Sunday, August 30, 2009

I recently read about the famous Nazis doctor, Josef Mengele, who conducted experiments on the prisoners at Auschwitz. The experiments were horrific and so terrible it is difficult to write about them. He performed freezing experiments to determine the temperature at which the human body freezes and high altitude studies, in a compression chamber, to determine the altitude at which death occurs. He loved to study twins and would kill them by injecting chloroform into their heart and then perform autopsies. He removed stomachs and other internal organs without anesthesia and even removed a person’s heart while they were still conscious. He injected eyes in an attempt to change color and crushed skulls to determine the force required to produce a fracture. He tried many experiments to produce sterilization. The list goes on. Mengele escaped Nazis Germany and lived in South America until he died of a stroke at an old age.

One of my favorite doctors of early Texas had some unorthodox ideas about the punishment of prisoners and perverts. Ferdinand Daniel was a brilliant physician who was in the Civil War. After returning from the war he settled in Galveston and helped start the first medical school in the state. He was a terrific writer who published the first medical journal in Texas and wrote two excellent books. He founded the Texas Board of Health and was the one who started keeping records of the number of births and deaths in the state. He initiated many public health projects such as water purification, sewage and garage disposal, and immunization. He was president of every medical organization known, including the Texas Medical Association. On the darker side, he believed in sterilization of perverts and recommended that prisoners on death row be used for experimentation since they were going to be put to death anyway. He was against mixed marriages. He was a genius but his ethics a little warped. He is pictured above.

We need Mengele or Daniel today to be in charge of perverts who are imprisoned for child molestation. I would like to see them get hold of the guy who was recently arrested in California for kidnapping an 11 year old girl and making her a sex slave for 18 years. She gave birth to two of his children and never saw a physician or left his back yard where she lived in primitive conditions with her two children for 18 long years. There is no punishment that would be too severe for this deranged manic and only Mengele or Daniel could think up something appropriate.

These guys would also have served well as interrogators of terrorist suspects. They wouldn’t have needed the CIA to tell them how to get information and wouldn’t care what Eric Holder or Obama thought about their tactics. If they had been in charge of interrogations perhaps we would have already captured Osama bin Laden.

Mengele or Daniel might even be interesting company on the porch. They could help me come up with a final solution for the deer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The new predictions for the Swine Flu are frightening. It’s now predicted that over half of the folks in the US will get the deadly bug this season and that up to 90,000 might die. They are trying to rush production of the vaccine which, hopefully, will be out sometime in October or earlier.

Doctors are doing everything possible to curb the spread, such as encouraging hand washing and covering the face when sneezing. They have even changed the name of the virus to H1N1 so it sounds more sophisticated. It just doesn’t sound good to say someone has died of swine flu. It’s unclean sounding.

The dress code for many medical institutions has been changed with long sleeve shirts and ties discouraged. The ties are suspected of harboring lethal viruses and other germs. White coats have even been discarded. Doctors were already dressing like beach bums and now it is being encouraged. Doctors love to wear filthy scrub clothes, covered in blood. The doc looks like they have butchering hogs when they come into the waiting room to tell you that mom died but they did everything in their power to save her. The only identifying feature of a doctor is a stethoscope around their neck but even the janitors and administrators wear those in the hospital. It’s hard now days to figure out who your doctors is but it really doesn’t matter because your personal physician doesn’t visit you in the hospital anymore.

The other dismal medical news we heard today is that we are dying of sugar poisoning. It was reported that the average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. All this sugar causes heart problems, obesity and a host of conditions that results in early death. Almost everyday they add something I love to the list of potential killers. I have virtually eliminated meat, pizza, Mexican food, fried food and desserts. I am pretty much restricted to fresh spinach and water. The dead should consider themselves lucky. We did cheat this past weekend when my souse and I used our Julia Child French cookbook to whip up a tasty pot of Beef Bourguignon. It took us all afternoon to make the stuff and I thought I was going to die after eating a plate full of the delicious concoction. At least it had no sugar and that’s probably what saved me.

