When Your Heroes Grow Old

I grew up listening to Yes - they were some of my original music heroes, long before I got into bands like Rush. That being said, I am profoundly aware of that fact that as I grow older, my heroes are growing older, too. But some of us aren't aging that gracefully.

Just the other day I saw the following photo of Steve Howe from a recent Yes tour:


I hate to say it, but the first thing I thought of was the Crypt-Keeper from the old Tales from the Crypt television series:


Now that you've seen that, you cannot unsee it. You're welcome.

Surprised smile Open-mouthed smile

More 511th Stories: Sometimes You Should Shut Up And Be In The Photo

In my last year at Fulda, I was chosen to be the translator for COL John Abrams, (commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment [ACR]), during a ceremony when GEN Boris Vasilievich Snetkov, (commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany [GSFG]), and GEN Alexandrov (commander of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission in Germany [SMLM]) came across the border.


When the 11th ACR's official photographer for the ceremony heard that I was COL Abrams' translator, he asked if I had a top secret clearance; and if so, was he forbidden from taking my photo. Like many people, I hate having my photo taken, so I told him that it was against regulations to take a photograph of me.

Later on, however, COL Abrams followed up with me and said that I had done a great job as his translator, so he had instructed the photographer to make 8x10 copies of any of the photos from the ceremony for me to keep. (I think you can guess where this is going, even though I didn't at the time.)

The photographer called me when the proofs were ready, and when I showed up at his office, I discovered that he had - in fact - taken photos from dozens of angles, and yet he had managed to faithfully keep me out of every shot. The closest he came to having me in an image was during the pass-and-review, where I was walking to the right of GEN Snetkov. On the bottom left of the original photo you can see a sliver of my shadow, which completely disappeared when I scanned it.


I learned an important lesson from this experience: sometimes you should just shut up and let someone take your @#$% photo.

Always Remember to Shave in the Army

I attended the USAREUR Air Assault School in 1988, and one of the cadets failed to shave one morning.

He was ordered to dry shave while standing on a stump that was placed in front of the entire class, and he was required to loudly lecture everyone on the merits of daily shaving, while the rest of the class stood at parade rest.

At one point, the following conversation took place:

"Roster Number 30!!! Are you bleeding???"

"Yes, Air Assault First Sergeant!!! Blood helps lubricate the blade!!!"

After which the guy's squad leader was order to kneel next to the stump and catch any blood in his cupped hands, lest any blood hit the ground and desecrate the surrounding area.

Use the Self Checkout Line and Be Happy About It

A friend recently posted the following image to Facebook, which had the following caption appended to it: "Is this how you feel too? My how times have changed. Used to be there were tons of cashiers. Dressed in uniforms."


This type of toxic sentimentality that pines for "the good old days" is so far out of touch with reality that it boggles the mind. For example:

Let's assume that a particular supermarket has 10 checkout registers, and these days they only staff three of those. (Which has been my observation quite often.) To staff the remaining 7 registers, you would obviously need 7 more employees. At $15 per hour, that comes to around $31,000 per year per employee, and around $218,000 for the entire store. However, that doesn't include benefits per employee like health insurance and such, nor does that include additional overhead like uniforms, bathroom supplies, etc. So let's estimate an even $300,000 per store to staff those additional cashiers. (Which still doesn't include any employees that will bag your groceries for you, by the way.)

In any event, that $300K has to come from somewhere, and so - obviously - it will have to come from increased customer revenue. With that in mind, if the store was to hypothetically raise their prices across the board by an estimated %10, the additional profits earned at your expense means that you could have those additional 7 cashiers. Of course, your monthly food bill will have increased significantly just for you to have your peace of mind, but that might be a small price to pay for your nostalgia. (Both literally and figuratively.)

However, if this hypothetical supermarket chain hired additional cashiers across all of their 1,000 stores nationwide, that would mean they would need to come up with $300,000,000 in order to ensure similar staffing across the country. That would have major positive and negative ramifications across the country:

  • On the positive side, the chain of stores just created hundreds of new jobs.
  • On the negative side, they just increased the cost of living for every single customer, to include every one of their new hires. As a result, most of those cashiers will need raises simply to make ends meet - and guess where that money comes from? (Hint: customer revenue.)

I should also like to add that none of this discussion takes into account the fact that the Food Stamp, WIC, Welfare, and Social Security programs would need to be restructured to match the increased costs, which creates an additional burden on taxpayers.

Truth be told, in many countries across the world you are required to bring your own bags with you to the store and bag your own groceries as you are checking out; no one seems to have a problem with that in those locations. Of course, there are many other countries where shopping means walking to a local meat market where fresh kills are hanging in a vendor's makeshift stand, and in many other countries you actually have to grow your own food or track and kill your own game.


