Talky Tuesday: Another random batch of birthday call-outs

Here’s another round of famous people born on November 6 who have nothing in common but the birthdate.

Because it was so interesting last time I did it to show how ridiculous Astrology is because these people, despite being born on the same day, have nothing in common despite sharing a sign.

And before anyone starts going on about how, “Astrology isn’t just birthdates. It has to do with the location of planets, constellations, and ‘houses’,” let me stop you right there and ask you this. Would you care to explain, then, exactly how all of those things have any effect at all on a baby being removed from its mother’s womb down on the surface of the Earth?

Not to mention how can those effects be so different for babies born at the exact same moment but half a world away, because the locations of the planets and whatnot are different for both of them?

The only concession I’ll make to the concept is that the time of year that someone is born can affect their perception of the world and life in general, but that’s it, and it’s for very real-world reasons.

“When” is only important in a narrow context

I would go so far as to say that what’s really important to someone at birth is the season in which they are born. It also depends, of course, on societal norms when they were born, so that somebody from an agrarian society in the pre-industrial era is going to have quite a different experience than someone born in a modern, urban, post-information age society.

Looking at the former society, for example, somebody born in winter is going to grow up in early infancy being kept indoors and around family, and this is going to be their perception of the world: Safe comfortable, and warm.

If they’re born in the spring, it’s planting season, so everyone is out seeding the fields. The infants and toddlers don’t have to work but are probably strapped to Mom’s back, and their association here is not a lot of direct human contact, but a lot of sunshine and being outside. Independence and resistance to being controlled, probably.

Summer kids are there for the real work, so they’re probably left home alone or with grandparents while the adults and older kids go out to do the hard work of weeding, fertilizing, and otherwise making sure that the crops don’t die. They don’t even see their parents or older siblings for weeks, so they bond with these other people who smell different, and are probably inclined to become caretakers, as well as to appreciate older people.

Finally, kids born in the fall arrive at harvest time and while they don’t go out I the fields in their infancy, they do experience the immediate boon of successful crops being brought in.

For one thing, this means that the family will now have made enough money to pay off all the debts they’ve accrued over the year in order to grow all that food. For another, it means that they may have enough leftover to live off of through the rest of the year, the long winter, and well into the next spring.

If you’ve ever wondered why we have all of those feasting holidays, like Thanksgiving, in the last three months of the year, this is it. Right around the end of September, it’s time to reap what’s been sown and enjoy the benefits.

So autumn babies also grow up spending a lot of time at home with loved ones, but under more joyous circumstances than their winter counterparts. They’re probably also a lot better fed, so might tend to be taller and stronger as adults in general.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m not tying all of this to any specific dates of birth. Rather, it all applies to season, and all of the effects probably happen within the first five years or so, tied to the child’s own circadian rhythms, sense of time, and possible reminder once a year when they were born.

Cause, effect, etc.

Modern birth and timing

As for how it works in modern societies, we have to shift the calendar off of seasons and go strictly by calendar quarters, which are about ten days off in both directions. For example, winter runs, in general, from December 21 to March 20, but the first quarter of any year is from January 1 to March 31.

Where this becomes important is not in infancy, but in school, because it determines when kids start school, when their birthday falls within the year, and so forth.

For example, kids born in the 4th quarter may actually be too young to start Kindergarten when they’re five, so wind up starting later, meaning that they are always a bit older than a lot of their classmates. One of my best friends in elementary and middle school was like this — born about six weeks before me, but technically a year older when he started school.

I have no idea whether this is really the case, but he always felt like a big brother to me, and certainly looked out for me. On the other hand, I also kind of had to look out for him, because he could also be shy and fearful when I wasn’t. We made a great team, although anyone who wants to say, “Well, he’s Capricorn and you’re Aquarius, so the stars say…” can just STFU.

A quick google tells me that astrologers say that Capricorn and Aquarius cannot be friends or lovers, and I know for a fact fifteen ways from Tuesday that this is dead wrong. Oh well!

As for the rest of the calendar year and school, people who enter on the other end of the scale, when they are as young as possible, might be more prone to bullying or just developing slower and always feeling awkward. Sorry, summer kids!

