Making a comeback

It’s been years since I updated anything on this blog and its time to start posting some stuff again. I’m now mostly retired from journalism, so the tone and subject matter written about will change. I’ve deleted quite a few articles that had become outdated with the passage of time, but left a number of them in place for various reasons.

I had stopped flying for several years, but started up again four years ago when Skydive Fargo needed a pilot. At present, I’m not flying because I was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago and surrendered my medical certificate when I began treatment. I was lucky and pronounced cancer-free last November thanks to an excellent team of doctors and nurses at the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center. Currently, I’m working with the F.A.A. to get my medical reinstated.

So, what will I be writing about … well, could be almost anything and I can’t say how often new posts will appear other than whenever the fancy strikes to hammer on the keyboard when some notion catches my attention. Hope you’ll enjoy the new Zingstrom’s Blog.

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Scuba diving at Cozumel

Lost count of how many times I’ve been down to Cozumel to go diving. Really got spoiled by the warm water and the ease of getting out to dive down there. Also went a few times to the Sea of Cortez, the Channel Islands of Southern California and did a little fresh water diving around Minnesota, but always found the water was cold, visibility was often poor and, especially in fresh water, there just wasn’t as much to see. Made a half-dozen dives off Maui and that was fun, but it was pretty expensive compared to Cozumel. There’s some pretty diving on the mainland of the Yucatan, too, but because of winds and high surf it can be difficult to get the boats out from Playa del Carmen, Akumal and other beaches scattered down the beach to Tuluum. It’s a rare day the boats don’t go out on Cozumel.

Here’s a few pictures I took on various reefs along Cozumel.

Splendid toad fish. Most toad fish are a pretty drab green or reddish-brown except around Cozumel where this species lives. During night dives one often hears toad fish croaking.
A three-foot wingspan stingray.
Lots of huge angelfish around Cozumel. Black, grey and blue ones larger than a dinner plate.
A french lobster hiding in the reef. They look like foot-long cockroaches.
This grouper is about four feet long. Not the biggest I’ve ever seen but there are quite a few to be seen of different species. Saw once that was easily six feet long. The dive guide figured it weighed a couple hundred pounds. In years past, we used to take bread along on the dives and feed them, but that is now against the rules in the national park that encompasses the west side of the island.
One of many hawksbill turtles.
An octopus sitting on a sponge. These guys aren’t real big, usually less than two feet long, but they’re fun to play with. Generally only out and about at night and they’re very curious. The trick is not to shine your light in their eyes, approach slowly and put your hand out. Often they’ll reach out a tentacle and “taste” you with their suckers. Doesn’t hurt and during an interaction with one they put on quite a display of color and texture changes. I used to take a can of crab meat along to feed to these guys. Once I was feeding two of them, but I kept the can of meat in the pocket of my BC. While I was playing with those two, a third crafty little one snuck into the pocket and chowed down. Had a heckuva time getting the can away from it when i discovered the sneaky critter.
One of many parrot fish. Have seen some almost four feet long and they come in all different colors of red, blue and green. They eat coral and crap sand sand.
A royal queen fish. They don’t get as big as parrot fish but I’ve seen ones just about all the colors of the rainbow.
A red horse fish about six inches long. Surprisingly, this one was out in the open. Usually they’re well concealed in the reef and easy to miss if you don’t keep your eyes out looking for them.
A couple of cuttlefish. These guys will follow divers drifting along the reefs but they’re pretty shy about letting you get very close. These guys are about 10 inches long.
A five-foot barracuda. These guys are sneaky about trailing divers. I’ve looked over my shoulder a few times to find one a mere foot or two away, but when you turn to face them they dart away and they are fast.
Another hawksbill turtle feeding on a sponge with two black angel fish waiting to snag any scraps the turtle tears loose.
This nurse shark and green moray eel have been hanging out together for a couple years in this overhang. The only time they weren’t there when we looking for them was on a night dive when they were both likely out feeding. The shark is about five feet long and the eel is about a foot longer. The eel seems to like to be stroked down the length of its body and will come out and play while the shark tolerates being touched but seems ill at ease about it.
A lion fish, an invasive species that started showing up around Cozumel about 10 years ago. it’s the only fish that can be hunted in the national park and they actually encourage divers to take spears along to kill them. Spiny lobsters make short work of the carcasses and groupers will eat the small ones if they’re dead. Haven’t seen any other critters actively hunting lion fish. Apparently those spines are pretty nasty with toxic points, but once they’re dead they don’t seem to bother the fish I’ve fed them to.
This spotted eagle ray is about nine feet across and swam right by me. It’s the biggest eagle ray I’ve seen but occasionally one gets to see some huge manta rays. Once saw four of them and the smallest one was easily 15 feet across its wingspan.
Another nurse shark. These guys spend their day mostly sleeping in the reef and get active at night.
This is about the biggest green turtle I’ve seen around Cozumel. Unfortunately, this one appears to have been hit by the prop of a boat or something and has some pretty deep gashes in its shell just above the tail.
Another visit with the green moray.
Diving the intentionally sunk wreck of a Mexican Navy ship. I was there when they towed it out and sank it back in the late nineties. even though there are quite a few holes cut in the hull for access to the interior it is dark and spooky inside. Interestingly, each separate cabin along its length is a nursery of sorts for different kinds of fish and over the years different corals and sponges have sprouted around the superstructure.
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Critters in the park who aren’t in the zoo

