Sunday, January 27, 2019

What, again?

I think there's New England Patriots fatigue loose in the country.

The day after the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams each won their conference championships (heck, it might even have been by Sunday night), this revealing NFL meme popped up on Facebook:

My first instinct was to laugh.

My next instinct was to shake my head in serious agreement.

I can understand why America might be a little tired of the Patriots. Next Sunday, the Pats – with greatest-of-all-time quarterback Tom Brady – will be making their ninth appearance in the Super Bowl in this century.

In case you've forgotten, this century is only 18-plus years old.

Brady, who is 41 years old and seems to have lost absolutely nothing from his talent bag in almost two decades, will now have more appearances in the Super Bowl than any NFL team (other than the Patriots, of course).

If the Patriots beat the Rams next Sunday, it will be New England's sixth Super Bowl victory in an awesome span that began in 2001 with a 20-17 victory over the – really? – Rams, who were in St. Louis then. That also means Brady has stayed in one city longer than the Rams have in that time frame. Sheesh.

If the Patriots win and Brady should happen to win the Most Valuable Player award, it will be his fifth MVP trophy. He'll have more hardware in his trophy case than ACE (is the place).

That's nuts.

If they haven't already, the Patriots appear to have reached that sainted realm held almost exclusively by the nearly perennial champions New York Yankees, where you either love 'em or you hate 'em, and there's no middle ground. It's that kind of prestige.

In an informal survey that I conduct each morning during my workouts at the YMCA, I've been asking my friends if they're going to watch the Super Bowl this year.

"I dunno," is the most common reply. That in itself is a little revealing, since Super Bowl Sunday has turned into an excuse for National Party Day over the years. Everybody watches the Super Bowl.

But maybe that's changing. I myself plan to have the remote handy. If the Patriots are dominating, I'll probably do some channel surfing. I kinda like to know what's going on with the mystery of Oak Island, you know? But if the Rams – with whom I have no interest at all – are winning, I might stick around to see how things play out.

Right now, I haven't even paid much attention to the hype, which surely will ramp up this week. Ho-hum. Even Kim has threatened not to make her chili this year.

Maybe I can watch a replay of last year's Super Bowl. I'm a dyed-in-the-green Philadelphia Eagles fan, and I'll be living off the Eagles 41-33 victory over New England for the rest of my life. I still watch Nick Foles call for the Philly Special every chance I get.

Maybe the Rams have something special in their playbook, too. We'll see. Maybe.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Final notice

These days, getting the mail makes me a little nervous.

I think my age has something to do with it.

I got a piece of mail the other day from my former employer, The New York Times, which owned The Dispatch, the newspaper for which I worked 30 years before I retired in 2006.

Getting mail at this time of year usually means tax stuff.

This was not tax stuff. This was my annual notice that my life insurance benefit has been reduced. Again. It happens every year.

The $100,000 policy I signed up for when I was a working stiff back in my glory days is now down to $42,200. Last year, it was $60,800, so the annual drop-off rate appears to be accelerating at an alarming clip.

I'm sure actuarial tables are involved in the calculations somehow, but at this rate, I'll hardly have anything left for Kim to bury me with.

In fact, at this rate, I'll be owing them money in a couple of years.

Wait. What? I thought I was giving them money all these years. You know, those little forgettable deductions taken out of my paycheck that I hardly noticed.

I'm wondering if my insurer knows something about me that I don't. Clearly, my insurer is anticipating my impending death, which I guess is what insurance companies do. I guess they want to make sure that when I die, Kim has nothing extra left to, you know, live on.

There is some good news, though. My annual contribution for my shrinking coverage has dropped from $46.95 per month to $32.54 per month, which means my pension got a little bit larger. A tank of gas every two weeks larger. Thanks for that.

•  •  •

The insurance notice wasn't the only one I got.

Sports Illustrated, a magazine I've subscribed to since I was a junior in high school, sent me a second renewal notice that my subscription is about to expire. (There seems to be a lot of expiring going on around here).

I never got a first notice.

But it seems I can play a little game here. The second renewal notice said: "Because time is now a factor and you've been a loyal subscriber, the publishers of Sports Illustrated have given official approval to send you up to 9 ISSUES FREE! Renew today!"

I've been a subscriber for 51 years, so you'd think I'd get a cheap alarm clock or an ill-fitting sweatshirt or something from them just out of sheer gratitude. But nine free issues sounds acceptable. I think it's because of the word "free." I'm a sucker for anything that's free.

Maybe I can get my insurer to give me nine years of life insurance coverage for free. You know, just out of sheer gratitude for making all those payments for so long.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Memphis Belle

For a brief moment, as she lumbered down the runway at the Davidson County Airport, inexorably building airspeed, I found myself catching my breath.

A vintage B-17 World War II bomber, the famously named Memphis Belle, gained purchase and took to the air, its four Wright Cyclone engines wonderfully straining against gravity to fulfill their latest purpose, traveling through time.

She was beautiful. I nearly cried.

The Belle gained altitude, maybe a couple hundred feet or so, it's silhouette unmistakable perhaps even to the novice eye. She did a slow, graceful turn, followed with a heart-thumping flyby over the airfield, graciously dipping her wings in salute to the 30 or so spectators who gathered together on a cold Saturday morning to watch history go airborne.

The Memphis Belle, movie version.
When she reached the far end of the airfield, she made another casual turn, leveled out and then flew directly over our heads, engines pounding, heading south to Florida.

Oh, my. Did I really see what I just saw? The Memphis Belle? In Lexington?

Yes. Sort of.

A quick history lesson: The World War II version of the Memphis Belle, an early production B-17F piloted by Asheville's Robert Morgan, flew its first combat mission over France in November, 1942. It was United States Army Air Corps policy at the time to send aircrews home after completing 25 missions, and the Belle successfully completed her 25th mission on May 17, 1943. (Mission counts gradually increased as the war dragged on. Some airmen eventually flew 30, 40, 50 and even 60 or more missions).

The Memphis Belle, historically correct version.
But she wasn't the first to reach 25. Hell's Angels turned that trick three days earlier. It turns out that Hollywood director William Wyler, with 16mm cameras in hand, filmed an amazing on-board documentary about the Memphis Belle as it became clear she likely would complete her 25 missions. Guess who got the publicity? And so this is how history is made. (Afterwords Morgan asked Wyler what would he have done if the Belle hadn't returned from its last mission. Wyler replied that he had no problem because he also had plenty of footage of Hell's Angels, too).

Then, in 1990, a movie called Memphis Belle, starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, John Lithgow and Harry Connick Jr., was released. The flick is supposed to relate the story of the Belle's 25th mission, but it's actually a composite of many World War II bombing missions by many aircrews. It's not a bad flick as war movies go, but if you believe the movie, the Belle was lucky to survive its final flight. In actuality, the real Memphis Belle's 25th mission was a "routine" bomb run over Lorient, France. Nobody was hurt.

Anyway, the B-17 used in the movie was a modified B-17G, (The Sally B, I think) built in 1945, which features a twin .50 caliber machine gun chin turret under the nose to ward off head-on attacks favored by Nazi pilots. The Hollywood Memphis Belle had the chin turret removed, and it was this aircraft, the movie version, that was at the Davidson County Airport on Saturday.

The real Memphis Belle, the one that flew 25 combat missions, sits in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

One way you can tell the difference between the two planes is by the nose art. The name "Memphis Belle", written on the real Memphis Belle, is done in block letters. The name is written in cursive script on the movie plane. Something to do with permissions and copyrights, I think.

Anyway, none of this detracts one iota from what we saw on Saturday. Nearly 13,000 B-17s were built during the war, and today, only about a dozen are still airworthy. So when you see a B-17 take to the sky, you've really seen – and heard – something.

It might also be nice to remember what these planes were meant to do. The Eighth Air Force, of which the Memphis Belle was a member, lost more than 26,000 aircrew in the war – more than the entire United States Marine Corps (19,700 deaths) in that conflict. A crew member had a staggering one-in-five chance of not reaching his 25th mission. Soldiers in fox holes had a better survival rate.

Keep in mind, also, that most of these aircrews were boys in their 20s, flying missions in sub-zero temperatures at 25,000 feet, dodging dangerous Messerschmitts, Focke-Wulfs and flak along the way. Each bomber held 10 crewmen, so the casualty count adds up fast when a plane goes down. Then ask yourself, what makes a kid fly a 2,000-mile round-trip mission to drop eight bombs? (A B-17 usually carried eight 500-pound bombs, maybe more on a shorter mission).

Where does that come from?

It's enough to make you cry.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Flat Earthers

A month or so ago, we were watching a segment on CBS Sunday Morning – one of my favorite TV news shows ever – about people who believe the Earth is flat.

I was intrigued by the notion that there are people out there who believe the Earth is flat; that the sun and moon are relatively the same size to each other (explaining eclipses, I guess) hovering just several hundred miles above our heads; that there has been no human space exploration (the moon landings are Hollywood-quality productions); that, indeed, there is no gravity and Sir Isaac Newton got it all wrong; that the oceans are held in place by a wall of ice on the perimeter of this pancake that we live on, patrolled by NASA agents to make sure we don't climb the ice wall and fall off (although I don't know how we can fall if there's no gravity).

We've been lied to, according to Flat Earthers (FE's, in my world), ever since the days of Copernicus, who told us the sun is not the center of the universe. A round Earth is a centuries-long conspiracy. We nonbelievers, in fact, are told to wake up before it's too late,

If a round Earth is a conspiracy, I'm not sure what the end product of this conspiracy is supposed to be. Maybe it's anti-knowledge. Stop sending your kids to expensive colleges, where they clearly teach lies. Stop believing in government, in academia, because it's all a lie to get your money.

The Flat Earth Society claims about 200 people per year are joining its ranks, convinced the Earth is a disc more or less somehow suspended in space. NBA star Kyrie Irving is a former Duke student who tells people to "do the research." Hmm. And I thought he spent just one year at Duke because he declared for the NBA Draft early. Makes you want to see that transcript, huh?

Flat Earthers, apparently, have an answer to everything about this issue, and it gets pretty complicated – too complicated for me to get into in detail. I'm not a scientist, nor an anti-scientist. I'm a sports writer still trying to solve the mystery of the infield fly rule.

But my take on all this is that FE's say they are basing their beliefs on what they consider to be empirical evidence: they've never seen the curvature of the Earth with their own eyes; they don't believe a round Earth is spinning through space at 1,000 miles per hour because they haven't felt the effects of such speed, etc, etc.

Which leads me to my own empirical evidence:

When you're driving 60 miles per hour down the Interstate, is a fly leisurely buzzing around in your car flying at its own pace, or is it also doing 60 miles per hour down, just like you are?

If there's no gravity, why do our ear lobes, nose tips and breasts droop to our knees as we get older? Why do we get shorter in height as spinal compression works its magic?

Psst. It's gravity. That's empirical enough for me, brother.

Where's the equator on a flat Earth? If there's no equator, why do hurricanes rotate in a counterclockwise motion in the Northern hemisphere, but clockwise in the Southern hemisphere?

How do the season's change?

Clearly, you can't reason with people who believe what they believe despite what the evidence shows. Maybe Rudy Giuliani is correct after all: the truth is not the truth.

I'm not sure I want to get into conspiracies that are harder to explain than the actual science (or, as I call it, reality). I'll leave it to shows like Sunday Morning, where I can walk away thoroughly entertained and still wonder why the sky is Carolina blue.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Check this

Well, here it is, the second day of the new year.

And I had to go write a check.

OK. So I write down the amount, who's getting it and what it's for. Then I scribble my signature.

Finally, I fill in the date: January 2, 2018.

Oh, wait. Dammit. Did it again. I do it every year. The first check in January, and I put down the wrong year. It's automatic. I've had 365 days of writing down 2018, why wouldn't I write down 2018 again?

 I simply take my pen and try to morph the number 8 into a number 9. I do this by pressing down harder on the 8 with my pen and I simply bully the 8 to become a 9. It has no choice. It's 2019, so there. I'm pretty sure nobody will notice how bold the 9 has become.

But it's a lesson learned. The next time I write a check, when it comes time to fill in the date, I'll write: J-a-n-u-a-r-y whatever, 20 (pause) 19. Yes. I'll stop to remind myself that we're in a new year. I won't make that mistake again. Fool me once, you know.

I think.

I mean, when the year 2000 arrived, almost a decade ago now, the most unnatural thing for me to do was to write "2000" on my checks. It didn't feel right. I didn't look right. And while I'm pretty sure I didn't write any checks for 1999 after the millennium changed over, I think I did have to pause before I wrote 2000 on those first coupe of checks. I was about a week or two into the new year before everything was 2K OK.

I guess I'm just a creature of habit, and old habits die hard.