The Crippen visit Alaska (May, 2017)


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:

The Blue Ridge Parkway


blueridgeparkway07One of the most easily assessed and spectacular field trips in the country isn’t too far from here. The Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest National Park, meanders from Virginia to North Carolina, a distance of almost 500 miles. The pre-start of the ride begins in Front Royal, Virginia and is named the “Skyline Drive” down as far as the Waynesboro area, 109 miles where it turns into the BRP from then on. The Skyline Drive isn’t all that great but it’s the most direct lead-in to the BRP so it’s just as well you start there.

The “real” BRP connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It begins at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro. You can easily do the entire length of the BRP and get home in about a week. It usually takes three days to traverse the entire length because you can’t go very fast. There are several lodges actually on the BRP road and they are about equidistant from each other and you can easily get off and back on for food and lodging along the entire route.

Click to access BLRImap1-1.pdf

By history, the construction of the BRP began as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Work began in 1935. The Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps camps performed most of the work. During World War II, conscientious objectors were pressed into this construction. The parkway took over 52 years to complete, the last portion opening in 1987. 2015 marks the 150th year anniversary of the last Civil War shot fired east of the Mississippi near present-day Waynesville, NC.

The BRP is considered by many to be the gold standard of American touring trips. Many bikers and sports car clubs congregate to run all or part of the BRP. Most of the road consists of what bikers like to call “twisties”, tight corners and switchbacks in heavily forested areas with very little if any traffic. The elevation also varies dramatically from lower areas to over 6000 feet, changing the weather patterns from warm to downright chilly. The BRP is amenable for family sedans and SUVs, but of course not nearly as enjoyable as in a small open-air vehicle.

The traditional pinnacle of bikers’ rides, further west where Tennessee meets North Carolina is the “Tail of the Dragon”, an 11-mile stretch of US 129, an incredibly twisty road sporting 318 tight hairpin corners. However, the Tail has become overcrowded, especially with novices riding it much too fast and getting hurt pretty regularly.

If you follow the BRP on the map down to it’s near end where it makes a right turn toward Cherokee land, you’ll see a little town called Waynesville, NC. In that area, the crème de la crème of spectacular and sometimes challenging tours occur. Rides in this area are named and mostly bikers come from all over the world to access them. The “Moonshiner 28”, “Devils Triangle”, “Diamondback 226”, “Six Gap North Georgia”, “The Rattler” and the “Copperhead” to name a few. These roads were built long before Interstates and surveyors were forced to build them around the mountainous conditions with many twists and turns around obstacles. There is virtually no traffic on any of them anymore except sports car clubs and bikers.

I’ve been riding these areas for over ten years and I know all of it by heart. Last week was a time slot with nothing much to do and the weather was good so I decided to do it all again. I also decided to just ride down there on my venerable BMW R1150GS, the Rock of Gibraltar on two wheels, because having to deal with a trailer on several motel overnights would be a time wasting problem.

From my house to Waynesville, NC is about 560 miles. This is the area of all the fabulous rides so I decided to forego doing the entire BRP again as I’ve done it stem to stern in the past and didn’t have the time this trip. So I rode the Interstates to the area of interest and did it all in four days. I did do parts of the BRP in North Carolina this trip. On the return trip, I was weary of motels and so decided to ride it straight, 560 miles in about 11 hours. I wasn’t sure I could do it and so had the option of stopping along the Interstate anytime, but I did OK.

I’m now wondering if maybe I might try the “Saddle

sore 1000” put on by the Iron Butt Society (1000 miles in 24 hours). Would be cool to have the “World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders” badge on the back of my Beemer. If you recall, former Chief CCM Fellow Erik Diringer did this ride successfully a few years ago but I was engaged elsewhere at the time and I couldn’t try it with him. At any rate, here are the photos of the trip, giving you some idea of the beauty of the area. Even along the Interstate. You’ll notice one photo with a red arrow. This is one I didn’t quite get showing two huge Confederate Flags on the porch of a home. Enjoy if you have an interest:

Bike trip to Tune town


Dells 1Somewhere on my bucket list was a trip back to Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin), a shameless tourist trap drawing thousands of visitors to a town normally (in winter) housing only 2800 souls). Water slides, roller coasters, various carnival-type attractions over literally square miles now.

The original Dells tourist area was created for boat trips to see the limestone rock formations along the Wisconsin River. Then Tommy Bartlett created a big water ski show. An entrepreneur acquired an army surplus DUKW (an amphibious truck commonly called a “duck”) and opened a scenic duck ride to see the accumulating sights and the theme park followed.

My pal Gil Ross hit the description of rounding the bend into the Dells area perfectly. It’s like entering “Tune Town” (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988)

Summer of 1964, my family had moved to Georgia and I was more or less on my way down there by car from our previous home in Menomonie, Wisconsin. As I passed through the Dells area, I ran into a friend from Menomonie who was working as a waiter somewhere and he talked me into staying. I found a room to stay cheaply and looked for work. Everything I owned was packed into my MG Midget.

First job was stuffing windshield wipers with Tommy Bartlett Waterski Show ads. 12 hours a day, seven days a week for 80 cents an hour. They supplied the old beat up junk car and I was expected to be in constant motion all day long. Every once in a while I noticed someone from the Bartlett show driving around checking on me. That lasted one day.

I then found a much better job at Paul Bunyan’s Logging Camp Restaurant as a table bus boy, clearing dinner tables. 90 cents an hour 14 hour days but one day off and all the food I could eat. This was a great deal.

