I did not intend to turn this into a food blog. There are a myriad of those on the web. They all follow a typical form, a dissertation at the beginning and then the nitty-gritty for producing the delectable proffered. But did you know that this format is driven by the way recipe pages are treated by Google? If that beginning dialogue is not present, the mindless AI of the search engines dismisses the page far down the list. You can then only find it if you have the patience to plod through several thousand links.

Again, I do not blog about food or recipes but this one time a recipe tells a story both about times past and present. It began not long ago when indulging in a bit of nostalgia; I recalled a recipe my mother used occasionally. It is simple thing as you will see and I had tried it years ago in my college days and had even committed it to paper. Alas, that paper was long gone and my memory of the dish was not quite complete.

My mother was an excellent cook and, at least in my memory, nothing bad ever came out of her kitchen. She was not an innovator, though. Instead, she and my father often clipped recipes to try, from magazines and the newspaper. The result was an endless parade of interesting dishes of considerable variety. Some of these would make it into her regular collection and the one she called “ragout” was one of these.

When I began to think about this recipe, I had the intention of recreating it. Google searches for ragout, however, turned up dishes that resembled this not at all. I began to lose all hope that I might find even a slightly similar recipe so I turned my problem over to my daughter. You must know that she has inherited her grandmother’s talent (and you will discover just how much if you view her blog,  It turned out that she had inherited much of my mother’s recipe collection as well. As soon as I had inquired, she came back to me with a copy of the actual recipe, something called “Student’s Ragout”. My father* had recorded it noting that it was from The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book as published by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (Some light is shed on this here

It seemed unlikely that PG & E would publish a cookbook and web searches quickly established two things. First, the recipe is easily found of you search for Students Ragout. There are plenty of versions to be had, all closely resembling this one. The second is that The Mystery Chef was popular radio chef in the 1930’s and 40’s. His story is worth revisiting.

John MacPherson was a Scotsman who came to America in 1906. He had owned an advertising agency in London and came here looking for American clients. He decided to stay to learn American business methods. His father decided that he needed a lesson in thrift and would only send him two pounds (probably about $10) a week. He was thus forced to take a room in a boarding house but soon decided that the food was terrible and moved out with another fellow and started cooking their meals.

Once on that path, he began to develop a talent and soon meals at his table were in demand. Ultimately, it lead to him pitching the idea of a radio show to a potential sponsor in 1931. The result was a widely popular show that ran until 1945. The Mystery Chef title came about, he said, because he wanted to save his mother from embarrassment at the thought of her son in the kitchen.

Now my mother never had a problem with her son in the kitchen. Though I did not cook regularly, she was of the persuasion that her children should be able to fend for themselves and at least be able to boil water and maybe fry an egg now and then. Though I am no special talent in the kitchen, I have held that interest ever since.

There is no knowing how much nostalgia MacPherson may have had for the old country. The range of recipes in his cook books gives no clue either. He never returned to England in any case, or at least not permanently, instead staying in the US until his death in 1962. (Here is the best link I have found about him

Though I can’t say that MacPherson ever became nostalgic for home, I find myself in that state of mind more often of late. The Student’s Ragout was just one of the things that came to mind. In the spirit of the Mystery Chef, perhaps, baked beans were a frequent treat. MacPherson made a specialty of budget recipes because his show aired during the Great Depression. As he noted in an interview, he once provided a week’s worth of recipes costing just $1.48. This was possible because

“chopped meat cost 19 cents a pound, butter was 27 cents a pound, eggs were 17 cents a dozen, flour was 6 cents a pound, sugar was 23 cents for 5 pounds, pork chops could be had for 5 cents each, breast of lamb was 25 cents for three pounds, and ground coffee sold for 19 cents a pound.”

His thrifty ideas would have had great appeal to my parents, having lived through those difficult depression years.

While our meals were often thrifty, what was not missing was the sense of family, especially at breakfast on Saturday mornings. The food was plentiful no matter what with eggs, bacon or sausage, waffles, pancakes and more. But it was that family togetherness that I most remember and that I miss the most. That is what we have lost in this last year of isolation and quarantine. Now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel perhaps some of that will be recovered and we can be families once again.

