The Relief of Vienna, 1683

I was listening to Sabaton’s “The Winged Hussars.” Someone set it to clips from a Polish/Italian film about the Second Siege of Vienna and did a pretty good job. It got me to thinking about history, and time travel, and that one of the few things I’d like to go back in time and see is that morning, just after sunrise, when the counterattack began and the Imperial forces – including Poland’s Winged Hussars – surged down the face of the Vienna Woods to slam into the Ottoman Army. Continue reading

Medical Techs, Legal Secretaries, and Career NCOs

What are three types of people without whom nothing would work in their various organizations and institutions? I was musing on this Saturday, when a former co-worker of a family member approached us at lunch and talked about how much she appreciated how my family member never lost their cool, never took frustration out on subordinates, always tried to teach subordinates a little bit about the “other side” of the professional curtain so that the subordinates could do their jobs better and more easily.

This person’s job was one that is absolutely vital for the overall profession to function, but one that doesn’t get as much credit as the white-collar side of the aisle does. There are a lot more things besides medicine, the military, and the law where that’s true. Continue reading

Data versus Knowledge

“How do you know so much?” This is a question I hear fairly often. I have a very broad but shallow knowledge base, with a few deeper sections (certain fields of history, geology and physical geography, German language). That’s knowledge, not data. It is built on decades of acquiring information both deliberately and accidentally.

Today, those with internet access, or even access to a decent public library, have an amazing amount of data flowing free for the taking. But all that data seems more and more to interfere with getting knowledge. So much material of varying quality but enormous quantity flows across our screens and over the pages of our books and journals that building knowledge from that flood has become very difficult. Continue reading

And the Sun Was Dimmed for Five Years . . .

Something went strange in the mid-500s AD/CE. Multiple accounts from Europe report the sun being dimmer, the sky turning yellow, and crops withering. People also fell ill, and the land ailed. Then came terrible storms that destroyed the coastline of the North Sea, and probably other places for which we have no records or archaeological finds. After a few years, the sky returned to normal and slowly, order seeped back into Europe. And into China, and Southeast Asia, and perhaps South America (archaeological records are still variable.)

In the early 1600s, the sky dimmed, milky white with high clouds that blocked some sunlight. The weather turned cold, bitter cold, the Kattegat froze solid enough that armies marched from Denmark to Norway. Ice locked in Constantinople/Istanbul, causing hunger and pestilence. The English colonies in the Americas suffered crop losses, as did parts of Spain and Northern Europe. China saw frosts as far south as the border with Vietnam, and snow. The disasters led to up to 50% population loss in late Ming-early Quin China.

In the early 1800s, the sky dimmed in the Northern Hemisphere, and a year passed without a summer. Glaciers advanced so fast that they destroyed villages in the Alps.

Right now, Monday afternoon, the sky is tinged orangy-cream, the sun has dimmed, and the shadows are orange. Instead of 98, the temperature is 90. The smoke from California and Colorado has dimmed the sun, as it did on Sunday, although not as much. My lungs feel uncomfortable when I walk around outside for extended periods, and my eyes ache. Something is not right. The birds are quiet, the air feels odd, and I can almost smell smoke, perhaps. Now I understand in my gut the disquiet felt by the chroniclers in the 500s, 1600s, and 1800s. Those events were exacerbated by volcanoes. This is “just” forest smoke, and will pass sooner than later, once the arctic front arrives with rain.

But still . . . Darkover, Land of the Bloody Sun? It’s disconcerting, to say the least.

The Return of the Peccatogenic World

I won’t go into details for various reasons, but the other day I got irrationally angry at someone for the terrible crime of . . . getting sick. My rational brain knows that no one (OK, most no ones) goes around trying to come down with a sinus infection, the ‘flu, ailments-with-spots, the tummy crud, or what have you. The part of my brain that had been looking forward to a now-possibly-cancelled event snarled and hissed “What did she do to get sick? How dare she!” Continue reading

Caring for Public Things

The area around RedQuarters has been blessed (?), has endured (?), has had the roads repaved. It’s about once every 6-8 years or so, and the city puts down more tar, gravel, and tar. The days leading up to the application are tense, the day of is frantic with “Quick, get out before you’re stuck!” and “Aiee, move your car, move your car!” for those parking on the street or who have errands later that day. The mix needs at least two hours to “set” before you should drive on it, so the parking areas around the neighborhood got rather full. Continue reading

Buffers and Civilization

I have yet to find a culture that didn’t want some kind of buffer or wall between civilization (theirs) and Others. This was especially true when one or more of those Others happened to be, oh, nomadic raiders, or an ambitious empire (or a country with an ambitious monarch who firmly believed that his personal glory was that of his country as well [*coughLouisXIVcough*]). If geography provided that buffer or wall, that was good. Egypt had deserts, South Asia had the Himalaya, as did China, and so on. Other people were not so fortunate. Poland has turned out to be the poster child for “people stuck on the best route between us and them.”

2020 marks the 100 year anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, and the subsequent defeat of the Red Army by the Poles at the gates of Warsaw. The Poles give a lot of credit to Our Lady of Czestochowa, and for those unfamiliar with the, ah, long and warm relationship between Russia and Poland, it looked like a miracle had to have happened. Not to say that one didn’t, because Poland is Poland and the rules are somewhat different there, but dogged determination and white-hot hatred also played a role. Continue reading

V-J Day, 75 Years On

On this day, 75 years ago, the Imperial Japanese government surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces, ending WWII.

It seemed as if peace had come, at last, at least for the US and possibly for Great Britain as well. The US especially could pull up the drawbridges, turn its attention back to things inside the borders or perhaps in the hemisphere, and avoid a third round of war. Two in thirty years had been two too many, perhaps.

Original photo by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt: Used under creative commons fair use. Original source:

Alas, things didn’t quite work out the way the optimists wanted them to, at least in terms of foreign policy. One side can want peace, but if the other side doesn’t, well, peace will take a lot more than “you stay over there, we stay over here, and leave everyone in between alone, yes?” Continue reading

Old War-Horse Hymns

Since worship resumed with live bodies in the pews at my place of worship, the hymns (and now anthems) have all been from before about 1960, with one or two rare exceptions. Things like “Old Rugged Cross,” “It is Well With my Soul,”* “Guide Me, O, Thou Great Jehovah,” ‘The Church’s One Foundation,” “Jesu, Lover of My Soul,” and so on, the hymns I grew up with and that my parents grew up with. Continue reading

Handwork and Brainwork

I spend my days working with words, shaping them, sorting them, putting them on paper or into teaching speech. That’s what I get paid for. Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking fondly about working on airplane engines and making furniture. Both of those activities require brain power, but they also demand hand power, and produce something you can look at and touch.

I miss that right now. Continue reading