College kids from all over the State descended on The Dells to work the various attractions, all for thinly veiled child labor conditions, but in the immortal words of ZZ Top, “they gotta lot of nice girls there…..”, and they did. The social life was pretty much full time. No one slept much. I met and went out with a lot of girls, taking one to nearby Madison to see a Beach Boys live concert (their white pants, striped shirts era) with Brian Wilson singing and playing bass. The show opened by the Kingsmen (“Louie…Louie”).

Took another one down to see the opening of the Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” from which I emerged with a hearing deficit. Young girls screamed at the top of their lungs the entire show, could not hear one word of spoken dialog. Took another to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to see the “Visible Woman” exhibit. A woman sliced vertically from tip of scalp to thigh and encased in glass both sides. All organs in position and visible. As far as I know it’s still there.

It was a good time and I look back on it as a very good part of my young life at age 21, before the next shoe dropped and I found out about responsibility. Going back there has always been on my bucket list but it’s at least 700 miles from me and I never got around to it till now.

Because of another trip postponement, I found myself with a full week with nothing at all to do other than hang around the house, so I figured this would be a good time to make a long distance bike ride of it. I’d much rather be on the road on a bike than a car so it seemed like a good trip. Part of that was to see how I would do considering I still have some residual weakness here and there from a flare-up of Guillain-Barre. I would make an attempt with the option of stopping or turning back if I got into trouble. I might get ten miles, 100 miles or make the whole trip. Unknown quantity.

As it turned out, I made the trip with minimal difficulty. I did note some weakness difficulties in my back, shoulders and upper arms but none enough to be a significant problem. My left hip continues to be a bit weak but quite stable on the bike seat so it never gave me a significant problem.

On arrival in the Dells, I found it to be much, much bigger and noisier than it was when I was there. In my day there was one thoroughfare, now there are several four-lane highways traversing the area. LOTS of water slides, roller coasters and theme parks now. Lots of shops and traffic.

Paul Bunyan is still there with the big statue of him and Babe the blue ox. The place is now about three times bigger than it was when I was there. Now ensconced in a maze of other attractions. In my day, it was pretty much stand-alone by itself at one end of town. Entering, one walks thorough a huge curio and tourist memento area before getting into the actual dining area.

My waitress dressed in logging attire asked if I had been to Paul Bunyan before so I sang the saga of the busboy experience in the summer of 1964 in five-part harmony. She and I talked for a while. The waitresses make $3.00 an hour plus tips and they still have to share part of their tips with the bus-boys, without whom they would not have table turn-around. When I was there, some of them tried to stiff the bus boys, who soon figured it out and cut back turning their tables. She was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin and, yes, the social life there was still to die for.

The cuisine, such as it was, is still about the same, all you can eat of such staples as chicken and beef. The food was barely edible, but for tourist trap food it was fairly cheap to feed a family. I sat around and soaked up the memories for a while, rode around the area briefly, and then headed out for home.

The entire trip from stem to stern ran four days, 1500 miles averaging nearly 400 miles a day, three overnights along the way. So I marked off #379 on my bucket list. #378 coming up.


Dells 3






Dells 4

International MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, April 11 – 13, 2014.


38A new track constructed specifically to lure the Formula 1 for the World Championship of Drivers circus back to the USA. The track is immaculate, beautiful and specifically constructed for fans to see and absorb as much as possible from any vantage. Very fan-pleasing.

My medical credentials allowed me pretty much full access, but not necessarily into the “seats” where I could sit, have food and drink. That was “extra” but I managed to finesse my way in, at least on Friday where there weren’t too many people.

My buddy Billy Fanstone of Brazil and I wandered around the track all day and each site was as good as the next, although we nor anyone else can never get too close to the actual track. Double levels of fence.

The track is huge, biggest track I’ve ever seen. Something like 3.5 miles from one of the six parking lots to the main gate.  And of course, extremely expensive to get tickets US$1000.00 or so for the three-day race weekend including parking and a seat.

The Formula 1 circus directors liked this track and so the Formula 1 motorcycle series was a natural to add to its itinerary.  There are paramedics on the track but not doctors. The safety director is my old friend from CART Lon Bromley and we had a nice reunion. Long time CART medical director Dr. Steve Olvey is the Medical Director and there are several other doctors around under his direction.

This is the big leagues of two wheel racing, three separate series- Formula 3 (250 cc engines), Formula 2 (600 cc engines) and finally the big boys at 1000 cc, 220 mph on the straights.

It’s difficult to accurately describe the phenomenon of a flat-out motorcycle on the front straight. It’s so incredibly fast it’s difficult to understand how a human can retain control. The rider tucked in behind the diminutive windscreen…..then sitting upright to catch wind (slowing down), followed by clutching the side of the bike like a spider as it tilts to an impossible angle in a corner at speed.  And most of these riders are kids. It’s just ridiculous.

We wandered though the pits watching engineers and techs correlating virtually everything the engines do on a computer. On the actual track, each machine has a shack full of computer monitors that follow every stroke of the piston and turn of the wheel. Each rider has a tiny air conditioned apartment” for sleeping and resting during the day. They hang their tracksuits out to sun.

Then though the paddocks where T-Shirts and other memorabilia are hawked with a blood lust for money that would embarrass the Whore of Babylon. Of course I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of t-shirts, even at blatantly rip-off prices.

The state of motor racing in the new millennium continues to amaze me. When I was there in the 60s, we drove our MG-A’s, Triumph TR-3’s and Porsche 356’s to the track, taped the headlights, fitted a tubular roll bar behind the front seat, raced all day, uninstalled it all, then drove home. The few people that showed up had a good time and went home with full wallets.

