Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Today is the last day of the year. With this posting I have met my goal of blogging more than I did last year. I do realize that I have cheated and that I have two entries today (on a blog called "What I Learned Today") ... but hey, it is my blog and to quote Cartman ... " I do what I want."

We have had a young person from Korea living with us since September and since then I have learned a lot about Korea. Before he moved in, what I knew about Korea came from the TV show M*A*S*H or from the Stephen Colbert song, "Singing in Korean". Sad, I know. So I have learned a lot just from talking with him and having a heighten sense of all things Korean. Every time the word Korea is said on NPR, my ears perk up.

For one, in Korea, the day you are born you are considered 1 year old. So I am actually 44 in Seoul but still 43 here. You get younger when you leave Korea and older when to go there.

Koreans don't really have middle names but generational names. Each family keeps a book for their family. You merge the middle name on the end of your first name, so if your first name is Chin and your generation name is Su then your name is Chinsu. All your siblings have the same generational name so if Chinsu has a brother named Dae, his full name would be Daesu.

Seoul is the largest city in South Korea, but Pusan (aka Busan) is the next largest. It is about the size of Chicago but with a warm climate on the southern tip of the country. Pusan was unscathed by the Korea War due to how far it was from the northern border.

Pusan's baseball team is called the Lotte Giants. The Korean Baseball Leagues has 8 teams. They have the name of a corporation and then the team name. Lotte is a huge conglomerate a lot like General Electric. Hundai, Samsung and LG all have teams as well. Their league has only existed since 1982 but is very popular and probably will grow. The champion of their league will face the Japanese, Taiwan and Chinese teams in the Asia World Series.

I get the impression that Koreans love American culture and products especially our beef. Their current president, Lee Myung-bak, lost favour with the voting public when he banned American beef due to fear of Mad Cow disease. His approval rating is lower than Bush's at 17% the last I heard. Coming to the US on vacation is not very practical due to the distance so Australia is a good substitute. Japan and Hong Kong are also popular, but China is not.

I have learned a lot by having a bright young person from another culture in my home. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning something new. Happy New Year.

He Looked a Lot Like Che Guevara

I just watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries via Netflix Internet streaming. It wasn't until I was done watching the film that I remembered that this film was based on the actual diaries of revolutionary Che Guevara. You cannot help but fall in love with the Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the film ... his passion, handsome idealism and curiosity are contagious. The story follows the 23 year old medical student Ernesto's trip, with his biochemist friend Granado, from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina across South America to Venezuala. You watch Ernesto transformed from a young asthmatic college student, whose only interest is in graduating, traveling and women, by his experiences on the trip into a revolutionary. They meet coal miners, migrant workers, persecuted communists, lepers and tour the ruins of the ancient Inca Empire at the top of Machu Pichu. Like Jack Kerouac's Sal Paradise in On the Road, Ernesto traveled to find America and found a lot in himself as well. Spoiler alert: The film's climax comes when he decides to celebrate his birthday at the leper colony. The medical staff at San Pablo leper colony are segregated by the Amazon River. He dives in and swims across to cheers and jeers and emerges on the other side transformed. What a great image! I am adding the book to my wish list now. Let us all be transformed to face the changes and challenges of the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Barbie and her Liberation Organization

When Mattel introduced the Barbie doll in the 1959 American International Toy Fair, some people were outraged and some thought it would be a failure. Dolls were for children therefore they were made to look like children. Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator, watched her children play with their baby dolls as if they were adults, so why not make a doll of an adult or a teenager. Everyone at the fair hated Barbie, but the consumer is king. She sold out the moment she hit the shelves. 350,000 of them were sold in the first year. Today, every second three Barbies are sold throughout the world.

Jack Ryan was the engineer that designed her. He was a missile designer for Ratheon before working for Mattel. He was also married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. This might explain Barbie's controversial breasts. Her body hasn't changed throughout the years, but her eyes did. In 1971, her eyes were changed to look forward. They originally looked sideways, seductive like.

Barbie has always been controversial in recent years more to do with her unrealistic or unobtainable proportions. Barbie Liberation Organization was formed in 1989 by people who were already pissed off at her anorexic figure but went over the top when they heard what Barbie had to say when she was fitted with a voice box: "Math is hard," "I love shopping!" and "Will we ever have enough clothes?". The BLO (also called RTMark or Registered Trademark) organized the swapping of voice boxes between Barbie and GI Joe making Barbie's voice much deeper and said “Vengeance is mine!” while Joe said "Let's plan our perfect wedding". They then returned them to stores in time for Christmas. I wish I had one of these.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kiribati and Global Warming refugees

The island nation of Kiribati's 94,000 or so residents have a problem. By the year 2100 their entire nation with be under water in the Pacific Ocean. Two of their islands, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, already disappeared in 1999. Coconuts will no longer grow on several of their islands due to the salination of the soil. Salination problem is expected to spread to the rest of the islands by 2050 and so goes their economy. These folks are becoming refugees of global warming ... or a term that we will probably start using a lot soon ... Global Warming Refugees or Climate Refugees.

