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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's in a name...

Chieri, in the Italy province of Liguria, was a textile manufacturing center in the 14th century. There a heavy cotton fabric was developed to make trousers for sailors out of the nearby port of Genoa. Dye from the gualdo plant produced a distinctive blue that the French, when they began to manufacture their own version of the sailor’s pants, called bleu de Genes or “Genoa blue.” The English adopted the garb, pronouncing them “blue jeans.”

Loeb Strauss was born near Munich in 1829. His father sold clothing, and his son entered the trade. When Loeb was 24 he heard about the California Gold Rush and decided to emigrate. He took along several bolts of canvas which he intended to use for tents and wagon covers, but when he reached San Francisco he discovered that the miners in the fields to the north and east needed pants that would hold up in the gritty business of digging and panning for gold. So he made his cloth into work clothing. Under the impression that it made him sound more American, he had begun using “Levi” instead of “Loeb,”. His customers liked the sturdy pants, which they called “Levis,” but complained that they chafed.

So Strauss began importing a softer canvas twill made in France, called serge de Nimes.” Another tailor from Reno named Jacob Davis had begun buying material from Levi Strauss to manufacture Levis. To solve the problem of ripping seams that miners reported, Davis experimented with rivets at the corners of the pockets. Unable to afford to the cost of a patent application, Davis wrote to Strauss, offering to share his invention. Strauss agreed. On May 20, 1873, U.S. Patent No. 139,121 was issued for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” By this time the phrase serge de Nimes had been Anglicized to “denims.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another roadside story

On a perfect spring afternoon, the air temp at 70F, I enjoyed a couple of hours of bike workout yesterday, including pushing into a stiff northeasterly breeze—15 knots or so—all the way to County K. Around mile 20 I turned south, so the was wind finally with me. I finished my final climb and turned west toward home.
Hammering along 9th St around 28mph I passed a guy fishing in the irrigation canal, his car parked on the north side of the road. I didn’t see the filament of his fishing line until the sun caught it, perhaps a foot ahead and at chest level. I uttered a cry of dismay as I hurtled into it, hoping it wasn’t tipped with a big hook, which I could just picture ripping into my left arm and then tearing across my chest. Instead there was a quick thump as a lure of some sort struck me and bounced away. I stopped and rode back the hundred meters or so I’d traveled in the three or four seconds the whole episode had lasted. The fisherman was walking tentatively toward me, staying on the grass off the road, as if he expected me to ride into him with my bike. I said it was a risky thing to have done as he repeated apologies. I glanced at the end of the line in his hand, as he told me I hadn’t parted it; the line was tipped with what appeared to be a very small spoon. Good luck for me. Without discussing the matter with him, I surmised that his line had been blown back over his head and into the bushes on the south side by the strong northeasterlies.

As I headed on back again, no damage done, I thought of the surely thousands of men and boys, all over central Wisconsin, I’d passed fishing from the roadsides in ponds and streams, without ever once thinking that I might encounter one of their lines across the road, as I just had for the first time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nietzsche's News...

The year I finished high school in Southern California, astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) died. Yes, the "Hubble" space-telescope is named after him. His working life was spent at Mt Wilson observatory in Pasadena, where he began his observations in 1919. In 1925 he published his discovery, made in the winter of 1922-1923, that comparisons of light-sources to "Cepheid variables" (look it up) proved there were thousands of galaxies outside the circumference of our own so-called "Milky Way" galaxies. Think of it. The first news that the Milky Way was not the "universe" arrived just ten years before I was born. And few believed it. Five years later, in fateful 1929, Hubble proved--this time using the principle of Doppler "redshift"--that all those galaxies were moving away from one another at millions of miles per second. This is the discovery that led to the "big bang" theory: not only does the universe consist of trillions of stars and galaxies, but they all originated somehow from a single "point". Even fewer were prepared to believe this. Nevertheless, both discoveries have become the established basis for our current science. And all this has happened virtually in my lifetime. No wonder so many people--the ignorant and the credulous--are still frightened and outraged by the fact that the entire fabric of religious cosmology has been destroyed. That's right; the source of much of the "anger" so widely chronicled is the well-founded fear that everything humans have believed--have wanted to believe--for thousands of years is false. There was an origin, but no creation; there will be an end, but no salvation. Personally, I've always experienced discovery and change as thrilling. But I'm not in the majority...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Listening to TV at the fitness center...


Morning in America

What draws you to them at first is the nicknames
they have for each other and their little jokes, like
the remark the woman makes to her co-host
about his tie, then apologizes and even touches it
so she seems to more than like him, and why not,

he's handsome in a regular-guy, unthreatening
sort of way, and when they all come back
from a commercial, you almost wonder whether
the blonde who does the news might be a little
jealous, given how she keeps it up about the tie,

or maybe you think just for an instant, how is it
possible for him to watch her all dressed up in her
serious costume to read the news each morning
and not sometimes think of her "in that way,"
but when you happen to catch it the next morning,

she brings in pictures of her baby, and you say
wait a minute, she has a whole other life
off the set, this is a job and these people
are professionals, the newswoman herself,
for openers, reading right through the bad news

about all the shoppers who blew up in the open
market in Iraq and the shocking statistics about
obesity in the United States, unable no matter
how hard she tries to avoid a touch of sadness
on her face, as if what can she do besides continue

to be thin and appealing herself, which is when
you really appreciate the fat laughing guy
who does the weather because you can be serious
for just so long, and anyway there's always a silver
lining in every dark cloud, like he says, for instance

the ones hovering right here over the Midwest,
gesturing toward the cloud graphic spinning
into place, and even though everybody groans
over his corny joke including the ones behind
the camera you can't see, it sort of speaks

for the whole show, OK, the rock star can come on
to pitch her new CD but not without talking about
how she overcame depression and drug use,
and the man selling the book about his mother's
Alzheimer's has to explain how forgetting

who she was made them closer, since basically
this is all about helping you, looking in, deal with
whatever life throws at you, as the male co-host
puts it, turning between guests to his partner
while she nods thoughtfully under her hair, because

she doesn't really think of this as a job, she should be
paying the network, she says, not the other way around,
though right now they have to go to a commercial
again not just one, of course, but ten or fifteen,
the same old thing of models pretending

they are amazed housewives or sick husbands
or doctors in lab coats saying buy this,
buy that, so you can't wait to get back
to some human beings who care about each other
and about us, and who are who they really are.

--Wesley McNair, from Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems. © David R. Godine, 2010.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Roadside attractions

My bike workout yesterday afternoon proved interesting, not because of my hill-repeats on Sunset Drive but because of my chancing to return down N 2nd St and so happening upon the scene of an accident below the I-39 bridge. As I crested the rise I saw the pickup first, parked next to the northbound lane. Then I saw the people gathered along the bridgewall on my side of the road, looking north. Finally the lights of the emergency vehicles on the highway below came into view. I stopped. Crews were working to haul a small red sedan from the ditch, which seemed to be buried in the grass and mud. I assumed the car had left the highway, but the lane-edge markers were unscathed. I traced the tire-marks on the grass verge and, to my surprise, found them disappearing beneath the bridge. I crossed over to find that the car had left the pavement just before the end of the northbound on-ramp, flattened the large YIELD sign on its post, continued under the bridge on a severe slope, knocked down three saplings on the crest of a rise, become airborne, pancaked into the ditch some thirty to fifty feet further on—chewing a car-sized patch of grass into mud—then come to rest more than fifty meters along the ditch. I turned to the people I’d seen at first—the four of whom easily weighed more than half a ton—to ask if they’d seen the crash. “No,” one woman said, “we heard about it on the scanner.” Then I noticed the large walkie-talkie-like radio in her hand. “A 70-year-old woman driver,” she said, listening to the radio report, “taken by ambulance to Marshfield.” Speculation ensued, centering on a heart attack. The crash-route certainly suggested constant acceleration with no braking. I thanked them for their account, after listening to a rant about how few of the “1050s”—auto accidents involving occupant-injury, I gathered—get reported in the local paper, complete with details about two such incidents locally the previous Friday.

As I rode home I mused on the lives of such folk, who apparently spend their time at home eating while they listen for accidents to visit as spectators…