Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Blogroll Add

Had Enough Therapy?

He's prolific. There's over 700 posts in 2017. He's verbose. I thought Borepatch liked to use some words, but Mr. Shneiderman puts him to shame. But he gets a nod because he hammers the subjects right on the head time after time.

Here's a historical post from December of last year. The topic is the rise of Nazism and the way the U.S. press and the Roosevelt Administration ignored what was happening and painted a rosy picture of civility.

And one more, a recent post on political correctness in medical schools and what it means for the future of health care. 

And if that is not enough, one of his favorite movies is Kirosawa's Ran.

I have spent  a couple of hours in his archives already.

NSA discovers that oft evil will shall evil mar

The International Standards Organization has rejected two NSA developed encryption ciphers.  It used to be that NSA ciphers were considered the gold standard, but there is a wide perception that if there aren't explicit backdoors that at least NSA knows how to crack the ciphers (i.e. the cipher is "broken as designed").

In a sense, this is a shame, since the ciphers were designed to be usable by low power processors on the Internet Of Things.  The IoT can use all the security help it can get, but ISO looks like they're not convinced that NSA is actually helping.

And FYI, this is the second time NSA has tried to push through these ciphers, and the second time they've been rejected.

Hat tip: Bruce Schneier.

Why do you need an AR-15

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How Are We Picking Them, Anyway?

Since the development of the primaries, the expansion of television, and now the internet, how are we picking Presidents? On both sides, the major parties seem to be selecting candidates on very thin credentials. Since 2000, we have been presented with:

1. the Goreacle Vs. Dubya
2. the Winter Soldier Vs. Dubya,
3. the Chicago Community Organizer Vs. Maverick
4. the Chicago Community Organizer Vs. the Massachusetts Republicrat
5. Monica's boyfriend's wife Vs. The Donald

How were we ever supposed to make a rational decision about who is going to be the Leader Of The Free World with choices like those?

The sacrifice of the children

There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus [Ba'al] extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.
- Diodorus Siculus (1st Century BC)
Ancient Carthage was founded by Phoenicians, who brought their religion of Ba'al with them.  You may be more familiar with their Canaanite cousins: Beelzebub from the Bible is the Hebrew's view of the same deity, and they roundly condemned its worship.  In particular, they wrote of the practice of sacrificing infant children to the god.  The Carthaginians continued this practice, seemingly even after their conquest by Rome.

In addition to many ancient written sources that discussed this sacrifice, there is archaeological evidence.  The site of Carthage has cemeteries full of urns.  The urns contain the charred bones of infant children, and even children as old as two years.

Image via El Wik
Tertullian, writing around 200 AD tells of how a Roman governor had priests of Ba'al crucified for continuing this practice.  Even as ruthless and stoic a people as they blanched at this ritual slaughter of the innocent.

Oh, for modern-day governors cut from that same cloth.  Children are still being sacrificed on the alter today, only this time it is the altar of socialized medicine:
Alfie Evans, the severely ill toddler whose life support machine was switched off on Monday, could immediately be flown to a children’s hospital in Rome for treatment if a last-ditch appeal succeeds, a solicitor involved in the case has said.

The child’s parents were granted an emergency hearing before a high court judge on Tuesday afternoon after they said the 23-month-old boy had been breathing unassisted since his life support was removed.

His father later said that water and oxygen had been restored.
Read that last sentence again, if you have the stomach to.  His father later said that water and oxygen had been restored.

Doctors cut off water from a baby.  How could that have happened?

The religion of socialized medicine rules the land that used to be Great Britain.  That religion has a priesthood, trained in the Universities and ruthless in their demand to be appeased.  They control the purse strings of the hospitals, and therefore the doctors.  Their sacred writ (the "Liverpool Pathway") is enforced - and they pay cash money for sacrifices, to the tune of millions of pounds sterling each year.

The priesthood's rule is so complete that the parents were forbidden to take their baby out of the country, even though there were other countries willing to take him.  Italy made Alfie a citizen, entitling him to healthcare in that land.  The Pope himself offered free hospital care, and appealed personally to the priesthood in the British Isles.

We shall see how this plays out.  It played out badly last year for little Charlie Gard, a baby in the same locale who met a bitter fate on the altar of Ba'al the NHS.  Because that god is a cruel one, with an unending appetite for human sacrifice.  How very odd that Progressives think they're inventing new and better paradigms, when they are merely reverting to the old and discredited.

