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Archive for the ‘Miscellanea’ Category

Thoughts du Jour

Mummies

Humans have a habit of believing preposterous nonsense — embracing ideas that defy evidence and common sense. I could point to the behavior of today’s conservatives, but instead, consider the ancient Egyptians. They decided that the soul could not live on in the afterlife unless the body of the deceased was preserved. Seriously. Hence, their obsession with mummies.

The Egyptians traditionally buried the dead in the desert sand, which conveniently mummified the bodies. It was fine just to drop common folk in a hole, but it was inappropriate if you were important. So, for the rich and powerful, the Egyptians began building monument-style tombs.

The first such tomb was a mastaba, which in ancient Egyptian means “eternal house.” Mastabas were rectangular structures with inward-sloping sides and flat roofs, constructed of bricks made from mud. They protected the body from animals and grave robbers, but the absence of sand meant no mummification and — drat — no soul living on in the afterlife.

So they developed artificial mummification. For bigshots, of course. In time, the bigshots also concluded that mastabas weren’t elaborate enough, and pyramids became a thing.

In summary, the concept arose that your soul is doomed if your dead body decomposes as nature intended. Egyptian society seized on that idea and focused on it for several thousand years. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Island

For four years in the 1950s, my dad was stationed at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and we Smiths lived in nearby Panama City. In 1956, Dad got a one-year assignment as base commander at Thule AFB, Greenland. No dependents live at Thule, so Mom and us kids remained in Panama City.

Dad called, wrote, and sent photos regularly, which kept us up to date about life at Thule. One fact about the place that got a snicker from my 14-year-old self was the story of a small island within sight of the base named, in the Inuit language, Iganaq.

Due to its appearance in profile, people at Thule called the island the Witch’s Tit. Dad got a snicker, too, from telling us that.

In 1958, Greenland changed the name of the island from Iganaq to Dalrymple Rock. This was to honor Dr. Paul Dalrymple, a geographer and meteorologist who spent a good part of his career in Greenland.

Despite the name change, I’m sure the island remained Iganaq to the Inuit. And to the people stationed at Thule, it’s probably still the Witch’s Tit.

Unexpected Journey

When I stopped for lunch in Commerce recently, I had no way of knowing I was about to drive a mom and two preschoolers to the next county.

As I arrived at the Wendy’s parking lot, a female voice called out, “Sir! Sir! My car broke down, and my boys are with me, and my phone is dead! Can I borrow your phone to call my Nanna?”

The mom was in her late 20s and understandably stressed. I handed her my phone. She called Nanna, who didn’t answer, probably because it was from an unknown caller. So the mom sent a text. Still no reply. Nanna was MIA.

The mom thanked me and told me to proceed with my lunch. She said Nanna probably would respond soon. So I proceeded with lunch.

After lunch, I checked, and still no word from Nanna. I couldn’t just leave them stranded, so I told the mom I would drive them to Nanna’s house, which was about five minutes away. The mom protested feebly while transferring the boys and their car seats to my car.

She spent the drive trying to set me up with Nanna, who was described as healthy, active, attractive, and a widow. I was politely noncommittal.

Nanna was home, working in the garden. The mom wanted me to give Nanna my phone number, but Nanna (indeed a handsome woman) steered the mom away while waving a thank-you over her shoulder. I drove back to Commerce, where I bought some dog treats at Marshall’s.

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All in the Family

Among the memorable early Romans was Julia Agrippina (15-59 AD), described by history as smart, ambitious, and calculating. Not to mention lethal, allegedly.

Agrippina was the daughter of Germanicus, a Roman general, and the granddaughter of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

The second Roman emperor was Tiberius (brother of Augustus, uncle of Germanicus). Germanicus hoped to succeed Tiberius, but instead, Caligula (son of Germanicus, brother of Agrippina) was named emperor three.

Caligula was assassinated, and Claudius (brother of Germanicus, uncle of Agrippina) became emperor four. Claudius then married his niece Agrippina and adopted her son Nero, whose father Domitius had died suddenly when Nero was two.

Claudius, incidentally, was Agrippina’s third husband. Her second husband Passienus had died a few years earlier, by some accounts poisoned by Agrippina.

Agrippina wanted her son Nero to succeed Claudius so she could retain her power and influence. Soon — oops — Claudius was poisoned, and Nero became the fifth Roman emperor at age 16.

