Monday, September 30, 2013

An Eye under the Rust?

In my last Vindolanda expedition I did not find much fascinating stuff.  Luck of the draw sometimes, I was in interesting areas but the the artifacts were elsewhere.  I was reduced to furrowing my brow over twisty nails and odd bits of rusted lumps.  Surely this was "something" back in Roman times?

One item I featured was an "unidentified metal bit".


Mostly iron one supposes, but a couple of enigmatic flecks of grey peeking through.

When perusing the excellent site on the Binchester excavations I came across this photo, with the similar looking object being identified as a "seal box".  Could my artifact have been one?


The shape and size seem about right.  Oh, this is the bottom, which always has three holes in it.  The fancier upper part looks like this:


I confess that seal boxes were an artifact type I was not familiar with. This is a site dealing with seal boxes found in the U.K.  The artifact from Binchester, and perhaps (?) my mystery lump, would be of the "vesica" or eye shaped variety.

Here is an image from the above link, a nicely done summary of the known/unknown aspects of seal boxes by Colin J. Andrews.


I am certainly indulging in a little "off season" speculation here.  But note the central dimple in both of the images above.  It does appear to have an analog in my encrusted specimen.....

It is worth noting that seal boxes are a rather atypical find in late Roman sites, but that various types of brooches are common.  This would not be a common style, but until the lab soaks the crud free this remains a possibility.  Or it could be something else altogether...at the time there was speculation that it might be a small knife blade.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Woolly Bear Forecast, Fall 2013

Nobody much believes in using Woolly Bear caterpillers as a weather forecasting device.  But let it be noted that last fall I saw only one....and it was all black....and already dead.  A nasty winter ensued.

The folk lore has it that the more of the bear's 13 segments are light brown the milder the winter will be.

Filmed for what it is worth, on 23 September, 2013.  This little guy was bookin' it across a blacktop road.  Either because it was hot or because his tiny insect brain actually predicted a high chance of becoming a flat worm if he stayed on the road very long...

video

By my count 7 light brown segments.  Way to go little guy!  Mild winter ahead!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Strange Veg

There are quite a few folks who express concern over Genetically Modified Organisms.  Mostly they fret about plants that have had various genetic stuff spliced into them.  It seems a fair question, but  I have observed that the anti GMO crowd seem overall to be reasonably well fed and so I consider it unlikely that they are surviving entirely on acorns and walnuts harvested from the forest floor.

I wonder how they feel about Giant Vegetables?

I must confess my first exposure to the concept of growing huge vegetables came from a viewing of Wallace and Gromit, Curse of the Were Rabbit.


But as a hobby it has caught on, and our local Oktoberfest has had a "Giant Pumpkin" competition for the past two years.  Other "stuff" also gets brought.

I think it was an off growing season this year, or perhaps the real heavyweights were coming in at the last minute.  But here are a few, presumably modified, entrants shortly before the competition began.


These things get big enough that gravity, or perhaps tidal forces, have effects on them.  Middle aged slump is not exclusively a human problem.  The old gaffers on the park bench seem to be enjoying the spectacle.


A large punk, warts and all.  It looks like a beached technicolor manatee.


A turnip....I think.  For reference that is a three pound tomato on the left.

But my favorite Strange Veg of the year.  Not even on display, it was sitting on a counter back in the office.  Maybe a little too risque for small town America?

A Ruebenesque root of some sort.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Roman Marching Camp in Wisconsin?

The Romans were very consistent folks with respect to their military architecture.  A legionary fort in Scotland would have the same layout as one in Syria.  The similarities even crossed different categories.  The forts manned by legionaries were larger than those staffed by auxiliaries but the basic geometry was the same.

In the later stages of the Empire cities acquired walls and gates that were modeled on the military template.

And sometimes the Romans took things to what we would regard as ridiculous extremes.  When the legions were on the march they would stop for the night, then build a temporary "marching camp".  It took three or four hours but they could then sleep securely behind a system of ditches and dirt walls...with the exact geometry of a conventional Roman army post!  In the morning they just packed up and moved on.

