Monday, June 30, 2008

Nice try, but no cigar

I've heard of the dangers of driving drunk, but this is a new twist to that familiar tale.

When the 78-year-old Swede was set to board a ferry from Danish Helsingör to Helsingborg on Sweden’s west coast, he opened his wallet to discover he’d spent all his money at the bar.

Determined to make it home, the near octogenarian then stole a rowboat and set course for Sweden, which sits across the four kilometre wide straight separating Denmark from its Scandinavian neighbour.

After a short while, the drunken man grew weary and passed out in the bottom of his boat, hoping that the currents would carry him safely to Swedish shores.

He was later discovered by the Danish coast guard, which had been alerted about what was thought to be an abandoned dinghy adrift in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The coast guard towed the Swede back to Denmark, and when the old rower sobered up, he was put on the next ferry home.

I hope I have as much energy and initiative at 78! Oh - and it's reported that the owner of the boat isn't going to press charges. I guess he feels the same way!


Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right?

Recently, in counseling situations, I've had to deal with several people who've been actively searching for partners.

Many of them had turned to online match-making services, trying to 'advertise' themselves, so to speak. Regrettably, many such services seem more interested in taking desperate people's money than in ensuring a truly compatible match. (Yes, I know there are some reputable services out there, and I've conducted weddings for people who've met through them: but the good ones appear to be outnumbered at least ten-to-one by the less scrupulous.)

Others have used social networking services such as MySpace, Facebook and others, relying on their 'friends' to introduce them to eligible partners. Again, in the absence of careful screening and investigation, most such attempts appear to have done more harm than good. Besides, the 'online persona' that many people create for themselves appears to have little to do with reality on many occasions. (After all, when a social networking site exists even for computer avatars, just how much realism can one expect?)

I've developed a few general rules for such situations, which I try to explain to those who seek my advice. I think of them as prerequisites to success in looking for a partner. If they aren't in place, success is doubtful. I'd like to lay them out here, and ask for your comments. What do you think? Do these strike you as reasonable, realistic, and useful?

  • Before you put out a long 'wish list' of what you want in a partner, how about stopping to ask yourself, "What do I have to offer that a partner would want?" If you can't answer that question, maybe you need to spend a lot more time finding out about yourself, before you look for someone to share your life. In particular, you need to be comfortable with yourself, and in your own company. If you aren't comfortable unless you're with others, that's a danger sign.
  • Beware of looking for what you want in a partner. What you want may not be what you need. I'm constantly amazed to hear people describe traits they want in a partner, when from my own knowledge of them, such attributes would only make their own problems worse!
  • Don't rush things. Today it's regrettably common for relationships to progress to sexual intimacy before there's any real mental or spiritual intimacy between the partners. This is seldom productive. Indeed, it can be inimical to really deep communication. It's far too easy to shut off discussion, particularly over a point that causes dissension, and jump into bed. In that sense, sexual intimacy actually blocks communication, rather than enhances it.
  • If you're desperate, it shows. There are people out there who can spot that, and who will take advantage of it without hesitation.
  • It's better to have quality time alone, or with platonic friends, rather than waste it on an allegedly romantic or sexual relationship that isn't going anywhere.
  • If you constantly give yourself to others in an intimate way, without receiving genuine intimacy and an equal 'gift' in return, why are you surprised when you feel empty, lost, a mere shell of your former self? You can't empty yourself without suffering the consequences. A good, healthy relationship will fill you, not empty you: and you can't build such a relationship by jumping straight into the giving. Hold back until you're more sure.

Of course, there are spiritual aspects to this as well, and I talk about them with those who share my approach to God and faith. Since this blog is an open forum, and I know I have readers ranging from profoundly religious right through to hard-line atheists, I won't bring those points into the discussion. I'll leave it at those human insights.

What say you, readers?


Another officer dies

I'm always saddened to hear of the killing of police officers, prison guards and other security personnel. They're on the front lines of keeping us safe, and risk their lives so that ours are as little threatened as possible. Having worked part-time and full-time with law enforcement officers of various agencies, I think I have some little understanding of how stressful and dangerous their lives can be.

I'd like to ask you to spare a thought - and a prayer - for Donna Fitzgerald, who was murdered in the line of duty last week.

I've wanted to blog about it since then, but having served as a prison chaplain, I found it hard to find the words. It really hurts when a comrade - even one you've never met - dies like this.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- An inmate at the Tomoka Correctional Institution was quickly transferred to the Florida State Prison on Thursday after officials said he killed a prison guard.

Authorities identified the inmate as Enoch Hall, 39, who was sentenced to life in prison for sexual battery with a weapon and kidnapping charges in 1993. He had been at the facility since 1994.

The officer, Donna Fitzgerald, 50, was a veteran guard, who had worked at Tomoka Correctional Institution for 15 years.

Hall hid in a welding shed adjacent to the Pride workshop area with a knife made out of a piece of sheet metal, police said. Pride is a vocational training facility located at the prison.

Officials at the prison said Fitzgerald entered the shed around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday looking for Hall.

When she discovered him hiding, Fitzgerald confronted Hall and was stabbed multiple times, police said.

Subsequent news reports indicate that Officer Fitzgerald was raped before being murdered.

As for Hall, he seems to be one of those whose lives are a waste of oxygen.

Enoch Hall was serving a life sentence for a rape in the '90s.

Hall, 39, is a career criminal.

He first showed up in the system in June 1988. That year it was burglary plus a stolen car.

In 1990, the charge was battery on a law enforcement officer two days before Christmas.

In 1992, he moved on to sexual battery. Then in April 1993, in Pensacola, Hall raped a woman again.

This time the charge was sexual battery with a deadly weapon and kidnapping.

For those two offenses, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Hall has spent nearly all of his 14 years in prison at Tomoka.

Dear friends, as you read these words, consider this.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of law enforcement and corrections personnel putting their lives on the line for you.

Without them, more vicious predators like Hall would be roaming the streets.

When one of them pays the supreme price in your defense . . . remember them.

Honor their memory.

They're the reason you sleep more safely at night.

