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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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The Questions…

1. When British anthropologist Jane Goodall went to Tanzania in 1960 to study chimpanzees, she initially found the animals to be fearful and unapproachable. What did she do to gain their trust?

2. What is the only U.S. state that borders just one other state?

3. What does HTTP stand for?

4. Who was the only U.S. President who was a bachelor while in office?

5. What species of fish is the fastest?

The Answers…

1. She passed out bananas to demonstrate that she wasn’t a threat.

2. Maine, which borders only New Hampshire to the south. Its northern border is with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Atlantic Ocean is to the east.

3. HyperText Transfer Protocol.

4. James Buchanan, who served in office from 1857 to 1861. His niece served as hostess for White House events.

5. As a group, the billfish are the speediest for sure. Blue marlins have been clocked at 80 mph, sailfish at nearly 70 mph, and swordfish at over 60 mph. A few years ago, researchers found that swordfish have a gland in their heads that secretes oil to reduce friction as they move through water.

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Tune o’ the Day

The alt-rock band 4 Non Blondes lasted five years, and their first (and only) album “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!” was on the charts for almost a year. Still, the group qualifies as a one-hit wonder because they were known almost solely for the song “What’s Up?”

In all fairness, it’s a memorable tune in which lead singer Linda Perry demands to know “what’s going on?” and calls for revolution.

FYI, the term “what’s up?” isn’t in the song, but Marvin Gaye laid claim to “What’s Going On?” in 1971, so the Blondes had to compromise.

There is some debate about what, exactly, is going on. Some say the song reflects the frustrations of a woman making her way in a man’s world. Also, the song is widely considered a “gay anthem,” inasmuch as Perry is openly lesbian, so there’s that angle. Beyond that, society has plenty more ills to scream about at the top of one’s lungs.

After the group disbanded late in 1994, Perry began a career as a songwriter and record producer that is still going strong. She has produced and written songs for Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Pink, KT Tunstall, Brandi Carlyle, Celine Dion, Courtney Love, and Cheap Trick.

She has co-written songs with Adele, Pat Benetar, and Dolly Parton. Plus, she founded two record labels. Perry was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. Quite a career.

What’s Up?

By 4 Non Blondes, 1992
Written by Linda Perry

25 years, and my life is still
Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination.

I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man,
For whatever that means.

And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed,
Just to get it all out, what’s in my head,
And I — I am feelin’ a little peculiar.

And so I wake in the morning, and I step outside,
And I take a deep breath, and I get real high,
And I scream from the top of my lungs,
“What’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
Hey, yay, yay,
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
Hey, yay, yay,
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

Ooh, ooh,
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.

Ooh, ooh,
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.

And I try.
Oh, my God, do I try.
I try all the time
In this institution.

And I pray.
Oh, my God, do I pray.
I pray for things all day.
For revolution.

And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed,
Just to get it all out, what’s in my head,
And I — I am feeling a little peculiar.

And so I wake in the morning and I step outside,
And I take a deep breath and I get real high,
And I scream from the top of my lungs,
“What’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
Hey, yay, yay,
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
Hey, yay, yay,
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
(Wake in the morning and step outside)
Hey, yay, yay,
(Take a deep breath, and I get real high, and I scream)
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

And I say, hey, yay, yay,
(Wake in the morning and step outside)
Hey, yay, yay,
(Take a deep breath, and I get real high, and I scream)
I said “Hey — what’s going on?”

Ooh, ooh,
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.

25 years and my life is still
Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination, mmm.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/whats-up.mp3

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There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it is going to be a butterfly.

R. Buckminster Fuller

———

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Eleanor Roosevelt

———

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Mark Twain

———

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.

Aldous Huxley

Fuller

Huxley

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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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“A Small Needful Fact

By Ross Gay

Ross Gay (B. 1974)

“A Small Needful Fact”
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

———

blessing the boats

By Lucille Clifton

Thelma Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

———

A Dream Within a Dream

By Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

———

April is a Dog’s Dream

By Marilyn Singer

Marilyn Singer (B. 1948)

april is a dog’s dream
the soft grass is growing
the sweet breeze is blowing
the air all full of singing feels just right
so no excuses now
we’re going to the park
to chase and charge and chew
and I will make you see
what spring is all about

———

Ultimately

By Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961)

He tried to spit out the truth;
Dry mouthed at first,
He drooled and slobbed in the end;
Truth dribbling his chin.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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