On Teamwork

I guess before I wrote about leadership in an earlier post I should have written about teamwork. Because if you aren’t a good team player, you will be a bad leader. Just my two cents.

Ike would agree. That’s why I posted his picture.

No man in history, with the exception of Marshal Zhukov, ever controlled a mightier military force. Surely General Eisenhower could have called his own shots, done what he wanted, right?

Actually, no. To study Ike’s history is to look at a long chain of compromises and coalition and team building exercises.

Put simply, General Eisenhower was a supreme team player and eventually a mighty commander. But on many occasions it almost ended badly. Look, I’m not going to talk about Eisenhower at length; I cite his example because it’s a good one.

A phrase from Army OCS. “Never ‘get married’ to your plan, because it isn’t your plan. It is the commander’s.”

What does that mean?

OK- this is very important to the discussion. Everyone has a boss. Even Eisenhower had a boss- Churchill and Roosevelt. Eisenhower may have been responsible for the development of Operation Overlord (the invasion of Europe 1944), but his bosses owned the plan. They could, and did, attempt to modify the plan. Churchill was particularly bad about this, and Eisenhower clashed with him.

Eisenhower knew, however, that his civilian bosses were responsible for strategy and political considerations, and that if they offered changes to Overlord that he could not tolerate, he could remove himself from the team.

This is teamwork, too. Letting the person in charge know they are about to screw up. Eisenhower mastered politeness and discretion, but he would bring his point across, especially when dealing with sensitive subordinates such as Charles de Gaulle, among others.

Eisenhower’s extensive staff developed Overlord, and Eisenhower himself reviewed it and approved the Operations Order (mil speak for plan). But Overlord itself belonged to the politicians, and they would have answered to the people of their countries for its failure.

Eisenhower would have gotten the sack too, of course. That’s part of being a leader and team player as well.

But he knew that his failure would be paid by thousands of his dead washing onto France’s shores.

Leaders and team players are accountable. Where there is no accountability, there is no team. When you let your end drop, everyone else pays as well.

Real leaders look their people in the eye and say, “This is on me, and I need your help to make our plan work.” The leader needs to invest his or her people in the job at hand; they need to place a value and a face on what is going to happen.

Teams work best in small groups; the military has long known this.

What do I mean.

OK, let’s think about our ancestors. They had fleas and were nomadic, they were capable of enormous work performed in bursts, and everyone was related somehow within the average group of thirty to fifty.

About platoon size, actually.

And within the group there were families and friends. Groups of about ten.

Squad size.

Within the family were couples and surviving children, there were two or so dominant voices.

Fire teams.

It is at the fire team level that people are the most comfortable. This is no accident. It’s how our deep social structures operate. So let’s translate this into teamwork.

I’ve been told that no-one should ever really be in charge of more than three to five people.

I believe this to be true. Teams need direction; they also need delegation. A leader who tries to control every member of his team controls NOTHING!

Trust your people! If you have done the right thing as a leader, your team will do the right thing, too. Everyone goes into something with a good attitude, usually. The leader and the team need to find what motivates each person and get them to do that thing that they are good at, that they enjoy.

Do you really think that our 2000x ancestor Og the Magnificent was particularly skilled at cave paintings? Probably not. But Og identified a need for drawings of aurochs with massive genitalia, so Og figured out who had the keenest eyesight and the ability to make the desired mural. No more than three people were involved; Og did not need to control every step of the process.

Og was an ur-leader. Even though there was no word for leadership or teamwork at the time, our ancestors figured it out and passed the basics down to us.

A team:

  1. is small
  2. is cohesive
  3. uses delegation
  4. understands the job at hand
  5. knows who is boss
  6. is trained or trainable
  7. is self-aware
  8. uses good-natured competition
  9. has a clear goal
  10. attacks bite-sized problems
  11. finishes the work
  12. values quality, takes pride and ownership.

These are the very basics, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some stuff.

But I think you all get the idea.

A leader must FIRST be a successful follower, a team player. People will follow such leaders into the worst sorts of hell and emerge out the other side successful.

“Don’t get married to your plan. It’s not yours.”

No, the plan belongs to the team!

21 SEP 2011…2020

Above are our goats, they amuse me.

Today I could use a little amusement. I could post some stupid Army picture, I could talk about soldiering and how it left a mark. I think I’ll devote one paragraph to the subject, and then I’ll move on.

