Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Earthquake Fever in California

Supplies of large containers of water are going fast in California.

We, in California, were supposed to be hit by this enormous earthquake (Last week? This weekend? Predictions seem to vary.) and I didn't even know about it until a friend told me she had been unable to buy bottled water during a recent trip to Target.

Apparently, the silliness began with an article in Newsweek (didn't even know anyone read that anymore) by a fellow called Simon Winchester who said a big earthquake in California "could happen soon" "because of" the earthquake in Japan. Wow, that's what I call "accurate science."

Winchester, from Great Britain, is the author of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 and I suspect if you read his book, which I have not, you might learn that science has, thus far, not developed a means for predicting earthquakes.

What we can predict is that in California there will be between 2000 and 3000 people killed every year in car accidents.

Earthquakes in the whole of the U.S., not to mention California, don't even come close to deadly statistics like that.

It is very true that the 1906 quake in San Francisco was terrible and something like 3000 people died--no one is exactly sure of that figure, because of the chaos and bad statistical reporting of the era. Also, some people died in the dynamiting of buildings and the subsequent fires and others were shot by troops who erroneously thought they were supposed to control looting--of which there was very little.

But that's been the worst earthquake in our history. Remember that big quake in Alaska in 1964? It killed 128 people.

The Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which set fires in San Francisco and pancaked part of the Bay Bridge? Total dead: 63. Number who died of thirst because of non availability of potable water? Zero.

Even the Northridge quake in Southern California in 1994 took just 60 lives--and it seems to me some of those who died were victims of Angelinos shooting each other. Oh well--can't remember. Number of people who died of thirst? Zero.

According to the US Geological survey, the total number of people killed in US earthquakes since 1811--including the SF earthquake--is approximately 3856, and we can easily top that deadly number annually, on our nation's highways.

If you live near faults in the earth, keeping a good earthquake kit around is an excellent idea. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes--which have taken far more lives in the U.S. over the centuries--we can't predict earthquakes. So you might as well just go and waste a little time worrying about the weather, or aliens landing in Alamogordo. It will make just a much sense.

I'm not completely cavalier. I have the old family clock stuck firmly to the wall with bolts and nails and sticky strips.

And as for Mr. Winchester and his earthquake predictions? He should avoid Florida during hurricane season. And be careful crossing streets--especially in his home country where they continue to drive on the wrong side of the road.

USGS Quake Statistics for US

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Know Any Early NASA Staffers? Scan These Old Photos of NACA/Ames at Moffett Field

Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Staff--July 1948.

I guess, in a way, it was a good thing that my parents could not throw anything away. We have a museum quality collection here at Fort Chapman. And that's even after a year of donating to the Goodwill; secret, nighttime, visits to local dumpsters; and, those blessed, weekly pickups from the trash collectors.

My latest find is a photo from the summer of 1948 (Come on! That was before even I was born!) of the Ames NACA staff at Moffett Field--NACA stands for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics--absorbed into NASA in 1959.

My father and mother moved to California so he could take a job at NACA/Ames as an aeronautical engineer.

I found my father pretty quickly in the top photo--though I did have to use a magnifying glass to do it. My father told my mother in one of his wartime letters that he often thinks he is smiling in a photo but then it turns out he isn't. This would be one of those times:

Dad may not be smiling, but he did like it in California. It's 1948 and look! Most of the engineers, my father included, are tieless. Whoopee!

I'm just posting the photo on my blog because this area has become, after all, Silicon Valley, and it is possible that Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak or somebody else like that could have a father or grandfather who started out at NACA and raised a brainiac who in turn founded one of the famous companies in this valley.

Or one of my schoolmates--or yours--might recognize a relative or friend.

So get out your magnifying glass(es) and see if you recognize anyone in the photos. If you do, please attach a comment. Feel free to download the photo and email it around. I'd love to hear about any discoveries you make.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: "It Seems We Always Spend The Best Part of Our Time Saying Goodbye"

May she rest in peace.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven. Elizabeth Taylor's time was the 1950s and the 1960s when she was--arguably--the most beautiful woman in the world. We are so fortunate that 35-millimeter film has preserved her in her prime for us to marvel at. There was absolutely no one like her.