The Recipe

As I have noted, you can find numerous versions of Student’s Ragout on the web. Here is a shortened version of the Mystery Chef’s Own…

4 medium sized potatoes

2 medium sized carrots

3 medium sized onions

1 lb. round steak

½ lb. sliced bacon (Canadian style)

Salt and pepper

1 cup cold water

The potatoes and carrots should be peeled and thinly sliced. Peel and slice the onions. Cut the steak in 2 inch x ½ inch strips across the grain. The bacon can be cut to fit the pan.

Use a pot with a tight fitting lid. Place the bacon to cover the bottom. Arrange the steak in a layer on top of the bacon. Sprinkle with pepper. (Be generous as this will make all the difference.) Place the onions in a layer on that and then the carrots. Add salt and more pepper. Finally, place the potatoes on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper again.

Put the pot on the stove and turn the burner to medium high. Cook for about three minutes until the bacon begins to sizzle. Add the water (or wine if you prefer) and cover the pot. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes. Serves four.

It should be noted that this recipe does not scale well. It is also not a budget item anymore, especially as the price of meat, even round steak, is not cheap. But this can produce a delicious one-pot meal that is easy to prepare. Done once, you will never quite forget how to do it again. I hope you enjoy, and when you do, raise a glass to John MacPherson, the Mystery Chef! *

The recipe was written in my father’s handwriting, easily recognized as he wrote in an easily recognized hasty scrawl, which is ironic considering that he was sign painter and was quite expert at letering with brush and paint.

Hoarding Hordes

It looks like we may be in for another session of curious shortages. A recent trip to the ubiquitous Costco revealed certain domestic goods either missing or in limited supply. A stern lecture from the featured columnist of the local birdcage liner scolded the miscreants for being so horrible as to stock up on such goods. I think he is barking at the wrong villian.

Is it so unreasonable to try to stock up on goods you think may soon be unavailable? Try a simple thought experiment. If, say, your water main were expected to be shut off for a month or two but you could store a large quantity (consider drafting your swimming pool), why should you not fill it now? True, there are many things that we can do with out on a short term basis, but even if the need is not as drastic as your water, why should you not put in a reasonable supply? That is just what those hoarders -most of them anyway- are doing. If you ignore the foreseeable shortage, isn’t it a bit foolish?

So stop belittling those who are looking ahead and acting on there expectations. Turn instead to real culprits, the government officials who, in this perpetual pandemic, seem to have learned nothing and are repeating the mistake. Here we are facing another severe lock-down sprung on us with no warning, mandating that we cower in our homes, masked and isolated and this mandate is made with not a thought to the consequences. Sure enough, the possibility that there might be a repeat of the supply disruptions we experienced in the spring provokes more panic and with it, more panic buying.

It is not enough for the lords of Sacramento to scold their subjects. They should be anticipating the effect these mandates will have and seeing to it that either supplies are available or effective restrictions are in place. We can argue the merit of the mandate to cease all social interaction, spending our days with one zoom meeting after another, binge watching anything that will hold our attention. What we should not have to tolerate is the inept management of this crisis and the real lack of concern for the population that has been so damaged by it.

For too long, California has been a one-party state. Elections should, among other things, be the means for punishing politicians who do not live up to expectations. It is time that all those all too reliable Democrat voters should think long and hard about returning to office those responsible for this debacle.

Oh, Columbus

It is hard to defend Christopher Columbus, yet he must be considered, as he looms large over us and will to the indefinite future. Try as you might, detest him as you will, he cannot be removed from our past. Where we are today is a consequence of what he did then. What we should not do is use him as a scapegoat for all our problems today.

Columbus was a sailor, which should probably stand as a warning as to character from the get go. He had traveled widely in his years at sea, including Constantinople, and possibly to the North Atlantic. It is commonly held that he had to fight the belief that the earth was flat, but it was widely understood that the earth is a sphere and there were reliable estimates as to size. Columbus tried for a number of years to get funding for a proposed expedition westward to Japan, including from Spain and Portugal. The real opposition to his plan was the expectation that it would not be possible to carry enough provisions for the expected distance. So Columbus fudged. He sold his plan on the basis of a much shorter voyage and ultimately the Spanish monarchy bought it. Obviously, neither he nor they expected that there would be an entire continent in the way. The argument is made that he may have deliberately underestimated the distance, but to the end of his life he insisted that he found Japan.

