Thursday, March 26, 2009

85/365 Boys Will Be Boys, For 45 Years

A couple days ago on my astronauts-were-heroes entry, a reader reminded me that Beatles were heroes too (and about Tang, but I never took to that part of astronaut-worship).

In the rough draft I actually did have the boys mentioned in the same breath as astronauts, but took it out in the re-write, not realizing anyone else had that particular world-view.

To prove the level of my Beatle addiction, here's two photos (back and front) of an autographed postcard, one of the first batch printed up from the band's Cavern Days.

When I finally got a real job (the kind that allows you to have an American Express card), they called to tell me I got the job, and set up my flights for the 2 week training session. They explained they would pick up the round-trip flight, plus all hotel and expenses for two weeks. PLUS they would fly me home for the weekend.

This was not good enough for me. I asked them to fly me to Chicago for the weekend, instead of home. Of course I had to explain that I already had tickets for the BeatleFest Convention that weekend.

Then there was a long pause, while my new boss re-checked my application with my birthdate, just to make sure he was hiring an adult.

While he was silent, I mentioned that flying me back to Chicago would actually be a couple hundred dollars cheaper than flying me all the way back home. At this point, it became no problem, no matter what reason I gave.

This is how I ended up at the 1982 Chicago BeatleFest, making my first *really expensive* purchase on my first credit card.

This particular postcard was signed by all four boys: Ringo in blue fountain pen, across the front,and the other four on the back side. They were all still enamoured of being well-known locals and being asked for their autographs, and the signatures are clear and sharp. These were the early days in 1962 when Brian Epstein had boxes of these postcards printed up for the boys to sign, then gave the cards to family and friends to help publicise the band when it played the Cavern.

Twenty years later, Ringo's step-dad found a small batch of these in the attic, and gave them to a friend who was running a Beatles store in Liverpool who brought them to the States, to sell at the Beatles conventions, to fans like me.

Not only did I acquire an authentic autographed postcard (and the authenticity papers), but I got to buy it from someone who had been on the inside so to speak.

So, yeah. Definitely heroes. No argument from me.

And while we're at it:

March 26 in Beatle history:

1964 - Pete Best (Beatles) appeared live on the TV show "I've Got a Secret."
1966 - The Beatles posed for the cover of "Yesterday...and Today."
1966 - The Beatles single "Nowhere Man" hit #3 in the U.S.
1966 - Peter & Gordon's single "Woman" hit #22 in the U.K. The song was written by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym Bernard Webb.

But I'm still not drinking Tang.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 84/365 March Madness

March 25, 1965.... Reverend Martin Luther King Jr leads 25,000 people in the famous "March on Montgomery" to draw attention to black voting rights (or the lack thereof) in the state of Alabama.

March 26, anti-war group called Women Strike For Peace leads the largest anti-war demonstration (250,000 marchers) in Washington D.C. since Richard Nixon had assumed his office

Looking at these historic photos puts me in a nostalgic mood for times when there was always a demonstration to go to, or a worthy cause to support.

Things were more cut and dried then, you were either "for us or against us", the enemy was easily identified, and the heroes were apparent.

Either life is considerably more complicated 40-something years later, or the lines have blurred between right-and-wrong, worthy-and-pointless, as well as productive-versus-beating one's head against the wall.

I thought of this last weekend when I saw that Washington was the scene of the first anti-war demonstration since President Obama took office. While I was happy to see that people are still anti-war, I also wondered what the point was, since our current president has been trending towards winding up our overseas military committments.

Even more importantly, the demonstrators were allowed free range, instead of being confined to a large, fenced area as they have been the the last few previous years. Think constitutional rights, dissenting opinions and all that.

Which led me to wonder what would happen if people took to the streets as they did in previous years -but this time in support of a safe food supply, environmental protections, and a massive push towards alternative energy development.

