Entry 829: We Are Family

According to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland, all modern humans descended from a single couple who lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. That was before Netflix, so the pair had plenty of time to screw around.

This discovery means that you and I are related. Even worse for you, it also means you are related to President Trump. On the bright side, however, you should be able to get a job in his administration.

The researchers reached this “common ancestor” conclusion by delving into genetic databases and comparing “DNA bar codes”– snippets of DNA that reside outside the nuclei of living cells. According to the Daily Mail article I read, the report suggests that . . .

“. . . it’s not just people who came from a single pair of beings, but nine out of every 10 animal species, too.”

If I’m being honest, I don’t quite know how to interpret that statement. Does it mean that all species originated from Phyllis and George (which are the names I’ve given to that original couple)? Did Phi-Ge (which is what their contemporaries would have called the couple if they had had any contemporaries) not only spawn humanity but also what eventually became, well, this?>>

Or was that original pair even humanoid? After all, it says “a single pair of beings.” Maybe Phyllis and George were a couple of sea sponges on date night.

Then I read a bit further and found some clarification:

“Stoeckle and Thaler, the scientists who headed the study, concluded that ninety percent of all animal species alive today come from parents that all began giving birth at roughly the same time, less than 250,000 years ago – throwing into doubt the patterns of human evolution.”

Ah, okay. So it wasn’t a single couple of anything. Instead, it was a Noah’s Ark* kind of situation, where you had two of every species and they all just started copulating like crazy at about the same time, like modern humans do during a power outage.

The reason that this is big news among those who care about such things is that, apparently, 250,000 years is not that long ago in the evolutionary scheme of things. The scientists were surprised that the common genetic bar code is so young, and also because it seems to trigger a sale price on fair trade coffee if you run it through the scanner at Whole Foods.

According to the Daily Mail:

“This opens up the possibility of an inbuilt human evolutionary process wherein we break down and die out, leaving the need to start from scratch.”

That is a frightening supposition indeed, because, at my age, I’m too old to start anything from scratch, much less a species.

Another interesting finding is that human DNA has a shocking lack of diversity. According to Jesse Ausubel, Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University:

“If a Martian landed on Earth and met a flock of pigeons and a crowd of humans, one would not seem more diverse than the other according to the basic measure of mitochondrial DNA.”

That doesn’t mean that Martians are idiots. Of course, the Martian would be able to tell the difference between a pigeon and a human, especially while brushing poop off his shoulder. It means that humans are no more different from each other than a pigeon is from another pigeon. It also means you may be able to use that same genetic bar code to save on kale.

What are we to make of all this? Well, first, we’re all much more alike than we are different, so we should stop focusing on our relatively small differences like skin color or state color. Instead, we should love each other, or at least each other’s mitochondrial DNA.**

And, second, just in case we’re nearing one of those periods when we “break down and die out,” we should begin looking around for a good couple to start us off again. I don’t think we want to leave something like that to chance. You could get people like these two rebooting the human race.

See you soon.

*My Noah’s Ark analogy may bring to mind other Biblical parallels. In fact, many religious scholars have been quick to raise the possibility that my George and Phyllis could have been their Adam and Eve. They can even explain away the time discrepancy that PhiGe lived between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago while Adeve, according to the Bible, popped up exactly 5,778 years ago.
“The Biblical calendar of 6,000 years does not relate to the beginning of species,” said Dr. Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jewish physicist. “All animals have a nefesh (animal soul) but only Man has a neshama (human soul). Homo sapiens as a species did appear about 100,000 years ago but they wouldn’t be recognized as a person in the same way that we are. They had a nefesh but didn’t have a neshama. In scientific terms, people, as Homo sapiens, go back 100,000 years. But the Bible’s definition of a person is different. It includes a neshama. Science will not see the break, the change that occurred in man 6,000 years ago when we received a soul.”
I guess I’ll just leave it to you and your neshama to decide what to think about that.
**In case you’re confused, mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) is not the same as your regular DNA. It comes solely from your mother and doesn’t do much to affect your various traits, such as hair color, height or, in the case of my family, fat thighs. I’m sure the diagram above will clear it up for you.
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Entry 828: How’s It Going? (Don’t Answer That)

The following actually happened to me:

A blonde woman in a bathrobe and slippers asked me how I was doing. “Just fine,” I replied, and, then, after a moment’s pause, added, “And yourself?”

