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Posts tagged ‘sad’

Houston, We Have A Problem …

(C’mon … you knew I had to use that one …)


Greetings from Deep in the Heart of Texas – specifically, Webster, a little town alongside I-45 about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Webster is one of several towns that surround the region’s most famous resident, the Johnson Space Center – home of America’s manned space flight program.

These are dog days for the astronaut corps. The shuttle program has ended, and the remaining orbiters are being decommissioned as we speak in preparation for their new lives as museum pieces. The International Space Station still orbiting overhead, a huge and impressive piece of machinery that’s controlled from the Chris Kraft Mission Control Center over at JSC.

Unfortunately, it’s also a station that America currently has no way to visit or resupply. There are European and Russian and Japanese cargo ships, but none from the US (although the good folks at SpaceX are hoping to change that soon). And of course, the Russians are more than happy to sell our crewmembers a seat on one of their Soyuz workhorses – a set that doubled in price the moment the wheels stopped on the last shuttle mission.

Barring some unforeseen challenge from the stars (cue Bruce Willis’ asteroid here), we may have seen the end of America’s dominance in space. Born out of the chill of the Cold War and fueled by a desire to fulfill the dream of a dead president, NASA saw a similar doldrums in the mid-70s after budget concerns and dwindling interest led to cancellation of the last Apollo missions. Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz Test Program were done on the cheap by using excess moon flight hardware, but we didn’t really move forward again until the shuttle arrived.

While the results were spectscular, and we couldn’t have assembled the ISS without it, the cost of the shuttle in blood and treasure ultimately proved its downfall. Now we find ourselves once again becalmed, adrift in space awaiting the return of solar winds and political will. It’s a sad state for the proud men and women of NASA, but sitting as I am only a few blocks from the entrance of JSC, I can tell you this – I’m proud just to breath the same air they do.

Onward and upward …

Via iPad …

The Fatal Flaw of American Democracy

As Americans, we love to tell people how things should be. More often than not, we think the way we do things is the right way, and your way is backward/primitive/wasteful/wrong/fill in here. That’s particularly true when it comes to our own form of democracy, which we’d franchise like KFC and export to the world if we could (which more than one pundit would argue is exactly what we’ve tried to do with every war we’ve been involved in during the last century). In America, anyone can aspire to any leadership position they desire, and if they can convince their fellow citizens to elect them, their desires can become reality. That’s a really good thing, because it means that no matter who you are or what your background, you can rise as high as your powers of persuasion will allow – and you have to look no further than the current President to see just how far one can go.

But there’s a fundamental problem with a system where the people select who should represent them as the leaders of the government – you have to select one of the candidates. That’s been a real problem for most voters lately, since more often than not they don’t really like any of the candidates that are presented for selection. As today is Election Day in America, millions of registered voters will hold their nose, enter the voting booth, and select the candidate who least offends their sensibilities – very few will actually vote for someone they really want to see represent them. There’s a lot of reasons why we have no decent candidates, from a vetting process that effectively eliminates anyone with real-life experiences (which, more often than not, includes the mistakes of life from which leadership is forged) to the genuinely qualified candidates being smart enough to stay away from politics and the mudslinging catfight that it all too often becomes, but the net result is an election that is really a selection of the lesser of a number of evils.

That’s certainly the situation we face today in California as we head off to the polling places. As I look at the options I have, from top to bottom I see little to get excited about:

– For governor, I can select between a burn-out we chased out of Sacramento three decades ago or a gadfly businesswoman who’s thrown over $100 million at the election.

– For lieutenant governor, my choices are a NorCal mayor who was unwilling to face the personal scrutiny that comes with running for the higher office or a hold-over who was given the job as a reward for betraying his party.

– For senator, there’s the current senator who’s done little but lap up the perks of office for 20 years versus a fired former corporate CEO with no political experience.

You can see why I get less than enthused by the prospects.

Of course, being California, we also get the joy of the ballot propositions – a unique experience so violently abused by interest groups that it’s the fodder for late night TV. Among the highlights this year are one that would decriminalize marijuana use (rather pointless, considering narcotic control and enforcement is a federal issue) and another that will try to force the state government to actually do its job by stripping their salary and benefits if they fail to pass an on-time budget. We wouldn’t need that last one if we could just vote the bastards out of office, but there’s that whole “no viable candidates” thing interfering again.

Even my local city election isn’t immune to the silliness – there’s a proposition on the ballot in Redondo Beach that’s so long (180 pages) that Los Angeles County forced the city to foot the bill to print the voter information pamphlets … er, booklets … er, tomes.

