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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Public Broadcasting Fun Stuff for Kids

     Television's Public Broadcasting offers a lot of fun and instructional games for kids ranging from drawing, spin and sing, matching, engineering, feelings, math, spelling, music, dress up, measurement and even hard games like code breaker and racing rapids. Attached are a couple of drawings I made using one of the simple drawing programs.  VISIT

Friday, May 18, 2018

Looking for a unique hobby? Collect sardine cans!

    In the United States, the sardine canning industry peaked in the 1950s. Since then, the industry has been on the decline. 
     The last large sardine cannery in the United States, the Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor, Maine, closed its doors on April 15, 2010, after 135 years in operation. 

     What’s a sardine? Good question. Sardine is a generic term to describe around 20 different small, soft-boned, oily fish. In Britain, they are usually pilchards. Sometimes what you get in a sardine can is a herring, sometimes it is a sprat. Sardine and pilchard are common names used to refer to various small, oily fish in the herring family. The term "sardine" was first used in English during the early 15th century and may come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant. 
     The terms sardine and pilchard are not precise. The United Kingdom's Sea Fish Industry Authority classifies sardines as young pilchards. One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 6 inches are sardines, and larger fish are pilchards. The standard for canned sardines cites 21 species that may be classed as sardines.
     Typically, sardines are caught with encircling nets. The fish are caught mainly at night, when they approach the surface to feed on plankton. After harvesting, they are submerged in brine while they are transported to shore. 
     Sardines are fished for a variety of uses: bait, immediate consumption, drying, salting or smoking, reduction into fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption and they are a nutrient-rich fish commonly served in cans, but fresh sardines are often grilled, pickled, or smoked. Sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
     Because they are low in the food chain, sardines are very low in contaminants, such as mercury, relative to other fish commonly eaten by humans. They are canned in many different ways. At the cannery, the fish are washed, their heads are removed, and the fish are then smoked or cooked, either by deep-frying or by steam-cooking, after which they are dried. They are then packed in either olive, sunflower, or soybean oil, water, or in a tomato, chili, or mustard sauce. 
     Good-quality sardines should have the head and gills removed before packing. They may also be gutted before packing; if not, they should be purged of undigested or partially digested food or feces by holding the live fish in a tank long enough for them to empty their digestive systems. 
     Sardines are typically tightly packed in a small can which is scored for easy opening, either with a pull tab or with a key attached to the side of the can. Thus, it has the benefit of being an easily portable, nonperishable, self-contained food. The close packing of sardines in the can has led to their metaphorical use of the name in describing any situation where people or objects are crowded together. 

     Sardine cans and labels are also collectibles. Collecting antique food cans and labels became a widespread hobby in the 1960s, and is still popular today. Many can and label collectors focus on a specific type of product that holds particular meaning or historical significance for them. Those who have regional or family ties to the early fisheries industry often find collecting historic sardine cans. SardineKing prides itself in being home to the Internet's largest collection of vintage sardine can labels specific to California. You can visit their online gallery to view an impressive collection of sardine can labels that represent the California canning industry. 
a $200 sardine pendant

     Decorative food containers and labels of all types can be incorporated into many different styles of home decor. Framed sardine can labels can make an excellent addition to the wall art in your kitchen or dining room. Vintage sardine cans are great for filling in display areas on kitchen shelving units or cupboards. At least that's what one site says. 

Historic Sardine Can Labels

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Strange Case of World War Two Holdouts

     Second Lieutenant Onoda Hiro (March 19, 1922 – January 16, 2014) was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and was a Japanese holdout who did not surrender when his country did in August of 1945. Instead, Onoda spent 29 years holding out in the Philippines until his former commander traveled from Japan to informally relieve him from duty in 1974. 
     Onoda was born in Kamekawa Village, Japan to a family of ancient samurai warrior class and his father had been a sergeant in the 4th Cavalry Brigade until 1943, when he was killed in action in China. At the age of 17 Hiro went to work for the Tajima Yoko trading company in Wuhan, China and at the age of 18 enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry. 

     Trained as an intelligence officer, on December 26, 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines where he was ordered to do all he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. Onoda's orders also stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life. 
     After landing on the island, Onoda joined forces with a group of Japanese soldiers who had been sent there previously. The officers in the group outranked Onoda and prevented him from carrying out his assignment, which made it easier for United States and Philippine Commonwealth forces to take the island when they landed on February 28, 1945. Within a short time of the landing, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either died or surrendered. Onoda, who had been promoted to lieutenant, ordered the men to take to the hills. 
     When the war ended Onoda continued his campaign initially living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers from where they carried out guerrilla activities and engaged in several shootouts with the police. 
     This was even after they saw a leaflet in October, 1945 announcing that Japan had surrendered. They mistrusted the leaflet, concluded that the leaflet was propaganda and also believed that they would not have been fired on if the war had really been over. The leaflets had been dropped by air with a surrender order from General Tomoyuki Yamashita. The leaflet was the only evidence they had that they war was over and after examination, they concluded that it was not legitimate. 

