Sunday, November 30, 2008

The healthy, happy farmer . . .

On only my third day of blogging, I wrote about what I thought must be the worst job in the world - that of the sewage diver.

The video below has persuaded me that there are worse things. After all, at least the sewage diver is securely enclosed in a watertight suit!

So much for the healthy, wholesome profession of farming . . .


Be thankful for modern dentistry!

I'm nervously clutching my jaw and hoping I don't have any bad dreams over a recently-discovered textbook from the 18th century.

The book, 'A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums and the Most Rational Methods of Treating Them', was written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, 'Operator to the Teeth' of King George III of Britain. His descriptions of early dental techniques are agonizingly horrible!

A copy of the book, bound in its original calfskin covers, was recently discovered at a valuation day by auctioneer Charles Hanson and will be sold at auction at the Mackworth Hotel, near Derby, on November 26. It is expected to fetch around £300.

Mr Hanson said: 'Its true worth is in the snapshot it provides of medicine at that time.
' We might complain that we have it bad now in certain ways, but being a dental patient back then doesn't really bear thinking about.'

Here's a selection of 'Dr.' Berdmore's advice.

On the importance of dental care: "A foulness of the teeth is by some people as little regarded as it is easily removed; but with the fair sex, with polite and elegant part of the world, it is looked upon as a certain mark of nastiness and sloth."

On the perils of sugar: "People who eat most sweetmeats are subject to disorders. Peasants suffer less in this way, unlike those of rank and opulence."

On tooth straightening: "Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line." Alternatively: "Break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers."

On tooth care: "Cracking nuts is hurtful to teeth, as is the custom young girls have for cutting sewing thread with their teeth."

On the risks of lifting furniture: "The boyish custom of carrying a table or chair in the mouth is as dangerous as it is absurd."

On dental hygiene: "Tooth picks are also very bad practice."

On toothache: "Toothache arising from alternate hot and cold liquors is often felt by delicate women who live a recluse life and admit to filing too freely."

On a botched extraction: "A young woman aged 23 went to a barber dentist to have the left molaris tooth of the upper jaw on the right side taken out. On the second attempt he brought away the affected tooth together with a piece of jawbone as big as a walnut and three neighbouring molars."

All I can say is . . . Ouch!!! - and thank Heavens for modern dentistry!


So that's what it was!

A few months ago I was sent a link to a video by e-mail. It showed a strange-looking creature, with long, string-like tentacles, deep beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The video was taken by a remotely-operated vehicle of the Shell oil company, while prospecting for oil. It's apparently been circulating on the Internet for a year or more.

Now comes the explanation of what it was. According to National Geographic:

A mile and a half (two and a half kilometers) underwater, a remote control submersible's camera has captured an eerie surprise: an alien-like, long-armed, and—strangest of all—"elbowed" Magnapinna squid. (See photos of Magnapinna.)

In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007.

The clip—from a Shell oil company ROV (remotely operated vehicle)—arrived after a long, circuitous trip through oil-industry in-boxes and other email accounts.

"Perdido ROV Visitor, What Is It?" the email's subject line read — Perdido being the name of a Shell-owned drilling site. Located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Houston, Texas, Perdido is one of the world's deepest oil and gas developments.

Despite the squid's apparent unflappability on camera, Magnapinna, or "big fin," squid remain largely a mystery to science.

ROVs have filmed Magnapinna squid a dozen or so times in the Gulf and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.

The recent video marks the first sighting of a Magnapinna at an oil development, though experts don't think the squid's presence there has any special scientific significance.

But the video is evidence of how, as oil- and gas-industry ROVs dive deeper and stay down longer, they are yielding valuable footage of deep-sea animals.

Some marine biologists have even formed formal partnerships with oil companies, allowing scientists to share camera time on the corporate ROVs—though critics worry about possible conflicts of interest.

The Perdido squid may look like a science fiction movie monster, but it's no special effect, according to squid biologist Michael Vecchione of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is based at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

In 1998 Vecchoine and University of Hawaii biologist Richard Young became the first to document a Magnapinna, based on juveniles of the Magnapinna pacifica species. M. pacifica was so unusual that the scientists had to create a new classification category to accommodate it: the family Magnapinnidae, which currently boasts four species.

Based on analysis of videos not unlike the one captured at the Perdido site, scientists know that the adult Magnapinna observed to date range from 5 to 23 feet (1.5 to 7 meters) long, Vecchione said. By contrast, the largest known giant squid measured about 16 meters (52 feet) long.

And whereas giant squid and other cephalopods have eight short arms and two long tentacles, Magnapinna has ten indistinguishable appendages that all appear to be the same length.

"The most peculiar structure is that of the arms," said deep-sea biologist Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.

Referring to the way the tentacles hang down from elbow-like kinks, Robison said: "Judging from that structure, we think the animal feeds by dragging its arms and the ends of its tentacles along the seafloor as it drifts slowly above it."

The elbow-like angles allow the tentacles to spread out, perhaps preventing them from getting tangled.

"Imagine spreading the fingers of a hand and dragging the fingertips along the top of a table to grab bits of food," he added.

But NOAA's Vecchione suggests a feeding behavior that is more like trapping than hunting. He speculates that Magnapinna passively waits for prey to bump into the sticky appendages.

Fascinating stuff! I'm glad to know more about that weird-looking creature. I wonder how many more species unknown to science are waiting down there?


Reflections on Rosa Parks, and on 'group think'

On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks lit the spark to the explosion in the US civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white passenger.

Her story is well-known enough (and described at the link above) that I won't go into it here. However, I'd like to take the opportunity offered by this anniversary to reflect on racism and intolerance in all its forms. They're examples of 'group-think', judging an individual by the group(s) to which he or she belongs.

I've seen the worst of racism, in South Africa, where I was born and grew up. I was blessed in my parents, who, being from England, weren't brought up with any consciousness of racial superiority. (National superiority, perhaps . . . but not race!) They brought me up with the awareness that it's never the group that matters - only the individual. One can't say that just because a certain proportion of people from a given ethnic background, or nationality, or race, or religion, or any other 'group' distinction, behave in a certain way, that everyone from that 'group' will do the same.

