking through a predominantly Indian community, would I feel comfortable wearing a jacket with "REDSKINS" embroidered on it?

(Well, aside from the predominant fact that I'm a Steelers fan, the answer is NO!)

Would I feel comfortable going into a gathering place on or near a reservation, such as a bar, restaurant, community center, or even an IHS waiting room and start saying "How's it going, my redskin friends?"

Again, NO!

So as I was reading some threads on this issue, which go to and fro with opinions, some Native, some not, I was pleased to find this opinion which I will share from Deadspin.com:

EnduroDoug --> Kyle Wagner

Fucking litmus test time.

I'm in the midst of a round-the-world bicycle trip. I started in Seattle 80 days ago and sometime in my 2nd week, I found myself (with my wife) in a taco joint in Browning, MT — the capital of Blackfeet Nation.

I'm a Seahawks fan. Have been a Seahawks fan since moving to WA in 2002. But I grew up a Redskins fan in NJ. I stopped liking them after Darrel Green and Art Monk retired and Snyder signed Deion and Bruce Smith and, more importantly, took Jack Kent Cook's name off the stadium he paid for with his own money (according to my memory, don't quote me).

So I'm in this taco joint talking with these four Blackfeet guys about all sorts of shit, including football. The Seahawks just won the "Big Game" so it came up when I mentioned where I was from — that's right, SUCK IT — GO SEAHAWKS!!! — I digress. And one of them asked me if, when I lived out east, I had another favorite team.

I started to, instinctively, say the Redskins.

And then I realized where I was, who I was talking to, and said, the Giants.

THERE's YOUR FUCKING LITMUS TEST. THERE! I've got no white guilt. I think every other race/creed is just guilty as we are for all sorts of shit. Nobody's closet is empty. But I want Dan Snyder to go and stand in some bullshit taco joint in Browning, MT and tell a bunch of street walkers with their mangy ass collection of mutts, and the big-ass sticks they carry to beat off the dogs that ain't theirs, that he "owns" the Redskins. That would go over really well, I'm sure.

Here's a video that's supposed to air during the NBA finals in select markets:


Think about it. And if you're not willing to walk up to a person of apparent American Indian descent and call them Redskin (or Chief or Brave,) then perhaps it should not be done from the safety of your basement or amongst a crowd of 50,000 on any given Sunday.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day, June 6th, 1944

For those who don't know, today marks the 70th anniversary of the day when the Allies invaded France to begin the final liberation of Europe from Hitler's tyranny and the horrors of The Holocaust.

I often reflect upon this, in particular because I was there immediately prior to the official 50th anniversary celebrations in 1994.  It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since then.

This is a little commemorative plate I
bought in Normandy.

This is not intended to be a history lesson about the invasions. I have plenty of facts and figures, The History Channel is also full of them, there are more books than a kid has boogers, and movies have been made too. If you want to know more, and it is a fascinating topic in my opinion, seek those out. Or better yet, go there. That's what I did. This is about my experience and some of my observations.

I was stationed in the southern part of The Netherlands with NATO, and whenever I could, I took college classes, usually evenings. The University of Maryland has a large presence overseas, and in this case, they were offering a weekend seminar on the D-Day invasion. Trip to France, history credit, learn more about an interest of mine... HELLO!

So on the appointed day, I boarded a tour bus with a bunch of other service members, some civilian employees, and some of their family members.  Off we went.  Our instructor, whose name I will not give, was an extremely interesting person. He was an older gentleman, had a "crusty" attitude, and was not afraid to tell you his opinion.  I think he was retired U.S. Navy. He asked our names, and once the bus was underway, he proceeded to walk down the aisle, point and tell each of us our names. I soon learned this man was a human encyclopedia. I was fortunate to have him on another similar trip for a different battle later on.

There was also a WW II veteran accompanying us. I don't know if he was taking the class, or if he had made other arrangements. He had served as an engineer in Lt. General George S. Patton's 3rd Army. What an honor to have a man like that with us!

The trip was largely uneventful, although at a lunch stop we did encounter a bunch of rude French folk (surprise?) and our instructor ranted about it for a while once we were back on the bus.

Another memory that I shall never forget is from a rest stop.  While sitting there, I saw a Chevy Corvette. Now, American cars were not all that common in Europe, and some consider them a status symbol.  My landlord drove an 80s Chevy Caprice and treated it like a Cadillac. So to see a relatively new Corvette at a motorway rest stop in France was a surprise. To see it towing a camper was blasphemy. I'm not talking a teardrop camper. I mean a 20 foot or so camper.  Sheesh. My cameras were stashed, otherwise I'd have taken a photo.

(Speaking of which, this predates cell-phone cameras, digital cameras were prohibitively expensive, and I'd left my 35mm SLR at home and only had a couple of disposables; so I'm relying on some internet photos, with a sprinkling of my own.)

Having poked my head into a few countries in Europe, I've seen a bit of anti-American sentiment, so I wasn't expecting a lot of regard for the upcoming 50th anniversary.

I was wrong.  Every little town and village in Normandy was bedecked with red, white & blue. American flags were everywhere.  They even had a mannequin of Pvt. John Steele hanging from the church steeple in Ste-Mère-Église:

Pvt. John Steele mannequin
(If you watch the movie The Longest Day, you'll see his story; his parachute snagged and he wound up hanging there for a long time, being deafened by the church bells before being captured.) I think this tribute is on display year-round.

Very touching to me was this next item.  Inside the church, you'll see some unique stained glass:

Stained glass of church in Ste-Mère-Église

Look closely (click for a larger version.)  Those are parachutes, and paratroopers alongside the Virgin and Child.  Think about the symbolism. To those in that town who are religious, their saviors are Christ, the Virgin... and paratroops.

Now I'm going to address 3 of the many issues that made an impression on me.

1) Prior to the invasion, massive amounts of bombs fell and Naval guns fired upon Hitler's "Atlantic Wall."  It must have been hell to be German soldier that morning. One location in particular has been preserved as closely as possible to the way it looked back then. Pointe du Hoc is atop a cliff and sticks out into the sea, and there were some huge guns installed there in concrete bunkers.  It should have been blown to smithereens, but enough Germans survived to put up a fight against the Army Rangers who scaled the cliff with ropes & ladders in order to destroy the guns.


Here are 3 photos I took (click for larger):

This is one of the bunkers, with some damage.

This is what's left of another one.


And this is a ground view of the "rolling hills" left by bombs & shells.

