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In the past, I posted a series of short posts devoted to some of my favorite Christmas songs. I was poised to repeat that concept when two things happened: 1) I found out Christmas carols were banned for a time in Cromwellian England (mid-1600s) as 'pagan and sinful'; and 2) my friend Dan sent me a link to a Christmas song. After watching/listening, I wasn't sure if it was his idea of a joke, or he really liked it. So instead of another tired list of favorites, here's my list of songs I would ban if I were Oliver Cromwell. Shamelessly cherry-picked from many other 'worst' lists - The Worst of the Worst!

The criteria: I tried very hard to ignore the video and focus on the musical skills or lack thereof. Several songs on many 'worst' lists are not so bad if you don't have to watch the asinine video. There is one exception where the video just could not be ignored - see if you can guess which one. These are not songs I simply dislike. They are here because they represent a musical fail of epic proportions.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Joseph Spence

This video introduces Mr. Spence as a Bahamian Thelonious Monk. I am thinking more a Satan's spawn of Bob Dylan and Tommy Chong. Yes I know that is biologically improbable, but you get my drift. Mr. Spence: who on earth is 'Sandy Parr'? And why should we be concerned about his impending visit??

Have a Cheeky Christmas, The Cheeky Girls

I'm gonna just go ahead and free associate here: stripper poles butt cheeks hip thrusts freaked-out reindeer scrawny mail order bride kreesmas porn

I'll Be Home For Christmas, Jillian Hall

Sweet mother of pearl. This is one of those that you're not sure if she is spoofing herself, or she really is just that terrible and no one has the courage to clue her in.

O Holy Night, Steve Mauldin

Folks, if you are planning on your local church Christmas pageant as the first step toward winning American Idol, do us all a favor and PLEASE do not choose the Star Spangled Banner of Christmas songs!!

Jingle Bells, Ori Dagan

Going with Occam's Razor theory (the simplest explanation is probably the correct one): I think he was high.

Worst Christmas Song Ever, Kevin Mcleod

If you search the above song title on YouTube, you will get beaucoup hits. There are many pretenders. This one is the real deal.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus rap, names withheld to protect the guilty

Reprehensible and disturbing on many levels. NSFW. Ashamed I am even listing it, but it makes these others look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by comparison. Couldn't even get Blogger to post it properly!!

I had some problems with the audio on my laptop while researching this post. Originally thought it was old, overloaded, and overheating (kinda like me!!), but after listening to this mess, I think it was my laptop's version of dry heaves. When I started this project I thought it would be fun. But I honestly have to stop now. It is exhausting and depressing sorting through all the garbage that is out there. Kinda makes Mariah's Song That Shall Not Be Named look pretty good, doesn't it?


The Melungeons are described by those who study such things as a 'tri-racial isolate'. They're a group of people of different ethnicities who have intensified their bloodline by not venturing far from where they were born and raised. Before I started my research, I tried to recall where they tend to be found. Part of me thought somewhere in America, but I had doubts because that unique moniker had me wondering if they were of a more exotic locale, like Bulgaria or Peru.

Part of what drew me to this topic is the word itself. It looks intriguing, all those letters jumbled together in a unique way. And when you say it and hear it, it had a woven quality, meshing together very much like the ethnic origins of the people themselves.

The Melungeons are described by those who study such things as a 'tri-racial isolate'. They're a group of people of different ethnicities who have intensified their bloodline by not venturing far from where they were born and raised. Before I started my research, I tried to recall where they tend to be found. Part of me thought somewhere in America, but I had doubts because that unique moniker had me wondering if they were of a more exotic locale, like Bulgaria or Peru.

I was right the first time. The Melungeons are typically found in Appalachia where eastern Tennessee and Kentucky border Western Virginia. The 'tri-racial' term comes into play because they are theorized to be a mix of African American, Native American, and European American. They tend to have dark hair (often straight), dark eyes, and swarthy skin.

Not everyone agrees it is the African American and Native American cultures that are responsible for the Melungeons' darker physical features. Some suggest Portuguese, Black Dutch, Turks, Sephardic Jews, even Phoenician bloodlines may be responsible. Basically, if you were ever a sailor and may have shipwrecked on the Mid-Atlantic Coast in the 1600s, there is probably a Melungeon theory about you.

