Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reasons for Resonance

Ideas are like electrons. When shared among many people, ideas may resonate, leading to a more stable idea. A more stable idea is a stronger idea. Some might argue that prejudice is a strong idea that finds resonance among groups of like people. True enough. The notion is independent of whether an idea is "good" or "bad."

The quantum mechanical concept of resonance was introduced by Heisenberg in 1926: a discussion of the quantum states of the helium atom. He compared the structure of the helium atom with the classical system of resonating coupled harmonic oscillators. Linus Pauling used this analogy to introduce his resonance theory in 1928. In the classical system, the coupling produces two modes, one of which is lower in frequency than either of the uncoupled vibrations; quantum-mechanically, this lower frequency is interpreted as a lower energy. link
Such resonance is really an energy exchange mechanism via coupling. Pauling showed that whenever there is resonance between two or more parts, the whole is stabilized. Such resonance differs from mere conjugation: conjugation is just a yoking together--there is no implicit notion of resonance. Resonance requires certain other features--foremost a recognizable likeness (symmetry) and ideally a ring structure (which brings up obvious symbolism).

The notion of resonance extends beyond quantum mechanics and chemistry into mechanics and social interactions. link. It also holds for pair-bonding interactions of other sorts. Communicative resonance spans a greater range of communicative space. The same idea may stimulate two or more people at two different locations.  Excitation at one level excites another at a different level. The message resonates right between them-as if through thin air. But there is no real sense of the message being above or below the two: what counts in the quantum mechanical version is the energy overlap and symmetry.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Letters Home: "I Don't Know What They Will Think Of Next"

Dec. 29, 1952

Dear Mom,

I guess I had better drop you a line and let you know what I am doing.
I had a nice Christmas. I took a 3 day pass and spent Christmas with a family (German). It's one of the 3 we met when we was stuck in Marktredwitz.
I have been trying to get a jeep-driving job for about a month now and I finally got it. I have to drive a lieutenant around. I also have to keep the jeep taken care of. Change oil grease etc. When we go on maneuvers now I will be driving instead of going on the train. It’s a lot better job than riding on a tank.
We still don't have any snow, but where I was there was some.
I got the billfold and like it. Also the letter with the handkecheif in it. I can't spell for beans. Just like M. used to be.[1] 
Some time in Jan. the company has to ford the Rhine river in barges with the tanks.[2] I don't know what they will think of next.
Tell B. I am sending a watch this weekend.[3]
Bye for now,

Love, V

P.S. See you in 7 to 8 months. I also got the tankers jacket today.
[1] M. is his oldest sister.
[2] The Rhine was west of his position, so this may have been a Dunkirk-like retreat exercise in the event of a successful full scale Soviet thrust westward.
[3] B. is his youngest sister.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1976

Hotel California ~ The Eagles.  Considered their Magnum Opus, The Eagles' Hotel California was the only album of theirs that I really liked. Why dat? I suppose because I bought into their message at the time, about being sensitive stewards of the land (man).  And I liked the addition of Joe Walsh. He added something that I would call Midwestern sensibility. The departure of Randy Meisner after this album did in the Eagles though.

American Girl ~ Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers  Tom Petty's debut album with the Heartbreakers. Prolific songwriter, his best was still to come.

Do You Feel Like We Do (live) ~ Peter Frampton I know, I know, utter schlock rock in retrospec. But I liked Peter Frampton from his Humble Pie days and didn't begrudge him some commercial success. Ron posted a video at his blog featuring the Ventures using the the same "voice guitar" more than 10 years earlier. Frampton rolled through Madison around this time and I saw him for a second time (the first time with Humble Pie).

The Piano has Been Drinking ~ Tom Waits. I saw him open for Jerry Jeff Walker at a show at the Orpheum Theater in Madison 1976 or '77. Leo Kottke was supposed to be there but canceled at the last minute.

Year Of the Cat ~ Al Stewart. A great song, but I tend to listen more to Al Stewart's Past, Present and Future, especially his retelling of the entire Second World War from a Russian Partisan's POV. link

Shake Your Booty ~ KC & the Sunshine Band. This man did more for disco music than any other person.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap ~ AC/DC. Already established in Austrialia, AC/DC reached out to the US and found a willing market. I probably would have loved them as a 13 year-old. I still think they rock.

The Wreck Of the Edmund Fitzgerald ~ Gordon Lightfoot. This song appeared exactly around the time when I was making annual summer trips to Lake Superior with my dad. I think it even played on the AM radio in heavy rotation around this time.

Go Your Own Way ~ Fleetwood Mac I didn't realize that this was released as a single prior to its release on the album Rumours the following year)

On the horizon:

Final Solution ~ Pere Ubu.  Proto-angst ridden number. Direct link to bands like Sonic Youth in the future. I don't think Pere Ubu ever had a commercial success, but that doesn't matter, they're still great. They're still around too.

Blitzkrieg Bop ~ The Ramones. The only band with more eponymous members than the Marleys of Jamaica. The Ramones were a legend.

Cherry Bomb ~ The Runaways. Joan Jett's launch. All girls all the time.  "Hello Dad, Hello Mom, ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bomb!"

All good stuff.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #9

...Around me everything is confused, so that I don't know how to begin. Wouldn't it be better to start at the end?
Dearest Anne, you will probably be surprised to receive such a relatively funny letter. But if you take a closer look, you'll find that the letter is not funny at all. You always seemed to take me for a philistine, and I have to concede you a point--for example, in the way I stowed my lunch in my briefcase. One sandwich on the right, one on the left, and on top of them I put the apples, and on top of that the thermos bottle. The bottle had to lie across the apples, so that it would not melt the butter. It was a---how did Uncle Herbert always call it?---a tranquil time. Today I am not a philistine any more. You should see how I go to my "place of employment." It is cozy and warm in our bunker. We have dismantled a few trucks and rerouted the pieces to our stove. It's strictly against regulations, but that is the least of our worries.
My "place of employment" is right next door, as I already wrote you a few days ago. It too is a bunker, in which a captain lived a short while ago. Here I am telling you in great detail how things look around here, and all the time I want to write about something entirely different. Then again, I don't want to, but it is advisable and even of some importance that I do write about it. I don't want to cause you unnecessary anxiety, but things are supposed to be pretty murky here. You hear it from all sides. We are stationed a long way behind the lines; once in a while we hear a shot. If it weren't for that, we wouldn't be reminded of the war at all. As things are right now, I could stand it for another hundred years. But not without you. And it won't last that long anyway; we expect to get out of here any day. But this hope doesn't fit well with the rumors.
The army has been surrounded now for seven weeks, and it can't last another seven. My leave was already due in September, but it didn't come through. I consoled myself with the others, who had to kiss their leaves good-bye. Yesterday morning the word was that one-third of us are going home on leave towards the end of January. The master sergeant from the staff company claims to have heard it. Or it may take a few days longer than that. Nobody really knows what is up around here. I haven't been with you for eight months now; a few days won't make any difference. Unfortunately I won't be able to bring you much, but I'll see what I can do in Lemberg. I am looking forward to a real day on leave, and even more to seeing you and Mother again. When you receive the telegram, send news to Uncle Herbert immediately. It is good to be looking forward to something; I live on this anticipation, especially since yesterday morning. Every day I mark off a day on my calendar, and every mark means that I am a day closer to you.
The key to understanding this ongoing series may be found here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

The Fire Worshipers

Giotto's Adorazione dei Magi (early 14th c.)

