28 February 2011

Wheww...and oy.

I'm glad this week's done. A lot of running around stuff taken care of, at least for now.

We had Bob's memorial service last Friday. Nicely done-a dignified service for a man who, despite his flaws, generally tried to leave the place better than he found it. His kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids were all at the service and the dinner afterward. Did you know that children can be active at a social occasion without being loud, rude, or annoying? It's true! I've been told by some that such was impossible. Evidently there are still a few practitioners of the obscure 'Responsible Parenting' cult scattered around these parts.

Also in a bit of debate I guess with Senators Flinthart and Therbs, though quite civil, since they're thinking people. I'm getting too old to expend a lot of energy with name-calling, and at any rate life's too short for it. There's a lot of talk of what's called 'the politics of fear', which I suppose is easier than 'the politics of getting something done'. I'm, as most of you know, pretty conservative-with traces of pragmatism and more than a touch of apathy. But I'm not so tied to the ideology that I can't bend when and where it might be necessary.

There is one phrase in life that, if it isn't carved in stone somewhere, should be.

"It's always different when it's you."

Actually, I think an episode of Red Dwarf might have used a similar phrase, which says that either a) the people who wrote RD were astute in their knowledge of human nature, or b) I watch too much TV and don't think for myself enough. But those six words seem to fit a lot of people who are, for lack of a better term, judgmental.

I can give a few examples for you.

Consider one Rush Hudson Limbaugh, conservative radio host. In his early years, Mr. Limbaugh was big on condemning drug users. Throw them in jail and toss the key. Then he was charged for illegal purchase and use of Oxycontin. Nowadays, he doesn't talk about illlegal drug use.

It's always different when it's you.

Or former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard. He was known for condemning homosexuality. All the gays were headed for hell. He got caught with a male 'friend' and methamphetamines. Today, pretty quiet.

It's always different when it's you.

Or the older person who calls a talk radio show and says 'The government needs to get its fiscal house in order and quit handing checks to everyone.' Meanwhile, they're collecting a Social Security check and getting health care courtesy of Medicare.

It's always different when it's you.

That, citizens, is why I'm not as polarized as a lot of people (on both sides) on a lot of issues. Because, someday, it might be me.

Also, what I actually know about most things you could stick in your eye and not harm yourself too greatly. It just might be that someone out there knows more about something than I do. Except for my boss, Rimmer, and St. Louis Cardinals fandom.

Anyway, I'll end this on a good note regarding a man we laugh at more often than not-Ozzy Osbourne.

There's a little fellow in the area here, 8 years old, with brain cancer. He won't be with us a lot longer, though he's been doing decently of late. He won't make his 9th birthday, probably, barring a miracle. Ozzy was in town for a concert a few weeks back and heard about Brayden's condition. Mr. Osbourne sent Brayden a drumhead, autographed drumsticks, and took some time to call the boy and give him good wishes. And maybe it isn't a big check to cover expenses for the family, but it's a kind gesture from a man who could've been a 'big star with no time for the little people'. Good on the Prince of Darkness!

yankeedog out.

20 February 2011

And next on the docket...

It's shaping up to be a busy bastidge of a week here. My sister-in-law is getting a knee replacement on Monday,  I have to cart Mom to two doctor appointments on Tuesday, and Bob's memorial/reception is on Friday afternoon. Add that to work and everything else that crops up over a week-should be fun. There are times I feel spread a bit thin.

I did hop over to Borders this weekend, where there was a surprising number of shoppers. Amazing what can happen when the parent company anounces bankruptcy. I suppose everyone wants to get their gift cards expended in case the local store closes. Picked up a big collection of Arthur C. Clarke's short stories and novellas (I'd forgotten how good his short stories were. I've never been a great fan of his novels, for whatever reason), and Robert Conroy's 1901, which appears to have to do with Imperial Germany invading the US in, well, 1901. Looks like a fun read, if not terribly realistic.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the upcoming schedule. Wish you were here.

yankeedog out.

17 February 2011

If it's spring...

...and it isn't quite yet, although the temps here have been in the high 50s (15ish C) over the last couple of days, melting a good chunk of the blizzard of a couple of weeks back. Actually drove home tonight with the windows down and passed a few motorcycles. I shouldn't be surprised to see a golfer or two out this weekend if it stays like this.

 Don't like Midwest weather? Wait ten minutes and it'll change.

I see we've already got a couple of baseball items to discuss, and spring training is just barely started. All right, then!

-It looks like Cardinals superstar slugger Albert Pujols is going to test free agency after the season. He's looking for a $300 million, 10-year deal.