I found this again in my work with the victims of violence during the troubled years from 1976-1994, when a low-key, endless cycle of civil unrest (verging at times on open civil war) finally brought an end to the evil that was apartheid. There were people of all races whom I regarded as utterly beyond the limits of what I would classify as humanity. I'd not have shed a single tear for them if they'd been burned alive in front of me, and wouldn't so much have peed on the flames to help them. They were evil personified. Some were out-and-out terrorists, masquerading as 'liberation fighters', but in reality terrorizing and manipulating and extorting and brutalizing those under their power. Others were police officers, nominally there to 'protect and serve', but in reality using torture, intimidation and brutality to get the information they needed, and not above murdering suspects in cold blood if they thought they were guilty, but didn't have enough evidence to convict them in court. Still others were politicians, who utterly refused to consider those affected by their decisions as human beings, regarding them merely as numbers or digits or files in a bureaucratic system, to be shuffled about at their whim. Soulless demons and monsters, all of them.

I learned, too, that the slope between genuine concern for one's fellow citizens, and becoming a criminal or even a terrorist, is a very slippery one. I knew some folks who went to Afghanistan in the 1980's to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviet invaders of that country. When they returned to South Africa, they were on fire with zeal for their faith, Islam, and to reform the evils in society. They began by attempting to counter the gangs that plagued their neighborhoods, forming an organization that became known as PAGAD - People Against Gangsterism And Drugs. When the police couldn't (or wouldn't) act against gangsters, these folks would give them a public warning to reform or get out of town. If they didn't, they took direct action against them, up to and including killing them.

Of course, the inevitable happened. Having successfully reduced the gangster element in their own neighborhoods, PAGAD began expanding into others - whether the residents there wanted it or not. Their members planted bombs, shot at gangsters, and eventually moved into a form of gangsterism themselves. Instead of removing the crime problem, they simply evolved into another form of it. In a sense, that's precisely how Al Qaeda developed into the soulless, Godless monster it's become. Its leaders began a legitimate struggle against foreign aggression in Afghanistan, including the persecution of Muslims. However, they rapidly became radicalized, to the extent that if anyone did not accept Islam as the only true path, and/or follow the fundamentalist version of the Islamic moral code, he or she was considered to have 'rejected God', and therefore to be as guilty of sin as any invader. The result we all know.

Christians can be just as bad, of course. Witness the massacres of indigenous people during the colonial period, perpetrated by nations ostensibly wanting to colonize their lands under the cloak of 'bringing salvation to the heathen'. Witness the religious wars around the globe. Witness the Troubles in Northern Ireland, all in the name of Christian denominations and the 'Prince of Peace'. Witness the abomination that is the Westboro Baptist Church. I could go on and on. The list is endless.

All of these distinctions are fundamentally meaningless, of course, when it comes down to bedrock. A person is, or is not, a good, honest, moral and upright individual. If they are, I don't care what color their skin is, or what language they speak, or what they believe, or anything else. I'm prepared to accept them as my equal and my friend. If someone's a bad person at root, again, I don't care about any other aspect of their life. I don't want them around me.

The group is meaningless in making that distinction. I've known very good Muslims (including some to whom I literally owe my life). I've known 'bad' Muslims, who would kill, bomb and maim in the pursuit of what they considered important. I've known Christians who could be distinguished in the same way. I've known good and bad Blacks, Whites, and a bunch of other races. I've know good and bad English-speakers, French-speakers, Zulu-speakers, Xhosa-speakers, and so on. In every case, the faith, ethnic background, language or other attributes of the individuals concerned mattered not one whit.

Friends, if anyone tries to tell you that someone is (or is not) good (or bad), harmless (or dangerous), positive (or negative), or whatever, solely on the basis of his or her group identity - however that group is defined - then you may be sure they're lying to you.

The only thing that counts, in the end, is the individual.

A society comprised of primarily good individuals will stand. A society comprised of primarily bad individuals will fall. All societies - and each of us, as individuals - are a mixture of good and bad. It's our task in life to emphasize and promote the good, in ourselves and in our society, and to minimize the bad. To the extent that each of us works towards that goal, we may count ourselves more or less 'good'. If we do nothing to promote that goal, guess where that leaves us? On the wrong side of the scales.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekend Wings #28: The Balikpapan Raid

The US Army Air Force carried out many notable bombing attacks in World War II. In the European theater of operations, they included the infamous Schweinfurt-Regensburg missions; Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on the Ploesti oilfields in Rumania; Operation Frantic Joe, the first of the so-called 'shuttle bombing' raids, where US bombers flew from English and Italian bases to airfields in the Ukraine, bombing the Debreczen marshalling yards en route, then were refuelled and rearmed to bomb more targets on their return flights; and its participation in the controversial destruction of Dresden in 1945.

In the Pacific theater, the incendiary raids on Japan by B-29 Superfortresses during 1945 produced a holocaust of destruction. During a single incendiary raid on Tokyo on 10th March 1945, Operation Meetinghouse, the resulting firestorm destroyed sixteen square miles of the city, killing between 80,000 and 100,000 people (more than were killed in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki by the initial explosions of the atomic bombs dropped on those cities), and rendering over one million residents homeless.

Such major raids are well-known. What isn't so well known are the countless missions flown against lesser targets, particularly in the Pacific war. The B-29 raids on Japan from the Marianas seem to have garnered most of the post-war attention of authors and film-makers. The vast number of raids by other types of aircraft, on other targets, appear to have been largely forgotten.

This Weekend Wings seeks to remedy that by examining one particularly daring, dangerous and difficult air raid during the Pacific war. It was launched on September 30th, 1944, against the oil refineries at Balikpapan, in what was then the Dutch East Indies and is today Indonesia. These refineries were estimated to be supplying Japan with up to 35% of her refined petroleum products, and well over half those used by her forces in the Philippines. Their destruction would be a body blow to the Japanese war machine, and (hopefully) make the invasion of the Philippines (which began twenty days after the raid) much easier.

However, there were immense difficulties to be overcome before they could be attacked. For a start, the distances in the Pacific war were of monumental proportions, far longer than in the European theater of operations. Balikpapan only came within extreme range of the B-24 Liberator bombers of the 13th and 5th US Air Forces when the island of Noemfoor (part of what are today the Biak Islands of Indonesia, near the northern tip of Papua New Guinea) was captured in Operation Table Tennis. (Click the map, and all images, for a larger view.)

The island is so tiny that on a large-scale map of the Pacific theater of operations, it's too small to be visible. Task Force Cyclone landed there on July 2nd, 1944, and combat operations continued until the end of August.

The fighting on Noemfoor was vicious, with incidents of cannibalism recorded among the Japanese defenders when their supplies ran out. Also notable was a parachute assault by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which resulted in high jump casualties.

