Thursday, February 26, 2009

Occam's Razor, Now in the Disposable 12-Pack

The snow melted away and uncovered a broken jar in the back yard, offering me a chance to teach Lilly about Occam's razor, though that term didn't come up. Or maybe not. The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure that the discussion I had with Lilly about the jar involved an application of the razor. My mind isn't quite subtle enough to figure it out.

At some point before the big snow last week, Lilly filled a largish jar, formerly a kimchi container, with water and put it outside to freeze. The snow covered it for a few days. Upon melting, the jar was broken into two large pieces and one small one. Lilly discovered this, and wondered how it had happened.

I told it was the same principle that breaks pipes in unheated houses -- the expansion of water as it cools and freezes. She posited, probably not seriously, that squirrels had gotten together and done it. I told her I was going with the expansion of water, since it didn't require unusual things of squirrels. Now is that an application of Occam or not? Would the idea of squirrel saboteurs count as unnecessary plurality?

Not sure. But there must be some reason I consider it an unlikely explanation. We have squirrels in the back yard, and they have been known to damage manmade objects, such as when they tear into bird feeders to pirate the seed inside. But I didn't dwell on it long. As food for thought goes, that's maybe a Ritz cracker with peanut butter on it.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nature Walk in a Subdivision

Winter persists, but loosened its grip a little today. It wasn't warm today, but it also wasn't so cold I couldn't take a half-hour walk around the neighborhood this morning. There's still some ice in the rivulet that runs a quarter-mile or so from my house, but there were also some ducks swimming in it, poking around for food. What could that be at this time of year?

Saw an enormous ragged V of geese overhead at one point. With a much smaller v flying inside the larger V. Maybe it was a splinter faction, unwilling to follow the major V lead bird, but also wanting to fly in more or less the same direction. Or not. The internal politics of birds is pretty much beyond the ken of men.

Rain is slated for tomorrow to get rid of the rest of the snow. For aficionados of mud, there are glory days ahead.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today, I Learned About Castle Grayskull

Mimi Smartypants is still worth reading: Speaking of bad-assery, Wikipedia recently taught me that Castle Grayskull was surrounded by a 'bottomless abyss,' she writes. I did not know that! What a great feature! LT and I would really like to remodel our condo building to look just like Castle Grayskull, just need to get the other owners' approval (we will wait for one of those drunken board meetings). Now that I know about the bottomless abyss I will definitely include it in the plans. Cancel the garbage pickup and the recycling service! We will just throw everything in the abyss! And it will never fill up, no matter how many old newspapers or takeout menus or door-to-door Mormons we toss in there.

I had to look up Castle Grayskull, since I was only vaguely aware of it as a feature in a cartoon I've never watched, and I couldn't remember which cartoon, though I suspected it had something to do with fantasy heroes, the eternal spat between good and evil, and such like.

I was right. The castle features prominently in He-Man and Masters of the Universe, a cartoon franchise after my time, beginning as it did in the early '80s. Internal evidence in her blog puts Mimi at about 10 years younger than I am, and thus in a better position to appreciate the merits of He-Man and Skeletor. Somewhere in this house, however, I do have one or two action figures from the series, or maybe some other iteration of the series, though I don't know where or when I got them (cereal box? McDonald's?), or where they are at this moment (maybe the garage, but it's too cold to check). Such is my cluttered life.

That's not the only thing that's cluttered. If you look at the Wiki entry for Skeletor -- which is roughly the same length as that of Isaac Newton, except with fewer footnotes -- there's an entire section of four paragraphs devoted to "The question of Skeletor's head." Plus some amusing links.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Second City on the Exxon Valdez

Sure enough, half a foot of snow fell early Saturday morning and then on and off through the day. I'd thought shoveling snow was finished for the season, but no. The car that we leave parked outside was coated with a nice, smooth shell of white that glittered in the sunshine on Sunday, and I hated to disturb it.

But I figured that driving the thing under a snow coat would be more hazardous than strictly necessary, so I dusted most of the glitter off. I left the snow on the roof, since I enjoy driving along, producing my own little snow shower in my wake.

After listening the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem sing "Bringin' Home the Oil" a few times, and considering that I'm reading The Prize (see last Thursday), I had to wonder why Gulf wanted to "bring home" oil to southwest Ireland, which strikes me as a remote transshipment point "to keep all Europe movin'/ from our base in Bantry Bay." It seems that the class of really large tankers celebrated in the song, known as ultra large crude carriers (ULCCs), were too large to berth in most existing facilities in the late 1960s, so new ports were built, and Bantry Bay was deep enough to accommodate the behemoths.

