Monday, October 24, 2005

I love this guy.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt signals defiance at his Iraqi attackers after being injured by an improvised explosive device near Ramadi. Attending to the Marine were Nebraska 167th Cavalry members Spc. John Adams (far left, in front) of Hastings, Neb., and Pfc. Darin Nelson of Fremont, Neb.

Soldiers all the way up to the brigade's commander, Col. John Gronski, viewed a photo of Burghardt - on his feet, arm extended and middle finger raised - as the embodiment of the American warrior.

As for Burghardt, he said he wanted to send a message to the insurgents who failed to kill him.

"I knew there was somebody disappointed out there."

*Text taken from article by C. David Kotok-Omaha World-Herald (original story here)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Going Columbo

Before I start, I find it a little ironic that the word for the day is 'lexicon'. Dontcha' think?

As shocking as I'm sure it is to you all, I am occasionally subject to brief fits of paranoia. When I was living in Fresno I had a few close calls with car thieves, armed robbers and car jackers. Maybe sometime I'll relate a few of these stories, but as a result of these brushes with criminality I have a tendency to take things, that on the surface seem just slightly amiss, and view them with a greater degree of suspicion than I probably should.

Right now the folks are in California and have been for about a week. When they're gone various family members take turns checking up on Casa de El Jefe (The Big Guy's House), get the mail, etc. Friday night, Laurie and I dropped by their house to pick up a few birthday gifts mom had left for Laurie. When we came in all the cleaning supplies were out on the counter, the vacuum was out and several of the lights were left on.

Now this in and of itself did not breed suspicion. Mom has a cleaning service that drops by every Friday. What was strange was that the cleaning service didn't clean up after themselves. Further inspection revealed they didn't even really clean. Laurie, who had stayed at my folks' while she was down this summer said that unless my mom was around they usually didn't do a very good job. It looked like this was the case here. We collected the gifts and left.

I didn't think anything about it again until Sunday when we were having dinner with my grandparents. Grandpa mentioned that he'd been over there Friday about noon mowing the lawn and had seen the cleaning people arrive. He'd never seen them before and thought they didn't look very professional, but they had the code to the garage and cleaning buckets so he didn't make a big deal out of it. He said the cleaning lady had two boys with her. One went inside with her while the other stayed outside and talked to him. He thought that was kind of strange because the two boys didn't really look like they were there to clean, just hang out. He also said the cleaning lady was only in the house for about 15 minutes and then she came back out and they left. This made me a little suspicious.

I called dad and related what Laurie and I had encountered as well as Grandpa's experience. He told mom, who wasn't real happy, and she called the cleaning service to release them from their obligations. Dad asked me to go back and change the garage code. I had to fly Laurie back that night so we didn't go back to ma and pa's but the aiport instead. It was about this time that my Columbo Syndrome started to act up. I began to think, What if the cleaning lady was up to no good? What if she had her eye on something? What if she got spooked by grandpa being there and that's why she left early? What if the owner of the cleaning company called her that night to tell her mom had "fired" them? What if she knew we were probably going to change the code and decided to return before I could and take what she was after?

By the time I flew back from up north and put the plane away it was 10 pm. I didn't feel like driving to Monticello to change the code and having to drive back. Besides, my CS had worn off and I was sure my previous suspicions were unfounded. Until today.

While at lunch with Grandpa and Grandma, he asked me whatever came of the cleaning people. I told him mom had let them go and I'd changed the code. He said, "That's good. They just didn't seem like the kind of people Karen would hire." This made the CS act up a little. I said, "Yeah, it is kind of wierd that the lady would've brought her kids along on the job. I mean what help would they be?" Grandpa said, "Oh those boys weren't kids." The CS was inflammed at this point. "How old do you think they were?", I asked. "Oh, about mid-twenties," was the reply. It had never occured to me that to my 80-something year old grandfather, 20-something year old males probably were "boys". Now I was REALLY in Columbo mode.

I asked what they were driving. A truck. I asked what she took in with her. Just a bucket and one of the "boys". I asked if grandpa thought the guys were there to help. He kind of laughed and said, no. He said one of them stayed outside with him and just talked. Said he was from Kentucky too. This sounded like a lookout to me. It was all I could do to sit still. My mind was going ape with all kinds of wild scenarios.

What if they'd gone in to take stuff, saw grandpa and decided to unlock a window and come back later? What if they really weren't the cleaning people? What if they were accomplices of someone inside the cleaning service who gave them the code? What if the bucket was just a cover to avoid suspicion if anyone, like my grandfather, saw them entering the house? What if they had come back through a basement window they'd unlocked and cleaned the folks out?

