The real stormtroopers weren’t entertainment

It’s understandable, I suppose, for young people to think of “Star Wars” and the movies, when they hear the term “stormtrooper” but when I hear that word it makes me think of something else entirely. It doesn’t make me think of literacy programs, it brings thoughts of bookburning and genocide and the Halocaust.

I don’t have visions of Darth Vader and Boba Fett. My mind sees the evil of Adolf Hitler and his bloody-handed henchmen. His stormtroopers weren’t from a movie or a video game.

So here’s another thing I’m really conflicted about: The San Bernardino City Unified School District has a program called City of Readers, which has teamed up with Barnes & Noble bookstore in Redlands for a fundraiser, which is a good thing.

“Stormtroopers from the 501st Legion will promote literacy and support City of Readers at the Nov. 13 fundraiser and community event,” says a news release from the school district. “Children and adults will have the chance to interact with Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Stormtroopers from 1 to 3 p.m. on (that) Saturday.  Families are encouraged to bring a camera to take photos with the 501st Legion.

It goes on to say, “The 501st Legion is an international, volunteer organization dedicated to promoting interest in all things Star Wars and supporting local charity and fundraising events.” I think they could have chosen a better name.

“The City of Readers fundraiser will begin at 9 a.m. on Nov. 13 and continue throughout the day and into Nov. 14 with activities, book readings, live music, and more,” the release explains.

The money raised through the event “will be used to support and promote literacy throughout the San Bernardino and Highland communities, including book giveaways.”

The release states, “Barnes & Noble will donate 10 percent of every sale, including books and caf items, to City of Readers when customers mention City of Readers or book fair I.D. 10146157 during checkout. “

It’s a noble cause and I’m 100 percent behind programs to help children achieve literacy.

But I wonder if the kids know where the term stormtrooper really came from. Ask your fifth-grader or your sophomore if they know.

I loved watching the “Star Wars” movies with my son but we both knew it was a movie and that the real stormtroopers had no entertainment value.

Maybe this event can be turned into a learning experience. It couldn’t hurt.


State stolen valor measure signed into law

Yucca Valley Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook got his state “stolen valor” legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and that’s a good thing. I hope it has better luck than the federal measure that has been enforced by the FBI for years.

The essence of stolen valor is when a pretender lies that he is a military hero and holder of medals for valor that were never earned. Usually it is done for self-aggrandizement. It has happened many times, including claims by government officials to heighten their electability. Many have been caught including city council members, a powerful publisher of an Arizona newspaper, a U.S. Senate candidate and many others. Several pretenders have been outed right here in San Bernardino County.

Cook’s law adds a hook that may help. The lie must be accompanied by intent to defraud. Although intent can be difficult to prove, it’s better than nothing. The new law also raises the seriousness of the offense from infraction to misdemeanor. It’s better than a slap on the wrist. It can land you in the county pokey for up to a year.

But the federal law that made stolen valor a felony went down in flames this year in a case from our own back yard. Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, an elected board member to the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont was busted for claiming to be an ex-Marine Medal of Honor winner. He was neither.

On a 2 to 1 vote a panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Alvarez was merely exercising his free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I am truly conflicted about this one. I understand the rational but wow! a constitutional right to lie especially taking a ride on someone else’s heroic, perhaps death-dodging achievements. Many real heroes didn’t survive. Their medals were given to next of kin.

People who claim to be decorated heroes are close to the bottom of my list of people worthy of esteem. I mean really close. The don’t leave a trail of footprints. They are apodal if you know what I mean (if you don’t, look it up. I did and it’ll be worth your while).

But here’s what the judge writing for the majority said, “There would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway.” Those are the words of Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. “The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time,” he said.

But dissenting Judge Jay S. Bybee said, “Such false representations not only dishonor the decorations and medal themselves, but dilute the select group of those who have earned the nation’s gratitude for their valor.”

My heart is with Judge Bybee but my mind tells me Smith and the majority are on the right side, consitutionally.

I haven’t heard whether the prosecution will appeal.

Meanwhile, I guess that means it will be up to the press to expose the liars for what they are. Sometimes holding such people up for the public to see will snatch away the emperor’s new clothes.

But now I have the worry about whether exposing a creep exercising his constitutional rights to lie is libel. Oh well, another question for the lawyers.