“Wonderful,” she said cheerfully, and then got off the elevator.

You probably have a few questions right about now. I know my wife does. For instance:

  1. What was the blonde woman wearing under her robe?
  2. What was I wearing?
  3. What were we doing in that elevator?
  4. Is it important to the story that she was a blonde?
  5. Can’t somebody stop Donald Trump from tweeting?

The answers are:

  1. I don’t know
  2. A polo shirt and shorts
  3. Going down
  4. No. In fact, she was a brunette. I changed her hair color to protect her identity.
  5. Probably not, and why don’t you give up your Trump hating for a few minutes?

Allow me to elaborate on my story.

I was in Boca Raton visiting my dementia-ridden mother, which meant that I was in an even lousier mood than usual. Further, I was staying at a Marriott, a hotel belonging to a company which, just the day before, had announced a massive data breach so that unsavory characters were now in possession of my personal information, such as what I typically order from room service. And now, as I stepped into the elevator on the seventh floor, the aforementioned robe-clad woman stepped in after me and had the nerve to inquire as to the status of my general well-being.

She then got off on the sixth floor, as if she was a coed in a dorm returning to her suite from the communal bathroom, leaving me to ponder why people were wandering around my hotel in such a state of dis-dress. Perhaps she had been among the first of Marriott’s guests to have her identity stolen and the robe was all she had left.

None of this, however, has anything to do with the point of this sordid little tale, which is to ask this question: Does anybody really care about the health and welfare of complete strangers?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always taken aback when people I meet in passing, people that I have never met before and likely will never see again, ask me about my day. “How ya doing today?” “How’s it going?”

I never quite know how to respond. I understand they’re just trying to be polite or to appear amiable, but, seriously, go friend someone on Facebook and let me just get from the seventh floor to the lobby in peace. Don’t force me to have a conversation. Because I can’t just say, “Fine.” That would be rude. I have to display an equally faux concern for the other person’s status, which I have absolutely no interest in, particularly if they are in a hotel elevator in a bathrobe, because there may be a lengthy story behind their situation, something beginning with, “So I stepped out of the shower and realized I was in the wrong room on the wrong floor . . . “ (Actually, such a tale may have held some interest, but then I would have been left hanging when she got off on six.)

Often after such encounters (always after the fact because I would never have the nerve to actually do this), I think about alternate responses that could have let me exact my revenge on the offending party who had asked for personal information such as how I was doing. “Well, not so well,” I could have said, “I’m here to see my mother who has no mind but yet is in no immediate danger of dying, and I have to endure a day of chauffeuring her around to Walmart and such while listening to her say the same things over and over as if she’s on some kind of recorded loop, and Marriott lost my data, and while it’s nice that you can watch Netflix on the TV in your room, the last people never erased their logons so, rather than spend a half-hour inputting my own b y pointing to one letter at a time, I just used theirs, but it must have been some five year old kid, because all Netflix is recommending is cartoons.*”

Maybe a response like that would cure people from caring about strangers.

Especially when, after a moment’s pause, I added, “And, really, don’t tell me how you’re doing.”

What can I say? I find pleasantries annoying.

See you soon.

*This is also true. But to show you what a nice guy I am, I resisted the urge to watch the raciest programming I could find on Netflix just so the kid’s parents would get fairly concerned the next time the kid logged on and that show appeared under “Continue Watching.”
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Entry 827: Today’s Special–Tuna, Just $4,900/lb

By now you’ve probably heard about the big auction news of last week.

The sale did not occur at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. It did not involve a David Hockney painting selling for $90 million or a pair of Hitler’s underwear selling for $7 thousand (plus laundry bills).

