Category Archives: Culture and History


I have never been in a Starbucks but now I almost wish I liked coffee. I would like to support them and tell them how much I like their lovely red cups – so bright, so simple, so Christmasy. Some people are actually angry about Starbucks’ seasonal cups. Frankly, I don’t get it. Red is still a Christmas color, isn’t it? Did someone change that and not tell me? So how can bright red cups be an attack against Christmas? If red is no longer a Christmas color what does it represent now? I know! Communism, right?

I am getting extremely tired of every little thing being perceived as part of a “War on Christmas” or “War on Christianity”. There are countries where Christians are oppressed. I suggest that any American Christians who think they are being oppressed go to one of those countries and live there for a while to get a more realistic perspective. You’re not really worried about losing the freedom to practice your religion; you’re just pissed off because it’s not the only religion in America.

Yes, there are some instances where political correctness goes too far. This is not one of them. This is not even political correctness at all. Red is a Christmas color, with or without snowflakes and pine trees. And it is okay for people to say “Happy Holidays.” Christmas is a holiday. I have been seeing “Happy Holidays” on Christmas decorations and Christmas cards all my life. People never used to get offended by those words. Why would you be offended by them now unless you wanted to make certain that everyone understands that Christmas is the only legitimate holiday to celebrate in December? And why would you care what other people are celebrating? Many Christmas traditions, including the date itself, are actually pagan. You are actually celebrating ancient pagan holidays without even realizing it. And you’re getting upset about a simple red coffee cup? How bizarre.

* * *

It doesn’t matter where our holiday customs come from, but it’s fascinating (and fun) to trace their various origins. Some of them are only a few hundred years old or less, and some are literally thousands of years old. Decorating with holly doesn’t suddenly make one a Pagan, nor does using the word Christmas make one a Christian. Christmas is a confluence of religious traditions, capitalism, story telling, and the human need to simply connect with those we love. Christmas is more powerful because it reflects a wide range of influences.

The Kiss

This article about Nichelle Nichols has details about that famous First Interracial Kiss that I had not known before. NBC had wanted them to re-shoot the scene without the kiss but the two actors, bless them, kept “messing up”. I also did not know that several states in the south did not show Star Trek because they couldn’t stand the idea of a black woman being anything but a maid.

I was nine or ten years old at the time and certainly aware of what was going on in the world – civil rights marches, protests, riots – and most of the people I knew were racist, to some degree, but I thought nothing of this ground-breaking scene and didn’t realize that anyone had an issue with it. It was just science fiction after all, not reality. And things would be different in the future. With Americans and Russians and a green-blooded alien all working together in harmony, a silly little kiss that wasn’t even by choice of the two characters was not a big deal.

Plato’s Stepchildren was never one of my favorite episodes. I preferred the episodes in which most or all of the action took place on board the Enterprise. Besides, those telekinetic little bastards were seriously annoying.

Lots of Books

Oh, it’s been such a long time since I blogged about what I’m reading so I’ll just do one massive (or maybe not so massive) post about the last five or six. I feel that I’m not very good at reviewing books so I procrastinate.

I did mention A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. In this book “everything” means the universe in general and the history of scientific discovery. A large portion of it is devoted to the mostly unknown discoverers of things that were later discovered by the more famous scientists we have all heard of. The history of scientific discovery is not as neat as we were taught in school. It is much messier and more interesting.

I have read the first four books in the Scrapyard Ship series by Mark Wayne McGuinnis. These books were a fun read – an old-fashioned space adventure that starts, of all places, in a scrapyard where the protagonist, Jason Reynolds, finds a small alien sneaking around who leads him to a space ship that has been hidden underground for many years. Soon after this he is captain of a ship and in a fight to save Earth and other planets from invasion by an alien species that has already conquered a number of worlds.

I’ll be honest, by the time I got to the 4th book in the series I was getting a little burned out and almost quit in the middle. I did finish it but I decided to take a break before I finish the rest of the series, which continues from book to book. But it is good and I will read the remaining books.

Next, I read something completely different, Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey From the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. It is the story of Lopez Lomong who was kidnapped by rebels in Sudan when he was six years old, escaped and ran to a refugee camp in Kenya with three older boys, and eventually came to the United States, became a citizen and ran in the Olympic Games. It is an amazing story and is well worth reading. Part of the profits from the book go to Lomong’s charitable foundation which provides clean water, medicine, and education to villages in South Sudan.

