Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

30 June 2010

A Magical Day

It was a simple flight, really. Take the boss somewhere, drop him off and come home. Forty minutes out, forty minutes back. Done it a hundred times. But yesterday was different. Yesterday was strange.

Some days I’m much more self-aware than others. Some days, it’s like I’m in the cockpit with myself as an outsider, a third-party watching the other me fly the helicopter, while at the same time doing and feeling it directly. It’s an odd, almost out-of-body experience. I can see myself moving the sticks around…unconsciously, intuitively…and think to myself, “How does he know how to do that?” Because he…I…know that I’m not consciously telling my hands what to do; they just do it…somehow. Like I say, it’s quite odd.

And yesterday was one of those rare days when everything went perfectly. The air was so glassy smooth that it seemed almost unreal. I didn’t make any of my usual screw-ups. And the helicopter was doing its part, running exceptionally well.

You wouldn’t think that a mechanical device like an aircraft would fly differently from one day to the next, but it happens. And it’s hard to explain. A helicopter has many moving pieces, and things that don’t normally move but have a certain amount of allowable movement (or “play”) built in (like the transmission and engine mounts, say). These things have to fit “just right” with each other, and they usually do. However, sometimes the flight loads and power settings can combine to strain these moving parts ever so slightly. The parts can still be within their allowable movement tolerances, but not exactly their “sweet spot.”

And yesterday, all the bearings, bits, shafts, and other assorted moving pieces had found their perfect harmonic “set.” Nothing was even slightly out of whack. I reached up and affectionately patted it on the top of the instrument panel, “You’re flying good today, girl.” (I don’t know why we refer to aircraft as a “she” but we do.)

On the way home, as I approached our airport, the Navy had a few trainer planes in the pattern as usual. Not wanting to interfere with them, I dropped down low over the trees and swung around to come in from the north, over the river. The wind was still dead-calm so it didn’t matter which way I landed.

I made a textbook shallow approach to the taxiway that leads into the ramp. Then I slowly hovered over to where I parked the wooden platform that we land on. This is the tricky bit, getting exactly positioned. We pilots can be a bit anal about things like this – at least, I am. Although the helicopter can be pretty much anywhere on the platform left/right and fore/aft as long as it doesn’t fall off, I like it right here, with that skid tube on that stripe. Most times, I set it down and then have to “jiggle” it a little bit to put it in the right spot or to straighten it out. Some days it takes two or three tries to get it right. Yesterday, I hovered in and eased it down so smoothly and nicely that I had to shake my head in disbelief. You know the feeling when you have to parallel-park your car and you do it perfectly on the first try? Yeah, it’s like that.

This is the platform we land on, and the tug we use to pull the ship in and out of the hangar. The helicopter says "Police" on the side because we were using it in conjunction with the Sheriff's Department during an anti-drug presentation they were putting on at elementary schools throughout the county. When the girl at the decal place asked if it was legal for me to put big "POLICE" lettering on the side of the aircraft, I said, "Hell, I dunno. If the cops don't care, I don't care!"

Whenever I have such flights as yesterday's, I always ask myself, “Why can’t I do this all the time?” There have been days when nothing seems to go right: I’m always “behind” the aircraft; I make more mistakes than a student pilot on his first solo flight away from the airport; and when I get back home I can’t put it on the dolly to save my life. Usually this is when the Navy geeks are watching. Normally our little airport is pretty dead, people-wise. But occasionally some Navy guys will be hanging around, and everybody likes to come watch the helicopter land! Those are the days when I’m usually not on my best game, of course.

I don’t know why it is that some flying days are better than others. But yesterday was magical. If only I could figure out a way to make that happen all the time.

25 June 2010

McChrystal's Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

You’d have to be living in a cave to have missed the fiasco involving General Stanley McChrystal the other day. And I’ll bet that even our favorite cave-dweller, Osama Bin Laden has heard as well.

But for those who don’t have kidney dialysis machines and big-screen TV’s in their "cave," let me recap: A reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine spent some time hanging around with U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal and his staff. McChrystal is...was...the commander of all of the military in our war in and on Afghanistan. He is known to be blunt and outspoken.

The Rolling Stone reporter captured McChrystal and his men in…shall we say, “rare form,” mouthing off on everything and everyone in their path. Hoo-boy, did they mouth off! Anyway, upon publication of the article, McChrystal was summoned to Washington D.C. where he was - to the surprise of no one with even half a brain - relieved of his command.

Wait…was it even “rare form?” Stan McChrystal has made it a habit to spout off like that. He’d already been called on the carpet of a certain blue and white Boeing 747 by President Obama once before, at which time he was basically told to shut the hell up and be a good little soldier like that General Patraeus over there.

Career soldiers know a couple of things.

1) They know not to criticize the Commander In Chief, or any other superior, whether or not they consider that person a superior. It’s career-suicide. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (Subchapter X, Sec. 888 Art 88) even specifies that you will not publically ridicule certain people – and then it lists them. It is an offense punishable by court-martial.

2) Career military men certainly know that anything you say to a reporter – especially a reporter for a left-wing hippie rag like Rolling Stone Magazine is going to get printed. No matter how drunk you are (on beer or power or both), you don’t make fun of the President or Vice President of the United States.

Not if you like your job.

Hmm. Not if you like your job?

So here’s the thing. McChrystal is not a dumb man. Far from it. I think he wanted to get fired. I think he was tired of the job, tired of not being able to fight the war his own way, tired of Obama…just tired of the whole deal. The article mentioned that he only got home to see his wife maybe 30 days out of the year. Some life. Personally, I think he was just tired of it.

