I've been busy. Not just a little busy. More like hustling to keep my task list from pouring down over me like a tsunami. Slaving to pull myself out of this swamp of duties. You get the idea.
So I've backed off of the blog. Sorry about that!
But what I haven't stopped doing is writing about a new story centered in India. This tale has been swirling in my head for some time and it has more than a fair bit of monsters, mythology and magic. It goes without saying, there will be unicorns, too.
It won't be just one book. Nope. Pack your bags. We might be gone for awhile and I can already tell that India won't be our only destination...
As penance for my lapse in blogs, I'm giving you a taste of what's coming next:
Augustus Hithersby adjusted his notes and looked over his reading glasses at the audience before him. “The Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder was probably actually describing a rhinoceros when he said that the unicorn had ‘the feet of an elephant’ and ‘the tail of a boar.’ He described the horn as black, instead of the more common white color demonstrated in most art works. Pliny, you’ll remember, wrote the Naturalis Historia, the model for later encyclopedias. He was an investigator of botany, zoology, astronomy, and geology, so his writing has credibility. But while Pliny and the rest of the Romans reference unicorns in their literature, it’s not likely the same creature we think of in modern times.”
Augustus clicked the remote and a slide appeared overhead with a rhinoceros on the left and a unicorn on the right.
“What about the Greeks? Multiple accounts of the animal were found in their study of natural history. Do you know where they believe the unicorns originated from? I’ll give you a hint…It’s the final stop on my speaking tour.” Augustus smiled when a young woman in the second row called out the answer. “India! That’s right. India was regarded as a land of magic and the unicorn was considered a mysterious creature that commanded respect.”
Augustus took a sip of water and winked at his wife in the front row. She’d always been constant fixture in his lectures, sometimes the only occupied seat in the auditorium. Octavia smiled back at him with a sparkle in her eyes. Her face might have a few more lines and her hair might have a hint of silver—wisdom locks she’d informed her husband—but she was the best wife and research assistant that a man could hope for.
“Does anyone know what makes unicorns different from any other mythological creature? Anyone?” He paused theatrically, adding suspense, he hoped, to his presentation.
“There’s no myth associated with the unicorns. None. There are stories about centaurs and winged horses, minotaurs and Medussas, but no stories centered around unicorns. Just like there are no myths about rhinoceros or elephants. Various cultures around the world describe the unicorn as if they’re describing any other animal that walked the earth. It’s clear, they considered the unicorn a real beast.”
“But a beast with an important difference. In all civilizations, and all time periods, the unicorn was both revered and respected. A symbol of purity and goodness.” Augustus raised one brow and tapped his finger on the podium for added emphasis. “So the questions remain…Were they real? Could they have actually existed?”
“I’ll take a few questions and then I’ll have to go.”
A man in the back stood up, but Augustus was quick to stop the man when he started talking. Putting a cupped hand by his ear he said, “Louder, please. My wife claims that I forget what she says, but I suspect that I don’t always hear the dear woman.”
Augustus scratched his beard as the man posed his question and then he sorted through computer files until he found what he was looking for.
“Ah, yes. There is a theory that those pictorial representations only show one horn because we’re seeing a side profile. That the closer horn obscures the second horn. Let’s take a look at an example of that.”
A plaster relief of a unicorn appeared on the wall.
“Here,” he demonstrated with a pointer. “Look at the detail of the billowing mane on this Roman etching. Two front legs. One horn.” He squinted, studying his own slide for a second, before clicking to the next image.
“French tapestry from around 1500 AD. We can see the profile of the body, but the head…see how it’s turned to look at the viewer. One horn.The craft of both of these pieces goes against the argument that the artist did not incorporate a second horn.These have dimension, they are not simply flat pieces of art. Presumably, like the legs in the first example, the artist could have included a second horn if one existed.”
He acknowledged the woman with the note pad when she stood up next. “Thank you, madam, for speaking up so that I could hear you.” He flashed a mock stern expression at his wife. “Do you see how well that works when a person speaks loud enough so that they can be heard?”
“The argument about the unicorn being a composite of other animals is a common theory, but it’s got one rather large flaw.” Augustus caught himself staring over the rows of faces, still finding it hard to believe so many people were interested in his research. The sound of his wife clearing her throat brought him back to his subject.