May Almighty God have mercy on the soul of Donna Fitzgerald, and receive her into His peace.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #43

Our nameless hero had his friends film this incident. Note that he acted voluntarily and of his own free will. (I don't say that he did so in his right mind, because after watching this clip, I doubt very much whether he has a right mind!)

Amazingly, he walked away with only a broken rib. What's that old saying about God looking after fools and horses?


What happened to the Four Rules?

From Yahoo! News:

CARCASSONNE, France (AFP) - - French officials were probing Monday an incident that left 17 people injured, including a child in critical condition, when soldiers used live rounds in a weekend visitors day display.

Fifteen civilians, including five children, and two soldiers were injured on Sunday when members of a marines parachute regiment demonstrated a hostage liberation exercise to visitors at their barracks outside the southwestern city of Carcassonne, regional officials said.

Four of the 17 were seriously injured, two critically, but doctors said early Monday that the condition of the worst injured had stabilised.

Hospitals in the southern cities and towns of Toulouse, Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan, as well as Carcassonne, were treating the injured.

One soldier, described as experienced with no history of behavioral or psychological problems, was detained following the incident.

Military and civilian investigators immediately opened probes into the events at the Third Marine Parachute Regiment barracks.

France's Defence Minister Herve Morin traveled to Carcassonne on Sunday evening to visit the injured.

"I have ordered an immediate inquiry ... to determine as quickly as possible the circumstances of this tragic incident," he said.

"One way or another something went wrong .... This type of incident is very rare and incomprehensible. There are procedures in place to prevent this kind of thing," he told journalists.

The minister said security measures were respected and that the soldier who fired the live rounds had an exemplary record.

"Security regulations were respected a priori ... use of blanks requires a distance of at least 10 metres (31 feet) from the public and the public was more than 10 metres away," said Morin.

"According to initial findings of the inquiry, the incident involved a soldier with a perfect record, who had participated in operations and had seven to eight years of experience. There is nothing that would make one think he had behavioral or psychological problems," he added.

The senior official for the Aude region where Carcassonne is located, Bernard Lemaire, said that investigators believed the deadly ammunition was loaded by mistake.

"The question being asked is 'Did the soldier engage in a criminal act or not?'," Lemaire said. "For now, no one can answer that, but the theory being worked on is one of error."

Monsieur Lemaire, I can damnwell guarantee you that it was an error - an error of judgment! Who the hell thought it was a good idea to point a firearm at others, even if he/she was absolutely convinced it wasn't loaded with live rounds? You never, EVER do that!

The Four Rules of Firearms Safety, as codified by the legendary, late Col. Jeff Cooper, are very simple:

1. All firearms are always loaded.

2. Never point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

If the soldier(s) in question had observed Rule #2, this wouldn't have happened. If every firearms owner observes the Four Rules at all times, no-one will ever be injured due to the negligent discharge of a firearm.

It really is that simple. Someone either wasn't properly trained in firearms safety, or ignored his/her training. Result: seventeen injured, two critically.


Weekend Wings #22: The Berlin Airlift

This week saw the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, which began on June 26th, 1948. It was originally envisaged that it would be needed for only a few weeks, but due to Soviet intransigence and Western determination, it continued until September 30th, 1949.

The story of the Berlin Airlift is well known, and I don't propose to go into the political, social and economic dimensions. Those interested can read about them at the link above, and there are many other Web sites devoted to the crisis: a quick search will find hundreds. What I'd like to do in this Weekend Wings is examine the impact of the Berlin Airlift on aviation itself - and it was dramatic indeed. It's not an exaggeration to say that the air traffic control systems of today (both military and civilian), the blind-flying technology in routine use, and the transport aircraft and networks that we take for granted, all had their roots in the Airlift.

During World War II the military use of air transport had burgeoned into a mammoth undertaking: but this was geared to tactical necessity rather than strategic imperatives. The only sustained strategic air cargo operation was the Hump in the China-Burma-India theater, previously described in Weekend Wings #10. This lasted from 1942 right through to 1945, driven by the lack of alternative means of transport. There were sustained air transport operations across the Atlantic and Pacific, but these were not strategic in orientation. Virtually all cargo went by sea - about 99%, by weight. Only VIP transportation, the evacuation of seriously wounded personnel, and certain critical supplies required the speed that aircraft could provide.

The Pacific Theater required very long-range transport aircraft due to the immense distances involved. The Douglas C-54 Skymaster (and its US Navy variant, the R5D) were more useful than the shorter-ranged C-46 Commando and C-47 Skytrain, which were more widely used in Europe and elsewhere. Converted long-range bombers such as the C-87 Liberator Express, and flying-boats such as the Boeing 314, the Martin M130, Mariner and Mars, and the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB2Y Coronado, also saw transport service in this theater. The latter is shown below (click the photograph for a larger view).

At the end of World War II the Allied powers operated fleets of transport aircraft numbering in the thousands. The USA had over five thousand, Britain over a thousand, and the minor Allied powers probably another thousand between them. However, within two years these vast fleets had been reduced to a pitiful remnant as the armed forces were cut back to peacetime levels, and demobilization removed most of those who flew and maintained them.

Furthermore, the larger and more advanced transport aircraft under development towards the end of the war were severely affected. For example, Douglas had a contract to produce the C-74 Globemaster transport for the USAAF.

The new aircraft offered an eightfold growth in cargo capacity and a four-and-a-half-fold increase in troop capacity compared to the largest Douglas transport at the start of the war. It could carry 24 tons of cargo or 125 troops, as opposed to the 8-10 tons or 50 troops carried by the C-54, or the 3 tons or 28 troops of the C-47. To illustrate its enormous size (for that era, anyway), it's shown below with a Douglas A-26 Invader medium bomber parked beneath its wing.

The C-74 first flew in September 1945, just after Japan had surrendered. The contract for its production was almost immediately cancelled, and only 14 entered USAAF service (although they went on to play a vital role in the Berlin Airlift).

Similarly, production of the new Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter transport, which first flew in late 1944, was severely curtailed.

Only 60 of these transports were procured, although more than 800 of a later tanker version, the KC-97 Stratotanker, would be purchased. The C-97 could carry 96 troops or 16 tons of cargo, and incorporated clamshell doors below the rear fuselage to facilitate the loading of large items of freight, as shown below at an air show, being examined by curious spectators.