Hmm. Last year, I'd've told Cubs management to open up the checkbook to try to steal away Pujols. But a 10-year deal for a 31-year-old player? I'll pass, thank you. You might get 3-4 more prime years out of him, then he gets paid for sitting at the end of the bench or struggling along on some other team, but still collecting checks from the suckers team that signed him.

If Pujols is hard and fast on insisting on a very long-term deal, then I have to think the Cardinals management will say after this season "Thank you for the good years, Albert. Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out." The Cardinals historically haven't made a lot of bad deals and I don't see them doing it here. A lot of the Cards fans I've heard are thinking along that line as well. The Cardinals, curse them, always seem to find good players to replace the ones they let go.

Buena suerte, Albert.

Meanwhile, on the North Side of Chicago, The Cubs have hired a new color man to replace the late Ron Santo on their radio broadcasts. And it's an old familiar guy to Cub Nation of the 1980s:

Good old #6-Keith Moreland. 'Zonk' is back! I've heard Moreland do some broadcasts last year. He knows his stuff and did a good job on the games. I used to enjoy watching Moreland patrol right field in that magical 1984 season. He wasn't great at it, but he gave it his all! I've seen him play in all three outfield positions, third base, first base, catch, and-one time-pitch an inning in an extra-inning affair when the Cubs ran out of pitchers. His time playing football at the University of Texas came in handy as well. One time there was a bench-clearing brawl and Moreland threw a tackle that would have stopped any running back in the NFL, let alone a baseball player.

He'll do fine in replacing Ron Santo. Which brings me to the role of the 'color' guy in a radio broadcast. He's the one that's supposed to provide insight on a given situation or play in the game and describe/relate it to the audience. Very important since the guy listening to his radio in the car can't see what's going on and needs a good call to 'see' the game in his mind's eye.

Santo played third base on some pretty good Cub teams of the 1960s. He isn't in the Hall of Fame, but based on his career statistics should be. One could argue that he was the best third baseman of the 1960s in MLB, or at least equal to the Orioles' Brooks Robinson, who is in the Hall.

He played the game despite having diabetes (in an era when treatment wasn't all that refined for it) and in later years lost both his legs and suffered numerous health issues, including the bladder cancer which eventually killed him last December. He was a tough guy who had time for the fans, and a hell of a baseball player.

But he wasn't a very good broadcaster.

The extent of his contributions to Cub broadcasts were mostly grunts and groans when the Cubs screwed up something (all too common) and cheers when they got a home run or pulled off a good play. That's OK if you're listening to some guy in the stands, but not in a major league broadcast. And occasionally you'd get an exchange like this:

Pat Hughes (Cubs' radio play-by-play): 'And Rodriguez is coming up to bat for the Nationals...'
Santo: 'Who's coming up to bat, Patrick?'


Pat Hughes: 'And Sutcliffe won the Rookie of the Year award in 1979.'
Santo: 'That would have been his first year in the league, right, Pat?'

Possibly the most famous (or infamous) Santo call happened toward the end of the 1998 season. The Cubs were in Milwaukee, locked in a classic with the Brewers, and playing for a slot in the postseason. Late in the game, a fly ball was hit out to Cub left-fielder Brant Brown, who...well, you can hear the call at the end of this snippet:

Listen to the anguish as the ball gets dropped! OH NO, NO!!!

(Incidentally, the Cubs did end up winning the game in extra innings that day.)

Now, I think Pat Hughes is one of the best play-by-play men in the business-but after 162 games broadcasting with Santo...if it were me, by the end of the season at least one of us would be out the window of the Wrigley Field radio booth!

It was to the point where Cub radio broadcasts were getting unlistenable. You got no thoughts on the game or any of the players in it. It's good to be a fan, but not necessarily if you're a broadcaster. I'm looking forward to next season's Cub games on radio-much more, unfortunately, than looking forward to the 2011 Cubs, which show every sign of being a colossal 'Meh' this year. Well, the Ricketts family has promised a championship 'in my lifetime', so I have that to look forward to. But Hughes and Moreland will at least make it interesting to listen to.

yankeedog out.

12 February 2011

That was interesting...

Any of you regular readers probably know about The Better Half's boyfriend/companion, Bob. If not, you can read a bit about him here.

On Thursday, TBH's mom couldn't get a hold of him on the phone, but she decided that we'd wait the day out. Earlier in the week he was incommunicado for a day because he didn't get his phone hung up properly.

