Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year

Cocktail Party by Joe Vandello

Tonight, wherever you are, when the clock strikes midnight, you'll be able to put 2023 to rest and move on to 2024. While in a macro sense, 2023 wasn't a particularly good year, hopefully for you it was fine. And hopefully 2024 will treat you even better.

If you're at a party tonight enjoy yourself and try to avoid getting falling-down drunk in the process. Tomorrow morning, if you must, take whatever hang-over cure you fancy. Then write your New Year resolutions knowing full well that by half-time of the afternoon bowl game you'll already have broken most of them.

At any rate, have a happy New Year's Eve and New Year Day all.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Planning your New Year's Eve party

Among its many vital functions, Flares strives to be an educational resource. So, with New Year's Eve almost upon us, I decided to provide information on how to plan the perfect New Year's celebration. The video I selected is a bit old, so you'll have to make a few minor adjustments. For example, you shouldn't expect your guests, particularly if they are younger, to be wearing modest dresses and suits with ties. Instead, they'll likely be wandering around with phones up to their faces filming content for TikTok or Instagram. Humor them.

Should the alcohol percentage of your planned refreshments be high enough you can probably skip the hat decorating game. Instead, just hand out lampshades and let your guests dance around with them on their heads in wild abandon. That will also give your younger guests some good social media content.

Finally, when you gather around the piano for a sing-along, the lyrics to Blue-Tailed Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn) may elude them. I've included the Yodeling Slim Clark version of it below. You can transcribe the lyrics to it and hand them out to the party goers to assist their singing.

Remember, plan well and you'll have a successful New Year's Eve party!   

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas

Click image to enlarge

This Lord of natures today was transformed contrary to His nature; it is not too difficult for us to also overthrow our evil will. - Ephrem the Syrian 


Sunday, December 24, 2023

Santa on his rounds

Santa's Big Night by R.j. Mcdonald
(click image to enlarge)

One Christmas Eve in my childhood, my dad asked if I wanted to leave alcohol out for Santa. I agreed but said to only leave a little as I was afraid I'd wake up on Christmas morning and see Santa drunkenly circling over our house in his sleigh. ― Stewart Stafford


Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas TGIF

This TGIF music post will be a bit different. By this time of the year we've heard all the Christmas songs about a million times. So, for a change I bring some Japanese Christmas music. 

The Japanese do celebrate Christmas, but because they are a Buddhist and Shinto, they do it differently. The Christian elements are largely absent while secular elements remain: Santa Claus, Christmas trees, lights, decorations, snowmen, and so forth. The Japanese have also added a few of their own touches: A bucket of KFC chicken for the Christmas meal and Christmas cake being the most notable.

While Christmas is celebrated over several weeks and is a time to spend with your family and friends, Christmas Eve has morphed into a couple's holiday, more akin to Valentines Day than anything. Hence the above Japanese Christmas song, where they've changed 'jingle bells' into 'singles hell' as they bewail their dateless quandary. 

A lot of their Christmas songs are sappy and sentimental, but of course, Japan being Japan, some of it is quite frantic and insane. Immediately below is my favorite. It starts out rather energetically and gets more ridiculous as it proceeds. Following that we have a boy band doing a schmaltzy Christmas love song, but at least the video is nicely done. Then we have a girl group singing about a Funky Glitter Christmas, whatever that is. 

The final video is A Winter Fairy is Melting a Snowman. I have no idea why the fairy is doing that, but it is, However, be forewarned -- the song has an ear worm that, if it burrows its way into your noggin, may cause some temporary brain damage. 

Anyway -- Merry Christmas to all my regulars, visitors and faithful spam bots.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Making glass Christmas ornaments

This factory is Krebs Glas Lauscha. They specialize in glass Christmas ornaments. If you follow their link you can see their offerings. 


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The time I ran a blockade of the Bab el-Mandab strait

Bab el-Mandab 

With the current mess in the Red Sea, with Houthis trying to blockade of the Red Sea, I thought my story of an earlier blockade might be interesting. A caveat: these are events from my limited perspective at the time, and my memories are no doubt filtered through the vagarities of time passed and the quirks of remembrance. 

When the 1973 Yom Kippur War began, I was on a destroyer sailing with the U.S.S. Enterprise's carrier task force. We were operating in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. Soon, we were ordered to redeploy to the Middle East. We imagined that the north Vietnamese must have been glad to see us finally gone.