So who are today’s Scorpio Babies who bear no resemblance to each other? Here we go. Enjoy!

Charles II of Spain (1661—1700)

Probably most famous for being the product of so much incest that the “Hapsburg Jaw” was named after him, and he could barely talk or eat because of it.

He also died fairly young and was infertile, so he left no heir, becoming the last Hapsburg King of Spain. Later researchers determined that many of the inbred members of his family had about 9% of DNA that came from common ancestors shared by both of their parents. Charles II, though, topped out at a whopping 25%, which would be around the same as the child of two siblings.

His parents were niece and uncle, by the way.

Adolphe Sax (1814—1894)

After you get over the icks from the previous entry, you’ll be glad to know that this man was not the result of incest or inbreeding in any way. You can probably guess from his last name what he’s famous for.

The son of instrument makers, he himself went on to become one, and he invented the saxophone, which has since become a staple of jazz music and orchestras.

He almost didn’t get to that point, though. He was so accident prone as a child that nobody thought he would make it to adulthood, but managed to survive falling from three stories, having a stone fall on his head, accidentally drinking acidic water, or sleeping in a closed room with recently varnished furniture.

The universe sure wanted that saxophone.

John Philip Sousa (1854—1932)

Not to be outdone, Sousa had his own namesake instrument, the sousaphone, which unlike a tuba was designed to be worn around the player so that they could march with them. They are not the same instrument, though.

Sousa was known as the March King when marching bands had become very popular, around the end of the 19th century. This was the era when patriotic parades were a big thing, along with community bandstands in the park — remember, no modern media existed yet. It was a way of bringing the concert hall outside to the people.

Marching bands were also easy advertising, and the reason that we all associate one particular song with circuses is because it was frequently used as a “screamer,” which was a loud and brassy song a band would start playing as it marched down a town’s Main Street followed by all of the circus performers in order to let people know they were in town. They were also used in the show itself.

Nowadays, Sousa’s most well-known work is arguably The Liberty Bell March, although you might know it better as the theme song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Mike Nichols (1931—2014)

One of the more respected and esteemed film directors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he gave us such classics as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, The Birdcage, Primary Colors, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

While every one of those films is very different than the others, all of them shared the same incredible wit and humor in the storytelling. Of course, Nichols had gotten his start in improv comedy along with Elaine May, herself an incredibly accomplished writer and actor. She co-wrote films like Reds, Tootsie, and Labyrinth, and adapted both The Birdcage and Primary Colors.

The film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an adaptation of Edward Albee’s 1962 stage play, was Nichols’ first-ever film. It was nominated for 13 Oscars, meaning that it was nominated in every category it was eligible for, a feat only accomplished to date by one other film, 1931’s Cimarron, although it only nabbed 7 nominations, which was still a record at the time.

Nichols’ film won five of its awards including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, although it did not win for Film, Director, or Screenplay.

Sally Field (1946—)

Sally Field has had a remarkable career as an actress, starting out by playing silly characters in TV shows like Gidget and the Flying Nun and moving on to become a serious respected actress whom we all “liked!”

Her first serious dramatic role was in the 1976 TV movie Sybil, about a woman with dissociative personality disorder and although it was later proven that the author made most of it up, Field’s performance was still a tour de force.

She eventually won Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, and  won the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award in 2012. Her youngest son, Sam, is gay.

Conchita Wurst (1988—)

You’ve probably forgotten by now, but this young Austrian singer took the world by storm and captured its heart when, in 2014, he won the Eurovision Song Contest while decked out in drag but still with a full beard, long hair and minimal make-up. Watch the performance, and you’ll see why.

In case you’re wondering, Conchita is she/her, but the gay man behind her, Thomas Neuwirth, is he/him, and does not consider himself to be transgender or female at all. And, after watching this performance again, why Conchita has never been asked to write and perform a Bond movie theme song is beyond me.

I mean, hell, the winning song alone already sounds like it is one.

Bowen Yang (1990—)

Bowen has set many records in a short period of time. He started on the show as a writer, then broke out as a featured cast member, the first ever Chinese-American cast member, only the third openly-gay male cast member.

