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.

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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…

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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.

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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.


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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
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Who are you voting for?

There are few direct questions that gives me more grief. Immediately my brain goes to “Why?” And my mental answer is always the same. It goes through the filter, “Is this person so confused that they are seeking clarity from me?” Hmm, the tone of the question isn’t right. That isn’t it. “Is this person trying to engage me in a political discussion in order to convince me to vote for their candidate?” Hmm, have I signaled that I’m confused and need education. Nope!

Okay, maybe this person is just looking for minds that think alike. Possible, so I might respond. “I believe completely in the principle of the secret ballot in order to preserve our rights!” A better question is to ask what principles I support.”

At that point they generally walk away.

I elect representatives, in order to make the decisions that I would make if I was in attendance. The representatives have made statements to me about platforms that I have strong opinions about. I don’t elect personalities. It’s not about the individual. I re-elect a representative based upon the “actions”, or the ability to govern. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they represented me, but lost. Generally, so long as they haven’t given up, I give them another chance. It is still based upon the platform.

No one has asked the more accurate question. Not “Who did you vote for?”, but “What did you vote for?”

My response is still, “It’s a secret.”

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I am old enough

I am old enough to remember the Free Speech Movement, not from the newscasts of NBC, CBS, and ABC (the only main sources), I know it because I caught a bus and walked up University Avenue. I didn’t have a driver’s license.

Over the next few years I went from a back row observer in demonstrations, to an active, front line member. I placed my body on the train tracks, I surrounded buses filled with drafted young men, pleading for them to get off the bus. They were heading to be cannon fodder in Vietnam Nam.

I was tear gassed dozens of times,I was trapped in the entryway of a store, then pressed by bodies who were being beaten by baton wielding police. Eventually I was pushed through a plate glass window. I was there during People’s Park riots.

I was a monitor on the San Francisco Peace March, I rode backwards on a scooter, shouting through a megaphone, “Keep to the curb!” I know about peaceful demonstrations, I know about violent demonstrations where lives were lost.

These were the formative years of my life.

The Vietnam War was still on, I was finally drafted. I was in the bus this time. Some of my acquaintances were outside the bus in Oakland, pleading for us to get out of the bus, “Do not let yourself to be cannon fodder!”, they shouted.

I was flown up to Ft.Lewis, Washington for basic training. I lasted two weeks before I got an honorable discharge. Then I enlisted for three years in the regular army. This counted as a re-enlistment, so I got additional “professional” pay.

I spent almost 15 months in training. I had secret, top secret, and top secret crypto clearances. I was stationed for a year in the underground Pentagon in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was also stationed on the DMZ in South Korea. This was during a mini shooting war. I heard bullets come my way, I sent bullets their way. One early morning, around 3am, I got a classified message that the Vietnam War was over. The peace accord was signed in Paris. Six months later I left the army.

Both events were shaping in very positive ways. Both events left their scars.

I used to know stuff, the older I get, the less I know. Some things still seem to ring true. There are honorable people in the world, and they are diverse. There are misled people in the world, and they are equally diverse. They are evil people in the world, not in huge numbers, but at times they have great influence. This is the way of the world.

Another truth, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

To the extent that it is possible, I choose to be under a corrupt system that still gives me the freedom to protest. In this way I can still influence change. The Vietnam War ended!

And I gave my oath to defend that system against those who would attack by violence. That oath is still active.

I am not conflicted.

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Nuremberg Chronicle Map

Mentioned in a birthday gift from a good friend. Thank you Peter.

Also known as The Liber Chronicarum, of Hartmann Schedel, printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger in 1493. A complete history of the world from creation to the publication date. Famous as one of the most illustrated of all German books (printed before Gutenberg). Interesting, because many of the illustrated cities were adapted the same woodcut. Nuremberg was the largest city in the Holy Roman Empire, and the only city that had a two page illustrated spread in the book. The book also had a detailed map that illustrated “a parliament of monsters”, a collection of creatures believed to inhabit distant lands of the known world.

The book had well over a thousand woodcuts that were produced by the Michael Wolgemut Workshop of artists, which included Albrecht Durer. None of the artists signed their name, but Durer is suspected of helping to create many of the woodcuts. Albrecht Durer lived on the same street as Anton Koberger, the printer of the book, who was also Durer’s godfather.

The Sciapodes (Shadow Feet)

They were each owners of one very large foot and leg, while also being very nimble. In the summertime, while lying on their backs, they protected themselves against the sun by the shade of their single foot.

Six Handed Man

Said to have lived in India. Mentioned in the Histories of Alexander the Great, with some stories that were later deemed written by an author named Pseudo-Calliisthenes.

The Cynocephali

Dog-headed men of the mountains, possibly Ethiopia, perhaps based upon baboons. Solinus writes of the dog-headed Semeans who were ruled by a canine king. They communicated by barking, and used their claws skillfully to hunt birds. according to the Greek historian Ctesias, they numbered 120,000.

Alexander’s Bearded Women

A species of women with beards extending to their breasts, but whose heads are bald. Again this was part of the legends of Alexander’s travels. ‘

“Shun a woman with a beard as you would a pestilence.” -Pliny

The Blemmyes

In Lybia, there lived creatures “born headless and have mouths, and eyes”, writes Schedel. The Blemmyes were a real nomadic Nubian tribal kingdom described by Strabo as a peaceful 700 bc. Later, they became factionalized as headless cannibals. Shakespeare mentions them in Othello.

The Panotii

In Sicily lived people whose ears were so large that they cover their whole body. The ears reach to their feet and they use them as blankets to keep warm. When frightened, they use them to fly away.

(Adapted from “The Phantom Atlas”, by Edward Brooke Hitching, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2018)

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The Ignorance of My Youth

This could be a very long blog post. I will limit it to a very short subject.

There was a time, when I was first introduced to Medieval Art, probably in high school. I was impressed by most, and some seemed almost stencil-like. As if there was a formula of neck length, head shape, and lip formation. A lot of the portraits looked like they were all family members. And most of the royals did intermarry. Very few actually painted the truth. And when they did, I remembered them.

Federico Montefeltro was one that I remember. Not his name, nor the name of the artist, I remember how odd he looked in that hat. And when I saw his wife, I just had to laugh. Two very homely people had found each other.

Battista Sforza and Federico Montefeltro

Time passed, I was now teaching art appreciation at the college level. I still made sure to present the two images, but this time I mentioned the artists name, Piero della Francesca, 1415-1492. The students looked at the images that were in the textbook, but there was no back story about the people, just their names. Wanting to be better informed, since I was making fun of their image, I finally did some research.

Federico was Duke of Urbino from 1474-1482 (Lord of Urbino from 1444). Urbino was a small duchy that was given to the Papal States by Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father. By the 1200s it had become connected to the House of Montefeltro, becoming famous under Federico’s reign. Later, it was also ruled by Caesar Borgia, and even the Medici’s. In general, Urbino fell into the camp that favored the Holy Roman Emperor over the Pope, after the Montefeltros left, it swung over to the Papacy.

During Federicos reign his court was the model of what a court should be. It attracted the thinkers, the artists, and the writers of the time. The only product that Urbino exported was their military. When Federico committed his troops to a side, the opponent sued for peace. For years Urbino never lost, so in the end, they no longer had to fight. Several times the opponents had tried to offer more money for Federico to switch sides. He never did, and his reputation increased. Eventually, the sons and daughters of European royalty came to study at his court.

I came to respect Federico, even if he looked a little odd. Then, I learned that he had lost his right eye in a jousting match. He not only lost his eye, but much of the right side of his face. When Francesca painted his portrait, that was the reason for the stark profile.

I felt a little ashamed of my ignorance.

Then I read about the bridge of Federico’s nose. I had made fun of that as well. It seems that he had a typical Classic Roman nose, even after his jousting accident. But with only one eye, during battle he had difficulty responding quickly to attacks coming from the right. Federico had his surgeons remove the bone and flesh bridge, so that his left eye could see better to the right.

I felt even more shame.

The likelihood is that there are hundreds, or thousands, of half-truths about individuals in the present, or in the past, that falsely justifies our “judgement”. I know this now, because I’m old.

(The hat is still a trip.)

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William I

My 25th great grandfather is William the Bastard, or William the Conqueror, as he was known later. That month of October in 1066, I had four great grandfathers fighting for the right to be king of England. Three that were ancestors from my mother’s side, and one from my father’s side. Dad’s side won.

I have always been attracted to “turning points” or “history hinges”. Sometimes the world is changed by one individual. Certainly everyone makes a difference, but in some cases it is radically modified, and cascades throughout the following years.

England was always a target for invasion. It has been referred to as the “anglo-saxon” nation, but that was only after the two different Germanic tribes, the Angles, and the Saxons, took to their boats and invaded the lands.

The land already had Britons, Picts, Celts, and Romans with developed roads, villages and towns. The Anglo-Saxons intermarried with most, and established various kingdoms that slowly became England. The Vikings also came to raid, and to settle. So, being invaded by the Normans under William was perfectly normal, but the change was dramatic.

William was a descendant of Rollo, a Viking who had raided the French coast of Normandy. He asked permission from the French king to settle the land if he agreed to defend against further Viking raids. In time, William Longsword, was made Duke of Normandy and the title was passed down to Robert I and even to William, although his legitimacy was an issue. Perhaps invading England was the motivation to remove “the Bastard” from his name.

William spoke French, not German or English. For centuries afterwards all the English kings spoke French, some never even learned English. The Normans immediately placed Norman lords over the lands that were conquered. They even sent for Norman royals back home in order to fill positions in the new country. Customs were changed forever. The world changed.

History will always have the debate of whether change is for the better. Harold Godwinsson was the last English king, but even he was the descendant of foreign invaders. Harold was also my 25th great grandfather. His kingship ended at Hastings in October of 1066, with an arrow in his throat.

William, the Conqueror
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The End

There was a beginning, there was most certainly a middle, it only makes sense that there is an end. I just never thought I would recognize it. I thought it would come like a thief in the night. That it would steal its way in, on padded silent feet, and I would taken in quiet surprise.

Or perhaps it would be in my half-sleep. The dreams where I go back to work, but everything is unfamiliar, brand new equipment is everywhere, but it’s all a sham, only for show. The cables are all disconnected, and mice have made nests in the corners of the desks. And I’m allowed a quick scan of the upper shelves, where I find the service cap of a first class Army uniform, with neatly drawn letters on masking tape fixed to the bill, identifying the owner. The owner is me! I have forgotten it all these years. And only now, at the conclusion of my thoughts, I have this old memory to process before everything fades. Only this time it’s not fading to consciousness, it’s fading to discharge. The circuits are shutting down, the electric synapses dim. It is the End.

But instead, there is this clear certainty, almost cold logic. No time to get ready, it is here, in sudden ferocity, with professionals stepping in to do their jobs, without direction from me. I am in the last moments, only along for the ride, fully alert but not in charge, not directing the next action. It’s now out of my hands.

It’s so surreal that I fail to communicate what is happening. When I close my eyes I still recognize what is happening all around me. I’m not sleeping, I’m not even resting. I’m registering events, moment to moment, proving my existence to myself, and then with almost a shout, it’s the beginning.

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I have some very stressing news. I just read a news article that I trust very much. It reports on trends based upon hard data, and it seems absolutely reliable. The hard data calculates (with a 98% accuracy) that within 100 years, over 7 billion people will die. That’s a seven with nine zeros behind it.

Fortunately, they don’t think it will happen all at once. Some are calculating that 170 thousand per year, but multiplied by 100 does not quite add up. By my calculation, 7 billion divided by 100 is 70 million per year on average. That’s a huge discrepancy, so I suspect some agency is trying to soften the data.

If the general public was made aware of the truth, I would think that some dramatic changes would be made. 7,000,000,000,000 is a staggering sum. 70,000,000 is also unimaginable, but the hard data suggests that almost 191,000 people will die every day for the next 100 years. Every day!

Of course this is an average, some days it might be less, but some days it could be as much as 400,000. World-wide, the brunt will be on Chins and India, but the US, Russia, and Europe are not far behind. It will be a world wide pandemic, affecting everyone.

The only thing that I can remotely think as similar is when God told Moses that 625,000 Hebrews will die before going to the Promised Land. That was 99.99 percent of the entire nation that left Egypt, everyone except Joshua and Caleb. Not even Moses was saved.

I’m not 100% sure that I will survive this event. I do plan to make things as right as I can. The data is pretty bleak for anyone reading this, so I suggest that you do the same.

(Math corrected from first post, haha)

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I Grew a Flower

The more I think about it, I have come to the original source of most of our woes on this planet. That’s a bold statement, so it should be “thoughtfully” thought about.

I was thinking about Robert Heinlien’s book “Stranger in a Strange Land”, it’s a classic book that shought be revisited now and again. It particular I was thinking about a character in the book that was called a “Fair Witness”. This was a person that was trained to assist in legal trails and the making of contracts. An example was how the “Fair Witness” would describe things. The lawyer would ask “What color is that house on the hill?”, the “Fair Witness” would respond, “The color I see reflected is based upon the daylight from our sun, but I only see that from the side facing me. I do not know what colors are being reflected on the backside of the house.”

Is takes thoughtful work to tell the truth, “I grew a flower!” Really? Or did you plant a seed, and then tend the flower that grew? Most people will say that it’s the same thing, we only like the first sentence because it’s simpler and shorter. I think it leads to sloppy, ego-centric thinking. Extend that same concept outwards and you have a real mess of half-truths, with your own ego in the middle of it all.

I long for “Fair Witness” training.

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Terror House Magazine

Terror House Magazine is published on-line by a division of Terror House Press, based in Sheridan, Wyoming and Tirana, Albania. A combination that is international and certainly unusual. The magazine was founded in 2018 in Budapest, Hungary by author and journalist Matt Forney, Terror House’s mission is to publish outsider literary fiction, literary nonfiction, and cultural criticism/analysis. It’s published mission statement is, “follow in the tradition established by trailblazers such as Fluland, Loompanics Unlimited, and Feral House, publishing works that are too edgy, unusual, or honest to be released elsewhere. We stand against both the stultifying Beigeism of major New York publishing houses and the hysterical cliquishness of the “alt-lit” community. Both groups seek to crush literature by promoting an endless stream of hack immigrant coming-of-age stories and sterilized Iowa Writers Workshop pieces from pampered white trust-funders. Terror House Magazine seeks to cultivate the Charles Bukowskis, Louis-Ferdinand Célines, and Philip K. Dicks of the 21st century: bold, audacious writers who depict human life in all its ugliness and comedy.”


I was encouraged to submit a story here, and since I have never done so, I decided a rejection from Terror House might be some sort of literary badge. Instead, I was published. So I immediately sent another. They published that one as well. I sent a third, thinking surely this was a mistake. They published that one. I think a fourth was also accepted, maybe a fifth.

They would like to expand and produce a typical paper product, but for now they are still collecting authors. They keep an author page, and it is quite interesting.

My poet/author friend Lucy encouraged me to investigate Terror House, and I’m thankful to the extreme.

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Trees Wearing Pants

You never know what you are going to find in a Google search. I once put that title in three different search engines, and I got nothing, zip, zero. Not even a literary reference. I suppose you are thinking that would be the expected result.

I was checking because it was something that I had nibbling in my brain since I was 15 or 16. That’s a lot of nibbling over time. I wanted to know if this nibble had repeated anywhere that could be found in the net. Nope, it appeared unique to me.

Well, I thought I would pop it in one more time, and this time an artist based in New York popped up. He had lovely photos of trees in pants. I was inspired to write the following letter.


It was probably in 1966 in the SF Bay Area. My best friend and I had a habit of going to the local mall after hours to sing at the top of our voices, what is now called “classic rock”. Lots of Simon and Garfunkel, maybe even Jefferson Airplane. It sounded great, the music bouncing from one window display to another. It was an outdoor mall with a half dozen planter boxes, each with two fully grown trees to provide the shoppers with shade.

With no “mind altering” apart from rock and roll, I began to see these trees as fallen giants from the clouds. They plummeted head first into the soft ground, buried up to their waist. You could see the trunk, and then the crotch, and then the legs disappearing up to the leaves. Never saw a foot, but sometimes the tree took a bend, and it looked like a knee. My friend just nodded, but I know I failed to communicate what I saw.

Fast forward 35 years and I’m teaching photography at a community college. I have used this example in a lesson plan teaching the taking a picture of a concept is a far better way to describe your vision. Naturally, the students asked to see my “trees with pants”. Of course I didn’t’ have them.

