April Tornadoes

News of the tornado that hit Utica, Illinois, on Tuesday night made me think about the deadly twisters (see, I still have some newspaper guy in me) that hit northern Illinois on April 21, 1967. I remember the day because Mom picked me up at school and we had to get off the road when an extremely intense thunderstorm swept through; she pulled off Exchange Street into an abandoned farm yard in what is now a commercial area in University Park. It was only about 4 in the afternoon, but the sky was nearly black and it rained so hard for about five or ten minutes that you couldn’t see to drive. As it turned out, storms were sweeping the entire region.  At 4:30, a twister hit a high school in Belvedere, just outside Rockford, killed 24 and injured 400. About 45 minutes later, another tornado struck Oak Lawn and nearby suburbs, about 20 miles north of us, killing 33 and injuring 500.

Austrian Housepainter

Living in a place that has its very own Austrian immigrant
fixing things for the Volk — I mean the people — I need to
acknowledge what I think every year on this date: that it’s Hitler’s
birthday. Der Fuehrer, 1889-1945. As the Franz Liebkind (crazy German
playwright) character says in "The Producers":


"Hitler! There was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in a single afternoon. Two coats!"

Of course, unlike most housepainters — OK,
any other housepainter I can think of, though I haven’t checked
Stalin’s or Genghis Khan’s resumes —  this one got a commotion
going that killed 50 or 60 or 70 million people.

All the Poop That’s Fit to Report

In the quest to find out more about ShitBegone toilet paper — facts such as, is it real? — I happened upon this stunning source of excretory information: PoopReport.com.
Full of useful and fun facts and speculation,  such as a quick
user review of the Toto Drake toilet — it disposes of absolutely
anything, despite using just 1.6 gallons per flush; and a report on
whether terrorists might launch a strike on the United States by
spiking our toilet paper.

And oh, yes, there’s a nice little interview with the creator of ShitBegone, a Brooklyn lad named Jed Ela.

[Generic] Toilet Paper

You can’t get much more basic than this: ShitBegone. Advertised as "100 percent recycled toilet paper," which might give your imagination some exercise. Ninety-six rolls for $44.99. Lovely — though I will quibble with how the name is rendered. "Shitbegone" follows "woebegone"; so it could be interpreted as "overcome by shit" — which would probably make it the perfect toilet paper for our times. If I were marketing director, or nitpicker in residence, I’d have fought for ShitBeGone.

By way of Boing Boing

Mercenaries in Iraq

Good long feature
in Monday’s New York Times on the "private security companies"
operating in Iraq. Of course, when I think of "security companies" and
"security guards," I think of some poor guy taking lip from a
late-night patron of White Castle. But the Times piece makes it clear
that, semantics aside, these outfits in Iraq and their employees are
hardly distinguishable from the traditional picture of the mercenary:


With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these
companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases
all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and
private commandos. Company executives see a clear boundary between
their defensive roles as protectors and the offensive operations of the
military. But more and more, they give the appearance of private,
for-profit militias — by several estimates, a force of roughly 20,000
on top of an American military presence of 130,000. … By some recent government
estimates, security costs could claim up to 25 percent of the $18
billion budgeted for reconstruction, a huge and mostly unanticipated
expense that could delay or force the cancellation of billions of
dollars worth of projects to rebuild schools, water treatment plants,
electric lines and oil refineries."

Rich Fudgy Brownies

The Associated Press roundup on the MoveOn.org
bake sale (carried in the San Francisco Chronicle and a handful of
other papers) says that the activists put on about 1,000 or 1,100 bake
sales that brought in a total of about $250,000. Among the smattering
of other coverage, local stories in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Los Angeles Times had a squib or a squib and a half that I notice the Chicago Tribune picked up.

Bake Sales

Well, Kate and I spent a couple hours this morning walking around to MoveOn bake sales
in our general neighborhood. On one level, it seems like touchy-feely
naivete: Bake sales to defeat Bush? Yeah, right. On the other hand, it
was really encouraging to see the enthusiasm for the idea around town
and the determination people have that the small things they’re doing
in their own communities, and the money they’re gathering, could build
into something big. Of course, this is Berkeley, and you could get
people to do bake sales for nearly anything; at one gathering, someone
said there were 19 MoveOn bake sales around town; I’ll bet there were
even more. But I wonder how many there were in, say, Kansas.(I just
searched on the MoveOn site for future bake sales within 3 miles of our
zip code, and got five results. I checked for similar events coming up
within 300 miles of Wichita and got three hits. And actually, MoveOn has a map that illustrates where the bake sale hot spots were and weren’t) More on
this tomorrow.

What People Want and Need

This should have been posted April 13. But it wasn’t because of repeated Radio UserLand finicks.

And now the news:

Kate sent me one of the daily entries from Minnesota Public Radio’s "The Writer’s Almanac."
I like it. That’s an official endorsement, though be assured no money
changed hands for it. It’s a nice collection of daily trivia on
writerly stuff that wanders into historical stuff. The other day was
the anniversary of the opening of Galileo’s trial, so the almanac
contained a short essay on why Galileo mattered and still does.
Yesterday, or now the day before yesterday, the 13th, it was Thomas
Jefferson’s birthday. He was actually born on April 2 in 1743 — so I
count him as a birthday pal — but the date was moved when Britain and
the colonies ditched the Julian calendar for the Gregorian in 1752. No
extra charge for that information — I’ve always been fascinated by the
idea of a bunch of people having their birthdays changed.

But what I really wanted to write about was this note in the little almanac section on Eudora Welty, also born on the 13th:


"She tried getting a job in advertising but, she said, ‘It was too much like
sticking pins into people to make them buy things they didn’t need or really
want.’ "


So two things:

First, that’s why I think I am/would be no good at selling or promoting
or marketing stuff — goods, merchandise, services that you ought to
pay for if you want to be sated, satisfied, or successful. A voice
inside says, "You know, this is really in my interest, not yours, to
take this off my hands. And is it really as good as I’m telling you it
is? And is it what you need?"

But — and this is point two — I think the reason I’ve stuck to news or
things that closely resemble news is that I’ve always believed and
felt, mind and heart, that it’s something people really do need and
want. Still do, and that’s what makes the job fun still even if you
hear me whining.

April 14 …

Another significant family date: Anne O’Malley Hogan, our grandmother,
known to some as "Mighty Anne" (though I guess you’d have to see her
coming at you with a broom or other improvised implement of destruction
to really understand why) would be 106 today. But as I said to some
coworkers, she missed the party by 24 years.

She was a college-educated woman from a working-class
South Side Irish family (sorry for the redundancy there) who raised a
pretty amazing crop of kids first in the middle of the Depression (and
whatever other depression was going on) and later after a series of
tragedies that might have been expected to crush her: the drowning of
one of her six kids (and three other family members) and the death of
her husband when the oldest of the five surviving children was 14. I think the
way she brought them through it — not unscathed, to be sure, but
with a sense they could not only survive but thrive — was what got her
the name Mighty Anne.

I don’t have a digital copy of any of her pictures. If I did, I’d post it.