Kiribati is on the equator and is the eastern most nation in the world. They are always the first to celebrate the New Year. It consists of 32 atolls and several island groups that are just a couple of feet, at it highest, above sea level. Their president Anote Tong has started thinking long term and has been helping his citizens relocate already. He has worked with getting his citizens residency in their neighboring countries of Japan, Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand has already agreed to accept 75 of them a year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Samuel Worcester and Andrew Jackson

Every time I use a US $20 bill, I have to shake my head in amazement that we still have Andrew Jackson on our currency. The more I hear about this man, the more I despise him. Every time I hear someone call our current president the worst ever I just think of the Trail of Tears and how Jackson was responsible for marching families at gun point from Florida to Oklahoma. Bush is pretty disgusting but lets have some perspective. We've had far worse.

I learned today of a Vermonter that had a run in with Jackson. Samuel Worcester was a missionary from Peacham. He moved south to preach the word of god to the Cherokee. Like many whites of his time, he made friends and became close to many of the "savages" that populated Tennessee, Georgia and northern Florida. Worcester defied a lot of the laws of the times that governed relationships with the natives. For example, Georgia has had a law in the 1830's that a white person couldn't live on Cherokee territory without taking an oath of obedience to the state of Georgia. When Worcester refused to take the oath he and several others were chained, beaten and force marched 35 miles to the county jail. He was convicted of four years hard labor. Worcester challenged his arrest and the case went to the Supreme Court (Worcester vs. Georgia). He won (Georgia refused to show up). Like Bush, Jackson didn't seem to care how the Supreme Court interpreted the US Constitution and followed his own demons. He refused to enforce the law. When presidents are popular they seem to be able to get away with the crimes that only royalty could gotten away with in the past. Worcester and one other were to remain in jail and continue their hard labor until the governorship of Georgia changed a while later. They were set free with some stipulations. Worcester moved to Oklahoma awaiting the influx of Cherokee immigration that was to follow.

It should be notes that the private citizens at the time in Tennessee, Georgia and northern Florida had little problems with the Cherokee. They lived peacefully with them; they shared in commerce, in civic pursuits and even in worship. It is the federal government under the mantra of progress that forced them off their land. Rich industrialists and the railroad had a huge influence on the federal government. The more I learn of history, the more I realize that little has changed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ubiquity of It's a Wonderful Life

When I was a kid, you couldn't change the TV channel during the holidays without bumping into Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It was everywhere. It could have had its own channel for the month of December. This is no longer the case and it is only on a few times during the holidays now. I always thought that this was so they could sell the DVD, but it is really because in 1973 the owners of copyright forgot to renew it. When copyrights expire, a work goes into public domain. This is why you can put Superman in a song without paying DC Comics. After a while, the people own a work and not its creator.

In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the holders of a copyright of a story that a film was made of had certain rights over the film. Hence It's a Wonderful Life's ubiquity came to a stop and it only gets put on TV a few times a year. One has to wonder if it would be considered such a classic if the copyright hadn't expired.

  • Link from Slate Magazine's Explainer
  • Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Ponzi Scheme

    Ponzi Schemes are basically illegal schemes where you rob Peter to pay Paul. You convince new investors to give you a lot of money and you use that money to pay off your old investors. There really isn't a commodity supporting the scheme. You just keep making money based on the fact that you are giving a return to your investors. Eventually it collapses but by then the schemer can disappear with the loot.

    The first Ponzi Scheme ever was devised by Charles Ponzi in the early 20th century where he convince people to invest in stamps. The most recent just happened (this week) and was the largest ever by Bernard Madoff where he swindled over $50 million dollars from a lot of famous people and charities.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Mutilated US Money

    The US Treasury has a department of mutilated bills. If you have a mutilated bill, you can mail it to them and they will repair it and send it back to you free of charge or replace it with one of an equal value. What bills are considered mutilated? A bill that more than half of it is unreadable and its denomination is questionable. If your bill doesn't meet the definition of mutilated, you can just bring it to a local bank and they will replace it.

    You can send your mutilated bills to the following address (via registered mail):

    Bureau of Engraving and Printing
    Room 344A
    P.O. Box 37048
    Washington, D. C. 20013

    Sunday, December 7, 2008


    Snoopy made his premiere in The Peanuts comic strip two days into the strip's history. So October 4th, 1950 is Snoopy's birthday. Charles Schultz modeled him after his childhood beagles Snooky and Spike. He originally was supposed to be named Sniffy but changed it to Snoopy after discovering that Sniffy was taken. In the early days of the strip, Snoopy walked on all fours and was silent. After two years, the thought bubble was introduced to show what he was thinking. Other characters in the strip seemed to be able to read his mind because they responded to his thoughts as if he was talking. He was mostly silent in the TV specials. It was ten years after he was introduced that Snoopy started walking upright. Since then Snoopy became the real star of the strip and shows. Schultz claims that Snoopy became the character that the loser Charlie secretly wanted to be. Schultz suffered from manic depression and he modeled the character Charlie Brown after himself. When he was young, he claims, every time he started to show pride in some of his accomplishments, his father would tell him not to get a big head. So when he created Charlie, he purposely made him with a disproportionally large head.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    Gladwell's Hours

    Last year's New Year's resolution, for me, was that I would blog, at least one more entry, more than last year. As of right now, I need to blog 10 more times in 25 days to meet my goal. I really do learn something everyday. I work at home and listen to several podcasts a day which is mostly talk but some are music.

    Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, sounds like a great read. I haven't read it yet, perhaps I'll read it next (after I finish this Orson Scott Card novel). I have heard Gladwell speak on several podcasts and I think he was on the Daily Show recently. His latest subject is why some people have extraordinary success and some don't. He doesn't believe in the gifted but believes that people become successful through practice and lots of hard work. It is kinda like that old joke .... "Young man! Young man! How do I get to Fenway Park?!" The young man responds "PRACTICE!"

    He calls his principle the 10,000 Hours to Success. His best example is Bill Gates. Gates apparently spent 10,000 hours on a computer before he turned 18. I did the math, this over 416 days if he was awake on the computer all that time. This might explain Bill Gates' personality. This is not to say that everyone who spends 10,000 hours on the computer before he/she is 18 is going to grow up to be a billionaire. But given some luck and intelligence with the 10,000 hours, you have an outlier. My old track coach, Ira Brown, used to say that luck is when preparation met opportunity. So 10,000 hours doing anything like playing video games or watching Bill O'Riley isn't necessarily going to get you anything ... other than a potbelly and/or a bad attitude. It is important that you spend your 10,000 hours doing that is worth doing, hopefully learning or building a skill.

    The coolest stat I have heard him state is that something like 90% of the elite hockey and soccer players in the US and Canada are born in the months of January, February and March. This could be mere chance or this could be explained by the fact that most youth hockey programs on the continent have a cutoff of a January birthday to get into them. This would mean that those who get into these programs at a younger age are more likely to succeed. They just have more time under their belt than the others ... there are those hours again. This doesn't mean that every kid that is born in January is going to success or if you are born in December you are not. It is just a high level look at trends. How do you get the Molson Center? Practice!

    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    The Snail Darter and the God Committee

    The snail darter is a small fish, about the size of a paper clip, that lives primarily in East Tennessee. It feeds on snails and providers food for larger fish like trout. In 1975 it was declared as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is significant because when this happened, it halted the creation of the Telico Dam (which helps bring electricity to the valley). The construction of this dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would alter the habitat of the river to the point of killing all of the snail darter. You would think this would have brought a stop to construction of the dam, considering destroying this fish would have an equally destructive affect on recreational fishing and the local economy: enter the God Committee.

    Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) sponsored of an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would allow some projects exempt. The Tellico Dam was the first of such projects. This "God Committee," made up of several cabinet members and at least one person from the state in question. This amendment was signed into with bi-partisan support in Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter.

    As a side note, Baker was replaced by Al Gore in the US Senate in 1985. He was also asked by President Nixon to be on the US Supreme Court. Because he took too long to answer, Nixon picked Rehnquist instead. In 1976, he almost was picked to be Ford's running mate instead of Bob Dole. He ran for president in 1980 but dropped out after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. He was President Reagan's Chief of Staff from 1987 to 1988.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    The Stones at Altamont

    I just finished watching the film Gimme Shelter. What a great film! I have always had an appreciation for the Rolling Stones, but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. Among other things, the film documents the concert at Altamont Speedway in the San Francisco area in 1969. I have never known much about the concert other than that someone was stabbed to death by the Hell's Angels at the concert.

    The Stones have always had the image of being bad boys. It is just that ... an image. It is something they grabbed onto after their friend, The Beatles, got such an image of being squeaky clean. Mick Jagger, not only the lead of the band but the business man, thought having the Hell's Angels as body guards at the concert would be a nice stunt to bolster this bad boy image. I guess he didn't think of how much the Angels were the real thing ... bad boys ... or to put it more bluntly just a bunch of violent thugs. After the violence started, the Stones had no idea how badly people were injured and continued to play after several interuptions with the intention of calming the crowd. One of the Angels claims he had a gun on Keith Richards threatening him if he stopped playing.

    The Altamont Free Concert featured the Stones as the headliners since they organized the event. It also featured Bay Area rockers, Jefferson Airplane and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Grateful Dead were supposed to play but refused to go .. hearing that Marty Balin of the Airplane was assaulted by the Angels and knocked unconscious while he was playing. 300,000 people attended the concert. The stabbing death of Meredith Hunter was already known to me before I saw the film but what I didn't know that is that there were 3 other accidental deaths during the concert, two by car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation ditch. The stabbing and the assault on Balin are documented in the film, just a little hard to see in the commotion.

    I find the coolest thing about the film is watching Jagger and Charlie Watts watching the news reports about the stabbing coming in. You can see in their faces, the regret and some shame. Charlie even had a tear. They just wanted to put on a great rock show. They didn't know what they were dealing with when it came to the Angels.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the city of Danzig

    The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is the short name of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in August 1939. The longer, more official name is Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was named after the two high ranking representatives from those nations, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The term non-aggression on its own sounds nice until you understand that it just meant that they weren't going to be aggressive to each other while they invaded the nations around them. Barely a week later on September 1st, Germany invaded Poland on their eastern border while the Soviets waited until September 17th to invade them from the other side. They both went on to invade the nations of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania splitting the land and resources into their respective spheres of influence. Only Finland was able to hold them off.

