Send More Chuck Berry

Time for another winter break. The better to admire the snow drifts and icy sidewalks and salty roads and bare trees. Back to posting around February 2 — when I’ll still be able to see those things out my window and under my feet.

I didn’t know until recently that Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” a fitting song for the pit of winter, was included on the Voyager Golden Record. But so it was. Dark is space, cold is the void.

This handy JPL web site tells us that Voyager I, for its part, is now 19+ billion km from the Earth, or more than 126 AU, with a round-trip light time from the Sun of more than 35 hours (so that would be about 17.5 light hours out — not even a light day). The thing’s been flying for over 36 years. Lesson: space is really big.

I did remember that “Johnny B. Goode” went with the Voyagers. Probably because of a SNL skit that mentioned it.

Kreeg Antwoord: You see, it all started on August 20th, 1977, when NASA put up a recording of the sounds of Earth on Voyager I. A two-hour long tape included natural sounds of animals, a French poem by Gaugliere, a passage from the Koran in Arabic, messages from President Carter, United Nations Secretary Kurt Waldheim, music — everything from classical to Chuck Berry.

Maxine Universe: Uh — and you’re saying that the — another civilization has found the tape?

Cocuwa: Yes. They’ve sent us a message that actually proves it. It may be just four simple words, but it is the FIRST positive proof that other intelligent beings inhabit the universe.

Maxine Universe: Uh — what are the four words, Cocuwa?

Cocuwa: The four words that came to us from outer space — the FOUR words that will appear on the cover of Time magazine next week — are [he holds up the magazine: Send More Chuck Berry].

Hugo Z. Hackenbush For Congress

The first vote-for-me postcard of the next election cycle came in the mail on Saturday. Our primaries are sooner than they seem: March 18. The card touts the candidacy of a fellow running for Congress, with an emphasis on his military background. He once was a marine.

All well and good, but what are — let’s call him Hugo Z. Hackenbush — his core beliefs? Why, the postcard just happens to list some of them: Get Americans Back to Work; Traditional American Values; Peace Through Strength. Just to name a few. Glad Hugo cleared that up.

Notably absent on the card: any reference to an immediate family, which is unusual for this kind of card. There’s also no mention of the perfidy of the incumbent or any other opponent. Maybe he’s saving that for the general election. Still, that’s no fun, Hugo. Get out there and sling some mud. Illinois’ 8th District has seen that before.

Arcane Sunday Bits

More snow on Saturday, which probably removes the risk that we might see patches of ground again before sometime in March. More shoveling last night, though this time Lilly helped. That was the price of borrowing the car today.

Tenchi Meisatsu (Samurai Astronomer) was an interesting movie. As I was watching it yesterday, it occurred to me that I knew little about the pre-Meiji Japanese calendar, except that it had been borrowed from the Chinese, and tossed out in favor of the Gregorian calendar. Tenchi Meisatsu (2012) is the story of Yasui Santetsu, the first official astronomer of the Tokugawa shogunate, and his dramatized efforts to reform the Japanese calendar in the 17th century.

As the reviewer at the imbd points out, that’s an unusual subject for a movie, yet it’s effective. As a Japan Times reviewer points out, “it’s probably the best film about calendar making you’ll ever see.” So far, that’s true. I don’t expect to see an action thriller about Pope Gregory any time soon, and poor old Sosigenes didn’t even rate a mention in the HBO series Rome that I recall, though he seems to have been a character in the 1963 movie Cleopatra.

Another arcane matter: It’s never occurred to me to have a favorite map projection, but I know enough to find this funny. I’m fond of most any map, except for grossly inaccurate tourist maps. That is, the sort that have a few vague lines of actual geography, but which mostly sport drawings of famous places or random fun-time activities. They aren’t real maps anyway.

These are some interesting maps. Especially this one.

Party Like It’s 1984

Been a while – can’t remember how long – since I was on a good literary bender, so I decided recently that Orwell would be just the thing. I was inspired by George Orwell: A Life in Pictures, which is superb firm. It isn’t a documentary in the purist form – and “docudrama” doesn’t really fit either – but it’s well worth the trouble of watching all the parts as they’ve been posted on YouTube, starting with this one. (No embedding, or I’d do that.)

George Orwell: A Life in Pictures, a BBC production, originally aired more than 10 years ago. Which goes to show how easy it is to miss things. As the film points out, no moving pictures of Orwell himself are known to exist, so an actor stands in for Orwell, looking like him, and saying things Orwell wrote (e.g., “all writers are vain, selfish, and lazy.” Hear, hear.) The actor, Chris Langham, nailed the part. I wasn’t familiar with him; apparently not too long after playing George Orwell, he completely disgraced himself.

I took a look the other day, and among Orwell’s fiction the Schaumburg Township Library only has Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. That’s an awful lapse for such a good library. I was looking for the two novels I haven’t read, Burmese Days and A Clergyman’s Daughter. Later, I checked the shelves at B&N, and found all of his non-essay collection works except those two. Of course they’re available on Amazon, but that’s a last resort.

Right now I’m most of the way through Down and Out in Paris and London, a copy of which I own, and which I’ve read at least twice, but not in good many years. Later, I’ll re-read some or all of the others that I have, also unread for years: Coming Up for Air, Homage to Catalonia, The Road to Wigan Pier, Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Strangely enough, I bought my copy Keep the Aspidistra Flying at the Aspidistra Bookshop on Clark St. in Chicago about 25 years ago (a fine store, closed since the late ’90s).

A Billion Seconds Here, A Billion Seconds There

This evening just after dark, a bright full moon was visible – which has since been clouded over. It’s an apogee moon, which I learned from the ever-useful It didn’t look particularly small, but when I saw it, it was still near the horizon.