When she died this week at the age of seventy nine she had lived several lifetimes and used up all of her nine lives. But oh! What a life. Seven marriages, eight husbands, one of the world's most famous collections of jewels. You can't say she didn't have it all.

Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932 to March 23, 2011) was born in London and when she was seven her American parents returned to the States, settling in Los Angeles. Her father had an art gallery at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it may have been there that this beautiful child attracted the attention of movie scouts.

She was just a child when she signed with MGM in 1943 and it was this Rolls Royce of studios that molded her. She was so pampered, I once read, that when she left the studio in her twenties, she said she didn't know how to drive a car or write a check.

I saw her in Washington D.C. several times, when her seventh marriage to her sixth husband, Senator John Warner of Virginia, was coming to an end.

My first glimpse came during a matinee at the Kennedy Center of "Death of A Salesman" starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. When the lights dimmed following the intermission, this slight figure in a pink sweatsuit slipped down the aisle and into a seat near the front. The whispers went up and down the rows: "That's Liz! That's Liz!"

Before the lights came up again, she was gone. As she left her senator behind, she herself was starring in a revival of "The Little Foxes," which was also having a tryout in Washington.

The next time I saw her was not long afterward, this time in a revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" again in a Washington D.C. tryout. This time, she had done it, not to jump start her own career, which her turn in "The Little Foxes" had done nicely, but as a favor to help her ex-husband Richard Burton whose career was on the skids. The two were funny together playing former spouses who run into each other at a resort. She looked plump-ish but beautiful at age 51, but he looked cadaverous, though he was only 57. He had the pallor of death, even under his stage make-up. He died the next year.

Truth be told, I think her life was much more epic than any of her films. Her beauty on film, much more astonishing than her talent--or choice of roles. She was a force of nature more than anything else.

Many of the films people mention as her best, I find more than prolematic, including Little Women (1949)--saccharine and they have Liz in a blonde wig!; Raintree County (1957)--Southern Gothic, much too strange to sit through; Giant ((1956), the George Stevens' epic that is so soporific I always sleep through it--has anybody ever seen the whole film??? Also dreary is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which, without Liz in that form-fitting slip, it just two hours of bad sturm und drang with Paul Newman always in his pajamas, for heaven's sake. Suddenly Last Summer (1959) is more Tennessee Williams and more sturm und drang and who wants to see Liz doing that in black and white? Butterfield 8 (1960) has a great opening scene, but appears to be in a foreign language after that; Cleopatra (1963) is unwatchable, raise your hand if you've sat through the whole thing. Right. The Sandpiper (1965) stars Big Sur, the California coast, and has nothing else to offer except its great theme song, "The Shadow of Your Smile" by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) --I am, as a matter of fact. Liz with gray streaks in her hair and yelling all the time. Icky, icky, icky. After that, about 1966, the films aren't just unwatchable, they are forgettable.

So what are her good films? The best, I think, are her early ones. You have to see Lassie Come Home (1943) since it shows us the ten-year-old Elizabeth in living color. It is a corny, sweet, story but it is MGM so its production values are superb. In that same ilk is National Velvet (1944) another MGM color fantasy version of England, where Taylor is surrounded--as she was in Lassie--with the MGM stock company of memorable character actors, including Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, and Donald Crisp.

Father of the Bride (1951) was her coming out party, in which Velvet Brown has become a stunning woman. The movie belongs to that great scene-stealer Spencer Tracy and Taylor seems best when she is surrounded by that kind of talent. Ditto for George Stevens' A Place in the Sun, dominated by Montgomery Clift at his angst-ridden best. Still, when she holds him and says; "Tell mama. Tell mama all." and Stevens has her face on screen about twenty feet high, you realize that she does have the kind of beauty and sex appeal that men might, in fact, kill for.

