Movie Tribute of the Week


This is not the first Leonard Nimoy movie I saw. That was Rhubarb, a movie about baseball. Nimoy’s film career goes back even further than that, appearing previously in Queen for a Day. I also saw Francis Goes to West Point. However, I don’t have any of those movies. And this may be the most notable of his early films. It’s Them! from Warner Brothers in 1954, and it stars James Arness and James Whitmore.

Opening shots show New Mexico police scouring the desert from an airplane. They are in communication with cops on the ground. We know this is the New Mexico desert because there are Joshua trees all over. Never mind that Joshua trees are only found in the Mojave Desert, which is not actually in New Mexico. However, for the story line this has to be in New Mexico.

The cops in the plane spot a little girl (Sandy Deschertrudging all alone in the wilderness, and the cops on the ground zero in and pick her up in their car. She appears to be physically unharmed but in a state of shock.


The mystery deepens as police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) and trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) come across the family travel trailer in the desert. It has been torn apart by something unknown. There is blood but no bodies. It would appear the girl is the sole survivor of the Ellison family.

The child safely off to the hospital in an ambulance, the police officers stop by a store along the road. It’s also been torn apart. The proprietor is dead in the basement, crushed and bloody. Here comes the part in all such movies. Trooper Blackburn is left behind to guard the premises while Sergeant Peterson drives back to report.

Everybody watching by now is shouting at the screen. “No, don’t go out side to investigate that strange noise!” Of course Trooper Blackburn does go outside, with his trusty service revolver. And that’s the last we see of him. We hear him firing his pistol and finally giving his last screams for life.


The family in the desert belonged to an FBI agent on vacation. This brings in agent Robert Graham (Arness). A copy of the strange footprint found at the crime scene is sent off to FBI headquarters. This brings in two scientists, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his glamorous daughter Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon). They arrive in an Air Force B-25 for some odd reason. This means of arrival provides some great optics as Graham and watch feminine legs descend from the bomber’s belly hatch. This movie is going to have sex.


Dr. Medford senior has formed an idea about what’s behind the mystery. He specializes in ants. He passes a sample of formic acid beneath the nose of the young Ellison girl, causing her to break her state of shock and scream, “Them!” and giving the movie its name.

Without changing from their science conference clothing the Doctors Medford journey out to the desert crime scene to investigate. In a blinding sand storm glamorous Patricia wanders into the desert. We know what’s about to happen. She hears the high-pitched screeching noise. A monstrous ant appears. Graham and Peterson open up with their pistols. The giant is stalled. Peterson finishes off the creature with his tommy gun. The mystery is solved.


A huge nest is discovered and soon wiped out using military weapons. But the scientists determine eggs have already hatched. There will be other colonies. The search is on.

At an Army base a sergeant pulls a message off a teletype machine. The sergeant is played by Leonard Nimoy..


This flick is loaded with talent. Future talent, at least. The message is about a pilot who has seen flying objects. He’s been hospitalized in a psycho ward. It’s Alan Crotty played by Fess Parker. This is shortly before Parker went to great fame as David Crockett in the Walt Disney TV and movie releases. For the time being he must remain in the psycho ward. The secret must be kept to avoid alarming the public.


The search continues. We see a ship at sea infested and attacked. Only two of the crew survive. Navy gunfire sinks the hulk, and the survivors are kept at sea. This must be kept secret.

Then in Los Angeles a rail car loaded with sugar is found destroyed. The search is narrowing.


A woman reports her husband and two sons have disappeared. Graham notices how much the city’s enormous storm drains appear to be a perfect place for a giant ant nest. In the drainage channel they discover the remains of a model airplane associated with the missing father and boys.


A huge military operation is assembled. Soldiers in Jeeps penetrate the drainage tunnels with heavy weapons. Sergeant Peterson finds the two boys alive (not the father) and rescues them. Too late. He cannot save himself. We knew all along that Arness was going to get the girl at the end of the movie.


For some reason in movies like this all the original characters have to be in on the final action. This means that even glamorous Patricia dons Army gear and is in on the final assault in the tunnel, along with her soon to be sweetheart Graham, by now wounded and acting very heroic. Too bad the movie ends right there. No long, lingering embrace in slinky evening clothing in a romantic setting. Leaves a lot to the imagination.


Production quality for this film is amazingly high. The cinematography is spot on. The plot fits together well, never mind the Joshua trees. The Joshua trees look good in a desert scene, but the desert setting has to be New Mexico, because that’s where the first atomic bomb was exploded nine years before, triggering the mutant ant population.

This is not just a straight line plot involving unimagined tragedy followed by discovery of the horrific menace followed by destruction of the menace. The plot develops into a detective story as Graham and others seek out remaining giant nests. Colorful characters are introduced without dragging down the plot. This is close to the cream of the monster movies from the 1950s, the very top being The Thing from Another World, also featuring James Arness. Arness was soon to ascend to fame as Matt Dillon on TV.

Gwenn is tops, as he always was, starting with the sinister assassin in Foreign Correspondent right on through as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. This was close to Gwenn’s final major film role. He died five years later.


Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

A couple wants to have sex but their son is in the house. The only way to pull off a Sunday afternoon “quickie” with their 8-year-old son in the apartment was to send him out on the balcony with a popsicle and tell him to report on all the neighborhood activities.

“There’s a car being towed from the parking lot,” he shouted. He began his commentary as his parents put their plan into operation.

“An ambulance just drove by.”

“Looks like the Andersons have company,” he called out.

“Matt’s riding a new bike.”

“Looks like the Sanders are moving.”

“Jason is on his skate board.”

After a few moments he announced: “The Coopers are having sex.”

Startled, his mother and dad shot up in bed. Dad cautiously called out…”How do you know they’re having sex?”

“Jimmy Cooper is standing on his balcony with a popsicle.”


Call me crazy


All right! That didn’t quite work out. But first some background.

I’m inclined to analyze things to the bone, so bear with me for a moment. And imagine this scenario:

You’re the only person on the Earth. And you live in a cave. This situation does not apply.

Here’s another scenario. There is another person on the Earth, maybe also living in a cave. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now suppose this other person is doing something that annoys you. You want him to stop. We can come up with any number of things another person can do to make your day’s less enjoyable. It could be this other person comes over and steals your food. Let’s make this more abstract. Let’s make up something. Let’s suppose that what this person does is draw with yellow chalk. You don’t like this. How to get him to stop?

Psychologists have an illustration for this scenario. It involves a reward and a barrier between the subject and the reward. If the reward is large and the barrier (usually illustrated with a wall) is low, then there is not much of an issue. The subject will go over the wall and get the reward (some food). Now make the wall higher. And still higher. At a certain point the subject will decide the reward (a sandwich) is not worth the effort of scaling the wall. The psychologist can balance out barriers and rewards and discover the subject’s level of initiative or whatever.