Another very useful, albeit flawed, transport was the Fairchild C-82 Packet.

This aircraft first flew in 1944. It could carry up to 9 tons of freight or 42 paratroops. Its chief claim to fame was that the rear of the fuselage had clamshell rear doors that could be opened, or detached completely, to permit the straight-in loading of vehicles and other large items of freight.

The twin-boom design proved irresistible to cartoonists documenting the Berlin Airlift:

Regrettably, the C-82 proved to be severely under-powered, and its airframe was too light to stand up to the pounding of heavy-lift cargo operations. It never achieved its full potential, but it was further developed into the C-119 Flying Boxcar, which proved a very successful transport during the 1950's and 1960's.

The Soviet Union first began to impede surface access routes to West Berlin on March 31st, 1948. A "Little Lift" was immediately commenced by the Allies, lasting only about ten days, but this gave them advance warning that a much larger effort would be needed if Soviet interference continued. Sure enough, it did, culminating in the severing of all land communications with West Berlin on June 24th, 1948.

During the "Little Lift", British Air Commodore Reginald Waite suggested that Berlin could be entirely supplied by air if necessary, and calculated the supplies that would be required to support the city.

His calculations indicated they would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, consisting of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over 2 million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.

The agreement under which the Western Allies had taken occupation of part of Berlin had not guaranteed ground access to the city. However, it had set up three "air corridors", one from the US sector of Germany in the South and two from the British sector in the center and North of Germany.

These air corridors were specifically guaranteed by agreement with the Soviet Union, and thus could not be legally blockaded (although the Soviets would periodically harass Allied aircraft using them, causing many delays and some mid-air collisions, resulting in the loss of aircraft and crews).

Aircraft immediately available for an airlift were far from adequate for the task. The USA had two squadrons of C-47's in Europe, capable of carrying up to 300 tons of supplies per day. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) had more aircraft available, as they had reinforced their transport squadrons after the "Little Lift", and could haul up to 400 tons per day. The RAF also brought in more aircraft from England, including C-47's and the Avro York, a transport development of the famous Lancaster bomber.

It could haul up to 10 tons of freight or 56 passengers, and was roughly comparable in transport capability to the C-54. Before long, the RAF was operating 150 C-47's and 40 Yorks on the airlift, as well as many other types of aircraft. They solved the problem of transporting highly corrosive salt, which affected the airframes of aluminum-built aircraft, by bringing in Sunderland flying-boats. Their hulls were designed to be corrosion-resistant when operating from the surface of the sea. They landed on lakes in Berlin to offload their salt cargoes.

A major problem was that there were only two airports in Berlin: Tempelhof in the American sector, and Gatow in the British sector. These rapidly became overcrowded, hampering aircraft movements and cargo unloading. It soon became clear that the largest possible aircraft had to be used, requiring fewer flights to move the required amount of freight. Another complication was that the number of different types of aircraft involved had to be reduced to a minimum, so as to make maintenance and the supply of spare parts easier.

Within the first month, operations built up to a staggering tempo, despite these problems. By the end of July over fifteen hundred daily flights were delivering 4,500 tons of supplies. However, the problems mentioned above were complicated by bad weather, which would worsen over the oncoming winter months. The picture below shows a typical example of the weather conditions that hampered the Airlift.

Lieutenant-General William H. Tunner of the USAF's Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was appointed to command the Berlin Airlift. He soon saw these problems for himself. On "Black Friday", July 30th, 1948, he flew into Berlin, to find clouds down to rooftop height and heavy rain. A C-54 crashed at the end of the runway, and another landing behind it blew its tires under heavy braking, trying to avoid hitting it. Another aircraft ground-looped on the auxiliary runway, forcing the closure of Tempelhof airfield. Tunner immediately ordered a halt to flight operations until the weather improved.

Having seen the problems for himself, Tunner didn't take long to reorganize the Airlift. He insisted on getting as many C-54's and Navy R5D's as possible, removing the smaller C-47's from the Airlift altogether. A single C-54 could carry as much cargo as three C-47's, and was easier to load and unload because it stood level, on a nosewheel undercarriage, rather than slanting down to a tailwheel as did the smaller aircraft.

All flights, irrespective of actual weather conditions, were to be conducted under Instrument Flight Rules. All aircraft would proceed to Berlin along one of two air routes designated for the purpose, and leave the city along a third. Only one opportunity to land would be provided: aircraft missing their approaches would immediately leave Berlin and return to their bases. This ensured that landing hold-ups were minimized, and the risk of mid-air collision caused by 'go-arounds' was largely eliminated.

To assist with instrumented flight, Tunner ordered a number of Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) stations to be installed. Special GCA stations, built in small sections for ease of air transport, were rushed to Berlin to be installed at its airports. One is shown below.

Even though Tunner standardized the US airlift on the C-54, it was inevitable that some other aircraft would be required to handle larger or specialized cargo. From time to time C-74's, C-82's and C-97's would land in Berlin. Below, a C-74 is shown at Gatow airport in 1949, attracting many sightseers.

However, every effort was made to minimize such flights, as the different speeds and handling characteristics of these aircraft sometimes made for confusion and difficulty for the controllers. Also, their non-standard maintenance requirements stretched an already overburdened support organization to the limit. They were largely confined to bringing cargo to the airports in the US and British sectors, from where it was transshipped to C-54's for onward delivery to Berlin.

A third airport was an early and urgent requirement. The French offered to build one in their sector of Berlin, on the shores of Lake Tegel, and set to work at once. All the earthmoving machinery, tarmac, concrete, etc. for this airfield had to be flown into Berlin via the other airports, imposing an additional transport burden. Five C-82's were used to ferry earthmoving machinery and other large items, their clamshell tail doors proving invaluable for this purpose.

Larger equipment was cut into smaller sections with welding torches, flown to Berlin in pieces, and welded together on site. Below you see some of the 10,000 barrels of tar flown in to surface the runway.

