Monday, May 30, 2011

Sullivan Ballou's Letter to Sarah

Sullivan Ballou was active in public service. Shortly after graduation from the National Law School in  1953, he was admitted to the bar. A year later he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, where he served as a clerk, and later as the speaker. 

When the Civil War war broke out, Ballou immediately left what appeared to be a promising political career and volunteered for military service with the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. 

Sullivan Ballou married Sarah Hunt Shumway on October 15, 1855. They had two sons, Edgar and William. In his letter to his wife, Ballou attempted to crystallize the emotions he was feeling: worry, fear, guilt, sadness and, most importantly, the pull between his love for her and his sense of duty.

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


The letter may never have been mailed; it was found in Ballou's trunk after he died.

Ballou and 93 of his men were mortally wounded at Bull Run. In an attempt to better direct his men, Ballou took a horse mounted position in front of his regiment, when a 6-pounder solid shot from Confederate artillery tore off his right leg and simultaneously killed his horse. The badly injured Major was then carried off the field and the remainder of his leg was amputated. Ballou died from his wound a week after that Union defeat and was buried in the yard of nearby Sudley Church.

His wife, Sarah, never remarried. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with a son, William. She died in 1917 and is buried next to her husband.

It is a fitting benediction to this day of remembrance, this Memorial Day 2011.


Saturday, May 28, 2011


There are things that I want to recall, and there are other things I'd rather not remember.

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 30 in 2011). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates men and women who died while inmilitary service to the United States. First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War, it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

The only criteria for war I have been able to establish that could serve as justification, is a situation so dire that I would send my beloved children - knowing that they would surely die. That's not what nations do, though. And most politicians rarely send their children in harm's way, which should leave you very suspicious as to the validity of 'the war' that we simply have to fight.

However suspicious we need to remain of political imperatives, we also need to remember those who have placed so much of themselves on the altar of freedom.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

After the Crash!

When the Apocalypse hits -- as has been predicted by others as set forth in posts immediately prior to this one, I've been wondering what will be left? Who will survive?

(No, I'm not blogging about the Highlander film and television franchise.)

Now I think we have an answer:

Only Toyota FJ Cruiser owners driving silver or gray rigs will survive to rule (what's left of) the planet.

I know that some of you who are more devout religious scholars will say that the righteous will be caught up into heaven, leaving the wicked behind.... hmm.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

More Rapture News

You get it all here on My Journey and while I frankly don't have a horse in this race, Harold Camping has not explained himself yet (link).

Reverend Harold Camping of Camping's Family Radio International Ministry

Yes, Rev. Camping's pasty face might be a bit red around the gills for his missed prediction, but how would you like to be Robert Fitzpatrick, a New York resident who put his money where his faith is. According to ABC News, The 60-year-old retiree spent $140,000 -- almost everything he had -- on hundreds of billboards proclaiming the Armagedon that Camping predicted.

Apparently Camping put a lot of billboard and radio ads out proclaiming that Jesus Christ would return yesterday and wipe out all of the sinners, while holding his own to his bosom. 

(ABC News) Camping's wife described him as being "somewhat bewildered" and "mystified" that events did not unfold on May 21 as Camping had predicted, Evans said Evans said his personal position is that the public is owed an apology and he wants the board -- and Camping -- to meet on Tuesday to figure out what to say and do next. 
Camping, 89, had pinpointed May 21, at 5:59 p.m. as the exact time the Rapture would occur, when those chosen by God would ascend to heaven while cataclysmic earthquakes would begin to rock earth. He spread the word on billboards, posters, fliers and digital bus displays across the country.
I'm always bothered when people of faith delight in the concept of PUNISHMENT for others. They live for the end of the world when everyone (it seems) but they and their closest associates are burned, squashed in earthquakes, torn limb-from-limb in tornadoes, or drowned in tsunamis. They find joy and rejoicing in the I-told-you-so superiority of the bigoted righteous.

A lot of people make a lot of money on fear-based faith. My reading of the Bible and other religious teachings indicates that "LOVE" was the doctrine of God. I must be missing something.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ruptured Rapture

It didn't happen today.

