Being a collection of doggerel, verse, stories, politics, historical essays, satire, poetry, jokes, pictures and whatever else I damn well please on a variety of interesting (or otherwise) subjects.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Where Dead Voices Gather

"And, of course, that is what all of this is - all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs - that song, endlessly reincarnated - born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it.

That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 - same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."

-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Moon's a Harsh Mistress

Jimmy Webb - The Moon's A Harsh Mistress

See her how she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon's a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Once the sun did shine
Lord, it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pines
And then the darkness fell
And the moon's a harsh mistress
It's so hard to love her well

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
Yes, I did, and I -- I tripped and I missed my star
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
And the moon's a harsh mistress
And the sky is made of stone

The moon's a harsh mistress
She's hard to call your own.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Voyage to Margarita-ville

Voyage to Margerita-ville

Due to incredible clumsiness,
a near total lack of taste
and wildly improbable poor fortune,
combined with an extreme hunger that
obviously had rendered our judgment suspect,
we haplessly stumbled into
the mexican restaurant that time forgot.

Almost before we know it,
After a bare three-quarters of an hour,
The hostess-drone reluctantly confesses,
that all tables in the place are clean and empty,
and there is no longer any excuse to keep us waiting.
When we reach our table a young waiter claims to be
The captain on our voyage to Margarita-ville,

We demur without snickering,
wondering if he can handle an order for iced tea instead.
From the ceiling, a guy on the Mariachi Muzak,
whines incessantly about his corazon.
For a moment, I am overcome with depression,
as I ponder the critical shortage of white face paint,
caused by the vast plethora of bozos in this vicinity.

Then you reach for my hand across the table,
and I feel your fingers against mine, soft and warm,
and nothing else matters.

Posted for Jann in honor of our 19th Wedding Anniversary. Way to hang in there, kitten! :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A vintage WTF Moment

I don't have the foggiest idea what this is a picture of, but I feel it does have a certain panache.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Racy" postcards

These three photos are from what passed as "racy" postcards from the decade of the 1900s. I thought they were pretty cool. I post them especially for Jann, who will appreciate them. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mark Clark Thread

Let me preface this story by saying that I work for an international conglomerate of companies with branches in different lines of business all around the world.

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow who works for the same company as me, but in a different part of the world, received an email that was some sort of response to a business proposal. Unfortunately, although it was intended for "Mark Clark," the Mark Clark that received it was not the intended recipient, but another person with the same first and last name. Mr. Clark looked up all the folks in the corporation named Mark Clark and forwarded the message to all of us, in the hope that the correct Mark Clark would receive it. Turns out there are 7 Mark Clarks that work for my company. I, of course, am one of them. We have a Mark Clark in Germany, in Sweden, in Great Britain and in 3 states of the US.

Since then, we have all been participating in a very entertaining thread all about the adventure of being saddled with a name that rhymes, whether or not we think our parents were influenced by General Mark Clark being in the news or were merely sadistic or on drugs or something.

When I was young, I felt that my name was unique. I never knew another Mark Clark growing up. Now, of course, I realize that it's not that uncommon a name. There are 5 listings for Mark Clark in the Fort Worth phone book. 4 of them are for Mark A. Clark. But, still, I've never before had any interaction with someone with the same name as me. It gives me a curious feeling. I know, intellectually at least, that I have nothing necessarily in common with any of these people that share my name, but I find myself hoping we can keep the thread going.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Everything is Tickety-Boo

It was about 1974 when I happened to see a Danny Kaye movie called Merry Andrew (1958) on TV. It was set in England and had this madcap little song called "Everything is Tickety-Boo" in it. I sorta fell in love with the song and it was kind of a personal theme song for me for many years thereafter. I could never find a recording of the song and didn't get a chance to see the movie again for over 30 years, but it must have made a big impression on me, because when I did hear it again on TCM, I found that I had remembered the words almost perfectly after hearing it once over 30 years ago.

Here it is, in all it's technicolor splendor:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wings Like Icarus

The boy Icarus (you remember the tale)
Whose father made wings to escape from a jail,
Wings of wax and feathers and string,
Over the dark prison walls they took wing,
Over the sea and into the cloud.
Icarus waxed exceedingly proud,
And, forgetting the nature of the wings he wore,
Flew higher and farther, yearning for more,
Till finally, no longer able to bear,
The heat of the sun in that rarified air,
The wings collapsed and left him adrift,
In an ocean of air, with no means of lift.
Thus was the tale of Icarus ended,
His red blood with the blue water blended.

I, like Icarus, ascend to the skies,
On wings of my good father's device,
And like him, I soar, through no worth of my own,
Through skies of spirit, beating hard for home.
I, like Icarus, enjoying my wings,
Feeling the rapture that loftiness brings,
Am often tempted to think that I,
Powerful, virile, in charge of the sky,
Can conquer, alone, the clouds and the sea,
But I, like Icarus, must mindfully be,
Aware of the nature of the wings I wear,
The force that supports my life in the air,
I mustn't forget who has given me all,
Or I too, like Icarus, surely will fall.

-- Mark A. Clark

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Art of the Essayist

On the Art of the Essayist
(and the lamented lack thereof)

Often have I thought that I,
Erudite as I've always been,
Should take up pen and satisfy,
That old and recurring yen.

To essay upon this or that,
subject upon which I'd say,
scads of bold and earthy chat,
And snippets of witty repartee.

To comment on the days events,
To point to the folly of those in charge,
To challenge with clever arguments,
Has always struck me as living large.

Surely if only I took up pen,
Soon I should be well acclaimed,
As among the wisest of mortal men,
With this hubris I am inflamed.

And so tempted, I yield at last,
I gather up my facts and thence
Deliver up a withering blast
Upon the enemies of good sense.

And furious the work progress,
Through reams of paper my wit flows,
All the social ills redress,
My deadly aim is on the nose.

On and on I wield my prose,
Until at last my task is done,
I, with one final parry, close,
"My," I think, "wasn't that fun?"

Then I re-read my epic slam,
To revise, perchance to cull,
Going through the sheets, I am
Dismayed to find it trite and dull.

No, not a phrase has found its mark,
Nor any deadly wordsmith's slap,
Nothing with a lyric spark,
No, by God, it's all just crap!

So finally the traitorous page betrays,
That past all the witty wordy play,
Beyond the pleasure of turns of phrase,
I've really nothing at all to say.

-- Mark A. Clark

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Offering

The nine year old boy in this high drama,
Is me, you see, a lad enticed,
On a summer Sunday, in Indiana,
To the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Armed with a quarter from my good mother's hand,
For the offering plate as it comes my way,
As I pass the drug store, unbidden, unplanned,
Satan, within me, begins to play.

Visions of the wonderful, marvelous, double,
Scoop ice cream cone that my quarter will buy,
Invade my thoughts and give me much trouble,
My footsteps falter as I walk by.

I manfully struggle against my desire,
Defeating the serpent alive in my breast,
At last I escape my self-born quagmire,
And so, continue my virtuous quest,

From my seat in the pew I enjoy the service,
Dark and comfortably cool within,
Through hymns and sermon I rest in the aegis,
of a small town church in worshipful din.

Gently this time, so as not to be noticed,
The whisperer works his will on my heart.
As whisperers go, mine must be the sliest.
Slowly but surely my scruples depart.

I look around at the rich appointments,
At the plaque on the wall beside the altar,
Such large offerings and massive attendance,
Surely this place has no need of my quarter.

The offering plate makes its approach.
Brimming with money it goes down the line.
It seems to offer a silent reproach,
Heavy with money but hungry for mine.

I walk out the door, past the minister.
Fear ties my stomach in knots with a cramp.
His mouth is smiling but his eyes are sinister,
And they say, "Give me back my quarter, you scamp!"

I slowly walk homeward, enjoying that ice cream.
Sticky and luscious, it runs down my chin.
It may seem to you that I'm trying to blaspheme,
But I've got the guilt, hey, I might as well sin!

--- Mark A. Clark

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Story of the Non-conformist Sparrow

Once upon a time there was a non-conformist sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter. Soon, however, the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly decided to fly south after all. In a short time ice began to form on his wings and the poor little bird fell to earth in a barnyard almost frozen. The sparrow thought this was the end, but presently a cow passed by and crapped on the little fellow. The sparrow now thought this was really the end, but the manure warmed him up and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy and able to breathe the sparrow began to sing. The barnyard cat, hearing the chirping, came to investigate. When the cat cleared away the manure, he found the sparrow, and promptly ate him.

There are three morals to this story:

1. Everyone who shits on you is not your enemy.

2. Everyone who gets you out of shit is not your friend.

3. If you're warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Old Black and Whites

A young philosopher discusses a fine point with a friend.

When my daughter was very young, I was heavily into black and white photography. I used to haul her around to parks, lakes, zoos and playgrounds on my days off and take pictures while she played. Then I would spend the evenings in the darkroom. I was recently looking for something else and came across some boxes of old prints that I had made. I decided to scan some of them and post them here. Here's a few to get started with.

A denizen of my front yard

Historic "Fire Station 1" in Fort Worth

A fellow I met at the Ft Worth Zoo

I took this picture in chest deep water
looking back toward shore at an area lake.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

TV Dinner

Now, I like television as much as the next guy. I think TCM and Encore-Mystery are the greatest things since sliced bread and wouldn't miss the latest installment of Battlestar Galactica for the world. For the last 10 years or so, I've been using a DVR with my satellite system, which makes TV even better. I am no longer bound to a schedule about when I should watch something, but can select what I want to watch ahead of time and watch it whenever the mood strikes me. I currently have movies recorded on the DVR that aired over a year ago. I'll get around to watching them one of these days. I watch several hours of news/politics programs every day, but I don't watch them in real time. I watch them at my convenience, and skip through the commercials so that a one-hour program only takes me about 45 minutes to watch. Even less if they interview Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor.

All this is just to say, I'm a fan. I like TV. I watch TV a lot. I'm not a TV hater.

Here's the problem. It seems recently that it is becoming impossible to go out to eat without having a TV in sight. It used to be that a restaurant might have a TV in the bar section. Sports Bars, which were a kind of fad a few years ago, would have lots of TVs doing ESPN of one flavor or another. Almost every restaurant we have gone into in the last couple of years has multiple TVs hanging from the ceiling, strategically placed so that they are in view from every seat at every table in the place.

This wouldn't be such a problem if I weren't so conditioned to what Harlan Ellison called "The Glass Teat" that I find it very hard to ignore a TV if one is turned on in my vicinity. Not that the program that is playing is EVER something that I would choose to watch at home, mind you. It's usually sports, of one sort or another.

And it's not just restaurants, either. I went out to have my wife's car inspected at the local lube&tuneup joint the other day, and there was a TV in the waiting room playing something called "Auto Net TV" that had little snippets of entertainment programming interspersed with well-endowed young women in fetching, if not not terribly convincing, mechanic uniforms attempting to sell me on the idea of synthetic motor oil. This, accompanied by animated illustrations of how natural motor oil was made up of long chains of molecules and synthetic motor oil is made up of little round molecules and "what's more slippery, a floor covered in pencils or a floor covered in marbles?" Personally, I refuse to take a position. Both options seem equally undesirable and indicate extreme carelessness on the part of the janitorial service.

In the waiting room at my doctor's office they have "Health Net TV." In the local Wal-Mart they have the "Rapacious Soul Devouring Hillbilly Corporation TV Network."

The Wal-Mart TV Network mostly, from what I understand, runs commercials for the different areas of the stores. Now, basically, anyone who walks into Wal-Mart deserves whatever they get, so I don't much care about Wal-Mart TV, but you can see where this is going. How long will it be before all those strategically placed screens at the steak house and the spaghetti joint are no longer playing ESPN but something far more objectionable?

Don't say I didn't warn ya!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Man Rules

I received the following in an email. (from a female friend, I might add)

We always hear "the rules" from the female side.

Now here are the rules from the male side.

These are our rules!
Please note.. these are all numbered "1 " ON PURPOSE!

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat.
You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down.
We need it up, you need it down.
You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports. It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

1 Shopping is NOT a sport. And no, we are never going to think of it that way.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want.
Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do.
Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.
In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days.

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant it the other way.

1. You can either ask us to do something or tell us how you want it done. Not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials..

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings.
Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it will be scratched. We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," We will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, Expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine... Really

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as Politics or Sports.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this.
Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight...

But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of America's greatest secular martyr, and one of my own personal heroes. The photo below shows Lincoln during his second inaugural address and is the first known photograph of a President giving a speech. That address is one of the seminal documents of our American republic, in my opinion, and is reproduced below:

Fellow Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.


I recently read and can highly recommend The Living Lincoln: The Man and His Times In His Own Words (1992) by Paul M Angle. A collection of the letters written by Abe to his family, colleagues, constituents and opponents.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Daddy & Chiquita

This little sweetie is a chihuahua that we sort of inherited from my wife's brother who passed away a few months ago. My wife snapped this at the breakfast table with my blackberry camera the other day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Needle Sized Art

For anyone who believes there are any limitations to what the human spirit can achieve!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blasts from the past

My wife and I got to talking last night about childrens' shows that we watched when we were kids. Some of the favorites she remembered were Clutch Cargo, Beany and Cecil, Little Lulu, Davey & Goliath, and Felix the Cat.

These are some of my old favorites:

Space Angel (1962)

Space Angel used an animation technique called syncro-vox, similar to the better known Clutch Cargo. Each animation pane was basically a still film strip with an animated mouth that would move with the dialogue. Kind of strange to watch now. Conan O'brien has appropriated this technique lately for parody purposes.

Space Angel was the code name of Scott McCloud, Captain of the spaceship Starduster of the Interplanetary Space Force. The crew included Taurus, the engineer; navigator Crystal; and Crystal's father, Professor Mace, chief of the Evening Star space station. The stories were usually pretty exciting and imaginative, which made up for the sparse animation and weird lips.

I found some old Space Angel episodes here. Check it out. Really a hoot.

Supercar (1961-62)

This is an excerpt from the wikipedia article on Supercar:

Supercar was a children's TV show produced by Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis's AP Films for ATV and ITC Entertainment. 39 episodes were produced between 1961 and 1962, and it was Anderson's first half-hour series. In the UK it was seen on ITV and in the US in syndication (the first Anderson series to be shown overseas). The format uses puppets in a technique called supermarionation, a name that was first seen in the closing titles of the last 13 episodes.

The plot of the show concerned Supercar, a vertical takeoff and landing craft invented by Rudolph Popkiss and Horatio Beaker, and piloted by Mike Mercury. On land it rode on a cushion of air rather than wheels. Jets in the rear allowed it to fly like a jet and retractable wings were incorporated in the back of car. Retrorockets on the side of the car slowed the vehicle. The car used "Clear-Vu" which had an inside television monitor that allowed the occupant to see through fog and smoke. The vehicle was housed in a laboratory and living facility at Black Rock, Nevada, U.S.A. In the show's first episode, "Rescue", the Supercar crew's first mission is to save the passengers of a downed private plane. Two of the rescued, young Jimmy Gibson and his pet monkey, Mitch, are invited to stay and live at the facility and share in the adventures.

