The shot heard round the world

April 19th is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolutionary War.

These days, Patriot’s Day is a Massachusetts State Holiday (celebrated on the third Monday in April) and festivities include reenactments, parades, and the Boston Marathon.  When I lived in Massachusetts, I worked a block away from Lexington’s Battle Green, and I’ve seen the reenactment of Paul Revere’s Ride and the Battle of Lexington.  Paul Revere rides (with Police escort) the dozen miles from Boston up Mass Ave and gives the alarm, arriving at Lexington about 5:30 AM.  As he rides through town, the British get off their buses and assemble.  A few reenactors yell at each other then the shooting starts.  The British get back on their buses and head to Concord, while the people of Lexington start serving pancakes.

In 1775, the Battle was much different.  The British planned to raid Concord (17 miles from Boston) and destroy rebel weapons (including artillery).  Even though the raid on Concord was secret, Patriots knew something was up by the increased activity.  About 800 British Light Infantry and Grenadiers marched from Boston at midnight, crossing the Charles River on naval barges, landing at Cambridge in waist-deep water.  Paul Revere started his “midnight ride” as the British assembled for the crossing.  The British  column was followed six hours later by a relief column of about 1,000 line infantry (good move by the British, even though they started later than planned).  Note that the numbers of soldiers on each side is very fuzzy…

As the British advanced through the towns and countryside, they saw that the region had already been alerted.  At Lexington Green, an advance party found a band of colonial militia – amid the confusion and noise a shot rang out and the British fired a volley into the militia.  The colonial civil unrest had become the Revolutionary War.

While Lexington likes to claim “the shot heard round the world”, none of the American militia are thought to have fired their weapons.  The Battle of Concord is where the Patriots fired on the British at the North Bridge.   The British left Concord after destroying three 24-pound cannon and numerous arms, but were harassed by colonial militia almost immediately.  Independent companies of town militia started firing on the British until the Redcoats broke and ran back to Lexington, under fire the entire way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (of Concord – his family home of many generations was beside the North Bridge) wrote “Concord Hymn” in 1836:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Spirit, that made those spirits dare,
To die, and leave their children free…

The British relief column had marched to Lexington and deployed on high ground.  The survivors of the rout from Concord were organized, fed, and rested, then the whole force marched back to Boston under withering fire from all sides.  However, they fought while retreating, for example killing eleven militia who tried to ambush the Redcoats at Russell’s Orchard.

4,000 Patriots drove the British back to Boston, and the alarm raised about 20,000 Patriots who started the siege of Boston leading to the Battle of Bunker Hill. But that’s a story for another day…

Raytheon and the Rabbi

Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz sent me this story written by Ted Roberts (“The Scribbler on the Roof”):

Here in Huntsville, Alabama – the buckle of the Bible Belt – one of our fanciest, blue ribbon eateries, 801 Franklin, has conducted a Kosher banquet.  Strictly Kosher.  Moshgiach (inspector/monitor) and all. Chabad Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz was in charge…

The restaurant, 801 Franklin – one of Huntsville’s finest – was the site of this feast – provoked by the need for Raytheon to host a group of Israeli service people for a program review.  Rather than limit the Israeli menu to an apple decorated by lemon slices – a simple solution – the Raytheon folks served a bountiful Parev meal centering on Salmon and fancy sides.  A banquet like Esther prepared for achashveros…

Raytheon went all out – with acceptable food sources, a ritually clean salmon and even a Moshgiach (kitchen inspector) to assure the religious cleanliness of the meal.  A mitzvah – a step beyond, as we say in Judaism.


Mazel Tov to Raytheon, 801 Franklin, and Monty Williams.  Monty moved to Huntsville to open Green Hills Grille and then 801 Franklin -  he is a blessing to Huntsville.