Now suppose it’s not a wall, but something else undesirable. You don’t want the subject to do a thing, and you set up a situation that produces an undesirable result if the subject does the thing. At a certain point the subject’s desire to do the thing is overwhelmed by his aversion to the undesirable consequence. The subject will not to the thing.

And this is the basis of the modern penal system. We don’t want people to steal other people’s stuff. We don’t encase their hands in boxing gloves to keep them from picking up other people’s things. We leave their hands free, but we put them on notice that if they steal people’s stuff then something undesirable will happen to them. If potential thieves take this threat seriously they will avoid stealing. At least they will avoid getting caught.

But what about the case where you catch somebody who has stolen somebody’s stuff. You say, “Didn’t you see the sign that says, ‘This is Bob’s stuff, and if you take it you will go to jail?'” Now suppose the thief says, “I saw the sign, and I was sure it would be all right if I took Bob’s stuff.” That is called the “insanity defense.”

Threat of punishment does not work when the subject’s brain is not working. We are relying on a normally-operating brain to make the punishment system work. If the brain does not work, we are just wasting our time. The problem is what we decide to do in such cases.

We have decided that threats of punishment do not work on some people, because these people are legally insane. The definition of legal insanity is the subject does not understand, cannot understand, the consequences of his actions. Since threats of punishment do not affect the actions of those who cannot comprehend the consequences of their actions, we don’t waste our time inflicting the promised punishment. What, then, to do with such people?

I’f they’re still insane we incarcerate them. Until they are no longer insane. Then we release them. Up to a point.

In March 1981 John Hinckley, Jr. opened fire at close range with a revolver in an attempt to kill President Reagan. He was determined to have been operating under a delusion at the time and was not given a life penal term, as would normally apply. He has been incarcerated ever since, but always with the possibility he will someday be found mentally healthy and released back into the arms of modern society. Not going to happen.

Contrary to what the public may believe, the ultimate goal of our justice system is not to protect criminals. None of us on this side of the sanity divide want John Hinckley back out on the street. Back out on the street where he would have no problem obtaining another weapon. Efforts by the Hinckley family and Hinckley Jr.’s attorneys have alarmed many in the justice system. I’m one of those alarmed:

In March 2011, it was reported that a forensic psychologist at the hospital testified that “Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others.” On March 29, 2011, the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt, Hinckley’s attorney filed a court petition requesting more freedom for his client, including additional unsupervised visits to the Virginia home of Hinckley’s mother, Joanne. On November 30, 2011, a hearing in Washington considered whether he could live full-time outside the hospital. The Justice Department opposed this, in the belief that Hinckley still poses a danger to the public. Its counsel argued that he had been known to deceive his doctors in the past.

Hinckley’s case is considered to be a driving force behind rehabilitation of rules regarding the insanity defense:

The verdict resulted in widespread dismay. This resulted in the U.S. Congress and a number of states rewriting laws related to the insanity defense. Idaho, Montana and Utah abolished the defense altogether. In the United States prior to the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than two percent of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75 percent of the trials in which it was used. In 1985, Hinckley’s parents wrote Breaking Points, a book detailing their son’s mental condition.

Federal and some state rules of evidence have since excluded or restricted testimony of an expert witness’s conclusions on “ultimate” issues, including that of psychologist and psychiatrist expert witnesses on the issue of whether a criminal defendant is legally “insane.” But, this is not the rule among the majority of states in the early 21st century.

Vincent Fuller, who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia. Hinckley has been diagnosed with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia, as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features.

All this came back to us two years ago when a disturbed Marine veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, murdered Navy veteran Chris Kyle and another man, Chad Littlefield. The two took Routh to a gun range in Erath County as part of their program to provide counseling and companionship to troubled veterans. Without provocation Routh gunned down the two and fled in Kyle’s truck.

Routh was charged with wanton murder, no excuses. His defense was that he was mentally insane at the time of the shooting. In Texas that’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. As I said, it didn’t work. The prosecution easily demonstrated that Routh had done something he knew the state of Texas did not want him to do. He knew when he fired the shots he was breaking Texas law.

Was he crazy? Could be. He did some stuff nobody in his right mind would do. Two guys you just met, taking you out to help you get your life straight. You kill them? Not normal human behavior. Profit motive, revenge, response to insult or assault? No evidence of such. This is much the definition of crazy. But in Texas and in most other places crazy doesn’t give you a walk. In fact, it can work against you.

If, for example, Routh had been all along an upright guy, enjoying a day out at the range with some shooting buddies, and something inside just snapped, and in a blind daze he unloaded on the only two other people around him, the jury might just see something redeemable there. But this guy had a long history of causing trouble for family and friends, doing drugs and otherwise running his life into the ground. Efforts to get him institutionalized had come to naught. It appeared to all who would see this was the future trajectory for Routh’s life. Nobody on the jury panel wanted to go the sleep Tuesday night knowing that Eddie Ray Routh would be walking about free in the land of easy access to arms.

A tragedy? Yes, for all concerned. Kyle and Littlefield dead, their families suffering. Routh, his life effectively over, what there ever was to be of it anyhow. Is the justice system here to serve justice? Not always. Ultimately it is here to protect all of us from some of us.

Coulter Again


The book

The book

Some time back I reviewed a book by conservative columnist Ann Coulter. It wasn’t a complete review, because I was only interested in Coulter’s take on creationism. She seemed to be for it. I still have the book, and I figured it was time  for me to read all of the book and obtain a feel for her position on all things.

The book is Godless: The Church of Liberalism. It was going to be interesting to find out what Coulter thought about liberals and God and all that stuff. I read the first few paragraphs. Here’s what I found:

They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator …. Therefore, God gave them up to passions of dishonor; for their females exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature.

-Romans 1:25-26

So she starts out with a quote from Romans. I was not familiar with this section, so I had to look it up. Coulter’s copy is a bit different from mine, which is the KJV:

Romans 1:25-26King James Version (KJV)

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

While I’m trying to figure out what this is all about, I will post the opening paragraphs from the book:

Liberals love to boast that they are not “religious,” which is what one would expect to hear
from the state-sanctioned religion. Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology,
its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe. In other words, liberalism contains all the attributes of what is generally known as “religion.”

Under the guise of not favoring religion, liberals favor one cosmology over another and demand total indoctrination into theirs. The state religion of liberalism demands
obeisance (to the National Organization for Women), tithing (to teachers’ unions), reverence (for abortion), and formulaic imprecations (“Bush lied, kids died!” “Keep your laws off my body!” “Arms for hostages!”). Everyone is taxed to support indoctrination into the state religion through the public schools, where innocent children are taught a specific belief system, rather than, say, math.

