Backyard History

Flexy, 1950s

It was probably 1960, I was about ten or eleven years old. Old enough to collect rocks, I even had a geological sample as a toy. It was a 12×6 inch piece of blue cardboard, with a couple of dozen rocks glued on it, and descriptions printed beneath. Over the years more and more rocks were torn off, leaving jagged patterns of white where the rocks had been. The sample of obsideon lasted for many years. I loved the smooth green stone, glass-like.

Two houses away in my neighborhood there was an empty lot. It was a corner lot so maybe it wasn’t as attractive for speculators to build on. It was part of the level flood plain near the two creeks that were a few miles north. Nothing but Spanish cattle roamed here for years, and before that it might have been on the coastal trail for migratory Costanoan Indians.

There were four or five kids that were roughly the same age, children of the post-war generation that settled into homes after building Victory ships in the local shipyards. The empty lot was a perfect neutral meeting place where parents weren’t always looking over things.

We had cleared an area of weeds in order to use the flat ground as a playing field for our purees and cat’s eyes. Marbles! The only problem was this small rock that protruded about an inch from the surface. A couple of kicks should have dislodged it, but it stood steadfast.

Someone produced a pocket knife and we dug around the edges to loosen it. We went several inches and we discovered that the small rock was looking more like an iceberg, much larger below the ground than above. There was a moment when I thought we were looking at the top of an undiscovered future mountain. I thought maybe it was best just to break off the top and level the surface with dirt. I went home to get the sledge hammer out of my garage.

With the heavy hammer over my head, I came down hard on the left side of the peak. Perhaps hundreds of kids had tripped over that peak, but now it was going to be history. Smack! A sizable piece went flying off. It worked!

Then I examined the piece and found it was smooth, and shiny green. Obsidian! It was a giant iceberg of obsidian. A few of the other kids recognized it as well. We talked about it awhile, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the top of a granite mountain, nor was it a house sized boulder. Obsidian was generally smaller. Perhaps we could actually dig it out. We each went back to our garages to bring back tools.

After several hours of excavating, we had a good sized boulder laying in a pit. I estimated it was about the size of a large pumpkin, about 70 lbs worth. It took all of us to roll it out of the pit. I think we just set it aside, in order to fill in the pit, level it, and get on with our game of marbles.

This morning I woke with a question. “Where did it come from?”

Sixty years later I asked the question that was unasked at the time of the obsidian iceberg. In fairness, all rocks come from the dirt so I simply accepted that at the time. Later I took a college class in geology, and I learned obsidian was volcanic. There were no volcanos nearby that corner lot. Mt. Diablo was twenty miles away, but the same college class told me that Mt. Diablo was not a dormant volcano. It was once a pimple, an island in the inland sea of California. There is even a ridge of shellfish fossils near the mountain.

The nearest active volcano is Mt. Lassen in Northern California, 240 miles away! That’s a long ways to eject a boulder. i know that the last eruption of Mt. Lassen was in 1915, and that a cabin sized boulder, called ‘Hot Rock” was ejected and ended up five miles away. It was still sizzling three days later. If the obsidian came from Lassen, it was carried to that empty lot.

It’s possible that someone found it on vacation. Then brought it home in the trunk of a 1954 Plymouth, eventually cleaning the garage out by dropping it off in the lot. People do that. But I was thinking that this was a Neolithic treasure. Something that the local tribes had traded for, chipping off sharp edged tools anytime there wished. Arrowheads, spear points, skinning knives. It may have come all the way down from the Cascades in Oregon, traded from on tribe to another, incredibly valuable until it came in close contact with a culture that had iron and steel.

In the flat tidelands of San Pablo, near Wildcat creek, there was a small settlement near the Rancho San Pablo Abode. A few buildings were there, a hotel, a few saloons, the Catholic Church. The local Natives passed by, no official reservations. If they stopped, it would have been aways off to eliminate trouble, perhaps to lighten their load by discarding things that were no longer necessary.

The obsidian came from somewhere, for a time it was treasured and valued. It ended up in a neighbor where it was dug up by children. I know for a fact that is was loaded into a toy wagon, or on top of a deadly vehicle called a “Flexy”, brought to a garage, and then hit with a sledge hammer until it was in dozens of hand sized pieces. I know this because I held the hammer. And I gave the pieces to my friends..

Always follow through with a morning question.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Nest of Teeth

This topic is one of those things that just makes you wonder. Is this the best way?

We have the phrase “Bite your tongue”, we say this to suggest that it might be best to stop talking. It makes sense because a bitten tongue is very painful and sometimes it is very difficult to speak after accidentally biting your tongue. Of course, it is almost impossible to intentionally bite your tongue, so the phrase isn’t very practical.

Since all bitten tongues are accidental, you might want to spend some time thinking about how to reduce the accidents. I tried to look up the accident rate of biting your ear. There isn’t any. There are some rates of biting other’s ears, but nothing on biting your own ears. The reason there are rates of biting your tongue is obvious. It is almost completely based upon the close proximity of tongue and teeth. In fact, the tongue is nearly completely surrounded by gnashing incisors and grinding molars. The tongue is in a nest of teeth!

This makes perfect sense if you think of the tongue only as a tool to position food for chewing and digestion. I suppose if we didn’t have a tongue we would use our fingers, but that would be unsightly at the dinner table. And we would still have a few accidentally bitten fingers. We need our fingers for other more important jobs.

This brings up the dilemma, our tongues also has other uses. Speaking and singing have brought our species into better communication. It would be safe to say that speaking led to writing, and writing led to civilization, so the tongue is possibly, (next to the brain), the most valuable organ of our existence.

(The brain is mostly safe, it has natural shock absorbers, it is almost completely enclosed in armor, the cranium. It is thoughtfully designed. The tongue, however, sleeps in a bed surrounded by knives and hammers.)

I’m writing this because I have recently been diagnosed with “geographic tongue”, where the surface of the tongue is slightly debrided, which irritates the tongue, causing it to swell slightly. I now have “Fat tongue”, which means the tongue does not sleep completely in “the nest”, and accidentally biting the tongue causes even more swelling, so it is an endless dilemma.

It would not be that important if I didn’t have to use my tongue to communicate. I’m taking this whole thing ae a lesson of sorts, I’m trying to listen more and speak less.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Cherry on Top

The ice cream sundae, a split banana, three scoops of ice cream, whipped cream topping, and a special cherry on top. It is a dessert like no other. In some way the cherry on top makes it special.

Have you ever had”fruit cocktail”? For some folks it is the best way to enjoy fruit. I do not have that opinion. For three different seasons I worked in a cannery owned by F&P. They canned fruit. The first season I was on the clean-up crew. I sprayed the machines, the belts, and swept the floors with live steam. I also wore a rubber suit while doing this. I had a hot steam hose in my hand, and I had two quarts of body sweat in my boots every night.

The second season I was hired to put the lids on canned peaches. I sat by a machine loaded with the lids that I maintained, sitting between a cooker of peaches in cans without lids, then my machine, and right behind me a cooker for peaches in cans with lids. Hundreds of thousands of cooked canned peaches.

I always looked at the lines of workers that sorted the peaches. As long as they had peaches on the conveyor belts, then I had to load lids in my machine. When the peaches stopped, then my day was over.

I watched the peaches get sorted with interest. Periodically a peach would come by with a spot of rot. The worker would dig into the peach with a coring knife and pop out the rot. The peach would then be tossed on a different conveyor belt. Peaches that fell on the floor would be sprayed with water and then go on that same belt. Only pristine peaches would stay on the belt heading to my cooker and lid machine.

Where did the other conveyor belt go, with the diseased and rejected peaches? On a break I followed the conveyor belt to another room in the cannery. It went into the Fruit Cocktail Room, where the rejected peaches were joined with the rejected pears, where both were chopped into bite-sized pieces, then grapes were added, and finally, nine cherry halves per can (depending on the size of the can). Then the can was filled with a syrup before going into the cooker.

Fruit cocktail was once rejected fruit, (except for the grapes and the cherries).

Later that week I made a plan to visit the fruit cocktail room to bag some samples. I headed straight for the cherry station. No one was around, so I got a paper cup and dipped into the 55 gallon barrel of cherries, making sure to include a little syrup with the full cup of cherries. As I turned down a secluded alley between the steam cookers, I took a big gulp of the paper cup. The first thing I noticed is that the syrup was nasty, tasteless water. The second thing was that the mouthful of cherries was completely tasteless, not even a shred of the expected taste of cherries. What a shock! I had to spit the half-chewed cherries into the nearest garbage can.

Somehow the cherries absorbed the syrup favor after the steam cooking, but the fruit itself had all the cherry flavor removed before being added to the can. That was a serious life lesson for me, and my opinion of “the cherry on top” changed after that.

The third season I was placed in charge of the machine that put nine half-cherries per can. The cans were empty in the machine, they were tipped to their side at the right position, and a narrow conveyor belt with a line of cherries riding on top would then be aimed at the empty can. Like a machine gun, you could hear nine half cherries hit the bottom of the can, and then the can would tip right side up, while another can behind it would be shot with another nine half-cherries. The cans would then go to the next station and receive a load of grapes before getting the rejected fruit and syrup.

My job was to keep the funnel full of cherries. I had a very heavy 55 gallon barrel of cherries to keep the funnel filled. It just so happened that I ended my time in the cannery because of the cherries. I was moving a barrel of cherries into position when I slipped slightly, and the handle of the moving dolly jabbed my right side with some force. Later that night I passed out from a swollen appendix.

The next day I made the local hospital famous for removing the largest infected appendix without having it burst. My appendix lived in a jar in the basement of the hospital for years afterwards. And after recovery, I never went back to the cannery.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Last Sentence in a Note

The note is consequential, not tremendously important, but at least relevant. The note was written for a reason, and it met all of the requirements. Except for the last sentence.

I have a friend who specializes in the twist of the last sentence. I need more instruction from her, but so far it appears to follow a pattern. Write a note that responds to my note, give responses to the salient points to show that you are tracking, add a few personal references to show that you are not a robot or clever app. Then, at the very last, add a sentence about something intriguing, something that you would really rather write about, but haven’t quite worked out how to introduce it. It’s masterful!

This last sentence in a note was…

“In the meantime check out Alice Neel’s brilliant exhibition at the met.”

Okay, I’m assuming “the Met” is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. And Alice Neel had an exhibition there. Hmm, so who is Alice Neel? If she was an unknown my friend would have added a short description. She didn’t. Alice Neel is a person that she assumed that I’ve known, or that I should have known. But I’m totally clueless… writer, poet, artist, sculptor painter, dead or alive. Never heard of her.

This is the “tipping point”. Do I follow up with a quick Google search, then be able to return a pithy statement on a return note? Or do I shelve it in the mental drawer of “things that I’ll get to someday”? The third possibility is that it will be a crack in my “wall of known things”. Whenever that happens I’m thrilled but also sad, because I always feel that it would have been better to know this 10, 20, 40 years ago.

Alice Neel, 1900-1984, American portrait painter.

I spent the next three days finding everything she had drawn or painted, and she painted every day of her life. It was a lot of stuff. But she found her niche quite early and found that portraits was her thing. I really loved them.

So I began to redraw the ones I liked best. I wanted to experience her creation. Thank you June, for your last sentence

Tribute to Alice Neel, Helen Merrell Lynd, 1969
Tribute to Alice Neel, The Soyer Brothers , 1973
Tribute to Alice Neel, Roberta Johnson Roensch. 1946
Tribute to Alice Neel, Abdul Rahman, 1964.
Tribute to Alice Neel, Josephine Garwood, 1946
Tribute to Alice Neel, Unknown
Alice Neel
Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Gunther, of the Borderlands

Gunther, King of the Burgundian, was a Frankish leader, born in approx. 385 and died in 437. He was my 31st great grandfather,

The Roman Empire was now in the first stages of decline. It is said that the armies were less Roman and more full of mercenaries, and in general the leadership was less than exemplary. For hundreds of years the Empire relied on it’s natural borders, the Mediterranean, and the Adriatic on the West, South and East, and the two great river systems in the North, the Rhine and the Danube.

On the west side of the Rhine was the conquered territory of Gaul, rich with resources, settled towns, farms, and Legionnaires. Great Britain was also well settled, with retired Legionnaires. The border was the great river system, on the other side were barbarians, dense dark forests, and terror. Even today, the sense of foreboding that comes from the edge of a forest comes from that time. Of course people lived there, but they weren’t civilized. For hundreds of years there was a status quo.

While the barbarians were happy to trade with the “civilized’ Romans on their Western border, their Eastern borders were in flux. A continuous push of Huns from the steppes made life hard, and there was a domino effect. Sometimes the Huns pushed right on through, and came up to the Rhine and Danube.

The Frankish and Germanic tribes pleaded with the Romans to be allowed to cross the rivers to safety. Mostly they refused. Then the Romans allowed one or two tribes to come across, as a political favor for military aid, but it did not go well. They were seen and treated as barbarians.

Finally on Dec. 31, 406, thousands of barbarians crossed the Rhine with the quasi approval of Rome. Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians, Alemanni and the armies of the Pannonians, slipped across both rivers, and the Northern border of the Roman Empire vanished.

Also, about this time there was a leadership conflict, a Roman general in Britain had his men proclaim him Emperor. Several Germanic kingdoms still on the eastern side of the rivers, backed Jovinus of Britain, instead of Honorius of Rome. For a few years it looked as if Jovinus had won. King Gunther and his Burgundians were invited to the West Bank of the Rhine near Worms, but then called Borbetomagus. Worms is easier to say.

Within a few years Gunther wanted to expand Burgundy and attacked his neighbor. The Roman leadership issue changed and Jovinus was out, and the Emperor Honorius attacked and devastated the Kingdom of Burgandy. The Romans couldn’t field an army of native Legionnaires, so they hired an army of mercenaries made up of Huns.

So Gunther fled to the safety of Rome, and was killed defending his city of Borbetomagus by Huns hired by Rome. So ended my 31st great grandfather.

By the way, Jovinus and his brother Sebastianus were captured in Narbonne where they lost their heads. The heads were then sent to decorate the walls in Ravenna, where the Emperor Honorius lived. Then after a few years they were sent to Carthage, where four other heads of usurpers were already mounted. The Romans were fond of putting heads on walls.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Krum, the Great Khan of Bulgaria (756-814

Khan Krum

Otherwise known as the Fearsome Krum, or Krum the Horrible, depending upon who you were talking to. He was born in Pliska, Bulgaria, and his father was Kardam of the Bulgars. The Bulgars may have come from Central Asia and they have appeared in Chinese texts. The Old Greater Bulgarian Empire was in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This empire fell in the 600s and the Bulgars migrated west into the Byzantine Empire occupying Thrace and parts of Macedonia. This was the Second Bulgarian Empire with many conflicts with the Byzantine Empire. The capital city was Pliska, where my 43rd great grandfather, Krum, was born.

Krum led many raids into the Byzantine Empire, slowly adding villages to the expanding Bulgar Empire. This led the Byzantine Empire to refer to him as Krum the Horrible. The Emperor decided enough was enough and led a great army all the way to Pliska, and ravaged the land. At one point killing the children of Pliska in the capital’s town square.

In response, Krum gathered troops and fought the Byzantines, decimated the army, and killed the Emperor Nikephoros. The Bulgars started referring to him as “the Fearsome“. The replacement Emperor was wounded and died a few years later. The next Emperor was also defeated and forced to become a monk.

Krum is known as a strict, but fair ruler, who brought laws to the Bulgarians and protection for the poor and elderly.

Eventually his descendants moved further west, married into Hungarian royalty, then Frankish royalty. I was happy to find him as my 43rd great grandfather because I thought his name was awesome.

Posted in Commentary | 4 Comments

Out of Fish Sauce

This afternoon I tried to put my favorite condiment on my sandwich. No luck, none in the refrigerator, none in the pantry. I was doomed to a bland sandwich. It was my own fault. I had been purchasing the giant size bottle, where you stored it upside down so you could easily see how much was left.

Not like the old days with the narrow necked bottle that allowed the sauce to cake up the narrow opening, disguising how much was left. The art of getting the sauce to flow was to hit the bottom with the heel of the other hand, then perfect spurts would be perfectly placed. Sometimes this was tried with a full bottle, but only the “masters” of this technique could make it work. The rest of us would jam a butter knife to slide up the narrow neck and break the “log jam”, to allow the sauce to flow. Half the time half the bottle would drench the plate. Yech!

As soon as I could read, I was in confusion. Sometimes the sauce label was “Ketchup”, sometimes it was “Catsup”. I couldn’t really tell if there was a difference. Like some tribes where people were given baby food in labeled jars, I feared the contents of the sauce. Perhaps they had discovered a way to process dead cats as an ingredient, so they changed the label to “Catsup”. At least it wasn’t ground up cherubic grinning babies.

Much later I learned that Catsup came from the popular pickled fish with herbs sauce, called “ketsiap”. Wait… fish sauce? When did the fish turn into tomatoes? Apparently around the early 1800s.

How lucky for me that it wasn’t cucumbers, or yams. Catsup doesn’t have a thing to do with tomatoes, neither does ketchup. So, when the recipe changed it could been been anything…Locusts, or grasshoppers, or pickled grapes!

A little Google research suggests that Catsup is more popular in the South. I’m not sure that is true. I know soft drinks are more often called “pop” instead of “soda”.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Who are You?

Facebook is sometimes useful because it can sometimes bring you YouTube videos that you don’t even know that you wanted to see. Okay, maybe that isn’t always useful.

Today was useful, I saw a video clip of a new talk show that had an interesting “hook”. The host of the show is a nationally known comedian, but only in a small niche. She is also somewhat famous for not being aware of television or movie talent. The premise of the show is to bring on a famous guest, but not one that is known by the host. Of course the success of the show is based upon the lack of common knowledge of the host. This is probably the first warning of something wrong.

Way back in the day, when there was only three commercial channels and one public television channel, there were a few daytime shows that were successful but with questionable concepts. One that I remember was “Queen for a Day”. The premise was to interview 5 or 6 suburban moms, who detailed a variety of problems in life. The stories were sad and unfortunate. Somehow, one woman was selected and she was given a Scarlett robe to wear, a crown (not a tiara), and a scepter. The prize she was given varied. Sometimes it was a vacuum cleaner, sometimes a washing machine, and sometimes an oven. Appliances were heavily represented.

One would have thought that “Queen for a Day” would have a bigger budget. Perhaps later it changed, but I remember even then that it didn’t take much to become a Queen.

There was another popular show called “What’s My Line?” It was about a panel that had to guess the occupation of a guess, based upon asking pointed questions. Generally the occupations were unusual. Sometimes famous people came on, but the panel had to wear blindfolds in case they recognized them.

So this new show was like the old “What’s My Line?”, except that the host was sadly unknowing. What a strange premise! Why would I care about the level of ignorance? The host wasn’t even blind folded, this famous person sat three feet from her, but she had no idea who they were.

I’m thinking of a possible new show. A show that opens it up to everyone. Have a guest show up that was just a normal individual. Have the host try to figure out who the person is. Not famous, nor have an unusual job. No one will ever be found out, but it could be fun, depending upon the questions, and the answers.

Whoops, the show is probably on now!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Queen Nana of Iberia

Nana was the daughter of Oligotus, which could have been a corruption of Aurelius Valerius Sogus Olympianus, a Roman governor of Theodosia. Or he could have been a younger daughter of Theothorses, a Bosporan king. Either way she seems to have a Greek heritage from the area of the Bosporus.

At the greatest, the Kingdom of Bosporus ringed the Black (or Euxine) Sea, centered around the north eastern shore. Later it was also known as the Kingdom of Pontus.

Nana seems to have been a pagan who was staunchly opposed to Christianity. But then she contracted a mysterious disease, and was cured by a captive Christian slave. She immediately asked to be baptized. Her husband Miriam was a Zoroastrian from Iran. Historically they were contemporaries of Emperor Constantine who was thrilled to have another Christian on a nearby throne.

Nana and Mirian are traditionally considered to have been buried at the Samtavro convent in Mtskheta, where their tombs are still shown.

Iberia was a neighboring kingdom north of Armenia and together they are often called the Georgian kingdoms, along with Circassian and Colchis. Colchis was thought to be the place where the Golden Fleece was found, and the destination of Jason and the Argonauts. Today it is generally called the Caucasus Region.

Curiously, two areas, Iberia and Albania are better known as countries in Europe, Albania in the Balkans, and Iberia which is Spain. There is no known connection between the countries. Early Visigoths from the Steppes May have brought the word Albania to the Balkans, but Strabo seems to have used Iberia for the area that became Spain. And the Romans had changed it to Hibernian.

Iberia
Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Words

On my birthday we played a game which included guessing what “Dad” would say. One question was “What irritates Dad?” The winning answer was, “Dad hates to be told what to do or think!” But that’s not entirely true. I hate being manipulated. A clear order can be ignored, dismissed, or agreed. A question posed like, “Do you want to go to the store and pick up a few things?” What am I to do with that? I haven’t been sitting there considering my desires, especially the one where I want to go to the store for something unnamed. And of course I want to be helpful… so, my answer must be yes! And I end up shopping for female sanitary items without knowing that I’ve been thinking about that for several hours.

The phrase “Do you want…” sends me into a deep personal search of my feelings, and whether or not I have been signaling my desires to those around me. Almost like when I was a child, and I was jiggling around in my chair, “Do you want to get down? Do you want to go to the bathroom?” It takes a few moments to run through the analysis, so I never respond quickly. Often I simply respond honestly, “No, I haven’t thought about that, but if you need something I’d be happy to go get it.”

The clerk at the counter asks, “Can you give me your birthdate?”, I say, “Yes, I can!” Trying to be helpful, and proving that I have the ability. Then I realize they actually want me to verbalize it. That wasn’t the question!

I’m bothered by the lazy choice of similar words. Well, they may seem similar but actually at their core they are vastly different, yet they are used as if they are interchangeable.

The first pair is “to yield” and “to surrender”. Both are often used in reference to combat. Surrender has by far the greatest use. It generally means giving up, I am ceasing my action against something. I am surrendering my arms, my army, or my nation. Often the word is accompanied by the modifier “unconditional”. Although I’m at a loss to find a surrender that had conditions, but perhaps there were a few in history. Some armies were allowed to keep their arms, some cities were allowed to vacate citizens. I’m not sure how often these were in the demands of the defeated, but more often were granted by the victors to encourage the surrender. To surrender is to truly give up, but not necessarily as a choice.

To yield is something different, to yield is a choice. Go to any traffic circle and you can see people who choose to yield and some who don’t, even though the sign tells you to yield. Yielding comes from a position of strength and thinking. You could fight on, but something has factored a different decision, so you yield. I love yielding, it isn’t done enough.

Dislike and hatred is a classic parenting mantra. You are constantly telling your kids to not “hate” something, but instead you say you “dislike” it. It’s tough to hate broccoli, or Lima beans. They are innocent victims of emotion. You are even told to hate the sin, but not the sinner. So there are some things to hate, but not as many as we verbalize.. I remember the most impactful understanding I had as a child. I was reading a Superman comic book, and Lex Luther, the arch villain, was addressing Superman, he said “I don’t hate you Superman!”. Good, he was going to slip in a much better, “ I dislike you”, his mother would have been pleased. But then Luther took a turn, “I don’t hate you, Superman, I loath you!” Wow, there is another category I had never heard of. I wondered what things I loathed? Perhaps Lima beans?

Systemic and systematic is a current favorite and misused on a regular basis. Systemic is all pervasive, worthy of completely destroying, no redemption. No matter where you turn the evil pops up, it has surrounded you, and the only option is complete eradication. This is rarely the truth or the only solution. Mote likely is that something is systematically pervasive.

You can impact the specific system. A person has cancer, you attack the cancer, defeat it, and the person lives. A nation has systematic slavery, you have a civil war to end the system of slavery. It still surfaces in sneaky ways. You attack the systems until it’s gone, but you don’t destroy the nation. Instead you realize that the nation is systemically opposed to slavery.

Looking and seeing is all about the awareness factor. Looking at something is a positive step, much better than ignoring. But if you don’t see it after looking at it then nothing is accomplished. There are too many witnesses that rest on the laurels of looking at a problem. You have to see a problem in order to fix a problem.

Listening and hearing is another issue that is the same as looking and seeing. A microphone listens, a person hears and hopefully takes action.

Speaking and talking is all about intent. Weirdly I’ve never heard a person say, “I was just speaking to myself”. Too much talk, not enough speak.

Wishing and hoping is a great line in an old song, and it even reverses the words, implying that it still makes sense. I get “hope”, it is constantly with us. Wishing is much more fuzzy. I’m not sure that wishing is helpful.

Posted in Commentary | 5 Comments

Art Filtering

This is a 11 minute video on how you can use standard filters to get a custom effect. I have tried filtering everything.

I have filtered great photos into different great photos. I have filtered medium to bad photos into better images. I have even filtered sketches into interesting blended works. I am not a purist. I want the image that I want.

I love all the filtering programs that automatically do what took me hours to master in Photoshop. Generally these programs are automatic and you must accept the entire filtering of your image. This isn’t acceptable to me, sometimes I want only a part of the files with a specific filter effect.

I found Sketchbook, a free program that has layers like PhotoShop, and the ability to erase parts of the layer. So basically I start a file in Sketchbook and populate it with dozens of filtered layers. You can reduce the transparency of one layer then merge it down to the next layer. Or you can merge it down with darken, screen, overlay, etc. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In the end the image is closer to the idea that you want, it isn’t necessarily better than the photograph, but it stands unique. I encourage all image makers to play with the concept.

I remember going to an art festival where the booth had a sign “No PhotoShop Here”. How sad to not use a useful tool. Perhaps the owner thought this guaranteed that his/her work was of better quality. It’s true that awful images can be made with PhotoShop. Awful images can also be made with cameras.

Some people avoid filters because it may make images that “pretend” to be canvas prints. Shame on you if you use technology for fraudulent art. That does not give you an excuse to ignore some wonderful techniques. Digital Art is Art!

Seek the image that you desire!

https://youtu.be/CWJlv-CQT6U

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

No, not the 1966 classic Western movie. I’m thinking about the problems of history. I am by no means an expert on how we must understand history. I do declare my love for the subject, and I have collected an eclectic library of historical events. I do not have advanced academic degrees in history, and my written opinions will not shape the opinions of future historians. And yet, I do have opinions, and I am witness to a number of changes that are dramatic, and in some ways refreshing, and in other ways very problematic.

It is quite possible that some of the changes will become an academic standard, and history books will become completely useless, until new books are written with more accurate presentations.

There is a cultural “sea change” in our social fabric. Views that were once on the edge of social acceptance have morphed into center stage opinions. Some of this is based upon the increased concerns of “social justice” in response to events that have become important to current culture.

It is true that some of these events are the end result of many years of beliefs that are basically flawed. Beliefs that have grown from insignificant errors, that have found fertile ground in thoughts, or ideas that have major social errors.

Unfortunately, there are other problems in history that have always been there, or at least obviously apparent from the earliest written records. As historians we try to read these things in context, with the caveat that society had not developed the finer points of civilization. I disagree, I think that much of our problematic history was a societal choice, and that other more ethical choices were available, but rejected.

So now what can we do with the factual history we are left with? For me it will be a constant search for the truth. In most cases it will be a mixture of realities from different parties. The old adage of ‘history is written by the victors’ is something to consider. Another is ‘history is written by the literate at the expense of the illiterate’. Another is ‘history is written by the side that benefits the most from the narrative that is presented’.

It is difficult, but we can research most of these points. It is more difficult to research the opposing sides. In some cases the victors made considerable effort to destroy all records that existed in the defeated culture. This creates the historical problem of “omission”. Often our guesses create a higher standard of ethical positions that are not merited by the actual truth. Historians should not guess.

I’m writing this because I believe humans will always have a choice of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” And the problem is that all three are subjective and open to debate, and criticism.

One would think that “the good” is a safe bet. What could be wrong in writing about “the good”. This is probably the most dangerous area in history. There are few “good” absolutes. Some folks even say there are none! I’m not that cynical, but I do agree that universal agreement on “good” has a long way to go. Our worst historical events are based upon a disagreement upon what is best, and for who it is best.

The “bad” is actually much easier to isolate and write about accurately, even if technically “bad” is also subjective. There hasn’t been too many cultures where deceit, murder and theft were the highest societal standards. In some cases it may have been okay to treat strangers, or foreigners, as sub species, but not generally.

The “ugly” is where most reasonable histories are found. The higher standards are articulated, and the failures are documented. In general, that creates an “ugly” written account. It is very hard to be proud of the most ugly events. Even the best of the “ugly” is embarrassing, and it seems so unnecessary.

Considering that a lot of history comes from the actions of humans, we have a responsibility to modified our actions, creating more good than bad, and making the “ugly” more beautiful. That does take a stand on moral absolutes, but I’m okay with that, providing there is tremendous effort taken on both sides.

In the meantime, I try not to get trapped in the dungeon of “bad history”, or to ‘cancel our history’ because it is “ugly”. Going down that road is living with opinion makers who create narratives for their own agendas. History is living, history is exciting, and history is always surprising.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Drones

No, not the mechanical flying kind. They are cool, but I’m thinking about the worker bees, or the mass of individuals in the ant hills. The drones maintain the structure of their societies. It’s imperative that the drones exist, even if they are sometimes sacrificed for the sake of their communities.

First, it might be useful to look at the YouTube video at the following link…

It’s a TedTalk link of Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of “Do schools kill creativity?” He doesn’t ask a question unless he already believes he has the answer. It’s a very funny, yet sad, 20 minute talk. He really believes that even the best art colleges failed at fostering creativity, and the reason has everything to do with how the schools are funded, and the strings that are attached to that funding.

I’ve dedicated 40+ years of my life to higher education and I must agree with his statements. Colleges are successful, but only if you look at completion rates, and job placements. Colleges have morphed into institutions that provide society with workers, but not necessarily educated citizens.

Our understanding of the definition of “being educated” has not kept up with the changes that our colleges have faced. Most of our classic novels mentions “going to college” for different reasons that are currently used. In fact, the first universities in Bologna, Italy and Paris, France are vastly different today than what was stated in their first charters.

Being educated for nearly a thousand years meant that you studied under a “master” teacher, well schooled in the classic disciplines. And the purpose of the education was to create citizens that appreciated art, science, history and languages , and that reflected the growth of mankind, “the rebirth of our humanity.” It is not an accident that the Renaissance came soon after the creation of universities.

Robinson makes the statement that today’s colleges have only two missions; to provide drones for the corporations is the majority, the second is to provide future teachers for the colleges that teach the drones for corporations. At the very top there are researchers, but even the researchers are motivated by the profits made by their discoveries. It is as if colleges do not the need to teach the finer points of humanity. We have already arrived. We have achieved that goal, now we need to focus on making a living.

A college education wasn’t meant for the masses, it was meant for the leaders, the 1% of the 1%. The guilds and trades councils took on the training of apprentices destined to work in industry. Things had to change when education became possible for a population that wasn’t meant to have higher thoughts. Colleges just replaced the guilds. That way the “higher thoughts” are protected from the masses. The trappings of a college education were gifted to the ever expanding need to have more drones.

The hard numbers

In 2020-2021 there were:

880,000 associate degrees

2,000,000 bachelor’s

800,000 master’s

200,000 doctorates

Almost 4 million “educated” drones per year.

And the expectation is that the numbers will be slightly higher for the next ten years.

Robinson is fearful that creativity will almost disappear from colleges and our society.

Posted in Commentary | 4 Comments

Time

Time happens to all of us instantaneously.

Time Has Come Today

Time has come today young hearts can go

Their way can’t put it off another day

I don’t care what others say they say we

Don’t listen anyway time has come today, hey

The room has changed today I have no place to stay

I’m thinking about the subway my love has blown away

My tears have come and gone oh, Lord I got to run

I got no home no, I have no home

Now the time has come nowhere (place) to run

Might get burned up by the sun but I’ll have my fun

I’ve been loved, pushed (put) aside I’ve been crushed

By tumbling tide and my soul has been psychedelicized

Now the time has come there are things to realize

Time has come today Time has come today

The Chambers Brothers

The Chambers Brothers is a soul-music group, best known for its 1968 hit record, the 11-minute long song “Time Has Come Today”. The group was part of the wave of new music that integrated American blues and gospel traditions with modern psychedelic and rock elements. Based on their Southern roots, the brothers brought a raw authenticity to their recordings and live performances that was missing from many other acts of that era. Their music has been kept alive through heavy use in film soundtracks

About Time according to Quoro

Brief answer:

“Time and space are non-matter existences. They don’t exist in physical state. Therefore, unlike matter existence, they don’t have physical properties. And they cannot have interactions with matter existence.”

I disagree. That doesn’t have the ring of experiential truth. I’m not discussing space, but time is something that I experience. It’s not the same way as wind, where we see the effects, but not the wind. I feel time passing, I see the results and sometimes I can see the future effect (not always).

“Time has no dimension. Space only has three dimensions. No more. Time cannot be incorporated into space to form a dimension.”

I disagree. The certainty shown by these statements automatically places them as suspect.

“Time is measurable but measurable does not mean tangible — non-matter existence cannot be tangible, only matter existence is tangible.

And due to we only can measure time with matter movement process, so regardless how accurate this measurement can be, it is still a relative reference for time. It is the same case for space on this issue.

Non-matter existences are intangible, therefore they cannot be proved directly but they only can be proved indirectly by matter existence:

There is no way to prove the existence of space but the matter exists and moves within it; there is no way to prove the existence of time but the matter existence and movement process elapses with it.”

I agree. This is a very rational observation.

“Non-matter existences are self-evident; because you only can prove them with the existence of matter existence and due to matter existence is always changing so this proof is intrinsically relative to approximate the absolute existences of the non-matter existences. But if you take the relative proof of the non-matter existences as the proof of the relativeness of the non-matter existences that is wrong — the matter existence is used for approximating the measurement of the non-matter existences but the absoluteness of the non-matter existences is not depending on the relative approximation of the matter existence.”

I don’t know if I agree or disagree. I confess that I could not completely follow the argument.

“And an object moving through the spatial dimension is not the same as a process elapses through time. An object cannot move through time, while a process cannot move through space. Time only can be related to process, space only can be related to object. Use other expression: Time has nothing to do with object; space has nothing to do with process.”

Again, this might be true, but the assertion is too absolute.

“Unlike space, Time has no dimension, it only has a direction. And it is one way direction — irreversible process.

When we travel, we travel through space. We cannot travel through time — it is physically impossible. It is the process of our travel elapsing through time irreversibly into future.

Time and space are different and independent non-matter existences that cannot interact or incorporate with each other. The intrinsic property of space — dimension, cannot be applied to time, and vice versa for the one way direction of the time.”

I disagree, we are not completely sure that there is no interaction. At this point in time, most theories say there is no interaction.

“Space is three dimension that allow matter to exist and move within it, but time has no dimension therefore matter cannot exist and move in it but the process of the matter existence and movement elapses with the direction of time irreversibly.”

I disagree. I don’t know that space makes the determination that matter exists. I don’t know that time has no dimension, it might be measured in the future.

“And due to space and time are non-matter existences which are the absolute existences that can be used as the only absolute reference frames for matter existence. But due to matter existence is always changing, it cannot be used as absolute reference frames for anything — regardless it is for matter existence or non-matter existences.”

What?

“Matter reference frames are intrinsically relative. Matter existence only can be used as relative reference frames.

When matter existence is being used for measuring the space and time, they are the approximation of the absoluteness of the non-matter existences.

So the approximation of the absoluteness of the non-matter existences works as the approximation of the absolute reference frames for matter existence.

There are only three existences in this world: space, time and matter (matter is the abstract term for mass with regard to all its existence states, energy is not substance but the existence states of mass).”

I disagree. The certainty of words like ’only’, makes this statement suspect.

“So, if you messed up the concepts of the space, time and matter, you can get nothing right because there is nothing else left in this world.”

I totally agree. In general, theories of existence have built in ‘mysteries’ that should be considered, ‘certainty’ is impossible.

“That is where modern physics start to get into astray.

The social cost is enormous, especially at the moment of human future crisis.”

I agree. We often get things wrong, and there are consequences.

The simple definition of time, should have a simple answer. The fact that there isn’t a simple explanation is inconvenient for us, but forcing reality into our own narrative is laughable. Again, there are things we don’t yet know, perhaps there is more unknowing than knowing. Things will change and we should be comfortable with that without declaring absolutes before their time. At best this can only be a guess.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

New Tribute Versions of Vincent

Farmhouse in Provence
Head of a Young Peasant in a Peaked Cap. 1885
Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity). 1890
La Berceuse (Augustine Roulin). 1889
Sunflowers. 1888
Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

New Tribute Versions of Albrecht

Self-portrait with fur lined robe, 1500
Self-portrait with glove, 1498
Study of Apostle’s hands, 1508
Study of hands, 1506
Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

New Tribute Versions of Egon

Elisabeth Lederer, Seated with Hands Folded. 1913
Madchenkopf (Frau Sohn). 1918
Seated Woman. 1918
Portrait of Fraulein Toni Rieger
Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

The Flow

The Gate

“Just go with the flow”, was a popular saying in the 1960s. I’m not sure that anyone really thought about it in depth. It just seemed a ‘chill’ statement, semi-mystical, with a slight philosophical flavor.

Hopefully it meant that you are floating in a substance, and not tumbling in a rip-tide or undertow. Flowing also implies a current, and the current can be a gravity issue, meaning going from an upper elevation to a lower elevation. Current can also be cause by pressure. The flow created by a squirt gun is caused by a piston compressing in a cylinder, forcing material out of a nozzle or opening.

A flowing current can also be created by a reservoir of a substance that is controlled by a gate. The perfect example is a dam creating a lake, and then the gate in the dam being opened to create the flow. In this example the substance is water, but perhaps the substance can be other things.

‘Going with the flow’ has also been used with social movements, implying that getting onboard with ideas and general consensus creates the flow.

When I was taught about basic electricity the example mentioned is that electricity flows. We were to imagine that the copper wires were replaced by a liquid. In different circuits there were also gates. Some gates were basically on or off, some gates were variable constrainers, some gates were amplifiers. It was important to note that amplifiers didn’t really create more liquid, the amplifier gate simply controlled a larger reservoir that could be dumped into the flow.

It occurs to me that the flow may be spiritual, in which case the gates can be very small spiritual issues that open very large spiritual reservoirs. An example: going to prayer for others can eliminate the rage within you. Or, said another way, prayer is the tap (gate) that causes flow from great reservoirs of peace.

I kinda like that idea…

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Blue Ridge

A friend is currently reading about the Appalachian Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet. It was supposedly formed 480 million years ago, and has been in the process of weathering for quite sometime. In it’s youth it was similar to the Rockies or the Alps, and sealed off the east coast from the interior. This was pretty much true until the mid 1700s, when Daniel Boone opened the Cumberland Gap, which was a flood gate into Kentucky and the Ohio valley.

I had read about the Appalachian\ but in 1971 I was privileged to live in the Blue Ridge mountains for almost two years. I lived in Rouzerville, which was right next to Blue Ridge Summit, and just a few miles from Cascade, where Ft. Ritchie existed. It started as Camp Ritchie and it was a semi-secret post, training interpreters during WWII, over 20,000 were trained in German and Japanese. In 1998 It was one of many installations that were decommissioned, but in the early 1970s it was a busy place, for all the services.

After WWII and during the buildup of nuclear weapons, the military turned its attention to organizational bunkers. The facilities of Adolf Hitler in Europe were well known and that was before atomic bombs. In the 1950s, plans were drawn up to build a bunker deep inside a granite mountain on the east coast. The Blue Ridge Mountains were selected. Camp Ritchie became Fort Ritchie, and was selected to be the organizational support unit on the surface, and the actual underground facility was a few miles away, on the other side of the border in Pennsylvania, at Raven Rock. This was to be the Joint Chiefs Command Center for every branch of the service. It was technically the Underground Pentagon.

When I was not underground, I roamed around the Blue Ridge Summit area, hiking the Appalachian Trail, visiting the small mountain towns that were off the beaten path. The mom and pop stores were often mini versions of Target or Walgreens. They were stocked with a complete variety of products. If something had sold once, they bought three more from various vendors. Rolling ladders were against the wall to reach the shelving that was ceiling high. It may have taken several years to memorize the row, and the height of the stored merchandise.

My favorite was the local items, sold by individual “mountain people” on commission. There were whistles, good luck charms, yarn goods, mostly hand-made with accompanying stories.

I remember a collection of “fairy crosses” being offered, very small stones in the shape of a cross. I had forgotten about them, but was reminded by an article by Charles Fort. He had researched an article that had been published by Harper’s Weekly in the late 1870s. “In parts of the Blue Ridge Mountsins, there have been found small carved ‘fairy crosses’, that attest to a race of small people that crucify cockroaches. The crosses are in the shape of St. Andrews, Roman, and Maltese. The local people believe the collected crosses have a power that will provide good fortune.”

What was published in Harpers Weekly is still true, but things have changed. In Virginia it is now illegal to dig for “fairy crosses”, they are protected from collectors. It is unknown if they are still used to crucify cockroaches.

What is known, is that the “crosses are the result of a natural formation. The stones are staurolite formations of silica, iron and aluminum. Formations created under great heat and pressure, when the Appalachians were rising 480 million years ago. Thomas Edison and Teddy Roosevelt both believed in their mystical properties.

I haven’t been back to see if the local Mom & Pops carry them at the checkout counter, but I suspect some still do. I thought they were cheap trinkets carved by “local mountain folk”, glad to know that they are natural and organic.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Jeep is in the Garage

It’s all in the title. Why would a Jeep be in a garage? To protect it from the weather? Well, it’s a little late by now. I’ve had garages in every home that I’ve purchased or rented. I’ve never parked my vehicle in the garage of any home. I may have driven it in for a day or two, and some homes not even that. Everything I own is in the garage, except my vehicles.

So why now? I’m trying it out in order to please my wife. There, I’ve said it.

There is nothing wrong with trying new stuff, particularly when it would never cross your mind. The issue is why did this “parking in the garage”, cross my wife’s mind? Husbands know that this line of inquiry is not beneficial to anyone. But there may be an answer. We had an ugly driveway.

We have always had an ugly driveway in every house that we have lived in. It makes perfect sense to cover up ugly driveways with the current vehicles, (even if they as just as ugly).

About a month ago we pulled the trigger on upgrading our driveway. First we painted the house. It looks nice. It made the driveway look even worse. The drive way was not the usual cracked, and earthquake damaged piece of concrete we usually had. It was old, cracked, blotchy, asphalt. It was also the only asphalt driveway for blocks in either direction. Asphalt driveways seem proper if we had twenty acres and a five minute ride to the house. Our driveway was just over twenty feet long and at an angle of about 25 degrees.

Pavers was the dream, concrete was at least the rational option, repaving the asphalt with new asphalt seemed pathetic. In the end it was a financial decision. If $X is asphalt, then concrete was approximately 4$X, and pavers was a whopping 7$X. We are still the only home for miles with a very short asphalt driveway, with room for two cars.

The house has a new coat of paint, we have installed stairs for the steep hill to the right of the driveway, and we have a very black, clean, asphalt paved space for two cars. For the last month we have been parking in the street in front of our house. It’s not bad. We live on a cul-de-sac, I parked in the street for years because our kids had vehicles, and my wife always got the prime spot in the driveway, closest to the front door. Now the kids are gone, yet the driveway is empty.

Yes, the installers did mention to park in the street for a few days. During those days waiting to come back to parking in the driveway, there was a “sea change.” I was planning to take my place on the left side, when my wife suggested that I park in the right side, in the garage.

I looked at her with some amazement. I asked her why. ‘I’ve always wanted at least one of our cars to be in the garage.” That was a new desire, one that had never been expressed before. I thought, okay, I can arrange some things, I can clean out a space for your smaller vehicle. “No, I’ll park in front of the house, your Jeep goes in the garage.”

Wha…?

There are times in every relationship when you know that several futures are on the edge of being very present. It does take some experience and much wisdom to pick a path that is considerate.

My Jeep is big, it took three days to rearrange the various treasures in the space to be used. Once that was done, I drove across the driveway on tippy toes, into the empty space, completely filling the garage like never before. There was a sliver of space to edge out sideways, once I got down from the Jeep. I’m thinking that much of the treasures will have to vacate.

My wife’s car is still in the street, the driveway is still very black, empty, in sharp contrast to the newly painted house. I’m still wrapping my mind around the concept that I have a Jeep in the garage.

Apparently I will have to open the garage door, sweeze sideways to get in the door, back out with only inches to spare on either side, and then reverse the process when I get home after driving. And the benefit?

It’s obvious, to assist in a very long dream of an unvoiced concept. I hope it works out.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Cities Beneath the Waves

I do like finding things, or actively going out to find things. I also like having things brought to me. We have been to Hawaii several times and with very enjoyable results. It was always best to find a good spot and just park there. No packing up, moving to another hotel, find transportation, etc. that’s a fine way to travel but it is quite a production.

One year we flew to Hawaii, and jumped on a cruise ship for eight days.

Obviously this was pre-COVID days, but we spent the extra money to get a suite with a balcony, and it was very nice. It didn’t take long to realize there something different about this trip. We weren’t going to the islands, the islands were coming to us! A wonderful perspective. Each day a new island view from our balcony.

It is this same concept with the internet. I have the complete power of various search engines, I can go anywhere, use Google earth to see anyplace that I’m thinking about. But sometimes, out of the blue, the internet brings me something. I don’t know if it is artificial intelligence that determines what is presented, or if it is just random choice, but today I was presented with the continent of Mu.

The term was first introduced by Augustus Le Plongeon, who used the “Land of Mu” as an alternative name for Atlantis. It was subsequently popularized as an alternative term for the hypothetical land of Lemuria by James Churchward, who said that Mu was located in the Pacific Ocean. I believe he looked at a globe and determined that the Pacific was just too big to be only about water. The place of Mu in literature has been discussed in detail by one of my favorite authors of sword and sorcery novels, L. Sprague de Camp, in Lost Continents.

So Mu could be Atlantis, but now is something different. And Atlantis is still sunk just outside the Mediterranean, and stories are bountiful about other lost lands. It got me thinking.

Where does this concept come from? I propose distant memories, that have the concept being passed on, but the specific details get confused. As people on this planet we have experienced floods. Floods that have displaced us from our homes, forcing us to move to dryer, and safer lands. I’m not sure about sinking continents.

The immediate thought is about Noah. It has been mentioned many times that other cultures in the Middle East have stories similar to Noah, and not because they were influenced by the local Hebrew population. The most logical explanation is that a widespread flooding event occurred and was remembered by those living around it.

The Black Sea can be thought of as a lake where several major rivers drain into it, and then it drains into the Mediterranean, and then it drains into the Atlantic. Atlantic storms rain onto Russian soil, and then it drains into the many rivers going to the Black Sea and the cycle repeats. But it was not always so.

Thousands of years ago, when humans had been in the land for centuries, they had built hundreds of fishing villages on the edge of the Black Sea. The Dneiper, the Don, the Volga, and hundred of other rivers had all drained into the Black Sea, but the balance was that the water evaporated at a steady rate, so the shoreline was relatively stable. There may have been a smal river that drained into the Aegean Sea but the Black Sea was a fresh water lake.

The Mediterranean Sea was connected to the Atlantic Ocean and the level there was also balanced except for the melting of the ice packs covering much of Europe. There was a lot of water involved, so much that the levels rose in the Mediterranean. On the east shore of the Mediterranean, there was a small river that flowed into the Mediterranean coming from the mountains in the east. It’s still there, it flows right past Istanbul, Turkey. When the Mediterranean rose the water went up river to the mountains. Eventually it reversed the flow of water, broke through the ridge, creating a tremendous waterfall down to the Black Sea, estimated at two hundred times the flow of Niagara Falls. This may have occurred 8 to 9000 years ago.

It didn’t take long at that rate to completely engulf the thousands of villages on the shore of the Black Sea. Not like a tsunami, but perhaps a steady few inches a day. But people remembered, and perhaps it rained as well.

So, there is a possibility of remembering cities under water, but what about a land?

There is recent scholarship concerning Doggerland. This was a boggy area between England, Denmark, and Belgium. It is now one of the prime fishing grounds in the North Sea. It used to be slightly above water. It disappeared at roughly the same time as the Black Sea villages. Dredges have picked up bones of mammoths, lions, and deer. Also some Stone Age tools, so people lived or traveled there.

We apparently have real evidence that some of our “cities” have disappeared beneath the waves. But Mu, I’m afraid, is just a good story.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Tiny Coffins of Edinburgh

Something was found in 1836 near Edinburgh that has remained a mystery for well over 250 years. Naturally, we tend to end mystery with speculation, and you can imagine where the different storylines have gone. But first the known facts.

A group of boys found these “coffins” on a hillside near Edinburgh, Scotland known as “Arthur’s Seat”. They found a large piece of slate partially buried, and when they removed it, there was a small opening in the earth. In it there were 17 tiny wooden coffins, in three tiers. Two tiers of eight coffins, and one tier of one coffin. It appeared as if the coffins were placed one at a time with some interval between. The oldest coffins seemed to have suffered damage, the last coffin seemed much less damaged. Of course this might be due to the dampness & weathering.

What becomes interesting is that each coffin contained a small wooden doll, male, eyes open, 3 or 4 inches tall, dressed in common weavers cloth. 17 figurines placed with care in a hillside “cave” above Edinburgh.

This is not a natural occurrence, it is not successive natural tree root formations. It is not ginseng grown in the shape of a human. It is a human construct, constructed for a purpose, carefully planned, and possibly maintained over several years. The similarities seem to suggest that one person one responsibility, but left no written reason for the “dolls”.

It is also fairly clear that the coffins were not expected to be found, so the reason for their construction appears to be personal. Over the years it has been suggested the dolls were the work of witches, or represent the bodies of sailors lost at sea.

It has also been suggested that they are a memorial to the victims of the notorious and murderous bodysnatchers William Burke and William Hare, who carried out their gruesome deeds in the capital during a 10-month spree in 1820. Several movies have been made detailing with the business of providing fresh cadavers for the use of future doctors. The problem is that Burke and Hare have the right dates, but most of the victims were women, and all the dolls were men.

An on-going shrine for sailors lost a sea seemed like the most likely reason, based upon the style of clothing and common material.

Eight of these coffins are on display in the national museum of Scotland, and remain a very popular exhibit.

Recently a new theory has been proposed, referencing a long forgotten rebellion that was severely repressed by the British government. In Edinburgh there were factories as part of the Industrial Revolution. Weavers of cloth had moved from small local looms, to great buildings with looms run by a collection of belts powered by water wheels. The conditions in these factories were horrific, with hundreds of children working the looms. The workers protested and struck.

The authority rounded up the leaders of the protest and hanged a number of them. The rest were placed on ships that sailed for Australia. For the out of work weavers, Sir Walter Scott recommended that they should be put to work making a road around “Arthur’s Seat”. Not a very fit thing for weaver’s to do. But perhaps the coffins were a memory of those hanged or sent to Australia.

In either case, the Rebellion was forgotten, Britain lost control of Scotland’s governance, and the little coffins are displayed in the National museum, still a mystery, but honored.

(Inspired by a story written by Charles Fort)

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Tribute Van Gogh

Road men

Heading to exhibit in SF next month.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Doubt

I’m getting philosophical again, pondering the word “doubt”. Is this a good thing? After all, there is something absolutely the same for people who believe nothing, and people who believe everything. They do not think! Thinking requires doubt, or at least doubt kickstarts thinking. Presuming that with enough thinking, doubt will disappear, and certainty will reign. Or, with enough thinking we can be certain that we do not know. The question might be whether doubt will actually motivate thinking. Perhaps doubt is perfectly fine being static.

Rene Descartes had a thought about thinking, and he used the technique of “methodic doubt”. He looked at three different categories of knowing: authoritative, empirical, and mathematical. Each category had serious issues of being fallible, thus dubious.

He found knowledge from tradition to be dubitable because authorities disagree; empirical knowledge dubitable because of illusions, hallucinations, and dreams; and mathematical knowledge dubitable because people make errors in calculating.

He proposed an all-powerful, deceiving demon as a way of invoking universal doubt. Although the demon could deceive men regarding which sensations and ideas are truly of the world, or could give them sensations and ideas none of which are of the true world, or could even make them think that there is an external world when there is none. The one thing the demon could not make men think is that they exist, when they do not. Thus, “I think, therefore I am.”

Doubt appears to be a “way station”, a good thing for a time, but a place to gather facts and feelings. It is not a place to plant roots and stay. How long can we linger in doubt? Ahh, there’s the rub, too short of a time and you are lazy, too long of a time and you are indecisive. It may be similar to buying fruit, too soon and it may be green. Too late, and it’s well on the way to rot. Again there is no hint of what that timing is in hours, days, weeks, or years.

In some circles “doubting Thomas” is a negative stereotype. In other circles he is proof that reality can be tested.

I think “doubt” is fungible, in some cases it is necessary to decide in seconds or parts of a second. This may mean the difference of life or death. In most cases doubt has timing that is appropriate to the importance. The “lifetime” doubt is only a problem if it isn’t resolved by the time of death.

Descartes envisioned a demon to explain his view of knowledge. I’m envisioning an individual walking around full of certainty. This is an individual that I would actively avoid. Give me a portion of doubt, periodically.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

I’ve Been Making Things

Everybody very sharp and beautiful!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

She Was a Dancer

She was a dancer, she was always a dancer. From the time her memories started she had already been taking dance lessons for two years. Admittedly it was mostly disorganized jumping and spinning around, but she had several costumes from several ensembles. And one more thing, even the parents of other children began to watch her when she came on stage. She had presence, stage presence.

Her father watched her every rehearsal, and remembers almost the exact week when the joyful romp became a joyful performance. She counted out the choreographed steps and used concise, but shortened hand and wrist movements to memorize the routine . She could do this anywhere, waiting for food at restaurants, watching television, anywhere at all. The dance floor was in her mind, and the shorthand was an extension of her body.

When the actual rehearsal came, her body mimicked what her shorthand had already worked out, except for the spinning. The shorthand for spinning was a little twirl of the wrist, but that was not at all like the real thing.

Initially, she spun and just got dizzy after a minute. It took years before being able to “spot” off stage by keeping your head fixed, then quickly spin it around to complete the next turn. We have all seen the technique in professional dancers, but it was amazing to see this in pre-teens. By the time she was a teenager she had the technique down pat. And she  was improving her speed of turning her head after having it fixed on a point.

All the while her body was perfectly vertical, arms and legs in exact pose. It was powerful to see, and powerful to experience. And then something happened.

Her eyesight began to fail her. The snap turning of her head to the fixed point began to give her blurred vision. She said nothing at first, worrying that she might have to stop dancing. She continued on, and unless the performance required a tight spin, she never noticed the blurred vision.

Unfortunately a new choreographer like to introduce several star dancers by writing in long spins, longer than she had ever done before. As it turns out, she could easily outspin everyone in the class, so she got the starring lead. Happy as she was, she began to worry about the blurred vision. Could it have longer lasting blurring for the next series of steps?

For several days of rehearsal she studied what was happening. It seemed to her that it was just blurred vision, not dizziness or nausea, certainly not upset stomach. That was a relief, so she focused on what she could actually see, something that a fast camera lens could capture.

It took several weeks before she was certain it wasn’t blurred vision, it was blurred objects, not her vision of the objects. She was seeing clearly , but what she was seeing was blurry. She tested this theory by slowing her spin slightly, and the result was that the box shaped object that she used for her focal point was sharper and less blurred,

She knew that this might seem like a perspective issue. Logic told her that the perception of the box being in focus could be the effect of going slower. It just seemed unusual that it was so consistent, by going just a little bit faster there was an exact degree of blur that postured . After a time it didn’t seem reasonable that her body was that responsive. Some days it shouldn’t be as blurry if it was her fault.

Her final conclusion is that it didn’t matter what she thought she saw, she wasn’t dizzy and she came out of the spin exactly when she needed. The show was a hit, and everyone agreed that they couldn’t take their eyes off of her .

It’s now years later, she is still dancing, but also taking physics in college. The professor offhandedly states that nothing is created and nothing destroyed, just states are changed. Very typical sophomore concepts to open the inquiring mind. Nothing destroyed, just changed.

She thought about this, and reasoned that it made sense when times were simpler, and change was slower, in a practical sense it meant that all atoms, or even parts of atoms are already existent. Nothing new created since the Big Bang. Everything made since is using the current storehouse. The question is, when do we run out of supplies. We want to make sometime new but there aren’t “parts” available. Where do the parts come from if nothing new is created. The answer is simple, some things must be taken apart so that new things can be made.

This balance would be perfect if we don’t mind losing some things in order to have new things. The trouble is that the timing can be all wrong, millions off  things  are  still needed  in  the  modern world and billions  of  things  want to be  made.  The  young dancer  thought  that  physics  was  starting  off badly. How would we know when there was a parts shortage? It  didn’t make sense to her ordered mind. But  it was a problem that she tried  to  work out the  best  she could without  asking her professor. It was too soon  to ask a silly question. Where was the raw material for new things?

Obviously, the earth was mostly untouched, the bottom of the sea floor, plenty of things die off each year. It was a silly question. But is it an infinite supply? The sand of a desert seems infinite, but there are countable grains.

And who collects the supplies to make them available? Suddenly the dancer studying physics thought she might need a second minor in theology.

Then it came to here in a dream, she could technically see a little less than 180 degrees. She doesn’t know what the state of the molecules are for things she can’t see. What if reality is only that which we can observe? That’s very egocentric but maybe that’s only a perspective thing.

Suddenly a memory flashed from years ago. A box sitting off stage right, getting more blurry the faster she turned. More blurry because the detail is in the molecules, and if the molecules aren’t there, then it’s half formed, blurry. Getting out of bed she felt unsteady on her feet. She had heard about first year college students having delusional thoughts. She worried that the stress of leaving home does funny  things.

She went to the bathroom to splash some water on her face. She looked at her image in the mirror and laughed inwardly. She couldn’t see the room behind her head. Maybe the world doesn’t exist there. Perhaps as she moves to one side, the world is being taken apart in order to build the world that is coming into view on the other side.

She thought she could re-create the dancer’s spotter vision, by not focusing on anything, but intently looking just the same. And with her dancer’s reaction, she could move from side to side to see if anything is out of the ordinary. She tried several times, but nothing seemed strange except the dancer’s slight jerking from side to side. She decided to get the toothpaste behind the mirror while she was finishing her jerking routine.

The movement of the mirror magnified the speed of her body’s jerk movement, and for a nanosecond there was a blurry line around her head. Blurry on the left as the room decomposed, blurry on the right as the room was being built.

Using the scientific method she repeated this a dozen times. Her vision was not blurry, parts of the room that she could see in the mirror were blurry, just like that box years ago. She thought that in the morning she should go see a counselor… and change her major to physics with a minor in dance. There are new things to explore.

(a story)

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Fredegund

This is a story first told by Gregory of Tours, who lived from 30 November c. 538 – 17 November 594 AD. He was a Gallo-Roman historian, and the Bishop of Tours. His position and training made him very knowledgeable of the times, and he is the primary source for the history of the Merovingian kings.

Fredegund was a maid to Audovera, the first wife of Chilperic I, the Merovingian Frankish king of Soissons. Fredegund convinced the King to put Audovera in a Monestery and divorce her. Fredegund did not go with her and soon became the King’s favorite. This did not last long because the King put her aside in order to marry Galswintha, 561–584. Galswintha was the daughter of Athanagild, Visigothic King of the Iberian Penisula, and the sister of Brunnhilda, who was married to King Sigebert I of Austrasia. Yes, she is that famous Brunnhilda.

Fredegund did not take kindly to Chilperic marrying Galswintha, and responded by strangling her within a year’s time. Brunnhilda did not take kindly to her sister being murdered and this started a 40 year bitter feud between the two women. It is not recorded what Chilperic thought, but he married Fredegund soon after. Together they had four sons and at least one daughter.

There was an outbreak of dysentery in Gaul which affected the king and his two sons Chlodobert and Dagobert. The king survived, his sons did not. Perhaps Fredegund felt bad about her sons, but when her son Samson became ill soon after birth, she set him aside, fearful that she would become sick. He soon died.

Her daughter Rigunth was quite beautiful. Gregory of Tours relates a story that Fredegund was jealous of her daughter, and tricked her into looking at a chest of jewels. When Rigunth bent over to look more closely, Fredegund shut the lid down on her neck to choke her to death. Rigunth was saved by the sudden appearance of some servants. She was then sent to Spain to marry a Visigoth prince.

Gregory paints a very negative story of Fredegund, a vicious murderer, an evil treacherous queen. She is the archetype of every dark queen that we see in the movies or read in fairy stories. And she gets worse as she gets older. She uses her power and position to arrange the assignations of dozens of political enemies. There is even the suggestion that she arranged the assignation of her husband Chilperic.

Fredegund certainly ordered the assignation of King Sigebert and Queen Brunnhilda. Finally, in 573, she successfully had Sigebert murdered. Brunnhilda fled to Guntram, the King of Burgundy, who protected her for several years, but Fredegund still tried to have her killed.

Fredegund ruled the kingdom until her son Chlothar II became of age. The hatred she had for Brunnhilda was transferred to her son, and it became his mission to make war against her.

Fredegund died of natural causes on 8 December 597 in Paris. Death did not create peace. Her son Chlothar had captured Brunnhilda and had ordered that she be tied by the arms and hair to the tail of a young, untamed horse, and dragged through the entire army. As soon as the king gave this order, it was carried out. The first time the man who was on the horse dug his spurs in, the horse kicked up his heels with such force that Brunnhilda’s head flew off. Her body was dragged through the bushes and brambles, over hills and dales, so that it was torn to pieces, limb from limb. She was about 70 years old.

Fredegund was my 39th great grandmother, and every time I see or read about an evil queen, I think about her.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Benjamin Bathurst

Benjamin Bathurst, 1784-1809

I came across this name in a book by Charles Fort. If you have read any of his writing you know that he doesn’t spend too much time on a subject. He may have invented “just the facts, ma’am”. Unfortunately most of what he writes is gleaned from newspaper articles written at the time, so “the facts” are debatable.

The article in question states that Benjamin Bathurst “walked around the horses, and disappeared.” That statement alone is loaded with questions. In my brief research I discovered many things. I discovered that their was a book titled “He Walked Around the Horses”, by H. Beam Piper, 1948. Not only that, according to Wikipedia, Benjamin Bathurst was mentioned in at least ten written works from 1924 through 1992, mostly science fiction. All had made much of the strange disappearance.

So briefly, who was Benjamin Bathurst? He was a British diplomat sent on a mission to Emperor Francis I of Austria in 1809. He was the son of a powerful politician that actually ordered him on the mission. On his way back to England his carriage stopped in the evening at a small village near Hamburg, Germany. He was traveling with an assistant under disguised names. It was about 9:00 pm, so even though the horses were ready, they were considering if they should spend the night at the inn. Going outside, Bathurst was slightly ahead of his assistant and went around the horses to enter the carriage. When the assistant entered the carriage, Bathurst was gone.

A massive search was immediately started. Nothing was found. The river was dredged, woods were scoured. Several days later Bathurst’s expensive coat was found in the home of a woman who worked at the inn, she probably lifted it after he was found missing. A month later his pants were found in the woods three miles north of the inn. It had a letter to his wife in a pocket, mentoring that Bathurst “was surrounded by enemies”. According to some reports there were two bullet holes in the pants, but no bloodstains.

England, Austria, and Prussia were all at war with France, and the French border was not that far away. Napoleon was suspected of having sent a detachment of troops to capture Bathurst. In a meeting withBathurst’s wife. He denied knowing anything about it. This was still a big newspaper story at the time, and was covered by many newspapers in Europe. The story continued to be fresh in 1854 when a mysterious skeleton was discovered buried in a stable near the inn. Bathurst’s wife apparently went to see if it was her husband. Nothing more was written on the visit.

The latest research brought out that Bathurst had been commited a year earlier with a mental breakdown due to stress from being a diplomat to Sweden. There were some letters that suggest Bathurst was having some sort of outbursts in the carriage, saying that enemies were after him. It included that Bathurst had physically shaken his assistant by his coat lapels. Perhaps the letter was written to his wife to puff up his trip abroad. Or perhaps Bathurst had really seen French agents stalking him.

The studied research does suggest that he was murdered by someone who disposed of the body in some way. Because we don’t know exactly what happened we can suppose all sorts of possibilities, even if the “possibilities” are completely in the realm of science fiction

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Today I Was Naked

At my age this would not be a pretty sight. Maybe at any age. But I’m not talking about clothing, I’m talking about leaving the house without my cellphone. Now if you are a younger person, you can easily relate, your cellphone is your lifeline. Of course, if you are a younger person it is more likely that you have never left your cellphone. It would be like leaving the house with no clothes on.

I remember hard plastic-like, black phones, with a rotary dial, connected by a hard wire via a party-line (cheaper), and no area code yet. The concept of a wireless phone meant that it would be even larger, and not fit in your pocket.

So for about sixty years of my life, I left my phone in the house when I left. Because it was attached to the wall. Later on we had area codes, and special rates for “long distance”. Somehow we were all convinced that it made sense for higher rates because something was used up the further that you called, like gasoline in your car. The phone companies allowed you to be ignorant.

Leaving the house without a phone wasn’t barbaric. They had these things called “phone booths” or public toilets, they seemed functional for both purposes. Superman was always able to find one in an emergency, and so could you!

Nearly every public parking had a phone booth, and most could give you a five minute call for a dime (remember, something was used up). Lots of young people wore buttons that they pinned to their jackets or purse straps. It was very wise to put a dime in the back of several buttons. You could always make an emergency call. Some people still wore “penny loafer” shoes, but replaced the penny with dimes. Later on it was a quarter for three minutes, so the buttons had to get bigger, and the shoes were out.

In addition for being the model for future airplane bathrooms, the phone booth did provide a measure of security. Not only did it deter thugs from a snatch and grab, but it muted the conversation that you might have, unless there was a lip reader nearby. There is a federal law that talks about “the expectation of privacy” and government agents cannot listen in or record any conversation between individuals if there is “an expectation of privacy” without a warrant signed by a judge. That stops the police from tapping your business or your home. It also stops them at the phone booth.

But time rolls forward, now we all have cellphones, and we feel naked if we leave it at home. And by the way, there is a limited “expectation of privacy” with cellphones. No warrant needed to listen in or record anything said through the public airwaves, just purchase a scanner.

Ever wonder why those public phones that don’t live in a phonebooth have those little “wings” on either side? It does stop some extra noise, but it is supposed to give you that “expectation or privacy”. Plus the new design allowed the phones to be lower, and no booth meant that it was wheelchair accessible.

There is one more thing that is different about nearly everyone having a cellphone, and that is “connectivity”.

I want you to envision your close circle of friends, it could be anywhere from two to a dozen. How many of you have that one close friend that is slightly off the rails, wears aluminum foil hats in the house, listens to radio talk shows about aliens, and hangs out near Area 51 on vacation. We might know someone like that, but rarely are they close friends, unless you do the same things.

Now, expand to relatives and acquaintances. Expand it even further to one hundred people. With one hundred people you might find one of them that fits this description. That’s one percent of your acquaintances that are slightly wacko. You can handle that, your particular group will not be taken off the rails by one percent of the people you know. You are safe.

However, now most people are connected by cellphones, many of them “smart phones” allowing for deeper connectivity. If the population of the US is 328 million folks then one percent is 3,280,000 people that can be connected with the same mindset. If they were all told to move to Denver, and taken over the city, there might be anywhere from 32,000 to 328,000 people that actually show up.

Yes, back then, with our Bakelite phone tied to the wall in the house, we might have felt isolated compared to today. But there is a positive side to isolation.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Rocks of the Playa

I having been pondering about the “sailing stones of racetrack playa”. I know, what can we learn about stones that move upon their own accord, besides the fact that no one has seen them move. Is it because Racetrack Playa is so far removed from civilization? Or is it part of a vast conspiracy of stones being moved by aliens for their own amusement. I have even heard that this was a training ground for individuals learning the “black arts” of telekinesis.

If somehow you have missed the story… Racetrack Playa is a dry, mud cracked, lakebed, just north of Death Valley in California. It is rather scenic as dry lakes go, but in addition it has over a hundred stones from ounces to hundreds of pounds, that have moved on the dry lakebed, leaving furrows that meander hundreds of feet. And there are no footprints, thus the name “sailing stones”.

Shades of “crop circles”.

First discovered in a documented account in 1915, it was officially suggested the stones moved as the result of hurricane force winds. This was an absurd idea, but it was the best that early science could provide. Privately, they were uncertain. It wasn’t long before underground theories began to fill in the void of “uncertain knowledge”.

Many different theories were put forth in the following 50 years. Finally, in May, 1972, a sailing stone movement monitoring system was put into place. A corral was built to isolation approximately thirty stones, in order to measured their movement from month to month. Each stone was measured and given names, like Karen, Mary Ann, Nancy, etc. Mary Ann moved a whopping 212 feet during the first winter. After seven years of study, Nancy had accumulated 860 feet. Karen was the big disappointment, she had not moved an inch in seven years. It’s 570 feet of trail may have been from it’s first walk, but nothing since. Some say it was reasonable because Karen was approximately 700 lbs. I think that’s a little “fat shaming”.

Now, of course, Karen is not there. She disappeared in 1992 or 1993. There may have been a sighting in 1994, but nothing since then. Looking for her photo on a milk cartoon, “700 lb dolomite rock, answers to the name Karen.” You can be sure that there are several additional theories of what has happened to Karen.

Finally, modern technology caught up to the mystery. ‘If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?” Sure it does, prove it with with a remote audio recorder. So, a group of researchers set up time lapse video cameras on several stones, and placed special GPS devices on as many as 60 sailing stones. The results of this study was published in 2014.

Warlocks did not appear to move the stones. Aliens did not use force beams for curious reasons. A thin layer of ice had formed during the rainy season, and even a mild wind could cause a stone to sail. They actually video taped movement on a pleasant day.

My question is… why is it so easy to believe the impossible, instead of maintaining, “I don’t know yet”?

Now, one more fact for conspiracy people- why is it that the highest and lowest points on the North American continent are only 90 miles apart?

I forgot to mention, if you plan to visit Racetrack Playa and the sailing stones, it’s only 6 miles from Teapot Junction, a stop sign corner. Bring your own teapot, (now that’s a mystery)

Posted in Commentary | 4 Comments

The Best Cat

I lost a good friend today. She wasn’t a pet, I’m not sure any cat is a pet. We might be their pets, but the nature of the relationship cannot be defined as “petness”. Megan was a Queen, and she knew it. She tolerated us for about 18 years. She died suddenly in my lap.

Because cats and dogs have so much shorter lives, we experience a lot of “pet grief”. It doesn’t get easier, but it does get familiar. For so long they have been a part of our lives. The unconditional love, the forgiveness of being ignored, the amazingly weird things that they were caught doing. Stories about our pets keep their memories alive.

Meg was a typical cat, she assumed everyone loved her, and they did. She tolerated a belly rub for a few minutes, but would soon depart if it continued. Not a big fan of anyone touching her ears, but loved a rump and tail stroke. And of course, the under the chin scratch. For the last four or five years she moved from my lap, to snuggling under my beard, with her back to my neck. If I left her alone she might stay that way for a few hours. Naturally I had to be reclined in my chair.

She hated her litter box, and would demand to be let outside. We were good with this during the daylight, but the coyote population made letting her out in the evening problematic. If I went for my evening snack in the kitchen, she would be right there, looking out the glass door to the patio, vocalizing. I’ve been told that this type of vocalizing is strictly for humans. I certainly knew what she was saying, and it wasn’t very nice.

When I finished, I would turn off the light, while she was still sitting there, staring off into the night. I would walk back to my recliner, and before I could sit down, I could see her “zoftique” form padding across the wood floor, heading to the fireplace ledge behind my chair. This was necessary because she didn’t like “the floor to chair” leap all at once. I would barely have time for the lap blanket before she would jump on my lap. Most times I would have to pick her up to arrange the blanket under her, and that was difficult because she had her claws out, kneading my thighs.

Two minutes before she was “cat cussing” me, and now it was all forgiven, giving me three or four licks on my arm or hand. Not a big licker, sometimes the nose for two licks if you were face to face. Then she would settle in. If you happened to be reading or looking at your iPad, she knew that was rude, so she would work her way to get between you and the media. It took a great deal of effort to ignore her by moving the book around, she would just counter the move with one of her own.

She had her quirks, and they were specific to people. Sherry would often have a glass of water on the table near the couch. Megan would demand to drink from it. She had her own bowl of fresh cool water on the kitchen floor, but she noticed that no one drank from it, so she didn’t either. Sherry got in the habit of bringing two glasses of water to the table. Sherry even placed a water glass on the kitchen floor. Megan preferred crystal over plastic.

All of my children have Megan stories. Maybe Amy has the most, because of her “cat dancing” videos. Megan was very tolerant, and good with children.

We were fortunate to not have a lengthy sickness, Megan didn’t suffered from cat leukemia. She did have a lump, or growth in her throat that was quite large a few years ago. We even had it checked out, and the surgery was very intensive, and expensive. Megan took care of that on her own, and it started shrinking pretty quickly. It was still there if you searched for it, but it didn’t bother her.

I believe she must have suffered a stroke, or possible a heart attack. She actually fell over in my lap, and appeared to be dizzy. Then several sharp pains caused her to complain loudly, almost as if her tail was caught in a door. Then she stooped breathing for about 30 seconds. I didn’t move her, and I was hoping this was just a temporarily thing. It was so fast.

She even purred while I was calming her down. Her eyes were dilated and unresponsive, but she was still purring until her breathing stopped again. Maybe this repeated four or five times until she was still. She had died in my arms.

The night before, it had started raining about ten, and I had forgotten to put away some tools from earlier that day. While I had left the back door open, she darted out in to the hard rain. I didn’t think she would like it, so I held the door open to call her in. Megan didn’t answer to “kitty kitty”, she never did, we always had to say “meow, meow”. Even that wasn’t a guarantee.

She had gone into the gloom, and I had fears that a wet, cold coyote would have her for a late dinner. I shut the door and went to the refrigerator for a snack, and when I walked back, there she was, pacing to get in. I went over to the door and opened it expecting a wet confused cat to race for her food dish. Instead she turned left, refusing the open door, and went around the side of the house. Perhaps she remembered the cat litter inside, and decided she had business elsewhere.

Now, she was truly gone and it was raining so hard that it was impossible to follow. I went to the back porch, thinking she would get out of the rain under the awning. A few minutes later I went downstairs to the front porch to see if she ducked in there. Each time I did my “meow, meow”, wondering what the neighbors might think. No luck, she probably was out hunting. In the last week she had brought two “presents” for us to dispose.

Around 12:00 midnight I heard a “meow”. I made a fast descent down the stairs to the front door. She wasn’t there, it was still raining. I made a few low “meows” but no luck. Then I thought maybe I didn’t hear correctly so I headed for the kitchen door. I went upstairs, I repeated my cat call, but nothing happened. I even gave the door a second opening, but there was only the rain falling.

Walking back to my chair I heard one more “meow”, I went back down the stairs, opened the door and walked a few steps out into the rain. Nothing! Where was she? Feeling defeated, I walked back up the stairs, to check the kitchen door one more time.

I think as soon as the light came on, she ran from her shelter, to pace back and forth behind the door. I couldn’t get there fast enough. Sure enough, once opened, she made a rush for her food dish, and I left her there, relieved, to head for my chair. The same standard routine then occurred, like thousands of times before, she was already there on the fireplace, ready to jump in my lap. Her food would still be there later. She was a frequent snacker. More important to find a lap.

This is the process of grieving, to tell tales of the one you have lost. To laugh at their unique character, to smile at their forgiveness and loving nature,

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Traffic

1917 Nash

An article in the San Francisco Examiner, Jan 13, 1918

San Mateo Arrests 1500 Traffic Violators

Redwood City- Jan 12

Since August 1, 1917, when the San Mateo officers began a rigid campaign against violators of traffic ordinances, more than 1,500 auto violations have been hailed before San Mateo courts. Nearly all of the cases have been for “cutting in” or carrying blinding lights, little attempts being paid during the crusade, to speeders.

Exactly what do they mean by “speeding” in 1917? A fast walk? A quick average of internet posts suggest that a 1917 could go as fast as 30 mph on a flat road, but roads at that time were pretty rough, so that might be a death wish.

“Cutting in” was, and is, a problem. We don’t merge, and we don’t yield. What we would like are roads wide enough so that we could all go side by side. That’s why we build multi-lane freeways. This problem of yield is a metaphor for other areas in life. Signs tell us to yield, and we just ignore them. When people tell us to yield, we say they are on a power trip. A “yielding spirit” is a character flaw. We are destined to crash into one and another.

The interesting item is “blinding lights”. What did the ordinances say about lights? Did they rate them in candlepower? Did they have candles?

Another article mentions 1,300 vehicles were stolen in 1917. Statewide? Area wide? All but 106 were recovered by local police. 72 Fords, 6 Buick’s/Chevrolets, 3 Dodges, 2 Stutz, and one each for Mitchell, Overland, Locomobile, Empire, Maibohn, Saxon, Dort, American, Maxwell, and Oldsmobile.

The numbers don’t quite add up, but I am impressed by the number of makes and models.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Reminders

Things pop up, from time to time, and very unexpectedly. My nieces are cleaning out my eldest brothers home. He doesn’t live there, no one could. It’s possible that he invented “hoarding”. He certainly had a head start because he was “dumpster diving” for decades. In fairness, he once built a two story cabin in the woods with found lumber, windows, fixtures, and pool tables.

He has a nice in-law cottage with his youngest daughter, and he rarely goes back to his home with treasures. I don’t think they would let him.

Thoughtful as the girls have always been, they found some stuff that they thought I would like, and packed it up, shipping to me first class. It was some photos, some documents, and several old newspapers. One paper in particular was from my home town, The Richmond Independent. This paper is what I grew up with. It was swallowed by one of those communication conglomerates, and nothing was left but memories.

My godfather, my namesake, was a printer at the paper, so I always felt a deep connection. Even for a bookish teenager, the writing was pretty good. There was one feature that stood out. A customer could have a free two line ad in the classified section, if the item you were selling was $50 or under. In the 1950s or even 1960s, that was pretty cool. All sorts of interesting things ended up being listed.

So naturally, when I got this newspaper in a box with others, I immediately looked for the “Bargain Counter”, section 601. I suppose it should be the bargain column, but…

The very first item gave me pause. It listed an engagement ring, appraised at $200, selling for $50 cash. Call after 5:30pm. Three or four things to think about. This was Dec.4, 1954. Didn’t everybody deal with cash? Maybe the seller feared some sort of a trade deal. Secondly, call after 5:30 implies a working person, probably a hard-working person that needed the cash. And lastly, what is the story behind this broken engagement? Typical breakup, ghastly accident, troubled second thoughts? It was only two lines, but I spent several minutes thinking about the possibilities.

I was actually looking for something very specific, very important. It wasn’t there, there were toys, bicycles, furniture, ovens, and fur coats, but not what I was looking for.

Another rite of passage for a sixteen year old was to get your drivers license, buy a car, park it in the driveway and smoke cigarettes with your friends. If the car actually ran, then you would “drag the main” at .25 cents a gallon, and buy a Giraffe at Gordon’s (think Orange Julius) at the end of the night.

It all hinged at being able to buy a vehicle with grass cutting salary, or saved allowance. That’s where the “Bargain Counter” came to fame. Dozens and dozen of my friends and relatives brought their first car from the classified 601 column. And now I have my very own copy, and there isn’t a car listed. Wait….

The next to the last item, a 1936 Buick, good tires, good condition, $40

Wow, not even the full $50. We would have ten dollars for gas, that would last the whole summer!

Yep, reminders pop up when you least expect them.

Posted in Commentary | 2 Comments

Know Your Father

It’s a right of passage. You are first a child, and you think like a child. Your parents are simply there, providing everything you need, or you cry louder. Later on, your parents become people, but they are so ignorant. Somehow, even later on, they become brilliant, and sometimes wise. It makes you wonder if they were the same people.

My father was different than my brother’s father, and both of us never even met my oldest brother’s father. It was the same man, but ten years difference between the first two boys, and then seven years difference between the last two, this made quite a difference in personality and energy.

I was shocked to find out that my father was a jock, a five sport athlete. He was an outstanding baseball pitcher, played in the minor leagues all over the Midwest. He once pitched three games against Satchel Page, won one. He was pretty constantly batting .390’s, sometimes in the middle .450s. He also boxed, he had massive heavy hands, I don’t recall his record but, I would not want to receive a punch from those hands. He had a college scholarship for football, but the Depression hit right after high school, so he looked for work. He was an good bowler. When I was growing up I remember only one plaque on the wall, it was small, maybe3x5 inches, metal, engraved with the score of his “Eleven in a Row”. He liked it because the first frame was a spare, and the next eleven were strikes. He never gave up. And then, lastly, there was/were horseshoes. Pretty big things, more popular when there were still horses around.

I did know about the bowling, I was raised in a bowling alley. My father was always in at least two leagues all the while I was growing up. That meant most Friday and Saturday nights we would all go to the bowling alley for a few hours. It was fun hanging out, peeking in the adult pool parlor, reading comics, talking with my mom. We could always tell when my father was ready to bowl. He had this technique of standing at the line, staring at the pins, then he would raise the ball with both hands over his head, step forward to swing the ball back, another step forward to release the ball about an inch from the floor. He had a gentle curve, but it went right in the pocket, and the sound of ten pins flying in the air, the ball hitting them, the pins hitting each other, everything bouncing off the three walls of the alley… it was deafening.

He never taught me to bowl, or to box, or to play baseball (maybe a few games of catch), and definitely didn’t teach me to play football. I did toss some horseshoes but they were massive, and heavy. I tried to imagine the size of horses that they would fit.

It wasn’t that I was deprived, my father was simply done with these things. He taught me camping skills, tried to teach me fishing (boring), he really taught me archery, and we would go out to courses often. I still have the first bow that he bought me. The biggest thing was that he taught me sailing. He never sailed a boat larger than 12 feet. Mostly he would convert some old rowboat with matching side-keels, and a makeshift mast with a tarp. Finally, my oldest brother gave him a sailing dinghy from Norway. That was the boat I learned on. I did take him out on the 30 ft. Yankee. I think he liked it.

So, back to the beginning, who was this man who was forty years old when I was born? He was pretty well read in high school, but read mostly dime novels when I was home. He didn’t talk much, and played solitaire a lot. There is a family joke that he wore the spots off his cards because he played so much. It isn’t a joke. He had a deck that he liked so much that the ink was gone. He could only tell the cards apart by the faint indentation left by the printing press. Ghost cards!

Most people define themselves in social situations by the careers that they choose. Except, most people rarely choose their careers, unless they are very lucky, or extremely driven. The average persons falls into something, then stays because it isn’t too bad, and the money is good. My father was a welder. He came west to build ships during WWII. I think he learned something about welding, working for the Conservation Corp for a few months in the middle 1930s.

When the war ended, he applied for a job at Chevron Standard Oil, as a boilermaker. He made, and repaired boilers. They boil a lot of oil at Standard Oil. I went to Richmond Union High School, our mascot was an oil can. We were “the Oilers”.

Apparently, my father was a master welder, and could weld any size pipe, connecting to different sizes of other pipes, and at any angle. He would cut the ends of a pipe, with a matching hole in the other, then seal it with a single matching bead. I learned this from one of his co-workers. He didn’t teach me welding either.

I know he had a hard life, his father left the family when he was young, and he had several step-fathers that were a disaster. Another family story is that he hid in a flour barrel fearing for his life. His final years in high school he lived with his older sister, and that was fairly common in large families.

I knew a little about his former work life before he became a welder. He found a job at a meat packing plant in Fargo, North Dakota. The Armour Meat Company had a large plant on the west side of town. I asked him what that was like. He said it was okay, he rose through the ranks and became “the Hammer”, the guy with a sledgehammer, hitting cows between the eyes. I may have been ten years old at the time. I don’t think I talked to him about that for at least another ten years.

When I did talk to him again, he said he thought it was far better, and more humane than using a pistol. They had changed policies after a while, and gave him a .22 pistol. Every now and then the cow would not die, and it was a mess. For years he had hit them with a hammer, and no problem. He finally asked for another job.

Apparently he had also started to pitch baseball for the company team, and they were winning! He negotiated a raise, and a position on the company’s police force, or he would leave the team. The police force also provided services to the city. He rose through the ranks pretty quickly, and with those massive fists, he became Chief of Police for Fargo, ND. He never saw the movie Fargo.

So my dad was a LEO (law enforcement officer) for a time. I remember playing with this huge badge that he kept hidden in the garage.

All this, and I still say that I have a hard time knowing my father, I’m not certain that it’s anyone’s fault. It was just a different time, and a different generation.

This blog started because I recently received a gift of some old documents from family members. Lots of old newspapers, and there were three certificates with my father’s name in impressive Old English letters. The certificates were from the Armour Meat Company in three categories; Beef, Hogs, and Sheep. In each category there were eight or nine skill areas that actually had a numbered ranking, supposedly out of a hundred points. My father scored mostly in the 90’s, but none lower than an 85. He had 98 in hog curing, 97 in hides.

The skill areas were killing, skinning, offal, coolers, pelts, casings, sausage, curing, smoking, and cutting. I was grossed out like I was ten years old, but I knew him a little more.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Lost?

Being retired, I have the unique privilege of doing basic research to support my claims.

I have spent many years hiking in the High Sierras, Nevada desert, Yellowstone Park, Washington North Cascades, and Oregon’s Three Sisters. Not just your normal weekends, but backpacking for a week or two at a time (mostly weekends by count). I think by conservative standards I have clocked somewhere around 11,000 hours.

Now of course, this includes sleeping, eating, and resting…so let’s say we cut the number in half. That means 5,500 hours of staring at a map, trying to find ribbons in the trees, deciding with my gut which trail to choose, sometimes making my own trail when there wasn’t one.

In all those hours I have never been lost. If I had, my bones would still be out there, in summer sun, and winter snow.

In fairness, I have been woefully misdirected for a few days… but never lost!

A few months back, I was driving home alone at night. I wasn’t using my brights in the neighborhood, and we live far back, so there are multiple turns, left and right.

They are arranged in a pattern that you memorize if you are returning from the normal route. But there are several ways to come home, and several patterns to remember. I must point out that there are no street lamps and on moonless nights it is a challenge.

So, on this night I made several left right left turns, and then suddenly I was at a dead end. Not the right dead end, but a completely different dead end. I can now understand the drunk that entered a stranger’s house because he was tired. I was tempted.

But I don’t drink! I also had no clue to back out to where I had made the mistake. I resorted to firing up my GPS, and I was only blocks from my home.

Okay, I still wasn’t lost, because I got home.

We all have “brain farts” where we can’t remember a name, or some sort of common data. Once, in high school I forgot how to spell “a”, and I couldn’t even remember the first letter. (That sounds like a stroke now!) But I recall it was a significant day when my father-in-law could no longer visit us, because he couldn’t remember, and that was in the daytime.

With age, it can creep up on you, there is an issue with various forms of dementia. It probably is at the back of most people’s minds until it suddenly presents its self as a serious question.

I’m not obsessing about it because I have taken a few steps to get a little warning.

A few seasons back I got a present of a large collection of Sudoku puzzles. A very thoughtful gift, because someone had noticed that I play Sudoku on my phone/iPad.

What they didn’t know is that I hate Sudoku. I’m not a big game player in any case. All the PlayStation stuff, or even Mario, just passed me by.

But Sudoku was different, it had numbers associated with the timing and strategy of play. I fail miserably at the strategy, but I have been consistent in the numbers.

If I score somewhere close, plus or minus, to 80,000 then I probably won’t get lost driving home. It’s a great check on my system. If I forget a book title, or a name, then I play a round of Sudoku, and everything is fine!

Isn’t it amazing how well we neutralize our fears? Now, if only I could remember where I put my phone.

Posted in Commentary | 3 Comments

Brain Cells

I’ve been thinking about brain cells. Obviously they are in the brain, so…the thing that I am, is safe behind a skull, which used to have a cushion of hair around it. Is male pattern baldness the first step to eventual oblivion? Is the brain in danger?

Then it occurred to me that a certain percentage of brain cells may have escaped and taken up residence somewhere else. We talk about “gut feeling”, is it really “gut thinking”? Or, what about the heart? Why is it that the lungs never get feeling/thinking credit? Or perhaps the tip of the little finger on the left hand? Could millions of brain cells decide to migrate to the little finger, knowing that age has exposed their native “homeland” to danger? They are “brain cells” after all, they could think of these things.

As always, Google search can offer some suggestions…

Aside from the structural tissue and blood vessels, the brain consists of two types of cells, neurons and glia cells. Neurons have this wonderful electrical ability to pass information from one cell to another. Neurons group together in nuclei, and are connected to other nuclei by tracts. Their “homeland” is the cerebral cortex. However, neurons exist throughout the body and fall into three categories: sensory, motor, or interneurons. Sensory is massive throughout the skin, and they send messages about the world back to the brain. Motor neurons are in the heart, intestinal system, diaphragm, and glands. They assist in the primary functions of those tissues.

Glia cells are the most numerous and mysterious. They assist the neurons but nobody is quite sure of everything they do. I’ll just repost this paragraph because I’m not certain how to reword it.

“Glial cells are the supporting cells of the neurons. The three types of glial cells are astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells, known collectively as macroglia, and the smaller scavenger cells known as microglia. Glial stem cells are found in all parts of the adult brain. Glial cells greatly outnumber neurons and apart from their supporting role to neurons, glia – astrocytes in particular have been acknowledged as being able to communicate with neurons involving a signalling process similar to neurotransmission called gliotransmission. They cannot produce an action potential as generated by a neuron but in their large numbers they can produce chemicals expressing excitability that exert an influence on neural circuitry. The star-like shape of the astrocyte allows contact with a great many synapses.”

Very suspicious, and maybe glia does some thinking as well. I bet that if some independent minded neurons left the brain, a good many glia cells would follow and help set up camp wherever they went.

Interneurons provide the inter communication between the sensory and the motor neurons. So, knowing this… which neurons think? I’m betting that thinking and communication are linked, it makes sense that interneurons throughout the body provide some sort of “thinking”. We somehow accept a “gut feeling”, but what about the skin? If you say no, then why does your skin “crawl”?

Your lungs appear to be somewhat empty of neurons, but the diaphragm has a bunch. Ever catch your breathe? Taste, hearing, smell and sight also has tons of interneurons, but we never (or rarely) give credit for them thinking. There maybe something special about smell neurons connecting to memory storage.

The possibility of brain cells intentionally migrating to safer parts of the body is intriguing, but going to the extremities seems not logical. Stubbing your toe, or getting your hand caught in a door is proof enough that it is dangerous out there.

My bet is that the “colonists” would head for the “Vagus Nerve”. Look it up, it’s a spinal nerve, completely protected by the torso, with quick exits to all the major populations of interneuron activity. Apparently there is a major collection near the tail-bone, where it is no longer needed to wag something.

Perhaps we can “think” from our butt in future decades.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Heroes of History

Is it fair that some of my hero’s/heroines may not be entirely historical? I have written before about my attraction to individuals who made impacts coming from an isolated existence.

Temujin is a perfect example, his tribe nearly wiped out, living alone outside of the community, with only his mother able to help him. Eventually he challenged the leader of a small clan. He won, then he used those men to challenge a larger clan, he won. This repeated over and over, like a winning streak at a roulette table, Temujin became a man of importance and the tribes renamed him Genghis Khan.

My personal favorite is Harald Hardrada. His life story sounds like an action movie. Wounded at age fifteen when there was a battle for the Norwegian crown, and the victor tried to kill all the remaining contenders. Harald escaped to Kiev, ended up in Constanople, fighting for the Emperor, grew rich. Harald then used his wealth to return to Norway to take back the crown. At the age of fifty he set his eyes on the crown of England, and died trying to take it. His defeat ended the Viking Age. He also managed to kill 2/3rds of the English army, which made it much better for William the Bastard, to become William the Conqueror at Hastings two weeks later. The world changed because of the life and death of Harald Hardrada.

There was a time that was called the Dark Ages, only because there wasn’t much written that survived, plus this was before great strides were made in all forms of human effort. A driving force at the turn of the millennia was Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179. Many scholars believe that her intelligence, and grasp of new possibilities far exceeded anyone on earth, even to include Einstein and Hawking. She was given to the Church at a young age, but it did not hide her talents.

She wrote music that is still played, she wrote and illustrated a botanical encyclopedia, she was a healer, an adviser to kings and emperors, she was the first woman to begin and run an abbey. She was also a pioneer in math, and was one of the first to popularize the Arabic numeral system. Imagine trying to do trigonometry with Roman numerals. The world was different because of Hildegard.

I can think of dozens of individuals that just made one difference, but we don’t know where, or what their name might have been. The first person who made fire, and was able to teach others. The first person to tie reeds together to make a craft for the water. The first person to attach a keel to their round bottomed boats, for better directional stability. The first person that harnessed the wind with woven material acting as a sail. The first person that made standardized marks that became a written language, the first person that turned a chant of grunts into music and found instruments to accompany the song.

The list of first is truly endless if you think about it. We also look to individuals that took on leadership responsibilities, to protect the people and begin to create culture and civilization. This is a hard category became with power comes so many abuses. I do have my favorites however.

I’m very fond of two Romans who had absolute power, and when they were done, they retired and went back to their farms. Cincinnatus, or Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, was a Roman statesman, 517-430 BC, who accepted the role of Dictator offered by the Senate in a time of crisis. He solved the problem, then resigned. Another problem occurred and he did the same thing, he did not profit from ultimate power.

The other Roman was Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, or commonly known as Sulla. He was not a better person than Cincinnatus, but he was offered the Dictatorship. The difference was that he decided later to seize it on his own. It was the first time that a general used his army to seize ultimate power. He was brutal in enforcing his reforms. Yet, he fulfilled his promise and gave up power to retire to his villa. Roman historians were not kind in retelling how he spent his retirement. Later historians said that Sulla provided the model for future military takeovers.

His rival, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion – but that it was the former attribute that was by far the most dangerous. This mixture was later referred to by Machiavelli in his description of the ideal characteristics of a ruler.

He wrote his own epitaph carved on his tomb, “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.” This was also his personal motto, “no better friend, no worse enemy.” Maybe I like him because he might be a relative.

By far, my personal favorite king/leader is Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty in India, 321–297 BC. Alexander the Great was taught by the philosopher Aristotle, he conquered much of the world until he invaded India. He found the Nanda Empire too strong, his men rebelled, and Alexander turned around, leaving a few satraps in charge.

Chandragupta was also trained by a philosopher named Chanakya, he conquered the Nanda Empire and beat the Macedonian Satraps that Alexander had left behind. His rule was amazing and changed the Indian sub-continent forever. He truly was in same category as Alexander, and Charlemagne, yet most people in the West barely know of him. What I find fascinating is that at the end of his reign, he gave it all up, and became a monk. He also repented of all the violence that occurred while he was building the Empire, and eventually became an ascetic, stopped eating, and died.

The man is worth studying.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Purpose of History, pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote that the biggest threat to history is the lack of truth. Will Durant, an eminent historian, once said that history is mostly guessing, and the rest is prejudice. This is similar to “History is written by the victors.” It may be true in some cases, but is this a general truth?

Unfortunately, it is almost completely true in the “Classic History” category, where scholars dived deep into source material. My daughter reminds me that “truth and evidence” for the professional historian is barely two hundred years old. So what drove the classic historian before that? Patronage and ego!

One of the great mysteries in history is the event that occurred in the late Bronze Age. There were hundreds of cities that had archeological evidence of being destroyed within a very short time in a broad are of the world. Cities and cultures that had been developing for a long time didn’t just slowly morph into sleepy villages. They were burnt entirely to the ground with thousands of arrowheads in the ash. There was only one superpower the survived the assault. Egypt!

Egypt had a complex writing system, and artisans trained in illustrative ability. They could have documented what had happened, and instead, a giant temple complex provides a blank slate for Pharaoh Ramesses III to record his “victory”. To his credit, he did seem to fight off the invasion, but this rest of the known world was in chaos. Egypt was highly involved in trade, there were connections made, and markets established. Egypt had no place to sell her goods, and no place to buy the goods they required. Ther may have won the battle, but it was the first stage of a long decline. If “truth and evidence” had been applied maybe the decline would have been shorter, and less steep.

So what do we know from the temple of Medinet Habu? It appears that the attackers were a confederation of different peoples. Today’s scholars simply lump them together as the “Sea Peoples”. Ramesses gives us some names, and even illustrates the differences in dress, armor, and facial characteristics. Later Pharaohs even hired some of these tribes as mercenaries. Unfortunately there was no effort to record where they came from, or what was there purpose. They were simply pirates and barbarians looking for plunder and delighting in destruction. We are not even sure that some of the tribes even existed, perhaps Ramses inflated his enemies to give himself more credit. It is no accident that the officially approved style of illustration was to represent Ramses as a giant twenty times larger than the other individuals in the battle.

I can understand this, there is no question where Ramesses stood in the thick of battle. If you look at the Bayeau Tapestry of the Battle of Hastings , it can be hard to spot William and Harold.

Some of the Sea Peoples are quite different from the Egyptians, with feathered headdresses and horned helmets. Not the great horns of the Wagnerian opera, but small goat horns, or small disks on a stem. we know them as the Peleset, Sherden, Deneen, Ekwesh, Lucca, Shekelesh, Teresh , Tjerker, and the Weshesh.

The only definitive statement was their connection to the sea. Like the Vikings centuries later, they showed up suddenly, with no warning, fought hand to hand, and with bows and arrows. The late Bronze Age had highly developed chariots powered by horses, they were destroyed by lightly armored runners with javelins.

This “propaganda” was repeated thousands of times by the victors as history was mostly about war.

The first great historian, “the father of history” was Herodotus, 484 BC. His book The Histories, a detailed record of his “inquiry” on the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars. The bulk of his writing has been verified by scholars and archeologists. Herodotus did receive some criticism by Athenians in his own time. They called him a “storyteller.” It is true that Herodotus included many fanciful tales in his book, as supplemental material. He did provide the caveat that it doesn’t mean that he believed it, he was just repeating what he had been told. At one of the Olympic Games in Athens, Herodotus read the entire Histories to the crowd, and they cheered him on with great applause.

The other great Greek historian was Thucydides, 460 BC. There is a great deal of difference between the two historians. Thucydides was much more “scientific” and did not record “facts” told by travelers in taverns. Thucydides was also a general so he had an inside perspective on warfare.

We actually only have three or four authors whose works have survived. There were many more historians that we known only by their names, not the actual books. The third Greek historian was Xenophon, my personal favorite. His book, The Anabasis, is about the ten thousand Greek mercenaries that found themselves trapped in the middle of Persia, having to fight their way back to the Black Sea and safety. Xenophon was a minor leader of the troops, but after the Persian had murdered the Greek leaders at a banquet, Xenophon was elevated to lead the remaining men back to Greece. The book was essentially about the journey and difficulties faced when behind enemy lines, but was very informative about the customs of the times. Xenophon was also great friends with Socrates.

If war and military exploits were the subjects of Greek historians, it didn’t change much with Roman authors. Livy, Strabo, Plutarch, and Tacitus stand out for me. It’s true that much of what they wrote was the military victories of Rome, but they also included snapshots of daily life. Fortunately we have quite a few lesser known author’s works.

The interesting one for me is Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Jewish War. Josephus had the unique perspective of having been a former Jewish general who had been captured, then worked with the Romans to put down the rebellion. He was rewarded by citizenship in Rome, a villa, and protection by powerful leaders. The fact that he reported on the destruction of Israel and the beginning of the Diaspora, was in his favor because his readers were Roman.

Because I’ve introduced Rome, I have to mention the historian that organized the best concise history of the fall of Rome, Edward Gibbon. His book, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is a Western classic. What most people do not know is that Gibbon is not a modern writer, he was born in England in 1737, and published his book in 1780. He a perfect example of the Enlightenment of the times, but later critics question the central reason that he presented for the cause of Rome’s fall. Gibbon believes that Christianity was the reason of the collapse. He specifically states that the wealth of the Church siphon off money that could have been used the beef up the military to stave off the barbarians. Remember, he was an Englishman in the late 1780s, and no friend to the Catholic Church.

Recent historians have traced the negative stories of the Crusaders to Gibbon. In his view the Crusaders were pawns of the Popes, and the Crusades were entirely caused by the Church. From that premise, the Crusaders were pirates, interested only in greed, power, and regions bigotry. There is no doubt that some of that is true. Modern scholars now believe that the Crusaders were also motivated by a number of issues, including a desire to protect pilgrims. Muslim invaders had invaded Spain and created independent states, the Crusaders also invaded to create the Latin States. It was the way of the world.

I jumped right through the medieval period, bypassing many historians that I have enjoyed. My favorites are:

Gregory of Tours (538–594), A History of the Franks

Bede (c. 672–735), Anglo-Saxon England

Adam of Bremen (later 11th century), historian of Scandinavia, Gesta

Anna Komnene (1083–1148), Byzantine princess and historian

Ambroise (fl. 1190s), writer of verse narrative of the Third Crusade

William of Tyre (c. 1128–1186)

Snorri Sturluson (c. 1178–1241), Icelandic historian

Templar of Tyre (c. 1230–1314), end of the Crusades

Of the Modern historians, I haven’t decided on my favorites. I’m fond of Carl Sandburg’s work, and Will Durant. But there are so many, and so many with specific agendas. I have trouble enough with my own agendas.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Name Game

In Genesis, Adam spent a great deal of his first days, naming everything that he saw. This is a good thing. Asking for the “whatcha-ma-call-it” can present some amazing results. Existence can be broken down into discrete objects. It is a tree, or a bush. It can also be a redwood, or a primrose. This does not come with genetic evolution. It is entirely conceived by humans thinking, and breaking things into manageable chunks. Fish swim, birds fly… uh oh.

Okay we do have flying fish, and penguins swim, but these are exceptions. And sometimes birds walk, and fish walk… more exceptions. Structured naming is still a difficult process. A little historical background…

In pre-history people seemed to function with one name. The name could be passed down from generation to generation. It could be an object, an animal, a characteristic, or possibly even a place name. Sometimes the culture was large enough that further naming was necessary to differentiate one individual from another. Often this was done by adding the father’s name as a second name. This became a classic standard in the Scandinavian naming pattern. My name is John, my father’s name is Edwin, so I could be known as John Edwin to be set apart from all those other Johns. Except that in the Scandinavian system the addition of “son” would be added, so I would be known as John Edwinsson, my brother would be Robert Edwinsson. My sister could be similar, or she could also be Gayle Fargo, because she was born on a farm in Fargo. Girls would generally use “datter” or “dotter”, so it would be Gayle Edwinsdatter. Then, shorter constructs were used, like “sen” or “son” for boys and “dtr” for girls.

This went on for hundreds of years until sometime in the late 1800s the patronymic style of naming in Scandinavia faded away. The “last name” became fixed. Today, only Iceland still uses the patronymic system.

The European and American naming system often uses three names, first name, middle name, and last name. The last name is the family name. The middle name could be anything, but often it is remembering a relative, or close friend. The first name could also be a family tradition. Many German families rotate two names from brother to brother, Frederick William, and then William Frederick. This doesn’t sound very organized but the source for most of the three name patterns was very organized. It was the Roman naming system.

In fact, the tri-nomen pattern was the most obvious sign of Roman citizenship. It started as a bi-nomen system with less than twenty different names used for the personal name, the praenomina. This identified each member of even large families with a personal connection. The second name was the nomen, or the family name, sometimes called the gen. This looks very similar to a standard that we have now. But even the nomen was limited.

As Rome grew, and the republic turn into the empire, Romans added a third name, the cognomen, a very complex name that served many purposes. The cognomen was at first a nickname, then it became hereditary and the aristocracy used it to further differentiate their families from others.

What is interesting is that generally, there were no more than twenty male names, and twenty feminine versions, that were used in combination for all Roman citizens. A scribe, or a clerk, knew everything about the individual by knowing the “nomens”.

Today we pride ourselves in knowing the “trinomial nomenclature.” of botany. Rome lives on!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Purpose of History

I love history, but I don’t often question the “why” of history. In some way, I delight in knowing something that is important, but widely ignored. Is this an ego thing or is it a process of bringing attention to something important? The most often used quote is from the writings of Winston Churchill “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But he wasn’t the first to ponder the concept.

Edmund Burke is often misquoted to say, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” What he actually wrote was, “People will not look forward to prosperity who never look backward to their ancestors.” George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Burke may have started the conversation, Santayana simplified it,and a politician made it popular.

Edmund Burke is widely misquoted by the way. The other “quote” that he may never have said, is “The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. This might have been a mash-up of Thomas Jefferson’s, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Scholars have not found this quote in his published books, the closest is “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice, in a contemptible struggle. “. That’s a lot of words for a declarative sentence.

A little Google search on history quotes gave me the following…

1. “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”, Napoleon Bonaparte

2. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”, Desmond Tutu

3. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”, Confucius

4. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”, James Baldwin

5. “History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”, Ambrose Bierce

6. “The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler.”, Franz Kafka

7. “What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.”, Victor Hugo

8. “History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.”, Alexis de Tocqueville

9. “History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice.”, Will Durant

10. “History is a race between education and catastrophe.”, H.G. Wells

11. “History is a vast early warning system.”, Norman Cousins

12. “A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the shadows.”, Annie Besant

13. “Isn’t history ultimately the result of our fear of boredom?”, Emile Cioran

14. “History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”, Lord Acton

15. “Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.”, Hermann Hesse

I think Hesse has it right. The very concept of humanity is the purpose of history. Yes, we should use it to learn our mistakes, but we may make the mistakes for a long time before learning. This is not a formula but a process.

The essential problem of history is about truth. History documents change, but the truth of change is elusive. Have we honestly looked at what we have gained, and what we have lost? After that, we need to look at the price we pay.

In many ways, history is used to punish others. This can change almost overnight, leaving people confused and disoriented. Generally, no one looks to the agenda of those who wish to punish. Is it simple revenge? Is it justice? Or is it just another tool in the quest for power?

To simplify Hesse’s statement to the most simple- “History is an attempt to discover a recipe for better tasting food.”, John Diestler

I gather my utensils, my appliances, raw materials, supplemental ingredients, and then I write down what I did. If it is good then I save it, if it is not good, I save it so that I won’t go down that road again. This is what is so often missed about the quotes of history. The mistakes are many, and yes we need to save them for reference. But the successes are what we can give to others, recipes for the future!

Phoenicians sailed nearly around the world before we even knew the extent. Scholars asked “How did they do that?” You don’t have to invent help from “ancient aliens”. You just have to invent an alphabet to write the truth! They sailed near the coast and wrote down the days, and the descriptions of the shoreline. Then they doubled checked on the way back, gave their “book” to another captain, and he went a little further and added to the book. And he checked the accuracy on his way back. Later on the Portuguese called the books of “sailing directions”- rutters. Eventually the word described the rudder that determined the direction the boat would go.

So maybe, “History is the Rutter for movement in the world.”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Common Ratios

2/1 = .5, 3/2 = 1.5, 5/3 = 1.666, 8/5 = 1.6, 13/8 = 1.62, 21/13 = 1.615, 34/21 = 1.619, 55/34 = 1.6176, 89/55 = 1.61818, 144/89 = 1.61797

Math is an exact science, carried out to infinite sequencing, such as pi. The same is true for the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. The ratios above are expressions of lengths to widths that have eventually been called the Golden Mean, or Divine Ratio. (The curious thing is that as the ratios continue, the “Golden Mean” approaches the mathematical formula of the Fibonacci Sequence. They are related!)

Supposedly these ratios create a rectangle that is the most pleasing to the natural eye, so that compositions in art or architecture are said to have these ratios imbedded in them. To a certain extant this may be true.

Classic photography has taught the rule of thirds for decades upon decades. Then, the more advanced courses modified it to 8/5s. Basically meaning that the best division of a rectangle is to divide it into 1/8s and then draw a line at 3/8s or 5/8s and that gives the “best” dividing line. The ratio is 1.6, and the most accurate Fibonacci sequence is 1.61797. We used to that this is “Good enough for government work”.

The “Golden Mean” and the “Fibonacci Sequence” are said to be a part of a standard composition practice. It may be true in a sense. We compose things to patterns that are most familiar. Because these ratios are so similar in so many images and objects, we are certain to find them as ongoing patterns in our own work. But in general, the exact nature of the mathematical basis is rarely found in art or architecture, approximations yes, exact no.

The one area that appears to have the most accuracy is in nature. The pattern of leaves and seed pods seem to reflect the formula with the most accuracy, far more than random chance. Unfortunately, the most famous example of the appearance in nature of the Fibonacci Sequence is the Nautilus Sea Shell, and that probably is not true. It is a spiral but not as exact as other more naturally occurring Fibonacci spirals. The controlling factor appears to be rain and sunlight. The Fibonacci Sequence give the optimum distancing to give each leaf/seed the most exposure.

So why do we see this ratio in art/architecture? It most certainly has been intentionally used in some cases. Mostly, the ratio we see is the “learned patterned”. We see repeated ratios of television/monitors, magazines, architectural facades. Sometimes they are so close to 1.6 we just assume that it was intentional. In point of fact, there isn’t a “perfect rectangle”, only the most observed rectangle.

Even still, I intentionally use the 8/5s ratio in my photographs and my artwork (when I remember that I can, hehe)

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Rules for HitchHiking

Two things that are odd. 1) that there should be rules for something as iconically free spirited as hitchhiking. 2) that I haven’t thumbed a ride in nearly forty years. There is a chance I’ve forgotten a few things.

So perhaps these are not rules, but instead, strong suggestions. And that these suggestions come from five years of experience, three years that were pretty steady. In truth, it was almost entirely the summer months in the west, so we are not talking about rain and snow. Bad weather introduces an entirely new set of suggestions that I haven’t practiced very much.

1). The first rule is do not hitchhike. The salad days of freely hitching down the road are over. It was never safe, but the safety factor is easily ten times what it once was. Are there more Landsharks than then? Hmm, no, I don’t think so. We haven’t entered into an age of rampant lawlessness on our nation’s highways. I think the number of bad guys are about the same. The problem is that the number of good guys that extend the safety of their vehicle is far less. People are fearful and perhaps have good reasons for that.

In my humble opinion the ratio has gone too far in the wrong direction. There are still more good people than bad, but the odds are now skewed so that the chance of running into a landshark is much higher.

I use the phrase landshark to describe an individual that will harm you because of their nature. It is not something that you did that causes the harm, it is simply the nature of the beast. If they are hungry they will eat you, and they are not hungry they may still bite because they can.

There should be no more rules or suggestions after this cardinal rule but sometimes there are circumstances where hitching is the only solution. The following suggestions are meant to be helpful.

2. Always be the first to ask where they are going. Vague answers are a red flag. A quick response of a town further down the road has a much better chance of being truthful. The real reason to ask this is to have the time to assess the driver and the interior of the car. Much information can be gleaned from a quick inspection. Next time you see a highway patrolman you can bring up this subject and you will learn far more than I can state here. In general, the cleaner, orderly interior, will be safer. The cleaner and more orderly driver likewise. I do not fit this model in either case so I know it is not absolute, but merely playing the odds. Landsharks do not care where they are going, as long as there is food there.

3. In all cases, protect what is valuable to you. With enough temptation, a landshark will bite. Keeping this in mind the thing that is most valuable to me is the pack that I carry. Never put the pack in first. Enter the vehicle then grab the pack. I know this is awkward in many small cars. It is so natural to open the back door, or trunk, and throw the pack it, then wander over to the passenger door, hoping that it is unlocked. The advantage to traveling in pairs is obvious. One person enters, one person loads gear then is the last inside. Even if you are a single hiker, open the passenger door first, then open the rear door with the idea that you might quickly jump in if the car lurches ahead. One thing to consider, if the vehicle is actually speeding away, you might want to count your blessings that you didn’t jump in. If at all possible I had my pack on my lap, last in, first out. Landsharks take advantage.

4. Always consider that women are possibly targets. Never let women enter first, always let women exit first. Landsharks are often sexist.

5. Engage the driver in conversation, but do not dominate. It is always good to assess the character of the driver beyond a visual once over. Be careful if there are landmines in the conversation. Getting no response to questions about relationships and family can be natural and not an issue if you are at a cocktail party. A chilled no response, trapped in a moving car doing seventy, is an entirely different animal. Landsharks are touchy.

6. Never give away your right to exit at any time. It may be awkward but I quick “Could you pull over at the next safe spot?” is always correct, if you feel it necessary. Telling an untruth is also an option. “I feel sick!” Is pretty good, “Oh, my gosh, I left my ID back there!”, is another. I once jumped from the backseat (it was a two door) when the drivers were in the station office selling the almost new tires to the attendant for gas money. Selling off parts of the vehicle is a red flag. Landsharks are very inventive.

7. Never sleep while the driver drives. Catching some sleep while your partner is on watch is a better solution. Having everyone watchful and awake is the best solution. Too many things can happen if you are not watchful. Take nap before hitchhiking if necessary. Landsharks love to bite when you are not looking.

8. Never volunteer “gas money”. You are hitching because you are broke! Landsharks are greedy!

9. In conversations, ask more questions about them. If they do most of the talking they will consider the conversation positive and good things will flow. Useful for hitchhiking, useful for job interviews. Landsharks are egotistical.

10. Refrain from smoking, eating or chewing in their vehicle. There may be rules, better to assume that they are there, than to find out that you have broken them.

There are more things to consider when you are on the road, but these relate to basic safety.

Other examples:

11. Do not upstage hitchhikers already in position. Walk downstream and allow the first ride to pick them up. Go down far enough that if a ride does pass them but picks you up… well, go far enough to not hear the yelling.

12. If you make camp mid-day, be out of site, out of mind. Pick higher ground, with good visibility of anyone coming. No fires!!! If fire, no smoke, and block visibility!!!

13. Walk for miles to find a spot where you are visible for at least 500 feet, and that there is a safe turnout for them to pull over, regardless of their speed.

And finally, never break rule number one. Do not hitchhike!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Songs of the Heart

Imogene Heap- The Moment I Said It

The moment I said it…The moment I opened my mouth…Letting your eyelids…Bulldoze the life out of me…I know what you’re thinking…But darling, you’re not thinking straight…Sadly, things just happen we can’t explain.

It’s not even light out…But you’ve somewhere to be …No hesitation…No, I’ve never seen you like this…And I don’t like it, I don’t like it…I don’t like it at all.

Just put back the car keys…Or somebody’s gonna get hurt…Who are you calling at this hour?…Sit down, come round, I need you now…We’ll work it all out together….We’re getting nowhere tonight…Now sleep, I promise it’ll all seem better, somehow…In time.

It’s not even light out…Suddenly, suddenly…Oh, you’ve somewhere to be…No hesitation…Mmm, I’ve never seen you like this…You’re scaring me, you’re scaring me…You’re scaring me to death.

Don’t! oh, (smash…) please…Don’t! oh, (And another one) please…Don’t! oh, (smash…) please-…Don’t! oh, (And another one) please

I’m losing you…Trust me on this one…I’ve got a bad feeling…Trust me on this one…You’re going to throw it all away…With no hesitation…(Smash…)

Anouk- I Don’t Want to Hurt

We’re breaking things we cant repair…None of us will take them blame…No nothing can be done this time…All the memories that we’ve made…I threw them all away…There’s no need to talk it over…Dont let me get you down…Let’s just move on…I am setting you free.

Cause I dont wanna hurt no more…I dont wanna make you go …Through one more rainy day…No I dont wanna hurt no more…Strange enough I always knew…I’m taking off today…Dont wanna hurt no more.

Darkness you left in my soul…Now do we know how much we’ve lost?…Will the moon be shining as bright as before…And as I am singing this song…The tears went up in my eyes…And I will always wonder…Why I will never have the life I wanted…Now I’m letting it go.

Cause I dont wanna hurt no more…I dont wanna make you go …Through one more rainy day…No I dont wanna hurt no more…There’s not much more to say…Cause it’s to late now…I wont hurt no more..

So I’ll wait till morning comes…You made it clear it’s been only pain loving me…Things that we dont do for love…I am setting you free

Cause I dont wanna hurt no more…I dont wanna make you go …Through one more rainy day…No I dont wanna hurt no more…Strange enough I always knew…I’m taking off today…I’m letting you go…

Beth Hart- Take it Easy On Me

God bless this,…God bless that….God I’ll miss you now.

All the people left,…when the blue sky crashed…and I can’t do this alone.

I am scared to change, …To stay the same,…When I’m calling out your name..

Take it easy on me,…Take it easy on me,…I will trust you,…I will let you hurt me carefully.

Take it easy on me,…I break easily and…this steel butterfly will learn to fly…eventually..God take it easy on me.

When I talk like that,…When I tear me apart….When I raise my voice,…I break my heart.

But if I gave it up,…let the wall come down,…Would you take my hand?…Would you show me how?

I don’t know my place,…I don’t know my own face,…Just the lines I can’t erase.

No, I was never one to lean on….Fighting this war against the wind. ….When I find ground to rest my feet on. …I will lay my weapons down..

And another one bites the dust…But why can I not conquer love?…And I might’ve got to be with one…Why not fight this war without weapons?

And I want it and I wanted it bad…But there were so many red flags…Now another one bites the dust…And let’s be clear, I trust no one

Sia- Elastic Heart

You did not break me..I’m still fighting for peace…Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart…But your blade it might be too sharp

I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard…But I may snap when I move close…But you won’t see me move no more…Cause I’ve got an elastic heart

I’ve got an elastic heart…Yeah, I’ve got an elastic heart…And I will stay up through the night…Let’s be clear, I won’t close my eyes…And I know that I can survive…I walked through fire to save my life

And I want it, I want my life so bad…And I’m doing everything I can…Then another one bites the dust…It’s hard to lose a chosen one

You did not break me (You did not break me, no, no)…I’m still fighting for peace…Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart…But your blade it might be too sharp

I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard…But I may snap when I move close…But you won’t see me move no more…Cause I’ve got an elastic heart…Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart…But your blade it might be too sharp

Lamb- Gorecki

If I should die this very moment…I wouldn’t fear…For I’ve never known completeness…Like being here…Wrapped in the warmth of you…Loving every breath of you…Still my heart this moment…Or it might burst

Could we stay right here…Until the end of time until the earth stops turning…Wanna love you until the seas run dry…I’ve found the one I’ve waited for

All this time I’ve loved you…And never known your face…All this time I’ve missed you…And searched this human race…Here is true peace…Here my heart knows calm…Safe in your soul…Bathed in your sighs

Wanna stay right here…Until the end of time…’Til the earth stops turning…Gonna love you until the seas run dry…I’ve found the one I’ve waited for… The one I’ve waited for… All I’ve felt was leading to this

All I’ve known…All I’ve done…All I’ve felt was leading to this…All I’ve known…All I’ve done… The one I’ve waited for… The one I’ve waited for

Wanna stay right here… Til the end of time ’till the earth stops turning… I’m gonna love you till the seas run dry… I’ve found the one I’ve waited for

Wanna stay right here… Til the end of time ’till the earth stops turning… I’m gonna love you till the seas run dry… I’ve found the one I’ve waited for

The one I’ve waited for… The one I’ve waited for

Songs of failed relationships, songs of relationships completed. What a wonder… the heart drives words and rhythms.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Trophes

I was thinking about Venusians. Venus had been an early target for space probes, but we haven’t been back there in decades. Why? Perhaps because the probes sent back all the inportant information we needed. Perhaps it was because the Soviets beat us there with the first of many probes.

Perhaps because the surface is so harsh that nothing sent there lasted more than 54 minutes. Why go back?
If there were life, it would be life unlike anything known on this planet. Perhaps a little bit like the life found around the sulphur vents in the deep ocean.

Yes, the Venusians, if intelligent, would have very little in common with us.

I wonder what any other life forms would think of us? I’ve learned that we are heterotrophs. In fact, all animals and most fungi are heterotrophs.

Fancy word for life forms that live by eating other life forms. This is not an encouraging fact for creatures from another planet. Where are the boundaries?

I mean, let’s just say that Venusians are found to be intelligent, but also the best tasting, high protein, gluten free, low calorie, low fat, low sugar, non-allergic, food that provides all the essential nutrients and vitamins. Literally the perfect food!

Okay, sure, they are intelligent, but they don’t have to have a first name, (my current rule for the question, Is it edible?) And their thoughts, stories, philosophies, might have no relation to anything we can understand. But somehow we found out that Venusians make a great barbecue. And there is also a tremendous amount of Venusians, almost inexhaustible because there are no heterotrophs on Venus.

Hmm, decisions, decisions. By the way…autotrophs do exist. Most plants do not need living food, but that does not mean that they are safe. We find most autotrophs quite tasty if prepared well.

It might be said that vegetarians are kinder because the only eat plants. Kinder? Eating defenseless autotrophs, plants that can’t even run away?. Heterotrophs that eat other heterotrophs seems more fair. At least for the main entree.

Gotta stop thinking, I must be hungry.

(Reposted from 2017)

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

The End of Childhood

I think Jack Nicholson copied Obert

There can be a lot of discussion about this. It happens to every person. One day, you are a child, the next day you are not. It certainly is not a calendar thing, or a particular age. It may also be different for every person. For some it might be an event, not necessarily an event that causes the change, but an event that brings the change into focus. For me, it was Halloween 1964.

It was the first Halloween that it seemed too ridiculous to dress up and go trick-or-treating. It was an end to a decade of crafting the methods to scam the neighborhood out of candy. It wasn’t just a full grocery bag, it was multiple full bags of candy. Enough candy to last through the winter and perhaps some stale candy corn into the summer.

Now, that was all in the past, and we were adrift, not old enough to drive, and too old to ride bicycles. What to do on Halloween?

It was the three of us; Jack (the athlete), Obert (the musician), and myself (undetermined). We thought it would be a good idea to walk the neighbor, and perhaps beyond. Actually, we thought it would be a good idea to walk by the house where the cutest girl in high school lived.

We certainly didn’t have eggs to throw, we weren’t planning any mischief. If we had a car, or a driver’s license, it would have been like “dragging the main”. We wanted to see, and to be seen.

Only one thing was unusual. Obert was wearing a shiny, deep blue football helmet. It may or may not have had a face guard. Later he did remove the face guard, but it might have been attached at this time. This was Halloween, but Obert was not dressing up as a player. Every time Obert left his house he had to wear a football helmet. Sometimes even in the house he had to wear a football helmet. It depended upon what he was doing.

Obert had a hole in his head. Specifically, he had a half-dollar sized hole in his skull with a thin layer of skin over his brain. When he had the helmet off, you could touch the spot with your finger to feel his brain pulsing, probably not with thought, just blood. Also the stubble of his hair was growing back.

That summer Obert had lived in Battle Mountain, Nevada. Not much to do in Battle Mountain but drive around. Obert didn’t have a driver’s license but he could be a passenger in the back seat. I can’t remember who was in the front seats but it is safe to say they weren’t careful drivers. On a long uphill incline they decided to pass a slower vehicle. They had done this several times. This time, near the crest, another vehicle was in the lane, and it was a head on crash. I don’t think anyone was killed, although everyone should have been seriously hurt. Obert was in the backseat without seatbelts. They didn’t often exist at that time. No one is quite sure exactly what happened, but Obert flew over the front seats head first, and perhaps hit one of the radio knobs, and punched a hole in his skull.

The surgeons removed the bits of broken skull and sewed over a flap of skin. The intention was to allowed the skull to grow, causing the hole to shrink and -provide a ledge to drop a steel mesh to protect the brain. In the meantime, go home and take two aspirin.

So, Obert came home and joined us on our stroll through the neighborhood. Everything had gone very well, especially considering one guy seemed to partially dressed as a nondescript football player. We did not beg for candy, nor did we trick anybody.

We were several blocks from our destination (the pretty girl’s house) when we heard a car come to a quick stop. Three or four guys jumped out and proceeded to jump on us. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. No real fists swung, but they were armed with cans of shaving cream. Jack resisted, so at least two of them were wrestling him to the ground. Obert had the attention of one guy with the shaving cream, and I was free to run up the nearest porch to bang on the door. No one answered.

Jack had broken away and ran up on the porch next door to bang and yell, “Mom, Dad! Open up!” Looking back I could see that the guys were heading back to their car, but not before they had all emptied their shaving cream cans into the holes of Obert’s helmet. Jack yelled something about Obert being hurt, but they didn’t listen. Obert lay half in the street trying to scoop out the shaving cream from behind his glasses. We both came down to help him stand up. We could see the car about halfway down the street with their brake lights lit up. I don’t know if they were intending to turn around, or just stopping for another victim.

Jack stood there with a lot of anger building up. Frustrated, he reached into his pocket and found a decent sized pocket knife. Without unfolding it, he heaved the knife down the street at the car. To me, it looked to be at least a football field away, 100 yards! It was dark so we couldn’t really see if Jack’s aim was correct, or that he could throw it that distance.

Seconds later we heard glass breaking. Apparently the pocket knife had hit the back window of the car and shattered it. For a second no one moved, then we turned and ran, zig zagging around the corner and hiding in the bushes. We believe the cat turned around the follow us, but we hid so well that they didn’t see us.

Making it back to safe territory, home turf, took a long time, especially hiding from any oncoming headlights. Then we thought that they might have been searching on foot, so we hid from anything moving. Halloween was a busy night, we hid every few minutes.

We finally made it back, we had vestiges of shaving cream, a lost pocket knife, and a right of passage from our childhood. It was a good night!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Latest Art

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Tamara de Lempicka Inspired

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Reflections of Online Teaching

Susan,

I am so completely with you on your reflections. There are issues that are limiting by their very nature. As a visual artist I have spent years teaching students to “look through their tool”, to see the work clearly, to be so comfortable with your tool that it becomes transparent, and then your image will truly be successful.

This is easier when the tool is a pencil or a brush, it gets a little harder when it’s a computer with system and application software. (Easy is a relative term, I’m good with a pencil, horrible with watercolor, great with Photoshop.)

The point is to be so comfortable with the tool that creative energy is not diverted from the true purpose… making an image!

I’m a little disappointed that when I see something I can’t just click in my head and the image is saved. No, I have to find my camera, load the film, set the dials, develop the film, and finally make the print. Oh yeah, and then there are all those decisions I have to make on lens, shutter, aperature, etc.

There is a lot of crap that suddenly comes between my vision and the final print. So, now we have digital and even more crap, the final image seems to be pushed further and further away.

This is all true. What is also true is that it is different. A digital image is immediately available for correction or editing. Digital cameras are in everyone’s hands. Images present themselves everyday, and everyone now has a camera. Running out of film is no longer an excuse (mostly). There are dozens of significant differences.

So on-line teaching may be the same thing. It doesn’t give the same face-to-face experience. We don’t see the “aha” moment that makes it all worthwhile. My (your) passion may not come through as easily, and spontaneous teachable moments harder to capitalize.

It may take a few semesters to fully understand the benefits. Access to more students? Consistent education that can be fine tuned? Flexibility for student and faculty? A longer teaching life? Better and more current resources?

Is everything new better? No, but everything new and tested should be!

I think it takes an educator to embrace the change, with the understanding of what is lost. And then assess the importance of that which is lost.

I am hopeful!

(Ha! And then be clever enough to do all this writing in Notes, because Canvas is crashing every two minutes.)

(Written in 2015)

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Testing Some Ideas

The first idea that I would like to ponder is “nature versus nuture.”. This is an idea that has gone through vast swings in popularity. Since the 1990s, with advanced studies in genetics, the importance of nature has increased. The idea of “tabla rasa”, or “blank slate” has been more the standard concept for the last 300 years. Several philosophers have suggested that humans have no instincts at all, unique among animals, and that everything we known or become, is based upon nurturing. Doctors become doctors because of training, kings become kings, and criminals become criminals, all based upon experience entirely.

The idea that there might be a genetic propensity was completely dismissed. There is a very good history of the argument of “nature vs. nuture” in Wikipedia, with decent references to current studies.

I have not partaken of any advanced studies in this area, but I have “noticed” some things in my life that have given me some questions.

I do not like swimming, hated being in the water, yet I am a natural sailor, and understand the concept without training. The training I did have only improved my natural abilities.

I’m very good at needlework, any type of sewing by hand. It just seems very natural, comfortable, and the products are strong, durable, and functionable.

Ancient weapons are more comfortable than modern, although I am an expert marksman. Edged weapons most natural, archery the next most natural. Practically there are two “sighting” systems in archery. One is based upon placing the tip of the arrow on a point of ground in front of you, then adjusting the arc of the shot until the arrows hit the target. The other in “instinctual”, where you just shoot your best shot. I can do both, but I almost entirely use the instinctual method.

I have never been comfortable with horses, and they seem to know that.

I have always been comfortable with dogs, and they seem to know that.

I’m very comfortable with “linear mechanics”, simple systems of cogs, shafts, levers. Being a watchmaker is not beyond my abilities. While I understand “programming”, it is not comfortable. I was trained in quite complex digital cryptography, but it was hard work and not natural.

I can see and think with three dimensional accuracy. I was not great in algebra or trigonometry, but a complete whiz at geometry. Even my math teachers saw this as a little odd.

While I believe humans are mostly social, I have always been comfortable by being alone, or mostly on the edge of crowds. Sailing alone around the world presented challenges, but not because of isolation. Backpacking alone was not fearful, except for accidents.

Part of my interest in genealogy was looking at the known experiences of my direct line ancestors. I don’t know enough now to draw any firm conclusions, but I always think about the possibilities.

DNA tells me that I am 64% Scandinavian. The waters are too cold to encourage swimming, but sailing and boating have long traditions. Is this too general to make a conclusion?

Vikings did ride horses on occasion, but they are not known as horse mounted warriors. Axe, sword, spear, and archery were their weapons of choice.

Nature is very dependent on survival. Organisms with natural abilities to a successful survival continue to breed more organisms that survive. Definitely training can assist with increased survival. But can training alone give the best percentage rates?

I do believe the actual process is “hand in hand”, both are important. Particularly when one experience fails slightly. To deny either is foolish, to support one concept excessively is also foolish. In today’s culture we give more credibility to training and not enough to instinct.

I would encourage people to simply look at skills that seem “natural”, and ask the question, “What was the source of this skill?”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Strange Beginings

Much of my reading history began at “Lane’s Hole in the Wall”, a store that was a collection of used items, either found or purchased. There was an auction hall right next door, so I suspect in the beginning that many items just drifted in from about 25 feet.

You could buy or trade just about anything at Lane’s. Later, I learned that he had one of the largest collections of WWII Japanese weapons in the Western States. He walked with a limp, so he might have been a veteran, or maybe from a motorcycle accident, or maybe both.

I wanted to buy a sword, but they were always too expensive for a thirteen year old. But Lane would certainly sell sharp edged weapons to kids. To pass the time after looking at bayonets and swords, I would look at his collection of used paperbacks. They were always less than a dollar each so I could buy several.

I had no knowledge of writers, so I purchased by genre and the cover design.

This was my first introduction to science fiction. I picked Robert Heinlien. I liked him so much that I went back to get every Heinlien book that he had. I did that with at least 12 other science fiction authors. One day I found a novel by Henry Miller. The cover said it was banned in many cities. I read it, it was racy, and I bought every Henry Miller book that Lane had. They were all published by Grove Press. I found out that the only bookstore that carried Grove Press in the East Bay was Cody’s Books in Berkeley. Three blocks from the Berkeley campus on Telegraph.

Naturally that placed a thirteen year old on the streets of Berkeley during the early 1960s. Probably the most exciting environment in the whole country. I remember I was a veteran of the Telegraph community when I heard about a new neighborhood in San Francisco at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Ha! Newbies! Anyway they didn’t have bookstores, just poster shops.

My last two authors that I obsessed with were Jack Kerouac and Alan Watts. I rotated paperbacks in my back pocket with the titles facing out so people could read, “The Way of Zen” one week then, “On the Road” the next week. Oh yes, I also read them several times.

That was probably the place of my beginning, “Lane’s Hole in the Wall”. And yes, he finally sold me a sword made in Toledo, Spain for five dollars.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Cleaning up Language 2

‘At the end of the day”, or it’s even more inane second cousin “In this day and age” is clearly my number three and number four most irritating phrases.

Both suffer from the position that the speaker implies, namely, that the speaker has superior knowledge that trumps any refutation of their argument. I’m using the classic definition of “argument”, not that there is an actual confrontation.

It could be two friends who have a slightly different take on a subject. After a few minutes of give and take, one person makes the statement, “at the end of the day, blah, blah, blah.” End of the discussion. This is a classic denial of any arguments, or compilation of arguments, because when it is all added up it is meaningless. I win!

The only thing I can think of is to counter with an even more disrespectful response, “But in this day and age, blah, blah, blah!”

Gosh, I hope this hasn’t actually happened, because if I would have overheard this, I might have run away screaming as if my hair was on fire. maybe my beard, because I don’t have much hair left.

Both statements area last ditch efforts to “win” the argument with a wise and knowledgeable “last word.” The problem is that they are rarely coupled with actual facts that support the premise. “At the end of day…” is a compressed statement that suggests, dozens or even hundreds, of facts that have been looked at, assessed, and rejected. This vaguely works when the individual who states this has some credibility, and it is a very lazy way to sum up an argument. Make a list, provide assessments, like the old math adage, ‘show the work’.

“In this day and age…” has the same problems, it vaguely works when the speaker has great credibility, with appropriate knowledge. But it also has a back-handed quality that insults the other party. It is actually saying, “I know more than you about this, so you should stop talking.” The unfortunate thing is that the speaker may actually know more on the subject, but telling the individual to cease arguing is not the most productive way to have a discussion.

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos of average citizens having discussions with authority figures. When the authority figure runs out of reasonable arguments, one or both of these statements are used. It is like everyone has been trained from a standard script.

To me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Cleaning Up Language

1st- “It was a miracle!”

So overused. “NES” the normal Hebrew word for miracles. The word actually means “banner” or signal. In Ancient Hebrew it is not the same word for miracles as Biblical Hebrew. Using NES is not wrong, but it isn’t direct, it references the miracle, it is mostly evidence.

In Biblical Hebrew, the word miracle is “mophyet”, from the root word of ‘bright’ or ‘wonderous’.

We need to put the word “miracle” into the spiritual context. It is not a word to describe the results of successful baking, or a successful car repair. It is a word connected to traditional issues in the world of faith.

Technically a miracle is based on eight principals

Healing disease…The deaf hear…The blind see…The mute speak…The lame walk…The lepers are clean…The demons are banished…The dead become alive

Again, all these things are only temporary. Only the miracle of salvation is permanent.

The forgiveness of sins can be said to be the greatest of miracles, the gift of everlasting life.

Basically, using the word “miracle” references the absolute impossibility of an act, without divine action. So many folks use “miracle” to describe acts that are possible, but only very remotely. It needs to be completely impossible.

(with thanks to Galen Peterson)

2nd- “It was meant to be!”

It would seem to be a very faithful response, but in a practical sense it is most often the exact opposite. A faithful response is understanding that your own reasoning is not relevant to the reality. When this statement is made, the first thing that should be considered is “according to who?”.

We are generally so self serving that it is tempting to place all statements in that context. I think that is unfortunate because it is so cynical. We are capable of higher thoughts. But it is reasonable to look through the filter of “self-serving”, particularly when we are justifying some action that could be G-D given, when it is really your own desires.

“It is meant to be” can only be true when the individual making the statement has been elevated to prophet status. This might have happened, but it is not a position that is self-defined. Being a prophet is not generally a choice. It fact, most individuals actively refused the position initially. And by the way, being a prophet does not give the individual a “golden pass” to being a good person.

There might be even more examples of individuals that were seriously flawed that performed for G-D’s will, and still had the same character as before.

There are so many ways that I find problematic in living a life of faith. The number one issue is to presume to absolutely know G-D’s will. The next is to help G-D without first asking “What can I do?”. And finally, “To give judgement,” based upon your own understanding.

Obviously they are all connected, and having a “humble nature,” is a safeguard for all things.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Yes, this is Weird

Why does this happen late at night? Because you can’t see so well, dummy.

Well, I can hear twice as well at night to compensate.

About thirty years ago we lived in a house that had a central hallway that was a straight shot from the left outside wall, all the way to the right outside wall. It was a very wide house, from master bedroom, past a bathroom, two bedrooms, the living room, all the way to the kitchen. You could peek out the bedroom and see all the way down to the kitchen. We had a hanging basket of fruit and vegetables right there next to the door going to the garage.

Our garage was secure, no cars, just full of junk. But the yard was not secure. The side door to the side yard was the only serious issue of rot when we bought the house. We had been meaning to fix it. I was afraid it would come apart in my hands if I tried to open the door. I would be left holding a brass knob in my hand, a plank attached, and piles of door parts at my feet. It was on my list to do.

One night, quite late, I woke up. Sherry still asleep, Zach sleeping soundly for a change, but I heard something. It sounded like it was coming from the garage,this wasn’t the best of neighborhoods, the county patrolled, the backyard ended with a drop down down to railroad tracks, and the bay beyond. It was a nice view, but sometimes during dinner, the Southern Pacific dining cars would go by slow, and we could watch them eating, while they were watching us eating. Sometimes we would lift a glass.

The point being, is that anyone could drive by the front yard, and anyone could walk the tracks next to the bay, and then come up through our yard. Before I put up a fence, we had fishermen, and duck hunters with shotguns, regularly cut through our yard to get to the bay. Like I said, not secure, they would walk right by the rotten side door to the garage.

All this went through my head seconds after I heard the sound that woke me up. Now this is important, “Was the sound real, or was it in my dream?” My choice was to take a peek down the long hallway and see if I could see anything.

It was summer, it was hot, I wasn’t wearing pjs. I had seen enough TV shows to know that I should peek while I was laying on the floor, nobody is watching down that low. I looked, and just then I heard another sound, not a super loud sound, but it was coming from the kitchen or garage, I couldn’t tell. I recoiled backwards to consider my next steps.

I was young and foolish, I woke Sherry up, had her grab Zach, while I grabbed my semi-automatic that I used while going backpacking in the wilderness. I was armed. I quickly got down, spread eagled on the floor, looking down into the kitchen. It was dark, very dark, I couldn’t even tell if the door was open to the garage, but then I saw movement. Very distinct movement.

I said in a very loud and authoritative voice, “Freeze! don’t move an inch”. To my surprise, he didn’t move anymore. He was frozen, I was frozen. It was clear that we had a stand off. He was dressed like a ninja, all in black, I couldn’t see if he was armed. I was armed, and laying naked on the rug. Who was going to move first?

A few seconds passed. Maybe a few minutes. Finally, I worked to my knees, telling him again not to move or I will shoot. I moved to the next door opening to a bathroom. I could see a little better, but still not enough, so I went down to the next door opening. Now I could see the fruit basket slightly swaying. Was that the movement I saw? Did it start by brushing up against the garage door? I moved very cautiously forward.

Finally I hit the living room area where there was a light switch. I could now see him, and he could see all of me. Except there was nobody. I flipped the safety back on, and lowered my weapon. The basket was still swinging very slightly. I opened the door to the garage and turned on the lights, it was still full of junk, and the rotten garage side door still in one piece.

The only thing that came to mind is that the cat had gone berserk and jumped into the basket looking for something to eat. She had never done that, but it was possible. The second noise I heard was when she jumped out. I couldn’t see at the time, Nissai is a black ninja cat.

Okay, I do not share this often. I have friends and relatives that assume I have weapons, it is just politically not correct to suggest that there might be a time when I might use the weapon.

That was more than thirty years ago. That’s a long cycle. I’m staying up late, looking at my genealogy database in my recliner, with my back to the window with the air-conditioner. That’s important because it’s winter and I should have removed it, so that I could shut the window. There’s a draft, and I can hear outside real well. Everything is dark except the one room where I’m sitting.

We had a crew here, painting the house. This side of the house is almost three stories tall, so there are several long ladders leaning against the house, leading to the roof. During the day I could actually listen to one of the painters breathing heavily as he was stretching out with his brush, right outside the window behind my chair.

But this is not the daytime, this breathing was sometime around 1:00 am, no moon, and very dark, except the one dim reading light, and my iPad screen. Outside it was zero visibility. Then I heard the sound. It was a breathing sound but not regular like a sleeper. My dog and my cat both make breathing sounds while sleeping. The cat was in my lap, and the dog was downstairs, and besides, this was behind me, outside the window, perhaps standing on the ladder. At ONE in the morning!

Okay, that’s the first thought, you don’t get up and run like your hair is on fire. You test the hypothesis. “Is the ladder still there?” It was there at sundown. “Could he see inside?” Oh yes, most certainly. “Can you still hear the sounds?” Yes, but faintly. “If I move do the sounds stop?” No they don’t. It’s a power recliner, if I hit the switch, it will make a noise and he will see me getting ready to stand up. Their breathing was still soft, but irregular, almost as if he was busy doing something with his eyes closed. Gross!

Yep, too busy to notice that I had gotten up out of the chair. I hit the lights in the dining room, knowing it will light up the whole side area, including the ladder. Then I could race to the back doors leading to the deck, and I could go out and see him before he has even gone down the ladder. So, I did catch him in the act. He was not up the ladder, he was right below it, and that was his bad luck. He wasn’t alone.

It’s still pretty dark but I could still see the tangled up bodies right below the window, and I was right about the odd breathing patterns. Suddenly they could see my outline above them and they scattered in different directions to the street. It was darker there, so I couldn’t get a description, but I could hear their hoofs as they clattered towards the creek.

Maybe I saw just a shadow of some antlers, but this time I didn’t yell “Freeze!”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

We Make It So Easy!

There was a moment there, when I first heard it, that I felt that I had been asleep, or inattentive for some time. Like a Rip Van Winkel, deep asleep, while bowling is all around him.

But then I woke up, and this new thing was being said, and I wanted to act like I knew what was going on, as if I was on the ground floor, or in the group that originated the word. It was one of those “short cut” words, packed with meanings that everyone understands, a word that came out of nowhere, but it was meant to be a help.

Or was it? As I get older I ponder these things. How does packing a word with just the right things so that everyone will agree that it is accurate make it helpful? The word that mysteriously appeared while I was sleeping is “Karen”.

It’s not a new word, it’s a perfectly good name, held by a lot of friends of mine, now, suddenly it is a shortcut to be used to define a particularly obnoxious, probably odious, creature of the political right. Yep, basically a political label. In the same basic category as “jap” during WWII. It’s a way to describe a person without getting into the specific details. Helpful in a sad, mean spirited sort of way.

It is defended by people because initially it is funny. Long after the funny is gone it will still sting as a rebuke, like most “short cut” words. Labels are also short cuts, but it’s easier to drop them when the excuses get long and tedious.

There are still a few negative short-cut names floating around. They are no longer amusing, but they appear useful. Like my own name John. As a child I was tortured by the rhyme “Johnny Pawny”, why that was the choice I was never sure, but the police knew what a John was. He was a sad, sex starved, customer of sexual favors. The women had other labels, but the customer was a John. Somehow it also got applied to the hapless victim, the famous John Doe. Short cuts!

The playground didn’t torment me with the phrase for a toilet. At least that “short cut” I could understand. The first successful wall mounted water flushing toilet was invented by John Crapper. So naturally, when nature calls you went to the John and took a crap, or left a crap load.

I digress…

Now, how long will the Karen’s of our culture suffer with this label. I dunno. People like their “short cuts”, it doesn’t challenge their thinking, so change comes fairly slowly.

I am reminded that when a young lady was cute, it originally meant “knock-kneed”. It only took about thirty years for the use to change. There is a bit of passion with this “Karen” label, it might take longer.

Perhaps if we act as if we have been asleep, and simply asked the users of the word to explain what they mean in longhand.

It’s a thought.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

My Connection to The Stooges

Okay, so the biggest connection is that I married my wife. Her mother was born in Pittsburgh, but her grandmother Jennie, was born in Yurburg, Lithuania. A sad story, because in 1941 the Nazis, along was some local Lithuanians, murdered all of the Jews that had lived in Yurburg. Jennie, Esther, and Meyer had made it to the US. Taube did not make it and perished,but one of her six children, her daughter Esther did make it,

Jennie was my wife’s grandmother, her brother Meyer settled in Ohio. Meyer married Lillie and had three daughters, the eldest daughter was Doris. It had long been rumored that Doris was somehow connected to the Three Stooges. I could not see how.

Doris married to Norman Howard so that was the connection, except there was nothing. Then I found that Norman’s real last name was Horowitz. Ah ha! The last names of Stooges was also Horowitz!. Things began to fall into place. Norman’s father was BJ Horowitz, and he had four brothers. Three of the brothers were Moe Horwitz, Shemp Horwitz, and Curly Horwitz. Larry Fine was the third Stooge, and Shemp had replaced Curly for a time.

BJ’s father was Solomon Horwitz, and he had escaped from Lithuania as well. I saw that he was born in Kaunas, the regional town that had a prison, where the Jews that had survived the first days of the invasion had been taken.

1,000 Jewish citizens were murdered the first day of the invasion, in the woods, in the cemetery, on the streets. Another 1,000, (the rest of the families of Yurburg), were taken to Kaunas and placed in the prison. If Solomon had stayed, he would have been placed there with his other relatives. Within a few months all of the prisoners were murdered as well.

They say that comedy comes from pain. The Pazer and the Horwitz families know about great pain.

I’m glad that I am related to the Stooges, even if it is only through marriage. But my children have a direct connection, they need to celebrate.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Dracula

No, not the Hollywood version, the historical guy! Vlad the Impaler “Tepes”, “Dracula, Prince of Wallachia “. Yep, he was a relative, not a direct line grandfather, he was an 8th cousin, 18 times removed, not a close relative but still a blood relative.

Speaking of blood, he did not drink it, nor did he have hollow fangs to suck the blood out of young women’s necks. He just had lots of 12 foot poles sharpened at both ends. One end went into the ground, one end went into the person, then the whole thing was pulled upright, and the person looked like a popsicle, slowly sinking on the pole. Sometimes it took days to die of blood loss, or organ damage. The pole wasn’t so sharp that it acted like a spear. It was rounded enough to just shove organs to one side as gravity did the rest.

Impaling was made into a fine art in his kingdom. There was a time when an invading Turkish army passed by a valley where 20,000 of Vlad’s victims were impaled. The generals decided not to invade the country, saying if Vlad would do this to his own people, then what would he do to an invading army? Okay, that might not be true.

Another famous story is about a jeweled, gold cup that was available at a public well. Anyone thirsty didn’t have to drink from the bucket, or a ladle. They could freely use the cup. When a traveler asked how come the cup hasn’t been stolen, they were told that stealing was a death penalty by impaling. The cup was never stolen in Vlad’s reign.

Decades later Vlad is turned into a Count that sleeps in a coffin. It was scary when I was a kid. I would have been more scared if I had known about the historical character.

One story that appears to be true is that Vlad had a dinner party that he throwing for his royal telatives and the power elite. They gathered outside at long dinner tables, being served by the castle staff. Midway through the dinner, at least a dozen condemned criminals were led out and impaled, completely surrounding the dinner guests.

Vlad commanded that the guests stay, saying it was the price of their privilege. Quite a dinner party!

Vlad is too interesting to not write about, just because he isn’t a grandfather, sometimes cousins make the grade.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Follow the Truth

Yes, that is a good thing. But how do we know it is the truth? So many things seem to on the basis of “a consensus of opinion”. Well, what if my opinion is different? Am I knowledgeable enough to have an opinion? Is my difference just a gut reaction to a collective mindset?

Truth can be a squirmy thing, with a mind of its own. It doesn’t take it’s existence on the basis of a group of people agreeing or disagreeing. It doesn’t care that not one single person understands. I used to think, truth is patient in a way, or perhaps I’m just putting a conduct that totally foreign to its essence, truth just “is”. Embrace it or ignore it, it doesn’t matter. It just has consequences. /

Hah! I’m reminded of a small town in New Mexico that was nothing special, they had no claim to fame, nothing particular about the town. This was also during the explosion of radio and the various offerings the networks placed on air. The nation was totally thrilled with a new game show that everyone enjoyed, it was “Truth, or Consequences”.

Yep, that’s right this small town of Hot Springs, NM changed their name to win a radio contest based upon a desire by Ralph Edwards, the host, to have a city called Truth or Consequences. In May of 1950, the town changed its name. Edwards visited the town in May, every year, for the next fifty years. It’s called Fiesta Week. Later the radio show became a television show.

The truth was discovered, but everyone was thrilled to observe the consequences.

Last week, I was faced with my own “truth or consequences”. I admit that I have a passion for genealogy. It’s mostly harmless, I’m waiting for a grandchild or great grandchild to take interest. Mostly my immediate family just smile and nod their heads politely. Hey, my Uncle Ben colleceted buttons when he was older. He just looked at your shirt, reached up and ripped one off if it was interesting. Older people need a hobby.

Anyway, I got a message on my Ancestry program about a new hint concerning my great great grandmother, she is not that far away in the timeline, yet a pivotal person that led to future connections to thousands of interesting people. People that I have written about, people who I spent some time doing additional research. So I clicked on the hint, and about 8,000 interesting people vanished from my database. Poof!

Reflecting about it, I wondered about the proof of the truth. Why should I except this “hint”? It was one silly piece of data, that had huge consequences, but was it the truth? It really was from left field, the individual was the father of the child that led to thousands. Now the thousands were only connected to the step-father. The child, and me,were on the other side of the genetic gap. This was the consequence!

The new father had no history, it was impossible to find a connection that he had ancestors. I did find several references that he was the real father of the child, so I did find the “truth”, but it left a bitter taste. Oh well.

Then I happened to look at a backup database that had more individuals, but was undeveloped. I sometimes looked at it to get additional information. I went to the break in the line, and sure enough it was there all along. The step-dad was there, the real father was there, the genetic gap was there. What was also there is that the mother of the child, the wife of both the step-father and wife of the blood father was also from the same family line. It seems that she was a cousin of the step-father.

The result, or consequence, was that the 8,000 missing individuals in the database were suddenly back! Not only that but somehow one generation closer. Initially I never traced her background, because the given hints came from the step-father.

Embrace the truth, it may lead to great consequences!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

A Wise Saying

There is an old Jewish saying, “the death of one man, is the death of a nation!”

Well, no truer statement can be made as I have learned so painfully in the last few minutes. I have been known to collect interesting stories based upon my internet research of my family tree. I’ve told many folks that the records of royalty can be much more trusted than the earlier records of commoners. Who double and triple checks farmers? Well, I do!

Yet, the danger is that one little error in the bloodline that leads to royalty can wipe out the same connection to the whole family. Poof!, they still exist, but they are no longer connected. I have been very careful to only research grandparents, not uncles or cousins. I wanted a solid paternal/maternal connection. It’s difficult when so many people have multiple wives or husbands, you can’t just assume that the one you pick is the right one. I’ve done pretty good, and I have lost several generations of people when I discovered that I picked the wrong marriage (or consort).

But this one was bad. I got a new hint from Ancestry. A new connection was found. I looked at the data. It seemed pretty conclusive that a new birth father was found for Catherine Bergmann, an important grandmother in my line. She was important because her father, Johann Bergmann lead to the Hammersteins, which led to al the royalty that I found. Hahaha, thousands of them!

The problem is that apparently Johann Bergmann is now proven to be her step-father, no actual blood relation! Catherine’s blood father was another poor German father with no records. Hahaha, he might be connected somehow to the same bloodlines, but I’ll never know.

With one stroke of a keyboard, hundreds, thousands, of individuals disappeared from my record. Hundreds of hours of interesting research now belong to her step-fathers line, but not hers, or mine.

I’m just amazed about the ups and downs of genealogy.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Black Friday Thoughts

I’m trying hard to wrap my mind around the day after Thanksgiving being called Black Friday. Clearly, this isn’t a thing where “Black is bad!”, but it also isn’t “Black is beautiful”. It’s just the day after a national holiday to celebrate giving thanks, but somehow, it’s gotten known as the start of shopping season. Okay, so maybe it’s a way to keep your company “in the black”. Perhaps shopping for Christmas, but maybe just shopping for shopping sake.

It’s not widely known, or even remembered, that President Franklyn Roosevelt actually changed the date of Thanksgiving. It had been on the first Thursday by one president, and the fourth Thursday by most presidents. In 1939 FDR changed it to the third Thursday for federal employees, but half the states still celebrated on the fourth Thursday. Confusion reigned for two years, but finally Congress passed a law saying that President can’t change the date, and mostly it was going to be on the last Thursday of the month, so long as it wasn’t later than the 28th of the month,

Why was it changed? The National Retailers lobby. Apparently it was thought to increase sales, perhaps by having two Black Fridays before December comes around. When you want out of a Depression you will try anything. Who knew that a war was coming?

Now that the virus is keeping people out of the stores, there is a big on-line shopping push. This has been going on a few years before the virus, I remember back in the day, before the dot.coms, that selling things online was verboten. Two big problems, no one trusted credit card numbers on the internet. It was the height of stupidity to use a credit card. They even created credit cards with limited cash, cash that you would deposit just before using the card, for only the internet purchase.

The other reason was that most of the early users of the internet wanted to keep it pure of commercial purposes. If you tried to sell something you got swamped with bogus emails, crashing your system. They finally created the dot.com domain so that the purists could have .edu, .gov, and .org to themselves. How soon we forget, or never knew!

I’m still not in the shopping mood. Isn’t isn’t until three days before Christmas that I realize that I’m missing some joy, and then, the terror hits that I do not have enough time. I never learn, it’s the same every year. Perhaps this year….

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Last Road Story

Willys

The last road story is up on Terrorhousemag.com. In December I have two more in the pipeline, and one more story rattling around my frontal lobes.

It’s an interesting process, words… Words that want to become. To push Michelangelo’s metaphor yet again, “the figure within”, or better, “the words that need forming”.

https://terrorhousemag.com/road-part-3/

An easy link.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Tribute to Hodja 2

The girls were fighting, there were doors slamming. My peace was being disturbed. My wife didn’t seem to mind, she went on with her morning as if nothing was wrong. I glared at the stairs leading down to the landing. I would have to go down those stairs, then up another set of stairs to the girl’s bedrooms. It took a lot of energy to bring peace.

“Girls! Come up her right now!” It was better to have younger legs moving up and down stairs.

When they presented themselves, I asked the older one to explain the problem without being interrupted.

She described a very long and detailed issue with the shared bathroom. It was full of disappointment and extra work.

“You are right! I can see the merit in your response!”

Then the younger one responded with her long and detailed issue. It was full of disappointment and lack of respect.

“You are right! I can see the merit in your response!”

At this point my wife looked up from her work, and said…

“That isn’t fair! You can’t sit there in an attempt to resolve a conflict by agreeing with both parties!”

I looked at her in amazement..

“You are right, also! I can see the merit in your response!”

“What was that terrible noise late last night? I almost got out of bed to investigate?”, my wife asked.

“Oh, it was nothing, my jacket slipped down the stairs.”

“That can’t be! A jacket doesn’t make that much noise!”, she argued.

“It does if you’re wearing it!”

It was late one night, the wind was blowing, and lots of noise was coming from around the outside of the house. My wife was in bed, snuggled under quilts, while I was up stairs reading, and listening to the storm.

It was then that I thought I heard something on the front porch, and maybe even the front door creak open.

I went over to the landing to look down at the foyer. It was a bad feature of our house that there was no light switch upstairs to turn on the light downstairs. I looked in the very dim light and thought I saw something standing by the closet.

“Freeze!” I said, not loudly, because I dint want my wife to wake up and get in the middle of this. Apparently he had heard me, because he froze. no movement!

I pondered my next step, do I wait until he moves? Do I say freeze again? Do I walk down the stairs? Can he see that I’m only pretending to have a weapon in my hand?

I slowly reached into my pocket to get my pocket knife, and slowly pulled out the blade. The stand-off maintained, he didn’t move, and neither did I.

Minutes passed, perhaps it was hours. In my tension, I discovered my legs tightening up. I would have to move soon. Then, I thought I saw a shoulder move slightly!

In my desperation, I flung the pocket knife with all my strength, coupled with a wild yell!

My wife came out of the bedroom, and turned on the lights in the foyer. There was my jacket, hanging on the closet door, with my pocket knife sticking in the shoulder.

“Thank G-d!” I declared.

“Why are you thanking G-d?”, she asked.

“Well, just imagine what would have happened if I was wearing it?”

I’m sitting on the back deck, enjoying the afternoon sun, looking at the wonder of G-D’s creation. The giant oak tree that had split several years ago, has repaired itself, at a small shoot that had sprouted from the left stump, was now a sturdy tree several stories high. The tree seems heathy although it has been years since I’ve seen acorns falling.

I mused about G-D’s design that the mighty oak bore such small acorns, while the spindly, and lowly vine grew such great pumpkins!

The wind blew softly, and I could hear the leaves tremble. Just then, a single acorn fell and hit my head.

I looked around, amazed, and at first, confused. Then I laughed, and thanked the Lord. I was reminded that if I had designed the world, the great pumpkin would have surely smashed my head.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Auðr the Deep-Minded

By now I’ve gotten used to finding my great grandparents with additional naming devices. Harald “Bluetooth”, Alfred “The Great”, Godefroi “The Captive”, Harald “Hard Ruler”, Charles III “The Simple”, Æthelred “the Unready”, and even Eystein “The Fart”.

But now I have Auðr “the Deep-Minded”. Wow! She must have been something in addition to being my 38th great grandmother.

What did she do to earn this sobriquet? According to Wikipedia a tremendous amount.

First she was the second daughter of a Norwegian hersir, a military leader of a hundred men. She also married well, to Olaf “The White”, son of King Ingjald, who had named himself “King of Dublin”. After Olaf was killed in battle, Aud took her son Thorstein to the Hebrides, later he became a warrior with many raids into Scotland. After Thorstein was killed in battle, Aud decided to secretly build a huge knarr longboat. Aud knew that she didn’t have UCB of a chance to hold on to any of the territories that her son had conquered.

So she loaded up the longboat with the surviving family, servants, warriors, and slaves, and secretly sailed into the North Atlantic with her at the helm. Sailing with twenty crew and a dozen prisoner/slaves, she set sail for Breiðafjörður in Iceland.

There she made free-men of the prisoners/slaves, only requiring that they accept the free land being offered. Unlike most early Icelandic settlers, Aud was a baptized Christian and is commonly credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland. Aud erected crosses where she could pray on a prominent hill within her lands, now known as Krossholar.

Clearly, my 38th grandmother earned the title of “deep-minded” as she become one of the earliest settlers of Iceland, and gave leadership and safety to her family.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Tribute to Hodja

So I’m constantly losing the channel changer, the clicker, or the remote. My wife misplaces her hearing aide. She has a built in GPS, but it has no beep. Fine, it’s lost in the house. How does that help? At least it’s not in the parking lot at the swimming pool.

The remote/clicker/changer is obviously in the house, it has no GPS. It probably is in the canyons of the chair, or couch. It might also be with the spoons, or single socks, wherever that is. I’m hoping it’s not on a shelf, or random horizontal space that is free.

I’m on the back patio, looking at random horizontal spaces. My wife asks why am I looking there?

I reply, “There’s better light out here!”

My wife asks me if I want to walk the dog? I immediately put that through my want/don’t want filter. Apparently I hadn’t thought about it at all. Was she picking up on a signal that I actually wanted to do this? Or, was this a clever way for her to ask me to do this? I punted.

“He’s asleep under the pool table.”

Just then he barks at the back kitchen door, not once, but several times!

“He is not asleep, he’s outside on the patio!”

“Who do you believe? Your husband, or your dog?”

My wife asks me if I want to take a drive with her, to pick up some presents for the grandkids. I say sure, I’d like to spend some time with you. We get on ours coats, and head to the car.

My wife decides to drive and gets behind the wheel. I crawl up on the hood on the right side, facing her, wearing my warmest jacket.

My wife says are you mad? “Why don’t you get in the passenger seat, or at least in the back seat?”

“If I get in the backseat I will only be seeing the back of your head, coming or going. That’s not helpful in being together. If I get in the passenger seat, there will be the temptation to turn your head towards me, and that means taking your eyes off the road. That would be too dangerous for both of us. Out here on the hood we can still see each other face-to-face.”

“And I wore my warmest jacket!”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Runic Alphabet

Feeling a little Nordic!
Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Missing Teeth

(Another short story heading for Terror House Magazine)

I know this is going to sound weird. This is why I’m doing this in my journal. I do this for several reasons. I do it long hand because I don’t trust electronic snoops, I do it because I tend to aimlessly wander, if I’m trying to talk to someone, and I do it to organize my thoughts, because my brain tends to follow “bright shiny objects.”

I recently had two molars removed on the right lower jaw. This is important because two teeth in a row leaves a huge gap. Another issue is that the upper right molars have nothing to keep them in their place. Apparently over time, gravity goes into effect, and they drop down, and possibly out. I don’t like the chain reaction type of thing.

The main purpose of this journal entry is the tracking of my reaction to food!

Rip out two molars and suddenly food becomes a big deal. Right now if I’m not careful, something could slip over, and I’m compressing food between stitched up gums, and descending upper right molars. Even my food choices are changed. Soft mushy foods. Foods that do not have small seeds. Are they concerned that a blackberry bush will germinate in one or more of my tooth sockets?

So I decided to log my concerns about changes in my diet, based upon the change of my missing teeth. My dentist tells me that I could go for partial dentures. And then I’m back to normal. But how long will it take to get used to the hardware? And what if it gets loose and I choke on it?

I have too many fears. They asked me if I wanted implants, I wasn’t sure but apparently they wanted to know right away after the extraction, but later I could decide to go for the denture. Fine, I’d like the option.

I had the idea of a built in bridge, I already have one on the other side. The dentist said it wouldn’t work, there isn’t two teeth to anchor it. Can’t use an implant post, because it doesn’t move. It is drilled into the bone of the jaw. Teeth move around a bit, and if you tie it to a post it will just crack.

I feel like I’m learning too much about dentistry. I just want to eat the foods that I want.

It’s been a few weeks now, I’ve been to the dentist a couple of times, and the stitches come out in three weeks, it seems like a long time, but he says it looks fine, and try to eat the normal stuff.

I’m trying, but it’s different. Obviously I’m still reluctant to bite down hard on the right side, so I’m “chewing my cud” on the left. Food pretty much tastes the same, I guess no nerves have been damaged, but it certainly isn’t normal.

It’s been another few weeks and I have realized something. Ever define for yourself “comfort food”? Well, I have apparently lost mine. This isn’t a huge deal, I can still taste, but food that used to meet some sort of emotional need just doesn’t do it anymore. How can I go to the doctor or dentist to complain about the loss of “comfort food”? They would say it’s psychological. Maybe it is!

I have long suspected that food is somehow disconnected to the brain and logical sequencing. How many times have I gotten up, walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and then “woke up” wondering what I was looking for? Most of the it was “comfort food”. Hah! I still do it, but now I can’t find what I want.

I have recently used online shopping to try to find my missing comfort food. The old standbys are there, but I have no interest. The beef stew, the chili, the bleu cheese dressing… they all seem to have the same value. They probably taste the same. But they are not emotionally fulfilling. So maybe I need to experiment with some new food. What about jackfruit?

My online shopping cart list was getting longer, with dozens of odd choices. My personal shopper was commenting on the delivery that he never knew these things were available. I changed online grocery stores.

The new store had new, even more exotic food choices. Still the same story, it was food, but nothing was “comfort food”.

I had my last appointment for the stitches, and I thought I would just ask the dentist an innocent question about “comfort food”. His eyes widened a bit, but said nothing, except that it looked healed.

I asked why it took so long for the tissue to heal, my open heart surgery was good to go in a couple of weeks. He replied that the gums were not the issue, it was building up the bone in the jaw, for the possible implants later.

“Oh, okay. So the bone in my jaw is better?”

“Yeah, the bone dust implants seem to have done the trick.”

Wait… implants? Bone dust? I don’t remember bone dust. I was pretty loopy from the gas, but I don’t remember being cut open to scrape my bones.

“Bone dust? Hmm. Where did that come from?”

The dentist was quiet but the dental assistant seemed to take pleasure in announcing…

“Cadavers, they have a bone cadaver bank!”

Now I was quiet, very quiet. Why hadn’t I thought this through? Now I have “corpse mouth”. I can’t even undo this.

I left the dentist, and now I’m home with the internet. I have spent hours researching. Over and over the same two words seem to come up. “Cellular memory”, something that maybe even has DNA connections. Transplanted material that somehow has a subtle effect on the host body.

Great, it’s hopeless. I’ve lost my “comfort food”, and I have no chance to find the donor corpse in order to find the new “comfort food”.

I’ve hated Lima beans since I was little, maybe now I like them? Maybe I hate Fava beans. Ha! Hannibal Lecter loved Fava beans as a side dish. Wait…

Suddenly, I noticed just now, as I wrote the name Hannibal, my mouth started to salivate. Oh oh….

“Comfort food?”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

On Veterans Day

There is no point in me re-writing what has already been done so well. I give full credit to Julia Gusse and repost this excellent article.

By Julia R. Gusse

Every individual who has ever served in the U.S. military has taken an oath to support and “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic… So help me God.”

But with this oath, there was no expiration date.  And many veterans take this oath as seriously as the day they enlisted (10, 20, 40, 50 or 75 years ago).  I have met veterans throughout the country that are still committed and “serving.”

A few years ago I attended a Veterans Day event. Along with being thanked for my service, a fellow veteran handed me a little wallet-
size card with the “Veterans Creed” which reads as follows:

I am a United States military veteran.
I mastered the weapons, tools, and techniques of war and security and I make no apology for the proficiency.
I became a leader by my willingness to both serve and subordinate myself to my superiors’, the mission and the needs of my team.
Foremost among first responders, I earned the ribbons of a volunteer, endeavor, defender, warrior, rescuer, problem-solver, and model citizen.
I am the visible conscience of a nation with regard to the costs of war and freedom’s true price.
I do not fail to support another vet who crosses my path with any need, large or small; he or she may have wounds or hardships that few others would understand.
I am part of the eternal flame of memory, of my brother and sister veterans who died in service to our country.
Honor, courage, and commitment define me to this day. I maintain my readiness, health, and fitness in order to serve again, should my community or nation call.
In all of the remaining moments of my life, I will be steadfast guardian of American ideals, freedoms, and history.
I am a one-percenter of the noblest order. I am… an American veteran.

I have kept this creed as a reminder of why I and so many others, veteran and non-veterans, do what we do.  There are many veterans who have committed themselves to helping our brothers and sisters in uniform and follow the creed but you do not have to be a veteran to help a veteran.

As Americans, on Memorial Day we remember those who have died in the service of our country and during Veterans Day we are to honor those who have served.  As our living veteran population grows, please make a commitment to assist and honor our veterans not only on Nov. 11 but every day of the year.

The “one-percenters” cannot do it alone and the commitment to honor and assist our veterans should be a commitment of all Americans.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

A Study in 1992

There were 47 transplant patients in a study published in 1992. There had been many unspecific reports of a condition called “cell-memory transference”. The concept that personal memories exist in cell tissue outside the normal brain tissue where memories are thought to reside.

The good news is that a whopping 79% of the studied patients felt absolutely nothing different after the transplant. They went on with their lives with the only difference that they had healthy tissues. Now, 79% of 47 patients does not make a resounding scientific fact, and 21% that feel something is different should call for a larger study. In fact, 6% of the 47 (for you math folks that’s 2.82 people) had significant feelings of change with the new transplant.

One patient was an emergency room doctor who had contracted hepatitis through his work, and required a liver transplant. He became more emotional, loved avocados, and enjoyed barbecue. None of these things were obvious before the surgery. Later he found that he had the liver of a young women who loved BBQ and avocados, and cried at emotional movies.

Okay, this seems suspicious. Obviously there are more books and movies that have explored this concept. Transplanted hands that want to strangle victims, transplanted corneas that see “evil” in people, transplanted hearts that are still in love with the people that they knew. Clearly, we can fabricate stories to fit any scenario.

But even a small Sam-lying of 47 with 6% having a big reaction should generate more studies.

So, at a breakfast with friends, three of the four have cadaver bone dust in there jaws. One one asked where the bone came from, but later found out. One body but me is concerned. Was he, or she a vegetarian? Did they hate Lima beans? Fave beans? Or maybe they loved Fava beans and human flesh.

I am hoping that my “comfort food” remains the same.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

It’s All Over

Okay, maybe it’s not. Who knows, the devil is in the details. The interesting thing is the silence of friends and family. Some are sad, but don’t want to say anything in case I’m celebrating. Some are happy, but don’t want to seem so in case I’m in despair.

I suppose it is mostly a case of “do no harm”. At least in the political sense. In some ways it is my own fault in that I have been unclear where I stand politically. I have long decided that individuals do not deserve my vote. I would love for that to happen, but heroes are hard to find. It’s much better to vote for platforms. If a platform wins then good, work with it. If a platform loses, then good, work with it. For all my thoughts of survival, I’m very optimistic.

There are basically four quadrants, 1) Good candidate personally (nobody is perfect) 2) Good platform (many promises kept) 3) Bad candidate personally (its an embarrassment) 4) Bad platform (Unworkable ideas that fail). In American politics we often get a mixture. Ideally the bad candidate and bad platform never get elected. In the best of times we get the good candidate and the good platform. Unfortunately these things are subjective, but over time, the truth is found out, and the rascals are voted out. That’s why I celebrate every election, because democracy wins.

I firmly believe we get the leadership we deserve!

And I hopefully will survive, unless someone puts me on the train.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Brigida Haraldsdotter Gille

Riseberga Abbey, Sweden

Interesting person, my 23rd great grandmother. She was born in Hordaland, Norway. We think her mother was Tora Guttormsdatter Sudreim, but this is debated. Her father was Harald IV Magnusson Gille, king of Norway. Unfortunately she was also illegitimate as Tora was her father’s long term lover.

Her first marriage was to the Swedish earl Karl Sunesson, by which she had two boys, Algot and Knut Karlsson. Sometime after 1145 Karl was losing his influence, so she married Magnus Henriksson, who was an up and coming politician. It is thought that Magnus had arranged for King Swerker of Sweden to be assassinated. Naturally, Magnus became King Magnus II of Sweden, with Brigida as his queen. The Swerkers were still miffed with Magnus, so he only reigned for one year, and was killed in a battle for the crown. The Swerkers won.

Brigida didn’t miss a beat, and looked for a third husband. She found Earl Birger Bengtsson Brosa Skänkare of Sweden, and had seven children with him, four boys and three daughters. Unfortunately, three of her sons died in three different battles, so Brigida was in grief for a considerable time.

Brigida was a survivor, born in not the best of times, but she managed to have a family, and died somewhere between 70 and a 100 years old. She is buried at the Riseberga Abbey in Sweden. Thank you great grandmother.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Richomer

He was a Frank in service to the Emperor Gracian, also known as Flavius Richomeres, born 350, died 393. For a time he was Consul of Rome, he was also my 48th great grandfather.

How does this barbarian Frank become a Roman Consul? Well, first off, he was the son of a Frankish general named Teutomer, 310-363. Teutomer, was the Duke of Dacia Ripensis, the area in the northern Balkan peninsula, immediately south of the Middle Danube, roughly in Bulgaria. It was home to the 13th Twin Legion, also known as Legio XIII Gemina, a legion of the Imperial Roman army.

It was one of Julius Caesar‘s key units in Gaul and in the civil war, it was the legion with which he famously crossed the Rubicon on January 10, 49 BC. Emperor Julian made Teutomer the commander. Rome had felt it best to hire a barbarian to control the barbarians.

Teutomer’s son, Richomer, was trained as a Roman soldier, and eventually became head of the Imperial Bodyguards (Comes Domesticorum) of Emperor Gracien.

In 378, Emperor Gratien sends him East at the head of an army to help Co-empereur Valens fight the Goths, but the Romans are defeated at the Battle of Andrinople on 9 August 378. While Valens is killed in the battle, Richomer survived the rout and remained in the East, where he was second to Theodosius I, the new Caesar of the East. Again at the head of a Frankish and Roman army, he is ordered to march against his nephew Arbogast (possibly the son of Bauto) to quell his rebellion. Theodosius names him Master of the Militia for the East in 383, and then Consul of Rome in 384.

In 388, Theodosius sent him to the West to fight the usurper Magnus Maximus, and he defeats him at the Battle of the Save River, and forces his surrender at Aquilea, after which he executes him. After the assassination of one of the co-Emperors Valentinien II (15 May 392), Arbogast places Eugenius on the throne and Theodosius sends Richomer to fight them, but he dies shortly after his departure, leaving it to Stilichko, the Vandal general, to defeat Eugenius and Arbogast at the Battle of Frigidus on 6 September 394.

Richomer’s son was the future king of the Franks, Theodemir. He supported the usurper Emperor Jovinus (411-413) in the Roman civil war with Emporor Honorius. Jovinus was executed and his head eventually was displayed on the walls of Ravenna, and later Carthage, along with four other usurpers to the throne of Rome. In retaliation Honorius also sends a legion to capture Theodemir and his mother Ascyla, then had them executed. This pretty much guaranteed that the Franks would no longer fight for the Romans.

Theodemir’ s son Chlodégar, king of the Salian Francs at Cologne, and his brother Clovis, actively attacked the Romans, and is said to be the ancestors of the Merovingian Kings of France.

In just a few short years my 48th great grandfather, Richomer, who was a Roman Consul, produced a grandson who became King of France, my 46th great grandfather, Chlodégar.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

The Intersection

I’ve been pondering the complexities of “knowing” and “believing”. It’s oblivious to me that this is not a new concept, but sometimes it takes some research to find the shoulders of greater minds.

The closest I found was Thomas Aquinas, who spent his life studying Aristotle and blending philosophy with Christianity. He believed that faith and reason would lead to reality. Along with Albertus Magnus a rational view of the world came into view. Most people are familiar with Aristotle, even if they only know that his was employed as Alexander the Great’s tutor. Nice to know that the conqueror of the known world was led by the greatest thinker. Also, many people, particular those in religious circles, are aware of Thomas Aquinas, even though they might not be able to quote anything.

Hardly any people are aware of the importance of Albertus Magnus, apart from a few people majoring in philosophy/theology, (or attended the college in Connecticut).

Albertus Magnus, or Albert the Great, was a Dominican friar and bishop, who later became a saint. He lived 1200-1280 in and around Cologne, Germany. He was educated at the University of Padua in Italy, the second oldest college in Italy. Padua has just been founded by former students of the University at Bologna, the oldest university in Europe. Later, he was able to teach at the University of Paris, the second oldest university in Europe. It is safe to say that that Albert was very familiar with academia in the Middle Ages.

His expertise was generally Aristotle, and one of his best students was Thomas Aquinas. It is obvious that Albert had a great influence on the mind of Thomas Aquinas. Albert was the first academic to comment upon nearly all of Aristotle’s known writings. In addition, it was due to Arabic scholars that much of Aristotle was saved from destruction. Albert also wrote about the Arabic scholars Avicenna and Averroe, leading Albert to be at the center of academic debate.

According to Wikipedia, his writings included topics on logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, alchemy, zoology, physiology, phrenology, justice, law, friendship, and love. Obviously a curious and well rounded man. He outlived his famous student Thomas Aquinas.

While Albert was born very near to the death of Hildegard von Bingen, it would seem that he continued in most of the areas that Hildegard studied. He must have been aware of her work, and was obviously inspired by her depth.

Though he was a bishop and later a saint, his writing was mostly in philosophy and should be remembered as the greatest scholar of Aristotle.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

What I Know, What I believe

I know about physical mortality, I believe in spiritual immortality.

I know about free will, I believe in destiny.

I know about evil, I believe in the ultimate conquest of good.

I know about love, I believe it is attainable by everyone.

I know about science, I believe it is a gift from G-d.

I know about G-d, I believe in the existence of demons.

I know about the concept of evolving, I believe in evolution.

I know about a few concepts of time, I believe that time is truly unknowable.

I know I am sinful, I believe I am redeemed.

I know about the concept of purpose, I believe purpose is known over time.

I know about creation, I believe we can be makers.

(Starting a list of what you know, and what you believe, can be helpful.)

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

I Believe

What a powerful statement! A verifying statement that determines the very existence of a thing or a thought. If you believe, it is there, if you don’t believe it isn’t there. At least that is one concept that is out there.

For example, there are two people arguing, one person makes a statement of fact, the other person hears that statement, processes the discrete pieces of information, and declares that he doesn’t believe. Now we have two people with two radically different ideas of reality. Theoretically there is only one reality, the question before us is whether realty is based upon an agreement with humans, in other words, that reality is based upon someone “believing”.

In many cases, this might be appear to be true. Humans can create potential realities that are described using language. The world is flat and the oceans fall off at the edge, descending into the Great Void. If one person hears this, and believes, then, it becomes a fact for him, and he will not sail too far lest he fall off the edge. If a person does not believe, he will sail, and no edge will appear.

Reality can appear to be created by “not believing”. Conversely, we can believe that gravity does exist by watching an apple fall from a tree. Because we believe it is real. Clearly stated this way, it is obvious that reality is independent of any humans “belief”. So where can we accurately use the word “believe”? I believe it is proper until we know! Just believing does not make it reality, but it is a preliminary stage to “knowing”.

A safe concept is to carefully observe reality, then declare that you believe that is exists. You are simply agreeing that you are observing correctly, and you can use that information in understanding more complicated realities. Knowledge is built upon correct observations. We don’t create the realities, we simply observe the facts.

Unfortunately the very word “believe” has the implication that “existence” is dependent upon a personal decision. This is the great dilemma in determining realty.

The silliest statement I can think of is “I believe in gravity” or “I believe in Light”. Yet we have an opinion whether we believe in evolution or “The Big Bang Theory”. In truth, both of these concepts are in the process of knowing. Some people are already there, they know! Some people are in the process so technically they “believe”. Some people do not believe, so they are comfortable in the denying of the existence. Reality is still reality, but are we in agreement?

The only way this is acceptable is by using the term “believe” until we know it is fact. We can’t allow a “belief” to remain as a static state. With careful observation, and repeated evidence, a belief transcends into a fact, and hopefully that expresses reality.

Does “false information” exist? Technically, if it is false, it does not exist, but only if we are correctly observing. Incorrect observation creates “false information”. And I believe (haha!) there exists a multitude of false information.

One last piece of information about “believe”, and that is being meaningful. Reality can often be perceived by humans as devoid of meaning. Believing is very often passionate, giving it great meaning. The solution to this is to be in awe of reality. Give great meaning, passionate meaning to the truth of realty. Unfortunately too many people develop so much passion in “believing” that they cannot accept the next step into “knowing” if it goes against a preconception.

We are complicated and ego-centric. Too many of us believe that we creat realities. There was only one moment of creation for everything. I know this!

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Worst Day in History

Norwegian Seed Vault

Time does exist, it may also be theoretical, but the reality of linear time is apparent to all. While “value” may be highly subjective, there has been some attempt to define the “worst day in history”. This could be seen as the birth of an evil dictator, a catastrophic meteor, the first use of atomic weapons, the election (or loss) of a presidency, or biting the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

In general, it is more than the event itself, but the linear consequences that follow the event, so pinning the “worst day” is very difficult. What part of the linear process is the crucial “point of no return?”

There are a couple of YouTube videos that suggest that 536 AD is the worst year to be alive in our history. More specifically, the early part of 536, due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, North America, or El Salvador. We don’t know which or how many. In either case, it was the consequences that brutalized the world.

The amount of volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere created a “nuclear winter” for the summer of 536 AD around the globe. Creating famine and hardship for plants, animals and humans. Medieval scholar Michael McCormick, in 2018 nominated 536 AD as the beginning of massive changes around the world, including a mysterious “fog”.

There were Visigoths in Spain from 600-800 AD. They weren’t indigenous, they came from Romania, because they were being pressured by Huns coming from the East. The Huns left the East because of famine in the Tundra. It was a cascading effect of the volcanic “fog” that created Hungary. And yes, certainly Attila had something to do with the success of the Huns, but leaders rise due to challenges, or their people perish.

This is just one example, more and more historians are attributing the climate change starting in 536 to the end of cultures in various parts of the planet.

So today we have bunkers to survive the initial nuclear blast, but can we survive two or three years of ash in the sky, blocking out the rays of the sun? How do we regain our plant life? What happens to our seed crop? Every farmer knows to put aside seed to plant new crops. A bad harvest may require dipping into the seed crop to provide food. Two or three bad harvests will eliminate the seed crop and the “shortage” of food will become permanent.

Never fear, there is a secure bunker in Norway. In 2008, the Norwegians finished construction of the Arctic Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It has been filled with seeds of every kind of plant. It is super secret, no visitors, and it will be the place to go in order to replenish the seed crop for the worlds farmers.

I hope they have enough.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

COVID Events

This could have happened in any case. But perhaps some AI has figured out that I would be interested. The older one gets, often there is less outdoor activity. Less activity outside often increases activity inside. With technology, increased indoor activity often means YouTube videos.

This is a long introduction to the last YouTube video that popped up in my social media feed. The title of “What if We Built the Deepest Bunker” definitely stopped my scrolling to other potential videos. This was something that I actually knew about! I watched with interest.

I wondering about the potential percentage of knowledgable people in the US about bunkers, and I’m guessing it is pretty small. I believe the standard US veteran percentage is about 1% that has served in the military. I’m guessing that the percentage of US military that has served in underground bunkers of any kind, is way less than 1% of the military. The number of veterans that served in hardened, substantial, bunkers is way less than that.

I spent nearly two years of my life serving in what was considered the underground Pentagon, in the Blue Ridge mountains of Pennsylvania. In the 1970s it was super secret. Later on, in the 1990s I believe it was deactivated, and even offered tours to the public. Local residents, who had known about the bunker had lined up first for the tours. Then 9-11 occurred, and it was activated once more, but in a reduced role. It was no longer super secret, but it was a super example of the Cold War, a Dr. Strangelove facility.

It can be found on the internet by researching Raven Rock, but doing so might place you on a “watch list”. Reading this blog might also place you on a watch list. I’m too old to worry much about it. Most of what I experienced has either been lost to time, or things have been changed. But I still remember being underground, safe from nuclear attack, and being at the center of a future wartime command center.

Three things come to mind. 1) There were offices for most of the important areas of the Pentagon, but they were 95% empty. Lots and lots of fully functional areas gathering dust. But since a lot of dust is shed skin cells, with no people, not much dust. 2) Most of the higher ups of the government/military had living quarters allocated. Not everyone could make it underground, but higher management had room for their families. 3) As a member of low ranking staff, there were no facilities for my family. In the multiple test alerts, where I had to be at my post with fifteen minutes of an alert, I knew that I would be safe, while my family was being vaporized outside the bunker. This was a burden throughout my time at this post.

The practical things of living underground? There were only a few exercises where we were required to stay multiple days underground. Usually we worked ten hour days, six days on, and two days off. The weekends were occasionally mid-week. Lots of down-time on the swing and grave shift hours when the higher ranking staff were not around. Hours and hours of walking empty halls, servicing empty offices.

The lasting memories is of multi-storied buildings, built in caves dug out of solid rock, lots and lots of bats, intense security, blast doors as large as a two lane road, a couple of lakes with fresh water, radiation showers with changing rooms with thousands of uniforms, pallets of food lining the interior access roads. Just a few of the memories.

The main thing I learned was that survival required lots of effort and planning. I grew more confident that leaders have put the effort, time and money to guarantee that this country will survive. The question will always be, at what cost?

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Language is Compressed Evolution

Sometimes a person reads a book and the ideas are so foreign that it takes hours of re-reading a paragraph, and in the end you still are unsure of the intent or the direction. It is as unsettling as sand beneath your feet.

If the opposite occurs, if the words on the page are so familiar that you know exactly what the next sentence will be, or the next paragraph, or G-d forbid the next chapter, then you might as well stop reading. You have already written this book, and it is boring, and a waste of time.

The sweet spot of language/literature/communication is when you follow the linear progression, and the concept of the individual pieces of data are understood, but the gestalt of that data is a brand new thought, or a familiar thought that you haven’t yet expressed. This is the glorious power of transferred information, whether is is acting, story telling, literature, or artwork.

My latest example of this, is a book first published in 1998, written by Leonard Shlain, titled, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess”. It had me absolutely hooked in the first twelve pages. What is important is that I am not saying that I agree with his premise. I am not even certain of the boundaries of his premise. But I am completely enthralled with the problem, and the willingness to study the issue.

As I understand the problem, Shlain points out that women lost equality in the social structure, due to the development of written communication. He brings in a number of concepts that show a linear path to this conclusion. It is definitely worth reading more to verify what he believes.

One concept that he brings out, is the evolutionary development of the “opposable thumb”. It’s an old, yet compelling, discussion. Familiar, but not boring. Then he writes about the evolutionary development of “the heel”. I had never heard anyone write about this! It would be in the literature, but it hasn’t been in general discussion.

Two developments, due to environmental changes, the connectivity of the tree canopy disappeared. This forced some tree-based mammals to descend to the ground, and begin to walk. The grasping nature of the hind limbs, evolved into having a simple, hard, heel. Instead of four hands, they had two hands and two feet. This heel gave the former tree dwellers the ability to stand upright, and walk, and even run.

When the amazing hands no longer were forced to engage in limb grasping for climbing, they developed fine motor skills that allowed for tool making. This created larger brains in the mammal, but that was problematic for birthing. The evolutionary response was to make the pelvis wider in women, which made her walk different. If the brain size continues to grow then the women’s walk would become a “waddle”, so the brain size remained stable but certain developed areas became added later, after getting through the birth canal.

Al this makes perfect sense, even if all the dots hadn’t been connected. Evolution is marvelous and works amazingly. But it takes hundreds of thousand years, even millions of years.

At some point, when communication became strong enough, information important to the survival of the species, could be passed in less than a generation. That which depended upon a million years of experience, could be applied in less that a week. Communication compresses evolution!

Can’t wait for Chapter Two! Thank you Clay for recommending this author.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Diestler Homes

Poking around Google Earth, I started a search for old residences of Diestler’s, at least the addresses that I could remember. This led to a general search of my photo file and the results where interesting.

This is by far the oldest Diestler home. A farmhouse that was in Prussia, now in Poland. Destroyed in WWII, it had “Diestler“ carved above the door, Built approximately late 1780s. Combination barn and home.

I tried to find where my father was born, but the 18 room farmhouse was moved from the acreage and I don’t know what direction. It was near Fingal, ND.

In the same way, all the known addresses of his home in Fargo have been torn down or flooded away. The Red River was not very controlled.

This is the “stoop” of the wartime housing. Our apartment is the door on the left.

In 1953 the family final bought their first house for $12,500, unfortunately it was haunted.

This photo was from 1958? The photo above that from Google Earth. Don’t know if it’s still haunted.

The family then moved to a duplex, with my brother living in the front apartment.

My parents then retired and moved in a cottage behind my brother’s house in Tacoma, WA

My first apartment after moving out was a small two bedroom upstairs corner unit.

Just before being drafted, I shared a home with Obert.

My first apartment after the military was in Point Richmond, a very small, very narrow studio.

Behind The Hotel Mac
First floor two bedroom behind the tree

A nice but windy rental…

The first purchased home
Extremely hot in the summer…

And that ends the previous home record…

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Some doors are one way…

If only we knew for certain that all choices can be undone without penalty. I can help with that statement, that all choices come with a penalty. The problem is the size of the penalty. For example, you are walking down a path, and you reach a fork in the road. You ponder which fork to take. From your vantage point you are aware that you have little information on which path will lead you in the right direction.

You observe the classic piece of data that one path is lightly used, the other path shows more wear. Briefly, you consider the old poem of choosing the lesser worn path. But this poem is not life, that was just literature. But then you measure the cost. You can easily retrace your steps should the path be not to your liking, so you enter the path least taken.

All is well until you look backward and you have lost sight of the fork in the road. You continue onward because you can still turn around. Many more paths converge from either side. This makes it harder to go backwards, but you can see the right path to take should you turn around, by following your footsteps. The tracking class you took really helps in this regard.

Eventually the path leads to a steep, long decline. The impact is that if you decide to turn backwards then it will take much more energy, and time, to get back to the fork in the road. The penalty of your choice is increasing. On top of everything else, it is beginning to rain, and the rain will erase all traces of your footsteps. Continuing now is a commitment to walking through the door, with no turning back.

This was not the thought when You first chose the lesser path. This is the important maxim to remember when facing a choice. You may try something without a full commitment, just to see if it is worthy, but if it begins to only make promises, and the path turns into a one-way choice, then back up!

I will hold to my maxim by following my choice. By choosing the road most followed, or by choosing the road least followed. What I will not do is let the road chose for me.

This is especially true in the coming elections. Some choices are one-way.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

A Solemn Day

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement that comes after the ten Days of Awe, starting with Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. Obviously if you are Jewish you would already know this. For the first thirty years of my life I was only vaguely of the terms, and mostly ignorant of the true meanings.

For the last forty years of my life I have learned and applied much of what I have learned. That doesn’t make me Jewish, but I believe it brings me closer to G-d, with a better relationship.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the concept of reverence, and how that it is expressed in the world. We can see examples of reverence by people bowing, or by people not turning their backs to the object of reverence. It is important to note that if you see an example of reverence, it doesn’t not mean that you are being reverent. Reverence is a personal choice that manifests itself in an action. Witnessing the action doesn’t somehow transfer reverence to you.

In fact, simply coping the act of others being reverent doesn’t not mean that you are actually reverent. It must be your choice, your action.

The discussion then centered on G-D’s name. In scripture it is written that G-d shared his name as “I AM”, and in Hebrew this was written using four consonants, “YHWH”. It is also described as the Tetragrammaton. How this word is pronounced has filled volumes of books. From early on it became a tradition to never say the name, out of reverence. The name was written, but if someone would read aloud, that reader would replace the name with Adonai, LORD, or HaShem (the name). This was an act of personal reverence.

When Scripture was translated into Latin, the Y was changed to the letter “I” or later, “J”. This is why we see the Hebrew word “Yeshua” written first in Greek as “Iesous” and then in Latin as “Iesus”, and finally in English as Jesus. Even though the “I” was pronounced with a “J” sound, so it still sounded like Jesus.

As far as the Tetragrammaton, this was not quite as simple. Without the necessary vowel sounds, the word could sound vastly different. There is much evidence that the word YHWH was pronounced “Yahweh”, an in some translations this is how it is rendered. It is still not pronounced aloud, but often replaced with Adoni, by the speaker. Again, this was a personal act of reverence by the speaker.

Later translations used the “J” instead of “Y”, and choose slightly different vowel sounds, so “Yahweh” became “JoHoVaH”, or Jehovah. And for some reason this was okay to vocalize, but hopeful said with reverence.

At some point the Hebrew scribes decide that “YHWH” sound not be written, o out of reverence it was replaced with the words that were used vocally when the scrolls were read. YHWH became Adonai, or LORD, or even many of the other names that were used in the oral tradition. This was done out of reverence, but logically it was only the reverence of the scribe. This replacement took the action of reverence out of my hands. I could still have a general feeling of reverence, but it is much less personal.

In the same way, I can write God, and the capital “G” implies the name with accompanying reverence. But when I type “G-d” that gives the same message, but adds the active act of reverence by the author. The reader of “G-d” is not expressing the act of reverence by simply reading “G-d”.

As you can see, this discussion with my friend covered some fine nuances. But it did help me to focus my acts of reverence as an active choice. That I can “coast” on the acts of reverence of others. That I can become more knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must also make it an action of faith.

Glad to finally be in a new year.

Shalom!

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

What Films Can Do!

All this sequestering has upped my cinematic experiences. I have a tendency to select action films. Action plus historical fact is a guaranteed winner for me. As far as genres, it is only a very narrow slice of what is possible, and I recently took the time to ponder that fact. What is possible in films?

The first thing that comes to mind is Warhol’s film of the Empire State Building. I haven’t seen it, and I’m told that individuals who have seen it, wear a badge of honor. It reflects their hipness to sit through eight hours and five minutes of a silent, black & white shot of the Empire State Building, from 5:00 pm until 3:00 am. Okay, the badge doesn’t really exist, but the mindset is real.

It is a movie with time as the focus. Years later Boyhood was filmed, taking twelve years to film, the same cast ages without makeup. Again, in simple terms it was a film about time, with people passing through instead of a building.

For most of history of cinema, the content of films mimics literature, the media it basically replaced. There is a storyline, filled with characters, locations, and some dialogue. The linear development stretches all the back to stories around the campfire. It is well known, scripted, choreographed, and performed from generation to generation in some dimly lit cavern.

Then it is written down, and read aloud. Then literacy increases, and more words are added, the story is embellished because it can be. Eventually it goes back to theater, and sets are created, standards are met, music is added. In the final expression it is recorded in film. And for the most part it is almost like the story, almost like the book, almost like the play. And yet film can be so much more.

In the same way, I often realize that websites are almost like books or magazines, click and the page turns. I suppose that makes it familiar and comfortable, but the internet can be so much more.

So, what examples do we have of movies stretching the limits of what is possible? At first thought one might say the use of special effects. This is naturally tied to the development of technology. Hanging small models of flying saucers from fishing poles might pass in the early 1950s, but today it is comical, and it really doesn’t change the story, it just makes it more believable. Except for the noisy explosion of rockets in deep space. It’s flashy in space, but it’s actually deadly silent. At some point filmmakers tested audiences, and noisy lasers built the necessary drama.

I suppose that the examples of avant garde genre is the current standard of “pushing the envelope”. I’m thinking of “My Dinner with Andre”, or the 2001 film version of “Waiting for Godot”. Hmm, the play was better.

Some of my favorite movies in this genre are:

1. Un Chien Andalou, 1929, with Salvatore Dali and Luis Brunel, famous for the razored eyeball scene

2. Anemic Cinema, 1926 by Marcel DuChamp

3. Destino, 1946 by Salvatore Dali and Walt Disney

4. Spellbound, 1945 by Alfred Hitchcock

5. El Topo 1970, & The Holy Mountain 1973, by Alejandro Jadorowsky (very weird)

6. Eraserhead 1977, by David Lynch

7. Koyaanisqatsi 1984, by Godfrey Reggio

8. Being John Malkovich, 1999, by Spike Jonze

9. A Field in England 2013 by Ben Wheatley

10. You, the Living 2007 by Roy Andersson

And several more that slip my name memory. And today I’m adding…

11. I’m Thinking of Ending Things 2020, by Charlie Kaufman

Truly, very few directors push the boundaries of what films can do.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Posted in Commentary | 2 Comments