So, I made it a priority. I asked for donations of Levi’s, big Levi’s because I wasn’t sure what type of tree I would find. Students gifted me with several pair. I already had a large roll of Velcro hook and tape. In less than a day I had my pants, now I just had to find my tree.

I decided to utilize a walking trail near my house, it was a paved trail, a disused railroad, with lots of mature trees on either side. My idea was to place the pants, and a title card, then a notebook for comments. I would leave it up for a few days then uninstall “the installation”.

Everything worked well, I even hung around as a bystander to engage in any conversation that occurred. That probably was not the best idea. Some people were offended. “If they wanted to see art they go to a museum”, “did they have permission?” ‘This was public property and that was like graffiti on a BART train. I quickly turned to drive the fifteen minutes to home.

I went through several hours of contemplation, then went back, and took the pants off the tree. The label was still there, but not the notebook.

It wasn’t important to show people who didn’t want to see, so I took a lot of pictures, of that tree and others. Then I stopped thinking about the giants that fell from the sky. If I had to describe it, I could show the photos.
The only item of note is that my college aged daughter brought a small potted tree that was mostly dead. She took a weekend, sewed a small pair of Levi’s and gave it to me for Christmas. I still treasure it. I think this was 2004.

So I write this to let you know that while we may not have exactly the same vision, you should know that you are not alone. I completely understand the ins and outs of trees in pants.

Making art whenever I can,



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Writing Prompt- City in the Sky

Someone I know had the grace to encourage writing by constructing a small phrase that may have a cascade effect. A few words that opens a gate for a torrent of words. Of course I only know her by the words she has given, but I like what I’ve read. Her second prompt stopped me in my tracks. 2) City in the Sky. Wow!

It is a widely known theory that communication is largely based upon common understanding. Speaking the same language is 99% of the issue. Have the same context and meaning is farther down the list, “City in the Sky” has such wonderful classic contexts ranging from St. Augustine to the Wizard of Oz. And throw in interpretations of clouds and you have thousands of potential words.

But I didn’t go there. Instead I went, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

About 15 years ago I purchased a new digital camera. Better resolution, better walk-around lens, so I made a small trip to San Francisco to test it out. At some point I took this shot that had the intersection of three distinct architectural styles. I redrew it a bit in PhotoShop and it made a nice image that sold a few times.

But something about it caused me to start thinking. I was thinking about the negative space. I went back to the city a few weeks later. I made a bee-line for the financial district, and quickly took shots from the middle of intersections. At the very least I stopped in the crosswalk and took vertical shots of the streets between buildings.

That created a ten year project of a half dozen cities. San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Chicago, NYC, and Seattle.

The writing prompt has reminded me to continue with what I have started.

Three different buildings
Interest in the negative space
The buildings create an upside down sky building
Sky skyscrapers
Sky skyscraper

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The New Normal

I’ve been moving around on this sphere for over a half century, so that has given me some perspectives. Some things I have seen, and some things I am seeing again. That is as it should be. But there are some new things. The cycles are longer for some things. You have to do some research to dig back in the past to find when some things last made their presence known.

When was the last time we used the phrase, “the new normal”. I certainly don’t remember it from any historical texts. I’m thinking that, “keeping up with the Jones’ is not exactly the same thing. Or “have lemons? Make lemonade!”

Something tells me that “the new normal” comes out of counseling or recovery ministry. It does beg the question “what is normal”.

Theoretically there is no judgement there. Normal is equilibrium, action and thought that is unique to the individual, and not the result of outside influence. So, this “new normal” is not normal. I had a whole life planned based upon my past and the general sense of past history. The “new normal” has me masked and living in a bubble. A strong Darwinian sense is the only motivator. It’s possible it won’t be enough.

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I Think Gestalt

I think what I love about poetry,
Is the spaces it creates.

Not only the scenery,
With the wild descriptions,
And the subtext messages.

But also the gaps of the story,
Filled in by the reader.

It is a sort of joint project,
The poet providing a phrase of context,
And the reader remembering the unsaid words.

In the end, the poem is true gestalt, more than the
sum of its parts.

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Rod McKuen- Stanyan Street

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After a Time

After a time, a very long time of muteness, a word was made. It was a very good word, or so it thought of itself. Perhaps it thought too highly, because the word left to go search for the best ear, in order for it to be heard. Not any ear, but the very best ear.

This brought up all sorts of judgement, categories, assessment, and labels. None of these things were natural, and certainly none of these things had anything to do with the word, except that the word felt it was justified.

The word travel the length and breadth of the land in search of an ear. It received many hints that the best ear lived just over the hill in a river valley, not far off. The word immediately went in search of the home. There was a fine home perched on a small hill, this must be the place! This word knocked on the door and waited patiently. While waiting, the word practiced being the word, and felt it would be heard correctly. But no one answered the door.

A neighbor walked by and said that the ear had left on a long trip, searching for a perfect word.

A small story for my small grandkids, but it is still true today. There are words in search of a proper venue, and there are thousands of venues scrolling past us on digital highways. Maybe there is a perfect match somewhere.

The best thing we can do is to freeze the word in time by writing or recording, and then placing it somewhere safe and accessible. Perhaps in time it may be found, or a least discovered in a concentrated search.

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Leonard Cohen- Famous Blue Raincoat

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Leonard Cohen- Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

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Leonard Cohen- Is This What You Wanted?

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Leonard Cohen- Anthem

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Family Art

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Hollywood Art

Check for some great music.

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I’m a Big Fan

I’m a big fan of Annie Dillard. I read most of her work in the 1980s, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” and “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, to name a few. I really was fond of her short stories, never quite sure that she was just fortunate to document some interesting people, or that she just brought out their interesting sides. And of course, as a writer she could have simply invented the entire character.

One particular short story was abou a man, I think living alone in a cabin, that had found an interesting stone on one of his walks, (it may have been down by the river). He brought the stone back to his house and put it on his mantle. Then he studied the stone, the more he pondered, the idea began to take shape that he would begin a process of teaching the stone to talk.

Each time he would take ten minutes to vocalize sounds and syllables, building up to words and sentences. He was at it for quite awhile. The story stuck with me for years. I’m not sure the person was real, or that he really tried to teach a stone to speak. The idea of it delighted me. I was thirty.

Now, forty years later, I have other thoughts. I still appreciate the unique “out of the box” thinking, but it comes through a filter. The dedication, or discipline, to start a process of teaching a stone to talk without considering the possibility of success is admirable. Assuming that the stone wants to communicate with us is slightly egocentric. It seems to me now, that the stone is an unwilling participant. In protest, I might not speak as well.

The next thought I have is on whether the stone is already communicating, but we are not going to listen until it speaks our language. More ego-centric concerns.

This morning I followed a thread. I would like to describe thread to you. I have a tool box, filled with files, chisels, implements to shape objects. I had left the toolbox in torrential rain, and now I paid the price. Everything had soaked in water for days and was now fully in the process of rust. The first part of the thread is that I really liked these tools and had used each one in various projects. So I patiently cleaned and re-oiled each one. I haven’t found a new toolbox yet.

The second part of the thread is that I thought about how I had used these tools in the past. The list went on for a while, but I lingered over how I had used these tools to sculpt small pieces of soapstone.

The third part of the thread was my recent study of the Second Commandment, “thou shall not have graven images of anything above the earth, on the earth, or in the sea.” Well, that seems specific. In fact, there has not been one example of a Jewish statue found it antiquity. Lots of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian, Canaanite… but nothing in Israel.

Clearly statues of people can become idols, but so can some animals/objects. And forty years after the commandment was given, God told Moses to put a “fiery serpent” on a staff for all to see, and to cure them of snakebite. I’m pretty sure this was a graven image, so did God change his mind?

This thread challenged my self identity. I had always thought of myself as a maker of graven images. Sometimes using only my hands with clay, mostly using stone with hand tools.

The fourth part of the thread is going to the front porch to find that chunk of soapstone that had been there for at least five years. There it was, hiding under the table. So then, I carry it to the back porch where all my resurrected tools are waiting, and I prepare to make something.

My process is to look very carefully at the stone, turning it around several times in my hands. I’m looking for any cracks or veins that stand out. How solid is this piece, how stable? Then, I ponder about what figure is hidden within the stone? The famous Michelangelo statement. what is the stone saying to me?

This is when the thread comes back to Dillard’s teaching the stone to talk.

So, I start to use the tools to begin shaping something. I’m really not sure what it might be. I’m making some very general reductions, I’ve determined a base, and now I’m beginning to rough out an object, nothing defined, not man, women or boy. Not plant or animal. So far, just an object connected to a base. I’m using s small hammer, a saw, and a “pointing” chisel. Tapping the chisel gently removes small chunks. Filing or carving, creates tons of dust and takes a long time to rough out an object.

I’ve got about an hour into the project, and I was just about to chip off a small piece that would give the final edge to help define the future object. One small tap, and the piece broke off, then the entire cube of soapstone also fractured right down the middle, creating two almost equal pieces. The stone had spoken, I was not going to have enough real estate to make any of the future objects I was contemplating.

The stone had communicated with some finality. I didn’t like it, and at first I was a little miffed that I had not seen the “flaw” that created the fracture. That is some more ego-centric based thought. It was a flaw because it foiled my predetermined plan to make something. It wasn’t a flaw to the stone, it was just a line of fracture should there come a time when the stone was turning into dust. Very natural.

The final thread was to revisit Annie Dillard and her story of stones that refused to talk. But maybe I just heard one this morning.

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“I don’t understand!”

“Well, I’m not surprised. Did you perhaps take any theoretical physics classes? Do you have a vague understanding of ‘string theory’? Are you at least aware of the electrical activity of your physical brain?”

“Yes, of course. I know about synapses and maybe a little about dementia. I’m not so sure about psychosis, and perhaps what I’m experiencing right now.”

“Okay then, one more time. You’re dead, or at least your body has died. This isn’t heaven, or even purgatory. Maybe they both exist, but for right now, this is what you have. The essence of who you were was a collection of electrical charges that continued outside your physical body, and found itself in the electro-mechanical properties of what we might call the ‘fifth dimension’, not the group you might remember, but a couple of dimensions up from the three dimensional world that you knew so well.”

“Umm, how do you know this?”

“Great question, I don’t know. We don’t have books, and no internet, I wish I knew what that was like. Everything so far seems to be a thought download from others, who have been here longer. In a way, it’s like an ‘oral tradition’, except we don’t really speak, or hear. You might notice that my lip memory is a little out of sync from the thoughts that I’m communicating to you. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve forgotten some physical controls.

You are going to meet some people that don’t even bother with lips or ears. In fact, some go all the way, becoming glowing balls of electrical light.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that on the way here, in fact, I was surrounded by them at first. They seemed to know me.”

“Sure, they were your direct ancestral family. Electrical DNA is still a thing. It’s a lot easier to connect, or maintain connection. Close friends somehow make the connection as well, so some of those that greeted you might have been friends from the past. It’s a bit of a shock, so maybe… well, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t understand. Haha, “walk towards the light,” and all that!”

“Umm. No one said walk towards the light. I just remember going in for a procedure, then waking up here.”

“Well, everybody is different. Oh, by the way, I’m your great grandfather, mother’s side, call me Michael.”

“Really? Damn, no one knows anything about you. You left a wife and six kids two years after you came over. People think you went to Canada and were eaten by wolves.”

“Almost true, I was looking for work, for several months, I got drunk and joined the Canadian Army, went to France and got gassed. Then I was here.”

“So, you’ve been here awhile?”

“Well, time is more of a ‘fourth dimension’ thing. As eternal creatures, we begin to restructure our thoughts about time. It’s accurate enough to say that I’ve been here awhile. It’s nice to know that I’m still remembered.”

“Not in a good way!”

“Your great grandmother is here, and she seems fine with me. Of course she has more experience with my electrical essence.”

“Are your flaws also recorded?”

‘“Every thought and deed is recorded. It is what it is.”

“Okay, okay, so just tell me. What’s next? What am I supposed to do? Where do I go? Am I waiting for something? Is there like… a judgement or something?”

“Dunno, maybe. So far, I’ve only noticed one thing.”

“Well, tell me! I want to know!”

“Um, well… sometimes you can see some people slowly fade. I mean their image fades. Doesn’t seem to matter if they have kept their body image or the ‘ball of light’, they just seem to slowly discharge, then ‘poof’, they are gone. I’ve seen it myself, hundreds of times, maybe more. Again, it’s just something I know, counting is not the answer. It isn’t true because of numbers.”

“Well, we aren’t exactly solid anyhow, transparent is more accurate. But you say that we can get more transparent, and then we are gone? Do we go somewhere else?”

“Well, if we are eternal, then yeah, we probably go somewhere else, but no one has come back to explain it. It just happens.”

“It happens to everyone?”

“Well, yes and no. Again, time is a slippery thing here. But I’ve been told that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle still hang out, and they don’t seem any the worse for wear. Then again, others seem barely visible.”

“This can’t be happening, there must be some rational structure. There has to be reasons for things. Tell me what most people who have been here a while, what do they think?”

“Okay, okay. There are theories, but only theories. It seems that our electromechanical connection in this fifth dimension is connected to the electromechanical structure back there in the third dimension. Not sure how that works, but it seems to be true.”

“Tell me more.”

“Back there we were created as a unique person, our physical bodies created electromechanical impulses that extend here. When we left there, that gave us only our electromechanical essence here, but not maintained by our physical body because that was buried or cremated. Are you following this?”

“Yes, of course. Wait, so what is our connection back ‘there’, if we have no physical body?”

“Exactly… good question. Memories! Other people’s memories, which are still electromechanical and somehow sustain that connection to those of us that haven’t faded.”

“Wait…so you are saying, because my family remembers me then I get to be who I was, here in this place?”

“Well, it’s a theory.”

“And I suppose, if you somehow managed to write a book, or get discovered as a long lost poet, then you don’t fade away?”

“Yes, it does explain why some people seemed to fade, and then mysteriously come back stronger, only to fade again. Can’t really be sure because we can’t know what is going on back there? It’s all conjecture.”

“So, souls are connected, and if you are forgotten there, you disappear here?

‘“Yep, pretty much it. Except, the Electromechanical DNA factor changes things, sorta. Who we are here, is based upon the person we were from our existence… and the electromechanical essence created by others who only read about us is based upon their memories. Something gets lost.”

“This is getting weird. I am who I am!”

“Careful there, only one essence can actually say that…”

“God, are you talking about God? Is he here? Can we go see him?”

“Umm, maybe. No one seems to know. It seems reasonable.”

“This just got weirder. Are you telling me that we can tell when we are forgotten? And we can tell the difference between the family remembering us and when someone else just reads a book, or sees a movie about us.”

“That wasn’t so hard, it’s taken others a lot more time to get this, if we had a better sense of time in the first place.”

“So, our purpose here is only to wait, and watch until we fade away, and then we move on to some other place. Unless we are recreated as a fictional memory, then we are stuck here until media itself disappears back there?”

“Well, maybe. It’s hard to say. Physics in the fifth dimension doesn’t seem to be an exact science.

I can’t say for sure, but I get the feeling that maybe someone in my own family never knew of my existence, except in the sense that I must have existed because DNA got passed along. Then, suddenly, old records popped up, maybe a photo or two. Then I get mentioned at some family dinners. And here I feel more like me, like the person that I remember. I’ve been told that the fictional electromechanical essences know that their real essence is gone, but they don’t have any memory of it.”

“At least that’s the sense of the last download I remember. See that? I can explain this so much better with the new technology of your time. Download is so much more accurate than how this was explained to me. We talked about “essence letters” back then, potentially very confusing. What language were they in? Was it paper or parchment?

“Can I take a nap?”


(From a partially awake dream)

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The Orders

Teutonic Knight, Wilhelm von Ütgenbach, Herr zu Ehrenstein. My 18th great grandfather, and his grandfather, Teutonic Knight, Gerlach von Ütgenbach und Ehrenstein. My 20th great grandfather,

Teutonic Knight, Gottfried III, von und zu der Heess. My 17th great grandfather

They belonged to a crusading military order, officially named the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, founded as a military order c. 1192 in Acre, Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Teutonic Order was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, having a small voluntary and mercenary military membership, serving as a crusading military order for protection of Christians in the Holy Land and the Baltics during the Middle Ages.

