Sunday, January 31, 2010

Item From the Past: Weavermania!

Weavermania! was a fun show. Eight years later I can't remember exactly what they sang, but I'm fairly sure it included the likes of "Midnight Special," "If I Had a Hammer," "Twelve Gates to the City," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," and "This Land is Your Land."

The show was what I paid to see. Namely, a re-creation of the Weavers, since I spent much of that group's career not being born yet, and thus unable to mosey on down to the Village Vanguard to catch a show. Even by the time of the Weavers' final reunion at Carnegie Hall in 1980, I didn't know enough to find my way to New York to try to see it, though it would have certainly been sold out anyway.

I've found only a scattering of references to Weavermania! on line (most hits for the word refer to actual weaving), but enough to find out that Tom Dundee, who re-created the part of Fred Hellerman, died in motorcycle accident in 2006. Other members of the tribute band included Mark Dvorak channeling Pete Seeger; Barbara Barrow in the part of Ronnie Gilbert; and Michael Smith sounding very much like Lee Hays. This is pretty much what they looked like in concert.

That was the first and unfortunately only time I've been to the "new" Old Town School of Folk Music. Not so new any more, since the school has been on North Lincoln Ave. in Lincoln Square since 1998. When I first moved to Chicago, the school had its venue on Armitage, and I saw a few shows there, but I can't remember who just now.

Yuriko bought their CD for me after the show. Since it's a collection of live recordings, there are some spoken introductions to some of the songs, as they did during during the show we saw. My favorite is the description of old song "Eddystone Light," which I don't believe they sang at the Old Town.

"The next song tells a story," one of them (not sure which one) says. "A folk song that tells a pretty serious story about a man who was a sociopath -- a hermetic sociopath, actually. With the exception of one night, when he had an adulterous affair with a mythical sea creature. From the passion came three offspring. Of the three children, one was cannibalized, the other ended up in zoo his entire life, and the third boy lived in a lighthouse. One day, his mother returned after years of abandonment. The song ends with a curse. [pause] This is a children's song."

(Lyrics here; plays music upon opening.)

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mashed Potato, Meet Martini Glass

Mashed potato bars, I'm told, are not that unusual. It must be so; here's an article from 2003 that mentions the concept, going as far to illustrate it with mashed potatoes plus toppings in a martini glass.

That's exactly how it was served to me today at a commercial real estate event in downtown Chicago. There was a choice of "regular" or "garlic" potatoes, and the server scooped your choice into a large martini glass. The toppings were self-serve: bacon bits, bleu cheese lumps, chives, and so on. Pick up a spoon and eat.

When I encountered it, I thought it was a novelty. Soon I found out otherwise. I must not hang out at the right kinds of gatherings, or I would have known about the spud-in-a-glass creation by now. Be that as it may, it's a good dish for stand-around-and-eat kinds of events, because like cocktails or cigarettes, it gives your hands something to do.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fun on the Ice

For me the big ice puddle in the back yard is a hazard. Fortunately, there's no need to go back that way on a deep-freeze day in January. Lilly and Ann feel differently about it.

This was at about noon. It was a half day at school. "What do the teachers do the rest of the day?" Lilly asked me.

"Get together and tell stories about their students," I answered. "While drinking coffee. It used to be coffee and cigarettes, but now just coffee."

She knows better than to take me seriously all of the time.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Broken Hill Dust Storm

It was "warm" over the weekend, by which I mean above freezing even at night, resulting in a massive snow and ice melt. By Monday, temps were just below freezing, causing the vast puddles in the back yard to ice over but not solidify, so that our youngest resident had fun punching foot-shaped holes in the ice. I did a little of that myself.

The fact that today is Australia Day made me look around for some kind of video for the occasion. I could use some antipodal summer weather about now, but not like this:

(Link for Facebook readers.)(And another link, because they have
great slang in Australia.)

I was on a bus between Wilcania and Broken Hill all those austral summers ago, but it didn't run into anything like that. Too bad large parts of the country are drying up and blowing away.

Then again, it's always been a hard country, and the Australians have dealt with it. An example from The Penguin History of Australia by John Molony (1988): "There were places where neither bullocks nor horses were useful and other means had to be sought for transportation. Thomas Elder and his brother-in-law, Robert Barr Smith, owned or leased more land in South Australia than the whole of their native Scotland, and Thomas concluded that the vast distances would be well served by camels.

"In the mid-1860s, he imported over a hundred of them and within a few years the original herd had grown to thousands. In the wake of the camels, Afghans came to manage and drive the camel trains which became a familiar sight in the outback with up to eighty camels per train. The camel was used successfully in the exploration and in the building of the Overland Telegraph line from Port Augusta in the south to Port Darwin in the north, which was completed in 1872.

