Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen

Today I know more about “Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen,” than I ever have before. I read the Wiki page, of course, but that isn’t very meaty. A page on a site devoted to aviator Walter Lees is better, including bits of primary source material, or at least reprinting some.

Yesterday I wrote a short item about a trio of volunteers who helped build bicycle-powered pedal planes for an aviation museum. Non-flying planes, that is, the kind that kids tool around in for amusement and edification. I needed a headline. That request went to my synaptic warehouse, that sprawling place with an idiosyncratic and often infuriating filing system, overflowing with jumbles of memories, images, and logical reconstructions — or is it big ideas, images, and distorted facts? — and out popped “Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen.”

Perfect. I’m rarely so good at headline writing. But where did that come from? I wasn’t in the Junior Birdmen demographic, considering it was aimed at boys of the 1930s.

Later it occurred to me. I might have heard about it earlier, but I definitely remember Tom Lehrer mentioning it as a gag on one of his records, before he sang “It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier.” The early 1960s audience clearly understood the reference, because it got a laugh.

“Some of you may recall the publicity a few years ago about the Army’s search for an official Army song to be the counterpart of the Navy’s ‘Anchors Away’ and the Air Force’s ‘Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen’ songs. I was in basic training at the time…”

So today I did a small amount of checking on line about the Junior Birdmen phenomenon. Added a bit of information to the otherwise incredibly minor Junior Birdmen file somewhere in my synaptic warehouse. And no visit to the Internet for useless information is complete without a stop at YouTube, in this case to hear the song itself – which I don’t think I’d ever heard before.

Well, I can’t say completely useless information. I got a headline for a paid piece of writing out of it – one that the editors kept.

The Dangers of Philosophy

The DVD box for the movie The Clone Returns Home (2008) contains the following line, in red, and all capitals: WARNING: THIS MOVIE CONTAINS SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF PHILOSOPHY.

I understand the danger. I knew some guys back in college who OD’d on philosophy. It’s easy enough to do. You start out with Greeks, maybe even some pre-Socratics, then move on to humanists and German idealists, and the next thing you know, you’re strung out on Heideggerianism.

We have to return the disk soon, so I’m not sure I’ll have time to watch The Clone Returns Home, a Japanese movie about an astronaut who dies, is reborn in his clone somehow, and bad things happen to him that allow the audience to philosophize. I don’t mean to snidely prejudge the movie, since I haven’t seen it, but that’s my takeaway from reading the back of the DVD box. It’s probably an interesting movie, if you can suspend your disbelief about certain things, such as Japan having a manned space program.

I rarely get to see whole movies these days anyway, at least at home. Too many distractions. Sometimes I manage to see representative slices, such as a bit of The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) the other day. It might not have been such a great movie all together, but 15 minutes worth of 15th-century French and English soldiers hacking at each other was worth watching.

Skeletons in the Big Box

Yesterday I was wandering the aisles of a major warehouse store when I noticed a life-sized model of a human skeleton hanging at one of the endcaps. I had to investigate further. Turns out it was a bit of Halloween decoration for sale, along with some other items. Halloween?

I took a closer look. The quality was high, or so I imagined, not having spent much time with actual human bones, other than the ones hidden within our fleshy selves. Lilly was with me, and I said it was too good just to take out on Halloween. Better yet, we could get one and put it in a closet most of the year. That’s where skeletons should be, right?

— Or, I continued as we walked away, we can take one with us on our next road trip, and hang it in the motel closet. That should give the cleaning staff something to talk about.

— Are you really considering that? she asked.

— No, they might freak out and call the cops. Anyway, I forgot to check the price. But it’s probably too much just to spend on a joke. And we don’t have enough closet space.

Later I wondered, do other languages have a similar idiom to a skeleton in the closet, or is it peculiar to English? I was going to look into that, but I didn’t get any further than Skeletons in the Closet, the LA County Coroner’s Office Online Store. I found myself looking at it and thinking, is this for real? Does the LA County Coroner actually sell – or benefit from the sale of — clothing, cups, hats, key chains, magnets and the like? Looks like it.


Item From the Past: Lombok

Not long ago I saw the first 15 minutes or so of Hercules in New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie. I soon decided that I didn’t need to see any more, for the usual reasons (life’s too short, who’s going to give me those 91 minutes back?, etc.) In the age of YouTube, watching all of a bad movie isn’t necessary anyway, because you can watch the likes of this.