“There were no horses or camels in the Indus Valley so what could that composite be based on? By the way, the Indus valley is what we now refer to as the modern countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and a large part of India. Excavations of the Indus Valley have been primarily in Harappa, a small town in the Punjab province of India. The site is thought to be 8,000 years old—older than the Egyptian sites that we’ve uncovered thus far.”
“What did they find there? Great question. Fascinating stuff.” Augustus brought up another slide. “This. It’s a unicorn seal that’s currently in the museum in Karachi.”
He switched to another image, his voice growing more and more animated. “Here’s another…and another. Harappa is the hot spot for unicorn research right now.
When he switched his attention away from his own slides and back to his audience, he saw that his wife was waving to get his attention.
“Ah, it looks like my time is up. My wife is pointing at her watch and giving me that universal ‘look’ that all husbands around the world recognize. I’m a smart man and I’m going to prove it by stopping now. If you’re interested you can read ‘The Harrappan Unicorn in Eurasian and South Asian Perspectives’. You can find the article in Current studies of Indus Civilization. Should be easy to find. Thank you again for your kind attention.”
“Do you have your bag? This might take a bit of time.” Augustus patiently stood by the door of their hotel room waiting for his wife to gather her things. “You can always go shopping if you’d like instead. I know this must be dreadfully boring. It’s just important for me to be prepared before the last big lecture.”
Octavia pointed to the bag already hanging from her shoulder and then finished fastening her earring. “You know I like to pick my seat in advance.” she teased. “I’m going to have to start fighting off your groupies if I want to be anywhere near you.”
“There’s not much in here.” Augustus peered in her bag before slinging it over his own shoulder. “You sure you have everything?”
“I don’t need much. Water bottle. A few books to read. Yarn.”
Augustus rolled his eyes. Knitting was his wife’s latest preoccupation. Fortunately, her failure was so spectacular that she’d yet to finish an entire row. So he’d didn’t have to worry about disappointing her by not wearing the sweater she’d planned. In the meantime, he’d been jabbed more than a few times by the needles she’d left laying around the house. “I’m not sure we’re going to have that much time…maybe you want to leave the yarn here?”
He shook his head this time. She’d recently been on a chat room for knitters and discovered that a non-knitter was referred to as a muggle. She thought the term outrageously funny and had been referring to him like that ever since. Please let this obsession end soon.
She pushed the elevator button before he had a chance. “Do you have your list?”
He waited while she walked through the open doors. “Don’t need it.” The door closed and the elevator started its descent. “By now, I’ve got everything memorized.”
“Podium. Screen. Electricity…”
“I remember. My laptop is fully charged but we’ll check and see where the nearest plug is too. Just in case.”
“And let’s make sure that someone can help in case…”
“We have a temperature problem in the auditorium. He put his hand on her back and guided her out to the lobby. “You almost froze in Italy. What was that thermostat on anyway? By the time I finished by lecture, I could swear that everyone’s lips were blue.”
“That reminds me. I’ll pack a sweater in my bag for tomorrow. Just in case.”
“The National Museum, please.” Augustus waited till his wife got into the car and then slid in next to her.
“Visiting, Sir?” the driver asked.
“Preparing for a lecture tomorrow,” his wife answered. “He’s been invited as a special guest speaker.”
Augustus hid his smile at the obvious pride in her voice. It was only recently that unicorns had become a serious topic of interest and not simply a child’s toy.
“Very good. I’ll have you there in no time.”
It wasn’t long before the car pulled up in front of a curved tan building with gold letters announcing the National Museum. Red steps, divided by round columns, led to the front doors. Augustus helped his wife out of the car before pulling out his wallet to pay the driver, but the man waved the money away and slid back into the car.
Augustus still held the money in his hands as the driver pulled away.
“Did you notice his eyes?” Octavia asked.
“What? Wonder why he didn’t take any money. Eyes? Now that you mention it…”
“Startling blue, weren’t they?” Octavia turned when his hand directed her toward the steps.
They’d only climbed a few when Augustus heard his name.
He thought about ignoring the voice. He had an agenda this morning and it was important to make sure everything ran smoothly tomorrow. But his wife didn’t seem to agree.
“Augustus, that man is trying to get your attention.”
The stranger came to a stop beside them. “I was right? You are Professor Hithersby?”
“That’s correct. What can I help you with? I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of time.” From the looks of the man, he was likely another wanna-be archeology student. He was younger than one would think of a university student, wore a faded tee-shirt over jeans, and spoke with an accent that implied he was a local.
