Saturday, December 29, 2007

The U.S.S. New York

I looked up some facts about the U.S.S. New York. It served during WWI AND WWII and was considered "The Old Lady of the Fleet" during WWII.

"From America's entry into World War II, New York guarded Atlantic convoys to Iceland and Scotland when the U-boat menace was gravest. Submarine contacts were numerous, but the convoys were brought to harbor intact.
New York brought her big guns to the invasion of North Africa, providing crucial gunfire support at Safi 8 November 1942. She then stood by at Casablanca and Fedhala before returning home for convoy duty escorting critically needed men and supplies to North Africa. New York was diverted to Eniwetok to survey screw damage. Nevertheless, despite impaired speed, she joined the Iwo Jima assault force in rehearsals at Saipan. She sailed well ahead of the main body to join in pre-invasion bombardment at Iwo Jima 16 February. During the next three days, she fired more rounds than any other ship present; and, as if to show what an old-timer could do, made a spectacular direct 14"-hit on an enemy ammunition dump. Leaving Iwo Jima, New York at last repaired her propellers at Manus, and had speed restored for the assault on Okinawa, which she reached 27 March 1945 to begin 76 consecutive days of action. She fired pre-invasion and diversionary bombardments, covered landings, and gave days and nights of close support to troops advancing ashore.

She did not go unscathed; a kamikaze grazed her 14 April, demolishing her spotting plane on its catapult. She left Okinawa 11 June to regun at Pearl Harbor."
This picture shows the place Joe was standing on 14 April during the kamikaze. Click on it for full size. Needless to say, you wouldn't want to be standing underneath that gun when it went off. Now that I recall, I remember him explaining to my father on the U.S.S. Misourri in that same location on the ship what had happened. He was frantically trying to turn a wench for some reason amidst the chaos.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grandpa Joe in Memoriam

A couple of weeks ago, my grandfather Joe died. I was waiting to take some of these photo album pictures with my new camera to share. Some I think are really amazing.

This is my great grandfather. He was a Lithuanian Pollack. This is the only picture I have of him. My grandfather never really knew him well and what memories he had of him are unknown to me. This is all because when my grandfather was very young, his father put him on a boat and sent him to a Catholic school in America for a better life. At some point later, I understand they met again, and neither could understand the others language at all.

Grandpa Joe at Catholic school. I think it was in Boston. Now that I think back, it really is sad how little I know about the specifics of his life. We never were really close. He had two sons and a daughter (my mother). My mother was his pride and joy. Before she was born, my grandfather got drunk, walking along a dock in the harbor (I think in Boston), and decided to name my mother "Cara-Lou" after a nearby bar. Fortunately for mom, she was easily able to switch it to Carole.

I can't believe how skinney he is in this picture. Luckilly I didn't get his pecs. Joe was on the U.S.S. New York during WWII. From what I have been told, the New York saw some of the heaviest fighting of any battleship in WWII. That could be my brother bullshitting again though. What I do know is that the New York got kamikaze attacked by surprise. Joe was on the deck when it happened trying to repair something. Someone fired the 20" gun right above his head. It blew his eardrums out and knocked him unconscious. An astute sailor saw Joe and dragged him to safety. He related a story once about how his ship ran out of food and they rationed the crew to the point of starvation. Joe said the hunger he endured was the worst pain of his life. I wouldn't be surprised if this picture was taken soon after that.

I've always thought this picture belongs on the cover of some book or chapter heading about WWII. Joe "Big Dick From Boston" posing on his ship. When I was a kid, Grandpa Joe came to visit and we took him to the U.S.S. Missouri which was stationed at the Bremerton naval shipyard here in Washington. There is a monument on the deck of the ship which marks the exact place where the Japanese leader signed official surrender to the United States. My grandfather cried on that spot and wanted some time alone.

