29 April 2009


on this day in 1968, the "american tribal love-rock musical hair" opened on broadway in NYC. beneath the nudity, drugs, and counterculture satire, the story of one man's struggle to choose between serving his country or joining the antiwar movement is iconic for an entire generation (mine). this was in the days of the military draft, under which every young man age 18 or over was subject to national service, unless he could justify an exemption based on being a student, having a physical impairment, sexual preference (yes, gays were often kept out), or working in a critical defense industry. many were able to work the system, especially the sons of the rich. others had to face the moral dilemma of participating in war, going to jail for their beliefs, or fleeing to canada.

these grim issues were only abstractly present in the rousing musical until the last act, when the war became all too tragically real. i still can't watch the movie without crying at the end, for the same reason i cry at the end of "platoon" -- the violent, savage and utterly useless loss of human life. i can't help wishing that the public today was as engaged and active in discussing/protesting our wars, as it was forty years ago. somehow we've become complacent, or numb, or too narrowly focused on our own little part of the world. where is the dialogue?

28 April 2009


the weather gods are toying with my mind. snow and cold and wind, then sunny and cold, then snow, then sunny and mild, then overcast and cool, now ...... MORE SNOW. at this hour (10 a.m.) it is 70 dF in tucson. sigh.

27 April 2009


samuel finley breese morse, that is -- better known to you (one hopes) as the inventor of morse code, used in telegraph and radio communications. when i was at fort huachuca, arizona, attending army radio school, we had to learn morse code and pass a certain speed level on a telegrapher's key. i think (hazily) that my best transmitting speed was around 25 words per minute (with no errors). whatever, i passed and went on to radioteletype school at fort gordon, georgia. there my best typing speed (with no errors) was 85 words per minute. these days i'm down to a more sedate 60 wpm. thank you, miss graham, for learnin' me how to type in high school.

here is google's home search page, with their logo spelled out in morse code --

26 April 2009


i just finished reading craig m. mullaney's absorbing memoir, and cannot recommend it highly enough to any reader. part military history, part coming-of-age story, and part window into the war in afghanistan, his narrative is faultless, and his inner journey is a revelation. this, from the book jacket --

"one haunting afternoon on losano ridge in afghanistan, u.s. army captain craig mullaney and his infantry platoon were caught in a deadly firefight with al-qaeda fighters, when a message came over the radio -- one of his soldiers had been killed by the enemy.

"mullaney's education, the four years he spent at west point and the harrowing test of ranger school, readied him for a career in the army. his subsequent experience as a rhodes scholar at oxford couldn't have been further from the army and his working-class roots, and yet the unorthodox education he received there would be surprisingly relevant as a combat leader.

"but despite all his preparation, the hardest questions remained -- when the call came to lead his platoon into battle and earn his soldiers' salutes, would he be ready? was his education sufficient for the unforgiving minutes he'd face?

"years later, after that excruciating experience in afghanistan, he would return to the united states to teach history to future navy and marine corps officers at the naval academy. he had been in their position once, not long ago. how would he use his own life-changing experiences to prepare them?

"written with unflinching honesty, The Unforgiving Minute is an unforgettable portrait of a young soldier grappling with the weight of his hard-earned knowledge, while at last coming to terms with what it means to be a man."

here is a link to further description and reviews, and here is another link to the author's website. (be sure to watch the two video trailers there. they are quite revealing.)

west point graduate with honors in history. successful completion of army airborne and ranger schools. rhodes scholar to oxford. veteran of combat in afghanistan. yet far beyond having a strictly military mindset, mullaney is a renaissance man, interested in the arts and humanities, and mindful of the need to understand and respect the traditions of other cultures.

following are a few exerpts from the book --

~ [during airborne training] i leaped out and arched my back into the shape of a banana, as instructed. my eyes looked down toward the ground, and my body followed in a 120-mile-an-hour swan dive. i had never felt so alive -- a million nerves dancing in the buffeting slipstream. diving at the speed of a bullet train was the loudest silence imaginable, like a hurricane of emptiness. with every heartbeat i fell over two hundred feet. the ground rushed toward me in a blur. one minute of free fall, sixty seconds alone to glide, to spin, to flip over and over and over, each rotation an insult to order. i smiled at the altimeter dial racing toward zero and pulled my rip cord. imminent danger produces a bizarre clarity of purpose.