On this day in the past, I huddled with my team in the darkness, the Colonel was giving a combat brief. I chewed on an MRE hamburger, guess that was my equivalent of the traditional steak n’ eggs. He sliced the total mission into chunks, each of us received an assignment. The job at hand? A deliberate attack against a fortified hilltop structure. I swished the beef patty down with some water, I made my contribution to the plan, and the party broke up.

It was show time. The evening of the twenty-first. I shivered in the cold, I looked up and beheld the Milky Way with no light pollution.

Magnificent.

Below, the humans struggled in the dark.

In the valley.

OK, that was a little over a paragraph. But that’s alright, it’s my website. Other things are happening, of course, few remember or were even ever aware of the nameless struggles in those foreign crags. The writing continues apace, this lurks in the background as well. Words are like trauma. If you stuff the bag too full, eventually something will leak out.

I think there’s something like 300,000 words hanging out in the archive, waiting to see the light of day. For reasons financial and tactical they have built up, layer upon layer, like sludge in a tailings pit. The dam strains to hold back the words.

The peaceful village, populated by my faithful readers, sleeps in the valley below. As I write, I am heedless of the consequences of my actions.

One final sentence, one last manuscript, and the dam breaks.

All of the creative good stuff gets dumped on the placid hamlet.

Right now, I am not sure of when this moment will happen. I want it to be within the foreseeable future, and I think it will be. The ultimate test of an author’s work is what the readers think; you are important. An integral part of the process.

This is one of the reasons I love John Birmingham’s Patreon site- it’s two parts entertainment and one part master’s level class on creative writing.

I know I’ve said this before, but I strongly suggest you pay the two bucks and join up. Yeah, JB’s stuff is featured. Of course, it’s his website. But there’s other stuff in there as well, including some of the material I’ve kept behind the dam and he graciously posted on his site.

On these sunny, cool days, thank God for the outlet of writing, entertaining. As I chewed my BBQ sauce and cheese packet smeared cold ration burger back then, I could have never imagined all of this.

So I guess what I want to say is thanks, readers.

At some point the dam will break. When it does, you all will be the first to get wet.

Promise.

Ancestral food

Alright, readers, you may have picked up on the fact that I kind of dig old school gardening. Yeah, at times it can be a pain (like with years of failure to grow cabbages). But overall it’s pretty fun, rewarding.

Something I have gotten into for the past several years has been cultivating Native strains of corn, colloquially known as “Indian corn.” Why.

First, it’s so darn handsome. Each and every ear is unique, and if you catch it just right, it’s very good “on the cob.”

Also, it is tough and the critters don’t like it as much as the hybrid sweet varieties. While it is true that Indian corn isn’t sugary sweet, you can at least eat it, which is NOT the case if raccoons get into your sweet corn patch. Those raiders will leave you with nothing.

Finally, it is a link to our ancestors, whether you are ethnically European, African, or Native, or a mixture of the above. In the past, everyone ate some variety of field corn. But we have strayed from our roots.

It has gone so far that people believe that Indian or field corn is “poisonous” or only fit for hogs.

Nonsense!

But it took some digging to figure out how to enjoy flint, field, or Indian corn. Lemme let you all in on what I have found.

First and foremost, you CAN eat field corn “on the cob.” But getting the timing right is tricky, trust me. There is no sweet spot to eating dried field corn, however, it simply must be dry. But there is a trick to eating it, you’ll lose teeth if you try to bite it.

Today I will teach the trick to you, and show one treat that you can make yourself.

There is a bare minimum of equipment needed for this, and you can actually do everything I will show you with no equipment at all.

Let me begin.

First, you must have a few ears of dry field or Indian corn. See above. (Note: even after a field has been harvested, there are always a few ears laying around.)

Then you must shell the corn. I always thought you needed some cast iron brute of a machine for this, along with a flour grinder, etc.

Nope.

For small batches, all you need is two hands. Grasp the ear of corn in both hands and make a wringing motion, preferably above a bowl or something. The kernels will pop off the ear, some of them vigorously. Before you know it, you have a lot of kernels. See below.