According to the US Army's official history of the Noemfoor operation: "By 31 August ... the CYCLONE Task Force had lost 63 men killed, 343 wounded, and 3 missing. Approximately 1,730 Japanese had been killed and 186 were captured ... In addition to the Japanese losses, 1 Korean, 1 Chinese, and 552 Formosan prisoners of war were taken. Finally, 403 Javanese slave laborers were recovered on the island." Most of about 4,000 laborers, brought by the Japanese from Java and Taiwan, had apparently died under Japanese maltreatment before the invasion. The indigenous people of Noemfoor had hidden from the Japanese in the interior of the island, and emerged from the jungle to greet the US forces as liberators.

There were three airfields on Noemfoor, all built by the Japanese. Australian engineers of 62 Works Wing began a frantic, all-out effort to upgrade them, and particularly to prepare the airstrip at Kornasoren to support fighter and B-24 bomber operations, even before the fighting had ended. An account of their experiences may be found here. By September 2nd, two parallel 7,000-foot runways had been completed, and the bombers moved in. This put them within extreme - very extreme! - range of the refineries at Balikpapan.

The return flight between Noemfoor Island and Balikpapan would be just over 2,500 miles - comparable to flying from New York City, NY to Key West, FL and back, or, in Europe, from London, England to Saint Petersburg in Russia and back (three times as far as a typical England-to-Germany-and-back bombing mission in the European theater of operations). This meant that no fighter escort would be possible, as no escort aircraft had the necessary range.

Almost every one of those 2,500 miles would be over enemy-controlled territory or ocean. The B-24's would thus have to carry a full load of ammunition, weighing 1½ tons, for their ten defensive .50-caliber machine-guns. They also needed to carry 1½ tons of bombs (six 500-pound or twelve 250-pound), in order to do sufficient damage to the refineries. Together with crew, guns and other equipment, this came to over 5 tons of weight, even before beginning to consider how much fuel would be required.

The original B-24A model, which entered service in 1941, was rated for a maximum takeoff weight of 53,600 pounds. This was improved in subsequent models: the B-24J, used on the Balikpapan raids, was rated for 65,000 pounds. The B-24's maximum range using standard fuel tanks was 2,850 miles, but that was in ferry configuration, without bombs or other heavy material. To carry their bombs, guns, ammunition, and enough fuel to get to Balikpapan and back (which would require the use of a reserve fuel tank mounted in the bomb bay), they'd be dangerously overloaded.

The squadron engineers sat down, figured out the fuel load, and used language described by an interested (and admiring) Australian observer as "rather unfortunate, really!" The total aircraft weight worked out to almost 70,000 pounds - 2½ tons over the B-24J's maximum rated takeoff weight! In addition, the aircraft's center of gravity would be grossly distorted by so heavy a load - so much so that it might be unflyable. Clearly, something had to be done.

First, the crews went over their bombers, looking for any equipment that was not absolutely necessary for the mission. They found a lot. Bomb hoists, extra bomb shackles, radio tuning meters, toolkits, personal possessions - all of it came out. After removing everything they thought they could spare, the total aircraft weight had come down to 68,500 pounds. They'd saved over half a ton in weight.

Next, the crews called in the civilian representatives of Consolidated Aircraft, makers of the B-24. The US Army Air Force had expanded so fast that it wasn't able to train all of the mechanics and technical experts it needed to service its warplanes. As a result, every US aircraft manufacturer assigned their own technical specialists to the war zones, to work with uniformed personnel and teach them how to maintain their aircraft. Fortunately, some B-24 specialists were available.

They did some intricate calculations, and determined that the aircraft's center of gravity would be so drastically affected by such an overload that the normal methods of trimming it in flight would be unworkable. Instead, they drew up a special series of instructions, taking into account the aircraft's weight during each hour of the flight and the changing conditions en route. Each member of the crew was given a special place in the aircraft where his gear - parachute, emergency ration belt, medical kit, flak suit, helmet - would be stowed. Even the men themselves were given new positions for the first few hours, redistributing their weight to help the pilot maintain stability. They would not go to their normal stations until the time for action approached.

(This caused much muttering among the gunners, who didn't fancy allowing Japanese fighters an unopposed run at their aircraft. They were informed during briefing that they needn't worry, because their aircraft would depart at night, when Japanese fighter pilots would be asleep. The aforementioned Australian observer reports that one gunner stood up and retorted, "Yeah, and it'll be just my lousy luck to meet the only ******* fighter pilot in the whole ******* Japanese air force with ******* insomnia!" This reportedly brought the house down.)

These drastic measures enabled the specialists to establish a center of gravity that would allow the aircraft to take off safely. However, their weight would diminish greatly over the course of the mission, so the center of gravity would shift during the flight. Therefore, the crew were given instructions to move certain items of heavy equipment, and take up new positions themselves, at regular intervals, to keep the aircraft as stable and controllable as possible. By the time they approached Balikpapan, enough weight would have been burned off (in the form of fuel) to restore the aircraft to normal flying condition.

Next, the specialists worked out the most economical power settings for the engines, to minimize fuel consumption. They conducted several experimental flights, trying various alternatives, and to their surprise found that a heavily overloaded B-24 could fly slightly faster with five degrees of flap down than with the flaps retracted, as would normally be the case. They settled on a speed of 150 mph for the outward trip, and recommended power settings for takeoff, climb, cruising, approaching the target, breakaway, descent and the homeward journey. Each setting allowed for the changing weight and center of gravity of the aircraft.

The specialists ensured that all the bombers which would fly on the mission were thoroughly serviced beforehand, with particular attention to their undercarriages and wheels. These would have to take the strain of a massive overload during takeoff. Any failure would be disastrous.

Finally, six B-24's were loaded to 68,500 pounds, and sent off on a route that roughly approximated the distance to Balikpapan and back (although flying over friendly or neutral territory). When they returned, their fuel consumption was carefully measured. To everyone's relief, they all made it back safely, with adequate fuel reserves.

Astonishingly, all this work was accomplished in a matter of seven or eight days. While the specialists were busy, the airfield operations staff made their own preparations. Some of the B-24's would fly to Noemfoor Island from other bases, land at Kornasoren, and refuel, to join those already there on the strike. Crash trucks, cranes and bulldozers were assembled at Kornasoren, to clear the runways of any crashed aircraft as quickly as possible. Palm trees at either end of the runway were chopped down or trimmed, to give the heavily laden aircraft more room to get airborne. Pilots were warned that if they encountered mechanical problems immediately after takeoff, they were to jump from their aircraft over the sea and let it crash, rather than try to land again, as this would disrupt the departure of other aircraft.