Remember, these people look down on you as incompletely civilized.  With me, the feeling is mutual.
He [Cato] never gave his opinion in the Senate on any other point whatsoever, without adding these words "And in my opinion, Carthage should be utterly destroyed". [Delenda est Carthago]
- Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Romans
UPDATE 24 April 2018 19:05: Word:

Why Civilizations fall

This is a very interesting, short discussion by Sir Kenneth Clark on why the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome fell.  It's well worth a listen, and will make you think about the current assault by the "Intellectual Class" on our own civilization's self-confidence.

Quite frankly, it's Exhibit A in the case of the People v. the Universities, and strong evidence in support of the proposition that we should entirely de-fund higher education.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Once again, with feeling: do NOT use your fingerprint to unlock your devices

Police in UK arrest a man based on a fingerprint seen in a photo he posted online:
A pioneering fingerprint technique used to convict a drugs gang from a WhatsApp message "is the future" of how police approach evidence to catch criminals. 

An image of a man holding ecstasy tablets in his palm was found on the mobile of someone arrested in Bridgend. 
It was sent to South Wales Police's scientific support unit and helped to secure 11 convictions.
It's just a short step from a photo to a 3D printer, and then you have something that someone can use to get into your stuff.  Let's review the security badness in this strategy:

1. You probably don't know if you've posted photos with enough detail for someone to make your fingerprint.  In more formal security-speak, you can't tell if your fingerprint has been compromised or not.

2. The first rule of passwords is that if you think it may have been compromised, you change the password.  If you use your fingerprint as a password, you can't change it.

And I'll keep beating the drum that I've been pounding on:

3. In some jurisdictions (example: the USA) the authorities cannot compel you to tell them your password (in this case, due to your 5th Amendment protection against compelled testimony against yourself).  However, there is no restriction on them taking your finger and running it across the scanner to unlock your phone.  Or presumably taking your fingerprint (which they do as a matter of routine) and 3D printing one that they use to unlock your device.

To be perfectly clear: stop using your fingerprint to unlock your devices.  Srlsy.  Right now.

Yes, Electric cars are *so* impressive

It's funny because it's true.

Hat tip: American Digest.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Gun control protip

Alessandro Rolla - Violin Concerto in B-flat major

Alessandro Rolla was an Italian classical composer mostly known as the teacher of Paganini.  He really deserves better, as his music was in some (albeit limited ways) groundbreaking, and was published all over Europe.  A virtuoso on the viola, he composed a great deal of music for an instrument that had mostly been in the shadow of its better known cousin, the violin.

His reputation was such that he was appointed conductor of the orchestra of La Scala.  The French under Napoleon had conquered Italy and the new governor wanted the orchestra to showcase the greatest virtuosos available.  Rolla's success there was such that when the French were expelled after Napoleon's fall he remained conductor until retiring in 1833.

Bootnote: It was surprising to discover that in over 250 weekly Sunday Classical posts, I have never done one on Paganini.  I'll have to correct that oversight next week.

Pieces of History - A Brigid Guest Post

In the declining season of the year, I'll make a stop at some of the local thrift and antique shops, looking for various tools and things that might be useful in the coming winter, or just perusing items that people have discarded as part of a big Spring and Summer clean.

There's often some junk, valuable only to the person that originally purchased it, for reasons unknown. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say, and for every Popeil Pocket Chainsaw (with Cap Snaffler), there's someone that would buy one. There are also treasures, marked up accordingly, there are small things, that only a certain individual will be drawn to.  There are things that were once worn, things that once graced a home, things in small jars, the buyer peering into them, as if inspecting some curious small life form preserved in alcohol.

In my kitchen are a number of things from such places, a bread box, a scale, glasses and some dishes.  In the shop, even more so, things that previous generations used as they cleared and planted the pitiless earth, crafting what they needed to survive out of the materials at hand, doing so as they endured, the tools, straight, yet nicked and worn, much like the men the held them, twins of the same travail.
So much of what's left in my kitchen, and likely yours, is new, shiny, useful perhaps, but NEW.  It likely will not work as long as the appliances I have, like grandmas stand mixer at Dad's house, still working after 60 years.  When I downsized, I donated a ton of stuff to AmVets but not everyone does.  A lot of people simply "pitch it.  Looking at the many little things that remain, I wonder, fifty years from now, when I'm gone, will it grace another home, or will it be discarded in piles of trash and forgotten?