Now you need a pan of some sort, I used a century-old cast iron Griswold No. 8, an excellent fryer. Layer the kernels in the pan, place the pan on low heat. Remember how I said you could do this with no equipment too? That’s right. An alternate method is to chuck the kernels in hot ashes. Messy, but it works, and the ash won’t hurt you (unless you are doing this in some jacked up post-apocalyptic trash fire. Common sense rules, people).

Pretty, aren’t they? With the cast iron slowly heating, wait. You will smell something like popcorn. This is basically what is happening, so no wonder. With field corn, though, you won’t get big white blooms. The kernels will pop and jump a bit, though. This is perfect, stir the kernels from time to time on low heat.

When the corn looks like the image above and it stops popping, the corn is ready to eat, it is “parched.” Note the subtle color difference in the uncooked corn and the parched corn. See it? Another big difference? You can grab a parched kernel and chew it up, it’s an ideal trail food. If you do that with an uncooked kernel, you’ll probably break a tooth. There’s a reason that another name for field corn is “flint corn.”

Now the parched corn is ready to grind. Scoop by scoop I fed it into a mortar and mashed it up. If you have no equipment you can improvise a set-up like this.

Dump the ground-up mixture into a sieve or an old window screen. The fines will pass through, this is corn flour. Use it like, well, flour. The coarse particles that are left behind can be re-ground or be soaked in water to make grits, a US Southern specialty. Grits aren’t for everyone, but they are filling.

Now we have what we really want, corn flour or meal. There are so many things you can do with this, but today we are going to make johnnycakes, an old-fashioned specialty.

Above you can see the flour and a bowl of parched kernels. I kept dipping into the kernels for a snack, they were unlike anything I had had before. Truly a flavor from the century before last. Cool.

I took the meal and mixed it in with an egg, the result looked like cat puke. However, when I dumped it in the pan and it started to cook, it smelled great. A few minutes later and I had a real 18th century style johnnycake, made from 1/4 cup field corn flour and one egg with a bit of butter to fry in.

It tasted better than it looked, trust me. But then again, I’m hardly Gordon Ramsey.

The only regret I had was that I ate the pancake plain, with only a pinch of salt. It would have been awesome with maple syrup.

This experiment was well worth doing! Now I’m starting to get an idea how inhabitants of this land would set out on months long expeditions with literally nothing but a bit of fat, a baggie of corn kernels, and some dried fruit.

Field corn kernels are like knowledge.

Easy to find if you look for it, and a little bit goes a long way.

Give this a try!

“You are never leaving this place…

…alive, motherfucker.”

So said Pete the Ranger to me one fine evening.

Why am I bringing this up today.

Because of several things. One, it’s yet another anniversary of horrible 9/11, a day that changed (and ended) many lives. Two, spent some quality time with the combat trauma counselor today. Three, I was reminded of the vivid “in the moment” thinking of combat due to the excellent writing of a friend. Four, it’s September, a bad month where bad things happened.

Why did I use the above image? Well, it shows me at a real low point. Also, you can see the cement patio with the fold-up chairs in the foreground. When I used to have nothing better to do I would sit in one of those battered, dusty chairs and chain smoke. As the blue noxious plume lofted heavenward, I would behold the mountain from where the Taliban would occasionally shoot wildly inaccurate 107 rockets at us.

The mountain was purple, the sky was red. I smoked away. Night was coming.

Pete walked up, I drew in another drag. He spoke. I exhaled from my nose.

“You are never leaving this place alive, motherfucker.” He paused. “You know that, don’t you?”

I pulled another cheap L&M from my pack and lit off the old cherry from the previous. I drew in and looked at him.

“Yeah. I know.”

There. I confessed what I knew, in my darkest heart. I let it out, into the open. Ten years later, and I still remember this conversation. Word for word.

Pete just looked at me and nodded. He walked off.

There. In his own way he acknowledged the truth of soldiers in combat. To function, one must abandon all hope. To live in the moment, to concentrate only on what is in front of a person. No plans, no dreams, no loved ones, no home.

It was all gone, washed away in moon dust and acrid smoke. I quit writing or calling. I was dead anyway, so maybe people could get used to the idea. Mission piled on mission. Events led to events. I didn’t care about anything but doing my job.

And then, poof! It was over. The mission, complete. The pain, intense. My comrades, betrayed. I was going home, they had to stay and fight.

