Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review-The Thirty Years War

What stays with me from reading The Thirty Years War is the utter devastation wrought on what was later to become Germany. The Civil War gave us Sherman's march to the sea and the intentional trail of devastation meant to shatter the south's will to fight. The military leaders Tilly, Wallenstein, Arnim and Gustavus Adolphus subjected the civilian population to 30 years of continuous plunder and pillaging as they struggled to feed and pay their armies. Hundreds of marches, sieges, burned homes and destruction of crops. Years and years of famine. Cities in which 90% of the population was killed or driven away. Wedgwood describes the extent of the plague and hunger:

At Calw the pastor saw a woman gnawing on the raw flesh of a dead horse on which a hungry dog and some ravens were also feeding. In Alsace the bodies of criminals were torn from the gallows and devoured; in the whole Rhineland they watched the graveyards against marauders who sold the flesh of the newly buried for food; at Zweibrucken a woman confessed to having eater her child. Acorns, goats' skins, grass, were all cooked in Alsace; cats, dogs, and rats were sold in the market at Worms. In Fulda and Coburg and near Frankfort and the great refugee camp, men went in terror of being killed and eaten by those maddened by hunger...

Meanwhile the rulers of Hapsburg Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia, France, Spain, Sweden the Palatinate, Saxony, and the rest of the aristocracy played a grand game with their mercenary armies.

Yet, despite the weight of the subject matter, The Thirty Years War is an amazingly absorbing, readable, riveting book. It will help you understand what was, at its time, the first world war, and the foundation for subsequent battles between Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Poland, etc. At the same time the book will sweep you along with its tale of heroes and villains; a King who fought at the front of his army and avaricious generals who schemed only after personal wealth; rulers who, in the name of their Christianity, declined peace; ministers who wage war and at the same time arrange royal marriages to further their countries interests. Great stuff!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Goodbye to all that...

Dear Mr. Pope:

As you are surely aware, I was baptized Catholic back in 1961. I was less than one year old at the time and rather than waiting for me to be old enough to make up my own mind, you fooled my parents into agreeing to the baptism. Well, I am plenty old enough to know better about your fantasy world of fire, brimstone and eternal damnation, and I don’t want to be part of it. It has been many, many years since I decided not to participate in your Kabuki plays. So, for all intents and purposes, I have already left the church.

The problem is that I am not sure that the Catholic church has gotten the message. For all I know you are still counting me as one of your members despite the fact that I have not paid any dues. The fact that I failed, actually was asked to leave, confirmation class seems proof enough. However, I want out without any misconception on your part about my status. That is the purpose of this letter.

I could join another religion but that doesn’t really help matters. That would just put me in another pointless relationship that I have no interest in being in or even being associated with. What I am looking for is some sort of official recognition, something in writing that I can offer up as definitive proof that I am no longer a catholic. It seems the easiest way to achieve this is for you to excommunicate me. What steps do I have to take to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church? I am not a violent person so anything that involves killing or hurting another being (yes, I know, awfully Buddhist sounding) is not feasible. I also don’t want to have to burn any bulls or worship some other deity. It is my understanding that some bishops here in the United States have either excommunicated, or threatened to excommunicate, people for supporting pro-choice politicians. Can I qualify for such an excommunication?

Another option would be for me to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther and nail my theses to the door of a church. I will be in Europe this summer and can try to swing by Wittenberg if that helps. Of course, the problem is that I don’t actually have any theses prepared. Are plagiarized copies acceptable? Do I have to write them out by hand or can I print them out from my computer? And how will I be sure they are noticed among all the flyers for concerts and pancake breakfasts?

Of course, just excommunicating me for asking would be easiest for both of us. If there is a formal application that I can fill in to speed things up I would appreciate you sending it via email. Or just have it immaculately appear on my desk, whichever is easier. Since I am 100% certain that you have fees for excommunication, could you also provide me with a fee schedule so that I can plot the cheapest way to achieve excommunication?

Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.

See you in hell (not!),


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AT&TU-verse: The Final (fingers crossed) Episode

Today at 12:45 pm Randy, The AT&T U-verse installer rang my doorbell. He was smart, efficient and friendly-everything one wants from a service provider. After testing the interior phone lines Randy went up the street to make the necessary configuration changes in the central phone 'closet.'