We headed south, transited the Straits of Malacca and sailed west across the Indian Ocean. Our first station was to patrol in the Gulf of Oman, off the Strait of Hormuz which leads to the Persian Gulf. We stayed there a couple of days and then headed south to the Gulf of Aden. On the west side of that gulf lies the Bab el-Mandab Strait, also known as the Gate of Tears, which is a chokepoint that leads into the Red Sea. 

South Yemen and Somalia had been blockading the strait (modern references say it was Egypt blockading the strait. They had a couple of destroyers in the Red Sea, but they stayed well clear of us). In the image above you'll notice Perim, the small island off the spit of land reaching into the strait. The Yemenis had dug in some tanks on Perim, and they had been occasionally firing on shipping headed to the Port of Eilat in southern Israel.  

At the time of the blockade run, the Enterprise had its airplanes off the deck. The plan was, as we transited the strait, if we were fired at we were going to radio that fact. A single plane was then going to do a low pass over the island. It was followed by a couple of planes a minute or so later. If we didn't signal that they had ceased firing (which of course we wouldn't have done), then these following planes would have carpet bombed the island with napalm. The carrier air wing would then split in two, with one portion headed south towards Somalia and the other north into South Yemen to take out their respective air forces.       

It is safe to say, that would have escalated things quickly.

I was a radarman, so my post was in CIC (Combat Information Center) which is where the ship was operated from during battle stations. On the starboard side were the radar scopes and plotting tables. I was the watch supervisor of that area. In the center were the status boards. These were clear plastic with range and bearing markers engraved on them. Other sailors, using grease pencils, would mark the location and information about ships and planes in the area to provide a tactical picture to the Combat Officer who would direct any fight. He sat on the port side, above the weapons pit where the guns and missiles were controlled from. Also, in that area was the all-important coffee pot.  

The blockade run was scheduled to occur around noon, so it was decided that naval regulations required us to be fed battle rations. We all got a brown bag lunch with sandwiches, an apple and what-not. As a result, as we faced the hazard of Yemeni tank fire and the possible start of a major war, we all sat around eating bologna sandwiches. One of the what-nots in the lunch bag was a hard-boiled egg. This led to us, perhaps inevitably, cracking eggs on each other's heads. It did occur to us that, should things go pear shaped, this detail probably wouldn't help our defense during a court martial, but we were young and full of vinegar. Damn the torpedoes and all that.

Unsurprisingly, the transit through the strait was, with the exception of a single MIG doing a rather distant fly-by, largely uneventful. There was no way the Somalians or Yemenis were going to be crazy enough to challenge a carrier task force, I suspect it was a message to the Egyptians as well, shortly after us a merchant ship, the James, carrying supplies to Israel made the transit safely.   

How the times have changed...


Sunday, December 17, 2023

The humble office Christmas party

What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.
- Phyllis Diller -


Friday, December 15, 2023

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Jesus' tomb in Kashmir

Rozabal shrine
(click any image to enlarge)

The Rozabal shrine, located in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar, is said by some to be the tomb of Jesus. Earlier, in the post Christ is buried in a Japanese tourist trap, I posted about a supposed Japanese tomb of Jesus. While that tomb is clearly just a fraud to attract visitors to the village of Shingo, the people pushing the Rozabal shrine as Jesus' tomb are at least sincere in their implausible claim.   

The shrine had been an obscure burial site of a Shia saint, but in 1899 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, first claimed the shrine as Jesus' tomb. In brief, the story goes that prior to his ministry in the Gospels, Jesus had traveled along the Silk Road with a trading caravan that eventually made it to Kashmir. He was not killed in the crucifixion and was smuggled out of Jerusalem and eventually returned to Kashmir where he died of old age.

Of course, the claims are controversial largely because, unlike the Japanese foolishness, there is a religious dimension to the claims. You can read more about them in the above link to the Rozabal shrine. From that site:

According to the myth, Jesus survived crucifixion and spent his last days in Kashmir. But the locals don't believe it to be true, and consider the myth profane. 

“This is the grave of a Muslim saint. It is clearly written in our holy book, the Qur’an, that Jesus was ascended up to heaven, to God. However, Qadianis and Mirzais (derogatory terms for members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect) who claim that this is the tomb of Jesus are false. No Muslim in the world believes Jesus is buried here or anyplace else on the planet,” said Tanveer, a local inhabitant. 

The shrine has received a lot of attention over the years, with some fascinating discoveries: the tomb is directed east-west, a traditionally Jewish direction, rather than towards the Qibla, as would be the case with a Muslim’s tomb. 

