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?

29 March 2012

Business Aviation

A while back, the heads of the “big three” U.S. automakers were vilified for flying to Washington D.C. in their corporate jets to ask for money from the government. Some said it was a huge and unnecessary waste of money. Small jets were portrayed as extravagant…frivolous toys for the rich and famous. It made all of corporate aviation look bad.

The other day my boss embarked on a trip in his business jet. Although I am not rated to fly it, I was invited to ride along. Three of us (plus the two pilots) left Brewton, Alabama early, headed for an airport in South Carolina where the boss had a site to visit. Distance flown was 390 miles which is a little under an hour in our jet. We cruised at 33,000 feet doing 435 knots which is right at 500 mph. Not the fastest jet in the sky, but even so that’s moving along right smartly.

After a couple of hours on the ground in South Carolina, we left with an additional passenger for Knoxville, Tennessee where we picked up one more person. This leg was 188 miles and it took us just under a half-hour. From there we went down to Lafayette, Louisiana where my boss had another site to visit. We covered the 600 miles in just under an hour-and-a-half.

By 3:00 we were in the air again, headed to Tunica, Mississippi for a mobile home manufacturer’s convention. The 330 mile flight took us 45 minutes.

The boss spent the next morning at the convention, did his business and we were airborne and headed for home by 1:00 p.m. He was in the office by 2:00. The schedule simply could not have been accomplished using the airlines. Many of the airports we used do not even have airline service. Not only that, the boss was able to conduct business in the jet between stops; hence the term “business jet,” which ours is.

Not every business aircraft is a jet. The aircraft used are as varied as the needs of the particular companies that own them. For instance, one company at our home field uses a single-engine Cessna 210 for their business; it suits them well for now. A company that sells flowers to big stores like Walmart and Home Depot uses a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron (as well as a Cessna Citation jet). The ubiquitous twin-turboprop Beech King Air that we operated for a time may be the most popular business aircraft of all time. My own boss also has our helicopter which he considers invaluable.

Some people hire pilots to fly them around. Others fly the plane themselves, like the attorney I know who commutes from Pensacola to Mobile, Alabama every workday in his own four-seat Mooney 231.

General Aviation (i.e. everything that is not the airlines) is often misunderstood by people. They do not see the value in using an aircraft for business purposes. But an aircraft is an incredible tool that lets smart businessmen use their time efficiently and get more things done than would otherwise be possible. We proved that this week. It was fun for me to be a part of it.

22 March 2012

A Little Rock n Roll History

Two things got me thinking about the music of the 1960s: the recent death of Davy Jones of the Monkees; and a conversation with my brother Bill when I was up in New York a couple of months ago. So I punched up YouTube and started noodling. I’ll tell ya, YouTube can be addicting, especially if you like watching music videos as much as I do. There's a treasure trove!

Okay, look at this guy…

Cute kid, no? You probably don't recognize him; cute kids were a dime a dozen in rock bands back in the '60s. But this one's name is Stevie Wright and he was the lead singer of a band called The Easybeats. He could have - and should have been the Justin Bieber of his day. The Easybeats were pretty popular overseas (Australia, where they were from, and the UK), but as fate would have it they had only one big hit here in the States in 1966. It was an incredible anthem called, “Friday On My Mind.” Wright was seventeen. Below is a video in which they’re performing the song live. It's 2:45 of musical heaven.

It’s an awesome pop song, and it’s nice to see how accurately they reproduced the way it sounded on the record. What’s surprising about the video is the young Stevie’s manic dancing; he was getting down! And yet he still managed to belt out the song without the benefit of lip-synching or employing the dreaded AutoTune. It's fun watching him - he's clearly having fun despite having performed the song perhaps a bazillion times by then.

Had they stayed together, The Easybeats could have been huge. But they broke up in 1969. Stevie Wright went solo. Unfortunately, by 1973 he was giving in to the allure of drugs and alcohol, which probably short-stopped his career. By 1976 he was in rehab. In an effort to get clean, he hooked up with a quack who may or may not have been a psychiatrist by the name of Dr.
Harry Bailey who used a controversial combination of deliberately-induced comas and electroshock therapy to help his patients. Often this “treatment” did more harm than good, and Stevie (among others) suffered permanent brain damage from it. Some died. While being investigated about the deaths of 85 of his patients, "Dr." Bailey committed suicide.

Fortunately, Stevie Wright is still with us...damaged. It is sad to see what has become of him. The best we can say is, "At least he's alive..."

Also in the Easybeats were two guys who would go on to become extremely noteworthy behind the scenes in the music industry: Harry Vanda and George Young. Young was from a musical family. His two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus were in a band that in 1973 became AC/DC, which you've heard of, I'm sure. Vanda and Young have produced many of their records.

Vanda and Young were not only producers but also recording artists in their own right. In the late 1970s they formed a group called Flash and the Pan. They weren't what you'd call insanely popular here in the U.S., but in 1977 they did have one fairly big hit called, "Hey, St. Peter." I present it to you below. But I warn you! It is perhaps even cheesier than the Survivor/"Eye Of The Tiger" video I so gleefully made fun of a couple of posts ago.

