Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Squishy Illinois

At the end of May 2011, the soil of northern Illinois is squishy. My main sample is my back yard, parts of which are still damp from previous weeks punctuated with days of rain, sometimes very heavy. But that's not my only sample. We visited Starved Rock State Park on Saturday, which hugs the southern banks of the Illinois River in LaSalle County, just beyond the pale of metro Chicago. Part of the park was inaccessible.

But mostly the trails were open. Down in Fox Canyon -- the park's "canyons" aren't very big, but they are steep -- the trail becomes a boardwalk that overlooks a bit of water. A bit more than usual, I'd say.

Most of the trails aren't boardwalk, but dirt, which meant a lot of mud. Enough to coat our shoes and the further reaches of our pants, and inspire some low comedy. That is, one or another of us nearly slipping and falling. I'd say that's the prehistoric, almost pre-human origin of comedy, watching fellow members of your clan slip and fall.

But at least the land was lush. A month ago, there would have barely been a green fuzz. A month from now (and probably sooner), the place will be swarming with mosquitoes, but only a few were active over Memorial Day weekend. This year's irritatingly cold May days might been responsible for that, in which case they weren't quite so irritating.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guns as Big as Steers & Shells as Big as Trees

Back again after Memorial Day weekend. This year, as it happens, the Monday holiday also falls on the actual holiday, which is May 30. It's fitting to remember the war dead of this country, of course, but also spare a moment for the servicemen of allied nations, such as the sailors on the HMS Hood, lost 70 years ago this week.

With that in mind, here's an unusual version of "Sink the Bismarck." I didn't know the Blues Brothers did a cover of the song, a bit of folk history originally written by Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks, but they did. Apparently the Blues Brothers' version was to have been in the movie The Blues Brothers, but it didn't make the cut.

Also, a scene from the 1960 movie Sink the Bismarck!, depicting the loss of the Hood. No CGI, but better for it. If you hear your inner Patsy whisper, "They're only models," the right thing to do is say shhhh!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Nichols Bridgeway

Heavy rains through most of the morning, which might be fitting for Towel Day. Today is also the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's famed call to send a man to the Moon by 1970. An audio of the speech is here, one that's is longer than the usual sound bite. Interestingly, the president asked for money not just for going to the Moon, but two other space ventures as well: a nuclear-power rocket called Rover, ultimately shelved in the early '70s, and weather satellites, which have proven themselves tremendously useful over the last five decades.

Seems like a lot of special things happened 50 years ago. Clearly, 1961 was quite a year.

After Robert's graduation from the School of the Art Institute last Saturday, we figured the thing to do was go to the Art Institute and look around. Even better, his status as a newly minted alumnus provided all of us with free passes, except for Lilly and Ann, who still don't need to pay to get in.

From the Great Lawn of the Pritzker Pavilion, one way to reach the Art Institute is via the steel Nichols Bridgeway, which begins at ground level, slopes up over Monroe St., and connects to the third floor of museum's Modern Wing, where there's a restaurant. You have to go down again to reach the collection of modern art in the Modern Wing.

Though the bridge has been open for about two years now, this was my first crossing. This is what it looks like from the ground.

And this is from roughly the mid-point of the bridge, looking back at the Pritzker Pavilion, with its distinctive Frank Gehry curlicues. It's a wide structure, the better (I guess) to make pedestrians more comfortable with the three-story rise.

Renzo Piano, architect of the Modern Wing, designed the bridge too. Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamen wrote: "Piano's bridge is a straight shot, consisting of curving steel sections that are welded together to resemble the hull of a racing yacht -- or, as wags would have it, the world's longest gutter. Sealing the nautical metaphor, Piano, who like many architects is an avid sailor, gave the bridge delicate, prow-shaped ends... from above Monroe, you can gaze out at the blue waters of Lake Michigan or through the skyscraper canyons of the Loop. At the end, you survey the sunken commuter railroad tracks that bisect the Art Institute. They are a vertiginous 50 feet below."

I also want to mention the bridge's engineers. Architects often enough get a mention, but not so much engineers. For this work, two firms won an award of merit for the work in 2009 from the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois: Ove Arup and Partners Ltd., who did the bridge superstructure, and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, who did the substructure.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Young(er) Robert

Today I went back to my photo box, where some prints are still in the photo developers' envelopes, while others are in albums of various appearances and vintages, and yet others are in stacks. If I did a census of all the photos by subject, my nephew Robert would probably be in fewer than Dees, who would be in fewer than Sam. Call it the birth-order effect, as it applies to childhood pictures.