The navigators sat down to plan the route. The aircraft would have to arrive over Balikpapan during daylight in order to bomb accurately, so their departure was fixed for just after midnight. A route was planned that avoided Japanese-held territory, and skirted known enemy air bases and anti-aircraft defenses as far as possible.

The bombers were too heavily laden at the outset to gain enough altitude to cross the mountains of northern New Guinea. They would therefore fly South-West to a low point on the coast of New Guinea, then turn West, crossing the Ceram Sea. Shortly before reaching the Soela Islands they would turn North-West, flying up into the Molucca Sea, before turning slightly North of West and heading for the assembly point in the Celebes (today called Sulawesi). From there, they would turn West-South-West to Mangar, and then South-West to Balikpapan. The return route would be in reverse.

Trying to fly in formation at night would be very difficult with such overloaded, unstable aircraft, and would increase fuel consumption. The bombers would therefore take off at 60-second intervals, and fly alone to the assembly point. Having rendezvoused there, they would form a series of six groups, each of twelve aircraft. Each group would then head for a Japanese airfield at Mangar. This was about thirty miles North-East of Balikpapan, and would serve as the Initial Point (IP) for their bomb runs. Of course, it had the disadvantage that Japanese fighters based there would be perfectly positioned to intercept the bombers: but there was no other easily-identifiable landmark near Balikpapan, so the airport it had to be.

Pilots were warned that they had to adhere rigorously to the 60-second takeoff separation. Any delay would cause further problems at the assembly point, which would waste precious gasoline. They were informed that even a 30-second delay per plane, over the 72 bombers taking part in the raid, would add up to a delay of more than half an hour over the assembly point - and that would waste so much fuel that some of the aircraft wouldn't have enough to get home. Therefore, even if Japanese bombers raided the airfield during the takeoff process, the lights would remain on and the aircraft were to continue taking off at their prescribed intervals.

The crews were fully briefed for the first time on September 29th, 1944. Take-off was set for 00.30 on September 30th. There was much muttering when those who hadn't yet been told, learned their take-off weight. All knew that getting off from an uneven perforated steel plating runway, laid over dirt, with such grossly overloaded aircraft, would be far from easy.

The Australian observer reports that the crews were further disgruntled by the sight of the tents of a field hospital hurriedly being moved from one end of the runway, in case crashing overloaded B-24's might prove hazardous to the patients' health. One crewman (perhaps the gunner quoted earlier?) reportedly asked acidly, "And what happens if I need a ******* hospital in a hurry?"

It's reported that hundreds of onlookers turned up at Kornasoren airfield to watch the planes depart. The word had spread that this raid was 'something special'. Improvised lighting (including dozens of vehicles with their headlights trained along the runways) was switched on, and at half an hour past midnight the first waddling, straining, overloaded B-24 lumbered down the runway, lifting off at the last possible moment and disappearing into the darkness, only a few feet above the ground. Plane after plane followed, some lurching alarmingly as they hit an uneven patch on the runway, but all made it safely into the air. Two had to return within an hour or two, having experienced mechanical difficulties, but 70 bombers set off on their individual paths over nine hundred miles of hostile ocean to the assembly point.

The planes took six hours to cover the distance. Every hour, as detailed on their schedules, the crews moved equipment around and took up new positions, to keep the overburdened aircraft balanced as well as possible. Navigators took star sights through their astrodomes, and tried to take bearings on the few islands they sighted. Most of these were invisible against the black Pacific, as few of them had any electricity to power lights. Most were detectable only by the massive cumulus clouds that built up over them, showing their approximate location. The navigators gulped, crossed their fingers, and pressed on.

In a remarkable display of individual precision navigation, far better than usually achieved in the Pacific war, all of the aircraft found the assembly point almost exactly on time. The first 12 aircraft, forming the first bombing group, assembled within 13 minutes after the first's scheduled arrival time. The leader of the first group, Colonel Thomas C. Musgrave Jr., circled the assembly point, firing a red flare and flashing an Aldis lamp. The other aircraft of his group joined up with him as he circled. As soon as his group had been formed, he led it off towards the Initial Point at Mangar, while the leader of the second group began forming his flock.

As the first group approached Mangar, Musgrave noticed two twin-engined Japanese aircraft approaching. They didn't attack, but took up station parallel with his formation, just outside machine-gun range. It was obvious that they were continuously reporting his position, course, speed and altitude to the waiting defenders at Mangar and Balikpapan. There was nothing that could be done to stop them, in the absence of escorting fighters. Musgrave's crews could only grit their teeth and keep going.

The group arrived over Mangar to find, to their dismay, that thick cloud completely covered the land. They couldn't know whether it would extend as far as Balikpapan. Again, they had no choice, so they took up their heading for Balikpapan and hoped for the best. Strangely, no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft gunfire were encountered . . . but they needn't have worried. Halfway between Mangar and Balikpapan, the Japanese fighters boiled up out of the cloud cover, and the fight was on.

As one observer reported:

The Nips were eager beyond anything that anyone had ever experienced. They came to within 25 feet of the bombers, blazing away with all their guns. They flew into and through the formation. They got above the bombers and went into almost vertical dives, every gun shooting as they came down. It all seemed as though they had been sent up with orders to stop the raid, to turn it away at all costs. Balikpapan was vital to the Jap war and the Jap knew it.

The planes plodded on. The gunners were shooting away. A Jap plane here and there went down. Finally the planes came to the target area itself, and to the bullets and cannon shells of the enemy airplanes now were added the shells from the anti-aircraft on the ground. The flak was thick and heavy and the Jap fighters ignored it and kept attacking through it. That in itself was unusual. It's more normal for fighters to break away when their flak takes over, but the Nips disregarded their own ground fire and pressed in.

Musgrave saw part of the refinery through a hole in the clouds. However, before he could lead his group into position, the hole closed. Rather than bomb blind through the clouds, he decided to circle and wait until his bomb-aimers could see what they were aiming at. They had all been briefed about the importance of this target, and didn't want to throw their bombs away on empty countryside. For 45 minutes the group circled, being joined meanwhile by succeeding groups, until they could see their targets clearly: then they headed in and dropped their bombs.