More turtles.
One of many large dragonflies we see around here.
A cedar waxwing gorging on wild chokecherries.
A green heron fishing.
Mating dragonflies.
A great grey heron standing almost five-feet tall.
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Some critters in my hometown

Here are a few pictures from a photo essay I did a couple years ago that was featured at the local community center. Most of these photos were taken in the park across the street from the house I grew up in. The park was a year-round playground for all us kids and is still a fun place to wander around in. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Summertime and the living is easy.
Green heron, the smallest of the heron family and a beautiful bird.
One of those Kodak moments I couldn’t resist.
Hard to tell the scale here, but that snapping turtle is about 3.5 feet long. The painted mud turtle’s shell is about 12-inches long. I’ve been tracking this big creature for years and look forward to spotting it again every spring.

One of the popular hangouts for turtles on a warm summer day.

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Tactical shotgun story

One of things I’ve done recently during my hiatus from the Internet was to attend a tactical shotgun training course taught by Ed Chavez of R&A Tactical in Tucson. It was an enjoyable and enlightening experience.

Here’s a link to the story on the Guns&Patriots section on the Human Events website. R&A Tactical is located at 6811 No. Thornydale, Suite 155, Ph. (520) 408-8223.

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Tanker 121 lurks at the Gulch

This PB4Y, formerly known around the slurry tanker business as Hawkins&Powers Aviation’s Tanker 121, is now parked at the Casa Grande Airport in Arizona.

In years gone by, I pumped a fair amount of gas, oil and fire-retardent slurry into this airplane, but a good friend of mine flew this airplane for H&P. He may want to leave some comments about his experiences … perhaps including how the airplane acquired the polka-dots on silver paint job it formerly sported.

The airplane, the Navy version of the B-24 bomber, now belongs to an organization that intends to restore the aircraft as a warbird.

Plenty of rivets holding this airplane together. My pilot friend knows when and where a number of them were replaced.

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Pink and the National Football League

I’m a fairly hard-core NFL football fan and I feel I must proclaim that there is something fundamentally wrong with professional football players wearing pink accessories with their team uniform colors.

Don’t get me wrong, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is a cause worthy of support that has saved the lives of uncounted women (and men) who developed breast cancer. Pink is their color. You see a crowd of adults in pink t-shirts somewhere and you think “Breast Cancer Awareness.”

I participated in several Susan G. Komen Jump for the Cause skydiving events flying airplanes for the women trying to set new world-records for women skydivers and raise funds for the foundation. “Save the Boobies” became the rallying slogan. Who could argue with that? Not me!

And where cancer is concerned, what better marketing device is there than boobies? Boobies are cute—boobies are distinctive, and everyone likes boobies. Guys like them, girls like them, my gay brother appreciates a nice set of boobies. One could hardly ask for a more universally appreciated marketing hook to get people talking about and doing something to cure cancer. But cancer doesn’t limit itself to boobies.

I guess watching Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings getting trounced by the New York Jets is fueling this particular rant, but I do have a point to make. The pink shoes and towels and chin cups and sweat bands are distracting. I’m surprised the defensive coaches even allow linemen to wear pink gloves. More than one holding and pass interference flag got tossed over the weekend because the neon pink gloves betrayed a foul that might have slipped by a referee except for the high-contrast apparel. Pink penalty flags might work, but pink just isn’t an NFL Football color.

There is great risk that I shall be accused of misogyny or of having a macho jock attitude for writing this post. To accuse me so would be unjust. I am simply not those things and those who know me would confirm my declaration, but I may not be fully channeling my sensitive feminine side while watching football.