Whether through error or deliberate miscalculation, on October 12, 1492, the old world found the new and the age of exploration began in earnest. It also marked the end of the native civilizations of the new world and it is impossible to conjecture what might have been. For all that might have been, it must not be forgotten that even the most sophisticated civilizations on either continent lacked the wheel, the horse or other domestic animals, a significant factor in the development of the old world.

That lack of domestic animals played a large part in what would follow. Detractors point to the decimation (not really the right word but that is something for another blog) of native populations. it is not something that can be laid at Columbus feet alone. It is generally understood that Europeans developed immunity to many diseases because of their association with domestic animals. Think swine flu for example. The natives of the Americas had none. In short, even if Columbus showed up in full Haz-Mat, they were doomed. Estimates suggest that as many as 90% of natives succumbed to “European” diseases. It is also possible that a pandemic had occurred shortly before Columbus arrived. Ironically, the same thing happened prior to the arrival of the Mayflower.  Those settlers found a largely empty region and many abandoned villages.

Slavery is another issue, but it is wrong to blame it wholly on Columbus. It is a rather more complicated matter. The treatment of the natives is a sordid story, but in truth and to their credit, they did not make good slaves. Bartolome Del Las Casas was a great defender of the native population, but he suggested that Africans would be better suited and thus inadvertently started what we, and he, would come to regret. In Columbus’ defense, it must be remembered that slavery was a commonplace at the time. In order to fund his expedition, he had promised the riches of the East, particularly Japan, to Ferdinand and Isabella and had to produce something. In short, he was in hock to the mob. If you ever watched The Sopranos, you would understand how that might work out. We can lament it all we want from our lofty vantage point, but it was a fact of life and very much an inevitability. And if you are going to put De Las Casas above Columbus, keep in mind that it was he who shifted the rationalization of slavery to a matter of race rather than as spoils of war.

Finally, yes, Columbus discovered the New World. Yes, there were people already there. Yes, there was previous contact with Europeans, mainly the Norseman, Leif Ericsson several centuires earlier. There were also other possible contacts, but October 12, 1492 stands out as the date that a general understanding of the existence of entire continents previously unknown to Europeans did exist. All that followed hinged on the event on that date. No matter how you wish to name it, it is a date that should be marked and never forgotten.

*The rather large photo at the head of this post is of the monument to Columbus in Barcelona. The size perhaps suggests the enormous consequence of Columbus voyage and what followed from it.


First, let me assure you that I am not writing this post in the back of an ambulance or in the midst of the ashes of my home. All is well in the homestead and we are not directly affected by the Creek Fire. I say that while at the same time breathing heavily smoky air and in the wan light of a sun just barely breaking through that smoke. The Air Quality Index in Clovis is 132, which is deemed unhealthy (well, duh!)  and fine ash is visible in the air and falling on anything outside, like parked cars. But still, all is “well”. The smoke overcast has reduced temperatures by 10–15 degrees, a curious benefit.

Our morning weather.
The look of the sky at home. Pale yellow-brown light is all we get.

The aforementioned Creek Fire is just one of a dozen or more ongoing wild fires in California. To say that fire crews are stretched to the limit is a gross understatement. At last report, there were some 2,300 people working this fire in various capacities. Not all of those are directly on the fire line as supporting an effort of this magnitude is no small logistical matter. Our oldest grandson has some experience with this, having done support work with the CCC (California Conservation Corp) and last year on a Forest Service crew in the Sierras. Ironically, he had to sit this year out as he had enrolled in an EMT certification class and thus did not apply for a fire crew. Naturally, as with all else, his course was cut short by the corona virus shutdown and he will have to repeat much of the work. An EMT certificate is an important option for firefighters of any type.

Along with the “normal” California fire season, we have been affected in the past by fires here and abroad. You will recall that in 2018 there was disastrous fire in Greece. We were in Thessaloniki at the time and witnessed much of it on the Greek news reports. It was heart rending to watch people making a futile effort to combat the flames with tree branches. It was even more so as refugees from the fire fled to the shore to escape the flames. Many did not make it.

