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The 3 Gs of Halloween

Chances are good that somewhere within the groups of princesses and storm troopers, Dorothys and Spidermen that show up at your door tonight, there will be a couple of good, old-fashioned ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. Chances are also good that neither you nor they really know the difference between the three (story, link to identity of Jack, o' the lantern):

Lines in the Sand

King Faisal, during his brief reign as King of Greater Syria, third from left, 1919
What holds a nation together? Ideally, it's the people themselves. Often, it's brute force. But for nations as for people, it seems, the byword is "live by the sword, die by the sword." Some, like Yugoslavia, have finally broken apart and, as newly independent states, have found a tenuous kind of amity. Others, like Iraq and Syria, remain locked in bloody, tragic struggle. Is it any wonder that these two countries and so many others like them can't seem to find peace when it was conquest and greed that created them in the first place? from

Today's encore selection -- from The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, Britain carved the new country of Iraq out of the defeated Ottoman (Turkish) Empire to protect its access to newly discovered oil fields and its imperial possessions in Asia. The new country is an illogical aggregation of factions -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds among them -- that are so hostile to each other it almost immediately led Britain to bomb some of its villages. The British recruited an out-of-work king to preside over the ill-fated land:

   "During the war, London had encouraged Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, to take the lead in raising an Arab revolt against Turkey. This he did, beginning in 1916, aided by a few Englishmen, of whom the most famous was T.E. Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia. In exchange, Hussein and his sons were to be installed as the rulers of the various, predominantly Arab, constituents of the Turkish empire. Faisal, third son of Hussein, was generally considered the most able. ...
   "The British put Faisal on the throne of the newly created nation of Syria, one of the independent states carved out of the extinct Turkish empire. But a few months later, when control of Syria passed to France under the postwar understandings, Faisal was abruptly deposed and turned out of Damascus. He showed up at a railway station in Palestine, where, after a ceremonial welcome by the British, he sat on his luggage waiting for his connection.
Coronation of Prince Faisal as King of Iraq
   "But his career as a king was not yet over. The British needed a monarch for Iraq, another new state, this one to be formed out of three former provinces of the Turkish empire. Political stability in the area was required not only by the prospect for oil, but also for defense of the Persian Gulf and for the new imperial air route from Britain to India, Singapore and Australia. The British did not want to rule the region directly; that would cost too much. Rather what [Winston] Churchill, then head of the Colonial Office, wanted was an Arab government, with a constitutional monarch, that would be 'supported' by Britain under the League of Nations mandate. It would be cheaper. So Churchill chose the out-of-work Faisal as his candidate. Summoned from exile, he was crowned King of Iraq in Baghdad in August 1921. ...
   "Faisal's task was enormous; he had not inherited a well-defined nation, but rather a collection of diverse groups -- Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs, Jews and Kurds and Yazidis -- a territory with a few important cities, most of the countryside under the control of local sheikhs, and with little common political or cultural history, but with a rising Arab nationalism. The minority Sunni Arabs held political power, while the Shia Arabs were by far the most numerous. To complicate things further, the Jews were the largest single group among inhabitants of Baghdad, followed by Arabs and Turks."
author: Daniel Yergin
title: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
publisher: Free Press
date: Copyright 1991, 1992, 2008 by Daniel Yergin
pages: 200-201

The Source Simmers

It was in Tunisia, if you will recall, that the so-called Arab Spring began, when a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi committed suicide after a run-in with a government official over where he could and could not sell his fruits and vegetables. He claimed that the official, a woman, had slapped him, and his self-immolation was seen as an act born of a desperation and frustration that many felt with the seemingly immutable power of the government. So he became a symbol ~ until the official was found to be innocent of the slap, and then many didn't know quite what to think. While they were proud of the outcome of their revolution (Tunisia's president/dictator of 23 years, Zine

Not That Important?

