28 March 2006

Is There a North Park?

This article from the Times of London has many interesting thoughts on the recent series of controversies involving "South Park" -- the best written show on television today.

I will readily admit I did not watch "South Park" for the first few years because I (quite uncharacteristically) allowed myself to be swayed by the opinions of others who dismissed it as nothing but potty humor and fart jokes -- which it is. However, between the farts and bleeps is a lot of very intelligent observation about the world around us -- and some of the smartest satire in my memory.

The new season just started last week. If you haven't yet, you might tune it in. It may take a little getting used to (something like reading subtitles on foreign films); but, after a little while, you will wonder how you lived without it so long.

27 March 2006

Where Were You?

As you know, I just began reading Americans Remember the Homefront: An Oral Narrative of the World War II Years in America.

It begins with a "Where were you?" question regarding Pearl Harbor.
That made me think of where I was when I first heard about the Pearl Harbor of my generation: the September 11th attacks.

I heard about it rather piecemeal. In Arizona, a state which does not observe Daylight Savings Time, we are three hours behind New York. According to a CNN timeline, the first plane crashed at 5:45 a.m. PDT (California and Arizona time). When my alarm went off at 6:42 a.m. -- nearly an hour later -- the anchor on NPR was saying something about a plane hitting a building in New York and people falling out of the building. I remember reading about the jet fighter that hit the Empire State Building in 1945, so I really did not think much of it. And, between getting ready, and keeping one eye on the Weather Channel (as usual), I did not get the full details.

At about 7:15 a.m. I went in to say good-bye to my still sleeping significant other. I woke him and said: "There's been a plane crash into a building in New York. Some people have died. I haven't heard all the details, but I didn't want you to be concerned when your radio alarm goes off and they are talking about it."

During my very short drive to work, I heard a lot of news fragments that really made little sense. As I pulled into the parking lot at work, the anchor on NPR was interviewing a woman across from one of the towers. She was saying that the building just collapsed. I thought she meant a small part of the building fell away (where the plane hit). The anchor interrupted her to say that the Federal Aviation Administration had just issued an order that all aircraft, commercial and otherwise, were to immediately land where ever they were or risk being shot down.

Still not fully understanding what had happened, I got out of my car and started across the parking lot to work. I looked up and saw a giant commercial jet flying over our building. We never have commercial aircraft flying over our building. I fought the urge to get back in the car and go home; rather, I hurried into work. Able to listen uninterrupted to the radio, I quickly began to understand what had occurred.

Where were you? Please tell me what you were doing and how you first heard of the airplane crashes into the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, or Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I am especially interested in hearing from people living in other countries at the time.

25 March 2006

Not Much Chance

Can someone tell me exactly for what reason a seal pup has to be bludgeoned to death? I mean, what are they used for? Are 325,000 seal pups better dead than alive? How is that?

More details here.

[Thanks to Matt for this tip.]

24 March 2006

How Old is That in Tortoise Years?

News has just come out that Addwaita, an Aldabra tortoise in India, had died. He was estimated to be about 250 years old. (And that is no typo.)

Addwaita (pictured) started life on the Seychelle islands, where he was captured by British sailors, sometime prior to 1767 and brought to India. He was moved to the Alipore Zoological Garden zoo in Calcutta in 1875.

England'’s The Independent newspaper has more details.

19 March 2006


I love National Public Radio. What more can I say? I wish I could remember when I started listening to it. I don't know. I do know it was sometime in the mid 1980s when I was living in San Francisco.

I probably get 75% of my news from them (20% from newspapers like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Times of London; and 5% from web logs. How interesting is that?).

Here is a neat little story about how NPR is changing. (But I still think McDonald's is one of the great evils in the world.)

15 March 2006

Happy Happy

I just love this illustration. Thanks to Julie for sending it along.

Illustration by unknown artist from "Puppy Dog Tales,"
a premium booklet, circa 1950s.