As Nero matured, Agrippina’s influence waned. Ultimately, a nasty power struggle ensued between mother and son, ending in Agrippina’s death at age 44. Nero almost certainly was responsible, but conflicting historical accounts make the truth elusive.

To sum up, Agrippina was at various times the granddaughter, great niece, niece, sister, wife, and mother of the first five Roman emperors. Plus, all three of her husbands died early and mysteriously. Wow.

Equine Slumber

If you’re a horse, you have a unique sleep problem. Namely, you aren’t built to lie down and get back up easily. You do so with great difficulty and are left vulnerable to predators.

As a result, horses have evolved special sleep behaviors. First, they take naps several times a day while standing. This is made possible by specialized tendons and ligaments that allow the horse to lock the major joints of its legs, so it can snooze without toppling over.

But horses also need deep sleep — REM sleep — just as you do. For that, they lie down and recharge for real, usually in short intervals totaling several hours a day.

Yes, they are vulnerable while lying horizontal and unconscious, but other horses always remain awake and on sentry duty.

Whack

Most of the time, my dog Jake is calm and mellow. He gets excited, of course, on such occasions as our morning walk, or when he lights out after a cat, but otherwise, his world is pleasant, and life is good.

There are, however, exceptions. Occasionally, a local redneck goes hunting in the woods, and we hear gunfire in the distance. In which case, Jake’s happy face disappears, and he retreats to the back of my bedroom closet. He won’t come out until the noise stops.

His reaction is the same with fireworks and other loud noises. At the first boom, he heads for the sanctuary of the closet.

Furthermore, he dislikes/fears my flyswatter. If a fly lands somewhere and I whip out the flyswatter, Jake exits the room as soon as he sees it. Apparently, he is upset by my display of violence and the loud whack as I dispatch the fly.

I usually can conceal the flyswatter from him, but the telltale whack can’t be disguised.

Although I feel bad for Jake, the flyswatter is here to stay. And frankly, I find the whack to be oddly satisfying.

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Mystery Pig

File this story under “stranger than fiction.”

One recent Saturday, Jake and I went walking at Jefferson Middle School, where he could go off-leash and perform zoomies. Before long, we came upon an unoccupied pickup truck parked on the grass. Next to it was a wire pet cage, empty, door open.

And under the truck, cowering next to a wheel, was a piglet. It was a tiny thing, about six inches high and a foot long. A rope around its neck secured it to the truck.

Jake danced around and snuffled the piglet with great excitement, but didn’t hurt it, because, well, Jake loves all living things. The piglet seemed confused about being licked by a large animal.

Did the truck and the pig belong to someone working inside the school? Was the pig left outside because it wasn’t housebroken? A baffling scenario.

I tried to get Jake to continue our walk, but he wasn’t going anywhere. I allowed him a minute more of snuffling, then hooked up his leash and led him away. Poor Jake. So disappointed.

Why a piglet was tied to a truck next to an open pet cage on the lawn of the middle school that Saturday, I’ll never know.

Tuaregs

The Tuareg people of North Africa, nomads of the Sahara Desert since the 4th Century, are unique among Islamic ethnic groups.

Unlike in most Muslim societies, Tuareg women have high status. They control most of the property, and the lineage of families and clans is traced through the women.

Further, Tuareg men, not women, wear veils. When Tuareg men reach adulthood, they wear the tagelmust, a veil that reveals only the eyes, for the rest of their lives.

The Tuaregs believe the veils protect them from being possessed by evil spirits that enter through the nose and mouth. Why women don’t need the protection, I can’t say.

The concept of evil spirits and veils is, of course, preposterous nonsense. I rank it right up there with belief in a God who is omnipotent and benevolent, yet is okay with widespread starvation, disease, war, and suffering. That should strain anyone’s credulity.

Greek to Me

A while back, on a lark, I bought a copy of Georgia Outdoor News (GON), a monthly magazine about guns, hunting, fishing, and guns. I wanted some reading matter that was different, and GON certainly is that.

Frankly, I detest guns, and I strongly object to hunting and fishing. Guns are an abomination, and stalking and killing animals is making a special effort to be cruel. The articles and ads in GON confirm how callous and sadistic people can be toward other living things.

One particular tip that made me wince was a suggestion to fishermen: slice open your live bait so the blood in the water will attract fish.

