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Friday, October 23, 2015

ADJUSTING TIME

I can’t believe we are doing it again. We got along for nine thousand years without doing it, and now we do it twice a year. It was a dumb idea when we did it the first time and now that we’re doing it  twice a year? Why?! Doing a dumb thing twice does not make it smart. Why are we doing this again?! 
The persons to blame for this are the obsessive-compulsive bureaucrats who champion the so-called Daylight Saving Time – and there is no “s” at the end of “Saving” because it’s modifying time, not daylight – I told you these clock watchers were obsessive compulsive. But that dropped “s” should also give you a hint that this whole thing is one great fraud being perpetrated on each and every one of us in the name of good grammar. So on November First at 2:00 AM, we will all adjust our clocks again because we’re all supposed to. It's a unity thing, I guess. We are all dumb together because being dumb together is better than being smart individually. I guess being smart together is not an option. .And come March of 2016, you know in advance that you are not going to feeling like "springing" anywhere. These endless adjustments are an endless treadmill of dumbness.
Experts assure me we’re going to save 10,000 barrels of oil a day, reduce crime and spend more time out of doors with our families in the evenings during summer. Of course your iPad and your iPhone would start displaying some rare Lapland dialect if you tried to instruct it to ignore the whole thing.  But why are we doing this again?!  They first tried this half baked scheme back in World War One, and as soon as the war was over they dumped it. And now, every time some liberal one-world type comes up with another energy saving idea, we are all required to smile and call it "green":  But I wonder about all that extra fossil fuel we burn every morning to light our darkened bedrooms, not to mention run our computers, TVs, hair dryers, electric razors, water heaters and all those headlights. We used to say that people who rose early got up with the cows. Well, the cows are not getting up any earlier. Nor are the chickens. Why the hell are we?
As everybody keeps pointing out, it was Ben Franklin who first purposed Daylight Saving in his essay “An Economical Project”, (but in French, of course) (above)  in which he suggested that if authorities were to “…Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, …it is probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening." And if we set him on fire, it is probable he will not litter. It is an interesting idea from the eighteenth century’s second most famous reprobate, but it strikes me like accepting interior decorating suggestions from the Marque de Sade, who was the first most famous reprobate.  How do we know that Ben wasn't  just joking?
Well, if he was, then Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who wrote the amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requiring Daylight Saving Time, missed the punch line. So the same Congress that has refused to raise the minimum wage for 15 years found the time to steal an hour of your sleep every March and screw with your sanity every November. In the next election I suggest voting for Ben Franklin. It would make as much sense.
Ben was trying to save about 64 million pounds of candle wax a year. Well, look how much wax we saved by inventing electricity! And, didn't Ben have something to do with that?  Kite, key, electrical storm -  any of this sound familiar?  Listen, didn't Ben see this whole electricity thing coming? And speaking of electricity, according to the New Jersey Public Service Enterprise Group, Daylight Saving has “no impact” on energy demands in their service area. And the government of Kazakhstan has already dropped the whole idea of “saving daylight”.  Are we dumber than the Kazakhastanies? 
According to the University of California Energy Institute, daylight saving does not actually save energy, it just moves it around. And a recent study of electric bills in Indiana found that the time "shifters" are actually costing each Hoosier almost $3.00 a year MORE -  about $8.6 million a year in total, plus somewhere between $1.6 and $5.3 million in pollution costs for generating all that extra electricity for getting up and going to work in the dark!. And if that is what it costs Hoosiers (like me), think what it costing people in New Jersey!  Just think about it. A little more energy conservation like this and we might as well just start burning wood for heat again.
And another problem with this bi-annual adjustment to our sense of reality is that our brains can’t adjust without being told to, while computers solve the problem without a hitch. So while our electronics no longer need a "time patch” for programs, humans require psychiatric assistance to adjust to the depression brought on by lost sleep!  To quote from Ken Fisher’s article for ARS,  “So while the US government pats itself on the back for at least looking busy, know that the main goal – energy conservation – has not been met….Isn’t arbitrary, mostly meaningless change, great?”  Hell, no, it isn’t.
Still, I’m willing to be cooperative.  If we need more daylight then let’s move the clocks forward and be done with it. Why fall back in the fall? Listen, if the majority of the population decides that at noon tomorrow we should pretend that it is now 10:45 AM, I’d go along with that. But for heaven’s sake please stop moving the clocks back and forth and back and forth as if we were keeping time with Mexican jumping beans. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Pick a damn time and leave it the hell alone!