The bombing was accurate, although there weren't enough planes and bombs to do the job on a single raid. Four more would be needed before production at Balikpapan was sufficiently disrupted to render it useless to the Japanese war effort. Nevertheless, the B-24's hit part of the refinery, including some of the most important machinery, and seriously impacted its production. Regrettably, their success came at a very high cost. Forced to circle and wait for the cloud to clear, the bombers gave the Japanese fighters a field day. Almost every B-24 was severely damaged. Two of Musgrave's group went down, and many others had casualties among their crews from the hail of enemy fire.

One of the more dramatic reminiscences of the raid comes from the crew of First Lt. Oliver L. Adair. His aircraft was hit in an engine, as well as the wings, tail and fuselage. Oil from the damaged engine caught fire, sending a 50-foot streamer of flame out behind the wing. Adair ignored the flames, figuring (rightly) that they'd go out as soon as the oil was consumed, rammed his three remaining engines to full power, and pressed on.

His right-hand waist gunner, Staff Sergeant Charles F. Held, had his .50-caliber machine-gun shot out of his hands. The Japanese fire destroyed its mounting and shot off its sight, and damaged the rear of the gun. Undaunted, Held made his parachute pack into a chest cushion, picked up the damaged gun, braced it against the parachute pack and opened fire once more, holding the barrel with his gloved hand to steady the heavy weapon. He didn't hit anything (not surprising without sights), but his fire, indicated by the line of tracer bullets reaching out from his weapon, caused more than one Japanese fighter to flinch and sheer off, rather than press home an attack.

Held could fire only a few rounds at a time. The heavy recoil of the .50-caliber weapon would drive him right across the fuselage to slam into the other side. He'd force himself upright, walk back to the waist gun window, and fire again, to repeat the process over and over and over again. By the end of the mission his chest was black-and-blue with bruising from the recoil, and his hand had been severely burned by the heat of the barrel, even through the glove that he wore.

The upper turret gunner, Staff Sergeant Wilbur L. Bowen, recalled later:

"Half the time I was praying hard enough to save half the people in the United States. And half the time I was cursing hard enough to put a good bishop in hell. When I saw three planes coming in at once with their wing edges sparkling I just prayed they wouldn't hit us. And then when one of my guns jammed I would pound on the magazine and cuss in the worst way I knew how."

When they finally pulled away from the target, leaving the Japanese fighters behind, the crew assessed the damage. The fuel tanks in the wings and fuselage were shot full of holes. The crew tried to plug the leaks with bits of candle, a pencil, a screwdriver and some rags, but it was soon clear that they didn't have enough fuel left to get home. Furthermore, on only three engines, the bomber was slowly but steadily losing altitude. The B-24 was not an overpowered plane at the best of times, and after long service in the Pacific, many of them were old, tired and worn. Something had to be done.

Lt. Adair decided to head for the island of Morotai, almost four hundred miles closer than Noemfoor. Morotai had been invaded by US forces on September 15th, 1944, and fighting was still going on there. Construction on a bomber airfield, Wama Drome, had begun on September 18th, but was not yet complete, and he didn't know whether a runway would be available for him to land. However, there were friendly troops on Morotai. That was all that mattered. All knew the grim fate of those unlucky enough to be taken prisoner by the Japanese.

While the pilots struggled to keep the laboring aircraft in the air, the rest of the crew turned to throwing out anything and everything that could save weight. As soon as they were clear of the Japanese fighters, they threw out the machine-guns and remaining ammunition, then turned to with fire-axes and chopped the ball turret and upper turret to pieces, throwing them out. It took them three hours hard work to get rid of most of the ball turret (an interior view of which is shown below), but their axes couldn't cut some braces and armor plate. Finally one of the crew took his .45 automatic pistol and shot away the rivets holding the metal together. The pieces plummeted out of the ball-turret's hole in the floor of the aircraft, and fell into the Pacific.

The loss of weight proved just sufficient to stabilize the bomber, and Lt. Adair made a perfect landfall at Morotai. To his immense relief, one runway at Wama Drome was almost complete. The PSP plating wasn't all installed, but there was a 6,000-foot strip cleared and smoothed. That was good enough for him, and he headed in, ordering seven of the crew onto the flight deck, in case the landing gear collapsed and dumped the bomber onto its belly.

The landing gear and brakes held just long enough to slow the B-24 to 85 mph - then the left brake line sheared, and the right brake locked. The bomber jerked to one side towards an earthen bank, bounced over it, and careered through a grove of palm trees. One palm stump flew into the bomb bay and hit Staff Sergeant Held in the right leg. The nose wheel buckled, came off, and bounced back into the bomb bay to hit his other leg. His language is reported to have been "spectacular!", including accusing the palm stump, nose-wheel and everything and everyone else in the airplane's path, of Japanese sympathies: but he wasn't seriously hurt. A propeller cut through a parked truck as the driver leapt for his life. Finally, the bomber buried its nose in a sandbank, ten feet from a line of latrines, from which a sergeant fled, trousers round his ankles (which did little to slow him, according to admiring reports). They had made it.

Back at Noemfoor, the long, long wait for the returning aircraft continued. Finally, the first of them appeared, riddled with bullets, parts of the planes missing, but in perfect formation. One by one they landed, many firing flares that sent ambulances hurrying towards them at the end of the runway to evacuate seriously wounded crew members. Some aircraft had damaged landing-gear, and had to belly-land their bombers in clouds of dust and smoke, fire engines roaring down the runways after them, sirens screaming and bells clanging.

Some ground crews could only stand and stare at the empty sky. Seven aircraft did not return. One of them, of course, was Lt. Adair's plane. Six others were lost over Balikpapan, their sixty crew members killed. They represented an almost 9% loss rate among the 70 aircraft that took part in the raid.

There would be another raid on Balikpapan three days later. A good account of this raid, including a lengthy description of the ordeal of one crashed aircrew, may be found here. Between them, the two initial raids cost 37 B-24's shot down, crash-landed, or so severely damaged that they never flew again. This was an overall loss rate of almost 26%, more than one aircraft in four. This was completely unsustainable in the long term, and would have been unthinkable if it hadn't been for the importance of the target.

Fortunately, matters were to improve. Three more raids later in October were escorted by P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, fitted with newly-arrived long-range drop tanks, and flying from new bases at Morotai and Sansapor, closer to Balikpapan, so that even with their shorter range, they could rendezvous with the bombers at the assembly point and give them protection. The escorting fighters and bomber gunners claimed to have destroyed over 60 Japanese aircraft during the three raids. Overall, 24 B-24's and seven fighters were lost near or over the target during the five Balikpapan raids, plus many more damaged beyond repair.