The new airport had one major problem. The Soviets had built a radio tower at the premises of Radio Berlin, which they controlled, and which obstructed the flight path to the new airport. The French commander in Berlin, General Jean Ganeval, politely asked the Soviets to dismantle the tower. They refused, somewhat less politely: so he sent in sappers one night and blew it up. When the Soviets furiously protested, he blandly replied that the act must have been committed by one of the 'gangs of saboteurs' whom they had blamed for interrupting normal land routes to Berlin. The Berliners loved it, of course, and it became a standing joke, to the ire of the Soviets.

The new airport was completed in only 90 days, a phenomenal feat of engineering and endurance. Most of the labor was supplied by Berliners, 17,000 of whom worked in shifts around the clock for meager wages and a hot meal. The foundations for the runway and apron were made from the rubble of bomb-damaged buildings left over from World War II.

The first C-54 landed at Tegel on November 5th, 1948, even before construction had been completed.

Tegel Airport was dedicated on December 1st, 1948. General Ganeval is on the left of the three saluting officers.

A new runway was also built at Tempelhof, and the existing runways reinforced with pierced steel plating. This also had to be flown in aboard aircraft.

Gangs of German workers would inspect the runway after each landing or take-off, removing debris and putting new sheets of PSP in place wherever necessary. They had to move fast, or be run over by the next aircraft in the queue for landing! Somehow, despite the immense number of aircraft movements, the runways were kept in operation.

Airlift operations continued around the clock. Berliners grew used to the constant drone of aircraft landing and taking off. Gangs of airport laborers worked through the night to continue offloading supplies.

A massive maintenance organization was set up to service the hundreds of aircraft involved in the airlift. A particular problem was the coal dust deposited inside aircraft fuselages from the sacks of coal flown into Berlin. Special washing stations had to be set up to flush this out, lest it build up to such an extent that it obstructed the flight control cables and other mechanical components. This had to be done during routine 200-hour flight inspections.

Huge stocks of spare parts were accumulated at maintenance bases. Below you see tires for the C-54 transports.

Maintenance continued around the clock. Below you see the maintenance docks at Rhein-Main airport, in the US sector of Germany, at night.

Back in the USA, every effort was made to support Airlift operations. MATS contracted with US airlines to fly cargo around the country, thus freeing up its own C-54's and other aircraft to be sent to Europe. In addition, more than 600 airline charter flights carried supplies and personnel to Germany for the Airlift. Civilian aircraft weren't allowed to fly into Berlin, as it was considered too dangerous and their insurers refused to cover them. Instead, they offloaded their cargoes at US and British air bases, from where they were loaded onto military aircraft to be flown to Berlin.

The USAF created a special school at Great Falls, Montana, with duplicates of the three air corridors to Berlin, a GCA approach radar, and navigational beacons resembling those in Germany. Aircrews assigned to the Airlift were first trained there, so that they became familiar with Airlift operations even before their arrival in Germany. This saved a great deal of time and effort. Typically, a new pilot joining the Airlift would need only two trips as co-pilot to an experienced flyer before he would be capable of commanding an aircraft himself.

The flight regime to and from Berlin was very strictly regimented, to ensure minimal deviation from planned routes and times. Claude Luisada described it as follows:

The lift system utilized the northern and southern air corridors for eastbound flights to Berlin, and the center corridor for westbound flights. On a typical flight, the crew would board their C-54 at Rhein-Main Base. At a specified time, they would taxi behind other C-54's, each fully loaded with ten tons of cargo. Takeoff followed a split second schedule. Climb-out was toward a radio beacon which marked the beginning of the air corridor leading to West Berlin. This procedure required a set airspeed and rate-of-climb. All aircraft had assigned altitudes between 5,000 feet and 7,000 feet at 500-foot intervals. Airplanes at the same altitude were fifteen minutes apart. Every three minutes, aircraft were taking off or landing.

The C-54 would reach its assigned altitude before reaching the corridor. Entering the twenty-mile-wide corridor, the airspeed was set at 170 mph, the rate which all aircraft maintained throughout their [eastbound] flights. In the vicinity of Berlin, radar would direct the flight to its final heading for the airport runway. As soon as the aircraft landed and was parked, unloading crews would swarm aboard and unload all cargo in less than thirty minutes. Flight crews were not permitted to leave the vicinity of their plane, since they were normally airborne for the return flight exactly thirty minutes after landing.

(Quoted in Robert J. Serling, When The Airlines Went To War, Kensington, NY, 1997, pp. 267-268.)

William Lafferty, one of the Airlift pilots, remembers the flying.

The GCA approach to one of the original Tempelhof runways took you smack over some tall apartment buildings, and when you cleared the last one you were only seventeen feet from the top of the roof. I saw one C-54 clip that roof with its landing gear. It ended up on its back, and although everyone walked away, it was the classic case of stretching your ability just a little bit too far.

We never took off at maximum weight, always a couple of thousand pounds under. But because our fuel load was light, we always landed way over max. The book said you couldn't land on those steel mats or asphalt with an overweight airplane and stop in time. So we made a habit of touching down right at the end, hitting the brakes as soon as the main wheels touched, and then rotating the nose up until the tailskid hit the runway and slowed you down. It was tough on the airplane, but not as tough as running into something. I saw one C-54 land too fast and too far down. When the guy tried to make the turnoff the nose wheel collapsed. Nobody chewed you out for aborting a landing and going back to base, but tearing up an airplane brought you a lot of unwanted attention.

A lot of pilots violated bad weather landing limits, especially when the new runway at Tempelhof opened with new high-intensity approach lights, and we'd land even with a hundred-foot ceiling just to get the job done. Normally in a C-54 you'd make a GCA approach at a hundred and thirty miles an hour indicated airspeed, with twenty-degree flaps. But on the airlift with those narrow corridors, because you had to keep from straying too wide, you'd approach a lot slower at a hundred and twenty, with flaps at thirty degrees. No sweat unless you had to abort, and then things got interesting. By the time you started to increase power to climb, you'd already lost a hundred feet of altitude and you needed another ten mph to get any rate of climb. If you lost an engine at that point, you had problems.

(Quoted in Serling, op. cit., pp. 271-272.)

The loading and unloading procedure was manpower-intensive. This proved a major problem, requiring the hiring of thousands of German laborers.

