Some notes on Cuban trip December 3-7, 2018

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Only 90 miles or so from Miami but much more a foreign flavor. Only recently opened for foreign visitors by Obama who reversed the Bush embargo in 2009. Embassies appeared in 2015. Any US citizen can attend any professional meeting in Cuba but a visa must be obtained. Unclear what hoops must be jumped through to just be a tourist.

On December 3 – 7, the International symposium on altered consciousness and brain death was held. The very gracious Dr. Calixto Machado hosted us.  We stayed at the Habana Librae, the enormous hotel where the meeting was held. The hotel advertised Internet access but it never became available.

The meeting was interesting. It was mostly about the Jahi McMath situation and brain death. I’ll pass on comments regarding that as Michael Kuiper has summarized the daily activities for CCM-L.

My interest really lay in the awesome collection of vintage automobiles that filled the streets of Havana. Mostly 50s and 60s cars, many converted as taxis to show tourists the city. We did an hour and a half tour in a 1955 Chevy convertible.  It was fascinating (see photos later).

Our aim was to see “old Havana” and we did. Old Havana was named a notable historic city centers by UNESCO in 1982. Restored areas of Old Havana features styles from Baroque and neoclassical to art deco. It reminded me of parts of New Orleans a bit was very scary in some respects. Not terribly safe to walk about. Over 28,000 people currently live in unstable dwellings that could collapse without warning. USA Today recently reported almost 4000 building collapses from 2000 to 2013.  In 2016, Havana has a shortage of over 200,000 dwellings. Havana officials are using mostly tourist revenue to solve these problems.

The people of Havana are exceedingly friendly and helpful to foreigners, including Americans. The food in restaurants is always excellent and there is virtually no violent crime. It’s safe to walk anywhere. There are no guns. Interestingly there are also no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys or any other fast food place.

However, Americans are discriminated against within the economic system, No one in Cuba accepts any credit or debit card from any American bank. It’s cash and carry. American dollars are subject to a 10% tax when converted to Cuban Pesos, plus a 3% service fee. So converting an American dollar will get you 87 cents. However, one Euro will get you 1.14 Cuban Convertible Pesos, but when you go to convert dollars to Euros, the exchange rate at the airport is awful. I changed 700 dollars and got 550 Euros. So you get stiffed coming and going, exchanging anything.

You know me; I’m always on the lookout for interesting knick-knacks.  One of my wife’s friends begged her to bring back some Cuban cigars for her husband. I could have cared less. All cigars smell like dead cats, but I tagged along to the cigar shop just to see them. On arrival, I noticed a decorative (empty) humidor box with Che Guevara’s likeness (smoking a cigar of course) on it in high-resolution porcelain (see photo below). I looked at it for a long time while my wife purchased a box of ten cigars for what amounted to US$100.  Yes, ten bucks per cigar, and there were much more expensive ones available.

By the time I got back to our room, I was obsessed with it and had to have it. I went back and paid a bundle for it. It now graces my mantle. Note in the video also some female (very female) stick figure single cigar holders. I would have bought the entire collection but I ran out of money and had no way to get any more.

Che’s likeness is everywhere in Cuba, many next to Fidel. Che isn’t really a very high-end role model, but I kept my mouth shut about both him and Fidel.

Now for some interesting history about both Fidel and Che. After it became apparent that Castro was a bull blown “Communist” and was quickly aligning his new society after that of Soviet Russia. After the disastrous “Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961, Castro’s paranoia became exponential and he became convinced the Kennedy would follow this attack up with much heavier weapons, including nuclear arms. Castro begged Khrushchev to send arms for the protection of Cuba. Khrushchev saw this as an opportunity to place nuclear weapons in the Western hemisphere, under the nose of Kennedy who he considered a weak sister following the poorly planned and executed Bay of Pigs and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy was decisive enough to do anything about it. So off they went, as the Cubans worked to build bases where these weapons could be housed, all quickly spotted by U2 planes. The rest of this is history.

But what isn’t so clear is the nature of Castro’s fervor to revolutionize the world by violent means. Following the Cuban Revolution of 26 July 1959, Che became Castro’s right hand man for the spreading of the gospel of revolution to other Latin countries. Che was actually a physician but never did anything medical after becoming radicalized by witnessing the sorry plight of Latin America at the time. Che trained the Cuban military forces that repelled the Bay of Pigs attack and was central to the negotiations that would have brought nuclear weapons to Cuba. He wrote a seminal manual of guerrilla warfare. Che became convinced that most of the woes of the world were a direct result of Imperialism and capitalism (Americanism) that required a violent world revolution to counter it.

Che left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution initially (and unsuccessfully) in the Congo but ending up in Bolivia where American CIA quickly captured him assisted Bolivian troops and summarily shot without fanfare.  Following his death, Che rose to the position of a revered and reviled historical world figure and his likeness with the star beret was cited by the Maryland Institute of Art and “the most famous photograph in the world” (pretty doubtful But it’s up there in the top 20 maybe). Time Magazine named him as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

However, Che was also an advocate of brutal violence to create a utopian world that would quash any dissent, an anti-imperialist Marxist and outspoken anti-capitalist whose image has been made an idealistic commodity not unlike that of Robin Hood and Don Quixote. Che was involved in hundreds, maybe thousands of executions of those opposing the Revolution in several South American countries. Che openly despised the United States and everything about capitalism and a Republic governing system. He was very interested in starting a nuclear war with the Imperialists (us) and probably would have worked it out had the missiles from the USSR had actually been delivered to Cuba (diverted by Kennedy). The whole point of those missiles were to be used against “enemies”. He was a brutal Communist agitator and all of his history is filled with death.

So for what it’s worth, I have a really interesting portrait of him that continues to fascinate me. I also acquired a pastel painting I’ll frame this week. You’ll see it in the film.

Interesting trip that will become clearer as you watch the video below. A collection of some of the photos I took.

 

Enjoy if you have an interest.

D. Crippen, MD

The unfortunate death of Sears & Co

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Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card

Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.

They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall.  So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.

He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.

It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.

When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.

The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.

