Poem-a-Day: William Cullen Bryant, “A Song for New Year’s Eve”

December 31, 2010

Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets (you don’t subscribe?):

Poet William Cullen BryantCullen

Poet William Cullen BryantCullen

A Song for New Year’s Eve

by William Cullen Bryant

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
For his familiar sake.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.

The kindly year, his liberal hands
Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
Because he gives no more?
Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
Of all they said and did!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
Oh be the new as kind!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away.


December 31: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of Edison’s light bulb

December 31, 2010

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City, tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb.  Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp.  Library of Congress

Thomas Edison's electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey--The Wizard of Electricity--Thomas A. Edison's System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post.

Make a creationist crazy: Celebrate Hubble “Looking Up” Day!

December 30, 2010

Here’s another way to drive creationists absolutely up the wall:  Lift a glass of champagne today in tribute to Edwin Hubble and his great discovery.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

Below, mostly an encore post.

In 2008  for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007’s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information. See Wired’s 2009 post here.

Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:

  • Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
  • Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

  • Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too)
  • Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
  • Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please

The encore post, from 2007:

December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.


Edwin Hubble - source: PBS

In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.

Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.

Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:

Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.

In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.

An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)

Happy Hubble Day! Look up!


Hubble Space Telescope - NASA image

Hubble Space Telescope, working homage to Edwin Hubble - NASA image

Feeling like you’re ready to fly? Not here, Comrade!

December 30, 2010

No Walking Off Roofs!  Photo by Chris Jeffries

No Walking Off Roofs! Photo by Chris Jeffries

Some warning signs really do need an explanation.

But, what if your name is Peter Pan? What if you have some Pixie Dust?

Photo by Chris Jeffries, taken at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia.

No, not that one; this Chris Jeffries.

Unfortunate juxtaposition in bookstore display

December 29, 2010

Bush and Wimpy Kid books, together in Dallas bookstore - Import 12-05-2010 Pentax Optio 2175

Unfortunate display juxtaposition of President Bush's book and latest Wimpy Kid book

Bush gets a bigger discount that Wimpy Kid?

Almost neglecting the “neglected anniversary” of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, H. L. Mencken’s hoax, and the lessons that lie therein

December 29, 2010

Could I get a longer title?  Here is our annual tribute to the hoax that gave its name and much inspiration to this blog.

Otherwise occupied — Kenny’s due to board an airplane in Beijing soon; tires for the cars; papers to correct, curriculum to correct; our wedding anniversary I cannot forget pending —  I nearly forgot: 93 years ago yesterday, on December 28, 1917, this column by H. L. Mencken was published in The New York Evening Mail:

A Neglected Anniversary

Mencken on April 7, 1933 - end of low-alcohol beer - Baltimore Sun Photo

H. L. Mencken at approximately 12:30 a.m., April 7, 1933, at the Rennert Hotel, corner of Saratoga and Liberty Streets, 17 years later, not neglecting a sudsy anniversary – Baltimore Sun photo

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry (This was war-time Prohibition, preliminary to the main catastrophe. — HLM), and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Col. Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double- headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F. Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, Gen. Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by Gen. McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

(Text courtesy of Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k))

The entire history was a hoax composed by Mencken.

Even conservative wackoes appreciate the column.

Content with his private joke, Mencken remained silent about the hoax until a follow-up article, “Melancholy Reflections,” appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 23, 1926, some eight years later. This was Mencken’s confession. It was also an appeal for reason to the American public.

His hoax was a joke gone bad. “A Neglected Anniversary” had been printed and reprinted hundreds of times in the intervening years. Mencken had been receiving letters of corroboration from some readers and requests for more details from others. His history of the bathtub had been cited repeatedly by other writers and was starting to find its way into reference works. As Mencken noted in “Melancholy Reflections,” his “facts” “began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene.” And, because Fillmore’s presidency had been so uneventful, on the date of his birthday calendars often included the only interesting tidbit of information they could find: Fillmore had introduced the bathtub into the White House. (Even the later scholarly disclosure that Andrew Jackson had a bathtub installed there in 1834—years before Mencken claimed it was even invented—did not diminish America’s conviction that Fillmore was responsible.)

(No, dear reader, probably not correct; surely John Adams brought a bathtub with him when he moved into the White House, then called the President’s Mansion. Plumbing, hot water, and finally hot water to a bathtub in the president’s residence, were installed between 1830 and 1853, as best I can determine.)

Mencken wrote an introduction to the piece in a later book, A Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1949):

The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity . . . Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.

There’s a moral to the story: Strive for accuracy!

So, Dear Reader, check for accuracy, and question authority.

Fact checks — what else might need to be corrected in this story?


Celestial holiday ornament – I mean, supernova bubble

December 28, 2010

Supernova SNR 0509-67.5, image a composite of Hubble Space Telescope and CHANDRA X-ray Observatory images - image from NASA (click on image for larger view)

Supernova SNR 0509-67.5, image a composite of Hubble Space Telescope and CHANDRA X-ray Observatory images - image from NASA (click on image for larger view)

Press release from NASA:

This colorful creation was made by combining data from two of NASA’s Great Observatories. Optical data of SNR 0509-67.5 and its accompanying star field, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, are composited with X-ray energies from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The result shows soft green and blue hues of heated material from the X-ray data surrounded by the glowing pink optical shell which shows the ambient gas being shocked by the expanding blast wave from the supernova. Ripples in the shell’s appearance coincide with brighter areas of the X-ray data.