~ "ever tried. ever failed. no matter. try again. fail again. fail better." -- samuel beckett, "Worstward Ho"

~ [during ranger training] "why are you here?" ....... "wrong answer, ranger. you are here for one reason. you are here for the troops you are going to lead. you are responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing whatever mission you're given. i don't care if you're tire, hurt, or lonely. this is for them, and they deserve better. you owe them your ranger tab. fuck self-pity. this isn't about you."

~ [during oxford studies] a comlex vocabulary helped unlock complex ideas.

~ comfort in ambiguity would be as essential to leading in combat as the ability to plan.

~ "the nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards." -- sir william francis butler

~ [in afghanistan's guerrilla war] lieutenant colonel lacamera's warning echoed in my head: be polite. be professional. be prepared to kill everyone you meet.

~ "i have not been at the front. i have been in front of it." -- wilfred owen, 1917

~ (the morning briefing slides) read like scripts from a weather forecast -- "today, winds will be from the northwest at 10-15 knots with a 30 percent chance of rockets."

~ [upon returning home] "no man ever steps into the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- heraclitus

~ [describing his marriage to meena, an east indian woman whom he'd met and fallen in love with at oxford] with each step we recited our vows, among them a promise to nurture each other's beliefs and dreams, to find fulfillment in our work, to alleviate the suffering of others, and to live a life full of joy and laughter.

~ "you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." -- leon trotsky
craig m. mullaney is currently a member of the obama-biden transition project.

24 April 2009


i've been searching for female companionship online for about two years now, using both match.com and eharmony. a couple of matches became liaisons lasting a few months, a couple more became platonic friends, and that's about it. romance for single men over 50 in missoula, montana, seems dry as a bone.

recently over coffee a woman friend offered her theory as to why this might be -- even in the best of times, missoula's economy is pretty sucky. during the current depression (let's face it), things are even worse for women who find themselves suddenly single, whether through divorce or being widowed. it's increasingly difficult to support oneself in this particular city, so (in theory) many women simply migrate to greener pastures -- perhaps west to spokane or to the left coast.

if this is the case, i'm living in the wrong flippin' city!! and it makes intuitive sense to me, especially when i'm looking for someone who is educated, well-read, intelligent, tolerant, and oh yeah, attractive too. my pool of possible singles is small and picked-over, if the theory holds. is it time for me to move on? well, it wouldn't be the first time in my life that i could fairly be accused of skirt-chasing. though the tone, the tenor, the mood is different -- now it's not just judgment-blinding hormones, it's a mature wish for companionship, comfort, conversation, shared adventures. and yes, the hormone stuff too. i'm older, but i'm not dead, ya know? in fact, like fine wine, i've become better with age. better at sharing, better at giving.

so, hmm. no answers, just entertaining possibilities.

23 April 2009


most are familiar with the life of jacques-yves cousteau, 1910-1997, whose long and distinguished career included service in the french navy, invention of open-circuit SCUBA gear, oceanographic research, marine conservation and public education. his long-time collaborator and presumed successor was his son philippe, 1940-1979. Philippe's life was cut short when his PBY Catalina flying boat crashed in the tagus river near lisbon, portugal. another cousteau son, jean-michele, stepped forward to assume philippe's role. philippe's own children, philippe jr. and alexandra, went on to form earthecho international, devoted to the conservation and restoration of the world's oceans.

i was 32 years old and my son was 2 years old when philippe sr. died. his passing touched me deeply, both because i was deeply involved in conservation and environmental education, and also because i identified with the deep father-son bond. so it will come as no surprise that i was moved to tears when i first heard jacques speak the eulogy he composed to philippe after his passing. the text can be found at earthecho's blog, to which they kindly provided a link (scroll to the bottom of the "red sea" entries). here it is --