The text reads “Information for two dead and three injured” Similar scenes played most of that night and into the next day.

At the same time, the Carr Fire was raging through the northern counties, destroying a large part of Redding CA. As it happened, our middle grandson was at a camp (fishing camp, of course) north of Redding and his family had gone up to collect him and do some camping. We were watching this and the fire in Greece at the same time. Trying to connect to them became a serious problem as they were out of cell phone range. Ultimately we connected and were able to assure each other that we were all safe.

Again, the year before, we had gone north to witness the solar eclipse. At the time yet another large fire was raging through the north country. We spent a couple of days in Medford with the same smoke and gloom.

The Creek Fire extent as of September 11. Our house is at the small red arrow, fifteen miles from the closest fire line. Close enough!

The Creek Fire has to be regarded as the mother of all California wild fires. It started in the evening of Friday, September 4. According the current report, it now covers 201,908 acres, or over 315 square miles. That would easily cover the entire Fresno-Clovis-Madera area. How much more it will grow will depend on weather and terrain. Of the more than 100 miles of fire line, there is so far 8% containment. It is expected that the fire will not be completely controlled and out until mid-October.

How has this affected us? To begin with, the air pollution from the smoke has added to the already onerous quarantine. Even if we could go somewhere, we hardly want to. Thus we are confined more than ever. At one point, when mountain communities were one by one being overtaken and evacuations were ongoing, there was a real question as to possibility of it reaching down into the valley. Unlike the mountains, the valley is mostly grassland or agricultural, with numerous orchards. A strong wind from the East could have pushed it this way, but the nearest fire line has stabilized just the other side of Tollhouse, about fifteen miles line of sight from us. Even so, serious discussions ensued about what to take in the event. That quickly becomes overwhelming and, as one friend who had the experience noted, it is best to decide before the need arises.

The devastation is heart breaking. I have been up  in that area many times over the years. Seeing the complete destruction of much that is familiar is hard to bear. One landmark, a small store at the top of the long grade up to Shaver Lake, known as Cressman’s had been there for over a hundred years is now a smoking ruin. It may be restored and, in time, the forest will grow again, but this fire need not have happened or been so severe. There will be much argument to come about forest management. We can only hope they get it right this time and no one has to live through it again.

The Two Easter Syndrome


This year, as with most years in the past, we have two Easters. The western church, those known as Catholic and Protestant, celebrated last Sunday, April 13. We of the Eastern Orthodox world will celebrate this coming Sunday, April 19. While you of the west are enjoying your lamb and ham and chocolate bunnies, we are still making do with a Lenten diet of greens and beans. But Pascha is coming (virus or no virus) and we will rejoice and celebrate, even if only virtually.

Why is it that we have this difference? I will tell you one thing certain, it not because of  the calendars. The starting point has to be that though there are two celebrations and two (three if you consider the Jewish lunar calendar as well) calendars, we all celebrate the same day in the west and the same, though often different day in the east.

Keep in mind two basic facts while we try to untangle this weed patch. First, we are all in agreement as to what to call each day. The days of the week are not in dispute and it has been so since the time of Moses. You can be dead certain that 14,000 days ago (which is 2,000 weeks or about 38 years) was the same day as when you read this. The second concerns the cornerstone of our time and date keeping. We can calculate the day and time of the Vernal Equinox to a fare-the-well. This is so because that celestial event occurs without reference to anything human. It is outside our capability to modify our world. But is is readily calculated.

Why the Vernal Equinox? Firstly, because the execution of Jesus of Nazareth took place at the end of Passover. The date of Passover is determined first from the Jewish calendar which is in turn a lunar calendar with its own peculiarities. It has served the Jews for millennia and the date of Passover is always 15 Nisan. The Wikipedia entry  for “Jewish Calendar” makes for interesting reading. Of primary interest is the fact that months can be either 29 or 30 days in length to compensate for the fact that one lunar revolution is about 28.5 days.

Of course, the crucifixion is not a concern to Jews, but it has long been held in the Orthodox Church that the observance of that event and of His resurrection, Pascha, should always follow Passover. After the Great Schism in 1054 AD, the western Church went its separate way. At some point, the west modified the means of determining the appropriate date and the difference has existed ever since. Try the Wikipedia entry for Computus for a brief explanation. While not fully correct, the rubric is that the west determines the date as the first Sunday after the first full moon and after the Vernal Equinox. The Orthodox version adds “after Passover” to the formula.