"For eighty years, the camels and the Afghans were an essential segment of the transportation system in areas impassable by other means, and the gentility and honesty of the Afghans remained in the memory of the outback long after the last of them had died or returned to their homeland. When it became possible to run a railway over the route the Afghans had pioneered through to Alice Springs, the train was named the Ghan in their honor."


Monday, January 25, 2010

Views From the Hubble Telescope

Late January is just the right time to buy a new calendar, I figure. The discount is steep but you still have a little more than eleven months' usage of the thing. I had that in mind on Saturday before noon when I found myself at a calendar kiosk at the Woodfield Mall.

I needed a calendar for my little office at home. Each calendar at the kiosk was $4, which is a next-stop-landfill price. The one I finally bought has a MSRP of $13.99/Can$16.99/£9.99, including VAT for that last one. Seems like the Canadians are getting the short end of that stick; I did a quick conversion at the useful and the loonie is stronger than that ($13.99 = Can$14.80).

Lots of calendars were on the racks, but few showed much imagination. The usual suspects include dogs, cats, lighthouses, sports stars, young women in small swimsuits, celebrities du jour, classic cars, and so on. Tucked away toward the bottom of one rack was "Space: Views from the Hubble Telescope," published by Pomegranate Communications of Petaluma, Calif., and Scientific American. That looked promising.

So promising that I now have it on my wall. The photos are as picturesque as you'd expect, clear and colorful shots of impossibly distant places with hybrid poetic-catalog names: Spiral Galaxy M71, Giant Nebula NGC 3603, Galaxy Cluster Abell S0740, just to name three illustrations .

Even better, there's more than the run-of-the-mill text on the calendar itself. U.S., U.K. and Canadian holidays are all represented, as well as the phases of the moon and the solstices and equinoxes, but so are birthdays and death anniversaries of an assortment of astronauts, astronomers, cosmologists and others.

The anniversary of certain launches toward space or encounters with other worlds are noted too -- and not just the ones you might think. Robert Goddard's first liquid-fueled rocket launch on April 16, 1926 rates a mention; so does Valentina Tereshkova's ride into space on June 16, 1963; and so does the French launch of its first satellite on November 26, 1963, the A-1 Astérix. And what was the next French launch? The Obelix?

The 20th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble telescope is duly noted on April 24. That also happens to be the day in 1970 that China -- Red China in those days -- launched its first satellite, Dongfanghong I, which transmitted the song of that name -- "The East is Red," to give its English title. Those were the days. Nowadays Chinese satellites probably transmit newer songs, such as "The East Has a Trade Surplus."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Item From the Past: A First Birthday

The seventh anniversary of Ann's birth is coming up. Six years ago on that day, I took this picture of one-year Ann enjoying a birthday cupcake.

This year's cake will be a little larger than that, and it's less likely that she will get any on her face (but not impossible). Friends of hers will come over next Saturday bearing presents, and they will play together.

No party theme necessary. The girls will make it up as they go along. Sounds like a good way to liven any late January day.


Thursday, January 21, 2010


Usually the pit of winter, which is now, only features unrelenting cold. Today was bonus miserable: No colder than freezing, but wind and drizzle.

Ran across something unusual the other day -- an intelligent comment in the text comments section of YouTube. Posted by one castaway50, it's under a clip of the last two minutes of the sixth episode of the first season of Mad Men, "Babylon."

Not too much background is necessary to appreciate the clip, or the comment, but it's useful to know that the characters at the very end are Roger, a senior partner at the ad agency, and Joan, the office manager there, who are having an affair. They dress and emerge separately from the site of their latest rendezvous, and stand apart as if they were strangers.

"The final shot of Roger and Joan on the street is absolutely gorgeous -- like an Edward Hopper painting," notes castaway50. "[A]nd the fact that the street is sloped in Roger's direction can't be a coincidence."

castaway50 is on to something. Here's the clip. And here's some Edward Hopper. The comparison is apt, whether that was the conscious intentional of the director or not. I wouldn't have thought of it without reading the comment.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There Once Was a Lawyer Named Rex

Experts claim that regularly partaking your evening meal with your children will promote their social skills or at least dampen their antisocial skills, or something. Whatever the impact, we're in the habit of doing so (though not quite every night), and things do come up for discussion at the table.

Such as the limerick. Lilly didn't know the term, so I suppose it's about time she did. Probably she knows the rhyme pattern whether she knows its name or not. I was hard pressed to think of an example because (1) I'm not good at remembering that kind of thing (jokes, either); and (2) some of those I can remember I'm not going to tell my 12-year-old daughter. She'll have to hear them from someone else.

