Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Worldview

I bought a book over the holidays, “The Discovery of Middle Earth” by Graham Robb.

It’s not a book about Tolkien, or the Lord of the Rings, or the worldbuilding of the Peter Jackson films, it’s about the Celts.

It’s interesting, if flawed.  First one can’t set aside that his credentials are those of the interested layman.  He is not trained as a cultural anthropologist, nor an historical one.  That’s not a knock on him.  I am not trained (in any way as anyone is likely to point at and say, “he really knows what he’s talking about”) in lots of the things I am fairly well versed in.  But it’s a hurdle to clear, because lacking depth of discipline can lead one to error.

So too can being versed in it. The sword cuts both ways, to be trained is to accept some level of orthodoxy.

If his arguments have a fatal flaw it’s that he tries to do too much.  There are at least two stories being told, one is of the people who were paramount in most of what is now Europe for centuries (about 600 years).  A group of peoples who held sway from Ireland and the British Isles to Russia, and down to Turkey (where Paul was still addressing them in his Letter to the Galatians.  Who were waging war on the Greeks, and helped (by virtue of kicking their ass) to convert the Romans from small polity on the hills of the Tiber to a political dynamo which was able to wage a war of elimination against them, and create an Empire that covered a large area on three continents. A group which had religious leaders/political figure the Romans felt they had to kill to the last man (Claudius making it a capital offense to be a Druid in AD 54, about a century after Julius Caesar fought the Battle of Alesia, and won the Gallic Wars)

The other is of the worldview which both raised them up, and “brought them low”.

The first is a lot more defensible.  As a people the Celts have been relegated to a sort of sideshow, in part because they weren’t that fond of writing things down, and because the people who conquered them didn’t understand them at all.  In that regard, esp, in the things he argues for the role of both the druids, and the supernatural in everyday life, this is a marvelous book.  It manages to bring forward an interpretation of Celtic mindset which is compelling (and in keeping with the Celtic mythic systems we do have from Ireland, Wales, the Ilse of Man, etc.).

The other half of his arguments are harder. They are more speculative.  They also (as he freely admits) invite ridicule.  He is looking to see if he can find order in the Celtic World, is there an underlying “map” of the world, which they took from the divine realm, and moved to the mortal.  It’s an interesting theory, and he collects a lot of interesting (and somewhat compelling) inferential, circumstantial, and yes textual evidence (e.g. Caesar goes on about Gaul as if it were a barbarous wilderness, but he’s also able to move armies about at a rate which only works if there is an extensive road network.  The Celts engaged in some massive internal migrations; which seem to have been planned around aspects of religion, and politics: again the Romans reported on this).

We know the Celts made serious use of observed astronomy (with Druids needing some 20 years to be completely trained).  All of this is fairly well supported in his text. He argues well for a vibrant people, with a cultured society, an interesting worldview and a fascinating cosmology. He ties that into the rest in a way which is plausible; so plausible one wants to believe it.  So utterly fascinating I want people who have the credentials needed to get the funding to really dive into the questions he’s trying to answer to look at testing his theories.

Where he fails is in his language in the latter part of the book.  By the time he gets to Britain/Ireland (as places the Romans came to late, if at all) he has moved to phrases such as, “with what we now now about the Celts”, when what he ought to say us, “as is consistent with the evidence seen in…”.  Which is painful, because it leads me to wonder what level of his earlier argument is perhaps not so well supported.  What aspects of it are perhaps “what we know”, rather than,”what I think/believe, based on…”

So all in all, it’s worth reading,  but I don’t know that I can recommend without some strong reservations.  It might be best to check it out of the library.

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Six words are just not enough

On Twitter there is a hashtag, #sixwordwar, its a collection of snippets; small distillations of people’s thoughts on war.  One presumes it’s reactions, thoughts they have about their war, and by extension (to some degree) about all wars, because the act of reduction makes some of them more aphorisms than personal recollection. One of the things I got for Christmas was a book, I’d mentioned seeing whilst I was shopping.  My beloved told someone else, and they bought it for me (family conspiracy/communication for the win).