Did my part ... such as it is

But we do what we can and I will vote for the best that is offered – or, more accurately, have voted. I, like the majority of my fellow Californians, vote as a permanent absentee voter, giving me the time to leisurely review the voting materials, wipe the vomit from my lips and fill out my return-by-mail ballot. It’s convenient to not have to find time to visit the polling place, and nice to be able to swear like a sailor at the ballot without the guy in the next booth complaining. As more and more voters follow my lead, it’s going to make the process of predicting winners harder to do, and that just adds interest to the process, in my opinion – we’d all love to see a modern-day version of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment …

As for the big picture, it sounds like the typical off-cycle election backlash against the party in power is going to be bigger than usual, although I suspect it will be smaller than believed. Republicans are likely to regain the majority in the House of Representatives, stripping the gavel from Nancy Pelosi and handing it to John Boehner, whose avowed goal is to spent the next two years undoing the legislative activity of the last two. In the Senate, the gap betweent the parties is going to close, although the Dems will probably retain their majority. Who exactly will lead that majority is in question, however, as Senate Majority leader Harry Reid is in a tight battle with a Republican/Tea Party candidate and may not survive the fight to lead again. The whole Tea Party phenomenon will have its first noticeable effect with this election, and I suspect it’s not going to be the one they hoped for. A lot of Democrats who might otherwise have lost their seats will find themselves pleasantly surprised tomorrow when they win elections they ought to have lost. Too often, Tea Party and traditional Republican candidates are fighting each other for votes, effectively splitting the electorate. Also, the dogmatic sniping between the camps is distasteful to many in the middle, and many of the uncommitted voters who might otherwise have voted Republican are being pushed to the left.

Either way, it should make for some interesting prime time viewing tonight – and that in itself is a rare thing … :-)

Taking That “Woman Scorned” Thing To A Whole New Level …

We’ve all seen – and some of us have participated in – relationships that go sour, and know how passion and emotion can make you do things you regret. Fortunately, most of us stop short of taking it as far as one Bakersfield woman who paid a high price for her passion.

Jacquelyn Kotarac, a Bakersfield doctor, was involved in what what was described as an “on-again, off-again” relationship with William Moodle, a fellow Bakersfied resident. One would have to assume the relationship was “off-again” a week ago Wednesday, when Kotarac tried to force her way into Moodle’s home. While Moodle exited the house unseen to avoid a confrontation, Kotarac stepped up her efforts.

Police said Kotarac first tried to get into the house last Wednesday night with a shovel, then climbed a ladder to the roof, removed the chimney cap and slid feet first down the flue.

Kotarac apparently died in the chimney, but her body was not discovered until a house-sitter noticed a stench and fluids coming from the fireplace Saturday, according to police. The house-sitter and her son investigated with a flashlight and found Kotarac dead, wedged about 2 feet above the top of the interior fireplace opening.

Not a pretty way to go. The local coroner has determined that Kotarac died of mechanical asphyxia, meaning she wedged herself so tightly that she couldn’t breath. Kotarac had been seen drinking earlier in the evening, although police are hesitant to say alcohol played a role in the incident.

I, however, am not so hesitant. I have my share of alcoholic ex-girlfriends and have seen first-hand how an evening at the bar can turn a sweet, loving woman into a crazed weasel bent on revenge. Dr. Kotarac’s death is an unfortunate and extreme case, but not at all unusual.

So ladies, the bottom line is this – if you’re on the outs with your boyfriend and think that you’re thin enough to do the “Santa slide down the chimney” thing, remember this: If you drink, don’t slide …

RIP Ronnie James Dio

Back in my college days, heavy metal was just starting to take hold.  Sure, the seventies had seen some metal bands, but they were plodding at best – decent music if  you were stoned, I suppose, but nothing to really bang your head to.  But there was one voice that cut through the  mist … or smoke … like a scalpel – Ronnie James Dio.  As the diminutive front man for Blackmore’s Rainbow, he’d helped the former Deep Purple guitarist establish a new, higher energy sound for heavy metal.  When Ozzy Osbourne was fired from … er, quit … Black Sabbath, Dio breathed new life into an old band, resulting in the classic album “Heaven and Hell”.  And as the leader of his own band Dio, he showed the rest of the industry how to kick ass and rock hard.

