Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Void

Old Air Force Sarge
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor Chanters a tale;
But when he came there
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor Chanters got squat.*

Seriously, Monday night.

I was devoid of material, empty of purpose, and lacking in motivation.

Yeah, Monday.

Remember this?

I might have something tomorrow...

I haven't ideated that yet.

The Void, it's what's inside my head.

* With apologies to Old Mother Hubbard.

Monday, December 10, 2018


My prayers go out to the families of the Marines lost in the Midair this past week.  Aviation is dangerous, Military Aviation more so and night operations compound the danger. That is known by all participants, but doesn't lessen the loss to their loved ones.  .

When I read about the accident, I had wondered if Pilot Induced Oscillation (PIO) might have been a factor.  I have no idea if it was or wasn't and we may never know exactly, but having ridden that horse a number of times, I wouldn't be surprised.

Pondering subjects as every blogger does as posting deadlines draw near, I decided a bit of a flying (funny, spell check suggested "lying" there) storiy about PIO might get something in the "scheduled" queue. So it is written.....

Before I get into the specifics of what PIO is and how it occurs, a little demo of the phenomenon might help.

Given that this happened very close to the ground, I'd say the Pilot used up a Metric Crap Ton of luck in this 37 second video. (and probably soiled his drawers)

This source defines PIO as "... rare, unexpected, and unintended excursions in aircraft attitude and flight path caused by anomalous interactions between the pilot and the aircraft."

Wow...and I always thought it was caused by me hamfisting the flight controls, while the aircraft was near an edge of the flight envelope.  But what do I know, I'm not an engineer.

This source states that "This is coupled with a lack of understanding of the topic by many accident investigators. In fact, outside of the aircraft certification community, there is a general lack of appreciation for these issues."

I don't know about that.  Going through pilot training (back in the day when pterodactyl were used for primary training), we did quite a lot of high Angle of Attack (AOA) maneuvering.  One quickly learned to use very small control inputs and wait for the aircraft to respond before changing them.  

That's easy enough when you've got plenty of altitude to recover.  Not so easy to do when you're close to the ground.  As demonstrated by the  F-8 pilot.

The first source says there are three ways to recover from PIO.

  • The pilot freezes the controls
  • The pilot releases the controls
  • The pilot significantly reduces the aggressiveness of control input
The problem is the Pilot may not realize he's in a PIO.  One of my closest (not THE closest) encounters with the Low Altitude flying record occurred at Nellis at a Red Flag. Still a LT with not a lot of flying time, I was flying an  F-4E loaded with two tanks and 12 Mk-82.  Just off the tanker and had let down to 500' AGL (yeah, right!) for target ingress.  Doing 480 and come up to a ridge, pull up to cross, an aggressive pull back down (yes, I rolled inverted and pulled) and got the nose a little too low.  Pulled back up a little harder than needed, but I had enough adrenaline flowing by now to have the strength.  Nose snaps, up. I push back down, nose goes even lower.  I pull....

The backseater, now has his hand guarding the stick at that point.  I only could pull back a little. The airplane smoothed back out and we continued on.  Debrief was somewhat intense.  However, I came to realize that my Situational Awareness was not all that high during the episode.  I also came to realize that having someone else in the airplane with me whose SA was very high was a blessing.

Flying Air to Air in the Eagle always involved edge of the envelope flying, which very often proceeded to outside the envelope episodes.  The airplane "wanted" to fly and it didn't take much for it to regain flight.  Large engines and large efficient wings made that possible.  

I just had to let it fly.  I learned that at Luke after I swapped ends trying to tree my IP in a 1 v 1. (He starts going straight up.  You start to chase him.  One or the other of you is going to run out of airspeed.  That one dies.)

In any case, He goes up, I pull up trying to get the gun site on him, I run out of airspeed and the nose falls.  He stands on the rudder and swaps ends behind me.  But neither of us has any energy (airspeed).  I'm worried because he's behind me, so I'm trying to turn.  But the airplane isn't having any of that. It's just pitching up and back down with increasing magnitude.    The IP relaxes back pressure on the stick, his Eagle accelerates and is flying again very quickly. I finally recognize the PIO symptoms and unload to get flying again.  Too late,  I spend the rest of that engagement doing the funky chicken  trying to avoid (unsuccessfully) being a movie star.

The IP debriefed that engagement by telling me that my Eagle had several thousand hours of flying time on it.  I didn't.  When I'm in a situation like that, I should let go of the controls and let the more experienced one of us take over.  

I would come to use that technique more frequently than I generally let on.

As I got more experienced, it became much easier to recognize and use the third method of recovery,  I used to call this the fingertip method.  I would fly the aircraft with my index finger and thumb.  The thumb would be working the trim switch on the top of the stick and my index finger would handle left and right, but it would be very difficult to over control, which is the desired result.

Does PIO only occur in military aircraft? Not by a long shot.  

My first source cites several examples, but this one was the worst.  
"On 14 September 1999, a DASSAULT Falcon 900 was subjected to rapid and violent vertical load oscillations, which killed most of the passengers, after incorrect crew response to a minor pitch control malfunction. The incident occurred south of Bucharest, Romania. 
Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister, who was standing at the time of the accident, was one of the passengers killed.
Oh, and that last sentence, is why the airlines want your seat belt to be fastened when seated. 

