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Archive for the ‘Miscellanea’ Category

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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Thoughts du Jour

Memorial

Part of my daily routine is a morning walk with my dog Jake. I need the exercise, and I know Jake approves because he dances in circles when I take his harness off the hook.

On weekends, our habit is to walk at one of the local schools; the campuses are spacious and well-maintained, no one is there, and Jake can go off-leash. Perfect.

When we walk at Jefferson Middle School, I like to visit a memorial to a former teacher that is tucked away in a grassy area behind the school.

This bench is the memorial:

And this is the plaque next to the bench:

Candace Simmons had a master’s degree in Education and spent 15 years teaching at Jefferson Middle School. She received numerous awards for being a crackerjack teacher.

Candace died of a brain aneurysm at age 40. She left behind a husband, a son, lots of relatives around North Georgia, and this memorial that I visit regularly because I find it quite moving.

Deploying the Pinky

In some circles, holding one’s little finger aloft while drinking from a glass or cup is looked upon as a polite gesture. In other circles, it’s considered snooty. Putting on airs.

Nobody knows when, where, or why the practice originated. Miss Manners said it might go back to people reacting to holding a hot tea cup.

Personally, I use my little finger in an entirely different way when holding a glass: I curve my pinky under the bottom of the glass to provide extra support. It’s a habit I acquired quickly and dramatically in college.

At lunch in the dining hall one day, I picked up a glass of iced tea and turned to place it on my tray. The glass was large, heavy, and wet, and it slipped from my grasp. It hit the tile floor and exploded in a spectacular fashion, for which the other diners gave me a hearty round of applause.

Since that day, I’ve been in the habit of placing my pinky underneath every smooth-sided, handle-less drink container I pick up. Not water bottles. Not soft drink bottles. Not beer cans. Just containers that I suspect might, just might, slip and fall.

A traumatic experience will do that to you.

Master Mule Skinner

I’ve gone on five mule trips at Grand Canyon — ridden the famous “long-eared taxis” five times. My first ride was in 1996. It was just a half-day trip to Plateau Point, not an overnighter. My mule’s name that day was Arluff.

My next four mule rides were down to Phantom Ranch, on the floor of the Canyon, where I stayed for a couple of nights. Specifically, my second ride (1997) was aboard Wags; the third (1999), Blackjack; the fourth (2005), Larry; and the fifth (2016), Twinkie.

Those last four trips all took place in November and December, because in the winter months, you’re allowed to book more than one night at Phantom. In the busier months, the mule riders arrive at Phantom in the afternoon and depart at dawn the next morning. Booking in winter gives you an extra day for hiking and exploring.

FYI, being in the saddle for four or five hours is taxing. Not as strenuous as being on foot, but still not easy.

That’s because, on the downhill ride into the Canyon, you’re trying not to tumble forward over the mule’s handlebars, as it were. On the trip back uphill to the rim, you’re trying to remain in the saddle and not slide off the back of the mule. In both cases, your leg muscles get a good workout.

When a mule ride at Grand Canyon ends, the riders are presented with a certificate to mark the occasion. This certificate is from my second mule ride in 1997:

Arluff, Wags, Blackjack, Larry, and Twinkie were all calm, good-tempered animals. They also were obedient, except for stopping to munch on trail-side vegetation now and then.

I’m sure the mules are not allowed to carry tourists until they can be trusted. The mules, not the tourists.

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Thoughts du Jour

Legacy

Savannah, Georgia, is a fairyland in the spring. The neighborhoods come alive with amazing flowering trees and shrubs — camellias, oleander, lantana, and most especially, azaleas. Countless azaleas in dozens of varieties and colors.

For nearly a century, the Smith family home was 201 Kinzie Avenue in Savannah’s Gordonston neighborhood. My dad and his siblings grew up there. My aunt lived there until she died a few years ago and the old place finally was sold.

When I think of that house, I think first of the beautiful, head-high azalea plants that encircle it. Those azaleas were so healthy and lush that every few years, they have to be pruned back to waist high.

But not until I was an adult did I learn their origin story. To the older generations, the details were well known and didn’t need repeating. When my aunt finally realized that we kids didn’t know the story, she explained.

My grandfather was a fairly well-known Savannah businessman, and when he died in the early 1950s, friends and neighbors remembered him by presenting potted azaleas to the Smith family. When planted, they completely encircled the house.

Within a few years, they had grown thick and massive, creating a multi-colored display each spring that was the envy of Gordonston.

The Smiths have moved on, but the old house is still ringed with those magnificent azaleas. A fitting legacy.

Guns and Religion

Back in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama got in trouble for saying in a campaign speech that many white working-class Americans “cling to guns and religion” because they are bitter about the poor economy and the loss of jobs. He caught a lot of heat and eventually had to apologize, sort of, for the wording.

Actually, however, Obama was 100 percent correct, and he made an important point. Consider what he said in full:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow, these communities are going to regenerate. And they have not.

So it’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.


Obama blamed the situation, not the victims, but people are responsible for their own actions. Few among us are saints. People who are frightened and desperate will react badly and lash out. They can become petty and cruel and, of course, easily manipulated by people in the manipulation business.

Obama probably didn’t realize he was warning us of what was to come: the rise of Trump and the off-the-rails, nutjob Republicans of today.

The Squash Police

About a year ago, Jake and I were walking along a quiet side street near downtown Jefferson when the door of a real estate office opened, and a portly woman angrily confronted me.

“How about if I took my dogs to your house and let them pee in YOUR yard? Would you like that?” She turned and stormed back into her office.

I didn’t understand why walking a dog along a public street was so offensive or called for such histrionics, so I went into the office to inquire further.

She said her grandkids often visit the office, and they play in the yard, where Jake has been seen relieving himself.

No problem. I told her I would keep Jake away from her lawn in the future. Further, being a shrewd judge of character, I pegged her as a whiny jerk, always poised to perceive a slight.

One morning recently, Jake and I again passed the woman’s office. We were on the opposite side of the street, where someone is growing a small patch of yellow squash. As Jake snuffled around the undergrowth, a voice behind me said, “Does the dog like squash?” I turned to see the portly woman watching us from her front porch.

“The dog is walking in that man’s squash patch,” she said. “Does the dog want some squash?”

“Jake is walking near the squash patch, but not in it,” I said. “I’d say he’s about a yard away.”

I wanted to ask if she worked for the Squash Police, but I knew she has a beefy, sour-looking male co-worker, so I refrained.

Besides, I’m a nice guy. Not a whiny jerk, always poised to perceive a slight.

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Thoughts du Jour

The Klatt Synthesizer

Dennis H. Klatt, Ph.D. (1938-1988) was a computer scientist at MIT who in 1980 developed a synthesizer that converted written words into speech. It was Klatt who gave Stephen Hawking his artificial speaking voice in 1987. The programming for Hawking consisted of 300 individual clips of Dr. Klatt’s own voice.

Klatt worked on the Hawking project while undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer, which ultimately took his own voice. He died a year later.

Over the years, as the technology improved, Hawking was offered a “better” voice, including a version made to sound like his own, including a British accent. He always declined. He once said, “My late friend Dennis’ voice IS my voice.”

Nesting

One morning recently, I took Jake to the Jefferson Clubhouse for our morning walk. The Clubhouse is in a city park with a pond that is permanent home to several dozen ducks and geese. The birds mostly stay near the pond, but sometimes venture up to the Clubhouse.

Now and then, Jake will lunge at one of them half-heartedly, but he understands the futility of catching an animal that flies and swims.

Next to the Clubhouse entrance is a thick patch of variegated liriope, and as we passed it on the morning in question, Jake came to attention. Suddenly, like an Arctic Fox diving into the snow to snag a hidden lemming, he leapt into the air and landed in the middle of the liriope.

Simultaneously, a large brown duck erupted from the liriope, squawking and flapping frantically. The duck flew away in the direction of the pond, still squawking. Jake sat quietly and followed its trajectory with interest.

After the excitement, Jake returned to the liriope to sniff around. Was another duck concealed there? No, but under the foliage was a nest containing seven or eight eggs. Jake had driven off a nesting mama duck.

The duck, I assumed, would return to the nest in time, and I was right. That afternoon, I stopped at the Clubhouse to check, and there she was, back on the nest.

The gray blotch is the top of her head, facing you. She sits on her nest, four feet from the Clubhouse door, silent, motionless, and almost undetectable. Except by a passing pooch.

Animal Talk

A professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has found that prairie dogs have a sophisticated communication system, including the ability to warn of predators by species, size, and color.

Animal behaviorist Constantine Slobodchikoff, Ph.D., has established that prairie dogs use both nouns and adjectives and will create new words for novel objects. If someone fires a gun near them, they will remember and avoid the individual.

Slobodchikoff conducted his research by recording the animals’ vocalizations under controlled conditions and playing back the clips at slow speed. In one experiment, he had an assistant walk past a prairie dog town wearing first a yellow shirt, then a blue shirt. In the recording, he pinpointed the place where the vocalizations changed as the animals identified the new color.

The research led the doctor’s team to study communication among other species. They found that paper wasps, which live in small, open-celled nests, can identify each other by facial markings, and each has “friends” they associate with.

In 2008, Slobodchikoff founded the Animal Language Institute so research can be shared.

A purposeful life.

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Thoughts du Jour

Know Your Enemy

On the Nile River Delta in 525 BC, Persia defeated the Egyptian army in the Battle of Pelusium. The battle was especially memorable because of the tactics employed by the Persian king.

King Cambyses II of Persia was aware that cats were revered in Egyptian society. Cats were associated with Bastet, the warrior goddess of the sun. Felines were so highly regarded that to kill one was punishable by death. The Egyptians also had high regard for dogs, sheep, and ibises, which also were associated with deities.

When the Persian army attacked, the Egyptians were shocked to see images of cats and Bastet herself painted on the Persian shields. The Persians also released hordes of cats and other animals onto the battlefield as they advanced.

Chaos ensued. The Egyptian soldiers hesitated to strike at the images of Bastet or to harm the animals. Ultimately, they panicked and fled, and the battle was over. Persia controlled Egypt for the next 100 years.

The Cadaver Synod

Italy in the 9th and 10th centuries was a politically unstable mess. Pontiffs by the dozens came and went. Between 896 and 904, Rome had a new pope every year. The turmoil was caused by the lack of a dominant authority figure, which led to constant squabbling among powerful factions and families.

The pontiff from 891 to 896 was Pope Formosus, who, unfortunately for him, had enemies who held grudges. Formosus became pope, died in office, and was buried with appropriate pomp.

Seven months later, Pope Stephen VI, the second pope after Formosus, put Formosus on trial posthumously for perjury and other offenses. The event became known as the Cadaver Synod.

Formosus was exhumed, propped up on a throne in the papal court, and questioned by Pope Stephen. A deacon was assigned to provide answers on behalf of the corpse.

The deceased was found guilty as charged, and all of his papal acts were invalidated. His body was reburied in a graveyard for foreigners, then dug up and dumped into the Tiber River. Take that, Formosus.

A year or so later, a more rational pope annulled the Cadaver Synod, excommunicated seven cardinals involved in the event, and prohibited any more trials of corpses. Alas, his successor promptly reversed those rulings and reinstated Formosus’ conviction.

Philology on Steroids

Author J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) had a lifelong passion for — or, if you prefer, obsession with — languages. He studied numerous languages, ancient and modern, and, starting at age 13, began constructing languages of his own.

One of the first was a language called Naffarin, which he never publicized or even shared with friends. At an event years later, he gave this sentence as an example of Naffarin:

O Naffarínos cutá vu navru cangor luttos ca vúna tiéranar, dana maga tíer ce vru encá vún’ farta once ya merúta vúna maxt’ amámen.

He defined the word vru as meaning ever, but did not elaborate further.

For his Lord of the Rings novels, Tolkien created in great detail (and shared) 14 Elvish languages, eight languages of men, two Dwarfish languages, and nine assorted other languages — Orkish, Entish, the Black Speech, etc. Each language, mind you, featured its own unique letters/symbols/characters.

Today, programs are available online that automatically translate text of your choice into a variety of Tolkien’s languages, Elvish and otherwise.

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