Went to the mountains for a four day trip. A getaway to celebrate our anniversary. Went expecting to see the leaves at their colorful peak and we were not disappointed.

On the morning of the second day, it started snowing, got colder and the wind came up. In the valleys, it was still autumn. On the balds at the top of the ridge, winter had come.

There is less than twenty-four hours between those two photos.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
–John Muir


October 23rd, 1983

Marines sent to act a peacekeeping force were using a large building at the Beirut Airport for a barracks. Attacked by a large truck bomb, the building was destroyed by blast, fire, and collapse. 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers died. 60 other Americans were injured, some critically.

It is the largest one day loss of Marines since the landings on Iwo Jima in February 1945. Hezbollah, a radical Islamic group, got the credit. It remains unclear if they were completely responsible.

President Reagan, in what I consider to be the worst decision of his Presidency, pulled the Marines out and brought them home.

We were not prepared. There is plenty of blame to share at various points in the chain of command. Those Marines should have been dispersed, behind a secure perimeter. The Marines on guard should have had loaded weapons, not just one Marine at the gate with an empty M-16. The mission they were given, the equipment they brought, the situation they were in, were all ripe for an attack like this.

But once it occurred, the worst thing was that the United States turned tail and left. It displayed our lack of resolve to the world.

This is the 25th anniversary of that bombing, and I went to visit the Beirut Memorial at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on Sunday.

These are the pictures of that memorial. There’s been an addition. There’s a piece of a beam from the World Trade Center mounted across from the wall that lists the names of the dead. Someone besides me saw the connection between these two events.

It’s a nice memorial, and the Marines, sailors and soldiers deserve to be remembered and honored there. The WTC fragment shouts silently, but eloquently, the result of the decisions made by politicians in the face of unflinching evil.

Because evil is what it is, and evil doesn’t compromise. Evil must be faced and defeated. Until we remember the lesson of Beirut, the lesson of the USS Cole, the lesson of PanAm 103, the lesson of 9/11, and the lesson of every truck bomb, car bomb, IED, and sniper in the Mid-East, until we look at the unremitting terror that flows out of fundamentalist Islam and decide that we will do whatever it takes to stop it, it will continue. And we will have to keep building more memorials.

To kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.
–Osama Bin Laden

Ramblings #1

I am numbering this post, as I expect there will be more Ramblings to follow. I’ve had enough politics for today. All of us have made up our minds, so I am going to think about something else.

My parents moved to Illinois when I was little. Every summer we took a journey back to New Hampshire, to the town they were from, to visit both sets of grandparents. These were epic road trips. Stories from these trips will be told in their turn. But it is enough to know that for a couple of weeks every summer, I was transported from the prairie along the Fox River to the rolling hills and woods of New Hampshire.

My grandfather was a crusty, opinionated man. I don’t think there are words in English to describe him, or how I felt about him. One thing is certain. He did not treat me like a child. I was always “old enough to know better.”

I was taught to reload shotgun shells. Once he was sure I was doing it correctly, I was allowed to reload unsupervised. I was meticulous, and loaded box after box. My grandfather used those shells in competition, trusting me to have done them right. As an aside, he trusted them in his guns, and as anyone who reloads knows, that is the point at which you really trust someone.

I would sit at the table at the bottom of the basement stairs. A bucket of old hulls on one side, a half full box of loaded shells on the table. There were boxes of primers, and a large cylindrical can of flake gunpowder nearby. A MEC reloading press was bolted to an old table before me. Powder on one side, shot on the other.

The presses changed a couple of times over the years, and every summer I got a refresher course. One thing I clearly remember was, early on, having to set the wad to a certain compression. The ram on that press had a spring, and as each wad cup was pressed in on top of the powder, it had to be pulled down until that spring was compressed to a certain mark on the frame. On each shell, at that point, I would hook my toes under the crosspiece of the workbench and pull down with both arms, watching carefully to see that I had gotten to the right point on the frame.

I would do a couple of boxes a night, maybe a case over the course of each vacation. Eventually, the powder must have changed, and the need to compress the wads went away. He got a new turret press, where one hull went on and one finished shell came off with each pull of the handle, and the hulls rotated, being deprimed, shaped, primed, powder, wad, shot, and finally crimped, each in their turn.

He passed away at 85, the last of my grandparents. I have not been back to New Hampshire since I went up for the funeral. My uncle took all the guns. I took a couple of cases of his handloaded shells. I shot them, mostly at sporting clays. I have one box left. I have not been able to bring myself to shoot it. It sits on a shelf with the rest of the shotgun ammo, getting a little older all the time.

When I raise the gun and feel it hit my cheek right on the sweet spot, and the bead appears, following the clay, and I know it’s going to break before I pull the trigger, there he is.

When I go out with the juniors or assist at a Ladies Day, and I’m teaching someone to how to hold and point a shotgun, I can hear his voice. It takes me back to a time when I’m 8 years old. Holding a short 12 gauge single barrel break-open shotgun, standing at the trap station, the other shooters watching as he instructs. When I pull the trigger the first time, it knocked me down. The other shooters may have chuckled, but he just helped me up. I broke eight out of twenty-five. Not bad, I suppose, looking back. I wanted to break them all like he did.

