Monthly Archives: October 2016

Berlin, London or Cedar City  

I have to say that over my adult life, whenever the opportunity would present itself to see some new places, I would always go. I guess it all started with the Army 44 years ago and through a quirk of bureaucratic fate, placed me in Germany. I took advantage of every opportunity to travel, from seeing the German Grand Prix (courtesy of a trip organized by Special Services) to traveling through most every country (except for some reason Belgium) over time, if not thoroughly at least I saw what I could. Other than a return to Germany in 1992 I have not been back. Been wanting to return to Europe for some time.

I was 23-24, and would throw 20 rolls of film into an AWOL bag, a few extra shirts and such, and I was off. Always tried to get a good friend to go with me and he refused to take any leave, wanting to use the money to get a motorcycle when he was discharged.

I saw him 20 years later. He said, “You know Willy, not going with you was one of my big regrets”. I asked him if he got his motorcycle, and he said that he didn’t.

I know someone who was an armorer on the Carl Nimitz, and he circled the world half a dozen times. Other than frequenting bars all over the world on leave, he did no traveling.

I was able to go to Africa and Egypt in the early 80s. Not sure I’d want to go back there today.  In the mid 80s, I was fired from a job (programming) in December and I thought I’d see the South Pacific with my newly available time. I knew that the odds of getting another job that time of year was slim. I had no family to support, and I realized if I didn’t do this now I would have to wait until I retired. To be able to travel with no fixed itinerary or return date!  Using my severance check I bought a QANTAS (For Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service!) ticket that allowed for up to 20 stops in the South Pacific, and I was off.

Sent my now ex-boss a post card from each stop – Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Hawaii. I was gone almost 3 months.  I do believe that God has a good sense of humor. The second day I was back home, I went to a box store and guess who was standing by the front entrance waiting for someone?

He had a tight smile as he said, “Sounds like you had a good time”, to which I replied “that I did!”.

My idea of a great road trip is to just get in the car and drive with no rigid itinerary. Ten years ago my niece was getting married in Minnesota and while the rest of the family is getting airline tickets, I was planning a mini lap of America with my 300,000 mile car.

The last 10 years or so I have had work and “responsibilities”, but a small window became available and I just took 9 days driving on some of the West’s less used roads.

At first I was ready to go to London or Berlin, but the window was fast closing for that. Anyway I saw some great scenes so over the next few days I’ll show you some of them.


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He Made It Look Easy

click here for a demonstration


I’m currently driving around the Southwest.  I’ve driven to southern Utah and these rock formations are simply amazing.

Took the advice of a Lexican  and drove on highways 24 and 12. Highway 24  that takes you right through a national park called the Capital Reef.  There, one drives in between these huge rock canyons that are hundreds of feet high.One has difficulty putting the experience into words.

By the time I got to Zion National Park a couple of days ago and saw even more impressive canyons thousands of feet  high I almost got blasé about it.

So it has been with the Reno air races which I have attended pretty much on a regular basis since the late 1970s.

It’s really the last of the great air races and to see these World War II era fighters at almost 500 miles an hour maybe 100 to 200 feet off the deck is amazing.

But there was one pilot there who consistently amazed me. R.A. “Bob” Hoover  would put on a demonstration with his twin engine Rockwell shrike commander that was amazing.

He referred to this demonstration as energy management, and boy did he manage it. After he did the normal loops and aileron rolls he would tell the crowd what would happen next.

He shut off both engines and did another complete loop. The plane of course is perfectly silent in the air. All you would hear is the wind whistling over the wings in the fuselage.  He’s on the radio talking to the crowd as cool as a cucumber.

After he did the loop he would talk to his announcer over the radio and make an informal bet. With the engines still off, he would bet that he could  land and taxi to the announcer within, say, 10 feet.

He lands the plane and more often than not he  coasted right up to the announcer with the dead engines.

After seeing this for so many years I can’t say that I ever became blasé about it but I knew he could do it.

The thing is I’ve never known any other pilot who could do this.

He was equally adept with his P 51 Mustang that was painted yellow.

In fact for many years he would leave the unlimiteds out on the course, say “gentleman you have a race” and climb out and monitor the proceedings 500 feet higher or so.

And he coached countless racers with engine problems on landing their planes with the dead stick landing.

I was told he was up at Reno this year, and I went into the paddock area to see if I could find him.  But he had gone by the time I got there.

Most years you would find him there  in his trademark Straw hat happy to autograph his book for you.