There's something Disneyfied about clean limericks, anyway. But I did my best to make up a clean example, so she might remember what a limerick is. It's a poor specimen, but here it is:

There once was a man named Magoo
Who cooked up a really big stew
He used chicken feet
Which was pretty neat
But in the end it tasted like glue

More suggestive than dirty is one the late Ned Nabors, my Latin professor, told me, and which I actually remember after nearly 30 years. It was one he knew that used a Latin line, de minimis non curat lex, which is a legal maxim meaning "the law does not care about trifles [or small things]." I didn't tell it to Lilly because it seemed too complicated to explain right now. Maybe later.

There once was a lawyer named Rex
Who was poorly equipped for sex
When charged with exposure
He said with composure
"De minimis non curat lex"

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stones in the Snow

According to the North Suburban Library System's web site, the Elk Grove Cemetery is the resting place of "...two veterans of the Revolutionary War, Aaron Miner and Eli Skinner. Eli was too young to enlist in 1775, so he became a fifer at age 15. He came to Elk Grove with his family in the early 1830s as did Aaron Miner, who served in the Connecticut militia. Other soldiers buried here fought in the war of 1812 and the Civil War."

Messrs. Miner and Skinner must have been well advanced in years when they came west to Illinois, no doubt traveling with large extended families. Maybe their presence, along with a lot of other 19th-century stones, influenced the decision not to destroy the Elk Grove Cemetery when the Interstate was put through.

As mentioned yesterday, I-90 is a stone's throw away, but not only that, the cemetery is bounded by the highway's eastbound entrance ramp at Arlington Heights Road as well. Access to the cemetery is by a short road off Arlington Heights Road that curves around to its entrance and dead-ends there.

The cemetery is easy to see from Arlington Heights Road. At least, I think that's why a state cop car pulled up to the cemetery entrance to see what I was up to. He could see me from the main road. Since I was busy taking pictures, he must have decided that I didn't look like a vandal, and moved on without further ado.

I didn't see the Aaron Miner or Eli Skinner stones, but I also didn't spend time looking for them, since it was too cold to linger long. Overall there's a mix of 19th- and 20th-century stones, and a mix of Anglo-Saxon and German names, for the most part: many other Skinners and the likes of Smith, Peterson and Kingsley, along with Heimsoth, Scharringhausen and Schwantz.

But I looked more closely at a few others, such as this one.

I've never seen a headstone quite like it. On top is a small statue of a boy and a puppy; a plaque features only a single name, JULITO, born June 21, 1976, died January 11, 1982; and it also has "Love, Mommy" on it. A small silvery Christmas tree stood next to the stone, so it seems likely that someone still remembers her lost child.

This is a curious pair: a man named Foust who seems to have been a Civil War veteran, next to a child named McPherson who lived only a few days in 1957. Maybe there was some relation between the two, or maybe they were paired only by coinciding burial plots.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Elk Grove Cemetery

Here's an example of the essential selectivity of photos, or any visual image -- how, if framed just so, a small picture misses the big picture. Despite temps at roughly freezing, I visited a new cemetery on Saturday and created an image of a quiet, snow-covered God's acre:

It's the Elk Grove Cemetery. Snow-covered, yes. Quiet, no. Barely visible in the background is a traffic light on a six-lane surface road, Arlington Heights Road. To the right of where I stood, not captured by the camera, is I-90 -- the Northwest Tollway around here, but the same Interstate that connects Seattle and Boston -- maybe a 100 feet away.

But the noise of traffic wasn't all of the noise. Behind me as I took the picture, soaring over the cemetery and next to the highway, are electric transmission lines. They gave off a constant hum, different enough from the background traffic noise to not blend in with it. Those noises are the beginnings of an antisymphony; just add a jackhammer, chain saw and the noise of a jet engine for a real hellish din.

Still, I wanted to go there. I've been driving by the place for years. It must have been quiet once, since some of its stones predate automobiles and the use of electricity by mankind.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Item From the Past: Osaka 2000

In mid-January 2000, I wrote a letter about my recent visit to Japan, to friends of mine who had lived there when I did, in the early 1990s. Soon after, I modified the letter to include footnotes, which went to a person who had never lived in Japan, and who would have been mystified by many of the references. The following is a slightly different version of that second letter, footnotes included. Not ponderous or leaden academic footnotes, but fun-loving, fancy-free ones.

The best part of the long flight to Osaka was spent flying over the Yukon and Alaska. According to the map on the video screen, that’s where we were — almost up to the Arctic Circle, though the map wasn’t overly precise. I’d thought it would be dark, but it wasn’t exactly: a rim of sunlight illuminated the left (southern) side of the sky.

I was on the right side of plane, and underneath were frozen mountains and rivers and other topography, a pale whitish blue, just light enough to see. I spent a good many minutes looking down at this completely alien landscape. Only once did I see anything that resembled artificial light: a golden fleck, not twinkling nor moving (it seemed from 30,000± ft.). A beacon in the Brooks Range?

