Sunday, August 31, 2008


One Saturday morning more than two years ago some friends came over to help me haul hundreds of pounds of books to my new house across town. This was something I simply couldn't have done myself, and something for which I will be forever grateful. On that same day, these friends bought me a housewarming gift of a very large, high-quality bookcase. They also helped me move the box containing this bookcase into my house.

I own a double-block house. This is in effect two residences, side-by-side, each a mirror image of the other. My grandmother had lived on one side and had rented out the other side since the mid-1970's deaths of her brother and sister, who had been living there. Both sides are now empty, and while my grandmother's side is still furnished much as it had been when she last lived there in the early 1990's, the other side is unfurnished and much the worse for wear after continuous occupation by tenants and their pets up until just before I purchased the house. I use this side for storage and staging, and it was here that my friends moved the books and the bookcase on June 24, 2006.

And it is here that those books remain, still in footlockers and plastic totes.

The bookcase is also still here. It is a very beautiful thing, and will be a focal point in the front library/study of my house whenever I get around to making the house my own. Until then it shall remain, disassembled, on the other side.

Winter is coming. In addition to being unfurnished, the other side is unheated - heat necessary to keep any residual water in the drained pipes from freezing bleeds across the common central wall in the Winter, and I believe this is cheaper than heating both sides of an unoccupied double-block (and much cheaper than getting the gas and electric utilities turned back on on that side.) Plaster walls provide some insulation, as does the aluminum siding and the insulation underneath it. Still, the unoccupied side radiates heat away very quickly.

Bookcases filled with books should make good insulation, right?

So I've been putting up bookcases. Not the good, expensive ones, but the cheap ones that have suddenly become available during back-to-school time.* And the books have been coming out of the footlockers and the totes and going onto the shelves. Maybe by the time overnight temperatures start dipping below freezing I'll have everything up.

It probably won't make much difference. But at least I'll have these books out of storage and onto shelves. Some of them will be seeing the light of day for the first time in over a decade. And someday, when I decide to put up the good bookcases on the other side and stock them with books, the selection process will be that much easier.

But for now, I have a few more bookcases to put together. I'll be heading over there shortly to carry on with this.

Note: The ones from Wal-Mart are very cheaply made, and I just hope they last for more than a few months before they sag and/or collapse. Sauder stuff is great, but relatively expensive. I'll be putting together a three-shelf bookcase from Target today. We'll see how that works out.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

(I Ain't Gonna Play) Sun City

I was looking for a video for the haunting song "Silver and Gold" - by Bono or by U2, I don't remember - from the 1985 album Artists United Against Apartheid. I never found the video, which probably doesn't exist, but I did find an audio-only version of the song from U2's Rattle and Hum eventually found an audio-only version (with a fan-made slideshow) here. I also came across the main song from the A.U.A.A. album, "Sun City":

I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that most people would need to hit some history books to understand what this video is all about. In a nutshell: "Apartheid" was the official policy of racial separation and repression in South Africa in the 20th century, designed to keep the dominant white ("Afrikaner") minority in control of every aspect of society. It was brutal and evil, and most of the rest of the world was content to look the other way. A resort called Sun City was built in the "independent homeland" (or "bantustan") of Bophuthatswana - a whites-only luxury facility in the midst of a relocation camp for blacks. It imported entertainers from all over the world. This song was a statement by both major and minor artists preemptively refusing to accept any offer to play Sun City.

The image at 3:52 - 4:05 still gives me goosebumps - and remember, this was all done using the technology available in 1985. Check out the bearded fellow featured from 4:49 - 5:10, sporting a look I don't remember him ever having before or since.

For some (admittedly questionable) reading on these subjects, check out these Wikipedia entries:,_North_West

For a list of artists who appeared on this album, see here:

And for an annotated version of this video, check out the Pop-Up Video version here.

Apartheid ended, and South Africa is a different place. Is it a better place? It depends who you ask, I suppose. Conditions have definitely worsened for some, improved for others. The end of Apartheid was not the end of South Africa's troubles, any more than the breakup of the Soviet Union was the end of trouble in Eastern Europe. Much of Africa is still a mess by any standard - the goings-on in Rwanda and Zaire (and its successors) and Zimbabwe and elsewhere overshadow the evils of Apartheid in terms of their effects on the lives (and deaths) of the people of those nations.

The world is a work in progress. This song is now a testament to a moment in time when a group of people refused to "shut up and sing" and instead used their talents to try to make the world aware of a situation it had long chosen to ignore.

Footnote: The man who built Sun City later built an Indian casino resort in Connecticut whose name bears tribute to his past achievement. It is called "Mohegan Sun." A few years ago, the tribe that runs that casino bought the horse racetrack a few miles from here called Pocono Downs and converted it into Pennsylvania's first casino - also called Mohegan Sun. So a second cousin to Sun City exists practically in my back yard!

Why I should not blog while very tired

Because I start to sound like a pirate.

Check out the labels to the post I wrote Wednesday:

I like the labels feature in Blogger. It was one of those blog features that most of the other blogging platforms had that the previous incarnation of Blogger was missing. One of the nice aspects of it is that it has an autocomplete feature: if I want to use the "Public Service Announcements" label, I just have to type "pub" (or "ser" or "ann") and it will present me with the appropriate label. So when I wanted to tag this post with "Yard and Garden", all I needed to do was type "yar" and it would have filled out the rest. But it my exhausted state I decided to type out the word "yard"...and my fingers lingered a bit on the "r" and the "d".

I'm gonna leave it, for now. Just in case I ever do some pirate yard work in the future. "Yarr, 'tis a weed! Avast, let me get my weed-popper and I'll send it to the deepest depths o' the compost pile!"

Friday, August 29, 2008


I'd say that there's no other word for McCain's choice of a running mate, but there are actually lots of other words.

Like "Transparent". McCain and the Repugs are trying to play to the disaffected Hillary loyalists. It won't work. Sarah Palin is no Hilary Clinton. Once again I have to ask: do they really think the American public is that stupid?

McCain-Palin: FAIL

Maybe what she is is a younger model. Ten years younger than the current Mrs. McCain, who was fifteen years (or so) younger than the previous Mrs. McCain. Is it possible...? Nahhh. Still, I'm betting McCain is upset that Paris and Britney never decided to go for a ride on the Straight Talk Express.

