Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Thoughts about Diving with Sharks


You may wonder about diving with schools of sharks...diving without a cage...while chumming the water with chunks of bloody fish and meat.

Most of the sharks I have met have been fairly docile...a beautiful twelve-foot silver hammerhead swimming past like an alien lifeform in clear water in a deep coral canyon...or a sleeping nurse shark under a ledge on the mysterious Bimini Road.

Mrs. Phred and I did a shark dive far from land in the Bahamas a few years ago. We were on a week long sailboat dive trip with Blackbeard's Cruises. Our fellow passengers were the entire membership of the Black Scuba Diver's Association of America and a fat Jewish attorney named Ron. Ron was a bankruptcy attorney who made TV commercials standing nude in a wooden barrel. I remember someone talking about Jewfish and one of the passengers quipping, "That's the one that comes around to collect the rent". There were racial tensions. Mine stemmed from a lack of respect for my Pink Floyd cassettes from the other passengers.

We all went down and fed about 20 circling blacktip reef sharks with chunks of bloody barracuda on a stick. They swam past and grabbed a chunk. A big grouper joined the pack.

On another trip someone speared a grouper up current down in the Cay Sal Banks off Havana. The local sharks becames very agitated. Their droopy fins stood suddenly erect and they began darting about, One darted right up to my chest and I pulled my dive knife, prepared to fight it out. It left, deciding I didn't look edible. My dive buddies had headed for the boat and ladder like a shot, leaving me to deal with the sharks.

Most sharks turn and run when you swim toward them to get a picture.

Today I told Mrs. Phred that we will take a tourniquet with us on our next shark dive. That’s an often overlooked piece of useful dive gear. You don’t want to have them bite though an artery and then have to take ten minutes to swim back to the boat to stop the bleeding like the Austrian lawyer that bled to death this week...

But then, to be truthful, some types of sharks are more docile...I’d recommend avoiding Great Whites, Makos, Tigers and Bull sharks when swimming with bloody chunks of meat and fish. Blacktips, Silkies and Nurse sharks are much easier to get along with. You have to sneak up and pull on a Nurse Shark's tail to get it to actually turn around and bite.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

It's Good to Read

I picked up a hardcover copy of “Beach Music” by Pat Conroy at the public library used book sale last week for $1. Conroy’s first four books, including “Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini” were made into movies.

The first chapter starts in Rome and I thought, “How literary. This is going to be a woman’s book”. However, soon Conroy is skipping blithely though insanity, suicide, death, alcoholism, the Holocaust, the Vietnam anti-war movements and adventures with a manta ray at a pace which rivets your attention to the final page. The characters are universally interesting and finely drawn.


Another good buy for $1 was “The Company”, a 1,200 page hardcover historical novel about the Central Intelligence Agency. Unfortunately the back binding was broken so I had to constantly work to keep the pages aligned as I read.

The book starts in Berlin about 1950 and moves to the crushed Hungarian revolution, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Nixon’s resignation, Afghanistan and beyond.

One of the central real characters in the book is chain-smoking James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counter-intelligence from 1954 to 1974. Angleton, a close friend of Kim Philby, was uniquely positioned to betray secrets about the Bay of Pigs invasion, America’s lack of resolve in supporting the Hungarian revolution of 1956, cast doubt upon Soviet defectors and disrupt the CIA with continuous investigations of loyal and successful CIA operatives. Angleton named Henry Kissinger, Averill Harriman and Harold Wilson as KGB agents. He also was in a unique position to cripple intelligence sharing with the Mossad, MI6 and the French intelligence services.

Angleton died of lung cancer in 1984. A six-year study completed by Cleveland Cram, once Chief of Station of the Western Hemisphere, indicates that several senior CIA officials and Angleton’s assistant believe that he was a KGB mole.

A good book.

Citizen Tania

Patty Hearst is back in the news, winning the Westminster dog show, with her French bulldog.


Patty achieved some notoriety in 1974. She was the granddaughter of William Randolph “Rosebud” Hearst. At age 19, she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Grandpa Hearst was the inspiration for the movie "Citizen Kane" by Orson Wells.

After allegedly being held in a small closet, abused and fed LSD, Patty joined the army with some enthusiasm and assumed the identity of “Tania”. Here she is shown holding a machine gun during a bank robbery.


