It Isn’t the Veteran

I’m going to backdate this (I’m on vacation, which has involved a lot less free time than I anticipated and so I am behind on posts), so I think this post will “officially” come out around Memorial Day but I will note it is “actually” several weeks later. I wanted to talk about what I think is a particularly pernicious sort of attitude I tend to see around the holiday. I wish the following paragraphs were more elegant.

The attitude is that every single right you have as an American or even as a person is because a veteran fought for it and, especially on Memorial Day, died for it. Maybe it doesn’t pop up on your Facebook feed but it pops up on mine. A quick googling brought me “It is the Veteran,” a particularly direct and all-encompassing version of it. Credited there to Sarah Palin’s uncle (?), I’ll quote it here:

It is the veteran, not the preacher who has given us freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial. It is the veteran, not the politician who has given us the right to vote. It is the veteran who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag and whose coffin will be draped by the flag.

I think I first heard some version of this sentiment during my Plebe year at the Naval Academy. Even then I didn’t like it, but that might have been because I’m just a contrarian instead of some precocious political awakening. I don’t quite get why military veterans and their fans are so eager to claim every good thing that’s ever happened. Veterans are already pretty well lauded, why not let some of the love be spread around?

I think “It is the Veteran” is wrong, and so wrong that it is a full 180 degrees out. I don’t think you get rights because a veteran fought on the battlefield. I also don’t think you get rights just because someone says you have them or because they’re written down on some piece of paper. I think rights come from exercising those rights. Freedom of the press comes from the press writing about politicians that don’t want to be written about. The freedom to assemble comes from assembling when someone doesn’t want you build a movement. And the right to vote comes from voting when vested interests do everything they can to keep you from being heard.

More importantly, the attitude isn’t pernicious just because it is wrong. It is pernicious because it implies that people didn’t really earn their rights. The majority of people aren’t veterans and never will be. Saying that rights come from what veterans did means that the majority of people didn’t earn their rights, but owe their rights to the actions of this very small minority. Their rights are therefore far from being inalienable but instead have been granted.

The eagerness to claim that all rights stem from veterans is therefore I think an eagerness to be able to claim who does and doesn’t get them, or how people get to use them. If rights come from the sacrifices of a group most people will never be in, then it’s valid to say that freedom of speech doesn’t apply when supporting Black Lives Matter. It makes it valid to say that the freedom to vote is only really for people who vote the “right” way. It makes it valid to systematically deny whole groups of people their rights because in your eyes they simply don’t deserve them.

I suspect most people that share the sentiment that we should thank veterans for our rights aren’t thinking about what that actually implies for their rights or for the rights of others. But it is another part of an American way of thinking that allows us to say we’re the greatest nation on Earth without thinking about for whom that is and isn’t true. We are still in an era where people have to struggle every day to attain those rights that Sarah Palin’s uncle would say veterans already granted them. When those rights finally come, it won’t be because they shot enough people. It will be because they broke through the forces holding them down to stand up and exercise those rights.

Hore’s Tanganyika Pictures

I quoted the book at length when I wrote about the building of the SS Good News, but I wanted to present some pictures from Edward C. Hore’s book Tanganyika: Eleven Years in Central Africa. I had meant to actually read the book in it’s entirety and then present my thoughts on it, but I didn’t manage to finish it in time and this post is already late so I’m just throwing these pictures up there so the world gets to see ’em. You can just download and read the whole thing online via Google Books (the previous link), but the picture scans aren’t very good. Turns out Yale Library has an original copy, now like 130 years old, and will just let you borrow it, so I did and then I also scanned in the pictures. I hope you like them!

PEZ Factory

Sorry I made you suffer through Sandwiches last week, but this week my super amazing girlfriend and I went to a place! Specifically, we went to the PEZ Factory which is nearby us here in New Haven. We went because a little while ago when pandemic restrictions were slightly more restrictive and we were less able to travel, I had driven by it and thought it might be interesting to go. We just only got around to it, and there will be more adventures in the coming weeks, but still it was a pretty nice little visit.

