Diary and Commentary
Back in Antigua
As the title says, here I am. I changed my United ticket today in the capital and will be back in the US of A this Wednesday. Believe me, I am quite ready. I have lived a bunch of lives since June and have taken a bunch of chances---too many, to be truthful about it. One cannot be lucky every time (although I was).
When I get to Portland there will be much to do. I will have four months to find a suitable job. I can move anywhere in the US, but I will choose a Bush state---Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana---and a small rural town. I want as much as possible to be around my own kind. But all of these details big and small, are in God's hands. They are safe there. If all depended upon me alone all would go awry.
Anyway, once I have a fair idea of how the job search will go I will head for the forests around Mount Hood, about 70 miles from the city, there to spend some days walking about and breathing the clean air that God made for His pinnacle of Creation---umm, that would be you and I. This is a fine way---the only way for me---to re-enter the life of my nation.
When I think of it, I have lived, worked or traveled for more than 14 years outside of America. That is about one-half of my adult life. Living in the States again will require adjustments to be sure. There will be surprises. I will have to get used to some unusual things, like:
Clean water everywhere.
Hot water everywhere.
Machines that work.
Not taking malaria pills every week.
The use of real money---that is, dollars.
A lack of trash everywhere.
Laws that are actually enforced.
All the books and DVDs and CDs and magazines and stuff delivered right to my door.
More beer selections.
Not carrying a machete while walking in the country.
Myriad Thai, Mexican and Chinese restaurants.
Myriad consumer goods.
Marble fudge ice cream.
Cooking at home.
Soap, toilet paper and hot water in public bathrooms.
Playing my 11 guitars.
A fine high-end audio system---mine.
Not sweating all the time.
Buying my first hand-gun.
Man, these will be tough, but I think I can handle them.
How America Kicks A**
From the way the usual media---the entire CNN, ABC, NPR, CBS, BBC, New York Times and Washington Post crowd---you would think that the uprising in Falluja is a disaster, a quagmire, another Tet Offensive.
Actually, it is another lesson in the mind-boggling superiority and discipline of American arms---a lesson delivered right to the chin of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. The fool has lost hundreds of fighters and the support of the people inside the town itself.
Here is an excerpt from a letter home to Marine wives from a US Marine commander (my emphasis):
Early in the morning, we exchanged gunfire with a group of insurgents without significant loss.
As morning progressed, the enemy fed more men into the fight and we responded with stronger force.
Unfortunately, this led to injuries as our Marines and sailors started clearing the city block by block.
The enemy did not run; they fought us like soldiers. And we destroyed the enemy like only Marines can.
By the end of the evening the local hospital was so full of their dead and wounded that they ran out of space to put them.
Your husbands were awesome – all night they stayed at the job of securing the streets
and nobody challenged them as the hours wore on.
They did not surrender an inch nor did flinch from the next potential threat.
Previous to yesterday, the terrorists thought that we were soft enough to challenge.
As of tonight the message is loud and clear that the Marines will not be beaten.
Today the enemy started all over again, although with far fewer numbers,
only now the rest of the battalion joined the fight. Without elaborating too much,
Weapons Company and Golf crushed their attackers with the vengeance of the righteous.
They filled up the hospitals again and we suffered only a few injuries.
Echo Company dominated the previous day’s battlefield.
Fox Company patrolled with confidence and authority; nobody challenged them.
If the enemy is foolish enough to try to take your men again they will not survive contact. We are here to win.
The news looks grim from back in the States. We did take losses that, in our hearts, we will always live with.
The men we lost were taken within the very opening minutes of the violence.
They could not have foreseen the treachery of the enemy and they did not suffer.
We can never replace these Marines and Sailors but they will fight on with us in spirit.
We are not feeling sorry for ourselves nor do we fear what tomorrow will bring.
The battalion has lived up to its reputation as “Magnificent Bastards.”