Now it’s a big business indeed. Every square centimeter of space on a race bike is filled with an advertisement. Riders and drivers are forced into indentured servitude from their sponsors, the females, of course, encouraged to exhibit as much sexuality as they can pull off without looking “too” much like Playboy centerfolds. The money gleaned from everything and anything associated with racing is parceled out by intricate contracts.

Interestingly, the “fans” have little or no access to the really top riders.  I had a medical pass which allowed me to go anywhere I wanted and I never got anywhere near Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi. Their pits were carefully sequestered and closed to everyone and anyone not directly related to them. I got some shots of Rossi coming and going out of his pit.  If they do address “fans”, it’s briefly and very meticulously orchestrated with lots of sponsor visibility.

The MotoGP speeds are difficult to process. Any accident at these speeds would be reliably fatal. Each rider on swinging around the final turn before the main grandstand goes out of their way to lift he front tire for a while just to show their control at over 100mph. Their control of the machine if phenomenal.

All this forces the question of whether MotoGP is a “Sport” or an exhibition. In order for it to be truly a sport, the skill of the rider must exceed the inherent performance of the machine. Of course, the more money put into the machine, the faster it goes. A skillful rider can theoretically overcome limitations in the machine’s performance by simply taking more chances than the next guy.  This potential stoked by the sponsors’ demands to go faster presents a very dangerous situation indeed and transcends skill.

I think that nine time world champion Valentino Rossi is technically the fastest rider that ever lived, but is in the process of lugging a really uncompetitive machine. So, it’s unclear at this point how many chances he’s really willing to take before he cuts his losses and changes teams. .

Unclear also how any of this applies to open-wheel motorcar racing where driver’s ability is less than the car’s performance in a situation where passing is difficult or impossible. In Formula 1, the first cars on the grid usually finish first. Not so much in MotoGP as there is more room to pass.

This race was won by Spaniard Marc Marquez, who started from the poll, let the entire race and set the track record. The Honda team came in first and second, making them pretty much unbeatable so far. He looks like he’s ten years old and started shaving yesterday. Rossi finished 8th, complaining of tire issues.

The actual race is typically colorful and exciting. The fans can see much of the action from good vantage points. I think you have to see it live at least once to fully appreciate the unique ambiance. Then the best seat in the house is always in front of a nice, big high resolution TV screen. I was happy to have had the opportunity to experience this adventure.



A quick tour of the USS Midway in San Francisco


While in San Diego for a CODES gig, I got a chance to tour the USS Midway, a simply enormous aircraft carrier sitting in the bay. This thing is a small city, laid down in the year of my birth,1943 and after many years of service, towed to San Diego as a historical exhibit.

After some refurbishing, a modernized Midway began service in the South China Sea during the Laotian Crisis of spring of 1961. In1965, she flew strikes against military and logistics installations in North and South Vietnam. On 17 June 1965, aviators of Midway’s Attack Carrier Wing 2, VF-21 downed the first two MiGs credited to U.S. forces in Southeast Asia.

On 12 January 1973 an aircraft from Midway made the last air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War. For her service in Vietnam from 30 April 1972, to 9 February 1973, the USS Midway and her crew received the Presidential Unit Citation from Richard Nixon.

Only twenty bucks to tour, this paltry fee offsets the half million dollars it cost to tow it to San Diego.  The Navy requires another half million in the bank from the promoters in case the exhibit goes bankrupt to finance the cost to tow it elsewhere.

One can walk all over the ship with recorded headphone remarks. It could easily take a full day to see it all. Most interesting part was the deck side lectures on taking off from- and landing on the Midway, given by retired fighter pilots mainly in the Vietnam era.  Both saw combat action.

Taking off from a catapult involved racing from standing still to 165 miles per hour (265 KPH) in two seconds over about 250 feet. Pilots pull 2.5 G’s. The steam driven catapult beneath deck weighs about three tons and while travelling 165 mph at the end of the flight deck it’s stopped cold in five feet by a water trap (shakes the entire ship).

The deck personnel wear color-coded jackets to delineate who is responsible for what and they communicate by a series of elaborate hand gestures. All are junior commissioned officers. Hands over head for pilots and hands under waist for other deck crew. When everything is set and the pilot is ready, he or she salutes, the lunch officer returns the salute and the switch is flipped. Just like in “Top Gun”.

The landing lecture was given by another retired pilot and was equally fascinating. The landing area is about 300 feet. The approaching aircraft drops a tail-hook (below the wheels) and on touchdown (at 150 mph) the hook has a grab at one of four wrist thick wires a few feet apart. This is usually successful, bringing the aircraft to a dead stop in 2 seconds with about the same G force as takeoff, except from the opposite direction.

Landing Signal Officers guide the plane in through radio communication as well as a collection of lights on the deck. The pilot will see different lights depending on the plane’s angle of approach. If the plane is right on target, the pilot will see an amber light, dubbed the “meatball,” in line with a row of green lights. If the amber light appears above the green lights, the plane is coming in too high; if the amber light appears below the green lights, the plane is coming in too low. This system is especially interesting at night where the pilot sees only the meatball bobbing up and down with the motion of the ship.

Accidents are infrequent but can be dramatic. Former Presidential candidate John McCain is said to have been sitting in the cockpit of his aircraft on the deck of the USS Forrestal stationed off the coast of North Vietnam, conducting combat operations. A rocket accidentally exploded on another plane, causing a chain reaction of dangerous fireworks. Hundreds of sailors were injured or killed in the melee. McCain is said to have ejected from his stationary aircraft. He was not significantly injured.

This is an incredible tour- highly recommended by me if you find yourself in sunny San Diego.

Here are the brief collections of photos by me. Remember these are high def. and you can increase the size of the screen by the appropriate YouTube icon.

