Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Each To Its Own Currency

A cold, dank way to end November: that was today. There were even small flurries of snow to be seen. But Northern Hemisphere Novembers have cold and dank woven into their essence, so no big deal.

My favorite headline of the day: "Is the Euro Dead? No, But It's Pining for the Fjords." That went with a Megan McArdle posting at the Atlantic web site. Bring 'em back, I say: the mark, the franc, the lira, the schilling, the drachma, the lot of them.

I can't comment on the economics of that, because I can't claim to understand the nuances of currencies. I want them back for aesthetic reasons.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

It Looks Like a Big Tylenol, Shirley

Heavy rain most of the evening, but at least no ice. Right now the entire U.S. east of the Mississippi, except for the tips of Maine and Florida, are painted "it's raining" green on the Weather Channel web site. All of Minnesota is getting snow. Over the weekend, I met a fellow who lives in Minneapolis, and was reminded again that Minnesota is the place Chicagoans believe is too cold to live.

Thousands of people are probably linking to this clip today. I'm not one to go against the tide, not in this case. I even met people in Japan -- Commonwealth citizens, not Japanese -- who knew "don't call me Shirley." The gag has traveled far.

It also must have occurred to other people that Leslie Nielsen's death makes two from the cast of Airplane! this year (Peter Graves died in March). Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges are already dead, and so is the fellow who played Johnny, one Stephen Stucker, who stole every scene he was in. So who gets to be the third?

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Today was nearly warmish, in the 50s F., unlike the deep chill blanketing Thanksgiving itself this year, so a thousand outdoor Christmas displays bloomed. Or so it seemed driving home after dark. It's probably an erroneous impression, but more wattage seems to be out there this year, at least in my neighborhood. If I drive through another couple of neighborhoods and get the same impression, that's enough material for a trend piece: Homes Lighting Up More in Hopes of Better '11. But I don't usually write that kind of article.

Not long ago I almost submitted this sentence for publication, regarding residential mortgage foreclosures and bunged up paperwork: "[Some] have suggested that the only relevant facts are that the borrower owes the money and has to pay it back," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller... told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, stating what might be called the 'Milton Drysdale' mindset. AG Miller begged to differ."

But I changed it to "Montgomery Burns." For one thing (sigh) my editor might not have known who Mr. Drysdale is. But more importantly, I needed a touch of malice in the reference. Mr. Drysdale might have been Avarice incarnate, but otherwise didn't seem evil.

At its earliest, Thanksgiving can be on the 22nd; at its latest, the 28th. So Lilly's birthday won't ever fall on Thanksgiving, but it will always be pretty close. Her celebration was the weekend before the holiday this time around.

The day after Thanksgiving, I got a calendar in the mail from a Realtor I don't ever remember having any dealings with. It's a customized calendar advertising his services, of course, but I like his idiosyncratic choice of noteworthy days. In January, for example, there's the standard New Year's Day, MLK Jr. Day and even Epiphany, but there's also "Save the Eagles Day" (January 10), "Amelia Earhart Day" (January 11) and "Christa McAuliffe Day" (January 28). I wonder about that last one. It's all very well to remember Christa McAuliffe, but six other crew members died that day too.

Also included -- besides a sizable assortment of secular, Christian, Jewish and Islamic holidays -- are Chinese New Year, Income Taxes Due, V-E Day, Atlantic Hurricane Season Begins (June 1), D-Day, Juneteenth, V-J Day, National Aviation Day (August 19), Women's Equality Day (August 26), Stepfamily Day (September 16), International Day of Peace (September 21), Native American Day (September 23), Mother-in-Law Day (October 23) Wright Brothers Day (December 17) and Forefather's Day (December 21). I sense that this fellow might be a pilot, besides selling real estate.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Black Friday Comes

Back after Thanksgiving. The prognosticators are calling for a touch of snow and deep chills around here, so it will be a good day to stay home.

"Got a Black Friday shopping strategy?" an article in the Chicago Tribune asked yesterday. "If not, you're likely to waste a lot of time and effort on the madcap day after Thanksgiving."

Madcap day, eh? Is Harold Lloyd going to hit the stores? But I do have a shopping strategy for "Black Friday." Namely, stay home. And I don't mean stay home to shop on line. I might waste some time, but it won't be in pursuit of more things to add to our large collection of things.

Also, we need to come up with a new name for the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday sounds like a stock market crash or other financial dislocation. In fact it refers to any number of events, some financial, including the popping of a gold bubble -- artificially inflated by Jay Gould and James Fisk -- on Friday, September 24, 1869.