A "Crash" Moment -- Part Two

Last week, I wrote about an incident that happened to me at a gasoline station that put me in a moment from the movie "Crash." I asked for input about what you would have done in a similar situation. Between replies here at JAC and in conversation with others, I was surprised that pretty much everyone would have done just as I did: shut up and say nothing.

I don't know how I feel about that: good, because others would have acted as I did; bad, because I still think it was the wrong thing to do.

Unfair treatment of others -- racism, sexism, sexual orientation discrimination, ageism and all the others -- is just wrong. And wrongs are not righted by silence.

Every time something like that happens to me, I marvel at the bravery of those people in history who stood up (or, in the case of Rosa Parks, sat down) and refused to allow discrimination to continue.

13 March 2006

Hats Off to You, Mr. Carnegie

I have often stated that the true heroes in the world are teachers and librarians -- those valiant guardians of knowledge who offer a guiding hand to every person who wants to know more.

As a gifted child in school, I benefited from teachers who were willing to spend a little extra time helping me learn more than the lesson plan; as a journalist, I owe many great thanks to the librarians who helped me research in those heady days before the internet.

So, it is with that preface that I mention it was 105 years ago yesterday that Andrew Carnegie offered New York more than $5,000,000 to build 65 branch libraries: a small part of the many more millions he donated to build 2500 libraries around the world -- including one just a couple miles from my home in Phoenix.

That library in Phoenix -- opened in 1908 at a cost of $25,000 -- still stands, although it is now a museum. It was the first major library in Phoenix, and served that function until 1952 -- a few months before the new central library opened in 1953. That library was, in turn, replaced in 1995 by the brand-spanking new copper-clad super-state-of-the-art library about a mile south. It remains one of my happy places.

So, hats off to you, Mr. Carnegie, for using your wealth to help spread wealth of another kind.

The illustration is by Matt Hinrichs.

12 March 2006

Happy Birthday, Mr. Boycott

Thanks to the wonderful show CBS News Sunday Morning I am a little smarter.

It turns out today is the 174th anniversary of the birth of Charles C. Boycott (1832-–1897) an English land agent in Ireland who refused to go along with land reform. Because of that, he was targeted by the workers in the fields and in his house -- all of whom refused to work with him, effectively cutting him off from the rest of Irish society. The isolation did its work, and Boycott relented. This action against him gave name to a method of peaceful (usually) protest that exists to this day.

A more detailed look at how it all started is provided here and in the 1947 film "Captain Boycott."

11 March 2006


Yes, after 143 days without, Phoenix now has rain! That's 42 days longer than our previous record of 101 days. It's been raining almost without stop since midnight -- the kind of long, slow rain that really helps the soil and the plants. There's even snow up north! Wow! High fives all around.

It's 44 degrees outside. We've got home-made seafood chowder warming in the crock pot. There's a fire in the fireplace. All we need is a good old movie and we are set!

10 March 2006

One if By Land

Mass Bradley asked: What are your top 3 fave names for a new baby, boy and girl...?

Thank you for the question, Bradley. For a boy they are: Christopher (of course), Matt(hew), and Taylor. For a girl: Marina, Emerlinda, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

All That Glitters

Mass Bradley asked: Electroplating. What is it good for?
Thank you for the question, Bradley: Electroplating is a process by which a layer of one type of metal is deposited on an object made of another type of metal, thereby changing the surface properties of that item.

Many items are electroplated, including metal utensils, jewelry, car parts, etc.

Benefits of electroplating include making the item stronger or better looking. However, there are many disadvantages because it uses large quantities of chemicals and generates waste that can be hazardous to the environment.

09 March 2006

Hair Today; Gone Tomorrow

Matt in Phoenix said: I'd like to know why head hair grows to where you have to cut it and body hair does not? Why don't our eyebrow and eyelash hairs grow?

