The Cheese Toast Project Now Available!

Cheese Toast Animated Graphic 02My collection of essays, The Cheese Toast Project (ISBN: 978-0-9848913-4-4), is now available in print at online booksellers, and in print and Kindle versions at Amazon.com.

The essays are about family, writing, music, drama, religion, politics, and history. Early drafts appeared on my blog, Raised by Wolves and have since been revised and expanded.

 

President Trump

Donald Trump, by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo By Gage Skidmore via http://public-domain.pictures/

Back in the 1990s, on his show TV Nation, Michael Moore urged voters to nominate a ficus tree as a candidate in local elections. His point was that a tree would be as responsive to voters’ needs as many of the candidates. The sad part is people took him up on the offer and actually tried to get ficus trees on the ballot. At the time, I thought it was a complete waste of time and effort and accomplished nothing of substance. I’ve now heard of something even more foolish.

Apparently, some democrats are considering voting in the republican primaries for Donald Trump or Ben Carson with the hope that one will win the nomination and be an easy foil for presumptive democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Not only is the idea ill-conceived, it is almost certainly doomed to failure. If democratic voters have so little confidence in Hillary Clinton as a candidate that they have to pull stunts like trying to rig the republican nomination to get her elected, what makes them think the voters next November will have any more confidence in her. Democratic efforts would be better directed nominating a candidate their constituents can truly rally behind, just as they did in 2008.

Strategically, the Democratic party is always lacking. They won the House in 2006, and gained the Senate in 2008, and were unable hold onto this majority beyond the following election, despite the fact that their opponents had started two wars, ran up the deficit to historic levels, and brought about the economic crisis that had given them the presidency and both houses of Congress. In 1988, at the end of the Reagan administration and, against a much less popular vice president, they nominated Michael Dukakis, who, by all accounts, was a decent person; he was just the wrong candidate and efforts to make him seem stronger backfired at every turn.

The democrats are now touting Hillary Clinton as the only electable candidate, but seem to forget several crucial points. While Bill Clinton was a better candidate than Dukakis, and did win in 1992 and 1996, his election and reelection owed more to Ross Perot drawing ultra conservative voters away from the republicans than anything the democrats did on the campaign trail. Al Gore’s candidacy in 2000 was seen by many as a means of extending the policies of the Clinton presidency, and voters either stayed home or voted for someone else, leading to the close election which, when factored alongside numerous voting irregularities which the Supreme Court glossed over in their decision to end the recount in Florida, gave the presidency to George W. Bush. In 2008, given the option of Hillary Clinton, who was again the choice of the democratic establishment, or a young, untested, junior senator with a foreign-sounding name, democratic voters chose Barack Obama. To imagine the constituency is now ready to enthusiastically embrace Clinton as a candidate is dubious at best, regardless of her qualifications.

Here’s how I see the election playing out. If Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the primaries, all the young, enthusiastic supporters who’ve been following Sanders will check out of the process entirely, or worse, will switch to supporting an anti-establishment republican. Die hard democrats will vote for any democrat over any republican but young progressive voters will not support Clinton, who they view as another establishment candidate, no better than her opposition. If Clinton gets the nomination, it doesn’t matter who the republican candidate is, he can start writing his inaugural address. (Note: I know one of the republican candidates is a woman, but she’s not polling well at this point, and I seriously doubt the republicans are ready to nominate a woman to head their ticket.) A combination of voter apathy and voter suppression will keep the race close enough for the republican base to make all the difference. One only needs to look at the results in the recent governors’ race in Kentucky to see what happens when the constituency doesn’t care enough to show up at the polls. The democrats need all the young, energetic voters they can attract, and Hillary Clinton simply cannot deliver them.

In a nutshell, the election in 2016 is not about a particular candidate, but about energizing the electorate to take responsibility for their political system. The current system, run largely by the lowest common denominator politicians, is a direct result of the electorate taking no interest whatsoever in the process. We hear repeatedly that this or that candidate is the best, but can’t get elected, which usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the voters decide a candidate can’t be elected, they stay away, and bring about the predicted outcome.

Many people blame Ralph Nader for siphoning votes away from Al Gore in 2000 thus getting Bush elected president, and given the dynamics of the typical US election, there’s some truth to this. Others have pointed out that most of the people who voted for Nader weren’t likely to have supported Gore anyway, which is probably closer to the truth. The fact that Nader even ran was a symptom of the problem. If the democrats had been able to generate sufficient excitement for their candidate, there most likely wouldn’t have been a third party challenger in the first place. Plus, republicans had Buchanan as the Reform party candidate to steal votes from Bush which evened the playing field somewhat.

