Non-fiction day


In case you haven’t read, a good portion of the United States will be under part of the path of the moon’s shadow for a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st. I’m very lucky in that I’ll be close enough to the path of totality to probably have a 99% experience.

Many years ago, I was near the path of a solar eclipse, but well away from the path of totality — near this map’s N in Maryland — and I still remember the dimming of the afternoon light.

That eclipse was way pre-Internet, so we didn’t have the daily buzz of Facebook updates, all the websites, and the sale of eclipse-viewing glasses to keep us jazzed in the weeks before the event. (last week, I bought enough ISO-rated specs for the entire family at a local science museum) I must have known about the 1970 eclipse, but I was indoors when it happened. Despite me being in the house, and despite the lack of eclipse-capable photo equipment, that partial eclipse was impressive.

Skipping to the present, in a recent Facebook discussion, an online friend was saddened because she wasn’t able to buy a filter for her camera in time. She’d like photos of the eclipse, but thinks that ruining her camera’s sensor by aiming it at the sun without filters is rather a high price to pay for (maybe) a snapshot. I tend to agree. (!!!)  I suggested that she could make an old-old-fashioned pinhole camera and take photos of the images made with it.

Luckily, I can provide instructions.

Years ago, but not as many years ago as the eclipse I experienced, I made a camera obscura ‘just because.’ I had recently concluded homeschooling three of my four kids and was apparently suffering withdrawal from science projects. As the withdrawal and the project both happened during the Age of the Internet, I have online pictures of my fun at another of my blogs, Happy as Kings (the instructions I mentioned).

 

The oldest and the newest

A pinhole camera I made from a couple of pasteboard boxes, a sheet of typing paper, and some electrical tape (because it’s lightproof).
The large hole isn’t the pinhole, but is the opening for my digital camera so I could take pictures of the pinhole images.

 

If you don’t have filters for your cameras or for your camera phones and you want to take pictures of the eclipse, give the pinhole camera a try.

To increase your chances of taking a recognizable picture, be sure to test the cameras before the eclipse:
— so that you have a functioning pinhole apparatus
— so that your digital camera settings will capture an image
— so that you’ll have figured out how to hold everything in place (a tripod is best, but a pillow arrangement on a table might work)
— and so you’ve had a few dry runs for experience.

Good luck, and happy eclipse viewing.

What it is.

 

Google’s Cardboard function is an application that works in conjunction with a viewing box that fits 4” – 6” phones. Using Cardboard is like looking into a Harry Potter Viewmaster — the view moves as your head scans the displayed scene. Peekaboo totaliarmus!

It’s almost like being there, wherever “there” is.

 

Google Cardboard stereoscopic view.
This view is of one of my former homes — favorite destinations for me. In the late 1980s, me, my husband, and our kids lived in the Perlacher Forst housing area of the Munich Army military community. Our apartment was the one on the 2nd floor.

 

Where you can go.

 

If Google Street View cars or walkers have gone there, you can go there, too.

All it takes is a smart phone with the Cardboard app loaded, choosing a Street View location, tapping on the Cardboard viewer icon, plopping your phone in your Cardboard viewer, and looking into the viewer. The thrill of Potteresque apparating, but without the danger of being splinched.

 

Why to go.

 

The cost of any Cardboard viewer is cheaper than any ticket to faraway lands.

Other perks are:
No suitcase to lug.
No lines at airports or other travel departure points.
No waiting for your color to be called when debarking from a ship.
No electrical transformer thingamajigs needed.
No visa needed (although maybe a Visa).

You also get to sleep in your own bed afterward, but maybe that’s just important for people who’ve had to sleep in many, many different beds.

In any case, for the cost of about a meal for two at Mickey D’s, you can have armchair travel adventures from around the world.

 

Bon voyage!  Gute Reise!  Happy Trails!

 

 

04 Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitor center: To navigate on Google Maps, mouse over the small map in the lower left hand corner on the Google Maps screen. The blue dots are static images, such as this one. The viewer can look around, but can’t walk anywhere. For the ability to move, click on one of the blue lines in the small lower-left map and then either click farther along the blue line, or click on the map image.

 

In light of the potentially disrupting news from the House of Representatives today, I needed to get away for a while. The easiest way to do this, and also to be able to sleep in my own bed, is by taking a trip on Google Maps. Tonight’s visit is to Stonehenge.

The interesting aspect of virtually visiting Stonehenge is that in addition to driving around the henge on the local roads that have been maintained as smaller secondary roads, the viewer can also take a walking tour among the stones.

The picture in the screen shot is of the Visitor Center and shows what I think are representative dwellings where the people who built Stonehenge lived. To get to Stonehenge itself, click on the small lower-left map at Google Maps and navigate by following the blue lines (it’s a bit of a ‘drive’ to the right) and blue dots. Or click here if you’re in a hurry.

I enjoyed the drive from the village to the east and my stroll around the monument. I hope you do, too.

In regards to questions as to why everyone is concerned about Paris, but not about Beirut, the Russian plane, or (the months-ago attack on) Kenya, I think much of it is because so many of us have absorbed “Paris” over the years.

The French capital has what is probably the most iconic landmark ever, one that most westerners recognize. I doubt that the Houses of Parliament in London (hey, a big building!) are as instantly recognizable, nor the Washington Monument (hey, an obelisk!). People who have lived in Munich will recognize the Frauenkirche, but otherwise it looks “like a European cathedral.” Prague’s Charles Bridge is a bridge. Edinburgh’s castle is a castle. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein (the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle) might be as recognizable, but many people won’t know just where it is. The same, even, for Mount Rushmore — what’s the closest city? (Air Force brats from Ellsworth AFB, you’re ineligible to play)

The Eiffel Tower, though — everyone knows what it is and everyone knows where it is.

In music, we have the song “I Love Paris,” but not “I Love Beirut.”
Gershwin embraced “An American in Paris,” but not “An American in Lebanon.”
Louis Armstrong played “April in Paris,” but not “April in Syria.”
Nelson Riddle blamed it on Paree, but didn’t blame Jerusalem (neither Palestinian nor Israeli).

In the realm of the seductive, many 1950s mothers were honored on birthdays and Mothers Day with eau de Cologne named Evening in Paris, but I don’t think anyone ever received cedar-scented Evening in Lebanon.

Cinematically, we do have From Russia With Love, and Dr. Zhivago. Out of Africa, based on Isak Dinesin’s stories, was gorgeous. Those movies are iconic, but reflect the few filmed stories about specific places. New York probably is as well-filmed as Paris, but I don’t know that The Big Apple has the same aura as The City of Light.  The list of movies set in Paris is, to be trite, a laundry list.

Funny Face
Sabrina
Gigi
Irma la Douce
Amelie
Julie and Julia
Three Men and a Cradle
The Red Balloon
Around the World in 80 Days
Midnight in Paris
Moulin Rouge
An American in Paris
The da Vinci Code
Last Tango in Paris
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Les Miserables
Phantom of the Opera
The Pink Panther
The Aristocats
Ratatouille
The Day of the Jackal
and many more

The recent attacks that didn’t get the spotlight that has shone on Paris are just as tragically important. The people who died in the other attacks died just as horribly and uselessly as those who died in Paris. Their families are equally devastated. They need to be recognized and work needs to continue to keep anyone from being mown down, decapitated, executed, or blown up. It is a long work.

What we probably don’t need to do is unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not feeling those attacks as viscerally as we did the attacks in Paris. We know about the other places, but we love Paris.

Let us use that to recognize the human suffering among all people who were attacked.

Yesterday evening was a sad time. It’s difficult to feel particularly useful while sitting in an unremarkable place, and with no talent that is productive during a tragedy. It’s hard to even express a public feeling of sorrow when whether you do or not has little immediate effect.

Still, not expressing sorrow feels callous, and Paris does have meaning for me.  I lived in Europe, off and on, for over twenty years. My first memories are of England (which isn’t Paris, but is close enough for a Chunnel day trip from Brussels), and my husband’s final assignment with the U.S. Army was at Daumerie Kaserne by Chièvres, Belgium (still not Paris, but again, close enough for day trips with the kids).  A friend lives in Paris. Although I’ve never lived in Paris, I’ve strolled there, avoided rivers of traffic, ridden le Métro, sipped hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker), done the tourist routine, and eaten prix fixe meals. The attack happened someplace that was, for me, working on becoming an everyday place.

One of my favorite pictures isn’t of an instantly recognizable landmark. The one I like is a sign for a picnic area.  It still makes me laugh.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Despite the feeling of immediacy concerning the shootings, explosions, and dread execution of concert-goers, I’m also saddened by the attack in Beirut. By the downing of the Russian plane. By the refugees fleeing these bastards who’ll kill anyone, anywhere, and use anyone to do it. I’m sickened by the deaths of innocent people who are near the combatants of our self-appointed enemy who choose to hide in hospitals, and our myopia in attacking such a place. It’s all so desperately tragic and all I can do is say I’m heartsick.

The only cold encouragement is remembering that London wasn’t beaten by the Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. London was changed — and I can’t see an unattended bag without thinking about it — but it’s still there. Paris will still be there, too.

I hope the terror abates soon.

In a Facebook group for women veterans, I recently saw a recommendation for a book on American women veterans of the Vietnam war: Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Storiescollected by Donna A. Lowery (Sergeant Major [Ret.] ).

Right now, I’m working on short stories for a book whose main character is a woman who is a Cold War era soldier. Instead of being assigned to Vietnam, she is stationed in West Germany, which is where I lived for eighteen years. I served in the Army during the Vietnam era, but my time was short and my experience limited.

Although my main character didn’t serve in Vietnam, she will know women who did. My stories are genre fiction, suspense/mysteries, and are meant to be entertaining. I’m not trying to write definitive histories.

Despite having the aim of writing entertainingly, I do want the stories to be as accurate in their details as I can make them. Because my active duty experience was limited, I wanted to read the viewpoints of other women so I could develop characters with individual voices and outlooks. Fidelity to time and to the broader experience of women in the Army is also important to me. Accuracy was the main reason I bought the Women Vietnam Veterans.

What I didn’t expect was to know anyone mentioned.

Boy was I wrong.

After I opened the shipping box and while I was flipping through the 700+ pages, I stopped and exclaimed to my husband.

There on the page was a photo I recognized. The picture was of an NCO assigned to the WAC Detachment at Aberdeen Proving Ground at the same time as my husband and I had both served there. The sergeant is listed as having worked at Kirk Army Hospital at Aberdeen, but neither I (in Personnel) nor my husband (a calibration student) were acquainted with her. In our after-duty-hours lives, though, picking up mail and so forth, I had passed her many times walking along the WAC Detachment’s company street. Maybe it was the unit patch worn on her right shoulder, designating an assignment to a combat area, that made her so memorable.

My memory jogged, I wondered if the book listed another woman whom I knew had volunteered for duty in Vietnam. I checked the index, and there she was.

Thinking I’d maxed out the coincidences, but curious in a hopeful way, I scanned the index. Altogether, I found nine names I knew. Nine. One of them was the name of my Basic Training company commander. Another name was of an office supervisor, my NCOIC in the permanent party personnel section at Aberdeen. A third worked in the student section of the Personnel complex.

Even more surprising, three of the names I recognized were my barracks-mates at Aberdeen. One woman I shared a cubicle wall with. A second shared a cubicle wall with the woman across from me (and asked me to turn down my record player when I was playing The Doors). The woman across from me was the third.

I was certain, though, that my First Sergeant had also worn a combat patch on the right shoulder of her uniform, so I dug out a group photo of the WAC Detachment and checked the names on the photo against the book’s index. I added three to the count, and one, indeed, was our First Sergeant.

02 WAC Det

I’m looking forward to reading the accounts of all the women who served from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.

I’m still surprised that, out of the approximately 1200 military women assigned to units in Vietnam, I knew twelve. Even more amazing (to me) is that about 1/10th of the women in the Aberdeen Proving Ground WAC Detachment from 1969 served in Vietnam.

Bye, Baby Bunting, daddy’s gone a hunting.
To get a little rabbit skin, to wrap his Baby Bunting in.

This lullaby, surprisingly, has many elements of a current nine-day-wonder, the controversy around the picture of little Landon Clevenger suspended in the flag of the United States by his sailor father. The lullaby has the baby, the daddy, daddy’s “hunting” (his military job), the container for the baby, and wrapping up the baby.

One not-so-obvious element, at least not to modern ears, is the bunting. In the lullaby, it is a wrap for a baby. In patriotic parlance, it is the red, white, and blue material used decoratively. The entire controversy could have been avoided had the baby been suspended in bunting.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that, apparently, the person behind a now-removed Facebook page commented negatively on the photo and that drew in many defenders.

To sum up many of the complaints about the complaint:

Yes, a federal law governs the use of the flag. Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code.  The law is not merely guidelines.

Yes, there are many violations of that code, but, to quote Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, “The law is on the books, but it would take all their resources to enforce it.”  This is why we’ve wound up with stars and stripes bikinis, flag napkins, flag clothing, and flag anything else. This particular law depends on a populace that respects this law enough not to violate it.

Yes, the sailor has rendered service to the country. Despite that, if I informed my Drill and Ceremonies instructor in Army Basic Training that I was able to use the flag of the United States for my own purposes because I’d enlisted — freedom of speech — I can just hear her asking me who I thought I was. Then I’d have been on my hands and knees for a day, scraping up floor wax with a razor blade (a more useful activity than pushups).  A Navy-version of flag etiquette is provided at Navy for Moms .com  Flag etiquette, sailors and women

Yes, the Supreme Court has ruled that disrespect of the flag of the United States is protected speech. But even that ruling was not unanimous.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the flag’s unique status as a symbol of national unity outweighed ‘symbolic speech’ concerns, and thus, the government could lawfully prohibit flag burning.

Yes, the photograph contains much symbolism.

a. From birth Americans are wrapped in (whatever imagery you apply to the flag)
b. Fathers are strong protectors of babies.
c. Military men are hot dads (those strong protectors).
d. Family pride
e. That military service members are protecting the country for future generations.
f. Hope for future generations.
g. The child’s involuntary sacrifice of a parent being away from home.

The symbolism acknowledged, I read the dissent by Justice Stevens as meaning that the flag belongs to all of us, not to each of us. As people who respect the meaning of the flag, if we want to set a good example, following the law would be a good place to start.

Yes, protesters exercising their First Amendment rights have used the flag disrespectfully for their own purposes: To quote a commenter from somewhere on the Internet: “If we have the freedom to burn it, we have the freedom to wrap our babies in it.”  Is the worst example of free-speech usage of the flag — burning it in protest — the example we ought to use? Is this what we strive for?

A “troll” commenter made the example of the inappropriateness of the image: “It would look cuter with a cat.”

If substituting another object for the baby, would the image still be appropriate? This freedom-hating-Pharisee who is an Obama-loving keyboard-warrior (I think those were all the slurs I attracted elsewhere) doesn’t think so.

I don’t think the Old Guard would agree, either.

Next Page »