At a time when most of his peers had been forced to the recliner, rehab or reality TV, Dio soldiered on.  It took a diagnosis of stomach cancer to slow this rock god, and now that massive voice has been silenced forever.  Ronnie James Dio died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 67.

Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall when RJD met St. Peter? I’m just sayin’ …

Rock on, my brother … rock on!

For God’s Sake, Man – Cover Up!

Let me say for the record that I love Iggy Pop. He does his thing his way, always has, and doesn’t give a fig for what you and I think about it. That said, there comes a time for a little common sense, even into the Popster’s realm – and now would appear to be that time.

Leatherman Lives ...

Ever since Iggy rolled out of Detroit in the late ’60s as the lead singer of The Stooges, he’s looked for ways to shock the audience as much as entertain them. Initially intrigued by The Doors’ Jim Morrison and his antagonistic relationship to his audience, Pop took it to another level, frequently exposing himself to the crowd and inventing the often-imitated “stage dive” as the ultimate demonstration of the idolation of the crowd. Though his popularity has waxed and waned over the years, his dedication to his craft has remained.

An iconic part of the Iggy Pop look over the years has been his bare chest. If you saw him in concert, whether last week or last century, you saw Iggy without his shirt, wearing nothing but jeans or leather pants – hopefully, zipped up. There was a point in time when he could pull off that look, but as this shot of a recent concert demonstrates graphically, those days are gone.

Like any performer past his prime but still wanting to connect with older fans, Iggy puts on the show everyone expects to see – and that includes losing the shirt.  But at 63 years of age, time and decades of hard living are clearly catching up with him.  Frankly, he looks like something out of a B-movie horror flick.

Please, Iggy – in the name of grandfathers everywhere … put the shirt back on!

Perhaps Time For A Rethink

In the wake of yesterday’s tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World in Orlando, there will be a great deal of angst and hand-wringing.  Brancheau, 40, drowned after she was dragged underwater by one of the orcas she was responsible for handling, and there are already emotional calls for change.

Whenever a human is killed or injured by a captive animal, there is an outcry against the practice of keeping wild animals in captivity.  We saw it when a tiger escaped at the San Francisco Zoo, we saw it when Roy Horn was attacked by one of his white tigers, and we will see it again in the wake of this incident.  Once the emotion of the moment is allowed to fade, it makes sense to have a reasonable discussion on the future.

I have fond memories of my interactions with trained whales as I grew up.  Marineland of the Pacific, once located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was the home to orcas Corky and Orky, as well as a trained pilot whale named Bubbles.  All three served as “animal ambassadors,” introducing the wonders of the ocean and its creatures to countless people who might never otherwise have a chance to interact with it.  My own love of the sea is rooted in trips to Marineland and Sea World in San Diego.

But much as I enjoyed the shows, I was aware of the challenges and controversies.  In 1987, Marineland closed and the whales moved south to Sea World, where Orky died a year later and stirred a discussion much like the one that will ensue now.  Killer whales have a very long life span, and forcing them to spend it in what is in effect a large fishbowl is seen by many as cruel.

To me, there are really two issues.  As with any animal that would normally roam over a great area, killer whales face a very different life in captivity as they would in the wild.  Much like elephants and other large animals, it is difficult to replicate the orca’s natural environment.  They seem to do quite well in captivity – the orca involved in yesterday’s incident has lived in tanks for nearly 20 years – but there’s no way to replicate the social interaction that would normally occur in a wild pod.  At the same time, the captive orcas continue to serve in an educational role, and I have no doubt that wild orcas benefit from the protections given them by a society that was introduced to the species by their captive brethren, and their sacrifice on behalf of their species may be justified.

The real issue to me is the idea of continuing to train and perform with the orcas.  While entertaining, it is a throwback to a less-enlightened time, when elephants and bears were chained to a pole and made to dance.  The trainers are skilled and the orcas intelligent, and for many years the two have worked together to entertain many people.  But it is the interaction between the trainer – an inherently unnatural pairing – that led to this tragedy.

It is worth noting tht simply releasing the orcas back into the wild “Free Willy”-style is not practical.  While the money provided by filmmakers and others allowed researchers to determine and locate the pod from which Keiko, the film’s star, was originally taken – facilitating the successful release – most captive whales could never be so happily reunited with the familial pod.  Simply releasing them in the wild alone would be no better than what they face today.

I believe the best path forward is a compromise.  End the trained whale shows and minimize the interaction between humans and orcas, allowing the whales to swim as freely as they can within their confines and make their own choices as to what they want to do.  At the same time, convert the current pens (as much as practical) into viewing opportunities for the public to continue to enjoy – and learn from – the captive orcas.  If pens can be developed that better meet the needs of the orcas, the display practice can continue – if not, it dies out with the eventual death of the orcas.