But you don't get a true idea unless you see the former lunar landscape from the air:

Pointe du Hoc from the air.

2) I was struck by the width of the beaches. The Allies had to cross these beaches, covered with anti-landing craft and anti-tank obstacles, mines, bodies, wrecked equipment, all in the face of German machine gun fire, artillery, and mortars. I'm sure that every one of those men wanted to somehow merge with the sand and be as tall as a doormat... but thousands of them moved forward, running, crawling, crouching... and some fell.

Normandy (Omaha Beach)
3) And for those who fell, many ended up here.  At the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located at Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking the beach.




To appreciate the scale, one must view it from the air:

There are 9,387 graves here. They did not all die on D-Day, some died in subsequent weeks following the invasion in other fighting, but that is only a portion of the total originally interred. Many were repatriated back to their homes at the request of their families.

After we had a chance to look around, we held an impromptu ceremony at the statue overlooking the cemetery. Our WW II vet laid a wreath at the base of the statue.

“The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves”
I have visited several military cemeteries, and I am always moved. I will never forget that trip, nor the men who fought and died there. I hope others remember also.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day... and Futility?

My wife, Kathy, & I went to a Memorial Day ceremony at the local Veterans Cemetery. We talked about it a few days ago, she had the day off and either of us could have come up with 100 reasons to not go. We did not take any of our cameras, although many were present. We simply chose to honor in our own way. Perhaps next year we'll do it in a different way. After all, today there was an orchestra, a bag piper, Patriot Riders, speeches, and maybe even a partridge in a pear tree.


We were tired. The weather was questionable. The sun was in our eyes. It might be crowded.  I won't even try to fill out the other 96 reasons. Those we honor frequently had no choice in the matter, and were probably much more inconvenienced and sacrificed far beyond my having to get out of bed as a gesture of remembrance.  Having said that, I won't be camping or having a barbecue this weekend. Unlike some, I do not view it as another 3-day weekend and an excuse to party.

I served 20 years in the United States Air Force, and I am proud of that fact. The local Veterans cemetery is beginning to be filled with those who served, and perhaps I shall join them some day.

Some of them died on the field of battle.  Some of them came home and died in manners that will ultimately claim us all.  Injury, disease or old age... we shall all be claimed. Life is a terminal illness. We all become scarred by the trauma of life. We live, we love, we lose, if we are cursed or blessed with enough time in this realm.

I do sometimes wonder if we, the survivors of the folly know as "war", are worthy of the blood sacrifice they paid.  This was not my first remembrance ceremony, and frankly, I hate these times. They rip my guts out. I hate the sound of "Taps." I have difficulty retaining my composure.  I have participated at Margraten in the Netherlands, and have visited the cemeteries at Omaha Beach and Luxembourg.  I hate funerals in general, but believe in honoring and paying respect to the departed. But military cemeteries... well, if you want to analyze it, many "residents" are murder victims who died without choice, and they generally lie near where they fell.

I have the privilege of choosing where I finally lie.  Many, if given the choice, would prefer to walk among us, to love their wives and family members, to see their children grow, prosper, and live their full lives.

I am frequently struck by the futility of war. I think of the waste, the want, the tragedy and loss. Cities built brick by brick, by masons and carpenters, laid to waste by an airplane or artillery piece with a pile of explosives. The energy expended by construction, that could be better spent by curing disease, or finding a new method of adhesive, or... you name it.

Why do we allow this insanity to prevail in our sundry affairs? I am not blaming the fallen, but should not we, the standing, endeavor to prevent this?

We have reached international accords to ban chemical and biological weapons, and some agreement on nuclear non-proliferation.  Is it not outside of the realm so say that perhaps war is immoral?

Of course, every people has the right to self-preservation, to get up the next day and eat another Pop-Tart. But is not avoiding war the best manner to preserve our way of life? In what manner shall we propagate that message?

Or what method shall you continue?  Do you wish to further war?

Is it not better to remember those who have died, and to prevent further sacrifice?

To take from Abraham Lincoln:

"...in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Today, my wife and I walked among the headstones.  We passed a place where a young lady, dressed nicely was kneeling along side a headstone.  There were two toddlers with her.

I wanted to know her story, I wanted to hear what she had to say. I assume it was her husband whose grave she knelt by.  I did not ask, I did not want to intrude into that moment. But I wanted to know the story, for what better way to be immortalized than to be remembered by others?

I left her and her toddlers. I wonder what story is to be told. I wonder what story will never be written. I wonder....

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mental Health Control

Once again, a person who was a couple of French fries short of a Happy Meal has gone on a rampage and taken the lives of innocents, and injured many others. Looking at my posts, overall, I suppose one might know how serious I am by the lack of photos & graphics.  There are none to be found in this post.


(I'm actually tending to find better reporting overseas than via USA mainstream media, on this and other issues.)

Notice I did not say "shooting rampage."  There were guns involved, and the carnage could have been worse.  But if you read the stories that have been posted, he started with a knife and stabbed 3 of his roommates to death.

He also used his BMW to ram & run over some bicyclists.  He did shoot some sorority members, who were apparently the targets of his rage.

People who want to kill will find a way...

Is it perhaps his misplaced anger, social awkwardness, and sense of entitlement (I have $300 sunglasses and a BMW... you should sleep with me!) that is an issue to think about? He was angry, apparently still a virgin, and the target of his rage was attractive females.

I guess sometimes masturbation just doesn't cut it.

Let's blame them. Heaven forbid that a young lady have standards and not want to date, much less sleep with, a self-absorbed, entitled, mentally ill psychopath.

Well, first of all, there are women out there who will sleep with anyone. I guess he was just a little TOO selective or couldn't find the right gal or even a prostitute. But if you're a dorky, self-entitled prick (My dad was an associate director on "The Hunger Games"), yes, your odds of getting laid diminish.

But the issue that the "lame-stream" media is not addressing is mental health.  They go straight for gun control, because it fits their agenda.

Elliot Rodger Refused His Psychiatric Medicines

Now, I'm venturing into muddy waters.  I am not a lawyer, so I may be shooting from the hip. I may be inaccurate. But I am not a reporter for any media outlet. This is my personal blog, and if you EVER find anything inaccurate, PLEASE LET ME KNOW.  I write my opinions, many of which are based upon media reporting.  My only bias is liberty. But I *will* post corrections to any factual errors I may propagate, and I will flag them as such.

I ask, however, what is the nature of our health system, both physical and mental? I am a believer in liberty, but should a person who is a threat to themselves and others be entitled to unfettered access to firearms?

