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Sep. 11th, 2016

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9/11 Fifteen Years Ago - Personal Reflections

How can it possibly be fifteen years ago for something that to many of feels like it happened yesterday?

Exactly fifteen years ago today, terrorists attacked the United States of America. They flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and into the Pentagon near Washington, DC. They most likely would also have flown a plane into the Capitol building but were stopped by the passengers of United 93. Almost 3,000 people died that day.

Because I'm obsessed with exactness, I've made sure for a while now to know the exact times of certain events that took place on 9/11. The bare sequence of events at the World Trade Center was as follows:

8:46:26 AM: North Tower Hit
9:02:54 AM: South Tower Hit
9:59:04 AM: South Tower Collapsed
10:28:31 AM: North Tower Collapsed

I'm a New York City native, born and raised in Queens, and I grew up in a city in which the Towers always stood. On 9/11, I was a teacher at a private school in Newton, Massachusetts. The following comes from my journal, a hand-written one that I was keeping at the time.

"The second [staff] meeting ended early, and I went back to the Science lab to check my e-mail. I idly noted a message...which said that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

"I didn't really think much of it and I went back to the Information Center. Shortly after the meeting...began, [a colleague] walked in and asked if we had heard the news. He told us that two planes had hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and he set up the small TV to receive CNN. They showed pictures of two commercial jets crashing into the twin towers...

"I ran to the phone...to call [my younger brother Joshua] at work. At 9:35 AM I called and got him. He had just gotten in, and he said that he seen the smoke from the 7 train. I told him to stay in touch, but due to circuits being busy, I wasn't able to reach New York City again for a while.

"The rest of the day passed in a blur of rumors and news. I kept checking webpages; when I couldn't reach CNN, checked the New York Post webpage and the Newsday webpage. [I had called Nomi, and she had suggested the second-tier news sites.]

"At 10:15 AM, the...students returned from their physical education class...and...we told them the news...

"When the meeting with the students ended, I collapsed in tears..."

There's more, of course, but to summarize, I spent the day trying to get news of family and friends, making sure they were all safe. They were.

I was scheduled to help teach a kindergarten class that afternoon. They were doing a unit on bears and I had a very large Folkmanis brown bear puppet with me that day. The school had deliberately kept the kindergarten students unaware of the day's events, so when I walked into that classroom, they were all smiles and laughter as they played with the bear puppet I was holding.

The drive home was surreal, knowing that fighter planes and battleships were protecting New York City. Nomi was already home, as her office had sent everyone home early. The rest of my family was safe, but my older brother, an emergency medicine physician, had been called up to report to New York City. Nomi and I took a walk at 5:30 PM, which included browsing at Brookline Booksmith and getting ice cream at JP Licks. Everything on TV was the news; we watched C-SPAN, which was running a feed from the CBC, so we could get the Canadian perspective.

The next few days, the events were fresh in everyone's mind. On Wednesday, I flinched at hearing an airplane in the sky, then remembered that all commercial flights had been grounded, so it had to be one of our military aircraft, protecting us. I bought my regular comic books that day; Adventures of Superman #596 had an eerie panel of the twin towers of Metropolis being repaired. A friend came over that evening after attending a local religious service.

On Thursday, Nomi and I were sick of the news, and Animal Planet had gone back to regular programming. We watched a documentary about moose to help us get our minds off things.

And life went on. Today, I'm no longer teaching, but editing science curricular materials in Boston; my younger brother no longer lives in New York City, but in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and three children; and my older brother is still an emergency medicine physician in the Boston area, specializing in disaster management.

And as all my friends know, there have been other changes in my life. In 2007 I lost my mom. In 2008 I published a book collection of many of my short stories. And in 2009, Nomi and I welcomed two precious and adorable girls into our lives. Being a parent changes your perspective on a lot of things, and 9/11 is no exception. When the attacks happened, I was worried for my mom and my brothers; if something were to happen today, my first priority would be to make sure that my children were safe.

I probably don't need to tell anyone this, but today's a very good day to remind your loved ones, families, and friends how much they mean to you.

Sep. 8th, 2016

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Star Trek 50th Anniversary

Fifty years ago today, the TV show Star Trek was first broadcast in the United States.

Many other people will say much more relevant things than I can about the show. And anyone who knows me is aware of how much this one TV show influenced me. So instead of discussing its influence, I want to share my earliest memory of knowing about Star Trek.

When I was little, my mom had a book that she would read aloud to my younger brother Joshua and me. I wish I recall the title. It was about a little kid playing with toy cars, and on one page, as we were sitting in the living room, Mom read out the following words:

"Beep beep! Honk honk! Star Trek!"

We laughed. What had happened was that Mom knew that my older brother, Jonathan, liked to watch Star Trek, and she had just remembered that it was about to be shown. (This was when it was in syndication on WPIX, channel 11, in New York City.) So just as she finished the sentence "Beep beep! Honk honk!" from the book, she called out to Jonathan, "Star Trek!"

We joked about this for years.

Alas, I don't recall which episode I watched first, or what brought me in. I do recall buying Star Trek books and toys and being a major nerd about the show. As a kid, I owned a tribble. I listed to the Trek records that came with comic books. In high school, I even made one of my classmates put on Spock ears when I was put in charge of doing a play for a class; I had decided we should do a scene from Star Trek. (Mark, I apologize.)

But it all began because my parents knew to encourage our interests.

Live long and prosper, Star Trek. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Aug. 14th, 2016

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Thirteen Years Ago Today - Great Northeast Blackout

Thirteen years ago today was the Great Blackout of 2003, which hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada.

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Jul. 13th, 2016

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What It Means to Be Superman

Last week, DC Comics published Superman #2. (I think this may be the fourth time they've published a Superman #2, but that's irrelevant for what I want to discuss.) In the current storyline, Superman and Lois Lane are married and have been in hiding in a new version of the universe for many years. The Superman intrinsic to that universe just died, so the Superman we've known about since the mid-1980s has decided to reveal himself to the world.

One issue he and Lois are dealing with, though, is that they have a son, Jonathan, who is starting to develop his powers. He wants to help his dad, but he's unsure of himself, and his parents want to keep him safe.
Anyway, in the panels presented, Superman explains to his son what it means to be Superman. I'll quote:



"I'm afraid someday soon -- too soon -- you will have to pick it up and embrace the 'S' for yourself. It's not about our powers, or strength, or heat vision. It's about character. It means doing the right thing when no one else will, even when you're scared…even when you think no one is looking."

I loved this. For me, it encapsulates exactly what being Superman is all about, and why I've loved the character since childhood and still buy Superman comics today.

(Thanks to Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Mick Gray, who created this issue.)

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Jul. 5th, 2016

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Star Trek The Official Guide to Our Universe: The True Science Behind the Starship Voyages

I'm delighted to announce that in the July 2016 issue of Apex Magazine, released today, I have an interview with Andrew Fazekas, The Night Sky Guy, about his new book "Star Trek The Official Guide to Our Universe: The True Science Behind the Starship Voyages." If you follow the first link above you can find out the rest of the contents and buy the issue for the incredibly low price of only $2.99.

(And you want this issue. I've already read some of the stories in here and they're most excellent.)

Jul. 4th, 2016

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George Washington's Letter to Touro Synagogue

Happy Independence Day to my fellow citizens of the United States of America! On this day, among other things, I think of the story of George Washington's letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790. This letter is one of the great American documents, in which the first president of the United States made it clear that this was to be a country with religious freedom for all:

"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

If you'd like to learn more, here are some links:

Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport (from Teaching American History)

Jun. 25th, 2016

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DC Challenge

DC Challenge is my favorite comic-book series of all time. The premise of the story was that 12 writer/artist teams did a round robin, where a new team took over for each issue and had to resolve the cliffhanger from the previous issue. Thanks to the editorial hand of Robert Greenberger, the story managed to end up with an almost perfectly satisfying resolution after a year's worth of incredibly bizarre story lines. This series was my first introduction to some of the more obscure characters of the DC universe, such as Dr. Thirteen and Space Cabby.

Somewhere in storage I have my original set, and over the years I bought two more sets, just in case.

They are also in storage.

But recently, I found myself wanting to re-read the series yet again.

Fortunately, full sets are not hard to find these days, thanks to the Internet and eBay...

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Jun. 24th, 2016

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Today's New York Times Banner Headlines - Three In All!

I've mentioned before my interest in banner headlines, specifically the ones from The New York Times. Today is a very interesting day for such headlines, as by one count, there are THREE different versions.


When I picked up my print paper this morning, I found the first of the headlines presented below. It appeared to me that for the national edition, they hadn't had time to update the front page with news of the Brexit vote.



Checking the website, however, I see that the New York edition did have time, but also included the news of the Supreme Court decision. See the second picture.

However, on the website this morning (and when I should start counting website banner headlines is still something I haven't determined, I found the third version, which is only about Brexit.



Interesting Times. :-)

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Jun. 8th, 2016

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History, My Mom, and My Daughters




This picture is for you, Mom. I wish you were still alive to see it.

You died in 2007, before the historic elections of 2008, 2012, and now (I hope) 2016. You had no way of knowing what was going to come next.

I remember how you told me once what it was like for you as a little girl, growing up thinking Roosevelt was king, and what a shock it was for you and your friends when he died and you suddenly had to adjust to a new president for this country.

Your granddaughters were born in the first year of the first black president. All their lives, that is the president they have known. If all goes as I expect and hope it to, for the next eight years they will know a woman president. For almost their whole childhood they will not have known a white man as president. Given the 43 presidents this country had beforehand, I think that is a remarkable achievement.

Things are still not perfect or equal for women. But...

Your granddaughters are growing up in a world where they will be able to envision themselves realistically in so many more roles than you were allowed to. I remember your stories about fighting to go to Columbia Law School and about graduating in 1964 to find that law firms did not want to hire a woman.

Today, much of this country is posed to hire a woman as president.

And perhaps, one day, that might even include one of your granddaughters.

May. 20th, 2016

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Reunion #harvard91

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"Andrew Eliot's Diary

"May 12, 1983

"My Harvard Twenty-fifth Reunion is next month and I am scared to death.

"Scared to face all my successful classmates, walking back on paths of glory, while I have nothing to show for my life except a few gray hairs.

"Today a heavy, red-bound book arrived that chronicles all the achievements of The Class of ’58. It really brought home my own sense of failure.

"I stayed up half the night just staring at the faces of the guys who once were undergraduates with me, and now are senators and governors, world-famous scientists and pioneering doctors. Who knows which of them will end up on a podium in Stockholm? Or the White House lawn?

"And what’s amazing is that some are still married to their first wives...."

-- Erich Segal, *The Class* (1985)

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