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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Priyanka and Susha

Thursday, September 27, 2007
USS Cole – Strait of Pratee 58°14N 005°40W

In the interests of simulating all the features of contemporary warfare, journalists are also “embedded” with the forces. Two fledgling members of the fourth estate were helicoptered aboard yesterday. Armed with cameras and laptops they were eager to stage the requisite interviews and practice writing the stories we all want to read. Priyanka and Susha (left to right)—the first born in Mumbai, the second raised in Bahrain—are both masters graduates of the journalism school at University of Westminster in London. Their casual assumption of their role and their personal histories are surely a more interesting story than anything they’ll report about the “air attacks” and other details of these war games. Two kids, fluent in Hindi, Arabic, and English, learning the trade in the UK but planning on careers at CNN-IBN—the Indian Broadcasting Network CNN affiliate—in New Delhi. In conversation at dinner I learn that all the popular TV in India is in English.

It’s not by invasion that the planet is being globalized. Language and the movement of people is doing it much more completely and effectively. The British abandoned India to its independence and paroxysms of internecine killing exactly sixty years ago this month. Now the people of India all watch television in English and work nights to provide tech services for U.S. businesses. Marx was right.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One Chance

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
USS ColeRum Island, The Hebrides 57°02N 006°14W

The USS Cole is on station for tomorrow’s war. According to the scenario, diplomatic and other negotiations are to have failed, so the naval and air forces of the contending nations—“Albinistan” in the case of the squadron of which the Cole is a part—begin action against one another. The aim? To defeat the forces of the “invader” state and to defend the “mineral resources”—imaginary oil platforms (what else?) represented by the replenishment oiler Laramie—supposedly the property of the state that’s been invaded.

Sound familiar? Of course. What’s concealed by all this planning and practice is the certainty that such classic military operations—“surface warfare” in Navy terminology—will never again take place. Just as they are not in the current “war” caused by the invasion of Iraq. No other countries have, or ever will have, the naval and air forces of NATO. It’s both a triumph and a relic of the cold war. Invasions will likely continue to be perpetrated, surely. But even they will not result in classic “surface warfare.” A fact which the current administration of the U.S. has learned, but refuses to believe.

For if it’s acknowledged, the continued expenditure of time and money on present enterprises—like the maintenance and training of surface warfare forces—becomes not only questionable but futile. All of the young officers aboard are studying for their “SWO” (Surface Warfare Officer) badge, an ornate embroidered insignia patch worn over the left breast pocket of one’s coveralls. For the enlisted crew, the comparable badge is the “ESWS” (Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist). And in the midst of all this strategic planning and tactical maneuvers, the humble work of daily ship maintenance goes on. From the standpoint of an observer like me, the contrast is frequently comic. However exalted—or fanciful—the plan or purpose, the actual work is always routine.

Indeed, unless one practices the work until it is routine, the performance of which it’s a part, however grand, will most often fail. In the end, as in the moment, what you’re doing now is all. One of my older students, who has advanced from enlisted to warrant officer, spoke this morning of the importance of goals. Taking advantage of my role, I pointed out that, however pleasing or fulfilling the completion of a plan may prove to be, it’s never achieved on account of the planning—or “dreaming,” as another popular metaphor has it—but on account of the daily work one does. We set goals for the same reason that we find ourselves training and maintaining a navy which will never be used for its supposed purpose: in order to conceal the inevitability of loss and death.

If my goals are far off, surely I have to survive to reach them. To admit this is nonsense is to face the fact that all accomplishment—and all potential for joy—must take place now, or never. To delight in what you’re doing now is the only chance you have.

Balancing Acts

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
USS Cole – The Minches, North Uist New Hebrides 58°47N 006°48W

A pod of Atlantic porpoise were cavorting off to port when I came onto the bridgewing this morning, appearing to race in the bow wave as they typically do. To be able to swim that fast looks like fun. Although we’re not going that fast. “Five knots to nowhere” is the phrase for the position we’re in at the moment, making right-angle course changes periodically to stay in our assigned “box” in the channel between the Hebrides and the coast of Scotland. The winds are more than 30kts out of the NW, but the seas show merely choppy whitecaps here in the protection of the islands.

My courses are now passing the halfway point in this compressed six week semester aboard. The students have now sorted themselves into the outstanding, the competent, and the passive. It’s the time when, with rare exceptions, you know the outcome. So teaching becomes a balancing act, in which you free the best as far as possible to do what they can and speak to the others as encouragingly as you can. You never know—despite experience—when that one more may rise from amongst the others.

I had a really good class on Kant just this evening, for example. Several students were skeptical, not to say scornful, of the possibility that one might revolutionize human experience—as Kant did with his insight into the formative character of consciousness—without ever having any “experience,” like travel. I enjoyed pointing out that the reason the rest of us are not innovators is that, especially when we travel, we drag along the apparatus of our personal culture and perceptions like Cratchit’s ghost, not only not open to discovery but positively armored against it, for the most part. Someone mentioned Darwin’s travels. “Perfect example of my point,” I said. For Darwin’s greatness rests on his willingness to abandon his (and his culture’s) presuppositions about biological forms, revealing—but only after he was home thinking through his questions—knowledge of living process until then concealed by “experience.”

I also argued that the reason philosophers’ claims seem either obvious or outlandish is that the insights of the greatest of them change the language. Almost everyone now speaks, for instance, the language of Descartes. In the 17th century his picture of the mind or self as interior to the lived body and senses was a threat to the existing intellectual—not to mention ecclesiastical—order. Now it’s conventional to talk and think of ourselves as somehow inside ourselves; the “real me” beneath this exterior appearance. Yet in this convention we’re all four centuries behind the times. Kant’s insight made possible everything that people now have in mind when they think of science and technology, but the changes he wrought on human thought and speech are still on the way, like light from distant stars, to use Nietzsche’s metaphor. People are less modern than the times in which they live. It will always be so. It’s one of the things that makes teaching such an adventure.

Neptune Warrior

Monday, September 24, 2007
USS Cole – Orkney Islands 57°47N 004°17W

There’s nothing like the sea to occasion thoughts of mortality. On deck this morning the southernmost of the Orkneys was just visible off the port bow. We were on an easterly heading, still in the “box” assigned the ship prior to commencement of the war games tonight and for three days to come. In principle the military exists to address threats to the security and independence of its government. The promise of such confrontation animates the enterprise, especially of the officers, most of whom (women not excepted) see themselves as warriors, subject to the specialized division of labor that characterizes the contemporary warship. Yet the sea is all around us. Capt. Geoff Bowker, one of the British officers aboard to coordinate the land-based aircraft participating in the “Neptune Warrior” exercises, remarked that the bay just to the south on the coast of Scotland was the scene of the scuttling of the ships of the German fleet trapped there at the end of World War I. So many humans have followed their debris into the sea.

The motile yet uniform character of the ocean dramatizes the transient character of life. Not only do we each of us have to give up our lives, sooner or later, but we alone have evolved the capacity to notice this is so. In addition, we are all painfully conscious of the fact that life itself—and the processes of which it is a part—will go on without us. There is no more forceful experience of this to be had than to be out at sea, land only a memory over the horizon. It’s not that it’s dangerous, either.

Of course I would survive less than thirty minutes were I accidentally to be thrown into this cold sea. The chances of this, however, are astronomically smaller than the likelihood of my death in traffic pretty much anywhere I might be driving. So it’s not the danger. What’s brought home is the fragility of human existence, dependent as we are on the vast processes of the world providing for and protecting our existence. This train of thought is altogether welcome and one of the benefits of this travel. Under the conditions of daily life and familiar routine it is rare to find the world that contains and supports us so immediately present to the sense.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Escaping Storms?

Sunday, September 23, 2007
USS Cole – Orkney Islands 57°34N 004°07W

The ship is heading west again, after cruising eastward over the top of Scotland overnight, to avoid predicted 50kt winds from the south up the narrow channel called the Minches off the NW coast, where we’ve been for nearly a week. We reached the fabled fishing grounds of the Orkney Islands before turning. There’s a brilliant sunset view from the port bridge wing, produced in part by the massed cumulus, suggesting the storm we ran from awaits us still.

The view astern is in sharp contrast. If you look closely, you can see the trash bags bobbing in our wake. Watching them drift I thought about all the debris the oceans have absorbed since humans became complex enough to discard our waste into the rivers and seas. One of the British officers on board for the exercises remarked on enjoying scuba diving off the south coast of England. “What are you diving on?,” I asked. “Wrecks,” he said, “which are really plentiful in Dorset waters.” And the oceans go on absorbing everything that flows or falls into our waters. Seventy percent of the planet, of course, but a recent study estimates the amount of degraded plastic is six times the volume of plankton. If you’re not certain about the meaning of “plankton,” you can [click it], look it up, or email my daughter at

Rude Awakenings

Friday, September 21, 2007
USS Cole – Isle of Lewis, North Minch 58°13N, 005°33W

The ship is awakened by a loud rendition of a crappy rock song via the lousy fidelity of the 1-MC, in place of reveille this morning. The experience is not inductive of a pleasant mood. I’m told it’s the choice of the bridge watch and apparently the captain allowed it to be known that it was all right with him. Too bad.

I watch all alone, from the starboard bridge wing, the shifting headings of several of the ships in the group, including the unusual profile of the French destroyer La-Touche-Treville. The oiler Laramie is serving as the “protected asset” for the next couple of days, so the Cole bridge team works to match her speed and headings. I watch a gull skimming about the bow and another trawler working its way south, plying a difficult trade in the midst of these war games.

I think about war when I’m down in the fitness gym, attempting to keep my balance on the treadmill as the hull rolls 10° or more to port, then back to starboard. I’ve found that one of the attractions of the elliptical trainer—there are two of them on board, too—is that you can maintain balance better with your shoes in their foot cradles. Plus they do get your heartrate up. What’s war got to do with workouts? Last week, walking along the pedestrian mall in Glasgow, watching the strollers and and shoppers, I thought, “These people aren’t killing each other.” Sectarian strife and factional violence resolved by shopping? Think about it.


Thursday, September 20, 2007
USS Cole – Cape Wrath 58°13N 05°33W

Like every human group, profession, and institution, the Navy has developed its own lingo, consisting of acronyms, abbreviations, and, most distinctively, words compounded of individual syllables from a phrase or description. Examples of the latter are COMNAVSURFLANT and SIGUMS and our old friend UNREP. The most unusual impression, however, is the abbreviated form of address amongst the officers. Crew refer to themselves, and are referred to, by their ratings—“ET2” or “MC1,” and so on—while the officers greet and converse using contractions of their duties. Though they sound together like a comedy troupe, for example, “CHENG” for “chief engineer,” “WEPS” for weapons officer, and “SUPPO” for supply officer. Wardroom etiquette requires that the officer entering for each meal request of the senior officer already present permission to be seated. So “May I join you, SuppO” is a typical line when one of the lieutenants enters the room. The effect, intended to be formal and deferential, is irresistibly comic. The commanding officer, however—though known throughout the ship as the “CO”—is always called “Captain” when addressed.

The CO is Capt. Cary Krause and the other night he came into the wardroom while medical officer Cmdr. John Fallon and I were in the lounge. Fallon was watching a movie and I was writing. Krause began speaking as soon as he saw us, eager to talk about the dangerous maneuvers he had been directing all day. “The closest I’ve come to risking my ship and my command,” he said, obviously both relieved and exhilarated by the experience. The Cole, together with the two British, one French, and one Danish ship in our group, had been making approaches and course changes in relatively confined waters between the islands off Cape Wrath, part of the Orkney cluster, in the course of which they also had to determine whether small craft, assigned by the warfare exercise to appear and circle the vessels, were hostile intruders. “I’m never comfortable if we have to be closer than 500 yards to anyone else,” the captain said. “On top of that you’ve got these shallow waters,” he said, “and all these other potential threats to watch out for.” Today the schedule calls for British jets to simulate missile attacks, coming for the ship at low angles before veering away. Should be exciting to watch. I’m sure it’s literally the closest anyone aboard any of these ships will ever come to surface warfare. At least I hope so.

Through the Scuttles

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
USS Cole – Cape Wrath Orkney Islands 58°40N 05°13W

The ship was heading up into the 40kt winds this morning, standing at flight quarters to receive a pair of Royal Marine gunnery specialists, coming aboard to coordinate firing practice later today off Cape Wrath. Helicopter landings on heaving decks in buffeting winds are apparently routine for these pilots. Looks hard to me, not to mention risky. Though not more so than attempting to unship or retrieve small boats. Winds and seas yesterday scrubbed just such an attempt. Exposed as the ship is now to unimpeded winds over the North Sea, movement of the hull last night was extreme. But since we’re scheduled to be on station for this exercise most of the day, the routine may be less onerous. Perhaps I’ll have some students able to concentrate for the class meetings and somewhat less sleep-deprived.

Seas never look as rough as they feel. The North Sea has been rolling and pitching the hull through 15° and more, but when you’re on the weather deck the waves scud blandly past with only spindrift to indicate their force and direction. Part of the ship’s motion is induced by the mast, of course, a massive tripod jutting more that 60ft above the waterline and studded with multiple arrays of radar and other equipment. When the ship is underway the regulation is “condition modified Zebra,” which means that hatches at and below the waterline—six of the total of ten decks—are closed and dogged with only the “scuttle” left open. The scuttle is a smaller circular hatch with its own to allow it to be quickly sealed. This is a daily reminder of the fact that flooding, one of the two dangers aboard ship—the other is fire—is an ever-present possibility. My classroom is on the 2 deck, so to reach it I have to descend through the scuttle at least twice a day. Sometimes more, because the laundry is one deck further below and aft. I effect that descent cautiously every time, catching every handhold available, especially the short bar welded above the final few steps on the ladder. With my big feet I’ve frequently found myself hanging from that bar when I’ve lost my footing.

If flooding does occur, the ship—already compartmentalized by the many airtight hatches along the p-ways—can quickly be made safer by isolating sections of the hull. When this has to be done, safety is provided by “escape shuttles:” ladderways with their own scuttles to allow you to climb to higher decks from many points fore and aft. In the navy they say “every sailor is a firefighter.” The p-ways are hung with heavy suits and gear at the ready and practice sessions are frequent.

So there’s plenty to be concerned about at sea, apart from any action or attack that might require the use of the plentiful weapons aboard. On a warship the officers and crew talk and think almost entirely about the prospect of attack. Having weapons, I’ve noticed, turns everything around you into a possible threat.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Into the Cold

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
USS Cole – Little Minch, Outer Hebrides 158°13N, 06°48W

Something there is about a bow coursing into the sea that fills me with Robert Frost-like feelings of celebration. Even when that bow is the leading edge of some 9000 tons of steel. Yesterday the ship was still clearing the Firth of Forth, heading for the turn north toward our present position. Climbing the ladder to the bridge I encountered the young female officer in charge of sea and anchor. “It’s cold out there,” she said, then, as we passed one another through the airlock hatches, added, “I’m warning you.” I smiled in acknowledgement, but was secretly smug. I live in Wisconsin, after all, I thought to myself, and continued up into a brilliant scene.

The sun was filtered through a scattering of cloud but not reflecting, for the sea was whitecaps to the horizon. Waves of more than a meter were being driven before a wind off our starboard bow. The “relative wind”—true windspeed plus the ship’s—buffeted the starboard bridgewing around 20knots. Clouds trailed tendrils of rain here and there over the receding hills that form the coast of NW Scotland. I climbed up to the deck holding the ship’s “flashing lights”—two large signal lamps—to get to the enormous binoculars mounted on a pedestal aft. I trained them on a speck astern, which proved to be a trawler bouncing it’s way across the wakes of the four other
warships forming our current squadron. But the best sight was from the port wing. Bathed in the sharply-angled sunlight, Ailsa Craig sprouted from the sea like an enormous green-topped fungus, certainly one of the most remarkable formations I’ve ever seen.

The Cole is now part of a group containing French, British, and German ships, one of two representing the hostile “countries” into which the UK has been divided for these semi-annual exercises called “Neptune Warrior”. You can’t justify maintaining large fleets of warships if you don’t train them to fight. So the exercise is constructed around the following scenario: “Hibernia”—basically Scotland—has invaded a state to its south (the English midlands); this conquest is being contested by “Albinistan”—the southern third of Britain. Our group is the Albinistan navy involved in this conflict. The aim is to repel attacks—including aircraft—while avoiding open war. Sound familiar? It’s supposed to. The object is to test the responses of radar teams, weapons groups, and the other military functions aboard. A pair of British air traffic controllers came aboard in Faslane to coordinate the “air attacks,” being simulated by a wing of Falcon jets flown by retired Royal Air Force pilots. So, at surely impressive annual cost, NATO forces are being trained to wage a form of surface warfare certain never again to take place. For no other countries, now or in the future, are likely to possess navy and air forces on the scale the Americans and Europeans have attained. That includes Russia and China. Teaches ya’, eh?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Interesting Debris

Sunday, September 16, 2007
USS Cole – Faslane RNB Scotland

The most interesting sight at sea is something other than sea. Even debris. But especially land. We made landfall early Friday morning, entering the famed Firth of Forth. “Firth” is a degeneration of “fjord”—for the deep coastal indentations produced by rivers and glaciers—applied locally by the Norwegian marauders who came “Viking” (Norse for “pillaging”) in this region centuries ago. Above the Forth is the Clyde, into whose narrows the ship was threaded during the early hours of the day. The River Clyde divides the city of Glasgow [map], some 40kms E of the Faslane Royal Navy Base where we’ve been pierside all weekend.

The first person off the ship Friday afternoon, I headed to Helensburgh, the port town about 10kms south of the base, where I enjoyed a pleasant meal alone in the charming Café 19 I found on the harbor street. The management allowed me to plug in my EU `phone, whose SIM card I’d replaced earlier for UK service. As soon as it was charged I left a message for Jane so we could talk on Saturday. There’s never much to convey in telephone conversations, but the sound of another’s voice in one’s ear, most of all the voice of someone beloved, is irreplaceable.

By the time I reached her I was in Glasgow, having enjoyed some of the sights of what is now a bustling city, it’s traditionally grimy character offset by flowering shrubs and a thriving retail center created by a mile-long pedestrian zone from the opera house to the riverbank. I walked about looking for a shop that might have some men’s knit fingerless gloves. I forgot to bring the ones I bought in London years ago. But none were selling such a humble product. The Contemporary Art Museum had a rather nice permanent collection. I called Jane from a Starbucks and we talked while I sipped my decaf latté. Starbucks? Right. Any other coffee place in Europe will make you a powdered drink when you ask for decaf.

It was raining by the time I went down the Queen Street station to catch the train back to Helensburgh. I was reading Saturday by Ian MacEwan when one of a group of three US sailors who’d taken seats around me asked about it. As conversation ensued they learned that I was teaching aboard the USS Cole and I learned one of them was from Watertown. Today it was raining more steadily than last night, so I decided against a two hour trip to Edinburgh. Instead I got in my first swim workout since Norfolk in the “SportDrome” here on the base, a mammoth facility about a half mile up the hill, which also boasts an indoor soccer pitch and a ski hill. I not only had my own lane, I had the pool to myself. Evidently not many people get up on Sunday morning, even on a military base, perhaps since it usually falls right after Saturday night. Good workout.

Two-a-day workouts are one of the things I give up for this job aboard. Since reveille is 0600 and I have to eat before 0700 I wait `til 0930 for my workout forward on the 1 deck on the treadmill or stat bike crammed into a corner between the Battle Dressing Station and the ammunition elevator. Now that the courses are fully underway I have to see students later in the mornings, if they’re forced by their work schedules to miss a class meeting. After lunch I teach a two-hour section, which last `til dinner time (0400 when we’re underway). Then another two-hour section at 1800. Four hours of teaching a day, six days a week. It’s a good thing it’s a short gig.

Electronic Media Woes

Friday, September 14, 2007 8:27 am
USS Cole--In port at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde (about 40k W of Glasgow)

Pretty busy with ship's mooring and related activities. I hope to have a full report of these activities published here soon.

As you may remember, I've been having trouble getting photos that I've been taking of my experiences onboard the Cole published to this blog. The problem has to do with the size of the photo files created by my camera--they are so big they can not be easily uploaded given the limited bandwidth* available to us on the ship. Based on a suggestion of my friend Jack who is helping me to post these entries in my blog, I have recruited one of my students, an ET (electronics tech), who I think will help me to shrink the files. We'll attempt next week to get some photos to a size that can be emailed and posted.

I miss biking with my partner and friends in Wisconsin. I get relatively restricted workouts aboard ship, and the TV is broken in the "gym" where the stationary bike is located. The ship has a rudimentary TV network on the decks; movies are broadcast aboard from somewhere down below. So it's dullsville on playing DVDs or VHS tapes on the TV near the stat bike. Sigh.

My courses are going OK, though, and I have some good students. Cheers.

* Bandwidth note: The military (somewhere) allocates bandwidth by squadron, etc., e.g., 256mHz for a group. This is then parceled amongst the ships by size. So this destroyer gets only a tiny fraction. Hence, no news. Onboard, the email works fine, but filesize for sentmail is restricted.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sea Legs

Thursday, September 13, 2007 07:44
USS Cole – Off UK W coast 49°02 N 19°30 W

By 1200 today the ship’s average NE course will take us approximately 40nm W of the Isles of Scilly. Too far to see. On clear days the horizon at sea is about 10nm away. I’m hoping when we pass to the E of the Isle of Man it will be within range. I’ve forgotten how far out in the Irish Sea it is from the English coast. More likely, first landfall will be the W coast of Scotland, which we will reach tonight, entering the Firth of Forth. The torturous approach to the River Clyde and eventual pierside will take place Friday morning at sunup and occupy a couple of hours, according to the most experienced hand amongst the crewmembers who are my students. So the ship is scheduled to be moored outboard of another of the destroyers in the squadron—the Elrod, I believe—by around 0930. From what I recollect, the process of securing from sea and anchor and otherwise preparing the ship for port will take until noon. Perhaps I can leave the ship before then, or whenever the gangways are in place.

I anticipate more than the usual clumsiness when first setting foot on stable land again. Seas have not seemed to me remarkably rough on this passage, but there is certainly plenty of ship’s motion. I feel much less engaged than I was aboard the Emory S. Land. It may be familiarity. I know how the courses will go now, and I’m already anticipating concluding the process.

The emphasis aboard a warship on preparedness for engagement—especially the continuous stream of information fed to the complicated and darkened Combat Operations room—added to the myriad tasks of maintaining the ship and practicing for emergencies, leaves little room even for sleep, let alone reflection. Even when my students report that in fact simple duties like promptly relieving the watch and recording and transmitting orders and position are regularly, if not constantly, ignored or performed inadequately, it’s clear there’s not much time for anything else to occupy their minds. Nor do most of them appear to know it. In this they don’t differ at all from the general population. But they’re busier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Plugged Ears

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
USS Cole – North Atlantic POS 42°33 N 21°35 W


The bridge comm announced, “Service action to port.” The next sound was a loud thud, followed by a white shell clattering to the deck. I felt the sounds, rather than hearing them, as, like everyone else, I had plugged my ears. The five inch gun on the fo’c’sle had just sent a 76mm round nine miles to port. The force of the recoil rocked the ship to starboard. The round was a harmless concrete dummy instead of a high explosive with a proximity or impact fuse. It was fired for practice and to test the gun. Those of my students whose ratings are gunnery or fire control are eager to explain all these details. Their faces—at least the men among them—become animated as they describe the loading mechanisms and the fact that the weapon can fire up to 80 rounds per minute.

The test had been delayed for more than an hour owing to the passage to port of a commercial freighter bound for North America. The ship was jokingly described as a “sled,” which the term for a drone towed downrange for target practice. I absorbed all this watching on the bridge after breakfast this morning, an overcast and blustery day in the North Atlantic, all four of the other ships in the squadron visible just a few hundred yards to starboard and riding the five foot waves.

Shortly after testing the gun battery, the captain ordered, “Man the boat decks.” Crew materialized below donning life vests and hard hats to prepare the RIB (for “rigid inflatable boat”) to be winched from its chocks on the starboard quarterdeck. As tiedowns were released a crewmember tested the pressure on the inflated gunwale of the boat and then comically added pressure with a hose and foot pump exactly like one you’d use for an air mattress. Soon the RIB was hanging next to the lifelines and all was in readiness for launch. Time passed. Nearly an hour later it was lowered into the choppy seas with one man at the helm and another in the bow. They did a couple of loops to test the engine and rudder, then came back alongside. The movement to starboard was deemed too great, so the RIB came around to port. And waited. Another half an hour passed. Then the folding ladder was deployed and a dozen officers in camo and body armor, sidearms strapped to their thighs, descended clumsily to sit on the gunwales. Shortly it motored off toward one of the frigates just ahead, where they were scheduled to climb back onto the deck.

The whole thing was a boarding exercise, practicing stopping and searching another vessel at sea. I wondered about the effectiveness of the process carried out in circumstances with the pressure of an emergency. I’ve seen faster action on a movie set. Perhaps it’s a fitting reminder of the level of our military preparedness on this sixth anniversary of 9/11.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Digging 7 Foot Seas

Saturday, September 8, 2007 08:48:55 -0200

We're something over 1000mi E of the No American coast and some 5days from making our 1st port at Faslane Scotland.
Here's an example of my experience at sea:
One of my children wished me a safe passage and return to shore. Ships are safer than cars--more people died in traffic in Norfolk over Labor Day wknd than in all the Atlantic fleet in the past 5yrs, but it doesn't look that way, gazing down from the bridge this morning as I was, watching the bow dig in to 7ft seas crossing from our port stern quarter, remenants of a large storm then visible well off to starboard and east. As the hull rolls away from each swell it produces a wave you could surf on that rolls out 10meters or so in a boil of foam. Yet a moment later there's no mark of our passage.

WAY slow

Thursday, September 6, 2007 07:49:59 -0500

"" email WAY slow aboardship. "" blocked by onboard server. Too bad.
PLEASE USE as primary email for me `til 17 Oct 07. I won't attempt to reply to the other addresses after today. Thanx, and apologies again for being unable to use "Bcc..." for address-suppression [on emails]. Hope to use a friend's method to upload blog entries. Check out "" next week to see if it succeeds.
Meanwhile, all well here some 700mi E of the US coast. My courses begin today, with relatively mild seas, upcoming simulated battle manuevers, and anticipated crew liberties in port. The last are the hardest to deal with, believe me.


Tuesday Evening, September 4, 2007 23:51:07 -0500

Please use the email below for the time being. I'm attempting to update the blog but it will be slow going. I may revert to email, but downloading photos is going to be difficult. Begin teaching (3 sections of Intro & 2 of Phil of Religion) tomorrow. Rough seas are predicted, so that should be an adventure.
Since the ship is powered by gas-turbine, "NREPS" (replenishments) will occur about every 3days, so we get mail aboard at sea. My address: Prof John Bailiff, DDG-67, FPOAE 09566-1285

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Well, friends. it's not going to be as easy as I'd imagined to update you here. Net access aboard this ship, the guided missle destroyer (which carries missles, rather than destroying them) USS Cole (DDG-67). For all its costs, the DoD lags woefully in equipping its minions with computers. So, no pictures to speak of, despite lots to show you. I'll have to post a BIG file when I'm ashore again in the U.S. We left Norfolk VA Naval Station this morning and are some 100mi E now, joining a group of five other ships enroute to Scotland and Ireland, engaging in "Neptune Warrior" battle drills in between. The ship is 9000 tons, 502ft, with 270 crew and 20 officers, complemented by about 50 "riders" like me. I'm the only teacher aboard, however. There's just one small "Training Classroom" that barely holds 15, so I'll have a bunch of sections and be meeting the classes 4-6hrs/day for the next 6wks. I'm teaching Intro to Phil and World Religions, the latter as history and philosophy of religion, rather than comparative. I enjoy the opportunity to undermne the conventional beliefs of so many young people. Send me your comments and questions. My email onboard:
more soon...jb

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I'm assured by my driver when I arrive that the Norfolk Naval Station--"NAVSTA"--is "the largest in the world." A sprawling mix of faux-colonial brick buildings and peeling warehouses, its laid out with a sense of unlimited space worthy of Montana. I'm housed in the "BOQ" until I go aboard the USS Cole tomorrow. Meanwhile I'm whiling away this desolate weekend writing my course outlines and checking out the standard-issue downtown. The most amusing feature of the base is the elevated ductwork carrying steam and utilities; shades of Terry Gilliam's 1986 Brazil. See it if you want a prescient glimpse of a possible surveillance-friendly future.
The feeble wi-fi connection won't let me upload any more photos. Sorry. I'm going to the pool for a swim workout. It's a 20min walk...