Statue of Julius Caesar, Via dei Fori Imperiali (Rome) – Wikipedia

Note that in all this, the solar calendars still in use, the Gregorian and Julian, have no bearing on this determination. And here is where an interesting difference occurs within the Orthodox Church. In the Roman world, the calendar was somewhat arbitrarily decided and could often be a political plaything. There was a method but by the time of the reign of Julius Caesar, it was a mess and he determined to reform it. Enlisting the aid of Greek mathematicians and astronomers, a formula was developed that took the adjustments made to compensate for the sun’s rotation time (approximately 365.25 days) and it took effect by edict on January 1 of the 709th year since the founding of Rome, the year we now know as 45 BC.


Pope Gregory XIII – Wikipedia




That calendar held until 1582, by which time it had slipped* about 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII decided that a correction must be made but rather than simply adjusting the date, he had further adjustments made to the calendar scheme to reduce the rate of slippage. Thus, October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15th and in 1584 for the first time , many children were born on a day that would not occur again for four years. They should consider themselves lucky. Under the old, pre-Julian calendar, there were frequent periods when the date could not be known.

How the two calendars come to bear requires another dip into history. The short story is this. Once the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Catholic countries, then most western countries followed suit. This lead to a real division in the Orthodox Churches, as many Orthodox churchmen refused to adopt anything related to the Catholic Church, and surely, the Gregorian calendar was foremost among them. The last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece and then only in 1923.

As things now stand, many Orthodox jurisdictions, the Serbian and Russian most prominent among them, still use the Julian calendar which now is 13 days different from the Gregorian. Thus, we of the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate Pascha on April 19. Our Serbian friends down the street will celebrate on that same day but their date will be April 6. It is important to note that we celebrate on the same day, regardless of how we name that date. This is why our western friends mostly observe a different day, because they use a different method to set the day.

One more thing to add to the confusion: While the Serbian Church will mark Pascha on the  same day as we do, their calendar will have them celebrate Christmas in January. It will still be December 25, Julian calendar, even though we call that day January 3.

  • calendar slippage.  Neither the earth’s rotation around the sun or that of the moon around earth, are exact multiples of the earth’s spin period. All calendars try to take this into account and schemes such as leap years are a means of compensating. Ultimately the date for events such as the Vernal Equinox will change, as from March 21 to 22 or 20, for example.
The image at the top of this entry is from an episode of The Simpsons and is copyright by Disney and Twentieth Century Fox TV.

The Beach at Peraia

Peraia, Greece, August 2019: Life on the beach of Peraia in summer is one long succession of  swimming, walking, relaxing, with leisurely lunches by the waterside. That is true for the human inhabitants. Maybe less so  for the other denizens.

IMG_20190731_234722_979The beach of Peraia is a four mile stretch of sandy beach varying in width from a few feet to a hundred or more. What sets it off from other like places is that the water is shallow well out from shore. Even as much as a hundred yards out it is possible to stand on the bottom. Though lacking in significant surf, it is still a popular recreational area and locals and foreigners alike flock here every summer.

Less recognized is the wildlife that also occupies these waters. The wide sandy bottom looks at first like an aquatic desert  but in fact there is an abundance of life to be found. It may not be a National Geographic coral reef with clouds of exotic fish but there is more to be found than meets the uncritical eye.

Small fish abound along the beach. They seem unphased by human presence.

Stand for a moment a few yards out and watch. Very likely a number of small fish will come to investigate. Characteristically, they are elusive and well camouflaged, as are all the species here. There is little vegetation and no hiding place so species that thrive here are those that can blend in to the point of being invisible. At times those small fish seem able to bury themselves in the sand.

A note for would be fishermen: Forget your exotic tackle. No poppers, hoppers, droppers, no wooly buggers or redwing whizbangs. No spoons, spinners, none. What works for these little guys is bread. Throw a piece of bread in the water and you will start a feeding frenzy. Put a piece on your hook and expect a catch. Of course, they are barely bite size. For bigger fish, you need to get out on the water.

