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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC

[picture credit: Wikipedia]

The freedom of speech is one of our most important rights in this country – and sadly, much of the rest of the world is not so lucky to be born in a country like the United States.

There are others, of course, like England, or Switzerland, or Germany, where the freedom of speech is held dearly. But shall I remind us all that in Germany that freedom of speech didn’t work so well after January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor. Within days, freedom of speech was all but a farce.

So tenuous are our laws – let them not be tenuous in the United States. Let us protest when we see transgressions.

Freedom of Speech1

[picture credit: Wikipedia]

WienerMobileToday Trisha came home with a picture of the Wienermobile. It was right in front of her in Old Town San Diego. I could not resist.

That reminded me of the LLBean Bootmobile I stumbled upon one winter night in Albany, New York, as I left the hotel and waited for the valet to bring my car.

Bootmobile

Of course, now I was on a roll. I Googled the Bootmobile and found an actual picture that has both one of the LLBean Bootmobiles and the Wienermobile on the same picture.

Wiener and Boot

I know you really needed to see all that!

Norbert Haupt:

I could not resist a reblog of a post I did over six years ago.

Originally posted on Norbert Haupt:

I was in Germany for 5 days, driving down the Autobahn, on the right lane, going 90 mph, and cars to the left of me flying by at God knows what speed. And I come to the tail of this tour bus:

party-bus-3.jpg

Granted, this is not a German word. As I passed it on the left side, the logo was there one more time, covering in huge letters the whole side of the bus. But on the bottom was, in small print, the name of the travel company:

Fücker Reisen

So that’s what the “wings” above the U are about? The little magic two Umlaut dots can make.

Somebody ought to tell them.

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Students were asked on the 100th day of school: If they could have 100 of anything, what would it be and why?

100 Years

After reading this heartbreaking plea from this little girl, all I could think is that she is apparently living in a healthy-looking middle class home, yet she is suffering so much emotional pain already!

This shows clearly what educators and engaged parents already know: We need to spend time with our children. We don’t need to buy them much. We just need to spend time with them. Take them with us. Read books to them.

We need to –

– teach our children well.

Norbert Haupt:

A good train of thought on the political system in the United States.

Originally posted on The Culture Monk:

DSC08982

By Kenneth Justice

~ Yesterday the coffee house was buzzing with conversation connected to the American Journalist put to death by the hands of ISIS.

—) “Kenneth, what do you think of what happened with the journalist?” nearly fifty people asked me yesterday

—-) “Kenneth, those people are animals! Decapitating someone’s head is only something done by animals!” said a mid-fortyish man to me

—-) “Kenneth, if I was a journalist there’s not enough money in the world to get me to go to the Middle East!” said an early thirtyish young woman

My heart goes out to both the journalist who died and his family and loved ones. I’m sure this is nothing anyone plans for and because it is a rather rare occurrence I doubt that there is any way to truly prepare for emotionally and psychologically.

I’m currently enrolled in Graduate…

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Yazidi Girl Poses

Yazidi Girl in Refugee Camp [picture credit: Simon Tomlinson and Tom Mctague]

Check out this photo essay by Simon Tomlinson and Tom Mctague in MailOnline which illustrates the plight of the Yazidis under the threat of Muslim extremists.

Fears are growing for the 300 Yazidi women reportedly kidnapped by Islamic State fighters last week amid claims they would be used to bear children to break up the ancient sect’s bloodline.

The minority group is originally Aryan and has retained a fairer complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes by only marrying within the community.

But in a furious bid to convert all non-Muslims, ISIS jihadists have vowed to impregnate the hostages.

This is why I don’t have much respect for religions. What kind of god is this that allows young men to think they have the right to take women and children, like the girls on the photos of this post, and “impregnate them” just to destroy their “blood lines?”

Yazidi Girl Rests

Yazidi Girl in Refugee Camp [picture credit: Simon Tomlinson and Tom Mctague]

What kind of people are these ISIS guys that smile on TV while talking about killing innocent little girls like these – or impregnating them?

What kind of society is this that accepts this behavior as acceptable, as in the case of these ISIS people, interprets it as god’s will?

What kind of country are we that we really think we are going to make a difference with guns in societies that have persecuted each other in the name of their gods, be that Zoroaster 4,000 years ago, or the “prophet” Muhammad 1,300 years ago, and all the whacky dogma he brought along and passed on to an entire geographic region?

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, when you want to contribute in a shooting war, you have to pick one side or the other. Right now, in Syria and Iraq, we can’t seem to figure out which side we want to back. All sides seem to have “terrorist” threads within them. No matter which side we arm, we end up arming people we used to shoot at or who used to shoot at us.

Atrocities everywhere. Let’s send in American soldiers so there can be more confusion. It reminds me of one of those bad heist movies where the mob, the law and the marks all shoot at each other in an Italian restaurant, until everyone is moaning and bleeding on the black and white tile floors under red and white checkered tablecloths.

Great idea.

 

The Afghan Girl

The Afghan Girl

According to Wikipedia, journalist Steve McCurry took this picture of an Afghan girl in a refugee camp in 1984. The image appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic and quickly became iconic. It has been named the most recognized photograph in the history of the magazine and the cover is one of the most famous of National Geographic.

The picture became a symbol of the Afghan conflict in the 1980s, when the Soviets waged their war there, and when the U.S. armed the mujahedeen – a group from which indirectly Osama bin Laden eventually arose.

She was known only at the Afghan Girl. Nobody, including McCurry knew her name. Since Afghanistan remained closed to the Western world until the Taliban was finally removed by the Americans in 2001, any of McCurry’s attempts to find and identify her remained unsuccessful, even though a number of women came forward, falsely, and a number of men claimed she was their wife.

Eventually she was located in 2002 when she was around thirty years old, in a remote region of Afghanistan. Her name was Sharbat Gula and her identity was confirmed using iris recognition. She vividly recalled being photographed. She had been photographed on only three occasions: in 1984 and during the search for her when a National Geographic producer took the identifying pictures that led to the reunion with Steve McCurry. She had never seen her famous portrait before until they showed it to her in January 2002.

Here are her pictures in 2002:

Gula

[photo by Steve McCurry]

And with her family:

Gula with Family

[photo by Steve McCurry]

Check out this article in National Geographic for more detail on the story and more pictures.

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Begin…begynne…

Norbert Haupt:

One of my blogger friends is an old AFSer and his family is hosting another student this year.

Originally posted on Clay Myers-Bowman:

It's going to be a great year! Photo by Clay Myers-Bowman.

It’s going to be a great year! Photo by Clay Myers-Bowman.

Exchange student.
Host brother.
Fast friends.

Vi elsker løftet om nye begynnelser!

And so starts another year of hosting with AFS-USA. After just a few days, we’re already enjoying Synne’s enthusiasm, openness, and honesty. I’m trying to document as much of the first week as possible because she’ll likely remember very little of it. Once the fatigue and jet lag subside, we’ll start the more mundane (but no less important) work of being a family day in and day out.

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sue-skeleton-990x610

Skeleton of Sue in Chicago Photo by Connie Ma, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Peter Larson and his team of private, commercial fossil hunters ran the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota.  One day in 1990, one of their team members stumbled upon a few T-Rex bones crumbling out of a hillside.

Up to that point, only twelve T-Rex skeletons had ever been found, and in the aggregate, only 40% of their skeletons had been recovered. Dinosaur 13 eventually turned out to be 80% complete, the most phenomenal T-Rex find ever, to this day.

Larson’s team knew they had made the find of a lifetime. They were at the peak of their careers. But it ended overnight one day when the federal government swept in with FBI agents, search warrants, supported by National Guard troops, and took away the skeleton that Larson and team had purportedly “stolen” from federal land. Along with the skeleton itself, they took all their records, photographs and anything related to the find.

A ten-year legal battle started that turned out to be not just about the dinosaur, but the integrity of Larson’s team and company. Larson eventually went to prison for two years for several felonies, most poignantly “failure to fill out government forms.”

Dinosaur 13 is a riveting documentary about the world of commercial paleontology and it shows the painstaking work involved in recovering fossils, a subject I know very little about. So I learned a lot just watching this. The film is also about underdogs trying to stand up to the massive blows of the federal government. As most interference of the feds with private life, this meddling seems completely out of proportion and uncalled for. Why can’t the government ever get it right?

This was a great documentary to watch, as it not only taught me about new subjects, but it also motivated me to research the topic further. I came across this article in National Geographic that reviews this movie and puts an entirely new spin on the situation. Clearly, the world of fossil recovery is much more complex than I ever expected.

After watching Dinosaur 13, I must say, that if it hadn’t been for Larson and his team, Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex that is now in The Field Museum in Chicago would still be inside a hill in South Dakota, slowly eroding and slowly washing away, perhaps for millennia to go.

Rating: *** (out of 4)

memory boxIt’s 2006. Caroline Thompson is a suburbanite, an aspiring writer who is working on her first novel. She lives in a modern house in a subdivision. Her husband Andy has to travel a lot for work, sometimes going overseas for a week or two. They have two daughters around age eight or so. It’s a soccer mom life, complete with bake sales, swimming practice, volunteering in the school library, minivans and picket fences. Caroline is happy – and then she Googles herself and finds out disturbing facts that either are bogus or she has completely forgotten. Is her past really what she thinks it is?

The Memory Box is Natiello’s debut novel. Her subject matter, the lives of young mothers in suburbia, would normally not interest me in the least, and I’d never spend my time reading such a book. However, something triggered me to pick up the sample, and Natiello’s style, fast-paced prose and immediate build-up of suspense roped me in within a few pages, and I couldn’t help but buy the book.

I didn’t read this because I cared much about the characters or because there was some lesson to learn here. I read it because I wanted to find out what was going on with her brain. I have always been interested in brain function, memory, and rational thought. The plot of this book revolves around Caroline investigating her own past, since she realizes that her memory does not serve her adequately. To me, the thought of losing my intellectual capacity is frightening, and that’s what this thriller is basically about. So I kept reading.

I  liked the writer’s fast paced and clear prose. Her imagery, while it is sometimes over the top, helped me form clear mental pictures of the action and the locales at all times. She writes the entire novel in the present tense, which is a technique that makes everything more urgent. This is definitely not a boring book, and it is well-edited.

On the negative side, there are some plot twists that, now that I am done reading, I still don’t understand or follow. The main premises of the plot don’t seem to make sense, but as a reader I didn’t know that until I was all done. The ending was something of a let-down. The book was better for the first 98% than it was when I turned the last page and was done. Something about it wasn’t right – and I’ll let you read it and decide for yourself.

Rating: ** (out of 4)

After analyzing how much water there is on our planet and posting about it here a few days ago, I researched about water in the rest of the solar system. I knew that  both Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and Titan, a moon of Saturn, both have large amounts of water.

Liquid_Water

[credit PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA]

So I found the above picture and article. Scientists estimate that Europa has twice as much water as Earth, and Titan eleven times as much.

The respective blue bubbles and the moons and the Earth are all to scale.

Nooms

[click to enlarge]

Reinier Nooms (1623 – 1667), also known as Zeeman (the Dutch word for sailor) was a maritime painter knows for his detailed paintings of ships. The image above is a clipping of the oil painting titled A View of the Amsterdam Harbor completed sometime between 1643 and 1667. I took the picture using my iPhone this morning off the original at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. The resolution of the photograph is bad and it does not do the painting justice at all.

The rigging on this ship is so detailed, he must have painted with a brush with a single hair. This inspired me to get back to work on my painting titled Golden Gate. I have been procrastinating, because I can’t figure out how to paint the vertical cables that come down from the main cables to hold up the bridge.

After seeing this painting of Nooms, I am now inspired to get back to work on that painting.

Nooms died almost 350 years ago. I would truly consider myself successful if I could inspire somebody living in the year 2360 with my art work.

 

global-water-volume-fresh-large

[click to enlarge] Source: USGS

This is an excellent visual of our earth, with all its water sucked out of the lakes and oceans. This is what the earth would look like dry. The water is collected in one large sphere visible over the Western United States. This illustrates how thin a layer our oceans actually are.

The largest blue sphere over the western United States represents all of Earth’s water. Its diameter is about 860 miles and its volume is about 332 million cubic miles.

The smaller  sphere over Kentucky, that looks like a pin, is all the fresh water on Earth. 99% of that is ground water, which we cannot directly access. The sphere has a diameter of 169 miles and a volume of 2.5 million cubic miles.

The tiny blue dot over Atlanta represents the fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet. Those are really our accessible water resources. It’s what we can drink and use to flush our toilets and water our crops. This sphere is only 35 miles in diameter and has 22 thousand cubic miles of water.

Check out this resourceful USGS article for more details.

 

Street Mime

[picture credit: Daniel Sorine]

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine photographed a couple of mimes performing in Central Park. 35 years later, when he revisited the photos, he realized he had captured a then-unknown Robin Williams.

40 years later, after a brilliant career as an actor and comedian, Robin Williams took his own life.

I am amazed about the public grief that Robin Williams’ death has brought forth. It’s comparable only to what happened when Lennon died that dark night in December 1980.

The Good Will Hunting Bench in Boston has become a memorial:

Good Will Hunting Bench

Robin Williams seems to have only had admirers and friends. Except, perhaps, Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh has never been high in my esteem, but now he just slid down to what I would call rock-bottom. He actually suggested,  according to this article in the Huffington Post, the Robin Williams my have killed himself because of his leftist attitude:

The leftist attitude is “one of pessimism and darkness, sadness — they’re never happy, are they?” Limbaugh said on Tuesday’s broadcast of his radio show. “They’re always angry about something. No matter what they get, they’re always angry.”

Limbaugh cited a Fox News story that said Williams killed himself because he was embarrassed to take TV roles and parts in movie sequels, but had to do it because of financial troubles.

“He had it all but he had nothing. Made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside,” Limbaugh said. “I mean, it fits a certain picture or a certain image that the left has. Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth.”

This drivel is absurd. Any person with an ideological bent away from Limbaugh’s should be deeply insulted.

Not only are these ramblings idiotic, they insinuate that he knows what Robin Williams’ problems were. They actually degrade him.

Robin Williams had a brilliant career. He left four completed movies that are scheduled to come out within the next year. Yet, something caused him to make a decision to end it all on August 11, 2014. The pain that none of us knew was there must have been so strong, so intense, that he saw no other way but to leave the world. Depression is a terrible disease.

I cannot judge him for his decisions and actions. He had a right to do what he did. He is now done. It’s the rest of us that have to come to grips with this fact.

I got to get up this morning and saw a spectacular sunrise lifting over the hazy sky of Atlanta. I enjoyed a wonderful drive from Atlanta to Tallahassee, through the endless waves of green cotton fields of southern Georgia. As I drove mile after mile and absorbed the glory of life, I kept thinking about Robin Williams, and how he made a choice to no longer participate.

And I grieved.

 

 

 

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Everyone has memorable or favorite songs. When we hear them, we are instantly transported back to a time in our lives, sometimes to a specific period in our lives, like the senior year of high school, or even a specific day, like that first night with that special girl by the camp fire.

I noticed that when I hear such a song, I instantly mind-travel back to that period, or season, or day, when I first heard the song, or when it was popular on the radio. Some of the associations are so vivid, I can smell the air, I can see where I drove when I heard the song, sometimes as long as 40 years ago.

So I did something that I could not have done only ten years ago: I made a list of 50 songs that had special meaning to me. Predictably, many of those were songs that were popular in my youth and younger years when I tended to be more into music. To refresh my memory, I sampled collections of hit songs in some of the target years, and favorites jumped out at me that I had forgotten about.

Then I went on iTunes and bought the collection one song at a time (unless I already had it on CD somewhere). There are no artists with two songs on the list. I just picked the top 50. I called the playlist “Nostalgia.” When I play that list, in random order, I can literally mind-travel, jump around over the years and decades, and imagery of long past events flash bright in front of me, feelings and moods come to life, and the people of those days are suddenly around again – copies of their former selves, of course.

My mind always ponders mathematical implications. I realize that my list is unique in the universe. If a million other people all picked their own top 50 favorite songs and called the list “Nostalgia,” every list would be different. I’d venture to say that if I asked any random person about their list, I might not find a single one of my songs on their list. Yet, every one of us would have those unique, personal experiences when mind-traveling down memory lane.

Why can music do this to us? How is the melodic word, propped up by rhyme and rhythm, able to create such powerful associations in our heads to recreate the smells, the feelings, the places we lived when we were first imprinted with these songs?

Modern human evolution covers only a very short time span, perhaps 200,000 years, perhaps much less. Until very recently, like only a few centuries ago, knowledge and experience had to be transmitted from one person to another, from one generation to the next, by spoken and most likely sung words. Music and poetry may well have evolved to be so important in our experience now because it helped package knowledge and experience by creating associations. It’s easier to remember a poem that rhymes and is associated with a melody than it is to remember just spoken words. Those of our ancestors that were able to make those powerful associations and benefited by surviving and passing on those skills were the ones whose tribes survived through the ages. That’s probably also why we have songs that get stuck in our heads. We call them earworms.

Our brains are not good at remembering strings of numbers or words. But they are excellent at recognizing patterns, like seeing faces in tree bark or angels in clouds or animals in the stars of the night sky. When smells, images, feelings about people and places, come together with sounds, rhymes and rhythms – in short music – then magic is created.

That magic can now fuel the trips down our memory lanes unlike any generation before us could – because we have playlists to arrange them, iTunes to buy the songs from, and YouTube to trigger our memories about periods or things we have forgotten. The Nostalgia playlist is like the shoebox of photographs in the attic on steroids.

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