I also learned from that site that I’m getting fairly close to being 20,000 days old – one of the calculators will tell you how long it’s been in weeks, days, hours, minutes, or seconds between two dates, such as your birth and right now. I have a little more than two years to go before that curious milestone. With any luck I’ll make it. Thirty thousand is no sure thing, though.

In my case, I’m also more than 1.6 billion seconds old, or roughly 27.6 million minutes. As the surfers say, tempus fugit, dude.

Quantill’s Graves

Odd discovery for the day: the remains of William Quantrill seem to be buried in two different places. I was looking at the Wiki page devoted to the notorious raider and noticed, without apparent explanation, pictures of two gravestones for the man, one in Ohio, another in Missouri.

I looked into the subject a little further and this article has some explanation of it. Through a series of convoluted acts of skullduggery on the part of his mother and others, parts of Quantrill ended up in two different places, one close to where he grew up, the other close to where he made his name.

Reminds me of the two gravesites for Daniel Boone, but in that case there’s a dispute about where all of his mortal remain are – Kentucky or Missouri. In Quantrill’s case, the two states seem to have divvied up the distinction of having his final resting place.

Snack Food for Quetzalcoatl

Spotted at a warehouse store the other day: large bags of chia seeds. It’s apparently the same seed (salvia hispanica) that makes Chia objects the items of fascination that we all know, but now they’re touted as a food. A superfood, no less. According to one of the tag lines on the box that held the bags of chia seeds, they’re the ANCIENT SUPERFOOD OF THE AZTECS.

That made me laugh out loud, in the real sense, not in some shorthand way. Superfood of the Aztecs, eh? Gave them the strength they needed to get up and do what needed to be done, namely conquer their neighbors and sacrifice countless captives to their angry gods.

Reminds me of the commercials I saw long ago, touting the ingredients of Roman Meal bread as a superfood of ancient Rome — surely the food that powered Scipio’s victory over Hannibal at Zama. Well, maybe the commercials weren’t quite that detailed, but they did try to link Roman vigor with their product.

Bear With Me

“What kind of vegetarian are you, Eyebeam?”

 “I do my best to steer clear of bear meat.”

 Jan. 12, 1994

Today I sat down for a dinner of bear chili. This was my idea. I made it this morning, went off to teach in the afternoon, and came home to it a little while ago. Yuriko’s not home yet, since this is her night class night. The bear meat came in a can – no, came from a bear – anyway, the meat has lately been in a can, sitting on our kitchen shelf since I bought it at Chitose Airport in Hokkaido in October.

Am I contributing to the demise of Hokkaido bears? I don’t know. I do know that there are enough of them to frighten hikers in Hokkaido’s national parks.

2014 Postscript: This article, for one, talks of a lower population of Hokkaido bears because of “hunting and loss of habitat.” I faintly remember the bear meat chili being like chili with beef, only a little greasier.

Maneki Neko

Japan2013-14 019One more image taken in Japan recently by either Yuriko or Ann: some maneki neko at a gift shop not far from the base of Mt. Fuji. They’re the good luck cats that are nearly ubiquitous in Japanese retail establishments and are found in a lot of other places as well. We have one in our house on the same shelf as a few iterations of Spongebob, a pair of salt ‘n’ pepper penguins, a few painted eggshells, and the Ilanaaq figure I got in Canada, among other figurines.

The origins of maneki neko are obscure. As this article by California antique dealer Alan Pate puts it, “Considering how accepted the cat has become, and how dear the image is to the Japanese, few people seem to know much about it. How has a seated cat become a symbol of good fortune and prosperity? What are its roots? Why do some have the left paw raised and others the right? Why are some white, some black, gold, or even red?

“Given the nature of folk traditions, evolving over time, absorbing elements of local beliefs and customs, we may never know the exact evolution of the maneki neko… A casual survey of antique dealers in Tokyo and Kyoto reveals many curious interpretations and theories: They originated in Osaka. No, they originated in Edo (old Tokyo). They originated in the 17th century. No, they most definitely originated in the early 16th century. The left paw is for wealth and the right for luck. No, the left is for a drinking establishment and the right for merchants. No, the left is for business and the right for home…”

I can’t shed any light on the subject. I just know I saw them a lot in Japan, and I asked some Japanese about it, and the best answer I got was that the cat grabs good luck for you and brings it in, as it might a fish or a bird.

That Old Shitamachi Spirit

When I hear of something like the Tokyo Skytree, I react with a completely irrational thought: how could they wait to build it until it’s inconvenient for me to see it?

Tokyo Skytree Dec 2013During Yuriko and Ann’s recent trip to Japan, they visited the Skytree, which is now the tallest structure in Japan, and the tallest TV/radio tower on Earth, completed only in 2012 and coming in at more than 2,000 feet. The Skytree itself is a broadcast tower and tourist attraction, but it’s also part of a mixed-use development that includes office space, convention and meeting facilities, a theater, parking garages and more. The Tobu Railroad and a consortium of broadcasters developed it.

The tower also gives Japanese web site designers a chance to describe the place in English: “The ‘town with a tower’ promises a lifestyle that is not uniform. The facilities are developed with the aim of producing a community brand transmitting new local values to the world by generously introducing facilities and functions that will manifest the charm of the shitamachi spirit and produce a synergy effect.

“Note: Shitamachi means traditional old town area with Edo atmosphere.”

The observation deck’s got quite a view, my wife and daughter tell me. And what do you see?

Tokyo, Dec 2013A slice of the vastness of greater Tokyo.