In situations such as 2016, where there is an incumbent two-term president, most voters would opt to keep this president in office if not for term limits. The most notable recent exception appears to have been at the end of the second Bush presidency. Despite this, there have only been two sitting vice presidents who went on to be elected in their own right, Martin Van Buren and George H. W. Bush and both were one-term presidents. For all their fickle behavior, US citizens like the real deal, and won’t accept substitutes for favored leaders. In the minds of many voters, Hillary Clinton is seen as an extension of the Obama administration, and since voters are unable to reelect him, they’ll want someone in office with a totally different point of view.

The only scenario I can envision which would work in Clinton’s favor would be if the GOP rejects Trump’s candidacy and he launches an independent run for office. That would neutralize the republican base, allowing democratic stalwarts to dictate the outcome. If Trump and Clinton get their respective nominations, a united republican base and the loss of young progressive voters would be more than sufficient to insure Trump’s election. Democratic voters who think they would be doing Hillary Clinton a favor by voting for Trump in the primaries would instead be insuring her defeat if Trump gets the nomination.

I sincerely hope I am wrong, and if Hillary Clinton is nominated that this time next year people are reminding me of this post to point out how far off my forecast was. I will gladly accept any criticism of my predictive abilities. If, however, Donald Trump or another of the current republican candidates is the one taking the oath of office in January, 2017, I plan to re-post this, and immediately start looking for a job overseas.

 

Working for a Living 


I’ve often been told I need to be more proactive, particularly at work, but on the job, I tend to be the opposite, waiting for something to happen, then reacting to it. So far, this strategy has served me well throughout my professional career, while those who counseled me otherwise are no longer around. Admittedly, I’ve not enjoyed a meteoric rise in the corporate ranks, but I’ve managed to stay employed through several periods of economic instability with steady increases in salary.

I have my own style of working, which is an outgrowth of my own style of living. I like to examine situations and get a lay of the land, so to speak, before diving in head first and sorting out what needs to get done. I typically favor action over discussion, while at the same time making sure I have leave to accomplish something in my own way, and in the process, learning the job by doing it. It was in this way that I learned web development in the mid-1990s, though I never mastered it to the extent that I could make an independent living at it. Still it allowed me to get a job with a company I’ve been with for quite some time and I know it well enough to maintain my own online presence.

Over time, I’ve held a great many jobs where how one presents oneself is almost as important as the work being accomplished. Whatever happened to be occupying my time, work related or not, as long as the appearance was given that I was hard at work, no one really minded. This is not to say I was goofing off, but many of my jobs have fallen under the category of “support” and when there’s no one to support, there may not be much else to do.

My first job, when I was sixteen, was working at Six Flags over Georgia. When one is sixteen and gets a job at Six Flags, one thinks, “This is the greatest place in the world to work!” It’s not. I worked Grounds, which means I scrubbed toilets and cleaned up vomit. The second year, they promoted me to assistant foreman and it was here I learned, for the first time, how much I hate being in a position of authority. One might think, being a first born, that leadership would come naturally to me, but while I often feel the need to be in charge, I much prefer being responsible for my own work without the hassle of worrying about what someone else is doing, or having to motivate others. Needless to say I don’t really regard myself as much of a team player, though I can adapt when need be.

In general, I like having a well-defined assignment where the parameters are clearly indicated so there’s not much guesswork to it. I find I don’t respond well to ambiguity and jobs that aren’t clearly defined worry me as they leave a lot of room for redefinition and extra responsibilities. Equally so, I don’t like to volunteer my time to my employer, and when I’m not on the clock, work is the farthest thing from my mind. Being a writer, one might assume I’d enjoy a job where my creativity is put to good use, but while I do, on occasion, enjoy opportunities to express myself at work, I find trying to be creative full-time for a salary just takes away the energy I have to devote to my other projects.

At work, I’m often asked what my career goals are, and typically, my response is something along the lines of continuing to draw a paycheck. I really have no specific work-related aspirations and tend to remain flexible to whatever comes along. I frequently find myself accepting assignments no one else wants to do, with an eye toward job security. Sometimes this leads to tedious or repetitive work, but I can often take comfort in the knowledge that it’s a job that must be done, that no one else wants, and as long as that remains true, I’ll never be out of work.

Fun with Photoshop, Shells and Rocks

I put some shells and river rocks into this giant blue drink glass I got from Myrtle Beach and took some photos. Then I cropped one and edited it using some filters in Photoshop Express on my iPhone. The results of each filter are listed below.

Original (Cropped)

Summer

Invert


Haze


Dream


Glow


Contrastpunch


For added effect, I ran the inverted image through some additional filters, as noted below.

