Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The National Park Service Teases the East Bay

I'm heading up to the San Francisco Bay Area next week, and so in preparation I decided to take a look at the National Park Service sites in the East Bay, where I'll be staying. I'd been to various units of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, but there are no fewer than four NPS sites on the other side of the Bay. You know the National Park Service, right? Stunning natural grandeur, amazing slices of history, memories to treasure, etc., right?

Well, I haven't been to any yet, but the National Park Service sites in the East Bay look kinda fourth-tier to me. They all certainly commemorate worthy people or events, but I hope you'll understand when I say that visiting them doesn't really sound like an experience up there with Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, or even historic sites like Independence Hall or Alcatraz.

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park
It seems like a neat idea, but all it amounts to for now is a memorial that started as a public art project, a visitor center in the lobby of Richmond City Hall that's closed for the summer, and a self-guided auto tour of some old factories --- or sites of factories, none of which, of course, are making destroyers anymore. One of the ships is available to visit, so there is that.

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site
One of America's greatest writers, this site is basically just his house, and most of the year it's open by reservation only. The annual festival in September celebrating his plays and life isn't even at the historic site, it's in town, presumably because that's where they have a theater.

John Muir National Historic Site
John Muir, mountain man, father of the National Parks and great naturalist, gets a National Historic Site, and, like Eugene O'Neill's, it's just the house he lived in. No, not some log cabin he built with his own hands in the wilderness, but his wife's parents' house on the edge of town where he managed their fruit ranch. At least it's open to the public. Not to be confused with Muir Woods National Monument.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Visiting this site of a WWII munitions disaster requires reservations made two weeks in advance to get security clearance, since it's on an active Navy base. If you do visit, you park outside the gate and get shuttled to the site, but the website is mum on what they actually show you once you get there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Michael Jackson vs. Bob Fosse

Wow... no doubt in my mind that Michael Jackson is (was?) an amazing dancer, but I had no idea how much he lifted his moves from Bob Fosse. Check out this compilation of clips of Fosse as the Snake from the 1974 movie version of The Little Prince set to "Billie Jean":

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sullivan and Coates

This past week, bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Ta-Nahisi Coates engaged in an interesting back-and-forth on Sonia Sotomayor and racial identity, which led into a discussion about the nature of conservatism vs. liberalism and blogging in general. Somebody at The Atlantic conveniently compiled the different posts into one web page for our edification. Thanks, somebody!

The Oprah Menace

Recently Newsweek had a substantial article on the pernicious effects of Oprah Winfrey's influence. It covered a lot, but the main problem is that she provides a prominent platform for a lot of charlatans peddling unproven self-improvement and health ideas yet doesn't do much of anything to show that these ideas may be unsupported scientifically, outright quackery, or even potentially harmful.

Specifically, she's provided a forum for former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy, who used to just be an irritating media presence but has now become the public face of the movement against immunization. This is based on the idea that immunization causes autism, which has been soundly discredited. With parents undeterred by the evidence provided by actual scientists doing actual research and instead choosing to follow the brain-dead former host of MTV's "Singled Out," the L.A. Times is reporting that a number of schools in wealthy areas, particularly charter and non-Catholic private schools, have levels of non-immunization high enough to become a problem with herd immunity. In other words, it's not just a matter of personal choice, but a legitimate public health problem.

People are taking bad advice from a nude model and making it more and more likely that diseases that had essentially been eradicated in the developed world will once again infect and kill children. I hope they're proud of themselves.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Advice for Time-Travelers

In December 2006, I asked the following question about time travel:
Say you have a time machine and wish to go back to sometime in the past. Now let's say you don't want to arouse suspicion by bringing back some kind of futuristic object... What should you bring with you that would enable you to make the most money in the past? ... What would be cheap today but recognizable and valuable in the past?
I think I have the answer: aluminum. Despite it being the most abundant metallic element in the earth's crust, before the Hall-Héroult process was invented in 1886, it was extremely difficult to extract from its ores. As a result, aluminum was considered a precious metal. As Wikipedia says,
Napoleon III, emperor of France, is reputed to have given a banquet where the most honoured guests were given aluminium utensils, while the other guests had to make do with gold.
So remember, before you step into your time machine to go back into the 19th century, pick up a roll of Reynolds Wrap and remember to toss out the packaging.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

One Small Step for Man

A few years ago I linked to a story about how some analysis of the recordings of the transmissions from Apollo 11 indicated that my namesake Neil Armstrong did in fact say, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" upon setting foot on the surface of the Moon, and that the "a" had been lost in the transmission.

Now the BBC is reporting that further analysis of cleaner recordings indicates that that was not the case, and that Armstrong did indeed flub his historic pronouncement. Well, nobody's perfect. The analysis of Armstrong's speech did indicate that he intended to contrast "a man" with "mankind," and not just "man," which in this context would mean the same thing as "mankind," and thus not make very much sense.

Regardless, it's a wonderful sentiment. Armstrong humbled himself by attributing the glory of the achievement to humanity as a whole, not just himself, not just the Apollo team, and not just the United States of America. And he did so with a poetic use of contrast remembered for the ages even with the dropped word.