Friday, December 28, 2012

Environmental Disposal

'Nothing We Can Do', Rescuers Say, For Whale Beached on Queens Shore

So goes yesterday's widely reported story about the whale that beached itself at Breezy Point, Queens on Wednesday morning. There's been enough going on at Breezy Point after hurricane Sandy: now there's a whale to deal with. It's rather amazing the number of people that get involved when a whale comes in for a swan song.

Apparently, an emaciated 60' finback whale washed ashore with the incoming tide. The NYT story quoted Kimberly Durham, a biologist with the Riverhead Foundation on Long island, the region's official rescuers of stranded marine animals, "Unfortunately, this animal is so emaciated there's nothing we can do."

The weight of the whale on itself becomes a problem. Being beached, the whale is literally crushing itself. This is bad news for whales and shows how they differ from us, despite that we're both classified as mammals. A whale of a person with shopping bags and a North Face puff coat who plops down next to you on the subway and spreads their legs, as if expecting something good to happen, crushes you, not themselves. Life.

Apparently, disposing of the whale becomes an issue. "It's a logistical nightmare," Ms. Garron, a marine-mammal rescue coordinator with the Natural Marine Fisheries Service reports. "A 1964 whale was towed 35 miles out to sea, fitted with 500 pounds of explosives and blown up." Ms. Garron admits that that method is "off the table."

Only Disney can get away with that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Urban Archaeology

There  is someone who we have become aware of who is writing a book on archaeologists. Not a great deal is known about this endeavor, but suffice to say, interviews have been started and international field work has commenced. No due date is known.

In fact, very little is known, but it is expected that the book will predictably dwell on those archaeologists who work in the blazing sun, gently brushing grains of sand off some completely indistinguishable artifact that will, with more analysis, refute, or confirm a way of life that occurred at least several hundred years ago, but more likely several thousand years ago.

Whoever finds something by leveraging a black crow bar alongside a bathroom medicine chest (c. 1910) and exposing a wall and its studs will probably not be included. This urban archaeologist might be doing a remodeling project in their bathroom, or that of another homeowner who has hired them out to do some work for them.

Thus, when someone doing this work finds a trove of single edge razor blades behind the medicine chest, resting on one of the "cats" between the studs, their discovery will surely not be included in the forthcoming book. Nor will they. Science and mankind is hardly advanced by the discovery of dulled metal that was once applied to someone's face that made them less threatening, and therefore kissable.

Given this expected omission, it will attempted here to theorize about these razor blades. Turns out, theory will have little to do with it. Plumbers, carpenters and electricians who routinely may be the ones popping crows bars into walls alongside medicine chests report that it is common to find used razor blades behind the chests and in the walls. There was a slot in the medicine chest for just this purpose: to dispose of used razor blades.

My own early memory of what my father used to shave with begins with the Gillette Blue Blades, which were double-sided, and came in a dispenser that you held your thumb against to slide the blade out, and into a waiting razor head.  When the blade was felt to be used up, there was a slot on the back of the same dispenser that the blade could be safely guided into. When all the new blades were used and disposed of in the back of the dispenser, the entire dispenser could be discarded safely, with no razor blade edges exposed.

Disposable double edge blue blades were an advance over the prior single edge blades that were  used in what were called "safety razors." It is these single edge blades that could wind up behind medicine chests. Single edge blades now only seem to be good for scraping paint off windows, and perhaps arts and crafts.

My own era of shaving started about the time Yogi Berra could be seen jumping into a pitcher's arms after winning the World Series. Gillette and baseball, and boxing, went hand-in-hand. There was always a World Series "fact" booklet that came out around the time of the World Series. Considering the success of the Yankees in that era, it was really a Yankee highlight book.

Blue Blades, despite their advertised advance of providing a smooth shave, seemed to be anything but. Shaving was no fun when your face seemed to be scraped with broken beer bottle glass. Of course, shaving has advanced, likely due to NASA engineers getting jobs with Gillette. I suspect there might be an entire exhibition in the Smithsonian about shaving. I once saw something there about paint brushes, so it's a good bet.

A recent mixed gender domestic gathering of Home Depot people shared the news about the discovery of the ancient metal lodged in the wall. One woman did know about the slot in the medicine chests. Another person offered that when the bathrooms were redone in their 1923 house in Flushing, there was no memory of blades being found. No slot was ever thought to exist, either.

