Smooth Sailing, Stephen Stormer

It is hard losing a friend. Unfortunately, it seems to happen more frequently as we get older. I met Steve Stormer through mutual friends and would see him at gatherings, holiday dinners, and on the occasional night out with the guys. A mutual good friend told me Steve was ill. Pancreatic cancer, I believe. Then, a few weeks later, he is gone.

We did have some interesting conversations over the five or six years I knew Steve. Stormer was a Vietnam-era U.S. Navy veteran and since I was an Army veteran (a bit later), we’d swap yarns about our time in the service. We also shared a common interest in the occasional good Tequila.

I only regret not having the time to get to know Stormer better. But, I will remember him as a good man, a friend, a fellow veteran, and a man with a great sense of humor.

I wish you smooth seas and a steady breeze, Stormer. Go with God.

You will be missed.

A Salute to an American Hero!

December 17, 2019 was a sad day. As a long-time dog lover, stories like these always touch my heart. I have had dogs my whole life. Beagles, Dobermans, Labs, Plott Hounds, mutts, and currently … an amazing German Shepherd named Sophie. You could not ask for a truer, more loyal friend than a dog.

And while stories like this do sadden me, I realize that these amazingly loyal and courageous dogs unhesitatingly put themselves between their human partners and danger. That is a true bond of unconditional love, and I suppose in some ways, may be similar to the bonds of brotherhood forged by soldiers in combat.

So, Rest in Peace Agent Bulder. Your loyal service and willing sacrifice will be remembered. Thank you for your service. You are a hero in the true sense of the word.

Below is the story as reported by American Military News:

Border Patrol K-9 killed Tuesday in shootout identified as Agent Bulder

Agent Bulder
Agent Bulder, a CBP K9 officer killed in the line of duty on Dec 17, 2019.
(US Border Patrol Special Operations Group/Released)
DECEMBER 21, 2019 | AARON MARTINEZ – EL PASO TIMES

Agent Bulder, a U.S. Border Patrol K-9, was the dog killed Tuesday during a shootout when a suspect fired multiple shots at law enforcement.

According to FBI El Paso Division officials, Agent Bulder was killed in the line of duty as he was helping law enforcement execute search and arrest warrants at a Northeast El Paso home.

U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, along with FBI, U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit agents and El Paso Police Department officers, executed the warrants about 6 a.m. Tuesday at a home in the 4500 block of Capricorn Drive in Northeast El Paso, police officials said.

The suspect, who has only been identified as a 62-year-old man, confronted agents in the backyard of the home and allegedly fired several shots at agents.

Agent Bulder was struck by a bullet and died at the scene.

Law enforcement then returned fired and killed the suspect.

Officials said that the warrant was related to illegal federal firearm charges.

No further information has been released.

Alita: Battle Angel

A Cyberpunk Action film!

Alita: Battle Angel, released in February of 2019 is an American adaptation of a manga series from the 90s called Gunnm which was written by Yukito Kishiro. Essentially, it is a cyberpunk action film starring Rosa Salazar as a cyborg named Alita who awakens with no memory of her past, and who sets out on a journey of self-discovery.

I saw this movie several months ago. I do have to admit that, originally, I had no real interest in seeing this film. However, a couple who are friends of mine in Cary got bored one night and so, they went to see it. They came back describing the film excitedly, impressed with its use of live actors combined with really cool CGI and martial arts.

I guess this should not be too surprising since the film was co-produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez. It is also the first film produced by Lightstorm Entertainment since Avatar.

Both friends stated that while Alita: Battle Angel certainly had its flaws, they really enjoyed the movie. So, what could I do at that point? I had to go see it. I recently saw the DVD of this film on a shelf in a local store, and it reminded my of how much I actually did enjoy this move. Hence, … this blog post.

The Plot

It is the year 2563, 300 years after the Earth is devastated by a catastrophic interplanetary war known as “the Fall.” Zalem is a beautiful city inhabited by an upper class ruling elite, ruled by an immortal evil scientist named Nova, who can hack into human-brains and speak through their bodies.

alita battle angel

Dr. Ido, a cyborg specialist banished fro Zalem to Iron City, is scavenging for parts amongst the trash dropped from Zalem into the massive scrapyard of Iron City. Iron City is where the “unwashed masses” live and fight to survive. Ido discovers a disembodied female cyborg with its human brain alive and intact. Dr. Ido attaches a new cyborg body he had originally built for his now deceased daughter to the brain, and names the cyborg “Alita” after his daughter. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of her past.

