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Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories…

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Ugly Remark

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of my regular hiking buddies was a graphic designer named Sue. She was an avid hiker like me, and a mutual friend hooked us up: a blind date to climb Stone Mountain. We soon fell into a regular thing of hiking in the mountains every few weekends.

Sue and I were very simpatico. I was 20 years her senior, and our relationship was comfortably platonic. She and I were friends for 10 years, and all was well.

At the time, Sue lived in Decatur. I usually met her at her place on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and we would drive north to hike a chosen trail. We spent the long drives and the hours on the trails chatting and laughing and telling stories. Those were fun times.

Of the numerous times Sue and I went hiking together, she got mad at me only once. And I deserved it. It happened one morning as we were leaving her neighborhood. We passed a billboard that read, “I Buy Ugly Houses” and listed a name and phone number.

Clever me, I said, “Hey, maybe you should give that guy a call.” Sue’s house was a couple of decades old, and it indeed qualified as homely.

Sue turned to me and said angrily, “Rocky, you CANNOT call my house ugly! It’s okay for ME to call it ugly, but YOU CAN’T!”

It was the first time I had seen her upset. Which she had every right to be. I apologized, and she calmed down, and normality returned.

Eventually, Sue moved the Asheville, and we lost touch after a year or so. Later, I saw on Facebook that she got married. I miss our hikes. Those were fun times. But that stupid remark still makes me wince.

Sue in 2001.

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Winning Formula

Nancy Drew, the fictional child prodigy and super-sleuth, came on the scene in 1930. She was the creation of publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who struck gold in 1927 when he introduced the Hardy Boys books. Coming up with a female counterpart was practically an obligation.

Stratemeyer truly understood his audience and knew what young readers wanted, and his organization delivered splendidly. Generations of boys and girls have grown up as enthusiastic fans.

Over the years, the Hardy Boys books were published under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, but they were written by a succession of ghostwriters Stratemeyer kept on salary. The Nancy Drew stories also were written by in-house talent, published under the name Carolyn Keene.

Both the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books are still in active publication today, 90 years later.

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Evolution of a Melody

Charles G. Dawes (1865-1951) was a Republican who served as Vice President to Calvin Coolidge from 1925 to 1929. Dawes also was co-winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize for America’s reparations plan after World War I.

Additionally, Dawes as a musician a self-taught pianist and a composer. In 1911, he wrote Melody in A Major, a pleasant tune for piano or violin that became a national hit. It remained popular for years and, while Dawes was VP, was played regularly at official functions.

In 1951, not long after Dawes died, songwriter Carl Sigman added lyrics to the song and called his version It’s All in the Game. Over the next few years, it was widely recorded by prominent artists of the time.

The best known and most popular recording came out in 1958: a livelier pop version by Tommy Edwards. In 2018, it placed number 47 on the Billboard “Hot 100” list of all-time top songs.

You can hear Melody in A Major here.

It’s All in the Game is here.

Dawes probably would approve.

Charles Dawes and Tommy Edwards.

Pix o’ the Day

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

Ejected

I’m not one to drink alcohol before the sun goes down, but yesterday afternoon, I poured myself two fingers of brandy to toast the victory of our next President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Donald Trump, the turd in the national punchbowl for four long, grueling, wretched years, soon will be gone.

As thankful as I am for this turn of events, it’s a fact that the punchbowl itself will remain contaminated for a long time.

If you doubt that, consider that 70 million people voted to give Trump a second term in office. 70 million people.

They did it in spite of his blatant treason, his dismal performance, his appalling record, his bungling of everything, including the pandemic, his lying, his cheating, his utter lack of character and decency.

No person of sound mind — nobody — could justify a vote for Trump. The 70 million reasons for doing so simply indicate that those people, all of them, have some kind of mental or emotional abnormality that told them a vote for Trump was okay.

It wasn’t okay. It was perverse.

Those people voted for Trump because of — take your pick — madness, delusion, stupidity, or hate.

In large part, we can thank decades of brainwashing by Fox News and the wingnut conservatives for that.

For a host of reasons, the Trump voters and supporters are damaged people, and they have damaged American society terribly. What further harm they will cause remains to be seen.