Vibrant


Haze


Glow


Contrastpunch

Creation Myths

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the first creation narrative in Genesis, chapter one. This narrative, which among other things states that water existed on earth before there was light, encompasses the creation of all living things, including humans. The story is directly contradicted by the following chapter of Genesis, which states that the human race sprang from a single man created out of mud and his female companion who was created from one of the man’s ribs, and that all animals were created after the man to be his companions.

Science has given us the idea of the Big Bang as event one in the creation of the universe, but there seems to be no unified agreement on what came before or specifically what caused it. Modern space exploration has yet to reveal much about the first few moments following the Big Bang when many important developments are thought to have occurred. Ancient Eastern philosophies postulate an expanding and contracting universe which seems to agree somewhat with modern science, though couched in their own religious language, the days and nights of Brahma.

If we are to believe the universe was spoken into existence by God, we could just as easily surmise that all existence is nothing more than an illusion in the mind of God, since God would only need to think something to bring it into existence. The world we inhabit has substance, however, and the elements can be broken down into smaller units. We don’t just see and hear the world, we can touch it, taste and smell it. If we’re just illusions within the mind of God we’re part of an extremely intricate illusion.

If the account in Genesis is correct, and the earth was spoken into existence six thousand years ago, undoubtedly there had to be an intelligent entity there to guide how it turned out, given it’s current advanced state. If the world is several billion years old as scientific evidence suggests, that leaves a lot of time for trial and error. Creation follows a logical sequence. No one builds a house from the outside in. First, the foundation is laid, then the frame is constructed, then the walls and ceilings are put in place.

Before life as we know it could develop on earth there had to be water. Before there could be water, the elements of hydrogen and oxygen had to exist. Prior to that, at some point early in the creation of the universe, matter and energy were instilled with certain properties, which led to everything that came afterward. Was this part of a conscious plan by an intelligent entity? Humans have attempted to answer that question for as long as they’ve had minds with which to ponder the nature of the universe. If the earth began as a fiery mass spinning in the cosmos before settling into orbit around the sun, it had to cool down considerably so the elements could come together to create the water and develop an atmosphere. This most likely didn’t happen in six or seven days.

Most apes live in trees. One day, one of them came down and decided to go for a walk. The ultimate outcome was the human race. As creation myths go, it’s not the most detailed or dramatic, but may be closer to what actually happened, though the process probably took hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. In much of the material I’ve read, many scientists do believe walking upright was the biological innovation that freed up humans’ hands and allowed them to become the toolmakers that gave them their competitive advantages in the wild. Tool making helped them to develop their advanced brains, which eventually led to language.

If we look at the development of a child, we can get a rough idea of how humans developed. At first, the child is totally helpless, before learning to move its arms and legs and to stand. Next, the child learns to crawl, then walk, and at last acquires language. By age four or five, a person has acquired sufficient mobility to carry out most tasks, but lacks the proper level of maturity to survive on his or her own. Using the analogy of an individual, I would estimate that the human race is just entering puberty.

In his work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes speculates that early humans experienced auditory hallucinations generated by the developing cerebral cortex which they misidentified as the voice of God. Over time they came to recognize these “voices” as thoughts generated within their own heads, though schizophrenics still believe they’re originating from an external source. Development of conscious thought is believed to be a recent innovation, which coincided with language acquisition and led to the rise of civilization.

Everything has a beginning. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to be present when something starts. Within my lifetime, much of current day Atlanta has been built and, in many cases, demolished and replaced by something bigger but not always better. For those events we weren’t present to witness first hand, all we have is the evidence left behind. It’s how we interpret the clues that leads us to our own origin stories.

Killing Babies

As one develops as a writer, one becomes aware of the painful reality that not everything one writes, no matter how well-crafted or heartfelt, will see the light of day. In many cases, favorite phrases or passages must be sacrificed for the overall good of the piece. Improving the quality of the writing doesn’t make excising them any easier though. In some ways, the process is akin to killing a well-loved child.

A writer has just crafted the perfect paragraph, one that beautifully sums up the character and situation, all the while being witty, insightful, and concise and try as one might, it can’t be worked into the context of the story in progress. I once crafted this opening paragraph:

Aaron Slaughter was appropriately named. He was born bad and grew up mean and never did a kind turn for anyone, from the moment the doctor slapped him on the butt to the day they strapped him in the electric chair and put forty thousand volts through him. I was there that day, and while I’m not normally the sort of person to enjoy watching another human being die, I made an exception in Aaron’s case. See, I’m the man who put him there.

As happy as I am with the paragraph, I have never found a use for it in anything I’ve written.