The Type 1a supernova that resulted in the creation of SNR 0509-67.5 occurred nearly 400 years ago for Earth viewers. The supernova remnant, and its progenitor star reside in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 160,000 light-years from Earth. The bubble-shaped shroud of gas is 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 11 million miles per hour (5,000 kilometers per second).

Data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, taken in 2006 with a filter that isolates light from glowing hydrogen were combined with visible-light images of the surrounding star field that were imaged with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in 2010. These data were then merged with X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory taken with the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) in 2000 and 2007.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/J.Hughes et al, Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Atheists got no song, no hymnal but the blues?

December 28, 2010

Tip of the old scrub brush to Disciple/Methodist David Bates, with whom I used to enjoy singing bass on the back row of the choir.

From a 2010 production of Austin City Limits, Steve Martin joins the Steep Canyon Rangers in an a capella singing of the entire atheist hymnal.

Atheists have a very witty lyricist.

Update:  “Austin City Limits” asserted its copyright on that version (might be available at their website).  Here’s the song from a handheld camera at Merlefest, courtesy of Freedom Tuners:

Also via Boing-Boing; credit where credit is due.

Antique, if not ancient, technology

December 28, 2010

Slide rule, gifted to Art Hunt in December 2010 by his children - photo by Art Hunt

You could slide through the physics final with this device, at one time.

This is the device used to put humans on the Moon.

Have you ever used one?

It’s a slide ruleNice story about Art Hunt’s kids listening to tales from the olden days, and bringing back a little piece of the olden days for him.  He now claims to be ready for a power outage at his lab.

How does anyone understand a logarithmic scale anymore without a slide rule?  Does anyone make good slide rules anymore?


December 27, Good Trip Day: Darwin and Apollo 8

December 28, 2010

December 27 is one of those days — many of us are off work, but it’s after Boxing Day, and it’s not yet on to New Year’s Eve or Day.  We should have celebrated, maybe.

We should celebrate it as a day of portent:  A good embarkation, and a good, safe end to a nation-encouraging trip to almost touch the Moon.

HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship

HMS Beagle, on a voyage of discovery

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle set sail on an around-the-world voyage of discovery that would change all of science, and especially biology, forever.

December 27 1831
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became sea-sick almost immediately.

Darwin never fully overcame his seasickness, but he fought it well enough to become the single greatest collector of specimens in history for the British Museum and British science, a distinction that won him election to science societies even before his return from the trip — and cemented his life in science, instead of in the church.  Darwin’s discoveries would have revolutionized biology in any case.  In analyzing what he had found, a few years later and with the aid of experts at the British Museum, Darwin realized he had disproved much of William Paley’s hypotheses about life and its diversity, and that another, more basic explanation was possible.  This led to his discovery of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail in 2009 honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

On December 27, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down after a successful and heartening trip to orbit the Moon.  The three crewmen, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, had orbited the Moon, a very important milestone in the methodological race to put humans on the Moon (which would be accomplished seven months later).  1968 was a terrible year for the U.S., with the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo, assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign, riots in dozens of American cities, nasty political conventions with riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a contentious and bitter election making sore the nation’s divide over Vietnam policy, and other problems.  On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders broadcast from orbit around the Moon, a triumphant and touching moment for the Apollo Program and Americans around the world.   Their safe return on December 27 raised hopes for a better year in 1969.

Motherboard.tv has a great write up from Alex Pasternack:

In 1968, NASA engineers were scrambling to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by decade’s end. Because delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program, NASA chose to change mission plans and send the crew of Apollo 8 all the way to the moon without a lunar module.

Exactly 42 years ago, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit another celestial object. As they came around the dark side for the third time, Frank Borman, the commander, finally turned their capsule around. And then they saw the Earth.

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…

One of the resulting photos taken by Anders on a Hasselblad camera became one of the world’s most iconic images.

As Bill Anders recalls it:

I just happened to have one with color film in it and a long lens. All I did was to keep snapping… It’s not a very good photo as photos go, but it’s a special one. It was the first statement of our planet Earth and it was particularly impressive because it’s contrasted against this startling horizon… After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.

Yeah, we missed toasting it on time in 2010.  Plan to raise a glass on December 27, 2011, to Good Trip Day for the human race.  December 27 is a day we should remember, for these achievements.

How to find “separation of church and state” in the Constitution

December 27, 2010

It’s been at least 20 years since I first heard the old canard of an argument that “there’s no separation of church and state in the Constitution.”  I think I first heard it attributed to David Barton, which would make sense, since he doesn’t understand the Constitution, but neither does he fear sharing his misunderstandings.

It was an incorrect statement then, and it’s been incorrect since September 1787.  Separation of state and church is woven throughout the Constitution, part of the warp and woof.

Recently, latter-day Constitution ignorami repeat the old canard.

Toles cartoon on dangers of marrying church and state

Toles cartoon on dangers of marrying church and state

I was surprised to discover I’ve not posted this before on this blog.  So here’s a slightly-edited version of a response I gave many months ago to someone who made that silly claim, a basic description that I developed years ago to explain the issue, in speeches by members of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution:

Separation of church and state: It’s in the Constitution.

I don’t play a constitutional lawyer on television, I am one*, but it seems to me anyone can read the Constitution and see. One can see especially if one understands that the Constitution sets up a limited government, as Madison described, one that can do only what is delegated to it. The Constitution is a short document.

