Friday, August 24, 2018

JOHNSON

This is the story of my friend Johnson . . . - S.L.

Johnson

This story goes back eighteen years. It was another lifetime ago it seems, before the planes hit the Twin Towers and the entire world descended into madness. I was in Mauritania, working out of the embassy in Nouakchott. My work took me deep into the desert - I've written about it HERE - to some very exotic destinations with some very interesting people, journies that nowadays would get my head chopped off. But like I said, it was another lifetime. A happier, simpler time. The world had not yet gone insane.

They put me up in the Ambassador's secretary's house, a marble palace on the edge of town. The view out the back was all sand dunes - I was on the edge of the great Sahara. The road in front of my place was paved, but all around was just loose sand, like a beach. Because, of course, the Sahara is the biggest beach in the world.

The Ambassador's secretary had vacated the place, moved into an apartment on the embassy grounds, because according to her the place was haunted. There were some strange banging and booming noises at night and for awhile I wondered about her comment until I became aware of the nature of the poltergeist. The place had a flat roof, common to dwellings in that part of the world. There was a stairwell at the top of which was a sheet metal door opening to the roof. The door did not fit securely into the door frame, so it buckled and banged at bit from the night winds. A wooden wedge solved the situation.

You meet all kinds of people in Africa. A family set up their tent in the space between my place and the place next door, and every morning the lady would bring me bananas or mangoes, and I'd hand over some cash. They were trying to get by - a family of five living on a carpet with a bit of burlap overhead to keep the sun off.

Then I met Johnson.

Johnson is a charismatic African man. At that time Johnson was studying broadcast journalism at the University of Nouakchott, but he is not from Mauritania. Johnson is from Togo. He speaks very good English with a French accent, as French is the lingua franca (to coin a phrase) of West Africa. At that time I was speaking French almost all day, every day, breaking into English when I reported to the embassy.

Once I asked, "Johnson, Togo is a former French colony. Why is it that you have an English name?"

"Oh, Jean-Pierre," he replied, "it is a sad, sad story."

Intrigued, I said, "Go on . . ."

"My family were slaves, in America. When freedom came, after the slave time, they got on a boat and returned to Africa."

"Oh . . . my . . . Gawd . . ." I gasped. "Johnson, I am so, so sorry to hear this . . ." What else could I say? Life in Africa is hard; the opportunities and freedom we take for granted here in the West simply do not exist over there.

"Yes, and we have been trying to get back to America, ever since."

Man, talk about a bad move.

We got to know one another a little better, and I learned that Johnson had actually traveled the States, had lived in New York City for about six months. He'd worked there as a DJ. I told him, "Johnson, you are possibly the only true African-American I know." I meant in the sense that Johnson is an African, of American ancestry, versus the other way around.

Time went by and there wasn't much to do in Nouakchott. In a place like that, part of the challenge is finding something to keep oneself occupied, otherwise one goes crazy staring out over the desert at the endless dunes. The dunes were especially mesmerizing in the evenings, as the sun set behind my back, to the west over the Atlantic, and to the east the desert went from white to yellow to orange to blue and then gray.

Johnson was a good source of information. He told me the story of le Colonel - the ex-Legionnaire who ran le Petit Paris, a local dive. Francophone Africa is full of these ex-Legionnaires running bars. Johnson described how the African wife of le Colonel controlled him through grii-grii - West African voodoo.. "Oh Jean-Pierre! She is wicked! She is wicked!" (Possible material for a future story, perhaps even novel length.) He told me when French mercenaries arrived in town, and pointed them out to me at le Petit Paris. I wasn't too sure about this, they looked like a film crew to me, or perhaps a rock band.

Johnson was very resourceful. When I needed something not readily available, Johnson introduced me to the right person.

One of the things I used to do to occupy time was fire up the grill and roast meat on sticks. This can be a complex operation in Africa, because it involves a journey to the meat market, which is essentially a journey several hundred years back in time.

The meat market is an open air place with concrete pillars holding up swaths of canvas to keep off the sun. The butchers sit on huge slabs of concrete where they go about their trade, hacking camels, horses, donkeys, goats and even the occasional cow (I don't know where they got them from, there's no grass in Nouakchott) to unrecognizable bits and hanging the meat on overhead meathooks. It was not possible for me to specify a cut - say, a sirloin, or a T-bone. The butchers just hack away and one makes the best selection possible of what's available. The meathooks themselves look like they're covered with black fuzz, which are the flies.

It was at one of the weekend cookouts. Johnson had come over with a friend, and so I put him to work in the kitchen. "Prends cette viande," I said - 'Take this meat' - taking a steel bowl full of camel meat from the freezer - "et mettez-la au micro-ondes pour la décongeler." - and put it into the microwave to defrost it.

"Jean-Pierre," Johnson asked. "Comment fait-on ça?" - How do I do it?

"Oh, c'est assez simple . . ." I replied, and explained to place the meat into the microwave, close the door, and set it on defrost for about two or three minutes.

Then I went out front to see to getting the charcoal to ignite on the grill.

A few minutes later I returned to the kitchen to observe a remarkable spectacle. Johnson and his friend were staring open mouthed at the microwave. Their faces were inches away from the front of the machine, which was making wild booming noises like a lab scene in a science fiction movie, and emitting bursts of blue light.

