Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another Crisis!!

I was sitting at the computer, barely listening to the hustle and bustle of "Trauma: Life in the ER" on TV, when I heard my sister running into the bathroom, crying hysterically. Then she headed for the kitchen, making so much noise I was sure the house was on fire, or Mom fell over dead. Eventually, she got enough of a breath to wail, "I'm sorry!! I didn't mean to!!!!"

Seriously, I hear this from her almost constantly. Rain on your wedding day? "I'm sorry!" Bad day at work? "I'm sorry!!" She apologizes for things she has nothing to do with.

She doesn't freaking let you know she's taken your mother to the emergency room, but calls in hysterics to tell you to walk her goddamn dog?

No apology for that, no.

This has been going on for a bit over 20 years. She's in her 50s, now, but up until her mid-30's she was independent, self-sufficient. I don't know what happened, but she broke. By the later '80s she was on the phone to Mom at least 3 times a day for crisis management. If no one answered the phone (she was living in Georgia, south of Atlanta), she would let the damn thing ring until someone picked up--either that or go for 15 minutes, hang up for a few, then have another go. It never occurred to her that the parents were still at work at one in the afternoon. It never occurred to her that I was unplugging the phone, either. Hard to study.

It's really hard to be sympathetic. She's got several health problems--diabetic, significantly overweight, bipolar...every few months she crashes in some way and has to go to the Emergency Room, gets put into mental care for a few days, then comes out "cured." She tosses out all the junk food and soft drinks she's not supposed to be having, loads up on diet stuff. Within a month, she's sneaking junk food and soft drinks (right on schedule, this happened in mid-August; she's already broken the "diet"). It won't be long before she's buying and consuming Coke by the case. She just stops trying.

Now she's living with me and Mom; at first, she was helping to take care of the Old Man before he died. The upside is that the damn phone doesn't ring all day. The bad news is that she's here, so there's no delay when she has another crisis. She's stuck inside that head of hers, and everything in the universe is in orbit around her.

I'm not the sympathetic ear in the house. I'm not going to play along. That dog-walking stunt isn't anything new. She did the panicky-hysterical "It's important!! Call me as soon as you get this!!!!!!" shit while I was in a movie a few months ago. She left two messages on my phone, and when I didn't call back she called my friend (sitting right there in the theater next to me) to tell him to tell me to call home.

She wanted a Whataburger.

She was recently diagnosed as bipolar, the same thing that affected my less-favorite ex, "Number Two." I don't know if this is in addition to whatever's causing her panic attacks, but they're all working together to make her someone I just don't want to be around--and we can thank her and Number Two for that.

Back to the present. She's wailing hysterically, and I can only make out "car" and "door" and "purse." She dropped her purse near the car? Wail, wail, "IM SORRRYYYYYY!!!!!" and by now I'm just telling her to settle down, get a grip, take a breath. Honestly, by this point I don't even care what the "crisis" is. I just want her to shut up.

She left her freaking purse at the store, and they had called to say it was there. That's all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kit Review: Revell 1:96 Apollo-Saturn V

This beast set me back $115 a couple of years ago. It's easier to store than the real thing, but a four-and-a-half-foot plastic model lacks the towering scare-the-neighbors quality of a 365-foot-tall rocket stack.

Even at 1:96 the size, this is a big model, standing around 4 feet. It was originally produced in the 1960's, with re-issues by Revell Germany from time to time. Mine is boxed for 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Kind of sad if it sat in various warehouses before I bought it in 2007. Even the dust is historic.

The kit's primarily molded in white; some parts that are supposed to have a "natural metal" finish (the Command Module, Service Module, and Lunar Module) are done in a dark silver-gray. There are four styrene sheets that get rolled into cylinders to form sections of each of the three booster stages; these come pre-printed with roll patterns, flags, and "USA" or "United States" insignia. Two packs of "Bare-Metal" foil are included to get the proper natural-metal finish on some of those silver-gray parts.

Assembly is easy, with a small amount of easily-trimmed flash on some pieces. You'll need to do some careful filing and trimming on the join-lines on all of the rocket engines, the Lunar Module, and the Service Module. Because of that silver-gray plastic, the joins are especially visible on the latter. Detail is reasonable for an entry-level off-the-shelf kit.

The three booster stages--the S-IC, S-II, and S-IVB--are each built up by rolling a styrene sheet, pinning the edges between parts that simulate external pipes, then cementing endcaps to each open end. The first stage uses two such sheets and three "caps." The second and third each use one sheet and two caps. Detail and fit are good, but those styrene sheets seem flimsy and thin. If you're not looking to super-detail the kit (just assembling it straight from the box), paint the inside surfaces of the sheets and the end-caps black to keep any back-lighting from showing through. I'd prefer that the exterior markings and insignia had been done as decals so that the whole thing can be painted the same color, but I'm lazy enough these days that I'd rather just put the thing together with the least amount of fuss and financial outlay.

One big howler common to most of the Saturn V models on the market: the black bands of the S-IC roll pattern extend halfway up the length of the stage. This was only seen on the 500F Facilities Integration Vehicle, not any of the actual flight ships (Apollo 4's first stage did have them originally, but most of the black was painted over).

The Command Module is too detailed if you're building the kit in "launch" configuration; the actual CM has a protective cover over it which is jettisoned a few minutes after the rocket has left the pad. Revell's CM doesn't have the cover. Fortunately, The Google can find aftermarket detail sets that will help make the beast more accurate. There's a detailed description of what's in the resin-and-etched-brass detail kit at Ninfinger Productions.

Another issue is that the Command and Service Modules are Block I items. Think of them as working prototypes not intended for manned operation. The correct Block II items are significantly different.

If you're really serious about detailing, you could end up replacing most of the Revell kit with aftermarket pieces. It'd make more sense to just buy the detailing kits and scratchbuild the rest. Either way, a visit to Rick Sternbach's Saturn V Clinic will give you more than enough to do.

If you want one that flies, you could scratchbuild a 25-foot beast like the Arizona Rocketry Team's 1/16 rocket (shots of the Command Module being built here) or shell out $450 for an EMMR 1/48 scale flying rocket kit that'll take up less room than theirs but still be twice as large as Revell's. And it'll fly. Did I mention that it flies?

Overall, the Revell model isn't a bad kit. It'll take up lots of room on your workbench, require plenty of rubber bands, clothespins, cement, paint, filing, filling, and all the other tools and skills you need for a model--just more of it.

Just don't detail it the same way whomever built the kit on display at Pensacola's National Museum of Naval Aviation; theirs is the same 1/96 kit with a sloppy white paint job (done with a house brush?) and a bright red escape tower (also sloppily painted). It really looks bad, especially given their modest space display that includes the Command Module from Skylab 2 and a moon buggy.

Pro: Impressively big; easily assembled; pre-printed styrene sheets simulate the original's black & white roll patterns; better detail than the smaller 1:144-scale model.

Con: Expensive; the solid pieces and the styrene sheets aren't the same shade of white; poor mating between some significant parts, leading to lots of time prettying it up; big footprint (you're gonna need a bigger desk); first-stage roll pattern matches the 500F; poor detailing or incorrect detailing on significant parts of the stack; no decals for camera targets, fin or stage markings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pic of the Day: Lightning at Stennis Space Center

This is a screen-capture from a camcorder; not the best but still pretty cool.

This was at Mississippi's Stennis Space Center in January 2007. There was a storm off to the south, near the rest area/Welcome Center. Museum nannies made everyone go back inside the museum: can't have the little snowflake taxpayers getting hit by lightning, right? I hung out on the front porch and aimed my camcorder toward the sounds of thunder and hoped for something interesting. For once, something interesting happened.

Goposaurs should all be Removed from Office.

Starting with this imbecile:

On the one hand, I don't expect any better from conservatives. I never have. It always seems that they're on the wrong side of some important social matters--race relations, gay marriage, pretty much anything civil rights. McCain's stupidity comes as no surprise: it's an election year, and the only way for a Republican to win is to become more of an asshole, crazier, more wrong, lest one of those batshit Teabaggers win instead.

On the other hand...they've already lost on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and gay marriage. The former is increasingly unpopular; the latter already has toeholds in a few states. As the white-hairs who oppose things die off, the youngsters pushing change will push their stupid policies aside.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"O" Crap.

Christine O'Donnell's got one scary "O" face.