Even more remarkable, he became the first featured cast member to bever be nominated for a Primetime Emmy. He had also been nominated as a writer in 2019, but the featured player thing is kind of a big deal, because these are the performers who are kind of back-benchers, as it were.

That is, they will rarely appear in a prominent role or anchor an entire sketch of their own, and frequently appear as background characters feeding one- or two-liners to the stars, particularly in scenes like opening political parodies or any kind of press conference or talk-show take off.

Apparently, it’s a very stressful position to be in, with quite a lot of the featured players never going on to become regular cast members. It looks like Bowen has a good chance, though, because he has been getting those strong sketch-anchor parts, and he tends to knock it out of the park every damn time.

Happy 31st birthday to him — and do you feel old yet?

Image: Conchita Wurst by Albin Olsson,(CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Well, this is awkward…

A while back, I took a DNA test and submitted it to the same place that my half-brother’s girlfriend (HBG) had sent his, and then waited. And waited. It took almost a month after they received my samples back to post the results and, well…

What I was expecting: About half Irish, the rest mostly German, British, and French. That was what all of the genealogical research HBG and I had done over the years told us, and in going from either of us to our common father and then to his parents and, at least, his father’s ancestors, was pretty well-documented, back to an ancestor with our family name born in Germany in the late 17th century.

That ancestor, Joannis Georg Bastian, moved from the village of Völkersbach in Baden, Germany to Gaggenau-Michelbach, also in Baden, where he died and where all of his descendants lived until the mid-19th century, when our common great-grandfather and family set sail to America.

According to the genealogist/historian who gave me the treasure trove of records, descendants of all of my ancestors still live there, but it’s a small place, with only about nine families that have either interbred across distant cousin relationships or pounced on any marriageable foreign man to wander into the place.

German ancestry seemed pretty cut-and-dried, although my half-brother was clearly the first one of our direct line to do this particular DNA test. The closest relatives he got were someone listed ambiguously as a 1st cousin/nephew/uncle and that person’s daughter, a second cousin — but the name didn’t seem familiar at all.

He did show as having come from German, British, and French roots, which was to be expected. All the rest were clearly from his mother, to whom I’m not related.

So far, so good. Then my results came back with a few… surprises. First of all, they showed not a hint of any German, British, or French ancestry. None at all. Second, I was a lot more Irish than I’d thought. Not just 50%, but 64%.

And the rest of it? Scandinavian, Italian, and Basque.

Even weirder, neither my half brother nor the cousins he found showed up anywhere among my matches. But… I matched with a few people who were related to my father’s mother — the names matched exactly what I had in genealogical records.

My half-brother did not match any of them.

And he and I did not match each other at all.

So, at the moment, this seems to say that a large chunk of what I thought was my documented heredity may be completely wrong, although I’m still related to my father’s mother. And while my half-brother is at least related to my father’s line via a first cousin, he doesn’t seem to be related to my father’s mother. (Oh… I guess I’m not related to that cousin, either.)

It’s a conundrum with several weird implications. One is that our aunt, who married into the family, cheated on her husband, creating the son who had a one-night stand that made the cousin that showed the connection to my half-brother but not to me.

Second is that my half-brother’s own mother cheated, which is why he’s apparently not related to what should be our mutual grandmother.

Third is that my half-brother’s ancestors are legit and related to his dad in all regards, whereas I’m either adopted from a relative of my father’s mother or who knows what.

My mother did have a miscarriage during a previous marriage before I was born, and then I was allegedly two months premature — well, “allegedly” although it was documented on my birth certificate and since I was born eight months after they got married, they had to have conceived me within a few weeks.

Plus, after my dad died, I remembered finding old letters to my mom from former co-workers assuring her not to worry about me being premature, all dated just after I was born.

So there’s definitely a bit of a mystery to solve here. But here’s the summary: My presumable half-brother is clearly related to our presumable common father’s nephew, but not to his mother. Meanwhile, I’m related to my father’s mother, but not to his nephew.

As far as whether I am related to my mother, that’s inconclusive, because no one on her side of the family has done the DNA test, and my genealogical records for her only go back about four generations at most. But being way more than 50% Irish kind of indicates that this part might be right.