A couple of months ago, late in the afternoon, one of my friends brought out an old box of shells. Peters, Waxed cardboard, 12 gauge number 8s. I put a bird in the thrower and he put some shells in the gun. Pull! Boom! Pull! Boom! The fragments of the second bird scattered on the ground and then it hit me. The smell of the powder. I don’t know what the difference is, and I don’t know when it changed, but I picked up that old paper hull and smelled my childhood in that powder. I threw him a couple more, and then he noticed it too. He leaned over and picked one up and smelled it. He looked over and we both smiled and then laughed. But tears weren’t very far away.

Lean into it now. Lean in. Get your head down. When the bird appears, put the bead on the bird and pull the trigger.
–John Sowerby

I am Spartacus

Eternity Road has put up a post on the media’s treatment of Joe the Plumber. So, as he says, Rev. Wright, Bill Ayres, et al. get a pass by the media, but some guy, with a relatively clean history, goes ahead and asks a question in a public forum. The candidate lets the mask slip for a moment, and lets his socialist plan be known. And now the media must destroy the reputation of the man who asked the question.

Well, I am Joe the Plumber, too.

One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.
–Thomas Sowell

UPDATE: I’m not the only one. Here’s an article from the National Review on the response of some people to Joe the Plumber. Here’s the money quote:

“I am Joe the Plumber!” Munoz chimed in. “You’re attacking me.”

“Wait a second,” Corn said. “Do you pay your taxes?”

“Yes, I pay my taxes,” the woman said.

“Then you’re better than Joe the Plumber,” Corn said.

That set off a general free-for-all. “I’m going to tell you something,” Munoz yelled at Corn. “I’m better than Obama. Why? Because I’m not associated with terrorists!”

Army Specialist Stephen Fortunato

I always joke about the ARMY, having been a Marine, but sometimes you have to stand shoulder to shoulder and face the enemy.

Watch the video, it’s an interview with Specialist Forunato’s family.

Then read what Specialist Fortunato posted on his blog back in August:

If I may …

I’d like to say something….Just to get it out there so it is clear.
To all the pampered and protected Americans who feel it is their duty to inform me that I am not fighting for their freedom, and that i am a pawn in Bush’s agenda of greed and oil acquisition: Noted, and [expletive deleted] You.

I am not a robot. i am not blind or ignorant to the state of the world or the implications of the “war on terrorism.” i know that our leaders have made mistakes in the handling of a very sensitive situation, but do not for one second think that you can make me lose faith in what we, meaning America’s sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers in uniform are doing.

I am doing my part in fighting a very real enemy of the United States, i.e. Taliban, Al Qaida, and various other radical sects of Islam that have declared war on our way of life. Unless you believe the events of 9/11 were the result of a government conspiracy, which by the way would make you a MORON, there is no reasonable argument you can make against there being a true and dangerous threat that needs to be dealt with. i don’t care if there are corporations leaching off the war effort to make money, and i don’t care if you don’t think our freedom within America’s borders is actually at stake. i just want to kill those who would harm my family and friends. it is that simple. Even if this is just a war for profit or to assert America’s power, so what? Someone has to be on top and I want it to be us. There’s nothing wrong with wishing prosperity for your side.

I am a proud American. i believe that my country allows me to live my life more or less however i want to, and believe me, i have seen what the alternative of that looks like. i also believe that our big scary government does way more than it has to to help complete [expletive deleted]-ups get back on their feet, a stark comparison to places where leaders just line their own pockets with gold while allowing the people who gave them their power and privilage to starve. I have chosen my corner. I back my country, and am proud to defend it against aggressors. Also, if you dare accuse us of being inhumane, or overly aggressive because we have rolled into someone else’s country and blown some [expletive deleted] up and shot some people, let me remind you of just how inhumane we COULD be in defending ourselves. Let me remind you that we have a warhead that drops multiple bomblets from the stratosphere which upon impact, would turn all the sand in Iraq to glass, and reduce every living thing there to dust. Do we use it? No. Instead we use the most humane weapon ever devised: the American soldier. We send our bravest (and perhaps admitably craziest) men and women into enemy territory, into harms way, to root out those whom we are after and do our best to leave innocent lives unscathed.

…One last thing…a proposal. i know it has been stated time and time again but i just think it is worthy of reiteration. If you find yourself completely disgusted with the way America is being ran, and how we handle things on the global stage, you can leave. Isn’t that amazing? No one will stop you! If you are an anarchist, there are places you can go where there is no government to tell you anything. That’s right…you are left solely to your own devices and you can handle the men who show up at your door with AKs in any way that you see fit. Just don’t try good old American debate tactics on them because you will most likely end up bound and blind-folded, to have your head chopped off on the internet so your parents can see it. However if you insist on staying here and taking advantage of privilages such as free speach and WIC, keep the counter-productive [expletive deleted] to a minimum while the grown ups figure out how to handle this god-awful mess in the middle east.
–Army Specialist Stephen Fortunato, killed October 14, 2008 in Afganistan