Combs Spouts Off

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The story of The Falling Man

Posted by Richard on September 11, 2019

it was, to my mind, the most horrifying, gut-wrenching part of a horrific day: perhaps as many as 200 or more people plunging to their deaths at 150 miles per hour because that was better than the fate that awaited them if they stayed in the upper floors of the World Trade Center North Tower.

There was one iconic photo, taken by AP’s Richard Drew, that quickly became famous and then quickly disappeared. Hundreds of newspapers published it once, and many readers expressed outrage. It was just too horrifying, too painful; it was exploitative; this man had a family! All the photos and videos of people falling to their deaths disappeared. People don’t want to see them, to be reminded of what happened. It’s too disturbing.

And yet, I think we should see them. Those of us who watched at the time should be reminded. Those who didn’t, those who are too young to have witnessed that day, should know—and feel—what it was like.

Three years ago, Esquire published Tom Junod’s The Falling Man. It tells the story of that picture and its photographer. It shows that picture and others. It explores why this part of our history has been erased. It recounts the efforts to identify The Falling Man and suggests who he most likely was. It’s a long and grim read. I urge you to read the whole thing.

They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors—the top. For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds. They were all, obviously, not just killed when they landed but destroyed, in body though not, one prays, in soul.

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Eighteen years ago today

Posted by Richard on September 11, 2019

Eighteen years ago this morning, in the words of Rep. Ilhan Omar, “some people did something.”

On September 11, 2001, barbarians with box cutters — primitive 7th-century savages who could never build a World Trade Center or a 747, but whose insane ideology is dedicated to making the building of such things impossible — murdered 2,996 innocent people and changed Lower Manhattan from this:

Lady Liberty watching over the twin towers before 9/11

to this:

1st tower falls

Fleeing as the tower falls

Fleeing through the choking dust

Falling to his death

Never forget.

Flag still stands

Never forget.

raising the flag at ground zero

Never, ever forget.

9/11 tribute of light

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Must-avoid TV

Posted by Richard on September 4, 2019

My deepest sympathies to anyone having to spend time at an airport tonight. CNN’s climate crisis town hall is on the air. This won’t matter to most folks not at an airport, since very few people who have a choice of channels ever tune into CNN anymore.

I predict that CNN’s viewership will be even lower than usual for the next six or seven hours. Yes, that’s how long this ten-candidate tirade against capitalism, modernity, and progress will go on. Even hard-core environmentalists and socialists (but I repeat myself) are going to have a hard time staying conscious throughout.

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown (emphases in original):

What’s a worse TV programming idea than six straight hours of Democratic campaigners talking climate change? Honestly, I’m not sure. But this is the fresh hell that CNN has planned for America this Wednesday night. And while, sure, you can choose not to tune in to this particular political pageantry, there’s no avoiding its fallout, as Democratic 2020 candidates compete to outdo each other with grand regulatory plans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) wants a plan similar to the “Green New Deal” proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and company. It would entail an initial $3 trillion investment over 10 years. That’s the same price tag we see for Sen. Cory Booker’s (D–N.J.) plan, which includes $50 billion for an Environmental Justice Fund and a promise to plant 100 million trees.

Julián Castro’s plan would cost $10 trillion and includes a plank to dismantle “environmental racism,” which is:

a type of discrimination where communities of color and low-income communities are forced to live in close proximity to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as hazardous waste sites or pollution. To that end, Castro said he’d propose new civil rights bills like requiring all federal actions be reviewed for environmental and health impacts on low-income and marginalized communities.

Joe Biden’s plan is cheap in comparison, at a projected $1.6 trillion.

Biden, Booker, Castro, and Warren will all appear as part of the CNN climate extravaganza starting tonight at 5 p.m. EDT, along with Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), and Andrew Yang.

“Most candidates have the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, although some aim to accelerate by a few years to 2040 or 2045,” notes CBS News. “Many candidates also hope to cut emissions by half by 2030 and get to net-zero emissions for electricity by that year,” and all have vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords.

Actually, it might be a good thing if more Americans were aware that the Democrats intend to spend mind-boggling sums to reduce our CO2 emissions, crippling the economy and wrecking their household budgets, while India, China, and others are building over a thousand new coal-fired power plants.

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Stormtrooper ziplining

Posted by Richard on July 27, 2019

I believe this is the longest zipline in Colorado, on the Animas River near Durango.

Shoot straight he does not.
Zipline well he does.
—Yoda

 

Stormtrooper Zip line from Hank Blum Photography on Vimeo.

 

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Happy Pi Approximation Day!

Posted by Richard on July 22, 2019

For those who use the dd/mm date format, today is 22/7, which is the best fractional approximation of pi using a numerator limited to two digits.

I’m going to celebrate by having approximately one thin-crust pepperoni pi(e) for dinner. And beer. Because beer.

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The success and failure of Apollo

Posted by Richard on July 20, 2019

On July 20, 1969, I was a 19-year-old student at the University of Tennessee and an Air Force ROTC cadet, just a few weeks away from beginning my junior year and being sworn into the Air Force. I hoped, under the relaxed Vietnam-era vision requirements, to qualify for flight training; becoming a pilot had been my dream since a very early age (that dream was later shattered when I failed the eye exam by a hair).

I grew up during the dawn of space exploration. I remember Sputnik in 1957 and Explorer in 1958. I remember Laika the dog and Yuri Gagarin. I remember Alan Shephard’s flight in Freedom 7. I followed the Mercury and Gemini and Apollo programs closely, and with a combination of wonder, excitement, and anticipation.

You see, I was also an avid science fiction fan and had by 1969 read every SF book I could get my hands on. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournell, Poul Andersen, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov… but especially Heinlein. All the Heinlein.

Red Planet and The Menace from Earth in particular had made strong impressions on me at an early age, especially the latter. In it, Heinlein posited lunar colonists filling a huge underground cavern with air. In that cavern, they could strap on wings and fly like birds in the 1/6th gravity. I dreamed of being able to do that someday, and every step forward in space exploration brought that dream a little closer.

So needless to say, I was glued to the TV on July 20, 1969. My heart raced at every critical moment before the touchdown and leaped with joy when Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface and declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Yes! From that moment on, humans would no longer be confined to Earth!

I was convinced that in the future—the relatively near future—there would be permanent colonies on the moon, large Earth-orbiting space stations to serve as way-stations and perhaps tourist destinations, and trips to Mars. Surely all this would happen within 30 years. After all, look how far we’d come in just over a decade since those first small satellites were launched! Later, there’d be asteroid mining, perhaps terraforming of Mars, and who knows what other wonders.

These weren’t just the idle dreams of a starry-eyed teen. Jack Fowler quoted from the August 26, 1969 issue of National Review:

Critics of the space program are jumping all over Vice President Agnew and others who have urged a go-ahead for ambitious space ventures in the Seventies and Eighties. The attacks take a familiar line: We cannot afford more space extravaganzas while there are pressing needs to be met here on earth.

But NASA’s plans for the next two decades—contingent, of course, on the necessary funding—are much less extravagant than they are awe-inspiring. They fall, as Aviation Week & Space Technology has pointed out, “into four major categories:

“Earth orbital space stations of large, eighty- to one hundred-man capacity . . . supplied by maneuverable, reusable space shuttles.

“Lunar exploration and establishment of permanent scientific bases on the moon.

“Manned exploration of Mars with a 1981 launch target date for a 24-month mission by two six-man crews in tandem spacecraft using nuclear power. . . .

“Unmanned exploration of the far planets in the solar system. . . .”

Thomas O. Paine, NASA administrator, has assured President Nixon that all these plans are feasible if the government will commit annually 0.5 to 1 per cent of the Gross National Product. This spending rate is no higher than the rate for the Sixties. NASA’s budget reached a record high of 0.9 percent of the GNP in 1966 and is now hovering just below 0.5 per cent.

With the frontier of space and its unlimited potential ahead made suddenly accessible by Apollo 11, it is hard to believe the nation will permit the liberal wailers to force it back into its earth-bound shell.

And yet, the nation did. Oh, sure, the shuttle came along, and the ISS. But we remained confined to Earth orbit, if not strictly to Earth. No moving forward, building on the Apollo missions.

* * * * *

My joy at the triumph of Apollo 11 wasn’t just national (or species) pride. I was excited for selfish reasons. I wanted to go to the moon, or at least to some giant circular space station, rotating to provide artificial gravity. And it looked on that day as if that would become possible well before I became an old man.

Fifty years later, I’m an old man. And none of what I’d hoped for has happened. Barring some major gerontological breakthroughs, I’ll never have the opportunity in the years I have left to “break the bounds of planet Earth.”

So although the Apollo 11 mission was a stirring success and a marvelous technological achievement, and I have great admiration for all the men and women who made it possible, to me the Apollo program turned out to be a failure, a sad false start, and a personal disappointment.

I should have known better. Already a libertarian at that age (although I didn’t know the word at the time), I should have known that truly successful exploration and colonization of space would depend not on a government bureaucracy, but on entrepreneurs driven to achieve great things, leave their mark on history, and make a profit. I should have known, because Heinlein predicted exactly that in The Man Who Sold the Moon.

It looks like, thanks to billionaire investors like Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, and others, along with the end of legal restrictions on such private activities, the Heinlein vision is finally starting to be fulfilled.

If only it hadn’t taken most of my lifetime…

* * * * * * * * *

Apollo 11

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Our hero dead

Posted by Richard on May 27, 2019

“Flags In” for Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo from Isaac Wankerl (www.iwankerl.com).
The grave of his father, Maj. Max W. Wankerl, is in the foreground.

Memorial Day

by Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.
Into God’s valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o’er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.
Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.
The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom’s flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant’s chain.

Today, please remember those who died “that liberty shall live.” I’m remembering my dad, Col. Samuel R. Combs — who, in the memorable words of Robert Denerstein, “answered his country’s call even before the phone rang.” I miss you, Papa.

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Denver election reveals something interesting

Posted by Richard on May 8, 2019

Yesterday was municipal election day in Denver (see results here). It’s not something I generally get excited about, since it’s such a leftist electorate (Democrats outnumber Republicans almost four to one). The battles for mayor and city council were mostly between mainstream Democrats (meaning semi-socialists of varying degrees of corruption) and challengers from the radical left. Six candidates were vying for two at-large city council seats, and I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any of them.

But we did have two significant ballot issues. Initiative 300 would have given the “homeless” who won’t use shelters or accept help getting off the street (a.k.a. vagrants, hobos, junkies) the right to camp as long as they want on any public property. Even most of Denver’s bleeding-heart liberals couldn’t swallow that. I guess they’d seen the news stories about “homeless encampments” with mountains of trash, the stench of urine and feces, and syringes scattered about. Or maybe they’d encountered feces or needles in their alleys or parks (someone took a dump on my garage apron a while back). It was rejected overwhelmingly (17% to 83%). Good.

Initiative 301 would have decriminalized possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms. I supported it, but expected it to fail bigly. It’s apparently failed, but the margin surprised me. The “magic mushroom initiative” trails by 48% to 52%.

UPDATE: 301 has apparently passed, with just under 51% of the vote (pending all the usual verification stuff). There was a surge of voting on election day, and those votes weren’t counted until this morning. Apparently, about 55% of election-day voters favored 301. I wonder where the nearest cow pasture is.

Here’s what’s interesting: the incumbent mayor, Michael Hancock, received 39% of the vote and thus faces a runoff. Magic mushrooms outpolled the mayor by 9 percentage points! So significantly more Denverites are OK with psilocybin than with the mayor. I guess they’re not as dumb as I thought.

I suspect some version of the shroom initiative will be back next year. The mayor’s future will be determined in June.

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Is Beto the John Edwards of 2020?

Posted by Richard on March 14, 2019

Shot:

‘That’s gross!’ Beto O’Rourke’s stunt in Iowa just killed our appetites (and hopefully his chances) [pics]

Chaser:

HACKTASTIC: Look closely this other fawning magazine profile of a rising Democrat pretty boy

Say what you will about John Edwards, but at least he didn’t campaign on coffee shop counters.

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Happy Pi Day!

Posted by Richard on March 14, 2019

Well, Pi Approximation Day. A better Pi Approximation Day, if you use the more sensible day/month notation instead of the American month/day, is the 22nd of July (22/7).

But any excuse to eat pie, right? I’m going to have my favorite kind of pie, pizza, at 1:59, the Pi Minute.

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Denver’s flexible snow plowing policy

Posted by Richard on February 23, 2019

When we get snow in Denver, the city generally plows only main streets (those with a yellow stripe down the middle). The official policy is that residential streets only get plowed when a foot or more of snow falls. Last night’s storm dumped only about half that in my neighborhood.

But this morning, either my block experienced about a week’s worth of traffic or a plow came through. I’m pretty sure it was the latter. So what gives? Why the deviation from policy?

Oh, that’s right. The mayor is up for reelection this spring. Ain’t politics grand?

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Israeli lunar lander to launch tonight

Posted by Richard on February 21, 2019

Israel is set to join the exclusive club (US, Russia, and China) that has landed a spacecraft on the moon. But it’s not the Israeli government’s undertaking. This will be the first private lunar mission:

Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) say that Israel’s inaugural voyage to the moon – the world’s first privately funded lunar mission – will begin Thursday night at approximately 8:45 p.m., U.S. Eastern time, when the lunar lander “Beresheet” (“In the Beginning”) blasts off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceIL was a finalist in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, which ended last March with no winner when Google withdrew its support. The XPRIZE Foundation is seeking a sponsor for a new Lunar XPRIZE.

