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WARNING: THIS SITE FEATURES ORIGINAL THINKING...Jim Croce once sang Don't tug on Superman's cape..., which seems like reasonable advice should we not wish to anger the supreme powers. We do have this duality in our culture: the Superman that is the state collective, the leftist call to a politics of meaning managed by the state, the deification of "we're from the government and we'll take care of you" - versus the Superman that celebrates individual freedom, private property, freedom of conscience, free enterprise, and limited government. We humbly take on the latter's mantle and, eschewing the feeble tug, we dare to PULL, in hope of seeing freedom's rescue from the encroaching nanny state. We invite you, dear reader, to come and pull as well... Additionally, if you assume that means that we are unflinching, unquestioning GOP zombies, that would be incorrect. We reject statism in any form and call on individuals in our country to return to the original, classical liberalism of our founders. (We're also passionate about art, photography, cooking, technology, Judeo/Christian values, and satire as unique, individual pursuits of happiness to celebrate.)


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April 18, 2005
Rest easy dear Albert
Filed in: Celestial, Current Affairs, Science

Today marks the anniversary of Albert Einstein's death in 1955.

This year is also the 100th anniversary of three of Einstein's seminal papers - particularly the one on special relativity.

This evening, scientists around the world commemorated Einstein's work by creating a worldwide relay of lights.

Perhaps, even Einstein would be amazed at the progress that has been made in quantum mechanics and string theory since he left this plane.

But, perhaps he'd offer some new thought experiments to the scientific brahmans of our age. And the question is: Would Einstein be heard today?

Some of us know when the clocks can tick dear Albert. Rest in peace.


Pulled by Emcee on April 18, 2005 at 11:16 PM
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UN: How can we abide this?
Filed in: Current Affairs, Politics, UN Oil For Food - Oil For Fraud

Last week, the US attorney's office in New York (among other action) filed a complaint for the arrest of Tongsun Park, a South Korean (the same Tongsun Park that was accused of influence peddling in the 1970s "Koreagate" scandal).

The complaint alleges that Park acted as an intermediary between Saddam's Iraqi regime and the United Nations and as a bag man for Iraqi bribe money designated for high ranking United Nations officials - for the purpose of founding the United Nations Oil For Food Program.

Some things are worth repeating: The Justice Department of the United States is bringing a prosecution that demonstrably shows that the inception of the United Nations Oil For Food Program for Iraq was founded on the same greed, graft, treachery, and kleptocracy that characterized the execution of that program.

Except for FOX news, the Park story was given light treatment by the left stream media in the midst of charges brought against people associated with a Houston based oil company charged with illegal involvement in the OFF program. Apparently none of the players in the Park case have the last name 'DeLay'.

So, in regard to the Park matter, who are the players?

Park - An illegal Iraqi agent.

Samir Vincent - An illegal Iraqi agent who is now cooperating with the US attorney since his indictment in January (yep, 2005).

U.N. Official #1 - Someone who Park, Vincent, and one or more Iraqi officials met with on one or more occasions in Manhattan and Geneva, Switzerland who needed to be "taken care of".

U.N. Official #2 - Someone who Park, Vincent, and one or more Iraqi officials met with on one or more occasions who needed to be "taken care of". This official also has a son who Park assisted with $1 million in cash to start a business in Canada that later failed.

Iraqi Official #1 - A representative of Saddam's Iraqi regime who was present in meetings in Manhattan and Geneva, Switzerland.

Iraqi Official #2 - A representative of Saddam's Iraqi regime who was present in a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland and who made many decisions in the relationship between Iraqi Official #1, Park, and Vincent.

Iraqi Officials - Other representatives of Saddam's Iraqi regime who directed the drafting of agreements to supply $15 million - $5 million to an account designated by Park and $10 million to an account designated by Vincent and Iraqi Official #1 - upon the inception of the Oil For Food program (UN Resolution 986).

Former US Government Official - This official was kept apprised of the work that Vincent and Park were doing to help create the OFF program.

Current US Government Officials - Were persuaded by the former US government official to support the creation of the OFF program.

Though only Park was officially named in the complaint (Vincent is designated as CW-1 - Cooperating Witness 1), presumably the United States Justice Department knows who each of these players are - they have witnesses (more than just Vincent), they have meeting details, agreements, $15 million known to be designated as bribe money, identification of bank accounts that funds were presumably wired to, a ranking US official that knew something about the illicit creation of OFF, and his efforts to win approval from current ranking officials, and records of Iraqi oil contracts awarded to Vincent. In other words - a smoking gun linking Iraq and the United Nations in international treachery.

Fundamentally, the reason that Saddam Hussein regained sufficient strength to become a threat to the world and had to be removed from power is because of this alliance between Saddam's regime and the United Nations.

