Tag Archives: World War II

Is Resistance (to Light Pollution) Futile?

For the benefit of the few readers of this blog who may not be familiar with the term, light pollution is excessive and misdirected outdoor lighting that makes it difficult to impossible to observe objects in the night sky.

With the definition out of the way, some organizations such as the International Dark Sky Association and Globe at Night claim that their efforts to raise awareness of this issue have met with a measure of success.  While this may indeed be the case, I think the progress has been minimal.

One example concerns Earth Hour, which was from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM on March 28th.  What is supposed to happen during Earth Hour is that people are supposed to shut off their outdoor lighting for the duration.   Instead, very little of the sort actually happened as is usual for every year this event has been held.  The lamestream media did give it some mention and pointed out that some towns and cities celebrated it.  These “celebrations” were quite noncommittal and merely involved turning off the outdoor lights around a prominent local landmark or two.  Besides this governmental involvement, nobody appears to have done anything.  Yet, when there is an occasion that asks for people to turn lights on, such as the National Night Out held every August, the level of participation is very high.  Apparently, people have a strong aversion to turning off their outdoor lights even though it costs them money for the electricity and the security benefits are limited (according to sources such as the FBI).

What I would like to see is a city or town decide to celebrate Earth Hour with a partial reenactment of a World War II-era blackout.  Younger readers of this blog might not be aware that, during the war, people were in fear of being bombed at night by the enemy.  For the British, this fear was very real as the Luftwaffe frequently bombed targets in Britain under the cover of night during the early part of the war.  In the United States, the fear was more hypothetical as the capabilities of the enemy were not well known.  While the country was definitely out of range of German aircraft, the range of the Japanese planes was largely unknown in the early days of the war and there was speculation that they could reach targets on the west coast.  To frustrate night bombers, towns and cities adopted a blackout strategy where, when a signal was given, every source of possible outdoor illumination was either shut off or completely shielded.  While this was not 100% effective in Britain (the Germans had an early sort of radio navigation), it did make it harder for British cities to be struck, and in the United States, blackouts did raise war awareness among the public.  Getting back to the main point of the paragraph, towns and cities should celebrate Earth Hour by turning off as much outdoor illumination as possible (except traffic signals) and possibly even compete with one another for achieving the greatest light reduction.

Another example was a recent news article that carried a night-time satellite image of the Korean peninsula.  South of the 38th parallel, there were brightly lit cities and towns.  North of it, almost complete darkness.  The author of the article was implying that light pollution is a sign of economic vigor and is a good thing, despite growing evidence of health and ecological problems it causes.  By not having light pollution, North Korea was dysfunctional.  Actually, one doesn’t need a satellite image to figure that out.  Any society where the police manual has a chapter devoted to cannibalism has very serious problems and lighting is not going to fix that.

However, for any serious progress to be made against light pollution, there would need to be a change in mentality that I do not see happening.  An example of the kind of thinking that helps perpetuate light pollution was aired on my local AM radio station.  Every Wednesday morning, they have a short (about forty minutes) program hosted by Milton Paris, titled “Getting Ahead in Business”.  Each program, Paris would bring on a business owner that he met at one of his public functions and that owner would describe his business while Paris would ask questions and make favorable comments.  Recently, he had the owner of a sign company and the two of them waxed rhapsodic over illuminated business signs.  The part that caught my attention was when they said that it made good sense to leave said signs on all night as advertising.  Aside from the obvious contribution to the light pollution problem, such an approach would be wasting money for those businesses since they would be spending money on electricity to power the signs when there is nobody around to see them.  While I am not advocating doing away with illuminated business signs, nor am I against their use for advertising, I believe that an intelligent business would have them shut off after a certain time when potential viewers of the signs are not around.  After all, a sign shining at three in the morning is not likely to be seen by anyone except the occasional over-the-road truck driver or police officer on patrol.  In short, why pay to put on advertising when there is no audience?

The point of all this is that there cannot be much real progress against light pollution until the mindset of leaving lights on all night even when there is no need for them is changed.  Does anyone see any way to change that?

Veterans Day 2014

In honor of both Veterans Day (today – November 11th) and Marine Corps Day (November 10th), I present a link to a post on the Bizarre History Blog (haven’t figured out how to reblog a post from that blog) where Dr. Beachcombing tells the story of Guy Gabaldon, one of the most unusual World War II heroes that you probably have never heard of.