    Under the Versailles Treaty after World War I, Poland was guaranteed access to the sea (the Baltic). So the city of Danzig was declared a free city under the auspice of the League of Nations. So this split Germany up with a small portion of the nation disconnected from the mainland (where Konigsberg is now). Not a good situation. The city had its own currency, stamps and national anthem. Germany wanted to build a highway connecting Konigsberg to the rest of Germany. When this did not happen, Germany demanded Danzig back. Poland, having recently signed the Anglo-Polish military alliance, pushed back believing that having England (and France) behind them, Germany wouldn't do anything about it. Hence, ... as it is said ... the rest is history.

    Monday, September 8, 2008

    Ann Lee and the Shakers

    Mother Ann Lee was the founder of the Shakers. Shakers' official name is The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing but are usually called the Shakers. This is due to shaking and trembling they did during their ritual dance. The shaking was thought to rid the body of sin.

    Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England in 1747 and was married off, by her parents, at a very early age. He had eight children, four that died during childbirth and four that died before they were six. She developed religious beliefs against sexual activity and marriage and became famous for her preaching of her beliefs. She emigrated to the US in 1774 fleeing persecution and settled in Watervliet which is somewhere near Albany, NY.

    Shakers lived in communes where men and woman lived side by side as equals. They believed that the spirit of god lived through your work. Their craftsmanship is famous for perfectionism and beauty without being ostentatious. Their inventiveness brought us the clothespin, the circular saw and the flat broom. Their membership dwindled into the 20th century. Since they didn't reproduce, they could only grow or survive by recruitment or adoption. States no longer allow the adoption of children by communes. The last Shaker community closed in 1992. There were close to 20 of them in the US at their peak, mostly in the New York and New England. The last few remaining Shakers live in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

    Sunday, August 3, 2008

    The USS Indianapolis and the Bomb

    The USS Indianapolis was a cruiser in the US Naval fleet during World War II. It played a pivotal role in ending the war in the Pacific.

    After the war in Europe had come to a close, the US war against Japan continued. A speedy end to the war was needed, but all estimates said it would be long and costly in lives. Millions on each side. The Manhattan Project was a secret that would end the war quickly and save lives in the long run. It was such a secret project that when Vice President Harry S. Truman became president after FDR's death, even he didn't know about it. Upon hearing of its existence, he immediately approved of the bombs use to end the war.

    On July 16th 1945, the USS Indianapolis left San Fransisco with a secret cargo. Most members of the crew didn't know what it was. Rumors said that it was MacArthur's special scented toilet paper. They were actually delivering the atomic bomb, "Little Boy", to the Phillipinian island of Tinian. It was the island of Tinian that the Enola Gay, a B-29, left with "Little Boy" to drop on Hiroshima. This would change the world forever.

    After delivering their cargo on July 28th, the USS Indianapolis headed toward Okinawa and never arrived. They was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Of the 1196 crew members, approximately 300 died in the initial attack. Distress signals were sent. Declassified records show that three SOS messages were received separately, but none were acted upon because one commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese prank. Over 800 men were left afloat in shark infested waters either in life rafts or jackets. It wasn't until 4 days later when the ship didn't show up in Leyte that search parties were sent for them. 321 men were pulled out of the water, 317 ultimately survived. Most causes of death were exposure, starvation, severe desquamation, and shark attack.

    In March of 1945, my father quit high school and joined the US Navy. The horrors of the atomic bomb is a difficult subject for me to wrap my head around for it is quite possible that if not for the dropping of "Little Boy" and the bomb that followed in Nagosaki, I may not exist.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Oscar Wilde's jail time

    One of my favorite classics that I read in my youth is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. The idea of your sins being collected in a portrait of you while you walked around guilt-free is a fascinating one. Wilde saw one's public and private personae to be two very different things. The more I hear about his private life, the more I understand the book. I must reread it soon. Its been a couple of decades at least.

    I knew he went to jail for sodomy and suffered a great deal while his lover, a wealthy guy with connections, Lord Alfred Douglas, stayed free. I just watched the film Wilde and it showed the details of the situation. I have been checking the details of the film with information on the net and it seems to be quite accurate so far.

    First thing I learn is that Oscar was Irish, born in Dublin, not British. He first moved to English after getting a scholarship to Oxford. I thought he died in jail in England, but he only went to jail for two years (of hard labor) in 1895. When he got out of jail, he went into self-exile in France and died in Paris three years later of meningitis. He lived in Paris under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth.

    The law he was convicted of gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. His young lover's father, John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, hired several detective to follow him around London and documenting his activities. That was enough to convict him.

    Stories like these remind you that progress really has been made.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    Superman is a Fascist

    It bothers me, a bit, about Superman. He fights crime under one personae and then under another personae .... writes about it. Talk about controlling your own message. No wonder everyone in his world thinks of him as being super ... he was the media ... he told them he was super and they believed him. A bit fascist, don't you think?

    Two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created Superman in 1933. This was during the height of fascism in Europe and antisemitism, not only abroad but in the states as well. Surely what was going on in the world had some influence on them. Superman was clearly a leftist in the early days taking on the KKK and promoting the New Deal. It is unclear whether they took the name of the character from the Nietzsche concept, the Superman, but the fact that Nietzsche was also a major influence of Hitler always seemed ironic to me. The name Clark Kent comes from the movie stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor (a B movie star from the 50's). Many of the other names they took from Hebrew with Superman's real name, Kal-El resembling the Hebrew word for "the voice of god" while his childhood mythos resembles Moses in that they were both cast out by their parents to save him. Moses was sent down the Nile in a basket, while Kal-El sent in a pod to Kansas. So maybe, Superman isn't a fascist, but perhaps, he's just Jewish.

    I have always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan anyway. Spiderman is more my style. He worked for a newspaper too, but he just took the pictures. Others were open to interpret what he was doing in them. He didn't control his own message ... it controlled him.

    Check out this Archive of Studio 360. It was a good one:

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    The Stasi

    The Stasi I watched the German film, The Lives of Others, this weekend. It was an incredible film and very much deserving of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar that it won this year. It was about the Stasi which is short for Staatssicherheit which translates to State Security in English. The Stasi in the old East Germany (the GDR) is basically the equivalent of the KGB in the Soviet Union or to a lesser extent, the FBI in the US. By the time the wall fell in 1989, the Stasi had over 91,000 employees and 300,000 informants. Approximately, 1 in 7 citizens were informing on their neighbors and family.

    At the end of The Lives of Others, one of the main characters gets to look at the Stasi's file on him. He sees that his wife was informing the Stasi about him. The screen writer of the film,
    Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck,was actually sued for libel about this by his wife and it was revealed that she actually was spying on him during the era.

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    Hitchcock and Stewart on Rope

    One of my favorite Hitchcock films is a lesser known film called Rope. Rope is filmed in real time about a murder done by some young guys who do it just for the experience of performing the murder. Hitchcock was experimenting with ten minute long takes that he believed would save a lot of money. Ultimately, it ended up having the opposite effect because whenever they made a mistake, they had to do the entire ten minutes over again. Not only was this expensive, but it frustrated the actors who had nailed their scenes several times but had to do them over and over again ... all ten minutes not just a few seconds like they usually do. But this technique did give the film a much different quality than a lot of his films with the long scenes and I don't think they ever leave the one room that the film starts in with the murder since it was based on a play.

    Rope was also the first time that Hitchcock worked with Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was so frustrated with the filming process that he vowed to never work with Hitchcock again. Obvisiously he changed his mind and starred in the classics Rear Window and Vertigo (which turned 50 this week). A lot of actors including Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant turned down offers to appear in Rope due to the homo-erotic imagery throughout the film. They were still in the closet and didn't want this to give anyone any ideas.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    No Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

    I have been told that the Irish don't celebrate St. Patrick's day like the US does. They celebrate it, but it is just not that big of a day for them. It is a quieter celebration. I learned today that Cinco De Mayo isn't even celebrated in Mexico.

    On May 5th, 1862, France attacked the Mexican city of Pueblo. Mexico owed France, England and Spain a lot of money but France is the only one that didn't come up with a peaceful resolution to the problem. Mexico's victory on this day became a symbol of Mexican unity. A year later, the people of California (that seceded from Mexico sixteen years earlier) celebrated Cinco De Mayo to to acknowledge Mexican independence. The tradition spread throughout the states.

    September 16th, the day that they declared indepedence from Spain in 1810, is the Mexican Independence Day that is celebrated today.

    Check out this excellent aritcle from the Huffington Post: Huffington Post link

    Friday, May 2, 2008

    Harper Lee's gift

    In 1954, writer Harper Lee received one of the coolest Christmas presents I have ever heard of. A couple of her friend got together and gave her money ... an entire year's salary with this note attached: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had written a working manuscript of her wonderful Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is even considered by some to be the best English language novel of the 20th century. Before becoming a famous novelist, she was a clerk for a law firm. After the novel was published in 1960, she expected it to be panned by the critics. She only hoped that someone would give her some encouragement so that she could make a career out of it. She was overwhelmed with the response and terrified of her fame. She never wrote another novel.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    Juvenile Crime and Comics

    Before they had video games, before they had rap music, before they had rock music and Hollywood to blame for the corruption of youth ... they had comic books.

    In the 1950's, juvenile crime was on the rise. When they were caught doing crime, they often had comics in their possession. Therefore the correlation was made that comics needed to be stopped. Of course, at the time comics were the most popular entertain for teens. They were cheap, entertaining and their parents hated them. In 1952, the US Senate launched the Hendrickson Committee to investigate juvenile crime and comics.

    To avoid censorship, the comics industry came up with their own code the CCA. If you are like me, the comics that you grew up with had this symbol on it:

    The Comics Code seal

    The industry policed itself with this code which prevented a lot of gore and sex, among other things, from being in comics. It put a lot of comics out of business for a lot of distributors wouldn't carry comics that didn't have this stamp. The genre of crime comics almost disappeared. The whole industry turned upside down ... oh ya ... imagine this: juvenile crime continued. Censorship solves nothing.

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    The War of the Worlds radio show

    Whenever I ever hear anyone mention the 1939 radio show of HG Wells’ War of the World and the panic that ensued, I think of how naive and unsophisticated people must have been back then. But then I find myself stopping and reconsidering … I think of all the conspiracy theories around 911 and how so many people have so many wild ideas about the world. Perhaps we haven’t changed that much. Fear is still king. Today is it terrorism, but in 1939, the stories coming out of Germany were terrifying. Does fear make us na├»ve or do we just believe anything that comes out of an appliance in our living room?

    On Halloween night 1939, Orson Welles and the production staff of CBS’s Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcasted a radio show of HG’ Wells’ sci-fi novel changing the setting from 19th century England to current day New Jersey. The show that night had a musical guest who was periodically interrupted with "news" reports of the Mars invasion. The mock news reports sounded realistic enough for the era. The actors playing the reporters studied Edward R. Morrow’s war reporting and tape of the Hindenburg tragedy to get a realistic feel. The Theatre of the Air was least popular show at that time slot, so Welles timed the news updates, "we interrupt this program," during lolls in the other shows so that they would catch channel surfers’ ears. Because of this, many of the listeners didn’t hear the disclaimer at the beginning of the show. They reported that an army of 7,000 were reduced to 120 by one Martian robot. Panic was widespread. The Trenton, NJ police received over a 2,000 calls that evening and the NY Times switchboard reported 875 calls to confirm the story. Many eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke over New York City and choking due to panic attacks. The town of Concrete, Washington had a power outage in the middle of the show making things a lot worse for them. They didn’t get the disclaimer at the end of the show so some sat in horror, in the dark, for hours.

    In February 1949, the show was reproduced in Quito, Ecuador with even worse results. The local militia was mobilized to fight the Martians. When it was revealed as a hoax, a mob attacked the radio studio and 6 people were killed.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Edison and the Elephant

    Recently someone posted a video on YouTube of Thomas Edison (the founder of GE) electrocuting an elephant. It is not only real but Edison filmed it himself.

    During the 1880’s, Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla were going through whats commonly known as the War of the Currents. Edison was a proponent of DC (direct current) while Westinghouse/Tesla had AC (alternating currents). DC was the standard method for the carrying of electric currents in North America at the time but AC was gaining popularity. To discourage the use of AC, Edison started a public campaign to show how dangerous it was. It mostly featured the electrocution of stray cats and dogs, but also a Coney Island elephant (which supposedly had problems and was scheduled for termination anyways). Think of this as like the battle between the Mac and Windows or between Blu-ray and HD-DVD but with the torturing of innocent animals. Edison also commissioned the creation of the first electric chair and referred to the act of electrocution as being "Westinghoused."

    Part of the war was personal, Edison owed Tesla a lot of money. Not paying the "talent" appears to be a tenet of the GE philosophy. Westinghouse funded him out of spite. AC is now the standard for the distribution of electrical currents along long distances like from a power plant to your home. While DC is common in very short distances like the electrical system in your car.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    Bats and Bugs in Vermont

    Some bats in Vermont and New York are suffering and dying from a condition that is being called "White Nose Syndrome." The white nose is merely a symptom and not the cause of the disease. Someone in causing them to deplete their fat early while they are hibernating therefore they are starving in their sleep.

    This was first discovered last year in a cave west of Albany NY and this year 2 more in NY and one in VT which is scary because this means it is spreading. Since bats eat mostly bugs, expect a buggy summer in northern New England and New York which is not something that I am looking forward to. Also, the long term effect of having more bugs this summer will cause what? More sickness in humans and/live stock? Depletion of plant life?

    I am concerned about the bats, of course. They are beautiful, fascinating creatures, but problems like this always have impacts elsewhere just like the mysterious death of bees last summer. I have to remember to hang up my bat house. It is sitting in the yard. Unfortunately, not much else I can do.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008


    I learned today that the concept of boredom was first introduced by the Germans. I wonder if it was by someone who was reading Goethe. I get bored just thinking about him.

    In defense of boredom, I have to say I am grateful for boredom for if not for boredom where would we be? Just think of all the great entertainment we’d be missing.. We’d be really bored.

    Entertainment is the biggest industry in the world ... bigger than the defense or medical industries. So our need to be entertained far outweighs our paranoia of death. So when we are not defending against death and working out, we are looking for distractions to stop us from thinking about it. The more terrifying the world gets, the more we need to escape.

    The word first appears in English literature in Dicken’s Bleak House. He refers to it a monster, "The fair Volumnia, being one of those sprightly girls who cannot long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the dragon Boredom..." So it is something that we battle with. He also refers to it as something we envy when others don’t have it, " the desolation of Boredom and the clutch of Giant Despair, almost hated her own maid for being in spirits." No wonder the house is so bleak! It is full of dragons and spirited maids.

    No doubt ... I am quite bored at the moment. If not for MySpace, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia and the like, I know not what I’d do. I am grateful that people were bored enough to create them.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Rachel Carson's Legacy

    When I was 19 years old back in 1984, I started to attend Bryant College in Smithfield, RI (now called Bryant University). This is a small business school that basically caters to the children of CEOs and other executives, who really didn't do very well in high school, couldn't get into Harvard or any of the other really impressive business schools. My first day on campus, Freshman orientation, I walked through the school parking lot, after parking my '72 Dodge Dart which was overheating, through the smell of new cars. It was one of the first events that happened that quickly informed me that a youngest son of a janitor and a shoe clerk did not belong there.

    My biggest motivation for going to college wasn't personal enrichment or intellectual curiosity, I reserve that right for those that can afford not to be employed after they spend $40k on an education. My motivation was to get a good enough education so that I could get the hell out of my neighborhood and never look back. I did not want to be poor. I saw what my parents went through and I would have none of it. I went to Bryant because I could drive to campus just 20 minutes away from my family's house. It served my purpose for upward mobility.