The following story appears in Beginning Readings In Italian and originates with Marco Polo, who lived and traveled in 13th and 14th century Asia and Asia Minor. Polo was Venetian by birth and died there in 1324. The Fire Worshipers tells the story of three kings (Magi) who traveled to Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus. The story was first told to Polo in Persia after he visited the tombs of the three kings. link

The story is fascinating in that it gives a different perspective on a well known story. I have appended the mention of the kings according to the Gospel Matthew. Particularly interesting is the account of the origin of the gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh--and also the symbolism of the stone as it later appeared in the person of Peter and in the founding of the Church.

The Fire Worshipers
Three kings of that country [Persia] went to worship a new-born prophet and brought with them three offerings--gold, frankincense and myrrh--in order to know if the prophet was a god, or an earthly king, or a healer. They reasoned that if he took the gold, he was an earthly king; if he took the frankincense, he was a god; if he took the myrrh, he was a healer. 
Now when they came to the place where the child was born, the youngest of the three kings went in alone to see him: what he found looked like himself: a child of his age and appearance. The young king came out full of wonder. The second king (of middle age) entered after him, and to him the child also seemed a likeness in appearance and in age. The second king came out dumbfounded. Then the third king, the oldest, went in and the same thing happened as with the other two. And he came out very upset. When the three kings found themselves together, they told each other what they had seen. They were very much amazed and decided to all go in together. They went in together to look and found a child who looked the expected age of only thirteen days.* Then they worshipped him and offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The child took all three offerings and gave them a sealed box. And the three kings left to return to their country.
After riding for a few days, they decided to see what the child had given them. They opened the box and found a stone inside. They were surprised and uncertain. Because the three kings had seen that the child had taken all three offerings, they had concluded that he was god, a king and a healer. And the child, knowing well the faith born in the three kings, gave them a stone to signify that they had to be firm and steadfast in their belief. But the three kings took the stone and threw it down a well: they did not know why it was given to them. And just as the stone was thrown into the well, a burning fire descended from the heavens and came straight to the well in which they had thrown the stone.
Seeing the great miracle, the three kings were all amazed and regretted having thrown away the stone; they clearly saw that this was a symbol, both great and good. Taking of that fire immediately, they took it back to their country and put it in their church, a very beautiful and rich building. They keep the fire perpetually burning and worship it as a god. And every sacrifice and burnt offering which they make is made with this fire. If it ever happens that the fire goes out, they go round to others who hold the same faith and who also worship  fire and are given some of the fire that burns in their church. This they bring back to rekindle their own fire. They never rekindle it except with this fire of which I have spoken. To procure this fire, they often make a journey of ten days.
These are the reasons why the inhabitants of that country worship the fire.

The following is an except from the Gospel according to Matthew and is the only one of the four Gospels to mention the wise men from the East:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I too may come and worship him.' When they had heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star that they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw that star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.
Matthew 2:1-12 (RSV)

*The visit of the Magi is commemorated by the observance of Epiphany on January 6th.

This is how the original text which I translated appears in Beginning Readings In Italian:

Gli Adoratori Del Fuoco
Tre re di quella contrada vanno ad adororare un profeta nato da poco e portano con loro tre offerte--oro, incense e mirra--per conoscere se quel profeta è dio o re terreno o medico. Poiché pensano: se prende oro, è re terreno; se prende incenso, è dio; se prende mirra è medico. Venuti al luogo dov’ è nato il bambino, il più giovane di questi re va da solo a vederlo: e lo trova che somiglia a lui stesso, chè pare della sua età e della sua figura. Esce fuori pertanto molto meravigliato. Dopo di lui entra il re ch’è d’età mezzana: ed il bambino gli pare come all’altro, della sua figura e della sua età. Esce fuori anche lui tutto stupefatto. Ci va quindi il terzo, il più anziano, e gli succede il medesimo che agli altri due. Ed esce fuori anche lui molto turbato. Quando si ritrovano tutti e tre insieme, i tre re si raccontano quello che hanno visto. Ne fanno le più grandi meraviglie e decidono di andarci tutti e tre insieme. Si recano quindi tutti insieme a vedere il bambino, e lo trovano dell’aspetto e dell’ età che ha: chè ha soltanto tredici giorni. Allora lo adorano e gli offrono l’oro, l’incenso e la mirra. Il bambino prende tutte e tre le offerte. Poi dà loro un bossolo chiuso. Ed i tre re partono per ritornare nella loro contrada.
Dopo aver cavalcato per alcuni giorni, decidono di vedere ciò che il bambino ha dato loro. Aprono il bossolo e vi trovano dentro una pietra. Restano meravigliati ed incerti. Il bambino l’aveva data loro per significare che dovevano essere fermi come pietra nella fede incominciata. Poiché i tre re, vedendo che il bambino aveva preso tutte e tre le offerte, ne avevano conchiuso ch’egli era dio, re terreno e medico; e il bambino, ben sapendo che nei tre re era nata quella fede, aveva dato loro pietra per significare che dovevano essere fermi e costanti nella loro credenza. I tre re prendono la pietra a la gettano in un pozzo: chè non sanno perchè è stata loro donate. Ed appena la pietra è gettata nel pozzo, scende dal cielo una fiamma e viene diritto al pozzo dove hanno gettato la pietra.
Veduta quella gran meraviglia i tre re ne rimangono tutti stupiti, e si pentono di aver buttata la pietra, ben comprendendo allora che quello è un simbolo grande e buono. Prendono subito di quell fuoco, lo portano nel loro paese, e lo mettono in una loro chiesa, molto bella ricca. Non cessano mai di farlo ardere e lo adorano come un dio. Cuociono con quell fuoco tutti i loro sacrifizi e olocausti. Se per caso quell fuoco viene a spegnersi, ricorrono agli altri che hanno la medesima fede e sono pure adoratori del fuoco, si fan dare del fuoco che arde nella loro chiesa e tornano a riaccendere il loro; nè mai lo riaccendono con fuoco diverso da quello di cui v’ho parlato. E molte volte devono fare, per trovar di quell fuoco, dieci giornate di marcia.
Sono questi i motive per cui gli abitanti di quela contrada adorano il fuoco.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #8

