Thursday, January 29, 2004


I believe that weather is all about perspective and expectation. For instance, 50 degrees in the Fall is cold, but in the Spring it is warm. It has snowed here about an inch a day for a week. Seven inches of snow (give or take) in a week can be no big deal (over seven days), or a major pain (in one day).

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune makes this clear in their article about a professor at North Dakota State University who did studies in Antarctica. It turns out that summer in Antarctica never gets below minus 15. In Fargo, North Dakota, where the guy teaches, it is minus 29. When put in the proper perspective, Antarctica can be balmy.


In honor of our cold weather, check out the link. My personal best is 322.9. I think just the clicking makes you warmer.

Friday, January 23, 2004


It is well established now that the eastern Baltic region is one in which I am very interested. Now it turns out that there is even more than the history, politics, and cultures and drew me in the first place. The Moscow Times reports on some Finnish and Estonian archeologists who believe that there may be 100,000 wrecks in the Baltic Sea. 100,000. That is insane! In addition, because of the low salt content in the Baltic, the relatively cold temperatures, and the long, long history of seafaring around the Baltic, there are lots of well-preserved wrecks.

One wreck that they mentioned is in Stockholm, Sweden. L and I were in Stockholm in April of 1992 (I think). It was Spring in Germany, and we were heading from Stockholm to Munich to see a friend. Thus, we brought light weight jackets, expecting to have similar weather from Stockholm to Munich. How wrong we were. Sweden is WAY, WAY north of Munich. Stockholm is halfway up Sweden. It was cold. It snowed. We still walked all over the city, rode the subway out to the Clockwork Orangesque suburbs, etc., but we were COLD. Then it started to sleet. We saw a building that looked public and warm, so we ducked into it. It turned out to be the museum for the Vasa.

This ship was the most magnificent ship of its era. It was built in 1628 as part of the battlements for Sweden's involvement in the Thirty Years Was (1618-1648) in Germany and Bohemia. Apparently at the last minute, the King of Sweden, giving the ship things that she was needin', ordered a second gun deck built on the ship. Because the order came from the king, it was obeyed without question. Because it was obeyed without question, the ship was extremely top heavy and flipped over in the bay off Stockholm the first time it encountered a wind. Such a weight distribution was particularly troubling in an era when ships were wind powered! In any case, the Swedes raised the almost perfectly preserved Vasa in the 1970's and built a fantastic museum around it in the 1990's. Clink on the museum link above. The ship is astoundingly well preserved, and they have one of those you-guide-it internet viewing deals. Very cool.


CNN reported today on some high school kids in an overwhelmingly white school in Omaha, Nebraska. Apparently the school has an outstanding African-American student award that is awarded around Martin Luther King's birthday every year. Now, this award seems a little ridiculous, since 56 of the 1,632 students at the school are black. Yes, 3.4% of the student body. Thankfully, this school is educating its student body well enough to recognize irony and hypocrisy when they see it. Thus, several students made posters touting the candidacy of Trevor Richards for the award next year. Trevor is white. However, Trevor is from South Africa. Hence, Trevor is an African-American as any literate person would understand the term. It may not be what the school meant, but it is what they said.

Trevor and his friends were disciplined. It is apparent that the teachers taught irony and hypocrisy by example, rather than as concepts…


Winter finally came to the Chi. It is cold outside and a light (1-3") snow is falling. I'm glad that we finally got some real weather. For the weather we were having, I might as well have been in a San Francisco summer ("The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Mark Twain) as a Chicago winter. Now I know I am in the Chi.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Yesterday Roger Clemens signed with the Houston Astros. Clemens previously pitched for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Yankees differ from the Astros in one fundamental way, which is neatly captured in Rule 6.10(b) of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball. Namely, "A hitter may be designated to bat for the starting pitcher and all subsequent pitchers in any game without otherwise affecting the status of the pitcher(s) in the game." This means that pitchers do not bat in the American League, while they do in the National League.

There are a few consequences to this, but the one I am concerned about is the hit batsman. See, Roger Clemens is notorious not only for throwing at hitters, but for trying to hurt them. However, he always knew in the American League that pitchers would never have the opportunity to throw at him. Now he will have to decide whether to hit a guy knowing that the rest of the league has all season to get him back. Also, keep in mind that the Cubs, divisional rivals of the Astros, had four pitchers in the top 15 in hit batsmen in 2003, while the Cardinals had two more. Clemens is likely to face guys not afraid to hit people next year. Should be interesting.