Instead, the auction took place at the Tsukiji fish market in Japan, and the item in question was a bluefin tuna. The winning bidder was restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura, who obviously has a yen for tuna. Actually, he has 333.6 million yen, because that’s what this tuna cost. In real money, that’s about three million dollars.

There are three possible reasons why Mr. Kimura would pay $4,900 a pound–more than 100 times the market rate–for this fish:

  1. He is very competitive. He once held the record for most expensive tuna, but lost his title last year when a different lunatic restaurant owner outbid him.
  2. He is a good PR man. The self-labeled “King of Tuna” owns the Sushi Zanmai chain of restaurants, which gets a tremendous amount of press from these purchases. People will assume that the 613-pound behemoth (that’s the tuna, not Kimura) must be of the best possible quality to command such a price, and assume the rest of the fish sold at Sushi Zanmai is equally tasty.
  3. He is insane. This may be evidenced by his comment to the press. “It’s a good tuna,” he said with a smile. “But I think I paid too much.”

By sheer coincidence, the same day as the auction, my family dined out at our favorite sushi restaurant here in Connecticut, Little Tokyo, where Henry, the owner, always greets us warmly, if incomprehensibly. Henry does not even bother to give us menus; he just brings stuff out, dish after dish, until we tell him to stop. I looked at a piece of Henry’s tuna sushi (which is super fresh and delicious, although not blue of fin) and wondered how many of them he could get from a 613-pound fish.

I Googled it when we got home. The answer is more than 12,000 pieces, assuming none of the meat is used in something like a “Dancing Tuna Roll.” Which means that Kimura would have to charge about $250 a piece just to break even . . . but only if he charged extra for the wasabi and the soy sauce and the rice the tuna was sitting on (unless he served it as sashimi).

The sad thing is, while about a quarter of the world’s population can’t even afford a can of StarKist, I’m sure there’s no shortage of tuna connoisseurs who would pay $250 for a bite of overpriced bluefin.

Not that I have $3 million to spend, but I just can’t fathom paying that much for something that must be immediately consumed. I mean, I think it’s nutty enough to shell out, say, half a million dollars on a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 (the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold). But at least you can put it in your cellar, and show it to friends, and keep it and cherish it until it goes bad. And even then, you still have the souvenir bottle so you can prove that, while you may be crazy, you’re also wealthy.

You can’t do that with a fish. All you’ve got left when it’s gone is the ability to show people the bone you nearly choked to death on.

The only way a fish can be worth $3 million is if you can carry it around in a box while you navigate a river blindfolded with two young children and know that the tuna will warn you if there are any monsters ahead.*

Meanwhile, to demonstrate how stupid this whole thing really is, I happen to know of a giant bluefin tuna that was available for a much cheaper price.

It was free.

Specifically, this was the fish that washed up on Bea Sand Beach in Scotland. And that wasn’t even a rare occurrence; three huge bluefins showed up in Scotland last year, having evidently perished in their attempts to escape from deranged Japanese restaurateurs.

I understand, of course, that the Scottish tuna wouldn’t do Kiyoshi Kimura any good since . . .

  • They weren’t fresh-caught. They were dead-found.
  • They were found in Scotland, so they could only be used in haggis.

But I still think I’d feel pretty lousy if I just paid $3 million for something that other people found laying around on a beach.

See you soon.

*If you don’t get this reference, you don’t know about the hottest movie on Netflix.
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Entry 826: Heading in the Right Direction

Great news, everybody!

I’m here today to announce the breakthrough that regular readers of this blog have been anticipating for over five years.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has done it!

I introduced you to Dr. Canavero way back in June of 2013, when he suggested that it might be theoretically possible to transplant a human head, presumably onto another human, as opposed to a comically redesigned table lamp.

I’ve checked in with him twice since then. In 2015, he announced that he had invented the substance that would make such an operation possible, namely glue (seriously). Two years later, Canavero had found a partner (a Chinese doctor named Dr. Xiaoping Ren) who had managed to transplant a mouse head onto a rat’s body . . . without first removing the rat’s head.