I said goodbye to the grandparents and drove over to mom and dad's to investigate. What if they were in there right now? What if while I was checking windows and doors they paid a visit? Where was the Big Guy's .357 again? Yeah. It was pretty bad. Of course I went over there and everything was fine. I did find a few ground floor windows that were unlocked, but this was because they couldn't close enough for the locks to engage. Probably due to the house settling or something. Who knows? It certainly wasn't because of the Cleaning Cartel.

I should probably relate some of the stories of actual criminals I encountered in Fresno to put this all in perspective. It really isn't without reason that I happen to suffer from CS.

This weekend I'm going up north to visit Laurie and get wood. I mean firewood--dirty birdies. While I'm up there, Brother Joe and I might do a little trap shooting. Also referred to as "shooting frisbees" by his little boys. Should be fun. Donna, my future mom-in-law, will probably load me up with goodies for the trip back. This is a blessing and a curse. I love whatever she gives me but she usually gives me a lot and it's gone in one or two sittings. I'd weigh 5,000 lbs if I lived in the same house with Donna. Maybe I'll save the largesse for a crappy movie night.

Oh, yeah. I took the rest of the day off. A big, "Haa, haaaaa!" to all you suckas still at work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Turkey Run Respite

Here are some pics from the trip Laurie and I took last Saturday to Turkey Run State Park. Just a few of the trees had started to turn. I think another trip is in order in the next week or so to see autumn more fully revealed. Maybe by canoe this time.

Pop! Tuff Sunset Presence Precioussss Paparazzi Everywhere Bridge to #3 Reflections

Hey Look! Sugar Creek Change Skip Ripple Sugar Creek Silence Trail 6

Comin' Up Creepy Hollow Saint Laurie Convergence Trail 6 Start Rivendell

Monday, October 17, 2005

Kids These Days

As I guessed, they quickly apprehended the dopes who stole the business jet. Turns out it was a 22-year old with a Citation-I type rating and little if any sense. He apparently thought it would be fun to take a few of his friends for a ride. Which only goes to show, education is no substitute for wisdom. The fact he has a Cessna-I type rating at 22 indicates he must have had a good education. Learning to fly jets takes more than a few book smarts. It also takes a lot of money that, unless he was a drug dealer or a professional athlete, probably came from some very wealthy and clearly over-indulgent parents. Only someone who hasn't had to work for something as precious as a type rating would piss it away to impress his friends.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

P of P: Episode 2

In a recent post (CNNFOXNBCABCCBS: Purveyors of Panic) I talked a little about the mountain of an ant hill that the media made out of the Jet Blue emergency landing at LAX. Once again they are preying on the general public's lack of familiarity with aviation, and short attention span, by making much ado out of the recent theft of a business jet. Where to start?

First of all let's consider this, and I won't even have to look up statistics to back it up. Anybody with a moment's reflection could surmise this on their own. More moving vans are stolen in this country everyday than business jets. The only reason this story got any traction at all is because the vehicle in question has wings. "But Larry, but Larry that means you cound fly it into any building anywhere and do horrendous damage!". True, but I could more easily steal a moving van, pack it full of diesel fuel and fertilizer, park it in front of an elementary school and walk away. All without popping up on radar, being chased by fighter jets and dying in the fiery crash. Read the news story yourself (here) and substitute "moving van" for "corporate jet" and "driven" for "flown". It won't take long to figure out why the media isn't going to a lot of trouble to report missing U-Hauls.

"But Larry, but Larry, didn't you hear what the FBI guy said? Jets are easy to steal if you know how to fly them! You don't even need keys!" Yes they are easy to steal, IF you know how to fly them. The jet in question here, a Citation VII, has very complicated start up and operating procedures that require extensive training. Training that costs thousands of dollars, requires extensive documentation including a type rating. A type rating means you are qualified to fly only that type of aircraft. And while you may certainly do it in an illegal manner, the FAA is going to have your name on file as one of the less than 1% of individuals in the country that is qualified to fly that plane. The group of suspects for this particular crime is extremely small. Keep in mind that many if not all the 9/11 hijackers were being tracked by the FBI prior to the attack because of all the documentation that is required to get something as simple as a Private Pilot's license. They will find this guy, too.

"But Larry, but Larry! Didn't the terrorists fly those complex airliners?" Yes, after they were already in the air. Once an airplane is flying, anyone with a basic knowledge of aircraft control can fly it, especially if you don't plan on landing in one piece. This is why Atta and co. were only concerned about learning the basics. The pilots who they murdered before taking the controls did all the complex stuff for them.

