Thursday, February 24, 2022


The Hinge of History

On Sunday, 27 Aug 1939, a diplomatic defusing of Hitler's threats with respect to Poland was still considered to be possible.  As we know, he would invade five days later.

At 3AM, from New York, E.B. White tried to capture the mood of the whole Western world at that moment:

We sit with diners at the darkened tables in the French cafes, we pedal with the cyclists weekending in the beautiful English countryside, we march alongside the German forces approaching the Polish border, we are a schoolboy slipping on his gas mask to take shelter from the raid that hasn't come, we sit at the elbow of Sir Neville as he presents the message to the British Cabinet ... Hour after hour we experience the debilitating sensation of knowing everything in the world except what we want to know -- as a child who listens endlessly to an adult conversation but cannot get the gist, the one word or phrase that would make all clear... The world is in the odd position of being intellectually opposed to war, spiritually committed to it.  This is the leaden note.  If war comes, it will be war, and no one wants that.  If peace is restored, it will be another arrangement enlarging not simply the German boundary but the Hitler dream.  The world knows it can't win.  Let me whisper I love you while we are dancing and the lights are low.

Monday, February 21, 2022


Les Fleurs du Mal

Hanns Ludin was Hitler's ambasssador to Slovakia.  His son Malte made an extraordinary documentary film whose core subject is the ability of people to rationalize evil.  The rationalizers in this case are his own sisters and his mother, all of whom are interviewed at length in the film.  

The historical record makes it quite clear that Hanns was more than complicit in the deportation of thousands of Jews from Slovakia to slave labor and to death camps, but Malte's nephew, Hanns' grandson, somehow grows up with the impression that his grandfather was a "resistance fighter."  A fighter against resistance to the Holocaust I suppose.

One sister is direct in her defense of her father, and bitter at the very making of the film.  The mother and one other sister have developed an almost absurd ability to talk in circles around what he did during the war.  They seem to see themselves as victims of a psychological legacy that was left to them not so much by Hanns as by history.

At the end of the film, Malte interviews an old Jewish man whose family was wiped out under the puppet regime that Hitler installed in Slovakia.  It seems difficult for the two men to make eye contact.  The old man says that "evil is stronger than good."  How so?   "Good is passive.  Evil is active.  Evil is a vacuum."

In what sense is evil a vacuum?  "It is insatiable.  It is never satisfied."


Wednesday, February 16, 2022


Flying the Schweitzer 2-33

The Schweitzer 2-33 has been the most popular primary trainer for prospective glider -- "soaring" -- pilots since I was a young man, long ago.  It is a simple beast, an aluminum can with a large, high, strutted wing.  The student sits in front with an admirable view of about 200 degs from under a semi-bubble canopy.  Instruments and controls are also simple -- altimeter, air speed indicator, "variometer" -- an instrument to tell you finely how quickly you are climbing or descending (yes, gliders do climb), old-fashioned stick and rudder pedals, a ball that releases your tow line, and a handle on the left that controls spoilers -- slats on the wings that defeat the lift of the wing to adjustable degrees so that you can drop like a rock if you want to without putting the nose down and hence picking up speed.

Lessons in the 2-33 generally last only about half an hour.  You are learning basically to take off, follow to altitude your tow plane, which commonly is a powerful Ag-Cat or similar crop duster, and land, with a little screwing around in between for good measure.

The tow component of the flight is way more difficult than it looks.  You are not supposed to fly directly behind the tow plane, because the turbulence caused by the propeller will mess you up.  Rather, you fly "high tow" or "low tow."  But if you get too high or too low you can interfere with the tow pilot's flight, and he may decide to just dump you from his end in extremis.  Also, if you are too high and you dive to get back into the preferred position, you may pick up so much speed that you close on the tow plane and the tow rope goes slack.  In such circumstances it may form a loop and wrap around some part of your glider, in which case you may be I almost said a bad word but certainly in a world of hurt.  And when the tow pilot makes a turn, you don't exactly mimic it; rather, you need to wait a bit and follow him in classic formation.