I came back from a short trip a lifetime ago to find a housecleaning had occurred, during my absence, not of the dust bunny roundup, but the purging of "things", of which there really weren't very many in a young couple's home.  But things of value were suddenly missing, or in the process of being hauled away, including a baby grand piano that I bought before we'd even met with a small annuity I got when my Mom died.  My husband at the time was overseeing it  being hauled off on a farmer's old truck with other things.  Things that would bring money that would pay off the debts of one who gambled, not just with dice or cards, but with generous nature of man or machine, taking risks that could prove costly, and typically losing.  The $8000 piano that was my Mom's only legacy sold for just a five hundred dollars
I watched quietly as the doors to the moving truck opened up, filling the air with the smell of cold and impending snow, the piano itself sitting there, as if rooted to the ground, in the grip of some dreadful inertia.  Or maybe that was me. 

I wanted to speak out, knowing I would only be met with the voice that had that quality at once, both dismissal and coldness, as though it had no interest in what you would say, or what the words even meant.  Speaking up meant consequence upon soft flesh, bruises hidden under a stiff cloth and within a stiff heart. I kept quiet, breath simply taken in, a small gesture of self-preservation, but a part of me left that day on that truck, next to a garden that filled with darkness.
I don't have much now, by choice, but what I have means a lot to me.  Notes from grad school, the chronicles of the disintegration of the human body, what it can endure and what it reveals, the legacy of flesh, the hardness of bone. Carefully crafted gifts from my husband of five years, roses made from duct tape, a wedding garter that contained Ninja throwing knives.  There are  Mom's cookbooks, some of Dad's books, on history, on warfare, this big rock with fossilized shells Big Bro found target shooting with Mom and I as kids, which he kept, kept for 40 years, then gave me not long ago.  It had been hidden in a little spot in Dad's workbench.  He knew I wanted it then, he knows I still was fascinated by such things, and I pretended it was allergies when he gave it to me 30 years later.

There are things I have that others would look at and simply scratch their head.  A Lollipop with a dried scorpion in it, an old beaker, a small stuffed Hedgehog, a blue uniform type shirt that hangs in the closet, a tiny ceramic skunk. An old violin, one that pales in comparison next to Partner's, one he played in a symphony orchestra in Austria when he was a young man.  It's like sitting a 1986 Saturn next to a Lamborghini.

Yet that cheap violin was the first one I played, albeit badly, and in the playing came healing, and I again braved a piano bench, an accompaniment of trust as the notes of a violin rose, crystal sounds of loss and hope that swelled up out of the frozen night.
Then, there is the gun safe, lies pieces of history, protectors of our future, blued and oiled and maintained with slow deliberate pride.  There are revolvers and semi-autos, an old Mauser or two, a Garand perhaps, pieces of the past, things taken up, when an individual rises out of their fear and passivity and takes hold of their future, one that is safer for that possession.

They are important to me, for reasons beyond the value of their form, the appreciation of their worth. Without them I am still strong of spirit, grown that way through time and adversity, yet against the evil of man, there in the dark, outweighed or outnumbered, I'm simply the flame of one small match and as weak, under a unforgiving moon.
Also there in the closet, various uniform pieces including the taupe colored ones known as "pinks",  Dads uniform of the 8th Air Force, as crisp and ready for donning, that the almost 70 years that have passed, are but a single note.  On the collar, the little wings with a propeller, still shiny, golden. How they must have glinted on that day he came home, bruises of body and heart hid underneath stiff cloth, the intake of breath as he saw my Mom for the first time in four and a half years, self-preservation giving way to hope, there in a garden that is filled with light.

In your home, as well perhaps, as in mine, uniforms of those that went before, carefully maintained, to be passed down, to along to those who will remember.

Where these things are a hundred years from now is not so important as that their stories remain,  notes on night air as laughter again fills a home, the report of a rifle, cleaving the air with the same testament to freedom as when it was first fired.  It's small trinkets and toys that make a child's eyes light up, things that uphold and repair.
It may be fifty years from now, it may be a hundred or more, the land giving birth to new people, old faiths, the blessings and curses of each passing year, bitter winters and golden days unsullied by rain,  those ever-changing changeless days that look both at the past and the future.  Someone will pick up that object, just as you did, hefting it up to themselves as they quietly whisper,"I will live forever".

Next time you clean out your closet, your garage, that trunk in the attic, look carefully at what you have, what it might mean to someone.  If it has no emotional connection and is functional, there are many organizations that will cherish it, finding it a use among those that need it. There are students that need instruments, museums that would love the artifacts of war for those with no family remaining sheltering organizations that need household goods. But don't just throw it, out there in that moment when the match is lit and before it might be blown out, there is a small moment of history, one that someone may cherish.
 - Brigid

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Kentucky Assault Pistol

Why, oh why do we allow these killing machines on our streets.

I mean, I can't even.

Hat tip: The People's Cube.

Hitler deletes his Facebook account

I mean, you don't get to be fuhrer of a thousand year Reich by being careless with your personal data ...

Friday, April 20, 2018

Cool story, bro

Seen on  All the cool kids hang out there.  It's like Twitter without all the censorship.

Happy 4/20 Day!

Party on, Garth!  I recommend this to wet your whistle:

SweetWater 420 IPA, probably my favorite IPA.  It isn't pasteurized (maybe the reason I like it so much) so you might only see it in the south and the east coast.

Or you can kick back with Muddy Waters and have you some Champagne and Reefer.

Bootnote: I've never been one to partake of the evil weed, myself.  But I'm told that today isn't just Hitler's birthday, it's also a holiday.  Of sorts.  The kids tell me that.  I'd tell them to get off of my lawn, but there's grass involved ...

UPDATE 4/20/2018 17:18: I see it's not just me:

Blogroll update

A long time buddy has started a blog, Minds Of A Feather.  Blogrolled.  Go check him out.

The Latest Sanctuary County

Effingham County Illinois has become the latest sanctuary in the nationwide movement of local governments standing up to State and federal governments and refusing to enforce laws that the locals think are wrong or unconstitutional.

By an 8-1 vote, the Effingham County Council voted to declare their county a sanctuary for gun owners and to direct county employees to not enforce any gun control laws that they felt violated the 2nd Amendment.

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”
--Alexander Hamilton

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Man with a knife, hollering "Allahu Akbar" drives into a crowd of bikers

Hilarity Exactly what you'd expect breaks out:
On Saturday almost 1,500 motorcyclists gathered in Aix-en-Provence in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, protesting against the speed limit of 80 kmh [50mph]. Around 5 pm one of the drivers, irritated by the blockage of the road by the demonstration, couldn’t stand it any more and, swinging a knife through the open window, he plowed his car into the rallying motorcyclists. Some of the witnesses testified that he was shouting “Allahu Akhbar”.
Ah, France.  Blocking roads has become an art form.  Or an entertainment.  Or both.
Two of the motorcyclists were wounded: one in the hand and the other in the arm. Both were hospitalized. However, the angry crowd turned on the car, and with the help of helmets and rocks they began to destroy it. The driver and the passengers, however, managed to break free and avoid lynching.
It may be France, but these are bikers.  Click through to enjoy the video of, well, bikers reacting exactly how you think they'd react.  I'm actually surprised at how many of them used their helmets to hammer the car - good helmets aren't cheap, and once you give it a thwack like that, it's off to the Helmet Shoppe for you.

File this under a major failure of the victim selection process.

Dick's Sporting Goods: they hate you

George finds that they haven't just stopped selling AR pattern rifles, but that they've destroyed their existing stock.

They've decided that they don't want customers like us.  Duly noted.

Food for thought

It's Not Just What And When, It's Why

Today is Patriot's Day 2018.

Concord Hymn

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.
 But it is not just what they did, it's why. The British marched up from Boston to seize the military stores the rebels had at Concord. The rebels knew if they allowed themselves to be disarmed, any hope of resisting the government was lost. That was the deciding factor. It was stand and fight or be disarmed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Is there some hope for Internet Of Things security?

Maybe.  Microsoft just announced they are getting into the game:
Microsoft has designed a family of Arm-based system-on-chips for Internet-of-Things devices that runs its own flavor of Linux – and securely connects to an Azure-hosted backend. 
Dubbed Azure Sphere, the platform is Microsoft's foray into the trendy edge-computing space, while craftily locking gadget makers into cloud subscriptions.
I know what you are thinking: Microsoft is solving a security problem?  Well, maybe.  Microsoft got a bad security reputation 20 years ago, but have been doing a credible job for quite some time now.  Besides, they address what are probably the top IoT security issues:

1. The people who write the IoT apps don't know the first thing about security, and so make mistakes that everyone else has known how to prevent for 20 years: insecure default passwords, poor network security hygene, bad coding that allows common attacks, etc.  Because Microsoft is providing  a development environment for creating these apps, they can provide a sane set of default settings that will make these sorts of attacks a lot harder.  I'm not sure if they will do this, but they could.

2. The people who write the IoT apps mostly don't have an auto-update mechanism to roll out new security fixes.  Most of these will not be in the app itself, but will rather be in the underlying Operating System code.  Microsoft has an update mechanism built into the system, so this will be automagic.  The IoT app developer doesn't have to know anything about security to get this.

These two changes will potentially move the needle a lot to make the systems more secure.  We'll have to see how things play out, but this is a positive move.

It's Not The Data You Collect

It's not the data you collect, it's how you interpret that data that matters.

During WWII, when planes returned with battle damage they were repaired and returned to service. Because so many of the returning planes had damage in the wings and fuselage, there was a suggestion made to add armor to the areas that were showing damage.

That plan might have been carried out except for Abraham Wald. Dr. Wald was a statistician. He looked at the battle damage reports on returning aircraft and noticed the obvious. These were returning planes. That meant that the damage they had received was not enough to prevent them from flying.

Since he understood that aerial combat was never precise enough to hit another aircraft in an exact spot, but was simply shooting and getting hits wherever they might, he was only looking at part of the data. The rest of the data was smashed into the dirt of France and Germany. The planes that did not return held the real information.

Since those planes were unavailable for inspection, he reversed the thinking. Of the planes that had returned with battle damage, where had they not been hit? In the cockpit, engine, and tail. If additional armor plate was going to be effective, that's where it should be installed.

His logic carried the day, the Army Air Corps added armor as he suggested. If you can do graduate level statistics, here's the math behind it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It snowed today

Not much, but dang - it's half way through April.  In Maryland.  I wonder if Al Gore is visiting?

Everything is hackable

Peter posts about the lousy security of most electronic devices:
I've spoken out before against the so-called "Internet of things" in our homes.  They hold hidden dangers.
  • Frankly, I don't see any need for a "smart thermostat" that can be adjusted from my smartphone, when that means someone else can hack into it and potentially invade my privacy.
  • I think "smart security cameras" that I can operate from my smartphone, anywhere in the country, are an ideal tool for would-be burglars or home invaders, who can monitor them to select the best time to commit their crimes.
  • "Smart door locks" are an invitation to hackers to open my doors for themselves - or just leave them open for their amusement.
He then points out the example of a casino that was hacked via a network-connected thermostat in a fish tank.  I know people in the security business ("Penetration Testers", sometimes called "White Hat Hackers" who are hired by companies to test their defenses) - I've heard stories about how they have done precisely this sort of thing.  One story from around 20 years ago was how they checked into a casino hotel and went to their room.  The mini fridge had an Ethernet connection; they plugged their laptop into the network and found that they were on the main casino IT network.  It seems that someone wanted to have electronic sensors reporting when someone took a beer from the fridge for automatic billing.

My point is that this has been going on a long, long time.  It's not getting better, either: the mad rush to "Internet Enable" every device on the planet reminds me of the mad rush to put up corporate web sites in the late 1990s.  Nobody really knew why they "had" to do this, but everyone was doing it, so they had to as well.  Of course, the security wasn't an afterthought - it wasn't thought of at all.  And so there was idiocy like shopping cart applications that let you download the order form, edit the hidden price field, upload it back to the server, and buy a TV for a penny.

Now there's the "Internet Of Things" that doesn't seem to have any security at all. Everything is hackable.

So what can you do?  The best defense (as is typically the case) is good situational awareness.  When you see one of these devices, remind yourself that it almost certainly has no security built into it.  Imagine what might happen if you installed it in your house (say, a "smart" door lock that will open for anyone who knows the "open sesame" command).  Then ask yourself if the benefits are worth it to you.

For me, the answer is a resounding "no", but you know how nasty and suspicious I am.