This one's an example of some good reasons I'll never vote for or support a Republican. The party continues to put up batshit insane right-wing fundie morons, racists, wild-eyed anti-abortionists, secessionist traitors, war-mongering empty suits, and rich assholes who don't want to pull their share of the tax load; and as long as they continue to cater to batshit insane right-wing fundie morons, racists, wild-eyed anti-abortionists, secessionist traitors, war-mongering empty suits, and rich assholes who don't want to pull their share of the tax load, they can get stuffed. The party's "politics" have devolved into things the government shouldn't be getting into at any level--gay marriage, religious crap in publicly-funded schools, abortion, Teri Schiavo. It's all about hot-button things to scare people into voting Red. PANIC! Commies under your bed! PANIC!! Look at those hippies! PANIC!!! Muslims! PANIC!!!! ATHEISTS!!!!!!! AUGH!!!!

Are you panicking yet?!

Sorry pricks.

Honestly, I thought President Fratboy was the bottom of the barrel, the worst the Goposaurs could manage. Damned if they didn't move the barrel bottom down a few feet when they found Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin. Then all hell broke loose--and the cesspool of Republican offerings has only gotten deeper--and this O'Donnell critter is the new bottom. Mice with human brains?! She wouldn't lie to Hitler to save Anne Frank?!

Funny how in that video she supposedly hates, hates, hates dishonesty--but she's been caught out lying--and brilliantly called out on it by this guy.

It took men like Lincoln to make the Republican Party mean something. It's taken right-wing idiots a few decades to shred the party and piss all over Lincoln's legacy while trying to dress themselves up to look like him. The teabaggers are simply finishing the demolition that began in the mid-1960's, when racist pricks abandoned the Democrats in the wake of Johnson's signing the Civil Rights Act into law.

The Party of Lincoln? Nope. The Party of O'Donnell.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Geetar Hank!

So while Hank was on his 6-month house arrest (briefly explained here), he decided to learn to play guitar.

It's my fault. I was teaching myself to play, learning Rush songs and those of lesser bands.

Hank didn't have anything else to do. Couldn't go out, couldn't drink. I bet that hurt, given that it's been the bedrock of his existence for much of his life. So he got himself an acoustic and a chord book and started watching MTV because that's where the rock stars go. He was gonna be one, you know, because that's where the money and girls are and because he had music in his soul, like Hendrix and Van Halen.

But first...he had no music background. I had to teach him the basic strum pattern everyone seems to learn first. For the rest of his house/jail time, that one pattern is all I heard. Since he couldn't read music, he played the chord book, so I'd hear him strum an F Major barre chord (first fret)....then there was a long pause while he rearranged his fingers to play an F Major barre chord (8th fret)....another pause...another F chord (minor, diminished, augmented, whatever)...pause...chord...all night long. He never seemed to get any better.

Keep in mind that a chord book's not a music book, it's an aid that shows the different fingerings for a variety of chords. A basic book will show you hundreds. I've got one that claims 5,000! Ask any guitar probie what it's like trying to remember just the basic "beginner" chord forms, then imagine Hank just going page by page through his book, making noise instead of music.

I wonder if he ever got better.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Emergency!! PANIC NOW!!

I'm about the calmest person I know. I'm not sure how that worked out, given my family, with the bullying father figure, his insane son, a mother who is on medication that makes Swiss cheese of her short-term memory...and this sister of mine.

She's prone to panic attacks. I don't know if that's what makes the Universe a big circle with her at the center, but simple things just pass her by.

You know. SIMPLE things like maybe waking me up last week to tell me that she's taking Mom to the Emergency Room. Never occurred to her. I don't need to know stuff like that.

So I'm asleep, they're at the hospital, and my nephew calls long distance at 2:30 in the afternoon to relay a message from his mother to call her at the hospital (but not which one)...because she doesn't have my cell number.

I call. Her phone's turned off. And I don't know which hospital.

Into the kitchen. Answering machine tells me there are four new messages. Two of them are from her, panicky-sounding, call-me-as-soon-as-you-get-this!!!!! style, a few minutes apart. She actually thought to mention which hospital and room it was.

Phone book, ringy-dingy, automated one, hold, hello? A live one! Room 11, please. Just a moment, hold, hello? Another live one, room 11 please. Just a moment, hold...and finally, my sister.