A footprint etched in stone, an artistic depiction of the crucifixion wounds, stands next to the grave.  

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Paintings of swamps

Click any image to enlarge

I don't know about you, but whenever I'm down a vacation to a swamp always cheers me up. The smell of hydrogen sulfide filling the air, the symphony of skeeters buzzing in your ears, alligators lurking in the shallows for a snack -- truly paradise on earth. So, here is some swamp art to brighten your day.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Day of Infamy

Civilian home damaged by a bomb during the Pearl Harbor attack
(click image to enlarge)

When it happened, Chick Takara was 12 years old—old enough to work on Sundays, alongside his brother, washing dishes in a restaurant in Honolulu to help pay their family’s bills. Dec. 7, 1941, was a slow morning. A taxi driver, in for a cup of coffee, got the young dishwashers’ attention. Go look at the harbor, he said. The Navy is using live ammo for their drills today. The boys climbed a ladder to the roof and looked toward Pearl Harbor.

“Sure enough,” Takara now recalls, “we see hundreds and hundreds of gray and white powder puffs all over the sky.”

The boss told the boys to go home—about a half an hour by trolley, even in streets eerily empty of cars, and then a sprint to the tenements where the Takaras lived. Chick Takara is 87 now, but he remembers that his mother was standing outside talking to a neighbor, their arms full of laundry. In his memory of the day, he’s yelling as he runs: This is war, Mommy!

He was right.

The neighbor turned to go upstairs for the rest of her wash. A streak swooshed across the sky—gray, not red like in the movies. Loud. The bomb hit the house, with the neighbor inside.

Takara, watching, was too terrified to scream. Among the wooden tenements, the fire spread quickly.

Chick’s father told the six Takara children to hold hands. The plan was that they would walk to a nearby stadium and sit down on the 50-yard line, where at least they would die together. But the principal of the local Japanese school—part of the large Japanese-American community that made up about 38% of the people living in Hawaii in 1940—intercepted them, offering shelter. The family stayed for weeks at the school, sleeping on the tatami mats in the room where young girls once sat to learn to sew kimonos. The school’s auditorium also became the clearinghouse for Japanese residents, now declared enemy aliens, to turn in the belongings that were no longer allowed to belong to them: radios, binoculars, weapons. When the family was allowed to try to salvage what they could from their home, Takara found coins melded together by the fire—a memento he keeps to this day.


Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Walking in Sri Lanka

This is walk through Kandy, a city in Sri Lanka. It starts out in a street which is lined with vendors, and eventually moves through some markets. It's a noisy place, with loud conversations, hawkers, and honking cars all conspiring to deafen you. He ends by walking through a more upscale looking shopping district.

It is a lively looking city. Although some of the buildings look like worn-out concrete, and that may just be a necessity of constructing for typhoons, others have nice coats of paint. There is also a lot of green spaces and parks. One of my favorites: at the 17:33 mark there is a nice mural on a wall of elephant-mounted warriors stompling on European troops.


Sunday, December 03, 2023

Tsuchiya Koitsu's woodblock prints

Click any image to enlarge

Tsuchiya Koitsu was a 20th century Japanese artist who worked in woodblock prints. He was a member of the Shin Hanga school, which married western influences with a revival of traditional Japanese woodblock techniques. We've visited work from that school previously in the post The artwork of Hiroshi Yoshida

What is striking about Tsuchiya Koitsu is his palette. It is much richer and darker than usually seen in Japanese prints. That is particularly evident in his night scenes.

It should also be noted that while works from Shin Hanga school were primarily sold to Western collectors, that the movement itself -- which was steeped in traditional Japanese methods, themes and scenery -- was also very much a part of the pre-WWII Japanese imperial sensibility.  

Tsuchiya Koitsu

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Fermenting toxic shark meat

The Greenland shark, due to a high concentration of Trimethylamine N-oxide (ammonia) in its flesh, is highly toxic. However, it can be fermented and made safe to eat. It is an Icelandic delicacy. The above video shows a small family business and the steps they take to processes the shark meat. 


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Helen Dryden magazine covers

Click any image to enlarge

Helen Dryden was an early 20th century illustrator who is best known for her covers for the fashion magazines Vogue and the Delineator. She was self-taught and heavily influenced by French and Russian ballet and theater costume and set design. She was an early practitioner of Art Deco, and with her work brought vibrant colors to the covers of magazines.    

Later in her life she was also to work in the area of industrial design, bringing modern sensibilities to the 'form' portion of the 'form follows function' axiom. 