At about 3000 feet AGL (above ground level), the tow pilot wags his tail, which is a signal for you to pull the ball on the dash and let the rope go.  He breaks left in a dive, you break right and stay level or maybe even climb a bit, trading tow speed for altitude.  You make a few turns to get the lay of the land, and also to practice ... making a few turns.  In a glider you use a lot of rudder in turns so that the nose of the plane leads the way, minimizing drag, because drag means falling faster.  When you get established in a steep turn, you actually have to hold the stick against the turn.  Why?  Because the wings are long and the tip of the high wing is going much faster than the tip of the low wing, generating more lift.  If you hold the stick in the center you may flip to knife-edge flight!  Also, you pull back a bit on the stick in turns to maintain altitude.  Some of the lift is being used to turn you rather than to keep you at optimum glide ratio, so you need to compensate.

Otherwise, a glider handles just like any other light aircraft.  Novices and even some power pilots don't get it that the aircraft doesn't give a shit what is causing it to go forward and therefore to generate lift.  It could be an engine or it could be just having the nose pointed slightly down.  (It is common for gliders to be able to travel about 30 feet forward for each foot of altitude lost, in still air.  If there are rising air currents, which are the key to "soaring" like a seagull, then you may be falling within a column of air more slowly than the whole column is rising, and therefore gaining altitude even without an engine.)

Now it's time to go home.  You head for a predetermined landmark, maybe a barn or a church, that is your entrypoint into the pattern, at a predetermined altitude, let's say 1500 feet AGL.  You turn 45 degs onto the "downwind leg," which is as is described, flying with a tailwind, with the field typically off to your left.  You establish pattern airspeed.  It is critical not to fall below this, because you may stall, which is to say that the lift of the wing may break and you will no longer be flying but dropping like a brick.  You can recover from this but only if you have sufficient altitude, which is problematic in the pattern.  I was taught that pattern airspeed should be one and a half times the stall speed plus a cushion that depends on the wind speed at ground level.  In the 2-33 the pattern speed, from memory, might be about 65 mph.  

As you complete the downwind leg you monitor your altitude closely.  If you have encountered lift or "sink" you may have to make adjustments so that you will be neither too high nor too low for a safe landing.  You have, after all, only one shot at it in a glider.  But you have cracked your spoilers and they give you a tremendous cone of safety in this respect.

A 90 deg turn onto the base leg just past the end of the runway, being careful to maintain your speed.  In addition to using the spoilers, you can play around with how directly you are flying if you think you should be at a lower altitude, or you may fly deliberately "dirty" to increase drag.

Then a 90 deg turn onto final approach.  Typically at this point in a glider you are looking at a runway that is four or five times longer than you actually need for a safe landing, and you start to breathe easy.

When you are about ten feet above the runway you (ordinarily) close spoilers and "flare" -- raise the nose and fly straight and level, letting the plane gently descend onto the grass or pavement.  The ride on the ground is short but a little bumpy.

Always exhilarated by the miracle of powerless flight, you pop the canopy and with the instructor's help walk the beast back to its next take-off point.

Monday, February 14, 2022


It Was Called "The Museum of the China Trade"

Before the impossibly wealthy local asset managers -- those who trade in abstractions, in derivatives that need not be hauled in "twenty-foot equivalent units" (teu's) -- turned it into the palatial Peabody Essex.  Now the tourists who flock to Salem can be divided roughly between the Witch Museum crowd (working class) and the PEM crowd (ostensibly interested in the fine arts).  Back then it was sleepy, with a Great Hall featuring portraits of captains, a longboat and some vases that were exotic in Boston and environs in the early 19th century.

Circumstances are such that soon we may need a new Museum of the China Trade.  The very first mass-produced smartphone under glass.  A cheap plastic light saber for Christmas (batteries not included).  A solar panel.  And in Damien Hirst formaldehyde, the kidney of a Falun Gong member, harvested for transplant abroad before any of his other organs were shut down forever, by forces natural or not.

Thursday, February 10, 2022


To Be Self Executing

In administrative law, a statute may be self executing, or to the contrary it may require regulatory embellishment.