Trust me, I speak from personal experience.  My father had mental issues.  He attempted suicide via my .410 bore shotgun.  Twice.  It is a single shot, break-action.  He had to reload and shoot himself again. After several surgeries and procedures, he finally wound up a paraplegic in a wheel chair, and became an even angrier man, apparently. He blamed everyone else for his misfortune, including his doctors.  I still have that shotgun.  I'm not really sure why. He bought it for me in my youth, he bastardized it, but I have not let it go.

Ultimately, he gunned down my mother. He apparently bought a .357 magnum through the papers, or perhaps a "swap shop" radio show.  After killing her, he rolled around in his wheel chair, brandishing a weapon on a public highway. He was taken down by cops, rightly so, and some of them were friends with whom I went to school.  I still have a piece of that police tape from the crime scene.  My siblings & I told the State Police to melt down the .357.  You can tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, but you've got an uphill battle to convince me otherwise.

Now, here we get further into the lawyer and legal-ese.  I do not know what can be further done to keep firearms out of the hands of mentally ill persons. Perhaps I am misinformed, but even after the age of 13 (I think that was the age), I was not entitled to my own daughter's health information without consent.

Frankly, I don't really care when you had your last pap smear, prostate exam, or colonoscopy. Perhaps there is a small percentage of the population that gets off on that kind of stuff, but I'm not among them; I'm not even talking about making that information freely available.

But should not a mental health professional, or medical doctor, or ... someone... be able to check a magic box that flags a person as questionable to purchase a firearm?  Or own one?  I think it should automatically trigger a review... but our system is not set up to allow that... yet.  I'm not a huge fan of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) but if it somehow helps people get care they were otherwise flapping in the wind with... I might become a convert.

Getting back to Santa Barbara, I do not know all the particulars of this case, apparently this person purchased his firearms legally. So did Seung-Hui Cho (The VA Tech shooter), Jared Loughner (Tuscon, shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with others) and James Holmes (Aurora, CO).  I may be wrong...

But call me crazy. (pun intended)  Should there not be a method for a mental health professional to check a box on a form or computer submission to say "DANGER WILL ROBINSON!" and flag that person for further review? Should we not be looking at the Privacy laws and how they are implemented?

Think about it, firearms are already illegal in so many instances, in so many places.  Within one mile of my house there are 3 schools, a post office, and a city court.  All of them are "gun free zones."

Ironically, I pay for my Constitutional Right to carry a weapon. I hope you feel safer, because it certainly keeps me from bringing a weapon into ANY of those aforementioned places...

Sarcasm intended.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Theocratic States of America



Say or think what you will about atheists.

Call us kitten-eating, devil-worshiping, child-raping heathens.  It won't make it true.

I have long held that atheists are a heavily discriminated against group in the USA.

Atheist Discrimination (My July 22, 2013 post)

Atheist Presidential Candidate ?  (YEAH.. RIGHT!)

When I'm making my political arguments, I normally focus on the Constitution of the United States.  It only makes one mention of religion, in the 1st Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Silly me.  I have been remiss and have not researched the 50 individual STATE Constitutions. While meandering about the web, I stumbled across this site which goes into that aspect:

Denying office to non-believers (If you don't want to go there, I'm quoting below.)

And they are MUCH more egregious in trampling the rights of non-believing citizens:

Arkansas

Article 19, Section 1 (Denial of Office, Denial as Witness):
No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland

Article 36 (Denial as Witness):
...nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

Article 37 (Denial of Office):
That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi

Article 14, Section 265 (Denial of Office):
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

North Carolina

Article 6, Section 8 (Denial of Office):
The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

Pennsylvania

Article 1, Section 4 (Denial of Office):
No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.

(This section specifies that someone who acknowledges God cannot be denied office; conversely, anyone who does deny God can be, rather than shall be, denied office. The restriction is not as concrete as other denials of office.)

South Carolina

Article 6, Section 2 (Denial of Office):
No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee

Article 9, Section 2 (Denial of Office):
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

(Note that Article 9, Section 1 denies office to any "minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination.")

Texas

Article 1, Section 4 (Denial of Office):
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

------------------------------------------------------------

Now, I have not fact-checked the site, so please let me know if anything is incorrect. At this point I don't have the time or inclination to research the legal-ese of 50 separate Constitutions.

Would these clauses and prohibitions be more or less palatable if they specifically referred to people of Jewish faith?  Or Muslim?  Catholic vs Protestant? And, although it's a logical leap, what of skin color or ethnicity?

But I further ask, would you rather have a pretend or part-time Christian as your elected offical... or a person of no faith, such as myself?  One who is honest enough to stand up and say "I don't believe" but apply and interpret the law with no religious bias?

The fact is that each state CAN do as it wishes, the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution applies to the authority of the Congress. Of course, if any atheist ever does get on the ballot and is elected in one of these states, I can't wait to see the court battles when someone tries to deny them their office!



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mount St. Helens 34th Anniversary

Mount St. Helens (37,000 BCE - ????)

May 18, 1980

Today, May 18th, 2014, is the 34th anniversary of the massive eruption of Mount St. Helens here in the Cascade Range of Washington.  My wife & I visited the area of the mountain on May 3rd, but the weather was not cooperative and the closest observation points were not yet open for the season. (We're just going to have to go back again soon and hope for better viewing.)



I was briefly a Geology major in college, so I probably know a little more about it than the average citizen on the street. Washington State is a fascinating area geologically.  We have the obvious in the form of volcanoes in the Cascades, but also the sublime:  The Juan de Fuca subduction zone off the coast, which someday is likely to generate an earthquake and tsunami on the scale of Indonesia (2004) or Japan (2011). We also have the flood basalts which erupted from a fissure in the Hell's Canyon area millions of years ago and left molten rock to solidify thousands of feet thick across the area.  There is also the evidence of the Missoula Floods from the last ice age, during which the flow of water exceeded all the world's rivers combined, leaving the channeled scab lands across Eastern Washington.

But today, I think of Mount St. Helens, and there are many stories I could tell you about her.

I love the romanticism of the Native legend, which tells of two sons of the Chief of the gods fighting over a maiden who could not decide between them.  Their fighting brought devastation to the land, so the Chief of the gods struck them all down; they became Mount Hood & Mount Adams, she became Mount St. Helens or Loowit, the most beautiful of the trio. That's a brief version, there are more details, but that's not the story I'm telling.

Native American Story (Wikipedia, but you can find versions of this on other sites as well.)

