Friday, January 15, 2016

Fire Starter

The older I get, the more I am interested in learning about things that didn't even register for me when I was even 40.

Growing up, I was interested in shooting, hunting and archery. I put time into these pursuits and got a lot of pleasure from them. In my twenties, a friend of mine got me interested in rock climbing and riding motorcycles, and I explored these hobbies with equal gusto. Then my time and energy was taken over with learning how to be a husband and father. That was plenty to keep me busy for most of my 30's.

As I got closer to 40, an old interest started to take over my thoughts. I had always wanted to be a writer. My goal was not particularly lofty. I wanted to be good enough to write a story that people would enjoy. I had no idea how much work would be required to get to that point but I did reach it and it was good. Like all the other skills I've picked up over the years, writing ability does when not used.

Now that I'm looking at 50, I find myself wanting to keep up with skills and not let them degrade and I don't have a lot of interesting picking up new ones. The shift has been less around new skills and more around new knowledge and capabilities.

Most of my friends and family found it odd that I wanted to learn how to make mead when I don't drink. I found the process of fermentation interesting years ago and just never pursued it, but last year I did and made a batch of mead. It was fun, interesting and satisfying. Now I know how and I'm sure if I continued to pursue it, I would get better, but my wife doesn't care for it and she would be my primary customer.

Recently, I've become obsessed with making fire. Not starting fires, I'm not a firebug, just the process of being able to make fire with primitive means. I'm not alone. There are several websites specializing in all kinds of primitive skills. There are also many YouTube channels dedicated to survival that include making fires and I learned a lot by watching them.

My journey is not over, but I have had a good time making fire kits for friends, family and myself. I chose the flint and steel method and put together all the necessary bits in leather pouches. If I was more dedicated, I would go out back and collect the deadfall and kindling and make a fire now, but this is Minnesota and I would rather not go through that in sub zero weather. True, that's when you need to be able to make fire the most, but I think I'll start in the spring and work my way up to winter survival.

I'm not sure what I'll pursue next, but I think it may be a new angle on an older and favorite hobby. I've loved archery since I was around 8, and I've starting to watch videos on primitive methods for making bows, strings and arrows. Who and I kidding, it's only a matter of time and that time is after winter.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Jackpine Savage tries 3 Gun Competition

As a proud Jackpine Savage, I've been shooting since I was barely a sapling. I took to rifles immediately and later pistols with equal relish. Shotguns, however, were not my favorite. That's an understatement. It's more accurate to say that I hated them for many years. My dislike started with my first encounter.

For those of you that knew my dad or have at least heard stories, you won't be shocked to find out that he had my shoot a 3" magnum from a seated supported position when I was nine. I remember the noise, and sliding backwards, then falling backwards. It took a few minutes to get feeling back into my shoulder. The moment left an impression. Later, when I found out that the best duck weather was in a cold downpour, I was further soured. Finally, shooting a shotgun at a moving object in the air requires to forget the opposite of the discipline of the rifle.

Shooting a rifle requires (as I learned from my father),  1. Consistent cheek to stock weld. 2. Sight picture. 3. Breath control. 4. Steady squeeze on the trigger.

A shotgun requires learning the lead distance and slapping the trigger. There is no luxury of breath control and no sight picture or a steady squeeze. It takes practice to switch from one to the other, and my hatred for the shogun drastically reduced my desire to put in the time.

Flash forward 30 odd years and I heard about 3 Gun matches. There is no false advertising, it requires 3 guns, a rifle, a pistol and... a shotgun. But, and it's a big but, there are no or at least very few targets flying through the air. In short, I could shoot it like a rifle against fixed targets. I can do that.

When it came to choosing my three, the pistol was the easiest decision. I already had a Springfield XDM .40, but for accurate fast shooting, I followed the online advice and got a 9mm XDM. The only thing it required were a few extended mags and a precision trigger kit. I went with the Powder River Precision trigger kit and dropped the pull down to around 2 pounds.