Some fun facts:
Population of Alaska (U.S. Census Bureau 2006 estimate):
Population of Delaware (U.S. Census Bureau 2006 estimate):
Population of Chicago (U.S. Census Bureau 2006 estimate):

Population alone doesn't tell much about ability to govern. But it is amusing that McCain chose his running mate from the state with the third-lowest population, since George W. Bush's bosom buddy Dick Cheney hails from Wyoming, the least populous state in the union. (Vermont is in the #49 spot.) And a state with a population less than one-quarter that of the city of Chicago.

As for qualifications - feh. I'll let others go over that, or you can look her record up yourselves. I am reminded of George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle as his running mate. Well, she sure as hell isn't that unqualified. Still, if McCain takes a header off the platform just as the words "So help me God" pass through his lips, beating William Henry Harrison's record for shortest Presidency by 31 days, will Sarah Palin be ready to lead?

I think the answer is pretty obviously Hell, No.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

But by the content of their character

This post will be a little disjointed, as it is being written in-between speeches from the Democratic National Convention.

In this week's Newsweek there is an essay by Jacob Weisberg of Slate called "What Will the Neighbors Think?" which seems to be trying to make the argument that a moral imperative exists that we elect Barack Obama based, in large part, on the color of his skin.

Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a non factor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.
He also drags out this hoary chestnut from the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary:

In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters that race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the white Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that they didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly.
...without noting that in the complementary case, the percentage of black voters who voted for Obama because he was black (or, in the parlance of pollsters, "who refused to vote for Clinton because she was white") was much, much higher. (Perfectly understandable and perfectly acceptable, according to one well-known columnist whose identity escapes me at the moment, who maintains that since Obama is the first black candidate to have a real shot at the White House, it is perfectly legitimate for black voters to vote their race.)

And what's this "Northeastern(ish)" crap? Dear fellow, get yourself a map. Pennsylvania is a Northeastern state. We are also the gateway to the South (via the Mason-Dixon line, which forms our southern border), the Midwest (via neighboring Ohio), and New England (via upstate New York.) But we are definitely Northeastern.

I reject the Moral Imperative argument. I reject arguments that suggest we should vote for a candidate because of his race. Forty-five years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in Washington, D.C. and spoke these words:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I will not vote for Barack Obama on the basis of the color of his skin. I will not vote for him out of some sense of entitlement, or out of some belief that having him in the White House will somehow balance the scales of our national history of racial inequality. I will not vote for him because I feel the weight of a Moral Imperative, or because I fear the critical judgement that other nations may make against our nation in the event of his defeat.

I will not vote for Barack Obama for any of these reasons.

I will vote for Barack Obama because I believe he is the better candidate for the job. I will vote for Barack Obama because I believe he will be the better President, the President we need to help us begin our recovery from what will be an eight year long national nightmare. I will vote for him because I believe his policies, his judgements, and his political decisions are vastly superior to his opponent's.

I will vote for Barack Obama because I believe he will put this country on a better path than the one it has been on for the last seven years seven months and eight days. I will vote for him because I owe my nephews a better future than the one George W. Bush's policies and programs have made possible for them. I will vote for Barack Obama because I believe in him and in what he promises for this nation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

There's a reason I wear a hat while mowing the lawn

Three reasons, really. A hat with a bill will keep the sunlight off my head and my burn-prone nose and out of my eyes. The bill will also keep gnats and other nuisance bugs away from my face - they tend to congregate at the tip of the bill, but no closer.

And thirdly, the hat will deflect low-hanging branches and keep me from poking my eyes out.

I mowed the entire lawn today, not just the usual half. The weather was cooler today, so I got an earlier start as the sun was settling into the wispy afternoon clouds of the outer bands of what used to be Tropical Storm Fay. Also, a lack of rain in the past week, except for a brief but intense downpour on Monday, kept the grass at a manageable level. So I was able to do the entire lawn and still have sunlight to take out the garbage.

I didn't wear a hat today.

I managed to avoid poking out my left eye, but only just. Had the branch been half an inch from where it was, I would be sitting in the waiting room of an Emergency Room with a bloody towel held up to my face rather than sitting here blogging. As it is, I just sustained a broad scratch along my left cheekbone, just below my eye socket. It will fade in a day or two, but until then it will serve as a reminder to be more careful.

And wear a hat.

This public service message brought to you by the American Hats Council.
America needs more hats.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


We interrupt the rapid descent into the morass of politics to note this milestone:

Another Monkey has had its hundred thousandth visitor!

Now, granted, a few dozen of these visits are from me, all those times I couldn't figure out how to keep my own visits from registering. But at the same time it should be noted that there have been a few SiteMeter malfunctions - including the infamous August 1 incident, which forced many users to temporarily remove their SiteMeters. So this count is probably pretty close to the truth.

And visitor 100,000 came from Little Rock, Arkansas at 10:32 tonight searching for an answer to the question "what time can i see the 2 moons", a reference to the "Two Moons on August 27" misinformation that has made the rounds every year since the actual incident in 2003. (I don't call this a "hoax" for reasons that I explain here.) And it pleases me very much that visitor 100,000 left by way of a link to this page from NASA that explains the "two moons" issue very clearly. Somebody left my site knowing something they didn't know when they came here. That really makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

And it also makes me happy just for having visitors! Thanks, everybody! Now, onward to one million!

We now return you to your previously scheduled political bickering, already in progress.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Moons on August 27...NOT

No, Mars will not appear as big as the Full Moon on August 27, or August 26, or August 28, or September 26, or whatever date you may have heard. See this post from last year for a full discussion of this (non-)event, or this post from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy on the latest variations on the online misinformation that will not go away.

Last year we had a special treat for folks who decided to check this out: anyone who looked at the Moon before they went to bed would see a big, bright, full Moon - but depending on where they lived, sometime the next morning they would see a bright red Moon-sized object in the sky! That was because we happened to have a full Lunar Eclipse that night, and the appearance of the eclipsed Moon could easily be conflated into a Moon-sized version of Mars.

Unfortunately, this year we don't get any such show. The Moon will be a waning crescent in the morning sky, and Mars will appear to be a brighter-than-average star in Virgo in the Western sky, setting not too long after sunset. But don't let that stop you from going outside and staring up into the magnificent, mysterious depths of the Universe! It's worth your while to do that any night, two Moons or none!

B.E.U.s spent, and a schedule change

I've spent this evening reading other people's blogs, and commenting on a few of them. So I've pretty much spent all of my Blogging Energy Units for the day.