Where should you look to find separation of church and state in the Constitution?

First, look in the Preamble.  It is made clear that the document is a compact between citizens: “We the people . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution . . .” The usual role of God ordaining (in some western nations) is altered, intentionally. It is not God who establishes this government, but you and I, together. From the first words of the Constitution, there is separation of church and state.  The power of our government grows out of a secular compact between you and me, and 308 million other residents of the nation.   We have a government created by consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence said a just government should be.  It is not a government created by the will of God directly (though some, including the Mormons, argue it is divinely inspired).  We have no divine right kings or other monarchs under the Constitution.  The government is not the grantor of rights from God, but is instead the protector of the rights of citizens, whatever the source of the rights and whatever the rights.

Second, look in the key parts of the document itself.  Start with Article 1 The legislative branch is given no role in religion; neither is any religion given any role in the legislature. In Article 2, the executive branch gets no role in religion, and religion gets no role in the executive branch. In Article 3, the judicial branch gets no role in religion, and religion gets no role in the judicial branch. In Article 4, the people get a guarantee of a republican form of government in the states, but the states get no role in religion, and religion gets no role in state government. This is, by design of the founders, a perfect separation of church and state.

Third, in Article 6, the convention wrote the hard and fast rule that no religious test can be used for any office in government, federal, state or local, means that no official will have a formal, governmental role in religion, and no religion can insist on a role in any official’s duties.

Fourth, Amendment 1 closes the door to weasling around it: Congress is prohibited from even considering any legislation that might grant a new bureaucracy or a new power to get around the other bans on state and church marriage, plus the peoples’ rights in religion are enumerated.

Fifth: In 1801 the Baptists (!) in Danbury, Connecticut, grew concerned that Connecticut would act to infringe on their church services, or teachings, or right to exist. So they wrote to President Jefferson. Jefferson responded with an official declaration of government policy on what the First Amendment and Constitution mean in such cases. Jefferson carefully constructed the form of the device as well as the content with his Attorney General, Levi Lincoln, to be sure that it would state what the law was. This “letter” is the proclamation. It’s an official statement of the U.S. government, collected in the president’s official papers and not in his personal papers. Make no mistake: Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists was an official act, an official statement of the law of the United States. Jefferson intended it to assuage the Baptists in Danbury, to inform and warn the Connecticut legislatures, and to be a touchstone to which future Americans could turn for information. It was only fitting and proper for the Supreme Court to use the letter in this capacity as it has done several times.

Sixth: The phrase, “separation of church and state” dates back another 100 years and more, to the founding of Rhode Island. It is the religion/state facet of the idea of government by consent of the governed without interference from religious entities, expressed so well in the Mayflower Compact, in the first paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, and carried through in the Constitution (see especially the Preamble, above).

No, the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the Constitution. The principles of separation of church and state are part of the warp and woof, and history, of the document, however. The law is clear, the law was clear, the law has always been clear, and denying the Constitution says what it says, won’t change it or make it go away.  You could just as easily point out that the word “democracy” or “democratic” never appears in the document, though we rely on democratic mechanisms and institutions to make it work.  You could point out that nowhere does it say that our national government is a republic, though it is.  The Constitution doesn’t say “checks and balances,” nor does it say “federalism.”  The Constitution doesn’t mention political parties.  The Constitution was written before the advent of broadcasting, and makes no mention of radio nor television, nor of the internet — but the First Amendment freedoms apply there anyway.  The Constitution doesn’t say “privacy,” though it protects your right to privacy.

You won’t find “separation of church and state” as a phrase in the Constitution.  If you read it, you’ll find that the concept of the separation of state and church can’t be taken out of the document, either — it’s a fundamental principle of our government.

More, and Resources:


*  A non-practicing one.  We have way more than 50,000 lawyers in Texas.  That’s enough trouble for one lifetime.  Someone has to look out for the welfare of the world.

Lens incompetence: Watts Up looks through the wrong end of the telescope

December 27, 2010

The wags and denialists over at Anthony Watts’ joint are up to their old tricks, accusing others of their own errors.  Today it’s a guest post by Bernie Lewin, in which he claims that climate warming was all psychological, a “scare”:

Yet we can find precedents to this science-base scare in many health scares of recent decades, and also in environmental scares since the DDT cancer scare triggered by Silent Spring, politicised by the EDF and legalized by the newly formed EPA. (See Scared to Death which finds a repeating pattern to these science-based scares.)

Woman looking through the wrong end of a telescope

This woman might be corrected; global warming denialists will staunchly insist she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t need YOUR advice.

He fails to even think that Rachel Carson was right.  Lewin demonstrates incompetence at history, law and science, and the first point of the Scout Law, all in one sentence.

So much error.  So little time to correct.

  1. Carson didn’t claim DDT caused cancer. She noted that we create thousands of chemicals that may cause cancer, that cancers were rising in frequency, and that there was no testing of the new substances prior to their marketing.   Was there a DDT/cancer scare?  Lewin doesn’t offer any evidence.  (We had to correct Matt Ridley on this a couple of weeks ago — see his post here.)
  2. EDF (Environmental Defense Fund, now known as Environmental Defense) was on DDT without Carson — suing to stop DDT spraying (for no good reason) on Long Island in 1968.  EDF relied on science that was courtroom ready.  (I had misremembered the year of EDF’s suit in an earlier version of this post; my apologies to the two or three who may have read it.)  EDF’s suits established, on the basis of science, that DDT is an uncontrollable poison in the wild.  Lewin ignores science and law in his off-hand indictment of Carson’s book and ED.
  3. EPA didn’t act against DDT until 1972.  EPA banned DDT use on agricultural crops in the U.S. because DDT kills non-target species and, basically, entire ecosystems.  EPA was specific:  The ban had nothing to do with cancer.  Once again, Lewin ignores history, science and law.

So, in Lewin’s guest post, we see the pattern that continues at Watts’s place — unfair and wrong indictments of science, ignorance of history, little understanding of law.

All while trying to mock scientists:  ‘Of course scientists are almost always wrong,’ Watts’s blog argues, once again.

Watts won’t let me correct his errors there, even though he’s still coddling those who misdescribe Rachel Carson as a mass murderer, while denying he does it himself.  Consequently his readers won’t be alerted to this post because Watts or his minions will edit out the automatic ping his blog gets that this post is here.  Propaganda promoting falsehood can’t stand the sunlight of fact and truth.

Just because there’s a scare doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to be scared.  DDT is a deadly toxin, so long-lived that it almost cannot ever be eradicated from the environment.  It kills everything small, quickly, unless so much of it is used that the small things evolve quickly to be resistant and immune to it.

So, if we are to assume, as Lewin wrote, that the anti-warming bunch is to warming what the campaign against Rachel Carson by the DDT manufacturers was to DDT’s harms, we get a hint of what’s really up at Watts Up:  Any anti-warming claim is a hoax.  Why put it so cryptically, if that’s what they meant to say?

When Lewin looks at the history of DDT and Rachel Carson, he’s looking at the false history, and he draws the wrong conclusions.  Should we trust a guy so sloppy with the facts to be right on anything else?

Where does your state, or nation rank? Advanced level of math proficiency

December 27, 2010

I had to turn the graphic on its side to fit it in here big enough that you can read it. Where does your state, or nation, rank in percentage of students achieving an advanced level of math proficiency? For U.S. citizens, this is not a pretty chart.

Source: The Atlantic, “Your Child Left Behind” and acccompanying charts, “Miseducation Nation,” November 2010.

Math proficiency, country and state comparisons, The Atlantic, 2010

Where does your state, or nation, rank?

Hey, at least we’re ahead of Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan.  Can your students find those nations on a map?  Do they know what continents to look in?

Tip of the old scrub brush to McLeod’s Cartoons.

Texas ranks ahead of Indiana in higher level math proficiency!

December 26, 2010

That’s not really great news — Texas loses to Lithuania.

But without changing the captions on this great cartoon from McLeod Cartoons, it’s about the best we can say.

McLeod Cartoons on U.S. math achievement

Bragging with little to brag about -- your child left behind

McLeod’s inspiration came from The Atlantic’s report, “Your Child left Behind.”

Dan Valentine – “The Xmas Stiff,” a one-act play

December 26, 2010


by Daniel Valentine

(c) 2010


(4 F, 2 M)
CAROL-LEIGH, owner/bartender
ORSON, regular customer
SHANNON, cocktail waitress
BULLET, exotic dancer
ROCKY, exotic dancer
Unnamed customer/corpse.

SCENE: A hole-in-the-wall “gentlemen’s club” on the second floor of a three-story building just a few blocks from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. A bar with stools is situated by a small elevated stage, with “Merry Xmas” scrawled in white shoe polish on a mirror behind it. A neon sign above the bar reads “lST LADEEZ Show Bar.” Stairs near the bar climb to a dressing room on the third floor. On one wall, there are several windows with floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains pulled closed. Outside the entrance door, which is kept open during business hours, there is an ill-lit landing. Unseen stairs lead to the street below. There are tables and chairs, a booth or two, and a decorated Christmas tree. A sign on a wall reads “Exotic Dancers – No Cover – No Minimum.”

It is a late afternoon on the day before Christmas during one of the worst blizzards of the year.

Before the curtain rises, various voices from a TV, separated by white noise, are heard as someone yet-to-be-seen channel-surfs:

“The clock is ticking for today’s guests. This may be their last Christmas. So, please, stay with us and help us get them into the holiday spirit. Today! Surprise holiday make-overs for death-row inmates” . . .  “Hundreds of years ago, did he predict this season’s Super Bowl winner? Next. The amazing Nostradamus!” . . . “It’s a little crazy out there on this Christmas Eve afternoon” . . . “Everybody’s kind of shivering” . . .  “More than a foot of snow is predicted” . . .  “Today! Some of your favorite movie stars get the surprise of their lives when convicted stalkers reveal their secret celebrity crushes. How will our stars react?” . . .  “Look, Daddy, Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” . . .  “Omigod! This is so amazing. It’s so cute. Have you ever seen a prison uniform on a convicted mass-murderer that fits like this? So, Franco, what did you do? Tell us about the hair.”

(The curtain rises just as CAROL-LEIGH, remote in hand, clicks off the flat-screen TV behind the bar.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Disgusted.) There’s nothing on.

(She places the remote beside the register. Standing at the cocktail station, cutting lemons, is SHANNON. ORSON, the lone patron, sits with a Corona before him, his coat hangs from the back of his stool. BULLET, fully-dressed, is dancing halfheartedly on the stage, one eye on the clock.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) So, Congressman. How come you’re not back home in your district caroling with constituents?