David Finkel‘s, “Thank you for your service“.  He’s been covering war for a while.  He spent a lot of time with the 2-16 of the 4BCT 1ID during The Surge.  He wrote one hell of a book about that.  Reading it is a way to get some of the sense of things.  This one is about what happens after.

We don’t come back the same #sixwordwar

This is not new.  Adjustment disorder, PTSD, Combat Fatigue, Shell Shock, Soldier’s Heart… those take you back to the Civil War, 150 years.  Wellington is supposed to have said, “all soldiers run away”.  Battles change people.

This book, understandably covers the people who are having the hardest time coping.  I don’t think he could write a narrative account about most of us, and have it be gripping, or heartbreaking, or uplifting.  Which is the way of things, and the guys with the burns, and the ones with the stumps and the ones who have wounds which tear them up, are the ones we can point to.

But that book, is also a distillation, just like #sixwordwar.  The past few days I’ve been thinking about my war, perhaps more because the synchrony of the hashtag, and reading this book.

We all had our own war #sixwordwar

The truth of John Donne’s argument aside, each of us is an island.  What happened to me, is not what happened to anyone else, not even the people who were next to me when it happened.  Rosales was dozing when that happened.  I was looking the other way when that happened, and so forth.  We also went into the Army from different lives, and had different paths to where we were.  So there’s that.

Not all wounds can be seen #sixwordwar

That’s the crux of it.  I had an “easy” war.  None of my friends were killed.  The unit we were assigned to only lost three people (and we didn’t know them).  Only one of “our” guys was injured (she caught a grenade/IED fragment in the eye, no permanent damage).  No one tried to kill me retail, and the attempts at wholesale slaughter failed.  Easy-peasy, a cakewalk.

Or not.  I’m disabled.  It’s not visible.  I have an auto-immune disorder.  It might have manifested without my being on that all-expenses paid trip to the Land Between the Two Rivers, but the fact is I have it now, and got it then, because I was there.  I was evacced out of my A/O on 21 June, 2003.  I was out of theater, in Germany three days later.  Because a kidwas dying.  I saw it.  I knew it was happening.  I didn’t know he was my ticket out of Mosul, but I saw the docs working on him (a CSH is a small place).  I don’t recall what I was doing (going to x-ray, I think), but they were pumping his chest, and I could see his feet.  Whatever it was (heatstroke), he was on the way out.  Six hours later; him in a coma, I was flying to Kuwait (he went on to Germany, so his family could be there when they pulled the plug).

I’d guess that was, actually, the end of my “easy war”.  David Drake said being in war (he also describes his much as I describe mine, when he talks about it directly, “easy” because no one was really trying to kill him directly.  He, like me, was an interrogator), is being scared all the time.  He’s right.  I’ve said that before.  The fear becomes so normal you don’t know you have it until you are someplace you don’t actually need it.

Good luck with that.

I didn’t shoot him, thank God #sixwordwar

I could’ve.  I don’t know how many times I “took up the slack”, and let my index finger rest on the hard stop of the sear. All I had to do was add 7 lbs of pressure and I’d be sending rounds.  I never did it.  Never had to.  I remember the first time.  April, 2003.  We were heading toward LSA Dogwood, SSW of Baghdad.  First time I’d not been driving in days.  We weren’t with any of the V Corps HQ elements who’d been fucking up the convoy, anymore.  I’m on the right side of the truck, vehicle two in the column, covering the forward left.  I see a guy, t-shirt and pants, in the sand piled up near the road.  I put the post on him, swung back to account for vehicle speed; the hard edges of the trigger in the pad of my finger: and recognised the helmet; and the camo pattern; just as the TCP he was manning came into view beyond that berm.

A little more fear, a little less patience and I’d’ve lit him up.  Which would have tripwired a whole of other scared people.  They wouldn’t know I’d mistaken him for a hostile.  They’d think I saw something they didn’t.  Yeah, he was a dumbfuck to decide he needed to dig a cat-hole right there, and to leave his body-armor and blouse behind.  His NCOs let him down by letting him.  Which would’ve meant damn all to anyone when he was dead.