I will say this, though: Is it just me, or is each McCain commercial more pathetic than the last? My opinion of this guy has gone down steadily since he began to campaign in earnest a few weeks ago. You'd think someone with a background like his would be able to do more than just run attack ads and try to drive wedges between factions in the Democratic Party. But, I guess that's what Karl Rove says to do, or the Karl Rove protege running McCain's campaign.

Not that the Repugs care for McCain at all, especially not the NeoCon/TheoCons who have earned the Party of Lincoln the name "Repugnicants." But they know that there is a good chance that the few moderates and left-leaners on the Supreme Court will be coming up for replacement in the next four years, and they want to make sure those seats are filled with more Thomases and Scalias and Robertses and Alitos. Repugs will, as they are fond of saying, hold their noses and pull the lever for a man they hate because they believe he will give them the prize they truly want: a lock on the Supreme Court. Anybody who votes for McCain out of spite will share in the blame if he wins and hands the Supreme Court to the NeoCon/TheoCon gang.


I need to start getting out of the house earlier in the morning. A lot earlier. I learned this morning as I was shaving that there is some new construction along my commute, and a helpful Variable Message board on the side of the highway informed me that the delay would be approximately 12 minutes - if the construction had already started this morning. Which it hadn't. Still, there were some moving traffic waves that propagated through the cloud of cars on the highway, possibly the result of construction miles away. We'll see what happens when construction along my commute actually starts.

Well, so much for that. As soon as I finished this post, I was inspired to write another one.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Three years ago today

My father died three years ago today, on August 24, 2005, five days after he fell and hit his head at his nursing home. You can read all of the related posts here, starting from the bottom and working up to the top.

I've never cared much for the Grateful Dead. At all. But I do like a few of their songs. From the first time I heard it, I liked "Box of Rain":

Its relevance is explained here:

Such a long, long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

Summer's gone, a Summer song, you've wasted...

A little early for this, I suppose, by whatever means you use to determine the changing of the seasons. Still, it reflects my mood at the moment - not sure why. Too much yard work at the height of allergy season, maybe.

"Summer" by Buffalo Tom:

Note: There are several versions of this video out there. This one is from MTV's 120 Minutes and has a longish bit of the program tacked on at the end. There's another version of the same video that's apparently posted by the band itself, but has terrible audio. And here's a completely different, much more upbeat version of the video, with the clearest audio of all.

Summer's gone, a Summer song
You've wasted every day, every day
Summer's gone can't wipe it off my hands
Write it in the sand, in the sand

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama <3 Biden

OK, I meant to do something slightly more significant yesterday than Rickroll my readers, or anyone else trying to peek behind the curtain of secrecy around Obama's veep choice. But shortly after I posted this post, I headed over to my house across town to run the weedwhacker for the first time in several weeks. The plan was that I would run it until the charge died, come back here, start recharging, find out who Obama's pick really was, post that, and then go back over to my house in the morning to finish the job.

Things didn't work out that way. By the time the charge died I still had some usable twilight available to me, and the sound of a neighbor firing up his lawnmower shamed me into bringing out mine. (Granted, the whirrr-squeak-click-clack of a reel mower doesn't quite compare to the roar of an internal combustion engine, especially in the Friday twilight hours.) I mowed until I couldn't see what I was mowing anymore, put things away for the night, and sat down in a recliner to read a bit - and promptly found myself falling asleep.

So I spent the night there, for the first time in months. I woke up before Weekend Edition Saturday came on, so I lay awake until I heard classical music give way to the local announcer giving the weather. Then Scott Simon came on and promptly announced Obama's choice: Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware.

I saw Biden speak, once, when he came back to his hometown of Scranton to speak at the University twenty years or so ago. I wonder how much Biden's Scranton roots had to do with his selection? He appeals to many of the same demographic groups as Hillary Clinton, though certainly not all of them. Will his choice help to ensure that Obama will carry Pennsylvania?

He's a good choice as Vice President. It certainly puts to rest the speculation that Obama would take steps to appeal to religious extremists and the anti-Choice groups. Obama could certainly have made more daring choices, but he could also have made much worse ones.

I still have my Hillary Clinton for President signs in my windows, and that's where they'll stay until after the official ceremony at the Democratic Convention. Then I'll mosey over to the local Obama headquarters and ask for some signs for my windows. I sure hope they don't ask for demand a donation before they'll hand them over, as they did to Mark Cour of Wilkes-Barre Online when he went there in search of campaign buttons. I'd sure hate to walk out empty-handed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Obama's Vice Presidential pick leaked!

ZOMG! Despite the vaunted "discipline" within the Obama inner circle, someone has managed to leak a video of Democratic Presidential Candidate-apparent Barack Obama revealing his choice for Vice President!

Unbelievable! Be sure to pass it on!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another Monkey Consumer Price Index, 8/21/08

Also known as the Late Summer Super Deluxe Jumbo Bonus Bumper Edition.

It's been a while since I've done one of these. I've got three weeks worth of grocery receipts and eight visits to gas stations in two states. I just missed out getting some grocery information from Maryland - my friend had already gone grocery shopping a few days before I got there.

Today's currency conversions, according to

$1 =
  • 0.53296 GBP (British Pounds)
  • 0.67164 Euros
  • 1.04443 Canadian Dollars
  • 1.13876 Australian Dollars
  • 5.32026 NOK (Norway Kroners)
  • 24.2935 Russian Rubles
  • 1.41180 Georgia Lari
  • 6.86303 Chinese Yuan Renminbi
  • 108.431 Japanese Yen
  • 1,184.74 Iraq Dinars
  • 5,200.05 Turkmenistan Manats (fixed exchange rate)
  • 21.7790 Zimbabwe Dollars (Note: Zimbabwe dollars had ten zeroes "knocked off" on August 1, so this would be comparable to 217,790,000,000 in the "old" currency. This was, I think, one of the only currencies the US dollar was trending well against, and now we don't even have that. Still, it looks like we've gone up relative to most currencies since the last time I posted this.)
7/24/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.929/gallon
7/30/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.749/gallon
8/05/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.749/gallon
8/11/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.669/gallon
8/13/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.579/gallon
8/15/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.549/gallon
8/17/08, 87 octane, Exxon, Columbia MD: $3.759/gallon
8/18/08, 87 octane, Sam's Club, Wilkes-Barre PA: $3.559/gallon

Yes, I know. I bought gas from an Exxon. I apologize. If you can avoid buying from the Exxon in Columbia, MD, you should - their prices were not typical of what I saw advertised elsewhere in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Please understand that many of these are top-offs, not fill-ups. I typically need to fill up every 4-5 days, but with my big trip this weekend I needed to top off before I left, refill before I came back, and refill again after one work day.


Weis Market, Nanticoke, PA, 8/5/08:

Milk, 2% milkfat, half-gallon: $1.86

Orange Juice, house brand, half-gallon: $2.50 (sale price, normally $2.99)

Apples, Gala, 3 lbs.: $4.99
California Celery, 1 stalk: $2.69
Cherries: $4.99 / lb.
Black Plums: $1.69/lb.
White Peaches: $2.49/lb.
Blueberries: $2.99/pint

Weis Market, Nanticoke, PA, 8/12/08:

Milk, 2% milkfat, half-gallon: $1.86
Bread, Maier's Italian Seeded, loaf (1 lb. 4 oz., or 567g): $3.19

Apples, Gala, 3 lbs.: $4.99
White Peaches: $2.49/lb.
Tree Plums: $2.49/lb.
California Celery, 1 stalk: $2.69
Cherries: $3.99 / lb.
Blueberries: $2.99/pint

Weis Market, Nanticoke, PA, 8/19/08:

Milk, 2% milkfat, half-gallon: $1.86
White Vinegar, gallon: $2.99

Orange Juice, house brand, half-gallon: $2.50 (sale price, normally $2.99)

Apples, Gala, 3 lbs.: $4.99
California Celery, 1 stalk: $2.69
Cherries: $4.99 / lb.
Black Plums: $1.69/lb.
Blueberries: $3.49/pint

Hmmm...the only fluctuations I'm seeing are in the prices of fruit. Still, this is meant to make long-term comparisons in time and distance, not really week-to-week. I wonder how these prices will look in a few years?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, H.P.!

Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of Howard Phillips (or H.P.) Lovecraft. If he were alive today, he'd probably be droning on at great length about the ineffable horror of being one hundred and eighteen years old and being buried alive.

Lovecraft's influence should not be underestimated, and while the word "Cthulhu" may mean nothing to you, you might want to take a closer look at any Jesus Fish you happen to see on cars - just in case the front end is covered in tentacles. Remember: Cthulhu Saves, in case he's hungry later.

A friend recently told me of an analysis she had heard suggesting that Lovecraft's horror - in particular, its elements of deep-seated revulsion and mortal terror - came from his loathing of the world in general. I disagree. In spite of everything, I think Lovecraft quite liked the world, but based his horror on a loathing and revulsion towards certain elements of it - such as women, minorities, Jews, Chinese, Muslims, shellfish, crustaceans, cephalopods, fungi, cold, small towns, foreigners, old things, old people, country folk, new things, the countryside, rats, city dwellers, hotels, Egyptians, the night, theaters, rugose cones, penguins, stars, trains, basements...

Well, he liked cats. Definitely liked cats.

Yep, he was a racist, a sexist, an elitist. But he was also the master of overwrought purple prose. His stories are fun to read, excercises in creativity from a fevered imagination. Most of them have been anthologized, and many are in the public domain and can be found online. And just think, once you've familiarized yourself with them, you'll be able to more fully appreciate this:

"Run for it, Har...unghh..."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There's a bright golden haze on the meadow...

Sky at sunrise, August 19, 2008

I follow a pretty well-defined schedule in the morning. Breakfast by 6:00 AM. Lunch assembled by 6:15. In the shower by 6:20, all ready to roll no problem by 6:50. In the shower by 6:40, rushing to get out by 7:10.

Today I was a little behind schedule. I was just assembling the fruit and vegetable component of my lunch (celery, grape tomatoes - crap, forgot to buy those today! - blueberries, and cherries) when I glanced out the window over the sink and saw that the world was glowing golden.

Don't do this you don't have time you'll be late you'll be rushing don't do this

I hastily put the rest of my lunch together in the bag and grabbed my camera. The time was 6:20.
The world was glowing golden because the sky was glowing golden. The sun was hidden, somewhere, but the reflected light from the clouds was bathing everything in a remarkable light. I quickly fiddled with the settings on my camera to Sunrise/Sunset to optimize the CCD for the light intensity of the morning sky.

The clouds almost looked ominous, threatening. Were those mammatus clouds off to the north? The TV weatherman - an honest-to-goodness meteorologist - had called for a beautiful day, and I was inclined to believe him.

Turned out he was right. Today, at least.

Three years ago today my father had the fall that would lead to his death in less than a week.

TITLE REFERENCE: Opening line of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! - which I only know because it was once used in a MAD Magazine musical parody of the comics - Rex Morgan, M.D. if I recall correctly.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yay, I'm back. And those pre-programmed posts are a great way of dealing with Blogger's Anxiety Syndrome, where you break into a cold sweat if you are unable to post at least once a day. I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday without going anywhere near a computer!

I had a good trip. Though I wasn't the only one...


I was mowing my lawn today for the first time in a loooongish while. I got a decent amount done, even though I started right at sundown. I wasn't very far in when I discovered that I had received a call from the friend I had visited this weekend, and I decided to call her back.

I was sitting on my front steps talking on the phone when a very pretty girl, somewhere between 17 and 25, came walking by. I couldn't help getting distracted by her pair of puppies. Well, they weren't exactly puppies, more young adult dogs. Boxers. Very handsome dogs. And she was pretty good looking, too, did I mention that?

Unfortunately they weren't the most coordinated dogs in the world. And as is often the case while walking pairs of dogs, they got tangled around the legs of the person walking them and managed to knock her over onto the sidewalk.

It was more a sort of slow-motion tumble, something I've done myself many times before. She crumbled to the ground in a series of physically unsustainable poses and eventually wound up laying on her back, with one of the dogs laying on top of her as she tried to snag the collar of the other with her foot.

Still on the phone, I jogged over to try to size up the situation. The one dog was completely covering her. The other was standing at attention, facing me. I decided he was not in immediate danger of running into the road. I approached more slowly.

"Get off of me!" the girl yelled to the Boxer on top of her. "She's trying to kill me!"

"No," I said, "she's protecting you." From me. Mistress is down, helpless. Hulking strange human within range. Protect. Defend.

Prepare to attack?

