April 29, 2005

Book Review: Wartime

Note: I've always been fond of reading. First it triggered my imagination and then it enlightened me. Rarely do I read fiction now, but not because I don't like fiction. It's just that there's so much to learn from non-fiction. As one who writes for a living, I find that reading many authors helps sharpen my writing skills. So does forcing myself to write. Now I'm combining those two practices to bring occasional reviews of the books that have populated my reading list on the sidebar. Maybe you'll find something to add to your reading list. (Or something to remove from your list.)

Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War
by Paul Fussell
330 pages, with bibliography and index

The gist:
Fussell uses this book to take a much different look at World War II. A World War II vet, his focus is on "the psychological and emotional culture of Americans and Britons during the Second World War." The book is easy to read, with very skillful transitions from one chapter to the next. The book's focus shatters notions of a valiant war effort at home and it strips away the romance associated with war and its heros.

One critical emotional factor during the war was morale. Fussell claims that soldiers' writings can't be relied on for historical purposes in regards to emotions and attitudes, since they were writing to sustain morale at home. Euphemisms overlooked the grim aspects of war for morale's sake.

Fussell also shows how advertisers leveraged morale to push their products. V is for Victory became nearly ubiquitous for morale purposes. It was tied to everything from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (V), to gardens (victory gardens), cabs (Victory taxi companies), cigarettes, and so on. Says Fussell, "Without Victory, advertising could hardly have survived."

In essence, Fussell argues, the war effort became one of public relations.

Another focus in the book is on literature. Some turned to literary pursuits to deal with the war and the stresses it brought. Many writers turned their skills to patriotic duties. But one of Fussell's most interesting points was a look at the shift in culture from World War I to World War II. In the first World War, Pilgrim's Progress was widely known and referred to by many soldiers. By the time of the second World War, few soldiers would have understood references to the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Pilgrim's Progress, or Psalms?), the City of Destruction and the Celestial City.

My take:
In all, Wartime brings home how horrible war is. On that level, the book is useful; it presents World War II with less patriotism and more skepticism. That's a useful perspective, but we have to remember the sacrifices of the brave men who fought in the war. Their service needs to be remembered and we need to thank the veterans who are all-to-quickly leaving this earth.

War isn't as glamorous as little boys playing army might think. It may be necessary, but it's not to be desired. And while sin reigns on earth, war and all the atrocities associated with it will be present.

Caveat reader: (Let the reader beware.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Fussell's focus on the emotional culture of Americans during the war draws him into an entire chapter devoted to soldiers' profanities. Another chapter looks at the less-than-savory ways that soldiers got their minds off the pressures of war. Fussell also delves into some of the off-color jokes that the soldiers enjoyed.

I recognize that what Fussell covers probably did happen, and I realize that such things come from sin-corrupted hearts. But Fussell's presentation is graphic and seems to glorify--or rationalize, at least--instead of condemn much of the behavior. If you're like me, you probably want to focus on more edifying themes.

Posted by JRC at 05:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Headline horrors

Mark Friesen at Newsdesigner.com has a post that reminds editors and layout designers to be aware of how all elements on a newspaper page interact with each other. Pay special attention to the second example. That's one thing you don't want to have to answer for.

Posted by JRC at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Geocaching, LTD

Legislators in my home state of SC have been working on a bill that restricts where geocaches can be placed on state property. Thankfully, geocachers raised their concerns about the original bill, and they gained some concessions as a result.

Apparently some property owners have had some trouble with geocachers on their property. I admit that would be frustrating, but it seems the state's response was highly reactionary. That's not a good way to legislate.

As with any pursuit, there will be some participants who don't act properly. Ever seen a beer bottle or can around a campsite? Or cigarette butts at a boat landing?

Rodger Stroup, director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History, said the key is for managers of the property to have control over what goes on there.

“We want these people to come to our historic sites and learn about them,” Stroup said. “If they find them using technology, that’s fine.”

In my view, geocaching is doing exactly what Mr. Stroup wants. Of the five SC geocaches I've found, three were historical in nature. One of those was in a state park.

The other geocaches that I've found in other states have taught me about the history of the area or at the least exposed me to interesting new locations that I'd otherwise not visit. I imagine there are more than a few young kids who are learning some history as they cache with their families.

More and more states and local governments are creating guidelines for the placement of geocaches. Here in Virginia, I'm not aware of an official policy, but the state tourism website devotes a page to the state's geocaching possibilities.

To the west, the state parks department in West Virginia has taken a pro-active approach to geocaching. They've set up policies to govern geocaching, but at the same time they readily encourage geocachers to use state property. My only WV cache find, which has since been removed, was either in a state park or just outside its borders.

Sandwiched between the seemingly laissez-faire VA caches and SC's embattled caches is North Carolina, which, like its neighbor to the south, has taken a rather pessimistic approach to geocaching. I see that NC prohibits leaving "weapons of any kind" in geocaches. Guess when I visit any NC state park caches I'd better not swap the pocket knives I've been known leave.

