Voice of Bruck News Service

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Good Finn

As you can see, I’m wearing white socks today.

White socks means I’m not planning on leaving the property. Instead, I’m smoking a corned beef, as a belated celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, and as an annual tribute to the late Finnish Grandmother of Bruck (LFGOB), whose birthday fell on St. Patrick’s Day. Every St. Patrick’s Day in the family of Bruck was a combined celebration of LFGOB’s birthday (although the L didn’t apply prior to 2002) and our not-totally-certain Irish heritage. The family of Bruck continues to follow the tradition of celebrating the dual holiday with an Irish boiled dinner, and green beer to toast the memory of the LFGOB.

I’m also steaming some tobacco on the gas grill today, to make pseudo-Cavendish for pipe tobacco blending, but that’s a whole nuther story, perhaps worthy of its own VOB entry.

Today we’re going to explore the life and legacy of one Lila E. W. (I never use full/real names here without permission which she is in no capacity to deliver), AKA Lyle to her friends, Nana to the grandchildren, and “Old Blue Eyes” as circumstances indicated.

The LFGOB’s life was not conventionally noteworthy – she wasn’t rich or famous, didn’t write a book or invent anything, didn’t lead anything or commit any significant crimes that I’m aware of. While not exhibiting any behavior one might interpret as ambition, she was by all accounts a good wife, mother, grandmother, homemaker, and Hank Williams fan. And she made exceptional Finnish-style pasties and cabbage soup.

Here’s her condensed bio: Born and raised in northern Michigan in an upper middle class family along with several siblings, married fairly young, raised one daughter (the exquisite mother of Bruck (EMOB)), lived in Detroit, MI, as an adult, moved to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, in her middle age until her husband’s death, then wintered with her daughter and son-in-law, the parents of Bruck, until moving to a nursing home where she counted out the last 15 years of her life (that has to be some sort of record).

It wasn’t all sweetness and light, however. The LFGOB was the “black sheep” of the family, although by today’s standards she’d probably be on the short list for canonization. She was the rebellious one who opted for partying when offered the chance for a formal education, which was a rather precious commodity in the late 1920s/early 1930s, particularly for women. She married outside of her clan, which even today is somewhat unusual for northern Finns, although I suspect that it’s now more a function of opportunity than cultural bias. Religiously, she was either agnostic or atheist; in any case, if she had any measure of belief or faith in the Almighty, she hid it well. Other details I’m aware of, let’s just say, why seek the living with the dead?

Lots of good stories, though. She never enjoyed the company of her husband’s sister, for reasons I never fully understood. After her husband died, she averred that she shouldn’t have to continue to consider her a sister-in-law. She enjoyed watching the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on TV with the sound off. She was also a big fan of “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Hee-Haw,” and professional wrestling. She sang frequently at home, but had a limited repertoire which included a few lines from popular songs from the 1940s and the national anthem. We got to the point where we didn’t even notice, but once when a friend was over watching TV, he said, “Quiet, can you hear that?”
“Hear what,” I replied.
“Your grandmother is singing The Star Spangled Banner!”

She had an interesting perspective on funerals, never attending those of her friends. When asked how 
she would feel if nobody came to her funeral, she replied, “What do I care, I’ll be dead!”

I could go on and on. But what of it? As I sit on the back deck in northern Virginia smoking corned beef and steaming tobacco, contemplating a nice Irish dinner and a green beer, I wonder, what is Old Blue Eyes’ legacy? What is her lasting influence?

The first obvious answer is biological arithmetic: the EMOB, who has very little in common with her mother, nonetheless can attribute 50%, give or take, of her genetics to the LFGOB. Approx. 25% for us at the grandchild level. etc. By the numbers, she leaves one child, three grandchildren, and six great grandchildren (that we know of). That would be 1/2 plus 3/4 plus 6/8 = 2, so she’s doubled herself.

Second answer:  while she may have been singularly unambitious herself, she did manage to raise a professional, responsible, achievement-oriented daughter who doesn’t spontaneously break into the Star Spangled Banner or I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love with You. Much. And although she may not have held formal education in high esteem, three generations of offspring hold college degrees, some with multiple degrees. All are retired or active professionals, or studying to become one. There’s something to that.

Third answer: pasties. Sharp, wry humor. Rebellious nature – not particularly valuable in and of itself, but I believe it has morphed in her progeny into a spirit of innovation and creativity borne of rejecting convention.

But here’s the real answer: I wrote this dispatch, and you’re reading it. Play it over 1000 times. Run it out to the nth level of implication. Set it to music. If not for the LFGOB, I’d be someone else, if I existed at all. In large or small ways your life would be different.

And to this I raise my glass!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Temporary Insanity

If I had a nickel for every time someone remarked to me that they think the whole country is going crazy… I’d have a small handful of nickels. Probably not enough for a cup of coffee, but maybe I could buy a guitar pick or two. Note, this is unsolicited conjecture – it’s not like I go around asking for this kind of thing.