If you’re interested in a fittingly puerile review of the movie, there’s always this.

According to the imdb, the movie was made in 1969, released in early 1970. I wonder if anyone watching the movie in the theater had any inkling that the muscleman on the screen would ever be, say, the governor of a major U.S. state. Of course they didn’t.

Lombok was an interesting place. Drier than Bali, but still fairly green. This view near the town of Kuta, on the south coast of the island, shows the greenery.

We arrived on July 31, 1994, and stayed a few days. One of the persistent clichés about the island was that it’s “not as spoiled” as Bali, which wasn’t remotely spoiled, as in ruined by its popularity. Bali shrugs its lovely shoulders and the visitors pass through.

Still, that sentiment was in guidebook print, and I heard people talk that way, including one woman who was persuaded that the further east you traveled in the Lesser Sunda – Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and so on. — the better. I couldn’t say for sure, since we didn’t make it any further east than Lombok. But maybe she was just romanticizing poverty.

The Steel Globe

One thing this country needs more of: large, publicly placed globes. This stainless steel globe has been on Wacker Dr. in downtown Chicago, at the base of the Tower Formerly Known as Sears, since early 2010.

The Poblocki Sign Co. of Milwaukee fabricated the globe, which is 25 feet in diameter. The metal was polished by KMF Metals, also of Wisconsin, and the company is happy to show off its work (oddly, Poblocki’s web site doesn’t make such a big deal out of the globe).

Not as imposing as the 120-foot diameter Unisphere, nor as detailed, but still a nice bit of work.

Giant Planter Heads on a Major Metro Thoroughfare

The July 2 edition of the Chicago Tribune had this to say about the giant planter heads on Michigan Ave.: “Fifteen giant heads, filled with various plants, have taken up residency on Michigan Avenue for the summer. The Plant Green Ideas sculptural heads are the brainchild of Plant Green Ideas RRR, a Chicago not-for-profit committed to sustainability and are in conjunction with the Chicago Cultural Mile.”

We saw a few of them on Saturday. This is one sponsored by Italian Village, a downtown restaurant.

Better pictures are, for now, at the Tribune photo essay.

Buckingham Fountain

I looked at Oddschecker.com this morning and, as reported elsewhere, “George” is the favorite for naming the newborn child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Followed by James, Alexander, Louis – Louis? after Louis Mountbatten, probably, but so many French kings used it – Arthur and Henry. Maybe he’ll get all of those. I doubt I’ll live to see which regnal name he picks, anyway.

The longest of the long shots, and I’m only counting names that more than one booking organization is taking bets on, are Wayne, Tyler, Winston and Terry. Reportedly, Ladbrokes is offering 5000-1 odds on the prince being named “North,” or “Psy,” and Power Paddy’s giving 500-1 on “Rumpelstiltskin,” but you have to wonder whether they’re just having a spot of fun with those. “Zog” doesn’t seem to be in the running at all.

The favorites are OK, I suppose, though there seem to have been enough Georges since the Stuarts got the bum’s rush. The Windsors ought to reach a little further back to such kingly names as Offa, Egbert, Ethelwulf, or Ethelbert. If those sound too peculiar to modern ears – and they do – Alfred is always available. He was great, after all. But maybe those names are all too English, and would help goad the Scots toward independence.

We made it as far east as Buckingham Fountain on Saturday. Here Ann (left) and her cousin Rosie take a look.

It’s been some years since I’ve seen the fountain up close, which in full is called the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain, though I’ve never heard anyone call it that. It’s named for the brother of the philanthropist Kate Buckingham, who funded its construction and set up a trust for its maintenance back in the 1920s.

An interesting  blog called Connecting the Windy City has this to say about the heiress Kate Buckingham: “The Fulton elevator, the city’s first grain elevator, was built by her grandfather, Solomon Sturges. Her father, Ebenezer Buckingham, was also responsible for the construction of grain elevators and elevated railroads in the city.”

Ebenezer. Now that would be a catchy name for the royal child. And it would honor that great British inventor, Ebenezer Tweezer.

Back to the fountain. According to the Chicago Park District, “Edward H. Bennett designed the monument in collaboration with French sculptor Marcel Loyau and engineer Jacques H. Lambert. Inspired by the Latona Basin at Versailles, the structure is composed of four basins clad in elaborately carved granite and pink Georgia marble.

“The Buckingham Fountain, however, is twice the size and re-circulates approximately three times more water than its French counterpart. [Anything the French can do, we can do bigger.] Chicago’s fountain is also unique as it symbolizes Lake Michigan. Conveying the enormity of the lake, its major display… sprays water to a height of 150 feet from the ground. The massive lower basin features four sets of Art Deco-style sea horses representing the four states that border Lake Michigan.” Never heard that interpretation before, but why not?

“The Fountain’s water capacity is 1.5 million gallons. Depending on wind conditions, major displays use approximately 14,100 gallons of water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. Water is re-circulated from the base pool after the basins are filled and not drawn from the outside except to replace losses from wind and evaporation.”

Dwarfs on Parade

How is it that I didn’t know until yesterday that Belmopan is the capital of Belize, and has been since before that country’s independence? If you’d asked before yesterday, I would have said Belize City. But I was looking at a globe and chanced to see Belmopan starred as the capital. Has Belize moved its capital? I thought. (The globe was new.)

The answer is yes: in 1970. I’m shocked at my ignorance sometimes. A new capital was built in the late ’60s, as Brazil built a new capital for itself in the late ’50s. Apparently, Belmopan isn’t known as a hotbed of modernism like Brasilia, at least to judge by the kind of buildings featured in the Wiki article.

On Saturday Ann and I went to downtown Chicago. As we headed eastward on Jackson, we came across a sparsely attended parade along Dearborn. One of the cops on duty told us we could go ahead and cross the street – the next part of the parade was still off in the distance – and I asked her what kind of parade it was. The 10th Annual Disability Pride Parade, it turned out. (She just called it the “Disability Parade”; I had to look up the rest.)

I think we missed most of it. We did happen to see the marchers – or rather riders, since they all seemed to be in vehicles – for Little People of America, the nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families,” to quote the little people themselves. I’m glad to know that they embrace the terms “dwarf” and “dwarfism,” a fine old word reaching back into the mists of Anglo-Saxon to maybe proto-Indo-European.

Other things I didn’t know: the organization was founded by actor Billy Barty, whom I’m certain I’ve seen on old TV or movies. Also, October is Dwarfism Awareness Month, at least in Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico. The org seems to be working on having the federal government so designate it.

And there’s this: the strange story of the Ovitzes and Josef Mengele. The things you find out if you’re paying attention never cease to amaze.

Rainbow Over Diamond Head

A headline that Google News pulled up for me this morning: “Comic-Con Fans Get World of Warcraft Teaser Trailer. You Don’t.” The implication is that that’s some kind of bad thing, but I don’t see it.

Heat much of last week, then rain in the form of more than one short nighttime thunderstorms rolling through to cool things off. By the next day, most everything had dried off. The pattern: rinse, dry, repeat.

This photo has been captioned many times, but one recent caption is, “Only one human being alive on July 21, 1969 is not in this picture.” Never thought of it that way. Makes me want to read Michael Collins’ memoir, Carrying the Fire.

I have to be content with taking earthbound photographs, and mostly I am. I’ve always liked this one, taken on Oahu in July 1979. The transition from photographic negative to slide to print to digital scan to web page doesn’t really do it justice, but the image retains a bit of the original flavor. I’ve got three boxes of slides made in Hawaii that year and two more made in East Asia in the early ’90s, which are a little hard to appreciate in that format. One of these days, I might convert them directly to digital, but buying the equipment and taking the time are a fairly low priority among all the other demands on my money and time.

For some reason, I didn’t visit Diamond Head State Monument and climb to the rim in 1979. I can’t remember what went into that decision. I hear the view is worth the climb.


When it doubt, take a picture of a dog. Especially a photogenic one. Ann went on a spree of dog photo-taking recently. Included were some profiles.

Some closeups.

Many shots of the napping dog.

Of course, the dog isn’t always so peaceful. Ann also manged to catch her warding off imaginary enemies.

And greeting someone on the other side of the fence.

Her basset hound heritage is evident in this shot. The others seem to illustrate her lab side.