Category Archives: Hiroshima

Only The President?

Things Every Adult Ought to Know

We’ve been living under the shadow of the mushroom cloud for going on 76 years. It was on a Monday, August 6, 1945, that the Japanese city of Hiroshima was virtually fried off the face of the Earth by a single nuclear weapon dropped by an American Army Air Forces B-29.

Hiroshima, Burnt Out of Existence.

The bomb had exploded at approximately 8:16am, Japan Standard Time. An estimated 80,000 people were killed, either instantly by the momentary +10,000ºF temperature within the bomb’s 1,200-feet in diameter fireball or within moments by the firestorm that hellpoint ignited in the city 1,900 feet below it. Everything — vehicles, mules, birds, people, structures (except for a very few reinforced concrete, earthquake resistant buildings) — within a mile radius of ground zero was vaporized. Outside that circle, extending out another mile, everything was burned in a wind-driven inferno that lasted for hours. Only a lack of stuff left to burn caused the firestorm to fizzle out.

Within the next few months and years some 6000 more people died from radiation effects. Those who were in the blast zone and survived experienced for the rest of their lives a high risk of cancer directly related to their exposure to radiation

That particular bomb today seems laughably primitive. Even when it was dropped, Manhattan Project physicists and Army Air Forces commanders understood a much more complicated but also more efficient bomb would be used in the ensuing days as well as in future warfare. The Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, was a gun-type shell that produced a nuclear fission explosion. Its designers had re-purposed a large-bore naval artillery gun and encased it in a ten-foot-long aerodynamic cylinder. At the moment of detonation, a pellet of Uranium-235 was fired down the length of the gun tube until it nestled precisely within a hollow cylinder, also made of U-235. That created a critical mass, initiating an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, releasing heat, light and X-ray energy of previously unimaginable proportions.

Kid Stuff.

Three days later, another B-29 dropped a second nuclear weapon, this one nicknamed Fat Man, on the city of Nagasaki. In Fat Man, a 3 1/2-inch diameter ball of plutonium was squeezed into critical mass by a concentric shell of explosives, the resultant heat and blast wave killing another 75,000 or so people either instantly or by the explosion’s aftereffects. Japan surrendered within a week.

In the whole of human history, a total of more than 150,000 people have been killed in the only two wartime uses of nuclear weapons. Since those two incidents, the world’s nation have constructed well more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. A more exact total is impossible to ascertain since each nation’s nuclear weapon inventory is kept secret. Thus far, eight nations have been recognized as possessing nuclear weapons. They are the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and India. Most observers believe Israel also possesses a nuclear inventory but that nation refuses to verify it, preferring to let its Middle East rivals fret over the question. Were you to state in court that Israel is a nuclear power, it’s a good bet you wouldn’t be at risk of perjuring yourself.

From ourworldindata.com

By the way, it’s generally acknowledged that South Africa, under its apartheid rulers, had built a few nuclear weapons but after the African National Congress ousted that regime, the nation’s nuclear bombs were dismantled. Knowing humanity as we do, South Africa’s actions in this matter remain stunning to this day.

The nuclear bombs nations posses in the year 2021 (some 13,000-plus overall) are mostly of the thermonuclear variety. Dubbed “The Super” by its earliest advocate, physicist Edward Teller, and commonly known as the hydrogen bomb, a thermonuclear device actually uses an old fashioned atom bomb, something akin to the Nagasaki explosive, its critical mass being depleted uranium, as a detonator. When a hydrogen bomb is dropped, the atom bomb within it explodes, creating enough heat to cause a fusion reaction. In the old fission bombs, atomic nuclei caught in the chain reaction are split apart, releasing energy. In Teller et al‘s “Super,” the energy created by those spiltting nuclei is merely the match the lights the real guts of the thing, a mass of hydrogen isotopes. The nuclei of those hydrogen isotopes are fused together, forming helium atoms, the same type of reaction that goes on in the cores of stars. In order for the bomb to cause that fusion, that temperature must momentarily reach about 180,000,000ºF.