Some years ago I read a comic strip in which the father of the family described the photos of his three children: the oldest had a large album of baby pictures; the next oldest had some stacks of unorganized prints somewhere; and the third child's photos were still undeveloped in the camera. That was still in the age of film, of course, but I don't expect digital photography to change the dynamic.

Anyway, I found the infant Robert -- a late '80s shot with his father, in the back yard in San Antonio. (His oldest brother Sam is lurking in the background.)

And one made about nine and a half years ago, in Dallas.

Not sure what's in his hand. Somewhere else I have one of him, also during our Thanksgiving-time visit to Dallas, brandishing a toy sword.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Graduation in the Park

Heavy rains with some thunder last night, though not an especially violent storm. The real violence yesterday was being directed at Joplin, Mo.

On Saturday morning in downtown Chicago under threatening spring skies, we attended the graduation ceremony of the School of the Art Institute Class of '11. Patti Smith, godmother of punk, gave the commencement speech. Or rather, a speech and a couple of songs. Mainly it was a "don't worry, follow your art" pep talk, and the songs were more the poetic Patti than the punk Patti. After all, the '70s were a long time ago.

Any outdoor event risks being rained on, and at one point fairly late in the event, sprinkles came down. Remarkable how fast the audience whipped out umbrellas at the first hint of water.

Pictured here is the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion, with an alphabetical-by-last-name line of undergraduates waiting to receive their diplomas. A lot of master's candidates had proceeded them. I was able to spot my nephew Robert as he moved forward.

Almost no one in line was wearing a cap or gown, which was optional for the ceremony, according to the school. All kinds of clothing were on view, including a woman who appeared on stage in her belly dancing costume -- or maybe it was, as graduate seminar participants might put it, a distinctive Middle Eastern style of dress, paying homage to a dance by and for women that serves as an expression of women’s empowerment -- and another woman in rollerskates, or maybe rollerblades.

After all that was done, I took a picture of Robert with his SAIC diploma-holder.

The actual diploma, as a note inside the diploma-holder said, would be mailed to him shortly. Meaning that the entire alphabetical line-up was unnecessary, strictly speaking, since everyone got the same empty holder with a note. It would have been more fun, and certainly less traditional, to pile up the diploma-holders and have the students rush the stage to get them. Prevailing paradigms can be smashed in so many creative ways.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Face to Face With the Bean

The Chicago Bean is easily the most popular public work of art in the city, and probably the most photographed one as well. On Saturday I stood next to the Bean for the first time in a few years, taking my own pictures, since who am I to reject the verdict of an adoring public?

I took a little extra time not only for pictures of the sculpture, but also of people taking pictures of the sculpture. I didn't capture it, but at one moment I counted no fewer than a half-dozen people on the same side of the Bean steadying themselves to take a picture of it. Of course it helped that, despite predictions of rain, it was a warm, dry day, although cloudy.

According to reports at the time it was built, artist Anish Kapoor disdained the nickname Bean, naming it "Cloud Gate" instead. That's the artist's prerogative, but if the public wants to ignore the formal name in its great admiration for the piece, he's a little churlish to complain about it. Maybe he's changed his mind since then. In any case, the girls were certainly fond of the silvery legume, and Lilly wanted me to take pictures of her near it, possibly to become her updated Facebook profile pic.

But we were only there a short time. Soon after we'd arrived, we heard that the graduation ceremony for the School of the Art Institute, which included my youngest nephew Robert, was under way. That's what we'd come downtown to see. Two nephews graduating from college within the space of eight days. How likely is that? From the Bean we made our way to the Great Lawn of the Pritzker Pavilion not far away. More on that tomorrow.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Small Kolaches & Big Airports

I didn't have the pleasure during this visit to Texas of going to the central Texas town of West, home of Czech Stop, a bakery well worth stopping at if you're south of Dallas but north of Waco on I-35. The kolaches are superb. I've never actually been there myself -- and how I forgot to stop there in '09, I don't know -- but my brother Jay and sister-in-law Deb picked up a box of the bakery's creations and brought them to San Antonio last week. I enjoyed a couple of fruit kolaches and a sausage roll before we ran out.

A Czech bakery in Texas isn't the oddity it might sound like to non-Texans. Czechs have been coming to Texas in some numbers since not long after Stephen F. Austin came, though most came in the years before World War I. The ever-informative Handbook of Texas Online has an article about Czechs in Texas.