The fun thing to watch for in this almost-unwatchable video is, just past the middle where George Young dresses up in a schoolboy uniform. He is spoofing his younger brother, Angus, who has forever appeared onstage with AC/DC in a similar getup. Enjoy! ...Or not.

Ouch! Well that was awful. In spite of the horrible video, "Hey, St. Peter" is a wonderful song. Vanda and Young have put out some great music in the '70s and '80s. Unbelievably, AC/DC is still around and reportedly working on a new album. As for The Easybeats...well...it's still fun to go back and listen to their big hit, because as sentiments go that one is as relevant as it is timeless.

Monday, I'll have Friday on my mind..

14 March 2012

Restaurants And Viruses

Okay, I'll admit it, I like the Olive Garden restaurant. I know that some people turn up their nose at the place: Not authentic Italian; lousy food and all of that, but I don't care. I have enjoyed myself every time I've eaten there. Get this: I KNOW IT'S A CHAIN RESTAURANT and not something owned by two guys recently off the boat from Tuscany. I like the food anyway. But there's a lot more to a restaurant than its food.

Olive Garden has put a lot of thought into the whole dining-out experience, from the interior design to the staff and finally to the menu. In my opinion it all works together successfully. Others must agree - OG's are always crowded. And even when they're crowded the atmosphere is laid-back, comfortable and relaxed.

My friend Mark and I went to the OG for a lunch recently. We got there around 1:00, and the restaurant began emptying out as we ate and talked...and talked...and drank. I rather like their "house" red wine - even more than the expensive name-brand wines I snobbily buy. Our waiter kept dutifully refilling our glasses. Nobody rushed us or made us feel like we were intruding. Eventually, we realized the staff was setting up for the dinner crowd. By the time we paid the bill ($90!) and stumbled out into the parking lot it was nearly four-thirty. Funny how time flies with good conversation and cheap wine.

So a new Olive Garden opened up in Grand Forks, ND. There is an 85 year-old woman by the name of Marylin Hagerty who writes a daily "general interest" column for the Grand Forks Herald newspaper. Hagerty devoted one of her columns to the new OG restaurant and it went, as they say on the internets, "viral."

Apparently, at first she was being mocked on Facebook and Twitter for doing a serious review of a chain restaurant that no serious "foodie" would ever patronize. No, they'd rather patronize a little 85 year-old lady. (I didn't see any of the FB posts and I don't subscribe to Twitter.) But then the mainstream media picked up on it and Ms. Hagerty's fame really exploded. Suddenly she was all over the place. You know how those chirpy network morning show hosts love a story like this; they still can't seem to comprehend the power of the internet and how it can turn ordinary people into stars.

Marylin Hagerty did not review the Olive Garden with the jaundiced eye of a big city food critic. She just reported on the opening of a highly anticipated restaurant in little Grand Forks, North Dakota which, at 52,800 people is just about the same size as dinky Pensacola, Florida (except that we have 300,000 in our county whereas Grand Forks County only has 67,000).

You can read Ms. Hagerty's column in which she reviewed the Grand Forks Olive Garden

11 March 2012

Alternative Music

After I wrote about my love of the music of the 1980s, blogger-friend Debby asked what music I like now? The sad thing is that I listen to very little music anymore – who has the time? Plus, nothing I hear on mainstream commercial radio is even remotely interesting. Everything seems to be Auto-Tune’d and over-produced to death.

We have XM Radio in the helicopter, and on the rare occasion that I’m flying by myself I crank up the Alternative Nation or XMU channels. In my car, there is a program on our local public radio station called
World Café which plays some interesting stuff.

I do still love rock – the louder the better, but I am getting older and more in touch with my softer side - my alternative side if you will. Thus, I was blown away by some music I heard recently by two women - sisters from Sweden who call themselves First Aid Kit. There is something about sibling harmony that simply takes my breath away. Give a listen and see if you are not as impressed as I am with this beautiful song.

...you know I'm not asking much of you
just sing, little darling
sing with me

Three of the four names referenced in the chorus are probably familiar to you: Johnny Cash and his wife, June, and Emmylou Harris. The other person mentioned, Gram, is obviously Gram Parsons, a mythical character in the music world – one of those guys who could and should have been a huge star but got sidetracked by drugs and died way too young.

In the 1960s Gram Parsons was part of the movement that literally invented what was to become Country Rock (think the Byrds and the Eagles). He and Emmylou Harris were a couple for a time. He got chummy with the Rolling Stones and probably influenced their foray into country music ("Wild Horses" anyone?). Some people claim that it was Parsons who wrote the Stones' hit, "Honky-Tonk Women," although the Stones deny it. Parsons liked to go out into the desert, to Joshua Tree National Park and get high, which is where he finally died at age 26. Coincidentally (or probably not), Joshua Tree is where the video for “Emmylou” was shot.