Friday morning, no Bob. We told TBH's mom to call the police to check on him. We're both busy at work and really didn't need to expend the time to track him down. Nothing would do but WE had to check on him. I picked TBH's mom up at her house, then read her the riot act for not doing what was the proper thing.

We knew how to get into his house, so I let myself in, and found him dead on the floor in his bedroom.

I sort of felt bad after that. Bob and The Mole were steady for 20 years, enjoying each other's company and growing old together. But that's the cycle of life. He had had some heart problems, and I think some dementia was starting to set in. TBH and I were thinking that he wasn't long for independent living at any rate. I don't think there was much anyone could have done for him unless they were right there-one of those cases where maybe you have two or three minutes to help. He didn't look agonized, just looked like he was sleeping.

The event wasn't so traumatic for TBH or myself as a whirlwind. If you're the one to find a body, you get all the questions from the paramedics, cops, and coroner. I didn't know where he kept any of his personal papers or effects-the man was a world-class packrat and the place looked like a tornado went through it-or a sharehouse. Plus we had a time getting a hold of his next-of-kin. Eventually someone got his daughter, and she came over. I was never so happy to give her his house keys and get the hell out of there.

It adda one more little thing to our life. TBH's mom is, of course, no kid. She has church and some friends, but Bob provided a lot of her social life. That connection with the outside world is terribly important for older people-it can help keep them alive since it gives them events to prepare for and look forward to. She's a tough old bird and pretty much takes life as it comes, which is about all one can do. I suspect she could find a male friend in time should she put her mind to it. Actually, her neighbor across the street is a widower, and thye've known each other for several decades. He was a Hump (China-Burma-India) pilot in WWII, and is in astounding shape for pushing 90. He likes to dance, just like she does. Might could be in a while, we'll have to get her to take a plate of cookies to his house...she could do worse. Companionship, common interests, and 100 feet away. What's not to like? But first things first and there'll be some mourning before she gets back into the 'dating scene'.

Bob was a heck of a guy. He did a lot, had a lot of interests, and went to a lot of places all around the world. He was an astronomy buff and traveled all over to see the various lunar and solar eclipses. He helped with the development of airborne early warning planes. He worked here at the Arsenal, International Harvester, and taught welding and quality control at our local community college. He made the most of his almost 89 years. Requiescat in pace.

The silver lining (for me) was that I missed a crisis at work. Fortunately, it didn't involve my company or our products. Someone at a local factory we do a LOT of business with got a finger chopped off when manipulating a cab on a dump truck being built. That gets attention from people. Corporate people, who are best left in their offices and not out anywhere near actual work. I don't think I want to say a lot more about this at this point, but rest assured that I will have a comment on design practices at some point in the future. Suffice it to say that we got a rush order for a cab lifter. Win-unless you're Nine-Fingers Malloy.

As I write this, TBH is in bed. Kind of sounds like she's got a bout of the flu coming on. Yay. There's some nasty bug going around these parts. One of my coworkers was home Friday with a head full of snot and watery eyes. Fortunately, I have some Havockian FKN GOD powers and have escaped this so far.

Other than that, pretty quiet here. How about you?

yankeedog out.

10 February 2011

The Unlucky Melbourne

I was perusing Wikipedia today and I saw that February 10 was the anniversary of the Melbourne-Voyager collision of 1964. The aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne collided with and sunk destroyer HMAS Voyager off the New South Wales coast. I'd guess most of you Australian readers have at least heard of it.

Melbourne has the unfortunate distinction of ramming two destroyers in its 25-year-long career, the Voyager in 1964 and the USS Frank E. Evans in 1969. Both vessels were acting as 'plane guards' in a close formation with the carrier.

In the first incident, it would appear that Voyager's command crew misjudged the speed of their own vessel and position relative to Melbourne, and in trying to compensate slipped in front of Melbourne's bow, with the end result being that Voyager was cut in two, sinking her with the loss of 82 of her 320 crew. The inquiry afterwards placed most of the blame on Voyager, and indicated that her captain may have been medically unfit for command. He had been drinking (though his blood alcohol level was well below any legal impairment level), and a doctor had prescribed amphetamines for him. Use of amphetamines and stimulants is a not uncommon occurrence in the military, so it's unknown if those drugs affected him enough to cloud his judgement.

Here Melbourne is limping back to port, where she'd spend several weeks at Cockatoo getting a new bow.

The collision with the Evans took place at night during a naval exercise. As she took up her plane guard station, she crossed in front of Melbourne. Both ships tried to turn away from each other, but far too late. The big carrier split the Evans, killing 74 of her 336 crew.

Here the stern section of the Evans is seen, still afloat. After the incident, a joint RAN-USN Board of Inquiry was formed to investigate the collision. And from what I've read, it was a bit of-no pun intended-a kangaroo court. The Evans' command crew was clearly at fault. Commander McLemore left two very inexperienced officers on the bridge at the time of the incident-one had failed his qualification exams and the other was at sea for the first time. Nevertheless, strenous efforts were made to place maximum blame on the Australians through fabricated evidence and shady legal tactics.

The Board ruled, however, that both ships were more or less equally at fault. I'd bet there was some fairly colorful language between both sides before reaching that verdict. In 1999, Commander McLemore admitted responsibility for the collision, and that he shouldn't have had two inexperienced personnel in command on that evening. Honorable-but one hopes he contacted Captain Stevenson of the Melbourne to say it as well.

Due to these two incidents, the Melbourne was considered 'unlucky' or 'jinxed', despite having served well for a quarter century. But was it, really?

Going down to the sea in ships is a dangerous profession. Operating an aircraft carrier is one of the riskier things to do in that profession. Take a piece of land 800 feet long and 80 feet wide. Put 25-30 airplanes and 5-6 helicopters on it. Have them takeoff and land at the same time. Fuel them up on one side of the piece of land. Load ammunition on them as well. In addition, have 40-50 people walking around the land. If you can operate without killing anyone or destroying your planes, then congratulations! You can do carrier operations.

It takes great skill and knowledge by captains and helmsmen to perform any operations in formations and manuevering. One of the trickiest pieces of seamanship is underway replenishment. Two or three ships have to maintain a perfect parallel formation, keeping a constant distance from each other and moving at exactly the same speed, possibly in a pitching, rolling sea.

But a good captain only has to keep two pieces of basic physics in his or her mind:

1) Bodies in motion tend to remain in motion.
2) Force equals mass times velocity.

In both cases involving Melbourne, the destroyer captains had far nimbler vessels than the 22,000 ton carrier. There's no way it can be stopped on a dime. And in both cases, Melbourne was ramping up for flight operations, which meant she'd have been getting up to top speed to get enough wind over the flight deck to launch planes. It would have been incumbent on both destroyers' commanders to anticipate and prepare for any manuevers Melbourne would make to allow her to do flight ops.

I don't think Melbourne was any more 'jinxed' than any other carrier. The US Navy has had horrific accidents on its own carriers, especially during combat operations and manuevers. Enterprise, Forrestal, Nimitz, and Oriskany have suffered serious fires and explosions on board in their time.

This was on board USS Forrestal back in the late 1960s.

In 1975, carrier USS John F. Kennedy collided with cruiser USS Belknap-

-resulting in major damage to the Belknap, requiring a three-year rebuilding in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

So the HMAS Melbourne, although unfortunate enough to sink two destroyers in separate incidents, probably wasn't any more or less 'lucky' than any other vessel. Navies have to be at sea to drill and practice, and collisions are part of the price for doing business.

yankeedog out.

05 February 2011

The Lake Michigan Navy

I recently read an article about the recovery of an F4U-1 'Birdcage' Corsair fighter from the depths of Lake Michigan, near Chicago. There are no flying examples of this particular variant, so it will be restored to at least display condition at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

The plane is in quite good condition after being submerged for nearly seventy years. In recent years, a Dauntless dive bomber was pulled out of the lake, also in fair condition.

As well as a very rare find-an old Vought Vindicator torpedo bomber, many of which were destroyed at the Battle of Midway. The plane has of course been restored to what it would have looked like in those dark  days of early 1942.

And how did so many old warbirds end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan, in the middle of the United States? In one of those oddities which America is famous for (like all of the outdoors stuff like parks being run by the Department of the Interior), the US Navy has its main training base between Chicago and Milwaukee. Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

During World War II, the Navy needed aviators that were qualified and trained to fly off carrier decks. The Navy also needed carriers in the Fleet, and not doing training duty off the Florida coast. So in a clever move, the Navy leased two lake steamships (in those days, steamships ran regular routes between the cities along the Lakes), the Greater Buffalo and the Seeandbee.

A trip to the Navy Yard, and the two steamships emerged as USS Sable and USS Wolverine.

