Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More on Gorilla Suits

National Gorilla Suit Day (see yesterday for information) passed in the northwest suburbs without incident. No one was spotted in our neighborhood today making the rounds in a gorilla suit, but then again even the daytime temps barely broke 20 degrees F., and it was fairly windy too. On the other hand, you'd think that a gorilla suit would be just the thing to keep you warm on a cold day.

Or maybe not. Sad to say, I have no experience wearing gorilla suits. (But it's not too late. Deep in middle age, some men acquire trophy wives or sports cars, if they can afford them, but those of us of more modest means have to settle for gorilla suits.)

I never even talked to the guy who wore a gorilla suit on the Adams Street bridge every day in the mornings when I used to work downtown. His job was to hand out fliers for some gym, and I guess the connection was, "Come to our gym, be an 800 pound gorilla," or something. Once, in mid-morning after the pedestrian rush was over, I saw him taking a break, sitting there with the gorilla mask off, smoking a cigarette. He looked pathetic indeed. Who dreams of growing up to be the Adams Street Gorilla?

I've heard, but never been able to confirm, that gorilla suits are popular in the neighborhood around the Belmont El station on the North Side. Years ago, when I went with friends for Sunday brunch to Ann Sather, the Swedish pancake house near that station, I thought I saw four or five gorilla-suit wearers wander by on the sidewalk outside. Anyway, I'm sure they take National Gorilla Suit Day a lot more seriously in that part of the city, with a parade and prizes for the best suits, than we philistines here in the suburbs.

I made everything up in that last paragraph. Still, I wonder what the collective for a group of gorilla-suited people would be. Band is the collective for actual gorillas, I've read.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Birthday in the House; No More Till June

Wee Ann is four (see Feb. 21). She had some kind of birthday event (party probably isn’t the word) yesterday in her MWF preschool class, and then another today in her TTh class, which features different kids and teachers in a different room in a different building.

That was enough formal celebration. This afternoon, her mother returned home with a cake from the Deerfield Bakery, that bakery among bakeries. A white confection with strawberries and bananas inside. Cut a deep notch in that cake, we did.

My friend Kevin Deany informed me today that January 31 is National Gorilla Suit Day. Just in time, I almost missed it. I’d forgotten reading the Don Martin comic in which that day was invented, but of course I did read it, once upon a time. As a youngster, I had most of his books, besides reading his comics in the piles of back-issue MAD magazines that we also had, though sometimes I bought them new as well. I shudder to think how I might have turned out without MAD.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ten-Year-Olds and Fast-Moving Cents

There’s hope for the youth of America yet. I was at the Community Recreation Center pool recently, in the men’s locker room, when I overheard a conversation between a couple of boys, maybe 10 years old. The first thing I overheard was one of the lads passing along that time-honored chestnut about pennies dropped from the Empire State Building.

He was excitedly telling the other boy about such a penny’s lethal properties. As much as I understand these things, it ain’t so, wind resistance and a penny’s trifling mass considered. Still, I heard the very same notion at about the same age, probably at the lunch table at Woodridge Elementary, where much grade-school lore was traded. Good to know that word-of-mouth lore, true, false or otherwise, is still with us. No doubt people thought the telephone, and then radio and TV, and now the Internet, would make such a thing obsolete. Not at all.

Like many conversations, juvenile or more grown up, the topic shifted quickly, and before long they were talking about the Titanic, the movie. Or rather, movies, because they spent some time determining whether a really cool scene -- in which “a guy fell off the back of the ship onto a propeller-thingee” (Ow, said the other boy) – was in the new movie or the “old-timey” one. They couldn’t quite decide, but no matter. It’s good to know that the big-damn-deal-big-budget sinking ship movie hasn’t completely eclipsed the older, and in some ways, superior version.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Superman, the Methodist

We're in the pit of winter now. The bleak, colorless, nails-on-chalkboard time of year that is late January and early February in the North.