The PEZ factory, in a way that makes absolute total sense, is very very into PEZ. When you enter you are immediately greeted with a wall of 700 or so PEZ dispensers, and there are so very many more to come. The place is not large and in some sense is more of a gift shop with some overzealous displays than anything else. This is not meant to undermine it! PEZ is a collectible commodity and they embrace this fact!

I think we learned a lot at the PEZ factory. Certainly stuff we never would have looked up on our own. For example, we learned that PEZ is Austrian and “PEZ” is an acronym for “mint candy” or somesuch! We learned the bestselling PEZ dispenser ever is Santa Claus! We also learned that the little things on the bottom of the PEZ dispensers that look like feet and help them stand up (like feet do) are referred to as “feet!”

The vast majority of the displays at the PEZ factory are various PEZ dispensers and other PEZ paraphernalia from throughout the ages (well past century or so, PEZ hasn’t been around all that long). One thing I found curious is that a lot of the displays (such as the one up top) mention how rare and hard to find they are. I don’t think I could ever be a PEZ collector. There is just about no way to even get close to collecting them all. There are limited edition Star Wars sets only given to Lucasfilm executives and PEZ executives! There are umpteen versions of like, Popeye from throughout the decades! Various ones only attainable from exclusive giveaways! There are a lot!

I was delighted to learn, however, that there is a subculture of PEZ lapel pin collectors. I collect lapel pins myself as my preferred souvenir when I go places (picked one up from the PEZ factory, don’t worry). Apparently there are enough PEZ collectors out there from around the world (they had a whole Japan display at the factory) that conventions come hard and fast, and to remember what conventions you’ve gone to as a PEZ collector the thing to do is to get a lapel pin. I want to see how deep we can make this rabbit hole go. Anyone want to have a convention for PEZ collector lapel pin collectors? We’ll issue souvenir spoons to keep the train going.

Inside the visitor’s center area you get a view into the factory floor itself, which is pretty neat. We visited on the weekend, so the factory wasn’t operating, and I can’t say I’m disappointed because that means employees get weekends off which is nice. They had a virtual tour thing you could navigate a la Google Streetview via a touchscreen, and a video showing you the candy production process. Industrial food production is always interesting.

On top of all this, the factory provided ample photo opportunities. On the left is my head on a PEZ dispenser, though now that I look at it, awfully phallic, ain’t it? On the right is a picture of me with the world’s largest PEZ dispenser. I was hoping for equally gigantic PEZ to pop out of it, but alas it appears to have been empty. Is it really a PEZ dispenser if it doesn’t dispense PEZ? Philosophers will have to battle it out for the ages.

Aaaaaand with that our visit was largely over. The place is not gigantic, but the entry fee is $5 and you get a $2 discount on anything in the place, and since the PEZ dispensers they sell are mostly $1.99, it’s really as though you get a free PEZ dispenser thrown in with the (self-guided) tour. Not a bad bargain! Besides all the dispensers, another remarkable thing is all the old candy they have. They have a whole bunch of decades-old candy just sitting in these display cases (one package from the 1930s, even), and it seems just fine. I guess then the major thing we learned is that when the apocalypse hits, the canned food might expire in a few years, but we’ll always have PEZ.


Reading this week:

  • Where the Evidence Leads by Dick Thornburgh

An informal survey of the dates associated with the google search results (and I guess some trend analysis) indicates there’s been a recent uptick in sandwich-related scholarship. I’m not going to claim to be treading new ground here. But I have a blog to fill and I haven’t been able to travel lately to bring you more colorful stories), so I wanted to talk about sandwiches.

The first time I thought seriously about sandwiches was when my Spanish roommate Francisco brought them up. Our senior year at the Naval Academy, my buddy Tom and I had grandiose plans for a two-man room, a privilege earned by our several years of continuing to exist at the Naval Academy. Lo and behold, when we went to go move back in for our final year, we discovered we would be placed in a three-man room, which as you’ll recall is one more man than Tom and I put together. Our mysterious new roommate, who neither of us had been consulted about, was… “Spain.”