Geocachingpolicy.info has created a listing of policies in the US and several foreign countries. The National Park Service prohibits the placing of physical caches on its property, but there are some "virtual" caches in park land. The Forest Service typically has little problem with physical geocaches.

Hat tip: Jeff Quinton at Backcountry Conservative

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April 24, 2005

Hankerin' for BBQ

Phil has been travelling the midwestern states and has made not a few stops at highly-trafficked barbecue restaurants (Corky's, Arthur Bryant's, and KC Masterpiece, for example), all of which are now in his Rear View Mirror. His finger-lickin' reviews have inspired me to blog on the state of Virginia barbecue.

I have a past heavily rooted in the barbecue joints of the South, and I've blogged once before on barbecue. Since that post, I've been on a solitary crusade to find decent BBQ joints here in Virginia. Unfortunately, I haven't thought to blog about my search. My search is centered, of necessity, in the Shenandoah Valley, but I have made one foray into Richmond in search of the smoky pink pork.

The problem that I've run into is that, by and large, the trademark of Virginia barbecue is that the meat is served already drowned in some sort of barbecue sauce. Yeah, the meat may have been smoked, but it's likely been sitting in a warming tray soaking in sauce. That diminishes the critical smoking process. Ideally, a barbecue restaurant should feature a long-faced chef in a greasy apron chopping at a big block of smoked pork with a butcher's knife. That meat should go straight onto plates and sandwiches, where sauces can be added to taste.

Today we made a visit to one of two or three Virginia barbecue restaurants that I deem worthy of return visits. Hank's Smokehouse is not your usual quality BBQ experience: it's a classy eatery that features concoctions such as peach-jalapeno salsa (really good!) along with good old-fashioned smoked meats. Usually the best barbecue comes from the seediest-looking holes-in-the-wall. Hank's pulled pork does come pre-sauced, but the smoky flavor still pokes through. Their dry ribs (without sauce) come very tender and with an excellent dry rub. Today's meat came with more of a charcoal flavor than hickory, but it was good nonetheless.

The other two worthwhile restaurants that I can suggest in the Valley include Smokin' Pig in Harrisonburg and a small joint whose name escapes me in Ruckersville. I was disappointed by Harrisonburg's so-called BBQ Ranch, which is neither a ranch nor a BBQ restaurant. It is a quaint-looking drive-in restaurant. I was also disappointed by my experience at Richmond's Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue, which had good reviews online. The food was acceptable, and the Boylan's cream soda was superb, but the profanity-laced blues playing on the speakers was less than favorable. I know that there are quite a few other BBQ restaurants in Richmond, so my exploring there isn't done.

Do you know of any places I need to check out in the Valley? Let me know. I'm building a list of places to try.

Posted by JRC at 10:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

On books and sales

After constantly hearing about the Green Valley Book Fair from coworkers, advertisements and bloggers, we finally made the trip to GVBF on Saturday.

Like my brother in a fancy hotel, I was like a kid in a candy store with all these highly-discounted books. In the end, I personally got more than $100 of books for less than $15. Now that's shopping!

Now it's Monday, and I've almost finished one of the books. My wife also got some books, but here's my take:

Flatbush Odyssey
Flatbush Odyssey : A Journey Through the Heart of Brooklyn

Bamboozled at the Revolution
Bamboozled at the Revolution: How Big Media Lost Billions in the Battle for the Internet

The Elements of Editing
The Elements of Editing [I actually got an older paperback edition.]

So Others Might Live
So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest--The FDNY from 1700 to the Present

Strong of Heart
Strong of Heart : Life and Death in the Fire Department of New York

Posted by JRC at 12:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005


Reporters know that local convenience stores are often good places to go for sources. For example, if there's a flood or wildfire, go to a nearby 7-Eleven and you'll likely find someone who's been impacted by the disaster. Or if there's controversy in the area, you stand a good chance of finding people talking about it at the local convenience store hangout.

Last week I got a story out of a convenience store visit. I was actually delivering newspapers on one of the delivery routes (I occasionally have to fill in on the route. It's fun to do it occasionally.) and a guy walked in. All the workers there exclaimed that he was back from Baghdad.

I didn't have time to find out more about him then, but I mentioned it to my editor later in the day. He likes to get soldier stories in the paper, so he wanted me to pursue it. I knew that the workers knew the guy, so I called the store and had his name and his mother's phone number in minutes. Shortly after that, I'd spoken to his aunt, who told me when to reach him. Two days later I caught up with him for an interview. Turns out he was not one of the soldiers we'd been following closely, which was nice. He'd been mentioned before in the paper, but this was the first story focused on him.

I was pleased to find out when I talked to the soldier that he's in the Air Force. My dad was in the Air Force Reserve, so I was able to draw on my knowledge of that part of the military to relate to him. When he mentioned his South Dakota base, I could say, "That's a bomber base, right?" That kind of thing helps the interviewee loosen up and talk.

