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A War, Illustrated

South Vietnamese soldiers crossing a river, 1964                         Horst Faas/AP
It was on April 30, 1975, that the North Vietnamese army took over Saigon (which they renamed Ho Chi Minh City), marking the undeniable end of our "conflict" in that Southeast Asian country ( The day before, Americans and a few fortunate others had been evacuated by helicopter in a tragic scene of chaos, panic, grief ~ and humiliation. Photographers had been given free reign during that war, and every day, newspapers and magazines included pictures of soldiers, civilians, bloodshed, and destruction. Many of those were taken by the photographers, both American and Vietnamese, of the Associated Press. An exhibit in London of AP photographs from that time and place marks the 40-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon (N.B., some of these photos are very disturbing and are certainly not for young children):
   more photos (same warning):

The Drone Detectives

© Alamy
It's the way of the world. Someone comes up with an annoying or frightening invention, like, in this case, drones, and someone else comes up with an antidote. There are a couple of companies now that are selling technology that detects drones, and one that is in the process of developing a drone that can capture other drones:

Streets Without Cars

one night in L.A.                                                           KW
Here in Los Angeles, it's not easy to live without a car. That's the way they wanted it to be, those who built the city. And here in Los Angeles, a year doesn't go by that we don't get the latest prognostication regarding total gridlock. Not a matter of whether, apparently, but of when. Still, it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that it all became harder to ignore.
   It started when we had to skip dinner before the theater because we couldn't get over 15 mph on the freeway. That reminded me that, a few days before, I had decided against attending a college alumni get-together because the mere thought of sitting in rush-hour exhaust exhausted me. Then, the next day, a good friend bowed out of a party on my side of town because, she said, "I just can't face the traffic." Pathetic? You bet! (But I continue to hold out high hopes for our expanding metro rail system.)
   So of course I was intrigued by this article on the direction many cities in Europe seem to be taking, what with point-A-to-point-B bike rentals, ride sharing, Ubering, and all (which some U.S. cities are adopting as well). Birmingham, England, for example, is in the first phase of a program it's calling Birmingham Connected. Its main proponent could just as well be talking about L.A. when he says, "Birmingham was seen as the champion of the car, and as a result it didn’t develop an underground or the tram network you see in major cities across Europe. There’s been a failure to develop those systems because there’s been no longer-term vision." He's hoping to change that. Helsinki, Finland, is working toward a vision in which "the future resident ... will not own a car."
   And how are the car companies responding to all this? Good question:

The Sound of Tears

The other night, we attended a classical-music concert at a local venue. One of the pieces played was the Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor, Op. 110, by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Somehow, it's also called String Quartet No. 8. You can see by the preceding sentence that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. Fortunately, though, this particular chamber orchestra took this particular opportunity to enlighten its audience about this piece and its creator. It's a fascinating story that brings both composer and composition to life.
   While much of what I've found online corresponds to the information we got at the concert, there was one point that I couldn't find but that made perfect sense, given the time (1960) and country (the Soviet Union) in which Shostakovich wrote the piece. Apparently, although he dedicated String Quartet No. 8 "to the victims of fascism and war," his children contend that, in reality, he was dedicating it to all the victims of totalitarianism, including himself. Indeed, his own initials show up in

In a Dry State

California Aqueduct                                 Department of Water Resources
Our monthly box of organic produce from a group called Farm Fresh to You is always accompanied by a letter from Thaddeus Barsotti, who, from what I can gather from the website, is the one we have to thank for this service. This particular letter, titled "What's Up With Farm Water?," gives an interesting overview of California, its farms, and how they're coping with these dry years, at least as he sees it:

"... California is a beautiful state. In the south, its days are forever sunny, [and] moving north we find the south end of the Central Valley that is blessed with a near year-round growing season. As we reach the beginning of Northern California, the Salinas Valley, we find temperate weather that is ideal for growing vegetables for only nine months of the year. Near Sacramento, the summer days are explosive and perfect for hot-weather, summer crops, and it doesn't cool off enough for vegetables until fall and then it is too cold for many things through the winter. North of Sacramento exists a mighty chunk of our state, filled with mountains and natural resources, but shy of any significant population.
"These places are connected by many things, including a water system that captures snow melt in the north and delivers it down the Sacramento River to the delta where man-made canals pump rivers that run uphill to deliver water to farms [and] cities. The reality of the water situation for farms is

Hey, Kids, Let's Start a Country!

Jedlicka and the Liberland flag                                          
So, there are those who have signed up to colonize Mars ~ and then there are those who've signed up for something only slightly less adventurous but a whole lot closer to home. Last Monday, Czech politician Vit Jedlicka, his partner, and two other Libertarians claimed an isolated patch of Serbo-Croatia to be the world's newest country and named it Liberland. Since then, more than 200,000 souls brave and true have petitioned to join in the fun. Applications are pouring in from all over the world and from people with all sorts of talents and experience, but Jedlicka has high standards. "The model citizen of Liberland would be [American founding father] Thomas Jefferson," he said, "which is why we established the country on his birthday. Citizens will be able to pursue happiness and this is the place where we can make this happen" (story, video):

Welcome to the Singularity

In his book The Future of the Mind (, etc.), Michio Kaku recalls his interview with Dr. Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and a former director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab. "If you ask Dr. Brooks how we can coexist with these super-smart robots," he writes, "his reply is straightforward: we will merge with them. With advances in robotics and neuroprosthetics, it becomes possible to incorporate AI into our own bodies." A team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has created a patch of gold electrodes that, when worn on and behind the ear, can, via EEG, allow the user to control electronic devices. It is still in its preliminary stages and will be used in medical situations at first:

On Their Way to the Desert

Just what happened between the Turks and Armenians 100 years ago, and why? That area of Europe was embroiled in World War I at the time, so was it genocide or not, and why is that in dispute? Is it a matter of semantics? Armenia says 1.5 million died and that it was genocide; Turkey says it was more like 300,000 and that it wasn't. It was in 1915 that the Ottoman Turks ordered the mass deportation of ethnic Armenians from the, at that time, multi-ethnic Anatolia, in the eastern part of Turkey, to the Syrian desert and elsewhere. Their property was confiscated, and most of those who weren't killed died from starvation or disease. At more or less the same time, btw (during the war years and a little after), the Greek and Assyrian communities of that area were similarly decimated. Currently, 20 countries have formally recognized the events of those years as an Armenian genocide (Q&A):

Emotions in Hand

Apparently, we can recognize emotions with the palm of our hands. There's a system being tested at the University of Sussex that stimulates areas of the hand with ultrasound. The field is called haptics, which is a branch of psychology having to do with skin sensation. "Our findings suggest that for a positive emotion through haptic stimulation one might want to stimulate the area around the thumb, the index finger, and the middle part of the palm," interaction designer Marianna Obrist writes (story, video):

Che in the Congo

On April 24 fifty years ago, an idealistic rebel named Ernesto Guevara, better known as Che, sneaked into an unstable, recently independent, uranium- and cobalt-rich African country called the Congo. With him were a dozen Cuban fighters of African origin. They had been sent by Cuban leader Fidel Castro to help the rebels there make a stand against "Yankee imperialism." It didn't work out, with Guevara calling the whole episode "a failure." "There are too many armed men and what is lacking are soldiers," he reported back to Castro (story, video):
   Epilogue: Shortly after Guevara left, Gen. Joseph Mobutu seized power from the coalition government of Joseph Kasavubu and Patrice Lumumba and ruled, with Western support, from 1965 to 1997. In 1971, he renamed the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko ( In its list of "Top 15 Toppled Dictators," Time magazine called him "the archetypal African dictator":,28804,2097426_2097427_2097458,00.html

No Longer in the Dark

artist's drawing of matter being sucked into black hole                                      NASA/JPL-Caltech
We seem to be making some great strides in our understanding of ~ or, at least, our ability to study ~ the cosmos. Most recently, the news is that we may actually be able to "see" black holes with instruments that can sense the gravitational waves they cause. According to this article, "Detecting gravitational waves would revolutionize the field of astronomy because it would give observers an entirely new way to see the universe. Armed with this new tool, they will be able to test general relativity in ways never before made possible":;_ylt=AwrTceB6RzhVkyEAJEMnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTEzcTI5cjZ1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDWUhTMDAzXzEEc2VjA3Nj
   We now have a map of dark matter in space. While it's a highly accurate map, it covers only 0.4 percent of the cosmos. Still, it's a big deal, in that it shows where the dark matter is and isn't, which,

Just Because: 'Speak, Memory'

April 22 is an important date not just because it's Earth Day, but also because it's the birthday of writer par excellence Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). Although he is most famous for his novel Lolita (which was made into an equally excellent movie in 1962), he wrote 18 novels and novellas, the first 9 in his native Russian, innumerable short stories, plays, and poems. He also translated many works, including Lolita, which he translated from its original English to Russian, because, as he explained, "... I saw that every paragraph, pock-marked as it is with pitfalls, could lend itself to hideous mistranslation." The fact is, the man was a genius with language, with words, with combining words to form double- and triple-entendres and wicked puns.
   And here, I must share the line from Lolita that continues to tickle me all these years later. It, unfortunately, is in French and kind of untranslatable, but for those who understand French, it's just fun. Humbert Humbert is ringing the doorbell of Lolita's house: "Personne. Je resonne. Repersonne." Just a miniscule glimpse of the man's facility with and love of language ~ and his sense of humor.
   In 1951, Nabokov published Speak, Memory, an autobiography whose chapters had been previously published as short stories in various magazines, mostly the New Yorker. It is subtitled An Autobiography Revisited. In his Foreword, Nabokov wrote, "The present work is a systematically correlated assemblage of personal recollections ranging geographically from St. Petersburg to St. Nazaire, and covering thirty-seven years, from August 1903 to May 1940, with only a few sallies into later space-time."
   (Reading the first paragraph, it is hard for me not to think back on the recent post about the challenges of giftedness [], and particularly the difficulties inherent in seeing The Big Picture, especially when one is young and emotionally incapable of dealing with it.)

Speak, Memory


The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged—the same house, the same people—and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.
   Such fancies are not foreign to young lives. Or, to put it otherwise, first and last things often tend to have an adolescent note—unless, possibly, they are directed by some venerable and rigid religion. Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.
   I rebel against this state of affairs. I feel the urge to take my rebellion outside and picket nature. Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness of both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by

happy bEarthDay

This Earth Day is the 45th, which means the first was (wayyy) back in 1970. Now, most look on it as not much more than another opportunity for companies and politicians to boast about the good they're doing and for stores to hold special sales. But back then, in the innocence and altruism that still lingered in the air, it was a really big deal even though it took a few years for the whole country to become aware of it (
   The man we mostly have to thank for Earth Day, Sen. Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), was a Democrat from Wisconsin. It was about 10 years earlier that he started thinking about how best to focus the spotlight on the environment and the harm being done to it. He tried various means, including talking President Kennedy into a "national conservation tour," but it wasn't until he began using people power that the day took off and politicians started listening (or pretending to). "I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda," he wrote. "It was a big gamble, but worth a try":
   Lending some celestial glitter to the occasion is the Lyrid meteor shower, which this year peaks on April 22. What we're seeing up there are flakes of dust from Comet Thatcher's tail, which the Earth passes through at about this time every year:
   Plus, what better time to learn a little something about the gloriousness that sparkles under our feet? Chert! (thanks to KD):

Big Sheet

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Eight hundred years ago (that would make it 1215) ~ on June 15, to be exact ~ across the pond, a very unpopular king named John was rather forced to set his seal to the draft version of something called the Magna Carta (which could be literally translated as Big Sheet but is generally known more majestically, and therefore more appropriately, as the Great Charter). John had ascended the throne after the death of his brother King Richard I, aka Richard the Lionheart (who probably should have been called the Bellicose), in 1199. Long story short (or shorter, anyway), John taxed the nobles and sold church holdings, and they finally rose up against him. It was at Runnymede on the bank of the Thames that John signed the Articles of the Barons, which, after a slight reworking, was disseminated far and wide as the Magna Carta.
   What made this carta so magna was that, in addition to various and sundry rules having to do with the feudal system, it pretty much said that the king had to obey certain laws, just like the rest of us. It also included a clause that many consider the first guarantee of trial by jury and of habeas corpus. It was not an immediate success and was reissued several times before it finally, in 1225, became part of English statute law. Still, the fine citizens of Britain the Great will be celebrating as only they can (website):

Brilliant Shadows

Lewis Terman
"At best, a great intellect makes no differences to your life satisfaction; at worst, it can actually mean you are less fulfilled." So writes the author of this article, based on multi-year studies of psychologist Lewis Terman's original group of gifted children, 1,500 California students with an IQ of 140 or higher. My own years of observation lead me to believe that the theories put forth to explain this occasional disconnect between intellect and fulfillment are accurate. Like most shortcomings, of course, they can be mastered once understood. And like most characteristics, not all apply equally to everyone, nor are they necessarily limited to those with high intelligence. Still, they do seem to apply in many cases and to explain a lot where they do:

Just Because: 'Open Veins'

We lost another important voice on April 13 (see post immediately below this one), that of Uruguayan journalist, writer, and poet Eduardo Galeano: 
   Like Günter Grass, Galeano is perhaps best known for his first work, published in 1971, the seminal Las venas abiertas de América Latina, or Open Veins of Latin America: five centuries of the pillage of a continent. (Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez gave President Barack Obama a copy the first time they met.) Between that and his other best-known book, Days and Nights of Love and War, it's hard to know which to share, but I'm going with Open Veins. Even then, though, his introduction and Chapter 1 are equally deserving of being excerpted. This edition is translated by Cedric Belfrage.

Open Veins of Latin America

"We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity."
—From the Revolutionary Proclamation of the Junta Tuitiva, La Paz, July 16, 1809

 Introduction: 120 Million Children in the Eye of the Hurricane

   The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role. We are no longer in the era of marvels when fact surpassed fable and imagination was shamed by the trophies of conquest—the lodes of gold, the mountains of silver. But our region still works as a menial. It continues to exist at the service of others' needs, as a source and reserve of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them. The taxes collected by the buyers are much higher than the prices received by the sellers; and after all, as Alliance for Progress coordinator Covey T. Oliver said in July 1968, to speak of fair prices is a "medieval" concept, for we are in the era of free trade.
   The more freedom is extended to business, the more prisons have to be built for those who suffer from that business. Our inquisitor-hangman systems function not only for the dominating external markets; they also provide gushers of profit from foreign loans and investments in the dominated internal markets. Back in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson observed: "You hear of 'concessions' to

Just Because: 'The Tin Drum'

German novelist, playwright, poet, and sculptor Günter Grass passed away on April 13. Although he published more than 25 works, it is his first novel, Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum, 1959), that received the greatest acclaim. With it, he became the voice of so many of his generation who grew up in the Nazi era and survived the war. It was the first of his "Danzig Trilogy" and was made into a film in 1979: 

   This translation is by Breon Mitchell.

The Tin Drum

    The Wide Skirt

GRANTED: I'M AN INMATE in a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of sight, for there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can't see through blue-eyed types like me.
   So my keeper can't possibly be my enemy. I've grown fond of this man peeping through the door, and the moment he enters my room I tell him incidents from my life so he can get to know me in spite of the peephole between us. The good fellow seems to appreciate my stories, for the moment I've finished some tall tale he expresses his gratitude by showing me one of his latest knotworks. Whether he's an artist remains to be seen. But an exhibition of his works would be well received by the press, and would entice a few buyers too. He gathers ordinary pieces of string from his patients' rooms after visiting hours, disentangles them, knots them into multilayered, cartilaginous specters, dips them in plaster, lets them harden, and impales them on knitting needles mounted on little wooden pedestals.
   He often plays with the notion of coloring his creations. I advise him not to, point toward my white metal bed and ask him to imagine this most perfect of all beds painted in multiple hues. Horrified, he claps his keeper's hands to his head, struggles to arrange his somewhat inflexible features into an expression of manifold shock, and drops his polychrome plans.
   My white-enameled metal hospital bed thus sets a standard. To me it is more; my bed is a goal I've finally reached, it is my consolation, and could easily become my faith if the administration would allow me to make a few changes. I'd like to have the bed rails raised even higher to keep anyone from coming too close.
   Once a week Visitors Day disrupts the silence I've woven between my white metal bars. It signals the arrival of those who wish to save me, who find pleasure in loving me, who seek to value, respect,

China's Rare Earth

Richard John Seymour/Unknown Fields
There is a lake in Inner Mongolia ~ if by "lake" one means a section of land covered by viscous, toxic semi-liquid pumped in from refineries via dozens of large pipes. Recently, writer Tim Maughan joined architects and designers of the Unknown Fields Division as they followed the journey of our consumer products, and particularly our electronics, from factory to store. The lake is a 20-minute car ride away from the city of Baotou, one of the world's biggest suppliers of the misleadingly named rare-earth minerals cerium and neodymium. These minerals are not rare, Maughan explains: "Arguably, what makes [them] scarce enough to be profitable are the hugely hazardous and toxic process[es] needed to extract them from ore and to refine them into usable products." And it is the willingness to live with these processes and their consequences that has turned Baotou and its lake into what they are, "the kind of industrial landscape that America and Europe has largely forgotten" (story, video):

A New Chapter for Libraries

booksellers along the Bosporus, Istanbul                                                     KW
Contrary to popular belief, the book is not dead. Part of the proof is those cute little birdhouse-type free libraries in front yards. In some areas, people are putting them up despite official disapproval. According to a February commentary in the Los Angeles Times, "Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, La., have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they're in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections" ( Still, over the last few years, they have continued to sprout up, even in Los Angeles ( I don't know how much they're used, but that may not be the point. They are, IMHO, adorable and friendly and keeping books and the idea of reading front and center for anyone who sees them, including kids.
   These little book houses may be just part of an evolution away from the traditional public library, says journalist Alex Johnson in his book Improbable Libraries. "The very concept of a library is evolving," he writes: "many of these libraries operate on principles that differ fundamentally from the workings of most traditional public and university libraries." Whether they're pop-up bookstores or open-air, 24/7 "social structures" or librarians on camelback, they are proof of people's need for the communal and convivial and of how books and the sharing of them can fill it (slideshow):

The View From Within

the S House, Saitama Prefecture                                             Koichi Torimura
One of the more difficult balances for an architect to achieve in a home, particularly in the city, is that between view and privacy. Those inside would like to look out, but most would also prefer that others not look in. Employing materials as varied as glass bricks and metal mesh, the architects of these houses in Japan tackle the issue ~ while one forgoes the privacy altogether (slideshow):

No Place Like Home

According to the UN, there are as many as 150 million street children in the world today. Who counts as a street child? Again, according to the UN, "There are those who work on the streets as their only means of getting money, those who take refuge on the streets during the day but return to some form of family at night and those who permanently live on the street without a family network." April 12 is the International Day for Street Children, launched five years ago by the London-based Consortium for Street Children in order to bring attention to the issue and its innocent victims (website):

Meals and Memories

There seems to be a link ~ a pretty strong one ~ between weight and risk of dementia, but it's not the one you probably think it is. A British study of the medical records of almost 2 million people has found that the underweight run the highest risk of developing dementia. You read that right. And there's more. Researchers also found that the overweight had an 18 percent lower chance of developing it, while for those who were obese, that figure was 24 percent:

Better Know a Philosopher

Friedrich Nietzsche
Who said "God is dead: but considering the state the species Man is in, there will perhaps be caves, for ages yet, in which his shadow will be shown"? Well, that was the first one I got right in this quiz on philosophers' quotes, and it's only because of that famous graffito "'God is dead.' ~ Nietzsche; 'Nietzsche is dead.' ~ God" So, moving on ... how about "Genuine ignorance is more profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with a varnish waterproof to new ideas"? The great thing about this quiz is that the correct answer comes with a short explanation. (This stymied me for a moment: to move on to the next question, click on the correct answer, whether you got it or not):

Rides Around the World

taxis in Dubai
In Moscow, according to this infographic, any driver can pick up a few extra bucks by stopping for a passenger and agreeing on a price for the requested trip. In Thailand, monks are not charged for taxi rides. In Manila, the first taxis were made from U.S. military vehicles left there after World War II. And in Beijing, rickshaws are more expensive than automobile taxis, as it's easier for them to get around traffic jams (interesting, yes, but just as interesting ~ to me, anyway ~ is the fact that, apparently, "its" and "it's" are also misused in England, where this story was written!) (infographic):

Gone and Forgotten

the Wilhelm Gustloff                                             Russ Willoughby Collection
We all know the story of the RMS (which stands for Royal Mail Ship, btw) Titanic, if not the real one, then Hollywood's version, and most of us think of it as the greatest accident involving a passenger-carrying ship ever. But it wasn't. Maybe we don't know about the Wilhelm Gustloff because it sank in the last year of World War II, or maybe it was because it was a German ship named after a Nazi leader, or maybe it was because it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine, and at the time, we thought of the Soviets as our allies. But it was carrying more than 10,000 people, mostly refugees, half of whom were children, and the death toll was six times that of the Titanic. from

Most people know about the Titanic, the large passenger ship that sank in 1912. Some even believe it to be the worst maritime disaster, ever. But the worst maritime disaster in history is actually the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German military ship which sank in 1945, causing the deaths of an estimated 9,343 people on board. The death toll was six times the death toll of the Titanic disaster which took the lives of 1,517 people.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was a 700-feet long luxury liner that began cruising in 1937. By 1945, it was serving to evacuate German civilians from East Prussia which was quickly being taken over by the

The Lens and Eye

the Lytro Illum
First there was the canvas, and then came the camera. The Polaroid was fun for a while, and now, of course, we've gone digital, which is already so yesterday. Time to get ready for the next step ~ computational photography. "Images from such a computational camera," this article tells us, "might capture aspects of reality that other cameras miss." Apparently, it has to do with light and focus and dimension. And with the fact that, like human vision, what we see has less to do with images on a retina than with how the brain puts them together and completes them:

Apocalypse Then

AP photographer Nick Ut
The Vietnam War ended with South Vietnam's official surrender to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975. Many, if not most, Americans had pretty much turned against the war by then. Daily news coverage, complete with film and photos of both soldiers and civilians, exposed the horror in ways words could not. One of the most powerful images from that time was that of a young girl running naked down a road, crying. There are other children running with her, and U.S. soldiers who aren't, and behind them all the sky is dark with smoke. The picture was taken just outside the village of Trang Bang by Vietnamese-American photographer Nick Ut on June 8, 1972. Ut recalls the day and the girl, 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, whose life he saved and with whom he has kept in touch, in this interview:

The Duke and the Emperor

screen shot
On June 18, 1815, England's Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, met in battle near the municipality of Waterloo, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (now Belgium), and the rest, as they say, is history. It was Wellington, you may remember, aided by Prussian troops under Gebhard von Blūcher (and other members of the Seventh Coalition), who won, and Napoleon who met his Waterloo. Cambridge University has been collecting artifacts, including books and maps, of the battle ever since and, on May 1, will be putting them on public exhibit. For those of us who may not be able to make it to England to see them in person, though, it has put them online in an interactive video (regular video available as well) that also explains the painstaking digitization process:

And Now, Yemen

Yemen's capital, Sana'a                                                            Ferdinand Reus
It's the Sunnis vs. the Shiites in Yemen. No, wait, the Houthis (not to be confused with Central Africa's Hutus)? And what about al-Qaeda? Why is Saudi Arabia involved? And what happens now? Yemen is a fascinating country ( but also one of those tragic ones whose history and beauty are being devoured by violence and greed (, As fighting continues and the number of players grows, it's easy to lose track of the fact that there are people, families, here whose lives have become a living nightmare. It's also easy to turn away from something so difficult to untangle and understand:

Snail Fail

one morning's cull
As I plucked my 60th snail, this one off the denuded stem of a native plant, I began to wonder a few things. Like, how do these things multiply so quickly? What's the most humane way of getting rid of them? Are slugs really snails looking for new shells, or do snail shells grow along with the creatures in them? Are snails native to California, and if not, how did they get here? Well, last question first, they are not native, and like so many pests, they got here when humans brought them here. In this case, the humans wanted escargots, and of course, things got a little out of hand (as they tend to do ~ will we never learn?), and voilà!, the destructive garden snail. These guys are hermaphrodites and can self-fertilize, but they also cross-fertilize, and they lay an average of 86 eggs at a time. Snails are born with soft, translucent shells that harden as the babies eat calcium-rich foods and then grow with them in a very cool way. (Actually, snails are cute and interesting, and if they weren't so very prolific over here and so destructive, I wouldn't mind them at all):,, and of course,

The Other Shoe Has Dropped

screen shot
Imelda Marcos's infamous shoe closet (video: would have been half its size if the Volvorii Smart Shoe had been around 30 years ago. It could be the whole reason e-paper and e-ink were invented, whether scientists knew it at the time or not. Really, what more could a shoe lover want? It's a high-heeled, peep-toe pump with smartphone app that will allow the wearer to instantly change its color and/or pattern:
   The technology behind this is quite impressive ~ and you know this is just the beginning (video):

Come On Down

London's Trafalgar Square last year                                          Gonzales Photo/Michael Hornbogen
From Helsinki to Hong Kong, Tallahassee to Thessaloniki, and Washington to Wroclaw, the feathers will be flying on Saturday, April 4. (The organizers strongly recommend soft, feather-free pillows, but come on! ...) It's International Pillow Fight Day, part of the so-called urban playground movement. Those behind the movement describe its main goal as "to make these unique happenings in public space become a significant part of popular culture, partially replacing passive, non-social consumption experiences like watching television, and consciously celebrating public spaces in our cities as our 'urban living rooms.'" You have been warned (website):