Liberal doctrines are less scientifically provable than the story of Noah’s ark, but their belief system is taught as fact in government schools, while the Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. As a matter of faith, liberals believe: Darwinism is a fact, people are born gay, child-molesters can be rehabilitated, recycling is a virtue, and chastity is not. If people are born gay, why hasn’t Darwinism weeded out people who don’t reproduce? (For that, we need a theory of survival of the most fabulous.) And if gays can’t change, why do liberals think child-molesters can? Pedophilia is a sexual preference. If they’re born that way, instead of rehabilitation, how about keeping them locked up? Why must children be taught that recycling is the only answer? Why aren’t we teaching children “safe littering”?

We aren’t allowed to ask. Believers in the liberal faith might turn violent-much like the practitioners of Islam, the Religion of Peace, who ransacked Danish embassies worldwide because a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed. This is something else that
can’t be taught in government schools: Muslims’ predilection for violence. On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attack, the National Education Association’s instruction materials exhorted teachers, “Do not suggest that any group is responsible” for the attack of 9/11.’

If a Martian landed in America and set out to determine the nation’s official state religion, he would have to conclude it is liberalism, while Christianity and Judaism are prohibited by law. And not just in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it’s actually on the books, but throughout the land. This is a country in which taxpayers are forced to subsidize “artistic” exhibits of aborted fetuses, crucifixes in urine, and gay pornography. Meanwhile, it’s unconstitutional to display a Nativity scene at Christmas or the Ten Commandments on government property if the purpose is to promote monotheistic religion. Nearly half the members of the Supreme Court—the ones generally known as “liberals”—are itching to ban the references to God on our coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance. They resisted in 2004 on procedural grounds only because it was an election year.

The absence of a divinity makes liberals’ belief system no less religious. Liberals define religion as only those belief systems that subscribe to the notion of a divine being in order to dismiss other religions as mere religion and theirs as something greater. Shintoism
and Buddhism have no Creator God either, and they are considered religions. Curiously, those are two of the most popular religions among leftists-at least until 9/11, when Islam became all the rage.

Liberalism is a comprehensive belief system denying the Christian* belief in man’s immortal soul. Their religion holds that there is nothing sacred about human consciousness. It’s just an accident no more significant than our possession of opposable thumbs. They deny what we know about ourselves: that we are moral beings in God’s image. Without this fundamental understanding of man’s place in the world, we risk being lured into misguided pursuits, including bestiality, slavery, and PETA membership. Liberals swoon in pagan admiration of Mother Earth, mystified and overawed by her power. They deny the Biblical idea of dominion and progress, the most ringing affirmation of which is the United States of America.

Although they are Druids, liberals masquerade as rationalists, adopting a sneering tone of scientific sophistication, which is a little like being condescended to by a tarot card reader. Liberals hate science and react badly to it. They will literally run from the room, light-
headed and nauseated, when told of data that might suggest that the sexes have different abilities in math and science. They repudiate science when it contradicts their pagan beliefs-that the AIDS virus doesn’t discriminate, that there is no such thing as IQ, that nuclear
power is dangerous and scary, or that breast implants cause disease. Liberals use the word science exactly as they use the word constitutional.

* Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others.

[Pages 1-3]

There is just so much there. At the same time, so little. How many ways are there to spell “devoid of content?” I will just take on a few points and let the remainder sort themselves out. Let’s start with Coulter’s first sentence:

Liberals love to boast that they are not “religious,” which is what one would expect to hear
from the state-sanctioned religion.

Really? I’m seeing it now. All those liberals, marching lockstep in parade, lifting their faces to the sky and their voices to wind and shouting, “We are not religious!” That is, except for all of those liberals who are religious. What we’re supposed to do about them is not explained. Also not explained is the myriad staunch conservatives who reject Coulter’s religion and anything like it.

And that appears to set the tone for the book. Gross generalizations, unsubstantiated assertions, some ludicrous examples, some outright fabrications. It’s deserving of another example.

Liberal doctrines are less scientifically provable than the story of Noah’s ark, but their belief system is taught as fact in government schools, while the Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. As a matter of faith, liberals believe: Darwinism is a fact, people are born gay, child-molesters can be rehabilitated, recycling is a virtue, and chastity is not.

There’s a lot in those two sentences. What is meant by “liberal doctrines” is not revealed, but I’m going to think Coulter has biological evolution in mind. So biological evolution is less provable than the story of Noah’s ark? That could be the basis for a wonderful research paper. It would get any number of people poring over reams of research. Teams could take sides. Imagine, if you will, the matter being debated back and forth, heat rising, tempers flaring. Never going to happen. Coulter drops it on the floor as a given and moves swiftly on.

The Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. True. But why? Coulter does not explain. Weep for the richness of elaboration that Coulter has abandoned, perhaps for expediency, perhaps for other purposes. Missing is the history. Missing is the legacy of Tennessee’s Butler Act and the subsequent trial of John T. Scopes. Missing is Epperson v. Arkansas. Missing is McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Missing is Edwards v. Aguillard. And finally missing, too, is Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Board of Education. And that last is a real tragedy. What an opportunity was missed.

The Kitzmiller case was the one that finally exposed the underpinnings of the creationist movement. Board members of the Dover Area School District contrived to introduce religious concepts into the school curriculum, and thought they had found a route through a new brand of creationism called Intelligent Design. They invited litigation. They invited disaster. And it came, of their own making. Seeking to demonstrate the validity of creationism as a scientific study, they called upon the best minds behind the concept. The pulled on the best available evidence for Intelligent Design. And they brought nothing. They had nothing to show. Furthermore, principals of the Board’s defense witnesses perjured themselves and incurred the wrath of a conservative federal judge.

And still Coulter wonders why creationism cannot be taught in public schools.

And, absent the product of the best scientific minds of our times, what would Coulter call upon us to rely on, to turn to for direction in our private lives? It’s a book. It could possibly be Coulter’s favorite book. She quoted it at the very first of the book. Yes, she did. So I will conclude with another quote from that book:

Numbers 22:30King James Version (KJV)

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.

Nay, indeed.

Bad Movie of the Week


I’m sure I saw this when it first came out. It was in the days before VCRs and DVD recorders. I didn’t get to see it again until recently when I caught it on Turner Classic Movies and recorded it. In the mean time Clay Blair, Jr. came out with his book Combat Patrol in 1975. I read the book, and I recognized in it some of the events in the movie. I haven’t had a copy of the book for several years, and I held off doing a review of the movie until I could get another copy of the book.

I have the book now, so here’s the movie. It’s Operation Pacific from Warner Brothers in 1951 and starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal.