Jolly Old Saint Nick

“What would Santa drink” was published last year in All About Beer Magazine and tells another side of the story of Nicholas of Myra, patron saint and protector of children, patron saint of sailors, prisoners, travelers, Italians, Belgians, Russians, prostitutes (remind me to look up the etymological history of  ”Ho, Ho, Ho” sometime), students, firefighters, coopers, pawnbrokers, bankers, merchants, archers, judges, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers… and BREWERS.

Saint Nicholas was born in what is now Turkey, which at the time was Greek (Lycia) and ruled by the Roman  emperor Diocletian, a naughty tyrant who persecuted Christians.  His successor (forget Maximian), Constantine legalized Christianity and called the Council of Nicaea which established the Nicene Creed (plus when to celebrate Easter).  St. Nick attended that first ecumenical council:

According to one account, when confronted by the unyielding Arias, Nicholas slapped him in the face. For such a breach of decorum, Nicholas was brought before Constantine, who stripped him of his office and had him thrown into prison.

Then there is the story of Saint Nicholas the Tea Partier:

The people of Myra begged Bishop Nicholas to ask the emperor for relief from the high taxes which were causing much hardship. Nicholas went to plead their cause with Constantine. The emperor granted a large reduction, giving Nicholas a copy of the order. The bishop immediately put the document on a stick and threw it into the sea. Soon afterwards it was found and taken to the authorities in Myra. The order was immediately put into effect, substantially lowering the taxes. Meanwhile Constantine, whose finance ministers had convinced him that this lost revenue would seriously harm the royal treasury, summoned Nicholas to return the document for revision. Nicholas reported that the order was already in effect in Myra. Doubting this, Constantine sent a runner to determine the truth. When Nicholas’ words were confirmed the emperor allowed the reduction to stand. A century later Myra still enjoyed low taxation which the people attributed to St. Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was canonized by public acclamation:

In the Middle Ages Saint Nicholas, along with Martin of Tours, was celebrated as a true people’s saint because of the way he lived. This was unusual as most early saints were martyrs who had died for their faith. Nicholas was surely an early example of a saint who was honored for the witness of his life. Nicholas was a saint whose life bore witness to God’s work through a life of social value, lived carrying out God’s will. Both Nicholas and Martin lived to an old age and died peacefully. This may be one reason they were so very popular: They were examples of how to live, rather than how to die in times of persecution.

Therefore Nicholas does not have a date for formal canonization. Rather, the record shows a gradual spread of reverence until a widespread level of recognition and practice established him as a saint everywhere.


While children in the US leave Santa Claus milk and cookies, children in Belgium leave Santa a nice glass of beer.



Pirsumei nissa


Mayor Battle and Rabbi Berkowitz

Mayor Battle and Rabbi Berkowitz












If there’s a Jewish holiday more suited to Southerners than Hanukkah, someone please let me know.  Hanukkah is fried-food centric and child-friendly, plus “Rock of Ages” is the theme song.  Thanks to ‘zenjenn’ for the heads up.

Our new Rocket Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz invited Mayor Tommy Battle to help light the Public Menorah at Bridge Street Sunday night.  Glenn Clayton of Appleton Learning (and Right On Huntsville) was one of the sponsors, along with Buffalo Rock Beverages.  Rebecca Shlien of WAAY 31 and Venton Blandin of WHNT 19 reported on the event.

Rabbi Berkowitz leads the Chabad Jewish Center of North Alabama:

Chabad Lubavitch of North Alabama is dedicated to strengthening the Huntsville Jewish community by promoting Jewish pride, study and celebration. 

- To serving individuals and families looking for a non-judgmental, accepting, personalized Jewish experience and to establish a warm and traditional community center where everyone is made to feel welcome and comfortable.

- To providing for the spiritual & material needs of all Jews living in and visiting Huntsville – regardless of their background or affiliation.

Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights – commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the Miracle of the Oil:

Chanukah celebrates two miracles:

a) The 2nd century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic G‑dless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.

b) The kindling of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) was an important component of the daily service in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah. The problem was, it was sufficient to light the Menorah only for one day, and it would take eight days to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.

…Originally, the sages who established Chanukah instituted that the menorah be lit at the entranceway to one’s home. The concept of pirsumei nissa, “the publicizing of the miracle,” is, and always was, part and parcel of Chanukah.

Fried foods like potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts are traditionally served at Hanukkah to remember the Miracle of the Oil.

What was the reason that G-d made the miracle in the oil? The reason was to show that generation and all succeeding generations that the need for spiritual purity is a cornerstone in the Jewish religion and thought.

Shalom y’all.

The Age of Discovery


First launched in 1984, the Space Shuttle Discovery’s final flight  is scheduled for launch on November 1, 2010 carrying the Pressurized Multipurpose Module Leonardo to the ISS… What? Oh, this post is really about the OTHER “Age of Discovery”…

From Sarah Cure at The Huntsville Times, “Replicas of Christopher Columbus’ Pinta and Nina arrive at Ditto Landing Thursday”:

…replicas of Christopher Columbus’ Pinta and Niña will be docking at Ditto Landing Marina Thursday for a week-plus stay before continuing their voyage along the Tennessee River.

…the ships will be open to the public every day [from now until Monday, October 4] from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for students ages 5-16. Children ages 4 and under are admitted free.

The Columbus Foundation built the ships as a “sailing museum, for the purpose of educating the public and school children on the ‘caravel’, a Portuguese ship used by Columbus and many early explorers to discover the new world”.  The Nina, which is the “most historically accurate Columbus replica ship ever built”, has a deck length of 65′ and a beam of 18′.  The Nina was Columbus’ favorite ship and he repeatedly praised the ship for her great speed, maneuverability, and safety (the link provides great information about caravels).

Fun fact = ships are measured by tonnage which originally meant the ‘tun’ or tax paid on casks of wine.  Later a ton meant the measure of volume derived from the volume of a large cask of wine – toneladas en Espanol – the Nina could carry 75 toneladas.  Ship tonnage is a more complex measurement nowadays.

Rockhunting at Paint Rock

Paint Rock Agate

Paint Rock Agate

Archimedes Fossil

Archimedes Fossil
















Saturday I went rockhunting on a mountain overlooking the Paint Rock River valley in Jackson County, Alabama.  It was hot.  It was humid.  The mountain was steep. The trail was long.  I was drenched with sweat within five minutes humping water and tools and lunch up the mountain.  And that was the easy part – humping the trash and tools and rocks down the mountain was exhausting.  I was physically enervated.  And I loved it.

The rockhunt was arranged by Dixie Euhedrals (follow the link for some outstanding pictures).  I found several nice pieces in a streambed plus got a decent nodule in the limestone matrix (think of a golfball-sized chunk in a five pound hunk of rock).

Here’s what to look for (from a TN rockhound):

Most of the Tennessee Paint Rock agate deposits are located at at the 1200′ to 1600′ level on the west side of the Cumberland Plateau. The matrix is generally at the 1600′ level with deposits down the mountain due to surface slides or float.

Alabama was a shallow sea and swamp in the Mississipian Period (~320 million years ago).   That was before Obama stopped the seas from rising.  The layers of organic marine sediment trapped vegetation and other organisms in what became limestone, good rocks (like coal and agate), and fossils.  All those darn  plants that thrived during the Mississipian period produced too much oxygen and caused the Karoo Ice Age.  Somehow the Earth keeps warming up and cooling down every few thousand or million years.  I’m fairly certain people had nothing to do with the Mississipian global warming disaster.

The Archimedes fossil is a Bryozoan from the Mississipian period.  It was a colony of thousands of microscopic marine animals (the fossil in the picture above is about an inch long).


Critters!  One of the great things about hiking in the North Alabama wilderness is getting to see critters up close.  Bear Grylls would’ve eaten well – lots of bugs and lizards and snakes.  I saw a black snake sunning itself by the trail (after two people walked past it).  I saw red squirrels, a dead racoon, and butterflies everywhere.  Sometimes I didn’t see the spider webs - I felt them on my face after I walked into them. 


I saw a lot of Shad McGill signs at houses in the valley (GOP candidate for State Senate 8).   I saw a few Steve Raby signs at farms (Dem candidate for Congress AL05).  Those races plus signs for the Jackson County Sheriff’s race were about it.

Lanchester’s Laws

Here’s a little military and statistics history…

Frederick Lanchester (1868 – 1946) was an amazing guy with many pioneering accomplishments in the fields of automotive engineering, aerodynamics, and operations research.  Lanchester invented the accelerator pedal (and much more).  Lanchester formulated the circulation theory of flight, which is the basis for aerodynamics.  Lanchester invented the field of operations research (mathematical modeling of complex decisions).

In 1916, Lanchester wrote Aircraft in Warfare: the Dawn of the Fourth Arm, which not only described air combat strategies, but also postulated Lanchester’s Equations (or Lanchester’s Laws) which modeled attrition during combat.  More accurately, Lanchester’s Laws are a set of differential equations that describe the time dependence of  attacker and defender strengths as a function of time.

Lanchester’s Linear Law is based on ancient battles where men could only kill the man in front of  them.  Lanchester’s Square Law (or Lanchester’s Power Law) applies to more modern conflicts where the correlation of two forces is proportional to the square of the “power” (defined either as quantity or quantity adjusted by an effectiveness rating).  What this means is that a relatively small advantage in forces can result in a large disparity by the end of the battle.

Quality Control guru W. Edwards Deming (also a brilliant statistician), the developer of Statistical Process Control, introduced Lanchester’s Laws and operations research to the Japanese after World War 2 – they applied the ’New Lanchester Strategy’ to business (market share) – like consumer electronics and auto manufacturing.  It works…

Researchers have tried to apply Lanchester’s Law to non-human combat, like fire ants in Florida or interspecific dominance among birds in Australia.   That’s not working out so well…

If you play video games (from first person shooters to real time strategy to strategic simulations), more than likely the game engine features some version of Lanchester’s Law.

UAH ATO Battle of the Buffalo 2010

Thanks to the Huntsville Times for publishing an article promoting this event in Sunday’s paper.

Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at UAH is hosting their annual  Battle of the Buffalo chicken wing competition to benefit the Russell Hill Cancer Foundation.  The Battle of the Buffalo competition “heats up” on Friday, April 9, 2010 from 6 – 9PM at the UAH Intermodal Parking Facility.

The event is open to the public for $5 admission, live music, and “munching on as many wild wings as they can handle”.  Judges include Mayor Tommy Battle and State Senator Tom Butler (D-2).

Last year’s winner (in a close finish) was Domino’s:

Judges, including Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, University of Alabama in Huntsville’s President David Williams, Mayor Tommy Battle and Times reporter Jon Busdeker, had the tough job of tasting wings from each restaurant.

This year’s competition should be even better than last year’s event (from the exponent):

The event was wildly successful, with over 500 people in attendance. Everyone arrived hungry, and left satisfied. With sponsorships and entrance fees combined, ATO signed a check for $2,500 to donate to the local Russel Hill Cancer Foundation in memory of Paul Salmon, a brother who passed away in 2007 from leukemia.


CJs Second Amendment Essay Contest

CJ at A Soldier’s Perspective, along with Ranger Up, is sponsoring a Second Amendment Essay Contest:

Ranger Up and I want to know YOUR opinions on the Second Amendment… In 100 words or less (you won’t be penalized for writing more…) tell us your opinions about the Second Amendment. Send your submissions to by 25 August with “2nd Amendment Essay Contest” in the subject line. Why 25 August? On August 25, 1789, the Second Amendment resolution was sent to the Senate from the House… All entrants must agree to allow their submission to be posted on A Soldier’s Perspective and/or the Ranger Up blog to be eligible.

The top three essays win a nice 2d Amendment t-shirt from Ranger Up.