I also would like to extend a “Semper Fi” to any Marines who happen to be reading this and also wish all veterans a meaningful Veterans Day.

Columbus: Too Flawed to Be a Hero?

Homeland Security (Native American style)

An increasingly popular sentiment about Columbus and his voyages.

Sorry about the lack of postings, but I have been under the weather lately.  Nothing serious, just terribly annoying.

Now on to the discussion.  Today is the day the U.S. government sets aside to honor the first transatlantic voyage of Christopher Columbus back in 1492.  The discoveries he made are well known and their story is not going to be repeated here.  But what will be discussed is whether or not Columbus is worthy of being considered a hero.

Given the primitive state of ships and navigation in that era, Columbus proved himself to be an exceptional seaman and navigator.  Unfortunately, he falls far short of being heroic when it comes to character.

For starters, he was a very dishonest man.  True, he lied to the natives, but all the explorers of the New World did.  But Columbus also lied to his sponsors (the Spanish royalty).  The professors at the University of Salamanca knew that Columbus’ figures concerning the circumference of the Earth, the extent of Asia, and even that of Europe were seriously fudged and tried to warn Ferdinand and Isabella about that.

He also lied to his crew, especially on the first voyage when he kept two separate logs, an accurate one for his private use and another falsified one for showing to the crew.

And it seems that Columbus had an idea that where he was going was not the wealthy areas of China and Japan.  One third of the cargo capacity on his vessels was taken up by cheap junk such as glass beads, hawkbells, and other trinkets.  If one was going to one of the richest nations on Earth, you wouldn’t bring junk to trade.  But, if you knew there were going to be primitive people who would be in awe of such junk, a move like that would make sense.

Now, where would Columbus get that kind of idea?   Here is a plausible theory.  It is known that when Columbus was a sailor on a merchant vessel, one of the ports that he visited was in Iceland.  And Iceland was settled by the Vikings, the folks who discovered Vinland and set up a settlement at L’ans Aux Meadows  in Canada (being the first confirmed Europeans to visit the New World – there have been claims that some Irish hermits might have come earlier, but their style of discovery that Dr. Beachcombing describes as “kamikaze exploration” pretty much rules out returning to report said discoveries and bragging about them) in about 1000 AD, which lasted a few years until the Vikings were driven out by a native insurgency campaign.   One can imagine Columbus sitting in a local Icelandic bar with his shipmates when a local guy tells them a weird story that there were these lands across the Atlantic inhabited by primitive people (a memory of Vinland).  This could have fired Columbus’ imagination and spurred his desire to check it out for himself.  Figuring that there were lands across the ocean in warmer climates than old Vinland, he probably started formulating a plan.

So, even he was not the first to sail to the New World.  Yet, even with all his character flaws and ending up in disgrace, losing every accolade his discoveries brought him, he is still regarded by some as a hero.  Why is this?

The answer is obvious.  Italian-Americans, like every other ethnic group, felt a need of a hero of their own.  Nothing wrong with that.  But I feel that there are better choices, people who are of better character than Columbus.  One example might be Gugielmo Marconi, the man who invented radio communication.  While Marconi’s wireless could only handle Morse code, it laid the groundwork for radio and television.  Then there is Enrico Fermi, a brilliant physicist who used his skills to aid the U.S. war effort in World War II.

But, if the Italian-American community wants a hero whose courage and character is beyond reproach, might I suggest none other than John Basilone?  Basilone served in the Marines in World War II and, with a small handful of men, helped hold off a massive Japanese assault on an airfield at Guadalcanal in 1942.  His feats of heroism and great strength (at one point he had to run while carrying a 90-lb+ machine gun and a large load of ammunition in order to bring it back to the American lines) earned him a Medal of Honor.  The government then had Basilone sent back to the United States and put him on a war bond drive.  He was also offered a promotion to be an officer and spend the rest of the war in the U.S.  But, he felt a sense of duty to his comrades in the Pacific and went back.  Basilone then distinguished himself heroically at Iwo Jima in 1945, but was killed.  Here is a more detailed account of Basilone and his heroism.

Isn’t John Basilone a more worthy hero for Italian-Americans than a superb sailor and navigator who was dishonest and is increasingly viewed as a villain?