It is also true that there were many other reasons for a noble house to join an order beyond the stated “protecting pilgrims”. While it is important to always be aware of changing motivations, it is also cynical to believe that the founding reasons weren’t sincere. Within a very short time there were more than a dozen military orders that a noble family could pick from in order to assist in their need for piety in action. Basically, there had been two lines for the male children to follow, there were the succession lines, princes that would succeed their fathers, perhaps two or three in number. Then there wer male children that were dedicated to the Church, to become priests or bishops, or perhaps scholars. The creation of military orders was a third option. You could still utilize your military training, but do it in the service of the Church, and the Grandmaster of the order.

The most famous of the Orders is probably the Templar’s, or the Order of the Temple, as they took residence on the Temple Mount after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. Much has been written about the First Crusade, but there is no doubt that the timing was just about right for the Crusaders, the main fighting force they expected was busy somewhere else putting down rebellion.

Actually, the first Crusade is really in two parts, the first part was composed primarily of peasants, women, children, and a few militia that set off for thr a Holy Land under the guidance of Peter the Hermit. They couldn’t wait for the organized military, they would go, and conquer the county because “God wills it”. Along the way they would terrorize local communities, commit atrocities, pogroms against Jews, pillaging villages for food, etc. The Byzantine Empire was between them and the Holy Land and they did not respect the Empire. The Empire was Greek Orthodox, and that was barely a Christian. The city was closed to the horde, so they moved on into Seljuk Muslim countryside. Within weeks they were either slaughtered, or captured, and sold into slavery. Not one of the People’s Crusade made it anywhere near Jerusalem, anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 people went missing.

The official part of the First Crusade is sometimes called the Prince’s Crusade, because it was led by five princes from the noble houses in Europe. This was the premier fighting force of knights trained to do battle. They were also political to the extent that the Byzantine Empire received and supported them. They were intended to win back the lands that the Empire had lost. This was not something that the princes ended up doing, treaty or no treaty.

The reality of fighting in the Holy Land became very evident. There was a need to provide protection for Christian pilgrims. As the numbers of pilgrimages increased the local authorities did not see them as helpful tourists. The Muslims had taken Jerusalem from the Byzantines, and they were not giving it back. A few churches had remained occupied throughout the Muslim takeover, but this increase in pilgrimages was seen as a threat.

The five top military orders in terms of power and influence were: the Templar’s, the Hospitaliers, the Teutonic Order, the Order of Santiago, and the Order of the Sepulcher. Most had centers of operational control, most had established hospitals for pilgrimage and Crusaders, some were also fully trained as medical doctors. All were heavily armored and supported by their families and home countries, some orders became very wealthy with donations in cash and land.

Overtime, the pressure and temptation of wealth and power overwhelmed the primary mission of the orders. And of course, eventually they lost all that they had gained by losing territory. Jerusalem fell, and they retreated to Antioch and Acca. Antioch fell, and they were pushed out of Acca. They went to Cypress in order to reorganize for another attempt at Jerusalem. They were pushed out of Cypress, and the Hospitaliers went to Malta. The Templar’s became advisors to most of the kings in Europe, and abandoned any attempt of protecting pilgrims. They had become financial bankers to royalty, using the wealth that had been donated for a different cause. Eventually, Philip IV of France, with the Pope’s blessing, attacked the leadership throughout his country on one day, trying capture the control and wealth of the order. They mostly succeeded, although there are still rumors of Hidden Templar Treasure. While other counties did not arrest and execute Templar’s, their power was broken.

The Teutonic Knights were the only order that simply moved to a different location, and continued the fight against pagans, they went North, to the Baltic area. The local Christian kings were under constant attack from various groups. The Teutonic Knights came in with their experience in the Holy Land and made a difference. Within two hundred years most had converted to Christianity. The Teutonic Knights had also nearly wiped out the pagan Prussians. When the Prussians had captured a knight they generally threw him, and his horse into a bonfire, armor and all.

After years of conflict, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania were all Christian and the Teutonic Knights lost their mission. The kings withdrew there support and the order reformed to do charitable work. This is true today with almost all of the orders that still remain. Only the Templar’s are missing completely.

My three great grandfathers had taken a vow to be in the service of the Grand Master, and the Order. They had families, they had property, but they also had a religious commitment to serve the Church with their sword.

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I am pondering

This is always a potentially dangerous start. On this blog it could be literally anything. This thought is about numbers, and how we use them to find an edge to a concept. My daughter just gave us a lot of plums from her tree. Yes, she owns a tree. They bought a house, it came with land, and the land had a tree. For the first time in her life she owns fruit from a tree. She gave us a lot of plums. Okay, she gave us 22 plums, ( I just ate two, so that means 20).

I point this out because when it was just a “lot of plums” it was a thought of a generous amount. Suddenly, when it was 22 it had edges, a finite amount that was going to quickly decrease. It is still good to number things, to find the “edges” of concepts.

I have been researching and writing about great grandparents. Because we exist we have grandparents. Because of biology we each have the same number of grandparents. Because of biology it’s a factor of two. I only know of one example where a earthly human only has one parent. Thousands of people only know of one parent. Hundreds of thousands do not know any of their grandparent, but they had to exist.

I have tried to be aware of my grandparents and great grandparents. To the extent that it is knowable, I want to find their names, and maybe a little about their story. So far, if the databases are correct, I have a total of 4,264 great grand parent names, going back over 2,000 years. That sounds like a lot.

But here is the problem. If you only consider me, the one individual, I have 8 great grandparents that were alive in the early 1900s. That seems possible, 8 out of millions of folks in the world. But if you take just one persons ancestors back 40 generations, how many people is that? According to the math, it took 1,099,511,627,776 people to create me.

40 generations means about 1500 years ago approximately. Apparently, just to create me (or you),there were 1,099,511,627,776 people in the year 500. Of course they were also busy creating a number of other people, all of whom are my cousins. But the point is that the planet did not have that many people at that time, so… I know I’m obviously missing something fairly important. One that stands out is that I only know of about 3,000 of the 1,099,511,627,776 possible great grandparents.

Biology is a fact. Numbers related to biology should also be a fact. There must be a logical reason for the discrepancy. Even if I have hundreds of great grandparents that are doubling up, or cousins marrying cousins, it doesn’t change the numbers that much. I have searched articles about this and none have answered my question to the extent that I understand, numbers have proven that I am dense.

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Is it the Person? Or is it Fear?

I have the pondered the point of writing this. Do I expect that I will change minds? Sadly, no I don’t. Primarily because on the basis of WordPress analytics I have approximately 7.5 readers per week, and three of them repeat every other day. I am not an influencer, nor am I ever likely to go viral.

So I generally write history for history sake. I wouldn’t be able to sit at history’s feet and not comment on these historic times.

First thing, I do not play well with others. I am on Facebook, and periodically i get a request from a Facebook friend to make a comment, then cut and paste a certain paragraph and pass it on. An electronic version of a chain letter. I didn’t do it with stamps, and I’m not doing it with the internet.

Recently it has been suggested that I “take a knee” in support of the current protests around the country. Ha, I’m a child of the Sixties, raised near Berkeley. I protested from the time I was 14 or 15, from Free Speech, People’s Park and the San Francisco Vietnam Peace March. I have some experience. I will not take a knee.

There are reasons to protest, sometimes it helps to change things, most times it only changes the protester. That can go well, or it can south.

One of the things I learned in the Army (I was drafted, but later I re-enlisted) is to salute the uniform. You can disagree with the man, even hate the man, but you respect the uniform and the concept ot military authority.

But sometimes you protest the injustice given to an individual. JFK, RFK, or MLK being murdered. You feel like you know them, it seems personal, and they rightfully become martyrs, and icons/examples for senseless injustice. Were they perfect? Not at all, but they were not so imperfect…

The individual that has risen to heroic levels in this current crisis is anything but heroic. He was a violent man, convicted in a court of law for breaking into a home, holding a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman, while his friends looted the home. This was the primary of his offenses, which are lengthy, but the sum total paints the picture of a man that should never be a role model. Nevertheless, what happened to him was unjust.

Can we say his crimes were the result of his social condition? That’s a slippery road, some people had things much worse and lived better lives. We need to improve conditions. Having an ordered life, a strong family, with well paid jobs reduces crime.

For me, i back up and don’t go down the road I don’t know. I know about the reactions that the Police have been exhibiting for years. There are many factors, it is a stressful job, their lives are at risk, there are people who wish them harm. But the numbers do not support that it is rising. Yet their reaction seems to tell me they think otherwise. Enforce better training, reduce the fear.

I can support the protest that brings light to the injustice caused by unsupported fear. And action based upon solid facts and evidence will make a change. In this case, not the man, or the senseless greed and revenge.

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Brunehilde der Wisigothen

Or better known as Brunnhilda of the Visigoths. I am stepping out from my usual story telling to include this tale of the wife of my 40th great uncle, not grandfather, Sigebert I, King of Austrasia.

For some of us the name Brunnhilda brings up the cartoon of Broomhilda, certainly a clever use of the name. The green skinned witch dressed in black is a far cry from the tall, blonde, pigtailed, armor bearing shield maiden. The operatic Brunnhilda of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a cycle of four German language epic music dramas. Wagner appears to have used an old German fable that may have been based on an older Norse fable called, the Völsunga saga and some Eddic poems.

There are many versions of the tale, in most of them Sigebert, or Sigurd/Siegfried, is a “go between” for a suitor that wants to marry Brunnhilda. Unfortunately, the suitor does not have the strength to penetrate the shield wall (or the wall of flames) around Brunnhilda’s tower. So Sigurd/Siegbert/Siegfried changes shape into the suitor, gains entry into the tower and takes away Brunnhilda’s virginity. As a reward she gives him her belt and a ring.

Later in the tale, Brunnhilda marries the suitor thinking that he had gotten through the flames, and Sigurd had married another Queen. So the two Queens were arguing one day about whose husband was stronger or braver. Brunnhilda claims her husband crashed through the wall of flames to take her virginity. The other Queen says that it was actually her husband that did that, and produces the belt, and the ring to prove it. Brunnhilda gets angry and plots to have Sigebert/Sigurd/Siegfried murdered. Once that is done she laughs, then commits suicide. At least that is how it ends in several versions.

The interesting part is that it seems to be based upon real real characters in history. Sigebert I was King of Austrasia about the time of Attila the Hun’s invasion of Europe. In fact some sagas have Brunnhilda the daughter of Attila. Brunnhilda did have a sister, Queen Galswintha, but Fredegund, mistress of Chilperic I of Neustria, had her murdered so that she could become Queen. It almost sounds like another opera. Fredegund goes on to have Sigebert killed and Brunnhilda imprisoned. Eventually Brunnhilda escapes for a time.

She continued to rule the kingdom, but it was no longer the handsome couple in charge, with everybody happy. Her subjects began to resent her harsh rule, and they were happy that Fredegurd’s son, Clotaire II, captured Brunnhilda, who was now 70 years old. He tortured her for days, then had four horses rip her apart, and dragged her body parts throughout the city. Clotaire II ruined the Merovingian Dynasty and paved the way for the Carolingian Mayors of the Palace to take over.

So ends the wife of my 40th great uncle, and legendary shield maiden of the opera.

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Another attempt at Terror


There was a satisfying weight in his hands. Weight meant significance, weight implied power and meaning. He had hold of a chunk of steel with power and meaning, and weight!

The folding knife with its six inch tanto styled blade was very sharp. The blade itself was nearly 1/4 thick so that the overall weight in his hand was substantial. The technical advantage, besides the strength, was that the blade had a natural desire to drop from between the slabs of G10 scales that made up of the handle. It didn’t of course, that would be foolish and dangerous. Four fingers would be sliced off in a millisecond. No, the blade remained in the handle. But it wanted to come out.

The young man thought the weight would be a comfort in his hand, but not at the bottom of his jacket pocket. On his last assignment he carried a knife with a long enough blade, but with a thin stiletto steel. It had an assisted opening mechanism which flipped the blade out quickly if he kept his fingers out of the way. It was only a very quick movement to change the grip to an upward slash at the jugular, and then withdraw in order for three quick stabs to the armpit. The gentleman made not a sound and slipped to the ground, crumpled like old newspaper. The other businessman on the subway platform barely noticed.

It was a simply job, in and out. For some reason, a reason backed by lots of money, for some reason, someone did not want the gentleman to attend this morning’s business meeting. Or perhaps a husband needed him to stop visiting his wife on Tuesdays. In any case, the job was standard, the young man had gotten it down pat and disappeared namelessly into the crowd.

Edged weapons were the tools of professionals. Most folks think the choice would be a gun, a revolver. The movies always have some long slide automatic spewing evidence as shell casings all over the room. And the sound that it makes turns every head even with the bulky silencers. The young man had entertained using a revolver that kept its shells intact, but the awkward length of the silencered barrel didn’t feel right for a quick move. He even considered a smaller .22 style derringer like some of the Mafia hit men of old. Still too noisy. He was committed to the edged weapons.

The sameness of the jobs allowed him to consider the finer subtleties. How many ways to get at a close enough range? What was the arc necessary considering his height? Was there power enough if his arm was fully extended? Did the noise of the assisted mechanism alert the target? It was good to look at the details.

Over time he obsessed with two concerns. Some rumors that potential targets were beginning to wear body armor. Not the bulky plate armor, but slim, form fitting, Kevlar based fabric. It would take penetrating power to defeat that, and his slim stiletto might be defected at some point. He still had his first jugular slash but the chest penetration for insurance might not happen. And there was still the sound to consider.

The stilettos sound was small, but sharp. It could almost be like a ball point pen click. Who would notice a random click, even if it was close? It was insignificant, and death would soon follow this insignificant sound. It began to seem unfair, like the click of a trigger when hunting. It was the click that could be heard, because the blast of the bullet came after the round had caused the death. At least this was his thought process.

He considered that the click should have more of an ominous sound. His targets should register the sound as ominous, not like a pen click. Not enough to be able to move or deflect the strike, but at least ominous enough to ponder, “What was that?”

He looked at the heavy tanto styled blade in his hands. He performed the gravity drop flip to open the blade. There was a satisfying “snick” as the blade locked open. Now that was an ominous sound! It carried weight, like the weight in his hand. It was remarkable, it was significant. It had the ability to freeze men in their tracks if they knew what it might mean. It sounded as dangerous as the sliding action of a shotgun loading a shell. Of course, most people would only hear “dangerous”, and still not move. There wouldn’t be time to move anyway, the slash is less than a second after the “snick”.

This idea began to please the young man. The idea that his target’s brain would be considering “danger” just milliseconds before his slash seemed fitting. Most of his targets were thinking about a hot cup of coffee, or how late the train is running. Wouldn’t it be better to go out by an edge, and actually be on edge. The concept brought a rare smile to his face. The same individual that warned him about the Kevlar defense fabric had suggested this heavy tanto blade. If he wasn’t his competitor he would have to thank him the next time he sees him.

Up ahead on the platform he can see his next target, briefcase in his left hand, folded newspaper in his right, reading a column. He would approach from the front, slash the jugular on the left, then penetrate the chest wall in the right armpit, just under the upraised arm.

As he moved from the wall, heading for the target, he was momentarily paralyzed by fear, not physically paralyzed because his legs kept swinging, he was paralyzed mentally because he heard the sound, and he knew what it meant.


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Chlotilde of Burgundy

My 43rd great grandmother, and wife of Clovis I, King of the Franks. Chlotilde was a Christian, but she married Clovis who was a very vigorous pagan. The Salian Franks were primarily pagan at this time, but a few were being baptized as Aryan Christians by Bishop Ulfilas. The pagan belief system was based upon sacred oak trees, rituals, a pantheon of various gods, later writers would give them the names of the Roman gods, but they were uniquely German. One of the major aspects was that they practiced polygamy. I suspect that one of the conditions of marriage was that Clovis would not have multiple wives.

The important issue was that the almost all of the Christian leadership in Europe was Aryan, and when Clovis was baptized he followed the Nicaean Creed, which was Catholic, and followed the Pope in Rome. This meant that Clovis’ descendants would also be what became as traditional Catholics, and led to the Pope to eventually declaring Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emporer. This was a bit irritating to the Eastern Orthodox Church because they technically already had a Holy Roman Emporer it was contentious for a thousand years. The Aryan Christians were eventually declared heretical and disappeared.

Chlotilde was a remarkable woman, and did not give up on her desire to have her husband come to faith. By her action the future of Europe changed, the future of the Church changed. Sometimes it comes to one individual.

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Stephen, Count of Blois

His full name is Étienne Henri ‘Stephen’ II, Count of Blois, de Champagne and de Meaux. And he was my 28th great grandfather.

This is yet another sad tale, which ends with Stephen dying in battle, a thousand miles from home. He was a Crusader.

I’ve always known that the common view of Crusaders,and the Crusades have been bad, they have been shown in a bad light. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able trace where this came from. The first sources of negativity were individuals that distrusted Roman Catholics, particularly the Pope.

The Crusades were called and presented by the Pope. There are those who cannot make the distinction between things that are “proper”, if they are voiced by someone that they do not agree with. As far back as Gibbons, who disliked the papacy, the Crusades, and Crusaders were subjected to questions of greed, power, and social injustice. So much of this has been portrayed in books and movies that the truth can barely be discerned. Most probably because certain individuals, particularly leaders, failed in major ethical ways. Case closed.

Yet there were thousands of individuals that left their comfortable homes, and lives, with no idea of power and wealth. They were committed to the idea that followers of Christ should be able to follow in Christ’s footsteps without danger, harassment, or death. This was a form of piety that had taken hold in Western Christianity, and it was a grass roots movement.

Throughout France, Spain and England, people were on pilgrimage, visiting various cathedrals through Europe. Yes, visiting relics were a goal, but not the base reason. It may have been the belief that time was short, the year 1000 was approaching. It was time to put their faith to the test. This was not something “planned” by religious leaders.

The truth is that pilgrims were in danger, and making a military decision is one method to change things. Making treaties also works, and for the most part, that was the lasting solution. The movie “Kingdom of Heaven” does a fair job of presenting multiple agendas for the Crusades, and the types of people that were on Crusade. Naturally the hero seems to be one of the few reasonable ones.

Examples of the misuse of force are rampant. On the first Crusade, long before the Crusaders left Europe, the leaders allowed murder and carnage on Jewish communities that they passed by. It was absolutely horrific genocide. We should know this. But what is often not written is that the Emporer Frederick Barbarossa was in charge of the Third Crusade. He made the decision to order his Crusaders not to attack Jewish settlements. Frederick met with the Chief Rabbi to work out the solution for a safe transit.

As a younger man, Frederick had been on an earlier Crusade, and knew what needed to be done. At one point a Crusader had fallen ill and had taken refuge in a local monastery to recover. While there, he was robbed and killed. Frederick was charged to go back to bring justice. He was very successful, and the Byzantine Empire made sure that the rest of their journey was safe.

As to Stephen, he had a very successful home, typical of a medieval count. He had eleven children, one of them destined to be a future King of England. It took a great deal of his personal wealth to support his pilgrimage, he was not in it for the money or the fame.

Actually his commitment to the Crusade was over. The rest of his companions were already taking ships to go back home. A sandstorm had delayed his journey to the port of Acca, it was at this time that he heard about an army sent from Eqypt to attack the Latin Kingdoms. Stephen had survived his Crusade but volunteered to help.

He met the opposing force at Ramleh, a place on the road to Jerusalem. There had been a lopsided victory for the Crusaders the year before. The Eygptian forces had beaten the first two formations. It was only when King Baldwin had led his reserve heavy Calvary that things changed, but many knights were lost. The next year the same forces met, this time it was 20,000 plus Egyptians meeting about thousand Crusaders. It was a disaster with most of the Crusaders wiped out.

King Baldwin and about 200 knights had taken refuge in the only tower in the city of Ramleh. Late that night he escaped with just a few of his men. Stephen was left in charge of the remainder. In the morning the full force of the Egyptians charged the tower, it came down to furious hand to hand fighting and Stephen was one of the very last. It is said that he had fought so valiantly, and so well, that if he surrendered his life would be spared. He didn’t surrender.

So my 28th great grandfather died at Ramleh, after he had already survived his sworn Crusade. He didn’t return to his home, and he didn’t find fortune. But he is remembered.

Two Hundred Knights Attack Twenty Thousand Saracens. Illustration by Gustave Doré(1877)
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Latest renderings

I have been looking at ancient sculpture, recognizing that most were painted realistically afterwards. Thinking that rendering in color might bring something more to the Stone.

Julia Caesar, Pompey’s wife and Julius Caesar’s daughter
Julius Caesar
Julius’s mother
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Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix

Most commonly know as simply “Sulla”. So much has been written about Rome, the Republic and the Empire. Fortunately there are a lot of surviving documents written during and soon after the events being described. Unfortunately, the documents written about specific characters generally fall into two camps, 1) “they were the best for Rome”, 2) “they were the worst for Rome”. I suppose things haven’t changed much.

My 68th great grandfather owned the word “dictator”. I think it was first applied to him. For centuries Rome was a republic, dedicated to the concept that good government was made by having a concensus opinion developed by representatives. It still is a sound idea. Of course their choices of representatives excluded a bunch of folk. They did have plenty of wealthy families having senator seats, and of course the military, and the great landholders. The common folk? Not so much.

Was Sulla really my great grandfather? Who knows, he was someone’s. I have reason to believe the data that led to him. I didn’t know where it would lead. After hours of clicking the button that said. “He was the son of…”, I would come to the end of the line. Then I would back up to another great grandfather, and click more buttons. The data wasn’t there for some lines. This particular line led to Rome, and considering that thousands have studied Roman lineage, and that hundreds of Roman writers have written about their heritage, well, the data seems better than average, so yeah, Sulla seems to be my great grandfather.

So what do I know about Sulla, more than that he was a dictator? I’ve seen him portrayed in movies, he seemed pretty harsh. But then, here is a man that went against everything that he society held dear. He seized control! He had a better plan for government, he would make the decisions, it would be done his way. Was he egotistical? Or was he responding to incompetence?

In either case, his actions set the stage for future leaders. You could take control, it was possible to undo structure. It could lead to Empires with an Emperor. In fact there is no doubt that years later Julius Caesar would say, “if Sulla can do it, so can I!”

I suppose every strong man that overthrows democracy can look to Sulla as the inspiration, because it started with him. We had lots of experiences with warlords and kings, but they generally came from a history of chaos and anarchy. This was different. The government might have been broken, but the structure to recover was there.

There are several books written about the person of Sulla. Now that I have this curious connection I am inspired to develop a Kindle account.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix
“The Dictator“
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This is a Sad Tale

There was a people that were displaced, and finding it hard to make their way in the world. In the east there were hordes of men on horseback that were killing and enslaving the survivors. Each year they seemed to be pressing valley by valley, forcing people to flee West into the lands of the hated Romans.

There wasn’t a specific reason for the hate, except that the Romans were filled with themselves as the rulers of the world. And that they looked down on the people, calling them barbaric. They sat on one side of the Great River, in their log forts, traded small amounts, but kept the people from rich lands, and safety from the real barbarians in the East.

One of the only methods of gaining entry was to sell your fighting skills in their army. That way you could get a small piece of land secured on the other side of the river, to raise your family.

You fought, bled, and died for Rome, but she did not honor you. Many of the mercenaries rose in the ranks, became generals commanding legions, but not Roman legions. One such general was my 47th great grandfather Theodemir, who was King of the Franks, living in Gaul. He fought for Rome, and the many political factions in the Senate. His father was a Roman Consul, Flavius Richomeres, leader of Rome. But Richomeres had married Ascyla of the Franks, his mother. There was bare recognition of his barbarian wife and child.

When Flavius Richomeres died, Ascyla went north to live with her son. As King of the Franks, Theodemir worked hard to get as many of his people on the safe side of the river, away from the barbarians of the East. Factions in Rome were not happy about this. Eventually Theodemir aligned himself with Senators that fell out of favor, and an army was sent to Gaul to punish the Franks. The memory of lost Roman legions fighting in the Teutoburg Forest came back to them, Emperor Varus had led three Legions to their deaths 400 years earlier. Rome still remembered this. Theodemir was captured, shackled, and brought to Rome, along with his family, and his mother, the widow of the former Consul of Rome.

The friends in the Senate were quiet, they were barbarians after all. The entire family was executed by sword August 14, 414. My 47th great grandfather and my 48th great grandmother gave their lives to Rome, but they were not honored.

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Count Godefroi I, the Captive

Godfrey I (died 1002), called “the Prisoner” or “the Captive” ( le Captif), sometimes the Old (le Vieux), was the count of Bidgau and Methingau from 959. and the sovereign count of Verdun in 963 to his death. He was also my 32nd great grandfather.

It seems that a few of my relatives have earned a sobriquet, a nickname. Some were interesting twists “Barefot” was actually “Bareleg” because he had taken to wearing kilts. “Bluetooth”, because he had a dead tooth root, or that he loved blueberries, perhaps both. Some even had the phrase “the Great”, although that appears to have come later in their time. I don’t exactly see a friend actually say, “Oh, look, here comes “the Great!”.

Then there are the very misleading ones, “the Unready”, which apparently was because he took bad advice. Or even “Hardrada” because his advice was hard. Worse yet, “the Simple”, lets hope that he wasn’t also vicious.

This relative of mine was apparently called “the Captive” or “the Prisoner”. To his face!

The whole cultural to the royals at this time was war and military showmanship. And this was not about going around the countryside “righting wrongs” and freeing damsels in distress. In fact, I’ve read at least a dozen times when my relatives were being carted off as booty. From both sides! The royal Houses basically tried to keep their power by having enough children to marry with political advantages.

And when that didn’t work they simply attacked.

The spiritual leader at the time, the Pope, was constantly trying to put out fires. He was beseeched from all sides to end the senseless fighting. Well, technically, he was only beseeched by the losing side. He didn’t have much power, apart from ex-communicating, but the Pope did that quite often. Sometimes it worked.

Much has been written about the reasons for the Crusades, unfortunately, much has been poorly researched, and they target other agendas. But one thing was apparently correct. The Pope saw that asking the royal Houses to go fight in a distant place would keep them from fighting each other in their own countries. Unfortunately they fought each other in the distant lands as well.

My 32nd great grandfather apparently was on the losing side of at least three conflicts in order to earn the sub-title “the Captive”. It was lucky that he wasn’t killed. It’s true that battles were very bloody, but unless it was in the heat of a battle, or being drowned by running away, most royals survived the battles.

There was good reason for this. Royals either had money, or they could raise money, and soldiers were not paid a salary, they took their wages in loot or ransoms, provided they won.

Another thing I learned is that the development of better armor extended lives. Better armor meant encasing the whole body in steel, and it was very difficult to recognize who was who on the battlefield, so there was lots of flags around to let people know who to fight. Should you stray from the flags you could always be known for the emblem on your shield, if you lost your shield then your cloak had the same emblems, and perhaps the crest on your helmet had your symbol.

The picture that I am painting is that the two sides would face each other as different sides in a conflict. Yes, there might have been significant “reasons” for the conflict… but one thing is for certain. Over there, under the colorful flags, were people that if I can capture, would set me up for life, and I wouldn’t have to fight these wars anymore. Kill or wound anyone getting in the way, but head for the colorful royals and make them your prisoner.

Another painful reality is that the price desired was always more than what was available, so you had to keep your prisoners until the sum was raised.

My great grandfather was captured three times and spent a total of fifteen years in three different dungeons. Perhaps some treated him better than others.

I don’t know if my great grandfather was a good man, losing doesn’t mean that you were bad, it’s just that it was bad for you. Walking around around with the nickname or “the Captive”, not only reminded you that you picked the losing side, but it also meant that your family, your house, and your lands, had to raise lots of money to return you to your castle on the the hill.

That’s a life long burden.

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Latest Sketchbook work…

Ragnar Sigurdsson
My 34th great grandfather
Vseslav Bryachislavich, the Sorcerer of Kiev.
My 26th great grandfather.
Saint Olga Elena Prekrasa
My 29th great-grandmother.
Fulk V, King in Jerusalem.
My 26th great grandfather.
Bertrade Montfort.
My 25th great grandmother.
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Dusk brings quiet. The noise of work slows, even the birds seem to shelter in place. We are still sheltering in place. One early evening, after about a month of sheltering, I heard what appeared to be a coyote. It seemed very close, close enough to upset my dog, so he barked. I’ve heard them before in the neighborhood, so it’s not unusual, but this was close. Then dusk took over and it was quiet.

The next day, about the same time, a few minutes after sunset, I heard the same clear call, two or three times, then it was quiet again. The following day it was the repeated. Now I had figured that a local dog had learned the howl, that’s why it was so close, and now a few other dogs were answering the call. My dog just barked.

This has been going on for about a month, same time, same duration. There have been times when I thought maybe it’s not a dog, or a coyote. It was too plaintiff, there was a subtle ache to the timbre.

This evening we took a short walk through the neighborhood at dusk. The dog needed his walk, we had gotten about two blocks from home when I heard the first howl, I had learned the voice, I recognized the pitch and volume. It came from the house directly across the street from where I was standing. It came from the back porch that I could see. It came from the man standing on the porch, the local neighbor.

His howl was promptly answered by yet another neighbor three or four houses down, and yet another neighbor two or three streets away. For two or three minutes I was surrounded by howls from every corner of the compass, and then dusk took over and it was quiet again. My wife howled softly.

The shelter in place does keep you safe, but it also brings stress.

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Fulk, King in Jerusalem

He was my 24th great grandfather, also known as Fulk the Younger. He was the Count of Anjou (as Fulk V) from 1109 to 1129 and the King of Jerusalem from 1131 to his death. During his reign, the Kingdom of Jerusalem reached its largest territorial extent.

Yes, my great grandfather was a Crusader, not only the but so were more than two dozen great grandfathers as far as I can tell. At this point I think it is important to rank a little bit. It certainly not politically correct to support Crusaders. Not only were they vicious killers, but they went to a country to murder the inhabitants and set up their own kingdoms. And they didn’t really discriminate, if you didn’t speak French, German, English, Italian, Spanish you were potentially slaughtered. Thousands of Greeks, Jews and native born Christians were victims. This is not in all cases, but it happened. I recall reading about the fall of Jerusalem, where the Crusaders killed so many that the blood ran in the streets and collected in the lower parts of the city, where it was up to the horses knees.

Yes, I’m glad this was in the past.

So the rule for critical thinking is not to judge historical individuals out of their own times. That’s pretty hard unless you make the effort to study the times.

In Christian history there was a period of “going on a pilgrimage”. We have that in English literature with Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. And even bigger pilgrimage was going on the Camino de Santiago, the road to Saint James Cathedral in Compostela. This makes for some interesting reading. There is even a current movie about a father undertaking this journey. It may have started earlier but written records began appearing around 1000. Traveling to visit the grave of Saint James was an act of piety.

It didn’t take long that hundreds of pilgrim were heading to the Holy Alan day. There had been dozens of monks that had made the trip, but now there were crowds going. It didn’t take long before the local authorities began to abuse these wayfarers.

The first crusades were from 1096-1099, the first was often called the People’s Crusade. Led by a French priest called Peter the Hermit, it was mostly comprised of the poor or Europe. With few actual soldiers they passed through Germany, committed many massacres, largely anti-Jewish, and when the Emperor at Constantinople got rid of them they were set upon by the Seljuk Turks and they were massacred, all 60,000, miles before they got to the Holy Land.

The Princes Crusade was the second part of the first crusade. It was better led by five bales leaders of Europe, Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse; the Italo-Normans Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred; the brothers Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin who led forces from Lotharingia and Germany.

The total amount of people attacking was well over 100,000. By chance the main Seljuk army was busy somewhere else, so they were successful and set up at least four principalities, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the County of Tripoli

The intention was to rule the Holy Land and provide protection to pilgrims.

According to Wikipedia…”The causes of the First Crusade are widely debated among historians. While the relative weight or importance of the various factors may be the subject of ongoing disputes, it is clear that the First Crusade came about from a combination of factors earlier in the 11th century in both Europe and the Near East. In Western Europe, Jerusalem was increasingly seen as worthy of penitential pilgrimages. The Seljuk hold on Jerusalem was weak, and the group lost the city to the Fatimids, and returning pilgrims, such as the Great German Pilgrimage of 1064–1065, reported difficulties and the oppression of Christians. The Byzantine need for military support coincided with an increase in the willingness of the western European warrior class to accept papal military command. Western Christians wanted a more effective church and demonstrated an increased piety. From 1000 there was an increasing number of pilgrimages to the Holy Land using safer routes through Hungary. The knighthood and aristocracy developed new devotional and penitential practises that created a fertile ground for crusading recruitment.

The motivation of the Crusaders is unknown. There may have been a spiritual dimension seeking absolution through warfare. At one time historian Georges Duby‘s theory that crusades offered economic and social opportunity for younger, aristoctaic landless sons was popular amongst historians but this was challenged because it does not account for the wider kinship groups in Germany and Southern France. Gesta Francorum talks about the opportunity for plunder and “great booty”. Adventure was another explanation including the enjoyment of warfare. As was the fact that many crusaders had no choice as they obliged to follow their feudal lords.”

There are many scholars that have quietly written about the positive aspects of the Crusades, but I’ll leave that to your own research. Back to my 24th great grandfather.

Fulk was born at Angers, between 1089 and 1092, the son of Count Fulk IV of Anjou and Bertrade de Montfort. I have already written about how Bertrade deserted Fulk in 1092 for Philip I, who she bigamously.

He became count of Anjou upon his father’s death in 1109. In the next year, he married Ermengarde of Maine, cementing Angevin control over the County of Maine. We don’t know if he got a divorce from Bertrade.

Fulk went on crusade in 1119 or 1120, and became attached to the Knights Templar (Orderic Vitalis). He returned, late in 1121, after which he began to subsidize the Templars, maintaining two knights in the Holy Land for a year. Much later, Henry arranged for his daughter Matilda to marry Fulk’s son Geoffrey of Anjou, which she did in 1127 or 1128.

Baldwin II had no male heirs but had already designated his daughter Melisende to succeed him. Baldwin II wanted to safeguard his daughter’s inheritance by marrying her to a powerful lord. Fulk was a wealthy crusader and experienced military commander, and a widower. His experience in the field would prove invaluable in a frontier state always in the grip of war.

However, Fulk held out for better terms than mere consort of the Queen; he wanted to be king alongside Melisende. Baldwin II, reflecting on Fulk’s fortune and military exploits, acquiesced. Fulk abdicated his county seat of Anjou to his son Geoffrey and left for Jerusalem, where he married Melisende on 2 June 1129. Later Baldwin II bolstered Melisende’s position in the kingdom by making her sole guardian of her son by Fulk, Baldwin III, born in 1130.

Fulk and Melisende became joint rulers of Jerusalem in 1131 with Baldwin II’s death. From the start Fulk assumed sole control of the government, excluding Melisende altogether. He favored fellow countrymen from Anjou to the native nobility. The other crusader states to the north feared that Fulk would attempt to impose the suzerainty of Jerusalem over them, as Baldwin II had done; but as Fulk was far less powerful than his deceased father-in-law, the northern states rejected his authority. Melisende’s sister Alice of Antioch, exiled from the Principality by Baldwin II, took control of Antioch once more after the death of her father. She allied with Pons of Tripoli and Joscelin II of Edessa to prevent Fulk from marching north in 1132; Fulk and Pons fought a brief battle before peace was made and Alice was exiled again.

In Jerusalem as well, Fulk was resented by the second generation of Jerusalem Christians who had grown up there since the First Crusade. These “natives” focused on Melisende’s cousin, the popular Hugh II of Le Puiset, count of Jaffa, who was devotedly loyal to the Queen. Fulk saw Hugh as a rival, and it did not help matters when Hugh’s own stepson accused him of disloyalty. In 1134, in order to expose Hugh, Fulk accused him of infidelity with Melisende. Hugh rebelled in protest. Hugh secured himself to Jaffa, and allied himself with the Muslims of Ascalon. He was able to defeat the army set against him by Fulk, but this situation could not hold. The Patriarch interceded in the conflict, perhaps at the behest of Melisende. Fulk agreed to peace and Hugh was exiled from the kingdom for three years, a lenient sentence.

However, an assassination attempt was made against Hugh. Fulk, or his supporters, were commonly believed responsible, though direct proof never surfaced. The scandal was all that was needed for the queen’s party to take over the government in what amounted to a palace coup. Author and historian Bernard Hamilton wrote that Fulk’s supporters “went in terror of their lives” in the palace. Contemporary author and historian William of Tyre wrote of Fulk “he never attempted to take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without (Melisende’s) consent”. The result was that Melisende held direct and unquestioned control over the government from 1136 onwards. Sometime before 1136 Fulk reconciled with his wife, and a second son, Amalric was born.

Securing the borders

Jerusalem’s northern border was of great concern. Fulk had been appointed regent of the Principality of Antioch by Baldwin II. As regent he had Raymond of Poitou marry the infant Constance of Antioch, daughter of Bohemund II and Alice of Antioch, and niece to Melisende. However, the greatest concern during Fulk’s reign was the rise of Atabeg Zengi of Mosul.

In 1137 Fulk was defeated in battle near Baarin but allied with Mu’in ad-Din Unur, the vizier of Damascus. Damascus was also threatened by Zengi. Fulk captured the fort of Banias, to the north of Lake Tiberias and thus secured the northern frontier.

Fulk also strengthened the kingdom’s southern border. His butler Paganus built the fortress of Kerak to the east of the Dead Sea, and to help give the kingdom access to the Red Sea, Fulk had Blanchegarde, Ibelin, and other forts built in the south-west to overpower the Egyptian fortress at Ascalon. This city was a base from which the Egyptian Fatimids launched frequent raids on the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Fulk sought to neutralise this threat.

In 1137 and 1142, Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus arrived in Syria attempting to impose Byzantine control over the crusader states. John’s intention of making a pilgrimage, accompanied by his impressive army, to Jerusalem alarmed Fulk, who wrote to John pointing out that his kingdom was poor and could not support the passage of a large army. This lukewarm response dissuaded John from carrying through his intention, and he postponed his pilgrimage. John died before he could make good his proposed journey to Jerusalem.


In 1143, while the king and queen were in Acre, Fulk was killed in a hunting accident.[3] His horse stumbled, fell, and Fulk’s skull was crushed by the saddle, “and his brains gushed forth from both ears and nostrils”, as William of Tyre describes. He was carried back to Acre, where he lay unconscious for three days before he died. He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Though their marriage started in conflict, Melisende mourned for him privately as well as publicly. Fulk was survived by his son Geoffrey of Anjou by his first wife, and Baldwin III and Amalric I by Melisende.


According to William, Fulk was “a ruddy man, like David… faithful and gentle, affable and kind… an experienced warrior full of patience and wisdom in military affairs.” His chief fault was an inability to remember names and faces.

William of Tyre described Fulk as a capable soldier and able politician, but observed that Fulk did not adequately attend to the defense of the crusader states to the north. Ibn al-Qalanisi (who calls him al-Kund Anjur, an Arabic rendering of “Count of Anjou”) says that “he was not sound in his judgment nor was he successful in his administration.” The Zengids continued their march on the crusader states, culminating in the fall of the County of Edessa in 1144, which led to the Second Crusade (see Siege of Edessa).


In 1110, Fulk married Ermengarde of Maine (died 1126), the daughter of Elias I of Maine. Their four children were:

Geoffrey V of Anjou (1113–1151), father of Henry II of England.

Sibylla of Anjou (1112–1165, Bethlehem), married in 1123 William Clito (div. 1124), married in 1134 Thierry, Count of Flanders.

Matilda of Anjou (1106–1154, Fontevrault), married William Adelin; after his death in the White Ship disaster of 1120, she became a nun and later Abbess of Fontevrault.

Elias II of Maine (died 1151)

His second wife was Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem

Baldwin III of Jerusalem

Amalric I of Jerusalem

It’s possible that this is Bertrade before she left him.
Yes, he was a Plantagenet, with future English kings in the making.
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Bertrade de Montfort

She was my 25th great grandmother, and a very interesting lady. First, she must have been extremely beautiful, and secondly she didn’t seem to mind being a bigamist. She was born in 1070, and lived to 14 February 1117.

She was the daughter of Simon I de Montfort and Agnes of Evreux. Her brother was Amaury de Montfort.

The chronicler John of Marmoutier would recount:

‘The lecherous Fulk then fell passionately in love with the sister of Amaury de Montfort, whom no good man ever praised save for her beauty.”

Bertrade and Fulk were married, and they became the parents of a son, Fulk, who became King in Jerusalem.

However, in 1092 Bertrade left her husband to go live with King Philip I of France. Philip married her on 15 May 1092, despite the fact that they both had spouses that were living. He was so enamoured of Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened with excommunication. Pope Urban II did excommunicate him in 1095, and Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade.

According to Orderic Vitalis, Bertrade was anxious that one of her sons succeed Philip, and sent a letter to King Henry I of England asking him to arrest her stepson Louis. Orderic also claims she sought to kill Louis, first through the arts of sorcery and then by poison. Whatever the truth of these allegations, Louis succeeded Philip regardless.. William of Malmesbury says:

“Bertrade, still young and beautiful, took the veil at Fontevraud Abbey, always charming to men, pleasing to God, and like an angel.” Philip died 29 July 1108. She lived on until 1117.

Her son from her first marriage, Fulk V of Anjou, later became King of Jerusalem iure uxoris. The dynasties founded by Fulk’s sons ruled for centuries, one of them in England (Plantagenet), the other in Jerusalem.


With Fulk IV, Count of Anjou:

Fulk of Jerusalem, Count of Anjou and King of Jerusalem (1089/92–1143)[2]

With Philip I of France:

Philip of France, Count of Mantes (living in 1123)[3]

Fleury of France, Seigneur of Nangis (living in 1118)[4]

Cecile of France (died 1145), married (1) Tancred, Prince of Galilee;[5] married (2) Pons of Tripoli[

Bertrade with Philip
Perhaps after Philip died and she went to a nunnery.
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So, I’m learning a lot…

Who knew that heraldry is a thing. I mean, as a graphic designer I was certainly aware of the concept, but I treated it more like a primitive logo. Not so… it has rules, and structure, and meanings… very complicated.

Another thing I learned is the reality of tribes. In Scotland you can still speak of clans, but I don’t think modern Germany or France has a clue about tribal structure. Apparently it was almost as important as the Native Americans, if you came from the Crow nation you knew you were a Crow. People in Europe today don’t know if they are Goths, Ostrogoths, Rus, Vandals, Gepids, Visigothic, Alamanni, Heruli, Jutes, Fresii, Burgundians, Churusci, Cimbri, Suebi, Geats, Marcomanni, Salians, or the Ubii. This is just a small sampling of the tribal names that I’ve run across in reading Roman history. Google appears to have well over 100 distinct tribal names, and generally where and when they lived. I’m pretty sure they are all gone now, although a few live on in relation to the land. There are still Swabians because the countryside is Swabia, like there are Lombards because they lived in Lombardy. In fact, in other languages they do not use the word “German”, but use “Alamanni”, or a variation. I think I insulted a friend because I suggested Charlemagne wasn’t French, he was a Frank. French didn’t exist for quite a while.

So now I know that fifteen straight great grandparents were kings/queens or warlords of the Alamanni. And 22 straight great grandparents were leaders of the Herulii. I don’t think that much DNA information has survived all this time, but it means a little more to me when I read about them as historical characters. I’m partly Alamanni, but not Marcomanni. I’m partly Herulii, but not Burgundian. At least so far as I know.

Like I said, I’m learning a lot.

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Royal Crests

These are the crests of the lines that I have recently discovered in the genealogy of my father, and my mother. It turns out there is an entire field of study in the creation and meaning of crests. I have some reading to do.

Ha! And the first thing I learned is that crests is mostly wrong. Better to say Coat of Arms, although that’s not completely right because it really refers to an actual coat with the devices. Oh well…Coat of Arms is pretty good.

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Theodoric the Great

This is a story about my 44th great grandfather. I suppose I can call him “granpoppa”. But it’s not necessarily going to be a good story. Sometimes people live in times that are “significant”, sometimes we are not just along for the ride, but we are active players in the unfolding of history.

Unfortunately, history has gotten a bad reputation. It’s all about dates and places, it’s impossible to know them all, and history keeps happening, so it just get worse. Often people will say they can only remember two dates from history. One is 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded England, and the other is the Fall of the Roman Empire in 465.

This is a story about the fall of the Roman Empire, and it is about the dates and places, but mostly it’s about people. Technically it’s about my “granpoppa”, and the people that he knew.

The big picture of the time was that this was coming near the end of a thousand year cycle of political, social, and artistic development. I don’t think that anyone knew it was coming to an end, but then we never do. The Roman Empire was enormous, it stretched from England to Egypt, from Spain through Turkey, it would be tough to manage even with today’s modern technology. The development of Roman roads was a huge step forward, but you could only travel by foot or horseback. In fact, the government had attempted to split the government into two centers, Rome and Constantinople.

Rome was the Western Empire, and it had the Vatican and the history of the Empire. Constantinople was a newer city, founded by a very forward thinking Emperor Constantine. It sat on the crossroads between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea for shipping traffic, and also between the land bridge of Europe and Asia. On paper it would seem that having two Emperors would split up the load, and provide continuity from end to end in the Empire.

The problem is always about people, their experience, and their egos. The two emperors did not always bring the same qualities to the job. The western empire had stopped providing the basic Roman soldier that was culturally linked to the Empire. They had filled the first line soldiers, and most of the leaders, with German mercenaries. It was a bad decision to trust the safety of the Empire to people that were hired hands.

So, where does my 44th great grandfather come in? Theodoric was the son of a barbarian leader. His father was influential, so much so that the Eastern Roman emperor had demanded that his son become a hostage in the city of Constantinople. Theodoric was almost a Hollywood “Star Wars” kind of epic character. Theodoric came to a very cultured city at eight years old. He was given the best care, and was taught to read and write, and exposed to history and culture.

Was he a German barbarian, or was he a citizen of the empire? Or was he given the tools to take down an empire?

It all came to a head when the western empire had a very weak and inexperienced leader. The German mercenary leader Odovacar easily dethroned the sixteen-year-old emperor Romulus Augustalus, because he could. Odovacar walked into the city unopposed. However, even if he called himself a “king”, Odovacar was always under the rule of the Eastern emperor.

This did not impress the the Emperor Zeno, he was always trying to play the German barbarians one against the other. When Theodoric went back to his home, he rose to the leadership of the Visigoths tribes. Not only that, he began to blend in the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and other groups like the Gepids. Emperor Zeno looked for someone to bring Odovacar under control. He went so far as to order Theodoric to attack Odovacar.

At first Theodoric was defeated by Odovacar in 490, but later that year the tables were turned and Odovacar was soundly beaten. Both sides kept their armies in the field for several years. Finally, in early 493, Theodoric took the strong city of Ravenna, a place that Odovacar often went after he lost a battle. On March 15, 493, a banquet was organised in order to celebrate a treaty that would end the conflict. At this feast, Theodoric, after making a toast, killed Odoacer. The Ides of March occurs again in Roman history.

In the end, Theodoric solved his political problems with the diplomacy of a sword blow. Emperor Zeno was at first thrilled, then he realized that Theodoric was ten times the threat to the Eastern Empire.

Theodoric drew his sword and struck him on the collarbone. Along with Odoacer, Theodoric had the betrayed king’s most loyal followers and slaughtered them as well, an event which left him as the master of Italy.

Theodoric was driven to find land for his people. The Huns had pressed on them from the East, and the Western empire did not want to have barbarians living in the empire, they could fight for them, but they didn’t want to live with them.

There are some interesting ideas of why Rome fell. 1. Lead Poisoning, 2. Decline of Civic Virtue and Adoption of Christianity, 3. Military, Political and Economic Decline, and 4. Disease. That’s a lot to digest and think about.

I think Rome fell because people made decisions, sometimes good, sometimes not. My 44th great grandfather Theodoric was there at the center of it.

Theodoric the Great
Theodoric’s tomb in Ravenna, Italy
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He has been known as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, since the Norman invasion of 1066. Before that he was called Charles I, even though his grandfather was also a Charles. The leaders of the Franks were not so quick about declaring themselves kings. The previous Frankish dynasty were the Merovingian Kings, better known at the time as the “Do Nothing” kings. Perhaps the title of king had lost its luster. Charlemagne is also my 34th great grandfather.

Charlemagne’s grandfather was known as “Charles the Hammer”, it almost sounds like a pro-wrestler’s name. He was a very successful warrior. The ruling title was actually called “the Mayor of the Palace” the king might live in it, but Charles the Hammer ruled as mayor. For some reason the Carolingian dynasty also liked the family name of Pepin. Charlemagne’s father, son and uncle had that name. Maybe it sounds better in French.

So far, all of my royal ancestors have been connected through my mother’s Norwegian roots. But today I made a breakthrough, after years of collecting data on poor German farmers, and perhaps better off city burghers, I found a marriage to a minor count. A minor count can lead to a Duke, and generations of counts and dukes. I haven’t found any German kings or princes yet, but I’m sure they are there.

One of the counts had marriage connections to the Franks and suddenly I was related to Charles the Hammer, Pepin, and Charlemagne. I love the sudden explosion of data. I’ve taken it back even further than the Franks. I’ve found a direct connection to a Roman Senator of Gaul, around 300 AD. That’s 150 years before Rome fell.

So why was Charlemagne so great? Well, the first rule is that the victors get to write the history. They call Charlemagne the father of Europe. The shape of the countries in Europe has been based on the provinces of his empire. But he was also a great reformer. He actually passed laws on education and literacy, he provided guidelines on how to run a business and keep standardized records, he promoted the use of lowercase letters, he ruled for almost 50 years and he was not a “do nothing” king.

It would be somewhat of an error to think of him as French, he was Frankish, and that tribe had come from western Germany, and pushed the native Celts further west. And the Celts had pushed the Bronze Age Picts in the same manner. When the Romans came over the Alps and up from the coast, they ruled for over 600 years, creating a blended population. But the Romans rarely crossed the Danube, on the other side was barbaric Germans, dense forest, and death to their Legions. Charlemagne crossed the Danube easily and united much of even Eastern Europe.

It’s no wonder that the Pope crowned him the first Holy Roman Emperor in over 300 years. Charlemagne didn’t know it, but the Pope even expected him to rule over Constantinople. He didn’t go there.

We don’t know where he was born, but we know he died in Aachen and was placed in his tomb in Aachen Cathedral. Apparently he was entombed sitting on a throne for the first 200 years. Then they opened the tomb and laid him flat. Years later they put him in an elaborate casket where he remains. At one point they took measurements. He was between 6 foot and 6 foot 5. Above the 99 percentile of the time.

My 34th great grandfather died on Jan. 28, 814. I really do think he was great.

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Magnus Barefoot Olafsson

Magnus was the son of Olaf, and the grandson of Harald Hardrada. Harald was the famous Warrior King who fought in Italy, Sicily, Syria, Constantinople, Crimea, and Kiev. Then he went back to Norway to fight and become king. Later, he dies while trying to become king of England. His son Olaf was sixteen when his father died in 1066. When Olaf became king of Norway he was soon called Olaf the Peaceful because he mostly focused on making improvement in the country, instead of conquests.

Well, Magnus did not take after his father, Magnus most definitely took after his grandfather and was known as a military leader bent on increasing the kingdom of Norway. He was my 23rd great grandfather.

Magnus recognized his greatest strength was based upon his navy and the very seaworthy longships. While he did fuss with Sweden about some border areas, he mostly renegotiated treaties with Sweden, Denmark and Norman England. What he felt strongly about were the islands in the Irish Sea. He established a base on the Isle of Mann and set forth bringing Irish and Scottish islands into the Norwegian kingdom. There were even peace treaties that agreed that the islands were his.

One story was that a very nice chunk of land was connected to the main body by an isthmus, so technically it wasn’t an island and Magnus could not claim it. Magnus went there, sat at the helm of his boat and had his men tow him across the isthmus to the water on the other side. Technically he had “sailed” around the “island”, so he claimed it. No one argued.

Magnus could have been known as the Warrior, or as the Conqueror, but instead he was known as the Barefoot. This was a slight mistranslation, he may have been barefoot some of the time, but he was always “bare legged”. It seems that when he left Norway he was very impressed with the clothing styles of Scotland and Ireland, and took up the wearing of “kilts”.

While campaigning in Ireland, Magnus led a small party that was foraging for food for the trip back to Norway (stealing from farmers), when he was ambushed by a band of Ulaid (Ulster men). He died in the battle in 1103.

Magnus Barefoot, a stylish kilt wearing Viking, was my 23rd great grandfather.

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Blog Cruising

I was spending a little time blog cruising today, farming snippets of thought here and there. I must apologize in advance because I don’t really read for content, and certainly not carefully. When I’m “farming” I’m looking for ideas that unlock some sort of thought process. The trouble is that the idea ferments for a time, then explodes like active yeast hours later. I can’t even give credit for the fruit that I picked, because I only remember the idea, not the blog page.

So if you wrote about, “we are not in the same boat, but we maybe we are in the same storm.” , thank you for that.

I know about boats, I’ve been around them most of my life. At one point I owned four of them at once, a dinghy, a Cal20 sailboat, a Yankee30 sailboat, and a 1948 Ed Monk 41 foot power cruiser. It was nearly a navy.

We have a habit of using commonly understood objects in our analogies, and in most cases that is understandable, until it gets tiresome. “We are all in the same boat”, is meant that we are altogether, going in the same direction, and on an equal footing. Apparently no one has ever heard of “the Raft of the Medusa”, or seen the movie “Lifeboat”. The passengers are on the same vessel, but their futures are different, and their experiences can be remarkably different, like eating or being eaten.

In the past, when I have heard the phrase “We are all in the same boat”, I most always think, (but rarely say), “but your end of the boat is sinking!”

This COVID business has generated a lot of the same boat comments. Yet, some people will end up with a very nice tan as they sun themselves on the fly-bridge, while others will have ulcers on their feet as they stand in the bilge, manning the pump.

I’ve been entertained by musicians playing from their homes, bringing their music to us from their mansions. I don’t begrudge them for their wealth, “Hey, good on you!”, but don’t try to convince me that we are all in the same boat.

Some folks don’t even have boats, they are making do with floaters, and life -preservers. I’m aware that I do not have a yacht with a crew, but I’m not in a dinghy either. I’d like to think I’m in the equivalent of my long gone 30 ft Yankee sailboat. Big enough to take on the storm, small enough that I’m know ever square inch in case something goes wrong.

I know about boats, I just don’t know that much about storms.

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More Hollywood Art

Veronica Lake
Vivian Leigh
Maude Adams
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Golden Shovel

Softly we sing, We
Voice the innermost thoughts that Are
Hidden behind the furniture of our mental rooms, As
Guests relax on the sofas, Blind
To the melody that clings in the air like Vines

The world is madly Spinning
Forces are pulling Ourselves
Moving from one orbit, going Around
Yet another shiny thing, And

Not satisfied here, we spin Around
And search for other bright Objects
That attract the eyes And
The egos with Thoughts

Greedy and self-serving Not
Because we intend so, Truly
We are thoughtless in Our
Action, it’s just the nature that we Own.

(with sincere thanks to Lucy)

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Family Legends

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Life, Death, and Cats

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10 White Witch Stories

My brother is older and has some first hand knowledge of the White Witch. Often, a group of his friends would be driving around, usually “dragging the main”. For a diversion they would drive out to Wildcat Canyon and park in the mansion’s driveway backwards in order to leave quickly. Then they would wait until a light would come on, or movement in the window, and they would take off with the girls screaming. A version of ring the doorbell and run.

One time they brought a “newbie”, a big football type guy, no girls. The “witch” flung the front door open, and stood there silhouetted in the doorlight. He screamed and fell on the floor of the car. They drove off quickly. That was a real event. The other White Witch stories may have some fiction about them, some appear to be adapted from other disconnected stories.

1. She approached parked cars with couples that were making out, then scratched the window with her nails.

2. People were parked and making out when they heard a dripping sound. Then there was blood on the windshield.

3. She was seen walking on the road by her house, then she disappeared.

4. One of the patients at her sanitarium escaped, and she knocked on cars to find him.

5. She is seen walking around in the park at night.

6. She used a shotgun loaded with rock salt to shoot at teenaged trespassers.

7. Scathing music was played for the patients in the sanitarium, it can still be heard late at night, coming from no known source.

8. A young man could not start his car after making out with his girlfriend. He left her in the locked car while he walked to the front of the park to use the pay phone. When he returned he found his girlfriend dead, scared to death by the White Witch. Now the girlfriend’s ghost haunts the park looking for the boyfriend that left her.

9. She has long, wild, white hair and is in a long black dress. She has long, wild, white hair and is sometimes dressed in a wedding gown.

10. One of the White Witch’s patients in the sanitarium had a hook instead of a right hand. The patient had a history of violence. While parked and making out, a couple hears on the radio that the police are looking for someone who had escaped from the sanitarium. The couple heard light scratching on the car. They knew that the White Witch liked to scratch on the cars that were parked. The young man quickly backed out and sped out of the park. He took his girlfriend home, got out of the car to go to the passenger’s side to open the door for his girlfriend. There, hanging on the door handle was a bloody hook, ripped from someone’s arm.

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The White Witch

If you grew up in the late 1950s, early 1960s you heard the stories of the White Witch of Wildcat Canyon. She lived in a haunted mansion behind Alvarado Park in Richmond, CA. There was a “speculation” highway built with the idea to develop the land during Richmond’s growth after WWII.

The driving teenagers of the area called it the Deadend Highway, there were very few roads or driveways that connected. One of the driveways was to the Tewksbury Mansion. The mansion was originally built by Richmond pioneer Dr. Jacob M. Tewksbury for his daughter, Eugenia, and her second husband William Mintzer, early President of Bank of America in Point Richmond.

In 1914 it was purchased by Dr. Hendrik Belgum, a native of Norway who had lived in Wisconsin. Dr. Belgum turned the two story mansion into a small private sanitarium, called the Grande Vista Sanitarium. It was popular with the wealthy in Piedmont and Berkeley. It was off the beaten path but still accessible for visiting families.

By the 1940s it seemed that Dr. Belgum was distancing himself from regular outside contact. He preferred the company of the few patients that he had, along with his two spinster sisters that also lived at the Sanitarium, Inga Belgum and Ida Ruth Belgum. Dr Belgum died fighting a fire that was threatening the house in 1948.

The house passed to Dr. Belgum’s brother Bernard Belgum. In 1959 another sister, Christine Heimann, was widowed, and moved from Wisconsin. Bernard tried to keep running the Sanitarium for a few years but he didn’t have a medical degree and there were fewer patients. Only Ida Ruth lived on in the mansion to help maintain the property.

Bernard died in 1963,leaving everything to Christine and Ida. Ida Ruth was a noted local artist, and led a solitary life. She died in 1964. The mansion was empty. Christine, or Kristine, died in 1971 and during the estate sale it was discovered that the abandoned property had been vandalized and eventually burnt to the ground. The property eventually passed to the East Bay Regional Parks.

My guess is that the White Witch of Wildcat Canyon was not a witch at all, but instead, she was the last care giver of the Grande Vista Sanitarium, the artist Ida Ruth Belgum.

The Grande Vista Sanitarium

Not the White Witch. This is Kristi Belgum, Ida Belgium’s mother.

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Great Grandparents

This is my attempt to justify the hours of research into genealogy. I have been on an interesting path, at first I was just collecting names, dates, and places. I would quickly gather then move on for more. It was a little bit like “notches on a gun”, or maybe less dramatically, “nice pieces of Depression Glass”. I had wished that there was more, but the data didn’t provide stories. They were for the most part farmers. Kind of ordinary farmers.

Then I underwent a change. Using the data, I tried to piece together the reason for moving. Using historical events to explain why the dramatic shift. I found that a lot of moves came right after a significant death in the family, most times it was children. Sometimes it was the death of an older family member that had been cared for. Without being able to find diaries or letters, I can’t prove the reasons, but there had to be reasons.

Sometimes I found newspaper articles or obituaries that gave more clues. Collecting data morphed into collecting stories, or conditional stories. I found a distant cousin in Germany that told me the story of over 100 families that wanted to migrate to the USA in order to avoid the constant threat of war. They were right on the French/German border. The Siegfried Line ran right through their village. They had to apply to the emperor for permission. Apparently they had heard about the Hessians going to Pennsylvania.

The emperor said no, but he promised some wonderful newly opened land on the other side of the country, on the border with Poland. It was free, newly drained swampland, lots of water, they spoke German, and he said he would not draft their sons for war. The 100+ families packed up and founded the city of Gros Fahlenwerder, Kreis Soldin, Newmark. Still barely in Prussia. This was around 1800. Apparently the Mayor’s house had a name carved into the lintel, “Diestler”.

Part barn, part house, part official residence.

Well, this was very interesting stuff, and I thank Manfred for his hard work, travel to Poland to dig out the information. Oh yeah, they left one border on one side of the country to go to another border with the same problems. During WWII the place was overrun, many were killed, the rest were driven out. The entire county was given to Poland after the war. Fortunately for my family, they saw the writing on the wall, and had made plans to individually go to the US about 100 years earlier.

Like I said, there are reasons for things, some can be found out by other data, some by reason, and some by a good hunch.

Well, I was pretty happy with my research. I had small, very small, victories, the further back in time, the less data is found. Unless of course you get lucky and have someone famous pop up. No such luck, just farmers, no horse thieves, no bank robbers, no movie stars. And gosh, the holy grail would be to tap into some royalty.

The big reason this would be cool is because so many people have worked to tighten the accuracy of the data. They spend years of the hobby in finding the missing lineage. In the US we have the Daughters of the American Revolution, in Europe there are hundreds of official, and thousands of unofficial data compilers. And it is mostly on the Internet.

Well, I had a bunch of Norwegian farmers on my mother’s side, and German farmers on my fathers side. No gold mine of data to be found.

I was plugging away, going back to the 1600 and 1500s where the data tapers to zero. To add to mix I was using Google to search a few names in addition to the usual family history sites. Then I found a “countess”. A young woman that had married a well-to-do farmer. Bringing her lineage in exchange for a nice house. Suddenly I had a royal connection! I began to search the other families around the same time, and found two or three other connections to the same royal line. It appears times were tough even for blue bloods.

In short order I was connected to most of the royal houses in Northern Europe, particularly of the Scandinavian countries. Royals marry other royals, so the line goes on. There was almost to much data, so I found that I was focusing on direct lineage. Grandparents! I was looking for direct ancestors, not removed cousins or uncles. How many grandparents could I find? On one royal line I went back to 60th great grandparents. Not all were kings and queens. Sometimes the house fell on hard times, wars, revolutions… But the data was there, and some interesting stories to be documented.

I am borrowing heavily from Wikipedia because is it so easy. My hope is to get an interesting list of characters, then find out more from additional sources. So this part of my blog is dedicated to great grandparents..

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Sailing Life

Winslow inspired

I spoken of my love of sailing. So many analogies to real life. The great one is relating the tongue (or thoughts) to the tiller/rudder. A very small shift can end up putting you miles off course. There is a need to be constantly adjusting, constantly attending to course direction, based upon the compass, the tide, the wave action, the wind, and most importantly local knowledge. And then then are times when you have to tack.

Tacking is very dangerous, you release the sheets for the jib, the sail goes limp, you throw the tiller in the opposite direction, and the point of the bow crosses the wind. You lose almost complete control. The main boom swings over to the other side, it is first limp with no power, you adjust. The sheets are wound on the winches, and the jib slowly filled with the wind. You crank and crank, then fine adjust.

After you tighten the sheets, trim the main, then off you go, still heading in the same general direction, but the need to change will come again. The wind is howling and the spray flows over the boat with each wave. To get to your destination you will adjust, and readjust, and you will tack and tack again. So it is with life.

I think many people get tired with the process. Sometimes changing the destination is simpler than the process that is necessary to get there. The curious part is that you get to a place that you didn’t want, nor was it a place you were meant to go.

Sailors learn to master the wind, tack into it, change direction multiple times but always with the destination as the goal. And there is a goal, to get to a point where the wind is behind you, no more beating into the wind. You are wing-and-wing, full extended sails, surfing on the crest of waves, and the ocean is silent.

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I love the double and triple meaning of words. “It all depends upon your perspective.” What does that mean? Converging railroad tracks in the distance? Or, what you see depends upon where you stand. Generally, I know this to be true, there is a far better chance of understanding if you can actually see the problem.

So, having a place to stand, allows you to see. Changing perspective allows you to see more of a thing. I remember one of the things that stuck with me after reading Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” was the concept of a Fair Witness. Someone who was trained to tell the absolute truth. Ask them what color a house was, and they would reply, “the color I see reflected on this side is off-white!”. It could have been painted blue on the back side. A change of perspective would have allowed that to be seen.

Often we extend our “sight” to our “thought”. Our vision of history is not only from our personal experience, but also from what we have read and heard. When we throw in a well produced film or video, it is almost as if we have seen it personally. That can be a slippery slope.

Gathering a balanced perspective in history can be difficult when the victors are the only voices. Emphasizing the other side without facts also creates a dilemma. I try as hard as I can, but I can’t read what is not written. And I suppose I can’t fully trust what is written without knowing the specific perspective.

I’m writing this now after I’ve just listened to “Murder Most afoul” by Bob Dylan. It was written and recorded almost a decade ago, but Dylan just recently released it. It’s a rather long ballad about John Kennedy’s assassination. It brought me back. While I wasn’t an adult, it probably was my first “adult-like” thought. I had a first hand experience. I followed the news, I watched the press conferences, I saw Ruby shoot Oswald in the parking garage. It was multiple murders most foul.

From my perspective things might have actually started to spin out of control from that point. A few flashes of brilliance, but mostly darker going forward. RFK, MLK, Vietnam, Chicago, Kent State, Nixon, Agnew, on and on…

It’s a personal perspective that hasn’t changed much from what I’ve seen and read since. I hope I live long enough to see a paradigm shift, where things are building, more then they are falling apart.

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The Great Kosher Chicken Prank

There was a time when we would seek out kosher chicken from the butcher, not Safeway. There was probably not much difference in the quality of the meat, the Safeway chicken had the label kosher so my guess is that it’s death was humane. But the butcher variety came with all the extras necessary for the various side products needing “”schmaltz”, the secret ingredient of Jewish health food. The various sweet meats, the scrawny neck bones, and the slightly scary chicken feet. Everything tucked away in the carcass of the bird. Like a surprise box.

Well, it was this surprise that caused my wife to flee the kitchen, leaving the bird unattended in the sink. I was told to deal with it. When I arrived the chicken lay there with one scrawny foot peaking out, as if the chicken was giving birth to an alien. It was a terrifying sight!

I removed both feet, neck and innards, then had an interesting thought. I was busy at the sink, running water, and the two kids were right in the next room watching television. Sherry was still hiding from the chicken feet somewhere.

I’m not saying I ran this next few minutes through a proper “parenting filter”, but I went ahead with the plan anyway. I ran the hot water until there was plenty of steam wafting about. Then I grabbed the chicken feet, one in each hand, and pulled my shirt cuffs down to cover my fists. Then I screamed that the water was too hot. “Jeowww!, I’ve burned my hands. Help me! Help me!” Both kids came running into the kitchen just in time for me to turn around, silhouetted by billowing clouds of steam, reaching out with my hideous claws.

The looks on their faces told me of future years of intense therapy. Widening eyes, screams of fear and empathy, and a sudden awareness of “what was I thinking?”

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Common Sense

I don’t usually repost, but this was just too snarky to pass up. British sarcasm!

An Obituary printed in the London* *Times…..Absolutely Dead Brilliant!!*

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: 

– Knowing when to come in out of the rain; 

– Why the early bird gets the worm; 

– Life isn’t always fair; 

– And maybe it was my fault. 

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. 

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. 

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. 

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. 

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. 

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. 

Common Sense was preceded in death,

-by his parents, Truth and Trust,

-by his wife, Discretion,

-by his daughter, Responsibility,

-and by his son, Reason. 

He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers; 

– I Know My Rights 

– I Want It Now 

– Someone Else Is To Blame ,I’m always right,

everybody is wrong —

– I’m A Victim

– Pay me for Doing Nothing 

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. 

If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.


“Common Sennse is so uncommon”

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Been thinking about freedom. It’s a complex issue, always a two-sided coin. You can’t discuss freedom without having constraint. If there is no constraint, then… you just are.

In the same way, a lifetime of constraint doesn’t mean much, until you experience a minute of freedom.

(Do you have to experience freedom, even briefly, or can you simply dream of freedom?)

We are said to be a free society, but that’s not entirely true. We have tons of constraints, we have fixed and formal laws, we have customs and standards. And as we move forward to the future we seem to tighten the grip even more.

In 2010 I can remember being late for an airplane flight. I barely parked the car, I glanced at the monitor for the gate without breaking my stride. It was almost like the OJ commercial, hurdling seating, racing for the boarding area. I made it just as the door was closing.

A year later that all changed, it’s been nearly a decade later and TSA hasn’t gone away. I’m trying to think of the day that someone will say that we don’t need this anymore. I dunno, I think TSA is here to stay, the world has changed.

Today it was announced that more people have died from the virus than people in 9/11. I think the world has changed again. And to a certain extent, freedom is the victim. I’m not sure what constraints will be made, but they will be made, and it will be a long long time before anyone thinks they are not necessary.

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Best Read Ever!

I’ve said this before, it’s great! Written by a UCB history professor and it mostly takes place locally.
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Great Grandparents

I am surviving. I come from a long list of survivors. Oh, they eventually died, but before they did, they passed on their DNA. I am so amazed that if just one of my thousands of grandparents had died as a child, then I wouldn’t be here. So here is my official thank you to those long dead, but not forgotten.

John Frederick Diestler (1833-1894, my first Great Grandfather. I still haven’t officially linked you to rest of the Gros Fahlenwerder clan, but I’m thankful that you left the Old World and started something new and brave.

Kari Haldorsdtr Brathole (1870-1949), my great grandmother who came from Norway. Your husband disappeared in the wilds of Canada, yet you persevered. You died the year I was born but my mother told me lots about you.

Johann Wilhelm Diestler (1750-1815), my 3rd great grandfather. You wanted to come to America, you we’re tired of the wars in Europe. Instead you listened to King Frederick when he offered free land in the Neumark of Brandenburg. Your left with more than a hundred “colonists” from the Pfalz area of the Danube. It was new fertile land and the king promised not to draft your sons.

Per Ingebriktson Engjaland (1695-1766), my 5th great grandfather. I know next to nothing about you except the area where you lived. Vossestrand is beautiful now, and it must have been then.

Johann Georg Diestler (1707-1789), my 5th great grandfather. Thank you for being the first to move to the Pfalz area. I wish I could find your father and others, you are the earliest with the Diestler surname.

Anna Torgilsdotter (1535-1610), my 10th great grandmother. Thank you for leaving the hint that you were connected to royalty. The real benefit is that it gives me a tremendous database of great grandparents. On my father’s side it pretty much ends at the 5th and 6th generation individuals.

Sigurd Erlingssen, the Pretender Ribbung (1203-1226), my 23rd great grandfather. You died a young man, but not before you had a child, and tried to be King. That’s why you are called Sigurd the Pretender.

Magnus V, King of Norway Erlingson (1156-1184), my 25th great grandfather. Thank you for being the first king of the family. But we’re you a good king? I have to read more about you.

Eric, the Good, King of Denmark Estridsen, (1056-1103), my 27th great grandfather. Thank you for being “good”, I’ll have to read more about you as well.

Harald “Blue Tooth”, king of Denmark Gormsson, (986), my 29th great grandfather. I know it might be sad that most people only know you by the logo of your two runic initials, and the communications technology invented by Hedy Lamar. But it’s better than the nickname based upon a dead tooth.

Harald III, Hardrada Sigurdsson, king of Norway, (1015-1066), my 30th great grandfather. I can’t believe I’m related to my most favorite Middle Ages character. Conan the Barbarian was based upon you! You fought and won all over Europe. I’ve read so many stories about your life. Too bad that you took an arrow in your throat at Stamford Bridge, York.

Harold Godwinsson, king of England, another one of my 30th great grandfathers. Thank you for not dying in the battle with my other great grandfather. Too bad that you died nineteen days later, with an arrow in the eye. William the Bastard attacked just about at the right time, just after most of your best men were killed fighting Harald Hardrada. Oh yeah, I guess he gets to be called William the Conqueror now.

Alfred the Great, king of The Anglo-Saxons, (849-899), my 32 great grandfather. Thanks for being great in a Dark Age.

Rurik, Founder of the Rus Dynasty, (830-879), my 35th great grandfather. Thank you for being the leader of a dynasty that created the country of Russia. Okay, you might be mythical but that’s all right.

Aun Jorundsson, King of Uppsala Sweden, (400s), my 48th great grandfather. Thank you for being so mythical that you might be a character in the Beowulf Saga.

Odin of Asgard, (timeless), my 55th great grandfather. Thank you for all the myths, nice to know I’m also related to Thor and Loki.

It’s been a busy week doing the research, plugging in the data. 13,500+ people, very few of them noteworthy. Just great grandparents staying alive long enough to have children. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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The Virus

So, let’s check the boxes. I am old, not terribly old, but old enough not to be confused with young or even middle-aged. I have diabetes. I’ve recently had a heart attack, and heart disease is another box that’s ticked. I had prostate cancer. My breathing has been an issue.

Hmm, I’m a prime candidate for the Great Cleansing. Well, I’m not surprised. It’s not hard to read the writing on the wall, particularly when it is in ten foot letters, and repeated so often. My time on this earth is ending. So now what?

Well, there is still stuff to learn and think about. All this time cooped up has given me more energy to research ancestors. The honey-pot of genealogists is finding a connection to royalty. Not because it’s so cool (it’s cool!), but because so many really good researchers have spent years doing the lineage research.

I’ve often thought, if I could only connect to a minor duke or count, then I could go back hundreds of years. All this time, no luck. I’ve barely found anyone famous or infamous. One murderer, and two victims of murder. That’s about it.

Then I saw one mention of someone stating a link to the Norwegian royal family. Yep, it was a solid piece. I checked it several ways. I had to take it back to 1300s but then I found Magnus V, King of Norway. Kings marry royalty, so it didn’t take long to find kings of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and even Kiev. Tons of them, over and over. Almost an issue of in-breeding.

In a couple of hours I added about 600 royal individuals. Haha, I even found a dozen kings that were mythical, characters from Beowulf!

On my fathers side I still can’t find for certain my great grandfather’s father.

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Tax Season & One Things

My lovely wife did me the favor of collecting the yearly documents necessary to present to our tax person. Our new tax person, because our old tax person retired after thirty years. This has been a troubling time. For years our old tax person knew that the season was ending because I would show up at the last minute with a pile of unorganized documents. It would be only me because Sherry had done her part by finding most of the documents. It was my part to sit in the office and be embarrassed.

Now I have to train an entirely new person. This does not bode well.

The good news is that Sherry found something interesting in her search. Looking for taxes she found a collection of notecards. Back when I was mid heart surgery everyone thought that it would be nice to write down the “one thing” that I might have taught them. Or maybe two things.

This was just in case that I would not be coming home. Apparently I read them in the hospital, and enjoyed them very much. Also apparently they could have read me the phone book, and I would have enjoyed that as well. Hospital medication is amazing. I have no memory of that time or the things that were read to me.

So Sherry presents this little gift from my family, and I like it so much that I’m concerned that it might get lost in the future, so why not freeze the moment in time and make it a blog post…

John’s One Things from Heart Summer
One thing I’ve learned from my dad is Navajo bread is a family tradition, but now I have to learn how to make it. -Amy

One thing I love about Papa is his incredible gift of story telling- Laura

One thing I’ve learned is that a good, caring, wise and honest man can be a lifeline and father to the fatherless- that’s you!- Sherry

One thing I learned is to be careful around Jack Tone Road- Jenna

One thing Poppa taught me was about (the guy outside) John Muir. And he has swords, and watches.- Isaiah

One thing Papa taught me is that you should never be afraid to follow God’s direction. – Stu

One thing I’ve learned from dad is to always be creative when cooking meals. – Amy

One thing I love about Papa is his deep love and care for his family. – Jenna

One thing I learned is to remember. Remember your past, remember who you are as a person, as a community, as a people. Remember God’s good works in your life.- Jenna

One thing I learned was to treasure the written word. It is a balm, a friend, an outlet. Journal everyday, and change your life. I love reading your writing, and I love that you taught us to write.- Jenna

One thing I learned from Dad was you learn more from your failures than success.- Amy

One thing Dad taught me was that we have special powers to see through people (walls). – Amy

One thing I learned from Papa is how to always look at all sides of a situation.- Laura

One thing I learned from Dad was how to line up facial features when drawing the human face.- Amy

One thing I learned is to be a person of integrity. Let yes be yes and no be no. Be honest. Thank you for always being honest and open with me and everyone. Thank you for sharing who you ar and letting me be who I am.- Jenna

One thing I learned from you is that a huge heart coupled with humility = a person of integrity.- Nikki

One thing my Dad taught me is that Nikki+Wine= No Good. And Dad will always be there to keep me safe.- Nikki

One thing I’ve learned is the nobility of the centurion.- Sherry

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate the generations who came before us and to honor their legacy.- Sherry

One thing I’ve learned is how to put together a beautiful and meaningful blog.- Sherry

One thing I’ve learned from Papa is that history, literature, and art are incredibly important. -Laura

One thing Papa taught me is that you can never have too many knives, especially if you are going to the happiest place on earth.- Stu

One thing I love about you is that after 6+ years, you are still telling me interesting stories.- Travis

One thing I learned from you is to always pay attention to rooftops. Remember to look up was very handy in Italy.- Travis

One thing I admire about you is your artistic eye & ear, you have excellent taste in music & your talent for creative expression is inspiring.- Zach

One thing I’ve learned from you is to think deeply about faith & to not just take someone else’s word about God and his Word.- Zach

I like playing with Papa’s watch.- Abby

One thing I’ll never forget about you is how you worshipped & prayed at Promise Keepers ‘96. Love you Poppa.- Zach

Four things, that I appreciate is that you, Dad, is that you are loyal, brave, creative, and compassionate.- Nikki

Good grief! I will try for the rest of my life to live up to what I have told each of you. Well, most of them anyway. Forget some of them, I was wrong, you pick and choose.

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Lyrics Shaping a Decade

I am of an age where my memory has been somewhat selective. I have professed to my children that the music from the Sixties was far better than any decade since. I had forgotten that the 60’s had its share of “bubble gum” music. The Bikini song, Alley Oop, Monster Mash, Mr. Custer.

True there were a few interesting years from 1964 to 1969, but that was only half of the decade. And frankly, the decade ended badly.

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini

by Brian Hyland (1960)

She was afraid to come out of the locker

She was as nervous as she could be

She was afraid to come out of the locker

She was afraid that somebody would see

Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore!

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini

That she wore for the first time today.

An itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini

So in the locker she wanted to stay.

Two, three, four, stick around we’ll tell you more!

She was afraid to come out in the open

And so a blanket around her she wore.

She was afraid to come out in the open.

And so she sat bundled up on the shore.

Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore!

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.

That she wore for the first time today.

An itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.

So in the blanket she wanted to stay.

Two, three, four, stick around we’ll tell you more!

Now she is afraid to come out of the water.

And I wonder what she’s gonna do.

‘Cause she’s afraid to come out of the water.

And now the poor little girl’s turning blue.

Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore!

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.

That she wore for the first time today.

An itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.

So in the water she wanted to stay.

From the locker to the blanket,

From the blanket to the shore,

From the shore to the water

Guess there isn’t any more.

  • Georgia On My Mind by Hoagy Carmichaeperformed by Ray Charles (1960)
  • Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles (1961)
  • Lily of the West, Traditional, performed by Joan Baez, (1961)
  • Johnny Angel, by Shelley Fabares (1962)
  • Duke of Earl, by Gene Chandler (1962)
  • Puff the Magic Dragon, lyrics by Lenny Lipton, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary (1963)
  • There but for Fortune, by Phil Ochs, version by Joan Baez (1963)
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand, by The Beatles (1964)
  • I Get Around, by The Beach Boys (1964)
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones (1965)
  • Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire (1965)
  • For What It’s Worth, by Steve Sills, performed by Buffalo Springfield (1966)
  • California Dreamin’ by The Mama’s and The Papa’s (1966)
  • Outside a Small Circle of Friends, Phil Ochs, (1967)
  • White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane, (1967)
  • Hey Jude, by The Beatles, (1968)
  • Mrs. Robinson, by Simon and Garfunkel, (1968)
  • Sugar, Sugar, by The Archies (1969)

Build Me Up Buttercup, by The Foundations (1969)

Why do you build me up (build me up) buttercup, baby

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around?

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’

You know that I have from the start

So build me up (build me up) buttercup, don’t break my heart

“I’ll be over at ten, ” you told me time and again

But you’re late, I wait around and then (bah dah dah)

I went to the door, I can’t take any more

It’s not you, you let me down again

baby, baby, try to find

(Hey, hey, hey) a little time and I’ll make you mine

(Hey, hey, hey) I’ll be home

I’ll be beside the phone waiting for you

Ooh ooh ooh, ooh ooh ooh

Why do you build me up (build me up) buttercup, baby

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around?

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’

You know that I have from the start

So build me up (build me up) buttercup, don’t break my heart

You were my toy but I could be the boy you adore

If you’d just let me know (bah dah dah)

Although you’re untrue, I’m attracted to you all the more

Why do I need you so?

baby, baby, try to find

(Hey, hey, hey) a little time and I’ll make you mine

(Hey, hey, hey) I’ll be home

I’ll be beside the phone waiting for you

Ooh ooh ooh, ooh ooh ooh

Why do you build me up (build me up) buttercup, baby

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around?

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’

You know that I have from the start

So build me up (build me up) buttercup, don’t break my heart

I, I, I need you more than anyone, baby

You know that I have from the start

So build me up (build me up) buttercup

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Tangential Knowledge

What is it when we are not looking for something, and then we find it? It’s hard to be thoughtless in the literal sense, which is somehow different than the emotional uncaring sense. The pure thoughtless is almost like the zen state of quieting the mind. I’ve been there several times, but never by choice.

And I’m not sure that thinking has ceased completely, because my body still takes directions. I get up out of the chair, and I take a few hesitant steps. Invariably I head into the kitchen, I’m aware of this because I return to the thinking state soon after I am staring into the refrigerator, wondering why I am staring into the refrigerator?

Facebook movie clips are similar. Often I’m scrolling through the clips looking for something. I’m not aware of what I’m looking for, but I continue to scroll. I have a vague awareness that, at times, Facebook presents videos that are targeted to me individually. For some reason an algorithm led Facebook to present Chinese sniper movies, fighting the Japanese during WWII. I stopped to watch a few, and that led to more Chinese sniper movies. I stopped watching them.

Then the algorithm changed and suddenly there were dozens of talk shows clips. Viewing any of them brought even more. It was a little like the land of the Lotus Flower eaters. An unending stream of whatever knowledge I was seeking. Except I didn’t know what I was looking for. I was just looking unthoughtfully.

Another set of clips started to flow. Clips from the BBC, talk shows, game shows, blogs from British bloggers. I stopped at a few. Even more showed up. And then I saw something that generated a thought. Very similar to waking up in front of the open refrigerator.

It was a clip interviewing Stephen Fry. He was relating that in school he wasn’t particularly good at anything, not science, not math, not sports. What he loved was reading mythology. To him it was like videos games, or Marvel comics. The characters he read about seemed heroic and thoughtful. They tried to explain and give reasons for things that were all around him.

One in particular he remembered. Hercules was a hero, legends galore. He was a Demi-god, fathered by Zeus. Well, it seems that his Greek name was Heracules, in part because Zeus wanted to appease his wife Hera. Hera wanted nothing to do with the child of Zeus and some human woman.

In an attempt to create a bond with the baby Heracules, the god Mercury (directed by Zeus) picked up the baby and placed it on Hera’s nursing breast while she slept. After a time, Heracules’ strong suckling woke the sleeping Hera. In a rage, she leapt from the bed, spraying a circle of breast milk in the air all around her.

Milk in Greek is gala, breast milk circle is galaxias kyklos. The Romans called it via lactate. We call it The Milky Way.

Tangential knowledge.

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Some of our Students

Some of our students just returned from a week at our nation’s capitol. Can you imagined what they must have learned? What a perfect opportunity to witness history, to actually see the government in action, to hear live presentations from current leaders in their professions. It was quite the field trip! And so much more.

Many departments have been able to send groups of students to Europe in study aboard situations, to enable students to experience the world. As academic leaders we have recognized that it is good to have a range from local field trips to statewide conferences. It is good because the students are changed for the good.

How much better is it when our students are also challenged for their abilities? Only a few departments know how this feels. Certainly in sports, speech, music, in fact any department that spends the time to find organizations where their students can be showcased. Of course there are issues. What if we lose? How will our students feel? How will I feel if my teaching seems less than it should? Most of us don’t try to compete. Even when there are organizations where our students can be showcased.

This week I am hoping that there will be returning teams from some district in the Midwest, where they got several Honorables and maybe a fourth place in the nation. The team will be welcomed with a lunch at the district office and will be honored by everyone at their college because the team is owned by the administration and the staff. They were their students. It was their community. They put their training and expertise on the line, and risked their competence. And they won and carried away the prize.

In ancient Rome, a victory in some distant part of the empire would receive a Triumph, a celebratory parade in Rome. Thousands would fill the streets to give honor, and partly to own the victory for themselves.

This week Contra Costa College came back with two National Pacemaker Awards from the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) it is the largest and oldest national membership organization for college student media in the United States. It awards the newspaper, magazine, and online National Pacemaker Awards, which are considered the highest honors a student publication can receive.

It is an amazing story that continues a long line of successful stories. The college has won many Pacemakers over the years. Perhaps because of this, the college has often ignored the accomplishment. Maybe it was thought that it was a conference of a couple of dozen friends who come together for a good time and give “attaboys”? Do the research. This is a big deal. The college has never won two Pacemakers in the same year. Will that make a difference? I think not.

The college, various departments, certainly the district, and even some faculty have distanced themselves. They don’t see it as “our’ journalism department. They don’t even see it as our students. What does that mean to the community?

Is it possible that we are committing far more energy to our plan to educate for greatness, instead of recognizing the greatness that is current? Our college has never received the respect an honor that it deserves. Our students are remarkable!

It occurred to me that perhaps some at the college, and certainly some at the district are reluctant to give honor to the journalists at the college because of some article that was published. I have only this to say, if reporters found an error, then the first thing you do is to be proud that they have been taught to do the research, and have the courage to report the truth.

Or more simply, if you don’t want to look like an idiot in print, don’t do idiotic things.

I am so honored to be even remotely connected to The Advocate. You deserve a triumphal arch erected in the Quad.

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I have recently been intrigued by the classic black and white headshots of the 1940s. I’m not familiar with any names of the photographers, but I am admiring their work. Wikipedia sometimes gets the actual names of the actors wrong, and sometimes I am unfamiliar enough to not notice.

In order to learn a bit more about color, I have taken on a study to colorized a few of the classic photos. It’s been very instructive, and I’ve created a new drop menu on the menu called Hollywood Art for the finished projects. I’ve changed backgrounds on some, redrawn the eyes and mouths on others, and experimented with color shading on all. Generally each photo goes through a process of blending about ten different layers, merged finally into one.

Here are a few samples…

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I once saw a man with a tattoo of a watch on his wrist. Periodically it had the correct time, at least twice a day. The theoretical concept is that if he had more tattoos, it will increase the ratio of accuracy. If his arm was long enough, and he knew where to look, his tattoo watch would be perfect, with no moving parts or power.

That is the basic problem with time, our attempts to measure something that is in the fourth dimension with third dimension technology sucks.

I’ve been pondering the concept of “now”. I can see that it is coming, and I can see that it passed, but I just can’t freeze the moment in between. “Now” is elusive. There is supposedly the “Clock of the Long Now”. Actually, it exists, and there is a museum. It is also called the 10,000 Year Clock. Look it up on Google. There is one being built on a mountain in Nevada, powered by the difference in temperature from the top of the mountain, to the bottom of the mountain.

Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalog fame, is on the Board of Directors of the Long Now Foundation, so is the musician Brian Eno. There is also a cafe/museum/interesting place called The Interval in San Francisco. I haven’t been, but it is a place where one can discuss “deep time” issues.

I think redefining “Now” into the “Long Now” does not help my concern. But maybe a trip to the city with coffee and a bagel will change my mind.

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My friend Bob

I am inspired by his work

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Recent Work

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What do I make?

Well, in simplistic terms, I make art. It is art because I say so, not because I have mastered any particular media. It is art because I have recognized that in the making, that the image has crossed the threshold into art. For me!

There are literally hundreds of mediums to explore in order to make art. From the basic rudiments of “found art” to the complicated layers of screen printing. I have sampled a few in my time and “mastered” very few. I’m pretty good at sketching, not bad at sculpture. Color portraits are the worst. Watercolor is monstrous. I’m terrified of oil painting and paralyzed at acrylics. None of this stops me from attempts. But, oh, the hideous makings.

So where am I comfortable? I like working from photographs, I like the filters that some programs use. I’m never satisfied with just the filters so I use layering techniques to combine other filters, or layers of hand drawn detail. I don’t have a requirement of some percentage of hand-drawn for the art to qualify as art. I’m more interested in the final image. I see no distinction between 100 percent hand drawn and 100 percent filter. If someone else does, it doesn’t change the way I see the image. as far as media goes, I guess you could say that I fell in love with digital in 1985.

When I was teaching art appreciation, I sometimes showed students the work of modern artists, painting modern art. Many did not appreciate the abstract quality. When I then showed work from the same artists that painted more realistic images, then they showed interest. Because the painter choose to paint in the abstract, then it was more valid. I understood this, but it does not mean that it is a test for art. Prior skill is not necessarily a stepping stone.

Often the lack of traditional art ability was the excuse for the individual to not think of themselves as artists. We have lost too many artists because of this false belief. This is similar to not call yourself a photographer because you don’t know how to use a camera. The photography is in the vision! The camera comes later.

Finding the right medium is sometimes a lifelong process. It might make sense to stay with a comfortable medium and developed finer skills. It also might make sense to step into a noncomfort zone to explore a new medium. For years I have told my photography students that every good photo that they admire was likely taken by an uncomfortable photographer. I can’t prove that, but I believe it to be true.

When I analyze my own artists path, I realize that I have always seen things in three dimensions. I think that is why sculpture has been attractive. But I also see the depth of landscapes, the layers of distance, so even portraits are dimensional. The attraction of digital is undo, and the speed of variations. I have enjoyed making tribute drawings, redrawing or using filters. I have sometimes “channeled” the artist, and learned new things by the image I was making. I’m not done with my versions.

My best advice is to follow DuChamp. “Artists make art”.

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When is it Sin? When is it Evil?

A good friend posted an article by Dennis Praeger and suggested that I read it. I’m good with that. I have several of his books and I have enjoyed his writing. No red flags there… Well, maybe one.

Praeger has many books, a radio show, and he has many speaking engagements per year. He also has Praeger University.

I dunno, I see a small red flag waving when you found a university, then name it after yourself. I mean there are billions of choices, some horrible, some might even be brilliant. Settling on your own last name seems iffy. Maybe he named it after his parents?

Still, we all make choices and some may be mistakes.

In the article Praeger makes the statement that most of us haven’t come across a major mathematical formula. Good intentions minus Wisdom equals Evil.

Interesting formula, but one that I find too simplistic, therefore, it slightly misses the mark. I find that the threshold for evil is quite a bit higher.

His formula works very well for a mistake, or an error of thinking, but to classify that as evil seems harsh. I agree it can be the first steps on the road to evil, but there is still time to change direction.

I am not saying that every mistake leads to a correction. I’ve known plenty of people that have made a mistake, recognize it, and continue to make it, everyday for years. It still doesn’t make it evil.

I’m about to make some of you reading this uncomfortable. The basic definition of sin is “missing the mark”, comparable to an arrow not hitting the bullseye. It has taken another meaning in religious circles and I find that unfortunate.

We should have a word that describes our failures. A word that is stronger than mistake/error but not so strong as damnation.

I’m thinking that the original definition of sin fits the mark, perhaps that is why it is so unpopular.

Is sin evil? Possibly, evil is certainly sin, but I don’t think they are interchangeable.

Sin is an action that causes the spirit to be grieved. Sometimes we plow ahead thinking that it will somehow be resolved. Mostly it isn’t. When we analyze it enough to recognize that the action benefits you to the detriment of others, that’s when it crosses over to evil. I suppose there are small evils and larger evils.

Praeger contends that embracing communism was evil. I certainly believe it was a mistake, and I also believe that most leadership began to embrace it for their own power, and justified horrible decisions with the idea of the greater good. That tiptoes into evil. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Thank you Lord Acton. (Most folks ignore the “tends to”.)

But it would be a moral mistake to classify millions of people who once believed in communism as evildoers.

When we sin we have the option of redemption. Some of us do that faster than others. The same can be said of true evildoers but the conviction is far more difficult. It is not only a knowledge issue, it is often a deeper rooted thinking issue. It can truly be described as a personality shift. Evil is pernicious. Sin is unfortunate but we can make a change.

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Francis Bacon

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More Encouragement Thoughts

Encouragement can be found in a vast mountain lake. A reservoir filled to the brim, more encouragement than you can receive in several lifetimes. And yet it is untapped for most of us, for most of our lives.

It is the stored encouragement. The “frozen in time “ encouragement that can be found in books, in song, and sometimes even in physical places. It is encouragement that is freely accessed, and yet we don’t feel like it. It is encouragement that is available 24/7, yet we ignore it. It is encouragement that is honest and true, like scripture. Yet we turn a blind eye. Why is that?

I believe the most powerful, and enduring encouragement, comes from these static sources of encouragement. Yet we focus on the words and actions of people, as if this is the encouragement that is more important. I think that we have conflated the issue.

People, and sometimes the world, have way too much influence on our access to static encouragement. “I feel discouraged.” “Why don’t you read the Bible?”, “I don’t feel like it.” “Why?”, “Because Bill and I had an argument.”

The discouragement we sometimes get from people act as a gate, blocking us from accessing tremendous amounts of encouragement. The sad thing is that the gate is a very small item that can be opened quite easily. Sometimes it is not people that stops us, sometimes it is the world, and your reaction to the world. Your car won’t start, you can’t find your glasses, or your wallet. For some reason every traffic light is twice as long as normal, and you have hit every one. You have switched lanes five times to the slowest lane on the freeway. Sometimes the world gives discouragement. The solution in this is that you can realize that you have a choice in how you see the world.

There are some thing’s that are not a choice. Gravity brings you to the earth, fire is hot and burns, skunk spray stinks. apart from these things, and a few others, everything else is subjective. The more that you can see this, the less the world can discourage you. People, however, are a different matter.

Again, people can discourage you primarily by disallowing your access to powerful static encouragement. A curse is bad, but when a curse disables you from seeking powerful encouragement, then it’s more than twice as bad.

So, it’s possible to be less affected by the discouragement from people, but that often comes at a cost that disconnects you from society. “I will ignore you, and choose not to hear your words!”. I don’t think this is the solution. My suggestion is to change the ratio of discouragement and encouragement.

Discouraging comments from people are mostly a learned pattern. There are mean spirited people out in the world, but more often there are unthinking people that are neutral to the issue, or they are unthinking in regards to discouragement. If individuals actively choose encouragement then it begins to cascade, and others become more encouraging.

Encouragement is reflective, it is viral. Intentional encouragement from a person validates the individual’s choice to access static encouragement. More encouragement creates more encouragement. The ratio changes and the world is better for it. Understanding the real source of lasting encouragement keeps people from relying totally on the words and actions from people. Remove, or take charge of the gates, and let the encouragement flow.

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I have lost count of what I have done and how many.

Apparently my storage system is a little wacky, because I remember working on the image, and then I can’t find it. Later, it pops up like an Easter Egg.

There are worse things…

Marcel Duchamp has been on my mind. I haven’t tried a tribute work, he is too complicated. I haven’t done Dali either. Well, I tried Dali, but it never worked out. I actually had to tear it up. It offended me.

Back to Duchamp… art historians give him the title “the one who freed Art”. And they also believe “the Fountain” is the most important art work in art history.

DuChamp promoted “the Found Art Movement”. He would find an object then declare it “Art”, and it would be in his next show. It could be a stool with a bicycle tire, it could be some sandwiched items between glass.

Lest you believe that he was pulling your leg, he would often write a fifty page monograph describing the inner workings of the piece.

DuChamp was the real deal.

Art is made by artists, not defined by critics or salon/gallery owners. Not even by the public.

The art may not be liked, they may call it unworthy. But they cannot say it is not art, once made by the artist.

There is a freedom there. Art is not defined by an official medium. There was once a standard that art had to be archival. It may be a policy for some museums, but it is not a definition of art.

Things like, what is truth? What is beauty? What is art?

We should have certain knowledge about these things. Usually in our desire to “know”, we are wrong. At the very least we can work on defining our own views.

I have been going through a change lately. I no longer create art. I make art!

It seems like silly difference in words, but I’m very serious.

Everything in the universe was created at one instance. Since that time (time was also created) nothing has been destroyed. Everything has simply changed.

I have taken created things and made new things, which last for a time. I create nothing, but I am a prolific maker.

What about ideas? Nope, everything is built up. I put things together.

Of course the problem is that this is a personal perspective. I’m not saying that this is true for anyone else. It is simply what I believe for me.

There is way too much responsibility in being a creator. Too many liabilities.

Plus there is the ego thing. Putting a few things together is way more humbling.

And what about the days, hours, months that you are not creating? Much easier to take a break from putting things together. You are just resting.

Yep, I make art, and I make it art.

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Various New & Revisted

I can’t leave it alone. Gotta try reworking. And I’m really only using two different brush styles.

Okay, the last one is my grandson’s.

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One More Egon and a Klee

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Egon Studies

I wanted to revisit Egon with my Apple Pencil.

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