ORSON: I’d rather look at naked women.

(He swivels on his stool to watch the dancer.)

BULLET: Carol-Leigh, I’m not taking my clothes off for one customer. Congressman or no. I don’t think I should have to.

(The sudden sound of the howling snowstorm outside is heard momentarily as the door to the street opens and closes.)

ORSON: (Turning back to Carol-Leigh.) Who’s dancing besides Bullet?

(A lone man in an unzipped jacket, sporting a Redskins ball cap, holding his stomach appears in the doorway. He is missing one shoe. He looks around, then makes his way to a semi-secluded table by the Christmas tree. Picking up her cocktail tray, Shannon leaves to serve him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Rocky is here. (Gesturing to the upstairs dressing room.) Cricket or Ursula or Shiloh or whatever Laura is calling herself these days is a no-show. She simply didn’t come in. Candy was supposed to dance but called in sobbing. Her dad died.

ORSON: Poor kid.

CAROL-LEIGH: It’s the fifth holiday he’s died on this year.

(Shannon sets both napkin and coaster down in front of the new customer.)

SHANNON: Can I help you? We have a holiday special on pitchers.

(The customer rocks back and forth on his seat, clutching his stomach.)

CUSTOMER: How much is a beer?

CAROL-LEIGH: So, anyway, Bullet and Rocky are tag-teaming it.

ORSON: That’s it?

CAROL-LEIGH: Hey, it’s Christmas Eve. It’s snowing. It’s cold. A person would have to be crazy … Like me.

(The customer struggles to rise.)

CUSTOMER: Seven bucks! SEVEN BUCKS? For a beer? (Looking around.) Where am I? The Four Seasons? (And he collapses onto the floor.)

CAROL-LEIGH: I called Wendy. She doesn’t feel well. I called Breezy. She has a cold. Stormy didn’t answer her phone. I called Fury. She has a twenty-four-hour virus. I called Moonflower. She has a bug. I called everybody. Bambi, Barbie, Bunny …

SHANNON: (To customer.) Sir? Excuse me. If you’re going to stay, you need to buy a drink. You can’t just flop out. We’re running a business here. Sir? Sir?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) You want to fill in?

ORSON: Sure. If I can dance on the bar. (He loosens his tie and unbuttons a shirt button.)

(Carol-Leigh takes a dollar from the tip jar and slaps it down on the bar before him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Please. Business is bad enough.

SHANNON: (Poking the body with her big toe.) Get up, you. Get up, honey. You okay? Are you alive? Damn!

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Another Corona?

(He checks his watch.)

ORSON: You’re open till seven tonight?

CAROL-LEIGH: Somewhere thereabouts.

SHANNON: (Now at the service bar.) Carol-Leigh, there’s a dead man under the Christmas tree.

ORSON: (Re: beer.) Sure. Why not? One more.

(Carol-Leigh uncaps another Corona.)

SHANNON: I’m not lying. We’ve got a problem.

(Carol-Leigh sets the bottle on the counter.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Did you say there was a dead man?

SHANNON: Take a look for yourself.

(Orson swivels around on his barstool.)

ORSON: Somebody died? You’re kidding. What now, just now?

(Carol-Leigh comes from behind the bar and goes with Shannon across the room, passing the stage.)

BULLET: What’s up?

(Orson follows close behind.)


(The music on the jukebox stops and Bullet steps down from the stage and hurries to see what’s happening as Carol-Leigh kneels down and feels the man’s wrist for a pulse.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, my God! (She flips the left side of his jacket open and puts an ear to his heart and holds it there.) My God, he is dead. (She gets to her feet.) I thought you were joking.

ORSON: Well, so much for Happy Hour.

BULLET: (Upon seeing the body.) Oh, man! Is he dead?

SHANNON: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (re: Bullet.) Wish I’d had a camera. You should have seen your face. Your eyes went–

BULLET: Hey, man, some things still surprise me. A dead body is one of ‘em. What happened?

(Orson crouches and flips open the right side of the man’s jacket.)

ORSON: Looks like he’s been stabbed.

SHANNON: Stabbed?!

ORSON: Looks like. Check that out.

BULLET: Merry Christmas.

CAROL-LEIGH: (sighing) I don’t need this.

ORSON: (Still squatting, puzzled.) There’s not much blood.

BULLET: Depends on the weapon. An ice pick doesn’t draw blood.

ORSON: That true?

BULLET: An ice pick’s quite a weapon.

ORSON: Better than a knife?

BULLET: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (Standing). Really? (To no one in particular.) Every day you learn something new.

CAROL-LEIGH: Whether you want to or not.

BULLET: You can stick a knife cleanly into someone and not kill him. But an ice pick causes internal bleeding.

ORSON: How do you know that? What are you, some sort of expert on ice pick-related homicides?

BULLET: Yeah, man, matter of fact. I know all about it. My ol’ man showed me. You gotta know where the organs are. An inch either way and you’ll hit a rib.

ORSON: Bullet, you’re so full of it.

SHANNON: I believe her. Ever seen her boyfriend? He looks like Ted Bundy should have.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m just glad he didn’t get his brains blown out on the carpet.

SHANNON: Hey, it just hit me. He’s missing one shoe. Maybe somebody stabbed him for his shoe.

BULLET: That could be. Some mugger doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for a one-legged friend.

ORSON: Who is he? (To Shannon.) Do you recognize him?