Or apparently only that country’s representative. The Naval Academy has international exchange students, and Francisco was one of them, from the Spanish Naval Academy. He was quite the character. He was 29, and back then, in my youth, therefore unimaginably old. He was married, which is prohibited for American midshipmen, and so was quite an exotic status to have. The first night we were together, when we had barely known each other for a few hours and our biggest adventure together had thus far been finding Francisco a blanket, he was telling us the many stories of his worldly travel when his eye adopted a particular glimmer.

“Ah yes, Rio,” he said, “how do you say – I fell in love with Rio.”

“In Rio,” he explained, “you can fuck a girl for twenty dollars. For the whole night.” And, he emphasized, “including the hotel.”

Our most heartfelt moment of cultural exchange was probably his birthday. He had mentioned off-hand I think that he was missing olive oil, so I managed to track down a bottle of “Spanish” (so said the label) olive oil, and presented it to him as a gift from me and Tom. A few days later, Francisco pulled me aside. He wanted to thank me for my thoughtfulness and generosity. After I had given him the olive oil, he had gathered all the other Spanish exchange students, and together in King Hall they had all had salad – with olive oil. I think the man was nearly in tears, he missed olive oil so much.

In return for my gift, Francisco shattered my entire world. I don’t think he knew what he was doing. It was simply that one day, he said to me (apropos of something, not exactly out of the blue) “Americans – all you eat is sandwiches.”

And with that my world was quite simply ruined. The curse of knowledge was downright unbearable. He was right! I think the very next day, the Naval Academy served us breakfast sandwiches, followed by roast beef sandwiches for lunch, and then with hamburgers for dinner. I began to count the sandwiches in the weekly meals. Seven days in a week, three meals a day, for a total of 21 meals, and out of those, 15 or 16 – or more! – would be sandwiches. This is why you get to know other cultures, people.

I mean, I love sandwiches, but once you think about your tongue, you know? After the Naval Academy, in honor of Francisco, and to buck the trend, I scrubbed sandwiches from my diet. Scrubbed them! Sorta anyways. I would avoid making a sandwich. I packed my lunch most days to go to nuke school, and whatever I made, it would never be a sandwich. I would, however, happily go to East Bay Deli (my favorite Charleston deli) all the time, typically getting the Reuben. But… I would think about Francisco.

The next time where I wound up thinking about sandwiches a lot was probably Prototype. After nuke school, which is classroom stuff, comes Prototype. “Prototype” has long been a misnomer, but it is where you spend six months operating a real nuclear reactor. Very little of the second half of that last sentence is true, but the important part here is that Prototype (in Charleston anyway) has a very large building in which you spend much of your time. I spent a total of eight months at Prototype on rotating shift work with 12-hour shifts, largely unmoored from rational time or normal conventions. This building is no ordinary building. It is a half mile away from a weapons loading dock that is rated to have I think half a kiloton of explosives on it, or something like that, and so the building is built to withstand the blast from half a kiloton of high explosive from a half mile away.

This renders the building in a very literal way fortress-like. It is large, it is beige, and it is windowless. You arrive and after parking your car trek you to this government fortress and to enter you heave open these heavy not-quite-blast doors that lead to a small lobby. Forward through the lobby is the building proper. Once you enter through these doors for your shift you are not supposed to leave for twelve hours. Like I said, I usually packed lunch, but not everyone did, and I didn’t always. So, how did they feed us?

If you ever enter the building, the answer will be obvious. Every single day as you show up for your shift, lugging your nuclear-strained propium to this ominous citadel, dragging open the weighted gates, it’s the first thing you smell, and on your way out, as you ooze your mashed lucidity back to your car, it’s the last thing you smell, the smell which is to me one of the most recognizable smells in all of these blessed United States: the smell of a Subway sandwich shop.

That’s right, at Prototype in Charleston right inside the building the only option to obtain anything resembling nourishment during your many many many hours there is Subway. It’s open very nearly 24/7, closed I think only on Christmas and New Year’s. Your only respite from the world of neutrons and pipes is the jarring green and yellow color scheme of the sandwich-based universe that is Subway. I ate a lot of breakfast sandwiches while I was at Prototype. It was the only solid excuse for a break. I didn’t really mind at all. But for years, and even somewhat to this day, when I walk by the open doors of a Subway, catching just a hint of that smell, I get shivers.

