“Incredibly Sad”

Putting things in perspective.

Arnold Palmer died yesterday. He was 87.

Palmer was one of golf’s greats. Although I don’t follow golf and certainly don’t know as much about his career as the folks that do, I do know that he was a real class act who could certainly teach today’s professional athletes a thing or two about behaving in public. You can find a tribute to him here and some more general information on Wikipedia.

One of the people I follow on Twitter posted the following tweet with a photo of a young Palmer:

Incredibly sad … Golf legend Arnold Palmer has died. The 62-time PGA Tour and 7-time major winner was 87. #RIP

It’s sad when any good person dies, but “incredibly sad” when an 87-year-old man dies of natural causes?

I’m not trying to sully the memory of Arnold Palmer. He led a full life, achieving many great goals and doing many good things. But he was 87 with a heart condition. His life came to a logical, inevitable conclusion.

Do you know who else died yesterday? José Fernández. He was 24, and just a few years into what would likely be an amazing career as a baseball pitcher. Indeed, he had already won the National League Year Rookie of the year and played in an All-Star Game. A Cuban immigrant who saved his mother’s life when she fell overboard during their fourth (successful) defection attempt, he died in a boating accident yesterday morning with virtually his whole life ahead of him.

Now that is incredibly sad.

Do you see the difference?

I’m not trying to say that Fernández’s life is more valuable than Palmer’s. I’m just saying that when a man dies of natural causes at an age generally considered to be beyond that of an average life span, it’s sad. But when a young man who hasn’t even reached the prime of his life dies in a tragic accident, it’s sadder.

You know this boy.

Do you want to take that a step further? Think about Alan Kurdi. Don’t know who that is? Sure you do. He was the three-year-old boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when his family fled Syria as refugees just a year ago. His lifeless body was photographed on the beach, lying face down, still wearing his little shorts and shoes. His family was trying to get to Canada so they could live in a safe, peaceful world. I’d share the photo here — you can find a copy on Wikipedia — but it’s too heartbreaking to see over and over in my blog. So I’ll share this one, provided to the media by his aunt, to give you an idea of the smiling, happy child whose life was snuffed out by tragic circumstances.

Alan Kurdi’s death is incredibly sad.

And what about the thousands of civilians killed in terrorist attacks, wars, and “ethnic cleansing” (AKA genocide)? Thousands of people losing their lives long before completing their natural lives? Sometimes before they even reach adulthood? Isn’t that sadder than the natural death of an 87-year-old man?

I guess my Twitter friend’s tweet just got under my skin. I’m so tired of people expressing extreme sadness when a celebrity dies yet barely acknowledging the death of a “lesser” or unknown person. Or people.

Let’s put things into perspective. People die every day. Some die more tragically than others. Shouldn’t the level of our sadness be tied into the circumstances of their lives and deaths?

Remember what Memorial Day is All About

It’s not about having the day off from work.

I just wanted to fire off a quick post to remind people what Memorial Day is all about. It seems that while some folks are confusing Memorial Day with Veterans Day, others just look at it as a day off and a three-day weekend. Both are wrong.

From Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

I made the important parts of that passage bold above for a reason: Memorial Day is to honor the men and women of our military who have made the ultimate sacrifice — they died while serving their country. While Veterans Day honors all past service members, alive and dead, Memorial Day honors a special subset of those people — service members who didn’t come home to their families because they died while helping preserve American freedoms and other values.

This includes the 4,459 men and women killed in Iraq since 2003 and the 2,220 men and women killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

How do you think the parents, spouses, and children these service members left behind feel today? Do you think they’re having an outdoor barbecue? Getting drunk out on a boat with their friends? Do you think they’re celebrating the day off from work?

In a way, I wish Memorial Day wasn’t a work holiday on the last Monday of May. I wish it was a numbered date holiday, like Independence Day. Then, perhaps, it would be thought of more as a day to remember our fallen soldiers, airmen, and sailors than as the key component in a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer.

