December 29, 2009

Real Heroes

On the day before Christmas Eve, somewhere over the Rockies, I pulled out the latest issue of Wooden Boat. The cover piece - "Back From Disaster" by Randall Peffer - is one of the best articles I have read in years. It is the story of the four young Coast Guard men who took Motor Lifeboat CG-36500 out into a storm the night of February 18th, 1952.

A WWII vintage tanker, the Pendleton, had broken in half. The status of the men on board was unknown (the eight on the bow were probably already dead, 33 souls clung to the stern, which still had power and limited steering). Complicating the situation was the fact that another tanker had also broken in half in the same general area, and Coast Guard resources were focused on that situation. The men on the Pendleton's stern could hear the radio calls but couldn't transmit - they faced the sobering prospect that someone would be rescued that night, but probably not them.

The Chatham Coast Guard station learned from a PBY search plane that there was a second ship in distress. A lifeboat crew was assembled by 24 year-old Coxwain Bernard Webber from available personnel at the station. They understood that they might be undertaking a suicide mission. Waves were running sixty feet, and an amphibious truck and surfboat had both already failed to get over the breakers at the Chatham bar. When CG-36500 tried to cross the bar she nearly capsized (imagine this in a small boat, on a snowy night). The compass and lifesaving gear went overboard. The windscreen blew out. Webber thought he'd lost his crew. "They looked like goners but they managed to hold on," he said later.

The engine (90 hp on these boats) had shut down, but they got it going again. Without a compass Webber navigated by dead reckoning. He fought the seas by accelerating into the rising surf, then backing the engine on the downside of the giant waves. All lights were doused to preserve the crew's night vision.

Then, looming up in front of them, they saw what was left of the Pendleton:

(More on this awesome painting here.)

The lifeboat was rated for perhaps 20 survivors - 33 came down the ladder. They crammed them in - in the main hold, in the engine compartment, any place they'd fit. One man was smashed between the two vessels and killed.

Webber radioed for help, but when he realized that they were going to try and rendezvous him with a cutter, shut the thing off. The survivors and crew were hypothermic, and he was taking the boat in to land now, before they started dying. As he brought CG 36500 around and headed in the general direction of shore, someone spotted the Chatham light. Webber steered for it, and despite the overloading, they made the harbor entrance in good order.

In the relative calm of Chatham harbor, they noticed around hundred people on shore, waiting to meet them. Webber and his crew tied up at the fishing pier. Then, shaking with cold and relief, as they watched 32 men disembark from a lifeboat meant to hold 20, maybe they started to realize what they had done.

One commentator notes that in accomplishing this rescue, Webber and his crew did four things that experienced seamen would have regarded as nearly impossible:
  1. They got a light rescue boat across Chatham Bar in hurricane-like conditions,
  2. They found the Pendleton in darkness without radar or radio contact,
  3. They got every man but one off the Pendleton and onto their boat,
  4. They successfully navigated the overloaded boat back to Chatham, in storm and darkness, without a compass.
What do you say to four kids who have executed the greatest small boat rescue in the history of the Coast Guard? Rear Admiral H.G. Bradbury congratulated them for "outstanding seamanship and utter disregard of your own safety in crossing the hazardous waters of Chatham bar in mountainous seas extreme darkness and falling snow during a violent winter gale to rescue from imminent death thirty two crewmembers … minutes before the tanker capsized."

That about covers it.

They tried to give Webber the Gold Livesaving Medal, with a lesser commendation for the rest of the crew. Webber refused. The whole crew or nothing, he said.

They got the medal.

In 2002 the crew had a brief reunion. Three are now gone: Bernie Webber passed away in January of this year. Here is the Memorial video from the Coast Guard:

The boat has been preserved as a memorial - an enduring reminder of what heroism really is.

Happy Holidays, and to all, a good night.

December 28, 2009

Bottom of the Hill, January 28th

The slideshow from Hell

The Independent's 50 Best Watches. So what will be it be? 50 clicks, or your dignity?