     The third member of the group, Private Yuichi Akatsu, walked away from the others in September 1949 and surrendered to Filipino forces in 1950 after six months on his own. For the remaining three it meant they had to be even more careful. When in 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped urging them to surrender, they concluded that this was also a trick. 
     One of the group, Corporal Shoichi Shimada was shot in the leg during a shoot-out with local fishermen in June 1953 and Onoda nursed him back to health. On May 7, 1954, Shimada was killed by a shot fired by a search party looking for the men. Only Onoda and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka remained. 
     Then on October 19, 1971 Onoda and Kozuka were still carrying out guerrilla activities by burning rice that had been collected by farmers when local police fired two shots and killed Kozuka, leaving only Onodo. 
     On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a Japanese man who was traveling around the world, looking for Lieutenant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order. The man, Norio Suzuki, found Onoda after four days of searching. 
     According to Onoda, the hippie-looking Suzuki came to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier and ask why Onoda would not surrender. Onoda would not surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. 
     Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of the two as proof of their encounter and the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. Taniguchi flew to the Philippians where he met with Onoda and fulfilled the promise that had been made in 1944 that whatever happened, someone would comeback for him.
     Taniguchi issued Onoda the following orders: 

In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity. 
In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff's Headquarters is relieved of all military duties. 
Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. 
When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives. 

     Being properly relieved of duty Onoda surrendered by turning over his sword, his Arisaka rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, several hand grenades and the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to kill himself with if he was captured. 
     As odd as this story is, Onoda wasn't the longest holdout. Private Teruo Nakamura wasn't arrested until December 18, 1974 in Indonesia. He was a Taiwan-born soldier of the Imperial Japanese Army who fought for Japan in World War II.

     Born in 1919, he enlisted in a volunteer unit of the Japanese army in November 1943 and was stationed on Morotai Island in Indonesia shortly before the island was overrun by the Allies in September 1944. He was declared dead in March 1945. 
     After the the island was captured, it appears that Nakamura lived with other army stragglers on the island until well into the 1950s, while going off for extended periods of time on his own. 
     In 1956, he apparently decided to relinquish his allegiance to the other remaining holdouts on the island and set off to construct a small camp of his own. The hut he lived in was accidentally discovered by a pilot in mid-1974. 
     In November 1974, the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta requested the assistance of the Indonesian government in organizing a search mission, which led to his arrest by Indonesian soldiers on December 18, 1974. He was flown to Jakarta and hospitalized there. 
     News of his discovery reached Japan on December 27, 1974. Nakamura decided to be repatriated to Taiwan, bypassing Japan, and died there of lung cancer five years later in 1979. 
     Nakamura's repatriation and his perception in the Japanese public was different thn Onoda. Nakamura was a private in a colonial unit and was not entitled to pensions after a 1953 change in the law on pensions. He received the equivalent of $1,100 in today's currency, but an outcry in the press managed to get the Taiwan government to donate considerably more. 
     Then there was Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi (March 31, 1915 – September 22, 1997) who was discovered in the jungles of Guam on January 24, 1972, almost 28 years after US forces had regained control of the island in 1944. 
     An apprentice tailor when he was conscripted in 1941, Yokoi served in the infantry Division and in 1943 was transferred, arriving on Guam in February 1943. When American forces captured the island in the 1944, Yokoi went into hiding with nine other Japanese soldiers. 
     Seven of the original ten eventually moved away and only three remained in the region. These men separated but visited each other until about 1964, when the other two died in a flood. The last eight years Yokoi lived alone and survived by hunting, primarily at night. He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave. 
     On the evening of January 24, 1972, Yokoi was discovered in the jungle by two local men checking their shrimp traps along a small river. Thinking his life in danger, Yokoi attacked them, but they managed to subdue him and carried him out of the jungle. 
     Yokoi had known since 1952 that Japan had surrendered, but said, "We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive." 
     After a quick media tour of Japan, Yokoi married and settled down and became a popular television personality and an advocate of austere living. He eventually received the equivalent of $300 in back pay and a small pension.
     Although he never met Emperor Hirohito, while visiting the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Yokoi said, "Your Majesty, I have returned home ... I deeply regret that I could not serve you well. The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve you will never change." 
     He died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 82. 
     And what about Onoda? Though he had murdered about 30 people after the war and engaged in shootouts with the police, the fact that he believed that the war was still going on was taken into consideration and he was pardoned by President Ferdinand Marcos. 
     Onoda was so popular when he returned to Japan that some urged him to run for the Diet. He released a ghostwritten autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, shortly after his return. The book didn't mention the murders he had committed and when they were disclosed in a Philippine documentary, feelings were mixed and at the same time he was welcomed home. The Japanese government offered him a large sum of money in back pay, which he refused. When money was pressed on him, he donated it to Yasukuni Shrine.
     Unhappy with all the attention and the collapse of traditional Japanese values, in 1975, he followed the example of his elder brother Tadao and left Japan for Brazil, where he raised cattle. He was openly affiliated with a revisionist organization in Japan that advocates the restoration of the monarchy and militarism in Japan. 
     He married in 1976 and assumed a leading role in the local Japanese community in Brazil.  After reading about a Japanese teenager who had murdered his parents in 1980, Onoda returned to Japan in 1984 and established a survival school, the Onoda Nature School for young people. 
     Onoda revisited Lubang Island in 1996, he donated $10,000 for the local school on Lubang. His wife, Machie Onoda, became the head of the conservative Japan Women's Association in 2006. 
     He used to spend three months of the year in Brazil. Onoda was awarded a medal of merit by the Brazilian Air Force in 2004, and in 2010 the Legislative Assembly of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul made him an honorary citizen. 
     Onoda died of heart failure on January 16, 2014 in Tokyo due to complications from pneumonia. He was 91 years old.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Canary That Wouldn't Sing…

...and other reminisces. 