She mentions that Mom's getting a CAT scan, blah blah...and quickly gets to the vitally important emergency that required all this drama:

She wants me to take her fucking dog out. That's all.

Shotgun Hank!

I know I've never written about "Hank," my crazy stepbrother. He's the natural-born son of my stepfather and he is, as I mentioned, batshit crazy.
Hank's always been an aggressive ass and a bully. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, there, but since he spent most of his time at his mother's house instead of ours my life was a lot simpler.

I'm not sure when he started getting crazy, but I know he did it to himself by boozing heavily, driving drunk, and demolishing cars. He took a few head injuries in the late '80s and early '90s. As I understand it, the head trauma triggered some changes in his brain that led to him being diagnosed as paranoid psychotic.
One of the drunken car wrecks led to him being placed on 6 months' house arrest. In our house. Thanks, Dad (step-pops talked the judge into that instead of 30 days in jail--he never seemed to let the bastard face the consequences of his actions, but he'd whip the shit out of me for relatively minor stuff).
Hank took to muttering to himself--"goddamnmotherfuckindrinkinproblem" was a favorite--and pacing around the yard like Jason Voorhees working as a mall-cop. He carried a sledge hammer around for a few weeks, always leaving it at the back door when he came back inside. I decided that it needed to disappear so he wouldn't hurt anyone, and I'm still pretty smug about how I did it.
As I was heading into the house from a coffee run, I grabbed the thing, hoping to sneak it into my room before he came outside--and damned if he didn't pick that moment to open the back door. I'm holding the sledge in my left hand by the end of the handle (he always leaned it head-down against the house by the door) and quickly moved it so it was hidden along my left leg. He came out to my right, never even seeing the hammer, and I moved it around to the front of my leg, walked into the house, and closed the door. Scared the crap out of me. I don't know if he ever figured it out, or whether he blamed the neighbors.

He started carrying a jack handle, instead. Oh, well.

When his house-arrest was finally over, he went back to live with his mother. Instead of the jack handle, he started toting a 12-gauge shotgun or a rifle, pacing along the property line and shouting at passers-by to get off his street. Yes, they were loaded. Step-pops finally got some backbone (it always took him a while to man up and deal with Hank) and took the guns away from him. The rifle went to Hank's son. The shotgun came to our house, where the Old Man kept it in his closet. Yes, it was loaded.

In the next 10 years or so, Hank would cycle between living at his mother's house, living at ours, and staying with his son or sister out in Mississippi. By the late '90s, his mother was so terrified of him that he ended up with us when he was in town. In 2006, when the Old Man had the stroke that brought his Alzheimer's into full play, Hank had to go.

I was picked to clear the guns out of our house, since no one really knew what the Old Man would be like when the Alzheimer's took over. It was a good idea, as it happens, since he freaked out over mirrors and photos of people and was convinced that my mother was an impostor.

I found the shotgun in his closet. Yes, it was loaded. Safety fucking OFF. That's scary enough, but the ammo it had in it was a couple of triple-ought buckshot shells and two one-ounce deer slugs. That's what Hank had been toting around.

It's a wonder no one ever got killed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pic of the Day: Heroes.

Another September 11th is here. The History Channel has been running documentaries.

Caribou Barbie and Beckerhead are holding a "rally"-for-pay in Anchorage, Alaska in a typically tasteful display of conservative religious 9/11 fervor. I'm surprised they didn't set up a stand in the middle of the World Trade Center site--but I'm not surprised they're whoring themselves out to make a buck on the dead of September. That's what Newt Gingrich is doing today. This is what Republicans do, now.

The assholes at Fox are using a map of human remains to show how a Muslim community center is on "hallowed ground," and so shouldn't be built.

Instead of burning towers and enormous plumes of smoke and dust, I decided to make my own statement by focusing on the guys who saved a lot of lives that Tuesday, and more importantly the guys who gave their lives that day.

No idea whose picture it is, but these are the people we should be honoring on this day--the firefighters, the police, the first responders who ran towards the flames.

Friday, September 10, 2010

John Wayne and Mythology

I recently sat through John Wayne's 1956 "The Conqueror," widely known as The Movie that Killed John Wayne.