Helen Dryden

Friday, November 24, 2023

Traditional Thanksgiving music

On Black Friday I don't do a TGIF post because the long weekend started Wednesday night. However, I will use this Black Friday as an opportunity to play some traditional Thanksgiving music instead.

Regular visitors may remember a few years ago I went to play some Thanksgiving music and was aghast to discover the genre did not exist. Trend setter that I am, I decided to create the genre for the good of all. My first entry into it was Thanks for the Memory. 

Well, another year has passed and once again I've been too lazy busy to add to the genre's catalog, so this year we once again get Thanks for the Memory, this time performed by Sods' Opera. The lyrics seem to have been modified a bit, but the thanking is still there.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving cooking tip

From the 1958 Edwards Standard Service calendar
(click image to enlarge)

Remember, always make sure your Turkey is smaller than your oven. Anyway, have a good Thanksgiving. Enjoy your company, the food (if it fits in the oven), and your blessings. 


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Korean prank videos

Generally, I dislike the idea of prank videos. All too often they are just intruding upon people to create content for social media. While some are harmless annoyances, others trip well past the bounds of decency to be completely obnoxious. Just look at the case of Johnny Somali for an example of that.  

That said, I'm posting a few Korean prank videos. Call me a hypocrite if you must. 

It all started with my YouTube feed's recommendations. Most of the recommendations are aimed at blocks of people with presumably similar viewing habits, but some seem to be an attempt by YouTube to tailor the videos to your individual taste. Since, in looking for things to post, my viewing habits are very eccentric I get some mighty odd recommendations. 

One day I started getting Korean prank videos. I don't know why. At first, they were videos of guys asking young girls questions, and then saying "thankyou auntie" when they left. Age is a big deal in Korea, and I guess assuming somebody is much older than they are is a social gaffe of hilarious proportions. 

Then these two guys started appearing in my feed. Their bit was to sit in cafes and have ridiculous conversations the other patrons overheard. I've got to say that some of their scripts were pretty funny, and the reactions of the people trying not to laugh and make it obvious they were eavesdropping were entertaining. Although, I think a lot of them caught on sooner or later that this was just a prank.

Be sure to have captions turned on.    

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The War of the Triple Alliance

Click any image to enlarge

The Paragauy War, commonly known as the War of the Triple Alliance, which was waged from 1865 until 1870, was the largest war ever fought in South America. It was in the immediate aftermath of the colonial period and the international borders between the new countries were ill-defined leading to a lot of diplomatic tension.

In that cauldron in Uruguay two factions were vying for control. The Brazilians backed one of them and Francisco Solano Lopez, the lunatic dictator of Paraguay, took offense to that figuring that if anybody had a right to meddle in Uruguay's affairs it was him and not the Brazilians.

Eventually this all boiled over when Lopez invaded and annexed Mato Grosso, a Brazilian province. He then foolishly declared war on Argentina so he could march through its territory to attack Uruguay. To add to his stupidity, he declared that he had annexed two Argentinian territories as well. As result, Argentina and Uruguay both declared war on Paraguay with Brazil secretly joining the alliance. 

The war proper started with a naval battle on the Parana River, where the Brazilian fleet soundly trounced the Paraguayans. Lopez's ground prong of his invasion fared no better, in short order almost all of his troops were either killed or captured. A few months later the Triple Alliance crossed the Paranan and invaded Paraguay. 

By 1869 they had captured Asuncion, Paraguay's capitol, and destroyed Lopez's army. Lopez himself withdrew into the jungle and tried to maintain resistance. As the above linked article says:

That summer, tipped off as to Lopez’s whereabouts, d’Eu crossed the border with 27,000 fresh, combat ready troops and moved in for the kill. On August 11, they surrounded Piribebuy and proceeded to subject the inhabitants to a general bombardment. At 8 am the following day, the task force began making its way up the heights. The Paraguayan defenders opened fire, but they soon ran out of ammunition and had to resort to throwing stones at their attackers. By noon, the Allied army entered Piribebuy over the lifeless bodies of 700 soldiers. D’Eu and his army had killed them all.

All but Lopez. Once again, he had used the destruction of women and children to cover his escape. This time he headed northeast toward Bolivia, one of the few countries in South America that was not at war with him. As El Supremo and a cohort of loyalists made their way into the rain forest, the rear guard charged with covering his retreat was quickly mowed down by d’Eu and the army of avenging nations. On March 1, 1870, the Allies finally caught up with Lopez as he was preparing to cross the Aquidaban River, not far from the Bolivian border. While his henchmen died in a last stand on the banks of the river, Lopez, true to form, met his ignoble end in the water. Wounded by a lance, he thrashed into the shallows, where a bullet smashed into the back of his head as he tried to swim across the river.