I grew up watching NFL Football with my mom and dad. Several times every season we drove hundreds of miles to see the Vikings play at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, or over to Wisconsin to see the Green Bay Packers. No one in my family, including me, has ever been able to quote team statistics or obscure football trivia, but we enjoy watching a good game. For years after I moved to the Southwest and before my father retired from medicine, he would schedule his ongoing medical education classes in Phoenix, Las Vegas or San Diego so we could get together and watch the Superbowl. We are fans, but not fanatics.

Here’s the thing; cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither should the research for cures or the fundraising for the research. But prostate glands, colons and rectums, livers and pancreases just aren’t cute like boobies. It doesn’t matter what color you associate with various internal organs where terminal cancers originate, they are not cute. Other cancerous organs don’t generate empathy like boobies do.

I know several breast cancer survivors, and a few who did not, but a number of my friends have also survived (or not) prostate, lung, liver and colo-rectal cancers. Get lung cancer and many will assume you deserved it because you smoked, and most people don’t even want to talk about prostates and colons—hell, a segment of American society was scarred for life over breakfast when Katie Couric televised her colonoscopy live after her husband died from the disease. It was for a good cause, but some publicity ploys just don’t work as well as boobies.

By all means visit the Susan G. Komen Foundation website and donate what you can to raise awareness about detecting and curing breast cancer, and do consider donating to find cures for the other kinds of cancer and how to detect them early when cures are most effective, but please—no more pink in the NFL—it just ain’t right.

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“A Hundred Feet Over Hell” is a helluva good read

I recently finished reading the book A Hundred Feet Over Hell written by war correspondent Jim Hooper. It’s a good read that I recommend for the well-told flying stories and the history of these pilots. The book is recollections told by a handful of pilots who flew single-engine O-1  Cessnas (formerly designated the L-19 Birddog) over the battlefields of Vietnam in the mid-60s directing airstrikes and artillery barrages.

The author’s brother was one of those pilots flying low over firefights marking targets with smoke rockets while being shot at and hit by enemy anti-aircraft and small arms. They orbited above the action to coordinate communications with ground forces, helicopter gunships, ground and sea artillery and attack aircraft. It’s the personal story of military pilots, heroic feats in the air and the poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking events of life in a war zone.

Pilots who have flown a fair amount learn that flying is hours of boredom interspersed with a few brief seconds of excitement, near panic, even sheer terror. The Catkillers of 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company spent hours of heart-in-the-throat flying low and slow in the mountains and valleys of the DMZ and surrounding area to identify targets.

I never flew in the military, but I’ve flown everything from J-3s to DC-3s, including a little stick time in a restored O-1, which is basically a Cessna 170 with a true joystick and a Cessna 180 engine on it. I was shot at and missed twice while flying low and slow aeromagnetic surveys. My Supercub wasn’t much less bullet resistant than an O-1. It was terrifying—and I earned much better wages than the Catkillers.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell is available on the author’s website at where you can read reviews of this and other books Jim has written about his experiences as a war correspondent and photojournalist.

Take a look, and buy the book. You won’t regret it.

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Stephen Colbert: The Congress and the jester

Stephen Colbert, the conservative comedic news commentary guy from the Comedy Channel’s Colbert Report made a mockery of the United States Congress. During contrived testimony before a House immigration subcommittee most people never knew existed, Colbert departed from his prepared statement and delivered an ill-written script.

The insult is two-fold; while the machinations of government will have its lighter moments, this was not one. It was a setup for an act that wasn’t funny, but perhaps the public outrage will serve to refocus our elected officials on actually governing.

Like the jester’s duty in the royal courts of yore, the United States Congress was played the fool for its own conceit. The shame is the Congress’s for straying so far from their sworn duty. It is time for Congress to hear the words of humility a slave in the Roman chariot once whispered in the ear of the triumphal generals.

Americans do not take well to this double insult, nor are we unaware of the deficient quality of government in Washington, D.C. Arguably, the Democratic Party is running scared over the outcome of the interim and 2012 elections, but it is the GOP leadership that needs to acknowledge it too is in the path of political upheaval that could sweep away the foundations of both political parties.  

I think that he mocked the hearing process,” said Rep. Steve King, R-IA, and ranking Republican in the House. “I don’t think you can take anything he testified seriously,”

How very astute of the honorable Rep. King. Many Americans already believe we cannot take much of anything the members of the House testify to either.

Colbert’s performance was as insulting to the United States as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the United Nations the previous day. The U.S. delegation, joined by other nation’s delegates, had the sense to get up and walk out, rightly demonstrating contempt for buffoonish displays.