Our battered little team made it to Bagram AB outside of Kabul. What happened there was really a blur to me, all I can remember is that we eventually filed into a C-17. I held my breath until we leveled off, the Taliban didn’t have anything that could hit us at 30k or so.

Then I felt an unnerving outpouring of relief, grief.

How. Why. What?

This. This is today’s struggle. Pete was right, although in a twisted sense.

Physically, I left. Gone. Touched down around midnight in a base in Central Asia that wasn’t Afghanistan.

But I didn’t leave. Part of me was still there. Will always be there. Until the grave claims me and I forget.

“You are never leaving this place alive…”

He was right.

On Leadership

The above image is one of the finest sergeants I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with. He was a real leader, not a placeholder or a slot-filler. The US Army expects soldiers of all ranks to step up and lead; “when in charge, be in charge!”

I was never a Ranger like Pete, not anything special at all. Just a soldier from what is known as the “line,” a one-size-fits-all ground pounder with a few schools and various experiences. I had a mixed career, I was a “mustang,” or a commissioned officer with at least one completed term of enlistment behind me.

So I had the chance to see good and bad leadership from all kinds of angles. My earliest career was spent as the lowliest possible rank cleaning toilets, I eventually ended up as a captain. My chances of making “field-grade” rank, or the next step, major, was cut short by wounds and injuries.

It is what it is. Looking back on the whole military thing, I’m probably most grateful for the insight my career gave me into leadership.

I’m not going to write a book about this, just a short blurb then you all can tell me what you think.

The Army has a formalized school path to teach leadership, of course, but it’s really a story of OJT, or on the job training. Probably the very best leadership school I had was Officer Candidate School, an in-your-face beatdown that weeded out the weak. Somehow I made it and reported in to my first unit as an old second lieutenant; this was an eye opener that made me review what I had experienced as a private, a sergeant, and an officer candidate.

Some observations. Caveat: I was an imperfect leader. I screwed up. I made decisions that bother me to this day. If you try leadership, so will you.

The very first thing that a leader must realize is that EVERYTHING that happens on his or her watch is either one’s fault or problem to solve. A weak leader passes the buck or blames others. If you are that person and you think no-one will notice, you are wrong. If there is a problem, a leader fixes it or realizes that they’re in over their head and they call in help. This is not “weakness,” it is an honest assessment of the situation.

Next, a leader must realize that everything they say and do is under observation at all times, also when they think no one is looking. Like hell, not looking! Your family, co-workers, subordinates see. Nothing escapes them. So if you say one thing and do another, people will notice and it WILL be thrown back in your face, probably at the worst possible moment. Gaslighting and bullshitting will only get you so far, if you are of a mind to try it. Sooner or later the rubber will meet the road and you’ll have to back up what you say. Another factor is to be very careful about joking with your troops, etc. What you may think is a harmless wisecrack might really stick with them and come back to haunt you.

Another point is to be willing at all times to do everything that you ask of your people. Your subordinates will sense it if you are sticking them with an onerous job, especially if it’s something that YOU should be doing, not them. Be an up-front leader, not the dude who is kicking it in the back of the toasty truck while your guys are stringing barbed wire or something in the rain. This point is even more a “thing” if the job is nasty and dangerous. If that is the case, then heaven help the lieutenant that I find fucking off while his people are, I dunno, looking for IEDs.

I guess what I really want to say with the above is to lead by example.

What do I mean by that. Say that you want your people to be professionals, to be experts. Would you show up for work unshaved, stinky, and hungover? Would you give your people bad guidance, or not know diddly about their project? If you do these things, beware, you have no grounds for chastising anyone.

Also, as a leader, you owe it to yourself and your people to be a subject-matter expert in whatever job you take on. It’s OK to start out not knowing a blasted thing; no-one can know everything. What is not OK is getting to the end and you still don’t know anything. If you are that type of leader, then your people are running rings around you and you don’t even know it. Seriously. So if you don’t know shit halfway through a task, then you are not ignorant. You are willfully stupid. There is a difference. If someone like me were to catch you, you would be relieved for cause.

Leaders take acceptable risks, they assume danger. This is not to say that a leader is reckless; your people will see a difference between something bad that needs to go down and someone gets hit or you jacking around and getting someone killed for no good reason. Do you see the difference? A combat leader must motivate people into doing things they desperately don’t want to do for the sake of the mission. If that person is hurt or killed, it wasn’t a result of carelessness. Which leads into the next point.