I remember the last time.  I was coming back from Bn, papers in my hand to be evacced to Mosul.  It was fucking hot.  We still had open-backed, soft-skinned humvees.  I hurt.  My body armor was agony on my bones.  To sit up completely was to be facing a blow-dryer.  The air was 115°F.  My bottle of tang was warmer than blood, and I was nervous as all fuck.  We were a two-vehicle convoy.  This car,  a brown Mercedes, sedan, broke the convoy.  Four men in it, all young (mid 20s-30s).  I didn’t “aim” at them, but the safety went to burst, and I set my finger on the trigger, because they shouldn’t be there.

Guy in the back leans forward, starts to take something out of his jacket….

It didn’t shine.  If it had been metal, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.

Just trying to get home alive #sixwordwar

The fear, it’s like air.  You learn to live with it.  There are hours, days, of stultifying boredom (with a hint of fear… maybe there will be mortars). There are hours of bored terror.  Then there are moments of being too busy to notice either the horror, or the terror.  Then, you leave.

So I went to Germany, me and the dead kid in the back of the plane.  Me and a lot of other soldiers who weren’t in the best shape.  I got a shower.  I got coffee, and real food, and picked raspberries from the vines on the side of the trail I hauled my aching bones up; green and loamy; with animals and faces carved into the stumps of trees; then I was taken to soak in a hot tub at the public pool in Landsthul.  And I brooded.  I was out it, and guilty and still scared.

So I went to Walter Reed.  Two months there. One suicide, a lot of people drinking too much (and I can’t be counted completely out of that number).  Then to Madigan, at Ft. Lewis.  Friends nearby, who were willing to accept me in my (not so obvious to me) broken state.  I don’t know what those who knew me before saw, nor what they thought, but they took me as I was, and that helped.  I made new friends.

And I had a squad to look after.  That helped, some.  At any given time I usually had 14 people in my care.  People to get to appointments (some to get out of bed; they had sleeping problems).  There were a few guys from my unit in the GTSB.  One who was in Kuwait for about three days, before some rockets lobbed our way led to a mad scramble to the bunkers and he wrenched his knee, 13 months stateside and a gimpy leg for the rest of his life.  He had his war too.

The woman in my squad who had grenade fragments in her knee.  The one who was possessed of a bum shoulder, and hearing loss (less than 6 years in, he got a lump sum and 35 percent disability rating.  Vocational rehab and, “thank you for service”).  The one who had been driving an LMTV  on a secondary supply route and had to choose between driving off the road, or plowing into the vehicle in front of her… she doesn’t remember the impact, nor the effort they had to take to cut her out. She’s got a patchwork of scars to remember it by.  She was lucky enough to be unconscious, and so didn’t see her A-Driver getting decapitated.

Her husband was in the same unit.  He was part of the group which cut them out.  He was home on leave,  she got pregnant.  He never really came back; self-medicating with beer, and fighting the night terrors and (I think, from what she said, always seeing her in the cab of the LMTV, and not being able to forget the sense that she was dead)  and they got a divorce.  I got to help with some of that.  Their child is gonna be ten this summer.  I don’t know how it turned out.  It was something to do, to keep my mind off the news (and from scanning the casualty lists in Army Times).  It was hard too, because they all had problems, problems that needed to be dealt with, and problems which made me feel like a poser, someone who was being more weak than anything else.

I have friends who tell me about their suicidal thoughts.  I’ve shared my brief flirtations with the idea with some people.  It’s not that I think about killing myself, but I know how easy it would be to make it happen.  I don’t want to be dead, but I can’t say it bothers me.  I like being alive, I don’t want it to end.  It will, and I’m ok with that, because sometimes I’m morbid.  And sometimes I’m still scared.  That fear, the fear that soaks into your bones until it’s like a muscle?  It doesn’t go away, just atrophies a bit.