The war was a complete disaster for Paraguay. They had much of their territory annexed, but worse is their casualty figures: variously estimated be between 7% on the low end, to 69% of the total population. At war's end there were only 28,746 adult men left. The effects of those casualties and that greatly unbalanced sex ratio echo in Paraguay to this day.   

Friday, November 17, 2023

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A new hobby idea for the winter

With winter nearing I'm sure that many of you, those who are too stupid to live in pleasant climes, will be stuck in your houses looking for a winter hobby to occupy your frigid and dreary hours. May I suggest making miniature chain link fences? It's kind of like knitting, only instead of a sweater you get a tiny chain link fence for your efforts. A great addition to your daughter's dollhouse or any diorama you may be building.

Above is a home-built machine to make the chain links. I chose it because the machining of it was so nicely done. If you look around the internet you can find much simpler contraptions to do the same thing. 


Sunday, November 12, 2023

WWII art commissioned by the U.S. Navy

Click any image to enlarge

With Veterans Day just having passed, I thought some images commemorating them was in order. During WWII the U.S. Navy commissioned a number of artists to illustrate facets of their operations. These are a sample of the work they produced. They are from the Naval History and Heritage Command's Artists archive. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Remember our veterans

Credit: PA:Press Association
(click image to enlarge)
This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. ― Thomas M Smith


Friday, November 10, 2023

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Riding the Death Railway

The above video shows a day excursion on the Thai-Burma railroad. These excursions, which operate on the weekends and holidays, run north-west from Bangkok to several towns and sites. The Thai-Burma railway is commonly called the Death Railway because of the number of POWs and forced laborers who died constructing it in WWII. On it is the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, which I've recently discussed in the post The Bridge on the River Kwai, and is one of the stops on this trip (they also cross the bridge).   

Regular readers may recall that this rail line appeared in one of my posts during my recapping of the Thai TV show O-Negative. During a school break the kids went to Kanchanaburi, which is one of the stops in the above video. The train car they're in looks a lot like, although it isn't identical, the 3rd class car the creator of the above video rides.

In the video he mentions another video he did about the market train. I've included it below. It is a train that runs through a market. The vendors need to pull back their goods and fold their awnings as it approaches. It is quite amazing; in the U.S. it would be about a bazillion lawsuits in the offing. Curiously, I've previously used a video of the same train, but filmed from ground level. It was in my very first Cryptic post called Life goes on.   

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Mirrors in paintings

Click any image to enlarge

Mirrors fascinate people. They allow us to see our faces which are normally forever hidden from us. In art they provide a variety of uses. Frequently they are just a scene of a pretty girl primping at a mirror and applying makeup, other times they reflect the fleeting nature of youth, vanity, or an inner state of mind.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Taste testing a Mongolian MRE

The MRE has a day's worth of meals. They are all quite substantial looking. These are from the YouTube channel Readiness Rations. He covers a lot of both military and survivalist-type MREs. Below I have included a couple that are civilian aid MREs.


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Halloween cheesecake

Click image to enlarge

The cheesecake in my Halloween photo for this post is just fine, but it strikes me that the two pumpkins in it fall far short on the spookiness scale.  Rather than being scary, the one on the right looks like nothing more than a cheerful doofus. In fact, from his visage, he might be the village idiot of Pumpkinville. Meanwhile, the one on the left, with its eyeballs pointing hither and yon, looks like it is harmlessly crazy rather than frightening. The photographer's pumpkin carvers needed to up their game.

That said, have a good Halloween. Hopefully you won't get 'healthy' treats for your tricks, your house doesn't get TPed by local hooligans and your little tykes, if you have any, don't hurt themselves as they bounce off the walls from their candy-induced sugar rushes.   


Sunday, October 29, 2023

Boynton’s Bicycle Railroad

Click any image to enlarge 

In the 1880s Eben Moody Boynton acquired an old set of railroad tracks on Long Island running between Gravesend and Coney Island. He used this set of tracks to create the Boynton’s Bicycle Railroad which started operation in 1890. It was the first monorail. The locomotive and cars sat atop a single line of wheels and were stabilized by an overhead guiding beam. The train was narrow, allowing both tracks of the conventional rail line to be used at the same time. It operated for two years.

Eben Moody Boynton