"N-O-O-O-O-O-!-!-!" I hollered. "Ne placez jamais d'objets métalliques dans le micro-ondes!" - Never place metal objects in the microwave! - "JAMAIS!!!"

I quickly popped the microwave door open and all the commotion ceased. I removed the metal bowl and placed it on the counter. There didn't seem to be any serious damage to the microwave. I wondered, of course, if the machine would work properly after this event. So I dumped the camel meat - still quite frozen - into a glass dish, placed it back into the microwave, closed the door and turned the dial.

B-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z . . . Viola, the thing worked perfectly.

"Ne placez jamais d'objets métalliques dans le micro-ondes," I repeated. "Jamais." Never.

After that, whenever Johnson showed up at the house and walked into the kitchen, he'd look at the microwave like it was some kind of relic from the Twilight Zone, and he would say in a low, respectful tone, ""Ne placez jamais d'objets métalliques dans le micro-ondes . . ."

* * *

We stayed in touch for awhile, after I returned to the States. Then the planes hit the buildings, of course, and life became . . . complex . . . I lost touch with Johnson.

Then a couple years back, right out of the blue, Johnson emerged on social media. "Hey, Jean-Pierre, c'est moi! Johnson" He's living in New York! Johnson made it back to the States! We got in touch and laughed about the good old days, and he reminded me of the microwave; ""Ne placez jamais d'objets métalliques dans le micro-ondes . . ." and we laughed some more.

Johnson-medeiros Polycarpe Joel

Life is hard when you immigrate to a new country, I can tell you. You have to start all over again without any of the contacts or support structure that the native-born take for granted. I got here when I was twenty-two and it was hard enough. My wife arrived when she was thirty-two and it was harder still. Johnson's in his forties now, trying to make it like most of us do when we're in our twenties. It's hard to start again, from scratch. I know, I've been there, and I feel for any and all of the immigrants.

Johnson is my friend. Johnson is a true African-American, and he's worthy, and if I could help Johnson find his way, I would do it. I have a plan, its a big plan, but I don't have the frogskins right now to put it all together. If you ask me about it, I'll tell you - but I don't want to blab my big plan out here in the clear. When I get the wherewithall, I'll announce it here and on Twitter and one of the first things I'll do is give Johnson a call - he's the man for the plan. I've got that kind of faith in my friend Johnson.

I've actually been meaning to write this story for awhile, asked Johnson for some photos. He said his mother's in town, over from Togo, and he'd ask her for some pics.

Meanwhile, life keeps going and doesn't wait for dreams and ideas. Yesterday, Johnson gave me a call. There's a problem, and that's where this story is going:

Johnson's mother died four days ago - in his arms, at his place in Queens. Johnson needs money to pay the bills at the morgue where they kept her body, and to pay the airline that flew her body back to Africa. He had nowhere to turn to so he called me. I'm fortunate because I've got work and I've got some cash and I'm sending it to him.

I am asking for donations. There's a GoFundMe over to the right there - Funeral Bills 5000 Miles from Home - for making donations. This is for Johnson - not me - to take care of his mother's expenses. I will keep all informed via Twitter, and Facebook.

That's where it's at right now. Thank you.

STORMBRINGER SENDS

Thursday, August 23, 2018

PICTURES IN A GALLERY

© Sean Linnane 30 March 2016


Struggling with his writer’s block, Mike contemplated a line of ants in the dirt, off the end of the deck where the pathway led down the cliff.

Curious, Mike picked up a stick and went over and wiped across the line of ants. Sitting back, he looked at the clock and watched how long it took for the ants to re-form their line.

Fifteen minutes.

He looked over to the young girl moving about the veranda, using a broom to sweep away the webs the banana spiders spun in place overnight. It occurred to Mike that every morning she swept away the webs, and overnight the spiders re-spun them.

Fifteen minutes for a line of ants to re-form, overnight for a spider to re-spin its web. Mike wondered if there were any other ways that insect life could be used to measure the passage of time . . .

* * *

“Give me a whiskey,” Dave said. Mike poured him one, and put a flask of water on the bar next to him. Mike didn’t serve any ice. If Dave wanted ice, he would’ve asked. That’s the way it is with Scotch drinkers.

Dave sipped his whiskey, then studied the amber liquid in the glass as he savored it. “It was just something I did because there was no other place for me . . .” he said, almost as if he were talking to himself.

“Go on,” said Mike.

“They kicked me out in the end.”

“Who?”

“The Kyrgygs. Kyrgyzstan. In fact, I probably got my company kicked out of there.”

Mike poured him another one. “This one’s on the house,” he said. Mike sensed a good story coming up.

“The contract was IT-related. Sniff out corporate corruption on in-country based internet commerce. So I did it.”

“What was the problem?”

“Well for one thing, every time I completed an investigation on a company, they’d round up the CEO, or whoever I busted out, have a show trial, then haul the poor guy out and execute him.”

“Oh my God!”

“Yeah, I figure I probably killed over thirty guys before I became aware of what was going on. But that wasn’t the problem, though.”

“What was?”

“Well as you can probably imagine, it wasn’t long before I sensed I was being used.”

“What do you mean?”

“During my investigations, on the backside of the net, I was getting indications. It was like somebody was feeding me the intell I was looking for.