Five minutes later my cell phone rings. It is yet another disembodied AT&T voice informing me that my order could not be completed and that I would have to call back to reschedule my installation. I looked down at the various pieces of installation equipment still hooked up to my phone line and decided that Randy would most likely not be recalled to the mother ship without the gear.

Sure enough, a short while later Randy was back installing the new junction box in my basement and then hooking up the new router/modem.

The new U-verse internet works flawlessly right at the advertised 6Mbps that I signed up for. The wifi signal is much stronger than the previous system allowing us to dispose of the 'extender' that we used previously in an attempt to reach the various rooms.

If any of you who have followed this thread are still thinking about AT&T U-verse service, here is my 2¢:

The internet service, 6Mbps at $35/month is excellent.

Randy, the installer, is brilliant and probably underpaid. He should be made CEO.

AT&T U-verse sales is a nightmare to deal with. There are not enough epithets to describe the depths of their incompetence. You better have plenty of alcohol and/or slightly expired prescription painkillers on hand. A really good sense of gallows humor helps.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Before AT&T U-verse stands a doorkeeper...

To this doorkeeper comes a man from the country and prays for admittance. But the doorkeeper says he can not grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment."

Sunday - I ordered U-verse internet service on-line after having a dedicated, grounded electric circuit installed (old house, old wiring) and scheduled an appointment, or so I thought, for Monday afternoon. Sunday evening I get voicemail that my service will in fact not be installed on Monday and that I have to call back to reschedule.

Monday morning - Spoke with a decidedly unhelpful person at AT&T U-verse who informed me that I could not schedule an appointment until I had cancelled my AT&T DSL service. When I asked how I was supposed to cancel my internet service without knowing when I might get an appointment for the new service, I was told that that was what the supervisor had insisted upon. After the futile attempt trying to point out the absurdity of having to blindly cancel my AT&T DSL in an attempt to schedule installation of AT&T U-verse internet service I gave up on that particular conversation.

Later Monday - Called back and got a much more helpful person who spent several minutes reading up on the case. I was finally told that 'the system' had two orders in it for me and that the two orders had cancelled each other out. Whether this was similar to algebraic cancellation or like matter and antimatter annihilating themselves was unclear. In either case I would have to start all over again in ordering service on-line since it was impossible for AT&T U-verse customer assistance to process an internet-service-only order over the phone.

A little later Monday - I received a call from U-verse customer service telling me that I could in fact resolve my ordering issues over the phone. Overjoyed, I began the process of confirming phone number, address, date of birth, mother's maiden name, blood type, religious affiliation and so forth. Suddenly, it dawned on the customer service rep that the land line to the house, on which we were currently speaking, was registered in my girlfriend's name. I was told that only she could order the service change even though I had created the original order. When I pointed out that as a school teacher my girlfriend could not just take time to call AT&T customer service and hash-out an order that I had already created, the AT&T service window was once again slammed in my face.

Currently - Feeling mentally bruised from my dealings with AT&T U-verse, I am going to the Comcast web site to see if they might grant me faster internet service...

As someone else pointed out: You can always debase yourself to the fool's level - but he will beat you with experience every time.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Long before the sun’s dawn rays spotlight the new day I can hear the massive silences of the boulder and the mountain, taunting me yet again. It has been this way as long as I can remember. I awaken thinking of the boulder. I fall asleep at night reliving that day’s struggle with the mountain. At night, every night, all night long, in my mind I struggle to the top of the mountain only to see the rock careen into the valley below. I lie there, exhausted and bathed in sweat, praying for the sweet oblivion of sleep. Or death.

I can faintly recall, although it may have been just a dream, a happier time. A time before the stone and the mountain. I was king of Corinth. The gods were my equals, at best. Why even Hades was powerless to end my time. However, my pride, as I watched the slain soldiers return to their camps night after night because of me, was also my downfall. Or so it seems. It was all so very long ago. If it really happened at all. Perhaps it has always been this way.

Yet every morning I step up to the boulder and put my shoulder to it. The gods have taken away both life and death from me. For daring to match wits with them the gods have sought to destroy me. But being human I have the one thing that the gods will never possess. The one remnant that the first woman, the all-gifted, saved for mankind. The gods cannot obtain it nor take away. It provides solace to the suffering and strength to the weary. It is called hope.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wax on, wax off

My brother’s treatments continue to go well. The hospital staff are exceedingly friendly and efficient while providing treatment that is generally problem and pain free. Too pain free it seems.