Then, undaunted by the sight of the two-headed ratmouse (which, fortunately, died almost immediately), a Russian computer scientist named Valery Spiridonov, who is confined to a wheelchair with Werdnig-Hoffman disease, volunteered to be the first human body recipient. All they needed was a brain-dead body onto which they could stick Spiridonov’s head instead of (and this needed to be specified given Xiaoping Ren’s previous work), not in addition to, the head that was there. (Unfortunately, this meant there would be no double-headed triple features, with the third movie “based on a true story.”)

Canavero said at the time that the human head transplant would occur before the end of that year, which was 2017. And, sure enough, it happened, although the patient, who ended up not being Spiridonov, did end up dead.

To be fair, I should mention that the patient started out that way, since the procedure was performed on a cadaver.

Still, the operation took 18 hours, and that was without having to deal with many of the details that would normally be involved, such as anaesthesia and, you know, keeping the patient alive.

Nevertheless, Canavero claims that the experiment showed it was possible to sever a head and then reconnect the nerves, spinal cord, and blood vessels. Why a live person would want to have that done is anybody’s guess, unless they had been accused of not having their head on straight. Canavero says that chopping off a dead person’s head and gluing it back on qualifies as a transplant. But how can it be a transplant if they just stuck the head back on the same body it came from? That’s like somebody who is not very handy (me, for instance) taking off a switch plate, soldering some wires together and screwing the same plate back on. That operation might take 18 hours, too, if I was the one doing it.*

And, in both cases, it’s unlikely the lights would come on after the procedure.

Plus, with a cadaver, how do you know if you connected the wires correctly, or if it’s okay if one of them is hanging loose when you’re done, or if the operation is ultimately going to result in a massive fire that destroys your house? How can you tell if the head would have been rejected if it was glued onto a body that was not the one it came from? And if the patient is already dead, who the hell are you going to bill for the operation?

In any case, Canavero now says that a head transplant on a live human is “imminent,” although the recipient of the body still won’t be the wheelchair-bound Spiridonov, who has taken himself out of the running (so to speak). He has a wife and child now, and doesn’t want to take the chance.

In other words, he has quit while he’s a head.

Instead, it’s likely the first transplant will be carried out on someone from China, where a large number of volunteers have allegedly already come forward, and where Dr. Xiaoping Ren practices, and where either doctor is less likely to be arrested or institutionalized. Also, if the operation fails there, the body can go on tour in one of those traveling “The Bodies” exhibits which provide steady income for Chinese corpses, unless there is now a U.S. tariff on such things.

Whether or not Canavero is ever successful or if his patient just ends up running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I’d like to thank him for providing material for four blog posts now. But I have to say, it may be time to bring this saga to an end, because I’m kinda running out of “head” puns.

See you soon.

*Would soldering even be involved in such an operation?
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Entry 825: Going Dutch

Today I’d like to call your attention to a story which, at first glance, seems to be about a frivolous legal case. It also seems that way at second and third glance, but when you get down to about seventh glance, it raises an interesting question.

A Dutch man named Emile Ratelband has been denied a request to legally change his birth certificate. No, he wasn’t trying to change his name (perhaps to something that doesn’t sound as if it’s a baby rock group). He was trying to change his birth date.

Specifically, he wanted his birth certificate to say he was born in 1969. Instead of 1949.

And while many of us might like to be able to say we were born during Woodstock (“yeah, right when Joe Cocker was singing ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’”), that was not why Mr. Ratelband wanted to alter his year of birth. “When I’m on Tinder,” he said, “and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”

I haven’t read Emile’s Tinder profile, but assuming the lack of response is not due to him pointing out what a lovely face he has, one has to wonder why he doesn’t do what I assume everyone else does on Tinder: lie.

I guess he’s to be admired. He’s unforgivably egotistical, ladies (or guys–he didn’t specify), but at least he’s honest. He’d rather have his birth certificate do his lying for him.