But what is the moral of this story, a story very loosely held together with the thread of sandwiches? I made an egg salad sandwich yesterday. It’s pictured up top. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was pretty good. It had olives. And that, my friend, is the story I came here to tell.

Chaos NAND

Due to the non-linearity of blog time, I suspect (like I don’t control it) this will go up only one week after my Atari Punk Console post, but I wanna say that these events actually happened several weeks later. That makes me less embarrassed to say that chasing the high of that previous project, after which I told myself I wasn’t going to like, get “into” synthesizers or whatever, I decided to build the Synthrotek Chaos NAND.

I guess I still don’t need to worry about being “into” synthesizers. If I were, I would have added the control voltage plugs to both these things and not used the lame-o 3.5mm headphone jack. Both these projects produce things that make silly sounds, so now I have at least doubled my silly-sound producing capability, though to what end no one knows (I mean I know, the end is that I make my super amazing girlfriend twist some knobs for a few moments while she humors me). But it was fun! The main draw of the project for me the second time around was designing and 3D-printing another case for it. I had some ideas after the Atari Punk Case and wanted to implement them here.

The above image is some of the prototypes I made for this one. One of the big things I figured out in this project was how to make letters in FreeCAD, so instead of sharpie like on the Atari Punk Console I could just print out labels. Unfortunately I still don’t actually know what most of the knobs and switches actually do, but I put “POWER” on the top and I did figure out the volume knob. I also got to print out “CHAOS NAND” on the front with the headphone jack going through the O, which thanks for agreeing with me that it’s pretty fancy. The left side of the picture wasn’t actually meant to be a prototype, but was instead just a failed print, but it let me test out if the switches and everything fit. The ones on the right are more prototype-y, and I was mostly trying to figure out a way to keep the board in place. I didn’t actually super like my rail system from last time, and this board came with mounting holes, so I designed a little system where you slide in pegs and they twist into place that works pretty well. The circular part was me trying to figure out some way that the board itself could still just slide in, but I think that would have only been a mediocre system in the end.

I also decided to add a hinge to this one, instead of having the back just slide on. I just thought it would be better. That did necessitate two iterations though to figure out how to get the hinge in a good spot and also to make sure it printed well on my printer, which tends to just obliterate the first few layers. The other major design change is that I put the battery on the outside. On the Atari Punk Console case, the battery was hard to squeeze in there, and also since I don’t want to leave the battery connected all the time, having the battery outside makes it easier to connect and disconnect. I tried to come up for more elegant system for the battery wires, but they just lead out a divot in the back. I tried to come up with a more elegant version of a lot of the fiddly bits, but the simpler ones seem to have won out. In the above photo too, the little piece of yellow filament is a “lock” that keeps the back in place.
Those are the big design differences with the case. When it comes to the Chaos NAND itself, the big difference between it and the Atari Punk is that this one has a lot more components. Three times as many switches, anyways, and a whole additional knob, which meant for a good chunk of soldering. I actually made a total botch job of it (as you can see at the top), and uh actually some of the functions I think don’t work, but whatever, I had fun! I tried to get fancy with the shrink wrap because I was worried about some of the components jostling against each other, but that too I kinda botched because I didn’t have a heat gun and probably held the lighter I was using too close. Oh well.

Once I had everything soldered up, it was time to stuff it into the case. I didn’t test it before stuffing it into the case beforehand, because I did that with the Atari Punk and then when it didn’t work post-case-stuffing I knew I had broken it instead of being able to blame some other exogenous force. I was also more careful this time with measuring the length of wire needed, which meant it all fit it a lot better (plus I wasn’t also trying to stuff in the battery). The hatch or case or back or whatever doesn’t actually open all the way now because the wires are actually a bit too short, but you shouldn’t need to open the case that often anyways.

And after all that I had a finished Chaos NAND module, and I am pretty happy with it! Like I said before I don’t actually think all of it works, but it still makes funny noises, and I had fun building it, so it was the journey that counts. Now it will sit on my shelf to be admired until it is time to annoy my super amazing girlfriend once more (like most of my projects). Thanks for reading!