December 26, 2009

Finally, an improvement to hockey

December 24, 2009

Better than human

Speaking of robots, did you know that they are now able to make ethical decisions? With modern automated robot ethics, humans will be freed to enjoy their holiday without burdensome philosophizing or ponderous debates about whether to apply Kantian or Benthamite (average or total?) ethical standards. Thanks, robots!

December 22, 2009

Weaponized toy robot is probably harmless

Tag Heuer Steps Up

It was interesting to see Accenture, a company that claims expertise in business management, throw Tiger under the bus. Sure, he had a dozen mistresses, but who among us has not leveraged his power and wealth to have a bevy of good-looking women on call to serve our whims? Was it really so wrong?

Tag Heuer doesn't think so.

December 21, 2009

"If you like low taxes and the death penalty, try Texas"

The Economist advises on immigration to the U.S.
"If you like low taxes and the death penalty, try Texas. For good public schools and subsidised cycle paths, try Portland, Oregon."
Decisions, decisions...

How to make your city better

Anthony Bourdain (in some strange company) explains:

Mike Holmgren: "I'm going to Sea World." (cr: the Onion.)

I'm sorry, was there a problem?

Dr. Capital tweets: "Ah ah, Mr. Volcker, touché."

Seahawks hit bottom

Yesterday, the Seahawks were pulverized (at home) by the NCAA-Division-II-quality Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-7.

Today, Holmgren accepts the Cleveland Browns job after the Seahawks make him an offer he can easily refuse.

Art Thiel writes: "To say this is a dead team fails to include the necrosis eating the remaining flesh."


December 20, 2009

DVR Alert

Waiting for Monster

Hairy Monster:
Looks like his last gasp to me.

Cookie Monster:
It's not certain. (Pause.) Ask him a question.

Hairy Monster:
Would that be a good thing?

Cookie Monster:
What do we risk?

Hairy Monster:
(timidly). Mister . . .

Cookie Monster:

Hairy Monster:
(louder). Mister . . .

Little Purple Monster:
Leave him in peace! (They turn toward Little Purple Monster who, having finished eating, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.) Can't you see he wants to rest? Basket! (He strikes a match and begins to light his pipe. Hairy Monster sees the chicken bones on the ground and stares at them greedily. As Little Purple Monster does not move Little Purple Monster throws the match angrily away and jerks the rope.) Basket! (Little Purple Monster starts, almost falls, recovers his senses, advances, puts the bottle in the basket and goes back to his place. Hairy Monster stares at the bones. Little Purple Monster strikes another match and lights his pipe.) What can you expect, it's not his job. (He pulls at his pipe, stretches out his legs.) Ah! That's better.

Hairy Monster:
(timidly). Please Sir . . .

Little Purple Monster:
What is it, my good man?

Hairy Monster:
Er . . . you've finished with the . . . er . . . you don't need the . . . er . . . bones, Sir?

Cookie Monster:
(scandalized). You couldn't have waited?

Little Purple Monster:
No no, he does well to ask. Do I need the bones? (He turns them over with the end of his whip.) No, personally I do not need them any more. (Hairy Monster takes a step towards the bones.) But . . . (Hairy Monster stops short) . . . but in theory the bones go to the carrier. He is therefore the one to ask. (Hairy Monster turns towards Little Purple Monster, hesitates.) Go on, go on, don't be afraid, ask him, he'll tell you.

Hairy Monster goes towards Little Purple Monster, stops before him.

Hairy Monster:
Mister . . . excuse me, Mister . . .

Little Purple Monster:
You're being spoken to, pig! Reply! (To Hairy Monster.) Try him again.

Hairy Monster:
Excuse me, Mister, the bones, you won't be wanting the bones?

Little Purple Monster looks long at Hairy Monster.

Little Purple Monster:
(in raptures). Mister! (Little Purple Monster bows his head.) Reply! Do you want them or don't you? (Silence of Little Purple Monster. To Hairy Monster.) They're yours. (Hairy Monster makes a dart at the bones, picks them up and begins to gnaw them.) I don't like it. I've never known him to refuse a bone before. (He looks anxiously at Little Purple Monster.) Nice business it'd be if he fell sick on me!

He puffs at his pipe.

Cookie Monster:
(exploding). It's a scandal!

Silence. Flabbergasted, Hairy Monster stops gnawing, looks at Little Purple Monster and Cookie Monster in turn. Little Purple Monster outwardly calm. Cookie Monster embarrassed.

Little Purple Monster:
(To Cookie Monster). Are you alluding to anything in particular?

Cookie Monster:
(stutteringly resolute). To treat a man . . . (gesture towards Little Purple Monster) . . . like that . . . I think that . . . no . . . a human being . . . no . . . it's a scandal!

Hairy Monster:
(not to be outdone). A disgrace!

He resumes his gnawing.

Little Purple Monster:
You are severe. (To Cookie Monster.) What age are you, if it's not a rude question? (Silence.) Sixty? Seventy? (To Hairy Monster.) What age would you say he was?

Hairy Monster:

Little Purple Monster:
I am impertinent. (He knocks out his pipe against the whip, gets up.) I must be getting on. Thank you for your society. (He reflects.) Unless I smoke another pipe before I go. What do you say? (They say nothing.) Oh I'm only a small smoker, a very small smoker, I'm not in the habit of smoking two pipes one on top of the other, it makes (hand to heart, sighing) my heart go pit-a-pat. (Silence.) It's the nicotine, one absorbs it in spite of one's precautions. (Sighs.) You know how it is. (Silence.) But perhaps you don't smoke? Yes? No? It's of no importance. (Silence.) But how am I to sit down now, without affectation, now that I have risen? Without appearing to –how shall I say– without appearing to falter. (To Cookie Monster.) I beg your pardon? (Silence.) Perhaps you didn't speak? (Silence.) It's of no importance. Let me see . . .

December 18, 2009

One Sentence Music Video Review

If you ever liked the Moody Blues (and no one should be ashamed of doing so) their Lovely to See You live performance DVD is warmhearted and beautifully played.

Good Night, Funny Man

Dan O'Bannon departs. Lest we forget:

December 17, 2009

See, there's your explanation...

Seahawks aren't looking for a GM, they're just auditing.

“I will tell you this, that there’s going to be a process,” Leiweke said.

Sorry Seahawks - everyone in the NFL is taking the course Pass/Fail. Guess which grade you get?

Probably because of this watch:

Happy in Paraguay

I love that crazy people have access to YouTube.

Put a fork in "Web 2.0"

Blippy. Worst idea. Ever.

Who says fantasy-football players are heartless?

Chris Henry, dead at 26, has been picked by 17 times as many owners as have dropped him, today in Yahoo! leagues.

December 16, 2009


IM2 trailer is live.

Get in line, son

My five year-old today: "Dad, I'm interested in Megan Fox."

December 14, 2009

Well, well

Look at what turned up.

More Interesting Than The Most Interesting Man in the World

The sheer audacity of this ad campaign put me off at first. But it's grown on me, and frankly, the bear trap won me over:

It turns out that the actor, Jonathon Goldsmith, is pretty interesting himself.

The time is right for this. This character Goldsmith has created just hits the right note. The Hemingway point is spot on, though I'm having trouble spotting the (weak, drunk, stupid) Hefner that the author claims to see. Fernando Lamas, that I can see.

Could we try the macho middle-aged man thing from the 50s and 60s again? It seems to me the American man missed something. He looked at Hemingway, and saw a boozy guy in a boat out spotting submarines and writing prescient geopolitical dispatches and meditating on the meaning of bullfights and liberating the Ritz, and retained: booze+boat=man.

But some of that other stuff was good too! Maybe we could try it again, but this time a little less drunk and crazy, and maybe a little more engaged with and respectful of the world?

Pretty good for a beer ad.

