Sunday in the Sun + c. 22 October ’17

CC Hdr

I was never a big fan of Sonny & Cher (or their music, for that matter), yet one of their most popular songs – The Beat Goes On (1967) – has certainly lasted longer than they did, and it’s arguably one of the Sixties’ so-called signature songs. The lyric’s major theme, to me, anyway, is “the more things change the more they stay the same,” and events of late certainly seem to bear that out. The last eight or so months have been a nightmare, yet the times, they are a-changin’…

‘The Sixties,’ the good part, I might add, seemed to me to be about exploration – mixed with a growing sense of repudiation. The ‘times’ were as much about recognizing that things weren’t all rosy in La-La-Land – and that it was high-time to do something about the mess we were in – as they were about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Pollution was certainly one of the things that qualified as part of that mess, and if you lived in a city like LA or anywhere around Jersey or Philly you probably remember what smog could do to your eyes, but there was also Vietnam, the civil rights movement, JFK, RFK, MLK, Kent State, Woodstock…and then…to top it all off, there was Tricky Dick.

And as a result of all this stuff, our generation was going to change the world, remember?

Turns out that it’s always been easier to sell out than work for real change, and who knows, maybe the Boomer generation will turn out to be among the biggest sell-out generations of all time, but our day of reckoning is coming, and soon. Because Trump is one of us, isn’t he?

So, the question is: will the beat go on?

The whole climate change “debate” we seem to be having right now was at the forefront of activist’s minds, in Berkeley and elsewhere,  back in 1967. Books like Inadvertent Climate Modification were making the rounds as little things like DDT and agent orange crept into the national consciousness, then Love Canal slipped into the newspapers and onto the evening news – and a kind of awakening took place. Even Nixon couldn’t ignore the political implications, which is why and how the EPA came to be…

But Nixon was a different kind of animal. He, like Reagan and Carter, lived within a political world where things like Duty, Honor, Country still meant something. These days, in Trumptopia, the words ring hollow because they’ve been overused in the sound-bite theatre of the politically absurd we now call home. So many people read or hear those three words these days and think they’re being manipulated, yet the sad truth of the matter is far more complex, for things didn’t get like this way overnight. W’s team unmercifully manipulated war imagery for political gain, yet both Clinton and Obama did too, though never to the extent Bush II did, which only goes to show people get can get used to just about anything, I guess.

And the beat goes on? Will we get used to Trump – and stop caring?

One gets the impression words like Duty Honor and Country may not have ever occurred to Donald Trump – until quite recently – say, perhaps, last Monday. Even Trump’s word salad denials ring hollow these days…his denying ‘I guess he knew what he signed up for’ comment hardly surprise us anymore (and the new line on this? Knowing “what you’re signing up for” is a badge of honor among families of special ops personnel). Trump is a pathological liar, or so the popular mytholgy in the media goes, yet he’s hardly the first politician to be so-labeled, though perhaps, arguably, the first to make it to the White House. Yet, even so, the newness of all this blatant, pathological dishonesty kind of shocks some in the media – like they can’t believe a politician would actually lie to their face. Or, at least it gives them the opportunity to behave as if they’re shocked – yet you’d think that after a year of finding yet another Trump lie the newness would kinda be over by now. But that’s the Liar’s Paradox for you. How do you know when the Lying Liar is telling the Truth? And…what happens if, in this case, the man speaking can’t tell the difference anymore?

Do you think the Fat Kid with the Bad Haircut knows?

And, speaking of, take a look at this image, would you?


What kind of launchers are those behind the sail on that boomer arriving in SK last week? If indeed they are launchers…? And what about Tillerson’s comment that we will keep up the diplomatic efforts – right up until “the bombs start falling”? And then word creeps out that US personnel in SK are practicing evacuating in case of imminent action by…somebody?

Anyone have any ideas what China or Russia might do if we attack NK? Even with provocation? And just what happens if the Fat Kid with the Bad Haircut decides to lob an ICBM towards Guam? Or Hawaii? Or…the US east coast? People are going to die, a lot of people – in NK, in SK, or the US. I wonder if Trump sees that as a thing to be avoided, or if it appears to him as a way out of his Russia problems.

And the beat goes on, right?


And now we, as in all of us, everywhere, get to face this whole climate change thing together. Because for the past fifty years we’ve – collectively – ignored it ’til we were all blue in the face. This week a category three hurricane hit Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, an unprecedented event and one entirely absent from the media landscape in the US. The climate change deniers don’t miss a beat, either: it’s just normal climate variability, so move along folks…nothing to see here.

Funny, though, reading through accounts of evangelicals in Beaumont, Texas as they struggle with reconstructing their churches after Hurricane Charley visited. They’re kind of, oh, I don’t know, experiencing a little epiphany all their own down there…like maybe climate change is a wake-up call from God…that maybe we’d better get our act together, and real soon like, because these weather phenomena might be signs that God is mighty upset with us for ruining His creation. Funny, too, how people can bend their philosophies to fit in with changing realities. Like, maybe, there are no fallacies in your original philosophy. Maybe we just need to fine-tune it a little?

And, so, the beat goes on?


It’s the old parable about the frog in the pot of water, isn’t it? You know the one…toss a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll hop right out, but put him in warm water and slowly turn up the heat and he’ll stay put until he boils to death…? Is it just me, or does the whole climate change thing boil down to that? Reading about the church-going-set in Beaumont, I was struck by one thing most of all. It always comes down to the economic argument, every time. As in, we can’t afford to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, because what do we do after that? These are, by and large, oil-field workers, so, of course, that’s probably just natural, but when do we – as a people, as a species – wake up to the emergent reality that we may be running out of time. That we might not have the resources to hop out of the scalding water…?

The federal government resolutely claims that less than 40 people died in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rican officials claim the number is over 400. Three and a half million US citizens living under bare survival conditions – yet some members of the federal government are disavowing their responsibility almost every day. At what point does the federal government lose credibility? What happens when the people of Puerto Rico say ‘enough!’ – and walk into the arms of some other country willing to step in and take over. Say, for instance, China?

This is a grand time to be an opponent of America. Never in our history has our place in the world (that we created!) been so tenuous, never has sentiment turned so rapidly against us, yet, even so, the question still remains unasked: Why? What happened?

Well, isolationists have been with us ever since there’s been a Republican Party (just ask FDR about that when you see him next), but Americans always had the good sense to ignore them, until 2016, anyway. Now we’re stuck in Crazyville, lock, stock, and barrel, and the world is coming apart at the seams. It seems those stuck-up, snobby elites actually went to school and studied this shit, so they know (knew?) how to handle it. Trump comes along and shows them the door and guess what? Garbage-in, garbage-out. You throw away seven decades of institutional experience at the State Department and what happens to your so-called “diplomatic solution”? It’s gone.

It’s gone, and the beat goes on.

So, you downplay the intel coming to you from your intel agencies and guess what? Bad stuff is going to happen to you. Like…Republicans have demonstrated a remarkable propensity for destroying government, leaving the rest of us sitting around dumbfounded when Russia does this or China does that. Especially when we turn to government to fix the many ills we’re confronting as a result of someone’s hubris. Turns out one thing the government is still real good at is throwing people in jail (aka, privatized prisons) so the whole civil disobedience thing might not be in your best interest these days, either.

