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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Monday, October 17, 2005
Legends Then and Now

Came across two items of information that intrigued me:

In the middle ages , it was believed that certain kings had the power to heal the sick by touch. In 1684, a crowd of crowd of the lame and ill gathered to be healed by Charles II of England. In the hysteria of the mob, some were healed by being trampled to death. As quirky as that thought is, the idea re-surfaces in The Return of the King where the folk of Gondor maintain the legend that the king has healing powers. While Aragorn doesn’t appear to have the magic touch, his knowledge of athelas is sufficient to match up to the legend and convince the women he is the true king.

All my life I have known that fingernails and hair continue to grow after the death of the body. I don’t remember how I learned that fact but it was definitely a part of the lore my culture equipped me with but this weekend I discovered that this thing that everybody knows to be true is not true at all. It may be the fact that the skin shrinks while hair and nails do not that gives the latter the appearance of growing but reality is they do not. What a shame! It made such a neat creepy fact.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-17 10:50:29

Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Acheiving Conversational Goals - Not

Suppose that the three most significant people in your world ask you what it is you believe. Since you’ve never sat down to codify the answer to this question and, further, because you know that whatever it is you believe, it will not conform to the belief systems of any of the three sitting around the table, do not be surprised if your first inclination is to change the topic.

That’s out of the question, though, so, you plow into the discussion with multiple goals: (a) to present your side as clearly, succinctly, and inoffensively as possible; (b) to avoid the appearance of evangelization. [They are entitled to their belief systems and need not conform to yours. In fact, as far as you can know, your particular belief system is no more or less valid than theirs; it merely works for you.] (c) to present your case in terms such that they will not feel obligated to attempt your conversion to their belief system.

Prepare yourself for several hours of conversation as those you love attempt to understand where you are coming from but must evaluate that stance on the basis of their own belief systems. Yours cannot measure up to theirs in terms of sanity or efficacy so, inevitably, they must question you as to how you can possibly hold such a set of beliefs. You will hear many “but, Dan…,” or “how can you not believe in….” or “what if everyone believed that?”

For example, if you reject the monotheistic religions and they are all practitioners of same then their ability to conceive of a world where no one is Jewish, Muslim, or Christian will be out of the question. What they will envision is total anarchy with everyone doing their own thing, even the deviants and criminals. Without religion, they cannot envision a moral world. At that point, they cannot resist attempting your conversion and goal (c) has evaporated into the ether.

At that point, if you have any competitive streak in you whatsoever,your presentation will become a debate that you will not want to lose. From that moment on, all that you can do is hurt people and – to the extent you succumb to the temptation - you immediately obviate goals (a) and (b).

The solution, I suppose, is announce at the outset, “this briefing will last 10 minutes following which there will be no question-and-answer session. Thank you all very much.”

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-11 10:36:21

Friday, October 7, 2005

A man with white hair, a book binder, arrives in town for a week or two each year carrying no gifts but managing to purchase a thing or two here and there during his stay. Seven grandchildren ranged over 17 years are difficult to plan for until you see them, talk to them, get a picture of who they are. Same man riding shotgun in a 1949 Chevy Coupe over the Apache Trail, in those days little more than the dirt tack used by the WPA to dam the Salt River. “49 coupes had wind screens as part of the side window requiring a vertical bar to support them when they were closed. Screen open, the bar provided a solid grip for the old man as his son navigated the dirt and gravel mountain roads one-handed, using his left hand to wave at vistas grand and dangerous, the drop from the road to canyon floor steep and fatal. “Yeah, Charlie, that’s beautiful,” he’d say but his eyes were fixed on his hands which were glued to the stanchion as if super glue had been invented in the early 1950s.

Charlie grew a head of silver hair of his own. He was the most curious uneducated man I ever met, examining ideas from all directions. A dreamer, a handy-man, and an alcoholic. Capable of debating with the local priests the impact on Catholicism should life be discovered on Mars, of analyzing the 1957 Democratic Convention as it played out on TV predicting the run of JFK in 1962, and failing miserably to understand the motivations of any of his children. Fell apart when his wife died and never fully recovered though another woman did her damnedest to keep him together. Alienated his children in the process, both of them,and that tragedy plays out over and over again in the children, both the alcohol and the inability to keep it together. Not every child with both but every child with the echoes of the man’s fall from greatness.

The middle son travels through life in some ways like Charlie, devoted to a woman and caring little for other relationships, a competent father, a half-assed brother and a poor friend. Like Charlie, interested in everything and master of nothing. Competent, moderately successful, and growing his own set of white hair.

The next generation is approaching middle age, a mystery to his father. Where did this man come from? He has maturity and wisdom, humor and compassion, power and courage that the father knows that he does not possess and cannot remember seeing in the son when he was a boy. Instead, undeniably,the fatheris awed by their manifestation in the man, a better man than his father in all the ways that count.

His sons are a reversion to type. Charlie had three sons as well and these boys resemble that preceding generation, except for order of occurrence. The oldest of these boys reminds of his grandfather, the middle son, obstinate, competent, and a dreamer. A little more temper than his grandfather had but just as much passion for reading and playing and getting through school as effortlessly as possible. And, at age 12, just as certain he understands the world a whole lot better than his parents do.