Leaders are not buddies. One of the big things I learned as a LT is that you must be willing to make the unpopular decisions for the maintenance of good order and discipline, along with furtherance of the mission. The mission overrides all else. So if you need to piss someone off really bad to get the job done, so be it. In a military setting you might have to threaten your soldier with lethal force; if you do, be absolutely ready to pull the trigger and be damn sure you are in the right.

On a lighter note, leaders form teams, they try to bring everyone in on the common effort. A great first sergeant once told me that the Army is “like little league. Everyone gets a shot. If you lean on you star players too much they will burn out; also, your weak players will never have a chance to improve.” He was dead right about this. There will always be those who just don’t get it, who can’t be redeemed. They are part of the team as well. A leader must find some way for everyone to contribute or marginalize those who won’t play ball.

A note: Never, ever give an order that you know will be widely disobeyed. Find another solution.

Make. A. Decision. There. I’ve said it, and with this I will wrap up my mini-course on down and dirty leading. You can never be the deer in the headlights; you must choose. You can ask for advice; this is wise and not weak. What you cannot do is defer the decision onto another. If you do so, then you should not be in a leadership role, that other person should be.

No decision is also a decision, remember that.

So as a spouse, a parent, a team leader, a boss, a military commander of some sort, go with the OCS standard.

“When in charge, be in charge.” Make a decision. Lead.

Now go get ’em, tiger.

Space Ranger… or something.

caudron

Above is the cover of Book 2 of my original trilogy, it kind of touches on today’s topic.

So I’ve been thinking about SpaceX lately and the possible human expansion into space, and the thought drifted into my head about the US’s new Space Force, which seems to still be more of a paper exercise than an actual 5th branch of the US military.

I think how they envision things at the moment is that the Space Force takes over a lot of what the USAF’s old Space Command did, i.e. tracking earthbound threats and keeping an eye on hostile satellites, etc.

I wonder how far they have thought this all through. Because you can take this an awful long way, actually. As in light years-far.

Alright, one thing that is perfectly clear is that we are not going to join up into some type of pan-human Federation anytime soon. Yeah, it would be really cool if we quit killing each other, but it’s not going to happen. We are a homicidal bunch, I don’t think war and violence will ever end.

But let’s not go down that fairly dreary chain of thought.

Instead, let’s take a look at how an infant Space Force might dispatch, uh, Space Rangers or something when potential waves of colonists start hitting Mars. Now, we’re not talking about a force structure as discussed in my first trilogy, a fully-mature Colonial Army. No, we’re talking about something that’s literally never been done before, although it’s been discussed at great length in sci-fi.

What sort of armed force do you actually need on Mars?

My first, knee-jerk reaction is to say you don’t need one. But then my experience with human nature whispers in my ear. Yes, you do need some kind of cop, peacekeeper, Ranger, something.

I can’t even think what you would call such a person, so let’s stick with Ranger and leave out the “Space.” It sounds dorky.

The first colonists would probably be selected from the willing elite, and they would be Earth’s best. At least I think so. But have any of you ever been in a crowd of people and not met at least a few crazies? There would be crazies. Maybe nuts with multi-PHDs, but nuts and crazies nonetheless.

Someone would have to deal with them. Doesn’t it make sense to have the government representation be a multi-tasker and be a Space Force Ranger? I am thinking of their qualifications, these very first space soldiers.

First, they would have to be proficient in low-g to zero-g combat. So there would have to be a school set up for that. This would be entirely new. Also, it might not hurt for at least their leadership to be a full astronaut with rank equivalent to whoever the mission commander would be.

Then you could tick off all the old familiar blocks.

  1. Fully physically qualified
  2. A comprehensive psych board
  3. Ranger thru Delta background, or allied equivalent. The first Rangers would have to be hyper-elite.
  4. Meets same basic criteria as qualified astronauts or colonists
  5. Strong mechanical or medical background

These would be the very basics in my book. And oh yes, be up to leaving on a one-way mission with no prospect of return and being the HMFIC of anything military related while hundreds of millions of kilometers from home.

This would demand a truly unique Ranger, a new breed of soldier and leader. A person who can’t quit, and will retire never seeing blue skies again.

Speaking of retirement, I wonder what an aged Ranger would spend his or her retirement pay on, on distant Mars or elsewhere?