I got close enough for the alert dog to strike me if it wished without moving much. I made no move toward it, or her. But the dog could smell me more easily, could probably analyze the lack of adrenaline leaking out of my pores. Stand down. Strange human non-threatening.

She looked to be OK.

As she sat up I started to extend a hand to help, but she obviously didn't need it. She got up, dusted herself off, said "How embarrassing,", and continued on her way.

A little while later a red SUV pulled up in front of my house and a guy got out, leaving the motor running. What's this?, I thought. The guy looked old, older than me, at least. He had several plastic bags in his hand. He ignored me and walked up the sidewalk to where the girl had tumbled...

...and scooped up some poop. Um? How did that work? What just happened? As I had just mowed along the sidewalk, it would be a week or more before I ever saw that spot again, and the poop would not have bothered me.

It was only later that it occurred to me that this might have been a classic front-door / back-door con, where one person distracts someone at the front entrance to their house while another enters through the back door and proceeds to rob it. Might have been, but wasn't.

Anyway. Now I'm wondering if I'll get to see this girl around the neighborhood again. And her puppies. They sure were cute.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dinosaur Comics

If you're not reading Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics on, you don't know what you're missing. Neither do I, for that matter, since I'm not a regular reader. But I'll try to get caught up!

Cute banter between dinosaurs, and apparently the same six panel images each day. Yet it all works! Check it out!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Rainbows are not what they seem

This may sound a little hypocritical after yesterday's post about witnessing the release of what may have been a toxic gas from an industrial site, but what the hey.

This is a video that's making the rounds. I was alerted to it in an e-mail message from ...tom... of Sleeping In the Heartland, who had commented earlier on the red rainbow that I witnessed but didn't photograph. He directed me to this post on the blog of Isis the Scientist, On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess.... , which contained this terrifying (yet true!) eyewitness account of a genuine Fortean phenomenon:

The scariest thing about the narration to this video is that the woman (who is NOT Isis the Scientist, FYI) is apparently dead serious. She must have led a very deprived childhood, deficient in rainbows and lawn sprinklers (or even garden hoses, which are what I used to create my own rainbows when I was a kid.) It's just sad: she was being treated to an absolutely beautiful, incredibly bright rainbow, and she was essentially recoiling in horror.

From the comments on the linked post:

D.B. Echo said...

And has anyone noticed how at sunset, the sky takes on this eerie reddish-orange hue? There is NO WAY that was going on twenty years ago! And as the sun sets in the west, this dark band rises in the east, purple underneath and pink on top? What is this, some secret government experiment?

And what about those UFOs that go across the sky at night? They look like stars, but they move in straight lines and sometimes flare up! Are these some sort of space vehicles, beaming signals into our homes?

And in winter, if I get snow on my shoes, it turns to water when I come into the house!WITCHCRAFT!

...I'm a-scared that the person who made this video was serious.

August 13, 2008 6:32 PM

Isis the Scientist said...
D.B. Echo, that is the best freakin' part! This person is absolutely serious!!!!

If you head over to the You Tube and search "HAARPs" you will find a whole series of videos on the rainbow conspiracy (which, for the record, is very different from the rainbow connection).

August 13, 2008 6:42 PM
(This video has been making the rounds for some time now. Phil Plait did a post on it on Friday and linked to a post by P.Z. Meyers from August 5th.)


On a somewhat less-sad note, I was doing a Google image search for "red rainbow" and I got a response that led me to this page on the Unexplained Mysteries discussion forum. What keeps this from being truly sad is the fact that the people in this forum a) are noticing cool things like red rainbows and sun dogs and sun pillars - most people have never seen these things simply because they haven't looked up at the sky! - and b) are asking questions. If I could, I would send copies of M.G.J. Minnaert's beautiful classic Light and Color in the Outdoors to every one of these people. That might be enough to shift them from the "I Want To Believe" school of thought to the "Now you know - and knowing is half the battle!" way of thinking.

TITLE REFERENCE: Line fom Twin Peaks, a revelation scene involving a giant in Dale Cooper's dreams: "The owls are not what they seem."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nitrogen dioxide vs. nitrous oxide

Olyphant, August 15, 2008, 4:53 PM

Today, for the second time in two days, I observed the release of orange-brown gas from a company across the street from the place where I work. I noticed this as I was leaving work between 4:40 and 5:00 PM on both days. But today I had the presence of mind to grab my camera phone and get a picture.

Someone else called in this gas release today and caused a bit of a commotion. But in a report on the 10:00 news today an official spokesman for the company said that it was just nitrous oxide, perfectly harmless, just an ordinary release as part of their everyday operations.

Except nitrous oxide is colorless. This stuff was orange-brown, as seen in the photo above. Like nitrogen dioxide, which also differs from nitrous oxide by being toxic.

So what was it? I can't say for sure. But the cat's out of the bag. We'll see if anyone looks further into this. Somehow, I don't think it's acceptable to release whatever this is in close proximity to residences, a school complex, several other industrial facilities, a credit union...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Can't blog now, 'cause I'm in a Focus Group!

This pre-programmed post is here to remind you that I won't be doing my regular daily post because I'm participating in a Focus Group this evening from 7:30 - 10:00, by which point I should be all worn out and ready for bed.

Saturday and Sunday I'll be out of town, so I'll see about getting something set up for y'all on those days.

Take care! Be excellent to one another!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I am tired, and I am weary

...I could sleep for a thousand years.

Velvet Underground, "Venus in Furs" from Live MCMXCIII

Naw, I'm not that tired. Still, I should get to bed soon. I spent waaaay too much time at Sam's Club after work today, getting my tires rotated. Actually it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been stuck in a traffic jam after work and forced to take a detour that added miles and minutes to my trip. So I got to Sam's Club about 30 - 40 minutes later than I should have, by which time the lone guy working at the tire department, who had been on-shift for eleven hours, was ready to call it a day. But he agreed to rotate my tires, and...

Suddenly a twentysomething guy dressed in Eurotrash student chic and armed with what I was guessing was an Iranian accent came in pleading to get a tire replaced on his car. As best we could determine, he had flattened one of his front tires and needed to get it replaced so the car could once again be driven. The overworked (and probably underpaid) guy at the desk took his work order too, and asked me if I minded letting this poor feller bump ahead of me. I said sure, no problem, I had some things I wanted to pick up in the store anyway.

After about an hour, I was starting to mind a little bit.

But, anyway, it got done, and I bought my stuff, and I am now a little bit closer to my big trip this weekend.

Anyhoo. Tomorrow I shouldn't be online because I'M IN A FOCUS GROUP, BABY! I know, all you non-focus group people are so jealous. I'm thinking this is going to be a political survey sort of thing, but it may just as easily be a comparison study as to whether a taser to the chest is more effective or less effective at disabling an individual than a kick in the 'nads. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things, and stuff; or, Georgia on My Mind

Today was grocery shopping day. My mom gets a 5% discount on Tuesdays and every little bit helps, particularly in this economy. We didn't get out to the store until around 6:15 this evening*, and didn't get out until nearly 7:45 PM.

As we left the store the sun was already sinking behind the nearby Honeypot Mountain. "Look at that cloud," I said, pointing to a wispy cloud overhead that was dark on the bottom but light in the upper reaches. "Some parts of it are already in shadow, and some parts are still in sunlight."

"Look at the cloud over our house," my mom said, pointing to a dark cloud in the distance. We were about a mile from our house.

"It's glowing orange in its lower part," I said. "That's weird."

"Maybe our house is on fire," my mom said.

It wasn't.

I decided to take a scenic route that would take us on a road with a clear view of the mountain ridge to the southeast, where the cloud was. As we approached we could see that the cloud was very big, and very dark, and very red in spots.

"It must be raining there," my mom said.

"Rainbow!" I shouted. "It must be raining!"

And what a rainbow! I have written about the maximum limits of rainbow size, and - well, this was it. Just one leg, the right leg, almost perfectly vertical - as far as I could tell, the sun was already below the horizon, so this may have actually been a segment of a rainbow larger than a half-circle, in which case it might even have been leaning out a bit. But I don't think it was.

Oh, and it was red. The setting sun casts its light through hundreds, thousands of miles of atmosphere. This tends to screen out all but the longest wavelengths. So red is all the distant raindrops have to play with.

There was no point in trying to get a camera. It was too faint, and fading too fast. All we could do was enjoy it while it lasted.

Then we went home and unloaded the groceries.


I wanted to write about the Russian incursion into Georgia yesterday. I really did. Instead I sat down at my Adobe PhotoDeluxe and manipulated a cartoon to make it look like Blondie was shooting Dagwood in the head.

This took a lot more work than you might think. I had to isolate and move each element on its own layer. Then I had to erase the bits I had moved, and then copy and paste and stretch and clone what remained until there were no traces of the originals anymore. I'm not 100% happy with the results, but it was good enough. Perfection would require an investment of many more hours.

Which was a bit much to go through to avoid writing about Georgia.


A few weeks ago Newsweek ran an article called "The Mythology of Munich", about Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler and Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, about how the world watched and waited and held its collective breath until Chamberlain announced that an agreement had been made with Hitler, which basically said "OK, you can go this far, but no farther." "Peace in our time" are the words the world remembers. Only that wasn't what it meant at all, and the Blitz rolled into Poland a few months later.

So the bottom line is, no politician wants to be Chamberlain, engaging diplomatically and appeasing the aggressor and getting dumped on by history when it turns out you were wrong. Everyone wants to be like Churchill, fat and drunk and bald and smok- I mean, all decisive and stand-taking. The problem is, the stories told in children's histories of WWII don't really provide a complete image of the complexities these men were up against, where there were no good options, only a spectrum of unpleasant choices and likely consequences. And when the chips are down, do you really want to rely on the historical equivalent of "Once upon a time..." to serve as your guide?

The chips are down. This is no longer a hypothetical situation.

Russia is telling the world that the old Soviet Bloc states belong to Russia, and it will invade and occupy them if it damn well pleases, and to hell with independence and democracy and alliances, and what are you pampered pansies in the West going to do about it? Send troops? Is this pissant little country of Georgia really worth fighting a nuclear state over? Besides, you and what army? I see you have troops in Iraq, and troops in Afghanistan, and - gosh, you're looking a little overextended...

So what do we do? What can we do? So far, the approach appears to be harsh (but not too harsh) language. And Russia has responded with language of its own - the language of George W. Bush, his own catchphrases about peacekeeping and national security.

Is there a way out? Are there any good options? Or just a spectrum of unpleasant choices and likely consequences?

Is the best that we can hope for peace in our time, bought by the sacrifice of one little nation's freedom?

*When I was a kid I always wondered where "afternoon" ended and "evening" began. I mean, "day" = light and "night" = dark, so that was pretty easy, except on very rainy days or during eclipses. And "afternoon" == "after" + "noon", so the beginning is pretty well defined. But where does "evening" begin? I arbitrarily decided it would be at 6:00, when the news came on. That was the time when after-school TV would have to stop and homework would have to begin, since the adults were now hogging the television. (We had one TV when I was a kid. We didn't get a color TV until I was seven.)

So if "evening" begins at 6:00 PM, where does it end? Clearly "evening" and "night" are synonymous, at least for a time. But "morning" begins at midnight in my book. So the day is divided thusly:

Night - Dawn - Sunrise - Day - Sunset - Dusk - Night


Morning (12:01 AM - 11:59 AM) - Noon -
Afternoon (12:01 PM - 6:00 PM) -
Evening (6:01 PM - 11:59 PM) - Midnight -

Monday, August 11, 2008

4 My Mudgez: Blondie Shoots Dagwood

After seeing Blondie holding a pistol in today's Blondie, I knew I had to do this.

Fanboy note: Ever since I became a regular visitor to The Comics Curmudgeon and started really reading the comics again, I have been blown away by the exquisite, detailed linework in Blondie. Today we are treated to something else: an orthographic view of the mailman in mid-collision. Check it out! That ain't no profile, baby, that's a 2/3 (or whatever) view from slightly below!

Rainbow over Nanticoke, August 7 2008

Last Thursday I stopped at my house across town to mow the lawn. I was in a race against time the whole way there: the radar had shown a storm bearing down on Nanticoke, and it was unclear if I would be able to get the whole lawn done before it hit. I did, but just barely; thunder had been rolling around the sky for the last twenty minutes or so of my task, and the first drops of rain began to fall as I wheeled the mower back to its position of shelter on my back porch.

(The thunder didn't deter the two guys putting on a roof a few houses away. Neither did the rain, or the lightning.)

I changed back out of my lawnmowing gear and got ready to leave. I noticed that while the setting sun was peeking out of the clouds and through the windows on the back of the house, it was still pouring on the street in front.

Oh, boy. Here it comes. Wait for it.