The five raids stopped production at Balikpapan's two refineries and paraffin plant for almost six months. When it finally resumed, in early 1945, another series of air raids destroyed the plants completely. Balikpapan never again contributed to the Japanese war effort.

The Balikpapan raids were relatively minor by European standards, where up to 1,000 bombers at a time (and sometimes many more) would head for their targets. However, in terms of their losses, the Pacific airmen were subject to even greater hazards than their comrades in Europe, with loss ratios consistently higher on such long-distance ventures. Damaged aircraft in the European theater had to cover only a few hundred miles to reach the safety of England, or a few score to reach neutral territory in Switzerland or Sweden. Damaged aircraft in the Pacific might have to fly a thousand miles or more to get home or reach safety . . . and often their damage was so severe that they didn't make it. Many ditched in the vast, trackless wastes of the Pacific, and their crews were never heard from again.

To this day, there are islands in the Pacific where the remains of crashed US bombers and fighters bear grim testimony to the cost of the war. Some are flanked by neat graves, where searchers came across their dead crews and buried them (most of the bodies later being recovered and transferred to official US war cemeteries). Others have nothing to record what happened to those who flew them.

Let's remember the price the Pacific airmen paid for victory.

I've not been able to find any video footage of the Balikpapan raids, or of air operations from Noemfoor Island. However, there's a remarkable clip shot by Lt-Col. Oscar Fitzhenry, USAF (Ret.). It shows B-24's and their fighter escort attacking the Japanese-held atoll of Truk in 1943 or 1944. It shows their tight formation heading into the target, gives an idea of what the bomb run was like, and at the end, shows the bombers returning to base, and the conditions typical of a Pacific airstrip. It's one of the earliest color films of war, shot in 16mm. with a handheld camera. It gives a good idea of what things must have been like for the Balikpapan airmen - except for the losses.

The video below is a compilation of World War II newsreels, showing B-24 operations in Europe and the Pacific. From 3 minutes 20 seconds into the video, operations in the Pacific and Far East theaters are shown.


EDITED TO ADD: In March 2009 the son of one of the pilots who flew on the Balikpapan Raid contacted me, to share his father's memories of the raid and a photograph taken over Balikpapan. You'll find them here. They add a very human touch to this piece of aviation history.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not your average Christmas tree decoration!

I'm somewhat nonplussed by the latest offering at the gift shop of the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, IL.

Staffers make decorations out of droppings from the zoo's two reindeer, Ealu and Rika. The droppings are dried, then clear-coated and either painted or rolled in glitter.

Zoo marketing director Susie Ohley has named the products "magical reindeer gem ornaments," and each comes with a label of authenticity. They cost $5 at the zoo gift shop.

Staffer Katie Buydos, who makes jewelry as a hobby, donated wire and beads, saying, "Susie asked me to bring some creativity to the table."

Some folks are surprised at the size of the "gems," which are only about as big as marbles. "Reindeer are so big," zoo maintenance worker Sheldon Williams said. But the droppings are "just a big pile of small."

Uh . . . OK, if that floats your boat. Personally, I don't see anything 'magical' about reindeer poop! What's the old saying - 'You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear'? I'd imagine you could re-work that to refer to Christmas ornaments and reindeer droppings!

Besides, what about the smell if one of them gets too close to a Christmas candle?


Stunning sculptures - from driftwood!

I'm amazed at the lifelike quality of Heather Jansch's sculptures, made from driftwood. Click the pictures for a larger view.

From a distance they are the embodiment of equine grace, three creatures ready to burst into a gallop across the sands.

Only on closer examination are they revealed to be sculptures made, incredibly, from driftwood.

They were created by artist Heather Jansch, whose individual works take up to three years to produce and fetch up to £55,000.

Despite its fragile appearance, each horse weighs three quarters of a ton and is free standing. 'The structure must not only be strong enough to withstand public display, it must also be able to withstand heavy winds without falling over,' says Miss Jansch, 60, who has a long waiting list of buyers.

'The larger sculptures require a steel frame coated with glass fibre to give a roughened surface. I then tie the driftwood to the sculpture with wire, then nuts and screws to secure the solidity of the piece.'

Miss Jansch, who is based in the Devon hamlet of Olchard, near Newton Abbot, made the step from painting to sculpture in the 1970s. 'One day my son could not find any kindling to light the woodburner and had chopped up a piece of ivy that had grown round a fencing stake,' she says. 'He had left behind a short section that I immediately saw as a horse's torso.

'The next question was where could I find more or similar shapes. The answer was, of course, driftwood.'

Since then Miss Jansch has created almost 100 wooden horses, along with the occasional stag. Each stands at about 17 hands, or five and a half feet.

She refuses to lower her sights to a Shetland pony, declaring: 'They are fat and uninteresting compared with a raging stallion.'

Amazing craftsmanship! I'd love to see her work in the flesh - or wood.


Condemned to life together - literally

A sobering news report on MSNBC reminds us to be grateful for our good health - and that of our children.

Anastasia and Tatiana Dogaru, who will be 5 in January, were born in Rome to Romanian parents. The top of Tatiana's head is attached to the back of Anastasia's, meaning the girls have never been able to look each other in the eye.

Tatiana has had to undergo heart surgery. Anastasia has no kidney function and relies on Tatiana's kidneys.

Physicians at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland had hoped to separate the girls, but that surgery was deemed too dangerous and was called off in August 2007.

Still, Salyer, whose foundation brought the girls to Dallas when they were babies, had kept up hope that separation might still be possible.

But no longer.

"We have finally decided that it's in these girls' best interest that they remain like they are and that's really hard for me to say because I've been optimistic about separation," Salyer told The Associated Press earlier this month.

He said attempts to find other medical centers to take the case were unsuccessful after the Ohio operation was called off.

One girl's brain is growing into the other's, making surgery impossible. Also, their brains' ability to recover from a separation surgery has diminished.

"As they've gotten older and they've grown and developed — it's now too dangerous to separate the children," Salyer said.

While they are doing well now, the girls' future is uncertain because of their complicated connection. Besides their joined brains, they also share blood vessels and don't have enough venous drainage, Salyer said. "They don't have normal systems," Salyer said.