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

AIR MAIL

I believe the decision by the United States Post Office to leap into the 20th century of mail delivery was taken with all the alacrity and planning you would expect from the second oldest and most entrenched bureaucracy in the U.S. government.  On Monday,  6 May, 1918  -  15 years after the Wright Brother's first flight - United States Army Major Reuben Fleet was summoned into the office of Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. There Baker told the pilot that he was now responsible for setting up the first Air Mail Service between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Further, the stunned Major was informed that the first flight of the new service would take off from Washington, D.C. at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday 15 May , just nine days hence.
Major Fleet was flabbergasted. This is the first he had heard of any such an idea. He pointed out to the Secretary that the best plane in the Army’s inventory was the JN-4D, known as the Jenny. But the Jenny  was so under-powered that if you tried to execute a turn without first dipping her nose, the Jenny would stall.
Worse, the Jenny was a two seat trainer, capable of barely 65 miles an hour and had a range of less than 90 miles. In other words, a Jenny couldn’t reach Philadelphia non-stop from either New York or Washington. The Secretary responded that whatever the difficulties,  they had to be overcome because - and this was the kicker - the Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson, had already issued the press release. And as any military officer in Washington can explain, once the press release has gone out, you are committed.
Major Fleet - whose personal motto was, "Nothing Short of Right Is Right" -  immediately called the Curtiss Aeroplane Corporation on Long Island and ordered the emergency conversion of twelve Jenny’s - replacing the front seat controls with storage for mail bags, changing the 90 horse power engines for ones with 150 horse power,  and adding fuel tanks to increase the range. Curtiss promised to deliver the planes to Belmont Park airfield by Monday, 13 May.
But as Fleet overcame each obstacle it seemed two more popped up. Naturally, he preferred to start the Washington flights out of College Park, Maryland, nine miles north of the capital (thus saving nine miles on the first or last leg of each flight). But the Post Office press release insisted on using the polo field at Potomac Park, near the tidal basin, (top of the above photo), right in the middle of Washington, and ringed by tall trees. The Department of the Interior was insistent that not a branch of those magnificent 100 year old trees be broken. Fleet then asked for six of the most experienced pilots in America to fly the routes.
He got four very good pilots and two political "ringers". The two ringers were Lieutenants James Edgerton and George Leroy Boyle, both of whom had just graduated from flight school in Texas (well, almost), and so far their solo flying experience consisted of one 15 mile journey across the south Texas prairies. In fact, before Major Fleet had been given his orders, Lieutenants Edgerton and Boyle  had received theirs, and were already on their way to Washington. It was a an old bureaucratic  trick known as the fait accompli. The two ringers would get the credit if everything went well. Major Fleet would get the blame if the ringers screwed the pouch. 
On the other hand, Edgerton was the son of a Post Office purchasing agent,  and Boyle was engaged to marry Margaret McChord, the only daughter of Interstate Commerce Commissioner Charles McChord (above, holding the bag). She ran the Red Cross gift shop inside the Commerce Department building.  That made both young men politically if not avionically well qualified for staring roles in the Air Mail drama. Major Fleet knew enough about the way Washington worked that he did not argue with their selection. So, after leaving instructions for the surreptitious removal of one particularly pernicious tree at the edge of Potomac Park, Fleet left for Long Island by train with what he judged were his five best pilots. Fleet left his sixth pilot, Lt. Boyle, behind in Washington to entertain the lovely Miss McChord, and presumably her  father, Commissioner McChord, as well.  Frankly, after having met him, that was the assignment for which Major Fleet figured Lt. Boyle was best qualified.
At the aerodrome inside the Belmont Park race track outside New York City,  Major Fleet found his modified Jennys were waiting as promised – but still in their crates. The mechanics and pilots spent the next two days desperately lashing together the required six planes. Two first newly assembled Jennys were then flown to Philadelphia. The next two were made ready to fly from what they were now calling Belmont Field. And early on Wednesday, 15 May, the exhausted Major Fleet flew the last plane assembled (Number 38262) from Philadelphia to Washington, landing at Potomac Park at 10:35 a.m., with barely twenty-five minutes to spare before the 11:00 a.m. takeoff deadline, as per the previously released press release.