But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:

1. Vespas (and Allstates). The working class scooter. Not fancy, no amenities, rather plain in appearance. No class. Riders were pretty much ignored. They wore plain clothes (Photo 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Cushman Eagle (Photo 3). The roughneck’s ride. These were these guys that beat you up and took your lunch money. 4 cycle, suicide clutch putt-putts that sounded as mean as their owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
Department of Critical Care
UPMC

Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

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Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

Every year, we host the Formula One Powerboat racing series on the intersection of where the three rivers meet to form the Ohio River, a direct conduit to the Mississippi. The highest class of inshore powerboat racing in the world, similar to Formula Onecar racing. Each race lasts approximately 45 minutes following a circuit marked out in a selected stretch of water, usually a lake, river, dock, or sheltered bay.

The boats are actually shallow catamarans weighing about 860 pounds. They’re 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. The boats are all powered by Mercury V6 two-stroke engines generating over 400 horsepower.  Zero to 60 miles-per-hour in less than two seconds and a maximum speed of 155 miles-per-hour. Sanctioned races occur all over the world with multi-national drivers.

 

 

These boats remind me of my youth when similar powerboats raced on the lake in the center of my town. This would have been about 1960. The light wooden boats were of two varieties, longer “Runabouts” and flat “Hydroplanes”.  They were all powered by smaller 10 or 15 horsepower Mercury engines, modified for more RPM with “Quicksilver Lower Units) and racing propellers. There were probably other modifications. They were pretty fast for the time. The throttle controlled by a “dead man” lever that must be held together by the driver. If he was flipped out of the boat, the lever relaxed and the engine stopped.

Pre-race warm-up was accomplished by two guys holding the back of the boat up out of the water just high enough that the spinning prop would get some water into the cooling vanes. When warm, the boat was simply dropped with the driver leaning forward to maintain balance as the boat took off. The boats were loud and fast and flipped often; rarely an injury. It was “real” racing. If Satan had dropped by with a bargain to put me into one of those boats, I’d have to think about it.

 

Antarctica, February 2018. Crippens.

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They made it clear from the beginning; “This is not your father’s cruise”. This was an exploration, not a cruise. The plan was to traverse the usual peri-Antarctica islands and peninsulas to make our way through the Antarctic Circle to actually set foot on the continent. A rare event due to quirky weather and shifting ice masses.

The good ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov is a high tech wonder, outfitted with two fully functional engines, each with all redundant outfitting. Powered by a high efficiency fuel that if spilled, would float on top of the sea to be broken down by ultraviolet rays. 117 meters long, top speed 14.5 knots and strengthened for dealing with ice. She holds 97 souls and ten “Zodiacs” (outboard powered rubber boats each seating up to ten people and all their camera gear). The ship can go where most ships can’t and the Zodiacs can and do go anywhere.

Getting to the jump-off point, Punta Arenas, Chile was a very long and stressful series of airplanes and airports. For the trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, we flew in what appears to be the standard for crossing the infamous Drake Passage (more about that later). A curved wing, four engine plane built in England I suspect set up for short take-off and landing. We landed at the Chilean Air force Base on one of the peri-Antarctic peninsulas, basically a strip carved into the rock covered with permafrost.

We were really not prepared for the shock of our introduction to Antarctica. The aircraft landed on it’s left wheels down, right wheels up to assuage against the 30 knot 90 degree cross wind. It took three hops to get on all the wheels. The landing strip was build of rock and sand. On departing the plane we were greeted by intense cold, wind and snow. A barren landscape that could have been the moon. Then a one-mile walk from the landing strip the moored ship about a mile offshore, all the participants transported by Zodiac. Once on board the ship we were made very comfortable. Bunks and a shared bathroom.

The ship is of Russian registry and staffed by an all Russian crew and staff. When not touring in season, it goes back with Russian scientists to study the Antarctic area. The exploration was exceptionally well organized and operated by a Canadian group, “One Ocean”. They were magnificent and we felt very well cared for along this highly stressful trip. The food was excellent.

https://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com/antarctica

60% of the participants signed up through Cheeseman Ecology Tours but those guys were pretty much passive observers, having little if anything to do with running the ship and tour. They were available to discuss the ecology of the area and they did an excellent job. Ted Cheeseman is doing a PhD in Whale studies through an Australian university.

On the first day into the trip it all began. Up for breakfast at 7 am, donning heavy layers of dress and boots for cold conditions, out exploring in the Zodiacs till noon-ish, back for lunch, then out again in the afternoon till supper around 7 pm. Three or four layers of clothing takes about 30 minutes to get on, including heavy clunky rubber boots. Waterproof backpack to hold camera gear adds weight. Walking with all this stuff was like walking in a spacesuit.

Then climbing down a gangway from the ship deck to the Zodiac, gauging the bounce from waves to step in, hopefully not falling. Seats are along the sides of the rubber boat, I think a real risk for falling in the 2 degrees C water if the boat zigs and you zag. There were near misses. The Zodiac, armed with an experienced pilot and a 60 horsepower outboard, went on its way to search for things of interest and no-where was off limits. All of us on board were experienced photographers. Weather variable. Sometimes bright, sometimes wind, snow and freezing rain. Camera gear protected by waterproof sleeves. It got cold and miserable out there. Trying to get out of the Zodiac by swinging legs over to slippery rocks, then climbing varying distances was extremely difficult for me. Many times no place to sit.

At this point the best way to show you the trip is to show you the photos. I will introduce you to the Youtube videos I made from this trip.

The Youtube presentation photos were all taken with my Sony and high resolution. Watch it in full screen. I sorted through about 1000 photos to get what’s in these presentations, so they might be a little long but I could have easily put 500 photos into a collection.

https://youtu.be/gCWJ6uN51-I

This was a ten-day, high-energy expenditure, high stress endeavor, not counting getting to the ship from Pittsburgh. My aging physiology hit the wall about day 6. I learned that my physiology’s response to high-energy expenditure and high stress was to set limits on what it was prepared to mount to meet it. My body simply de-tuned and refused to meet any challenges. So I began to function at a de-tuned level. My appetite went completely, and the food aboard was great. I developed increasing weakness in my left leg, then all over and required assistance on the rolling decks. Urinary incontinence at night. My thinking processes slowed down. I became listless and apathetic, having to force myself to move.