So…bad stuff happens while the beat goes on. Don’t step on anyone’s toes, don’t you know. Don’t make waves if you don’t know how to swim.

So, yeah…one political party has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for destroying government, leaving the rest of us sitting around in open-mouthed wonder when unprecedented rains fall and government is actually, like, ya know, needed. When the lights don’t turn on when you flip the switch, say, or when you turn on the tap and not even hot air comes out…?

So, taking stock for a moment, we’ve got bored accountants with interesting gambling habits setting up thirty semi-automatic “hunting rifles” in a hotel room and shooting over 600 people in ten or so minutes. We have four “unprecedented” hurricanes in about as many weeks, doing “unprecedented” damage from Texas to Ireland, and then “unprecedented” firestorms in California leveling whole cities – and still, many of our intrepid Republican senators deny the existence of man-made climate change. Still, they deny guns are a problem. Still, they vote to kill off mental health coverage in the ACA, then go on to blame systemic mental health problems every time a new massacre shows up on CNN. Like…does anyone remember when Reagan systematically defunded state mental health coverage – back in the 80s? I do. I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war, and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue.

I do. I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war, and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue.

I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop on some pretty mean streets. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war for a while and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue. When you’ve been around long enough you see patterns, you recognize a lie for a lie. Like…

Homelessness was never a big problem in this country until Reagan came along, but Republicans had a ready answer to that issue, too. Pretend it doesn’t exist. I remember at one point, during the first Bush presidency, the feds reported there were fewer than 15,000 homeless in New York City, (like 15,000 is a number to be proud of) yet about that time a book came out – called The Mole People – that described homeless ‘villages’ in abandoned subway lines under the city – that police were terrified to enter, and that contained upwards of 50,000 people (some estimates were a lot higher). Yes, the population of homeless people exploded after mental health facilities were boarded up during the Reagan years, but who cares, right? If you repeat a lie often enough, it kind of becomes the truth. Right, Ms Conway?

What’s that called? Willful ignorance? Politically motivated duplicity? But why is it that we’re so overrun with problems that our media organizations can’t cover such systemic political deceit? You kill off government services that exist to shelter a very vulnerable segment of our population (the mentally ill, the developmentally challenged), and then, when the consequences of your actions become a little too in-your-face to ignore, you cover it up by saying there really isn’t a problem? You can’t do that without a willfully corrupt, and complicit, media, but you tell me…is that what’s meant by “corporate control of media,” or are we simply too tired to fight for the truth anymore?

And, so, is that what it means when…the beat goes on?

Maybe, when you stare Death in the eye you develop the backbone necessary to tell it like it is. To call a lie a lie, and a liar, a liar.

Enter John McCain, one more time. Watch the video at the link, think about what he has to say about certain trends overtaking events in this country, then think about Mr. Trump’s response:  “I’m being very, very nice but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.” So said Mr. Trump to reporters when responding to questions about McCain’s comments earlier in the week. This may be one of the most coherent sentences of his presidency, too, or at least that I’ve heard our president speak so far. Ain’t that a peach?

Alas, Senator McCain then said, when asked by journalists about Mr. Trump’s remarks: “I have faced tougher adversaries.” If that’s the epitaph of his political career, it ain’t bad…but somehow I don’t think John McCain is gone quite yet.

McCain has, one assumes, experienced more as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, but I wonder what Mr. Trump had in mind when he spewed forth with that nonsense? Dueling pistols at dawn, perhaps, but to paraphrase another senator, Stuart Symington, if memory serves, “Have you no shame, Mr. President?” Of course, that was at the Army-McCarthy hearings, when yet another crazy Republican was on the loose, but Trump makes Joseph McCarthy look like a saint.

So, gee, see any patterns yet?

A few more instances of this week’s partisan mirth come to mind, in case the meaning of all this isn’t clear yet:

Most Republicans Think the U.S. Has Done Enough for Gender Equality

– The Federal Response In Puerto Rico Has Been Adequate, Many GOP Senators Say

– Sebastian Gorka: “The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens.”

And, well, I could go on and on, like the Louisiana senator (GOP) who thinks Trump’s healthcare overhaul (price increases, higher deductibles) will be better for American families, or the Missouri congresswoman (GOP) who thinks emergency rooms ought to be able to refuse people who don’t have insurance, but I think that’s about all I have the stomach for.

But…the beat goes on…’cause we’re gonna wake up soon and it’ll all be over. Because nightmares always end, don’t they? Just like all stories have happy endings, and the bad guy always wears a black hat.


Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare
Where the seeds have withered, silent children shivered in the cold
Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold
I’ll be there
I’ll be there
I will be there

Suffering in silence, they’ve all been betrayed
They hurt them and they beat them, in a terrible way
Praying for survival at the end of the day
There is no compassion for those who stay
I’ll be there!
I’ll be there!
I will be there!

There must be someone who can set them free:
To take their sorrow from this odyssey
To help the helpless and the refugee
To protect what’s left of humanity
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see?

To heal their sorrow
To beg and borrow
Fight tomorrow!

Step inside, hello! We’ve a most amazing show!
You’ll enjoy it all we know
Step inside! Step inside!

We’ve got thrills and shocks, supersonic fighting cocks!
Leave your hammers at the box
Come inside! Come inside!

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Left behind the bars, rows of Bishops’ heads in jars
And a bomb inside a car
Spectacular! Spectacular!

If you follow me there’s a speciality
Some tears for you to see
Misery, misery

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Next upon the bill in our House of Vaudeville
We’ve a stripper in a till
What a thrill! What a thrill!

And not content with that
With our hands behind our backs
We’ll pull Jesus from a hat!
Get into that! Get into that!


Emerson Lake & Palmer | Karn Evil 9 | Brain Salad Surgery | 1973

Get into that…while the beat goes on.

Sunday in the Sun + 15 October ’17

Sunday fires

So, let’s sit back and take stock for a moment. Four major hurricanes in about a month’s time, and as I write there’s another one headed for Spain and the UK (yes, you read that correctly), but on the other side of the U.S. a storm of another sort hit this week. A firestorm.

Snnday vinyard fires

Given that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Bay Area over the years, and that I have friends & family living there, I’ve been chatting with them as the week went by – and here are a few observations…

– the air in Oakland is smokey enough to make eyes water, and that’s miles and miles away from the center of the fires.

– people are generally more nervous now about a hotter climate future, and the immediate consequences thereto, than they ever have been – even in eco-conscious California.

– residents in Mill Valley, just north of the Bay, are now reporting more instances of street flooding as (local) sea-levels begin rising.

So, need some context?


This NASA image covers most of the California coastline, from Ventura (lower right) almost all the way to Eureka on the Oregon border. The San Francisco Bay Area is just about dead-center in this image, the various Sonoma County/Santa Rosa fires just above, the Calistoga fires further north. The main smoke plume is almost 250 miles long, and keep in mind this image was acquired on the 9th, at mid-week, and the fires have only grown larger since.

Further context?