Fairwinds and following seas, Bob.








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The NR-1, a nuclear submarine with tires

I highly recommend this fascinating story of the undersea during the Cold War and afterwards.  You can read it for free at the internet site:

or (better yet) go to the Home Page there and purchase the eBook for $4.99.

It is a fascinating read, and near the end you run across Ballard.


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The Courage of One’s Uncertainties

By lex, on February 13th, 2004

I was listening to NPR yesterday, on the way home. There was a eulogy on for Eric Severeid, the retired CBS commentator. He spoke in his last editorial about the need to maintain the courage of one’s uncertainty, when faced with so much implacable and deadly conviction, or words to that effect. That struck a nerve with me – yes, that’s about right, I thought.

‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”

– W.B. Yeats, from “The Second Coming “

There are so many things in motion now in our culture now; I guess there always have been. And on so many of them, I am not quite sure where I stand – I occupy the restless middle, while zealots on either side look for heretics to burn and hang metaphoric burning tires around the necks of their adversaries. So little room is left inside the public sphere for people of good intent to disagree, in civility and mutual respect.

There is a movement afoot in support of gay marriage, with the Massachusetts Supreme Court equating such marriage with a fundamental human right, that cannot in a free society, be denied to all of its citizens. This argument has the element of reason to me, an element of fairness. And who among us is harmed if some three percent of our polity decides to wed a consenting someone of the same sex? For those who take such umbrage at this idea, I wonder if they even know any mainstream gay people. Not the ones that try to rub their sexuality in the face of middle America, those people are acting out, and these types of actions are not limited to the gay and lesbian community, witness the equally offensive 56 hour marriage of pop icon and teen idol Britney Spears. I’m talking about those quiet folks who have houses, careers, lives and loves they share in common, who happen to be of the same gender. They are asking the state to recognize the reality that exists, the world as it is.

I cannot believe that people choose to be gay, in the face of all the social opprobrium that would attend to such a choice, but that they are somehow acting in the way that their God or nature made them. If they are as committed to each other as “normal” people, who are we to stand in the way of them formalizing this commitment?

Homosexual acts are as revolting to me personally, as I am sure heterosexual acts are to gays, but no one is asking me to marry inside my gender – besides, the Hobbit would kick my butt. Perhaps that’s a bad choice of words…

Anyway, I’m aware that for some religious folk there are scriptural reasons why homosexuality is considered taboo, but so is shellfish and pork in the Old Testament, and Christians have found a way around those earlier objections. I find nothing in any of Jesus’ words that speaks to the issue one way or the other, beyond a general theme of inclusiveness in God’s salvation, freely offered to all.

Paul wrote the some of the most beautiful words in the bible, in my view, when he wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“13:1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 13:2And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 13:3And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. 13:4Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 13:5doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; 13:6rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; 13:7beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 13:8Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. 13:9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 13:10but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. 13:11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 13:12For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. 13:13But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

But a little later he wrote:

“As in all the churches of the saints, 14:34let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. 14:35And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Which is a little hard to reconcile, these days. We have moved on, since then. And my own church rests on a three-legged stool of scripture, reason and tradition, believing that one of God’s principal gifts to us is the ability to use our minds to wrestle with these issues, and try to divine the intent of the Divine.

But I do not think these people are agitating for the right to the sacrament of marriage in the church that opposed that intent. Such an agitation would be an obvious breach of the 1st Amendment’s wall of separation between church and state. Importantly, that would breach the framers’ actual intent of the 1st Amendment, i.e., against the state meddling with the church, and not as the weapon it has come to be used, for driving faith out of the public sphere:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

On the other hand (and you had to know this was coming), I cannot foresee the consequences of so enormous a shift in one of the fundamental underpinnings of our society, and that concerns me. I believe in the law of unintended consequences. I know that some people are rightly concerned that having opened the door to state sanction of unconventional marriage, there is a slippery slope argument that goes to bigamy and polyamory, if not worse.

And, having recognized homosexual marriages, we in the military will shortly be stuck with dealing with the social consequences in our ships, and tents and office places and on-base housing, and that won’t be fun or easy, and I can promise you that we have far, far better things to spend our time and efforts on.

And from a pragmatic perspective, the only reason (it seems to me) that the state is even interested in marriage, and to the rights and privileges that appertain to that condition, is that it encourages the ideal, two-parent environment for raising the next generation that contributes to the state’s continued existence. If gays can’t have children, then why should the state encourage or recognize their commitment to each other? What business is it of ours?