Yesterday made everyone here stronger and wiser;
it will be a cold day in Hell before we are taken for granted again. [emphasis mine]
I almost pity Sadr's boys---almost, but not quite . He committed a fundamental error of guerrilla warfare, that of allowing a regular army to attack his entrenched positions---not that it matters much, as the eventual outcome will be the same. But you have to hand it to these guys, they sure know how to bluster:
Sadr's spokesman said: "If the Americans attack Najaf this will be zero hour and mass revolution
...a Shi'ite-American confrontation."
Bring it on.
The well-fed Moqtada al-Sadr
You Read It Here First
The press is in one of its frenzies about who will be Kerry's running mate. All is innuendo and rumor---and entirely irrelevant. Kerry will not be the US president in 2004 or in any year.
The real story is this: George Bush's running mate in 2004. Dick Cheney? Maybe not. His health is not good and he has been conveniently (though unfairly) targeted for his business connections. So who will it be?
My prediction: Condoleeza Rice. She will spend four years apprenticing under Bush, and then she will run for and win the presidency itself in 2008. She will win the conservative vote, the Christian vote, the religious vote, the Republican vote, the black vote and the women's vote---anybody I left out? OK, the concert musician's vote---Dr. Rice is an accomplished classical pianist who once performed with Yo-Yo Ma. And a Rice candidacy will completely disarm any Hillary attempt at the presidency.
Rice in 2008.
(Here is the resume of Dr. Condoleeza Rice.)
I have been to hundreds of Spanish Masses during my years in Latin America. At Communion call I have never seen the entire congregation go up to the altar. Usually it has been about one-third, the rest remaining silent in the pews. However, I have never seen anything like this at Catholic Masses in the US. Almost always everyone takes Communion. Some thoughts intrude: No Catholic can take Communion while in a state of mortal sin. Am I really to conclude that all Americans attending Mass are clean of such sin? Are Latins really more mortally sinful than Americans? Impossible. As Paul said, all of us fall short. Then why do so few Americans sit out Communion? Something odd here.
John F. Kerry is in a tizzy because some Catholic priests and bishops have questioned his right to take Communion. They do so because of Kerry's uncompromising stands on a woman's right to an abortion and on homosexual unions. Kerry claims that no one has a right to judge him on such issues. He also takes those Catholics to task who support capital punishment, which he calls "a contravention of Catholic teaching." Poor fellow, he must have missed a bunch of catechism classes when he was younger. Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality is uncompromising. All Catholics are required to condemn both as an abomination to God. Period, no arguments, end of story. Concerning capital punishment, however, Catholic theologian Karl Keating says
You can be a good Catholic and think that the death penalty should be done away with entirely, and you can be a good Catholic and think that it should be applied more often than "rarely." You are not bound in conscience to adopt one position over the other. You are free to make your own prudential determination--but you are not free to say that someone whose prudential determination differs from yours is therefore a "bad Catholic." The Church does not mandate opposition to the death penalty, nor does she mandate support for it.
Kerry should study Catholicism before talking about it. And he should stop taking Communion. Any priest who gives him the Body of Christ disgraces Communion and allows Kerry to remain in his dreadful sins.
The Democrats are up in arms! They claim that Bush should have prevented 9/11. How so? Well, he should have put in place a whole series of anti-terror initiatives before 9/11. But wait a minute! These very same Democrats are up in arms about Bush's current anti-terror initiatives---The Patriot Act and all that. In other words they attack Bush for doing now what they claim he should have done earlier. There is no pleasing those people. (So let's stop trying, OK?)
Ever wonder about the disgraceful, debauched, and astoundingly immoral lives led by the Hollywood elite? (They are all Democrats, by the way---but you knew that.) What explains such gross paganism and moral imbecility? Well, one can get a good start at finding the answer by reading Hollywood Interrupted. The antics of America's Hollywood crowd would be right at home at the court of Caligula or Nero---or beneath any Canaanite idol of Moloch.
And by the way, these creepy-crawly depraved Hollywood types are vehement in their hatred of Bush, almost as animated in their hatred of him as they are in their hatred of Mel Gibson and his Passion of the Christ. Their venom is matched by Evangelical and conservative Christians' support of both Bush and Gibson. The conclusion is the obvious one. Oh...the Hollywood bunch supports Kerry just as it supported Clinton. Are we surprised?
Guns In The Wild
I have backpacked in Latin America for 18 years, in about every country. Mountains, grasslands, valleys, forests, jungles, frozen tundra---I have done them all. In all that time I have seldom worried about animals, except in jungles. There one finds only two that present any kind of danger (at least the type of danger than can be dealt with by a gun), cats and wild pigs. When I knew they were near, I walked with due care. Carrying a firearm was out of the question, what with the paperwork involved in transporting a gun across a bunch of Third World borders---no thanks, I will take my chances with the beasts. Only for two days in Paraguay did I carry a weapon---a farmer insisted upon it---and for the first time I had the delightful experience of actually being the hunter rather than the hunted. If any pig or cat had appeared I would have sent it to Hell.
Now I am going home, but the desire to walk in the wilds is as strong as ever. Problem: In the US of A there are also cats, but also really big bears who would be very p***ed off if I showed up unexpectedly, say, when momma bear was feeding baby bear. Bad news, raw deal, tough luck, see you later. Well...
Having little desire to end up in the stomach of a bear or under the claws of a cat, I plan on buying a gun that can bring down---umm, 'kill, take out, blow apart, bring to room temperature'---any feline or ursus I might encounter out there. Ah, but I know little of guns! What to do? Obviously, write to someone who knows a lot---that is, a whole lot---about them. That someone would be Kim du Toit (WARNING: THERE IS STRONG LANGUAGE ON HIS SITE---WHICH IS WHY I DO NOT HAVE IT ON MY 'LINKS' PAGE.) So I wrote him yesterday.
I need some gun advice. I have lived and worked in Latin America for 13 years. During that time I solo backpacked in almost every nation there. Right now I am in Guatemala after spending the better part of a year traversing to places I had missed---and there were not many.
I never carried a firearm because there are no land animals in Latin America worth worrying about. I return to the US of A soon. I plan on backpacking all through the place. I will need a pistol, as I have no intention of ending up as feed for some bear or cat.
I am looking for a pistol---not a rifle, as they are too heavy---that is light and can bring down black and brown bear, and pumas. It has to be as light as is technically feasible.
Would a Glock .45 work for me? What would you suggest?
Mr. du Toit wrote back
the next day.
Sorry to tell you this, but if you're thinking of putting down ol' Smokey, you need something with more oomph than a .45 pistol. Ditto, strangely enough, for a mountain lion.
It all depends on the area. If you're doing country which is home to mountain lions (but not large bear), a .357 revolver would be best -- although one of Marlin's lever actions in the same caliber would be better still. The Ruger SP101 weighs 32oz, is indestructible, and is a peach.
But if you think you're going to encounter brown or grizzly bears, you need AT LEAST a .44 Mag pistol, and a .45-70 lever action would be the best idea.
None of these are light weapons, although the S&W 329PD Scandium revolver comes closest. At only 26oz, it's going to kick like a sonofabitch (that light Scandium frame and titanium cylinder). It's also quite expensive: about $650.
I'd go for something heavier, but with a short barrel (you're talking ranges closer than 25 yards anyway), something like the S&W 329 Trail Boss (40oz).
But in truth, I'd rather carry a Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70 in bear country. Seven pounds is heavier than a handgun, but light for a rifle, and there's nothing the old .45-70 Govt cartridge couldn't knock over.
Hope this helps.
Woh! But wait, there is more. Mr. du Toit put my letter on his web site. Apparently many others had had similar questions. Besides, he wanted feedback from those who had actual experience out in the wild with guns and critters---big critters, that is. Boy, did he get responses! So many that he had to close the comments page. Some agreed with du Toit, some did not, all had their own take of 'the perfect gun' to bring down bear and cat. Here are some selections:
As one of the Alaskan readers, I will chime in on this one. I think that what he really needs are two firearms; a pistol for black bears and mountain lions, and a stopping rifle to carry in Alaska, Canada, and those few other places where there are Grizzlies. I wouldn't bother with a rifle if there are only black bears in a given area because they are the pansies of the bear world.
I did allot of contract work up in Alaska back in the 90's. One of the towns that I flew into had a sign on the wall of their luggage pick up Area that said....." Don't shoot the bears. It just makes them mad".
I have never had an encounter with bear that would have required a shoot out but I am reminded of a joke about an Alaska greenhorn who is showing off his .44 ruger; An old timer asks the newcomer if he could examine the handgun. Quite pleased that the grizzled fellow would be interested and proud of his piece, the man surrendered the pistol. The old timer examined the pistol carefully, sighted down the barrel and so forth. He returned the gun to it owner. "Ya know, son" said the old timer "that is a fine pistol and I am sure it cost you plenty, but I would grind off that front sight." Stunned, the gun owner immediately asked the reason. "cause it will hurt less when the bear shoves it up your a**" was the reply.
You better be damned quick and certain that you can hit a very fast moving target in the case of a mountain lion-and you had better have a lot of nerve to stand down a bear and place several vital shots. Especially carrying a heavy pack on uneven terrain. Legend tell of bears who's slopped forehead have deflected shots.
Better in my opinion to play closer attention to your tactical situation and avoid the encounters in the first place than be forced to shoot it out.
When I am hiking around where there are black bears, I usually carry my regular Glock 20 10mm carry gun with 180 gr Cor-Bon bonded core softpoints (advertised 1320fps/696ftlbs). While some manufacturers make wimpy 10mm loads, the 10 can be loaded to the same velocity & sectional density combinations as the .357, but with a wider bullet. DoubleTap recently came out with a number of excellent looking loads. This Glock has largely retired my 3-1/16" SP101 to the gun safe, even though the SP101 is also a great gun. The Model 20 is easier to shoot due to the larger grip and longer sight radius and is about the same weight as my SP101 (at least, unloaded; the Glock can hold 16 rounds). It's never failed to function with any hot premium defensive or hunting load, and I've shot a thousand or two. The only disadvantages are it's much bulkier than the SP101 and sometimes fails to function with lighter, cheap practice loads (which the SP101 never does.)
Kim, I hate to disagree with you, but if you have the misfortune to run into trouble with any bear, you need something with more power than a .357 or a .44. Unless you are lucky enough to get a "fast kill' (i.e. a brain shot) you're just going to piss the bear off. They are just too large and massive for that level of stopping power to be reliably effective. That being said, I'm trying to recall the last time I heard of a bear attacking someone here in Colorado. The more dangerous animal is definitely the big cat. Mountain lions/cougars will attack an adult human if they are hungry enough. I can definitely think of at least 4 different attacks here that have taken place in the last 5 years or so. Any Magnum class round would be effective against a cat, but a 30-30 lever action would be better. If your reader is really worried about bears where he will be hiking, your recommendation for the 45-70 would not be the worst choice.
Do not f*** with these creatures. They are big, wild carnivores who think men taste like barbecue.
Bears, especially grizzly bears, don't go down with anything smaller than a .44 mag. I've seen bear skulls with grooves on it from a .357 Mag revolver --- At point blank range. All the rounds did was bounce off. Luckily for the owner of the revolver, his buddy was nearby with a 30-06, but it still took three rounds in the torso to bring the bear down.
Bears require deep penetration in order to do any kind of damage. The new S&W 500 Magnum would be acceptable. A 350 grain slug traveling at 1900 feet per second... yow. Yeah, it kicks like a mule, but the gun is balanced enough for you to hit what you aim at, and it does enough damage. A 44 Mag loaded with some of the Buffalo Bore ammo would also cut it, but I wouldn't use any round smaller than that. Not if my life depended on it.