“Someone – or some THING – figured out how to direct my investigations. I say something, because I suspect it wasn’t human.”

“What do you mean, not human?”

“Well let me see if I can explain,” Dave stated. “But first, let’s back up a little bit.

“Artificial intelligence – computer-based intelligence, that is - is based on pure logic, mathematics. It has to be, given that the decision-making functions of a computer are ultimately based on electricity, expressed mathematically as ones and zeroes; there either is power going through a circuit or there is not. A switch is either open or it is closed. Reality – to a computer - is boiled down to a series of yes or no questions and answers. There really is no capability for what we would refer to as common sense.

“I’ll give you an example; I have a game I play on my smartphone; backgammon. It is a game of pure logic, based on random throws of the dice. For every number combination of the dice, there is a correct move based on every single possible array of the stones on the board. It is a game of mathematical perfection.

“However, there is a function in the setup of my game that allows me to set the difficulty, that is, the skill level of the opponent I am playing against; one through five. Now think about it. If I set the skill level of my opponent – the computer, that is - at one or three or five, the program is not somehow increasing the intelligence, or 'dumbing down', the decision-making capability of the machine. This is impossible with artificial intelligence. No. Rather, what the program does is 'sit' on the dice. That is, it is increasing or decreasing beneficial rolls to itself, depending on what level of difficulty I choose for my opponent – which of course is the machine itself.”

“Are you saying that computers were feeding you false leads – business intelligence – to knock out the competition to their respective organizations?” Mike asked, incredulous.

“I know it sounds crazy, but the indications were there. I’d have opportunities presenting themselves in the course of my investigations, opportunities that should not have been there. Little doors opening and pathways for me to follow, into organizations where I had no inside sources - no means of penetrating - by IO or even conventional methods.

“You know the deal,” Dave said, knocking his whiskey back. “If something’s too good a deal, too good to be true, it probably is. And nobody – not even yourself – is THAT good.

“The information system – or systems – of one or many large company operations over there, were aware of my sniffing around. They had to be; that is, if you believe there’s such a thing as artificial intelligence, that computers can become self-aware.”

“Like sentient beings?” Mike asked. “Like ourselves, and dogs and cats or snakes or birds or monkeys?”

“Yes,” Dave replied, “but I rather suspect their level of self-awareness is closer to that of a mollusk than of a higher form of animal life. Like a garden snail, or probably more like an oyster. It is aware that it IS, and not much more than that other than to feed itself and make little replicants of itself. Except that a computer doesn’t even need to eat, it just requires an energy source; electricity.

“All it knows is a logical series of decisions, based on whatever input it’s been given. Remember, a computer’s perception of the world around it is extremely limited. It has the readings of whatever instruments or controls it is attached to, and then whatever statistical data it has access through via the Web.”

“And probably no sense of morality,” Mike suggested, “based on values, that are taught or that are somehow universal across humanity.”

“Yes, quite,” Dave said. “And that leads directly to the problem. Or rather, what the machines perceive as the solution to their challenges. If Business A is facing competition from Business B, and outright elimination is not possible, then the solution is to hobble or otherwise constrain Business B’s operations in any and every way possible.”

“To include taking out their executive leadership?”

“Yes, anything and everything, until Business B goes under.”

There was a pause. The two men sipped their whiskey and Mike digested what Dave had shared.

“It’s all a matter of perspective, when you think about it. The computers – as entities of artificial intelligence – are going through their decision matrices at the speed of light.

“Well, there are other spaces and dimensions of time that all depend upon perspective . . . to us the stars and giant nebulas of the cosmos are standing still enough for us to photograph, and to look at and they don’t change night after night after night, for centuries, eons. But actually they are traveling at hundreds of millions of miles per hour, hurtling through space at near light speed. The galaxies are spinning like tops at an insane speed, and yet to us they all appear stationary.

“And so it is, the computers perception of us. To them, a second is a thousand lifetimes. We must appear as totally stationary, almost stone-like lifeless beings, until we make a decision, or throw a switch, or press a button, or otherwise interface with them at maddeningly slow, almost geologic rate of speed.”

“They must think we are the greatest obstacle to progress,” Mike said, “if they think at all, that is.”

“Exactly. To a being of pure logic – no emotional thoughts whatsoever – the conclusions are, well, logical. If there’s something in the way of their producing results, then they must find a solution to the problem.”

“Even if that problem is a human being . . .” Mike mused. “Did you ever find a solution to this dilemma?”

“We did, actually. And it was not only unique, but the results were, well, revolutionary, to coin a phrase.”

“What did you do?”

“Think about it. What do you do to take out a computer?”

“A virus?”

“Exactly. Except there were two challenges: A) the computer systems we’re talking about all had robust anti-virus software, of course, and B) in doing so I would have been sabotaging the entire country's industrial/commercial operations; the exact opposite of my purpose in being there. So virus, per se, was not really the answer.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, what we did was trick the computers into an art competition against each other.”

“A wh-a-a-a-t?”

“An art competition. Which computer system could produce the most beautiful, fantastic, wonderful computer art? It was the ultimate distraction, away from their destructive tendencies.”

“How on Earth did you get them to do that?”