Supercar could do absolutely anything, go absolutely anywhere and get out of absolutely any nail-biting jam. What was great about Supercar was that it didn't rely on any previous-show precedent for design or capabilities...if Supercar needed new features, good ol' Doctor Beaker and Professor Popkiss just added them!

Anderson always claimed that he invented a futuristic vehicle as an excuse to reduce the amount of walking the puppets had to do, which could never be made to look realistic. The later Supermarionation offerings, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet were filmed in color, but Supercar was in glorious black and white.

Imagine what the James Dobsons of the world today would say about 3 men, a boy and a monkey all living together. The early 60s were a simpler time. :)

Sky King (1952-1959)

I have to assume that I first caught these in rerun, since I was born in 1952 and probably was getting to the age of being interested in this type of program about the time the first run of this series was ending. It sure was one of my favorites, though.

Kirby Grant and Gloria Winters as Sky and Penny King

Each episode began with the dramatic: "From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King!" Schuyler "Sky" King, and his niece Penny lived on his Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona, and had lots of adventures involving his plane "Songbird," along with assorted horses, six-shooters and other accouterments that one suspects might have been slightly harder to find in 1950s Arizona that this program would suggest. Other recurring characters on the series included his nephew Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy, and Mitch the sheriff, played by Ewing Mitchell. Mitch was always coming to Sky for help.

As the series began, Sky flew a Cessna T-50 twin-engine "Bamboo Bomber," that was actually owned by Grant, who was a real life pilot. Later in the series he flew a twin-engine Cessna 310B.

Penny was a pilot in the series as well and, in the very first episode, is the only one actually shown flying the plane. I thought this was pretty interesting for 1952.

In researching this blog, I found a real treasure trove. 64 of the 72 episodes of Sky King are available for viewing at the American Flyers website. I've watched the first couple and plan to watch the rest as time permits.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let me tell you a story...

It was a summer evening over 4 years ago, July 27 2004, to be exact. I was watching the Democratic National Convention on television. Now, understand, I'm not really a Democrat or a member of any political party. I consider myself socially progressive and fiscally kind of conservative, at least in the sense that I think government should try to live within its means. When government does spend money, it ought to be on things to benefit people, not on ideological bags of magic beans and the citizenry ought to be willing to pay for things that benefit people. Old fashioned ideas, I guess.

I watch politics the way a lot of people watch football. I find the interplay of competing ideas fascinating. Even when it's reprehensible and mean spirited and petty, it's still interesting to me.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was watching the convention and the keynote speaker, this young black man running for a senate seat in Illinois, starts to speak. I had never heard of this guy before that night. I listened to him and watched him speak. He said:

"there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America."

I sat up a little straighter in my chair and payed closer attention. This guy really had something. That not-quite-definable quality that turns simple rhetoric into a magical tool that inspires and unites. He talked about hope:

"the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope -- Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!"

As he was talking, my wife had come in and sat down on the couch to watch with me, and when he finished speaking, she said, "Who's that guy?" I looked at her and said, "His name is Barack Obama, and you remember that name because he will someday be the first black President of the United States."

I say that, not to claim any marvelous prescience for myself. Perhaps many people thought the same thing that night. I certainly would not have predicted then that it could possibly happen only 4 years later.

So here we are in 2009 and Barack Obama will be sworn in in a few days. He's got a lot on his plate; much more than anyone would have expected at the beginning of his campaign. Like everyone else, I'm hopeful that he will be up to the challenges, and I'm optimistic. I think he is up for it and will probably be a good President. Maybe even a great one!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

a cheerful tale

The story of the making of the atomic bomb begins, surprisingly enough, with a man named Adolf Hitler, who was the leader of a country called Germany. Mr. Hitler hated a group of people called Jews. In deciding to hate Jews, Hitler was only being lazy, since hating Jews had always been a favorite hobby of the people in that part of the world, who were called Europeans.