Clearly missing any sort of pain feedback during the treatments that would confirm that something is actually happening, Mike decided to take matters into his own hands. Today at noon, Mike had his back waxed.

Now, unless you happened to be at the ILS office on one of the company’s occasional clothing-optional Fridays, you have probably only encountered Mike fully clothed. As such, you have probably not spent a lot of time contemplating the ramifications of today’s activity. However, those of you who know Mike outside of the workplace, in the wild as it were, have already cringed at seeing the words Mike and waxed in the same sentence.

I don’t mean to imply that Mike is particularly hairy, at least not compared to Chewbacca. But those of you old enough to remember will know what I mean when you hear the words Burt Reynolds and bearskin rug. Yep, Mike is the rug. At the beach nearsighted people have puzzled at his decision to wear a sweater while playing in the surf. Why else do you suppose he chose “Silverback” as his computer password?

If you have already seen “The 40 Year Old Virgin” you may think you have an insight into today’s activities. But watching the movie from the comfort of a movie theater or from your sofa at home does not do justice to the mayhem which took place. The smells and sounds were like something from an Upton Sinclair novel. Think “Passion of the Christ” - Live, on stage. Car alarms kept going off from the bellowing. Two dozen vultures roosted in the tree behind the salon. In neighboring Arizona, Navajo village elders nodded to each other knowingly. In the end the assistants were worn out from having to use pitchforks to fill their wheelbarrows with hair and wax. But it was all worth it.

He emerged, glistening like a seal fresh from the sea. Only redder. And still hairy in front. Standing proudly in front of us it was clear that Mike knew his place in the animal kingdom; right at the top. Or damn near it.

It is to early to tell what impact the “New Mike” will have back in Virginia. But there is one thing I know for certain and it can be expressed in two words, “razor stubble.” Something to think about as we approach a full moon.

Reposted from Nov 2, 2006

Monday, July 16, 2007

Don't use the force, Luke!

Recently, I was described by a close friend as the type of person who, should I become suicidal, would succeed at killing myself. This was not intended as a compliment. It was a criticism of my insular way of making decisions without trusting other people. Yet, I understand just how potent a force it is to control one’s destiny that absolutely.

This ultimate power should not be confused with common attempted suicide. Many suicide attempts, whether successful or not, are driven not by the power over one’s destiny but rather by an overriding sense of impotence. These “cries for help” do often result in death. Yet, these despairing deaths are almost accidental in nature, the result of risky activities used to get much-wanted attention and love.

The same holds true for individuals suffering from physical mental illness. Not merely people that are just dejected or dispirited, these melancholy mortals struggle with chemical demons that the rest of us cannot begin to imagine. Love, support and comfort can help deal with the ancillary misery that the disease causes. Ultimately though, only coolheaded, clinical treatment will help vanquish the torment.

Suicide is usually seen, and correctly so from a biological viewpoint, as an individual’s decision to remove himself from society in the most dire fashion. There are of course less extreme measures that one can take. If it is the Gemeinschaft that a person wishes to flee it is not too difficult to uproot oneself from his present locale. Moving to a distant and remote state or country is the easiest way to leave behind the grinding discontent with family, friends and a wretched future.

If the vexation is with humankind in general it is often harder to escape the tentacles of irritation. Hermits used to be able to live a life of solitude relatively easily. The intrusions of today’s society are almost impossible to escape though. Nosy neighbors and prying governments are pervasive and make true seclusion almost impossible. This is the point where a person may choose to be done with mankind as a whole. G.K. Chesterton wrote:

The man who kills a man kills a man
The man who kills himself kills all men.

Contrary to the common opinion that suicide is a sign of weakness it is a tremendous power to possess and exercise. It is the paramount control over one’s destiny.

Yet, to use its potential is to lose it for all time. Why did Diane Arbus, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Cobain, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Hunter Thompson and Virginia Woolf choose that particular day to say goodbye? There is always a tomorrow. And with it the chance that tomorrow will be better, more interesting, and different than today was. What is the rush? We can always kill ourselves tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Shouldn’t we wait to see what surprises the morning brings? That is the beauty of such power, the strength it gives us not to use it.