Evidently Ratelband, who is an entrepreneur and “self-help guru,” feels that his wealth alone is not enough to offset his age. And he feels entirely justified in claiming he is 49. “I have done a check-up and what does it show? My biological age is 45 years,” he said. He then revealed that his desire to be younger goes beyond hooking up. “When I’m 69, I am limited. If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work.”

Allow me to pause now in relating Emile‘s tale to ask three important questions.

  1. I’m admittedly unfamiliar with Dutch laws, but are people over 65 only allowed to drive Toyota Avalons and Ford Crown Victorias?
  2. If Emile can’t buy a new house at age 69, does that mean he has to rent at the senior community?
  3. Could it be that his less-than-desired workload is not to due his age, but because prospective employers are intimidated by his wonderful face?

In pursuing his goal of becoming younger on paper, Ratelband made a critical error. He filed his case in the Netherlands rather than in America, where our crack legal system might have actually considered his request. A Dutch judge, however, shot him down quicker that you can slip into a pair of wooden shoes. “Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” a court in the Netherlands city of Arnhem said, presumably in Dutch. “But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

Duh.

Okay, so that concludes the frivolous part of this post. Now we come to the interesting part. Ratelband has gone to the media claiming that his case is similar to those who get their gender changed. He has stated: “I say it’s comparable because it has to do with my feeling, with respect about who I think I am, my identity.”

Gender identity is sort of a pet topic of mine, probably because I don’t like change unless it involves the personality and/or legal status of the current President (of the U.S., not the Netherlands). I was comfortable with the two genders we had when I was growing up, and I’m afraid I’ve had a knee jerk reaction to there being seemingly dozens of choices now. Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t matter to me how someone identifies, as long as I don’t have to be involved. And frequently, I do. Well, not necessarily me personally, but the societal “me.” I’ve written many times about the contortions our society has had to go through for the sake of gender fluidity, whether it’s deciding which pronouns to use, configuring public bathrooms, or accommodating trans men at all-women colleges (and vice versa).

It can’t be denied that, in America, we have decided to go along with this to a point, at least in the more progressive parts of the country. In my state, Connecticut, for instance, you can, in fact, change the gender on your birth certificate if you provide “. . . an affidavit from a physician, advance practice registered nurse, or psychologist, that the registrant has undergone surgical, hormonal or other treatment clinically appropriate for the purpose of gender transition.”

Is that really so far away from our youthful Dutchman having his doctor proclaim a biological age of 45? Is Ratelband identifying as a middle-aged man any different than a middle-aged man identifying as a middle-aged woman?

Does what at first through sixth glances seem like a silly request, suddenly start sounding more rational?

There’s no easy answer to any of this. I was going to say that a birth certificate is a matter of historical record, and that the fact that John is now Jane doesn’t change the fact that she was John when he was born (damn those pronouns!). Even when a basketball player changes his name from Ronald William Artest Jr. to Metta World Peace, it’s okay if current documents like his driver’s license and passport say Peace but I don’t think his birth certificate should imply that his parents were crazy people.

But even a simple name change doesn’t really stand up to the Dutch judge’s ruling. By changing his name, hasn’t Peace caused “years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships?” What about Peace’s ex-wife, Kimsha Artest? What about his prior, non-Peace-ful domestic violence conviction?

Any thoughts, readers? I should point out that I, for one, have no interest in making myself younger. I’m just about to finally go on Medicare!

See you soon, whoever and whatever you are.

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Entry 824: New Year’s Sieve

Various media have been in their annual frenzy all month, looking back at 2018 and wondering how we survived yet another year despite the fact that, well, you know.

And while I don’t have nearly enough followers to be considered a media, I thought I’d take this opportunity to recall some 2018 events that have fallen through the cracks. They got our attention for a little while, a day or two perhaps, but then they slipped our minds, so that when I mention them now, your reaction is likely to be, “That was this year? Whatever happened with that?”

For instance . . . .

•Remember when President Trump met with Kim Jong-un about denuclearization? So are the nukes gone or not? Whatever happened with that?