“A thousand pardons, but I wonder if I might disturb you for a moment to examine a few photographs? I’ve been sent this by my brother and I’d like your opinion. He found this at a market and purchased it and we both think that it’s possibly from the region of…”
The photograph was of a golden deer and the workmanship was exceptional. There were several different view points, some close-ups of the detail of the twin horns that flowed over the length of the animal’s body.
“Where did you say your brother found this?” The artifact was stunning, but also familiar. Something tugged at the back his mind.
“A market outside the city.”
Augustus held the photograph a little further away and then used his opposite hand to search his pockets for his glasses. He glanced to the left, where his wife stood a moment ago, but she was gone. She usually carried his spare pair in her purse and he squinted at the photograph trying to make out the details. So familiar. His fingers touched the familiar lens of his glasses just as he was about to call out his wife’s name.
Must be exploring the statuary on the sides of the building. It wasn’t unusual for Augustus to get called away from his wife’s side and she’d gotten quite good entertaining herself.
The image came into sharp focus once his glasses were in place. “This isn’t from India.” He tapped the photograph with his finger. “I’ve seen this somewhere….” This time he spun and called out for his wife. “Octavia, come look at this photograph, would you?” It was when he looked down again at the golden deer that he knew. “The golden deer of Zhalauly, that’s what this is,” he said with satisfaction. “Zhalauly is in Kazakhstan.”
When he looked up, he expected the man to look disappointed, but instead he was looking somewhere past Augustus. And he looked pleased.
“Interesting story. A bunch of children found a felt sack lying on the side of the road, presumably brought in by snowmelt waters. Inside…golden treasures like this.” He was in the act of returning the photograph when something dawned on him. He held the photograph up again and examined it closer. This was no random photo taken by someone who had an interesting find at a market. This was a professional shot. The black background, the reflection of the light on the gold, it looked like Oleg’s work.
In the corner of the shot, it looked like the characteristic…
“Look here, sweetheart, doesn’t this look like Oleg’s work?” He called out louder since she didn’t hear him last time, but she still didn’t appear. It was closer to the time when the museum would open and more and more people were milling around the stairs, waiting to enter the building. He spun around, feeling a tightness in his chest.
“Octavia!” he called out, anxiety making his voice a little higher in pitch. “Did you happened to see where my wife…” When he turned around, he only caught a glimpse of the young man’s back as he faded into the crowd.
Augustus Hithersby was alone and his wife was no where to be found.
If you're interested, stay tuned. Or better yet, sign up for my newsletter to get updates on upcoming books HERE.
Not long ago, I read about Maurice the Rooster.
He lives in Saint Pierre D’Oleron in France and he’s caused quite the uproar. Vacationers, renting a home near Maurice, were disturbed by his morning vocalizations and wanted it stopped. So they took him to court.
Stopping a rooster from crowing is not an easy task to accomplish as it turns out. Researchers in Nagoya University of Japan discovered that roosters don’t need light cues to start making noise. They kept the roosters in dim light and despite the lack of changing brightness—roosters still crowed on 23.8 hour cycles. (Current Biology March 18). Putting Clarice in an unlit shed wouldn’t do the trick.
Aside from an understanding of the circadian rhythms of roosters, it brought up the problem of intolerance. Which, by definition is, an unwillingness to accept views, beliefs or behaviors different from your own. Picking the countryside to vacation and being intolerant of the very creatures that define a countryside is a problem to me. It took two years in the courtroom, but Maurice eventually won the right to crow.
There’s more to intolerance than I realized. Apparently Intolerance is also 1916 Silent Film directed by DW Griffen and it’s regarded as one of the great masterpieces of that era. It follows four story lines (Babylonian, Judean, Renaissance and Modern) and it demonstrates man’s persistent intolerance through time. A leading film critic of the time, Theodore Huff, called it the only motion picture worthy of standing beside great works of art like Beethoven’s 5th or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97%.
It sounds like something I should check out, but I’m not really fond of silent films. Hmm, does that make me intolerant?
Sometimes it feels like there’s no escape from all the drama, unhappiness, and intolerance…but then I read this.
In Bhutan, between India and Tibet, they’ve come up with a concept called the “Gross National Happiness Index”. As the article points out:
"When we say Gross National Happiness, it is not the celebrative 'Ha ha -- Ho ho' kind of happiness that we look for in life," Lotay explained. "It only means contentment, control of your mind, control of wants in your life. Don't be jealous with others, be happy with what you have, be compassionate, be a society where you can be more than happy to share.