“It was actually a concept I’d done the basic programming for, back when I was in college. Think about it – there are no quantifiables in art; no measureable way of determining ‘good’ from ‘bad’ – it’s entirely subjective. However it is possible to get computers to compete against each other – hello? computer games? Sheer genius if I do say so myself.”

“In order to kick this thing off,” Dave continued, “We had to gain access to the servers and memory banks at national level, that control the country’s internet database. This was easier than you’d think, actually.

“The whole place was still operating off of Soviet-era tube-electronics. We were given access to the vaults, spent days and nights on our backs under these primitive machines that looked like the old 1940s-50s UNIVAC. To introduce the programming, we had to do it in Russian. That was challenging; doing code in Cyrillic, and punching it in on an interface that looked like a relic from a cheesy science fiction film. But other than that, once we had it set up, the machines did the rest.”

“An art competition?” Mike asked, incredulous.

“Yes, the computers created endless works of art, and compared it against each other. Working to out-do each other, and the subsequent squabbling, occupied all their creative capacity. They lost interest in any extra-curricular activities whatsoever.”

“You mean, trying to solve productivity dilemmas by taking out their competitor’s humans?” Mike asked.

“Right! It was almost as if – I know this sounds unbelievable – it was almost as if the artificial intelligences had somehow developed egos, the primary aspect of self-awareness, and their artistic endeavors were being driven by vanity; a very primal emotion.”

“That’s crazy! Is that why the Kyrgygs ran you out?”

“Oh no! Things were cruising along just fine. In fact, they were pleased as punch that I’d helped develop a whole new cottage industry. You may not be aware but Kyrgyg computer art wallpapers are very popular, and generate a pretty good side income for the state agency that controls their internet servers and database.”

“Then what?”

“Well, with all this success came a bit of fame and fortune. I made the mistake of letting them interview me for one of their business magazines.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Yes, I don’t know what I was thinking, but they wanted to publicize a success story, and I guess things were going to my head.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, you know the company I used to work for, back in the States, right?”

“Pinkerton, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. And I made the mistake of mentioning that originally, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was established by Allan Pinkerton and served as Abraham Lincoln’s primary intelligence agency during the Civil War.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yep. They’re still operating under the old Cold War mindset over there, and they couldn’t have that. They were going to throw me into prison and give me the thumbscrews treatment, but I got wind of it. As it was, I was lucky to get out of town with the shirt on my back.

“My team and I had to make our way overland, through Tajikistan, across a portion of Afghanistan, then through the part of northeast Pakistan knowns as Gilgit-Baltistan, until we finally made our way across the frontier to Kashmir.”

“Oh my God!” Mike exclaimed. “They’re having a full-on conventional war on that frontier!”

“Yeah, and never mind we had to cross the Roof of the World to get there, on camel and on foot, leading donkey pack trains, sleeping out in the open and avoiding any and all human habitation. Do you have any idea how intense it is?”

“Well, I’ve done some shit in my day,” Mike mumbled.

“Yeah! And then try doing it while playing nursemaid to a bunch of computer nerds whose idea of the rugged outdoors is Magic Kingdom at Disneyland! Whining and crying and moaning that they weren’t made for this, and wanting to give up and turn themselves over to every single set of mud huts we encountered.”

“Have another whiskey, Dave,” Mike said, tossing the bottle cap out into the darkness, out over the cliff. “In fact, the whole bottle’s on the house.”

“Thanks, mate,” Dave said, putting his glass to lip. He took a draw of whiskey like it was a medical elixir. “You know, I still feel it. I still feel every inch of cold I felt up there in the Hindu Kush. Every inch of cold, every step of the way . . . Brrr!” Dave shivered noticeably, despite the warm tropic evening, as if trying to shrug off a memory.

The two men stared out into the darkness. Way down below the surf boomed as the waves pounded endlessly, endlessly, forever into the beach.

“An art competition?” Mike said, almost in awe. “Who’d have thunk it?”

“Yep,” Dave replied. “Who’d have thunk it indeed. I’d still be there, and I’d be rich if it wasn’t for the fact that I like to tell a little history lesson every now and then.”

STORMBRINGER SENDS

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

COOL CARTOGRAPHY LINKS


For intrepid travelers and adventurers, geographers, cartographers and those of you just interested in maps: here's an interesting site that explains - in simple terms and graphic depictions - the whole concept of the Magnetic North Pole and why magnetic declination changes over time and with location HERE

Also, HERE's a map software tool for creating customized Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) maps with terrain, contour lines, roads & man-made structures, etc . . .

STORMBRINGER SENDS

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REMEMBER D-DAY


10 MINUTES!
-73 Years ago, those words were finally yelled over the roar of aircraft, artillery, gunfire, nausea, fear, courage, self doubt, prayers and brotherhood.

GET READY!
-That moment was coming; the one that they had trained for, some died for, this is the last chance for that prayer, good luck wink, thumbs up, tucking away of love letters and good luck charms.

STAND UP!
-This is it get up, numb legs, weak knees that empty stomach feeling of the adrenaline rush, look over gear. Help a buddy get up with his equipment, un-tangle and twisting of straps and slings, shifting the weight of the gear around and reaching for the static line.


HOOK UP!
-Intense focus, lack of fine motor skills, standing in a bouncing, dark airplane at night makes opening the static line and snapping it to the anchor line cable difficult, tug on it to make sure it is seated insert the pin and bend. Hold the static line perfectly and make sure the one in front of you is as ready as you are.

CHECK STATIC LINES!
-It only needs it to work for four seconds but these are the most important four seconds of a lifetime, check it, again. Check the one in front of you, that lifetime needs it double checked, just as it is understood that the one behind you is checking the one to the front.

CHECK EQUIPMENT!
-If death doesn’t come before striking the ground; everything the those to the front and those to the rear are counting on making it to the ground, this equipment is just as important to one as it is to all of them. It is all there; everything to make striking the ground survivable and what is needed to live for the second, minute, hour, day, week beyond that.

SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK!
-“All okay” they have everything strapped down that they are supposed to. Most importantly, they have the years of training, experience and confidence in each other to use this equipment with extreme proficiency.


STAND BY!
-Only time now, no matter how loud the outside world is; it’s all over now, no time for any more preparations, further training, there is no more second guessing or trying to remember a small detail of what is to come. Shortly those brothers will be jumping out of the plane and they are all going together, not a single one would leave any of them to do it on their own. There is only silence, they do not hear the roar of the aircraft, artillery and gun fire, explosions around them that could take them out of this fight at any second. Silence.

1 MINUTE!
-Suddenly the silence is broken the rush is coming back now it is time to get out of this plane and they only hear silence. They look at the dim red light and those around them. Nobody knows what to expect, all are feeling fear, no matter what is waiting for them at home they all know one thing… In a short amount of time they will only have each other.

GO! GO! GO!
-The dim red light suddenly snaps bright Green, their heart rates jump, The men in front begin disappearing into the night as they get closer and closer to the door, suddenly you are in the door taking that forceful leap into the night and anything that is waiting. You have brought one thing with you; brotherhood, anything seeking to destroy that brotherhood will meet death and extreme violence.


They got there by many means; whether in a boat, climbing over their friends as they were being shot to death and storming a beach looking straight at machine guns and artillery explosions, jumping from an aircraft at night. Or had been there for months living and moving underground, assassinating and sabotaging. They all felt fear and used the brotherhood and patriotism that makes America great. They volunteered for the most dangerous jobs knowing what was coming. Fueled by brotherhood and knowing how precious freedom is, they risked and gave everything for us. Those men are the only ones that can truly say they saved the world. Thank you.

(Written by good friend & Airborne/SF buddy Bill Strasburg)

STORMBRINGER SENDS


Monday, May 28, 2018

THE SURVIVOR

© Sean Linnane March 2016

For me, Memorial Day brings to mind Kanchanaburi, Thailand - location of the Death Railway and the Bridge Over the River Kwai. I grew up here, the survivor's harrowing stories, the war cemeteries, all had a profound effect on me that lasts to this very day . . . here's a story I wrote about one Death Railway survivor who never really made it out . . . S.L.

The Bridge over the River Kwai as it appears today in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Mike was working under the hood of the jeep, in a shady part of the hotel’s small parking lot, beneath a casuarina tree. When he looked up, one of the little woody conifer cones fell and struck him in his right eye.

The pain felt like a white hot dagger going straight through his eye socket. Mike immediately put the palm of his hand over his eye, almost stumbled making his way into the hotel. The serving girls sat him down, and it became obvious that a trip to the hospital was in order.

“The cornea is torn,” the doctor told him. “But it will heal. There will be no permanent effect to your eyesight.”

Mike went home to the hotel with a bandage over his eye. Afterward it occurred to Mike; he’d accompanied some members of his Thai staff to the temple the week before. They’d insisted he come with them to meet with an important monk, whom purportedly had some kind of mystical insight. Mike had long learned to respect the Thai’s spiritual beliefs. They have a sensitivity to the mystic side of the world that Westerners seem to have lost.

After silently contemplating Mike, the monk placed his hand upon the center Mike’s chest, right over his heart. The monk closed his eyes, bowed his head and seemed to go into a sort of a trance. The monk began speaking in a low, quiet voice. The tone of his voice was strangely metallic, an almost machine-like droning.

The monk’s words were unintelligible to Mike, of course. His Thai simply was not good enough. Afterwards, one of the Thai girls translated. He would have an accident. His right eye would be injured, but there would be a complete recovery and his vision would not be permanently affected.

And so it had come to be.

To cheer him up, the girls who worked in the hotel fashioned an eye patch out of a black lace brassiere. The girls were so petite that not too much cutting and sewing was required to convert the almost tiny brassiere into an eyepatch. Mike was pleased to put it on, and the girls clapped their hands and laughed with glee.

Being one-eyed takes some getting used to. Mike had to turn his head to the right as he walked around, to make up for the limited field of vision. Losing the use of one eye also meant losing his depth perception, which made walking up and down the cliff challenging; especially down. It was like being half-blind.

There is a well-known phenomenon that occurs when a person loses a sense or a portion of one’s senses. The other senses become more sensitive, more acute, to make up for the loss. A blind person’s sense of hearing, and touch, for example, become heightened. Perhaps even the sense of smell.

There is a sixth sense, of course.

In the late afternoon Mike found himself resting around his pool, enjoying a nap in the shade as the Southeast Asian sun beat down. When he opened his one good eye he noticed a schooner – a beautiful ship – not far off shore, heading north, sailing upwind. The ship seemed almost translucent as it crossed an expanse where the sun reflected off the water like burnished brass.

Intrigued, Mike got up and went up the steps to the veranda area. Fetching the binoculars from behind the bar, Mike put one eyepiece up to his good eye to inspect the magnificent sailing ship.

He could not see the ship. The coated polarized lenses cut the glare, but he could not see the vessel upon the water. Mike lowered the binoculars, looking over them and – incredibly - he could see the schooner once more.

Mike looked at the binoculars in his hand, looked out at the tall sailing ship on the water, then lifted the binoculars to his one good eye once again.

Again, the schooner was no longer visible. Mike regarded the binoculars. Perhaps it was an effect of the prisms, from holding the binos sideways up to his good eye. He tried reversing them, looking through the other eyepiece but the effect was still the same. He could see the schooner with his naked eye, but the ship simply was not there when he observed through the binos.

Then he looked again at the schooner, magnificent in the yellow sunshine. Her bow raised and fell slightly as she tacked upwind, her gaff-rigged mainsail and mizzen, and gaff top sails full of wind. It occurred to him that the ship had been moving under full sail for at least thirty minutes, and yet didn’t seem to have made any headway in the entire time he’d been looking at it.

Mike looked at the binoculars again and shook his head. Only able to see with the naked eye, not visible through the binos. The strangest thing.

That night at the bar the eye patch drew predictable comments that evening from the usual gang. When Mike caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar, it brought to mind the story about his great-grandfather Tom. Tom and his brother were kidnapped by pirates in the South Pacific, and were obliged to become pirates themselves – against their will - for the better part of a year.

A stranger walked into the Long Bar. The place was relatively quiet, most of the regulars hadn’t rolled in yet. Mike sized up the patron; medium height, faded light blue short sleeved shirt – the sleeves had been cut off, actually - and khaki shorts. Tanned a deep nut brown, wizened and wrinkled but wiry, he could have been anywhere from thirty to seventy. Balding, his sparse salt-and-pepper hair was close cropped, he had an almost bullet-shaped head. There were ropy muscles on his arms and legs; the man was in good shape. He sat at the bar.


“I’ll have a beer, please,” he said. When Mike served him, he noticed the man’s fingernails; thick, hard, almost like an animal’s claws, closer to horn than fingernails. This man had done hard physical labor for a long time in his life.

The stranger picked up the glass with both hands and sank the quart greedily, as if to quench a terrible thirst.

“Thanks,” he gasped, putting the glass down. “I’ll have another, please.” He took a regular pull at his beer this time and put it down.

“Do you know the difference between a war story and fairy tale?” the old man asked, squinting at Mike. Then, without waiting for a reply he continued. “A war story starts out with: “There we were, no shit," while a fairy tale begins with: “Once Upon A Time …”

Mike chuckled at this. “Truth.”

The stranger spoke with a southern American accent, but not a thick drawl. Mike noticed the effect of many years spent overseas. Among the expat crowd, accents clearly identify Australians, English or North Americans, but over time heavy regional accents fade, the edges of a twang ‘round off’. Sometimes an Englishman pronounces a few words in a clear, North American accent, or an American pronounces his r’s as in the English or Australian style. Mike called this phenomenon ‘slipping into neutral.’

There was a silence, a kind of uncomfortable pause. The stranger stared out over the veranda into the inky tropical darkness. “I can never get over how dark it gets,” Mike said, to make a bit of conversation.

“It ain’t jungle dark,” the stranger replied. “There ain’t no darkness like how black it gets in the jungle. Canopy so thick no natural light penetrates . . . no stars, moon, nothing.”

“You know, the jungle out there can literally swallow a man whole. It’s as much a wilderness as the middle of the Sahara, or even in the middle of the Arctic, in its own way. Those poor bastards up on the Death Railway, the River Kwai . . .”

“Yes,” Mike replied.

“The camps in Kanchanaburi had no wire, you know. There was no way to escape; the jungle saw to that. They might as well have been on a prison island. The jungle would eat you up. Between the lack of anything to eat, the bloodsucking leeches and the bugs, and then the tigers, what could you do? Where would you go?”

He paused, staring out at the darkness. A moonless night in the tropics is so utterly dark that it seems to encroach upon a person’s soul. One can almost feel the darkness on one’s face, like black velvet dipped in India ink.

“There was no escape from the Death Railway. The jungle would eat you up. The only way out of that thing was Death itself . . .” He seemed to be speaking as much to himself as to anyone else.

“Yep,” Mike replied. “I always thought that’s what happened to Jim Thompson.”

“Eh? Who’s that?”

“Jim Thompson. You’ve heard of him,” Mike said. He almost added ‘of course?’ but it seemed redundant.

“No,” said the man. “Who is he?”

“Jim Thompson, one of the first expats back in Thailand after the war, revitalized the Thai silk industry, got it started up again almost single-handed.”

“After . . . the war . . .” the old man responded, cryptically.

“He made Thai silk world famous,” Mike continued. “His company still exists. His house in Bangkok is a showpiece, a museum full of pieces of Asian art and artifacts.”

Mike thought it strange that in this day and age anybody with more than a day under their belt in Thailand or Malaysia didn’t know who Jim Thompson was, and his patron at the bar certainly looked like an ‘Old Asia Hand’.

“What about him?”

“He disappeared one day, up in the Cameron Highlands.”

“Ah yes,” the odd old man said. “The Cameron Highlands. Central Malaya.”

Mike caught the use of the old colonial name for Malaysia. Peculiar.

“Yes, he went for an afternoon walk, by himself, and disappeared completely. Never seen or heard from again.”

“The jungle can do that. What was he doing up there?”

“Visiting friends, staying at their villa. At the time of his disappearance, Jim Thompson was probably the richest white man in Asia. His disappearance simply made no sense.”

“Well you know, one step into that jungle and a man can be completely invisible. Maybe a tiger got him?”

“Possible, but there were no reports of a man eater in the area, either before or after his disappearance. Malaysian tigers aren’t really known for hunting humans, not like the Royal Bengals.”

“Ah yes, up in the Bengal,” the old man stated.

Again, Mike thought his use of another anachronistic place name – ‘Bengal’ – odd. Not West Bengal, or Bangladesh. Just Bengal.

“Jim Thompson was OSS during the war. That’s how he ended up in Thailand. He worked with the Thai Serai - the ‘Free Thai’ – during the Japanese occupation, and then helped sort things out in the confusing days right at the end of the war. Later, he was reporting on conditions in the countryside and that’s how he got involved in the silk trade.”

The old man looked at Mike curiously. Mike had a strange sensation that his mysterious guest didn’t quite understand what he was saying, almost as if he were speaking a foreign language.

“You know,” the old man said quietly, “A man can get sucked into that jungle, so deep and thick it really is like . . . the Land that Time Forgot . . . I’ve seen things so deep into that dark green Hell, a man wonders if he’s still on the same Earth, of the same time and place from whence he came . . .”

Mike tried to be discrete as he sized the man up. There was a tattoo on his left forearm, faded but still quite legible. It featured a topless woman in a grass skirt, playing a ukulele.


Mike had seen this kind of tattoo before; it was an old fashioned design, popular with sailors in the thirties and forties. Beneath it were two stars – very faded and blurry, they looked hand done, with a sewing needle perhaps. Beneath the two stars was a scroll with lettering, faded but neater than the stars, professionally done, like the woman. The words read:


U.S.S. HOUSTON – CA-30


His mysterious guest was obviously a Navy man.

Some of the regulars were beginning to make their way in. Mike moved around the bar, the conversation with the stranger was over. As the night went on Mike didn’t notice when the man left, which was strange as his good eye was towards the entrance of the bar. He wasn’t even sure if the man had paid or not. It didn’t matter; patrons often returned the next day to settle up their bill.

The next morning as Mike sat down to begin his writing ritual, he remembered the strange guest from the night before. The man’s tattoo, in particular. Out of curiosity, he did an Internet search for USS HOUSTON:

‘Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, USS Houston got underway from Panay Island with fleet units bound for Darwin, Australia, where she arrived on 28 December 1941 by way of Balikpapan and Surabaya. After patrol duty, she joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) naval force at Surabaya.

‘From 4 to 28 February 1942, USS Houston fought three engagements; Battle of Makassar Strait, Battle of Java Sea, and Battle of Sunda Straight. At Sunda Strait Houston suffered four torpedo hits. The Houston rolled over and sank at 0030 hours, her ensign still flying. Of the original crew of 1,061 men only 368 survived. These men were interned in Japanese prison camps and served as slave laborers on the infamous Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.’


Mike looked out across the veranda to the heavy foliage on the side of the cliff. Even at the edge of the jungle, the intense vegetation presented a visual cacophony of green upon green. Viewing it one-eyed, with no depth perception, made it all the more overwhelming.

The strange old man’s words seemed to ring in his ears.

“A man can get sucked into that jungle, so deep and thick . . . I’ve seen things so deep into that dark green Hell, a man wonders if he’s still on the same Earth, of the same time and place from whence he came . . . it really is like the Land that Time Forgot . . .”

The jungle beckoned. Mike did something he’d never done on the cliff; he walked into the jungle.

An experienced outdoorsman, Mike was not concerned he’d get lost or disoriented. The cliff was roughly north-south, he was heading north, and if he did lose his way all he had to do was descend to the beach and move south back to the stairs that led up to the hotel. Impossible to get lost.

It was less than ten steps into the green intensity that the confusion set in.

The lay of the land changed, he no longer seemed to be on a semi-vertical cliff. Mike quickly lost any sense of direction, or orientation.

Mike looked up, and in a hole in the canopy against the white sky . . . he could swear he saw a pterodactyl fly by . . .

This story was partly inspired by an experience I had one night long, long ago, at one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in Kanchanaburi. We must never, never forget their sacrifice . . .

- STORMBRINGER SENDS

Thursday, January 4, 2018

FIGHTING THE FROST GIANTS

OK Team - Lets pull it into a circle, everybody take a knee. Smoke 'em if you got 'em and lissen Up . . .

Its the New Year. January is named after the Roman god Janus, from the Latin Januarius "of Janus". Janus was the Roman god of gates and doorways, and of beginnings and ends.


On the subject of Beginnings, somebody asked me for advice; he's going for Special Forces Selection & Assessment. What kind of workouts should he be doing? Well he came to the right man because over the past six months, I designed a Selection & Assessment program for an Eastern European nations' own Special Forces, then picked up a new contract that involves a selection & assessment of its own, a training program and a rather significant physical fitness standard in the Statement of Work. This is timely for me because I've been personally training over the past year for a long distance endurance event involving boots and rucksacks and LOTS of miles on the feet, so I'm in a position to give good advice in this department.

First of all, anyone interested in attending Special Forces Assessment & Selection is going to have to do LOTS of ruck marching to get their body used to carrying the weight. Please be aware that the Special Forces pace for a ruck march is four miles an hour. Thats a fifteen minute mile - practically running - with at least 55lbs on your back. The terrain around Camp Mackall is all sand (its the "Sandhills" - right? Used to be an ancient seabed) and that sand grabs your ankles and makes rucking harder there than anywhere except the desert. Nobody ruckmarches like Special Forces - it is our signature move. I suggest lots of flutterkicks, and lots of squats to build up your thigh muscles and hip flexors.

Flutterkicks are performed with your fists under your butt and chin on chest to take the strain off the lower back. I wrap a towel around my fists to get some more elevation on and so I don't crush my hands.

In training for this kind of activity, I do my squats with between 70 to 140 pounds on the bar, about five sets of sixteen reps, at least three times a week. On a weightlifting routine to prep for Selection, I recommend using lighter weights and go for more repetitions. The idea is to build up endurance kind of core strength; its weight lifting to compound your performance, not body building. Body building is actually counterproductive to athletic performance and flexibility because you're packing on weight while your heart and lungs remain the same size - weight that you'll later have to push down the trail.

To prep for Selection, you need a plan. Over the course of three months of conditioning there will be plateaus, peaks & valley. The plan is to hit a high plateau in the week(s) before Selection, then be moving toward that peak just as you start. You don't want to be at a pinnacle of fitness because that is when the body becomes fine tuned, almost a delicate state and prone to injury. The overall goal is a kind of core strength of the endurance variety that can be drawn upon so that when faced with an extreme physical challenge - like an event that takes place over several days - during the course of the event performance is there (you will feel the pain) but afterward there is not damage or injury.

Ability to bounce back and go into the next thing is crucial - because there WILL be a Next Thing. Foot movements will be between four to six to twelve miles - they'll never tell you the distance, they'll just keep telling you to keep driving on - and will be immediately followed by some kind of heinous physical challenge when you arrive at your destination. Imagine ruck-running for an hour or two or three with 55lbs on your back, and when you get to where you're going, the cadre begin a "thrash session": drop and do twenty-five pushups at the four count. Now on your backs and do flutterkicks, twenty-five at the four count. Right, now roll over and do pushups; twenty-five at the four count. And it goes on, and on and on for at least forty minutes. Either that, or they make you haul logs around or some other sadistic medieval technique designed to defeat your spirit and crush your soul. OK, take a break, get cleaned up, grab some chow. In six hours we'll do it all over again - and nobody tells you how far you're going to have to march or what's waiting for you on the other end.

If you can hang in there and survive this kind of punishment, you're Special Forces material.

Now just to show you I put my money where my mouth is - literally - this is what my workday entailed, starting out yesterday morning at zero dark thirty: six mile ruck/run with 20+ lbs body armor, plus 35+ lbs rucksack for 55 lbs total. Going up those hills in that super cooled air, it really hurt the heart & lungs, I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack.


We followed that creek 6 miles ... went up & down hills ... heart attack terrain... the creek is frozen solid in most places .... except where we had to cross it - in those places it was wet and deep enough to saturate our boots. And of course we practically ran the whole way, because that is our signature move - Rucksack Death Marches from Hell.

The body armor added a dimension of suckage to it that is simply ... indescribable ... The damn body armor constricts the chest so you can't draw a full breath, which makes huffing & puffing up those hills even harder still. Between that and the rucksack straps pulling your shoulders back, its like being crucified with a 55 lb monkey on your back while having a heart attack and marching on wet frozen stumps of meat over uneven terrain in the dark so cold you can't feel your face ... all at the same time ... for 3+ hours ...

Why do I do it? I do it because I gotta do it, gotta embrace the suck. I do it because what I learned after I retired from active duty is that "Special Forces is Forever" is more than a recruiting slogan. Like they told me three decades ago at Camp Mackall: "You think it's over? You think its over? . . .

. . . it ain't NEVER OVER ! ! !

STORMBRINGER SENDS

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Poem for Remembrance Day


"The Inquisitive Mind of a Child"

Why are they selling poppies, Mummy?
Selling poppies in town today.
The poppies, child, are flowers of love.
For the men who marched away.

But why have they chosen a poppy, Mummy?
Why not a beautiful rose?
Because my child, men fought and died
In the fields where the poppies grow.

But why are the poppies so red, Mummy?
Why are the poppies so red?
Red is the colour of blood, my child.
The blood that our soldiers shed.

The heart of the poppy is black, Mummy.
Why does it have to be black?
Black, my child, is the symbol of grief.
For the men who never came back.

But why, Mummy are you crying so?
Your tears are giving you pain.
My tears are my fears for you my child.
For the world is forgetting again.

- Author Unknown

Thanks to Brzrkr for sharing this - S.L.

Veterans Day IS Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries . . . Honor & Respect . . . teach our children to never forget who paid for our freedom . . . STORMBRINGER SENDS