March 2005 Archives

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March 30, 2005
Blog Wedding Bells

It's Spring, and a young blogger's fancy turns to... to... well, whatever it turns to. I wouldn't know. I'm not young.

But I do know (via Spoons) that engagement-type congratulations are in order for FrankJ and SarahK. Best of luck to them both.

I'd like to make an announcement of my own: yesterday I got hitched.

She's a real beauty.


Lovely, isn't she?

Posted by Russ at 11:59 AM | Comments (5)
March 29, 2005

I was nearing the end of the self-guided tour of the USS North Carolina yesterday, and would have been off the ship and on the road in maybe half an hour, when my cellphone rang. I answered, and the ensuing conversation took half an hour. The delay turned out to be rather fortuitous.

I ultimately rang off and resumed my walking tour, wrapping up with the ship's bridge area. As I stepped out of the pilot house (where they steer from) and out to the signal bridge (where the signal flags are kept) I was alone, but for a tall dignified-looking elderly fellow who was standing there.

"Can you imagine being Captain of a ship like this," he said to me, out of the blue. "The responsibility...."

"Indeed," I replied, "being responsible for a ship like this, and so many men, it must have been... well, I can't imagine it." I really can't. I had a squad of seven troops and maybe a couple of million dollars of hardware — that's nothing compared to 2,600+ men and maybe 100 million dollars (in the 1940s) of ship and gear.

"And the authority," he continued, "the Captain had responsibility, but he also had authority."

"The two go hand in hand," I said, "you can't have one without the other." Garrr... just call me Mr. Cliché.

He continued, "The Captain was like a father to us." Holy smokes... the man was no mere tourist — he was revisiting his old ship. "He held the crews' lives in his hands... he was like a father and we were like a big family."

I saw what he was driving at. He meant not only responsibility for the crew, but to the crew as well. They trusted the Captain to know how to fight the ship, and he in turn trusted them to know their individual duties and to do them well.

And "well" is how they did. USS North Carolina earned 12 battle stars in the Second World War for participation in every major campaign of the Pacific war.

We strolled the deck and talked a while longer, about the differences 60 years can make, but also about many things about the service that never change. And the whole time, I was thinking this is a man who saw it happen.

My cellphone rang again, and I really did not want to answer, but I was sort of expecting it, so I excused myself... it wasn't the call I thought it might be. As I pocketed the phone, I turned to talk to the fellow, but he had gone. I looked for him, to resume our conversation, but he was nowhere to be found.

If I hadn't earlier received that 30-minute phone call, I'd never have met the man. Call it serendipity. I had actually met and spoken with a man who had stood on the decks of that very ship while under fire from the Japanese. The weightiness of the encounter didn't fully hit me for a few minutes. I had met a hero. No, I don't know his name, but as far as I am concerned, all those men were heroes.

Being the age I am, born at the tail end of the baby boom, I've known WW2 veterans since I was a kid. Many of my Dad's friends had served — Dad was a bit too young, having been born in '36, but he worked with a lot of guys many years older than he was. To a kid like me, raised on John Wayne movies, Combat! and The Rat Patrol, those men were like giants. I've even met a bona fide legend, USMC ace and recipient of the Medal of Honor Joe Foss, and one of my most prized possessions is a signed photo of some of the Doolittle raiders on the deck of the USS Hornet on their way to Japan. These things mean a lot to me.

Most of those men are gone now, of course. One who is still with us was one of my Dad's best friends in the years before my Dad's death. He's in his 80s now; during the war he flew B-29 bombers over Japan. When he bought a new car several years ago — a Mitsubishi — he joked with me that 50 years earlier he had been dropping bombs on the factory where his car was made. That is the only thing I have ever heard him say about his wartime experience.

Though they are fewer every day, some of those men are still among us. We now, however, have a new generation of men — and some women too — who I hope will be looked at by future generations of kids the way I regard the men of WW2 — as heroes.