California just experienced it’s hottest summer on record, with a September 1st temperature in San Francisco of 106ºF breaking all kinds of records. Now, according to NASA:

CalFire and local officials reported that at least 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and thousands more are being threatened. In some places, entire neighborhoods burned to the ground. Cellular and land-line phone communications have been lost in several areas. Authorities are still accounting for deaths and people reported missing. As of the morning of October 10, none of the fires were even partially contained, according to CalFire bulletins.

While the causes of the fires are still under investigation, we do know what helped them spread quickly: abundant dried vegetation and seasonal wind patterns.

“After more than a decade of drought, the fuel levels—dry brush and grasses—across California are exceptionally high,” said William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Last winter’s welcome rains created more vegetation that, over the past six months, created more fuel.”

The fall season also typically brings hot, dry, and gusty winds. These Diablo winds are driven by atmospheric high-pressure systems over the Great Basin (mostly in Nevada). Winds blow from northeast to southwest over California’s mountain ranges and down through the valleys and coastal regions. These downslope winds can quickly whip up a fire and carry burning embers to the next neighborhood or patch of woodland.

“The simple formula is fuel-plus-meteorology-plus-ignition equals fire. The catalyst is people,” Patzert added. “The fires erupted in areas where wildlands meet urban and suburban development. Californians have built in what are historical fire corridors, and these high-density developments are particularly vulnerable to fast-moving, destructive fires.”

Though it is not visible in this imagery, wildfires also broke out on October 9 in Southern California’s Orange County. That fire was fanned by strong gusts of Santa Ana winds.

Some further context, from the LATimes Editorial Board, may be in order here:

Big deadly fires are nothing new to California, particularly during fire season when the Santa Ana or Diablo winds blow hot and dry, making tinder out of trees and bushes that have been baking all summer long. But the firestorm now raging through Northern California isn’t the typical wildfire. For one thing, it’s not just one fire but close to two dozen. For another, these fires are not only threatening hard-to-reach rural or mountains area, but they also have torn through suburban neighborhoods. More than 3,500 homes, commercial buildings and other structures have been reduced to ash. The Tubbs fire jumped across the 101 Freeway in Santa Rosa, for heaven’s sake.

The flames moved so fast that they caught people unaware and unprepared to flee. As of Wednesday, when the wind picked up and shifted the flames toward more populated communities, the death toll stood at 21 people, with more than 500 still missing. By Thursday morning, fire officials believe, some of the individual fires may meet and merge into one mega-fire.

At this point, the fires rank collectively as the deadliest blaze in California since the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, which claimed 25 lives. The fires are also unusually destructive; they have burned more structures than the Oakland Hills fire, the Cedar fire that raged through rural communities in San Diego County in 2003, or the Station fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest in 2009. When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.

This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.

We don’t yet know what started the fires in Northern California, but we have a good idea of what made them so destructive. Authorities blame a combination of factors: winds so strong they knocked down power lines, extremely dry conditions, and an abundant supply of combustible material from a years-long drought that killed millions of the state’s trees or left them vulnerable to insect infestations. Ironically, this year’s unusually rainy winter probably contributed to the problem by producing burnable new growth.

All of those factors are exacerbated by the warming world. Hotter summers yield more fuel for fires and stronger winds to fan the flames. And this summer was California’s hottest on record, a milestone dramatically illustrated when San Francisco hit 106 degrees on Sept. 1 during a statewide heat wave.

Similarly, scientists say climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, but it can make them bigger and more destructive. Higher air temperatures mean more evaporation and heavier rains outside of drought zones, and warmer seas intensify the size and fury of the storms themselves. It’s a double whammy that has contributed to an unusually severe hurricane season this year.

Burning fossil fuels is not the only human activity that contributes to the destruction wrought by wildfires and hurricanes. So does the relentless march of humans to develop land in danger spots — a 500-year floodplain, an unstable hillside or a historical fire corridor. And in California, aggressive fire suppression has impeded the natural burn cycle in the state’s wooded areas so that there’s more fuel when the massive fires do take hold.

“These kinds of catastrophes have happened and they’ll continue to happen.” Gov. Jerry Brown observed at a news briefing Wednesday. “That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture.”

California is fortunate to have a governor who understands the perils of ignoring climate change and is aggressively pushing policies to mitigate its future harm. Unfortunately, that puts him at odds with a head-in-the-sand president who blithely disregards the obvious connection between the warming climate and the multiple federal disaster areas he’s been forced to declare in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and, now, California.


Sun fires
So, should we be surprised that Mr. Trump began this week to seriously dismantle previous efforts to reign in greenhouse gas emissions? Or that three weeks after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico Mr. Trump is claiming ‘great, beautiful’ success even as basic social services on the island fail on an epic scale? No one, and I mean no one, has any idea how many people died there, as thousands of collapsed houses have yet to be searched, but even counting people that have died in hospital as a result of the storm is thought to be nearing 435. (Compare that to the death toll in Florida or Texas, or even California.) Or that Republican efforts to obliterate use of the words ‘climate change’ from the federal lexicon continue unabated?

Surprised? No, not in Trumptopia, where the sun is always shining, no matter the weather.

And no fall foliage season in New England this year. Too warm. The leaves just sort of turned away from it all and gave up in a wilted display of brown.


Maybe now would be a good time to talk about Monopoly. You know, the board game.

Say what?

Well have a go at this essay before you jump all over me

‘Buy land – they aren’t making it anymore,’ quipped Mark Twain. It’s a maxim that would certainly serve you well in a game of Monopoly, the bestselling board game that has taught generations of children to buy up property, stack it with hotels, and charge fellow players sky-high rents for the privilege of accidentally landing there.

The game’s little-known inventor, Elizabeth Magie, would no doubt have made herself go directly to jail if she’d lived to know just how influential today’s twisted version of her game has turned out to be. Why? Because it encourages its players to celebrate exactly the opposite values to those she intended to champion.

Born in 1866, Magie was an outspoken rebel against the norms and politics of her times. She was unmarried into her 40s, independent and proud of it, and made her point with a publicity stunt. Taking out a newspaper advertisement, she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. Her aim, she told shocked readers, was to highlight the subordinate position of women in society. ‘We are not machines,’ she said. ‘Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.’

In addition to confronting gender politics, Magie decided to take on the capitalist system of property ownership – this time not through a publicity stunt but in the form of a board game. The inspiration began with a book that her father, the anti-monopolist politician James Magie, had handed to her. In the pages of Henry George’s classic, Progress and Poverty (1879), she encountered his conviction that ‘the equal right of all men to use the land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence’.

Travelling around America in the 1870s, George had witnessed persistent destitution amid growing wealth, and he believed it was largely the inequity of land ownership that bound these two forces – poverty and progress – together. So instead of following Twain by encouraging his fellow citizens to buy land, he called on the state to tax it. On what grounds? Because much of land’s value comes not from what is built on the plot but from nature’s gift of water or minerals that might lie beneath its surface, or from the communally created value of its surroundings: nearby roads and railways; a thriving economy, a safe neighbourhood; good local schools and hospitals. And he argued that the tax receipts should be invested on behalf of all.