...Again I am writing a short letter, although I wrote one to you and a second one to Hans Müllner only yesterday. You certainly can't complain about lack of mail. A buddy will take this one along. I wish Grandmother a happy 74th birthday, and I am sorry that I cannot eat a piece of her cake. Can you get the things you need to bake a cake? No cake for us, but once we are out of here, we'll have everything again; until then we simply have to tighten our belts. Go to the saving bank, take out fifty marks, and buy Grandmother a present. She is to enjoy herself. The Bergers probably have some coffee left, her husband being with the port administration. If they have some, they will certainly give it to you. You just tell them it's for the birthday party. In my time I have done the Bergers many favors.
I am writing nothing but nonsense. But nonsense is better than no mail at all. And you never know if the next bullet won't have your name on it. But don't be afraid for us. I am sure we'll get out of here, and then we'll all go home on leave for four weeks. It's very cold here now; do you have snow too? We don't have to strew and sand here; everyone has to look out so he doesn't fall.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Letters Home: Hanau

Dec 18, 1952

Dear Mom,

We got back to Hanau this morning. I sure was glad to get down out of those cold mountains. We have a little snow here but it isn't cold outside.
I would like to keep some of the pictures if you don't mind. I am sending some I took while at the range.
I can get a watch for around $10.00. I'll get one the first of Jan. and send it. As usual there is nothing to write about. I haven't got the jacket yet.
I might go to the show tonight.  "Last Train to Bombay".
This just a note but will try to do better next time.


Photos from the firing range:

I think that people who don't approve of guns, weapons and other means of defence have no business being in the military. Join the ranks of diplomacy instead. Of course everyone has the right to oppose the military, but they should stay within the limits of hypocrisy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

50 Years of myTunes: Christmas Play list

Here's the playlist for a Christmas CD I made a few years ago and shared with family and friends. The first seven or so are historical and "classic" and the last dozen or so are mostly culled from either Firestone or Goodyear vinyl LPs from the mid-to-late 1960s. My parents had them when I was a kid and they'd stack them up on the console stereo every year and let them play.  My mom still has these LPs and she knows how much I want them. She's holding onto them for now until she's sure I've been as good as possible to her.

Bells ~Strasbourg Cathedral
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing ~ St. Paul's Cathedral Choir
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht (Silent Night) ~ Thomanerchor
White Christmas ~ Bing Crosby
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas ~ Judy Garland
Jingle Bells ~ Frank Sinatra
Blue Christmas ~ Elvis Presley

These are the Firestone and Goodyear tunes:

It's Christmas Time All Over The World ~ Sammy Davis, Jr.
Do You Hear What I Hear? ~ Andy Williams
We Need A Little Christmas ~ New Christy Minstrels
Silver Bells ~ Doris Day
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day ~ Johnny Cash
Jolly Old St. Nicholas ~ Maurice Chevalier
Sing Hossana, Hallelujah ~ The New Christy Minstrels
Go Tell It On The Mountain ~ Brothers Four
Toyland ~ Doris Day
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Santa Claus is Comin' To Town ~ Tony Bennett
Baby, It's Cold Outside ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Wonderful White World Of Winter ~ Bing Crosby
Frosty The Snowman ~ The Ray Conniff Singers
Sleigh Ride ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Winter Wonderland ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Twelve Days Of Christmas ~ Dinah Shore

If you like this sort of thing let me know and I'll see about getting a copy to you.
But only if you've been good to me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Carlo Marrone Arancia

We call this our "Charlie Brown" orange tree:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #7

...You are the wife of a German officer; so you will take what I have to tell you, upright and unflinching, as upright as you stood on the station platform the day I left for the East. I am no letter-writer and my letters have never been longer than a page. Today there would be a great deal to say, but I will save it for later, i.e., six weeks if all goes well and a hundred years if it doesn't. You will have to reckon with the latter possibility. If all goes well, we shall be able to talk about it for a long time, so why should I attempt to write much now, since it comes hard to me? If things turn out badly, words won't do much good anyhow.
You know how I feel about you Augusta. We have never talked much about our feelings. I love you very much and you love me, so you shall know the truth. It is in this letter. The truth is the knowledge that this is the grimmest of struggles in a hopeless situation. Misery, hunger, cold, renunciation, doubt, despair and horrible death. I will say no more about it. I did not talk about it during my leave either, and there's nothing about it in my letters. When we were together (and I mean through our letters as well), we were man and wife, and the war, however necessary, was an ugly accompaniment to our lives. But the truth is also knowledge that I wrote above is no complaint or lament but a statement of objective fact.
I cannot deny my share of personal guilt in all this. But it is a ratio of 1 to 70 millions. The ratio is small; still, it is there. I wouldn't think of evading my responsibility; I tell myself that, by giving my life, I have paid my debt. One cannot argue about questions of honor.
Augusta, in the hour in which you must be strong, you will feel this also. Don't be bitter and do not suffer too much from my absence. I am not cowardly, only sad that I cannot give greater proof of my courage than to die for this useless, not to say criminal cause. you know the family motto of the von H--'s: "Guilt recognized is guilt expiated."
Don't forget me too quickly.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Letters Home: Boxes of Cookies, Candy and 90mm Rounds

Boxes of 90mm rounds fired that day
December 10, 1952
[Baumholder, West Germany] 

Dear Mom,

I got a letter from you today and 5 boxes. 2 of them was from you, 1 from Jr, 1 from the V.F.W., and one from church. I got enough candy and cookies for a week.

We fired the 90 MM yesterday. I got to shoot 20 rounds. They cost about $60.00 a round. HE and AP-T. [1] We are going to fire the sub-machine gun Sat.[2] It's been a long time since I have shot anything.
That new Range finder on these tanks sure are accurate.[3] They should be for $35,000 dollars.

I sold those skates to R. before I left. I'll find out how much watches cost the next time I go to town. We are going back to Hanau the 17th.

I never heard about old Bob. He should have been locked up long ago. [4]
Did you get that jacket sent yet? I could use it over here now.
Well I guess I have run out of things to write.
The light go off in about a half hour. 10:00 o'clock
Bye for now


[1] HE and AP-T stand for "High Explosive" and "Armor Piercing-Tracer" respectively. link

[2] He probably shot M3 or M3A1 "grease guns." These were standard until the late 1950s.

[3]  M47 "Patton" tanks were originally equipped with M12 stereoscopic range finders. These were accurate but proved difficult to use and were eventually replaced.

[4] "Bob" was a notorious drunken no-good in Richland Center--probably like a Bob Ewell of "To Kill A Mockingbird." I wish I had access to the papers from that time so I could give more details.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #6

....It is perfectly useless to rebel against it; I would most certainly find a way if there were one. Of course, I have tried everything to escape from this trap, but there are only two ways left: to heaven or to Siberia. Waiting is the best thing, because, as I said, the other is useless. At home some people will congratulate themselves on being able to keep their chairs, both easy and academic, and in many newspapers you will find beautiful, high-sounding words in big black borders. They will always pay us due honor. Don't be taken in by this idiotic to-do. I am so furious that I could smash everything in sight, but never in my life have I been so helpless.
I continually tell myself one thing: stay healthy, and you will survive the most difficult times. Health is the prerequisite for my return home. I will not resign my chair at home. When you meet my colleagues, tell them so, exactly as I write it. The higher the chair, the harder you fall.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #5

Battle Map (click to enlarge)
....This morning in the division command post, Hannes persuaded me to write you after all. For a whole week I have avoided writing this letter; I kept thinking that uncertainty, painful though it is, still keeps a glimmer of hope alive. I was the same way in thinking about my own fate; every night I went to sleep not knowing how the scales might tip--whether we would get help here or would be destroyed. I didn't even try to come to any final conclusion, to resolve the doubt. Perhaps from cowardice. I might have been killed three times by now, but it would always have been suddenly, without my being prepared. Now things are different; since this morning I know how things stand; and since I feel freer this way, I want you also to be free from apprehension and uncertainty.
I was shocked when I saw the map. We are entirely alone, without help from outside. Hitler has left us in the lurch. If the airfield is still in our possession, this letter may still get out. Our position is to the north of the city. The men of my battery have some inkling of it, too, but they don't know it as clearly as I do. So this is what the end looks like. Hannes and I will not surrender; yesterday, after our infantry had retaken a position, I saw saw four men who had been taken prisoner by the Russians. No, we shall not go into captivity.* When Stalingrad has fallen, you'll hear and read it. And then you'll know that I shall not come back.
*Living in Zurich in 1990, my wife befriended a young German whose Wehrmacht father had been taken prisoner by the Russians during the war and was held prisoner well into the 1950s. I got to know him too and he liked me because I had read up on his family (they were a famous German industrial family from the Ruhr district). By the time our friend's father was released, he had lost 10 real years and aged many more. Still, he did come back and was able to start a family and keep things going.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1975

1975 was the year I began taking those dive trips to Lake Superior with my dad. My garage band was thriving. I was still a virgin.

Blood On The Tracks ~ Bob Dylan. A former manager of mine at a sandwich shop turned me onto this album a few years after it came out. Of course I knew of Dylan's earlier work, but I wasn't old or hip enough to "get" the Dylan of the mid 1960s. This was already pretty "mature" work. At the time, I already thought Bob Dylan belonged to the older boomers. Born in 1960, I'm technically a tail-end Boomer. Dylan people were different and not the kind of people I wanted to be as a 15-year old.

Physical Graffiti ~ Led Zeppelin.  I was right smack in the middle of my teenaged garage band phase when this album came out. I spent many, many hours by myself, wearing a pair of headphones, drumming along to this one, learning Bonham's chops.

Born To Run ~ Bruce Springsteen.  Having been hip to Springsteen thanks to the DJs on Radio Free Madison, this album was already kind of over for me when it happened. My older brother however became a Springsteen fanatic.  He still has my copy of this album in his basement.

Night At The Opera ~ Queen.  I'd been a Queen fan since their first album. They came through Madison promoting this album and I went to see them.

Toys In The Attic ~ Aerosmith  This was the first concert I remember getting so close to the stage that I got inside the blast cone of sound coming from the speaker PA's. It's quieter in there. Ted Nugent and a band I'd never heard of called Rush opened up the show.

Wish You Were Here ~ Pink Floyd. I still recall the very first time I heard Wish You Were Here: the roadies were playing it through the PA system before a Ted Nugent show at the old Capital Theatre in Madison. That venue closed afterwards and became the Oscar Mayer Theater in Madison Civic Center. I'm pretty sure I was under the influence of something and so that was cool.

One Of These Nights ~ Eagles.  Chicks loved this band & that's initially why I liked them too. I didn't fully accept them until Hotel California the following year.

Blow By Blow ~ Jeff Beck.  I like the drumming on this album. Less rock 'n' roll and more jazz in that regard. I even took lessons around this time from a Madison jazz drummer.

Fleetwood Mac ~ Fleetwood Mac's debut album with their new line up including Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. What's not to like about this album, especially in retrospect?

1975 Singles

That's The Way (I Like It) ~ KC and the Sunshine Band  My dad (who also liked Country music) got into disco early on. I loathed it at the time but in retrospect, it was me who had the problem.

Low Rider ~ War

Jive Talkin' ~ Bee Gees [Added: Ok this song planted a lot of seeds (so to speak)]

Gloria ~ Patti Smith. I didn't like the entire album but this song got my attention. I was finally able to see Patti Smith when she gave her last concert in Florence Italy in 1979 before "retiring."

Stranglehold ~ Ted Nugent. I loved the Nuge. I stopped following him on Twitter though.

Cortez the Killer ~ Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Rockin' Chair ~ Gwen McCrae.  I'm including this here because I recently rediscovered this about a year or two ago and decided that I liked it.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #4

Peter Yorck von Wartenburg vor dem Gesetz
...Just don't bother me with your well meant advice. Don't you know what kind of a situation you'll get me into? The way you go on! You wouldn't have done it; you would have known how to do it! Things should have been done in such and such a way, etc., etc.! What is all that supposed to mean? You know that I am of your opinion and that we talked more about it than was safe. But you don't put that sort of thing in writing! Do you think the others are idiots?
If I write now, it is because I know that nothing can happen to me, and I took the precaution to leave off my name and address; moreover, you will receive this letter in the agreed upon way. Even if anybody knew who wrote this letter, I couldn't be safer any place than in Stalingrad. It is so easy to say: Put down your weapons. Do you think the Russians will spare us? You are an intelligent man, so why don't you also demand that your friends refuse to produce ammunition and war materiel?
It is easy to give good advice; but it just won't work the way you think it will. Liberation of nations, nonsense. Nations remain the same. Their rulers change, and bystanders will keep arguing for liberating the people from their respective rulers. The time to act was in 1932; you know that very well. Also, that we let the moment go by. Ten years ago the ballot would still have done the trick. Today, all it will cost you is your life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1974


Get Your Wings ~ Aerosmith. People love to deride Aerosmith as derivative of the Rolling Stones. Truth is that the Stones at this point in time mostly sucked.

Country Life ~ Roxy Music. I recall buying this album at the old Lake St. Station in Madison before they tore down that old house to make a Hardee's restaurant. The album was sold wrapped in opaque plastic to hide the "controversial" cover art.

Rock 'n' Roll Animal ~ Lou Reed dishes out some Velvet Underground oldies along with some Glam rock numbers. I like Reed's band better than the man himself in this phase.

Where We All Belong ~ Marshall Tucker Band.  Live double album from my second favorite "Southern Rock" band. Favorites here include "Can't You See" and "24 Hours At A Time."

Bridge Of Sighs ~ Robin Trower.  Forever on the search of guitar-driven power trios after the death of Jimi Hendrix, I noticed this short-lived power trio early on.

Irish Tour '74 ~ Rory Gallagher

Crime Of The Century ~ Supertramp was another band I first heard hanging around stereo shops in Madison at the time.