Maybe the internet is the new "march in the streets" and blogging the new way to hoist a sign. Probably more efficient - no more 21-hour bus rides to D.C. or cops with tear gas - but not half as memorable, and not much to relate to the kids years later. No overwhelming sense of patriotic spirit from finding yourself one small cog in a like-minded crowd of a quarter million souls.

It's so much easier now. But it sometimes it seems little is accomplished. Maybe it is time to go back to the streets. There must be something snappy that rhymes with "AIG Bonuses" to fit on a sign.

Did you notice that top photo? The one of the 54 mile Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery? Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr is there.

So is Coretta Scott King, in heels.

Back when choices were so personal, you just had to hit the streets and be counted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

83/365 We All Wanted To Name Our Kids Gus

In 1965, we were deprived -we had no Britney, no Beyonce - as 10 year olds we only had astronauts.

In 1965, astronauts were rock stars -they were all guys of course but even little girls dreamed of being one of the few who traveled into space. Every kid knew when a mission launch was scheduled, and everyone watched it on TV, holding their breath as the familiar countdown was given, and the final "Houston we have liftoff".

The year before Star Trek went where no man had gone before, two men went up in the first two-person space mission. Our kid logic on the playground saw this as The Beginning: if NASA could send up two people at once, then it was only a matter of time till we'd all be going, maybe in space cars or buses.

March 23, 1965 these guys made it look easy. Imagine yourself in their place, choosing to sit on top of a bomb someone is about to explode, hopefully not killing you in the process, but instead launching you away from the only known planet in the universe you can survive on, with no guarantees you'll be able to return.

Imagine that.

Gus Grissom and John Young completed the Gemini 3 mission safely. Almost two years later, Gus Grissom ran out of luck during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1. He and fellow astronauts Roger Chaffee and Ed White died when the command module caught fire. If Gus had lived, he would have been the one to take that first step onto the moon in 1969.

In 1965, we kids knew all the space jargon: pre-launch, "Houston we have liftoff", fire thrusters, boosters, second-stage engine,command module, retro-fire,splashdown.

And we knew what real heroes were.

All photos Johnson Space Center/NASA

Sunday, March 22, 2009

82/365 114 Year Old Batman, er, Batperson

The first version of Batman spread its wings 114 years ago today, well, sortof.

On March 22,1895, these two wild-eyed boys, Auguste and Louis Luminere presented their first demonstration of their fancy-dancy brand-new motion picture camera, the cinematographe, a nifty relatively lightweight machine that functioned as camera,projector and printer all in one.

The brothers made ten short films that lasted altogether a total of twenty minutes, most of everyday scenes, apparently during which women with giant batwings made a habit of flitting around Paris.

Neither brother viewed the machine as much more than a novelty. They thought people would soon grow bored with watching images they could see everyday in the real world (batwomen notwithstanding).

In December of 1895, all ten films were shown to the general public, one of which was a oncoming train pulling into the station. The audience screamed and ducked for cover, thinking the train itself was about to run through the theater. It was their Millenium Falcon, coming home to roost for the first time.

Small, lightweight, measuring just under 2' x 2'.

Fairly simple interior mechanism that pulled the film through by the sprocket holes running along each side.

And here we are, 114 years later, now able to spend the entire day at the movies watching....Batman.

Same bat time, same bat channel, same bat wing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 81/365 Victory Gardens, Or, Some Things Never Change

Some people are delighted with The First Lady's plans to put an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn, and some are manuring the idea. I myself am proud of her for channeling her inner Eleanor Roosevelt, and taking charge of a great idea, although I think the garden should be much, much bigger.

Lots of people aren't old enough (myself included, but I'm a history freak) to remember the Victory Gardens of World War II, and how Eleanor Roosevelt championed the cause. Eleanor was so beloved as First Lady that everyone accepted it as their patriotic duty to grow as much food as they could, the idea being that not only would it be easier to feed one's own family, but together we could feed the troops as well. The usually quoted statistics say that up to 40% of the nation's food supply was produced by private Victory Gardens. Not a Del Monte corporation in sight. The folks in the top photo converted their entire shared backyard space into food production. What do you want to bet they had a son overseas?

