Sunday, January 31, 2010

Birth, life, death, infinity

Klara Polzl was born in Austria in 1860. At age 16, she was working as a housekeeper for her future husband, Alois, and married him in January of 1885. Their first son, Gustav, was born 4 months later.

Daughter Ida was born in the fall of 1886. Both children died of diphtheria during the winter of 1887-1888, while still small children. Just before they died, in 1887, she had another son Otto, but he died the same year he was born - all three children dying close together.

Klara and Alois were to have two more sons and then another daughter. One of the sons, Edmond, died of the measles when he was five. So she only had two children who survived childhood, one boy and one girl.

Klara has been described by a biographer as "...a large girl, almost as tall as her husband, with dark brown hair and even features." I'm not sure what "even features" means. "Even" as opposed to "odd," I suppose. The biographer indicated Klara's adult life was spent keeping house and raising children. One would have to note that she was only marginally successful at the latter, but perhaps that's too cruel a thing to say. Alois was not all that interested in either of those things. He died in 1903 and left Klara a pension from his government job.

Klara was a devout Roman Catholic and took her children to church regularly. Four years after her husband, in 1907, at age 47, Klara also died - of iodoform poisoning, a drug used in the treatment of breast cancer. She was buried near Linz.

Now, this doesn't seem like a very important woman, I know. She had a short, rather tragic life, and didn't really accomplish that much, by most standards. Yet, the fact that Klara once lived was to affect the entire world.

You see, when she married, she took Alois' last name of course, and Alois' last name was Hitler, and the name of her surviving son was Adolf.
Update: "Adolf challenged my father to extreme harshness and got his sound thrashing every day. He was a scrubby little rogue, and all attempts of his father to thrash him for his rudeness and to cause him to love the profession of an official of the state were in vain. How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness where the father could not succeed with harshness ..." (Paula Hitler) Follow this link

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Born under a different star

I remember as a kid lying on the sweet-smelling grass of the dark football field at 2 in the morning, looking up at the black sky filled with billions of points of lights - so many stars you couldn't even imagine if you lived surrounded by city lights. The country summer sky is ablaze with stars too many to imagine, something missed by city folk. As I laid there looking up, I would pick out the familiar constellations I had known all my life, like old friends: the big dipper, the little dipper, the kite, the bear, the north star. They all had formal names but those were the names I learned as a child. And the awesome cluster of stardust that was the Milky Way, the other side of our own galaxy. Every few seconds, shooting stars. And the weird shimmering sheets of light of the Northern Lights.

If you are a city dweller, you must drive out of town, from time to time - it is good for your soul - in the quiet early morning hours until you leave the streetlights behind. Drive down a country road and stop. Get out and look up at the wonder. Have you forgotten how many stars there are up there on a clear night when you are surrounded by darkness?

It wasn't until much later that I learned there is a completely different view of stars for people who live in the Southern Hemisphere. There are just as many, but they are different stars with different arrangements, different constellations with different names than the ones we see in the Northern Hemisphere. People in South Africa and Australia don't know about the big dipper, or can't see it if they do know about it.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere now, hot. The rains have begun in South Africa, almost finished now, in fact. Soon they will be able to build their new houses and businesses without constant interruption from the rain. It's the same world, but yet a very different world than ours. Monkeys in the trees shitting on their clean car when they go out to drive to work in the morning; cursing the monkeys - not a problem we encounter that much here in the States. Durban is alive with tourists now, a jewel on the Indian Ocean; and the tourist cruises are in full sway off the beautiful coast of Mozambique.

