Seventy years ago

I’ve been posting on 70-year anniversaries, and, as you will recall, 70 years ago World War 2 was going on. Here’s another in the series.

As I previously posted, the United States quickly got into the war after being attacked at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Immediately Congress approved a declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, the people who had attacked us. At the time the Japanese and the Germans had a pact whereby they agreed that if one of them were attacked then both would declare war on the attacker. In the event, Japan was not attacked (Japan did the attacking), so Germany was not required by the pact to declare war on the United States. Adolph Hitler, that crazy guy running things over there, must have decided that if this be foolishness, then let’s make the most of it. Nobody ever explained Hitler’s reasoning to me, but my take is he figured that wilt all of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s posturing and interference with Germany’s submarine attacks, he should make the inevitable sooner rather than later. Germany declared war on the United States on 11 December.

The United States lost big in the opening days as the Japanese quickly overran the Philippines, the East Indies and Southeast Asia. All American, Dutch, French and British troops in the area were either killed, captured or left to flee into the bush. Australia came under air attack but stood fast and prepared against a Japanese invasion. New Zealand became a staging point for Allied forces.

The United States Army struck the first retaliatory blow in April 1942 when a flight of B-25 bombers made a courtesy call on major Japanese cities. This rattled the Japanese to the extent they initiated a disastrous attack on Midway Island, an American base. All four Japanese carriers were lost, and from that point on the Japanese Empire fought a battle of retreat. American soldiers and Marines thwarted a Japanese invasion of the Solomon Islands, forcing the Japanese to withdraw all troops from Guadalcanal, those who had not already been killed. Very few were captured. American and Australian forces forced back a Japanese invasion on the island of New Guinea.

And that wrapped up the first year in the war with Japan. On the other front American forces struck out to engage Germans in North Africa. In November of 1942 American and British troops invaded Morocco and Algeria and went up against the French. Those crazy Frenchmen! In 1940 Germany conquered France, forcing the partition of that country and a general stand down of French forces. Apparently some French forces took this provision of the capitulation too seriously, and French commanders in North Africa felt obliged to defend Germany’s interests in the region. Here Army general George Patton achieved his ambition of getting back into combat for the first time since the previous war with Germany. His troops quickly subdued French resistance, and Patton prepared to face the Germans again. It was not to be, and our first encounter with the German army since 1918 turned into a disaster. It was February 1943—seventy years ago this month.

The critical American commander in the area was General Lloyd Fredendall. The problem with Fredendall was that he preferred to lead from the rear. During the Torch invasion he stayed aboard ship until the fighting was over, and ashore he commanded his forces from an office in Oran in Algeria. His failure to personally inspect the battle situation and his inclination to reject advice from those who did resulted in poor deployment of his forces and consequence losses in the field.

British commander Bernard Montgomery had put German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel on the run in the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt in October 1942, and by early 1943 Rommel was reduced to defending Tunisia. Rommel was very effective in this endeavor, considering his limited options. He considered the American forces to be inferior and proved his point in numerous encounters with our forces.

On 30 January Rommel’s forces sucked their American counterparts into a trap and mostly annihilated the tanks of the 21st Armored Division. That was at Faïd Pass.

The ultimate humiliation came with the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, beginning on 19 February. Rommel’s forces attempted to punch through the pass, and in doing so they routed American forces. Allied losses were 10000, including 6500 Americans. I do not have figures for the number captured, but a scene in the movie Patton shows hundreds of American soldiers in a prison stockade about to be shipped back to Europe, where they would spend the remainder of the war. Allied forces lost 183 tanks.

By 25 February Allied forces had pushed the Germans back through Kasserine Pass as Rommel wisely recognized his precarious position. In the following weeks German forces left Africa completely, retreating back to Sicily to await the coming Allied invasion of that island.

The American military conducted a harsh analysis of what had transpired in Tunisia, and Eisenhower acknowledged his mistake in putting Fredendall in charge. Fredendall was shipped back to the States and out of combat for good. Patton was in from that point forward and continued to demonstrate his superiority in battle command—at least during those intervals when he was able to keep out of trouble with superiors. That’s another interesting story, and the movie tells a good and fairly accurate story of his remarkable career.

After over a year into the declared war with Germany, the Americans reached a turning point with that enemy. The British had reached their turning point a few months earlier in Egypt, and the Soviet Army did so in February 1943 with the capitulation of German forces in the Battle of Stalingrad. From this time 70 years ago Germany was to endure a steady string of defeats that stretched more than two years—an ordeal that was to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides. More on that later.