Alita soon meets Hugo, a young human male who quickly befriends her. Hugo’s dream is to get out of Iron City and up to Zalem. But, in order to achieve that, Hugo has developed a dark sideline job. He steals body parts from cyborgs for a man called Vector, who owns the gladiator-like Motorball games and is the defacto ruler of Iron City.

Dr. Chiren, a brilliant cyborg scientist and Ido’s estranged wife, (mother to their deceased daughter, the original Alita) now works for Vector, creating and updating cyborgs for the Motorball games. Vector, who has a connection withe Nova, has promised to reward Dr. Chiren by sending her back to Zalem in payment for working for him.

One night Alita, trying to discover her past, follows Ido who is ambushed by a gang of cyborg serial killers. Ido is injured, and Alita surprising everyone, fights to protect him using “Panzer Kunst” (German for “armor art”), a lost combat art once used by Berserkers, the deadly warriors of the United Republic of Mars. Alita kills two of the cyborgs and damages their leader, Grewishka, who retreats underground.

Ido reveals that he is a Hunter-Warrior, a bounty hunter who tracks down and eliminates criminal cyborgs and, if needed, the occasional criminal human. It becomes clear he does this to atone for past mistakes while a citizen of Zalem and to fund his clinic where he provides free medical care to cyborgs.

Alita believing that being a Hunter-Warrior might help her rediscover her past, wants to sign up. However, Ido discourages her from becoming a Hunter-Warrior. This frustrates Alita.

Then, while on an adventure with Hugo and some friends outside the walls of Iron City, Alita finds a highly advanced cyborg body in a crashed 300-year-old spaceship outside the city. The spaceship seemingly responds to her presence. Her friends tell her the space ship is a relic from “the Fall.” Ido, however, recognizing that the cyborg body belonged to a Berserker, refuses to install Alita in it.

Angry at Ido, Alita goes off by herself and registers as a Hunter-Warrior. At the Kansas Bar, a hangout for Hunter-Warriors, she and Hugo attempt to recruit others to her cause … taking down the serial killer cyborg, Grewishka. Another Hunter-Warrior, Zapan, who is very narcissistic and impressed with himself, belittles and provokes Alita, who beats him easily in a fight. Their fight, however, triggers a massive bar brawl which continues until Ido arrives on the scene and intervenes.

alita battle angel

She’s got the face of an angel but a body built for battle!

At the last minute, an upgraded Grewishka arrives and challenges Alita to a duel, revealing that he has been sent by Vector to destroy her. Despite her awesome combat skills, Alita’s body is sliced up by Grewishka’s chain-bladed fingers. Ido, Hugo and another Hunter-Warrior with cyborg dogs help Alita and force Grewishka to retreat. Ido realizes his mistake and transplants Alita into the Berserker body.

Now in love with Hugo, Alita enters a Motorball tryout race hoping to win the prize money to help Hugo pay his way into Zalem. At the same time, because of his feelings for Alita, Hugo decides to quit his secret job. He goes to confront his partners and end their association.

When Hugo meets his partners, Zapan appears. He murders Hugo’s partners but Hugo manages to escape and calls to Alita for help. Zapan frames Hugo for the killings and pursues Hugo to kill him.

Alita abandons the race to rescue Hugo and finds him just as Zapan does. Zapan mortally wounds Hugo. Dr. Chiren, who has been having second thoughts and is following in the background, saves Hugo by temporarily attaching his severed head to Alita’s life support system. Zapan sees through the ruse and attempts to stop Alita, who in the ensuing fight, seizes his weapon, a prized Damascus blade, and proceeds to slice most of his Zapan’s off.

Ido transplants Hugo’s head onto a cyborg body and tells Alita that Vector’s offer to help Hugo buy his way into Zalem was a lie. As an exiled citizen of Zalem, Ido knows that citizens of Iron City can only enter Zalem by becoming a Motorball champion.