At this point there is no doubt that the United Nations has the blood of Americans and Iraqis on its hands and that it represents a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.

What possible reason is there to refrain from surrounding the foreign land of the United Nations buildings at Turtle Bay with US troops and placing all ranking United Nations officials under house arrest and prosecuting them in military court as war criminals? No claim of diplomatic immunity can trump being accountable for American lives.

Read the whole complaint here.


Pulled by Emcee on April 18, 2005 at 09:50 PM
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April 17, 2005
The Coming Environmental Disaster -Episode II-Lead
Filed in: Current Affairs, Satire

Lead abatement, contingency lawyers who have built fortunes suing paint companies that haven’t made lead based paint since 1955 and groups who blame lead for all forms of learning disabilities simply because people live in old houses.    Lead is evil, lead is dangerous, and there must be no lead anywhere.  Well let’s go back to those wondrous years of 1945 to 1948 again and join little, slow developing, and totally uninformed Ronnie again.

I’m not sure what my life would have been like without lead.  All I can say is a whole lot would have been missing.  Every pipe in our house was lead.  Not just the seals the whole darn pipe.  One of the favorite weapons in the Clue game is what?  A lead pipe of course.  And just why do you think they chose the lead pipe for an implement of crime?  There was a lot of lead pipe available.  Every drop of water that flowed through the City of Racine Water Department pipes to my mouth was lead, lead lined, lead coated or in some way connected to lead.  Did we have lawyers advertising contingency lawsuits on the “Lone Ranger, “The Cisco Kid” or “Billie the Brownie” (A Christmas Show)?  NO!  We loved lead!  Let me explain.

At age 5, one of my greatest pleasures was going to the “Dime Store” (The Five and Ten for non-Cheese Heads) to spend my allowance.  For various chores assigned I was rewarded with a quarter for the week.  Along with my lunch delivery job for Mr. Feldman I had fifty cents for the week.  A veritable fortune!  I must, however, spend it wisely to ensure maximum entertainment value.  A weekly must was the twenty-cartoon extravaganza at the Venetian Theater in Downtown.  My friends and I would hop the Red Line Bus and spend all Saturday afternoon in the theater enjoying the latest in Three Stooges, Bugs, Daffy, and Friends.  There were no TV’s and our visual stimulation came from the big screen.  I didn’t spend it all at the theater.  I always made sure I had enough of my allowance left to indulge my other favorite activity.

I collected lead soldiers.  At three for five cents, I was able to accumulate a respectable collection.  Lead soldiers were just that.  Figures molded in the shape of soldiers carrying various weapons, in various poses, that had one goal, destroy the enemies of America.  Hundreds of these one and one half inch high warriors occupied the top drawer of my dresser.  I had more lead in that drawer than was ever emitted by all lead based gasoline ever produced.  Yes kiddies, not too long ago all of our gasoline contained lead.

Every two weeks we would go to Mowry’s Service Station.  They sold Sinclair Gasoline, the one with the dinosaur on the sign.  In 1945 gas rationing was still in effect.  They also had a high school kid that pumped the gas and washed the windows, and checked the oil, and checked the tire pressure and handed out the premium you got with your purchase.  All this for eighteen cents a gallon.  The greatest thing for me had nothing at all to do with that.  Any male of my age group will remember this fact.  Nothing on the face of the earth would come close to the smell of leaded gasoline being pumped into the tank of the family car.  That vapor obviously is part of the reason men are different than women.  From a very young age, the lead was changing our brain cells into something assimilating the brain structure of Cro-Magnon man.  I think we can get some lawyer and blame it on lead.  Our wives and daughters will finally understand why we miss the bowl and leave the seat up (and we do it on purpose). I think "Animal Kingdom" explains the need to mark our territory adequately.

Back to my soldiers!  Every day upon returning from school, I either practiced saying Mass (I loved Latin) or played with my soldiers.  My mother actually thought I was going to be a priest.  Did I fool her!  I may make that an episode.  Depends on what I feel like after the homily (we used to call it sermon) on Sunday. 

 

I would line up those who looked like Americans on one side of a hole I dug in the back yard of our flat.  The ones who looked like Germans or Japanese were on the opposite side.  Positioning myself behind my American forces I initiated an artillery barrage.  In other words, I picked up a rock and proceeded to crush the enemy  (George Patton was my hero even then).  The great thing about lead soldiers was even after being crushed by a substantial rock they could be bent back into shape most of the time.  If not, at three for a nickel they weren’t too hard to replace.  I would never throw them away however.  Not because my parents grew up in the “Depression.” I had another use for them.  To be more accurate my cousin Bob did.