SHANNON: It was his first time here.

BULLET: Welcome to 1st Ladeez Show Bar! We obviously made a good impression on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Does he have any I.D.?

(Orson crouches on his heels again and rolls the body on its side a little to get at the man’s hip pockets. He gets to his feet.)

ORSON: Nothing on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Beautiful.

BULLET: Another day at the office.

CAROL-LEIGH: If D.C. ever gains statehood, a good state flag would be a black banner with the chalk outline of a corpse in the upper left-hand corner.

ORSON: What are you going to do, Carol-Leigh?

SHANNON: Sshh! She’s thinking.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Beside herself, tapping a finger on her forehead.) No brains suddenly.

BULLET: Take your time, Carol-Leigh. The dude’s not goin’ nowhere.

CAROL-LEIGH: (At last.) We have to get him out of here.

ORSON: You’re not going to report it? Call 9-1-1. I’ll call. (He turns to go get his cell from his coat.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a minute. We don’t want the cops here.

ORSON: (Sarcastically.) Oh, you’re worried about the cops. Well, when you put it that way. (Losing it.) Have you lost your marbles?!

CAROL-LEIGH: Orson, it’s Christmas Eve. By eight I want to be home. I don’t want to stay around here all night answering questions from the police. I have two dogs who depend on me.

BULLET: (Agreeing.) We call the cops, we could be here forever.

SHANNON: And I’m starving! Big-time. I haven’t eaten all day. I skipped breakfast. I had a birth-control pill for lunch.

BULLET: Carol-Leigh’s right. We’re talking about Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 outside and all that stuff.


ORSON: Did you say Channel 9? (Reconsidering.) My mother watches Channel 9. (After a pause.) Get rid of the sucker. Like roll him down the stairs and out the door. See ya bye!

BULLET: Now you’re talkin’!

CAROL-LEIGH: Shannon, take him outside. Immediately.

SHANNON: Who, me? You want me to pick up a dead body? I don’t think so. Sorry, no way.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m very, very serious.

SHANNON: Oh, yeah, sure-sure. Gimme a break. Bill Gates could walk in here and he couldn’t give me a big enough tip.

CAROL-LEIGH: Stubborn one. Pleeeeeeeese?

SHANNON: No, period. I ain’t gonna do it.

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: Forget it. Not me!

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: It’s not in my job description. If you want him outta here, you do it.

ORSON: Guys! Guys! C’mon! I’ll do it. Let me get my coat. (To himself on his way to the bar.) Channel 9. My mom watches Channel 9.

(Rocky, the only other dancer, appears on the stairs from the dressing room above. She is sporting reindeer antlers and a Santa’s hat.)

ROCKY: (Upon seeing Orson at the bar.) Hi, guy. What’s happening?

ORSON: Oh, not a heck of a lot. A customer just got murdered.

ROCKY: (Laughing.) You’re teasin’. You like my holiday headgear? (She turns around modeling it for him.)

ORSON: (Eyeing her curiously.) I wouldn’t wear it.

ROCKY: On me, dummy! Isn’t it cute? I’m Dancer, one of Santa’s reindeer. (She striking a serious pose.) Because I, too, am a dancer. (Then she laughs at herself.)

ORSON: (The politician.) Yes, very lovely.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Shouting.) Hey, Orson! C’mon!

(Orson shrugs into his coat.)

ORSON: I’m coming. Excuse me, Rocky. I’ve got to take the body outside.

ROCKY: You’re just pulling my chain. (She gaily walks with him, her only concern in life at the moment: the antlers.) They’re not very practical for dancing. In the dressing room, they were off and on. But– (She stops in her tracks. Stocked.) Gosh, business is sure the pits. Where are all the customers? (Then she sees the body. She gives a little gasp and looks away, then looks, then looks away again.) Oooooo! Somebody close his eyes. Put a tablecloth over him! Put something on him!

BULLET: Where’s my body glitter?

ROCKY: Don’t be bad. Where’d he come from?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Ready?

(He nods and grasps the dead man’s ankles as Carol-Leigh clears a path of chairs.)

ROCKY: Oh, my gosh! What are you guys doing?

ORSON: (To Carol-Leigh.) Where to?

CAROL-LEIGH: Down the back fire escape.

(He drops the legs–kerplunk.)

ORSON: No way. Impossible. This is a big guy here. He’s not big-big, but he’s big. He’s tall.

(Bullet uses her fingers to tabulate on an imaginary hand-held calculator.)

BULLET: (Aloud to herself.) Just how many does it take to carry a dead body down a fire escape in a snowstorm?


(Carol-Leigh gives the problem some thought.) Out the front. But don’t let anybody see you.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just make sure.

ROCKY: You’re going to take him out into the street?

(Orson bends down, gripes the dead man’s ankles again, and begins to tug the limp body toward the entrance.)

BULLET: Welcome to Carol-Leigh’s Carryout. Yes, we deliver.

ORSON: (Panting.) Damn. (Puffing.) He’s heavy.

CAROL-LEIGH: Don’t strain your back.

ORSON: I can’t tell you … how much … I looooove doing this … Hell, I don’t even know this guy.

(He stops to catch his breath, letting go of the man’s legs again–plop.)

ROCKY: (Sighing.) Boy, I’ve just about had it with this place. I’d like to find a real job. This is not a fun place anymore.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Shannon.) Go look out the window. Tell us when it’s clear.

(Shannon hurries to one of the windows, throws open the curtains, and rubs off the steam. Snow is falling, wind howling, and it’s hard to see anything clearly.)

ROCKY: How can you do this, Carol-Leigh? (She fiddles nervously with the crucifix at her throat.) This is bad. (Orson repositions the body and grabs it under the armpits.) This isn’t good. (He walks backwards in a half-crouch towards the door.) This is bad. (The dead man’s head dangles between his knees.) Don’t you feel this is wrong, Carol-Leigh?

CAROL-LEIGH: Not at all. It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t want to stay around answering questions from the police all night. (To Shannon.) Tell me when it’s clear.

ROCKY: (To herself.) I want to leave. I want to go home right now.

BULLET: Take the body with you.

ROCKY: (Glaring at her.) I love you, too. (Chants.) I want to get off work, I want to get off work, I want to go home.

CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. If we call the police, we won’t get out of here till late. (She pats Rocky tenderly on the shoulder.) It’s going to be all right, Rocky. Just relax. Get it together. Don’t go off the deep end. (After a pause.) Sit down!

(Rocky sits. Orson, winded, pauses to catch his breath again.)

ORSON: How did I get myself into this?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Humoring him.) Hey, you said last night. “I sure wish this place would get some new bodies!” Quote unquote.

ROCKY: I heard that.

CAROL-LEIGH: You only get three wishes. That was a dumb one.

(Orson pulls the body out the door onto the landing.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Watch your step.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just be careful.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am

(And poof!–he disappears backwards out of sight with the body. There is a quick succession of heavy thumps and Rocky leaps up and flinches to each one as if her own head were being bounced on wooden steps)

ROCKY: Oh, boy! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, man! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) We’re going to get in trouble! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, my gosh! (And KABOOM!) FUCK!!!

(And they all turn and stare at her, mouths agape. Prim-and-proper Rocky has never uttered a bad word in her life! All are stunned, so much so that they don’t hear Orson screaming for help at the bottom of the steps.)

ORSON: (Off.) Get him off ‘a me!

ROCKY: Oops! Four-letter word. Did I just say one?

ORSON: (Off.) Get him the hell off ‘a me!!

ROCKY: Sorry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Returning to Planet Earth.) ORSON!!! (She rushes to the landing, afraid to look but does.) You okay?

ORSON: (Off.) If I can get myself untangled here. (After a pause.) Someone get the door.

BULLET: (Volunteering.) I’ll get it. I got it.

(Carol-Leigh makes a last-minute look-see around the area.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a sec! He’s gotta hat. (She scoops the dead man’s ball cap up from off the floor and hands it to Bullet who rushes off down the steps, twirling it on a finger.)

BULLET: (Half to herself.) What’s he gonna do without his hat?

ORSON: (Off.) Is it clear?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying the question to Shannon.) Is it clear?

(Shannon takes a good look.)

SHANNON: Okay, now!

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying her reply.) GO, GO, GO!

(There is the sound of howling wind from outside as the street door opens and shuts.)

SHANNON: (Like a sportscaster.) He’s out the door. He’s slipping and sliding, but he’s still on his feet. So far so good. Bullet is standing look-out on the corner.

CAROL-LEIGH: Smart girl.

SHNNON: Half-nude.

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, terrific.

SHANNON: She’s stepping from foot to foot. She’s either cold or she’s gotta pee.

CAROL-LEIGH: I love it.

(Rocky stands clutching her crucifix, eyes shut, praying silently but mightily, crossing herself from time to time.)

CAROL-LEIGH: What now? (She hurries to the window.) What now?

SHANNON: He’s dragging the body, leaving a corpse-trail in the snow.

CAROL-LEIGH: For crying out loud! (She stands on her toes attempting to look over Shannon’s shoulder.) What’s going on? What’s going on?

SHANNON: (Whirling around.) What’s going on! What’s going on! Stop asking me what’s going on! (She looks out the window again.) Oh, no! (She taps her nails frantically on the glass. She tries to open the window to no avail. She throws her arms up in despair.) I want a Christmas bonus.

CAROL-LEIGH: What’s going on?

SHANNON: A patrol car’s coming!

CAROL-LEIGH: (With outstretched arms heavenward.) Why me, Lord?

SHANNON: (Shouting, horror-struck.) LOOK OUT! COME BACK!

(There is the sudden wail of a police siren and all three freeze, panic stricken, as the red beam of the siren lights up the room. The patrol car zooms by, the siren growing gradually fainter, as Shannon takes a quick sneak-peek down below. Sighing with relief, liking what she sees, she pulls the drapes shut.)

SHANNON: Let the wake begin!

(Rocky opens one eye.)

ROCKY: Mission accomplished?

SHANNON: Party down!

(Orson and Bullet come up the stairs.)

ORSON: Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s have some fun. I’m through with dead bodies.

(The two join the others now at the bar.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Thank you very, very much.

SHANNON: You guys are great. (To Orson.) Gimme a cheek. (She gives him a peck.)

(Bullet hugs her breasts, shivering all over.)

BULLET: It’s cold out there. My God, it must be two degrees. When I got outside, I thought: This is really stupid. I’m not dressed!

ORSON: You have goosebumps all over you.

BULLET: I’m cold! (Teeth chattering uncontrollably.) Never been so cold.

(Orson takes his coat off.)

ORSON: You’ll catch pneumonia. (He drapes it over her shoulders.) Don’t you drop dead on us. Have a brandy to warm you up.