On “Air Vortexes”

The media stumbles over a basic aerodynamic aspect of helicopter flight.

I was on Twitter Thursday evening when manp, one of my Twitter friends, tweeted:

So, what is this ‘vortex’ condition with ‘higher than expected temperatures’??? @mlanger any idea?

To be honest, I had no clue what he was talking about. But I Googled “vortex condition with higher than expected temperatures” (don’t you love Google?) and saw an article about the helicopter that went down during the Bin Laden assault in Pakistan. Moments later, manp sent me a link to a Bloomberg article titled “Helicopter Carrying SEALs Downed by Vortex, Not Mechanical Flaw or Gunfire.” The first paragraph read as follows:

A United Technologies Corp. (UTX) Black Hawk helicopter carrying U.S. Navy SEALs to Osama Bin Laden’s hideout was downed by an air vortex caused by unexpectedly warm air and the effect of a high wall surrounding the compound, not mechanical failure or gunfire, according to U.S. officials and a lawmaker.

Whoa. What a mishmash of information. You have to read further into the article where the phenomena they’re trying to explain — vortex ring state — is explained at least two more times by people who actually have a clue what it is. But that first paragraph sure is misleading. It makes it seem as if there was come kind of weird warm air vortex in the compound that brought the helicopter down.

Any vortexes, however, were caused by the helicopter itself. My educated guess of what happened, based on this article and knowledge of helicopter aerodynamics, is this:

As the helicopter was descending inside the 18-foot walls — a descent that was likely nearly vertical — it encountered a setting with power — or vortex ring state — condition. This occurs when the helicopter settles into its own downwash. This may have been made worse by the change in the flow of air due to those 18-foot walls — as suggested in the article. It may also have been made worse by the outside air temperature being warm.

This image from the FAA’s Rotorcraft Flying Handbook helps illustrated what the vortexes are and how they manifest themselves in a hover far above the ground and close to the ground:

Hover Vortexes

As the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook explains:

Vortex ring state describes an aerodynamic condition where a helicopter may be in a vertical descent with up to maximum power applied, and little or no cyclic authority. The term “settling with power” comes from the fact that helicopter keeps settling even though full engine power is applied.

In a normal out-of-ground-effect hover, the helicopter is able to remain stationary by propelling a large mass of air down through the main rotor. Some of the air is recirculated near the tips of the blades, curling up from the bottom of the rotor system and rejoining the air entering the rotor from the top. This phenomenon is common to all airfoils and is known as tip vortices. Tip vortices consume engine power but produce no useful lift. As long as the tip vortices are small, their only effect is a small loss in rotor efficiency. However, when the helicopter begins to descend vertically, it settles into its own downwash, which greatly enlarges the tip vortices. In this vortex ring state, most of the power developed by the engine is wasted in accelerating the air in a doughnut pattern around the rotor.

Vortex Ring StateIn addition, the helicopter may descend at a rate that exceeds the normal downward induced-flow rate of the inner blade sections. As a result, the airflow of the inner blade sections is upward relative to the disc. This produces a secondary vortex ring in addition to the normal tip-vortices. The secondary vortex ring is generated about the point on the blade where the airflow changes from up to down. The result is an unsteady turbulent flow over a large area of the disc. Rotor efficiency is lost even though power is still being supplied from the engine.

There are three ways to recover from settling with power once you’re in it:

  • Cut power – you can’t settle with power if you don’t have power. This is usually not a good option when you’re very close to the ground.
  • Lower the collective – this reduces the blade pitch. This is also not a good idea close to the ground, since it will result in a descent.
  • Get some lateral airspeed – this breaks you out of the vortex ring state so you’re not settling in your own downwash. This is not possible when you’re surrounded by an 18-foot wall.

(They train us to recover from settling with power using a combination of the second two methods, but we always practice at altitude, since you can get a good descent rate going if you’re really into it. Indeed, settling with power is a serious danger during aerial photo missions requiring hovering at high density altitudes or heavy weights.)

