Monthly Archives: December 2012

Dr. Seuss and Dr. Suess

Dr. Eduard Suess (1831-1914)

Dr. Eduard Suess (1831-1914)

It seems unlikely that Dr. Seuss, the beloved author of children’s books, and Dr. Suess, the beloved Austrian geologist, ever met.  That is speculation on my part, but since the scientist who published Das Antlitz der Erde died when the Cat In The Hat writer was only ten years old, I feel like it’s a reasonable assumption.

The guy who was the expert on the Alps had a son who was also a geologist and professor, but there’s no evidence that this second Dr. Suess had any contact with the Dr. Seuss who created the Grinch.  By the way, the children’s book writer and illustrator had no children of his own.

His real name was Theodor Geisel, and I thought maybe he had borrowed the geologist’s name, making a slight alteration in the spelling.  As so often happens, I was wrong.  Seuss was his mother’s maiden name, and his middle name.  Oh, and the family pronunciation of the name rhymed with “voice”, not “goose”.

While a student at Dartmouth, Ted Geisel worked on the school’s humor magazine.  He and several of his pals got caught drinking gin, and since this was the mid-1920s, they were breaking the law — Prohibition was in effect.

As punishment, a dean booted them out of all extracurricular activities.  Geisel continued to contribute cartoons to the humor magazine, though, using pseudonyms like L. Burbank, D.G. Rossetti… and Seuss.  The Doctor part was added later on.

His first children’s book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which made it to print in 1937 after being rejected by dozens of publishing companies.

Following a stint as a political cartoonist during World War II, Geisel returned to writing children’s books.  Scholars point out that there was political content in some of them, too.  For instance, “Horton Hears a Who!” was an allegory for democratization in post-war Japan, as any five-year-old can tell you.

Dr. Seuss had 46 children’s books published; so far they have sold over a half-billion (with a B) copies.

Dr. Suess was not quite as successful.  The Austrian’s masterwork, which translates into English as The Face of the Earth, is a massive multi-volume work that deals with the geologic structure of our planet.  In the early 20th century it was considered a textbook, but copies of The Face of the Earth are now repositories for much of the earth’s dust.

In 1857 Dr. Suess published a slender book called Die Enstehung der Alpen (“The Origin of the Alps”).  The movie rights remain unsold, but Eduard Suess’s theories established the concept of tectonics, which has to do with movements of the earth’s crust.

This Dr. Suess (the U-before-E one) had a grandson named Hans, who became the third Dr. Suess.  A chemist and nuclear physicist, Hans Suess was one of the founding faculty members of University of California, San Diego.  His personal papers are housed at UCSD’s Geisel Library, which is named for one of its major donors, Theodor Geisel — yeah, Dr. Seuss.

If you aren’t confused yet, consider the fact that there is a German physicist named Theo Geisel (no relation).  I was able to learn that Dr. Geisel is also a musician, but couldn’t determine if he likes Green Eggs and Ham.

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The Red Castle

Court of the Myrtles, The Alhambra -- Granada, Spain

Court of the Myrtles, The Alhambra — Granada, Spain

Most people who live in the Americas associate the year 1492 with Christopher Columbus sailing into the Bahamas and proclaiming, “Just like I told ya, fellas — here we are in Japan.”

His voyage of discovery was made possible because of a significant event in European history that also happened in 1492.  In January of that year, Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian peninsula, the Alhambra.

The Moors, whose roots were in North Africa (as in Morocco), were Muslims who had ruled what is now southern and central Spain for many centuries.  At the height of their power in the 13th and 14th centuries, the sultans built a complex of castles and gardens on a hill overlooking Granada.  They called it Alhambra, which is Arabic for “Red Castle”; the walls of many of the buildings have a reddish hue.

After the Catholic monarchs took over, the Alhambra fell into gradual disrepair; by the early 19th century it was pretty much forgotten.

An American author named Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, “Rip Van Winkle”) wrote a book about Columbus that was published in 1828.  Irving knew that Columbus had audiences with Ferdinand and Isabella at the Alhambra when the explorer tried to persuade them to let him find new lands in which to establish Disney theme parks.  It was probably at the Alhambra when Isabella said to Columbus, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”

Anyway, Washington Irving was intrigued by the place.  He actually lived in the ruins of the Alhambra in 1829, and subsequently published a book called Tales of the Alhambra.  (I’ve got it on my shelf if you’d like to borrow it sometime.)  That book seems to have had a lot to do with reviving interest in the palace/fortress, and restoration began soon thereafter.

It is now a great place to see magnificent examples of Islamic art and architecture: intricate tile work, ceilings and walls that appear to be carved but are actually molded plaster, elaborate calligraphy.

Perhaps because water was relatively rare in many parts of the Muslim world and therefore precious, there is an abundance of it here.  Pools and fountains and streams are found throughout the complex, particularly in the Generalife (hen-ur-ah-LEAF-eh) Gardens.

What can also be found in abundance at the Alhambra are tourists.  According to some sources, it is the most-visited attraction in Spain.  The number of daily admissions is capped at something like 7,000, so if you’re planning a trip, reserve a ticket (currently €13) as soon as you know when you’ll be in Granada.

An alternative is to hire a guide in a package deal, but that will be considerably more expensive. It’s not really necessary, either, since audio guides are available for €4 at the entrance.  If you want to take a chance on getting in without a reservation, show up early and stand in line at the ticket window; a limited number of tickets are sold each day.

As best you can while you’re at the Alhambra, try to ignore all the other visitors around you so that you can marvel at the beauty of the place.  Oh, and while you’re wandering around, look for the room that has a plaque — in Spanish, of course — that basically says “Washington Irving slept here.”

Scientific Bowl Picks

Trojans v Sun Devils Nov 2012We may look like we’re just sitting in front of the TV eating snacks by the fistful, but we are actually studying science, right football fans?

To the discerning eye, good teams have chemistry.  Many team names are derived from biological organisms, like bears and lions and various breeds of dogs.  Physics is an especially important aspect of football; when a linebacker comes through unblocked and sacks the quarterback, we may shout “yeaahhh!”  What we’re actually thinking, though, is F=ma.  Force equals mass times acceleration.

In that scientific spirit, I spent hours (OK, a few minutes) examining statistical tables compiled from this past college football season to enlighten my opinions on upcoming bowl games.

One thing that got my attention is that almost all of the top teams have this trait in common:  strong defense.  For example, the 2012 statistical leaders in total team defense included Alabama (#1), Florida State (#2), Florida (#5), Notre Dame (#6) and LSU (#8).

While passing is a crowd-pleasing aspect of the game, it was not a crucial component for the most successful teams.  In the statistical category Team Passing Offense, well down the list were Oregon (#66), Notre Dame (#75), Alabama (#84), Kansas State (#85), LSU (#90), Stanford (#92), and Florida (#114).  Ohio State, a team that went undefeated, was 101st.  (They are not eligible to play in a bowl game until the players give back the free tattoos they received in violation of NCAA rules.)

What we conclude, then, is that the teams with the highest success rates typically a) keep their opponents from scoring very often; and b) run the ball more than they throw it.  Considering those factors, and with other statistics and guesswork mixed in, here are my predictions for some of this year’s bowl games…

Holiday Bowl     Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)

Baylor was first nationally in total offense, and next-to-last in total defense.  The Bears’ scrimmages must have been chaotic.  UCLA (#20 in total offense) can score enough to win.

Alamo Bowl     Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3)

Statistically, Oregon State has a slight edge in total offense, and a significant advantage on defense.  Because it will be sort of a home game for Texas,  though, I’m going with an unscientific hunch that the Longhorns will prevail.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl     Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

Last year Clemson gave up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and they were presumed to be good back then, too.  One team named the Tigers will win, but it won’t be Clemson.

Sun Bowl     Georgia Tech (6-7!) vs. USC (7-5)

A guy on a pogo stick could gain 100+ yards rushing against USC’s defense.  On the other hand, Georgia Tech’s pass defense surrendered 22 TDs.  Matt Barkley might add 3 or 4 more to that total in a Trojan victory.

Rose Bowl     Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

Wisconsin likes to run the ball, but stopping the run is what Stanford does best — the Cardinal was #3 nationally in rushing defense.  I’m picking Stanford.

Orange Bowl     Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2)

Sometimes statistics can be deceptive.  Northern Illinois put up impressive numbers, but they did so against schools like Tennessee-Martin, Army, Buffalo and UMass.  In this bowl, the Huskies will discover that Florida State is no pushover.

Sugar Bowl     Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)

As noted earlier, the Florida Gators are defensive beasts.  Louisville represents the Big East Conference.  It might be closer than that comparison would suggest, but I do think Florida will win.

Fiesta Bowl     Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-0)

Kansas State averaged 40 points per game; Oregon averaged 50!  This could be the most entertaining game of the bowl season; both will score often but the Ducks will win.

Cotton Bowl     Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)

Aggie Freshman QB Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.  Among other things, he averaged almost 100 yards per game rushing.  Oklahoma QB Landry Jones was no slouch, though; he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 29 TDs.  I’m taking the Sooners in an upset.

BCS Championship     Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)

These teams led the country in scoring defense, averaging just a tick over 10 points per game.  Alabama has the nation’s most statistically efficient QB in A.J. McCarron (26 TD, only 3 Int).  Even though I’d like to see Notre Dame break the SEC championship monopoly, the Crimson Tide will rise, and scientists will ponder its effects on marine biology.

Save Your Receipts

Buy six swans, get the seventh swan free!

Buy six swans, get the seventh swan free!

If you are thinking of  giving your true love eight maids a-milking on the eighth day of Christmas, you might want to check on the return policy.

Let’s say it’s “exchange only” and your true love isn’t enchanted with those eight maids; your options could be limited.  You might wind up eating the cost, which this year, according to the financial-services firm PNC Wealth Management, comes to $58.

That’s a bargain compared to some of the other items listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Ten lords a-leaping will set you back $4,767 per performance, and that’s if your gift is merely actors portraying lords.  If you go with actual lords — members of the British nobility — the cost could be significantly more.

The price of six geese a-laying is up by about 30% over last year, but for some reason they are still less than half the cost of four calling birds, assuming you give canaries in that category.  They would run you a little over $500 at Petco.

By now you may be thinking, “do I have to have twelve gifts?  Why are there twelve days of Christmas in that silly song!?”  (Calm down, the anticipated expense is making you irritable.)

The 12 days begin with Christmas and go until January 6th, which is observed in western churches as Epiphany.  By some traditions, that was when the Wise Men arrived to visit the baby Jesus.  The Greek and Russian Orthodox churches associate Epiphany with another event, but in any case that post-Christmas period of 12 days has been observed for many centuries.

In 1601, for instance, William Shakespeare wrote a play called Twelfth Night, with the action taking place at the end of the celebratory period.

The song that has inspired your generous impulse — “The Twelve Days of Christmas” — didn’t come along until later; it first appeared in English toward the end of the 18th century.  Presumably the enumerated gifts were a lot more affordable back then.

Attempts have been made to attach symbolic religious significance to each gift, such as the eleven pipers piping representing the eleven faithful apostles.  In all likelihood, though, the original lyrics were fanciful nonsense, a sort of singing game.

But let’s get back to your problem, which is the substantial investment you’re considering so that your true love can joyously sing this song.  As you may know, shipping costs for French hens have gone through the roof this year.  And don’t forget, the cost is cumulative — you have to spring for a partridge in a pear tree for each of the twelve days, and so on.  If you’re going to do this right, you’re on the hook for 364 gifts.

Considering that the going rate this year for seven swans a-swimming is $7,000, and nine ladies dancing cost just under $6,300, and factoring in the other gifts, too… here’s the bad news.

You’re looking at a total cost of $107,300.24.

OK, it’s a very romantic idea, and I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on it.  All I’m saying is, maybe your true love would be just as happy with a new Lexus, which would cost you about half that much.  Just a suggestion.