The initial prediction was for Jesus Christ to return at 3:00 pm in the Eastern (US) Time Zone. As that time came and went and people weren't being whisked into heaven in the so-called 'Rapture' predicted by Harold Camping and his Family Radio ministry moved the time back to midnight.. but apparently even that optimistic prediction didn't make the grade either.

Don't worry about Harold Camping. I'm sure he'll be back in business tomorrow (Sunday) with a new date in mind.

I didn't find one of these (above) notices on my door, so there is a possibility that I'm not on the naughty list -- though why I'd fail to make the bad list eludes me...


I planned to be out of town on business but things change and I found myself wanting for entertainment and decided to battle the crowds to view the new Hollywood blockbuster. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a 2011 American adventure fantasy film and the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. In the film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is joined by Angelica (Spanish Actress Penélope Cruz) in his search for the Fountain of Youth, confronting the infamous, real-life, legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). There are traditional and 3D formats. Being traditional by nature, I chose not to watch the film in 3D.

When vacationing in Hawaii, I saw the ship Queen Anne's Revenge at anchor in Oahu (Koolina) when they were filming the movie last year and even though it looked very little like the Black Pearl, it was obviously a Disney ship. I thought that Blackbeard the pirate sailed on the Witch of Endor, but perhaps Disney wanted to make the legendary murderer seem just a bit less Satanic.

The infamous Captain Jack Sparrow encounters historical figures, mermaids and a more or less mundane (for those who have seen the first three installments of Pirates of the Caribbean) march toward the Fountain of Youth. The plot of On Stranger Tides seemed to be a bit strained, as if the writers were trying to push the formula without allowing the story to flow. Maybe there were simply too many characters?

Yes, I'm a sucker for a pretty face and I thought that the mermaid, Syrena (25 year old Spanish actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey) stole the movie for hotness. Tamara, the mermaid queen (24 year old Australian actress and model Gemma Ward) was a close second. Penelope Cruz played Penelope Cruz and I thought that her acting was very two-dimensional. That may have been the script's fault more than Cruz's.

If you like these movies, based on the Disneyland ride -- and I do, you won't want to miss this one. Movie Insider estimated the budget for this feature film at $200,000,000. It looked expensive to make and nothing seemed to be spared on sets or talent but even at that, it only rates a solid 6 out of 10 to me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Endeavour

The Space Shuttle Endeavour on its final Mission brings a sense of sadness, and of inevitability because I don't like ends nearly as well as beginnings. As a bit of a science nerd, I enjoyed the shuttle missions and seeing the horizons of mankind expand. It doesn't seem that we're going to be invested in space in the coming years as completely as we were in those preceding.

On Thursday, the two orbiting crews will attach the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station. The instrument will seek out invisible dark matter as well as antimatter; whether any of this is found or not, the results will help explain what the universe is made of and how it formed.

It is the 12th and final visit by Endeavour to the space station. After this mission, Endeavour will be de-commissioned and sent to the California Science Center.

Endeavour docked at the Space Station

Monday, May 16, 2011

Diabetic? Blame Mom!

Being a diabetic sucks. It just does. And as a result of my condition, I watch the current news that portends cures with great interest. Of course, I hope that they come before I go impotent, blind and my limbs are cut off one-by-one (common results of diabetes).

A team of researchers, led by King's College London and the University of Oxford, have found that a gene linked to type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels is in fact a 'master regulator' gene, which controls the behaviour of other genes found within fat in the body. (LINK HERE)

As fat plays a key role in susceptibility to metabolic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, this study highlights the regulatory gene as a possible target for future treatments to fight these diseases.

The researchers examined over 20,000 genes in subcutaneous fat biopsies from 800 UK female twin volunteers. They found an association between the KLF14 gene and the expression levels of multiple distant genes found in fat tissue, which means it acts as a master switch to control these genes. This was then confirmed in a further independent sample of 600 subcutaneous fat biopsies from Icelandic subjects.

These other genes found to be controlled by KLF14 are in fact linked to a range of metabolic traits, including body-mass index (obesity), cholesterol, insulin and glucose levels, highlighting the interconnectedness of metabolic traits.

