Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Erasing the Redskins

My father served on the Rib Lake School Board for sixteen years. One of the mascot name changing waves occurred during his tenure. Rib Lake athletes compete as the Redmen. Uniforms display a warrior in a head dress.

The school polled the student body and the community. I don't recall the results of the poll. What I do remember is the letter written to the School Board from the only Native American to graduate from Rib Lake High School.

The gentleman asked the Board to stand proudly behind the mascot. He didn't find it disparaging, rather he took pride in it. What most stuck with me was his assertion that if they changed the mascot, it would be one more step toward erasing his culture from the collective memory.

Some get indignant when told that redskin is not a racist term. Those people don't realize that Native Americans were the first to coin that term, though in French, peau-rogue. The term was later translated into English and never in history meant collected scalps.

Suzan Harjo, one of the plaintiffs in a case against the NFL, has long held that as the origin of the word without written proof.

Of course, these days no one needs something as silly as evidence to get all fired up. You don't need to know that the Washington football franchise started in Boston, then known as the Braves. Or that Lone Star Dietz, a Native American, was the first person to coach the Boston Redskins after the name change.

A quick search indicates the the leading choice is the Washington Redtails. That's a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen. I could go on about how it isn't really any different to cheer for black Americans and Haitians than it is to cheer for red Americans. But instead I'll just sign off by saying that if Redskins offend you but Redtails don't, you may be a racist.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Did Political Correctness cause the current Pandademic?

There's an old joke about why the Garden of Eden couldn't have been in China. It's a racist joke. Like all jokes, it has a hint of truth. Pure humor has what those who study humor (yes, people study humor) call a "Benign violation." A good way to visualize regular versus benign is to think about tickling. If someone you know and love rubs your ribs just the right way, you'll squirm and giggle. If a complete stranger or a creepy uncle does the same thing, you'll squirm but definitely not giggle because assault isn't funny.

Another thing that isn't funny is the current shared global experience. The world has been shrinking since before Polynesians loaded seeds and chickens onto canoes and slid offshore. The planet has changed due to human travel and trade. Oranges are from China. Coffee is native to Ethiopia. Potatoes come from Peru, not Ireland. Humans have been stuffing treasures in their backpacks to smuggle home since way before your cousin brought back some hash from Morocco.

And of course, we unwittingly smuggle stuff in. Like a dandelion seed stuck on the sole of a shoe or a virus up your nose. It happens and is happening. Some people play the blame game while others try to corral and contain the damage. New vocabularies emerge. If I lived in a bubble and someone asked me what I thought contact tracers were, I would've guessed unexpected visuals acquired from standing too close to the white guy with dreds spinning the hula hoop at the Phish show.
 Wuhan virus caused an uproar. Sure it's killing thousands of people a day but what an offensive name. Lyme disease is named after a town in Connecticut. Those poor people with the highest household income in the United States have to deal with the stigma of the being the namesake of a disease that makes people tuck their jeans into their socks when they walk in the woods.

You know why? Because contact tracers followed the radiating lines of people with new symptoms back to Lyme, Connecticut. Same thing with Wuhan, it's the hub of the spokes. That's it.

Too many of the recent outbreaks have been traced back to that part of the world and more specifically, wet markets. Mad cow disease, remember what causes that? Feeding cows sheep. Cows don't eat sheep, they eat grass. We realized that beyond the disturbing, feeding cows sheep was dangerous, so we stopped. No more mad cow. No more wet markets, no more pandademics?

The punchline to that joke is because they would've eaten the snake.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Doctor, Watson Lake is full

We woke up to blue skies and a light headwind in Bend, Oregon. After a pre-flight and some dinosaur juice, T-bone lifted and turned the nose toward Wenatchee.

The company that I fly for purchased a new helicopter. T-bone and I got to ferry it north to its new home. We left Southern California Monday morning and hoped to land in Anchorage sometime on Wednesday. Along the way we would have to stop every three or so hours for fuel, a bathroom break and a leg stretch.