Then Vice-President Henry Wallace was even photo'd working in his own Victory Garden.

And even the Boston Commons was plowed up to plant a Victory Garden.

Various government publications were printed to help people figure out how to garden, especially in the cities. Every spare inch of open yard or vacant lot was fair game. It was and is a simple idea: You Can Use the land you have to grow the food you need.

In other words: We are Americans. We know how to be self-sufficient. We solve problems. We can produce what we need.

Even employers got into the spirit by opening up vacant fields or land surrounding office buildings and providing them to employees.

Imagine if 40% of our nation's food supply could be produced by *ourselves*. We'd know where it came from, what it was sprayed with, what was in the water we used, whether or not it was contaminated, and we'd save a ton of money doing it.

You go Michelle! Make the garden bigger, hire some local teens who can't find jobs to help with the heavy work, use the produce not only for the White House but for the local food banks, set up a cannery and put away the extra to feed those hungry folks this winter. Maybe some of the State governors will copy your example at their mansions. Then maybe the rest of us will too.

The only way things change is by someone taking the initiative and actually changing it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 80/365 Chewy Helps the Samoyeds Find A Home

The beautiful portrait of Chewy appearing on my profile was done by Jai, and he wants to provide a link to her blog today (3-20-09), to help the pups above find new homes.

All the details are on Jai's blog - go and read - and let's try to help.

Aren't they beautiful?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 79/365 I Promised Millie....

...That she could have her day in the moonshine county. She's the only little girl in a menagerie of five rowdy pups. Plus she is cursed with fine, uncontrollable hair, as well as having numerous "issues" that make her neurotic and nervous.

In Millie-world there are concerns about opening doors, closing doors, getting wet, getting dry,going up ramps, coming down ramps, getting in the bathtub, not getting in the bathtub, going outside, staying inside, and more than anything: grooming, including brushing and having nails clipped.

So we have a routine: we convince Millie to allow a bathtime at home, followed by towel-drying:

Then she allows one of us to run exactly four "stripes" of the clippers down her back.

At no point is anyone allowed to touch 1) her face, 2)her ears, 3)her legs, 4) her paws or nails, or 5) her fuzzy butt.

For this reason, the routine includes a trip to see Caitlyn The Much-Adored Groomer, who is allowed to do all these things, mostly because Millie is sedated. We fondly know this as The Magic Nap.

And I promised Millie that even though she is not a giant sea reptile, or Shakespeare, that I would put her newly-coiffed picture up today. Right after I reassured her that the bandana does not make her look fat.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 78/365 PredatorX, Pass the Chex Mix

(While reading this, softly hum the theme from Jaws to yourself. And everyone else in the room if they'll put up with it.)

This is a photo from Atlantic Productions, actually a recreation of what a newly discovered sea reptile would look like. The scientists have just found the fossils, so no need to cancel that cruise you have planned, but the fossil sizes themselves indicate this thing was GIANT*HUGE*ENORMOUS*! Think bigger and more powerful than T.Rex, maybe even bigger than Godzilla.

The skull fossil alone is 10 feet long, as are each of its front flippers, with the overall body length estimated at least 50 feet. The jaws (think alligator-but bigger) had a bite force of 33,000 pounds "more than 10 times that of any animal alive today and 2 to 4 times the bite force of T. rex." No comparison to Godzilla was given.

The fossils have been found on an Norwegian Arctic Island called Spitsbergen, 800 miles from the North Pole (what's left of it, thanks to global warming). There's a 3-week window of weather when it's warm enough to excavate the froze soil, and survive the cold nights, never mind it's an island inhabited by polar bears.

