Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All of You on the Good Earth

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year thrown in, since I'm not going to post until around January 2, 2011. Every new year I ask myself, how did that year-number get to be so high? Every year, the answer is tempus fugit, dude.

Apollo 8 Christmas Message link for Facebook readers.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Ham

As if to emphasize that today was the shortest day of the year, it was also the foggiest around here. But barely cold enough to keep the fallen snow from melting, which was pleasant compared with the near zeros last week.

I'm scheming to put pork on the table this year for Christmas dinner. It comes highly recommended, after all.

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?

Lisa: No.

Homer: Ham?

Lisa: No.

Homer: Pork chops?

Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.

Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Solstice Silence

A lunar eclipse is set to happen on the solstice, I hear; from about 12:30 to 4 a.m. Central tomorrow. NASA says: "If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look --­ it is December, after all -- choose this moment: 03:17 am EST [2:17 for me]. That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red." (I'm glad the agency capitalizes Moon.)

Trouble is, it's snowing heavily where I am, and isn't expected to clear up anytime soon. Rising from bed in the wee hours in December is a hard sell in any case, but a no-show coppery red Moon puts the kibosh on the whole deal. I will sleep through this common yet rarely timed event.

"A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice... is unusual," continues NASA. "Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years. 'Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638 DEC 21,' says Chester. 'Fortunately we won't have to wait 372 years for the next one... that will be on 2094 DEC 21.' " (And how did he say "DEC" in all caps like that? December 21! he screamed.)

So it goes. The Moon was lovely yesterday, lording over a clear sky that also sported the winter hunter Orion. A few hours ago, I went out on the snow and listened. During a heavy snow -- not after, when the roads are being plowed, but right in the thick of it -- is the quietest time these suburbs of millions. There's still a faint bit of road noise, but not much, and muffled airplanes course by sometimes. That's about all. It was so quiet this evening out in my back yard that I could hear the snowflakes hitting my coat. It was like the sound of wax paper being slowly crumbled in another room.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Item From the Past: Christmas Pageant

There's only one thing written on the back of the photograph below: Dec. 19, 1969. At that moment in time, I was in the 3rd grade. I've long had the urge to date documents, and sure enough the date on this pic is in a childish hand that I recognize as my own handwriting, back when I was fairly new at it. I have to add that the Dec. is in cursive, which I hear that some short-sighted pedagogues do not teach any more.

I didn't write down the names of the kids in the pageant, but oddly enough I remember most of them. From left to right: Jack (standing, no costume), Leslie (holding the Star of Bethlehem), kid I don't remember (shepherd), Cole, David (more shepherds), another David (Joseph), Maura (Mary), Ruth Ann (standing, no costume), Donald, me and Art (as Wise Men). I'm not including them here, but I remember everyone's last name too, except for the kid I don't remember at all and the David with red hair.

The adult in the picture is Mrs. Bigelow, our third-grade teacher at Woodridge Elementary School. What astonishes me about this picture isn't that I was in a Christmas pageant (which I don't really remember, except for making the crown I wore). It's that we had a Christmas pageant at a public school. I doubt that anyone complained about it. Lilly and Ann experience "winter festivals," but that's not the way it was 41 years ago and a 1,000 miles south of here.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tannenbaum '10

It's a cold, snowy night in mid-December. The kind of night when one's thoughts naturally turn to that coldest of planets, Pluto. Provided there's an interesting discussion about its planetary status within easy reach, that is.

Closer to home, I'm glad we got a little snow, enough to cover the roof again. I'm pretty sure that helps the house keep its heat.

Our Christmas tree went up on Saturday, but because it was raining when we bought it, I insisted that we let it dry out until Sunday before decorating it. Amazingly, the girls didn't complain about that plan. On Sunday, they were all over the task, leaving only the lights and the star on top to me.