I could tell you the stories told by early explorers who saw her erupt in the early to mid-1800s:

European Exploration

I could tell you how modern geology explains her formation:

Ancestral Mount St. Helens

(I'm leaning on Wikipedia here, shamelessly.)

I could tell you about the eruption, about the largest landslide ever witnessed in human history that started it all, during which the north flank of the mountain collapsed and "uncorked" the volcano.



I could tell you of the 7,000+ big game animals such as deer, bear, and elk that died, or the millions of fish killed in ash-choked streams.

I could tell you of the damage, of the timber lost from the blast, over 200 homes, miles of roadway and bridges by the resultant lahars (mudflows) and the recovery efforts to clear millions of tons of volcanic ash.

But these are all readily available via Google or your favorite search engine.

Slightly harder to find are the stories of the 57 victims. There may have been more, some survivors saw others camping near them who have never been accounted for. Perhaps they made it out... perhaps they did not.

But there are 57 known victims. Only 3 were were within the exclusionary "Red Zone" and 3 more (miners) in the adjacent "Blue Zone" In the Red Zone, one was a USGS Volcanologist (David Johnston) who was making observations and measurements as scientists tried to predict what would happen.  Another was Harry R. Truman (no relation to the President of similar name) who ran a lodge on the adjacent Spirit Lake. He was 84 and refused to evacuate.  I don't recall who the third was at the moment.  The remaining 51 were in "safe" areas.  Families, couples, friends. Camping, hiking, fishing, and they all died unpleasantly. Burned, choked, suffocated, swept away or buried, some to never be found.

As I researched these facts, I learned of a family that was heading into the area as they and their kids recorded their conversations on cassette tape. The family was found. They did not survive, but their cassette did. It records typical vacation banter between kids & parents.

The saddest story had a photograph, for a picture is worth 1000 words. It was a photo, taken from the air, of a young boy who had been camping with his father and brother.  He was lying dead in the back of a pickup truck.  I have not included the photo, nor is it contained in any of these links.  It is, however, out there if you search for it. I found it by accident. You have been warned.

Day Andrew Karr's Story

Mt. St. Helens' Victims Remembered (2 pages; read them both.)

All Victims (summary)


As you can see, all of these stories are out there, from the science to the personal.  I will not re-tell them in detail.

Instead, I am going to tell you a story that has not happened, and has not been written yet. Well, that's not entirely true. You can find some references on science websites.  I'm going to show you a glimpse into Mount St. Helens' future, mostly with pictures.

First, yes, a little of the past. To acquaint you with the scale of the eruption, as well as the havoc & dramatic change Mother Nature can wreak with a simple hiccup or sneeze.

This is Mount St. Helens on May 17th, 1980. She was 9,677 ft in elevation the day
before the eruption. (Photo taken from the direction of present day Johnston Ridge observatory.)

This is taken from the same location 2 years later (May 19th, 1982).
She is now 8,365 ft in elevation, and the crater is about 1 mile wide.

This was taken sometime before the eruption, a mountain paradise. (Note the boats on Spirit Lake)
She was nicknamed "Mount Fuji of North America" after the famous symmetrical peak in Japan.

This is the same general view, looking over the timber-clogged Spirit Lake on May 19th, 1982.

Harry R. Truman's lodge is somewhere beneath this lake.  Spirit Lake no longer exists as it did prior to the eruption. It is believed that the waters of the lake were forced up against adjacent ridges by the explosion and landslide. The bottom of the lake is now higher than the surface of the old lake.

Harry and his 16 cats are somewhere down there.  Most say he would have wanted to die if he saw what became of "his" lodge, mountain, and lake.  In one video I watched, he didn't think the mountain had enough in it to kill him.  I wonder if he would have left had he known what was truly going to happen?  He was a man against a mountain, and the mountain won.  Although one of the ridges is now called "Harry's Ridge." A more fitting epitaph could not be written.

Harry Truman interview:


Another angle of before & after, Spirit Lake in the foreground.


I've shown you some selected "before" and "after" photos to illustrate the difference and the destructive power of what Mother Nature and the earth can do.  Before and after...

I don't have the exact date for this photo, but the crater is a
gaping hole, and the landscape is nearly as desolate as the moon.
It is probably between 1980 and 1982 because there is no visible lava dome.


Now let me show you AFTER the after.

Earth destroys.  Earth creates. It matters not what scars mankind places upon her. We think ourselves omnipotent, but all she has to do is burp, hiccup, or sneeze and our massive works are instantly erased.  We think in terms of years, decades, perhaps centuries, even millennia.  Earth works in Eons. We see the destruction she wrought, the death, the devastation.  But she was simply building a new mountain.

If you peek into those May 19th, 1982 photos, you'll see a "mini-mountain" in the crater.  That's called a lava dome. Like toothpaste in a tube, Earth squeezes new material to the surface. Sometimes she blasts it away and begins again. But slowly... the lava dome is building.

(Not sure of the date.)
Sep 29, 2004
Sep 12, 2006


 As you can see, the crater is slowly filling itself in again, from below.

Not unlike another place in the world. This is a map of the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia/Siberia. I draw your attention to "Bezymianny."



Like Mount St. Helens, Bezymianny is a stratovolcano formed over a subduction zone. In 1955 & 56, it erupted in a manner very much like Mount St. Helens:  A lateral explosion which took away a large mass of the mountain and left a horseshoe shaped crater.

Look familiar?

Bezymianny has been busy during the nearly 60 years since her big eruption. Perhaps more active than Mount St. Helens, perhaps more persistent, but then again, she has had almost double the time.

Bezymianny crater & lava dome

Bezymianny, side view


So, the question is, will Mount St. Helens rebuild herself?  Will Loowit replace her crown?

I think she will. She may throw the occasional tantrum and partially start over. But she will persevere. It may take 50 - 100 years... it make take centuries, millennia, or eons. Most of us will not likely see it, but someday this old girl will be a young maiden courting her princes again.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

1821

Last month, my son turned 21 years old.

By prior arrangement, I took him out to a bar in my town for his first "legal" beer. We ended up having two pitchers between us, talking, and playing a few games of pool.

Several years ago, I did the same thing for his older sister, the only difference being that I took her to every bar in our small town. (Both of them!)

In each instance, I was pleased and honored to spend time with my kids before they went out and did whatever someone does these days when they turn "legal."

Of course, I am not so naive as to presume that my kids never had a drink beforehand (in fact I KNOW they did) hence the term "first legal drink."