But I digress. It was fascinating to get a peek at the world of hunters and fishermen as they talked to each other. For example, a “Fishing Reports” article gave tips on when and where to fish on various Georgia lakes. This is what one guide reported about West Point Lake near Columbus:

The herring population seems to have exploded this year. Try fishing riprap around bridges with spinnerbaits, small crankbaits and Zoom Super Flukes. Try an unweighted merthiolate Zoom Trick Worm or an unweighted Zlinky.

One other pattern is to look for fresh blowdowns with the leaves still on them. Try a Jerkbait or Zoom Super Fluke worked around the outer limbs. Lots of spotted bass are caught by casting Spot Remover heads loaded with Ultravibe Speed Craws.”

I know what riprap and blowdowns are, but otherwise, that’s just word salad. An experienced fisherman probably would get the message loud and clear.

I hope so. Better to use a Jerkbait or Zoom Super Fluke than to slice open your live bait.

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Thoughts du Jour

Business As Usual

My county school board doesn’t have a very good record. Some years ago, it built new schools in East Jackson County, and — oops — West Jackson grew faster. Then the board built a new county high school for $69 million that — oops — required portable classrooms the day it opened.

The old county high school became the “college and career center.” I’m not sure a career center needs a campus the size of a shopping mall, plus multiple acres of abandoned football, baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, and practice facilities, but it has them anyway.

Then there’s another matter that smells to high heaven. The old high school was a handsome two-tone brick structure. Brick — the stuff that lasts forever and is wonderfully low-maintenance. This is the old high school:

But before the building opened last fall as the career center, the school board had the entire school — all of those attractive and perfectly serviceable brown bricks — painted. All gazillion of them. This is the career center today:

The old high school — excuse me, the career center — is big and sprawling. Painting it took the contractor all summer.

I would love to know which government official that painting contractor is related to.

Survivor

In Montana in June 1876, General George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was steamrolled in the Battle of the Little Bighorn by warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. Five of the regiment’s 12 companies were wiped out. Custer and 273 soldiers died.

Two days after the battle, Comanche, the horse of a slain 7th Cavalry officer, was found in a ditch badly wounded. Comanche was hailed as the sole survivor of the battle, but probably wasn’t. Some 100 cavalry horses are thought to have survived and were claimed by the victors.

Comanche suffered seven bullet wounds, but recovered and became a hero to the 7th Cavalry. The unit commander declared that the horse would live out his life in comfort and “will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.”

Comanche lived an easy life at Fort Riley, Kansas, until his death in 1891. For some grotesque reason, his body was stuffed, and, also for some grotesque reason, it remains on display today at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

Viral Agent

I avoid zombie movies because the idea of zombies is so trite and silly. People get infected, spazz out, cause chaos, and maybe eat brains. Eventually, an antidote is discovered, or they all get killed, or whatever. So tiresome.

A key concept of most zombie stories is that the victims were exposed to some kind of awful new virus. And it made me wonder if maybe, just maybe, something similar might explain the behavior of today’s Republicans.

Imagine an insidious viral agent that infiltrates the brains of conservatives and causes them to ignore facts, deny science, embrace nutty conspiracy theories, hate black and brown people, admire Nazis, praise dictators, and always vote Republican, thus dooming us to an unending succession of wretched scumbags in public office.

The concept of a medical explanation for right-wing behavior makes sense, except for the part where normal people are immune to the virus. I’m still trying to puzzle that out.

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Pollen and Pollination

Every spring for a couple of weeks, my corner of the world — and probably yours — gets coated in pollen. At the same time, dried-out thingies begin raining down from the oak trees, clumping together and piling up and staining the driveway.

This year, I decided it was past time to identify those mysterious dried-out thingies. I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered.

They are called catkins, and they are the male half of oak tree reproduction. They contain pollen, which is carried by the wind to all the female oak flowers out there. Specifically, the male flowers form in the summer, produce pollen the next spring, die and dry up, and bingo.

The wind can carry the pollen many miles, but only a tiny fraction of the grains will pollinate a female and create an acorn. Further, the vast majority of acorns get eaten by animals and don’t make it to tree-hood. Nature doesn’t do pity.

The yellow coat of pollen on your car, by the way, is from pine trees, not oaks. Grains of pine pollen are large enough to be visible, but too large to bedevil your sinuses; oak and other hardwood pollen is much smaller and is the stuff that makes you sneeze and cough.

You, not me. Pollen doesn’t bother me at all.

The Power of Books

Scientist and science champion Carl Sagan, bless him, had a way with words. In 1995, one year before he died, he published The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. In the book was the following passage.

———

For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made.

Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

Books changed all that.

Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history.

They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.

Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.

———

That wonderful observation, I should note, came in a book.

The Oklahoma Panhandle

You’re no doubt familiar with the Oklahoma Panhandle, that odd strip of land west of the rest of the state, sticking out like the handle of a pan. But do you know the story of its origin? I didn’t either.

When the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1821, the panhandle region was part of Texas. But when Texas applied to enter the Union in 1845, there was a problem. The U.S. prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36°30′ north. The panhandle strip is north thereof.

Texas (sigh) insisted on being a slave state, so it surrendered its claim to the panhandle. For the rest of the century, the area was a no-man’s land between states, the home of assorted cattle ranches, homesteaders, and outlaws. Finally, the panhandle was tacked onto Oklahoma when it became a state in 1907.

The panhandle region is 168 miles east to west and 34 miles north to south. It consists of three minimally-populated rectangular counties, the westernmost of which, Cimarron County, borders Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

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Thoughts du Jour

Nope

Recently, just for something different, I bought a copy of Mother Earth News, a how-to magazine about sustainable farming, natural gardening, simple living, etc. Among the articles was a story by a woman who raises Guinea Hogs, a breed of small black pigs.

The author described the animals as intelligent, friendly, and gentle. She said one of her females, Louise, enjoys belly rubs, ear scratches, and going to the park on Saturday to listen to banjo music. Guinea Hogs are “full of personality,” she wrote. “They’re easy to love and easy to handle.”

She then added, “They also provide delicious pork and lard.”

People, I am as carnivorous as the next guy, but killing and eating animals that literally live as pets — that’s just wrong. Don’t lovingly raise animals you plan to murder and consume. Don’t name your pig Louise and take her to the park and then execute her for bacon. Jeez Louise.

The Miracle

In 1954, I was a 12-year-old 7th-grader living in Panama City, Florida. On one memorable spring Saturday, Mom and Dad took us kids to the Bay County Fair, which, incidentally, dates back to 1945 and still operates today.

In those days, children rarely were supervised. If you were old enough to take care of yourself, you were chased from the house and told to “go play” and stay out of trouble until suppertime. Thus, when we got to the fair, I was given a dollar and set loose to have fun, stay out of trouble, and return at a specified time.

Rides at the fair cost about 25 cents, drinks and snacks about 10 cents. I was delighted to have that dollar, but I knew it wouldn’t go far. I would need to spend it wisely.

Then, a miracle happened.

Something on the ground a few steps ahead caught my eye. I approached. To my utter astonishment, it was — gasp — a federal reserve note — the beautiful, unmistakable green of cash money. I picked it up, heart pounding.

Holy mother of God, it was a five-dollar bill!

Five dollars! I was rich! In my sheer ecstasy, I nearly fainted.

How I spent my riches at the fair that day, I don’t recall. But I spent every glorious penny of it.

For the record, I did not tell Mom and Dad about my good fortune. They would have made me save some of it or share it with my brothers.

As if.

Hoarding

We common folk justifiably get steamed at how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And usually, most of the ire is aimed at billionaires — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — because it gives you a face you despise and want to punch.

But there are institutional targets that deserve the vitriol even more. Take, for example, the obscenely wealthy churches of the world. Organized religion is, after all, simply a type of business enterprise — exempt from taxation, mind you — designed to make a profit.

The Mormon Church is worth a whopping $100 billion, which is amazing for its relatively small size. The Catholic Church no doubt has a net worth of many times that, but its wealth is off the scale to such a degree — vast gold deposits, extensive physical assets, webs of investments, priceless works of art — that the Holy See itself likely doesn’t know its own value.

Speaking of value, you may not be aware that the British royal family is worth $88 billion. And that the Kuwaiti royal family is worth $360 billion. And that the Saudi royal family is worth $1.4 trillion.

All that wealth, hoarded to no real purpose, when a small percentage of it would lift all eight billion souls on this planet out of poverty.

As if.

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Groundhogs

This hillside behind the Jefferson Civic Center is home to a sizable colony of groundhogs. Now that spring is here, I’m beginning to see the little guys peeking out of their hidey-holes.

In the photo above, the brownish spots are entrances to their burrow. Sentries are posted here and there to keep an eye out for perils such as me, Jake, cats, hawks, etc.

The critters are Marmota monax, aka groundhogs, aka woodchucks, which are burrowing rodents of the marmot family. They are said to be quite intelligent and have a complex social order that includes whistling to warn the colony of threats.

The hillside is about 15 feet high, providing an excellent view of the area, and some 200 yards long, almost all of it pocked with holes. A sizable colony, it seems.

I’m certainly not a threat to them, and Jake is on a leash, but they don’t know that.

The Rio Grande Rift

You may be aware that the Rio Grande flows down the center of New Mexico, dividing the state neatly in half. But did you know that the river follows a fault that began forming about 30 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau uplifted itself from the rest of the continent?

The Rio Grande Rift runs from southern Colorado to northern Mexico. Below El Paso, the rift continues south into Mexico, but the river turns east there and flows to the Gulf of Mexico as the border between Mexico and the US.

Although classified as a “narrow” rift, the fault averages about 180 miles wide. Geologists say it is expanding at a rate of about two millimeters per year.

Out of Sight

On weekends, Jake and I usually take our morning walk at one of the local schools. No people, no traffic, and Jake can go off-leash.

He doesn’t stray far, but occasionally he disappears from view for a moment, which can be worrisome. One Saturday recently at Jefferson Academy, when he was 30-40 feet ahead of me, he turned a corner, and I lost sight of him. I walked faster to catch up.

A few seconds later, I found him — surrounded by, and being petted by, a group of kids whose basketball game he had interrupted. Jake was gloriously happy.

If reincarnation turns out to be real, I want to come back as a dog.

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Thoughts du Jour

What’s in a Name?

In 1781, using a humongous new 40-foot telescope, British astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. At the time, Mars was thought to be the outermost planet in the solar system.

In 1787, Herschell spotted two moons in orbit around Uranus and temporarily named them One and Two.

As more big telescopes were built and more moons were found, Sir William’s son John assumed the task of formally naming them. Being a proud Englishmen, Sir John broke from the tradition of using names from Greek mythology and named the moons after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Moons One and Two became Titania and Oberon from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Today, Uranus has 27 known moons. Three are named for characters in poems by Pope, and 24 are named for Shakespearean characters.

Teklehaimanot

Putting up with spam texts and phone calls is a part of life these days, and I have a spam problem that has become especially maddening.

A few years ago, I began getting texts that read something like, “Hi, Teklehaimanot. This is Fred at Liberty Partners. Are you still interested in selling your property at 255 Lakefront Drive?”

The texts arrived regularly from Bill, John, Tina, etc., all asking Teklehaimanot if he wanted to sell various properties. In the most recent one, “Marc” asked if I want to sell 3430 Shorelake Drive in Tucker, Georgia, “in as-is condition.”

My guess is, they’re hoping for a reply to confirm that the number belongs to a live person. Anyway, I just mark the texts as spam, delete them, and block the numbers.

In all, I’ve received 40-50 Teklehaimanot messages. Which I admit is minor compared to the steady bombardment of incoming phone calls flagged as “potential spam.” A modern problem with no solution.

Teklehaimanot, by the way, is an Ethiopian word and can be either a first or a last name. It came from Saint Takla Haymanot (1215-1313), an Ethiopian priest who, legend has it, first spoke when he was three days old, healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, and raised the dead.

Blooey

The San Francisco Volcanic Field is a region of northern Arizona, covering about 1,800 square miles around Williams and Flagstaff, that contains over 600 extinct volcanoes. The volcanic remnants range in age from 6 million years old to a mere 1,000 years old.

The tallest remnant in the field is Humphreys Peak, which overlooks Flagstaff. Humphreys is part of the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain chain left behind after a massive volcano went blooey half a million years ago.

The US Geological Survey says it expects more eruptions to occur, maybe once every few thousand years. But the events are likely to be small and, with luck, will happen in remote areas.

The most recent eruption in the region occurred northeast of Flagstaff in about 1070 AD and created what is known as Sunset Crater.

At the time, the area was home to numerous native settlements, so people almost certainly witnessed the event. And maybe lived to tell about it.

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Problem, Solution

On our daily walks around Jefferson, Jake and I observe all sorts of things.

For example, at the corner of two residential streets north of downtown is a house with a nicely-manicured yard. The lawn and shrubbery are immaculate. These people take pride in their home’s appearance.

Not long ago, I was surprised to see deep tire ruts in the grass at the edge of the yard, caused by a vehicle cutting the corner during a hasty left turn.

The homeowners responded by posting a “Keep Off the Grass” sign beside the ruts. But the next time Jake and I passed the spot, the sign itself had been run over, and fresh ruts were visible in the grass.

Game on.

The homeowners countered by placing three massive boulders at the corner — giant, immovable things that can foil any vehicle. And actually, the boulders add a nice decorative touch.

Game over.

Feet and Chair Legs

In 1498, Leonardo da Vinci completed his painting The Last Supper on the wall of a convent in Milan, Italy. 150 years later, inexplicably, residents of the convent found it necessary to punch a door in the wall, which eliminated a chunk of the bottom center of the painting. Gone were the feet of Jesus and some chair legs.

But the missing swath wasn’t exactly lost to history. Around 1515, two of Leonardo’s former students had painted (on canvas, not a stone wall) a reasonably close reproduction of The Last Supper. It shows the lost feet and chair legs basically as Leonardo painted them.

In 2020, the Royal Academy of Arts in London hired Google to digitize the reproduction in super-high resolution and made it available online.

This is Leonardo’s original, door and all.

And this is the reproduction.

I’d really like to know why that door was necessary.

Entitlement

Apparently, Steelers quarterback Ben Rapistberger is nearing retirement. So long, Ben. I wish you all the worst.

You remember Ben Rapistberger, who in 2009 was credibly accused of raping a casino hostess in Nevada. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

You remember Rapistberger, who in 2010 was credibly accused of raping a college student in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub while his bodyguards, two off-duty state troopers, watched the door. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

Why those incidents got under my skin so much, I can’t say. But I was indignant enough after the Georgia incident that I vowed never to watch the Steelers again as long as Rapistberger was on the team. A silly and useless gesture, I admit, but I kept the vow, and I’m not sorry.

Funny thing, though. Out of all the current fawning on the sports channels about Rapistberger and his illustrious career, I haven’t heard one mention of the casino hostess or the college student.

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Big Fella

In 2009, a BBC film crew went to Papua New Guinea (island nation north of Australia) to film a wildlife documentary in the unique ecosystem of Mount Basavi.

Basavi is the collapsed cone of an extinct volcano. It’s a circular crater 2-1/2 miles long with walls nearly half a mile high. Inside is a “lost world” of rainforest rarely visited by humans and loaded with critters living in isolation.

During the expedition, the BBC team identified over 40 new species of animals, including 16 frogs, three fish, assorted insects and spiders, a bat, and the pièce de résistance, a rat believed to be the largest in the world.

The first rat specimen they encountered was 32 inches long (that’s almost a yard, folks) and weighed 3.5 pounds. It was friendly and curious and showed no fear of people. The big fella will be known as the Basavi woolly rat until formally classified.

Rats and mice thrive in Papua New Guinea. The country is home to over 70 species of rodents.

Me and the FBC

I’ve been mad at the First Baptist Church of Jefferson since 2016, when I voluntarily took finish-line photos at FBC’s annual 5K race, and the church posted my pictures online with the comment “Photos courtesy of our Youth Pastor, Joe Blow.” I never got an explanation, much less an apology.

So, when I got called out by a church lady the other day for walking my dog on FBC property, I was, shall I say, pre-irritated.

The FBC is near downtown in one of Jefferson’s historic districts. I usually park in the church lot when Jake and I go walking in that part of town. He’s on a leash, of course. Recently, we were returning to the car when a woman on the church steps called out to me. I stopped and looked her way.

“Sir, kindergarten is in session now,” she said, smiling sweetly, “and the children walk between the building and the playground a lot. It would be better if you walked your dog somewhere else.” She maximized the smile and waited.

I ached — ached, I tell you — to reply with a rude remark and gesture. But my mother raised me to be nice. I didn’t even answer. I just turned away and continued to the car.

Drawing upon my fine command of language, I said nothing.

Robert Benchley

Battle Steeds

I used to think a Welsh Corgi was a Welsh Corgi, but I recently learned that the breed comes in two varieties: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. They’re related, yes, but they have physical differences and separate origins.

Pembrokes, which have a supposed connection to the Vikings going back about 1,000 years, are somewhat smaller and lighter in color than Cardigans. The standards of the Pembroke breed require the tail to be lopped off, usually just after birth. Another jerk move by the human race.

The Cardigan is the older breed of the two, having originated in Germany about 3,000 years ago. Cardigans tend to be stockier and have large, bushy tails, which the standards generously allow them to keep.

In Welsh, “cor gi” means dwarf dog. In Welsh mythology, Corgis were the battle steeds of fairies. Which is very cool.

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