We have two stars that could be on the top: a gaudy, multicolored electric light star that plugs in, or a golden-colored hard plastic star with an elongated point on top that looks exactly like the star that went on top of our tree when I was growing up, at least in shape. My childhood star, older than I am, was silver instead of gold.

At some point about 10 years ago, back when I started putting up Christmas trees again, I acquired the golden star somewhere, and no fancy electric rainbow star is going to muscle it out of the top spot. But the girls wanted the more colorful star somewhere near the top, so now it sits a few inches below the golden star. Like Pluto, its status will not change in this house if I can help it.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Macédoine

Temperature when I got up this morning, just after sunrise: zero Fahrenheit. By midday, the air had warmed into the mid-20s F. Remarkable how pleasant that seemed by comparison.

The neighbors who put up an electric-light simplified Serbian flag last year for Christmas didn't do it again this year. For whatever reason, this year they were later in stringing lights -- last weekend -- and instead of a glowing Serbian flag, put up a string of blue icicle lights near their roof, plus blue lights in the shape of stylized Christmas trees closer to the ground. A nice effect.

We received another odd business-advertising 2011 calendar in the mail yesterday. A calendar after my own heart: this one includes more presidential birthdays than the standard Lincoln and Washington. But not all of the presidents. Chronologically through the year, these chief executives made the cut: Franklin Roosevelt; McKinley; Lincoln; Washington; Jackson; Madison; Jefferson; Grant; Kennedy; John Quincy Adams; Hoover; Benjamin Harrison; Eisenhower; Teddy Roosevelt; and Wilson.

Fifteen out of 43 (Cleveland counts only once for this purpose). I guess the calendar-maker didn't want to clutter it up with all the birthdays, but still -- Benjamin Harrison but not Cleveland? John Quincy Adams but not John Adams or James Monroe? Hoover but not Truman? And what about poor President Fillmore? He would have been first on the calendar (January 7) had he been included.

Our annual Think Geek catalog came recently as well. High amusement value, as always. This year I noticed an entire page devoted to The Big Bang Theory merchandise. The TV show, not the cosmological event. Maybe the page was there last year, but I hadn't seen the show then, so wouldn't have paid attention to its merchandise. Lately we've been working our way through TBBT DVDs, because the show has that certain something that most sitcoms lack. Namely, it's funny. Hard to believe that the same producers are responsible for the not funny Two and a Half Men, but the strength of TBBT seems to lie in its talented writers and cast, especially Jim Parsons, who's probably stuck with Sheldon Cooper for the rest of his career. These are examples from the first, second and third seasons.

I'd order a Periodic Table shower curtain if it weren't $30. It would have to sing Tom Lehrer's "The Elements," and maybe some other songs about elements, to be worth that much. That isn't far-fetched: you can buy a "personal soundtrack" t-shirt from the Think Geek catalog.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Listening Selections

Today I happened across "88 Lines About 42 Presidents," which is patterned after "88 Lines About 44 Women." I didn't bother to count the lines, but all the presidents up to Bill Clinton are included.

I was amused. Of course. There's another list-song about U.S. presidents out there. It's almost a subgenre, or will be if a few more are written. Other examples include Jonathan Coulton's song and the one by the Animaniacs.

Also, this is a link to my first podcast. I will be doing them once a week for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I'm being paid to do it.

It's high time that my high school speech and debate experience proved itself useful. Actually, it already has, since I used to moderate panels and make other speeches in front of audiences periodically as a magazine editor. I've heard that a lot of people would rather do anything else besides public speaking. Can't say that I have that particular fear.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Quite a Blizzard, But 'Tis Enough, 'Twill Serve

Friday might have been a good day to go downtown and see Christkindlmarket Chicago, but Sunday was for staying home (Saturday was for visiting stores for provisions). Snow fell overnight between Saturday and Sunday, and we woke up to wind and more snow in the morning. Not exactly a blizzard around here, as in certain parts of the country, but a fairly strong snowstorm. Arctic Blast! as one excited weather site put it.