The war cost me the life I was going to have.  It took awhile, but the war killed my relationship.  It took me a long time to come back (insofar as I will ever be back).  The me who was home wasn’t the me who left.  Eventually love wasn’t enough to hold it together.  The life I have now is good.  It’s a life I want (and everything is contingent, if it weren’t for the war I wouldn’t have met so many of the people in my life now.  I’d not be marrying this person, not be living in this place, not be who I am).

But the war shaped everything.


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Fortunate perfidy

A year ago March my phone abandoned my pocket, and was destroyed.  I replaced it.  Yesterday, as I was at work, it took a dive from my locker and landed flat.  It was one of those perfect problem moments.  I have, you see, an Otterbox; durable, tough (if a bit bulky, my iPhone is lacking some of the sleek look it’s famous for), but this was the aspect of landing which is not it’s best.  The landing was hard enough to move the physical switch which mutes the phone, and something (an irregularity in the floor, some quirk of the inner-shell’s structure, who knows) made enough of an overpressure to damage the screen.

There’s an Apple Store near my work.  No specific joy.  They had no slots. but the diagnosis was “not fixable”.  Prognosis was when I got an app’t they would replace it for $200, and I’d be in and out.  Go home, and back up the phone, then come in and replace it.  So I made an app’t for this morning at 1150, at the W14th St. store.  When they got to me, the verdict was, “you’re screwed”.

Turns out the woman who sold me the phone hadn’t mentioned that she’d had the screen replaced (which Apple spotted the moment it came out of the Otterbox).  Third party work means they won’t do anything.  I could straight up buy a replacement (IIRC about 470USD), or get it fixed at a place which does 3rd party repairs, which the tech told me I could do a couple of blocks away.

So off I trundled.  Got coffee while I waited for the shop to open, and they quoted me a $65 price tag.  Since it was already too late to worry about violating the warranty, I said sure.  Though it was more trouble, because they don’t take AmEx,  and I don’t have a bank-card right now, because someone in Georgia used my info to shop at Walmart on Thurs..  So I had to have someone come and bail my phone out of hock (which is why I’m just now getting home from a noon app’t, for  a five minute fix at the Apple Store).

It would have been nice to know that I was getting an out of warranty phone when I bought it.  Not so much because I really needed the warranty (the phone has had zero problems), but because I’d have been able to save myself some frustration,  and hassle (to say nothing of the inconvenience it caused me to ask others to go through to make my life a bit easier; no matter how willing they were to do it).  When all it said and done, it saved me 130 bucks, or so, but still…

On the upside, even with the screen malfunctioning (the bottom half was an amorphous mass of pastels, and the upper half was pretty faded), the phone still worked.  I was able to get to the apps/functions (though I had to poke about a bit to find them) and I was still able to call people.  The internet, and other aspect of, “smart” were missing, but it was still a functional phone.  The Otterbox also did pretty much was supposed to, the screen was damaged (from g-force), but the glass was completely unharmed.


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With the New Year, some things remain the same.

I woke to some fairly standard Men’s Rights Activist Crap.  This time in the form of some video of Phil Robertson (the Duck Dynasty dude) who is a something of a structural racist, to go with his active homophobic bigotry(at the most generous his, “blacks were happy before civil rights is because he was too stupid to notice the reasons they might not tell him they were unhappy with the system.  Also too stupid to notice they fought, and died, to get those rights he said they were happier for not having.  That’s the most generous I can be.  Honestly, I think he’s straight up a racist, but I digress).  As one might expect, most people don’t have just one bigotry, and Robertson has some aspects of a virulent strain of misogyny too.

In the clip in that link he says men need to marry young women.  No, that’s not right,  he says men ought to be marrying children, some of whom are on the cusp of becoming adult.  He thinks the right age for a bride is 15-16.  Why?  At a guess, because they aren’t adults.  By 20, you see, they are, “over the hill”, and more interested in “picking your pocket” than than are in,  “picking yer ducks”.

