Rachel Rosoff

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Saturday morning, while my family was enjoying the Labor Day weekend, an Enloe High School student named Rachel Rosoff was reporting to work as a lifeguard at a North Raleigh neighborhood pool. Unbeknownst to her, the pool had somehow become electrified, and she was found floating face-down in the water by an arriving coworker who could not rescue her without becoming a victim himself. She was buried yesterday.

I’ve been thinking of Rachel over the past few days. She had many of the same interests that my kids do. I’ve probably even watched her perform with the Improv group at Enloe’s recent open house.

It’s terrifying to me as a parent how quickly lives can be turned upside-down, how you can work to make things safe and still tragedies happen. One moment Rachel was ready to take on the world and her world ends the next. Terrifying and so sad.

No, I didn’t know Rachel or her family but I feel like she and they are part of my family. I hope the Rosoff family finds some peace.

Obama, Truman, and the atomic bomb

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman

On my port visit to Sasebo, Japan, during my Navy service, I decided to take a tour of Nagasaki. Standing at ground zero of this city was an unexpectedly deeply moving experience for me, one that I will never forget. The U.S. Army photos displayed there of mangled, radiation-poisoned bodies will haunt me forever.

It was a horrendous decision to drop the bomb. Anyone who visits Nagasaki or Hiroshima and does not agree has lost all humanity.

Obama is visiting Hiroshima and some of my right-wing friends are having a hissy fit about it. Many claim this is a “slap in the face to veterans,” though many of them are not veterans themselves, so it’s unclear how they can speak for veterans.

As a veteran I have debated whether dropping the bomb was the right thing to do. I always thought Harry Truman did a lot of good as President but how could I reconcile his decision to nuke hundreds of thousands of people with his good deeds? I’ve since grudgingly come to think it was the right call, given the fanaticism in Japan at the time. Casualties from an invasion of Japan (proposed as Operation Downfall) would have been from 500,000 to over a million in bloody, take-no-prisoners fighting.

So Truman’s decision most likely saved lives, though it brought the world the madness of nuclear weapons. It was a decision we’re still paying for today.

It’s easy to second-guess President Truman today since things look so much different from our perspective. The war, however, has long been over. Japan and America are close friends and important allies.

Should Obama apologize? I really don’t care either way. The only people who do care are the ones who just can’t let go.

Does criticism of government turn off new leaders?

A few weeks ago, a local media outlet published a story taking a few swipes at Raleigh’s city manager. While the criticism was mostly harmless (and city managers know it comes with the territory), it reminded me again that while taking digs at city government might seem to win points with hipster readers, it also alienates those hipsters from possibly getting involved themselves. Make public service look uncool and you run the risk of scaring off good people who might do great things with it.

I’m not saying don’t afflict the comforted when they rightfully earn it, but at the same time if you’re taking swipes just for the sake of taking swipes then you could be inadvertently turning away the bright, creative people who could be doing us all good.

I guess the constant focus on the negative when there’s really a ton of good being done gets tiring to me. And it’s not just the local level but at every level. Maybe it’s human nature to find something to complain about. Or maybe not.

Soaring profit?

A “free market” story I read tonight reminded me of one of the most surprising aspects of the Wright Brothers’ invention of the airplane. The Bishop’s Boys author Tom D. Crouch makes the point that Wilbur and Orville Wright were not motivated by profit when they began their chase for powered flight. The Wrights took their airplane designs on more as an interesting hobby, funded by their very successful bicycle shop. They were not venture-funded and did not answer to Wall Street. Their innovation grew mainly from their intense curiosity and desire to create things.

That’s not to say that they were altruistic because they certainly weren’t. Once they began flying, the brothers became secretive and litigious. They went after anyone else who seemed to infringe on their patents, with the aim of making as much money as possible.

While they were not top-notch businessmen, they were top-notch engineers. Their love of engineering, not their love of money, wound up making them a fortune.

What science knows (and doesn’t know) about animals

I was unexpectedly on-call Monday night and the pages I got made me sleep very lightly the rest of the night. When 3:30 AM rolled around, I was a little surprised to be serenaded by the birds outside. As I dozed, I began to wonder what it is about 3:30 AM that prompts the birds to sing? There can be no sign of dawn at that early time, even on May 10th. Is there some sort of environmental variable that tips birds off that it’s time to sing?

Later that day, naturally I then did some Googling on the research about birds. A query on “what makes birds sing in the morning” brought up a few interesting articles but also left me exasperated.
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Miss Ruth moves away

Miss Ruth Gartrell poses with the Turner family, February 2016.

Miss Ruth Gartrell poses with the Turner family, February 2016.

I knew the day would ome day come and about two weeks ago it did: the day our wonderful next-door neighbor “Miss Ruth” Gartrell moved away. Her once-bustling home is now empty and it makes me sad.

We first found out about her impending move over New Year’s when a for sale sign appeared in her yard. She told me that she was unable to keep up with her large home the way she used to and also felt she should move back to California where she could be closer to more of her family. A few months then went by before her packing began in earnest and one morning about two weeks ago she and her family left for good.
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The mystery of place memory

Yesterday, I was leaving my desk for a meeting when I realized I had my high-tech, shiny Macbook Pro in one hand and a low-tech notepad in the other. There was no reason I needed a notepad when I had my laptop and yet it didn’t seem right not to attend a meeting without it.

After pointing out my absurdity to my coworkers for a laugh, I pondered how writing something down with a pencil or pen seems to strengthen my recall of it. I could easily type whatever I’d be jotting down and do it much faster with a computer, yet I’m certain I would not retain it as well as if I had used a pen or pencil.

Watching my dog make his rounds to all of the neighborhood pee spots got me thinking of how a dog’s world must be organized. Smells act as a dog’s map. If a dog finds a treat somewhere in the house, the dog will continually check that spot long afterward. Even if that treat was there only once. Dogs seem to create memories based on place (and reinforced with one of the strongest memory-making senses, the sense of smell).
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