In an epic disaster of mis-casting, Wayne plays Temujin, the Mongol chief who's more famously known as Genghis Khan. Imagine that stilted manner of speaking you've heard in Western after Western coming out of the mouth of the terrible Mongol as he fights the Tartars!

His is not the only lily-white face, either. Imagine Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, William Conrad, and Lee Van Cleef. Not so much as a paleface-in-Asian-makeup to be seen. Really, the only ethnic folks have names like Gomez and Armendariz.

The film was shot in 1954 out in the Escalante Desert near St. George, Utah, about 100 miles downwind from the Yucca Flats nuclear test range, which had been active for the previous 3 years. Eleven nukes were lit off in 1953 alone. Apparently the cast and crew knew about possible radioactivity: there are photos of Wayne toting a Geiger counter!

The movie premiered in 1956. Seven years after that, director Dick Powell died of cancer. By the early 1980's, 46 of the 220 people who worked on the film were dead of cancer, including John Wayne, Agnes Moorehead, Susan Hayward, and Pedro Armendariz (who shot himself in 1963 upon learning he had terminal cancer). A total of 91 people had contracted cancer to some degree.

Producer Howard Hughes was horrified by the apparent link between his movie and the deaths of cast & crewmembers. He spent $12 million to buy up as many copies of the film as he could and for 17 years--until 1974--kept it out of circulation.

Here's where the mythology comes in. It was easy to find gossip about this Hollywood Horror; I picked the Straight Dope website, where someone asks, "Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set?" Cecil Adams replied at length, laying out the story of the shoot and its nearness to the test site, laughing at Wayne's line delivery, and noting that:

Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada.

I didn't give it much thought the first time through, but during a later search (while watching the movie) in which I wondered how radioactive the area is today, I found a site with a deeper focus on the question of whether "The Conqueror" killed John Wayne.

Michael D. Shaw wonders, "Was The Movie The Conqueror Really Cursed? A Look At Radiation Paranoia." He sketches out the back-story quickly, then looks at the expert claim of Dr. Robert C. Pendleton:

With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law.

Pendleton was quoted in a People Magazine article. Shaw says,

This sounds impressive until you do some basic research. According to the National Cancer Institute, at the time the article was written, the overall incidence of being diagnosed with cancer in a person's lifetime (age-adjusted) was about 40%. As it happens, this number still holds today. Thus, in a cohort of 220 people, 88 would be diagnosed with cancer at some point.

I have no idea how Pendleton came up with his "30-some." If anything, given the heavy smoking habits of many in the movie business at the time, including Dick Powell, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendáriz, Susan Hayward, and John Wayne at five packs a day, 91 is completely within the expected range. The only "astonishing" thing is that the People article did not mention the smoking habits of any of the deceased stars.

It makes the story less sensational, doesn't it? We humans like to look for big conspiracies and causes. It gives an otherwise mediocre movie a veneer of risk and mystery: Was this the scene where he got his fatal dose of radiation?

The Movie that Killed John Wayne? Not so much.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pic of the Day: Yippee!!

This was the 5,000th P-38 Lightning built. It was given a bright red paint job and a giant YIPPEE along the bottom of the wing, then taken out for flight demonstrations to put down some early notions that the Lightnings were pilot killers. By the end of World War 2, some 10,000 of these fork-tailed devils had been built. They were declared obsolete in 1946 and many of them were scrapped or abandoned in place on tiny Pacific islands.

Surviving planes were still in use as late as 1965 in Honduras' air force. Others were used in air racing and mapping, but today there are only 8 in flyable shape.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pic of the Day: Discovery Shuttle night launch

STS-63. The shuttles aren't as cool as the Apollo missions, but they do make for spectacular imagery.

It's a shame that their missions will end in the next year. I never got to see a launch "live." TV isn't even close.

Pic of the Day: Gemini 9 launch

A few years ago, some awesome guy uploaded a ton or so of good NASA pics from the various space missions. It was heavy on Apollo, and I was stoked, since that's my favorite era of man in space.
But there were some eye-popping pics from the Mercury and Gemini missions as well. For no other reason than the fact that it made my jaw drop 2 years ago, here's Gemini 9 just taking flight, still several yards from clearing the tower, with engines blazing:

Super cool.