This of course was one reason why it was so difficult to dislodge the Romans once they took an interest in your land.  By the time you figured out where the Romans were, and got your fellow tribesmen rounded up and sober, the only way you could mount a night time sneak attack would be to go against some formidable defenses.  A five foot deep ditch, then a five foot tall wall with sharpened spikes on it.  Each Roman soldier carried a pre-sharpened spike with him!

A few images....

The "Porta Nigra", a marvelous surviving Roman city gate in Trier.

Note the similarity to this Roman coin of the same era.  This is referred to as a "camp gate" by numismatists, and is felt to reflect the less substantial - but clearly similar - gates of Roman forts.

Finally I offer this, my concept of what Roman marching forts might have evolved into had the Empire not fallen.  You need a temporary camp?  Why spend hours and hours moving dirt?

From our local Oktoberfest...


They actually got a lot of details spot on.  Even little things that essentially nobody but I would notice. On the left hand side we have a soldier in the uniform of an auxiliary.  On the right, a proper legionnaire.


I don't know if I should deduct one authenticity point for the "Crusader" cross on this fellow's shield. The unknown artist could I suppose argue that it was one of Constantine the Great's soldiers at the battle of Milvian Bridge.  That of course was where Constantine received his vision of "in this sign conquer" and had his men paint Christian symbols on their shields.

I would for sure give serious authenticity points if that was the intent, but would also point out that the symbol used is thought to have been the earlier Chi Rho monogram.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unclear on the Product Line

I like vending machines.  In a world increasingly transient and electronic they are a reassuring, solid presence.  There are still some products that, when you need them, you can't apply some "app" as a substitute.

The first vending machine is said to have been in Alexandria during the Roman era.  You put in a coin of known denomination, most likely a tetradrachma.  And out comes a ration of "lustral water".  The use of same is not certain, most assume it was used in some sort of votive fashion at a nearby shrine. But for all we know it could have been an early energy drink.

The machinery was unknown, but probably the same system of slots, ramps and a weighing device that is still used in coin operated machines.

Because vending machines have this common DNA it is not always easy to tell the difference between machines selling various items.  Recently I encountered this:


If you don't have the context you might be, er, mistaken as to what is being sold.  Ultra Norsk...Super Truck...Armor All.  If you have keen eyes you will note the words Super Large on the right hand machine.

But this is actually outside a local car wash.  A closer view:


The Freshest Leaf in the World.  That clarifies things nicely.  At least until Wisconsin starts taking lessons from Oregon and Colorado and considers legalizing marijuana.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Everybody getting along

A street scene from the late 1800s:


No clue as to the reason for the photo.  Cold weather but some occasion serious enough that a bunch of men stood still and stared into the camera.  The white horses attached to the delivery wagons did likewise.

But the interesting details are hiding in the background:


In addition to the Business College with Night School we see two different drug stores. Next door to each other.

Back in the day drug stores were more abundant.  In a pre-automobile era you really needed one in every part of town.  And they sold a varied line of goods, paint, art supplies, hardware, fireworks, cosmetics and such like, in addition to the usual prescription and patent medicines.

But still, two drug stores side by side?

You would not think it likely, but they both were successful businesses for a long time.

On the left we have the Eagle Drug Store.  It was established in 1875 and stuck around until at least 1907.  At one point it had a large, gold leaf covered Eagle and Mortar emblem over the door.  Alas, not to be seen in this 1890's image, but recalled in a series of very fetching embossed bottles:


The drug store on the right was The Good Luck Store.  It was established in 1883 by David Chisholm, who split off from the Goddard and Chisholm partnership shown above.  Was there some sort of falling out between the men?  If so, setting up shop right next door would seem a bit....cheeky.  And the sort of venture that might not fly.  But the Good Luck store also did well, also surviving into the 20th century albeit with Mr. Chisholm moving on after a short time.   They also have some nice bottles:


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The One that Didn't Get Away at the Thrift Sale

Walking on a Sunday morning we came across a thrift sale.  I stopped to look at one rather eye catching item.  The guy in charge said:

"Hey, you need a fish?"