•Remember when Trump spoke at the UN General Assembly and got laughed at and you were so proud at that moment to be an American?

•Remember on Valentines Day when all those kids got shot in Parkland FL and there were all those marches and walk-outs and protests? Do you remember the names of any of the students who were all over the news in the days and weeks afterward, like the two at right? Did we ever get any gun laws? (We finally just got a bump stock ban–as a reaction to last year’s Las Vegas shootings. So now regular guns can’t be turned into automatic weapons, but you can still just buy an automatic weapon.)

•Remember when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement? What’s up with their nukes?

•Remember when Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent in England and everybody figured Vladimir Putin was behind it? Did they ever confirm that, or do they now think they were murdered by the Saudi Crown Prince, who seems like he’s getting blamed for everything lately?

•Speaking of Saudi Arabia, remember in April when the first movie theater opened there since 1983? And remember in June when women were allowed to drive there? Are Saudi women driving to the movies now? Are they seeing Crazy Rich Arabs? Was the new Robin Hood movie so bad that they closed all the theaters again? Are there more or fewer motor vehicle accidents now?

•Remember when it was decided that all of North America would host the World Cup in 2026? Did anyone figure out how the teams would get around the wall that the U.S. is going to build on the border of Mexico? Will the climate be too hot for soccer in eight years?

•Remember when the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council? Did anyone lose any rights? What does that council do, anyway?

•Remember when Eritrea and Ethiopia officially declared an end to their 20-year conflict? Yeah, me neither. And if you lived in Eritrea, wouldn’t you want to move to a country that didn’t sound like a stomach problem?

•Remember when Mars got closer to Earth than it’s been in 15 years? Did you see it? Did it go away again?

•Remember when Trump didn’t go to a World War I memorial because it was raining? No? Jeez, it was just last month. Did it ever stop raining? Did Trump ever let Melania get under his umbrella?

•Remember when net neutrality ended in June? Whatever happened with that?

•Remember the blue wave we were looking forward to? Did we get our feet wet? Whatever happened with that?

•Do you remember when “Mini-Me” Verne Troyer died? Maybe you do. But do you remember when Jerry Maren died? He was the last living munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. Did anyone look into why small actors are dying? Is Tom Cruise okay?

•Remember the Olympics? Can you name anybody who won a medal? Do you even remember where they were held? How can we forget an entire Olympics?

•Remember when everybody got text alerts from President Trump? Did anybody take any action? Did Trump simply mis-tweet? Did the world end?

•Remember those kids who were trapped in a cave in Thailand? Did we ever find out what they were doing in there? And remember how Elon Musk got in trouble with that for some reason? Whatever happened with that?

•Remember Stormi Webster? No, not that Stormy. Stormi Webster is Kylie Jenner’s baby, whose photo (right) became the most liked picture in Instagram’s history. And yet you already forgot about her. How horrible is it that she used up her 15 minutes of fame before she was even a year old?* (For that matter, can anyone explain why all her relatives are still famous . . . or were famous in the first place?)

•And speaking of babies, do you remember when Sydney Grace Krupp was born? You’d better– she’s my granddaughter!

“Happy New Year,” says Syd, pictured at left, to which I add, “See you soon.”

*Did you remember that 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s comment, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”?

 

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Entry 823: United Songs of America

Here’s a trivia question for you: what do Abraham F. Frankenstein, Walter “Clyde” Orange, Lenny Gomulka, Wallis Willis, Pee Wee King, Governor Jimmie Davis, John Denver, Arlo Guthrie and Mrs. Edna Gockel Gussen have in common?

The answer is: they have all composed official state songs.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Seriously–Abraham F. Frankenstein? What state did he write the song for, Transylvania?”

Well, believe it or not, the state in question is California, and Abraham Franklin Frankenstein was, in fact, the composer of the music for “I Love You, California.” Frankenstein was, at the time, conductor of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra in L.A., and he was the cousin of the San Francisco Chronicle’s music and art critic, Alfred V. Frankenstein of the Northern California Frankensteins, but he was in no way related to Boris Karloff of the Universal Pictures Frankensteins. Suffice it to say there were enough Frankensteins wandering around California in the first third of the 20th century to make the villagers fire up their torches.