December 12, 2009

Profiles in Courage

December 11, 2009

Blame PopMonkey for This

There once was a Standard Conglomerate
Who pressed linseed oil from flax a lot
It spilled on a beauty
Who then got all nude-y
And slid all the way to Connecticut

Won't back down

A friend is in a Tom Petty cover band. As I think about it, this is a high achievement. A Beach Boys cover band, a Beatles cover band, even an AC/DC cover band...are really an excuse (a good one!) to have a party.

But a Tom Petty cover band? That's a little different. Tom Petty's not playing lighthearted tunes about Aruba or his sheepdog.

Back when I was walking around New York hammered and blasting my Walkman, Petty had pride of place on my mix tapes, along with Talking Heads, Devo, and a truckload of who dat punk and post-punk artists... It didn't sound wrong then, and it still doesn't.
To my mind, one test of a great song is that no one can cover it (maybe that's also the test of a truly awful song, but nevermind). It's sort of fitting that one of the best cover versions I can find is some random chick (with pipes) singing karaoke in Hot Springs, SD. I always thought Refugee was a great punk song, the sort of thing that someone could play at speed (like this) but in those days no one did. Who'd dare? Apart from Alvin and the Chipmunks, I mean...
By 1999 most of his generation of rock stars had gone into hard idle (<-- look, it's horrible, I'm just illustrating, don't watch the whole thing), whether from the drugs, the the court cases, or the creative inertia that comes from having to sleep on a giant pile of cocaine-saturated hundred dollar bills.

A good friend, a guy who sees a lot of shows, went down to the Fillmore that year to catch Petty. The next morning I asked him how it went: "the best concert I ever saw," he said. "The best." He went back the next night, and the next. He told me to get down there - you have no idea what you're missing, he said. He was right:
Petty always had the reputation for good studio work and great live performances. Just in time for Christmas there's a boxed set of the live stuff. Good luck finding one.

Note to self: begin musicological analysis of The Butchies.

December 08, 2009

Making sense of madness

With all four playoff spots spoken for, the last meaningful game of the Eisengeiste Football League regular season is in the books. I took a look at per-game scoring, and examined some inside statistics. A few observations:
  • The median average: The median team scored 98.5 points per game.
  • Pain plus pain: Lovers of 5 scored an average of 109.1 per game, and even with their disappointing performance this week, actually improved as the season went on (106 average first six games, 111 next 7).
  • Trick or Treat: The Wreckreators had the highest standard deviation of scores, 27.2 points vs. the League median of 20.3. Compare and contrast Week #9 and Week #10...
  • Biblical Curse Award: The Desmo Retards scored a fine 109.8 in Week #6, only to run into Lo5's season-high 152 points (highest total in the League so far). Ok, no problem. How often will that happen? In Week #11 the Desmo Retards had a respectable 102.2, only to run into Revenge on Ice's best performance, 137.5 points (second-highest total in the League so far).
  • Four yards and a cloud of Dust: The Cleveland Steamers had the lowest standard deviation of scores, just 11.6 points. The Steamers are 6-7, a game better than two higher-scoring teams, because they rarely beat themselves.
  • Most improved: The Recursive Monkeys could not break 100 in their first five games, then broke 100 in six of their next eight. Weirdly, the RMs led the League in points scored by drafted players. Guess the draftees just started playing better.
  • Most overrated: The Acerbic Welsh are tied for first place in wins, but with an opponent scoring average of just 86. Look for them to fold like a cheap pup tent in the playoffs.
  • Timing is everything. The Great Old Ones sit third in the League, ahead of three higher-scoring teams.
  • So that's the reason: Toughest schedule was...The Inglorious Basterds. Average opponent scored 100 points against them.
So what about Revenge on Ice? Well, we are second:
  • As noted above, second highest single game score - 138 in week #11, behind the Lo5's 152 in week #6.
  • Second most-improved. ROI averaged 89 points in the first six games vs. 108 in the next 7, a +22% improvement...behind the Recursive Monkeys'+30%.
  • Second most likely to blow you out: 3 games > 120 points (tied with Desmo Retards). The leader of course, the Lovers of Five, with...5.
  • Second highest-scoring 5-8 team behind the Desmo Retards.
Team most usually associated with odd statistical events: Desmo Retards.

What's going on with the Seahawks?

Last week, Tim Ruskell, the GM of the Seahawks, resigned. I follow the Seahawks pretty closely, and there was no indication that Ruskell's job was in jeopardy, apart from the fact that former Mike Holmgren was interviewing for GM jobs, and Seattle didn't have an opening. So Paul Allen fired Tim Ruskell so that he could hire Mike Holmgren, right?

Don't be so quick to draw this obvious conclusion, say Seahawks experts Art Thiel and Eric Williams. As evidence they site the statements made by Seahawks CEO Tim Leiweke (yeah, I never heard of him either) in a press conference the day after Ruskell's resignation. From Williams' blog:

These words spoken by Seahawks CEO Tim Leiweke on Thursday stood out the most during the half-hour long affair.
“We’re not going to join them, they’re going to join us,” he said, when asked the GM search. “I think that one of the difficult things is, when you audit what’s happened over the past number of seasons, we’ve really become, in many ways, a pretty good organization.


That statement, along with the fact that the team retained Ruston Webster as the interim general manager and the rest of the scouting department, seems to suggest that the organization believes minor tweaking and not a major overall is needed.

Right. The organization believes "minor tweaking" is needed. Solution: fire the GM in the middle of the season.

This is bullshit. The message from the press conference was "We don't need to make any major changes, we love Jim Mora, and we're not just gonna do anything to get Mike Holmgren to run the team, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" It's just a coincidence that Ruskell exited two weeks after Mike Holmgren started interviewing with other teams.

Why does Williams write "the organization" when he means "Paul Allen?" I've read that Paul Allen is undergoing cancer treatment, and that he probably doesn't have time for trifling matter such as who runs his NFL team. Also bullshit. "Let's fire Ruskell while Paul is having cancer treatment -- I'm sure he doesn't care. And he probably doesn't have any time to think about it while he's waiting for his radiation therapy."

I understand that most NFL coach/GM types are either "offense guys" or "defense guys." Holmgren is an offense guy. Ruskell is a defense guy, and so is Jim Mora, who he hired and made heir-apparent before Holmgren had even left. Ruskell took over the team the year they went to the Super Bowl. Imagine you are Paul Allen: how happy are you with the direction of the team since then? Do you miss the once-explosive Seahawks offense at all? (By the way: have you noticed the Seahawks defense sucks, too?)

I presume it isn't a done-deal, there is the small matter of "money," but I'll be shocked if Holmgren isn't the Seahawks GM by the beginning of 2010. (And, oh yeah, Jim Mora is toast, either this off-season, or the next.)

December 06, 2009

Strange days on Street View


December 05, 2009


"If he achieves his aim, it will be a stupendous achievement, right up there with Hillary's ascent of Everest and the conquerors of the poles.

"The challenges he faces are monumental. So monumental, in fact, that Arctic explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has written to Ed to warn him that the stage in front of him - the deep Brazilian jungle - will be 'difficult'. You can take it that this is something of an understatement, given that it comes from a man who once sawed off his own fingers after they became frostbitten."

WWSD: An Irreligious Christmas

I heard that vastly overplayed song: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. " Really?" I first thought. "Warmth fading in the absent sun, life dormant and cold, it's only wonderful if you make it wonderful. " And then I thought: "Exactly."

I'm a pro-Christmas agnostic. Good cheer is the honey and milk of life. No religion owns generosity of spirit. Like love songs, cheesy Christmas songs are screaming something of the truth, right through the commerical selfishness, and from every corner: pay attention to friendship, good times, gratitude and redemption, exactly at the darkest moment.

We gather now at the darkest moments of the year, stressed and prodded, with the beloved, shopping like sheep and drinking sometimes for delight, sometimes to cover up old wounds. We surrender to generosity, giddiness and delight, or, in our loneliness, suffer most intensely from the absence of joyful company. But it is the very fact of cultivating love at Christmas that its loss is so intensely painful now.

This is I think an echo of the very, very ancient reason: the winter always brought the deepest fears, doubts in the heart if not the head that the sun would return. We gathered to share food, to pass the time, to beg the sun, to cultivate survival from human relationships when we could not cultivate in the frozen soil. From an ancient wonder at the returning of the sun, and with the ritual of gathering, we go toward each other, when we can. And with this extraordinary side effect: to feel in our company and ourselves a reason to be.

To be merry was first an act of survival, and then of getting out of our selfish heads and recognizing the sources of our joys. We give- not things, necessarily- to recognize the debt of our measure of happiness, and so receive.

"God rest ye merry, Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay." If I do not accept the religious detail of God- I do know the wish and sentiment and belief. I can call it a sense of faith, and at my best, share it.

A result of this is that I am deeply attached to the non-religious traditions of Christmas. I revel in the trees, the colors, the lights, the parties, the tradition of travel and visiting, even the ever-repeated songs (fortunately, I never worked retail). The fringe life-hating evangelicals are right: Christmas is indeed something of a pagan conspiracy.


Much of what we do is much, much, much older than a celebration of Jesus, although the celebration of much of his philosophy is very well placed, as is the possibility of redemption: redemption, in my mind, not toward the ritual acceptance of Jesus, but to the cultivation of the very generosity, the very bigness of the joyful and very flawed and human spirit that is Christmas.

I can say this, with all silly-seriousness intended- if you are unsure about Christmastime, you might ask: what would Santa do? An unlimited spirit of good cheer and generosity is never a bad place to start.

I'll leave with my fascination for the song "The Holly and the Ivy," a traditional Christmas carol so traditional the origin of the words are pre-Christian. The religious lyrics and the newer music were tacked on later, but the song is really about the male (Holly) and the female (Ivy), an echo of the tree-mytholgy that are part of so many Christmas traditions. (Ivy being a sort of non-tree tree in this tradition.) It was on a hike a few years ago that something made sense: to sing this song in the woods directed you simply to notice the real flora, and why they might resonate: the Holly is green and alive in dead winter forest, the Ivy wrapped closely around. And it is the Holly's leaves and red berries that Santa traditionally wears.

And, so, dear friends, from the full heart of a faithful agnostic, I wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 04, 2009

Revenge on Ice List of Girly-Man Excuses

WTF!? Here are the various spurious excuses given by my high draft picks for not performing their Gridiron Duties on Sunday:
  • Michael Turner - "high ankle sprain"
  • Steve Slaton - "numbness in his arms" Come on! Spit on it and rub some dirt in it, get out there already.
  • Kurt Warner - sensitive to light. Sensitive to light?! No, really - he's sensitive to light.
Roethlisberger is supposed to play, but the team is going to try not to call plays that "would lead to contact." Oh come on now.

Here is some sneak footage of this week's NFL highlights:

Slovenia's Going Down!

The U.S. World Cup Draw is...satisfactory.

December 03, 2009

A Birthday Story for the Laird, From Mack Brain

"You call that a god-damn birthday cake? I'll show you a god-damned birthday cake," I said, lighting a stick of TNT and shoving between all the little candles in the officer's dark chocolate Schwarzwälderkirschtorte, specially prepared by Wilma after she turned me over to the Gestapo. "Mein gott!," said Wolfgang, "you vill blow us all to hell!" I lit a Lucky from the burning dynamite match and took a drag. " that'll be a lot cozier for you fascist jokers than when Eisenhower crosses the Rhine." Suddenly, a plate of Pfeffernüße flew past my head, the Christmas cookies with their little swastikas twirling in the air! Wilma had tossed the cookies, eyes burning with fire and hatred. I picked one up and took a fat bite out of their twisted flag. The TNT hissed and spit sparks. "Happy Birthday, Liebchen," I said.

December 02, 2009

Better than a beard of bees

Now that's freestyle!