Monthly Archives: April 2006

Atomic bombs

These photographs were taken at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park during my around-the-world journey in 2002. I have been thinking a lot about Hiroshima lately, having just completed Richard RhodesThe Making of the Atomic Bomb. This 800 book chronicles the scientific work and historical events that made the atomic bomb a reality. It begins with ideas and calculations on paper, moves to laboratory experiments; is interrupted and simultaneously stimulated by the rise of fascism and death in Europe; shifts to the New Mexican desert for more experiments; and ends with the instantaneous destruction of cities along with more than 100,000 human beings.

Despite mountains of technical exposition and knowing how the story ends, the book reads like a John Grisham page-turner. There were some fascinating men and women at the center of the story. It is not exactly a summer beach book, but well worth a read.

In the epilogue Rhodes quotes Robert Oppenheimer, “If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest power to control the world and to deal with it according to it lights and its values.” Rhodes goes on to say, “Science is sometimes blamed for the nuclear dilemma. Such blame confuses the messenger with the message. Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann did not invent nuclear fission; they discovered it.”

It is unfortunate that science cannot develop formulas which successfully predict human behavior in the same way it revealed the nature of the atom.

Behold the power of cheap books!

The semi-annual Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale was this weekend. It is the one chance book lovers from across the city have to come together, push each other around, and generally act like jerks. Just goes to show what $1 for a hardcover will do to people.

To be honest, people were fairly well behaved, especially compared to my experience last year when several fights broke out. (not really) I did notice a lot of people with cell phones frantically punching in information. I assumed these people were resellers using services like Amazon to find out how much they could get for a particular book. There were several people with bar code scanners quickly checking the value of the multitude of books on sale. To me these people were not acting in the true spirit of the sale, which centers around filling your house with books even the library doesn’t want.

I did manage to pick up a book I came very close to buying earlier in the week, “Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story” by Harvey Pekar. He is the writer of the comic American Splendor which was made into a movie of the same name. He gave an interview/talk on Wednesday which I attended. Harvey seems like a nice guy and was very genuine.

The same cannot be said of the interviewer, a book critic for one of Seattle’s alternative newspapers. I sensed there was something not right about the guy when the woman seated next to me said “Oh, he’s soooo cute” when the critic walked on stage. His flippant and phony interview style only cemented my dislike. He struck me as just the kind of guy Pekar is constantly making fun of in his comics.

Jack: Count or Noncount?

Here is a photo of my parent’s dog Jack, a rambunctious Airedale. I was thinking of him earlier this week when I heard an interview with Marley & Me author John Grogan and then read this article about the book on I don’t think Jack is a misbehaved as Marley, despite what my parents claim.

The interview with Grogan was broadcast on one of my favorite radio shows: Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? To hear the interview find the show archives for April 8, 2006. It is currently the most recent show but that may change by the time you read this.

On an unrelated note you may notice a link on the right for count and noncount nouns; this is a page I set up for my morning class. We go to the computer lab every Wednesday and I’m trying to make it easy for my students to get to the pages I want them to visit. The past two weeks or so we have been studying food which leads in to count and noncount nouns.

(Foreign Babes in Beijing)

During my first stay in China, as a student in 1994, there was a very popular television series titled Foreign Babes in Beijing. It was the story of two American women who come to Beijing to study only to end up becoming evolved with a couple of Chinese men and their family. It was social commentary thinly disguised as light entertainment. The characters were painted with broad strokes: stereotypes were plentiful. One of the women was all that was good about America and the West, the other just the opposite. The “bad girl” (Jiexi) was by far the more interesting character and when I watched the show it was for her storyline. A couple of years after the show ended I met the actress who played Jiexi, Rachel DeWoskin; she had a small role in a film I worked on, Restless.

Rachel has written a book about her time in China, titled Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China. Book came out last year and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. The book paints an appealing portrait of expatriate life in Beijing during the 1990’s. I found her experiences very similar to my own, even though I didn’t star in a television series. I suspect things are very different these days; the pace of change is one the things I like most about Beijing. For more info on the book check out these links:


NPR interview with DeWoskin

W.W. Norton & Company (Publisher)