Kamau Bakari ad, Nevada                                                               screen shot
The subheading on the teaser for this story is "How to explain the US elections to non-Americans." I think there are more than a few Americans, myself included, who would like them explained to us as well. Maybe this happens every time and I just haven't noticed, but it seems that the results of this year's midterm elections are more significant ~ and less predictable ~ than usual. Here are five things to know as we hurtle haphazardly toward Nov. 4 (story, video):
   A while back, I noticed that politicians had started calling people "folks." It was around the same time that I noticed the second-knuckle finger-point. I guess they'd gotten feedback that the whole-finger point seemed a little too parental or something. Then there's that female politician who's riding on the fact that she castrates pigs. Eww. Not a particular mark of pride in my book, but I guess it's working for her. The race to the folksy farm is nothing new in American politics, but it seems to be extra-popular these days. Don't they know we know it's all just so much hooey (to borrow a folksy term)? Or do we all know that?:
   You can check out the folksiness in action here (story, videos):

And Then There Was Math

Here's an intriguing conundrum (credit where it's due ~ thank you, Anthony!): Did humans invent math, or was it there all along? Or ~ is the truth of the matter somewhere in between? Take Leonardo Fibonacci's famous number sequence, for example. The man was checking out rabbits and how fast they breed (this was in 1202) when he came up with 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. But it turns out that this sequence can be found in the Nautilus shell, in sunflowers and many other flowers, in pine cones, and in lots of other places in nature. So did nature invent math and we've just come up with the digits and equations to explain it? (video):

The Bearable Ads

Mostly, we see ads as annoying, manipulative, and fairly useless. There are some, however ~ and, granted, they make up an almost negligible percent of the total ~ that are beneficial to individuals and society as a whole. These are the pubic service ads. Off the top of my head, I can think of three that have had great success: the seat belt campaign, the anti-litter one, and of course, "only YOU can prevent forest fires." Here are some interesting facts about the third of those, from

Smokey Bear is America's longest running ad campaign. Created in 1944 in response to an increase in wildfires, Smokey Bear ads were used to prevent wildfires. The development of Smokey Bear came during World War II, as many men, including firefighters, were enlisted, and the general public was urged to be more diligent in order to prevent more wildfires. The Forest Service along with the Wartime Advertising Council and Association of State Foresters used posters and slogans to suggest people can prevent fires and win the war.

More about Smokey Bear:
  • Prior to Smokey Bear, Disney allowed the use of a Bambi poster for forest

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Silence of the Lambs, Rosemary's Baby, Pan's Labyrinth, The Cabin in the Woods ... At the first glimmer of Halloween, out come the horror movies and haunted houses. We decorate our homes with ghosts, ghouls, spiders, and witches. So what makes us so eager to be scared? Have we always been? Is it a global phenomenon? Is there any truth to the scary stories we've heard told around the campfire? Professor Chris French, of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Deborah Hyde, editor of The Skeptic magazine and an expert in werewolves and vampires, explain the phenomenon from a scientific angle (audio):

A Very Rare Type

There are around 45 people that we know of in the world who have Rh null blood. Not Rh + or Rh - (or, more accurately, Rh D-), but Rh null, meaning no Rh at all. Because it's so rare, Rh null is prized by researchers and also by blood banks. So what is it like to be one of the few with this blood type?:

The Great Follicle Debacle

There are theories about why humans have less facial hair than other mammals (, but there is no doubt that what the male of the species manages to do with what he has puts every other creature to shame. On Oct. 25, that creativity will be on display at the World Beard and Moustache Championship in Portland (slideshow):
   So that's the "follicle" part, but why "debacle"? Well, apparently, there's the U.S. World Beard and Moustache Championships and the European World Beard and Moustache Championships. The European championships came first, but the Americans registered the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

Just Because: 'Bodhisattva'

Every once in a while, a poem gets dropped into my inbox (courtesy of poem-a-day) that particularly intrigues me for one reason or another. There's something about Bodhisattva, by Sarah Arvio ~ in the language of it, the rhythm ~ that just worked for me. Not surprisingly, its creator is a translator for the United Nations. 