Now, I didn't see it in this news story, but several of the radio reports I heard (on one network) made a huge deal out of the fact the control tower was closed when he landed and the pilot could remotely control the runway lighting. First of all, many control towers, including Champaign's, have limited hours of operation. This is because they don't have enough traffic late at night to merit the expense of staffing them. They also are not equipped with missles, lasers, AA or anything else that could stop a stolen aircraft from landing even if they were open. As for PCC (pilot controlled lighting), that has been around for decades and is not anything new. It is controlled using the same radio frequency as the common traffic advisory frequency for that aiport. Just click the mic 7 times and "Voila!", you have lights. Everything from a Piper J-3 to a 777 can do it. The pilot did not, as seemed to be implicated by the ominous tone the newscaster used when describing how he "remotely controlled the runway lights", have some kind of Bond-ian gadget that is allowing him to manipulate airport facilities.

But the part that just really got to me, and it's not mentioned in the link I gave you, was when the reporter I heard on the radio, in even more ominous tones, went to great lengths to point out the airport the jet was found at was where two 9/11 hijackers had trained. Again, a moment's reflection and you say, so what? But since most of the folks listening this morning were probably already in a lather over the "remote controlled lights" that little dollop of hysteria inducing whip cream was the perfect topper for a media that's much more concerned about tittilating than telling.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Hellos and Goodbyes

What a weekend. Instead of reading on Saturday, Laurie and I made a quick trip back down here for a funeral. A friend of the family passed away Wednesday and we didn't find out about the Saturday afternoon graveside service till Saturday morning. The friend was only 29. He had struggled for some time with some personal demons and appeared to be turning a corner the last several months. The last time I'd seen him was about six months ago. The family has not told us why he died and I'm not going to speculate.

During the eulogy I learned many things about him that I'd never known. For one, I had no idea he'd been an artist, and a rather accomplished one at that. I also learned that while he had many struggles of his own to overcome, he still found many ways to help others and took some fairly significant risks to do so. In one instance he bought pizzas for some homeless people he knew on Thanksgiving. In another, he actually allowed a homeless stranger to live with him for a few months until the guy could either get back on his feet or move on. Having seen so much of the darker side of life at such an early age, I don't think there was much that really scared him. He was by no means a cruel or violent person. Just a little lost I think. Still, despite the cards life had dealt him, and maybe a few he'd picked, he did what he could to help those around him and managed to leave an indelible mark in the lives of many people.

After the service, Laurie and I flew back up to Lansing for dinner with her folks. It was clear when we left Champaign, but as we approached Kankakee there was a line of thin overcast at about 4000 feet. It had been a little while since I'd been in any actual instrument conditions so it was kind of fun. We started out above it and then right before we reached the line, ATC had me descend to 4,000 putting us right in the middle of it. It was pretty cool and I got to show Laurie what an excellent pilot I was on instruments. Of course the bottom was only a few hundred feet below that so we popped out in clear air again well before we got to Lansing.

While we were waiting for her folks to get us we waited in Shannon's Landing, the little Irish pub on the airport. It's got a real southside, blue collar Irish feel to it. They serve really good beer (Guiness, PBR, Coors Light, Leinie's and others), awesome bar food, it's really smoky and there's Sox stuff all over the walls. Grady would be in heaven. Actually, it's heaven for me too, because it's on the 2nd floor of one of the airport buildings and faces the runway. So while I sipped a Smithwicks (good stuff by the way) I was able to watch planes take off and land.

When her folks arrived, I slammed the remainder of my Smithwick's, we hopped in the car and off we went to White Fence Farm--home of what can only be described as the most amazing fried chicken dinner in the world. Turns out the place is owned by Dennis Hastert's family. I think this explains some of Denny's girth. Not only do they give you a giant plate of incredible fried chicken, but a choice of potato and all the corn fritters you can eat. I went mental on account of the fritters and bloated myself. It was a sleepy car ride back to Ma and Pa V's. Before I left though, I said goodbye to Speaker Hastert's 90 something year old mother, Doris, who still greets you when you come in the front door. She really is a sweet old lady . . . yes, Marty, despite being a Republican. Of course I didn't ask her, so I don't know that for sure. For all I know she might be a die-hard Dem that raps Denny on the knuckles to this day for giving that "nice young man from Little Rock" such a hard time. Who knows? All I know is she is the patron saint of delectable fried chicken from now on.