A  conch snail still occupying his shell.

The keen eyed observer will ocasionally come across other oddities. Small conchs and snails are frequently found, usually by stepping on them. They are typically adorned with barnacles, the immobile barnacles taking advantage of the snails to bring them to food. Rocks of varying size are present sans barnacles, since they tend to get buried which would be unfortunate for any attached barnacles.

This mildly perturbed Hermit crab is investigating the sudden change of scenery.

Many of the snail shells have been vacated in favor of small hermit crabs. I am not sure how the change in occupancy takes place but it is likely that the snails are the losers. Hold one of these for a minute or two and the crab will nervously investigate and sometimes try to escape.

A razor clam shell left behind by a feeding crab(?)

A variety of shells litter the sea floor. Razor clams are present but only the empty shells will be found.  Michael was able to find a live razor clam a couple of years ago. Curiously, they were offered at a Madrid food court but there seems to be no market for them here.

Above, tiny crabs vie for exposed clams.

At the waters edge, tiny clams seem to be the choice of numerous small crabs. Since there is constant wave action (mostly from the wake of boats and ships in the bay) these clams are churned up and become crab bait. Numerous clam shells testify to their aundance -and fate. There are also tiny fish, typically about 1″ long,  frequently seen but which are so perfectly camouflaged that it takes considerable concentration to spot them.

These little “now you see them, now you don’t fish are maybe an inch long. With an underwater camera, they are more visible. From above it is just lusck to spot them.

Of all the creatures found here, the oddest is the salp. At least, that is what I believe it is. The locals call them medusa, a generic for jellyfish, but they are not that. There are no tentacles. They are about 6″ in length and appear like a small, transparent cucumber. They pulse slowly and tend to stay near the surface. Probably filter feeders, they do not seem to have any predators.

Salps can be elusive and difficult to photograph. It is bad enough that they are nearly transparent, but in bright sunlight and without my glasses, this is a lucky shot.

The most mysterious* aspect of them is that they will appear suddenly, a few one day, hundreds the next. And then they vanish just as suddenly. If you Google “salp”, a different creature wil be found. Out in the Mediteranean proper, they are found as long chains of individuals forming a tape like entity that can exceed 100′. These however, do not combine and merely float along, alarming the unwary and uninformed.

  • “Mysterious” is the favorite adjective of hack science writers everywhere.

The video above is probably the business end of a razor clam. The fronds appear as a black spot on the sand but when disturbed, they quickly hide.

One might think that the featureless seafloor along the Peraia beach would be bereft of life. It is anything but and a visit here will soon show otherwise. Maybe you should take a trip and swim here. You never know what might be under your feet.


They Also Serve…

Today, May 30, 2019, is a good day to contemplate service, as in service to your country. It is the original date designated as Memorial Day, and was originally called Decoration Day. You should consider a visit to one of the many cemeteries and monuments that dot the land. As with the rusting hulk of the USS Arizona, the tomb of nearly 1,000 sailors, it can be a moving and educational experience.

Military service runs through my family. We aren’t a military family on the order of, say, John McCain, but we have done our share. When I dig into my family history, the fact that many of my ancestors, both recent and as far back as I can go, served in one capacity or another is a bit surprising.

My own service was a curiosity. I joined the Navy to see the world, as they say, and spent

Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959
Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959

my hitch in San Diego and San Francisco. I never went to sea. That was in part a consequence of having a talent for things electronic and no command wanted to part with any technically capable personnel. The stint in San Francisco was while attending electronics school on Treasure Island. San Diego was for boot camp and three years tending radio transmitters at a now abolished naval radio station.

More immediately, my nephew also served in the navy, along with a brother-in-law who retired from the navy as a four-striper, that is with the rank of captain, no mean feat for naval officers. My father put in a stint in the army joining the 76th Field Artillery at

lyle sexton scout
My father, Lyle Sexton, served in the army but in civilian life wore another uniform. Service came naturally to him.

Camp Ord near Monterey during the height of the depression .

John Hepburn
Sgt. John Hepburn in full field regalia, though he probably thought bib overalls and a straw hat more appropriate to his duties.