There are some others I like from that same period: Ivanhoe (1952), with the often underrated Robert Taylor in an especially good knights-and-damsels tale; The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) a noir-ish remake of A Free Soul co-starring William Powell, Gig Young and Fernando Lamas; The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) a Hemmingwayesque/Fitgeraldish story that has her co-starring with Van Johnson and an ecclectic cast of 1950s personalities including Roger Moore and Eva Gabor. Oh, and she has lung problems, always an excellent plot point for Liz.

I also like Elephant Walk (1954), co-starring Peter Finch and Dana Andrews. It was shot in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in color, and though there is a lot of scenery chewing, the plot's pretty good and the scenery that's chewed is really spectacular. And they have those big elephants in it too. So its hard to beat.

Finally, I recommend The VIPs (1963), the first Taylor-Burton pairing after Cleopatra, which has them, appropriately enough, in a dysfunctional, addictive, co-dependent marriage that neither can resist. If you've ever been stuck, wandering around London's Heathrow Airport, you'll be able to relate to this potboiler. It co-stars a cast of thousands, including Louis Jordan, Orson Welles, and the great Margaret Rutherford who won a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.

One more thing about Elizabeth Taylor: she had a legendary collection of jewelry. I once saw some of it in New York at an exhibit sponsored by De Beers. The show included her 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond and her 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond, both gifts from Richard Burton. Also on exhibit was the 50-carat La Peregrina Pearl he bought her in 1969, once owned by Mary I of England. Now that she is gone, I hope they will do a complete exhibit of her collection--before the heirs sell it off. She was probably one of the last of the glamorous stars to acquire baubles like this and somehow or another, the collection should be preserved. (Or your could buy me some of the best pieces when they go up for auction: that would be nice too.)

I'm sure Turner Classic Movies will do a tribute to her films. Bad or good, they all had that certain something. They all had Elizabeth Taylor.

*(Editor's note: my headline is from Taylor's closing line in A Place in the Sun.)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

America: The Nation of Bad Clothes

Clothes are a trivial subject. But take a trip anywhere USA and the clothes you see in airports are almost as bad as the food.

The world is falling apart all around us. Earthquakes, tsunamis, exploding nuclear power plants, everyone in the Middle East killing everyone else. It makes a person feel helpless. Which is probably why the only thing I can do today is focus on my favorite trivial subject of late: the American lack of style.

Stroll through an airport. Walk through a mall. Go to church and watch the folks file up to take the Holy Sacrament. If you let your mind wander during the hymn, you'll be frightened enough to convert: the clothes are really awful! I can't figure it out. Why are we so rich and looking so bad? I know this is shallow. I hate myself for caring about it. But something bad is going on and I want to understand it.

I was waiting for my luggage at the San Jose, California airport and I was bored, so that's why you are stuck looking at these pictures of people in bad clothes.

Designer John Galliano of Dior was recently unmasked as a fan of Hitler--hard to believe there are any of those--in a drunken raving that was caught on video and sent him to a Paris police station. I've wondered if the world of couture, dominated by really strange men who wear odd clothes and produce ever more bizarre things for their runway shows, was not to blame for the hopeless lack of style we see around us.

Galliano, pre disgrace, dressed up to get his picture taken.

Perhaps when we see the "couture" on a Paris runway, it is enough to drive us all into a lumpy sweatsuits.

Here's a little number from the latest Dior collection that this famous fashion house thinks you should slip into for your next party.

So, since Paris isn't helping us in the guidance department, we just dress in these big dowdy sacks. I don't know. There must be a better alternative.

Typical American, waiting for a ride at the airport. Well, she couldn't wear that Dior number above: she'd be way too cold.

I'm trying to decide if it says anything about our society. Perhaps we are not as shallow as previous generations who felt they had to wear hats and gloves and stockings (for ladies) and homburgs and suits with vests (for men) when they appeared in public places. Maybe it is a sign of our advance?

But can't one be thoughtful and deep and still like nice fabrics and tailoring?

Maybe this is especially difficult for me because I am a fan of classic films, and the women in classic films really dressed. Even actresses like Bette Davis looked devastating when they were supposed to be dowdy shop girls.

She's from the wrong side of town in this movie, but even her wrong-side-of-town clothes look fabulous.

Shop girls saw those movies and tried to copy those clothes, and even the poor looked spiffy when they took to their sewing machines and added cuffs and collars to the simple clothes they could afford.

Well, that's my diatribe. I'm trying to decide if it says something--bad or good--about our civilization that in just the last decade we've abandoned all pretense of "style" and moved into an amorphous world of ugly but comfortable.

I'm not better than the average. I too have turned from style to comfort. And after centuries of tradition I wonder why this has happened.

I'd love to hear what you think. I'm flummoxed.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan's Highest Value: A Guest Post

Robin Writes: I've known Leslie Larson since we both competed in a Junior Olympic event in the 6th grade. During our years in junior high and high school, Leslie traveled and studied on a number of fellowships in Latin America. After college she lived and worked in Japan. She and her husband Mike are now treasured friends. Because of Leslie's connection to Japan, I asked for her thoughts on the string of tragedies that have rocked that nation.

Leslie's Japanese friends during a Christmas visit in 2009: Hideki Ochi, (top left, having fun with a Groucho mask) wife Chifumi, son Soichiro and daughter Chisano.

Japan's Highest Value
Leslie F. Larson

For better and worse, we Americans prize our independence of thought and action above all else. Think Benjamin Franklin. Think Mark Twain, or better yet Tom Sawyer. Think even of Mark Zukerberg of Facebook fame. Our lives are constructed around this principle. Our politics and our view of the world is seen through this particular lens. It shapes how we respond to crises.

The devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan shows us perhaps the highest Japanese value, the one that guides their actions. I would call it communal fortitude.

Following the chaos of that double-whammy disaster, what we Americans saw on TV was teams of rescue workers, heads down, pulling their fellow citizens from the rubble. I saw video of a whole valley that was nothing but broken debris with a single road running through it.

That road had been cleared and there was no one on it but the vital rescue workers doing their jobs. No gawkers. No looting. No need for police to hold back individuals insisting that they had go down that road right now to get to their house.

Store owners gave away their grocery inventories wholesale to the evacuation centers. All this to say nothing of the truly heroic nuclear power plant workers who are potentially sacrificing their lives for their countrymen. They've been doing this--in the dark, at Siberian temperatures--since the earthquake struck on March 11.

This Japanese fortitude was brought home to me succinctly by Hideki Ochi, a close family friend who lives in the city of Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, about an hour north of Tokyo. I lived with his wife's family in 1972 and we have visited each other throughout the subsequent years, including a 2009 Christmas visit. I emailed them soon after the quake to find out how they are. Here is part of Hideki's response.

"In Tokyo and Abiko, people life has been recovering recently, but electricity, train operation and gasoline supply are unstable. However, we are very fine... People in Japan appreciate aid from many countries very much."

So, this is my plea. Japan is a large, successful industrial country like us. But they need to know that we support them--just as we appreciated the world's support after 9/11. Please make a donation to the Japanese people through the Red Cross. You can click on the link below to do that.

Leslie's friends making Christmas cookies in California during a Christmas visit in 2009. The Ochi family, from left: Hideki, Chifumi, Chisano, Soichiro.

Donate to Japanese Relief at the Red Cross

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Having Fun With Smart Car

              Associating with it may not make one smarter, but it will make one use a lot less gasoline.

The entire city of Birmingham, Alabama, was plumb out of rental cars for reasons I still don't understand. (Spring Break, everyone said: though what that has to do with rental cars I'm still not sure.)