One last video of the F-16's first "unofficial" flight.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Three in a Row, Singing First, Again

I realized on Friday that if I wanted to watch the game, I needed to get my DirecTV back up and running, it's been down for a while. Should have done it earlier, just don't watch much TV anymore, so it wasn't high on my list of things to do.

I called, they said the first time they had available was Monday. Oh well, I figured I could stream it on the computer. Which was interesting to say the least.

Prior to the game The Missus Herself and I had a couple of errands to run, upstairs bathroom faucet drips unless you shut it off just right. Which was tolerable but when the jobber-doo (sorry, technical term, I guess in layman's terms that would be a thingie, or perhaps a doo-hickey) which you push and pull to stop up the sink rusted in half, I figured it was time to swap it out. (Pushing the stopper closed by hand and prying it open with a screwdriver was getting just a little old.)

Then while we're out there, we had a couple of other stops to make, went to eat, and by the time we got home, fed the feline staff, then found the game online, Navy was already behind by 10.

What's more, to get the game free (I admit it I'm cheap about some things) I had to settle for Sumdood on YouTube who had his camera pointed at his TV set to see the game. As the sound from Sumdood's TV wasn't all that good, and Sumdood took it upon himself to comment on the game, rather than rely on the professional announcers, I switched back and forth between the game and old episodes of The Walking Dead.

I'm up to season three of that, it's interesting enough but I can see why I didn't jump right on that when it first came out. Exceedingly violent and gory, but there are some interesting human interactions between the cast. At least the cast who aren't zombies. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, I already saw all the episodes of the latest season of The Last Kingdom (I've read all the books save the latest but the TV series is pretty goof) so I needed another series to binge watch.


Army looked good, Navy did not. The game didn't seem to be as close as the score might let on. Does either team know that the rules allow for throwing the ball? While I'm all for tradition, I swear the game gets more boring every year. Army's new coach has Navy's number, Ken, you've had a good run but I think it might be time to go.

That's all I've got.

Maybe next year Middies, we'll see.

Retired Air Force Master Sergeant, current Navy Dad, begging for apologies from my Army ancestors, but none of y'all actually went to West Point and I've got friends who did go to Annapolis, had two of the progeny accepted there, but they chose ROTC instead. While I do have a friend who went to West Point, we did high school together, my loyalty lies with the Middies.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

So This Is Christmas

'Tis the season, as they say, a time for merriment, friends, and family.

But do we remember the true reason for the season? Long ago and far from my native land, a couple were blessed with the birth of an infant. No, it probably didn't occur in December, that was Mother Church's way of getting some of the pagans to play. I mean we all like our holidays and our traditions, the Church knew that to take that away, people would resist. So they co-opted those old pagan traditions and made them Christian. (Just as they took the old pagans and made them Christians!)

The important thing to remember...

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
-- Isaiah 9:6-7 New King James Version

It's not the when of the thing, it's the what.

We sometimes forget that the whole point of this season is to remember the birth of our Savior, Christ the Lord. One thing which is going wrong in this world is that far too many have turned away from church, from the worship of God. We will pay a steep price for that if we are not careful.

I'm not the most religious of men, though I attend church every Sunday, (I might miss a Sunday or two in a year, but I try to be there). Many times I wonder why. Like I said, I'm not the most religious of men, but I am spiritual, I know there's a reason for me being here. I know that the Lord watches over me, it's the only way to explain me surviving the many foibles of my youth.

Enjoy the season, it is, after all, about love. Like the song says, all you need is love. If you have it, whether giving or receiving, everything else falls into place. At least that's my experience.

Speaking of that song, one of the writers of that wrote another one, which for many years I didn't really care for. Times change, one may gain wisdom, if one is patient. While I've always liked the tune, some of the lyrics I didn't care for when the song first came out.

1971 was the year, I had graduated from high school, I was in college, I had a draft card. Guys my age, though the war was winding down, were still dying in Vietnam. I wasn't scared, not really (I was too stupid to be afraid), but when I received my draft lottery number (201) I was somewhat relieved. (I still remember my number, I looked it up to be sure, but some things you don't forget.)

Now I'm older, a bit wiser (thanks to The Missus Herself), this year I listened to the lyrics, I mean really listened. It ain't a bad little song, not much there to argue with. YMMV

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

-- John Lennon, Yoko Ono (Source)

May peace and love be yours, all the year round.

Friday, December 7, 2018


Model of Pearl Harbor as it was on the 7th of December, 1941
Washington Navy Yard
Seventy-seven years ago, a lifetime ago, the Empire of Japan attacked the United States on the island of Oahu, at a place called Pearl Harbor. On the 7th of December, 1941, a date which shall, for those who remember, live in infamy.

I have remembered that date since I was a little boy, as I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on the 11th of September 2001, so my mother and father remembered where they were and what they were doing the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Fewer and fewer of the Greatest Generation are still with us, each day that goes by we lose a few more. Perhaps in my lifetime the last of that generation will pass into memory.

I have told this story every year since I started this blog, this year, I let others tell the story...

Model of  USS Arizona (BB-39)
Washington Navy Yard

A piece of the superstructure of USS Arizona (BB-39)
Washington Navy Yard

Never forget.