The KLF14 gene is special in that its activity is inherited from the mother. Each person inherits a set of all genes from both parents. But in this case, the copy of KLF14 from the father is switched off, meaning that the copy from the mother is the active gene -- a process called imprinting. Moreover, the ability of KLF14 to control other genes was entirely dependent on the copy of KLF14 inherited from the mother -- the copy inherited from the father had no effect.

(thanks Mom)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Morning Commentary

h/t WoFat

National Healthcare options - for travelers.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Movie Review: PRIEST

In a future where the war between humans and vampires has devastated the world, the Church created a secret society of Priests to fight the creatures. Once they were seemingly destroyed and the remains of the human race were reunited in a city contained within a dome in the desert, the Priests were left on their own.

Priest is a 2011 American supernatural action film starring Paul Bettany as the title character. The film, directed by Scott Stewart, is based on the Korean comic of the same name. In analternate world, humanity and vampires have warred for centuries. 

After the last Vampire War, the veteran Warrior Priest (Bettany) lives in obscurity with other humans inside one of the Church's walled cities. When the Priest's niece (Lily Collins) is kidnapped by vampires, the Priest breaks his vows to hunt them down. He is accompanied by the niece's boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), who is a wasteland sheriff.  Priest goes against the wishes of Monsignor Orelas, the leader of the Church, and sets to rescue Lucy alongside Hicks. Orelas then sends a group of four Priests led by Priestess to capture him and bring him back, dead or alive.

If you thought that Waterworld was a great movie, you may like Priest. However, I didn't think that Waterworld was worth the price of admission and sadly, neither is Priest. Out of a possible 10, I give it a generous 2. Pluto Nash was a worse sci-fi movie, but you have to go a long way to find a movie as bad as Priest

The plot was predictable and the screenplay didn't give the actors (who I like) much to work with. They tried to save it with special effects, but it simply didn't work.

Friday, May 13, 2011

El Vitral Restaurant - San Diego (a review)

I'm not one to review fine dining but I'm going to make an exception.  El Vitral wins 10 out of a possible 10 points for a great place to eat. The restaurant is located at 815 J Street, San Diego, California -- it backs up to Petco Park where the San Diego Padres baseball team plays. Reservations are required when the Padres are playing and they're advisable anytime.

Everything about this place is outstanding but the food is simply to die for. It oozes quality. For a full meal, plan for $20-$30 per person, but you definitely won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Emergency Clown Nose

Is the conversation getting just a little heavy? Does somebody need a lift for their life at the moment? There is only one solution:

The Emergency Clown Nose 

I am now carrying one in my car at all times. AND yes it's a threat -- if you won't smile, I will break out the Emergency Clown Nose.

It's not a joke. It's serious medicine!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Growing up Male

It's Mother's Day and I'm blogging from the nation's capital where I am for work for the next couple of days. I could always post a traditional, somewhat sentimental Mother's Day blog, but what fun would there be in that.

Our 'progressive' society has fostered the disintegration of the nuclear family and all too often, it has fallen to mothers to raise boys. I'm not blaming women (or men) for this situation, but when men are raised by feminist mothers, they grow up learning the value of sensitivity, gentleness, thoughtfulness and the inappropriateness of aggression. In order to remain 'nice boys', they have forsaken those aggressive aspects of themselves in order to retain the primary source of love and admiration: the mother. The result is an unhappy, if polite, man with no fierceness who doesn't know what he wants. 

Barbara Rogoff (2003) researched cross-cultural themes of human development. Her work found that in societies where boys have low contact with male role models, such as when children are raised with the women and men living in separate dwelling and there are none of the 'rites of male passage' that are common in father-son interaction that there are two likely results: (1) Young men are likely to gang together and create initiation experiences of their own through gang activity. (2) Males identify with female qualities and activities. "Interestingl, absence of fathers and initiation, high gang activity and high risk behavior and an increase in feminine or 'soft' males are all widely observed in modern American culture.

