Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Best and Worst Christmas Present

Legos were one of my favorite toys.  You can use it to build anything you want.  My friends and I used to make planes, rocket ships, tanks, houses, robots and just about anything else that our little brains could imagine.  What a great toy!

    Legos are possibly the greatest toys ever invented.  With the basic set, every kid can be a virtual millionaire, able to make just about anything they can imagine. 

     Legos existed in the 1960's.  My friend Robbie Raymond and I used to make little tanks and run them into each other to see which one would survive better.  Robbie usually won, but his tanks were build solid to the core.  I used to keep an empty volume in the middle, because that is where the imaginary soldiers would have to sit.  How can you have a tank with no place for army guys to sit?  No matter, Robbie's tanks usually survived better than mine, but in any case it was a challenge to figure out how to make more robust tanks. 

      These days however, times have changed. Now Lego comes in special kits, like this Star Wars Spaceship. 

      This stuff costs more money than the basic set, and it has 3000 parts, and there is only one way for them to go together right, and only one toy for your kid to make, and if you lose any one piece, you're dead.  It takes not hours but weeks to build something this complicated, and then once you have it there is nothing to do with it except buy other kits to go along with it.  This will drive both you and your children completely insane.  This is not Lego, it's actually the Antichrist.  

Part of the problem is that kids have way more toys than they ever did before.  I'll bet if your kids took all the toys and spread them out on the floor, your entire house would be knee deep in toys.  Hence toys with small parts are certain to get dispersed amid this sea of toys, and it is impossible to keep everything sorted out.  I bought  my son some Lego airplanes and trains and regretted it.   They took hours to put together, and despite our best efforts, some pieces got separated from the rest, and are now lost in the Great Void of Small Parts.   In general, anything with small parts is to be avoided, and these Lego kits are the worst of the worst.  

    Hence, my advice is to go with a big bucket of Legos, without any particular theme.  It's about one third of the cost and it will be way more fun in the long run.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Daniel Inouye

     Daniel Inouye was an authentic American hero.  Of Japanese descent, he was one of many who volunteered for the  All-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II.  In those days, the Army was segregated, so the 442nd was made of persons of Japanese descent and sent to the European Theater, where it was thought there would be less risk of them changing sides.  Inouye and others in the 442nd were determined to prove that they were loyal Americans, and that unit become the most decorated for bravery of all units in the United States Army.  

      You want to read about a tough guy?  Here is his Medal of Honor Citation:

      Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
      They say that his arm was injured while he was holding a live grenade, and he pried out his fingers with his left hand and threw the grenade, taking out a Nazi machine gun.

     Jiminy Christmas, I can't imagine somebody continuing to charge enemy positions with his arm blown off, but he did that.  Eventually he passed out from loss of blood after securing the objective, and he woke up to find his troops huddled around him.  So he yelled at them to get back to work. "Nobody called off the war!"

    Now that is one tough dude, and why foreign countries should not want to mess with Americans in wars.  

    Guys like him inspired me to join the military and in a very small way follow in his footsteps.  Maybe that's why the older generations of Democrats and Republicans, like Kennedy and Nixon, were able to get along relatively well.  After you've fought alongside someone, you learn to respect them even if they are from a different political party.

     Nowadays, however, America seems determined to elect politicians who thought they were too important to serve our country in the military.  They tend to be great talkers, but spoiled and used to getting everything they want,  and for that reason they can't get along with each other. 
     I remember seeing Inouye in the Watergate panel during the Nixon Administration.  He was asking tough questions, but generally very fair ones, without mugging for TV time like the other contestants, I mean members of the panel.  

    All his life, Senator Inouye fought for the equality of all Americans.  I continued to be inspired by his vision.   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Climate Change or the End Time?

     I have decided to hurry up and write this blog now, given that the infallible Mayans predicted ages ago that the world would end this December 21.  

    An amazing article appeared in Reuters reporting the result of an opinion poll.  Apparently 40% of you out there believe that recent weather has worsened, and that this is the sign of the "End Times."  In other words, you think that God is going to destroy the world, and one of the things he has incorporated in his formula is bad weather.  And you are also sure that those who do not agree with you are in league with the devil. 

   Equally amazing, another 60% of you think that we are having exceptionally bad weather (such as the superstorm that hit the East Coast last month) and that it is due to man-made climate change.   This should not be confused with global warming (i.e., the well documented rise in global average temperature by 1 C since about 1900), but refers to disastrous weather like floods, hurricanes, earthquakes etc.   
     In other words, you basically agree with the religious right that the world is coming to an end, and that it is due to evil actions by humanity,  but you believe that there is a scientific explanation for the whole thing.  Pollution and especially carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is the culprit.

     Jeez, if you add it up that seems to come up to 100% who apparently believe that the weather is worsening to such an extent that global destruction is at hand.  It might not actually be 100% if some of you are being double counted (you believe God is getting ready to destroy the world, and fossil fuels are helping him to do it).  But it is clear that a very high percentage of normal average Americans believe that the world is coming to an end due to bad weather.  22% believe that it is within the next 50 years or so, and a significant fraction are genuinely worried that the world will end next week, in the supposed Mayan prophecy (there is no such prophecy, but far be it for the Village Elliot to spoil your fun). 

    The right believes that the Apocalypse is coming, and the left believes that fossil fuel consumption is destroying the world for reasons that do not involve God, but almost everyone agrees that the world is coming to an end, at least according to the opinion polls. The right believes that the left is wacky, and the left believes that the right is wacky, despite the fact that both sides are in basic agreement that the world is coming to an end due to weather related phenomena. 

    Apparently, most people believe that the world is coming to an end soon, but we may the opportunity to live a normal lifespan.  But according to Reuters, 22% of Americans (and 15% of people worldwide) think that the world will end in their lifetime.

     The Village Elliot thinks you are all wacky, frankly.  I believe in God, and I also believe in the infrared absorption cross section of carbon dioxide, but I don't believe that the world is being destroyed by either one. 

    It may be that I am now in a tiny minority that does not believe in the imminent destruction of the earth due to weather (a more reasonable case can be made that humans will destroy the earth with nuclear weapons, but let's leave this possibility for a future blog).  

     It seems that there is simply a deep seated human need to believe in the end of the world. It used to be that Gaddaffi was the AntiChrist, or Saddam, or John Kennedy (not a Protestant, you see), or Hitler, or Kaiser Wilhelm or Napoleon.  My personal favorite was Ronald (6 letters) Wilson (6 letters) Reagan (6 letters).  Imagine the Antichrist posing as a Republican.  What a trickster he is!

    The Village Elliot thinks that before assuming that the world is being destroyed, we ought to let meteorologists  characterize current weather patterns and compare them to data from the past.  What a bland thought! I think they might say that the weather has in fact been worse in recent years, but overall the meteorlogical forecast is a little more optimistic than the death of the universe.

    Bad weather played a role in the last presidential election, as Mayor Bloomberg expressed his belief that President Obama would be more effective in changing the climate for the better than Mitt Romney.  Bloomberg believed that Hurricane Sandy was a consequence of bad environmental practices in the United States, although I'm not sure how he reached this conclusion.  I thought King Canute of England had already done this experiment when he commanded the sea to stop rising, and found that the sea would not listen.  But it is now a valid political perception, if not a scientific reality, that politicians are the key to saving the world from natural calamaties. 

 Reasonable people now believe that King Canute was actually right, and political action will improve the weather.  But the world will probably come to an end anyway, or so people say.