Hombres MC visit some American Civil War National Battlefield Monuments.


flagHombres MC visit some American Civil War National Battlefield Monuments. Many located between Washington, DC and the Confederate Capital in Richmond, VA.  We had five days and we put on about 700 miles. Then we went up part of the Blue Ridge Parkway toward home (in the rain and fog)

Most of the landmarks within the battlefield areas are not well preserved after 150 years.  The farmhouse named “Chancellorsville” is no longer there and the crossroads where the battle was fought is now a four-lane highway. The Fredericksburg site is in the middle of a housing project.

The National Park Service has constructed exceptionally interesting sites containing films outlining the events, artifacts and on-site lectures from park rangers. All well done, and I might add limited now because of the “sequester” so if you go, be sure and put some cash in the pot to maintain this essential American history.

Naturally, it would be impossible for me to delve into much of the history of the American Civil War as very notable authors have spent lifetimes trying to understand it. Ken Burns filmed the progression over 12 hours.  There are, however, a few issues of personal interest to me I can scratch the surface of.

Some of the famous battles are remarkable not so much for what happened as what might have been.

The first major battle to take place on Union soil occurred on Sept 17, 1962 at Antietam creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Union Maj. Gen. George McClellan launched a frontal attack on the Confederate Army led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker in and around a cornfield used for cover for both sides.

After the brutal battle in which over 23,000 young men lost their lives in one day, was fought to a brutal draw, but advantage lay with the Union as the Confederate troops were outnumbered and disorganized.  Lee ordered the Confederate troops to withdraw and re-group. At this point, a further push by the Union Army might have decimated Lee’s meager residual forces before they could re-group.

However, McClellan was a notoriously cautious General and fearful of ordering his men into actual battle unless victory with minimal casualties was a virtual lead pipe cinch. McClellan refused to pursue Hooker, even with the assistance of reinforcements from Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside’s fresh troops lingering outside the action. He simply didn’t think he needed to. The Confederate Army was conceptually doomed and would collapse soon anyway with no additional loss of his troops. This allowed Hooker to safely retreat back south of the Potomac to re-constitute.

In terms of military strategy and tactics, McClellan fatefully failed to bring the full brunt of his forces to bear as a “Force Multiplier”, to make a given force more effective than that same force would be without it. Essentially, to cause disproportionate losses on the enemy, and therefore destroy the enemy’s ability to fight.  Sherman notoriously used this strategy that came to be known as “scorched earth” in his “march to the Sea” in 1864.

This lapse allowed Hooker to shift his forces to meet each encounter with the best possible efficacy using fewer men. Some historians believe that Lee’s army could have been wiped out at Antietam and had that occurred, the war would have been dramatically shortened or over.

The battle at Fredericksburg, VA occurred on December 11-15, 1862 between the Confederate Army commanded by Robert E. Lee and the Union Army commanded by Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside. This battle is remembered for one of the most spectacular tactical blunders in the history of warfare, resulting in Union casualties twice as heavy as Confederate.

Burnsides plan was to cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon bridges to meet the Confederates south of the village of Fredericksburg. However, on arrival at the riverbank, Burnside found no pontoons (due to bureaucratic blunder) and was assured they would arrive in a day or two. So Burnside camped out and waited.

Meanwhile, Lee’s forces wondered where the Union Army was, so Lee sent scouts up who reported the situation. This allowed Lee to move up to meet Burnside in and around the town of Fredericksburg and more importantly, occupy the high ground south of the town with a stone wall for cover.

When the pontoons arrived, Burnside was forced to endure withering fire moving his troops across the river. On finally arriving on the opposite bank, Burnside ordered multiple frontal assault against 3,000 Confederate infantrymen lined up in multiple ranks behind the stone wall for about 600 yards and another 3,000 with artillery behind it. The Union troops were repulsed with heavy losses. It’s said that a walk along the entire of the killing field would not allow a boot to touch a single blade of grass. Only bodies.

Burnside stubbornly continued these assaults until he essentially ran out of manpower, following which he attempted to blame his subordinates. The following day, Dec 14, Burnside asked Lee for a truce to attend to his wounded, which the latter graciously granted, but ultimately proved to be a tactical mistake. The next day Dec 15, the Federal forces retreated across the river, and the campaign came to an end. The Union army suffered 12,653 casualties in three days of fighting. The Confederate army lost 5,377 men. Burnside was relieved of command a month later.

Again, as at Antietam, the military strategy and tactics are remarkable. For the entire battle, Lee’s forces needed only maintain their position and thin out assaulting Union forces from a position of relative safety. By the evening of Dec 14, the Union army lay decimated and extremely vulnerable, trapped between a superior confederate force occupying protected high ground and a river. For unclear reasons, Lee decided to wait out the night before actually assaulting the Union forces the following morning. This allowed the residual Union forces time to escape back across the river and eventually regroup on Union soil. Lee is said to have regretted this decision bitterly.

The Union Army (of the Potomac) then went on to another defeat at Chancellorsville in early May of 1963, followed by a series of smaller but cumulative losses. Ultimately, the loss of the Confederacy became a self fulfilling prophesy ending with the ill fated Appomattox Campaign and the evacuation of Richmond that culminated in Lee’s surrender on April 9. 1865.

A neutral spot, The McLean House (a private residence near the Appomattox Courthouse) was selected for the two Generals to meet and discuss terms, which were exceptionally generous. Roughly 175,000 Confederates remained in the field were allowed to keep all the possessions except arms and flags.  Each was issued a signed “parole” document guaranteeing free passage back home (avoiding potential charges of desertion).

Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, commander of one of the major Union brigades was a stirring figure responsible for one of the most poignant scenes of the era. He had personally directed 20 battles, was cited for bravery four times, had six horses shot from under him and was wounded six times.

Chamberlain ordered the line of Union troops to “order Arms” as the Confederates passed by as a measure of respect.  Observing this action, surrendering General of the remaining Confederate troops, Gen. John Brown Gordon wheeled his horse around, drew his sword placing the point against the toe of his boot and decreed similar respect for the Union troops. This order was carried out and the two movements proceeded silently and mournfully.

Thus ended the bloodiest battle in American history.  A total of 214,938 deaths in combat. At least 500,000 deaths from disease and ultimate wounds for a total death count of ~ 625,000. WW II yielded 405,000 deaths and Vietnam a paltry ~58,000 deaths in eight years. 23,000 men died at Antietam in one day and ~50,000 at Gettysburg in three days.

An interesting medical aside is the story of Dr. Jonathan Letterman, a Civil War surgeon said to have developed the concept of “triage”. Born in Canonsburg, PA, he was named medical director for the Union Army of the Potomac in May 1962. He initiated forward first aid stations, devised systems where fallen soldiers would be classified as to urgency of treatment while attending casualties at Antietam. He also refined ambulance systems and distribution of supplies.  He was light years ahead of his time.

Interestingly, there is a note on EBay (and a mention on “Pawn Stars”) flatly stating that any Confederate Flag that might be found on any Internet auction site is virtually guaranteed to be fake. There are simply none left that aren’t in museums and the chances of finding one, however unlikely, would bring tens of thousands of dollars. Virtually all Confederate swords and other hardware are expert fakes.

In my photo gallery, you will see his portrait, the barn where the “enlisted” troops were treated (Naturally- officers were treated up at the mansion) and some of the accouterments of his trade.

Here is my photo journal if you have an interest:

(Click the HD icon and full frame)


Further Study:

I think Mississippian Shelby Foote writes the definitive history of this era and it’s as complete as it gets. His trilogy contains over a million words.

For the visually inclined, Ken Burns’ twelve-part documentary of the era on PBS (1990) is a masterpiece.

On Las Vegas


The Neuro Critical Care Society meeting in Vegas Nov 1-3 was just great. Everyone who’s anyone in Neuro Critical Care was there, most gave talks and the quality ranged from good to awesome. Naturally, the CODES blew the crowd away on Friday night. More on that later. My primary focus in really on trying to give you some sense of Las Vegas.

In order to put the phenomenon of Las Vegas into perspective, one must read the first essay in: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965 and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a savage journey to the heart of the American dream” By Hunter S. Thompson in his golden age, 1971.

The “Writer with x-ray eyes”, Wolfe cut right to the chase in his analysis of Vegas. “A place built by and for gangsters”. A place where the usual propriety and civility of society is suspended. A place where gangsters can retreat and relax in their element after a hard day of murder, larceny, grand theft, extortion and breaking kneecaps. Even the architecture is unique, termed “free form”, specifically designed to be as garish and gaudy as possible, flying in the face of convention, in keeping with the sensibilities of your domestic gangster at home.

Bugsy fell out of his limo in 1946 and had an epiphany. If gangsters could be comfortable at home here on this barren slab of desert, why couldn’t the concept be profitably expanded to a general public always on the lookout for Walter Mitty fantasy (from a safe distance). An adult Disneyland. The public at large might very much like to dip a toe into an alternative style of living not exactly illegal, but not exactly mainstream civil either. Skirt the ethos of gangster ethos for a few days, then go back to humdrum with a knowing smirk. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But, alas, the dream vanishes in the harsh light of the Nevada noonday sun. Scratch the surface of Vegas and you see………façade. Nothing in the entire city of any substance, all smoke, mirrors and clay. The huge pyramid of the MGM grand only houses massive waves of slot machines. The reproductions of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building at New York, New York are just big models in a sea of garish colored lights. The Eiffel tower presides over nothing more than empty hype, glitz and …….. free form architecture. Form and substance signifying nothing but a n enticement for more money into the coffers of wolves and foxes in sharkskin suits.

The Strip stands out like Emerald City in the middle of a sea of poverty, mediocrity and urban decay. So much for the revenue from gambling benefiting the un-anointed. The Vegas Airport far too small to contain all the true believers. Three hour waits from taxi to lift off are common. Huge far-as-the-eye-can-see building projects (new casinos) to accommodate those ever eager to take money out of their pockets and deposit it into the pockets of wolves and foxes in sharkskin suits. Prime time entertainers appear in huge ballrooms, but prime seating vanishes into the shadowy realm of high rollers and special interests, leaving available seats for the public only at the nosebleed elevation. Yet the illusion persists.

The illusion of stepping into a slight naughty world vanishes when it becomes apparent that everyone in the collective is silently watched by wolves and foxes in sharkskin suits from hundreds of remote cameras. Watchers watch the public, watchers watch the watchers, and watchers watch the watchers watching the public. There is no trust anywhere in the system when this volume of cash is involved. The slightest hint of “out of line” (a broad definition in a casino) is greeted by stealthy suits gently but firmly taking a real or potential offender by the arm for a chat in a secure area. An impromptu foray into the “real” world of gangsters.

Watching gamblers is an endeavor everyone should do at least once in their lives for their general education. And they’re hard to miss. Sitting in front of slot machines with glazed eyes, mechanically pulling the lever, even ignoring the occasional win for the next pull. Wild-eyed optimists convinced they have the skill to outwit odds of winning so infinitesimally small they can only be measured with a lot of zeros after the decimal. Like an ant farm, literally thousands incoming daily to deposit their load of money to smiling wolves and foxes in sharkskin suits, then a steady stream of out goers with empty pockets, already planning the next trip. Nonstop streams coming and going, a constantly expanding, self-perpetuating ecology feeding on a limitless supply of greed, optimism and availability.