Still, things didn't work out for Bantry Bay as an oil depot. In January 1979, the French tanker Betelgeuse blew up while unloading its cargo there, killing everyone on board and a number of men at the terminal. I must have heard about it at the time, but it made such a light impression that I'd completely forgotten about it. Wiki offers a well-written account of the disaster that seems reasonably sourced. It proved to be the undoing (mostly) of the oil business at Bantry Bay.

The Exxon Valdez spill was a decade later, and now 20 years ago, but it's still the thing that comes to mind when North Americans think of oil spills, at least those of us old enough to remember it. About a week after the spill, I went to the Second City comedy revue -- the last time I attended that Chicago institution, I think -- and they did a 15-second skit about it, a to-the-point gag.

Silhouetted on the stage was a fellow standing behind a large ship's wheel. From offstage, an announcer said something like, "And now, what really happened on the Exxon Valdez..." Pause. Then the stage lights went up, reveling a familiar red shirt and white sailor's cap on the fellow at the wheel, who was fumbling with it. At the same instant, another familiar voice boomed from offstage, startling the fellow: "GILLIGAN!" the Skipper bellowed.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Item From the Past: Herbert and Lou Hoover

Over the years, I haven't been too many places in February. Just getting around close to home is enough trouble. On February 14, 1990, I was en route to Chicago on I-55 in central Illinois when I met an ice storm. I thought it wise to leave the road, and found a room at the Normal Motel 6 -- which was indeed normal in every way, besides being in the town of that name. The only memorable thing about that evening was watching an episode of Quantum Leap for the first time, a show that I still have a minor fondness for.

In early February 1997, Yuriko and I went to Springfield, Illinois, for a weekend. Springfield is about three hours from Chicago, and we were careful to pick a weekend without bad weather. We visited the usual places: Lincoln's tomb, Lincoln's old law office, Lincoln's house, the old state capitol where Lincoln cut his teeth, politically speaking. Every other brick in Springfield, it seemed, had his name on it.

We went to eastern Iowa in February 2001 (see BTST February 22, 2004), but I've forgotten just how we decided on that destination. It could have had something to do with Herbert Hoover, who reposes on a small, landscaped hill overlooking his library and museum, just off I-80 near West Branch, Iowa.

Late in the afternoon after visiting the museum, I went up the hill, which was snow covered, to see the grave site. Yuriko and Lilly (then 3) stayed in the car with the heat on. Lou Hoover is next to Herbert, under a similar marble slab.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Big Book About Oil

Cold weather is back, and just to let us know that winter is still in charge around here, big snow is forecast for late Friday or early Saturday. Time to stay home and read.

Some time ago for pennies I picked up a paperback edition of The Prize by Daniel Yergin, subtitled "The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power," and it satisfies my sometime desire for a popular history about a really big subject. I remember hearing about it when it was new, but if a book is any good, there's no reason you can't read it nearly 20 years after its publication, or more.

The book has the advantage of being divided into short sub-chapters of two or three pages, which makes it easier to read in an environment of sudden and unpredictable distractions. But it has the side effect of making me want to go visit some of the places it mentions as pivotal in the early history of oil production -- such as Titusville, Pennsylvania, where you can buy a Drake Well etched beer stein, or Spindletop.

Considering my Texas upbringing, Spindletop resonates more than Titusville. It's as Texan as the Alamo, longhorns or Wolf Brand Chili (owned by ConAgra now, but never mind). Spindletop came up in Texas history class in the 7th grade, though I'd heard of it before that, even as the subject of a minutes-long oil company commercial aired during the coverage of the Moon landings (by Exxon? Gulf? It was a long time ago, with much potential for misremebering). The commercial included rumbling and roaring and then oil drilling equipment being pushed into the sky by the gusher and then oil men covered with oil, but happy about it.

Another in that series of commercials featured lingering shots of supertankers to the backdrop of an Irish song that included the lyrics, "Sailin' into Bantry Bay, bringin' home the oil." Of course the song's on YouTube. Ah, those pre-Exxon Valdez days, when an oil tanker was just a really big ship.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Pack of Victories

Look up Candy Cigarette and you might well find this image, since it appears in a lot of places. Look up Victory Candy Cigarette you'll find the likes of this, which lists other candy cigarettes as well. Popeye has a brand too?

My Victory candy cigarette package doesn't actually say "cigarette" anywhere. It's simply Victory Candy. (Winston Smith's favorite -- the bestselling candy of Airstrip One!) The box is shaped like a cigarette pack, and the candies are long and white and cylindrical; otherwise there's no resemblance to tobacco products.

Lilly and I were out and about one evening last spring, and came across Victory and a couple of other brands at a gas station at some distance from home. She quizzed me about it, since it was a novelty to her, and in the end I bought a pack -- I mean, box -- of Victories for her. I remember buying candy cigarettes occasionally at the courthouse-square drug store in Denton, Texas, when I was very young, and I have yet to take up smoking, so I'm not particularly worried about candy cigarettes leading her astray.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February Flowers

During the warm day last week, Lilly went outside with sidewalk chalk and drew a couple of flowers on the driveway. They were nice enough drawings -- past tense because a few days later, rain and snowmelt washed them away.

But what really caught my attention was the fact that she not only signed them with her name but also '09, one complete with apostrophe (the other, I can't tell).

That's my girl. Could be that she picked up the impulse to date her work, even the sort that's sure to disappear, from me.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

An Unacknowledged Anniversary

The dreaded mid-February gas bill arrived Friday the 13th. The meter is read on the 10th to gauge the previous 30 days' usage, and mostly it's been a cold 30 days. So I was expecting a monstrous bill, but it turns out that the international natural gas glut has held down the price of my therms. In the end, keeping my suburban house between 68° F (by day) and 60° F (during the wee hours) cost a little more than $6 a day in recent weeks. Worth it, I say.

Saturday the 14th was the 80th anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. As far as I know, the City of Chicago officially ignored this important anniversary in its municipal history, just as the offing of Dillinger was ignored during the redevelopment of the Biograph Theater a few years ago.

The site of massacre, 2122 Clark Street, was torn down over 40 years ago, just another example of thoughtlessness when it comes to our urban heritage. So too with other buildings associated with Chicago gangsters in their heyday.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Buy Peanut Butter

Tomorrow is Presidents Day, or so the calendars say, so this year it's fitting to mention one of the most obscure of the lot: Franklin Pierce, if only to show that presidential history is a well that never runs dry.

More Recession Food. Fisher brand peanut butter in the convenient 1 lb. 2 oz. (510g) plastic jar, available in smooth and crunchy varieties. I bought one of each variety the other day for 88¢ each at a discount grocer, a swell deal. Looking at the "best by" dates -- late this year -- I suspect that's the reason for the deal.

It's time to support the beleaguered peanut industry and peanut farmer anyway. ("Beleaguered" is useful in journalism, meaning an entity or person with bad problems that the writer doesn't have space to detail, or doesn't fully understand, or that haven't been proved in any way.) Not to belittle the suffering of the people sickened by bad peanut butter, but being scared of buying peanut butter merely because of news reports about bad peanut butter is ridiculous. I figure the drive to the store is more risky than eating the peanut butter I bought.

Fisher brand is produced in the Chicago area by John B. Sanfilippo & Sons Inc. I poked around their web site a while and, curious, listened to part of the company's most recent quarterly conference call on web-based replay, which isn't as odd as it sounds. I do that fairly often, only it's usually real estate or retail companies' calls. Peanut butter is only a few percent of company revenue, but the CEO (or was it the CFO? Bloggers don't need to check) was careful to note that they had nothing to do with the beleaguered Peanut Corporation of America (my phrasing). I believe it. Further poking around revealed a long list of peanut butter and peanut confection makers not on the recall list, among them John B. Sanfilippo.

I was also glad to see that the nut processing industry is well represented by various associations, including the American Peanut Council, the Peanut & Treenut Processors Association, the National Pecan Sheller Association, California Walnuts, the Almond Board of California and the International Treenut Council. The XXVIII World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress is going to be in Monaco at the end of May this year. Wonder if Prince Albert has a special interest in nuts.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Douglas Bicentennial Will Be in 2013

Cold today, but not below freezing, and walking on the sidewalks is pleasant once again, since nearly all the ice has disappeared. There are a few rims of dirty die-hard, survivalist ice in places near the sidewalks, mostly where enormous piles used to be. But virtually nothing underfoot. I'm expecting an ice storm any time now.

I checked with Lilly to see if any mention was made of Lincoln at school on this, his bicentennial, and she said no. No? Here in the Land of Lincoln? Not even a mention on the school PA system in the morning?

Certainly it would be too much to expect an acknowledgment of Darwin, though it was his bicentennial as well, but Lincoln ought to at least merit a tip of a stove-pipe hat. It probably isn't in the school budget, but a Lincoln impersonator visiting the classes would have been even better. Maybe they were all busy today, as they should have been.

Lincoln impersonators are all well and good, but I'm also glad to know that Stephen Douglas impersonators, at least this one, made the rounds today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Midweek Miscellany

Today wasn't much of a winter day, but it wasn't premature spring either. It was a straggler of a fall day, full of November chill and drizzle and fog. Still, I'll take that over static subfreezing sorts of days.

On the Internet, just as in the wider world, serendipity leads to remarkable places. I particularly like the photos of the Faeroe Islands; not something you see too often. I would need no encouragement to buzz off to the Faeroes.

I see from the photographer's bio that he hasn't made it to Japan, which is too bad but completely understandable. The world is large. I think he could do some fine work there.

The latest DVD to go back to Netflix was the first disk of Doctor Who, The Complete First Series, which of course isn't the first series, seeing as how it features the ninth Doctor. But I guess it counts as the first series made in quite a while, dating from 2005. I haven't seen any of the older ones in 20 years or more, but I thought they were fun romps.

So too with the newer ones, and I did not tire of looking at Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), the Doctor's companion. Lilly variously commented that the shows were "cool" and "weird." Ann was so scared by parts that she left the room.

I wrote this for publication yesterday: "The latest retail-oriented victim of the recession isn't a retailer, but many retail locations worldwide won't be quite the same without its services. Fort Mill, N.C.-based Muzak Holdings, noted creator of elevator music, has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization.... The company is in intense negotiations with its creditors to come up with a settlement, which brings up the question of whether Muzak is being piped into the meeting rooms to unconsciously persuade creditors to cut the company a little more slack."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

B-Bar Brand Corn Dogs, Tasty Eating for Hard Times

Sure enough, near record temperatures hereabouts today, in the mid-60s. Plus gusting wind. This being garbage collection day on my street, that meant wingéd bits of trash traveling with the wind, and at one point me chasing one of my trash-can lids.

Recession Food. I was a tightwad before tightwad was cool, so I'm already versed in the cheap eats. As an example, I offer B-Bar brand Corn Dogs. A box of six is available at Aldi for about $1.50 for feeding children or even older members of the household. In fact, if B-Bar brand is any indication, frozen corn-dog technique has improved mightily since my younger days. Ann had one for lunch today, so I decided to have one too. Nuking it for 1:30 does it up just about right, and the battered stick emerges warm throughout with a fine corn taste and a tender meat core.

What am I getting with each bite? The tag line on the box says "made with chicken, pork and beef," but a closer look at the ingredients lets us know that chicken and pork are first and second on the list of the "frankfurter" subsection, but beef is ninth, after water, dextrose, salt, corn syrup, flavorings and sodium phosphate, but ahead of sodium erythorbate.

I'd heard of sodium phosphate as a food additive, typically used to prevent fats from running all over the place, but I had to look up sodium erythorbate, which is a color preservative for meat, and also the subject of a food rumor I'd never heard before. Anyway, ninth place tells me that there isn't much beef in the dog, but I can't say that bothers me particularly, since chicken and pork and perfectly respectable meats.

One more ingredient of note: oleoresin of paprika. I like saying that just for fun. It sounds like the title of a bogus Near Eastern potentate, the sort Curly Howard might have played.

This site claims that National Corndog Day (styled as one word) is calculated as the Saturday before the Paschal full moon. Strike that, it's actually on "the Saturday of the final 32 teams in NCAA basketball tournament," according to the site. Tater tots and beer are also on the menu for the day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Rare Atmospheric Conditions for February

On Saturday, the residents of northeastern Illinois got a few hours' furlough from winter. Just stepping outside was a pleasure. So was driving with the window down a little.

Sunday was colder, but this morning I walked around the neighborhood comfortably without cap or gloves. Icy spots still remain here and there on the sidewalk to slip up the unwary, but mostly the way is clear. Puddles are everywhere. The receding snow has uncovered bottles, cans, fast-food wrappers, unread newspapers soaked through, dog turds and other debris. Archipelagos of dirty snow are still resisting the warmup trend, and some may hang on till the next snow cover, but mostly the ground is brown, muddy and ugly.

Who cares, if it's warm. Tomorrow is supposed to be a slice of April or even May. I expect winter to slap us down again after that.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Item From the Past: Comment on Richard Nixon

Yellow with age and slightly brittle, a handful of lined papers now reside in plastic sheet protectors in one of my closets. The paper was made for grade school kids to practice handwriting, so the lines are widely spaced, with dotted lines down the center. The paper came in a tablet, I remember that, and you could easily tear out the individual sheets.

Forty years ago I was in the second grade. I wrote this on one of those sheets. I have no memory of doing so.


Feb 11, 1969

Today we learned about President Richard M. Nixon. Mrs. Gates said he was a basturd whatever that is.

Mrs. Gates was my homeroom teacher that year, and I forget what subjects she taught us, though we moved to other classrooms for English and math. I feel very certain that however Mrs. Gates felt about the newly inaugurated president, she didn't share it with us kids. I'm also certain I wasn't dumb enough to share the paper with her. That might have created an unpleasant situation that I would, in fact, remember now.

I do remember that at one point Mrs. Vest, whom I think taught me English that year, told the class that it would be "President Nixon" from now on instead of "President Johnson," and that she seemed a little unhappy about that. Just an impression. Maybe she'd been hoping for a "President Humphrey," but she never did say that out loud.

A few years ago, my mother found this paper and some others like it at her house and brought them to me during a visit. Both of us got a laugh out of them. She posited that my brother Jay, who was a junior in high school at the time, put me up to it.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vampires & Other Scary Things

As mentioned, Lilly is winding her way through Twilight, the latest of the vampire genre to hit the big time with preadolescent girls. She says she wants to read the sequels, too. After the heroine of Twilight transforms herself into a vampire to be with her vampire love, and has his vampire children, they settle down to raise them, including home-schooling. Or rather, home night-schooling. Being immortal helps considerably in the prospect of paying off their mortgage; what's another 30 years? But the lovers get on each others' nerves a lot after about a century or so, and go their separate ways.

I suppose young girls have been drawn to vampire stories since Bram Stoker, though I don't have any evidence of that. I do remember girls in my elementary school who were smitten with Barnabas Collins. One even had a Dark Shadows lunch box featuring him. I think.

So far this year my reading has been horror of a different kind: sinking ship books. Make that torpedoed ship books. Around New Year's, I read a work on the Lusitania, and just yesterday, finished In Harm's Way, (Doug Stanton, 2001) a page-turner about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the waning days of World War II.

The web site has some brief information for those unfamiliar with the horrific sinking: "At 12:14 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remainder, about 900 men, were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats and most with no food or water. The ship was never missed, and by the time the survivors were spotted by accident four days later only 316 men were still alive."

I'd heard of the story before, but only in passing. I also saw the ship's memorial one morning in Indianapolis a few years ago. I'd been at a conference downtown, and after it wrapped up I took a stroll along the Canal Walk before leaving town. This is what I saw.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Carl E. Akeley, Taxidermist and More

"Sue" is probably the most famous item the Field Museum has. The display says it's the most complete T. Rex skeleton anywhere, displayed in the main hall (the Stanley Field Hall) of the museum. Oddly, the skull in the main hall, attached to the rest of the skeleton, is a replica, with the actual headbone one story up as the centerpiece of its own display.

The signs claim the head is too heavy to attach to the skeleton. But couldn't it be propped up in some way? Guess that's not dramatic enough. The jaws have to appear free and ready to chomp on some European tourists.

A lot of people were taking photos of Sue. Only a few steps away, also in the great hall of the Field Museum, not nearly as many people were curious enough about these beasts to take any pictures.

African elephants, and a fixture of the Field Museum for about 100 years, it turns out. But for the few minutes I stood next to them, I was one of only a few paying them any mind. Sue was getting all the glory.

Yet they are remarkable creatures. So too was the man who brought them to the museum, Carl Akeley. According to the Field Museum web site: "In the late 1800s, Carl E. Akeley collected and mounted animals for Field Museum, and revolutionized the art of taxidermy. None are more famous than the "Fighting African Elephants" on display in the Museum's Stanley Field Hall. Akeley made two separate trips to Africa in 1895 and 1906. Akeley was also a photographer, and made thousands of negatives of the trips including villages and native peoples. Some of these photographs were used by Akeley in mounting the mammals he collected..."

The Encyclopædia Britannica offers more detail: "... during his associations with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (1895–1909) and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (1909–26) [Akeley] made five trips to Africa to study, hunt, and collect big game. In 1923, his book In Brightest Africa appeared. He died during his last expedition and was buried on Mount Mikeno in Albert National Park (now Virunga National Park, Congo [Kinshasa]), the first wildlife sanctuary in central Africa, which he had helped establish. His inventions include the Akeley cement gun, used in mounting animals, and the Akeley camera, a motion-picture camera adapted for use by naturalists, with which Akeley made the first motion pictures of gorillas in their natural habitat."

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It Withers Quicker Than the Rose

A radio station I found on the dial not long ago -- a 1950s-70s format, apparently new to the Chicago market, since I hadn't noticed it before -- summoned the ghosts of Buddy Holly et al. over the weekend by proclaiming it the "Day the Music Died Weekend." That doesn't quite sound pleasant, but it only seemed to mean that the station was playing more Buddy Holly et al. than usual.

What's the fascination with their untimely demise? They're hardly the only famed musicians to be killed in airplane crashes, after all. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Glenn Miller (presumably), Pasty Cline, Otis Reading, Jim Croce, much of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kyu Sakamoto, Stevie Ray Vaughan (helicopter), John Denver, and one few people know, but who should be better remembered, Walter Hyatt of Uncle Walt's Band. There are others I didn't think of and even a book about the subject called Falling Stars (Rich Everitt, 2004).

Maybe the Buddy Holly et al. story has lingered because they were pioneers of such an enormously successful genre. Things would have been different in terms of posthumous fame if they'd been popular polka musicians. That said, if I ever pass near enough to Clear Lake, Iowa, I'll take a look at whatever memorials are at the crash site and the Surf Ballroom. I was glad to read today that the pilot of the plane now has a memorial, too.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, Plus a New Man-Eater

On Sunday we went to the Field Museum. Our excursion had a number of things going for it. For one thing, it was actually above freezing. Slightly, anyway. More importantly, it was a free day at the museum, with light crowds on account of the Super Bowl.

Regular adult admission is $23. At that price, it's hard to believe attendance is going to go anything but down in these hard times. But what do I know? I'm just an ordinary museum goer, as long as I don't have to pay full price. (No discount for parking on free day, so in fact it cost $4 a person to visit the museum using a car.)

One of the better museum bargains in Chicago, at $5 for adults, $2 for kids, is the Oriental Institute. If you're fond of amazing items from ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia and other Near Eastern spots, this is the place to go. One of these days soon, I'm going to take Lilly there.

I made a point of looking up the Lions of Tsavo this time around at the Field Museum. It's been a few years since I last saw them. They have a spot of honor -- and signs leading visitors to them -- in the African stuffed animal wing, and their story is here briefly for those unfamiliar with them. For those really interested in the story, Project Gutenberg has scanned The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Col. J.H. Patterson, the chap who shot the lions.

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), inspired by this event, was not itself an inspiring movie. I saw it on video some years ago, and it was so slow moving and dull that I fell asleep watching it.

The Field Museum also has the Man-Eater of Mfuwe, a stuffed lion from Zambia, in a slightly less conspicuous display case. I hadn't noticed it before. It isn't a 19th-century lion from colonial times, but a man-eater of our own time, having been shot only in 1991. I'm glad to know that the museum is working hard to increase its collection of stuffed man-eating lions. Someone has to do it.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Round Food

Damn if it isn't February. The main good thing about February is that it's the beginning of the end. Only a few weeks more of trudging through snow and balancing on ice. That is, as many as six weeks: by mid-March, mud has replaced ice and snow, so there's that to look forward to.

Near the end of January, the smallest person in the house had a birthday, to remind us that she won't always be so small. A festive cake was procured for the occasion. Here it is, just before the ritual candles, song and eating. Not long before. The candles and matches were at the ready even as I pointed the camera, and so were the plates and forks.

On the last day of January, non-festive pancakes were created by me and eaten by all. Just another example of round food that we like. Here's my own serving, right before its disappearance.