Quitting might have seemed like an obvious move to you or me, but not to guys like McChrystal; they’re not quitters. (Plus, it’s not like McChrystal could have said, “Mr. President? I really don’t want to do this job anymore. Can you replace me, please?”) For McChrystal, quitting would have been out of the question – a sign of weakness. It’d be tantamount to him saying, “I give up! I can’t do it. The war can’t be won…by me or anyone. We’re fighting the Taliban, but the Taliban IS the Afghan people, and they don’t want us there in the first place.” Which is kind of the case.

We’re trying this “counter-intelligence” deal in Afghanistan. But that only works if the people we’re fighting are outsiders who have infiltrated a society. In the case of the Afghans, in many towns the Taliban live among them as family members. And we’re trying to get family members to give up their husbands and fathers and sons? Not bloody likely!

It is an impossible job. The Russians figured out after nine years. Finally, they said, “To hell with this – we’re going broke!” and bugged-out. Now the U.S. has stepped into a war in a country that has been at war more or less continuously since the time of...well, I was going to say "since the time of Genghis Khan." But given that the Mongols didn't even conquer Afghanistan until 1219, Ghengis was just a Khanny-come-lately in a country that been constantly at war since the 7th Century! And we arrogantly think we’re going to “win” it? And what constitutes “winning?” Even Obama doesn’t use the term.

I think McChrystal realized the futility of what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not merely trying to route out and crush some Al Queda terrorists before they can hatch their plans and come over here to perpetuate them. We’re throwing billions and billions of dollars to fight an enemy who is apparently as well-funded, well-armed and motivated as we are – because we sure ain’t “winning!”

But getting fired! Ahh, now there was something McChrystal could get behind. Especially being fired by President Obama, a man who is truly hated by some percentage of the world’s population. It would make the general a martyr. If McChrystal could get himself fired, he could leave with his head held high and his reputation intact. I can just see him stomping away, half-turning back to give Obama the finger. He’d tell the press, “By God, I said what I meant…what I believed. Screw ‘em! I'm sorry I ever voted for Obama.”

And yes, he did.

Getting fired by Obama is not exactly a bad thing. The Conservative Right adored McChrystal to begin with. He’s been elevated to God-like status now. If he ever wants a career in politics (because you know that all military men think they’re such experts at politics), the Republicans will champion him like the second coming of one R. Reagan (the actor who sat out WWII making propaganda films, not the gay son with the same name).

But even if McChrystal just wants to go home to the wife he only gets to see one month out of twelve, kick his feet up, crack open a cold Bud Light Lime and watch the new season MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” "Glee," and “So You Think You Can Dance,” he can do that. Hell, the man deserves that! He will not face a court-martial. Fox News will undoubtedly snap him up as one of those paid anti-Obama commentator/consultants. Hell, he could be the next Ollie North!

No, getting fired was not exactly a bad thing at all for Stanley McChrystal. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what he really wanted all along.

Want to read the actual Rolling Stone article?
The Runaway General by Michael Hastings

23 June 2010

Oil Spill June 23 Update: Black Goop

Ironically, on Wednesday morning my friend Bart Pullum optimistically posted on his Facebook page that all of Santa Rosa County's beaches were open for swimming and boating. I say "ironically" because as he was posting this, a large amount of oil was washing ashore on Pensacola Beach, which is in Santa Rosa County. And it was bad. Our Florida Governor, Charlie Crist happened to be in town to witness it and pose for a photo op. Talk about timing!

Here's the story from the Pensacola News Journal:


We've been lucky so far. The only oil we've seen have been in the form of tar balls. They've been heavy at times, but not this bad. In the News Journal story, people were also reporting a strong chemical smell along with the huge globs of black goop.

Large mats of oil - what they euphemistically (and appetizingly!) call "mousse" have reportedly entered Pensacola Bay, sparking a frantic effort to skim and clean them up before they get into the various little bayous, coves, nooks and crannies that line the bay.

However, just to the east, Navarre Beach remains clear.

And that's how it's going to go. One area will get hit hard for a couple of days. The onslaught of oil may then subside for a while, but other areas will get hit.

The liquid "mousse," which has been described as resembling melted Hershey's chocolate, may not be as easy to clean up as the semi-solid tar balls. Attempts at shoveling the "mousse" only result in getting it mixed with the sand - not a good thing.

I believe that in the really bad areas where liquid-ish oil washes up on the beaches, they're going to have to come up with some machine that can collect the sand, wash it and separate the oil out, then return the sand to the beach. Kids with shovels and plastic bags ain't gonna cut it; what we need is a modern-day Eli Whitney.

There is a lot of oil out there. The latest estimates are that the Deepwater Horizon well may actually be leaking as much as 60,000 barrels of oil or more into the Gulf. Folks, that's 252,000 gallons per day. And it's a far cry from the 1,000 barrels of oil BP estimated was leaking in the beginning. Turns out that they knew it was much worse than that even then.

Without a doubt, President Obama was slow to react to the seriousness and enormity of this situation. When he finally got up to speed and realized just how bad the leak was (much worse than BP was claiming), BP was still allowed to be in charge of both capping the well and the cleanup. Many people feel that the federal government should have taken over the cleanup effort - and should still!

(It's kind of funny, in a way, how so many people who are criticizing the Obama administration for being too "big government" are now calling for the government to take charge and do something about this mess. You just can't please everybody, I guess.)

In any event, the volume of oil in the Gulf grows by the day. As it does, it will be washing up in more and more places. I've said before that it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. All we can do is wait for BP to get the hole plugged by drilling the relief well. Hopefully that'll work.

But when will that be? God only knows. And He's not telling.

19 June 2010

Reducing Our "Dependence" on Foreign Oil: A cynic's point of view

President Obama says that we must eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.


Sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before? Ohhhhh yeaaaaaah.

I clearly remember 1973: the first “gas crisis” which occurred when OPEC shut us off due to our support of Israel. I remember days of not being able to buy gasoline at all, or waiting in long lines to buy what little was allowed that day. I remember President Nixon telling us that we had to rid ourselves of our “dependence on foreign oil.” And we all agreed. In theory.

The Nixon Administration even gave us the ill-fated Project Independence, which was supposed to end our “dependence” on foreign oil by lower consumption (conservation), developing alternative energy sources, diverting money to mass transit, and switching oil power plants to coal (such a deal!).

I remember President Ford saying the same thing. And then President Carter. Then Reagan. Then Bush. Then Clinton. Then the other Bush. Did I forget anyone?

And now President Obama tells us what we’ve known for nearly 40 years. Wow. What a friggin’ GENIUS!

Okay, but when are we actually going to DO something about it?

Lowering the national speed limit to 55 mph didn’t work. People “voted with their feet” and ignored it. Building small, fuel-efficient cars didn’t work. Remember the Chevy Chevette? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. Total piece of shit. Even worse than the Chevy Vega, which was bad enough to begin with.

1976 Chevette

Remember the first Honda Civic? Teeny-tiny little piece of shit. A toy of a car, actually. It made the VW Beetle seem big and roomy and substantial. The Civic looked stupid, and you looked stupid driving it. Pictures make it look bigger than it actually is. The car was so narrow as to be comical.

Original Honda Civic

Gradually, over the years the Civic got bigger and bigger, so that the current Civic is bigger than its big brother, the original Accord. And the Accord has become huge! Automakers figured out how to make big cars that get great gas mileage, and Americans didn’t (and don’t) want to cram themselves into clown-cars.

And as gas mileage improved, Americans saw less of a need to buy flimsy little shitboxes that we perceive would be unsafe in a wreck or that can’t tow a trailer. Thus, the Honda Civic grew into a substantial car, and we keep driving like there’s no tomorrow.

Why should we stop ? And how would we? What are the alternatives to driving? The government never did fund mass transit initiatives. Here in Pensacola, Florida there is no rail service to anywhere. Local bus service is all but nonexistent. To get anywhere, you have to drive.

So we aren’t going to be giving up our cars/trucks in the near future, that’s just a fact. We have to accept it and move forward with other ways of reducing our need for oil.

We Americans have come to cherish the freedom afforded to us by our personal transportation. We can hop in and drive from coast to coast if we want…no one to stop us. In fact, it is pretty much what defines our freedom: the ability to come and go as we please. We have come to see this as a right, something that we will not surrender easily.

But back in 1973, use of our automobiles was more circumspect. You had to plan trips more carefully, with gas availability in mind. There were times when we simply could not drive. Thus, our ability to use our cars in the arbitrary way of the past was gone.

And you know what? We adapted. It wasn’t fun, but we did what we had to do.

So here’s what we should do, and do now. The tax on gasoline must increase. And not just a little, but it’s got to go up to a point where it hurts – to the point where we’re forced to cut back on our driving.

I have a perfectly good motorcycle out in the garage. It gets 55-60mpg all the time. But do I use it when I have to run errands around town? Nope, I take the air conditioned, 18mpg Jeep. Now, would I cut back on driving the Jeep if gasoline doubled in price to $5.00/gallon? You betcha! (Actually, right now gasoline in the Pensacola area is about $2.58/gallon.)

Then, with the revenue increase from the gasoline tax, “alternative energy” sources could be funded and implemented. As Americans cut back on their driving, the demand for oil (both domestic and foreign) would lessen. Gradually, we could substitute foreign oil for our own. (That’s the fantasy, anyway.)

There is no question that we must keep drilling for oil. No matter how much we want the infernal internal combustion engine to go away, that’s just not going to happen overnight. Wanting “something else” is terrific, but what? It will take decades before a suitable, practical alternative could be in place. So. Let’s be realistic. Keep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (as safely as possible), and open up the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge (ANWR) to drilling too. We have no choice right now.

But dammit, let’s get started! We’ve heard the same bullshit from presidents for 40 years about the evils of foreign oil. One of them needs to get off his ass and DO something about it. I mean, a cynical person might get the idea that there’s something bigger going on – that in the interest of macro-economics or geo-politics or something, we really don’t want to eliminate our “dependence” on foreign oil.

But we’re not that cynical, are we?

18 June 2010

Selling Cat Food

And who doesn’t like cats?

Usually I avoid watching TV commercials, considering them an interruption and supreme annoyance. But my attention was grabbed by a soft, melodic tune reminiscent of something from the 1960’s. My head snapped to the tube, and there on the screen was some cat that was apparently having an LSD-induced hallucination. It was dancing with purple and blue, stork-legged turkeys and riding on a fish sailboat. There were flying cows and windmills on clouds. I stared at the screen slackjawed and went, “Whaaaaaa?”

The commercial is stunning...gorgeous. The music works perfectly with the lush visuals. Okay, Friskies, you got my attention.

Because I am obsessed with these things, I had to research it. Turns out that this commercial is the brainchild of a certified wacko named Erik Denno of the Avrett Free Ginsburg ad agency. It’s just the latest in a long-running ad campaign called “Feed The Senses." This particular spot is called, "Adventureland."

Denno reasoned that if we humans visualize Italy when we eat Italian food, say, then cats must also do something, err, similar. He wanted to create a world of flavors that a cat might experience when it ate Friskies cat food.


And he was serious.

So Erik put together a team of other LSD-takers (and apparently cat-lovers) who each contributed their part to make this whole thing come to life. The amount of work they put into it is astounding. Remember, it's cat food.