Opening scenes are from an early part of the war. In fact, all the action corresponds to what was going on in the December 1941 through 1942 period. First we see crew from the American submarine Thunderfish rescuing civilians from a Japanese-held island. In the opening days of the war with Japan, the Japanese Empire made rapid and far-reaching territorial gains, quickly capturing the Philippines, what is now Indonesia, much of New Guinea, plus Guam and Wake Island. Particularly around the Philippines and Indonesia the lives of American and European citizens were in question.


So the Thunderfish crew are loading up some rubber rafts with children and two Catholic nuns, and they take them aboard in the middle of the night. Aboard the submarine in combat the children are a nuisance, adding some amount of comedy to a life and death situation as the boat is attacked with depth charges by a Japanese destroyer.


It’s a disastrous mission. The Thunderfish has fired torpedoes into a Japanese ship, but the torpedoes did not explode. This was an actual situation that threatened the operation of our Pacific submarine fleet for the first two years into the war. The movie bears down on the issue of the non-exploding torpedoes. Combat Patrol tells of three critical problems that had to be resolved:

  • Torpedoes would hit the side of a ship but not explode.
  • Torpedoes would run under the target ship without hitting it.
  • The magnetic exploders usually failed. They were supposed to set off the torpedo if it ran under a ship. Most often they would not. Often, too, they would set off the torpedo when it was only part way to the target.

Early torpedo failures also cost at least one of our submarines. The torpedo ran in a circle and eventually came back to the submarine. The movie shows Commander John T. “Pop” Perry (Ward Bond) firing two torpedoes at a Japanese ship. Both explode half way to the target.

The Thunderfish returns to Pearl Harbor with its load of nuns and children, and Lieutenant Commander Duke E. Gifford (Wayne) heads off to a base hospital to check up on a rescued newborn baby. There he runs into ex-wife Lieutenant (j.g.) Mary Stuart (Neal). Some of (a lot of) the old flame is still there. You wonder why they ever broke up.


Of course, there’s a slight problem. Four years out, Miss Stuart now has a new boyfriend. It’s Navy fly-boy Lieutenant (j.g.) Bob Perry (Philip Carey), brother of Commander Perry. Something’s going to have to give.


But that has to wait. First there’s the problem with the torpedoes. Commander Perry has the idea to run some tests. But that’s going to have to wait until after the next combat mission. About this time viewers are getting a bad feeling about what’s going to happen.

Commander Perry does not survive the mission. The first ship they attack feigns surrender after the Thunderfish‘s torpedoes fail to explode. When Thunderfish approaches on the surface the Japanese ship unveils its guns and opens fire.



Commander Perry is killed. That leaves John Wayne in command.


They sink the Japanese ship by gunfire and by ramming and return to base. Duke is posted back stateside, but he elects to stay at Pearl Harbor and run some torpedo tests. They first look at the non-exploding detonators. They drop a torpedo warhead, with dummy explosives) on a steel plate. The detonator does not detonate.


When I watched this as a kid at the local theater this was the part that made me the most uneasy. Anyhow, in the movie somebody suggests the problem might be the aluminum firing pin. In reality I don’t think there ever was such a thing as an aluminum firing pin.


A few years after seeing this movie I found myself aboard a Navy ship studying how firing mechanisms work. You might think that a torpedo running full speed into the side of a ship would just explode, and you wouldn’t need to give it any help. Truth is, people who use explosive weapons go to great trouble to ensure they do not explode until they are supposed to explode. Aboard an expensive warship with a bunch of people around you don’t want to mess with something that will go off due to some minor mishandling.

So, any munition of any size has an elaborate firing mechanism. The main warhead will not explode if you just drop it on the sidewalk. Actually, you can drop an aerial bomb several thousand feet onto a concrete runway, and it will not explode. Big pieces of ordnance have elaborate firing trains to ensure safety and at the same time to ensure the main charge goes off when it’s supposed to go off.

Typically there’s a firing pin. It’s driven by a spring, and it’s aimed at a crush-sensitive explosive, such as fulminator mercury (see Mister Roberts). But the fulminator mercury is shock sensitive, and it could go off if you drop the warhead. So what you do is arrange it so that likely accidents do not result in the main charge going off. One way to do this is to incorporate a mechanism that keeps the detonator from setting off the main charge until the whole business is well on its way toward the enemy. This is typically done by incorporating something that interdicts the firing train until the moment of truth is almost on.

The small detonator charge is not enough to set off the main charge, so there is a booster charge. The booster charge is not shock-sensitive, but it is sensitive to the firing of the detonator. The firing pin strikes the detonator, which sets off the booster charge, which sets off the main charge.

In the case of World War Two torpedoes there was never any matter of an aluminum firing pin. Nobody would use such a thing. In 1943, well into the war, after many torpedoes had been fired into the sides of Japanese ships, after many of our submarines had been sunk following unsuccessful attacks, the Navy was finally convinced to test the damn detonators.

It was simple and straight forward. They fired torpedoes into the side of a rock cliff. The first two exploded. The third one was a dud. Some very stout-hearted men went into the water and put a line around the unexploded torpedo. They brought it ashore at Pearl Harbor and dissected it. The nose of the torpedo had been crushed before the firing pin could reach the detonator. This is the point at which the tests shown in the movie were carried out on a dock at Pearl Harbor.

Aerial bombs had long before solved this problem. The crushing of the nose of a bomb is not what initiates the firing. It’s the shock of the bomb hitting something hard that does it. The nose of the bomb makes contact with an immovable object, and the bomb experiences a short and intense deceleration. A spring-loaded weight in the fuse mechanism now moves toward the front the bomb, and that’s what released the spring-loaded firing pin. When the whole thing is properly designed the firing pin will contact the detonator before it’s crushed by the impact. The fact is that aerial bombs often have tail-mounted or mid-mounted fuses.

The movie shows the fuse tests at Pearl Harbor. Truth is the torpedo depth tests were performed much earlier, in 1942. They rigged up fishing nets and fired torpedoes into them, and they found the Mark XIV (mark 14) torpedoes ran on average 11 feet deeper than the set depth.

Regarding all these torpedo failures: These torpedoes and the firing mechanisms were developed by the Navy Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) prior to the war. Because torpedoes were expensive ($1500 in those days) they never ran extensive tests.

After fixing the firing pin problem, the men of the Thunderfish head back out on patrol. There is remaining tragedy. At sea they trade movies with another submarine and later recover the movie they traded from the site of a submarine sinking.


But Thunderfish does successfully sink the Japanese sub responsible, and the crew finishes up by rescuing young Bob Perry after he’s shot down.


Duke brings his ex-wife’s boyfriend back safely, and at the dock he gets his reward. It appears the Giffords are going to be a family again.