I had no idea how much I would actually like it, so I didn't want to go broke. I sold a few pieces I wasn't using. A Mini 14 and a couple of pistols and got a Mossberg AR15. It had good reviews, especially for the price. The trigger was the largest complaint, so I dropped in a Timney trigger kit. The stock also left something to be desired, so I upgraded that as well. At first I tried a red dot, but the fact is, my old eyes needed optics, so I replaced it with a 1-4 power. What I got is a bargain AR that shoots like a carbine twice it's price.
Lastly, I needed a shotgun. Since my dad passed, I made sure to take care of the shotgun he loved the most. With it, he won best in Bemidji in Skeet and Trap two years in a row. The Browning A5. His was made in Belgium int he 20's and besides routine cleaning, I wouldn't touch it.  Even if I did, would it work for a 3 gun competition? I did some searching and found an article from a man that blogs as Major Pandemic

I was sold. I found a 50's era Twelve Light on Gun for less than $400, and added the magazine extension, a synthetic stock and a Polychoke without the break (due to match rules), and I was ready.
My first match was a little rough. I had yet to install the trigger kit in the pistol. I had feed issues with my AR until I was told to load only 28 rounds in the 30 round magazines (go figure), and when I got to the last two shells in my A5, I also had a miss-feed that required a longer spring (only $6 dollars).

I also got sun burned and was very hungry and thirsty because I forgot to pack food, water or sunscreen.

Here's what I learned about the people that shoot in 3 Gun matches. They are good people. They enjoy it and they care. Technically, we are competing, though not for a prize, just for the lowest time, but it doesn't feel like a competition. You're just out shooting with new friends and learning. The main goal is the better than you were yesterday. I got a lot of advice and assistance. True, no one gave me half their sandwich, but they did have water and this is a shooting range not an after school special. But still, I felt welcomed.

I made adjustments to my gear and created a checklist of items I would need for my next match. There are several in the Twin Cities area during the summer and I'm sure all over the US. I can see how this could get very expensive for someone that was 20 years younger and had a serious chance of getting good. I am neither. My bargain basement gear works just fine for me. Now I just need to get out there and have fun.

If you enjoy shooting as a sport consider joining me, I guarantee you'll like it. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grandma's House

One week each summer from the age of six until I was ten, I spent a week at my grandma's. She seemed so far away, a whole hour back in Deer River. She lived on Hanson Lake in the house her first husband had built. My sister got a week also, so we each got a two week break from each other.
The first night was always awkward. Grandma had fewer rules than I had at home but I was always tentative and a little afraid. I slept in an upstairs room and it was strange. The smell was comforting, but different and after living in a trailer, even a small house seemed large when it had an upstairs and a basement.
It might have been the different noises or because Amber wasn't there guard me until I slept, but that first bedtime was always hard. There were Peanuts books by Charles Shultz in the room and while I barely remembered the rest of the surroundings, those books were comforting.
The next morning there were always Leo's pancakes. Leo was my grandpa, but we called him Leo. Later, I understood that he was my Grandma's second husband and he never wanted to be seen as trying to take Grandpa's place. I never met my Maternal or Paternal grandfathers, both died before I was born.
Leo was grandpa enough that I never felt like I missed anything. His pancakes were delicious and unlike anything else I'd ever tasted. I had an important job watching the light on the grill and took it very seriously. More like a cross between a crepe and a typical pancake with bacon grease as critical ingredient, I put down more than my share. They also made their own syrup, the traditional way in a large pan outside on an open fire. The whole family would visit during maple syrup season and I would walk through the woods with Grandma checking and collecting buckets of the sap and when it snowed, Leo would make us hard maple syrup candy right from the pan.
They had a real bar in the family room and Leo would take my order like I was a grownup and serve up my kiddy cocktail with the flair of a real bartender. He was a gifted story teller and a man of mystery, with strange gravity defying devices carved from wood like tops and a thing that would suspend a belt on the edge of the table and bounce as if suspended by a magnet. He also polished stones and I loved to look at all them and touch their smooth surfaces.
Hanson Lake was a magic place. Near the dock there were large rocks that could be peeled off in sheets and almost seen though. Closer to the water, giant bullfrogs hid in the tall grass. Leo said he would cook up the legs if I caught one. I caught a few but let them go.
Grandma would take me fishing on the lake. First we would go get supplies. I would always get a toy from the store by the lake and usually lose it before I returned home. One year we got Worm in a Can Cola. The top had two holes, one to drink from and one to let in air. We would gather earthworms from the rich soil and go out near the lily pads and bobber fish for sunnies and then eat them that night, either in a cornbread or beer batter. Nothing tasted better.
One winter we were there when Grandma got a bunch of chicks. We played with them for hours; they were so cute and yellow. That next summer I got to see them all grown up. Grandma collected eggs and we went out to the pen one night before dinner.
"Pick one out."
I couldn't really recognize them all grown up but I convince myself I knew which one had been my favorite and I pointed it out. She picked it up and carried it back to the house. Halfway there, she stopped at a stump, grabbed the bird by the neck and swung it around snapping its neck with a quick twitch of her wrist. I stood by, eyes big and unable to speak. She chopped off its head and gutted it quick, handing me a foot so I could see how the claws opened and shut when you pulled on the tendons. Then she showed me how to pluck it and I helped. By the time it came out of the oven, I was done with my silent mourning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Sniper