The new news is I love you my nudist
the new news is I love you my buddhist

my naked body and budding pleasure
in the weather of your presence

Not whether your presence but how
Oh love a new nodule of neurosis

a posy of new roses proposing
a new era for us nobis pacem

Oh my bodhisattva of new roses
you've saved me from my no-love neurosis

You've saved my old body from the fatwa
Let's lie down in a bed of roses

a pocketful that rings round the rosy
If this is the end of the world my love

let's fall down in bed and die
Let's give a new nod to nothing

Let's give a rosebud to nothing at all
How I love the new roses of nothing

Oh my bodhisattva of nothing
boding I hope no news but this

For our bodies and souls I hope nothing
but the weather of us in our peace

In the Space of a Sound

ISS resupply ship ready for Oct. 27 launch                                                NASA
NASA has made its library of sounds ~ from rocket launches to Saturn's radio emissions to conversations between astronauts and control (including the now-famous one between Apollo 13 and Houston) ~ available for our listening and downloading pleasure:

When the Perk Doesn't Work

Michael Breach
Apparently, introverts may not be getting the celebrated coffee kick we all expect and hope for. A new theory suggests that, while extroverts do benefit from a cup or two, coffee may have the opposite effect on their less outgoing brethren. And it's not just coffee. Any central nervous system stimulant, like a crowded, noisy room, for example, would do the same:

Riddle Me This

with six shelves of his publications           Colm Mulcahy
The prolific polymath Martin Gardner would be 100 this week, were he still with us. He is not, but fortunately for the world, his puzzles always will be. The man who gave us that mind-bender about how to ask the truthful alien and the lying alien which road to take had myriad tricks up his sleeve, including flexagons, fractals, and Penrose tiles (story, puzzles, links to video and activities):
   Here's an excerpt from David Suzuki's The Nature of Things that focuses on Gardner (video):

The Actor and the Cosmologist

Stephen and Jane, left; Redmayne and Felicity Jones Liam Daniel; Theory of Everything
Playing a real-life character who's still around to see your portrayal must be hard enough. Imagine how one would prepare to play one of the most intelligent, influential, and well-known personages of our time. Imagine, too, that that individual has a degenerative disease that slowly reduces him to living in a motorized wheelchair and communicating with a mechanized voice. Actor Eddie Redmayne's university friend, who happens to be a writer, followed him around as he meets the man he'll be portraying on screen and prepares for his role in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything:
   It was ten years from the time screenwriter and producer Anthony McCarten read Jane Hawking's memoir about her life with the famous astronomer to the screening of his film based on it:

A Place Called Home

Peter Bialobrzeski
German photographer Peter Bialobrzeski takes pictures of makeshift dwellings. He has documented slums on the edge of the city in the Philippines and South Africa, turning his attention most recently to the so-called nail houses in Shanghai. "It's about the longing for the idea of home," he says, "about the sense of belonging" (slideshow):

Sic Transit Gloria ... and Mary and Alice and ...

screen shot
This is not a new video, but it resurfaced recently. Its creator, Philip Scott Johnson, chose 90 portraits of women from 500 years of Western art, morphed them one into the other in chronological order, and set it all to music. The result is an interesting overview of the changing concept of female beauty and of the evolution of portraiture (story, video):
   And here, for those who, like me, immediately wanted to identify each artwork and its painter, is a list by someone who did it for us:

History, Yourstory

How many solar eclipses have there been in your lifetime? AP/Tourism Queensland
Fascinating! Plug in your date of birth, gender, and height and get back personalized data like how many times your heart has beaten so far, how much the population's grown since you were born, how many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions there've been in that time, and a whole lot more (interactive):

Talking Trash

a Cairo zabal                                       Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Sayyid Ahmed is a zabal, or garbage collector, in Cairo. He has no set schedule, and he's paid whatever residents feel like giving him, which, sometimes, is nothing. He never attended school and is illiterate, but he asks for translations of the labels on the things he finds and in this way comes to know more about the residents than they know about each other. Accompanying him through his days, a journalist learns about much more than just one man and his life:

Extra! Read All About It!

