Saturday, April 30, 2011

Movies for your Mind (part 1)

I participated in a writing forum a couple of years ago and moderated the creative writing project. This is an example of one submission that I made to monthly contest. The object is to tell a story that engages within a narrow length guideline. You may like it - or not. It's not autobiographical.

Viet Nam circa 1966

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. 

The pictures of his father that escaped his mother’s scissors showed a robust, smiling man who resembled him and portended what he would look like in middle age. His mother buried her anxiety in booze, pills and food. 

Dues to Indian Guides had been paid by the American Legion Chapter, school lunch provided under the aegis of a government program for same, the Future Farmers of America rejected him because he expressed a disdain for agriculture and horticulture. 

He managed average grades in high school, played baseball in the summer, football in the winter and wrestled on the team because anything that kept him from going home after school imparted sanity and clarity to the world he lived in. 

Two girls almost became girlfriends. Both agreed to go to the movies with him. Both pretended to kiss him, both cruised with him up and down Main Street in the Buick he inherited when his grandfather died. 

Without many prospects except the certainty of filling the military’s levy, he joined the United States Marine Corps soon after he walked to the podium and accepted his high school diploma. 

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord. 

He pitched hand grenades made of green fiberglass and fired his rifle at targets without a single wave of Maggie’s drawers. He marched and countermarched and when he’d marched enough and done enough push-ups, they allowed him to blouse his boots. 

Wooden bleachers, painted green, in much the same way as nearly everything in his world had been painted green, provided a platform for instruction. Everything from hygienically wiping his ass after he shat to the proper method of lacing boots and how to slap a plastic bandage to a sucking chest wound rounded his training. 

A brass band cheered him onto the airplane with the other replacements. 

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. 

Friends came and they went. Harlan Martin took a round through the nose from an unseen VC. Rock Ape stepped on a bouncing betty that popped up to dick height before releasing the ball bearings that turned him into a human sieve. The Jew contracted dysentery and a cobra bit him while he was taking dump. Slick Willy just died. Nobody ever figured out why. He wedged the dog tags between Slick Willy’s upper and lower teeth and tapped the bottom of his jaw hard with an entrenching tool to wedge it tight before they threw his body on the helicopter and flew it back to graves registration. Dow stepped into pungee sticks and had been medivac’d. Dow died in clean sheets back in the hospital. 

Friends were not a great idea. 

Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. 

The Southern Cross shown down on him in the darkness on clear nights. Rain corroded ammunition and caused the straps from the pack to chafe deeper. Gnats bit, leaches slithered and sucked. The VC dropped mortar rounds, set traps and fired their Russian made rifles. Everything wanted his blood and after a while he didn’t care nearly as much as he did at first. 

A second stripe provided the excuse to find a woman. It wouldn’t due for a corporal to die a virgin. A bottle of Ba Mui Ba, five dollars and sloppy seconds in the skivvie house ended up with a trip to the corpsman and treatment for the clap. 

Boned by the second stripe: the Green Machine assigned him to recon north of Phu Bai, newly issued seven-eighty-two gear and an ambitious mustanger planning his career around zero-dark-thirty operations. 

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty. 

He had been thinking about that last bowl of cornflakes and a seabag drag to the airplane and the big bird home when it happened. They say you never hear the round that kills you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pop Culture

Between the Royal Wedding (Prince marrying a commoner), American Idol results and the Desperate Housewives of Wherever -- well I really don't care.

I don't care that the Queen didn't invite President and Mrs. Obama to the Big Wedding because -- the Clintons didn't invite the Obamas either.  Who would? (they're reputed to steal the silver flatware on the table or some such) But the shocking and damning thing is that the Queen didn't invite ME to the wedding. I know it's one of those parties where everyone whose anyone is invited. I've been waiting for the invitation, fearing that the postal service lost the letter in the mail.

Since I'm no longer a serving officer, I couldn't show up in a uniform and there may be the rub. Showing up as a civilian wouldn't have the impact...maybe that's why the invitation never arrived?

Candidly, I can no longer fit into my old dress white naval uniform, but I toyed over getting the old medals out and polishing them - including the British gong for unspecified gallantry in support of Her Majesty's the event that the invitation came late. 

Alas, forgotten. I've missed the event of the year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Witch Doctor

Those of you who follow this blog, know that I've written a couple of books. At present, I'm toiling to complete THE OLD WHORE: A Novel of Cartel Wars, sequel to Bloody Mexico.  Today I had meetings in San Diego, CA and when they were over, I accepted an invitation from a witch doctor in the Santería faith to visit his office. He refers to himself as a witch doctor so I'm comfortable using the term. We had a nice meeting, I asked a lot of questions and took several pages of notes. One of the hallmarks of a good piece of writing is understanding the subject mater. I have experience with the Santa Muerte (or Holy Death) cult that is practiced by a lot of narcoterrorists in Mexico simply because you see it a lot when you deal with them. They worship Señora de las Sombras and at least some of those people I've encountered practice ritual human sacrifice. Really dark and wicked stuff. Then again, they are dark, wicked and troubled people.

Santería is typically white magic. It's black magic counterpart is voodoo. It's a system of belief that comes from Africa. African slaves brought it to the New World and the religion continues to flourish primarily in Latin America and in the Latin communities in the United States. 

The man I spoke to today is called a Babalawo, or a father who knows secrets. He is also an Oba, which means that he initiates/trains people in the mysteries of the faith. We discussed that process in detail but I won't include it here. He is originally from Cuba and has practiced Santería from a young age. There are many orishas (gods) which often take the form of dryads. They need to be fed and they are best satiated by blood, therefore the tenants of the religion require animal sacrifice. Usually those sacrifices are chickens or ducks but different dryads/oriahas.

When you read my novels, understand that my characters may be fictional, but the work is well researched. In this case,  there won't be much about Santería, but what little is woven into the fabric of the tome will be well researched.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It started with a large bear

As with all things, there is a flow of events and I decided to start with a large bear.

When Griffin arrived today (Alyssa was with the other grandparents), he found a large 53" tall brown bear sitting in his favorite chair. At first he was a bit put off, but there was an Easter basket full of goodies sitting on the bear's lap that proved irresistible.

Soon, Griffin and the bear became best of friends. Griffin is roughly 1/2 as tall as the bear.

Though I don't know that Mommy (my daugher, Amanda) was all that happy about taking the 53" tall and roughly 36"(1 meter) wide bear home with her, she liked holding the bear just as much as Griffin did.

Activities in the game room shifted from holding the bear to throwing a squishy ball through the hole in the red inflatable ball at my daughter Emilie, inside - serving as a target and ball return device.

Following dinner my son-in-law took Griffin on his first Easter Egg hunt. Some of the plastic eggs held candy and others held money that goes into his piggy bank.

Success was measured one Easter Egg at a time...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

What would you do if you only had a minute left to live?

Source Code is a science fiction mystery thriller film directed by Duncan Jones, written by Ben Ripley, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright.

I won't spoil the plot except to say that the source code turns out to work a lot better than anyone thinks that it will.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a decorated army helicopter pilot who finds himself on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb which exploded and destroyed a train headed into Chicago. Stevens is isolated inside a chamber, where Air Force officer Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) explains to Stevens through a computer screen that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over someone's body in his or her last eight minutes of life.

Stevens' mission is to locate the bomb, discover who built it, and report back to Goodwin before the bomber can detonate a second larger bomb, a dirty nuclear device, in downtown Chicago, which could cause the deaths of millions of people. Every time he is sent into the train he awakens as Sean Fentress, a history teacher, sitting across from a woman named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). A series of events repeat each time with slight variations while he goes on searching for the terrorist and deepening his relationship with Christina, until the bomb that destroys the train goes off and Stevens (as Fentress) dies, sending him back to the chamber.

There weren't any new movies to see this Saturday afternoon that I hadn't seen before, so I took a shot at Source Code and was glad that I did. The film was well put together with a well developed plot that kept unfolding as the movie progressed. It touches on the possibility of multiple universes, but doesn't get bogged down in the concept and focuses on the relationships between the characters while the action segment of the film unfolds.

On the LL scale, it gets a SOLID 8 out of a possible 10. A film has to work hard for an 8 from me and this one deserved it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Thought for Friday Night

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night when only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed with all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light;
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charm upon the ivory stages
But for the common wages of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart from the raging moon
I write on these spin drift pages
Nor for the towering dead with their nightingales and psalms,
But for the lovers
Their arms round the griefs of the ages
Who pay no praise or wages nor heed my art or craft.

--Dylan Thomas

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easily Amused

Griffin likes to blow bubbles.

One could say that he mastered the art with little effort.

Here he is in the back yard, showing us his 'war face'.

The best part of bubbles is that it's soap and water...

But DO NOT tell the kids that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The King goes free

This is an after action report on the capture, captivity and release of Rex, the lizard. As it turns out, my two year old grandson wanted NO PART of the lizard. I asked him if he wanted to go into the mountains with me to release him and he said, "No, I'll stay with my brother, Cannon." 