For the moment, though, I’ve suddenly found out that I have no WASP, Teuton, or Gaul in me, but I’m mostly Celt and Viking, with a dash of Roman and a dash of “weird loners who live somewhere between France and Spain and speak their own language.”

That would explain a lot about me, actually.

To be continued…

Sunday nibble #45

Keep in mind that I try to keep my post-writing a week or two ahead of the dates they go live, so for all I know everything could have gone downhill in the past week, given events from last weekend, which is when I’m writing this.

The Sunday Nibble is back from hiatus, which began with my Christmas Countdown, and the last installment was the eighth and last in a series of short pieces I’d originally written with the intention of publishing them on a friend’s website, The Flushed.

The series title was “A short guide to knowing your shit,” and it fit right in with The Flushed, which is about all things having to do with the bathroom — although the title they would have gotten used the word “poop” instead, because they’re more PG-13. But the series never ran there.

However… I am now also guest-blogging four times a month over at Paw.com, a site all about pets, mostly of the canine and feline variety. I wound up with this job because I used to write for “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s ecommerce website, and one of my former co-workers there recently became Creative Director for a company that does content creation for various client sites.

He contacted me almost immediately to offer the gig, and how could I say no? It was a natural fit. Check them out, and yes, they do sell stuff, specializing in beds, blankets, and other pet-friendly products.

So yes, it’s another case of “it’s who you know,” but Creative Directors are good people for artists and writers to know in general, since they tend to have a lot of clout within their organizations. And, being Creative Directors, they hire us — the creatives.

Also, from time-to-time, I’ll still post the random movie review to a site called Filmmonthly.com, which I founded two decades ago with a pair of fellow film-lovers, one of whom was the other roommate during the tenure of the very bizarre Strauss, about whom I wrote on Friday, and the other was the roommate who took over when Strauss abruptly departed — the one whose cousin accidentally torched their kitchen with a toaster oven.

We ran the thing for a good while, and all three of us were the publishers, racking up a ton of reviews. Eventually, we all stepped back and turned it over to the next generation, although for a long time our prior work was there — until one of the people trusted with the site at some point muffed up and wound up losing a lot of the older files forever.

Things that make you go “Grrrrr.” Unfortunately, if you search my name and filmmonthly, you’ll get a ton of hits because, as publisher, my name was on every page. Most of them will not be my work.

But I did recently review a low-budget adaptation of the King Arthur story that surprisingly did not suck, so there’s that. There was also a fun little indie comedy about incest, Call Me Brother, that I also liked and reviewed.

I’ll share another secret with you. The Christmas and New Year Countdowns are my way of giving myself a vacation. I program everything to publish automatically before Thanksgiving arrives, and then on the Friday after, boom. I don’t need to write or post anything for over a month.

This works out great IRL, because this also coincides with the frantic tail-end of my busy season at work, which pretty much entails seven-day weeks and ten hour days from October 15 to December 7. Every. Single. Year.

The only exception, of course, is when the Out of the Blue Oxford Boys drop their charity single for the current year. That always gets its own special post, because they and what they do are both very special.

Which is to say that, looking back at 2020, I’m kind of amazed that I managed to post something every single day when there were many days that I felt no motivation — and I think that’s true of a lot of us who lived through lockdown.

Kind of ironic, really. All the time in the world to write, but it was hard to get motivated. Except… it did give me time to focus in on The Rêves, which I started serializing here weekly back in July, long before I actually finished it.

And now it’s 2021, and it feels like we’re going to have a new beginning, maybe, but it won’t be soon and it won’t be fast. What it will probably be is the final general realization that if we want to fight this thing, we do have to take it seriously and sacrifice.

It may not seem like it, but “sacrifice” is something that Americans can be good at when they actually do it, and when they’re not being cheer-led on by greedy, selfish leaders.

Nobody really complained when security tightened up after 9/11 and it seemed like it took an anal probe and two blood samples to get into any government building. No one complained back when they could only buy gas on days based on their license plate number.