Bob was three years older than me.  His Dad loved hunting and therefore so did he.  I wasn’t much of an outdoorsman, but the family kept trying to get me involved.  Bob had an electric smelting pot that could heat up enough to make lead melt. What better way to dispose of the enemy than to melt them into a silver colored liquid and remold them into a new form.  Twenty-two caliber bullets!   Remember wartime rationing was still in full force.  The brass cartridges were collected after each shot and kept for future use.  My job was first to be a source of lead supply.  Next, to stir the lead as it was melting. Finally to file off the burrs after we removed the solid lead from the molds.  Often this occupied the better part of a Saturday evening at my Aunt and Uncle’s house.  So chalk up another three hours or so each month to inhaling lead vapors.

I always enjoyed visiting my aunt and uncle.  You never knew what mysterious thing was occupying their basement.  My aunt (my mother’s sister) was Italian and my uncle was Polish.  Talk about a unique menu.  With rationing and shortages caused by the war and my uncle being a carnivore of the first order the lead bullets came in handy.  The Sunday menu at their house was almost always what a fancy restaurant today would call “Wild Game.”  It was usually something like duck, pheasant, rabbit or squirrel.  Yes, when I was a kid I ate squirrel (Bet John Kerry can’t say that – wait a minute he did live in France didn’t he?).  Of course the squirrel had lead buck shot still embedded in its’ body.  Every now and then you’d hear the clank of someone spitting a lead shot out on to his or her plate.  Chances are I probably swallowed a fair amount of lead shot in my time.

Like every little boy aged five or so, I wanted to do everything my dad did.  During and shortly after World War II Johnson Wax made paint.  The unique attribute of their paint was that it contained carnauba wax, as well as lead.  I guess the goal was to have shiny wood trim that would go nicely with your shiny linoleum.  My father was a perfectionist.  Everything had a place and everything should look as he intended it to look.  My desire to help with painting, therefore, was discouraged.  One job related to painting was allowed for me to participate in.  Sanding!  I was given a block of wood with a piece of very fine sand paper attached with furniture tacks.  I suspect it was very fine so any potential damage caused by my overly vigorous efforts would be minimized.  Any heavy grain and I would likely have sanded my self a nice indentation in the windowsill.

We always thought the lead content of paint was the cause of painters being more prone to alcoholism than the public at large.  I doubt there was any validity to that theory.  More likely the alcoholism could be attributed to a trade where they waited for rain to leave the area before resuming their work.  The favorite waiting-spot was the corner bar.  And in those days every corner had a bar (another story). I remember my dad saying you couldn’t paint if it were damp because it would take too long for the paint to dry and it would run.  Beats me – it sounded good to a five year-old brain.

A good job here would mean extra allowance and more lead soldiers.  I grabbed my sanding block and threw myself into the job assigned with a vengeance.  Of course, the old paint was lead based.  Fine particles of dust arose from the wood as I sanded at a speed I was surprised I could maintain.  In 1945 there were no dust masks in the local hardware store.  They were reserved for coal miners.  And I’m not sure they had them come to think of it.  Happily, I inhaled the lead ladenned dust particles on my way to earning more cash for more lead soldiers.

Being five, you know this story is not going to have a happy ending, don’t you?  My dad was starting to paint.  He, being a perfectionist had placed masking tape all along the wood trim so he could maintain that perfect razor sharp line between wall and wood.  After stirring the paint for the better part of half an hour (I guess that was to ensure even distribution of the lead and carnauba) he was ready almost.  The drop cloth was not yet in place.  He left to retrieve it.  You might guess what comes next.  A bare-footed five year old quite by accident kicked the newly opened, well stirred can of paint and proceeded to get the shiny white paint all over the always waxed (my dad worked for Johnson Wax after all) wood floors and a substantial part of my right foot and leg.  My father returned!  It was at that moment I learned every obscenity I have ever used; quite effectively I might add.  One good thing – the well-waxed floor was able to repel the shiny white paint.  Saved!  Or was I?

The invention of latex paint was years away.  No soap and water clean up for me.  My foot and leg did not have the benefit of a carnauba wax finish. This meant an unscheduled bath for sure and a pre-soak in turpentine.  Have you ever had your skin rubbed with a turpentine soaked rag?  Believe me it is not fun.  In fact, my right foot and part of my leg could never grow hair.  I attribute this affliction to that very day.

So, in summary I inhaled lead, ingested lead, and soaked in lead.  Let’s go back – the average life expectancy in 1940 was 62.9 years and in 2005 it is 77.6 years.  I’m about to turn 65.  How did I do it?  Certainly not by avoiding exposure to lead!

Stay Tuned for the Next Episode  -- Ronnie and the gang invent some toys.  This is going to be very scary.


Pulled by Ron L on April 17, 2005 at 02:23 PM
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An Exegesis of the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1: 1-3 (Continued)
Filed in: Biblical Studies, Current Affairs, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Prerequisite.

My comments to Chapter 1: verses 1-3:

Apokalupsis Iesous Christos is the transliterated Greek for the opening of this prophetic Book. The Greek word Apokalupsis is used just this once in the Book - and used a total of twelve times in the whole New Testament.

We derive the English word Apocalypse from Apokalupsis and it carries significant meaning that is worth brief examination. This word has three meanings in the KOINE Greek of the New Testament: 1. Laying bear - even: making naked, 2. A disclosure of truth or instruction - concerning things before unknown or used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all, and 3. Manifestation, appearance.

Since aspects of all of these definitions are contained in the previous New Testament references and this is the first word in this epochal Book it isn't a stretch to amplify the beginning of verse one to something like: "The full explanation, the naked truth, the revealed mystery, the unveiling of what has been hidden, and the manifestation and appearance of Jesus Christ."

This initial word defines the very epochal nature of the Book.

Since the Greek leaves ambiguity as to whether Jesus is the subject or object of the Apokalupsis, I take the position that it should be both. This revelation, manifestation, unfolding is in some parts delivered by Jesus and in some parts is about Jesus - and the implications to history that the 'about' parts engender.

At the time of the writing of the Book or sometime before this Apokalupsis was delivered by God the Father to his Son Jesus and it was for the purpose of communicating to his servants - the church at least and perhaps servants that are other than the church.

The invocation of an angel has significant portend. There are thousands of references to angels in the scriptures and their presence signifies action or intervention by God in history. We take the view that God inhabits a place that is outside the space-time that we live in and that his mechanism for acting in human history is through these agents of his creation. We don't always know exactly what the presence of angels mean - but we do know this: the infinite free agent of the universe is going to do something.

It's clear that John had a very visual experience - "what he saw" - and that was the word of God - the Logos - the creative power - and the things told to him by Jesus.

The invitation to read is certainly remarkable - it is the only place in all of scripture that extends this invitation. And there is no qualification to the invitation - no matter one's point of view - there is a blessing promised for reading this Book.

But we can't stop there - the blessing is two-fold. Readers are blessed - certainly. There is an additional blessing promised to those that 'hear it' and 'take to heart what is written in it'. This hearing recalls the many times that Jesus talked about having 'ears to hear' which for us means a clear attentiveness and openness to the Book. 'Tak[ing] it to heart' refers to meditation - the act of consumption of the Book - making it a part of one's self.

It is appropriate to address the references to 'must soon take place' and 'the time is near'. There is a certain sense of imminence and that certainly carries from the time of John's writing forward - we've not reached any demarcations in the book so far so there's no need to set out a timeline at this point. It is certainly fair to recall 2 Peter 3:

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

   8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Since the earth has not yet been consumed by fire, we can assume that the final judgment has not yet occurred. We must understand that God is not bound by the arrow of time in the way that we are. Elsewhere the scriptures say (1 John 1:5) that "God is light". This can be taken as meaning spiritual enlightenment - but it also in some way characterizes his being. We know from the theory of relativity - now just a hundred years old or so - that light speed is the fixed maximum speed in the universe - the one constant by which everything else is measured. We also know that no clock can tick that's on a light beam (this should require some discussion of 4 dimensional space-time but that will be some other time and place). In one context it means that every photon in the universe is the same age as it was at the inception of the universe - that is 0 - but it also has implications for consciousness in the electromagnetic spectrum. We don't have the tools to understand this at this point in our physics - but we can certainly conceive of consciousness that has never aged and is outside of the temporal arrow of time that we experience. This is what Peter is telling us - we don't have the same perception of time that God has.

Does that mean that somehow that time has no meaning? No - time is a real characteristic of the universe we live in. Our clocks tick (in reference from other observers) because we are moving in some amount space and in some amount time - that is something lower than light speed (or you could think of it as everything/everyone proceeds at net light speed - but as the sum of two vectors - some in space and some in time. We humans mostly proceed through time.) We cannot escape time's arrow in this life. It inexorably ages us and slows us and hopefully wizens us. How does that compare to a Being who sees everything in the eternal 'now' like a tableau?

We live in an age where the antrhopic principle has elevated the ideas of man once again to placing himself at the center of the universe. Going forward, it is appropriate to grasp that we did not create the universe - in some way it was made for us. But bound by the arrow of time - we cannot say what is 'soon' and what is 'near'.


Pulled by Emcee on April 17, 2005 at 11:47 AM
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April 16, 2005
No outctry
Filed in: Current Affairs, Politics

Ann Coulter reminds us this week that the left continues to support violence against conservatives.

In previous posts back in October I decried the acts of violence against conservative women - but at least we had some solace that the perpetrators were being prosecuted.

Well, Ann informs us - speaking for the first time about the incident in Arizona last year - of a typical tactic by liberals: wait a while and let them off.

Then on March 19, all charges were dismissed against the "Deliverance" boys — including a felony charge for $3,000 worth of damage to school property. Inexplicably, this outcome did not instantly lead to widespread rioting and looting in South Central Los Angeles.

Democrat Barbara LaWall is the Pima County attorney who allowed the liberal debate champions to walk. LaWall brags on her Web site about "holding criminals accountable." She didn't say anything about liberals, however. Be forewarned, conservatives: Do not expect the law to protect you in Pima County.

Now that such violence is "the law" three additional incidents have occurred - this time against Bill Kristol, Pat Buchanan and David Horowitz. Of course, the liberal stream media has been silent in the face of this. Ann points out clearly what would occur should such attacks have been committed against Muslims, gays, or liberals in general guise.

Now we can add open season on conservatives to the interpretation of "law" by activist liberals given the authority to render judgment on their fellow citizens.

At what point are we going to have had enough?


Pulled by Emcee on April 16, 2005 at 12:12 PM
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Citizens Close Borders
Filed in: Current Affairs, Politics

The Minuteman Project, a citizens effort that is observing (and observing only - strict operating procedures, no contact rules, nothing like a patrolling or engaging presence) a 20 mile stretch of border between the US and Mexico has for the most part shut down illegal immigration across this particular stretch - in about 2 weeks.

When on or more of these - mostly retirees from most every state - observers see an illegal border crossing they notify the US Border Patrol who in most cases apprehend the illegal immigrants. This is the current data that is available:

US Border Patrol apprehensions in the area monitored by Minuteman volunteers:
April 5: 74 apprehensions
April 4: 145 apprehensions
April 3: 103 apprehensions
April 2: 91 apprehensions
April 1: 205 apprehensions
March 31: 296 apprehensions
March 30: 302 apprehensions

Since April 5th the number of attempts have slowed to a crawl.

Of course a widespread left-stream media slam has occurred - the ACLU has gotten involved - and this group has been much aligned.

This effort couldn't remotely be characterized as a citizen's militia - as their Bostonian namesake was so many years ago. But this is a clear demonstration that our border laws can be implemented within the existing law and that no extraordinary armed presence is required to do so.

This wildly successful effort has now sponsored other citizens efforts to do the same thing (requires free Washington Times registration) - from California to Texas.

What else could citizens accomplish with like concerted efforts?

Good coverage of the Minuteman Project at Digger's Realm.


Pulled by Emcee on April 16, 2005 at 11:40 AM
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April 12, 2005
Japan: The wonder of Ueno Park
Filed in: Current Affairs, Japan, Photography

From Asakusa we took a short cab ride to Ueno park - another downtown Tokyo landmark.

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At the entry to the park, what was most notable, was the large number of people entering the park.

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From the Ueno rail station area - where we were dropped off - there was a climb up to the park entry area. Once past the entry we needed to descend again to enter the park proper. You can see that this is a very special place.

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They line the walkways with lanterns this time of year. I later learned this is because the people stay very late into the evening.

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The number of cherry trees and the density of their blossoms increased as we walked into the park.

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Eventually we reached a kind of courtyard where several walkways emerge into different areas of the park.

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These were the fullest, most beautiful trees we had seen.

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As we entered this walkway, if you took in the view from about ten feet up - there was nothing but blossoms as far as you could see.

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The people of Japan celebrate this season with absolute gusto. Early in the morning, junior company employees are sent to lay out tarps and save an area for their companions. Family members, too, arrive at 5:30 in the morning and save a spot. By mid-afternoon there are thousands and thousands of people gathered together under the trees. They sit here and talk and laugh and drink saki and eat their picnic provisions until past midnight - and they will do this until the blossoms have fallen off of the trees. There is not a square foot to spare.

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The camera just cannot capture the scope - the density of the foliage - the sheer number of blossoms - is overwhelming. I've never seen anything like this gathering of fleeting natural beauty and people in celebration at the same time.

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The season attracts people of all ages.

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The older generation as well.

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The media is out in force too. It's like covering football games here in the states.

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This is the entry to the park from the Ueno city district. This beautiful trained cherry tree provides an inviting temptation to what lies beyond in the park. Truly an incredible culmination to a day long tour that I will never forget.


Pulled by Emcee on April 12, 2005 at 12:10 PM
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Japan: The Temple at Asakusa
Filed in: Current Affairs, Japan, Photography

I'm back from the land of the rising sun - still a bit jet lagged, but getting back in the swing here.

I've still got a bit of last Wednesday to catch up on (that was my 'tour' day last week) - so this is the next installment.

The water taxi from Hama Rikyu park dropped us off at Asakusa - one of the original shopping districts in Tokyo - well known for its emerging black market just after WW II.

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The main 'dori' (street) at Asakusa. Like many market areas in Japan the shops line the street - in this case the little shops are all pretty uniform - and because of the season, silk cherry blossom branches line the street.

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Entrance to the temple. Abruptly the shops change to little tent shacks - where all kinds of temple charms are for sale.

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Through the cherry trees - there's a building looming.

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To me this looks more Southeast Asian than Japan - I'm not sure what purpose this ziggurat serves - it was locked up inside the monastery - it looks cool.

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Ceremonial concrete bells outside the temple.

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Gettin' some smoke - these folks are wafting incense from a cauldron approaching the temple. Hey! Aren't these people praciticing their religion in public? What's the deal?

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Entrance to the main temple building.

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The 'chapel' ceiling in the main temple building.

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Some Buddhas outside the main temple building. Separation of church and state? Not in Japan. Such as it is, their temples and shrines are woven into their day to day life. I don't think they let the ACLU operate there.


Pulled by Emcee on April 12, 2005 at 04:06 AM
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April 11, 2005
The Coming Environmental Disaster
Filed in: Current Affairs, Satire

Just the other day I was in a blue funk.  All day long I heard and read how the environment was killing me, obesity was killing me, and my beloved New Glarus “Spotted Cow” (Beer for you non-Cheese Heads) was killing me.  To help drag me up from the depths of depression I popped the top (No twist tops for me you woosies) of a Cow and threw in a CD with one of my childhood favorite Radio Shows.  The Shadow!!!!  I loved the Shadow!  As a sat back on a warm Burlington, WI spring day, the voice of Orson Welles penetrating the atmosphere with the famous; “Heh, Heh, Heh; What Evil Lurks in the Heart of Man?  The Shadow Knows! Heh, Heh, Heh!”  I lit up a Romeo y’ Juliet and committed yet another sin against the environment, settled back and listened to a wonderful memory of my youth.

How, you ask, does this relate to the environment?  Well, in the early days of the Shadow program, it had a sole sponsor.  The sponsor, Blue Coal!  Yes, Coal as in environmental disaster. This immediately set my mind to thinking about what life was like then and how that compares to now.  I was born in 1940.  I guess some of my first memories of life are at about 5 years of age and the end of World War II.   Kind of like Ralphie in Jean Shepherd’s wonderful movie “A Christmas Story.”  Maybe a little later than his time frame, I guess.  Close enough, however.

Just what was life like in 1945 to 1948 in an upstairs flat on Howe Street in Racine, Wisconsin?  We lived close enough to the Johnson Wax plant to smell the Carnauba Wax melting in the naphtha base for Glo-Coat.  My Dad worked at Johnson Wax and his job was to melt and mix the wax.  Heated naphtha was just about as explosive as any bomb designed for the Army Air Force in WW II.  My dad did his bit during the war making wax that kept linoleum shiny.  My dad couldn’t get into the Army because a horse stepped on his ankle and crushed it when he was in high school.  I was still proud of him because he worked for Johnson Wax and they sponsored “Fiber Mc Gee and Molly” another of my favorite shows.  In my five-year-old mind my dad was just as much a hero as Audey Murphy. 

A particularly vivid memory from that time involves a snowstorm.  Racine is located on Lake Michigan between Milwaukee on the north and Chicago on the South.  Occasionally, we get a snowstorm that comes back from the lake to land.  Kind of like a Nor’ Easter I expect.  It was just after one of these storms dumped about 18 inches of snow on Racine that this story begins.

Episode I – Coal

The scourge of modern life is coal.  It pollutes air, land, sea, and is the cause of childhood asthma.  Using coal to generate electricity is particularly obscene.  Country Club liberals throughout the land decry the use of coal to generate electricity.  This is the topic of conversation in their 10,000 sq. ft. mansions with every light lit and various electric appliances running at high speed (Operated by the maid, of course). When I was young coal had an entirely different image.  Listening to the Shadow brought it all back.

The snow had just let up.  It was early January of 1949.  Anxiously, I waited by the kitchen radio suffering to the 6am rendition of the “The Red, Red Robin Comes A Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along”.   God, I hated that song!  It woke me up every weekday morning of my childhood.  Today, however, was different.  I knew the school closing announcements were coming up.  I went to Catholic school so I knew a mere dusting of snow (10 or 12 inches) would not stop the nuns from trudging over from their residence to open up the doors.  I’m convinced they were motivated by the fact they could whack the boys with the sharp edge of their rulers for pure enjoyment without consequence.   With few exceptions they hated boys.  The announcement came – Holy Name School was closed.  All right, let the fun begin.

One particular characteristic of a Wisconsin snowstorm in January is that invariably it got cold immediately after the snow halted.  And by cold, I mean cold.  Minus 10, 15, 20 degrees accompanied by a bitter wind.  At that time every, and I mean EVERY, building and house was heated by a coal burning furnace.  Extreme cold meant add more coal to the fire, get the ashes out of the heat exchanger, and opening the flew wide open.  The result, every home in Racine, Wisconsin was simultaneously belching black soot from their chimneys at an alarming rate.  Never mind the hazards it was time for me to grab my sled and head for the nearest hill.  My mother, however, had other ideas.  Ronnie, you have to do your chores first.  Chores? Chores were for Saturday this was Monday.  My mother popped a bucket of water on to the stove (no hot water tanks for us) handed me a bar of Fels Naphtha Soap and a scrub brush and said wash the stairs.  I had to wash every stair from the top to the exit.  Well that’s an hour shot, I grumbled.  As I approached the last step excitement began to build.  It was almost time to join my friends.  Just then my mother yelled down the stairs.  “Before you go any where help Mrs. Olson shovel the snow.  Mrs. Olson was our landlord, not the coffee lady.

So, never being one to argue with my mother I grabbed my miniaturized snow shovel (which was pretty much a regular snow shovel that had a broken handle and no adult was able to use it anymore) and headed outside.  A gust of wind blew me backward as I exited the back door on the house.  It was bitter cold.  The wet heavy snow that had just fallen was rapidly freezing solid.  This was no work for an eight year old.  But, I would not let Mrs. Olson down.  She would always give me a quarter for helping with the snow shoveling.  That quarter would help supplement my Saturday afternoon vice, the Crown Theater and a bevy of Warner Brothers Cartoons.  We were able to clear a path about two feet wide the length of her property before we both collapsed in exhaustion.  Clearly, this was not a professional snow-shoveling job.  That would have to wait until my dad got home from work.  In those days’ places of business never closed for the weather.

It was now 10 am and Mrs. Olson and I were sitting in her kitchen and she gave me a steaming hot cup of Ovaltine.  Ovaltine was what passed for chocolate then.  She looked outside with a worried look on her face.  “Everything is turning to ice Ronnie.”  Everyone called me Ronnie.  “Why don’t you shake the furnace, get some ashes and throw them on the ice and I’ll give you another quarter,” she said.  Shake the furnace, me shake the furnace?  I was in heaven.  This was a job reserved for my dad.  I was never allowed to shake the furnace.   I guess I better explain what shaking the furnace meant.  A coal-burning furnace was a large cast iron structure.  About waist high the coals sat on a grate burning with a bright orange color.   Jamming a poker into the coals and agitating them until they burned brighter and hotter enhanced the fire.  The ash tended to remain around the coals.  This was not good for burning evenly and hot.  Hence, the shaker came into play.  I’m sure there must have been a technical name for the implement, but I always knew it as the shaker.  I grabbed the handle started to vigorously move it back and forth until sufficient dust was flying out of the bottom of the furnace, the tray holding the ashes was full.  I shoveled a bucket full and headed out doors.  With a small gardening shovel I threw the still warn ashes at the meager path we had just shoveled.  The wind was so strong most of the ashes blew back in my face.  It was then I noticed something.  The bright white snow was beginning to look different.  What was it?  Something is different but what?  I know, it’s turning grey.  No make that black.   The beautiful white blanket was rapidly being covered with a thin layer of black soot from everyone’s coal fired furnaces.

Today, scientists tell us how we are being overwhelmed with evil pollution because there is 1 tenth of a part per billon of some insidious element in the air around a coal fired electric generation plant.  In my youth we measured pollution by the chunk.  If you couldn’t see it, it wasn’t there.  And for that matter we didn’t really care too much if we could see it.  My big problem that day of discovery was more practical to me.  I entered the back door after I finished spreading the ashes and looked down.  I just cleaned these steps and I was not going to do it again.  But here I was standing with a mixture of ash, coal soot and soon to be melting snow all over me.  My choice was either get the steps dirty, which undoubtedly would result in another unscheduled chore for the day, or wait outside the back door until spring.  It was a difficult choice.

Soon, a solution began to formulate in my under-developed 8 year-old brain.  I was dressed for extreme weather conditions.  That meant layer upon layer of clothes.  Under shirt, over shirt, sweater, and fur lined jacket.  Yes, I said fur lined.  I’m sure it was an animal, I'm just not sure what kind probably rabbit or squirrel.  We weren’t real good at synthetics in those days.  The lower part of my body was covered with additional layers.  Underwear, Long Johns, pants and snow pants.  It was really quite difficult trying to bend my knees.  My walk was quite similar to Boris Karloff as Frankenstein.  The head was covered with an aviator’s leather hat with fur ear flaps(again of unknown origin).  That left the feet.  They were most critical in my plan to save the newly washed steps from a new layer of soil.  They were adorned in heavy wool, itchy socks, old play shoes (that meant they had holes in the soles and nails were penetrating the heel and sticking into my foot) and finally large rubber boots with metal buckles.  The boots were the kind that when you went to the shoe store and tried them on my mother would say, “Walk Ronnie.”  I would say. “ I am.”  And I was.  They were so big that it would take me three steps to actually get the boots to move.  My mother’s retort was invariably, “You’ll grow into them.”

This reminds me of our shoe store.  It was Feldman’s Shoes.  Mr. Feldman was the owner proprietor of one of the greatest places a kid could ever discover.  What makes a shoe store so great?  It was placed right at the entrance in the most prominent location in the shop.  It was a large, stand up, wood trimmed, absolutely evil, dangerous fluoroscope.  That’s right we used to buy shoes by trying them on placing our feet in the right spot and looking at the outline of the new shoes and the bones of our feet.  This was to make sure we had the proper fit.  Actually, it was a wondrous invention and became part of my weekday ritual.

Mr. Feldman’s store was located one half block from my home.  His house was located across the street from my school.  So, it was only natural that I got a job carrying Mr. Feldman’s lunch to him every day.  Usually, it was hot chicken soup.  For this, I received 50 cents a week and unlimited use of the fluoroscope.  Between the ages of 7 and 11, I must have x-rayed my feet at least 500 times.  The other day my dentist x-rayed my teeth and he wore a lead lined apron and goggles.  He left the room and didn’t return for 15 minutes (slight exaggeration).  And I grew up counting the bones in my feet over and over and over.  I digress.  Back to problem solving 101.

With multiple layers, I could remove a layer or two of my garments and still avoid a mortal sin or probably even a venial sin in the eyes of the Church.  Off with the boots, off with the jacket, hat, scarf, and the snow pants.  I threw them in a neat pile waiting the return of my father.  He would grumble an obscenity about my sloppiness, but carry them down to the basement for washing.  Problem solved.  I hurried upstairs for lunch.  At the top of the stairs I realized my solution did have it’s drawbacks.  I could not wear good clothes to go sledding.  My sledding clothes were in a pile by the door.  I told my mother of my problem.  She said, “No problem Ronnie, you can take a bath (I had one Saturday) and do some extra credit math homework instead.”  Mother triumphs yet again.

The moral of this little memory was clear to me.  The average life expectancy in 1940 was 62.9 years.  If things are deteriorating so badly, why is the average life expectancy in 2005 77.6 years?  I should be a walking example of the dangers the environmental do-da’s point to.  Just at the shoe store, I was exposed to more roentgens than a survivor of Nagasaki.  I swear in the dark of night I could see a faint green glow under the sheets.  Coal dust was an integral part of my life.  I’m about to turn 65 and have no real problems.  So, what’s the big deal about a little coal dust?  More coal please.

Episode II-Lead

The story of lead and its’ impact on my life!  Same time - Same place

Ron


Pulled by Ron L on April 11, 2005 at 06:58 AM
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April 07, 2005
Japan: Water Taxi!
Filed in: Current Affairs, Japan, Photography

From the north (I think) side of Hama Rikyu park you can catch a water taxi to the old shopping district of Asakusa. They took us all on an extra long ride because of the cherry blossoms - venturing far up into the river.

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Like every other kind of public transportation in Japan - the water taxis are punctual.

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The water taxis come in three or four different sizes. They are very low to the water because the bridges are so low.

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There's our boat.

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We all have the noble hope.

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Not unlike a Washington state ferry - no vehicles of course - and just kind of 'low slung'.

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Out of the park and into the river.

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Tokyo skyline.

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Miles and miles of cherry blossoms line the river.

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The 'Venice' of Tokyo - there are dozens of canals along the river that provide water transportation to different areas of the city.

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There are sections of river where on both sides for as far as you can see in either direction there are blossoming cherry trees. It's one of those sights that can't really be captured with a camera because of the sheer scope of the scenery. It was here that I really began to get a sense of the Japanese aesthetic for celebrating this season.


Pulled by Emcee on April 7, 2005 at 05:16 AM
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