I look forward to enjoying time with my daughter & son into the future, and when applicable, having a beer, some wine, or a mixed drink with them. It's nice to be able to treat them like adults now. They'll always be my kids, and I'll always be their dad, but I don't want to be running their lives for them. I figure if they want my advice, they'll ask for it.

Personally, I turned "legal" in 1984 on my 18th birthday, eight months before I went away to USAF boot camp. That was the drinking age in VA at the time. And afterward, I had privileges on military bases, and then in ND where I was stationed. There was some sort of DoD exemption if the base was within 50(?) miles of another jurisdiction where the age was lower; the idea being that we didn't want our troops driving there, getting hammered and then trying to make it back to base. In that particular instance, it was Canada.  So I've been of 100% legal age since 18.

For some reason, it occurred to me that I never once shared a drink with my dad.

Oh, I did find his stashes.  Beer & whiskey for a troubled teen, but as George Thorogood so eloquently said, "When I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself."

I won't go into my family's entire sordid past; my father was abusive to his family and we did not get along during my teen years. Yet somehow, after my departure to the USAF, we reached a de facto peace treaty, almost as if nothing had ever happened.

Despite our differences, once I turned 18, he could have said "Hey, let's have a beer and talk."  He never did.  I got married (way too young) just after High School. Not once a "Congratulations! Wanna have a drink and talk?"  Had a daughter, etc... all the times I drove thousands of miles back to VA to visit, not once... well, you get the idea. All the way up until I was almost 32 years old.  And ya know, leave the alcohol out of the equation for a second... he never once wanted to talk about what went wrong or was wrong. He just blamed everyone else.

I suppose the bad stuff never really evaporated, he never apologized, and I didn't really yearn for that bond. I tolerated him because he was with my mother.

I really don't lament that lack of bond, I was just noting how different my relationship with my own son & daughter are. Granted, we've had our rocky times, but overall, I think we're doing OK.

I guess if there is one thing I regret about not having that drink with my father, it is this:  Right now, I'm pretty sure I could drink his ass under the table. Dubious bragging rights, I know. But it would give me great personal satisfaction to put a bottle of bourbon between us, drink and drink some more, then watch as he fell out of his wheel chair.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Appreciating the Moment (Coyote Symphony)

In the wee hours of May 10th, I posted this on Facebook.  Several have given me feedback that they liked what I had to say, so I thought I'd incorporate this into my blog. I feel it's a more permanent archive anyway, so pardon the duplicate if you've already seen this:

*****

5/10/14

2 AM, I'm still awake. I walked down to the mailbox to put in a letter. As I walked back up the driveway to the house, I heard coyotes yipping and yowling somewhere nearby. The air was cool and I felt the breeze blow by me. I went in the house to turn off my music and the porch light, and in that short interval, the coyotes shut up. Somewhere in the distance, on the main line, a train horn sounded across the wind.

Have you ever stopped to look at your personal rainbow? Or your personal sunrise or sunset? Because that is what each is. They all are transitory and if you don't stop to appreciate... *poof* they are gone. No one else will see them exactly the same as you. 1/4 mile changes perspective and lighting... or obliterates.

That is the way it was with my coyotes & I just now. Most sensible people are asleep at this hour, or they are oblivious and don't care. Perhaps a few others out there heard them too, some louder, some softer. But I doubt anyone else heard them exactly like I just did.

That was my personal coyote symphony, however brief, and it made me grateful to be me, right there, right then.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Was it Wasted Time? Was I just Swimming Upstream?

That last post dredged up some unpleasantries, which I feel compelled to address. Hadn't really intended this to be multi-part, but here goes...

This is going to be a long one... might want to grab a snack.

(Rambling Nostalgia Alert! Part 2)  

First of all, I will answer the rhetorical question I posed in the subject line. (Answering a rhetorical question... who knew?) I don't believe in wasted time. I believe every second of every waking day teaches us something, if we only tune our ears and listen.  Whether it is in the form of a relationship, religion, philosophy, science... we are immersed in thought and knowledge. One has only to open their mind.

Do not fear wasted time, for it does not exist.



 Click here if you want to read Part 1)

I don't know if anyone would classify me as "genius" because sometimes I do some pretty stupid stuff. But I'm not a stupid person. Whatever that means.

In my last post, I wrote of my Uncle Curt, a man that I admired. He worked with his head and his hands, and from my perspective, was pretty successful.

When I was a kid, I learned many things.  I was often left alone, neglected even. But that gave me opportunities to explore and learn all by myself.  When I was attended to, I learned carpentry, I learned to overhaul Volkswagen Beetle & lawn mower engines. I learned some masonry, some electrician skills, some plumbing, etc.  I walked through the woods with no fear, I learned to cut trees & firewood via an axe, bow saw and chain saw.  I don't always like to attribute any of those things to my father, but it is an inescapable truth.  I learned from many sources, and he was one.

My dad would sometimes say "I know a little bit about everything, and a whole lot about nothing."

I still like that saying.

A different manner of expressing it is "Jack of all trades, master of none."

When I was in Middle & High School, I was interested in skilled trades. But nevermind, I was grouped with the "gifted" (aka smart) kids, whatever that means. I don't think I was particularly smart, I was just good at following instructions. I was put on the "college track" of classes, starting with pre-algebra.

I hated those classes, and I did not excel. I had started to rebel, and putting someone in a class they don't want to learn something they don't care about is a recipe for disaster. In fact, those were some of the worst grades I ever received.  Almost straight "Fs"  Yet the advisors kept trying to get me on the PACE (academic competition) team.  I refused. Instead, I played football, basketball, and ran track, until I became academically ineligible. My family didn't care what I learned or how I performed... why should I?

I wanted to take shop classes. We did not have shop at my school, the county had a combined vocational education facility in the center of the district. I told my guidance counselor what I wanted to do, but I was deemed "too smart" to take shop. So I took French, Algebra & Trig, Government instead of Geography, Physics & Chemistry, etc. I could do the work... but I didn't want to. And I am still infuriated by the elitist attitude that skilled trades somehow do not equate to being a "success."

video
From "The Breakfast Club" in the early 80s


So I was kept on the track, hell-bent on going to college, even though it was not my choice. My feet were forced into shoes that did not fit.

Somewhere along the way, I knew I did not want to go to college. I knew I would be wasting time and money. I decided on the military, and after talking to a few recruiters, settled on the U.S. Air Force, which is the direction I was leaning anyway.