At first glance these ships look like aircraft carriers, but neither vessel had a hangar deck or permanent aircraft handling facilities, so they were given a 'miscellaneous auxiliary' designation (IX) instead of the more familiar 'CV' for carriers. Both ships were given a 500 foot long deck (about the size of the flight deck on an escort carrier of the time) and homeported in Chicago. Prospective carrier pilots would take off from Glenview Air Station and fly east over Chicago and the suburbs out into Lake Michigan, learning to spot a carrier on open water and how to land on same in all weather conditions. The Great Lakes can be rough, and the decks of the Sable and Wolverine would pitch and roll just like they were the Yorktown, San Jacinto, or Kitkun Bay on the high seas.

On a calm day, one could stand on Navy Pier or Oak Street Beach and watch prospective aviators land, take off, or do bump and gos on the Great Lakes' very own Navy!

Most of these pilots were right out of primary training, and as fitting pilots in training, they occasionally made a mistake or two along the way, like hitting the barrier:

...or missing the wires and barrier altogether and putting their plane in the drink. Some few went down with their mistakes, but thankfully not too many.

Many thousands of pilots learned their trade on board Sable and Wolverine, as well as hundreds of landing signal officers and aircraft handlers. The two ships, while not ideal 'training carriers', served well until the end of the war, after which they were sold for scrapping.

Many people don't think of the Midwest as a great shipbuilding region, but during the war many of our 'fleet boat' submarines were built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and sailed through the Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean. The bulk of our tank landing ships were built in Seneca, Illinois, and moved down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. Yards up and down the Mississippi River valley built scores of the small patrol craft and auxiliary vessels the Navy needed to augment and support the fighting fleets.

Today, no active warships are stationed in the Great Lakes, but there are plenty of museum vessels dotting their shores: submarines Cobia, Silversides, Croaker, and Cod; cruiser Little Rock, destroyer The Sullivans, and on the Canadian side, their famous Tribal class destroyer HMCS Haida.

The Great Lakes Navy-a complete flotilla which even at one time could launch and land a very tiny air force!

yankeedog out.

03 February 2011


Or something like that.

We got a good old-fashioned Midwest blizzard Tuesday night. We had about 16" of snow here officially, but the big deal was the wind, right out of the northeast at 35-40 mph, which causes the powder to simply accumulate in big drifts. There isn't much one can do in the middle of these except hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

It worked out good for us. The Better Half has been dealing with computer issues at work and HAD to be near her office. There's a fairly nice hotel a couple of blocks from the office, so that's where we watched the storm do its thing. It's an ill wind that doesn't blow some good.

By Wednesday night, the state and city plow crews, in addition to a veritable army of people with pickup trucks with plow blades, snowblowers, and the occasional Bobcat, had a handle on most of the snow. I had help getting the Brazen Chariot dug out of the hotel parking lot, and in return helped a couple of people extract their vehicles. Everybody helps each other and the work gets done.

A pile o' pics from the area:

This was Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Tuesday night rush hour. The cars were abandoned in place due to a blockage from an accident. It looks for all the world like something from a disaster movie. The City of Chicago got LSD cleared out yesterday. I expect some Windy City auto owners got to pay the city a nice towing fee-excuse me, revenue enhancer...

From closer to home, some local snowpiles. I stopped at Oriental Express to pick up supper on Wednesday. A lot of stores were closed. A lot of bars were closed, which tells you how bad the roads were around here for a while. We don't close the taverns on a whim. But the Chinese don't take a day off for snow. That's why someday they'll overrun all of us. Then I'm moving to Beijing and starting an American Food Buffet. Turnabout is fair play.

This is Illinois 64 east of my old hometown. It's kind of flat, open terrain, and the snow can pile up a bit along the road. More than a few people around here have snowmobiles, and they can come in handy. More than a few people have been rescued from a car or had supplies delivered to their house via your friendly neighborhood snowmobiler. A great shot courtesy of one of the local TV stations.

South of here, it's just flat. The plow comes by and five minutes later the road's drifted shut again. The National Guard was patrolling the interstate south of us to pick up motorists who got stuck. Evidently a Humvee or deuce and a half gets through this stuff better than the family minivan. A bonus from the Guard's standpoint is that some schmuck isn't trying to take a shot at you.

A pretty typical sight if you left your vehicle out on Tuesday night. It's not a bad idea to pack a snow shovel in the trunk if you can. It makes life a lot easier if you're out somewhere and your car gets buried or stuck. I used to carry a military-style folding entrenching tool, which is a poor substitute for something with a bigger scoop. Used that once in snow and relegated it to dirt digging.

It isn't all work, though.

There's always time for hoops, sledding, or a good snowball fight! Not for me, though. I'm busy holding this guy's spot by the fireplace. Good luck getting it back!

Now when it comes to snowball fights, this is how we do it around these parts:

yankeedog out.