As one flies north, fuel and humans spread out a bit and there's a section of the map where it's more than a full fuel tank between Jet-A dispensaries. We overcame that logistical challenge by purchasing some fuel jugs from a Canadian Tire Store. (Hot tip- Canadians think the old fuel jugs are innocuous enough and as such do not have those silly safety necks. You know the ones that make the world a better place by requiring one to twist and/or push some ergonomically challenging mechanism before fuel can spill onto one's hands, the ground, the side of the machine and finally into the fuel tank. Good ol' Canada has fuel jugs with necks of yesteryear. Next time you go to Canada pick yourself up a fuel jug or ten. Give them away. Any recipient over thirty will thank you profusely. Give it to someone under thirty and he or she may develop a deep respect for our neighbors and their love of simplicity.)

But I digress. We landed on a sandbar and poured one hundred and fifty liters of fuel into the helicopter without spilling a drop so we could make the final push to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory.

We landed just before nine in the evening, excited for a meal and a shower before bed. After securing the aircraft, we walked into the airport terminal named for American Frank Watson. He hurried north when gold fever took his senses in the nineteenth century. Watson didn't find much gold but he did find a local gal with whom he constructed a cabin and raised a family on a peninsula of a lake. When the buildup to World War II occurred, logistical planners realized that the jut of land Frank lived on was large enough for an airstrip with the added benefit of a caretaker on premises and a town sprouted from there.

Anyone who has driven the Al-Can probably remembers getting fuel in a town plastered with road, town, and traffic signs from all over the world. Our taxi driver ripped past the sign forest like the hounds of hell might be gaining on us. The car slid to a stop in front of the only hotel with a restaurant still serving food at that hour.

While T-bone paid the Canadian Mario Andretti, I stepped inside to acquire accommodations. The hotel clerk shook his head as I approached. "We're full and I don't mean the hotel, I mean Watson Lake. The first tour bus of the year arrived this afternoon."

I gave T-bone the good news and he suggested we get a bite to eat and consider our options. I agreed. "Are mashed potatoes okay? Ours are homemade. We're out of rice," said our server. Since our last meal had been twelve hundred miles ago, we thought mashed potatoes would indeed be the perfect compliment to our curries.

"Can I get you anything else?"

"We'd love two beds."

"Oh, sorry. Town's full, that's why we're out of rice."

"If we run out of here without paying for our meal will you please call the police so we can sleep in the jail?"

"That's a bad idea. Let me talk to my boss."

T-bone and I consider a game of rock paper scissors for who gets the backseat of the helicopter. Our server returns. "My boss says you can sleep in the bar if you promise to behave."

I'm excited for the opportunity to pay that particular favor forward.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning to Fly

Back in the infancy of helicopter development, everyone agreed to make the flight controls universal: the uppy-downy thing would be in the left hand, directional control in the right hand and the feet would control the tail rotor. Push left foot and the fuselage twists left, push right foot and twist right.

When you lift your left hand to make the helicopter leave the ground, the main rotor increases the torque on the fuselage and it wants to rotate in the direction opposite of the blades. Remember Newton's third law- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You counteract that torque with the tail rotor.

In American manufactured helicopters that means that as you lift the uppy-downy thing with your left hand you must push the left pedal with your foot to keep the helicopter pointed straight. Several thousand take-offs and you develop some serious muscle memory.

I got a job flying A-stars this season. They are manufactured across the pond in France. The main rotors spin clockwise. That means all of the muscle memory associated with my feet is wrong and I must heed Yoda and unlearn what I have learned.

The first flight went beyond embarrassing and into boy, I sure hope I still have a job territory. You wouldn't think it'd be hard to get the footwork down. After all, it's still push left, twist left. But human brains are lazy, thinking takes energy so once the brain correlates more power with more pedal, it's committed to muscle memory and that's that. So the nose of the helicopter was all over the place, especially in the hover. I felt sorry for the other FNG's in the backseat and imagined them struggling to keep their breakfasts down.

I did eventually figure out the footwork and spent a satisfying, if a bit too soggy, summer showing tourists some of Alaska's splendor. While I did get plenty of the usual, "Why is the ice blue?" and "Who built that road in the middle of the glacier?" type questions, I was asked two new ones in rapid succession. "Is it cool if we take our clothes off? And will you take pictures of us?"

Monday, May 29, 2017

Put a Tiger in your (drunk) tank

Not quite seven years ago, Frank Deford commented on fallen heroes in American sports. He mentioned Tiger Woods as the start of it all. Today in Florida (really early today, kind of very late yesterday) Tiger Woods was arrested for driving under the influence and Frank Deford died and I wondered (in Alaska) if anyone else was concerned about instant replay umpire reviews and the pending robot apocalypse.

Mr. Woods' whoopsie was a doozy, his second. Luckily for me, I gave up on sports heroes about the time I realized that I'd never be drafted into the Brewer's farm system. So it didn't faze me when a classy Swede made news with one of her husband's golf clubs roughing up the car on a Thanksgiving afternoon. Or this afternoon when the tiger not named Tony said that alcohol had nothing to do with his erratic behavior. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one but won't be laying any money in Vegas.

Mr. Deford wrote for Sports Illustrated for more than half a century and had a long career as a broadcaster for NPR. He made his mark as the sportscaster who focused on the quirky aspects of the game in whichever sport he chose to pontificate on at the moment. Feel like diving down a Deford wormhole? Steffi Graf is over-rated is a good place to start.

I saw a bit of a baseball game today and was thrown back to a class I had in college, American History from the Civil War (incidentally one of the stupidest terms ever) to the present. I don't remember the professor's name but I do remember a lecture where he covered the rise of baseball on the national conscience and the integral part the umpires played in said rise. Basically, his theory was that factories and baseball became popular at the same time and while you could root for the Yankees and I could cheer for the Dodgers, we could both hate the boys in blue, they represented the bosses in the factories. Who by the way are now the boys in black and are required to wear black undies in case they split their pants. Yes, I'm serious. You're an adult, Google it.

Anyway, I always enjoyed listening to Mister Deford on Wednesday mornings and was sad when he announced his retirement earlier this month and have wondered what he thought about the replay review.

I think it's ridiculous. Cuz if we can review what the refs, umps, zebras, stripes, blues, etc. call, why do we need them at all? Computers and instant replay can definitely do the job. And if we don't need them, why do we have them? Fire them. I'm sure the owners will pass the savings on to the ticket holders. And since many of our heroes are cyborgs on performance enhancing drugs, why bother with humans to enforce the rules?

One good reason is that it gives sports commentators something to do to make our morning commute more enjoyable. Also, fuck the robots.

Teaser: next post- helicopters and tourists and robot spiders

Friday, November 4, 2016

Blazing Saddles Sores

"Well, I hope no one throws anything at you while you're in Virginia." I couldn't agree more with my well-wisher. In fact I extended my hopes to include North Carolina as well.

I started thinking about biking across the country a couple of years ago. Fly to Seattle, buy a bike, ride east and a month or two later throw the bicycle in the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way meet interesting people, eat local cuisine and develop Ferrignoesque quads.

But since I'd never ridden a bike more than thirty miles in a day (and the one time I rode that far, it was weeks before I got on a bicycle again) I thought a warm-up trip might be a good idea. And I didn't have it in me to spend a month and a half in the lower 48 during an election year.

My presence had been requested in New England and The South. Schedules left me with nine days to ride 700 miles. I didn't do any complex math but less than a hundred miles a day seemed obtainable.

I've done long trips with kayaks and motorcycles and backpacks and those first moments with a heavy load, you're convinced that the frame is bent or the fork is twisted or you're going to sink. Pedaling away was no different, the bike felt squirrely and unbalanced.

A group of people, I'd met the night before at a wedding near Hartford, who thought what I was doing was mildly insane watched me pedal away. Luckily a grove of thick trees lined the corner and I was hidden from view as soon as I completed my first turn.

I stopped the bike, dismounted, and reconfigured the load. Extra straps were accessible because I've had to reconfigure many times in the past. What looks right while holding still is much different once underway. And you'll keep tweaking until Day 4, the day when things fall into place and you've found your groove.

Forty miles was all I set out to accomplish the first day. I knew I wouldn't get an alpine start, I'd be readjusting my load, I had no idea what sort of caloric intake I'd need and so forth. Plus I'd had a mild infatuation with The Doors while in high school and I remembered that Mr. Morrison found a little trouble in New Haven.