Fission vs. Fusion.

The blast generated by a hydrogen bomb makes both the Little Boy and Fat Man explosions look like firecrackers set off by children. Were a one-megaton hydrogen bomb dropped on Hiroshima that day in August 1845, its destructive power — including to one degree or another, the crushing overpressure, initial and residual radiation, heat and resultant fires — everything within a nearly five-mile radius would effectively be destroyed with significant damage to structures within a seven-plus-mile radius. A lethal dose of radiation would extend outward, depending on wind direction and speed up to 90 miles. Death for anyone caught within that radiation plume would ensue within two weeks. An area of up to 250 miles distant, again depending on wind speed and direction, would be uninhabitable for up to three years.

By the way, a megaton in nuke-speak is analogous to one million tons of TNT. That’s big. How big? Consider this: the biggest thermonuclear device ever exploded, the USSR’s “Tsar Bomba,” dropped from an airplane in October 1961 over the absolute nowheresville locale of Russia’s Novaya Zemliya island archipelago north of the Arctic Circle, had a yeild of 50 megatons. The crew of the aircraft that dropped the bomb barely survived the blast even though the plane was more than 24 miles away at the moment of the explosion. Soviet planners previously had estimated the crew would have a 50 percent chance of surviving the blast but it was important enough to them to risk those lives in order to prove to the United States how big its nuclear dick was.

The Tsar Bomba’s Explosive Force in Terms of a Cube of TNT. That’s the Eiffel Tower on the Left, for Comparison.

Here in the United States, a nation just as concerned with nuclear genital size as the (now) Russians, we go about our daily business, most of us, believing only the president can authorize the use of nuclear weapons by our armed forces. To this point, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force (the Army Air Forces became a separate service in 1947) possess and control separate nuclear stockpiles. Spy movies and suspense novels over the last eight decades have led us to believe the President of the United States travels around followed by a military officers carrying the “Football,” a briefcase containing the launch codes and communications devices that allow only him (that gender thus far) to “press the red button.” No general or admiral, the belief goes, no matter how high up in the chain of command, can launch the Bomb without a presidential go-ahead.

It’s all bullshit.

A Member of the Armed Services Carrying “The Football” Accompanies the President at All Times.

From the weeks before the Hiroshima bombing when Harry S Truman lay awake in bed for nights at a time trying to decide whether to authorize the use of this nation’s terrible new weapon, the assumption always has been it’s the president who has the sole authority to use a nuclear bomb. The average American thinks there’s some kind of mechanical barrier — that “Football” — in addition to tradition and an abundance of prudence that make it impossible for anyone but the Chief Executive to make such an apocalyptic decision.

Not so. Not at all.

In fact, the number of people who can elect to drop a hydrogen bomb on a city — be it Moscow, Beijing, Tehran or any major metropolis in a country that happens to stick in their craw at that moment — reaches into the thousands.

Let’s ponder that again: thousands of people, American people, can, on a whim, obliterate a major world city, killing hundreds of thousands, even millions, in a blinding flash of light and heat.

In the last few years, a number of books have been published recounting the history of this Holy Land’s nuclear arsenal. That history has been a doozy.

Two books in particular illuminate what is in reality a not-very controlled control of this nation’s nuclear arsenal. It can be assumed that the arsenals of Russia and at least some of the rest of the nuclear powers are similarly left in the hands of many people, not all of whom, of course, have been vetted for sanity, compassion, morality, or decency. The books are reporter Fred Kaplan’s The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, and Daniel Ellsberg‘s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner.

Kaplan‘s book is largely based on Freedom of Information Act requests as well as scheduled classified information releases. Ellsberg’s research was more direct; he was a nuclear war planner for the RAND Corporation, the nonprofit financed by the US government to analyze, basically, how big and effective our military dick is.

Both Kaplan and Ellsberg became aghast at both the destructive power of our nuclear arsenal and the mechanisms to control and utilize it. Both authors remark every president from John F. Kennedy to the present day * were stunned by the power they controlled, a capability they learned their first days in office. And, yes, there is a “Football” and it does indeed contain the codes the president needs to launch a nuclear attack. But that “Football” is no barrier to all those people whose fingers are not on the nation’s entire nuclear inventory but merely some of it.

[ * Not only that, the succeeding presidents to a man immediately became convinced the nuclear arms race must be reversed, with one exception, acc’d’g to Kaplan. When the 45th President took office, he nearly gleefully urged his military commanders to increase significantly the number of nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal, just because, it can be surmised, bigger is better.]

US Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Daniel Ellsberg (c. 1957).

Those button-pushers range from military theater commanders, admirals or generals in charge of broad regions of operation like the Pacific Ocean or Europe down to bomber pilots and submarine captains whose craft are laden with one or more thermonuclear weapons. For instance, acc’d’g to Ellsberg, President Harry Truman in the early 1950s gave the then-named Commander in Chief–Pacific Command (CINCPAC), Admiral Harry Felt the authority to use any and all of the nuclear weapons under his command, basically, any time he felt the need to. That order, Felt attested, had never been rescinded by the time The Doomsday Machine was published.

Going one step further, Regional CINC’s have authorized pilots and submarine commanders to use their thermonuclear weapons at their individual discretion any time communications are lost between themselves and their bases at times of high alert. Knowing what we know about the reliability of any of our modes of reaching out to each other (phones, radios, the internet), it’s reasonable to assume those pilots and captains’d be on their own, burdened with the decision to roast a city of several million, far more often than is comfortable to ponder.

In other words, a small town’s worth of potential Major T.J. “King” Kongs from “Dr. Strangelove” are flying airplanes or sailing on or beneath the surface of the world’s seas are all that stand between us and armageddon.

Given that both Russia’s and the US’s strategies are to respond en masse with nuclear weapons should either party launch a single bomb against the other, only the sanity and sense of human decency of those few thousand has kept the lot of us from being cremated into our constituent atoms.

Your Daily Hot Air

Hiroshima Day

The nuclear bombings of two cities in Japan were the logical coda of the single most brutal enterprise the species Homo Sapiens sapiens has ever undertaken — and if we’re very, very, very lucky, will ever undertake.

Hiroshima

World War II claimed anywhere from 60-100 million lives. It doesn’t matter how they died; only that the people of this mad planet wanted them dead.

BTW: Shoot over to Neil Steinberg’s blog post today about the excruciatingly unlucky few who survived both bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. True story.

Nixon Resignation Day

Here’s Mike Royko writing Richard M. Nixon’s political eulogy in the Chicago Sun-Times the day after the president quit:

My personal reason for not wanting Mr. Nixon prosecuted is that he really didn’t betray the nation’s trust all that badly.

The country knew what it was getting when it made him president. He was elected by the darker side of the American conscience. His job was to put the brakes on the changes of the 1960s — the growing belief in individual liberties, the push forward by minority groups. He campaigned by appealing to prejudice and suspicion. What he and his followers meant by law and order was “shut up.”

So whose trust he did he betray? Not that of those who thought he was the answer. He was, indeed, their answer.

Nixon

Nixon

The Past Is Prologue

Ukulele savant Susan Sandberg points out this timeless observation by Lyndon Baines Johnson:

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you.

LBJ

Johnson

Winning Isn’t Everything

Speaking of the 1960s, I just finished reading a biography of Vince Lombardi entitled When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss.

Lombardi was often portrayed as a brutal, tyrannical leader who’d have steamrolled his grandmother to win a football game. Many people felt he was a man without conscience or sensitivity toward his fellow man. As such, some figured he’d be a great political leader for the turbulent ’60s. In fact, soon after Nixon secured the Republican nomination for president 45 years ago this week, the candidate floated the idea of approaching Lombardi to be his running mate. Nixon’s aides took him seriously and looked into Lombardi’s background. What they found surprised them: The iconic Green Bay Packers coached turned out to be a lifelong Democrat who was particularly close to Bobby Kennedy and the slain senator’s family.