"How much?"

".........Five bucks."

At that price, yes, yes I do need a fish.


This magnificent slab 'o Taxidermy is hanging out in my secret underground workshop as negotiations continue.  You'd think a majestic King salmon would look great anywhere, right?  If you think that you presumably have a Y chromosome.

On the back of the mount I found this:


There is no Burokek Taxidermy in Janesville Wisconsin at this time.  But of course the fish looks to be decades old.  Oddly, Janesville is something of a taxidermy mecca.  Why there is even a Rhinehart Taxidermy Institute there.

Go figure.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Dream is Always the Same




Sigmund Freud had a lot to say about dreams, and what they indicate is going on in our subconscious.
There must be some nearly universal stuff knocking around down there because I know many people who have a variation on a single dream.

The setting is always a school.  Usually a high school although my age is often current.  It is a large place and I am having difficulty finding my locker.  Also I can't remember the combination so I guess there is no great urgency in finding it.

Of somewhat greater concern I have a test in just a few minutes, and I forgot to study for it.  I also forgot to put on enough clothing.

The dream is populated by people.  None of them seem concerned that I am clad only in a T shirt, which I am diligently trying to tug downward for reasons that would otherwise become rather evident. This dream has recurred so many times that it has become familiar, I can actually pick out minor variations in it.  Oh, and it is one of the few dreams in which I am always aware of at least a high probability that I am dreaming.

I finished my residency in Family Medicine in 1985.  That year, and episodically thereafter, I had to take a Board Exam.  They got a little harder as I got further into my career, darn it all if they did not keep inventing new stuff!

When I left clinic practice a few years back I sort of figured I would be done with taking Board Recertification Exams.  I am working as an Emergency Room doc now.  And I thought a few more years and it would be time to move on to the next challenge.

But I changed my mind.  I enjoy work and would even consider a slow down phase where I go back to part time office practice.  So with a deadline looming I decided I would take the Recertification Exam.

I made this decision in mid August.  I had until September 17th to get all my bureaucratic ducks in a line.

The hardest part was doing a series of online "modules", basically a sort of interactive test that teaches you things by showing you how much you don't know.  I had to do 7 of them.  They were supposed to take 12 hours each.

So over the course of a three week span I did them all.  While continuing to work full time.  And have a family wedding.  And get ready for my upcoming robotics class.  And go on my annual baseball road trip.

Obviously I did not have any extra time, so I found myself at my laptop in the midst of a torrid late summer heat wave.  The air conditioner was being balky so I was sitting there clad only in boxer shorts.  I found myself unprepared for an upcoming test. And if you ask me for my locker combination I still have no clue.




Saturday, September 14, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Cautionary Tale

As I wander here and there peeking at the ruins of 19th century breweries I try very hard to not point people towards places they should not go near.  Many of these caves, especially those associated with larger urban breweries, are not safe places.  These I will not publicize, and if you are doing your own research don't be stupid.

Even the smaller cave systems associated with now rural sites can be hazardous.  Many of them were excavated by brewery workers in a rather casual fashion.  Some of them were nothing more than brick lined tunnels in loose dirt or gravel.  None of them have had any maintenance work in the last century.

I ran across a sad story involving one such cave.

Northfield Minnesota is a pretty little place.  Mostly known now for its two very fine colleges it had a brief moment of 19th century fame when the local citizens took up arms and chased Jesse James and his gang out of town when their effort to rob the local bank failed.

But it is also sitting in the middle of some excellent agricultural land and so had all the necessary requirements for 19th century brewing.  A partnership of Moes and Grafmuller was in business by 1875, with Grafmuller later becoming the sole proprietor.

In what I assume was an expansion of the business or perhaps a rebuild after a fire, Grafmuller purchased land next to the campus of St. Olaf College in 1885.  He erected a brewery, ice house and wagon shed.  He also excavated two caves into what became known as Brewery Hill.