It became readily apparent that momentum would be a key. Timing street lights so that I didn't have to put a foot down meant I could keep cruising and avoid the start from a stop which took lots of effort, static versus kinetic friction, the first law King Newton penned.

Traffic was only an issue for three miles or so, then I was on the Farmington Canal Trail. It's a paved pedestrian and bike route and it got me quite excited about how pleasant the trip would be. Coasting fresh pavement inside a green belt through densely populated countryside was a breeze and I'd gone forty miles before I knew it.

The fairy tale ended two days later when I woke to rain. A friendly New Yorker suggested I, "Get in the fucking bike lane." Bike lane, what bike lane? At the next red light instead of irritating all the motorists as I coasted by them on the way to the front of the line, I stopped at his car and looked in the window. He rolled it down and I asked him where the bike lane was. As soon as he realized I was ignorant and not endangering the commute on purpose, his tone softened. Transecting NYC instantly became more enjoyable.

New York to Philly to Baltimore to D.C. blended together in a mix of rain, commuters, and occasional respite on a bike trail. Bike routes guided me through the tired, worn out parts of cities, past abandoned warehouses from the days when Americans made more than they bought and rail yards operating far below capacity.

One feels every bump through the handlebars and it didn't take long before I knew by the vibrations in my wrists that I was in another neighborhood with offers to pay cash for houses Sharpied on cardboard decorating the street corners.

Not long after I left D.C. dogs quit barking and began braying. Hounds being the first sign that I'd reached The South. Menus had grits, restaurants had waitresses, and nearly everyone had thirty extra pounds in their overalls.

"Sit anywhere ya all like," called the man at the griddle. I selected a table, spread my gear so that by the time I was done ingesting the recommended weekly allowance of eggs, potatoes, and pork products my jacket would reach that delightfully tacky state that one only experiences by donning damp rain gear and sat down. "That there's a family table," he pointed a metal spatula at me, "You sit thar, you gonna hafta act like family."

I haven't decided if franchising is the worst part of the American Dream but it's right up there. Good luck finding a group of retired farmers solving all the country's problems from the corner booth at Micky Dee's every morning. But if you follow bike routes there's a good chance you'll walk into a diner and hear someone spouting about how that's the problem these days. Do yourself a favor and sit close. Eavesdropping will be a breeze cuz they're hard of hearing and speak plenty loud.

I didn't find many places that will have a Fieri-red Camaro parked out front. What I did find were lots of joints full of good people serving decent food at reasonable prices. And of course a couple of serious griddle masters ending with the pat of melted butter on my grits, the black dude with hands so big that he could crack two eggs, one at a time onto his griddle. He's flipping hot cakes just down from the bus station in Raleigh, NC.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Heard through the headset

We're paying for the sunny spring with a jolt back to a normal summer in a temperate rain forest. The clouds add a Jurassic Park feel to the flights when there are few enough that we can provide a quality tour experience. There was one such break in the weather the other night and world headquarters hot-loaded my helicopter back to back to back.

I don't have the same spiel for each flight, mostly as a way to stave boredom and avoid becoming robotic. It would be a lot easier on the days when I don't shut down the helicopter between flights and loaders bring me group after group of passengers. I could just push play on my natural history humor mixed-tape and be off. Instead I sometimes have to ask myself if I already told this group my fun fact about super tankers or if that was two flights ago...

Anywho, I always pay attention to first timers or nervous flyers in my helicopter. I want people to have a positive experience in my machine (for lots of reasons up to and including that when at a backyard BBQ years from now when a helicopter flies over and someone complains about the noise maybe my former passenger speaks up about the wonderful memories from a flight decades ago) so I call out my turns before I make them, try to be extra smooth with my control inputs and in general make it as pleasant as possible. So at the end of the last flight of a very long day when I asked somebody's grandmother, who had told me as soon as she put on her headset that she had never been in a helicopter, "So Pauline, what did you think of your first helicopter ride?" while we waited for the blades to stop spinning so they could head back to their hotel and I could dream of murdering a beer while doing my paperwork.

"Well, I'll tell you, the helicopter was a lot nicer on my hemorrhoids than the tour bus."