So the pilot did the only thing he could: land hard. Fortunately, although his hard landing damaged the helicopter, it didn’t cause injuries to to men on board. They were able to complete their mission and come home safely. And they left a souvenir lawn ornament in Bin Laden’s yard.

I realize that this is a pretty complex topic and it’s probably not reasonable to expect the press to get it right. But I personally believe that all technical content published in the media should be reviewed by an expert — or at least someone knowledgeable — to make sure it’s not misleading or unclear to the layperson who will read it.

manp is a pilot — although not a helicopter pilot — and he couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. I can only imagine how much that opening paragraph confused the average reader.


…for change.

For the past six or more years, I’ve been watching my country — and my town — deteriorate as the result of bad decisions by our leaders.

We go to war in Iraq, spending $341.4 million per day. Thousands of people die — our soldiers and Iraqi civilians — and many thousands more are permanently maimed with lost limbs and worse. We lose the respect of many nations because of our arrogance and stubborn refusal to “lose” a War we can’t win and probably never should have started in the first place.

Our country is in financial meltdown because of bad lending practices and other policies of greedy financial institutions. The “flip this house” mentality has caused thousands of people to invest in properties now worth far less than they paid. Rather than pay mortgages they can’t afford, they’ve been mailing their keys to the mortgage holders, leaving them with properties they have to maintain and sell in a market they’re not willing to lend to.

Businesses have sent thousands of manufacturing and support jobs overseas, leaving fewer job opportunities at home for Americans. With the economy tanking, thousands of people are losing their jobs every month. People without jobs don’t have money to spend on the goods and services still offered in this country, so they’re not buying. Less revenue for U.S. businesses forces them to cut staff even further. It’s a vicious circle.

The country has split into two factions: conservatives, who strive to force their values on everyone, and liberals, who want the true freedom this country promises. Among those freedoms are the freedom of speech, so recently misunderstood by a vice presidential candidate. Yet when we speak out about what’s wrong with this country, we’re labeled as unpatriotic traitors.

Clearly, the country is sick and needs a cure.

I’m voting tomorrow and I urge every U.S. citizen reading this to do the same. It’s only by voting that we can make a difference in our country. Vote for a change. Vote to make things better. Vote because it’s your right and your responsibility.

And don’t let the polls con you into staying home. Your candidate needs your support.

Get out and vote.

Care Packages, Continued

The worst part is the paperwork.

As I type this quick blog entry, I’m waiting for my printer to spit out all five pages of the 5th customs form I’ve prepared today. I’m doing all this on the USPS Web site, which is workable but not very well designed. For some reason, it takes at least a minute for my printer to process each page of the form, which only takes up 1/2 a page. I’m cutting off 1/2 sheet for each of the 5 pages. That’s 30 half pages of junk paper for the 6 forms I’m creating.

How wasteful. But I’m sure I’ll wind up using it for scrap paper.

I’ve finally gotten around to preparing the next 6 care packages. I would have prepared all 8 that I needed to make my self-imposed number of 10, but AnySoldier.com will only let me have 2 addresses a day and I’m still short two. Why the limit? Apparently slime ball marketers were sending junk mail to our men and women in the armed forces. I know they want mail, but no one wants junk mail.

The packages are full of yummy goodies (beside my homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies) and personal hygiene items requested specifically by the units. Since I spent a bit more than I’d expected to on package contents, my husband kindly chipped in for the postage.

Oddly enough, taking care of the postage and customs forms is more time consuming than packing the boxes and inserting personalized notes of thanks.

It’s really a shame, since I think a lot more people would send items to the troops if they didn’t have such a time-consuming hassle with customs forms.

But I’m almost done. Just one more 5-page form to prepare and print.

Then two more packages this week and I’ve finished my commitment — at least for the holidays. I’m thinking of committing to a package a month until the war is over.

I don’t have relatives or even friends fighting overseas. But I still know they’re there. And I still care.

Do you?

Care Packages

I send out my first two care packages.

Those of you who follow this blog may have read my most recent “Support Our Troops” post. It starts off with a rant about people who think they’re supporting the troops by taking a minute to send a free card to a random soldier, then provides information on how you can send members of our armed forces things they can really use.

At the time, I vowed to send 10 care packages this month. Today I sent my first two.

I used the lists from the first two AnySoldier.com representatives to buy the items to send. I went to two stores and spent about $100 on everything from lip balm to bed sheets.

Then I made my famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I packed two saved take-out packages — the kind my husband is always telling me not to save — with cookies.

I was delayed in putting it all together by my trip to Las Vegas, which was extended due to mechanical problems.

Yesterday, I was caught up in work — imagine that! Today, I had some spare time and finally put the first two packages together.

The first, to an army guy in Iraq, was mostly foodstuff, although he did get a set of twin sheets. The Priority Mail flat rate box weighted in at just over 7 lbs. The second, to a navy gal in the Gulf, was a combination of stationery items and personal hygiene items. That flat rate box weighed in at just under 7 lbs. (Cotton balls don’t weigh much.) Each box cost $8.95 to ship because of the flat rate priority mail to a U.S. (FPO and APO) address. I don’t think that was a bad deal. I just hope their contents reach the addressees before Christmas.

I printed postage and customs forms on the USPS Web site. It took me about 20 minutes for the first form and only 5 for the second. (I summarized box contents.) Then it took another 20 minutes at the post office.

I’ve decided that I’m going to ship the remaining 8 boxes at once to make better use of my time.

Now I have to collect lists and addresses. I can only get two addresses a day, so I’ll be literally collecting them.

A reminder to people who don’t want to wade through my lengthy post about this: AnySoldier.com makes it possible to send deployed troops the items they really need in care packages. Won’t you make a difference in a soldier’s life this holiday season? Visit AnySoldier.com, click the Where to Send link, and read the story of one of the service members. Buy a few things on his or her wish list and send it. Sure, it’ll take a few minutes of your time and a few dollars of your money, but it’s the best way I can think of to support our troops.

I look forward to the day when these young people can come home.

Support Our Troops

A rant followed by step-by-step instructions for those who care.

I need to start this article with a statement: I do not support the War in Iraq. I think it was a mistake. I also think that the tragic loss of lives — our service men and women and Iraqi civilians — is a tragedy. This is not up for discussion here and if you post a comment trying to argue with me about it on my blog, I will delete the comment. Write your own blog entry about this issue if you feel so strongly about it.

That said, even though I don’t support the war, I do support our troops. The men and women in our armed services are making incredible sacrifices — sometimes even the ultimate sacrifice — to do their duty and serve their country. They’re living in cramped quarters, often without simple luxuries — lip balm comes to mind — and looking forward to the day they can come home to be with their families and friends and rebuild their lives.

Yet while they’re overseas, getting shot at and blown to pieces by roadside bombs, we’re all comfortably at home watching Dancing with the Stars and the latest reality TV crap in front of our wide-screen TVs, complaining about gas prices and our jobs, and spending our money on trivial things that we don’t really need.

Got a Minute?

Yesterday, I got an e-mail message from my friend Joe (not his real name). Joe is a good guy who means well. Like a handful of other people, he forwards jokes and other interesting tidbits to me via e-mail. The jokes are usually pretty funny, but not reprintable here. Many of the tidbits are Democrat- or Hillary-bashing exercises written up by some Republican party-liner to spread the hate. Some of the other tidbits are calls for action, like the one subject-lined “Got a Minute???” that arrived in my e-mail box. (And yes, it did have three question marks.)

The e-mail pointed me to a Xerox-sponsored Web site where you could design a card for and it would be printed and sent to a random service man or woman for free. Here’s the text of the message:

If you go to this web site, www.LetsSayThanks.com you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq . You can’t pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services.