Lombardi

Lombardi

Anyway, the coach’s views on civil rights surely would have sunk a Nixon/Lombardi ticket. Here’s an anecdote. Early on in his term as boss of the Pack, Lombardi and his team traveled into the South for an exhibition game. They went to a large restaurant for a meal. Lombardi was told the black players on the team — only a couple of guys, really, in those days — would not be allowed to enter the place through the front door. They’d have to come in through the back door and eat in a special room for blacks just off the kitchen.

Jim Crow

Lombardi was incensed. He realized, though, he couldn’t smash Jim Crow all by himself that day so he did the next best thing. He directed his entire team to enter through the back door and eat their meal in the back room reserved for blacks.

Pretty cool, eh?

Add to that the fact that Lombardi had at least one player on his team whom he knew was gay. The coach said to his assistants, If I hear one insult or snide remark coming out of your mouths you’ll be fired before your ass hits the floor.

Vince Lombardi was no Spiro Agnew.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“As for the assertion that nuclear weapons prevent wars, how many more wars are needed to refute this argument? Tens of millions have died in the many wars that have taken place since 1945.” — Joseph Rotblat

ANGER LIKE FIRE

Think about Hiroshima today.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Think of how some 80,000 people were incinerated, virtually in the snap of a finger.

Think about how 80,000 more people died in ensuing days, weeks, and months from the effects of the nuclear blast that took place 1200 feet above their city on this date 67 years ago.

Don’t forget that World War II claimed more than 60 million lives. Some historians even estimate the death toll to have reached a hundred million.

But let’s stick with 60 million. A country with 60 million residents would be the 24th most populated in the entire world today.

Imagine if, within six years, all the people of Italy, population 60,813,326, were wiped off the face of the Earth.

Imagine.

TO FIRE THE IMAGINATION

Dreams and hopes became reality last night when Curiosity landed some 60 million miles away from Earth on the planet Mars.

The Shadow Of Curiosity

Yes, we can invent weapons that can kill hundreds of thousands and even millions of people in a single act. But we can also travel to another world.

Our desire to learn why and how our physical existence came into being very likely never will be slaked.

That’s why we go to Mars.

READY, AIM, FIRE

Many among us, though, believe they already possess that knowledge. They are so certain of it that they’ll take the lives of people who don’t share their belief — or even those whose belief varies in the slightest.

We are an odd species.

Here’s how I waste my time. How about you? Share your fave sites with us via the comments section. Just type in the name of the site, not the url; we’ll find them. If we like them, we’ll include them — if not, we’ll ignore them.

I Love ChartsLife as seen through charts.

XKCD — “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

SkepchickWomen scientists look at the world and the universe.

IndexedAll the answers in graph form, on index cards.

I Fucking Love ScienceA Facebook community of science geeks.

I Fucking Love Science

Present and CorrectFun, compelling, gorgeous and/or scary graphic designs and visual creations throughout the years and from all over the world.

Flip Flop Fly BallBaseball as seen through infographics, haikus, song lyrics, and other odd communications devices.

Mental FlossFacts.

Caps Off PleaseComics & fun.

Caps Off Please

SodaplayCreate your own models or play with other people’s models.

Eat Sleep DrawAn endless stream of artwork submitted by an endless stream of people.

Big ThinkTapping the brains of notable intellectuals for their opinions, predictions, and diagnoses.

The Daily PuppySo shoot me.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Brown County Career Resource Center, Nashville — Introduction to Renewable Energy, half-day course; 9am-1pm

Muddy Boots Cafe, Nashville — Rich Groner; 6-8:30pm

Cafe DjangoBloomington Short list, variety show hosted by Marta Jasicki; 7pm

The BishopZoo Animal, The Broderick, Triptides, St. Ranger; 9pm

The BluebirdDave Walters karaoke; 9pm

Ongoing:

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • “40 Years of Artists from Pygmalion’s”; opens Friday, August 3rd, through September 1st

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • Qiao Xiaoguang, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts” ; through August 12th
  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th
  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th
  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th
  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th
  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st
  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st
  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Coming — Media Life; August 24th through September 15th
  • Coming — Axe of Vengeance: Ghanaian Film Posters and Film Viewing Culture; August 24th through September 15th

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesClosed for semester break, reopens Tuesday, August 21st

Monroe County History Center Exhibits:

  • “What Is Your Quilting Story?”; through July 31st
  • Photo exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.” — Muhammad Ali

BOOM!

