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Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.To buy on-line use links here (the Penner site: click on icon for selected site to purchase) and here

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here.

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? Buy here:

 Amazon US

Kobo

Indiebound

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Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Click here for Wolves and Deer 

or here for the paperback.

Click here for Nook.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

It’s also available at the Spirit Shoppe in Pella. Thank you for your interest!

Unstable States and angry politics

 

Scapegoat blame background concept glowingI come from a family of teachers who liked to discuss politics and even argue about it. I have been watching the rise of angry politics. In my own home state, I saw one of the most balanced, fair politicians defeated by someone angry who made accusations against voters that cost the state lots of money. Why and who gravitates to this kind of unsubstantiated rhetoric? It’s a good thing to review as I move forward with my series, Unstable States, which begins with Mixed In.

There has been a good analysis of who supports angry politicians in the Netherlands.

What causes people to vote for the angry blowhards is insecurity. The most insecure people in a society are not at its top or bottom but in the middle. In a group, the people who most want to conform are those in the middle of the pack. People at the top are too secure to conform and those at the bottom don’t like the group enough to adhere to its norms. Thus, angry politicians knowingly play to the middle.

Scapegoating a group of people who can’t easily fight back and blaming them for the middle’s troubles has been a successful tactic of angry politicians practically since time began. Where does the word come from? In ancient days, a goat was selected to represent sins and cast out of the town to remove all evils. Groups of people have also been identified by politicians to be rejected by society. This is always a group without the means to effectively fight back. Thus, the people in the middle will fall for rhetoric that things would be better for them if only some authority figure did something about the lowly scapegoats.

Who likes authoritarians and who resists? This was studied extensively following the Holocaust. The Milgram study created a series of experiments in which volunteers were asked to deliver electric shocks to others who screamed in pain. Shockingly, most button pushers complied, especially if the study took place in an authoritative setting such as Yale.

People who follow authority are not much different than those who don’t. Those attracted to authoritarians tend to think harshly of those lesser than themselves and have less empathy for others. Most of all, cultural factors play a role in the love or distrust of authority figures. People with high insecurity are most likely to be conformists. Thus, creating an unstable society is highly beneficial to those who want conformist followers. Another factor that creates conformity is scrutiny. People tend to conform when others are watching.

Fortunately, egalitarian societies, ones that are best for all, have existed since before scapegoats began. However, they are harder to maintain as populations get larger and there is more competition for food and resources. People tend to share and cooperate with their kin. When it is too hard to identify kin, leaders emerge to make decisions for the group. The best leaders are those others can trust. However, competition gives rise to self aggrandizers who come up with reasons why they deserve more trust and others deserve less. These people are great at claiming the spotlight, motivating others,  and solving problems in the short run. Sadly, mean authoritarians will probably always be with us for these reasons.

A societal factor that plays into the selection of kinder leaders who are more egalitarian is low fertility.  Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, low fertility allows women to take prominent roles in society and become educated. If this happens to the women of a group, it gives a group more social visibility and acceptance.

Egalitarian leaders tend to get less done. Motivating people to share and creating a sense of family is more time consuming than fear based politics. Cooperation takes more work. It is, however, the basis of society. Ironically, egalitarian societies have a lot of social cohesion that could be viewed as conformity.  Yes, even egalitarian societies have conformity although they do not coalesce around anger.

In the case of the Netherlands, educated people rejected angry politics. Why?  “Highly educated people …are socially mobile.. provid(ed) with opportunities rather than threats….Feelings of insecurity, whether justified or not, led people to vote for the PVV (angry party).” Education lessens the likelihood of viewing a politician who is angry as a valid authority figure. This is why, historically, educated people and those who are disenfranchised work together to stand up to any authoritarians who use scapegoating to motivated the “middle.”

What is the best way to reject angry authority and its use of scapegoating? Besides promoting education, the simple act of standing up to it and doing this consistently and repeatedly created heroes in the Milgram experiment. This tactic has been illustrated historically as with the development of the birth control pill and worker safety regulations. Scientists tend to be secure in their knowledge and challenge authority as well. In fact, science can’t move forward without some challenging of the status quo. Science provides a unique problem to authoritarian leaders who both need it and squash it.

In summary, creating a political dystopia involves several factors: insecurity, authoritarianism, scapegoating, scrutiny, conformity, social stratification, anger, encouraging fertility, and anti-intellectualism. Most angry politicians embrace some or all of these policies. If you don’t like these tactics, you must do more than vote against them. Sadly, you must speak out against them as well because when people are silent, these tactics are effective.

Climate Change–no, we are not debating when there are only 12 years left

global warming and extreme weather concept. man drowning in the

Each year since I’ve been a chemist, I’ve measured a higher level of background carbon dioxide in my lab. Every year more, like an invasion of ants marching. Like a steady diet of candy. Like one more blanket when you are in front of a fire. Carbon dioxide is natural but too much of it warms the Earth and causes changes in weather and ocean current patterns! What will happen if this continues and our climate is irreversibly changed?

Here in the Midwest, we face temperature extremes, flooding and droughts alternating with deluges. Tornados could become more damaging. Some crops will not grow as well with elevated carbon dioxide. Corn is one of those crops. Other plants will grow but have fewer nutrients. 

Climate change promises disease-spreading insects, more bacterial infections, mental health issues, air pollution, and other health problems… a new report says we have twelve years to stop this horror.

Do scientists believe that human activity, mostly burning fossils fuels, is changing the planet? Yes they do.

97% of climate scientists say it is undoubtedly happening and a whole host of scientific organizations agree.

Chemists have been warning about this since the 1890s.  The American Chemical Society, of which I am a member, has this to say:

“Comprehensive scientific assessments of our current and potential future climates clearly indicate that climate change is real, largely attributable to emissions from human activities, and potentially a very serious problem.” (2004)4

The American Physical Society (physics folks) released this statement “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” (2007)8

Click here for more, many more organizations who agree.

There is not a debate. There is more carbon dioxide in the air and it is changing our climate.  Here is the evidence.

Sometimes denier die-hards say “What about global cooling? Didn’t scientists predict that? A couple of scientists did. The idea was that pollution in the atmosphere would reflect the sun. This does cause cooling; there is cooling after volcanic eruptions for example.  However, these few guys vastly underestimated the extent of global warming from human sources and used outdated computer models to make their prediction. You would not use a computer from the 70s to do any research today. Why would anyone think scientists would find information, pushed by a few scientists, and disputed by others, was worth anything today? The real question is, why are people still repeating this erroneous claim? Who is spreading this misinformation?

The misinformation is spread by many “institutes” and foundations.” (Click to see who is lying.)

Here is information about lying asses in the United States.

Who funds them? Most of them in the U.S. claim to be “Libertarian” and have ties to the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers are known to educators because they send out books about why scientists don’t believe climate change. I got one myself. It was BS.

Why would they care? They mostly make toilet paper. Well, not really. They own pipelines and some energy companies, too.  They own oil refineries. They own tar sands. Some cite their ties with China and Russia–two of the biggest polluters. Oh, and when they make toilet paper, they are huge polluters. They also pollute the air around the refineries with particulates.

Other deniers, such as the science writer for the Wall Street Journal, are connected with the petroleum industry.

There are 100 companies, and their investors, who are responsible for much of the climate problems we face, everything from extreme weather to physical symptoms.

The people making big bucks from this impending disaster think they have enough money to save them from the consequences. They probably are banking on making money from the natural disasters. They will be happier with fewer riff-raff in their neighborhoods. Do you have billions of dollars to save yourself or do you want to do something meaningful with your life over he next 12 years?

What can you as a private citizen do when there are so many greedy people in the world?  Some of the top evil doers are not even in the same country–companies from China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia top our own as polluters. Here are a few suggestions of what you can do to help: (click link )

But mostly it is not you–it’s the companies making money from coal, oil, and gas who are to blame for suppressing information and casting doubt.

The best thing you can do is  Do not vote for climate change deniers. They lie and block any solutions. They are propped up with money and lies supplied by those who are causing the havoc. Here are the well established deniers in Iowa.

DO Vote for Dave Loebsack!

Inform others about climate change. Thanks to the Koch brothers, most people in the US don’t know that there is scientific agreement about climate change.

Scientists know carbon dioxide is increasing and is adding another layer of blankets to the Earth.

Don’t let it slide. Every part of the world will suffer from climate change. Now is not the time for silence. Your average denier needs to hear from you. “I believe the many scientists and the 97% of experts who say that we must stop climate change before it is too late.”

Climate Change is real. No, scientists are not debating, unsure, or getting rich talking about it. If the later was true, climate scientists would be the billionaires and could buy their own politicians. Scientists make money telling the truth and coming up with solutions to problems. Help them.

 

 

 

 

Violence Against Women

Did you know that the Violence Against Women Act is up for renewal and that many in Congress, including Chuck Grassley, have voted against it in the past?

“If Congress fails to reauthorize VAWA (Violence Against Women Act)  this year, the impact will be hard felt. Not only could it mean a loss of essential services that enable survivors to heal and seek justice, but it will inhibit states’ ability to fully prosecute sex crimes.”

 

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From: http://www.konbini.com/us/inspiration/aria-watson-trump-quotes-photo-project/

Violence, and especially violence against women, is a horror we can do something about.

About 10 % of all relationships are abusive. The question is, who abuses their partner and why?

Abusive People often can’t express themselves and are unable to communicate effectively with others. Furthermore, they are “fearfully attached” to their partners.  Some studies have identified these traits in abusers: highly sensitive to criticism, blame the victim and or circumstances, do not take responsibility for their actions, do not fit in well with society, have low levels of empathy. They do not like themselves–they have a lot of shame about what they are doing to their partners. They become frustrated easily, can be irresponsible and find it hard to have fun. Click here for more.

Fortunately, this behavior can be modified through therapy and by society.

What about rapists? They are a more complicated bunch, and society cheers them on in subtle ways. Around 600 women in the United States are raped by men each day. Most often, these are women under the age of 24. Rape is a crime that is reflective of society.

“Young people who gang up on and violate a semi-conscious woman and post pictures on Facebook are not acting on some individually dreamed up sexual fantasy but rather following group norms. We know from psychological research that once a group is established, the immediate pressure to adhere to the in-group code will often override the desire and ability to reach across to a member of the out-group.”

Men are most likely to rape and coerce women when they have peers who express hostility towards women. However, rapists may also be anti-social people. who express hostility on-line or to themselves. We can’t so quickly write off rape as a crime done by a person outside of social norms as is more often seen with domestic abusers. Sometimes, people learn from movies and other aspects of our culture that rape is okay if the woman is drunk or you are a cool. Click here for a very good link.

Most men who violate women see it as a part of being masculine. Some see it as an entitlement, such as they bought the woman something or they are rich and famous. These rapists, unlike many perpetrators of other forms of violence, are self assured and entitled.

Often, these people objectify women. “Sexual objectification changes the way people view women by reducing them to sexual objects—denied humanity and an internal mental life, as well as deemed unworthy of moral concern.”

In other words, people who see women as sexual objects do not care about their feelings when the women are wronged.

Women can be complacent in violence against other women. A person can be a women or have daughters and still be a part of society’s acceptance of Violence Against Women. Laws against violence help prevent violence but even more, social shunning of violence is important in halting it. Unfortunately, we have a whole cast of ugly characters in office who normalize it at this time.

All is not lost but everyone, everyone must speak up, now more than ever. Urge your congressional representative to renew VAWA. Grassley has voted against the Violence Against Women Act twice. He has also voted against MLK Day.  Vote him out in 2020. There is no place for perpetrators and supporters of violence in our society and certainly not in the senate!

(PDF) Sexual Objectification Increases Rape Victim Blame and Decreases Perceived Suffering. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249136582_Sexual_Objectification_Increases_Rape_Victim_Blame_and_Decreases_Perceived_Suffering[accessed Oct 09 2018].

 

Mercurial Madness

I didn’t read much about it in the local or state news but  last December, a Mercury jug containing 5 kg (11 pounds) of the toxic metal was spilled in an Iowa bar.

If that isn’t bad enough, the mercury was gathered up and  put in the basement of a rental house where kids found it and played with it in the sandbox. 

Where does mercury come from?  Why is it toxic and how bad is it? 

Here are some facts about mercury:

  1. Depositphotos_140325262_l-2015Mercury is an element, meaning it can’t be broken into anything smaller. You can’t get rid of it by burning it up, for example.
  2. In fact, you do not want to burn mercury. It is a metal but with very weak bonds between atoms. It has a low vapor pressure and heating it makes it into a gas. This gas is very toxic. It is easily absorbed into the lungs. It moves to the brain where it causes central nervous system poisoning. Mercury is toxic via all routes: ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact.
  3. Mercury poisons by sticking to the sulfur in enzymes, causing them to unravel. What does this do? It harms many different enzymes–it interferes with ones that build your skeleton, it inhibits food digestion, it ruins nerve connections, and it causes hydrogen peroxide to build up in your blood.
  4. Mercury can get into the air from burning coal and oil. Forty two percent of mercury in our air comes from coal burning. Since mercury is heavy and doesn’t change into anything else, this can be breathed in, and get into our water and soil.
  5. Another source of mercury is gold mining and processing, especially in small scale operations.Peru is known for a high number of these. They rely on using a mercury amalgam to extract the gold.
  6. Mercury is a dense metallic liquid. It was once known as quicksilver. The word mercurial means flighty or fast.
    mercurial-superfly-360-elite-firm-ground-soccer-cleat-WOv7pN
    Can there be a much better name for a shoe than Mercurial Superfly? https://store.nike.com/
  7. It’s about 14 x more dense than water, meaning that a gallon of mercury would weigh 113 pounds.
  8. It has the symbol Hg meaning “liquid silver” or “hydroargyrum”.
  9. Mercury is found as the ore cinnabar, chemical name mercury (II) sulfide, HgS. Most of mercury used today comes from mines in Spain or Italy.
  10. It is commonly used in electrical switches and was once frequently used in thermometers and in dental fillings known as amalgams. An amalgam is a combination of mercury and other metals. It’s tough and easy to squeeze into small places. These are thought to be safe in adults and mercury not detected in breast milk of mothers who have mercury fillings. 
  11. Dental crowns do not contain mercury.
  12. Mercury pollution has caused Minamata disease, a birth defect harming the skeleton and a pollution related disease. Click here for more about the people who were affected.
  13. Many people think of the Mad Hatter when they think of mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in felt processing and hat-making from the 17th century up until 1941.
  14. Mercury was used to treat syphilis up through the early 1900s.
  15. A mercury salt with fluorescein, mercurochrome, is still used as an antiseptic in some places.
  16. Mercury can exist in several forms: elemental (as found in the Iowa bar) , inorganic (cinnabar), and organic (the most toxic).
  17. Mercury is water soluble. It builds up in fish and seafood–the larger the animal, the more mercury. This diagram shows that the elemental mercury becomes organic mercury and bioaccumulates in the food chain.

    MercuryFoodChain.svg
    Imagine of mercury accumulation from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_in_fish#/media/File:MercuryFoodChain.svg
  18. Fish contains more mercury than vaccines.
  19. Mercury is in some vaccines in a small amount. Consider the alternative which is getting the flu.
  20. Mercury is heavy and exists in the depths of the Earth. Besides mining and coal burning, volcanos release tons of vaporized mercury into the air, especially Pacific volcanos.
  21. Mercury poisoning continues today. “Analysis of hair samples from 1044 women of reproductive age in 37 locations across 25 countries on 6 continents revealed that 42% of women sampled had mercury levels over the US EPA limit level of 1 ppm, above which brain damage, IQ loss, and kidney damage may occur. Additionally, 53% of the global sample exceeded the level 0.58 ppm of mercury, a level now associated with the onset of fetal neurological damage. Exposures were higher and more pervasive in communities near mercury gold mining, in the Pacific Islands, and in communities near industrial contamination.”
  22. New laws will weaken our restrictions on mercury emissions. We will be dooming people to nervous system, skeletal, and blood disorders and putting poison in our oceans. Thes laws are a “major weakening’ of mercury rules. Folks, that’s madness!

Porch Talk

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My house when it was new, around 1919.

 

When my house was build 100 years ago, it had a porch.  Historically, porches in the United States have a cultural significance. Porches were places to cool off in the days prior to air conditioning, to commune with nature, and talk with neighbors and passersby. They were designed to be something unique to the US, taking cues from Dutch, Western Caribbean and Italian homes.  According to freelance writer Lynn Freehill-Maye “In the young U.S., the porch became a signature of the proud new federal architectural style. It developed a folk-mythic history from Mount Vernon and Monticello onward. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set the trend with grand-entrance platforms to their estate houses. James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley were all elected president after successful front-porch campaigns, a tactic popular in the late 1800s in which candidates stayed home and asked voters to come to their homes if they wanted to hear a campaign speech. For everyone else, the porch worked as a spot to do homely chores like shuck beans,” (link)

As air conditioning became widespread, the need for porches lessened. By the 1960s, porches had disappeared from new homes as ranch and split levels became popular. and later, a large garage in the front of the home. During this time, my house had its porch torn off and an attached garage added

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By the late 50s, early 60s, my house had its porch torn off and a prominent garage added.

In the 90s, porches began their revival with about 40% of new homes built having a front porch. My house, on the other hand, had no porch. It looked okay but as if it had no time period and was missing something. And oh, the front door took a beating.

 

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It looks like it’s missing something.

 

The porch is making a comeback.  In 2004 half of all new homes came with a porch and in 2016, 65% of homes were built with a front porch–particularly in the east- south central region of the US. The preferred porch is an open porch with no screens. There are even concerts held on porches these days, Porchfests they are called.

I decided that for the house’s 100th birthday, I’d put a porch back on the house.

To start things off, I found a porch I liked on line. I didn’t want to go for the wrap around of the original because the house has been modified to not accommodate this style.

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I contacted a builder and he made a sketch that fit the house and he gave a reasonable quote.

 

sketch

We replaced the door and decided to reopen a transom window to let in more light.The carpenter said that the house is still as square as the day it was built.

Here’s the inside view of that.IMG_5578

We picked the fixtures to match one inside.

Here’s the finished porch.IMG_5590

Psychologically, the entryway feels more cozy and approachable now. The house fits with the neighborhood.

We need to re-stucco the cement–I’ll update you with a post on how to do that–and add appropriate plantings and furniture.

And yes, we painted the ceiling blue to scare away evil spirits and welcome the sky inside. Next summer, the whole house will get a new coat of paint. Not bad for 100 years!

Is your purse big enough and other bookish concerns

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My great grandfather’s copy of The Last Puritan with a green cover. Keep or throw? Read below.

My first published novel will soon be out of print! The publisher, a small one, decided to close because of declining e-book profits. Ebooks have been good money makers for small and independently published books. They offer a better percentage payback for authors. They are low risk and low-cost alternatives to print books. At one time, a third of all readers bought them. But sales continue to drop. And I understand it. I haven’t read from my Kindle in months. Reading from a screen is not relaxing for me.

It’s not visual fatigue that is making ebooks less popular. Ebooks do not cause more eyestrain, especially if they are not read for over twenty minutes at a time and if you do not wear corrective lenses (although this is still being debated.) They may cause head and neck problems and most people find that glasses made for general use do not work with computers. This is because electronic print is not as crisp or clear as those created with ink and paper. E-reading many cause dry eyes as people do not blink as much when reading from an electronic page.

There’s a reason that people don’t enjoy e-books. Reading from “plasma” is different neurologically from reading on print. Screen reading is superficial and less deep. Your eyes jerk more. Your brain reads less completely. It’s skimming. It affects you. You become “cognitively impatient.” When you search for answers, you will tend to grab onto the simplest one, not the one that fits the data or information the best. You don’t dig in.

People don’t relish the page as they used to due to cognitive impatience. Novelists have adapted by writing “quick reads”–page turners– that are easy to follow and understand. Sometimes, this writing is formulaic. Critics say it is not “internal” enough and moves too quickly.  Supporters of the new, fast style say that these books are fun and exciting and less about the boring psychological struggles of rich, white people. I aspire to write in the middle in a niche form known as upmarket. You can see from my critics that I at times get blasted from both sides. However, it seems that “real” readers are rebelling not against the form but in the way it is presented. They demand print books. And yet, when an author submits a book for consideration, it’s understandably electronic, creating a gap between writing for print and getting your book in print.

This I find that cognitive impatience gets in the way when I grade on-line.  I’m okay for the first few papers and then, suddenly, I can’t take it all in. This is why when I grade a short story or research paper, I always print off a copy and write on it. Yes, I know that I can use many programs to allow me to comment on student papers electronically. It isn’t as deep. I write comments on their papers. Sometimes my students say that reading handwriting reminds them of their grandparents. I see this as a good thing.

The same thing is true when I write novels. I compose electronically but I must read paper, and over and over, as I polish the manuscript. Does this create a disconnect with readers? Who should I write for–print lovers or e-book fans? My latest book has sold more ebooks than print.

The situation is even murkier for professors. Print books are expensive and students use them for a limited time. They must be shipped and if students don’t order them promptly or if the books are backordered, they can miss many assignments. E-books are cheaper, easier to get,  and create less waste. However, I once had my students purchase an electronic lab manual, the only manual that came with our text, and they had a terrible time following the instructions. Now, I write and self-publish my own print manual and stress writing, on paper, a solid conclusion based on data for their lab reports.

There is also a mild debate about e-books in grade school. These can engage students, although some studies say that students have lower comprehension with e-books. Things such as flipping the pages of a book help with a tactile sensation that promotes understanding. My students tell me that unless they travel by air, they prefer print books. They agree that even the feel and smell of books is  part of the experience. One says, “A sign of a good purse is how many books you can fit into it.”

Another concern is that although blue light from computer screens is safe for adults, it may damage the eyes of children. Blue light creates alertness which is probably why we love screens. Blue light before  bed can mess up our sleep cycles and cause daytime sleepiness and poor performance in school.

There’s a downside to print books. Paper books carry a danger–they can house mold, mildew, dust, bacteria,  and particulates–these are associated with health problems in librarians! Some library books have been found to contain bed bugs and traces of cocaine.  You can remove mold and mildew from old books. You can prevent bed bug transfer by heating book bags in your clothes dryer. And bacteria can only live in a book for a few days.

There is one old book you must avoid. Green books older than the 1850s–those with covers and green print in pages–can contain arsenic.  Do not buy or keep these books. 

It’s a good idea to periodically cull old books from your shelves for the health reasons outlined above. You can always store your favorite classics on your e-reader. My great-grandfather’s book ( shown above) is worth about $15 at most. It made me cough when I opened it. I’m not sure I can part with it just yet because it’s one of the only things I have of him.

As for brains maxed out on high tech reading, neuroscientists recommend a two week respite from-e-reading to help your brain recover. So if you need a break, go ahead, get that big purse or backpack–large enough for two weeks of print reading and take it along on your next vacation.

Old books on wooden table
Magic or mildew? An old book could carry both. Replace those old copies!

 

Here’s a link to the print version of Wolves and Deer.

Prefer e-book? Here’s an excerpt and link for that.

Would you rather read a futuristic novel? Click here for Mixed In.

Laughing Gas–a history

Laughing gas

Laughing Gas, nitrous oxide, was first created by Cornish chemist Humphry Davy in 1799…although some credit the reclusive Joeseph Priestly with this. In any case, it was Davy who brought laughing gas to the world and with it, won prestige.

Humphry Davy was born the son of a farmer and wood-worker. The athletic and garrulous Davy was not the best of students. He was, however, good at preparing remedies for a local doctor and even better at making explosions and gases intended to affect people’s health. Gases were created chemically and collected in silk or later, rubber bags and people took sucks of the bag while holding their nose to receive treatments. One use of gases Davy explored was as anesthetics.  The only anesthetics in those days were alcohol and opium. Surgeons had to operate quickly–amputating limbs in a minute or two–three at most.  The use of laughing gas as an anesthetic was slow to catch on– it wasn’t until 1844 that it became used by a dentist and not until the 1870s that use became routine. (The man who pioneered its use in dentistry later became deranged.)

Shunned as an anesthetic, the euphoric properties of nitrous oxide made it a popular party drug, sometimes administered in traveling entertainment tents bearing Davy’s picture. Davy called nitrous oxide inhalation “pleasurably thrilling.”Others have described it as “you’re all rubbery and relaxed and silly laughing usually. The rooms can seem to be collapsing and spinning but in a fun way with sort of swooshing wavy sounds.”  The nitrous oxide promotion propelled Davy into fame–it was a fad that won him a prestigious appointment to the Royal Institution in 1801 at the young age of 22. In this capacity, he lectured and popularized science to the point that he was knighted at the age of 34 and later made a baronet.Davy also discovered ether and chloroform. Although he did help his assistant Michael Faraday achieve fame, Davy clung to his superiority as if he had been born into it.

In retrospect, nitrous oxide has some harsh side effects. It can suppress vitamin B12 uptake, destroy your body’s Vitamin B12,  and cause brain damage if over-used. There have even been cases of paralysis and spinal degradation in frequent users. However, as anesthetics go, it is one of the safest. Perhaps this brain damage created his snobbish treatment of Michael Faraday later in life. Faraday attributed some of this to his high class wife, Lady Jane. (My Mom used the term”Lady Jane” to refer to a snotty attitude but it has taken new meaning these days).Lady Jane and her money can be thanked for numerous portraits of the handsome Davy in those pre-photography days. In any case, I digress.

Davy
This photo was taken from A History of Chemistry by F.J. Moore third edition 1939

 

Laughing gas is used today in dental offices where it eases the pain and anxiety that come with dental work. It’s used to aid the torment of childbirth and can create “giggly, happy women during birth.” It’s used as a whipped cream propellent and also as a recreational drug known as “whippet” and “Hippie Crack.” It can also be found in fumes from burning coal and is a greenhouse gas.

We now know that nitrous oxide keeps nerve impulses from reaching their target. It blocks the gap between the nerve endings. Ketamine acts in the same way.  It also causes the release of opioid-like hormones and increases blood flow to the brain. It should be used infrequently. It hampers both male and female fertility. Indeed, neither Davy or his pupil Faraday had children.

 

 

Dora Jordan’s Parrot: a look at parrots as pets from Columbus to today

woman-with-a-parrot
Manet’s woman with parrot (1866) http://www.manet.org/woman-with-a-parrot.jsp (This is not Dora Jordan or her parrot.)

To prepare for writing Wolves and Deer, I read some of Dora Jordan’s letters to Prince William, Duke of Clarence, later William IV.  Copies of these were available from The Huntington Library.  It was easy to get access to the copies but not easy to read them. I’m losing the ability to read handwriting, or at least, old school handwriting. From what I could decipher, she was a faithful and warm correspondent with no inkling of the betrayal that was to come.

In one letter, she expresses concern for the family parrot, Polly. I was captivated by her concern for poor Polly, who seemed to be lonely and in need of a parrot companion which she planned to purchase. It made her seem both romantic and a little indulgent. Her children, it seems, had plenty of pets, and plenty of love. But what about the parrot? How did tropical parrots come to be popular pets stuck in a most un-tropical country–England? It all started with Columbus.

When he landed on San Salvador, the natives gave him a generous gift of 40 Bahaman parrots, a cultural icon.  Upon his return to Spain, the parrots caused a stir and parrot exporting began immediately. Parrots were elevated to status symbols and considered a little bit of paradise for the rich to cherish, fawn over, and feature in their portraits. Amazons and macaws appear to have been among the most popular parrots. Royalty and clergy in particular prized them as pets. Some claimed that parrots were prophets! It is believed that Henry VIII had a parrot. Since the birds were exported from the caribbean across the seas, pirates probably did have parrots, although some sources say it is simply a fiction made popular by Treasure Island. It is believed that as far back as 1582, a pirate captain used parrots to bribe officials.

By the 1600s, parrots were so common in Spain that ornithologists stopped listing them as exotic birds. Parrots were commonly sold in London markets and many middle class families had one. As parrots became more common, they became less of a status symbol and more an agent of comedy. Their mocking of human speech was seen as entertaining. In literature, they became symbolic of an endearing, entertaining servant who was not too bright but well-meaning and sometimes insightful. Parrots in literature and sometimes in real life, often blurted out either the right thing (who the murderer was) or something inappropriate such as a string of cuss words. Owners viewed parrots as objects that a master could  train and “subjugate.” To the most snobbish, parrots were associated with servants in that they could talk but were not too smart. Servants must not be human since even parrots can talk.

900_William Feilding, 1st Earl of Denbigh
A man, his servant, and a parrot. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/anthony-van-dyck-william-feilding-1st-earl-of-denbigh

 

Playwright Ben Johnson was the first person to connect parrots and the name Polly.–a combination of parrot and Molly.  Several US presidents, including George Washington,  had parrots, often named Polly.

Why does Polly want a cracker? This is somewhat obscure. Pet birds were fed seeds and nuts and something called “german paste” that was a mixture of cooked grain, chopped eggs, and seeds. Minerals were added to birds’ diets by placing a rusty nail in  the pet’s drinking water twice a week. Crackers were first introduced to the public in 1801 and commercial bird food in the 1840s. No doubt since both crackers and parrots were novelties in the early 1800s, Polly was often offered a cracker, especially in the days before bird food.

In the early 1900s, birds were the most popular indoor pet in the United States. Parakeets were  the parrot of choice although songbirds and canaries in particular were much more en vogue, Today around three percent of homes in the US have a pet bird. In the UK, only 1% of all homes enjoy a pet bird. However, across the globe, parakeets remain one of the most popular pets. 

Parrots are endangered and wild caught parrots make bad pets. Even parrots born in captivity can be a handful, although, there are some cool people out there who love them.

Parrots can get depressed and manifest this by screaming, biting, pulling out their feathers, and mutilating themselves.

One problem that owners can have with parrots is that a parrot will view the human as a love interest, want no other, and become sexually frustrated. I asked people I know to tell me their stories of parrots in their lives. The answers were a lively mixed bag of joys and sorrows.

“We kept his wings clipped so he spent most of the time on an open stand by his cage which he would go into by himself when wanted to. He knew the whole intro to The Days of our Lives and would sing along. We had a Husky that he would whistle for, call her name, then climb down from his perch and nip her on the nose, laughing as he climbed back up. My favorite thing was that he would imitate the smoke alarm whenever my wife would start cooking. Piss her off. Lol”

“My aunt had an African Grey parrot with many words. It was caged and not too messy. They lived in California. Her sister in law, from the Midwest taught it to say ‘Gen Dobry’ while visiting and it became a favorite expression after she left. Then her brother in law—also visiting from Chicago would whistle at the bird so when he left that is all Kukla would do after greeting you in Polish.”

This story belongs in a novel! “An African Grey, had belonged to a man who had lived a rough life including a stint in prison. Apparently the parrot picked up some colorful language. His new owners, the man a Presbyterian minister, were trying to teach him to say: “I’m a Presbyterian” so he could impress a gathering of Presbyterian pastors at their home. When the time came, they said: “Alex, say ‘I’m a Presbyterian!” And Alex said loudly and clearly: “F@#$ you!”. When I stayed with them, he would hear me get up in the morning and ask: “Wanna go outside and go potty?” When the phone rang, he answered: “Hello!” In the voice of one of his humans. And he yelled at the dogs!”

“Best friend and great company.”

One person mentioned “They produce a lot of manure, can bite hard, throw food and are noisy.”

Another said, “They do have lung issues – they can’t take drafts. We had one die without knowing that. And we had one with wings clipped, not a good idea either. Our new kitten got him.”

A friend of a parrot owner remembered this: “He jabbered away nonstop sometimes, often sounding like half of a telephone conversation, with all the inflections, but rarely using discernible words. He laughed like a maniac! While I cared for him he became very protective of me, sitting on my shoulder and sometimes flying at anyone who got too close to me. Once when perched on my shoulder, I moved too suddenly and must have startled him, because he grabbed my nose right between my nostrils and was actually HANGING from MY FACE! He often shared breakfast with me, scraping the top layer off my buttered toast. It was interesting to see him work his tongue around inside his mouth — it was like a black bean but the surface was like soft black leather. Looking back, I feel sorry for the bird. He was kind of anxious, and started pulling some of his feathers out. He’d pick at shoulders of his wings until it was like raw meat or hamburger. He had to wear the cone of shame while it healed, but then he’d do it all over again. He didn’t live all that long, probably owing to the access to a diet that was totally unnatural for him (buttered toast?). I’d never have one again, I really think it’s just wrong.”

Some parrot stories are more like horror tales: “Years ago I had one for a few months. Thing wouldn’t shut-up even when covered and was aggressive. Worse pet I ever had, couldn’t wait to get rid of it.”

“My grand-daughter had one and it almost ruined her marriage. All that noise in the morning! They bond to one person and this one was jealous. Yikes! I think she sold it back to the pet store. They live forever. It’s an amazing commitment. And yes, messy. If you let them out of their cages….well, you can extrapolate. Also, the beak is a lethal weapon! I never met the bird, but a cockatiel my nephew had took a shine to me and was nibbling on my hair which was really cute until I realized he also damaged my hollow gold hoop earring!”

“They’re flying wild birds, not domesticated. You have to clip their wings if you want them to be unable to live their instinctual life after they’ve been trapped in the jungle. Even those born and raised in a cage are still technically wild. You also need to take the case outside daily so they can get fresh air. They’re meant to live among dense foliage, so their lungs get miserable in our thin-aired homes.”

“We bought things at the estate auction of a couple who had owned an obnoxious parrot. Bought a box of books that included one on keeping parrots that the bird had pecked all to heck. We also bought a beautifully woven antique basket from the Southwest; the parrot had pecked up the rim😕
After the couple died, heirs had trouble getting anybody to take the parrot. The woman had had a deep, “smoker’s” voice, and the bird sounded like her loudly saying “A..hole!! A..hole!!” a LOT. Think they finally persuaded a granddaughter to take the ornery thing.😜”

As a child, I had a parakeet, a tiny parrot native to Australia. He was a delightful but messy little thing who lived longer than the dog we got around the same time. Imitating my Mom, he often called for the cat, which, thankfully, ignored him.

Parrots are a huge commitment. We must remember that Dora Jordan and Prince William had numerous servants to clean up after Polly. And although he was incompetent at almost everything he did, William was once a sailor and having a parrot might have been a part of his image. I can imagine him teaching it swear words and laughing–he was that kind of guy. Dora’s worries about Polly preceded her betrayal by William by a couple of years. Is it possible that Polly knew something was afoot and that soon the lives of Dora and her family would be upset forever? Who knows what William was up to as Dora was off earning money to pay the family bills? One thing we do know, he wasn’t looking for a companion for his parrot. That, and most everything else, was left to Dora.

To read more about parrots as British pets in the 1700 and 1800s, click here.

To learn more about parrots in literature, read here, although it doesn’t mention Flaubert’s Parrot.

I am grateful for the article “Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots perish all” by Bruce Boehrer, published in Modern Language Quarterly (June 1998) for the information linking parrots, servants, and discrimination. He has an entire book about Parrot Culture.

 

A tale of three taglines and their pitches

Your work of fiction is done. You’re aching to connect with readers. You dream about  where you will publish it. Brimming with enthusiasm, you tell people about it. But how can you condense this intimate experience known as your story into something that won’t take as long to explain as it does to read? How do you let readers know that your fiction is worth their precious time? You need a pitch and a tagline.

The tagline is a phrase that gives the essence and emotions of the book or story.  The pitch lays out the basic conflict–what the protagonist wants, what stands in the way, and what the consequences are.

Here is a delightful resource on the topic.

A new author might find it painful to squeeze their work  into such a small printed space. A paragraph? A sentence? After all that struggle! But not only does doing this help your potential audience, it helps you focus on what your tale is about.

You can get a feel for pitches and taglines by looking at your favorite books and movies. Here are two familiar ones.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE

TAGLINE: In the World of the Near Future, Who will control women’s bodies?

PITCH: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leae the home of the Commander and his wife to walk to the food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.  She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids, are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Movie)

TAGLINE: Meet the women you don’t know behind the mission you do.

PITCH: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

When I began writing and submitting and getting rejected, I found pitch and tagline creation painful and limiting. Here’s the good news, you get better at it.

Here’s my first successful attempt, for

NATURAL ATTRACTION

TAGLINE: What happens when a traveling preacher who’s never been kissed inadvertently shares a love potion with a young female scientist who has taken the guise of a man?

PITCH: Clementine is an ambitious young Dutch-American naturalist from Spookstad, Michigan, who hopes to make her mark as a scientist in the post-Civil War United States. She takes a tonic, which causes her to appear male, so she can join a prospecting expedition as a naturalist. She wins the heart of the expedition preacher, Wesley, who will be her unflinching companion, as she travels the country facing acts of nature, cowboys, freak shows, ambitious bosses, unique rodent species, a trippy sage and even the Chicago fire. Wesley is betrothed to another and Clementine fears her affection for him will hinder her dreams of becoming a well-renowned scientist and his of gaining a small parish. When Wesley disappears and Clementine can no longer hide her gender or her feelings, she must accept her true identity and keep his secret or lose everything she’s worked so hard to gain.

Penner Publishing worked with these a bit and came up with this transformation.

TAGLINE: To get ahead she’ll have to become a man–and a man, she always thought, never lets love get in the way…

PITCH/BOOKBACK: Clementine dreams of being a naturalist—a career that leaves no time for romance. To sneak on an adventurous prospecting expedition, Clementine will have to convince everyone she’s a man. A mysterious tonic offers her just that disguise.

But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?

Among run-ins with cowboys, natural disasters, and traveling shows, Wesley’s most fascinating adventure is meeting Calvin. Though Wesley’s betrothed to another, the cute, clever naturalist threatens to make him fall into temptation.

MIXED IN

My second novel, MIXED IN, was submitted with this pitch and no tagline:

When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous it is. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. Their relationship puts them both in peril as Catrina begins to understand the dark side of her employer and their society.

Working with my editor and asking friends what they thought, I came up with this pitch (now used as the book back) and tagline:

TAGLINE: When passions are regulated, which laws will you break?

PITCH/BOOKBACK: When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. As their loneliness draws them together, they become allies in what will become the fight of their lives in the sexually repressive and culturally backward dystopia.

 Catrina’s invention, No Regrets—a scanner to test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections– brings increased scrutiny from the town’s Vice Patrol, made worse by an ambitious new agent who hangs around Union Station and takes up with Ulysses’s vindictive ex. Catrina’s relationship with Ulysses and her company’s new products put them both in peril as she begins to understand the dark side of her employer, her society, and science without humanity.

 But science is all she’ll have to spare the men of Cochtonville a mortifying fate and to save the life of Ulysses.

You can see that the pitch got a lot sexier–and something you might not want to show your Mom or Aunt or your students if you are a teacher. However, it immediately helps the reader know if they are going to be the right audience for such a tale.

By the time I wrote my third novel, I had learned the secret. Work on your pitch and tagline as you are writing. This helps you, the author, focus. Here’s an example:

WOLVES AND DEER

TAGLINE: Whatever happened to the actress and the prince?

This was changed by the editors to

A CRUEL BETRAYAL. A MYSTERIOUS DEATH

(Note that this has more emotion.)

The pitch did not get much editing because with time, I got better at pitches and had a group of people I could run my pitches past.

Here is the banner with the tagline and the pitch. And here is a link to purchase.BANNER2-WolvesDeer

In summary, taglines and pitches aren’t simply a crass commercialization of your creative work. They help you distill the essence of it. And with time, you’ll come to enjoy them.