I reluctantly took the SATs, not wanting to burn any bridges.  I did OK, 1160 overall, nothing stellar, especially considering that I did not study or prep at all, and was even accepted into East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City, TN. I don't really know why I wasted a day and the $10 or $20 test fee, because I actually took the time to write back and essentially told them "Thanks, but no thanks... See ya in Boot Camp." (If you were working in the registrar's office and are reading this, I'm sorry I wasted your time.)



During one of my later High School years, I was called into the principal's office along with a few other guys. As "disadvantaged" students, we were being offered some kind of scholarship application or some other crap.  I said I wasn't interested in any scholarship, didn't want college, and essentially asked to be excused. The Principal (Mr. Jim Short, FYI) was visibly pissed at me for being honest.  I still resent that man.

He also tried to give me unexcused absences when I went to visit my recruiter during my Senior year, visits which culminated in my signing up for the USAF. I had multiple days I missed, several of which necessitated overnight trips to the regional recruiting center or Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Knoxville, TN for my physical exams, testing, specialty selection, etc.  By this time, I was over 18 in age, and I tried to excuse myself, but he would have none of that. I had to have "an adult" write me a note, an attitude which further infuriated me. I was simply biding my time to get my diploma, that piece of paper which The World says we need, or we'll apparently collectively starve.

He was also the asshole who made us Seniors come to school the day AFTER our graduation to get our diplomas. (We had missed a few days due to snow; graduation was "hard coded" but he made us come to school for... nothing.  At our ceremony the night before, we had been handed rolled up blank papers.)

I still despise that man. A textbook bureaucrat who, in my opinion, personified what is now wrong with our educational system. A different time... but not so much a different attitude.

The SATs meant nothing,other than a High Score, not unlike a video game. I did not practice or study. I did not waste very many quarters.  But I did take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) which DID mean something to me.



All of my scores were in the upper 90th percentiles, except administrative/clerical.  That involved copying and doing office-type stuff, as I recall..  I wanted to go into electronics maintenance, because I had learned some basic stuff from my uncle & my dad.  But I found out that my color vision was deficient, and if you ever look at a resistor or bundles of wires, you'll find that everything is color-coded. Deficient color vision is usually inherited from the father's side.  (Thanks, Dad!) And I've passed it to my son, who wound up with a desk job in the Marines.

Anyway, at the MEPS, they told me "The Air Force won't waste scores like yours, so just sign here." My Presbyterian minister, Mr. Paul Taylor (ex-Navy) had beat it in my head "DO NOT SIGN AN OPEN CONTRACT!" So while sitting at the Knoxville MEPS, I made the recruiting staff earn their pay.  I simply told them "Nope, I ain't signing."  They fished around, hunted & pecked and made phone calls.  Ultimately, they found a job called 291x0 "Telecommunications Operations Specialist" if I remember the nomenclature correctly.  It was supposed to involve using a lot of computer shit, so I signed up.

Side note/tangent alert:  If any human could ever convert me from my heathen atheist ways... it would be Mr. Paul Taylor. When I first met that Presbyterian minister, he was outside the church, smoking a cigarette.  Unfortunately, he has passed away. I'd love to sit and talk with him again.  He used to come over for dinners and hang out with us sinners.  He studied the Bible in some of the original languages, and was a good man. (BTW, I still don't know if it's atheist heathen, or heathen atheist...?)

Ultimately, I got lucky, but not at first.

Turns out that being a 291x0 has a lot of administrative work to do. It's a government job, so of course there is paperwork, often in quintuplicate or more (at least it seemed that way.)

While waiting for my security clearance to be finalized, I worked the base telephone switchboard. In the early 80s, at Minot AFB, ND, it was much more labor intensive than a desktop telephone might suggest. Minot AFB was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. And SAC took care of 2/3 of the nation's nuclear triad. The nation's B-52 bomber fleet, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Minot had both.  (The U.S. Navy was the other 1/3, via Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)



Minot AFB had B-52 bombers, cocked and ready, sitting on the alert pad, waiting for the order to launch. Crews were constantly ready to get their warbirds into the air. Even going for lunch or a haircut was not an escape.  There were Klaxon horns and alert lights everywhere.  And the ICBMs were a few turns of the key and button pushes from flying. It was said that if North Dakota ever seceded from the Union, it would be the world's third most prominent nuclear superpower.  Minot AFB had the 23rd Bombardment squadron, and 3 squadrons of ICBMs.  I don't know how many nukes the bombers had but it was a lot. And 3 squadrons of Minuteman III ICBMS meant 450 individual warheads.  Grand Forks AFB was similarly equipped.  Every time I went on shift, I thought of that, and I felt the burden of the nation's nuclear arsenal on my shoulders.  Every mundane task I did related to that, and sometimes the tasks were not so mundane. When you patch together every key commander on the base via conference call, some on radio, some on their telephones, and you personally hear the bombers roaring in the distance, you become acutely aware of your role.


(That is a link to a previous post, but when you re-live the end of the world repeatedly, it alters your paradigm of life... I have endured the death of billions repeatedly.)

This was the type of telephone switchboard I cut my teeth on, a Stromberg-Carlson model:

Make all the Hee-Haw jokes you want...
it took a while to learn this stuff....
Meanwhile, back from my tangent...

When I wasn't practicing to eradicate the human race, I was busy connecting remote missile crew members buried under a wheat field to their wives so they could have phone sex. Otherwise, I practiced my teletype skills.  On one of these high-tech gadgets:



I also learned to read 5-level paper tape:


Couldn't do it right now, nor could I read a punched card... but I was formerly fluent.  I handled more cards than a blackjack dealer in Vegas, I'm pretty sure.  And they were worth more. Paychecks and savings bonds used to be printed upon these. Mind you, without the columns of numbers, but the hole positions told you the info. Pre-magnetic ink, you could run one of these through a card-reader and get all the account info you needed:



I don't know how many levels of tangents I'm into here... but trust me, I'm working my way back. But first, another tangent:

Somewhere along the way, my supervisors discovered that I was pretty good with details. So in addition to remembering phone numbers, reading 5-level tape and punched cards... someone decided that I should handle and be responsible for nuclear launch codes. I was re-assigned to the COMSEC (Communications Security) Account.

No photos... Even if I possessed any, I'd be violating my life-long nondisclosure agreement.  I worked in an office adjoining the equivalent of a bank vault. I have been personally chauffeured to work in a military vehicle with lights flashing & sirens blaring when I could not make it due to ND blizzards... I have been held at gunpoint when I made a mistake authenticating before disabling the alarm.

