Airline Service

A comment and link near the end of Relist Watch on at SCOTUS blog reminded me of a time when I passed the candy “tray” to an airliner full of strangers.
My mother had been been born and grown up on the west coast of Florida. As my grandparents aged, she would vist them. The train would have taken too long so she flew. On one occasion, she took my older brother and me. It was a late night flight, leaving from Cleveland after supper and going to Tampa with a stop in Charlotte. The equipment was probably a DC-6 although I know that I also flew that trip on a Constellation. My mom was a good mom. She knew that small boys needed something to play with and something to read so we had books and a small case full of small toys, think “Matchbox” or “Hot Wheels” although I suspect they were way older since there were Zephyr style locomotives and airplanes from the 1930’s and cars and trucks to match.
Airliners were not pressurized then as today. Or if they were, the control was not as refined as many passengers suffered ear discomfort as the plane descended for landing. To help, the airline typically distributed chewing gum or hard candy as the airplane was about to begin descent for approach.
At that time, most airline cabin attendants were men. Then as now, they were there for safety (first) and secondarily, the comfort of the passengers. But the stewards must have been impressed with well-behaved boys about 5 or 6. They let my older brother and I pass out little rolls of 4 peppermint LifeSavers in silver foil and Navy blue paper wrappers, directly from the boxes they were packed in.
Yes it is true. You should never serve food (or eat food) directly from the package that it comes in. But if someone serves you, accept the service graciously. That is what my mom taught me.

It’s a gas, gas, gas…

During the Viet Nam era, many of my colleagues went through “boot camp”. Boot camp for me meant a basic training in the arts and skills required to be member of the U.S. Navy. Two of the basic skills that were “cancelled” because of weather were “Firefighting practice” and “Gas Mask experience”. The Navy training then was in my opinion, then, and, in retrospect, very good. Given the broad cross-section of young men (only men in my company), an instructor explained the the background of each element of the important knowledge. We took notes in an notebook that was always with us because it was tucked in the top of the legging that we wore to keep our uniform pants from dragging in the ever-present slush on the parking lot like areas where, when we were not busy with some other activity, we learned close-order drill.
I sincerely hope that those in my boot camp company escaped both the firefighting experience and the gas mask experience in serious situations.
In the Spring of 1969, the country was at war with itself over the War in VietNam. Students had been killed at Kent State University in Ohio. I remember where I was when I heard that news because my sister was a student at Kent State. In the pre-cell phone era, I had to wait until I could get off duty and get to a payphone to call my folks to find out that my sister was all right.
So, when I was “volunteered” to protect the old “Main Navy Building” ( from a peace march, I was less than thrilled. When the crowd control training started, OK, I can do that. When the weapons training started with “strip this weapon and reassemble”, I was less than enthusiastic. The big weekend arrived. They gave us a gas mask and a rifle and loaded us on a bus, drove us to Washington D.C. First person I saw when we got off the bus was a First Class Petty Officer, who said, “we are putting these away unless we need them”, took my weapon and tucked it in a closet. Prayers answered.
The building was closed. All of the doors and windows were supposed to be locked. They assigned “watch’s” as the Navy calls what the other services call “guard duty”. My watch assignment was as a messenger. While on my 4-hour watch (4-on, 4-off 24x?) I circulated to each doorway on the ground floor. I guess in those days we did not have to worry about drones and roof invasions. The guys watching the doors got to see lots of hippy guys and GIRLS going by. I got to see lots of hallway. Late one evening, while walking this endless hallway, I smelled a strange and pretty awful smell. “That’s tear gas” he says to him self, half-way through a breathe-in event. STOP. Mask out of the bag, onto the face, breath out to clear the mask, fix the mask to the head, continue breathing, continue duty. I rouned the corner to discover that the “command center” had opened the window to permit fresh air while the officers and senior petty officers smoked.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the National Mall, the Weathermen had vandalized the Treasury Building and the police/guard/NationalGuard had responded with a massive tear gas response. Prevailing winds and pervasive gas, probably gassed the entire area including the command center.
In reviewing the situation, I find that the Navy has moved the fire fighting and gas training to a large indoor center. My wish is that the Navy boot camp training continues to prepare our sailors for the unexpected events they may encounter.