More thoughts on our responsibility to kids

I spoke to the colonel again a bit ago and there are some things we agree on, even though there are others that we don’t. And I forgot to ask if I could use his name. Next time. We agree on the draft. And I’m a whippersnapper to him when we compare age.

On the issue of children, as adult humans and humane Americans, it is our duty to protect all children, not just our own, to the very best of our ability. If you don’t believe that in your heart, I’ll help you pack. We are or should be surrogate parents to all the kids who need us, and trust me they number in the billions. We should consider ourselves to be in loco parentis for all the children regardless of race or ethnicity who are in need and have no one and no hope. We should be their to give them hope. I remember one time especially, when we as a government and as a people let the children down.

Remember Waco, the Branch Davidians and their leader David Koresh and the children who burned to death, when the Justice Department, the FBI and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau put getting Koresh ahead of the safety of those little kids. My jaws still lock and my fists clench when I remember that atrocity — and there can be no other word for it. Such monumental stupidity. I probably look like a cartoon with steam coming out of my ears. It’s not a memory you can put behind you.

The colonel talks back

Got an e-mail from a retired colonel, who chides me from time to time on things I say in Planet Wes, so I thought I’d share it and my response:

Tsk,Tsk Wes, U described the party in power perfectly. Like the old Army saying “if it moves, salute it” if it doesn’t move, Paint it”.  Your party follows this adage only substituting “Tax it” and “Spend it” on the Greedy folks who clamor for more Freebies and can be sure of receiving same if the Vote is right.. Kirk and Mike Douglas are ‘actors’ for Cripes Sake!!. Take a lot of Liberal stuff out of your knacksack and U will B more relevant.. and don’t say U are an ‘Independent’. Otherwise I enjoy reading U. 

Col. Bob

My turn: 

Hi Colonel,


I’m really happy to hear from you. Although you disagree with me, you appear to have an open mind and aren’t afraid to talk about it. How does an old Air Force guy come about repeating old Army sayings? You don’t sound old enough to have been in the Army Air Corps. Actually as I remember the adage from my Army days it was: If it moves salute it, if it doesn’t move pick it up, if you can’t pick it up paint it. But you were close.


I think I’m independent because I go back and forth from lefty to slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. And I’m pretty sure I’ve voted for more Republicans than Democrats and I’m actually registered as Non-Partisan (Yes, you can do that. They always want to change it to Decline to State but I’m not afraid to state a damn thing if I believe it to be true, and I tell them so). I even voted for Bush II the first time around, I’m chagrined to admit. Boy, did I blow that one. What a colossal idiot. We’ll be paying the price for him for generations to come.


As I’ve said in my column numerous times, my primary goals are to make life better for children and that’s not easy. I or we can’t endow them with good parents although if we could it would go a long way toward solving our root problems as a nation.


I used to think we could solve it by taking away all children from bad parents, steal an idea from the Israelis and put them all in a kibbutz, because that system seemed to work pretty well. But then I realized there was no guarantee that the “keepers” wouldn’t be worse than the parents. A sloppy, shiftless mother that loves her kids would be better than a child predator. Pedophiles seem to gravitate to that kind of work. Need I remind you of the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, the legion of Little League coaches standing in line to get their slimey claws on the kids.


So I figure we have to do the best we can from the outside to help the children, to see that they are properly fed and clothed and in decent living quarters, have proper medical care, are given access to a decent education and protected from evil to the best of our abilities. Because this world is far from perfect and safe for kids.


If it were a perfect world, the cost of such ideals would be minimal. But in our world such efforts can be expensive.


In this imperfect world, there are lots of people who lack the ability to care for themselves. And I for one am not willing to just let them die or be eaten — figuratively — by predators, whether they are 15 or 50.


One other thing we need, I believe is a military draft. I think young people from every class should serve their time and learn what a military life can offer. It would likely keep us out of these stupid wars, like the one in Iraq, which never should have been started and I’m on record saying that before we went in.


After 9/11, we had the world’s sympathy and we screwed up going after Saddam. We should have stayed on course in Afghanistan and got Osama bin Laden. That was the righteous thing to do and we blew it.


Those items are the top of my to-do list. If that makes me into a lefty or a bleeding heart so be it.


Hope I didn’t overload you. I didn’t start off to go into a rant but sometimes I get started and can’t stop. I may post this one on my blog, with your note. I won’t identify you without your permission. I think colonel is safe. There are a lot of those old guys retired around here and you’re not the first to drop me a line.


Thanks again,



Wes Hughes



Elements take toll on memorial to fallen CHP officer

Remembering my recent column about the tattered and faded American Flag on University Parkway near the 215 Freeway in San Bernardino, reader Dick Molony of Highland e-mailed to say he sees a similar distressing sight as he travels along Alabama Street at its intersection with San Bernardino Avenue. That’s where 33-year-old father of two CHP Officer Thomas P. Coleman of San Bernardino was killed June 11 during a pursuit through Redlands. His motorcycle collided with a big rig.

The flags are part of a memorial to the young officer but in the three months it’s been there, the Southern California elements have taken their toll. It is no longer an appropriate tribute to his memory.

Molony suggests that first after consulting with Coleman’s family about their wishes, a California Highway Patrol honor guard remove it with proper ceremony. Good idea Dick. I’ll put in my two cents with the idea they also could spruce it up until a permanent memorial can be erected in its place.

How about that CHP? I would cough up some dough and there are thousands of people in this county who would feel honored to contribute to the cause in memory of that fine young man.






A horse is a horse, unless it’s a molecule


RIVERSIDE – There is a basic similarity between some molecules and some racehorses, scientists at UC Riverside have learned, and although molecules have been around longer than racehorses, they haven’t developed nanosized parimutuel betting and you won’t find them in the morning line (by the way nanometers are one billionth of a meter).

On the molecular side there are trotters and pacers just as there are in harness racing. Trotters travel by advancing opposite legs. For example, the left foreleg moves with the right rear leg and then it’s right foreleg and left rear leg. Pacers move both legs on the same side at the same time. There’s another similarity between molecules and the equine breeds, the pacers are faster than trotters but neither has to pull carts and drivers. There are no molecular sulkies, but the molecules can definitely carry the weight.

But most of the similarities end about here . . . at the door of Ludwig Bartels lab at UCR. “In our work,” the professor of chemistry said, “we want to understand what the basic principles mechanics are for machines that are only one molecule in size.

“We made a horse-like structure with four ‘hooves’ to study how molecular machinery can organize the motion of multiple parts,” said Bartels, whose lab led the research. “A couple of years ago, we discovered how we can transport carbon dioxide molecules along a straight line across a surface using a molecular machine with two ‘feet’ that moved one step at a time. For the new research, we wanted to create a species that can carry more cargo – which means it would need more legs. But if a species has more than two legs, how will it organize their motion?”

“Nature uses such machines everywhere: the acid in your stomach is created by a proton pump in the cells lining your stomach. In every cell proteins are dragged to the places where they are needed by kinesin motors . . .” Bartels said. A web definition of kinesin: any of a class of proteins that convert chemical into mechanical energy and power movement along microtubules.

Such motors are too big for his work, Bartels said. They can be modeled but if they they behave like real world machines, different rules may apply.

Bartels and his colleague Mike Marsella “make molecules that are sufficiently small that we can understand them and which behave like walkers and carriers.” Their set up — working on a flat copper surface — is simpler than using biology, he said. “It allows us to image and understand their motion in detail.”

“My group develops instrumentation to image molecular motion at surfaces; we also use simulation software to simulate their behavior, so that we can draw conclusion why they behave as we see them behave. This software runs on supercomputers. In the case of this study, the bulk of the calculations were done on computers of the NCSA computer center, which is part of the NSF Teragrid of supercomputer resources available to US institutions of higher education.

A couple of years ago, he said, they found a simple molecule – anthraquinone – which could not only walk in a straight line across the copper surface, it could carry carbon dioxide molecules. It was bipedal, like a man. They were excited at the cargo carrying ability and mystified by its speed. In order to slow it down, they had to cool it to minus-300 degrees Farenheit. They wanted a molecule that moved slower and was easier to study, he said. That was pentacenetetrone, which proved to have four legs, remember the horses, instead of two. They expected it to be slower, Bertals said, but it proved to be a million times slower. It required much less cooling to observe the motion of the molecule.

It was then they learned the difference between the pacers and the trotters in speed at the molecular level. The trotter required much more torsion in order to move ahead, which put it at a disadvantage..

But even the pacer was a million times slower than the bipedal molecule, Bartels said. The two-legged molecule was able to tunnel its way through the rough surface and the less coordinated quadripedal molecule had to drag its burden over the bumps instead of through. Try moving a double-door fridge from the U-Haul down a rocky driveway and around to the back stairs and into the house. You’ll get the idea no matter how many legs you have.

More tests on more molecules lie ahead to learn their speed and carrying capacity. Some will be linked, giving them more legs going from a pacer to a molecular centipede.

Visit the university web site and see moving models of the molecular pacers and trotters by going to

UCR aims for the top in a decade

In the more than 30 years I’ve lived in the Inland Empire, I’ve watched with admiration as UC Riverside grew from the smallest campus in the system in terms of enrollment to a shining tower of intellectual excellence and stimulating and far-reaching research. It makes me want to say “Wow!” There, I did say it.

I count many friends and an ex-wife among the graduates, who’ve been catapulted into successful lives by that terrific launching pad.

But it’s not stopping there. Chancellor Timothy P. White has his eyes on the stars and he’s invited the rest of us along to see the show.

A planning document titled “UCR 2020: The Path to Preeminence” will be presented by White to the University of California regents Wednesday at about 9:35 a.m..

The document is a road map, which has been in development for a year by more than 140 faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders, outlining how the Inland Empire campus will become one of the nation’s preeminent research universities within the decade.

Chief among the priorities is achieving the profile of a member institution of the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU), said White.

“Academic excellence is at the heart of all that we do and all that we aspire to be,” White said. “Our sights are set firmly on achieving the profile of a member institution of the AAU because it cuts across the fabric of our entire enterprise.”

He outlined four strategic goals:

Academic Excellence: Achieve the profile of a member institution of the Association of American Universities by increasing the amount of federal research dollars per faculty member, the number of citations of UCR research in scholarly journals, and the six-year graduation rate, and achieving other AAU criteria.

Access: Realign admissions criteria to make UCR more selective while remaining true to the core values of academic excellence, access and diversity; enhanced opportunities for undergraduate students; increase graduate student support; add new professional schools and strategically expand some existing graduate and professional programs; and increase the percentage of graduate and professional school students to 20 percent. Planning for the School of Medicine is proceeding and the founding dean, G. Richard Olds, M.D., was hired last year. The regents have approved the creation of a School of Public Policy.

Engagement: Foster a campus culture of engagement by partnering with the community, from the regional to global level, to address issues affecting quality of life, including education, economic development, athletics, arts and culture, agriculture, health care and the environment; and establish new alliances with businesses, government, education, arts and civic organizations.

Diversity: Increase diversity of faculty, staff and senior leadership; and serve as a national example for diversity, inclusiveness, and community by measuring diversity by people, ideas, perspectives, learning opportunities, programs and experiences.


I can hardly wait.

Hitler also burned books, Pastor Jones

How do you talk sense to an egomaniac?


It’s pretty difficult. At first I thought of giving the benefit of the doubt to or pretending that Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center is a person who means well and believes he is doing the right thing. But in my heart I don’t believe that for a single minute and besides that’s not my style. I prefer confrontation where dangerous fools are concerned.


Jones waffled slightly by saying he might reconsider if he got a call from the White House or State Department. Despite that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made their positions very clear by speaking publicly against Jones’ plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the anniversary of 9/11. That’s the day Muslim terrorists brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center by flying commercial airliners into the buildings, into the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania, which investigators believe was headed for the White House. Instead, heroic passengers gave their lives when they forced it to crash.


Jones’ ego is sick. He wants a personal call. “Madam secretary, I’m placing you on hold, because I’ve got  the president on the other line.”


Book-burning has always stood for the ultimate in stupidity.


Until now the most notorious and evil book-burner was a guy named Hitler, Adolf Hitler. Jones will be putting himself in the right company. After it’s over, the notches on his pistol grip will represent the lost lives of innocent people.


Jones might do well to change the name of his organization to the Raven World Outreach Center for the carrion eater Noah first released. No self-respecting dove would have anything to do with it. The preacher man’s ploy could result in lots of corpses on which the biblical ravens could feed.


His actions make it seem that he is one of those who believes Armageddon is at hand and he wants to give it a jump start. I tried to phone Jones many times on Thursday. He must be a popular fellow. His telephone was busy all afternoon until 5 p.m. and then I got voice mail. I left a message asking him to call.


If Jones possesses any sanity or decency, he will put a cork in his self-importance, release the dove and put out his fire.