Middle son is a survivor. He’ll be the general manager of the business, the one who gets things done and then goes off to play golf. He knows how to play but he knows better when to play and when to work. He is more capable of committing himself to a project and sticking it out than his brothers and more willing to do the work the passion requires. His oldest great-uncle had been like that.

The youngest is still too young to be categorized neatly but he already demonstrates his father’s the sense of humor, unpredictability, and way with words. This one makes the day interesting every time he enters the room. The youngest great-uncle, like this youngest son, was the closest copy to Charlie a generation produced. Maybe this one will be the closest copy to his father.

This weekend, I get to be the oldest generation and enjoy the next two. They must tolerate me no matter what I do because I am the grandpa; I get to enjoy them no matter what they do because I exercise no responsibility over them save interest, curiosity, and love.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-07 10:29:55

Thursday, October 6, 2005
Ginning Up An Argument

Continuing a running conversation with a certain lady of the Shire, it occurs to me that the world seems unaware that there is only one London Dry Gin that is actually distilled in London. That would be Beefeater’s, of course. The following unimportant information is of interest to a person who has spent 4 decades in the consumption of said gin. If is of interest because gin occurs in the martinis he has consumed without any idea whatsoever as to what he was drinking. It turns out that gin is a strong, aromatic alcoholic liquor distilled from rye and other grains and flavored with juniper berries. It seems to have been developed in 1650 by Franz de la Boë who was attempting to build a better kidney medicine. I think he succeeded uncommonly well. Common juniper extract, potentially fatal in even fairly small amounts, was used to make the gin and as a meat preservative. From which, one supposes, comes the phrase: drop-dead-delicious.

While this may seem absurd, Franz was following a rich tradition. The First Americans from the Pacific Northwest used tonics made from the branches to treat colds, flu, arthritis, muscle aches, and – you won’t be surprised - kidney problems. Indigenous peoples from Eurasia made tonics for kidney and stomach ailments and rheumatism.

William and Mary, obviously the kind of royalty you would want to invite to your parties, encouraged home production of gin. On the advice of the monarchy, the loyal countryside complied. Their efforts – the countryside, not the monarchs - were the forerunner of the heavily sweetened stuff known as Old Tom's Gin. Soon, homebrew gin became synonymous with the poor and abuse of the drink was rampant. In an effort to cure the working class of their addiction to gin, the British government passed a law in 1832 officially favoring beer over gin. Working folk throughout England immediately responded to the law by drinking beer as chasers to their gin. You should never underestimate the creativity of us working class drinkers.

Then, dry gin was introduced in the 1870's and took on a certain respectability. The primary flavor is of course, juniper. Other flavors, each a highly guarded secret among the bottlers, include; coriander, cassia bark, angelica, orange peel, orris root, cardamon, licorice, and other botanicals. Finer establishments began serving "pink gins" signaling the dawning of the cocktail age. The next thing you knew, the Sloe Gin Fizz arrived to the detriment of cultures everywhere. The sloe is the small, blue-black, plum-like fruit of the blackthorn and you can lose many hours wondering how a blue-black fruit can produce a pink drink. Best not to speculate on such things as you might discover yourself led to speculations such as the sloe gin fizz was the inspiration for the hero in James Clavell’s Shogun. Better to sip your Beefeater’s martini, shaken not stirred, up, with olives and contemplate the idea that London Dry Gin is a category of gin, that only Beefeater’s is a truly London Dry Gin, and therefore, in the immortal terms of Immanuel Kant, Beefeater’s Gin must be the categorical imperative of gins.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-10-06 10:34:44

Friday, September 30, 2005
History is So Confusing

Checking what it is The History Channel thinks is important about this day in history, today I came upon this line: “Upon becoming king of England, Henry imprisoned Richard in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, where the former king died of undetermined causes.” The History Channel, 30 Sep 2005

A line like that makes me wonder what was going on. So, off I go to check with the people who ought to know and they tell me: “Risings in support of Richard led to his murder in Pontefract Castle; Henry V subsequently had his body buried in Westminster Abbey.” www.royal.gov.uk

Well, they ought to know, I thought, but perhaps they have an axe to grind so I went off to see what William Shakespeare had to say about the matter. It turns out that in his play, Richard II, Sir Pierce of Exton murders Richard II (in prison at Pomfret Castle) thinking it is Henry IV's wish that Richard II is dead. Richard II manages to kill two of Exton's helpers before dying himself.

Okay, that’s one for murder and one for execution which is pretty much the same but I think both cases are pretty determined so I wonder what it is The History Channel is confused about. The next source I can find says “Deposed in 1399, Richard was murdered while in prison, the first casualty of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York.” Britannia.com. I’m still confused as to why The History Channel is confused, so I make one more check to discover: “Richard was placed in Pontefract Castle, and probably murdered (or starved to death) there in 1400.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_II_of_England.

Well, now I can guess why The History Channel is confused: they must use the wikipedia website as their primary source.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-30 10:00:42

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