Los Angeles Times
We here in the L.A. area pass this building every time we drive up Pacific Coast Highway, and some know and others wonder. It's an interesting edifice in and of itself, with its large arched windows, angled L shape, and location right on the highway. And then, there's its history, starting with its culinary connection to actress Thelma Todd in the 1930s, a connection that ended abruptly and sadly when Todd was found dead in her car:

A Woman of Some Importance

Constance Wilde with son Cyril, 1889
In honor of the very talented, hugely witty, and tragically persecuted Oscar Wilde on the occasion of his 160th birthday on October 16, a little bit about his wife, the aptly named, also talented Constance (née Lloyd):
   And a little bit about the man himself, keeping in mind his own quote "The truth is rarely pure and never simple":

Cruel Beauty

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Amazingly fragile yet deadly, comb jellies aren't jellyfish at all, and their colors reveal themselves only when artificial light is shined on them, which means hardly ever. But what they are is amazing predators, all 200 or so species of them. Some hunt jellyfish. Some are parasites. Some have red guts, and some have serrated teeth (story, slideshow):

A Temporary Expedient

shipping-container homes, Kilis refugee camp, Turkey      Umit Bektas/Reuters
Journalist Paul Salopek's long walk tracing humanity's migration across the world began in January 2013, and I have checked in occasionally to follow his progress. His journal entries are moving and fascinating, particularly as he is in a part of the world that is seeing so much upheaval and sorrow ( Here, he reports from yet another refugee camp, this one in southern Turkey, set up to shelter those fleeing the hell that Syria has become (story, video):
   Turkey has been doing what it can (, but the situation is escalating out of their control:

Not Again

OK, I have to admit that I'm both repelled and intrigued by these experiments and their results. Via optogenetics, or the use of light to study and manipulate nerve cells, neuroscientists were able to erase a specific memory in mice. They were also able to study how the cortex and the hippocampus interrelate when it comes to the storage and retrieval of memories. "The cortex can't do it alone; it needs input from the hippocampus," UC Davis's Brian Wiltgen explained. "This has been a fundamental assumption in our field for a long time, and [Kazumasa Tanaka's] data provide the first direct evidence that it is true":

'The Person Who Inspires'

archaeologist with the beautiful 'Miriam'                                         screen shot
His name is unfamiliar to many, including me, but his expedition changed the way we see history. It also may have been the world's last chance to discover more about early life in that particular region. The continuing instability of Yemen, the Middle Eastern country in which American archaeologist Wendell Phillips and his team excavated the remains of ancient villages and their treasures, has kept other teams out (, In fact, it was that instability that drove Phillips from the country back in 1949 (story, video):

Listen to Your Mother

Tom Denardo
Slavery again. As old as the human race, continuing still with no end in sight. But this is about that sliver of time called the antebellum South. While we now recognize the attempts at rationalizing the practice as inexplicably defective and perverse, the truth of the matter ~ and one we must accept if we are ever to understand human behavior ~ is that some of those who engaged in it had good hearts. They were simply a product of their times, no less so than we. And those who could think outside the confines of what they had been taught gave birth, some literally and others figuratively, to those who had the courage to speak up. Here is a view from that side:

Today's encore selection -- from Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1 by Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens attempted to write his autobiography over several decades but never finished, and instructed that the draft not be made available for 100 years. In recently released manuscripts, Clemens wrote of his early schoolboy friendships with black slaves, including characters that appeared later in his most famous fictional works:

"All the negroes were friends of ours, and with those of our own age we were in effect comrades. I say in effect, using the phrase as a modification. We were comrades, and yet not comrades; color and condition interposed a subtle line which both parties were

Passing the Bar

As we head into the holiday party season, it's always good to have a few interesting facts up your sleeve to pull out in case of conversational emergency. And, really, what better topic than the product that's probably being imbibed all around you even as you speak? Herewith, 20 things you and your fellow revelers may or may not know about liquor (you're welcome):

Talk This Way

George H.W. Bush's inaugural address weighs in at grade level 5.9.    ABC News
Of all our presidents, whose speeches would you expect were written to a higher grade level? Would you guess that the overall level would have gone up or down over the years and why? What about their length? A study of more than 600 speeches and addresses confirms some suspicions and unearths some surprises (interactive):

Just Because: 'The Wanton Life'

Kevin Scanlon
Luis J. Rodríguez is Los Angeles's new poet laureate ( Born in Texas, he grew up in the hot, gray, unyieldingly concrete streets of Watts and East L.A. His poems put a very human and personal face on life in that world but also on life in every world.

The Wanton Life
     For my son Ramiro,
     sentenced to 28 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections

The long fingers of a wanton life,
from the ends of a twisted highway,
pull at us with the perfume of the streets
and its myriad romances,
all intoxicating, gripping at our skins;
as blasts of late-night shoot-outs,
the taste of a woman's wet neck in a dark alley,
and the explosion of liquor bottles
against a cinder-block wall
free us from the normal world,
while chaining us to the warped cement walks
of our diminished existence.

I run with you inside of me
entering layers of darkness,
into the swaddling of night,
with accelerating thoughts,
in the velocity of the city's demands,

36 Lenins

underwater museum, Black Sea                                       AP/Sergey Dolzhenko
Standing, toppled, underwater, in ice, in forest and field and warehouse, honored, demeaned, and reconstructed ~ statues of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin, around the world betray the gamut of attitudes toward the Russian Communist revolutionary under whose auspices Russia became the Soviet Union (slideshow):

Roadies for the NFL

screen shot (obviously!)
As in almost every field, from politics to entertainment (granted, not such a big leap), it's the people behind the players that make it all possible. When an NFL team travels, it brings thousands of pounds of equipment with it. That, and the travel arrangements, including police escorts and special meals and seating, have the operations crew working at top speed. "We're dealing with professional athletes that have a job to do, and you want to take the travel and the whole process off of their plate, so they can concentrate on what they're paid to do, and that's win football games," explains Tampa Bay Buccaneers COO Brian Ford (story, video):

The Last Words of Che Guevara

Guevara in Bolivia, 1967                                              AFP
In this chapter of the BBC's Witness series, Cuban-born CIA agent Felix Rodriguez recalls the day he went to meet Ernesto (Che) Guevara after his capture in Bolivia. Rodriguez was one of the last ~ if not the last ~ men to talk to the revolutionary. Their conversation, and Guevara's execution soon after, took place on Oct. 9. 1967 (video):

Voice Over

Who here likes the sound of his/her voice? Be honest. It is a bit shocking to hear the sound of one's own voice ~ I mean, the way other people hear it. It never sounds the way one expects it to. Why is that? you may well ask. There actually is a scientific reason, and it's explained in this (otherwise kind of obnoxious ~ you've been warned) video:

Hash House History

the Hibernator                                                                         Cavendish Press
Reading about the 8,000-calorie breakfast offered by some sadist in England ( (if you can finish it in under an hour, you get a cash prize, your name on their wall of fame, and the dish, currently called the Hibernator, renamed in your honor) made me wonder about restaurants. Fortunately for me ~ and you ~ those grand gourmands over at did more than wonder:

The first restaurant in the world opened in 1765 in Paris, France. Historical documentation refers to a man by the name of A. Boulanger, a soup vendor, as the owner of an establishment in the Rue du Louvre district of Paris. Boulanger is credited with being the first businessman to use the word "restaurant" on his establishment. "Restaurant" originally was a French word that referred to bouillon-based soups that were said to restore health and strength. The sign outside of the restaurant is

'Good Lie,' Hard Truth

Duany in The Good Lie                                           Bob Mahoney/Warner Bros.
At 35, Ger Duany has already traveled a long, long road. It started in a village in Sudan (now South Sudan), where he became a child soldier, to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, to Iowa, Indiana, New York, and now, as a model and actor, to Hollywood. "I have become comfortable in telling my story," he says. "That comes with healing, with time" (story, link to audio version):

OMG, Winston!

Logophilia Education
There's nothing new under the sun, dudes and dudines, and that includes words and acronyms. Interestingly, even expressions we think of as inventions from the age of Twitter or Facebook, like OMG or LOL, have deeper roots:

Finding Her Voice(s)

Yikes! In the If You Can Dream It, Someone Can Probably Do It department, allow me to introduce you to Anna-Maria Hefele, who can sing two notes at once. It's called polyphonic overtone singing, also known as sygyt or Tuvan throat-singing. Disconcerting or enthralling? You be the judge (story, video):

Clinton, Castro, and Jesse Helms

Havana, 2013                                                                         Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images
Every few months, someone in public life (and here I include the media) brings up the issue of Cuba, and specifically, the seeming absurdity of our continuing embargo against that country. The whole thing fascinates me (, While the Cold War was at its peak, while there were Soviet missiles on the island, maybe, but why now? Can the original exiles still have that much influence in Congress? This article's authors explain why it will be all but impossible for any U.S. president to end the embargo now, thanks to a politically expedient action taken by then-President Bill Clinton:

Infinite Insects

Here's a little gratuitous information you can use to liven up your Halloween party ~ or pretty much any party, for that matter. from

There are an estimated 900,000 different types of species of bugs that have been discovered and classified, and the ratio of bugs to mammals on Earth is thought to be approximately 312 to 1. Researchers believe that bugs outnumber humans and other mammals because they can survive on a large variety of matter, such as decomposing matter, plants, other insects, and don’t have to be as competitive with other bugs for food. Insects are also able to live in a larger range of climates and environments than

Climbing the Walls

Sure you can go to the gym and take on the climbing wall, with its boring little brown, gray, or olive-green hand- and footholds. You can drive to the nearest rock formation, crag, or cliff where it's allowed and go for a little bouldering or free soloing. But none of that could compare to taking on a temporary wall set up by Ikea in Clermont-Ferrand, France, where the footholds are furniture and there are chairs along the way in case you need to take a break:

What Do You Know?

"In Europe there's a lot more coverage of international news," said Farleigh Dickinson University poli sci professor Dan Cassino. "It's much easier to ignore international politics if you live in the U.S." Fighting words (though, admittedly, probably true). Cassino was being quoted in a BBC News story about a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,002 U.S. adults in which several questions, having to do mainly with foreign

Just Because: 'King Leopold's Ghost'

A couple of posts farther down, you'll find one on HIV's roots in the Congo in the 1920s. It reminded me of ~ obviously, because the title I gave the post borrows from it ~ a fascinating book about that period (well, the events leading up to that period), by Adam Hochschild. Its subtitle, descriptively and appropriately, is A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. It is quite the story, but even the best story loses its effect if it's not told well. Fortunately, that's not a concern here.


The beginnings of this story lie far back in time, and its reverberations still sound today. But for me a central incandescent moment, one that illuminates long decades before and after, is a young man's flash of moral recognition.
   The year is 1897 or 1898. Try to imagine him, briskly stepping off a cross-Channel steamer, a forceful, burly man, in his mid-twenties, with a handlebar mustache. He is confident and well spoken, but his British speech is without the polish of Eton or Oxford. He is well dressed, but the clothes are not from Bond Street. With an ailing mother and a wife and growing family to support, he is not the sort of person likely to get caught up in an idealistic cause. His ideas are thoroughly conventional. He looks—and is—every inch the sober, respectable businessman.
   Edmund Dene Morel is a trusted employee of a Liverpool shipping line. A subsidiary of the company has the monopoly on all transport of cargo to and from the Congo Free

Four Sisters, Forty Years

1995, Marblehead, Mass.                                                           Nicholas Nixon
Apparently, viewers of this exhibit a few years ago in Granada, Spain, were moved to tears. Small wonder. Through beautiful, thoughtfully photographed black-and-white images of Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie Brown ~ one each year starting in 1975 ~ Bebe's husband, Nicholas Nixon, tells a tale of family and the ties that hold us together over the inexorable passage of time (story, all 40 photos):

King Leopold's Other Ghost

early 1900s postcard from Boense, Belgian Congo
The amazing news that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been traced back to 1920s Democratic Republic of Congo (then Belgian Congo) brings to mind Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (, The tragic irony of the Congo, which Conrad captured so well, is that it was and continues to be a victim of the natural resources in which it is so rich, and the atmosphere that we now know gave birth to the AIDS pandemic was just another sad episode in its torturous history ( In a way, this whole story can be seen as a lesson in the validity of the saying that the sins of the father are visited upon the son, played over time and space in the family of man:

The Zombie Virus

Do you really want to know? You might not. But, you know, know your enemy and all that. Ebola sounds like something out of World War Z. It can't be considered to be alive because, although it can reproduce, it can't do so without a host cell. And pity that poor host cell: Ebola shuts down the system it uses to communicate with other cells, takes it hostage, and uses it to multiply and infect more cells. Learn more about this and other creepily fascinating Ebola facts here ~ and then go out and be the life of the party:

Trick and Treat

screen shot
It's October, and anyone who lives in a family-type neighborhood knows what that means. In our area (I know this is pathetic), Halloween has turned into a popularity contest, with blocks vying for the most trick-or-treaters. Houses are decked out and adults answer the door in full get-up. For those who may not have been planning for this evening all year and are now feeling a haunting lack of creativity (and, with luck, your neighbor won't see this and know where you got the idea), a comic-strip version of an actual Halloween prank that went very, very right:

Just Because: 'Look Homeward, Angel'

I couldn't mention Thomas Wolfe (see post immediately below) without sharing some of his brilliant, poetic prose. This is his first novel, published in 1929.


   ... a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.
   Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
   Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
   O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
   O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.


   A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.
   Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.
   The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London

Tom and Max

Thomas Wolfe
Maxwell Perkins
As so often happens, one thing leads to another to another to another and suddenly comes full circle and must be shared. In this case, it began with an old book I (for some reason unknown to me) pulled off my shelf and left sitting next to the computer for weeks. It's called Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins. Widely regarded as one of the most talented literary editors ever, Perkins (1884-1947) worked with some of the most talented writers ever, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and James Jones. Arguably his most fascinating professional relationship was with Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) (Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; You Can't Go Home Again). The two exchanged pages and pages of letters, but perhaps the most moving was an exchange one month before Wolfe's

In the Company of Cats

My husband and I were definitely not cat people ~ until we moved into our new home and a street cat adopted us. Neighbors said they had all tried to get him to stay with them but that after a few days, he would always move on. He started by peering in our dining room window from the branches of the avocado tree. When we finally let him in, he played hide-and-seek with us and followed us on our evening walks around the neighborhood. "He's just like a dog," we said in amazement. More recently, as a cat convert, I traveled to Turkey and the Balkans, where there are many, many homeless animals ( Happily, it seems that, in Istanbul at least, they really are "community creatures" and seem well care for. One group in the States is hoping to change people's minds here about outdoor, or what we call feral, cats:

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You know those ... umm, interesting little teasers that show up along the bottom of the screen when you're reading an article? "Controversial 'Skinny Pill' Sweeps the Nation," "How To Buy Must-Have Products for Next to Nothing" ~ you know the ones. There are a few companies that generate these "sponsored stories." One of them is Taboola, created in 2007 by a computer programmer who was always a math star but who got his training and experience in an encryption unit of the Israeli Defense Forces:

New Yorker in Motion

Who doesn't love ~ or at least respect ~ the New Yorker? Its covers alone set it apart. They're beautiful, pertinent, profound, insightful, clever, and now, animated. Things change, but, like everything that august mag does, even this step forward is made gracefully: