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Summing Up

Below is a series of images summing up the awful mess we are in as a country. The mess is the fault of (1) the despicable Donald Trump, who manages to be criminally negligent, grossly incompetent, and a traitor at the same time, (2) the disgraceful and cowardly elected Republicans who won’t stop him, and (3) the disturbed conservative masses, who, owing to a host of mental and emotional aberrations, cheer him on.

Actually, those characterizations are quite generous — an understatement of the situation. My polite nature prevents me from saying what I really think.

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Tomato Literacy

My mom once observed that a bad tomato is better than no tomato at all. Mom’s love of tomatoes in any form, but especially fresh tomatoes, was epic.

I like a nice, juicy tomato, too, but I don’t eat the things regularly. Most store-bought tomatoes are awful, and growing my own is too much trouble. Unlike Mom, I believe no tomato at all is better than a bad tomato.

The tomato is an oddity. It’s a berry of the plant Solanum lycopsicum, botanically classified as a fruit, but used as a vegetable.

In case your tomato literacy is lacking, allow me to do some enlightening.

Tomatoes are among the 2,700 species of the nightshade family of flowering plants. Nightshades range from vines to shrubs to trees to ornamentals to a number of food crops — among the latter being tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

All nightshades contain alkaloid compounds in varying amounts, manifesting in the form of poisons, stimulants, psychotropic drugs, and medicines. Fortunately, all nightshade food crops contain only trace amounts of alkaloids and are harmless.

That fact, however, did not prevent many Europeans and Americans in olden times from coming to the erroneous conclusion that tomatoes are poisonous. A few hundred years ago, most people believed eating a tomato meant certain death.

Tomatoes originated in Central and South America among the Incas and Aztecs, and Spain introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 1500s. By the time they became known in England, the myth of the poison tomato already had taken hold.

One reason was an influential book by English botanist John Gerard (1545-1612). In the book, Gerard made the scholarly declaration that, yes, eating a tomato will kill you instantly.

As you probably know, science wasn’t very scientific back then — largely a mixture of guesswork, mysticism, and sometimes a dash of religion. But folks at the time didn’t know that. Thus, when the great scientist Gerard said eating a tomato would kill you, most people believed it.

Eventually, of course, the truth came out. The myth was exposed, and slowly, tomatoes were welcomed into society.

A story is told that in 1820, a distinguished citizen of Salem, New Jersey, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, played an important role in changing America’s mind about tomatoes.

The story is unsubstantiated, as well as suspiciously apocryphal, but it makes the point with great panache.

The following account is from “The Story of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the Tomato” as preserved by the Salem County Historical Society.

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Col. Johnson announced that he would eat a tomato, also called the wolf peach, Jerusalem apple or love apple, on the steps of the county courthouse at noon. That morning, in 1820, about 2,000 people were jammed into the town square. The spectators began to hoot and jeer.

Then, 15 minutes later, Col. Johnson emerged from his mansion and headed up Market Street towards the Courthouse. The crowd cheered. The fireman’s band struck up a lively tune.

He was a very impressive-looking man as he walked along the street. He was dressed in his usual black suit with white ruffles, black shoes and gloves, tricorn hat, and cane.

At the Courthouse steps he spoke to the crowd about the history of the tomato. He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun.

“To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing and to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now.”

There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite.

A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention; they were all watching Col. Johnson as he took one bite after another.

He raised both his arms, and again bit into one and then the other. The crowd cheered and the firemen’s band blared a song.

“He’s done it!” they shouted. “He’s still alive!”

———

Prior to the event, Johnson’s doctor predicted that “the foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis from all the oxalic acid.”

Most of the onlookers, it was said, fully expected Colonel Johnson to drop dead on the spot. Wagers, in fact, were placed on the exact moment of his demise.

And, although the reports are unconfirmed, there was talk that Colonel Johnson himself collected handsomely on a series of side bets.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson (1771-1850), soldier, statesman, judge, horticulturalist, historian, and gentleman farmer.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The star Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the constellation Orion, is 767 million miles in diameter. For scale, Jupiter and Saturn are 480 million miles and 890 million miles from the sun, respectively.

● When Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was 12, his father died, leaving the family destitute. Young Samuel dropped out of school and took a job. He received no further formal schooling.

● In its natural state, with no artificial coloring, butter is white.

● The funeral scene of the 1981 movie Gandhi employed over 300,000 extras, easily a record.

● If the Borough of Brooklyn were independent of New York City, it would be the third largest city in the United States, following the rest of NYC and Los Angeles.

