29 April 2013

David Letterman's comedic style

I started as a magician. I worked at Disneyland and I did tricks eight to twelve hours a day, for the audience, and that's how you become good at something.  Unlike doing something for an hour a day...

I'm thinking about the 'late night wars', and I'm thinking that some comedians just say funny things.  Some comedians say things funny.  But you... say things.

- Steve Martin to David Letterman, Late Show with David Letterman, 23 April 2013

[Steve Martin was on the programme to promote his new album made with Edie Brickell, Love Has Come For You; you can see a clip of their performance here.  Or there's his much earlier hit single, King Tut, here performed live in 1979. 'Henry Winkler, ladies and gentlemen!'].

25 April 2013

Seattle Museum of Flight

A couple of weeks ago I was in Seattle visiting friends, and one of the highlights of the week was my visit to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila (9404 East Marginal Way S) at what is now known as Boeing Field. It was a pretty crummy day weather-wise, so it was a perfect opportunity to spend a few hours indoors soaking up some top-quality aviation history. The site is still a working airfield, and boasts a wide range of aircraft displays both indoors and out:

Among the most popular exhibits at the Museum are the world's first fighter plane, the first jet Air Force One, the prototype Boeing 747, the West Coast's only Concorde, and the world's fastest aircraft – the Blackbird spy plane.

My first stop was the main display hall, which featured an impressive selection of aircraft on the ground and suspended above. While the natural highlight was of course the devilishly rapid Blackbird spy-plane, I also enjoyed the selection of space programme paraphernalia including a section of the International Space Station and the mini-exhibition on pioneering airmail services. There was a New Zealand connection here, because the first two Boeing aircraft, both sensibly-named Boeing Model 1 seaplanes built in 1916, couldn't attract their intended US Navy buyer, and were instead parcelled up and sold to the Walsh Brothers' New Zealand Flying School, which flew from Mission Bay in Auckland and trained local pilots hoping to join the Royal Flying Corps to fight on the Western Front.   

Boeing Model 1 seaplane replica

Apollo Mission Control console (CAPCOM)
Blackbird M-21

Apollo Command Module trainer, 1966
ISS module interior

Then it was on to the middle section of the museum, the original Boeing aircraft factory, which still has a hint of sawdust smell in the air. I enjoyed its exhibits of old barnstorming airshow posters and the February 1930 letter from S.A. Stimpson to the Assistant to the Boeing President, suggesting 'there would be a great psychological punch to having young stewardesses or couriers, or whatever you want to call them [aboard passenger flights], and I am certain there are some mighty good ones available'. Given the rougher ride 1930s air passengers endured, Stimpson was keen for stewardesses to have a nursing background:

Their first paramount qualification would be that of a graduate nurse (although this would never be brought into the foreground in advertising or anything as it sort of sounds as though they are necessary); and, secondly, young women who have been around and are familiar with general travel - rail, steamer and air. Such young women are available here. This is just a passing thought.

Next up were the wartime galleries of replica fighters from both World Wars, which I was pleased to note contained a small display board highlighting New Zealand WW2 air ace Edgar 'Cobber' Kain (1918-40).

Caproni Ca.20, 'the world's first fighter plane'

Spitfire LF Mk.IX
Curtiss P-40N Warhawk
Goodyear FG-1D Corsair
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt
Decal detail on Yakovlev Yak-9U
Decal detail, P-51D Mustang

Making use of the covered overpass to avoid the traffic and the by-now teeming Seattle rain, I ventured into the separate space programme exhibit, which boasted NASA's full fuselage trainer for the Space Shuttle programme. Walking through the trainer and into its open cargo bay gives you a wonderful sense of the scale of the vehicle after all those years seeing it on television. First hand it seems quite small, but naturally once the real thing is in orbit the lack of gravity means a little internal volume goes a long way for the crew.

Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT)

Then it was outside to take in the final exhibits of my visit - the parked-up vestiges of the world's airlines. It was certainly a treat to shelter from the rain beneath the Concorde's undercarriage! But as I've been aboard Concordes twice before (at Duxford and in New York) and even seen some of the early prototypes at Le Bourget, the highlight of the rain-swept air park was probably the B707 known as SAM 970, which served as the first Air Force One presidential jet transport from 1959-62. It transported President Eisenhower on diplomatic missions in the eastern hemisphere and South America, and in 1961 flew President Kennedy to Vienna to meet Khrushchev and to Key West to meet Harold McMillan. SAM 970 also played its role in presidential drama when in November 1963 it flew Lyndon Johnson to Dallas once news emerged of Kennedy's assassination.

Under the Concorde
Air Force One - presidential suite
Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation
(Trans-Canada Airlines)
B747 prototype 747-001 (1969)

There was just time to fit in a quick photo sheltering from the rain under the wing of a multi-engined Boeing WB-47E Stratojet nuclear bomber, which served with the Strategic Air Command from 1953 to 1963. Not a bad way to finish up the visit!

See also:
Blog - MOTAT 2, 3 April 2013
Blog - Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 29 January 2012
Blog - Le Bourget Air & Space Museum, 18 March 2011
Blog - Once upon a time in New York, 1 July 2010 

23 April 2013

The scale of America's public health woes

A letter to the Economist, published 4 April 2013:

Sir - Your special report on America’s competitiveness (March 16th) ably addressed the country’s immense strengths but overlooked the elephant in the room: the health-care system.  This accounts for 18% of GDP, which is eight percentage points above the OECD average.  Yet our system delivers worse outcomes than nearly all advanced countries, notably much lower average life expectancy and higher child and maternal mortality.

If the cost of health care could be reduced to European levels, and the resources redeployed proportionately to the production of domestic and traded goods, the current-account deficit would vanish, and American living standards would improve by about 5%.  Dedicating less than a quarter of these gains to social programmes and tax benefits for the disadvantaged would wipe out the country’s poverty rate, which afflicts 15% of the population.

Before you know it, China might be complaining about the undervalued dollar.  Now, that’s competitiveness.

Uri Dadush
Director of international economics
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington DC

[Comment: World Bank statistics show that in 2011 the US has the highest per capita percentage rate of spending on health care of any developed nation - 17.9 percent of GDP. The next highest rates are seen in the Netherlands (12.0%) and France (11.6%). Yet the US's performance in public health is comparatively poor, as discussed by Dadush's letter. New Zealand's health spending rate is fairly static at around 10.1%.]  

15 April 2013

The best transportation plan is a great land-use plan

Brent Toderian, the president of the Council for Canadian Urbanism and the former director of city planning for Vancouver, British Columbia, offers a view of successful urban design in this morning's Seattle newspaper. The lessons he offers apply equally well to a city like Auckland, which struggles due to its burdensome over-reliance on motorways and its long-standing under-investment in public transport infrastructure:

Align your land use with how you get around.

For decades, most cities in North America have separated their thinking around land use and transportation, and the car-capacity tail has tended to wag the land-use dog.
This has always been a recipe for failure, resulting in car-dependent cities that ironically don’t even work for drivers.
Car-dependent transportation models create self-fulfilling prophecies of gridlock by pushing land uses apart and densities down, leading to communities that are unwalkable and not viable for transit.
A car-centric model forces people into their cars for almost everything. And if you try to do high-density planning around the car it also fails. Miserably.
Vancouver illustrates a different and better way. Starting with the refusal of freeways through the city in the late 1960s (which meant we never had to spend the money to bury them) Vancouver continues to design a multimodal city that prioritizes walking, biking and transit and recognizes that the best transportation plan is a great land-use plan.
Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, which lobotomized your downtown and waterfront, says much about Seattle’s prioritization of car capacity over better city-building. Although it’s a great thing that the viaduct is now coming down, so much more could have been done to build a better city with the money spent burying the highway.
If uses and activities are mixed and compact, with everything proximate and walkable, the “power of nearness” makes every method of getting around work better, including driving — with freedom of choice.
- Brent Toderian, Seattle Times, 14 April 2013

14 April 2013

Anticipating the funeral of Margaret Hilda Thatcher

Noting the impending funeral on Wednesday of a former leader who divided Britain and the entertaining tomfoolery of the BBC controller attempting to suppress the appearance of 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' in the top 3 of the UK top 40 this weekend, it's worth noting that there are more trenchant critiques of Margaret Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister than the Oz-themed jollity currently bounding up the charts. The other oft-cited anti-tribute, and one whose lyrics contain a much more direct and forthright reaction to Thatcher's death is that of Elvis Costello. His 'Tramp The Dirt Down' from the 1989 album Spike is as biting and visceral a eulogy as any leader could hope for. It has apparently reached no.79 in the iTunes charts this week, so perhaps 'Tramp The Dirt Down' will turn up in the official UK charts and be banned too?

“I also think you have to remember that it’s not only her that the song is aimed at. It’s what she represents. The way she’s changed the way people value things. It’s like some kind of mass hypnosis she’s achieved. People are afraid to speak out. You know, one thing I thought I’d be asked when people heard it was whether I was saying it might’ve been a good thing if she’d died in the Brighton bombings. I don’t think so. It would have made things 10 times worse, because then she would have been a martyr. We would have had a dead queen. So really, in a profound sense, the song is hopeless. It’s a hopeless argument. Because I think it’s a hopeless situation. So, no, it’s not in a large, historical sense, going to change anything.
“But I think it does have maybe an individual effect. There’s always a chance it’ll sneak through somehow. Like, I sang it at a folk festival in the Shetlands, at one place that was very brightly lit and I could see the audience quite clearly. And all the way through, there was one guy nodding away, applauding every line obviously getting into it. And on the other side, there was another guy being physically restrained from getting up on the stage and hitting me. He just fused, he really went. You could see it in his face. And I thought, ‘Well, I’ve really got a winner now.’ To the extent, you know, that it had succeeded in being at least provocative.” 
- Elvis Costello talking to Allan Jones when 'Spike' was released, Uncut, 9 April 2013

Here's Costello performing it live in 1989 (intro NSFW-L):

03 April 2013


On Sunday I visited the Museum of Transport and Technology, more commonly known as MOTAT, in Auckland for the first time since I was a kid. It's an old-fashioned sort of museum, little-changed since my childhood, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem, because a large part of its focus is on preserving New Zealand's transport heritage. That's a job it does well. 

One addition to MOTAT since I last visited is the excellent new aviation hall on a satellite site known as MOTAT 2, which lies off Meola Road and is connected to the main MOTAT site and the Auckland Zoo by trundling green ex-Melbourne trams. The new MOTAT 2 hall is only a couple of years old and houses an impressive collection of vintage aircraft. 

Pride of place is given to two lovely heritage aircraft. At the front of the hall sits a well-preserved Mk VII Lancaster bomber. It was built in June 1945, stored in Britain until 1951, and served with the French Air Force until 1964, when it was finally donated to MOTAT. And at the back was the highlight for me, the extremely rare Short S45 Solent Mk IV flying-boat 'Aranui', registration ZK-AMO. The aircraft served the precursor of Air New Zealand, Tasman Empire Airlines Limited (TEAL) on routes to the east coast of Australia in the late 1940s, and then earned its fame flying the luxurious Coral Route from Auckland to Tahiti via Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga from 1950 until it was retired in 1960. In September of that year the Coral Route ceased and 'Aranui' was retired. For the next five years the main long-distance aircraft used by TEAL until the arrival of jet aircraft in 1965 was the land-based Lockheed L-188 Electra, a cousin of which is still seen in New Zealand skies in the form of the RNZAF's P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. 

(Click photos to enlarge)

Lancaster, Skyhawk & Sir Keith Park statue
Short Solent 'Aranui' closeup
Aermacchi jet trainer, in service for c.10 years to 2001
Curtiss P40E Kittyhawk
DeHavilland Dragon Rapide
Short Sunderland (?), Mitchell bombers & DC3

See also:
Video: Mosquito, Spitfire & Kittyhawk flypast, 18 January 2013 
Blog: RNZAF 75th anniversary airshow, 1 April 2012
Blog: Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 29 January 2012