Personally, I'd rather not have to put up with any of that. Nor would I prefer to endure having to interact with a cashier who clearly cannot stand their job and is questioning every life decision that led to their current station in life. Nor would I like to pay more than what I deem as necessary to buy my prepackaged, ready-to-eat sustenance.

With all of that in mind, it never bothers me when I get to skip the cashier line at a store, swipe my own groceries across a laser scanner, and ultimately pay a lot less for the privilege of living in the most-industrialized society in the history of humanity. I think self-checkout lines and everything that goes along with them are vital parts of a highly efficient system of commerce that our forefathers would have clamored to have had available to them. Waxing nostalgically about "better days gone by" is a useless exercise that fails to accurately appreciate the better days we have in the present.

Why We Have Memorial Day

Here is a gentle reminder of why we have a Memorial Day:

Memorial Day is not about taking a day off work, burning burgers in backyard BBQs, or picking up additional useless things from one-day sales; Memorial Day is about taking a moment to honor the memory of those we have lost.

Minor Debates About the Shroud of Turin

Someone recently posted the following challenge about the Shroud of Turin in a forum that I follow:

"When somebody explains to me without supposition what process produced the image on the cloth with the characteristics that it actually has, I'll consider it conceivable that it was produced by medieval artists. Until that's understood, calling it a medieval forgery is effectively punting; it's an argument from ignorance. Why would anybody produce a forgery manifesting some characteristic with which nobody was familiar? E.g., why would a medieval artist who'd never seen a camera produce a photographic negative? Why would a modern artist produce an image that suggests imprinting by an unknown process? Forgers work by reproducing known characteristics, not unknown ones. The truth is that no MODERN artist could produce those images, nor would any of them try, because nobody understands how they got there. This does not prove that the image is authentic, but 'medieval forgery' isn't even plausible."

I thought that this was a worthwhile challenge/question, and I've actually studied a bit about that over the years. With that in mind, I posted the following two responses:

"There have been several documentaries over the past few decades wherein various scientists and archeologists have demonstrated how to achieve the same results; see How to Fake the Shroud of Turin [from the Smithsonian Channel] for just one such example. One particular documentary that I saw on the shroud many years ago went one step further with the assertion that this technique was commonly-used by medieval sculptors to create facsimiles of statues that they had created. When potential customers would come by their shops, they could look at the facsimile images that were captured on cloth in much the same way that present-day customers might look through a catalog."

"That being said, I make no claims where the Shroud of Turin is concerned. For starters, the shroud is double-sided, which would be atypical for the facsimile theory. In addition, the body depicted on the shroud would be a rather uninspiring statue for a sculptor to have made; the subject is lying on its back and nude, so if this was a facsimile of a sculpture, there would have been a very limited number of places where it could have been displayed. It is plausible that - if this was the facsimile of a statue - then it might have been for an effigy, which would explain the recumbent position, and effigies were quite popular in the Middle Ages. However, Medieval effigies were traditionally clothed, so that would also be a problem with the statue/facsimile theory."


My response seemed to anger the original poster, and he responded with the following retort:

"Never mind how it's done. Why would a Medieval forger produce a photographic negative, having never imagined, let alone seen, a camera?"

I found his response rather confusing, because his original challenge had been to explain how a medieval artist might have created the shroud, and I had just done so. With that in mind, I responded with the following series of responses:

"Did you not read what I just wrote? Put aside all thoughts of forgeries (which I did not suggest), as well as any present-day thoughts of photography or negatives or whatever. What I mentioned was that some historians have shown that there was a method by which sculptors recorded their works. It had nothing to do with being a 'negative,' it was just a way to record their work during a time when there was no other way to do so. Creating a duplicate of a sculpture would be too costly and take up too much space, and hiring someone to draw/paint a facsimile of a sculpture would be similarly expensive and not resemble the original. Whereas, taking a rubbing of a statue would produce a facsimile of the original, and people continue to employ similar techniques around the world when they make brass rubbings or gravestone rubbings."

"One additional point of note, we tend to think of the shroud as a negative, because when someone photographed it years later, the white-on-black 'negative' of the photo appeared to be a positive (and somewhat 3D-looking) image. However, sculptors used the black-on-white technique to record their work, because the resultant image looked more like their original artwork. So for them, it was never about a negative; to them, the facsimile was exactly what they were going for. Take a look at the following image; we tend to think of the shroud as the face on the right, because it seems 'corrected' to us based on our present-day presuppositions. However, the face on the left looks like a cloth-based representation of a bas-relief sculpture. Sometimes you need to put aside your modern interpretation and look at it from the perspective of someone who lived one or two thousand years ago."


"This brings me back to why I weighed in on this discussion; you had asked for someone to explain a way that medieval artists might have created the shroud. I have pointed out that several scientists and archeologists have done just that; they have positively demonstrated HOW this was possible. What's more, several historians have described the more important question of WHY medieval artists used this technique: to record their work as a means of future advertising. The part that seems the most-difficult for you to grasp is that none of this has anything to do with your modern-day understanding of photography and negative images; the appearance of the shroud as it exists is exactly what medieval artists were trying to create."