The simplest explanation is often the correct one, and the simplest is that early settlers who came to America as indentured servants, and therefore free people (as opposed to slaves), intermarried. Over time, their offspring became a challenge to identify precisely as one race or another. As time passed and laws shifted, claiming African American as your ethnic group became less attractive. When slavery became more widespread in the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere, it was powerful motivation for those of mixed race to self-identify as something other than African (such as Native American or Portuguese). Other laws and cultural conventions contributed to this confusion.

  • In some cultures, children claim the ethnic group of their mother, regardless of what their father contributed to their DNA. So a child of a white mother and a non-white father would identify as white.
  • Bureaucracy intervened in the 1700s for tax reasons, basically trying to close a loophole by insisting anyone of mixed race could no longer identify as Native American which left African American as the only other option. They got a higher tax rate on African Americans, you see.
  • Flash forward one hundred years when slavery was going full blast, and they put the clamps on self-identifying by requiring you figure out some math to validate your ethnicity. Anyone who was less than 1/8 non-white was allowed to identify as white.
  • In the 20th century, some states including Virginia espoused the 'one drop' rule, reversing the 1/8 standard by saying anyone with one drop of African American blood was considered African American.
  • On top of all this, add laws that prevented marriage between different races. Mixed race peoples often intermarried to punitive measures. It was just easier.

The people now referred to as Melungeons did not come to be called so until around the 1800s. The word itself has some mixed etymology, which is only appropriate. The phrase mal engin appears in a 16th century poem, translating to 'ill intent'. But I like this other theory better: that it comes from the Angolan word malungu or malungo meaning companion, often used to refer to fellow shipmates and seen in Portuguese records. This theory meshes nicely with the colonization and melting pot image of early America and therefore is my favorite. Highly scientific.

Members of the Goins family

The Melungeon culture is not something banished to a few posts online. They still exist in their corner of Appalachia. The surnames Gibson, Collins, Riddle, and others often can trace their lines to Melungeon origins. Family tree researchers generate many leads and interesting theories for your Googling pleasure. If you have relatives from that part of the country, you might have some Phoenician blood. Who knew?

This post first appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

I stumbled across this fun blog hop today while reciprocating a Like on my Facebook Page from author P.J. MacLayne. Who doesn't love a Top Ten list?

I've recently become obsessed with sour beers. Did not see that coming.

10. Trying new things - Some people find comfort in familiar favorites. Agree, but I love seeking out my next new favorite, whether it's food, books, sightseeing, or any life experience in general.
9. Problem solving - if it's broken, let's see how we can fix it! Yes, I am a DIY and HGTV addict.
8. Socialize with family and friends - this would've been higher on my list, but I'm an introvert, so . . .  a little bit goes a long way 😜
7. Yoga - one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2017 was to commit to a daily yoga practice. I had dabbled with it off and on for years. I'm happy to say I've created a strong habit, having missed only a couple dozen days since January 2017. Now I'm completely hooked and am in a terribly foul mood if I skip.

The Dala Horse
Available now in print, digital, and audio at Amazon

6. Travel - this should probably be at the top of my list, but factoring in frequency, it landed here. Hope to do more in 2018. Search this blog using the Travel keyword for more posts on this topic.
5. Create - holding a book in my hand that has my name after the word 'by' is quite a rush.

4. Computer - big ol' NERD here. Got into personal computers in the early days back when a TRS-80 cost $10k; been addicted ever since.
3. Movies (and recently, TV) - great fodder for character building and story arc. Joseph Campbell/Vogler/Hero's Journey acolyte. Looking forward to Frances McDormand (love her!) in Three Billboards. And if you want a master class on plotting, check out The Leftovers (HBO).
2. Read - have had my 'nose stuck in a book', as some unkind folk like to say, since I was able to put A and B together. Fiction and non-fiction alike. Just finished Beryl Markham's biography; going to switch over to fiction and read The Quick by Lauren Owen next. All recommendations gladly accepted.
1. Eat - is there anything better than a great meal with great friends?

Some very tasty Cuban food at El Siboney, Key West FL

Oh - wait - can I add another? I love good music. Gives me goosebumps.

If you want to participate in this hop, here are the rules:

1. Link your blog to this hop.*
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants' blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person's blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

*p.s. re #1: I lost patience trying to figure out how to get the code for the InLinkz button so you could add your blog link here. Visit P.J.'s blog and see if you can figure it out better than I could.

The birth of the automobile industry reminds me of other business booms.

Mr. and Mrs. Pandolfo show off their baby

Somebody gets a great idea, or has some success, and suddenly everybody jumps on the bandwagon, hoping to cash in before another fad takes its place. History, and lots of barns you see on American Picker, is/are littered with the carcasses of the cars that didn't make it. The Pan Car falls into this category.

The Pan Car concept was conceived by a fellow named Samuel Connor Pandolfo. As a traveling salesman, Pandolfo felt his ideas for making a travel-friendly vehicle would be a success. The Mississippi-born Pandolfo planned to locate his manufacturing plant in St. Cloud, Minnesota, northwest of the Twin Cities. St. Cloud had easy access to two things a car factory needed: plenty of iron ore to build them with (they don't call that area the Iron Range for nothing); and a way to ship them to market (via rail to the shipping hub at Duluth).

Pandolfo did a 1917 version of Kickstarter and hit the road selling inexpensive shares of stock to fund his dream. He threw the mother of all barbecues to celebrate the prototype - and sell stock. He tried marketing by mail - to sell stock. He sold a lot of stock (around $10 million by some estimates), but car factories cost a bundle to build and run. Between car sales and stock sales, he just wasn't able to cover his expenses. Some considered his business plan something of a swindle. (I feel the pain. Ask me about my shares of Excelsior Henderson motorcycle stock.) Some say Pandolfo was a victim of auto and other big business conspiracies to block his success. He was convicted of mail fraud and did some time.

I'm likin' the two-tone

Fewer than 1000 Pan Cars were sold before the factory was forced to shut down. Today there are only about seven Pan Cars known to exist. A dedicated group of Pan Car enthusiasts scours the nearby countryside in search of overlooked Pan Cars, but usually must be satisfied with bits and pieces which they have painstakingly rebuilt over the years. The Pan Car price started at $1,000. Today, if you could find one, depending on the condition it could be worth five figures. How much, I don't know. I'm in the process of reaching out to some folks who can give me a number. In the meantime, I'll continue to ponder on this flash in the Pan.

This post originally appeared in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge. 

Here's where all my time wasted spent playing Words With Friends pays off. Stumped for a topic for a troublesome letter like Q and what do I do - gnash my teeth and grub around in the closet for my hair shirt? Nope! I hit up the cheater Scrabble page and find a Q word to riff on. And this one is a dandy.

Scams via infomercials and email are just the latest iteration of snake oil salesmen/women. They have a fine tradition in print media long before the Internet came along. Preying on an unsuspecting and uninformed public is their stock in trade. Take for example:

I don't know about you, but I'm totally not wearing anything on my face that has the word 'toilet' in its name.

Decorative Page Dividers - ClipArt Best

And where was this little beauty when I was looking for a topic for P??

Decorative Page Dividers - ClipArt Best

Know someone who drinks too much booze? Get them addicted to cocaine instead!

Decorative Page Dividers - ClipArt Best

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'hat hair'

Decorative Page Dividers - ClipArt Best

So let me get this straight: it's advertised for a male condition; and, you 'buy it for your husband'? Genius! Probably comes in a brown paper wrapper to boot.

Decorative Page Dividers - ClipArt Best

I vote we bring back both the condition known as 'hysteria', as well as this cure for it. Are you with me?

I see quackery advertised every day online. It's a dead giveaway if they promise something in X number of easy steps, or magical results if you share with everyone you know. But none of them come close to being this artful, or this funny (even though they didn't intend to be).  Thanks, quacks, for the best laugh of the day.

Fun page dividers from

Recently we were at a sports bar having lunch. It was one of those places that has a bazillion televisions, all tuned to a different sporting event. I happened to be facing one that was showing a bull riding competition. I couldn't look away! It was fascinating. And I was fascinated by my level of fascination. Mainly for the bulls. They were real, and they were spectacular.

While absorbing this new experience, I noticed the poor souls responsible for making sure the bull rider doesn't get the phooey stomped out of him if he is thrown or when he exits the bull after his 8 seconds (which btw is about 7 seconds too long). They weren't dressed up as one might expect from the term 'rodeo clowns', so I did some digging.

Turns out they are called 'bullfighters' which of course brings a very different

Wait - aren't they supposed to be INSIDE the barrel? Click here for a great article on the perils of rodeo clowning

mental image to me. But they are indeed offshoots of the original rodeo clown, which debuted in the early 1900s. When they began, rodeo clowns were designed to entertain the crowd during delays in the rodeo action. Some wore silly costumes and incorporated physical humor into their comedy routines.

The role of distraction and protection emerged after about 1920 when bulls were introduced into rodeo sports. Unlike horses, who usually quit jumping and kicking once the rider makes his exit, the bulls were still a little salty, as they say here in the South, and kept twisting and snorting with blood in their eye like a bovine Tasmanian Devil. They're especially happy to keep stomping the stuffing out of the guy they just hurled to the ground. Enter the rodeo clown. Their job is to distract, and sometimes offer assistance to the rider to help him out of harm's way.

Turns out comedians/actors Chill Wills and Slim Pickens (shown here) spent some time as rodeo clowns early in their careers. Apparently he was one who preferred the term 'bullfighter'.

I wonder how that first conversation went, convincing the local comic to not only run through his rodeo patter, but also get in the ring with a literal raging bull. I assume there was a financial incentive. Turns out many rodeo clowns transitioned from rodeo competition to rodeo clown, because with the latter, they are at least guaranteed a paycheck. In rodeo, if you don't finish in the money, you go home empty handed.

There are usually two or three clowns on the job simultaneously. One is there to distract; the others are to help the rider. Over the years, they have come up with innovations to protect themselves. Legendary rodeo clown Jasbo Fulkerson (a fellow Native Texan, thank you very much) invented the iconic barrel used as a sort of rodeo clown foxhole. Many wear protective clothing under their clown costumes, padded like an NFL linebacker. And I don't blame them one bit.

It is tradition for the rodeo clowns to wear a specific style of clown makeup. White around the eyes and mouth; red on the nose. That's it, plain and simple. No feather boas or glitter for this crowd. The profession itself is returning to its entertainment roots. Those who clown are often separate from those who protect (the aforementioned bullfighters).

The Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs honors rodeo clowns

Click here to watch a short video of professional rodeo clowns in action

along with other rodeo stars, as well they should. If you're ever clicking around the telly and see some bull riding going on, check it out. Those clowns (and riders!) are all crazy, but I'm just crazy enough to want to watch.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge. 

Photo by Daxis on Flickr

My home town of Dallas, Texas often ranks high in those contests judging the beauty of the downtown skyline. I may be biased, but I agree. One of my favorite features is the Bank of America building with its stylish bright green outline. At the time it debuted in 1985 it was a bold choice, outlining the largest building in town in what one could describe, literally and accurately, as screaming neon. Many more buildings have sprung up over the last thirty-odd years, but it still easily holds its own with its distinctive signature color.

Technically speaking, the green glow resulted from argon gas, not neon. It was updated to LED technology in 2013, which gives the option of changing colors for special occasions.

The Bank of America building outline and others like it are the descendants of the original neon lighting. Neon gas was discovered in 1898. It was available in limited amounts until a Frenchman called Georges Claude figured out how to produce it in quantity. There are unverified reports that it was one of the wonders displayed at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, which I discussed in a recent blog post. One of Claude's employees saw the potential for neon in the sign business. Red neon advertisements became all the rage in Paris and elsewhere.

I won't pretend I have the mental chops to fully understand how neon signs work, but it appears to be a function of applying electricity to a glass tube that has been filled with gas. Originally, neon created a red glow. It is still used for red, orange, and some pink tones. Cooler colors like blues and greens are created using argon, mercury, and sometimes a special paint coating in the glass tubing.

America's first neon sign was initially thought to be commissioned by Earle C. Anthony for his Packard auto dealership at 10th and Hope streets in Los Angeles in 1923. Researchers have cast doubt on this claim, however. Regardless of its birth year, the Los Angeles sign definitely caused a stir, resulting in traffic jams as people marveled at the 'liquid fire'. Soon businesses nationwide were clamoring to install their own glowing letters.

Perhaps no city embraced the new colorful signage more fondly than Las Vegas. As

Las Vegas, where all good neon (and argon) goes to die

the technology advanced, blinking and waving and diving and dancing signs populated the marketing landscape. Even if you're not into gambling, it's worth a visit to cruise The Strip and bask in its neon glow. While you're there, give a nod to the noble gas neon - lighting up our nights since 1898.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge. 

It is one of life’s delightful conundrums that the most fundamental human truths are often found in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the pumpkin patch. At first glance, there is not much to learn from fields of curling vines and trampled squash. But in bucolic settings across the country each fall, the humble gourd reminds us that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

One of my little pumpkins with his little pumpkin

We usually get our holiday pumpkins out of the big cardboard bins near the front entrance of the local grocery store. This can be a time saver but is nowhere near as much fun as the pumpkin patch. For one thing, I find it very hard on the shoulders and back to rearrange a half-ton of loose pumpkins so that my children can inspect each and every one. “Just pick one!” I implore, but they insist they are looking for “the perfect pumpkin”. So I upend myself into the bin, legs flailing in the air like grasshopper antennae. I hoist gourds from one side of the bin to the other. Inevitably I cause a pumpkin avalanche and have to start over. How this usually ends up is I get tired of the whole thing and repeat, “Just pick one!”, the italics evident in my tone, and we go home with pumpkins that are almost perfect, but not quite.

Thanks to having out of town visitors one fall, we had an excuse to visit an authentic pumpkin patch instead. The day of our visit could not have been a more perfect Minnesota fall day. The crisp clear air dictated a light jacket; the brilliant sunshine, dark glasses. At this particular patch, the pumpkins lay scattered over a couple of acres of gentle hills. Pumpkins of every size, shape, and color awaited our all-knowing selection process. They clamored for our attention – a fetching turn of orange rind here, a saucily curving stem there. This was not going to be easy. As I accompanied my daughter among the furrows, this is how it went.

How about this one?”

No, too small.”

This one?”

It’s flat on one side.”

This one?”

I don’t want one with any green on it.”

This one?”

No stem.”

How about this one?”

Yes. That one looks great. Wait – it’s rotten on the bottom.”

And we would start all over again.

Over there is one,” was our mantra. Over there, over there, our necks bent at the same angle as when we hunt for shells at the beach. The next time we looked up from our search, we found ourselves on the far edge of the patch, led astray like Cortes searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola. At last, at last, we found The Perfect Pumpkin. It was of medium size with a goodly stem, strong enough and long enough to use as a handle. It was uniformly, yes, perfectly, round , that perfect pumpkin orange in color. Feeling pretty proud of ourselves, we cruelly detached it from its life-giving vine and retraced our steps to the entrance of the patch. We had not traveled five steps before my daughter spied another Perfect Pumpkin. This one was dark green with lighter green stripes, more tall than round and about the size of a small coffee can. So much for the 'no green ones' rule. Snap! went the vine and we added it to our small collection.

Back up the hill we went to pay for our treasures. We passed a young mother struggling to turn a stroller around on the uneven ground. Two very large (and slightly imperfect) pumpkins occupied the front and back seats; its intended occupants were nowhere in sight. We stepped aside to get out of the way of another pumpkin patch customer. She had large, space-age combination wagon-wheelbarrow contraption full to overflowing with at least a hundred pounds of pumpkin aboard. Definitely not perfect pumpkins, but to some people, size matters.

A young fellow of three or four years was in the process of educating his father in the pumpkin selection process. “Do you like this one?” the father asked, pointing to a traditional-looking specimen. “No, Dad,” was the reply. “I like the green ones.”

Behind the checkout counter, pumpkins lined a table awaiting the Pumpkin Shuttle. The Pumpkin Shuttle relieves one of the task of hauling one’s pumpkins over hill and dale, from the patch all the way back to the parking lot. I marveled at the variety awaiting the Shuttle. You could make the argument that the table should be filled with Perfect Pumpkins because of course all of the Imperfect Pumpkins would be left behind in the fields. You might imagine all of the pumpkins on the table would be of about equal size, shape, and color in order to meet the universal criteria of ‘perfect’. But of course, this was not the case. These pumpkins were a jumble - tall, oval, short, squatty, orange, yellowish, green, combinations of all colors, streaks, lines, stems, no stems. There was a Perfect Pumpkin there for every person who was at the patch that day. And of course, everyone was certain THEY had selected the Perfect Pumpkin, leaving the rest of us to settle for less. But I smiled at my daughter in smug satisfaction. We both knew the Perfect Pumpkins were going home with us.

The original version of this post first appeared in August 2011.

As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I was once watching them play the Detroit Lions. A win meant advancement to the playoffs. A loss meant the end of the season. It was a sloppy mess of a game for Da Boys. In the closing minutes, the Cowboys were ahead 24-20, but the Lions were driving. Defender DeMarcus Lawrence recovered a fumble.

If he had simply fallen on the ball, end of game - the Cowboys would have taken possession, taken a few knees to run out the clock, and headed to the post season. But Lawrence didn't fall on the ball. In his excitement, he tried to run the ball into the end zone a mere 20 yards away and seal the deal with six more points. Unfortunately, he was stripped of the ball and the Lions recovered.

Let's take a moment and consider this carefully. A rookie defender has the game literally in his hands, and fumbles it away with a rookie mistake. I suppose that's why they call it that.

No doubt Lions fans across the nation roared with glee at this moronic mistake. They had the ball back with plenty of time to score. They had a quarterback with a strong arm and perhaps a stronger will to win. By some miracle, they dodged the fumble bullet and had another chance.

But something crazy happened. DeMarcus Lawrence also got another chance. DeMarcus Lawrence also roared. Eight plays later, he stormed across the scrimmage line, sacked the quarterback, forced AND recovered a fumble. This time, he fell on it like all good little defenders should. Game. Over.

I couldn't believe it. True confession: I screamed like a girl. It was the talk of sports radio for days afterward, and good reason. It got me thinking: how often does a chance at redemption happen, with a positive outcome? I mean, every time any of us makes a mistake, our fondest wish is for a do-over. But do-overs are so rare. So I Googled. Nothing beats a great redemption story.

Browns def. Jets 23-20 1987 Division Semifinals

It took them two overtimes to do it, but the Browns cashed in all their redemption cards in this one. Quarterback Bernie Kosar had two interceptions to make up for. The offense wasted a chance at a game-winning touchdown due to excessive celebration after a pass reception that had put them within field goal range, and had to settle for said field goal. Kicker Mark Mosely won the game with a field goal in the second overtime, but he had missed three of five earlier attempts, including an easy 23-yarder in the first overtime period. The Browns had no redemption in the conference championship the following week, losing to the Denver Broncos in overtime 23-20.

Giants def. Cardinals 5-4 Game 3 of 2014 National League Championship Series

Outfielder Juan Perez tried twice and failed twice to sacrifice bunt off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate with one man on base in the 10th inning. Giants management basically said, 'forget the bunt - he's struggling' and dropped the bunt signal. Perez must have been very thankful. A few pitches later, Perez singled to advance the runner and of course get himself on base. The batter following Perez was able to bunt successfully, resulting in the game winning run. The Giants went on to win the NLCS 4-1 and the World Series 4-3 over the Kansas City Royals.

2012 Adventure Racing World Championships

That's Mr. Fa'avae on the far right

Okay, I admit I had to Google and Wiki on this one - never heard of 'adventure racing'. Teams of four compete in multiple stages of biking, climbing, kayaking and other somewhat extreme sports. New Zealand's Team Seagate won in 2012. The win was sweet redemption for team member Nathan Fa'avae. The previous year, the team earned a four hour time penalty when Fa'avae had failed to keep track of - oh, the irony! - a tracking device, leaving it behind at one of the locations early in the competition. That four hours made the difference between a world championship and a third place finish. Needless to say, the fellow made no such oversights the following year.

David Ragan, 2011 NASCAR Coke Zero 400 Winner

Ragan won this event at Daytona International Speedway just months after a rules penalty robbed him of a victory at the more well-known Daytona 500 race. He changed lanes improperly after a re-start. In NASCAR, that's all she wrote.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Man, that's a lotta corn

I'm currently working on a YA trilogy one could describe as Dystopia Lite. It takes place in a society that relies heavily on processed food (see what I did there?). Non-processed foodstuffs are illegal and are classified as controlled substances. It's an adventure/quest/conspiracy tale, very tongue-in-cheek, and I'm having a ball writing it.

Researching it has also been very enjoyable. Lord knows there's plenty of material out there. One of the most intriguing research threads has been about what I think of as The Rise of the Agricultural Machine, and why a huge percentage of what we consume, either to eat or to use, is made of corn or a corn product. But I digress.

The term 'organic' as it refers to food emerged in the counterculture era of the 1960s. It had been used earlier to encompass a feeling of more general opposition to the changes technology rained down on society during the Industrial Revolution in the early twentieth century.

Early Rodale publication

Health food guru J. I. Rodale was more directly responsible for using the word organic related to food cultivation. If you're familiar with the magazine Prevention, the surname Rodale may ring a bell with you.  He championed the growth and consumption of what we now think of as organic food all the way back in the 1940s. Twenty years later, his teachings caught on with the hippies. Flower children co-opted the term and the philosophy, combining it with what they were trying to achieve living in communes. Today we would call that living off the grid. Theirs was a sort of back-to-nature movement with the additional goal of sticking it to the military-industrial complex.

One of the things I love about writing fiction is that while doing the research, I inevitably turn up stuff from real life that is way crazier than anything I could ever make up. For example: the notion that organic food was considered by some as something to be avoided in the 1960s and 1970s, like we avoid letting our mouths touch the spout on a water fountain. Big government and scientists in the pocket of

The bounty available at the Dallas Farmers Market

Big Ag were very concerned that this new movement would erode their efforts in maximizing the industrialization of agriculture. They had spent a lot of money and scratched a lot of backs in Washington, D. C. to restructure government aid to farmers and reinvigorate foreign trade in commodities (mainly corn). They didn't want any disruptions and were probably mindful of the antiwar protests that had rattled the government bureaucracy and ended the Vietnam War. So they discredited the organic movement at every opportunity:

- In 1974 a kangaroo court of food 'experts' convened a panel on 'The Food Supply and the Organic Food Myth', branding the movement as 'dangerous nonsense'.

- Quoting from Michael J. Pollan's most excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma:

"Henry J. Heinz, Jr. branded the organic movement 'food faddism', and he wrote that its advocates 'are persuading thousands to adopt foolish and costly eating habits'."

- and from the equally excellent Eat Your Heart Out by Jim Hightower, written contemporaneously (1975):

"Agriculture Secretary [Earl] Butz . . . became almost wild-eyed in his assertion that the specter of organic food production promises starvation for 50 million Americans."

Why all the panties in a twist over a micro movement that had little or no impact on the bottom line of the 1970s era food business? Because billions were being spent on marketing as well as production. Butz's Machiavellian machinations were restructuring farm subsidies as part of a grander scheme to change the way the agriculture sector worked. This new strategy depended on farmers flooding the supply of food to get the price to consumers down to absolute minimum. And BTW the consumers they were trying to please weren't you and me - they were mega corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.  The food biz was very mindful of the effects of the Vietnam War protests and how powerful the voting public could be if properly motivated. They didn't want a repeat wrecking the demand side if the organic food movement managed to generate a 'mistrust' of the food supply.

by Sidney Harris as seen in Eat Your Heart Out by Jim Hightower

It is a great comfort to me, reading Hightower's book with forty years of perspective, that the organic movement has survived and indeed thrived since that time. There haven't been any food sit-ins or demonstrations or protests that I'm aware of. But people are voting with their pocketbook, and it's having an effect. Organic food still needs to overcome the stigma of being too pricey, too hipster-buying-kale. But the big food companies are taking pains to offer choices that appear to be healthier. Food co-ops and community gardens and farmer's markets are all the rage.  If you're not sure that's true, take a look at the financials for Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and Trader Joe's. The wheel is turning slowly, but it is turning.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.