Nothing as dramatic as in Minneapolis, though, which saw the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome roof collapse under the weight of snow. I quote again: "The roof requires 250,000 cubic feet of air pressure per minute to remain inflated, and on at least three occasions slight tears caused by heavy snows have caused the roof to deflate." Make that four occasions.

It was an odd place to watch a baseball game, the HHH Metrodome. I remember seeing more than one fly ball disappear temporarily into the dirty white backdrop color of the inflatable roof. I'll bet the players don't like that feature of the roof at all.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chicago Christkindlmarket, Kristkindlmarkt 2010

I made it downtown on Friday to the Christkindlmarket Chicago. So did a lot of other people.

If, for some odd reason, Google has referred you to this page for information about Christkindlmarket Chicago, go to this page on eHow instead. I wrote that too, and the more hits, the more I get paid for it.

Last year, I spelled it Kristkindlmarkt, which may or may not be more German, but it isn't how the event is styled in Chicago. In any case, that entry got hundreds of hits, even though I provided scant information about the festival itself, and more about a guy getting arrested during it.

Friday's crowding wasn't a fluke, though it probably helped that it was above freezing. It's a very popular event. People come to look at the ornaments, of which there are many, from Germany and a good many other places besides.

Beer and other refreshments were served, of course. At least one booth specialized in beer steins.

This web site claims there was a Golden Age of Beer Steins. I had no idea. Naturally, we've all missed it by a century.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Music Goes Round and Round

Tired of Christmas music already? It seems to be seeping out of the walls everywhere even a few weeks ahead of the day itself. With that in mind, here's something just as cheerful as holiday music pretends to be, or would be without constant overexposure: the Tommy Dorsey version of "The Music Goes Round and Round," featuring singer Edythe Wright.

Cheerful, but I also picked it because my sources tell me that it was recorded exactly 75 years ago, on December 9, 1935. Link for Facebook readers.

This is the slightly earlier original version by Eddy-Reilly and their Onyx Club Boys (the record says "Around and Around" in that case).

Or, if that's too old-timey, this is something more up-to-the-minute topical: Curtis Threadneedle's latest, on quantitative easing (or rather, Quantitative Easin').


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Letter From Lagos

Got a bit of e-mail the other day from someone claiming to have an office in the UK. A Nigerian e-mail scam! (Which could be from anywhere, really.) How quaint. Haven't gotten one of those in years. I thought those were old hat by now -- who hasn't heard of them?

The text is long-winded and semiliterate, including the following (all sic): "Your unclaimed money from the British authority, you have already started the legal processing of the claim, But we discover that the above law firm and other individual only collecting your money to divert the payment to there self some time ago. We also discover that was why you have not received your payment, because we are not sure to release this payment to them,because the affidavit of claim state your name,and the account information present to us to transfer the money to,was not in your name, that was why i was directed to contact you..."

I guess this classic con is still a game of high volume, low response. Even if you get only one pigeon from the thousands of e-mails you sent without much effort or expense, that's still a profitably crooked day's work.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Snowballs as Big as Your Head

The first snow does have its charms. One of them is bushes covered in snow, especially if you've strung lights on them. It looked this way on Saturday. Later, sunlight thinned out the snow cover on the bush, but not so much the ground.

Saturday was all right for snowball fighting. Lilly and Ann had a running snowball fight during much of the afternoon. This is Ann, showing off one of her projectiles.

Off camera, Lilly had a large ball of her own. It was a case of mutually assured splatter.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Hootch Heist, Interrupted

Big snow promised by excited weathermen over the weekend. But all we got was a medium snow, easily plowed and shoveled aside so that life could go on in the arctic blast that followed (10° F. or so this morning). Still, it was the first cover-everything snow of the season, so it was pretty to look at for a while.

Been a while since I've seen a good perp walk. The Hanover Park Police obliged me on Friday at a discount grocery store I frequent. As I entered the store, two employees were talking near the entrance. This is more or less what they said, though I've added a little corroborative detail.

-- Did you hear that Jose tackled the guy trying to steal liquor?

-- Yeah. And that he twisted his ankle while doing it.

-- I don't think that's going to bother him. Jose wants to be a badass.

I didn't see the badass grocery-store worker Jose that I knew of, but as I was checking out, two young men, both handcuffed, were walked from behind a door saying EMPLOYEES ONLY and out the exit by at least three cops. Neither of the lads looked over 20 and neither of them worse for being tackled. Jose needs to work on his technique. Still, he prevented the night of free drinking that they'd planned.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Item From the Past: Springsteen '84

The main thing I remember about seeing Bruce Springsteen in December 1984 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was driving home to Nashville well after midnight that night. Staying awake was a dangerously intense struggle. My girlfriend at the time, who had gone with me, never knew that -- she was already asleep in the passenger's seat.

It was Sunday night concert, and at one point Springsteen said, "I know a lot of you have to work tomorrow. But you can call in and tell them that the Boss gave you the day off." If only. My struggle to stay awake at my desk the next day was nearly as difficult as the night before.

I also seem to remember that he didn't do much from Nebraska, though there might have been a few arrangements by the entire band that didn't come off quite as dark as the album versions. Then again, the lyrics of "Born in the USA" are fairly dark, though that can get lost in generally uptempo nature of the music.

That was the last time I went to one of his shows, though if I'd realized what he was up to in 2006, singing from the Pete Seeger songbook, I might have gone to his Chicago show that year (provided it didn't cost a few hundred dollars). But at least there's this on YouTube, for now: Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band, June 23, 2006, on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. What a joyful jam.

Link for Facebook.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Marina City at 50

Name that building.

This is a pedestrian's view of part of Marina City -- one of the two corncob-like residential towers of that pioneering mixed-use development -- in downtown Chicago, on November 22, 2010. The date is noteworthy because it was the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the complex, which also includes a hotel (originally an office building); an entertainment venue (these days a House of Blues); some restaurants (such as Bin 36, where I had one of my few three-martini lunches, except it was wine); a marina on the Chicago River (I have nothing parenthetical to add); and a bowling alley (I played there on February 2, 1987).

I remember that date so exactly because that happened to be the first day I worked for a certain downtown Chicago publisher, and by coincidence, the rest of the staff was going bowling there that evening. It was a fairly ordinary bowling alley in those days, but judging by the entrance now, it looks like frou-frou bowling.

I went to Marina City for a press conference on the 22nd, held by the Portland Cement Association in honor of the 50th anniversary. The PCA is fond of the property, and for good reason. It shows that concrete construction doesn't have to look like a communist-era bus station in Vladivostok. More about Marina City here.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Shoes For Tanzania, Fondue Sets for Namibia

Some years, December 1 means snow. This year, for instance, unlike last year. But not that much; an early breath of winter across the landscape. Just enough to dust the sidewalks and streets, but not cover the grass. As if to say, this is only a taste of things to come, fool.

Got a message from Lilly's junior high today -- at some point we gave them one of our e-mail addresses, and we never stop hearing from them -- about Shoes for Tanzania. At least that's what I'm calling it.

The message went something like this: "Rosa Luxemburg Junior High is currently competing as a school against Saul Alinsky Junior High in a used shoe/boot drive. We will be donating all shoes collected to an organization that sells the shoes, and all funds collected from the shoes puts orphans in Tanzania through school. Feel free to check out those places in your homes where the old shoes collect and send them into school with your child!"

I'd like it better if our shoes went directly to Tanzanian orphans, but I guess that's not how international charity works. Anyway, this is our chance to cull the many, many shoes we have around the house, jammed in closets, stored in boxes, tucked in drawers, abandoned in nooks and left who knows where else. A shoe census would be a daunting task around here, but I don't think counting will be necessary, just bagging them up and giving them to Lilly to take to school.

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