Dorothy Fuldheim

Dorothy Fuldheim was a newscaster editorialist on WEWS-TV. Her editorial was preceded by a version of Eric Coates Knightsbridge March from his London Suite.  I played the Eric Coates LP that I have and remembered her.  WEWS-TV in Cleveland, was home of Dorothy Fuldheim and Ron Penfound aka Captain Penny.   When I think of women in radio/television she may have been one of the sharpest.

Making America Smarter

Today, once again I recognized and opportunity to make myself a little smarter. And then I realized that there are those folks who would make the USA a dumber place. I am thinking of those who would make a single “Official Language” the only lingua franca. Fortunately, they have to spar with those greedy, money-grubbing corporations that insist on publishing the instruction sheets for their products in two, three, four and more languages. Me, cheapskate that I am, am not about to sign up for Rosseta Stone, Berlitz, or private lessons. I read the English instructions and then use the other instructions to increase my vocabulary in Spanish, French, occasionally German, or Italian. For example, did you know that “bain d’oiseaux” was French for “bird bath”. From there, the leap to “Bain de Soleil” is a short one, with a mid-air tumble to “Cirque du Soleil”. Do this enough and you might recognize that that “eaux” ending was a plural. So maybe multiple birds or multiple kinds of birds.

Lego and Playmobil have the richest offerings in the multi-lingual instruction. You can get important safety warnings in all of the above plus Greek, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish. IBM hardware offerings are even richer covering the Near Eastern and Far Eastern languages as well. Apparently, none of these products are marketed in the Vatican, the final bastion of Latin, much to my disappointment.

Around 1965, Tom Lehrer wrote in a song about a rocket scientist of the time:

You too may be a big hero
Once you’ve learned to count backwards to zero
“In German oder English I know how to count down
Und I’m learning Chinese,” says Wernher von Braun

[Copyright Tom Lehrer (talk about visionaries), Wernher Von Braun, from memory]

Perhaps I listened to the wrong music as a teenager.

So when someone suggests that we should settle on American English and only allow that, they may be just trying to take away one of your choices. And choice is freedom. Of course stupidity is a a choice. No current medical evidence shows that language instruction causes brain injury. Yet hundreds of school systems cut language programs to maintain the funding for football programs. Go figure.

Long Ago, Far Away

There was a camp. All boys at camp Y-Noah in those days. Maybe different now. Back then  a big treat was to go to a pine grove on the south side of the lake for an overnight. Great camping, quiet. And pine duff is soft and smooth. In those days, we carefully stepped across the spillway of the dam to get to the grove.

I am sure that many things have changed since those days. But one thing I know for sure is the same. The concrete dam that forms Lake Noah is still there. Which means that Headless Haddie still does not sleep at night.

That was already an old legend 50 years ago when I was a camper at Camp Y-Noah. Haddie was said t0 be a local girl,  just about 12 or so. When the workmen were building the dam, somehow, Haddie, too close to where the concrete was being poured, was struck by a bulldozer, her head severed instantly by the impact, rolled into the flowing concrete and was buried. Her folks buried her body in a nearby graveyard. But on moonless nights, her ghost comes to the lake to see if she can find her head.

The sound you hear in the pine grove is Haddie’s dress, blowing gently in the summer wind.

Make sure you know where your stuff is.  Especially your flashlight.  Did you remember fresh batteries?

Sleep tight campers.

