U.S. Steel’s Iconic Sculpture Still Resonates Today

“Michael, we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.”

That famous line was delivered by Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in The Godfather, the iconic film ranked by AFI as Number 2 in their Top 100 Films.

Those six words continue to introduce generations of viewers to what the powers-that-be understood many years before the film premiered . . . the importance and prominence of U.S. Steel.

First listed in 1901 with Dow Jones, and a 1957 original member of S&P 500, U.S. Steel was one of the world’s largest steel producers. After numerous reorganizations, spin-offs and re-branding, “Today, over a century after its founding, U.S. Steel remains the largest integrated steel producer headquartered in the United States.”

Designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, U.S. Steel was commissioned to build the world's largest globe and free-standing sculpture, Unisphere.

Knowing the history and skills within U.S. Steel, Robert Moses, president of the 1964-65 World’s Fair Corporation said, “What stronger, more durable and more appropriate metal in the record of American constructive accomplishments could be thought of than stainless steel. And what builder more imaginative and competent than the United States Steel corporation.”

And, nobody ever argued with Robert Moses. So it began, Unisphere, designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, took orbit as the symbol of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Although the Eiffel Tower was originally scheduled to be disassembled after Paris’ 1889 International Exposition, it was designed to be its centerpiece. And, while Unisphere was imagined to be of equal stature, it would have no equal. True to form, Robert Moses envisioned Unisphere as a permanent centerpiece for the ages.

On-site construction of this 45-ton beauty took 162 days to complete. It measures
140 feet high, 120 feet in diameter, and tilts at Earth’s angle of 23-1/2 degrees.

Seemingly floating in air are three orbit rings anchored to the structure by aircraft cable. Each ring weighs three tons, and represent the paths of the first man-made satellites launched in the late 1950s.

Mountain ranges appear in relief on continents affixed to curved, tubular steel lines of latitude and longitude. Park attendees marveled as magical, twinkling lights portrayed the locations of great capital cities of the world. And, understanding the symbolic importance of Unisphere, the request asked by Mohawk ironworkers was honored. The Indian Reservation capital, Kahnawake, was represented and proudly shined.

Ahhh, the 1964-65 World’s Fair opened April 21, 1964 with Unisphere as its symbol, and, indeed, jaw-dropping centerpiece. It is the largest globe ever constructed, and the world’s largest free-standing sculpture. Located at Flushing Meadows Park in the Borough of Queens, New York, visionary Robert Moses commissioned its construction to be an iconic landmark from its inception.

Widely recognized as the ”master builder” of mid-20th century, urban planner Moses left his mark throughout New York State, but sadly didn’t live to enjoy Unisphere’s landmark status. Moses, 92, died at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New York on July 29, 1981. Fourteen years after Moses’ death, on May 16, 1995, Unisphere was recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and officially “. . .  designates as a Landmark the Unisphere with its surrounding pool and fountains . . ..”

The World’s Fair welcomed over 51 million visitors, far below the anticipated 70 million, and was not considered a financial success. But time has a way of rounding the corners; today, the World’s Fair, which celebrated the dawn of the space age and whose theme was ”Peace Through Understanding”, is looked at fondly and resonates.

“It had to be of the space age, it had to reflect the interdependence of men on the planet Earth, it had to emphasize their achievements and aspirations.” That was Robert Moses’ explanation of Unisphere, and it still rings true over 50 years later.

Fifty men and 50 women from all over the world have been selected as the star travelers who will embark on a one-way ticket to establish a human settlement on the planet Mars; and Queens reflects the interdependence and harmony Moses aspired to achieve. With Unisphere prominent in its landscape, Queens has a population of over 2 million, which includes over 15,000 American Indian, and is the most ethnically diverse urban area on our blue orb.

While the World’s Fair technically closed October 21, 1965, it continues to embody its original mission statement. Apparently, the World’s Fair was a success after all — especially to me . . . a West Islip, New York resident, one of the millions of visitors, and proud daughter of a Local 361 Ironworker: Building For the Future.

American Football – They’re Such Meatballs

Americans love our football, basketball and baseball, but not so much soccer . . . yet.

That being said, it was interesting to witness the excitement, hazards and global reach of the March Madness of soccer, er football, thanks to the World Cup. If you care, Germany was victorious over Argentina.

And, so, it was on the heels of that World Cup when I watched baseball’s Home Run Derby televised from Minnesota’s Target Field on Monday, July 14 . . . hmmm.

While baseball places the word “World” in their Fall Classic – perhaps that was when baseball bought into the Sun revolves around the Earth theory – this contest still resides only in the United States. Whereas FIFAs World Cup really is a contest which represents countries of the world – sort of like the Olympics.

But this little story isn’t about the World Cup, it’s about the many sports which use balls whose professional equipment specifications is painstaking. I admit it’s arduous reading, but glance through to get an idea regarding some of the specifications professional sports must adhere; in alphabetical order:

– Baseball: The spherical 9-inch ball is made out of either cork, rubber or a mixture of both, and must be 5 ounces. The ball is covered by two leather pieces which are sewn on by a cotton thread using 108 stitches.
– Basketball: Spherical ball should be made of a fiber case with a rubber bladder inside.
It measures  29-1/2 to 29.975 inches in circumference (Size 7). Almost all basketballs
have an inner rubber bladder that is inflatable. It is then wrapped in layers of fiber. It can have either eight or 12 seams no wider than 8.35 mm. Dropping a ball vertically from a height of 1,800 mm onto a hardwood floor the rebound should be between 1,200 mm and 1,400 mm at a temperature of 68 degrees F.
– Billiard Ball: All spherical balls must be composed of cast phenolic resin plastic and measure 2-1/4 inches in diameter and weigh 5-1/2 to 6 ounces. Balls should be unwaxed and unpolished.
– Bowling Ball: Spherical ball must be constructed of solid material without liquids or voids in the center. Any materials added to or included in the coverstock shall be equally distributed throughout the entire ball. Now hang onto your seats: The weight of a ball shall not exceed 16 pounds. There is no minimum weight. The surface hardness of bowling balls shall not be less than 72 Durometer D at room temperature (68 – 78 degrees F). The following guidelines are for balls weighing 13 lbs or greater: Circumference is 26.7 to 27.002 inches. The diameter is 8-1/2 to 8.595 inches. The Radius of Gyration is 2.46 to 2.8 inches. The Differential of RG has no minimum with a maximum of .06 inches. The Coefficient of Friction has no minimum with a maximum of .32 rating. The Roundness is .01 inch tolerance. Five holes maximum are allowed for gripping purposes, all for the same hand. One hole for balance purposes is permitted not to exceed 1-1/4 inches diameter at any point through the depth of the hole. One vent hole is permitted not to exceed 1/4 inch diameter. The center of the grip of a ball is determined by measuring the cut or front edge of each finger hole to the front edge of the thumb hole. Plugs may be inserted into a ball for the purpose of re-drilling the ball. Slugs may be used in place of plugging finger holes only when a new hole is drilled completely through the slug.
– Cricket Ball (Men): The spherical ball shall weigh not less than 5-1/2 ounces to 5-3/4 ounces, and shall measure not less than 8-13/16 inches to 9 inches in circumference.
– Croquet Ball: The maximum diameter of a spherical ball must not exceed 3-21/32 inches, and the minimum diameter must not be less than 3-19/32 inches.The maximum and minimum diameters of a ball must not differ by more than 1/32 inch. The weight of balls must be within 15-3/4 to 16-1/4 ounces. Dropping a ball vertically from a height of 60 inches onto a one-inch thick steel plate set rigidly in concrete, rebound should be between 31 and 37 inches. All balls must be milled with an identical pattern consisting of two orthogonal sets of grooves and the width of the grooves must be less than the width of the upstands left after grooving. Phew . . . pretty extensive specifications.
– Dodgeball: Spherical rubber balls should be used. Four 8-1/2-inch blockers and two 5-inch stingers.
– Golfball: A spherical ball which cannot be any smaller than 1.680 inches whose weight may not exceed 1.620 ounces. A perfectly smooth golf ball with no dimples would travel about 130 yards when hit with a driver by a good player versus a dimpled ball which travels about 290 yards. So, you’re right if you knew the sport of golf uses dimpled balls. Professionals tend to use three-layer wound balls which have either a solid rubber or liquid core. The ball contains many yards of elastic windings, with a molded cover made of either Surlyn, a thermoplastic resin, Surlyn like, or balata. Arrangement of the dimples on the ball must be as symmetrical as possible; however, the dimples don’t all have to be the same size, depth, or distributed uniformly. It has generally been found that less than 300 dimples is too few, and more than 500 is too many. So, to get it just right, most balls on the market today have between 350 and 450 dimples.
– Handball: Spherical ball made of a rubber or synthetic case weighing 2.3 ounces with a variation of .2 ounces. It is 1-7/8 inches in diameter with a 1/32-inch variation. Dropping a ball vertically from a height of 70 inches onto a hardwood floor the rebound should be between 46 to 50 inches at a temperature of 68 degrees F.
– Kickball: Pebbled spherical rubber ball case with a butyl bladder inside. It measures  27.2 inches and weighs 14.1 to 15.9 ounces.
– Lacrosse:
The spherical ball must be made of solid rubber and can be white, yellow or orange. The ball is 7-3/4 to 8 inches in circumference and 5 to 5-1/4 ounces.
– Outdoor Polo Ball: A spherical ball is usually made of a solid hard plastic. The polo ball must be within the limits of 3 to 3-1/2 inches in diameter and 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 ounces in weight.
– Paintball: Spherical gelatin capsule molded from two halves, creating a small and almost invisible seam. It contains primarily polyethylene glycol, other non-toxic and water-soluble substances, and dye. A very thin shell to guarantee breaking upon impact, and a thick, brightly colored fill that is difficult to hide or wipe off during the game. All ingredients used in the making of a Paintball are food grade quality and are harmless to the participants and environment. Paintballs come in a variety of sizes, including 0.50 inches (.50 Caliber) and 0.68 inches (.68 Caliber).
– Soccer Ball: Spherical ball measures 27 to 28 inches in circumference weighing 14 to 16 ounces. The inside pressure should be between 8-1/2 to 15.6 psi (Size 5).
– Stickball: Specially designed spherical tennis balls with extra low felt. All teams must use Official M.S.B.L. Balls. The balls can be burned to remove excess fuzz but cannot be burnt until completely blackened. Balls, which are blackened for play, must be rubbed down until acceptable.
– Tennis Ball TYPE 1 (Fast): Spherical ball 2.57 to 2.700 inches in diameter weighing 1.975 to 2.095 ounces. It is covered in a fibrous felt which modifies their aerodynamic properties and has a white curvilinear oval cover. Dropping a ball vertically from a height of 100 inches the rebound for type 2 should be between 53 to 58 inches.
– Volleyball: Spherical ball should be made of a flexible or synthetic leather case with a rubber bladder inside. It measures 25.59 to 26.38 inches, and weighs 8.26 to 9 ounces. The inside pressure should be at least 4.26 to 4.61 psi.

It seems I left out the sport of American Football in my alphabetical list. No worries, I didn’t, I just wanted to save it for last.

For those who have read my posts, you may remember I’m not a fan of American Football. I don’t like all of the body armor, specialist kickers, running into piles o’ people, limited use of foot contact, or the clock; and I especially didn’t like when the Baseball Cap was being morphed into the official field cap of the NFL Please read, Time to Flip Your Lid, posted September 15, 2012.

So, here it goes:

Design evolution of the prolate spheroid – better known as the American football.

– Football (American): A prolate spheroid made of a pebbled leather case with a urethane bladder inside inflated to 12-1/2 to 13-1/2 lbs. psi. It must be 11 to 11-1/4 inches long, have a long circumference between 28 and 28-1/2 inches, a short circumference between 21 and 21-1/4 inches, and weighs between 14 to 15 ounces.

Heads up NFL: Even a meatball is round - well bust my buttons!

As I was cooking last night – yes, cooking, I smiled as I placed the name of my food choice into its sauce. It got me thinking that a ball is a ball is a ball. Whether it’s made of plastic, ceramic, wood, resin, rice or meat; a ball is not an arrow, birdie, bullet, dart, discus, javelin, stone – or spheroid . . . it’s round, imagine that. Why won’t the NFL coin a better name for their pigskin?

They’re such meatballs.

Logic: It’s All Black and White For Me

Armed with the ability to ask unending questions, we’ve all endured quizacle frustrations at the hands of a mere toddler.

Q: “Why can’t animals talk?”
A: “Their vocal chords are different from ours, sweetheart.”

Q: “Why?”
A: “Because they rely on speaking in another way.”