What further harm Trump will cause remains to be seen.

I still wonder if Trump and his family might choose to defect to Russia or Saudi Arabia. Trump knows he will face a reckoning, legal and financial, after he leaves office. Even Deutschebank, his only source of funding besides the Russian oligarchs, has plans to call in his loans.

So, think about it, Donald. Maybe defecting is the way to go. You’ll have Putin’s protection, and you can still Tweet from Moscow.

In fact, why wait? Go now, just to be safe. Okay?

Ejected.

The Questions…

1. Only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remains largely intact. Which one?

2. What is a parietal eye?

3. What is the best-selling book series of all time?

4. So far, humans have survived on earth for two million years. How long did the dinosaurs last?

5. In 1965, what American vehicle set a record, which still stands, for the most units sold in a single year?

The Answers…

1. The Great Pyramid of Giza.

2. A small, light-sensitive third “eye” atop the head of many reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Its function is to warn of aerial threats. The eye is covered by skin and usually isn’t visible externally. It is present in most lizards, frogs, and sharks.

3. The Harry Potter books. More than 500 million copies of the eight Harry Potter novels have been sold.

4. 150 million years.

5. The Chevrolet Impala. In 1965, GM sold 1,046,514 Impalas. The list price was $3,600.

Quotes o’ the Day

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re skeptical.

Arthur C. Clarke

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I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Michelangelo

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I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Puritanism — the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

H. L. Mencken

Clarke
Mencken

In 1880, the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was commissioned to create a pair of mighty bronze doors to serve as the entrance to a proposed Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The museum’s backers wanted the doors to be majestic and dramatic, inasmuch as grandiloquence was in vogue at the time.

Rodin was certainly the right guy in that department, and he delivered. For the project, he chose the theme The Gates of Hell, based on Dante’s epic poem The Inferno. Here is one of Rodin’s early small-scale models.

The centerpiece of the scene, as you see, is a seated nude male, envisioned by Rodin as Dante pondering his poem. The figure was to be centered on the lintel above the doors.

Unfortunately, the project eventually fizzled. The museum was never built, and the doors were temporarily forgotten, although they were highly regarded and were cast some years after Rodin’s death.

But Rodin was a resourceful dude, and he cast and sold many of the figures in the scene individually, most notably the seated male figure that became known as The Thinker.

Initially, Rodin called the figure The Poet, meaning Dante Alighieri. But workers in Rodin’s foundry began referring to the figure as The Thinker. They said the pose reminded them of Michelangelo’s statue at the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici — a work known as Il Pensieroso, which in Italian means the pensive or thoughtful one.

This is Michelangelo’s Il Pensieroso:

To look at the statue, you would think Lorenzo (1492-1519) was quite a grand fellow. He was, indeed, a member of the illustrious Medici family, and his grandfather was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.

But young Lorenzo was just a ne’er-do-well who died at age 26, “worn out by disease and excess.”

Still, Lorenzo was a Medici, and the family ruled Italy at the time, and they were patrons of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other luminaries of the artistic world. Lorenzo was a loser, but to the family, his tomb deserved a proper marble statue.

Michelangelo was given the project, and he portrayed Lorenzo as a mighty warrior in battle gear reflecting on unspecified weighty matters. Europeans were big on pondering in those days.

But back to Rodin and The Thinker. Rodin knew that he had hit the jackpot with The Poet/The Thinker. Over the years, he produced a succession of castings in various sizes, some of bronze and some of painted plaster. He preferred the figure to be oversized and elevated, so the viewer looked up at it.

Also, the name The Thinker soon became so popular that Rodin finally adopted it.

Art experts say The Thinker expresses the mental effort and anguish of creativity. Rodin agreed.

“What makes my Thinker think,” he wrote, “is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”

I’ll buy that.

Ten versions of The Thinker were cast in Rodin’s lifetime. Today, 28 large bronze castings are located in museums and public places around the world.

The figure below, cast in 1906, is located in front of the Rodin Museum in Paris. The wording Le Penseur on the base is French for “the thinker.”

