Category Archives: History

Year of the Dragon and a forever stamp

2012 is the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese calendar. The Chinese zodiac has twelve animals, each assigned a year, unlike the European zodiac which is divided up by month. Each year is also assigned an elemental sign, from the traditional five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. 2012 happens to fall under the water sign, so those born in 2012 are water dragons.

The U.S. Postal Service, in honor of the Chinese New Year, issued a dragon stamp,

Year of the Dragon stamp, issued by the U.S. Postal Service

Year of the Dragon stamp, issued by the U.S. Postal Service. It is, appropriately, a Forever stamp.

Those born in the year of the dragon have red and violet as their colors, and are considered magnanimous, strong, self-assured, noble, intellectual, fiery, passionate, pioneering, and artistic. Of course, they are also tactless, tyrannical, intolerant, impetuous, and demanding.

Sounds about right.

Newt Gingrich’s campaign book

In mid December, Newt Gingrich made a pledge which read, in part:

“I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.”

I’m guessing Gingrich hopes no one knows how to look stuff up on the Web. Search for the definition of “chutzpah,” and you’ll find his photo.

But, rather than be simply critical, I will offer this helpful suggestion: his campaign should have a book on this theme. I’m nominating this book, discovered at a Giant supermarket. Note the subtitle.


Newt Gingrich

Highly encrypted map of Maryland

This highly detailed map of Maryland was reconstructed from a mass of fiendishly encrypted cardboard tokens. It was assembled after an intense multi-discipline effort by a health care informatician, a systems analyst, a nurse, a psychologist, a theologian, a historian, three writer-editors, an Internet projects manager, a literature specialist, a linguist, a chemist, a photographer, and an environmental projects consultant (a total of four individuals).

The cardboard tokens were uncovered in an obscure location in the Lake District, Cumbria, England. To assemble the map, the team used the latest EHACCATTPRT (Encrypted Heuristic Adaptive Cooperative Chromatic And Typographic Topological Pattern Recognition Technology, pronounced as “E-hack-pfft” in the US, “Aye-hack-puff” in Queen’s English, and in Liverpudlian, “Gnomish”) advances.

Next, the team will turn their talents to solving global economic issues.


Highly encrypted map of Maryland, formed from 1000 pieces

Sing-along Messiah at the Kennedy Center

On a cold winter’s night, a band of 2,500 crazed individuals lined up at the Kennedy Center for free tickets to the annual Messiah sing-along. Between the wind whipping in from the Potomac and the poor light, it was an interesting test of stamina, fortitude, imagination (what to do during the lengthy wait) and tunefulness; many in the crowd practiced singing from Handel’s lengthy libretto, or singing a wide number of other pieces from an equally wide number of genres. Others engaged in the usual DC-area gossip (“Do you have any job openings at your agency?” “That tax bill will be dead on arrival.” “Do you know of any inexpensive apartments in Georgetown?” “That last novel had a particularly Stygian cast to it.”), wondered where they could get something to eat, or played with their smart phones.

Once in the building, there was another wait as the line crept slowly to the gentleman dispensing tickets, then yet another wait as the crowd milled about the lobby prior to the doors opening. Fortunately, all the tickets, while free, had assigned seating, so there was no mad scramble but, rather, an ordered incoming tide filling the concert hall.

Then: two hours of Baroque music featuring the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, three conductors, and the Metropolitan Chorus, the Fort Washington Community Corus, the Northern Virginia Chorale, the NVCC Annandale Chorale, and the Prince George’s Choral Society, plus the 2,500 somewhat chilled holders of free tickets.


Things sent to me: politics and religion

The First Amendment to the Constitution is often cited to mean all sorts of things. It is a lengthy sentence, but just a sentence:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The first clause, up to the first comma, makes a simple sentence: Congress (and by extension any other government body) can make no law regarding the establishment of religion. Nothing for any given religion, nothing against any religion: no law.

The second clause, up to the semicolon, causes massive confusion: or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. OK, the government can’t write a law preventing the free exercise of religion. This is often cheerfully misunderstood by groups that claim Congress (or the Courts) have “banned” Christianity from schools. No — the Courts have held that the first clause still applies: if a school district sets aside a time of prayer, they are, in fact, acting as a government body to regulate religion, which is banned by that very simple first clause. The free exercise of religion requires no law; any student is free to pray any time they feel like it, most often before tests.

The rest of the sentence is very important, but not to the current wave of political rhetoric that complains about religion being taken out of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or schools, or political gatherings. There is no law requiring you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and include the clause mentioning “under God” which was added to the Pledge in 1954. Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge in 1892, was a Christian Socialist and didn’t think it necessary).


Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist. (Sign held by one of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.)

There is no particular religious connotation to Thanksgiving; yes, the Pilgrims were thankful that the Indians didn’t let them starve, but there is no requirement to celebrate Indian animist beliefs. There is no attempt to take religion out of Christmas; it is an overtly religious holiday, and the government neither tries to add anything religious to it or take anything religious away from it.

Before you advocate prayer in school, give some thought to what the First Amendment means, and the implications of changing it.


Be careful what you wish for when you attempt to politicize the First Amendment.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Photos taken at the Apple Store, Columbia Mall, Columbia, Maryland.


Steve Jobs memorial, Columbia, MD. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters using an iPhone 4.


Steve Jobs memorial, Columbia, MD. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters using an iPhone 4.


Steve Jobs memorial, Columbia, MD. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters using an iPhone 4.


Steve Jobs memorial, Columbia, MD. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters using an iPhone 4.


Steve Jobs memorial, Columbia, MD. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters using an iPhone 4.