Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chistmas Light Transition

We've slipped into the first extended freezing period of winter, but at least no snow is predicted for the first real day of the hard-cold season, December 1. But any time now, we'll get that first coating.

Not long ago we visited a big box store that specializes in DIY goods, but for the holiday season the store has a sizable section devoted to Christmas decor, gewgaws and gimcracks. We bought a net of LED lights promising eight square feet of coverage. They are indoor/outdoor lights, and I have a front-yard bush in mind for their use. This marks a small technological transition, our first Christmas LEDs. Future generations might marvel that anyone ever put incandescent lights on their trees, just as I puzzle about lighted candles on Christmas trees.

”While more expensive in stores than their incandescent brethren, LED lights burn for more than 4,000 hours compared with less than 2,000 for standard bulbs, cost 14 cents to operate a 50-foot string for 300 hours compared with $8 for C7s and $11 for C9s, going by Consumer Reports figures," says The Street in a slide show called "Six Holiday Traditions Fading Into Obscurity," which it says includes intensely hot Christmas lights. (Another "tradition" cited is the aluminum Christmas tree; my grandmother had one, and it fascinated me as a small child; but I'd call that more of a mid-century fad than a tradition.)

C7s and C9s are terms I'd never heard for Christmas light-bulb sizes. More detail than anyone needs to know about "Christmas lighting technology" -- except Christmas-light manufacturers, who would probably want to read it in Cantonese -- is at this Wiki page. But it is good to learn that bubble lights inspired a series of complex and lengthy court cases over patents, if this charming page, "The History of Bubble Lights," is accurate.

Until well into the 1980s, my family's Christmas tree included a '50s-vintage string of six or eight bubble lights, except that all but two of the globes had been broken or had burned out in the misty years before I was old enough to appreciate them. The missing lights had been replaced by regular globes. I took over the annual decoration of our tree some time in the early '70s, and had a great fondness for the two surviving bubble lights, one blue, one red, which I unpacked and handled and repacked with great care.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Teen Birthday

Strong cold winds this morning, and strong winds on Tuesday mean garbage cans in motion. Plus a variety of loose trash in the yard. So the first thing I did this morning was deal with that situation. More wind tomorrow morning, I hear, but at least the trash cans will be in the garage.

Lilly's birthday was before Thanksgiving, but her party -- a group of the usual suspects in the living room, these days including a sprinkling of boys along with the girls -- was on the day after Thanksgiving. All in all, she had a good time.

As usual, I took a picture of the cake.

She chose the wording this year. Anything you want, I said, as long as the bakery doesn't have to call me up to make sure I really wanted that on a cake. They didn't question her choice.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Eats

This year we went with beef for our main Thanksgiving meal. Tenderloin, as it happens. We're rotating through the meats. Maybe ostrich next year.

Also on the menu were baked potatoes, stuffing from a box, a green salad, rolls, two kinds of olives (it isn't a Thanksgiving meal without olives), and apple pie to finish. St. Julian brand sparkling white grape juice was the main drink. The bottle says, "Proudly Produced and Bottled by St. Julian Wine Co. Inc. Paw Paw, Michigan 49079." and "Try all 10 flavors of St. Julian 100% sparkling fruit juice." Think globally, drink fruit juice locally (regionally, anyway).

Breakfast on Thanksgiving featured something we'd never had before, but which I can recommend, namely Trader Joe's brand pumpkin pancakes. Being a Trader Joe's item, there's plenty of description on the box, of which I'll only quote a little: "... the sweet subtle taste of pumpkin and aromatic blend of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg." The ingredient panel says the mix includes allspice and vanilla, too. I wouldn't eat them all the time, but they were good for a change of pace.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Call of Duty: MW3, Grand Theft Auto & Best of All, Death Race

This evening I pulled up Google News and one of the Top Stories headlines was, "Mitt Romney's Dark Side: Presidential Hopeful Tried Cigarettes, Beer." For a moment I thought an Onion article had wormed its way into the standard Google feed. But no, it was from Reuters.

