Thursday, May 20, 2010

Auf wiedersehen to Auschwitz? Hopefully.

WARSAW (Reuters) – The former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, with its museum exhibits, was in danger of flooding Wednesday following days of heavy rain that have brought devastation to southern Poland....
The open-air site is divided into two sections covering a combined territory of more than 200 hectares (500 acres) and includes some 155 buildings, the gas chambers, 300 ruined facilities and hundreds of thousands of personal items...
"We are continuing actions aimed at safeguarding the area of ... Auschwitz II-Birkenau," the museum authorities said in a statement.
"Overnight, high water levels on the Vistula ... broke the security barriers," the statement added. "The flood waters neared the western end of the site, threatening to inundate it as well as nearby villages."

I don't see the loss of Auschwitz as a great calamity.  The place has been a symbol of hatred, persecution, of insanity.  It is hardly a Mecca for the families of the victims, but it could be an inspiration to future madmen.  I think a memorial to the victims at that site would be far more appropriate than to keep hatred, anger and bitterness alive by keeping Auschwitz alive.  Maybe God is using nature's fury to tell us to move on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"My Life and Hard Times" by James Thurber

It's really difficult to finish James Thurber's books.  Almost impossible to read even one chapter at a single sitting.  By the end of the first paragraph, I am laughing so hard I just cannot continue.  "My Life and Hard Times" was my Mothers Day gift and it is such a treasure. 

The book was written by a middle-aged Thurber but of events that  took place before he was 25.  "The sharp edges of old reticences are softened in the autobiographer by the passing of time--a man does not pull the pillow over his head when he wakes in the morning because he suddenly remembers some awful thing that happened to him fifteen or twenty years ago, but the confusions and the panics of last year and the year before are too close for contentment", he explains. Thurber had the unique ability to bring out the humor in what must have been the most painful situations in his young life. The years at Ohio State University seem to be tinged with disappointment because that was when he was made painfully aware of his handicap--he just did not have great eyesight. At age 7, he had lost one eye while playing "William Tell" with arrows and the other through "sympathetic opthalmia". He couldn't look through microscopes, he could not participate in gym and he could not enlist in the army.  Although he recalls with amusement his weekly visits to the draft board medical examiners, the reader can detect a growing disappointment  in him as he kept getting rejected and a subsequent relief when the armistice was called.

Thurber's early life was a revolving door to bewildering eccentrics.  I wonder how much he laughed reminiscing about the Get-Ready Man "a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to prepare for the end of the world. 'Get ready! Get read-y!' he would bellow, 'The Worllld is coming to an End!'"  Somehow the man got mixed up with a production of "King Lear" and while the protagonist wandered blindly through a storm with Edgar, the Get Ready man added to the mayhem..King Lear would have lent a helping hand to fulfil GRM's dire predictions.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!  (King Lear, Act III, scene ii)

I think the play would have lost its appeal once the old gentleman was ejected.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2

I saw Iron Man 2 this weekend.  I give it a 3 star rating out of 5.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was cute, as usual, but the rest of the movie was hopeless.  Villain Ivan whatsit (Mickey Rourke)--a big disappointment.  Why do the bad guys have to look so ugly?  Granted he was in hiding but this guy is building something complicated that is sure to destroy the world and he must have shopped for the ingredients.  He cannot find a comb? How did he get the gold to put between his teeth anyway?  He didn't have gold teeth--his regular teeth had a sort of gold border to them.  I looked carefully.

What was wrong with the movie was that the pièce de résistance was introduced too early --the main gadget, the electrical whips that Tony Stark had to battle against made its appearance in the second scene.  The movie could have started with minor inventions that fail, and then


bring this up after a lot of tinkering MacGyver style.  But no, we saw them on the Monaco race track and then it was ho-hum when they were brought back at the end of the movie.

The Iron Man 2's take off (for flight) was a curious exercise.  He would keep his arms straight and stiff by the side with the palms horizontal and do an utterly fairy dance before the boosters whatever launched him into space.  What was that about? And Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), can the name be more spy-like, is quite comical with her choreographed fight scenes.  After punching out each guy she would pause to give a Charlie's Angels kind of pose.

This movie is a lesson in you cannot have too much of a good thing. Hundreds and thousands of these Iron Men invade the screen towards the end only to die in the Unisphere Globe in Flushing, Queens NY. Built for a World Fair, the globe remains a symbol of creativity.

Why are superheroes such lonely, misunderstood people?  Tony Stark was no exception.  He felt his dad denied him his love and thank goodness Stark Sr. always had his video camera focused on him--we could prove junior wrong right away and in this movie without having to drag on this theme to the sequel.  Anyway, at least this movie had its brilliant flashes of humor which is why I gave it 3 out of 5.

Who the heck was this Nick (Samuel Jackson)  guy? Turns out, there was a scene at the end of the credits of the first movie where they introduced him?  I wish someone had told me that.  I was smarter this time.  I sat till the end of the movie and sure enough there was this little extra scene which was clear as mud. But that is for Iron Man 3.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Math Help-- ICoachMath

For parents of kids in K-12 grades who need (extra) coaching in Math, help is at hand.  Click on this link

Icoachmath is a product of High Points Learning, Inc. and this is what they have to say for themselves:

High Point Learning Inc. offers quality web-based educational solutions to K12 School Districts, Schools, HomeSchool families, Parents, and individual students. Developed by a team of mathematicians and technology experts, HPL products combine state of the art technology and proven learning methods to help K12 students 'Retain Classroom Learning' and achieve higher test scores in Math. Based on the time tested principle "Practice Makes Perfect," HPL's educational programs act as robust reinforcement tools and are designed specifically to help students strengthen their math skills through self-paced, guided, and online interactive practice. Immediate feedback and real-time performance tracking allows teachers and parents to target each student's unique challenges with ease.
HPL focuses on each state's curriculum standard and helps students achieve high score in state exams (CRCT, PACT, HSAP, PSSA, CSAP, KCCP etc.), to help schools meet and exceed Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Requirements.
HPL suite of programs including HighPoints Math, HighPoints Score, iCoachMath, and HighPoints SAT, provide an Online platform to empower K-12 schools, teachers, learners and parents to proactively prevent low test scores through immediate intervention and prescriptions for success in Math education.

I found that repetitive exercises are the best way to learn Math. Icoachmath has an exhaustive store of challenges for children.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Life Is Short. Don't Be An Idiot

Ashley Madison is a dating service for married people who want to cheat on their partners.
Its slogan--"Life is short.  Have an Affair"

This is a full page advertisement in the New York Metro newspaper on May 4, 2010. Why on earth would a man object to his wife turning into his mother? You would think that is what he wants. If he doesn't, what does he care about Mother's Day?  What is this ad? It seems to contradict itself.

This company's aim is to put some romance back into a guy's life. Is it aimed at pleasing men? All the adverts display women in various forms of undress and so, although the company professes to cater to both sexes it seems to lure men to beautiful sirens. 

People are sure it is a scam. Why? Because the same women appear in the database of several online dating services. Excuse me? You are having an affair and you think you are being scammed? Life is Short, alright. Just wait till your wife finds out.

People are too idle. If they have money and are looking for things to do, they should go to help at the nearest homeless shelter, the Boys and Girls Club of America, or volunteer to be tutors and mentors. Its a shame that they want to indulge in behaviour that will only lead to hurting those closest to them and its a shame that there are avenues for them to do it. The CEO and the founder of the company, Noel Biderman says "Some people say it (the extramarital dating service) promotes promiscuity. But if you don't do it, you get behavior that's way more harmful to society. Infidelity has been around a lot longer than Ashley Madison." With this kind of logic, maybe he is doing well to steer the scum from voluntary work--the kind of work that needs dedication and self-sacrifice. Biderman would not know anything about such work either. The world would be safer without them.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Drills, Spills and Chills

Don't offshore oil rigs have a main shut off valve?  Yes? So why is it that 5,000 barrels, that is, 200,000 gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day? The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, 42 miles southeast of Louisiana's port Venice, exploded on April 20, 2010. Oil rigs do use a device called the blowout preventer (BOP), a system of hydraulic valves and pumps that caps a well before it starts gushing.  "There are electrical systems driving the hydraulic pumps, with air system backups. There are battery backups for power," David O'Donnell, an oilfield equipment consultant said. "Somehow they lost it all, or didn't have enough time to activate."   Brazil and Norway use BOPs that can be activated by a unique sound wave when the electrical signal fails. The cost of these acoustic trigger is half a million dollars and it seems that US drilling companies have enough misplaced faith in their back up systems that they do not invest in this last resort.  Well, that'll learn ya.

Who is affected by this accident? Definitely BP.  They will be spending billions of dollars, first to stem the gush, and then to clean the gush and for starting the gush in the first place.  The oil, once it reaches the land, will be impossible to get rid of and yes, Rush Limbaugh, the environmentalist "wackos" are right this time, aren't they?  The oil will kill thousands of living things. Oystermen, shrimpers, and fishermen in Louisiana are planning to sue BP, as the oil spill spells the ruin of a lucrative fishing industry in that area. The ground will absorb the toxins which will just lie there for years and years, probably get into our drinking water and definitely affect our crops. 

This is the season for marine animals to breed. Instead, they are soaking up the thick, sticky, crude oil.  The spill is spreading towards the Florida coast affecting 400 different species of animals, marshland, and of course, the ocean.  Maybe now is the time to really focus on corn ethanol as the alternative fuel.

For the 10 animals most in danger due to the oil spill, check out this link

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day!!

The distress cry "May Day" has nothing to do with the May 1st celebrations.  And it does not have its origin in banks going under.  Its from the French "m'aidez" which means  "help me".

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stem Cells--New Hope

It's exciting to hear that the first FDA-approved phase I clinical trial is under way for the pioneering stem cell treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), a condition for which there has not been a cure.  Thanks to Nueralstem, Inc which provided the spinal cord stem cells, new hope has been given to ALS sufferers.  ALS is a progressive fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading to the degeneration and death of the motor neurons in the spinal cord that control muscle movement.