In Bhutan, they measure happiness.
It sounds a bit crazy right? They do regular surveys that pay attention to health, education, governance, ecology, time use, community vitality, living standards and psychological well-being. And they developed a clear plan to approach what they saw as deficiencies.
Is it working?
It sounds like it is. They produced a politically and economically stable environment, increased the life expectancy of the their residents, protected wild-life, banned tobacco and plastic bags and increased access to both healthcare and education.
That’s certainly something to crow about.
Did you enjoy Labor Day?
You can thank an Egyptian goddess. Ma’at is the goddess of justice, harmony and balance. She is depicted as a winged woman with an ostrich feather on her head. The white feather, also known as “the feather of truth” was used in a ceremony in the afterlife. Osiris, Lord of the underworld and Judge of the dead, would put the "heart of the soul" on a golden scale balanced against the feather of Ma’at. If the soul’s heart was lighter, they had the chance to enter paradise. If the soul’s heart was heavier, it was thrown on the ground where it was devoured by the monster Ammut. Rich or poor, pharaoh or common worker…all were measured.
Compared to other goddesses, Ma’at had no temple or clergy. She was regarded more as a concept than an entity. Ma’at became a belief that one should stay in tune with concepts of justice and harmony to keep the universe in order and maintain a cosmic balance. Ma’at became the foundation of the Egyptian society.
Rulers would ask her help maintaining balance and if a king was not successful in promoting harmony, it was considered a clear sign that he should not rule. This wasn’t always easy.
The first labor strike occurred during the New Kingdom period in Egypt (1570-1069 BC) under the rule of Ramses III. His rule started out well, he navigated relations with foreign rulers and restored temples and monuments. But when the Sea People invaded (I did not make this up), defending the country strained the land’s resources. While they successfully dealt with the invaders, the loss of lives associated with the battle meant less labor in the fields and fewer merchants to sell goods. The economy suffered.
Trouble started when the wages to tomb builders and artisans were more than a month late. Instead of looking at what was happening to these payments, officials continued in their preparation for a festival honoring Ramses. When the payments were late again, workers laid down their tools and marched to the city shouting “We are hungry!”
This had never happened before, and the officials didn’t know how to handle the situation. They ordered pastries for the workers (which reminded me of Marie Antoinette’s famous line “Let them eat cake” when she was told that the peasants had no bread). They hoped that the whole situation would blow over. It didn’t.
Workers were given their back pay, but when they discovered that their next payment wouldn’t be coming, the strikers blocked access to the Valley of the Dead where priests and family members offered food to dead. This was a big deal.
The workers were angry, not just because they had not been paid, but because they saw this as a violation of the ma’at. The king and his officials were supposed to take care of the people and he was failing.
The success of the strike inspired others to do the same and eventually laborers were recognized for the collective good that they provided to society. Now we have a holiday commemorating workers--Labor Day.
What ever happened to Ramses? An article in History. com titled “Multiple Assassins involved in the brutal death of Egyptian Pharaoh” tells the end of his story….
“In this tumultuous political climate, Ramses’ secondary wife Tiye hatched an assassination plot with over a dozen fellow members of the pharaoh’s harem, along with the head of the treasury, a military captain, a butler and the chief royal chamberlain. According to ancient papyri detailing the court trial that followed, the conspirators planned on employing wax figurines and other magic to get past the royal guards, while simultaneously fomenting a rebellion throughout the kingdom.”
Obviously, they were successful with that wax and magic stuff….
“…researchers using a high-powered CT scanner on Ramses’ mummy discovered a severe throat gash, covered up by an amulet thought to possess healing powers.”
Do you feel guilty every time you hear about a charity and you don’t give money? Does it feel like you’re bombarded by requests for help? Flooding disasters. Tornados. Abused animals. Drought.
It’s called Donor Fatigue. It’s defined as “the lessening of the public’s willingness to respond generously to charitable appeals resulting from the frequency of the appeals.”
I want to tell you a story.
In the 1830’s, there were 125,000 Native Americans living in what is now Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. George Washington decided that this culture needed to be more civilized, converted to Christianity and taught to speak English. Five tribes- the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee, were referred to as the “Five Civilized Tribes” when they began to adopt the attributes of the new colonists.
