Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
March 21, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Anti-Church Zoning and the Moon
You have be vigilant to protect the Constitution all the time. And I'm not talking about anything
to do with Congress or the President -- not this time!
In the town of Gilbert, Arizona, Pastor Joe Sutherland of the Oasis of Truth church began
holding Bible study classes in various homes -- his own, and those of various church members.
Imagine his surprise when he was served with a violation notice. It seems that in Gilbert, it's
forbidden to hold "Bible studies, church leadership meetings, and fellowship activities" in
private homes! (Source: AP report from 15 March.)
There were no complaints from neighbors. And I don't know about you, but this seems to me to
violate the Bill of Rights in several ways.
First, we have the right to freedom of assembly. As long as you're not blocking traffic, what
business is it of the government?
Second, we have the right to be secure in our homes and properties. Certainly having people
over to discuss religion is one of the things that the government cannot possibly have any interest
in prohibiting on our private property.
Third, there's that little thing about freedom of religion.
In practical terms, I have to wonder how such a city ordinance ever got passed. Gilbert is in
"Mormon country" -- a part of Arizona that is thick with my co-religionists. And if there's one
thing Mormons do, it's meet in people's homes for scripture study, leadership meetings, and
It happens at our house all the time. (I lived in Arizona from 1964 through 1967 -- apparently I
got out just in time.)
The fact remains that somebody in Gilbert, Arizona, actually wrote a law that puts a specific
burden on churches. There's nothing against having a birthday party at your home. Apparently
you only break the law if you pray, read the Bible, and call each other "brother" and "sister."
Maybe it's a Homeland Security issue -- you know how those Muslim terrorists are praying all
And I thought zoning regulations in Greensboro were insane.
I love my iGoogle page -- the first time I've actually use an honest-to-goodness home page in
all my years on the web. Since it's the first thing I see when I start up my browser, it's nice to be
able to litter it with items that otherwise never enter my consciousness: Like a calendar
highlighting today's date, a clock, a Greensboro weather report, and newsfeeds from the New
York Times and CNN.
Now, I don't actually watch CNN or read the New York Times, because I'm so weary of their
hyper-ideological slant to everything.
So why don't I use the FoxNews feed? Impartial sources corroborate my view that FoxNews is
the only impartial news network. (This makes it seem like a rabid right-wing network to the
mainstream media, of course, but that's only because they live on Planet PC, where anything
they don't agree with gets hidden away. Being balanced feels like extremism to them.)
Here's why: It's so incompetently programmed that it continues to show the news items from the
day that I loaded the gadget onto my iGoogle page. CNN and the New York Times update
automatically; FoxNews doesn't.
Besides, even when I do remove and then reinstall the FoxNews gadget, the news they cover is
all "soft" news -- scandals, car chases, missing people. Not a breath of genuine news. When I
looked at the headlines I realized: FoxNews on the air might be "fair and balanced," but it's still
a Rupert Murdoch-owned news outlet. Always aiming at the lowest common denominator.
And they're probably right: That's what most Americans seem to want to watch. But not me. I
didn't watch the O.J. Simpson trial. I switched away from the endless coverage of not finding
that girl who was (probably) murdered on a Caribbean vacation after the first minute, which
contained all the actual information that they then spent a thousand hours repeating and talking
So FoxNews doesn't update itself on iGoogle, and when I update it manually, it's not worth
reading -- to me, anyway.
It's a sad day when Ted Turner and the Times are the best source of quick-headline news. Next
thing you know, I'll start believing in global warming.
I picked up an intriguing book the other day: Neil F. Comins, What If the Moon Didn't Exist?
Voyages to Earths That Might Have Been.
The book consists of a number of thought experiments. What would Earth be like if we hadn't
been hit by a Mars-sized planetoid, which spewed a lot of Earth's mass up into space, where
some of it coalesced and formed the moon?
But he doesn't stop there. He calls the first experiment "Solon: Earth without the moon." But
then he moves on to "Lunholm: Earth if the moon were much closer."
Then there's Petiel: A less massive Earth; Urania: Earth tilted like Uranus, completely on its
side; Granstar: if the sun were more massive; Antar: a "nearby" star explodes; Cerberon: a star
passes close by; Diablo: A mini-black hole passes through the Earth.
The last chapter is an explanation of why we can only see visible light. It's not random chance
-- visible light has properties that other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum don't have.
The only other spectrum that might be useful (and a few animals do exploit it) is the infrared,
where instead of seeing reflected photons, you see the heat generated by living beings.
This is an excellent way of discovering how our present world works -- by seeing the ways our
lives would be different (or, sometimes, impossible!) if the system weren't set up the way it is.
Even if you're not a science fiction writer and this doesn't constitute research, it's great fun.
Comins is a good writer; his explanations are clear. You come away from the book with a great
deal more appreciation for things we normally just take for granted.
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, March 25th -- Greek Independence Day!
Birth anniversary (1867) of Gutzon Borglum, creator of the sculptures on Mt. Rushmore.
Old New Year's Day. That's right -- believe it or not, in Britain and the American colonies
(that was us, folks) the new year insanely began on March 25th. March 24th, 1700, was not the
day before March 25th, 1700, but rather came almost a year afterward! This weird system
continued until 1751, when we not only adopted the Gregorian Calendar but moved the
beginning of the year to the more rational January 1st. (Though it's worth pointing out that even
that date causes the absurdity of having the months beginning with sept, oct, nov, and dec --
meaning seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth -- come as the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth
months! What was wrong with March 1st?)
Friday, 26th -- Bangladesh Independence Day!
Birth anniversary (1874) of Robert Frost, whom many regard -- myself included -- as the
greatest American poet.
On this day in 1979, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed the "Camp David Accord,"
which gave the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt, in exchange for Egypt's recognition of Israel as a
sovereign nation -- including the establishment of embassies. Jimmy Carter brokered the deal,
and it certainly took boldness on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Begin to give up so much
buffer territory -- but it was Anwar Sadat who literally put his life on the line, since his
recognition of Israel made him the enemy of jihadist Muslim groups. Sadat was assassinated
two-and-a-half years later (6 Oct. 1981) by members of the "Muslim Brotherhood" within his
own military, in large part because of this deal. But despite Sadat's death, the treaty with Israel
continues in force twenty-one years later. And Sadat remains in my memory as the second
greatest statesman in my lifetime -- just behind Winston Churchill.
Saturday, 27th -- National Cherry Blossom Festival in DC!
Viagra approved by the FDA in 1998.
Earth Hour, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, is observed by turning off all lights for
one hour at 8:30 p.m. local time. The idea is to send "a powerful global message that Earth's
citizens care enough about climate change to take action." But I wonder ... if you get your
electrical power from solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, wind, or tidal generators, do you
get to leave your lights on? Quite apart from the fact that global warming has never been shown
(by credible evidence) to be either a bad thing or caused by human carbon emissions, are these
people against electric light? Is this part of an international "save the moths" campaign? I don't
know about you, but when 8:30 rolls around, I'll be sorely tempted to turn on every light in the
house -- and all the televisions and computers. But since I believe in conserving fossil fuel (for
sound reasons of conservation, not specious "climate change"), I'll resist the temptation.
Sunday, 28th -- Palm Sunday (for Christians, the beginning of
Greatest Show on Earth formed by the merger of P.T. Barnum's and James A. Bailey's
circuses in 1881.
Root Canal Awareness Week. Look, folks, if you've had a root canal, you're already aware.
And if you haven't, I can't imagine what good it will do for you to spend this week thinking
about root canals. Here's a fun statistic, though: Root canals save more than 16 million natural
teeth each year.
Monday, 29th -- At sundown, the first day of Passover begins
In 1848 Niagara Falls ran dry because the Niagara River was blocked by ice. Two years
later, a global warming trend put an end to the "Little Ice Age" -- decades before human carbon
emissions could possibly have contributed.
In 1961, the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution gave three electoral votes to the
District of Columbia
In the Central African Republic, this is Boganda Day. It celebrates the death of the nation's
first president, Barthelemy Boganda, in 1959. No irony intended -- Boganda was killed in a
plane explosion between his nation's independence, and colonial overlord France's recognition
of the C.A.R. Traces of explosives in the plane wreckage make it clear that he was assassinated,
and speculation about the assassination includes the French and Boganda's wife as possible
perpetrators. But his death made him a martyr in the cause of African independence, and that's
why it's his death day, and not birthday, that is remembered as Boganda Day.
Tuesday, 30th -- 45th anniversary of the premiere of Jeopardy
In 1842, Dr. Crawford W. Long became the first doctor to perform surgery on a patient using
anesthetic. He had seen nitrous oxide and sulfuric ether used at "laughing gas" parties and
realized that their feel-no-pain effects might be useful in surgery. Because of this great
milestone, in 1933 this date was chosen for Doctors' Day, with red carnations as the emblem.
Wednesday, 31st -- The Eiffel Tower is 131 years old today
National "She's Funny That Way" Day. This is the day to pay tribute to "the humorous
nature of women" by listing the "top five ways in which women in our lives make us laugh."
Since a woman is in charge of the celebration, apparently no derision is intended: no mother-in-law or blonde jokes, please.
*Based on information in Chase's Calendar of Events.