Well, maybe the scenery changes, but my bet is they’ll spend it on beer or spacebrew.

Love to hear your thoughts on this.

The Cowin E7 ACE cans- a review

Cowin E7 ACE

BLUF- Probably not for audiophiles, but good enough for laymen.

Today a bit of a tech review- a pretty remarkable set of bluetooth headphones for cheap.

OK, so I was cruising around Amazon and I saw an ad for an inexpensive wireless pair of headphones. Lemme say that I am not a technofreak. I am also not particularly gifted in the use of new tech, and I have no desire to get the latest and greatest.

It did, however, strike me as practical to get a head set that 1. would conceal my odd musical prefs from my family 2. would sound pretty good to my battered ears 3. would be comfortable and handy.

I do have a lot of experience with wearing headsets, but mostly in aircraft and armored vehicles- those varied from rock hard torture devices to OK to sweaty. Also, every one of them had a long curled cord that easily got tangled in, well, everything. Especially when you were the gunner.

So I didn’t want a cord.

I saw this headset, and I thought “genius!” OK, I’m sure that I’m years behind the power curve, but what the heck, why not do a review?

Alright, first off lemme say these things are stone-ax simple. This is good. I like simplicity. Simply turn your bluetooth on with your device, and set the little switch on the headset to “BT.” The headset will beep, and audio will start to play. Oh yeah, make sure you charge the crazy thing first with the included mini-USB cord. Also simple.

Haven’t tried to use the NC, or Noise Cancelling position yet, but I’m sure it works fine for airplane rides, whenever I get around to flying again (like to Australia in 2022ish).

OK the sound- first, understand that I’m somewhat hearing impaired, so maybe I’m not the best for giving a great review on an object strictly meant for audio connoisseurs. But then again, maybe so ’cause if these things work for me, then they’ll be great for people with regular ears.

The verdict? These cans are as good as the recording- these make it easy to tell between a bad recording and an excellent one. Without the headphones, I can’t tell. With the headphones- wonderful. I can only imagine how good these would be if my high-range wasn’t lopped off.

Comfort, ease of use, sound- these headsets have it. As of right now I can’t speak to long-range durability, but right out of the box they are a winner; I’ve tried them on audiobooks (JB’s Weapons of Choice) and music, and they are great.

So if you’ve got a few spare twenties and need a decent set of cans- go for it, these are nice and they cost a lot less than other ones.

Buy with confidence.

UPDATE: I have an older airco that’s pretty loud. I decided to try the “noise cancelling” feature on it- YES it worked! Most awesome; a real bonus. A few times I had to take off my headphones to make sure there wasn’t a power outage or something- nope, they just worked that good. Nice.

Writing Sample Four…or something.

dutch bike
Some pretty cool projects are gliding around on the horizon, but like everything in 2020, they are being messed with by the fickle finger of fate.
Kind of like the girl in the short below, her story is a tiny piece of a larger puzzle. Who is she? What disaster is she facing? Does she live? Or does she die.
.
Ans rode her fiets, or sturdy Dutch bicycle, in the direction of Aldi along the main street of Woudenberg. The red brick, inlaid street was mostly deserted on what should have been a bustling, normal shopping day. She had to get some food, her mother’s small store was nearly exhausted. 
 
She frowned and panted as she leaned into the pedals. Ans couldn’t recall ever having been this tired from a short bike ride; it was a good thing that Woudenberg didn’t have so much as a single hill. No, it was all neat brick houses and small shops. Everything maintained and well-kept; the Dutch would call it netjes. Neat, clean.
 
So it was all the more shocking when she rode by a store with a shattered glass window, the shards lay in the street and glistened like so many mouths of dying sharks. She made a wide circle around the obstacle and continued to Aldi; as she rode and looked around she was starting to debate the wisdom of venturing out.
 
Verdomme, though, she needed food. Her weak mother needed food; Ans was already stretching what she had. She looked along the street, she saw an odd shape by the street posts on the right. As she approached, she knew what it was. She smelled corruption, she heard the buzzing of flies.
 
Jesus, she thought. A person, a child of God, set out on the street like a sack of garbage. She tore her eyes away and held her breath. The smell was overpowering as she rode by. Couldn’t the gemeente workers do something? Bodies in the street in the Netherlands… Ans shook her head. You knew the disaster was very bad to see such sights in one of the world’s richest, most orderly, and heavily populated countries.
 
She continued to pump away on the pedals. Now that she had seen one body, more seemed to pop up, like poisonous dandelions breaking through the paving stones. All of downtown Woudenberg stank like a charnel house, like an unwashed butcher’s. It was terrible, unimaginable. Up ahead she saw Aldi’s, and she felt like cheering. As she neared the neat little brick store the cheers in her head died.
 
Died just like the store, apparently. There was more broken glass, and not just from the broken doors. Ans dared not venture further into the little parking lot, some idiot had broken what appeared to be several cases of Schultenbrau beer bottles on the ground.
 
The treacherous long teeth of the bottle bottoms gleamed at her, the reek of stale beer mingled with human corruption and filth.
 
Ans wanted to vomit. This couldn’t be happening, she thought. This is Nederland, not some battlefield in a distant and dusty place! But she wasn’t watching some report on EenVandaag. No, she was standing in the parking lot of Aldi, surrounded by disaster.
 
She heard a bottle clink and skitter. Her head whipped around; a group of young men were approaching. Their movements were jerky, they staggered. Ans frowned. They were high or drunk. One called out.
 
“Hey girl, wanna fuck?”
 
The youths laughed, they bayed. One coughed, hard, then he joined in.
 
What was this, thought Ans. She yelled back.
 
“Ball sacks! Fuck you!”
 
The group drew closer. Ans looked around and realized she was all alone in the parking lot. The police weren’t coming. Ever. The leader of the gang spoke and laughed.
 
“No, you’re the one who’s fucked.”
.
Stay tuned, readers!
 

Early Morning Shopping

1942 McCord

OK readers, I’ll confess to a very 2020 weakness. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either. Lots of people are spending a lot of time in front of a screen. Here’s my version.

My sleep patterns are all messed up for various reasons, mostly unseen stressors. Stuff that may be logical, and maybe not. 2020 is a year that feeds into our worst fears, that saps the joy out of almost anything. So what do I do in this time of disease, disaster and strife?

Besides writing, I internet shop late at night/early in the morning. Visit various sites, fill up shopping carts and usually I don’t check out. But sometimes I do, for the oddest of things.

An example is pictured above, a US M1 helmet, manufactured in March 1942.

Why the hell did I buy an antique helmet.

Well, because I could, I guess. But that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer.

There are other reasons.

First, let me say that I am utterly uninterested in relics from my own war. I had plenty of opportunities to collect, and I usually didn’t. I did bring home a thing or two for interested friends, but that was about it. But the rest of it? Junk. Dirty and worthless junk.

I dunno, maybe the stuff from the Greatest Generation (who BTW did not see themselves as such) is cooler, or the negative aura has worn off with time. You’d be surprised how much of the stuff produced in WW2 is still floating around, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of it was still in use.

In my earliest service we still had the M1 helmet (see above), the ubiquitous mess kit, the M1911A1 pistol, along with the M3 Grease Gun. All WW2 relics.

grease gun

OK, the Grease Gun stuck around for the longest. The picture above was from 2011, we actually used that little submachine gun in combat, manufactured May 1945. But I digress.

So yeah, my entire life I have had the detritus of the World Wars around me, our hay barn was full of the stuff. Our hay barn? Yeah. The hay barn.

Cars (including a Ford Model A), boxes of various relative’s household goods, and footlockers and duffel bags of USGI equipment.

Of course us boys went through the cool Army stuff, it dated from WW2 to Vietnam. I remember a helmet with a sewn-on chinstrap, frayed from heavy use. The helmet was probably my Grandpa Lambright’s from WW2. Regrettably, it was lost when we moved off the farm.

I remembered that helmet late one night as I rummaged through the internet’s attic.

I had to have its clone, in memory of my long-lost grandfather.

This being 2020, you can get whatever you want on the internet. It’s a question of how much you are willing to pay. Early in the morning, when the dark thoughts steal across the hindbrain, I needed a distraction. I needed to replace my grandpa’s long-lost helmet.

So I struck and got one just like I remembered.

The helmet arrived, refurbished and ready for a war seventy-five years gone.

It has assumed pride of place among the other helmets I’ve accumulated over the years, other lost shards of the World Wars, usually sourced via inheritance or yard sales.

When I look at the old helmet, I wonder how my life would have been different if I would have known my father’s father. Or my mother’s brother, lost in Korea. They are ghosts, vanished in time, with only black and white faded memories remaining. A few pictures in a musty album.

I hold this helmet, this relic, and I shudder.

I see a tracer round as it streaks by, impossibly fast. It nearly took my life.

A few inches to the right and I would have been a ghost, too. Maybe less. For every tracer there are four rounds you don’t see.

When I think of this I want to scream.

But I don’t. Not a sound, not a peep.

Just the sound of the touch pad clicking away.

Internet shopping, again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Sisters

pumpkin

OK, here we all sit in the midst of this disaster, some of us with greater degrees of misfortune than others. I am cognizant that we’ve been doing a little better than many; this is one of the reasons I’ve been talking about some of the stuff that keeps us busy. What I do seems to help, if you can give some of this a try. Gardening, exercise, and writing, all activities that keep one busy. Work, of course, if you have it. Anything to keep the wheels turning in this amazing year of 2020.

So I’m going to talk a little space news first. SpaceX has been on a real tear as of late, with SN5, the launch of yet another Starlink mission, and let us not forget the successful conclusion to the Demo-2 mission. Real progress is being made; most importantly Mr. Musk and crew have spurred on real competition with other countries and entities. This latest space race is what we’ve needed since the nineteen seventies and it’s what we didn’t have.

That’s the good news.

Bad stuff? Well, I don’t dwell on that but some things must be mentioned. The Corona disaster is the biggest problem, and it’s one that looms over everyone. So no need to go into depth on that; if you want to find out more than you ever wanted to know simply Google “Corona Virus.” Here, I’ll help. Alright, that’s out of the way.

Beirut. Seriously. Who thought it was a good idea to store three KILOTONS of ammonium nitrate in the heart of a city that has had more than its share of grief? Wow. There are tactical nuclear weapons with smaller explosive yields, for heaven’s sake. Ammonium nitrate is no joke.

A story from my past.

So I had to qualify in Army demolitions once upon a time. I had the mission to destroy a road. Fine. Buried five “cratering charges” in a row across the road. A standard “triple nickel.” Five cratering charges, five feet apart, five foot deep. Three fives, right? A triple nickel. Wired everything together with det cord, used C4 as the intiating charges, ran a seriously long shock-tube fuse to a bunker.

A cratering charge is 40lbs (20kg) of ammonium nitrate. So the road was mined with 200 lbs of explosives, plus a little C4 to set things off.

1/30,000th the net explosive weight of the Beirut charge.

When I set it off with a twist and pull of the fuze ignitor, the roadway disappeared in a filthy black mushroom cloud, the explosion was deafening from 500m distance. Inside a bunker.

A large clod of dirt landed on our rucksacks, hundreds of meters away. It flattened them.

When the smoke cleared and we went to look, there was a crater large enough to put a house in.

1/30,000th what went off in Beirut.

Wow.

But I digress. I prefer to spend the mornings wandering amongst the vegetables, feeling and looking for what is ripe. My favorite part of the garden is the large three sisters patch; Indian corn, climbing beans, and pumpkins. This land’s natives knew what they were doing, for thousands of years they cultivated these three crops in mutually sustaining patches.

ripe corn

The corn takes nitrates from the soil, the beans add nitrates and use the corn as a trellis, and the pumpkins drown out most of the weeds in the patch, plus provide easily stored nutrition for the long winter to come.

I love the Three Sisters. It is the ultimate lazy man’s patch, and its productivity is second to none. We have taken multiple harvests so far, the beans and corn are delicious.

on the cob

Above: Indian corn at its peak freshness for “on-the-cob” eating.

I’m really looking forward to the johnnycakes from the cornmeal harvest this October. There is nothing like peeling back an ear of seasoned Indian corn, each one is different and each one is beautiful. And the smell… one of the staples of my childhood, along with cow shit and fresh-mown hay.

Hey, at least there’s something to look forward to, in this bleak and frightening year.

So if any of you have even a tiny patch of land, try out the Three Sisters next year (or this year, for my friends in Oz). Any variety of corn will do (although I prefer non-GMO heirloom stuff), along with some type of climbing bean and spreading pumpkin.

Gardens. Good for the soul.