"The economic fallout caused stock prices to fall 20%, export agricultural products (mainly grain crops) to plummet over 50%, several brokerages to go bankrupt, and severe disruption in the national economy for months," notes The New York Times regarding the 1869 Black Friday. Something to think about for those gold-starry-eyed folks who dream of a return to the gold standard.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Tangled String Theory

Today is probably the last warmish of the year. Nearly 70° F. in places, though overcast all day. A strong thunderstorm blew through at about 4 pm, inspiring the bonus sound effect of the city's tornado siren: waaaaaaaa. Turned out rare November tornadoes had been spotted in southeastern Wisconsin and not-too-far-away Illinois. Guess that's close enough to trigger the siren here.

Sunday was also November gray, but October or even September warm and not rainy, so I strung Christmas lights on one of the bushes in the front yard. I'm not going to light them until December 1 or later -- I'm funny that way -- but at least I won't have to deal with stringing them when it's freezing outside. One year the prospect of freezing fingers delayed stringing the lights quite a while. Until the next year, in fact.

Compared with some other houses on the block, I'm just making a token effort: two strings on one bush. Some years back, I don't remember when, I gave up on stringing lights any place reachable by ladder, which cuts down on the display. We used to have a small plastic snowman with a small light bulb in his thorax (the middle sphere) but I'm not sure where he is now. An interdimensional matter sink -- a small one -- probably opened up somewhere out in the garage, and that got him.

There's an Andy Rooney-like commentary possible in my experience with untangling the light strings. Or any string-like item I ever encounter: garden hose, electric extension cords, package string, thread, yarn, and so on. Namely, whenever I handle one, it instantly tangles itself in hard-to-fathom ways. Jumps at the chance to tangle. Tangles as if it weren't inanimate, but alive and with an urge to tangle as strong as a primate's urge for nooky.

Years ago I had the opportunity to visit a tall ship, an Indian Navy training vessel, of all things. I noticed to my amazement that none of the rigging or other lines were tangled. If it had been my ship, an impossible mess of tangled rope would have hung from the highest spar to the main deck.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Item From the Past: The UL Calorimeter

As an editorial staffer with Fire Chief magazine in the fall of 1996, I was invited to visit Underwriters Laboratories to look at the organization's new calorimeter. The thing impressed me enough that I hung on to the press release photo afterwards. The magazine ran a short article about the new UL large-scale fire testing facility in the November '96 issue of the magazine.

I might be mis-remembering, but I think they told me that it was the world's largest calorimeter, however that might be measured. On the back of the photo is the following: "Interior shot of the new large-scale fire test facility at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. in Northbrook, Ill. The calorimeter test cell is 25' in diameter, with an adjustable height hood."

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Possum Playing Possum

Early this evening, as we were all getting ready to leave the house for a couple of hours, Yuriko spotted a tail sticking out of the recycle bin. The bin is next to the back door and right now contains some newspapers, aluminum cans and a few plastic items -- separation by material isn't required for pick up where we live. The tail was hairless and tapered to a point.

As soon as the girls heard about it, there was much commotion. At first they refused to walk out the door, even though the tail wasn't moving and no angry animal sounds emerged from the bin. I kicked the bin slightly. Still no movement, but looking a little closer I could see part of the animal's snout and its gray fur. Possum, I decided. He didn't move, or make any sounds. This was a first for me. I'd seen a possum playing possum.

No doubt he wanted to burrow for warmth, since it's nearly freezing outside, and happened on our bin. I insisted that the girls file past, following their mother, and the scary thing they imagined at the end of the tail didn't leap out at them. When we got back home later, he was gone. The girls insisted I verify that before they walked past the bin again.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CP Shrimp Wonton Soup

CP Shrimp Wonton Soup comes frozen in small black plastic bowls holding five wontons per bowl, with a net weight of 5.1 oz. It got me thinking. Did I ever have a wonton growing up? We went to Chinese restaurants occasionally, but I don't ever remember having one until I was a regular at Wong's, a small cafeteria-style place in Nashville in the early '80s. That place had great fried wontons.

The soup we ate last week, acquired at a warehouse store, wasn't Chinese, but Thai. Carried to our table here in the heart of North America by the astonishing infrastructure of international trade in our time, even if that means a $12.2 billion US trade deficit with Thailand (in 2009, down $2.3 billion from 2008). The CP in the name stands for Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. Ltd., headquartered in Amphur Muang in the Gulf of Thailand coastal province of Samut Sakorn. Charoen Pokphand is the General Mills of Thailand, apparently -- or maybe the Thai Tyson, but anyway a major Southeast Asian food conglomerate.