Determined to prove the merit of George’s proposal, Magie invented and in 1904 patented what she called the Landlord’s Game. Laid out on the board as a circuit (which was a novelty at the time), it was populated with streets and landmarks for sale. The key innovation of her game, however, lay in the two sets of rules that she wrote for playing it.

Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (designed to reflect George’s policy of taxing the value of land), and the game was won (by all!) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, in contrast, players got ahead by acquiring properties and collecting rent from all those who were unfortunate enough to land there – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest emerged as the sole winner (sound a little familiar?).

The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and hence to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes. ‘It might well have been called “The Game of Life”,’ remarked Magie, ‘as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race, in general, seems to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.’

The game was soon a hit among Left-wing intellectuals, on college campuses including the Wharton School, Harvard and Columbia, and also among Quaker communities, some of which modified the rules and redrew the board with street names from Atlantic City. Among the players of this Quaker adaptation was an unemployed man called Charles Darrow, who later sold such a modified version to the games company Parker Brothers as his own.

Once the game’s true origins came to light, Parker Brothers bought up Magie’s patent, but then re-launched the board game simply as Monopoly, and provided the eager public with just one set of rules: those that celebrate the triumph of one over all. Worse, they marketed it along with the claim that the game’s inventor was Darrow, who they said had dreamed it up in the 1930s, sold it to Parker Brothers, and become a millionaire. It was a rags-to-riches fabrication that ironically exemplified Monopoly’s implicit values: chase wealth and crush your opponents if you want to come out on top.

So next time someone invites you to join a game of Monopoly, here’s a thought. As you set out piles for the Chance and Community Chest cards, establish a third pile for Land-Value Tax, to which every property owner must contribute each time they charge rent to a fellow player. How high should that land tax be? And how should the resulting tax receipts be distributed? Such questions will no doubt lead to fiery debate around the Monopoly board – but then that is exactly what Magie had always hoped for.


So, what do climate change deniers and end-stage capitalism have in common, besides a hapless propensity for self-delusion? The inability to self-regulate, perhaps? Is it a coincidence that income inequality and imminent, large-scale ecosystem collapse are the two co-emergent trends defining the immediate way ahead. We are all, as the human custodians of this planet, are on the precipice, facing an unknown and unknowable future. The deluded among us blaze forward proclaiming limitless growth potential in some sort of automated utopia, and true enough these folks are buying up Park Place and Boardwalk everywhere we look, but they seem to have overlooked one simple problem…

We all breathe the same air, drink (or breathe) the same water. We all inhabit this planet, and right now it’s the only one we have. Squandering it, without a ready alternative in mind, seems kind of stupid – from a species point of view. And I think I’ve mentioned one of my father’s old maxims more than once, too: “When there’s doubt, there is no doubt,” but just what does that mean?

Only the most terracidal among us would be willing to admit there’s no such thing as climate change, and I’d like to think that even most Republicans are willing to entertain there’s some DOUBT about the matter, and that, perhaps, as the science isn’t really quite settled the rest of us hope they’d at least be willing to keep an open mind about things. Yet, if there’s DOUBT, why on earth would any sane person be willing to gamble with the future of the human race. Why not come down on the side of caution?

Because it’s too costly?


Extinction may well turn out to be fairly costly, too, I think. In quite personal terms.


So, one last thing. What is it with Trump and sabotaging things these days? Things like health care? Like the Iran Deal? With anything Obama did? Could it be – dare we say it – over-compensating for small hands? There seems to be a kind of hypocrisy at work in all these things, too, and not just among Trump and his inner circle of the privileged few. No, this seems to be a broadly saturated disease, deeply entrenched within a certain type of deluded psychopath. To wit:

A full-blown humanitarian crisis is still underway in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last month. More than 80 percent of the island is still without electricity, there’s a daily shortage of 1.8 million meals, and hospitals are running low on medication, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In California, uncontrollable wildfires continue to ravage homes and entire economies. People are dying.

The House passed an emergency relief package this week that would direct $36.5 billion toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, California, and other communities affected by natural disasters. But 69 Republicans voted against it.

The excuse: It would be too big a blow to the deficit.

“Up here we use these casual phrases that we are going to write off the debt,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who voted against the relief package, told reporters. “Whoosh, there it goes. But where does it go? It goes to the taxpayer.”

Brat — like many of his conservative colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus who voted against the aid — said he wanted to see ways to offset the cost of these supplemental relief packages. Those demands, which range from reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program to proposals that slash social safety net programs — would take time, and leave people already in life-threatening situations hanging.

But this wrenching concern over the deficit — particularly when the situation in Puerto Rico remains so dire — is hard for some to swallow when conservatives are simultaneously pushing forward a tax reform package that could leave a more than a trillion-dollar hole in the deficit and have signed on to spending bills that added more than $100 billion to defense spending, without the immediate promise of offsets elsewhere.

But the conservative line in the House doesn’t seem fazed by such dissonance.

“My whole thing is that if it’s emergency funding, then historically we need to look at what we do with FEMA and properly fund it,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who also did not vote for the aid package, said. “FEMA is for emergencies. Why have FEMA there if you are going to have supplementals all the time?”

Those considerations were not raised during the House’s appropriations process, which allocates money to federal agencies like FEMA — which the House Freedom Caucus overwhelming supported.

Even so, fiscal hawks are quick to raise concerns over supplemental spending requests — even emergency relief ones. Last month Congress passed a $15 billion relief package for Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, tying it to a three-month debt ceiling raise and stopgap funding measure to keep the government open. At the time, 90 House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans voted against the package — citing the deficit, and that the relief aid was tied to the debt ceiling and continuing resolution proposal.

“Hurricane aid shouldn’t be added to the debt,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) opined in the Wall Street Journal this week. “That’s akin to going to the Emergency Room after an injury, putting the charges on a credit card, and then pretending that the Visa bill is never going to arrive.”

For those hoping for relief in Puerto Rico, the hypothetical Visa bill is far from an area of concern. They’re just awaiting electricity, food, and water. (from Vox)

So, tax cuts for the wealthy that’ll blow a trillion dollar deficit hole and that’s okay. Relief for US citizens devastated by multiple hurricanes? Take a hike, pal. Go get your water from the well that’s located under an EPA Superfund site…

Back to Monopoly again for a moment. What if all this healthcare malarky, the back-room coal deals and dismantling the EPA all have a single thing behind them. A ‘last gasp’, broad in scope redistribution of wealth before the big fall. Get all you can while the gettin’s good? A get out of jail free card for only the few, the proud, the politically connected?

BUT…when will a bunch of people come to the conclusion that, well, the game has indeed been rigged against them – no matter who was in power – no matter what promises were made? What happens when there’s no power to run the automated minions of Trumptopia, let alone air conditioning? No food on your local supermarket’s shelves? What happens to the disenfranchised then? Does anyone really think seven billion people are going to just roll over and go away?

One thing seems certain, however. People a hundred years from now won’t be able to get their hands on the people who did this to them.

Happy trails.


(oh yes, images today from NASA, the NY Times, and the LA Times)

X-Plane Musings + IV

XP M 4

Not really wanting to turn this site into some sort of wannabe flight simulator blog, this will be the last X-Plane diatribe I post here. I may do something elsewhere, but this whole flying around on the desktop is becoming a major distraction.

Still…it is fun.

XP 4 10

And I say ‘fun’ advisedly, as the hardware we use has finally caught up with the software, which – to put it mildly – has until recently really stressed desktop PCs & Macs. Now…that’s simply no longer the case. Less than ten years ago there was no hardware (within the price range of mortal men & women, anyway) that could have run the files used to make the image above (a 733 landing at LSZH Zurich Kloten). My little Mac laptop runs it smoothly, I’d almost say effortlessly. Or, take this shot of San Diego, below, of another 733 departing over the Mission Bay area:

XP 4 4

Or approaching downtown Los Angeles:

XP 4 5

But here’s the point: keep in mind that every object you see in these images has to be drawn, in 3D; the aircraft, the buildings, and let’s not forget to mention the weather – and it has to be redrawn quickly AND precisely. If not, the image on screen sputters and grinds to a halt, and your graphics card either melts from the effort or just plain dies. Which means, in the images above, buildings, aircraft, reflections, and such things clouds and the shadows cast by clouds have to be drawn and redrawn multiple times per second. That’s a lot of processing power, and I suppose this state-of-affairs is the direct spin-off of advances afforded by the huge number of special effects required to make today’s FX-laden blockbuster movies, but I guess this is the kind of “trickle-down” that a lot of people can relate to on a personal level these days.

Another trend…airports and aircraft are more realistic than ever. Take a look at these airport images, starting with EDDL Dusseldorf, Germany, made by a company called AeroSOFT:


The detail is overwhelming, yet my little laptop runs it perfectly.


What do I mean by detail? Well, all of the systems that allow an aircraft to function in a real world airport are included, and that means ground power carts, baggage carts, all kinds of people and cars moving around, while even details INSIDE the terminal buildings are visible – and in some cases, animated, as well. Then there are the little things – like instrument landing systems – that have to be precisely encoded to work exactly as their real-world counterparts do. And the files cost twenty or so bucks!

Here’s another overwhelmingly complex airport, the ultra-huge EHAM Amsterdam, also by AeroSOFT:


This is just a staggering achievement by any standard, and it allows the flight simmer to recreate operations in Holland right down to the tiniest, nitty-gritty detail. But smaller airports are available too, and in regions all around the world. Try this one, in Valencia, Spain, made by Icarus Simulations:

LEVC 733 1

The terminal behind the aircraft is fully detailed – INSIDE and out…but take a look at the sky, too. This was achieved via an ancillary program called SkyMAXX designed to better recreate sky colors and cloud formations based on current, real-time temperature, humidity, and wind observations. When you fly next to clouds you realize they aren’t static at all…they’re actually tumbling and growing, just like a real cloud. When lightning is in the area, you see lightning inside the clouds. It’s uncanny – and realistic enough to be unnerving for the pilot.

LEVC 733 2

So, in the image below I messed with the setting, put the temperature at 109ºF – at seven in the morning! – and the barometer at 30.05. Maybe these are the skies we’ll see more of if global warming really takes hold, but to me, these are sixties type clouds. Maybe you need to OD on LSD to see this kind of color, but my oh my, it sure is purdy!

LEVC 738 1

I guess all this fru-fru would be pointless without really good recreations of real-world aircraft, but equal levels of advancement have kept pace with airport development in XP. The IXEG 737-300 is without a doubt the nicest file I’ve ever seen, and perfect if you’ve ever wanted to wet your pinkies in airline-style operations. There are ten video tutorials and hundreds of pages of PDF manuals included in the download, if that gives you any idea of what you can expect.

733 pit 1

Still, there’s another more whimsical part to all this, too. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to buzz the Eiffel Tower – in a jet – at 500 miles per? You can give that a try in XP…

Alpha 1

Or maybe Notre Dame, for that matter…only right side up?

Alpha 2

Or, for something more sedate…what about puttering around Mont Saint Michel with the canopy wide open?


Well, I guess that’s the point. XP is kind of an “on the cheap” “one trick pony” to visit places you might not ever get to otherwise. No, it’s not real……but it is fun…

…and – maybe it’s not a bad way to teach geography, too, let alone flying.

Anyway, I hope you give it a try someday.

Because flying has been fun. For me. Maybe it will be for you, too?

Later… A

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 image

I haven’t written much about movies as there are very few I go to these days (as I’m not into robots battling it out to save LA over and over again), but that was not the case with this second installment of Ridley Scott’s continuing interpretation of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep. There weren’t many fans of the original film, at least many who would admit to it, though I found it mesmerizing. And by that, I mean the original, with Harrison Ford’s narration and Vangelis’ original synthesizer score. Odd, too, in that the last time I wrote about a movie it was for a film by the same director, Denis Villeneuve.

There’ve been a few, very promising early reviews of the new film that have focused on the visually stunning nature of the film, and how it builds on the dark cityscapes of the original, and yes, I’d agree with those assessments, but there’s much more going on in this sequel than meets the eye. A lot of questions left hanging at the end of the first film form the basis of this one, too…

The original ends with Rachel and Deckard fleeing LA, and the entire premise of the second film revolves around the consequences of that flight – literally. Though the events in the film take place 32 years later, the consequences of Rachel and Deckard coming together echo through time, and, indeed, it appears that their union may hold the seeds for the destruction of humanity… The first two-thirds of the film features Ryan Gosling, as K, a Blade Runner on special assignment tracking down replicants, and this first part of the film is a fairly predictable cop story – at least in the beginning.

That said, what interested me most was the undercurrent of one very modest question that’s always in the back of your mind as the action unfolds, namely, what makes humans human? What is a soul? Is it love that makes us human? Empathy? What interested me most is how these questions seem to crowd out the action on the screen, too.

K is in love with a hologram, you see, and the hologram is obviously in love with him too, and soon enough another question about the human condition arises from this peculiar state of affairs. Yes, Death makes a pretty important play for the center attention about mid-film, yet all that remains of the original conversation is kind of a confused disbelief – because by this point all your intellectual frameworks about what humanity may be have been tossed out the window.

Another undercurrent, prominent in the first film but rather more relevant today, is the interplay between artificial intelligence and slavery. This isn’t handled poorly, either; it could have been preachy and overblown, yet the manner in which this ethical dilemma is presented, the interplay between questions comes to life in a way that draws you in – and makes you think just a little bit.

And then Harrison Ford’s Deckard re-enters the film’s stream of consciousness and, well, the narrative structure of the movie goes from very good to simply great. You realize you’ve been led down more than a few dark, dead-end alleys about that time, too, and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out you come to the realization that, no, you’re not even close.

About the only let down was the music. Hans Zimmer has succeeded in creating a score almost devoid of all melody, and curiously the only melodic motifs employed come at the very end, as a soft homage to another android’s very quiet death.

What I wanted to relay to you is this: if you weren’t sure about seeing this one, you need to load up the car and go. Give yourself time to sit and talk with someone after, as well, because this is the sort of film that needs to be discussed. Probably now, more than ever.




X-Plane Musings + v3


I closed my last musings with a single question: are airplanes a kind of time machine? Okay, maybe not exactly in the way H. G. Wells imagined them, but really, think about it. Think about this, as a matter of fact…

…Think about crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat. Not in the 1600s, but more like 16 years ago. Close your eyes, right now, and think about being on a 34-foot sailboat sailing the great circle route between Maine and Ireland. There’s a wispy fog on the icy-calm sea, for the water temperature is a toasty 39º F. You’re cold and you’ve just come up from the galley with coffee in hand, and you’re sitting behind the wheel now, looking over your GPS track. You flip on the radar to see if any more icebergs have closed-in over the last couple of hours…then…

…You can almost hear it, that faint whisper of noise high overhead, high in the sky, and you lean back, see the blinking red lights of an airliner following the same track you’re on. Only you’re making six knots, while those 300 or so people are whizzing along at 600 knots. It will take you a month, maybe a little more, to reach Ireland; the people in the jet up there will make London, more than likely, in a total of six-or-so hours.

If that’s not time travel, what is?

Okay. You can’t go back in time on an Air France A-380, and, in all likelihood, that will remain in the realm of fiction for the foreseeable future. Still, sitting in your little boat bobbing about on the sea miles below those toasty passengers (enjoying roast whatever and a glass of red something), right about then you’d gladly change places.

Come on, admit it. You would.

Next, could you think about this: think about the people making this same trip four hundred years ago, yet westbound? They had very little choice in the matter, right? They were, by and large, fleeing Britain – or France, or Germany – and often fleeing for their lives, too. Heretics? Debtors? The second-born with no hope of an inheritance? A million different stories, I assume, made-up the motives of settlers fleeing Europe over the last 3-400 years, but then, consider that these voyages across the Atlantic took months. The first Puritans crossed in tubby hulks that took 2-3 months. People died of scurvy on those voyages, or they were washed overboard during the autumnal gales we call hurricanes these days. Let’s just say a lot of people died making those early crossings and let it be.

Would those people think a 747 is a time machine?

Now…try this on for size. We’re rounding up illegal immigrants all over this country, processing and then loading them on aircraft, shipping them from whence they came. Criminals and gang members get first priority, but, in the end, tens of thousands of people are being sorted like packages at a Fed Ex facility and sent on their way. Consider then, by way of a simple compare and contrast exercise, what a person in these circumstances might feel. Compare their journey home, perhaps 2-3 hours in a Boeing, with the ordeal many of them experienced on their journey to America.

That’s kind of a wicked kind of time machine, too, isn’t it?

I was involved once, for a short period of time in the 80s, with a company that flew around Central America a lot. Small jets and twins, for the most part, and our “passengers” were often special ops types, and, occasionally, spies of one sort or another. I got involved because I had developed a skill that my father passed along to me at an impressionable age: namely, I could land an airplane on the smallest, roughest road you can imagine. I was very, very good at that sort of thing, too, and I was because from the time I could reach the rudder pedals my dad taught me how to land on ‘runways’ like that. We flew from Dallas down to the Texas Hill Country, to our “farm” down there, or up to Colorado. He taught me to land on goat paths and Jeep trails, and I developed a real feel for it. Anyway, that’s all beside the point, but I will say I always enjoyed the challenge of a narrow dirt road. And I never once lost an aircraft.

Of the thirty or so trips I made down there, to Central America, almost every time down I picked up a bunch of very tired, very worn-out people. They had been tromping around in the weeds for weeks, for the most part, then for one reason or another they called home and asked to be picked up, usually real fast. Often I had to pick them up in the middle of nowhere, usually in the middle of the night, and almost always on a dirt road. More than once bad guys were shooting at us as they ran for the aircraft. It was, well, exciting.

And yet, a few hours later I had them safe and sound, sitting in an air-conditioned bar somewhere in the Yucatan. I bought them margaritas and listened to them vent, then, after they’d washed the jungle off their hands and faces, I flew them up to Florida or New Orleans.

So…let’s say less than eight hours between running for your life in the jungle to being back Stateside, half-drunk because your friendly local jet-jok had the good graces to stop-off and get you toasted.

Now, is that time travel, or what?

You bet your ass it is. How’d you like to walk home from down there…? Same can be said for some kid in Afghanistan today…in a firefight, wounded, and seven hours later in Germany. Ask him about time travel, would you?

Then, ask yourself this…why does this Adrian Leverkühn asshole always seem to write about time travel?

(ahem, cough-cough)


SO-ANYWAY – another trip in XP last night. From EDDS Stuttgart to LOWI Innsbruck, in Austria. And this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hop across the prairie…because Innsbruck is a royal pain in the ass to get into and out of. It’s in the Alps…and I mean IN the mountains, kind of the way Aspen is in the mountains. (Okay, Aspen is worse, but not by much. Telluride takes the prize for domestic pucker factor, while Alpe d’ Huez, in France, gets my vote for the world’s nastiest airport. And, you really ought to watch this kid make the approach and landing there – in winter. Oh, that airport file is available for XP, too…

Ah, but I digress…again!

Below, passing LOWS Salzburg, Austria, now southbound and descending out of 30,000 feet. (The hills are alive, right, Maria?) Oh, this is the 737-700, a modern, up-to-date cockpit that’s fully automated. So…of course, I hate it.


The final approach to Innsbruck is where airline pilots get paid to know their stuff.  In the images further below, the airport is in the valley ahead, so note there’s not much room for maneuvering if you screw up and have to shoot a missed approach. Here’s the approach plate, by the by, which looks a little convoluted:


I think losing an engine in a snowstorm on a blown final approach here would have to be just about the biggest nightmare a commercial pilot can experience (in Europe, anyway). I’m sure they train for it – you simply have to – but you’d really earn your paycheck that day. So, (below) more from the approach.


As you fly towards the valley at 9500MSL (to clear the mountains that ring the valley), you clear the last peaks then make a fairly rapid, fairly steep descent to intercept the Glide Slope, and, assuming you manage that the part of the approach, the last stretch is right over the town. Church steeples are a bitch, too.


Big jets usually do not come here, by the way. A320s, MD-80s, and 737s are the usual affair, though smaller RJs and turboprops are still on the ramps for quick hops to Munich or Salzburg. There’s more traffic in winter, too. And aircraft overloaded with skis, I reckon.


For some oddball reason, I decided to fly the final manually, so no autopilot this time, and XP was doing the auto-weather update thing and it was really gusty with a crosswind component, so a little crab-action here, to keep things lined-up.


Taking off is a very emotional experience for the reasons I’ve mentioned many times before, yet landings at difficult airports tend to be more of a stress-test. Confidence comes with experience, of course, but every pilot worth his beans knows that shit tends to hit the fan at the most inopportune moment possible. Murphy’s Law applies to flying – with a vengeance.


Anyway, another quick trip completed in XP. As I’ve said, no, it’s not the same as the real thing, but yes, it is interesting enough to make me smile.


I spent a little time doing the air cargo thing, so bought a little Cessna 208 to fly…air cargo…only in X-Plane. So, here are a few images created while “flying” from LOWI Innsbruck to LOWS Salzburg, Austria, in the middle of the night.

208 1

(above) departing Innsbruck.

208 2

(above) setting up to land in Salzburg; and (below) over the threshold at LOWS.

208 3

And last, unloading boxes on the ramp at Salzburg. The real glamour of being a box-hauler…

208 4

I don’t know how many nights I unloaded boxes on ramps like this. When I first started flying, first started building real hours, I would drive out to Love Field (Dallas) and check out a Baron or 421 and head out west. Midland, Alpine, San Angelo, Dallas, and often more stops in between. I picked up boxes full of canceled checks to carry to the Federal Reserve, bags of Kodachrome to carry in for processing at Kodak, blood-work to be tested in the big labs at Parkland and Baylor, all waiting for me at each airport where I’d sign for it then take off for the next airport. Four to five hours most nights, and West Texas has the meanest thunderstorms you can imagine…at night.

And on warm nights? Rattlesnakes on the asphalt…

Don’t get me started on rattlers, okay?


So, what do you think about this whole time-travel thing?

Munich is only a stone’s throw away from Innsbruck or Salzburg in a Cessna like the 208, usually less than two hours by car, too, so barely worth the effort to fly as once you take off you’re soon lining up to land…yet a hundred or so years ago the trip overland was often no easy matter, whether by rail or trail. Days to walk? Weeks, perhaps, if the attempt was made during foul weather?

Before you decide, think about what life would be like without air travel – now. Now that you take it for granted.

Like, maybe a hundred years ago people were asking themselves ‘what did we ever do before rail travel?’

And one more thing to think about…

Is progress, like this kind of time travel, only a one-way street? What happens if we go backwards – in progress? After looking at events in Puerto Rico, are you ready for a ten mile walk to the supermarket, only to find bare shelves?

Ever read a book called Lucifer’s Hammer? Highly recommended.

More soon. Working on Deep End next.

Sunday in the Sun + 8 October 2017

Sunday 10.8

Just a few things to talk about today, though I see them as part of an interrelated process. The first concerns Sen. Bob Corker’s statements on Thursday, to wit, and as reported by CNN:

(CNN)Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker suggested Wednesday that Gens. John Kelly and James Mattis, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are the “people that help separate our country from chaos,” a stinging criticism of President Donald Trump from a man once considered an ally in Washington.
Asked directly by a reporter whether he was referring to Trump in using the word “chaos,” Corker, who announced last month he would retire in 2018, responded: “(Mattis, Kelly and Tillerson) work very well together to make sure the policies we put forth around the world are sound and coherent. There are other people within the administration that don’t. I hope they stay because they’re valuable to the national security of our nation.”
Stop for a second and re-read that last paragraph. The sitting Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee is suggesting that if Tillerson was removed from office (or quit), the national security of the country would potentially be in danger. And he’s refusing to knock down — and thereby affirming — the idea that Trump is an agent of chaos who pushes policies that are not always “sound” or “coherent.”
That. Is. Stunning.

Yes, stunning is one word for that. Alarming also comes to mind, but so too does gratitude. I thought, when I read about Trump undermining SecState Tillerson on Twitter vis-a-vis starting a dialogue with North Korea as being a waste of time, that what we were seeing was kind of a classic “good cop vs bad cop” variation. You know, kind of like Tillerson goes to NK as the voice of reason and Trump does what Trump does best, namely, Trump destabilizes the entire process and then Tillerson can go: “See…see! You better deal with me while you still can!”

Except Tillerson was apparently as flummoxed as the rest of us, and more than a little upset. So that leads us to one very disconcerting idea: that Senator Corker isn’t far off the mark. Trump is dangerous. As in: the President of the United States is dangerously unstable. As in: mentally ill. As in: compromised.

Now, recall if you will, Mr. Trump vacationing in Saudi Arabia a few months back.


There’s no telling what Alex Jones made of this image (“Trump mind now controlled by aliens posing as Saudi prince…?”), and I’m not sure that it matters a whole lot, but consider another story making the rounds this week:

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened his historic four-day visit to Moscow by signaling a new era of cooperation with Russia but demanding that Iran, an ally of the Kremlin, end its “interference” in Middle East politics.


King Salman called for any peace settlement in Syria to ensure that the country remained integrated, but he did not repeat the longstanding, and now shelved, Saudi call for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to stand aside.

The visit to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday is the first by a ruling Saudi monarch to Moscow and is widely seen as a potential turning point in Middle East politics, and even the conduct of world oil markets.

More than 15 cooperation agreements worth billions of pounds were signed, ranging from oil, military and space exploration, leading the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to claim the visit marked the moment when Saudi-Russian relations “reached a new qualitative level”. In one of the most remarkable deals, the Saudis said they would purchase the Russian S-400 defense system.

Many of the agreements covering Saudi investment in the Russia energy markets are hardly likely to strengthen the impact of EU and American sanctions over Russia’s interference in Ukraine. But Saudi Arabia is keen that the visit also secures a more permanent Russian cooperation over oil prices after a January agreement between the world’s two largest oil producers managed to stabilize oil prices.

Saudi Arabia wants to prolong the oil agreement, which curbed production and raised prices. Speaking in Moscow, the Saudi energy minister, Khalid Al-Falih, said the January agreement “had breathed life back into Opec” and made his country more optimistic about the future of oil. “The success of this collaboration is clear,” he said. Russia is not a member of  OPEC, but badly needs oil prices to rise to rescue its ailing economy.

The Saudis have traditionally seen the US as its chief – if not exclusive – foreign policy partner, but changes inside the Saudi regime, as well as Saudi fears about US reliability, have left the kingdom looking to diversify into wider sets of alliances.

The visit has been in the works for months, if not years, but the Trump administration’s failure to give the Saudis unambivalent support in its dispute with Qatar earlier this year disappointed the Saudis.

Russia and Saudi were at loggerheads through most of the cold war and the Saudis have been stymied by the Russian decision to prop up Assad at a time when it was supporting the Syrian opposition with cash and arms.

Faced with Assad’s Russian-backed military advance in the south and west of Syria, the Saudis have been forced to scale back their political demands that Assad leave. They remain virulently opposed to an Iranian presence in Syria and will be seeking assurances from Putin that the Iranian militias fighting alongside the regime will be forced to leave Syria as part of any peace settlement. The Saudis also want the Iranians to stop backing the Houthi opposition in Yemen.In his opening remarks at the Kremlin, King Salman stressed his opposition to Iran, saying: “We emphasize that the security and stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East is an urgent necessity for achieving stability and security in Yemen. This would demand that Iran give up interference with the internal affairs of the region, to give up actions destabilizing the situation in this region.”Russia has pulled out all the diplomatic stops to welcome the Saudi king, although there was a glitch when the golden escalator due to take the aging king down the steps at Moscow airport failed to function.

I’m certainly not the only person writing about “nature abhorring a vacuum,” or that complex systems seek equilibrium. Bottom line: life generally does better when it happens harmoniously. Period.

But Trump seems to be all about chaos. As in: generating as much chaos as he possibly can. Like a two-year-old toddler throwing tantrums to direct more attention his way, Trump is seriously destabilizing the entire global order – which he, in fact, promised to do – but there appears to be no coherent plan to replace this order. And this order, such as it is, has kept the peace for quite a while, and made it possible, generally speaking, for life in the United States to flourish.

Now, let’s take a look at a few other recent developments. The US sends two aircraft carrier battle groups to the North Pacific, to the region where the fat kid with the bad haircut resides. Then Russia and China stage a fairly large naval exercise in the same area, at the same time as Russia conducts war games in Eastern Europe.

And recall that a year ago, when the fat kid with the bad haircut launched missiles about half the time they blew up. Six months ago something changed. The heat signatures of these launches changed markedly. They suddenly resembled Soviet-era ICBM launch vehicles. Launch vehicles made in Ukraine, as it happened, and then reports surfaced that Ukrainian missile technology had made it into these new North Korean launchers. Ukrainians are adamant that they did not give away those secrets, and reports that the fat kid’s spies infiltrated Ukrainian missile facilities have simply not been proven as fact. But Russia has scads of these missiles. Did Prince Vlad give the fat kid some spare launch vehicles?

And recall Venezuela? A lunatic named Maduro? Guess who’s supporting the whole show down there? Yup, that merry trickster, Prince Vlad the Impaler.

And here’s where the whole balance and equilibrium thing becomes important. If Trump is chaos, who better to step into the light than Prince Vlad? Who better to lead the way out of chaos and back into a more harmonious state of affairs?

And what happens when collateralized dollar-denominated debt suddenly gets called in, after the US dollar is dropped as the world’s basket currency?

Remember that old 80s flick – Red Dawn?

Nature abhors a vacuum. Maybe almost as much as Putin loves the idea of vengeance.


Music Matters

I was listening to some older Pat Metheny Group CDs this week, and one of my favorites from back in the day was an obscure album titled As Falls Witchita, So Falls Witchita Falls. Two of my favorite Metheny tracks are on this one, though one has a fairly obscure origin. It’s For You is an exuberant piece that has one of my favorite bass lines ever, which starts at the halfway mark (4:08) and really comes into its own at 4:40. (and yeah, piano and bass are my things, musically). A longer, more soothing piece can be found in September Fifteenth; the title is the date of jazz pianist Bill Evans’ death earlier that year (1980). Don’t know who Bill Evans is? Why not find a track called Peace Piece and give it a good, long listen. It’s loosely based on Leonard Bernstein‘s “Some Other Time,” and is a simple, apolitical piano composition. Worth studying if into music composition, too. Notable for using some less well-known chord structures…

Another group of favorite Metheny tracks can be found on the album Letter From Home, where you’ll find 5-5-7 (derives from time signatures within the composition). There is not a better piece of music for driving along mountains roads (at high speed) than this one. Period. Slip Away may be the best piece to play when you cut the dock lines and put out to sea, while Vidala gets my vote for sheer laid back groovin’.

My very favorite Pat Metheny Group track is The First Circle, from their album by the same name. The music is crystal clear, the meaning as obvious. No less clear yet more soothing is the track Más Allá, a perfect ‘watching the sunset with your significant other’ track.

Finally, from the album Imaginary Day, try the track titled The Awakening. Talk about a change of pace…?

Most of these albums are from The Pat Metheny Group’s so-called German period, when they recorded for ECM in Munich. Those guys were on fire…

I rambled through some old King Crimson this week, too, and spent some time In the Wake of Poseidon. This album came at the end of the Greg Lake period (1970) and features some doozies, notably Pictures of a City – a kind of film noir set piece that highlights some really peculiar work on sax before charging into Lake’s laser-sharp vocals (and is Pete Sinfield the best rock lyricist ever?). You feel smoother flows later in the piece so just know that the raucous earlier tempos are deliberate, taking you back to an earlier era for a little compare and contrast (and pick up those weird achromatic bass lines in the smooth passages?)? Cat Food, on the other hand, may just be the weirdest Crimson ever. Next…compare Poseidon to 1969s brilliant In The Court of the Crimson King. Few albums changed the direction of rock music more than this one, and yet, how very different the two are.


Anyway, have a good weekend. Look for the concluding chapter(s) of Deep End soon.


X-Plane Musings + 2


So, without making too fine a point here, another fun flight, a few more thoughts about playing around “up there” in X-Plane

I made a longer flight in XP this weekend, and I find myself returning to the program when writing proves too painfully introspective or I just need a break from doctors – and all their endless BS.EDDS1

Well, I picked up a bunch of European airport files late last week, and the airport imaged above is EDDS Stuttgart. I decided to “fly” from here to LFMN Nice, on the French Mediterranean, and it was fun, if challenging. At about 400 miles, such a flight takes a little more than an hour and involves flying over two sets of mountain ranges (the Swiss Alps and the so-called Mediterranean Alps that form the backdrop to Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo.

So, with the 733 gassed up and ready to go, off we went. I wanted to fly the entire flight under autopilot this time – simply to see if I understood how the system works when handling SIDS (Standard Instrument Departures) and STARS (Standard Instrument Approaches), as well as (potentially) holding patterns.


Leaving Germany under clear skies (above, and that’s EDDS almost under the left engine), this route took the 733 over Zurich…


(and that’s LSZH Zurich Kloten, above, under the left wing) along the way to the western half of the Swiss Alps. The 733 is at 20,000 feet here. Next stop, Milan:


Milan, Italy (above) after crossing the Swiss Alps, and now approaching the Mediterranean Alps.

Approaching the Med, the weather was deteriorating, and here’s where things get interesting in XP. You can set the program to download the weather in real-time, and XP will then adjust the conditions inside the SIM on the fly. Want to fly inside hurricane Harvey? XP can make that happen for you. A weather front full of tornados? Yup, XP can do that, too. If you have a large 4K monitor, you might keep a barf-bag handy. Don’t believe it? Turn out the lights and fly into a bad storm in a Baron or King Air. XP will shake the plane to pieces and it’s amazing how immersive the sensation can become.


So, XP was doing its thing, making the weather turn real crappy, real fast.


Flying instruments is a tough concept to deal with for people new to flying, and it takes hundreds of hours of flight time to become comfortable with all the details, yet in the end, it’s not really all that difficult, especially with modern autopilots. Below, out over the Med now, getting lined up for the final approach.


And, popping out of the clouds, with runway 4R in the center of the left windscreen.


By the by, here are a couple of examples of charts used for this type of approach. This first shows details on the instrument approach chart for runway 4R:


This next is a STAR chart, detailing a Standard Approach to LFMN from the north, east, and southeast sectors:


If you do everything right, you end up with a view like this out the cockpit glass:


Note the position looks a little to the right? Well, that’s because there are two closely spaced parallel runways at this airport, and 4Right’s approach actually forms a shallow V-shape with 4Ls, giving more room if two aircraft happen to be shooting approaches at the same time.


And this is what you’re likely to see from the highway on the way to the airport…just another uneventful landing. Which is the result of hundreds of hours of training and thousands of hours as a journeyman apprentice in the right seat. Endless study – and now – lower pay.

And in all human history, there’s never been anything quite like it. If you think about it, two hundred years ago moving from Stuttgart to Nice would have entailed a journey of months along roads that were anything but paved. Now the trip takes a few minutes.

Here’s a thought to ponder: Isn’t that the definition of a time machine?

More in the next Musings.