But Enterprise, the nice people who will drop you off and pick you up, came through for me. Still, they were apologetic: it is the last rental car in Birmingham, they told me and pointed, with some dismay, to the white, 2009 Smart Car in the adjacent lot. It was not the electric version. It took real gasoline. Just like a car.

At the rental place, I met my first Smart Car.

I was delighted. I've wanted to test drive one of them since I saw all the cool Smart Car colors and designs being advertised in the SF Bay Area.

I had seen these cars in Europe in the 1990s. They were then called "Swatchmobiles" and had been developed at the instigation of the Swatch Watch founder. He was aiming at the car market that included the same, young, hip, energy conscious young people who were nuts for his watches. After a partnership with Volkswagen failed, he joined up with Daimler Benz.

If you want to attract attention: this is your car. Lots of people stopped me when I was getting into or out of the Smart Car and asked me about it. How much mileage does it get? Is it fun to drive? Why did I have it? A big truck driver stopped his truck and came over to the car and had my cousin roll down the window so he could ask about it.

The Smart Car visits the central park near the library in downtown Birmingham.

Mine had an option called "smartshift® transmission," which is similar to the tiptronic transmission I once saw in a Porsche. Under the left hand side of the steering wheel, you click a deal to shift down, and on the right hand side, you click to shift up.

Since lots of the other controls are also on the steering wheel and its environs, I got the windshield wipers going quite frequently when I meant to shift up into third. But otherwise, learning to drive the thing was a snap. (Uh oh, there goes the back windshield wiper, again.)

You could park one on a sidewalk, if the police would let you--they're that small.

Going up and down hills, I won't say the Smart Car exactly zipped along. Chugged might be more like it. But on the freeway, flat out, I had no trouble dashing in and out of traffic in fifth gear.

Its one liter, three cylinder, 71-horsepower engine doesn't have much heft to move around, thank goodness. The car only weighs about 1800 pounds: one of the lightest cars on the road. Mine had a good radio and air conditioning that would blast you out of the car--though using it probably didn't help me on those hills.

The dome-like roof gave me a little more sun than I like, but it does give the car great visibility. Which is good because the car is small enough that one wouldn't want to miss seeing another, larger, vehicle, and having to test the efficacy of the plethora of airbags the Smart Car contains.

I thought the car was a bit noisy inside. But that is probably being a little picky.

We did hit a pothole, at one point, and I was afraid I might lose the car in it. But that was the City of Birmingham's fault, not the fault of the Smart Car.

Though the brand is Daimler, Mitsubishi builds the engine. The car reportedly will get about 40 miles to the gallon, though I cannot swear by that figure, because I wasn't able to drive mine enough.

Even though it sounds a bit more like an Italian motor scooter than an automobile, I liked the little car. It isn't like every other boring car on the road today. And getting 50 miles to the gallon right now is an attractive prospect. Its maximum speed is 90-mph, and I haven't gone faster than that in at least, oh, a month or two.

Don't know if I'll buy one, but I wouldn't turn one down. And it was lots of fun to test drive this unique take on the car of the future.

Not that Porsche I always wanted ... but much more efficient, and German too.

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Grandma Forgets--But Libraries Remember

My grandmother Chapman's scrapbook covering my father's service in World War II.

I've been working on a book proposal about the end of World War II, and I owe a debt to the work my grandmother did--keeping a scrapbook of my father's photos, newspaper articles from his hometown paper, as well as telegrams and letters. All this has been an enormous help in my work.

One thing my grandmother did not do, much to my dismay--when she cut out newspaper articles about my father--she did not include the name of the paper or the date of the article. For the family, at that time, it didn't seem important. For a researcher--it is essential.

Thank goodness for libraries. I learned that the downtown library in Birmingham, Alabama (my father lived in Homewood, a Birmingham suburb) has microfilm from the 1940s of both the Birmingham News and the Shades Valley Sun. I suspected the articles about my father appeared in one or the other of these papers. The Sun was a weekly published for Homewood and surrounding neighborhoods, where my grandfather was President of the City Council.