Currently, I am about halfway through a book by John Scalzi, my first by this author and it is great fun. More about this later. I’ll try not to wait six months before I blog about books again.

Mid-Week Music Break

Saw this on Facebook.

“On a cold British morning a television crew filmed this unknown (to the British) African-American woman who, dressed to the nines, danced, sang, and played the guitar in such a fashion that it managed to inspire a whole generation of singer-songwriters. Her combination of gospel with early rock and roll shows her as “the link” between two categories of music which, over the years, evolved into the very different styles that they are today.”more

Hot Springs

Well, finally, as promised, more about Hot Springs. Our first stop was the Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo. The “petting zoo” consisted of a large pen full of pygmy goats. When you pay to get in they give you a slice of bread to feed the goats. I did not enjoy that part of it for a couple of reasons. One is that I had just petted a full size goat at my brother-in-law’s house the day before so I had already done enough goat petting to last me for a while. But the other, main, reason it was not fun was that there was one goat that was way too aggressive in begging for bread. You want to feed the cute little tiny goats, some of them not much bigger than cats, but here’s this big, fat glutton always right there in front of you demanding that you give all the bread to her. Not fun.

The alligators were more interesting, though I’m generally not a big reptile fan. I got to hold a baby alligator. That was fun and interesting. Their belly hide is actually surprisingly soft. There’s a picture of me holding the baby alligator but it’s on my husband’s phone.

The main attractions of Hot Springs are the natural hot springs, at a temperature of just over 140°F, (60°C) and the baths, which are considered therapeutic. There are, of course, still public baths operating in Hot Springs but I get the feeling that they were a much bigger deal in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I am not at all interested in experiencing the baths myself. I have been bathing alone and unassisted for most of my life and I intend to continue doing so for as long as I’m able but, fortunately, there is the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum so you can have a look at a historic bathhouse and keep all your clothes on. There are a lot of pictures at that link and looking at them now I realize that we missed a lot of it – an entire floor apparently. One thing that I thought was interesting and odd was that the men’s side was much larger and more luxurious than the women’s. The gorgeous stained glass skylight in my earlier post was on the men’s side.

Here is one of the showers. A scary looking thing, considering the fact that they called it a “needle shower”.

Fordyce Bathhouse Museum, Hot Springs, AR, "needle shower"

I was rather taken with the huge bathtubs, at least six feet long and maybe 2 feet deep(?). I sort of want one, including the big brass faucet. You can see a picture of one at the link above. It’s sort of an ugly thing but obviously antique which makes it very cool, along with just how big it is compared to today’s standard home bathtub.

I have two more Hot Springs places to share in another post so “stay tuned”.

Get a Grip!

There are times when I wish I was a celebrity, or at least that this blog got several thousand page views a day, because I have something I want to say to everyone in America, something I want everyone to hear and listen to. Oh well, I’m going to say it anyway: Everyone just get a grip! (And read the whole thing, not just the parts you like or the parts you don’t like.)

I have things to say to people on both sides of the Confederate flag issue. First of all, you all need to understand that it means different things to different people. I keep seeing images of the flag on Facebook with the words, “If you are offended by this you don’t know history.” That is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. If you can’t understand why some people find it not merely offensive but also deeply hurtful then YOU don’t know history. In fact, if you don’t understand that, you are shockingly, impossibly ignorant of history. Or else, you’ve just made up your own fantasy history or you are choosing to believe someone else’s fantasy history. Or, at best, you are picking and choosing the parts of history you like and ignoring the rest.

ON THE OTHER HAND, if you are one of the people who are offended by the Confederate flag, you need to understand that not everyone who displays it is racist. To some people it is a precious symbol of their culture. It’s not an exclusive culture and certainly not racist. Most of its members would be happy to let you in if you have a fondness for dirt roads, pickups, country music, hound dogs, cowboy boots and the like. And if not, they will still treat you decently even though they may not understand you. Most people who display the confederate flag really and truly do not care what race or ethnic group you belong to. Many of them come across as ignorant because they have had too little contact with people of other races but they are not intentionally racist.

Just because a lunatic carrying a confederate flag shot up a black church does not mean that every person who displays it is hateful. The U.S. flag has often been waved by people who believe that all Muslims should be murdered, gay people are going to Hell, all immigrants should be sent home, and all women should stay barefoot and pregnant and everyone understands that does not mean everyone who displays the U.S. flag is hateful. I know! I know! That is different. It really is. The Confederate flag carries a history that is undeniably one of racism and hatefulness but to the majority of the people who display it, it no longer holds that meaning. That is what you need to understand and accept.

And to those of you who are crying about the impending disappearance of your beloved symbol of the South: News flash! The Confederate flag has not been banned! Get a grip. Some states have decided to stop flying it in front of their state capitol buildings. So what? It has not been an official symbol of anything for over 150 years and does not belong in front of any official building. And several retailers have decided to stop selling it. So what? Retailers decide to stop selling products all the time, for all kinds of reasons. Given it’s popularity, there is no doubt that other businesses will spring up overnight for the express purpose of making and selling Confederate flags. And if you happen to think that it should be banned, you need to get a grip. Banning anything only makes it more popular. If you don’t know that then you really don’t know history.

Personally? I am from the south but I have no fondness for the confederate flag. I guess you could say that I find it slightly offensive. Even aside from the race issue, and in spite of the innocent things it represents to some people, I see it as representing a kind of willful ignorance. I would like to see people voluntarily give it up. But they won’t and that’s okay. Mostly, I think everyone should just leave everyone else alone. Let everyone have their symbols and don’t take anything too personally. After all, they’re only symbols. They don’t really mean anything at all.

History of Ties

This is interesting. In addition to a brief history of the necktie it explains that one weird line in the song Yankee Doodle Dandy. And all my life I just thought it was meant to be silly.

A Spot of Tea History

You know… It has never occurred to me to ask “Why are Brits so obsessed with tea?” any more than I would ask, “Why are Americans so obsessed with coffee?” Actually, as a tea drinker, I am a bit more puzzled by the latter question than by the former. (but not really)

Oooo! Books!

23 Books That Everyone With Wanderlust Should Read – I do not have much wanderlust. I like to go and see places but I’m not fond of extended travel – the packing and worrying that I’ll forget something, the living out of a suitcase, the not sleeping in my own bed – bah humbug! But we’re talking about books here! So let’s have a look at the list. I’m just going to skip through it, to the ones that interest me.

There is one book on the list that I have read. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It’s about hiking the Appalachian Trail and is both fascinating and funny. It was the first of Bryson’s books that I read and I immediately became a fan.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – Honestly, I don’t know that I’m really interested in this one. I just like the title.

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk – I definitely do want to read this one.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier – Maybe, but not high on my list of must reads.

The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag – Definitely.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois – Balloons? Imaginary islands? Sounds like fun.

Crowfall by Shanta Gokhale – Maybe.

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts – Definitely.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – We watched the movie recently and I liked it. Strangely, I don’t have any really strong desire to read the book but I’m going to call this a maybe.

Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence – Another maybe.

About a few of the ones I skipped: I almost put Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels down as a maybe. Strangely, perhaps, I have never had any desire to read On the Road. I feel like I need to read something by Hemingway. I think I did read one of his books a long time ago but I can’t remember which one it was and I didn’t find it exactly thrilling. And The Sun Also Rises involves bullfighting. Not a turn-on. And finally, The Paris Wife doesn’t really sound like my kind of thing but for some reason I almost put it on my list as a maybe. Let’s say just a very slight maybe.

American History

The latest book I read was The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend. I highly recommend this book. Not solely about Red Cloud, it reveals a lot about the history of the American West that most people probably don’t know, and mentions a number of other American legends, such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Jim Bridger among others. It is factual and relatively unbiased. Slanted a bit in favor of Native Americans, as you probably expect, but not the usual “noble savages vs. evil Europeans” story. Atrocities, or what we today would call terrorism, were committed by both sides and is not glossed over. (Warning for the squeamish)

A lot of what we think we know about history is wrong or only partly true. I think too many of us get our knowledge of history from movies and TV dramas. The American Indians, the Sioux at least, which is who this book is mainly about, were both more politically sophisticated and more savage than most people believe. Ultimately, they were defeated not by the superior numbers and weapons of European Americans but by the loss of the buffalo, upon which they depended for food, clothing, and shelter.

A quote from the book:

Memory is like riding a trail at night with a lighted torch. The torch casts its light only so far, and beyond that is darkness. – Ancient Lakota saying

The Native American Spock

Leonard Nimoy as a very Spock-like Native American in a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke. Now I really want to see the entire episode.

I found that at Newspaper Rock. The same post, a Native American perspective on Nimoy and his most famous character, contains several longish quotes from other blog posts and articles. Excellent and not to be missed.

Leonard Nimoy

I should write something about Leonard Nimoy, a long, eloquent tribute. But I really don’t have that much to say. Or maybe I just can’t say it all at once. Maybe it will come in little bits over the next few weeks or months. Star Trek premiered when I was 8 years old so I am old enough, just barely, to remember a world without Star Trek and old enough to remember when it was just another popular TV show but it’s not easy to remember. It seems like Star Trek and its characters have always existed and they have a kind of reality beyond mere fiction.

Right from the start I loved the character, Spock, and I wanted to be like him – not totally unemotional but dignified like Spock. The best thing about Star Trek is the interaction between characters but if I had to pick just one favorite from the original series it would be Spock. And if I had to pick a favorite from all the different Star Trek series? Honestly, I guess I would have to call it a tie between Spock and Picard and I love that the two of them got to meet each other.

But Leonard Nimoy was more than just Spock. A character I enjoyed as much as I did Spock, or maybe even a little bit more, was William Bell in Fringe. He was only in a few episodes but he was an enigmatic and hugely important character. For a whole season or more they talked about the mysterious William Bell and when he finally appeared, what a thrill to see that it was Leonard Nimoy! This and other later appearances were especially sweet because I could see how shockingly old he was and I thought, “He might not be with us much longer,” but at the same time I had hope that we would get to see him acting in something just a few more times.

Please go watch this video (embedding disabled)

I Might Be Vintage but I’m Not Antique

I know this isn’t an official definition but I have a strong feeling that anything made in my lifetime cannot be an antique and anything made since I have been an adult cannot be vintage and that last is a bit of an emotional compromise because I really feel that anything made since I was about 10 cannot be vintage. A couple of days ago I joined an antique sewing machines group on Facebook. (Oooo, big surprise, right?) It appears that some members were recently up in arms because someone had posted a picture of a sewing machine from the 1980s. The 1980’s? Really? Well, you can bet that if I had been there I would have been in the group wielding torches and pitchforks.

It occurs to me that everyone has the same definition: “made before I was born, antique; made when I was a kid, vintage.” So, if you’re in your 20s that means that there are a lot more antiques in your world that there are in mine. But what are the real, official definitions of these terms? I found this article on the Difference Between Vintage and Antique on eBay, which seems like a reasonably authoritative source since it’s a site where people are buying and selling things. According to the article, antique is anything valuable or collectable that is over 100 years old. Vintage is anything valuable or collectable that is over 50 years old. There is some flexibility in the definitions, especially for vintage. But, the bottom line is, everyone really needs to stop calling stuff made in the 1980s “vintage.” And it’s certainly, most definitely, NOT antique.

More About W&G Sewing Machines

Yes, I am still obsessing over the Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines. But it could be worse; I could be bitching and moaning about the weather. (and I probably will later)

I want one of these. Want, want, want, with a powerful, powerful want! But it’s not going to happen, at least not a treadle model because I simply have nowhere to put it. Even if someone gave me one I would have to refuse it. (and then I would cry for the rest of my life)

Seriously though, this is a really fascinating machine. The way it works is very different from other machines. This lady talks rather slowly, especially at the beginning of the video but be patient. This is well worth watching.

I Was Wrong


I had an “I love it when I’m wrong!” moment today. (Also an “I love the Internet!” moment) If you watch Mythbusters you probably recall Adam Savage declaring, with child-like glee, “I love it when I’m wrong!” when an experiment yields a result that is contrary to what he was expecting. Well, generally, I dislike being wrong as much as most people but there are some moments when the thrill of discovery completely outweighs the disappointment or embarrassment at having been wrong.

A little over a year ago I posted a photo of a rusty old sewing machine that I had assumed was a hand crank model. Well, today someone posted a picture of the same model machine, complete and in much better condition, on Facebook. It was electric! And, having a company name, I was able to Google it and find this fantastic page about this machine and the company that made it – Willcox & Gibbs.

It is really a very interesting machine. It uses only a single thread instead of a spool and bobbin like most machines and I would so love to play with one. It’s a long article but well worth reading. It’s not only about the machine itself but even more about the company.

UPDATE: The earlier Willcox & Gibbs machines were hand crank so I could still be wrong, or rather, I could have been right in the first place. I found another page about Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines with more about the machines themselves and more pictures. There’s also a link to a video.

