Thursday, May 31, 2012

Isaac Newton, Birds and Dinosaurs, and Jurassic Park (and Corn and Cotton and Cockleburs and Democrats)

Three things I read this morning in various online news sites have me excited:

1. A teenager in Germany has solved a problem that Sir Isaac Newton posed 350 years ago: how to calculate the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance. He's a genius, of course, but here's why he tackled the problem: “When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself, ‘well, there’s no harm in trying.’” Shouryya Ray was born in India and moved with his family to Germany when his father, an engineer, got a job there.

The 16-year-old  has also solved the problem of calculating the effects of a collision of a body with a wall, which was posed in the 19th century.

What can we learn from this boy? As points out:

---He remains humble, says "I’m no genius," and credits his achievement to "hard work in right direction."

---Be ready to learn anything. When he arrived Germany four years ago, he knew no German, but he's now fluent in the language and will be graduating two years early from prep school.

---Don’t believe anything just because some "expert" told you so. Ask, and answer, your own questions.

2. Modern birds really are descended from dinosaurs, they look like baby dinosaurs, and their development is like that of the ancient dinosaurs, but speeded up.  A study published in Nature this week says that "the  evolution of birds is the result of a drastic change in how dinosaurs developed," speeding up the time it takes to reach maturity. Birds are "living theropod dinosaurs," said one of the study's co-authors. That means my sweet little conures and cockatiels are related to velociraptors.

 (From the article's abstract: "Our results reveal at least four paedomorphic episodes in the history of birds combined with localized peramorphosis (development beyond the adult state of ancestors) in the beak. Paedomorphic enlargement of the eyes and associated brain regions parallels the enlargement of the nasal cavity and olfactory brain in mammals...")
 3. Speaking of dinosaurs, young Missourian Stephen McCullah and friends will soon be looking for a living dinosaur in Africa. McCullah and three friends will make up the Newmac Expedition, "one of the first expeditions in this century with the goal of categorizing plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo." One of their goals is to find evidence of the "Mokèlé-mbèmbé," a dinosaur-like creature that is said to live in rivers in the Congo, where it eats elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.

Maybe they'll find something. Or maybe it will turn out to be like this "chupacabra" found on a San Diego beach, which turned out to be the decaying body of an opossum. One look at the fangs on that monster, though, and I've resolved not to befriend any possums in the near future.

At any rate, McCullah et al. seem to embody the Missouri state motto: "Show me." (The slogan supposedly comes from a speech given in 1899 by a congressman from that state in which he said, ""I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.")

 Definitely a phrase to remember: "corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, May 28, 2012

Not to get all emotional about this, but I do value this day. I do celebrate those who have given their lives for our country, even in wars that I thought were unnecessary or wrong.

This article from today's Air Force Times says it all.

From the article:

"Marine Sgt. William Stacey was killed earlier this year by a homemade bomb in southern Afghanistan, a tragedy for which he prepared by writing a letter to his family explaining why he was fighting that was to be read in the event of his death.

"The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, read the 23-year-old’s letter during a Memorial Day service Monday in Kabul in memory of all the troops who have died in the country since the war started in 2001...

"Stacey was on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed on Jan. 31 in Helmand province. The young Marine from Redding, Calif., told his family that he was motivated to fight in Afghanistan to protect the country’s children and provide them the opportunity to go to school and live out their dreams."

Here's a quote from the letter that Sgt. Stacey wrote and Gen. Allen read. This is important, so I've made it larger and bolder than everything else in this post:

“There will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home to come to his. He will have the gift of freedom which I have enjoyed for so long myself, and if my life brings the safety of a child who will one day change the world, then I know that it was all worth it.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiction Friday: May 25, 2012: Going to Mars?

Great news! What we used to think was science fiction may come to real life on a planet near us within this century.

The unmanned "Dragon" has successfully docked at the International Space Station. It's designed to return to Earth and be re-used, something NASA hasn't been even thinking of since the end of the space shuttle era.

"Dragon" Docked at ISS (NASA Photo)

And it looks like NASA is finally going to send people to Mars.

Sunset on Mars (HASA Photo)
Here's a 2009 proposal for the project, set for 2017 at the earliest, though 2030 is a more likely time.

It would be a one-way trip for the astronauts and would have to be done in cooperation with Russia and other countries.

The Dragon was made and launched by a private company, though (SpaceX), and I wonder if private companies will lead the way to Mars.