An online request could not be fulfilled, because one has to give a librarian a date range of just a few days if one wants a librarian to pour through the microfilm.

So, I took a recent research trip to Birmingham and went through the microfilm myself. I rolled the dice and started with The Sun and began my search in August of 1945 when the war was coming to an end. I based that on the content of the articles and their placement in the scrapbook. One was about Nagasaki, so I knew it had to have appeared after August 1945.

Within less than an hour I had found both articles--with name of the papers, page numbers, and dates

"Capt. Chapman Served on World's Remotest Islands" appeared on page 10 of The Shades Valley Sun on Friday, September 28, 1945. My grandfather was in advertising and he had a flair for promoting the service of his self-effacing son.

The more important article, "Homewood Boy Visits Scene of Atomic Bomb Destruction," appeared on page 11 of The Shades Valley Sun on October 26, 1945. Based on a letter my father wrote home after touring the destruction at Nagasaki, it quotes his observations including: 'The stench of the dead is still present in some places."

I knew my father had seen Nagasaki--though he never spoke about it to me. I learned it from this article, which I had seen in my maternal grandmother's scrapbook decades ago. More recently, I found it in my grandmother Chapman's scrapbook. But without a date, or the name of the paper, I was stymied. Now, with the rest of the blanks filled in, at least of this mystery--I can move forward with my research.

History is like a large puzzle and my father's war history is like a puzzle within that puzzle--with a few pieces filled in here and there by my father in random conversations throughout his life. Now, as I am gradually finding the other pieces with research, the true story of his experiences in the last and largest battle of the Pacific Theatre--Okinawa--is beginning to come into focus.

I wish he would have talked to me about it in his lifetime. But he didn't seem to want to.

But there are still ways to learn:

My grandmother helped by saving the articles. My mother helped by saving my father's letters. And the Birmingham Library helped by aiding me in my microfilm search through their archives. I hope one day to find a gracious way to thank them.

My grandparents might have had an inkling--but it has taken us all many years to realize how much we all owe to the contributions of all these men whom Tom Brokaw thoughtfully dubbed "The Greatest Generation."

My father, standing third from left, with his men on Ie Shima, during the Battle of Okinawa.

If you are interested in reading more about the Battle of Okinawa, I recommend Typhoon of Steel: The Battle for Okinawa by James H. and William M. Belote. It was published in 1970 and can be found at Abe books On Line or at your local library.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan, Earthquakes, and Radiation Fears

The stories coming out of Japan are stunning. That the one nation to have suffered the effects of the only two nuclear weapons fired in anger--in the history of the world--should now have to face this latest tragedy--also involving radiation--almost defies the laws of probability.

I think we should be cautious before everybody runs under his desk in the duck-and-cover position: in spite of the blabbing on cable news. As serious as the concerns are about the radiation--and they are legitimate--the economic and human impacts of this disaster are very likely much more serious.

I've recently uncovered a cache of my father's letters to my mother, written near the end of World War II. They were in a dusty footlocker in a crawl space over our garage.

Dad's letter's home from the end of World War II.

They are an amazing historical and personal treasure and I will write more about them in the future. But I want to make several points with regard to them and to what I have learned from them about my father's radiation exposure sixty six years ago in Japan.

Captain Ashley Chapman was on Ie Shima, about 700 miles away from Ground Zero, when the atomic bomb exploded on Nagasaki. The pilots who flew from his airfield that day could see the mushroom cloud. Within a month he was in the occupying force at Sasebo, just 40 miles across the harbor from Nagasaki.

He and his battalion rode out a typhoon that September which--one can only presume--blew the fallout around to a considerable degree.

He also toured the city of Nagasaki with his friend Capt. Herb Schiff.

My father lived to be 90 years old. Herb Schiff is still with us, living in Sarasota, where he recently celebrated his 91st birthday.