Colonel Donald C. Foote describes how a typical planeload of coal was unloaded.

We shall take as an illustration a 10-ton truck from the ready line and dispatch it to a plane loaded with coal bags and follow it from plane-side to the time it is unloaded at the coal pier.

First, the alert driver watches the yellow "Follow Me" jeep spot the plane on the apron. Several minutes before the plane comes to a stop, the driver, with the 12 German laborers and cargo checkers turns and backs the rear of the vehicle to planeside. By the time the doors are thrown open by the plane pilot, the 10-ton trailer is backed and stopped. Since nearly every vehicle has empty jute or duffle bags to the tune of 1,000 pounds, the bags are quickly thrown by the labor crew from truck to plane. This process normally takes two minutes. Then six of the twelve laborers immediately ascend into the plane to quickly pass each of the 110 lb. coal bags to a chute which has already been laid down between plane and rear of truck. The remaining six laborers lift and stack the bags of coal as they slide down the chute. Each plane load consists of from an average of 180 to 200 bags. This phase of handling takes from six to 10 minutes, contrasted to an average of fifteen to twenty minutes before the chain system was inaugurated.

With the plane empty, the truck driver immediately repairs to Headquarters, TCAHT (known as the Little White House) where one copy of the manifest is quickly deposited for recording of pertinent information. This is used for statistical and other recording. Following this step, which takes less than a minute, the vehicle proceeds to a scale house for weighing to determine the differential between manifest and actual weight—and it varies from 5 to 10%, depending upon weather conditions and if the load is coal or coke. At this station the operation takes from 2 to 4 minutes.

The last hauling phase is from scale house to coal pier, where the same twelve laborers who unloaded the cargo from plane to truck unload the sacks into empty freight cars. The freight cars are then directed by German rail personnel to redistribution points (coal dumps) where the coal is parcelled out to the German economy and rationed to the individual German. A percentage of the coal is for U. S. Military consumption, which is allocated to the Engineer who trucks his portion to an empty dump.

Inasmuch as 65 to 70% of the total tonnage handled at Tempelhof is coal, we have used coal as an illustration of our operational procedure. Other materiel, consisting of food, industrial goods and perishables are handled in about the same manner, except that food for Civil Affairs is hauled to the land pier and CA industrial to the intransit storage warehouse in Hangar 4 for redistribution to German factories.

The lessons learned on the Berlin Airlift would lead to efforts to containerize or palletize airborne cargo, which would bear rich dividends in future airlift operations. Cargo-handling machinery and facilities were improved at airports and on aircraft as well.

Aircrew fatigue was a major problem. The constant flights (sometimes up to three per day when weather permitted) took their toll on pilots, and doubtless caused some serious accidents. In an attempt to alleviate the problem, pilots were rotated to easier assignments after six months. A USAF cartoonist saw the procedure like this:

Despite all these arrangements and new techniques, the bitter winter weather proved a huge obstacle. During November and December 1948 a long-lasting fog blanketed large parts of Europe for weeks on end. The poor visibility played havoc with flights to Berlin. On November 20th, 1948, 42 aircraft left for Berlin, but only one was able to land. At one time there was only a week's supply of coal for Berlin's power generating plants. Snow also hampered flight operations.

However, as experience was gained, new GCA equipment installed and the third airport at Tegel brought into operation, matters improved. B-17 bombers were deployed as weather reconnaissance aircraft, flying along the Airlift routes and radioing regular reports to the air traffic control centers (the Tempelhof center is shown below). These measures helped to nullify the 'weather enemy'.

In January 1949 over 170,000 tons of freight was delivered. In a special effort on April 16th, 1949, 12,941 tons of coal were delivered on 1,383 flights. By April 21st, the tonnage of supplies flown into Berlin exceeded that which had been previously brought in by rail and road. That month a total of 234,476 tons of freight was delivered. The Berlin Airlift could now be proclaimed a definite success, and could be continued as long as required.

The Soviets realized that their blockade had failed, and after much face-saving maneuvering, lifted it on May 12th, 1949. However, the Airlift continued until September 30th, 1949, building up a three-month reserve of supplies in case of any future repetition.

In all, US aircraft delivered 1,783,573 tons of supplies, while the RAF delivered 541,937 tons, for a total of 2,326,406 tons of supplies carried on 278,228 flights. The aircraft flew over 92 million miles in the process. Expenditure on the Airlift was approximately $224 million, equivalent to over $2 billion in today's inflation-adjusted currency. Money was not the only cost. Seventeen US and eight British aircraft were lost during the Airlift, causing 101 fatalities among aircrew and civilians on the ground.

There are several good video clips of the Berlin Airlift available on YouTube. The one below shows the situation at the beginning of the Airlift:

This video highlights the British contribution, and provides rare footage of some little-known British aircraft:

The following two videos were recorded a few days ago, on the 60th anniversary of the Airlift:

You'll find many more on YouTube if you search for 'Berlin Airlift'.

The Berlin Airlift Monument at Tempelhof, shown below, displays the names of the US and British aircrew who died during the operation. The monument is known by various nicknames: die Gabel (the fork), die Hunger-Harke (the hunger rake), or die Hunger-Kralle (the hunger claw). Its three prongs symbolize the three air corridors into and out of Berlin during the Airlift. A similar monument stands at the Rhein-Main air base near Frankfurt, the other end of the "airlift bridge".

The Berlin Airlift was the first encounter of the Cold War. It proved that military air transport, with civilian assistance, could function as a strategic weapon, not just as a tactical problem-solver. Prior to the Airlift, no-one would have believed it possible to keep a city of 2,000,000 people supplied by air with the necessities of life on an indefinite basis.

Military airlift went from strength to strength following the Airlift. The Korean War, beginning a year later, would place fresh demands upon it. New and larger aircraft would be developed, building on the foundation of the C-74, C-82 and C-97's flying at the time of the Airlift. New methods of cargo packaging and handling would be devised, as well as new equipment to speed this up. Air traffic control systems would be further developed to handle frequent aircraft movements, to the point that today, a large airfield can handle more than four aircraft movements per minute if necessary (and if sufficient runways and taxiways are available).