A real leader would have had the gumption to stand up, denounce this farce and call for a motion of contempt of Congress against Colbert—at the very least ordered the Sergeant At Arms to remove the smartass from the chamber. Sadly, leadership is lacking in the House.

Immigration and a host of other issues the House, Senate and the President should be addressing are not a joke to the majority of Americans. We don’t watch The Colbert Report because he is not funny, and neither is the business of the federal government.

This disappointing episode should be the last straw for our current crop of elected federal office holders—either get to work and govern, or get out of government.

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Dave’s Contract With Congress a better alternative to the Contract From America

Over the past year the Contract From America has gotten little attention and is pretty much viewed by voters as not worth the paper to print it. An alternative is Dave’s Contract with Congress that has real teeth and could be made a binding condition of holding elected office. The author sent these suggestions along as updates to his contract that was written after years of working with the federal government and finding the experience disillusioning.

“I’ve been hearing Newt Gingrich and others talk of a new contract with America…I think that they still don’t get it. They have a contract with us and we are their employers. Dave’s Contract with Congress needs updated. I’m taking local politicians through it if they come to the door. 

I think that we should pay them reasonably, cut their benefits, remove all pensions, and ban out of office elected officials from lobbying when they are done.  

 Term limits should be introduced limiting elected officials to two terms. For some, those terms will be one in Congress and one in jail.”

 For those of you who missed it the first time it was posted, here is the text of the contract written by my brother. Please feel free to copy it and send it to your senators and representatives, friends, family and cohorts. 

Dave’s Contract with Congress

Article I           Once the elections are over you are not a Democrat or a Republican. You are representatives of your constituents who are of all persuasions. Your job is to go forth and represent all of your constituents with the caveat that you will do what is best for the country. 

Article II          You should have an orientation upon your arrival in Washington, D.C., that includes a review of the workings of government and an education on ethics. You will undergo a competency evaluation and, if found incompetent, you will be sent home and the constituency will hold a special election. The cost of special elections should prevent this from happening too many times. 

Article III        You will never attaché any unrelated legislation to any bill. An idea should stand on its own merits and your job is to convince your colleagues to support it. Consider this an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership abilities and encourage your constituents to re-elect you for valid reason. 

Article IV         You will never vote for, or against, any bill you have not read and understood in its entirety. Critics may feel this will slow the legislative process, but it will improve productivity. 

Article V          You will never vote for legislation without voting for the funding. If they must be separate bills they will be voted on in succession and if funding is not approved, the authorizing legislation is immediately rescinded. 

Article VI         Your ethics committee should include members of the public because the Congress has become unable to maintain professional standards. The public members should be elected from 12 states for two years of service, with half of them replaced each year from six new states. Since Congressional censorship has no real penalty, ethics violations should result in loss of pay and removal of voting privileges. 

Article VII       In each session, the budget will be given primary priority. You will not be allowed to move on to other legislation or investigations until a budget is passed. 

Article VIII      Because of the foolish appearance and the amount of money wasted on Congressional investigations, henceforth, you will each be given $25,000 per session that you can spend investigating. Members are free to combine their money if necessary, if you can convince your colleagues. Any funds leftover will be given to the charity of your choice within your constituency. 

Article IX         Since term limits have failed to pass, other methods of encouraging changeover are required. The seniority system should be eliminated. Committee assignments will be made according to interest, expertise and background. Each committee will elect its own chairman. Pension plans should be greatly reduced or removed altogether to encourage individuals to return to private life and allow other competent individuals the opportunity to participate. Once you have served in Congress you will not work as a lobbyist in any capacity. 

Article X          You will raise your election campaign funds exclusively from your constituents. If you cannot raise enough, consider it a message from your constituency that you should seek other work.

Article XI         You will have only federal holidays off plus three weeks vacation per year. If your work is done, you may return home early, but only after publicly stating your work is completed before you go home and incur the wrath of your constituents if you do so inappropriately.

Article XII       “None of the Above” should be placed on all ballots as a measure of the publics’ faith in the parties’ willingness and ability to give the voters the best choices. If “None of the Above” votes reach a certain threshold, there should be new elections with new nominees. Voters should not have to choose the least bad candidate.

Article XIII      When a new administration takes office, appointments need to be approved or rejected in a timely manner – this means weeks, not months or years. Approval should be based on qualifications and ability and in no way based on politics. Making appointments is one of the spoils of the election process. Live by the rules of the game. 

Article XIV      You will agree that you will not accept anything of any value from any group or individual that might influence your vote on legislation. Voters can overlook gifts from family and friends on occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, but the prohibition extends to lobbyists at all times. 

