Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Next '20s Just Isn't Going to be the Same

Spring break time and it actually still feels like spring, though they say cool (not cold) air is on the way. Back to posting around April 1. In the meantime we will not be going hither and yon, or even part way to yon. But there may be a few new sights to report on come April. Sights are sights, even if they're close to home.

I must be in an early 20th century frame of mind, since lately I've been reading The New Deal (2011) by Michael Hiltzik, an engaging work. Besides discussing the broader scope of the various economic and social policies under that rubric, the book also details the efforts of cabinet members and advisors, some of them mostly forgotten now, who shaped and executed those policies. There are also some wonderful asides, such as a discussion of how a photograph of plutocrat J.P. Morgan Jr. and Ringling Bros. midget Lya Graf at U.S. Senate hearings on Wall Street came to be (June 1, 1933).

Also, I've been watching some Max Raabe videos not posted when we saw him a few years ago. In the one below, he explains why the version of "Singing in the Rain" they're about to do isn't quite like the version from the movie. We heard him discuss this in English in his droll way, and then heard their exceptional rendition of the song. The clip has the added bonus of featuring the fetching Cecilia Crisafulli.

Please continue to pray for Deb, my sister-in-law, in her slow recovery, and for her husband Jay, whose life is quite difficult now.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Dread Zebra Mussel

It's a pleasant-looking place, but not all is well with Deep Quarry Lake at the West Branch Forest Preserve. Zebra Mussels have invaded. Signs all around the lake warned anglers not to participate in the species' invasion of North America.

"A small freshwater mollusk called the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), has been steadily invading America's rivers and lakes," says the National Atlas of the United States. "Zebra mussels originated in the Balkans, Poland, and the former Soviet Union. They first appeared in North America in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, a small water body connecting Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Biologists believe the zebra mussels were picked up in a freshwater European port in the ballast water of a ship and were later discharged into the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair."

Apparently they move in and take over, eating all the algae and other creatures that come their way. "Zebra mussels upset ecosystems, threaten native wildlife, damage structures, and cause other serious problems," the Atlas continues. "Millions of dollars are spent each year in attempting to control these small but numerous mollusks... Once zebra mussels become established in a water body, they are impossible to eradicate with the technology currently available. Many chemicals kill zebra mussels, but these exotics are so tolerant and tough that everything in the water would have to be poisoned to destroy the mussel."

Ah, another old commie plot still wreaking havoc.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

West Branch Forest Preserve

It was warm enough on Sunday to do this.

To do it comfortably, that is. Actually, it's been warm enough for an entire memorable, un-March-like week.

We visited the West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett, Illinois. The body of water that Ann stood next to was descriptively named Deep Quarry Lake.

Good for two things: fishin' and walking nearby. We did some walking.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

There's One Under Every Bed

The early spring means greening grass, but most of the trees are holding off. For all I know, it's the hours of daylight that touch of their leafing, not the ambient temperature. Mostly. A few are budding. Are they the bold pioneers in the arboral realm, or recklessly impatient? Thinking like that only goes to show that there's nothing than can't be anthropomorphized.

It's also the season of robocalls. At least until tomorrow, when Illinois holds its primary. The calls were pretty thick today, including the following, which my answering machine recorded and which I will transcribe verbatim, after the part in which the two speakers on the call introduced themselves. Why? It might be of interest someday when scholars ponder the opinions of the trog right at this moment in history.

First, a male and female voice introduce themselves by name, with the man identifying himself as a "Jew from Massachusetts." Then the woman says, "I'm a Christian from California. If you believe, as we do, that marriage and sexuality should only be between a man and a woman, please help us stop Mitt Romney."

Male voice: "As governor, Romney started gay youth pride day proclamations, promoted homosexuality in our elementary schools, and unconstitutionally ordered officials to make Massachusetts America's first same-sex marriage state."

Female voice: "Romney supports open homosexuality in the military, appointment of homosexual judges, and the ENDA law, making it illegal to fire a man who wears a dress and high heels to work, even if he's your child's teacher."

Male voice: "When you vote tomorrow, please vote for social sanity and Rick Santorum, not for homosexuality and Mitt Romney."

Female voice: "Rick Santorum is the only candidate who can be trusted to uphold traditional marriage, a straight military, and the rights of American children to have both a mother and a father."

Male voice: "This message paid for by Jews and Christians Together Dot Org," after which he gave a phone number.

This isn't a political blog, but for crying out loud. Is this what the Grand Old Party is coming to? The party of Lincoln and TR and Eisenhower and even Nixon and Reagan? The rational members of the party better hope not. To paraphrase Sgt. Bat Guano, some of these "core" constituents are all worked up imagining that the nation's deviated preverts are organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts. Well, I suppose it's tough to be on the losing side of social change, and not to have any real justification for reinstating the old prejudices.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

(Literal) Item From the Past: The Galena Mug

As predicted, the warm temps lasted through the weekend, which meant cleaning out parts of the garage on Saturday, which I didn't much want to do, and taking a long walk on Sunday, which I did.

The same weekend in 1989, it was cold. I remember that because I drove to Galena, Illinois, on (Friday) March 17 that year, and at one point on US 20 not far from that town, my car hit some ice and gave us a momentary scare. It was cold the entire weekend, but Galena didn't disappoint. It's a lovely town in the extreme northwestern part of the state, rich in historical associations, including a former residence of U.S. Grant.

I went to Galena because of Jim Post. In early 1989, instead of paying attention to the Super Bowl, that Sunday I went to see him do his one-man show, Galena Rose: How Whiskey Won the West. Amazingly, there's a late '88 article from the Reader about the show online.

"Though Post's soaring tenor pipes produce some of the strongest, sweetest sounds this side of heaven, the show is anything but syrupy nostalgia," wrote Hank De Zutter. "For it features flesh-and-blood characters -- Indians betrayed, a runaway slave recaptured and freed, an Irish fugitive caught with his pants down, a pioneer woman uncertain about starting over in a town without lace curtains, and Mississippi River poleboat men, fueled by little more than dreams and drafts of whiskey -- the whiskey, Post claims with ample historical evidence, that 'won the west.' "

I'm not sure, but I probably read the article when it was originally published, and it might have influenced my decision to see Post's show. In any case, Post inspired me to go to Galena itself. All these years later, the only physical reminder I have of the trip is this souvenir.

I'm glad I still have it. A lot of things have been lost or kicked around in the years since then. In this pic, it's holding hot tea, which is what I use it for more than anything else.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

March Weather Madness

This isn't March, it's June. Without much of the insects or greenery. A record high today. And they say it's going to last a few more days. I did not, did not want to be inside working today, but a number of items needed to be filed immediately if not sooner (it's always that way in the word biz). With any luck, we will still be able to luxuriate in the weird warm March over the weekend.

Not much time for idle blogging either, but my thousand words is posted with the pic of purple flowers growing near the garage. That flora has more faith in the continuousness of warm weather than I do -- there's got to be another cold snap soon. Maybe the entire month of April.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spiritual Super PACs

Practically May-like today. A warm sun was out, crocuses bloomed, and a few insects buzzed around my face.

Yesterday I passed through a nearby suburban train station and took a look at the give-away book rack, to see if there was anything beyond the usual bodice-rippers. There was -- a thin volume called The Next President. Subtitle: "Spiritual interviews with the Guardian Spirits of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum." By one Ryuho Okawa, published by Happy Science Publishing.

Time to go to Wiki: "Happy Science (幸福の科学, Kōfuku-no-Kagaku?) is a new religious and spiritual movement founded in Japan on 6 October 1986 by Ryuho Okawa with over 12 million followers in 85 countries [citation needed]."

By golly, it's a cult -- I mean, new Japanese religion, one of a multitude -- with an inside track into the guardian spirits of Republican U.S. presidential candidates. Wonder how those interviews were set up. Do you contact the spirit's celestial PR firm first?

Why doesn't Ron Paul rate a guardian spirit interview? I can't imagine that the guardians are public entities, so consulting them doesn't go against the philosophy of libertarianism. Maybe to show his independence, Rep. Paul turned down help from the spirit world. Stranger things have happened this campaign season.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

John Carter of Mars

It was warm enough to eat lunch on my deck. This is my idea of how spring should begin -- in March. But there's probably some kind of cold blast still in the works. It might have been a mild winter, but it isn't going to give up that easily.

When I read absurd things involving large sums of money, I go to the World Bank table of national GDPs for a sense of just how insane the sum is. The recent Disney bomb John Carter, I'm told, cost about $250 million to make, plus $100 million more or so in marketing costs. So -- are there any small nations with a GDP of about $350 million? Yes. Roughly speaking, Tonga, in 2010.

And to think, $100 million in marketing, which even reached the likes of me, didn't boost its prospects. A month or so ago, I saw a commercial for the movie. My reaction was entirely, "where's the of Mars in the title? Does it really have anything to do with Edgar Rice Burroughs?"

Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times said on Monday -- on its business page -- that "based on a century-old character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter was meant to appeal to young males. But a surprisingly older crowd turned up to see the movie this weekend, as 59% of the audience was over age 25."