Today we went to my future brother-in-law's church for the baptism of his infant daughter--a stark contrast to yesterday's ceremony. She's a little cutie that was born about a month ago. Afterward there was a nice dinner for all the family members out in the lobby. I got to meet a bunch of my future in-laws and I can say, I'm in for a good time. They are a lively, big-hearted bunch. I'm not saying they're all perfect, but I don't forsee any problems sitting across the Thanksgiving table from any of them. It's also clear they love Laurie a lot, so getting the warm welcome that I did today can only be a good thing. If they didn't like me, I have a feeling it wouldn't have taken long to find out.

After the baptism festivities it was back to casa Vanderwall for a little nappy time. After that it was a cup of coffee with the folks and off to the airport. I said goodbye to Laurie and flew off into the sunset . . . literally. It was a gorgeous flight back. I decided to stay down around 2,500 and just enjoy the scenery. You can see so much detail at that altitude. It reminds me a lot of Sim City. Right before I got back to Champaign, the setting sun ducked behind some high cirrus leaving everything bathed in this kind of clear, blue twighlight. Most surreal, but very, very cool. Flying definitely doesn't suck.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Turn the Page

It's been bugging me for some time now. This gnawing hunger for intellectual meat. I fear I've not only allowed myself to grow soft around the middle lately, but soft around the ears as well. Listening to mo+o reminiscing about his days in Japan when he was able to devour books as he commuted back and forth to work has only made the feeling of lack more accute. It brought to mind those days before I had broadband, XBox and a DVD player. Back when I'd spend hours in front of the fireplace or on the porch or in a cafe reading Milton, CS Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, Saint Exupery, to drop a name or two. There's nothing stopping me for doing that now, other than a distinct lack of discipline. I think its time to pick up the weights again.

I can think of no better time to start than this weekend either. Autumn is always a contemplative time for me. Just something about the crisp air, ice blue skies and longer shadows that seems to make you stop and go, "Hmm." I'm going up to see Laurie this weekend. Thankfully I've got a lady that likes to read as much I do (or did). Maybe I can con her into holing up at the Muse or Starbucks so I can dive back into some partially read books on my shelves. But where to start? Maybe while I'm sorting it out, I can finally get past that giant zombie in Far Cry.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


At Moto's urging I've added a Flick-o-Meter to the sidebar that gives my rating for films I've recently seen. I'm using the proven x/5 rating system, which I assume is "open source" and free to use. I hope Tolemite doesn't mind. As you'll see, each film title is linked to it's corresponding IMDB page should you care to see what all the hub bub's about. I wanted to use rottentomatoes, but I don't think their database is as extensive. Plus, IMDB's about as objective as you can get.

For what it's worth . . .

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mamet Gets It

It's rare that I post twice in the same day, but I just finished watching David Mamet's Spartan again for the third or fourth time. It has always been one of my favorite films but it just got shot up the list even further. Actually it's my esteem for Mamet that is even greater. Why?

I've always liked the film because the writing and action scenes, like real life, don't wait around for you to catch up. It assumes you're as smart or smarter than it is and can keep up without back story or stupid dialogue where characters, that maybe are supposed to be elite soldiers, suddenly feel the need to ask if a regularly used acronym in their lexicon really means what it does so the "stupid" audience understands. It makes my teeth hurt.

So, as I'm watching one of the final scenes, that is supposed to be taking place in an aircraft hangar in Dubai, I noticed something--or the lack of something I should say. In every instance that an airplane appeared in the background, the tail registration is either blurred out of focus or hidden from view by the frame or a prop. That's because the hangar was really in L.A. and all the airplanes had American registration numbers. Mamet obviously holds his audience in high enough regard to assume they might be savvy enough to notice an American "N" number in a hangar that's supposed to be in Dubai.

Very cool.

Crichton, Climate Change and Congress

I just came across this rather interesting address delivered last week by Michael Crichton to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. In it he makes a rather compelling case that much of the climate research today is dangerously biased in a purely scientific sense. In other words, much of the research that has formed the basis of public policy has not been conducted using the usual protections against contaminated data that is foundational to other research, like drug effectiveness studies. I've heard Crichton speak about this before when he was promoting his novel State of Fear. If memory serves, the book was about the use of "junk science" in climate change research to manipulate public policy--admittedly a more distinct point of view than Crichton communicates in this address. While we may have differing opinions about global warming, it's extent and it's causes, I don't think anyone could argue against some of the research improvements Crichton advocates here.

Here's the link.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

First Solo Flight in the X485

I can drive his Escalade. I can drive his SSR. When he had Harleys I could ride those. I was even allowed to drive his 390hp '55 Chevy when he had it. But I have never, ever, even when I asked nicely, been allowed to drive one of the John Deere lawn mowers my father has owned--until this weekend.

The rig he has now is a John Deere X485--a designation that I'm sure has significance to anyone who's a John Deere mower fan, but is lost on me entirely. Much as, I'm sure, JRX-S is lost on everyone but the 5 guys who actually bought one. But I digress. This little hot rod has 4-wheel steering, a 50 - 60 inch mowing deck and cruise control. Yes, I said cruise control. Apparently it's so you can set it at the precise speed for the best cut. Of course it's got all the other bells and whistles like pedal-controlled hydrostatic drive, a hydraulic control for raising and lowering the mowing deck and hydraulic valves for any accessories he might want to add like a snow plow.

I really have no idea why he's waited this long to let me drive one of his Deeres. All I know is I felt a little like I did on my first solo flight. Chills ran up and down my spine as I merrily mowed row after row of the Big Guy's huge 2 acre lot with hydrostatic, cruise controlled, four-wheel steering precision. Now that I think about it. This whole thing was probably some bizarre 5-year setup to get me to actually want to mow his lawn for him. I wouldn't put it past my father. He's as patient as he is cunning. He may have actually hit upon a way to condition me into believing that mowing his lawn is a rare privalege. That mower really is cool, though (did I mention it has a cup holder?). I'll probably jump at the chance to mow again. What a sucker.

Oh, of course he couldn't let me drive it without letting Laurie drive it first. I'm not entirely sure she really wanted to. I think it was just more conditioning. I'm never allowed to drive the SSR unless she's with me. Just his way of making sure I bring her around more often, I guess. I have no idea. The man is capable of anything, I tell ya', but I love him (everyone together now, "Awwwww.").

Last night we met Train Guy and Mrs. Train Guy for a screening of History of Violence. Now before I say what I thought of the movie I'll give my Tolemite-inspired artistic freedom disclaimer. I Uncle Lar, realize all artists are allowed artistic freedom and that their exercise of this freedom in no way, shape or form is required to appeal to me. However, I do see this as a two-way street, especially when I'm a paying customer of said artist's work, and feel that I, despite my lack of artistic credentials, am as free to criticize as he/she/heshe is to create. Now, about the movie.

I liked it. It was tight, well written and really conveyed the sense of dread and anger it's main character struggled with. Maria Bello and Viggo worked well together. The son character was written a little too whiny I think, but portrayed well by the actor playing him. The knockout supporting cast, which included Ed Harris and William Hurt, was fantastic. It was just cool to see William Hurt in a movie again and he owns every second of his cameo in this one. The only other problem I had with the movie was, what I can only assume is, the director's apparent belief that I have no imagination of my own.

Example. In one scene the hero puts a bullet into the head of an attacker. You see the bullet blast through the top of the guy's head and then the camera cuts away. Good enough for me. I just saw a .45 discharged at the top of his cranium and the resultant bullet hole. I get it. He's dead. But Cronenberg apparently felt it necessary to return to the dead guy and linger on the grisly damage done to the rest of his visage as a result of his .45 caliber lobotomy. There were several other scenes like this where I kinda' felt like the violence and/or sex was just a bit more than the story really needed.

In fact, at a couple of points in the movie people left. It was kind of comical when the second couple left. I don't think the guy knew his wife was leaving. I just saw her get up and bolt for the exit. He sat there for a second or two watching the screen then turned to his wife who wasn't there. He was kind of bewildered until he spotted her halfway to the door, then he jumped up and tried to catch up with her. I'll admit I sympathized with them some. Despite the title of the film, I don't think the marketing for it really indicates the violence (or sex) would be as graphic as it is. I suspected it might be though, as I have seen bits of Cronenberg's Dead Ringers. A very disturbing film about twin gynecologists played by Jeremy Irons. It was a bit much for me.

Still, I don't want to give the impression this film is all sex and violence. What violence there is, while graphic, is clearly shown to have consequences beyond just the immediate carnage. Unlike some films where the hero can gun down twenty guys in one scene and there's no reflection on, or even mention of, what happened the rest of the movie. This is why I had an easier time with it, I think, even though I felt it was excessive. The sex, however, as in most movies, was still pretty pointless. I guess the argument could be made that one of the scenes underscored the rather similar natures of Viggo and his wife. But I'll leave it at that.

Time to hit "publish" and unpack.