Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hawks of Winter

My dad often drives around the plains near Denver, and noted that the bare trees made for excellent hawk watching. He enlisted me and my 300 mm zoom lens, and last Saturday we went hawk hunting! Our first few finds were cute little sparrow hawks, (technically the American Kestrel) but they proved very skittish, often booking at first sight of my camera.

I found that trying to photograph birds who don't want to be photographed can be very difficult. Especially as my zoom lens can take quite a while to focus. By the time things were ready, as often as not the bird was gone. Luckily though, this gorgeous young Buteo, likely a Swainson's hawk,(edit: We have reclassified this guy as a Ferruginous Hawk) stuck around on his telephone poll long enough for me to get pretty close. He was talking to me as I closed the distance, probably saying "if you get closer I'm flying away!"

The last one we saw didn't stick around either, but still gave us a good glimpse as he soared away.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Every year Denver puts on a Christkindlmarkt, a German style Christmas Market. It's a fairly low key affair, especially when compared to the original's over in Germany and Austria, but a pleasant diversion nonetheless. Liz and I met up one night for some bratwurst, and Glühwein, a hot spiced wine. It's just not Christmas without Glühwein! We poked around the shops a bit, but the high prices kept our wallets in our pockets. $70.00 nutcrackers are a bit out of my price range, though I suppose it's cheaper than a trip to Munich.

The family met up this Christmas morning, for baked breakfast goods, chai, and some gifts! Fritz the schnoodle celebrated his birthday with his favorite toy, left over wrapping paper. He made several trips between the living room and his haunts under the table, bearing paper, ribbons, bows and more to tear, chew, and generally romp in.

After, we went for a walk around the park in the beautiful Colorado Christmas Sunshine (TM). On the way we caught a glimpse of a very cute downy woodpecker, and of course I had to take a picture.

I hope all my readers had a very Merry Christmas. I promise to get back to my backlog of blog updates, starting with Venice and finishing with The Big Island!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Battleship Row: Where are they now?

While at least a few of the names of the 8 battleships present during the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor are widely known, the stories of these ships after the attack are less famous.

USS Nevada

The Nevada was the lead ship of her class, sharing a design with the USS Oklahoma, also present in Pearl Harbor that morning. The Nevada had a long career, being launched in 1914 and serving in both World War 1 and World War 2. She was the only battleship in Pearl Harbor to get underway, which made her a prime target for the attacking planes. After taking several torpedo and bomb hits, her captain grounded the ship on Hospital Point, to avoid her sinking and blocking the harbor entrance.

After a three month salvage operation, where huge and cumbersome patches were placed over the torpedo holes, the Nevada was refloated, and sailed to the West Coast to complete repairs and undergo a total modernization.

Nevada participated in both theaters, bombarding the Normandy Beaches, and then returning to the Pacific in time to help flatten Iwo Jima. After the war she was used in the Bikini Atol Atomic Bomb tests, surviving two explosions. Here damaged and radioactive hulk was finally sunk by other Navy ships in practice exercises.

USS Arizona

The Arizona was a Pennsylvania class super dreadnaught, built shortly before the first World War. She stayed in home waters during that time, owing to a shortage of fuel oil in Britain. In the inter-war period Arizona underwent several upgrades and modifications, and was often showing the flag, as she was one of our largest and most impressive battleships.

The air raid alarm on the Arizona went off at 7:55 AM on December 7th, and at 8:06 a 500kg armor piercing bomb ignited a black powder magazine, which then ignited her vast main batter magazine. The explosion broke her back, and shattered the entire forward part of the ship. Of any ship in the Harbor, everybody knew from the very start that there would be no salvage of the Arizona. The superstructure was taken off as scrap, and her big guns were removed and placed in shore batteries around Oahu. The hull, with its 1,177 remains, stayed in place, and is now a memorial.

USS Tennessee

The Tennessee was a post World War 1 design, the lead ship of her class. The design used all of the lessons learned in the Great War, especially those of the battle of Jutland.