The label says that the wontons contain farm-raised shrimp, going as far to specify the Latin name, Litopenaeus vannamei, formerly Penaeus vannamei, or Pacific white shrimp, or whiteleg shrimp, or the more mellifluous name in French, Crevette pattes blanches. The FAO page on this species has more information about the shrimp than anyone but aquaculturists are likely to want, but I did note a few things. Native to Central and South America, the creature was first spawned in tanks in Florida in the 1970s, and production has skyrocketed since then. It's a species that breeds well in captivity.

On the road from Bangkok to the Gulf coast, I remember seeing enormous manmade ponds near the road. Shrimp farms, I was told.

"Thailand's prawn harvest yields 500,000-550,000 tonnes annually, accounting for 28 percent of the world's prawn production," notes MCOT, "Thailand's Best TV Web Site," in a recent article. "Ninety-nine percent of shrimp farming in the country is for whiteleg shrimps, while the other 1 percent is for black tiger prawns. Over 90 percent of Thailand's shrimp produce is for export in the form of refrigerated, frozen and processed prawns."

Frozen -- that's what we had. Yuriko said she checked in the store to make sure they weren't made in China, which she didn't want to buy. "But why not?" I asked. "Heavy metals would be no extra charge."

Preparation is easy, the better to appeal to the North American market: add water to the fill line inside the bowl, then nuke it for three minutes. That's it. I wasn't expecting much from frozen soup shipped across the Pacific that ultimately spent time in my microwave oven, but I was surprised. CP Shrimp Wonton Soup turned out to be as good as anything I've ever had in a Thai restaurant, including those in Thailand. Everyone else in the house thought so too, and we went through all of it in a couple of days.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Sleigh of Santas & A Drove of Elves

Early Christmas Warning: Unlit Christmas decorations have started appearing on houses around here, except for one demented place a few blocks away that's already lighting their festive lights. No householders have inflated holiday inflatables just yet, except for the occasional turkey wearing a Pilgrim hat. The decor is much more advanced at retail locations, of course.

I'm glad to see the return of the Maximum Light Display at a house near a major intersection about a mile from where I live, even if it hasn't been switched on after dark yet. The place sports two or three dozen lighted figures, including a long row of wooden soldiers, a Nativity scene, a number of Santas plus their minion reindeer, a drove of elves, candy canes and lots of other glowing holiday oddments.

I was at a loss to think of a collective noun for elves just now, but help was no further than a Google search away, leading quickly to this vastly entertaining list by a fellow called David Malki ! The list also features the collective -- apt for the looming holidays -- "a sleigh of Santas Claus."

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Slate-Gray November

The weekend was classic November: slate-gray skies, intermittent rain, cold wind, mostly bare trees. A thin sheet of ice formed on the windshield and windows of both cars in wee hours this morning, only to melt later under the feeble November sun. The slate-gray was gone today, replaced by November blue.

I wondered about that color, "slate gray." Is it really descriptive for days like Saturday and Sunday? So I looked into it and decided that it's close enough, especially if there's no need to be literal. I also found this table called "shades of gray," which also happens to be the cliché used when talking about nuance. Are all those colors really part of the gray clan? "Glaucous" seems blue-like to me, and the various "taupes," except for taupe gray, seem more aligned with brown.

But it is Wiki, after all. Take your glaucous and taupe with salt.

Around sunset on Friday, I noticed something new up in the branches of our back-yard honey locust: a nest. The last of the leaves finally fell only a week or so ago, exposing it. I'm pretty sure it wasn't there last year, so some birds moved in during the spring. Or maybe squirrels. Now I need to figure out a way to charge them rent next year. Trouble is, birds might want to pay in earthworms, and squirrels in nuts.

I took a picture of the nest on a whim, and caught the waxing moon too. Invisible to us under the clouds, it was half full the next day, and is headed for full on the 21st. The Farmers' Almanac quaintly claims November's full moon is the Beaver Moon, and maybe it was in 1818. In our time, the Almanac ought to consider selling naming rights to the full moons (or would that be the prerogative of the International Astronomical Union?). November, for instance, could be the Walmart Moon, in honor of the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Item From the Past: The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

November 16, 2002.