Q: “Why?”
A: “Because animals are special.”

Q: “Why?”
A: “Because they’re one of life’s mysteries.”

Q: “Why?”

And on . . . and on . . . and on.

I’m simply exhausted thinking about how these conversations play themselves out, or should I say . . . wear themselves out. But, truth be told, a toddler’s art of questioning is really quite charming.

You see, toddlers are amazed by practically everything, want to know everything, and want to know how things work. And it’s that very quality of wonder which has advanced human beings lot in life. One question leads to another, then another, and so on.

Although we still don’t know the answer to the number one question, “What is the meaning of life?” we tend to figure out the answers to probing questions over years, decades, or centuries.

Stripes are the ultimate bug repellant. Silly me, I thought they were Mother Nature's way of runway boasting.

In the 1870s Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace posed the toddler Q&A scenario, “Why do zebras have stripes?”

Earlier this month scientists were able to answer their question. It seems biting insects prefer to land on dark surfaces because it mimics their go-to breeding environment of mud and water. So, animals whose hides are dark in color tend to suffer from biting insects, while animals of lighter-colored hides do not.

Understood. But the striped animal, the zebra, is neither dark or light, and also suffers from an additional biting insect preference. According to Tim Caro, a biologist at the University of California at Davis, biting insects can easily penetrate a zebra’s thin coat of hair. No need to continue to chomp on your Fruit Stripes®, evolution tends to get it right over time, and had it all under control.

Striped animal hides tend to confuse the navigational system of biting insects . . . thin coat of hair, or not.

It took us smarty pants humans almost 150 years to figure out what Mother Nature mastered long, long ago.

Apparently another mystery of life has bit the dust: The zebra killed two birds with one stone . . . and didn’t have to say a word.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

The majestic Statue of Liberty emits 7 rays from her crown signifying the 7 continents and 7 seas of the world. It’s unquestionably the iconic symbol for freedom . . . inviting anyone from anywhere to dare to dream.

Appropriately so, while the Oscar doesn’t even come close to her awe inspiring symbolism, the golden statuette is known worldwide with a little symbolism of his own . . . he also invites all to dream.

Louis B. Mayer came up with the idea of a dinner to recognize meritorious achievement in the film industry, and Cedric Gibbons, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s chief art director, expanded on Mayer’s idea. He floated the idea of presenting a trophy to those who were selected during the dinner’s awards ceremony. He envisioned the trophy as a knight holding a sword standing atop a film reel.

Sounded interesting and do-able, but who would translate Gibbons idea into reality?
Enter Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley.

And, on May 16, 1929 Stanley’s trophy made its appearance. Tickets for the first Academy Award’s ceremony cost between $5.00 and $10.00. The dinner was hosted by Academy President Douglas Fairbanks, and took place in the Blossom Room of Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel. The festive gathering was interrupted by a short, uneventful 15-minute ceremony to announce the trophy recipients who were already recognized three months earlier. Talk about a wet-blanket moment.

Hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, Emil Jannings was the first Academy Award of Merit trophy recipient, 1929.

Emil Jannings received the very first Academy Award of Merit statuette for his Best Actor roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. However, receiving the award was so uneventful that Jannings didn’t even make an appearance at the banquet.

Ten years later, in 1939, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences adopted the statuette’s more affectionate name – Oscar. Nobody really knows why or how the statuette received its name, but folklore has it as being coined by the Academy’s librarian and future director, Margaret Herrick, who believed it looked like her uncle . . . you guessed it . . . Oscar.

However the hand-held statuette got its name, it represents the stuff that dreams are made of – thanks Bogey, as said in the first recognized film noir, The Maltese Falcon. By the way, The Maltese Falcon was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, Screenplay.

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Back to Oscar . . . he stands a mere 13.5 inches tall weighing 8.5 pounds, and, oh,
yes . . . the film reel features five rays – signifying the five original branches of the Academy: Actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.

Cedric Gibbons, designer of the Oscar statuette.

Incidentally, not only was Gibbons the designer of Oscar, he also won the golden statuette 11 times. Gibbons was incredibly nominated 39 times for films between 1929 and 1956, including for his art direction in The Wizard of Oz. He is considered the most important art director in the history of American cinema with a record number of over 1,500 on-screen credits.

Oscar and the Statue of Liberty: Both signify the stuff that dreams are made of, inviting anyone from anywhere to dream . . . Austin Cedric Gibbons – born in Dublin, Ireland immigrated to the United States as a child with his parents . . . and dared to dream.

Take That “Best In Show”

The Westminster Dog Show is the second-longest-running American sports event after the Kentucky Derby.

Said in that context, it means the Westminster Dog Show is a high-brow sport.

That’s for sure, but the vast majority of dog owners are not high-browers, they’re wonderful Americans who simply have an immeasurable love for their mutts.

Ask anyone who watches the Show. Why, their Fido is just as adorable, just as special, just as well-groomed and mannered. The only criteria missing is their dogs lack of pedigree to establish the well-defined standards which judges must follow.

Tire Obstacle nothin. Rapture leapt through the obstacle with ease as the National Westminster Dog Show finally allowed mixed-breeds to compete in the Masters Agility Championship. Photo: AP John Minchillo

We collectively said, “Fooey” to that.

With perked ears, after 19.7 dog years, the Westminster powers that be actually listened.

This year, for the first time, a mixed-breed Masters Agility Championship competition showcased regular, stellar pooches.

And, the ribbon was awarded to: Kelso, a border collie.

Kelso, who sports from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, mastered the various obstacles showcasing the speed and agility necessary to beat 225 other furry competitors.

Kudos for Kelso . . . hot diggity dog.

New York and Knish: They Go Hand-In-Hand

Fifteen million knishes are no longer being sold as fire sweeps Gabila's knish factory.

Jack and Jill, Frick and Frack, Bat and Ball . . . you get the idea: New York and Knish.

Gotta have one . . . knish, that is . . . with spicy brown mustard – yum.

New York has always boasted having the biggest and the best of pretty much anything. Just ask Chicago, a city who is no longer home of the tallest building – it’s the 1,776-foot, spire-topped Freedom Tower . . . ahem, in New York.

The knish, a fried dumpling, was first introduced to New Yorkers by immigrants in the early 1900s, and has become a staple in American society.

But tongues are left wagging, not just in New York. You see, people all across this nation want their dumpling; simply stated . . . people are verklempt.