I sat on my rocking bench on my front porch and waited. I didn't have to wait long.

Rainbow over Nanticoke, August 7 2008, 7:34 PM

The houses in my neighborhood are packed closely together, and most of the houses have old-fashioned front porches. You can look to your left and your right and see who is out on the porch at any given time. When I first saw the intense right leg of the rainbow in the North South,* exactly where I expected it, there was just one neighbor out, and I had to yell to him a few times before he understood what I was wildly gesticulating about. But before long there were neighbors popping onto their porches up and down the street, many of them armed with cameras. I may have been the only one using a camera phone.

One of the earliest pictures I took on my camera phone was an almost-identical shot on July 13, 2007. Although this older picture was taken five minutes earlier in the day, the sun was actually much closer to setting in the more recent photo. So the rainbow in the picture from last week is bigger, and its legs meet the horizon more nearly vertically.**

Rainbow over Nanticoke, July 13 2007, 7:39 PM

I drove across town to my mom's house and grabbed my Nikon Coolpix L4. Nine minutes after my first photo the rainbow was still there, though its intensity was starting to diminish, and the secondary bow had vanished.

Same rainbow (in a manner of speaking) as in the first image, August 7 2008, 7:43 PM

Not that this was really the same rainbow. No two observers see the same rainbow. A rainbow is made up of refracted and reflected light that has gotten bent as it made one bounce and two bends on its trip through a spherical water droplet. You are seeing the result of these reflections and refractions, or at least of those that took place in a locus of points where the reflected rays happened to be aimed back at your eyeballs - that is, a circle centered on your head. Each observer will see a rainbow formed from reflections in different droplets. (I don't want to risk saying something completely off-base here, so I'll just direct you to here for further reading.)

The left leg of the rainbow

But having said that, it's now easier to understand why you only see rainbows when the sun is behind you and the water in the atmosphere is in front of you. And why sometimes you can see the rainbow in front of nearby houses and other objects if the rain has just passed through your locality but is still falling over there. It also explains why the legs of the rainbow were now visible...

The right leg of the rainbow

...but the upper reaches were not: the rainbow had grown so large, and the storm so distant, that there were no raindrops to reflect the parts of the rainbow that weren't showing up. The rainbow, from my point of view, was above the rain! (This is more obvious in the photo of the left leg of the rainbow, where falling rain miles to the East could be seen as dark vertical bands that cut off abruptly at the same level that the rainbow ends.)

(Note also that the right leg of the rainbow touches the horizon behind the mountains in the distance, rather than in front of them like in a photo I took a few months ago.)

Colors in close-up

Finally, I took one last shot of the colors of the rainbow in close-up.

If you didn't happen to be in Nanticoke last Thursday, or if you were and somehow missed this - well, now you know when and where to look. Next time it rains and the sun comes out afterwards, go outside and look for the shadow of your head!

*My left-right confusion also applies to North-South. North is where Santa lives, South is where the penguins and Old Ones live. Geez, what could be simpler to remember?

**A rainbow forms a circle of constant size centered on an imaginary point corresponding to the center of the head of the observer's shadow. The higher the sun in the sky, the lower that center point will be, and less of the rainbow will be visible - imagine that the rainbow is a complete circle, but you can only see the parts sticking up above the horizon. Closer to sunset the center point approaches the horizon, so more of the rainbow can be thought of as being above the horizon - and you can see a bigger rainbow. At sunset, the rainbow may be at most semicircular, but...well, go back to the post and read on...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thompson Street Block Party, August 9, 2008

At the invitation of Mark Cour of Wilkes-Barre Online I attended the annual Thompson Street Block Party in Wilkes-Barre. I was just one of many local bloggers in attendance. Also present were Jennifer Wade, Gort and Mrs. Gort, Michelle, David Yonki, and Kayak Dude.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and I parked underneath the old Jean King water tower across the street.

Clouds were sparse, but there were enough of them to treat us to some interesting tricks of atmospheric optics, including iridescent clouds and this sun dog.

The beverages of choice for bloggers: beer and Kool-Aid. We never did get around to drinking the Kool-Aid.

Celebrities were also in attendance. Here is Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who is running against Paul Kanjorski to represent the 11th Congressional District in Congress.

A blogger takes a picture of a blogger taking a picture of a politician getting his picture taken by a third blogger (off the image to the left) with blogger David Yonki.

There was plenty of food and plenty of beverages, of both the adult and sub-adult varieties, and there were fun and games for everybody.

A pudding-eating contest. Like a pie-eating contest without the crust.

Donuts on a string. The kids seem to be content to eat them one at a time.

Water balloon toss, in mid-toss.

The Thompson Street block party was a great time. I hope I get to go back again next year!

For an official Thompson Street Block Party Wrap-Up, complete with videos from previous years, see this post on Mark Cour's Wilkes-Barre Online.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


No, he isn't. But more than a few people - primarily of the sort who feel that affiliation with a specific religion is a prerequisite for the Presidency - think he is. And quite a few people on Team McCain want you to believe that.

Just like they want you to believe that BARACK OBAMA IS THE ANTICHRIST! Or at least Nicolae Carpathia, the AntiChrist figure from the fundamentalist fiction Left Behind books. But somebody as good and honest and honorable as John McCain wouldn't actually try to tell you that, would he?

Yes. Yes he would.*

So far, all of McCain's attack ads seem to be aimed at a soft-headed demographic. Does he really think he'll find enough people stupid enough to believe him?

Yet even a third cousin of mine in the mountains of North Carolina, an independent-minded Democrat who voted for Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004, said he can't bring himself to vote for Obama, either. Why? "Because I believe he is a Muslim," said my cousin. Not so, I said. He was raised a Christian and is a practicing Christian. My cousin shook his head. "I just don't believe him," he said.

- Christopher Dickey,"Southern Discomfort", Newsweek, August 11, 2008, page 25**

The people who are trying to replace the remainder of the Supreme Court with their activist judges - and this is the real prize that the NeoCon / TheoCon / Conservative / Republican party has its eyes on, as they've admitted during brief moments of honesty - the Karl Rove-schooled master manipulators, know that there are plenty of soft-headed people out there. After all, despite all the cheating and vote fraud in the last two elections, a lot of people actually legitimately voted for George W. Bush - some of them twice. So, yeah, the answer is yes.

Barack Obama is not a Muslim. Barack Obama is not the Anti-Christ.

