Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Old Murder

31 years ago, before I had acquired a mortgage to suck up all my discretionary income, I decided to take pilot training. Even tho I’m scared stiff of heights, for some odd reason (no doubt dealing with the way the brain perceives danger) being up in a plane has never triggered my acrophobia. And I thot it would be a way cool thing to do.

So I signed up for the ground-school course thru Madison Area Technical College, where you get all the book larnin’ about weather and radar and FAA regs and so on. And, after a couple of weeks of that, I nipped out to the Madison airport to sign up for flight training.

Madison had 2 FBOs (fixed-based operators) at the time, and I ended up — for no particular reason that I can recall — at Frickelton Aero, crusty, gimpy old Claude Frickelton, original barnstormer, proprietor. They were the Cessna (top-wing) FBO; the other place had bottom-wing Piper Cubs.

I planked my money on the line, and they assigned me to CFI (certified flight instructor) Jean Zapata.

I spent many hours in the cockpit of a C100 (2-seater) with Jean providing me with instruction and no little reassurance. I was a nervous student, always afraid that I was gonna do something wrong and get us both killed. Not particularly helping the situation was the phrase she kept repeating: “Fly the plane into the ground.“ The idea she was trying to convey is that you don’t just drop out of the sky; you’re still actively engaged in flying even as the wheels touch down. This conjured up the wrong image for me, tho, and I finally suggested that maybe a slightly less intimidating version of it would be “Fly the plane onto the ground.“

One day, after about the dozenth time when I chickened out as I was on final approach and asked her to take the instructor’s stick for the touch-and-go, she said “Watch this” and proceeded to bounce the plane (fairly hard) about 5 or 6 times off the runway before getting us airborne again. More than anything else, that reassured me that the plane was pretty hardy, and that nothing I was likely to do would abuse it as much as she just had.

With that experience under my belt, I proceeded to land the plane with assurance thereafter. (Turned out to be somewhat easier than parallel parking, actually.)

Later in my training, I decided it would be a good idea to get in a little practice with a slightly bigger plane, a C150 4-seater. Now, it turns out that there’s nothing particularly different about flying the larger plane compared to the C100 (except that you’re burning more fuel) unless you’ve got some passengers in the back seat to give you a different sense of the load-and-balance requirements.

So I invited a couple of my science-fiction friends to go along for the ride, thinking they’d have fun and I’d get the feel of the bigger, heavier plane. (Turns out that, even tho the 150 had a more powerful engine, the added weight meant that it didn’t go any faster or climb any more quickly.)

We headed out from Truax Field (now the Dane County Regional Airport) and headed for the student-practice area over Lake Wisconsin, which is right in the V formed by the 2 major flyways coming in to Madison from the north. I was focussed on the plane and what I was supposed to be learning, so it didn’t dawn on me to explain to my passengers what was going on when Jean said “OK, now let’s practice some stalls.”

This is an absolutely routine thing that student pilots do all the time to prepare for engine flame-outs or other Bad Things. You learn that you still have a lot of flyability even in a disabled aircraft. To practice for these things, you throttle back and gradually bring the nose of the plane up until you lose lift (because the undersides, more than the leading edges, of the wings are pushing into the air ahead of you). Shortly before that point, the stall-warning horn goes off. But you keep nosing up a little more until you do in fact stall (which, translated, means “come to a dead halt in the air”). At that point, the nose gives a little shimmy and heads back down. The student’s job is to control the descent, provide a gradual increase in power, and level out without losing more than 200 feet in altitude. I’d done this scores of times in the little plane.

Of course, my passengers weren’t aware of this, since I hadn’t thot to explain it in advance. While they avoided shrieking in dismay (or involuntarily excreting bodily wastes) at the time, they assured me afterwards that they were convinced that it was all over and they should have put their affairs in order before ever agreeing to go up with me.

Jean got a good chuckle out of that. Apparently she’d seen it happen before but figured it would just ruin a good story if she warned us ahead of time.

As you get more practice at flying with an instructor, they eventually let you solo. At first, you just stick around near the airport and the practice area, doing touch-and-goes and practicing navigation with familiar landmarks and VOR and radar sites. But, after that starts getting boring (and/or you start getting good at it), they send you on cross-country trips to other airports.