Pursuing Rainbows

i will always remember that day of july 1963 when you joined the conshelf expedition along the shad rumi reef, in the red sea. the sun was setting when you climbed aboard the calypso from the launch that had driven you from port sudan airport. but i would not give you time to relax. i was too impatient to show you our "village under the sea" before it became too dark. hastily, we both donned our aqualungs, and slowly, sensually, we submerged into the welcoming water, as warm as our blood. when we started an unforgettable stroll with slow strokes of our long stretched legs and breathing deep lungsful of air, i kept your hand in mine to guide you from "starfish house" where six oceanauts were having dinner, to the onion shaped diving saucer garage, to the "tool house", the "fish farm", to the "deep cabin" where we observed the two black masked oceanauts go to bed, and to the anti-shark cages strewn here and there as emergency shelters. i introduced you to jules, the great barracuda who had adopted us. i showed you the cave where the large "bump fish" went to sleep at night, and of course, we met the inevitable sharks who kept cruising around the village. twilight was turning to sheer darkness, our structures became eerie shadows, the fish were just moving pieces of the sea. i was still holding your hand when we returned to the ladder. i felt strangely proud not of what we had achieved, but because our dreams were always shared so intimately.

three years ago, i found myself sitting near you in the cockpit of our catalina, the seaplane you had equipped especially for oceanography and for diving. from years of gliding, hang-gliding, piloting planes and helicopters, ballooning, you had acquired an unusual expertise. now you were giving me a ride to the mexican island of isabella, in the pacific. taking off in sheaves of water, the whole plane was an extension of your body, the roar of the motors was an expression of your joy, the clouds that dotted your sky were just other forms of water like our own flesh. i looked at you, my guide in the sky as i have been your guide in the sea. i saw your shining face, proud to have something to give back to me, and i smiled, because i knew that pursuing rainbows in your plane, you would always seek after the vanishing shapes of a better world. i love you. JYC.

there can be no greater pain in life, than the pain of a parent whose child has died. and no greater pride and tender love, that that of parent for child.

22 April 2009


amazing how time flies. in april, 1970, on the first earth day i was living in houston, tx, attending a computer school. at the ripe old age of 23, i was already a committed environmentalist, and ultimately left computers (for a while) to focus on the outdoors and nature. it is significant that the prime mover behind the first earth day, u.s. senator gaylord nelson of wisconsin, understood that a fundamental component for healing the planet is stabilizing the human population worldwide. instead, our numbers have roughly doubled in the mere 39 years since then. i've voiced in previous entries my perception that the planet can sustainably support 10% of the current 6 billion humans, while still allowing for the integrity of wilderness, wildlife and clean air/water. there are no easy answers, but i hope that our continued observance of this day isn't simply a token recognition -- that thinkers and policy makers around the globe will take decisive measures to first halt, then reverse the damage we've done to planetary decimation and species extinctions. every day of the year needs to be earth day, if we ourselves are to survive, let alone thrive. fingers crossed.

21 April 2009


NASA's cassini spacecraft just keeps delivering the goods. above, saturn's shadow conceals a portion of its rings. below, in order of distance from the camera, the moon epimetheus, the ring system seen nearly edge-on, and distant smog-enshrouded titan.


for a fairly clear analysis of the "teabaggers" and the flapping headless chicken that is the now-discredited neocon revolution, please see john scalzi's comments and the discussion string that follows. i for one find it mildly amusing that disenfranchised republicans and deluded libertarians are mimicking the protest model adopted by the civil rights, antiwar, women's rights and gay rights movements of the 60s and 70s. street theater dripping with fairly delicious irony. sail on, o ship of state!

20 April 2009


"before you, my life was like a moonless night. very dark, but there were stars -- points of light and reason. and then you shot across my sky like a meteor. suddenly everything was on fire -- there was brilliancy, there was beauty. when you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. i couldn't see the stars anymore. and there was no more reason for anything."
-- stephenie meyer

19 April 2009


yes, lopsided cat is his real name, AKA monorail cat. question -- which quality does this pose represent -- (a) torpor, (b) patient focus, (c) satiety, (d) insolence, (e) not comprehending the question, or (f) simple feline photogeneity?