So I learned I had to lower my energy expenditure, beginning day 6 limiting myself to one Zodiac excursion a day instead of two, sleeping in- skipping breakfast and taking my time dressing. I thought clinically about what I really needed to do to get through the day and worked to cut out any excess for the last four days. I may have missed some things but I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much.

Then the coup-de-grace, crossing the brutal Drake Crossing from Antarctica to Ushuaia, Argentina (considered a necessary part of the Antarctic experience). The Passage divides the cool, sub-polar conditions of southernmost South America from the frigid, Polar Regions of Antarctica. 600 miles and two days of reliably bad weather, high waves and rolling, bouncing decks. Passengers were lined up in front of the ship’s doctor’s door. Mercifully, I did not get seasick but it was pretty uncomfortable trying to eat and sleep when you’re chasing food across the table and holding on to avoid being tossed out of my bunk.

It was a hard trip from stem to stern and when I finally got home after two days in airports and airplanes, I just collapsed for a day. But it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event not many get to experience.

Addendum: a word about Whales.

99.9% of the entire whale population was decimated before the year 2000. It became obvious that something had to be done so an International consortium was formed to regulate the issue and harass scofflaws (Japan). Most of the blubber rendered in Norway is used to make margarine. Today, the hunting and killing of whales is no longer the main cause of their population decline. It’s now them getting snagged in lobster and shrimp traps and getting hit by fast moving ships in shipping lanes. Strategy for “saving whales” is ongoing by very hard working scientists and populations are increasing.

Whales have to “think-to-breathe” because they must coordinate a deep breath every time they dive. They can dive to very deep regions and stay down a long time. They collapse their lungs when they dive. They can regulate their heart rate (slow it) so blood flow to blubber is minimized and flow maximized to internal organs. Their hemoglobin is specialized to allow a much longer period of time for absorption of oxygen to the tissues.

Besides humans, their only natural enemy is the Orca, (Killer Whale- not a whale, a dolphin). Orcas are the “wolves of the sea”. An Orca will place itself on top of a whale not allowing it to surface to breathe. They can tag team a whale, another team Orca taking over when one gets tired. The whale eventually drowns and is made a hearty meal for every Orca in the vicinity.

Interested in such a trio? Be sure you’re ready for a LOT of stress and energy expenditure. There is nowhere to go if you get sick or hurt. Contact me if you are considering such a trip.

A passing: Charlie Manson (1934- 2017)

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Books have been written and movies made about Charlie over the past 50 years. It’s a little surprising that he lasted in what amounted to a cloister for this period of time.

A lot is said today about Charlie’s personality, but I think he’s at least as important as a signpost for the era in time he was a part of. An era in which none of the Pitt students enrolled in my “America in the 60s” class were alive. At some point, the professor asked how many in a class of 50 students had seen “Dr. Strangelove”. No hands went up. Earlier, she asked how many were watching “Vietnam”, the groundbreaking documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. One person.

The 60s came and went with a lot of notice at the time but quickly forgotten by Generation Z. But it’s important for little other reason that because Charlie and his girls probably could not have prospered in any other era. A world with no limits. A world of “Easy Rider” and “Groupies”, a universe of unlimited expansion of the individual and rejection of conformity.

A spontaneous pilgrimage of the faithful, Woodstock (August, ’69) symbolized 60s idealism, but it only hinted at the final demise of the decade of love. The Vietnam War continued, the subservient role of women in the counterculture continued, LSD use diminished and most of the illustrious musical groups of the age died or broke up.

The real end came almost simultaneously with Manson and Altamont, both in the fall of 1969. Manson et al “expanding” their consciousness to forge conflict in a country of “peace & Love” based on rock lyrics eventually leaving the “Family” on top. Altamont, a “free concert” where everything possible to go wrong did, including violence and death.

One of the fundamental myths that the sixties articulated was that some benefit accrued from testing the bounds of human capability and expansion of the mind. It was an era in search of the lost chord. Dissonant notes from political, spiritual, chemical, historical and media influences that come together to form a homogenous chord. The object of total freedom was to find Nirvana, but with little guidance, free-living tribes of the late 60s could just as easily evolve to their lowest denominator. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Jim Morrison searched for his soul by bolting through the “Doors of Perception”, immersing his persona in cathartic rock music masquerading as social profundity. In the end, Jim never found the values of freedom and self-expression his performance stood for, reaching too far for answers unobtainable. Janis Joplin made love to thousands of adoring zealots at the Fillmore, then ultimately died alone and lonely.

The Manson Family remains a vision of the “dark side” of the 60s era, the line no one knew was there till they crossed it. If there is an afterlife, one might rightly think that Charley will meet the same people going down that he met coming up.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Formula One at Monza today 9/3/17

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Some issues about Formula One for those interested. At Monza today, Mercedes one-two win at Monza, Ferrari third.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to understand the passion for Formula One you have to understand the Passion for Ferrari (demonstrated massively at Monza,

the Italian Grand Prix). Ferrari is not a brand, it’s an obsession. The proprietary passenger automobiles are not motorized vehicles; they’re living beasts that envelop their drivers who become integral parts of the car. Their owners/drivers are insanely passionate about them. The cars rarely diminish much in value with age and some of the older ones enter the upper ionosphere of value, with no end in sight. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car in history, selling in a private transaction for US$38.1 million.

This race at Monza marks 70 years of the Ferrari badge in motorcar racing. The first Ferrari-badged car was the 1947 125 S, powered by a 1.5 L V12 engine. Enzo Ferrari’s only real interest was racing so in order to finance these efforts, Enzo developed and sold proprietary automobiles to fund “Scuderia Ferrari” (Ferrari Stable). Ferrari is the most successful racing team in Formula One history, holding the most constructors championships and producing the most winning drivers.


The prancing black horse on a yellow background with green, white and red stripes is one of the most recognized brand icons in the world.