However it happens, some lucky people are set for the greatest adventure in human exploration! Madame L just wishes she could go with them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

And More Irony: Arizona and Hawaii

I used to be proud of my connections with the state of Arizona. Lately, I'm not. Here's why:

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is pandering to birthers by going through a ridiculous charade of asking the state of Hawaii to prove to him that Pres. Barack Obama was really born in Hawaii. Bennett claims that he has to verify this information before he can put Pres. Obama's name on the ballot for the November elections. Has Bennett tried to confirm the birthplaces of any other candidates on the ballot? No, he has not.

(At least the Hawaii state officials are dealing with Bennett's request in the appropriate manner, requiring proof that Bennett has the authority to request such information, and so on.)

What else? Oh, yes, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, is a publicity-seeking fruit-cake who has signed a bill banning funding for Planned Parenthood, staged a ridiculous confrontation with Pres. Obama when he visited Arizona (apparently as a way to boost sales of a book).

She has also signed a bill requiring that women receive "counseling" when trying to obtain an abortion, even when the abortion is medically necessary, apparently on the assumption that women have no moral or ethical values and need help in making decisions affecting their own health.

And? Oh, there's the sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, who has been harassing Latinos on the streets and in the jail system. His offenses have become so outrageous that the U.S. Justice Department is suing him.

And that's because of Arizona's immigration law, which requires law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone and everyone they stop for any and every reason. Arguments about this law, by the way, have been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on it sometime next month. 

(Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Supreme Court is expected to support parts of the law, including the part which lets police stop people just because they have brown skin, which of course makes Jan Brewer happy.)

I could go on, but life is short, too short to waste any more time on these yahoos, and too short to waste any more time on or money in Arizona.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More Irony: in Pakistan

The Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. military find terrorist Osama bin Laden has been put in jail  and fined for treason.

The doctor apparently collected DNA samples as part of a vaccination campaign in the neighborhood where bin Laden was hiding out, thereby helping American forces confirm the terrorist's location.

A so-called "tribal court" in Pakistan's northwest Khyber district convicted Shakeel Afridi of treason. Under the tribal court system, the doctor was not allowed to defend himself, have access to a lawyer, or present evidence on his own behalf.

Has anyone been tried, convicted, or even charged with helping bin Laden find refuge in the country of Pakistan, our supposed ally?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Best Graduation Speech?

Does anyone remember what the guest speaker said at his/her high school or graduation? I don't. Okay, the fact that I only ever attended two (out of four possible) graduations doesn't help.

(I do remember sweating like a racehorse under the ridiculous black polyester graduation gown. I do remember stumbling up the aisle in the procession. I do remember thinking, "Must not stumble, must not stumble" all the way up the stage and across and down again as I went to receive my fake diploma [because they didn't want to print and hand out the real ones until after they were sure which students would actually be eligible to graduate]. I do remember playing my clarinet in the band during some really horrible songs. And I do remember that my high school class co-valedictorian [of whose speech I do not recall one single word] or whatever she was called went on to flunk out of college in her first semester. You know, all the really important things.)

But if you had a funny or inspiring speech, would you have remembered it?

I'll bet I would have remembered Jon Stewart's 2004 commencement speech at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

How can you not enjoy and remember a speech that begins this way:

"Thank you Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you."

And he's so breathtakingly honest about the academic fol-de-rol that goes with commencement speakers and honorary degrees:

"I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it. 

"I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you."

One more example of his blunt honesty cloaked in humor:

"So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized 'The Tribe' was not what I thought it meant.

"In 1980 I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for with a repugnant personality."

Oh, just follow the link and enjoy the whole speech!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ancient Gigantic Turtle

It was as big as a Smart car and so big it could eat every other creature around it, including small crocodiles.

Here are more details. 

North Carolina State University depiction of the turtle, artwork by Liz Bradford

The fossil remains of this turtle, given the scientific name of Carbonemys cofrinii, were found in a coal mine in Colombia in 2005. Only one specimen has been found so far, probably because they were so big and ate so much that no others shared the living space for very long. (Another turtle (Cerrejonemys wayuunaiki) that was discovered in the same area probably survived because it had an extra-thick shell.)

The researchers said the creatures, side-necked turtles (of which you can see many living, and much smaller, examples nowadays)  lived about 60 million years ago, about 5 million years after the dinosaurs vanished.