This solution won’t please the park operators, and it certainly won’t please PETA, but it is the only solution that guarantees the long-term health of the orcas while allowing them to continue to educate the public.  It is a legacy worthy of someone who dedicated her life to the species.

Good Riddance

The next domino in the corporate failure of once-iconic car maker General Motors has fallen, as it was announced today that the Hummer brand will be ended.  A deal was thought to be in the works with a Chinese heavy equipment manufacturer, but the apparent collapse of that deal has sealed Hummer’s fate.

While I was sorry to see the earlier end of GM’s Pontiac and Saturn brands, I’m not gonna miss Hummer in the least.  Whereas Pontiac carried history and Saturn represented change, all Hummer stands for is excess.  Born in the chest-thumping days following the original Iraq War, the initial Hummer H1 was a civilian version of the HMMV “Humvee” that gained much fame in the desert sands.  Large, loud, and with no place on civilian highways, the H1 was nonetheless popular with the “big ego, small penis” crowd.  Originally built by AM General, the folks who built the original Humvees for the military, the brand was bought by General Motors and expanded.

I can remember trying unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle the first time I saw the Hummer H2.  Downsized to more closely match the SUVs that were becoming popular at the time, it was literally the worst of both worlds.  It was boxy to try and resemble the H1 (and included embossed replicas of the some of the H1 features no longer needed in a smaller vehicle), but that cost the H1 valuable cargo space.  I figured they’d jumped the shark when I saw a crash test on an H2 that showed it had the suvivability of a ball of tin foil, but it was the even smaller H3 and a pickup version of the H2 that set the stage for failure.  In a time when intelligent people are looking to hybrids and electric vehicles as the future, the Hummer is as dated as leg warmers and spandex pants.

It’s important to note that while the Hummer brand is gone, the HMMV goes right on, as GM owns no part of AM General.  From now on, the only folks with Humvees are the ones who’ve earned them …

More Dangerous Than Anyone Thought

If you make your living on the sea, you put your life at risk every time you leave port. That’s just an unavoidable fact of working on the ocean, and one that every commercial fisherman knows all too well. Certainly that is well-known by all the crabbers working the Bearing Sea crab grounds, the fishermen whose lives and livelihood are documented in The Discovery Channel’s hit series, “The Deadliest Catch”.

Long before television make some of them into rock stars, rugged crews drove their boats into harm’s way on the wrong side of the Aleutian Islands in search of the bounty of crab that lives there. All too often, someone didn’t come home, and it was that “roll the dice” mentality that brought the cameras north in the first place. The change from the winner-take-all “derby” fishing to a more sedate – and safer – quota method drained a lot of the drama out of “Deadliest Catch” after a couple of seasons, and focus turned to the people who ran the boats and took the risks. We learned more about the men of the fleet, and what made them tick.

One of those men was Phil Harris, captain and co-owner of the crabber CORNELIA MARIE, and audiences got to know an awful lot about Phil and his crew. We learned that he was a prankster, a lifelong crabber, and a proud father to Jake and Josh, his two sons who served on his crew. We also learned that he was a short-tempered, chain-smoking, Red Bull-swilling advertisement for how not to live a long life, a stroke or heart attack just waiting to happen. In 2008, that vision nearly came to pass, as a blood clot forced Harris off the boat and into the hospital for treatment. When he returned in the spring of 2009 to once again run the CM we hoped he’d be a changed man, someone who had cheated death and learned a valuable lesson. Alas, that was not to be.

On January 29th, while the CORNELIA MARIE was tied up at remote St. Paul Island to offload catch, Harris suffered a stroke. He was rushed to Anchorage and placed in a medically-induced coma, and seemed to be making progress. The coma was ended, and he appeared to be on the mend when he died unexpectedly on Tuesday.

Aa television viewers, we saw Harris as the editors wanted him to be seen, but the townsfolk of Dutch Harbor saw him every day for many years. Here is how the local newspaper remembered Captain Harris:

Their pain is so new that people in Dutch Harbor talk about Harris in the present tense, like he’s about to walk through the door any minute amid a cloud of cigarette smoke and colorful language.

He was “friendly,” “honest,” “strong,” “hardworking” “caring.” He was the kind of guy who took “Deadliest Catch” T-shirts to sick children in the hospital.