Wow, the bullshit is running deep and from mostly people that never served a day in their lives. Im not talking only about just the military either; Im talking about any form of service. People that worked in the Peace Corps or even AmeriCorps get more respect from me than someone that has never served anyone but themselves.  What do any of you that have never served know about the motivations of the people that join? Their motivations are as varied as the people themselves. But lets get one thing very clear. Even those that served only in peacetime surrendered their rights as citizens and became the property of the US government for the length of their contracts. How dare you minimize and demean even that sacrifice, let alone the ones made by those who served in combat, especially those of you that havent even bothered to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Youre right in that they don't do it for any of you, they do it for their country and once down range, they do it for each other as well.

I am in full agreement that the Iraq war was a mistake, but I also dont care once soldiers are on the ground somewhere. Then, the people we all elected sent them into harms way and that is on all of us. You dont get to hide behind platitudes because it wasnt your president. Forget waving the flag or buying a bumper sticker at that point. The only way to support the troops once they are deployed is to give them a clear objective, all the gear they need and get them back home as soon as possible.

As for the other comments going around about soldiers being racist or sociopaths, make up your fucking mind. An Armys job is to kill the enemy. A soldiers job is to kill the enemy. But even with all of the training they go through, people have a problem killing. Thats normal. Killing another person is supposed to be hard. As long as soldiers have existed, they have dehumanized their enemies. They use derogatory names and think of them as targets. If they were sociopaths, they wouldnt have to do this. A sociopath feels no remorse when killing. They feel nothing whatsoever, including any connection to their fellow man or in this case, fellow soldiers. They have no need to degrade or dehumanize the enemy and no special interests in protecting anyone but themselves. Soldiers, and that includes snipers, are not sociopaths. That doesnt mean that there has never been a sociopath that became a soldier, but that isnt the accusation being thrown about. Sociopaths also never suffer from PTSD.

Heres a little test to drive home my point. You can lie to me and others, but don't lie to yourselves. Write down or type out the names you use to describe people that have opposing political views. Describe the most recent president of the party that you disagree with the most. Do you consider people with opposing viewpoints as equal to yourself? Do you respect their right to disagree with you? Or do you use inflammatory and derogatory adjectives to describe their mental state, question the legitimacy of their birth and sometimes, when no one can overhear you, question their right to breath your air?

These folks arent the enemy; they are fellow citizens if your country that you disagree with, yet you dehumanize them with thought and speech. These arent people you have to kill before they kill you, they are just people with a different political viewpoint. How then can you judge a soldier harshly for calling the enemy savages or worse? Our soldiers called the Japanese and Germans horrible names and their soldiers returned the favor.