The Berlin Airlift was indeed a seminal event in aviation history.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

A vegetative state may not be so vegetative any more

I'm intrigued to read of a new method of communicating with brain-damaged persons, using brain scans.

BRAIN-scanning technology could allow doctors to read the intentions of patients who are unable to communicate via speech or gesture, with profound implications for emotionally charged debates about euthanasia and the way in which severely brain-damaged patients are treated.

The development was presented by British researchers at a meeting of the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping held in Melbourne recently.

Researchers used brain-imaging technology, called functional magnetic resonance imaging, to measure activity in different parts of the brains of 16 healthy subjects.

Each person was asked simple questions, such as whether they had any siblings.

To signal yes, they were instructed to imagine playing a game of tennis, which would activate a part of the brain called the premotor cortex, which governs limb movement. To signal no, they were instructed to imagine walking through a familiar environment, such as their home, which would activate a part of the brain called the parahippocampal gyrus, which handles spatial navigation.

By looking at which part of the subject's brain lit up in the image, the researchers were able to identify their answer. The researchers later confirmed with the subjects which answers they had intended to give, and found they had interpreted the answers accurately 100% of the time.

The research builds on a 2006 discovery in which it was found that a woman who sustained severe brain damage in a car accident was able to understand people talking to her and perform mental tasks despite showing no outward signs of awareness.

She had been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.

I've witnessed people who've suffered brain damage through accident or stroke, and been unable to communicate normally. Some can move their eyes, or blink their eyelids, to signal a response, but some aren't even able to do that. It's heartbreaking to think that they might be fully aware of us, but unable to show it, and unable to communicate with their loved ones - and it's very difficult to talk with their relatives, and try to provide comfort in a situation of utter despair.

If this new approach can break through that communications barrier, it'll be a huge blessing.


Now why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

An Australian company, Island Sky, has come up with an idea for a water-making machine that's positively brilliant.

The two key elements involved in making water from the air are: humidity and temperature. Island Sky® Water-Making Machines stand uniquely apart from other water generating appliances thanks to their revolutionary patented technology that draws more water from the air than any system on the market.

Island Sky® technology transforms available air humidity into great tasting drinking water by using vapor compression that increases the dynamics of condensing water vapor. Island Sky Water-Making Machines continuously simulates the “dew point” allowing water to be collected even in low humidity conditions. Air is drawn through a specially designed filter that removes dust and purifies the air. As water is condensed it is then collected in the water storage vessel and the entire water system is purified with OZONE which is EPA and FDA approved. In the final stage, the water passes through a high quality carbon filter, which enhances the water’s taste.

The idea is so simple it's positively ingenious. In any climate with humid air (which includes many parts of the world where people have little or no access to clean water), these machines simply extract moisture from the air and make it available. If it can be made to work on a large scale, and economically, it'll revolutionize the lives of such people - and save many of them from water-borne illnesses that currently kill thousands every year.

Even better, the small model can produce a gallon of clean drinking water for about 26c worth of electricity - the larger models should be in similar proportion. That should be relatively affordable, particularly if models for third-world use can be powered by solar panel arrays or other renewable energy sources.

An American company has licensed the technology, and the machines will be produced in China from later this year. I'll be watching this with great interest.


Gay Pride weekend

This weekend will see Gay Pride parades held all over the world, in an attempt by those who choose and/or support this lifestyle to persuade the rest of us that it's 'normal', 'natural' and 'mainstream'.

They're lying, of course.

By dictionary definition (look up normal and abnormal, natural and unnatural for yourself) homosexuality is neither normal nor natural. It's clearly abnormal and unnatural. As for being 'mainstream', when most studies indicate that homosexuals form anywhere from 2% to 7% of the population (usually nearer the lower end of that proportion), it's clearly anything but, given that 93% to 98% of the population aren't involved.

I've had an unusually large exposure to homosexuality in my work as a prison chaplain. As you can imagine, it's rampant behind bars, largely due to the absence of any alternative. Oddly enough, many of those indulging in homosexual conduct in prison will adamantly deny that they're homosexuals. They regard their actions as a temporary substitute, and expect to revert to full heterosexuality as soon as they're released.

It's hard to preach Gospel values about this sort of thing in that environment. Most of the inmates fear neither God nor the Devil, and aren't accustomed to reining in their impulses or desires for any reason. I found that humor worked best. I used to point out to them: "The rectum and the anus are the outlet pipes for the body's sewage system. They are not the Tunnel of Love!" They usually laughed raucously, but got the point, and from there I could go on to talk about Biblical morality with greater ease.

I'm frankly irritated and annoyed by the in-your-face approach of gay activists and those who organize such parades. They're free to choose their own sexual orientation, just as I'm free to choose mine. What they do in the privacy of their own homes and bedrooms is their business. When they try to take it out of the bedroom and thrust it under my nose, they needn't be surprised if that organ gets out of joint.

My first encounter with militant gaydom occurred in San Francisco in 1996. I was on my first visit to the USA, doing a church mission tour. I'd just arrived in Sodom-by-the-Bay, and was walking around that Saturday morning, quite unaware that it was Gay Pride weekend. I was wearing my clergy 'uniform', with a clerical collar, so I was easily identified as a clergyman.

I was promptly stopped in my tracks and surrounded by a bunch of militant gays, all challenging me loudly (and rudely) about the 'intolerance' of the Christian Church in not recognizing homosexuality as a legitimate form of sexual expression. Being the shy, retiring sort that I am, I wasn't slow to answer them, pointing out that they had the same freedom of choice that I had. If they wanted to be sexually active as gays, they could be; if they wanted to be Christian, they could be; but simple Biblical morality made it clear that it was one or the other - not both. I wasn't prepared to reinterpret the Bible to conform to their expectations.

This didn't please them, as you can imagine. One of them looked me up and down, clearly thinking I was from the UK, due to my colonial accent. He sniffed disdainfully, "You bloody Brits! If I said 'oral sex', you wouldn't know what I was talking about!"

I couldn't resist. In a dry, deadpan voice, adopting my best Oxford accent, I replied, "My dear chap, why do you think the British invented the 'stiff upper lip'?"

There was a moment's stunned silence, then an explosion of laughter from the gay activists (and everyone else standing nearby). My questioner nodded, still laughing, and said, "OK, Preach, you win that one!" They turned away to look for easier meat.

The episode rankled, though, despite its humorous ending. Just who did these idiots think they were, trying to lay out their sexuality on the sidewalk for all to see? What happened to privacy, decency and common courtesy? They'd clearly never heard of such values. As for expecting those of us who espouse traditional Christian beliefs and morality to adapt our outlook so as to condone their lifestyle, forget it!

When I was active as a pastor, I always preached about the need to respect the right of others to choose for themselves, but also emphasized that this did not give them the right to impose their choices on us. Provided they extended to us the same right to choose that they demanded for themselves, that was fine. The moment they started to insist that we endorse and/or support their choices, despite the diametric opposition between our respective moral foundations, all bets were off.

I wish gay activists would learn this lesson. They'd get a lot more respect, and a much more reasonable audience, if they were less arrogant and confrontational, and more respectful of the fact that there are relatively few people who share their sexuality and/or support it. Shoving it in others' faces isn't likely to change their opinions.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Another of the world's worst jobs?

Within days of beginning this blog, I wrote about what must be one of the worst jobs in the world - the sewage diver.

Now, from Norway, comes a job that may rival it.

Researchers in Oslo and Tromsø plan to analyze sewage this autumn, in an effort to determine alcohol consumption among residents. They don't seem to trust Norwegians' own admissions of how much they drink.

Newspaper VG reported Thursday that state agencies are prepared to pay NOK 4 million on the unusual research project, which will eventually extend to the mountain holiday spot of Hemsedal and all large Norwegian cities.

"We've never tested for alcohol this way, but we know that it can be measured by checking urine," said project leader Kevin Thomas, of the water research institute NIVA.

Thomas was part of a team that earlier analyzed Oslo sewage and found cocaine. The findings indicated annual cocaine consumption in Oslo of 35 kilos (77 pounds).

No word on precisely how they go about such measurements. One presumes they don't involve taste tests!

"So, Daddy, what do you do at work all day?"

"I analyze people's drinking habits, son."

"And how do you do that, Daddy?"

"Er . . . I'll tell you when you grow up!"


When the price of the gift isn't important

Following my report about the Bruichladdich Distillery earlier this week, I note with interest that another famous Highland distillery, The Macallan, has a rather special one-of-a-kind offer through Harrods.

For a mere $110,000 or so, you can be the proud owner of this:

The oak case is hand-crafted by Viscount Linley, to give it that aristocratic touch. It contains six bespoke Linley crystal tumblers, a cigar humidor, and six bottles of rare Macallan single malt whisky, of assorted vintages, ranging from seventy-one years old to a mere youngster of thirty-eight.

If the price seems high, bear in mind that The Macallan is one of the rarest and most expensive single malt Scotches in the world, in its older vintages at any rate. In 2005, a bottle - one bottle - of Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 whisky sold for about $72,000. That's a world record - and no, this case doesn't include that particular year in its selection!

So, dear reader, if you'd like to express your appreciation for the taste, discernment and overall excellence of this blog . . . now you know what to buy me! You may be sure I'll drink to your health with it.



Human ovulation captured on camera

This is fascinating!

A Belgian specialist, Dr. Jacques Donnez, spotted ovulation in progress during a routine operation. He was able to capture it on film - the first time this has ever been done.

From the upper left, viewing clockwise, we see the ovum emerge slowly from the ovary. Click the picture to enlarge it.

It amazes me to think that each and every one of us began in this form, a tiny ovum in our mother, an even tinier sperm in our father.

At almost the same time, two more Belgian specialists, Stephan Gordts and Ivo Brosens, have captured the moment of ovulation on video. It's fascinating to watch the fimbrae (the fingers that sweep the ovum into the fallopian tube) gather it from the ovary, moving in time to the patient's heartbeat.

An intimate look at the very beginning of the life cycle, even before conception.


Congratulations to Lawdog!

In his usual modest, shy, retiring sort of way, Lawdog hasn't said a word about this: but I note that earlier this month, he recorded his millionth visitor. He must have done so at almost the same time as Tamara, whom we congratulated on June 5th for reaching the same milestone.

Well done, good buddy, and thanks for the example and encouragement! I don't know how many 'blog-children' you have out there, but I'm one of them. If you ever hold a party for those of us who've followed your example, it's going to need a rather large venue!

I'm a long way behind, but I've only been blogging since January. At present rates, my hundred thousandth visitor should arrive sometime next Monday afternoon or evening.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Absolutely the worst music video I've ever seen!

And it's screamingly funny!

I've stolen this unashamedly from Phlegm at Fatale Abstraction. She posted it a couple of days ago, and I've found myself humming snatches from it ever since. It's so horrendously bad it's captivating!

Phlegm, this is All. Your. Fault!!!


The great stingray migration

The Daily Mail reports that the semi-annual migration of stingrays from Mexico to Florida is under way. They apparently do this twice a year, there and back.

There are some amazing pictures to accompany the article. Here are a couple to whet your appetite. Click the photographs to enlarge them, and click the link to see more.

Amazingly sharp pictures! Kudos to the photographer.

(Oh - and I hope at least one half of the Atomic Nerds is happy to see them! Sorry, Labrat, but I couldn't find any pictures of migrating swimming rats to add to this post.)


An interesting development in aviation

Aircraft have always been vulnerable to damage. Weather, bird strikes, collisions, etc. can render an aircraft unflyable, with disastrous consequences. On the (rare) occasions when an aircraft sustains crippling damage and is nevertheless nursed back to the ground safely, it's an occasion for wonder, congratulations and speculation about the 'next time'. A classic example is the Israeli pilot who was involved in a mid-air collision in 1983, which destroyed the right wing of his F-15 fighter, yet still managed to land it safely. The video report below gives details.

Now there's news of an interesting development. Athena Technologies, recently acquired by Rockwell, has announced the successful test of what it calls an 'adaptive control system'. This is built into an aircraft's avionics, and can compensate for sudden structural damage and bring the aircraft safely to the ground. It'll clearly be invaluable for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's), which are presently restricted from sharing airspace with piloted aircraft in many places. If they can demonstrate the ability to recover safely from such damage, the time can't be far away when their areas of operation will be expanded. The same technology could be applied to 'regular' aircraft to make them that much safer.

To test their system, Athena installed it on a small model of an F/A-18 fighter, and blew off 60% of its right wing in the air. The model was able to land safely and autonomously, not guided from the ground. The video below demonstrates the system in action.



Guns, the Constitution and the Supreme Court

Well, the Heller decision is in at last. The Supreme Court has confirmed - by a razor-thin majority of 5-4 - that it's an individual right to 'keep and bear arms', and to own a firearm and use it for defense in the home, as well as other legal purposes.

The decision doesn't go very far beyond affirming the individual right. The question of what is a 'reasonable' restriction on that right will doubtless be decided in court cases up and down the country over the next few years. At least the basic right itself has been firmly asserted at last - something that was long overdue.

I simply can't understand some of the language and reasoning of the dissenting judges. I'm going to have to review their points carefully. However, I think that anyone with half an ounce of gray matter in their heads could understand that the Founding Fathers and the framers of our Constitution clearly saw the right to keep and bear arms as an individual right. Even liberal and/or Left-wing Constitutional scholars such as Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School have acknowledged this. Given that the Constitutional amendments incorporated in the Bill of Rights are aimed at 'the people', and confer rights upon individuals, how can it logically be denied that the Second is as much an individual right as the First or the Fourth? How could four justices dissent from such a generally accepted fact? This baffles me. It's irrational, illogical, and totally at variance with the facts of the matter - facts that can be easily ascertained by referring to the Founders' and Framers' own words.

I'm also aware that no right exists pure and untrammeled, as an 'absolute' right. From the very beginning, the SCOTUS has ruled that rights are subject to 'reasonable' regulation. This is, again, obvious to any right-thinking person. Clearly I, as a firearms owner and carrier, can't insist on my right to bear arms on the property, or in the home, of someone whose religious or other views convince them that such ownership or carrying is somehow immoral, or otherwise wrong. On their land, in their home, they have the right to exercise their rules. I can either adhere to their rules under such circumstances, and leave my gun at home, or exercise my own right of choice, and not visit premises or people where such restrictions apply.

This is going to be rather more tricky to work out with regard to states and municipalities. Many states now offer concealed-carry permits, but some don't: and of those that do, some offer them on a 'may-issue' basis, where they reserve the right to deny a permit for reasons they consider good. I think the Heller decision is likely to make such policies unconstitutional, as they discriminate against a Constitutional right. I look for such states to move to a 'shall-issue' basis for their permits, and for those denying such permits to come under increasing pressure to issue them.

The problem is going to hinge on the 'bear' aspect of the Second Amendment. The 'keep' part is fairly straightforward: any outright ban on firearms, or a class of firearms, is now clearly unconstitutional. However, the anti-gun lobby will now argue that one can be severely restricted in where and how one can 'bear' the arms concerned. I note with interest that in the fabled 'Wild West', law officers such as the Earps and Hickok had ordinances promulgated in the towns where they served, forbidding the carrying of firearms. Those ordinances were probably unconstitutional, of course, but there are many modern equivalents, in particular the Washington, DC regulations involved in the Heller case.

Anti-gunners would like, I'm sure, to restrict the 'bearing' of arms to the confines of one's own home, or a shooting range, or during travel between them. I think such restrictions will be ruled too strict - at least, I hope so - but I'm sure the anti-gun lobby will try to work around that. It'll be interesting to see what sort of lawsuits come down the pike in the next few years.

I expect the anti-gunners to mount all sorts of attempts to introduce restrictions like the following:

  • Forbidding the possession of full- or semi-automatic weapons, restricting civilian ownership of firearms to non-automatic weapons like bolt-, slide- or lever-action long guns and revolvers;
  • Restrictions upon the caliber of weapons allowed;
  • Restrictions on ammunition, including trying to forbid the use of hollow-point projectiles and restrict the quantity of ammunition (and/or ammunition components) one is allowed to store at home;
  • An 'arsenal license' would be required for owners of more than a certain number of firearms, including onerous (and expensive) storage requirements;
  • Further attempts to reimpose the so-called 'assault weapons ban' (which was never an outright ban, and didn't affect assault weapons anyway - they were already regulated by legislation concerning full-auto firearms).
It's going to be an interesting few years. Those of us who own firearms and support the Second Amendment are going to have our work cut out to fight off the flood of new attacks on our rights. The anti-gunners have already started their barrage of propaganda against the Heller decision. Josh Sugarman, executive director of the anti-gun Violence Policy Center, ignores law and the Constitution and instead attacks Justice Scalia directly, trying to paint him as a tool of the fearsome 'gun lobby'. That's about what I'd expect of Sugarman, given his past pronouncements. The VPC's own press release also ignores law and the Constitution, and bleats about the touchy-feely issues it espouses without saying anything much about the law that underlies the matter. Again, that's about what I'd expect from this sanctimonious, logic-less, feelings-rather-than-facts group.

Heads up, friends. One battle's been won. The war remains active.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Has anyone ever called this guy a SOB?

How about 'trash'? Or 'gutter scum'? Or 'worthless POS'?

If they haven't, I can only admire their self-control.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Representative James H. Fagan of the Massachusetts state assembly.

If you want to know why I'm pissed off at him, you can read this Fox News report. My buddy Lawdog has also posted about it, beating me to it by a few minutes, so I'll let him voice the rant rather than me - he's so very good at it.

Suffice it to say that if I came across this . . . thing . . . and he was on fire, I wouldn't waste the effort to pee on him to put it out.

Indeed, I might be sorely tempted to run down to the nearest gas station to collect some rather more flammable liquid to add to the conflagration.

And I suspect most - no, all - of my neighbors would gladly contribute to a collection for the purpose.

Mr. Fagan, for your sake, I hope you don't visit this part of the USA anytime soon. We have a fairly simple, straightforward attitude to people like you . . . and we're not particularly shy about expressing it.

I'll even offer a plenary indulgence to those who wish to do so.