"Just to round out the discussion, I never said that I believed the shroud was the work of forgers. Actually, I never weighed in on the veracity of the shroud at all; I was simply answering your questions with several facts that it appears you were unfamiliar with. Which leaves this discussion with the question of whether I believe the shroud is genuine or not. And my answer is - I'm not sure; there is plenty of evidence either way. But that being said, whether the shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus or a medieval artist's record of a statue is immaterial to me. I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and that's what's most-important here."

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but here are my personal thoughts about the Shroud of Turin:

I actually lean in the direction that it might be valid, though it's more like 70/30 split for me. I've studied a lot about it over the past few decades, and I've never been convinced either way. For the longest time I was more like a 50/50 split; I simply wasn't sure at all. When the carbon dating yielded an estimate of sometime around the 13th-century, that made me lean more toward a 20/80 split; but I still wasn't fully convinced either way.

Since then I have watched several documentaries and read several articles about how the carbon dating was done incorrectly, and also about the increasing scientific analysis of chemicals in the shroud that can only be found in Israel. Armed with that knowledge my opinion has shifted more toward the veracity of the shroud than at any other time in my life.

Outside of personal word from God, I am fairly certain that I will never be fully-convinced either way. With that in mind, I have no problems sharing facts that I have learned that either corroborate or negate the shroud; I try to remain open to either possibility. But in the end, the point I made in the discussion thread is still what's most-important: I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and He is my personal savior.

Or as it is written in the Nicene Creed:

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father;

By whom all things were made;

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

That sums up what I believe quite nicely.

Vintage Aircraft Fly-by

I was driving down the road, and noticed that a B17 was flying past. I thought to myself, "Well, huh. You don't see that every day."

PS - My wife does not share my love of vintage aircraft; she saw this said, "Meh, looks like a plane."

Open-mouthed smile

The Ups and Downs of Illnesses

I've had a cold for a few days now, and as of last night I lost my voice. (My wife, Kathleen, thinks this is an improvement in our relationship.)

Fun fact: when my voice disappears, so does my ability to cough loudly, so I sound like a dog's squeaky toy whenever I have to cough. (It's amazing Kathleen isn't laughing harder at my expense.)

Open-mouthed smile

Cow Chip Cookies on Valentine's Day

My wife special-ordered heart-shaped Cow Chip cookies for me for Valentine's Day. If you've lived in the Seattle area and you don't know about these cookies, then either a) you've been living under a rock, or b) you're dead.


PS - They were great, and yes - I shared.

Removing Confederate Statues

There is a strange cult of personality that has grown up regarding Robert E. Lee, which has unfortunately given rise to several myths. With that in mind, let me discuss Lee with a few simple examples.

First, until the time that Benedict Arnold sold out his country, he was one of the greatest commanders in the fledgling United States Army. Arnold's skills were decidedly better than George Washington's. However, we have no monuments to Arnold, despite his long string of victories that helped establish our nation. Instead, Arnold's name has become synonymous with traitorous behavior.

In a like manner, Robert E. Lee may have been a decent commander, though perhaps not nearly at the level that modern-day mythology has portrayed him. Nevertheless, when faced with the decision of where his loyalties were, Lee turned his back on his nation in its hour of greatest need. Like Benedict Arnold, history should remember Lee for being the traitor that he certainly was.


Second, with regard to slavery, you cannot make the case that Lee opposed slavery while overlooking the facts that Lee was an outspoken racist who owned slaves, regardless of how well they may have been treated. Lee participated in the recapture of slaves, and following emancipation Lee felt that blacks were unequal to whites, blacks should not be allowed to vote, blacks lacked the intelligence to be involved in politics, and he supported plans to export African Americans to Liberia. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in opposition to slavery, yet he never did. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in opposition to racism, and he never did. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in favor of the rights of African Americans, and he never did.

In summary, Lee was not an American hero who is worthy of the misplaced adulation that many people have chosen to give him. Lee was not simply a product of his times - history clearly shows Lee was a traitor in every sense of the word, and racist to the core. The romantic vision that many people seem to possess of Robert E. Lee is completely undeserved.

Taking all of the preceding information into account, I do not consider the removal of public monuments to Confederate traitors - like Lee - as an attempt to "erase history," as some people claim. Personally, I believe that removing statues of men who sold out their country is finally putting history in its proper perspective. These men were traitors - not heroes. They are unworthy of public worship, and it is a great tragedy that our country is littered with dozens of shrines to the undeserving. However, their statues should be moved to museums, where people can still remember these men's treachery. If people truly wanted to "erase" these traitors from history, then we would be removing all mention of them from our history books, but that is not the case. Instead, our society is finally taking the time to correct a great injustice that has been done; we are reexamining the lives of these traitors, and removing testaments to their betrayal.

UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."