Here we are digging out from yet another in a string of snow storms. In the early morning darkness I look up at the sky and through the broken winter clouds I see the moon, almost full now, the first full moon of the decade - and a few stars. Not many stars through the mostly cloudy sky, and I live in a city now anyway. I think briefly of Neil Diamond's song about everyone in history, Alexander the Great and Jesus Christ, looking up at the same moon and regretting their lives being done so soon. I shiver and come back inside.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mr. Bojangles

I knew a man Bojangles and he'd dance for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair, a ragged shirt, and baggy pants
The old soft shoe
He jumped so high, jumped so high
Then he lightly touched down

I met him in a cell in New Orleans I was
down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age
as he spoke right out
He talked of life, talked of life, he laughed
clicked his heels and stepped

He said his name "Bojangles" and he danced a lick
across the cell
He grabbed his pants and spread his stance,
Oh he jumped so high and then he clicked his heels
He let go a laugh, let go a laugh
and shook back his clothes all around

Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles, dance

He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs
throughout the south
He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him
traveled about
The dog up and died, he up and died
And after 20 years he still grieves

He said I dance now at every chance in honky tonks
for drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
See... I drinks a bit
He shook his head, and as he shook his head
I heard someone ask him please

Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles, dance..

Written by Jerry Jeff Walker
Recorded by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and others... I liked the Sammy Davis, Jr. Version.

For the record, the songwriter said the song wasn't about the famous actor Bill Robinson who always claimed to be Bojangles, but was written after a jail cell encounter with a drunk.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Monetary Fund

"The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 186 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world."

The IMF is an agency of the United Nations.

The IMF is not a bad thing, seeking to squeeze repayment from countries like Haiti who could never repay anyway.

The IMF has just approved $102 million in aid to Haiti. Although this must be shown as a loan (the IMF lends money) one should not be afraid that Haiti will have to use your donations to pay back the IMF. Haiti doesn't pay it's debts. No need to fret.

Additional information added from Reuters newswire, 1/28/10:
Some $1.2 billion of Haiti's debts to the IMF and World Bank were written off in July last year as a reward by the international community for progress the country was making in economic reforms and management.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


New word I learned on a blog in my travels today: bruxing.

And a new playlist is up.

Update: I should link to that blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The good stuff and the crap

I have had the good fortune to read, and even come to know, many good writers since I have been blogging. Some are very good indeed. I say "good fortune" because I like to write too, and I have learned a lot from some of these people.

One of the things one sometimes hears as he visits the blogs of writers is the lament that, too often, "good writing" doesn't get published, but a lot of "bad writing" does get published. Often, this lament is frequently followed by a rather bitter assertion that this situation just isn't "fair."

The fact is, publishers are in business to make money. The way they make money is when books sell. They are not in business to publish "good" writing or "bad" writing; only writing which sells.

Let me tell you what kinds of books I buy: I buy books that I find interesting. Others also buy on this basis, as well as buying whatever is on the best-seller list, regardless of whether they like it or not. I'm not sure of the psychology of the latter, but it is true.

I don't really buy books based on whether or not they are "well-written" when compared to the standards or the Classics, or the talents of past "great" writers. Nor do I NOT buy books because everyone says they are garbage and shallow, poorly written and mistaken in their theses. I simply buy books which look like they would be interesting and/or are on a subject I want to know more about.

If you were a publisher, would you put up the money to publish and publicize a book because it was written well? Because it was authoritative? Or because your experience told you it was salable? Which would be your primary criterion?

And so, a lot of books that are disdained by literary professors as simply poof and puff get published and make millions.

Is this "fair"? If not, why not?

This doesn't apply only to books and publishing. There is a huge amount of crap being sold today. It's plastic. It's made in China. It isn't hand crafted and polished "good stuff."

None of us demand the "good stuff" when we select our politicians. You don't believe me? Look around you.

Shall we talk about "good" movies? Some people love the Sense and Sensibility genre, but more go to see Harry Potter and Avatar. And, collectively, even more still will go to see blood and guts and things being blown up. True or false?

Who gets to tell us what we should read, what we should go see, what we should eat? Who among you are the quality police? McDonald's is crap, according to the nutrition police. Why do they sell so much of it? Because lots of people like me like it a lot, that's why. Cheap, too.

I think the answer, in all cases, and in all of these examples, is simple: PEOPLE WANT IT.

All markets, food, cinema, toys, BOOK SALES, are driven by what people - buyers - want to buy. Give people what they need and you will do well. Give them what they WANT and you will make a killing.

True, sometimes something sells because of its packaging or because it is well hyped. A lot of people take things at face value and buy simply because it glitters, or because everybody else is buying the thing. Later, after you have made your purchase, you find the thing is not as advertised, or that it is found wanting in substance or performance. Barack Obama comes to mind. So does George Bush and most of congress. But it is up to you to investigate before you buy.

Is this "fair?" Damn right it is. If you want to write to please yourself, fine. If you want to make money writing, then write what people want to read. I wish I could.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Minding your Ps and Qs

One of my interests is collecting the origins of colorful words and phrases. Sometimes the item is lost in antiquity, but people still come up with ideas where they came from. It is often hard to tell the lies from the truth.

Ale used to be served by the tankard which held a quart. You were charged by the angle of your elbow: half way up, you were charged for a pint; all the way up you had drunk a whole quart. Thus you had to be conscious of minding your Ps and Qs.

Somehow I doubt this is the truth.

Beating around the bush: bird hunters used to beat or make noise to cause the birds to fly out so they could be shot.

That's pretty straightforward, even obvious. But it doesn't seem to be compatible with the meaning of the adage, does it? To beat around the bush is to waste time and not come to the point. How were bush-beating hunters wasting time?

I don't believe that one either.

Who has the imagination to put forward other possibilities (more plausible, please) for these lame explanations found in "authoritative" books? By "imagination" I mean YOU think it up instead of going to Google.

(Incidentally, I was long ago taught that minding one's Ps and Qs came from the days when printers hand-set type, and a common "typo" was them putting a p upside down, making it a q. I still like that explanation better. Except one time I realized that an upside down p was a b not a q.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee

Printed on a loaf of Sara Lee bread:

"We are so confident that you will love our Bakery Breads that we guarantee their taste. If for any reason you are not satisfied, call toll free 1-800-889-3556 or visit and we will gladly replace the product."

Dear Sara Lee:

If I am not satisfied with your product, why would I want you to replace it? Would it taste different? Would I love the replacement more than I loved the first one? If not, would I have to call you again? When would this ever end? That's not a guarantee. Just give me my money back.

Relax Max

Dear Mr/Ms Max, Relax:

We are happy to hear you enjoy our [insert product line here] products enough to write and tell us. Print out the coupon below and enjoy .10 off on your next purchase of [insert product line here]. Again, thank you for your patronage.


Dear Sara Lee:

Somebody doesn't like Sara Lee. Me. And your 800 number doesn't work. Also, I feel your email was unresponsive to my question. Tell you what: the next time I am at the store, I am going to accidentally drop a loaf of your bread on the floor and accidentally step on it. Then you can credit the store. I will continue doing this every time I go shopping until I feel better.

Relax Max

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Here's another post about something I don't know for a fact (nobody does) but which I've thought a lot about and would like your opinions.

Do you believe in life on other planets out there somewhere, maybe in a galaxy far far away?

Or do you believe we here on earth are the only intelligent life? (Using the word "intelligent" rather loosely.)

If there are other places with life on them - "life" as in thinking creatures and not just microbes of some sort - are they more intelligent than we are? Have they advanced more than we have? Is space travel (or even time travel) in their repertoire?

I have been told (and can't argue) that there are so many planets out there it would be an incredible fluke if we were the only planet with some sort of "people" on it.

I am hesitant to use the word "believe" since my friend the Rocket Scientist put it into perspective for me. But if one simply formulated a theory, it would seem reasonable to theorize that by sheer numbers alone, there would be other people out there. (I am starting to use the word "people" now instead of "life," because I am talking about intelligent creatures, really, and not primitive plant life.)

If there are other intelligent creatures, people, out there, what are the ramifications of that?

I suppose if there are "others" out there, then the theory that "life" might have been planted on earth might not be as far fetched as I was ridiculing in my recent post.

What do YOU think the possibilities are, that you have been quiet about until now? I won't call you crazy if you think there is other life out there. I just want to know what you think it might be like. Or are the possibilities endless?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers

James Gideon Tanner (1885-1960) was an American fiddler and band leader considered a pioneer in what would later become known as "country music". He was a chicken farmer most of his life, since fiddling around didn't pay much yet. He formed The Skillet Lickers (back in the 1920s) and made a stack of records that are mostly still very collectible today.

Blind Riley Puckett was probably the most famous (and independently successful) of the Skillet Lickers. I'm guessing few of you share my old music collecting as a hobby, but Puckett's "Ragged But Right" was pretty decent.

On a related note (honest, it really is related) a "Blind Tiger" is American Prohibition-Era slang for a speakeasy, so-called because they were often in a backroom of a carnival "oddity" front. The name has nothing to do with the NYC bar on Bleecker Street that stole the name.

But more trivia: Bleecker Street IS the one that appears in PP&M's arrangement of "Freight Train" (original lyrics written by Libba Cotton in 1907 when she was 12 years old), covered over the years by countless singers including Dick and DeeDee and PP&M. Again, for old music buffs.

Listen to Freight Train, Dick and DeeDee VersionListen to Freight Train, Peter, Paul and Mary Version (buried on Bleecker Street lyrics)
(Note that Elisabeth Cotten plays the guitar left handed and upside down.)

The Peter Paul and Mary version is the best, but iTunes won't let me share it with you, and I can't find theirs on YouTube. Sorry.

Update: Thanks to Descartes, I have found the Peter Paul and Mary version of Freight Train on Groove Shark and you can listen to their version by using the widget I've installed in the sidebar to your right.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gid Tanner has nothing to do with this does He?

I was searching Google images for a picture of Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers and this cartoon was among the results. Well, I don't see the connection to a 1920s Hillbilly music group, but the apropos-ness of it was almost God-like so I am running it here to avoid retribution. There must be a reason.
But SHE'S thinking she wants a peer review. Har!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Crazier even than Evolution? Maybe not.

Check this out:

"Raëlism... is a UFO religion which teaches that all life on Earth was created by humanoid extraterrestrials called Elohim." (Thank Wikipedia for making me put that in quotes.)

The Raëlian leader is named Raël (of course), a former French sports-car journalist whose pre-enlightened name was Claude Vorihon. The International Raëlian Movement has been called (by Claude, at least) "the largest UFO religion in the world." And they don't laugh when they say it, either - just like Evolutionists don't giggle with the absurdity of man coming from a zebra or such.

You get to be one by undergoing a "transmission ceremony" and paying dues. Don't forget the dues. None of your volunteer tithing here, by god. There are seven levels in this religion and Claude the sports-writer is right there in numero siete. At the very top. What a surprise. I'm sure Claude (Raël) handles all the dues, too.

Well, why not? If you can bring yourself to believe that an ameba became a worm became a bird became a monkey became man, and can teach that with a straight face without proof in a classroom, then why not Outer Space?

Hell, I can SEE the stars.

Disclaimer: I don't have a CLUE where we came from. Worse, like a loyal reader of this blog, I DON'T CARE.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tulane University at New Orleans

Across the street from the beautiful and venerable Loyola Univerisity New Orleans, is the beautiful and venerable Tulane University, founded 1834.

Tulane is one of the elite research universities in
the United States. The Tulane Cancer Center and the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy are only two examples. Aging studies is another.

There are lots of interesting things on the walls of both universities. I'm not sure what they all are.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Where in the world are we? Can you tell?

Is this Windsor Castle?
(No, not Windsor Castle) Is this Toyota's world headquarters?
No, not Toyota Either. You are standing on St. Charles Street in New Orleans, USA, with your back to Tulane University accross the street. This is Loyola University. Who knew that?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Windsor Clarity

Windsor Chair...
Windsor Castle?...
Half-Windsor and Full Windsor knots...
Full Windsor person...
Half-Windsor? ...
Wet Windsor...
Windsor, Ontario...
1939 Chrysler Royal Windsor...
Winds are strong today...
Wins are rare in Detroit...
Hot Windsor. Cute Windsor. You cannot believe how tired I am of this idea. There are ENDLESS Windsors!!!!

Happy New Year!

I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year. May it be everything you expect of it.


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