A photo of me holding Rex, king of the Great 
Horned Lizards, prior to his release.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


One of the guys on the trip the other day sent me this picture of his truck. He high-centered on the snow (ice under) and had to be strapped out too. The reason I'm posting this is because you can see my tracks angling off to the right of his rig toward the edge of the cliff. When you're on ice, there's not much you can do except hang-on!

He came three or four trucks after mine in line and I had moved up the hill by the time he got stuck. The problem wasn't depth of snow. It was about three inches of ice under the snow that formed from the melt/freeze cycle.

In this picture, we're going down a steep logging road. My rig is right in front of the yellow Humvee. Another hundred meters ahead, the road was completely blocked by 7 or 8 really big trees that were washed out by the severe winter we had this year. They completely blocked the road. Time for chainsaw work and a bulldozer.

Some of the guys try to get to the bottom of the electrical fire.

It turned out to be a fried relay. I'm not sure what the relay controlled but the truck still ran and he made it out.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Lizard Named Rex

The Arizona guys will recognize this fellow. He's a great horned lizard that I found in the desert today when I was out in my truck prospecting, getting into mischief and generally running around on old trails. 

Rex, the Great Horned Lizard.

My grandson, Griffin, is coming over for dinner on Sunday. He will have the opportunity to meet Rex (King of the Lizards because of his horned crown) and then we will go up into the hills and release him. They don't do well in long term captivity but they're kind of fun to play with. I lived in Arizona when I was a kid and I kept them and played with them. To feed them I put them near an ant hill and let the lizards go to it. They can eat a LOT of ants.

Rex is about 4 1/2 inches long and when he's puffing and making himself look bigger to the predator (me), he's about 2 1/2 inches wide. I found a water snake in a creek too, but didn't bring him home (this time). That might have been too much since the girls are none too fond of reptiles. Of the pantheon of reptiles, snakes are their least favorite.

Griffin, temporary reptile owner.

When Amanda, Griffin's mom, was a little girl, she had a pet rat named Whiskers. Now she vetoed the lizard as a constant companion for little Griffin, which is okay. I offered to corner a snake on my next trip to the desert and the offer was also rejected. 

Safely caught and released, the Great Horned Lizard can run free and Griffin can enjoy the experience.

But maybe she'll say YES to a rat? I'm not talking about a harbor wharf rat - a rodent raised in captivity. What do you think? A boy and his lizard - a boy and his is part of being a BOY. (boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails, my daughters suggested that also applies to grandfathers)

The Scorpion, a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Friday, April 15, 2011

H1's and a few FJ's

I spent my day gainfully running around in the mountains near Big Bear Lake in Southern California, crushing rocks and possibly injuring federally protected rodents and splattering federally defended insects on my windshield!

The Psycho Hummer's Club invited a few of us on a run today. They have a sweet set-up in the mountains that includes a RARE private fishing lake for the kids. Camp Psycho is the home to these guys who drive $150K rigs with the only requirement for membership being, "If it looks as if it's impossible on the trail, you should try to do it!" Thus they are psychos and I fit right in.

Private Lake in the desert, stocked with Bluegill.

The vehicle line-up on top of the White Mountain grade.

The Scorpion FJ left all of those H1 drivers with Toyota envy!

A random shot of rigs on the trail.

The Hummer H1 weighs over double what a Toyota FJ weighs and they're powered by a turbo diesel engine where ours run on six cylinder gasoline engines. The FJ is smaller, more nimble and on the trail today, the carnage was more or less equally meted out between both types of rigs.

* I became stuck in a snow drift (no photo) higher on the mountain and had to be recovery-strapped out of the mess I was in.

* One of the H1's had an electrical fire under the hood. (the rig pictured above)

* One of the H1's had a computer failure that impacted the functionality of the traction control sensor.

* One of the FJ's (not mine) had a fuel malfunction that more or less righted itself.

We were the first rigs of the season along the moderate difficulty factor trails we drove today. But a good time was had by all. My daughter, Emilie, originally planned to attend but illness at the last minute kept her from the run.

Blade Blog Part 2

Mark 3 Mod 0 Navy issue knife.

This knife is in general issue to the US Navy. In my time, many SEALs used them as camp tools. The blade is cheap and won't hold an edge but as a camp tool, they're not all that bad. As a general dive knife they're not bad either because while they do rust immediately when immersed in salt water, nobody cares if you loose one. The government pays about $9.00 each for them if memory serves. Divers always loose knives and divers all need knives - so as a training knife and camp tool, they're not a bad choice.

To protect these knifes from rusting in salt water, spray them liberally with motorcycle chain lube (it has bee's wax in it). Then spray it LIGHTLY with WD40 and wipe it down lightly. The wax and oil will remain on the blade and it won't rust. You need to apply it regularly but your gear will remain in relatively good shape until it's time to use it again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blade Blog -or- My Knife Journey

MY JOURNEY with steel/titanium:

Everyone has their favorite knife -- if you own and keep knives, you'll have a favorite. If you don't this won't mean much to you. In the world of blades there are nearly endless options and uses. I think it's also true of chefs - because in the reality cooking shows I've seen, contestants are asked to pack their knifes and get off the set if they don't 'make the cut'.

This is how I came to select the knife I carry every day. I could start at the beginning of time - which began when I was born. But I won't bore you.

During Operation Desert Shield/Storm in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (1990-1), I carried a very nice double edge knife when I served with SEAL Team 5 and SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1.

I looked younger then (above/left) -- and I was younger then, but my hair was mostly gray.

The knife I settled (circa 90-91)on was a custom knife made by Rick Hill
Note D2 Steel, double edged with a sharp skull spike on the hilt of the knife.

This is a photo of the same knife in the jump-certified scabbard. 
The rings are attached to a garrote wire that is kept in the pouch 
on the outside of the knife for situations where it might be required.

At that time, the official SEAL knife was made by Buck Knives and was constructed of a titanium-beryllium alloy. Nobody liked to carry it because when you sharpened it, and microscopic pieces of metal lodged under your skin, they produced tumors. 

In late 1991 or early 1992. Don't hold me to a date because it was 20 years ago, I was at NAVSPECWARGRUONE (Naval Special Warfare Group One, Coronado, CA). The Joint Special Warfare Command (McDill AFB, Tampa, FL) just stood up and an Army general took command. Since we were all subordinate to the US Army, there was money to spend - where the Navy was very parsimonious with the SEALS up to that point. The new funding allowed us to buy newer and presumably better knives than the models that caused us to develop cancerous tumors.

Original MPK - Note the distinctive mud-colored titanium alloy. 
No, it's not rust. This knife will never corrode or rust. In the two 
decades since that these knifes have been in service with the 
Navy, not one has broken. The general issue knife has a gray 
blade with attribution to the manufacturer. This one has no markings.

A knife competition (called a knife-off) was held and various manufacturers were invited to submit their knifes to Group 1 to be tortured and tested. A number of different knives were submitted and the only one to remotely meet the criteria was the Multi-Purpose Knife (MPK) entry from Mission Knives (then owned by Rick Schultz of Mission Viejo, CA). The SOG Seal knife, made of steel, scored well, but (a) it corroded because it was made of steel and (b) it had a magnetic profile (made of steel) that would set off a naval mine.

Time passed and Rick Schultz sold his knife company. The new manufacturer took input and suggestions from various United States Special Operations personnel. The MPK would remain the issued knife to SEALs, but maybe a light weight, high strength, non-magnetic, no-corrosive tool—a titanium bladed knife—with a more compact and thinner silhouette, and with a “higher speed and lower drag coefficient” could be made.  Enter the Multi-Purpose Tactical Knife (MPT)

Note the grooved section on the blade’s spine, which gives a better non- slip surface when applying pressure to the blade with the thumb. The MPTs ergonomic hilt was specifically designed to feel comfortable in either hand, and, at the same time, can easily be shifter into any aggressive grip style needed to meet any challenge. The parrot’s beak shaped butt of the hilt allows the user maximum purchase when using the blade in either the standard (hammer) grip, fence’s (sideways) grip, or ice-pick (reverse)grip.

This is the knife that I've chosen to carry on a daily basis. It's great for trimming fingernails and opening mail.

I'm an older guy now, nearly helpless in my dotage (right). Somebody asked F. Scott Fitzgerald a question and he said that it was better to be rich than fascinating. I suspect that if you become a knife-blogger you may not end up as either one.  

But I thought you all might enjoy reading about my knife journey.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Movie Review: LIMITLESS

Limitless is a 2011 American techno-thriller film directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, andRobert De Niro. It is based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn with the screenplay by Leslie Dixon. 

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer who lives in New York City and has recently been dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) in addition to failing to meet the deadline to turn in his new book, which he hasn't written yet. One day, Eddie comes across Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), the brother of his ex-wife Melissa Gant (Anna Friel). Vernon is adrug dealer who offers Eddie a sample of a new drug, NZT-48. Eddie accepts, and, much to his surprise, the drug increases his intelligence and improves his focus.