Today we went to Elmhurst [Illinois], which is very close to Westmont, too close for us to visit much. Mainly we wanted to see the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, which we've heard about for some years (at least I have) but never have been to. It’s a small museum, one room on each of its two floors, just about the right size for seeing most of the objects, namely a lot of Chinese jade, plus other carved stones and some precious-metal sculptures.

The Lizzadro is home to some truly remarkable carvings, some of which must have taken years to create. Mr. Lizzadro seems to have collected them in the Orient in the early 20th century, back when China was open and foreigners got while the getting was good. One ten-panel screen, adorned with all sorts of stones -- jade, amethyst, agate, coral, amber, turquoise and more -- stood beside one wall. Made for an 18th-century Chinese emperor, it apparently it left China in 1939 for the world's fair in San Francisco, the Golden Gate International Exposition, but never returned.

A dodgy time in China, for sure. Somehow Lizzadro acquired it. Probably the only reason that the current Chinese government hasn’t made a big beef about getting it back is the obscurity of the Lizzadro Museum. How many Chinese apparatchiks make it to Elmhurst?

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day 2010

I've often marked Armistice Day with poignant song or verse. Not this year. Sometimes the occasion calls for George M. Cohan and Billy Murray.

Link for Facebook readers.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Victorian Internet

We're having a short run of warm days. No one expects it to last. Today I didn't have much time for the outdoors, but I did manage to walk all the way around Volkening Lake, a large pond where the Schaumburg Park District rents canoes and paddle boats in the summer.

The Victorian Internet by British writer Tom Standage is an interesting book, and an interesting turn of phrase to describe the worldwide telegraphy network established in the 19th century. Originally published in 1998 during the flush of the dotcom boom, the book points out parallels between the telegraph and the Internet, though without overstating the case too much.

The comparison can be overstated, because after all Internet has grown into much more than a way to send e-mail, as important as that function is. Then again, as Standage notes, the telegraph was more than just a messaging system, and mind-bending to early Victorians in ways we might not fully appreciate, since a world without instant communications is unimaginable for us, but not for them. The telegraph was something astonishingly new.

Comparative technologies is one thing, but I'm more interested in reading about the history of the telegraph -- about the largely forgotten optical telegraphy of the early 19th century; the men besides Morse who contributed to the building of a practical electrical telegraph; the history of pneumatic tubes, whose first major use was to send telegrams between telegraph stations or to nearby buildings; the struggle to lay the first trans-Atlantic telegraph line; the use of codes and cyphers in telegraphy; and the use of the telegraph by governments, businessmen, journalists and criminals. The book discusses all those and other odd tidbits too, such as the fact that Thomas Edison was a master telegrapher in his youth, and that people occasionally married at long distance, using a telegraph.

Missing in Standage's book is a discussion of the telegraph and the war between the United States and Mexico, a subject I've read about elsewhere. Telegraph lines were expanding across North America before the war, but the outbreak of hostilities spurred their further growth, so that war news could be transmitted faster to the East Coast. If I remember right, by the end of the war dispatches were being sent by fast boat from Veracruz to New Orleans, which had just been connected to the telegraph network, for transmission to Washington and New York and other places.

There's a pointless thesis out there about the use of the telegraph in literature or other media. I remember thinking it odd, for instance, that characters in Of Human Bondage, which I read about 20 years ago, often traded telegrams even with people who lived nearby. But in a world without cheap telephony, it makes sense.

In the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Grant describes his telegraphic conversations with Secretary of War Stanton -- which went on for hours, sometimes. I could imagine a rumbled Grant sitting at a table, cigar in hand and drink glass in front of him, blowing puffs of smoke and telling the telegraph operator what the tell Stanton, and then sipping his whiskey while the reply came through (and was decoded? I'd think so).

Without the depiction of telegram deliveries in old movies ("Telegram!"), no one my age would know much about the device or the lore surrounding it. Fewer and fewer people watch these kinds of movies, so I suspect even a second-hand sense of the telegraph is vanishing. Too bad. The lore is rich.

I sent a telegram only once, in 1990. I'd arrived just the day before in Japan, so it seemed a better -- and probably cheaper -- option than figuring out how to use the local phone system for an international call. The main post office in Tokyo offered the service, so I filled in the blanks and paid (a few hundred or a thousand yen? I can't remember). The message was (I think) ARRIVED JAPAN OK. My mother probably still has it somewhere.

I didn't realize that Western Union was sending telegrams as recently as five years ago. But not many. As this New York Times article says, "At the height of business in 1929, more than 200 million telegrams were sent around the world. Just under 21,000 were sent last year [2005]."