Most of my time in Japan wasn’t spent looking around for odd bits of information, or making comparisons the way it was five or more years ago. We had New Year’s feasts with Yuriko’s family and her sister’s husband’s family and (later) several of her friends. We also went out to buy things to carry or mail back. And there was, naturally, also the business of keeping Lilly fed, clean, sometimes amused, and so on. It was a busy trip.

But odd bits came to me sometimes. There's a TV ad campaign currently under way for Lawson (1). In it, Konishki (2) is “Mr. Lawson,” a vaguely political figure in an expensive suit — not off the rack, for sure — speechifying about the merits of Lawson. The first lines of one commercial are: “Boys, be ambitious. Onigiri, be delicious.” (3)

You might remember that first part as the parting words of Dr. Wm. Clark, foreign expert in the founding of the University of Hokkaido, to his students. Who wrote that line? Would a Japanese copywriter have the ear? Doubtful. Would an English speaker know the reference? Maybe, but it is fairly obscure. I’d never heard of it till I saw it on Clark’s statue at the U of H.

In other news: teenage girl fashion in Japan, at least to judge by what I saw in Namba (4), involves time in a tanning booth, white lip gloss, and shoe soles as thick as battleship armor, and about as ugly too. But no signs of Western decadence, such as tattoos or odd body piercing.

According to Yuriko, people waste... I mean, spend a lot of time on line in Japan these days, but the Internet is considered primarily a function of youth culture. On the other hand, many different age groups carry cell phones around; I don’t know if I ever saw one in pre-1995 Japan. The first place I remember seeing them in great numbers was in Hong Kong in 1990. I don’t think technology was the delaying factor in cell phone usage in Japan. I’ll bet what took so long was setting up the business cartel to offer the service. My favorite cell-sight was a guy riding a bicycle, smoking a cigarette and talking on his phone all at the same moment, when he happened to be tooling down a narrow street — what other kind is there? — at dusk.

The streets, as it happens, are the same unnerving mixture of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and me, the large pedestrian, as they ever were. The first rule of walking in Japan is still no sudden lateral moves. I suppose by the time I left Japan, I’d gotten blazé about it, but this time, while pushing Lilly in a stroller, I was all too aware of the street hazards. Speaking of motorized transport, it seems that a handful of bozos in Japan still have the wherewithal to buy SUVs. Just the thing for all those open roads in Nippon. Sometimes, you’d never know the country is in a depression.

Sometimes, you would. Parts of Nakanoshima (5) have become Hoovervilles. Except that Japanese bums don’t build flimsy little shacks, but instead string tarps over large collections of sodaigomi. (6) The effect of all those tarps is like cobwebs overrunning corners of a gloomy forest. There were even a few pitched at the entrance to City Hall, at least for the New Year’s holiday, when no one would be around.

Eikaiwa (7) aren’t completely dead, even if many long ago stiffed their teachers out of a last month's salary. To judge by subway ads, ECC and Nova persist. No signs of many others, though. And no nearly nekkid ladies advertising certain Moonie-owned conversation schools.

Other observations: There’s now a Starbucks on the Midosuji, near Yodoyabashi (8), and Yuriko says there are others, where there were none before. Despite the depression, there are new names in convenience stores: “a.m./p.m.” and “Family Life.” Mos Burger (9) is selling a curry chicken focaccia sando (10). Vending machine drinks are now ¥120, though I saw a few at the “old” price of ¥110.

That’s about it. We did make it to see the Daibustu (11), and one day went to the Flower Festival Memorial Park (12) — which, oddly enough, I’d never been to before. That was the only place this time around that was new to me. It’s actually a good park, certainly by Osaka standards: some open space, trees, etc.


(1) Lawson is the name of one of the most common convenience stores in Japan. It uses Roman letters for its name.

(2) Konishki was a sumo star in the early 1990s. And, at 600 lbs. at least, one of the larger in a group of large men. Hawaiian-born, he never reached the top rank — yokuzuna — but rather made it to the second rank, ozeki. Some thought this reflected prejudice against his foreigner status, but not long after he was denied yokuzuna, another Hawaiian-born foreigner, Akebono, did achieve the top rank.

(3) Onigiri is a rice cake, triangular in shape with its edges wrapped in seaweed and something — a plum, a bit of meat — in the middle. Lawson, of course, sells many of them. Lawson’s weren’t bad, either. Good bachelor food.

(4) Namba is a major transit node in the middle of Osaka. North from the main Hanshin Rail Station is a long fussgangerplatz popular with young Osakans.