Not Fragile ~ Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Bad Company ~ Bad Company was a short-lived "supergroup" formed from the demise of Free, Mott The Hoople, and King Crimson.

Court And Spark ~ Joni Mitchell


It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It) ~ The Rolling Stones.

Astronomy ~ Blue Öyster Cult hung around Patti Smith at this time (or vice versa).  I'm thinking they could have been one of the first bands to use umlauts-a couple of years before Motörhead did. This song was from their album Secret Treaties.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised ~ Gil Scott-Heron does proto-Hip Hop.

Rebel Rebel ~ David Bowie

Killer Queen ~ Queen

Pick Up the Pieces ~ Average White Band

Rikki Don't Lose That Number ~ Steely Dan from Pretzel Logic.

I Shot the Sherif ~ Eric Clapton jumps on the Reggae bandwagon.

Already Gone ~ Eagles from On The Border.

Sundown ~ Gordon Lightfoot's most interesting song inspired by Cathy Smith, a former girlfriend who later served time for her involvement in John Belushi's death.

Take Me To the River ~ Al Green.  The Talking Heads covered this later.

U.S. Blues ~ Grateful Dead from Mars Hotel.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #3

...You must get that out of your head, Margaret, and you must do it soon.  I would even advise you to be ruthless about it, for your disappointment will be less. In every one of your letters I sense your desire to have me home with you soon. It isn't strange at all that you are looking forward to it. I too am waiting and longing for you passionately. That is not so much what disturbs me, but rather the unspoken desire I read between your lines to have not only the husband and lover with you again, but also the pianist. I feel that very distinctly. It is not a strange confusion of feeling that I, who should be most unhappy, have resigned myself to my fate, and the woman who should have every reason to be thankful that I am still alive (at least so far) is quarreling with the fate that has struck me? 
At times I have the suspicion that I am being silently reproached, as if it were my fault that I can play no longer.  That's what you wanted to hear. And that's why you kept probing in your letters for the truth which I would have much preferred to tell you in person. Perhaps it is the will of destiny that our situation here has come to a point which permits no excuses and no way out. I do not know whether I shall have a chance to talk to you once more. So it is well that this letter should reach you, and that you know, in case I should turn up some day, that my hands are ruined and have been since the beginning of December. I lost the little finger on my left hand, but worse still is the loss of three middle fingers of my right hand through frostbite. I can hold my drinking cup only with my thumb and little finger. I am quite helpless; only when one has lost his fingers does one notice how much they are needed for the simplest tasks. The thing I can still do best with my little finger is shoot. Yes, my hands are wrecked. I can't very well spend the rest of my life shooting, simply because I'm no good for anything else. Perhaps I could make out as a game warden? But this is gallows humor; I only write it to calm myself. 
Kurt Hahnke, I think you remember him from the Conservatory in '37, played the Appassionata a week ago on a grand piano in a little side street close to Red Square. Such things don't happen every day. The grand piano was standing right in the middle of the street. The house had been blown up, but feeling sorry for the instrument, they must have got it out beforehand and put it in the street.  Every passing soldier hammered away at it. I ask you, where else can you find a place with pianos in the streets? As I said, Kurt played incredibly well on January 4. He will be in the front line soon. 
Excuse me; here I am using the word 'front line' instead of 'first rank',* such is the influence of war on us. If the boy gets home, we will soon hear about him. I certainly shall never forget these hours--the kind of audience and the situation were unique. Pity that I am not a writer, so that I could describe how a hundred soldiers squatted around in their greatcoats with blankets over their heads. Everywhere there was the sound of explosions, but no one let himself be disturbed. They were listening to Beethoven in Stalingrad, even if the didn't understand him. Do you feel better now that you know the full truth? __________________________ 
*The confusion is between vordersten Front and vordersten Reihe, the first of which refers to the line of combat and the second to artistic eminence.

A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Are The "Last Letters From Stalingrad" Forgeries?

At Christmastime I like to revisit the Last Letters From Stalingrad. I did this last year. In a sense, I'm carrying on a Madison radio tradition begun in the late 1960s by George Vukelich.  I wrote about that here and even put an audio recording on YouTube beginning here.  You can read some of the letters I did last year here: link

Doubts about the authenticity of the letters are scattered around the Internet. Amazon reviews of the book here touch on the controversy (note also how pricey the out-of-print book is too). The German language link at Wikipedia link has much more on the topic than the English one. I've translated the relevant portion concerning authenticity:
Historians and media professionals first began doubting the authenticity of the Last Letters from Stalingrad in the 1960s. They claimed that they were either manipulated by a sole agent or were even outright faked. Initially, the evidence for this was a certain uniformity of style. Later, more and more comparisons were made to other letters found in Volgograd, in the Army Post Archives at the Museum for Communication in Berlin, or those collected from opened Russian archives and indexed as War Letters from Stalingrad.
The legal philosopher, jurist and Hegel-scholar Wilhelm Raimund Beyer, who himself participated in the Battle of Stalingrad, vehemently questioned the authenticity of the Last Letters from Stalingrad in one of his last publications. He spoke of 'great concerns...against the volume.' In this book, many things are true but probably not all. In addition to a 'uniform style,' Beyers also considered topics dealt with in the letters to be more than questionable. He considered the whole project an imitation of the book War Letters of German Students (1915). Also, the facts and figures and certain confessional outpourings of the letters did not coincide with his own experiences.
Despite all the doubts about their authenticity, Last Letters From Stalingrad ultimately remains controversial, especially whether and to what extent the letters, first published in 1950, are edited, manipulated or falsified.
I'm not very good at spotting "uniformity of style" (If I were I'd be dead sure about sock puppet identities amongst Althouse comments). I've read the letters several times and I don't really see that. However, having read and transcribed my own father's wartime letters home, I am struck by the near perfect grammar and similar punctuation of these letters -- all from different authors! I ascribe some of that to there having been a sole translator. Anyone who's ever done any serious German to English translation knows that a fair amount of syntactical rearrangement is involved. A sole translator might have recurring idiosyncratic tics. Perhaps the similarities are more evident in the German language edition (which I don't have but would like to own).

In my opinion, the best reason to doubt the authenticity of the letters is the lack of supporting original letters or transcripts. Allegedly, the original seven sacks of mail were ordered destroyed by the Nazis. But something survived the war to be transcribed and published in 1950. Where is this now? If the letters themselves did not survive the war then where are the original transcripts used to compile the collection? There is a chain of custody problem here regarding the extant evidence. Still, no one yet has proven that they are fake.