Anyhow, I had a good interview and put together a decent story which became this week's lead story on the front page. You can read the story here. (Note: The link will only be good through Wednesday.) Also, he supplied me with a nice photo of him at work, which can be seen here. (Note: This link will also only be good through Wednesday. And the photo credit is incorrect.)

The moral of the story: You never know where or how you'll find a story. This started with the simplest of comments. I just happened to overhear it.

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April 14, 2005

Around the blogosphere (4/14/05)

My brother is in DC for a weeklong conference, and he's set up a temporary blog called Freedom Scholars Week. Check out his schedule here and read about his first event here. (I'm jealous.)

Philip Eoute at The Rear View Mirror is blogging his time with a BJ ministry team. Recently they've added some impressive weather to the sights they've seen on the road.

Bet and the Girotti family have used the blogosphere to request prayer for Micah (the Girotti's son/brother and Bet's nephew) after he had a serious injury while riding his bike to class.

Posted by JRC at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 10, 2005

The shortest distance ...

... between two points is a straight line.

I was reminded of this simple fact on Friday afternoon after another of my geocaching adventures.

I was in the mountains, and there were two geocaches that I was seeking. I had a couple of options for trails that led to them, and the closer of the two was less than three-quarters of a mile away from where I parked. The second was about the same distance away from the first cache.

The first cache was a pretty easy find after a decent climb over a small ridge and more than a mile of hiking. The second was an even harder hike to the west over an even higher ridge and down into a narrow canyon with a creek running through it. Because the little valley was so narrow, I didn't have good reception on my GPS, so I never did find the second cache. And after all my exertion, there I was half a mile from a road that I could have taken.

In the end, I hiked somewhere between 4 and 6 miles, ascending 1800 feet and descending the same amount on the round trip. So to reach something 1.6 miles from me I had to go more than twice the distance. Thus I'm reminded that the straightest distance between two points is a straight line. The GPS sees the straight line, while I have to handle the terrain.

Now that I'm a little wiser, I will eventually come back from the west for the second cache, because I can't let it get the better of me.

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April 09, 2005

House fire


Our local fire department made a good knockdown on a fire this afternoon. I'd just gotten home when the call came in for a house fire on the edge of town. I grabbed a second camera and the scanner and headed back out. As soon as I pulled out of the driveway, I could see heavy black smoke in the sky. This fire was for real.

Apparently, the homeowner returned home after being gone for several weeks. He tried unsuccessfully to start his old VW Bug in the attached garage and went to the other end of the house to do something else. Then he heard a noise and saw smoke coming under the door from the garage. By the time I arrived behind the first two of three fire department rigs, the fire was extending into the house itself.

The fire department quickly knocked down the fire and kept it from destroying the entire house. The homeowner lost two cars in the garage, and he suffered a burned hand.

I came back with some good photos, so we'll see what makes the paper.


Posted by JRC at 10:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Redneck for a day

Living in the rural South, I sometimes feel I don't completely fit in. Then there are days like today.

The morning started out with a trip in my pickup truck to the local farmer's co-op. There I rented a towable broadcast spreader. I then headed over to my grandmother's to mow and put down "weed and feed" with the spreader. I made the season's inaugural mowing, which I followed with the weed killer. Then I dropped by my house and headed back out.

This time I headed down to the river where I met an interviewee. We spent several hours together, including at least an hour on the river on an expensive bass boat, talking about semi-pro bass fishing for an upcoming outdoors article. It was a beautiful day on the river, and I enjoyed chatting with him.

But I came home with more sun than I'd bargained for. Now I have red forearms, face and neck. Kinda fitting, I guess.

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April 05, 2005

Congrats ...

... to Darla's older bro. It's now appropriate to refer to him as "Dr." after he successfully defended his dissertation this morning.

Posted by JRC at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

Data domination

This time last year, I mentioned a spectacular job opening that Google had announced. Now they've added one more aspect to their scheme to dominate the world of information: Google Gulp (BETA)™.

Google Gulp (BETA)™ with Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE) is "a line of 'smart drinks' designed to maximize your surfing efficiency by making you more intelligent, and less thirsty," according to the company's web site today.

Think a DNA scanner embedded in the lip of your bottle reading all 3 gigabytes of your base pair genetic data in a fraction of a second, fine-tuning your individual hormonal cocktail in real time using our patented Auto-Drink™ technology, and slamming a truckload of electrolytic neurotransmitter smart-drug stimulants past the blood-brain barrier to achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be-grateful cerebral cortex. Plus, it's low in carbs! And with flavors ranging from Beta Carroty to Glutamate Grape, you'll never run out of ways to quench your thirst for knowledge.

Amazing! And I'm not sure which of the four flavors sounds the best: Beta Carroty, Glutamate Grape, Sugar-free Radical, or Sero-Tonic Water.

Be sure to read the FAQs on the Google Gulp (BETA)™ with Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE) to get a full feel for the new product. And, as with anything, please read the fine print.

Oh, and happy April 1st!

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