"All of the medical issues in total, you can't say how these children are going to do," he said.

It's terribly sad to read this. I don't know how long these children will live, or what the quality of their life will be like: but spare a thought, and a prayer, for them - and particularly for their parents. I can't imagine what it must be like to love your children, and see them like this every day, knowing that they will never have normal lives, and will probably have a much shorter life than others.

Remember: "There, but for the grace of God, go I . . . "


"The Church of Climate Alarm"

That's a wonderful expression - one I wish I'd thought of first! It's from the title of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, accompanied by this splendid cartoon.

... the real fear driving climate alarmists wild is that a more rational approach to the fundamentalist religion of global warming may be in the ascendancy - whether in the parliamentary offices of the world's largest trading bloc or in the living rooms of Blacktown.

As the global financial crisis takes hold, perhaps people are starting to wonder whether the so-called precautionary principle, which would have us accept enormous new taxes in the guise of an emissions trading scheme and curtail economic growth, is justified, based on what we actually know about climate.

One of Australia's leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change - A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

"Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will."

His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year.

Plimer said one of the charts, which plots atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature over 500 million years, with seemingly little correlation, demonstrates one of the "lessons from history" to which geologists are privy: "There is no relationship between CO2 and temperature."

Another slide charts the alternating periods of cooling and warming on Earth, with the Pleistocene Ice Age starting 110,000 years ago and giving way, 14,700 years ago, to the Bolling warm period for 800 years. This in turn gave way to the Older Dryas cooling for 300 years, then the Allerod warming for 700 years, and so on, until the cooling of the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1850. Since 1850, we have lived through the "Modern Warming", one of the most stable climate periods in history.

Plimer said some astronomers predict we are headed for a new cooling period.

Plimer said there is a division between those scientists who sit in front of super computers and push piles of data into the mathematical models that drive the theory of climate change, and those who take measurements in the field.

We are not sceptical enough about the data. For instance, Plimer cited differences between results from temperature measuring stations in urban and rural areas. Those in urbanised Chicago, Berkeley, New York, and so on, show temperature rises over the past 150 years, whereas those in the rural US, in Houlton, Albany and Harrisburg (though not Death Valley, California) show equally consistent cooling. "What we're measuring is urbanisation," Plimer said.

To understand the chaotic nature of climate change, we need to consider all the inputs - cosmic radiation, sun, clouds and so on, he said.

There was much more but essentially Plimer's message is that the idea humans cause climate change has become a fundamentalist religion which is corrupting science. It is embedded with a fear of nature and embraced principally by city people who have lost touch with nature.

He likens the debate to the famous 1990s battle he had in the Federal Court, where he accused an elder of The Hills Bible Church in Baulkham Hills of breaching Australia's Trade Practices Act by claiming to have found scientific evidence of Noah's Ark in Turkey.

Plimer says creationists and climate alarmists are quite similar in that "we're dealing with dogma and people who, when challenged, become quite vicious and irrational".

Human-caused climate change is being "promoted with religious zeal … there are fundamentalist organisations which will do anything to silence critics. They have their holy books, their prophet [is] Al Gore. And they are promoting a story which is frightening us witless [using] guilt [and urging] penance."

I couldn't agree more! I'm getting very fed up with global-warming fear-mongering, particularly because so many of them seem to believe that President-elect Obama and the Democratic majority in the House and Senate will get behind their agenda and push it. It's high time we showed these false-alarm fanatics that we're onto their little game, and won't play it any more.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #112

This incident happened back in September, but I've only just learned of it. Nevertheless, it's so daft that I have to give a belated Doofus award to Michele Allen, of Middletown, Ohio.

Michele Allen, 32, will spend the next month in jail after admitting to a wild drunken weekend dressed in this silly cow outfit, said Middletown, Ohio, authorities.

"Michele is pretty well known to us. She's 'struggled,' to say the least," Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark Wall told The Post.

Wall sentenced Allen to 30 days in jail for her oddball escapade.

She had been hired to wear the outfit to advertise for a local "haunted trail" theme park.

While at work Saturday evening, Allen hit the sauce hard and then stumbled into the streets - blocking traffic and chasing kids, said Police Major Mark Hoffman.

Allen also urinated in a nearby yard during the drunken grazing, cops said.

"It's curious. When I think of Halloween or a haunted trail, I don't think of cows as being scary - although this one was," Hoffman said.

As cops hauled her away, the haunted trail's manager snatched the cow mask away from Allen, but officers let her keep the rest of the outfit.

"It appeared that's all she had on," Hoffman said.

Allen dried out in jail over the weekend - all the while wearing the cow costume.

Jail policy allows for inmates to wear prison garb in the clink, but only after a defendant's first court appearance.

Despite having two nights to sober up, Allen was in a foul mood Monday, yelling at jailers.

"She was challenging people to 'suck her udders,' " Hoffman said. "I'm not joking."

Once Allen arrived in court, she grazed peacefully, Judge Wall said.

She waived her right to a lawyer and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

. . .

The judge said facing a cow-dressed defendant was new for him.

"We get people dressed in various attire when they're in court," he said. "But this was a first, someone dressed as a cow."

I guess so, Your Honor! However, I'm sure you hear a lot of bull there, so this must have been a pleasant (?) change . . .


A sad finale to the Chagos Islanders' last appeal

I'm saddened by the news that the Chagos Islanders have lost their appeal to Britain's Law Lords over their expulsion from the Chagos Archipelago in the 1960's.

As the BBC tells the story:

In the mid-1960s, the US was worried about possible Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean and wanted a base in the region - but one without a "population problem" which might upset the base's operation.

In return, the US was willing to offer the UK an $11m subsidy on the Polaris submarine nuclear deterrent.

A memo from then Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1969 admitted that the payment was kept secret from Parliament and the US Congress.

The Americans' first choice was the island of Aldabra, north of Madagascar.

Unfortunately, Aldabra was the breeding ground for rare giant tortoises, whose mating habits would probably be upset by the military activity and whose cause would be championed noisily by publicity-aware ecologists.

The alternative was the Chagos Islands, part of Mauritius, then a British territory campaigning for independence.

The islands were home to some 1,800 people - mainly descendants of slaves - but no tortoises.

Independence was granted to Mauritius, but only after the Chagos Islands were separated in November 1965 by an Order in Council and renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT.

And when it came to having rights, the local population proved to have considerably less clout than giant tortoises.

