At the Airport

Southwest Airlines has lost a pilot. There is a perfectly good airplane sitting at the gate with a full compliment of passengers and crew, but not enough pilots.

Delays like this are unfortunate, but there is nothing for me to do about it, unless I join in the hunt for the missing pilot. Where to look? Passed out in a bathroom stall? Asleep in a lounge? The one thing that will be true is that the pilot will be at the last location searched.

Thinking about transportation, much of the terminology seems to come from ships on the water. We board trains, we board planes, but we don’t board autos. We get in autos. And why do we insist on calling them airplanes? Are there groundplanes?

Pilot is a nautical word, and captain is a nautical title. But in announcements on the plane they refer to the left side or the right side, instead of port and starboard.

In case you are confused there is a nifty trick to help remember the difference. Port has the same number of letters as left. And starboard has more letters and right has more letters. I know that starboard has a lot more letters but you get the point.

Going further into the source of the words might help as well. The port side of the vessel always came closest to the dock. The reason is that the starboard side had the steering board lashed to the side, so if they came into port on that side it would crush their rudder. It took a few centuries to place the rudder at the very end of the ship.

Another piece of trivia, the rudder steers the ship in the desired direction. It is thought that rudder comes from “rutter”, the written directions for navigation, passed from captain to captain.

George Carlin has a great monologue about the terminology of airports. He wonders about “getting on board”. He doesn’t want to get on the plane, he wants to get in the plane. He has a fear that he might have to hang on to the wing like gremlins.

Another interesting word gremlin. It comes out of the early years of flight, when pilots had difficulties with random problems on the aircraft. Gremlins were thought to be the source. The famous Twilight Zone television program’s episode of a young man seeing Gremlins fly out of the storm clouds to land on the wing, then start tearing the flaps apart is a perfect example of the belief. Oh, the young man was none other than William Shatner, who later as the Star Trek captain had a variety of gremlins attack his spacecraft.

A complete aside…. Why in the world world would American Motors name one of their models the “Gremlin”? That is as bad as when Chevrolet named their model “Nova”, which in Spanish was “no go”.

A new captain drove in from San Francisco, so everything is okay. I still wonder where is the missing pilot? Gremlins?

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“The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. “

a Spartan King, quoted by Thucydides

My eldest daughter wrote a paper for a class that was leading to her Master’s in History. What better source than her own family? The title was “From Protester to Soldier: An Oral History”.

I was vaguely aware of her intentions, at least I think so. It was several years ago when she taped a four hour interview. She later told me that it took eight hours to transcribe it to written form, and then she was only able to quote about a third of what was said. She probably could have edited it down even further. She kept putting in stories that were interesting, but only tangential to the point of the essay.

The stories were part of the family lore so I can see why she had to include them.

As I said, this was almost four years ago so I barely remember the interview, and if she gave me the final paper, well, I don’t remember that at all. I don’t think she intentionally withheld showing me, her life was very busy, and she was eight months pregnant. All excellent reasons.

We were talking about it the other day, and she said she would forward the final paper once she found it.

I read it this morning and I was stunned. Of course I though it was brilliant. My daughter is brilliant, all of my five children are brilliant. It is quite another thing to read a paper based upon my life, with citations and quotes!

And beyond the factual data, there was an analysis that broke down the process of a moral shift in my thinking and beliefs. How did I shift from a Pacifist (active protestor) to a professional soldier?

Without even looking at the data, it would be reasonable to question whether either of those labels were correct. They may be accurate on the surface but perhaps neither one was felt very deeply. I am reminded that before uniforms were standard, soldiers would go into battle with different colored armbands. After the fighting began, one would look around to see how things were going, and if necessary you could always go into your pocket to put on the other armband. Everybody went to war with two armbands.

Was my pacifist nature deeply felt? Yes, it looked that way. I laid down on railroad tracks to stop the troop trains. My body wasn’t cut in half, I never really paid the price. I was tear gassed, I felt the baton’s, I was shoved through a plate glass window. But I bare no scars, not even emotional ones.

I knew people were dying on both sides of the war. I knew what war was, I saw it on television, and I was against it. Sorta.

There was still a part of me that was covered up. I made a choice to take the high road, and bury the berserker that was within. We all want to be better versions of ourselves. Part of that process is to see all the parts, particularly those parts that shouldn’t see the light of the day.

The army wanted the berserker. Fixing a bayonet to the end of a M-16, and using it as a short spear, a stabbing weapon in close quarters, is not a civilized process. In fact, someone looked at this and removed it from the basic training process. It was still there when I went through. I recall quite vividly the human dummy that I had to eviscerate with several thrusts, all the while emitting a primal scream. I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask the dummy to surrender.

Without getting too deep into the psychology, I think it is safe to say that my pacifist convictions were strong, but it was much easier to let out the berserker. I’m often reminded that we don’t have to practice to be uncivil.

What did the army use to break down my convictions? Again, one must look at the real strength not the surface appearance.

I think for me it was the “band of brothers”. I didn’t fight for some national ideal. I didn’t really fear the Communist Red Menace, I fought for my friend next to me, I fought for the platoon. I had a free ticket to get out and go home, I didn’t use it. I couldn’t leave, because they had to stay.

My daughter’s paper points this out fairly clearly even though the family lore stories tend to crowd it out. Looking at this forty-five years later is still amazing.

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I have been thinking about labels. A very useful concept. A stack of boxes with no labels is a nightmare of exasperated searching. When there are labels, it narrows the search, saving time.

Labels are a short cut to anyone searching, like signs on a map.

Labels on people work the same way. Conversations are edited, information to be shared is steered in one direction, information received is processed by a filter based upon the label.

All this is helpful if the label is correct. Unfortunately it is rare that the box generates its own label. People are mostly labeled by other people.

So, mislabeling is probably the most harmful action to real communication. It’s a useful short-cut only if it is correct.

A list of current important labels…

1. believer & non-believer. Something to watch for is the hidden bias. Defining a whole group of folks as “non” tends to invalidate their position.

2. Liberal and conservative. There is a difference, but the differences are not fixed by the words. People apply the specifics, and they change over time.

3. Democratic and autocratic. The same thing apples from above.

So maybe we need to use different labels

1. Loving and hateful. Now this is a really useful label if can be proved true.

2. Good and evil. This is great, if we can actually find folks who honestly embrace evil.

3. Moral and immoral. Same problem exists, who champions immorality?

Perhaps in the comic book universe where superheroes and super villains exists.

I have been asked often about where I stand. What label that is self defining?

Periodically my children ask who I voted for? I declare that I took an oath to defend our right to a secret ballot. The problem is that the secret ballot hasn’t always been central to the constitution.

In fact, there is ample evidence that democracy depends upon knowing exactly where a representative stands by a simple yes or no vote n public.

I am not a label, it would not be easy to place my beliefs in one camp or another. I am not an independent, although I tend to think independently. I have registered with a party where I believe I can have a larger impact, not because I am surrounded by lockstep thinkers.

My wife has a genealogy that is missing. There are grandparents and cousins that basically disappeared in 1941. I have taken that to heart as an analogy.

The most basic label is… there are people that will put you on the train… because they are evil, or frightened, or unthinking, or mistakenly patriotic, or apathetic, or just plain asleep.

And then there are people that would never, ever, on the pain of Death, even consider putting people on the train.

I know where I stand in this labeling and it is my first consideration when I look at the labels of others.

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Otzi, Man of Copper

In 1991 a couple were hiking in the Orztai Alps, on the Austrian/Italy border, going slightly off trail. They found what appeared to be a hikers body in a crevasse, with his lower body still encased in ice. They hurried back to the lodge to report they had found a hiker from several seasons ago, and that the body was still mostly frozen.

Five days later an archaeologist determined that the body was approximately four thousand years old based upon the style of copper ax that was found with his remains.

The Age of Copper only lasted about 2000 years. Of course stone tools existed before copper, and they existed all through the Age of Copper, and still were in existence well after the Bronze Age. New technology does not completely replace old technology in an instant.

The generally agreed upon standard is that the Age of Copper was from 3500 BC to about 2300 BC. Although in some places copper smelting may have occurred several thousands of years earlier.

Otzi lived about two or three generations after copper became widely known. In fact, the Battle Ax culture had stone axes that were shaped like copper long before they had copper. For Otzi this was new technology, incredible technology. Otzi had a copper ax. This would have been as if he had an iPhone and everybody else had public phone booths.

Otzi was not a thief, at least he didn’t have to steal the ax. From chemical analysis of his hair they found trace elements of copper and arsenic. Considering that the copper ax was 99.7% pure, it was concluded that Otzi worked it, smelting the copper from natural formations or copper ore.

For at least 3.3 million years humans have used stone tools. We had used the rocks as they were, and after a million years we had developed very good flaking techniques. Two million years later we had the knapping technique down pat, and include notches the tie the stones to shafts or wooden handles.

Otzi probably did this as a young man. But now he was a man of copper, he didn’t have to flake or knap, he poured liquid copper into a mold, then hammered the result. Conquering metal was the first step in the race to the future.

The mummified corpse of Otis has been poked, prodded, x-rayed and scanned more than any living human. They have discovered what he had eaten for the last week and even what he ate just hours before his death. They looked at his teeth, his nails, the 61 tattoos on his body. Everything together gave a fairly complete picture of a man that was very used to going for long walks in the mountains.