During the attack she was moored inboard of the USS West Virgina, and ahead of the USS Arizona. The shattering explosion of the Arizona showered the ships around her with flaming debris, and soon burning oil was flooding the harbor. The captain avoided the oil flooding towards his ship by running his propellers, without undocking or moving! Protected by torpedoes by the West Virginia, the Tennessee was relatively unscathed, and was soon on the West Coast for repair and refit.

The changing realities of naval war meant that the old, slow battle wagons weren't as useful in fleet engagements anymore, relegating them to coastal bombardment rolls. The above photo shows the Tennessee supporting the invasion of Okinawa. After the war the ship was mothballed in case of future need, but no need arrived, and she was sold for scrap in 1959.

USS West Virginia

The West Virginia was a Colorado Class Battleship, commissioned in 1923. In 1941 the three ships of the Colorado Class were the largest and most modern battleships in the US Navy. They had bigger guns than the preceding Tennessee class, designed in response to the big guns being built into new Japanese construction.

The West Virginia, or WeeVee was moored outboard from the Tennessee, and thus was a prime target for torpedoes. She took at least 6 torpedoes, and two bombs, and it is thought that one or two of the torpedoes may have entered the ship through holes created by previous hits, and thus detonated even deeper into the ship.

Quick thinking prevented the West Virgina from capsizing, but she soon settled in about 40 feet of water, her decks awash and aflame. At first it was thought that the WeeVee was a total loss, suitable only for scrapping, but with so few battleships, she represented an important asset, so her salvage became a priority. She was refloated in May of 1942, and after the holes in her hull were repaired, she sailed to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, and was totally repaired and rebuilt over a period of two years. Finally released from the yard in mid 1944, she went on to participate in bombardments and surface actions throughout the rest of the war. At the close of hostilities, she too was mothballed, and then scrapped in 1959.

USS Maryland

The second Colorado Class ship at Pearl Harbor, the USS Maryland was moored inboard of the Oklahoma. Like the Tennessee, this protected her from the shallow water modified torpedoes. With only minimal damage from a pair of bomb strikes, she was at the Puget Sound Yard by the end of December, and by February of 1942 was fully repaired and modernized, in time for the battle of Midway.

However, as the battles of Pearl Harbor and Midway proved, the day of the battleship was over, and their role as lords of the ocean was at a decisive end. With the rest of the pre-war designs, the Maryland was mothballed at the end of the war, and was scrapped in 1959.

USS Oklahoma

The sister ship of the Nevada, the Oklahoma had a long career, beginning from May 1916. On December 7th, she was moored outboard of the Maryland, again making her a target for the torpedo planes. In the early minutes of the attack, she took three torpedo hits in rapid succession, and begin to roll. Several more strikes soon followed, with perhaps as many as nine torpedoes hitting her port side. Within 12 minutes she had completely capsized, burying her masts and superstructure in the mud of the harbor.

Initially it was thought that the Oklahoma could be salvaged, though everybody involved knew that it would be a major job, and that other ships like the Nevada and California would be easier to get back in the fight. By July of 1942 it was time to begin. The first step was to right the ship, and this took months of work, with winches and structures constructed on Ford Island, and attached to the ship. By the time she was righted and the gaping holes in her port side examined, nobody was talking about repair. She was patched at her berth, refloated, and carefully escorted to dry dock. Her guns and superstructure were all salvaged by the navy, and her hulk was sold for scrap. Her damaged side gave way in a storm while she was under tow, and she sank 540 miles out of Hawaii in May of 1947.

USS California

The California was a Tennessee class ship, launched in 1919. Like the other ships docked in Pearl Harbor, she was caught unawares by the attack, but the California was even more worse off the other moored ships. In preparation for an inspection the following day, the watertight hatches that lead into the voids and fuel tanks were not latched, and some were fully open. These hatches lead into the areas that were designed to take the brunt of any torpedo attack. She took two torpedo hits in the attack, as well as a few bomb strikes and near misses. With her watertight integrity fatally compromised by the open hatches, despite three days of pumping and fighting to keep her afloat, by the 10th of December she was on the bottom, and her decks were awash.