Creating a fiction

British politicians, diplomats and civil servants began a campaign - in their own words - "to maintain the pretence there were no permanent inhabitants" on the islands.

This was vital, because proper residents would have to be recognised as people "whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded".

The inhabitants therefore became non-people. To the outside world, there must be no inhabitants, merely people living there temporarily - migrant workers and other transients.

A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in November 1965 summed up the problem:

"We recognise that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands.

"We know that a few were born in Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them.

Diego Garcia

"We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants."

Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at the Foreign Office, wrote to a diplomat in 1966: "We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours... There will be no indigenous population except seagulls..."

The diplomat, Dennis Greenhill, replied: "Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius."

As far back as 1965, Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood had warned that it was "important to present the United Nations with a fait accompli".

'Whopping lies'

And that was what happened, with decisions taken at the highest level by Harold Wilson and his Conservative successor, Edward Heath.

Those residents leaving the island were refused re-entry, then the copra plantations were bought up by the BIOT administration and closed down, medical facilities and supply ships withdrawn.

When the first Americans arrived on Diego Garcia, the largest atoll in the Chagos chain, the remaining residents were simply shipped out, first to a nearby island and then to Mauritius.

It's a sordid tale of the legalized theft of a nation from under the feet of its people.

With the rejection of their final avenue of appeal in Britain, the Chagos Islanders have now been denied their undeniable rights once more.

Three Law Lords ruled Wednesday that the British government was not obligated to allow a return, while two other Law Lords sided with the islanders. The decision reversed last year's unanimous decision by the Court of Appeal in favor of the islanders.

"I can say we, the Chagossian people, will not give up," Olivier Bancoult, the islander who brought the legal action, told reporters. "We will continue our struggle in consultation with our lawyers."

Despite Wednesday's court decision favoring the government, Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued an apology.

"(It's) appropriate on this day that I should repeat the government's regret at the way the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s and at the hardship that followed for some of them," he said.

"We do not seek to justify those actions and do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation," Miliband added.

But the courts had already ruled that fair compensation was paid and that the U.K. had no legal obligation to pay any further compensation, he said, adding that British citizenship was granted to many Chagossians.

The islanders' lawyer said his clients were simply pawns in the world power game.

"It has been the misfortune of the Chagos islanders that their passionate desire to return to their homeland has been caught up in the power politics of foreign policy for the past 40 years," said lawyer Richard Gifford.

"Sadly, their struggle to regain their paradise lost has been dismissed on legal grounds, but the political possibilities remain open for Parliament, the British public and the international community," he said.

The court battle centered on the islanders' claim that the government had failed to keep a promise made in 2000 to allow them to go home.

In his ruling, Lord Hoffman wrote that the statement by the late Robin Cook, foreign secretary at the time, that he was working on the issue was not "a clear and unambiguous promise."

Lord Bingham, one of the two who backed the islanders, said they were entitled to believe that they would be allowed to return.

In 2004, the government used Royal Prerogative powers, which are not subject to parliamentary debate, to forbid anyone from having a right to reside on the islands.

"Our appeal to the House of Lords was not about what happened in the 1960s and 1970s. It was about decisions taken in the international context of 2004," Miliband said.

Miliband said the government had to take into account defense and security issues and said an independent study had rejected the "feasibility of lasting resettlement of the outer islands."

I hope that the United Nations and other international bodies can finally do something right, and see to it that Britain and the USA return their stolen land to these unfortunate people. Anything less will be a disgrace. And, to those who argue that international realpolitik trumps their right to go home: how would you feel if a foreign state forcibly removed you from your land, took it over, and then informed you you weren't even citizens of that land any more, and had no right of return? Personally, I'd be reaching for my rifle . . . and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Chagos Islanders now feel that they have no other alternative.


Things you've done

El Capitan, over at Baboon Pirates, is circulating a meme he got from Adam Lawson. It lists 100 activities. You're supposed to highlight those you've done in bold print. Anything not in bold . . . well, you haven't got around to that yet.

I thought I'd have a go.


1. Started your own blog. You're reading it.
2. Slept under the stars. Many times.
3. Played in a band. Church bands, but I guess they count?
4. Visited Hawaii.
5. Watched a meteor shower. Many times. In the Southern Hemisphere, the skies are clearer and brighter than in the North, and there were many nights when we'd lie outside and watch the stars, meteors and satellites.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to Disneyland.
8. Climbed a mountain. Many of them.
9. Held a praying mantis.
10. Sang a solo.
11. Bungee jumped.
12. Visited Paris.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea. It's quite an experience on a small yacht . . . easier and less scary on a warship or larger vessel.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch. If photography counts as an art.
15. Adopted a child.
16. Had food poisoning. Uh, yeah. Nasty.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
18. Grown your own vegetables.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train. Many times in South Africa, on the two-day run between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Hitch hiked.
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
24. Built a snow fort.
25. Held a lamb.
26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Run a Marathon.
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset. One of my favorite pastimes.
31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language. Two at school, two on a 'learn-as-you-go' basis: five in all.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.
39. Gone rock climbing.
40. Seen Michelangelo's David.
41. Sung karaoke.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant.
44. Visited Africa. I was born and grew up there.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight. Many times. Happy memories.
46. Been transported in an ambulance. Both as patient and as medic!
47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone deep sea fishing.
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling. The latter.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater.
55. Been in a movie.
56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
57. Started a business. If a ministry counts as a business?
58. Taken a martial arts class. Judo and Kendo, in my youth.
59. Visited Russia.
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies.
62. Gone whale watching.
63. Got flowers for no reason.
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma. All three.
65. Gone sky diving.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
67. Bounced a check.
68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.
72. Pieced a quilt.
73. Stood in Times Square.
74. Toured the Everglades.
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London.
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle. And fallen off one!
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
80. Published a book. My first book was published in 1984.
81. Visited the Vatican.
82. Bought a brand new car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem.
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible.
86. Visited the White House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous.
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Had a baby.
95. Seen the Alamo in person.
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake.
97. Been involved in a law suit.
98. Owned a cell phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.
100. Read an entire book in one day. Oh, yes! I think my record for one day was six books, all fairly thick ones. In the two to three years immediately after my disabling injury in 2004, and subsequent surgeries, there were times the pain was so bad I couldn't sleep at all: so I'd read for 24 hours straight, perhaps longer.

Well, there you are. I've done 59 of those things. 41 to go!

I invite my blogging readers to give this meme a go for themselves.