Saturday, March 31, 2018

Camp Battleship

After serving six years (1968-1974) in the Navy, Tim was none too enthused when I suggested we do adult “battleship camp” with Atlas Obscura, a travel group that specializes in unusual tours. He changed his mind when I explained that I wanted to get a flavor of what it was like when he was a sailor, and so we spent last night on the USS Iowa, the decommissioned WWII battleship that’s now a museum in San Pedro harbor.

 USS Iowa

We got to the dock before 5PM. A couple from Nashville and a gal from Great Britain were already there. Once everyone else arrived, the ship historian introduced himself and his volunteer crew and shared the rules of the evening: no smoking and no wandering off on our own. Also, women were to sleep on one of the ship while men slept on the other—a big surprise to us and the other handful of married couples! We then boarded the ship and picked our bunks. I was expecting two beds per bunk, but, no, there were three, leaving very little room for doing anything but sleep.

 We were hoping for officers' quarters, but got enlisted
personnel beds instead. We were told in advance to
bring our own bedding: pillows and sleeping bags.

After the flag-lowering ceremony, we went below deck and ate dinner in the mess hall: lasagna, salad and a roll, plus (for some reason) potato chips, followed by dessert (ice cream sandwiches and popsicles). Tim told me later that the Navy food was much better, but I enjoyed our meal anyway.

 Dinner in the mess hall

There were 30 of us, so we split into two groups for what ended up being an exhaustive tour of the ship. During its heyday, the Iowa was the lead ship of its class and one of the U.S.’s largest battleships. Needless to say, it was also heavily armed and so we talked about and looked at a lot of turrets and munitions. But the ship’s greatest claim to fame was carrying president Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) to Tehran to meet with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin during World War II. The Iowa was also stationed at Japan during the war-ending surrender and ultimately served during the Korean War. It opened as a museum in December 2011.

 Captain's quarters where FDR stayed

Captain's bed
Our tour guides showed us everything from the onboard dentist office to the helm to the captain’s quarters, where FDR slept and held court. It was fascinating, but truly exhausting as we finally limped off to our bunks after 10PM. Despite the cramped quarters, I had no trouble falling asleep as soon as the lights went out and slept all the way till 5AM, when I squeezed out my bunk. Reveille was at 6:30AM. No showers, but breakfast (pancakes and bacon) was served in the mess hall before the flag-raising ceremony and group photos. We then all went our separate ways. Truly an unforgettable experience.

Turrets (forward deck)

 Another view

Dramatic silhouette at sunset

The helm

Hatches galore—so easy to get lost!

Sailor art created during "down time" at sea

More sailor art on passageway walls and doors

Machinery to load munitions into the turrets

Inside tomahawk missile turrets 

"Broadway," the ship-long passageway leading to and from

Starting to look like The Poseidon Adventure

"The Morning After"

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Titan Missile Museum

Nuclear holocaust was a distant but very real threat for those us growing up in the 1950s/60s. We practiced ducking-and-covering when citywide air-raid sirens were tested once a month. We were also intrigued by rumors of people building bomb shelters in their backyards. Ever looming nuclear war was just part of everyday life. However, as I grow older and learn more about the U.S.'s Cold War with the Soviet Union, I marvel at how we even survived that period.

Tim and I usually travel to Arizona every other year to see baseball spring training. While there, we like to take in some of the local attractions, such as the Pima Air Museum & Boneyard or the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. This year we decided to visit the Titan Missile Museum, site of the last remaining nuclear missile on "alert" from 1963 until 1987. 

Located outside Tucson, about two hours from our hotel in Tempe, this unassuming museum is home to one of the 54 nuclear missile launch sites that used to operate in Arizona, Kansas and Arkansas. Housed underground, the mega-ton Titan IIs, which were also used to propel Gemini capsules and their astronauts into space, could be airborne within a minute of receiving launch orders. Once detonated, the missile's nuclear warhead would kill everything within a 900-mile radius. But as our tour guides kept emphasizing, the main purpose of the missile program was to deter enemies from launching their own missiles. Luckily the ploy worked, leaving just one unarmed missile site to serve today as a museum and important cautionary history lesson.

Museum entrance

Visitors enter the site through a small building that contains a gift shop and excellent exhibit of Cold War artifacts. The hour-long tours of the missile silo start with a 15-minute video, orienting the group to what they're about to see. The group then goes outside, where a tour guide leads everyone to a set of concrete stairs heading underground.

Impossible to tell there's a mega-ton missile under this
unassuming landscape

Stairs heading underground

The launch site itself actually consists of three areas, connected by long hallways: living quarters and launch control (left), decontamination area (center), and missile silo (right), as illustrated below (click on image to enlarge). Once underground, our guide led us to the control room, where what now looks to be ancient (i.e., early 1960s) equipment used to monitor the missile and await launch orders. Crews of four worked in 24-hour shifts.

Detailed illustration of the underground site

One of many door button panels to enter the inner sanctum

State-of-the-art equipment in early 1960s

The red locker held the launch codes, requiring two people to access—
note the two locks on the locker

From there, we walked down a long corridor, passing the decontamination area and into the silo, where the (now de-nuked) Titan II still stands. The silo was built as two 150-foot-deep concentric cylinders: the outer ring measuring 55 ft. wide; the other, called the "launch duct," 26 ft. wide. Walls are 8 ft. thick. Though not allowed to go inside the cylinders, we were able to peer at the missile through two glass windows. Seeing the Titan II in such close proximity was absolutely breathtaking—not so much as a weapon of war, but more as a vehicle for space exploration, which I love.

Tim walking down the long corridor

Decontamination suits

Emergency shower if exposed to radiation—Karen Silkwood, anyone?

First sight of the missile's main body

De-nuked nosecone

Above ground again, we were encouraged to look at the missile through an observation window created specifically for tourists. And there it was, still standing in its underground silo, waiting for orders to wreak havoc on the world. Chilling, but a fascinating reminder of why no one should have the power to launch mass destruction. 

Looking down on the missile from the observation deck

By the way, if you're a Star Trek fan, you may recognize the Titan II and its silo from the movie First Contact, where savvy scientists turn a deactivated missile into the first "warp drive" spaceship. Yay!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

California Democratic Party Convention

Standing ovation for Nancy Pelosi

I’ve been a Democrat my entire life. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of me keeping a manual tally of delegate votes during the 1960 Democratic National Convention (DNC), when John Kennedy was nominated. I was six years old and have wanted to be a party delegate ever since.

Although I haven’t served as a DNC delegate (yet!), the national political situation has become so dire that I’ve been feeling the need to do more than just voting and donating money. So I answered a call for volunteers to help-out at this year’s California Democratic state convention in San Diego. I completed the requisite volunteer application form, describing my extensive experience planning and participating in other (non-political) conventions, and was soon invited to participate. I attended the convention today, helping one of the ethnic caucuses.

Tim and I follow the political scene very closely, but we have little knowledge of how candidates are selected, etc. Turns out the state convention is extremely important as this is where endorsements—which translate into campaign funding—are generated. Support is courted through the official party caucuses that represent various political constituencies: veterans, labor, seniors, Chicanos/Latinos, women, environment, Native Americans, etc. I was hoping to help either the women’s or environmental caucus, but was ultimately overjoyed with my assignment.

The caucus chair wasn’t expecting any help and so was pleasantly surprised to have me and another first-time volunteer. He quickly asked us to assist the staff member registering attendees before they entered the relatively small (only 60 seats) meeting room. A short business meeting was held before the floor was opened to candidates, who were each given just one minute (!) to explain their platform and solicit votes. Although most of the campaigners were apparently scheduled in advance, candidates could sign-up on-site in case there was leftover time to speak.

Non-caucus members were welcome to attend, but only members could vote. Therefore, much of the activity at our desk consisted of registering and collecting dues ($25) from new members who wanted to vote. While the staff member and the other volunteer handled that task, I signed-up unscheduled candidates who wanted to speak. I then physically carried their business cards into the meeting room and handed them to the caucus chair, who added their names to the agenda until there was no more time.

 John Chiang (in glasses), running for governor

The caucus meeting was almost two hours long, so we had lots of time to watch the state’s political world pass by. All four Democratic candidates for governor—Gavin Newsome, John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, and L.A.’s own Antonio Villaraigosa—walked by us several times. Most of them were with just one or two companions, but Chiang surrounded himself with a large retinue of folks carrying signs. At one point, both Villaraigosa and Chiang entered our tiny caucus room, causing a big flurry as their followers tried to get inside, too. A convention organizer happened to walk by, just then, and was amazed at the overflow of people spilling out into the hallway. “We’ll have to assign you a bigger room next year!” she said excitedly. We nodded knowingly.

 Antonio Villaraigosa (right), facing right, with supporters holding signs

By the way, I asked the caucus staffer if the proceedings automatically stopped for big-name candidates and she said no—they would not be allowed to speak unless they had signed up in advance. We were outside the room and so couldn't see if they actually spoke or not. We did hear later, however, that the women’s caucus went crazy when congressmember Nancy Pelosi (who we had seen rush by earlier) unexpectedly entered the room. Big-name candidates do get noticed even if they don’t speak.