18 April 2009


today marks the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake that devastated san francisco. the earthquake ruptured the northern third of the san andreas fault for a distance of 296 miles, displacing the surface as much as 20 feet. the quake ruptured gas mains, causing over 30 fires which destroyed 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks.


"when you can't run, you crawl. when you can't crawl, you find someone to carry you....."

17 April 2009


part of that annual naval celebration is an air show, including the u.s. navy blue angels in their f-18 hornets. my thanks to my amigo ed in tucson for sending me the link -- take your time, enjoy the digital photographic images and the captions for each. also explore the video links at the bottom of the page -- especially the one labeled "3 sneak passes". i wish i'd been there ! !

here's a sample image -- a hornet doing a low-altitude sneak pass, doing 700 mph (just shy of supersonic), at 20 feet above the water.

16 April 2009


normally at bedtime i read myself sleepy with a good book. last night i started reading lynn spencer's hypnotic Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11. 105 pages later i had to force myself to put it down and try to drift into sleep. the book is a "moment-by-moment narrative ... taking us right inside the airline cockpits and control towers, the fighter jets and military command centers." spencer reveals elements of that day's story previously unreported by the media. i challenge anyone to read this book for more than five pages and not feel their adrenaline level start to elevate. it is that gripping.

another window onto that day, which similarly captures the confusion, drama and suspense as events unfolded, is the movie United 93. at no time during the hour and fifty-one minutes of the film is it possible to be bored. like the book, the movie is stunning, informative and relentlessly engaging. both deal with a violent and tragic day, and both reveal the resilience and professionalism within the aviation community. far from being morbid or depressing, witnessing the disturbing events of that day takes us through shock and sadness to arrive at a feeling of sober inspiration. highest recommendation.

15 April 2009


after approximately fourteen months blogging, this is entry number 200. to mark the occasion, it seems fitting to present a link to one of my favorite bloggers/columnists -- amy alkon, a.k.a. the advice goddess. typical of her engaging, in-your-face common sense style, backed by research in psychology, here is a Q&A on what attracts men to women, and vice versa. enjoy !


arctic owl, former taxi driver.

14 April 2009


special thanks to the dynamic desiree horton for blog-linking me at her wonderful aviation blog, the adventures of chopper chick! check her out.

speaking of aviation (as i often do in this space, along with incisive commentary on politics, astronomy, racism, the environment and yo mama), i'd like to veer off into the world of fictional flyers for a moment. along with history, fiction, biography, and wildlife/wilderness, i enjoy reading and watching science fiction, with this caveat -- it has to be well-written, and it has to have a solid foundation in physics, biology, genetics, and/or astronomy. in short, based in reality, not fantasy. among my favorites are the short-lived tv series Firefly, and its movie spinoff Serenity. joss whedon's writing, casting and directing are superbly realized, crafting a universe in which people speak english and chinese interchangeably. a brilliantly-imagined crew of outlaw misfits survives along the edges of the "civilized" colonized planets. among them is the ship's captain, a former military rebel portrayed by nathan fillion, (who currently stars in the tv series Castle). fillion's range as an actor is impressive -- from ominous danger to charming wit to clueless surprise. [note: scroll to the bottom of this page to see a picture of Serenity, the ship in both the tv series and the movie.]

13 April 2009


Fortune favors the prepared mind.
-- Louis Pasteur


have you ever wondered what the radio conversation sounds like between a pilot and ATC at a large airport? or, are you a wannabe pilot like me and love to listen in, for training purposes? either way, here's a fun website where you can listen to live, real-time audio feeds from airports around the country. in fact, around the world -- did you know that english is the standard global language used between aircraft and ATC? 'course, if you fly to australia or china or romania, you might have to sort through the local accents, but that's part of the fun! you can choose from channels for approach control, tower, ramp control, departure, and lots more, then sit back and marvel at how rapidly they deliver complex, compact information. very impressive.

12 April 2009


i've made it no secret in these writings that i believe the word "hero" to be over-used and abused. in my eyes, it takes more than simply wearing a military or civilian uniform. it even takes more than dying, since that so often happens by accident or chance. no, a hero is someone who intentionally overcomes fear in a dangerous situation, and places him/herself at risk to save others. here are two shining examples from the era of my own military service, the vietnam war.

(1) what follows is a narrative sent to my by my good friend ed in tucson, arizona. it has been in circulation on the web for a while, but is still vivid and powerful.

"you're an 19 year old kid. you're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Ia Drang Valley (portrayed in the mel gibson movie "We Were Soldiers"), 14 November 1965, LZ X-ray, vietnam . your infantry unit is outnumbered 8 to1, and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own infantry commander has ordered the medevac helicopters to stop coming in. you're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and you know you're not getting out. your family is half-way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again. as the world starts to fade in and, you know this is the day. then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter, and you look up to see an unarmed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no medevac markings are on it. Ed Freeman is coming for you. he's not medevac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the medevacs were ordered not to come. he's coming anyway. he drops it in, and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 2 or 3 of you on board. then he flies you up and out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses. and he kept coming back.... 13 more times..... and took about 30 of you and your buddies out, who would never have gotten out. Medal of Honor recipient Ed Freeman, died in 2008 at the age of 80, in boise, idaho."

(2) as described in an earlier entry, the second pilot i consider to be a true hero is hugh thompson, jr. on 16 march 1968, thompson was on a reconaissance mission when he happened to overfly the My Lai massacre in progress. seeing the murder of several hundred south vietnamese civilian men, women and children by u.s. army soldiers, thompson repeatedly landed his chopper to interfere with the carnage. he and his crew not only put their own lives at risk, but thompson put his reputation and military career on the line as well by reporting the killings, both on the radio and in written reports. he was subsequently vilified by both military peers and members of congress during investigations of the incident, but he persistently remained true to his sense of ethics. of all the officers and GIs who participated in the massacre, only lt. william calley was ever tried and convicted of war crimes. the stonewalling and cover-up were complete. Soldier's Medal recipient Hugh Thompson passed away in 2006 at the age of 62, in alexandria, louisiana.

naturally, these examples do not detract from the heroism and professionalism of present day military and civilian pilots, whether in an overseas war zone or fighting fires here at home. i salute you all.

11 April 2009


today's NYTimes online featured an article and a slide show on a birding trip to belize (the only country in central and south america whose official language is english). the slide show is especially nice, because each image includes the sound of the bird's call. for you non-aficionados, a small window into the magical world of birding. all you need is a quality pair of binoculars, a decent field guide, and you're on your way. i've lived all over the country, and my life list currently stands at 360 species -- a respectable number, but modest compared to those with the time and finances to travel worldwide. my favorite regions are the desert southwest, and the atlantic coast. both regions lie along major migratory flyways, so there is lots to see.

you'll find, if you decide to dip your toes into this pastime, that as a community, birders are extraordinary welcoming and helpful. no matter where you live, the best introduction is to take an adult education class in birding, or join your local audubon society chapter. either approach will afford the opportunity to join group field trips, usually with an informed leader who can point out elusive or cryptic birds.

binoculars are categorized by a pair of numbers, e.g. 7x35, or 8x40, or 10x50. the first number tells you the degree of magnification, and the second number is the diameter of the objective lens (furthest from your eye) in millimeters. so a pair of 7x35 binoculars magnifies an image 7 times what your naked eye would see, and has a 35mm objective lens. this is an excellent size for beginners, as the larger binocs are usually heavier and harder to hold steady. here's an additional useful guideline -- the first number divided into the second number should equal five. anything with a smaller ratio (like 8x20, which yields only 2.5) means a narrower field of view, and less light-gathering capacity. such binoculars aren't much better than opera glasses for serious birding.

i also recommend buying the finest brand that you can afford. you get what you pay for, and a cheap brand is going to provide poor viewing, and a frustrating experience. optics (lenses) have come a long way since i started out, 40 years ago. i truly envy anyone who is beginning now. so what are you waiting for?

10 April 2009


on 10 april 1947 (the year i was born), brooklyn dodgers president branch rickey announced he had purchased the contract of jackie robinson from the montreal royals. robinson became the first black player to join a u.s. major league baseball team. i will always have affection for the old brooklyn dodgers, and for branch rickey, for making that decision. and i will always admire jackie robinson for his courage and calm in the face of the initial wave of racist taunts and abuse. he was a class act, and a great second baseman.

09 April 2009

07 April 2009


thanks to NASA's "astronomy picture of the day" website for this glorious image. the captions are always informative, sometimes mind-stretching !
this is today's posting. you can access past images using the "calendar" or "archive" links.

06 April 2009


the Quiet Star was a prototype stealth aircraft that saw service during the vietnam war. it didn't rely on radar-deflecting airframe design or composite materials. instead, it was simply and superbly quiet, thanks to an efficient engine muffler and a slow-turning propeller. flown mostly at night, its infrared detection system could locate troop presence and remain undetected, from only a few hundred feet overhead. not as reliant on technology, speed or altitude as the U-2 or the SR-71 Blackbird, the Quiet Star nevertheless was highly effective in its surveillance mission. only fourteen were ever built.

i like the fore-and-aft crew design, and the superb visibility afforded to the pilot, exceed only by those designs in which the cockpit is placed far forward of the wings, most notably in military jet fighters.

05 April 2009


thanks to xkcd.com, a webcomic which i enjoy immensely. though on behalf of cat-lovers everywhere, i submit that the graph curve labels are reversed.

04 April 2009


today marks the 41st anniversary of the assassination of dr. martin luther king, jr. as with certain seminal events in our lives, e.g. the assassination of john f. kennedy or the terrorist attacks on the world trade center, i recall vividly where i was when i first heard the news of martin's death. it was during my year in south vietnam, and i was a radioteletype operator assigned on TDY (temporary duty) to a mobile artillery batter of 155mm self-propelled howitzers. we were setting up a fire support base in cholon, the chinese district of saigon, in a muddy paddy next to a buddhist temple. that day we were sweaty from the heat and humidity, and working hard to set up timber platforms for the guns and establish a defensive perimeter.

the news reached us on AFVN radio around midday. i was stunned. being (a) politically naive, and (b) halfway around the globe from events at home, i had no idea how the public might react. i recall thinking that cities with significant black populations might be in for protests and maybe rioting. in this i wasn't mistaken. but far, far overshadowing the initial outpouring of anger was a nearly universal shadow of loss and grief, both in the u.s. and among the g.i.s i knew in vietnam.

dr. king left a legacy of sharply-defined principles of justice, of an assertive yet non-violent confrontation of evil, and a vision of a world in which people would be "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." evil still dwells in the world, racism is far from a thing of the past. still, i wish that dr. king, malcolm x, and so many other civil rights activists had lived to see the day when a black u.s. senator was elected to the presidency. slowly, slowly, we're getting there.

03 April 2009


i've lived in 9 states over 62 years, with a total of 37 home addresses, not counting several house-sitting gigs.

23 years total, multiple addresses in montana during three time periods:

6 years total, 3 addresses in washington during two time periods:

20 years total, multiple addresses in arizona during four time periods:

6 months total, 1 address in georgia:

6 months total, 2 addresses in texas, contiguous:

3 months total, 2 addresses in alaska, contiguous:

1 year total, 1 address in south carolina:

5 years total, 2 addresses in pennsylvania, contiguous:

5 years total, 2 addresses in tennessee, contiguous:

and the missing year? why, overseas in the republic of vietnam, multiple locations:

02 April 2009


(architects, engineers, sculptors, war planners and investment bankers, please take note):

by percy bysshe shelley

i met a traveler from an antique land
who said, "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert ... near them on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
tell that its scupltor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
and on the pedestal these words appear:
'my name is Ozymandius, king of kings,
look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
nothing beside remains. round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away."


mr. robin may be starting to think that april fool's day came a day late. that, or he's just a birdbrain who migrated too soon. me, i'm as eager as he is to see some sun, feel some warm spring air. heck, i'll even help him hunt for worms if it will help. spring, my favorite season, where are you??