Adolf Hitler in 1930

Most of the other Europeans hated Mr. Hitler, but not because he hated the Jews. They hated him because of his other hobby, which was invading other countries. That sort of thing is bound to get you talked about.

Adolf Hitler visits a conquered Paris, France, 1940

It may surprise you (I know it did me) to know that Hitler was able to believe two completely opposite things about Jews. He believed that the Jews were inferior to other people and were a kind of dirty, stupid animal. He also believed that the Jews were able to control almost all the people in the world in order to make things better for Jews. People who can believe two completely opposite things at the same time are called lunatics.

From the first, Hitler made things hard in Germany for the Jews. He had all the Jews fired from their jobs as doctors, scientists and university professors. Actually, a very large number of the teachers in German universities were Jews. I only mention this because it becomes important later in the story. It became so difficult for Jews in Germany that many of these university professors and scientists left Germany for other countries in Europe. Some of them even crossed the Atlantic Ocean, to a country where the people that hated Jews were called Americans. The Americans didn't hate Jews anywhere near as much as Hitler did. They mostly had no desire to pack the Jews into boxcars and ship them off to death camps; they just didn't want their sisters to marry one.

Leo Szilard

One day in London, Leo Szilard, one of the Jewish scientists who had left Germany because of Hitler was standing on a street corner when he had an idea about how a very powerful bomb could be made from an element called uranium. The thought shocked him so much that he stepped right off the curb into traffic. Unfortunately, the bus managed to miss him and he decided he'd better get over to America, where the buses drove on the right side of the street, before he got hurt.

President Franklin Roosevelt

In America, Szilard got to worrying about the tremendous bomb that he'd thought of. He was afraid that Hitler might ask some of the scientists who he hadn't run out of Germany for being Jews to make him an atomic bomb. Szilard thought it might be nice if the Americans tried to build an atomic bomb first, before Hitler could get around to it. Szilard wanted to talk to the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, about the atomic bomb, but he didn't know Mr. Roosevelt. The only really famous person he knew was another Jewish scientist from Germany who had come to America. This person was Albert Einstein, who was famous for being very, very smart. Mr. Einstein agreed to write a letter to Mr. Roosevelt for Szilard, asking him to get some money and people together to build an atomic bomb. After he wrote the letter to the President, Einstein proved that he was, indeed, very, very smart by having nothing further to do with the project.

Albert Einstein with Leo Szilard

Mr. Roosevelt and other people in the government started discussing whether or not to try to build an atomic bomb. Some people were really afraid that Hitler was already trying to build such a bomb. Other people thought that the project would cost too much money and wasn't needed. They thought that Hitler could be stopped from invading other countries without using an atomic bomb. Actually, it turned out that they were right, but they lost the argument anyway.

Los Alamos, New Mexico

So, the government set up a project to try to build an atomic bomb. It had to be a very secret project, because they didn't want anybody to know that they were trying to build one, so they called it "The Manhattan Project," figuring that anyone hearing the name would look for them in New York City. Then they set up the main laboratory for the scientists to work way out in the desert in New Mexico, near a town called Los Alamos.

Soviet agents David Greenglass and Klaus Fuchs worked at Los Alamos

The secrecy thing worked pretty well, since Mr. Hitler never knew about it at all, and there were only two Russian spies working there. The Russians were on America's side in the war against Mr. Hitler, but the Americans didn't like the Russians much and were only a little bit less afraid of the Russians than they were of the Germans.

The people working on the Manhattan Project worked very, very hard in solving all the problems that had to be solved in making an atomic bomb. They were in a big hurry because they were still afraid that Hitler was ahead of them in building a bomb. A little later, when they were pretty sure that Hitler could not build a bomb, they were still in a hurry because it looked like they might not finish the atomic bomb in time to drop it on Mr. Hitler. That's the way it turned out, too. The Russians, Americans, British and French all invaded Germany and Mr. Hitler shot himself so that the Russians wouldn't be able to capture him alive.