This of course was a temptation to the nearby students who were forbidden to visit the place.  Addition of a beer garden later on probably just rubbed it in.  So naturally there were clandestine expeditions on a regular basis.

The brewery was later acquired by a man named Wenner who ran it until Prohibition.  A 1920s owner named Beyer switched over to soft drinks and did rather well.  Indeed, the location was renamed Pop Hill.  But eventually that venture moved elsewhere and St. Olaf acquired the land.

So what would a college do with a brewery cave?

It was used to store vegetables and such.  Gym classes would go spelunking there.  A few theatrical productions are said to have been staged there.  No doubt the secret visits continued.  There is something primal in our affection for caves.  They provided our grandsires great-to-the-nth-power with shelter from a harsh Paleolithic world.  And if you were a modern day collegian what better site for a candlelit rendezvous where a Big Man on Campus and a Co-Ed could snuggle up and pretend that he was protecting her from the sabertooths...

In 1961 a metal door was placed across the entrance, and in 1978 the entryway was collapsed to prevent entry.  This worked about as well as one might expect.

Back in the beer garden days students were said to have lowered themselves down vent shafts to get into the caves and be able to grab a quick tipple without being seen approaching the den of iniquity. The air shafts remained as did some sort of collective memory of the technique.  So students would still lower themselves down into the now neglected and officially non existent caves.

Tragedy struck in in 1986.  "On or around Halloween" a small party of adventurers lowered themselves into the caves.  They seem to have been in increasing disrepair so the kids did a little excavating to gain access to a wider area.  A section of roof collapsed crushing 20 year old Thomas E. Johnson, an English major and member of the school hockey team.

I am usually skeptical regards reports that a cave complex has ever really been destroyed, but the grief associated with this event prompted a resolute effort with dynamite, sealing them forever.

The cave was said to be in the side of what is now, in at least its third naming, Thorson's Hill.  Here a new generation of care free youth frolic about the site of this tragedy.


It is a time of year when we send our young folks out into the world.  We know they will do a few foolish things, ever has it been thus.  But we hope they have the sense not to take some risks.  Not to put themselves into some dangers.

Keep this in mind, please.



Friday, September 13, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - McGregor Iowa

In general Iowa does not have a stellar brewing history.  State wide Prohibition laws came and went, so there was a general disinclination to make major capitol investments in this area.  But some of the early settled areas of northeastern Iowa had a bit of a head start, as well as some great limestone formations for lagering caves.

Highway 76 just north of McGregor was the site of the Hagensick brewery.  A series of four caves was excavated circa 1867 using shovels, picks and blasting powder.  They were used until the brewery closed in 1888.  They were sealed in 1986 for reasons of "public safety".

Two years later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who have a station on the site, reopened one of the caves for the benefit of the local bat population.  A metal grate lets the bats in and out and presumably keeps the public safe.




I don't see any bats in there.  I also could not see evidence of the other three cave entrances although the cliff face has been extensively altered when the US Fish and Game folks built there.  The pile of dirt and rubble in the last picture is interesting.  It looks to be far too much to be fall from the roof and far too little to be remains of previous sealing attempts.  Maybe it is bat guano.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - With Antiques

Winona Minnesota, summer of 2013.


A fine old brewery building, re-purposed as an antique emporium.

The brewery was established in 1856 by a Jacob Weisbord.  It moved to this site a couple of years later with a frame brewery being completed in 1862.  As is often the case, they had a fire in 1872 that destroyed the brewery.  The buildings above are mostly early 1870s, although the shop owner thought some of the 1860s building might still be in there.

Weisbord had died in 1870 and his brewmaster a Peter Bub purchased it from Weisbord's widow.  He also married her.  This happens pretty often in 19th century brewery transactions.

Bub had a good run, surviving prohibition and keeping the place operational long enough to hand it off to subsequent generations.  In fact they were still brewing long enough that a few of my slightly older friends recall drinking Bub's Beer.  They finally went under circa 1973, with a couple of years as a "shadow brewery", a contract outfit in Wisconsin making their products for a dwindling clientele.