Other suggestions:

             Consider closing the party offices until six to eight months prior to national elections. For the House and the Senate to be more functional, partisan politics need to be taken out of the picture.

            If you become old, tired or infirm; suffer a stroke or other debilitating or terminal disease, go home. Your family and constituents will care for you. Like a classy athlete, go out at the top of your game and make room for other competent individuals to represent your constituency.

            Do not tell us “I” passed legislation unless you ate it. The House and the Senate pass legislation. You may have authored, cosponsored, or signed it – we understand the difference.

            Campaigning should be 90 percent informing us what you will do, not telling us why your opponent is wrong. We are tired of hearing accusations of flip-flopping. If you change your mind because of education, personal reflection or change in circumstances, your constituents might consider that positively.

            If you are not educable, do not take time to ponder or consider changing circumstances, then you do not belong in Congress or any other elected position. We know the difference between pandering and thoughtful opinions.

            Celebrity should be based on leadership. Many great leaders, inventors and philosophers in history had personal lives that are unusual. Neither party has any credibility when it comes to morals and values. You deserve a personal life and most of us do not care who you sleep with, but you have to do your job.

            If Congress cannot agree to reduce taxes, at least simplify them. We should not have to pay someone to figure out our taxes. If it can be done by home computer then the government should supply the software as a free download.

After the results of the Gingrich-backed Contract with America that preceded Gingrich’s, and a number of other Republicans being voted out of office, is it any wonder that this half-hearted sham is gaining no headway with the public? Here are 22 citizen submitted initiatives of the Contract From America chosen in February that were to be winnowed down to 10 before the contract was to take its final form. Politicians, such as Gingrich, Political Action Committees and political power brokers sought to limit the scope of the contract and citizen input. 

DEMAND A BALANCED BUDGET:  Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.

STOP THE TAX HIKES:  Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to begin in 2011.

COMMIT TO REAL GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY:  Every bill, in its final form, will be made public seven days before any vote can be taken and all government expenditures authorized by any bill will be easily accessible on the Internet before the money is spent. (Proposed by: Steve Kulik, Gonzales, Texas; and Steve Hollis, San Francisco, Calif.)

PROTECT THE CONSTITUTION: Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.

PASS REAL HEALTHCARE REFORM:  Greatly improve affordability of health insurance by permitting all Americans access to all health insurance plans sold anywhere in the United States through the purchase of insurance across state lines and allow small businesses and associations to pool together across state lines to buy insurance.

ENACT FUNDAMENTAL TAX REFORM:  Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the Internal Revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words — the length of the original Constitution.

END RUNAWAY GOVERNMENT SPENDING:  Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.

LET US SAVE:  Allow all Americans to opt out of Social Security and Medicare and instead put those same payroll taxes in a personal account they own, control, and can leave to whomever they choose.

PROTECT INTERNET FREEDOM: No regulation or tax on the Internet.

GIVE PARENTS MORE CHOICES IN THE EDUCATION OF THEIR CHILDREN:  Improve American education by reforming the broken federal role through eliminating ineffective and wasteful programs, giving parents more choices from pre-school to high school, and improving the affordability of higher education.

PASS AN ‘ALL OF THE ABOVE’ ENERGY POLICY:  Authorize the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creating competition.

PROTECT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS:  Prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from using funds to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in any form, including requiring “localism” or “diversity” quotas.

RESTORE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED GOVERNMENT:  Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states.

PROTECT PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS:  Block state and local governments that receive federal grants from exercising eminent domain over private property for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues.

REJECT CAP & TRADE:  Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.

STOP THE PORK:  Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the process is fully transparent, including requiring a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.

NO CZAR REGULATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION:  All “lawmaking” regulations must be affirmatively approved by Congress and signed into law by the president, as the Constitution requires for all laws.

AUDIT THE FED:  Begin an audit of the Federal Reserve System.

NO MORE BAILOUTS:  The federal government should not bail out private companies and should immediately begin divesting itself of its stake in the private companies it owns from recent bailouts.

STOP CAREER POLITICIANS & CURB LOBBYIST POWER:  Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require Congressional term limits. No person shall be elected to the Senate more than twice or to the House of Representatives more than four times.

SUNSET REGULATIONS:  All regulations will be “sunset” after ten years unless renewed by Congressional vote.

LET US WATCH:  Broadcast all non-security meetings and votes on C-SPAN and the Internet. 

Here is a link to the final watered-down version of the Contract From America and the list of candidates, Congress members and governors who signed it. Which contract do you think would make a difference?

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