That design originally graced the fuselage of a WW I Italian fighter plane flown by Italian Ace Francesco Baracca. After his death, Francisco’s wife asked Enzo to use this horse on his cars, suggesting that it would bring him good luck. Ferrari chose to have the horse in black (as it had been painted as a sign of grief on Baracca’s squadron planes after the pilot was killed in action) and he added a canary yellow background, as this is the color of the city of Modena, his birthplace. All racing Ferraris and most of the passenger cars carry this badge on the front flank of the car by tradition.

Only a few American drivers have consistently driven for the Scuderia, most notably of whom would be Mario Andretti, pound for pound maybe the most skillful driver still living. Through the years, Phil Hill from the 50s is included in the thin Americans list. I ran into Phil Hill at Leguna Seca in the mid 80s during my tenure as an assistant medical director of CART and we spoke a bit about the old days. He was a fantastic guy and I was lucky to know him. I have an autographed photo somewhere.

At any rate, Formula One has evolved to be one of the most popular and best-attended sporting events in history, commanding a total global television audience of 425 million (in the 2014 season). Many of the incredible technological advances are handed down to passenger cars including tire design, disc brakes, aerodynamics and many safety issues. It’s said that the engines in Ferrari passenger cars are essentially retired F1 engines.
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Formula One cars are the fastest road course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 233 mph with engines currently limited in performance to a maximum of 15,000 rpm. The cars are capable of lateral acceleration in excess of six g’s in corners. The cars are very dependent on electronics and are said by some to be computers chauffeured by humans. They have radically evolved and changed through the history of the sport. I have always suspected that Ayrton Senna was killed at San Marino 1n 1994 simply because his ability to out-think the on-board computer lapsed for an instant and the computer made a bad decision at speed Ayrton was too slow to correct.

Posers competing with Formula One include NASCAR and the reconstituted IndyCar Series (from CART- Championship Auto Racing Teams). I have never understood the lure of a huge pack of cars traversing an oval track in a mob, but that’s just a personal observation. I know Indy Cars well but it isn’t your father’s sport anymore. Many of the drivers came from Formula One or other foreign venues and all the guys I used to know are retired so it’s lost it’s interest value for me. It’s a very “American” endeavor where F1 is a truly global sport, encompassing races in 42 countries.

There are two things wrong with Formula One right now that really need addressing.

  1. Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton (UK) is winning too many races and it’s bad for the sport. The real competition in F1 occurs after the usual 4th place finish, back in the pack where there are some really excellent drivers. Watching Hamilton (and his team mate Bottas at Mercedes) win all the time is starting to get tedious, but the history of this kind of thing is replete in F1 (Michael Schumacher). Eventually the rest of the pack will catch up but the Hamilton era isn’t without controversy.Louis isn’t a particularly well-liked competitor and routinely gets boos from the crowd. Unclear why, other than his “jet set” lifestyle off course. Also unclear is whether Louis is really “that good” of a driver, his car being the winning component. The Mercedes “Silver Arrow” is clearly the fastest and most reliable car on the circuit. If Louis is on the poll, it’s very difficult for anyone else to pass him. It would be interesting to put some of the really strong middle-of-the-pack talents into Hamilton’s car and see how they did. Especially Max Verstappen (Holland) and Dan Ricciardo (Australia). It would not surprise me in the slightest if either of these drivers walked away from the pack in Hamilton’s car. That said, the two Ferrari drivers have done well, Sebastian Vettel (Germany) holding the lead in the points until Monza, but the Ferraris are simply not as fast as the Silver Arrows. They made a lot of advances from 2016 but not good enough. So Ferrari is still faster than Red Bull but they have to come up with a better car for 2018. Also, we’ll also see who’s sitting in what car during the “Silly Season”; drivers signing contracts with teams. Sometimes big surprises.
  1. The strict FIA rules regarding changes in the cars after qualifying and before the race need to be looked at because they’re unfairly penalizing the younger teams, still sorting out their cars. This race, outstanding driver Daniel Ricciardo got a “grid penalty” (dropping his previous line in qualifying) because his team had to change a gearbox. This is ridiculous. Daniel is an excellent driver and had a really good shot at the podium (finishing first, second or third). Instead he dropped to the back of the pack, as did hot shoe Max Verstappen for a similar technical offence, an out of place engine change. These rules hurt the sport and should be re-thought.

That’s it for the European races. Next race is Singapore Sept 17.

Mergers & Acquisitions Dept: New Chevy Bolt

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As many of you might recall, I predicted a long time ago that within five years or so (as of that prediction), American highways would be replete with electric cars. At that time I really wanted the Lotus Ethos, but Lotus fell on hard financial times and it never came to fruit:

http://www.bestgreencars.com/all-green-cars/2015/1/11/lotus-ethos-plug-in-hybrid-mini-car-concept

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Complaints and sour grapes that the current lithium battery technology is inadequate for widespread use and potentially dangerous have not stopped innovation and the proliferation of all-electric cars. Now virtually all the major car companies have a model either in production or on the drawing board.

The first was the Prius Hybrid that simply used electric power to augment its pretty standard engine. Mainly what it did was shut off the engine during stops, a huge gas savings. The early Prius got nearly 50 mph which was a big deal in the age of four dollar a gallon gas. Later iterations of the Prius were more efficient but it still ran mainly on a gas engine.

When the Tesla first came out in 2008, it was an electric engine in a Lotus Elise body. It was heavy and ponderous but went over 200 miles on a charge, a radical departure from the hybrids. Then the expensive model S came along in 2012 and sealed the deal. The only car Consumer Reports in it’s history gave a 100% rating. The more affordable model 3 is due for wide distribution in about a year.

Tesla has done two things, they proved that wide use of all electric was feasible and they’re leading the charge in recharging innovation. What’s coming down the road, so to speak, with Tesla is a wide network of 90-second battery changes. Down with the spent battery, up with a new fresh one. But when considering Tesla, one must remember that their re-charging hardware is proprietary. Only works with Tesla, which would be a bit of a logistics problem as standardized connections proliferate across the country.

So I have a car coming up to the end of the lease and I will be turning it in. My wife started to develop an interest in electric cars. She would be the perfect person to use one. She rarely makes long trips (can use another car if needed) and there are dedicated recharging stations at the hospital where she works and they’re free. Technically, she could use those stations every day to keep the car charged. She’s never seen another electric car parked at those stations and at the time she arrives (6:30 am) she would always have one available.