No matter what you may have heard.

*Hmmm...even though this is "Paid for by John McCain 2008" and comes from his official site, there's no "I'm John McCain and I approve this message" at the end. Isn't official candidate approval a requirement these days? Is the campaign setting him up for plausible deniability? Or is this just a way to get an ad out there and pull it on a technicality once the heat is on and it becomes a news story?

...or is this really just a way of tricking people like me into posting yet another McCain ad? (My third one so far...)

**Note: The paragraph in the article preceding this one offers a theory as to why the "Barack Obama is a Muslim" meme resonates so strongly in certain quarters:
Dent argues that when Southerners criticize Obama, "They say, 'He's a Muslim, he's a mulatto Muslim, or quadroon Muslim … [only because] they don't want to use the old N word."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Watchmen trailer!

As I am not one of the five kajillion people who have been to see The Dark Knight yet, the first time I saw the trailer for Watchmen was yesterday. Give it a gander:

The amazing thing is, with the possible exception of three or four* I can trace every one of these scenes to a specific page of the graphic novel. That's how much respect the filmmakers have for this work. I understand that they used panels from the book as storyboards!

Someday I'll write a review of this book. But it's just so huge, so complex, even though it's just twelve 32-page comics put together. Every time I re-read it - several times a year since I bought it, shortly after September 11, 2001 - I discover something new. Last time it was that each character can be looked upon as the "main character" of the story, even - especially - the one who died before the book began, and the other one I had always thought of as a poorly-fleshed-out background character. Most recently it was that each character's story fits together with and interacts with the stories of the other characters like the parts of an intricate machine. Like a clock. Like a watch. No accident there, obviously; it just took me nearly seven years to get to that point.

If the movie is as faithful as this trailer makes it look, this will be a good version of the story. Though not the best one. The best version is the one you construct for yourself in between the panels of the book. Pick up a copy for yourself and give it a shot. Then re-read it several times each year and see what you missed all the previous times!

*These would be the Silk Spectre crashing through a flaming building from :41 - :45 - a toned-up version of the tenement fire in Chapter VII, pages 24-25, perhaps?; Nite Owl landing at 1:02 - 1:05 - is this in Sing Sing, maybe, Chapter VIII page 16?; Blake having a tantrum at 1:33 - possibly a variation on Chapter I, page 2; and the Nite Owl angry at 1:35 - is this his initial reaction to what he learns at the end of page 15 in Chapter X?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On the eve of the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics

I first published this a while back, but now that it really is the eve of the Olympics I wanted to repeat this message for the people and the government of China.

My humble effort, a salute to China as it hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing August 8th through the 24th. Permission is hereby granted for this poem to be republished, and I fervently hope it is distributed widely throughout China! I encourage others to express their sentiments in a similar manner!

An Ode to China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics

Finally you made it, and no one can deny
Rightfully you host the Olympics at last!
Every eye shall gaze, every heart shall thrill,
Every spirit soar as the Games begin!
Triumph of the nation that has shown the world
Indomitable spirit, unbreakable will!
Bronze and Silver and also much Gold,
Eternal glory awaits those who win!
To you, O China, let these Games bring much joy!

I'm in a focus group!

I don't want to say much about this just yet. I got the invitation last night, and immediately assumed it was a scam - but a follow-up email to the research company resulted in a second invitation call today. (And a third one, since I was across town photographing a rainbow when the first call came through this afternoon.)

I'm excited about this for several reasons. One is the fact that there is a promise of financial compensation for my participation, which led me to believe this was a scam in the first place. Then there is the fact that physicist Richard Feynman (who, I must add, helped to build the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as part of the Manhattan Project) participated in a focus group once, as recounted in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! And there is the fact that I am an experience junkie, or "Activity Slut" as a friend once called me: I'll tag along for anything, as long as it doesn't violate my moral or ethical standards or involve too much effort on my part. Plus, it will give me something to blog about. (And I can blog about the experience. I asked.)

So. Next Thursday is the group. Next Friday evening I may be traveling, and I will be out of town all weekend, but I may be able to blog from the place where I'm going. So I may miss a few days of blogging, unless I can get Gort to tell me how to pre-schedule blog publications. I'll be seeing him this weekend, so maybe I'll get to ask him then!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Martyrs of Hiroshima

Image from the United States Department of Energy
Interactive History of the Manhattan Project

On this day sixty-three years ago tens of thousands of civilian non-combatants died in the first use of nuclear weapons in an act of war as an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. By year's end, the death toll from the attack would expand to between 90,000 and 140,000 as survivors of the initial blast succumbed to the lingering effects of radiation.

The war could have ended then and there. But there were two atomic bomb designs that needed to be field-tested. Three days later, the second design was tested over Nagasaki.

The test was a success, and Japan surrendered.

It could have gone differently, very much differently. The bombs were originally intended for use in Germany. Had Germany not already surrendered, what German cities would have been turned to ash? Which Germans now alive would never have been born because their parents and grandparents had been reduced to shadows on concrete and wood?

But instead the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki died by the tens and then the hundreds of thousands.

Their deaths were not without meaning. They were not merely collateral damage in a battle between world powers. The horror of their deaths, of how they died and in what quantities, has stayed with people everywhere for all these decades. And the atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like children's toys compared to the nuclear weapons which were to follow.

But these weapons, fusion and fission bombs, were never used. Not in violence, not in war, not against people or structures. They were used as playing pieces in a game of state-level terrorism, and as long as the balance of terror was maintained, as long as neither side could let its birds fly without being completely destroyed in a retaliatory strike, they were never used as weapons.

And that was where things stood, until the feint known as the Strategic Defense Initiative tricked the Soviet Union into destroying its economy while trying to respond, and the balance of terror changed forever.

Nuclear terror isn't over. The weapons are still out there, though many of them may now be unusable in their original design configurations. But many others are. And you don't need a fully-functioning nuclear weapon to make a dirty bomb. A radioactive Boy Scout once did it in his mother's garden shed.

But we are here. We are here in part because a bunch of politicians and generals didn't blink when they stared down their counterparts on the other side of the world for half a century. We're here in part because no one has been crazy enough - yet - to use nuclear weapons in another act of war or an act of terror. We're here in part because we have been very, very lucky.

But we are also here in part thanks to the Martyrs of Hiroshima. The horrors of their deaths, both instantaneous and lingering, have helped us to understand the horrors that would come from the decision to engage in nuclear war.