Modern mini-version at Steigenwald Lake
National Wildlife Refuge


Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Death of Irony

I just wanted to share this great website that I plan to check every once in awhile: 

The National Coalition for Men has endorsed a bill extending the Violence Against Women Act to the most under-recognized oppressed minority in our country: heterosexual men.
Irony DIES. So do women. every day.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

See? This is What I Was Talking About! (More Lists)

I wrote "Making a List" when I was thinking specifically of those teasers that you click on to find out what someone wrote about some topic that's vaguely or mildly interesting.

Just now, I did it again. I'm always interested in what stories the media cover, and why, and even more interested in what stories they DON'T cover, and why. So I followed a link to a story called, I think, "21 Stories They Don't Want You to Know About" or something like that. (I don't remember the exact title and I'm not providing a link to the story here because it turned out to link to still another page with a video, a lot of ads, and, I'm sure, a lot of cookie collecting. So I backed out of it immediately.)

One reason I was interested in that story, though, was the idea of  the vague and indeterminate "They" in the title. I figured I would find out just from a glance at the article --- if there had been an actual article there --- a lot about the political-social-cultural orientation of the writer and website.

Alas, I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

But I did think of my own list:

Seven (7) Reasons Not to Follow Any Link 
That Promises a List of Reasons 
For Anything Whatsoever

   1. The author of the list is a sloppy writer who can't think of anything to say without writing a simple list.

   2. The website exists for the sole purpose of collecting clicks and cookies for ad revenue.

   3. You could easily find the same information, and more, and presented in a more useful fashion, by looking up the topic on Wikipedia.

      3a.  Not that you should rely only on Wikipedia. I'm just saying.

      3b. Or any other website.

   4. Even if it's Doctor Oz or some other expert who supposedly made the list, you know --- you absolutely know ---  that the list and the information used to explain every statement in the list will have been dumbed down and generalized to the point of ridiculous uselessness.

   5. Particularly if there's a "They" or an accusatory tone about the title of the list, it's going to be a total waste of your time.
      5a. Unless you're researching for a thesis on political propaganda and social media.

      5b. Or unless you're thinking intensively about lists and other ways to organize your worldview.

      5c. Or unless you're bored to death and/or in a daze of computer-screen-viewing.

   6. In which case, you REALLY SHOULD shut down your browser and get some real work done.

   7. Please note that I followed all the rules for website list-making, including adding a lot of stuff that didn't really fit into the nature of the list, pretending that I was being super clever, and not following my own list of rules. But at least I didn't provide a link to some other page where I would be able to collect a lot of personal web-viewing information about you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fiction Friday: May 18, 2012: Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice is a donkey and Virgil is a howler monkey. They're definitely not the Roman poet Virgil who guided the poet Dante Alighieri through hell and purgatory nor the Beatrice who guided Dante through heaven.

Who are they guiding, then, and where? They're guiding us, along with the narrator of the story, and they're not so different after all from those ancient poetic guides.They are suffering patiently and stoically for the most part, as animals usually do, though Virgil does emit his fearsome and terrible howl occasionally.

But that's not all. They are reflecting on the Holocaust, a subject the narrator (and perhaps the author himself, too) has tried to write about. What could a donkey and a monkey tell us about the Holocaust? As much as an actual survivor? Perhaps, though most survivors of those Horrors have declined to reflect much on their experiences.

Yann Martel, who wrote "Life of Pi," has done it again, but even better, in "Beatrice and Virgil." This is not just a novel; it's a novel about writing a novel, and it includes in it a play and a short story. It's very literary, too, though not obnoxiously so.

Here's an excerpt from the play:

Beatrice: What should we do?

Virgil: I don't know.

Beatrice: This road must lead somewhere.

Virgil. Is it somewhere we want to be?

Beatrice: It could be good  news.

Virgil: It could be bad news.

Beatrice: Who's to know?

Virgil: This is a safe and pleasant spot.

Beatrice: Danger could be creeping up.

Virgil: We should go then?

Beatrice: We should.

     (They do not move.)

Beatrice and Virgil aren't the whole story told here. Other characters include the narrator, his wife and baby son, his pet dog and cat, a taxidermist, some actors and a director, and a waiter.

This book makes you think again about animals and your relationship to them, about other people and your relationship to them, about pears and bananas, about the way you think about everything, and, well, everything you think about.

Please read this book. If you want to read "Life of Pi" first, that would be great but not necessary. If you haven't read "Life of Pi" yet, you should.