I’m also smitten lately by a band called Great Lake Swimmers. Such great music! Please check out their song, “Easy Come, Easy Go.” But before you click on it I must warn you: You know how I’m always complaining about modern music being boringly derivative of stuff I've heard before? You’ll probably make comparisons between the Great Lake Swimmers and Tom Petty and/or the Traveling Wilburys. I don’t even care.

Finally, I’ve always been a big fan of the incredibly talented Conor Oberst. He was part of the group, Monsters of Folk which I’ve raved about in these here pages, but he’s had a varied career both as a solo artist and with various other musicians that he’s worked with. Check out his song, “Sausalito.” It’s really wonderful.

So there ya go, Debby. There are just three things I’m listening to now. I’ll leave the harder stuff for another post.

08 March 2012

The Keystone XL Pipeline Controversy

It’s really sad that there is so much misinformation out there concerning the TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. The mainstream and public media really aren’t doing their jobs. For example, there was this article today on Yahoo News:


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has rejected a Republican bid to speed approval of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

The 56-42 vote Thursday was the latest in a series of partisan skirmishes over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Sixty votes were needed for approval.

President Barack Obama rejected the proposed $7 billion pipeline in January, citing uncertainty over a yet-to-be-settled route that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region in Nebraska. Obama said there was not enough time for a fair review before a deadline forced on him by Republicans.

Pipeline supporters call it an important job creator. Opponents say it would transport "dirty oil" that requires huge amounts of energy to produce.

* * *

What people fail to realize is that most of this Canadian oil is not bound for the U.S. market. Oh, no. Canada currently has no way of getting this oil to the international market. Thus, the Keystone XL pipeline would merely be their way of doing that. The destination refinery in Texas is 50% owned by the Saudis! When I point this out to people they go, “Yeah but…uhh, more oil on the international market is a good thing and might bring the price of oil down.” Uh-huh. Right. Face reality - oil from the KXL pipeline will not directly do anything for the price of gasoline for you and me.

The other thing people always misquote is the cost of the pipeline – in this case it’s noted as being “$7 billion.” Big, impressive number, right? Well…not exactly. According TransCanada’s permit application, the entire cost of the KXL pipeline is in fact estimated to be $7 billion. And of that $7 billion $1.8 billion has already been spent! That brings us down to $5.2 billion. However, only 77% of the pipeline will be built in the U.S. That leaves only $4 billion left for the U.S. portion. And remember, these are estimates; they’re probably optimistic. More realistically, TransCanada will probably spend $3 to $4 billion on the U.S. portion of KXL. That’s still a lot of money, I get that, but exaggeration and hyperbole seems to abound with regard to this project. Speaking of which…

What about all these wonderful jobs that would be created? Depending on who's doing the talking, the numbers vary from "thousands" to "tens of thousands" to hundreds of thousands! Bullshit. Plain and simple bullshit. TransCanada’s own calculations on their Federal Environmental Impact Study are that the pipeline will generate between 2,500 and 5,000 jobs. The catch is that these are temporary jobs that will move along as does the pipeline. Once the pipeline is completed in that area those jobs go away. Number of permanent jobs created? About 600, at the metering/pumping stations along the way – the refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast already exist. That’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands! we hear so much about in the news.

People like to use this KXL pipeline as some sort of weapon with which to beat up on the president. They say that he is doing all sorts of bad things by not approving the project, from being a "jobs killer" to keeping the price of gasoline high and not doing a thing about our so-called "dependence on foreign oil." I'd like to point out here that EVERY president since Nixon has said that we must end our “dependence” on foreign oil. Every goddam one of them. But exactly NONE of them has done anything about it. So if you want to criticize Obama, go ahead. But let’s not forget Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. (And it makes me wonder: What do they know that we don't? What aren't they telling us?)

For more information, you can read the report that TransCanada commissioned by a company called the Perryman group, which is where much of the information used by the media and various politicians comes from. And you can read the counter report that Cornell University's Global Labor Institute did on it. They’re both extremely interesting.

For me, the bottom line is this: Supporters of the KXL insist that Canadian oil is “ethical” oil- that is, not sourced from countries run by lunatic dictators (are there any other kind?). But here’s what Cornell University had to say:

...KXL is a global project driven by global oil interests. Tar Sands development has attracted investment capital from oil multinationals—with Chinese corporations’ stake getting bigger all the time. If approved, KXL will be almost certainly be constructed by temporary labor working with steel made in Canada and India. Much of the Tar Sands oil will be refined in Port Arthur, Texas, where the refinery is half-owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. And a good portion of the oil that will gush down the KXL will, according to some studies, probably end up being finally consumed beyond the territorial United States. Indeed, the oil industry is also trying to build another pipeline, Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway, to carry Tar Sands oil across British Columbia for export to Asian markets, although this pipeline also faces serious public opposition. Clearly, Tar Sands oil and [U.S.] energy independence really do not belong in the same sentence.

The President and Congress are right to take their time and make sure this project gets done right.