Keep in mind that the first time settlers encountered a Grizzly, they put over 130 musket balls into it before it finally died. That's how the bears got their name. So something that penetrates, and THEN expands to do damage is optimal. But anything smaller than a .44 Mag will just wind up with you as bear food.
I live in Alaska. The Marlin is a widely carried bear gun here. People generally carry 12 gauges for bear protection "just in case", but the Marlin seems to be the favored choice when traveling in areas known to be populated with grizzlies when encounters are quite likely.
Damn! This is much more complicated than I thought. I have much work to do. But funny, I have a hankerin' to hunt one of those bear things and put a bunch of lead into him. (I will need a rug for my new place at any rate.) But I plan on coming back wherever I go and whatever I encounter---whatever it takes. Animal lovers take note. Deus lo volt.
Perhaps we will meet soon.
Today is my last full day in Antigua, and perhaps my final day in Central America. I do not feel sad or anything of the sort; I feel relieved, actually. All that I have wanted to do here I have done. There simply is no reason to hang around. It is time to head home and begin a new chapter in my life.
I cannot say the same about South America, however. Something about the place---the Andes, for one---will draw me back I am sure. Even now I dream Andean dreams and think of things Chilean and Argentine: Bariloche, Patagonia, myriad lakes and forests, crystalline glaciers, air so clear and crisp it hurts to breathe. I could very easily head down sometime in October (I have a free ticket to Rio) and work my way south to the island of Navarino by March, and then head north, reaching Arica by June.
Ah...but job and responsibilities you say. I know, I know. But if these things were the only important stuff in my life, I would not be...well, Mike Austin---whoever he is. (Obviously I have been thinking about this.) But more than likely I will be working somewhere in the US this September, God willing. If not, it will be time to load up the pack.
In a nutshell: If I get a job, God has spoken---He wants me to work. If I do not get a job, God has spoken---He wants me to travel. (If I win the lottery, God has spoken---He wants me to buy a new high-end audio system.)
What would people say! Not that it would matter much. Or that I would care much.
Someone once called me the freest man she knew. Still true.
How America Wins Its Wars
Arab terrorists, wild-eyed Iranian mullahs, blood-addled Latin gangsters, grimy African dictators---all have no chance against the USA. Ah...because of the Marines...the US Army...US airpower...US technology...McDonald's...George Bush? Nope, all wrong. Here is the reason:
I present to you Miss America, Shandi Finnessey.
Miss Missouri, Shandi Finnessey, a 25-year-old graduate student who has published a children's book, was crowned Miss USA at the 52nd annual pageant on Monday.
Finnessey, a statuesque 5-foot-11 blonde from St. Louis, wrote a book called "The Furrtails," as part of her aim to integrate mentally retarded children into regular classrooms. She has a master's degree in counseling and also plays piano and violin.
At a party following the event, Fennessey described her social life as "totally single and looking."
A Republican, she told Reuters she would use her position to help explain America's involvement in Iraq. "What needed to be done had to be done," she said.
During the final question category, she was asked what serves her better in life -- experience or education. She immediately chose the former, saying "You can have all the book knowledge in the world, but to have the knowledge from experience. ... I think that teaches you more knowledge than anything you could possibly read in a book." [emphasis mine]
So let's see: a Republican, 25, 'totally single and looking'---zounds! Ok, guys: grab that shower, brush those teeth, get a shave, cut that hair, get some new clothes, go to Confession, get some flowers and give her a call. Good luck.
Give it up, America haters. You simply cannot compete with us. Not here, not now, not anywhere at anytime. While you waste your time and lives ranting against the US, blaming her for all your woes, blowing up women in buses, parading around in AK-47s, strapping dynamite to your children's bodies and flying planes into buildings, we Americans hold a beauty pageant. Now please go away.
