Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

Memories of my youth: bugs

October 22, 2017

When I was a lad, and Eisenhower was President, we lived in Northern Virginia, Quantico, to be exact. Since we didn’t have cable, there was nothing to do of a Sunday afternoon but pile in the non-airconditioned family car (a Kaiser, as I recall), and take a Sunday drive through the countryside. When we got back, the windshield would always be covered with bug spatters, big and small and many.

Some decades later I was stationed in DC, and lived just north of Quantico, maybe ten miles from my former home. No-one had time for a Sunday drive in our modern times, but we’d sometimes find ourselves driving through that same Virginia countryside on our way somewhere. When we got home, our windshield would be … pretty clean. I won’t say that the occasional entomol didn’t come to a sticky end on our glass, but that was a relatively rare occurrence.

Now I find that we are not alone, but are more alone, or something. A study in Germany found the same thing, only over a much shorter time span. Something is causing a drastic drop in flying insects, and there are just not enough windshields out there to account for all of it.

Advertisements

Memories of my youth: Shaking hands with Napoleon

September 13, 2017

Well, shaking the hand that shook the hand.

In 2009, when Freeman Dyson came to Portland to give a talk at ISEPP, the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, he told a story about Napoleon Bonaparte.

It seems that after Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and succeeded in capturing Moscow, there was no-one to surrender the city to him. All the officials had fled. Being the sort of person who needed public validation of his actions (much like our current President), he arranged a fake surrender. In the surrender party was a young girl, a child, who presented him with a bouquet of flowers. He solemnly shook her hand.

Many, many years later, the old woman who had been that child, shook the hand of Freeman Dyson’s young  grandfather. Dyson, over the years, had, of course, shaken his grandfather’s hand many times. As part of the ISEPP ceremonies, Dyson shook hands with Terry Bristol, the President of ISEPP.

And I shook Terry Bristol’s hand.

Five handshakes from Napoleon to me. History isn’t as far in the past as one might think.

Memories of my youth: MJ carries on.

June 18, 2016

It was the early 70’s. We hadn’t been married very long, and were still living in England. Back then, the British tradition was that worker strikes would cause rolling electricity blackouts every winter. It might be the electrical workers in the coal-fired power plants. It might be the train crews of British Rail, who hauled the coal. Or it might be coal workers themselves, in the black pits of Lancashire. Whoever it was, you could be sure of ending up with four hours of power, at the most inconvenient times. This time it was the coal workers.

We had just moved into a new house, third and last of our homes in the UK, in a small town north of Cambridge. The others had been furnished. This one was also furnished: bed, sofa, kitchen table, two straight chairs, and a TV. We went out and splurged on new furniture, to be delivered when available, and went home to our cold and somewhat Spartan digs.

Well, MJ went home. I went to Crete on a deployment to support some Army units that were training on the missile range at Souda Bay. It was a month in the sunshine of the Eastern Med (but it was March, so not so warm), working every three days when a new Army unit rolled in. The harbour at Kania was a little gem (some Hollywood stars have bigger pools), with fishing boats moored alongside, and octupi drying on lines next to them. We sat at a little cafe and drank retsinated wine and dined on calamari and moussaka.

A month later and it was over. We flew back in our C-130, loaded with souvenirs. I got back to the house in the dark of a high latitude afternoon, and met a bunch of workmen getting into their truck. The power cuts had ended that morning, and the furniture had just been delivered. MJ seemed a little miffed, for some reason.

Now, almost half a century later, MJ is sitting at home with a shattered shoulder and no idea of when the replacement surgery will be, nursing one of our favourite dogs, who is dying of cancer. Or maybe dying of chemo is a better phrase.

And me? I’m heading out to the airport for a two-week trip to London and Cambridge. MJ seems a little miffed.

Memories of my youth: President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979

January 23, 2016

Seeing Washington, DC buried in two feet of snow reminds me of my time in the National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC), deep, as they say,* in the bowels of the Pentagon. The NMIC sits back to back with the National Military Command Center, and, like the NMCC, is manned 24/7/365 with a staff of specialists in all regions of the world. I was a Soviet Command and Control analyst at the time, and regularly pulled shifts there.

The President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979, unlike this week’s pummeling, came as a surprise to all concerned. The storm was supposed to miss DC. I was on the afternoon shift — 2PM to 10PM. Most of us junior officers could only afford housing well outside the Beltway, and there were enough of us living in the Dale City area (45miles south of the Pentagon) that it was possible to form a carpool of NMIC shift workers.

It was a dark and stormy night when the four of us made our way to the small parking lot next to the power plant. If we’d been out in North Parking we’d still be looking for the car. We were probably the last carpool down I-95 that night, and the next morning there was 18″ of snow on my drive, in the street, at intersection at the top of the hill… I called in and said I wasn’t going to make it. Nobody else made it, either.