“He was a one-of-a-kind person,” said Al Mendoza, fleet manager for Unisea, where the Cornelia Marie landed millions of pounds of crab over the years. “I don’t think he had an enemy over the years I knew him. Not one enemy, ever.”

All say he loved his sons, Josh and Jake Harris, more than life itself.

Then they tell how he used to joke about why lions eat their cubs. The words “brash,” “macho,” “loud” and “impatient” pop up. By all accounts, he could be a pain in the patoot, but that doesn’t mean they loved him less.

It’s been a tough opilio season for the boats of “Deadliest Catch” – deckhand Jake Anderson of the NORTHWESTERN lost his father only days before Harris was struck down. It is a reminder that a life on the ocean can be a very remote one, and time spent on the beach with loved ones is all the more precious.

Phil Harris was 53 years old.

Rock Star Rescue Crew

It’s been a week since the massive earthquake destroyed Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, and there hasn’t been a lot of good news coming out of the region.  Aid trickles in, hampered more by a lack of infrastructure in country than any lack of sympathy by the world.  Bodies remain in the streets and crushed in buildings, and the smoke rising from burning corpse piles can be seen in many locations around town.  As the reality of the devastation sinks in, the task ahead for Haiti – and those who will have to step in to rebuild it – is daunting.

One bright spot amid the darkness is well-known to those of us in SoCal.  The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue Task Force is one of the best in the world when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having prepared to face the inevitable “Big One” here in SoCal.  When the first rescuers hit the ground in Haiti, the lack of resources and organization stymied their efforts, but not CRT2 – they came fully staffed, supplied and prepared.  Once a flatbed truck had been appropriated, they were a mobile rescue unit, moving site to site and applying their expertise to pull victim after victim out of the rubble.

Because it was clear that they were among the more effective groups in those chaotic first days, they attracted significant media attention.  Several SoCal news crews are in Port-Au-Prince, and have been documenting the efforts of their local team, but even CNN’s Anderson Cooper has followed the team around, turning them into something of a media sensation, particularly with the attention that came with their rescue of the “singing woman” earlier this week:

Ironically, as the team works to save lives in Haiti, SoCal faces one of its biggest challenges in years as a series of nasty rainstorms moves into the area.  The good news is that there are plenty of Urban Search and Rescue teams left here to get the job done.

You can follow the ongoing efforts of CA-TF2 at the LACFD’s Daily Briefings page.

And of course, if you haven’t already – and even if you have, if you can – click on the banner at the top of any SCMO page to donate to the Red Cross Haiti relief effort. They’re gonna need a lot of help for a very long time.

Unimaginable Tragedy

I was on the freeway Tuesday afternoon when the first reports came in:  a 7.0 earthquake had struck 20 miles offshore from Port-Au-Price, Haiti.  I can remember two things … the time (2:10 pm) and the thought (“Man, are they screwed.”)

Forty-eight hours later, the worst fears of the world are being realized – tens of thousands of Haitians were killed in the quake, and many hundreds of thousands are homeless and starving.  The capital is in ruins, and the aid effort is just now starting to gain traction.

As the pictures of the tragedy begin to spread to the rest of the rest of the world, some are comparing the disaster – and the recovery efforts – to those associated with Hurricane Katrina.  There’s a similarity to the scenes of desperation of the Haitian people, but the magnitude of this tragedy far outstrips the Louisiana hurricane. 

One of the huge challenges that will face the relief efforts is the basic lack of infrastructure that existed in Haiti even before the quake.  Long controlled by lawless militias and despotic rulers, the UN was already using peacekeepers to maintain order.  Unfortunately, one of the many structures that collapsed was the UN headquarters, and the head of the UN mission was among those killed.

In the next week, we will see a huge amount of relief sent to Haiti – the challenge will be getting it to those who need it.  The rebuilding process will take decades and – ironically – will result in a Haiti that is far better than the one that existed last week.  But first, people must be rescued and bodies buried.

There are many ways for you to help, and you certainly should.  There is a temptation to want to send supplies, but everyone is saying the best way to support the relief efforts is through your cash – donate money to reputable relief organizations. 

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush have stepped up to lead a fundraising effort, and will insure that the funds are properly used.  Another way to help – and, if you reading this at the SCMO site, is the easiest to do right now – is to click on the banner at the top of the page.  We’re doing our part to help by suspending our advertising program and instead running public service advertising to help the Red Cross in their relief efforts.  There’s a lot of work to be done, and every dollar will help.