Oh, I know – lots of heterosexuals get married who either don’t want children, or are unable, or are beyond their childbearing years. As a practical matter, we don’t want the state meddling too closely in that aspect of our lives, or making those sorts of distinctions for us, in social or fiscal policy.

So the debate goes back and forth in my head, with my conservative brain saying, “Don’t rush in, think about the extended consequences, stick with what you know works” while the libertarian side says, “Who cares? Everyone must find beauty where they can, and the more love there is in the world, surely the better off we all shall be.”

I guess I wish that we could settle on some sort of compromise, “civil unions” perhaps, with all the necessary rights and privileges, and stop talking about it. But once again the opponents on either side would be left without a foe to demonize, so compromise must be ruled out. And in the meantime, I can’t figure it out, so I’ve committed to retaining the courage of my uncertainties.


A similar conundrum revolves around the issue of human cloning. It’s only for stem cell research we are told, there is potential to ameliorate the lives of so many people, while everyone (well, nearly everyone) agrees that cloning for human reproduction is morally repugnant.

But I’ve got real problems with creating human life only to destroy it, to in fact craft a law that states that such life must be destroyed, for someone else’s benefit. Oh sure, a clone cell cluster doesn’t look like you or me, but we don’t resemble what we looked like 20 years ago either, or in our mother’s wombs, just prior to delivery. Or in the month prior to that…

But on the other hand, I don’t have liver disease (just yet) and don’t have to tell the patient that does that no replacement organs are on offer, or that the ones available aren’t suitable because of the likelihood of rejection. Or the burn victim that he or she must always be traumatized, that nothing can be done, when in fact it could be.

This one’s a little easier for me, I’m deeply skeptical – but I’m trying to keep an open mind.


Some things I am relatively apathetic about:

Did President Bush make all his guard drills, 30 years ago? Don’t care. It was a long time ago.

Did Senator Kerry dip his quill in the wrong inkwell? Doesn’t matter all that much to me. It’s between him and his millionaire heiress wife, with her lawyers and pre-nuptials.

But some things matter to me deeply:

I’d love to hear a civil debate about the competing visions of domestic policy that each political party has. And then, if it’s not too much to ask, I’d like to know how much it’s actually going to cost, and where that money is going to come from.

I am concerned that scorched-earth domestic political campaigning drives a wedge between the people and the government of, by and for that people, just when we’re embarked in a long, costly, drawn out war against a patient, fascist enemy. It makes us question who we are, and who the person next to us is. It makes us wonder if he’s “one of them, or one of us.”

I am concerned that the politics of personal destruction offers aid and comfort to our enemies, and may actually embolden them.

I am concerned that the political philosophy of “win at any cost,” may cost us all a great deal more than we have reckoned on.

I think that if you have a bumper sticker on your car that says, “Anyone but (fill in the guy’s name you don’t like),” then you are a part of the problem in our civil discourse.

I think it’s time for us to realize that we’re all in this together, and that no matter who wins in November, we’ve still got a long, hard fight ahead of us.

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Crossing the line


By lex, on February 3rd, 2004

You probably aren’t aware of this, but the odds are that you, gentle reader, are a slimy polliwog.

Unless of course you have crossed the equator in a Navy warship, been introduced to King Neptune, and kissed the baby’s belly.

The line is the equator, of course – and crossing the equator for the first time qualifies you as a slimy wog, the lowest form of sea life. 

But not to worry, the Trusty Shellbacks in the crew will partner with King Neptune and his retinue to bring you into the fold, after a suitable cleansing.

The Crossing of the Line ceremony on Navy ships is a received tradition, believed to date back to the Viking days (although their parallel was almost certainly something north of the equator). Passed on by them the Angles, thence to the Anglo-Saxons, thence to the Royal Navy and then to us.

I first crossed the line in June of 1987 – it was after we’d finished our line period in the North Arabian Sea, and were wending our way home, via Australia. As we closed within several degrees north of the equator, there was a suspicious whirr of activity among those of my shipmates that had cruised before; conversations whispered behind hands, evil grins and an obvious sense of anticipation. Preparations for something nefarious were clearly in a forward state of readiness as the equator approached.

The day prior to our crossing, the minds of all the uninitiated on the ship were preoccupied only with this question: If we flush the toilet exactly at the equator, which way will the water spin as it drains?

That night, preparing for the evening movie in the ready room, our wa was disturbed by an announcement over the ship’s loudspeaker system. Someone claiming in a stentorian tones to be Davy Jones, and representing the interests of one King Neptune, was essentially asking the ship’s CO what the hell he thought he was doing, bringing all these slimy polliwogs into the King’s domain? The CO averred that he had in fact sinned, but offered to make up for his miscreancy by conducting a cleansing ceremony, starting that very night.

The novices among us went to sleep that night somewhat unsettled in our minds, and wondering what the morrow would bring.

In the event, it brought a pounding on our doors at a very early hour – the veterans of our crew waited without, dressed in appallingly self-made pirate gear, garishly painted about their faces and swearing energetically into our uncomprehending faces.

They claimed to be Trusty Shellbacks, and it seemed we were expected to put our khaki pants on inside out, wear only a t-shirt and boots, and duck walk down to the ready room. Duck walking is just like it sounds – you bend over at the waist and with your hands behind your back, and you waddle around the passageways squatting on your haunches. Rather than quack like a duck, you are required to grunt “wog, wog” with each step.

Now, even for a young and supple Lex, it was no simple feat to duck walk down the series of ladders and hatches that made up our nautical home. Once arriving in the ready room, we were subjected to several of the more familiar and lesser humiliations until sunrise. At that moment, sensing a lessening in the intensity of our harasser’s interest and a momentary shift in the balance of power (several of them had gone to the head), we polliwogs fomented a brief rebellion, which was ruthlessly put down by the returning shellbacks.

Our time having come, we were asked to crawl up to the hangar bay on hands and knees. While waiting for an aircraft elevator to take us to the flight deck, various members of the shellback mafia treated us to tests of physical endurance while chastening the large muscles between the back of our legs and our lower back with the caress of a shillelagh – a cut down piece of fire hose. It didn’t really hurt at all, but it did make a satisfying (for the shellbacks) “thwack” as it struck home.

We got eventually to the elevator, and having been hosed down by several fire hoses, energetically applied at a volume sufficient to save a burning apartment building, we made it to the “roof.” Once there we were introduced to more crawling around on hands and knees in unspeakably filthy slime, and we were doused again with colored water. Once cleansed, we were asked to “kiss the baby” (the belly of the ship’s most obese chief – I do not want to even try to guess where this tradition came from) and were finally introduced to King Neptune and his retinue.

The King, behind his locks of hempen hair and beard, looked suspiciously like the ship’s Supply Officer. A retinue of “Wog Queens,” female sailors, who had avoided our fate by dressing in a most provocative manner, attended him. Some of them looked pretty damn cute, actually.

Which was strange, because this was 1987, and there were no females at sea on warships, in those days.

And it occurred to me on closer observation that these were not females at all. There were far too many Adam’s apples, among all those Eve’s.

One of the things I never figured out (because I was afraid of what the answer might be) was how it came to pass that these Wog Queens, in exchange for avoiding the more uncomfortable aspects of the crossing the line ceremony, managed to cruise for four and a half months with brassieres, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels stowed away in the very little space available to a Sailor at sea, while waiting for Just This Day!

I’ll also point out that the Navy no longer countenances certain aspects of this ceremony – the physical abuse for example, as gentle as it was, is mostly gone. Wog Queens are seen no more.

I do not miss them, personally.

The King gave us a dressing down, gave us a shower and welcomed us into the fold. It was all good fun, when all was said and done – it broke up the monotony of a long and uneventful transit, and gave all of us initiates something to look forward to on our next deployment.


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The Way Things Work

January 30, 2004

By lex

My spare daughter, the Kat, was teaching the Hobbit how to use mapquest on her iBook. With the mission accomplished, the Kat came over to me and mentioned what a “boring” job (boring being the ultimate pejorative, for a 9-year old) it must have been to fill in all those street addresses, all through America.

I mean San Diego, maybe – but in every city?

I smiled and told her that there must have been some sort of database that they tapped into, to get the best driving instructions and how long a trip might take.

But then it occurred to me, I hadn’t a clue how mapquest really worked. It just did.

It is commonly said that we live in an information age. But our access to knowledge is greater now than our ability to assimilate it.

The human animal as it is now known has evolved over the last 130,000 years. Human civilization dates back probably no more than 7,000 years, following hard on the heels of the development of agriculture.

And in that 130,000 years of time, up until sometime perhaps in the late industrial period, everything that could be known, could be known by one reasonably intelligent person. I’m not talking about the vast volumes of literature, although the recognized “renaissance men” of the 18th and 19th century could quote long lines of text from memory, in ancient Greek.

I’m talking technology.

In the early 19th century, as Lewis and Clark started their fabled expedition across the American continent, they went no faster than a horse could walk. And that limit had existed for nearly as long as civilization itself. The speed of a fast horse was the limit of human imagination in the realm of time and distance. It was the pace of life, and it had been for thousands of years. No one had any idea that things would ever be any different.

Not long after came the “iron horse,” and time and space were fundamentally changed. But you could still understand it – the technology, I mean. Wheels and rails and steam engines.



The first steam engine was created by the ancient Greeks, an inventor named Heron . It was no more than a toy to him, but it was the first time that water and fire had been harnessed to create motive force via steam.


Now think about this: Nuclear power plants, including those found aboard US Navy aircraft carriers, use the energy created by the controlled fission of radioactive material to make heat. This heat is used to create steam. Which powers the turbines that drive the engines that give the carrier motive force.

In 2200 years, we’ve managed to find a better way to make steam. That’s all.

But do you understand how? Could you do it yourself?


There was a breaking point that occurred sometime either late in the 1800’s, or early in the 1900’s, no later, certainly, than the 1950’s. No one observed this breaking point, but it existed nonetheless. It was the moment when we had specialized in the understanding of our exploding technological prowess to the point that the reasonably intelligent man could no longer encompass all the world’s technological development within his understanding.

Look around the room you are now in, the things that inhabit your daily life, that you take for granted. Some of these things you could, yourself, create – the glass that cover’s the picture of your children – you could probably do that, given time, although it is likely that quality would suffer. The paper that you printed out for those mapquest directions, you could probably also manage.

But what about the CRT you’re reading this on? Or the computer it’s hooked up to? Perhaps some of you are computer engineers, and could replicate that, given time and resources. Perhaps.

But how many of you hardware engineers could successfully operate the laser being used 15 miles away for scaling away the plaque on a heart patient’s aorta?

How many of you could create the laser? Or the tools that were used to create the laser?

And of those who could do that, who among you could open up the avionics bay of an FA-18, remove one of the circuit boards in the weapons computer, and re-install its replacement?

You are an educated and gifted group of readers, not least because you visit this site 😉 (and because you have access to computers, and the internet).

But imagine that you were transported back in time, pick any time – let’s say 1840 – could you, with the knowledge you have of the technology that enriches our lives, that we don’t even spare a moment to think about, because it’s there in front of you every day, could you, gentle reader, even tell your new friends how to make the tools, that make the tools, that make this technology? The reciprocating engine, fuel injection, light bulbs, missile guidance systems… the imagination wanders.

We specialize because we must. And because we are social animals, we collectively profit from our shared skills and knowledge.

But can you imagine what our grandchildren will think, of how primitive our existence was?


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Navy Training, Sir!

By lex, on January 14th, 2004

Say what you want about the Navy training program – there’s no small amount to criticize…

But it works. It works really, really well. I didn’t know how well until I got a taste of the “dark side.” Civil aviation.

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Friday Musings

Fri – May 21, 2004

By lex

Because you know you want it…

First off, let me say that, having spent a week back at work after a week essentially screwing off, I have come to the conclusion that (for me, anyway), there is little which is inherently ennobling in labor, per se. I certainly feel that it’s important that the rest of you keep working, in order to keep those tax receipts coming in to the federal guvnmint, not least because that’s where I draw my salary from, and eventually (it is to be hoped) my retirement.

My dad couldn’t stand retirement, I honestly think it was the death of him. And no matter how much I honor his memory, and thank him for all that he did for me, I think I’m safe in saying that in this, at least, we are very different men.

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    Right now I’m just sitting at an In N’ Out waiting for my cheeseburger.

I just went for my monthly blood test at our local VA.  On my way into the building a young woman was exiting with a leg prothesis.  She had lost her leg almost at the hip.

People like her make me very humble about my own military service. Here I ended up traveling over most of Europe when I wasn’t in a radar bunker talking to missile batteries in Germany.

Some gave a lot more than others; some gave all.

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Hugs and the end of innocence

By lex, on October 23rd, 2003

Observations on middle school social rituals

This is the Biscuit on the right, child number two after her sixth grade graduation last Spring. A sixth grader! Top of the heap. She has won the school prize for scholarship in science, and her parents are ready to burst with pride.

Fast forward through a San Diego Summer, lazy days at the beach, untold hours on IM, the occasional book…

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