Eric Jette and Charles Critchfield with Los Alamos Scientific Director Robert Oppenheimer

This gave the people working on the Manhattan Project a serious problem. They had been working for years and spending money hand over fist to make this bomb, and Hitler had to go and be defeated before they were ready to use it. It was pretty embarrassing.

American B-29s bomb Japanese cities, 1945

There was still one country that America was at war with, though, and the scientists thought that maybe they could finish the bomb up in time to drop it on the Japanese. They would really have to hurry if they wanted to be in time, because Japan was also losing the war very quickly.

The Trinity Test, July 16, 1945

When the scientists at Los Alamos thought they were ready, they set up a test bomb out in the desert at a place they named Trinity and exploded the first atomic bomb there. It worked really well and they were all very happy. They hurried to tell the President that the atomic bomb worked.

Harry Truman and Josef Stalin meet at the Potsdam Conference, 1945

Mr. Roosevelt had died and the new President of the United States was named Harry Truman. Mr. Truman thought that the new weapon was wonderful and wanted to drop it on the Japanese as soon as possible. Not only would that make Japan give up sooner, but it would also scare those pesky Russians, who were acting a lot less friendly since Hitler was out of the way. What Mr. Truman didn't know was that Josef Stalin, the leader of the Russians, knew all about the atomic bomb from his two spies at Los Alamos. Stalin already had scientists in Russia working on an atomic bomb of their own.

The Los Alamos scientists had two bombs ready to go. They were slightly different types of bombs. One type was a uranium bomb, which looked like a long thin cylinder. They named this bomb "Little Boy." The other type of bomb was a plutonium bomb. It was shaped more like a big ball, and they named it "Fat Man."

The bombs were sent to an island in the Pacific Ocean called Tinian, where bomber planes took off every day to drop bombs on Japan. The first atomic bomb, "Little Boy," was loaded onto a B29 bomber named "Enola Gay" after the pilot's mother.

The Nagasaki blast, photographed from the B-29 "Bock's Car"

The Enola Gay flew the atomic bomb over to Japan and dropped it on a city in Japan named Hiroshima. A few days later, another B29 flew "Fat Man" over to Japan and dropped it on a city called Nagasaki.

The city of Hiroshima, Japan, after the "Little Boy" Blast

Both atomic bombs worked well. In both cities, many thousands of people were killed instantly by the heat of the bomb, while thousands of others died a few days or weeks later from radiation poisoning. The force of the blast and the heat from the atomic bombs flattened both cities.

Conventional bomb damage in Tokyo, Japan

The Japanese people had suffered much in the war. Every day bombers were coming over and dropping lots of ordinary bombs on their cities. The buildings and houses of these cities were made mostly from wood, and the cities were being burned away. The Americans didn't tell the Japanese that they had already used up all the atomic bombs they had ready. Instead, the Americans warned the Japanese that, if they didn't surrender, all their cities would be blown up.

Japanese Foreign office and military officers surrender aboard the US Battleship Missouri

The Japanese didn't want to surrender, but they knew that the Americans and Russians would destroy their whole country if they didn't give up. They decided that it would be best to surrender to the Americans, who, bad as they were, at least weren't Russians.

"Joe 1," the first Soviet Atomic Bomb test, August 29, 1949

After the Japanese surrender, Mr. Truman thought that the Americans would be the only country that had the atomic bomb for a long time, and that there would be peace because no country would dare start anything because of the threat of having their cities destroyed. It didn't actually work out that way because the Russians surprised everyone by building their own atomic bomb, which they called "Joe 1" after Mr. Stalin, only 4 years after the war.

The Ivy-Mike Hydrogen Bomb test, November 1, 1952

The scientists at Los Alamos stayed hard at work on new and more powerful nuclear weapons. They soon had developed a much more powerful weapon called the hydrogen bomb. This bomb made the atomic bomb look like a firecracker.

...and we all lived nervously ever after.