Posted by Russ at 04:25 PM | Comments (4)
March 28, 2005
Cabin Fever Successfully Averted

BB-55, the USS North Carolina...

BB-55 Turrets 1 & 2
[Click to view large image - 1024x680, 600KB]

[More photos to follow.]

Can you say "behemoth?" I knew you could.

'Twas a beautiful day in Wilmington, where the "Showboat" is permanently moored. It rained until I got there, was sunny and breezy while I was there, and began raining in earnest when I got back to my SUV for the drive home. Excellent timing on my part, if I do say so myself.

I think I can now return for a while to my hermit-like ways. I'll have to get out again when baseball season starts, of course, but in the meantime I've had my recommended quarterly allowance of sun and fresh air.

[Just kidding, Mom.]

While touring the ship, I had a remarkable encounter, the details of which I will relate tomorrow.

If the technical details of battleship design really float your boat (sorry about that...) then I haven't seen anything better than Norman Friedman's work, U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History, which really gets into the specifics of how our battlewagons were conceived, designed and built.

The book begins in the pre-Dreadnought era, covering ships such as the infamous USS Maine, continuing with the first true battleship in the US Navy, the USS Indiana (BB-1) of 1895, and carries on through to the USS Iowa (BB-61) and the sister ships of her class, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin.

As a History Guy (I think that's an official title...) I found it particularly interesting to see how the 1922 Washington Treaty, which limited the numbers and sizes of battleships, influenced ship design in the interwar period.

[USS North Carolina was designed and built just as Japan began ignoring the Washington Treaty, making her the first of the U.S. WW2-era "fast battleships" to mount the deadly 16" guns, but among the last to have artificial limits constraining her overall size.]

Copiously illustrated, this book is a must-have for serious students of U.S. naval history.

Posted by Russ at 09:19 PM | Comments (1)
More Power!

I haven't treated myself to something enjoyable in rather a long time, so today I'm off to see the battleship USS North Carolina.

I'm a sucker for power tools, and a battleship is just about the biggest power tool ever devised.

[Insert Tim Allen grunting noises here.]

Posted by Russ at 09:35 AM | Comments (2)
March 24, 2005
Happy Birthday, Dad

Tonight I'll be thinking about my Dad, who passed away almost eight years ago. He'd have been 69 today.

Here's last year's post.

If you happen to be one of the folks out there who knew him, I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to his memory.

Posted by Russ at 06:56 PM | Comments (1)
Quote of the Day

On the Theory of Evolution and its zealots:

A scientist who does not admit he might potentially be wrong is really a theologian.

Paul, at Wizbang

Update, 3/25: Paul recants... but I think the intended spirit of the quote still holds true.

Posted by Russ at 04:16 PM | Comments (1)
March 22, 2005

I have written nothing on the case of Terry Schiavo, nor will I, except to say that the entire incident can only be a nightmare for everyone involved. I'm having a very hard time seeing what good — if any — can come out of it.

Unless, that is, people take to heart good ideas such as those which Bill Hobbs offers.

It's time I made an appointment to see my lawyer.

Posted by Russ at 09:20 PM | Comments (1)
March 21, 2005
Aw, Shucks

Now this is a compliment.

Maybe one of these days I should start charging for my web services. Until then, a kind word or two is pretty darn nice.

Posted by Russ at 08:44 PM | Comments (2)
Second Time Running

This is the second year in a row that my blogiversary has escaped my attention.

Two years... ooooh.

Can't you just feel the sheer intellectual power radiating from your screen as you read this?

In two years of doing this, I've made a number of friends and not, I hope, too many enemies.

I'd particularly like to thank Emperor Misha I for getting me started, and the LoyalCitizens (and many other folks) for their encouraging words.

Posted by Russ at 06:23 PM | Comments (6)
March 19, 2005
I Knew It Was Good

Well, this BBC item is cool:

South Korea's spicy fermented cabbage dish, kimchi, could help to cure bird flu, according to researchers.