Citizen Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has discussed with other lawmakers the possibility of drafting a constitutional amendment to deny U.S. born children of illegally present mothers the U.S. citizenship guaranteed by the constitution. Go for it Senator! Senator Graham and his cronies cannot seem to even get a majority together to properly fund a patrol on the border to keep out drug carriers or bombers. He should be concentrating on sorting the wheat from the chaff of the immigrants who come here by choice. He should leave the newborns that have no choice in the matter alone. Apparently his once keen mind is fading. A trick from Genesis: Distract the audience with something truly inconsequential while the really important stuff slithers by. Time to pass the baton, Senator Graham. I will be voting for whoever makes him Former Senator Graham.

Piano Box Playhouse

While shelling a peanut, I had a flashback to a previous time in my grandparent’s yard. Grandma lived to be 102. Grandpa did not live as long. But my memory is of an earlier time in the yard in Clearwater, Florida. There was a chest-high chain link fence around the entire yard. But you could not see the fence except at the gates for the ivy that covered the fence. The fence was there for Granddaddy’s chickens. He had Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Banties that I remember, and from what my mother said, the Banties, bantam hens and a fancy bantam rooster, were his favorites.

Granddaddy had peanuts in a brown paper sack. A rotating sprinkler watered the lawn, spinning in the morning, Florida sun, making the coarse, Florida grass sparkle. A crate that had once been used to ship an upright piano had been made into a playhouse by cutting a kid-size door in one end and a North-facing window in one wall. The crate had been there for long before I got there. The wood was the color of driftwood from weather. Setting it on cement blocks had protected it from termites and and tar-paper roofing and siding kept it from wet.

Perhaps if the packers of today’s wide-screen T.V.’s and such would print play suggestions on the sides of the boxes then kids could take advantage of the play value of the packing material before it went to recycling or landfill…

Objection! Liability. Granted. Strike that testimony.


I have just returned from Asheville, NC where I saw a most amazing play. PLUTO V. ERIS. A play to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the publication of Galileo’s The Starry Messenger.

Full disclosure, I probably would not have heard about this play if my daughter did not play a part.

A classic play in the sense that it’s form and presentation model a Greek classic play. Or perhaps a modern civil trial.

A number of gods and goddesses from myth and legend are gathered for a Council of Celestial Beings. Eris, goddess of Discord, is accused by Pluto, god of the Underworld, of treason and general mayhem. Testimony proceeds through dialog and deposition. The costumes of the gods and goddess are outstanding from the Polynesian and Hawaiian god and goddess that open the show to the giant planet giants that join in the testimony. The cut paper figures in the shadow puppet deposition video are worth the visit in themselves. Classic shapes. Classic themes. Great action.

As the play unfolds, the interaction of myth and earth reality are explored. In the end, there are choices to be made.

The Vance Elementary School in Asheville Planetorium is the near-perfect performance space for this play. The semi-circular stadium is reminiscent of the Greek and Roman theaters of ancient times. More so because the ceiling of the Planetorium is hung with models of the planets with Earth the size of a basketball and the others to match.

Just one more performance in this round on the March 27, 2010 at 8:00 PM. A great show and worth the trip. A website for more info. Contributions benefit the Vance Elementary NASA program. A website for more info. Contributions benefit the Vance Elementary NASA program.


Tomorrow night you will be [nodding | shaking | scratching] your head at President Obama’s State of the Union Address. As a politician, Obama (or his speech writers) will make sure that all of the right buttons are pushed. As a citizen, you will be shaking your head at all of the unfulfilled promises of the campaign trail. And as a real live person, you will be scratching your head as to [where are we now? | what should we do? | long range plans?]. Yes, Barack Obama is the ultimate enigma. Perhaps, recent election results will energize him to new ideas and directions. Hopefully the face-to-face with the massed Congress will be a wake up call to both the Congress and the President. I suspect that despite the applause, most of the 435+100+9+1 will sleep through class. Do not blame the professor (at least I expect him to show on time, the Secret Service will see to that), I suspect insufficient pre-class preparation by the occupants of the lecture hall is the main problem.