Early this afternoon, as I pulled up to a red light at a major intersection, I noticed a fellow on a unicycle cross the street on the other side of the intersection. Riding casually across, one-wheeling his way to his destination. That's the first time I've ever seen anyone on a unicycle here in the suburbs, unless you count the performers at the circus a few years ago, which was technically in the suburbs.

Come to think of it, I can't remember seeing too many non-circus unicyclists on the streets of Chicago or Nashville or San Antonio, either. But I did see kids on unicycles sometimes in Osaka, and heard that some schools teach it in PE class.

At the grocery store today, I bought a popular soft drink whose commercial tie-in at the moment is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The clerk, a young man in his 20s, asked me if I'd played it. I said no, not interested. He told me that the soft drink packaging includes (I think) some kind of code that gives players extra ammo (or maybe a kit containing one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; and three pair of nylon stockings).

Apparently the game was released last weekend, and for some this event was a big hairy deal. I know this because Lilly told me about it. The release caused a lot of chatter at her school, especially among the boys she knows. I asked her if she had any interest in playing herself and she said maybe, but among that kind of game she likes to play -- at other people's homes -- Grand Theft Auto. You learn all kinds of things about your kids if you pay attention.

By golly, I think I'm supposed to fret that such a violent game will affect my daughter in evil ways. You know, just like the urges people my age felt to run down pedestrians because of the primitive arcade game Death Race. Ah, the screeching wheels, the screams of your victims. Doesn't that take you back? No? Wiki asserts that "because of its limited production run and the number of units that were destroyed, Death Race is very rare today. Collectors will sometimes pay $2,000 for a working unit in good condition." If it doesn't have one, the Smithsonian needs to get one.

In the late '70s, Mike, a guy I knew in high school, and I would sometimes visit the airport in San Antonio and play games at its arcade room, which was usually empty in the evenings. Death Race was one of the games there, and we played it. It was probably all we could do not to commit vehicular homicide on the way home.

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That Which We Have

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Posting will resume next Monday. Eat meat or a meat substitute, entertain yourself and dwell on what you have, rather than what you don't.

And remember those pious puritans at the near-mythic First Thanksgiving, who ate freshly killed animals; sang and danced and played games with Indians; and got good and drunk. They'd had a hard couple of years, after all, and probably were just glad to be alive and able to celebrate an English harvest festival (with new native elements) on these new shores.

Since I live at some distance from the rest of my family, it's been difficult for all of us to join together over the years. But we did so for Thanksgiving 2001, in Dallas.

Left to right: Yuriko, me, Lilly, my nephew Robert, brother Jay, mother Jo Ann, nephew Dees, brother Jim, Eleanor (Deb's mother) and sister-in-law Deb. My nephew Sam isn't in the picture because he took it, and Ann isn't in it because she hadn't been born yet, making her appearance about 14 months later.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Item From the Past: Ishiyama-dera

November 30, 1991

"Warm and sunny day, flawless weather to visit the exquisite Ishiyama-dera. I went with Ed and Lynn, two former fellow teachers, and Americans as it happens, to the temple, which is in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. It's near the shores of unscenic Lake Biwa, the sludgepot that provides greater Osaka with its drinking water.

'No, that's not the best way to begin to describe Ishiyama-dera, which is set in the forested hills not far from the lake. You forget about Biwa while visiting the fine old wooden structures, which manage to convey their great age through their smell, somehow, maybe redolent of centuries of incense. This time of year, the temple also has the aesthetic advantage of seasonal reds and yellow. It augments the aura of esoteric objects honoring esoteric gods on remote shores."

Not much of a description, but I can fortify it with more information. "Ishiyama Dera was established in 749 by a Kegon priest named Ryôben at the request of Emperor Shômu (701-756; reigned 724-749) to enshrine an image of Nyoirin Kannon," says the Yamasa Institute's Japan Travel Guide. "At the time, the Emperor was praying for the discovery of gold to assist in his undertaking of the construction of the great Buddha of Tôdai-ji Temple in Nara.

"The Hondo, or Main Hall, designated a National Treasure, was built upon a great megalith, which contributes to the temple’s fame as one of the eight scenic views of Ômi, the Autumn Moon from Ishiyama-dera. The Hondo was built architecturally in a veranda construction style called 'Butai Zukuri'. The Tahoto Pagoda (treasure tower) was built by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1194 in the Kamakura period, and is the oldest of its type in Japan.