Alita storms the Factory and confronts Vector, who reveals that Chiren has been harvested for her organs for her betrayal. Vector summons Grewishka, but Alita’s new Berserker body allows her to easily destroy him. She forces Nova to speak to her through Vector. When Nova threatens to harm her friends, Alita fatally stabs Vector.

Ido tells Alita that Hugo is attempting to get to Zalem by climbing a cargo tube attached to the city. Alita catches up to him and pleads with him to return with her. He agrees, but a serrated defensive weapon dropped by Nova shreds his body and throws him off the tube. Alita catches him but cannot pull him up. The arm she has grabbed is badly damaged and separates. Hugo thanks Alita for saving him just before falling to his death.

alita battle angel

Months later, Alita is the star of the Motorball tournament and well on her way to becoming a Motorball Champion. Cheered on by the crowd, she pledges vengeance by pointing her sword toward Zalem, where Nova watches from above, a haughty look on his face.

My thoughts …

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. While the story line might be considered less than perfect, the creation of the story with its human actors, their blending with CGI, all contribute to creating a stunning and strong visual effect. While rated PG-13, the movie contains a lot of stunning violence and for some, may even be laughably extreme; similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. However, the CGI and cyborg factors also tend to soften its impact.

And, in truth, in Iron City, Cybernetics isn’t just for cyborg serial killers or Motorball players. The filmmakers brilliantly integrate it into the bustling lives of Iron City’s everyday citizens. For instance, there is a simple street musician playing a double guitar with three arms. And, there’s a simple romantic beauty to the animation where Alita offers her exposed cyborg heart to Hugo, a heart that simultaneously pumps red blood to her brain and a blue fluid to her machine parts.

This move also provides a very interesting take on one’s ability to be comfortable in their own body, whatever form that body happens to take.

While this film is certainly not for everyone, it does have its attractions and successes including being nominated for Bandung File Festival for Imported Film 2019, Satellite Award for Best Visual Effects 2020, and Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture 2020.

View the Official Trailer!

Sharpen Your Writing Skills!

Using Twitter to sharpen your writing skills?

But I don’t want to deal with the politics, vitriol. and hatred on Twitter!

Well, you don’t have to.

Yes! Twitter is in the news a lot. We hear about the vitriol and hate some express on Twitter. We hear about the censorship of conservative voices, and now we have just heard Twitter is banning all “political” ads.

It is easy to get caught up in the noise. And, I must admit I have been caught up in it a time or two … or three … or perhaps even four, myself.

However, I am going to try to work on that. Just be choosy in who or what you “follow.”

Now, about those writing skills …

sharpen your writing skills

One thing I really do enjoy on Twitter, is the supportive writing community. And I do participate in several, what I call “prompted Micro Fiction.” How it works is you get a daily word prompt, and you have the length of a Tweet to write a story, poem, or whatever you feel like writing. It is actually quite fun, and it does truly help sharpen your writing skills. I really like the #vss365 writing challenge.

Here a some examples I have written:


#lucid

“Damn! Clovis, that’s one hell of a shiner you’re sporting there! What happened?”

“The old lady asked me if her yoga pants made her look fat, Clem.”

“And, you said yes?”

“Damn, Clem, I didn’t want to lie to her!”

“Not one of your more #lucid moments, Clovis!

#vss365


#strike

Day-umm! Clovis! That’s one hell of a bruise!”

“Yep! It’s part second degree burn too!”

“Dude! What happened?”

“Well, guess I shot my mouth off at the old lady, Clem.”

“So, a bruise and a burn, Clovis?”

“The #strike came while the iron was still hot, Clem.”

#vss365


#verify

“What did the cops want Joe?”

“They needed to #verify where I was last night. There was some kind of upscuddle at the strip club. Told em I was with you.”

“But I was in that upscuddle Joe!”

“The cops don’t know that Clem.”

“I can #verify you’re an idiot Joe!”

#vss365


#second

“Listen Joe, there are two things life taught me.”

“Really? What’s are they Clem?”

“The first is that bills always travel through the mail much faster than checks.”

“And … the #second?”

“Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.”

#vss365

Then sometimes, I even let my “romantic fool” side show …


#mystery

I will never understand the #mystery that is a woman’s heart!