Further back, an uncle of my mother served in World War I. He made it to France but with the veterinarian training he had received , he was assigned to tending horses and he never got close to the front. Another of my mother’s cousins was part of a special forces unit. He made the news at the end .of the war by going into Tokyo without permission. Another cousin by marriage was not so lucky, dieing in Normandy in September, 1944.

There are others, not all of them lucky enough to return home. Two of my wife’s cousins died in WWII, one in a training flight accident, the other somewhere in the Pacific near the close of the war. Her father served in the Greek Army on the Albanian front, until Greece was overrun by the Nazis who came in support of Mussolini’s hapless Italian Army.

Even further back, you will find the

Dr Marshal Perkins
Dr. (and Captain) Marshall Perkins, veteran of Gettysburg and other campaigns.

gaunt looking gentleman (below) in uniform.* He is Dr. Marshall Perkins, who served in the Union Army during the civil war and was present at Gettysburg. He would tell of an orderly who tried to catch a cannon ball and got his arms ripped off for his troubles. Even into colonial times, I have historical information concerning William Perkins and his military service. William was the first of the family to arrive in the new world and seems to have had some difficulty establishing himself. Records still exist that describe bis occasional lapses of judgment. Still, he was given the rank of Sergeant and served for many years in Roxbury.


All this is not to single out my family, or extended family. I suspect that many families have a similar history. I recently saw Cold Blue, the restored Wiliam Wyler footage taken at great risk to record the efforts of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Some 127,000 men served and 28,000 died in the air war against Germany. The numbers are staggering and starkly underline the cost of service.

harold criswell
Harold Robert Criswell, a cousin by marriage, lost in Normandy in September 1944.

Kevin Williamson, who writes for the National Review (and briefly for The Atlantic) wrote recently “A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between Welcome to Starbucks! and Have a nice day!” I am much in sympathy with Kevin’s friend. I have encountered that greeting frequently. When I compare my service to what many others endured, I feel not a little embarrassed to stand along side those who gave their all.

The practice of thanking anyone in uniform for their service began some time after the Vietnam war. During and after the war, the treatment of servicemen and women was terribly shabby. Public expressions of gratitude seems to be the product of a collective guilt complex, a means for making amends for past mistreatment. A far better expression of gratitude would be to add your service, whether it be military or in  many civilian capacities. Which would be better, remembering those lost in that rusting hulk at Pearl Harbor, or posting more signs of faux gratitude that no one will observe?


    • Dr. Perkins was a captain, an officer and a gentleman, as were all doctors. Just think of M*A*S*H. As such he was required to wear a sword when in dress uniform. I had a 
      physics teacher who recounted once his experience as an officer in WWII. He was even then required to wear a sword with his dress uniform and found it particularly troublesome when going to a movie theater.

These have been springing up around town lately.  Is anyone checking?


Loyal to… ?

A recent poster on Facebook lamented the possibility his son might have to join the service under that “moron-in-chief” obviously referring to the current president. What he seems not recognize is that every president in recent times has been disdained by some portion of the populace. Thus the epithet would have been used in regard to presidents every party.

This is a minor matter but there is a an underlying principle that is being forgotten. Those who join our military services swear an oath to “preserve and protect” the constitution. This oath remains in force regardless who is in the White House. In fact, many military members serve through the terms of more than one president and no repeat oath is needed.

Why is this? As I stated, the oath is to preserve the constitution not the president, or any other person for that matter. The founding fathers wanted no royalty and that oath is an expression of that desire. Thus presidents, governors and all the rest can come and go but “the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible” as Stephen Vincent Benet phrased it in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

There will always be those who find it onerous to serve a particular president and that will be true of presidents of either party. This will not be a problem unless it develops as a widespread sentiment. But that will only happen if the military lets up on its dedication to serving the country.

Das Boot, Max!

This is not about submarines or the movie Das Boot. It is about the strange journey of one Max Boot, late of the conservative world and his conversion to a fire breathing true believer of climate change.

Max Boot was a familiar figure in the conservative world and was generally recognized as well versed in Middle East matters. He was, that is, until 2016, late 2016. Evidently nonplussed by the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, Max went deep into the “Never Trump” camp and pretty much vanished from the pages of the various conservative sites to which he was previously contributing.