      The other day I ran across an article on canaries that reminded me of a time, long ago when I was a boy and a small craze graced the radio in the form of singing canary programs. 
      One of the earliest examples was the Mutual Network offering, American Radio Warblers on Sunday afternoons from 1937 to 1952. The program was sponsored by American Bird Products, a birdseed supplier and featured organist Preston Sellers with canaries in cages near the organ. 
     Hartz pet products has been around over 90 years providing products that keep pets happy, healthy and thriving. The Hartz Mountain Master Canaries was another program and it's the one my mother used to listen to. It began broadcasting from WGN Chicago. Since the Hartz Mountain line had expanded beyond birdseed, the program featured sketches of other pets pitching products like dog chews and cat toys. Hartz would later be known for their successful line of flea collars. Later editions of Hartz Mountain Canary Pet Show featured future 60 Minutes alumnus Mike Wallace as an announcer. 
     Canaries are known for their beautiful songs and warbles and many people select these birds as companions specifically for their lovely singing and my mother had to have one. 
     So, one day while my parents were shopping they entered a store that sold parakeets and canaries and my mother brought home a canary, cage and all the accouterments needed for keeping a bird. The problem was, the thing wouldn't sing; it simply sat in its cage mute. There are several reasons for this: it's immature, is molting, is sick, or unhappy. But, the main reason for a canary not singing is that it's a female. It's the males that sing.
      Female canaries can learn to mimic some of the songs of male canaries, but are actually physically incapable of singing any of the long warbles that male canaries are known for. I suspect she had, unknown to her, a female. 
     I also suspect that Hartz was aware of this and were guilty of perpetrating a fraud on unsuspecting listeners. Instead of telling listeners if their bird wouldn't sing it was probably a female, they sold "Instructional" phonograph records which customers could use for their own canaries to learn to sing. 
     My mother sent away for one of the instructional records, a 33-1/3 long play record. She played it frequently, but the bird still wouldn't sing. So, one Saturday morning when my father went to clean the bird cage, my mother asked him to put the record on. In frustration he told her, “Get rid of that damn bird and just play the record!” 
     I don't remember what happened to the canary, but after that experience we always had parakeets. They are supposed to be able to learn to talk, but all the ones my mother ever owned never did. 
     It turns out that female parakeets generally don't learn to talk, so apparently, somehow, she always ended up with a female. Mostly I remember that they were all named “Ricky” which was probably an inappropriate name for a female. 
     Lest you think naming all the birds Ricky is odd, we also had three Boxer dogs over the course of my childhood. They were all named “Buster.” 
     I never knew Buster number one. My dad and Uncle Floyd took him hunting one day and he ran off. When they returned home they told my mother how they called and called, but he wouldn't come. Uncle Floyd told her that maybe he'd show up at the door someday; dogs have been known to do that. It was twenty years later that Uncle Floyd finally confessed that he had accidentally shot old Buster. 
     I remember the second Buster, but he died when I was very young so we got another Buster; he got hit by a car and as a result was left deaf nearly blind. Later, when speaking of the dogs, they were referred to as “the Buster Floyd shot, “Old Buster” and “blind and deaf Buster.” 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Enjoy Some Clogging


     Clogging is a type of folk dance in which the dancer's footwear is used percussively by striking the heel, the toe, or both against a floor or each other to create rhythms, usually to the downbeat with the heel keeping the rhythm. 
    Clogging is the official state dance of the states of Kentucky and North Carolina and was the social dance in the Appalachian Mountains as early as the 18th century.  American Clogging is associated with the predecessor to bluegrass music which is based on English and Sots-Irish fiddle tunes. 
     Clogging developed from aspects of English, Scottish, German, and Cherokee step dances, as well as African rhythms and movement. It was from clogging that tap dancing eventually evolved. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Jew's Harp

     The Jew's Harp, a musical instrument with ancient roots, is held against the teeth or lips, and plucked with the fingers and is known in many cultures of the world, and ancient roots, attest to the magical essence of this simple instrument. 
     The earliest known written mention of the Jew's harp was in 1595, in England. Prior to that it was called Jew's trump. However, there is no indication that the origin was connected with Judaism or the Jewish people and the name is probably derived from some other word. It is also sometimes referred to as a juice harp because of the drooling that often happens when it is played by amateurs. It's also known as a jaw harp. 