By March of 1942 California was patched and refloated, and by June she was ready to depart for the West Coast for permanent repair and upgrade. She was turned loose from the yard in January of 1944, and participated in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. She too was mothballed in 1946, and then sold for scrap in 1959.

USS Pennsylvania

The lead ship of her class, the Pennsylvania was dry docked for routine repairs in December of 1941. She escaped relatively unscathed in the attack, though the two ships in the dock with her, the destroyers Cassin and Downes were devastated by bomb hits and fire. After the attack, the Pennsylvania's repairs were expedited, and she departed Hawaii on December 20th. She was further repaired in San Francisco that spring, and soon joined a force of battleships steaming off the west coast, protecting from any follow on Japanese Attack.

Soon after the battle of Midway, with a forward Japanese assault on the Mainland now very unlikely, she steamed into the Pacific. In the photo above, she leades the USS Colorado into the Philippines in January of 1945. Towards the end of the war she took a torpedo hit aft, and was heavily damaged. She was repaired, but the end was near, and nobody needed a damaged battleship. Like the Nevada, the Pennsylvania was use as an Atomic guinea pig at Bikini Atoll. After the tests she was towed to a nearby atoll, studied, and sunk.

From the 1600's to 1941 the Battleship was the lord of the sea. The more armor and guns a ship had, the more powerful she was. With the advent of the aircraft carrier, their primacy was ended forever. Ironically, the attack on Pearl Harbor achieved it's goal, the battleships of the pacific fleet were all damaged or sunk, many would return to war but years after the attack. However, by missing the US carriers, a new kind of decisive battle would be fought, not with big guns but with dive bombers and torpedo planes.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Swedish Vampires

There are two "vampire romance" movies out right now. One is the teeny-bopper friendly Twilight, based off a series of books that is wildly popular in high schools around the country. The other is the dark Swedish horror film Let the Right One In, a dark tail of love and 12 year old girls who aren't quite what they seem.

Guess which one I saw?

Let the Right One In is a very good horror movie. Now those who know me probably know of my distaste for horror in general. I don't like slasher movies or zombie movies or any movie where the music spikes as a cat walks past.

I do enjoy moody films that present less gore and and cheap scares and more horrific things to think about and chew over after you leave the film. Here we are presented with a 12 year old boy named Oskar, and his divorced parents and bullying classmates. He's not a happy kid, and when he first meets the cold and strange smelling new girl in the neighborhood, Eli, he sees a possible new friend. This is despite her immediate statement, "We can't be friends."

He eventually does worm his way into friendship, and even a tentative 12 year old style romance, but soon her secret comes out, and he has to make a few decisions.

The stark Swedish winter is really another character in the film, and deserves a mention. This movie looks COLD.

Let the Right One In is everything American movies are not. It's dark without being nihilistic, bloody without being gory (Eli is a messy eater), and intellectually challenging without being preachy. So of course, an American remake was announced before the film's Swedish premiere, much to the dissapointment of the director.

My final verdict, this is a horror film for people who don't like horror, and is well worth your time. Remember: Subtitles aren't scary, vampires are!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Italian for Thanksgiving

In celebration of Thanksgiving, I present the greatest steak known to man. The Bistecca alla Fiorentina starts with a large T-bone steak from local breeds of cattle. You then grill it, seasoned only with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Serve the huge slab of beef rare, and dig in! It may not be turkey and gravy, but it was the best meal we had in Italy!

We had plenty of other good meals too, including a delicious calzone at this restaurant just down the street from our convent lodgings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Piazzale Michaelangiolo

We started our second day in Florence with a visit to the Galleria dell'Accademia. The best part of the Galleria was of course Michelangelo's David. Like most great works of art, there is some electricity to seeing it "in the flesh." As usual, there was tons of excellent art, both statue and paintings, filling the museum. One series that I particularly enjoyed was another set of Michelangelo sculptures, the unfinished Prisoners. These sculptures were almost MORE interesting than finished pieces of art, as you could see the work that must be done to free a human shape from a block of marble.

That evening, after a full day tromping about the city, Nick and I decided to head up to the Piazzale Michaelangiolo to get the best views the city has to offer. Like being at the top of the Duomo, it was almost impossible to come back. The view was so spectacular that both words and photographs don't do it justice. We weren't the only ones who thought so, there were a fair number of tour buses up there too!

I highly recommend clicking on the above photograph as it really captures Florence, but at this size much of the detail is lost!

Friday, November 21, 2008

U.S.S. Arizona

I started my visit to Pearl Harbor at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. You first come to a Museum dedicated to the Arizona and the story of the attack on December 7th. You see a movie detailing the attack, and the fate of many of the Pacific Fleet ships that were sunk that day. You then board a ferry boat and ride out to the memorial.

I've long been fascinated by the story of December 7th, enough so that my primary complaint with the awful Ben Affleck movie wasn't the horrible love story or the wooden acting, it was that I could tell that little effort had been made to conform film to the real events of the attack. As I watched, I kept waiting for the U.S.S. Nevada to break for the ocean, and the U.S.S. Shaw to explode, but these and other major events of the battle were never dramatized.

However, actually traveling to battleship row, and seeing the shattered remains of the Arizona rusting at the bottom of the harbor was a sobering thing. Seeing the wreck made that day real in ways that history books and movies can never match. Standing on the memorial you can look down and see oil leaking from wreck, over 60 years after the explosion of her forward magazine doomed 1,177 of the 1,400 men aboard. The survivors say that the oil will stop leaking when the last of them dies.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Daily life in Florence


After the submarine, we kicked around Waikiki a bit, drinking some delicious beer and skimming through the Army Museum. The Museum was housed in an old coastal defense battery. After the war it had be slated for demolition, but due to its massive construction, was too hard to destroy! So they decided to make a museum out of it instead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Under the Deep Blue Sea

My Aunt has a huge stash of fliers and brochures, basically covering anything you can do on Oahu. Flipping through them, we happened upon the Oahu Submarine Rides. Now, I've been fascinated by submarines for AGES, and throw in shipwrecks and I really get excited. This hour sub trip not only involved a real submarine (unlike the admittedly cool Disneyland ride that's just on rails) but offered a look at two ships sunk as artificial reefs.

We made the trip out to Waikiki and motored out through the chop to the surfaced sub. They gave a talk about seasickness before we left, and I think the power of suggestion had more impact on my stomach than the wave motion did. We all filed into the sub, our little party being the last to board! This actually proved a boon, as we got to sit right at the very front, right behind the pilot.

The hatches closed, permission to dive was given, and suddenly the floor was slanting rather seriously downwards. We were going under! This landlubber got quite the rush, even more so when schools of fish started swimming over to check this big noisy thing out.

The dive takes the passengers around several different sorts of artificial reefs. First you swing by some structures that were developed by various oceanographic schools and agencies, but for me the really interesting one were of course the two ships. The first is an old navy support ship that was surplussed out and sunk by the submarine company.

There are also a couple of airliners from a defunct inter-island airline that were acquired and sunk. As our oh so punny guide broadcast, "We liquidated their assets!" Har har har!

The second of the ship based artificial reefs was a Korean fishing ship. Some years back there was a bad fire on board, and the vessel was abandoned by it's owners.

And then our ride was over, and it was time to surface. In our hour underwater I had seen some very cool sights, including three reef sharks (small, but still- SHARKS!) an eagle ray, tons of fish, two sunken ships, artificial reefs and two sunken airplanes. How cool is that?