CAROL-LEIGH: On me. I’d like to buy everybody a round.

ROCKY: (A teetotaler.) Can I have a drink of water, please? (She fumbles in her purse and produces a tiny bottle of pills.) I have a bad headache. (She flips the top off with a thumb) I need Advil. I can’t work here without Advil. (She shakes the bottle. It’s empty! She’s crushed.)

(Orson pats her tenderly on the back.)

ORSON: Hey, it’s going to be all right. Smile. ‘Tis the season. (Then cheerfully to the others.) C’mon, lets get this party started. Let the good times roll.

(Carol-Leigh lines up a row of snifter glasses and fills them. They hold up their drinks and toast, ab libbing “Merry Christmas,” etc. Then throwing their heads back, they all down the contents in one gulp, except for Rocky who takes a hefty-sized organizer from her bag to make an entry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson, re: the body.) Where’d you put him?

ORSON: Where else? In the rear of the alley. Beside the Dumpster.

ROCKY: (To herself, half-aloud as she writes.) Advil.

ORSON: On an abandoned La-Z-Boy. Where he’ll be comfy.

ROCKY: (Rethinking her entry.) A crate full of Advil!

(Carol-Leigh collects the glasses and gives the bar a once-over with a bar towel.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Half to herself.) I can’t believe there was a dead body in here.

BULLET: (Blowing on her hands.) With the crowd today, he fit right in. He didn’t tip me, either.

SHANNON: I’m disappointed there wasn’t more blood. He looked like my ex.

ROCKY: (Shocked.) Shannon!

SHANNON: Just joking.

BULLET: Wishful thinking, you mean.

SHANNON: You’re right. If I had an ice pick, I’d like to put fifty holes in him.

ORSON: (To change the subject.) Did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: Who? Oh, the dead dude?

BULLET: Yeah, did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: He stiffed me!

ROCKY: Ho, ho, ho. I want to take a shower. I feel dirty. Don’t you guys feel dirty? This was bad.

ORSON: I’ll take a shower with you.

ROCKY: Don’t be naughty!

ORSON: C’mon! It’ll be fun! I’ll get a room.

ROCKY: No! (A pause.) But you can tip me if you want to. (She lifts her gartered leg.)

ORSON: Don’t trip on the body going out. (Laughing.) That’s a good tip. That’s a good one, isn’t it? (No one laughs.) Hey, what do I look like, the Federal Reserve? I’m not.

ROCKY: (Pouting.) Aren’t you going to tip me for Christmas? (Orson reluctantly peels off a single from a wad in his pocket and slips it in her garter.) Only one? I have a ten, a five, and three ones. If you give me two dollars, I can get a twenty-dollar bill.

ORSON: (To the others.) Miss Sting here. (To Rocky, rolling his eyes.) Okay, okay, give me the ten and the five and the two ones and I’ll give you a twenty as a Christmas gift.

(The two carry out the transaction, much to the amusement of the others, and Rocky tucks the twenty in her garter.)

ROCKY: What time is it?

(Orson checks his watch.)

ORSON: Not even six.

ROCKY: That’s all it is? (She straightens her antlers.) I don’t feel like dancing another set? (To Orson.) You have five singles for the jukebox? It only takes dollars and I only have a twenty.

(It is then that another sudden gush of wind rushes up the stairwell from outside. There is the sound of footsteps and all eyes turn toward the entrance. A solitary figure, not unlike the dead man, in a Redskin ball cap, appears in the doorway, his shadow stretching across the floor, falling just short of their feet. The figure gives no greeting, just stands and looks about.)

STRANGER: (After a glance.) Dead, huh? (After a long pause.) Catch you later. (He descends the stairs.)

(For a moment, it is very quiet. All are noticeably startled. Bullet breaks the silence.)

BULLET: Man, was that weird, or what? (She turns to the others.) Am I the only person who thinks that was weird?

SHANNON: Weird. That was weird.


SHANNON: Certainly was that.


SHANNON: That, too.

ORSON: As much as I like here, I’m getting the hell outta here. One more drink and I’m outta here. I don’t want him catching me later.

BULLET: What’d he say? “Dead, huh?” I hope he meant business.

CAROL-LEIGH: Who was it, someone taking a sneak peek?

ROCKY: (Terrified.) I’m not so sure. (Clutching her crucifix once again.) For a moment, I thought it was him.

SHANNON: Me, too.

ROCKY: Maybe the Man upstairs is telling us something.

SHANNON: That’s what I was thinking.

ROCKY: It’s Christmas Eve. Santa knows who’s been naughty and nice.

CAROL-LEIGH: What if … I don’t know. This is exhausting me. What if …

BULLET: Spit it out, Carol-Leigh. What are you trying to say, we should bring him back in?

ROCKY: (All for it.) Yeah!

SHANNON: Maybe we should.

ORSON: I like the idea.

BULLET: He’s upstairs, he’s downstairs. Corpse in, corpse out. I wish y’all would make up your minds.

ROCKY: Hope he’s still out there. I had CDs stolen out of my car a week ago. It was the second time.

SHANNON: (Taking a cell phone from her purse.) Carol-Leigh, what do you want?

CAROL-LEIGH: I want to wake up and say I had the weirdest dream. I want to go home. I want my mom.

SHANNON: No, on your pizza. (And dialing Domino’s

The Curtain Falls)

%d bloggers like this: