Memorial Day Phonies

American Flags from Wikipedia
American Flags from Wikipedia

It’s Memorial Day again and besides being a day to honor America’s War Veterans and begin the barbecue season,  it is a good day for Vets to display their medals. Unfortunately, a few impostors are displaying  metal and not much more. Especially troublesome is the recent rise in SEAL award recipients that have proven to be false. Spurred on by the recent raid in Pakistan that nabbed the grand organizer, SEAL pins have been appearing among a minute cadre of American men, who have never done so much as a day of KP, much less passed the grueling training process that entitles someone as a member of this elite military unit. By the way the attrition rate during SEAL training may be as high as 90 %, so just making it through the the program is a real accomplishment. On a similar note here’s an ABC story about a Pennsylvania preacher, whose recently had to admit that his Vietnam War claims were false. I wonder how many of these guys are still out there.


After The End of the World

Io: The Prometheus Plume Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA
Io: The Prometheus Plume Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA

An Ominous Sign

Things on this place look pretty bad. Take careful note of that tiny blue light at the top of the sphere – it’s a violent sulfur eruption and it signals trouble. Fortunately, this is a picture of one of Jupiter’s moons, Prometheus, and should not be confused with our own planet earth. Here, on the blue planet, life  did not come to an end on 6 p.m. Saturday as predicted and the Preakness was run on time. Unfortunately, my horse, Mucho Macho Man lost. Such is life.

All Over the Web

Since most of us are still here on the planet, after the big day, it might be interesting to take a look around the blogosphere and see what’s going on. Trust Me posted this interesting photo here of someone, who was raptured and left behind his nice suit of clothes. And then at the Guardian, Paul Harris speculates and how Harold Camping is faring since the May 21st deadline has passed. In fact, more information is available here, about Mr. Camping, who made a brief appearance yesterday outside his home in California. Meanwhile, for those who await the next end of the world, the Mayan Calendarreaches in terminus in about 19 months. Much more hype will surely accompany this infamous date.

It Looked Like The End of the World

On Saturday, residents of eastern Iceland experienced a geological event that may have looked like the end of the world.  This happened when the Grimsvotn volcano erupted on Saturday and sent towering plumes high into the sky, eventually closing airports in the small island nation. Although this spectacular event may have appeared ominous, when it turned local skies black, the ash plumes are expected to subside soon. Fortunately, no one came up missing after the event, but the fact that the volcano lies beneath a glacial ice sheet might increase concern over changing planetary conditions.

Not So Lucky

However, in Joplin, Missouri and other places around the Midwest, things did not turn out so well. This is because Saturday produced a series of powerful tornadoes some of which were quite deadly. Not only does much of  Joplin look like the end of the world, but nearly a 100 residents have been killed by the monster storm. May is prime tornado season in this part of the country, but the nonetheless the twister that tore through Missouri was quite strong and left a horrific wake behind it.

Film Noir

Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273
Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)


Everything profound these days seems to have the word “noir” added to it. All that noir means is “black” in French. In fact, this stylish phrase would sound very politically incorrect, if we used the Spanish version of the word. Somehow a “film negro” festival just doesn’t cut the mustard. And for all you Anglophiles, film black is better, but not as catchy, as the French version. And as a sideline, if you go to a restaurant in Paris and ask for a cafe noir, you’ll receive a cup of coffee without any sugar or cream. Go figure.

Classic Era of Film Noir

According to Wikipedia, the term “film noir” was first used by the French film critic, Nino Frank, in 1946 to describe a set of intriguing murder mystery movies made in black and white. Moreover, the heyday of Hollywood’s “film noir” lasted from the early 1940’s to the late 50s, including such movies as “The Big Sleep”, “D.O.A.”, “The Big Heat”, “The Set-up”, “Gun Crazy” and “The Night and the City”. Most of these movies were low budget, black and white affairs, which lead to similar bigger budget dark films, such as the “Maltese Falcon”, “Key Largo” or a host of Alfred Hitchcock productions.

Film Noir Today

Film Noir never died, it just transformed itself into the modern equivalent of Crime Fiction, which can still be found in film as well as TV and literature. Modern stories, such as “Pulp Fiction”, “Body Heat”, “Miami Vice”, “L.A. Confidential” and Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series”, all owe at least a little bit to 40s and 50s Hollywood. This ever-popular may even be seeing a resurgence today – perhaps even a golden age, where superb film productions and literary efforts can be found in many quarters.

Literary Map of the United States

Relief Map of the United States
Relief Map of the United States

Big Country

Here is a relief map of the United States that includes part of Mexico and Canada as well. As anyone can easily see the country stretches between two coasts which approximately 3,000 miles apart. The western half of the country is quite rugged and mountainous, while the east sits at lower elevations and is blessed with abundant rainfall. Across the varied topography, there exists a wide range of culture, history, geography and lifestyles, which collectively form the United States of America. If you mapped the land mass according to the notable writers that each place has produced, you would see a landscape covered with names.

Literary Map of the USA

Scribner Books, the UK publisher, has done just that. Now all interested parties can purchase such a map from the major book publisher.  The map is printed on 84 X 59.4 cm (33 X 24 inches) recycled card stock and features 226 authors, who lived and worked in the USA. Price is right about 10 pounds ($16 US) and shipping is free in the UK if you make enough additional purchases.

Western Writers Come Out Big

The big winners on this display item are the western writers of the mountain states. Since the printer had to fill the land area with names, writers from sparsely populated areas, like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah get their name spelled out in big letters, while for more prominent names from the populated east, get crunched together with numerous peers. A quick glance over reveals the names of E. Annie Proulx, Black Elk, Willa Cather, Cormac McCarthy, Zane Grey, Sojourner Truth and Vladimir Nobokov, which are all displayed quite prominently. Mark Twain does OK, but others such as Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack Kerouac, John Irvine and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may require a magnifying glass to read.

The Case For Slam Poetry

Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)
Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)

Controversy At The White House

Just last week the White House invited a rapper, who goes by the name of Common Sense, to give a reading at a Wednesday Night poetry reading. Common Sense, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., has been on the rap scene for many years now. He still manages to draw White House attention, even though he has not recorded anything substantial, since 2000. Nonetheless, “Common Sense” managed to draw some fire this time from Sarah Palin, among others, due to his pass support of Assata Shakur.It should be noted that Common Sense has appeared before (notably the Christmas season) without drawing any fire.

Further Developments

The debate did not stop there, for just last night Jon Stewart appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor”, just to exchange views with the host about Common Sense’s White House visit, rap music in general and the limits of free speech. It appears just by his appearance and ability to hold his own on the Fox News show, Jon have may benefitted more from the debate. Anyway the two pundits got to know each other much better, and left the show best of friends.

Pushing The Envelope

But why should the WH appreciation be limited to listening to one Chicago over-the-hill rapper. Why not sponsor a genuine Poetry Slam with numerous contestants, a panel of judges and a lively audience cheering on their favorite contender. Slam Poetry fests are a lively form of literary entertainment that could  use some more exposure. Although they display a verbal influence from Rap, they are very much different to sitting in a bar or state occasion getting bombarded with the latest lyrics du jour.

Are We Doomed?

asteroid Stereo Itokawa
asteroid Stereo Itokawa, Credit: ISAS, JAXA; Stereo Image by Patrick Vantuyne

Asteroid Approaches Planet Earth

An asteroid is headed our way. It’s name is Asteroid 2005 YU55 and according to space scientists, the space rock will make a close pass to our planet on November 8 and 9, 2011. This extra-terrestrial mass of rock has drawn the attention of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, due to the fact that this asteroid will come within one lunar distance (0.85 to be exact) of home. However, since the size of the this rock is only slightly larger than a football field (400 meters), the chances of it having a gravitational effect on earth is just about nil.

Asteroids In Literature

Every since their discovery in 1801, asteroids have fueled the imagination of the scientific and intellectual community including writers. Perhaps, the most notable example comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella, The Little Prince. In this children’s story, the “little prince” lives on an asteroid, called B612, but decides to visit planet earth mostly out of boredom. Since its publication in France during WWII (1943), the book has been printed in over 190 languages and sold approximately 180 million copies, not to mention the numerous stage, music and film spinoffs. The famed French aviator and author has even had a asteroid-moon named in his honor( Le Petit-Prince), as well as a foundation (the B612 Foundation), which honors  the fictional asteroid and is devoted to tracking asteroids that may pose a threat to our planet.

Visiting Asteroids

In June 2010, an unmanned Japanese space probe (Hayabusa) to the asteroid 25143 Itokawa, which is located near the planet Mars, returned to earth and made a successful landing in the vast outback of western Australia. Its contents included a sealed container, which remarkably made it back with a small sample of particles from the small extra-terrestrial body. No evidence of  royalty or any other human habitation was found, but researchers did obtain some valuable scientific. information by examining the tiny grains of asteroid dust. Presently, the Japanese are busy planning to send Hayabusa 2 to another nearby asteroid for more detailed sampling and a planned return to earth. By studying these unusual space bodies, space researchers hope to learn more about the origin of the solar system and even the universe along with some vital clues to how these space bodies can interact with other planets, especially earth.

Obama Trumps Osama

The Cat's Eye Nebula from Hubble
The Cat’s Eye Nebula from Hubble Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Story

Just the other day a man named Obama tracked down another man named Osama, who was quickly dispatched to the next world.  Actually, Obama only gave the orders, for the secret mission was carried out by a bunch of SEALs, as in Sea, Air & Land mission. In the few days since the great event occurred, news of the action has traveled many times around the world. Now that Osama is gone and our president (Obama) is currently enjoying a small surge in popularity, I thought It would be of interest to look into the origins of these terms words and take a look at what meaning each name confers.


According to the family name Obama is derived from the Dholuo, the name of the language of the Luo people of southwestern Kenya, a place where President Obama’s father was born. The family name actually comes from the base word bam, which can be translated as something that is crooked or bent. This word most likely refers to a crooked stick or leg rather than someone who is dishonest.


On the other hand, Osama comes directly from Arabic and when translated into English, means lion, as in king of the jungle. I guess it is fair to say that Osama was not very much a lion if he got done in by a bunch of seals.

The Rest of the Story

To complete the discussion of names, it should be noted that Barrack, Obama’s first name is derived from Swahili, which is very similar to Arabic, and simply means “blessed”. And then there is bin Laden, which is a family name that is passed down to the son.