There are three ageing caves built into Sugar Loaf Bluff behind the brewery.  Two are at present open for viewing.  Actually for shopping.


Some antiques.  Some crafts.  Some...stuff.  Note the gourds on the left.  Caves are great places for storing produce.


Swirly stone formation and incandescent lights.  Also decor for Christmas and lamps you could use if you start a 70's theme vintage motel.


Cross passage and stairs from what I think is the older cave down into the newer one.


Modern cinder block walls in an old brewery cave.  Not enough antiques to fill the entire space I guess. Of course there is also a 25,000 square foot building attached.  I am not sure what these walls were for.  You could have a bunker for storing grain or hops, I have seen that before.  But everything would have to be trundled through the brewery on hand carts which seems inefficient.  Winona is a town full of grain elevators, so why bother?  I also wonder if these caves that were used post Prohibition were retrofitted for refrigeration machinery.  But I am not seeing enough evidence for that.  There should be a lot more pipes, electrical services, maybe some remaining machinery "foot prints" on the floor.

The antiques shop owner mentioned that her father knew a lot more about the history of the place but he had just left on an errand.  She also said that there had been serious discussion about turning the place into a brew pub/eatery.  The relative pristine nature of the walls above makes me wonder if this was supposed to be a kitchen at some point.  Diners like atmospheric stone walls.  Health Department inspectors, not so much.

An interesting tour of the caves, well two of the three, associated with a mid sized brewery.  The owner was most gracious.  Sugar Loaf Antiques.  The building is for sale if you want to start your own brewery/hotel/whatever.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Reads Landing

Today we have a forgotten cave in a forgotten town.

Reads Landing got its start with an even earlier trading post, but can probably be thought of as existing as a community from 1850 when a post office was established.  It was quite the boom town for a while, there was even a thought that it might become the capitol of Minnesota Territory.

But as is so often the case, the boom went bust.  Reads Landing withered away, much assisted in this process by a succession of floods and by a railroad right of way that took out many of the buildings in town.  Now it is a one block main street, a brew pub, a couple of dozen houses.

Along the south side of Reads Landing runs a small waterway called Brewery Creek.  A Charles Leslie built a brewery here in 1856.  There seem to have been two breweries along the creek, a lower one in a wood frame building and an upper one of stone.  The stone brewery seems to have been a bit later, and I have seen reference to it being constructed by a Micheal Ulmer.

The entire complex was purchased by Gottfried Burkhardt when he returned from Civil War duty in 1865.  A substantial flood in 1883 seems to have put the lower brewery out of commission, so production was thereafter only in the upper facility.

Gottfried acquired another brewery in Menomonie Wisconsin (I am still looking for those caves!) and the Reads Landing site seems to have been run by other members of the Burkhardt family until it closed in 1912.  Evidently the early withering of Reads Landing as a community did not prevent the Burkhardt Brewery from doing fairly well.  They were after all just a couple miles north of Wabasha.

A couple of pictures from what I assume to be the ruins of the "upper brewery".

Along a windy road next to Brewery Creek we find the surviving back and side wall of a stone building:


And just off to one side, perhaps once within the structure or its outbuildings:


The caves from the "lower brewery" are probably also around somewhere.  It is said that the 1883 flood filled them to a depth of eight feet.  One imagines they would have filled in more over the long years.  But noting the sign above I do not think it prudent to nose about too much looking for them.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A box from the Barbie Jeep Graveyard

As sporadic visitors to this site well know, I have been running an an after school class at the local middle school for 14 years.  I have the little imps build small combat robots with the general excuse being that they actually learn a fair amount in the process.

But it is a challenge to keep the class interesting.  I mean interesting to me, the capacity of pre-adolescent (mostly) boys to be engaged by mechanized carnage appears to have few limits.

So this year I decided to make a small change.  Instead of 1 and 3 pound weight classes we would just go to the 3 pounders.  This should make for more streamlined tournament brackets and allow for a little more reckless kinetic abandon.

