Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We Were Soldiers Once - And Young

I feel that war stories allow stolen valor. Men who never would have served immerse themselves in vicarious action. I understand that the men and women who did go to war have cathartic reasons of their own for their words. Beyond that and deeper, as the penultimate human conflict, war demands that values be understood in absolute terms. Therefore, war stories can serve to dramatize the conflict of values. 

I say “penultimate” because I place romantic love above war as the highest stage on which is played the drama of personal values in conflict. It remains that the outcome of war is metaphysically unarguable: win or lose, survive or die. Context does not matter. You can want the British to go home – as so many have in America, Ireland, South Africa, and India – or the Russians—as did my cousins in Hungary in 1956 – but ultimately, the context is irrelevant. In a fictional drama the hero could be a Russian soldier who believes that he is going to Budapest to fight neo-fascists. 

We Were Soldiers Once – And Young: 
Ia Drang the Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam 
by Harold G. Moore Lt. Gen. (Ret)., 
and Joseph L. Galloway: Random House, 1992.
In this story, the American narrator nods to the Vietnamese soldiers who died by his hands.  This is not moral equivalency, the claim that all values are relatively gray and no one is right or wrong. Rather, the moral standards are applied unequivocally to all. The Vietnamese commander does his best to engage and defeat the invader of his homeland. Meanwhile the American brass back at Saigon are afraid that a colonel might get killed and ruin their day, so they call Lt. Col. Hal Moore back “for a debriefing.”  He refuses to go. The conflict of values is multifaceted.

Serving in the Texas State Guard (which is not issued weapons and cannot be sent overseas), I have been researching military narratives on leadership. (See my review of Extreme Ownership here.) The movie version, titled We Were Soldiers, is well known; and the cinema production offered some insights. Interested in the man who told the story, I got the book from the library. Basically, director Randall Wallace turned a war story into an anti-war story. The movie did not carry forward the author's intent but made a different ideological point. Rather than reluctance, Lt. Col. Moore wrote about his enthusiasm: his mission was to kill the enemy. That being as it was, for me some of those lessons in leadership from the book were projected on the screen.

Take care of your people.
Know the job above you; and teach your job to the ones below.
Only first place trophies are displayed, accepted, or presented. Second place means that you died on the battlefield.
No fat troops. No fat officers.
Loyalty flows down: the commander knows his troops.
Open door policy for officers.
The Sergeant Major reports only to the commander.

From the film, the lesson in leadership that resonated with me, being an expression of the capitalist work ethic that I learned from Ayn Rand, is that the person who is responsible is the first one off the helicopter and the last one off the battlefield. In the movie, LTC Moore is watching his men on maneuvers observing two sergeants leading their squads on a ravine. One yells at his men, urging them forward faster. The other notices a man limping, stops him, has him remove his boots and orders him to get the foot treated. Both sergeants are right though their leadership styles are different. 
We Were Soldiers.
Directed by Randall Wallace.
Screenplay by Randall Wallace.
Icon Entertainment, 2002.

Fifty years later, the national mood has come about. We are sorry for the way we treated our veterans. We now forget why we reviled them for serving.

Back then, we begged them not to go. My uncle who fought under Patton was not alone among the veterans of his generation who counseled their sons not to go to Viet Nam. The war was wrong. Like all falsehoods, it failed on many fronts. A free republic does not need conscripts. Viet Nam was not essential to our national security. The government of the southern portion was not democratic. We had no clear mandate. Ultimately, we were not liberators but only another wave of foreign occupiers after the Chinese, Japanese, and French. Today, Viet Nam is America's tennis shoe factory. We should have offered them that from the beginning. It just took a horrible lesson for all involved to get there.

When I was called for a pre-induction physical in January 1970, I told my cohort to resist. The draft board separated me. The other guys were in and out in minutes. It took 11 hours for me - 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I argued, resisted, or refused at every station. I chose not to cooperate. Finally - as a result of previous heart surgery that never kept me from gym class - I was given a 1-Y.  "What does that mean?" I asked. "If we are invaded, you will be drafted." I replied without thinking: "If we are invaded, I will volunteer."


Monday, July 11, 2016

Bela Portuguese Kosher Sardines

Independent Chef Brands representative Brandon Allen was in the Wheatsville Co-op demoing Bela Brand sardines: locally caught (in the Atlantic, not Austin), and canned within eight hours, they are never frozen.  They have no detectable levels of mercury, pesticides, or effluents.  They meet the FDA Good Manufacturing Practice standards. Of course, they are certified for the European Common Market, as well.
Another Buyer is Impressed
(They are well worth the price, I say.)

I bought two cans for my Go Bag.  The Texas State Guard deploys in six hours and supports itself for the first 72 hours.  MREs – the military standard meals-ready-to-eat – are meant for 20-year olds carrying 80-lb packs while on combat patrols.  That’s not me. I might help to unload a semi with palletized water or 200 cots. But I am not in GSAR (ground search-and-recovery), so I could not burn off a single meal of 2800 calories. My Go Bag includes one MRE for three days, some canned soup, and a couple of cans of tuna fish  -- and now two cans of Bela Brands (kosher-U) Portuguese sardines.  

Brandon recommended mixing the sardines with Sir Kensington mayonnaise for a treat that far surpasses simple tuna salad dressing. 