     The instrument is found all over the world: Europe, Asia and the Pacific, except Australia. It is found everywhere in Russia. Bamboo and wooden types are found in the Pacific, SE Asia and in China except in Northern China. Through European colonization, the bow-shaped metal Jew's Harp was introduced into the Americas, Africa and Australia mainly by the Dutch and English for North America. 
     In Siberia and Mongolia, the Jew's Harp was used to both induce trance and to heal the sick. Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer is said to have used the Jew's Harp therapeutically in psychotherapy. 
     The player holds the frame to his mouth, which forms a resonance cavity, and activates the instrument’s tongue by either plucking it with the fingers. The notes produced are limited and the tongue produces only one pitch; altering the shape of the mouth cavity isolates the individual harmonics that are components of the tongue’s sound. 
     The instrument is fairly easy to learn to play; you can produce the first sounds in a few minutes and in half an hour one can use the sounds for rhythmical play. But, to get really good takes practice the same as any musical instrument. Although it is possible to hit one's teeth with the instrument, when playing the normal way nothing happens to the teeth.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


A tulip-eating dog!
    Years ago we had a puppy which has since gone to Dog Heaven.  One spring I spent about $80 on tulip bulbs which I planted along the back of the house. Arriving home from work one afternoon and looking out the window, I noticed something all over the patio. It turned out that the puppy had dug up every one of the bulbs, carried them over to the patio and crushed them with her teeth. All that is except one which she missed. It blooms every spring. I call it the Brandy Memorial Tulip. 

     Some thing about tulips you may not know: 

1. They are not native to Holland. The first bulb in Holland was a gift from the Emperor of Austria and came from Turkey. A tulip craze began in Holland and they became so popular that vast fortunes were speculated on them. A virus spread among the flowers and many were lost, both tulips and fortunes. 
2. There are over 22 hundred varieties of tulips. 
3. Tulips need to be planted in the fall and new bulbs should be planted every year. The bulb creates a flower, but it also creates baby bulbs and this process exhausts the mother bulb. The baby bulbs take 3 to 7 years to become mother bulbs. 
4. The flowers open and close with sun and shade and with good and bad weather. The process only takes 15 minutes. 
5. There are no black or blue tulips. There is a tulip called the Black Queen of the Night, but it is actually a very deep burgundy. 

     Tulips are edible, but some parts are poisonous. There seems to be a consensus that the petals of tulips are OK to eat and supposedly they range in taste from a mild bean-like taste, a lettuce-like taste or no taste at all. As with everything else, some people are allergic to them and you should never eat flowers that have been treated with fungicide or pesticides.
     However, there are conflicting reports about the bulbs. Some say they're poisonous while others day they are edible if you know what you're doing. Apparently it's a moot point because people who have eaten tulip bulbs say they don't taste very good. 
     During World War II, people in Holland were forced to eat tulips. One Dutch person described it: 
     "Even though much of Western Europe had been liberated from Nazis control, Holland remained under their firm grip. I remember the hunger. We were forced to eat tulip bulbs and sugar beets because there was no other food." 
     "Bread made from tulips is not very good; I can tell you that! The skin of the bulb is removed, pretty much like an onion, and so is the center, because that is poisonous. Then it is dried and baked in the oven. My mother or older sisters would grind the bulbs to a meal-like consistency. Then they would mix the meal with water and salt, shape it like a meatloaf, and bake it. I can still remember the taste of it: like wet sawdust." 
     There are many recipes that use tulip petals: as cups for mousse, accents for tuna, for salad dressing and for appetizers. And, of course, you can make a nice white wine. 
     Bottom line, the petals a safe to use as edible garnishes as long as they haven't been treated with chemicals. The bulbs can be poisonous, but they taste awful even if prepared properly. 

What's Cooking America – edible flower chart

Thursday, May 3, 2018



     Laughter is contagious and is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, but it is little understood. Scientists do know that it is a highly sophisticated social signaling system that helps people bond, but most of it it not the result of a joke. Nor is it always triggered by cheerfulness; embarrassment and other social discomforts cam also trigger laughter. Brain-imaging studies of humans watching funny cartoons or listening to jokes activates parts of the brain. 
     A couple of interesting facts about laughter: it is not generally under voluntary control and it has numerous health benefits such as releasing tension, lowering anxiety and it has health benefits. It boosts the immune system, and aids circulation. 
     Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County tracked and observed real-world laughter and the results were surprising. Less than 20 percent was in response to anything funny. Far more often, people snickered at innocuous statements and the person doing the snickering was 46 percent more likely to be the one snickering than the listener. In only eight of the 1,200 laugh episodes cataloged did laughter interrupt what somebody was saying. Almost every time laughter was a natural breaks in the conversation, sort of like verbal punctuation. Everyday laughter is an important part of our communication and a result of finding something funny. 
     Evolutionists have all kinds of possible explanations, but in a 2005 Quarterly Review of Biology article told of a 19th-century French physician named Guillaume Duchenne, who worked at an old woman’s hospice and went around poking them in the face with an electrode. All of them wanted to be electrocuted by the “little old man with his mischief box.”
     In his quirky experiment Duchenne found that it caused the kind of smiling, the voluntary kind, when we a grin to be polite. This smiling involves the face’s zygomatic major muscles raising the corners of the mouth. 
     But, there is a different type of smiling when something is funny. That smiling uses both the zygomatic major muscles and the orbicularis oculi muscles around your eyes. That's why people say a real smile is in the eyes. He couldn't produce this kind of smile by zapping the old women. Evolutionists have the theory that the kind of laughter triggered by something funny was a signal that everything was OK and it was a good time to socialize. 

