Monday, May 30, 2011

Let’s Fuck With The Russians, or What Memorial Day Means To Me

I have been asked what Memorial Day means to me. As one who served and got out alive, I’m largely ambivalent. My memories of those who didn’t are thankfully few, and don’t require a holiday to occupy my memory.

There was a point in time where I realized what game was being played, what part I played in it, and the larger implications. Let me tell you a story. I was serving aboard the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), Ronald Reagan was president, and we were cruising the Sea of Okhotsk. Our job was to launch a Tomahawk cruise missile. More specifically, we were to launch a Tomahawk toward a range in the Aleutian Islands, while in the Sea of Okhotsk, so that the Russians could observe a “back-of-the-loop” strike on one of their military bases in Siberia. In other words, we were to go to a specific location, and launch a missile at our own territory, but on a course and distance that if precisely reversed would have targeted one of their bases. Once I understood what were there for, and why, it became obvious that our mission was essentially “Let’s fuck with the Russians.”

While this is going on, I’m up on deck with a friend, just stretching our legs and getting fresh air. We’re looking over the side, and we notice a sub running alongside. Not uncommon, but we also note that it’s precisely the wrong shade of gray. He takes out his camera, snaps a few pictures, and we go down to the Combat Information Center (CIC). We walk into the sonar shack, and ask “What’s the sub running off our port side?” “Sub?” Oh shit. We say what we’ve seen, and they’re totally dismissive, but my friend never got his camera back.

So, the realizations begin to set in. Geopolitically, despite the purported tensions of the day, we were in a comfortable enough place that we could be sent out on a mission to fuck with the Russians, and the Russians were actively fucking with us, too. For sport, it seemed. We could each have destroyed the other, but that either actually would never actually occurred to anyone involved. This was when I realized I could relax. The projection of power was a game. Dangerous in general, but between these “adversaries,” not so much.

As I was getting out of the Navy, many things were happening. The Berlin Wall. Tiananmen Square. And a gun turret exploded on the USS Iowa (BB-61). When we’d left Persian Gulf Tanker Escort operations, we’d turned over to the Iowa, and we’d all been encouraged to take the tour and meet the crew. I’d met, and spent a day working and a night drinking with half the people on the dead list. Then a war happened, and I was not part of it, and I was glad.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On the subject of raptures...

As many may know, I was raised from birth by Baptists, which at least gave me the advantage of having much to rebel against in a healthy manner. I made my escape only when my mother married and moved out, and kindly consented to take me with her. Thus began the journey.

I have observed the latest rapture phenomenon with amusement. A thorough reading of the Bible refutes not only the claim, but the concept. Matthew and Mark said exactly the same thing on the subject: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Matthew 24:36
Mark 13:32
(New International Version)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

a dangerous skill, nearly black art

As a flipper, one of your most valuable skills will be the ability to use plaster tools and drywall joint compound to hide anything. Case in point, one of my upstairs bedrooms. I find that the roof leaked, and the plaster failed. I kept wondering why a corner remained damp long after the roof and gutter above had been repaired. Then I took the wall apart, and understood.

Under the surface, I found drywall corner bead, a very bad sign when you're working with plaster. Under a generous amount of joint compound, I found three layers of wallpaper, and finally the plaster. The plaster has only actually failed where the accumulated crap on top of it held the water in for long enough for it to explode. So I have more demolition than I originally understood, in addition to the anticipated plaster repair. I fear I'll end up hand-scraping every wall surface.

But, if you encounter this, and you're an evil flipper who can use a plaster float and a bucket of drywall mud according to the black art, you can hide all of it, slap on some corner bead, and be ready for paint in under 24 hours. Or you can invest an extra three days stripping it back to the plaster, repairing the plaster properly, and applying two coats of oil-based primer. I'm going to have to do that now, and then some. Had they not taken the easy way out before, I'd have far less work ahead.

I've been advised to be suspicious of any alterations made in the 70s or 80s, as in those decades the neighborhood was in severe decline and nobody was making long-sighted investments. It looks like there was another wave around 2000 of quick flips. So far, I can't tell which of those categories this particular sin falls into, but (so far) at least it appears they've only screwed up finishes, not structure, and only made silly electrical mistakes, not criminial ones.