Previously on Necessary Facts

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Against Fatuous Advice to Beginning Astronomers

Last night, the Austin Astronomical Society sponsored an “Out of the Box Clinic” for new astronomers with unused or under-used instruments.  The event was held at our Canyon of Eagles “Eagle Eye” Observatory near Lake Buchanan, about 80 miles northwest of Austin. (I did not attend.) Following that, today the club president issued an email to make further recommendations based on the interactions between newbies and sages. He was wrong on every point.

"1) A decent finder is crucial: Some of your scopes had no finder.  Others had the old fashioned tube finders that are very hard to calibrate with their three thumbscrews.  I recommend you pick up an inexpensive Red Dot Finder for your beginner scopes.  We can help you install it or swap it with your tube finder."

A.   I started as a kid with the old-fashioned tube with crosshairs and six screws: three front and three back.  It was easy to use and the crosshairs were a reliable reference for moving the telescope up-down-left-right when I lost the object under higher magnification. (See #3.) I now have a new, modern telescope with a Red Dot Finder. It is a pain in the neck, literally. I usually sit on the ground to look through it.

B.   Nothing is ever where the dots may (or may not) line up. Do this for yourself: Use your index fingers pointing upward about a foot apart, and not lined up with your eye. Now, sight some object in the room and move your head back and forth until both fingertips line up with it. You are off-center. You are not lined up. But you think you are.  With the little red dots and the little bright stars, it happens all the time.

C.   The best thing for me is to put some bright star in the telescope center and then align the viewer to it, using the two insufficient screws to set it. I say insufficient because two points make a line, but three are needed to fix a plane and the viewing field is planar

D.   You will need their help installing a new finder because you will have to drill holes in your telescope, mount screws washers and nuts – and not drop anything down the tube to damage the mirror or lens.

"2) Calibrating the view in your scope to the view in your finder is a necessary first step.  With some of you, we spent time trying to dial it in during the daylight hours so you'd be prepared when the sun went down.  For those of you without finders, you experienced a lot more challenges getting your tubes pointed at the objects you want to see."

A.            Turn Left at Orion.  The sages with their huge Dobsonian “light buckets” often do not have finder scopes at all. They know the sky and “star hop” to find what they want to see.
B.            Because my Red Dot Finder is so useless, I often sight up along the tube to locate an object.  You get close then make small moves. That was the advice that Ellie Arroway’s dad gave her with the ham radio, and which she followed as an astronomer: small moves.  (See Contact by Carl Sagan.)
C.            The sages should have been pretty good at teaching this because it is what they do with their own Dobsonians. (See A above.)

"3) Get a low-magnification eyepiece.  For beginner scopes, nothing beats a good 40mm Plossl-type eyepiece.  Most of you showed up with a 24mm or a 20mm eyepiece as your lowest magnification eyepiece.  There's nothing wrong with those magnifications.  However, you will find it easier to bring your target into view with a low-magnification eyepiece.  Once your target is identified, then you can swap to your higher-power eyepiece(s) for viewing."

A.            Now you tell me. (And what is a "Plössl"? Note the umlaut-o: "Play-sell.")
B.            I bought a beginner telescope, a Celestron 130-EX refractor. It came with a 20mm ocular and a 10mm ocular.  Then I bought a box of eyepieces for beginners. The biggest is 32 mm.  But, you know what, my first telescopes were not much different. I never had a big eyepiece. I learned with the little ones – not the littlest; admittedly, the largest of them; and the middle one. The laws of optics are against high magnification on a little telescope.
C.            Speaking of the laws of optics, the diameter of the ocular is only one factor in the equation of magnification.  M = f/d. The Magnification is the focal length of the telescope, divided by the diameter of the ocular lens. So, a small telescope with a 24mm eyepiece will have lower magnification than a larger (longer) one. Lower magnification is easier to work with when hunting objects – especially without a finder scope. But that is not just a function of the ocular.
D.            Moreover, the other factor is the light-gathering area of the main lens or main mirror, the “aperture.” A 10-inch mirror gathers four times as much light as a five-inch mirror: area increases by squares.  So, a beginner with a 3-inch telescope will gather 40% more light than a beginner with a 2-1/2 inch instrument. 
E.             That’s nice to know… but if you did not buy a 3-inch telescope but got the smaller one, then the point is moot. The reason for the “Out of the Box Clinic” is supposed to be to help you get the most from your instrument, not make you wish that you worked at Mount Palomar.
F.             And once you have your object in the low-power field of view, moving to higher power is also another thing to be learned. If you are off center by little bit, when you drop that higher power eyepiece in the viewer, you may well have to start over finding the object.  There is no way around it. It is not like flipping TV channels with the remote.
G.            Finally, the AAS should have had eyepieces at the ready. These things are pretty standard and come in only a few diameters. That would have been more productive than telling people what they should have done.

"4) Several of you asked about choices for your next, "better" scope.  We have some suggestions on an FAQ page on"

A.            Buy the most telescope you can afford. It is like any other tool. Any mechanic, craft worker, or technician will tell you the same thing. None of the advice I saw actually explains that when you buy a telescope, you are getting three things: a telescope, a mount, and a tripod. 
B.            Every instrument I have seen for consumers is a collection of junk because compromises are made for the production of each component.  But it does not need to be that way. 
C.            For the AAS magazine, Sidereal Times, I interviewed a member who is a mechanical engineer. He broke the problem down and bought the best telescope, the best mount, and the best tripod that he could afford, each from a different source.