Eddie asks Vernon for more of the drug, and Vernon agrees. When Eddie goes to Vernon's apartment, he finds Vernon dead. Eddie finds a stash of NZT hidden in the oven alongside a book with several names and some money, which he takes for his own personal gain. With Vernon's money and the NZT, Eddie creates a new image for himself and abandons writing to enter the stock market. He becomes rich at an incredibly fast pace and is soon employed by the powerful businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). Eddie also gets back together with Lindy. Meanwhile, he feels that he is being followed by a man in a tan coat (Tomas Arana). Soon, the side-effects of NZT appear.

I liked the film. It held me. I didn't once look at my watch to see how much time was left before it was over, a good sign. Out of a possible ten, it gets a solid EIGHT.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna

HANNA, (2011), Ardustry Entertainment, Marty Adelstein Productions, Studio Babelsberg, directed by Jon Wright, written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana. 111 minutes run time, rated PG-13 for violence, action, some sexual material and language.

I usually go to movies such as this one by myself. The plot (from the trailer - no spoilers in this blog) indicates that Hanna (Sioirse Ronan) is a teenage girl being trained in a semi-arctic setting to survive in the wild. There is a connection between Hanna, her father (Eric Bana), a recruited CIA asset, and a rogue CIA case officer (Cate Blanchett). The plot is improbable in the extreme, tracing the genesis of Hanna to the MK Ultra Program. There are a lot of books and plots that do this, but none do it particularly well and it becomes incredible fiction rather than plausible fiction.

I didn't feel well this weekend and it may have tainted my viewing experience, however the movie struck me as a "European movie". My definition of a "European movie" is half a dozen Frenchmen sitting around, smoking, drinking and saying, "Life is shit" for two hours while the audience is bored. Hanna has implausible action complete with pseudo Nazi EuroTrash homosexual bad people, stereotypical British tourists in Morocco and weak and ineffective CIA people, none of whom can stand up to Hanna - and at times, to her father. 

If you can make it past the "life is shit" theme, silly violence and a generally transparent plot, it's not all THAT bad. Out of a possible TEN, it gets a FOUR from me.

It did have entertaining moments, and was not a complete waste of time because there was nothing on TV, and I paid matinee prices.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mexico Ensangrentado

Mexico Ensangrentado, una Novela de las Guerras de los Carteles (Bloody Mexico, a Novel of Cartel Wars) will soon be released in its Spanish language version. There is no way to translate English to Spanish (or any other language for that matter) directly, but this is a faithful effort to tell the story in such a way for it to be available to a wider audience.

In progress, THE OLD WHORE: A Novel of Cartel Wars - sequel to Bloody Mexico.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What's On My Mind?

Do any of you readers know 
what I'm thinking about right now?

Ok, don't say "sex" because guessing that way with a man gives you an unfair advantage...but I digress.

As a father of four daughters I have found that to be one of the most aggravating traits of the Female of the Species. My dear daughter, Heather is expecting a boy on August 18th (my third grandson). Though Heather is incredibly dear to me as are all my girls, she has defaulted to the "but Dad, you should have known" scenario.

Take two days ago, when wearing her new pregnancy outfit, she asked me, "do I look pregnant?" I replied, automatically, "yes you do?"


"You shouldn't have asked."

"You should have KNOWN that I wanted you to lie."


Guys get sucked into these things all the time, involuntarily, and with some rancor resulting from our ignorance of the proper response.

Emilie, my youngest daughter, has caught on. She sweeps into my office, disrupting my work, and asks, "Am I not the most beautiful girl you've ever seen?" I respond, "yes", knowing that is the desired response unless her clothing is TOTALLY in appropriate, in which case, there is a discussion where she reminds me that she's 19 years old and I remind her that I brought her into the world and can take her out again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

They Don't Make Women Like They Used To

Are men and women looking more alike as time goes on?

(I'd make an ugly woman)

Research seems to indicate that it's true!

Researchers found that craniofacial differences between contemporary men and women are less pronounced than they were in the 16th century. The researchers also found that, while craniofacial features for both sexes in Spain have changed over time, the changes have been particularly significant in females. For example, the facial structure of modern Spanish females is much larger than the structure of 16th century females. This difference may stem from improved nutrition or other environmental factors.


It seems that our brains are still different. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of men and women under stress showed neuroscientists how their brains differed in response to stressful situations. In men, increased blood flow to the left orbitofrontal cortex suggested activation of the "fight or flight" response. In women, stress activated the limbic system, which is associated with emotional responses.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Two Troopers

Griffin came over yesterday with his little brother, Cannon. When he saw me, he looked over and said, "That's my brother" with a definite sense of pride.

Being a Grandpa is something special.
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