The makeshift airfield was filled with brass and political heavy weights. Franklin Roosevelt, the under-Secretary of the Navy, was there, as was Postmaster General and the Secretary of the War, and even Alexander Graham Bell.  Fleet may have been hoping the President would be late. The previous day POTUS had rested his hand on a cannon barrel still hot from having fired a salute in his honor. But just after Major Fleet parked his Jenny, Woodrow Wilson drove up, left hand wrapped in a bandage.. But where was Lieutenant Boyle? Fleet had just about decided to take the flight himself when a voice from the crowd boomed out with disturbing confidence, “Never fear, because Boyle is here.”
Forward stepped the cocky young Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle (left), looking like a young Jay Leno, and followed by the lovely Margaret McChord, carrying a dozen roses she had gotten from somewhere. Boyle put on a brave face during the distribution of commemorative watches and nobly posed for official handshakes. Then , ignoring the photographers, Major Fleet attempted to coach Boyle on how to follow the railroad tracks north from Union Station.  
But the closer they got to take off time, the photos of the Lieutenant begin to give the impression of a man prone to motion sickness who has just realized that he has volunteered to be abandoned on a life raft in the middle of hurricane. (That's Margaret hovering in the BG, to the right of the man in the straw hat) As he struggled to keep Boyles' attention, Major Fleet was interrupted by a wail of sirens. A mail truck, carrying  four 140 pound bags of First Class (24 cent) Air Mail had arrived.
The photographers were momentarily distracted, getting pictures of the bags being loaded into the Jenny. The noise and excitement did not help Boyles' concentration, and eventually Major Fleet simply taped the road map to the now almost catatonic Boyle’s leg. Boyle was now starting to resemble a hunter on his way to meet a firing squad of well armed deer.
There were more photos taken as Boyle climbed aboard the unfamiliar airplane and set the switches to start the engine. A sergeant windmill-ed the propeller three times to pull fuel into the cylinders. Lt. Boyle yelled, “Contact!”, and the sergeant pushed the propeller through again, hard. The engine coughed and died. Twice more Boyle and the sergeant tried to start the engine. But the motor stubbornly refused to engage.
The President was getting annoyed. The crowd was starting to giggle. Boyle was beginning to look as if he might throw up in the cockpit. Finally the sergeant thought to look in the gas tank. It was bone dry. Fleet had been lucky to arrive that morning before he ran out of gas. And no one, amid all the hoopla, not even the exhausted Fleet, had thought to refuel the plane.
Fuel was borrowed from some planes in the nearby U.S. Naval Yard field (which raises the question why the army was not using the Navy air field) and, 45 minutes late, Lt. Boyle's wings  were turned into the wind, and he roared down the open lawn. The crowd held its breath as he just cleared the trees at the end of the makeshift runway, by all of three feet. The U.S. Army was in the Air Mail business; sort of.
Meanwhile the flight from Belmont Park had gotten off on time, and arrived at Philadelphia two hours later. Right on schedule.  But after waiting for Boyle in Philly for almost an hour, the New York bound Jenny took off without any mail and headed north. When it arrived on Long Island everyone there was so excited they forgot to ask where the mail was. But eventually somebody thought to ask "What happened to Lt. Boyle?" The answer to that question arrived an hour later.
After finally getting into the air, Boyle came to the depressing realization that he could not read a map to save his life, even one taped to his own thigh. He mistakenly followed a branch line of railroad tracks for 20 miles to the southeast from Washington, the approximate opposite direction from Philadelphia.  By the time Lt. Boyle had realized his error, he had almost run out of gas. On crash landing near Waldorf, Maryland, the chastised Lt. Boyle did a ground loop, flipping his Jenny onto her top. He called Major Fleet, explaining, "My compass got a little mixed up."
Boyles’ mailbags were eventually delivered to Philadelphia the next day by another pilot. And thankfully, in a swell of patriotism, the wartime press corps chose to bury the lead of the story. The failure to refuel the plane, and Boyles inability to read a map, went unmentioned. And that should have been the end of that. But the Postmaster General was not inclined to let the story or Lt. Boyle fade into the crowded grey pages of history. Instead the Postmaster General urged Major Fleet to give Boyle another chance.
Which is why, two days later, on Friday 17 May, 1918,  Lt. "Wrong Way" Boyle took off from Washington, again. This time he was following another (more qualified) pilot, i.e., Major Fleet,  who guided the wandering pathfinder due north out of the national capital, telling him this time to follow Chesapeake Bay north, to Philadelphia.  Boyle faithfully followed Fleet for fifty miles. But then Fleet turned back.  And that was when, finally alone in the air, headed in the right direction, somehow, someway, the dashing but incompetent Lt. Boyle managed to get turned around yet again. All he had to do was not turn. And yet that is exactly what he did. And evidently, he did so almost immediately after the Fleet left him. This time Boyle ended up flying for three hours and fifteen minutes due south. Not only could he not read a map, he couldn't read a compass. Eventually he set his ship down successfully, safely, landing on Cape Charles, on the very Southeastern tip of Virginia, barely avoiding an excursion out over the open Atlantic only because he ran out of fuel first.
Determined not to fail yet again,  and having missed the Atlantic ocean by a hair's breath of petrol, Lt. Boyle bought gasoline out of his own pocket from a farmer, got directions from the farmer, took off again and this time actually made it to Philadelphia. Well, close to Philadelphia. He crash landed on the Philadelphia Country Club golf course, sending the duffers running in terror and sheering both wings off his Jenny and bending the landing gear.
When the Postmaster General Burleson asked that Boyle be given a third chance, Major Fleet replied, “The conclusion has been reached that the best interests of the service require that Lieutenant Boyle be relieved from this duty.” And so he was.  The next month he married Margaret McChord and stopped flying entirely. To everyone's relief. But it would appear that Lt. Boyd was such an incompetent pilot that he somehow managed to afflict the man who replaced him, who suffered five forced landings over the next three months. Whatever Lt. Boyle was suffering from, it was contagious and he was a carrier.
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Sunday, October 18, 2015

MAKING PEACE - Five - Hearts


I believe the long argument about just what would have been the human cost of  an invasion of Japan in 1945 can be settled by knowing that the United States has not had to order a single new Purple Heart decoration to be manufactured for a dead or wounded American soldier, sailor or airman since 1945. The tolls from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have not emptied the stockpiles intended for presentation to causalities suffered during an 1945-46 invasion of Japan.
General Douglas MacArthur, eager for glory after having been chosen to lead the invasion of Japan, tried to convince President Truman that it would cost "only" 500,000 causalities. But Truman had his own estimate, produced by former President Herbert Hoover. Hoover, using his old skills as an economist, and backed up by an independent study group, estimated the real cost would be closer to a million American dead and wounded. The U.S. Navy, doing their own independent estimate came up with the same numbers. With the examples of the death toll from Okinawa and Iwo Jima as supporting evidence, Truman became a believer in Hoover’s numbers. And, in my opinion, that deceptive reduction in causality estimates justified Dugout Dug’s immediate recall. Only his political clout with Republicans in Washington saved his command until after another bloodbath finally empowered an American President to order his removal..
So the horrific casualties certain to result from an American invasion of Japan, plus the geo-political threat posed by the Soviet intervention, encouraged Truman to get out of this war as quickly as possible. And those were the same factors driving the Japanese decision to finally accept rational surrender on terms. It had taken four years of horrible bloodshed (and the loss of influence of some monumental egos, i.e. Tojo and MacArthur)  for Japanese and American politicians to come to the realization that they had some rather basic goals in common.
First the Japanese -  At the Big Six meeting on the evening of 9 August, the six participants each argued
their case. Foreign Secretary Togo(above)  argued for accepting the Potsdam declaration, but retaining the Emperor.
General Anami (above) insisted better terms could be won by continuing to fight. No minds were swayed.  But the three members of the "war party" were slowly led justify continuing the war primarily because it would preserve the Imperial throne. It was,  to Japanese historians, Japan's Longest Day. 
Finally, at 2 in the morning of 10 August, Prime Minster Suzuki (above) bowed before the Emperor and said it was up to him to decide. 
And for the first time in modern Japanese history, the Emperor, dressed in his uniform (above)  spoke directly to the politicians as the Emperor. "I have ..concluded that continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation...the time has come to bear  the unbearable....I swallow my tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation..."
The Emperor then left the meeting, and Suzuki immediately presented a written pledge to follow the Emperor's  wishes, and asked all six to sign it. The previous 24 hours had been building to this moment, to maneuver the generals and admirals to define as their honor not as their willingness to die for their Emperor, but to defend their signatures on this piece of paper.  The three members of the war party were not stupid men. They knew what they were being asked to do, and doing it broke their hearts. But they signed.
The next day Mr. Max Grassli, charge d’Affaires for Switzerland, sent a cable to James Byrnes, the U.S Secretary of State. It read, in part, "The Japanese Government are ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which as issued at Potsdam…with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler."  It should have been the end of the  bleeding.  But it was not.  
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