But here's the part I find most fascinating: the discovery team is from the University of Oslo (Norway); scientists from the Natural History Museum in London took CT scans of the skull, measuring its probable brain size and shape; and at Duke University in North Carolina, American scientists conducted wind-tunnel tests on models of the flippers, concluding that the lazy swimming was done with just the front set, but all four 10' foot flippers were engaged when choosing from the ever-present seafood buffet.

If people from Norway, London and North Carolina can figure out ancient Godzilla-like sea creatures, it would seem like the rest of us could work together to figure out modern-day problems, like say, the global economy, climate change and maybe even world peace?

While we wait on those answers, the History Channel is running a 2 hour presentation on the newest sea monster (and they said they didn't exist! All those old guys drawing those old maps were right, weren't they?). Check it out on March 29th

P.S. If you're wondering where we would fit in on the seafood buffet for our Giant Friend, we'd be like the little pretzels in Chex Mix, or possibly popcorn shrimp - he'd just be tossing us back one after the other with a beer chaser, complaining about how he can't eat just one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day 77/365 Graffiti

What a week for history - first Shakespeare's portrait is revealed, and now the Smithsonian has confirmed a rumor about an inscription on Abraham Lincoln's watch.

It seems in April 1861, the President's watch was in the repair shop - the first watch he had ever owned. While the watch was in hand, a co-worker ran in with the news that Fort Sumter had been fired on, and Jonathan Dillan decided to write down his reaction, not on paper, but by scratching it into the interior of the President's watch.

Even though he recalled doing this 45 days later, in a 1906 New York Times article no less, there was no rush to actually check the watch. His recollection of what he wrote was a little more prosaic, and shows the benefit of hindsight (as any of us would recall exactly what we said on 9-11).

Finally, after decades of rumors, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History decided to open the watch this last Tuesday. And there is was, a mini time-capsule:

"Jonathan Dillon April 13-1861 Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon"
and below it: April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon"

Due to the slower communications of the time, the inscription actual marks the date Mr. Dillon learned of the event at Fort Sumter, a day after the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

Mr. Dillon also mentioned in the interview that he was the only Union sympathizer in the shop, a fact that became apparent when the watch movement was turned over and another inscription appeared:

"LE Gorfs Sept 1864 Wash D.C. Jeff Davis"

Read the whole story and see their other photos at
or better yet, if you live close enough, go and visit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 76/365 A Painting By Any Other Name

Looked what's popped up! First painted in 1610, this almost-definitely Shakespeare portrait is the the only one thought to have been painted in his lifetime. Originally it was commissioned by Shakepeare's patron the Earl of Southampton. At least the experts are 90% sure it's Shakespeare.

Me? I'll be the first to say I hope it is - he looks exactly like I always wanted Shakepeare to look (surprisingly like Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love).

I'm one of those pompous people that say they LOVE Shakespeare -mostly because I do.

My first exposure was to Franco Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet, which remains the most authentic production to date, although it's known that troubadors were telling the tale a good two hundred years before Will picked up his quill pen. It's still one of my top 5 movies of all time.

A year or so later, when I was in high school, my English teacher arranged an all-day field trip to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis for a staging of Midsummer Night's Dream. Like all the other kids, I immediately signed up, sensing a chance for a day out of class, the allure of an all-day/all-night bus ride with my boyfriend, and, oh yeah, The Play.

Little did I know I would be sucked in by Shakespeare.

Actually, I think everyone in the class was. Whether it was a tribute to the Bard or the incredible cast of the Guthrie, every single one of us was entranced during the play. Afterwards during the long ride home on the bus, Midsummer was the topic of discussion - and there was no teacher leading us on (she was crashed out sleeping in the front row).

So welcome to the new painting! After all:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
Romeo and Juliet ( Quote Act II, Sc. II).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day 75/365 Our Town

Spent this afternoon with DD at the local historical society and picked up these nifty postcards of Rocky Mount, taken in the 1900-1920's. While the postcards don't document it, this would be during Prohibition, when our county was the "wettest county in the world" with an estimated 9 out of 10 citizens were either manufacturing, transporting or consuming homemade illicit liquor. More about that in another post, but meanwhile, let these bucolic scenes set the stage.