For me, the best reason to believe that the letters are real is just their extreme poignancy and their universal appeal: i.e., their effect--a few of them can still move me to tears, and this is certainly enhanced by authenticity. They just make life make more sense. Much like faith. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Letters Home: Moved Again

December 4, 1952

Dear Mom, Dad and All,
We got moved again. We will be here about two weeks. We had a bad thing happen already. When we was unloading the tanks from the flatcars, one of the guys fell on the tracks and it cut his leg off just below the knee. I got there just after it happened. It sure didn't look nice.
It was 2 in the morning and was dark yet.
We won't start firing till Monday. It's all hills in this place, and slick with ice and snow. Cold too. We got plenty of clothes though.
This is a short note, but nothing is happening lately.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Letters Home: "These German girls are fat homely beer drinkers"

A letter from my then 20 year-old father to his 18 year-old brother:
November 29, 1952
Fliegerhorst Kaserne

Dear R,
I got another letter from you today, so before I do anything else, I'm going to sit right down and answer it.  It's Sat. night and I haven't got anything to do. The movie theater is only a stones throw away, but I  already saw it.  I usually go everytime it changes. Everything else over here is dead. The girls over here aren't worth taking out. I have only met a couple of nice ones. One is French the other Polish. These German girls are fat, homely beer drinkers. They seem to be that way in all of the American zone and I've been all over it. We're going over in the French Zone the first of the week. I'll see how they are over there.
I sure was surprised to hear about Albert.  If you can get his address, send it across the pond so I can drop him a line. You better forget about joining anything like the Navy. 4 years is a along time. I only got 11 more months. I've been in 13 months today.  It don't seem like it's been 5 months since I've been home but it has. 4th of July to the 4th of Dec. I think the time will go faster after the first of the year.  I don't write any of the kids around R.C. so I don't hear much news of what's going on. I guess a lot of them are getting hitched around there.  
I don't know for sure what kind of car I will get yet, but I think it will be a convert. Merc. or Olds 88. 1950 or up. Depends on how much money I got when I get out. 
How are you making out with the girls? I suppose you got one in all the towns around there. Muscoda etc. Yvonne, that girl I write to in Milwaukee said she saw your car, and thought it looked nice. That was about a month ago. She said you was going with a Miller girl. 
I don't think you will get drafted till about March. They can't draft 19 year olds now (so the papers over here say) till it comes down from Congress again.  Albert was 20 wasn't he?
It's been a little cool over here, but the snow don't stay long. If I can get through this winter, I will have it made. Monday is payday and 3 of us are going in together and buy a radio for our room.
I guess I will have to sign off for this time, 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1973

Quadrophenia ~ The Who's second rock opera which I liked better than Tommy.  Keith Moon's drumming was never better. I had the good fortune to see them a few years later in Madison before he died.

Dark Side Of The Moon ~ Pink Floyd had been around for a while already but I wasn't hip enough to know them until this album came out.

Tres Hombres ~ ZZ Top opened for Alice Cooper that year at the Dane County Memorial Coliseum and I was lucky enough to see them then. This was pre-beard weirdness. They did nothing but get better over the years. I bought the album and remember being grossed out by the inside album cover:
Click to enlarge
I had no clue what Mexican food looked like in 1973 in Wisconsin. I was even a year or two years shy of liking beer IIRC (and I may not recall correctly).

Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player & Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ~ Elton John.  I never bought either of these albums but I enjoyed a few singles off of both of them.

Queen ~ Queen.  My older brother and I were in a stereo shop one day that summer and somebody working there had this album and was playing it.  I saw Queen when they finally came to Madison during their "Night at The Opera" tour.

The Captain And Me ~ The Doobie Brothers. Kind of easy listening, but worth having and also worth seeing which I did when they "rolled" through Madison [cough].

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle ~ Bruce Springsteen.  Springsteen was touted by a pair of local FM radio DJs long before he made it big. I first heard him around this time on WIBA-FM (Radio Free Madison).  I  never did buy his first album and I actually lost interest in him as a musician after "Born To Run."

Band On The Run ~ Paul McCartney & Wings. Well I never was a big Beatles fan and I guess that Paul McCartney was always too Beatles for me (sorry Ron). But I do like a few singles off this album.

Houses Of The Holy ~ Led Zeppelin  Not my fave Zeppelin album. "The Ocean" is awesome though.

The Beatles released their famous compilation albums in 1973.  BTO released two albums but I bought neither of them.

Miscellaneous Singles:

Hypnotized ~ Fleetwood Mac.  A great song from an OK album. Bob Welch was filling the shoes of departed Peter Green Then he left, only to be replaced by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

Radar Love ~ Golden Earring. Another great Dutch one-hit-wonder band.

Dream On ~ Aerosmith. Debut album.  I'm not sure I had this album until after I owned "Get Your Wings."

Killing Me Softly With His Song ~ Roberta Flack. Great radio hit.

Knockin' On Heaven's Door ~ Bob Dylan

The Joker ~ Steve Miller Band.  OK band whom I saw a few years later in Madison. Steve Miller had some student connection in his past to Madison.

Ramblin' Man ~ The Allman Brothers Band. The Allman's probably deserve their own blog post. I never did manage to see them and Duane and Berry Oakley's deaths were a tragic loss.  Is it just me or did Dicky Betts always seem like he had a chip on his shoulder?

Desperado ~ The Eagles were just getting on my radar then. I was a little shy because of their country sound (which I was escaping) but I came around eventually.

Tattoo'd Lady ~ Rory Gallagher.  Underrated guitarist of the time who put out a great live album the following year.

Get Up Stand Up & I Shot the Sheriff ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers.  I was never big on Reggae but if were this would be it.

Ballroom Blitz ~ The Sweet.  Love this guitar-driven glam rock.

Rock On ~ David Essex

Living For The City ~ Stevie Wonder

Can't You See ~ Marshall Tucker Band  I always liked them better than Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Rock And Roll, Hoochie Coo ~ Rick Derringer.  A nice come back for Mr. Hang On Sloopy.

Space Station #5 ~ Montrose

Who'd I miss?

Natrium Facit Saltus

Metallic sodium is hot stuff.  It's sold in chunks or slabs immersed in oil to protect it from air and moisture.  I used to play around with it in the lab. I'd cut up chunks with a spatula (butter knife) and weigh it out for various uses.  It was always fun to toss any excess into a bucket of water and watch it sputter and bluster, forming itself into a smaller and smaller ball as it skittered across the surface, held aloft by the hydrogen gas it was forming. Sometimes it would even catch fire.  Here is a video showing this: link.

The thing about sodium is that it is so ubiquitous.  Universally, not just terrestrially. Unlike plants, we humans need sodium, yet nowhere near as much as we get. The whole "salt" debate is controversial. For leading links, check out the comment section in the following link.

Lesser known about sodium is that it gives us a pretty peach color which we associate with fire. But not the fire of the sun.  The orange blaze of the sun is really white light filtered by our atmosphere and lacks the orange color of sodium. Let me explain.

The sun floods us with a spectrum of visible light.  Here is the solar spectrum sorted according to ROY G. BIV wavelength:

Missing from the solar spectrum are several well known "lines" having alphabetical designations. These Fraunhofer lines were discovered in the 19th century by early German spectroscopists who first analyzed sunlight.  The black bands are "missing" wavelengths caused by the absorption of those colors by different chemical elements present in the outermost regions of the sun. Sodium in the sun causes the pair of lines labeled "D" in the solar spectrum. We don't notice that the lines or specific colors are missing from sunlight because our eyes aren't able to distinguish a missing wavelength, especially when surrounded by others (especially ones close in wavelength).

Here on earth, sodium in flames gives an intense orange glow which is the exact color missing from sunlight. Try sprinkling a little salt on an open flame sometime--you should see an intense light that looks like this:

The sodium spectrum above reminds me of an old-fashioned AM/FM radio dial found in 20th century automobiles and stereo systems. Sheesh I'm getting old fast.
When I was researching this blog post, I kept running across articles which ascribed the color of campfires and the like to the intense color of sodium. I thought this was odd because plants for the most part do not require sodium, so any sodium present in wood must be adventitious and probably sequestered away.  It turns out that the common orange color seen in burning wood is partially due to residual sodium, but mostly comes from luminescent soot particles, a phenomenon first explained by Michael Faraday (link).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nature Makes No Leaps

Natura non facit saltus
--Nature makes no leaps

The other day I was admiring one of those powerful spotlights that shines into the heavens at grand openings and such. What I pondered was how fast the beam can move about the sky-seemingly at hundreds of miles per second as it arcs across a cloud-covered sky.  Here's a good visual of what I'm talking about: link.

The source of the beam is like a fixed point source, changing direction by several degrees--but not really moving (translating) much at all, yet projecting and amplifying its own radial motion by a factor of r sin(theta), where r is the distance projected and theta is the angle swivelled through.

WTF?  What does trigonometry have to do with real life and making leaps? The light beam models something that interested me once: how small seemingly insignificant changes get amplified at a molecular level.

Quantum mechanics seems to defy the long-held maxim Natura non facit saltus.  This was Darwin's credo too: he believed in a smooth, uninterrupted evolution of species. But what if small but significant changes in genetic code did indeed lead to seemingly great leaps in change?

Letters Home: Thanksgiving

November 27, 1952
Fliegerhorst Kaserne
Dear Mom and Dad and All,
Today is Thanksgiving and we got the day off so I guess I'll answer your letter. I got it yesterday. We sure had a lot to eat. I'll send the menu.
By the time you get this letter we will over in the French Zone firing the guns.
We had 2 more inches of snow today but it is melting fast. We are in the warmest part of Ger. here around Frankfurt. It's lower land I guess. I wished it wouldn't get any colder than it does in Ky. That's where I was last winter. I got 11 more months yet in the army. I sure wish I could get home for my next birthday, but I doubt if I will make it. They like to keep you in over here till the last minute.
Maybe after the first of the year I will find out more about it.
Has any one around Center been coming in the Army lately? [1] I never get to see the county paper anymore. I wish you could send me some.
Did you get that Beer Stein yet? What did you think of the book? It's about right too.
I think I'll send out about 10 Christmas Cards this year. To everyone that I got their address of.
I'll cut this short now.

[1] "Center" is Richland Center, his hometown.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

50 years Of MyTunes: The Best of 1972 IMHO

Machine Head & Made In Japan ~ Deep Purple
The Eagles ~ The Eagles
Harvest ~ Neil Young
Can't Buy A Thrill ~ Steely Dan  <---- My pick
Honky Château ~Elton John
Exile On Main Street ~ The Rolling Stones
The World Is A Ghetto ~ War
Ziggy Stardust ~ David Bowie
Thick As A Brick ~ Jethro Tull
Smokin' ~ Humble Pie

Miscellaneous singles from 1972:

Good Hearted Woman ~ Waylon Jennings
Play Me ~ Neil Diamond
City Of New Orleans ~ Arlo Guthrie
Walk On The Wild Side ~ Lou Reed
Superstition ~ Stevie Wonder
Papa Was a Rollin' Stone ~ Temptations
Lean On Me & Use Me ~ Bill Withers
You're So Vain ~ Carly Simon
All the Young Dudes ~ Mott the Hoople
Listen to the Music ~ Doobie Brothers
Stuck in the Middle ~ Stealers Wheel
Go All the Way ~ Raspberries
Brandy (You're A Fine Girl) ~ Looking Glass
Time in a Bottle ~ Jim Croce
Jungle Fever ~ Chakachas
Troglodyte ~ Jimmy Castor Bunch
Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress ~ The Hollies

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hard And Soft Elements: Size Does Matter

Here's a great Periodic Table showing the relative sizes of common ions. Cations are shown in red, anions are in blue.

Click To Enlarge

Cool things to note:
  • Ions in the same column get bigger as one moves down a column.
  • Look how ginormous cesium (bottom left) and iodide (bottom right) are.
  • Look how small some ions are (Be2+ in particular).
  • Look how invisibly small the proton is because H+ has no electrons. Hydride, H-, having two electrons, is comparatively huge. It's almost like the planets Mercury and Jupiter. I wrote about Dr. Proton and Mr. Hydride back here.

A chemist named Ralph Pearson invented the concept of Hard Soft Acid Base (HSAB) Theory in the 1960s.  According to Pearson, "hard" (small) acids like Li+, Be2+, etc., naturally prefer binding with "hard" (small) bases like [OH]- and O2-.  Likewise, "soft" (larger) acids like silver, Ag+ and mercury, Hg2+ (when they aren't found in their elemental state) will invariably be found with a "soft" base, i.e., sulfide, S2-.

So it goes.

Funny story about Pearson.  I saw him speak once at a special symposium dedicated to Henry. Pearson caught everyone's attention when he showed up late in the middle of a talk, entering at the rear, striding to the front of the room escorted arm-in-arm by two beautiful 20-something women (they turned out to be his grand nieces or something but everybody else was thinking "hired").  The women were dressed for cocktails too, not for a roomful of chemistry geeks. Pearson made his entry, said his hellos, and announced that he was just testing his principle of maximum hardness.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Letters Home: "I don't know how they live on that"

November 20, 1952
Fliegerhorst Kaserne

Dear Mom and All,

I thought I would get a letter from you today but I didn't. I got one from M yesterday but haven't answered it yet. [1] We had our first real snow last night. About 2 inches. It isn't too cold yet over here but it won't be long. By the way now that I got my boots ok you just as well could sent my tankers jacket. I think you can send it by air mail. It's cold enough now to be wearing it. You should be getting a box from me one of these days. M wanted to know if I could use some homemade candy. That sure was a foolish question. I can always use some candy (homemade).

We are going over in the French Zone of Germany the 4th through the 19th of Dec. to fire the 90 M.M. on our tanks. [2]  We have to load them on flat-cars again. [3] It's about 100 miles. If I get back in time I might go to Marktredwitz for Christmas. That’s the place we stayed for that week. [4] Two different families I got aquainted with there want me to come back.

Santa Claus comes on the 6th of Dec. and Christmas is on the 24th. [5]  The people over here don't have too big a Christmas because they can't afford much. The average income a month is 200 marks ($50.00). I don't know how they live on that because the price of food is about the same as in the states. Not much cheaper.  I guess they don't spend much for entertainment. The kino (movies) are about all. I know quite a few German words already. Some day I'll make a list. Nix means no. Barnhof means train station. [6]

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. We get the day off. I think we will have turkey and all the trimmings. What are the kids around town doing? I guess I never will get around to writing R. I guess I go to the show nights too much. It's only about a block away. I just got back from one tonight. "Bells On Their Toes." [7] It was good. It was "Cheaper by the Dozen" number two. A family picture.

Bye for now,
Love, V.

[1] M is his older sister.

[2] Here's a photo of them firing the big 90 mm cannons on the M47 Patton tank:

[3] A link to a photo of Patton tanks on flatcars around the same place and time as my father's service. link

[4] There seems to be something missing in the chain of letters.  I will figure this out and post the missing letter if I find it.

[5] December 6th is St. Nicholas' Day. German tradition (Dutch too) has children receiving gifts on that day. In Holland, kids put out little wooden shoes on the evening of the 5th in hopes that Sinterklaas will leave them candy.

[6]  Gotta laugh at his earnestness. Years later, when my parents visited me in Zurich, he still called the Bahnhof the "Barnhof."  A few other GI-German phrases from the era that I heard growing up:
Was ist los? was mistranslated into "Wash his clothes?" When asked that, an annoyed GI would reply: Wash your own damn clothes! Then there was the phrase:
 "Shlaffen mit die Froyline, das is prima good!" which needs no translation.

[7] IMBD link

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Best Albums of 1971

Paradoxically, as the albums get better, my lists get shorter.

Sticky Fingers ~ The Rolling Stones
L.A. Woman ~ The Doors
Led Zeppelin IV ~ Led Zeppelin
Who's Next ~ The Who  <--- My pick
At Fillmore East ~ The Allman Brothers Band
Rockin' the Fillmore ~ Humble Pie

Runners up:

Aqualung ~ Jethro Tull
What's Going On ~ Marvin Gaye
Every Picture Tells A Story ~ Rod Stewart
Straight Up ~ Badfinger
Tupelo Honey ~ Van Morrison

Notable Singles in 1971:

American Pie ~ Don McLean
Just My Imagination ~ Temptations
Theme from "Shaft" ~ Isaac Hayes
Me and Bobby McGee ~ Janis Joplin (posthumous hit)
Bang a Gong (Get It On) ~ T. Rex
Ain't No Sunshine ~ Bill Withers
It Don't Come Easy ~ Ringo Starr
I'd Love to Change the World ~ Ten Years After
Hocus Pocus ~ Focus
I Just Want To Celebrate ~ Rare Earth

Facial Expressions

I sometimes write things here to sort things out. This is a perfect example. I've long been confused by two 1960s British bands, The Faces, and The Small Faces. Both groups never really charted well, but the Small Faces did better. Both groups eventually dissolved (The Small Faces became the Faces) and their former members went on to greater things: Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenny Jones, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood to name a few.

Henceforth I shall always remember that the Small Faces came first because Steve Marriott was short.

Here's an oldie but goodie:

Why doesn't the world just spontaneously combust?

Rhetorically speaking, the question seems absurd. We don't so why even care.  It's like asking why don't we all die tomorrow--the potential is there--but it's just not a physical reality.

Half of the recipe for world conflagration is the fuel--the other half is the oxygen. Thermodynamics say that we should burn up. So why don't we? Why don't we ignite like a puddle of gasoline or at least slowly rust away like a piece of iron? Rust never sleeps--ask Neil Young.

I threatened a while back here to explain why oxygen in the air doesn't spontaneously ignite with all the organic fuel on earth in one big conflagration.  The short answer is a little matter of about 23 kilocalories of energy per mole needed for oxygen to react with most things. 23 kcals/mol is not a high barrier.

Spin provides why we abide (that's not a political jingle)

Molecular oxygen is chemically inert in the presence of hydrocarbons and carbohydrates because of the unusual nature of its electrons.  It's really not hard to understand this uniqueness of oxygen if you've had even rudimentary chemistry. One trick is to consider it in light of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is oxygen's periodic table next door neighbor. Nitrogen is surrounded by five valence electrons, while oxygen is surrounded by six.  If we put two atoms together, we get 10 and 12 valence electrons respectively. Lewis might have drawn N2 like this:


The more usual Lewis structure for nitrogen is:


Both Lewis structures predict a nitrogen-nitrogen triple bond between the atoms. [true chem nerds will appreciate that the bond order of three is understood as a single hot dog shaped sigma bond along the line connecting the atoms and two bun-shaped pi-bonds at right angles (orthogonal) to each other so as to not overlap. This is how 6 electrons can occupy space between atoms without violating Pauli's exclusion rule].

Now let's use our little Maxwell's Demon to go in and transmute each nitrogen atom into an oxygen atom, leaving everything else the same.  We have to add two electrons to the picture because we added one proton on going from nitrogen to oxygen (never mind the neutron count for now). So we initially get something that looks like this:


That Lewis structure predicts that there will be two unpaired electrons, one on each oxygen. In fact, oxygen is paramagnetic, having two unpaired electrons. But O2 doesn't have a triple bond--it has a double bond. Hmmm. What to do. We could simply dissolve one bond between the two atoms, giving two lone pairs on each atom:


This picture is consistent with the observed double bond in dioxygen. But that picture fails to account for the unpaired electrons in dioxygen.  What is going here?  Nothing less than the failure of simple Valence Bond Theory and Lewis' overly simplistic view of chemical bonding!

There is no acceptable Lewis structure for the garden variety dioxygen molecule.

If you've gotten through this far I'm afraid that I've led you into a little trap.  The answer as to what is the electronic structure of O2 and why don't we spontaneously combust are in part given by what's called Molecular Orbital Theory, a theory which triumphed over Lewis' theory way back in 1930s.

The two "extra" electrons in O2 aren't parked on individual atoms nor do they form a bond. Instead, they each reside in separate identical "beds," unpaired with each other. An oxygen molecule possesses two so-called antibonding orbitals which look like this:

One electron goes into the pi*y anti-bonding orbital and the other goes into an "orthogonal" pi*x anti-bonding orbital.  Each orbital is singly occupied and electron is unpaired--just as observed.  Oxygen still has a six bonding electrons--just like nitrogen does, but the two anti-bonding electrons partially negate the triple bond. The electrons tally like debits and credits, giving a net bond order of two as observed.

UV light can convert normal O2 into so-called so-called singlet oxygen which is drawn as:


When singlet O2 is loosed on organic material, all hell breaks loose, for example, sunburn and as a growing body of evidence shows, mutations and cancers.