The spot is bizarre. There is of course a short (30-second) version and a longer one. Even in the 60-second commercial it's hard to catch all of the intricate detail and texture they put into it. You have to watch it online, pausing to study a scene that would otherwise flash by so briefly that you'd miss it.

It's amazing. I watch it and shake my head, staring at the screen and going, "Folks, it's just CAT FOOD!"

The comments to the YouTube video are great.

Fuzzfilm says: "Yes, the most awesome cat food commercial of all freekin time, I love it! What the hell were the ad hacks who came up with this smoking anyway!"

Lluvio3: "It's like Purina hired a bunch of animators on drugs to make the best commercial for cat food ever!"

Finally, Albeer45 sez: "My cat likes the food, but he thinks he's not the target audience for this campaign-its not masculine enough for him."

I know, I know...I get fascinated by the weirdest crap. After all, it's just a dang television commercial. And I mean, I don't even own a cat. Hell, I don't even like cats!

But I admire creativity. And Friskies produced a commercial so imaginative and compelling that it not only got me to watch it (forced me to watch it, actually), but to write about it in a blog. If that isn't hitting their mark perfectly, I don't know what is.

Bravo, Friskies!

YOUTUBE: The Making of Adventureland (It's worth watching, too)

17 June 2010

What Is General Aviation?

When I tell people that I’m a professional pilot, they usually ask what airline I fly for? I’ll bet you that most people in the country really don’t understand the difference between the airlines and General Aviation. To them, General Aviation is pretty invisible and/or inconsequential.

“General Aviation” comprises all civilian, non-airline flying. From flight training to corporate/business use, and everything in between: cargo, point-to-point charter, powerline and pipeline patrol, air ambulance, sightseeing, news-gathering, and yes, even private owner pleasure flying - it's all General Aviation.

The helicopter we fly falls under General Aviation. It is a tremendous help for my boss, letting him get things done much more efficiently. Our dealerships are spread out all over the whole state of Alabama. But we can visit two or three them in one day with the helicopter, landing right at the specific location. We have one board meeting that my boss must attend every month in a small town that’s not anywhere near an Interstate. When he used to drive, it took him three hours one-way. That was six hours total – the better part of a workday - spent in a car with limited productivity.

All across the country, General Aviation aircraft (both helicopters and airplanes) help businessmen do exactly what my boss does. They get people to places that are not served by the airlines. Say I had to go from Pensacola to, oh, Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 350 ground miles. There is no airline service, not even a commuter (we call them “regionals” now). Mapquest says it’s five hour and thirty-five minute trip by car – figure six hours. If I had a meeting in Huntsville, it would be a two-day affair.

In the helicopter it would take me a little under three hours to do the trip one-way, which is do-able but a little impractical (that's a loooong time to spend chugging along in a helicopter). Using an airplane like a twin-engine Cessna 421, the trip would only take about 1:15. It would be a piece of cake to fly up to Huntsville in the morning, have my meeting, and then fly back in the afternoon. This is what General Aviation does best.

Many pilots aspire to work for the airlines. There always was a certain romance to being an airline pilot. They were once held in high esteem by the general public. Sadly, those days are gone. Airline pilots suffer the same indignities that the rest of the flying public does: they have to remove their shoes and proceed through the security checkpoint with just as much suspicion aimed at them as anyone else in the airport. The job of “airline pilot” has lost its luster - and a lot of the respect that used to go along with it.

Some pilots, like me, have no desire to work for the airlines. I like it here in General Aviation, flying these wacky helicopters and doing the goofy things we invariably do. The pay isn’t great (compared to a 767 captain) and the benefits are awful. My schedule is…well…I’m just always on call, even if I don’t “work” a lot. (My friends think I don’t work at all.)

Jason Schappert, one of the guys who are doing that Flight Across America thing, is also a General Aviaton kind of guy. Here, he explains why he does what he does.

Jason and Vincent begin their month-long cross-country adventure tomorrow, Friday, June 18, 2010. They will be carrying across the country the message of how important General Aviation is to America. It's a worthy cause, and they need your support.

15 June 2010

Hanson: They're Back...

If you do not already, you’ll think I’m weird after this post. Bear with me. And do not judge.

I am a big fan of pop culture. I’m fascinated with the way that the American public latches onto certain fads or trends, then completely devours them before spitting them out like yesterday’s chewing gum and moves on to the next flavor du jour.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990’s there was this musical group called Hanson. They were three singing brothers from Tulsa, Okalahoma: Isacc, Taylor and Zac, aged 16, 13 and 11 respectively. You may remember a little song they had called, “MMMBop.” Unfair comparisons to groups like The Monkees and Jackson5 aside, the Hanson brothers played their own instruments (kind of) and wrote their own songs (sort of). Of course they had professional help. (Big-time professional help.)

I first saw the video for “MMMBop” in 1997 on a late-night MTV show called “120 Minutes” which usually previewed new and up-and-coming “alternative” artists, not boy-band pop groups. The song/video is ridiculously, infectiously catchy. The host even liked it a lot and opined that the song would be a big hit. He had no idea…

Of course, “MMMBop” was a monster hit for Hanson and launched their career. They were signed to Mercury Records. But in a strange twist of fate, Mercury got absorbed in a merger and ultimately dissolved. The boys found themselves on a record label called Island Def Jam. The management at Def Jam did not understand how to handle Hanson’s development.

The brothers ended up leaving the record label and striking out on their own. They stuck together, musically, and continued to put out a few well-reviewed if not well-received albums. But without major label promotion and the radio airplay it would have generated, they might as well have dropped off the face of the earth. Out with the old! Bands like ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys immediately stepped in and took Hanson's place. Out with the old (again)! Then the Jonas Brothers took their place.

