Capn Jack's Flying Squirrels

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How Are You Not Watching the State of the Union?

When Bush speaks, I don't listen. Tonight is his 6th State of the Union address. I will be not watching it while hosting our monthly poker game. It would have been better for me if they had scheduled the address for Thursday--then I could have not watched while taking the Jeopardy online contestant qualification. There would have been great satisfaction in participating in a ritual of knowledge while the Emperor of Ignorance was spouting his mantra of meaningless poo.

Some Americans will not see him speak because they are busy serving their fellow citizens--doctors and nurses, police officers and firefighters, volunteers in community centers. Others will be unable because of personal hardship--financial, medical or other.

If you are planning to miss the address, through choice or necessity, tell us about it in a comment to this blog post. I'm looking forward to seeing the cross-section of people who don't care or can't care.

Friday, December 29, 2006


I collect quadrophones. It's a word I made up to describe quadruple homophones--quartets of words with unique spelling and meaning but a shared pronunciation. They are pretty rare. Plain (double) and triple homophones are two subcategories that are too easy to find. The last sentence was full of them, from beginning to end.

This morning, I added my third set to my personal collection. I am sure I once had another, but forgot it before committing it to memory. Here are the ones I have:

Right, right, rite, write (the first I ever found)
Bye, buy, by, bi
Peak, peek, pique, peke (today's addition)

My self-imposed rules: no proper nouns, no contractions, must be in an accepted English dictionary--I use the official Scrabble dictionary.

Anyhow, I am interested in others that people turn up, as well as the as-yet-undiscovered quintophone.

Happy Gnu Year.

What a moment! Using Gnu in place of New prompted me to think of a fourth at this exact moment:
Nu, gnu, knew, new

This sounds vaguely familiar, maybe it's the one I had once found and forgotten. Still, with only two in the first four plus years of collecting, two more on one day is a windfall.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Career Planning

I've recently changed jobs at my company, so I've been thinking about career goals and job objectives. Everyone knows that section at the top of the resume labeled Employeement Objective. They usually say something like, "Seeking a position where I can use my superhuman abilities to contribute to a dynamic organization's business success while making the world a better place." Here's one I came up with:
  • I am looking for a job where if I get drunk while hunting and accidentally shoot someone, they apologize to me for any inconvenience they have caused me.

Fun at the Senate Gates Hearings

I try to limit my news intake to The Daily Show. However, I was in the car without my iPod the other day, and NPR was carrying the confirmation hearings for Robert Gates. Here are a couple observations.

It seemed during the hearing and the commentary afterward that Gates is seen as a an excellent nominee because when asked whether the war in Iraq was going well, he said no. I'm pretty sure that challenging question would only have tripped up about eleven people in the world--ten of them work at the White House, Tony Blair is the other.

I also enjoyed a pretty grueling line of questioning from one of the Republican senators that boiled down to this: "We want to spend more money on expensive defense programs. As Secretary, are you committed to spending more money?" I am not making that up.

I think the Rumsfeld legacy, which is really the Bush legacy, is that our standard for holding a cabinet post has become, "Does this individual have at least the intellectual capacity of a healthy chimpanzee and the moral integrity of a car salesman?"

Here is the most informative thing I got from my 15 minutes of paying attention. When asked whether he thought the Bush administration would act with urgency, Gates was quite sure they would. He's probably right, although I wouldn't insult the admninistration by expecting them to do the right thing with urgency, just something.

Consider the implications of this. We have been involved in this illegal, immoral and strategically ill-advised war for over three years. It has been getting steadily worse in every way for most of that time. Now there is a sense of urgency, but what changed? Has there been any significant change in the military situation? No. What about the political climate in Iraq or nearby countries. Definitely not. So what changed? The Senate changed hands and the Bush regime is getting blamed for it. There are only two conclusions you can draw from this. The first is that they knew they were full of crap the whole time, but didn't care until they got caught. The other is that they really thought they knew what they were doing. If that's true, to change now would be a sign of yielding their belief in what's best to political spin. Either one looks kind of icky to me.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Today marks the official beginning of a project I have been dreaming about for over a year. In the summer of 2007, I hope to travel historic Route 66 from Santa Monica, CA to Chicago, Il. Lots of people do this, but I want to see it from the air--specifically, from the cockpit of a Cessna Skylane. It's not physically challenging, dangerous or an unusual flight to make in a small plane, but for me it will be a thrill.

I'm going to find out if I can use it as a fundraiser for an appropriate cause. The problem is that raising money through the flight might make it an "operation for hire." I'm not a commercial pilot, so I'm not allowed to do that.

If you are interested in following this project from dream to plan to actual journey, visit my new blog: Captain Jack's Route 66 Adventure. I hope to see you there.

Friday, November 10, 2006

For months, the people occupying the White House have told us that if the Democrats take control of the House, the terrorists have won. Since election day, I haven't heard that line once. Does that mean that the terrorists did win and are suppressing the truth? Or is possible that the White House was full of crap?

Friday, October 13, 2006

What the Cory Lidle Crash Really Proves

Any accident involving injury or loss of life is tragic and saddening. The death of Cory Lidle in a small plane crash on 10/11 was such a tragedy--family, friends, and fans will be grieving, and our hearts to go out them in this trying time. However, it's important that as a society, our public policy reaction be rational and fair.

As is often the case after a general aviation tragedy, there is an outcry for new strict restrictions on aviation. It is understandable that people will react out of fear and emotion, but as a society we must move beyond those feelings to an outcome that is consistent with our values as a free society.

In aviation, every accident is both a loss and an opportunity. The opportunity is to study and learn from the event. The NTSB studies accidents to understand what changes to regulations and practices might make flying safer. Manufacturers study accidents to find and eliminate problems with their products and eradicate them. Pilots study accidents to gain inights into technique and decision-making. This is why general aviation has an excellent safety record which continues to improve year over year.

I am a private pilot with about 380 hours. That is more than five times the experience of Lidle, but less than 1/10 of most of the instructors I have flown with. It's a little more than John Kennedy Jr. had when he was in his fatal crash. I'm just leaving a stage of experience that caught Lidle and Kennedy. It is the period where you are legally able to fly but prone to risk. That risk is not due to lack of knowledge or skills--the FAA specified training and testing does a great job in that area. It is due in most cases to a lack of fear. Not the paralyzing fear that leads to disaster, but the rational fear that says, "don't do that." It tells us to be afraid of running out of fuel, flying into weather beyond our ability, or taking off in an aircraft that just might not be up to the task.

It is too early to speculate on the actual cause of Lidle's crash, but the root cause is already evident. He chose to get in his plane and fly a sightseeing tour in a crowded corridor, on a day where the weather was poor. Most of the high-time pilots I know would not fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) with the marginal weather that existed on Wednesday. I've cancelled or changed plans to fly under similar conditions. In my heart, I want to fly, but I listen to my head and in the end I never question my decision. This accident reinforces my personal learning process and helps me become safer.

What should society learn from this incident? Is it that small planes are dangerous and should be banned from the space above our cities. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The lesson is that even when the excellent safeguards of our general aviation system aren't enough to save one pilot and his passenger, society is safe. Lidle's crash was unfortunate, but it was not significant. Every day in great cities like New York, there are personal tragedies which take the lives of one or two individuals. Car crashes, bicyclists and pedestrians hit by taxis, busses or other vehicles, victims of fires and countless other events are part of life.

Spectacular video coverage and the death of a celebrity are forces which push a story to the front pages, but they don't change the math. Society has real problems to solve--energy policy, an untenable war in Iraq, the erosion of the environment. Teeny planes crashing into buildings just doesn't make that list.

The media likes plane crashes because they attract viewers. Many politicians flock to them because general aviation is an easy target. They do their own math. The flying community is a small part of the population--alienating that group is inconsequential if it lets them appear decisive and action-oriented to a large bloc of voters.

The truth is that general aviation is not just celebrities and rich people flying for fun. It provides a vital component of our transportation infrastructure. Law enforcement, emergency services, agriculture and small business are just a few of the institutions which are more effective and successful because there is a community of flying. Politicians and media who want to serve society should be promoting that reality instead of the myth of danger. When they don't , they are displaying either their own ignorance or simple hypocrisy. Whichever it is, it isnt acceptable.

If there is anything to feel better about, it is that terrorists may also learn from Lidle's death. Learning to fly, obtaining a plane and then giving up your life in an accident that might not even kill a single bystander doesn't make sense. And whatever politicians may be doing, we know that terrorists do the math.

In the wake of Lidle's crash, the aviation community will seek to learn how to improve its excellent safety record so that some future pilot has a better outcome. Politicians should use this chance to learn that general aviation doesn't threaten society. It's not time to add more expensive and complicated restraints on aviation--it is time to remove some of the inappropriate restrictions pilots have faced for the last several years.

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