Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whining is Good for What Ails Me

SAN DIEGO – This is a time-out column.

I have vowed to keep this column light and fun without political commentary or social critique.

I have maintained that vow except for one exception as I recall.

I also promised myself to avoid an annoying right of old timers. I have noticed folks my age or older view the good ole days through rose-colored glasses: life was harder but better, our ethics and values were above reproach, we were all wholesome, healthy, strong, and happy: all things were good back when.

Accompanying this selective memory is a demonization of today’s culture: people today don’t value hard work; everything is more complicated; paperwork is rampant; you can’t talk to a real person; politics is sordid (especially on the other side); everything costs too much; etc. It’s the “I used to walk ten miles to school barefoot in a snow storm” syndrome.

Two recent events in the Southwest corner drove me to declare this column time out. It’s my time to whine.

About two weeks ago, I retrieved the “San Diego Union-Tribune” from my lawn and found a completely new format.

Then last Wednesday, I watched television coverage of the hostage situation at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters in Maryland.

These two independent events sparked my ire.

* * *

Last year, the “Union-Tribune,” San Diego’s daily newspaper was sold to Platinum Equity, a business acquisition group with only one newspaper under its aegis. Platinum appears to believe less news can make more money.

I am an old school newspaper guy. J.B. Leftwich taught me and many others the fundamentals of good newspaper journalism.

Many of those fundamentals have disappeared. Costs and profit are now the drivers in owning a newspaper, not providing the best news. Fortunately, the “Democrat” and its cross-town rival, “The Wilson Post” have thus far fared well in providing the news.

This paper recently changed its format, but I haven’t discerned a decrease in news coverage. From the Southwest corner, news appears to have actually expanded a bit.

But the “Union-Tribune” has cut newsprint, decreased the width of the paper, subsequently reducing the font (type size) to unreadable without Superman vision.

For twenty years, the “Union Tribune” had one of the best sports sections in the country. Being on the left end of time zones, all scores were in the morning paper with summaries, and commentary on every major sporting event.

The new version has a brief summary of all sports in a quarter-page summary, coverage of the local teams, an attempt at humor, and a gossipy item on “sports and courts,” updates on criminal and judicial events relating to sports figures. This “UT” should receive a fifteen yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

I am amazed bean counters figure they can make more money by providing less product. The new “Union-Tribune” is an excellent example of this bizarre approach to journalism as a business.

* * *

But last week’s television saga of James Jae Lee pushed me beyond the pale.

On Wednesday, I turned on the television during lunch, and as usual channel surfed while I ate. I paused at CNN reporting on the Maryland hostage situation. My interest intensified as I learned Lee had lived in San Diego.

I wanted to learn more.

But CNN seemed intent on not providing facts, but assessing innuendo from bystanders,
boasting of their own opinions, and calling for opinions from so-called experts who didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. Mostly, they crowed about the superiority of their coverage, their reporters, and their commentators. It was a gossip-fest.

I tried to find more news on the situation. Fox, that silly disguise of strident conservatism, actually had some good information for a while, but then Neil Cavuto decided talking to Lee’s brother-in-law for a half hour was more important than what was actually happening in Maryland.

I searched for more news on the situation. There was none. For that matter, on more than 900 channels, there was no straight news.

After 90 minutes, I disgustedly turned off the television.

* * *

In the Southwest corner, real news in the media is declining toward extinction. It’s an endangered species.

Where are Ben Bradlee, Walter Cronkite, David Hall, and John Cameron Swazy when you need them?

My time out is over. See you next week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Good weather, good times and memories of Hazelwood

SAN DIEGO – In spite of again missing the Wilson County Fair and Del Mar horse racing out here, I finally achieved my summer feel good.

For a week, the Pacific’s marine layer left after an unusually long stay, only to march back in with a vengeance this past weekend. We actually had some highs in the mid-80s.

Perhaps it was the brief summer spurring my good mood and producing recollections of Hazelwood.

For those of you who don’t remember, the Hazelwood swimming pool was off of Rome Pike on a fork to the northeast of East High. My siblings and I spent many summer days at Hazelwood.

In my teens, I was more attracted to Horn Springs where more pretty girls were swimming and tanning. I went to one or two parties at the Lebanon Country Club, but membership was beyond our economic means.

Hazelwood & Suck Creek

Hazelwood was our “swimming hole,” just as Suck Creek behind the Lebanon Woolen Mills was my father’s (girls weren’t to be found at the Suck Creek for swim suits were not the fashionable wear for the boys who swam there).

My sister Martha and I took swimming lessons at Hazelwood. I learned poorly, but my merely adequate skills came from those lessons. Our mother also took our younger brother to lessons there. Joe refused, jumped into the pool and began to swim.

Hazelwood was owned by Dr. H.H. Fly and his wife, who managed the facility. It was named in honor of their handicapped daughter named Hazel. At one time, they also had a boarding house where, according to my father, James Cagney once stayed.

I remember summer days diving off the deep end boards acting…well, like a boy, rarely stopping long enough to lie to the side of the pool while wishing I could play ping pong in the screened-in structure beyond the shallow end.

I clearly recall one hot day when I returned to our gathering area and first heard Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk,” a song which mesmerizes me to this day. In my recollections, Horn Springs is aligned with Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” while Hazelwood and “Honky Tonk” are indelibly linked.

My summer mind wandering leads to more connections.

Sprinting with a Dog

The Fly’s moved up the hill across the street from our home on Castle Heights Avenue.

It was a different time and pet leash laws did not exist. One August day, I crossed the Fly’s yard on my way back home. The Fly’s big black dog took exception to my intrusion. He and I did a 30-yard dash worthy of world class sprinters. His final lunge and nip at this fleet-when-scared lad produced a slight contusion on the back of my left knee.

Oh yes, nobody sued; nobody called the police; and I learned to be careful around dogs.

As mentioned here before, pets were treated differently back in those summers. J. Bill and Bessie Lee Frame, immediately across the street from our house, had a dog named Tubby. Once, my mother pulled her car into the Frame’s driveway to deliver a package. Tubby considered this an affront and chased her back into her car.

Up at the top of the hill on Castle Heights, Ed Baird and his family had a boxer. I do not recall its name, but I had learned to keep my distance. The boxer became a neighborhood legend for its Easter antics.

My family attended the sunrise service sponsored by the Kiwanis Club (this credit to the Kiwanis is included to ensure George Harding does not reprimand me for omitting their contribution).

Ed Baird’s Boxer

While the service reverberated with singing and celebration, Ed Baird’s boxer wandered away from home. Ed found the sated dog as it finished off the Easter eggs. The boxer had dug up the eggs hidden in our yard for our egg hunt after the service.

I also remember Bill Simpson’s dog Daisy. Bill lived with his Grandparent’s, the Jacksons, and brought home the puppy in the basket of his bicycle. Daisy was as much a part of my summers as the other youngsters on Castle Heights Avenue.

The few days of real summer in the Southwest corner are gone. Soon our weather will be of the super dry autumn variety with threats of wildfires. But those precious few summer days engendered good thoughts of Hazelwood and summer in Lebanon when the dogs ran free.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sea story: a submarine tale

SAN DIEGO – With August madcap doings in the Southwest corner, I postponed my trip back home and missed a unique reunion in Newport, R.I.

Several sailors from my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD 873) held an ad hoc reunion in Newport, RI. I was honored they asked me to join as they had been enlisted and I had been a junior officer. Allen Ernst, my leading sonar technician when I was Anti-Submarine (ASW) Officer, had found me in the intergalactic space of the internet about a year ago. I suspect he instigated including me.

Regardless, Allen, Robin Lewis, and Norm O’Neal took the lead, and R.J. Beihl, Bill Durbrow, Bill Carey, Bruce Coulture, and Rik Tuinstra completed the group.

They sent pictures and reports. Then last week, Allen forwarded me an email train from a discussion they had had at the reunion. The email detailed an incident I will never forget, including a seven page breakdown of the Navy investigation.

After completing a major overhaul in February, 1969, the “Hawkins” sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for “refresher training,” two-months of intense exercises to get the ship’s company back up to speed before operations.

Submarine Exercises

ASW exercises with a real submarine were included. The U.S.S. Chopper (SS-342) was assigned to Guantanamo for these exercises.

The ASW exercises were actually a respite for me. Other duties required grueling 18-hour days. The ASW part was exciting and fun, and my first with a real sub.

Hawkins stood out of the channel February 11 and conducted engineering drills in the morning. General Quarters 1A (for ASW operations) was set immediately after the morning drills. I moved from the bridge to the small ASW/Sonar space in the after section of Combat Information Center (CIC). There was no time for lunch.

Quicker than expected, we gained sonar contact and began to track the Chopper.

Just finding a submarine with sonar remains magic to me. The sonar transmits sound beams, and if the beams hit the submarine, the returning echo alerts the sonar crew to the contact.

By maintaining contact, a good sonar team can track the sub, deducing course and speed and producing a solution to fire an anti-submarine weapon, such as a torpedo with some probability of actually hitting the submarine.

This did not occur often. We spent more time talking to the whales on “Gertrude,” our underwater telephone designed to communicate with other Navy ships and submarines, than actually locating submarines.

A Disappearing Contact

But this particular afternoon, we had good luck, establishing solid contact. We could actually see the submarine blip turning in circles on our fire control system.

Then the blip became progressively weaker and disappeared. We were stumped as to the cause, wondering what kind of maneuver the Chopper could have employed.

Within two minutes, the bridge reported the Chopper had shot almost completely out of the water, 100 yards off of our starboard beam, crashing back into the sea. It disappeared again briefly before bobbing to the surface.

The Chopper had lost its generator and electrical DC power. The sub’s down angle had increased to 15 degrees, then to 45 degrees and beyond. She had plummeted to over 1,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, dangerously close to her “crush depth.”

The emergency actions of the sub’s personnel finally took effect. The Chopper ceased its descent and began to rise. The crew couldn’t control the reverse ascent, and the sub was almost vertical in the water when it cleared the surface. She re-submerged to about 250 feet before finally bobbing to the surface.

No Injuries, But a Great Sea Story

Amazingly, she returned to port under her own power. The ensuing investigation determined she had suffered structural damage, and the “Chopper” was decommissioned a year later.

More amazing, no one received any critical injuries. This is even more startling in that the report reveals steel deck plates were not secured and were crashing about during the violent descent and ascent along with anything not tied down. The officers and crew carried out emergency procedures 90 degrees off the normal plane. It would be like doing house work in an emergency mode standing on the wall instead of the floor with furniture flying around.

The Chopper was just one of many impactful incidents during my Hawkins tour with those sailors. It was quite an introduction to anti-submarine warfare for this young officer.

I am still amazed.