KILLING ON MY MIND

“Axes, chisels, whetstones and a black stone bracelet from a Neolithic Macedonian settlement at Olynthus, excavated by Mylonas in 1928. Archeological Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece”
Michael Greenhalgh

I can’t help it.  The evening news is full of local drive-by shootings and the massacre happening in Ukraine. I’ve been thinking about killing (not planning it, just considering the varieties of ways and means).

I’ve mentally pursued two paths: the category of killing and the method of killing.

Categories of Killing

Execution: the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person within the confines of a legal system. Over time, many methods have been embraced. For more information, look here, here, or here.

  • Firing squad
  • Hanging
  • Electrocution
  • Lethal injection
  • Drawing and quartering
  • Drowning
  • Burning at the stake
  • Beheading (whether by axe or guillotine)
  • Exposure (on the ice, in the desert sun, adrift at sea)
  • Disembowelment
  • Crucifixion
  • Gibbeting
  • Keelhauling
  • Suffocation

Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The methods are infinitely variable. 

  • Felony murder (in some jurisdictions):
    • Killing someone during the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime.
    • The killer and also all accomplices or co-conspirators may be found guilty.
    • It doesn’t matter whether the killing was intentional or accidental.

Homicide: the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another. The point here is lack of premeditation or planning. Killing in the heat of the moment by whatever means would count. 

  • Justifiable homicide: the killing of a person in circumstances which allow the act to be regarded in law as without criminal guilt.
    • Examples include self-defense, capital punishment, and police shooting.
  • (Note: police shootings are not automatically judged  justifiable.)

Manslaughter: the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.  

  • Involuntary manslaughter: the person who commits the crime had no intention of causing or even expecting the possibility of death.

NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE

Different jurisdictions define these categories of killing differently, and some times interchangeably. If you want to be precise, know your local laws.

Euthanasia (a.k.a. mercy killing): the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma.  Note: the practice is illegal in most countries.

Ritual sacrifice: offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or person.

Suicide: death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die. 

Assassination: 

  • In law: any murder committed by an assassin, understood to be committed for money, without any provocation resentment given by the person against whom the crime is directed.
  • In dictionary.com: to kill suddenly or secretively, especially a prominent person; premeditated.

Wartime Killing

War: a state of arms conflict between different nations, states, or different groups within a nation or state.

Soldiers killing soldiers during a war between nations or states are generally considered justified and legal; incidental killing of civilians are generally considered collateral damage, regrettable but not subject to punishment.

Not all wartime killing is internationally acceptable.

The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and Geneva Conventions (1864, 1949 [pt 1, 2, 3, and 4], and 1977 [protocol 1 and 2] and 2005) focus on the protection of people not or no longer taking part in hostilities.  There is no single document in international law that codifies all war crimes. However, lists of war crime can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as international customary law.

  • War crimes (for a more complete list, see the United Nations, and the International Red Cross, and Wikipedia):
    • Intentionally killing civilians
    • Intentionally killing prisoners of war
    • Torture
    • Taking hostages
    • Unnecessary destruction of civilian property, often with the aim of causing starvation or death by exposure
    • Deception by perfidy
    • Wartime sexual violence
    • Pillaging
    • Use of chemical or biological weapons
    • Conscription of children into the military
    • Granting no quarter despite surrender
    • Flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity  
  • Crimes against humanity:
    • Specific cries committed in the context of a large-scale attack targeting civilians, regardless of their nationality.
    • E.g., murder, torture, sexual violence, enslavement, persecution, enforced disappearance, etc.
    • Chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons are often considered specifically crimes against humanity in addition to being war crimes.
  • Genocide/ethnic cleansing:
    • The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
    • Forced sterilization and sexual violence may be included here the aim is to disrupt or preemptively remove future generations.

War between groups within a nation or state = gang war: a “small” war between two (or more) groups feuding over territory or vendetta, not generally related to international legal standing.

  • Characterized by sanctioned and unsanctioned killing
  • Gun violence
  • Street violence
  • Joining a gang may be involuntary
  • Leaving a gang—and surviving—may be next to impossible
  • All gang activity is illegal in the US, although being a gang member per se isn’t

Methods of Killing 

There are far too many to list, but here are a few methods to think about.

  • No weapon (strangulation, broken neck or back, beaten to death with fists, thrown off a cliff, etc.)
  • Weapon of convenience (for example, branch, bookend, poker, scissors, axe—anything found at the scene)
  • Physical weapon brought to the scene (for example, cutting implement, gun, garrote, automobile, whatever)
  • Animal weapon (for example, dog, venomous snakes or insects, predatory animals such as bears, big cats, trampling by elephants or horses)
  • “Soft” weapon such as poison, gas, or medication overdose


Bottom Line: Killing is everywhere and always has been. Think about it! When—if ever—and under what—if any—circumstances would a character think/feel that killing could be acceptable. 

CONSIDER THE ONION

They say inspiration comes from everywhere. Interesting details to add to your writing also come from everywhere. To flavor your work, consider the onion.

(For a laugh, consider the satirical new website The Onion, but I’m actually talking about the plant in this instance.)

Onion Lore

There is a vast array of folklore surrounding onions. Onions are part of nearly every cuisine around the world, so nearly every culture has found uses for onions beyond cooking.

  • If you stick pins into a small onion and keep it on your windowsill, it dispels bad spirits from your home—or so says folklore. (Garlic has been used for the same purpose.)
  • Onions are also thought to ward off snakes and witches.
  • American colonists hung onions outside their doors to deflect evil spirits and keep them from coming inside.
  • If you throw onion peels on the floor, you’ll throw away your luck.
  • In many prehistoric societies, onions were the symbol of eternity, fit only for the gods. Additional symbolism includes protection, memories, jealousy, envy, divine healing, and mood swings.
  • Onions in dreams may represent the layers the dreamer needs to get through to find the source of a problem or issue. Alternatively, the dreamer may need to cleanse something in order to start afresh.
  • Put an onion under your pillow if you wish to dream the identity of your future lover.
  • In Egypt, an onion held in the right hand was a sign of fealty, used to swear allegiance to Cleopatra, and were a farewell offering carved into Tutankhamen’s tomb. They have been found in the pelvic region of mummies, in the thorax, and flattened against the ears. In 1160 BCE, King Ramses IV was entombed with onions in his eye sockets.
  • In other cultures, onions were associated with the devil. In Persia, it was said that when Satan was banished from paradise, onions sprang from the print of his right foot. 
  • Romans believed that eating onions increased the quantity and vitality of sperm. Some Middle Eastern cultures considered onions an aphrodisiac.
  • In England, onions predicted the weather: a thick skin meant a bad winder ahead, a thin skin, a mild one.
  • Schoolboys used to believe that rubbing their bottoms with onion juice would numb them to the sting of disciplinary caning.
  • If you want to make a wish on Friday morning, sprinkle salt and pepper on an onion skin and toss it into the fire while thinking the wish.  Other days or times? Who knows?
  • When undecided about something important, scratch each option on a different onion and store them in the dark. The first one to sprout reveals your best choice. This applies to choosing one’s lover/husband as well!
  • In English-speaking countries, some people believe that putting onions under the bed of a sick person aids recovery. 
  • Stringing onions up around the house, especially at the entrance will guard against illness, accidents, and curses.
  • Put a slice of onion under the doormat to keep away unwanted visitors.
  • If onions sprout in your kitchen, plant them. If they grow, you will come into unexpected money.
  • The cut side of an onion has been used to relieve the effects of insect stings, and to draw poison from the bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.
  • Snakes hate the smell of onions, so carry one when you walk in snake territory to ward them off.
  • Get rid of warts by rubbing the edge of an onion on the warts and then throw the onion over your right shoulder without looking back.
  • Onion juice provides extra sulfur which can support strong, thick hair, thus preventing hair loss and promoting hair growth. The sulfur from onions may help collagen production which, in turn, promotes healthy skin.

Onion Medicine

Folk medicine often contains a kernel of truth, and onion medicine is no different. Modern medical researchers study onions’ palliative properties for everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol levels. 

  • Because eating onions causes one to perspire, they’ve been used in folk medicine to cure colds. 
  • Onions are low in calories yet high in nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, and potassium. 
  • Research shows that eating onions help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and inflammation. 
  • Red onions are rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful plant pigments that may protect against heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. 
  • Onion consumption is associated with improved bone mineral density. 
  • Onions are a rich source of prebiotics, which help boost digestive health, improve bacterial balance in your gut, and benefit your immune system. 
  • Onions have been shown to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli and S. aureus
  • Onion juice can cure colds, cough, high fever, and sore throat. (One might want to eat parsley to combat onion-breath!)

Onion Facts

Even without their miraculous fortune-telling powers or magical healing properties, onions are pretty nifty vegetables!

  • Most people cut onions before eating them, often tearfully. Chilling peeled, halved onions in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes can lessen the onion tear production.
  • FYI: onion tears are chemically different from tears caused by pain or sadness. 
  • No one knows for sure where onions first appeared. Some believe they originated in Central Asia; other say onions were first grown in Iran and West Pakistan. But onions were surely eaten long before they were cultivated, and now they are grown in 135 countries.
  • When Europeans came to the New World, they brought onions with them, only to find that Native Americans were using wild onions for food, in syrups, as poultices,  as an incident in dyes, and as toys!
  • Worldwide, people consume and average of 11 pounds of onions per year, but onion  eating varies widely by geography. Turkey has the highest consumption, with 80.7 pounds per capita per year. In the US, the figure is 18.6 pounds per person per year. 
  • WARNING: all parts of onions (and related plants, like garlic) are toxic to dogs and cats! Raw or cooked, as little as 1/4 cup can make a 20-pound dog sick. 

If that’s not enough onion-y brain fodder, check out the National Onion Association, the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the story of The Oldest Onion in Denmark.

I like learning when I read, and I try to include bits of lesser-known information in my stories. For example, gasoline cost ten cents a gallon during the Great Depression, and around the time of the Civil War, the census’s listed the occupation of prostitutes as seamstresses. 

Bottom line: Consider adding a little onion to your writing!

HEY, PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS!

March 1 is your day: National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day. (The whole month of March is National Peanut Month.) Seeing that observance on the calendar is what prompted me to dig into the topic of peanut butter—and peanuts in general. 

Peanut Butter with Everything

I’ve never been a big fan of PB&J sandwiches—sacrilege, I know, given that the National Peanut Board estimates that the average child will eat 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before graduating high school—but my earliest peanut butter love was peanut butter on pancakes with a splash of maple syrup. My father ate them that way, as did/do all his children and grandchildren. The last time I was in IHOP, my favorite wasn’t on the menu, which I found incomprehensible.

Today I still avoid PB&J sandwiches, just too sticky and soft. But I willingly eat peanut butter on toasted English muffins with jelly, honey, molasses, or bananas.

Twitter user vinceatsass prefers “raw” P,B,&J.

Among my other go-to options are smoothies with peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate. And speaking of chocolate, I’ve been known to swirl peanut butter with chocolate syrup for a sweet treat. Peanut butter is also great on Granny Smith apples, when I want to nod toward healthful. And let’s not forget peanut butter fudge, with or without chopped nuts, chocolate chips, etc. And trail mix. And chocolate chip cookies. And smoothies. And, and, and . . .

Writing my recent blog on snacks and snacking (February 1, 2022) I noted the following among favorite snack pairs, in descending order of popularity

  • Cchocolate and nuts (some of which must have been peanuts)
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Peanut butter and apples
  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Surprisingly, peanut butter and bacon wasn’t on the list 

What is/are your favorite combination(s)?

In 1996 I bought The Peanut Cookbook by Dorothy C. Frank, a library discard with a copyright date of 1976. But good recipes never die! Recipes are grouped in the usual categories: appetizers and nibbles; soups, salads, main dishes, vegetables; breads, biscuits, and breakfast; desserts and candies. There are dressings for vegetable salads; sauces for poultry and meat; and “syrups” for sweets. Peanut Butter Meatloaf with Sweet Potato Frosting doesn’t appeal to you? Turn the page! Even recipes that don’t tempt you to attempt are interesting to read.

One of the candy recipes is for Jimmy Carter’s favorite peanut brittle recipe.

Have I at least tempted you to check on-line recipes?

Not quite the same kind of peanuts, but I’m sure they’re delicious!

Evolution of Peanut Butter

George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist. He created more than 300 products from the peanut plant, but peanut butter was not one of them! By 1916 when he published “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption” patents related to peanut butter preparations had been granted to various pharmacists, doctors, and food scientists.

If not Carver, then who? And when? According to the National Peanut Board, there is evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to grind peanuts to make peanut butter. They speculate that the peanut plant originated in Peru or Brazil. People in South America made pottery in the shape of peanuts or decorated jars with peanuts as long 3500 years ago.

As early as 1500 B.C.E. the Incas used peanuts as sacrificial offerings and entombed mummies with peanuts to help them in the afterlife. Central Brazilian tribes ground peanuts with corn to make a drink.

Flower of the peanut plant (Arachis hypogaea)

But no version of peanuts or peanut plants made a direct trek north. European explorers took peanuts from South America to Spain. Explorers and traders carried peanuts to Asia and Africa. Africans introduced peanuts to the U.S./North America in the 1700s.

 By 1783 Suriname had a food called peanut cheese. More solid than peanut butter, it could be sliced and served like cheese.

In the U.S., peanuts were first grown in Virginia and used for oil, as a cocoa substitute, and as food  for livestock and the poor. Peanuts were considered difficult to grow and harvest. Their popularity grew (geographically and otherwise) as a result of Civil War soldiers on both sides subsisting on them (and presumably finding them tasty).

P. T. Barnum’s circus vendors called “hot roasted peanuts” for sale as they traveled across the country in the late 1800s.

Before peanut “butter,” there was peanut paste. In 1884, a Canadian named Marcellus Gilmore Edson was granted a patent for his paste, made from roasted peanuts.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter in 1895, patented in 1898, that he served at his Western Health Reform Institute. Kellogg was a big proponent of plant-based food instead of meat, and for a time it was considered a food for the wealthy because they were the patrons of the expensive health care institutes. Peanut butter, like sushi and lobster, morphed from food for the poor 9and livestock) to food for the elite. But it really burst onto the public stage at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Peanut butter became a popular source of protein during the two World Wars, being provided to troops by the Armed Forces. Recently (2020), on average, Americans ate 7.6 pounds of peanuts and peanut products each—probably even more now. In March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 299.34 million ate peanut butter; retail sales of peanut butter in the U.S. increased by 75% over the level in March 2019.

Although National Peanut Butter Day is past (January 23), there are more chances to celebrate in 2022!

  • March is National Peanut Month
  • March 1, National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day
  • March 8, National Peanut Cluster Day
  • April 2, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day
  • May 18, I Love Reese’s Day
  • June 12, National Peanut Butter Cookie Day
  • September 13, National Peanut Day
  • November, National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month
  • November 20, National Peanut Butter Fudge Day

Mark your calendars! And there are plenty of days open to create a peanut celebration of your own!

From the National Peanut Board, here are just a few reasons why:

  • Peanuts have seven grams of protein per serving, more than any nut.
  • Peanuts are a good source of fiber and contain “healthy” fats, making them one of the best options for heart health.
  • Good stuff inside peanuts:
    • Vitamin E
    • Magnesium
    • Folate
    • Copper
    • Phosphorus
    • Fiber
    • Niacin
    • Manganese
    • Arginine
    • Phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol
    • Potassium
    • Resveratrol
    • Selenium
    • Zinc

FYI: it is estimated that < 1% of the population have a peanut allergy.

BOTTOM LINE: If you aren’t a peanut butter lover now, you could be!

GHOSTS: NOT JUST AN OCTOBER THING

The ghost of Banquo appears before Macbeth… so buy this extract!

October is a month flooded with ghost images and stories. You might even know that what we call Halloween is rooted in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in—go figure!). The Celts lived about 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland and northern France. Samhain was a time when people felt especially close to dead relatives and loved ones whose friendly spirits were welcomed for dinner, given treats, and provided with lit candles to help them find their way back to the spirit world.

Shortly after Halloween is Dios de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In Hispanic culture, November 2nd is the day when the spirits of loved ones can return to the living world to visit with family and friends.

In late August or early September (depending on the lunar calendar), many Asian cultures celebrate the Ghost Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this week or month, depending on the country, celebrants not only honor their dearly departed but attempt to appease the spirits of the vengeful dead.

One can go online and find ghost stories galore, both ancient and modern.

But Are Ghosts Real? 

Blueskin the Ghost Pirate, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates (1901)

Lots of people think so!

  • On 11/27/21, People wrote that 63% of respondents “to a recent survey” said they believe in paranormal activity of some sort and 57% of Americans believe in ghosts specifically. 
  • On 11/28/21, based on a different survey, USA Today said 40% of Americans believe in ghosts and 20% said they’ve seen one.
  • And according to an 11/28/21 article in The New York Times, a 1990 Gallup Poll reported 25% believed in ghosts.
    • In their 2005 poll, 32% of respondents said they believed in ghosts.
    • A 2019 IPSOS poll reported 46% of respondents were believers.

One might speculate about reasons for the apparent increase in the number of ghost believers over the decades.

Although these numbers are data, they are not proof!

But let’s back up a bit….

What Is a Ghost?

Oxford Language defines ghost (noun) as “an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.” But is that what all those survey respondents believe in? Not necessarily.

Some people believe there are categories of ghosts: poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits, or shadow people. 

What’s the Evidence? 

Elva Zona Heaster Shue, the Greenbrier Ghost
Elva Shue died in 1897, and the death was ruled to be of natural causes during childbirth. Mary Jane Heaster, Elva’s mother, later told a judge that the ghost of her daughter appeared before her to accuse her husband of murdering her. Elva’s body was exhumed, and signs of strangulation were found on the corpse. Erasmus Shue, Elva’s husband, was convicted of her murder

Bloody Mary – A Halloween greeting card, circa 1900, though the usual apparition is much more gruesome

Actually, there is nothing that scientists agree is evidence in support of ghosts existence. Benjamin Radford, 6/19/21, posted “Are ghosts real?” on livescience.com, considering this question in depth that I have summarized here.

For one thing, there are no clear, definite, agreed upon criteria. The presence of a spirit might manifest as a vision, an unexplained sound or light, a dream appearance, even a change of temperature or a light breeze, a cold spot in a hallway, a door closing for no apparent reason, keys or other objects missing or moved—virtually any unexplained happening/perception.

Contrary evidence is often based on logic and the physical world as we know it. How can an ephemeral being pass through walls, for example, but also lift or move furniture? Why do ghosts appear clothed? If the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, why don’t murder victims just tell someone who did it?

But perhaps the evidence just hasn’t been found yet

Do People—Many People—Just Need to Believe in Ghosts?

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by galla demons

The belief that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, documented everywhere from the Bible to “Macbeth.” Many people are comforted by the belief that the spirits of dead loved ones look out for us, or support us in our times of need.

“Ball Lightning”

Some people do not accept that life as we live it is all there is to human existence. Consider the various religions that postulate life-after-death possibilities, whether those be reward/heaven vs. punishment/hell, reincarnation/rebirth, or something else.

For some, believing that spirits linger is a way of not accepting that a loved one is truly gone. 
And for some, the need for closure/understanding might drive them to ghosts as an explanation of anything otherwise inexplicable.

BOTTOM LINE: The lack of scientific support for the reality of ghosts is unlikely to separate believers from their beliefs. The sheer variety of ways ghosts/spirits are thought to manifest themselves means one can always find experiential “evidence” that supports one’s belief.

The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch – Manao Tupapua
Paul Gauguin

HAPPY COFFEE DAY!

September 28th is National Coffee Day! It may be a fairly new holiday (started in 2015), but it’s becoming one of favorites.

Whenever I find a big hole in my knowledge stash, I immediately try to fill it. Thus, when my husband and I were lingering over our breakfast coffee—Kenyan, one of our favorites—and, for no identifiable reason, I said, “Does coffee grow in the United States?”

Bingo! Something to find out about!

Being my husband of many years, he immediately knew that I meant the continental U.S., not Puerto Rico or Hawaii, but he didn’t know. The answer is “yes.” Coffee is grown in California now, though it is a newcomer to coffee production.

As it turns out, I found researching coffee fascinating.  Although coffee is now grown worldwide, its roots trace back centuries to ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.

According to legend, the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans when he noticed that after eating them, his goats became energized and didn’t want to sleep. (I don’t know how anyone could tell the difference.) He took the beans to a monastery where the head monk made a drink from them, felt the energizing effects, and shared the drink with other monks. And then the word began to spread.

By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia.

By the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. 

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent—which raises the question of how the British came to be/stay tea drinkers, but that’s another story.

Afghani women grinding coffee beans

The common breakfast drinks of the time—beer and wine—quickly lost ground. Though people probably didn’t realize it, boiling the water in coffee generally made it much safer to drink than water. Coffee-drinking workers were alert and energized, and the quality of their work was greatly improved. (The National Coffee Association suggests that this was a precursor to the modern office coffee service.)

Coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York, by the mid-1600s. However, the American preference for coffee didn’t come until after the famous/infamous Boston Tea Party, when the colonists revolted against the high tax imposed on tea by George III. A fuller history of coffee and lots more coffee info can be had at ncausa.com.

Suffice it to say, lots of wise and not-so-wise people have commented on coffee.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women: “I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

Thomas Jefferson: “Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world.” 

Ronald Reagan: “I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.”

T.S. Eliot: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Anthony Trollope, The Warden: “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”

Vincent Van Gogh: “To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”

Abraham Lincoln: “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.”

Johann Sebastian Bach: “Without my morning coffee, I’m just like a dried-up piece of goat.” (FYI, he wrote a coffee cantata.)

Clark Gable: “I never laugh until I’ve had my coffee.”

Dave Barry: “It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”

One measure of coffee’s ubiquity is the sheer number of quotes available! If you search coffee quotes on line, you will find lists ranging from 30 to 117. Even discounting repetitions, that’s saying a lot about coffee.

from Etsy

I’m not a coffee addict, though there are such—people who get headaches if they don’t have their caffeine fix. In truth, other sources of caffeine can be just as addictive (think soda, tea, or chocolate) but coffee is the one most often acknowledged/recognized. 

from Etsy

I typically drink only one cup of coffee a day, which some consider heretical, but even so, I have my preferences: start with roasted beans, grind, brew using a drip coffee maker. I drink it black, and prefer Kenyan or Tanzanian, sometimes Mocha or a darker roast.

In the U.S., coffee drinking is practically a cultural requirement, and as such, it’s everywhere, in many forms.  Black, cream, sugar, foam, no foam, full caf, half-caf, decaf, soy latte, instant (ugh!)—people love their coffee a certain way and often will not budge on change it.  I, on the other hand, like to change it up.

Coffee and coffee shops are a huge part of our social culture. Teenagers often start drinking it to keep up with late night homework and early morning bus schedules. Many people hang out in coffee shops to use the wifi or meet friends. Sending coworkers to fetch coffee or jumping the line at a kiosk is frequently a method of establishing or reinforcing workplace hierarchy. I know several parents who have special “coffee time” with their young children. (In every case I’ve heard of, the child drinks milk with maybe a teaspoon of coffee added.)

Believe it or not, some people are allergic to coffee or just really dislike it. In a country with (seemingly) coffee shops on every corner, what social implications might this have?

With whiskey and cream, pretending to be Irish?

And what about equipment? Grinder for freshly ground beans? Keurig for easy portioning? Where/when is it drunk? Made at home or purchased in a cafe? Milk or whipped cream or fancy syrup? SO many opportunities!

What’s your coffee habit? And how about your characters?

ONE RESOURCEFUL BLACK MAN

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that (among other things) August is Black Business Month. And then I heard about John P. Parker. He caught my attention because 1) my father’s name was John E. Parker; and 2) both moved to Ohio from points farther south, and died there.

Although there’s no other connection, that was enough to make me want to find out about this historical Parker—and an amazing man he was!

An Eventful Early Life

John P. Parker was the son of a slave mother and white father—name unknown, but reputed to be a Virginia aristocrat. At the age of eight, John was chained to another slave and forced to walk from Norfolk to the slave market in Richmond, VA. There he was resold and added to a chained gang of 400 slaves being herded to Mobile, AL. In Alabama, he was bought by a local physician.

“After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond” by Eyre Crow, 1853
Encyclopedia of Virginia

Parker worked first as a house slave and companion to the doctor’s two sons. According to John’s memoir, he became good friends with the two boys and enjoyed being their playmate. Although educating a slave was against the law, the doctor’s sons secretly taught Parker to read and write.

When the sons went to Yale, John was supposed to go with them as their personal servant. However, in Philadelphia, the difference in public sentiment regarding slavery became obvious. Afraid that abolitionists would try to free John, the doctor’s sons sent him back to Alabama. His dreams of university were dashed.

John Parker returned to Mobile, where the doctor apprenticed him to a plasterer. The plasterer was a brutal drunk and after defending himself, Parker feared for his life and fled by riverboat. After months of pursuit and escape—well worth reading about!—he ended up on the docks in New Orleans. In a bizarre coincidence, Parker happened to cross paths with the Alabama physician and returned to Mobile. According to his memoir, Parker was quite happy to accompany the doctor home.

Returned to the doctor’s household, John was apprenticed again to a foundry. He thrived and learned there until he got into a fight with his boss. The doctor sent John to work in another friend’s foundry. Again, John’s temper ended in a fight with the superintendent. The argument was compounded by the superintendent’s theft of Parker’s design for an improved tobacco press. Fortunately, the superintendent was unfamiliar with patent law, and Parker was able to file the patent when he was a free man.

After this, the doctor claimed he didn’t know what to do with John and would have to to sell him as a field hand.

Finding Freedom

The three golden balls of a pawnbroker’s sign originally referred to the three golden coins on the medieval Medici family crest.

Desperate to avoid the brutality of a field hand’s life, John asked one of the doctor’s patients, a widow, to purchase him. He persisted in his petitions until she agreed to do so, for $1,800. 

Elizabeth Ryder, the widow, allowed John to hire himself out to earn money. She agreed that his wages could be used to purchase his own freedom. John Parker repaid that $1,800 plus interest at the rate of $10 per week. He earned the money doing piecework in Mobile iron foundries, as well as occasional odd jobs and running a “regular three-ball pawnshop.”

Parker was so motivated to repay Mrs. Ryder that he paid her far more than $10 every week.

John Parker gained his freedom in 1845, after eighteen months with the widow. This is a pretty amazing achievement: that $1,800 (never mind the interest) is the equivalent of $64,659 today. He was only 18 in 1845!  Clearly, he was both hard working and talented. And thanks to Mrs. Ryder, who “gave me a free hand to go where I wanted to and do as I pleased.”

Businessman

John Parker’s patents for a portable tobacco press, an improved tobacco press, and soil pulverizer

Beginning as an iron molder, Parker developed and patented a number of mechanical and industrial inventions, including the John P. Parker tobacco press and harrow (pulverizer), patented in 1884 and 1885. He had actually invented the pulverizer while still in Mobile in the 1840s.  Parker was one of the few blacks to patent an invention before 1900.

The “Parker-Built McColm Soil Pulverizer” produced from the patent diagrams by Ben Schulte of the University of Cincinnati College of Applied Science.
from Small Farmers Journal

In 1865, Parker and a partner bought a foundry, which they named the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company. “Parker managed the company, which manufactured engines, Dorsey’s patent reaper and mower, and sugar mill. In 1876 he brought in a partner to manufacture threshers, and the company became Belchamber and Parker. Although they dissolved the partnership two years later, Parker continued to grow his business, adding a blacksmith shop and machine shop. In 1890, after a destructive fire at his first facility, Parker built the Phoenix Foundry. It was the largest between Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio.” (Wikipedia)

Family Man

I find John Parker’s personal life as impressive as his business achievements. After buying his freedom, Parker settled first in Jeffersonville, Indiana, then Cincinnati, Ohio. The port city of Cincinnati had a large free black community, with a variety of work available. In 1848, he married Miranda Boulden, free born in that city.  They had a small general store at Beechwood Factory, Ohio, but a year later moved to Ripley.  There they had seven children together, though some sources only include six.

  • John P. Parker, Jr, b. 1849, attended Oberlin College but died before graduating, in 1871
  • Hale Giddings Parker, b. 1851, graduated from Oberlin College‘s classical program and became the principal of a black school in St. Louis
    • Later, he studied law and in 1894 moved to Chicago to become an attorney
  • Cassius Clay Parker, b. 1853 (the first two sons were named after prominent abolitionists)
    • He studied at Oberlin College and became a teacher in Indiana.
  • Horatio W. Parker, b. 1856, became a principal of a school in Illinois
    • He later taught in St. Louis.
  • Hortense Parker, b. 1859 was among the first African-American graduates of Mount Holyoke College
    • After marriage in 1913, she moved to St. Louis and continued to teach music.
    • Her husband was a college graduate who served as principal of a school.
  • Portia, b. 1865, became a music teacher
  • Bianca, b. 1871, became a music teacher

In one generation from slavery, all seven of John Parker’s children were college educated. John and Miranda are noted in local records as owning the area’s largest collection of books, which they frequently loaned to neighbors in support of education.

Interestingly, in his will, John Parker forbade any of his children taking over his businesses. He wanted them to be upwardly mobile in the professions and Black middle class.

Abolitionist

Ripley, OH was in an area of growing abolitionist activity when John Parker moved there, and who is to say whether he would have been as much involved in the movement if he had lived elsewhere? Perhaps not.

But while living in Cincinnati, Parker boarded with a barber whose family was still held in slavery. Parker’s first successful extraction was to rescue the barber’s family from and eventually rescued the barber’s family from slavery—his first successful extraction—and it was launched from and came to a successful close in Ripley.

Ripley, so close to the Ohio River that separated slavery from freedom, was a natural station for the Underground Railroad.

Parker joined the resistance movement there, and for 15 years aided slaves escaping across the river from Kentucky to get farther north to freedom; some chose to go to Canada. Parker guided at least 440 (some sources put the number as high as 1,000) fugitives along their way, despite a $1,000 bounty placed on his head by Kentucky slaveholders. The federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased the penalties for aiding escaping slaves.

Freedom Stairway” leading from the Ohio River to John Rankin’s house (John P. Parker’s neighbor) in Ripley, OH

Although he was known for keeping meticulous records of the people passing through Ripley, John Parker was equally meticulous in maintaining the secrecy of his Underground Railroad station. When he received word that someone had reached safety, Parker burned the records relating to that person. He insisted that his photo not be taken, and there is no confirmed photograph of him. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Parker dropped his entire book of fugitives’ names, dates, and original homes into the cupola of his own iron foundry.

Parker risked his own freedom every time he went to Kentucky to help slaves to freedom. According to the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune“He would go boldly over into the enemy’s camp and filch the fugitives to freedom.”  During the Civil War, he recruited a few hundred slaves for the Union Army.

But Ripley, like many towns in non-slave states, wasn’t united in support of escaping slaves. Residents on opposite sides of the issue often ended in physical conflict. In Parker’s own words, “I never thought of going uptown without a pistol in my pocket a knife in my belt, and a blackjack hand. Day or night I dare not walk on the sidewalks for fear someone might leap out of a narrow alley at me.” Even so, he helped at least 440 fugitives to flee.

This 1892 photo, of the dedication of the “Freedom’s Heroes” monument to abolitionists John and Jeanne Rankin in the Ripley, Ohio cemetery, is the most likely surviving photo of John P. Parker.
from the Ohio Historical Society and John Parker House

Parker’s Memoir

Parker’s story in his own word—HIS PROMISED LAND: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad wasn’t published until 1998. Parker gave interviews to the journalist Frank Moody Gregg of the Chattanooga News in the 1880s, when Gregg was researching the resistance movement. He never published this manuscript, but historian Stuart Seely Sprague found Gregg’s manuscript and notes in Duke University Archives. He edited the document for publication, keeping Parker’s language, and added a detailed biography in the preface.

The documents are still accessible in the Duke University archives online.

I’m calling it a memoir rather than an autobiography because this book is limited to Parker’s early life and his involvement with the Underground Railroad. It’s a fast, gripping read, but if you want to know about his business or personal life, you must look elsewhere.

The John P. Parker House

Parker’s house at 300 N. Front Street in Ripley, Ohio, is a National Historic Landmark. It is a small museum, open to the public Friday-Sunday, May-October.

YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO CELEBRATE!

“The beatings will continue until morale improves!”
August panel from the Queen Mary Psalter (14th century)

Yes, it’s August 10th, and some events are in the rearview mirror.

Nomony Hall, home of Robert Carter III
from Encyclopedia Virginia

Like the anniversary of the Emancipation of 500. On August 1, 1791, Virginia planter Robert Carter III shocked his family and friends by filing a deed of emancipation for his 500 slaves. Not all at once, but the document established a schedule such that 15 slaves would be freed each January 1 over a 21-year period. Children would be freed when they reached adulthood: age 18 for women and 21 for men.

Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift
from Encyclopedia Virginia

In addition, Carter made legal provisions to care for freed slaves who were elderly or infirm. Before being emancipated, people were taught trades and set up with bank accounts and legal identity papers. The lands that had made up his multiple plantations were rented or sold cheaply to freedmen.

He wrote, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice and therefore it is my duty to manumit them.”

Robert Carter’s “Deed of Gift” is believed to be the largest act of emancipation in US history, and it predates Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by 70 years.

But some things are celebrated all month long, so there is plenty of time to observe the various “holidays” at your own convenience. 

August Holidays

American Adventures Month

I mentioned American Adventures Month in a Facebook post: the point is to celebrate vacationing in the Americas. People are encouraged to explore South, Central, and North America.

Outdoor adventures are a great way to maintain social distance while we wait for Covid to die out completely. I might add, doing so would raise awareness that the United States is not equivalent to America.

Black Business Month

Six months after Black History Month, the point of Black Business Month is to boost awareness of black owned and operated businesses. The month is dedicated to starting, maintaining, and buying from black owned businesses. Maggie Walker (founder of the Penny Bank, among other things) and Oprah Winfrey didn’t start at the top!

Score.org, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Mashable, NBC, and Oprah have suggestions for how you can support Black and minority-owned businesses.

Image from the 18th Annual National Black Business Month website

  • Boomers Making a Difference Month 
    • This is a relatively new one, dating only to 2010. Many organizations, including the AARP and Senior Living Magazine, arrange events to encourage those in the Boomer generation to volunteer in their communities. Some also celebrate baby boomers who have made special efforts to help others in need improve their lives.
Closing your eyes and covering your ears doesn’t make the screaming stop. The zombies will continue to attack.
  • Bystander Awareness Month
    • The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon: the more people who witness a person in need, the less likely that person is to get help. Everyone assumes someone else will step in. The purpose of this month’s awareness is to encourage people to be active bystanders and step up when witnessing injustice, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Even traffic accidents and house fires cause this effect. It’s far better to have too many people call 911 than to have no one call.

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages parents, doctors, teachers, and anyone working with children to look for signs of poor eyesight or eye health in August. In addition to near-sightedness or far-sightedness, children’s vision development is commonly affected by lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness, drooping eyelids, and astigmatism.

This is closely related to Children’s Vision and Learning Month, established in 1995. Because 80% of learning is dependent on vision, parents and educators need to be alert. Just before starting a new school year is the perfect time to schedule an eye exam. Estimates are that 25% of children have an undiagnosed vision problem.

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

Support the happy transition to Kindergarten. Nearly 2 million children in the US enter kindergarten each year, changing not only their lives but the lives of their parents siblings, and teachers.

This year will be especially challenging for families and teachers making the change back from online school while trying to avoid new Covid outbreaks.

August is a good time to get kids adjusted to a new sleeping and eating schedule, ensure new students are up to date on all their doctor visits and vaccines, and buy a giant pair of sunglasses to hide your tears when your little one skips off to the classroom.

Happiness Happens Month

The Secret Society of Happy People breaks their solemn vow of secrecy every year to sponsor this event. The goal is to encourage people to express their happiness and discourage raining on anyone’s parade.

International Pirate Month

Technically, International Pirate Month is not celebrated in August. It’s celebrated in Ahrrr-gust!

It’s the perfect opportunity to practice your patois for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.

National Read-a-Romance Month

First observed in 2013, the title says it all!

I recommend this romantic story about the true love a dog feels for his bone.

National Traffic Awareness Month

Boiled down, it means be aware and take steps to not get distracted by all your car’s technology, cell phone calls, passenger talk, or any other distractions.

Reading in the car can lead so easily to sleeping in the car, which inevitably ends in drooling in the car.

National Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

The goal is to bring attention to this congenital disease. By damaging the motor function nerves in the spinal column, SMA breaks downs patients’ ability to walk, move, eat, even to breathe.

Neurosurgery Awareness Month

The American Association of Neurosurgeons has designated August every year to raising awareness of neurological conditions. Each year, the focus is on a different type of disorder or injury, such as stroke or brain tumors. This year, the focus is on Traumatic Brain Injuries.

*Not an accurate representation of a neurosurgeon at work.

What Will Be Your Legacy Month

Many people do not realize how their actions affect others. They live their lives selfishly, not realizing the impact of their life choices on present and possibly future generations. So, the point of this month-long celebration is to have people reflect on ways to make make positive changes that will affect generations. Start by planting positive seeds in the children in our lives.

***NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION AWARENESS MONTH***

NIAM is part of an outreach program by the CDC, the WHO, local hospitals and health organizations. It’s a chance for researchers and health providers to focus on the critical role immunizations play in preventing life-threatening diseases among people of all ages and cultures. Each year in the US, tens of thousands of people die because of vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications—and that doesn’t include those who suffer pain or disability. 

Think COVID-19!

Get your vaccines to protect those who can’t.

Bottom Line: Find ways to celebrate this month!

TATTOOS: CONVICTS AND STREET GANGS

Japanese Yakuza

If you aren’t in a prison or a gang, who cares? More people than you might imagine! Think self-preservation and decision making—not to mention writing realistically.

  • Prison employees
  • Parole officers
  • Social workers
  • Police officers
  • Medical providers
  • Those new to the neighborhood/prison
  • Border patrol
  • Anyone living or travelling in Eastern Europe or Russia

Indeed, an extensive list of tattoos, with pictures and meanings, has been produced for the Canadian Border Patrol. It’s available online at publicintelligence.net (search tattoos and their meanings).

Another good source is corrections1.com.  

There is an abundance of on-line information about the meaning of prison tattoos, and it’s generally consistent. But keep in mind, there are varied meanings, and context is important.  One example here would be playing cards, typically found on the knuckles. In Russian prisons, the suit chosen have meanings. In other settings, this type of tattoo may indicate someone who likes to gamble, or who sees life as a gamble. (See below.)

The Nature of Prison Tattoos

Overall, prison tattoos tend to look dark and crude. Inmates tattoo each other using whatever equipment they can gather, such as staples, ballpoint pens, paper-clips, improvised needles, molten rubber, styrofoam, etc. 

Sometimes the “artist” will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. When prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, they can jury-rig a tattooing machine.

One of the least horrific photos I could find of an infected tattoo

Ink is hard to come by, so for dye, they can use pen ink. Also, they  can burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s urine – a practice superstitiously believed to reduce the chance of infection. Research has revealed a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.

Tattooing is typically slow and nearly always painful.  Conditions are inevitably far from sterile, so infections and complications are common.  Suffice it to say that what prison tattoos convey is important to the wearer.

Not All Tattoos are Voluntary

The most famous instance would be during the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with an identification number. Also see the section on gender below. Any tattoo that stigmatizes a prisoner, or invites abuse by other inmates, is likely to have been applied involuntarily.

White Supremacist Gang Tattoos 
  • KKK
  • Neo-Nazism
  • Arian Brotherhood (AB)
  • Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM)
  • Sacramaniac
  • Number tattoos
  • General white supremacist symbols
    • For example 1488 (or 14 or 88) found anywhere on the body identifies white supremacists/Nazi inmates.  There are a variety of tattoos associated with the Arian Brotherhood, important to identify, for they make up 1% of the prison population but commit 20% of inmate murders.
  • FAIM members sometimes wear a shamrock as well, signifying affiliation with the AB—but this is only allowed with permission of the AB
Russian Prison Tattoos

In the Soviet Union, particularly during Joseph Stalin’s time, non-political prisoners (thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc.) in the Gulag system were often given preferential treatment by prison guards. Tattoos told the guards as well as other prisoners how to treat a prisoner, including what labor assignments they got and whether to assign prisoners as enforcers. Eventually, non-political prisoners gained so much power within the Gulags that the Vor v Zakony (Thieves in Law) essentially ran many of the prison camps. Today, the Vory is one of the most powerful mafia organizations in the world. In many areas within the former Soviet Union, anyone with visible tattoos is assumed to be affiliated with the Vory or pretending to be.

  • Star
  • Manacles
  • Epaulette
  • Birds on horizon
  • Barbed wire
  • Symbol of the cross
  • Crowns and rings
  • Scarab beetle
  • Playing cards
  • Cat
  • A cat tattoo represents a thief.
    • One cat = the prisoner worked alone
    • Multiple cats = the prisoner was part of a gang of thieves
    • A cat tattoo (think stealthy as a cat) is considered good luck for a thief
    • If worn on the chest, it also signals a dangerous criminal who hates law enforcement 

Playing card suits carry specific meanings: spade represents a thief; clubs symbolize criminals in general, diamonds label stoolpigeons and informants – and was probably applied by force—and hearts imply that someone is looking for a romantic partner in the prison, which may also be forcibly applied.

The knife through the neck tattoo, in Russian prisons, means the bearer is a murderer—and proud of it. Much has been written about Russian prison tattoos. If interested, you can find information specific to Japan, Australia, France, Italy, etc.

Street/Prison Gang Tattoos

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)
  • Mara Salvatrucha 13
  • Black Guerrilla Family
  • Red Blood Dragon
  • Gangster Discipes
  • Santana
  • Mexican Mafia
  • Mexikanemi
  • Texas Syndicate
  • Almighty Latin King Nations
  • 18th Street Gang
  • Sureños
Crips
  • Norteños
  • Texas Chicano Brotherhood
  • Border Brothers
  • Hells Angels
  • Bloods
  • Crips
  • Indian Warrior
  • Laotian Boyz (LB)
Common Symbols
  • Tiger
  • Spider web
  • Tear drop
  • Three dots
  • Five dots
  • Angel of death
  • Clown faces/masks
  • Vida loca
  • Barbed wire
  • spiderweb, typically representing a lengthy incarceration, is commonly found on the elbow or neck. 
  • Teardrops can mean a lengthy prison sentence, that the wearer has committed murder, or that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and the tattooed one is seeking revenge.

According to corrections1.com, “One of the most widely recognized prison tattoos, the teardrop’s meaning varies geographically. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities, but still remains a staple in prisons. Those who are newbies behind bars with a teardrop tattoo will make a lot of enemies, fast.”

Alternatively, Mental Floss says, “There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged.

Three dots representing “my crazy life” (vida loca) refers to the gang lifestyle, but no particular gang; typically applied at the corner of the eye or between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes three dots, like three crosses, represents the holy trinity of Christianity. 

Five dots between the thumb and forefinger represents time done in prison. It’s found internationally. Located elsewhere on the body, this design may mean association with the People Nation gang.

A clock with no hands represents doing time and a lot of it. Ditto watch without hands or an hourglass.

Barbed wire tattoos are fairly common and many have no specific meaning. Sometimes each barb represents a year served in prison.  On the forehead, such tattoos typically mean serving a life sentence.

Laughing and crying clown faces/masks often means “Laugh now, cry later” attitude of the gang lifestyle.

Gender As a Factor in Prison/Gang Tattoos

Although there is much online discussion of convict tattoos in general, most of the images shown feature men. From this, with an overlay of gender stereotypes, one might conclude that tattoos among female inmates are rare.  But I found one research paper to the contrary.

“This study confirmed that there is a high frequency of tattoos among female offenders, but disproved the hypothesis that the frequency would be higher and more aggressive among violent offenders in comparison to non-violent offenders. Based on these findings, non-violent female offenders were more likely than violent female offenders to have a tattoo or tattoos, to have multiple tattoos, and to have aggressive or masculine tattoos. However, offenders convicted of violent crimes like robbery and assault or battery had the most visible tattoos, primarily located on the hands, face, fingers, and wrists.” 

(Sullivan, Megan, “Crimes Committed By Tattooed Female Offenders and the Significance of Body Art Content and Location” (2011). All Regis University Theses. 48 (.https://epublications.regis.edu/theses/483

I found no indication that the images and/or their meanings differ by gender. 

And according to Wikipedia, “Forced and enslaved prostitutes are often tattooed or branded with a mark of their owners. Women and girls being forced into prostitution against their will may have their boss’ name or gang symbol inked or branded with a hot iron on their skin. In some organizations involved with the trafficking of women and girls, like the mafias, nearly all prostitutes are marked. Some pimps and organizations use their name or well-known logo, while others use secret signs.  Some years ago, the branding mark was usually small, only recognized by other pimps, and sometimes hidden between the labia minora, but today some “owners” write their names in big letters all upon the body of the victim.”

Bottom line: Tattoos can carry a lot of meaning. When deciphering that meaning, tread carefully.

TATTOO!

Quick: what’s the first thing that came to mind?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the 1963 film of the same name
Vladimir Franz, a candidate for the Czech Presidency in 2013

Last week, a woman said to me (approximately), “People  think permanent make-up is a new thing, but Cleopatra’s famous eyes were tattooed on. Soot was applied with knives.” I’d never heard such a thing, and I’ve actually been to Egypt. I always assumed her face was painted. As with anything that pricks my curiosity, I googled it. Lo and behold, it’s a much more complicated topic than I ever considered.

Bontoc Warrior with Chaklag Tattoos

Basically, any time an indelible design is created by inserting pigment under the epidermis, the result is a tattoo. Tattooing has been practiced in various cultures over centuries.

How Many Centuries? 

Ötzi the Iceman

As for bodily evidence of tattoos, for a long time the oldest known examples were Egyptian mummies, dated about 2000 BCE. However, Ötzi the Iceman, found on the Italian-Australian border in 1991, pushed that back. His mummified skin has at least 60 tattoos and was carbon dated a thousand years earlier, making him 5,200 years old.

This pre-Cucuteni figurine was made sometime between 4900 and 4750 BCE, with what look like evidence of cultural tattoos.

If one considers non-body evidence such as figurines and and paintings, then tattooing was practiced in Egypt in the Predynastic period, around 3100 BCE.

Tattooing Was Everywhere 

Moana was also the first Disney film to feature characters with tattoos!
Tätowierung Inuitfrau, an Inuit woman painted by Jens Peder Hart Hansen, circa 1654

The word tattoo started as the Polynesian word ta, meaning to strike. It evolved into the Tahitian word tatatau, meaning to mark something. As seen in the animated film Moana, these traditional tattoos were applied by means of rapidly striking a bamboo rod to drive an inked thorn into the skin.

A marriageable girl of the Koita people of Papua New Guinea, who had new tattoos added every year since she was five years old

In nearly every ancient culture, such as those in Greece and Rome to Native Americans, Japanese, sub-Saharan African, Australian Aboriginal, and Innuit, evidence has shown that tattooing was and most modern cultures tattoos were and are everywhere.

But Why Tattoo?

Preserved skin of a British military deserter, tattooed with a D
  • A cultic symbol dedicating the wearer to a specific god or belief
    • For example, Amunet was a priestess of the goddess Hathor.
  • As a brand signifying servitude/slavery/shame
    • For example adulterers marked with an A, T for thief, etc.
  • As a professional identification (e.g., prostitute, priestess)
  • As a permanent amulet seeking protection
    • Sailors having anchor tattoos or miners with lamps tattooed on their foreheads were trying to bring good luck.
    • The patterns of tattoos on Egyptian women’s abdomens and thighs seem to have been for fertility and for protection during pregnancy and childbirth. 
Japanese prostitute of the Kansei Era (circa 1888) painted by Tsukiok Yoshitoshi
  • Tattoos may have been a therapeutic tool, similar to acupuncture. 
    • The Ice Man had tattoos on his hands, lower back, and feet in areas that showed signs of stress damage.
  • As a declaration of group membership (think Marines, college fraternities, or Nazis)
  • As a visible means of intimidating the enemy (think Maori warriors) or showing bravery or success in battle
  • As a personal symbol of a meaningful event (e.g., birth of a child) or belief (sayings of Jesus or Buddha), or tribute to a beloved person
  • And, of course, as pure body art/decoration
  • Tattoos used by gang members and prisoners are often extraordinarily complex and will be covered in a separate blog post of their own.
    • The tattoos used by the Nazis in concentration camps were a form of branding, not in the same class as voluntary markings prisoners have chosen to put on their bodies for various reasons.
  • Tattoos to repair or restore
    • Today, plastic surgeons often work with tattoo artists to cover scars, burns, the effects of alopecia or vitiligo.
    • Many women get tattoos on their breasts after cancer surgery.
      • Along with her other artistic work, Amy Black (Pink Ink Fund) is a tattoo artist well known in the Richmond, VA area, for creating realistic-looking nipples or other art for women who have had cancer surgery. 

Permanent Make-Up, the Daughter of General Tattooing  

The goal is to look natural, or like externally applied makeup, enhancing colors on the face, lips, eyebrows, and eyelids. This type of tattooing (also known as cosmetic tattooing, dermapigmentation, micropigmentation) is also older than one might think.

Tattooed Eyebrows and Eyeliner

The first documented permanent makeup artist was Sutherland MacDonald, in the U.K. in 1902! His specialty was “all-year-round delicate pink complexion”—i.e., rouged cheeks. By the 1920s, it was popular in the U.S. The tattooist George Burchett wrote about beauty salons that tattooed women using vegetable dyes without their knowledge under the rise of “complexion treatment.” (Personally, I can only imagine that those women were willfully ignorant, given that tattooing is generally an uncomfortable procedure with visible aftereffects, such as temporary scabbing.) 

Mrs. M Stevens Wagner, 1907

As with all matters of fashion, popularity varies over time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of tattoos took a sharp uptick. According to one article (the guardian.com) in 2016, a US poll revealed that 29% of people had a tattoo, up from 21% four years earlier. Of people born between 1982 and 2004, 47% have at least one.

General Considerations 

Whang-od Oggay is the last Mambabatok (master practitioner of the traditional Kalinga tattoo method) of the Butbut people of the Philippines.

Do multiple tattoos create a different impression from a single one? And if so, in what way? What difference does the reason for the tattoo make? What about the nature/content of the tattoo?

But Back to Cleopatra 

Retrato Femenino: Fresco of a woman believed to be Cleopatra from a villa in Roman Herculaneum, circa 1st Century CE

According to accepted academic evidence, in Egypt—unlike most cultures—only women were tattooed. The tattoos most often seemed related to fertility and childbirth, or identifying the woman as high ranking. However, I found nothing specific to Cleopatra’s face. Bummer.

Bottom Line

Permanent body decoration serves psychological and/or practical purposes for the tattooed one. In addition, body decorations send out a range of social signals—intentional or not. Think about it.

WORDS FROM WAR

In last week’s blog, I discussed nom de guerre, literally war name, that in current French usage has come to mean any pseudonym. Like any other in-group, soldiers develop their own jargon—which often lingers in subsequent slang, often with a morphed meaning.

This blog will showcase just a few such words/phrases.

US Army poster from WWI (Gordon Grant)

A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Leave) Even before the Civil War, this meant a soldier who has gone off without permission. Now business executives, teenagers, spouses—virtually anyone—can be AWOL, pronounced A-wall. The unexplained or unexcused absence is often trivial.

S.N.A.F.U. (Status Normal: All F*cked Up) The Marines are usually credited with this particular acronym, which originated during World War II. There is some evidence that radio operators came up with the phrase to give humorous meaning to a commonly used set of letters from coded messages. In modern usage, this acronym has essentially the same meaning, lacking only the cynical mocking of commanding officers. (S.U.S.F.U. [Situation Unchained: Still F*cked Up] was coined as a follow-up, but it has largely fallen out of use.

F.U.B.A.R. had several variations of meaning, though “F*cked Up Beyond All Repair” pretty much covers it. Occasionally, it was defined as “F*cked Up By A**holes in the Rear” to express frustration with military command issuing orders from the comfort and safety of their offices well out of harm’s way. Like SNAFU, it originated as military slang during World War II, and it has retained its original meaning in modern slang.

Ambulance Dogs in WWI were sent with medical supplies to find wounded soldiers who could not be otherwise reached. They were also called Mercy Dogs because, very often, all they could do was comfort the dying.

Basket case is used in a fairly lighthearted way today (often describing someone who repeatedly makes stupid mistakes, or who crumbles under pressure), but it has a strange history. Shortly after World War I, rumors circulated of multitudes of soldiers who had been so badly injured that they had to be carried from the battlefield in a barrow or basket, usually having lost all four of their limbs. This belief was so strong that it persists in the public imagination today despite direct evidence to the contrary. In 1919, the Surgeon General of the Army made a public statement that this was not the case, and only one quadruple amputee from the war is known to have survived. Ethelbert Christian lost all four limbs at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, but he learned how to walk on prosthetics and lived what appears to have been a full and happy life.

Blue-footed booby
In Spanish, “bobo” is a clown or a fool.

Booby-trap has been in use since the mid-19th century for a fairly harmless prank or practical joke. A “booby” was used in English slang to mean a stupid or gullible person as early as the late 17th century. But in WWI, it morphed into meaning an explosive device deliberately disguised as a harmless object. The English journalist Sir Philip Gibbs (1877-1962) said, “the enemy left … slow-working fuses and ‘booby-traps’ to blow a man to bits or blind him for life if he touched a harmless looking stick or opened the lid of a box, or stumbled over an old boot.”

As a nickname for body lice or head lice, cooties first appeared in trenches slang in 1915. It was presumably derived from the coot, a species of waterfowl known for being infested with lice and other parasites. Today it’s a children’s term for an imaginary germ or a repugnant quality transmitted by obnoxious or slovenly people.

In the 19th century, dingbat was used like thingamajig or whatchamacallit as a  placeholder for something or someone whose real name the speaker couldn’t come up with at the moment. It came to be used for a clumsy or foolish person during the First World War, before morphing to mean shell-shocked, nervous, or mad. Now it’s used for a stupid or eccentric person.

In British English, “to be in a flap,” meaning “to be worried,” dates from 1916. It was originally a naval expression derived from the restless flapping of birds, but quickly spread into everyday English during the First World War. The adjective unflappable, meaning unflustered or imperturbable, calm in the face of crisis, appeared in the 1950s as a reference to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Son of a Gun is generally held to originate as a euphemism for the child of a military father away on a lengthy deployment (and thus somewhat suspicious paternity). In current usage, it is an epithet similar to “son of a bitch,” with positive or negative meanings depending on the speaker.

Brainwashing is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase xi nao, to wash the brain. During the Korean War, military reports estimated that 30% of American prisoners of war collaborated with their Korean and Chinese captors. To explain how this was possible, the media created the term brainwashing: systematic, intensive interrogation techniques and indoctrination procedures used by hostile forces to change allegiances of prisoners of war. The term gradually came to be used to label any change of opinion or allegiance—though it still implies unsavory, unfair, or unethical methods!

Skedaddle, meaning to run away or desert from military service, became popular during the American Civil War. Now it means to leave quickly or hurriedly, to run away. In true American fashion, the etymological origins of this word are a mix of many possible languages or perhaps none at all.

OMG (Oh My God!) is very often used as an abbreviation in electronic communication. The first appearance of OMG was in a sarcastic letter Lord Fisher, a retired Naval Admiral, sent to Winston Churchill in 1917, complaining about the number of knighthoods being bestowed upon Naval officers. It has become so common that people sometimes use it as an acronym when speaking aloud: “ohemgee!”

Kilroy or Kilroy Was Here might be considered a bit of visual military jargon that has made its way into common use. James Kilroy wrote his name on sections of Navy ships under construction to certify that he’d personally checked the welding. Because his name seemed to be everywhere, British and American service members took to writing it on every surface imaginable in Europe and Asia, most likely as good-luck totem. (The origins of the accompanying long-nosed, bald man are unknown, but it may have started as a British cartoon.) Kilroy is still one of the most commonly graffitied images in the world today, with or without his name.

Bottom line: Word meanings are fluid, so be aware of timeline and context in order to truly understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.