He had company. Among others, writers such as George Will, columnist for the Washington Post, and Bill Kristol, editor and founder of The Weekly Standard, abandoned the Republican Party on the grounds that the GOP had become unmoored from its professed principles. They had a point, as The Donald certainly displayed no perceivable moral principles. But in the minds of many Trump supporters, the Democratic Party’s continuing support for Bill Clinton seemed to negate that as a matter of concern. Sort of an “if they can do it, so can we” stance.

That obviously did not sit well with Max who began issuing a stream of vitriolic laden commentary making it clear that he was against Trump and any who might side with The Donald even slightly. Conservative pundits have taken note of this and have, here and there, commented on him. Now it seems, he has completely rejected the conservatism he once espoused and has embraced the progressive side. The climate issue is only the latest manifestation of his “conversion”.

There are others in the Never Trump camp who have been on the receiving end of Boot’s ~and others’~ disdain. Jonah Goldberg, for example, has been subjected to endless anti-semitic assaults. he gets it from both sides, the right for being against Trump and the left for being on the right and thus supposedly pro-Trump. it is a messy scene.

So climate alarmists* ought to think twice before deifying max Boot. It is hardly likely that he is concerned about climate above all else. Characteristic of his stance since 2016 is a clearly reflexive opposition to Trump. If the Donald goes to McDonalds, max will prefer Burger King. There is not one matter nor one event about which Max will allow himself to agree with Trump, no matter the outcome or the ultimate facts. Goldberg, while clearly and emphatically not in favor of Trump, will at least give due credit when Trump gets something right. Max Boot  has simply gone off the deep end and completely changed his supposedly closely held philosophy simply because of Trump. The contrast between him and Goldberg is stark. Jonah opposes Trump because The Donald does not appear to hold true conservative values. Max opposes Trump only because he is Trump.

*So you think the term climate alarmists is a slur? Please then explain why the term climate deniers is not. Those who use it are either utterly tone deaf to the obvious comparison to Holocaust deniers, or are deliberately taking a cheap shot. The argument that “you are a Nazi because…” appears over and over again. It is unwise and undeserved. The use of alarmists, on the other hand, is not pejorative. In fact, if you truly believe there is an approaching climate catastrophe, being called an alarmist would be appropriate. On the other hand, being called a denier is to be excluded from any possible dialogue. This is a matter of science, not dogma. No scientific proposition should ever be accepted without question. It is shameful how much the “scientific community” has abandoned the principles of true scientific inquiry.

IOT: Internet of Trouble

As I dabble in electronic gadgetry, owing to my professional occupation, I frequently am made aware of the so called Internet of Things. In this universe, gadgets of every imaginable purpose are designed so as to be accessible and controllable through the Internet. Just add the appropriate interface and the code to match and Voila, you can turn on your oven from half a world away, from the moon even, should you ever get there.

Why is this so wonderful? Certainly it satisfies the curious and the tinkerers. There is a comical scene in a Big Bang Theory episode when the boys, true geeks that they are, make it possible to control their lights in this way, not to mention the RC cars similarly enabled. In their case, nothing untoward occurs, but it ought to be recognized that much mischief might result.

What provokes this line of thinking is an article on the Weekly Standard website discussing how Internet connected driver-less cars might be turned into WMDs. The thrust of the article is to insist that more must be done for cyber security but never asks the question as to why they should be connected at all. One troubling possibility is that the desire to inform the rider that there are three coffee shops nearby or the nearest McD is just 1.5 miles away overrides the obvious potential for disaster.

On a larger scale, occasional mention is made that there just might be cyber attacks on the power grid. Our entire power generating capacity is Internet connected, but why should we give access in any form to hostile actors. Really, does anyone ~anyone~ in Kazakhstan need to know what PG&E or Southern Cal Edison are doing? And worse, should it be possible for them under any circumstances to be able to control any element of that or defense systems or anything?

Perhaps we need to step back and address the wisdom of the IOT concept. There is little benefit to be had from connecting a myriad of devices that heretofore were working just fine thank you without remote control. It might just be time to start disconnecting things from the Internet. Do we really need our lawnmower ~or the neighborhood nuclear reactor~ to be at the mercy of someone in say, Tehran?