"Inside the Hondo is the Room of Genji, where Shikibu Murasaki created the plot of the
Genji Monogatari or the The Tale of Genji, a famous court story of the Heian period and believed by many to be the world's first novel. Murasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji, at Ishiyama on the night of the full moon in August 1004. The temple is mentioned in the Ukifune chapter of the story. A life-size figure of the author at work is displayed in this room."

I remember seeing the Lady Murasaki mannequin, looking pale and mannequin-like. Years ago I read the first few chapters of The Tale of Genji, a Charles E. Tuttle Co. publication (Tuttle Publishing these days) of a translation by British orientialist Arthur David Waley. My copy, a two-volume paperback boxed set, resides in one of the bookshelves near the desk, quietly reminding my that I'll never get around to reading everything I'd like to.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Go Greater Prairie Chickens!

Our village's quarterly publication, The Cracker Barrel, arrived today. From it I learn a number of things of local import, including the fact that the name of the new local minor league baseball team will be the Schaumburg Boomers. That puzzled me for a moment -- wouldn't that be better for an Oklahoma team? -- but the article helpfully explains that the team is named after the "male greater prairie chicken."

Those birds sound like this. Isn't the Internet great?

The new team will be in the Frontier League, which also includes the Beach Bums, the CornBelters, the Crushers, the Freedom, the Grizzlies, the Miners, the Otters, the Rascals, the Rippers, the RiverHawks, the Slammers, the ThunderBolts and the Wild Things, so I guess Boomers will fit right in. The old team, the Schaumburg Flyers, went kaput after the end of the 2010 season, and so no ball was played this summer at Alexian Field (often called Flyers Stadium, but no more). We attended a few enjoyable games there back in the '00s. Games featuring the new team will begin on May 25, 2012.

The water tower closest to the stadium is painted to look like a baseball. Until recently, it still had the Flyers logo on it, too. I knew the logo was going away, and toyed with the idea of taking a picture to document it, but one thing or another (sloth, for instance) kept me from doing so.

In late October, I was driving by with Lilly in the front seat with her camera, and I pulled into the median and told her to take a picture of the thing. It's not a high-traffic area, but I still didn't want to dawdle in the median, so I didn't change the car's position even when she said, "A telephone pole is in the way." I told her to take the shot anyway.

Of course, other people have taken better shots. But I'm still glad I bothered. Last week I noticed that the logo -- but not the seams of the baseball -- had been painted over, presumably pending a new logo featuring a greater prairie chicken.

It isn't the only sports-themed water tower I've seen. About 10 years ago we drove through the small town of Hebron, Illinois, up in McHenry County very near the Wisconsin border. You can't help but notice its water tower.

It commemorates the fact that Alden-Hebron High School won the state basketball championship in 1952, despite the fact that fewer than 100 students attended the school. Wiki asserts that it's the smallest Illinois school ever to win the title, and I believe it. There's a feel-good sports movie in there somewhere.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Social Media and Its Discontents

Hard freeze dead ahead. The first taste of the coming months, which always feature all the winter details: the icy crunch underfoot, the wind blast in the face, the snowflakes and icy rain and slush. But also the indoor sensations -- the whoosh of the furnace, the dim gray morning light in the bedroom, the trappings of Christmas.

I just checked my Facebook page for the first time in about two weeks, and it seems that no rogue programs are trying to link to dirty pictures there. "Over the past couple of days, many users have complained about finding links on their Facebook pages taking them to images depicting jarring violence and graphic pornography," the WSJ noted. "Although the way the latest spam messages spread isn't new, their content is more shocking than the typical scam enticing a free iPod shuffle."

Dang. I never get interesting spam. I'm mostly done with Facebook for now, anyway. It's refusing to repost BTST in my Notes section, which was its main job as far as I was concerned.

But it's possible for the site to waste your time even if you don't visit it. I put "Facebook" into the Google search box and the autocomplete suggested mostly innocuous words like banners, mobile, timeline, status, full site, emoticons, login home page, symbols, quotes. But when I put "Facebook is," autofill suggested is down, issues, is evil, is like jail, is stupid, isnt working, is not working, is like prison, is for losers, is bad. Even better, I then tried "Facebook wants" and got my phone number, you to pay, to be a tastemaker, to change, a phone number, money, photo id, your unborn child, to buy instagram, your kids.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Code for Efik is 144

I have on my desk a "Student Master Enrollment Form" that I need to complete to register Lilly for high school next year. In fact, I've already completed it. I just need to return it to the school, which I'll call Schleswig-Holstein High.

Some of the answer boxes require codes, including for language spoken at home. A helpful list of the three-numeral codes is on a separate sheet, listing 165 human languages out of the what -- 6,000? -- that are still in use worldwide (a dwindling number, I understand). The English code is 000, for example. Japanese is 011. Esperanto isn't on the list, but that's expecting eccentricity from a standard form, and that isn't going to happen.

I ran down the list to see how many languages I'd heard of. That is, the number I could associate with some part of the world or some group of speakers. That number is 112, including only those I'm completely sure of, though there were others I could guess at. Not bad, but I'm shockingly ignorant of many -- I'm guessing here -- African languages, the lesser-known languages of China, and maybe some stray Filipino tongues, with something from the diverse language stock of Papua New Guinea thrown in.

Efik, for instance, which is spoken by people who "inhabit the coastal area of South Eastern Nigeria and are very well known nationally and internationally partly because of the prominence of Calabar in Nigerian history and also due to their rich cultural heritage," according to the web site of Nka Ikem Esit, which says it's "dedicated to the provision of services that contribute to the socio-economic development of the peoples of Calabar (Nigeria), and minorities in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area."

I think "well known.. internationally" is a bit of a stretch, but then again part of the art of self-promotion is claiming you're already well known. From that web site, I also learn that "the Obong of Calabar is a democratic monarch, the paramount traditional head of the Efiks and the protector of the Efik tradition." Now that's a title, the Obong of Calabar. Apparently there was some kind of crisis in the mid-2000s regarding who would be obong, though the current title-holder seems to be Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V.

I could pursue more information about that subject by going down the rabbit-hole of the Internet, but there's only so far I want to take this tangent. Still, it's remarkable where a standard form can lead you, if you're inclined to follow.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Teeth & Bones

There will come a time when I see very little children's TV programming, maybe none if I play my cards right. Even now I don't see all that much, but enough to be amazed occasionally at some toy or other I'd never heard of. Such as Dr. Drill & Fill, a Play-Doh-based toy that simulates dentistry. That's a real toy? People really buy that for their children, even those who haven't expressed a desire to grow up and practice dentistry?

Maybe there's a market for this toy among the most demented kids, who like to re-enact scenes like this.

Ann brought home some mouse bones today. This was unexpected. She told me that the bones were created when an owl swallowed a mouse whole, digesting the good-and-soft parts, but later bringing the bones and fur up again. I'm not sure exactly where the school got these bones and pellets -- I like to imagine that the process involves a friendly farmer who owns a large barn staffed with hungry owls, and who cleans the residue and brings it to Ann's school for science class.

Ann's share is in a small clear-plastic Solo cup with a lid. Honestly, the pellets aren't that much to look at -- like fuzzballs that a vacuum picks up. But the bones are interesting. She picked them out of the cup and showed them to me: a skull, a jaw bone, some leg bones. "It's interesting and particular," she said.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Item From the Past: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Near constant wind today, but not the blustery, cold blow you usually get in November. It was an unusual day, more springlike than anything else. But it's a trick. Winter is bearing down on us.

Oddly enough, I have a soft spot for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the Shinjuku district of that city. During my very first walkabout in Japan in March 1990, I rested for a few minutes in a small green spot -- and there aren't that many of those in Tokyo -- not far from structure, which is about 800 feet high. It's an impressive skyscraper, designed by Kenzo Tange, and for a number of years the tallest building in the country.

At that moment the building wasn't finished. The skin was on, but there was still a lot of construction noise coming from the interior. In November 1993, when Yuriko and I visited Tokyo for a long weekend, we looked at the building from the same vantage. This time, I had a camera.