Perhaps the most appropriately-titled state song is Florida’s which is, I swear, “Old Folks at Home.” While you may not be familiar with that title (unless you live in Florida), you probably are familiar with its opening lyrics, which are “Way down upon de Swanee Ribber/Far, Far away.” And, yes, the lyrics do say “Ribber,” not “River,” because “Old Folks at Home” was originally written by Stephen Foster as a minstrel song to be sung by white entertainers in black face with an exaggerated “slave dialect.” (The rest of the first verse is “Dere’s wha my heart is turning ebber/Dere’s wha de old folks stay.”)

“Old Folks at Home” was a major hit for the Old Christy Minstrels in 1847, although back then they were just the Christy Minstrels (actually Christy’s Minstrels) because the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group who could not possibly have been further away from being black face performers, didn’t come along until the 1960s.

Florida adopted the tune as its official song in 1935 (“Swanee” refers to the Suwanee River, which flows from Georgia into Florida), and it wasn’t until 2008 that folks in the Sunshine State decided that their official song, which contained lyrics like “Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary” might be overdue for a rewrite.

Stephen Foster also wrote “My Old Kentucky Home,” the state song of Texas (just kidding). He’s one of two composers who wrote the state songs of two different states, the other being John Denver, who wrote “Rocky Mountain High” (Colorado) and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (West Virginia) before crashing his plane in Abe Frankenstein’s state.

New York’s state song is not, as you might expect, “New York, New York.” Or even “New York State of Mind.” No, the majestic Empire State adopted instead an advertising jingle, “I Love New York,” from a 1970’s tourism campaign. It was written by Steve Karmen, whose greatest hits include “Hershey’s, the Great American Chocolate Bar” and “Weekends Were Made for Michelob.”

If you’re wondering about the aforementioned Mrs. Edna Gockel Gussen, she put music to a poem by Julia Tutwiler (pictured, and somehow looking like her poem) and it became the state song of Alabama. The lyrics sound like someone in a Bible study group describing a vacation:

Broad thy stream whose name thou bearest;
Grand thy Bigbee rolls along;
Fair thy Coosa-Tallapoosa
Bold thy Warrior, dark and strong,
Goodlier than the land that Moses
Climbed lone Nebo’s Mount to see,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

Louisiana has two state songs, one of which is “You Are My Sunshine.” The music for that was written by a former governor, Jimmie Davis. When my daughter was a baby, the mobile over her crib played “You Are My Sunshine.” It played it over and over and over. And yet, as far as I know, my daughter has no plans to move to Louisiana, so I guess the song didn’t make that much of an impression.

Some states have official songs and official hymns. Other have official marches, official anthems, even official waltzes. My state, Connecticut, has an official cantata, called “The Nutmeg Cantata,” and I have to admit that I don’t even know what a cantata is, although “The Nutmeg Cantata” sounds like an item on a brunch menu. In addition to its state song (written by Arlo Guthrie), Massachusetts has all of the following: an anthem, a folk song, a ceremonial march, a patriotic song, a glee club song, and, best of all, a state polka. You know, in case you think your accordion wouldn’t be welcomed there.

Oklahoma has a gospel song and a children’s song. New Mexico has a cowboy song (“Under New Mexico Skies,” made famous by the singing cowboy, Syd Masters, who looks like the only time he’s been on a horse is when his mother put a quarter in the ride outside a supermarket).

What’s the point of all this? Absolutely nothing; I just had nothing better to do one afternoon, so I researched state songs. But I think it is obvious that most state songs could use some updating. Or maybe they should all take a cue from Washington State. It has adopted an “unofficial rock song” which is, for no apparent reason, “Louie, Louie,” a tune that mentions Jamaica but not Washington, and contains the lyrics “Let’s hustle on out of here,” which seems more appropriate for Florida.

See you soon.

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