Archive for February, 2012

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  • February 23rd, 2012

A Dog For All Time


By Joel M. Vance

 Even 80 years after he was born, Jim the Wonder Dog lives in memory and print.  Those who knew him personally now mostly are gone, but this Llewellyn setter, by all accounts an exceptional bird dog, is remembered more for his uncanny abilities outside the quail fields.

           Still, his master (or perhaps it was the other way around) Sam Van Arsdale said he had shot more than 5,000 quail over Jim, a figure hard to believe—Jim lived a dozen years and that would have required Van Arsdale to shoot more than 500 quail a year.

            But what’s not in doubt are Jim’s superhuman abilities.  And “superhuman” is well chosen, for Jim, a dog, did things that humans cannot.  He obeyed commands given in foreign languages and he predicted the future.  Although picking the 1936 Yankees to win the World Series wasn’t much of a trick, given their abilities–but how many dogs were making predictions of any kind?

            Jim the Wonder Dog was from a kennel in Louisiana and came to Sam Van Arsdale as a free puppy, a gift from a traveling salesman who had stayed at Van Arsdale’s hotel.  The puppy seemed uninterested in being trained, but a local trainer said to him the dog had intelligence that seemed almost human. 

            Van Arsdale’s niece played with the puppy and said the little dog seemed to understand what she was saying.  By November of 1925 Jim was eight months old and Van Arsdale took him to the field.  Jim walked into a field and went on point—no fooling around looking for birds.  He seemed to know exactly where they were and he did this for the next 11 years.

            His other incredible talents became apparent when it appeared he would respond to anything Van Arsdale asked him to do: “Show me a black oak tree, Jim,” and Jim would amble over to a black oak and sit down.  Van Arsdale would write down a license number and instructions to find that car and tell Jim to do what the paper said…and Jim would find the car.

Van Arsdale ran a hotel in Marshall, and also in Sedalia.  It didn’t take long for Jim to become a canine phenomenon, the likes of which has not been seen since.  His puppies, three males, two females, showed none of his talents.  Van Arsdale kept all the puppies and turned down a thousand dollar offer for one—big money today, much less in the pit of the Depression.

            Talents?  Well, Van Arsdale could tell the dog to find a DeSoto (tougher to do today than it was then) and Jim would find the car that matched.  Could be a trick.  Perhaps Van Arsdale was giving Jim body language hints but if he was he didn’t know it and no one ever caught him at it.  


And how about giving Jim a task in Morse code, which Van Arsdale didn’t know, and which Jim then would do.  Or ask him a question in French, which Van Arsdale also didn’t know…and Jim would respond.

            The dog appeared before a joint session of the Missouri Legislature and pointed out people who were described to him.  A friend of Van Arsdale’s said, “Let’s see if he can show me the car in which I came from Jefferson City.”  Of course Jim did.

            Thousands of witnesses saw Jim perform mental feats.  “I don’t know the explanation,” Van Arsdale said.  “Some say it’s mental telepathy.  Maybe it is.  It’s certain Jim won’t make a move unless I know what he is being asked to do.”

            That’s puzzling because Jim did respond to those requests in Morse or French which Van Arsdale didn’t know.  It’s one of the few unexplained mysteries about Jim, beyond the biggest one of all which is how he did what he did.

            Van Arsdale could have made a fortune with Jim but chose to limit his exposure and never cashed in.  The New York Times offered to bring Jim and Van Arsdale to Washington to meet President Franklin Roosevelt, but Van Arsdale declined (apparently no one asked Jim).  Van Arsdale also turned down an offer of $365,000 in Depression dollars (today, millions) to take Jim on tour for a year.

            Werner Nagel, longtime writer for the Missouri Conservation Department, once met Jim and said, “He had strange eyes.”  A photo of Jim, looking sideways at the camera, would agree—Jim has the expression of something that knows more than you do.

            All things, good and great, come to an end and they did for Jim and this world when he quietly died on March 18, 1937.  (Will Rogers said, “If dogs don’t go to Heaven when they die, I want to go where they go.”)  Van Arsdale was devastated by the loss of his longtime friend who meant more to him than anything in the world.

            The story goes that Van Arsdale wanted Jim buried in the family plot in Marshall’s Park Ridge cemetery, but the cemetery authorities turned him down. So Van Arsdale buried Jim just outside the cemetery boundary in a specially-built casket…and the cemetery has expanded since Jim died in 1937 and the grave now is inside the cemetery, with a headstone reading “Jim the Wonder Dog.”  There often still are flowers, left by fans of the remarkable dog. 

            “Some people said I had a trick with the dog,” Van Arsdale once said.  “Was there ever a man who wouldn’t sell a trick for $365,000?”

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  • February 16th, 2012

I Hate Haters

 By Joel M. Vance

                The last time I experienced anything as malignantly hateful was at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1959.  The head Kluck ranted against Catholics, Jews and blacks with equal venom and a small boy in front of me projectile vomited, a truly symbolic comment on that sleazy recital of hate.

            What was I doing at a Klan rally?  Just seeing how the underbelly of America oozed through its disgraceful life.  I thought things had improved over the last 50 years…until I ran across the Facebook postings below.  I hesitate to mention that this guy is among my Facebook “friends” since I don’t know him and never heard of him until his poisonous tirade.  I often click “people you might know” to add them to my “Friends” since they might become buyers of my books, although after reading the postings below I doubt these folks could read.  Too busy feeding their obscene prejudices to read and maybe learn something.  The uncomfortable part is that this guy lives close to me.  The Outer Pleiades still would be too close, but he actually lives within a few miles.  I think there is a way to unfriend folks on Facebook and if so he and his grimy confreres are history.

            People who spout this sort of trash are fecal matter in the gene pool.   Too bad there is not some sort of cosmic sanitation plant to filter them out at the sperm and egg stage of life.  Here’s what I read, my stomach churning, complete with misspellings bad grammar and other indications of insufficient schooling:

            I hesitate to mention the guy’s name because I don’t need armed hatemongers lurking in the bushes outside our home.  Here’s what he wrote, unedited and complete:

Obama, Damn you to hell. You have no respect for our Veteran’s, Our constitution or any of our rights as free Americans. You have slowly stripped away America’s dignity. Well you have’nt beat us down yet, we will recover. I would proudly ride you through the gates of hell myself. For those that I offend, I offer no apology you can go to hell with Obama. Threaten me, unfriend, I dare you to come af…ter me. I will say the pledge of alligance with my hand on my heart and I will Pray out loud to God. I don’t fear the government or the corperate bosses. You will take me down, but I will not go alone. Let this be a warning to those that have threatened me, unless you are ready to die, keep hiding while you run your mouth. I will shoot to kill.

            Here are a couple of comments from his fans:

I’m beside you Jim 145 % He is a MUSLIM PUKE and in a few months the pile of shit will be back in the Ghetto where he belonds

Joe and I will supply you with the bullwhip to help you keep him in line as you ride him through the gates of hell!!!

And if that weren’t disgusting enough, the guy got 13 other people to “like” what he said and then posted a second odious rant



I think what disturbs me most of all is that the comment about supplying the whip is from a  woman with her photo holding a young boy.  It’s too late in her life to convince her that her attitude is contrary to every teaching of Jesus, that the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes are truly fine suggestions for decent living and that she shouldn’t pollute her kid with hate because the future lies with him and his peers and if they’re corrupted from the get-go, where lies the future?

This pustulant attitude is far too prevalent today when the country is divided along partisan lines that diverge from civilized disagreement to nasty rhetoric and virulent animosity.  Lynch mobs are barely restrained.  This guy threatens to shoot anyone who threatens him.  I guess I’d better start wearing a bulletproof vest. 

Most of the hatred is directed at our first black president, no matter how skillful or amateur the attempt to mask racial bias.  Presidents traditionally suffer cheap shots on a daily basis, but none has had to endure the slander and denigration that Obama has endured—with grace and Christian forbearance.  Yes, he is a Christian, not a Muslim, and yes he is more graceful than the clodhoppers who would cheerfully lynch him.

Code words hide what really is plain old Alabama Klan racism.  Obama is blamed for everything from the Bush-created economic backslide to adolescent zits.  He gets no credit from the haters for anything good.  If nothing else, these race baiters should be ashamed for dirtying the office of the Presidency.  Even at their low ebb no other President has endured so much unwarranted criticism.  Herbert Hoover presided over the worst collapse of our history, but no one suggested he be ridden through the gates of Hell.  Obama will have stopped two wars, one more than Harry Truman who ended World War Two with one bomb and Dwight Eisenhower who ended fighting in Korea.  I happen to think all three of them have done a fine job of bringing warmongers to their knees and saving the lives of America’s young men and women. 

Mr. Obama is a family man with two good kids.  So is George W. Bush, so is his daddy and so was Richard Nixon.  Doesn’t that count for something?  And yet both Mr. and Mrs. Obama are ridiculed by the self-righteous right.  Mr. Obama never served in the military and gets criticized for it.  So what?  Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson did, but never saw any combat.  George H.W. Bush was a World War Two combat aviator who was shot down and barely escaped with his life.  His son had a spotty record at best of attendance at his National Guard drills.  (When I was a battery commander I tried to send a persistent drill skipper to active duty but was overruled by higher-ups because his daddy was an influential local businessman—local politics emulating those on the national scene.)  George McGovern, soundly defeated in his run for President, was castigated as a peace loving anti-war dove…but was a combat pilot whose plane was shot to shreds more than once.  Didn’t stop the haters of the time from ignoring facts in favor of prejudice.

And how much military service have any of the three leading Republican Presidential candidates done?

The newest mantra for the right wing dimwits is Obama’s “war on religion.”   What an utter crock!   According to the right wingers Obama is at war, especially with the Catholic Church because the federal health care plan mandates that hospitals make contraceptives, i.e. birth control pills, available for free to those who want them.  Doesn’t mandate that they have to use them.  It’s an option.  To get bent out of shape about that is no more sensible than to say that the Obama plan covers amputations, so you must get one. 

Dumb, simply dumb….but you’ll hear Rick and Newt and poor ol’ rich boy Mitt hammering on that point all year.  They don’t have a whole lot more going for them.  Put them in a lineup with the Facebook hatemonger and you’d have trouble telling them apart except the candidates dress more expensively and probably have better haircuts.  None have much of a weapon on the economy, except to lie and say Obama has made it worse, all facts to the contrary.  They struck out on painting the President as a Muslim and a foreign-born imposter.  About all they’re left with is to smear him as an abortionist anti-Christ.  It plays to the religious fanatics who ardently believe that contraception is baby killing.  

If the bigots take over the country through a combination of lies and lynch mob rhetoric, I much fear the nation is teetering on the toilet seat, about to fall in. 


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  • February 7th, 2012

It’s Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be

This blog is an excerpt from a book on eggs which, so far, various publishers have, in their infinite wisdom, failed to appreciate.  But hope springs eternal, along with good omelets.  Enjoy!

By Joel M. Vance

             Anything that has been around a long time, no matter how common, picks up trivia baggage and the egg, which in one form or another, has been around as long as we have, is loaded with fascinating but ultimately useless information.

            Unless, of course, you’re looking for information that, at parties could make you either the most popular or the most avoided person present.  No matter how mystical or magical entire cultures have considered the egg, Samuel Butler, back in the 1600s, summed it up best: “”A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” 

            Butler also referred to something being “like nest eggs to make clients lay.”

            “Nest egg” as used today means a savings account (or in cooking to describe stiffly- beaten eggwhites into which the yolk is deposited for baking), but in the chicken ranching world, it is an artificial egg to encourage a hen to lay in a preferred nest, rather than in a hidden spot.  Doesn’t much matter what color, size or shape it is, as long as it is roughly like a real chicken egg—birds are not long on ratiocination—as Samuel Butler also said,

            One pigeon fancier experimented with different colors, shapes and sizes.  He first put black dots on the eggs, then red.  Didn’t matter.  Then he used other colors, applied in stripes and dots.  Same thing–pigeons accepted them as if they were real pigeon eggs.

            He then tried a white Christmas tree light bulb and a ceramic cylinder.  “They set it,” he said, “but with less enthusiasm.”

            Pigeons have brooded small oranges, table tennis and golf balls and quail eggs, as well as eggs from chickens and even a goose.  No wonder a cowbird egg doesn’t puzzle them (cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and then the young cowbirds throw the legitimate babies out of the nest)..

            The pigeon researcher said albatrosses will brood a milk bottle and recalled seeing a newspaper photo of a chicken brooding a nest- full of walnuts.

            Darning eggs are another egg-shaped device.  Drop a darning egg (often of wood) into a sock with a hole in it and it makes mending easier, either toe or heel.

            The egg world is filled with the kind of trivia that, at parties you can trot out and watch the crowd either hum with appreciation or stampede to the open bar.  If it’s a literary group, you can dazzle them with Shakespearean references

            There are few egg quotations, but Shakespeare  did write in A Winter’s Tale: “They say we are almost as like as eggs,”  Of course, if you consider the ostrich and the hummingbird, that simile breaks down bigtime.   Cervantes also used the simile: “He is like one as one egg is like another.”  But either could have said, “We’re as alike as peas in a pod,” which many have said.  Cervantes also adjured against keeping all your eggs in one basket. 

            The modern variation of the quote is: “Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket!”  And the corollary is that if you do put all your eggs in one basket…don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

            Robert Burton, who died in 1640, said someone was “going as if he trod on eggs,” which is the beginning of today’s “walking on eggs” cliche to describe someone proceeding very carefully.

Do any kids today say, “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” while making a running dive in the ol’ swimmin’ hole?  To be a literal rotten egg, of course, would smell really horrible, so a dunk in the swimming hole could only help.

            How about “egging” someone on?  Does it mean you throw eggs at them to keep them in motion.  No–the word is a corruption of a Saxon word “eggian” which means to goad.   Calling someone an “egghead” means he’s an intellectual, but it’s said derisively as if there is something wrong with being one.

            Richard Nixon called Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential opponent Adlai Stevenson an egghead, but in the long run it was Nixon who proved not to be all he was cracked up to be (sorry).

            Apparently “egghead” originally had to do either with bald people or with stupid people…or maybe bald, stupid people.  But it has come to symbolize an intellectual with his (egg-shaped?) head in the clouds.  Adlai Stevenson was bald, but far from stupid. 

            A couple of more modern philosophers, Ambrose Bierce, the irreverent author of The Devil’s Dictionary, and humorist Dave Barry, also have explored eggs.  Talking about “sacred” scarabs, Bierce compared them to “tumble-bug” beetles.  “Its habit of incubating its eggs in a ball of ordure may also have commended it to the favor of the priesthood, and may some day assure it an equal reverence among ourselves. True, the American beetle is an inferior beetle, but the American priest is an inferior priest.”

            Bierce also libeled a favorite egg dish, custard: “Custard, n. A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook.”  And he continued his egg philosophy, writing, “They say that hens do cackle loudest when There’s nothing vital in the eggs they’ve laid; And there are hens, professing to have made A study of mankind, who say that men Whose business ’tis to drive the tongue or pen Make the most clamorous fanfaronade O’er their most worthless work…”

            Barry invoked eggs while discussing the intricacies of fish sex: “…generally when two fish want to have sex, they swim around and around for hours, looking for someplace to go, until finally the female gets really tired and has a terrible headache, and she just dumps her eggs right on the sand and swims away. Then the male, driven by some timeless, noble instinct for survival, eats the eggs. So the truth is that fish don’t reproduce at all, but there are so many of them that it doesn’t make any difference.”      The description of someone as a “good egg” or “bad egg” goes back at least 150 years.  There are many references to people being bad eggs from the late 1840s on (and the phrase seems to have been common then).

            F. Scott Fitzgerald used the phrase “a good egg” in his 1922 novel The Beautiful and the Damned.  Next time you see the original King Kong movie, ignore Fay Wray’s screams and listen for a character to say, “He’s a tough egg, all right.”  As a teenager I was far more interested in hearing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer character describe the various women he loved and shot, but he did talk about “those two eggs” when describing a couple of lowlifes in Lonely Night.

            An English Web site, the Mystical World Wide Web (“”) has much good information on egg myths and eggs in general, including egg records.

            For example, an ostrich egg, as you would expect, is the biggest and strongest.  It can be equal to two dozen hen eggs in volume.  Crack a couple of those for an omelet and you’d better have Paul Bunyan as a breakfast guest.

            What is more interesting than the records is how they found out.  The longest distance an egg, presumably chicken, was thrown without breaking is 106 meters.  I doubt the egg was thrown in a gravel pit or the length of an Interstate highway.  Maybe thrown into a pit of goose down? 

            What group of eccentrics would gather to throw eggs and measure the results?  Who are these people and have we seen them on an old X- Files episode?  I would hope the same group (it’s daunting to think of more than one such gathering) dropped an egg 183 meters without breaking it.

            A couple of other records that I’d rather not think about are for the most hard- boiled eggs eaten (14 in 58 seconds) and the most raw eggs eaten (13 in 3.2 seconds, a terrifying image).

            In Europe and in Cajun Louisiana folks engage in “egg tapping” at Easter—basically pitting the strength of your egg against that of someone else’s.  The idea is to tap your egg against the opponent’s, breaking his but not yours. 

            Egg use in art was widespread in the early Renaissance.  Artists mixed a witch’s brew of ingredients to get colors.  Called tempera, the paint might have had egg yolks (the process often is called “egg tempera”), calves’ hooves, various oils, clay and various powders such as ground marble and gold dust.  The eggs, to provide the best paint, should come from “city hens” as opposed to those from the country.

            Presumably hens from the city were more cultured, perhaps taken to art museums where they could appreciate the exquisite application of their reproductive efforts.  Country hens, on the other hand, were accustomed to pecking in cowshit and could not be expected to appreciate Botticelli or Van Eyck, much less produce refined yolks for their use.

            Or am I making too much of this?

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