Friday, January 17, 2014


The father, Ahmad Khadr, died in an attack on al-Qaeda in Pakistan. His two sons, Omar and Abdurahman Khadr, were raised to be terrorists by their own descriptions. Murder, attempted murder, material support, conspiracy, and spying are the charges against Omar Khadr, who recently faced a military commission which heard challenges to its jurisdiction. I've blogged in detail about those charges here. As I've previously noted, Khadr comes Once, a man came to me and spoke for hours about from a dedicated his “great visions of God” he felt he was having. al Qaeda family with a tradition of terrorism. Abdurahman Khadr, Omar’s brother, boldly stated “I admit it that we are an al-Qaeda family. We had connections to al-Qaeda.” and later revealed that he had been “raised to He asked me for confirmation, saying,become a suicide bomber.” Khadr’s father, “Are these wondrous dreams true?”Ahmad Khadrer Ahmad was killed in a targeted missile strike (others say in a shootout) in Pakistan. Prior to his death, Ahmad Khadr was a longtime member of al Qaeda and rose to the highest levels of the terrorist network, commanding I replied, “How many goats do you have?”a region of Logar per the direct orders of Osama Bin Laden. Ahmad Khadr contributed to al Qaeda in the form of financial support and He looked surprised and said, personnel assistance to further the organization’s I am speaking of sublime visions, international terrorism objectives. In particular, he And you ask about goats.” encouraged his sons to join al Qaeda and to carry out its work. The recently released "Book of 120 Martyrs," an al Qaeda recruiting tool, states that Khadr And I spoke again saying, married a Palestinian who "shared with him his march to jihad, “Yes, brother – how many do you have?” and Allah granted them several sons who shared this long, tiresome march with him." Omar Khadr heeded his father’s call. Omar “Well, Hafiz, I have sixty-two.” Khadr and his family made yearly trips to the bin Laden compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, meeting with bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, and other “And how many wives?” senior leaders. So as the captured videos released and stories Again he looked surprised, then said, “Four.” from yesterday and today about al-Qaeda recruiting and training children in Iraq meet your eyes do “How many rose bushes in your garden, not be surprised. Repulsed, yes. Surprised, How many children, are your parents still alive, no. This is the enemy which Do you feed the birds in winter?” seeks to kill us wherever and whenever possible. And to all he answered. His resolve must be matched - wherever and whenever he is found. As well, he must be ideologically confronted everywhere, consistently discredited by his Then I said, barbaric means. Nothing is more powerful than his own words and images “You asked me if I thought your visions were true, and the wake I would say they were if they make you become more human, of his own deeds. More kind to every creature and plant Embrace his often gruesome propaganda. Do not That you know.” cede him the narrative of his own deeds. For evil in the name of God is never glorious. Never. None of these things can be explained away as glorious. Hafiz Preying on children is evil, not glorious.

The House of Broken Men

August 10th, 2009

He was younger than I, whirring to, fro, and into the elevator in his black motorized wheelchair. We make room for him. Right hand on the joystick, left hand in decorticate posturing, his face leaning to the right, immobile. He was maybe 22 or 23 -- I could see it in his face. The face seemed to retain only a small fraction of the expressive capacity it once had; and echo of what once was. His skin had a patchwork of redness - perhaps from the contaminants insurgents put in I.E.D.'s, perhaps from post-burn skin grafting. As his vehicle stops in the center of the elevator floor, the momentum causes a slight lunge forward in his head, followed by recoil. His eyes unfocused, seemingly stare at some script, invisible to us, held right in front of his face. Projecting upwards, mounted somewhere behind his seatback is a 12-inch American flag.

Behind him a barely-haired man baby-steps his way into the elevator. He's 70 maybe, in a tweed coat, sweatpants, untied shoes, with a stale look of shock -- as if he was watching a bus full of school children catch on fire. Behind him, he drags his tails: an oxygen tanks on wheels, and an I.V. pole. The conserving regulator on his oxygen bottle supplements his inhalations with pure oxygen, to the tune of "kuff, kuff." He turns only partly around, facing the elevator buttons as, with his equipment, there's no room to turn anymore. The elevator doors close. Upon our ascent, someone from the back mentions how the snow is really coming down. The old man, still staring at the elevator buttons, blurts out, in a loud monotonous run-on sentence, "I think its partially cloudy and I say I think it's partially cloudy because I just had a brain aneurysm on my right side." The elevator returns to silence.

For those that can walk, the VA hospital is an exhibition of humanity's diversity in walking; a sharply less-comical version of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. Some old guys, walking slow but upright, some slow and hunched over; others with canes, bouncing to one side, some with steps only six inches; others with rigidity on one side, waltzing themselves down the hallway. As I stepped through the revolving door through the south side of the building, I pass by an elderly man. He's pointing with his cane and talking to no-one, "We parked our car right there. What did they do with my car?" On my way across the street for a smoke break, I see a guy heading inside with what looks like a piece of large luggage, complete with extended handle and rolling wheels. I think to myself, "Checking in, are we?" Then I notice the folders: gray, red, brown -- a 201 file with the last four digits of his social security number on top. What he's dragging behind him are actually about 30 + pounds of his medical and service records.

I flick out the cherry, trash the butt, and work my way back in. I am the only one on the elevator at the 1st floor, but it stops at the second. Another elder, brown khakis and puffy winter coat, climbs on board. His head is not so much shaking as it is slightly vibrating -- looking like he's trying very hard to suppress how severely disgruntled he is. After the doors close, the elevator fires up and he starts, "I don't know what the hell their problem is." I turned toward him and inquire, "Who, the hospital?" He doesn't answer, just continues: "Rented that goddamn storage shed, and it takes King Kong to open the doors. Damn thing is full of spiders, too! One jumped down and bit me right on the hand." He shakily extends to me the back of his hand to show, but I see nothing out of the ordinary. "Then they can't put a damned light in the thing, so it's dark as hell..." He continues his rant on our elevator ride, getting off at the 5th floor. I give him a pat on the back as he leaves, "Well, sir, good luck with that." That's all I can think to say.

The elevator takes me to the 6th floor, and I enter my department. On the way to my office, I see a man who appears to be in hi 80's, seated by the oxygen closet, wearing jeans and a worn flannel insulated button-up shirt. He's exceptionally thin: his cheeks and eyes sunken in around his cheek bones, but what caught my attention were his hands. They had a slightly translucent quality to them, where you could see the hair-like bright red arterioles running their course throughout. Additionally, dark maroon patches were also visible on his forearm and the back of his hand; maybe from bumps and bruises, maybe from blood draws.

Although I saw no oxygen tanks, I asked if he needed a refill. He smiles, pointed to the office across the hall, and said in an exceptionally breathy voice, "No, I'm just waiting for my appointment." There's a pause. He asks, "You prior-service?" "Just got back from the desert 5 months ago," I respond. "You have that look about you. That's why I ask." There's a pause, then he starts. "I joined back when I was eighteen. I joined the Army/Air Force as a medic. They were both one branch back then, but then they decided to split. So, they gave me the choice: either be a foot soldier and go with the Army, or go with the Air Force. Well, my mother didn't raise any idiots. You went to the desert? I went to Korea. It's messed up, you know; chasing these guys all over the place. Then we get to the river and we're told not to cross, or even shoot across it: it's a demilitarized zone. ...What?" I laughed, he smiles, and I not my head. He says, "I say, if you're going to do the job, just get it done."

I relayed to him one of the same types of situations in the modern day: an operations order, a high-value target list (H.V.T.), and a patrol. Before the mission, our battalion actually went through the trouble of giving us all print-outs with pictures and names of the H.V.T.'s. During the mission, we established an observation post (O.P) and had positive identification (P.I.D.) on one of the high-value targets. The HVT entered a black Lexus that joined two other black sedans and was traveling southbound, in our direction. We called up the sighting, and the potential to interdict. The radio squawked back: command asked us to confirm PID. We did, and after a couple of minutes of silent radios, the 3-vehicle caravan turns right, approaching a cluster of buildings. We called again for the authorization, noting to them that he would soon be out of our line of sight. Command came back through the radio, nixing the interdiction opportunity, giving no explanation.

I expressed to him the same kind of sensibility, "What the point of giving us a printed HVT list and then letting him drive away? As it turns out, our unit wanted to play politics with some of the HVT's. So, a week or so later, a convoy of three vehicles from brigade level or higher goes rolling through that area to play politics. They intend to meet with some of the town's most influential people, so the town knows they're coming. On their way, an I.E.D. hits them, killing a sergeant and major." He inquires, "You were an infantryman?" "I was a medic with the infantry," I respond. There is a slight pause. I say, "I was one of those idiot medics you mentioned earlier that opted to run with the foot soldiers -- but I can't blame that on my mother." We laugh. His is a silent laugh, out of respiratory illness: face loaded with expression, but no sound. He's called in for his appointment and we shake hands.

I leave for the day, and on my way out, accidentally kick an empty whiskey shot bottle by the hospital doors. Some of the vets are homeless, alcoholics, and drifters. Most came into the Army from various forms of poverty, and to poverty many return, having bore the weight of an idea. But, so long as suffering is inevitable, one might as well be helping to deal with it. As I walk to my car, I'm approached by a middle-aged man wearing a 7-11 uniform shirt. He asks, "Sir, could you spare some change for a veteran for the bus?" I stop and look at him. "I ain't no bum or nothing. I got a job, I just don't have any money right now," he continues. I ask, "Veteran, huh? What unit?" He sparks up, "502nd paratroopers. I was a helicopter mechanic. I could take apart those things and..." That's when I will reach for my wallet and give him a couple. Even if he is full of shit, at least he put some effort into it.


I learned today about what's called an "FTG" blade, which stands for "Flat Top Grind."

Being totally broke around Christmas-time really blows.  But, it also forced me to use resources I had, to make something for Christmas.  Three boxes out of exotic woods were the fruits of my resources.  They turned out alright.  They look best from a distance.

I left work at a major Denver hospital in September, with the intent to focus on school.  For whatever reasons, although I devoted the time, the schoolwork wasn't sinking into my head.  I was barely passing at the end of the first half of the semester of anatomy and physiology II.  I studied my ass off when that midterm came.  Then, on test day, I found that I was errant in my perception of the midterm's day: I actually had one more full week to study.  I rejoiced, then I used that week.  I made even more notecards, reviewed the homeworks, and I downloaded mp3's of lecture material from the textbook's publisher's website, listening to it regularly while driving or with headphones.  I google'd and Youtube'd processes on hormone interactions and second-messenger systems.  Thought I had it down.  I still got a 60 on the midterm.

Thereafter, consistently poor quiz performance in the semester's second half sank my grade beyond the point of having a reasonable chance to pass.  The day of the final came.  I went to school early, but I didn't read my notecards or open my book.  I went to the school's 1st floor, to a vacant music practice room with a grand piano.  I played a Rachmaninov tune, then improvised harmonies of 2, 3, or 4 tones.  A few minutes late, I went upstairs for the final, and partially opened the door to the lab.  I saw a single row of students, looking down at the test, engaged.  I closed the door and left without ever stepping foot in the room.

In the same week, I am declared ineligible for unemployment benefits (due to me leaving my prior occupation, which they deemed as "personal reasons").  My first thought was, "...and Christmas?"  After triaging bills, I figured I could spend a maximum of about $200 on Christmas, total.  I was already building a box for my mom, so I figured I might as well do the same for my girlfriend's brothers, whose company I thoroughly enjoy, and who have helped us in spades recently in many ways where we needed it.

One brother had visited us about a year prior.  After one fine meal, cooked by him, he was reflecting on the the youthful occurrences of sibling rivalry.  He summarized the lot of tales by stating something to the nature of, "I'm surprised he even talks to me anymore.  I was very mean to him."  Weeks later, we learned through a social media website that, after visiting us, he had gone to his younger brother's house, and they looked happy to be building (or repairing) a deck together in the younger brother's home.  The more I thought about what I should build, the more it crept in to utilize the concept of brothers: making different boxes, but that work with each other.

Also, I wanted to go to a craft store and get a fabric that is of good quality.  Having seen a good amount of finished boxes, and having visited many woodworkers' blogs, I could never understand why they would spend the time to build a highly-accented box and/or one out of exotic woods, and then, on the interior, apply an adhesive-backed cheap textile, or a faux-suede lining.  I needed (and found) a good quality fabric that had both the color tones of the padauk, and the bloodwood.

Bookmatched pieces of padauk.
So I began.  I only had two big pieces of exotic hardwood lumber: one of bloodwood, and one of padauk.  Both were 7/8" thick, 5 - 6 inches wide, and roughly 2.5' long.  Their width meant that I could both rip them in half on the table saw, AND used the bandsaw to re-saw the thickness to 2 pieces roughly 3/8" thick.  Resawing the wood on the bandsaw also gave me book-matches pieces that were beautiful.

Kitchen table as my workbench.  My girlfriend and her mother are angels of patience to me.

Hinges, (for different box) made out of padauk and Jarrah, with brass rod.

That gives me enough material to make the boxes' square frames, and the lids, and leftovers to make the hinges out of wood.  Only when I was cutting the wood did I notice that the cut of padauk I had features darker red tones that allude to the bloodwood's lighter tones.  I decided that both boxes will feature both woods.  Not only that, but almost as opposites of each other: the parts of one that are bloodwood will be padauk on the other, and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, although I have a planer/joiner that could flatten the boards, I didn't have a thickness planer.  I learned, in the production of these boxes, how integral that is to the quality of a whole project.  Usually, you run one of the faces of the boards through the planer until the machine flattens the whole side.  Then, if you have a thickness planer, you put the newly-flattened side down on the thickness planer and run it through.  The thickness planer's blades on the top side of the machine references your freshly-flattened bottom side, and cuts the top perfectly parallel to it.  You continue to run the board until the top is totally flat as well, and then you're pretty much guaranteed that both sides are not only clean and smooth, but also totally parallel.  After that, you run one of the edges of the board over the joiner until its flat, then put the board on your table saw (with the flat, jointed edge against the fence), and you cut the side that is un-jointed.  That's what they call "4-squaring" a board:  all surfaces are square (90 degrees) to each other.  Without the thickness planer, I tried as best I could to run both sides through the planer/joiner.  The problem is, especially after a re-saw, one edge of the board is bound to be thicker than the other.

To try to cut miters and angles on wood that is not "4-squared"... well, the miter cuts might be dead-on, but the problem you have is during assembly and glue-up: you say to yourself, "Which edges should I line up?  How much can I afford to assemble and glue-up the box out of square, and how can I compensate for it and clean it up later?"  Ultimately, you can do it, but it will probably be noticeable, as well as cost you more time in sanding to try to even things out.  I vow to never go down that road again.  Although it's not blatantly obvious, this picture does show that the edge of the mitered piece (near the bottom right of the photograph) does have one side a bit thicker than the other:

During the planing/jointing process, the grain of the padauk was going in beautiful-but-crazy directions.  This caused the blades of the planer to rip out some serious-sized chunks in three obvious locations.  I couldn't afford to plane the board down any thinner than it was, as it wouldn't match the thickness of the other pieces.  Besides, if I did try to plane it thinner, there was no guarantee it wouldn't just tear it up even more.  I decided that, after assembly, I would try to fill the gouges in the padauk with clear epoxy, then chisel and sand it flush to the surface.  The results turned out better than I imagined, as the clear epoxy lets light through to the actual grain, resulting in no visual defect.  Often times, in wood that has holes or gouges, woodworkers will fill these with epoxy, but also with some of the wood's sawdust, so as to keep the color consistent. The only thing is, with well-defined grain patterns like I had, color was NOT the issue.  Color was highly variable, as was grain direction.  To try to add sawdust would probably result in making a color-and-grain-interrupting "spot" of roughly one color.

Filled with Dev-Con 5-minute epoxy, allowed to dry/cure 30 minutes, then start to sand it down.

The gouges in the wood are near the knots (top of the photo) and are not very noticeable at all after sanding and finishing.

I learned one lesson the hard way twice: do all cutting and drilling in a predetermined sequence, and make sure this sequence utilizes the strength of the wood.  Regarding the making of the hinges, I made one set for the padauk, and they were fine.  I "finger-joint-style" cut the grooves on the table saw, and then I drilled through that with the drill press.  Padauk is much less dense than bloodwood, though, and when I tried to do the same with bloodwood, I ended up breaking or burning my first two sets:

So, I not only learned about the importance of considering the order of operations, as well as the importance of considering the direction (and thus function) of the wood grain in every aspect, but I also learned about bloodwood.  Australian bloodwood is super-stringy, or at least the cut I had of it was.  Both machine and hand-planing resulted in incomprehensible chunks coming out, as if I were working with glass or ice.  And it burns real easy. Glue couldn't save this set (largely for aesthetic reasons), but the way around it was by changing the order of the process: do the fine work first (drill one deep hole that will be for all four pieces of the hinges). Grain integrity/strength while the wood is one solid piece helped prevent burning & splitting. Then, I divide that one piece into four for the hinges, cut them finger-joint style on the table saw, fit 'em and file them over from there.