No one complained when everything was rationed during WW II. And on, and on.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of people who voted for a certain losing presidential candidate last year are also staunch anti-maskers, but I can give you these numbers. Out of the total U.S. population, only 23% voted for the outgoing incumbent. But if we cut that number down to “all people eligible to vote,” whether they do or not, then it’s 38%.

The other candidate got 25% of the total population, and 42% of all people eligible to vote, although based on the actual vote count, it came out as 52% to 48%.

Or, in other words, for the politically engaged, a divided world, but if you look at the total population, one thing stands out. The selfish people fall to around one-fifth of the population.

And that is very hopeful, because there are more of us who can be good Americans and sacrifice, whether we vote or not (and why the hell don’t you, if you’re eligible?) than there are greedy Americans who want to burn it all down.

So… for every Karen, there are four Americans willing to stand up to her shit. And that is how we are going to turn it around in 2021, albeit slowly, and finally see normalcy return in 2022.

Simply put, there are still more Americans willing to do the right thing. We’re just not as vocal or visible as the selfish ones who like to kick and scream like infants to get their way. But their tantrum will end soon, once they’ve woken up to reality. If they ever do.

Okay, it’s another Sunday Nibble turned into a full buffet, but that’s okay. It feels like I’m coming out of hibernation, so there’s a lot on my mind.

Wondrous Wednesday: Keeping it in the family

This one is actually two days late because I wanted to be more timely with the dog story from Monday, and if the Duke and Duchess could wait almost 900 years, they could wait two more days. (Besides, this would have been my father’s birthday, so it’s still an appropriate date in that regard.)

This past Monday was the 868th anniversary of an event that, without which, I wouldn’t be here — or at least not here as exactly the same person.

May 18, 1152, the Duke of Normandy, Henry Curtmantle (also known as Henry FitzEmpress and Henry Plantagenet), married the  Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor of the House of Poitiers, recent Queen Consort of France.

She was one of the wealthiest and most influential women in Europe, a leader in the Second Crusade, and considered the most eligible bachelorette at the time her marriage to Louis VII of France was annulled.

Strategically, this marriage gave the Duke control of Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine in France, and, when he ascended to the throne as King Henry II two years later, made her Queen Consort of England.

They eventually had five sons, three of whom became the King of England, but I’ll come back to them in a moment. Overall, their marriage wasn’t the most loving, and Eleanor did spend some time locked in a tower at her husband’s behest.

There’s an amazing film worth looking up, The Lion in Winter, which stars Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole at the height of their powers as the Queen and King, along with early appearances by Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, and Nigel Terry, who would go on to play King Arthur in Excalibur. It’s worth a look. Here’s the original trailer, but keep in mind that it’s from the late 60s, when all film trailers were cheesy as hell.

As for their sons, Henry the Young King was actually crowned while his father was alive but never given any real power, and died in the summer of 1183 — which is the year that the movie above takes place. Out of the three left, Richard, Geoffrey, and John, Geoffrey died before he could become king.

Meanwhile, Richard is known as Richard the Lionheart, although he spent little time actually ruling in England — perhaps as few as six months. The rest of that time, he was off fighting in the Crusades or being held captive for ransom.

He was succeeded by the youngest brother, John Lackland, perhaps most famous for being perennially cast as the bad guy in Robin Hood reboots, signing things over to the barons with the Magna Carta, and being vilified in a Shakespeare play that didn’t treat his mother Eleanor so well either.

And yes, there’s a reason that England has never had a King John II and it would be him.

But when he wasn’t spending his time being not such a great king, he was nailing every woman in sight, including one named Agatha Ferrers, a daughter of the Earl of Derby, and from that relationship sprang a single strand in the elaborate chains of DNA that twisted their ways down through almost nine hundred years of history until I was born with a little bit of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and all of their ancestors before in me.

I’m working off of memory here because I’ve apparently added so much information across most of my father’s side of the family now that trying to run a relationship calculation between myself and Henry and Eleanor causes an error that crashes the program, but I think that they were something like my 36th great-grandparents.

Now, if the number of direct ancestors strictly doubles in each generation — two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on — then 36 generations back, we would each have a total of 68,719,476,734 ancestors. That’s 68 as in billion, as in nearly ten times the current population of the planet.