Remember them.

They gave all of their tomorrows, for our today.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Have Been Remiss

George Herbert Walker Bush
Naval Aviator, President
I cannot let this week go by without noting the passing of a good man.

Youngest naval aviator in World War II.

Future President Bush in his Grumman TBM Avenger aboard USS San Jacinto in 1944.

Congressman from Texas.

Our Ambassador to the United Nations.

Director of Central Intelligence.

43rd Vice President of the United States.

41st President of the United States.

A lifetime of service, a good man.

I mourn his loss, though it's a sadness tinged with happiness...

Godspeed President Bush
(Photo: Marshall Ramsey)
They can be together once more.

Fair winds and following seas Mr. President.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In A Pensive Mood

The Road in front of Saint-Simeon Farm in Winter, 1867 - Claude Monet
Started writing one post, then changed direction, sort of, and wrote this one.

It's the Christmas season and Sunday last was the first Sunday of Advent. I missed our church service as we were seeing to the health of one of the smaller members of our tribe.

Anya keeping a watchful eye on the doings of the neighborhood.
Like I have mentioned, she is doing well and is getting plenty of exercise trying to avoid taking her medicine. When captured, she gives only name, rank, and serial number. But she still has to take her meds. Though her will is strong, that of The Missus Herself is stronger. (Don't ask me how I know...)

Speaking of whom, she is currently watching a series from the BBC 2 on Netflix called Monty Don's French Gardens. She treated me to a few minutes of the episode where he visits Monet's garden. As I am a sucker for the Impressionists I gave it a look-see, I was amazed at the extent and beauty of Monsieur Monet's garden, which he himself created. A number of gardeners still work to keep it as it was in Monet's time.

At one moment I thought I was looking at a shot of the garden, as the camera moved back, I saw it was one of his paintings. Magnifique!

I have always felt that the Impressionists did not capture a scene in its exact form, but better yet, they captured the spirit of the scene. That opening painting, I have seen scenes similar to that many times in my life. Monsieur Monet's painting is how I see them in my memory and in my heart.

Such beauty.

As it is the Christmas season, and as I missed the first Sunday in Advent, thus missing the following hymn, I offer it to you here. To me it captures the spirit, the essence, of what this season is supposed to be. A hymn which always brings a tear to my eye. Two versions, one instrumental, one vocal, both of haunting, majestic beauty.


O come, O come, Emmanuel
To free your captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel
To you shall come Emmanuel

O veni, veni Emmanuel
Captivum solve Israel
Qui gemit in exilio
Privates Dei Filio

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel

Gaude! Gaude!
Gaude! Gaude!
Gaude! Gaude!
Gaude! Gaude!

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel

Oh yes, I say rejoice.

And we wait...

For His return.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Our Non-Human Friends

It was with some sadness that I read of the passing of one of Juvat's canines. Especially after a Sunday morning emergency trip to the veterinarian for one of the feline staff. Afterwards, The Missus Herself mentioned that the emotions over the loss of our non-human friends may be more than she will be able to bear in the future. I know what she means, but it's something I've thought about over the years, as I try to measure the pain of their loss against the joy of having shared life with them.

Doing a bit of research, it seems that our species began to interact with certain canine species a very long time ago, perhaps as long as 400,000 years ago. We were still hunter/gatherers at the time, we roamed the landscape and were more a part of nature than we are now. Some studies suggest that dogs became our companions through hunting.

Cats came along much later, perhaps as early as 15,000 years ago. It wasn't necessarily the Egyptians who first domesticated the cat, but they certainly seemed to be the first humans to actually revere the cat as a semi-divine being. Which has led to the cat's modern attitude towards humans. As has been said before, "Dogs have owners, cats have staff."

Cats were domesticated when we first started to settle in one place and learned to grow grain (I won't try to figure that out, it amazes me what early humans came up with, "Hey, let's see what this tastes like!") stored grain attracted rodents, which attracted cats.

While modern humans and modern canines aren't perhaps the hunters they once were, all cats are hunters. They retain that instinct and practice it from the time they are old enough to walk. If you look closely, you can see the wolf in the dog, you don't have to look that hard to see the tiger in the cat.

I grew up with a cat and have been a "cat person" my whole life. I think perhaps because my father was deathly afraid of dogs, he'd had a narrow escape as a kid from a very vicious dog. But I was also familiar with dogs from a very early age. My maternal grandparents lived on a farm, they had two dogs, both mixed breed, though one was mostly collie and the other mostly beagle.

When we would go to visit the farm, those dogs would go nuts, they were so happy to see us. I'm sure you know what I mean, wagging their tails so hard that their whole body was involved. Small yips and a happy look on their faces and a frantic need for physical contact. God, I loved those dogs. They were also fiercely protective of us.

My grandfather once demonstrated this to Ye Olde Vermonter and I. Those dogs adored my grandfather but one day he told us that he was going to come after us, he would act mad and make like he was going to hit us (which he never, ever did) and told us to watch the dogs.

At first they thought he was playing, then they sensed that he was demonstrating a lot of aggression towards my brother and I. They took it seriously and in an instant they were between my grandfather and us, snarling fiercely at him, fangs bared and ready to kill. Gramp defused the situation by laughing and backing off, but my brother and I had to convince the dogs that Gramp was just playing. I do think those dogs would've torn someone limb from limb if they had meant us harm.

Now cats are, on average, smaller than dogs and certainly far less emotional. I doubt that any of the cats I've known would have attacked someone for threatening me. Well, except maybe for Tommy, my first cat and the one I grew up with, from the age of five to the age of seventeen.

Tommy was unusual for a cat. He'd follow me to school and would follow my friends and I up into the woods when we were out for an afternoon. Nothing scared Tommy except for one animal, one of my friend's dogs, a big Golden Retriever named Sam. Oddly enough, Sam was one of the friendliest dogs I've ever known. But he was huge, so Tommy wanted nothing to do with him. If Sam was around, Tommy made himself scarce.

There was a family who lived briefly in our neighborhood who had a German Shepherd. Not a small dog but not one of the bigger of that breed. He probably weighed forty pounds, and he was terrified of Tommy. I don't know what happened to cause that but I did see the dog coming down the sidewalk one day. Tommy was sitting in the middle of that sidewalk.

That dog crossed the street with his head down and his tail tucked away. He kept an eye on Tommy but avoided direct eye contact. Tommy stared at that poor dog until he was a good hundred feet down the street.

That dog was in Tommy's territory and he let that poor dog know it.

For too long a stretch I had no pets in my life. Being single, then being in the Air Force didn't really present the opportunity. But on my last assignment in Germany, which turned into two three year tours, back to back, with a few months added on to take me to retirement, I insisted to The Missus Herself that if we were going to stay that long, we should get a cat.

She was hesitant at first, then I casually mentioned to the kids that we were "thinking of getting a cat." They got pretty excited and Mom realized that she was cornered. Yes, I was told, "don't ever do that again," but hey, it worked.

A friend of ours in the neighborhood had a landlord with a farm, and a pregnant cat. We determined that one of her litter would be ours, everyone agreed and one day when the kittens were about six months old, we went to pick one from the two who were left.

If you guessed that we left with both, you guessed right. I'm a big believer in not breaking up a set, so to speak. Those cats were a joy. I had been worried that The Missus Herself might be a bit stand-offish as she had not been thrilled with the idea of having "animals in the house," she turned out to be the biggest softy, spoiling those two cats like you wouldn't believe.

The Nuke once remarked that we treated the cats better than the kids. "If reincarnation is a real thing, I want to come back as a cat in this family." I pointed out that we were raising her and her siblings to be good, productive citizens. The cats, not so much, so they could pretty much do whatever they wanted, within reason of course. (Staying off the kitchen counters was the one hard and fast rule The Missus Herself enforced. Often by using a spray bottle of water. The cats persisted, she eventually gave up.)

All good things must end and we bid farewell to the sole survivor of our to German cats back in 2003. (Pat's brother Tiger had died very young, passing in 1998 at the age of five. He never saw the States.) I was devastated, as was The Missus Herself, it's amazing how attached one gets to those furry members of the tribe.

We lasted one weekend with no cats in the house. Pat had passed on a Friday, when I was at work Monday, I checked the internet to see if our local shelter had any cats. The house was just too empty, The Missus Herself being all alone at home with The Naviguesser being away in the Navy and the two daughters away at college. She and Pat had kept each other company for a few years.

When I called home to mention the availability of cats at the shelter, The Missus Herself asked, "Can we go over there when you get home?"

Why yes, yes we could.

Fifteen years on we still have those two (yes, we went to get one, but there were two sisters, damned near identical, how could I break up the set?) we picked up that chilly night in October. Sunday morning last, it seemed that we were about to lose one of them. Tore us both up, a lot. While at the veterinarian emergency clinic, there was another family there, about ten of them, with a very sick dog. Poor pooch didn't make it, that family was very torn up, I felt their loss having been in that situation.

Fortunately Anya just needed some antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, she seems to be doing fine. Though Sasha is pissed at her for getting "special" treatment. She's the jealous sort.

But it was harrowing all the same. Still and all, much as I hate to say it, it's something I need to prepare myself for emotionally. They are fifteen, which is old for a cat, about 78 in human years. But they're both pretty healthy, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Those who don't understand the attachment many of us have with our non-human family members are missing something very special. Something we humans have been experiencing for over ten thousand years.

It's a special relationship, one that can only be understood by experiencing it. They truly are family.

Monday, December 3, 2018


Well, this is going to be a BIG day!  We finally get to meet the new boss.  She called last Friday to set up a meeting with the gang at 1300.  The phone call went like this.

"Technology Department, this is juvat speaking."

"Hello, this is Dr  Smith (the name has been changed, and yes, I used my actual name also.)

"Hello, what can I do for you?"

"Do you work in the Tech Department?"

Pause (as I bit HARD on my tongue to stifle the YGBSM that was rapidly approaching my lips).

"Yes I do."

15 Days to go.

Had a bit of sadness this past Tuesday.  Canine Flight is down one.  Corky, our Jack Russell, was 18, having kidney failure, trouble walking, seeing and hearing.  All that having been said, it was still tough.

Came home from that and happened to be browsing Sarge's blogroll and came across this cartoon at Proof's place with the title "Fetch, Good Dog!".
Thanks Mike, I know you didn't post that for us specifically, but it helped.
This also helped.  Mrs J trying to take a nap with 3 dogs and Moushka and Mushka.  Schmedley is on the perch above too sophisticated to participate in this love fest.

So, the Honey Do List retirement procedures are being ironed out and we've been getting ready for Christmas.  MBD and SIL will be celebrating Christmas here with us, and we're going to be doing a bit of Skype Christmas gift unwrapping with Little Juvat and his beautiful bride in the Sandbox.  Ain't technology grand?

Getting things ready for that day, we chanced into some memory triggers.  MBD had asked me to make a picture holder for her a while back, which I did.  I'd also made a model so I could make sure I had all the settings right.  This isn't Rocket Science, folks.  I squared the sides of a piece of wood and cut a slot in it on an angle of about 10. This allows pictures to be displayed and easily changed. 

Mrs J, liked the idea and commandeered the model.  Our photos are still in disarray from Schmedley's cold cat launch back in March.  As we sort through them, some end up in the display for a short viewing period and then are filed in an appropriate place.

But it is fun, on the first Sunday of Advent, to look through old pictures of fun times.

Christmas in Fargo ND '61. I've gotten a bit taller, quite a bit heavier, but not any brighter.

Little Juvat sitting in his Grandfather's chair.  Cost his dad a dollar every time he did so..  Fievel was his Christmas Present that year.  Because I was  gone TDY, I would tape messages to him and Mrs J would put them in the Mouse so he would at least hear my voice.  

Christmas 86 (as was the previous pic).  Still had hair and two of the 3 favorite people in my life.  Oh, and I was on leave from Luke where I was learning to fly an Eagle.  A VERY good Christmas. 

Christmas 92.  The third of my favorite people.  She inherited my sense of humor and attitude and her mother's looks and brains.  Oh, and her and her brother's respective spouses round out the top 5 of my favorite people.
May you all have a very blessed Advent and Christmas.  Remember, there's only one gift that matters this season.  The gift of a Son to redeem Mankind and the love contained therein.  Share that Love with your family and friends.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


So I'm sitting at work Friday, working off of two computers, an unclassified laptop with a small screen and a classified system which has two big monitors. (The laptop is for emails and such, the other is where I do the bulk of my work.) As I'm toiling away, I noticed something in the field of vision of my right eye.

Yeah, the one that didn't get operated on.

Not really thinking about it, I just used some eye drops, hoping to wash away whatever it was. It's really annoying while looking at a light screen to have this thing right there, but not really there, when you try to look at it directly, it just darts away.

Now this isn't the first time I've had this. One day in Germany I was reading and I kept seeing something cross the page. As it was summer I figured it was an insect of some kind. Then I noticed, I could control its movement. So yeah, either I had become able to control insects with my mind, or there was something in my eye. I mean inside of it, not on the surface.

Went to the doc, where I learned about "floaters" in the eye. The vitreous humor is a gel-like substance which can develop these floaters as you age. They are solidified bits of the vitreous (to keep the explanation simple) which cast a shadow on the retina. They can appear fairly solid or nearly transparent. But you can see them, and they are annoying. Eventually the brain learns to filter them out. Which my brain had done with the ones which developed in Germany.

The new one though appears to be a ragged ring, concerning as it was rather large and very noticeable. Doing a bit of research, I learned that I shouldn't worry as long as there were no other symptoms, like flashing lights which only I could see.

After work I stopped by the store to pick up a couple of things. When I got back to the car and sat down, I had to wait for someone behind me to clear out. That's when I noticed that there was a light flashing somewhere to my right. Hhmm.

I looked that way, nothing. Turning my attention back to the dash and preparing to back up, there it was again. Wasn't anything that anyone else could see. But still, I wasn't all that worried.

When I returned home, I turned off the vehicle and moved my eyes side to side, quickly, Flashing light around the periphery of my right eye, a semi-circle which I could see with my eyes opened or closed. Damn. Noting that it wasn't 5 PM yet, I called my eye doc.

"Where are you right now?"

"I'm at home, just got off work."

"Can you come right over?"


As I put my coat back on, with the feline staff wondering just where I was going as I hadn't fed them yet, The Nuke called. She asked me what I was doing (she was driving up to Annapolis) so I told her that I was headed over to the eye doctor.

After I explained why, she asked where her mother was. "Out visiting an elderly friend of hers." (Lady has Alzheimer's, a sad story there.) The Nuke indicated that she would call her mom and have her meet me at the eye clinic. Yeah, she was a bit concerned.

At any rate, my doc saw me, did a very thorough exam and saw nothing to be overly concerned about. As she put it, "These things happen as you age."

Seems the vitreous humor was pulling away from the retina (which had happened in my left eye but the vitreous didn't let go) and was pulling slightly on the optic nerve (had traction, as she put it), which caused the flashing lights which only I can see. She told me that it should separate cleanly in a few weeks and not to worry.

Sure. First one eye, then the other?

While I am a bit freaked out, the flashing lights have lessened, though they're still there. If anything changes I have a virtual "get in to see the doc NOW card" (my eye doc is very good) and believe me that card will get played if anything gets weird.

For now I've got this floating thing in my right eye which makes it awkward to read, and type on the computer. I just have to make no sudden movements (computers can sense fear) and it isn't that annoying I suppose. But damn, it is annoying.

Getting old, it's always something.

I suppose it beats the alternative.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Blue and the Gray

"The Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 12, 1865" by Ken Riley 1965.
Original at West Point
Welcome to the third installment of Sarge's "Off the top of my head" History Lectures*...

This one should be interesting, although the war ended 153 years ago, it still evokes strong emotions in a lot of folks. Sadly, in a couple of generations it won't, as the schools don't really do a good job of teaching history any more.

Convince me I'm wrong...

In April of 1861, artillery around the periphery of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard of the Confederate States Army began to fire upon Fort Sumter, a Federally controlled installation at the entrance to that harbor.

Tension within the young nation of the United States had been building since the 1850s with the bloody events in Kansas. Some say you can trace the issues which led to the war back to the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
The Missouri Compromise was the legislation that provided for the admission to the United States of Maine as a free state along with Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South in the United States Senate. As part of the compromise, slavery was prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 9, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820. (Source)
I would argue that you can find the causes for the Civil War** as far back as the American Revolution and the events leading up to the adoption of the Constitution. The power of the central government versus the powers of the individual states, the Federalists versus the Anti-Federalists.

Was the war about slavery or was it about states rights? In some senses both, in some senses neither, the war was really about power. Southern leaders were worried, quite rightly, that the rapidly growing North would eventually leave them virtually powerless in Washington D.C., the seat of the Federal government. While admitting states one for one (one free for one slave) would keep a balance in the Senate, as the North's population increased, Northern representation in the House would necessarily increase so that the South would have little power in that arena. Is that a big deal?
The House is charged with the passage of federal legislation, known as bills, which, after concurrence by the Senate, are sent to the President for consideration. In addition to this basic power, the House has certain exclusive powers which include the power to initiate all bills related to revenue, the impeachment of federal officers, who are sent to trial before the Senate, and in cases wherein no candidate receives a majority of electors for President, the duty falls upon the House to elect one of the top three recipients of electors for that office, with one vote given to each state for that purpose. (Source)
Why yes, yes it is.

Now I learned as a kid that the South was primarily agricultural and most of the Nation's heavy industry was located in the North. Which was accurate to a certain extent. There was industry in the South and there was also lots of agriculture in the North. A key factor, if it came to war (which it did), was railroad mileage. The North had lots of it, the South, a lot less.

The Civil War** is considered by many historians to be the first "modern" war. The use of railroads to move men and supplies and the use of trenches (later in the war) lead them down that path. In my book, a modern war is the one you're fighting right now. There was no war like the Civil War, every war introduces new technology, World War I was modern at the time, ditto the Second World War. In fact, I would argue that no war is "like" another except that people die, stuff gets destroyed, and somebody gets more power at the end.

The little guy always, always, always gets screwed. Only the new guys in power benefit.

All that aside, here's what I know about the Civil War**, off the top of my head.

The Confederates, as they liked to call themselves, (the North called them rebels) bombarded Fort Sumter. South Carolina had seceded from the United States and they considered Fort Sumter to be both a threat to South Carolina and the rightful property of South Carolina. At any rate, this started the shooting war. Fort Sumter surrendered rather promptly as their position was unsustainable. The fort had been designed and built to keep a seaborne enemy out of Charleston (a place the British attacked twice during the Revolution), not to keep South Carolinians in.

I need to backtrack at this point and describe the parlous state of the United States Army at this time. Many of its southern-born officers had resigned their commissions and returned to their home state, Robert E. Lee being one of the most famous, leaving many units with fewer officers than required to keep all of us rapscallion enlisted in line. In December of 1860, the Army was authorized a strength of 18,000 officers and men,slightly more than 16,100 were actually on the roles. Small army, big war coming.

As far as the South goes, they didn't really have an army, rather what they had were a number of state militia units. These came together to form armies. The North had a similar setup, the states providing troops with equipment and some training. Both sides were composed of very amateurish units. Which first clashed in Northern Virginia near a creek named Bull Run, not far from Manassas. Where my great-grandfather, serving in the 22nd New York Infantry, was captured. He was later paroled.

The battle itself was a messy affair, at one point the North nearly won, then the South managed to stand their ground as reinforcements arrived and the Union Army broke, fleeing the field. (This is the battle where Thomas Jackson received his nickname "Stonewall." Legend has it that Southern General Barnard Bee rallied his troops by gesturing towards Jackson's brigade and shouting out that they stood like a stonewall. Some have conjectured that Bee was not complimenting Jackson but was insulting him. Not standing strong like a stonewall, immovable, impregnable, but immobile like a stonewall, not moving to Bee's assistance as his unit was being chewed up. As Bee was mortally wounded there, no one was able to get him to clarify exactly what he meant. At least that's the story I heard in my impressionable youth.)

This battle also established the custom of the two sides calling the same battle  by two different names. Not always, but a lot. To the North this battle was the Battle of Bull Run, to the South it was the Battle of Manassas. Later (after a second battle fought in that same area, which the North again managed to lose) they added the word "First" to the name of that battle. Of course, at the time they didn't call it that as they had no idea that they would do it again later. (Same with World War I, they didn't call it that at the time. It was simply "The World War," or "The Great War," or "The War to End All Wars." The first was accurate, the second was "great" as in "big" and the third was a pipe dream.)

Something I should point out right now, when I was young we learned that the South had the better officers. Looking at the North's record in the field, at least in the East, up until 1863, you had to believe it. They lost damned near every time. Was it that the North's generals were so bad (in the case of McClellan, Hooker, and Burnside, they were really, really bad, more on McClellan in a minute) or that the Army of Northern Virginia was led by some very outstanding officers.

Probably a little of both.

Also note that the main Southern force in the East was named after a place, as they named the battles. The North liked naming their armies after rivers, the main Northern force in the East going by the name Army of the Potomac. They also went with the names of rivers or creeks with some battles. I think the battle name hinges more on what was being fought over as opposed to where the battle was fought. For instance, Bull Run divided the battlefield and the North considered that significant. The same applies to what the North called the Battle of Antietam, and the South called Sharpsburg. Antietam Creek was a significant feature of that battlefield, the nearby town of Sharpsburg wasn't all that significant.

The Battle of Shiloh (a place) is also called The Battle of Pittsburg Landing, though I can't find any reference to one side preferring one name over the other. A good article about the names of battles (and the war itself) can be found here. (Heck I'll reference anything which cites Shelby Foote as a source.)

So it can get confusing talking about battles when you're talking with someone from the opposite region of the conflict.

Be that as it may, in the East the North was consistently getting their asses kicked. George McClellan (mentioned above) was a brilliant organizer. He built the Army of the Potomac into a well equipped, well trained fighting force. Too bad the "Napoleon of the West" did not know how to fight (he did invent a very nice cavalry saddle) and he also relied on the Pinkertons for his intelligence on the Army of Northern Virginia. They consistently overestimated Southern strength leading Little Mac (another of his many nicknames) to constantly tell Lincoln that he needed more troops. To his credit he managed not to lose the Battle of Antietam, more on that in a bit.

Eventually he was fired, to be replaced by two other inept army commanders in turn: Burnside and Hooker. Neither of whom was very good at producing victories, though both are somewhat famous for lending their names to two very modern things. Sideburns are named after Ambrose Burnside, can you guess why?

The rest of Burnside's military career showed him to be a useful general, just not at the army level. He was governor of Little Rhody once upon a time and actually died in Bristol, the Sarge's current place of residence.

As for Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker, legend has it that we get the term "hooker" from the general's reputation as a ladies man and a party animal. Turns out though that the term precedes the general's fame in the war. Dates back to 1835 I think. Nice story though.

"Fighting Joe" (who was anything but) was fired after the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Robert E. Lee divided his army against the vastly larger Army of the Potomac and managed to beat them. Mostly through Hooker's lack of talent as an army commander. He did continue to serve and, like Burnside, was an adequate general.

Now out West there were a number of Northern generals who were pretty good leaders and damned tenacious fighters: Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan and others. Ulysses S. Grant (known as Sam to his friends) was the best of the lot. He was a West Point graduate who had fought in Mexico (along with many of the Civil War's** big names) and had a good record there. After the war he was stationed in the northwest where he missed his family terribly and probably drank too much. He got out of the army and became a civilian, which he sucked at.

When the war started he joined a state unit and worked his way up. His nickname out West was "Unconditional Surrender" Grant for when asked for terms by the defeated commander of Fort Donelson, he allegedly responded that "unconditional surrender" were the only terms he would offer. Like many cool things I learned as a kid, that story is probably apocryphal, invented by some journalist. (Things haven't changed much, have they?)

At any rate, Grant was doing well out in the Western Theater, which I should mention was fought for control of the Mississippi River. The idea was split Texas and Arkansas off from the rest of the Confederacy by seizing that river and the port of New Orleans, which would also pretty much take Louisiana out as well. (The Eastern Theater was always about taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Later on everyone kind of realized that if you beat the Army of Northern Virginia, Richmond was yours for the taking.)

Anyhoo, the big stumbling block to the campaign out west was a General by the name of Henry Halleck, nicknamed "Old Brains" Halleck. He had been in charge of that theater until recalled to Washington to be the General-in-Chief of all the Northern armies. The successes of his subordinates were the reason for the success of the Western armies, not Halleck. He pretty much hamstrung Grant for quite a while. (Grant eventually replaced Halleck in as General-in-Chief.)

Now on the southern side Robert E. Lee is perhaps the most famous southern general, just about everyone knows of him. He didn't start the war in command of the Army of Northern Virginia.  In face he had been offered the command of the United States Army before Virginia seceded from the Union. When it went, so did Lee.

At first he served as Jefferson Davis' (President of the Confederacy) chief military adviser. From what I remember, Davis didn't listen to Lee as much as he should have, Davis was also a West Pointer and considered himself something of a military expert. He wasn't.

Lee was initially mocked in the South as the "King of Spades" due to his insistence on building entrenchments to defend the capital and to defend the Peninsula. Eventually he got out from under Davis' thumb and took command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

He kept the Federals away from Richmond but the problem was that the war was being fought on southern soil, the South was getting pretty torn up, especially Northern Virginia. The invasion into Maryland was the first attempt by the Confederates to carry the war onto Northern soil (though many Marylanders considered themselves Southerners, Maryland was, after all,  a slave state). It failed at Antietam Creek with Little Mac still nominally in command. Wasn't much commanding going on, but the boys in blue stood their ground against everything the Rebs threw at them. In truth they outlasted the South. It was a bloodbath. (Burnside had a bridge named after him there, which he kept throwing troops at. Accomplishing little except getting a lot of men killed.)

The second attempt, at Gettysburg, failed spectacularly. Lee moved his army into Pennsylvania. He had expected his cavalry (under J.E.B Stuart) to screen the army and prevent the Federals from knowing what was going on. Instead Stuart went for headlines and Lee's army stumbled into the Army of the Potomac, now commanded by General George Meade (replacing Hooker).

From that point onward it was a defensive war for the South, a war that they could only win by exhausting the North's will to continue. Something they came very close to doing. They also hoped for recognition by Britain and France, and perhaps assistance from them. (The Brits did provide some assistance, but nothing decisive.)

Outright recognition of the Confederate States was never really realistic. Europeans didn't think much of slavery, and after realizing that they could get all the cotton they wanted from Egypt, they didn't need Southern cotton either (which was pretty much the main product of the South).

On the day Lee began to retreat from Pennsylvania after his defeat at Gettysburg, Grant captured the key city of Vicksburg. For all intents and purposes, the Mississippi River was now controlled by the United States from Minnesota to the sea (New Orleans having been captured as well, when I don't remember).

Because of his successes in the West, Lincoln brought Grant east to be General-in-Chief, the commander of all Federal armies. Grant wasn't a man to sit in Washington behind a desk, he joined the Army of the Potomac in the field and stayed with them until Lee's surrender. George Meade retained command of that Army but can you imagine having the boss looking over your shoulder, day and night?

Much bloody fighting remained after Gettysburg, but in truth, the South was defeated in the month of July 1863, they just wouldn't admit it. They kept fighting. Grant's strategy was to grind the South down, he wasn't interested in seizing territory, he wanted to destroy the Southern military. At this point in the war, that meant the Army of Northern Virginia.

While fighting continued in the West, General William T. Sherman commanding, it was a sideshow compared to the East. Eventually Sherman broke the rebel armies he faced and cut a path of destruction across Georgia to the sea and then north through the Carolinas. Northerners had a special hatred for South Carolina, they really blamed that state for the whole war. Unfair perhaps, but South Carolina paid as steeply as Georgia. (As an aside, this old Yankee loves South Carolina, especially Charleston, a lovely city.)

Grant continued to pound Lee's army, many thought Grant had no finesse, that he just threw bodies at the rebel earthworks, and sometimes that was the case. But Grant also knew that the longer the war lasted, the more men would die, better to press and lose some men then let the war drag on and lose many thousands more.

Eventually the Army of Northern Virginia was cornered, worn down, and out of options. No food, no ammunition, and no hope of withdrawing southward where Lee had hoped to join up with Joe Johnston's army. But the Federals had him cornered and his men were quitting, just going home or crossing the lines to surrender, in the hopes of getting something to eat mostly. Many of his troops had been marching and fighting for days without any rations to speak of, the troops were tired, they'd had enough.

Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in April of 1865. At the place where the Army of Northern Virginia would lay down their arms and disband, the Federal commander on scene, one Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, ordered his troops to present arms, saluting their defeated foe. Which the southerners returned the favor. The war was all over bar the shouting, Johnston surrendered later in April. The last southern force of any size surrendered in May. But with Lee's surrender, it was over.

Much agony ensued in the South. Lincoln's plan to "let 'em up easy" died when he did. Vindictive Northern politicians wanted to make the South "pay." (Into their pockets and their relatives' pockets no doubt. Again, things don't change much do they.)

The freedmen were screwed by both the North and the South, the reverberations of that are still affecting us today. But the shooting war ended in 1865.

The Union was preserved, and to my way of thinking, that's the most important take-away. The writings of some authors of historical fiction notwithstanding, a divided Union would probably have led to an Allied defeat in World War I. Though that might have prevented the rise of Hitler, Stalin would still have come along and he was a bigger bastard than Hitler. Ask the kulaks.

Just my opinion though. I'm glad we're now all one Nation. Anyone who wants to divide us now, should just go to Hell and be done with it.

One afterthought, what the South was fighting for, State Rights, really hamstrung them in the end. Jefferson Davis tried to build a strong central government, the states wanted no part of that. While the Army of Northern Virginia struggled to find enough food, some southern governors withheld supplies, munitions, and men "just in case the Federals showed up."

The lack of a strong central government in the American Revolution almost scuttled that endeavor. It was, in my estimation, a major cause of the defeat of the Confederacy. If not the key factor.

We're still trying to find the right balance between the power of the central government and the powers of the individual states.

As to what to call the war? This is interesting. (it's behind a pay wall, but you get four free reads.)

* Meaning which, I don't do a lot of research before writing, picture me answering a question about a topic while sitting down, face to face, avec moi, perhaps over an adult-type beverage. Hopefully which the questioner is buying. (Hint.) Reader suggestions for future topics along these lines are welcome. Of course, the post might wind up being. "Hhmm, I know next to nothing about that." Hey, it happens.
** Insert whatever you like to call it here in place of "Civil War."