What’s worse than being unable to use good material is having to remove it after fitting it into a work. Editing is actually where the real work of writing begins. Few writers are able to set words onto paper exactly the way they will eventually be finalized. I tend to be an organic writer and once I get into a work, the words flow with no rhyme or reason. Editing is crucial to my process, because when I’m writing, my only concern is getting the thoughts into words. As the work grows, a pattern begins to emerge and I can start rearranging paragraphs, adding and deleting lines until the piece says what I want in the way I want it said. Along the way, lots of favorite lines and phrases get cast aside.

Removing material does not mean the material is bad, just as rejection of a manuscript or play doesn’t mean the writing is lousy. It simply means the material does not work with the piece as a whole. I wrote an entire section for my novel The Long-Timers in which the main character was brought before the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, which did not make it into the finished work. When I reworked the novel into A Tale of Two Sisters, however, I found a place for the material again. Oftentimes, material that doesn’t fit in one work, may be just what’s lacking in another.

As writers, we learn to maintain journals or files of ideas and phrases which may someday make it into a story or play. Carrying around miniature computers in our pockets makes this task easier. I like to retain text files of everything I remove from a story or play, since I may find a use for it somewhere else, and since Acrobat allows for editing marks, I’m now able to preserve drafts of works in progress. In some cases, I’ve taken bits and pieces of excised material to fill out or enhance a different work, or borrowed scenes from one play to use in another.

Still, cutting scenes or paragraphs from a work isn’t easy. “They’re my babies,” a writer might say. “I can’t kill them!” If one is to evolve as a writer, however, it’s a skill one must master. At one time, a publisher would pair an author with an editor who would take on the harsh process of excising passages, but with independent authors publishing their own work, a professional editor is often a luxury one simply cannot afford. It becomes the writer’s responsibility to make the necessary cuts.

Obviously, no one will be seriously harmed if a novel, story, or play is a few hundred words shorter than the author initially conceived it. The goal is always to convey the most ideas with the fewest words. As authors, we must continually strive to improve the craft and say what we mean as succinctly as possible, even if it means killing a few of our babies.

Coat of Arms, Ambrose Lupo and Sons

This is a graphic representation of the coat of arms issued to Ambrose Lupo (posthumously) and his sons, Peter and Joseph. Numerous copies are floating around the Internet, mistakenly identified as the Lupo family coat of arms, many with no attribution and some with erroneous information about how it originated. Here’s the actual story.

lupo_coa_10-10-16_01

Original artwork by Keith Kennedy Tyson, Tasmania, Australia.

The graphic is taken from a scan of the original artwork produced by Keith Kennedy-Tyson from Tasmania, Australia, which is in my possession and is credited as such at the website I created for my family (lupo.org). It did not come from one of those online companies which produce dubious “family crests” or questionable family histories. It represents an actual grant of arms to a specific set of individuals, who were the forerunners of the branch of the family who settled in the United States prior to the Revolution. Keith also translated the original document I received from the British Library, with the assistance of the individuals identified below.

Accompanying the artwork, Keith provided the following text.

The Arms of Lupo as granted to Ambrose Lupo and his sons, Peter and Joseph by William Dethick, Garter King of Arms 

Blazon: 

In Campo Caeruleo Lupam albam ingredientem hiantem lingua et unquibus sanguinolent et in supere Argt. 3 rosas rubras albis duplicatis foliis viridis cresentibus 

pro Crista superiorem albi lupi partem erectum egredientem supra capsidem pendibus tenentem rosam cum stipite et ramis proprius colorit. depicta et tortili.

Attempt at translation of the Arms: 

Shield: 

On a field of Azure a wolf passant Argent, langued and Armed Glues on a chief Argent three red roses duplicated in white slipped vert.

Crest:

A demi wolf rampant Argent, holding with his feet a rose, slipped vert as depicted in the Arms.

About Elizabethan Grants and their contemporary portrayal: 

The closest representation I have found to copy the style from is from the 1580’s. At this time it had become a common rule that whatever the colour of the wreath the mantling was generally Gules doubled Argent. In general the wreath’s colour was still taken from the principal colour and metal of the shield. In the case of this grant it would be Azure doubled Argent. 

Elizabethan mantling looks a little weak when compared with either ancient or contemporary examples. It had also become common practice for the esquire’s/gentleman’s helmet to be garnished/out lined with gold. 

The reason for the change from a she wolf to a normal wolf is that the Heraldic Latin of the period was not noted for getting its gender right and she wolves are exceptionally rare whilst a wolf is far more probable, particularly as it would then tie in with the crest. 

Keith provided the following attribution with the artwork.

This translation was based on the work of one honours student in Classics, Assoc. Professor M. Bennett, Dept. of Hist. (a medievalist with strong interests in the early Tudor monarchs) and myself an honors grad in Hist. reading for my Masters. I also used a Latin heraldic glossary from one of my 1800’s heraldry books.

How the Work Came About 

In the late 1980s, I began researching my family’s history. Since I already knew Lupo was the Italian word for “wolf,” I originally believed I’d trace back a few generations and discover my immigrant ancestor. Imagine my surprise when I found Lupos in Virginia well before the Revolution. Eventually, I ran across mention of musicians by that name, which led me to scattered references to Ambrose, Peter and Joseph, who were incorrectly identified as brothers.

Sometime around 1992, I discovered a recording by the Parley of Instruments from England, headed by Peter Holman, which included compositions by Thomas Lupo, a royal composer employed by James I and his son, Prince Charles, later Charles I. Appropriately, the recording was entitled Music for Prince Charles. The text accompanying the recording contained biographical information about the Lupos, so I wrote to Peter Holman. He replied with references which were highly beneficial in rediscovering the history of the Lupo family in England. Two of the articles were by Roger Prior, at the time a professor at Queen’s University, Belfast. I later corresponded with Dr. Prior, and he provided me with further information which was invaluable in tracing the origins of my family.

At the time, Peter Holman was working on his book, Four and Twenty Fiddlers, about the history of the violin at the English court. I and another researcher, Michael Lupo, contacted him separately about the family, and he mentioned us in a footnote on page 51. Between Peter Holman and Roger Prior, I found mention of a coat of arms issued to Ambrose Lupo and his sons.

“Lupus, Ambrose, s. of Baptist, of “Castello maiori” of Busto in Normandy, in the Republic of Malan; augmentation and crest granted ? 45 Eliz. … by W. Dethrick, Gart. Queen’s College Oxford manuscript, folio 96, copy of grant in Latin; Stowe ms. 676 fo. 138b names sons Peter and Joseph.” This was found in Grants of Arms Named in Docquets and Patents to the End of the Seventeenth Century, transcribed by Joseph Foster, Harleian Society Publications, Vol. 66, page 160. Referencing the Stowe manuscript, I wrote to the British Library and received this reproduction of the grant.

lupo_grant_of_arms_11-03-15

Being unable to read Elizabethan Latin, and newly acquainted with the Internet, I went on a newsgroup called rec.heraldry in June of 1993 to find someone who could help translate, and possibly provide a rendering of it. This set off a flurry of correspondence between myself and individuals mainly from Germany and Australia. Someone in Germany would comment on the translation, I’d forward the info to someone in Australia, who’d reply back with more information. It was truly a global effort.

One of the individuals with whom I corresponded was a woman in Tasmania, Australia named Elizabeth and she put me in touch with her husband, Keith, who was a graduate student in history. He asked me to send a copy of the grant and he’d take a crack at translating it. He did just that, as well as supplying me with a rendering of how the arms probably looked, which is the basis for the graphic above.

When I started my website in March of 1995, I included a family page which became the basis for the site lupo.org, which went online in 1998. I posted the graphic there, without realizing it would be distributed far and wide without attribution. Once I realized it was being used by others, I updated the image at the site to include the site name, but by then, it had been propagated throughout the Internet. Numerous individuals have it posted on Ancestry, some with links back to lupo.org, others without.

It is incorrect to refer to this as the Lupo Family Coat of Arms. The grant was to a specific family under a specific set of circumstances. Arms are the property of the individual to whom they are issued, and since these were conferred upon Ambrose and his sons, both Peter and Joseph could pass them on to their heirs. They would have been passed down in accordance with established rules of inheritance, and England, at the time, followed the rules of primogeniture, that is, in the absence of a will, the eldest surviving son inherited the father’s property. Phillip Lupo, who visited Virginia in 1621 and who was the father of Phillip who made out his will in 1668, was not the oldest son of Peter Lupo and, in fact, had two older brothers, Thomas and Albiano. Thomas remained in England, where he continued the family profession of being a court musician. The arms conferred on Peter would have been passed down to Thomas, then to his heirs. While Phillip in Isle of Wight County was his father’s oldest son, the family in the United States descends from his younger son, James, and most likely from James’ youngest son, John.

I’m posting this to both relate the story of how it came into existence and to recognize the many individuals who contributed to making it happen. I wish I could post a transcript of the discussion that went into it, but unfortunately none of that was preserved and would most likely take up too much space. I would urge anyone who has it posted to be sure to reference this post, or the family site at lupo.org where credit is given to the known individuals who helped. It was through their efforts that this important piece of family history was rediscovered.