Other impressive candidates who caught our eye were state senator Ricardo Lara, who had a HUGE crowd following him and chanting (“Lara! Lara!”), and Katie Hill, congressional candidate from Santa Clarita/Palmdale, whose camera crew seemed to film every little thing she did. Everyone who walked by either wore a t-shirt or carried a sign promoting one candidate or other. Quite a show!

After my shift ended, I joined everyone else downstairs for the general session in Hall F. Speakers included Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina running for Texas governor, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, and Pelosi. They were all received warmly with Pelosi getting a standing ovation. After a while, I decided to grab a quick snack at Starbuck’s and was shocked to hear jeers when I returned 20 minutes later. I did not recognize the speaker, but apparently not all Democratic candidates are created equal! He was followed by Ricardo Lara, whose supporters screamed and waved signs. For a moment there I thought I was at a national convention, watching delegates cheer for their favorite presidential nominee. So much excitement!

 Pelosi signs on every chair in the general session

There were far more candidates to see and hear, but I left the convention early so Tim and I could start heading home. Such a fascinating—and exhilarating—experience. I might just have to do it again next year . . .

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Women's March, 2018

City Hall, January 20, 2018
Last year’s Women’s March in downtown L.A. was one of the most validating events I've ever experienced. A half-million protesters joined together to alert the newly inaugurated White House occupant that we would be watching and weighing everything he did. The march was spontaneous, joyous, and exhilaratingly hopeful. We took our despondency over Hilary Clinton’s loss and turned it into positive collective action. I insisted that we march again yesterday, one year later.

Yesterday's protesters met at Pershing Square with the goal of marching to City Hall, several blocks away. Even though the actual march wasn’t scheduled to start till 10AM, participants were advised to arrive early to attend the pre-march rally and get fired up.

On the train to downtown L.A.: me in my 

Tim and I boarded the eastbound lightrail at 7:45AM. Most seats were already taken by (mostly) women, wearing pink “pussy hats” and warm clothes. Except for a handful of coeds, who got on at the USC stop, the great majority of riders were from the westside. We amused ourselves listening to them describe their recent trips to Europe and complain about managing their rental properties in Venice, CA. One woman’s mother skyped her as we approached downtown. “Hi, Mom,” she chirped. “I’m on the train to Los Angeles to march. Look, here’s my protest poster!”

We arrived at Pershing Square by 8:30AM and staked out a spot to stand. Occasionally, the crowd would cheer, but we didn’t know why because we couldn’t see the speakers or hear what they were saying. It was a colder-than-usual morning, so we tried to stay warm, while more and more people arrived, carrying signs and wearing pink hats. 

Lots of vendors this year—better prepared than last year
Several themes dominated this year’s march. Although there were many signs in support of the Dream Act and the “Me, Too” movement, most protested the current occupant of the White House and his recent rant against immigrants from “shithole” countries. The general consensus was that he should be impeached and that Congressional Republicans should be voted out of office next November. We wholeheartedly agreed.

"How to spot a dictator . . ."

Human march and "Spank Him Mueller!"

Who's a shithole now?

Some pro-abortion signs, too

Several of these . . . 
As the clock ticked past 10AM, the crowd started to grow restless waiting for the march to begin. Finally, we spotted a group of mutineers, pushing their way back towards us from the front of the crowd.

“Everyone is gridlocked,” they reported and so were trying to find another route to City Hall. A few minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw people behind us starting to march toward Broadway. We quickly joined them and were on our way.

Marching down Broadway
Suddenly I forgot about being cold and was soon chanting along with the marchers. “What does democracy look like?” someone yelled. “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!!” I screamed back and almost started crying with joy. It was truly wonderful.

We marched and fist-pumped our way down Broadway to City Hall. Even though this was not the planned route, Tim was happy to see several entrepreneurial street vendors selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs and so stopped to grab breakfast. Protesting, after all, can be hard work!

Grabbing breakfast from street vendor

Bacon-wrapped hot dog (gag!)
Thousands of people were already in front of City Hall by the time we arrived. We basked in the fellowship, took photos and then turned around to walk back down Broadway in search of restrooms. We missed the celebrity speakers—Olivia Munn, Natalie Portman, Viola Davis, et al.—but felt we had done our civic duty and so were now heading home. The lightrail was blissfully uncrowded.

Protesters at City Hall: "HISTORY IS HERSTORY"

Spotted on the way back home: Channel 7 news van with a
hand-scrawled note on pink paper, saying, "THIS IS WHAT 
DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!" No fake news here.