Oh...Miss Fennessey hails from Missouri, a Bush state. The runner ups were from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Oklahoma---all these states went for Bush in 2000. Obvious conclusion: Republican women are better looking that their Democrat sisters. No surprise there.
All Highs, No Lows
This is the last entry of my sabbatical. I will write again for sure---too much, depend upon it---but not until I return to God's Country. This 'Year of Living Dangerously' will be then officially over. Is there a summation? Some clever words or advice I can give? Not really. This past year is not so much a done deal as it is a work incomplete---much time must pass before all of the year is understood. Think 'impressionism' rather than 'classicism'; Manet rather than Michelangelo.
Which does not mean I have nothing to say. All who know me know that this would be quite impossible. What has happened to me since June? Well, a lot. To write of the highlights would be enough---for now---to put the year in some sort of place. So what were these high points? Well, there were a lot---a whole lot. In no particular order of importance...
All was new. I went to places I had dreamed of but never visited. Iruya, Argentina---a type of village one cannot find elsewhere: shimmering in frozen sunlight, shockingly beautiful huddled beneath its canyon walls, hovering in crystalline air. Putre, Chile---a delight, all small and comfortable, guarded by a family of ice-capped peaks, living under sun-soaked days and frozen nights. Cotahuasi, Peru---the deepest canyon in the world, home to Inca who still speak Quechua, reached by vertigo-inducing stages of descent (and not for the faint-of-heart), where the route passes pre-Colombian ruins. Camp there---you will be alone---and hear the voices of Inca long-dead.
And the friends along the way! Eddie and Julietta and Adrian in Lima---known for ten years; Chip and Lucia and family in Santiago---truly a family blessed by Christ; Wilma and Vanina in Rio--real cariocas, alive to life, beach addicts and friends forever. What they showed me of Rio cannot be garnered at any price; the brothers Mario and Leonel---Guatemalan all the way, whom I met all of 21 years ago, to whom I owe much (the Spanish language, the volcano Pacaya, pepian, a love of Guatemala); and the unique Lauren---Yale grad, bright, beautiful, poetic---she is Irish after all---all of 22 years young, out to save the world---or at least the Central American part of it.
And ex-students! They were everywhere; Adrian in Lima, Paula and Giulia in Cuzco, Vanina in Rio, a whole swath of them at the American School in Rio, and those '5 Cool Guys'---Jeff, Matt, Sebastian, Erik, Nathan---in the jungles of Costa Rica. After hanging out with them, it was time to come home, as nothing could beat the time we had out there in wilds. Nothing.
Cities long-dead drew me to Peru; they draw me
Then I was yet again in Central America, which I had first visited in 1983. All was new and transformed ---except the jungle, for only God and timber companies can do that. Tim and Kristina, lovers of God and some of the finest people on earth, met me in Belize and together we went to the Mayan citadel of Tikal; one week later I became lost near those ruins and almost gave up the ghost after wandering for hours---thank you Lord for pulling me out of there; a climb to the Honduran Mount Celaque reminded me of Oregon, and I became aware of the first intimations of home; cool and hip little Granada, Nicaragua---like Flores and Antigua in Guatemala, and Copan in Honduras, this place reeks of leisure and culture. If you are bored here you are dead.
So there it is, both too long and not nearly long enough---and all is still too fresh to really come to grips with. With time and beer and many Masses I will understand more of all that has happened since June. I will certainly let you know when I do.
There is yet one thing I need to say. I am different to be sure: stronger physically, mentally, spiritually. Whatever limits I had have long been pushed outwards and upwards. I have at times thought myself invincible---foolish, I know, but if you had been there on those frozen Andean peaks, all alone, far from civilization...well, you get the idea. And it is not peace and quiet I yearn for; I yearn to rediscover my nation---and to do this the way I want, with tent and pack (and gun). This part of my life, this 'year of living dangerously', is over. The rest of my life will follow. I am in no hurry.
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