Scientists at Seoul National University say they fed an extract of kimchi to 13 infected chickens - and a week later 11 of them had started recovering.

Kimchi is a preparation of pickled and spiced cabbage (radish and cucumber are also popular) which is then fermented (though it is quite good fresh, too.) By "spiced," I mean hot — hot red peppers seem to be the main spice, though garlic is also involved.

I first sampled it when I was a student at the Defense Language Institute back in '86, and there was no looking back. My subsequent 2½ years stationed in Korea were gustatory heaven for me. Korean food remains one of my favorite cuisines.

And now here in North Carolina, I can get kimchi by the jar at the nearby Lowe's grocery store. It goes great on hamburgers, though when I have it I usually eat it straight, as a side dish with pretty much anything.

I am safe from the bird flu. [Not that we humans actually get the bird flu... uh... do we? Oh, dang.]

Just don't stand downwind of me.

Update: I see Kevin at Wizbang has also noted the story.

Posted by Russ at 06:09 PM | Comments (2)
March 17, 2005
Wearing of the Green

Is there enough green on this page?

Being Dutch on my Mom's side, I grew up with the notion that we were supposed to wear orange instead of green on Saint Patrick's Day. Perhaps that's a by-product of the intense anti-Catholicism of the Dutch Calvinist camp. That sort of attitude is understandable, given the anti-Reformation persecution conducted by Rome in centuries past.

But those centuries are past. The differences between Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are not actually numerous, though they are doctrinally profound... but burning at the stake does not exactly remain a threat to those of us who dissent.

In Ireland, sectarian differences are used as rallying cries for partisans on both sides, though I think it's been fairly well established that the IRA is primarily not a religious group but a Marxist-leaning political group that cynically uses anti-Protestantism as a surrogate for its anti-British agenda. In turn, their political opponents have turned to anti-Catholicism to energize their followers. As a result, honest Catholics and Protestants both suffer.

There is much more that binds Catholics and Protestants to each other than separates them, and many people would be better off if we all started acting like it. Compared to the differences between Christianity and (e.g.) Islam, denominational differences within Christianity are nearly trivial.

Posted by Russ at 10:24 AM | Comments (3)
March 14, 2005
Bias? Say It Isn't So!

From Reuters:

Study Shows U.S. Election Coverage Harder on Bush
By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. media coverage of last year's election was three times more likely to be negative toward President Bush than Democratic challenger John Kerry, according to a study released Monday.

Well, duh. I mean, really: duh. It oughtn't to have taken a study to figure out the negativity was slanted in favor of Kerry — only to quantify it.

Three quarters of the way through the article, however, we come across this gem:

"It may be that the expectations of the press have sunk enough that they will not sink much further. People are not dismayed by disappointments in the press. They expect them," the authors of the report said. [Emphasis mine.]

A "Quote of the Day" candidate if ever there was one.

(via Drudge)

Posted by Russ at 03:56 PM | Comments (1)
Quote of the Day
Hillary Clinton demanded an improved national ratings system for video games and music and children's television. She's got to get these ratings in place, and quickly. Bill Clinton on Spring Break comes out on Sony PlayStation next week.

Comedian Argus Hamilton

Posted by Russ at 12:21 PM
March 13, 2005

For the last few years, I've had a recurring dream. Not every night, but once every two or three or four weeks, I suppose.

It's never exactly the same dream, as far as I can recall. But the end of the story is always the same: I get killed in a car accident.

Sometimes in the dream, it's my fault. Sometimes it's another driver's fault. I rear-end someone at 50 MPH, someone t-bones me in an intersection, someone crosses the center divider. And sometimes, it's no one's fault at all. Falling trees on a windy day, earthquakes while I'm on a bridge... once it was an airplane crashing on the freeway. Deus ex machina, I suppose.

But I always wake up in the nick of time — usually a small fraction of a second before the crash. That's bad enough, but sometimes I wake up after. After the broken bones, the burns, the maiming. Those are the worst.

When I wake up, it is with the certain knowledge that if it had been real, I'd not be here to tell you about it.

I really seriously wish I would stop having that dream.

Posted by Russ at 02:53 PM | Comments (4)
March 12, 2005
Pre-dawn Bloggery

You know you're tired when you collapse on the bed and fall asleep while fluffing the pillows.

That's not bad, really, but it always feels weird to wake up at 4:00 in the morning fully-clothed, with the lights and TV still on.

Sunrise is at about 6:30 this morning. I wonder if I should just stay up to go out and watch it.

Posted by Russ at 04:35 AM | Comments (1)
March 11, 2005

Ah, yes... it's that time of year again.

I'm either going to have to work up more Scotland-relatedness [if that's possible... I think I used it all up last year], or I'm going to have to invest in more of this sort of thing.

Do I hear The Macallan calling my name?

Posted by Russ at 06:44 PM | Comments (1)
March 10, 2005
No no no no no...

Why is Darius Rucker doing cheesy Burger King commercials?

Whether you actually like Hootie & the Blowfish or not, you have to admit the man has talent. How he ended up selling burgers is beyond my ken.

Posted by Russ at 12:05 AM | Comments (3)
March 08, 2005
Things About Russ - 1960s Edition

I was almost born in a VW Beetle. My folks were on the way to the hospital to have me when their car car ran out of gas. Beetles made before 1962 had no gas gauge... but fortunately, they also had a one-gallon fuel reserve.

I had the chicken pox twice.

I was only 18 months old, so I didn't know at the time what was happening, but I remember the hubbub surrounding the JFK assassination.

My first stitches, at age 5, were the result of unintentionally intercepting a rock with my head during a rock fight between some other kids in the neighborhood. I still have the scar.

The first movie I was ever taken to was The Sound of Music, at the Century theaters just up the street from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Thirty years later, I saw Men in Black in the same theater.

When I was 5, I used the word "ain't" in my father's presence for the first and last time.

The second movie I remember ever seeing was Planet of the Apes at a drive-in theater. Like the rock-catching incident, it scarred me for life.

As a child, I used to hold my breath until I passed out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't quite remember doing that.

The first nightmare I ever had was about my Mom mysteriously falling out of our car while driving us kids somewhere.

The house our family moved into in 1968 in Cerritos, CA was only a block or two from a pick-them-yourself strawberry field. The L.A. area was much less built-up back then. I still love strawberries.

Many of my friends' parents spoke Dutch.

In the narthex in our church were photos of the young men in our congregation who had gone off to Vietnam. They seemed like giants to me... and still do.

The Apollo 11 moon landing was — and remains — the greatest event I ever saw on TV. I'm still a fanatic about the space program.

Hippies? Never liked them. Still don't.

Update, 3/9/05: Prompted by my own dear mother, I am forced to recall an incident which I had almost completely forgotten....

One day in 1968, maybe '69, I was roaming unsupervised (as little kids were wont to do back then) through our subdivision, examining some newly-built but as-yet-unoccupied houses. I ran across an adult who appeared to be doing the same, with his German Shepherd in tow... but not a very good tow — the dog attacked me. I was pretty severely bitten in several places, though I have no scars to remind me of the occasion.

I suppose my parents called the police when I came home crying and explained what had happened, because after I received medical treatment, I got to go for a ride in a police car with the very nice policeman who showed up. We went around the neighborhood looking for the dog and/or its owner. I don't think I was a very helpful witness, though.

I don't remember what, if anything, ever became of the dog or its owner.

Posted by Russ at 09:20 PM | Comments (5)
March 05, 2005
Note to Meineke

To: The folks at Meineke Mufflers
From: an irritated customer

I went to you guys because you're nearby and you have a reputation for competence. Not brilliance, but I don't need brilliance. I just needed my cracked muffler replaced.

It might have behooved you to make sure the parts you had on hand were the right ones for my truck before you disassembled the existing muffler.

No, I will not leave my truck with you until Monday.

No, I do not want to leave muffler-less and come back on Monday.

Yes, you will put my broken muffler back where you found it underneath my truck before you all go home for the day because you close at 2pm.

No, you will not be getting a return visit from me.

Posted by Russ at 04:29 PM | Comments (4)
March 04, 2005
Group Blogging Sucks

I had a chat with a friend recently that prompted me to write this.

Just in case the title of this post didn't make my feelings on the matter crystal clear: group blogging is one of the worst ideas ever to come down the pike. Its suckitude is greater than that of a fusion-powered Electrolux. The foulness emanating therefrom is rivaled only by the stench of a Korean rice-paddy in summer.*

Have I made myself clear?

Now, by the above I do not mean blogs which have been group blogs from the beginning (or very near the beginning). Power Line is one such. It made its name as a collaborative effort, as have many others.

No, I refer to the truly awful idea of established bloggers with unique "voices" and personalities that then, for whatever reason, bring in new authors. A good blog rarely benefits.

Case in point: Frank J.'s IMAO.

Frank J. is one of the funniest people on the web. In my opinion, he might be surpassed only by Scott Ott and by David Burge. Often, he is much much funnier.

But recently, for some reason unknown to me, he added other writers. Perhaps it was because he has less time to devote to the site. Lord knows, I understand that. But I don't go to IMAO to read those other people — I go there to read Frank. I suspect I am not alone in doing so.

Anything on IMAO that Frank didn't write merely dilutes the strength of the site. The other authors may or may not be good [and in my opinion, the folks added at IMAO run both ways] but regardless: they are not Frank. I don't care if they're funny or not. They are not Frank. I would sooner wait for a new Frank piece than go to the site and have to wade through the work of people whose scribblings I didn't go there to read.

If the other folks are good writers, they could/should have their own sites. Readers will or will not bookmark or blogroll those sites. They might even get frequent and prominent linkage from Frank and others.

On the other hand, if they aren't so good, we'd all be better off if they'd stop imitating Frank.

All of the above applies not just to IMAO, of course, but potentially to any blog.

There are other sites that became successful on the unique strengths of their respective founders, then added authors to provide more content. On a site that is heavily dependent on the "voice" or personality of its founder this seems to me to be, in almost all cases — how shall I say it nicely? — an exceptionally unwise idea.

Yes, occasionally an established blog might bring in a new contributor who might bring new readers, whose quality matches that of the founder. [Update: see Wizbang, as noted by Jay Tea in the comments, for a successful example.] But the latter would seem to me to be a rare thing. On a blog as unique as Frank's, it may be close to impossible.

Imagine me joining Bill Whittle and trying to match his quality. Sorry, folks: not gonna happen. Bill's site would suffer, and I'd look like a fool for my trouble.

I am decidedly less hostile towards the notion of "guest bloggers" during those times that the host of a site might be away for an extended period, but I still put myself into the "anti" camp. I would no more open my site to a fill-in guest host than I would allow a guest writer to put daily entries into my diary.** This isn't the Tonight Show, where something has to go out over the airwaves every night.

But then, I'm not exactly a successful blogger, and relatively few people visit this site. As such, I or someone in a similar position might be able to get away with adding another author. It might be a decided improvement. [It certainly would be, here.]

But to tamper with a successful formula, be it on IMAO or any other site, is to risk driving away the people who visit the site for the main reason the author started the site in the first place: bloggers want to be heard, and the regular visitors want to hear them.

Don't screw that up.

* Having spent a few summers on and near the DMZ, I know whereof I speak.
** No, I don't actually keep a diary. Not now, not ever.

[Howdy, Wizbang readers.]

Posted by Russ at 10:01 PM | Comments (9)