Friday, September 28, 2018

The Maltese Phantom

On September 5 Unknown left a comment on my May 1, 2017 post regarding Royal Navy Phantoms and the delightful game of zapping. The comment adds a few drops of scintillating color to an otherwise drab and workaday canvas.

Regarding the image of a Marine F-4B sporting a vertical stab and rudder painted in 892 Squadron colours.

Unknown commented thusly:

Actually this aircraft went u/s aboard HMS Ark Royal and could not be repaired before the Ark visited Malta. As the Maltese were not on good terms with the US at the time and US Phantoms did not fold enough to fit on the Ark's deck lift, to be hidden below deck, it had it's tail painted to be less conspicuous on the deck amoungst the RN aircraft. The only RN carrier capable of operating Phantoms was Ark Royal, although some initial trails were done from HMS Eagle, it did not have the required cooling of its deck and blast deflector to cope with the heat of the Spey engines in full afterburner for launch. The higher nose attitude of RN Phantoms caused significant heating of the deck, requiring additional water cooling. Prior to Ark being ready to operate RN Phantoms several operated from USS Saratoga and actually damaged the deck area around the catapult.

I find this tidbit quite interesting. I had no idea that the U.S. (and U.S. Navy)  were in bad odour with the Maltese at the time. Why was this so?

Turns out it was Cold War politics. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. According to whackopaedia, "The British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen."

In 1971 the Maltese elected a Labour government and began to distance itself from the U.K./U.S. Cold War political line. Indeed, the tiny country took the path many small nations were taking at the time, attempting to chart a course of neutrality and aligning militarily neither with NATO and the West nor with the Soviets and Warsaw Pact. They requested that NATO subheadquartes on their island be closed, and it was. Predictably, the U.S. Sixth Fleet discontinued port visits to Malta. This bit of give-and-take is most likely the cause for repainting the tail of that Phantom, which I suspect provided enough of a fig leaf that Ark Royal could enter Grand Harbour and the Malta Dockyard without causing overly twisted panties.

Until I looked for an explanation I had exactly zero knowledge of U.S.-Maltese relations and almost zero knowledge of Malta itself. Something cool happened there during The War. Submarines, bombing raids, holding out, etc. It was a place where "we" won against the Nazis, at the usual frightful cost.

Had the younger, naval me known of this back in my serving days, I'd have likely said, "Fine then, you're either with us or against us." Which would have been stupid and shortsighted. But if you look up "stupid and shortsighted" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of me.

The world isn't as simple as that, and although our governments were cross with each other, the Maltese were far, far, far from against us. They were exercising their independence and pursuing Life, Liberty and Happiness by embracing business and capitalism in the way that seemed most appropriate to the Maltese people, who had -- as a Republic --freely elected their government. You simply can't be much more "against" communism and the Soviets than that! I can't fault them for not wanting to be vassals of the U.S. They'd have been nothing more than an island Belgium in that case, and the world has a surfeit of Belgiums. (Stupid and shortsighted?)

So I've managed to learn something new and interesting, and I've been able to do some fun pondering while examining the solidity (or lack thereof) of my foundational principles.

Thanks Unknown!

Here are a few pics from the USS Forrestal 72-73 cruisebook.

USMC tails...

Operation Crossdeck...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Long time

Well, now. It's been a long time since June 7, hasn't it?

In some ways it's been a very tough summer. My Dad has been very ill and it's been surprisingly hard to deal with on a number of levels.

He's has managed to develop non-alcoholic steatohepatosis and cirrhosis of the liver. The prognosis is grim; it's going to be ultimately fatal but not before some time passes and a lot of suffering is endured. How much time? There's no way to know, really. How much suffering? Again, there's no way to know for sure, but a lot.

One effect of the disease is that the liver weeps ascites fluid into the abdomen, and that fluid has to be removed weekly in a process called paracentesis. Basically, you jam a big catheter into the abdomen and suck out the fluid. The weekly quantity ranges from 5-10 liters, or about 1 to 2.5 gallons. Not a lot of fun, but it's perhaps the easiest part of the treatment regimen.

The bad part, the suffering part, is that the liver is damaged beyond the body's ability to repair it. This causes all manner of unpleasant symptoms. Nausea and vomiting, itching, feeling terrible all the time, weakness, confusion, difficulty breathing, etc. The process is also causing a slow but steady and irreversible wasting away of muscle tissue. The once strong fellow is now navigating slowly with a walker, and while he can still get out and about in a very limited fashion, he's getting weaker all the time.

So watching the progression of this disease has been quite difficult. I'm in the position of being the only person in the family with a medical background, so in addition to managing much of the day-to-day care I'm also the chief explainer for everyone else. "This is why that, and that is why this, and here's the plan, etc."

So there's that.

The day-to-day ranch management continues also, of course, but it's really not all that taxing. Between good rain and good cattle and getting a lot of fiddly bits sorted over the last several years and enough experience to be efficient we've been able to get by in remarkably good shape.

And speaking of good shape...

I'm more physically fit now than I've been in years. I've been alternating roadwork and weight room since April and I'm just astonished at how good I feel and how much I'm able to do. Some time ago -- more than a decade ago -- when I had my first Achilles surgery, I resigned myself to never being able to run again. But something funny happened following the last surgery. Between a really good repair and a smart/patient approach to improving my fitness, I accidentally found out that I can run again.

The running is a work in progress. Running on flat ground still causes a lot of soreness and stiffness in the ankle, but surprisingly, it's actually getting better over time. As long as I don't go wild and overdo it, I think I'll eventually be able to clock multiple miles.

The trick, which I stumbled on accidentally, was running steps. We have a railroad viaduct in town which is equipped with several flights of stairs, and for some reason I decided to see if I could run those to build up endurance and improve cardio. (Looking back I just realized that I wrote about the steps in May.) It was a bit of a struggle at first, but I found that running uphill is a lot easier on the ankle than running on flat ground. I think it's down to joint geometry and lever physics. Rather than bashing straight down on the heel on flat ground, running uphill seems to spread the impact over the whole foot and leg -- and probably just as importantly -- over a longer interval.

Anyway, the viaduct steps are 21-step flights, each with an 8-inch rise, for a total of 14 feet (if my math is right). When I started I was doing 15 flights, now I do 60 flights, and I do them a lot faster. It's an excellent workout.

Several months back I think I wrote about hiking and how super-duper I was because I could hike up smoke bong hill a half-dozen times. On Sunday I ran up smoke bong a dozen times, and ran up eight other hills along the course of my eight mile hike. From "never again" to "shit, I can do this" in less than half a year. Puts a big grin on my face.

Be interesting to see if anyone still stops by this ghost town. I may be able to start posting on a more regular basis but only time will tell.