Thursday, July 28, 2005

Summer Break

Busy day, mainly trying to wrap up an article and push a few others along. Tomorrow will be another such day, and next week something else all together, so NO BLOGGING until about August 8, when I’ll have plenty to report.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Calatrava in Person

Today saw one of the quicker turnarounds of my professional writing career -- about 24 hours from assignment to publication. I’ve never been a newspaperman, unless you count my stint as news editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler, and that only came out twice a week. I’m more used to the slower cycles of magazine publishing.

The Internet has changed all that. Or at least has that potential, even if it doesn’t always work out that way. Yesterday the editor of the on-line Slatin Report called to ask me to cover a press conference this morning at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is on the near North Side of Chicago. It took some schedule juggling on my part to make it, but I wanted to go, so I did. The result was published earlier today.

The star attraction at the press conference was Santiago Calatrava, who spoke for a few minutes about a proposed condo development in Chicago that he’s been hired to design. (See my article for comments on that.) I’d never seen Calatrava or a picture of him before, but still he looked like I thought he would: a nattily dressed Spaniard of medium height and build. His accent was distinct, but didn’t overwhelm his English—which no doubt he’s used to giving speeches in.

I’m glad I got to see him speak. Double glad I’m going to get paid for it. In early September 2003, after interviewing Mayor Norquist of Milwaukee for a profile of him, I walked over to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, first spending some time in the museum itself, then timing my exit so I could sit outside and watch the building’s wings close for the day at 5 pm. Very cool. That, of course, is a Calatrava design, the one that made his name on these shores.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Head Rush?

More rain today, and the grass seems glad. Probably not enough to save the beleaguered Illinois corn crop, but at least such a drought won’t trigger a pre-modern sort of famine downstate. Unless Gaia really has it in for us this time, in which case, What Me Worry?

Went on the semi-monthly McDonald’s expedition today. On the Happy Meal bag, I noticed this expression of juvenile excitement: “I got a head rush!” I think that bon mot went with a picture of a girl doing some sort of athletic something not usually associated with McDonald’s.

I got a head rush? Well, maybe that phrase has traveled far since the late 1970s, down more innocent paths. Maybe the copywriter didn’t know its older connotations, unapproved since the time of Nancy Reagan: more than merely high, it involved sensations specific to standing up suddenly. At least, that was my understanding; I didn’t take a linguistic survey of my freshman dorm.

Or maybe the copywriter did understand, and giggled at the thought of putting it on a children’s bag. Giggled like he was feeling a head rush.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bear Fence

High heat on Sunday, the first 100-degree day in at least two years, then thunderstorms today, including a terrific one that snuck up on us just before dark. On Sunday, sirocco-like winds blew for hours. Been a long time since I’ve felt such strong, hot winds, though I remember walking across a mall parking lot in the infamously hot Texas summer of 1980 against winds of that made it hard to stand up, heated past 100 F. This Sunday in Illinois wasn’t that intense. Today, the thunderstorms brought their own cooler wind, enough to knock over our heavy metal patio table, even with the umbrella folded up. It didn’t slide into the window, fortunately.

Just the time to go to the Yukon. I am, in fact, not making that trip, but my friend Ed is. He should be there by now. A few days ago, he sent me an e-mail that included: “Yeah, Vuntut is utter middle of nowhere. We helicopter in from Old Crow, set up a "bear fence" around the camp. Doesn't that sound encouraging? But these people have lived out here for a gazillion years, I figure they know what they're doing. And I've been in bear-infested places before.”

He’s going to a place so remote I had to look it up: Vuntut National Park, in extreme northwestern Yukon. The Parks Canada web site has this to say about the place: "There are no facilities or services of any kind in the park. Travelers must be entirely self-sufficient and able to handle any medical or wildlife related emergency on their own." Bear fences are probably a very good idea in Vuntut.