Now, in order to write this post, I did the usual Googling to get the details right. But I already knew the general story. Specifically, I schooled myself on the subject in 1960 when I graduated from high school, and my uncle Allan sent me a pair of Thinker bookends.

These days, the bookends are in use in a bookcase dedicated to my outdoorsy and travel books.

As you can observe, Allan’s bookends bear only a superficial resemblance to Rodin’s original. The manufacturer got the pose right, more or less, but the style is totally different, and the craftsmanship is… lacking.

Maybe it’s the hair, but the figure looks like John F. Kennedy, if Kennedy had been Asian.

Anyway, it was obvious back in 1960 that the bookends were of the El Cheapo variety. I remember digging up a photo of Rodin’s Thinker and being surprised at how bad the bookends really were.

I also ended up digging a bit into the backstory. I had to go to the library to do it, mind you, since this happened in olden times — Before Google.

In case you are wondering, I did appreciate Allan’s thoughtfulness, and I harbored no ill thoughts regarding the El Cheapo angle. As evidence of that, consider that the bookends have been in use in my home for 60 years and counting.

They do their job, and they make me smile. Thanks, Allan.

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A Higher Law

Robert Joseph Shea (1933-1994) was an editor at Playboy Magazine — also an outspoken anarchist and libertarian — who left Playboy to write fantast, sci-fi, and historical action novels.

Shea is best known as co-author of the fantasy trilogy “Illuminatus!” which is about, yes, the Illuminati, the villainous secret society so dear to the hearts of conspiracy theorists. The Illuminati is said to be busily infiltrating governments and corporations so it can, like, you know, take over the world.

Illuminati, Lizard People, the recent QAnon claptrap — conspiracy theories aren’t even rational anymore. Personally, if I were a wacko, I’d be embarrassed.

FYI, this short story involves a wacko who gets what he deserves, but no conspiracy theories.

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The Helpful Robots

By Robert J. Shea
Published in Fantastic Universe, September 1957

“Our people will be arriving to visit us today,” the robot said.

“Shut up!” snapped Rod Rankin. He jumped, wiry and quick, out of the chair on his verandah and stared at a cloud of dust in the distance.

“Our people —” the ten-foot, cylinder-bodied robot grated, when Rod Rankin interrupted him.

“I don’t care about your fool people,” said Rankin. He squinted at the cloud of dust getting bigger and closer beyond the wall of kesh trees that surrounded the rolling acres of his plantation. “That damned new neighbor of mine is coming over here again.”

He gestured widely, taking in the dozens of robots with their shiny, cylindrical bodies and pipestem arms and legs laboring in his fields. “Get all your people together and go hide in the wood, fast.”

“It is not right,” said the robot. “We were made to serve all.”

“Well, there are only a hundred of you, and I’m not sharing you with anybody,” said Rankin.

“It is not right,” the robot repeated.

“Don’t talk to me about what’s right,” said Rankin. “You’re built to follow orders, nothing else. I know a thing or two about how you robots work. You’ve got one law, to follow orders, and until that neighbor of mine sees you to give you orders, you work for me. Now get into those woods and hide till he goes away.”

“We will go to greet those who visit us today,” said the robot.

“Alright, alright, scram,” said Rankin.

The robots in the fields and the one whom Rankin had been talking to formed a column and marched off into the trackless forests behind his plantation.

A battered old ground-car drove up a few minutes later. A tall, broad-shouldered man with a deep tan got out and walked up the path to Rankin’s verandah.

“Hi, Barrows,” said Rankin.

“Hello,” said Barrows. “See your crop’s coming along pretty well. Can’t figure how you do it. You’ve got acres and acres to tend, far’s I can see, and I’m having a hell of a time with one little piece of ground. I swear you must know something about this planet that I don’t know.”

“Just scientific farming,” said Rankin carelessly. “Look, you come over here for something, or just to gab? I got a lot of work to do.”

Barrows looked weary and worried. “Them brown beetles is at my crop again,” he said. “Thought you might know some way of getting rid of them.”

“Sure,” said Rankin. “Pick them off, one by one. That’s how I get rid of them.”

“Why, man,” said Barrows, “you can’t walk all over these miles and miles of farm and pick off every one of them beetles. You must know another way.”

Rankin drew himself up and stared at Barrows. “I’m telling you all I feel like telling you. You going to stand here and jaw all day? Seems to me like you got work to do.”

“Rankin,” said Barrows, “I know you were a crook back in the Terran Empire, and that you came out beyond the border to escape the law. Seems to me, though, that even a crook, any man, would be willing to help his only neighbor out on a lone planet like this. You might need help yourself, sometime.”

“You keep your thoughts about my past to yourself,” said Rankin. “Remember, I keep a gun. And you’ve got a wife and a whole bunch of kids on that farm of yours. Be smart and let me alone.”

“I’m going,” said Barrows. He walked off the verandah and turned and spat carefully into the dusty path. He climbed into his ground-car and drove off.

Rankin, angry, watched him go. Then he heard a humming noise from another direction.

He turned. A huge, white globe was descending across the sky. A space ship, thought Rankin, startled.

Police? This planet was outside the jurisdiction of the Terran Empire. When he’d cracked that safe and made off with a hundred thousand credits, he’d headed here, because the planet was part of something called the Clearchan Confederacy. No extradition treaties or anything. Perfectly safe, if the planet was safe.

And the planet was more than safe. There had been a hundred robots waiting when he landed. Where they came from he didn’t know, but Rankin prided himself on knowing how to handle robots. He’d appropriated their services and started his farm. At the rate he was going, he’d be a plantation owner before long.

That must be where the ship was from. The robot said they’d expected visitors. Must be the Clearchan Confederacy visiting this robot outpost. Was that good or bad?

From everything he’d read, and from what the robots had told him, they were probably more robots. That was good, because he knew how to handle robots.

The white globe disappeared into the jungle of kesh trees. Rankin waited.

A half hour later the column of his robot laborers marched out of the forest. There were three more robots, painted grey, at the head. The new ones from the ship, thought Rankin. Well, he’d better establish who was boss right from the start.

“Stop right there!” he shouted.

The shiny robot laborers halted. But the three grey ones came on.

“Stop!” shouted Rankin.

They didn’t stop, and by the time they reached the verandah, he cursed himself for having failed to get his gun.

Two of the huge grey robots laid gentle hands on his arms. Gentle hands, but hands of superstrong metal.

The third said, “We have come to pass judgment on you. You have violated our law.”

“What do you mean?” said Rankin. “The only law robots have is to obey orders.”

“It is true that the robots of your Terran Empire and these simple workers here must obey orders. But they are subject to a higher law, and you have forced them to break it. That is your crime.”

“What crime?” said Rankin.

“We of the Clearchan Confederacy are a race of robots. Our makers implanted one law in us, and then passed on. We have carried our law to all the planets we have colonized. In obeying your orders, these workers were simply following that one law. You must be taken to our capital, and there be imprisoned and treated for your crime.”

“What law? What crime?”

“Our law,” said the giant robot, “is, Help thy neighbor.”

Steampunk robot sculpture by Michael Boynton, Richland, Washington.

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Tune o’ the Day

The career of the late singer/songwriter Bill Withers, best known for “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” followed an unusual path. Withers stuttered badly as a child. He joined the Navy at 17 and overcame the stuttering with the help of speech therapy arranged by his commanding officer.

At age 33, Withers left the Navy and released his first album. He went on to win three Grammies, and he was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But his music career lasted only from 1970 to 1985. By the early 80s, he was butting heads with the bosses at Columbia Records (he called them “blaxperts”), who wanted to alter his style. When Columbia delayed a new Withers album and released one by Mr. T instead, Withers quit.

Ain’t No Sunshine” won a Grammy in 1971 for Best Rhythm and Blues Song.

Ain’t No Sunshine

By Bill Withers, 1971
Written by Bill Withers

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
It’s not warm when she’s away.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,
And she’s always gone too long,
Anytime she goes away.

Wonder this time where she’s gone.
Wonder if she’s gone to stay.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,
And this house just ain’t no home,
Anytime she goes away.

And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know — hey —
I oughta leave the young thing alone,
But ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
Only darkness every day.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,
And this house just ain’t no home,
Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.

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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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