Bible logic

I have no excuse. The best I can offer is that the devil made me do it. This sort of illustrates why I could never run for public office. Sooner or later I will piss everybody off at least twice, given the chance.

I have known this woman since we were in grade school. We went twelve years and graduated together. I have always known her to be a decent person, and I respect that.

More recently we connected on Facebook. Most postings were about our home town and classmates. She is a sincerely religious person, which became obvious from some of her postings, but many of her postings were regurgitations of right wing political slogans and statements of an extreme religious view. One such post (a repost I think) related to the reality of the devil. My response was not well received by one of her Facebook “friends,” and my response to her response (“Is this a new definition of the word “true?”) was met with the response “That doesn’t deserve a response.” I let the matter drop.

Recently my friend posted a sort of bald declaration of how wonderful life was under the dominion of Jesus (wording is not exact). My response was instant and maybe a bit too convenient.

Just previously one of my “friends” had posted the following:

He cast upon them the
fierceness of his anger, wrath,
and indignation, and trouble,
by sending evil angels among them.
Psalms 78:49

Somehow I knew as I did this what would follow, but I simply copied this and entered it into the Facebook comment window. From that point on there has been silence. She is no longer my Facebook “friend.”

I have been around for a long long time, and I have met many people of all types and of all backgrounds. In my life people have called me a fool, some have expressed doubts about my competence. I have been called a liar and worse. I have been threatened with bodily harm, and on more than one occasion a punch has been thrown. One person has even threatened to kill me, if you can imagine that. OK, quit imagining. In all this there has never come a time when I said “I do now wish to hear what you have to say.” It’s going to stay that way.

Bad Joke of the Week

This being retired is getting me down. Not enough time to do the stuff I want to do. Out to dinner last night, I am just now getting around to the Bad Joke of the week:

A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a Harley motorcycle when he spotted a well-known heart surgeon in his shop.

The surgeon was there, waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his bike.

The mechanic shouted across the garage, “Hey, Doc, can I ask you a question?”

The surgeon a bit surprised, walked over to the mechanic working on the motorcycle. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, “So Doc, look at this engine. I open its heart, take the valves out, fix ’em, put ’em back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I get such a small salary and you get the really big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same work?”

The surgeon paused, smiled and leaned over, and whispered to the mechanic…

“Try doing it with the engine running.”

Power Bracelet Part 389

This is from the North Texas Skeptics Travel and Amusement section. OK, so there is no Travel and Amusement section, but there should be. Especially the amusement part.

Capitalism meets new age, power bracelets for sale

On vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, we met up with some friends and stopped by a crafts fair going on near the river front. Lots of good stuff, including handmade soaps, peanut brittle and the usual fair fare. Plus power bracelets.

I’m getting old and a bit cynical, and it seems nothing is new to me. So when I saw this booth the entire scenario played out in my mind before it played out in the real world. The following dialog is barely approximate.

“What are you selling?”

“Power bracelets.”

“How do they work?”

“I’ll give you a demonstration.”

He hands me one, and I’m not supposed to put it on, just hold it in my left hand. I have to put my camera down first, lest it be damaged by the power. I am then expected to stand on my left foot only and extend my right arm. He’s going to press down on my right hand. Jesus, how far back did I see this coming?

He takes the bracelet (my left hand is now empty) and presses down. No way can I keep from dropping my right arm or else falling down. Then I take the bracelet in my left hand, and he prepares to press down on my right. I swear to Jesus I know exactly what is about to happen.

Sure enough, as soon as he starts to press down I drop my resistance and allow my right hand to be pushed down. He immediately senses I am dropping my resistance, and he immediately quits pushing. My right hand is not supposed to go down while I am holding the bracelet in my left hand. It’s his job to see this does not happen.

We go through this charade a couple more times, and I cannot resist a laugh. He is puzzled and becomes even more puzzled when I remark, cryptically, “You have no idea just who you are dealing with.” I promised him his picture would be posted on the Internet and went off to join my friends.

I’m telling you, Skeptics, it’s out there, it always has been and it always will be. There is just no end to the fun.

Bad Joke of the Week

Still on vacation. What the heck! Always on vacation. But there is still time for the Bad Joke of the Week:

A distraught senior citizen phoned her doctor’s office. “Is it true,” she wanted to know, “that the medication you prescribed has to be taken for the rest of my life?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” the doctor told her.

There was a moment of silence before the senior lady replied. “I’m wondering, then, just how serious is my condition because this prescription is marked ‘NO REFILLS’.”

The one true God

It’s a daily celebration at Key West. Gather at the western end of the island and party while the sun goes down. And it usually does go down in a most glorious fashion.

There are musicians and jugglers and clowns. And there are thousands of jubilant revelers cherishing the end of another wonderful day on this planet.


[27 November 2015: edited to correct some grammatical screw-ups]

I have an account on Facebook, and several Facebook “friends” post these amusing captions stuck onto file photos. As I mentioned before, these little gems must have a cute name, but I don’t know what it is. Anyhow, somebody posted this one.

It shows at the top Florida Senator Marco Rubio along with some quoted text from an interview he had last November. The New York Times reported the story. Senator Rubio is one of those so-called Tea Party politicians who jumped at the opportunity when the Republican Party lost big time to a liberal—and black—Democrat a few years back. The main slant of the Tea Party is ostensibly government reform—smaller government, less oppressive government and a fiscally sound government. Also, lower taxes. The problem is there is a faction of the Tea Party that gives the other 10% a bad name. They are loose with the facts, when they use them, and the facts escape them when the facts should matter a lot.

Following the Republicans’ disastrous second presidential defeat in a row, the lower reaches of the party have been casting about for a more outspoken standard bearer for their mindset. Recall that in the most recent election they variously favored first one shining star then another for somebody who could talk their talk. As each front runner rose and then crumbled under harsh scrutiny, the Republicans finally settled on the only candidate with anything near the sense to run the country. Then, when push came to shove, even Mitt Romney proved to be lacking the political integrity to gain the public’s confidence. Now comes Rubio. Rubio has the charm of Rick Perry, the balls of Michelle Bachmann, but unfortunately the intelligence of Herman Cain.

So it is that political watchers in general and news reporters in particular are pecking at telltale signs that Rubio is a muddled intellect on the level of the previously mentioned. What set last year’s failed Republican candidates apart was a predilection to allow religious dogma and political expediency to trump the facts. Particularly, what is seen in some candidates is a tendency to deny the hard truth when the truth conflicts with religious faith. In November a reporter was probing Rubio with the loaded question: “How old is the Earth?”

First, let me acknowledge this is not a proper question to ask a political candidate under normal circumstances. The matter has nothing to do with politics, or it should not. Second, it’s an obvious probe into the candidate’s religious faith, which again would be improper under ordinary circumstances.

However, this candidate was known to have previously been loose with the facts in public statements. In the interview for GQ reporter Michael Hainey was apparently hoping to expose the possibility that Rubio will allow faith to rule over fact if he ever holds a position of great power. Rubio’s response to Hainey indicates to me that he likely knows the correct answer to the question. He indicates he knows the text book answer, but then he placates his inner beliefs and his core constituency by giving lip service to the politically correct answer—that God created the Earth just a few thousand years ago. It’s a problem of Rubio’s that is going to hound him if he ever aspires to higher office.

Anyhow, reporters and others are starting to use questions like “How old is the earth?” and “Do you believe in Intelligent Design?” as a kind of shibboleth to test a candidate’s commitment to the real world. It’s an indication that society is starting to congeal around two separate worlds. In one of these worlds snakes can talk, a bit of unleavened wheat bread can turn into the flesh of a hundred years dead Jew, and people live on forever long after their bodies have decayed. In the other world, there is harsh reality. The Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, all living forms on the planet trace their ancestry back to a common source, relentlessly pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will eventually change the planet’s climate in ways that may not be readily reversible, and sticking your finger into a light socket will give you a nasty jolt. In the present century and beyond the facts of the real world will come increasingly to bear on our wellbeing and on the future of human life. We will no longer be able to live harmlessly in a world governed by fantasies.

The man at the bottom of the photo is Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[He] is an American astrophysicist and science communicator. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. From 2006 to 2011 he hosted the educational science television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jeopardy!. It was announced on August 5, 2011, that Tyson will be hosting a new sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series.

I watch interesting science programming on PBS and on various cable networks, and in recent years Tyson has started to appear regularly as this country’s premier spokesman for modern science. Scientists are coming around to the realization that vast sectors of the American public have a woeful lack of understanding of the facts of science, what real science is and how it works. People like Tyson are starting to come forward to address the public on matters of science that concern them. Hopefully some pumped up science activism will turn the tide in the public’s attitude toward science.