I love science and I love baseball. So what could be better than this recent edition of “What If?” (h/t to Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue.)

“WI?” is a weekly feature of the very cool XKCD site. It is described thusly: “Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday.”

Sort of a super-brain’s New York Times Science Tuesday.

So, this week’s hypothetical is “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?”

Not Even The Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, Can Throw That Fast

As you know, the speed of light is unimaginably fast, almost as fast as Regina Moore‘s crew of  parking ticket scribblers (and, yeah, I’m sitting on a double-sawbuck scold slip from Friday, so that’s why the Moore Militia is on my mind.)

Anyway, you couldn’t begin to guess what would happen in such a hyper-fastball scenario unless you’d spent the last 15 years of your life holed up working out ciphers and avoiding any meaningful contact with the opposite sex.

Suffice it to say if a human baseball pitcher had the physical capability to accelerate an approximately 3-inch-diameter spheroid made of horsehide wrapped around coiled yarn centered on a cork core to a velocity of around 167,653.8 miles per hour (the speed of light, c, times .9), the immediate vicinity around the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box would be transformed indeed.

As in, oh, say, Hiroshima at 8:16 am, August 6th, 1945.

Hit By Pitch, Batter Entitled To First Base

The happy news is the team at bat now has a rally going.

Who sez science isn’t fun?

KEEPING IN TOUCH

Am I gonna have to make this a regular feature?

Last week I ran a screed about the gossipy, reality-show-like news that CNN has been foisting upon the public during these momentous times.

Wars, the potential for economic collapse, dramatic global climate change events, and even the political fight over women’s wombs all seem to be below-the-fold fodder for cable TV’s most venerable news outfit.

Yeah, It’s Dry — Hey, Did That Magazine Really Photoshop Kate Middleton?

At the time, I didn’t think CNN’s editorial choices could get any more ludicrous.

I was wrong.

These are among the most important happenings and issues on planet Earth within the last 24 hours, according to the Cable News Network of Atlanta, USA:

  • Billionaire’s son charged in wife’s death
  • Shark attacks: Is “Jaws” back?
  • Mash up: Jealousy in time of drought
  • Obamas find spotlight on “kiss cam”
  • New diet drug approved by FDA
  • Car falls into elevator shaft
  • Sex with ex helps her lose weight
  • It may be OK to get sick in July
  • Bobcat breaks into prison
  • Michael Vick: I won’t get a pit bull
  • Tattoos: How young is too young?
  • Stunt driver’s video goes viral
  • Parents, let your kids play
  • Daughter’s in love, Dad feels jilted

Now not only are CNN’s stories vacuous, they’re getting downright creepy. I mean, honestly, “Dad feels jilted”?

Sorta reminds me of Cary Grant as the newspaper publisher Walter Burns, shouting orders on the phone to his editors in “His Girl Friday.” (Please click — it’s the entire movie.)

No, no, never mind the Chinese earthquake for heaven’s sake….

Look, I don’t care if there’s a million dead….

No, no, junk the Polish Corridor….

Take all those Miss America pictures off Page Six….

Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page….

No, no, leave the rooster story alone — that’s human interest.

Of course, that was farce. How, then, to describe CNN?

BIG NEWS

Huzzah. Three cheers. Science has developed yet another weight-loss drug.

Just in case you’re tempted to swallow it, take some advice from a man whose girth rivals that of a cement mixer.

Hi!

The only “secret” for losing weight is eat less and exercise more.

End of sermon.

“WASN’T THAT A PERFECT, PERFECT SHOT!”

Finally, speaking of things that go boom, wait’ll you see this vid.

Apparently, the government of this holy land became concerned in the 1950s about the citizenry’s troublesome fears of nuclear annihilation. And, if we weren’t experiencing existential angst over the end of civilization, we were fretting at the very least that a nearby nuclear explosion might muss up our hair.

Ergo, the feds put together some propaganda to dispel such silly talk.

Like this:

Yup. The five knuckleheads clustered underneath the unleashing of the primal forces of the universe actually volunteered to do so. As in, “Sure, I’ll do it. Why not?”

Presumably, they kissed their wives and children goodbye before they dashed off to work that day.

Of even greater fascination is the reaction of the voiceover announcer, who also was present. I’d swear the man is experiencing an orgasm.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

◗ IU Dowling International CenterEnglish Conversation Club, for non-native speakers of American English; 1pm

Monroe County Public Library“It’s Your Money: Wi$eMoney Game Night,” for ages 15-18; 6:30-8:30pm

◗ IU Musical Arts CenterSummer Arts Festival: Outdoor band concert with conductor Stephen Pratt; 7pm

Max’s PlaceOpen mic; 7:30pm

◗ IU Wells-Metz TheatreMusical, “You Can’t Take It with You”; 7:30pm

The Player’s PubStardusters; 7:30pm

The Comedy AtticBloomington Comedy Festival; 8pm

Boys & Girls Club of BloomingtonContra dancing; 8pm

The BluebirdThe Personnel; 9pm

Bear’s PlaceYou & All the Blind People; 9pm

The BishopMurals, The Natives, Chandelier Ballroom; 9pm

◗ IU Kirkwood ObservatoryFree public viewing through the main telescope; 10pm

Ongoing:

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • John D. Shearer, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%”; through July 30th
  • Claire Swallow, ‘Memoir”; through July 28th
  • Dale Gardner, “Time Machine”; through July 28th
  • Sarah Wain, “That Takes the Cake”; through July 28th
  • Jessica Lucas & Alex Straiker, “Life Under the Lens — The Art of Microscopy”; through July 28th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • Qiao Xiaoguang, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts” ; through August 12th
  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th
  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th
  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th
  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th
  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st
  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st
  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Kinsey Institute Juried Art Show; through July 21st
  • Bloomington Photography Club Annual Exhibition; July 27th through August 3rd

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World Cultures — Closed for semester break

Monroe County History Center Exhibits:

  • “What Is Your Quilting Story?”; through July 31st
  • Photo exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.” — J. Robert Oppenheimer

FOR THE BIRDS

Steve the Dog and I enjoyed the last of the really pleasant dusks of the season at Lake Monroe Thursday.

We go to Cutright and Paynetown three or four nights of the week to watch the sunset. Well, I watch the sunset — Steve is too busy sniffing every surface he can put his snoot near.

I got a special treat Thursday when two magnificent Great Blue Herons took flight together across the water from the direction of the Paynetown ramp all the way toward Mellencamp’s manse.

The birds were so close to the surface of the water that the tips of their wings occasionally plinked up a bit of water as they flapped.

Starting Friday, though, the lake area became a madhouse, meaning similar solitary sightings will become far rarer for the next three months or so. The campgrounds were overflowing, the trailer lots were packed, the shores were lined with fisherbeings casting their lines — I think I saw one woman reel in the man who was fishing next to her.

Of course, it’s the Memorial Day weekend but the summer season seems to be getting off to a chaotic start, what with a couple of knuckleheads wrasslin’ and horsin’ around until one of them drowned.

On a more pleasant note at an apparently less perilous lake, some people have seen one or more Brown Pelicans at Patoka Lake, about 50 miles south of us. Here’s a photo taken May 12 by Amy and Noah Kearns:

A week later, a fellow named Jim Sullivan snapped some glorious shots of the bird:

Who knows? Perhaps the pelican or one of his kin will make the trek up to Lake Monroe this summer. I hope so — toward that end, Steve the Dog and I will continue to run down to Cutright and Paynetown despite all the wrasslin’ and all the people trying to snag each other with their fishing hooks. He’ll sniff, I’ll keep my eyes open.

BEAUTY

Just in case you’re one of those Luddites who believe everything created by science and industry is the handiwork of the devil, I submit this:

The Golden Gate Bridge opened 75 years ago today.

It is not only a triumph of humankind’s engineering prowess but of our capacity to create art.

ALL THE LUCK

How about that Dario Franchitti? If I’m him, I play the lottery. He won the Indy 500 yesterday, he’s one of the most successful IndyCar drivers in the world, he’s a charming and charismatic personality whom the TV talk shows love to have on, he’s loaded, and he’s married to the scrumptious and very cool Ashley Judd.

Hi Honey, I’m Home!

Some guys, huh?

ME TOO

Not that I’m lacking in the luck department. Here’s the latest on The Loved One. We purchased our first riding mower the other week.

We let it sit in the garage for a while, mainly because we were afraid to touch it. But by and by the lawn started looking rather rainforest-y so T-Lo gave the word, Let’s crank it up.

Sure, honey, I said, at which point I turned on my other side and fell back into a delicious snooze. Next thing I knew, I heard T-Lo pushing the contraption out of the garage to the driveway where she could fill its tank and try to turn the engine over.

Our New Hot Rod

I hauled myself up off the sofa and went to help, which is code for watching her do the work. She eventually dragged me into the process, though, and between the two of us we had the thing running within a half hour.

Okay, I said, it works. Let’s put it away now.

T-Lo had other ideas, though. She began mowing the front lawn with a demonic look on her face. Within minutes, she was handling the thing the way Dario Franchitti wheels his IndyCar around the Brickyard.

You sure you don’t want me to do it? I yelled over the roar of the engine. She gave me a look that implied I’d get myself bloodied if I tried to get her off it.

Now our lawn is the envy of the neighborhood. BTW: I was fast asleep again before T-Lo was finished.

HONOR

Memorial Day. All the radio and TV stations as well as the newspapers and websites are chock full of stories about how wonderful we are because men have been willing to die for our holy land.

When I was a kid, I drank that brand of Kool-Aid. It was easier to believe it all then. The fellows who fought in what Studs Terkel dubbed the Good War, were still around, many of them in the latter parts of their prime. My own daddy-o was drafted in 1945 and was just about to get an all-expenses paid trip to the South Pacific when the Army Air Corps dropped the Fat Man on Hiroshima. He was lucky.

A Hundred Thousand Died So I Could Be Conceived

Memorial Day was a celebration of brave humans who sacrificed their lives so Fascists and Nazis and Imperialists wouldn’t take over the Earth.

Since then, though, it is these Great United States, Inc. that has become the empire. Thankfully, we’re not Fascists or Nazis despite what some overwrought drama junkies care to believe. Still, we often bully our way from one end of the globe to the other.

Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan — we’ve been racking up the advantage miles for some 70 years now.

Nam

Some of our little adventures have been noble. Well, noble-ish. Trying to stop the warlords of Somalia from slicing up the people there, or helping put an end to the Qaddafi crime syndicate were quasi-admirable decisions. Throwing the Taliban out of Afghanistan was good. Curbing Serb and Croat bloodlust in Bosnia had to be done.

But ousting the democratically elected president of Iran for the benefit of British Petroleum? Bucking up the corrupt petit-tyrants of Vietnam? Those were the acts of the world’s biggest bully.

American men and women lost their lives in many of those follies, too. They died because we weren’t so wonderful.

The truth is every nation demands its people die for it. Wehrmacht soldiers were just as willing to offer up limb or future for the cause as some farm kid in Iowa.

If we really wanted to honor people like Miles Craig or Ron Kovic, we’d demand our elected leaders knock off the bully-boy games.

Ron Kovic At 1972 Anti-War Rally

The truth is, though, we don’t give a shit about Miles Craig or Ron Kovic. We’re more concerned with drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee of the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

“Amen.” — Mark Twain, from his short story, “The War Prayer

FAIR IN WAR

David Jones, the recently retired director of Indiana University’s Center on Southeast Asia, shook his head  and muttered, “My god.”

He was thumbing through this morning’s paper in Soma Coffee and had come upon yet another story about that Army sergeant who apparently went out and systematically killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan.

House Of Death

This latest bit that made Jones splutter was the suggestion that the as-yet unnamed sergeant was drunk when he committed the alleged deed.

Jones railed about what he perceives to be an attempt to excuse the soldier. He also expressed a fear that the incident may lead to a web of deceit or even unlock secrets about greater atrocities.

At which point, I mused that, rather than look for individual bad guys to string up, thereby making ourselves feel better about this nasty business of war, we ought to look upon the killings as a natural result of war.

War, I said, pushes all its participants to the edge of civility and even sanity. The most fragile of those participants, I concluded, often snap.

My Lai

Were Jones an orator of my school, he would have said bullshit. Unfortunately, the vocabulary imposed upon him by academia precludes him from employing such piercing and effective terms.

Still, my hypothesis was, in Jones’s estimation, full of crap.

“Then we should have opened up the doors to all the jails that held those who participated in the Holocaust,” Jones said.

How can I argue with his point?

OUR BASTARDS ARE MORE BRUTAL THAN YOUR BASTARDS

Studs Terkel called it “The Good War.” World War II often is seen as a battle of good versus evil.

Really, all wars are carried out so that “good” will prevail. Leaders of nations are opportunistic and duplicitous, sure, but none has ever been so brazen as to try to convince his people they should sacrifice their lives because theirs is Lucifer’s mission.

But even the defeated Germans and Japanese today acknowledge that the beating they took in the 1940s was deserved.

The United States won its war with Japan for a variety of reasons. The outcome of the war, essentially, was sealed only six months after Pearl Harbor when the US Navy decimated the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Had Japanese leadership not been so bloodthirsty and ambitious, that nation would have sat down with the US to negotiate a peace soon after.

Midway

But Japan didn’t. The war would rage on for another three years. Millions of lives were lost because the Japanese bosses couldn’t bear to accept reality.

It was feared that the only way to end the war would be to invade the Japanese mainland. That meant we needed a fighting force even more bloodthirsty than the Japanese had.

No one was more bloodthirsty than Curtis LeMay.

LeMay

As a rising star in the Army Air Corps, LeMay earned a reputation as a demanding, innovative, brilliant, cutthroat strategist and leader. Robert McNamara described him in a report as “the finest combat commander of any service I came across in war. But he was extraordinarily belligerent, many thought brutal.”

LeMay was transferred from the European to the Pacific theater in 1944. He rose to become the commander of air operations against the Japanese mainland. In his new role, he instituted the practice of massive nighttime, low-altitude, incendiary bombing raids on Japanese cities.

Under this plan, American bombers attacked 64 Japanese metropolitan areas. Most Japanese housing was constructed of highly flammable wood and paper. The bombing raids, carried out from March through August, 1945, destroyed 40 percent of the structures in those cities.

That’s the equivalent of an enemy destroying almost half the land area of every US city ranked by population from New York to Anchorage, Alaska. One raid took place on March 10th over Tokyo. The ensuing firestorm killed 100,000 civilians and destroyed 250,000 buildings. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in all the raids range from a quarter to a half a million. Some five million Japanese were made homeless.

The Day After

Another aspect of LeMay’s strategy was called Operation Starvation, aimed at disrupting Japan’s food distribution channels. Its name alone says all you need to know about it.

LeMay himself was quoted as saying he would have been tried as a war criminal had the US lost the war.

Then the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two attacks served as exclamation points for America’s argument that Japan should surrender unconditionally. The war ended six days after Nagasaki.

Punctuation

The Good War.

Again, even the Japanese today agree that the good guys won.

Curtis LeMay, therefore, was one of the good guys.

War.

 

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