I flew to Texas this time via Denver. That sounds like an out-of-the-way route, and it is somewhat, but that's what you get when booking Southwest; Chicago-Denver-San Antonio was the best price at roughly the time when I wanted to fly. Besides, I also wanted to look around Denver International Airport, which I still think of as the "new" airport in Denver, even though it's been open for 15 years. Not that I ever flew into Stapleton. When I came to Denver in 1980, I was on a bus.

I barely got a glimpse of the distinctive white roof of the airport on the return trip, when I had a window seat. It's supposed to evoke the snow-capped Rockies, and maybe it does, but I thought of teepees. A small town of teepees way off on the Colorado high plains somewhere.

On the transit to Texas, I had a chance to look around Terminal C, since my connecting flight was a little late. It's a spacious place, and you feel when looking out the windows that you aren't really near anything else. Which is true. The airport is far off to the northeast of Denver proper, occupying 53 square miles or so, enough acreage to make the facility expandable to accommodate space planes, if it ever comes to that.

During my transit back to Chicago, I barely had time to catch my connecting flight. Naturally, it was at the other end of Terminal C, so I was huffing along, not quite running, to get to the gate. Which brought to mind O.J. Simpson, once upon a time,
running through an airport with panache. That was the pre-murdering-his-ex-wife O.J., of course, but looking at the commercial again after so many years, I have to ask: just why was he running so fast, not to catch an airplane, but to get to his rental car?

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Happy Cow, Hunter, Texas

After my nephew's graduation last Friday, three cars' worth of friends and relatives went with him to Happy Cow in "Downtown Hunter, Texas," which is a few miles north of New Braunfels. Actually, Happy Cow, which is a Hill Country watering hole, seems to be much of downtown Hunter.

Hunter used to be much larger than it is now -- population 200, as opposed to 30 -- and in 1890, it included "two saloons, a barbershop, a blacksmith, a wagonmaker, a meat market, and a gin and gristmill," according to the Handbook of Texas Online. It still has the two saloons, if you count Happy Cow and Riley's Tavern, which is just down the road. I also spotted a concrete products facility not far away.

Dees and his band play at Happy Cow sometimes. The place is a steel building with a concrete floor, a bar, a few tables and games, a stage, some neon beer ads, and a larger-than-life portrait of Nolan Ryan. We came for lunch, which was bar food. The cheeseburger was mighty tasty, and a Shiner beer was just the thing to go with it. Those unfamiliar with Shiner beer, a Texas institution, should look here. These days, it's actually available in most of the states, but I wouldn't think of ordering one anywhere but in Texas, preferably at a Hill Country watering hole.

Even better, one that has belt sander racing sometimes.

We weren't there for the races, but this is the age of YouTube, so it's easy to get a sense of them. Even if it looks like whoever was holding the camera had had a good many Shiners before the races.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Early Dees

Since I posted an image of my nephew yesterday as a college-educated, grown man, I rooted around my poorly organized stores of physical prints this morning to find some earlier versions of him, taken by his father. Very early versions, in fact. This is him at about two months old, with Babar the Elephant King.

This photo is dated a little later, but also during his first summer back in the mid-80s.

Somewhere or other I've got a picture of young nephew Dees (and his brother Sam) jumping up and down on a hotel bed, but I couldn't find it, so that will have to wait.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Friday the 13th Graduation

Last Friday I attended a graduation ceremony at Strahan Coliseum of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. As the mass of graduates started to leave after it was over, they looked something like this down on the coliseum floor.

My nephew Dees, TSU Class of '11, is in there somewhere. But he's a lot easier to see in the pic I took outside of the coliseum a few minutes later.

As I pointed out to Dees, and will say here again, I'm happy that he graduated not only on a Friday the 13th, but 28 years to the day after I graduated from VU, which was on a Friday the 13th. The last time I went to a graduation was in St. Louis, when my nephew Sam graduated from Wash U., Class of '05. (My prediction then about Richard Gephardt is so far still true.)

The TSU event was pretty much what you'd expect, minus a long-winded commencement speech, though the president of the university did say a few words. There was no special guest, maybe because Kinky Friedman was unavailable.

A number of graduates had decorated the tops of their mortarboards, mostly with glittery designs, but a few with feathers or other 3D decorations, possibly inspired by Princess Beatrice's headgear at the recent royal wedding. I'd never seen the likes of decorated mortarboards before. Also, at the beginning of the event, the audience was asked not to use air horns celebrate. That was a new one on me as well.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Billy Murray, the Bee's Knees

No posting until Monday. Got a lot to do till then. I may not even have time to enjoy the new National Jukebox, though I did take a few minutes today to listen to some Billy Murray. After all, who doesn't like Billy Murray?

