My review of Bird Dream, by Matt Higgins, in today’s Wall Street Journal

Bird Dream: Adventures at the Extremes of Human Flight

Bird Dream, by Matt Higgins. Quite a thrilling read…

My review, “Only One Way Down,” is in the July 26 & 27, 2014 issue of The Wall Street Journal.

Bird Dream

Here’s a list of links to other books I’ve reviewed.

Posted in Book & Movie Reviews, China's Wings, Enduring Patagonia, Reading, Writing, and Research | Leave a comment

Robert Lucas Crouch, an obituary


Sub-Lieutenant Crouch

Sub-Lieutenant Crouch, 1954 or 1955

Robert L. Crouch, April 5, 1935 to June 11, 2014

The middle of five brothers raised in the East End of London, Robert Crouch was of the generation that didn’t fight World War II, but was defined by it. As a six-year old boy in the summer of 1940, he stared up in awe at the dogfights raging over London. Refusing to kowtow to the Nazis, the family rode out the Blitz in a bomb shelter dug into their small garden rather than evacuate. Young Robert spent two years’ worth of nights in that bomb shelter early in the war, then another year in it during the V1 and V2 attacks of 1944-1945. Robert’s lifelong regret was not being old enough to have been one of Churchill’s “Few” scourging the Luftwaffe from the skies of England during the Battle of Britain. His cocksure aggressiveness would have perfectly suited the exigencies of single-engine combat.

Vampire Cockpit

Leaving the cockpit of his Vampire

To complete his national service, Robert Crouch joined the Royal Navy as a Jack Tar in 1954, completed basic training, obtained a commission, transferred into the elite flyers of the Fleet Air Arm, and became the only “grammar school boy” to complete the Fleet Air Arm’s first jet training school – a significant accomplishment in the class-conscious Royal Navy. While in the service, he flew the Provost Trainer, the De Havilland Vampire, the Fairey Firefly and Gannet, and the Hawker Sea Fury and won a trophy for flying skill.


Planning a mission in the de Havilland Vampire

Synchronized start

Synchronized start, Fairey Gannet

dad in gannet

Taking off in his Fairey Gannet

After the Navy, Robert competed degrees at the London School of Economics, Northwestern, and UCLA. Back in England in 1966, he ran for Parliament, and immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of defeat. He arrived in Santa Barbara in 1967 and spent the rest of his professional career as a Professor in UCSB’s Department of Economics, where he served for forty years. In economics, Crouch made significant contributions to both academic research and public policy. Notably, he designed the model for the environmental impact report, investigated monetary theory, led a team that evaluated the economic benefits of nationwide groundwater monitoring, and proposed ground-breaking insights into economic theories of human behavior. However, he took far more professional pride in having introduced more than 30,000 students to the principles of economics—and that he taught them as it was, not as proponents of various “-isms” thought it ought to be.

An extraordinarily well-read man of many contradictions with a tremendous breadth of knowledge, Robert Crouch could somehow manage to be simultaneously offensive and generous, and he gleefully shared his encyclopedic knowledge of current affairs, politics, and history. Crouch also never missed the opportunity for a drink. He “held court” in many local watering holes through the years and claimed to value excitement over all other things. He loved risk, would wager on any sport, game, or proposition, and he took great delight in pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

As his own mother had said, “My Robert’s not wicked, he’s just naughty.”

And he had a good time doing it.


In recent years

From 1960 to 1979, Robert was married to the late Janet Crouch, and from 1989 to 1997 to Samantha Carrington. He is survived by his brothers Alan, Colin, and Gordon, six nieces and nephews, his son Gregory, and his grandson, Ryan.

A public memorial service will be held in his honor at the Goleta Elks Lodge (150 North Kellogg Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93111), where he was a longtime member, on Friday, July 18, at 12 o’clock, noon. His ashes will be interned at the Fleet Air Arm Cemetery in Yeovilton, England, at a private family ceremony. In lieu of flowers, donations are encouraged to the Smile Train.

Posted in Book & Movie Reviews, China's Wings, Enduring Patagonia | Leave a comment

Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall, reviewed by Gregory Crouch

Denalis Howl cover copyAnd Five Came Back,” my review of Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall for The Wall Street Journal, June 14-15, 2014. (Linked through a Google search; clicking the top link should do it.)

Denali’s Howl is about the worst mountaineering tragedy in Denali history — the Wilcox Expedition of 1967, during which seven people died.

Denalis Howl copy

Here are links to other books I’ve reviewed.

Posted in Book & Movie Reviews, Enduring Patagonia | Leave a comment

Iranians arrested for making video of Pharrell Williams song “Happy”

A bunch of Iranians were arrested and forced to repent for making a “Happy” video.

The best part is one of the women’s infectious laughter while standing on her head during the “making of” section at the end.

Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) tweeted: “It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”

He’s had 3,500 retweets. So far. Including one from me @GregoryCrouch


Posted in Iran | Leave a comment

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen, reviewed by Gregory Crouch

Operation Paperclip copyAlthough Nazi science failed to produce an atomic bomb during the Second World War—thank God—Hitler’s scientists surged ahead in many other aspects of military technology. They built substantial leads in rocketry and aeronautics, human physiology, and chemical and biological warfare. Fortunately, Nazi wonder weapons appeared too late to affect the war’s outcome. The German surrender set off a mad scramble among the victorious Allies to capture the fruits of Nazi science. The biggest prizes were the scientists themselves, but among the ashes of the Third Reich, it was impossible to draw a clear distinction between scientist and war criminal because so much of Nazi Germany’s scientific and technical “progress” had hinged on the exploitation of slave labor and experiments inflicted on unwilling human subjects.

The title of Operation Paperclip, veteran journalist Annie Jacobsen’s latest exposé (she also wrote Area 51), refers to the secret US government program under which 1,600 German experts—many of them committed Nazis closely associated with Third Reich atrocities—were brought to the United States, provided with generous employment contracts, and given a clear path to citizenship. The US military and intelligence communities sponsored Operation Paperclip in the name of “national security,” and its principal justification was to stop the Russians from harnessing the Nazi scientists to their own ends. The project gained “long-run momentum” after the Soviet Union’s Berlin blockade tipped the uneasy postwar peace into the dangerous Cold War rivalry that would dominate world affairs for the next forty years.

To air Operation Paperclip’s secrets, Jacobsen plain, direct, thoroughly researched, and compelling story spotlights 21 Nazi scientists who worked for the United States in the postwar period. Probably due to her complex cast of characters, Jacobsen doesn’t hold to a strict chronological narration, a choice that makes for smoother storytelling but does limit Operation Paperclip’s effectiveness as a lens through which to witness postwar and Cold War developments. And although it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the individual members of her rotating cast, it’s always obvious that they’re a particularly repugnant group. All were ardent, long-time Nazis. Many had won the Golden Party Badge honoring the Nazi elite. Eight of the 21 had at some point worked side-by-side with either Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, or Heinrich Himmler. Six were tried as war criminals at Nuremberg. Some served as SS officers. A half dozen were Nazi doctors involved with perverse experimental research that killed the majority of their test subjects.

One American war crimes investigator described Third Reich medical research as something “out of a dark German fairy tale,” and wrote his wife that it seemed “as if the Nazis had taken special pains in making practically every nightmare come true.” As Ms. Jacobsen elaborates, Luftwaffe doctors had used “murder in the name of medicine” to research the effects of high altitude, cold, thirst, and salt water on human physiology. Jacobsen relates the war crimes trial testimony of a medical experiment survivor who identified the Nazi doctor (and Operation Paperclip participant) who had extracted part of his liver—without anesthetic. Every one of the Operation Paperclip doctors Jacobsen describes were at least circumstantially linked to such horrors. One of them, Dr. Hubertus Strughold, had served as the Luftwaffe’s chief of aeromedical research. He worked for the U.S. Air Force and NASA through the 1950s and ‘60s and is today remembered as the father of US space medicine.

The most famous Operation Paperclip participant, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, one of the prime movers of the V2 project and of American rocketry from Redstone to Apollo, joined the Nazi party in 1937, had his SS membership sponsored by Heinrich Himmler himself, and personally procured Buchenwald concentration camp inmates with “good technical educations” for his underground V2 assembly plant—a factory in which about half of its 60,000 slave laborers were worked to death. Regardless, von Braun lived out his life as a wealthy and famous man, one of the heroes of the Space Race. Another V2 scientist brought to the United States by Operation Paperclip finished up as a vice president of Bell Aircraft.

Some Cold War advantage certainly accrued to the United States through the services of such men. The long run of history will judge whether those contributions merited the nauseating moral compromise their employment entailed. Ms. Jacobsen certainly left this reader with the impression that a good number of those ex-Nazis who ended up living comfortable lives in the United States should have been tried as war criminals.

Indeed, throughout Operation Paperclip, it’s appalling to witness the United States so carelessly squandering what, in the long run, are probably the two most decisive weapons in its arsenal against fascists, communists, terrorists, and other totalitarians—the moral high ground and the rule of law.

Annie Jacobsen’s website; follow her @AnnieJacobsen on Twitter; like her on Facebook

Posted in Book & Movie Reviews | Leave a comment

Two FB pages about Iranian women and their headscarves

All the rage this week on Facebook is the page “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women,” which celebrates the quiet acts of rebellion of Iranian women removing their headscarves in public. Stealthy Freedoms has garnered 274,000 “likes.”

Predictably, as explained in this Bloomberg article “Iranian Conservatives Hit Back at Facebook Campaign on Headscarves,” Iranian conservatives counterposted with their own Facebook page, Real Freedom of Iranian Women, which celebrates the virtues of hijab and the chador. It has received 5,000 “likes.” So far.

Other Iran-related posts are in my “Iran” category


Posted in Iran | Leave a comment

Fascinating TNY article about the capture of the world’s most notorious drug lord

The Hunt for El Chapo,” by Patrick Radden Keefe for The New Yorker.

Posted in Oddities & Off topics | 2 Comments

Original Topo for The Old Smuggler’s Route

I found this while rummaging through some old papers a while back. One of the best climbs I’ve ever done. (For non-climbers, this is a road map of the route.) The Old Smuggler’s Route on the North Face of Aguja Poincenot, in Argentine Patagonia.

Old Smugglers Topo

Here’s a picture of me going up the part marked “5.9+ fingers & hands!” on the fifth pitch. The square-shaped roof block at the end of pitch 7 is pretty obvious. It’s the square shadow. Ten more pitches above that to the summit ridge. Pretty fabulous climb. One of my lifetime climbing highlights, for sure. Covered in detail in Enduring Patagonia. A whole bunch of pitches on it would be 3-star classics getting done everyday if they were on the Cookie Cliff in Yosemite. Of course, if they were, I wouldn’t have got to make their first ascent, not by a long shot.


And then this one of the 7th pitch, labeled “Brilliant!”GC019

And then a nice one of Jim leading around the right edge of the overhang at the start of pitch 8


And here’s The Old Smuggler himself, Jim Donini back in our high camp, after we’d got ‘er done. GC021

The route has been done at least one time since… that I know of…

Here’s stories and photos from our FA of Shaken, Not Stirred on the Mooses Tooth in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge and from our FA of A Fine Piece in Patagonia.

Posted in Enduring Patagonia | Leave a comment

Memorial Day presentation aboard the U.S.S. Hornet

Hornet header copy

I’m deeply honored to have been chosen to make a China’s Wings presentation aboard the U.S.S. Hornet for Memorial Day.

Monday, May 26, 2014. The celebrations start at 1 p.m. in Alameda, California.

Best of all, I’ll be appearing with Moon Chin, one of the main supporting characters in China’s Wings. Moon’s a national treasure, and he recently celebrated his 101st birthday.


There’s an excellent historical connection between the Hornet and Moon Chin. The Doolittle Raid took off from the Hornet (CV-8) on April 18, 1942, bombed Japan in the famed Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo raid, and carried on to land in China. A few weeks later, on May 5, 1942, CNAC superstar Moon Chin flew Jimmy Doolittle out of China, an event recounted in China’s Wings.

CV-8 was sunk in October 1942 at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands. CV-12, the Hornet tied up in Alameda and turned into an excellent museum, was commissioned in her honor in late 1943 and carried on the Hornet’s illustrious tradition throughout the rest of the Second World War.

The Memorial Day ceremony starts at 1:00 pm. I hope to see you there.

Hornet copy

China's WingsHornet Info

I’ve posted a lot of stories pertaining to Moon Chin in my Moon Chin category.

This post “CNAC’s two senior pilots, plus links to Moon Chin stories” will connect you to some of the best (and also to a fine picture).

Posted in China's Wings, Moon Chin | 2 Comments

Enduring Patagonia inspires an art major to paint (and tweet)

Sweet writing buzz this morning courtesy of @abstrick, who was inspired to paint–and tweet–by Enduring Patagonia. (Clicking the pic should take you to an image of her full piece.)

Abbi Strickland 1 copy

Perusing her Instagram images, I found this other one I truly love…

Abbi Strickland 2 copy

Keep painting, Abbi!

Posted in Enduring Patagonia | Leave a comment