Somewhere Bugsy is smiling.


“Open up the door…let the shark men feed”

James Taylor

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Hunter S. Thompson

“For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth”.

Hunter S. Thompson

“Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs”. ~

Tom Wolfe

“Las Vegas has become, just as Bugsy Siegel dreamed, the American Monte Carlo-without any of the inevitable upper-class baggage of the Riviera casinos. At Monte Carlo there is still the plush mustiness of the nineteenth century noble lions…. There are still Wrong Forks, Deficient Accents, Poor Tailoring, Gauche Displays, Nouveau Richness, Cultural Aridity-concepts unknown in Las Vegas. For the grand debut of Monte Carlo as a resort in 1879 the architect Charles Garnier designed an opera house for the Place du Casino; and Sarah Bernhardt read a symbolic poem. For the debut of Las Vegas as a resort in 1946 Bugsy Siegel hired Abbot and Costello, and there, in a way, you have it all”

Tom Wolfe.

Los Angeles


Los Angeles… of the big free…….Jay Leno, Rappers, South Central, the Lakers, Cops, OJ, movie making in the streets………… What a place! But the phenomena that really defines LA is…….FREEWAYS!!!! I can assure all of you out-of-towners that there is NO WHERE in the world remotely like the freeway system in LA and I’m here to give you some personal experience.

All my work was done as of Tuesday night and the plane back home didn’t leave till 1:30 PM Wednesday so I decided to drive up to Apple Valley in the High Desert Wednesday morning to see my friend Victor Mason of Mason Electronics and Plexi Palace. Victor has the biggest collection of vintage British tube guitar amps in the country, sells and services ’em and when guys like me show up, jams with ’em too. 60’s vintage Marshalls, Vox and other awesome tones. But to get there, one must navigate the freeway system out of LA for about an hour and a half, and thereby hangs a tale.

The rental car person planned the trip like a safari through deepest, darkest Africa. First of all, you better get on the freeway pretty damned early because rush hour starts about 0600. THEN, how far you get depends completely on how many accidents and natural disasters occur between here and there. Earlier in the week I got stuck as a brush fire licked the sides of the 405 and traffic came to a screeching halt as rubberneckers slowed to insure they could clearly see the helicopters dumping skin diver laden sea water. High speed chases are not even close to being unusual, and some slow speed chases as well, with their own cheering sections a ‘la OJ. From what I could see, car accidents (always blocking traffic) occur at least once an hour on each segment of road.

The “Car pool lane” (two occupants or more) is virtually devoid of traffic. EVERY car in LA has only one occupant in it and they’re are all trying to get to the same place at the same time. But if the cops catch a car with one occupant in the car pool lane it’s an instant US$271.00 fine on the spot, and they seem to have an uncanny radar to spot scofflaws sporting stuffed dummies and super dark windows.

So, entering the freeway occurs from a traffic light letting only one car through the feeders at a time and you better get your ass out there too or you’ll be trying to enter a lane with people traveling 80 mph behind you. Once on the freeway, there is usually 8 lanes with a gradation of speeds getting faster and faster the more left you proceed. Finally, in the extreme left lane, you have people doing well over 100 mph in Big Mercedes, Beemers and such and they don’t slow down for anything, just like the Autobahn. But even in the right lanes, the average speed is well over 75 mph and everyone is weaving in and out at incredible speeds trying to jockey for a better position. If you have a little rental car, you are pretty much flat out trying to keep up, and it’s like being strapped to a very fast and intricate video game. Your eyes are wide open and you’re reacting very rapidly to situations where small mistakes put you in big jeopardy.

Then about the time you start thinking you might be getting the hang of it, everyone slams on their brakes. Either an accident or a natural disaster ahead. Then the Desert Foxes go into action. Nimble fingers twirl dials on the radio to find out where the accident is (usually reported in minutes) and what alternatives there are to get around it. Just like little urban Rommels, maps come, fingers are pointed into the desert swirl and alternate routes are analyzed and implemented at computer speed. And accidents occur with incredible regularity There were TWO accidents on my way to Apple Valley each caused a delay followed by frenetic, creative maneuvers to get around, including impromptu desert excursions.

When I returned, I was physically exhausted and every nerve ending was raw. And on the way OUT of LA at 0700 on the 105 and 60 East which was plenty congested, I noticed FULLY FORTY MILES of bumper to bumper traffic in the other lane trying to get INTO LA. I have no idea if they are all still sitting there. People have to move further and further out of LA to find decent living accommodations and commutes of three hours one way twice a day are NOT unusual!!!!

Do I love LA? Nice place to visit, but I like the leisurely 15 minute trip to work in the morning.

San Francisco


From what I hear, San Francisco is going to be the perpetual site for SCCM meetings from now on, at least in the foreseeable future. If that rumor is true, get used to creative homeless hooks and Alcatraz. I guess it could be worse but I will REALLY miss cruising for art and food in the Bourbon Street area.

Pound for pound, San Francisco can easily compete with other SCCM sites, even though they insist on having the meeting in the dead of winter where the weather can be iffy. Alcatraz is a MUST SEE. Self tour with a cassette deck. It was VERY interesting and worth standing in the ferry line for. Walking around Chinatown is fun. There are lots of shops with interesting things. Many interesting places to see within walking distance from the hotel district including the famous trolly cars. Be careful walking around aimlessly else you inadvertently enter the “Tenderloin” district which borders the hotels; a place you don’t want to go. Go in small groups and look like you know your way around. Stragglers looking lost stand out, especially in the Tenderloin.

Homeless types have the best hooks in the country. One had a sign that said: “Don’t need food….need dope….why should I bullshit you?”. Another Classic on Market Street, a shower, shave and a suit on this guy and he could have doubled for most Fortune 500 CEOs” “Got some change for a Nice Jewish Boy?”. It’s right tout of that movie “Airplane, where the protagonist has to literally fight his way through the airport full of creative panhandlers.

Street musicians are SERIOUS. One guy on the corner of Fisherman’s Wharf had THREE stacked Korg synthesizers, electronic drums, four speaker cabs and a portable gasoline powered power source. He sounded like Keith Emerson with more equipment than Black Sabbath brings to town. The streetlights dimmed when he hit the chorus.

Good places to eat and hang out. Check lout a place called “Infusion” which is about a five minute cab ride form the Convention center. Jazz and blues bands in the loft, greasy specialty drinks called “infusions” that look like martinis but contain home brew flavored vodka innards. Pretty good food and music. Of course, John Lee Hooker’s Bar is nearby and has great blues bands but no food. A place called “Left of Albuquerque” up on Union Street has pretty good Mexican food. But the undisputed greatest (Ethnic) food in San Francisco, and probably the rest of the country (and I have looked) is an authentic Russian place on the 5000 block of Geary called the Russian Renaissance.

When you walk into this place, you leave San Francisco behind and enter an absolutely authentic Moscow bistro, with all the trimmings. You know you are in a real Russian place when you start ordering delicacies and find out they don’t have any, even though they persist on the menu. I once went through an entire menu in a Leningrad restaurant just like the “Cheese Shop” routine from Monty Python only to find that the only thing they had was boiled beef and potatoes. But they did have great food. The Stroganoff was the best I’ve ever had in the USA. And the Chicken Kiev was great. AND they have black caviar at affordable prices. $46.00 for FOUR OUNCES. Now, it ain’t Beluga (currently $84.00 per ounce and increasing daily) but it was very high quality, served with blintzes and I gobbled it down with both hands, gently nursing little stragglers onto a knife edge with a magnifiying glass. Then the fun started.

Right across the room was a birthday party for some local yokel and a huge table was set for about 50 people. Now, for those of you who have never been to a real Russian celebration feast, it is a sight to behold. The table is piled high with food, goodies, CAVIAR….. and lots of ethanol bearing liquid, including industrial strength, high octane Russian or Armenian cognac. Once the party gets going, everyone…and I mean EVERYONE has to offer a toast……with cognac…….and sipping isn’t allowed. After the toast, the stuff is swilled in one gulp…………..then the next toast occurs randomly and so on. Whoever is left standing wins.

In the past, it didn’t take me too long to figure out that the chance of death from ethanol toxicity looms large and increases exponentially if you aren’t acclimatized to it. Russian cognac is MUCH higher ethanol content than the French stuff, as high as 150 proof. Watching Bad Vlad Kvetan slip silently to the floor and turn purple strengthened my resolve to survive on at least once occasion. A neat trick is to secret a bottle of cola between your knees, surreptitiously pour the cognac on the floor and replace it with cola. Might save your life.

At any rate, once the partygoers started getting tanked and began to ease out to the dance floor, huge mounds of caviar beckoned unprotected. So, being a hound for the good stuff, I kind of sleazed over there and sort of mingled. My fractured Russian used to get me by in Airports, hotels and restaurants and I managed to get positioned close to the biggest caviar mound…….even got a dance to “Moscow Nights” with some unsuspecting woman who thought I was a visiting Brighton Beach accountant.

Everything in San Francisco is expensive. I was told that a small two bedroom walkup apartment in town runs US$2600.00 a month. Hotels run about US$230.00 per night and that’s with the convention discount. A three minute phone call to Pittsburgh to tap the Pitt server for Internet access cost US$20.00. You could drive to Canada for the cost of a five minute taxi trip. Food is outrageous. A simple breakfast at the Nikko is US$17.00. My guess is that is is at least a US$2,000.00 trip for the week all things considered, but I don’t know if there is any realistic way to conserve much of it. You can’t get anyone to attend major meetings in Elk Springs, Indiana where Motel-6 rooms goes for US$26.00 and they leave the light on for ya.

Considering the cost, SCCM meetings have never had a reputation as world class educational events. It’s not a great big secret that a lot of folks use the SCCM symposium as an excuse to renew friendships, scope out fun locales to visit, sample local cuisine and then maybe attending the meeting as a guilt afterthought. However, I must say that this is definitely changing for the better. This year, there were a number of talks that I thought were right on the cutting edge. This year, there were stimulating discussions on where we are going politically, issues of billing and manpower allocation, the Leapfrog initiative as it pertains to demand and reimbursement for critical care services, and lots on end of life issues. I particularly thought the medical ethics courses have been needed for a very long time.

And San Francisco’s a fun cruise-around. A trip down to the nearby Monterey – Carmel area is always in order. The 17 mile drive around Pebble Beach is world class beautiful real estate. A walk around the town of Carmel shows off lots of great art galleries and other fun stuff including actor Clint Eastwood’s lunch spot the Hog’s Breath Inn, where he sometimes actually hangs out. Cable car rides down to Fisherman’s Wharf are unique and great photo ops. The wharf is famous for really fresh seafood and street musicians with more hardware than Black Sabbath brings to town. Great food. Russian Renaissance on Geary is a must see for authentic Russian food. Demonicos on the Monterey wharf is the best seafood in California, I think. Lots of little places with live bands……… it was a great walk-around.

I often wonder who selects speakers and presenters for the SCCM symposia. I still see a great many of the same faces year after year, many with no particular special expertise on their subject. Some have mold growing on them. I suspect one has to be well connected with the SCCM political ministry to get presentations. But I guess that is pretty much the way it is everywhere. I continue to look for obnoxious young people with non-linear viewpoints who have never been anointed at the foot of the red leather chairs. I think it is getting better though. It needs to. Fisher giving lectures on primal scream therapy is a little much.

The CCM-L Endowment to attend SCCM recipient, Dr. Michael (Sasha) Karakozov from Petrozavodsk, Russia, arrived without incident and was treated to a royal tour of the area by Dr. Bob Fink and his family. Bob deserves an exceptionally loud huzzah and pat on the head for his hospitality. Dr. Karakozov had a once in a lifetime experience and will go back to Russia armed with an awesome amount of new knowledge. CCM-L is proud and pleased to have had the opportunity to further meld the global critical care community. Many kudos to Bob Fink and his family. If we get some money again this year form outside sources, we’ll consider it again.

The CCM-L Social on Tuesday night fizzled, but that was to be expected. Most folks have other things going on with family and friends and there is really no time such an event can be scheduled that doesn’t interfere with something. Everyone promises to attend but most get tied up with other things, which is to be expected. I thought 8 pm was an optimum time but later realized that this put most folks right in the middle of their dinner plans. If I had started earlier, people would be getting back from the meetings and getting ready for other evening activities. Later would see folks too tired to attend yet another obligation. A small but enthusiastic contingent did show up and a good time was had by all. Dandy Don and I tried to do some guitar playing, but the backup tracks weren’t loud or articulate enough through a small powered speaker, our Pignose amps were too blarey and each of us were improvising against the other (typical for musicians), creating a cacophony of noise that didn’t work. Maybe next time we’ll find some real acoustically correct equipment.

The Views from the ICU exhibit was definitely a big hit (see photos). I got very enthusiastic reviews from many of those who saw it, and the Ortho-Biotech people were very pleased. They are planning on continuing the exhibit for the upcoming meetings and have asked that we now start collecting photos of critical care teams doing bedside care. I will be announcing more about that later.

So all in all, it was a fun trip and I got a lot more than I have in the past from the sessions. The only downside was the phenomenal expense that effectively puts it out of reach for a great many providers who could make good use of the educational experience. If there is any way to fix that, I have no idea how.

I give it three out of five cable car clangs.

Trinity Atomic Bomb site- New Mexico


Trinity Atomic Bomb site- New Mexico

The actual crater cannot now be discriminated from the rest of the desert, and the marked off area is much smaller than I thought it would be. The original crater was said to be only 330 meters in diameter. It wasn’t really an “explosion” in the TNT sense, it was more of a large fireball,the temperature of the sun. Instead of digging into the earth, it melted the earth, sucked it up into the fireball, liquefied it, then allowed gravity to eventually settle and cool it like lava. In the 50s, the radioactive desert glass was bulldozed into a deep pit and buried. Seekers can occasionally find small pieces of molten sand (“Trinitite”) in the sand (see my photos).

The project was named “Trinity” by lead physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The explanations for this odd moniker remain obscure. Oppenheimer was a man of many interests, not the least of which was poetry. Some say he named it after a poem by John Donne. “”As West and East / In all flatt Maps-and I am one-are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection.” Oppenheimer was very interested in Indian writings and was fluent in reading and writing Indian language. My personal conjecture is that he took the name from the Bhagavad Gita (a work he quoted frequently): “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one.”

in 1943, the project took on an emergent tone because the Germans were working on it as well. Probably the only reason the Germans didn’t develop a working bomb first is that they threw virtually everyone with a knowledge of physics out of the country. All those folks quickly immigrated to America and took up residence in American universities. The project from A to Z was fraught with doubt and obstacles. Taskmaster Gen. Leslie Groves was brought in to assure the logistics of success. Few actually thought it would work, and more than a few thought there was a possibility such a blast would recruit atmospheric atoms, instantly destroying the earth. A rhyme was penned on the proverbial outhouse wall:

“From this crude lab that spawned a dud,
their necks to Truman’s axe uncurled,
Lo, the embattled savants stood,
and fired the flop heard round the world.”

Oppenheimer rarely ate or slept during the last phase of the project and weighed 116 pounds at the time of the blast. He is said to have propped himself up on a wooden beam in the last few seconds barely breathing and pale as a sheet.

At 5:29:45 AM on July 16, 1945 the world entered the Atomic Age and was changed forever. Shortly after the blast, Oppenheimer is also said to have again uttered a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Kalo Asmi Loka-ksaya-krit Pravardho, Lokan Samartum iha Pravattah” translated as “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”. He probably didn’t say that then, but he was surely thinking it. His brother recalls his response as immense relief and “it worked!”. The Trinity detonation was equivalent to the explosion of around 20 kilotons of TNT, with a temperature calculated at 14,710 degrees F. The flash was seen as far as 250 miles. It broke windows 120 miles away, was felt as far as 160 miles.

I was one of the first visitors to set foot on the site at 8:15 am on October 3, 2009. It was as desolate as the desert locale name Jornada del Muerto (single day’s journey of the dead man) suggested. As I stood there quietly in the desert breeze, I thought about the enormity of the project, beginning with a vague theoretical possibility and ending with fruition only 28 months later. So much for the current myth that the “government” can’t accomplish anything. I pictured in my mind’s eye not so much what the blast looked like but what it must have been like to wait for the apocalypse that would change the world forever, or an empty click and silence.

Lifelong chain smoker Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967. Groves died of a myocardial infarction in 1970. There are too many books about the subject to recount.