He married my grandmother Dorothy after the war. They stayed together for the rest of his life, raised three kids, spoiled their grandchildren, and had many good times together

I think Joe lived a very full life, and was at peace and ready to go when he did. The slow progression towards death took a toll on my 80 year old grandmother, and was probably somewhat humiliating and demeaning. First the fall and the broken hip, then the pneumonia, then the congestive heart failure with the regular lung drainages, the pneumonia again, and then the nursing home, and then the pneumonia one final time that you just can't shake off. If there is a typical way to die in America this was it.

My lasting memory of Joe was when we were alone together watching the thoroughly depressing movie "Leaving Las Vegas". My grandfather fought and risked his life and gave all he had to save the world. After being victorious, he lived a long life watching the societal corruption develop around him, the fruits of his incredible sacrifice amounting to nothing but another generation of corrupt, wisdomless, gutless, hedonistic, usurping human beings. Saving one generation did nothing at all to save the next. The seed of the greatest generation was not another "Lamarckian style" great generation. It was merely a clean slate with the same old human nature set up to run free and corrupt once more from scratch. So my grandfather sat watching Leaving Las Vegas like the Buddha sat next to the river at the end of Herman Hesse's book "Siddhartha", resigned to his own enlightenment and unable to teach his son anything he struggled so hard to learn himself. Resigned to the eternal insignificance of everything.

We talked about this in mumbles after the depressing as hell movie. He shook his head back and forth and said a few times in a row,

"Nothin' means nothin'.
Ain't nothin' means nothin'."

And I'll never forget it because I know he really meant it.
I didn't agree at the time, and I took it as a sign of his old aged bitterness.

I agree with him now. And I am young, and I am not bitter at all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

First White Christmas in Over 26 Years

Just testing to see if the videos from this new camera are worth fooling with. This is the first white Christmas for at least 26 years in this area, as long as my family has lived here. I tried looking up when the last white christmas was in Seattle and found no information. Wikipedia gives a list of cities with odds of there being snow on the ground on Dec. 25. Seattle gets 8% odds. This is probably higher than reality if you only go by the last twenty years here. It was notably colder in this area in the mid to early 20th century. When I was a kid, you never saw rabbits or racoons around, and now they're everywhere. In the 90's my dad (being a nature buff) was astonished that we were seeing different species of birds and animals along the coast where he went fishing that normally didn't travel this far south (this was before anyone said anything about global warming, and everything was just blamed on more and more frequently occuring El Ninos). Over time he was particularly proud that his garden seemed to bloom earlier and the growing season was a bit longer (his excellent gardening skill of course). There was a periods of 2 weeks when I was a kid that the temperature didn't get above freezing here. This doesn't come close to happening anymore. There are photos in the local shops of our harbor taken from the earlier 1900's that show it completely frozen over thick enough so that cars could literally drive across it. Modern locals look at the pictures with amazement because we know that it never comes remotely close to getting cold enough to freeze salt water *that* thick (admittedly there is a fresh water stream that helps out a bit). Even this white Christmas, the temperature was actually 34, and it was only snowing at the top of our hill. It was almost all melted within hours, but we got about 3/4" and it might snow again tomorrow.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas. And let us not forget the *true* reason.... for the season.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Reason Project

Sam Harris sets up "The Reason Project". Sounds good. In the "culture wars", victory is assured for science and reason, because it is the only thing that ultimately works. The only question is, how long? How much suffering? And how much bullshit? Where Christianists claim historical successes, it is only because they rob from the fruits of science and reason and claim credit for the results.

The Reason Project (From Sam Harris)

The Reason Project will soon be a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The Reason Project will draw on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines — science, law, literature, film, journalism, information technology, etc. — to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy. It will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific research and opinion polls, award grants to other non-profit organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

If you want to be notified when The Reason Project officially begins its work, or receive information about its future activities, please join the email list on this website.

Smarter than a Chimp?

I was amazed when I saw this. I heard about the study, but I truly did not realize they were this quick mentally.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)

Won the Nobel prize in literature in 1930. Ron Paul recently quoted Lewis on Hardball, probably from his book "It Can't Happen Here" (1925), a story about a fascist elected as American president (something which actually was a hair away from happening in the U.S. at one time).

"when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in a flag carrying a cross."
audio is at

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oxymoron of the day: "Moderate Islam"

"Where are all the Islamic Moderates" asks Ayaan Hirsi Ali, even though she knows the answer to that question. EXCELLENT article. I hope it turns some heads. Interesting when simple truths sound like heresy.

"If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking. "

NY TIMES Article

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Atonement Review

It's been awhile since I read the book, but I was shocked to noticed how everything looked just about how I pictured it. I don't know how McEwan does it, but reading his books is visual without reams of descriptive text. In ways he is minimalist with his setting descriptions but you never feel need of more description. The movie scenes were ripped straight from the book almost completely.

It could not have been made any better. Well one way. We could have seen knightly's boobs more clearly. All we get is a wet T-shirt image.

The brilliant directing scheme has the story told through Briony's eyes, misinterpreting events from afar, then flashing back to the events from Celia and Robbie's eyes at which point what really occured is revealed to the audience. It works perfectly and is believable, even more believable than the book for me.

The girl next to me was literally weeping and the ending had not even come yet. I was in a jammed packed audience in a small artsy theater. When the devastating hook came I could feel the people around me turn white. The weeping college student was now choking with her head between her knees. When the credits rolled people sat in stunned disbelief. The people around me said "that was so beautiful" and "that was so amazing".

The plot of this movie is incredibly original. It is important that it is set in WWII because one of the side-themes of the story is how much is lost in war. How war takes complex lives and relationships and rends them undone. Not just undone, but unsatisfyingly cut-off from their resolution in messy meaningless ways- a reality we avoid in our polished documentaries and reminisences of these grotesque historic events. But the audience has no idea exactly how cut off from the resolution the truth really is until McEwan lets go the molten wrecking ball right to the head.

The movie, like every McEwan thing I've read is an illustration of nihilism- the part we don't acknowledge about the truth of our lives that makes them livable. Of course you won't see that told anywhere or described that way anywhere, but that's exactly what it is. My favorite McEwan short story involves a very kind fat women who takes it upon herself to raise a couple of children who are neglected by their immature parents. The women is teased and ridiculed about her homeliness. McEwan delves into the psychology of the obese woman, her loving care for the children, the sadness and cuelty of her life and the trag and unfair way she is treated, despite her saintliness. In the end of the story, she takes the children for a leisurely boat ride. At some point they start laughing at a joke or something, I can't remember. But the fat women laughs so hard that the boat begins rocking. Her sheer girth creates havoc and as chaos erupts in the boat over her fit of choking and laughter, the balance is disturbed, the boat tips and the children drown because nobody had taught them how to swim. The end.

Atonement is much like this. And so is raw life, before a human mind comes along to organize it into patterns which don't exist.

See it.

"Atonement" by Ian McEwan- the atheist's response to Paulo Coehlo's children's story "The Alchemist"

Atonement Opens Stateside

My favorite book by my favorite author has been turned into a movie with glowing reviews and best picture nods. The story of atonement is devastating. The feeling of the ending of the book stayed with me for a week after I finished it. Apparently the movie does it justice.

It comes out today, but only in a handful of theaters. I may have to drive 50 miles to see it today, if it isn't sold out.

This is one of the year's best films, a certain best picture nominee. -Roger Ebert

It ranks with the best novel adaptations of recent times. - Hollywood reporter

Atonement is so good it redeems our faith in intelligent drama.
- Box office magazine

As close to perfection as mere mortals can aspire to - Killer movie reviews
As good a film as one could imagine having been made from a great work of contemporary fiction. -Wallstreet Journal

Atonement is everything a true lover of literature and movies could possibly hope for. It is unquestionably, without any reservations, my favorite film of the year.
-New York Observer