Gabila’s Knishes is the factory which is regarded as the biggest and the best makers of the knish. It is located in . . . you guessed it – New York – and they have suffered a fire which has caused a nationwide shortage.

Fifteen million to be exact, since the September 24 fire ruined the knish-making machines.

Food carts, cafeterias, delis, supermarkets, household refrigerators . . . and Bingo Halls – can I get an “Amen” – everyone, everywhere are having a collective knish-attack.

I think it’s Gabila’s which is too big to fail . . . not GM, or Fannie Mae, or the greedy banks.

Oy vey iz mir.

Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

President Obama, on the telephone, seems to be pretty confident. Do you think he got a leg up?

President Obama has kicked up controversy – again.

This time, Pete Souza, the White House photographer has captured the president in a causal pose speaking on the phone which was atop the desk in the Oval Office. Do you think the NSA is listening in on the conversation?

There are those who believe furniture, especially furniture in the White House, should be handled a bit more respectfully, and have made their voices heard. The problem: The casual pose depicts the leader of the free world standing, and placing his other foot on the edge of a very famous desk.

Although the spin-meisters were quickly unleashed, I don’t understand why we just cannot agree that placing ones foot on an historic desk is bad form – regardless of who does the placing. Correct me if I’m wrong, one of the etiquette lessons learned growing up included not putting feet on furniture, and certainly not on anybody elses. So, I don’t think expecting feet to stay on terra firma is odd; as a matter of fact a mea culpa of sorts seems to be a reasonable response.

But that wasn’t forthcoming, rather the spin-meister’s reasoning: Well two other presidents also did a similar pose – President Gerald Ford and President George W. Bush; what’s the big deal? Evidently their thinking is three wrongs make a right. Wow. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going out on a limb in this regard when I choose to refer to these presidents as The Three Stooges.

So, let’s visit the history of that desk.

Made from reclaimed wood from the HMS Resolute, England’s Queen Victoria presented the desk to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Since then, the desk has been modified two times. President Franklin Roosevelt requested a front privacy panel be installed to obscure his leg braces, and President Harry S. Truman added the eagle.

Photo: Stanley Tretick, "Life" Magazine

But it’s the famous endearing photograph of John John peering out from the privacy panel while his father, President John F. Kennedy, was working which most Americans are familiar.

Would any of us really accept anyone going into a museum and making himself / herself comfortable with an antique? Better yet, would a museum allow visitors to mishandle their priceless works of art? If we can all agree the answer would be a resounding, “No,” then it’s time to be honest and stop the political nonsense. Let’s respect this wonderful gift . . . the Resolute Desk:

Don’t Passover the Easter Egg

Traditions – they’re not hatched.

They’re a result of symbolism, time, and the decision to repeat based on a respect for why you decide to carry on the . . . tradition in the first place.

For example, take the Easter Egg. Yes, it’s that time. The annual White House Easter Egg Hunt, the millions of Easter Egg Hunts occurring all across the world, delivered by the Easter Bunny – er, Spring Bunny. You see; eggs, spring, and religion go hand-in-hand throughout the ages, not belonging to any single religion.

Long associated with renewal, the egg is one of the six ritualistic items found on the Seder plate during Passover. This religious ceremony is important since it celebrates the liberation of Hebrews from being under the harsh thumb of Egyptian servitude.

Because the Chinese believe eggs symbolize fertility, new parents announce the birth of their child during a “red egg and ginger party.”

And, the red egg meant something in early Christianity. Folk lore states a farmer was walking with a basketful of eggs when he was told of Jesus’ miraculous ascension. Doubting that event, he basically said, no more could that have happened than if all of his white eggs in the basket would turn red. And, guess what? They all turned red.

News spread like wildfire among the faithful Christians, and thus the exchange of red eggs was born. So important was the red egg, Mary Magdalene stated, “Christ is Risen” when she presented Emperor Tiberias with a red egg. Why red? Perhaps it represented the blood of Christ.

Ahhh . . . the red egg.

If you are of Russian Orthodox faith, Easter is among the most celebrated religious holidays. But, let’s take a trip back in time. Let’s add royalty to the mix, and then let’s add money being no object. Well, then the Easter Egg takes on a whole new, less-than-spiritual meaning.

Czar Alexander III approached jeweler extraordinaire Peter Fabergé to create what has become synonymous with priceless works of art. The Czar presented his wife, the Czarina, with a seemingly hum-drum enamel egg . . . how boring. But upon further inspection, this jaw-dropping enameled egg opened to reveal a golden hen sitting atop a golden yolk. And, within the hen, the Czarina found a miniature diamond-encrusted replica of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg. From boring to awesome in seconds . . . now, that’s a miracle.

Unfortunately, this mind-boggling work of art has been lost in the scrap heap of history, but at least Fabergé kept the traditional red egg – albeit as a ruby.

It really doesn’t matter what our religious beliefs are, or how we choose to celebrate.

The fact is the egg is an important religious, symbolic, ritualistic, and traditional treat, which has transcended from the meager, to
the ultra rich as a way to define who we are.

The Pantone Egg represents who I am. Who are you?

Traditions Are More Than Smoke When Electing a Pope

Seemingly, everyone knows about the black smoke versus the white smoke emitted from a special stove in the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, I think.

For those who don’t know: Black smoke means a pope has not been elected; while white smoke means a pope has been elected.

But, there’s so much more tradition that goes into a selection.

Cardinals are assembled from all over the world, and are affectionately referred to as the College of Cardinals. But it is the voting cardinals who elect the new pope. All cardinals, voting or not, are sworn to secrecy and locked in a room adjacent to the Sistine Chapel. This conclave – meaning with key – cannot have any contact with the outside world. No television, no letters, no telephone, nothing to influence their judgement. Sort of sounds like when a American jury is sequestered – hmmm I wonder if that part of our legal system adopted the conclave’s wisdom.

In theory – if you’re Catholic, a man, and in good standing, you can be elected pope. Like I said, in theory. But you never know, because in theory a pope is supposed to guide the Church for the remainder of his earthly life . . . and look what happened there. So even though popes have been elected from one of the cardinals since 1522, maybe the Church has another historic statement to make. Not likely, but we’ll see.

So, let’s take a deeper look into the process involved to elect a pope:

Before the process begins, by lot six cardinals are chosen to oversee the voting. Three act as a “scrutineer” those who acknowledge each vote; and three randomly-selected cardinals act as “the revisers” to verify each vote.

A conclave ballot is pierced through the word "Eligo," or choose, and strung on the thread of ballots which will be burned.

Each voting cardinal pens in his choice to be pope on the ballot, folds the ballot twice, holds the ballot in the air and approaches the Sistine Chapel’s altar. Before placing the ballot on a plate resting atop a chalice-urn, the cardinal avows, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” Placing the ballot on the plate, he then tips the plate so the ballot falls into the chalice.

After all cardinals have tipped their vote into the chalice, the counting begins. The first scrutineer takes a ballot, notes the name on it, and passes it to the second scrutineer. The second scrutineer notes the name on the ballot and passes it to the third scrutineer. It is the third scrutineer who reads the name on the ballot aloud. He then pierces the ballot with a needle and thread through the word “Eligo” and slides the ballot down the thread. Each vote goes through the same routine until all of the ballots are cast, verified, read aloud and pierced. After the final ballot is pierced, a knot is tied at the end of the thread to ensure the vote’s integrity, and the string of ballots next stop is to be burned in the stove.

If two-thirds plus one cardinal have reached consensus a pope has been elected. The Cardinal Dean, head of the College of Cardinals, then asks the candidate the following: Whether he accepts the office of Pope; if answered in the affirmative, his pontificate begins instantly, not at his inauguration. Followed by what name he wishes to be called.

The ballots are then burned which creates fumata bianco . . . white smoke, and the world learns a new pope has been elected. If a consensus was not reached, or if the elected candidate declines, the ballots are burned with a chemical to create fumata nera . . . black smoke, and the entire process begins all over again.

Until a white plume paints the sky, four solemn, time-honored votes steeped in tradition occur each day. Two votes in the morning, and two in the afternoon. If, after 12 days, two-thirds plus one cannot reach consensus, the cardinals may choose to allow the selection of the new pope by a simple majority plus one.

The election of a pope is not a debacle. There are no mud-slinging campaigns, no hanging or pregnant chads, no Supreme Court to make an election ruling. The election of a pope follows a remarkable tradition, and with all the problems swirling around the Church, and all of the problems in this unstable world, is that really such a bad thing?

There’s Nothing Like a Good-looking Pair of Shoes

I was commuting to work this morning, and was dismayed. Lined up one after another, I viewed people wearing sneakers.

The only purpose for wearing a sneaker, I maintain, is if you’re a kid in gym class, playing after school, or anyone of any age doing sneaker-type activities.

Work in a business environment is not sneaker-type activity; therefore, sneakers cannot be considered as acceptable, or an alternative to work shoes. But, apparently I’m in the minority because it’s become the norm for people to wear sneakers instead of . . . Egad! soled shoes at work. When did that happen?

So, in my dismay, I began to ponder about sneakers – what else am I supposed to do on a bus?

In 1840 Charles Goodyear (yes, that Goodyear), patented a new manufacturing process called vulcanization, a process which fuses rubber to cloth.

1917 US Rubber Keds advertisement

From 1892 to 1913, US Rubber had scads of rubber footwear divisions. They wisely decided to consolidate them under one name. Their first name choice, Peds, was already taken. Not to be dismayed (like me on the bus) the old adage, “When one door closes, another door opens” took hold. And, boy did that second door fling open with “Keds,” the future iconic American brand.

Today, the word stealth is commonly used to denote the characteristics of avoiding detection, like the Stealth Bomber. But, back in the day, the word of choice to describe that characteristic was sneak. When a person wore shoes their steps were noisy and detectable, but a person who wore vulcanized footwear . . . you guessed it, their steps were quiet and not detectable.

So, what do we call this new type of footwear? Leave it to the advertisers. The good ones really know what they’re doing. And Henry Nelson McKinney was really good. You see, he coined the name of this new vulcanized footwear as . . . sneakers.

And, so history was made. Keds became the first mass-marketed canvas top/rubber bottom sneaker in 1917.

Today, the numbers surrounding the footwear industry are mind-boggling. By 2015 the global footwear market is expected to reach $195 billion, and that’s after taking a hit due to the global recession. In 2012, U.S. consumers spent $20 billion, while 30 percent of the market share was in athletic footwear.

And, since so many businesses opt for a more casual dress code, footwear companies have upped the ante. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, they’ve adapted their business model and created sneakers that blend nicely into the workplace. . . people who want the comfort of sneakers but the look of good ol’ soled shoes.

I’m a traditionalist I guess. I believe you should wear shoes in the workplace – I want people to hear when I’m entering a room.

Who’s Really the Pig . . . Really?

Well, the new year is upon us and that means it’s time for New Year’s Resolutions.

You’ll never guess which resolution continues to hold the numero uno position . . . yep, you’re sooooo smart. It’s losing weight.

As you know, our country continues to be steeped with do-gooders who are making laws, or attempting to make laws, itemizing what the acceptable food choices are for “free” Americans regarding health-conscience food intake.

And then there’s the marketing aspect of food choices. Heart healthy, smart choice, reduced sodium, lite, lean, gluten free and fat free are just some of the words used to prod consumers into making better food choices.

So, even though we are armed with a massive amount of nutritional information, and are seemingly concerned about food choices; we also boast that everything is bigger in Texas. But, sorry Texas, America’s food portions are big in every state as compared to other civilized societies – just ask Missouri, the “Show Me” state.

How does a food establishment get fannies in their seats, expand its reputation, and become known for a particular slant on a traditional dish which will make it different, tasty and memorable?

I guess we would begin with a quick, easy-to-make, non-regional popular dish which relies on flavor, like – maple, brown sugar, hickory, smoked . . . and amp up the portion – big time. And so, Tony’s I-75 Restaurant in Birch Run, Missouri did just that. But, after eating their bigger-than-big concoction, a “Run” would probably cause a major heart attack.

You see, Tony’s has earned a place on the food map with their infamous BLT sandwich.

I see the tons o’ bacon, I see the bread (which looks Oh! so small in relation to the bacon mound), but I don’t see the vine-ripe tomatoes (do they really have to be vine ripe), or the swaths of mayonnaise.

But, I digress.

After the first three bites, I mean chunks, of this “sandwich” overflowing with 2 pounds of bacon, do the remaining bites, I mean chunks, really taste as good? I don’t think so.

As human beings, we are supposed to eat to fuel our bodies. Ahhh, what was I thinking – there’s the catch – human beings.

So, staying on the human being concept: What human being believes eating this concoction equates to a reasonable level of fuel intake. Where is the calorie count, nutritional information, recommended daily allowance of sodium, calories, carbohydrates, etc.  . . . you get the picture. Better yet, where is Mayor Bloomberg when you need him? But, even the mayor would probably think one would be mighty thirsty – well over 16 oz. thirsty –  after consuming this matterhorn menu item.

This sandwich now begs the question: Who’s the pig, now? Why would a person want to behave in such a boarish manner?

But, in all fairness: I feel sorry for those pigs . . .  the four-legged victims.

Mother Nature – The Great Equalizer is an Equal Opportunity Offender

If life has taught me anything, it has taught me that events are viewed by the willing or unwilling participants caught up in the event itself – whatever that event may be, or however it unfolds – you see, natural disasters humble even the most arrogant.

Cat 1 Hurricane Sandy left its indelible mark on this homeowner's castle – their house – as 94 mph winds and an intense storm surge ripped this house in half.

Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re affluent, middle class, or of modest means; if you earned a college degree, or are a blue-collar worker; if you’re employed full time or part time, underemployed or unemployed; a homeowner, an estate owner or renter; mass transit user or not; male or female; young or old; a majority or minority, etc. Mother Nature sees, but more important – treats everyone the same. Everyone, and everything is on her level playing field, playing by her rules . . . and her rules alone.

Sadly, as witnessed in the recent case of “Super Storm” Hurricane Sandy, it didn’t matter to survivors if her wind speed was 94 mph – or 200 mph. You see, when loved ones are lost, belongings destroyed, and normal life is changed – statistics mean nada.

A house so oppulent that it was named "Merry Mansion" wasn't so merry after Cat 5 Hurricane Camille's 200 mph winds and 30-foot storm surge made landfall and destroyed this once beautiful structure. Photo: Chauncey Hinman

Back on August 17, 1969, the “Storm of the Century,” Hurricane Camille, made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was this Category 5 Hurricane which claimed over 100 lives, had top wind speeds of over 200 mph, and a storm surge over 30 feet high.

Weather events which fit certain criteria are given the title of “hurricane” in order to separate and elevate it from normal weather patterns. But, that title isn’t enough. So, in addition to the title, these weather events are also given names, ie: Sandy, Camille, Katrina, Andrew, Ike, Ivan, etc. But, the title and name isn’t enough when faced with extreme weather. That’s when modifiers are added; hence “Super Storm” Sandy, “Frankenstorm” Sandy, “Storm of the Century” Camille. That’s when it’s serious. That’s when we have to sit up and take notice.

So, when storms of that magnitude devastate everything in it’s path, can society mend long-term with the after effects?

In conjunction with the passage of time, what are the historic mechanisms we as people gravitate toward in order to solemnly remember horrors in a symbolic, meaningful gesture?

What gesture helps humankind understand an event through gentler eyes in order to begin to mend its shattered soul?

It took 32 years, but on August 17, 2001 a black granite monument etched with the names of Camille’s 131 dead and 41 missing was unveiled. Although there are other memorials dedicated to Hurricane Camille, Elizabeth Veglia’s vision is the only one which honors the victims from all three coastal counties.

Names etched in granite is a solemn, respectful way to personalize a memorial, yes – but Elizabeth Veglia personalized further. In this gesture, she didn’t want to rely upon an inscribed description of the event in order to understand the painful memorial. One look and you know exactly what tragic destiny befell these normal, everyday people.

Mosaic artist Elizabeth Veglia creates a powerful memorial from the ruins of Hurricane Camille.

Today’s clearer eyes see the awesome profile of the hurricane which Veglia masterfully depicted in a mosaic made from pieces of glass, pottery and an assortment of other ceramics recovered from the debris field.

I don’t know if climate change is happening, I don’t know if the North American continent is on the short list of calamities yet to unfold. I don’t know what calamities await the rest of the world, but what I do know for sure: There will be many more gestures to help society mend its shattered soul because Mother Nature doesn’t have gentle eyes.

Creative Ways To Ensure the Beauty and Necessity of Undersea Cities

Retired NYC Subway cars used to create man-made reef / Photo credit: Tim Shaffer

In 1961, Hawaii created their first artificial reef made from sunken automobile bodies at Maunalua Bay, off Kahala, Since then, concrete pipes, barges and a minesweeper have been submerged as Hawaii recognizes the importance of reefs. And in 2008, retired New York City subway cars were hurled into the waters 16 miles off the coast of Delaware to jumpstart their new artificial reef.

It has been determined that all of those articles are good choices to spark reef formations. While Jason deCaires Taylor understands the need for eco-systems that healthy reefs provide, he also is an artist.

The beauty of sea life / © Jason deCaires Taylor

Therefore, why not sink a beautiful item as the foundation of reef formation? So, he took an aesthetic plunge, and in 2006 Taylor embarked on his new strategy to bring attention to the decline of the number of reefs worldwide.

Taylor, an environmental artist, decided to create an underwater museum by sinking 65 of his sculptures into Moilinere Bay, Grenada. Each sculpture is made from cement with a neutral pH so ocean life can safely take up residence, live long and prosper.

Although we all cannot travel to see and experience Taylor’s museum, has he piqued your interest in coral reefs?

We all know reefs are home to lush, colorful and wonderful sea life. Whether we’re talking about water filtration, fish reproduction, shoreline protection, or shoreline erosion prevention, the job of coral reefs are diverse and important. But, what are coral reefs and why are they so important to life outside of the sea?

Coral reefs are colonies of individual animals related to sea anemones, called polyps, whose tentacles feed on plankton. Perhaps more interesting, polyps are home to the algae which live in their tissue and gives coral its color. Their symbiotic relationship ultimately produces waste products which algae need in order for photosynthesis to occur. Now the algae can feed the coral with oxygen . . .  which in turn allows the coral to grow its skeleton known as – you guessed it, the coral reef.

Healthy coral reefs provide water filtration, bountiful food sources for sea life, and protection for the smallest sea life to the largest predatory fish. Coastal residents and businesses rely on reefs because they play an integral role in protecting shorelines from land erosion caused by storms and water surges. Their presence absorbs the energy which reduces the destructive power of waves pounding shorelines.

Coral reefs foster life. They provide clear water, food, livelihoods, coastal integrity, and tourism for over 500 million people in 94 countries, and now . . . not the lost society of Atlantis – but a strangely eerie, jaw-dropping creative beauty.

The underwater sculpture museum / © Jason deCaires Taylor

It Doesn’t Get Any Better

It’s not a coincidence, the general consensus of why dogs look like their owners are:
1) People are naturally drawn to what looks like them
2) Dogs and their owners tend to morph into a resemblance over time
3) Subliminal

Whatever the reason, studies have shown a remarkable number of people were able to match the correct dog owners with the correct dogs.

That brings me to the 1997 movie, “As Good As It Gets” starring Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, Helen Hunt and, of course, Verdell.

Verdell, the dog, reluctantly winds up being cared for by the eccentric, OCD neighbor, Melvin, played by Jack Nicholson. As time goes on, Verdell and Melvin begin to bond as Verdell picks up Melvin’s habits – and his looks.

Verdell was the vehicle needed to crack Melvin’s hardened exterior . . . which enabled Melvin to disarm himself, show compassion and begin to live a less-suffocated life. The dog was played by six different Brussels Griffons: Timer, Sprout, Debbie, Billy, Parfait and the star – Jill.

As discussed in a “New York Times” article, “Scientists suspect that some people look for certain traits or predispositions when choosing a dog that reflect their own personalities.”

But I don’t think the person responsible for casting the role of Verdell needed to rely on any scientific data. Trained by Roger Schumacher, the choice to cast a Brussels Griffons to play the supporting role to Nicholson’s was brilliant. You see, the Brussels Griffons and Melvin seemed to morph into each other before our very eyes. Verdell made the movie.

The casting of Verdell is as good as it gets – what do you think?

Don’t Be a Tart: Rediscover the Benefits of the Lemon

That time is upon us when the calendar suggests hot weather. Depending on where you live, you might be experiencing high humidity, sweltering heat or hazy sunny days . . . but no need to be mellow, it’s time to get yellow.

Lemon yellow, that is . . .  the happy, bright, tangy, summer-loving fruit.

So, let’s get a little more familiar with the multi-tasker: The lemon.

The lemon tree blossoms and bears fruit simultaneously – which is unusual for fruit trees, and doesn’t have to rely on the honey bee because it doesn’t require cross pollination.

Lemons are classified either as the Femminello and Verna species – North Africa and Europe, or the Sicilian species – United States and South Africa. Since we’re in the United States, let’s focus on the Sicilian species which is further broken down into two sub-types: Eureka and Lisbon.

Eureka grows in large clusters not protected by the tree’s canopy, and bears fruit year-round. Its pulp is greenish-yellow, they are very juicy and very acidic and normally marketed as fresh fruit.

Lisbon lemons are very similar to Eureka, except the fruit grows on the inside of the tree protected by the tree’s leaves. Its pulp is also very juicy and very acidic.

Unless you’re a lemon specialist you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two species, and they’re so similar that they are grown and packaged together.

It doesn’t matter which lemons your favorite grocer carries, the good news is lemons are readily available. So pick some up to flavor your favorite foods on the grill, use the grated peel for garnishments, incorporate the juice as part of sauces and salad dressing, or make that cool, refreshing drink: The timeless treat – fresh-squeezed lemonade.

If you haven’t added lemons to your year-round home and food repertoire, seriously reconsider. The perfect texture, size and shape, lemons fit nicely into the palm of your hand for the ultimate squeezing action. Their wonderful color and scent goes a long way in home decor and they add a healthy, zesty, tangy flavor to your food. Lemons aid digestion and break down fatty foods, and they’re also chock full of vitamin C, folate, fiber and potassium.

Take that banana.

In the Eye of the Beholder

Sometimes the intended use of a product is eclipsed by an out-of-the-box use for that same product.

Like the pencil . . . it’s not too soft, it’s not too hard, it’s just right. It’s the No. 2 pencil, and it’s number one for Jennifer Maestre.

Asteridae – 5 x 24 x 24" © Jennifer Maestre

The higher the number, the harder the graphite (lead). Architects, accountants, draftsmen and engineers prefer harder graphite for more precise control, while artists generally prefer softer graphite for the smudge factor and flowing transitions.

Wait a second . . . Jennifer is an artist, but she’s not interested in
the quality of the graphite or the smudge factor. She’s interested in the pencil itself, “pencils are common objects, here, these anonymous objects become the structure.”

So, how do we get from raw wood to works of art?

Logs are cut into Pencil Stock at a sawmill and dried in a kiln before being shipped to a Slat factory. Once at the Slat factory, the dried wood is cut into smaller Blocks and a special circular saw shapes the wood into Slats – hence the name of the factory.

These “blanks” are then shipped to pencil factories throughout the world where a machine bores a hollow tunnel through the center of the Slat. This groove holds the core material needed for the use of the particular pencil. A mixture of graphite and clay for writing pencils, wax-based cores for color pencils, or various mixtures and formulations for cosmetic pencils.

The rest of the pencil goes through a few more steps to become the pencil you’re used to using. The outer layer is painted and has no less than four coats of lacquer, and the eraser is held in place by a crimped metal band. Yes, that band has a cool name . . .  a ferrule.

Aurora – 7 x 17 x 17" © Jennifer Maestre

Now that we all had a crash course in the dull world of pencil making, the greater our appreciation for Jennifer Maestre’s pencil sculptures. Her sculptures flow – they have movement and flexibility not normally associated with the stiff, unyielding pencil. Maestre has taken pencils to new heights, to
the depths of the sea – where the pencils themselves have become the art.

Maestre explains, “To make the pencil sculptures, I take hundreds of pencils, cut them into 1-inch sections, drill a hole in each section (to turn them into beads), sharpen them all and sew them together. The beading technique I rely on most is peyote stitch.”

What would the world be like without artists like Jennifer Maestre . . . my guess is dull and flat – like an unsharpened pencil.

Happy Birthday to You

Well, we certainly are a superstitious lot.

The ancient Greeks are considered to be the first to introduce many things, including the “Birthday Cake” –  a round-shaped bread in honor of the Goddess of Moon. Placing candles in a round pattern allowed the lit candles to simulate the glow of the moon; while others believe the smoke from the lit candles carried the mortals wishes and prayers to the Gods above.

The pastry-like cake, baked in layers and sweeter than bread cakes, is believed to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. The German tradition of placing a single large candle in the center of the cake symbolized the light of life.

England’s tradition poses the most problem for me. They placed small objects inside the cake; a coin signified wealth, a ring signified a wedding, finding a thimble in your slice signified you would never marry, etc. I would think the cutting of the cake produced a lot of anxiety as opposed to a happy gathering – way too much potential for mean-spiritedness.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that icing and decorations were added to the birthday cake. Although beautiful, the price of ingredients limited availability to the affluent since they were the only group able to afford this opulent treat. It took almost 100 years, but finally the cost of ingredients became more affordable making these luxury cakes attainable by most.

There probably isn’t a single household whose celebration deviates too much from the superstitious traditions of birthday cake and candles.

So, here we are . . . close your eyes, make a silent wish and take a deep breath. Blow out all those candles in one breath and your wish will come true.

Happy Birthday to You – UB, MB, America.

Biometrics: I Got My Eyes Set On You

Fingerprints, which law enforcement has relied on for years, are unique and relatively reliable . . . but data has determined biometrics is ten times more accurate.

We are going to become more familiar with biometrics, so much so that it will replace fingerprints as an identification standard. You see, biometrics is the technology that measures and analyzes biological data based on characteristics or traits.

With our planet’s ever-increasing population, security and access has become paramount in order to identify people from one another. That’s why passwords and fingerprints just won’t cut it anymore in this high-tech, fast-paced global community we all live.

Because a person’s iris pattern in each eye is genetically determined and unique from the other, an iris scan identifies around 240 unique features – which is roughly five times more information charted than in the fingerprint.

The businesses of security and law enforcement will greatly benefit. But, between DNA mapping and iris scans, maybe we can concentrate on utilizing these great strides in science to unlock the human mysteries of disease and ageing.

There are many things my eyes “see” as a result of this burgeoning technology, that’s for sure, but I’m beginning to feel a little like a robot. Silly me, I thought I was a real person – things are getting too creepy.

The Adams Family Were True Visionaries

As July 4 fast approaches, it’s worth your time to read The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784. This wonderful collection includes one of John Adams’ visionary letters. He famously, and beautifully, wrote this letter to his wife, Abigail, on how he believed future generations should celebrate our newly-declared Independence:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

It would be refreshing if one day a year we could put aside our differences and celebrate as Adams envisioned. Recognizing just how glorious the sacrifices our ancestors made in order for us to proudly state, “We are Americans.”

Word of the Week: Cufflink

No, it’s not the name of the two pet turtles, Cuff and Link, in the movie “Rocky”, but good guess.

Cufflink – : a usually ornamental device consisting of two parts joined by a shank, chain, or bar for passing through buttonholes to fasten shirt cuffs — usually used in plural. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

It’s Time to 86 It? Nah, Never

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” – Marilyn Monroe

A belief that this one-of-a-kind obviously took to heart: An early pioneer in owning her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller managed to walk her down the aisle, but each marriage ended in divorce.

Forever the first centerfold in Playboy magazine, Monroe made 30 films. Among them, “The Seven Year Itch” which had one of the most memorable scenes in cinema: Marilyn’s white halter dress blowing up as she was standing above a subway grate.

Monroe first appeared as a platinum blonde in 1952; and although the look became her iconic trademark, today we honor Marilyn Monroe on what would have been her 86th birthday –  just as we like to remember her, platinum.

Can You Yell, Suwee?

If a train left the station . . . what is altitude 39 degrees 50 minutes Longitude 98 degrees 35 minute NE 1/4 – SE 1/4 0 S32?

No, it’s not a math question you’ll find on the dreaded SATs – really. It’s regarded as the Geographical Center of the contiguous United States of America – and those stats translate into – drum roll, please … Lebanon, Kansas.

So, Dorothy, Kansas is “home” to all of us. Who knew?

Because the exact center is on a privately-owned former hog farm, a marker was erected at the end of a paved road about one mile away on K-191. But, don’t blink or you’re liable to miss this unassuming landmark.

Suwee!

Michael: The Lady in Red

On May 30, 1868 flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery – voila, Memorial Day observed.

New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890 Memorial Day was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day until after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring fallen soldiers who fought in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any conflict.

It was during World War I when the lives of 368 soldiers ended in Flanders Field, Belgium. Once an open field full of wild poppies, it is now a sacred burial ground which blossoms with poppies amongst the headstones.

Moina Michael, from Georgia, was the first to conceive of, and wear, red poppies on Memorial Day in response to a moving poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The VFW adopted Michael’s vision in 1922 and became the first veterans’ organization to offer their artificial poppies in exchange for a donation. By 1924 the VFW teamed up with disabled veterans and introduced the now familiar “Buddy” Poppy program.

The poppy has become the world’s most recognized memorial symbol for the bravest among us – soldiers who died in conflict.

Unfolding Wrinkles

The Chinese Shar-Pei is a unique
dog breed showcasing abundant wrinkles as a puppy.

Although the hallmark wrinkles smooth themselves out throughout the dog’s adult body, their loose skin allows the dog to be bitten by other predators without causing damage to its internal organs.

In 2008, a group of researchers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona discovered the presence of mucinosis, a hereditary disorder which is responsible for the Shar-Pei’s characteristic wrinkles.

Research of mucinosis could lead to a greater understanding and unfolding of human processes such as cell recognition and ageing.

The Chinese Shar-Pei will probably be regarded as . . . woman’s best friend – how ironic.

Wedding Bell Blues

Make room Fido, the wedding industry has eclipsed $48 billion.

Of course, costs vary depending on where you live: Manhattan, New York tops the list as among the most expensive, over $70,000; while Utah comes in at a little over $13,000.

The average cost of an American wedding is $30,000 – and that does not include the honeymoon.

Hmmm, can you guess which industry makes just about double?

Divorce lawyers.

The 7 Ups

On May 5, 1961 aboard the
Freedom 7, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to be catapulted up into space.

The sub-orbital flight lasted
15 minutes and reached a height
of 116 miles into the atmosphere.

Many think that ‘first’ belongs to
John Glenn, but he was the first American astronaut to orbit Earth in the Mercury Friendship 7. Glenn’s flight lasted
4 hours, 55 minutes on February 20, 1962.

Evidently NASA’s manned space exploration has lost its once awe-inspiring lustre.

Location, Location, Location

How would you like to scale a 30-story building every time you had to go shopping?

Residents of Comuna 13 District are nestled on the steep hillside in one of the poorest areas of Medellin, Columbia.

Now, residents can ride the world’s longest outdoor escalator. Broken up into six sections, the trip which used to take
35 minutes, now takes only six breezy minutes.