Here we are in 2010. The brothers Hanson have just completed and released a new album called “Shout It Out” and they’re attempting the impossible: A comeback. But it's not that simple. Their former image carries with it a lot of baggage, a lot of it negative. I'm sure they look back on that "MMMBop" video and cringe. Nevertheless, they persevere. They’ve added a horn section for a more “rootsy,” Motown-ish sound. Question is: Should we care?

One song on the album, the first single and grammatically horrible, “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” seems, at first listen to be a direct rip-off of Ray Charles’ “What I Say?” The keyboard riff throughout is identical. Taylor even uses the title of that Ray Charles song in his lyrics, among obvious references to other songs like “these arms of mine,” “respect,” and “tainted love.” I was really predisposed to dislike the song. But I listened to it a second time. Oooooh, big mistake. It is unbelievably catchy – and you know how I am about these things. It is also just as long as it needs to be, and not one second longer. DAMN YOU, HANSON!

Then I saw the video. Oh, God.

The Hanson brothers make no excuse for their love of the great movie, “The Blues Brothers.” They realized that there’s a scene in it that really fits with this “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” song. It’s at a point where John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and their band visit a music store owned and run by an old black musician played by Ray Charles. (Look, it’s not a documentary, okay?) Ray offers to let the band try out some instruments, and they launch into a rendition of “Twist It (Shake Your Tailfeathers).” The music spills out onto the street, causing people to break out into spontaneous (and choreographed) dance. It’s a wonderful part of the movie. Then again, pick one part of that movie that wasn't completely awesome!

Hanson decided to remake that scene. They recreated the set, then dressed up actors, musicians and dancers the way they were in the movie. They went to a lot of trouble to get it right.

Ray Charles from the original scene

Taylor Hanson in the remake

The end result is not just a shot-for-shot remake but a loving homage to a classic movie that many of us hold as one of our favorites of all time. They could have screwed-up big-time here. They didn't.

To appreciate the Hanson video, you have to know the original. Here it is.

For Hanson’s version, Ray’s Music Exchange was changed to “Tay’s.” On the updated mural painted on the outside of the building is a huge picture of Ray Charles. Nice. Before you watch it, pay close attention to the first few seconds of the video before the music even starts. It’s simply amazing and hilarious. Watch for:

• Taylor’s wide-collar, polyester shirt just like the one Ray Charles wore
• The bass player in the green shirt on the left with the pipe in his mouth (details, details!)
• Isaac on the right in a dual role dressed up as a dead-ringer for famous guitarist Steve Cropper
• Isaac-as-Aykroyd ripping the piece of gaffer tape off the organ just like Aykroyd did
• Zac picking up the cowbell from the drummer (who is also Zac in a dual role)
• “Tambourine Guy” who unobtrusively slides into the shot at :20 seconds. Could it be?…Is it…yes, Weird Al Yankovic! Weird Al is the acknowledged master of the parody video. And he just flat steals this one.

You can see the effort the crew took in doing this. Shot with a relatively low-tech Canon video camera, the video has a strikingly different and unique look. I have to give Hanson credit. They took a classic movie and instead of just ripping it off and remaking the same song and scene, they went in a different direction yet at the same time paid “The Blues Brothers” a fittingly awesome tribute. I’m blown away.

It’s almost impossible…I challenge you!...to watch the video only once. The song is infectious enough by itself, but combined with the video it gets into your brain like crack. It’s just so damn fun to watch. It looks like everyone had a blast making it. The song has the potential to be this summer’s “Umbrella” or “Paparazzi.”

For me, the whole thing works on many levels. Isaac is 29 now, Taylor is 27, and Zac is 24. They're not kids anymore. I’m happy to see Hanson grown up, still together and still making arguably good music (your taste may vary, but I love this song). I'm happy to see Weird Al Yankovic getting the recognition he deserves.

Hanson's professional career has so far spanned thirteen years. After all, The Beatles only lasted ten years. But then, they weren’t actually brothers. And I'm not equating Hanson with The Beatles, only saying that as a band, The Beatles did not last all that long. They couldn't make that tough transition from teenage boys who played music together to adults doing the same.

Speaking of other bands…and brothers…and bands of brothers…I can just imagine the Jonas Brothers watching this video and going, “Holy shit. We’re so screwed. They’re back.”

Yep, as the computer kids would say these days, the JoBros just got pwned.

13 June 2010

Boycott BP: ARE YE NUTS?!

I understand everyone’s anger at BP. I get it. We see the Big, Bad Foreign Company that is befouling our environment. We see the unstoppable oil spewing from the well. We see their flippant CEO making inappropriate comments on TV. It just pisses us off.

I also see a growing movement to boycott BP. And to this I ask: WHAT ARE YOU IDIOTS THINKING?!

We need BP to be healthy and strong. We need this so BP can continue to pay for the cleanup, and to compensate those people and businesses that have been harmed by BP’s actions. We do NOT need BP filing bankruptcy, washing their hands of this whole deal and walking away.

If you want to be angry at someone/something, let’s be angry at ourselves. Other countries have stricter safety standards for offshore drilling than the U.S. We're the ones who drive gas-guzzling SUV's instead of a Toyota Prius (I'm guilty here). We're the ones with the instatiable need for oil and the products that come from it. We, the people have allowed our government to allow companies to drill for this oil “out there.”

We act like there’s some huge barrier between the Louisiana waters and the Florida waters. Or that the "Louisiana oil industry" is a million miles away. Or that a "deepwater" well must be really far out there...like down by Mexico probably! Only now we realize just how close Louisiana’s “deepwater” drilling industry is to Florida.