Despite the foul-ups you may occasionally read about in the media... the USAF don't tolerate no fuck-ups.

Somewhere along the way, the USAF decided to merge multiple career fields. Mine was 291x0, and in the hodge-podge, mish-mash, I popped out as a 491x1.  I'm not even going to try to recall the heraldry... I worked with computers, only more of 'em.  (Also, FYI, the "x" denotes skill level. 1 is helper, 3 is apprentice, 5 is journeyman, 7 is craftsman, 9 is superintendent.)

Data cards, 5 & 8 level paper tape, magnetic tape, and a big room full o' equipment with a halon fire suppression system with our Sperry 1100 mainframe.

Thems were the days.

Not dissimilar to our computer room at Minot AFB.

16 Gigabytes was equal to a wall full of refrigerator cabinets.  My iPad now has 4x that.


I hung out at Minot AFB for 7 years. "Only The Best Come North" was the motto over the main gate.

Why not Minot? Freezin's the Reason!  Only the Chosen are Frozen!
Heard 'em all!
The main gate has been updated, but I think they still have the motto.

One day I had a particularly nasty day of red tape with work. Before I headed back to my office, I went by the personnel office.  I filled out a new assignment preference worksheet. I volunteered "Worldwide" "Remote."  That is the administrative equivalent of Russian Roulette, or "Anywhere but HERE." Having been there for 7 years, I was pretty much guaranteed a bullet.

Within two weeks I had two assignments. The later one (which I did not take) was to Stuttgart, Germany.  The first one was to Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (HQ AFCENT) in Brunssum, The Netherlands.

That was an experience, and would be another tangent (or multiple) in itself.

I became the administrator and responsible for the IBM 5360 mini-computer in the Support Group's supply system. My system tracked everything from pencils to Post-It notes, from toilet paper to tents.  Big noisy printers, 8" floppy discs, daily back-ups, and ... air conditioning.  I don't think Europeans had yet discovered it... but my office had it.  Not usually hot, but on those few days... I was a popular dude.

IBM 5360. Mine did not have sneakers... but I kept her hummin'...

Hmmm.... Calculator, Time & AC groupies.  I think I missed a few boats.  The UKAF (British Air Force) gals wore garter belts with their skirts.  I happened across that bit of info when some gal crossed her legs "inappropriately.... (damn, Adrienne!)  I never relished paperwork more than those days....Benny Hill skits & music ran amok through my mind!


Well, anyway... garter belts, legs, European beer, and all the other stuff got to be not enough. When the guys I worked with would go home on a long weekend, my family was 5 time zones away. When my time was up, I could have extended. But I chose to bring my Volvo & family back to the U.S. of Terra Firma.  Which began a whole new set of odysseys... but those are other chapters, yet to be fully explored


The synopsis of the next chapter involves building a network from scratch, learning the inter-webs, dead mice, steam tunnels, staple guns, and Survival Instructors who can build a fire with two toothpicks, but can't choose a complex password to save their lives.

So, perhaps Jim Short, in his effort to be Mr. Control Freak did me a favor.  I found my own way from under his thumb. I meandered the stream of time and learning, and am still doing so.  I'm not financially prosperous, or rolling in the dough, but I am happy.

And best off all, my shoes fit.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Slide Rule? Abacus anyone?

Ahh... the good ol' days...

Back when I had to walk to school, barefoot in the snow.  Uphill.  Both ways.

(Rambling Nostalgia Alert!)

When I was a kid, I had a really cool uncle, on my dad's side.  Uncle Curt.  I admired that man greatly, and I loved hanging out at his place.  He lived with my grandmother, supported her, and was a life-long bachelor, as far as I know.

He used to say "Sambo, you ain't a' courtin' are you?"  Meaning he wanted me to eschew females too, I suppose.  Of course, I was a' courtin' whenever I could, but I didn't tell HIM that!  Didn't quite connect with him in that mentality... thus the following pic:

My Uncle Curt & my daughter Leslie, in the Summer of 1990, I think.
There had been some courtin' going on, to say the least!

But this is not about his philosophy.

The stuff he had was a wonderland for me. I know my sisters didn't always feel the same way, but I usually lost track of time while there. We would usually visit on Sundays, and that alone made it worthwhile, because we'd get to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. On cable.  (No adjusting the antenna, no fuzzy picture!) And in color! If we weren't ushered to the car too soon, we'd also watch The Wonderful World of Disney (aka "Walt Disney")

He also had collections of books; science, nature, geography related... entire sets, I think from Time/Life or something like that. I don't remember the sets he had, but there was a bookcase full of them. I don't know how many hours I spent with my nose buried in those books. That alone was enough to lose myself for hours... but there was more!

He had a typewriter, and when I asked, he would let me play with it. It was not electric, but I didn't care.  I would write nonsense, other times I would start my Great American Novel... never to be finished.  He had a desktop calculator in his office, and would let me play with that too.  I was amazed that a small "box" like that could contain every arithmetic problem I could present. (I had no concept of binary arithmetic, twos complement, registers, floating points, integers, etc.  I simply thought it had EVERY possible problem & solution stored within. I now know that computers & calculators are simply very fast at counting on their fingers.)

Now we move on from the house. He had a workshop which fascinated me far beyond what Charlie's Chocolate Factory could ever hope to do. There were gadgets and gizmos and what-cha-may-call-its.  Some things I knew a little about... some were enigmas.  Two things I distinctly remember were a metal lathe and a motor winder.  The lathe was used to shape & fabricate metal parts. The tray beneath was usually filled with razor sharp coils of metal shavings. The winder, which was used to rebuild large electric motors, had arms inside for wrapping coils of copper, and it had a counter to match coil counts.  As much as that place technically fascinated me, it was also fun. He had built three shop stools with wheels for sitting. One was short, the other two were of average height. Being the smallest, I took the low center of gravity "built-for-speed" model. My sisters & I would race around the concrete floor like demonic possessed clowns.  They usually won.  I think they were more possessed than me.

Something like this, except screw height
adjustable, and with only 4 wheels.
The shop was also built (like a bridge) over a creek, and one could take the floor drain up and drop stones directly into the water below.

These things alone were enough to occupy me, but I have yet to approach the Inner Sanctum, the Holiest of Holies.

There was the train shop.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.

Curt was a collector of Lionel O27 trains.  I only saw small portions set up on the floor in the house from time to time, but somewhere along the way, he acquired massive amounts of rolling stock, locomotives, track, accessories, etc.  I suppose he intended to set it all up "someday" which never came.