(5) Nakanoshima is a long, narrow island formed by two branches of the Yoda River, which runs to Osaka Bay through the heart of the city. The Bank of Japan Kansai branch is on the island, and so is the Osaka Prefectural Office. Much of it is a park, with tennis courts, walking paths, public flower gardens, etc. There were bums there before the bubble economy burst, but seemingly many more afterward.

(6) Sodaigomi = literally, “big bulk garbage.” Old appliances, etc. Also cruel slang for retired salarymen who don't know what to do with themselves after a lifetime of long hours at the office.

(7) Eikaiwa are conversation schools, of which there used to be a number of chains. The one I had worked for previously closed suddenly in early 1994 (just before I left the country), stiffing its teachers and probably anyone who had bought lessons. Common knowledge had it -- and I think my source was good on this one -- that the Moonies owned one chain of schools. In any case, a notorious train ad for that school that featured a woman undressing gratuitously, though only her bare back was visible. By notorious, I mean among expatriates.

(8) The district just south of Nakanoshima, much of which is owned by Sumitomo. The Midosuji is the main street through the district, and one of the busiest in Osaka.

(9) Mos Burger. A Japanese hamburger shop. They make good burgers, including some using rice paties instead of bread.

(10) Sando = sandwich

(11) Daibustu = The Big Buddha. A enormous bronze buddha in Nara, housed in an enormous wooden temple (Todaiji). One of the wonders of Japan.

(12) I did not go to the the International Gardening and Flower Expo of 1990, which was open when I arrived in Osaka. I didn’t know many people then, and the Expo was charging some outrageous entrance fee (before I understood that that was the norm). “Flower Station," the name of the radio broadcasts from the Expo, was to my ears the best station in town. They hired American deejays, or deejay wannabes, and let them play whatever they wanted. A couple of the deejays were fond of saying words they never would at home, too.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

But No Postcards From Nietzsche

The verb used to be "surfing" the Internet -- how quaintly '90s -- but it's more like clearing your way through undergrowth with a machete. If you're not paying much attention, the path you've cleared will disappear again, and you won't be able to remember how you got there; and if you don't bookmark, you might never come that way again.

So how did I find the Nietzsche Family Circus? Only a few hours after I found it, I don't remember. "The Nietzsche Family Circus pairs a randomized Family Circus cartoon with a randomized Friedrich Nietzsche quote," says the site. "Refresh the page to see a new comic..."

I had to spend a few minutes with that. The best pairing I randomly created featured the eldest child, whatever his name is, standing in his pajamas next to a pile of presents under a Christmas tree on Christmas morning, saying, "God is dead." Was that really randomized?

The Free-Floating Dysfunctional Family Circus Archive v1.1.2, on the other hand, isn't randomized. It's astonishing how many dysfunctional captions there are.

I visited the resale-shop postcard bin today. Not my first visit there, but I try to hit the periodic half-off storewide sales, when the cards are 12.5 cents each. Can't beat that. Except today, when everything in the store was 75 percent off. Cards were 6.25 cents each. I bought 50.

Some depict places I've been, others do not, and a few are novelty cards. Out of 50, I bought two previously mailed cards without looking at them too closely. But I did see that they feature archetypical postcard messages, that is, along the lines of "we are here, it's beautiful here, we like it, see you later."

That shorthand is so well known that Jimmy Buffett was able to use for his own comic ends as recently as 1981 in a song called "The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful." But I suspect that future generations -- as soon as my daughters' cohorts -- won't be familiar with it.

One card was of Niagara Falls, sent by a Mrs. Wallace to a Mr. & Mrs. Joe Van of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The other was of the Blue Ridge Parkway, sent by Viola to Mr. & Mrs. H. Dede of Floral Park, New York.

On closer examination, the really astonishing thing is that these two cards were mailed within days of each other in July 1970 -- one definitely the 21st of that month, according to the postmark, the other maybe the 16th or the 18th, since the postmark is incomplete.

That by itself isn't astonishing. But what were they both doing in the same box in the same shop at the same time, considering that they went to different people in different states 40 years ago? Moreover, I picked them more-or-less at random out of several hundred cards. How did this happen? I'll never know.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg is Closed

I picked up A Country of Vast Designs by Robert Merry (2009) at the Schaumburg Township Library today, and it looks promising. The book has the kind of subtitle that's an invitation (for me, anyway) to sit down with it: "James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent." Wish I had time to start it today, but it might have to wait a day or two.

I also noticed a spanking-new Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobile Travel Guide), Southern Great Lakes 2010, on the new releases bookshelf. I've never used that series much, but I like to thumb through travel guides of all sorts. I'm window shopping, if nothing else. I looked at the Southern Great Lakes 2010 index and saw that Schaumburg has an entry, which is fairly unusual for Chicago-area guidebooks, much less a book that covers a larger region -- Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, in this case. I was intrigued enough to read the entry.