Another offered a bit of incredulity to the whole story, thinking that the practice would seem impractical: wouldn't the spot behind the medicine chest get filled up with blades?

This seems highly unlikely. Given that studs are separated 16" on center and that a "cat" would be positioned far enough down to create an air space of a cubic foot or so, design for "overflow," or emptying would seem unneeded.

After all, it was never going to happen that school bus loads of Hasidic men would pull up to a home and all shave at once and change blades.

Friday, December 21, 2012


The NYT is catching up to the Quebec missing maple syrup story, while at the same time advancing details about it. The story first broke several months ago in the WSJ, and was followed up there as well. There have been three 'Onofframp' blog postings about the caper.

Details now emerging from the story in the NYT is how the thieves gained access to the strategically stored reserve. Valuable for sure, but it could not have been very well guarded. The heist, or continued siphoning off of the product, sounds very Whitey Bulger, or something reminiscent of the workings of a crew from 'Goodfellas.' They got close to it. It makes a good read.

The story gains life because there have now been three arrests, with five more expected. If Hollywood is now looking for non-violent crime to make movies out of, we may have a 2013 Christmas movie about thieves with sticky buns and sweet pears.

The resale network involved in trying to fence 6 million pounds of syrup is not fully disclosed because the investigation is continuing. But, it is conceivable that it drifted so far down the distribution chain that the gallon of syrup (Grade A, Medium Amber) I annually buy at a Mobil gas station in Fair Haven Vermont in August, on a Tuesday, when there is no racing at Saratoga, could be hot stuff.

The good news for me is that, as Lieutenant Guy Lapointe of the Surete du Quebec points out, syrup doesn't have a bar code, so it is very hard to trace if what you have is the stolen stuff. It's good to have the law on your side.

The NYT story ends with the news that this kind of thing has happened before, just not on as grand a scale. It reminds me of the scene at the end of the movie 'Hunt for Red October' when the Soviet Ambassador, Andrei Lysenko, played  by Joss Ackland, goes to the State Department official to sheepishly admit that the Soviets are now missing another submarine.

Quebec wants independence from the rest of Canada, but doesn't seem to adequately guard its maple syrup. Missiles might present a whole other issue for our taciturn, northern neighbors.

"U.N., we have a problem."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Just a Few Words

The events of the Connecticut school shootings are not beyond words. Perhaps beyond understanding, but not beyond description.

Things change, and they don't change. We've been here before. Growing up, my friends and I only had the Soviet Union to worry about. My daughters didn't go to kindergarten with police outside the school. Today, my grand-daughter did.

When Howard Unruh passed away in 2009, at the age of 88, the obituary revealed a slice of history I hadn't heard about. I commented on it in an entry, and even the next day had a little more to add. Mr. Unruh's rampage was in 1949, and took 13 lives, but not his. His weapon was a 9 millimeter German Luger pistol he had bought at a gun shop in 1947. Gun control was mentioned even then.

In the inevitable listing of events, Mr. Unruh's still made the cut. Nothing will change unless those that resist efforts to change things don't stop resisting. Even a little. Hopefully, a lot.

The hope is there aren't quite as many gun enthusiasts today as there might have been on Friday morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Things Come in Threes

When it comes to obituaries, there is a belief that when one noted individual in a particular field passes away, say an entertainer, then another two similarly noted, or nearly as well-noted entertaineres, will shortly follow.

Somewhere, there may be an official record of Obituary Trifectas, but I don't really know where it might be except in someone's memory. The best I can offer however is that there must be something to this linked threesome theory when you realize that in the last three days, three sopranos of noted stature have passed away.

This is not to lead anyone to believe that the cast of the show 'The Sopranos' is now leaving earth because the show is no longer running as an original. No, these were operatic sopranos who sang with renown, and not figures in bad fitting clothing singing to DAs.

In Wednesday's NYT we had Galina Vishnevskaya, a noted soprano and Soviet dissident, who passed away at 86, in Moscow. She was married to the noted conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Accompanying her obituary is a 1961 picture of her performing in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera that bears a striking likeness to my neighbor, who I will pay a little more attention to the next time she drags the garbage cans out to the curb.