She said to me once, “never underestimate the blackness that can be found there,” and then together, we had five of the best years of my life.

Turns out, I should have listened.

#vss365


#longing

There is a longing that cuts deep, to depths of my very soul. I live to again hear her voice, that wonderful laugh, to see her smile. I miss the stars that danced in her eyes. I pray that I will again feel the warmth of her loving embrace.

#vss365


#bottle

I looked over at her, finishing her last shot of Tequila, a sour look on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Don’t #bottle that shit up inside. Let it go! Get it out in the open!”

She did! All over my brand new Nikes!

#vss365


So think about giving it a try!

Some of these Tweets got a really great response. But regardless, it is a lot of fun and a simple way to find out what other people, strangers, think about your writing.

Don’t forget to check out Serpents Underfoot and Adirondack Bear Tales, available at Amazon.

And for other interesting posts, click here!

Standing on Stakes: An Exercise in Balance

Balance is so important in life

We hear this all the time. There are quotes by many famous people that illustrate this concept. Here are just a few examples:

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.    

Euripides

Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.

Maxwell Maltz

It was all balance. But then, she already knew that from surfing.

Eve Babitz

Balance is something we should all strive for in all aspects of our life. Mental balance, physical balance, work-life balance, and the balance between whom we wish to be and who we need to be.

Balance is also vital to success in Karate

Isshin-ryu Karate

An old friend of mine, Charlie Taylor, used to repeatedly say to me, “it’s all about standing on stakes.”

Charlie was a very good martial artist. He had studied some Vietnamese martial art he called Nguyen-Ryu. Charlie also knew several of the Isshin-ryu kata, and at one time I was teaching him our version of the Wansu kata.

Charlie did, however, have a fantastic understanding of technique, balance, and body mechanics; an understanding I have seen in very few modern karate practitioners. Some exceptions to that would be my late Sensei, Sherman Harrill, and several of his students I am privileged to call friends.

Anybody who has studied karate seriously for any length of time should understand the role balance and body mechanics play in the execution of proper, well-focused technique.

Just a quick word on stances

Unfortunately, too many karate practitioners today do not understand stances. Far to often, you hear comments like, “I like to fight from a cat-stance” or “I like to fight from a horse-stance.” What you have to understand is that, it is the transition into the stance that often makes a real karate technique work. You don’t fight from a stance. You transition into the stance as you execute the technique.

The story is the same for ballroom dancing

Although I have understood this for some time, its importance was really nailed down to me when I spent some time learning to ballroom dance. All the stances in karate can be found in ballroom dancing. Why is that you may ask. It is because, like karate, ballroom dancing relies on balance and body mechanics. The dance comes out in the steady transitioning between the stances.

The best structures are built on a solid foundation

How do we start to build this solid foundation? One answer, and the method I use, is to start new students practicing “standing on stakes” right away.

Standing on stakes

To begin practicing “standing on stakes,” stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your weight evenly distributed on the balls of both feet.

Your heels should be lightly touching the floor, but with the feeling that you could slide a sheet of paper between your heel and the floor if you wanted to.

Unlock your knees and straighten your lower back by tucking your pelvis forward.

Your weight should feel under-sided, meaning that you should feel like your body mass is hanging from the framework of your skeleton.

Breathe! In through your nose, into your diaphragm, and out through your mouth.

Hold this position as long as you can … a minute … a few minutes … 5 minutes … 10 minutes … 20 minutes.

This exercise will strengthen your base and core muscles that are so important to balance, movement, and using your stances.

When this way of standing feels natural and comfortable to you, it should be applied to your practice of crescent steps, and eventually in your kata.

Over time, standing on stakes will greatly improve your balance

It does not take too long a time to see results if you practice a little every day. Long term, the benefits to balance, both in karate and life, are quite astounding.

Pearl Harbor is remembered

GP Cox posted a great remembrance for Pearl Harbor Day on his blog, Pacific Paratrooper. Please take the time to check out his great blog.

Pacific Paratrooper

Crew of the USS Arizona

When diplomacy failed and power and greed survived – the Pacific skies went dark….

