Book Passage of the Week – from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy

Suttree and A Death in the Family are the two famous Knoxville novels. They even have similar openings; Agee’s book gives us Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and McCarthy gives us:

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.

Seven un-indented paragraphs of that, introducing us to Suttree’s Knoxville.

I’m in the middle of reading Suttree. I can’t say I enjoy the book — my favorite remains The Road  — but there are some nice passages:

In the long days of all they went like dreamers. Watching the sky for rain. When it came it rained for days. They sat in groups and watched the rain fall over the deserted fairgrounds. Pools of mud and dark sawdust and wet trodden papers. The painted canvas funhouse walls and the stark skeletons of amusement rides against a gray and barren sky.


A dim world receded above his upturned toes, shapes of skewed shacks erupted bluely in the niggard lamplight. The rusting carcass of an automobile passed slowly on his right. Dim scenes pooling in the summer night, wan inkwash of junks tilting against a paper sky, rorschach boatmen poling mutely over a mooncobbled sea.

And this, from a fever dream. Shades of The Road?

By the side of a dark dream road he’d seen a hawk nailed to a barn door. But what loomed was a flayed man with his brisket tacked open like a cooling beef and his skull peele, blue and bulbous and palely luminiscent, black grots his eyeholes and bloody mouth gaped tongueless. The traveler had seized his fingers in his jaws, but it was not alone this horror that he cried. Beyond the flayed man dimly adumbrate another figure paled, for his surgeons moved about the world even as you and I.

While you’re here, check out Yelping with Cormac. My favorite is The Apple Store.

Book Passage of the Week – from The Corpse Walker (9/17/2016)

Just finished The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu. I’m writing a full review as we speak.

From Zhou, the Public Restroom Manager:

My monthly profits are about two hundred to three hundred yuan. I’m pretty content with that. And for an old guy like me, managing toilets is easy work. Life is tough and tiring. All my nerves are strained. One of these days, one of the nerves will snap, and then I’ll be gone.

Luo, The Corpse Walker:

Country folk seldom got to visit the city and had no access to entertainment all year long. Public denunciation meetings offered free drama for many onlookers. None of them wanted to miss it.

Huang, the Feng Shui Master:

At the moment, my life is coming to an end, reaching zero. Zero is nature. The mountain is my home.

Deng Kuan, The Abbot:

When you turn one hundred, and look back on the early part of your life, a couple sentences are sufficient.

And let’s not forget the introduction, written by Wen Huang:

During the famine, [Liao Yiwu] suffered from edema and was dying. Out of desperation, Liao’s mother carried him to the countryside, where an herbal doctor “held me over a wok that contained boiling herbal water.” The herbal steam miraculously cured him.

There is a lot of mythologizing about Liao Yiwu. Not only was he born the year The Great Leap Forward was launched, he was also “miraculously cured”, a presumably divine act that would later allow him to live on the lam as a dissident writer, barely known in his own country.

Also, this is an abridged work; according to the introduction, Wen Huang chose twenty-seven stories they felt were both representative of the work and of interest to Western audiences.

I’ll be covering this and more in my full review.

How (not) to Prepare for Your Advancement Exam

To advance from E3 to E6 in the Navy, you have to take the Advancement Exam.

For some, this is more of a chore than others. I’ve been lucky to be an AG (Aerographer’s Mate) with near 100% advancement the past few cycles. That’s how I made E4 and E5 despite my P (for Potential, among other things) evals.

Other rates?

When I tested for E5, I had the fortune of doing it on the ship. While we waited for our tests, I overheard people from other rates talking.

“Yeah this is my fifth time.”

“Will I get in trouble for Christmas-treeing it? There’s no way I’m making it.”

And when some rates have a 1% or even 0% advancement rate, you realize how damn lucky you are to be an AG. “Choose your rate, choose your fate”, and when you’re at the MEPS station, understand that you’re rolling the dice with your future.

“Nothing good lasts forever”, and perhaps in the Navy you could change that to “Nothing good lasts very long, assuming it isn’t miscarried”. The advancement rates have been dropping the past few cycles. E6 was 100% a couple cycles ago.

Last cycle it was 55

To prepare for the E6 test, I decided to focus on areas that we don’t normally do where I’m stationed. For a test aimed at weather forecasters, there is surprisingly little forecasting. Instead there’s oceanography, tactical decision aids and admin questions.

A few nights before, I decided to draft a dump sheet. On it I intended to write down all the information that wouldn’t come to me naturally.

Here it is:



I began with Instruction Numbers:


I chose the top METOC instructions and for general Navy instructions, I took a risk and picked the ones I thought were more important.

Next I picked Icing and Turbulence TAF code:


A TAF is a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, written in code and used air stations all over the world. I can read TAFs pretty well, but on my previous tests there were questions about turbulence and icing. I felt better having a reminder.

Icing Temperatures:


The temperatures at which you find each kind of icing. Pretty self-explanatory.

Turbulence Criteria:


I’m not sure if this is the same as the civilian world. The numbers to the right are the change in wind speed (knots) per 1000 feet.



Here we get into electromagnetic propagation. Without making this sound like a training manual, N-Units measures the bend of EM energy and M-Units measures the bend of EM energy in a duct. They are opposites, so if you know one you know the other. Previous tests had questions on both.



The change in sound speed for Temperature, Salinity and Pressure.

Refractivity Changes:


Temperature and refractivity have an indirect relationship. The others, a direct relationship.

Sound Speed Profile:


The classic behavior of sound in water. It has different parts (Sonic Layer depth for max near surface speed) and I made sure to jot down Convergence Zone too.

Surf Observation:


I’ve had questions about this on previous tests. I have never taken a surf observation, where you observe the waves that crash onto the beach and write down height, type, etc. It’s gotten me on my last exams.

I won’t get me this time.


Okay, so…did my dump sheet help?


The test was heavily slanted towards oceanography and TDAs, which I expected. It was also mostly admin, with questions about different commands, their purpose.

I was not a difficult test, in the way you might think. What made it hard was that I felt like I overprepared for the wrong material; that if I’d studied the types of commands and odd admin trivia (do you know what the Marine Corps MOS is for their weather forecasters? I wish I did) then I’d have E6 in the bag, P (for Potential, among other things) eval be damned.

So that’s it. I still think the dump sheet is a good idea, though next time I’ll focus more on admin.

March 2017 is only six months away…