But the words also and plainly conjure suicide as well.  An administrative law judge of long standing might be so sick and tired of cutting and pasting the same decision to say "no" that she chooses to execute herself.

Finally, to return to cognitive behavioral therapy, our expressions may be self executing in the sense that to say them, over and over, is to feel them.  "Chock-Full-O-Nuts is that heavenly coffee.  Better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy."  Repeat five hundred times.  Or, even more therapeutically, "Let fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy, for the Lord is come."

Tuesday, February 8, 2022


Robbie Burns Said It

"Dark despair around benights me."

But that was just a girl!  A special girl, it's true.  After a final fond kiss, he said, "we sever ... forever."

A very sad tale, but what would he make of where we are today, what with COVID and political polarization and physical isolation and remote working conditions and a lockdown of Ireland for two whole years and creeping rheumatism resistant to Relief Factor?

He might try cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, as a last resort.  Two mantras every morning.  The first -- "Thank you Lord for this new day, which is a bonus day that I did not earn and I do not deserve."  The second -- "There is no Death."  He would not feel these sentiments at first as he said them, but with time they might turn his eyes upwards and restore in small part his joie de vivre.

Saturday, February 5, 2022


Drawn to the Downed Power Line

People can be assigned to three general categories when it comes to the UAP/UFO Phenomenon.

The first comprises those who continue to see it as nonsense.  These people are ill-informed or uninformed.

The second comprises those who think that there may be something to it, but turn their backs on it or run away from it.  "Life is challenging enough without thinking about stuff like this.  I will wait until it is mainstream enough that CNN/Fox/MSNBC/PBS take it up as a serious issue.  The fact that they have not to date proves that indeed it is not a serious issue."

The third comprises people who are drawn to the subject like moths to a flame, having convinced themselves that it is real and become obsessed with figuring out its implications for everything, from the physical fate of mankind on the earth to our relationship with God.  Many of these people have read 20 or more books on the subject, and watched countless long-form podcasts about it.  I place myself in this category.

But within this last category there are two subcategories -- the optimists on the one hand and those who are cautious-to-terrified on the other.  Among the optimists would be people like the Australian journalist Ross Coulthart ("In Plain Sight")  and the Hollywood producer Bryce Zabel.  Together they produce the podcast "Need to Know."  It posits not only that there is a need to know, but also that "people can handle it!"  In the second subcategory I would place two giants of Ufology -- Colm Kelleher and George Knapp -- who have collaborated on a book called "Skinwalkers at the Pentagon," which lays out some of the more recent efforts of our government to figure out the Phenomenon without causing popular alarm.

Here, linked below, Kelleher and Knapp are interviewed for more than two hours by Curt Jaimungal, a brilliant and earnest young man with a background in physics and mathematics who was, as it were, pulled by the sleeve into the Phenomenon by virtue of his more conventional explorations of recent developments in physics, biochemistry, cosmology, AI and yes, philosophy:

At the end of this remarkable podcast, Curt confesses that he will soon take a complete break from this subject, because it is shattering him.  He quotes Rene Descartes to the effect that he feels himself trapped at the bottom of a pool with no hope of surfacing.

And Dr. Kelleher, towards the end, pulls into the discussion broader philosophical threads, including the arguments of Bernardo Kastrup that consciousness is primary, and matter secondary and derivative.

Both Kelleher and and Knapp have seen in their own families disturbing visitations from "the Other" that suggest either malign intent or,  perhaps just as scary, indifference towards us.

Once again I propose that this entire veil is about to be torn asunder.  A cold fear grips me when I think about it.  A phalanx of demons lies between us and our spiritual home.  Can the people handle it?  Will the flame consume the moths?

Tuesday, February 1, 2022


In Crepuscular Light

Sharp contrast is lost.  Bright colors fade to a nearly uniform grey.  A pale horse and a chestnut one standing far afield like a double-headed eagle.  The river bank and the river itself.

The amplitude of the whole world subsides to a gentle sine, with the dog breathing easily at my feet.