The comments to that link are about what one would expect; people saying, “it’s a joke” because they can’t believe that such a thing could be serious.  Sadly, it is.  It’s a theme in “The Manosphere” that women are “over the hill” somewhere between 20-25, and that any woman who is older than that is just looking to get married so she can live the high life of the divorcée.  So yeah, I take him at his word.

About which I made a tweet (because sunshine is the best cure).  And to which I got a speedy reply:

So, less than 12 hours into 2014 I got to blog the first of the people stupid enough to think trite bigotry is a useful riposte to pointing and laughing at other bigots.


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Fiber log

I’ve spun up samples of two of the new wools.

First was some Masham. It’s just a bit rough in the hand.  The roving splits easily, and opening it up to spin (pre-drafting) is easy.  Set the wheel to the most open of configurations; as it’s not supposed to like, “too much twist”.  Had some trouble with it, mostly because I was afraid of getting too fine, and overtwisting it.  Some of it was undertwisted, which made plying a bit of a hassle.  Seems to have a nice drape.  It’s a bit prickly for next to the skin, but would probably be good for warp in a tweed, or for sweaters, etc.

I got about 60 yards of singles, but with the plying problems I made for myself, only 57 yards of 2-ply from the oz. I had to spin.

Next was some Polwarth. Very soft in the hand.  Loftier, as roving, than the Masham.  A bit stickier.  It took more work to pre-draft.  Moderately grabby at first, but a very even spinner.  The only word (and I was using it a lot) I can think of to convey how nice it was to spin is, that it was, “creamy”.  It was very steady as it moved onto the bobbin (though I think I am being too attentive when working the samples.  I want to see how they behave, and how they will best spin; so I’m seeing what people say about it, and trying to match that. I’m not sure this is doing justice to the experience I’ve built up)  I do think I can do  pretty much what I want with it.  It’s very smooth when spun up, even with a woolen treatment.  I’ll bet I can spin 3-ply lace weight with it, on the wheel.

I am glad I didn’t start with it though, as it’s got more “tooth” than Merino (and a lot more than Alpaca).  In the very beginning it would have been hard to manage because it’s so responsive; any of the problems which come from lack of skill/co-ordination would be magnified.  Then, when I got the hang of it, that same responsiveness would have been too kind.  The Alpaca, and Romney, and even the sort of finicky Merino I spun, required me to be attentive, in ways the Polwarth doesn’t.  But now that I’ve got some skill, I’m going to be spinning a lot of this, because it’s really easy to keep fairly even.

I already have a cable-project in mind, and the first two oz. of that have already started going onto bobbins.


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Benchmarks

It is just short of the hour I used to celebrate the new year, when I lived in Calif..  It’s three hours since the champagne and toasting here in New York.  New Year’s is when we mark our collective birthday; an arbitrary, but important division of one period from another.  I don’t really truck with the idea that New Year’s is meaningless, because people are creatures of patter, and the year is cyclic, as time is directional.

This year was quiet, emotionally.  Which seems odd; since there are changes brewing.  We are planning a wedding for May.  I intend to go back to school (this is, sadly, not a new intention).  There is spinning to do.  In a lot of ways tomorrow seems as if it is just the continuation of today.  But I am not who I was.

There is a hashtag on twitter, #sixwordwar, it’s about density, it’s a sort of haiku about the internal things which we can’t share with other people.  We all have those, not just those who’ve been in combat zones.  We have the faces that we never show.  We have the bits and pieces which add up, one grain of sand at a time, to mighty castles; castles made of sand, which we hope the tide won’t rise to wash away.

Ok, I’m tired, I’ve lost the thread of metaphor, and any hope I had this was going to be a coherent rundown of the past year is gone.

Be good to one another.  Read “A Christmas Carol”,  listen to Marley and become as Scrooge did, one who keeps the Spirit of Christmas in your heart the whole year ’round, and maybe, someday, no one will write that sort of haiku again; at the very least, the world around you will be better for your passing through it.

All the love.