● When Charles Dickens was writing A Christmas Carol, before he settled on the name of the character Tiny Tim, he tried and rejected the names Small Sam, Little Larry, and Puny Pete.

● In 1967, the International Olympic Committee adopted strict anti-doping regulations. The first participant to be disqualified for drug use was Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

The Swedish team was surging in the pentathlon competition, and Liljenwall was nervous. With the pistol event coming up, he reportedly drank two beers to calm his nerves. He scored well, and Sweden won a Bronze medal, but it was forfeited after Liljenwall failed his drug test.

● The floating dot over the lowercase letters i and j is called a tittle.

● The African continent consists of 28 percent wilderness. North America consists of 38 percent wilderness.

● Since 1996, Australia’s banknotes have been made of a plastic polymer instead of a paper or cotton fiber like most currency. The polymer is cheaper, stronger, and more durable, and it can incorporate added layers of security protections, both visible and machine-readable.

● Alligators can’t move backwards.

● On the flag of the South African nation of Lesotho is the likeness of a mokorotlo, a traditional hat woven from a local grass. Mokorotlos are worn by court officials and are displayed in homes to protect against danger and evil.

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Thoughts du Jour

George

A few years before I retired (from the Advertising Department at Lithonia Lighting), the higher-ups hired a neurotic guy in his 40s I shall refer to here as George. He was brought in as an “account manager,” a sort of liaison to the other departments. George was useless, but the job was unnecessary anyway, so the only harm was the money wasted on his salary.

His eccentricities were many. He was nervous, twitchy, and socially awkward. He was a habitual fingernail biter and eventually began wearing false nails.

He also made strange noises. At random times, a sudden squeak, or sometimes a low moan, would erupt from him. He never acknowledged these peculiar sounds, and I’m not aware if anyone was ever bold enough to inquire.

On one occasion, George discovered a cellophane-wrapped Gaines-Burger® in a pocket of his sport jacket. He spent the next week fretting about it, mystified and confused. It never occurred to him that someone simply put it there as a joke. (The someone was Larry Flowers, the Art Director.)

One day, George emerged from his office in distress, complaining of chest pains. Someone called 911. Our department was deep inside the building, so we sat him in a swivel chair, and I rolled him to the nearest exit to meet the ambulance. He was okay and back at work a few days later.

I don’t remember when or under what circumstances George left the department. But I well remember the false nails, the Gaines-Burger®, the baffling noises, and that wild ride in the swivel chair.

Walking the Dog

One Saturday a while back, I took Jake to Jefferson Middle School for our morning walk. It’s one of the places he can go off-leash. At the south end of the parking lot were several teenagers shooting hoops, so I parked at the north end, and we set out in the opposite direction.

As is his habit, Jake executed a few energetic zoomies around the lawn, then settled down to plodding along, sniffing, and marking the bushes, trees, and poles.

Over the next 20 minutes, we walked the perimeter of the school property. Eventually, we came out from behind the school about 50 yards from the teens — who were, we observed, petting a Golden Retriever that also was off-leash.

Jake came to attention and stared intently at the Golden, thrilled as always to encounter another dog. I clipped the leash to his harness, and we approached the group.

The Golden was not alone. Inching along behind him was a man about my age behind the wheel of a silver Honda. The man was, in fact, walking the dog from the comfort of his car.

It was weird, yes, but reasonably safe. The parking lot is nowhere near traffic, and it was empty at the time, except as described. Also, the dog looked fairly old, probably not inclined to run off.

Jake and the Golden met, and both were super-excited. They inspected each other at length, tails wagging furiously. After I exchanged pleasantries with the humans, we walked on.

Walking your dog with a car. That concept never occurred to me.

On the Mend

Alas, our daily morning walks ended abruptly in late July when Jake somehow broke a toe and spent 10 weeks — 10 weeks! — in a cast and under treatment. I took him to the vet when he began limping and favoring a rear paw, and the x-rays showed a fracture.

Only a toe was involved, but the cast covered half his leg.

“Doc,” I said to the vet, “That cast is huge. I broke a toe once, and they just told me to go home and take it easy. They said it would take care of itself.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I can’t explain to Jake that he needs to take it easy.”

They sent Jake home wearing a cone of shame, but he paid no attention to the cast, so I got rid of the cone the first day.

Anyway, no daily walks, and the dog door was closed. I was supposed to keep him quiet and minimize the activity.

Fortunately, he adjusted well to the situation. He either walked on all fours, the cast making a clop-clop-clop sound on hard surfaces, or he trotted on three legs, holding the cast aloft like an aircraft with retracted landing gear.

