DECEMBER 31, 2016 FIVE MORE DECEMBER UPDATES
As I said, every few days Ive added a new little tidbit to an existing article. Click the ampersands.
DECEMBER 29, 2016 SIX DECEMBER UPDATES
Also, every few days, Ive added a new little tidbit to another existing article on this website. Click the ampersands.
DECEMBER 27, 2016 THE GOLDEN FLEECE
Did I mention that my mothers family once operated the Byesville Dairy Company in Ohio? Well, they did. And they sometimes found it necessary to raise their prices, in one case effective the day after Thanksgiving.
One of a dairys products is butter, of course. Real butter produced from cows milk is light yellow. But theres a cheaper and healthier substitute called margarine, made from vegetable oil. Its naturally white, like lard. Manufacturers began adding yellow dye to make it look more appetizing.
When this dyed fake butter appeared on the market, the dairy industry complained of misleading competition. To prop up sales of real butter, farmers persuaded the federal government to impose heavy taxes on oleo. States like Wisconsin completely outlawed artificially colored margarine. Although the manufacturers complied, many began helpfully including packets of yellow dye with their pale product. Finally, around 1955 (but not until 2008 in Québec), the laws were repealed and yellow margarine began flowing from the factories.
Meanwhile, the dairy industry has found another imitation product to complain about. This time its fake milk.
The Food and Drug Administration defines milk as the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking or one or more healthy cows. That Standard of Identity excludes vegetarian products labeled soy milk and almond, rice, hemp, pistachio, and sunflower milk, et al.
At least as far back as 2000, the National Milk Producers Federation asked the FDA to take action to forbid selling plant-based drinks as milk. The FDA declined to do so. Then only a couple of weeks ago, they received another similar complaint. This one was signed by 32 members of Congress, including the entire Wisconsin delegation except Paul Ryan and Gwen Moore. All these Representatives have constituents in the dairy industry. These hard working Americans have experienced deep cuts in income as milk prices have plunged 40 percent since 2014. The letter asked the FDA to help by requiring plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name that does not include the word milk.
DECEMBER 21, 2016 IT'S SLIPPY OUT THERE
People have always dreamed of a white Christmas, even before Irving Berlin wrote his famous song in 1940.
For example, 25 years earlier the Richwood Gazette reported: The carpet of white which fell Sunday and Monday provided natures setting for the merchants Christmas displays. No matter how cold the weather, it is an unexplainable truth that without snow, some element is lacking at Christmastime.
On the other hand, last December I wrote to a friend: No snow here in southwestern Pennsylvania yet. Thats fine with me. A white Christmas may be pretty, but its also treacherous! I smiled when I discovered the attached scene, with its realistic portrayal of pedestrians struggling not to fall down on the icy pavements of their picturesque village. Their arms are flailing as they try to keep their balance.
But then I found out that the awkward figures are supposed to be a marauding mob of zombies!
We were warned this might happen. On the Thriller video, Vincent Price intoned:
DECEMBER 18, 2016 NO CHRISTMAS?
I marvel at others varied emotions this time of year.
Some of us, through an excess of politeness, refrain from wishing strangers Merry Christmas because if the strangers happen to be Jewish, they might be offended by our presumption.
On the other hand, Evangelicals are offended if salesclerks dont say Merry Christmas. Theyre even upset if their Starbucks cup lacks snowflakes.
What to do? Six years ago I asserted that we need not think twice about mentioning Christ Mass, which has lost much of its religious meaning. The observance is merely a secular holiday for many people, like the weekend days that we still call Saturday and Sunday even though we no longer honor Saturn or the Sun God. Everyone should just accept the fact that the late-December holiday of merriment and giving gifts, formerly Saturnalia and later Yule, is currently called Christmas in our culture.
One woman freely admits: I want to cancel Christmas. Earlier this month she wrote to the Ask Natalie advice column in my local newspaper. I am so not in the mood to deal with my family. I dont want to buy a bunch of presents (totally burned out financially this year). And I really dont want to deal with a million questions about my love life. I was thinking instead of skipping out and getting away for a few days. I mentioned this to my mother, and she was horrified. My grandfather is very old, and she said if this is his last Christmas and I miss it, I will regret it for the rest of my life. I dont know what to do. Do I let her guilt me into another year of holiday madness, or do I slip away unnoticed? Help!
Canceling Christmas? Thats the threatened disaster in many scary December stories aimed at kids. If the villains evil plans succeed, Santa Claus wont come at all this year! No presents for all the good little boys and girls! How awful! Is there no hero to rescue the holiday?
Some adults cant get along without Christmas, either. In fact, during the rest of the year they dont get along. In this space on the big day seven years ago, I quoted Mark Evanier, an only child like myself. Excerpts:
DECEMBER 14, 2016 PLAYING CAROLS
She held a medical degree and was already a skilled clarinet player. Now, at age 48, she had decided to take up a double-reed instrument, the oboe.
I had forgotten this episode until earlier this year, when I turned up some forgotten documents while editing the letters of Jan Olson. On what would have been her 69th birthday, I posted an article called Remembering Jan. I followed that with several monthly postings excerpted from her letters from the decade of 1968 to 1978.
Now, at the appropriate places of my original article, Ive inserted about a dozen additional items dating from 1981 to 2015.
Many of them describe various part-time medical and sandwich-making jobs that Jan was able to fill despite being sort of retired. And one of them foreshadows her choice of palliative care at the end of life.
The new material begins shortly after this point.
DECEMBER 12, 2016 MY MODELED HOME
When the application was new, we could only look straight down, like a map, although we could tilt the map and see the differences in elevation. There were some glitches.
Then it became possible to pull certain prominent buildings out of the map in three dimensions, such as Pittsburghs Cathedral of Learning, and examine them in detail from all angles. Google credited the artists who created the digital representations of these landmarks.
Next came an option called Street View. We could see certain streets from ground level, if Google has deigned to drive down those streets with their camera car. Eventually they got around to the streets in my obscure suburb.
Also, they added an option called 3D Buildings. Starting in 2012, for certain cities we can see multidimensional views of all the buildings, not just the cathedrals. That must have been a lot of CAD work, I thought. Maybe these views are generated by a computer which automatically integrates the horizontal overhead images with the vertical street-level images.
DECEMBER 8, 2016 MISCERE BONUM EST
Its an unfortunate fact that humans are tribal. Humans who are different are shunned, in particular by Donald Trump supporters.
Outsiders were shunned by Joseph Smith supporters as well, at least in the early days when his newly-invented Mormon religion was facing persecution. Mormon leaders needed to separate their people from those who objected to their Biblical polygamy and other beliefs. In order to be set apart, they packed up their wagons and moved from New York to Ohio to Illinois to Missouri and finally all the way to Utah.
These Latter-Day Saints virulently opposed the mixing of species, as shown by the following quotations from their Prophets back through the years.
But I never saw matters like that. In 1965 I enrolled at Oberlin College, where men and women of all colors had been studying side by side for 130 years.
Speaking of 1965, earlier that year I had written an essay that forms the basis of this months 100 Moons article. My idea: eliminate racism by eliminating races.
DECEMBER 4, 2016 WISH, WHACK, PINK, BLACK
Hail! to the victors valiant ... the champions of the West!
The song actually belongs to the University of Michigan. It was written in 1898, when Michigan defeated Chicago to clinch its first football championship in the two-year-old Western Conference.
(The Western Conference? It was based in the Midwest, and back then any college west of the Ivy League was considered to be in the West. When the league later expanded from seven teams to ten, it became known as the Big Ten.)
And Penn States colors have not always been navy blue and white. In 1887, when the institution in State College, PA, was still called Pennsylvania State College, sophomore George Meek proposed a color scheme to the two other students on his ad hoc committee.
We wanted something bright and attractive, but we could not use red or orange as those colors were already used by other colleges. So we chose a very deep pink really cerise which with black made a very pretty combination. The student body adopted the colors, along with the chant
The pink was not the girlish light magenta thats used today to raise awareness of breast cancer. Nevertheless, when the baseball team played Dickinson, the Red Devils made fun of their chant and their pinkishness.
Even the sun disrespected States colors. Sunlight faded the non-colorfast black and pink dyes to something more like navy and white, as Ive simulated below. The school took the hint and officially changed to blue and white in 1890.
DECEMBER 2, 2016 A MINOR 1977 MYSTERY
I live here in Washington, PA, and Ive got a complaint.
What is that, maam?
Youve been giving out my phone number on television!
I beg your pardon?
Ive been getting calls from strangers trying to buy a sweater. They say theyve seen an ad on cable TV with a phone number, and its mine! I paid extra for an unlisted number so I wouldnt get any of these nuisance calls, and now my number is all over TV. I need you to do something about this!
Uh, weve never run a commercial like that here on TV-3, so Im not sure how that could be happening. But were only a local channel here in Washington. There are other channels on the cable. Maybe one of them is running that ad. Maybe WOR-TV from New York.
But why would they be telling people to call a Washington number?
Youre right, that doesnt make sense. Let me look into this. If I may ask, what is your number?
Im at 225-1410. But its unlisted.
Okay, Ill see if theres anything I can do. Thanks for calling.
[Ive disguised the digits to protect the unlisted. In the 1970s, that was actually the number of our TV-3 studio, area code 412.]
I pondered the mystery. Commercials of this sort often invite viewers to phone a toll-free number. What if it happened to be 1-800-225-1410 in one such ad? A viewer in Washington might see it and think 225? Thats a local exchange. Our numbers here in Washington start with 225. I dont need to dial the area code for long distance. Ill just dial 225-1410.
To test my theory, I dialed 1-800-225-1410. Are you selling sweaters? Yes. I explained why I was calling. Then I dialed 225-1410 to tell our local resident what was going on.
Of course, this hardly satisfied her, because the 800 number was still being advertised. But at least now she knew she could tell her unwanted callers to dial 1-800 first, stupid.
And it satisfied me. The mystery was solved.