Sunday, March 20, 2011


If you look at a map of Chicago, you'll quickly figure out that it's set up like a grid. A sheet of graph paper. A marvelous thing when you're a limo driver in a hurry, as the numbering system for addresses is the purest form of simplicity. State and Madison is 0 North and 0 West and the entire city fans out from that point with numbers increasing as you move away from the center of the city.

On the northwest side, where I've worked for the better part of 35 years, there are exceptions to the foolproof method of self-location.


Elston Ave., Milwaukee Ave., and Caldwell Ave. all cut northwest through the heart of the grid.

I've always been fascinated with Chicago history, and the diagonals.

I was curious as to why the anal-retentive city planners (and yes I'm looking at you Daniel Burnham) would ruin an otherwise perfect blending of form and function.

In the late 1820s, a young man came to Chicago from Detroit. The son of an Irish-Scot father and a Pottawatomie mother (some say Mohawk), he was known as Sauganash. Educated at The Jesuit School in Detroit, he spoke French, English, and his mother's native Pottawatomie.

He was befriended by one of the original Chicago merchants, Mark Beaubien. Beaubien himself was the son of a French father and Pottawatomie mother, which may have contributed to their friendship (Beaubien Street in the Loop is just east of Michigan Ave. and is about three blocks long. Most people here have no idea who it's named after but that's another post.)

That area of Chicago was the heart of a small Indian village back in 1820, when Sauganash came rolling into town. Perhaps Indian village is a stretch, but the Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Chippewa and leftover Black Hawks were much more numerous than the newly arrived white folk, and within the city there was ongoing intercourse between settlers and native Americans. Trading furs and goods back and forth, crops exchanged for whiskey, Chippewa chiefs, French fur trappers, English settlers all elbow to elbow at the bars. The original melting pot.

Beaubien thought so much of Sauganash that he named a hotel after him, the first of its kind in Chicago. It's said that Beaubien used to greet mud-covered travelers with a blanket, and lead them to a vacant spot on the floor. While taking payment for the night's lodging, Beaubien would warn the lodger to "watch out for the Indians, they'll try stealing the blanket." Once the lodger was sound asleep, Beaubien would gently peel the blanket off the travel-weary snoozer, and sell it to the next guy in the door.

Beaubien's Tavern (on what is now Beaubien Street) was a meeting place for the social climbers just in from the east coast. Young men by the boatload came down the St. Lawrence, through the Erie Canal, and from across Lake Michigan, while wagonloads arrived via the 2000 mile rut-filled muddy trail that came around the southern tip of the lake by what is now Gary, Indiana. They came here to work hard and get rich. And sleep on the floor of the Sauganash Hotel.

They would gather at Beaubien's to talk current events, like the proposed US Government buyout of the Indian land they were all standing on.

(Less than 30 years later, in a building called the Wigwam, on the very same land formerly occupied by the Sauganash Hotel, Abraham Lincoln was nominated at the 1860 Republic Convention.)

In September 1833, the US government called a grand council in Chicago of the 77 chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie tribes. On Sept 26th, a treaty was signed with 76 chiefs affixing their marks and one, Sau-Ko-Nock, his name to the formal agreement.

For the next two years, an annuity was paid to the tribes within the city itself. After that, the payment of goods would be delivered to the Indians at their new home....west of the Mississippi River.

The annuity consisted of food, blankets, pots and pans, and assorted other goods that were distributed by piling the stuff in mounds on the west side of the Chicago river near what is now the intersection of Randolph and Canal Streets.

The first payment was made in 1834, and the Indians were made to sit in a large circle around the mounds of merchandise, and it was literally thrown to/at them. The morons who were in charge of distribution lost all control and soon the Indians were all over the small mountains of goods.

When the distribution was completed, the Indians then bartered away what they'd just been given for clothing and whiskey from the traders waiting nearby.

The final payment to be made (in the city) in 1835 was a much more dramatic event. Indians by the thousands gathered on the edge of the city in full ceremonial splendor. Faces painted, and with eagle and hawk feathers knotted into their hair, they came on horseback and on foot. Their numbers dwarfed that of the white residents of Chicago.

They knew that this was their final day as the caretakers of this land, and the idea that a government would claim actual ownership of land enraged them. Before leaving the country of the Illinois, they would leave an impression on the strangers who had settled in the land they'd occupied for generations.

A thousand warriors gathered at the council house on the river's north side and began to march into the heart of the city. They carried clubs and tomahawks. As they entered what is now The Loop, their music makers began chanting and banging their drums. They slammed large sticks together as they gathered for a War Dance.

The column of warriors poured into the city and went street by street, shouting and shrieking their dislike for those who now called Chicago their own.

People were scared shitless, and stayed locked in their ramshackle homes, peering out through the blinds and expecting the worst. An Indian uprising.

John Dean Caton, who later became Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court witnessed the event from the Sauganash Hotel. He described what he saw as "all the worst passions which can find a place in the breast of a savage- fierce anger, terrible hate, dire revenge, remorseless cruelty...."

It was only afterward, and to his great relief, Caton realized it was only a demonstration of Indian might, designed "to test the nerve of the stoutest." Given the overwhelming force that the Indians possessed, Caton noted that had they actually attacked the city, "They would have left not a living soul to tell the story."

And then, the Indians withdrew from the city.

Much has been speculated about the role of mediator that Sauganash played in helping prevent a massacre in 1835. He is said to have had big cred within the community. The Indians knew he was able to speak and write in English and French. They knew he was friends with Mark Beaubien.

The white men knew he was Jesuit educated and that his father was a white man. Rumors of Sauganash's connection to Tecumseh and his life as a chief in Michigan were never confirmed, but the white men used that propaganda to convince Washington that they had "their man" in Sauganash.

Sauganash is actually a butchered version of the native American term for Englishman. Mark Beaubien and the white power brokers in early Chicago actually called him Billy Caldwell.

Caldwell Ave. and Milwaukee Ave. are diagonals for a very simple reason.

They were here first.

They were here long before Daniel Burnham and the other city planners laid out the orderly grid pattern on top of them.

They were Indian trails that pre-dated the white settlers.

Today, if I leave my office and drive south on Milwaukee Ave, I can cut east on Touhy and pick up Caldwell Ave. About a mile south of there, Caldwell curves over the Edens Expressway, right at the edge of the lovely little Chicago neighborhood known as Sauganash, bordered on the west by Cicero Ave.

And Caldwell Ave. named for Archibald "Billy" Caldwell now sits directly atop the route used by the Ottawa, the Chippewa, and the Pottawatomie as they departed Chicago, forever, 175 years ago.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Originally thought to be two different planets, Apollo visible around dawn, and Hermes which could be seen at dusk. The Romans eventually named it Mercury after the God they equated with Hermes and the rest is celestial history.

It's so close to the Sun that the surface temps are in the 400C range on the bright side, and -170C in the shady part, and at the poles. Heavy, with a huge iron core at its center, Mercury moves very quickly. Its orbit around the sun takes 88 Earth days.

Because of the solar glare, very little was known about Mercury until it was mapped, 45% worth anyway, by Mariner 10 back in the mid 70s. That's when we found out with certainty that its cratered surface resembles our own Moon. Until then it was a crescent on the morning and evening horizons.

Because of the solar glare, very few people have ever seen Mercury outside of the usual suspects in the field. When you combine it's proximity to the sun, and the fact that you can only see Mercury when its orbit has taken it to either side of the sun, and then only when the sun has dipped just below our own horizon (with traditional equipment I mean, without a solar filter), it's not hard to understand why Mercury is elusive from an amateur astronomer's standpoint.

I find it fascinating that we've got a rocky inner planet that we know next to nothing about.

We know its size is small in relation to the other inner planets, (Saturn's moon Titan and Jupiter's Ganymede are larger) that it's got craters and maria like our Moon, that Mercury has no moon of its own, and the stuff about its magnetic poles and orbital mechanics. We know it has an equatorial radius of a little less than 2500 miles.

I know there are other details but those are the rough ones and that's really all we know, with certainty, about Mercury.

On August 3, 2004 NASA launched the spacecraft Messenger atop a Boeing Delta II rocket. Its voyage would carry it 5.9 billion miles, with a total of 15 trips around the Sun, once around Earth, a reasonably close first fly-by of the target in 2008, twice around Venus, with the final destination being the planet Mercury. Can't just fire a rocket at Mercury and hope to get there I guess, something to do with gravitational slingshots and changing trajectories but that shit makes my head hurt.

All I know is that there are people who do understand that stuff, and that those people calculated correctly, because at 9PM ET last night Messenger achieved orbital insertion around the planet Mercury.

And that is a first. Outward bound is the usual direction for the exploration of our solar system, and even with Venus it's more like next door. Even planetary missions that required a swing around the sun were eventually destined for out that-a-way.

Mercury is unique in this way. The mission is unique. They're going to map the remainder of the surface (30% was mapped 3 years ago when Messenger did it 1st fly-by of the planet), as well as look for traces of ice at the perma-shade points near the poles. Pretty weird to think ice could exist in a pizza oven, but there is that shadow line where 400C meets -175C.

What a bizarre environment Messenger entered last night.

The designers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory had to come up with a craft that could withstand the sun's rays in extremely close proximity, as well as enormous heat reflected by Mercury's planet surface. Messenger is rugged. It is shielded front at back by, essentially, heat screens that protect the scientific package contained within.

Messenger weighed a little over 2100 lbs when it launched in Aug. 2004, and over 1300 lbs of that was propellant required to slow the spacecraft as it approached Mercury and allow for orbital insertion. That doesn't leave much weight allowance for scientific instruments.

The mission itself hopes to finish mapping Mercury (in color), to examine its surface composition, its magnetic field and core, its magnetosphere, its atmosphere, and its polar regions.

Very ambitious to say the least, but nothing would have meant a damned thing if they hadn't pulled off one of the truly astounding feats of space rendezvous last night.

No do-overs, no fly-bys, no take-it-around and let's try a little steeper descent angle this time. One chance, and one chance only to correctly send signals from the Earth, which would fire Messenger's thrusters, and slow the thing down enough so that it could gently settle into orbit and not get sucked into the gigantic ball of hydrogen and helium glowing right next door.

Last night at 9PM ET, exquisite engineering and practically perfect mathematical calculations combined to accomplish a first in human history. We have arrived at Mercury.

Noteworthy I'd say.


Here I am, arrived at last to swoop around you
Like a glass and metal hawk, my electronic claws
Reaching down to snatch up data as I sweep o'er
Your mountains and meandering rupes.
Bathed in the flares billowing off this so-close star
Head down against the gusts of its golden solar wind
I am here to steal your secrets, reveal
The mercurial mysteries you have teased us with
For far too long, hiding here in the sun's blinding glare
Daring us, to stare at you.

I hope you have enjoyed your isolation, your surreptitious
Solitude, laying low here in Sol's radiation-thick glow
For I have come to finally Know you.
Unlike others of my kind, who find beauty in the billowing
Clouds of a bloated ball of gas, I am in love with stone.
So I am here to take countless two-tone portraits
Of your asteroid-blasted plains; lovingly paint
The great bulls-eye of Caloris in a million pixel shades
And immortalise your craters and canyons
In 21st century jpeg glory, for all those on the Waterworld to see.

Stuart Atkinson 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dear Philip Morris,

You're probably asking yourselves "Gee, I wonder how that 51 year old, two packs of Marlboro a day, junkie from Chicago is doing in his attempt to rid himself once and for all of our criminally addictive product."

Winning! Duh.

Fuck you, fuck your drugs, fuck your lobby, fuck your NASCAR team, fuck your F1 team, fuck your marketing department, fuck your research and development department, and fuck the guy who sprays the menthol on the pile of tobacco leaves. Kick that motherfucker in the balls for me.

You're probably saying to yourselves, "Well sure, he's one of our junkies and he's trying to kick, and he's just a little on edge. You know what he could use? A nice smoooooth Marlboro menthol in the handy flip-top box. Send him a nice $10 coupon for his next carton. He's on our mailing list."

Fuck Washington Duke and his fucking farm in Raleigh, NC. In fact fuck the entire state of North Carolina. Fuck James Bonsack and his goddamned 1881 cigarette rolling machine that allowed you assholes to make 120,000 cigarettes a day. Goddamned jackals.

As I feel your poison leaving my system, the cravings are growing. The withdrawal. Twitchy fingers.

One of your carcinogenic delivery devices is sitting right in front of me.

It's talking to me Philip.

It's calling to me.

Light me.

Just flip that gold Zippo open, and light me.

Breathe deep the soothing nicotine, and the edginess will disappear.

Fuck you.

In fact, your entire industry can go fuck itself. You're a bunch of Pablo Escobars. Drug peddling bastards, every last one of you.

Sure, I'm a little twitchy right now you god-damned sons-of-bitches, but this will pass. And then comes the winning duh.

Food, fresh air, no more social outcast, no more listening to my family and friends telling me I'm a suicidal d-bag

And no more spending money on your drugs. Lots and lots of money that I'm keeping from now on, instead of giving it to you so you can sell me more drugs. It's my money, but you want it don't you?

My cash is your drug, isn't it?

Well, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut you off.

Has anyone told you cocksuckers today that you're a bunch of degenerate ghouls?

They have now.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Hell of a Life

I was just 16 and didn’t look a day older. I confess to you that I lied to more than one recruiter. I gave them my solemn word that I was 18, but I’d left my birth certificate back home in the family Bible. They’d take one look at me and laugh and tell me to go home before my mother noticed I was gone. Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn’t sign me up on the spot! I enlisted in the Army on 14 August 1917.

Frank W Buckles

Frank rode over to Europe on the Carpathia after that. While in passage, he talked to some of the crew who were aboard when she was sent to rescue Titanic survivors five years prior. Drove ambulances in France and England with the US Army's Fort Riley Casual Detachment, and after the war escorted POWs back to Germany.

Discharged from the army in 1920.

In 1942, working for the White Star Shipping Company, he was traveling to Manila and was captured by the Japanese. Spent the next 3 1/2 years in the Los BaƱos prison camp, where he almost died of malnourishment. Weight dropped to under a buck, and he caught beriberi.

In February of '45 he was rescued, a 44 year old civilian POW.

Moved to San Francisco where he married Audrey Mayo in 1946.

He got tired of the shipping business, and in 1953 purchased the 330 acre Gap View Farm near the Shenandoah Junction in West Virginia, where he raised cattle.

In 1999 Audrey passed away after 53 years of marriage, and Frank remained at Gap View until he died yesterday at the age of 110, the last surviving American veteran of WWI.

Frank Buckles- 1901-2011