The two of them also took a train to their embarkation port when they were going home, and that train took them through Hiroshima. My father wrote my mother that he slept through that part of the trip, though others stayed awake that night and reported that the city--seen at night, through the train's dark windows--seemed to have vanished.

Dad came home. Had kids. Both of us went to college and I have a graduate degree. So Dad's DNA seems to have survived his ordeal.

None of this is meant in any way to dismiss the concerns over the radiation from the nuclear power plants in Japan. They are obviously in serious difficulty. But, with the knowledge learned through many years of research, the U.S. is taking the proper precautions for our troops over there, and the international community will make all the same preventative measures available to Japanese citizens.

Thus, we need to temper our concerns about this with a dose of common sense.

However: the economic and humanitarian concerns are very serious--for Japan and the world. The earthquake--now calculated to have been a 9 on the Richter scale--has created the biggest devastation in Japan since World War II.

Nothing can mitigate the loss for the victims of this tragedy. But the destruction can be repaired. And though both the Japanese stock market and the American stock market have taken a hit over this, they will come back. Rebuilding will mean a huge investment in Japan and some of that money will be invested in and by American companies with the expertise to help. Think about investing in one or two of them while the market is down. It will help the companies, the economy, and it might bring you dividends, as well.

Finally, on a personal note, the Japanese earthquake has made me think seriously about my own very casual preparations for an earthquake disaster in California. I have not taken this seriously enough--as I did not in Florida, before Hurricane Charlie slammed through in 2004.

Every citizen in a potential disaster area--and the San Francisco Bay Area qualifies big time in the earthquake department--needs to have a substantial earthquake kit on hand. Fresh water, canned goods, a land line telephone, a hand crank radio, candles, matches, paper products, soap, and a good first aid kit, all should all be stored in a safe, easily accessible place.

Disaster relief will come. But, as I learned in Florida, it won't come immediately.

So, I'm going to do a better job of getting my earthquake kit ready for the future, in the firm hope that I will never need to use it.

The radiation--if it does blow across the Pacific Ocean toward California--is of much less concern to me. Driving on the freeway is probably more hazardous to my health.

As is--potentially--an earthquake, for those of us who live on the San Andreas Fault. A 9.0 on the Richter Scale is a shaking of the earth of unimaginable magnitude. Except now it is imaginable. Because we've seen it in Japan.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Case of the Disappearing Arugula

Mrs. Rabbit apparently has reason to be especially hungry.

I don't want to drag this whole bunny thing out much further, but I do have one more thing to add.

In the last few days, when I've gone out to get the mail (we have rural type mailboxes in my town, so mine's across the street on a post with two others), I've seen several neighbors peering through my fence, into my backyard.

"I hope you know you've got a whole bunny family in there this spring," said the young man I often see out walking his German shepherd. (Bet they take cover when they see that duo coming!)

And then there is the unusual neighbor in the funny hat who is often out walking her new, unruly, shih tzu.

"There's a whole bunch of little bunnies in there," she said, pointing at my juniper.

This certainly would explain why Mrs. Rabbit has been so hungry, she ate all six of my arugula plants, eight red romaines, and six butter lettuce starts in the course of just two days. She's eating for a family.

But geez, do you know how much that stuff costs?

I just hope she doesn't wolf down the Iceland poppies. She might flunk her drug test. Then she'd have to join Charlie Sheen in rehab.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Is Lapin a la Cocotte in Our Future?

I thought it would be fun
To plant the bunnies lunch.
So rather than to run
They'd have to stay and munch.

But bunnies are not wise
For mammals of their size
The lettuce of a season
They gobbled without reason.

And though it wasn't fitting
They ate it in one sitting!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Do Your Bit Against Middle East Tyrants

These devices can actually be used for transportation.

If you want to strike a blow against the oleaginous tyrants in the Middle East, without firing a shot, here is an idea: this week, and every week, do one errand on foot or on a bicycle. Using less oil, tainted by blowhards straight out of the Middle Ages--except for their Swiss bank accounts--is the best thing I can think of to help America and the world rid itself of those bad guys in the stupid hats.

Where is the leadership in America that might ask us for such a tiny sacrifice?

Winston Churchill inspired his country to take up small deeds like this to fight the Nazis as did FDR.

My Grandmother Mary Chapman and her Victory Garden in Homewood, Alabama, 1943. On the back my wry Aunt Helen has written; "I hope victory is not dependent upon our Victory Garden."

JFK had lots of inspirational ideas--from "getting this country moving again" to the Peace Corps. Have we grown so sloppy and slobby that we like being in the debt of dictators who use the jets they buy from the West to strafe and bomb their own civilians?

Walking and/or riding a bike to run an errand would strike at least a small blow for the good guys. It would also be good for the waistline. If enough of us do it, it might serve to stabilize the price of oil. It would help the GNP to have fewer dollars going out of the country and into the pockets of Emirs who like to hire Beyonce for their birthday parties.

Or would we rather just keep sending our "all volunteer army" over there to get blown up? Blood and treasure in exchange for our right to drive SUVs?

Nobody seems excited about the prospect of digging more wells in America and off its shores. Nuclear power--which may have been ready for a renaissance, because so few other options remain--just took a serious public relations and environmental hit in Japan.

In Israel they are aiming at having an all-electric automobile system within the next decade. Their desire to thwart the oil rich neighbors who want to obliterate them is obvious. But they have a tiny country--such a system would be problematic in a country the size of America.

I'm a firm believer that the brainiacs doing research in labs across the U.S. will one day come up with a substitute for the petroleum upon which we've become hooked, like heroin addicts.

But in the meantime why not join the geek protest movement and hop on a non-cool bike and pedal to the library or the bank or the store to get that quart of milk? Or go "Shank's mare" as my father's generation would say. (You can look that up.)

The lives you save might belong to America's sons and daughters--or to those striving to unleash their bonds on distant shores.

The economy you aid will be our own. The weight you lose--hey, that will just be an added bonus.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

O Sod O Mio!

The new yard next door is almost complete.

Wow! What a difference a day makes. Twenty four little hours. All the sun and the flowers. Where there used to be rain ... (with apologies to Stanley Adams, Maria Grever and Dinah Washington.)

The landscaping project next door is complete, and it came with a bonus.

After so many years of neglect, I just can't get over how nice the front yard next door is looking. The sod went in and, Bingo! it really transformed the place.

Now, Dr. K will have to get someone to mow that beautiful lawn.

When the garden work started, the front yard looked like this:

In the beginning ...

Now, to see it looking like this is a joy:

What a little sod can do ...

I'm sure people in other parts of the world must think we are a little batty. Those of us who live in small suburban houses in America, like to decorate them a bit with flowers and grass, even though it takes water and time to care for them. Each of these places is our own little piece of heaven.

So now Dr. Z has hers.

And it came with an added bonus for me.

Remember the damage to my lawn made by the opossum, and the skunk and their troop of friends digging for grubs? It looked like this:

What a mess.

Mr. Potts and his workers had enough sod left over from the job at Dr. Z's that they came over yesterday afternoon and replaced the damaged sod in my lawn! Wow! Is that an improvement.

I'm going to keep it wet so it will grow and fill in the damaged spot. What a bonus for me.

So, my own little piece of heaven here in the suburbs of San Francisco has also been improved by the Good Neighbor policy of my friend Mr. Potts.

It has been quite a spring: I've just completed my t@#^&, with the help of my sister, and it wasn't nearly as painful as we thought.

In the year since I lost my father, my grief has turned from weeping to the joy one finds in the morning after a night of sorrow. I am so blessed. Because I returned to spend one last year with him, I have returned to transform what was a family home to a lovely home of my own. How hard my father worked all his life. How thankful I am now, for all his legacy means: home, neighborhood, family and friends. And for his spirit, which will always be with me here in the home he loved.

Fort Chapman in the spring.

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