While researching Dead Presidents Daily -- which I must remind everyone to read -- I come across not only crackpot sites (mentioned here yesterday), but also all sorts of bone fide information organized in remarkable ways. In looking into the matter of Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the US Supreme Court, I came across a web site detailing the religious affiliation of all the justices over the years -- and a lot else besides.

Such as this sub-page. A fine way to waste time. I had no idea that Superman (presumably Clark Kent) belonged to any organized religion, much less was a Methodist. "Although possibly not 'canonical' (i.e., officially established within the DC Universe)," the site says, "this notion has widespread support; many writers and fans believe this denominational affiliation best captures and explains the character as he has been portrayed over the years."

I was equally surprised to learn that Captain Canuck is a Mormon.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Actually above freezing today, first time since the MLK '07 Ice Storm hit the nation but only brushed northern Illinois. Still, it's been cold enough since then here, and the inch of snow on the ground that's been hanging around for a couple of weeks hasn't melted much, until today. Forecast calls for much colder days ahead.

Today I did some research into the death of Nelson Rockefeller, to post on DP Daily. Such a search uncovers a number of things, such as crackpot web sites. The Rockefellers still have the power to excite crackpots, which you can take as a measure of their lasting influence.

Looking into the death of Rockefeller -- and speaking of crackpots ­- reminded me of the time that Dick Gregory, who was billed as "comedian and former presidential candidate Dick Gregory," appeared at Vanderbilt (he was nominated by the Freedom and Peace Party in 1968, not to be confused with the Peace and Freedom Party that same year, which slated Eldridge Cleaver for the top spot). I think Gregory did his show at VU just ahead of the 1980 election, but I might be wrong by a year either way. I don't remember much of what he said exactly, but he did tell some jokes, including one about the time he parked in a handicapped space, only to return to find his car surrounded by "angry white guys in wheelchairs."

"We saw it was a black guy, but we didn't get a look at his face," one of the white guys said. "But we got some guns, and we're gonna get him good when he comes back."

"I'll help you out," I told him.

"You'd do that for us white guys? Against another black guy?"

"Sure," I said. "Happens all the time." [laughter at that]

"What are you gonna do?"

"I'm gonna steal his car."

I cleaned that up some, but I remember it got a pretty big laugh. Besides jokes, he also offered nuggets from an assortment of conspiracy theories and some quack nutritional advice. Pantyhose, if I remember right, was part of a conspiracy to make black women less fertile; and Nelson Rockefeller didn't die during sex (I'm cleaning up again). That that's what they want you to think, because you're obsessed with sex, he said, attributing the former vice president's death to a "bullet in the brain." He didn't elaborate, and it isn't a theory I've heard much about since.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

K vs. C

I misspelled Kevin Costner's name yesterday, but I think I'll let it stand, despite my usual editorial standards. Misspellings might be more than mere slips of the keyboard, and in this case I was influenced by (1) my indifference to the actor of that name, and (2) the fact that there is a street named Kostner on the northwest side of Chicago. I don't see that street much any more, but when I lived in Chicago I would pass by it often enough to notice.

I got a summons for standby jury duty a few weeks ago, but when I called in the evening the recorded message told me that I wasn't needed on Thursday. Only people whose last names began with J (as in Juliet, it said, as in The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter) and K (as in kilo, it said) needed to show up. Kevin Costner would have gotten a pass, too.

Just as well, I guess, though I would have liked sitting around reading most of the day, and I wouldn't have minded being on a jury. But I could also use a normal Thursday, so I plan to have one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Movie in the Other Room

Odd that I wrote something about experiencing movies yesterday, because today I experienced one in an unusual way. I didn’t see much of it, but I did hear a lot of it, since it was played downstairs as I sat in my office just upstairs. The movie I’m talking about is Waterworld.