Then think about all those things. Do you see them in a new light?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dividing My Little World

Back to the idea of dividing everybody in my little world into two types, I've decided that I don't need to make a list, after all. 

I'll stick with dividing writers into two groups: those who know from the beginning how they'll end their essay or story, and those who don't know.

Then, within that first group, there are those who know from the beginning and stick with it, and those who thought they knew from the beginning but changed the ending by the time they got to it.

And within that second group, there are those who didn't know from the beginning but figure it out as they go along, and those who didn't know at first and never figure it out.

Within that second group of the second group, there are those who never figure it out and are okay with that, and those who never figure it out and give up.

Is this cheating? What if one of my students had tried that tactic with me? I would have given that student an A+, no question about it.

So, no, it's not cheating, but a necessary refining of that simplistic view of the world. I think. It's like making a branching chart. Maybe it's not useful or  necessary for such a trivial example as this one, but it's helpful  for classifying, comparing, and understanding more complex and important concepts.

For example, this kind of decision or branching chart is often used for comparing choices and deciding between them as you see where each decision may lead. Here's an example:

Here's a flow chart that gives another graphic way of thinking about decisions and their results:

These don't lend themselves well to the essay or blog form, as we see above, but they provide a more complete and more helpful way to think about the world than that old composition assignment.  And they're certainly better than any old list.

I still don't know where I'm going with this, but eventually I'll figure it out. I'm sure of that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Making a List

Santa isn't the only one who's making a list and checking it twice, is he. There's also the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko, in The Mikado:

I'm mentioning this because it seems like every news and commentary web page has a list or two nowadays, especially when they want you to buy something. Did you ever follow a link to one of those pages for the "4 Signs You're Going to Have a Heart Attack," for example? I did, and it turned out to be a long ad for something, I don't know what, since I hit the "Back" button after a few seconds.

Anyway, I'm quite a list-maker myself: mostly grocery lists and "Things To Do" lists, all of which I generally lose or throw away before getting around to checking them.

I've just found a website with a lot of clever lists:

Here's one of the lists: 4 Common Hilarious Childhood Misconceptions.

Another one: 5 Types of People At Everyone's Job.

What I really like about these lists is that they make me think about some of my own childhood misconceptions, the people at places where I've worked, and so on.

And what's great is thinking about the lists *I* would make if I ever thought of making lists like that. So maybe I'll write some lists in coming days. But I admit that I'm not much of one for those kinds of lists.

Rather, I tend to think of dividing my little world --- not the whole world, but whatever part of my world I'm thinking of at the time --- into two kinds of people.

I used to assign my freshman composition students to write essays about this, and I got lots of great responses, only one of which I remember now, and there was at least one in every class: "I don't believe you can divide everyone into two kinds of people."

(I would always write for those students a comment something like this: "I believe you could at least divide everyone into people who are willing to think about an assignment and those who aren't, or maybe people who will get a good grade on this assignment and those who won't...")

I don't even know where I'm going with all this. Maybe my today's division of the whole world into two kinds of people would be people who know where they're going when they start to write something and those who have no idea. But then there are also people who don't know at the beginning but figure it out as they go along.

Hey! Maybe I should be writing a list.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bourne Vivaldi

The Piano Guys: Enjoy!

(Thanks to [you know who you are!] for letting me know about this.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fiction Friday: May 11, 2012: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

"You disappoint me," [said an old china doll sitting next to him]. "You disappoint me greatly. If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless." So, if the point of the journey is to learn to love and to let ourselves be loved, maybe you can guess what happens to Edward Tulane. 

At the beginning of his journey, he is a little girl's china rabbit-doll, but, like most of us when we begin our journey, he's very self centered and even vain, and though Abilene loves him dearly, he doesn't love her back and certainly doesn't appreciate her love.

You may laugh and Madame L bets you'll cry as you read about Edward's journey, how he learns to love and be loved.

This is another wonderful children's book by Kate DiCamillo, the author of "The Magician's Elephant" and "The Tale of Despereaux" and "Tiger Rising" and Madame L doesn't know how many other books. She's just giving you the titles of the ones she has read.

And the illustrations in this book, by Bagram Ibatoulline, are as wonderful as the story.

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" is available new from for $9.22 and used for about half that. And, as always, you can borrow it from your local library for free.

Enjoy! And if you've enjoyed any other books by Kate DiCamillo, please share them with all of us!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another Thing About Living Here

To quote J, "I love breathing air that hasn't been filtered through Ohio."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Glimpse of God

In the temple this morning, I was reminded of what an Episcopal priest wrote about her visit to the new Kansas City Temple in Liberty, Missouri, during its pre-dedication open house.