It is only 110 miles from Pensacola Pass (1) to MC252 (2), the location of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Not very far. And today Pensacola Pass will be shut down and boomed-up during incoming tides, as there are large amounts of oil all along the gulf coast, ready to come into our inlets and bays with the tidal flow. More and more oil is washing up on our beaches. Large underwater plumes have been sighted just offshore, despite BP CEO Tony Hayward’s contention that they do not exist. What started out as a small amount of tarballs has become something quite a bit larger. As we knew it would.

These containment booms are not 100% effective. They are certainly not effective at preventing the passage of oil that is not on the surface. They do not work well in rough, choppy water where they are easily topped.

And, in today’s Pensacola News Journal there is a story that some boaters, eager to get out and exercise their God-given right to enjoy their boats, have driven right over these containment booms and damaged them. Authorities are considering criminal charges…as soon as they figure out just what they could charge these boaters with.

It is a horrible situation. Here on the gulf coast, many of our lives have been changed in a very profound and negative way as we deal with this oil. This event will not be over quickly. Even after BP eventually caps that well, the oil will not simply stop. I suspect that tarballs will be washing up on our shores for a very long time to come. It’s enough to make you fighting mad.

But calling for a boycott of BP products is not in anyone’s best interest. We need BP to stick around and clean this up.

11 June 2010

Flying Across America

Over the years there have been many promotional-type of events in aviation. Usually they involve some sort of record-setting goal, like the infamous Jessica Dubroff. You might remember the big controversy over her. Back in 1996, Jessica was a seven year-old “student pilot.” Purportedly, she wanted to become the “youngest person to fly an airplane across the country.” Except she wasn’t…a pilot, that is. She had to have a licensed pilot along who was really the pilot-in-command, not Jessica. Sadly, not even two days into the flight, the airplane crashed in Wyoming after taking off in very bad weather. Everybody onboard was kiled, which included Jessica, her father, and the real pilot.

But not all such promotional endeavors end in tragedy. There is a book called
“Flight of Passage.” It tells the story of two brothers from New Jersey (one 15, and one 17) who flew a Piper Cub across the country to California and back in 1966. They did it just for the fun of it, not to set any records or become media darlings. Indeed, there was no internet back then (duh), and although their father tried hard to arrange media coverage along their route, it was spotty. The boys made the flight in relative anonymity.

The “Flight of Passage” brothers did not count on it, but they did receive generous help from people they met along the way – some who’d heard of their flight, but many who had not. Yet others in aviation were willing to help out, because that’s the kind of community we are.

Which brings us to Jason Schappert and Vince Lambercy. Jason is from central Florida and Vince is from Switzerland. They’re both bloggers. A casual online exchange between them sparked the idea of flying Jason’s Cessna 150 across the country because…well, just because. The idea grew into plans, and voila! their trip begins on June 19th from Dunellon, Florida (just west of Ocala).

Oh, there are “official” reasons for the trip, mostly centered around “promoting aviation” blah blah blah. And I'm certain they are sincere. They will undoubtedly send out press releases. And I’m sure they’ll meet with the media along the way and “talk up” how important general aviation (i.e. non-airline) flying is to the country. And don’t’ get me wrong, it is! General aviation needs as much good publicity as it can get. Usually the only time the American public hears anything at all about general aviation is after a small-plane crash. A small plane that took off without a flight plan! as if that is some heinous crime or is against the rules, which it is neither.

Granted, they’re not underage, unqualified kids out to set some bogus record, and they’re not handicapped or “special needs” people doing this for notoriety. Although it’s easier here in 2010 to fly a small plane from coast to coast, as opposed to 1966 when the two brothers from New Jersey did it, it is no piece of cake. It is still a challenge. There are many things that are still the same – like crossing the mountains between here and there. There are many things that can go wrong. It will most definitely be a grand adventure.

As a society, we’ve become so jaded about everything. We act as if hopping from one coast to the other in a 35 year-old airplane is just so mundane and routine…anybody can do it! Well, maybe. Maybe not.

N512R, the Cessna 150 that Jason and Vincent will use for their cross-country trip

Anyways, if Jason and Vince want to do a “P.R.” flight across the country and back, more power to them! But let’s face it, we know they’re basically just doing it for the challenge and the fun. And I’m okay with that. I’m in. In fact, I’m jealous as hell! See, I used to own a Cessna 150 just like Jason’s (okay, older and not as clean-looking). And how I wish I could have flown a trip like the one they’re about to embark on. I did fly it all over the south here, but never got to take it to California. It’s still a great, big, beautiful country full of decent, honest and good people, and I would have loved to see it from coast to coast at low altitude.

It turns out that the guys are stopping in nearby Destin, Florida on their way westbound, and actually stopping right here in Pensacola as they head back east. So I’m going to try to meet up with them, and support the trip in any way I can.

And they do need support, obviously. They have a website from which you can learn about them and their trip. And of course there are methods for “sponsoring” parts of it on a big or small scale. There’s a link at the top of this page that you can click on, and I’ll put another one at the end of this post.

I hope the guys make it, and I wish them well. They'll be blogging about the trip (of course) so we'll be able to keep up with them in nearly real time. And I, in turn, will keep you posted.


09 June 2010

Oil Spill June 9 Update: The Ixtoc Connection

One reason I watch MSNBC is because they don’t even pretend to be a serious news organization. They tell you right up front that they are giving you an OPINION on news stories that you already know about. Often, watching MSNBC is funnier than the news spoof skits on programs like “Saturday Night Live.” At the end of the day, MSNBC is probably more – dare I say it? – fair and balanced than a certain other channel that purports to be a real…you know, serious news outlet, the one that organizes protests against our government and then covers them as news.

That would be Fox News, of course. Having said that, I admit that I also watch Glenn Beck too for the comedic value.

Anyway, I began watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC as she reported from south Louisiana recently, covering the effects of the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon accident. Maddow seemed incensed that over the years nothing has changed in the way oil companies clean up their mess. She says that oil companies are very good at drilling for oil in more and more difficult places, but they’re not any better at stopping catastrophic leaks. Which is true.

As an example, she brought up the IXTOC oil spill of 1979. Oh, you haven’t heard about this spill? Neither had I. But the events of it are eerily familiar.

It happened on June 3, 1979. A semi-submersible drilling rig called the Sedco 135 was drilling waaaaaay down by the Mexican coast in the Bay of Campeche. It suffered a blowout that was very similar to that of the Deepwater Horizon. Pemex (Mexican’s national oil company) and Sedco (which later became…you guessed it, Transocean) tried many things to stop the leak – virtually the same things that were tried with the Deepwater Horizon. And, like our most recent catastrophe, none of them worked.

The Ixtoc well leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for NINE MONTHS before it was able to be brought under control by the use of two relief wells drilled into it (the first one did not work).

Nine months.

That little blue "1" is the location of the Sedco 135 and the Ixtoc spill

Even though the Ixtoc blowout was so seemingly far away, the sheer volume of oil that was leaking caused U.S. officials were freaked out, worried that the oil would reach our own shoreline and beaches.

There was one very big difference between the Ixtoc blowout and that of the Deepwater Horizon. But I won’t spoil the surprise of Rachel Maddow telling you what that is. It comes at 6:20 into the eight-minute report. (It should be noted that the date of this broadcast was apparently May 25, 2010, before we knew whether the “top kill” procedure that BP was trying would work. Sadly, it did not.)

I understand the frustration that people like Maddow and others feel when we realize that the oil companies have put very little research and development into preventing blowouts, handling them when they happen, and cleaning up the mess afterward. The focus of the oil companies is of course on exploration and production. They have spent very few of the billions and billions of dollars of profit they make every year on advancing the technology of dealing with spills. And you know, it really is their responsibility to do that, not that of the governments of the countries they do business in.

If you did not want to watch that Rachel Maddow clip (and I would not blame you if you are a Fox News junkie who can’t stomach the “liberal bias” of channels like MSNBC, not even for eight minutes), then I’ll fill you in on the difference between the Ixtoc spill and the Deepwater Horizon: The Ixtoc rig was drilling in 160 feet of water. And it took them NINE MONTHS to drill a a relief well and kill the blown-out one.

Let us hope and pray that it doesn’t take BP nine months to kill the Deepwater Horizon leak.

Wikipedia Article on Ixtoc Spill

07 June 2010

Oil Spill June 7 Update: I, Witness

(As always, you can right-click all pictures and select "Open Link In New Window" if you'd like to see them full-size.)

Welcome to Pensacola!

With all the hoopla, panic and doom-and-gloom attitudes around here, my friend Gene and I went out to Pensacola Beach over the weekend to witness the destruction first-hand. Saturday wasn’t a great day; thunderstorms all around and not much sunshine. But Sunday was glorious! Lots of people there both days. Not so many tourists, although there were the usual out-of-state license plates of the stubborn who decided not to cancel, but mostly it was other locals with cameras traipsing around, seeing what was what, wanting to document How Bad It Is.

Only it isn’t. Well, not everywhere.

Yes, there are tar balls. Some places have them worse than others.

But there have always been tar balls on Pensacola Beach. Are there more now? Oh yeah. Were they easy to avoid on the sand? Yes. We did not see any big globs of oil on any of the sections of Pensacola Beach we visited. Nor was there any oil in the water or sheen on top of it – at least, not that we could detect. In fact, despite the inclement weather, there were swimmers swimming, surfers surfing and, in the more popular/crowded areas, a smattering of other people pretending it wasn't about to rain cats and dogs on us.

This is Saturday, at the very west end of Pensacola Beach at the Ft. Pickens gate looking back to the east. Tarball activity: Pretty scarce.

Further east in Navarre Beach, it was a different story. It was a lot worse.

Here you can see the solid line of tarballs, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Closeup view of the tarballs. They range in size from smaller than a dime to bigger than a silver dollar. They are quite nasty if they get on your skin.

The oil-spill containment booms that everybody is so keen on have absolutely zero effect on tarballs, because tarballs can be suspended in the water- they don’t always float on the surface. However, the tarballs only come up to the high-tide line, where they are deposited by the waves.

The beach itself is fine.

There are workers out, setting up their little canopies, armed with big plastic bags, collecting as much oil as they can. But I’ll tell you, it will be a tedious, never-ending job. These tarballs have only just begun arriving. And I cannot see these workers out there all summer and into the fall, scooping up tarballs like catpoop out of a litter box at $8/hour.

But never mind the tarballs. The bigger problem in the water at Pensacola Beach this weekend was the seaweed.

Pensacola is a paradox of a paradise. We are blessed with long stretches of fairly empty, sugar-white sand beaches and sparkling clear, warm water. It’s really quite pretty.

This is why we live here.

The downside is that in the summer we are often plagued with thick seaweed, numerous jellyfish, and swarms of gnats and biting green flies that have become immune to the strongest bug-juice and can make you run screaming like a little girl to your car. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Or if I’ve done it.) When all of them hit at the same time (it happens), the beach becomes unbearable.

In the past I’ve often been out on the beach, angrily gathering up my things – throwing in the beach towel, as it were, letting the green flies win. And I’d be thinking to myself that if I were a father from Louisiana or someplace far away who spent a lot of money to bring my wife and kids on vacation to this expensive, God-forsaken beach where you cannot swim in the water and cannot play on the sand, I would select a different place next year fo’ sho!.

So it's not as if Pensacola is a perfect place to begin with. For those of us who live here year 'round, just lying on the beach can often be a challenge. Tarballs are going to make that worse, but only incrementally.

Okay, so back to the oil, and the panic it’s creating. Here’s the deal: Mississippi Canyon 252 is a long way from Pensacola. If the Gulf of Mexico were perfectly calm like a lake, maybe the oil would stay intact long enough to leave a mess like the Exxon Valdez goop that everyone seems to be expecting. But the gulf is rarely “flat.” Wave action breaks up oil. Waves don’t make it disappear of course, but they break up the big slicks you might see in a harbor or on a river. The end result is that by the time the oil makes its way to distant Pensacola, Florida it is no longer a cohesive pool. It has been reduced to pancake-like globs and tarballs and dispersed over a large area. Sheens will mostly evaporate.

It may be…fingers crossed here…that this gulf coast “disaster” won’t be as bad as the pessimists are predicting and maybe secretly hoping for. Or it may be that it’ll be worse in some areas than others, depending on the winds and currents and local shape of the coastline. If people were expecting a big, black slick of crude oil to come floating ashore, they will most likely not see it. There is probably no worry of jumping into the Gulf of Mexico and coming up looking like oil-covered pelican.

The sugar-white sand is intact – so far. Like I’ve said, this is only the beginning. On Sunday, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” He said that the effects of this “catastrophe” might be felt well into the fall.

Let's hope that the effect are minimal. Let's hope that the beaches are no so horribly fouled as to be unusable. In other words, let's hope for the best.

04 June 2010

Oil Spill June 4 Update: It Has Arrived

As expected, the oil has finally reached the beaches of the Florida panhandle. Up and down our coast, people are reporting everything from tar balls to big globs along with a strong petroleum smell in the air. It was inevitable, of course, only a matter of time. Even so, people are reacting with a sense of outrage that seems rather new. There have been calls to boycott BP…suggestions that we should maybe stuff BP executives down the well to see if that would close it off. One friend wrote on his Facebook, “I saw tar balls on Navarre Beach this morning. Not many, but they have arrived. BP has been notified. Let's see how long it takes them to respond......” I’m sure the guy at the BP call center in Bangalore rolled his eyes and said in his fake American accent, “Yes, yes, ve vill get right on that, sir! Thank you for calling. And by the way, my name is Sam.”

And just what do we expect BP to do? It is naïve to think that BP Emergency Response Team trucks are going to be running up and down the Gulf Coast, cleaning up every single tar ball that washes up on the sand.

People have to realize, this is just the beginning. These tar balls and globs of oil are going to be coming for a long, long time, even after BP gets the leak contained. Collecting and disposing of the few tar balls that washed up on Navarre Beach this morning is not going to do ANYTHING. It is not going to be over soon. We have months and months (perhaps years but let's hope not) of this to deal with. And it has barely begun.

And it seems silly to think that “The Government” can do anything about this oil spill. Yet some people are very angry with President Obama for not having “done more” up to this point. Like…well…what? What could President Obama actually do, other than come down to the Gulf Coast and commiserate with us? No, I’d prefer that he stay away, thank you. Having him down here just upsets things and throws giant monkey wrenches in whatever is going on that day. Nor can the military go down there and shut off the well. They don’t have the expertise for that. The military would have to call somebody like…well…like BP.

There is a huge amount of oil out in the gulf, spewed for the last month and a half from the leaking BP well. Some of this oil is on the surface, and some of it hovers under the surface in giant pools. Although BP CEO Tony ("Foot In Mouth") Hayward denies it, my helicopter pilot friends report seeing this with their own eyes. And every hour of every day, more oil is added to that mess. This oil will not just totally evaporate and/or disappear. It’s going to go somewhere.

So far, a lot of the oil has drifted to the west back toward the Louisiana coastline. This is contrary to what I would have guessed – which was that the water current outflow from the mouth of the Mississippi River would cause anything dropped into the gulf to drift this way. Apparently the prevailing winds, which have been out of the southeast since the accident, have more of an effect on the oil than anything else. Or maybe the underwater currents right there southeast of the mouth of the river are more chaotic than I assumed. Whatever. The oil took longer to get north to the gulf coast beaches than we originally thought. For that, we can be thankful.

We must resign ourselves to the fact that it may be as late as the end of August before BP can contain this leak. If it happens sooner, great! I know they’ll keep trying different things, and I keep my fingers crossed that one of them will eventually work. You never know, they could get lucky.

But we also have to realize that we- the American people- are as responsible for this fiasco/disaster as BP. We allowed BP to drill in that location. We allowed them to drill a well in such deep water with only a single, non-redundant source of blowout protection. We allowed them to drill that well without a contingency plan for what would happen in the event of an uncontained blowout (neither a plan to stop it nor clean it up). Lesson learned? We'll see.

Periodically, the issue comes up of oil exploration off Florida coast. It always sparks great debate. Environmentalists who oppose such drilling are often painted as “needless, extremist worrywarts.” Proponents say that it’s safe, that these sort of accidents/spills just don’t happen, that government regulations are strict enough to prevent them, blah blah blah.

Boycott BP? Heh. Well, my Jeep gets 20-22 mpg. What kind of mileage does your car get? I have to buy gas for it somewhere. I'm already boycotting Citgo because of the Chavez/Venezuela connection (since debunked, by the way). Boycotting BP would be cutting off my nose to spite my face. It's ironic. Our own insatiable greed for oil has now come home to bite us in the ass. And unless your sole source of transportation is a bicycle, you really can’t say anything either. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We might as well have the balls to admit it.

We've all got a rough road ahead down here. It's not going to be a good summer.