Labels: ,

Monday Notice

My DSL line, and Blogger--or at least its response to my computer, which is wheezy and tired--have been exceptionally dodgy lately. The system's up now, so I'll post this: I'll try to keep posting on a regular schedule, but if I vanish for a few days, it's technical issues.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Item From the Past: Japanese Groceries

July 21, 1991

I arrived back in Japan the day before, after a month in the U.S., and for some reason I wrote down the items, with their prices in yen. If I remember right, it was about Y130 to the dollar in those days.

Ikechu grocery store, Nagai Nishi, Sumiyoshi ward, Osaka.

Raisinhappiness bread… Y160
Buitoni spaghetti, 450g… Y298
Genmai flakes (cereal)… Y378
Snow strawberry jam (400g)… Y349
Kewpie meatsauce w/mushrooms… Y219
Plums (10)… Y398
Chicken liver+hearts (88g)… Y223
Rokko Water (1.5l)… Y169
Eggs (10)… Y139
Sales tax… Y69
Total… Y2402

Japan is justly famous for its cost of living. But one can adapt to this. My taxes are lower, since I pay no US taxes on income earned here. Japanese income tax is a flat 10%. Sales tax is 3%. I have no car, which for me would be a useless luxury, and endlessly expensive. Gasoline, adjusted for pricing in yen and sales in liters, is about four times as expensive as in the States.

I buy few articles of clothes here. They’re expensive, but also it’s hard to find my size anyway. I’ve supplemented my clothing stock during my travels outside of Japan, especially in the reasonably priced stores of Hong Kong. I was slow in acquiring household appliances. Some I bought new—a gas cooker, about $100; a Korean-made TV, $200; a bottom-of-the-line VCR, also about $200; a DoDeCaHORN combination CD player/double cassette deck with AM/FM band, also about $200. The latter gizmo is nice, since I can rent CDs, and made tape copies for about $4, including the price of the blank tape. Other items I’ve bought from departing foreigner in “sayonara sales.” Recently I acquired a table, microwave oven, bookshelf, a lot of books and some other things this way, cheap. Even cheaper are the things I find on the street. My Osaka Gas Fan Heater 2200 is just such a find, the first summer I lived here. At certain times of the month, large items are picked up and hauled away. The items are called so-dai-gomi and are fair game, though most Japanese won’t take them.

Food is a major expense. It’s awful how expensive some things are, such as bread at the grocery store, roughly $1.50 for five or six measly slices; $4 or $5 for a glob of hamburger that American stores wouldn’t even pack that small; and liters of milk for about what a gallon would cost in the US. On the other hand, properly done, eating out for a single person is little more expensive than eating at home. I’m now knowledgeable on cheap Japanese cuisine. I know a score of places that offer meals for $5 to $8, some of them very filling, and most of them nutritionally and gastronomically excellent—noodle soups, chicken and pork cutlet meals, Japanese-style Chinese food, rice dishes and so on.

I have modest place to live, especially compared to the large apartment I had in Chicago. I pay slightly less for rent here in dollar terms, and somewhat less as a percentage of income. Except in winter, when the gas bills are outrageous, utilities aren’t bad. Another thing: entertainment. Luckily for me, I’m seldom inclined to visit bars, the greatest black hole for yen around. I do go to an izkaya once a week, but that’s as much cheap restaurant as bar. Otherwise I visit various sites, see a few movies at second-run theaters, and take day trips. These are modest needs.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 22, 2005


Got a nice rejection letter from a company that I sent a resume to earlier this month. I sent a letter back to them, thanking them for the courtesy of letting me know. All too many companies don’t bother with it. I want to encourage that sort of thing.

Anyway, three months into unemployment, and it isn’t really un- any more. It’s evolved into self-employment. At the moment I have three writing assignments, after a lag of a couple of weeks -- which I suppose is par for the course in working for yourself. Too little, then too much. Repeat. It causes cash flow issues, but in our case nothing too serious.

In fact, I’ve revised my resume, putting my self-employment activities at the top. Like so:

Recent (summer 2005) articles for The Slatin Report (; National Real Estate Investor; Building Design & Construction; Shopping Centers Today. Also, writing for Block & Associates, a public relations firm.

Previous freelance writing (1984-2005) for Nashville City Guide, Nashville Scene, FISI/Madison Financial newsletters, Real Estate Times, Kansai Time Out, Recreation Management, Real Estate News, Inland Architect.

A motley assortment. Over the years, there’s been a steady trickle of freelance work for me, but it never was my main income. Still, it paid for some things. Without the work I did for newsletter publisher Madison/FISI in the late ’80s, I might not have had the savings needed to cross the Pacific and settle in Osaka.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Reality TV

Recently while a cucumber was waiting to be stowed in the refrigerator, Ann spirited it away. She’s fond of cucumbers, at least slices of them at the table, but anyway a few minutes later I noticed her trying to give (feed?) the vegetable to the characters on SpongeBob. At least, she was holding it up to the screen.

Also, when the Pixar cartoon Monsters, Inc. was on one day, she insisted that I sit with her during a scary part (for her, since none of it is particularly scary for me, though it’s a pretty good movie). In her semi-verbal way, she seemed really concerned about the fate of the little girl in that movie.

Should I be worried? No. She’ll sort it out.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It’s Green

Terrific tropical-style storm today. After noon, the sky darkened quickly, and at about 1 o’clock there was an intense downpour. It was over quickly, and by late afternoon, the sky had partly cleared. But it wasn’t quite tropical. The rain actually cooled things down a little in the afternoon, instead of the air quickly heating up again.

I heard a short tribute to James Doohan on the radio this afternoon, which included handful of sound clips of the actor doing the only role he’ll be remembered for. Not included in the clips was a favorite line of mine: the time Scotty’s duties included drinking an alien in human form under the table. At one point a blotto Scotty shows the alien a new bottle, and the alien asks him, “What is it?”

Scotty thinks about this for a drunken moment, pondering the bottle. “It’s green,” he says.

The original Star Trek was an optimistic show indeed. The characters were allowed to drink actual intoxicants, and to excess.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I’m glad I took a walk to the park just before sunset while Yuriko and Lilly and Ann were on bicycles (Ann in a wee seat behind her mother). Just a little wind, a little rustling of the trees full of leaves, friendly sunlight from the west, a huge moon rising roughly south-southeast. Just a shade less than full. It will be full, more or less, to honor the 36th anniversary of Apollo XI’s landing tomorrow.

“July is dressed up and playing her tune.” Always liked that lyric. It fits this evening.

My brother Jay writes: “The reappearance of Dan Monroe -- I remember you speaking of him -- inspired me to run his name through Google, with "Alabama" added as a control. I found this, which may interest you, assuming, of course, that it hadn't already been brought to your attention.

“The article appeared in Nashville Scene late last summer. It concerns McGill Hall, a dormitory at Vanderbilt, and its reputation as a haven for nonconformist types:

‘Although this bold endeavor [the McGill Project] officially succeeded, it produced a byproduct: a group of smart, offbeat students inclined to act on their wildest, most absurd impulses. The rest of campus refers to McGill by its unofficial nickname, 'The Freak Dorm,' and its residents have been called everything from drugged-out hippies to flamboyant, cross-dressing “fags.” ‘

“Mr. Monroe is mentioned about halfway through as a former resident of McGill, presumably as a typical denizen:

‘After living in McGill, Dan Monroe moved into a house off campus, where he and other McGillites built an isolation tank and studied John C. Lilly's sensory deprivation theories. He now runs an ad agency in Alabama.

" 'Other McGillites' would include you, I assume."

I’m a little astonished that there was an article about McGill anywhere beyond campus, and that the dorm still has more or less the same reputation it did in the early 1980s. A justified reputation, I might add, and a campus asset, regardless of majority opinion. (Though I can’t recall much cross-dressing, or even rumors of it.)

I was never actually a McGillite, in that I never lived there. More of a fellow traveler. I knew a lot of people who lived there, such as Dan (in fact, I met him at a 1981 party there, which I mentioned yesterday.) There were five of us who built and operated the isolation tank from spring ’82 to spring ’83: Mike, Dan, Steve, Rich and me. Dan and Steve had previously lived in McGill; Rich and I never did; and I’m not sure about Mike.

The isolation tank is another blog for another time, I think. I don’t recall mentioning it here.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Dan's Blog

Mondays are still Mondays, even when you work for yourself. It just has that stigma. That, and my work has picked up. Three assignments to do over next three weeks.

My old friend Dan Monroe, currently of Birmingham, Alabama, has started a blog, Story of the day. So far it has one entry (yesterday), which is called “Finding Dees.” He's got kind words for me, which I appreciate. I hope he'll post many more interesting things—he's got the chops for it. (See also his comment on my Next Door posting, July 12.)

On September 1, I will have known Dan exactly 24 years, a little more than half my life, though, of course, we’ve gone separate ways since the early ’80s, as he notes. How I remember that date so exactly is a matter of a written record, lore among friends, and my own propensity to remember that sort of thing, at least sometimes.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Item from the Past: July Fourth on the Malaysian Peninsula

On July 4 [1994] we boarded a train in Bangkok, which pulled out at 15:15 and headed south, through the hilly lushness and small towns on the Isthmus of Kra, a land feature that fascinated me on maps as far back as elementary school (along with Sulawesi, which I knew as the Celebes). It’s a long isthmus, and the train wasn’t especially fast, so we rolled on into the night.

Next to us was a girl freshly out of Berkeley, Kara, who had a lot to say about where she’d been, e.g., “China sucked!” We sympathized. She was one of the few other North Americans I’ve met in recent weeks. Plenty of Europeans, plenty of Australians, but not so many from my continent -- too bad, southeast Asia is worth the trip.

The berths were simple but reasonably comfortable, and the air conditioning worked fairly well, unlike during the run up to Chang Mai a few weeks ago. We arrived at the frontier with Malaysia just after waking up, and spent a while outside the train on the formalities of border-crossing.

We arrived at Butterworth more or less on time, and caught an enormous car ferry, mostly empty, for the short hop to Penang Island. Once on the island, we paid a tricycle rickshaw man RM$4 -- $3 fare, $1 tip -- to take us to the New China Hotel. He was the picture of a rickshaw man: wiry, deep brown, Chinese. The New China, a charming dump, distinctly risky in terms of fire (though we had a large window for escape), was cheap and well-located in Georgetown. Wooden floors, high ceilings, a flapping ceiling fan. Squat toilets, cold showers, and an indifferent-looking bar downstairs. All for RM$17.60 a night.

Georgetown turned out to be a low-rise, whitewashed, somewhat seedy town, good for walking after the heat of the day died down, and early in the morning. I took a couple of good walks before Yuriko woke. Over the next few days took in Ft. Cornwallis (nice clocktower), wandered around the Komtar Mall, saw the Kek Lok Sri temple, climbing its pagoda, swam at Batu Ferringhi beach, and rode the cable railway up Penang Hill. To escape the heat, we saw Heaven and Earth, an Oliver Stone failure, and the moderately funny Maverick, both subtitled in Bahasa Malaysia.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 15, 2005

In Praise of Muggles

Been writing about retail a lot this week, so why stop now? I noticed that the newspaper insert for Cub Foods—not really known for its selection of books—says this: “Muggles! Get 40% off the new Harry Potter book at Cub! Releases Saturday, July 16th. While supplies last.”

I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about Harry Potter. I know a perfectly literate and intelligent adult who has read all the books, and likes them, but I doubt that I’ll ever read them. A few years ago, Yuriko wanted to watch the first of the movies on video, so I watched it too. It wasn’t bad, but I still didn’t feel like reading the books.

When and if Lilly and Ann want to read them, they can. Which is appropriate, since they are children. I read plenty of children’s books when I was a child. Harry Potter missed me by a few decades. So it goes.

Muggles, if I remember right from the movie, are ordinary people—the sort that cannot or do not learn magic, unlike the cool characters that inhabit the boarding school that Harry Potter attends. One aspect of the movie that irritated me was the cartoonishly awful depiction of the muggles family who actually raised Harry Potter.

His adoptive mother was, I think, actually his aunt, and she and her husband wanted Harry to have nothing to do with magic. The reason? They were narrow-minded, unimaginative boors, according to the story. Never mind that internecine feuds among magicians, as obscure as tribal politics in the Hindu Kush, had resulted in the death of Harry’s parents, with a price on his head to boot. Later, Harry and his mates regularly face deadly peril—is it any wonder his adoptive parents wanted him to grow up to be a barrister or an estate agent?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Andy Capp on the EU

Hot and muggy day, but not the hottest or the most uncomfortable of the summer. Still, the arc of the day is almost tropical: pleasant for an hour or two after sunrise, then unremitting heat by mid-morning.

Went to a different discounter today, but nowhere new. At that store I saw, but didn’t buy, some Andy Capp potato chips (shouldn’t that be crisps?). I can’t remember the last time I saw that brand—years and years ago, probably. I was curious enough to see who it is that makes them, so I checked the package. Con-Agra of Omaha.

The chips are probably chockablock with GM corn that would never be acceptable within the EU—and maybe it’s even against EU regs for a European cartoon character to endorse a product containing GM foods. Andy probably wouldn’t care much for any such rules from Brussels: “The same *&%#ing bastards who say I can’t drink me pints. *&%# ’em.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Food 4 Us

The grocery chain Food 4 Less is a creature of the Kroger Co., the supermarket giant that doesn’t seem too hep on re-naming all of its stores after itself, since it operates Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, Smith's, King Sooper, Dillon, Fry's, not to mention Kroger, which I visited often when I lived in Nashville. Food 4 Less--as the name hollers like a carnie tout--is a discounter, competing with the likes of Cub Foods and Aldi. It also seems to be Kroger’s way of inching back into the Chicago market.

One of its circulars inspired me to visit the new Food 4 Less in Roselle this afternoon, my first visit to that brand. It isn’t especially far away, but not near any of my usual orbits. Still, I figured I’d take a look.

Wish I could report some curiosity or odd item for sale, but for that you have to go to Trader Joe’s (which I might add isn’t really expensive, though not a discounter). Food 4 Less is fairly straightforward, looking and feeling a lot like a Cub Foods—a warehouse format, no décor to speak of, bag it yourself. I did like the selection on Aisle 6: Soda; Chips; Candy; Health Foods; Religious Candles.

The store was also keen to remind shoppers that Boy howdy, you’re saving big! Signs to that effect seemed to be everywhere, though not quite using those words. Just various of peppy slogans. The store was trying hard—too hard--to assert itself as a true discounter, but nothing that I saw made me think it was any cheaper, overall, than Cub or Aldi.

I was inspired to try a couple of new things from the discount realm. One was a box of frozen “Gravy and 6 Salisbury Steaks” sold by On-Cor Frozen Foods of Northbrook, Illinois. Interesting that gravy is the first item in the name. On-Cor, as far as I can tell, is the Red Roof Inn of the frozen food business—not the biggest, nor the best, but a steady niche player. The company’s marketing stresses quantity, and indeed that’s what you get: two pounds of gravy and steak for $1.34. It sits in my freezer even now, waiting for when a gravy-and-meat mood might strike.

Next to the checkout line there was a shopping cart full of loose canned soda with a sign telling me that they were 15¢ each. Well, as long as they weren’t President’s Choice (that’s another story), I could go for that. So I added a single Big K Diet Cola to my cart. Must be Kroger’s brand, made for them by the blandly named Inter-American Products Inc. of Cincinnati. (Trans-American? No, taken. Pan-American? No, an airline. All-American? No, no, that’s sports. How about Inter-American? Yeah, that’ll do.)

I drank some on the way home. Might have been better cold. About as nondescript as that company name. Completely mediocre, but priced right.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Next Door

Drizzle early in the day, clouds later and about 10 degrees cooler than yesterday. Cooler was nice, but all together it was lackluster end to hurricane Dennis which, I heard, wasn’t quite the blast it was supposed to be on the Gulf Coast anyway. Just as well for all concerned, I suppose, except that more rain up here would have been better.

A crew of swart young lawnmen came to mow our neighbor’s house this morning, as they do every Tuesday, despite the drought, and despite the fact that our neighbor has been dead for several months. Actually, the house was sold recently by (I assume) his heirs, and now and then I see the new family exploring the place, but no moving truck has come yet.

Except for nodding hello, I spoke to the previous occupant, the late Chuck, only once, during the block party last summer. He was in his 80s, old enough to have grown grandsons come over occasionally to fix things on the outside of the house, or clean the gutters. I didn’t get much of his life story from him that day, nor did I try to. I was pretty sure he was a widower with a number of descendents. Last summer, however, what he wanted to talk about was his computer—he thought e-mail was terrific—and the police/fire scanner he had just bought.

I hope he got some entertainment out of the scanner in his final months. Sometime this winter, Yuriko says she remembers an ambulance parked in front of his house late one night, but I don’t remember that. A couple of months later, another neighbor told me that Chuck had died in a hospital.

Should I have cultivated an acquaintance with Chuck, and asked for his recollections of bygone days? Certainly I would have listened. On the other hand, if he wanted to talk, he would have talked. He might have appreciated not being pestered by a young neighbor. In any case, life and lawn care go on.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Details, Details

Dry day, but word is we might feel the residue of hurricane Dennis tonight, in the form of rain. That would be nice.

Ann likes Popeye, and readers with obsessive recall might remember that we bought a set of four Popeye DVDs some time ago (see November 16, 2004). By now, we’ve watched all the disks a good many times, and the other day I noticed an oddity.

The marvelous Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is one of the Fleischer brothers Technicolor two-reelers, made in 1936. Early in the story, Sindbad sees Popeye’s ship and instructs his roc: “Wreck that ship! But bring me the woman.” (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) The giant bird does Sindbad’s bidding, and soon Olive is his captive.

In 1952, King Features saved itself some money by recycling a lot of the Fleischer cartoon in a short called Big Bad Sindbad. The framing device is Popeye telling his nephews about the time he “knocked the tar out of Sindbad the Sailor.” The flashback is, of course, the truncated older cartoon.

Besides being shortened, the older cartoon was changed in one other way, at least that I noticed. When Sindbad dispatches his roc to attack Popeye’s ship, he says: “Wreck that ship! But bring me the girl.” Everything else in that scene was precisely the same, and yet someone went to the trouble to change “woman” to “girl.” Just another thing that makes you go, hm.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Item from the Past: Summer of ’99

July 8, 1999

Had a good Fourth of July weekend hereabouts. High point was the fireworks by the towns of Westmont, Woodridge and Downers Grove. Which means, being a taxpayer in Westmont, I paid a bit to put ’em on, and it’s a fine way to spend public money, too. We watched the show from a large parking lot; us and a lot of other people, sitting out side their cars on folding chairs. Even Lilly paid some attention, though she was a little scared of the noise.

The day before, we spent some time the day before at Navy Pier, an excellent public space that juts into Lake Michigan downtown. Lilly had the best time of all, finding short sets of stairs to climb up and down (a current favorite of hers). There was a band, and Lilly danced -- wobbled, really—to their tunes, which was a seriously cute activity.

About my recent to Grand Rapids, never mind the town itself. The best parts of the trip were the flights over and back, on Jetstream 31 propeller airplanes, seating about 20. It was a little like being inside a flying lawnmower, but the view was splendid, especially on the return, when there were few clouds. We flew at about 8,000 feet, according to the pilot, and generally followed the coast of southern Lake Michigan, so I could see some of the parklands, the lakeside towns, and, in Indiana, the active and inactive steel mills.

Later I went to Columbus, Ohio, was to conduct a Columbus roundtable, which I did—14 or so local real estate types, sitting around a conference room, eating breakfast, responding to my questions and often, each other.

Currently, there’s a quarrel between the owners of an older mall (a Cincinnati company) and a Columbus developer who wants to build a new one using tax-increment financing, which is essentially a local tax break. Of course, it’s really a quarrel between competitors, but it’s being portrayed as a matter of public interest by both sides.

Columbus seemed pleasant enough, a Nashville-sized city. Before I went, I only knew a few things about it -- it’s the capital of the state, and Thurber’s hometown (I had to tell my young associate editor who that was). Also, Wendy’s started there. The Ohio state capitol isn’t impressive. It, like Tennessee’s, is Greek Revival, but not nearly as elegant.

Even the inside was spare, with a few monuments to obscure pioneers of Ohio, heroes of the Great Rebellion, moldy governors, etc. Some of the statuary outside was well done, however: a good Spanish-American war memorial, and a prominent larger-than-life of President McKinley, erected a few years after his assassination, with words to the effect that such a man’s fame would shine through the mists of time. Uh-huh.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, July 08, 2005

Phishers of Men

Phishing e-mails aren’t the novelty they used to be, and it seems that I don’t get any of the “there’s X million dollars in some bank account in Tinpot Africa, let’s share it!” variety any more. These days, I get the “verify your information or we’ll close your account” variety, and that’s not too interesting. I don’t even bother looking a most of them.

Still, there’s the game of trying to guess just how native the writer’s English is. This came the other day, from somewhere near, but not quite within, the realm of English.

Dear user.

We want to inform you than you must verify your account parity to given email.
Please click on this reference: [followed by an unusually long web site address]
Otherwise we stop temporarily service of your account.
Thank you for using our bank.

“Account parity” is an interesting turn of phrase. Just as interesting, the message purported to be from a bank that I’ve never done business with, unless you count interviewing a handful of its executives for my former magazines.

Some years ago, I saw Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, by Gary Kinder, on the shelf at a bookstore, and I spent a few minutes thumbing through it. You have to like a title like that. Looked good, but I rarely buy new hardbacks. I’m glad someone does, but the publishing industry has jacked up the price of new books at several times the rate of inflation in recent decades, and I object.

More recently, I saw a paperback version on a remainder table, $4. Perfect. I bought it, and it joined my books—joined the unread titles among the many I have. (I’ve never counted, but I probably have read the majority of the hundreds of books I own, maybe at a 6-to-4 or 7-to-3 ratio.)

This week I stared in earnest on Ship of Gold, which is really two stories. First, the wreck of the steamer S.S. Central America in a hurricane off the Carolina coast in September 1857, taking hundreds of people and tons of gold to the bottom. Second, the salvage effort in the 1980s, and how that was possible in 8,000 feet of water.

I started in thinking the first story would be the really good one. It is good: background on the gold rush in California, the struggle of a mighty ship against the elements, doom and survival, all with an Antebellum setting. But I’m impressed by the story of the salvage, too, which focuses on the marine engineer, one Tommy Thompson, responsible for inventing a lot of the equipment necessary to take artifacts from so deep. Fascinating so far, and I haven’t even got to the part in which the salvage is actually accomplished.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Summer Short

Flawless summer day here in the Midwest, not especially hot, but of course the dryness represents a drought. I was so little inclined toward news of any kind today that it was fairly far into the evening before I learned about the attacks on London. Nothing more to say than this: bastards.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Glow-Stick Envy

I don’t care one way or the other that New York didn’t get the ’12 Olympics, but my reaction to London besting Paris: heh-heh-heh. Just a touch of Francophobia echoing down the centuries for me, a member of the Anglo-diaspora, but actually I enjoyed both cities, and believe both are great cities of the Earth. I just enjoyed London more.

I wrote a lot last year about July fireworks (see July 7, 8 & 9, 2004), so I won’t bother with it so much this year. Last year we went to Wheeling, Illinois, to see its municipal fireworks. This year we went back. It was a fine display last year. This year’s was too.

The main difference this year was rain. It rained most of the day on July 4, from mid-morning to late in the afternoon. In fact, it was still raining at 6 p.m., and we concluded that there would be no fireworks show for us this year, at least on the Fourth. But at 8 p.m., I looked outside and noticed that the rain clouds had vanished. In an instant we decided to go.

In a way, it worked out better. Instead of leaving at about 6, eating a Taste of Wheeling’s overpriced food and then waiting around for the sun to go down, we ate at home and arrived just before dusk. Some waiting around was involved, but not too much. We brought foldable camping chairs, and that helped make the wait easier, especially considering the wet grass.

Last year, I wrote this: “Lilly was a little miffed that I wouldn’t buy her a glow stick, and asked every few minutes when the show was going to begin.” Guess what happened again. I should have re-read my posting before going again this year, and saved myself aggravation by buying her a glow stick (loop, really) before reflexively declining to do so. Once I’d committed to not buying one, I didn’t want to back down. The glow-stick situation was made even worse by a couple of girls nearby, who had glowing necks, wrists and ankles, and who were running around making all kinds of light trails. This inspired some glow-stick envy in my eldest daughter.

But in end, she got her glow stick. As we were walking back across the park after the fireworks, Ann picked up a blue-glowing loop. Ann was holding Yuriko’s hand most of the time, Lilly and I were in front, and no one noticed her pick it up. She just had it suddenly, to our mystification. But that doesn’t mean that she shared it with Lilly. Just the opposite. A fierce sense of ownership set in very quickly, but I told Lilly not to worry -- Ann will fall asleep en route home, and you can have it then. Both of them fell asleep, but Lilly woke up when we got back, and removed the ring from around Ann’s neck, and squirreled it away somewhere. Ann, still of memory short, didn’t complain about it the next morning.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Watch Out, Goofy

After this holiday weekend, I know that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was a mistake. Posthumously named after the singing Congressman who championed it, the law also had a lobbying champion in Disney, who did not want to see Mickey Mouse et al. enter the public domain.

I want to see Mickey enter the public domain. He would certainly be put to better uses than The Three Musketeers, a direct-to-DVD cartoon released by Disney last year that I happened to see over the weekend. As a narrative, it’s as close to any of the other versions of the Musketeers as, say, Mercury is to Mars, but I don’t object to that so much.

Actually, I won’t bother to shoot the fish in this particular barrel. It’s enough to say that it’s awful. Just awful. Sample dialogue (from memory, but close enough):

Mickey: “Well, Goofy, then!” [Referring to his belief that Goofy will come to his rescue].

Peg-leg Pete: “Goofy’s being fitted for a halo.”

Mickey: “No, no, no.”

Pete: “Yes, yes, yes.”

The three musketeers, by the way, are Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck, not a particularly good match. Donald, José and Ponchito might have been better, though that might have meant moving the setting from a Disney France to a Disney Spain.

There was a glimmer of interest in casting Clarabelle Cow as Pete’s evil lieutenant. As far as I know, Clarabelle isn’t a character that ever got much screen time. Her main job as Pete’s evil lieutenant is to murder Goofy by dumping him into the Seine tied to a weight, a task she cannot complete because she’s an impressionable female. Goofy manages to say enough sweet nothings to Clarabelle to avoid his fate; in fact, she then helps him save Mickey, foil Pete, etc. At the end of the movie, she’s paired up with Goofy, just as lady-in-waiting Daisy falls for Donald and Princess Minnie finds true love in Mickey (don’t ask).

Hello, Goofy? This woman was going to kill you. Sure, she likes you now, but what happens the first time you forget to take out the trash or come home stinking drunk? Just wondering.

Labels: ,