This movie contains some obligatory plot churn. That’s action that does not contribute to the story line, but is put in to provide maybe some atmosphere but which winds up burning off some film. We are treated to the scene of submarine sailors on shore leave getting drunk and unruly, crashing a luau and needing to be paroled by Executive Officer Gifford. That’s a few minutes of life the viewer will never get back.

The matter of the aluminum firing pin is a bit of fiction that could have been avoided. The actual circumstances make a more interesting story. Admiral Charles A. Lockwood was instrumental in getting the torpedo tests carried out, and he was a technical advisor for the movie.

Now that I have a copy of the book, I’ll be doing a review later this year. Keep reading.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age.  As your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.
Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.
A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public.
Best way to get rid of kitchen odors:  Eat out.
A bachelor is a guy who never made the same mistake once.
I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.
Most children threaten at times to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.
Any time three New Yorkers get into a cab without an argument, a bank has just been robbed.
We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up.
Burt Reynolds once asked me out. I was in his room.
You know you’re old if your walker has an airbag.
I’m eighteen years behind in my ironing.
What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.
The only time I ever enjoyed ironing was the day I accidentally got gin in the steam iron.
Old age is when the liver spots show through your gloves.
My photographs don’t do me justice – they just look like me.
There’s so little money in my bank account, my scenic checks show a ghetto.
My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.
Tranquilizers work only if you follow the advice on the bottle – keep away from children.
I asked the waiter, ‘Is this milk fresh?’ He said, ‘Lady, three hours ago it was grass.’
You know you’re old if they have discontinued your blood type.

To Hell And Back


Yesterday I reviewed the movie. Today I’m reviewing the book. This is (nearly) the 70th anniversary of the events that earned Army Lieutenant Audie Murphy the Congressional Medal of Honor. The book is an autobiography depicting his time in the war.

To Hell and Back is Audie Murphy‘s 1949 World War II memoir, detailing the events that led him to receive the Medal of Honor and also to become one of the most decorated foot soldiers of the war. Although only Murphy’s name appears on the book cover, it was in fact a collaboration with writer David “Spec” McClure. After securing a publishing contract in 1947, Murphy and McClure worked on the book through 1948 in Murphy’s Hollywood apartment. Murphy did write some of the prose himself, but most of it was “as told to” style with the writing left to McClure. They traveled to France in 1948 where Murphy was presented the French Legion of Honor and the Crois de Guerre with Palm from the French government. While in France, Murphy received permission to visit the battle sites. The two men retraced 1,500 miles of battlefield as Murphy related details of the events to McClure.

It’s apparent when reading the book that Murphy recalls more than was possible. Particularly, detailed conversations are likely reconstructed, based on Murphy’s recollections. However, the narrative is surely the most accurate account of Murphy’s two years in combat.

Years ago I had a paperback of the original. That’s long gone, and this is a review based on the Kindle edition. Tom Brokaw, journalist and author of The Greatest Generation has written a forward. The story begins with what is probably the first death Murphy witnessed, the day he landed on Sicily:

The second shell is different. Something terrible and immediate about its whistle makes my scalp start prickling. I grab my helmet and flip over on my stomach. The explosion is thunderous. Steel fragments whine, and the ground seems to jump up and hit me in the face.

Silence again. I raise my head. The sour fumes of powder have caused an epidemic of coughing.

“Hey, boss. The cahgo–”

The voice snaps. We all see it. The redheaded soldier has tumbled from the rock. Blood trickles from his mouth and nose.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 2). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This was to be the first of many deaths Murphy would witness. Many were close friends of his. Many more were the enemy. Soon after, Murphy killed his first man:

The following day I am ahead of the company with a group of scouts. We flush a couple of Italian officers . They should have surrendered. Instead they mount two magnificent white horses and gallop madly away. My act is instinctive. Dropping to one knee, I fire twice. The men tumble from the horses, roll over and lie still.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 10). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Murphy grew up in northeast Texas in a sharecropper household. He was one of twelve children whose father abandoned the family when he was twelve. Hunting with a rifle for food in the woods turned Murphy into a crack shot. It was a skill that was to make the difference between life and death during his months in combat.

He shipped over from the United States in 1943 to North Africa, where he joined up with the 3rd Infantry, already in the field. He saw his first action in Sicily, and his battlefield exploits culminated in action in the Colmar Pocket in France, 70 years ago. His actions on 26 January 1945 earned him the Medal of Honor, and in between his exploits became legendary. He served with the 3rd in Sicily, in the invasion of the mainland at Salerno and again at Anzio. Following that he went with the 3rd to invade southern France in August 1945. Along the way his battle skills improved, he exhibited the survival skills of situational awareness and readiness to take action. On multiple occasions he faced the enemy and survived by shooting first.

The movie, based on the book, came out in 1955 and displays a Hollywood version of reality. Major combat actions in the movie don’t show up in the book. At least one incident is both in the book and in the movie, but the country of location has changed! The movie shows Murphy, still an enlisted man, leading a probe across the Volturno River. Nothing like that is in the book. What is in the book is the grim desperation of Murphy and his men holding the front while preparations are made to attack across the river:

I awake like an animal, instantly visualizing the picture. Novak beats me to the tunnel. Nobody is on watch. We drop to our knees and gaze through the slit.

The burst of fire has knocked Antonio down. I shout, “Come back, you crazy fool. Come back,” and seize the BAR to cover him.

He scrambles from the ground, still clutching his canteen. Pure terror stands on his face. He takes a step and his right lower leg bends double. The bone thrusts through the flesh; and he tries to walk on the stump. I cannot locate the enemy gunner, but he either has ammunition to waste or is bored with the lack of targets. His second burst is long and unhurried. The lead eats through Antonio’s mid-parts, like a saw chewing through wood. The kraut is a butcher.

Little Mike screams, “Gah damn sonsabeeches,” and starts around the sandbag wall. I drop the gun and grab him. He kicks me flat. I recover and seize him again. He beats me with his fist; and I throw a hard punch to his stomach. He doubles up. I get a headlock on him and yell for Brandon and Kerrigan.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 32-33). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This is the story of a succession of friends who will never return. While still in Italy Corporal Johnson was killed:

We have not long to look before a heavy artillery barrage is turned on us. The shells hit the trees, explode; the woodland shrieks with steel fragments.

I dive into a foxhole. This is a job for our big guns. We can do nothing until the fire lifts.

I am sitting with my helmeted head between my knees when a body tumbles into the pit. It is Horse-Face. His face is ash gray; his smile is feeble.

“So they’ve got you scared at last?” I say.

“Got a drink of water?”

I hand him my canteen, but it slips through his fingers.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I ask.

“Think I strained my back.”

He slumps forward. I rip off his shirt. It is a small, ugly wound just under his left shoulder blade; and it does not bleed much.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 155). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

But a shell fragment had nicked Johnson’s heart. He was dead before Murphy could get back with a medic.

Action on the day the 3rd Division arrived in southern France earned Murphy the Distinguished Service Cross.

Heaving two hand grenades, we rise suddenly and empty our carbines into the gun emplacement. Our action is followed by utter silence. Then the Germans yell, “Kamerad!”

Brandon peers over the edge of the hole. “They’re waving a handkerchief,” he says. “I’ll go get ’em.”

“Keep down,” I urge. “You can’t trust them.”

“Murph,” says he, “you’re getting to be a plumb cynic. They’ve had enough.”

He climbs from the hole nonchalantly and stands upright. That is all the enemy is waiting for. I hear the slash of machine-gun fire. As Brandon topples back into the pit, he softly mutters, “Murph.” Stunned, I lie for a moment with the two dead Germans beneath me and my comrade on top.

Carefully I ease myself from under Brandon. An abrupt movement may cause his wounds to hemorrhage. I grab his wrist , but there is no beat to his pulse. I start yelling like an insane man for the medics, but I might as well be shouting at the moon. I am all alone; and the hill is rattling with fire.

For the first time in the war, I refuse to accept facts. While Brandon grows cold beneath my hand, I keep telling myself, “He is not dead. He can’t be dead, because if he is dead, the war is all wrong; and Brandon has died in vain.”

Then I get the curious notion that he needs fresh air. I lift the body from the hole and stretch it beneath the cork tree . Why I am not shot during the process I shall never understand. Instinctively I spin about to find a machine gun being trained upon me from a position a few yards to my right. I leap back into the hole, jerk the pin from a grenade, and throw it.

At its blast, I scramble from the pit with my carbine. But the grenade has done its work well. One of the two Germans manning the gun has his chest torn open; the other has been killed by a fragment that pierced an eye.

I pick up their gun and methodically check it for damage. It is in perfect condition. Holding it like a BAR for firing from the hip, I start up the hill.

I remember the experience as I do a nightmare. A demon seems to have entered my body. My brain is coldly alert and logical. I do not think of the danger to myself. My whole being is concentrated on killing. Later the men pinned down in the vineyard tell me that I shout pleas and curses at them, because they do not come up and join me.

When I find the gun crew that betrayed Brandon, the men are concentrating on targets downhill. They do not see me, and I have time to take careful aim before pulling the trigger. As the lacerated bodies flop and squirm, I rake them again; and I do not stop firing while there is a quiver left in them.

In a little while, all resistance on the hill has been wiped out. The company moves up, and we halt on the crest to reorganize.

The voices of the men seem to come to me through a thick wall. My hands begin to tremble; and I feel suddenly weak. Sinking to the ground, I wait until the company moves off through the trees. Then I go back down the hill and find Brandon.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 176-178). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

There were many other times when Murphy’s quickness made the difference. In one action in the northeast of France he faced and killed a sniper at close range.

Keeping under cover of the brush, I skirt the clearing and move toward the boulder. An acute sense of loneliness comes over me. I and my enemy, it seems, are the last two men on earth. I pause; and fear makes my body grow limp. I look at the hills and sky. A shaft of sunlight pierces the clouds, making the wet leaves of the trees glisten goldenly. Life becomes infinitely desirable.

The hill now becomes infested with a thousand eyes peering through telescopic sights, with cross-hairs on the center of my head. Terror grows. I crash my fist to my forehead. The fantasy passes. I inch forward.

At the boulder I stop. My straining ear can catch no sound. I get to my feet and with my left hand against the rock for support step into the open. It happens like a flash of lightning. There is a rustle. My eyes snap forward. The branches of a bush move. I drop to one knee. We see each other simultaneously.

His face is as black as a rotting corpse; and his cold eyes are filled with evil. As he frantically reaches for the safety on his rifle, I fire twice. He crashes backwards. I throw two hand grenades to take care of any companions lurking in the area. Then I wilt.

When Owl and Barker reach the scene, I am mopping the cold sweat off my forehead.

The sniper is sprawled on the ground just beyond the old machine-gun position. The two bullet holes are in the center of the forehead; and one of the grenades has torn off an arm.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 214-215). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Days later Murphy’s quick draw reflexes saved his life once more:

We leave the trail and push directly through the woods. Except for sporadic mortar fire, the enemy is quiet, too quiet to suit me.


Paderwicz is dead before his body thuds against the ground. The sniper’s bullet got him just above the left eye. I leap behind a tree. Crack! It is like being struck with a ball bat. The ricocheting bullet digs a channel through my hip and knocks me flat.

The sniper throws his camouflage cape back to get a better view and drills my helmet. That is the last mistake he ever makes. My head is not in the helmet.

I raise my carbine and with my right hand fire pistol-fashion. The bullet spatters between the German’s eyes. It was his brain or nothing. He would not have missed the second time.

I try to get up, but cannot. My right leg seems paralyzed.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 224). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Over 26 years earlier Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York gained international recognition in almost single action against scores of German soldiers in France. Murphy recapitulated the feat as he held off a German counter attack in the Colmar Pocket.

Two tank destroyers that had been sent forward to back up his platoon were quickly disabled when the enemy attack started. One, hit by tank fire, began to burn. Murphy sent his troops back to a secure position while he remained on the field telephone to direct artillery. As American shells began to fall among the attacking Germans, he started using his sharpshooting skills to take down individual soldiers advancing through the shell fire. He interrupted his sniping from time to time to call in changes to the artillery.

When all seemed hopeless, Murphy was about to withdraw. Then he noticed the machine gun mounted on top of the burning TD. He climbed up and took charge of the gun, all the while continuing to call in changes. When he was asked, “How close are they to your position?” he famously responded “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”

The gun has thrown the krauts into confusion. Evidently they cannot locate its position. Later I am told that the burning tank destroyer, loaded with gasoline and ammunition, was expected to blow up any minute. That was why the enemy tanks gave it a wide berth and the infantrymen could not conceive of a man’s using it for cover.

I do not know about that. For the time being my imagination is gone; and my numbed brain is intent only on destroying. I am conscious only that the smoke and the turret afford a good screen, and that, for the first time in three days, my feet are warm.

Now the Germans try a new tactic. A gust of wind whips the smoke aside; and I see an enemy sergeant in the roadside ditch not thirty yards from my position. He peers cautiously about, then turns his head and motions his squad forward. As I spin my gun barrel upon him, a billow of smoke comes betweeen us.

For a minute or so I wait. The tree branches overhead stir stiffly in the gust, the smoke column folds to one side. The twelve Germans, huddled like partridges in the ditch, are discussing something, perhaps my possible location. I press the trigger and slowly traverse the barrel. The twelve bodies slump in a stack position. I give them another methodically thorough burst, and pick up the phone.

“Correct fire, battalion. 50 over.”

“Are you all right, lieutenant?”

“I’m all right, sergeant. What are your postwar plans?”

The barrage lands within fifty yards of the tank destroyer . The shouting, screaming Germans caught in it are silent now. The enemy tanks, reluctant to advance further without infantry support, lumber back toward Holtzwihr.

I snatch the telephone receiver. “Sergeant. Sergeant Bowes . Correct fire: 50 over; and keep firing for effect. This is my last change.”

“50 over? That’s your own position.”

“I don’t give a damn. 50 over.”

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 241-242). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Murphy finished out the war near Munich in Germany. On leave, he learned of the German surrender while on a train to the French Riviera.

The book does not describe the various awards he received nor their presentation.

To Hell And Back


This is another I saw when it first came out. I needed to review it on the 70th anniversary of the events that earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for Army Lieutenant Audie Murphy, however, I was late getting a copy. So here it is a few weeks late.

It’s To Hell and Back from Universal-International in 1955. It was released ten years after the events, and it stars Audie Murphy playing himself. A successful film career followed the end of the war for Murphy, and he became most famous for western roles.

Audie Murphy was the most decorated American soldier ever, eclipsing Sergeant Alvin York, who only saw a single significant action in World War One. Murphy was from a sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas. This parallels the life of Alvin York, who was from a poor family in the Tennessee mountains. Suffering a string of failures, Murphy’s father abandoned the family, another parallel to Alvin York. The movie goes into detail about Murphy’s life prior to the war, something that is only touched on in the autobiography of the same name.

The opening scene shows soldiers marching on parade, supposedly in honor of Murphy’s receiving the Medal of Honor. Next, World War Two General Walter Bedell Smith explains the hardships of soldiers in war and the valor exhibited by many. Then Murphy is shown at the age of 12, hunting in the East Texas woods to put food on the table for his family. He learned to become an excellent shot—a single bullet could determine whether there was food.


Come the war and the death of his mother, we see Murphy attempting to join the Marines. They laugh him out of the recruiting office. At the time he was only 17 and gave all the appearance of being just a scrawny kid, which he was. Faked documentation was necessary for him to avoid the age requirement and get into the Army.


I saved the above image, because it depicts one of the memorable moments in the film. It’s in a North Africa base, where the Third Division is preparing to enter combat. One soldier has obtained some suspicious hooch, and he demands his buddy take a drink of it. When the buddy declines he seizes Murphy’s rifle and forces his buddy at gun point to take a swig. It’s awful stuff, and after his buddy has finished the swig the soldier hands over the rifle with the hilarious line, “Now you hold it on me so I can have one.”

Funny it is, but it likely never happened. Early on screen writer Gil Doud takes off and rewrites the book. Critical elements in the book are never mentioned. Things that apparently never happened make for some exciting action in the movie.

In his recount, Murphy tells of his first encounter with the enemy after landing in Sicily. It’s a German machine gun emplacement that cuts down troops close by.


The following day he kills his first enemy soldiers in a bit of the action that was left out:

The following day I am ahead of the company with a group of scouts. We flush a couple of Italian officers. They should have surrendered. Instead they mount two magnificent white horses and gallop madly away. My act is instinctive. Dropping to one knee, I fire twice. The men tumble from the horses, roll over and lie still.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 10). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

A major piece of action seems to have been fabricated. That’s Murphy leading a probe across the Volturno River. Still it makes for interesting viewing.


Back in Naples on leave there is a small bit of reality. The tale of Murphy meeting up with an Italian girl and spending the night with her during an air raid is close to the narrative.


Except that director Jesse Hibbs takes a bit of liberty by displaying her bare-shouldered. During this time in Italy only street walkers went out with their shoulders exposed. To this day you cannot get into a church in Italy bare-shouldered. She’s cute, however, played by Susan Kohner.

On the Anzio beachhead the action against the German tanks is realistic. A big part of strategy at this time involved wet ground. The Germans had a passel of tanks, but during the rainy season the ground off the roads was too boggy to support them. Here off-shore guns have disabled the lead German tank. It’s abandoned by its crew, and the other tanks fall back.


During the night the Americans can hear Germans trying to repair the disabled tank, and Murphy leads an expedition out to permanently disable the tank. Murphy’s initiative and remarkable valor are getting him awards and promotions. He is soon a staff sergeant. And he’s not yet nineteen.

Pulled out of Italy, the Third Division is next directed to the south coast of France, and within hours of landing Murphy displays action that begins to accumulate medals. The movie shows Murphy’s friend Private Brandon (Charles Drake) carelessly exposing himself and being killed by a German machine gunner. Murphy becomes enraged and infiltrates the German position, where he steals an MG-42 from some Germans who no longer have need for it. He then wipes out the remaining machine gun positions.


And it pretty much happened that way, except in reality Brandon exposed himself after the Germans faked a surrender. This action earned Murphy the Distinguished Service Cross.

The action that earned Murphy the Medal of Honor came on 26 January 1945 in the battle for the Colmar Pocket.


Again a few liberties have been taken. It’s January, in the Colmar region. And there’s no snow? In the action two tank destroyers came up to support Murphy’s unit. By this time Murphy had been promoted to lieutenant and was as battle wise as it gets. He advised the tank destroyers to take cover, as they were exposing themselves to the approaching German tanks. The drivers gave no heed, and both were quickly disabled when the fighting started.

Murphy is shown ordering his men back to a secure position while he stays forward to call in artillery on the advancing Germans. Presently shells are exploding all around the German units,, but they keep advancing, and Murphy keeps giving closer coordinates. The artillery director on the other end of the phone line finally asks Murphy something like, “How close are they,” and he classically responds, “Hold on, and I’ll let you talk to them.”

He climbs atop a burning vehicle, a Sherman tank in the movie, and opens up with the machine gun on top. Here the film goes light on the butchery that ensued. The Germans were unable to locate the source of their destruction, and they kept on coming. They could not believe that somebody was firing at them from atop a burning tank destroyer.

The war ends there for Murphy in the movie as he struggles back to his men, wounded, and that is the end of the movie. In fact, he finished out the war near Munich. The Colmar Germans were the last enemy troops he killed. Liberating a P.O.W. camp he was dissuading from gunning down a German guard. The prisoners assured him this guard had been protecting them.

On leave, on a train to the French Riviera, Murphy got word that the European war was over.

The book and the movie are named “To Hell And Back” for a reason. Life for soldiers on the front was a hell of fire, mud, vermin and death. Murphy started in North Africa with a group of soldiers who quickly became close friends. By the Colmar Pocket action he was the last one left standing. The rest were dead or invalided out.

Here is a list of the cast principals. Some of the names you will recognize even today:

Game Changer

So I went to this movie, and it was a real thriller. It starred Mel Gibson, and he was in top form. He was tough and resourceful, and he wound up killing a lot of bad guys. Later on I learned the awful truth.

I was talking to my friend Ernie, and he was asking me how I liked the movie, and I told him all about it. “You’ve been scammed,” he informed me.

“Scammed? What?”

“Yeah. Scammed.”

“How? What do you mean?”

Then my friend told me the sorry news. Gibson had been caught using performance enhancing drugs. What I saw in this action-packed thriller was not the real Mel, but the Mel on acid. All this great acting I paid so much ($15 and up per ticket) to see was really just Mel cheating.

By now you’ve guessed that I’ve been making all this up. It wasn’t a Mel Gibson movie I was watching. It was a major league baseball game, and what I had been watching was A-Rod on steroids. He had been cheating.

You cannot imagine my letdown. I feel so abused. I want my money back.

Just kidding.

Comes the news this morning that A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) has apologized. Apologized! To whom? Not to me.

NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez extended his apology tour to include the fans Tuesday, releasing a handwritten letter in which he said he is sorry for his mistakes that led to his suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

In the letter obtained by ESPN on Tuesday afternoon, Rodriguez called the New York Yankees“gracious” for offering him the chance to use Yankee Stadium for a news conference. But Rodriguez chose to forgo a formal media session.

“I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season,” Rodriguez said in the statement. “I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.

Sorry? Really? Sorry for what? For doing what the fans paid him to do?


By all accounts, a bunch of people with more money than they knew what to do with ponied up $30 to $50 per seat to contribute to A-Rod’s $275 million-dollar pay check (ten years). All to watch grown men play a game? And nobody gets killed?

What fascinates me still is this is in the news. Highly paid news anchors were talking about A-Rod’s apology early this morning, in between stories about Peshmerga fighters holding off yet another attack in Iraq and a follow-up on murders by a terrorist gunman in Denmark. Do we think somebody has their priorities straight?

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.


Heart of Dimness – Part 12


This is the 12th of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 9. Here’s item 10:

10. Evolutionists say mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection produced new life forms. Why then are there so few examples–if there are any at all–of mutations building brand new organs?

Some evolutionists point to a study (2008) of Italian wall lizards (Podarcis sicula). From the abstract: “Here we show how lizards have rapidly evolved differences in head morphology, bite strength, and digestive tract structure after experimental introduction into a novel environment.” The study mentions cecal valves–muscles between the large and small intestine–that “slow down food passage and provide for fermenting chambers, allowing commensal microorganisms to convert cellulose to volatile fatty acids.” (A. Herrel et al., “Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (12) (2008): 4792–4795.)

But anatomist David Menton noted the original lizards had the ability to digest plant material; they simply preferred insects for roughly 95 percent of their diet. Menton added: “The ‘new’ muscular valve they found between the small and large intestine is simply an enlargement of muscles already present in the gut wall at this juncture.” So, far from being a truly new feature, the shift in available food allowed lizards with larger muscles at the juncture to be more successful at feeding and reproducing.

The “rapidly evolved” cecal valves are possibly just natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic information, helping a population adapt to its surroundings.

The reader is invited to review the paper published by Anthony Herrel et al. It describes a development that occurred over a 36-year period, far shorter than the time spans involved in the study of fossils. That the degree of adaptation observed is so slight should not be surprising. Further, David states:

The “rapidly evolved” cecal valves are possibly just natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic information, helping a population adapt to its surroundings.

In all likelihood, this is exactly what has happened. However, it’s incumbent on David and others making such claims, to demonstrate some evidence. Such research would include:

  • Demonstrate there is nothing in the genome of the latest lizards that was not in the genomes of the starting population.
  • If there are novel genes, demonstrate these are not associated with the new capabilities.
  • On the other hand, anybody proposing that novel genes are responsible for the new capabilities will be required to demonstrate the association.

The illustration below is from the Anthony Herrel paper.

Fig. 4. Photographs illustrating the cecal valves in a male (A), a female (B), and a hatchling (C) P. sicula from Pod Mrčaru. Note the thick cecal wall and pronounced ridges. The arrow in C indicates the position of the cecal valve in a hatchling as seen from the outside.

Fig. 4.
Photographs illustrating the cecal valves in a male (A), a female (B), and a hatchling (C) P. sicula from Pod Mrčaru. Note the thick cecal wall and pronounced ridges. The arrow in C indicates the position of the cecal valve in a hatchling as seen from the outside.

David starts by asking a question:

Why then are there so few examples–if there are any at all–of mutations building brand new organs?

Then he proceeds directly to an example of extremely rapid adaptation. The real answer to his question lies in the fossil record, which covers the time scale for such events. I have previously referred to fossil evidence for the development of the mammalian ear:



Like birds, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and most fishes, the earliest synapsids had a bone in the back of the skull on either side called the quadrate that made the connection with the lower jaw via a bone called the articular. But mammals today, including humans, use two different bones, called the squamosal and the dentary, to make this connection. How did this new jawbone configuration evolve?

For reasons we don’t fully understand, several lineages of synapsids — including the one that would eventually give rise to the mammals — began to evolve changes in the jaw joint. Originally the quadrate and articular bones formed the jaw joint, but these synapsids (e.g.,Probainognathus) evolved a second pair of bones involved in the jaw articulation. The squamosal bone was positioned alongside the quadrate in the upper jaw, and the dentary was positioned alongside the articular in the lower jaw.

The example is from “Jaws to ears in the ancestors of mammals” on the UC Berkeley site.

David further invokes the pronouncements of creationist David Menton:

Dr David Menton

Creationist Anatomist

Answers in Genesis USA


Professional Affiliation

  • Biomedical research technician at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota in the Department of Dermatology (1960–62)
  • Associate Professor of Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri (1966–2000)
  • Associate Professor Emeritus of Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine (July 2000)

Professional Activities

  • Former guest lecturer in gross anatomy
  • Former coursemaster of Microscopic Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine
  • Former consulting editor in Histology for Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, a standard medical reference work

Extraprofessional activities

  • Vice-president of Congregation of Faith Lutheran Church of Ballwin, Missouri
  • Sunday school teacher for high school students
  • Former president of the Missouri Association for Creation, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Technical Advisor for the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas
  • Lectured throughout the United States and Canada on the Creation-Evolution controversy


  • B.A. from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota
  • Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University

Of course, a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University is worth noting. While there is nothing in his resumé indicating he ever did serious work related to evolutionary biology, his right to comment is not denied. However, as I mentioned before, this point has little that relates to whether biological evolution can develop new organs. David is going to have to propose some serious challenges before I can take him seriously.

In a future post I will cover David’s item 11. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.