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

State-of-the-Art Bogus Money

I gave a clerk a $20 bill for a purchase recently and he took out his special counterfeit-detecting pen and marked the bill. The marking came out yellow, meaning the bill is genuine US Bureau of Printing and Engraving work, the kind you want to have in your wallet. Like most people, I've seen clerks do this, but never has asked about it before. The store was empty besides us, so I figured I could take up a little of his time with a question.

"What happens if the bill isn't genuine?" I asked.

Instantly he obliged me by taking a small bit of newspaper -- definitely not money -- and marking it with the special pen. The mark came out black instead of yellow. The inky chemistry of that isn't something I can understand, but the results are clear enough.

"One time, I saw a bill with a yellow mark on it already," he said. "I almost let it pass, but we're supposed to mark them ourselves, so I did. It wasn't real. But it looked real and it had the yellow mark on it, so people would think it had already passed. That was clever."

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Behold the Man Somewhere Else

Recently I drove on US 20 from the northwestern suburbs of Chicago to Rockford, Ill. I recommend it over I-90 for that particular trip, and not only because much of the road is the U.S. Grant Memorial Highway. On a clear day in early November, the rural route has its charms, including the remaining leaf colors, newly bare branches, farm fields now at rest for the season, tumbledown barns, signs large and small, towns only small, and unexpected sights.

At an intersection not far east of the town of Marengo, a large billboard announces that the Ecce Homo Shrine isn't far away, promising an unexpected sight to see. The billboard said something about baroque design, though I didn't make note of the exact phrasing. But the tone of the thing was, C'mon now, visit our shrine! Not far away!

How could I resist? A baroque shrine out in exurban Illinois: for all I knew, that could be the 1,001st thing you have to see before you die. Or maybe an unexpectedly quiet place for reflection and prayer. Either of those kinds of places would be worth stopping for.

So I turn off US 20 and then take another turn, and before long I see the shrine on the left side of the road, I drive up to the gate -- which is closed by a rope hanging between two posts. A sign on one post, like the sort you might buy in a hardware store, says KEEP OUT. On the other post another sign says PRIVATE PROPERTY.

I sat there for a few seconds, taking that in. I confirmed that this was, indeed, the shrine I'd been looking for. A sign not far away from the gate told me that. Then I noticed that two security cameras were pointing right at me, one on each of the posts also sporting the unwelcoming signs.

Fine. Maybe the Chicago-based Fraternite Notre Dame, which owns the shrine, has had trouble with vandals. Still, I hadn't felt that unwelcome at a religious site since I was brusquely ordered to leave the grounds of the Masjid Sultan in Singapore, though I'd visited no prohibited areas. Why the billboard, if all you see at the shrine are signs telling you to get lost? It was hard to think of the place as a House of God. More like a Gated Community of God, I think.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Item From the Past: Osaka Subway Kids

November 3, 1991

I was in my stride last week and the week before as an amateur tour guide, showing Steve around. My four-day work week left plenty of time for that pleasant task. The high points of his visit sometimes came unplanned, such as the two-station subway ride in Osaka with a swarm of elementary school kids.

Swarm is the right word. School field trips in Japan often aren't by bus, but by subway or train, if you can imagine that -- a whirlpool of little uniforms and monocolor caps and animated Japanese faces. Most of the time, I can dodge subway cars packed with such a group, but last week Steve and I walked unawares right into one. He became an instant celebrity among the kids when he decided to take a few pictures.

My own instant fame, because I could speak some Japanese to the kids, was only a little less. We focused those kids like iron filings to a north and south pole, but it didn't last long. We got off to change trains after a few minutes, while the kids continued on their field trip. Since it isn't really possible to acclimate yourself to the experience of Japanese-style mass humanity after only a week in country, Steve was a little flabbergasted by the moment. It was a good flabbergast, though.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Day I Made the Acquaintance of Ernest P. Schween and Katrina Schierding

Back on Sunday. Much too do between now and then.

While walking with Ann and her friend on their Halloween rounds last Sunday, we passed a vacant lot on a street called Cedarcrest Drive, deep in the heart of Schaumburg. The vacant lot was odd for being vacant, since the neighborhood is otherwise full of single-family houses and fairly mature trees, but it was also unusual for being a small hill. Next to the sidewalk and at the foot of this hillock lay a plaque mounted on a stone. In its entirety, it said:


This site, commonly known as 217 South Cedarcrest Drive, is believed to be the oldest burial place in Schaumburg. Historians believe that the family of Ernest P. Schween used this site as the location of several burial plots during the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the gravestones were removed during the time that the surrounding properties were being developed. No records have been located to verify the location of the graves or the persons buried.

In the late 1960s, the Village of Schaumburg obtained the parcel and continues to own and maintain it today.

This marker is placed as a reminder of the historic significance of this site to the Schaumburg community.

Dedicated June 30, 2001 by the Schaumburg Millennium Committee.

This is what the site looked like on the last day of October 2010.

Completely unremarkable. I'm amazed that graveyard or not, it wasn't developed during the great suburbanization of Schaumburg that began about 50 years ago. In any case, finding the place made my day. I'd never seen this particular plaque, and never seen one placed in the suburban wilds quite like that. I know a little about early Schaumburg, but I'd never heard of Ernest P. Schween. Probably the number of people who have is quite small.

But they're out there. The blog of the Schaumburg Township Historical Society says that "the cemetery has gone by many names: Schween’s Grove Cemetery, Timbercrest Cemetery and the Cedarcrest Cemetery. It is known that the family of Ernest P. Schween, one of Schaumburg Township’s original land owners, used this site as the location of several burial plots during the mid-1800s. Katrina (Ottman) Schierding, wife of Phillip Schierding, was one of the first buried there. Their daughter, Mary Schierding, married Ernest Schween."

So Ernest planted his mother-in-law there. Maybe. Never mind all the faux spook decorations on the nearby houses, this is the real deal. Time to start a rumor that the place is haunted by a vengeful Katrina Schierding. How do I know? I'm using that time-honored technique for telling ghost stories called "making it up."

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Rent is Always Too Damn High

This time I marked a paper ballot for voting. Each election, the method is different. I noticed that the Rent is Too Damn High Party didn't field any candidates in Illinois. Or as it says on the New York ballot, Rent is 2 Damn High. Seems to be only New York. In other parts of the country, the concept could also be repositioned as the Mortgage is Too Damn High.

In fact there weren't too many minor parties or independents represented on my ballot, just a scattering of Libertarians and Greens and a handful of independents. Not a single neo-Whig that I noticed, and the Natural Law Party seems to be just another organization in the dustbin of third-party history. I vaguely recall that in the late 1990s, Natural Law was able to field a few candidates and even buy a little radio air time.

Once again, the polling officials at my suburban polling place were paragons of rectitude. I wasn't even offered a doughnut for my vote, which goes against the spirit of elections in Cook County. Mostly they were sitting around talking with each other, since not that many people were there at 11 am to vote. They judiciously avoided talking about politics in favor of talking about old times, and their old times went back a little further than mine. I imagine community rooms at independent-living senior housing properties see a lot of socializing like this.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Costumes & Candies

Just like last year, Ann joined her friend Elizabeth for Halloween, and Elizabeth's father and I walked with them around their neighborhood and then ours in the late afternoon. There was less wind this year than last, along with clear skies, though it wasn't that warm.

Ann had found a blue princess dress and peaked cap that her sister had worn, once upon a time; Elizabeth had a pink princess dress that she said was Princess Peach, or Princess Peach Toadstool in full, according to various authoritative Super Mario web sites. The iterations of Mario Bros. have had a very light impact on my life -- they're the guys in Donkey Kong as far as I'm concerned -- so I'll take their word for it.

We did see small versions of Mario and Luigi out looking for candy during our rounds. Other costumes included various zombies (one was a football player), skeletons, witches and characters from pop fiction: Capt. Hook, Minnie Mouse and at one point, Princess Leia and Darth Vader, who seemed to be in separate groups across the street from each other. Vader didn't try to take Leia prisoner, however.

There was no one dressed as Snooki, a Chilean miner, a bedbug or an invasive Asian carp, to be topical. My favorite costume-sighting was a boy wearing two cardboard boxes. A larger one around his torso, a smaller one on his head. The larger one had arm holes, the smaller one eye holes. Images of WALL-E, printed from web sites, were taped to the outside of the box. So he was WALL-E.

Neither Lilly nor Ann collected anything that odd on their rounds. If I were more energetic, or maybe neurotic, I would catalog the candies by manufacturer, just to show how few companies actually control the confection trade. For my own part, I went downmarket this year in giving candy away: Tootsie pops, Lemonheads, Smarties and Mary Janes, the last of which are a Necco product, much like Bit-O-Honey, and with the same potential for filling removal. All these were available in $1 bags at the last dollar store I visited.

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