Thank you for the question, Matt. Hair appears only on mammals, and comes in many forms: hair on the heads of humans, whiskers on cats, bristles in a lion's mane and even quills on a porcupine. It contributes to many functions, including insulation, camouflage, sexual signaling, protection, and sensing the world around us.

In humans, ear and nose hair protects from dust; eyebrows and eyelashes protect against small particles and sunlight; body hair provides insulation. These hairs do not need to grow beyond a certain length in order to execute their function.

Human head hair is different. Hair provides a great deal of insulation (90% of body heat loss occurs through the head); so, up to a point, longer hair equals better insulation. But researchers also believe head hair plays a role in sexual attraction. Long, thick hair is a visible sign of health in the animal, which could explain why longer head hair is often viewed as being sexy.

08 March 2006

A "Crash" Moment

In case you have not yet seen it (and you really should), "Crash" is a movie about different types of people and the different types of racism they endure and inflict. With that fantastic film fresh in my mind, I found myself in the following situation:

After pumping gas at a self-serve station, I returned to the window for my change. The (white) woman in front of me was having trouble getting her change. The (east Indian) woman working the counter clearly had only a slight grasp of both English and mathematics. While I (white) and the woman in front of me helped this Indian woman through the math, a (white) man got in line behind me.

Once the Indian woman comprehended the correct change, the man behind me said "I would have cheated her for not knowing that (the correct change amount)."

So, there I was, in a "Crash" moment. In a flash I reviewed my options:

1: Say nothing. It is none of my business.

2: Grunt something unintelligible that is neither an agreement or disagreement.

3: Turn and tell the man behind me that he should be more sensitive to people who are not as capable as he is -- and risk the chance of being shot.

What would you have done? I'll tell you what I did in a later post.

05 March 2006

One Man's Meat...

F.P. from P.C.H.1 asked: What makes you laugh, Christopher?

Thank you for the question, F.P. It is interesting, as I find myself laughing at all sorts of things. Woody Allen has never been one of them. A serious cineast, I have given Mr. Allen many tries over the years, and just have never gotten it. (Others I have just not gotten include Charlie Chaplin, the Stooges, and the Marx Brothers; so, Mr. Allen finds himself in good company.)

As for what makes me laugh, I love "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Are You Being Served?" (in spite of itself), "I Love Lucy" (we recently watched the Hollywood episodes on DVD), and, of course, "The Simpsons" (even though they have gotten a bit strained over the years). I would be remiss to omit "South Park" which, despite some opinions to the contrary, is the best written show on television today.

Also episodes of the vintage radio programs "The Jack Benny Show" and "Fibber McGee and Molly" which I listen to on my iPod daily.

The most recent offering which has kept us laughing has been episodes on DVD of the British television series "Creature Comforts" brought to the world by the same lunatics who made the (soon-to-be- Oscar-winning fingers crossed) "Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

I would be interested to hear what brings laughter to your world. What makes you laugh?

04 March 2006

Nothing To Do With Charlie

Jill in Denver asks: What the heck is "Brownian Motion"?

Thank you for the question, Jill. Brownian Motion was discovered by observing the jumpy movement of a pollen grain in liquid. It is named for Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773 - 1858), who identified it in 1827.

Its importance lies in the fact that this movement, caused by atoms and molecules in the water hitting the grain, was used by Albert Einstein as proof of the existence of atoms -- before it was possible to see such small items through a microscope.

Brownian Motion has gone on to be used in mathematical contexts involving the random generation of numbers.

The illustration is by famed naturalist Charles Harper.

Where's Woody?

Sgt. Stealthy asked two related questions: Why isn't Woody Allen funny anymore? And whatever happened to his unbearably unfunny action-figure sidekick Tony Roberts?

Thank you for the questions, Sarge. As to the first one, I am afraid Woody Allen was never funny. Any perception to the contrary must be related to something in the water, or perhaps a bad batch of Raisinettes.

As for Mr. Roberts, he is still active -- appearing in two films in 2005 -- and is still as unfunny as ever.