On Memorial Day

If there is a sin superior to every other, it is that of willful and offensive war. Most other sins are circumscribed within narrow limits…but he who is the author of a war, lets loose the whole contagion of hell, and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.

-Thomas Paine, The Crisis Number V (1778)

I’ve studied too much history and read too many accounts to share in the jingoism and nationalism exhibited by others on days like today. I will sing no patriotic songs today. I will share no banal images celebrating our military. I will not cover my home in flags. This is not “Look How Patriotic I Am Day.” This is a day of remembrance, of mourning, and of healing. On Memorial Day we remember the costs and evils of war, and how very precious is peace. While our warmongering politicians barrel ahead with bellicose threats of aggression, we honor those lost in battle and the families who will never again see their loved ones.

Memorial Day isn’t just to remember the fallen, though. We also remember the often overlooked survivors who, though they were able to return home, lost parts of themselves in the depths. These wounded souls must relive the hell each and every day, coping with memories of things that “should never happen under God” – memories those of us who have not seen war can never understand or even imagine. They too died in a fashion on the battlefield, for they are no longer the same person who left home.

Every life lost in war is a life cut short; a bright light of potential snuffed out. Someone’s father, someone’s sister, someone’s child. We may take pride that such people lived, but to celebrate such sacrifice is shameful. Honor them. Honor them not with hollow words and meaningless flag waving, but by striving to make war a distant memory. Honor them by reversing the tide of interventionism and militarism that has taken hold of our society and our government, mocking their precious sacrifice. Honor them by remembering the value of life, and recognizing that every drop of blood spilled in aggression is an unforgivable sin.

“To Live, Not To Exist”

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

-Jack London

N&W 611, Finally Fired Up

My grandfather and I, dwarfed by J611 in the early 1990s

My grandfather and I, dwarfed by J611 in the early 1990s

Yesterday I made my way up to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC for their Sendoff Celebration for the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s N&W Class J 611. Since May 2014, the 611 has been at Spencer, undergoing its much anticipated restoration after twenty long years in hibernation.

For someone like me who grew up enamored with this locomotive, this was a fantastic day. And for the past year there has been something immensely satisfying about her being restored at Spencer Shops, where I spent so much of my childhood.

What a joy that scenes like this will once again be a reality:

N&W J 611's builder's plate

N&W J 611’s builder’s plate

Learn more about the N&W J611 and the Fire Up 611 campaign

Donate to the Fire Up 611 campaign

The Parting Glass

I’ve had the same piece of music stuck on perpetual repeat in my head for the past three days or so. At least it’s a nice selection.

Song Text

Of all the money, e’er I had,
I spent it in good company,
And all the harm I have ever done,
‘Alas it was to none but me.

And all I’ve done for want of wit,
To memory now I can’t recall,
So fill to me the parting glass,
Goodnight and joy be with you all.

So fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health whate’er befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all.

Of all the comrades that e’er I had,
They’re sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had,
They’d wish me one more day to stay.

But since it fell into my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I’ll gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all.

Fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health whate’er befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all.

Fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health whate’er befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all.

A Marathon in Westeros

In closing the back cover of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book five, A Dance with Dragons, this past week, I have now “binge read” four series of novels. (Yes, I know A Song of Ice and Fire is not yet a complete series, but work with me here.) Of those, A Song of Ice and Fire has felt the most like a marathon run. If you’re familiar with the books, I’m sure you’ll understand why: the breadth of the lore and world of Westeros (and Esos) and the sheer volume of literature is simply overwhelming. Combine that with the famed emotional turmoil of Martin’s writing, and you have quite the run ahead of you. And yet, there’s some twisted, masochistic element in it because you find yourself drawn in and you can’t help but keep reading.

And while I’m slightly perturbed that I now must wait however long it takes for book six, The Winds of Winter, to be published and find out what happens next (and only the Seven know how long for book seven…), I’m also thankful for a breather. I don’t read series very often, so I consider it quite the feat for over half of my very first 8,000-page year to be technically the same story.

Join me on Goodreads

A Banner Year for Reading

It looks like 2014 is to set a solid personal record for the number of pages I have read. Chalk it up to reading all seven books of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and (so far) the first four books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series this year. I’m now on A Song of Ice and Fire book five (A Dance with Dragons), which will bring me firmly past 8000 pages for this year. For some this might not be that big of a deal, but as a slow reader, I’m quite happy. And yet, somehow my “to read” list hasn’t shrunk.

Join me on Goodreads

One Of Those Days

I often lend some technical and musical assistance at a local church. In today’s case, the DVD drive in an aging computer they leave in their chapel was failing. So, I ordered a cheap replacement and went to install it today. A theoretical twenty minute job. If only…

The first things I noticed on opening the old desktop were the connections used on the drive: Molex power and a huge data bus for which I can’t even think of a name. It’s been so long since I’ve replaced components on older equipment that the fairly recent transition to SATA didn’t even occur to me. Fortunately the motherboard did have SATA ports available for data, but SATA power from the PSU didn’t exist.

One quick trip to RadioShack for a Molex-SATA adapter later, the drive was installed. I boot the machine, but there’s no DVD drive to be found in the system. After a visit with Google, I boot into the board BIOS and eventually find and enable the SATA connections. Round two booting into Windows now shows the drive and everything is working. Well, except for one minor issue.

At this point, Windows notices that “significant hardware changes” have been made, and decides that its own installation may not be genuine. It gives me a friendly ultimatum that if I don’t activate Windows in three days, it will no longer be usable. My twenty minutes is at about two hours by this point, by the way.

Now, to activate Windows you must be on an admin account. Reasonable, yes? Problem: no one around knows what the password is, and the only other account is a locked-down “Guest” account. So, back to Google. There’s a hidden, backdoor-esque “Administrator” account that often gets left without a password on installation. As my luck today would have it, whoever set up this machine was actually paying attention and locked that account as well.

I tried weaseling my way in through Safe Mode and Command Prompt, but couldn’t even select those options because the USB ports for the keyboard weren’t active on that prompt. Hello Google… again. Back into the BIOS, legacy USB support gets enabled. Now I can boot into Safe Mode, but only admins can actually use that mode.

Four hours later (Hey, remember that twenty minutes?), we now have a computer with a working DVD drive that in three days won’t be working anymore. Our options are down to someone miraculously remembering the magic password or someone uncovering a Windows XP Pro installation disc (no luck so far). Alternatively, what I’ve suggested is to forget the whole Windows nightmare and install a lightweight Linux distro like I’ve done with my aging hardware at home.

Needless to say, today has done little to improve my already low opinion of Windows these days.

The Georgian Alps

Yes, you read that correctly. Day Three has been spent in the charming, if touristy, town of alpine Helen, GA. A German-themed town is hardly something one would expect to find in the middle of the Georgia hills, yet here it is.

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Pizza and Ice Cream in Savannah

After passing through Charleston on Monday and finding it difficult to secure accommodations, we spent some time in the extremely historic Savannah, GA today. (If you’ve ever visited, you’ll understand the need for the additional modifier on “historic.”)

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“God Bless America”

Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” is one of the most hauntingly accurate commentaries on modern America I’ve seen. And it’s all done under the guise of over-the-top humor. Not for the overly sensitive, though.

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