I’m still recovering on the porch from that overdose of French food. It’s back to spinach and water and I’m now wearing a mask to prevent the H1N1. The only other human on the porch is my spouse but who knows, the deer may be caring the virus. I had rather be safe than sorry.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bad news is about all we hear now days. The debate over healthcare reform rages and the economy continues to struggle. There are still a lot of unemployed folks and consumer confidence remains poor. We learned today that Michael Jackson was murdered. The doc who was with him at the time of his death is obviously going to get nailed.

All these things are bad news but the saddest bit of news came today when I found out that one of my favorite writers died. Elmer Kelton, who was probably the greatest western writer of all times, died at 83 years of age. He wrote about the real heroes, the cowboys. I have read a large number of his books and have enjoyed every sentence. Some of his classics were; The Time it Never Rained, The Good Old Boys, The Man Who Rode Midnight, The Day the Cowboys Quit and many, many others.

I actually met and talked to Elmer Kelton a couple of times. He was an unpretentious, plain kind of person who was much like the cowboys in his stories. In fact he was raised on a ranch. He indeed was a cowboy who reported on this vanishing breed of Americans for many years.

He went to UT where his education was interrupted by WWII. He met his wife in Germany. Before the war, when he was at UT, he wanted to meet the great J. Frank Dobie but as a young kid from west Texas he was too embarrassed to introduce himself to the master and couldn’t take his course because it was open only to seniors. When Kelton returned to UT, after the war, Dobie was no longer there, so they never met. It was sad for Kelton but as it turns out he is a far better writer that Dobie. Dobie was the real loser for never having met Elmer Kelton. Kelton was also a better writer than Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. He won many awards for western writing. It took a writer like Larry McMurtry to win a Pulitzer for Lonesome Dove but many of Kelton’s books are equal to, or even better than McMurtry’s masterpiece.

The genre of the Western is almost dead. Western movies and TV shows are long gone. The western pulps are almost dead and with the death of Elmer Kelton they are sure to go the way of the movies. The real cowboys and the romantic west also died long ago. For a Western fan like me it is truly a sad day and I’m going to miss the great Elmer Kelton. As long as I’m around he will still be with me on the porch as I am surrounded by his books.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I have been away from the porch more than usual for the past month. We took our annual trip to New Mexico to accompany the grandkids to the Suzuki string camp. This was our seventh year to make the trip. The camp has always been in Santa Fe at the College of Santa Fe. The college closed this summer for economic reasons and the camp was moved to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The facility at UNM is great but Albuquerque is no Santa Fe.

We then spent a couple of days in Dallas for more string recitals and workshops and also visited the Meadows Art Museum at SMU with a great tour of an exhibit on Diego Rivera. The tour was terrific and was conducted by a high school classmate who is an art historian.

All this activity is supposed to make me a little more civilized but like Huck Finn said, it’s almost more than a body can stand. I had really rather be on the porch and am thankful that I’m now home.

One of the things that struck me during our excursions is how sloppy everyone has become. We went to a big shopping mall in Albuquerque with some fancy stores. The mall had a very small number of folks actually shopping. A few blocks away at WalMart, the place was packed. In years past the malls were filled with well-dressed people and the fancy stores would have an upscale restaurant on their top floor where the ladies could have a gourmet lunch. Those restaurants are now gone and have been replaced by food courts and by McDonalds or Burger King in the WalMart stores. There are no longer any well-dressed ladies. There are now fat, tattooed, Cro-Magnon type people who are dressed in shorts and other sloppy attire wearing flip flops and such.

At one time the first lady always set the style for the well-dressed female. Jackie Kennedy was always beautifully dressed and set the trends for fashion. Actually, all of the first ladies until now have been pretty well-dressed, even Barbara Bush with her ever present pearl necklace. Michelle Obama recently stepped off Airforce One wearing a pair of shorts. None of the previous first ladies would ever have dreamed of doing anything this scandalous. She is setting the example for the poorly dressed slob as well as defining the culture, values and moral tone of the nation. She probably has a tattoo above the cheeks of her buttock, which will be revealed to us later.

Like I said it’s good to be back on the porch. I can thumb through my scrapbooks and see how real ladies used to look and remember when we were once a proud people. All this doesn’t have anything to do with whether you are a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. As a matter of fact it seemed to have ended with a Democratic President in Dallas on November 22, 1963 with an assassins bullet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We saw a terrific movie this week, Julie and Julia. Ordinarily, I would have passed on this movie because it seemed like a girls flick. I usually go to the movies recommended by the grandkids so I can keep up with them. The grandkids would definitely have passed on this one because of the lack of violence and explosions and it didn’t include monsters or fantasy figures like vampires and such.

This movie is a true story and is really two parallel stories. One is about Julia Child the great disciple of French cooking who wrote a famous book on the subject and had a TV show teaching America the art of French cooking. The story was about her life in France learning to cook, then writing her book. The second story line was about this young lady who was bored with her job as a secretary and took to writing a blog at night based on her love of Julia Child and the art of French cooking. She wrote a blog about the preparation of the recipes. She and her blog became famous. It was a great story and Meryl Streep does a fantastic job of playing Julia Child.

I now have a craving for some of the delicious sounding French dishes. Having grown up in East Texas, I was never familiar with French food. As a kid the only thing French I knew was French Fries and I’m not sure they are a French invention. As a young adult I had French Toast and French Onion Soup. That was about it for me. When I would see something on the menu of a fancy restaurant like Baguettes, Bouillabaisse or Ratatouille I was scared away by the pronunciation and didn’t order the stuff for fear of looking stupid. I never order Quiche because real men don’t eat Quiche, it’s a sissy food. Crepes may have been okay but they are just a very thin pancake and I like mine thick with a lot of maple syrup.

I’ve changed my mind after the movie and plan to try some of the exotic French stuff if I can find a place in Austin that serves it. We may try making some of the recipes at home but the grocery stores around here don’t have all the fancy ingredients. I ‘m embarrassed to ask for some of the ingredients in the store because I still don’t know how to pronounce the names of the stuff and if I did, the grocery man would just think I’m some sort of nut or a homosexual. I may have to just be satisfied with staying on the porch and eating French Fries and French Dressing on my salad. Anyway, I highly recommend the movie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

There was a lot I didn’t cover in my last blog about some of the goodies in Amy Stewart’s book “Wicked Plants.” It’s chucked full of interesting stories and invaluable information. There is a whole chapter about some of the potential dangers in common foods we eat. For example, corn can be very bad if eaten as the only food for a long period of time. A strict corn diet can produce pellagra from niacin deficiency and result in death. Corn is great if eaten with other foods. I don’t know who likes rhubarbs but just don’t eat the leaves or coma and death may result.

There was some interesting information about potatoes. I always wondered why farmers put potatoes under the house or in the cellar or other dark places for storage. A potato contains a poison called solanine which is destroyed by cooking but will increase if the potato is exposed to sunlight. After a potato is in the sun for a prolonged period the skin begins to turn green which means that there is a build up of solanine. If this potato is eaten raw then you die.

The chapter on mushrooms was great. Mushrooms are a tasty morsel but there are a number of poisonous varieties and it’s best to buy them in a grocery story rather than running the risk of eating those picked in the wild. Ergot is an interesting fungus that may contaminate rye bread. Ingestion of this rye bread may produce bizarre behavior and historians now believe this is what caused the girls in Salem to act like witches. They of course died by execution.

The book didn’t say anything about most of the deadly stuff I eat like fried chicken, and Mexican food. The closest it came to Mexican food was about peppers. The Habanero is the hottest and most deadly chili and it makes the jalapeno look like an antiacid. If you are ever on fire from the taste of a Habanero don’t bother with water, reach for a mouth full of butter or a drink of whiskey and it will quickly extinguish the fire.

I loved the chapter on curare. It’s the stuff that South American natives dip their arrows in to deliver poison to the game they kill or to someone whose head they want to shrink. Curare paralyzes the victim and doesn’t contaminant the meat so that it can be safely eaten. I’m thinking about taking a trip to South America for a short course from the natives on the use of blowguns and poison arrow tips. This might be great for my deer problem and the neighbors wouldn’t suspect anything as I sit innocently on the porch with my blowgun.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I recently saw a story on TV about Amy Stewart who is an expert on plants and has written a new book called “Wicked Plants.” The book is about poisonous plants and is full of interesting stories about how they can kill you. On of the most famous plants is White Snakeroot, which was responsible for the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. The snakeroot plant is eaten by cows and the poison is excreted in their milk which is deadly if ingested. It produces milk sickness. That’s what happened to Nancy Hanks Lincoln when Abe was only nine.

It’s a little scary to read the book and learn about all the common plants around that can be lethal. Azaleas, rhododendron and hydraneas can kill you. The common ground cover, yellow jasmine, is a killer and several children have died when mistaking it for honeysuckle and sucking the nectar from the poisonous bloom. Oleander is a common evergreen in the south and is lethal. Even the Johnson grass in my yard is laced with enough cyanide to kill a horse.

There are well known killers like Hemlock that finished off Socrates. Tiny amounts of a substance called ricin, found in the Castor bean, can be fatal and was made famous in 1978 when a KGB agent assassinated a British Journalist when only a pin prick from a sharp umbrella injected a drop of the stuff into the victim.

The most common poison is tobacco that has been legal for years. A number of illegal plants that are in common use like opium, peyote and marijuana can also result in death.

Some common plants like the poinsettia have been falsely accused of being a killer although it can be mildly toxic if ingested. English Ivy can very toxic and the ficus tree may be very allergenic for those sensitive to latex.

The book even has a chapter on carnivores, which are plants that eat animals. That’s the reason I bought a copy of the book. I thought the author might have something on a big animal eating plant like the ones I saw in Tarzan movies when I was a kid. None of the plants she describes eat anything larger than a fly or similar bugs. I was hoping to find a big carnivores jungle plant for the backyard so that I could sit on the porch and watch it devour deer. The deer would probably just outsmart it because they don’t even get sick from eating all the poisonous stuff the lady describes in her book and which I have growing in abundance. I just have to keep and eye on the grandkids.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I keep up with the news from my old hometown by reading the local paper on the internet. Even though it’s been over half a century since I lived there the place is still of great interest to me. One of the first things I check in the paper is the obituary column to see if any of my schoolmates have died. They are now passing at a pretty rapid clip.

The latest one to cross over the river was a guy who used to ride his horse into town to see the cowboy movies. This was even after the horse had disappeared as a common mode of transportation. He liked the cowboy movies and so did I. We had two movies in town and the one the kids liked was old and run-down but showed mainly cowboy and war movies with great serials like Superman, Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon or Nyoka the Jungle Girl. The newsreels and cartoons were also great. This theater was the home of the “B” movies but to me they were A plus. The other more upscale theater showed love stories, musicals and such that were pretty boring for a kid.

As a kid we didn’t use the term movie but called them picture shows. We never used the term theater; it was also simply called the picture show. We never knew the starting time of a feature. The times weren’t posted like they are today. We just paid nine cents for admission and would enter in the middle or end of a show. It didn’t seem to matter. I would just sit through the feature and may watch it a couple of times. It was always on a Saturday afternoon, so time didn’t matter. The other big bonus was that popcorn and a coke were a nickel each. All this was great entertainment. Stars like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Elliott and Johnny Mac Brown were my favorites. One time Wild Bill Elliott even came to our hometown and that was the thrill of a lifetime. To me he was much more important than the President and even our local sheriff.

I guess my grandkids will someday have a porch and think back about Harry Potter, explosions and all the great special effects. They are going to have a hard time topping my story of a schoolmate who rode his horse to the picture show.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Some think the blog may be a little heavy when I write about the creation and semi-religious subjects. Those blogs are to poke fun at intellectuals, atheist, radicals to the left and right, preachers, doctors, politicians, thieves and others in the trade. I think that covers most everyone except those of us who are retired and those paying the bills.

Anyway, it’s more fun to write about common folks and everyday happenings like rain and the drought. I could spend the rest of my days writing about the uncle in east Texas I visited when I was a kid. He is the one who taught me the art of porch sitting. After his farming days were over he mainly watched the timber grow on his land. He would often go into the woods just so he could watch the pine trees grow. I think he liked to go on Wednesdays, in the middle of the afternoon, because that was the time you could see and sometimes hear a commercial jet fly over his place. The 30,000-foot altitude of that jet was about as close as he ever got to an airplane. The excursions from his home were limited to about five miles, which was the distance to his church.

I don’t think that uncle ever saw a movie. His only exposure to TV was toward the end of his life when he was forced to move away from the country place. The church was entertainment enough. Gospel singing was popular in his day and sure beats a lot of the loud noise I hear today. Just visiting with the neighbors was a lot of fun, especially the old fellow who raised peanuts for a living. His house was a Texas open-air dogtrot with the convenience of a wood-burning stove. Of course there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. This peanut farmer was illiterate but loved to wear a wristwatch. When ask to tell the time he would look at his watch then up at the sun and say about 3:00 o’clock.

The only person in that part of the country who rivaled the intellect of my uncle was his own brother. He never owned a car and made his living purely off the land. He knew the woods like the back of his hand. University archeologist would visit him so he could point out the water line when that part of the world was covered by the sea. He hunted deer all year but tried to avoid hunting season because it was too dangerous with the hunters running lose in the woods. The smell of his smokehouse was absolutely heavenly.

I really miss those old guys. If they were alive today we could sit on the porch and I could just type their stories directly to the blog. I wouldn’t even bother about dreaming up some of that heavy stuff about Time, Creation and such.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The concept of Time raises some interesting questions. We have a limited understanding of time. The genius mathematician and physicist Stephen Hawkings wrote a small book about Time but the contents of the book are anything but short, easy reading.

Time travel has always intrigued me. It has been postulated that a time traveler on returning to earth would find that he had not aged as much as the folks at home. There is also the concept of backward travel until we reach a parallel universe. Some say there are people living among us who are travelers from the future. I say there are a lot of travelers from the past who are among us and can mostly be found among the Neanderthal throw backs at WalMart.

C. S. Lewis wrote an interesting story called “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In the story Luci and her friends enter this wardrobe and find themselves in another world called Narnia. They have a long experience in this land that parallels the story of Christianity. When they return no time has passed on earth. Mark Twain wrote a similar time travel story called “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” The recent movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons” was about an individual aging backwards. There are many great stories about time travel and my favorite is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

All this is to say that the concept of time is intriguing. An understanding of time might shed some light on the creation and the differences in the Biblical and scientific accounts. The Almighty has no clock and there is no difference in a day and a million years. There are so called wormholes in space. If you pass through one end it’s the same time when you come out the other, even though millions of years may have passed. Maybe our universe entered a traversable wormhole and we came out into another universe. Maybe this sounds ridiculous but so do a lot of other things like; Big Bang, Black Holes, Evolution from fish, and the six day creation theory. The answer may be written in the wind and not discoverable in this life.

Time is said to be the forth dimension. On the porch I have another concept of time. I call it the Swing Dimension of Time. While rocking on the porch I’m like in a swing that goes back and forth through time. I am bound by the time of my childhood and the imagination for the remainder of my life. As I go back it’s called reminiscing and it’s very pleasant. Sitting still is also enjoyable but sometimes it gets a little scary when I swing too far forward. When I go very far forward the darkness again turns into light and a bright, peaceful kingdom becomes apparent.