Monday, July 30, 2012

War (A Book Review)

Sebastian Junger, War (2010, audio book)

In my travels earlier this month, I had plenty of time to be by myself driving and I spent much of that time listening to this book.  Sebastian Junger, author of A Perfect Storm, spent 15 months shadowing a paratrooper platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.  This was one of the most dangerous spots in the war as it was a conduit from Pakistan for foreign fighters coming into Afghanistan.   The unit took significant casualties and was frequently under fire.  I was especially interested in this book (as I was with the documentary Restrepo) for the book and movie featured a man I knew and whose parents are good friends of mine.   Vanderberge was wounded, shot in the arm in an ambush.  In the movie, one doesn’t get a sense of what is happening as the film is chaotic like the battle.  But in the book, Junger provides more insight into the objectives of the American commander and the Taliban fighters.  However, this is not a book about tactics or strategy, but a personal look at the way soldiers go about their work in the face of danger.  There is much in the book about courage and honor, the excitement of battle and the boredom of waiting.  However, even with so much in the book about honor and courage, Junger admits that "modern war is not about honor, it is about winning.”  

In addition to telling the stories of the soldiers involved, Junger draws upon a host of scientific studies that explore what happens in the brain in combat.  Quick decisions are crucial to survival and once one has been shot at, the brain immediately learns to react.  Also critical to survival is the importance of the unit.  Even when behavior goes counter to one’s personal safety, fulfilling the needs of the unit is critical for it means there is a better chance that the unit will have will have an overall lower causality rate and therefore the survivability of the individual within the unit increases.  In a counter-intuitive way, personal safety becomes secondary to the needs of the unit.   If everyone just looked out for themselves, the whole unit could be wiped out.  Yet, the men must feel they have some control in the outcome which is why highly trained men are less likely to break down when in combat.  The adrenaline of combat is also addictive as Junger explored how men longed for it.  It’s a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted.

Yet, as exciting as combat can be, Junger also reminds his readers that much of war is carrying heavy loads uphill (as one tries to get the height advantage on one’s enemy).  Much of war is also about waiting.  I would have thought that being in life and death situations would force more discussion about God, and there was some, but one soldier summed it up this way, "Who needs God when you can call in Apaches."  Apaches are helicopter gunships.  

 Junger also explored the economics of modern war in a micro-level.  A shoulder launched Javelin that could be sent through the window of a car a half mile away cost $80,000 each.  This weapon is fired by a man who doesn't make that much in a year at a enemy who couldn't hope to make that much in a lifetime.  The foreign fighters were a boom for the villages of the Korengal as they got to charge those fighting for the Taliban outrageous rates for importing ammo from Pakistan (and would therefore encourage the fighters to use up their ammunition).  The foreign fighters would also give a few bucks to local teenagers to shoot a clip into the American positions.  The youth would climb a mountain and from a safe spot, empty the clip and then drop off the other side before the American helicopters would arrive.  And then there were the Americans who were promising roads and development if the place stabilized. 

I enjoyed this book.  Junger brings the soldiers of the platoon alive as he tells of their lives and their transformation during their employment.  Using tape recorders and video recorders, in addition to good notes,, Junger does an excellent job at capturing the voice of the soldiers.  In places, Junger can be quite poetic, as he sat with a unit waiting in an ambush watching “the gray light begin to reassemble the world.”  Even in the chaos of war, one can find beauty.  I recommend this book, especially to those who wonder about how men respond to the dangers of combat.    

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Update #2 on boat (a little closer to the water)

I recently moved the boat from its cradle back onto the trailer (the boat still doesn't fit the trailer but the modifications I made makes it ride a lot better).  I needed the boat on the trailer because I wanted to check out the rigging and as the boat was just outside the garage with the power coming into the house at the garage, I didn't think that would be a good place to hoist the mast.  The power lines are insulated, BUT...   So I moved it to the back of the  yard and with three other folks, we got the mast set up and begin working on the rigging.  Everything was together except for a piece on the  backstay.  A friend and I ran down to the hardware store and, right before they shut their doors, we figured out a way to jury-rig the backstay connection so we could test out the sails.  We only hoisted the mainsail (It was quite windy and that was a challenge).  Overall, the boat is looking good and I am ready to sail it, but when I hoist the mast again, I want at least four strong guys and hopefully one will have a little extra height.    

I also posted this picture on Facebook and a high school classmate of mine responded, "that's what I need, a boat with training wheels."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Update on the boat...

I have mentioned several times about inheriting a sailboat.  The boat had belonged to Brent, a friend of mine who died back in 2006.  His sister had the boat at her house. Unfortunately, she didn't have a place to keep the boat out of the weather and the covering had broken during a heavy snow storm and the boat was filled with snow and later water and ice. In addition, it hadn't been properly placed on the trailer and the pressure points with all the water in the boat broke five of the ribs in the hull and cracked fiberglass in a number of placed. Also warped and pealing from the water were the seats and the decking on the floor.   Brent's sister offered me the boat with a promise that if I couldn't get it back "ship-shape," I wouldn't tell here that I took it to the dump.  Back in early May, I picked the boat up from Pennsylvania and brought it home and began to work.

I really wish I had done a better job of photographing the boat's transformation, or at least had taken a picture of what the inside of the cockpit looked like before I ripped it apart.  Above are a few photographs that shows the peeling and cracked seats, one of the cracked ribs and how the pressure was pushing in on the bottom of the boat.  My first task was to clean up the boat and to take out all the wood from the cockpit so that I could see what I was working with (there were five bad ribs, two bad bulkhead supports, several rotted runners (the go under the ribs).  My first task was to work the warp out of the seats which I did by placing them on a flat concrete and putting sand bags on top of them.  Next, I stripped the wooden seats and floorboard (the seats were mahogany, the boards on the floor were mahogany and oak).  After a lot of chemical stripping, I turned to a sander (using both a belt sander and a smaller rotating sander).  Once the boards were natural, I had to re-glue a couple of them before staining and varnishing (six coats).  

Next, I had to cut out the ribs and places where the fiberglass had cracked.  The ribs that were broken were all rotten and it was hard to get them back together enough to trace out a new rib and I had to remake a couple of the ribs before I got the pattern just right.  Then I paid a visit to a friend who is an engineer at a local fiberglass factory.  He had me talk with one of their layup specialist about working with fiberglass and they gave me a byproduct they use (ground fiberglass) that I could mix with resin and harder and make a paste to both glue down the ribs and to make a bead (as you do with caulking) so that the fiberglass wouldn't have to have a tight bend that often causes cracking.  Afterwards, I laid back in the ribs and bulkhead supports with this method.  I also used this to fill in some of the places where the runners had rotted.  Next, I fiberglassed over the ribs, runners and bulkhead supports with two layers of fiberglass.  After it had hardened, I spray painted the fiberglass and then set out reassemble the boat.

My final task was to reassemble everything.  The seats were easy to identify, but getting all the support pieces in was like working on one great big jigsaw puzzle.  But with some thought before I started screwing things together, I got everything laid out and armed with a cordless screwdriver, went to work.  This is what the cockpit looked like right after I had put everything back together.  I'm hoping to get this into the water tomorrow!
Isn't she beautiful?  There are a few things that I'd like to do next winter like refinish the wood around the keel and the splash guard on the bow, so that it matches the mahogany seats.  The sails all seem to be in good condition, but I am missing the spinnaker pole (does anyone have an extra one laying around)?  I am also going to have to replace the jib halyard and the main sheet (ropes that pull up the jib and control the mail sail) at some point as they are worn, but I think I can get a few days sailing out of the old sheets.

Anybody up for a day on the lake?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Local Man earns "Do Good" merit badge

Sage recently completed the requirements for his Boy Scout "Do Good" merit badge, nearly four decades after he qualified for his last merit badge.  The National Council of the Boy Scouts decided to make an exception and award the badge to him because, according to the a spokesman for the organization, "one's never too old to do good."  He went on to tell how, as a scout, Sage was always in trouble and his leaders never thought he'd mount to anything.  But now, look at him.  He still hasn't amounted to anything, but the merit badge was awarded in the hopes that he might try harder during his remaining time on earth.

A few years ago Sage added Google Ads to his blog.  As he stated then, it was mostly an experiment and he planned to give away what he made.  He hasn't really attempted to optimized the ads, he's way too lazy to do that.  Instead, he just let the ads sit there.  As a result, he recently received his first check from Google,for $102.  He signed it over to Love Inc, a local ministry that seeks to help the poor.  .  Here he is handing the check to Steve, the executive director and the one with the hair.  The ads may sometimes be a hassle and often provide a little humor, but they can also do some good.  Sage encourages those who are not trying to make a living from their blogs to try to make the world a little nicer for someone else.   Use the ads and give away your earnings.  For those who are trying to make a living from their blog, Love Inc is open Monday through Friday to help and you'll need all the help you can get if you only make a hundred bucks every few years.

Nevada Jack reporting

Monday, July 16, 2012

Last week's trip to the UP

Marquette Lighthouse
I got back from Pittsburgh and then turned around and headed up north, to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to help out a group of high school and college age youth who were building a Habitat for Humanity home.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, You know that I often head up there--this was my fifth trip.  I could only give them three days, but by the time I left they were just beginning to roof the house and another crew was working on the exterior.  This year, we were in Ishpeming.  We spent the evenings on Lake Superior, near Marquette (the lighthouse is for the harbor in Marquette).  I really like the western half of the UP as it is stepped in mining history and I feel like I'm back West, only with trees!   
It's a long drive up.  Along the way, I stopped at this point which the northern most point of Lake Michigan, located just south of US 2.

Here is photo of Lake Superior.  Much of Lake Michigan (at least the Michigan portion of the lake) is sandy.  Lake Superior is rocky and rugged and beautiful.
Here's the trusses going up on the project.  With so many helping, we didn't need a lift to set them on top!  Below is a photo of the house as it was when I left the project site?

I will be home for the next month...  This weekend I finally got around to finishing the fiberglass on the sailboat I've been restoring.  I started today to put it back together, but had a softball game so it was late and soon dark.  Maybe tomorrow... 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Explaining my absence (somewhat), Pittsburgh, a ball game and a train trip

View from Roberto Clemente Bridge, looking west 
 I woke to the sway and jerking of the train as we make our way across junctions in the rails.  I look out into the gray dawn.   Tank cars surround us on both sides.  I am still tired and wonder why I didn’t draw the shades the evening before when I boarded the train in Pittsburgh.  But I was so tried that I crawled into my bed (the attendant had the beds already made, when I boarded at 12:30 AM.    We are just outside of Waterloo, Indiana.

Fireworks on the 4th

It had been a long day that ended a long week in the Steel City. I had slept in, all the way to 7 AM, which sounds like a luxury except that it was after 2 AM when my last meeting of the previous day ended.  But it was Saturday and almost over.  There was a little wrapping up to be done and I didn’t have to be there until 9 AM.   I showered and grabbed a bite for breakfast and headed over to the conference center.  By 10:30 I was free to leave    I headed down the river and across the last of the sister bridges, the Roberto Clemente Bridge.  There are three identical bridges in Pittsburgh that all cross the Allegheny River.  They are referred to as the three sisters and used to also be known by the streets they linked (6th Street Bridge, etc) but now they have names.  The one downriver, which now leads into the ball park is named for the great Pirate who, at the top of his career, was killed flying in relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.  The other two bridges are named for famous Pittsburgh natives: artist Andy Warhol and writer and environmentalist Rachel Carlson.  At the ball park, I buy two of the last seats in the house.  They were more than I had hoped to pay, being clubhouse seats, but I have wanted to see a game in this ballpark that’s rated one of the most beautiful in the country since it opened.  I buy my tickets, rush back across the river and to my hotel to check out and store my luggage and then back to the convention center to meet a colleague for lunch in a Greek restaurant before she has to catch the shuttle to the airport.

Although the week was tiring and I don’t think I ever got my money’s worth out of my bed at the William Penn (what a classic hotel), it was good to see old friends.  And there was good food and the fireworks on the fourth were wonderful, especially as I was able to watch from the roof of the convention center. 

But the game was awesome, even with the ten minute downpour.  But it was hot, and very humid.  The advantage of the club house seats is that we could retreat into the air conditioned comfort behind the seats and wait for the game to begin (and later, wait for the rain to end).  The ball park is beautiful, with its open views out over the river and toward the city in which I had three enjoyable years.   Playing good ball behind the solid pitching of McDonald, the Pirates easily beat the Giants 3-1.  In the ninth inning, the Giant’s must have come to the realization that fate was against them as the Pirate’s Shortstop snagged two hard hit bouncers on the fly and, with beautiful midair acrobatic precision,  made the throw to first.  Then, for the last out, a hard hit line drive down the line was snagged on a sprint by the right fielder.  The game was over.  The other highlight of the game was the “Great Pierogi Race” between the fifth and sixth inning.   (Peirogi is an eastern European dish that’s kind of like round ravioli, but heavier, that’s stuffed with potatoes, cheese, meat or sauerkraut).   
The great pierogi race
After the game, I got my luggage and headed to the train station where I waited for the ride home.  The train was half an hour late, time that we made up over night for we arrived at Chicago on time.  On the train, I slept and I had breakfast, which was highlighted by sitting across from an electrical engineer who works for Amtrak (he was heading to Galesburg, Illinois where there they are working on new signaling technology).   I should be home mid-afternoon. 
The view of the city

(Posted from Chicago Union Station.  I have one more trip tomorrow, for three days, then I should be staying put for a while and hopefully having time to finish my sailboat project and get it on the water, otherwise I may have to convert it to an ice breaker).  On July 10, I edited this post and realize that I must have been more tired than I thought as I repeated a paragraph!