    It was a decent education, but not a great one. It wasn't my education that got me where I am today but my network of co-workers. Whenever I find myself in need of a job, I find a friend who refers me to a position that fits my skills. Since they have worked with me, they understand my work ethic and my skills and I generally find a great job this way. This has little to do with my education, but a lot to do with my parents. I attribute this success to them, not to Bryant College.

    I attribute one thing to my education that I never planned. At school, I achieved a cynicism about life that I could not have achieved if I had attended a state school and it has served me well. At school, I was exposed to a segment of life that I could have never found elsewhere in my life up to that time. I was exposed to the greediest, most unethical mother-fuckers that I could have ever imagined. They had acquired the art of cheating to the perfection of a masterpiece. I always thought that if they had spent as much time as they did figuring out ways to cheat, as they did to studying, I thinking we would be in a very different world now. Whenever I hear news of unethical and disgusting controversies like Enron or the Keating Five (remember John McCain's corruption), I just have think if the brats I went to school with at Bryant.

    The title on my subject line is about Rachel Carson. You must be wondering what this has to do with her. I just listened to Bill Moyer's Journal's podcast about her. I knew her book, Silent Spring, was a landmark non-fiction book that is attributed with jump starting the environmental movement. What I never realized how much resistance the establishment greeted it with. It makes sense, but I never really thought about it before. This year marks the books 45th anniversary and if she were alive today, she'd be 100 this year. Some of the quotes I heard about her from the resistance involve some accusing her of having hormonal problems and a variety of other male chauvinistic comments. One said, "Why would a childless spinster care so much about genetics?" in reference to her chapter on pesticides. Attacks against her came from all sides, from all places on the political spectrum.

    Hearing this kind of stuff brings me back. Working against the grain is hard. It was difficult to compete against people who were cheating and getting A's while I was getting C's thanks to the grading curve. They partied all the time while I had to work, sometimes three jobs. It tooks me 7.5 years to graduate due to the lack of funds some semesters. I remember my business ethics class where some of my classmates stated that they took it to know how to get away with "being unethical" ... really ... I am not kidding. I write this today after casting my vote yesterday in the Democratic Primary knowing full-well that the candidate that wins this thing will probably (hopefully) be our next president. They are inheriting a big mess from the current president with the worst record on the environment ever. This is only one of the messes they will inherit from him. Whoever wins will have to have the power to change the minds of people. They will have to a be a great speaker able change people's minds like Lincoln with slavery, like Kennedy with going to the moon. We can achieve great things in this country. Like Rachel Carson, the new president will have to have the ability to face great adversity from all sides. Call me a hope-monger, but I am hoping for a change ... soon.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    The Texas Garbage Patch

    The Texas Garbage Patch is not off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, but in the Pacific Ocean north of the Hawaiian Islands about half the distance to San Francisco. It is also called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. About a decade ago, my wife and I were at the National Seashore in the North Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the end of a wonderful vacation in Texas. We were disappointed, rather we were appalled, in the amount of trash we discovered on the National Seashore coming in with the tide. When I first heard the term Texas Garbage Patch, I immediately thought of the National Seashore. But the Texas Garbage Patch was named for its size not its location. It is now the size of a continent about twice the size of Texas.

    This garbage patch is made of mostly plastics that for whatever reason has ended up in the ocean either from dumping or by accident. It is plastic bags, bowling balls, plastic bottles, Nike sneakers etc. It weighs approximately 3.5 billion tons and it doubles in size every decade. Here is a link if you like a look:

    Texas Garbage Patch

    Pretty disgusting huh? It is one of the reasons why we get the feeling the ocean is not pollute because it looks as clean as it always has. But a lot of the trash just gets concentrated in a few spots due to the winds, tides and general motion of the Earth.

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    The Truth about Booth

    John Wilkes Booth was a famous actor in his day. Many historians currently believe that he was actually a spy for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The fact that he was an actor allowed him to explain why he travelled around the war-torn country without question. If you're ever in an airport and you see someone famous going through the TSA search quicker than you do, this is something to think about.

    Booth was a loyalist to the Confederacy and we was quite upset by the Emancipation Proclamation. The original plan was to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln not assassinate him. The idea was to cause total chaos with the government to cause it collapse. Eventually, the plan was changed to assissination but not just to Lincoln, but to the the Vice President, Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State, William Seward. Booth is famous because he succeed but his two buddies, George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell, did not. Atzerodt was supposed to kill Johnson, but he just chickened out. Powell almost succeeded. While Seward was lying in bed sick with his daughter, Fanny, by his side and with a soldier, Private George Robinson, posted for security (good move). Powell gained access by pretending to be a deliverer of medicine. He gained access to the upstairs of the house by pistol whipping Seward's son, Frederick, and then stormed into Seward's room flaying a Bowie knife. Seward survived but he and his family's life changed for the worse. It was a very disturbing event.

    Powell, Atzerodt and 2 other conspirators (David Herold and Mary Surratt) were hung the very next day.

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    A Loser Who Rose to Power

    If I were to tell you a story about somebody who was a nobody, a failure at everything he ever did, who got his life together and became a leader of a nation, you might find this intriguing. If I were to tell you that this person's name was Adolf Hitler ... your feelings probably would change. Before he came to power, he was a vagabond. He was a failed artist and couldn't find a job. He was homeless. He became a foot soldier in the Austria's army during World War I and this experience transformed him. So while World War I transformed the world, perhaps the most transformative event in world history, this tiny little man was transformed into the most vilified person in modern history.

    When World War I ended Hitler was wounded and blind in an army hospital. He thought hard about Germany's predictament and pondered a life of politics. Like most citizens of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria), he hoped to have a fair agreement to come from the peace. When peace came and the agreement was very unfair, he was angered. While Germany struggled to recover from the war many radical splinter groups evolved about the mayhem. Much like how the disenchanted white Southerners after the US's Civil War coagulated to form splitter groups like the KKK, disenfranchised groups sprung up all over the place after World War I in Germany. After the war Hitler got a job from one of his superior officers whose jobs it was to keep tabs on these splitter groups. One of these groups was called the National Socialist German Worker's Party. Hitler attended one of their meetings ... as we say ... the rest is history. They were more commonly known as the Nazi Party and were impressed with their young recruit who had an impeccable ability for public speaking.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    You Have Two More Years To Earn a Million

    The magician James Randi, aka The Amazing Randi, offered up $1,000,000.00 to anyone who can proove that they are psychic. The offer was made in 1964 and since has had over 1,000 people apply. They have to prove it in front of members of the James Randi Foundation. Every person who applied has been turned down because they couldn't prove it and no one has ever tried more than once. Everyone from spoon benders and water diviners have applied. The strangest among them is perhaps the woman who claimed that she could make men urinate. A male member of the foundation drank a glass of water and waited for her to make him urinate. She just left after 45 minutes and they have never seen her again.

    No famous psychic has ever taken his challenge. No John Edwards or Sylvia Browne. He actually challenged Sylvia Browne on the Larry King Show in 2001 and she has yet to take it. Apparently, they argue over the protocol. To follow this saga see Randi's web site: . There seems to be no limit to the nonsense that people will be believe. All that is needed is a good marketing and you can sell anything.

    Randi's challenge for the $1 million expires in 2010. So hurry up whack jobs ... time is running out.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Asia and Automobiles

    People in Asia don't have a love affair with cars like Americans do ... that is until now. Current projections show that China will have more cars than we do by 2020 and will have more road built by 2030. Why should we care? Well, one of the reason why oil was so cheap, until recently, was that the US used get oil cheap from China's reserve supply because they were not using it. Now that they do use it, less of that is available and probably will not be soon. Expect oil prices to get more and more expensive, the more dependent China gets on oil. Also, considering how many people there are in China, with them changing from bicycles to cars, don't expect air quality or carbon production to get better any time soon.

    India's Tata Motors just announced a car, 4-seater, that will cost $2,500.00 retail. This is the cheapest car in the world and half the price of any car currently available in China. This of course, is exciting news anyone too poor to own a car, not too exciting about anyone concerned about the cost of oil or about global warming. This makes alternative energies that much more appealing.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    The Tamil Tigers are not a sports team

    The Tamil Tigers aka (the LTTE for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) are a radical group in Sri Lanka. They have been trying to overthrow the government there since the 1970's. They are famous for, among other things, suicide bombings. In recent years, their number of suicide bombings exceed those of the Hezbollah and Hamas ... 168 of them from 1980 to 2000.

    They are quite a nefarious group responsible for a massive ATM fraud scheme last year in New York City as well as another scheme in Australia where they pretended to be a Tsunami relief organization and defrauded many people from their money who thought that they were assisting people who needed it. They deal human trafficking, credit card fraud and illegal arms dealing.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    How Turing Died

    Everyone reading this posting right now owes a bit of gratitude to Alan Turing not only because he is one of the mathematicians that helped create the modern computer (particular important regarding programming languages), he was one of the British cryptologists that decoded the code that the German Navy was using during WWII. The film Enigma is loosely based on him. The enigma machine is his baby.

    I learn today of how he died. Like Snow White, he ate a cyanide apple, but his case he was not saved. In 1952 he caught someone breaking into his home. He reported the incident and as a part of the investigation, it was discovered that an ex-lover of his was involved. The police connected the dots and arrested him for gross indecency under section 11 of Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. After being found "guilty" he was given the choice between a year in jail or chemical castration. He chose the latter and received frequent hormone shots which prevented him from getting an erection and also, made his grow breasts. From here on end, he wasn't allowed to ever work on his cryptology work due his "criminal" record. Nice way to treat someone that helped us beat the Nazis.

    Homosexuality was considered a criminal offense in Great Britain until 1967.

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    Kipling in Vermont

    The Anglo-Indian writer, Rudyard Kipling, lived in Brattleboro Vermont for several years. This quiet life, with a few acres by the Connecticut River, allowed him to write some of his best, most famous work including Captains Courageous, Jungle Book and many of his poems including "Gunga Din." This also brought some famous folks to this tiny little town including Arthur Conan Doyle who brought his clubs and taught Kipling how to golf.

    The house, Naulakha (which means 9,000 rubies in Hindi), remains standing today. I will have to remember this next time I drive through Brattleboro. What a beautiful town this.