The postcard above was a promotional flyer sent out, tolling the virtues of Rocky Mount, including "Paved streets and Sidewalks" (but ot roads), "Ample Banking Facilities" and "Adequate Fire Protection" (it wasn't until the 1950's and 1960's that historic buildings starting burning down), and "Five Religious Denominations".

This is Main Street, looking north in 1912. Note the dirt street, with the big stepping stones as a cross walk. If you notice on the right-hand side, about half way up the street, there is a bright white sliver visible. This is the obligatory Courthouse statue of a Confederate soldier, facing south as installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Many newbie residents think it's a statue of General Jubal Early (most famous Franklin County Confederate son), but it isn't - it's one of several stock composite Confederate soldiers created in the early 1900s to commemorate the Civil War veterans in the South. ***Another interesting historical note: supposedly Booker T. Washington, another Franklin County native actually contributed and raised funds for the Confederate statue. That's a whole 'nother post in itself -one I need to research -since I cannot help wondering why any Black American, never mind Booker T. Washington, would raise funds to honor soldiers that fought to maintain the status quo for himself and his family, i.e. slavery. I'll get back to you on that one.***

If you go up the street to the statue and turn right, our house sits about two blocks down on the left, and in 1912 it was already 54 years old. The fireplaces were still its only source of heat, there was no indoor plumbing, the kitchen was still a separate building in the backyard, and in the back corner of the yard, there was still a barn with wagons, horses and livestock.

Now we're looking south on the same street, but from the Courthouse corner. The Confederate statue is just out of sight on our left. The first telephone company sits to the right (and is responsible for that spiffy new telephone pole). Another stepping-stone crosswalk is laid here (these must have played havoc with wagon wheels). Most of these buildings are still here in 2009, albeit with bricked over facades, or missing balconies, but the trees are all long-gone.

This street has changed the most. In the early 1900s, Rocky Mount had not one, but two railroad depots. This one is the Franklin & Pittsylvania RR Station on the left. The Norfolk & Western is about a quarter mile further away, also on the left. Those little hoodlums hanging around at the right are outside the Soda Fountain shop.

In 2009, all of it is gone:

The railroad right-of-way lies behind the brick storefronts on the left, but it's now a walking greenway. The depot is long gone (and the N&W Depot is now a visitors center). On the right
is another block of brick commercial buildings, formerly banks and stores, but within the last four years made into a brand-new library.

Oh - and the Confederate Soldier at the Courthouse is gone too - run over and demolished a couple years ago by an out-of-control truck. It is due to be replaced, although it's a matter of discussion among the local citizens.

However, it'll still be a composite Confederate soldier, not General Jubal Early.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Day 74/365 Nessie in the Snow

Finally we get snow in Virginia, the first amounting to anything at all in the last 3-4 years. Like many other places, it started yesterday and continued all night (went out on the front porch last night and it was almost a whiteout -very mystical with the wind howling). This morning we woke up to 8-10" this morning.

Actually, we woke up to a guy out front yelling at his truck for getting stuck in the snow. He totally discounted the possibility that he wasn't paying attention and drove into the huge snow drift himself.

Just before we started shoveling and throwing IceMelt everywhere, I took these photos of Nessie. The top one is early last night, when Nessie was slithering and circling around the wintertime Swing Garden.

I brushed her nose off a little. She appreciated that.

But this morning, her snow hat is back again, along with a pillow-y effect on her main hump.Everything else is disguised as well, even the yuccas.

A couple hours later, the driveway is cleared so DH can get back up it this evening when he gets home (he goes to work, no matter what). Plus being the homeschoolers we are, we used the icy, snowy driveway as an opportunity for DD to experience driving on snow and sliding into a snow bank.

Weather forecast: 70 on Saturday.