Hickam Field

Aerial view during the attack

Battleship Row, as seen by Japanese pilot during the attack

From the Smithsonian Museum……

USS Oklahoma stamp

This relic marks the movements before the U.S. was launched into WWII….To record when a piece of mail was processed aboard ship, the Navy used wooden postmark stamps.  This one bears an ominous date: 6 December 1941 PM.  It was recovered from the battleship Oklahoma after it was hit by several torpedoes, listed to a 45-degree angle, capsized and sank in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The ship lost 429 sailors and Marines; one-third of its crew.

For a different view on the Pearl Harbor “surprise”……..

https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/the-other-pearl-harbor-story-kimmel-and-short/

For a wonderful Pearl Harbor poem, by Lee…..

https://mypoetrythatrhymes.wordpress.com/2018/08/

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Farewell Salutes – 

William Barnes – Brookston, IN ,& Lake Worth…

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Midway (2019)

The overview …

Monday night I went to see Midway at The Carolina Cinemark Asheville theater. I was slightly hesitant to do so since I have always enjoyed the 1976 Midway film staring Charleton Heston. However, it turned out to not be a problem for me. The movies are different enough that I enjoyed them both.

Like its predecessor, this new version of the centers on the historic Battle of Midway fought during World War II. This clash between the badly-mauled American fleet, which had just suffered horrific losses during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Imperial Japanese Navy marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

midway 2019

This film is based on the real-life events of this heroic American defeat of the Japanese fleet and Admiral Yamamoto’s grand plan to quickly destroy the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. The story tells the tale of the leaders sailors, and pilots who relied on their instincts, intestinal fortitude, bravery (and a good deal of luck) to overcome incredible odds and a Navy force that had them greatly outnumbered and was better equipped.

The Japanese attack on Midway involved four aircraft carriers, seven battleships, 150 support ships, 248 carrier aircraft and 15 submarines.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, was down to just three aircraft carriers, 50 support ships, 233 carrier aircraft, 127 land-based aircraft on Midway, and eight submarines after the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Critics

The Bad …

Many critics seem do dislike the film. I don’t know if it is because they really thought the film was that bad, or if it was because “belittling” American history has become popular with the elite crowd. Here are a few examples:

It’s hard to imagine, if you’ve already seen a film like Pearl Harbor, why you would need to see Midway.

Amy Nicholson, FilmWeek

The digitized combat looks like something traced and transplanted from another war, one that took place in a galaxy far, far away.

Scott Marks, San Diego Reader

It has the tone, mostly, of kids’ TV. Or a poor, very poor, supplementary video for a history.

Kevin Maher, TImes (UK)

The good …

The great appeal of the film are the aerial battles, strengthened by excellent digital effects.

Marcelo Stiletano, La Nacion (Argentina)

“Midway” tells a story that’s vividly and viscerally rendered, with all the entertainment value of a big, old-fashioned war movie, cutting back and forth between the home front and front line.

Micheal O’Sullivan, Washington Post

“Midway” is a rollicking war film. History buffs need not apply.

Adam Graham, Detroit News

My thoughts …

I enjoyed the movie. For me, it was a lot like 1965 movie, The Battle of the Bulge with Henry Fonda, which was also short on historical accuracy and plot, but long on entertainment value.

Despite its obvious drawbacks, Midway is a rip-roaring military saga and a testament to the men who fought and won this battle. The Americas are portrayed as being brave and heroic during the movie, and so are the Japanese. Both sides are depicted as fighting for a cause they believed in.

I also thought the mixture of real-life and CGI did a great job in the battle scenes. If anyone has seen tracers fired, especially at night, it can indeed look a bit like a scene out of a Star Wars movie.

I thought the end of the movie was also very well done. You are shown real photos of the real heroes of the battle, along with biographies of them and any citations they received. I was struck with the idea that some of the actors were chosen because they strongly resembled the actual characters they portrayed. Woody Harrelson, in his white hair, looked a great deal like Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. I thought Dennis Quaid also looked a lot like Admiral “Bull” Halsey.

This film really stirred the patriotic blood in me. And, not just for America’s victory at Battle of Midway, but for the sacrifices all our brave fighting men and women have made for our country throughout its history. Maybe that is why some of the critics didn’t care for it.


If you like military history, or military action adventures or action thrillers, check out Serpents Underfoot, available online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million. Click here to read more interesting blog posts and reviews!