On the other hand, if he saw a cat or a squirrel, he was off in vigorous pursuit (cloppity!-cloppity!-cloppity!).

But the fracture healed, and after seven weeks, the hard cast was replaced by a soft bandage. The vet also okayed our daily walks again. After 10 weeks, the bandage came off, and — knock on wood — all is well. On the final visit, they shaved his foot. It looks like a naked mole rat.

Odds are, he fractured the toe while going out the dog door. He exits the dog door like a speeding bullet if something worth chasing appears in the back yard.

When so doing, he lowers his head so his forehead hits the plastic flap, not his nose. Clever boy.

Well, clever except for fracturing a toe.

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Pix o’ the Day

More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

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The Questions…

1. What is the oldest active volcano on earth?

2. What are the world’s number one and number two fruit crops?

3. Where and when did the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history occur?

4. What’s the difference between jam and jelly?

5. What do the writer Edgar Allen Poe and the singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common?

The Answers…

1. Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily. Its first known eruption was in 1500 BC. It has erupted 200 times since then, the most recent being on May 22, 2020.

2. Number one, grapes. Number two, bananas.

3. Galveston, Texas, 1900. Between 8,000 and 12,000 people died.

4. Jam is made by crushing the fruit and adding the gelling agent pectin. Jelly is made by crushing the fruit, discarding the solid parts, and adding pectin.

5. Both married a 13-year-old first cousin.

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RIP RBG

When I heard the news that Justice Ginsburg had died, I reacted as any fair-minded person would. And just so you’ll know, I’m a fair-minded person.

In my case, I had a progression of thoughts.

First, I was sad that she’s gone. Justice Ginsburg was a titan of our time, someone widely beloved and respected. The loss is significant, even though, given her age and physical condition, her death can’t be considered a surprise.

Second, I was mortified by the timing. The fact that she did not survive beyond the term of the traitorous psychopath in the White House was like a punch in the gut.

Third, I was angry that it meant the Republicans, the shameless, morally bankrupt, Trump-enabling Republicans, now have an opportunity to confirm another jackleg conservative to the Supreme Court.

And fourth, I was reminded that Justice Ginsburg is a shining example of how the political left has claimed the moral high ground by default, since the political right has devolved into a quagmire of sneaky, mean-spirited hatefulness.

The truth is crystal clear: compared to the warped conservative worldview, the liberal take on things is sensible, rational, and morally superior by a country mile.

The conservatives have retreated to a moral sub-basement. They have become a bunch of preposterous, Snidely Whiplash villains, clinging to — how shall I put it? — their guns and religion.

Trump’s response to COVID-19 has been criminally incompetent, but the Senate Republicans sit on their hands.

The GOP is eager to help the rich get richer, and at the same time, they want to take away your health care.

They are unmoved when cops commit murder, as long as the victim isn’t white. They are okay with putting immigrant kids in cages. When Trump was caught and impeached for illegal and unethical conduct, they voted to acquit.

Just hours after Justice Ginsburg died, my own congressman, Republican Doug Collins, took an especially nasty shot at her.

Collins said upon RBG’s death, “RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws.”

Like virtually all of his fellow Republicans, Collins is an ambitious guy who will say or do anything to advance his career by sucking up to the MAGA faithful.

Naturally, Collins denied he was celebrating Justice Ginsburg’s death, but that is precisely what he was doing.

Collins, like Trump and the Republican politicians who are such a cancer on American society, is a professional weasel. It’s the only skill he has.

Justice Ginsburg was revered in her time, and she will be honored by history; Trump and today’s right-wing politicians will be remembered as vile opportunists.

As for the Republican voters, it simply is not possible for anyone of sound mind — anyone who can entertain a rational thought — to seriously support a no-talent blowhard like Trump or the rogue’s gallery of conservative politicians allied with him.

That’s why history will remember the MAGA crowd as a mixed bag of fools, simpletons, and hate-filled yokels, all mentally out of balance to some degree.

RBG passed on September 18, and that evening, I acted on another thought that came to me. I went online, searched for an RBG t-shirt, and found a nice one on Etsy.

The t-shirt just arrived. I like it a lot.

The Foulest Coincidence

The sci-fi short story below is about unintended consequences taken to extremes. It was written by Randall Garrett (1927-1987), a larger-than-life character whose reputation for brash and bawdy behavior was legendary.

On one occasion, Garrett attended a picnic for a group of science fiction writers. “You could follow his movements” wrote fellow attendee Frank Herbert, “by the squeals of the women whose bottoms he had just pinched.”

Regarding the story’s title: for the record, a fuze” is something designed to facilitate a detonation; a “fuse” is a safety device in an electrical circuit.

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Time Fuze

By Randall Garrett
Published in IF Worlds of Science Fiction, March 1954

Commander Benedict kept his eyes on the rear plate as he activated the intercom. “All right, cut the power. We ought to be safe enough here.”

As he released the intercom, Dr. Leicher, of the astronomical staff, stepped up to his side. “Perfectly safe,” he nodded, “although even at this distance a star going nova ought to be quite a display.”

Benedict didn’t shift his gaze from the plate. “Do you have your instruments set up?”

“Not quite. But we have plenty of time. The light won’t reach us for several hours yet. Remember, we were outracing it at ten lights.”

The commander finally turned, slowly letting his breath out in a soft sigh. “Dr. Leicher, I would say that this is just about the foulest coincidence that could happen to the first interstellar vessel ever to leave the Solar System.”

Leicher shrugged. “In one way of thinking, yes. It is certainly true that we will never know, now, whether Alpha Centauri A ever had any planets. But, in another way, it is extremely fortunate that we should be so near a stellar explosion because of the wealth of scientific information we can obtain. As you say, it is a coincidence, and probably one that happens only once in a billion years. The chances of any particular star going nova are small. That we should be so close when it happens is of a vanishingly small order of probability.”

Commander Benedict took off his cap and looked at the damp stain in the sweatband. “Nevertheless, Doctor, it is damned unnerving to come out of ultradrive a couple of hundred million miles from the first star ever visited by man and have to turn tail and run because the damned thing practically blows up in your face.”

Leicher could see that Benedict was upset; he rarely used the same profanity twice in one sentence.

They had been downright lucky, at that. If Leicher hadn’t seen the star begin to swell and brighten, if he hadn’t known what it meant, or if Commander Benedict hadn’t been quick enough in shifting the ship back into ultradrive — Leicher had a vision of an incandescent cloud of gaseous metal that had once been a spaceship.

The intercom buzzed. The commander answered, “Yes?”

“Sir, would you tell Dr. Leicher that we have everything set up now?”

Leicher nodded and turned to leave. “I guess we have nothing to do now but wait.”

When the light from the nova did come, Commander Benedict was back at the plate again — the forward one, this time, since the ship had been turned around in order to align the astronomy lab in the nose with the star.

Alpha Centauri A began to brighten and spread. It made Benedict think of a light bulb connected through a rheostat, with someone turning that rheostat, turning it until the circuit was well overloaded.

The light began to hurt Benedict’s eyes even at that distance and he had to cut down the receptivity in order to watch. After a while, he turned away from the plate. Not because the show was over, but simply because it had slowed to a point beyond which no change seemed to take place to the human eye.

Five weeks later, much to Leicher’s chagrin, Commander Benedict announced that they had to leave the vicinity. The ship had only been provisioned to go to Alpha Centauri, scout the system without landing on any of the planets, and return. At ten lights, top speed for the ultradrive, it would take better than three months to get back.

“I know you’d like to watch it go through the complete cycle,” Benedict said, “but we can’t go back home as a bunch of starved skeletons.”

Leicher resigned himself to the necessity of leaving much of his work unfinished, and, although he knew it was a case of sour grapes, consoled himself with the thought that he could as least get most of the remaining information from the five-hundred-inch telescope on Luna, four years from then.

As the ship slipped into the not-quite-space through which the ultradrive propelled it, Leicher began to consolidate the material he had already gathered.

Commander Benedict wrote in the log:

Fifty-four days out from Sol. Alpha Centauri has long since faded back into its pre-blowup state, since we have far outdistanced the light from its explosion. It now looks as it did two years ago. It —

“Pardon me, Commander,” Leicher interrupted, “But I have something interesting to show you.”

Benedict took his fingers off the keys and turned around in his chair. “What is it, Doctor?”

Leicher frowned at the papers in his hands. “I’ve been doing some work on the probability of that explosion happening just as it did, and I’ve come up with some rather frightening figures. As I said before, the probability was small. A little calculation has given us some information which makes it even smaller. For instance: with a possible error of plus or minus two seconds Alpha Centauri A began to explode the instant we came out of ultradrive!

“Now, the probability of that occurring comes out so small that it should happen only once in ten to the four hundred sixty-seventh seconds.”

It was Commander Benedict’s turn to frown. “So?”

“Commander, the entire universe is only about ten to the seventeenth seconds old. But to give you an idea, let’s say that the chances of its happening are once in millions of trillions of years!”

Benedict blinked. The number, he realized, was totally beyond his comprehension — or anyone else’s.

“Well, so what? Now it has happened that one time. That simply means that it will almost certainly never happen again!”

“True. But, Commander, when you buck odds like that and win, the thing to do is look for some factor that is cheating in your favor. If you took a pair of dice and started throwing sevens, one right after another — for the next couple of thousand years — you’d begin to suspect they were loaded.”

Benedict said nothing; he just waited expectantly.

“There is only one thing that could have done it. Our ship.” Leicher said it quietly, without emphasis.

“What we know about the hyperspace, or superspace, or whatever it is we move through in ultradrive is almost nothing. Coming out of it so near to a star might set up some sort of shock wave in normal space which would completely disrupt that star’s internal balance, resulting in the liberation of unimaginably vast amounts of energy, causing that star to go nova. We can only assume that we ourselves were the fuze that set off that nova.”

Benedict stood up slowly. When he spoke, his voice was a choking whisper. “You mean the sun — Sol — might.…”

Leicher nodded. “I don’t say that it definitely would. But the probability is that we were the cause of the destruction of Alpha Centauri A, and therefore might cause the destruction of Sol in the same way.”

Benedict’s voice was steady again. “That means that we can’t go back again, doesn’t it? Even if we’re not positive, we can’t take the chance.”

“Not necessarily. We can get fairly close before we cut out the drive, and come in the rest of the way at sub-light speed. It’ll take longer, and we’ll have to go on half or one-third rations, but we can do it!”

“How far away?”

“I don’t know what the minimum distance is, but I do know how we can gauge a distance. Remember, neither Alpha Centauri B or C were detonated. We’ll have to cut our drive at least as far away from Sol as they are from A.”

“I see.” The commander was silent for a moment, then: “Very well, Dr. Leicher. If that’s the safest way, that’s the only way.”

Benedict issued the orders, while Leicher figured the exact point at which they must cut out the drive, and how long the trip would take. The rations would have to be cut down accordingly.

Commander Benedict’s mind whirled around the monstrousness of the whole thing like some dizzy bee around a flower. What if there had been planets around Centauri A? What if they had been inhabited? Had he, all unwittingly, killed entire races of living, intelligent beings?

But, how could he have known? The drive had never been tested before. It couldn’t be tested inside the Solar System — it was too fast. He and his crew had been volunteers, knowing that they might die when the drive went on.

Suddenly, Benedict gasped and slammed his fist down on the desk before him.

Leicher looked up. “What’s the matter, Commander?”

“Suppose,” came the answer, “Just suppose, that we have the same effect on a star when we go into ultradrive as we do when we come out of it?”

Leicher was silent for a moment, stunned by the possibility. There was nothing to say, anyway. They could only wait….

A little more than half a light year from Sol, when the ship reached the point where its occupants could see the light that had left their home sun more than seven months before, they watched it become suddenly, horribly brighter. A hundred thousand times brighter!

Gordon Randall Phillip David Garrett.

Tune o’ the Day

George Harrison’s first solo album after the breakup of the Beatles was “All Things Must Pass” in 1970. The album was a great success — as well as proof that Harrison was the creative equal of Lennon and McCartney, thank you very much.

The album also showcased Harrison’s Hindu spiritual and philosophical beliefs. “Beware of Darkness” is one of several examples.

In the song, Harrison warns against the corrupting influences of pop idols (fallen singers), con men (soft shoe shufflers), politicians (greedy leaders), and negative thoughts (thoughts that linger). For good measure, Harrison tossed in a line about the Weeping Atlas Cedar, a tree of which he was especially fond.

Beware of Darkness” is Harrison’s baby, but my favorite version is by Concrete Blonde. It was on the group’s magnificent 1986 debut album.

Concrete Blonde never recorded a dud.

Beware of Darkness

By Concrete Blonde, 1986
Written by George Harrison

Watch out now, take care, beware
Of fallen singers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips.
Beware of darkness.

Watch out now, take care, beware
Of thoughts that linger,
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night.

Beware of darkness.


It can hit you,
It can hurt you,
Make you sore, and what is more,
That is not what you are here for.

Watch out now, take care, beware
Of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sideboards
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly.
Beware of darkness.

Watch out now, take care, beware
Of greedy leaders.
They take you where you should not go,
While Weeping Atlas Cedars,
They just want to grow.
Beware of darkness.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/beware-of-darkness.mp3