Yuriko picked up a VHS copy of the movie at the library without knowing much about it other than it’s a Kevin Kostner vehicle (which is more of a recommendation for her than me). She probably hadn’t been paying attention when it burst on the scene like a rotten gourd in 1995. Neither did I, actually, and to be fair, I didn’t know much more about it than its reputation as a bomb.

Well, why be fair when it comes to overrated actors and absurdly expensive entertainments? Bomb seems to be apt, since I heard a lot of explosions. And a lot of yelling, the kind people do in action movies with a lot of explosions. A handful of lines were clear, but my favorite was this: “Don’t just stand there, kill something!” I guess a bad guy said that one.

“Was it as bad as people say?” I asked Yuriko at the end. She laughed for quite a while. “It was like 12-year-olds made that movie,” she answered.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Austin on Ice

My old friend Tom Jones has a Live Journal journal that I look at and sometime post comments to. He’s an Austinite, and lately he’s posted about the ice storm that blew through central Texas. It got me to wondering, so I asked:

What's Austin's municipal reaction to ice? Stay home, wait for it to melt?

His reply was:

Indeed, Austin's municipal reaction to ice is just that. This time the ice did not just disappear in a day, so everyone was told to stay home for up to three days. The buzzphrase for the city this week was “getting cabin fever.” By Thursday temps got above freezing again and the all clear was sounded. I’ve never seen traffic so bad in this city as on that day (the day of my interview, of course--on the other side of the city!)

I was a resident of Austin part of one summer years ago, the summer I turned 20, back in pre-most everything days of the early ’80s. Ice isn’t something I associate with the city. Except in glasses. Heat, that’s what I remember, but it wasn’t much different than San Antonio’s, apart from some added humidity.

I took classes at UT that summer, which was one way to escape the heat, for my room at the New Guild Co-op had no air conditioning. The other way was to see cheap movies at the Texas Union (that is, the student union) or other moviehouses nearby. With the perspective of a quarter century later, those nearly daily movies turned out to be the most valuable part of my education during that interlude in Austin. I saw works by Hitchcock, Fellini, Kubrick, Bergman, Polanski and a number of other famed directors -- as well as items such as Caddyshack, one of the Cheech & Chong movies, and The Black Hole. Movies, like life, are leavened by variety.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It Don't Fit, Woody

Cold days, colder nights, but only a bit of snow. The kind that doesn't even need shoveling, it's so shallow.

Not long ago I found myself in a big box, the retail sort that is, looking over the toys. Christmas is done, of course, but the first birthday of the year for the household is coming up, and this time she knows about it, is anticipating it, even if she can't count out the number of days to go.

Games, dolls, stuffed animals, electronic gizmos, Captain Canuck action figures, all the usual items were on display. Then I noticed Fire Fightin' Woody. It's the Woody of movie fame -- dressed the same, but including a handful of fireman's tools, such as an ax, a fireman's hat, something that looks like a water-hose nozzle. And of course, a penguin. I think the penguin was in the movie, too, and we all know how many firehouses have penguins as mascots.

I told Lilly that it didn't fit, somehow. Woody's a sheriff, and probably the only fire protection his jurisdiction had were buckets. Maybe if he'd gone back east he would have been in a fire crew, and doubled as a ward heeler or something. But that isn't quite right either. If he'd gone east, he might have ended up in Chicago. At the Stockyards. That's it. Stockyard Woody. I leave the kind of accessories he'd need mostly to the imagination, but I will suggest one: a sledgehammer. (Don't worry, I didn't suggest that to Lilly.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gnarly Alderman

Busy day. Went downtown for a ground breaking, first one I've attended in a while, and the first one I've ever attended that featured preschoolers in small hardhats shoveling sand with little plastic shovels. The new building will be anchored by a graduate school specializing in early childhood development, so it was appropriate, and not just a stunt like hiring midgets for your wedding.

It was cold but not too cold, but still most of the event was in the restaurant NaHa (Naha? NaHA? You never know with these trendy fusion places) across the street. Maggie Daley, wife of Mayor Daley, gave a little speech about the institution, as did the Speaker of the Illinois House, a Springfield fixture named Mike Madigan. This was the first time I'd ever seen either of these two politicos in person, and they looked as polished and pressed as you'd expect. The alderman of the ward, Burt Natarus, who has been an alderman since Hector was a pup, also showed up. His face was refreshingly gnarly.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I Want Captain Canuck Collectibles

People complain about junk mail, or at least they used to – spam is the main object of ire now – but I don’t mind a little old-fashioned direct-mail twaddle. Especially when it makes me ask, How on Earth did I get on that mailing list?

The folks at collectible purveyor Hawthorne Village – which sounds like an independent living senior housing development to me – recently sent me a small packet of information on The Batman Express (their italics). It’s an HO-scale train set that “is powerfully embellished with dramatic full-color artwork by some of DC Comics greatest artists,” according to the letter. “You’ll thrill to each outstanding portrait of Batman as he battles his arch villains including The Joker and Catwoman.

Again, their italics. Elsewhere in the letter, Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne, Cape Crusader and Gotham City are all italicized. That and send no money now. But send plenty later, about $80 for each car (my italics). Anyway, I wonder about that use of italics – as opposed to boldface, which I might have opted for – but that’s just an old editor musing.

The odd thing is Batman and… trains? I’m no expert on Batman, but I can’t recall any strong association between the Dark Knight and that mode of transport. Of course, there was the Batmobile. But no Pullman Bat-Car, though as a wealthy fellow Bruce Wayne could have outfitted one.

That’s the world of collectibles, I figure. Anything goes with anything, if it sells, and Hawthorne is busy fishing for suckers with its direct mail hooks. What can be next, sticking with the theme of superheroes and transport? Superman model Zeppelins? Ultraman ships in a bottle? Captain Canuck 1/16 model golf carts?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Spot or Two of Ice

The ice storm affecting so much of North America over the weekend just grazed this part of Illinois, with rain turning into ice and then snow before sunrise Monday, but not much – a little less than an inch of snow was on the ground in the morning, with ice underneath here and there. It wasn’t the kind of storm that ices up power lines and tree limbs to any dangerous degree.

Then again, the car that I park outside was pretty well iced over. On Monday night, I had a mind to go somewhere in it, and discovered two things. The windows were opaque; and our ice scrapers were AWOL. The location of the scrapers hasn’t been much of an issue this winter, with its weeks and weeks of icelessness. Actually, I did find one. The brush was still intact, but the business end was broken off.

It was tough ice. Improvised scraper-edges – a paint-mixing stick, the edge of a sturdy cardboard box – were no use. So I did the rational thing: I changed my driving plans, and waited for the sun this morning to soften the ice, which it did.

Just the latest in chipping, scraping, cracking, breaking and otherwise dealing with inconvenient ice: an unavoidable part of living in the North. Years ago, I drove through the beginning of an ice storm on I-55 northeast of St. Louis and had to stay in Normal, Illinois, for the night. The next morning was clear and sunny, but the driver’s side of the car, including the window, had a solid coat of ice on it, maybe because that side of the car had faced the storm overnight. Inside the car, I was able (amazingly) to roll the window down, leaving the coat of ice in place. I shattered it with my hand, busting it like candy glass in the movies. Too bad all ice isn’t that much fun to get rid of.

On Monday afternoon, though cold, driving was normal. I took Lilly and Ann in the other car – which was parked in the garage during the storm – to see Night at the Museum. Lilly was much amused. Ann mightily enjoyed the slapping contest between man and monkey, among other things. It wasn’t so outrageously stupid that I couldn’t put up with it, but it was thin gruel for me. It doesn’t pay to think about the premise of a movie like this too much, but that’s what I did – the premise being that everything in the Museum of Natural History in New York magically comes alive from sundown to sunrise. But I had to wonder: that’s fine for summer, but isn’t the museum open after dark in the winter, since for a while it gets dark before 5 pm? (The movie is set in winter, but this isn’t an issue.) And how is it that, besides Dick Van Dyke and his cronies, no one noticed this in 50 years? No one ever worked late?

I could go on, but that’s a fruitless activity. It was what it was, not completely without entertainment value. Had a handful of funny lines, though strangely I can’t remember any just now.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Marvels of the Internet, Continued

A holiday’s a holiday, so I’ll post again on Tuesday or so.

You have to be circumspect when using Wikipedia, but I look at it anyway, sometimes just for its organization of information. For instance, one page has a table listing the amendments to the US Constitution, including a few words describing each. The tabular form was handy, because I wanted to check at a glance which amendments affect the presidency. For double-checking, I can then refer to the text of the amendments in my World Almanac.

There are, of course, 27 amendments now. At the end of the table listing the amendments, some joker added a 28th amendment, which is “about the right to go out and buy a real encyclopedia.” A couple of days later, that verbage had vanished.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Duty Calls

I’ve had too much contact with local governments since the beginning of the year. Earlier this week, I got a jury duty summons in the mail. Almost jury duty, that is, since it says “Summons for standby jury service.” There’s a number to call the day before to see if Cook County really needs my help in court. If so, I'll go downtown to Daley Plaza.

The last time I went in for jury duty was a few weeks before I moved from Chicago in 1990. It involved a fair amount of sitting around, and just before we were to be interviewed by the attorneys on either side, some kind of deal was made, and that was that.

Didn’t get any such notices from 1996 to ’98, when we last lived in Chicago, and DuPage County never paid me any mind in jury-duty terms when I lived there from ’98 to ’03. Since returning to Cook County, the wizards of county government have summoned Yuriko a few times, who does not go because resident aliens aren’t eligible for juries. We have to tell them that each time.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bizzaro Christmas?

On Monday night, the Christmas tree went out to the curb to prepare for its date with fate. As soon as she realized I was actually pushing the tree out the front door – removing the decorations and taking it off the stand hadn’t registered, it seems – Ann started crying.

Only a passing squall. But it took a while to figure out that she wasn’t upset so much for the tree, or the end of the Christmas season at last and for certain, or anything like that. She thought she was going to lose her Christmas presents as well.

There’s a certain logic to that, but would it be part of a Bizzaro way to celebrate Christmas? The question occurred to me while washing dishes later – it helps to have important things to think about while doing such chores. Maybe it would be, since the rules for Bizzaro have always been a bit loose. I’d imagine, though, that on Bizzaro Christmas, a Bizzaro Santa Claus would come to your house and steal things. “This year, Santa took my stereo!”

Monday, January 08, 2007

In the Thrifty Three-Pound Box

Today Ann, who is on the verge of her 4th birthday, said to me after finishing a bowl of cereal: “Could I have some more, please, sir?”

“Who are you, Oliver Twist?” I said back, though of course she ignored that. A more fitting response would have been MORE!?! but it hardly seemed called for over a bowl of Blueberry Muffin Tops. I gave her more.

Blueberry Muffin Tops, by the way, is a NEW! cereal (says so on the box, but the web site says since 2004). Available in a three-pound box at Costco, though it’s subdivided inside into three one-pound bags. A product of the Malt-O-Meal Co., Minneapolis, which I had no idea was still an independent company. I’d have thought it would have become part of ConAgra or Altria (Philip Morris) or the like long ago, but no.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Noisy Friday

The morning after the Carbon Monoxide scare of '07, Friday that is, part of my parental duties included picking up little Ann at the end of her preschool class down the road about a mile. For this purpose, I drive my elderly Toyota Tercel, a relic of the mid-90s that has served me well for many years.

Lately it's been making a lot more noise than it ever has, mainly from the backside down toward the muffler. Which led me to think the the muffler might be ready for replacement. But since the car was running well otherwise, I allowed my natural procrastination urges free run on the question of when to take it in. I probably would have gotten around to it this month sometime.

However, a representative of the law enforcement community here in Schaumburg requested -- on Friday morning, as I was returning home with Ann -- requested in that subtle way police have, with the flashing lights and all, that I stop and talk to him about the noise emitting from my car. Politely (really, he was), he asked me to have it fixed already. He even wrote me a note to remind me to do so, and to bring evidence of that fact to a judge on February 20.

Grumble. But it has been more than 15 years since I got a ticket, so I guess I was due. At least I'm fairly certain it will be dismissed, since I will in fact have the damn thing fixed (the car, not the ticket).

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Things have been entirely too eventful around here. On Thursday night, the downstairs carbon monoxide detector went off. Suspecting a defect, since it came with the house and is of unknown age, I checked the upstairs detector too, which offers a digital readout of CO levels. It was reading above zero, not very high but still above zero. Uh-oh.

In the fall of 1998, we had a similar alarm in the old house that led to complications and cost money. The old heater in the old house was oozing the gas, probably because the previous owner had neglected annual maintenance on it. Bad news: we need a new heater. Good news: the house was still under warranty, which actually paid for the new heater. More bad news: all the air ducts needed to be removed, and some of them had been wrapped long, long ago with asbestos tape. Worse news: we needed asbestos remediation before the new ducts could be installed. Worst news: it cost a lot, and wasn’t covered by the warranty.

I knew about the asbestos, and fully planned to follow the house inspector’s advice on it. Don’t touch it, don’t move it, don’t do anything to it. But that wasn’t an option because of the bum heater. I didn’t know about the bum heater because the inspector had missed that. Oops. Argh. To live is to war with trolls.

So I was fully aware on Thursday that a little alarm like that could mean big trouble, over and above the fact that poison gas was in the house. If it were the heater, I’d really be steamed, because I paid to have it inspected and cleaned last month, and the tech said it was in fine shape. Or would there be a new gas water heater or stove to buy? And what other costly secrets would the house reveal in the process?

Firemen came at my request and confirmed that, indeed, CO was loose, but not in hazardous quantities. They radioed the gas company, who in turn sent a gas tech, who checked for CO emission. It was coming from the stove, upon which soup had been cooking for sometime. One of the disks covering the burner was misaligned, causing an unclean burn. Once the burner was turned off, it’s quite easy to put it back in alignment. That was it. The gas tech was polite about it, but I was fairly certain he was thinking “idiot.” I cracked the windows a short time and the CO vanished.

Idiot, maybe, but I did sleep pretty well that night. Dodged that bullet, I did. But Friday was another day.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Conjecture of the Deep

Through the marvel of the Internet, I’ve made the acquaintance of the wife of my fourth cousin, once removed. It’s the marvel of the age, this Internet thing, and kids growing up now will not fully appreciate its marvelosity… marvelitude… marvelousness… the wonder of it all.

Also, please see Dead Presidents Daily. Today, presidential paternity.

My daughters are bound to grow up a little strange. Today, Lilly offhandedly wished that mermaids were real. She’s been influenced by the sunny view of mermaids and mermen propagated by Disney and that ilk, so I had the urge to suggest a different view of a world in which merfolk were real.

“Well," I mused, "if mermaids and mermen really existed, I think they would have started punching holes in the bottoms of wooden ships as soon as people started sailing the oceans.” [Daughter looks at me askance] “No really, either from fear of land-people invading the water, or to plunder the iron and other stuff from the ships, things they couldn’t make themselves.”

“No way, Daddy.”

“Yeah, and of course people would have responded by attacking any merfolk that ventured near beaches or in shallow water.”


“It would be a history of bitter fighting…”


And that was that. But I could have added more detail – the arming of sailing ships with merfolk harpoons to shoot down near the hull; the capture and unhappy fate of mermen and -maids in the Merfolk Panic in colonial Massachusetts; the eventual communication with some tribes of merfolk in the 20th century, to the point that some of them were recruited by the Nazis to sink Allied ships, while others attacked Axis vessels; and their role in the Cold War, in which the United States supported King Trident (not precisely an enlightened despot), while the Soviet Union backed the rival Democratic Republic of the Pacific Basin, whose notorious gulags were in the Sea of Okhotsk.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Gingerbread-House Failure

One by one, the seasonal lights are going dark. I took a short drive through the neighborhood this evening, and estimate that about half of the houses that decorated this season have un-decorated. Also, today was garbage pickup, and many trees were awaiting the trip to the landfill. We always wait till after January 6 to consider disposing of the outward Christmas show.

Today, Yuriko bought a couple of gingerbread-house kits. Why gingerbread houses have become a Christmas decoration, I’m not sure, but the passing of the holiday has cratered demand for the kits, and so they came cheap.

My career as a gingerbread-house builder was short. You’re supposed to glue the pieces together with frosting from a tube, then use the rest of the frosting to decorate the house, along with sprinkles and gumdrops that come in separate bags. Sure looks spiffy on the box. That should have warned me: nothing I could make would look like that. Sure enough, every time I got the walls and roof “glued” together, the slightest thing – a minor earthquake on the other side of the world, maybe – brought the house down. I have little patience for handicrafts, so I squirted frosting on one of the walls, added a few gumdrops, and ate that. The gingerbread wasn’t bad.

I have a new project, one that I’d like to do for all of 2007: A different blog, Dead Presidents Daily. It will give me an outlet for my interest in presidential – significa, since I usually dislike the word trivia, misused as it has been. Sometimes facts called “trivia” (especially by chatterboxes on TV) are actually “things every educated person should know.”

DPD will not replace BTST2, since I like it too much. It may shorten the average entry, though. Three to five graphs for each blog should be enough, so maybe I can manage it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Big Wink

The arrival of the mail is important to me these days, since I’m paid by checks that arrive that way. Usually the mailman shows up late in the morning, but occasionally – often after a holiday – he’s a little later. That’s what I thought today, until about dark. But mail delivery is never that late.

Then I realized that the federal day of mourning probably also extended to the USPS, meaning that it would make no deliveries. I checked, and sure enough it was a postal day off, a curious way to honor the recently deceased Gerald Ford, but there you have it.

When Lyndon Johnson died in January 1973, we schoolkids of Texas got a day off for the funeral, one that didn’t have to be made up at the end of the year. I believe that was by act of the Texas legislature. I don’t remember doing anything Johnson-related that day. And I don’t know if the mail stopped.

I heard a bit of the eulogies for Ford on the radio, especially the one by the elder Bush. Remarkably, at one point that he actually mentioned Chevy Chase by name, to illustrate Mr. Ford’s sense of humor about that sort of thing, and perhaps in unspoken contrast to his predecessor, who wasn’t known for his sense of humor.

There was no speaking ill of the dead during these eulogies, but even before he died, not many people I knew spoke ill of Ford. Except, that is, for a Canadian I met at a gaijin party in Japan in the early ’90s. I expect it’s actually a fairly small number of people, but there is a brand of Canadian for whom every problem in the world is the fault of the US government.

He was one such. I remember little about him except he went on a rant about Gerald Ford and how he was really much more evil than people realized, especially Americans, forever the dupes. The evidence he cited was a diplomatic incident I later saw referred to as the Big Wink. Specifically, that term refers to US complicity in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in December 1975, not long after the Portuguese had bugged out. It was also right after a visit with Suharto by Ford and Henry Kissinger, who let it be known that the US wouldn’t make a fuss about Jakarta’s expansionism.

Despite that incident, the Canadian didn’t convince me on the point of Ford’s essential perfidy. I’m inclined to put the Big Wink on Kissinger; it sounds like a bit of his realpolitik to me. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. President. It will make the Indonesians very happy at no cost to the United States. No one in America knows East Timor from East Jesus, so no one will care.”

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