She began her account, "What does a Mormon temple look like and what happens inside it? Would I feel God's presence in this space, even though it's not a space that's sacred for me? Before I go any further — and because I know it's the question at the front of your mind, dear reader — no one tried to convert me... They showed me every space from changing rooms to sealing rooms where marriages take place and answered every question I asked, no matter how challenging or controversial. And in the end, yes, I did have a God moment.”

She described the rooms:  "Unlike a cathedral, which is primarily composed of one large worship space, a Mormon temple has a variety of smaller rooms that serve different purposes. There are sealing rooms and rooms for men and women to change into white clothes (every male or female Mormon who enters a dedicated temple wears the same white clothing) and instruction rooms where individuals learn about God in preparation for receiving their endowments."

And then she said, "It was in these rooms, and the final Celestial Room, where I caught a glimpse of God...[The celestial room is] a space designed to give those who sit in it a foretaste of heaven...Our guide asked us to be silent and said we were welcome to sit wherever we liked and take a moment to pray. So I sat down on a sofa that seemed to envelop me, folded my hands on my lap and closed my eyes.

"Like Dante, who saw God face to face but had no words to describe the encounter, I have few words to describe what I felt in that moment. But I can say this: While it did not convert me, nor did it make me want to be a Mormon, the silence and peace I felt reminded me of the many other times I've felt close to God, whether in an Episcopal cathedral, in a clear, warm ocean or in my ratty old car. And because of that, I came to understand why temples exist and why they are so important to Mormons across the world."

"How far is heaven?
It's not very far.
In temples of God,
It's right where we are."

Goodbye, Maurice Sendak

One of my favorite writers of all time died this morning at the age of 83. Maurice Sendak wrote "Where the Wild Things Are," of course, but also many other books.

He said his books weren't written for children, that they just came out of his mind, out of who he was and what his memories were.

When you know that all of his father's relatives died in the Holocaust, though his father was able to get his wife's mother and some of her siblings out, and you hear about some of the stories his grandmother told him, it may give you a whole new depth of understanding to his stories.

For example, in "In the Night Kitchen," Mickey falls out of bed and into a giant vat of batter, and he worries about whether he'll be baked in a cake in the oven.

In "Outside, Over There," When Ida, who's a little jealous of her little sister, has to watch her, goblins come to steal the little sister away; and Ida has to go looking for her.

A few months ago I listened on NPR to an interview Mr. Sendak gave to Terry Gross. He said, "I don't believe in an afterlife but I still fully expect to see my brother again."

He also said, "There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

I hope Mr. Sendak was ready, and I know he's going to see his brother again.

Thank you, Maurice Sendak, for your wonderful stories and illustrations.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quote on Forgery

"A forgery can be distinguished from an original because it looks more genuine."

---Ernst Bloch

Maybe this proves it: "According to an alarming estimate made by Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, up to 40% of all the works in circulation globally are really forgeries, and in the last few years, a massive number of fakes have seeped into the local art market."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Giant Tree-Dwelling Marsupials

Speaking of things in trees, I just read that sheep-sized marsupials used to live in the trees in Australia.

Here's a photo taken by the scientist who did the research:

This handout photo taken by Dr Karen Black and provided by the University of New South Wales on May 3, 2012 shows shows the adult and baby skulls of a sheep-sized diprotodontoid marsupial called Nimbadon, discovered in a 15 million year old fossil cave in north western Queensland. – AFP Photo
From the online article:

     "Karen Black, from the University of New South Wales, said her team discovered the world’s largest tree-climbing marsupial among fossils found at the Riversleigh World Heritage Site in Queensland state.

     “'The Nimbadon fossil material is an incredibly rare and significant resource, not only because it is so exceptionally well-preserved, but because it represents individuals from a range of ages from tiny suckling pouch young to elderly adults,' said Black."

This handout photo taken by Dr Karen Black and provided by the University of New South Wales on May 3, 2012 shows the skeleton of a sheep-sized diprotodontoid marsupial called Nimbadon, discovered in a 15 million year old fossil cave in north western Queensland. – AFP Photo  
 I don't know about you, but it just makes my day to read about discoveries like this!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Super Moon on Saturday

On Saturday (May 5), you can see the biggest full moon of 2012.  Go out and watch it!

From the Chicago Tribune online:

     " NASA's Science News calculates the moon's appearance Saturday will be "as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons of 2012."

    " Some call what's known as a perigee full moon a "supermoon," which may or may not be accurate.    EarthSky gives a lengthy explanation of the term and concludes with this: "Bottom line: The full moon of May 5 (or 6), 2012, is the closest and largest full moon of this year. Some will call it a supermoon."

    " But that doesn't mean you'll be able to notice the difference. "There are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters," the NASA story says. "Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full moon can seem much like any other."

    " And one downside to the big moon bonanza: The super/biggest moon of the year will likely obscure the Eta Aquarid meteor shower set to peak this weekend."

Here's the Wikipedia article about the full moon.

Fiction Friday: May 4, 2012: The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter

We all knew someone like Thaddeus A. Ledbetter when we were in middle school: the smart-alecky kid who tells the teachers what we all wished we had the guts to say (i.e., the truth) about their teaching, subject matter, classroom, appearance, and how bored we were every single day in their classes.

However, Thaddeus A. Ledbetter suffers the fate that we all knew would befall us if we dared to say anything like that: in-school suspension.

But instead of wasting his time in detention, Thaddeus is preparing his defense. He just wants the principal, his mom, the teachers, and his attorney uncle to understand why he did all those things.

There was a reason for telling an obese teacher she has a lot of junk in her trunk.

There was a reason for using a sparkler instead of the usual lighter for the altar candles, and it wasn't his fault the pastor's robe caught on fire.

There was a reason for telling the invited artists and folk musicians that their work was a waste of time.

There was a reason for asking the fat man in the red shirt if he was often confused for a red slug-a-bug.

There was even a reason for inviting all the old guys to drive their classic cars into the auditorium while one of his buddies set off the fire alarm and Thaddeus announced on the PA system that killer bees were loose in the school.

Thaddeus just wants to help people, and he's pretty sure he knows how. Is it his carefully composed and hilarious defense that finally gets him out of detention? You'll have to read the book to find out. It's available at for $10.52, new, and for prices as low as 24 cents, used. It's also at your local library, or, if not, it should be, and you, Dear Reader, should call and ask them to put it on their shelves. Madame L would offer to send her own copy to any reader who requests it except she has a certain young reader in mind who she thinks will enjoy it.

Author John Gosselink is an English teacher, and his experiences with seventh graders has served him well. Madame L guarantees you'll laugh out loud while you read this book. You can also check out Thaddeus A. Ledbetter's very own blog.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Politics Is Weird...

...and creepy, and, now I know, lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality."

Shepard Smith says it all:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Traffic Cone, Meet Tree

Actually, it looks like they already met.

(By the way, notice the blue clouds in the background? Yes! That's almost like having blue sky! The blue clouds alternated with gray clouds, dark gray clouds, slanting rain, and hail. Reminds me of the old saying: "If you don't like the weather, stick around for a few minutes.")

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

The first spring after we moved to California, our mother helped us celebrate May Day. We celebrated in the way she had celebrated as a child: We picked some flowers from our garden and put them in little homemade paper baskets and took them to the neighbors.

According to Wikipedia's history of May Day, it was "celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep."

And I don't think we did it the way Wikipedia describes it, ringing the bell and running away; but we just handed the basket bashfully to whoever answered the door, while our mother hung back, smiling and encouraging us. 

We didn't know May Day was a holdover pagan holiday or by the time we were born a "Communist" holiday (International Workers Day).  Maybe the reaction of one neighbor should have given us a clue, as he recoiled, glared at us, and finally only reluctantly accepted the basket of flowers. Or maybe he was just a grouchy old guy. Yeah, now that I think about it, he definitely was a grouchy old guy.

Maybe I'm thinking of May Day today not just because of the flowers blooming all around, but because I'm thinking of my mother, who was born ninety years ago last week, and who taught me to love the beauty of God's creations. Yeah, now that I think about it, I'm definitely thinking of my wonderful mother. Why did I not write about her on her birthday or wait until Mother's Day to write about her? I guess I don't think I have to wait for those special days because I think about her every day.

Here's some more about her, from another of her daughters, for anyone who wants to know her better. And here are two photos of her with her twin brother, Dewaine; her with her husband Hurley while they were missionaries in Montana; and her with Hurley and their six children.

Amazing Photos

Check out these "Images You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped."  Here's one, taken at a beach in California:

Would you swim out in that surf? I wouldn't!