But when no one was watching me (which was par for the course...) I'd slip off and sneak over the inclined concrete bridge, up to that shop, remove the lock from the hasp (it only LOOKED secure) and sneak inside. I wasn't really supposed to be there, but I gradually became more bold, spending more and more time in that building, until it seemed like hours... and no one called for me.

I looked at first, salivating, a kid in a dreamland toy store. On later visits, I would open a box or two, piece together a few sections of track on the workbench, cautiously roll a box car and tanker car along, couple them together, then put them away and pull out a passenger car.  The only thing missing was electricity, otherwise, I'd have had locomotives running.

I can not tell you the specific models... otherwise I'd post images. Suffice it to say, the images in my mind are better than anything I can find on Google.  I've tried.

I think Curt was successful, he was inventive and as far as I know, had plenty of money most of the time. He owned a bulldozer and a backhoe, and showed me how to run each one when I was about 10 or 11. I'd have trouble remembering it all now, but it was so much fun to do that when before, all I had was toys in the dirt.  The real thing is much more fun!  You folks that do it for a living may laugh at me, but it takes fine skill to run an excavator, backhoe, etc.

That same summer, I worked with him on a spare piece of land he had acquired. He put in a mobile home for family get-togethers and so we'd have a bathroom. I helped him garden, I learned to run a tractor, I spent hours in the hot sun, and the family patch brought in acres of corn, potatoes, and so on.  I probably wasn't as helpful as I'd like to think I was, but for a 10 or 11 year-old, I worked my butt off.

Late that summer, Curt asked what I would like.  He had given me some money along the way, bought snacks, etc, and I wasn't expecting anything in particular. I had enjoyed the hell out of spending time with him, learning stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to experience... but when he asked... that 24 inch Free Spirit 10-speed bike (red, white & bicentennial blue) in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog sprang to the forefront of my cerebrum.  At the time, it was the princely sum of about $110, and as far as I know he chipped in, or bought outright, that bike for me.  It was the first bike that I had which was not a hand-me-down, or "Frankenstein-ed" together from spare parts. (Yes, one of my early bikes I put together from 3 identical bikes which were crushed in a barn collapse where some of my cousins had them stored.)

Several years later, when I was in High School, I lived with my maternal grandparents. Otherwise either my father or I would have wound up in the morgue. How Curt & my dad could have come from the same womb eludes me. But as they say, one can choose their friends, not their relatives. One of those winters, my grandparents went to Florida and stayed with their daughter (my aunt) for a couple of months. I had school and lived in the log cabin behind their house. The main house had a coal fired stove which also heated the water for the house. Having a warm or hot shower would involve getting up 2 or 3 hours prior and building a fire. Me? High school? I was up past midnight! I chose to simply have a cold shower before school. I'm not talking a "Who used up the hot water?" cool shower.  It was like ice water! I dealt with it. That summer, I had a major hand in building a new laundry/utility room for my grandparents. They had purchased an electric water heater, I ran the wiring, but we had not yet plumbed it in before their Southern Sojourn.

Curt learned of my bathing habits. He brought over his pipe dies and he taught me how to cut and thread galvanized pipe. We screwed it all together, and by the end of a day, we had a functional electric water heater and I had hot showers. I wish I could have learned 1/10th of what that man had in his head.

(I warned you that this was a Rambling Nostalgic piece.)

The inspiration for this piece was me looking at one of my calculators, a Casio fx-260solar.  Oh, that's not the only one, and it's relatively new; I've got them lying about the place, they're also on my smartphone, my iPad, and of course on any of my computers.  Apple II, 68040 Mac, PowerPC, OS 8, 9 & X, Win XP, Win 7, yada yada yada...

But there was a time when calculators were not ubiquitous.  There was the time I borrowed my aunt's calculator, and as I rode my bike, the bag split and it hit the dirt road. The cost of repairs was many times more than what a new scientific calculator would cost now.  (I think it was an HP gadget, a pioneer in the field.)  Suffice it to say, I had to do my homework the old-fashioned way.

I never learned to use a slide-rule.


I came in at the close of the analog age, and the dawn of the digital age. And now for the tie-in with my rambling.

At some point, Curt bought my sisters & I each a calculator.  Just a basic add, subtract, multiply, divide, calculator with a red Light Emitting Diode (LED) display from Texas Instruments.

It was the greatest thing ever invented since the wheel.

Yep... this is it. Counts on its fingers
faster than I can ever hope to.

Of course, taking it to school resulted in a plethora of calculator groupies. (Try this, what does this equal? Times this for me! Of course the "million x million" resulted in the flashing red overflow indicator.) Then there was the popular 7734 (HELL) or 710 77345 (SHELL OIL) and turn it upside down.  My personal favorite was a joke about Dolly Parton going to her doctor and having various procedures done for breast reduction.  As one narrates, you punch in numbers and the end result is 55378008 (Upside-down: BOOBLESS)

Anyway, would that I could have sewn my wild oats and gotten laid by calculator groupies.  I guess I just didn't know how to work it.

BUT WAIT!  Tell them what else they've won Johnny!

At about the same time, Curt also bought me a digital watch. Serious James Bond super-secret squirrel shit.  He also bought one each for my sisters, but theirs had girly orange bands, and at this time I can not find an image online.  Mine was the masculine James Bond save-the-world version:

This is a promotional image... if you wanted to know the time,
you had to push a button to light it up.


I'm not positive that's the exact model, but it's pretty dang close.  When I wore that watch to school, I had Time Groupies. I was in 5th or maybe 6th grade, and people I didn't know would walk up to me and ask me what the time was.

If only I could have worked it.  Calculator & Time Groupies... could have gotten laid and STDs out of the way before AIDS paranoia.

(sigh) Hindsight.

I still miss Curt.  In some ways he was more of a father than my own biological unit. Of course he was imperfect, he sided with my father in disputes with my mother too many times. I could focus on that, but I choose to remember the good.

In 1997, while I was on leave from the U.S. Air Force and visiting my parents, a phone call came in to my mom's house.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but Curt had been in an auto parts store and collapsed.  I think he was heading over to see me & my visiting family, but I never got to see him, never got to say goodbye.  He died very quickly, perhaps even instantly. I was a pall bearer at his funeral.

I miss you, Uncle Curt
And thus accelerated my father's downward spiral... which did not end well. But that's another story entirely, one which I won't launch at this sitting.