As usual, SpaceX will provide a live webcast of the launch.

So, how long until Hamas declares that Mohammed, in a dream, rode his winged horse to the moon and claimed it for Islam, making this mission an act of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people?

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Coloradans strongly support TABOR

Posted by Richard on February 21, 2019

All those newly-elected Democrats in Colorado had better pay attention to this:

new poll was released indicating overwhelming support of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which most Coloradans lovingly refer to as TABOR. Fully 71 percent of the 500 Coloradans surveyed expressed support for the policy, and lest you think these numbers are skewed, the breakdown of who was asked is… rather reflective of an actual election in Colorado: 37 percent of respondents were either unaffiliated or members of a third party, 32 percent were Democrats, and 31 percent were Republicans.

Interestingly, the survey found that just under half of respondents supported TABOR and a fourth were unsure when no description of it was provided. When respondents were given a brief objective description of TABOR, virtually all the previously unsure became supporters:

On the initial position on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), 47% of respondents favor it, 26% oppose it and 26% are unsure.
After an explanation of TABOR, 71% of respondents favor it, 28% oppose it and 2% are unsure. The explanation provided was the following.
TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is an amendment to the state constitution passed in 1992 which requires state and local government to seek voter approval in order to raise taxes and also limits growth in state spending to population growth plus inflation. If the state collects more revenues than it is allowed to spend, then it must return the surplus to the taxpayers.

The description caused virtually no change in opposition. So maybe the quarter of respondents opposed already all knew exactly what TABOR does. Or maybe their opposition isn’t based on what TABOR does, but on the fact that all the “right people” in government hate it and all the racist, homophobic, misogynistic monsters (e.g., conservatives and Republicans) support it.

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IJ scores 9-0 SCOTUS victory in Timbs v. Indiana

Posted by Richard on February 20, 2019

Good news from the Supreme Court today, as reported in the Institute for Justice press release:

In an historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment protects Americans not just against the federal government, but against states and local authorities too. No matter which state you live in, every level of government must now abide by the federal Constitution’s guarantee that property owners will be safe from excessive fines and forfeitures. “[T]he historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Court, “is overwhelming.”

Six justices signed onto Ginsburg’s opinion. Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion reiterating his contention that the court should base incorporation decisions on the 14th Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, not the Due Process Clause, quite properly calling the concept of substantive due process “oxymoronic.” Justice Gorsuch also wrote a concurring opinion stating that “the appropriate vehicle for incorporation may well be the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, rather than, as this Court has long assumed, the Due Process Clause.” The PDF of the opinions is available here.

The Privileges or Immunities Clause was essentially made irrelevant by the Supreme Court’s 1873 ruling in the Slaughterhouse Cases, one of the worst SCOTUS rulings of all time. IJ has a good brief summary.

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“Rattlesnake Kate,” the musical

Posted by Richard on February 20, 2019

If you watched the Next on 9News program I posted recently about Travis Kauffman, the man who killed a mountain lion bare-handed, you also learned a little about Rattlesnake Kate. For much more about this remarkable woman, check out this Greeley History story.

There’s more. It turns out that former Lumineer Neyla Pekarek recently released her first solo album, “Rattlesnake,” and is close to completing “Rattlesnake Kate,” the musical:

A rough draft, bare-bones version sans costumes and choreography will be available to watch in its rough-draft form as part of the Colorado New Play Summit at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Seawell Ballroom in Denver, 1350 Arapahoe St. Tickets are $20 but space is limited, so call the Denver Center for Performing Arts ahead of time at 303-893-4100.

“I think we underpromised,” said Pekarek, a University of Northern Colorado graduate who recently left The Lumineers last fall to pursue her solo career. “Things have gone really well. It’s definitely not a finished product but we have some great, exciting things to show people.”

Pekarek’s first solo album “Rattlesnake” dropped last month. It’s an ode to her muse, “Rattlesnake Kate,” whose story she fell in love with while living in Greeley. The legend slithers its way through each of the tracks.

The album also is the foundation of the musical. Pekarek will also write two new songs.

And here’s Carter Sampson’s song, “Rattlesnake Kate,” with some really tasty guitar accompaniment by BJ Baartmans:


[YouTube link]

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