Friday, July 30, 2010

The History of Bubble Gum

Bubble gum was invented accidentally in 1928 by Walter E. Diemer. Here's what Walter Diemer, an accountant at the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia.  In his spare time, he tried out new bubble gum recipes.  Many of them.  But it was his very last experimental batch that was unexpectedly, incredibly different.

It wasn't as sticky as regular chewing gum and it stretched with much ease and great elasticity.   He looked around and spotted a pink coloring, the only one available at the Fleer store rooms at the time.   

At the age of 23, young Walter was excited at his discovery.  To test it out, he took a five-pound glop of the stuff to a local grocery store.  He sold out the entire amount in a single afternoon.

                                                                Original Wrapper

Fleer, realizing their accountant was on to something big, quickly marketed the new gum as "Dubble Bubble." To help sell the new bubble gum, Diemer pent hours training the salespeople on how to blow the perfect bubble so that they could teach their customers.  Dubble Bubble remained the only bubble gum on the market until Bazooka hit the market after World War II.

DUBBLE BUBBLE, the first bubble gum ever and a strong classic property is now owned under the Tootsie-Roll Industries umbrella of popular candies in the Concord Brands collection. The popular bubble gum and its other brands include Razzles, Tongue Splashers, Nik-L-Nip, Wack-O-Wax, Cry Babies and many others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Did Cleopatra Really Die?

cross-posted from

The story of Cleopatra's death, as handed down to us by her conqueror, is that she killed herself by means of a poisonous snake. According to Suetonius, the stunned Octavian summoned snake charming Psylli to suck the poison from puncture wounds found on her arm. Later, she was depicted in a wax effigy during Octavian's triumph with an asp clutched to her breast and contemporary poets like Virgil also alluded to the snake as the instrument of her death.

It could be that they were all wrong. As Plutarch eventually admits, no one knows the truth of how Cleopatra died. Strabo may have actually been in in Alexandria at the time of her death, and he suggests that she may have put poison at the end of a needle. But none of the ancients seem to have favored the idea that she gulped down a poisonous mixture in the form of a drink, so modern claims that there was no cobra and that she drank a poison concoction must be eyed with at least a little healthy skepticism.

It's become fashionable to challenge the manner in which Cleopatra died and also to suggest that she may have been murdered or forced to suicide. It's even theorized that Octavian sent Dolabella to the queen with an elaborate story about how she'd be dragged through the streets of Rome for the express purpose of convincing her that killing herself was the only way to preserve her dignity.

Adherents to these theories point out that Octavian was a master propagandist who wanted to be rid of the queen and was willing to lie about how she died so as to ensure that he'd be held blameless. However, it seems that historians ought to base their conclusions upon more than a belief that Octavian was a liar.

A living Cleopatra was an enormous inconvenience to Octavian. He was undoubtedly better off with her dead than alive. However, it's equally true that there isn't a single ancient source that accuses Octavian of having killed the queen or having encouraged her to kill herself. In fact, Plutarch tells us that Cleopatra was researching painless forms of suicide long before Octavian stepped foot in Alexandria. Moreover, we're presented by an undisputed claim that when Cleopatra was first captured, she was already trying to kill herself with a knife. Even after she was disarmed by Gaius Proculeius, the queen thereupon stopped eating and allowed herself to succumb to illness until Octavian threatened her children. All of this happened before the much ballyhooed talk with Dolabella, and establishes a pattern of suicidal behavior.

Finally, there is the matter of Octavian trying to revive her. Certainly, Octavian was not above play-acting, but this would seem to fit the pattern of historical sources that tell us the queen's death came as a surprise to him.

Like Plutarch, I'll admit that no one knows the truth of how Cleopatra died. But the preponderance of the evidence still seems to be that she took her fate into her hands and ended her own life...quite possibly with the help of a venomous snake. And for purposes of a historical novelist, suicide by snake was good enough for Margaret George, so it's good enough for me!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Pipeline

In my last posting, I introduced the concept of conflict and how a writer can't survive without one. In point of fact, each novel has many conflicts - some major and some minor. These drive the plot forward and make what we write interesting. Without conflict, there's no story. Want an example?

Go Fish

Take a short book that everyone read in high school: Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. You may have struggled to remain interested while the old man fought the fish. Page after page. That was one conflict: Man against nature. It was also man against himself: the old guy could have tossed in the hook, line, and sinker and decided to start out fresh in the morning. But he didn't.

Without that conflict the story would have read: "Old man takes young boy out on the ocean for a day fishing. Then they go home." Wow. Even Hemingway wasn't that sparse with the prose. With that in mind, let's go back to the Alaska Pipeline and seek conflict.

The Top Ten List

1. Michener would probably have begun with the creation of the universe, but we can start a bit later. Imagine the struggles the first explorers to this territory endured. Perhaps a fissure in the ice unseen by the team and which led to a difficult rescue of one of the essential team members.

2. The team gets lost in a whiteout and is in danger of death by exposure. Perhaps they find an ice cave but it's occupied by a rival team and murder and mayhem break out.

3. Once the find has been recorded, First Nations People object to the rape of the earth. Murder can ensue.

4. Environmentalists and oil company moguls clash over use of this fragile land.

5. Conflict arises within the ranks of the environmentalists over how to fight the pipeline.

6. Conflict arises within the ranks of the oil company over misappropriation of funds.

7. Two lovers murder her husband or his wife (or both)and use the setting to dispose of the body.

8. One of the team members is a deserter from a branch of the Armed Forces and success of the mission could expose his true identity. He works to sabotage the effort.

9. Environmental activists fight among themselves over creating a break in the oil pipeline to create support for their opposition to the project.

10. While digging for the pipeline, scientists uncover evidence of ......... (Fill in the blank)...

Just a few possibilities to mull over. Setting is so much more than time and place.

Friday, July 9, 2010


What's the Problem?

You might try to avoid conflict in your life, but if you’re a writer conflict is essential to your story. Without it you’ve got nothing. Blah. Zilch. Nada. The nice part about conflict is there’s so much of it about that you needn’t look to far afield to find some you can use.

Last month I journeyed way north, so far north that I managed to dip my fingers into the Arctic Ocean. That got me thinking about setting and that naturally led to conflict.

Driving from central Idaho to Prudhoe Bay is a journey of more than 3,500 miles and with each degree of latitude ticked off, the country grows wilder and less civilized. That’s a good thing to my way of thinking. Conflicts abound throughout the civilized or semi-civilized world, but once you get to meet nature in the raw, so to speak, conflicts become more elemental in both senses of the word. They’re more basic and they tend to involve the elements.

Back to Basics

Two basic conflicts come to mind here in the Arctic: Man vs. Man – although today that would also read Woman vs. Woman - and Man or Woman vs. Nature. Jack London used the latter conflict in the short story “The Call of the Wild” but the former intrigues with possibilities galore. Here’s just one.

Got Oil?

The Pipeline snakes its way from Prudhoe Bay all the way to Valdez, from coast to coast and bisecting the entire state of Alaska. Why? To feed the nation’s appetite for gasoline and other marvels of petrochemical science is the obvious answer. But the conflicts underlying this massive undertaking present a rich resource for the historical novelist.


I’m going to come up with a list of ten possible conflicts that could become possible story options. I’ll post these next time. In the meantime, why not come up with your own list and we'll see how they compare.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Classic Love Song

A lot of songs have been going through my head for the past week or more. Some of it is classical music but on it's face it wouldn't be classified as classical. Nevertheless, tonight I'm collecting them and storing them on my profile page so that they can live in a place where they can be remembered as classics and contrasted against other things that can be considered classic. They're also shared in this post as hyperlinks to YouTube. Right click any of the links and select your preference on how to open it so you too can experience the rendition of the recording.

One of the songs is by one of my favorite composers, Stravinsky! (No, but I can't remember his name right now. I'll say it in a minute.) "I Loves You Porgy," is the song. It's one of those classic love songs. The version that keeps going through my head is the very soulful one by Nina Simone. I found that one (actually, two versions by Nina) but I also found one version of it by "Billie Holiday. I Loves You Porgy

Now Billie is one of those singers who makes it difficult for me to listen to what's being sung. But people rave about her and her singing even now. (Her professional nickname is "Lady Day.") So I endeavor to listen and learn to appreciate whatever it is they're hearing and the concepts she embodies. Given what Bess is singing about, it seemed quite ironic that Billie Holiday should be singing that song.

She and Bess faced the same type of Sportin' Life who lured her down a dark, dangerous, and deadly path. Unfortunately, there aren't many who are able to travel that road without getting singed. Holiday became one of those tragic statistics of both the Road to Fame and the Road to Sportin' Life. It seems to be a classic story. But her quiet, innocent veneer was not a facade. It was more legitimate than anything else about her life.

What I saw as I watched the video was a woman who merely sang the words and notes, bereft of any emotions, bereft of any attachment to the meaning they hold. She was just quietly crooning a tune. That approach, however, was quite effective when I watched her sing the notorious "Strange Fruit." That song's theme is so horrific that most likely the only way to deliver it is with the same quiet innocence she employed. Anything else would be overkill. It has become a classic presentation.

Nina Simone's version haunts you. You hear the anguish, the woman's soul torn in twain for the man she loves compared with the man who brings her the symbolic love from which she wants to be torn.

Nina has two versions. One is from 1962 from 1962 which is an interpretation of not only Bess's song but a progression through several of the songs from the opera before moving into her love song. I didn't think I'd care for it. But as she moved into the close, it became a definite love song to Porgy, her strong vocals reaching out to her man as she promises him what she will do while they're together.

Overall, the version I still like best, the one that runs through my head tonight and is the symbolism of the dilemma that plagues Bess, is the one she sings in the single version (not the collage) of the classic love song to Porgy. I Loves You Porgy by Nina Simone It isn't Sportin' Life of which she sings, but what Sportin' Life has to offer. It's the craving that gets instilled in what he offers that becomes the irresistible magnet in spite of how strong her love for Porgy remains.

George Gershwin wrote the opera "Porgy and Bess," not Igor Stravinsky. They're amazing composers, each in his own right. While both are two of my favorite classical composers, they provide us with strikingly different perspectives of classical music as well as how it affects our thoughts and ideas.

I love diversity everywhere it's found.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rashi, an 11th-12th Century Talmudic Scholar

By Nan Hawthorne, Random Biographies

The author of the first comprehensive scholarly commentary on the Talmud1, and considered the father of all that came after, Shlomo Yitzhaki (or "son of Yitzhak") was a French rabbi better known by the acronym Rashi (RAbi SHlomo yItzhaki). He was born in 1040 AD in Troyes, Champagne. His father, a vintner, was his first Torah2 teacher, but on his death Rashi found other scholars in both Troyes and Worms. The tradition in which he studied was rich in understanding of the meaning of the Torah and Talmud, paving the way for his own works that are both profound and accessible to beginning students.

At 25 he moved back to Troyes where he was made a part of the rabbincal court and later named to head it. He established a yeshiva3 there in 1070 that drew many disciples. In 1096 Mainz Jewish population was massacred by members of the People's Crusade, and Rashi wrote several Selichot4 mourning the slaughter. In addition seven of Rashi's Selichot still exist, including Adonai Elohei Hatz'vaot5, which is recited on the eve of Rosh Hashanah6, and Az Terem Nimtehu7, which is recited on the Fast of Gedalia8.

Rashi died on July 13, 1105, and was buried in Troyes. The site was lost, but was again discovered by more recent scholars and now bears a memorial to Rashi.
Rashi's commentary on the Tanakh9 — and especially his commentary on the Chumash10 — is the essential companion for any study of the Talmud at any level. Drawing on the breadth of Midrashic11, Talmudic and Aggadic12 literature (including literature that is no longer extant), as well as his knowledge of grammar, halakhah, and how things work, Rashi clarifies the "simple" meaning of the text so that a bright child of five could understand it. At the same time, his commentary forms the foundation for some of the most profound legal analysis and mystical discourses that came after it. Scholars debate why Rashi chose a particular Midrash11 to illustrate a point, or why he used certain words and phrases and not others. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote that “Rashi’s commentary on Torah is the ‘wine of Torah’. It opens the heart and uncovers one’s essential love and fear of God."  Wikipedia13
His three daughters were also Talmudic scholars and married to the same. You can learn more in Maggie Anton's "Rashi's Daughters" trilogy: Rashi's Daughters, Book I: Joheved: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France, Rashi's Daughters, Book II: Miriam: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France, and Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France.

Glossary and notes

1  Talmud:  The collection of ancient Rabbinic writings consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara, constituting the basis of religious authority in Orthodox Judaism.  The Mishnah  is the first section of the Talmud, being a collection of early oral interpretations of the scriptures as compiled about a.d. 200.  The Gemara is the second part of the Talmud, consisting primarily of commentary on the Mishnah.
2  Torah:  The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  (Sometimes called the Pentateuch.)
3  yeshiva:  An institute of learning where students study sacred texts, primarily the Talmud.
4  Selichot:  penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holy Days, and on Fast Days. The Thirteen Attributes of God are a central theme throughout the prayers.
5 Adonai Elohei Hatz'vaot:  Selichot recited on the eve of Rosh hashanah.
6  Rosh Hashanah:  commonly referred as the Jewish New Year (literally translated as "head of the year").
7  Az Terem Nimtehu:   Selichot recited on the Fast of Gedalia..
8  Fast of Gedalia:  a Jewish fast day from dawn until dusk to lament the assassination of the righteous governor of Judah of that name, which ended Jewish rule and completed the destruction of the first Temple..
9  Tanakh:  Bible used in Judaism
10 Chumash:  a Hebrew word for the Pentateuch, used in Judaism.  (See Torah.)
11 Midrash/Midrashic:  a Hebrew term referring to the not exact, but comparative (homiletic) method of exegesis (hermeneutic) of Biblical texts, which is one of four methods cumulatively called Pardes. The term midrash can also refer to a compilation of homiletic teachings (commentaries) on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), in the form of legal and ritual (Halakha) and legendary, moralizing, folkloristic, and anecdotal (Haggadah) parts.

12 Aggadic:  refers to the homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in classical rabbinic literature - particularly as recorded in the Talmud and Midrash. In general, Aggadah is a compendium of rabbinic homilies that incorporates folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and practical advice in various spheres, from business to medicine.


Glossary definitions primarily from The Free Online Dictionary.

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