One possible story for Otis, is that he was traveling with one or more friends when they were attacked by another party. There were four different blood types found through DNA testing. Two different types were found on one arrowhead that was found with him. This could have meant that Otis had killed or wounded one individual, then retrieved the arrow to wound of kill another. Another blood type was found on his flint bladed knife, he still used stone tools. The fourth blood type was found on the back of his coat, which may have come from carrying a wounded comrade.

We are not sure how far he carried his friend, there was no trace of other bodies. It might not have been very far because was thought to have bled to death from an arrow found in his shoulder. The shaft was missing but the arrowhead was deep in the shoulder, causing massive hemorrhaging. There were also cuts and bruises that were made shortly before death. Ottis had collapsed on his stomach, perhaps in order to pull out the arrow shaft.

Whoever killed Ottis did not take his clothes, his quiver of arrows, his shoes, or his fabulous copper ax. It is possible that they were thankful that he was dying and they were still alive. So Otis lost blood, lost consciousness, and froze in place for the next 5000 years.

We do know a few things. His clothes were very specialized and high tech for the times. At least four different skins were used for different purposes, his cloak was of woven grass. His leather loin cloth and coat were made from sheepskin. His leggings were made from goat, and his hat from bear. His shoes had top sides of deer and the sole was bear. The shoes were so well designed that a Czech company asked for the rights to reproduce them.

We also know that Ottis ate a large amount of grain, probably as bread and that he was lactose intolerant. Wheat, barley, flax and poppy were all present. He had also portions of antelope and deer meat that were eaten just hours before his death.

From the pollen evidence, it is thought that Otzi died in the summer, and was frozen that winter, completely covered in ice.

As far as we know there were no towns or cities. Villages probably were know for their specialized trade goods. Leather produced here, metal workers in another village. The constant travel meant that communication was widespread. It also meant that travelers could be set upon be those that wanted your goods if they could take your life.

We don’t know what Otzi and his friends carried, all we know is that Otzi never completed his trip.

Oh, by the way, DNA testing found 19 living relatives of Otzi in the local area.

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It’s in the Smoke

“Ruminant manure constituted an important factor in American settlement on the Plains, providing fuel for heat and cooking in the near total absence of wood or coal, and serving as a medical specific for injuries and medical complaints ranging from the reattachment of severed members and snake bite to hiccups and sunburn.”

“Travelers on the Plains, European Americans and Native Americans alike, erected cairns of buffalo chips to serve as landmarks. As a fuel, cow and buffalo chips offered the advantage of not throwing sparks into bedding or clothing, which was especially important in military tents and tipis.”

One early settler reported, “Don’t feel sorry for us cooking with cow chips. They had their advantages– didn’t need to use pepper.”

It may have been Tom Robbins that once suggested that cooking with buffalo chips changed brain function. Instead of focusing on the burned pancakes, the thought was, “Go West!” And west they went, only to find and burn more buffalo chips. They continued west until there were no buffalo chips, just the Pacific Ocean.

I wish I could remember the exact book. It sounds like something Tom Robbins would write. It was funny at the time. Imagine that the smoke would induce a thought, or perhaps it was induced by the eating of small microbes. Go West, indeed!

Then I remember the Cat Lady theories.

“Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Infections with toxoplasmosis usually cause no obvious symptoms in adults. … The parasite is only known to reproduce sexually in the cat family.”

Jaroslav Flegr is the Czech biologist that suggests that the parasite can cause unique brain activity, causing increased traffic accidents, schizophrenia, and other problems with auto-immune issues. By conjecture, the parasite wants the host to die so a cat will eat it, and the parasite will complete it’s sexual cycle. Wonderfully complex, and just too weird to be true.

Still, it nags at the back of my brain. What if it is true? What if buffalo chip smoke keeps you headed west? What if copper smelting fumes changes your brain chemistry into experimenting with more metals, thereby creating bronze, iron and eventually steel. It would explain a lot of things.

Of course it is the height of lunacy to think that mere smoke can alter the way the brain thinks.

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Copper Man

I know a man who knows copper. He knows copper, but he also knows the meaning of copper, where it fits in today’s world, where it fit in yesterday’s world, and how it came into history.

I am a student of the “ages”, some of this is structured knowledge from coursework, most is eclectic reading. Our earliest “age” is called “the Stone Age” but it could also be called “the Bone Age”, because our tools were made of stone and bone.

We really don’t have an accurate timeframe, the beginning of the Stone Age could be millions of years ago. Using stone without “working the stone” may have just been as natural as throwing rocks.

The earliest “worked stone” tools are now thought to be 3.3 million years ago, according to a recent find. Previously it was thought 700,000 years later. It is safe to say the our progress in developing tools was as slow as the glacier that we lived near.

But then, something happened, we discovered metal. It could have been a nugget in the stream, or a natural ingot exposed in a river bank. If it was gold, we discovered it could adorn our bodies, but not much use for anything else.

If the metal was copper, that was a different story. It could be formed into jewelry, it could also be formed into tools. It was discovered that hammering copper actually made it harder. A copper tool could also make more copper tools. An actual sharp knife could be made.

As soon as metal was discovered, our tool making skills took a logrhythmic turn. There is much disagreement, but most scholars date the earliest copper artifacts were in Turkey approximately 7000 bc, give or take a 1,000 years. In any case, it only took 10,000 years to get to our modern age. For 3,000,000 million years we had only improved our flaky techniques in stone.

Most general knowledge is centered on the “Bronze Age” or the “Iron Age”, and I can completely understand this. Hard to compete with the Trojan War, and medieval knights. What do we really know about “the Copper Age”?

It may have been just a Mediterranean phenomenon, existing primarily from 3500 to 2300 bc according to some scholars. There are copper workers in other areas of the world, in the Americas and Asia, but certainly the Mediterranean cultures took the metal to new heights.

Yes, it is true that copper weapons were sharper and more deadly than bone or obsidian, but copper allowed the culinary art to form. Copper vessels were not very toxic and water could be easily boiled.

Changing the eating habits of a people has a far greater impact then you might imagine. The inedible could be come edible. Foods could be rendered and mixed. In general, before copper, food was eaten one individual bite at a time. Cooking allowed stews and soups to be created, mixing various foods in that one bite.

I’ve seen demonstrations of wooden bowls of water being heated by hot stones. Well, perhaps they worked, but not half as well as a copper kettle, suspended on a tripod over the fire. And later, perhaps the kettle became a helmet. I recall heating water for coffee in my steel helmet while in the field, True now, probably True then.

Why such a short age? Barely over 2000 years before becoming erased by history? It was simply the art of metallurgy. Instead of relying upon naturally formed ingots, we discovered the ability to smelt copper ore. It wasn’t long before someone experimented with adding other metals to the liquid copper. With tin added, copper became bronze.

Imagine the shock of Egyptian troops with their copper scythe-like swords being cut in half by the sharper bronze swords in the hands of their northern barbarians. It must have been the same as the bronze wielding armies when they faced the far northern barbarians that had iron swords.

There was a time that I fenced quite a lot. I preferred the saber over the epee, or foil. It wasn’t life or death in the heat of the match, but sometimes it felt that way. One time I raised my blade in defense to block a downward head cut. My blade snapped about six inches up from the guard. My sword was cut in two.

In that one moment I felt all the emotions of thousands of individuals that had trusted their weapon, and then realizing that their life hung in the balance because of a superior metal. It was devastating.

Someone needs to give me more information on that first age of metal. Someone who knows the meaning of copper. Perhaps my friend?

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Rishi Sharma, my hero

Just heard a radio commentary about Rishi Sharma, a young man who has dedicated himself to contact living WWII veterans, and then document their lives. He started doing this when he was seventeen. There were over 16 million veterans in WWII, there are approx 650 that die each day. Only 2.8 percent of the veterans are still alive. He has just over 840 interviews done.

Check out his page,

It reminds me of my father-in-law. I found his WWII diary in his bookcase. It was the standard diary issued by the army. I was given one and left it blank. Al filled his out, sometimes in pencil. It took a long time to know his handwriting.

Al was part of five “hot landings” on beaches from Australia, up through New Guinea, Philippines, and then Japan. Every few weeks Al would update his diary, not only on what he saw, but on what he did, and what he ate. It was an honest soldier’s diary.

I asked to borrow it for awhile and he said “Sure!” It was more like three weeks, I don’t type very fast. I got the book back to Al, but then I began to research what he had written. I used several sources to create a “pull out” section to give additional details. Then I laid out the copy to create a paperback book. This was several years before the “vanity press” companies. I had to do it the old school way.

It was fortunate that I had several friends in the printing business. One friend printed the four color cover on the margin of another job he was already running. I cut the covers to match the interior pages. Another friend printed 500 copies, and yet another friend collated and trimmed the final product.

After about a month I could give my father-in-law 500 copies of his book, titled “My War”, with a $75.00 price tag. A bit high for a paperback but still a bargain, it didn’t matter because he simply handed them out to anyone who was interested.

Thinking back, it was one of the best things I’ve done for a variety of reasons. And Sharma has done this 840 times. I am so impressed.

Check out Al Goldstein

My War

and a collection of letters to his wife Anne.

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