How AMAZING it would be if we could get everyone we know to send one!!! This is a great site. Please send a card. It is FREE and it only takes a second.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the soldiers received a bunch of these? Whether you are for or against the war, our guys and gals over there need to know we are behind them…

This is wrong on so many levels:

  • This is obviously a public relations ploy by Xerox to make them look like the “we support our troops” good guys. It may seem like a huge effort by Xerox, but the cards you create online are sent to another support organization that randomly sticks them in boxes already going overseas to the troops. So for the cost of a few color printers and consumables, Xerox looks like a big supporter.
  • Can Americans honestly achieve the warm and cuddly “feel good” feelings they’re evidently trying to achieve by clicking a few buttons and filling our a form on a Web site? Is this an appropriate sacrifice to show support for our troops? It’s free and it takes a minute. Is this what we’ve sunk to? We can support the troops by visiting a free Web site and taking “a minute” to create card?
  • How do you think our service men and women really see these cards? These are machine-generated cards with a handful of standard “thank you” wishes. It’s the equivalent of handing a box of Hallmark cards to a stranger. Does it have any meaning? Do you honestly think the service people who get them feel adequately thanked when they get one? Or insulted that that’s the best we could do?

Amazing? That Americans can take a minute out of their day to click a few buttons on a Web site and send a free card? Pretty sad, if you ask me.

Now, I’m not stopping you from visiting the Web site and sending cards. Go right ahead. But don’t stop there.

True Support Takes More than a Minute

As you may have gathered, Joe’s e-mail pissed me off. I responded rather harshly, which will probably offend his Republican sensitivities. Although I don’t mean to hurt his feelings, sometimes you need to be harsh to bring people back to reality and help them see more of an issue than they already see.

But since I don’t feel that it’s right to criticize one solution without providing a better one, I spent about an hour doing my homework and came up with a better idea for folks interested in truly making a difference in a deployed soldier’s life.

I found a Web site called Any Soldier (www.anysoldier.com). It collects e-mail messages from real soldiers and marines in real military units. These service people explain where their units are based, what living conditions are like, and what kinds of things they need or want to make their lives a little nicer. The person sending the e-mail represents a group and has agreed to distribute any material addressed to “Any Soldier” at his or her address to the soldiers that most need or want these items.

Here’s an example e-mail posted on November 25:

Hi and thank you for this wonderful website. I am the leading petty officer for the Medical Department of the USS Tarawa. We are currently on deployment to the Gulf. I have many sailors who are not receiving packages/mail. This is causing a little dip in moral. Even though some families send extra stuff in the mail, it doesn’s even come close to covering all sailors out here. The following are a few items we deem a luxery out here:

Flushable baby wipes, female and male razors, body lotion, Sunscreen (30+ SPF), Lip Balm/gloss, Tiger Balm (for stiff muscles), or any muscle rub, White cotton crew neck t-shirts: S/M/L, Gum, Dental floss, Toothpaste, ponytail holders, bobby-pins (black/brown), Playing cards, Books (mystery, sci-fi, history), Movies (DVD), Music CD’s, writing paper, pens, pencils, post cards, Lysol or Clorox disinfecting wipes, Hand sanitizer, Q-tips, cotton balls, beef jerky, magazines (women and mens), sewing kits, instant coffee, cool-aid packets (single serve), crystal light single serve drink packets, tea, kleenex (tissues), double-sided tape, crossword puzzles.

Thank you so much!! We really do appreciate your support!


HM1(SW) [omitted]

Get the idea? An e-mail like this makes it possible to send a custom care package to service people who really need them. And look at these items! Lip balm, playing cards, Q-Tips, pencils! The cost of many of these items is trivial, especially when purchased in bulk at a place like Costco. But if they’re simply not available to these people where they’re deployed, they’re priceless.

Sending a care package sure sounds a lot better to me than sending a machine-generated greeting card.

Spend a Few Minutes and a Few Dollars

Here’s how you can read the e-mail messages from soldier in this program and get their deployed addresses to send them packages.

  1. Go to http://www.anysoldier.com/WhereToSend/.
  2. In the left column of the page, click the name of a soldier who has recently submitted an e-mail message.
  3. The message appears in the main part of the window. Read the message.
  4. If the person represents a unit you’d like to support with a care package, click the HERE link near the top of the page to get that person’s address. You’ll have to fill in a form with your contact information — I’m pretty sure this is for security reasons. When you submit the form, the address is e-mailed to you.
  5. Repeat this process as desired. You can request up to two addresses per day.

The soldier’s message page lists all of the e-mail messages that soldier has sent, so if a soldier has sent more than one message, you can read them all on one page. You can also see how many times that soldier’s address has been requested.

You can also donate to AnySoldier.com. Your donation helps keep the Web site alive. However I believe that if you have limited financial resources, they’re best spent sending items to the soldiers themselves.

Some Notes on Shipping

When the address for the service member arrives in your e-mail in box, it will include some links. Click the one beside “Restrictions to this address.” A Web page with additional shipping information appears. This is important information because it will provide additional details you’ll need for shipping. For example, the above-quoted service member’s location does not allow packages addressed to “Any Soldier,” etc. and must be accompanied by customs Form 2976-A if it weighs more than 16 ounces.

Although sending a care package to a deployed military unit does require you to do some extra paperwork, it really isn’t that much of a hassle. And it isn’t as expensive as you might think (from the U.S.), since you’re sending to a FPO address with a U.S. zip code.

Possibly the most cost-effective way to get a package to a deployed unit is with a U.S. Mail Priority Mail Flat Rate Box. This method of shipping costs the same ($8.95) no matter how heavy the box is, so you can fill it with magazines or books and it’ll still get there fast without costing you a fortune. (If you have a lot of printed material to send and don’t care how long it takes to get there, Media Mail is usually cheaper.) You can do all the paperwork to create and print a label, fill in the customs forms, and print postage right on the Postal Service’s Web site, www.usps.com.

All of the resources I’ve seen say that you must be quite specific about a package’s contents in the customs form. Packages may be X-rayed and if something inside the package looks suspicious and is not listed on the form, the package may be rejected or destroyed. Although you can make this easy by sending just a few types of items in a package, remember that this exercise is to provide support — not make your life easier. (If you want it easy, send a machine-generated card.)

When you package the items, be sure to keep edibles separate from non-editble or hygiene items. You wouldn’t want those cookies you baked tasting like deodorant when they arrive, would you? Also, be sure to fill empty spaces in the box with packing peanuts or air bags, etc. Shredded paper works, too. Be sure to properly pad any items that could be damaged in shipping.

And really get personal. Enclose a hand-written card addressed to the unit representative who took the time and effort to post the message on AnySoldier.com. Tell him or her what a great job they’re doing and how much you appreciate their efforts. If you don’t agree with the war, keep it to yourself — they don’t need to know that. Instead, just give them your wishes for a speedy and safe return home.

How can you get more involved?

First, spread this information to as many people who care about our service men and women as you can.

Contact your local school to see if the kids want to get involved by putting together care packages, drawing pictures, and creating cards for service members you can reach with this program. Ditto for your church group, if you have one, or other social organization.

If you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy care package items or pay for the postage to send them, getting others involved in your efforts could be a good way to say your thanks. Take a copy of an e-mail from a unit representative and approach friends and family members for their contributions. You can do the leg work and let busy people help out with the cost. If you approach 10 people and they each contribute an item and $1 toward the cost, you can easily send a nice little care package to someone who will appreciate it.

How AMAZING it would be if everyone who read this post or got this information from someone else who did sent out a custom care package to one of these units!

Remember what the holiday season is really all about — giving, caring, helping, sharing. Do your part to support our troops in a way they can really appreciate.

Have You Sent a Package?

If you’ve sent a care package to a unit using Any Soldier or a similar organization, I’d love to hear from you. What was your experience? Please let us know by adding a Comment to this post. Please don’t use this space to share information about sites similar to the Xerox-sponsored site mentioned above. They don’t impress me and I think our troops deserve a lot more sacrifice on our part — time, effort, and even a bit of money — than these “free card” sites could ever offer.