It has been difficult to find motor/gearbox components suitable for making robust yet lightweight weapon systems.  So with the anticipated increased need I did some shopping around and found a guy who in effect runs a Barbie Jeep graveyard.  He was able to toss together a box of odds and ends for me.


These have been unpacked.  They of course arrived nicely padded and wrapped.

When proposing to use a motor/gearbox combo to power a weapon you need to watch the weight.  A three pound robot still needs batteries, radio gear, wheels.  Oh, maybe a bit of armor would be useful. So it would be helpful if the weapon driver could be no more than say, 1.5 pounds.  It is also nice when the gearbox is sturdy enough to comprise most of the framework of the machine.

Many of these units were in ones and twos, but a single type came in a batch of five (with lots more available).  Lets just toss one on the old scale...


One pound 14.4 ounces.  This is not going to work out.  The problem is that these gearboxes are from an older version of kiddie car, and were ridiculously over engineered.  Everything you see above that is black is actually steel!  To determine their utility for Machines Behaving Badly I had to do a bit of robotic surgery.  And not the kind they do on us...


Top view.  The grey part on the motor is some sort of heat sink.  No doubt it prolongs motor life over the long term.  But in robotic combat there is no long term!  Off it comes, along with the black metal bracket supporting the motor.  I had hopes of removing the black top plate, but it supports two of the pins holding gears in place, so it stays.  I do think you could gain another ounce or so by taking a dremel tool to it and cutting off the lateral portions.


Bottom view.  The metal plate can be pried off.  The grey collar marked with an X is optional equipment.  The white hub with a ? mark on it could also be discarded, or.....


Final slim-n-trim version.  I kept the hub, and once the collar is removed and a bit of plastic rim is dremelled off you can just drive a few screws into the marked areas to fix a hub in place.  I am pretty sure that even middle school level engineers can figure out some nasty bars, blades and flails that could be attached with ease to the above.  Final post operative weight...


One pound six ounces.  And in a pinch you could lose another ounce or two by chopping up the remaining metal plate on the top, by trimming off part of the white plastic hub, or by adopting the traditional desperation measure of getting a drill and "Swiss Cheesing" the gear box and the gears inside it!

Class starts in a couple of weeks.  Episodic updates by and by.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Shah of Iran goes to Gilligan's Island

Fellow Eccentric Doctor Beachcombing did a recent post on  Totalitarian Bizarreness, a quick survey of the strange ways of unchecked despots.  My humble contribution to the conversation was recalling that Idi Amin spent his tedious exile in Saudi Arabia, where he could often be found at the local Pizza Hut.  If there is a Just Universe we can hope he consistently got soggy, undercooked crusts.

It got me thinking about the fate of other deposed dictators.  Many come to bad ends, facing a rude justice in front of a firing squad or a more refined one in a court of law.  In fact the tradition of skipping town just ahead of the angry mob and decamping - Swiss account numbers tightly clutched - to the friendly confines of some brother dictator's bananna republic seems to be obsolete.   Bashar Assad, take notice.

But it was not always thus, and I do recall the time when the Shah of Iran almost bought Gilligan's Island.....

The Shah of Iran, a certain Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a dictator of mid-level distastefulness.  No Pol Pot for sure, but his secret police were a bad bunch.  The United States supported him strongly, and in one of those geopolitical acts that just keeps on giving, the Iranians have thought of us as The Great Satan ever since.



In 1979 the Shah left Iran shortly before the Ayatollahs took over.  He became a sort of diplomatic Flying Dutchman...no country really wanted him to set foot on their shores.  He wandered from Egypt to Morocco, to the Bahamas and to Mexico.  His health started to decline and he sought permission to enter the United States for medical treatment.  In an action that may have precipitated the Iranian Hostage Crisis and doomed his re-election, Jimmy Carter agreed.

With the revolutionary government in Tehran demanding his extradition and with his options dwindling fast, there was a brief rumor circulating that the Shah was going to purchase Gilligan's Island and live there as a modern day castaway.

So, was there any truth to this?  Well, sit right back and you'll hear a tale...


From the iconic opening of the silly 60's sit com, here is Gilligan's Island.  What you can't tell from this shot is that the photographer is standing on dry land.  To call it by its proper name, Coconut Island is right off the shore of Oahu.  Here is a modern view from a slightly higher elevation.


It was a modest 12 acre islet when a certain Christian Holmes II, heir to the Fleischman's Yeast fortune, bought it in the 1930s.  He doubled it in size by hauling in rock and rubble, then turned it into his private playground complete with aviaries, kennels and aquaria.  During the Second World War it was used as an R & R facility for Navy pilots.  Post war a group of businessmen purchased it and converted the island to a luxury resort.  It is now entirely owned by the state of Hawaii, and is the picturesque site of the  Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology.

So how did the rumor of the Shah and Gilligan's Island get started?  During his exiled wanderings the Shah never came near this spot, most of his time in the United States being spent in New York or in Texas.  Perhaps it came from a fusion of two facts.  After leaving the United States he eventually ending up in the Pearl Islands off the coast of Panama.  He stayed on Isla Contadora, but there was a nearby "Cocos Island" in that group as well.  And of course the TV show had frequent implausible visitors dropping in on the castaways.  A season two episode featured an exiled "El Presidente Pancho Hernando Enrique Gonzales", who had just been ousted from the fictional republic of "Equarico".


Here the Shah enjoys a little beach time on Contadora.

The Shah eventually relocated to Egypt, until quite recently a haven for friendly strongmen and their pals. He is buried there and I was a little surprised to find his tomb in a mosque I had visited.

So, the Shah and Gilligan's Island.  Total nonsense?  Now, let's not be too hasty.

In 1958 the Shah and his family spent a three week vacation on Coconut/Gilligan's Island during its incarnation as a luxury resort. It is said that on arrival a lei was placed around his neck.  He took it off immediately.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Walmart and the Tie of Peace

I don't shop at Walmart often.  I find the place uncongenial.  Rather like setting down on a planet that is not quite Earth-like and where you can  only breath the atmosphere for a limited time before you start to get disoriented.

The reasons for this are not so much a reflection on American Consumerism or on their specific clientele, but on my own deficiencies.  But honestly, does a store that provides the good service of selling low priced goods really need to have an entire aisle of chips (crisps for you Brits).  Tallying up the size, brand and flavor sub types there were almost 200 salty, hypertension inducing options to chose from.

But even a brief expedition to an alien world can provide a surprise.  Recently, and under mild duress, I was on a shopping run to the 'Mart when I saw this:


Watermelons, obviously, and right up front we find:


Color coded watermelon knives.  A bit grisly if you make the mistake of thinking about it, the red plastic sheath gives the impression it has just been stabbed into the heart of one of the melons and has been drawn out, covered in juice and seeds. Maybe that is why we also see this:


The cable tie is to keep the knife from being drawn.  I would like to think that they were more worried about a customer "Going Gallagher" on the melons more than doing anything more horrific.

But it brought to mind a casual conversation from many years back.  It was with a family friend who was seriously into Renaissance Fests.  He had the entire costume, persona, etc.  And of course he had a sword.  I asked him about safety measures and he indicated that most RenFests require you to have "The Tie of Peace", sometimes a rope or leather fastener but usually just such a cable tie.  This was to ensure that nobody deep into their cups would draw steel and resume The War of the Roses where their antecedents left off centuries ago.

This shopping run was in association with a wedding, so we did visit the beverage department where I was bemused to see a 21st century "Tie of Peace".


High tech caps that need to be unlocked at the checkout.  They prevent impromptu guzzling in the distant reaches of a 24 hour retail barn, and also have an alarm chip to deter shoplifting.

I can't see the details well enough to determine if Captain Morgan has his cutlass safely "tied" but it hardly matters....there would seem to be nothing stopping the old rum pirate from picking up one of the additional weapons lying on the ground next to the keg!