However, I made errors in the glue-up of the hinges to the wood box:

The bottom edge isn't very parallel to the box.  These were the padauk hinges I made for the bloodwood box, and I think I epoxied them on instead of glue.  This was a mistake.  The epoxy acted like a thick gel, and while trying to clamp it down, it slid around on this "gel-like pad," skewing the layout.  As resolution, in the future I'll place and mark the bottom edge of where the hinges need to be, then clamp a dry, squared up, temporary board along this line across the whole back.  In that way, I can rest the hinges on the board, and it will be harder for them to be out of line.  Also if the hinges move during gluing/clamping, it will be more obvious.  Another thing: don't epoxy them, glue them.  Epoxy, when it dries and cures, is actually quite brittle.  One set of hinges popped of the lid after a day.  There was too much resistance in the hinges at that time, and that pulled it right off.  Glue, on the other hand, binds the fibers of the wood together better, and accommodates a little bit of flexion.

The reason I had started this story with the FTG (or "Flat-Top Grind") blade, is because it is necessary to reduce work: for both making the hinges and the splines (angled slats cut into the outside corners of a box that add strength and afford embellishment).  The typical angle on a cross-cut or cross-grain blade's teeth alternates.  This is insignificant if you use it for its intended purpose: cutting through the whole board to achieve a certain length.  However, if you use this type of blade to cut a specific depth into wood, that alternative bevel becomes obvious, and winds up leaving you with a miniature peak at the bottom of the cut.  Since I was unaware, and used and cross-cut, alternating-top-bevel blade for all cuts made on the table saw, my splines wound up with little peaks in them that I had to try to cover up with epoxy.  This was my second error with the splines.  Also, the troughs of my hinges (which I had cut finger-joint style on the table saw) wound up with ridges in them, which I had to try to file out as evenly as I could.  The close up of the hinges above Tenryu's blade tooth chart shows that there are still some indicators of the ridges left, even though I had filed them to a point that I thought was safe without bowing the crisp outside edges of the troughs of the hinges.

With the hinges done, and with them opening from 90 to 200 degrees or so, I took my glued-up box, and ran the corners of it across the table saw with a box-maker's jig.  The design of these jigs varies, but essentially they hold the box on its corner, 45 degrees off the surface of the table, so that you can run the box through the saw blade (or an angled saw blade) and get a nice clean spline cut through the corner.  Splines strengthen the joint, as well as give you the chance to accentuate the corner with another wood.  I made three errors in my application of this.  On the bloodwood box, I wasn't mindful of how close my third (and angled) round of cuts was to my first, and the blade ended up removing a whole section of one of the corners, as shown here filled (but not grain-matched very well):

What runs through my head when I see this is the Sesame Street song:
"Which on of us is not like the other...  Which one of us does not belong..."

Some pretty obvious glue compensation around the keys.
As the glue left an obvious yellow color, I later picked it out with a
 surgical instrument and filled the gaps with epoxy instead.  The right side of
the middle key is endgrain, and appears darker than the other side of the key.

The third error on my splines was in not being mindful enough of using a very fair-colored piece of wood for the keys, and also, not paying enough attention to the grain direction of the keys.  The color of the key is always darker on any edges of the keys where the grain visible is end-grain.

I made the top panels after mitering the corners of the frame and gluing it up in place with a box clamp.  It then occurred to me that I should have made a channel in the frame, so as to adhere the top panel onto the frame instead of trying to squeez it into the frame.  I didn't think I'd have a fair shot at creating this channel after the frame pieces were glued up, so I didn't go that route.  Although the panel of bloodwood was bigger than the padauk frame I made for it, the padauk panel I had planned for the bloodwood frame was smaller.  I ended up having to bump out one edge about 1/8". 
Bump out of top left side of frame on bloodwood box; padauk panel was too small.
I won't ever do it that way again.  Additionally, it didn't fit well along one edge as viewed from the inside surface of the top lid, and my attempted glue "cover-up" was somewhat obvious:
Glue gap at lower-right corner between padauk and bloodwood frame
Orbital sander held too long on the lid, leaving indentations
that I couldn't afford to try to correct (given how thin it would have made the lid)
See the rings near the front corners?  The high-gloss finish makes it more obvious.

Once the build of the boxes was complete, I made an error in my sanding: not being mindful of how much I'm removing.  I was so focused on trying to clean up where the frame meets the top panel, that now the rings from the orbital sander are permanently embedded in the box's lid.

Ultimately, they did turn out okay -- the metaphor is still there: boxes that are literally (historic) pieces of each other, and an interior that is cut from the same (genetic) fabric.