     Do animals have a sense of humor? Not munch is known about animal laughter, but comparative science over the past decade have concluded that rats, especially juvenile rats, laugh, but that discovery has been heatedly debated. Penny Paterson, president of the Gorilla Foundation says that Koko, the gorilla famous for her sign language abilities, even had a special "ho, ho," for visitors she liked. 
     Researcher Jaak Panksepp, in a paper in Behavioural Brain Research said there is a possibility that rats may have a”s social-joy type experiences during their playful activities and that an important communicative-affective component of that process, which invigorates social engagement, is a primordial form of laughter.” Rat laughter is in the form of high-frequency ultrasonic calls, or “chirps,” that are distinct from other rat noises. Rats it turns out are particularly ticklish around the nape of their neck and when juveniles play they chirp away when they playmates grab them there. 
     Experimenters discovered that they quit laughing though (if you can call it laughter) when things got serious.  Like smelling a cat, were very hungry or when they were exposed to unpleasant bright lights during tickling. 
     Panksepp is not implying that rats have a sense of humor, only that there appears to be a correlation between young rats and human children at play. Adult humor requires cognitive mechanisms that may or may not be present in other species. 
     In humans laughter can accompany joy, affection, amusement, cheerfulness, surprise, nervousness, sadness, fear, shame, aggression, triumph, taunt and pleasure in another persons misfortune. Studies have shown that human beings possess an uncanny ability to detect a laugher's psychological intent by the sound of laugh sounds alone. The mechanism of laughter is so ingrained in our brains that babies as young as 17 days old have been observed doing it. In fact, children born blind and deaf still have the ability to laugh.
     Researchers hired professional actors and recorded them laughing and came up with four basic types of laughter. 

Joyful laughter. e.g. meeting a good friend after not having seen them for a very long time.
Taunting laughter. Laughing at an opponent after having defeated him. It reflects the emotion of sneering contempt and serves to humiliate the listener. 
Schadenfreude laughter. This is laughing at another person's bad luck. This differs from taunting because does not want to seriously hurt the other person. 
Tickling. Laughing when being physically tickled. 

     The people were instructed to identify the emotions behind the laughs. Subjects were able to correctly classify the laughs. They were also asked the emotional state of the laugher and it was discovered that each form of laughter had a unique 

     Just 10 to 15 minutes of laughing a day can burn up to 40 calories, according to a Vanderbilt University study because the increase in heart rate and oxygen consumption boosted the calorie burn. Research from Loma Linda University showed that laughing improved the memory of adults in their 60s and 70s and at the University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found that hilarious movies improved the function of blood vessels and increased blood flow in a group of thirty year olds. And other research has shown that laughing can improve immunity, help regulate blood sugar levels, and improve sleep. 
     In a Northwestern University study showed that people with a certain “short” gene are quicker to laugh at cartoons or funny movie clips than those with the “long” version of the same gene. The same gene has long been associated with depression. The study determined that people with the short version may flourish in a positive environment and suffer in a negative one. People with the long version are less sensitive to environmental conditions.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Stagecoaches in the Wild West

    Thinking back to the times I saw scenes in cowboy movies of passengers riding in stagecoaches there was always a pretty lady and two or three passengers bouncing along while the horses raced at breakneck speed. That's not quite an accurate picture.
     Stagecoach travel was dangerous business in the American West: roads and rutted roads that sometimes impassible. Bandits were a constant threat. And, stagecoaches were uncomfortable. On long trips, passengers had to sleep sitting up and rest stations, or swing stations as they were called, were used to changes horses. The movies often showed passengers chowing down on beans and coffee, but in reality rest stations rarely offered food unless you were a horse. Nevertheless, the stagecoach was a popular form of travel in the American West, particularly during a time when the only other option was a wagon or riding a horse. 
A REAL Stagecoach

     During the gold rush years in the Rocky Mountains the Wells Fargo line had such a difficult time protecting its passengers and cargo that it created a standard form letter for reporting robberies. They nailed safes to the floorboards of the coaches, hired armed guards and taught silver shippers how to melt the silver into bars too large to be carried by men on the run. It didn't always work; stagecoaches still got robed.  
     Wells Fargo finally had to create its own detective agency. It was a good paying job, too. Salaries matched the amount previously lost in robberies. Nevertheless, the detectives were, for the most part successful, bring to justice (or killing) such famous outlaws as John Sontag and Black Bart
     Most stagecoaches were Concords. It was like a basket on leather straps that swung from side to side. Concords had seats in front, in back, and in the middle, seating nine when full and leaving little leg room with seating for up to 12 passengers on top. 
     Created by J. S. Abbot and Lewis Downing, the two personally inspected every coach that left the factory. The Abbot Downing Company had a huge factory in Concord, New Hampshire on six acres and offered designs for forty coaches and wagons. The company was supervised by one of the Abbot or Downing family members from 1827 to 1899. 
     Concord coaches came in various heavily varnished, bright colors and various sizes, but generally were only 8-1/2 feet long, weighed 2500 pounds and cost around $1300 depending on the amount of detail. 
     In the cowboy movies and on television the driver was always called the “driver”, but that's not correct...he was a called a “jehu” after a king of Israel who ordered the death of Jezebel. When it was tie to hit the road, the jehu shouted, "All aboard! Away!" and all the passengers scrambled for their seats because the schedule had to be kept and there was no time to wait for dawdling passengers. That's because stagecoaches carried, besides passengers, important legal documents, large bank deposits, or company payrolls. 
     The jehu held three pairs of reins in his left hand, which kept his right hand free to hold the whip. The jehu also spoke to the horses, shouting commands, encouragement and sometimes soothing words. The horse team consisted of four or six draft horses and sometimes there was a crew member “riding shotgun” to guard against bandits. 
     Odd as it sounds, jehus held the reins was carefully and with a sensitive touch because the horses responded to the slightest movement and it was the jehu's job to carefully guide the horses' every movement. In the movies the jehu always had big work gloves, but in reality they wore thin gloves to feel the reins and in cold weather frostbitten fingers weren't uncommon. 
well dressed men in the 1860s
     Stagecoach travel was pretty safe back East, but it was difficult and dangerous across the West. City slickers in the East provided regular meals at the established inns and taverns along the way. But that wasn't the case in 1858 when John Butterfield established an overland stage line connecting St. Louis and San Francisco by way of El Paso, Texas. The route also ran through Tucson and Los Angeles. 
An 1860s lady

     A federal contract paid $600,000 (over $10 million today) a year to carry mail across the continent. Service was semi-weekly. It was a 2,795-mile trip between San Francisco and St. Louis that took three weeks of hard traveling...if the weather was nice. 
     Stagecoaches were on the move day and night except for brief intervals at way stations. Stagecoach fare did not include the cost of meals, which at an average price of a dollar each three times a day for three weeks and that would double the cost of the trip. Plus, you had to sleep sitting up in the stagecoach. The whole trip could end up costing you nearly $3,500 in today's dollars! 
     The most famous stagecoach owner was Ben Holladay. His personal stagecoach looked like a royal carriage with gold scrollwork and prancing, dapple-gray horses.  He bought the Overland Mail Express Company from the Pony Express in 1862 and had a contract with the United States Post Office that paid $365,000 a year, over 6.8 million in today's currency. Overland transported passengers, cargo and mail over a 3000 mile area. Its well-paid jehus wore velvet-trimmed uniforms and Irish wool overcoats. 
     Holladay employed more than 15,000 people and owned 110 Concord Stagecoaches and in 1866, he sold out to Holladay Wells Fargo and invested his money in railroads, the transportation of the future. Wells Fargo operated stagecoaches along the transcontinental route between Salt Lake City and Sacramento, California, where steamboats connected to San Francisco. 
     Even with railroads the stagecoach still served a purpose because railroads were confined to their tracks, but in the early 1900s the introduction of the automobile brought an end to the use of stagecoaches. 
     In the 1860s, the heyday of stagecoach lines, the Concord coach, handcrafted in Concord, New Hampshire, by Abbot, Downing and Company, became the standard. It was famous for its great strength and its ability to keep passengers dry while floating them across flood-swollen streams. Because the twisting of the coach body on the rough terrain could easily shatter glass windows, it had adjustable leather curtains to keep out the dust, wind, and rain. The heavy body, often weighing a ton or more, rode on thick, six-or eight-ply leather belts called thoroughbraces which serve as shock absorbers. 
     Constant swaying often made some passengers seasick. The best seat was behind the driver, riding backwards because it produced half the bumps and jars of any other seat. Riders were admonished that if another passenger offered to trade seats, “don’t do it.” 
     A Concord coach could accommodate nine passengers inside and another six or more on the roof. Passengers were allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage which was stored in a large rear pouch called a boot. Mail was carried in the front or rear boot, or if there was a lot of it, it might be shoved between the passengers' feet. Stagecoaches also carried produce. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Been there. Done that.

There was a reason we got a baloney sandwich and an apple in a brown paper bag for chow...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hartford Circus Fire of 1944

   Thursday, July 6, 1944 was hot and sunny. Six to eight thousand circus fans made their way to Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus.   PHOTOS of the fire.
     One Hundred sixty-seven never went home that horrible day and more than 400 were injured. Sources differ on how many people were killed and injured and the 168 figure is usually based on tallies that included a collection of body parts. 
     Back in those days most circuses traveled from town to town by train, performing under a huge canvas tent commonly called a "big top" and The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the largest circus in the country. Its big top could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings; the tent's canvas had been coated with 1,800 pounds of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 gallons of gasoline! That was a common waterproofing method of the time. 
     The circus had been experiencing shortages of personnel and equipment as a result of World War II and delays and assorted problems had become commonplace. In August of 1942, a fire had broken out in the menagerie, killing a number of animals. 
     When the circus arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 5, 1944, the trains were so late that one of the two shows scheduled for that day had been canceled although the evening show ran as planned. The next day the crowd at the afternoon performance consisted mostly of women and children. 
     The fire began as a small flame after the lions performed while the Great Wallendas were performing. Circus bandleader Merle Evans was said to have been the first to spot the flames, and immediately directed the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever", the tune that traditionally signaled distress to circus personnel. Ringmaster Fred Bradna urged the audience not to panic and to leave in an orderly fashion, but the power failed and he could not be heard. Bradna and the ushers unsuccessfully tried to maintain some order as the panicked crowd tried to flee. 
     The only animals in the big top at the time were the big cats that had just finished performing when the fire started and most were unharmed with just a few receiving minor burns. 
     It is commonly believed that the number of fatalities is higher due to poorly kept records in rural towns and the fact that some smaller remains were never identified or claimed. It is also believed that the intense heat from the fire combined with the accelerants, the paraffin and gasoline, could have incinerated people completely, as in cremation, leaving no substantial physical evidence behind. 
     The cause of the fire remains unresolved, but investigators at the time believed it was caused by a carelessly flicked cigarette; however, others suspected an arsonist. Several years later, while being investigated on other arson charges, Robert Dale Segee (1929–1997), who was an adolescent at the time, confessed to starting the blaze. He was never tried for the crime and later recanted his confession. 
     Because of the waterproofing of the tent, the flames spread rapidly and many people were badly burned by the melting paraffin and the which was on fire collapsed in about eight minutes, rapping hundreds of spectators beneath it. Many people were caught up in the hysteria and some simply ran around in circles trying to find their loved ones, rather than trying to escape from the burning tent. Some escaped but ran back inside to look for family members. Others stayed in their seats until it was too late, assuming that the fire would be put out promptly. 
     At least two of the exits were blocked by the chutes used to bring the show's big cats in and out of the tent so people trying to escape could not get around them them. Some died from injuries sustained after leaping from the tops of the bleachers. Others died after being trampled by spectators and some asphyxiating underneath the piles of people who fell over each other. 
     Most of the dead were found in piles, some three bodies deep, at the most congested exits. A small number of people were found alive at the bottoms of the piles, protected by the bodies on top of them. 
     The next day charges of involuntary manslaughter were filed against five officials and employees of the circus. Within days the circus reached an agreement to accept full financial responsibility and pay whatever amount the city requested in damages. This resulted in the circus paying out almost five million dollars to the 600 victims and families. It took until 1954 for all claims to be paid as all profits from the time of the fire until then had been set aside to pay off the claims. 
     Of the five men charged and brought to trial in late 1944 four were convicted. Although they were given prison terms, the four men found guilty were allowed to continue with the circus to their next stop, in Sarasota, Florida, to help the company set itself up again after the disaster. Shortly after their convictions, they were pardoned entirely. One of the men, James A. Haley, went on to serve in the US. House of Representatives for twenty-four years.
     In 1950, Robert Dale Segee of Circleville, Ohio claimed he was responsible for setting the circus fire. Segee, a roustabout for the show from June 30 to July 14, 1944, when he was about 14 years old, said he had a nightmare in which an Indian riding on a "flaming horse" told him to set fires. He further claimed that after this nightmare his mind went blank, and that he did not come out of this state until the circus fire had already been set. Segee knew intimate details of the incident. For example, circus had two smaller fires prior to the tragedy. Segee admitted setting both of them. In November 1950, Segee was convicted in Ohio of unrelated arson charges and sentenced to 44 years of prison time. 
     Hartford investigators raised doubts over his confession, as he had a history of mental illness, and it could not be proven he was anywhere in Connecticut when the fire occurred. Segee died in 1997 and denied setting the fire as late as 1994 during an interview. Many believe the true arsonist was never found. 
     The best-known victim of the circus fire was a young blonde girl wearing a white dress known only as "Little Miss 1565", named after the number assigned to her body at the city's makeshift morgue. Her true identity has been a topic of debate since the fire occurred. She was buried without a name in Hartford's Northwood cemetery, where a victims' memorial also stands. 
     In 1991, the body was declared to be that of Eleanor Emily Cook, despite the fact that her aunt and uncle had examined the body and it did not fit the description they provided. The Connecticut State Police forensics unit compared hair samples and determined they were probably from the same person. The body was exhumed in 1991 and buried next to her brother, Edward, who had also died in the fire. 
     In 1987, someone left a note on her graves reading Sarah Graham is her Name! 7-6-38 DOB, 6 years, Twin. Notes on nearby gravestones indicated that her twin brother and other relatives were buried close by. 
     In 1991, arson investigator Rick Davey claimed the girl was Eleanor Emily Cook and from Massachusetts. Davey also contends that there was a conspiracy within the judicial system to convict the Ringling defendants, and that Segee was the arsonist. 
     Eleanor's brother Donald Cook had contacted authorities in 1955 insisting that the girl was his sister, but nothing came of it and he later worked with Davey to establish her identity. Donald believes that family members were shown the wrong body in the confusion at the morgue. Eleanor's mother stated that this was not her daughter and firmly maintained that stance until her death in 1997, age 91. Badly injured in the fire, Mrs. Cook had been unable to claim her two dead children, and was too emotionally traumatized to pursue it later. She believed that Eleanor was one of two children who had been burnt beyond recognition and remain unidentified. 
     It's possible that another family mistakenly claimed the little girl's body and buried it thinking it was their own child. Even with the questions over the girl's true identity, the body was eventually exhumed and buried in Southampton, Massachusetts, next to the body of Edward Cook. 
     Frieda Pushnik, who performed with the circus as the "Armless and Legless Wonder", was rescued by a minstrel show performer who rushed on stage, picked up her chair, and carried her to safety. Pushnik continued to perform with the circus until 1955. She died at the age of 77 in 2001. 
     Carol Tillman Parrish, who was six at the time, said that "until this day, I can smell the stench of human flesh" as the blaze consumed its victims. Judith Shapiro [Cohen] survived the fire. She was about 7 years old attending with her neighbors. They exited up higher into the stands and survived by jumping off; Judith refused to jump and was pushed. 
     In 2002, the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial Foundation was established to erect a permanent memorial to the people killed in the fire. Ground was broken for the monument on July 6, 2004, at the site where the fire occurred. 
     Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visited Hartford during its final tour, performing on April 30, 2017.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What Does Uranus Smell Like?

     Readers for whom English is not a first language probably will not appreciate the pun here. In English, Uranus is pronounced the same as "your anus," the anus being the opening at the end of the alimentary canal through which solid waste matter leaves the body. The opening also has other more crass names. Hence, when a few headlines read "Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs" it evoked a chuckle. 
     A study by lead author Patrick Irwin, of Oxford University in England, concluded that the clouds in Uranus' upper atmosphere are composed largely of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule that makes rotten eggs so stinky. 
     Let me remind you that flatus (aka farts) is composed of about 59 percent nitrogen, 21 percent hydrogen, 9 percent carbon dioxide, 7 percent methane and 4 percent oxygen. About one percent of a contains hydrogen sulfide gas and mercaptans, which contain sulfur, and the sulfur is what makes for the stink. 
     Hydrogen sulfide gas causes a wide range of health effects. One is primarily exposed to hydrogen sulfide by breathing it. The effects depend on how much hydrogen sulfide you breathe and for how long. 
     Exposure to very high concentrations can quickly lead to death. Some people who breathed in levels of hydrogen sulfide high enough to become unconscious continue to have headaches and poor attention span, memory, and motor function after waking up. The effect called knockdown (rapid unconsciousness) often results in falls that can seriously injure the worker. 
     Problems with the cardiovascular system have also been reported at high exposures. People who have asthma may be more sensitive to hydrogen sulfide exposure. That is, they may have difficulty breathing at levels lower than people without asthma. 
     Hydrogen sulfide is a highly flammable, explosive gas; the explosive range of hydrogen sulfide in air is 4.5 to 45.5 percent. In addition, hydrogen sulfide gas burns and produces other toxic vapors and gases, such as sulfur dioxide. 

     In addition to exposure to hydrogen sulfide in the air, exposure to liquid hydrogen sulfide can cause "blue skin" or frostbite. If clothing becomes wet, avoid ignition sources, remove the clothing and isolate it in a safe area to allow it to evaporate. 
     Irwin states that if a person descended through Uranus' clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and foul smelling conditions. The clouds in Uranus' upper atmosphere are composed largely of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule that makes rotten eggs so stinky. 
     But wait! There's more! Exposure to the minus 328 degree Fahrenheit atmosphere (negative 200 degrees Celsius) wold kill you long before the gases in the atmosphere suffocated you. 
     The composition of the clouds high up in Uranus' sky has proved elusive, because it's tough to make observations with the required detail because Uranus is so far away...1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers) at the closest. The closest we ever got to it was a brief flyby by NASA's Voyager 2 probe in January 1986. 
     Irwin and his colleagues studied Uranus' air using the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument on the 26-foot (8 meters) Gemini North telescope in Hawaii and spotted the signature of hydrogen sulfide. Above the clouds only a tiny amount remains and that is why it is so challenging to capture the signature. It is he superior capabilities of the Gemini telescope finally gave them the capability to make their observations.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Playing the Bodhran and Harmonica


     The bodhran is an Irish frame drum ranging from 10–26 inches in diameter with most drums measuring 14–18 iches. The sides of the drum are 3.5–8 inches deep. A goatskin head is tacked to one side. The other side is open-ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre. 
     The drum is struck either with the bare hand or with a lathe-turned piece of wood called a bone, tipper, beater, or cipin. One or two crossbars, sometimes removable, may be inside the frame, but this is rare on modern instruments. 
     Some professional modern bodhrans have a mechanical tuning system similar to those used on drums that can be tightened or loosened depending on the atmospheric conditions.