Not so surprising, since I'm sure that the current crop of adolescent boys have little familiarity with John Carter of Mars. Former adolescent boys, such as me, are much more likely to have heard of the character, even read some of the books, as I did in early adolescence -- just about the right time for it -- starting with A Princess of Mars.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

An Everyday Infinite Loop

Got caught in a voice-mail infinite loop today. Caught only in the sense that I was stuck as long as I didn't hang up. Since it was an infinite loop, I had time to copy it down verbatim.

"Please enter the mailbox number of the person you are calling. If you have a mailbox on the system, press pound. For assistance, press zero."

Beep! That was me, pressing zero.

"Please enter the mailbox number of the person you are calling. If you have a mailbox on the system, press pound. For assistance, press zero."

I pressed zero a few more times, to get the sentence down, and see whether it would keep looping. It did. I was calling for a comment on a story. To be thorough in my reporting, I'm going to try again tomorrow, but looks like that one's going to be "could not be reached for comment."


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Walks

Saturday was warmish, so Ann and I visited Spring Valley, as we did about a year ago, before the plants start to green or many insects buzz around. The burned land we saw last year isn't blackened any more, and I expect it'll be verdant indeed in a couple of months.

This path wasn't in the controlled burn area.

Had a nice time near the pond, too. From the dock I spotted a large tadpole swimming near the bottom, about a foot down. He must be ahead of his tadpole comrades, since he was the only one around, and we spent a while looking for another, but no luck.

Sunday was even warmer, about 70° F. We all went to Mallard Lake Forest Preserve, which is now open again after some kind of wetland restoration work. It's also still mostly brown, but we did meet a few clouds of gnats and, off in the distance, saw a large flock of geese. They weren't going anywhere, but flocking in a sizable number high up in the sky. At times like that I think of The Birds.

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Bowling for Soup

Got a new client, so these have been busy days. I'm also going out for events now a bit more than I used to, which mostly counts as a good thing. Because sometimes I stumble across items like the following.

I went to a small expo last week and saw several structures like the one above. They were in the atrium just outside the meeting space. My notes fail me on what this particular item was supposed to represent, but as the picture shows, it's built out of canned goods, mostly ravioli and pork 'n' beans. It was built to raise money for the Northern Illinois Food Bank. You "voted" for the nonfresh food structure you liked best by putting at least a dollar in the collection box near it.

Not quite all the structures were built of cans. The one above, for instance, was called "Bowling for Soup." The lane is made of spaghetti boxes and the pins are bottled water, with only a few cans of soup holding up the boxes of Saltines. I liked this one best, so it got my dollar.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Objectivist Spam

Second windy day in a row, but at least warm. Genuinely warm, too, not the usual faux warm of early spring. Warm enough to take lunch on the deck, but the wind would have been distracting, so no leftovers al fresco just yet. It isn't really spring until I can do that.

Got an e-mail message from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights the other day. How did I get on that mailing list? I thought the erosion of privacy in the Internet age was supposed to earn me solicitations tailored to my mindset and inclinations. A related question: how come I never get unsolicited coupons for things I actually buy? You know, to encourage me to visit my usual grocery stores more often? It's not like the grocery stores I frequent can't keep track of what I buy.

Still, I was amused by the e-mail, which is an invitation to a "debate" later this month. The debate topic is Is Government the Problem or the Solution? Gee, I wonder how the minions of Ayn Rand are going to come down on that question.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Remember the Alamo

"The gallantry of the few Texans who defended the Alamo was really wondered at by the Mexican army. Even the generals were astonished at their vigorous resistance, and how dearly victory was bought..."

-- Francisco Antonio Ruiz, alcade of San Antonio in 1836 and supporter of the Texans; ordered by Santa Anna to see to the disposal of the bodies of the defenders of the Alamo.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

RIP, Steve Bridges

I read today that Steve Bridges died. I hadn't thought about him in years, probably because I haven't watched The Tonight Show regularly in many years (since an entertainer named Carson appeared on it a lot). I would never have heard of Bridges, in fact, except that I happened to be at the right place at the right time to see him live. The man had talent.

"Impressionist Steve Bridges, who used prosthetics and wigs to turn into presidents and laughs to make a living, was found dead at his home, his manager said Monday," an AP article by Sue Manning reported late this afternoon. "He was 48. Bridges returned from China on Feb. 23 and complained to friends of 'super jet lag,' manager Randy Nolen said. Bridges' maid found the comic dead about 9:30 a.m. Saturday in his Los Angeles home, Nolen said."

In early 2004, I visited the Boca Raton Resort & Club, which was hosting a national convention of a prominent real estate trade association. We conventioneers were promised a headliner as entertainment one evening, but not told who it would be. As I later wrote, "everyone was waiting for the unspecified 'entertainment' mentioned in the program. Rumor was that Jerry Seinfield was going to show up -- plausible, since the apartment landlords of the nation could come up with whatever his astronomical fee would be.

"He was mentioned because people had sighted Larry David, Seinfield’s long-time writer, at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. In fact, my associate Anthony saw David as we walked through the lobby earlier that day. I wouldn't have recognized him, but Anthony was sure it was him.

"The entertainment turned out to be presidential impersonator Steve Bridges, and it was a spot-on impersonation of Bush the Younger, one of the best I've ever seen of any politician, and outrageously funny."

I was glad to read that Bridges had a larger career than just doing George W. Bush, since there's only so much mileage a comic's going to get out of any one politician (though he milked it well). "Sometimes, Bridges would do shows without makeup that were titled 'Steve As Steve' and showcased his 200 voices — from Bill O'Reilly to Rush Limbaugh to Tom Brokaw and all the presidents from Kennedy to Obama," the AP article noted. Bridges might have died young, but at least he had more professional luck than Vaughn Meader.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sasaya Coconut Drink

The first weekend of March was as cold, gray and windy as any in early December or late February, complete with snow on the ground that didn't melt (some, anyway). It all represented a touch of the winter that was in short supply this year. Bah, who needs it.

Mostly I was indoors, though I did spend a short time at Mitsuwa, the Japanese grocery store in the northwest suburbs. My single impulse purchase during the visit was a can of Sasaya brand coconut drink, which happened to be discounted. Over the years I haven't had much luck with finding many East Asian canned beverages that I like, except for some of the vending machine offerings in Japan such as Simba Milk Tea (bought warm) and my favorite genki drink, Dekavita C. I haven't ever taken a cotton to any of the grass jelly drinks, for instance.

I put Sasaya in the refrigerator for delayed gratification, but in a few hours Ann found it and wanted to try it right then. So I split the can with her. Turns out that Sasaya is pretty tasty, looking like milk but not as heavy, and sweet with more than a hint of coconut. Small wonder, since the ingredients are water, coconut juice, sugar and "natural flavors." The nutritional value of the drink is low, except for a gram of dietary fiber and a lot of the saturated fat one needs to get through the day.

Sasaya is a product of AGV Products Corp. of Taiwan. Looking into AGV Products Corp., I found that -- according to -- the company also produces [all sic]: "Pickled cucumber, pickled lettuce, fermented oriental [?], pickling melon in sauce, jumbo pickled bamboo shoots, chilisauce, mo-bo tofo, tuna slice, dr. thompson congee:mushroom & chicken flavor, scallop & egg flavor, neo neo pearls, milk peanut soup, neo neo ten huba, red bean with jelly, barley drink, sugar cane asparagus drink, sasaya coconut drink, milk tea, ho-eat bifido yogurt drink."

I have to try me some Neo Neo Ten Huba, I think. But not any Sugar Cane Asparagus Drink.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Schiller Park Greyhound Track

While coming home from an event in Rosemont on Tuesday, I stopped for a light at the intersection of Lawrence Ave. and Mannheim Road (US 12), which is on the eastern edge of O'Hare International Airport and (I think) happens to be in the small suburb of Schiller Park. I noticed a sign I'd never noticed before, and I happened to have a camera handy. Normally I'd take such a picture for reference only, but it turned out reasonably well, considering it was taken on an overcast day through a car windshield. So here it is.

Former Site of Dog Track • Raced Greyhounds • Schiller Park Historical Commission (Bullet points added.)

So a dog track used to be here. O'Hare was built in the 1950s, so it must have been before that. Maybe on clear, moonless nights when the traffic isn't so heavy, you can stand near the sign and hear the faint baying of ghostly hounds, forever rounding the track to the cheers of Depression-era working men.

Curiously, according to testimony heard by the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce in 1950, "During the heyday of Al Capone, the Capone syndicate was in control of dog tracks in virtually every part of the country... The Capone syndicate czar of dog racing during that period was Edward J. O'Hare, who was killed in gang warfare in Chicago on November 9, 1939."

Edward "Easy Eddie" O'Hare testified against Capone in the early '30s and for that, we can be sure, he eventually bought the farm. He was also father of the fighter pilot Edward "Butch" O'Hare, for whom the airport is named, and who didn't live much longer than his dad, since he was killed in action in the Pacific in late 1943.

It seems likely that the Schiller Park dog track would have been in the orbit of the elder O'Hare. For all I know, the track might have been small potatoes to him, but he surely must have visited on occasion. I doubt that he could ever imagined something so important in the area would someday have the same name as him, though honoring his son.

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