William Pollack wrote, "Indeed, we live in a time of fallen heroes. The monuments built of men, by men and for men are tumbling...even men's virtues are now suspect as vices: Power has turned out to be oppression, strength [to be] rigidity, and self-sufficiency [to be] an inability to be emotionally close...It is a difficult time to be proud of being a man. In fact it is a confusing time in which to understand what being a man really is (Wm. Pollack - study, 1995, pp. 62-63)

This persisting cultural disorientation is accompanied by distressing demographic trends. Research shows that boys are performing less well in school than they have in the past and depression and suicide among boys is rising rapidly (Pollack 2006). Boys account for 80%-90% of the ADHD diagnosis in the country (APA 2000).  Though it's not politically correct to bring gender into the mix these days, it seems to me that a great deal of what is considered to be ADHD might have to do with boys needing to be men and having it repressed at home and at school.

Progressive and liberal culture has taught modern men that fierceness is wrong, as is winning (we're ALL winners) and that the traditional male role as protector/killer/hunter/provider is (and from the liberal mindset always was) wrong. However I argue that self-actualization for men can only come when they are allowed to be men - allowed to be protector and provider. When you remove that part of the equation, you end up with a dysfunctional society -- like the one we are proudly building.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ortega Highway

My daughter, Emilie and I decided that owning a new car that cornered as if it was on rails and ran like a bat out of hell would be wasted if we didn't make a drive down the Ortega Highway (California) from Elisnore to San Juan Capistrano. It's a winding road where people in fast cars and hot motorcycles test their nerve and the capability of their rides. Adding additional insurance, I put my credentials in the glove compartment next to the car insurance certificate...

The first stop on the journey was The Lookout. It's had several names over the years and I've made this scenic drive more than once. It's perched on the summit overlooking Lake Elsinore.

The M package provides for manual shifting with paddles on the steering wheel and you can really get into the drive.

Emilie at the Lookout with Lake Elsinore below and behind her.

The original plan called for lunch at the train station at Mission San Juan Capistrano - But Emilie saw french toast on the menu and even though it seemed to be a bit late for breakfast, they filled her order.

I decided on a hot dog and a Diet Coke in a frosty mug.

Smile for the camera, Emilie!

The Ortega Highway (State Route 74) takes you from the beach and palms, over the coastal range and pines and drops you down at Lake Elsinore between the cities of Corona and Temecula. Along the way we met international visitors from Sweden, Great Britain and states outside of the People's Socialist Republik of Kalifornia...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Half the fun is getting there...

The medium gray 2011 BMW 535i with the "M" (sport and premium upgrade packages) does not say p#~~y magnet and it doesn't scream midlife crisis. It's not a red Porsche 911 bi-turbo.

Okay, the engine is turbo charged and it runs down the road like a banshee. If it had wings, it would fly like a homesick angel. But it's a luxury car that drives like a sports car. It's a BMW.

And the best part of the whole thing is that it's sitting on my driveway on run-flat 19" high performance tires, ready to go....wherever, because AT LEAST half the fun is getting there - maybe more than half the fun.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Movies for your Mind (part 3)

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. In this case, the story had to take place within three paragraphs. You may like it - or not. It's not autobiographical.

The Truck

Oh, Christ, I feel ten years older today than I did yesterday. Was it the three-hour basketball marathon, drinking at the pub until I closed it down or the sex that lasted until the dawn’s morning light blasted like thunder through the windowpane? He stepped out of the row house that bordered the river and was happy to see that the pick-up truck was still there. There were a few dents and scrapes in the sheet metal hide, but the damned thing ran like a clock. The truck’s like me, he thought to himself. Well, except for today.

He’s confident, I’ll give him that, and he’s great in bed. She propped her head with one arm and watched him pull the razor over his face, shearing off the overnight stubble. Wide shoulders, narrow waist and the towel is dipping just so. It’s a pity I’m leaving him today. I’ll miss him. Ok, part of me will. He reminds me of that old truck he drives. Yeah it runs well, but it’s lost its appeal. It’s the same old truck. And it’s time for something new.

She loves me, but she has trouble with the rut I live in. I can’t stand those pretentious wine snobs and pseudo intellectuals she hangs with. I’ll buy the diamond today and she’ll think better of me. Commitment will bring her closer and things will all work out. Maybe if she comes out, plays basketball with me and gets sweaty on the boards instead of in the sack, she’ll like being with me again. At least she likes my truck.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Movies for your Mind (part 2)

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.

Loose Ends
(Laos Circa 1975)
The Communists were closing in. People were packing up, hoping for a government evacuation before the end came. Those who couldn’t get a flight out of Watay Airport packed their things and were crossing the Mekong River into Thailand. The scene was chaotic. The Royal Laotian Army was gone. All that were left were kids, armed with government rifles, riding Coca Cola trucks out to the front, now closer than ten miles away, to get killed.

I found Ming sitting in the bar at the Settha Palace Hotel. The staff hovered around him like attentive bees around their queen, knowing the hive would be smashed very soon. He was dipping a rice ball into papaya pok pok, a Thai sauce made up of a variety of ground up chili and papaya. Moving the rice ball expertly to his mouth with chopsticks, he chewed like a man eating a spam sandwich. There was no joy in the meal. A waiter delivered raw minced toad and spring onions as I gestured a greeting to the morose Mr. Ming, and sat across the table from him.

“I need a new girlfriend to take my mind off my wife.” Ming lamented.

I was in a hurry that night but Ming was in the depths of financial despair. Even though he was worth a few million US dollars.

A waitress arrived over my left shoulder to take my order but Ming beat me to it. “A Jamison’s whiskey for my friend and a double for me.”

The silence hung heavy in the humid monsoon air, no breeze, only a languid fan overhead, rotating slowly to dissipate the heat.

Water beaded on the barrel of my Karl Gustav submachine gun, laid across my thighs. I looked down at the oiled metal, hypnotized by the slow accumulation of moisture. Ming finally spoke and it made me look up.

“Living with a woman from Chouzhou is like living with a dragon that requires tributes of gold to keep her satiated.” Ming nipped at his drink, finishing it. Glancing furtively for the next one, the drink he ordered. “Love and suicide are just different sides of the same gold coin, which makes me think of an old school Japanese woman. They’re the most twisted creatures on the planet but one of those ladies would take my mind off my problems.” He popped a few fried grasshoppers into his mouth from a bowl that sat on the table between us.

“Until Mrs. Ming found out.” I offered.

“She’d slice my fragrant stem from my body while I slept. She’s a Chouzhou woman and she has a reputation to maintain.”

“I’m in a bind at the moment and I hate to impose.” Ming looked at me with pathetic blood shot eyes that gained some sense of purpose.

I smiled. “It would be no imposition to help. If I can.”

The Pathet Lao and their Vietnamese keepers pose no problem for me here in this place, but you need to leave and take your girlfriend with you tonight. She’s been spying on you. She’s my wife’s sister’s daughter. The problem is that she loves you and wants to get out of the trade and be your wife and bear your children.

It took a moment for me to connect the dots. “That’s complicated.”

“And in a sense it isn’t. The world is a small place and karma holds sway upon the whole of it.” Ming said sanguinely.

“So I have my hand upon an elephant’s tail and think I am holding a snake.” I said, reciting a proverb.

“Precisely.” Ming said, happy that I, though an American, could grasp the situation so completely.

Reading my mind, Ming said, “A masterpiece is rarely recognized in the day it is painted.”

She gave me a gold cormorant earlier in the week, fishing bird with a ring around its neck. I wore it from a thick, gold rope around my neck. I touched the gold cormorant; “And this? What does it mean?”

“It is a statement on the condition of a man who is not free. Understanding your karma is a gift. And once understood, you can live harmoniously with it. Choice is an illusion in the ultimate sense. Nothing in the universe stands outside karma’s domain. Even the concept of the independent, autonomous "I" we so dearly cherish is nothing but the product of karmic forces.”

I translated it to US Military English. “So you’re saying that my head is so far up my ass that I need a glass belly button to see out.”

Ming thought about that for a moment and then winked a ‘yes’.

I ate a few dried grasshoppers without the use of chopsticks.

“There are two types of karma. The first is the karma of effect. This addresses the age-old question of why our life is this way and not some other; it shows us that every aspect of our lives is the result of actions we have performed in past lives. It’s,” Ming struggled for the English word, “comprehensive. Think of your body, your parents and all other elements of your history, your relatives, your life situation and general state of mind. All of these come about because of specific actions that you have carried out in the past. They represent what is given in our lives and, as the fruition of past actions, stand beyond our ability to make them more or less than what they are.

“The second type is the karma of cause. This addresses the question of you or even whether you influence the future. It says that every action in the present is going to produce results of some kind further down the road.

“Everything you do affects the future in ever-widening ripples of cause and effect. If you are virtuous, then the karmic results will be positive, whereas if you are not virtuous, the results will be negative. Positive results include fortunate life circumstances, experiences and opportunities, while negative results include various forms of suffering, including poverty, sickness, oppressed circumstances, calamities and so forth.”

“You said our astrology was not compatible.” I grasped at elusive threads to justify what she had done to me and to understand why she wanted to stay with me.

Months earlier, Ming said that the woman I knew as Mai, born in the year of the Iron Dragon, and I, who was born in the year of the Earth Tiger, were both dynamic in astrological terms. He advised caution in such a relationship. But things had gone too far between us by that time. I didn’t like what I heard him say, which meant that I intended to disregard his warning. I asked if there wasn’t some sort of Buddhist magic available to modify my karma where Mai was concerned.

Ming said, “You may be quite attracted to one another. Both signs possess magnetic personalities but attraction will give way to irritation. The Dragon likes to be in charge of everything and the Tiger insists on autonomy. It’s like pouring kerosene from two cans into a jar and adding a match. The result is inevitable, its resulting karma unappealing.”

I ignored Ming back then.

“Just like a Tiger,” Ming told me.

However things were different then. Vientiane wasn’t in artillery range of the big NVA guns back then. I was in love, Ming urged caution but I wasn’t fighting Communists in Laos because I was a cautious man.

A waitress refreshed my drink and I was brought back to the present suddenly.

“I have decided to move to Bhutan.” Ming said abruptly.

“I thought you planned to stay on. The trade is profitable, you’re juiced in.”

“The King of Bhutan is my personal friend. In that country I will be treated like a living divinity and will want for nothing. When I go on a drunk, they will sit with ten scribes to take down every slurred word as if it were golden. When I get sick, they will send in doctors who don't need an x-ray to see inside, and give me medicines that won’t make me sick. If my rivals or my wife’s relatives come to visit the entire Bhutanese Secret Service Special Unit will swing into action: 12 black magicians and 1 skilled marksman who would rather throw their own children down deep wells than permit my tranquility to be disturbed will deal with the source of my discontent.”

“Did your wife’s family come to visit again?” Creed asked.

Ming frowned and said, “Yes and her shiftless Teochau aunts as well. They eat as much as four water buffalo. The only thing they do all day is eat, dung, and complain about me. They are having a private party now to welcome in the new regime.”

I brimmed with sanguinity. “You should stay in Vientiane and throw your wife’s family out into the river in weighted sacks.”

Ming drifted back to Bhutan, ignoring his fervent desire to follow my advice. “If I decide to embrace woodworking in Bhutan, a Royal Woodworking Shop will be established, and thereafter, as I walk through the town, dozens of men and women will shyly let it be known that they like woodworking too. If I later say, ‘fuck woodworking,’ there will be bonfires wherein tools are destroyed.”

I thought it was a joke. “Really?”

Ming was serious. “In a previous incarnation, I am credited with single-handedly saving Bhutan as a nation. That act cursed me for centuries, and is why Tibetan Buddhists understand my strange ways and curious lifestyle. Of course, relocation to Bhutan does have a downside. If there is a big storm, I will be expected to subdue it, or if one is required, I will be expected to produce it and I can’t do that in this incarnation.”

I drank my Jamison’s in one gulp. “Time for me to go. Mai’s fate is to remain in Laos.”

“You knew?” Ming wasn’t surprised. It was a statement as much as a question.

“The cormorant. It was a dead give-away.”

“If you understood that, you’ve been in Asia too long.”

I kicked the chair back and stood. As I did, I brought the muzzle of the Karl Gustav low and left and squeezed the trigger. Nine-millimeter slugs tore Ming from low and left to high and right, across his chest.

The Communists were coming and there were loose ends that needed to be cleaned up.
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