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D Rations and Kisses

Although no one could accuse Hershey's of being quality chocolate, there's no doubt that it's as American as that other perennial favorite, apple pie. The company's Kiss, which has become an icon of Valentine's Day, was born in 1907, and during World War II, our GIs made good friends and some lasting memories by giving out another Hershey's creation to civilians, especially to children. from

Today's selection -- from The American Plate by Libby H. O'Connell. The Hershey Bar:
"Milton Hershey was a young American car­amel manufacturer who traveled to Chicago's World Columbian Exposition in 1893. There, he became convinced that the future of candy making lay in chocolate, after seeing the confection being made with the latest technology. By 1900, he had developed the Hershey Bar, a milk chocolate bar that Americans embraced. He sold his caramel business for the then-stunning sum of $1 million and, in 1903, began construction of a chocolate plant in his hometown of Derry Church, Pennsylvania -- soon to be rechristened 'Hershey.'
   "In 1907, a flat-bottomed, teardrop-shaped piece of milk chocolate, called the Hershey Kiss, hit the marketplace. Individually wrapped in foil by hand, the kisses were bite-sized and affordable. By 1921, a machine wrapped each kiss in foil and added the little paper ribbon bearing the name Hershey, which is still part of each Hershey Kiss today. Other chocolate products followed, including Mr. Goodbar (1925), Hershey's Syrup (1926), and Krackel (1938).
   "But it was the military Hershey Bar, known as the D Ration, that made history during World War II. In 1937, army quartermaster Colonel Paul Logan approached the Hershey Company about making an energy bar for the military. He had four requirements for the bar:
1. Weigh four ounces
2. Be high in food energy value
3. Be able to withstand high temperatures
4. Taste 'a little better than a boiled potato' (so the soldiers would reserve the bars for emergencies and not use them as a sweet snack)
   "The D Ration proved successful in tests and fulfilled Colonel Logan's fourth military requirement by using oat flour as an ingredient, keeping the military's version of chocolate from being too tempting to servicemen. When the United States entered World War II in 1941 after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Department of War ordered massive shipments of the bars, which practically required soldiers to develop strong teeth and weak taste buds. In response to government requests, Hershey also invented the waxy Tropical Bar, which traveled well in the scorching heat of the South Pacific and tasted a bit better. Either way, soldiers often gave these less-than-delicious bars to civilians, especially children, who were delighted by the gift.
   "Young recipients often needed the calories desperately and would remember American GIs very fondly for their generosity during wartime.
   "Between 1940 and 1945, more than three billion D Ration and Tropical Bars were produced and distributed throughout the world. Hershey Chocolate Company was awarded the Army-Navy E Award for excellence in exceeding expectations for quality and quantity in the manufacturing of these products, although the troops often detested the taste.
   "In 1945, when the troops finally came home, Hershey Bars made of real chocolate were waiting for them. And they've been incredibly popular since."

author: Libby O'Connell
title: The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites
publisher: Sourcebooks
date: Copyright 2014 by Libby H. O'Connell
pages: 221-223

Tuning In

As Kiki Dee (and all those who covered her) sang, I got the music in me. We all have it in us, and now scientists have pinpointed exactly where we keep it. No big surprise that it's in the auditory cortex. That just makes sense. The interesting new finding is that, while the part of our brain that reacts to music is in the same area as the part that reacts to any sound, it uses a totally different neural pathway. It's different from the speech pathway and deaf to dogs barking or cars starting up. (Of course, as one might expect, there's some overlap for a song with lyrics.) As intriguing as this finding is the innovative method via which it was discovered. The MIT researchers' mathematical analysis of brain scans could be used to find other areas of cortical specialization:

Glass Houses

Understandably, most of us choose to not really think about government surveillance. It's scary, and we're pretty sure it's already so out of control there's nothing we can do about it. Where is that line between security and the total loss of privacy, anyway? Well, it's snaked its way a little closer to home, as in in your home. James Clapper, our director of national intelligence, put it like this: “In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.” What things are we talking about? Computers and cell phones, of course, but also cars, TVs (and Xbox Kinects), nanny cams, toys:

Ye Royal Head Injury

the king with his favorite wife, Jane Seymour, and Prince Edward
As we watch the Super Bowl and large grown men running into each other and hitting the ground, head bouncing on the turf, consider the latest theory about England's King Henry VIII. This theory has it that the monarch's fits of temper and other undesirable traits, such as headaches and reported impotence, may have been the result of head trauma sustained during jousting matches. As senior author of this study Yale behavioral neurologist Arash Salardini said, "It is intriguing to think that modern European history may have changed forever because of a blow to the head":

Where They Came From

Advances in genetics, like any major innovation, are both intriguing and scary. On the plus side, they have brought us a lot of exciting new information. Where exactly, for example, did all those unfortunate human beings who ended up as slaves on this side of the world come from? Researchers have been working to understand the origins of a group of slaves on the Dutch side of 17th-century St. Martins, in the Caribbean. Of the individuals found in a cemetery there, three had filed teeth, but analysis showed that they all came from different places in Africa. Although these individuals and many like them came on the same boat, then, they probably spoke different languages and couldn't understand each other. Similar findings are coming from the British colony of St. Helena whose graves were recently found. They were people on slave ships that had been intercepted by the British Royal Navy and who were taken to the island only to die there shortly afterward. Such work is also being conducted in southeastern Cuba:

Feathered Bobbleheads

Wikimedia Commons
For as much as we may be awed by how the cat's physical characteristics make it the perfect predator, we must admit that the owl, cute as it is, is also a superior hunter. From the serrations on its wing feathers that muffle the sound of its flight to the asymmetrical placement of the ears that allows it to pinpoint the source of a noise, it is built to hunt. Even the way owls bob their heads, back and forth, up and down, sometimes in a circle, is not just a cute movement done for our benefit but the way they triangulate and get an overview of their surroundings. What's fascinating (at least for me, as I did not know this) is why they have to do that. It's because their eyes, unlike ours, are fixed (story, link to audio version, GIF):

Postponing That Good Night

“If this paper is right," says gerontology and cancer researcher Norman Sharpless of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, "I believe it will be one of the most important aging papers ever.” No kidding. He is referring to a new study, conducted in mice, that seems to show that removing their "senescent," or worn-out, cells helped them live longer and healthier lives. As we age, cells start to lose their ability to divide and operate as usual. Instead, they start making trouble that may in fact hasten aging. So, obviously, getting rid of them makes sense ... except (and there's almost always an "except") where wound-healing is concerned:
   The title of this post references an amazing poem by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953; after whom one Robert Allen Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, renamed himself, btw), Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Here it is (and know this, that you can hear the poet himself reading it, followed, for good measure, by the inimitable Richard Burton reading it, at

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Cutting Corners

a page from Wakoku Chiyekurabe            Erik Demaine
Knowing mathematicians (as we think we do), it should come as no great surprise that there is a theorem about the cutting and folding of paper. Nor should it come as a surprise that the first known reference to this activity comes to us from Japan ~ in the book Wakoku Chiyekurabe (Mathematical Contests), published in 1721. Among the "contests" it describes is one that challenges the reader to fold a piece of paper in such a way that, with one straight cut, it will become a Japanese crest called a sangaibisi. Skip forward a couple of centuries, and you have yourself a theorem, the fold-and-cut theorem, that states that any shape consisting of straight lines can be made from just one straight cut. The key is figuring out how to fold the paper right. Hard to believe, but it was actually proved. In the video accompanying this story, mathematician Katie Steckles creates every letter of the alphabet with only one cut each (story, video):

Just Because: 'The Iceberg: A Memoir'

A friend who recently lost her husband of several decades to cancer told me of an L.A. Times book review that resonated with her. I don't know whether she will read the book, but there was enough of it in the review, apparently, that she was able to glean some comfort from the way it put into words the reality she'd been suffering all this time. In The Iceberg, author Marion Coutts recounts the last two years of her husband's life, starting just before the moment he tells her that he learned he has a brain tumor that is "very likely malignant." Coutts is English, and this memoir came out in Britain to great acclaim last year. The reviewer, Mary Elizabeth Williams, wonders if it will be received the same way here. "Though it will all but certainly be equally praised here in the U.S.," she writes, "it remains to be seen if American audiences—with our fondness for stories that involve a more kicking of butt and taking of names narrative—will embrace Coutts' Kazuo Ishiguro-like gift for intimacy and restraint."



A book about the future must be written in advance. Later I won't have the energy to speak. So I will do it now.
   The others are near. I can touch them, call them to me and they are here. We are all here, Tom, my husband, and Ev, our child. Tom is his real name and Ev is not really called Ev but Ev means him. He is eighteen months old and still so fluid that to identify him is futile. We will all be change by this. He the most.
   The home is the arena for our tri-part drama: the set for everything that occurs in the main. We go out, in fact all the time, yet this is where we are most relaxed. This is the place where you will find us most ourselves.
   Something has happened. A piece of news. We have had a diagnosis that has the status of an event. The news makes a rupture with what went before: clean, complete and total save in one respect. It seems that after the event, the decision we make is to remain. Our unit stands. This alone will not save us but whenever we look, it is the case. The decision is joint and tacit and I am surprised to realise this. Though we talked about countless things—talks is all we ever do—we did not address it directly. So not a decision then, more a mode, arrived at together.
   The news is given verbally. We learn something. We are mortal. You might say you know this but you don't. The news falls neatly between one moment and another. You would not think there was a