It was three days before we were able to get a regular shift set up again in the NMIC. During that time, the analysts slept on the floor and emptied out the vending machines all over the building. One could get to the Metro without leaving the building, but there wasn’t anywhere to go, and nothing was open. They put together a scratch relief team from those who lived close enough to the Metro to walk to a station, but mostly it was the unshaven, sleep-deprived half-starved survivors of that same night shift who met us days later.

So, I didn’t have to go through it, but it was a possibility that all of us faced, and it’s one of the things that doesn’t get mentioned very much when they talk about a heavy snowfall in DC closing the government. It does. Just not all of it.

—————————
*In fact, it wasn’t all that deep. If you walked in the entrance on the NE face, and past the guard desk where they shot the intruder in 1987, and down some corridors, you’d come to a set of unmarked doors that were the emergency exit from the watch center. The actual offices where the day ladies worked were on the floors below.

Memories of my youth: Phantom Sounds

July 21, 2015

My time in the Air Force pretty much coincides with the heyday of the F-4 Phantom. The 366th TFW flew F-4Cs out of DaNang AB, my first base level assignment. The 48th TFW at RAF Lakenheath transitioned from F-100s to F-4Ds when I was next door at RAF Mildenhall. My own 51st TFW flew F-4Es out of Osan AB in Korea, my last base-level assignment.

The early F-4’s had leading edge flaps to help maneuverability. In later models, these were replaced with two-position leading edge slats, which reportedly gave the same maneuverability with more stability. What they took away was the distinctive deep whistling sound, almost a moan, that an F-4C would make as the flaps were cycled in the final turn in the landing pattern. Despite hours of searching, I’ve only been able to find one video that halfway captures this sound (and then only 7sec worth), at

Boise, Idaho, in 1988.

In case it doesn’t queue up properly, the sound starts at the 2:24sec mark.

The sound of an F-4C in the landing pattern, and the sound of a C-130 “low-speeding the outboards”, are the quintessential sounds of my Air Force career.

Memories of my youth: Gangsters

July 14, 2015

Having just turned 68 a couple of years ago, and thus having to finally admit that I’ve entered middle age, I thought I’d start writing down some incidents from my past — little snippets of memories that bubble up from time to time, and that others might find interesting. Or not. And even if you don’t, it leaves a record for me to gum over a couple of decades from now.

This is a tale related to me by an old audiologist, when I was in elementary school and he was in my ears, conducting tests. He was talking about his life as a young doctor in a rather sleazy district of Chicago, back in the days of Prohibition and gangsters.

One day, a local member of the gangster profession — we will call him Big Louie because I cannot remember his real name — comes into the doctor’s office. It seems that Big Louie has an ear ache which is bothering him more than somewhat and he wishes our doctor to examine it. Our doctor inserts his otoscope into Big Louie’s right ear and he takes a look around. He figures it is a regular old ear infection, and since antibiotics have not yet been invented, he knows there is not much he can do, which is sad. Instead, he finds a snarl of string, with several blobs of pus and other detritus sticking to it, and he follows said string all the way back into the depths of Big Louie’s ear. It seems that Big Louie sticks this string in his ear one day, back when he is just Little Louie, and there it sits for the next few decades, rotting and infecting and interfering with his hearing in general. Our doctor pulls out the string, and the pus balls, and the detritus, cleans up the ear, writes out a bill, and sends Big Louie on his way.

A week or so later, Big Louie is back. “Doc, I gotta thank you” he says. “Don’t nobody say anything on that side that I don’t hear now. Get your hat and coat. We are going for a walk”.

So, out they go, arm-in-arm, for a half-hour stroll around the district. Up this street and down that, across town and back, Big Louie saying hello to people now and then, and them saying hello right back. After a while, Big Louie and the doctor are back in the office. Big Louie says another big thank you, and leaves, leaving our doctor more than a little confused.

A week or so after Big Louie’s second visit, our doctor is walking towards his office in this sleazy district of Chicago, when what should happen but two tough-looking guys appear, one on each side of him. And these tough-looking guys start pushing our doctor towards an alley, the assumption being they are looking for a quiet  place where they can mug him in private. Suddenly, three other guys come running down the the street towards them. They stop the two tough-looking guys, and they say to them “This, is a friend of Big Louie’s”. Well, right away the two tough-looking guys get all apologetic and say that if they know this when they see him, they never would bother him.

And our doctor is never bothered by criminals in this district again.

I suspect that the doctor tells me this story as a way of reminding me that it does not matter what my career goals are, I should not put stuff in my ears.