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Posts Tagged ‘People’

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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Quotes o’ the Day

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.

Toni Morrison

———

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.

Thomas Paine

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Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

William Shakespeare

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I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Stephen Jay Gould

Morrison

Gould

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Olympus Mons, an extinct volcano on Mars, is 16 miles high, almost three times taller than Mt. Everest.

● In the 1970s, future pop star Madonna Ciccone dropped out of college and moved to New York City. She took a job at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but was fired on her first day for squirting jelly filling on a customer.

● April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.

● In 1850, a French violin maker invented the octobass, a stringed instrument designed to produce ultra-low sounds, including sounds that fall below the range of human hearing. The octobass has three strings and is some 12 feet tall. Today, the only octobass not in a museum is owned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

● In 2013, Russia changed a long-standing law that classified all beverages with less than 10 percent alcohol by volume as soft drinks. The change thus classified beer as an alcoholic beverage in Russia for the first time.

● One teaspoon of healthy soil (e.g., soil enriched with compost) easily can contain six billion microorganisms, doing their thing to decompose organic matter and free up nutrients for reuse. To put six billion in perspective, the current human population of the planet is 7.9 billion.

● Your body contains about 1.3 gallons of blood. Blood cells make a full circuit of your vessels in about one minute.

● The screaming hairy armadillo, so named because it squeals like crazy when handled and is hairier than other armadillos, is native to central and southern South America. It is the smallest of the armadillos, adults being about a foot long. They live in underground burrows and eat plants, bugs, lizards, and an occasional mouse.

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This Just In

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Biologists with the Fish and Wildlife service found a live baby turtle in the stomach of a 15-pound largemouth bass and extracted it unharmed. The turtle, not the bass.

The biologists were in the Everglades catching bass for research when they noticed that the stomach of one of the fish was moving. They carefully opened the fish and discovered the turtle. After determining that the turtle was uninjured, they released it into the water.

KHARTOUM, SUDAN — A Boeing 737 en route to Qatar was forced to return to Khartoum for an emergency landing after a stowaway cat appeared in the cockpit and could not be subdued.

The cat, believed to be a feral stray, emerged from hiding 30 minutes into the flight and caused a major uproar, including attacking the pilot. When crew members were unable to capture or corner the cat, the decision was made to turn back.

Officials said the aircraft had been cleaned the night before the flight. They assume the cat slipped inside and found a concealed space to sleep.

DOLGELLAU, WALES — In January, a border collie was sold at auction for $38,893, setting a new world record for the sale of a trained herding dog.

The dog was a one-year-old named Kim who, according to her trainer, has the skills of a three-year-old. Kim was purchased by a farmer in Staffordshire.

The previous record was $26,088, set last October with the sale of Henna, another female border collie from Wales.

Kim’s trainer said, “She was doing everything. She worked cattle and sheep, and she was ready for any trials or farm work for anybody.”

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When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.

Socrates

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Reading a good book in silence is like eating chocolate for the rest of your life and never getting fat.

Becca Fitzpatrick

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I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Mark Twain

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Fascism is cured by reading, and racism is cured by traveling.

Miguel de Unamuno

Socrates

de Unamuno

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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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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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In Alabama and Georgia, legislation forbids carrying an ice cream cone in your back pocket. The laws were enacted in the 1800s when horse thieves used the cones to entice horses to follow them.

● The producers of Ghostbusters wanted the film to star John Belushi, but Belushi OD’d, so the part went to Bill Murray.

● There is evidence that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, a natural painkiller, as well as hormones that relax your body and improve your sense of well-being. Apparently, “a good cry” is pretty accurate.

● A former Chinese prostitute named Ching Shih (1775-1844) became the most successful pirate of all time. Ching married an infamous pirate captain, then took command of the operation when he was killed. At the height of her reign, she led 80,000 pirates and a fleet of 1,800 ships.

● George Washington was fond of sweets. He made his own eggnog, and when he became President, he installed ice-cream-making equipment in his Capitol office.

● Your body contains 206 bones. 52 of them, 25 percent of the total, are in your feet.

● The teabag was accidentally invented in 1908 when Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, sent his customers samples of a new variety of tea in small silk bags. He meant for the recipients to transfer the leaves to their metal infusers, but many misunderstood and just tossed the silk bags into their teapots.

Sullivan knew a good thing when he saw it. He began manufacturing teabags for commercial production, first of gauze and then of paper. He also added a string and a paper tag to facilitate removal of the used bag.

● The highest mountain in both Europe and Russia is Mount Elbrus, which rises 18,510 feet above sea level. Elbrus is in southern Russia on the isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. FYI, the elevation of Mt. Everest is 29,032 feet.

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As you no doubt are aware, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were Depression-era Texas lovers who went on a murderous crime spree, emerged as folk heroes, and ultimately were gunned down by the law.

It occurred to me recently that I really knew very few details about the infamous duo. I haven’t seen the 1967 movie with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in decades, and I’m pretty sure Hollywood was loose with the facts anyway. Ergo, I decided some research was in order to get to their real story.

How did Clyde end up as a murderer on the lam? He was easy to figure out. He was a runty kid from a poor family who grew up being bullied and mistreated. His older brother coaxed him into becoming a thief, and things quickly went south. Clyde was doomed to crash and burn.

Bonnie’s trajectory was not so transparent. She seems to have been bright and talented and had, by most accounts, a normal childhood. But at age 16, she dropped out of high school and married her boyfriend. He turned out to be abusive and a cheat, so she left him. Soon thereafter, she met Clyde.

Here, for your edification, is more of their story.

———

Clyde Champion Barrow was born in 1909 to a rural farm family in Telico, Texas, the fifth of seven children. When he was a boy, the farm failed due to drought, and the family moved to Dallas. Clyde learned to play guitar and saxophone and hoped to become a musician.

However, under the influence of his older brother Buck, Clyde became a shoplifter, then a car thief, then an armed robber. By 1929, at age 20, he was on the run from the law.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910 in Rowena, Texas. Her father died when she was four, and her mother and the three children moved to Dallas to live with grandparents.

The diminutive Bonnie (4’ 11”) was an attractive girl who dreamed of becoming an actress. She earned academic honors in school and was interested in poetry and literature.

In 1926, during her sophomore year, Bonnie quit high school and married classmate Roy Thornton. When Roy began to abuse her physically, Bonnie walked out, moved back to her grandmother’s house, and got a job as a waitress.

In January 1930, when Clyde and his small gang of thieves were trying to elude the police, a mutual friend introduced him to 19-year-old Bonnie. The attraction was immediate. Bonnie declared that Clyde was her soulmate. They became inseparable.

But only for a few weeks. Clyde was arrested for auto theft, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.

A short time later, Bonnie smuggled a pistol to Clyde during a visitation period. On March 11, 1930, Clyde used it to escape with several cellmates. They were captured a week later, and Clyde was sentenced to 14 years at hard labor.

He was sent to the notorious Eastham Prison Farm near Huntsville, Texas. Clyde called Eastham “that hell hole” because of the sadistic guards, the heat, the overcrowding, the grueling work details, and the repeated sexual assaults he endured from another inmate.

Bonnie and Clyde exchanged numerous love letters throughout 1931, a regular theme being the hope that Clyde would get an early release. In February 1932, in an effort to get excused from field work and possibly get transferred to another facility, Clyde faked an accident in which two of his toes were cut off. Thereafter, he walked with a limp and had to remove his shoe while driving.

Ironically, unknown to Clyde, his mother had convinced a judge to grant parole to ease the overcrowding at Eastham, and his release already was being processed.

Also ironically, Bonnie was injured in a car accident the following year that left her with a limp, as well. During a car crash, battery acid spilled onto Bonnie’s leg, causing third-degree burns that never fully healed. Thereafter, she walked with a limp and at times had to be carried.

Two weeks after Clyde was separated from his toes, he was free and reunited with Bonnie. Initially, he tried to go straight, taking a job at a Dallas glass company. But law enforcement officers who had pursued him in the past pressured the company owners until Clyde was fired.

Probably resigned to the hand he was dealt, Clyde formed another gang, this time with Bonnie at his side. They robbed banks, gas stations, and assorted small businesses across Texas.

A few months later, Bonnie was captured when a robbery went wrong. While in jail for two months pending trial, she wrote poetry, most of it about her relationship with Clyde.

After her release in late 1932, Clyde killed a police officer and a store owner, and the gang quickly left Texas.

In early 1933, Clyde, Bonnie, and one of the gang members hid out in Joplin, Missouri, at the home of Clyde’s brother Buck. Soon, suspicious neighbors notified the police, who came to investigate. The fugitives escaped, and two police officers were killed.

Left behind was an undeveloped roll of film that Bonnie and Clyde had taken of themselves. The pictures were printed in newspapers around the country, along with sensational stories about the couple’s exploits. Bonnie and Clyde became national celebrities.

In January 1934, Clyde orchestrated a jailbreak at Eastham to free a childhood friend. One prison guard was killed, and several inmates escaped. One of the escapees, Henry Methvin, joined Clyde’s gang.

On April 1 near Grapevine, Texas, Clyde and Methvin shot and killed two Texas highway patrol officers. Days later, with a posse in pursuit, Methvin killed a police officer in Oklahoma.

The gang fled to northern Louisiana to hide out at the Methvin family farm. Frank Hamer, the former Texas Ranger leading the posse, learned of their whereabouts and made a deal with Henry Methvin’s father: the elder Methvin would lure Bonnie and Clyde into a trap in exchange for amnesty for Henry.

On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde came upon the elder Methvin on a rural road, standing beside his supposedly stalled truck. When they stopped to help, Hamer and his six-man posse opened fire on the couple from the nearby woods with a barrage of more than 130 armor-piercing bullets.

The coroner’s report said Bonnie was shot at least 26 times, Clyde at least 17 times. The bodies were so damaged that they would not hold embalming fluid. Bonnie was 24. Clyde was 25.

Immediately after the ambush, with the bodies still slumped where they fell, souvenir-hunters descended on the site. Before police stopped them, one man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear, another his trigger finger. Someone in the crowd stole a lock of Bonnie’s hair and snipped off a piece of her dress.

For several decades, the blood-spattered, bullet-ridden sedan in which they died made the rounds of carnivals and state fairs nationwide. In the 1970s, it was housed at a Nevada racetrack, where, for a dollar, you could sit inside and have your photo taken.

Currently, the car is on display in the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada.

The Barrow gang committed dozens of robberies and burglaries between 1930 and 1934, as well as 13 murders. Bonnie participated in numerous armed robberies, but I found no claims that she shot or killed anyone.

Among the poems Bonnie wrote in 1932 while in jail was “The Trail’s End.” Two weeks before her death, she gave a copy of the poem to her mother. It is not especially artistic or memorable, except for the closing:

Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

———

You can read “The Trail’s End” in full here.

Bonnie’s mother would not allow the couple to be buried together. Bonnie’s grave is at Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas. Clyde was buried at Western Heights Cemetery, also in Dallas, next to his brother Buck.

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