Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day. Three days off. Summer gets the green flag. Your free time thoughts turn to longer days, trips to the beach, and maybe the odd, unfortunate round of golf, which was almost certainly energy better spent on that derelict back yard.

But this year's Memorial weekend also follows closely the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. If you know me, you know I've spent too much of my own free time studying the history of this conflict and the individuals and nations that started, endured, perished, and prevailed and within it. As an American, I am in shameless awe of the experience of ordinary men and women from our country who served — a few were direct relatives of mine, others family friends, but most are just names on pages or chiseled on simple marble crosses that cover a bluff overlooking the English Channel.

My father and I visited the beaches of Normandy in Autumn of 2000. We trekked from London, then across the Channel through northern France and Belgium, and then western and southern Germany, seeing virtually no physical evidence in modern Europe of this great conflict outside of some neoclassical monuments, quiet cemetaries, and esoterically assembled museums. But the fact that Europe and much of the wider world thrives as it does today is probably the greatest testament to the sacrifices millions made to restore order to a world spun impossibly off its axis by fascism and failed politics.

We made this admittedly nostalgic tour just as the Palestinian intifada flared up and less than a year before September 11. We were ignorant to the clues that the new century would be so conflict-wracked at home and especially abroad. In fact, it wasn't a stretch for us then to think of the American soldier as fascinating historical actor, far removed from present-day combatant under fire. That view was as comforting as it was fleeting and false. If you trust the interpretations of Steven Spielberg, Joseph Vilsmaier, and Terrence Malick, combat is sanity-shearing, random, unsentimental slaughter. The only thing that matters to any soldier in those moments is the buddy right next to him. Thoughts of king and country, flags and fathers, and other patriotic notions are strictly for the novelists and recruiting posters.

Regardless of your passions around current American foreign policy and historical triumphs and blunders, I hope you can take a few moments today and think about how difficult it must be to serve your country but not enjoy its relative safety, everyday pleasures and simplest beauties. The ultimate sacrifice is still to give your own life, but there are a hundred thousand smaller sacrifices every minute of every day that only merit individual remembrance and regret. It's the activated reservist in Mosul who's watching his twins crawl for the first time via webcam. It's the father in Wyoming whose morning inbox is empty two days in a row for the first time since his son's unit returned to Ramadi. It's the medevac pilot in Bagram who longs to drive her kid sister for ice cream. All of these people deserve a moment of your consideration today. Maybe tomorrow, as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Northern Northern Illinois

Just saw this posting over on the WGN weather blog: Aurora Borealis over Woodstock. Pretty cool photos of the famous "Northern Lights" right near here. I used to think you had be quite a bit further north to see this stuff, but apprently a Yukon forwarding address is not a requirement.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ghost writing the industry response?

I posted the following about two general aviation pilot's infamous errand within Washington D.C.'s highly restricted airspace earlier this week:
"I can tell you right now that a Cessna 150 is filed on every Al Qaeda cell lead's Thinkpad under "Martyr Operation aircraft of very last resort, Insh'allah." It weighs less than a Ford Focus and has a usable cargo load of about 300 pounds, excluding the pilot. Packed with C-4 or some similar explosive, sure, it could cause trouble. I think our foes are still thinking bigger than this, however."

Meanwhile, Phil Boyer, president of AOPA, the principal airplane owner/pilot's association in the United States, had this to say in interviews with the mainstream media:
"A Cessna 150 is an extremely small two-seat airplane. Even fully loaded it weighs significantly less than a Honda Civic. It's simply incapable of doing much damage," said Boyer. "From what we can tell, these pilots simply made the mistake of getting lost in some of the most complex and highly regulated airspace in the country."

Please. "Ford Focus" is so much more evocative. Plus, I was like, all specific and stuff with that usable load business. Get a blog affiliate network assembled and working on your behalf, Phil. Preach!


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

"Cessna 59 Bravo Charlie, what the hell you lookin' at?"

From this wire story about an airspace breach over Washington, D.C.:

"The incident began at 11:28 a.m., when Federal Aviation Administration radar picked up the aircraft, a small two-seater Cessna 150 with high wings, officials said. The aircraft breached the security zone over Washington, law enforcement officials said, prompting alerts across the city."

I can tell you right now that a Cessna 150 is filed on every Al Qaeda cell lead's Thinkpad under "Martyr Operation aircraft of very last resort, Insh'allah." It weighs less than a Ford Focus and has a usable cargo load of about 300 pounds, excluding the pilot. Packed with C-4 or some similar explosive, sure, it could cause trouble. I think our foes are still thinking bigger than this, however.

The airspace around the Capitol is delineated as an ADIZ airspace, which is basically barbed wire in the sky for general aviation pilots (like those of a Cessna 150). It's exceedingly well-documented and publicized for any pilot who opens a chart, calls for a flight briefing, or reads any aviation periodical. However, the fact that the government reaction to an aircraft of this size was to hustle every lawmaker of note out of his/her office and into a black Suburban convoy suggests that the Feds haven't figured out how to, er, nuance a proportionate response to security threats. As a pilot, I can see two sides of this one:
  1. Any legal pilot flying near Washington DC has to be nuts to come close to this airspace. In fact, it's printed with bright red hashmarks on a standard aeronautical chart.

  2. The government might not scramble $100M worth of security hardware every time a general aviation incursion occurs.

My conclusion? We live in an era that no longer believes it can afford common sense at any price. Sure, I'm probably just another pilot with a rant; I guess I have my reasons.

Update: Looks like these pilots were well-enough informed but apparently confused: "Troy was discussing with me last night after they made their flight plans all about the no-fly zones and how they were going to avoid them. He said they were going to fly between two different restricted areas." I guess I wouldn't even think of attempting that without a GPS.


Tuesday, May 3, 2005

New Yorker Caption Contest: Now a Weekly Fix

Last December I blogged a bit about The New Yorker's annual cartoon caption contest and my entry. (I didn't merit a finalist nod, but I was happy to have gotten a fair shot in.) Dick and have since noticed that The New Yorker has elevated the contest to weekly status. That's right -- once a week, it's your chance to caption the funniest single-panel humor going in periodicals. They've modified the original contest format to involve a reader vote on three selected finalists, but I'd venture the competition's as talented as ever.

I'm planning to submit an entry each week until I'm asked to "please stop doing that."