If the observation deck had been open then -- and I don't think it was at the time -- we would have certainly gone up for a look. These days not only is it open, it's free. Can't say that about to many things in Tokyo.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day 2011


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Give November Its Due

I went outside at about 1 p.m. and it was snowing. Big, full flakes. The snow came and went for a while, but none stayed on the ground. Later it was sunny. Then bleakly cloudy again. Cold but not quite freezing. This evening, we had a bright full moon. How much more November can you get?

November, not December. This happens every year, and every year I'm going to complain about it. Lilly was changing radio stations in the car today and came across "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Even Lilly was astonished, commenting that it's too soon for Christmas songs. It's enough to make you go home and queue up something to blast it right out of your head.

The Christmas Lite station is back on the air -- before Veterans Day, much less Thanksgiving. No thanks. Christmas (that is, the marketers' Christmas) needs to leave November -- chilled, melancholy, bittersweet November -- alone.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Boilerplate Apollo With a Sounding Rocket on the Side

I've posted about the Cernan Earth and Space Center before, but that was some years ago. The planetarium still has its modest collection of space artifacts, many of them associated with Gene Cernan, including the spacesuit he wore on the Apollo 10 mission, but also some spare hardware. Inside the building is a never-used lunar module ascent engine and a Gemini retro motor (Cernan flew on Gemini IX-A), among other things.

Outside the building is an Apollo test capsule, which is the white cone-shaped object in the photo.

"Having the same size, weight and weight distribution of an operational Apollo capsule, test capsule like this one were used by NASA and the U.S. Navy to practice ocean recoveries during the 1960s," notes a nearby sign. The space program argot for such a capsule is a "boilerplate," a term I learned reading about the Apollo program as a kid. It wasn't until later that I heard other uses for the word, including the paragraphs near the end of a press release that describe the company for whom the release was issued, and which are reused many times.

According to A Field Guide to American Spacecraft, this particular boilerplate Apollo is BP-213, one of a number scattered around the country. Most are at museums, as you'd expect. But one is (fittingly) at the Apollo Middle School in Hollywood, Fla., while another is (strangely) at a Dairy Queen in Franklin, Pa. At least it was as of 2007, says Roadside America.

Next to the test capsule is a Nike Tomahawk sounding rocket -- first stage Nike, second stage Tomahawk. The Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles says that "the first Nike-Tomahawk flew on 25 July 1963. The rocket could lift a payload of 45 kg (100 lb) to 370 km (230 miles) or 115 kg (255 lb) to 215 km (134 miles) altitude. The USAF launched 38 Nike-Tomahawks between April 1967 and November 1983, mainly on aeronomy and plasma physics missions. The last of almost 400 Nike-Tomahawk launches by any user was a NASA flight in November 1995."

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Cernan Earth and Space Center

Classic Northern November today. Gray, rainy, mostly leafless, though some yellows and reds are hanging on. Not too chilly, at least, and there was other good news from out there, beyond the clouds: the asteroid 2005 YU55 didn't actually hit the Earth.

On Sunday I took Lilly to the Cernan Earth and Space Center, a planetarium in west suburban River Grove, Illinois, named for the last (most recent) man on the Moon, and part of Triton College. It's a little far to go regularly, and it had been a while since we last went -- four or five years, though Lilly said she'd also gone there on an elementary school field trip.

The show, "Journey to the Stars," promised to be "a multimedia program that combines stars, video, panoramic scenes, planetarium special effects and numerous space images to describe what research astronomers now know about the birth and death of stars, how backyard stargazers can better understand the immense scale of the universe, and how humans have developed space probes and manned spacecraft to extend our reach into space."

The show promised, in other words, to cover a lot of ground. Or rather, cover a lot of space. So it did, with some narrative cohesion. That's my complaint about most of the planetarium shows I've seen as a adult. Lights go down, stars come out, and there's tons of neat stuff in space! This, that, and the other thing! I'm not sure what kind of thinking goes into writing like that, but it might be that since the show's for youth, any damn thing in any order will do, as long as there's enough light, noise and motion. A lot of cartoons seem to be created on the same principle.

"Journey to the Stars" was mostly familiar territory for me, but not as much for Lilly, which of course was the point of bringing her. Later I asked her what she hadn't heard before, and she said the prediction that the Sun was going to expand to a red giant in some billions of years and fry (or completely engulf) the Earth. The show offered that information in the context of the life cycle of stars, including stellar endgames, from supernovas or plain novas or mere expansions to collapses into dwarf stars or neutron stars or that famed bizarro celestial object, the black hole.

Naturally there was also some discussion of the Hubble Space Telescope, but no mention, not even in passing, of the other orbiting Great Observatories, the lost Compton (gamma rays), Chandra (x-rays) and Spitzer (infrared). Too bad. Individually and as an ensemble, they're marvels of the age.

Before the main event, the planetarium also showed the equivalent of a newsreel -- namely, what's in the sky in early November -- and a cartoon -- namely, a mini laser show, "Mini Pepper." The laser images danced around to three songs from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, mostly colorful Spirographic-like images, but sometimes laser-drawn representations of the lads in their day-glo band uniforms, except not day-glo but neon in outline. Interesting effects, but 10 minutes was about enough. I'm not sure I could have sat through a longer laser show, but then again I wasn't in a chemically enhanced frame of mind.

The Cernan web site -- which doesn't address the issue of chemical enhancement -- says that its equipment is "a Voyager V-17OWC laser projection system [that is] is one of the most advanced domed theater visual projection display systems in the world. Manufactured and installed by Aura Technologies Inc. of Chicago, Ill., this system represents the latest in state-of-the-art entertainment and educational laser display technology. The laser itself is a Color Pro krypton-argon water-cooled laser, which is capable of producing more than 18 quintillion color combinations, stunning special optical effects and dazzling aerial beam effects."

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Tippecanoe and the Comet Too

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Tippecanoe, so naturally I poked around a little and found out about other things. I have a knack for tangential learning.

Also 200 years ago, the people of the world were treated to the Great Comet of 1811 -- and presumably both sides at Tippecanoe saw it overhead. The Comet Primer says, "One of the largest comets in history was the Great Comet of 1811. It was one of the few comets in history to be discovered with a relatively small telescope at an unusually great distance from the Sun, in this case over half-way to the planet Jupiter's orbit. The nucleus has been estimated as between 30 and 40 kilometers in diameter. At one point during September to October 1811, the coma reached a diameter roughly equivalent to the diameter of the Sun and was a very notable naked-eye object seen by people around the world."

We need one like that to liven up the sky again in our time. After all, it's been a while since Hale-Bopp, and the 1811 comet sounds brighter yet (even though Hale-Bopp was bright enough to see within the city of Chicago). A new comet might help make up for the visual disappointments of the most recent Halley's and Kohoutek before that. Even better would be the entertainment provided by those who see the end of the world in such an event -- and there would be such people. Along with others to help them prepare for the end of the world, for a small fee.

The fine radio program Stardate did a two-parter about the Comet of 1811 recently. This is Part One and Part Two of the program, in transcript and podcast form.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Item From the Past: St. John the Divine Detail

On November 5, 2000, I did a walkabout in Manhattan, including a visit to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and some other points of interest. The cathedral is a magnificent house of worship, well worth the effort to get there from more commonly trod parts of Manhattan. (The cathedral also inspires crackpots. One web site I saw warns the world that "the cathedral tricks unsuspecting church goers into its occult house of worship," run by the masons. Ah, those masons.)

The three-ton bronze doors of the cathedral, which are works by Henry Wilson, and the Rose Window above the door, are justly famous. My photography of those famed features didn't turn out so well. But I did like this shot of some of the stonework around the doors, scanned in black and white. An assortment of saints, I assume.

If I've read my sources correctly, the work only dates from the 1990s, when British stonemasons came over to train Americans in the art for the purpose of continuing work on this famously unfinished cathedral. (Masonry being a lost art in the United States. Unless the masons secretly control everything.)

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Commie Plots

Forest Home Cemetery, part of which is the old German cemetery Waldheim, is gorgeous in fall. This is what it looked like on Wednesday at about noon.

It's also the location of the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument by sculptor Albert Weinert, which I mentioned recently. I last visited in 2002, despite the fact that I drive by the cemetery periodically on the Eisenhower Expressway, along with thousands of other motorists.

I didn't have a lot of time for yesterday's visit, but I did want to find a few permanent residents that I'd missed before, such as that all-purpose early 20th-century radical, Emma Goldman. I don't know how I missed her memorial when I first visited the Haymarket monument, since it's only a few feet away. A stone's throw, if you're in a reactionary mood. Anyway, this is her memorial.

And a close up of the bas-relief of her by sculptor Jo Davidson, who did a lot of portraiture -- quite a list.

Next to Emma Goldman are a cluster of plain, rectangular stones, marking the final resting places of other, lesser-known radicals. Most of the stones included fitting epitaphs. Among others, there was:

Elizabeth G. Flynn "The Rebel Girl" • Fighter For Working Class Emancipation

William Z. Foster Working Class Leader • Tireless Fighter for Socialism

Eugene Dennis Communist Leader • Fighter for Working Class Internationalism

Jack Johnstone A Life Dedicated to Human Freedom

Sylvia Woods Heroine in the Struggle

Wish I could have stayed longer. Sometime I want to hunt up Billy Sunday and Samuel Gompers, and spend a little more time looking at the funerary art.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Return to Showmen's Rest

Besides being the Day of the Dead, it so happened that I had an interview and property tour to do in west suburban Berwyn, Illinois, today. So my plans could easily be expanded to include visits to the west suburban cemeteries of Woodlawn Cemetery and Forest Home Cemetery (Waldheim), both in Forest Park.

I posted about Woodlawn and its Showmen's Rest six years ago. Has it really been that long? This time I brought a camera. It was a fine fall day, after all.

The symbol of the Showmen's League of America -- the organization of circus workers -- is an elephant. Four elephants flank the showmen's graves, and one is among the graves. Their trunks are down, as if in mourning.

Circus workers from 1918 to the present are buried here, most notably 56 victims of the circus train wreck of June 22, 1918. The Showmen's League web site tells the story. On that day, it says, "the Hagenback-Wallace Circus was scheduled to present its fabulous spectacle in the Show Grounds at 150th and Calumet Avenue in Hammond, Ind. At about 4 am while the train was heading toward Hammond, carrying 400 performers and roustabouts, [it] had to make a stop near Ivanhoe in order to cool an overheated wheel bearing box...

"An empty troop train was approaching at full speed from behind, piloted by engineer Alonzo Sargent, who had previously been fired for sleeping on the job. Ignoring the red lights and the efforts of a frantic flagman to signal the oncoming train, it plowed into the back of the circus train, destroying three sleeping cars before finally coming to a halt. A fire then broke out.

"Survivors of the crash, trapped under the wreckage, were unable to free themselves and escape the flames. An estimated 86 people died in the accident. No animals were killed. Most of the dead were roustabouts who had been hired hours or days earlier for the Hagenback-Wallace performance in Michigan City."

Many were buried anonymously.

Or identified only by what they did, such as the "4 Horse Driver."

Besides being a time of war and plague, 1918 was a bad year for U.S. train wrecks as well. The Great Train Wreck of 1918 in Nashville killed more than 100, and an accident in Brooklyn killed nearly 100.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

All Hallows' Inflatables

All Saints' Day turned out warmer than Halloween, even in the evening, with a touch of wind and a clear sky. Jupiter is riding high these evenings.

For years I never could remember which was All Saints' and which All Souls', even though I know All Hallows' Eve is the giveaway. Not that anyone asked or tested me on that; I just like to know my calendar. Anyway, all the saints come first. Of course they do. Hierarchy is hierarchy.

Never as common as Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations disappear a lot more quickly too. I took note of the remaining Halloween decorations when driving a few hours ago. Only handful of lights remain, plus a few glowing inflatables. Good riddance for most of those inflatables, I say. Really, what's the excuse for this?

Then again, Scooby and his pals do seem to run into fake ghouls with alarming regularity. Every day is Halloween for that crew.

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