It drives some people crazy that anyone could idolize a soldier. Thats any solider. Sure, they will make hay from any other weakness or flaw be it real or imagined, but those arguments are secondary to their main objection, which is that someone who has served their country should be admired. How dare Clint Eastwood make a movie that so many Americans watch about a sniper. If American Sniper only made $15 Million like Hurt Locker, then no one would have had a problem with it. It wouldnt be news worthy so folks like Moore wouldnt comment on it. Since it has made a lot of money and is news, they just cant stand it.

Rolling Stones reporter Matt Taibbi spewed his venom all over the movie because it failed to point out that the Iraq war was a mistake. It failed to call out the real villains within the beltway that caused the Iraq war to occur. There is a time and a place for that discussion and there are plenty of people that have the means to make a movie supporting that point of view. What Taibbi fails to understand and will likely never understand, is that for soldiers, it is irrelevant. The righteousness of any war can be debated. We were attacked in WWII by Japan, but in turn, we attacked Germany. We eventually counter attacked Japan as well, but our justification for attacking Germany was as weak as imagined WMDs. In all of US history, this is a war that has the least number of US citizens claiming we were wrong to be involved; yet the US did horrible things to the enemy.

It isnt enough that 1% of our citizens must shoulder the burden of the entire nation with their service. Now, each solider that fires a shot at an enemy on the battlefield must do so with remorse, while praising them as fellow human beings and later with deep regret. Well congratufuckinglations, people you at least got your wish. On average, 22 veterans are committing suicide every day. Many of the soldiers that have served since 9/11 have come home physically and emotionally damaged. Just keep telling yourself its just a job and these people are in no way heroic.

As for Kyle, I dont care if he was a flawed human being that made up stuff after his service. If anything, it is only an indication that what he went through damaged him more than he cared to admit. He served in harms way for multiple tours, saved a lot of soldiers lives and lost friends. If a bunch of combat vets want to get in a room and discuss Kyle either pro or con, go for it, those folks are the only ones qualified to have an opinion. The rest of you need a big cup of shut the fuck up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Long Walk

The memories of my time in the Army fluctuate. One day they seem so long ago that it must have happened to someone else and I just heard the story, and other times it feels like I just got back home from Ft Dix yesterday.

I wasn't an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician for long, yet I was young and it left a permanent impression on me. I did the job back in the days before bomb suits and robots. We walked downrange without hat or blouse, because they could get in the way. We had a hero kit strapped to our legs filled with a blasting cap crimper, a demolition knife, a dive knife, a Leatherman and a role of electrical tape.

During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I heard the expression "the long walk" for the first time. It's what the EOD techs now call that lonely stroll downrange to either identify or render safe an unexploded piece of ordnance or Improvised Explosive Device. The Long Walk. It fits. It says so much in only a few words. Yet despite the inherent danger associated with even the most mundane of tasks like blowing up a faulty hand grenade with a block of C-4, I never once remember being afraid.

This is not bravado. I didn't lack fear. I was just under the delusion that I could handle whatever was at the end of my walk. They did a good job at school and later in the unit reinforcing this belief. Despite having lost 162 techs between 1941 and 1985, it seemed like those were things that happened to other people. We needed to believe that, so we did.

This is what I thought as I took another kind of long walk today. The elevator door opened to drab colors, worn carpet and a tired institutional smell. The building is quite different from the one my father died in seven years ago, but the feelings are the same. I was there to visit one of my favorite people in the world and had no idea if she would even know I was there.

Like most people, I had two grandmas. My father's mom passed away when I was eleven. We were never close. She was so much different than the person I thought of as my real grandma. Grandma Dora was always my grandma, and now she's in hospice. She's 95 and has had a full, rich life, but I am greedy. I want more. One more game of scrabble. One more meal shared. One more story told. I sound like my daughters when they were small but I don’t care, I want one more.

The elevator closed behind me and I was afraid. Like the walks I took to see my father in his final days, I feared that I was not ready for what was downrange. I feared that I would not be strong enough for Dora or my mom. Would this be the last time I saw her? Would she know I'm there? Was I already too late?

You're never ready. There is no ready. So I put one foot in front of the other and patted the spot on my hip where my hero kit used to rest and I tried not to think about what could happen. Those things happen to the other guys. Now at home, all I can think about is to hope I have another chance at the long walk, so I can hold her hand and look into her eyes, just one more time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

McCammon Didn’t Copy King.

Let me start by being clear that I am a huge fan of both Robert McCammon and Stephen King. I've read all of their collective works and I love horror as well as many other genres. In both cases there are books I havent cared for, though they are the exception. Ive also been able to see each writer mature over time to become true masters of the written word and its been one hell of a ride. Because Ive loved both since I got into horror in the 80s, I was always irritated by flippant claims that Mr. McCammon copied Mr. King. There is no need to defend Mr. McCammon, but there has been an unfair criticism of his early work that are still making the rounds. The two most often used examples are the vampire novels Salems Lot and They Thirst and the apocalyptic novels The Stand and Swan Song.

Lets first look at the vampire novel. Salems Lot and They Thirst were the same in the following ways:

They were vampire novels
They both had a Master that directed the mayhem
They both happened in the USA

How they were different:

Salems Lot had themes focusing on imbedded evil or evil calling to evil while They Thirst was more apocolyptic
Salems Lot was on a small scale with few characters or POVs unlike many others of Kings works while They Thirst was more on the scale of Swan Song including spending a lot of time on the Masters POV.

The novels arent similar in scope or arc. There were very few vampire novels at the time. Before Salems Lot, there are only 38 works of fiction dealing with Vampires going back to the 1800s. It was not heavily trod ground. They Thirst came out in 1981, the same years as The Hunger by Whitely Strieber and The Keep by F. Paul Wilson. Only McCammon gets criticism for copying King by daring to write a vampire novel 5 years after Salems Lot. 

As for the apocalyptic novels, The Stand and Swan Song are the same in the following ways:

They were apocalyptic fiction
Both dealt with evil
They both happened in the USA
Both were on a grand scale and involved traveling across the USA
Both had an avatar of evil walking the earth in human form
Both ended with hope
Both are long works

How they are different:

The Stand started with disease while Swan Song started with nuclear war.
The Stand covered approximately two years while Swan Song covered nearly twenty.
The Stand climaxed with a Dues Ex Machina and Swan Song resolved though the decisions made by its characters.
The Stand had two camps where good and evil people were drawn. Swan Song had no camps. It was a world of suffering where the evil avatar worked hard to eliminate hope in any form and people became concentrated version of who they were inside, later to be revealed in physical transformation.

When King released The Stand in 1978, there had been over a hundred fictional works dealing with apocalyptic themes, 17 of which were due to a disease. Though saying The Stand was only about a disease that reduced the worlds population until it collapsed is as much of an oversimplification as claiming that Swan Song was a copy of The Stand because it was a apocalyptic horror story that came out ten years after Kings novel.

But what exactly is the claim? Certainly not plagiarism since neither plot is either original or a copy of any other. Then what is the gripe? That Stephen King came out with his versions of these tropes before Robert McCammon? I fail to see how this translates into one copying the other. Neither man invented these genres and each brought something different to the table with their works.

Neither Salems Lot nor They Thirst were the strongest works from either writer, while The Stand and Swan Song are perhaps in the top five books each man has written. The genre was already well-tilled ground when both started their versions, yet each managed to bring something memorable with their efforts.

Stephen Kings first novel was published in 1974, while Robert McCammon was first published in 1978. Mr. King was more prolific in his first ten years and after creative differences with his publishers, Mr. McCammon stopped writing for a decade. Since his return, he has released 5 Matthew Corbett novels, a new collection of short stories about Michael Gallatin (The Wolfs Hour), The Five, I Travel by Night and soon to be released The Border.

Mr. King just released the novel Revival, where the main character is a musician, and where music plays a big roll in moving the story forward. I wont give away any spoilers, but only an asshole would claim that he copied Robert McCammons novel The Five from three years earlier because it was about musicians.

Both writers are masters of their craft and both have had books that have not been as well received as the bulk of their work. What I recommend is that you read them all, enjoy them all and forget about the claims. They are hay made by small minds at a time when Horror was in its hay day and Mr. King was crowned. Kings accomplishments do not detract from anyone elses, and I can enjoy other works without performing blasphemy and so can you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I decided to make mead.

For those that know me, this may seem a strange decision since I don’t and never have drank alcohol. But except for a few soapbox moments in my teens, I have believed that socially responsible drinking is a good thing.

It may be the only reason I exist.

My wife drinks but is what is commonly known as a teetotaler. So why make not one but two large batches of mead? Because the process of fermentation has always interested me, and because it is my way of being included in the process. I had a friend years ago, whose life's dream was to become a brew master. It became clear that beer is not simple to make and one needs to be able to taste and appreciate the many variables.

Mead is known as the ancestor to all fermented beverages, and was made under crude and filthy conditions as far back as 2500 B.C.. It is arguably the easiest to make, second perhaps only to prison toilet wine. While I'm sure there are some prison block masters out there, I'm not interested in following that process. Mead is fermented honey, made from water, honey and yeast. You can also use Acid Blend and Yeast Nutrient.

For as little as $80 bucks you can make your first batch. Since that first batch includes buying some reusable parts, subsequent batches will be even cheaper.

There are many types of mead. Like wine, it can be made dry, semi-sweet or sweet. There are also a huge variety of meads that are created by adding things like fruit, fruit juice and or spices. There are also a ton of recipes online by mead enthusiasts.

For my first time, I decided to make one five gallon batch of traditional dry mead (my wife prefers dry to sweet), and one five gallon batch of Acerglyn (no clue how to pronounce it), which is mead made with maple syrup. I won't take up space with recipes here but for dry mead, I went with eight pounds of honey and for the acerglyn, I went with six pounds of honey and two pounds of real maple syrup (no Log Cabin).

Both glass Carboys are in my man cave bubbling away as the CO2 is released through the airlock a bubble at a time. Because light is bad for fermentation, I cut holes in the bottom of two paper grocery bags to cover the carboys.

In 2-3 months, depending on how it progresses and how patient I can be, it will be time to bottle and hopefully they will both be palatable. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shame on China

In September 2014 a protest started in Hong Kong. The groups known as the Umbrella Movement or Umbrella Revolution, objected to the fact that Chinas Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress (NPCSC) announced it's decision to disallow civil nominations. The NPCSC instead opted to have its 1,200 member nominating committee select the candidates that the people would be allowed to vote for in the coming election.

The story was covered here in the USA but it didnt get a lot of traction. The coverage I did see focused on the disbelief over the unfair decision to have such a huge decision made by a group of hand picked people of the nations political party. This subversion of the democratic process caused some people that bothered to learn about the situation some real angst. What kind of country allows such a small group of people to select the candidates that the people can vote for and eliminates civil nominations?

On this election day, I just wanted to point out that the USA does the same thing, though we have the moral high ground since the Republican Party picks 2,286 delegates and the Democratic Party has 3,189 in 2012 in order to give us the two people to choose from.

But Scott, there are other people on the ballot and were closer thane ever to having a viable third party.

The first part is true. There is no law against civil nominations outside of our two parties, but there might as well be, because in practice, no other candidates are allowed the same coverage or right to debate. As for a viable third party, it is theoretically feasible, but practically implausible. What the third party has done in previous elections is take away undecided voters from the middle.

How dare China only rely on one party and 1,200 people. We have two parties and around 5,500 people making most of our decisions for us, proving our superiority.