Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Welcome abroad!! The T-Mobile Service Message in Ramallah!

Today I got my seventh welcome to a country message from T-Mobile in the past two weeks.  Each one is the same except for the name of the country I am arriving in.  Today's message said: 

Welcome to Turkey! Your T-Mobile plan......(benefits)

That is, except for the fifth message. That one said: Welcome abroad! No country listed.  The reason is that I was on a bus from Jerusalem to the largest city in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority: Ramallah.  Although I passed through a massive security checkpoint going to and from Ramallah, I did not pass an actual international border.  So T-Mobile diplomatically said, Welcome abroad!

One reason to travel is to see and feel and experience the details of life in a given place.  The bus ride from Old City Jerusalem to Ramallah is less than ten miles, but it was one hour to get there, two hours to get back.  At the security area on the way back, we left the first bus and boarded another. It was the same bus route number, but a different bus. 

Businesses, big and small adapt to the reality they find.  T-Mobile has, I assume, messages for the 193 nations recognized by the United Nations.  The territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority has observer status at the UN as does the Holy See in Rome. 

Welcome abroad!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

First Time in the Republic of Georgia--Riding is Amazing!

Looking up from the center of Tbilisi, Georgia, is a ferris wheel and tower
on top of a ridge.  It's a six-mile climb with switchbacks and some steep sections.

After leaving Israel, I planned to see the Republic of Georgia for the first time.  I was just going to visit. I had no definite plans to ride. I was thinking about also going to Armenia and Azerbijan, the other two countries in this land bridge between Russia to the north, Turkey and Iran to the south, the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

Then I looked up the mountain from the center of town. A cable car takes tourists up to a park with a ferris wheel overlooking the city. And there is a six-mile road that loops up around the mountain.  I had to ride that.

It's a beautiful climb. Incredible vistas.  Not too much traffic and 180-degree switchbacks on the steeper sections of the climb.  I arrived on Friday, found a bike Saturday morning and rode up twice.  The first time I messed up Strava, the second, I got the whole trip.  

Today, Sunday, I rode up the hill toward the park then followed a fork that led to villages on the next ridge above the park.  I passed though two villages, Shindisi and Tabakhmala. At one point I was looking down on the tall tower next to the Ferris wheel.  

The bike I rented was a 9-speed cross bike with a single chain ring and fat tires.  With the switchbacks and the fat tires, my descent speeds never got above 35mph, but it was fun to descend for nine miles after the long climb up.  Tomorrow I will ride up to the park again. I fly to Kiev the next day.  

One other fun thing about Georgia was the Strava segments.  On today's climb I was on 20 segments up and down, yesterday it was a dozen.  The number of people recording times on segments was in the hundreds. I was in the top third of times descending, the bottom third climbing, but on every segment, I was the top 65-69 rider.  Several times the only rider in my age group.  I did not see any other bicyclists, but there must not be many old guys.

The view looking down from the ridge above Tbilisi

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Back to the Latrun Armored Corps Museum

This is my third trip to Israel and my second trip to the Armored Corps Museum and Monument at Latrun.  The museum at Latrun has dozens of tanks from all of the wars in Israel, including many captured Soviet-built tanks used by Arab armies.  Several of the tanks on display are variants of the Patton tank that I served on in West Germany during the Cold War. 

On my last visit, I wrote a Patton tank that is sliced in half lengthwise showing the guns, ammo racks, engine, fuel tank and all of the other equipment inside the tank: https://armynow.blogspot.com/2019/11/at-armored-corps-museum-latrun-israel.html

And I have pictures of other tanks on display at Latrun: https://armynow.blogspot.com/2019/11/armor-from-entire-cold-war-and-beyond.html

Below are a few pictures of Patton tanks. Like me, the oldest of them are of early 50s vintage.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Six-Day War Veteran Tells His Story of Ammunition Hill Battle

Micheal Lanier telling us about the battle for Ammunition Hill 

My friend Cliff and I visited the Ammunition Hill Museum and Memorial in Jerusalem. It preserves the site of one of the battles in the 1967 Six-Day War that led to the capture of Old City of Jerusalem where Cliff and I are staying for the week. 

We toured the museum which follows the battle hour by hour in film and pictures.  Both of us have previously walked the grounds of the site and climbed in and out of the trenches.  At the end of the museum visit we were going to watch a documentary of the battle, but one of the staff members said we can hear from a veteran of the fight for Ammunition Hill.  We went for the veteran.

Michael Lanir (מיכאל לניר) was a 26-year-old lieutenant leading an infantry platoon when the battalion got orders to attack the Jordanian stronghold at Ammunition Hill. It was held by a detachment of the elite Arab Legion. 

Lanir was born in Jerusalem in 1942. He was six years old when Old City Jersalem was besieged by the Jordanian Army and shelled. He told us of water and food shortages and that many civilians were killed and wounded in the siege. 

Returning to the battle in 1967, Lanir was a reserve paratrooper called to active duty three weeks before the war began. He and his troops trained to fight in the Sinai, but that battle was won so fast that his unit was redirected to capture Old City Jerusalem.  Lanir led his men into the trenches. He made a point of telling us Israeli officers lead from the front. 
Michael Lanir next to the rock he took cover behind when he was shot

Shortly after the battle began, Lanir was shot in the neck.  He showed us the rock he was taking cover behind when he was shot.  His men thought he was dead. They covered him with a blanket and continued the fight.  An alert medic saw movement in Lanir's fingers and sent him to the hospital.  He recovered and today is a 78-year-old member of a group of veterans who talk to visitors to Ammunition Hill about their part of the battle. 