Patty escaped the shootout in which most members of the SLA, including, Donald DeFreeze, died. Police fired over 9,000 rounds into the “safe house” where the SLA was hiding. Patty had been detained while shoplifting.

The SLA was a self-styled black liberation front, although only Donald DeFreeze was actually black. Don was known as Field Marshall Cinque. Most of the army consisted of white kids from upper-middle class families. They murdered two people and robbed a number of banks to finance their revolution.


Patty was sentenced to seven years for bank robberies. Her sentence was commuted to 21 months by President Carter based on the "Stockholm" theory. President Clinton granted her a full pardon in 2001 as he was leaving office.

The Hearst pardon in 2001 was somewhat overshadowed by the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich during Clinton's last day in office. Prior to the pardon, Rich's ex-wife Denise contributed an estimated $450,000 to the Clinton Presidential Library Fund, more than $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's New York Senate campaign

Thursday, 21 February 2008

In the Belly of the Beast

Dreamland, USA

I always say, "Home is where my wheels are."


When Mrs. Phred went to Venice last month she was a little worried that I would buy something she didn't like. Last time she came home to a high-powered motorcycle hidden under a tarp in the garage.


This time, I think she approves. Our new RV was delivered yesterday.


The only drawback is that the Toyota didn't fit in the belly of the beast so we had to trade it out for a little red Ferrari.

I think the interior is tastefully done.


So...really...I bought this for a song on E-bay from a German Firm called Volkner Mobil GmbH and had it shipped over...no...really...I did!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Day the Sun Went Nova

I’m reading “The Fruit Palace”, a true story about an Englishman’s travels in Columbia in search of the cocaine story. The author, Charles Nicholl, is a faint echo of Hunter S. Thompson. He lacks the high, thin note of total lunacy that Hunter brought to the table. Telling a completely true story is a big handicap.

Mrs. Phred has bought into the proposed 2008 camping trip, reserving rights to make additions or deletions as she sees fit.

The last time we were in Colorado, the Russians had just invaded Afghanistan. We were high in the Rockies in a freak town called Nederland. We walked out onto the snow at 8,000 feet at midnight on New Years Eve. The full moon was directly overhead, surrounded by a ring of ice crystals. The brightness was overwhelming. In our altered state, we thought for a few panicked moments that the sun had gone Nova and we were seeing its intense reflection as the Earth began to vaporize.

The next day Mrs. Phred and I went to a Colorado restaurant and bar. Three large young men snatched the ashtray off our table and went into the men’s room. I pounded on the locked door and demanded the return of the ashtray. They told me that they would return it shortly. To this day, I have no idea what corrupt and deviant practices these three perverts were involved in with that ashtray.


We finally managed to snag “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward, Robert Ford” on DVD. After watching the amazing “”3:10 to Yuma”, I’m ready for another good cowboy flick. This wasn't it. Possibly the most pointless and depressing cowboy movie of all time. I’d also like to catch “Cloverfield” at the theatre. After the great speed-freak zombies in “I am Legend”, an updated takeoff on the Godzilla theme will be welcome. The whole movie is filmed in the “Blair Witch Project” style; from the viewpoint of a personal handheld video camera…budget $25 million.


This morning I swam a bunch of laps in light rain. When the sun came out at noon, Mrs. Phred and I played some singles. Score 6-2, 6-1, her favor. I'm cooking a big pot of vegetarian chile for dinner. The cold fronts sweep though Florida every 3-5 days. They bring rain and the temperature drops to about 60F (16C)at night and 75F (24C) during the day before it warms up again.

Friday, 8 February 2008

La-La-La La-La-La Hey Jude!

Sarasota, Florida

A front came though this morning with heavy rain and squalls. By noon it was sunny and 78F. We all do what we can to improve our society. Personally, I've been busy visiting every major bookstore in the Tampa Bay Metropolitan area and moving all copies of George Orwell's "1984" from the fiction section to the current events section. I've managed to irritate some bookstore clerks.


With Romney dropping out of the race due to lack of interest and money, the only worry remaining is Huckleberry who wants to abolish same sex marriage, switch from a progressive tax on income to a regressive National sales tax and a host of other looney ideas. Fortunately, He won’t get much traction outside the evangelical Deep South.

I have a little MP3 player, about the size of a cigarette lighter. I’ve ripped a lifetime of CDs into MP3s and stored them on my 120GB laptop hard drive, backed up with an external drive.

Obama will pull ahead of Clinton with conventional delegates. However the Democratic National Committee will reverse course and award Clinton the stripped delegates from Michigan and Florida. If that’s not enough the 700 “super delegate” party hacks will back Clinton for the nomination.


I like to take my MP3s down to the pool and hot tub on my bicycle. I’ve got “Hey Jude”, “My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Jumping Jack Flash”. Sympathy for the Devil”, “The Fool’s Song” by Quicksilver, a bunch of CCR, some selected Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd and about 50 other songs on the little $50 gadget. It also doubles as an FM radio.

After they steal the nomination from Obama, the inner cities will burn again in heavy rioting and there will be a resurgence of the militancy and insurgency that we saw in the late 1960’s. Many outraged black and white voters will abandon the Democratic party and sweep McCain into office as a protest vote.

The pool is heated to 85F and the hot tub is 110F. I spent some time in each today, but I forgot my wallet so I couldn’t get a happy hour drink at the tiki bar. Happy hour starts at 11am and runs to midnight.

There is a lot to admire about McCain. He is a carrier pilot who withstood seven years of captivity and torture. The problem with McCain is that he learned the same lesson as every other Vietnam veteran. That is that it doesn’t pay to let the chicken-hearted politicos micro-manage conflicts. Unleash the military and let them achieve results regardless of the cost to opponents and forgetting world opinion. I think I might vote for him, jumping from the Green party to the Republican (one time only).


La-La-La La-La-La Hey Jude!

And any time you feel the pain, hey, Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
Well don't you know that its a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder

McCain has alienated the conservative wing of his party by taking positions on torture, campaign reform and illegal immigration that would be good for the country. He was robbed of the 2000 nomination by the dirty tricks and internet rumors so loved by Bush and Rove. If Obama somehow avoids being cheated out of the nomination, the choice will be difficult, but happy.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Base 20 Numbers

Cozumel, Mexico

We drive around the Island and park the rented jeep on a dirt road in the jungle. Alfredo steps out of the jungle and offers to be our private guide to the pyramids and ruins. We are alone here with him. He has a clipboard.


Before we start down the trail Alfredo announces that he is of Mayan ancestry and tells us that the Mayans were very advanced and, for example, used the base 20 numbering system. Alfredo begins to teach us base 20, using his clipboard.

They had 20 symbols for numbers. They had a zero and 19 other symbols (dots and lines).

They stacked their numbers. The first row would represent the numbers zero though nineteen.

The next row up used the same symbols but had place values of 20, then 400 then 8,000.

For example:

1 * 8000 = 8,000
3 * 400 = 1,000
2* 20 = 0
5* 1 = 5

So the total is 9,045

The year 2008 would be written as:

5 (The symbol for five is a horizontal bar)
0 (Zero looks like a toothy smile)
8 (Eight is three dots over a horizontal bar)


Alfredo challenges us to express the current year in base 20.
I write the answer:
4 = 1,600 (four dots)
19 = 380 (four dots over three horizontal bars)
16 = 16 one dot over three horizontal bars)

Satisfied that we are worthy, Alfredo leads us to the ruins. He has a collection of documents that helps to explain what we are seeing and how this sacred place was used to worship Ixchel, the Moon Goddess. All Mayans were expected to make a pilgrimage here once in a lifetime. We wonder what forces drew us here for ours.

Later we stumble upon a remote festival in a tiny town. It is a Cinco de Mayo celebration. There is a bullfight. We are the only tourists. It’s a little like a county fair without the rides, 4-H exhibits and Italian sausage vendors.

Later we stop on a wide, white sand beach in a solitary tent restaurant for margaritas and cheeseburgers.

We pick up two young hitchhikers for the long ride around the island back to town. On the lonely jungle road, a squad of soldiers with sub-machine guns wave us to a stop. They don’t speak English. Our hitchhikers talk to the soldiers and they wave us on. The hitchhikers tell us that four divers were lost yesterday, sucked down the wall by kind of a downdraft flushing action. One was a divemaster who was reported to be last seen chasing three foolish touristas. The soldiers just want to know if we’ve seen any bodies or dive gear washed up on the beach.



The next day we dive the wall. Mrs. Phred wants to stick close to the Mexican divemasters. I tell her if they look like they're getting flushed, we're out of there, rules or no. The towering pillars of coral are like nowhere else.