On Thursday, the NYT informed us that Lisa Della Casa had passed away at 93, in Switzerland. There is also a picture of Ms. Della Casa, but I have to admit she looks and dresses like no one in the neighborhood, even on Halloween.

At two, I'm already thinking three, somewhat like what happens when someone wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Will we have a Triple Crown of occupations who shuffle off?

Yes we will. Today, Friday, the NYT tells us that Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who became the first African-American to sing Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, has passed away at 81, in Switzerland.

So, things do seem to happen in threes, and perhaps even fours if tomorrow's paper brings us more of the same. Operatic sopranos would seem to live longer lives than real Sopranos; they can come from Brooklyn; they have a chance to spend their remaining days in Switzerland by the lake; singing in 'Aida' may promote longevity.

Or, none of this has anything to do with anything.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Better Than the Babe

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was declared the winner after knocking out Manny (Pac Man) Pacquiao in the 6th round of a welterweight fight held in Las Vegas.

For Ms. Merkel, it was her first victory in boxing. A rematch is already being discussed in Brussels, with the fight possibly being held in London.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wheel Rage

The number of permutations of events you can have when a handgun is involved seems truly limitless

The following is transcribed directly from a WSJ U.S. Watch' piece in yesterday's paper,
December 6, 2012.
  • Georgia
Man Fatally Shoots Woman
After Wheelchair Collision

An encounter at a Georgia gas station left a 65-year-old woman dead and a 73-year-old man facing a murder charge after authorities say the woman's car and his motorized wheelchair bumped and he opened fire, police said.

Linda Hunnicutt had just pulled into the gas station in Macon shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday and stepped out of her Buick Lucerne when the man pulled a gun and fatally shot her, a city police spokeswoman said.

Ms. Hunnicutt was shot once in the chest with a .38-caliber handgun, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said. The suspect, Frank Louis Reeves, was apprehended in the gas-station parking lot. He was being held without bond on a murder charge at the Bibb County Jail, the spokeswoman said. She didn't know whether he had an attorney.
-Associated Press

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Meets Uptown Brownstone

There is nothing is this world that cannot be overdone.

The British costume drama 'Downton Abbey' is about to advance one Roman numeral, from II to III, to signify its third season, starting 12 days after Christmas on Epiphany, January 6, 2013. Any significance to this will have to await rumors.

We learn of this because the age-defying Angela Lansbury has just engagingly hosted a 'PBS' highlight presentation to show us key scenes from the first two seasons, and to tease us with some scenes from the third. Mixed into this are a few interviews with the actors discussing their characters. Not to be at all facetious, but when you contrast how these people are when they're not acting you really can appreciate that they do act in the series. It's what makes the series a success. To others, it's of course the hats with feathers.

Thus, we get a teasing glimpse of Ol' Shirl (Shirley MacLaine) carefully alighting from a car that's just pulled up to the medieval pile. It's not a simple taxi from the station that's just finished dropping off the other weary commuters, but a chauffeured car of the era sent by the Grantham clan to fetch Lady Grantham's American mother, who has just arrived from across the pond.

Ol' Shirl really doesn't look good, for whatever reason. Perhaps it's because they've just started Prohibition in the States and she really needs several legal stiff ones. Stay tuned. We'll find out more.

There's likely no threat to the show's challenging us with Roman numerals that extend beyond what we can decipher, like the Super Bowl. It would be impossible for the show to even reach the era of warnings on cigarettes. The guess is that WWII will be reached, because there's nothing the British like more than reminding the world how they had the stuffing bombed out of them, but still prevailed. Churchill's voice has got to come from a radio at some point.

The show is a great piece of fluff to be enjoyed on any of several levels. But, here they go. Excess.

The news is that 'Downton's' producer, Julian Fellowes, is in discussion with NBC to develop an American Age of Innocence-type show, 'The Gilded Age,' centered in New York City in the late 19th century. 

It's not known if scenes will feature electricity, but if they don't then the show is sure to remind New Yorkers of the recent outages from Hurricane Sandy. This may easily spell doom, if other things don't pull it down first.

Start your list now as to why you might believe the endeavor cannot possibly succeed. Those that think it has a chance cannot be following this blog.