Lanir and the commander of the Arab Legion company opposite him in the battle

He told us about a reunion of veterans on both sides that happened in the 1990s. He met the Jordanian commander of the unit they were fighting. They discussed the battle in detail and the Jordanian leader was sure it was one of his men who shot Lanir.  They left the event friends, both men who were doing their duty in the battle and both were happy they survived.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Met First Cyclist on the Way to the Airport

Amtrak Conductor and cyclist Don Austin Tucker

On the train from Philadelphia to New York one of the conductors looked at my computer and asked "Are you going to do an Ironman?"

He saw the brag stickers on my MacBook. 

I told him I did an Ironman more than five years ago and a knee replacement last year meant I will never do another one.

He told me he was becoming an avid cyclist. He did his first century (100-mile ride) last year and was cycling more and more. He told me how his first distance ride was on a mountain bike with cleated tires.  "That was 50 hard miles," he said. We talked for a while about tires and wheels and types of bikes and types of training. 

Don rides the trail along the Schuylkill River and in Valley Forge Park.  We talked about riding in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. 

Then Don told me he rides with MS. He is also living with cancer.  A group of his friends formed to walk and ride with Don. The group is called: Team Don Austin.

Don is hoping to ride the Covered Bridge Metric Century in Lancaster County in August so we may see each other again outside the train.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Vermin, Cockroaches, Human Scum: Words That Lead to Death

Three who described their opponents as human scum
Josef Stalin, Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler

Every tyrant needs an enemy.  In the malignant moral world of tyranny there must be Us and Them.  The Them for a tyrant is never spoken of as human.  Hitler called Jews vermin; Stalin called many groups "enemies of the people" then slaughtered them; Hutu leaders called the Tutsi cockroaches, then Tutsi men, women and children were butchered in Churches with machetes.  The two most murderous leaders in the 20th century are being quoted in the 21st century by the U.S. President when he refers to his enemies as human scum. 

So far, in every case but America, calling the opposition vermin, cockroaches, enemies of the people and human scum has led to murder.  America may take longer to go from words to murder than Germany or the Soviet Union, but Trump's words will eventually cause death. 

This week I am leaving on a five-week trip that will include visits to some of the places where 20th century genocide was at its worst: Dachau and Flossenberg, Germany; Kiev, Ukraine; and Rwanda. Since the summer of 2017, I have been to most of the countries in which The Holocaust occurred, as well as the Yugoslav genocide. I want to see how countries recover from mass murder. 

For me, The Holocaust is just as much about the 400 million Christians between the Pyrenees and the Urals who participated in or turned a blind eye to the slaughter of six million Jews.  I am convinced that a Church with temporal power will eventually kill or condone killing. 

Trump's Church of white Evangelical power seekers and idol worshippers will bless every outrage he commits. And when Trump's words lead to death, the false prophets like Graham and Falwell will say dead Americans are God's will. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Cynical Sinking of John Kerry—The Attack on the 2020 Nominee will be Worse


How did the Republican Party sink a decorated Navy veteran and make a pair of war avoiders into heroes?  It was brilliant. And it will happen again. 

John Kerry was a veteran of one of the more dangerous duties in the Vietnam War. He patrolled the Cambodian border on the Mekong River in a Swift Boat, a small gunboat.  John Kerry was a Swift Boat captain.  So how did a guy who took and returned fire on a hostile border get trashed for his service? 

Jerome Corsi and other Republic hacks attacked Kerry for lying about his war record.  When I first heard this attack, I couldn’t believe it. Soldiers, sailors and everyone who ever served in the military has exaggerated a war story, or any story.  When I was in Basic training, pimply faced 18-year-old boys bragged of prowess in lovemaking that left a half dozen women breathless and begging for more. They competed about who had the worst stepmothers, fathers, sisters, whoever. In the muscle-car obsessed 70s they all bragged about the Corvette Sting Ray, or Road Runner, or Hemi ‘Cuda they had back home.  We made $283 per month.

Liars in the military are as rare as liars on fishing boats.  Or in barrooms. 

The political hacks knew that soldiers were held in the highest regard since the attack of America on September 11, 2001.  He also knew that the vast majority of Americans did not know a soldier personally.  So, Corsi could make Kerry’s exaggerated war stories into a real sin for the plurality of Americans who don’t know soldiers and sailors. 

Could it work with veterans? There were still a lot of veterans who heard lies in tents and troopships and drafty barracks. But Rove knew that most veterans, me included, hated Kerry for what he said after the war, calling all Vietnam War veterans war criminals.  And worse than that John Kerry went to a Paris conference attended by the North Vietnamese and Jane Fonda.  The vast majority of Vietnam War veterans hate Jane Fonda for going to North Vietnam and posing with Viet Cong soldiers. 

Corsi knew that old ladies across America love Jane Fonda, so if he attacked Kerry for his connection to Fonda, it would backfire. He also knew that veterans needed only the flimsiest excuse to hate Kerry. So, lying was enough, even for the veterans. And combat veteran Kerry became a liar while Bush and Cheney, who both avoided service in the same war, became the veterans choice.

In 2020, the attacks Republicans make on Democrats will take the worst of Corsi and amplify it with Trumpean hate. 

As a veteran and a communications guy, I will be interested to see how low the Republicans go in attacking Democrats.  I won’t be surprised however they attack.  And it will be sophisticated. The attack on Kerry was a brilliant piece of communications strategy, taking one misleading message and twisting it to give veterans an excuse to hate Kerry while convincing idiots that soldiers are heroes who would never lie about their war records. 

Welcome abroad!! The T-Mobile Service Message in Ramallah!

Today I got my seventh welcome to a country message from T-Mobile in the past two weeks.  Each one is the same except for the name of the...