The Washington Post ran a great story about the controversy surrounding a book that claims that the Chinese visited the Western Hemisphere in 1421. The author of the book claims that Chinese genes appear from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland to New Zealand and Oregon from this period. This is fascinating in a "we are all descended from Martians" kind of way. However, the two really interesting things are that (a) the lead admiral was a Chinese, Muslim, eunuch (so we know whose genes were NOT spread); and (b) that the Chinese did absolutely nothing with this apparent discovery. While the evidence that the Chinese visited the Western Hemisphere before Columbus is minimal, even if they did, they did not exploit the discovery at all. It turns out (maybe) that the Chinese are as big a bunch of slackers as the Vikings were in the New World.

By the way, the book web page is worth checking out. The author is kind of like Dan Brown, discussed below with reference to his web page. Fact and fiction have clearly become one for this guy. Among the best are the Gallery image of a "Chinese urn" found near the Nevada/Oregon border. I have seen this urn for sale in every Chinatown I've ever been to. It is hilarious that it may be "evidence" of Chinese presence. Also, look at the Flash map showing the various journeys at the bottom of the "Maps" section. You cannot make this stuff up!

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw, Jr. died earlier today of brain cancer. He was 59 and died of brain cancer. He pitched for 19 years in the major leagues with the Mets and Phillies. He finished 96-92 with 180 saves, an ERA of 3.14 and 1,109 strikeouts. He was also a huge big game pitcher and pitched in two World Series. In 1980 he threw the last pitch that clinched the title for the Phillies, striking out future Cub Willie Wilson. Tugger was also a real eccentric in a way that only baseball players and football kickers can get away with.

Initially, I thought the story was just one of those sad stories about someone dying too early. Then I was reminded that Tugger coined the "You Gotta Believe" motto used by the 1973 Mets (and every other team since). The Mets were an improbable team to make a run since, when push came to shove, they were not very good. Hence, You Gotta Believe was meant to encourage them and their fans to believe the best, rather than the truth. I was also informed that Tugger had reintroduced this motto when in the throes of his illness. He said that he would last until February, when he would push the button to destroy Philadelphia's Veteran's Stadium.

Think about that. The man was struggling to live another month to destroy a baseball stadium where he won the Word Series…

Veteran's Stadium was opened April 10, 1971. The opening day crowd was 55,352 and Larry Bowa, the Phillies current manager (and future Cub) got the first hit. The stadium is of the same generation and general architecture as Riverfront Stadium (Cincinnati), and Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh). However, those parks could never touch the Vet in one category—pure crapitude. Everyone hated the Vet and more unsavory acts took place there than any other stadium in the country. Representative memories from the football side include:

• Harold Carmichael (retired) of the Eagles remembers the rats as big as dogs;

• Ike Reese of the Eagles thinks of the guys in the stands whose job it was to break up fights;

• Merrill Reese, Eagle announcer says, "It's just a stadium - a cement, cookie-cutter stadium,'' the broadcaster said. ``It's not Wrigley Field, it's not Franklin Field, it's not Fenway Park. It's just a round stadium that has no character to it;"

• Former Eagle Mike Quick says, " Everything bad you ever heard about the turf - it's all true."

• Harold Carmichael has a memory that sounds like the beginning of Camus's The Plague, "I remember we came into the Vet to practice . . . and everything was dead - rats, birds, cats. They were all lined up along the sideline."

In addition, an NFL web page relates the following:

• Veterans Stadium is the place where, in 1993, then -- Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis, while reaching for a pass as he tried to plant and change direction, ruptured the patellar tendons in both knees.

• The same field -- different turf, mind you -- was so uneven before a preseason contest in 2001 that the Ravens and Eagles canceled the game;

• Jimmy Johnson was bombarded with snowballs when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, egged on by the future mayor of Philadelphia (not a bad thing, I guess).

• The place is so mean, so rowdy, they built a court in the basement to sentence game-day fans who go beyond the limit and require jail time and a stiff fine. Players have been known to gaze up into the 700 level to see some of the fights between fans.

With all of that in mind, I guess Tugger's dream of staying alive long enough to blow the stadium up is sort of understandable.


Today is the anniversary of Carl Sandburg's birth. Just thought you'd like to know.