Keep in mind, though, that this is the total of all ancestors over time. When it comes to just great-grandparents of the 36th remove, then you have only half that number, 34,359,738,368.

That’s still a lot, and it leaves a very tiny scrap of DNA from each ancestor at that level in you.

Or does it?

See, there’s one interesting phenomenon that a lot of people would like to ignore or claim doesn’t exist, but it’s been a lot more common through history almost down to the modern age than everyone likes to admit. I’ll get to the phenomenon in a moment, but the result is something called pedigree collapse.

In a normal progression, if you start with an individual of the generation labeled as n=1, their parents as n=2, and so on, then at each level, the number of expected ancestors will simply be two to the power of one less than the generation; 2(n-1).

21= 2 parents; 22 = 4 grandparents; 23 = 8 great-grandparents, and so on.

But there’s an obvious problem here. As we go back in time, the available population shrinks. It’s all fine until about 1300, but at that point, available human population drops to 360 million while necessary ancestors per individual doubles to over 536 million.

And that’s not even doing the complicated math of figuring out how big the numbers explode if the only people who share the exact same common ancestors are siblings. And there’s the rub. Or the dirty truth.

The only way around this, as mentioned, is pedigree collapse, and the only way around that is what a lot of modern people in the west would get skeeved out about and call “incest.”

But it’s been happening for centuries, especially via cousin marriage.

First cousins, for example, share one set of grandparents by definition, because their parents are siblings, so they are related. If first cousins marry, they suddenly turn two sets of grandparents into one and halve the number of common ancestors immediately.

The same happens with more distant cousins, of course, but the point is that we could not have happened as a species without it. And if the idea of incest to even closer degrees grosses you out, FFS don’t look into the world of dog or horse breeding, and especially don’t look up the family tree of the Habsburgs. Keep in mind, though, that they were diddling much closer relatives than cousins.

But, really, throughout history, because people didn’t really travel all that far from their home villages if they were commoners, marriage options were limited. Such arrangements also limited the need for dowries — what, Bill is going to expect his brother Jack to buy his daughter’s hand for his son with some goats? Nah. Keep it in the family.

Oddly enough, the same mechanism was going on with royalty, except on a grander scale, and it was all about land, power, and real estate. So the Prince of West Nobbington was the brother of the Duke of South Fartberg, but they both needed to ally against the Earl of Greater Twatfrumple. Hey — they’ve got kids of about the same age and plug-n-play genitalia under the norms of the time. So what if they’re cousins? Make them marry, combine the lands, and suddenly the Grand Principality of Nobbingfart is powerful enough to make Twatfrumple not so great.

That is European history in a nutshell.

Sometimes, it leads to extremes, like the above noted and severely inbred Habsburgs. Most of the time though, not. And, by the way, the genetic dangers of first cousin marriages are exaggerated. However, for any direct ancestors or descendants, aunts/uncles and niblings, full or half-siblings, or combinations between said groups, then no. Just… no. Don’t even think it.

Step-whatevers… you’re not related, so it all depends on circumstances otherwise. But first cousins and more distant have been having at it since forever. That’s been the norm, not the exception.

If you only think it happens in backwoods places in the U.S., think again. Franklin Delano Roosevelt married his cousin Eleanor (maiden name, Roosevelt), and they were no hicks. He was from a wealthy family, and elected president of the U.S. an unprecedented (and unrepeated) four times.

This trimming the tree on the way down has been absolutely necessary, and even in the most apparently incest-free for generations of families, it can lead to some oddities. Again, my software isn’t letting me check it right now, but I do remember at one point I did a couple of relationship calculations to find out, for example, that Queen Elizabeth II and I are varying degrees of very distant cousins on multiple levels about half a dozen times and, technically, I’m even related to my own father about eight ways, although most of those are, again, in the distant past.

Ultimately, of course, since we all go back to the same common ancestors, human and prior, we’re all related anyway, and we all share DNA with each other. Technically, any two humans hooking up are committing incest. It all depends on how close you want to set the limit.

Image source: Funerary effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, public doman

%d bloggers like this: