Again with leaving the net…

The press of familial duties again requires me to leave the net for a couple of days. I’m going to have no or limited access to the interwebtubes for a few days. I appreciate your patience. If either of my loyal readers have any ideas or suggestions for posts, please place them in the comments and I’ll work on it as soon as I get back.  Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated.

More Palinmania

So I had a workman come in today to put in roll-out shelves. Did a fine job with a fine product. But when he was finished, by way of making small talk, he mentioned how crazy it was to nominate Palin for VP. Dude. This is Orange County. Probably the deepest red county in California. Hell, there’s a magazine published here called Red County! Plus, I’ve got a StopHillary08!.net bumpersticker on my fridge. Maybe you ought to stick to the weather for a conversational topic.

The talented S. Weasel brings us plenty of Palin graphics. One photo in particular stands out. She P-shopped the graphics onto the photo, but made no changes to the photo itself. Having said that, I’m not at all certain the photo is genuine. I’ve already seen one debunked P-Shop of Sarah (Thanks, Ace). But who cares? Many on the left think that finding a photo of Palin in a mini-skirt will somehow be a giant scandal and cause the entire Monolithic Vast Right Wing to flee in horror. Ummm, no.

Update: Crap, it IS a P-Shop. But still, can’t I have my fantasy?

A word on Scottish American Culture and the Military

As mentioned below, I was at the Scottish Games and Gathering this weekend. I do have a Scottish heritage, but only a little. My family is an eclectic mix of nationalities, including German, English and (don’t tell anyone) French. But it is amazing just how much my small Scottish heritage has influence me and so many like me.

It is no secret to anyone who has studied the demographics of military service that the South is overrepresented in the military. It isn’t surprising in the least to learn that many of the hundreds of thousands of Scots-Irish who came to America settled in Appalachia and the South. The Scots have for centuries had a warrior culture. Through much of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, the Scots-Irish were the shock troops of the British Empire. And many of the Scots-Irish immigrants to our nation, while eagerly adopting an American identity, held on to many of the tenets of their culture- a rugged individuality, a fierce attachment to personal weapons, distrust of central government, a strong sense of duty to their community, and a fine, sometimes over-pronounced sense of personal honor. These traits were so deeply ingrained in their communities that to a large extent they inform these communities to this day, regardless of the heritage of the individual members. Many of these traits are conducive to seeing military service as an honorable profession. This isn’t to say that someone without this background will not make a good soldier, or choose not to serve. Nor is it to say that all Americans with a Scots-Irish heritage will serve or view the military kindly.  It merely points to a propensity.

Virginia Senator James Webb and I don’t agree on much, politically. He’s a former Reagan Republican who has gone over to the Democrats. He has taken political positions with which I disagree rather vehemently. Having said that, he also wrote a book several years ago that shed a great deal of light on the influence of the Scots-Irish immigrants on our culture. I would heartily recommend that anyone with even a passing interest take the time to read “Born Fighting.”

In many of the places I travel in real life, people (especially younger folks) who learn of my military background look at me like I’ve got two heads and three eyes. They just can’t comprehend what it might be like to serve. That isn’t the case at the Scottish Games. While veterans may not have been in the majority there, there were a heck of a lot of them, to the point where my meager contributions to the national defense were utterly unremarkable. Very often at the games, you’ll see a gentleman (or even a lady) who wears his kilt and a khaki shirt with his ribbons and qualification badges from his time in the service. It is so common,  I didn’t even think to get a picture of someone attired that way. There’s even the Scottish American Military Society.

I find it interesting that in these times where “Diversity” is seen as a noble goal for its own sake, and the celebration of virtually every ethnic heritage is mandated by law or proclamation, little attention is paid to one of larger influences shaping our culture. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the adoption of Scottish culture to the exclusion or denigration of any other, but a little recognition would be nice.

Accidental Discharge

An accidental discharge is when you fire a weapon when you don’t mean to. Obviously, bad things can happen when someone accidentally discharges a weapon. There’s a good chance of shooting someone you don’t necessarily want shot. Cranky, over at the Hostages asked me the following:

Hey, ever been around a clearing barrel when someone puts the barrel of the weapon into the opening and squeezes the trigger and it fires? Everybody laughs.

A clearing barrel is simply a 55 gallon drum, filled with sand, mounted with an opening. You stick the barrel of your weapon in there, and squeeze the trigger. That’s proof positive that the weapon is clear. Units deployed overseas that routinely go out armed with live ammo have them. Units in the states generally don’t. You clear your weapons at the range. And when you get back. And just before you put them in the armsroom.

Hawaii, 1986. We were back from a live-fire exercise and turning in our weapons. One of the guys in line had an M-60 machine gun. He had the bolt pulled back and the feed tray and cover closed. He extended the bipod legs and dropped the weapon a few inches to the ground while waiting for his turn at the window. The jolt of the drop let the bolt slip forward. And the weapon functioned perfectly after that, firing a 7.62mm round. Which went right past the crowd waiting to turn in weapons, hit the concrete wall, ricocheted, went right back past the crowd and across the street where it lodged somewhere in the battalion headquarters. It was a minor miracle no one was hit. But not even a miracle could have saved that soldiers stripes. You can have a thousand “attaboys” and they are all wiped out by one “Oh, Shit!”  I never did learn how he got all the way back to the company with a round in the weapon. He should have checked it, his assistant gunner should have checked it, his squad leader should have checked it, and the range safety NCO should have checked it. Still, soldiering is a human endeavor, and humans will always find a way to screw things up.

My own sin was, luckily, a venial one, and not a cardinal sin. My 20th birthday, still in Hawaii. The Big Island to be specific. We we conducting a raid. We had flown from the Pohakaloa Training Area in the center of the Island to some private land that allowed us to operate there. After getting off the Blackhawks, we had a long, long walk in the woods. Just before boarding the choppers, our Company Commander had reiterated his stance on accidental discharges- DON’T. He’d had a soldier shot in an accidental discharge and was adamant that it wouldn’t happen again. So, of course, it was my turn in the barrel. The company column stopped briefly and we all took a knee. As I knelt down, I heard the distinctive “POP” of an M-16 firing a blank. My first thought was “Wow, someone screwed the pooch!” My next thought was panic as my platoon sergeant clamped his hand down on my shoulder and asked what the hell was I thinking. I had not only screwed up, I’d done it with an audience. My platoon sergeant was directly behind me. Right behind him was the company commander and the evaluator grading our excercise. Oops. I had indeed fired the round. No harm done but for some embarrassment. Our standard operating procedure in those days was to travel on patrol with your finger on the trigger and your thumb on the safety. I’d somehow hit the safety (probably on my equipment belt) and not noticed it.  My CO awarded my a summarized Article 15 with 5 days of extra duty. It was just painful enough punishment to make sure the lesson was learned, but not so painful as to turn me off from soldiering.

The next incident was the one of the worst moments of my time in the Army. My brigade was at Grafenwhor in Germany. Graf is a huge complex of ranges, for everything from M-16s to tanks, Bradleys and artillery. I was working in the armsroom while the company went out to a range where squads mounted in M-113s would each practice assaulting an objective. While one of our squads were in the back of the 113, and just before heading out to shoot, the platoon leader tossed in some weapons lubricant (called Break-Free CLP) and advised everybody to make sure their weapons were lubed. George was armed witht he M-249 SAW. The normal way of lubing a SAW was to open the feed tray and squirt a little in there. Then you would pull the bolt back and pull the trigger and cycle the bolt back and forth a few times. But in addition to feeding from a belt laid on the tray, the SAW could be fed from a rifle magazine  mounted on the side of the weapon. George’s weapon had a magazine in the side. When he let the bolt go forward, it stripped a round from the magazine, fed it into  the chamber, where the firing pin struck it. The round fired and the bolt cycled. Seven rounds were fired. Each round struck the Track Commander in the back of his left leg and passed through to strike the driver in the back. Both were critically wounded. The Track Commander, a former college footbal star, lost most of his left leg. The driver’s injuries were so severe that he was later discharged with 100% disability.  George was court-martialed for negligence and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The Caledonian Club

I spent the weekend up in Pleasanton, near San Francisco, at the 143rd Annual Gathering and Games of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. For those of you who don’t know it, Caledonian is Scottish.

This is my first time at these games, but I’ve been going to the Games in Costa Mesa and Pomona for a few years now. I still don’t have a kilt, but I’ll get around to it one of these years.

Most of the folks attending have some Scottish heritage, either by blood or marriage. All are welcome of course. Indeed, while most of the attendees are caucasian, it isn’t the least unusual to see blacks or asians wearing their tartans with pride.

A word on tartans. Each clan has its own tartan, and in fact, most clans have more than one. My own clan, Buchanan, has 18 recognized tartans. I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing most of them, but I still see some that I would never have guessed as Buchanan. It is traditional to wear your kilt in your clan’s tartan. If you don’t wear the kilt, then wear at least some item of the tartan or at a minimum, wear a t-shirt proclaiming your clan. Buchanan’s main tartan is below:

The rule of thumb is that any person wearing your tartan is your “cousin.” You can walk up to a total stranger and say “Hello, Cousin.” The rigidly enforced rule in my clan is that there is no shaking hands in our family. You have to hug. That’s great when meeting women for the first time, but no so much for the guys. Each clan also runs a small booth at the games, which gives you a place to drop off backpacks or to sit for a spell and to catch up with friends. Everyone Buchanan who came to our booth got a small dram of very nice Buchanan Single Malt Whisky.  Not a bad way to start the day.

The games are a very family friendly activity. You don’t have to keep an eye on the kids. How weird is it that the safest place to take your kids is a gathering of Scotsmen with swords, knives and booze?

Here’s just a taste of some of the photos I took:

Did you think you were going to get out of here without bagpipe music? No way! I love the pipes!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glR6THBaHXU]

And a wee bit of highland fling, with pipes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL_K6ge3890]

UPDATE: How could I forget to mention, yes there was plenty of Belhaven ale. Quite tasty. Just the thing on a hot day. And at our clan dinner, we had a dram of 100 year old Buchanan whisky. Not bad at all.