The entry has exactly three Schaumburg items and one of them is wrong. The Woodfield Mall is still open for shopping and the Hyatt Regency Woodfield still accepts overnight guests. But the Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg, at least the design-oriented museum at 190 S. Roselle Road, is long gone. It was here when we moved into the area six years ago, but closed later. I'm not sure exactly when, but it may have been as long as three or four years ago.

The Trickster Gallery, which specializes in American Indian art, is currently in the building that once housed the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum's Sculpture Park is still in Schaumburg, however, on public land near city hall, but that's not even mentioned in the entry (I've been there numerous times; one of these days, I need to post about it).

I've never been a guidebook editor, but I have been an editor, and I understand how troublesome compiling an accurate list can be. They're a lot of work, and you get zero appreciation when everything is right -- but complaints when something is wrong. Moreover, I'm sure editorial budgets at Forbes have been cut to the marrow lately, like a lot of places.

Still, the museum has been closed for years. It's a telling blunder, especially considering the bragging on the book's back cover: "On the ground correspondents provide up-to-date information on what to see and do in each destination." Do they now?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Buffy Tuesday

Maybe it's only that mid-winter quest for diversion, but for some reason I've chanced across all sorts odd web sites lately. Or at least sites whose existence is interesting, if not necessarily their content.

"Watcher Junior," for instance, which is subtitled "The Undergraduate Journal of Buffy Studies." I don't really need to read undergraduate papers with titles such as "Dawn as Ophelia: The Conflicting Femininities of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or "The Case for Faith: The Rogue Vampire Slayer's Search for Identity," but somehow I'm glad they're out there.

Soon I sent my old friend Kevin Deany, movie blogger extraordinaire, an e-mail about of the site, because he's told me of the wonders of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a number of occasions. Someday I will watch some of that show, on the strength of his recommendation alone.

Dees (to Kevin): We never had anything like this in college. Just the T.J. Hooker Viewing Society, of which I was not a member.

Kevin: Wow. It’s almost like a parody, isn’t it?

Dees: It is, but I didn't see any obvious tells. Then again, a certain slice of academia is a lot like parody.

Kevin: I’m awaiting word on serious academic studies of Chucky the Killer Doll movies.


Monday, January 11, 2010

That Old TB

At 5 p.m. today it was still twilight. I noticed that because I arrived home from an errand around then, and in noticing that I realized that the days are indeed getting longer. Not that that means the ground is any less buried in snow, the earliest layers of which go back to the last week of 2009.

Last Friday morning, Yuriko and I made our way to a small public health clinic in the northern suburbs, a little far from our part of metro Chicago, but the closest place to receive the swine flu vaccination for no extra charge. "Free," you might call it, but I do support the Cook County public health system through various tax payments. In any case, no out-of-pocket expenses.

Maybe the term "public health clinic" evokes drab waiting rooms, dingy corridors, surly employees and flocks of poor people waiting around for hours: the DMV of medicine. This particular public health clinic fit none of those stereotypes, though it was plain in the way that public buildings often are, say schools designed from the 1950s to the '70s.

A pleasant woman behind the main desk checked us in, we did a little paperwork, and then we waited for about five minutes -- not long enough, since I wasn't able to finish a magazine article that I started -- in a small waiting area with about ten other people. Once we went in, we were shown to a small doctor's office, and minutes later had H1N1 deposited up our noses. And that was that.

"What other kinds of services does this clinic offer?" I asked the desk woman on the way out.

"This is a TB clinic," she answered.

Swine flu, then, is just a temporary sideline. With any luck, I won't need the main services of the clinic, though in our time we can't quite be sure that a disease beaten back by dint of prosperity and antibiotics and public health initiatives will stay beaten back. Still, North America seems like a reasonably good place to stay TB-free.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Item From the Past: Summertime Oz

January 2, 1992

An image taken in southwestern Western Australia, overlooking the Indian Ocean. One reason (among several) for going to that part of the country was to see the Indian Ocean for the first time.

Up late and drove south from Myalup [Western Australia]. Wandered around the coast for awhile and arrived at Jewel Cave in time for a tour led by a pleasant blonde Australian. Impressive cave, especially the straw stalactite. Late in the afternoon, we came to the Lenton Brae Winery and looked around its Spanish-style "pressed earth" building, tasted a few wines and bought a few bottles ('90 Graves for me).

Went to a second winery, Wildwood, which wasn't as interesting, despite -- or maybe because of -- the attached trendy brasserie. Swam in the late afternoon in the ocean, until warned of stingrays in the area. Such warnings need to be taken seriously in Australia. Dinner at a Mexican restaurant in ________. Not bad, but mainly distinctive as the furthest south I'm ever likely to eat Mexican food.

January 6, 1992

I took this picture somewhere in Adelaide on that day, struck by the oddity created by two small handbills pasted over a larger poster, but especially by pleading and nonpunctuated upper one.

Good day tooling around Adelaide. In the morning I walked in the general direction of North Terrace, which is a row of museums. Was distracted on the way by bookstores. Among other things, looked at length at an enormous Macquarie Dictionary, which I plan to buy in Sydney as my largest souvenir. Spent time at the Rundle Mall, a fine fussgängerplatz in the middle of the city's grid. Lots of shops and people and street musicians on this fine summer day.

Lunch at a Malaysian storefront, Twain's. Chicken curry, rice, modest price. Made it to museum row and wandered into the Art Gallery of South Australia. Nice collection, chronologically organized, of Australian art -- by which they mean of white settlers and their descendants, starting in the early 1800s in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, but more nationwide in more recent times. A collection of Aboriginal art is in the nearby natural history museum; draw your own conclusions from that. Among other works, saw "A Holiday at Mentone" by Charles Conder and "Persecuted Lovers" by Arthur Boyd.

January 10, 1992

If you see a bridge you can cross, cross it. On foot, ideally. And I don't mean this metaphorically. I'm talking about literal bridges. This pic was taken on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Up late; got out of the house at about 1:30. Went down to Circular Quay and caught the ferry to Manly. Nice ride in a stiff warm wind. Returned after lunch in Manly -- another gyro -- and proceeded to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and walked across it, south to north. Matt pointed out the places he'd climbed on the structure as a reckless adolescent.

We rode a train back across the bridge and on to Darling Harbour, site of extensive waterside redevelopment: conference center, shopping and entertainment. We did no shopping, but we did confer at a pub, outdoors, and entertained ourselves by drinking Cascade beer. At one point, a 10-man bicycle passed by. Each one of the ten men was dressed like members of a barbershop quartet -- though I suppose that would be a barbershop dectet -- except for the bike helmets they were wearing. Instead of singing, each one played an instrument, so it was a small brass band on a 10-man bicycle.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Chilly Tweets

Under the cheery headline, "Harsh, Dangerous, Long-Lasting Cold," recently published a short article about the current cold spell gripping North America. Its last sentence was: "We of course will also send out valuable tweets via Twitter and you can join the cold conversation with tens of thousands of fans on"

Valuable tweets? Really? What's the value in that? A tweet about the weather is the equivalent of sitting around the stove muttering, "Yep, sure is cold out there."

And what's a "cold conversation?" Another fellow around the stove saying, "Yessir. So cold out this morning, I had to chop a hole in the air before I could take a piss."

The current temperature map's pretty interesting, though. It seems to be colder in places like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Nashville than it is here, and not much warmer in Dallas, Jackson and Birmingham. But it is January, after all. All bets are off when it comes to how cold it might get, even across the South.

The anticipated snow storm here today wasn't all that big. A few more inches fell, just enough to cover up the ice patches, but not enough to cancel school. Lilly was disappointed. Anything for a snow day.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dux Brand Festy Wow!

It's been a run of days lately to make me wonder when the last time anything outside melted. It turns out that the last time temps were seriously above freezing at O'Hare International Airport, location of the mother thermometer of metro Chicago, was on Christmas Day. "Seriously" in this context means above about 40 F. It was that warm for a few hours on Christmas, probably. Except for a high of 33 F on New Year's Eve, it's been subfreezing ever since, and there's more ahead. Plus a lot of snow tomorrow.

So I look for cheer wherever I can, even if it's the minor artificial cheer of brightly colored packaging at discount grocery stores. Better yet, I smile at the discovery of an intriguing third-string brand from a far-distant corner of the Americas: Dux brand Festy Wow! chocolate sandwich cookies. At 88¢ for nearly a pound of cookies (15.24 oz., or 432g), I had to have some.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the shiny white-and-blue packaging. And there it was: Elaborado por Compañía de Galletas Noel S.A. ... Antioquia, Columbia. I'd come across some South American Oreos. Little things like that can brighten up a dreary winter day, if you're open to it. Can we expect more of this kind of thing if the Columbia Free Trade Agreement is ratified by Congress?

Could be. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, "... the Colombia FTA also includes important disciplines relating to customs administration and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, the free flow of baked treats, government procurement, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protection."

I added the italics. Actually, I added the words in italics. Trade agreement language is normally so tedious.

Festy Wow cookies are a little smaller in diameter than Oreos, not quite as sweet, and not as good as Oreos. What makes Oreos best in class when it comes to chocolate sandwich cookies? (I was never a Hydrox fan, though they would do; and I know the defunct brand has partisans even now.) I couldn't say. Some je ne sais quoi in the formula, and Festy Wow doesn't quite have it. But they are tasty enough, and there's the bonus of learning the following phrase: Galletas de Chocolate con Crema Sabor a Vainilla.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Adrian Smith's Burj

I have a professional interest in the Burj Khalifa (Burj Dubai), so I've been reading a fair amount about it recently. Some of what I've seen is unimaginative What It Means commentary, as when the term hubris appears from the critic's tool chest, or comparisons are made to the Tower of Babel. Note, however, that instead of confounding mankind and his lofty ambitions with a diversity of tongues, this time around the Lord caused a real estate collapse. Not very Old Testament, if you asked me.

I haven't seen nearly as much written about what it's like to stand there and look up at the building, or go inside, now that it's open, or what kind of view is to be had from the top. It has to be impressive in person. Really tall things usually are. I doubt that I will ever make it to Dubai, but if I were in the neighborhood, I'd certainly want to take a long look at the thing, and not just because of the height.

" would be condescending to dispute that the tower is an impressive, supremely elegant edifice, or that it is nothing less than graceful compared with the plain cuboids from the age of functionalism or the gaudy, modern towers in places like Kuala Lumpur and Taipei," notes Business Week.

"According to the tower's US architect, Adrian Smith, the floor plan, a central core surrounded by three lobes, is patterned on the blossom structure of the Hymenocallis flower, a shape that simultaneously creates more visible surface area and reduces the wind pressure acting on buildings this tall," the magazine continues. "As it tapers upward, one of the three lobes is shifted slightly backward about every eight floors, an effect that is reminiscent of an Islamic spiral minaret and provides the tower with 26 terraces."

Adrian Smith (a Chicago architect, not just an American one) came to participate in a roundtable discussion my former magazine hosted in early 2002, so I've met the man. One of the points he made during that event was his dissatisfaction with the timidity of developers in the United States. At that juncture, even Donald Trump had scaled back his plans for his Chicago project, which Smith also designed.

Trump Chicago (formally, Trump International Hotel & Tower) has since been completed. I walked by the finished tower a few times during 2009, and even took a picture of it in September, which is to the left.

Not the world's tallest, or even Chicago's tallest, but it's a fine piece of work nevertheless. And like the Burj Khalifa, it will probably outlast me, you, Adrian Smith, Trump, the Emir of Dubai and various overintellectualizing critics of really tall buildings.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

A January Subject

Sidewalks runs alongside most of the streets here in the suburban wilds, and snowfall, like the sprouting of dandelions in about four months, divides homeowners into two camps. The snowblowing fanatics who have to remove every flake from the sidewalks now! As soon as it stops falling, if not sooner! (Just as dandelions must die! As soon as they sprout!)

Then there are the sluggards who take a more relaxed approach: it's one thing to dig out your driveway, especially if you have to drive on it. But the public sidewalk?

Maybe it's a small civic duty. On the other hand, during periods of prolonged subfreezing temps with occasional sunshine -- we're in one now -- ice forms easily on bare sidewalks, but not so much on those with a few inches of snow cover. A little snow melts, then refreezes. Snow has traction. Ice does not. Excessive snow removal has unintended consequences.

So it's easy to guess which camp I'm in. That's my rationalization, and I'm sticking with it.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Cup o' Kindness Yet

About 10 minutes into 2010, I asked my daughters to put on their coats and shoes and come outside with me into the back yard. The night was clear and too cold. The bright-coin full Moon was nearly straight overhead -- in brightness as close as it ever comes to being the Sun -- laying a moonglow on the carpet of snow below, interrupted only by gray patterns of tree-branch shadows. Ann noticed the tiny diamond sparkles in the snow before the rest of us did, but once pointed out, they were impossible to miss.

Won't be long, sometime in the '10s yawning ahead, before the girls are hanging out with their friends, not their parents, for the change of years. I hope so anyway, because it's something youth should do. Recently I saw Facebook pictures of my nephew Robert, 21, with his friends for December 31/January 1 festivities. I didn't know anyone in the pictures except him, but it all looked familiar. If my old high school friends and I had had Facebook on January 1, 1980, we'd probably have made similar postings.

I don't have any images from the first day of the 1980s. People weren't snap-happy in those days. I do have some from Day One of the 1990s, though:

By this time, old college friends. Left to right: Mike, Dan, Steve, me, Victor, Rich and Lisa, in front of the Golden Palace Restaurant in Boston's Chinatown (amazingly, it still seems to be there); photo taken by another in our party, Karin. A nicely composed impromptu group portrait of happy friends.

We had dim sum at the Golden Palace for lunch that day. More of a breakfast, since we'd stayed up till 4 or 5 that morning. Hard to believe I used to have energy for that kind of thing. I suppose I could still stay up that late if absolutely necessary, but I'm not sure I'd be quite so glad about things the next day.

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