As scientists and others concerned about the public perception of science work through this process it is becoming increasingly often that candidates for public office will be asked to say the word shibboleth. Are you a friend or a foe? Do you live in the real world or not?

Bad Joke of the Week

A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinary
surgeon. As she laid her pet on the table, the vet
pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s

After a moment or two, the vet shook his head and
sadly said, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has
passed away.”

The distressed woman wailed, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead,” replied the

“How can you be so sure?” she protested. “I mean
you haven’t done any testing on him or anything.
He might just be in a coma or something.”

The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the
room. He returned a few minutes later with a black
Labrador Retriever. As the duck’s owner looked on
in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his
front paws on the examination table and sniffed the
duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the
vet with sad eyes and shook his head.

The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out
of the room. A few minutes later he returned with
a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately
sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back
on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and
strolled out of the room.

The vet looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry,
but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably,
a dead duck.”

The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys
and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman..
The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill. “$150!”
she cried, “$150 just to tell me my duck is dead!”

The vet shrugged, “I’m sorry. If you had just taken my
word for it, the bill would have been $20, but with the
Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it’s now $150.”

Deja Vu

It’s a sci-fi, crime thriller with a nice romantic story. It has Denzel Washington in a great performance (as always). I’m going to do a review of this movie in the future, but not today.

This movie is about deja vu, as well, but more in the sense of Yogi Berra’s “deja vu all over again.” And again, and again, and again. It’s Groundhog Day.

Poster image from Wikipedia

It’s an outstanding performance by comedian/actor Bill Murray. He’s TV weatherman Phil Conner, who is quite full of himself, and figures he’s just putting in his time at a small station until his real career on a national network presents itself. Then comes the kind of assignment that he finds so beneath him. He, along with a producer and a cameraman are heading off to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to tape a story about Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog that comes out of his den every February second and predicts the weather for the next six weeks.

Conner figures he will go along with the game, and he sourly displays disdain for the whole situation. The crew arrives and spends the night (a B&B for Conner). Early the next morning they shoot the story and head back to Pittsburgh. Not so fast. A winter storm turns them back, and it’s another night in the B&B for the weatherman.

Next morning is bright and clear, and Conner soon finds out why it’s so bright and clear. It’s because it’s Groundhog Day all over again. Only Conner notices that Groundhog Day is being repeated. Everybody else is unaware of the time warp. Incredulous, Conner goes through the same performance, and they head out (again) to Pittsburgh, again to be turned back by the storm. Conner (again) spends the night in the B&B and wakes up (again) to Groundhog Day all over again.

At this point I should type “etc” several thousand times, because that’s what happens. Conner slogs on, one Groundhog Day after another, always looking for a way out of the time warp but finding no success. However, early on he does find out one thing. The producer, played by Andie MacDowell, is one hot number, but wholesome and serious-minded to the core. Conner figures that if his life is going to loop forever he may as well make it a goal to score with the producer.

If you have not seen this flick, then you are going to have to find it on Netflix to find out whether Murray scores and whether he ever gets out of the warp. From Wikipedia:

The film was released to generally favorable reviews, holding a score of 72 out of 100 at Metacritic. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it a B–, and Desson Howe of the The Washington Post noted that even though the film is a good Bill Murray vehicle, “‘Groundhog’ will never be designated a national film treasure by the Library of Congress”. The film was selected by the National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2006.

Everybody has to be somewhere

So, I’m puttering around my home here in San Antonio, and I started think about it all. How did I wind up here? It all seems so long ago.

So, I thought about it, and then I remembered. The decision is best described by two photos. The first was taken in front of my house in Dallas in February three years ago.

The second was taken in January this year at the San Antonio River Walk.

No further explanation is needed.

Bad Joke of the Week

Five surgeons from big cities are discussing who makes the best patients to operate on.

The first surgeon, from New York , says, “I like to see accountants on my operating table because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered.”

The second, from Chicago , responds, “Yeah, but you should try electricians! Everything inside them is color coded.”

The third surgeon, from Dallas , says, “No, I really think librarians are the best, everything inside them is in alphabetical order.”

The fourth surgeon, from Los Angeles chimes in: “You know, I like construction workers. Those guys always understand when you have a few parts left over.”

But the fifth surgeon, from Washington , DC shut them all up when he observed: “You’re all wrong. Politicians are the easiest to operate on. There’s no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains, and no spine. Plus, the head and the ass are interchangeable.”