Despite the Native American’s willingness to blend cultures, farmers wanted, and then demanded, the rich land they inhabited. Andrew Jackson was happy to accommodate. He created the Indian Removal Act that allowed the government to exchange Native American held lands in the east for land in the west (what is now Oklahoma).
The Choctaw nation was the first tribe to be moved. It was a disaster. Traveling Native Americans faced the worst snowstorm in the Mississippi Valley’s history and they were not prepared with adequate blankets, shoes or winter clothing. Heavy rains washed out trails and the slower travel meant that food supplies were depleted. Cholera and other infectious diseases struck. Thousands died.
One hundred thousand Native Americans were moved, fifteen thousand (some articles report significantly higher numbers) died on what was later called “The Trail of Tears.”
Seventeen years later, another tragedy occurred in a country far away. The Irish Potato Famine began in 1845 when a fungus infected and ruined up to one-half of the potato crop. Within the next seven years, up to 3/4 of the crop was affected. One million people died of starvation and the Irish were forced to leave their homes to find food for their families.
Word of the “Great Hunger” reached the Choctaw tribe in 1847. They were still grieving their dead, still trying to create a new home in a new land, and they had little to give. Perhaps it was empathy for the loss of lives and the forced removal from their homes. Whatever the reason, the Choctaw tribe gathered money and they sent it to Ireland, creating a bond with the Irish that continues to this day.
In 1990, Choctaw leaders went to Ireland to recreate the famine walk of locals leaving their homes. In 1992, Irish leaders helped commemorate the Trail of Tears. Both groups wanted to remember the past—but also raise money for famine sufferers in Africa.
Here’s why I’m not worried about Donor Fatigue. I can’t give to every charity. I can’t work every fundraiser. But there will always be one that tugs your heart strings. The Children’s Advocacy Center is mine. Children should not be abused. Period.
When it comes along, you’ll know it. You’ll feel it. Give generously to whatever feels right to you…and make this world a better place.
The image is a photo by Gavin Sheridan of a statue in Midleton, County Cork memorializing the Choctaw’s donation to the Irish. Feathers are reminiscent of those used in Choctaw ceremonies and the arrangement in a circle represents an empty bowl of food.
At one time scientists thought that only humans could respond to music. Animals, including cats, dogs and even monkeys, could hear music, but any response they might seem to have was not in rhythm with the music. Music might soothe the savage beast, but he wasn’t able to boogie to it.
But then a scientist, Aniruddh Patel, saw a Youtube video of a cockatoo called Snowball. And it looked like Snowball was reacting to a BackStreet Boys song. The bird changed his pace, his kicks and beak dipping, in response to the music.
It was a fascinating observation that led to the understanding that vocal learners, like dolphins and song birds, changed their body’s response based on the speed of the music. It also helped understanding how our brain coordinates movement in response to music.
You know what I’m taking about don’t you. That’s right. Dancing.
Dancing is more complex than you’d think. The motor cortex of the frontal lobe plans and executes voluntary movements. The basal ganglia, deeper in the brain, helps coordinate movements and the cerebellum allows us to keep a beat, maintain a rhythm.
That’s the part we understand, there’s a lot we don’t understand.
Like why patients with Parkinson’s may show some improvement with dance. In a study in Northwestern University, individuals who attended a dance class for 10 weeks reported a reduction in their disability. The study was small but it was thought that dance activated areas of the brain that helped them improve.
Other studies have shown benefits in stress, anxiety and even dementia. Dancing releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our body.
Peter Lovatt is known as Doctor Dance. He studies psychology as it is applied in dance. He believes that how we move our body can have an impact on how we learn and think. He was a professional dancer, but in 2008 he combined his love of dance with the study of psychology. He’s a pretty interesting guy and you can hear his TED talks on his website.
How did I discover these interesting facts?
I often visit my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. We call her the Dancing Queen. I’d never seen my mother dance until she was diagnosed with dementia. I don’t know if the disease removed her inhibitions or if music appeals to her in a different way now. What I know is that she LOVES to dance. So I researched why that might be true and I think it's because it makes her feel better.
Here’s the cool thing.
I can’t help her. I can’t make her sleep better or understand what is happening. I can’t always be there to encourage her to drink more or comfort her when she’s scared. There’s so much that I can’t do that it makes me feel helpless and frustrated. But there is something I can do with her…
I can dance.
I am not Mahatma Gandhi.
Most people recognize his name. He was an Indian lawyer who became world famous for his non-violent resistance during India’s campaign to free themselves from British Rule. At a time of increasing riots, Gandhi proposed fasting and boycotts. He went as far as spinning the yarn to make fabric for his own clothes instead of buying foreign made goods. In one episode of disobedience, Gandhi started a walk to the Arabian Sea coast, a distance of 240 miles. The goal was to retrieve salt from the ocean. According to British law, starting in 1882, Indians were forced to buy their salt from the British and they were taxed heavily during the process. He started with a few dozen people and ended his walk with tens of thousands.
On arrival, Gandhi was arrested immediately and then taken away. His followers had a different fate, they were viciously executed, clubbed by police until some of them fell unconscious or dead.
So what does that have to do with me?
I recently read an article by a doctor that proposed that we need to up our game to combat the rise in vaccine refusals. He suggested following Gandhi’s footsteps and he had a plan. He outlined the steps we’ve taken thus far (explaining and educating) and what we should consider doing (boycotting businesses of non-vaccinators and even hunger strikes).
I am not Mahatma Gandhi and truthfully, I don’t think a hunger strike will turn this around.
Let me hit pause for a moment and tell you about something unrelated, but important.
The MASK movement. Established in 2015, the MASK movement stands for Mothers Against Senseless Killings. They don’t have a complex agenda. Their goal is to keep “eyes on the street, interrupt violence and crime, and teach children to grow up as friends.”
Tamar Manasseh is the leader of the “army of moms”. On the first day of the MASK gathering, five moms served hot dogs and chips on a street corner. They still sit on the same street corner in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods of Chicago and they just talk. But there’s a lot more of them talking now.
In articles, Manasseh says she doesn’t want to be considered an anti-gun activist. What she wants is to create a safe spot, to stop the senseless killings. So they eat, chat, dance and talk on the street corner. They make friends, teach their children to be friends and they’ve lowered the rate of violence in their neighborhood. It’s simple right?
Tamar says on her website:
I used to think my greatest accomplishment was raising two happy, healthy children in Chicago, where so many other mothers are denied that right. Then I sat in a lawn chair on a street corner and extended the love I have for my kids to someone else’s. I have been enriched and deeply fulfilled by all of my children. I hope that one day you get to experience the same level of purpose that I have. See you on the block.
Tamar Manasseh is not Mahatma Gandhi either. Instead of hunger strikes, she’s feeding the kids in her neighborhood for free. Instead of long treks to retrieve salt and promote civic disobedience, Tamar is hanging around a corner in her own neighborhood engaging other mothers to help her change the environment they all live in.
But there are two ways that Tamar is like Gandhi.
She uses love to fight hate and her followers have been viciously executed.
Chantell Grant and Andrea Stoudemire , moms in MASK, lost their lives on July 26, 2019. They were shot down on the very corner where the group of mothers routinely meet. It was painful to read about and they haven't caught the shooter yet. But the moms are still going back to that corner. Because, no matter what happens, love must win.
You can read about Tamar and her mission here: On the Block.
The “King of Random” is dead and I’m sad about it—even though I’d never heard his name until yesterday.
Grant Thompson was the creator of the Youtube channel titled The King of Random and he made “videos dedicated to exploring life through all kinds of hacks, experiments and random weekend projects.”
A look at his offerings shows that he lived up to the ‘random' claim. He has a variety of videos including how to: make thunder claps, turn coal into diamonds using peanut butter, and light a fire with a water bottle (this last one is filed under survival techniques if you’re interested)
“There is excitement found in discovering the unknown, so join us and let’s build something great together,” says the description of the channel.
I’m not sure that building was always the goal but discovering the unknown was. In 2017, in an interview on Mediakix, he said that “I just started tinkering and learning how the world works…” Over time he built up a following and he said he realized he was meeting a need.
But what need, exactly, was he meeting?
Primarily, the appeal of just tinkering…. Do you know the definition of tinkering?
To attempt to repair or improve something in a casual way, often to no useful effect.
Tinkering is, at its heart, playtime. It involves puttering around with everyday objects and and exploring what can be done with them. For some, if it involves fire or explosions (as some of Thompson’s did) but for others its just fooling around with a piece of wood and some wire. Doing something with your hands, building, tinkering… can be therapeutic.
But I think the attraction to his channel went beyond tinkering.
His ideas had a sense of ridiculousness, and his Youtube channel provided a droll comedy for his watchers. It reminded me of something similar.
The Ig Nobel Prize.
The Ig honors achievements that make people LAUGH and then THINK. According to the website, “The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”
They have an annual ceremony (Sept 12 if you’re interested) and the awards are presented at a Harvard auditorium by, you guessed it, genuine Nobel Laureates.
To help you understand what I'm talking about, the 2018 awards went to scientists who explored:
-whether roller coasters could hasten the passage of kidney stones.
-whether a wine expert could reliably identify, by smell, the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine.
-the degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent.
I’ve signed up to watch the awards online.
As a bonus, during my research I discovered that I may be a candidate for the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. My hair has gotten longer out of pure laziness but now I discover, it may open new doors for me. The LFHCfS is for scientists that have, or believe they have, luxuriant flowing hair. Stay tuned.
“You can't deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.” Stephen King
Aside from life saving transfusions, I had no idea how powerful blood can be. Not just any blood...menstrual blood. (Warning: this blog has some taboo words in it and is about a subject a lot of people don’t like to talk about)
Let’s just look at some interesting facts about a woman’s cycle as we go through the ages.
The ancient Greeks believed that problems with menstruation could cause blood to accumulate around the heart and the uterus to wander around the body. The term hysteria came from the Greek word for ‘uterus’.
The Bible says: “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15.19) Along those lines, the church used to refuse communion to menstruating women.
We had some kooky notions in the past, but listen to this story.
Béla Schick was an American pediatrician who became famous for discovering a test for susceptibility to diphtheria. He headed several pediatric departments in New York City and was a professor at Columbia.
According to various stories on the internet (you trust those don’t you?) Dr Schick asked his receptionist/nurse or housekeeper to arrange a bouquet that he’d received from a patient in a vase of water. She refused. In some stories she eventually gives in and does as he requests. By morning the flowers are dead. She explained that when she is menstruating, flowers wilt when she touches them.
This was not only interesting…it was almost Biblical.
A theory was published stating that women secrete a toxin, the ‘menotoxin’, when they menstruate. Alarmingly, this toxin could prevent dough from rising and beer from fermenting. He did some studies with the help of his housekeepers, but more scientists took up the cause.
A article titled, A PHYTO-PHARMACOLOGICAL STUDY OF MENSTRUAL TOXIN by Macht and Lubin was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 1923. The Abstract said:
1. The blood serum, blood corpuscles, saliva, sweat, milk and other secretions of menstruating women contain a toxic substance characterized by specific pharmacological and chemical reactions.
2. This menstrual toxin or menotoxin is very much more powerful in its effects on plant protoplasm than on animal tissues, so that its nature and properties can be best studied by phyto-pharmacological methods.
Here’s my favorite part:
The experimental data obtained by the authors in the study of menotoxin confirm in a striking degree the empirical observations concerning a menstrual poison prevalent in folklore and handed down in classical literature.
Another study in 1944 published in JAMA ( a big name in medical journals) showed that menstrual blood was toxic to rats and caused death in 48 hours. One article implied that the menotoxin might be similar to that produced by poisonous toads. (Experimental studies, old and new, on menstrual toxin 1934)
It wasn’t until 1953 that Dr Bernard Zondek announced that menstrual blood had no more toxicity than any other tissue and that it was bacterial infections, not toxins, that caused rats to die in prior studies.
Thank goodness that nonsense is cleared up…or is it?
Vegan health bloggers are claiming that menstruation is the body’s attempt to get rid of toxins and that a heavy period is the result of a toxic diet. The reverse, an absent period-- which can be achieved by dramatic calorie deprivation, indicates a clean diet.
Good grief. Here we go again.
As Dr Jen Gunter says, “Menstrual blood is the lining of the uterus (endometrium) that leaves the body when an embryo fails to implant.” and “If menstrual blood were toxic that means human embryos are deposited in a toxic wasteland.” There is no menotoxin. That’s it.
We were enjoying a family game night when my sister brought the subject up.
“Let’s get together and paint rocks,” she said.
“Why in the world would we want to do that?” I asked, taking furtive glances at her alcoholic beverage.
“It inspires people,” she explained.
“Hmm,” I answered. “I think it’s your turn now.”
There are stories behind some stones.
For instance, have you heard about the Jewish tradition of laying a pebble or stone on a gravestone? According to some sources, it started when stones were used to cover up the departed. They were supposed to keep predators from getting to the body, but they also served to keep evil spirits from escaping.
Rabbi Andrew Straus, in a blog titled Rocks, Rocks and more Rocks, relates that it is a sign of respect to participate in the burial of a loved one. The Mitzvah of mitzevah (setting a stone) is when a mourner symbolically takes part in the ceremony by adding a pebble or stone to the grave. In addition to showing respect, it’s a sign to others that the departed has been remembered, that they’ve made an impression on those left behind. Next time you visit a cemetery, look around…I bet you find a few pebbles lining one of the markers.
You’ve probably seen stacked stones on beaches. Recently, it’s become popular to layer stones, or balance stones, into unusual formations. How did this come about? Stacked stones were originally used as trail makers. It’s obvious from the appearance of the stack that the tower is man-made and not natural, so it was a hiker’s way of reassuring another that they were on the right trail.
Now, it’s popularity has increased and there are beaches that are covered with countless stone structures.
What’s the harm of a little tower that can symbolize thankfulness, grace, a wish or even a tribute? It turns out…it can be quite a problem. It’s disturbing the natural order, scaring away insects, crabs and small animals that seek shelter in between rocks. Starre Vartan says “It’s not harmless when everyone does it.”
Painting rocks is a new trend. The goal is to write something cheerful or inspirational on the rock for someone to find. It sounded silly...until it happened to me.
I was running along a path and came upon a painted rock. I stopped in my tracks.
I’d been trying to sort out some problems in my head. I was sweaty, hot and tired.
And that’s when I saw it.
It didn’t solve any of my problems…but it did make me smile. So, mission accomplished for the rock painter! I thought about buying some paint and doing my best to make someone else smile, but I remembered those stacked stones. One local rock painter is enough.
According to New York Times Columnist David Brooks there are “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. He wrote a book called The Road to Character and he described the two. Basically “resume virtues” are those we associate with a career. He was named Chairman of the Board and he increased sales by 50%. “Eulogy virtues” are what would be said at your funeral. He was a kind and he loved dogs.
Let me introduce you to someone… I’ll get back to the virtues later.
Andrzej Tadeusz Banawentura Kościuszko (also known as Andrew Thaddeus) was born in 1746 in Lithuania. I saw his name on a statue near the White House in Washington D.C.
He graduated as a captain of the Corp of Cadets and went to Paris to continue his military education. Once there, he discovered that it was forbidden for foreigners to be accepted into the military academy.
So he settled for studying art instead. Or did he?
There’s no doubt that he was interested in painting and drawing, but he actually spent the next five years auditing military lectures and taking advantage of the resources in the military academy library.
When he returned home, he discovered that his brother had burned through the family’s finances and he was forced to get a job as a tutor. He fell in love with his pupil, Ludwika, but was discouraged from continuing the relationship with her. Her father told him “Turtle doves are not for sparrows…” and then he had his hired thugs thrash Kościuszko.
Kościuszko had heard about the American Revolution and he decided to go to North America. He was so impressed with the Declaration of Independence that he set out to meet one of the authors, Thomas Jefferson. They corresponded with each other for the next twenty years. Of Kościuszko, Jefferson said “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”
There was a flurry of military activity after that. (You can read the details on Wikipedia here) He signed up for the Continental army to help defend against the British. I always imagine military leaders with raised swords charging into the fray, but he wasn’t that kind of guy.
Kościuszko was a strategist. There are multiple accounts of how he surveyed fortresses and found weak spots, how he destroyed bridges and dammed streams to allow exhausted soldiers to escape, how he developed intelligence contacts to spy on the British. His fortifications to West Point were considered innovative for his time.
For his service and contributions, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
When he returned to Europe he went into debt after freeing most of his indentured servants (did I mention that the United States hadn’t paid him for seven years?). He argued that peasants and Jews be allowed to become Polish citizens and he took part in an uprising against Russian rule in Poland.
For his service, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and considered one of Poland’s most brilliant commanders.
At age 71, Thaddeus Kosciuszko died after falling off a horse.
His will designated his estate should go toward the education and freedom of African American slaves…including Jefferson’s. Despite making it to the Supreme Court three times, none of his money was ever used for that purpose.
According to New York Times Columnist David Brooks there are “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. One could describe Kosciuszko as a Brigadier General or Lieutenant General, but that’s not what I saw on the stature in Washington.
It was more in the line of a “eulogy virtue” and it gave me the chills…
What are we going to be remembered for when we die?
The titles that we’ve earned on a stepwise progression in our workplace?
Or should our ambitions rise higher than that?