But remember that network security is hard, even for people who are highly motivated to have good security.  Casinos have had pretty darn good security, in my experience.  They know what's at stake.  This is why they hire penetration testers, after all.  And they still get hacked through some dumb Internet Of Things device.

If it happens to them, with their experience, motivation, and security budget, what do you think will happen to you?

When you find yourself in a store looking at one of these shiny new devices and the hair on the back of your neck starts to stand up, you will know that you understand the situation precisely.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Well, what do we have here, Private Pyle?

Alright, ladies, listen up. Gunny Ermey has moved on to a new duty station. There's no need for tears. He was a Marine, a Drill Instructor, and then an actor and an ambassador for the Corps. He lived a hell of a life.

No, today is Eat a Jelly Donut Day. I'll see you at the bakery.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rest In Peace, Gunny

R. Lee Ermey, dead at 72.  He was one of a kind.

Semper fi, and enjoy the ride up there, Gunny.  Just take it easy on the new arrivals - they're not recruits.

Running Silent, Running Deep - A Brigid Guest Post

Since Borepatch told me I was still welcome to stop by with a post, a Chapter from Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption that those of you who have read my posts about my late brother, the Submariner (SeaWolf, Halibut, Michigan) might enjoy. - B.

Chapter 44 – Running Silent and Deep

Friendships can form over many years of interaction. They can form in the sudden heat of battle. They can form over a handful of open, reflective conversations on or off the websimilar experiences, shared pain, among those who have earned your trust. They can involve humans, and they can involve four-legged friends who hold us just as dear, who protect us just as strongly.
All are valued.
I have one long-term friend who is very much like some of my friends, and beyond the conception of others. He’s a couple years younger than me, never married, his whole life spent in service to our country including a trip or two to a war zone. Now he works in something that would be the stuff of a TV show if you could somehow narrow it down to an hour, throw in some cleavage, unrealistic outcomes of science, and the occasional bumbling probie
But real life is not like that. It's not designer clothing while you assess the blood splatter, logical conclusions, or the good guys always winning. It’s continuing to bear with weight and steadiness the evils and excesses of man, holding up strong under the business of the slain even when you might lose. Throw in a dress code and the occasional political yard gnome, and though we don’t talk about it, we occasionally see something on TV and just look at each other and laugh.
He sometimes disappears for weeks or longer when I don’t know where he is, and I know not to ask, though I’ve seen him on TV before. Then with a phone call out of the blue, he pops in, occasionally on my front porch.
My husband understands our long history and that bond and just smiles a wry smile while the guest bed is made up and my friend and I have animated conversations involving Bosnian goats, wrong way tanks, and various shiny aircraft. For it is a friendship that is like family, even though we don’t share blood or any sort of romantic historyjust a lot of years, some mutual skirmishes, a number of fish sandwiches and pints, some bullets, and a passport or two.
Then there were the friends of childhood. Often such friendships didn’t survive high school as we grew and evolved into the people we would eventually be. One such person was the girl who lived across the street. She was my best friend in grade school; a tiny little thing with ice-blond hair. When we were kids, her little sister died of a rare form of cancer, then her still-young mom of the same disease. Her dad soon followed though we’re not sure if it was disease or heartbreak. She and I lost touch after high school, the friendship being more one of young girls than grown-ups.
We went off to college, myself initially majoring in engineering, my friend doing pre-med. I heard later she ended up working for a medical research facility. She studied the disease that had laid its cold hand on her family, hoping for a cure, likely looking at it each day with both horror and astonishment. Unfortunately, the disease took her before she could take it. She was only in her thirties, the world to her still comprised of small wonders.
We hadn’t had any contact in years, and it was months after she passed that I heard. She had no living family left; nothing remained of her but the handcrafted wood that held her remains. So small, so bare. That’s really all that life ends up as, I thought, and my heart swelled with tearsfor the girl she’d been, for joyous laughter watching cartoons, for whispered conversations about who liked what boy, for afternoons at ballet class; for all the joy and adventure we had as we explored our world with a curiosity and courage that had not learned limits. I cried with the realization that we had both let that slip past us, unremembered over so many years.
All I could do was go to the church and light a candle for her, then blow on it to release the flame, releasing her laughter with it, and the memories of childhood.
If we are fortunate, those we live with are also our friends. My dad married his best friend, as did I. I look at other friends of mine long married and I see that, and it’s precious to behold just being in the same room with the two of them; sitting across the table as we say grace you can feel the flame.
There’s nothing better than sharing a last name with your best friend.
Growing up, my big brother Allen was the best friend a kid could have, his not abandoning me even in high school when it just wasn’t cool to hang out with your baby sister. But lately we’d gotten much closer.
Because he was dying.
He had kept the truth from our ninety-four-year-old father, hoping that he would outlive Dad, sparing him that agony. But I knew even if he didn’t tell me, having too much knowledge of medicine not to understand what was going on. But I did everything I could to spend as much time with Allen during those last six months. In his last months on this earth we’d talk of everything: about our dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to). One thing I am glad was that I never heard from him during those conversations, “I wish I’d . . .”
I’ve heard so many people say: “I’ll do that when I’m older, when I lose twenty pounds, when I’m retired.” We go through life saying, “I would, but it probably wouldn’t work out,” or, “ I’d like to but . . .” We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat, and mirage.
 You can’t count on anything. For out of the blue fate can come calling. My husband and I had recently lost our beloved black Lab Barkley after a brief but valiant battle against bone cancer and a weekend of pain we couldn’t keep at bay for him. In a flash, life robbed me even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when Allen and I were kids: going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth just to see what was around the bend of that forest we’d already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significantas if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known. A fish, perhaps; or simply fate.
I think of the true story of the woman whose parachute didn’t open on her first jump and she fell more than a mile and livedto change her whole life to pursue her dreams. Did she sense something as she boarded that plane, looking into the sky at a danger that she could not articulate that she could not see? Or was she unaware until that moment when she pulled the cord and nothing happened, as her life rushed up to her with a deep groaning sound? What was it like in that moment, that perception of her final minutes, what taste, what color, what sound defined her soul as it prepared to leave? 
I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick-colored paint to spruce up a backdrop in the crash pad’s kitchen. I noticed the yellows, the color I had painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of themsome resembling the green of my parents’ house in the ’60s and ’70s, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you’d not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Allen and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, the other spy, friends forever; stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? For some, it’s a favorite photo; a piece of clothing worn to a special event; a particular meal. Things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture the memory, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind.
One morning while out in a hangar checking out a pilot friend’s home-built project, I had one of those moments. It was an old turboprop lumbering down the taxiway with all the grace of a water buffalo. It wasn’t the aircraft that caught my eye, it being one of those planes that carries neither speed nor sleek beauty, but rather serves as the embodiment of inertia overcome by sufficient horsepower. No, it was the smell of jet fuel that took me backto years of pushing the limits, not really caring if I came home, only that the work was done without my breaking beyond re-use something I was trusted with.
Until one day, while my heart was beating despite being broken unseen beneath starched white cotton, my aircraft made a decided effort to kill me. It was not the “Well, I’ll make a weird sound and flash some red lights at you and see what you do,” an aircraft’s equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the North cackling: “Care for a little fire, Scarecrow?” No, it was a severe vibration that shook the yoke right out of my hand as we accelerated through 180 knots on the initial climb when, unbeknownst to me, a small piece of metal on the aircraft’s tail had come loose and was flapping in the breeze.
At that moment, as I heard the silent groaning of the earth below, I thought: I do not wish to dieand I fought back. In that moment of slow and quiet amazement that can come at the edge of sound, finding in myself a renewed desire to live; recognizing the extent and depth of that desire to draw another breath and share that soft warm breath with another.
Today is a memory that months from now could be one of those memoriesnot of fear, but of triumph. You may look back and see this day, the friends you were with, the smile on your face, the simple tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form to at this time simply be another chore: cleaning, fixing, an ordinary day; while children played with a paper plane fueled by laughter and the hangar cat drowsed in the sunlight. It might be a day you didn’t even capture on filmno small squares of color left to retain what you felt as you worked and laughed together, there in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of hope as you wait for your best friend to join you.
Twenty years from now you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time, and tears around your eyes, at the gray in your hair; and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here and now, you may look around you, that person you were waiting for no longer present, and you’ll want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost-knowing.
You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you’d laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.
Allen spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understood testing the boundaries of might and the cold depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.
On his last nights, Allen and I talked, but not of those days under the ocean. We both were aware of grave matters of honor, but do not speak of them, not even with each other. I’d sit as he talked about Dad and how he hoped Dad would live to be a hundred; how he hoped he would be there to take care of him, even as I watched 120 pounds leave Allen’s frame as he went through that second round of chemo and radiation.
He talked until his eyes closed, only his labored breath letting me know he was still with me; the rise and fall of his chest as he was trying to push up from the waters of the sea, unfathomed flesh still so buoyant if only in spirit as the cold water lapped against him.
I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of that cold. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles; my skin hot under the sun; the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, lying heavily in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder; overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I’d rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort: the sounds only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment, and alive.
I’d go home on such nights and pour a drink, prepare a small meal. I’d eat it slowly, letting the sweet and salt stay on my tongue. For me there would be no quick microwaved meal eaten with all the detachment of someone at a bar, tossing back a handful of stale nuts with his beer. No, I wished to taste and savor the day, the warm layers of it, this day that had been someone’s last.
You can’t control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family; call an old friend you’ve not spoken to for months; forgive an enemy; salute your flagand always, always give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of spring, a dying winter flaring up like fading flame. One last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
As I sit and wait for the phone to ring to let me know my husband has landed, I have no idea what this day will bring as it closes. But one thing I do know: today is that memory. Alone or together, I’m going to go out and make everything I can of it. I look at the photos of my daughter Rebecca and the family that adopted her. I look at a photo of Allen, the shirt he wore in the last picture I have of him now hanging in my closet, next to a crisp cotton shirt that still bears the scent of memory. I pause and smile, preparing my evening table with thanks to the Lord for the blessing of family and friends. - Brigid

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Blessing of the Bikes

Posting has been delayed because co-blogger and brother-from-another-mother ASM826 stopped by last night.  Bourbon was drunk and the World's problems solved.

Now it's the blessing of the bikes.  Back later.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In re: Syria

Offered without comment.

The Soldier Bear

When Nazi Germany invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941, the prospects facing the Polish soldiers captured by the Soviets improved immensely.  Normally, they would have languished in work camps until most of them were starved or worked to death.  But with the Blitzkrieg taking huge swaths of Soviet territory, Stalin decided that having more troops eager to fight the Germans was in his interest. So they were sent to the Caucasus mountains and crossed into British territory, where they were inducted into the British army.

Along the way, some of them found a bear cub and brought it along.  They fed it condensed milk, and the bear grew up as a mascot of their 22nd Transport Company, Artillery Division, Polish 2nd Corp.  They named him Wojtek.

He was very popular with the troops, and would play and wrestle with all takers.  He would also mimic what they did - he loved being with the troops and they loved having him there.  As the unit prepared to move into theater they got him official paperwork with Name, Rank, and Serial Number.  The paperwork actually got him onto the transport when they shipped out to Italy.

The problem for the troops was what would they do with him when they went into combat.  They were responsible for keeping the artillery batteries resupplied, and they took him on the trucks, keeping him chained to the truck while they moved the shells to the cannon.  One of his closest friends stayed back with him.

Until one day in a particularly intense firefight, his comrade was called forward to be a forward observer.   Wojtek was left alone.  The unit struggled to move the heavy ammunition.

They they saw Wojtek, coming through the smoke.  He was mimicking them by carrying ammunition.  As a now full grown bear, he was easily the strongest member of the unit and they were able to keep up with the demand.  After the battle, the unit adopted his likeness on their official badge.

In May 1945 the unit was shipped to northern England for demobilization.  Wojtek found a home in the Edinburg Zoo where he had to adjust to a life without his buddy giving him some of their beer ration.  He lived until 1963.

You can read more of his story here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Almost 80,000 78 RPM records now online

Free, at
Last summer we checked in with the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project, a volunteer effort to digitize thousands of 78rpm records—the oldest mass-produced recording medium. Drawing on the expertise and vast holdings of preservation company George Blood, L.P., the ARChive of Contemporary Music, and over 20 more institutions from around the world, the project aims to save the recorded sounds of the past, and not only those that have come down to us through the efforts of highly selective curators. What we think of as the sound of the early 20th century—the blues, jazz, country, classical, ragtime, gospel, bluegrass, etc.—only represents a popular sample.
Get 'em here.

Hat tip: Chris Lynch.