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