Anyway, I disagree. You might be going crazy, but the whole country isn’t.

While you’re putting on the hip waders, let me say happy Veteran’s Day, and if you are a current or former service member, please accept my sincere gratitude. 

Last week’s midterm elections, wherein all US Representative and 1/3 of all Senate seats, along with many state Governorships, were voted upon in our 50 (at last count) states, the Republican Party made substantial gains. Probably the most significant was retaking the majority in the Senate, which means that, starting next year, Republicans can appoint the Senate Majority Leader and Chairpeople and majority membership of all of the committees (the committees are where the real power is, but that’s a bigger topic than I want to get into here).

The media talking heads have interpreted and analyzed the results in all sorts of ways, so I won’t add to the confusion other than to say, it happened. When a similar turnover of power occurred in 1994, nobody saw it coming, but this time it was a surprise to pretty much nobody who was paying attention. I will say this though – the American people did not all of a sudden become Republican, and there was no good reason to vote “for” them. There was no “Contract with America” or any other discernable conservative principles put forth. No, this was a repudiation of the current administration’s policies and performance. To name a few:

Iraq: we pulled out, left a power vacuum, and it was summarily filled by a more powerful and pernicious terror group than the one we previously dispatched. And they’re fighting with our old weapons.
Russia: they got Ukraine.

Iran: everything about Iran.

The Economy: the unemployment numbers are total fiction. Only the ultra-wealthy are enjoying the “recovery,” and it’s mostly with our tax dollars. Meanwhile we’re saddled with an unpayable debt to China and young people are pretty much bereft of opportunity outside of government dependence.

Obamacare: the more people learn about it, and the more it gets implemented, the less they like it.

The IRS Scandal: the use of our taxing authority to suppress political opposition, and the complete lack of accountability for it, make Zimbabwe look downright democratic.

Values Issues: most Americans oppose “same-sex marriage” and other facets of the homosexual agenda, late-term abortion, Honey Boo Boo, reality TV, etc.

These are just a few of the more public failures and signs of cultural decline; I’m sure you could add a few – Benghazi, Mexican gun-running, the various green energy scams, declining race relations, etc., etc. If this was all you saw, then I’d have to agree that the entire country’s gone crazy.

Here are two reasons why I say it’s not: (1) last Tuesday’s elections, and (2) the all-volunteer armed forces.

To me, the message of Tuesday’s elections was that, despite the relentless drumbeat of pro-administration propaganda from the news media and pop culture, we’ve managed to break the hypnotic spell. Those of us who voted for “hope and change,” well, I admire and appreciate your optimism and idealism, but I think we’ve all come to realize that it was an open mandate, and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to put it in the hands of a neophyte with no relevant experience or discernable background, and an ambiguous national origin. Lest you read this as an anti-0bama screed, let me just say that he didn’t do all this alone; in fact he couldn’t have, while taking about four times as many vacations as us working stiffs, and playing more rounds of golf in the past six years than I’ve played in my entire life. At any rate, it’s time to sober up; the party didn’t turn out quite like we planned, the football team came and trashed the place and ran off with your girlfriend, and mom and dad are coming home in a few hours.

Meanwhile, while we’re not doing so hot on the political and diplomatic front, we do still have the strongest and best-trained armed forces in the world. This is our ace in the hole. And the encouraging thing is, it’s comprised entirely of volunteers. We haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam era, and despite the known deprivation, discomfort, and risks, we still have no shortage of qualified young adults who sign up to serve, knowing that it may even require the ultimate sacrifice. 

My old Aunt Hazel (OAH), a reliable font of non-sequiturs, once offered a pertinent observation: “It’s not the world that’s going crazy, it’s the people in it.” With that, happy Veteran’s Day and please give me a hand cleaning the place up – we don’t have much time!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eradicate Terrorism With This One Weird Trick!

I just saved $1000 J Well, not quite 1000. The estimate was $1130 & change to replace a throttle position sensor, clean out the throttle body, and replace the rear brake pads and rotors on the Jeep of the noteworthy wife of Bruck (JONWOB). The TPS and throttle cleaning would have set me back a little over $600, and the rest was for the rear brakes. We bought the TPS online for about $50 (OEM part), and the brake pads and rotors retailed for $92. I did the replacements over the weekend. So 1130 – 50 – 92 = 988 (I did not use a calculator for this, thank you very much). I guess I should also deduct the $140 diagnostic fee, which we did pay, but which would have been deducted had we voluntarily subjected ourselves to complete financial buggering at the hands of the mendacious local Chrysler dealer’s service department. So $848 would be the actual savings, which I still find pretty satisfying.

Engineering is a calling. There’s a certain way of thinking, a prism through which we interpret the world around us that is unique to engineers. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t know if you’re born with it or if it’s learned in early childhood, but by jr. high or high school, if you’re honestly wondering whether or not you’re an engineer, you ain’t one.

If this isn’t clicking for you, an informative documentaryvideo on YouTube should help you understand.

Engineering school doesn’t teach you to be an engineer. It provides rigorous classes and laboratories to refine and develop existing ones, and weeds out the misguided non-engineers in the process. And of course it provides the educational credentials necessary for the engineer to find honest employment.

My readers with whom I’m personally acquainted (which is pretty much all of you) know that I’m an engineer. My specialization is Electrical Engineering (“double E”), and most of my professional experience is in electrical and automotive applications. At this point in my career, I’m no longer “in” engineering, as I now do personnel and financial/contract management in an R&D organization. But I’m still an engineer all the way down to the marrow, as I have been since at least my early teens, which harkens back to the disco era.

So you can see why I find it sadly laughable that certified, highly-trained mechanics would want to charge me over $600 to replace an external sensor (they wanted $110 for the same part) and clean the throttle body at $130 (which it didn’t need – it was squeaky clean but I guarandamntee they wouldn’t have told me that). The rest of the figure was labor, which wasn’t separately costed out, but had to be at least a few hours of the expert Chrysler mechanics’ time. I timed myself for this part of the repair. With no experience in Chrysler engines (although they’re all basically the same, don’t tell my old Ford friends), the repair took me exactly 58 minutes. And that includes running up and down the basement stairs a few times for tools.

I share this little story to exemplify the engineering mindset, and also to brag about saving money, which is another key feature of said mindset.

There are some problems with engineering as a career. It tends to be good for younger people, but for engineers that stay in the field, careers level off at about age 40 plus or minus, and stay flat or even shrink in terms of compensation and opportunities. As the late Ann Landers (I’m pretty sure she’s been dead a while) used to say, nobody can take advantage of you without your permission. To be honest, we do own some culpability in this regard, mainly in the form of skills obsolescence, but we also get marginalized by the large companies for which most of us work. A principal form of this marginalization is the use of the term “engineer.” People who are not engineers often call themselves such, or are thusly nominated due to their job titles, which are invented by HR departments, which virtually never contain anything close to an engineer. The problem is that we engineers then get equated with salespeople, designers, repairmen, and assorted techies, and thereby experience a certain dilution of our professional status.

But we engineers know who the real engineers are. I can’t give you chapter and verse as to how, but I can tell within five minutes of meeting one. This is a genuine example of takes-one-to-know-one.

Last week the Kenyan read a primetime speech expounding to the waiting world on why we are getting back into the War on Terror. In it he clearly explained that we are going to destroy the “Islamic State” terrorists in Iraq and Syria by hunting them down and snuffing them out, but not by using any combat troops. Of course we will be deploying ground troops, but they will act in an advisory capacity to the brave and reliable local warriors. This may sound familiar to those of you who remember our early forays into Viet Nam in the Kennedy era (yours truly was still a set of unaffiliated gametes at that juncture).

One particularly curious aspect of the president’s speech (which, to be fair, was probably the first time he’d seen it, so I’m sure it was just as big of a surprise to him) was his assertion that the Islamic State terrorists are not actually Muslims. Questions flooded into my mind:

  •          Why, then, would they call themselves “Islamic?”
  •          Are other, “true” Muslims also denying IS’s Muslimhood?
  •          If they’re not Muslims, what are they then?
  •          Why does it matter whether they are Muslim or not?
  •          How does the Kenyan know one way or another?

It reminded me of a rather one-sided conversation I once had with an outspoken Hindu co-worker about Christian denominations, in which he delineated those he considers to be true worshipers of God. Turns out it’s Roman Catholics; put a mark in the Pope’s win column. While I take a broader view of Christendom, I found it rather unusual that a polytheist would even hold an opinion on such matters.

Christianity is another example, although somewhat less distinct, of takes-one-to-know-one. Actually a cleaner statement would be takes-one-to-know-who-isn’t-one. You may have observed that it’s only Christians who make the case that abortion clinic bombers are acting outside of the faith, and likewise the whackos from Kansas who protest at military funerals. Non-Christians in the secular media and pop culture are all too happy to lump us all together with the killers and lunatics.

Hence my double-take at Hussein’s observation that IS terrorists are not actually Muslims.

The rotor and brake pad replacement was a little more involved. The calipers and pads came off easily enough, but the rotors were really stuck on, which is not altogether unusual after 100,000 miles. On the passenger side I had to apply penetrating oil and let it sit overnight, after which the rotor reluctantly released its grip. On the driver side I had to resort to a clever innovation I learned on the almighty internet: forcing it off with spacers and bolts threaded through the caliper housing. At this writing, the JONWOB is back on the road and I’m $848 less poor.

Another key component of the engineering mindset is something that occupies a zone about halfway between confidence and arrogance: we believe that we can do anything. And for the most part we’re right. Nothing magic of course, but the basic idea is, if something can be done, fixed, or figured out, the engineer is your best person for providing the solution.

So of course I’m wondering, with the hundreds or thousands of “non-combat” advisors that the Golfer-in-Chief is sending to the Middle East, is there a single engineer in the bunch? Now the US Army has whole brigades of fine soldiers who are called engineers based on their MOS (specialization), and I’m sure some of them will be going to the land of kibbie and falafel. But that’s apples and oranges. I’m talking about rambling wrecks from Georgia Tech, or beaver ring-wearing MIT grads, or gearheads like myself who bleed maize and blue. If there are any of those, will they get a chance to help fix things? Has the First Vacationer ever even met an actual engineer? I’m not saying we could turn back millennia of history. I’m just saying it couldn’t hurt to give us a shot at it.

Meanwhile I’ve got to figure out what to do with the $848 that’s burning a hole in my pocket.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

How to Tie a Tie: A Non-Requiem Requiem

Leave the top button of your collar unbuttoned for now. Wrap the tie around the back of your neck, inside the collar, with the seam inward. Adjust it so that that the wide end hangs about 6” below your beltline (I’m assuming that if you’re going to wear a tie, you’re also wearing pants).

The Father of Bruck (FOB) passed away on September 13, 2013, after a protracted battle with cancer, at age 77. I could say he put up a good fight, but what else is he going to do? At any rate, it seemed like he spent more time contending with the insurance and medical establishment than with the disease. I believe the doctors did all they could, probably adding a couple years to his life, but in the end the disease prevailed.

I’ve had a pretty good life, and I attribute this in no small part to the FOB’s guidance, example, support, and encouragement. I am blessed to have had him as a father, and (just about) all who knew him would agree that he had a positive influence on them. If you measure wealth, as he did, by the number of friends you have, the standing-room-only crowd at his funeral attested that he lived and died a truly rich man.

Cross the wide end over the narrow end, and then wrap it around the narrow end from behind. Then from the front, pass the wide end through the V created by crossing the wide and narrow ends. This is one half of the knot. BTW, what we’re learning here is the knot known as the “Double Windsor.” I don’t know how to tie any other types of tie knots, so you won’t be learning about them here.

VOBNS readers are familiar with the FOB’s sailing exploits on Lake Superior, but for reference, here’s a link to some previous dispatches you may wish to review:

By themselves, these would produce a substantially incomplete biography. But they do serve as a metaphor for his true orientation, which is an attitude of utter fearlessness coupled with an indomitable desire to get the best out of everything in life. He applied this to all of his various spheres of influence: family, church, professional life, social circles, and community involvement. And that, I believe, is his true legacy – he was a guy that you didn’t just make an acquaintance with. If you knew him, he had a profound influence on you, and quite possibly vice-versa. Either that or you never met him.

To make the other half of the Double Windsor, move the wide end over the knot to the other side, then wrap it around back, then through the V so it’s hanging straight down in front. You’re almost there!

The Bible doesn’t give what I would consider comprehensive information on exactly what happens to the soul after you die. There is of course the clear indication that those who reject God and live selfish lives will start suffering some kind of torment right away, while those who have faith in Him and live accordingly will be comforted. Clearly the FOB falls into the latter category, but other than that, who knows? I never was comfortable with mourners, or those who are attempting to comfort mourners, saying things like, “I bet he’s up there looking down at us right now and smiling.” I like to think that, unbound from the earthly shackles of space and time, he’s probably watching something a little more interesting like the Battle of Hastings or old Red Wings games with Gordie Howe and the Production Line.

To complete the knot, pass the wide end through the horizontal loop that you just created and pull it all the way through. You may wish to tighten it up a bit by holding the knot and pulling down gently on the wide end, and tugging on other parts of the tie as necessary to make it look like something Donald Trump wouldn’t fire you for. Now you can button your top button and snug the knot up to your neck while holding the narrow end down. If you’ve done everything right, the tip of the tie should be just touching your belt buckle. If not, take it apart and start over.

The FOB taught me how to tie a tie, several times in fact. I finally got it down after a few years of dressing for success in my various engineering positions. The things he taught me are of course innumerable, and if you’ve made it this far into today’s dispatch, I’m sure I’d lose you if I attempted to produce such a list. But aside from such things as tying a tie, changing a faucet washer, and how to strike up conversations with total strangers, I like to think I’ve inherited at least some of his fearlessness, zeal for life, and love of people. Before he died, but more so after, in various situations I have found myself thinking, that’s how Dad would have done it, or, that’s what Dad would have thought. I believe that for those whose lives he touched, and who also feel this way, through us he lives on.

Anyone want to buy a sailboat?