The instructor usually goes along on the 1st one of these to introduce you to the idea of what it looks like to come into a different field with different configurations, different voices on the radio, different ground-taxi instructions, etc., but these are largely just variations on a theme the student’s already familiar with, so after that 1st trip you get to plan and execute your own cross-countries.

As I finished up one of these one week, Jean said “OK, next week come in and file a flight plan for a cross-country to Oshkosh.” (That’s an airport about 60 miles northeast of Madison, an easy flight over and back.)

The following week, I was doing exactly that (checking the weather and laying out the route) when one of the other CFIs came in, glanced over my shoulder at what I was doing, and casually remarked, “Ah, going up to the fly-in, I see.”

”What!?” I practically shrieked. “You mean that’s this weekend?”

Every year, for about a week, Wittman Field in Oshkosh is the busiest airport in the world, as all manner of aircraft fly in from literally all over the globe for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual fly-in. It’s the Super Bowl for the FAA’s air-traffic controllers, and only the very best get assigned to it. There are often 50 airplanes being handled by approach control at one time, and a standard instruction to someone calling ahead for permission to land is the telegraphic (but usually sufficient) “Head for Omro and get in line.”. It’s not unusual to have a tiny little garage-built kit plane in line ahead of a high-powered commercial plane whose stall speed is higher than the home-built’s top airspeed. In situations like this, the following plane has to do 360s to hold its place in line.

This is, needless to say, the last place in the world where you’d send a student pilot.

When Jean came in, somewhat excited, in time for our pre-flight briefing and asked “Did I tell you to file for Oshkosh this week?”, I assured her that I was already on top of it and showed her my flight plan for LaCrosse, all the way on the other side of the state. She allowed as how there might be hope for me after all.

About the only personal conversation I had with her was about her last name, Zapata. I inquired if she was any relation to the famous Mexican bandito. She said that they preferred to think of Emiliano as a patriotic freedom fighter, and I said I’d go brush up a little bit on my history.

One day I showed up for my regular lesson, and they assigned me to a different instructor. “Where’s Jean?”, I asked. “Jean left.”, was all they said. Nobody really knew why. They knew she’d been having domestic problems, and the leading school of thot at Frickelton was that she was just taking some time away from it all, tho they thot it was odd that she hadn’t let them know in advance that she’d be doing it, since she was usually diligent about keeping her scheduled appointments. But they all knew she’d been stressed out, and they figured maybe this was just her way of handling it.

She wasn’t there the next week, either, nor the week after, and the conclusion everyone came to was that she had just decided to make a clean break and cut out without telling anyone where she was going, so her husband couldn’t track her down.

I got my ticket under the watchful eye of Claude Frickelton himself and enjoyed a short career as a private pilot before the aforementioned mortgage came along and I had to give up flying.

In the years since then, I occasionally wondered what ever became of Jean.

This last week I finally found out. The Dane County DA re-opened the case of her disappearance and summoned her ex-husband Eugene back from California to stand trial for her 1st-degree murder. The 1st trial ended in a hung jury, due largely to the fact that all the prosecution had was circumstantial evidence, but the DA was headed back for a 2nd trial when a plea agreement was reached. Eugene would plead no contest to a charge of unintentional homicide in return for describing what had actually happened.

As the story came out, he and Jean had been going thru an acrimonious divorce, and he stopped by her place after she’d shipped the kids off to school. They got into a ferocious argument and he lost his temper, picked up a paperweight, and brained her with it. Then, while she was down, he strangled her — first with his hands, then for good measure with an electrical cord — until he was sure she was dead.

The macabre part was that he kept moving her body around from place to place until he finally moved to California about a decade ago. At that point, he dug it up again, dismembered it, put the parts into separate bags, and dropped it into a landfill (whence authorities were unable to recover it, tho I can’t imagine that they had much incentive to try very hard).

He’s going to get a maximum of 5 years for this, except that, under terms of Wisconsin law that was in place at the time of the murder, he only has to serve 2/3 of the sentence, so he’ll be out in under 4 (actually less than 3, given that he’s been credited for time already spent in the county jail).

I guess I’m glad to know, finally, what really happened. But how sad. I’d been hoping all these years that Jean had in fact managed to find a new, nicer life somewhere. She was a good person and deserved so much better than this.

And Eugene deserves so much worse.

The price we pay for closure.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pushing ICE

I don't carry a cell phone myself (I know, probably the last dinosaur in America), but the following idea (which can be implemented both voluntarily and for free) struck me as well worth passing on to those who do. I reproduce it pretty much the way it came to me.

Many of us carry mobile phones with names and numbers stored in memory. But nobody, other than ourselves, knows which of these numbers belong to our closest family or friends.
If we were to be involved in an accident or taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know whom to call. Yes, there are many numbers stored, but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency? Hence this
ICE (In Case of Emergency) Campaign

The concept of ICE is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. As cell phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name "ICE" (In Case of Emergency).
The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents, there were always mobile phones with patients, but they didn't know which number to call. He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognized name for this purpose. In an emergency situation, emergency service personnel and hospital staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialing the number you have stored as ICE.
For more than one contact name simply enter ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, etc. A great idea that will make a difference!
Let's spread the concept of ICE by storing an ICE number in our mobile phones today!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Spoon Theory

This came to me via the listserv for my favorite science-fiction convention:

It really made an impression on me, perhaps in part because I'm gearing up emotionally for a memorial service tomoro for a vibrant woman lost to breast cancer at age 43. I only had a chance to work with her for a few months before the recurrence of her cancer forced her to quit her job and prepare for the end. She leaves behind a husband and 2 small children. I cannot begin to imagine what they're going thru, but the above article gave me a glimmering.

Every second is precious. We each choose how we will spend ours.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Today's Lesson in Advanced Math

Today’s Lesson in Advanced Math
Equation for Transforming Republicans

– lies
– arrogance
– incompetence
– laziness
+ intelligence
+ English language
+ temper
+ 10 years
= McCain

Would John McCain be a better president than George W. Bush? Of course he would! But that’s setting the bar pretty damn low. Bozo the Clown would be a better president than Bush. Surely we can aspire to something more than a pulse as the basic qualification for the leader of the free world.

Just because McCain is a better PERSON than Bush doesn’t mean he’s got better POLICIES. Based on the public record, he has every intention of continuing the disastrously failed policies of the current administration, including:
 • welfare for the rich
 • more debt for the working class
 • contempt for the poor
 • continued attempts to raid Social Security
 • a foreign policy that, if anything, is even MORE belligerent
 • more money for a military that already outspends the rest of the world put together
 • no exit from Iraq
 • plenty of entrances to other oil-rich countries
 • a “good luck” attitude toward health care
 • continued erosion of women’s reproductive rights
 • continued attempts to foist Christianity on everyone at government expense
 • continued concentration of media ownership into fewer and fewer hands
 • more jobs for India
 • more Caribbean and Latin American nations for US corporations to exploit
 • fewer and weaker food, drug, health, job-safety, and environmental regulations
 • reduced enforcement of whatever pathetic regulations remain
 • rigged elections
 • fear, fear, fear, fear, fear (Maybe he’ll appoint Rudy Giuliani as Secretary of Paranoia.)
 • more high-stakes testing for public schools, until they’re ALL labelled failures
 • but less federal money for those schools (Hey, bombs are expensive! Gotta prioritize.)
 • no letup in the War on Drug-Using Americans (It’s a WAR! By definition, a good thing.)
 • extending our world record as the most imprisoned nation on Earth
 • judicial nominees who think of the Bill of Rights as optional
 • corporate-purchased science
 • et cetera
 • et cetera
 • et cetera

On the plus side:
 • torture discouraged
 • better sense of humor
 • will probably die in office
 • The far right, for some odd reason, seems to loathe him.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Death of The Capital Times

I am tragified.

I spend about an hour every night reclining on the couch reading the Cap Times. It's better than comfort food. It's a cultural touchstone. My grandpa read the Cap Times. So did my dad (subscribed to the Monday edition at our home in Eau Claire). Aside from the strike, I've been reading it every day for 36 years.

What'll I do for the funnies? The Pattersons in "For Better or for Worse" are almost like my own family.

Boo hoo hoo, poor me. 8:^(

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday Analysis Take 2

All the analyses of Super Tuesday seemed to concentrate on how the various CANDIDATES did facing off against each other. I’ve looked around in vain to see anyone describing how the PARTIES did. So I decided to whump up my own analysis.

I took the 15 states where there were primaries (ignoring the caucuses, with their atypical voter turnouts) and where both major parties participated. I added up all the votes received by the Democratic contenders in 1 column and all the votes received by the Republican contenders in another column. Then I compared each of them to what Kerry and Bush got in the presidential election of 2004. (The full table is at end of this commentary).

The main finding? Democrats are running 10 percentage points ahead of last time (62% of 2008 primary voters vs. 52% of 2004 presidential voters in these 15 states).

They turned out more voters than the Republicans in 12 of the 15 states up for grabs. The exceptions were Alabama (just under half, at 49%), McCain’s home state of Arizona (46%), and Romney’s Mormon base in Utah (30%).

Is this a fair comparison? I contend that it is. Both parties are locked in well publicized, hard-fought, spirited contests. This means that:
  (1) there’s a powerful motivation for that party’s voters to turn out in the primaries, and
  (2) there’s essentially zero incentive to cross over and vote in the other party’s primary in the states where that’s even possible.

The turnout figures bear this out, with about half as many participants in a PRIMARY (where there’s seldom anything else on the ballot as an added lure) as in the last ACTUAL election (which always produces the highest level of voter participation). This is an unprecedented showing of interest.

And it’s likely to get better for the Democrats and worse for the Republicans because of the way their party rules work. Take Missouri, the quintessential bellwether state, which has voted for the winning presidential candidate in all but 1 presidential election since 1900.

Clinton and Obama split the show-me state down the middle. Each will get about half the state’s delegates. So, regardless of which candidate ends up with the nomination, Dems on the other side will have been active participants in the process right up to the final gavel at the convention in Denver. They’ll have had their shot and think they’ve gotten a fair shake.

On the GOP side, it was again almost a dead-even split, except 3 ways instead of 2. But ALL of Missouri’s Republican delegates will be going to John McCain (33%) and NONE to Mike Huckabee (32%) or Mitt Romney (29%). What kind of message does that send to supporters of the latter 2? “Thanks for dropping by, sorry about all your wasted work, see ya again sometime. Oh, yeah, can you spare a couple of bucks?”

In football, even if you don’t score on a given possession, it means something if you can advance the ball 40 yards before punting. You get some reward for your effort, some benefit for being partially successful. Not with the Republicans, tho. It’s either a touchdown or back to your own 20-yard line.

Lat night the punditocracy spent a lot of time working over the identity politics for the Democrats. Asians went huge for Clinton, blacks big time for Obama. Hillary pulled in a large share of white women, Barack most of the black women. Latinos tilted toward Clinton.

You didn’t get any of that on the Republican side, because there was no minority vote worth mentioning, and the little ladies, bless their hearts, will just do as they’re told, same as always.

What we DID see on the Republican side was the overt dismantling of the Frankenstein monster that was the Reagan Coalition. Each component now has a face of its own:
 • John McCain, the face of the tactics-of-fear, bomb-everybody, warmonger wing of the party
 • Mitt Romney, the face of the rich-white-guy, business-uber-alles, no-taxes-for-us, checkbook wing
 • Mike Huckabee, the face of the know-nothing, redneck, pseudo-scientific, evangelical wing
 • Ron Paul, the face of the sell-the-interstates, dismantle-the-schools, every-man-for-himself wing
 • Tom Tancredo, the face of the they’re-a-comin’-fer-yer-dotters xenophobic wing

Tancredo, of course, has dropped out, and Paul has been marginalized, but the Republicans in general can no longer pretend that they care about their constituencies.

Which brings us to the night’s biggest loser, George W. Bush. As I noted in my instant spot analysis before hitting the sack last night, he’s so radioactive that even the Republicans never mention him. Hell, there were people in Romney’s audience who were holding up pre-printed posters that said “CHANGE”.

But give the guy credit where it’s due. For the last 8 years, he was able to successfully wear ALL of the above masks. He WAS the face of the checkbook Republicans, the warmongers, the religious nuts. And he managed to keep them in line and acquiescent while he and Cheney looted the federal treasury.

That’s why the strategy is clear for whoever wins the Democratic nomination: Point to whoever wins the Republican nomination and say “different face, same policies” (a variant on the old worker’s motto, DDSS). Hang Bush around the guy’s neck like a millstone at every opportunity. There’s gotta be a grin-and-grip image of every one of the likely GOP nominees standing next to Bush. Haul those puppies out and spread ’em all over the country. Paper every lamppost with them. It’s the most effective tactic imaginable.

Hell, do that, and the Dems won’t even have to come up with any ideas of their own.

A strategy which, regrettably, seems to suit them just fine.

Here are those numbers, padded out with zeroes to make ’em line up nicely:

St. EV Dem. 2008 % Kerry 2004 % Rep. 2008 % Bush 2004 %
AL 09 0,533,521 49% 0,693,933 37% 0,550,573 51% 1,176,394 63%
AZ 10 0,368,828 46% 0,893,524 45% 0,439,347 54% 1,104,294 55%
AR 06 0,279,650 58% 0,469,953 45% 0,203,259 42% 0,572,898 55%
CA 55 3,918,333 64% 6,745,485 55% 2,189,399 36% 5,509,826 45%
CT 07 0,350,595 70% 0,857,488 55% 0,150,159 30% 0,693,826 45%
DE 03 0,095,979 66% 0,200,152 54% 0,050,062 34% 0,171,660 46%
GA 15 1,041,203 52% 1,366,149 42% 0,952,651 48% 1,914,254 58%
IL 21 1,937,730 69% 2,891,550 55% 0,873,572 31% 2,345,946 45%
MA 12 1,244,131 71% 1,803,800 63% 0,496,171 29% 1,071,109 37%
MO 11 0,820,453 58% 1,259,171 46% 0,584,617 42% 1,455,713 54%
NJ 15 1,104,101 67% 1,911,430 53% 0,554,894 33% 1,670,003 47%
NY 31 1,720,218 74% 4,314,280 59% 0,602,133 26% 2,962,567 41%
OK 07 0,401,230 55% 0,503,966 34% 0,329,843 45% 0,959,792 66%
TN 11 0,616,122 53% 1,036,477 43% 0,553,763 47% 1,384,375 57%
UT 05 0,122,617 30% 0,241,199 27% 0,283,759 70% 0,663,742 73%
Tot. 218 14,554,711 62% 25,188,557 52% 8,814,202 38% 23,656,399 48%

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday Instant Analysis

Wow! And we thot the super BOWL was a great game. Whoooo, doggies!

1 clear loser: George W. Bush. Even the most ardent Republicans think he's radioactive.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Bowl Commercials

Hey, a pretty good football game broke out among the Super Bowl commercials. Whoda guessed?

Of course, we Monday-morning quarterbacks with no football skills are now having a field day analyzing the ads. I find myself largely in agreement with Time's James Poniewozik (, except that I was fonder than he was of the salamanders dancing to "Thriller" (I'm a sucker for dancing.) and the movie Jumper (I loved the book.).

Incidentally, the above link lets you page thru the entire collection of commercials and play a YouTube video for each one you want to relive.

Nothing approached the all-time champ, Apple's "1984", voted by Advertising Age as the very best TV commercial ever, anywhere, for anything.

Nothing was even as good as the FedEx one from a couple years ago that just featured 30 seconds of color bars with a voiceover lamenting how good the commercial WOULD have been if they'd just gotten it to the broadcast center on time.

For some reason, cats seem to ring a chime for me. Another one I liked from a few years ago was the "Don't judge too quickly" bit about the guy preparing supper for his girlfriend when the Persian cat jumps into the marinara sauce while he’s holding the butcher knife. (I think I've still got that one on videotape around here somewhere.)

And, of course, I liked the "herding cats" one, too, but it suffered a fatal flaw: I still have no recollection of what it was supposed to get us to spend money on.

And my fave from this year was the lead-off hitter, where Bud Light lets you breathe fire, something that turns out not to be such a hot idea when you're allergic to cats.

Kind of an off year for the commercials, I thot. Good thing there was that other stuff to keep us entertained.