Otherwise it was day of small surprises. At about 3:30 on a very warm and sticky afternoon, a small dark cloud positioned itself over my house. That's what it seemed like -- there were clear skies elsewhere, but it looked liked a cloudburst had come to see me, personally. After a rumble or two, BOOM! The house rattled. Then clatter BING! The distinct sound of metal crashing to the floor.

But where? Some critical component of my house? So I did a quick walk-through. Nothing. But I know I heard something. I started a less-quick walk-through, and sure enough, discovered that the main towel rack in the downstairs bathroom had loosened and clattered to the floor, by way of the toilet. But that isn't a first for the rack. Each effort to secure it to the wall eventually fails, but usually not so dramatically.

Later, more clouds appeared, and it looked like we were going to have a full-fledged thunderstorm. But it ended up being a weird thunderstorm. A fair amount of thunder and some lightning throughout the late afternoon, even a visible bolt not far away, but as of now no rain.

Another small surprise: I happened to see a TV commercial today for some McDonald's confection made from lemons. It featured an anthropomorphic lemon, or rather a talking lemon head, as its spokesman. At first, the lemon complained about being unappreciated. Now, because of the new confection, he felt appreciated, and in passing he said lemons were the bee's knees.

I don't think I've ever heard that phrase before on TV. Kudos to some copywriter somewhere. We need to bring it back in time for the next decade called the '20s.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Suddenly This Summer

A chip of late June or even July broke loose and landed on today. That almost never happens here in the North. But it was a summer-like day, partly cloudy and temps within spitting distance of 90° F. With the bonus of no mosquitos.

This is another array of remarkable photos at the Atlantic web site, these from Russia, where the anniversary of end of World War II in Europe has not been forgotten. Not much of a to-do about VE Day here so many years later, but then again Americans are noted for their ahistorical attitudes.

That might not be so bad. Long historical memories are also raw material for bitter, bloody feuds. But even we might commemorate our victory now if, say, Canada had invaded us 70 years ago, occupied all of New England and New York, the Great Lakes states and the Pacific Northwest, and was only dislodged at the cost of 25 million dead.

Whether we visibly remember or not, the war's legacy is still with us. This series of photos, also from the Atlantic, shows that all too well. We might not test them any more, but the bombs are still around.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Spring at Last

Another certainty of spring: the ice cream trucks will come. And one did today, late in the afternoon, but just driving quietly down my street, not marking its passage with "Turkey in the Straw." How that song survived its minstrel days to become an enduring tune for marketing ice cream treats from trucks is a question for the ages. Or at least not something I need to look into right now.

A truck probably came by yesterday, which was warm, partly cloudy and pleasant. Kids were out in force on our suburban lawns, and maybe itching for ice cream. Most of my outdoors time was in the back yard, or more exactly the deck, so I might have missed any trucks. We have two new -- as in recently acquired from a Japanese family returning home, that is, so new to us -- deck chairs that needed to be broken in. They are reclinable, something like dental chairs, except that you move it by shifting your weight, rather than letting a small motor do the work.

The back yard honey locust hasn't shown its chlorophyll just yet. That will be along in another few weeks. Still, I wanted to position my chair under whatever shade the tree could provide.

This was the view from my chair just past noon on Sunday, May 8. The Earth kept moving, making small adjustments necessary every few minutes to keep the chair in a shady spot. But I can't complain. All problems should be so straightforward.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Item From the Past: East Hall Ensemble

May 8, 1981

Looks like we were in a good mood. We'd just finished our exams for the year. This ensemble of friends, formed during our sophomore year, had gathered one more time in Neal and Stewart's room in East Hall before we scattered for the summer and, in fact, the 30 years since then: Cynthia, me, Layne, Julie, Neal and Jim (left to right). Jim was my roommate, also in East Hall; the girls all lived in one of the nearby girls' dorms (Gillette Hall, if memory doesn't fail me).

I think Stewart took the picture. But the impulse to snap images, facilitated these days by cameras in every gizmo imaginable, was mostly missing then. This and three other photographs taken within minutes of each other -- probably because we knew it was unlikely that we'd get together again -- are the only images I have from that entire school year.

The length of my hair at that moment owed to the fact that I only had it cut during Christmas break and in the summer when I was in college. The was no ideological or aesthetic imperative at work, just that I couldn't be bothered to go to the barber more often. As for the Mr. Bill shirt, I think I'd gotten it for Christmas a few months earlier. At some later point in the 1980s, it vanished.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

There Be Dragons Online

I slew a dragon and built a fire today. The former figuratively. The latter literally. The dragon was some malware that infested our laptop, the sort that informs you rudely that your machine has such-and-such worm and demands you fix the problem via the only thing it lets you do -- go to a web site where the fix is "sold." All you have to do is hand over that string of numbers on one of your plastic cards.

Bastards. Somewhere in the world are bastards who create this kind of thing. But through a variety of maneuvers I won't bore anyone with, I obtained a download that offed the malware dragon. Not quite hand-to-hand combat with a fire-breathing lizard, but satisfying all the same when it actually worked.

As for the fire, I built the season's first in the back yard. But there were limitations. I didn't have that much charcoal left over from last year, so mostly I burned large sticks. Nice for burning, but a little uneven for cooking meat. Still, it was satisfying to get the thing going.

Then it rained. I covered the grill, so the meat continued to cook. The rain was brief but heavy, more of a cloudburst really. The black metal hissed as the raindrops hit it and smoke billowed out of the side.

I can't let the day pass without mentioning the flight of Freedom 7, which was 50 years ago today. I see that Google ignored it, which rankles a little. Last month's anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight was duly noted with a doodle, but poor Alan Shepard, the first American in space -- and, we should note, the second human being -- got none. He also happened to be the only one of the Original Seven astronauts to make it to the Moon, where he famously swatted some golf balls, though Wally Schirra was aboard Apollo 7 and of course Gus Grissom died in an Apollo capsule.

This is a dramatization of Shepard's flight from the fine series From the Earth to the Moon, a section of episode 1 that happens to be about half as long as the actual flight. Also, some footage of Shepard hitting those golf balls, which was in early 1971. And just to show that there's information about everything online, this is a page that takes up the question of whether he left behind two or three balls on the lunar surface.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Electricity That Courses Through Our House

Not long after reading part of a pamphlet that ComEd, our electricity provider, sent with a recent electric bill, I decided to look into that "too cheap to meter" business. According to one source at least, Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission during much of the Eisenhower administration, wasn't actually taking about nuclear power when he said that "our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter." He was just being optimistic about energy production in general.

The pamphlet is ComEd's "Environmental Disclosure Information," and it's fairly interesting reading, despite the utility's bragging about procuring x number of renewable energy certificates. Its best feature is a pie graph, "Sources of Electricity Supplied for the 12 Months Ending December 31, 2010." Since I buy all my electricity from ComEd, that pie graph describes where my electricity comes from, too.

Nuclear power is in red -- the figurative color of the fiery atom, I guess -- and it's 50 percent. Fully half the pie is red. The next largest slice, 38 percent, is black. For coal. Or more precisely, coal-fired power. Black for dirty coal. Natural gas-fired power, colored a less dirty gray, is 9 percent. That leaves 3 percent for everything else: wind power, biomass power, and hydro power. Each is 1 percent and colored green, brown and blue, respectively.

Nukes 'n' coal: that's the reality around here. Illinois happens to be the number-one U.S. state in nuclear power generation, with a summertime capacity of more than 11,000 megawatts. (And where does that hydro power come from? Illinois' dams are fairly small, I'd think.)

The disclosure also tells me that for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours ComEd produces, 894.19 lbs. of carbon dioxide are emitted, on average, along with a little more than a pound of nitrogen oxides; 3.7 lbs. of sulfur dioxides; 0.006 lbs. of "high level nuclear waste"; and 0.0004 cubic feet of "low level nuclear waste." Sic. Hyphens, please. I presume that the high-level stuff is the kind that will ooze lethal radiation for thousands of years.

Looking for a moment at my most recent electric bill -- not too cheap to meter, alas -- I see that it includes figures on our power usage last year: about 9,150 kilowatt-hours, which, according to handy figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is below the national average of 11,040 kilowatt-hours per household per year, though that's a 2008 number. So our annual share of carbon emissions, just from electric usage, is about 8,186 lbs., but since it's a gas, I'm having a little trouble visualizing that. Is it enough to fill up a bouncy castle, for instance?

Also, our share of that high-level nuclear waste in 2010 was 0.0549 lbs., or about 0.87 ounces. A modern (post-1982) penny weighs about 0.09 oz., just for comparison, so that's about 10 pennies' worth of material that'll fry your gonads. Doesn't seem like much, but I wouldn't want to take delivery of it.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Another Spring Ritual

Cold nights but warmish days. It was dry enough yesterday for me to mow both the front and back lawns, the first time of '11. Old habits of mowing re-asserted themselves: this patch of ground, then another one, then another, in a certain order. There were some extra tasks that came along with the first mowing of the season, however, such as trash collection from the outer reaches of the back yard, hard along the fence.

During the dead of winter, there's little reason to venture out that way, and so stray things collect there. Mysterious things. Just where did that small bent-and-spent can of Silly String come from? No matter, it has to go, since I don't want to run over it with the mower. That machine is old and beat up enough as it is.

It didn't take long to get back into the mowing groove. Grass became shorter and dandelions by the score had their salient parts cut away. But they'll be back. Were back, in fact, as of this afternoon. Some call them weeds. I call them visible evidence of biodiversity on my little part of the Earth.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

A Blow for Civilization

I decided to check my e-mail accounts one more time just before bed last night, and saw the no-extra-charge news feed that fronts the opening page of one of the accounts. That's how I found out that a certain mortal enemy of Western civilization -- make that civilization, period -- had been dispatched by the skill and valor of the U.S. armed forces yesterday.

At first I thought it was a speculative story, along the lines of "an unnamed source with ties to Pakistani intelligence officials says that Osama bin Laden reportedly slipped on a bar of soap in 2005 and died from complications of the fall. He was secretly buried in a secret location, according to the anonymous source." You know, one of those not-really-news items.

But no. It was the real deal. I'm a little sorry that I wasn't watching TV or listening to the radio, so I could see or hear a regularly scheduled program interrupted. But then again I guess "We interrupt this program..." is passé anyway.

Though I had much else to do today, I made some time to read about the event. Leon Wieseltier, who was at Lafayette Park in Washington last night, wrote astutely in The New Republic today: "This crowd burned nobody in effigy, nobody’s flag, nobody’s books. It had assembled to celebrate an entirely defensible act, whose justice could be proven on more than merely nationalistic grounds.

"After all, Osama bin Laden killed even more Muslims than Americans, and represented one of the most poisonous ideas of our time: the restoration, by means of sanctified violence, of a human world without rights. There is no decent man or woman anywhere... who does not wish to see this armed political theology defeated. If any death justifies rejoicing, the death of Osama bin Laden does."


Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Yabba-Dabba-Doo Virus

We spent the last few days of April recovering from a virus on the loose in the house. Last week, Lilly had it, then Ann, then me. Ann had to stay home from school on Friday, then I felt crummy on Saturday. While I was on the couch for much of that afternoon, Ann, mostly recovered, decided it was time to watch a lot of the fourth season of The Flintstones, a DVD set that was given to us some time ago.

I appreciate its spot in the annals of TV animation, and like it for the most part, but the show was never a top favorite of mine. A half-dozen or so episodes is more than enough at one sitting. Still, the season premiere that year, which guest stars Ann-Margret more or less as herself, is an exceedingly charming cartoon. Maybe that's because the show's husband vs. wife antics are toned down for the episode, with the addition of a musical score that's aged a lot better than the premise of the show. I don't ever remember seeing this particular episode in repeats, and I don't know whether my family would have been watching on the original airdate, September 19, 1963, but I wouldn't remember it from then anyway.

I'm mostly recovered from the virus now, and back at the word mill. So I saw the May Day Google Doodle featuring the anniversary of the opening of the Great Exposition of 1851, including the Crystal Palace, a steam locomotive, and the Koh-I-Noor Diamond, among other marvels of the fair and the age.

Does "doodle" seem the right term, considering how much planning probably goes into them? My own choice for today's doodle would have been dandelions, which have sprouted in great number on my lawn, other lawns, vacant lots, roadsides and other green patches that I can see. But that's just me being narrow-minded. The Great Exhibition is well worth remembering.

Among other things, The Guardian notes that, "the building and the original show helped create the English euphemism 'spend a penny,' meaning go to the toilet, after sanitary engineer and plumber George Jennings created the first public loos. The so-called Monkey Closets were located in the Retiring Rooms, and visitors, who were also offered a shoe shine, were charged a penny to use them.

"The first show was a big success and the profit made was used to found London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum." Full article here.

Those are all fine legacies of the expo. Never heard of "spend a penny," but it seems to count as old slang. Any museum that has full-sized copies of Trajan's Column, as Victoria and Albert does, is all right by me. Though overshadowed by other London attractions, I can attest that the Natural History Museum and Science Museum are also excellent.

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