After much research, she decided to purchase a new Chevy Bolt (with a “B” not the Volt). Chevy’s new all-electric, said to have (all other things equal) a range of well over 200 miles per charge. The price was reasonable, under $40,000 with all the trimmings and safety equipment. Side mirror blind spot indicators, backup warning, “all around the car” camera that shows the entire circumference of the car, back up camera and most interestingly, the rear view mirror isn’t glass, it’s a camera that shows a wide view of the rear of the car when underway. Said also to carry a $7500 tax break for purchasing one.

When I looked into this, what surprised me most was the exploding number of re-charge points around the country. Most at restaurants and hotels but most along major highways. You really can go 150 miles, plug in somewhere and continue this indefinitely, even in lesser States than California.. There’s one at the Dunkin’ Donuts right down the road from us. Free. Google Maps now shows charging stations nationwide.

But it turns out that understanding charging points is a bit of a learning curve. One would think that the connectors for charging stations would be standardized, but noooooo, there are three different female receptors out there. One for “Asian” cars, one for American and European cars and one for Tesla. They are not interchangeable. Nissan one only works installed the charging center down at the local “Drunken Donuts” for the Nissan Leaf. The manager of the facility knows nothing about the charging station. Nissan just used their property.

So in planning trips, one has to specifically look for the “right” kind of connector. At home, the car plugs into any normal two-prong 110 wall receptor and takes about 20 hours to fully charge on 110. Much faster on 220 but an electrician has to set that up. My wife charges every day at the Receptors located where she works at UPMC St. Margaret, where she’s never seen another car charging there. Yet. All the hospitals now have plug-ins.

When I got to drive this thing, I was also surprised at how quick and quiet it is. There is virtually no sound other than some minimal road whine. 0 – 60 mph in about 6 seconds, which is pretty quick and instant, torque. That works for me as I’m constitutionally incapable of getting to 60 in more than 6 seconds, four is better. But my wife is worse which is why I carry a lot of insurance on her. The dash has a huge computer screen where everything can be viewed. Car has Bluetooth, a rolling WiFi hotspot, pretty good radio, comfortable seats and adequate creature comfort. There is no routine maintenance. Rotate the tires once a year.

There is a handle on the left side of the steering wheel that when applied as the car goes down a hill, applies the brakes progressively and re-charges the battery, extending it’s road life somewhat.

Like I said before, this is an idea that’s time has definitely come. This car, the Bolt, has won both Car & Driver and Motor Trend car of the year. There was a minor crump of some of the batteries recently affecting less than 100 cars and it’s been fixed. Battery warranty is 8 years.

Look for a massive splash of these cars, and dramatic improvements in road-ability, as the technology gets better in time.

I’m a car-guy of the first order and I’m definitely impressed with this car. Check it out if you have an interest.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM

An editorial comment on Trump at 6 months

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DISCLAIMER: What follows is a piece I just wrote for a political blog. It is a personal opinion and nothing else. I’m sending it to you simply because I can (occasionally). I am not using a UPMC server and this is not a comprehensive list of everyone in any Department. Enjoy if you have an interest. Dump if not.


From Mike Allen of AXIOS this morning:

“Trump is at real risk of losing his party. His base voters are remaining steadfast,
but Republican senators are getting increasingly impatient and resistant.
Sen. John McCain’s surprise thumbs-down on health care is likely the beginning
of a wave of defections from establishment Republicans. It’s rarely discussed
publicly, but people in government say that a domestic attack — although unlikely
to be on the scale of 9/11 because of all the countermeasures that have been
added — is a constant possibility. And critics and skeptics worry about ways
Trump could consolidate power in the wake of such an event. We put
Bob Mueller last just because the special counsel gets so much attention.
But make no mistake: The special counsel’s investigation remains the
existential threat to this presidency. Reuters reported that Mueller just added
a 16th lawyer to his team — Greg Andres, who has experience prosecuting
illegal foreign bribery.”

“Also on the WashPost front page … “Senate GOP’s frustrations with Trump
bubbling up,” by Sean Sullivan: “Some are describing the dynamic in cold,
transactional terms, speaking of Trump as more of a supporting actor than
the marquee leader of the Republican Party.”


I say: I’ve always thought that Trump’s “base” will never desert him no matter what he does or how he does it. The point of being tipped into power by relatively dogmatic rednecks is that they obviously believe what he says (in his tweets) other than what the reality is. Several interviews with groups of his “supporters” in Kentucky and Ohio show that they simply don’t believe anything the nightly news reports and they don’t read the Grey Lady or the Washington Post. Trump says his first six months have been absolutely stellar and they hang on his every word.

However, the “base” that tipped him into this unexpected (by everyone else) victory was a relatively small number, and that number is slowly but progressively decreasing. Unclear if the same election was held tomorrow, that tip would occur. There have been defections. The base will always remain but may not be politically active in 2018, and especially 2020. The American voters may still prefer conservative politicians, but that doesn’t necessarily include Trump.

If and when Trump goes down, it won’t be because of style but substance. Few if any of his promises to his base have much chance of coming to pass. The incredibly bad health care bill is mercifully dead, hopefully forever. His promises to “drain the swamp” simply diverted the swamp to the White House. Promises to save coal are ludicrous. His disbelief of global warming is harmful. It isn’t up to him to “increase jobs”. It’s up to many factors he has no control over. The “wall” is a joke, especially the Mexicans paying for it. But some very big issues remain. Whether or not his rabid base chooses to see it, the Russian thing has now developed into a very, very big problem for Trump. The obvious Russian thing plus the intentional lying and deception Trump is caught in by Washington Post reporters who have devoted their lives and 18 hour days to ferreting out these lies shortly after he utters them. The intentional deceptions may not be noticed by the rabble, but you can be sure they are by the Republican establishment, few of whom supported Trump initially and most of whom are only paying lip service to him today.