Fiction and Truth

Many years ago I read The Wine of Violence by James Morrow. (I actually think I still have that book somewhere.) At the time it was the weirdest book I had ever read and I appreciated it for its weirdness even though, in general, I would have to say it was “not really my cup of tea.” Some years later I read The Continent of Lies. Again, weird but far from being one of my favorites.

A couple of days ago I finished reading Morrow’s novella, City of Truth. It is set in Veritas, a city (or perhaps a country?) in which no one is able to tell a lie and even metaphors are considered abhorrent. Every child is required, at about age 10, to undergo a horrific “treatment” that renders them permanently incapable of telling a lie. This makes for a very bleak society in which there is almost no art and everyone speaks the blunt, unvarnished truth, without even so much as a figure of speech. But there is a subversive group of people who have somehow learned to overcome their conditioning and are able to tell lies and create and enjoy art. One man is convinced by a member of this group that “lies” (specifically the psychological effect of a positive attitude) could save his terminally ill son.

The “What if everyone had to tell the truth?” question has been done to death in all kinds of fiction, but this somehow feels different, maybe because the story is, overall, very bleak. Morrow likes to explore questions of psychology and morality but he doesn’t come to any firm conclusions. Is it better to always tell the truth? Is it better to be able to lie and to at least conceal or soften some truths? If asked the first question without the second most people would probably agree that it is better to tell the truth, without thinking about the implications of complete truth. But the real world in which everyone is able to lie, usually undetected, has many problems. Obviously a balance would be best. Truth need not mean that we can’t have art and that we can’t be kind.

These questions seem to me, rather silly. Most of us know the difference between a truly bad lie and a merely kind or courteous lie. In between these are “lies of convenience” (I was stuck in traffic. The check is in the mail.) that we know are wrong but that somehow don’t seem so bad. There are, of course, people who push the limits, people who tell lies in order to sell us stuff, to sway us to their cause, or to get elected. We must expose and punish liars but this leads to finger pointing, witch hunts, and better, more careful liars. What more can anyone say? We are an imperfect species. Trying to get rid of our imperfections is like killing bacteria. The strongest bacteria survive and multiply but we can’t stop trying or the bacteria will wipe us out.

English History

It has always bothered me that I know very little of the early history of England. In U.S. public schools all we get is maybe a paragraph briefly explaining what feudalism was and a mention of the Battle of Hastings without saying why it was important. Never mind; just remember that it happened in 1066. That’s all you need to know. So, when The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris showed up in the Kindle monthly specials list I pounced on it like a kitten on a catnip-filled toy mouse.

The book covers nearly the entire 11th century and I was surprised at how much detail is actually known about this period in English history. Apparently just about everyone who could write (and that wasn’t very many people at that time) was writing a book or chronicle or something about what was happening in the world right then. Of course these writers were as likely to be biased and revisionist as political writers today but Morris compares sources – where they agree and where they disagree – and comes up with a pretty good picture of events and life in 11th century England.

I can see how a lot of people might find this period in history extremely tedious – the battles, the brother and cousin murders, the land grabs, and so on – but in this book it is well told and filled with dry humor. For example:

If we had to sum this new society up in a single word, we might describe it as feudal – but only if we were prepared for an outbreak of fainting fits among medieval historians.

I consider this book a great find and there are a couple more books by the same author that I intend to read.

Road Trip, 1919

I’m not especially fond of travelogues (except for those written by Bill Bryson) and I have no interest in reading about motorcycles, but when Number One Son (a.k.a. “Hippie”) recommended Across America by Motor-cycle by C. K. Shepherd I thought it might be interesting because this trip across America took place in the year 1919. It was definitely worth reading.

First of all, I must say this book will give you a new appreciation of paved roads, even poorly maintained ones. A great deal of the book consists of complaining about the state of the roads but there are also, motorcycle repairs, encounters with friendly and helpful small town people, and wonderful descriptions of scenery. My favorite part was the description of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. I’ve seen pictures of the place before but reading about it gave me even more of a feeling of what it’s like.

The most amusing part, to me, was the author’s confusion upon finding that the Arkansas River had no water in it. We in Tulsa and the surrounding area are quite familiar with the varying water levels of the Arkansas.

I downloaded the Kindle version with images. There are only a few small photos but I was glad for the chance to see them.