“Support the Troops” or “Hate the game, not the player”

It seems that one can’t come out criticizing the Iraq war without some right wing nutjob accusing you of not supporting the troops.  You see a lot of Democrats (and even some Republicans) squirming around the issues, trying to not sound like they are ‘anti-troop’ or some such nonsense.  I can’t take credit for this but someone made the analogy of sending children back into a burning school house and then saying, “What?  Don’t you support our children?”

That being said, I think the easiest way to deflect the criticism is simply to say, “Our troops are hard working and brave individuals who are doing their job and following orders to the best of their abilities.  I have the utmost pride and respect for them even though I disagree with the war and do not believe they should be there at all.”

Right now Obama is having his feet held to the fire for saying that the 3000 American casualties are “wasted lives”.  If you hold the premise that the US should never have invaded Iraq and only did it for the ego and advancement of a few powerful maniacs, then I don’t see why that would be a false statement.  Those people didn’t need to die and, considering that things are now worse than they were before, it would have been better if they never had to make that sacrifice.



It’s stories like this that had me a vegetarian for about 7 years.  I’m beginning to think I need to start heading back that way again.



You know, I was just reflecting on one the time honoured rites of passage that slightly nerdy science geeks go through as they grow up. I’m talking about blowing stuff up.

I think a lot of kids have a bit of the pyromaniac in them. It usually starts innocently enough. Going outside on a bright summers day with a magnifying glass to have a good ant sizzle. Fire, fascinating, hypnotic thing that it is, can be made from the power of the sun.  No longer must I be satisfied with the wood stove fires of winter and occasional camp fire of summer.  Now I could make fire for myself, any time.

I’m sure my experiences diverge from others but I expect that there are many people who see a commonality in the evolution of my experimentation. To be honest, the junior chemistry kit had little fascination for me. Most of the experiments were not particularily flashy. “Ooh…the litmus paper turned colour…”. Home rocketry however…

I actually had a rocket kit with a proper commercial engine and electric launcher and all. I never used it. I’m sure that 25 years later it’s probably still sitting in a dusty box in my parents house or has long since been thrown away. Far too disciplined and safe. I started with what we called pocket rockets but I now know are more properly called matchstick rockets. Logic told me that if one match head could propel a small projectile, then many match heads should do even better. So my friends and I would go to the store and buy boxes of matches and painstakingly cut the heads off of them. These could then be stuffed into various toys which would blast off in a cloud of smoke and flying match heads. Great fun.

Magnifying glasses are a bit of a gateway drug you see. You’re not quite satisfied and are always seeking the new thrill, the bigger bang. Remember, this was back in the stone age, before the internet. Information wasn’t available at the click of a mouse so curious lads had to find their recipes the hard way. I don’t even know how I got it but it was a many times photocopied, obtained from a friend of a friend of a friend, dogeared copy of The Anarchists Cookbook. Not the whole book, I now realize, but the ‘blow stuff up’ part.

I don’t need to go into too much detail but there were many fun things in it to try. Probably my favorite was the smoke bomb. These were made with saltpeter from the drugstore mixed with sugar and produced wonderful billowing clouds of smoke. Many of the other recipes I was too chicken to try but I had a really cool chemistry teacher in high school who let me do a lot of stuff in the safety of the lab. I wrote my term paper on explosives and as a demo, he actually let me weld two pieces of metal together with thermite.

Having access to the lab let me occasionally pilfer^H^H^Hborrow certain hard to acquire ingredients. Ah the joy of tossing a chunk of sodium or potassium into the river and watching it merrily leapfrogging its way down stream with loud bangs and clouds of smoke. That was when I learned the lesson about bragging of your exploits when the wrong ears were around. I managed to dump the goods in order to avoid physical incrimination but nearly getting caught was a real eye opener.

I’m sure some of you must be able to relate to the insatiable curiousity that drives you past thoughts of consequences. This is what gets young computer geeks in trouble for sniffing around in the wrong servers too. I went on to take Chemical Engineering in university which is what lead to my last experiment.

There was a particular pyrotechnic mixture made with sulfur and powdered zinc. Earlier that year while I was back home, I had ruined one of my dad’s grinding wheels reducing a chunk of zinc to powder. Now, back at school, I had access to an audience and some sulfur so I made a small pile of it outside of the house where I lived with my engineering friends and lit it.

Now the warning did say that it can flare up suddenly but I guess I just didn’t think. It really looked like the flame had gone out. So I put my hand down to sheild the lighter and POOF, up it went. “I’m blind, I’m blind,” I thought for a moment. Then I took off my glasses which were black with soot and looked down at my black hand and scorched sleeve. Hmm, better wash all that soot off. So I went inside to wash my hands and noticed that a) the skin on the palm of my left hand felt funny, kind of leathery and b) it wasn’t soot…the skin was black.

My friends took me to the hospital. About half way there the nerves stumbled back into consciousness after their nasty knock on the head and my hand felt much like you would imagine a blackened hand would feel like. At the hospital I got it immersed in icy bags of saline which gave relief for brief periods of time until the water warmed up a bit and it felt like I was dipping it in a pot of boiling water.

In the end I got bandaged up and went home. I had the biggest blister you’ve ever seen: my palm looked like it had a baseball sized water balloon on it. On the bright side, it healed well and didn’t even leave a scar and I didn’t have to do dishes for a couple of weeks but that was pretty much the end of my pyrotechnic career.

It’s a shame that the world has changed so much in the past few years. My exploits were written off with a shrug, a roll of the eyes and a “boys will be boys,” attitude. Now this kind of behaviour is likely to get someone put into Guantanimo Bay. You can’t even buy sulfur and saltpeter at the drugstore anymore so no more homemade black powder or smoke bombs. I’m sure someone would call the police if you bought large quantities of matches. Yes, it was a more innocent time then, back in the day when you could blow stuff up, not out of anger or vengence, but just for the joy of watching things go boom.

Of course, you could always just go over to YouTube and watch other people blowing themselves up.

Kris Warkentin