Fewer Republicans are smiling. That John McCain and the two women Senators made a big splash of defying him in the face of personal threats would have never happened six months ago. The new book by respected Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake raggedly trashing Trump and the horse he rode in on would never have seen the light of day last December. The Republicans are decidedly as worried so much about being ravaged by Democrats in 2018 or even 2020 as they are their own party ultrastructure collapsing. Since there are no clear Democratic threats showing up, that could happen. If it does, they will lose everything pretty much by default.

The “Great Man” theory suggests that times of crisis creates a “Great Man (or Woman)” to arise and lead the population out of danger. In fact, Contrary to Trump’s tweets, our population is in crisis indeed, and great danger. We’re led by a President who makes decisions capriciously, impulsively, with little or no thought as to long range implications and sometimes according to the last “authority” that advises him. This kind of leader is a serious problem in a world where long range missiles are aimed at us from one side and malicious computer experts on the other. A world where the Middle East can explode at any time and the Chancellor of Germany publicly states that Europe has no confidence in Trump and they’re on their own. A scary place indeed, with a blundering incompetent leader of the free world at the helm.

The burning question at the moment is what, if anything, can be done to minimize the danger of Trump. There continues to be some interest in some quarters to remove him by impeachment, but that’s highly unlikely in a regime controlled by Republicans. If Clinton couldn’t be found guilty in impeachment, Charlie Manson probably wouldn’t either. Besides, if Trump were removed, a smiling, dapper Mike Pence would ascend, a man who really believes ultra conservative Republican nonsense and enthusiastically putting the country under it’s jackboot. Trump is a better deal than Pence if for no other reason than his inherent inefficiency makes it harder for his party to establish it’s black-hearted goal.

I suspect nothing can be done about Trump for the near future and we’re all going to cross our fingers and hope that ineffectualness will breed less danger than a committed charge into guaranteed danger. At Trump’s current rate, little if anything will change and little will get done. In addition, Trump doesn’t see this light yet but Robert Muller is lurking in the background with a bevy of very knowledgeable specialty lawyers and they’re digging like Robert Costa of the Wash Post does, just not reporting any of their findings yet. You can bet they have Trump’s tax forms. When Muller does come to light, and it’s likely to come before 2018, it will be a blinding flash that no one sill be capable of ignoring, not even the “base”. But the base won’t matter then. It will matter to the Republicans, and matter a lot.

I mentioned the “Great (Wo)Man Theory” a while back. Unclear if this will happen before 2020, but we might see signs of it in the Senatorial race of 2018. Will Democrats get a majority of either house, making it virtually impossible for Republicans to get anything meaningful done? Unclear yet. Despite all the pleas for bi-partisan discussions on just about everything, it isn’t happening, and few pundits suggest it ever will. Either side has more to lose than gain by doing so. It will always be a scorched earth battleground, whoever survives the carnage wins (need I mention the Toomey vs McGinty Senate race in Pennsylvania, 2016).

There are some interesting possibilities on the horizon, many of whom have guested on the Charlie Rose show (a really excellent forum). Republican Senator (R. Utah) started out life as a Tea Partier but has become more moderate. He related some good ideas on Charlie Rose a while back. A little too conservative to my taste but I think might be up and coming.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Lee_(U.S._politician)

Even Jeff Flake (R. Arizona) has been a round for a long time and has emerged as pretty much a voice of reason.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Flake

On the Democratic side, forget Elizabeth Warren, she blew it all out for Hillary. Al Franken? Maybe, but not terribly well thought of by the power structure. Keep your eye on South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Buttigieg

He has impeccable credentials and could arise to be a force for the Democrats?

At any rate, it appears that, like it or not, we’re stuck with trying to limit incompetence for the foreseeable future, not forge ahead constructively. We will be what we are, a large group of “The Apprentice” contestants, overseen by the master who know how to get the best ratings. In the end, much drama and confusion, but ratings likely to drop as the short-span-of-attention audience gets bored, then dropped by the networks. We’ll see in 2018.

Addendum 08/0317

On the NBC News last night, the talking head mentioned that the economy is doing pretty well for the last couple of quarters, even as the White House quagmire continues unabated. I would be pretty happy about this as far as it goes, but be very wary of Wall Street in general and bull markets in particular for at least two good reasons:

  1. None of this has anything to do with Trump other than he’s loosened some regulations that protect consumers. Amazon is booming because no one goes out of their house to a store anymore. That will all come tumbling down when these huge storefronts that employ millions of people come tumbling down. Apple is booming because everyone in the country continues to purchase various stripes of computers with no end in sight and the new iPhone 8 is getting a big push. None of this has anything to do with Trump who if you recall promised to get all the coal mining jobs back. Many other businesses continue to move overseas.

  2. Wall Street variations are, by their nature, fickle, based on smoke, mirror and vapor. Recall that Wall Street goodies also increased after George W. Bush and Obama, larger than what’s happening under Trump. It’s all just based on expectations. Recall the “dot.com” boom a while back thought to never end. Recall the housing boom of 2006 based on lack of regulation, no one watching them. Don’t worry. Business thinks they’re getting a pass on regulations that will allow them to take risk with someone else’s money for a while. But in the end, all risky maneuvers flop and when they do, it’s the public’s money that will be lost. Recall also that not one of those that caused the recession of 2008 are in jail today. Ups always turn to downs, and now that regulations are lax, it’s only a matter of time.

Wall Street is a VERY bad proposition to hang hopes on. The Trump presidency is in VERY deep trouble, and Wall Street is a very fat red herring.

Further reflections on a U2 concert, Pittsburgh, 6-7-17

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There’s something about the energy of a world-class rock band playing to a throbbing throng of 40,000 people in a stadium. It’s infectious and a rare opportunity to people watch.

So it was with the Irish band U2 Wednesday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Normally, I would watch them on TV to avoid the obligatory expense and congestion of getting to and from such a huge venue, but the first on-stage performance of The Joshua Tree piqued my interest. It is the 30th anniversary of the time I saw them perform it last in 1987.

It was in Indianapolis and I happened to be there visiting family. I had had just started my career as a junior attending at St. Francis at the time. The event was at the then Market Square Arena that I think might have held about 15,000 souls. U2 was not nearly as famous as they are now and the event was not sold out. I had a good seat.

As a personal aside, at the end of the concert when the lights came up, I happened to turn to face a kid sitting next to me and we caught each other’s eye for a moment. I was 44 years old starting my life and he couldn’t have been more than 18 starting his. We silently connected for a moment, smiled at each other and went on our way. I thought about that encounter all the way home in my car, ultimately to pull out a sheet of paper & pen and write a hasty poem about the encounter, I will provide at the end of this missive for anyone interested.

I loved that album and still do. I think The Joshua Tree is among the top collections of incredible music ever put on vinyl. It transformed a post-punk U2 to a world-class phenomenon where they reside today, but they never matched that album again. U2 is a very unique band if for no other reason that they continue to like and respect each other from the time they started playing together in high school in Dublin. That’s VERY unusual. The never lost the focus that made them great.

But at age 57, the heart and soul of U2, Bono (Paul Hewson) is getting a little long in the tooth for these kinds of gigs. These days, he’s more of a full time social and political activist. He’s always been that way but nowadays, he has a lot more money to plug into it. They’ve been doing this for a long time, not as long as the Rolling Uglies, but long enough to where it’s getting just a little strained. I think that the Foo Fighters, only a few years younger, have ascended to that rarified air maybe gently pushing at them. But, all that aside, so begins my many complaints with this gig.

Firstly, it was expensive. Very expensive to get seats where much can actually be seen live. That’s just the way it is for stadium performances of any stripe. The closer to the podium, the more expensive it got. I was willing to sport for this expense because I really wanted to “see” the band. So perusing the seating map of Heinz field, I selected two seats that would be to the side, closely visualizing the stage at about a 45 degree angle, halfway up. Perfect vantage according to the map.

Then came parking. Oh, you want to park? Maybe somewhere less than a mile from the stadium? Well, those spots are “available” at exponentially increasing prices. So more money outlay, all pretty smoothly from StubHub by the way. Legalized scalping but necessary to get any efficiency in a huge congested area.

Safety measures at the arena were in place of course. No purses over a few inches in length. No full sized cameras. Metal detectors for all. iPhones OK. Close observation of everyone entering. However, once inside, I didn’t see any police. The stadium is exceptionally well laid out, with plenty of bathrooms and food between every entrance to the seating area. A hot dog and small coke $11.25.

Once in the seating area, I found that the stage had been moved forward significantly from where it was supposed to be on the previous map. From my vantage, I was looking at the stage from a 90-degree angle, unable to see the huge screen behind them. The actual performing area was far enough away that no details could be made out. The promoters should NEVER have allowed these seats to be sold, and there were only a few there. No one to my right, even further out. These were terrible seats.

Then to add insult to injury, when the band emerged at about 9 pm, they played their first set from a “B Stage” on the opposite side of the field!! It might as well have been an ant colony from where I was. The people had had less expensive seats on the other side of the field had incredible views and the “standees” were right next to the stage. I was furious. The band should never have allowed this insult to those on the opposite side of the field.

They did eventually move to the center stage to play the Joshua Tree standards but they weren’t playing them the way they were on the album and I know every note on the album. It’s probably impossible to play a complex studio album live anyway but it wasn’t the same and it showed. I was disappointed. The iconic song “Streets with no name” was done much, much better in 2009. Please watch it all the way through. It’s spellbinding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzZWSrr5wFI

The musicology of the band was pretty well preserved. Bono hit the high notes pretty well, better than Roger Daltrey I think. The Edge (Dave Evans) played masterfully from his guitar effects rig, as complex as a Boeing 747 dashboard. Bass player Adam Clayton was typically reserved. But the really interesting observation was the drummer Larry Mullen Jr. He was the hardest working man on the stage. He was amazing, in constant motion, working all of the skins to perfection. Neal Pert of Rush is considered a “greater” drummer but he has a stage full of drum kit completely surrounding him. Mullin has a “standard” kit and he uses all of it to perfection.

Here’s a passable previous performance of my favorite song off the album: “One Tree Hill”, not as good as the vinyl but showing off the entire band. This is a truly great song; one of the songs that made them stars, I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrlmhnBlH0Q

All things considered, I was very disappointed. I think the band is losing its musical edge as Bono spouts some of his political displeasure from the stage and increasing pyrotechnics slowly displaces intricacy. I paid a lot for really crummy seats that the promoters knew were crummy when they sold them. The band favored one side of the arena, stiffing the other side. They surely must have known this in advance.

I give this event a miserable one and a half of five bright lights. Be very careful before you buy tickets to this event. Find out more about seating before you lay a lot of money out.

REFLECTIONS AT A U-2 CONCERT

“Warily we fix each other,
this testament to my immortality and I.
All of fifteen, a shock of blond hair,
jacket collar insouciantly upturned.
I stand a paradox to him.

Similar in garb, but with an air of cynicism
born of war and pestilence,
The burden of human life balanced upon my fragile whims,
and having been to a county fair or two.

When I became a man, I did not put aside childish things.
He weighs this curiosity in silence,
portending a specter of myself in another lifetime,
for now an intruder in his world.

The band dispenses promises of hope and fulfillment;
deafening undercurrents finding common ground within us,
plucking his imagination as it once did mine.
But that was another time, another world.

I thoughtfully study technical nuances.
He conjures revelations of peace and love from nonsense,
and eyes me with curiosity
and rejoins me with an unexpected smile.

Behold my apocalypse,
this child, father to the man, prophesy yet to be fulfilled,
destined to go forth into the darkness, as I have done,
and keep the candle burning”.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

The Crippen visit Alaska (May, 2017)

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We had decided to visit the Alaska coast and glaciers before global warming melted it all. Much of it is only accessible by either aircraft or boat, so a formal “cruise” seemed to be the best way to see it all in comfort. There are many of them registered in several countries; we chose the “Princess” line for no particular reason, and for the most part it worked well for us. I’m told that most other lines are similar and they all plod the same route.

I’ve already mentioned the nightmare of having to get into Canada through the monstrously huge port of Vancouver, standing for hours, then standing for hours again getting back into the USA to get on the ship. Then came the comical x-raying of all luggage entering the ship looking for any form of alcohol (they discard it).

Yes, no one can bring any alcohol aboard. They sell it to you at a tidy profit, along with any other form of liquid other than water and coffee or tea. Every can of coke, mixed drink, glass of wine, cup of hot chocolate must be individually signed off against your tab and it piles up quickly. I must say an extremely irritating nickel & dimeing for their profit margin.

Otherwise, the stateroom was quite comfortable and accommodating. Each has a private deck overlooking the water. A TV set with a pretty lousy array of programming. Internet access was satellite and expensive, 69 cents a minute and each minute trying to connect to the system was counted. I spent ten minutes waiting (and paying) before I figured out the system was too slow to work.

The ship was a huge, Leviathan-like beast that cruised along about 16 knots or so but was big enough that seasickness wasn’t an issue. All the logistics of moving about the ship were flawless. No standing in line anywhere. There were multiple restaurants of all types, the food was excellent and there was a lot of it. All kinds of things, art shows, live entertainment, lectures by experts in various things, exhibits. There was plenty of room on various decks to lounge around. The staff were all very kind and accommodating.

First stop was Ketchikan, Alaska where we had arranged a seaplane flight up into the rain forest fiords. This was an interesting trip but the pilot was particularly interesting. The woman bush pilot that owned and flew the plane originally came from Nebraska to visit and she stayed. She started out with a light Cessna 172 carrying people around, then graduated to a more powerful 182 then finally she ended up with an old but venerable 1959 de Havilland Beaver, the classic work horse of Alaskan bush pilots.

This beast has a rotary piston engine, can take off and land in short distances and carry a lot of weight (see photo in my youtube presentation at the end). We had a great flight into the wild and I got some good photos. No way to see any of this except by air. No roads at all.

This gal exemplifies “fiercely independent” doing it all her way all the way. She’s in her 50s now, flying since she was 16 years old. But she’s worried about her future. This (and most of the other) aircraft use 100-octane low-lead aviation gasoline, which is expensive. The maker of that fuel isn’t making enough profit and so they’re threatening to quit making it, which will bring most of these kinds of aircraft to a halt.

Also, 9 pistons in a rotary fashion move the unique crankshaft of this engine and it needs to be re-built every so often as there are a lot of stresses on it. These planes are getting old and are disappearing as they age. The numbers of serviceable crankshafts are slowly disappearing and no new ones are being made. This aircraft could die on the vine in time. They’re already expensive to maintain, around US$100,000 a year for an aircraft that costs half a million dollars to buy To convert to a turbine engine probably a million $.

Speaking of aircraft in Alaska, only about 10% of the flying pilots have a “real” pilot’s license. There are a lot of pilots. 90% of the state is wilderness only approachable by air. There are no four-lane interstates in Alaska and few roads. Driving into any of the airports, there are hundreds of small aircraft, many on pontoons that can cost US$10,000 for a set. One of the favorites is the venerable Cessna “Super-cub” an extremely light plane that can take off and land in very small fields. When fitted with oversized super-fat tires, it can take off and land virtually anywhere in the bush. Cost US$4000 per tire. Slots for pontoon craft at one of the connecting lakes near Juneau are a 15 year wait to get one, sort of like Pittsburgh Steelers season seats.

In Juneau we boarded a helicopter to go out and view one of the big glaciers, then actually land on it and walk around with a lecture for about 30 minutes. It was a fascinating experience and none of this could have been seen by any other than air transportation. Photos later.

Ultimately the ship entered a large fiord where at the end of it several glaciers emptied into the water. It was deep water so the entire ship turned 360 degrees twice, affording spectacular views of the glaciers from any spot on the ship. The weather was perfect, cool, clear and blue sky.

The glaciers were stunning, but in the middle of the pack lay one particularly large glacier that didn’t look like one. It was pointed out as a glacier “in trouble” as it wasn’t moving. Normally they advance in the winter and recede in the summer. This one receded and then just stopped like a dying star. Just a flat line of rocks. Maybe the fate of all of them eventually as global warming takes its course.

So, if any of you are thinking of taking this trip, here are the pros and cons:

Pro: The trip is not terribly expensive as 6-day full service tourist trips go. The logistics of the trip are well thought out and very smooth. I think probably cheaper than Disney World with no standing in line, a deal breaker for Disney. The accommodations are very nice and roomy, the food is excellent, there’s a lot to do and see on the ship, seasickness is rare and the sights are spectacular. The logistics of coming and going in ports are flawless.

There are lots of side trips at each port, mostly air trips that we enjoyed. You can also go out with a musher on a dog sled trip and do some hiking, small boating and similar athletic things in the area. The cities ported are amenable to “walking around” and some of the local handcrafts are excellent quality and real art, not cheap tourist junk. Food is good on shore. Photographic opportunities are excellent.

Cons: Flying from Pittsburgh to Vancouver is a long trip. Getting into Vancouver, through Canadian customs, then back through USA customs just to board the ship is a terrible, exhausting trial. I guess technically that’s how it needs to be done. Once on the ship, the only nickel & dimeing is for drinks of any kind. Mainly for any kind of liquid other than water and coffee. Want a glass of wine at dinner or a glass of Coke? Sign here first. I found that extremely irritating. Otherwise passengers are quickly made comfortable.

The Anchorage International Airport is rudimentary by most standards, and for unclear reasons, most flights depart from 9 pm to 2 am daily. Since most ships dock at 8 am on the day of home departure, you’ll get to sit around somewhere all day and most of the evening before departing out on a red-eye. Quite irritating. This is an overbite trip but Delta doesn’t treat it like an intercontinental voyage so seats in first class go back about three inches. I can’t sleep that way so I completed a full book read all night long while my wife sawed logs next to me. I think women can sleep anywhere.

Everything considered, I definitely do recommend this trip as the benefits outweighed the detriments. The sightseeing possibilities are diverse and always interesting (not cheap but affordable). Very much OK for kids to enjoy. I can honestly give this trip 3 of 5 spinning ships. I’d give it 3.5 but the extra half-ship would sink. Probably a once in a lifetime for most. See it before it all melts, I think. I would take this trip before going to Disney World in a heartbeat.

Here are some of my photos I’ve made into youtube. It’s high resolution so you can watch full screen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsrDEtSrowc