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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

My New Camera

Yesterday UPS delivered my new camera. It's a Canon S5 IS, a black point and shoot digital just a step or two below the digital SLR's.

I did a lot of research before settling on this model but not enough in my wife's opinion. She tried to encourage me to get a Canon G9, mainly because one of her close girl friends has one and strongly recommended it. This is the lady with whom she went to Thailand and rode on elephants a few years ago and who took a lot of great pictures there with the predecessor of the G9, the G3.

I looked at the G9 briefly early in my research but it cost way more than I had in mind spending, and later, because of that expense, somehow my mind slid it over into being a DSLR, though it is still "just" a point and shoot, too. It differs mainly from the S5 IS in having a 12 megapixel sensor as compared to the S5's 8, meaning that it will take more finely detailed pictures. But on the other hand the lens on the S5 zooms out to 12X, as compared to only 6X on the G9. Maybe the G9, because of that large sensor, has a digital zoom that more than makes up for the difference, but I am not well versed enough in that situation to know as yet, and anyway, the comments I read seemed to say that optical zoom is better than digital zoom. But anyway, maybe tragically, I am not a sender back or an exchanger, and the S5 had no lack of praise in the several hundred comments that users posted on Amazon, and so that's that

I had misgivings anyway about even spending the "mere" $304 for the S5, much less the almost $150 more that the G9 would've cost.

Partly that was because of our new financial situation, which I assume is more restricted than it was just a few months ago. My wife knows much more about that than I do, but still....

Also it was because in recent decades -- ever since we bought this property, in fact, and I started building this house in Virginia 30 years ago -- my picture taking has been sharply reduced, compared to what it was back in the 1960's and the '70's. In addition I still have a perfectly good film SLR, a sturdy Minolta 700, plus I have an also working Minolta X7, a fancier SLR that I inherited from my son. And lastly I've been severely spooked by having been one of those big no-no's in the computer world, a "first adopter." Out of brand loyalty I bought one of the early digital cameras, a Minolta Dimage V. It's a neat little camera but something went wrong with its power system early on, and meanwhile, though the Dimage is strictly stone age compared to the cameras now, it cost nearly as much as the incredibly more advanced G9 and much more than my S5 does now.

So I have this brand new "puggy" camera, as one Amazon commenter called the S5 IS, and it is having the distinction of being the first thing that I've ever bought, to my recollection, that I will have to spend a day or two reading the manual before I put it into any kind of action. And this is no wonder, because this camera has so much packed into an apparatus scarcely four inches on a side. It is a marvel of modern engineering, obviously made in supersterile factories by young female gnomes with 20-50 vision. Otherwise, though I like having manuals and the more pages the beeter,normally I read them only if I get into trouble.

I bought the camera not because, unlike in the past, I'm about to take any big trips. I strictly stay at home, but there I still continually see little things that cry out to be photographed. Plus I want to post pictures here on my weblog, to illustrate things that I talk about. And I need to find out if it's really true that avid picture takers and posters like Steve Bates and NTodd still would have nothing on me, shoud I turn out to have still enough flesh and blood to allow the camera bug to take another bit bite.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Memorial Day Here This Year

This year, as every year this time, the local newspaper ran, at the top of its front page with an accompanying article, a photo of veterans of WW2, Korea, and other affrays, formerly older than me but now increasingly in my age range and even younger, and looking all spiffy in berets and white shirts while placing red, white, and blue flowers around the stone dedicated to the county war dead and set -- appropriately I would agree -- on the football field of the high school. But I was taken aback when, under that customary Memorial Day shot, was an only slightly smaller photo of a man dressed in a gray Civil War Confederate uniform and proudly adjusting his huge red Confederate flag. And on an inside page there was another pair of such matching pictures, with the man in gray flanked this time by a pair of gleeful-looking ladies dressed in the dark garb of that blessedly long gone plantation era.

Right away I saw how well it has been that, though I am a veteran of four years in the U.S. Air Force, with an honorable discharge and several letters of commendation for my service therein, I have never had the slightest interest in taking part in those observances, though I would never fault those who do--

Till now.

I had the impression that this year's Confederate participation was new in that annual event. Though it practically had to be dragged into the Secession, Virginia became in many ways the heart of the Confederacy, and it hosted far more than its share of the Civil War battles. But there was already a modest statue of a Confederate soldier in a somewhat statelier spot, on the lawn of the county courthouse, and I had thought that ought to be plenty enough for that.

So I read the accompanying article with special interest, and it turned out that this was the first time that the Civil War re-enactors had taken part in the Memorial Day ceremony.

In the event that they weren't talking about just that particular group of nostalgics, I wonder what happened there. The article quoted them as saying that Memorial Day started with the Civil War. So had they been trying all along to have a role in the occasion? If they had, why had they been unsuccessful till now? Or was this the first time that they thought to try? Is this the first time they've had enough people to take part? Was it a hard struggle for them to be included, of the type about which even an "inspirational" movie could be made, with a sort of civil rights touch?

I suppose I could ask around about these things, but I won't. There has been only one guy around here that I would feel comfortable in asking. A well-regarded native of the county, he took part (I believe) in those observances when they were purely the doings of groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as I suppose they still are. But Stanley left here for the Great Beyond several years ago. And anyway, the way things seem to go, I will find out willy-nilly anyway, now that I've brought it up, even if only in my mind and on this weblog, which won't be read anytime soon by anyone within a thousand miles of here.

Meanwhile I have to wonder how any descendant of the slaves brought over from Africa, as I am, could ever be expected to take part in an observance that in part honors those who fell while fighting tooth and nail for the right to keep those fellow American citizens locked in slavery?

Was that question, too, ever discussed, in the unknown deliberations that led to that unsettling picture on the local front page?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Posting Light

I haven't posted much lately, on mine or on other people's weblogs. This isn't the first or even the second or third time that that has happened.

This lack of commenting on either mine or the world's affairs isn't because I'm upset with anybody or anything, nor is it because I'm tired of the weblog thing and feel that I need a break from it. Instead it's because other interests have claimed my attention and decreasing energies, and part of that is due to the time of year. Spring is in ...er, full spring, and our gardens plus Mother Nature's heavy-breathing presence all around, including underground and up in the skies, are making their usual demands, which are such a pleasure to meet.

In addition there are other concerns. I'm trying to make up my mind about getting a new digital camera. In addition I've been engrossed in setting up a wireless network between my two working computers in the house and the other two in my workshop a hundred feet away. Plus I've been heeding the call that new ideas have made for one of my long unfinished novels. Plus I am generally trying to clean up numerous other little situations, fix things that I've left in limbo for a long time, and so forth and so on. Above all I'm struggling to keep myself in some sort of decent working order, while adjusting to being part of a finally fully retired couple on a modest fixed income and all that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, from within my severely limited perceptions, I've found that, for all the pretensions of the 6.5 billion others, the world doesn't really go on without me. Instead it's like an old bus that stops and waits till I decide to get back on it.

No, this isn't arrogant. It's the simple truth. It's thanks in large part to the fact that human nature changes at about the same rate that a mountain grows. (I wanted to say "at a glacial rate," but climate change sure is shooting down that expression, isn't it?)

You might have already found the same thing to be true for you. (Smile!)


The glaciers, the floods, the winds, and all the other forces that make the earth's surface such a lively place have never left markers dividing up the lands and the seas among all the various national groups by which humans choose to set themselves off from each other. So, lacking those natural lines of demarcation, immigration has brought about violent reactions throughout human history. It's almost a natural law, akin to the one that says that nature abhors vacuums and always expands to fill them. That vacuum could apply to territory, the availability of food, employment, and other things.

In that light the current fierce opposition to "illegal immigrants" in the U.S. and the murderous outbreaks against immigrants in South Africa are cut from the same cloth, and the angry South Africans are only doing what many Americans would like to do. But as driving out people by riots is seen as being too messy in this day and age, after having already been tried numerous times in the past, other means are resorted to that nevertheless are equally violent though in quieter ways, especially by building up barriers around the whole country. So the result is that Mexicans are regularly dying while trying to cross the deserts in the American Southwest, while the Palestinians in their own homelands are being squeezed tighter and tighter into narrow living spaces by an ever enlarging system of walls and settlements by newcomers with more weapons.

Yet the ever-powerful urge to procreate keeps bringing people into the world faster than they leave it and faster than resources can be created to comfortably accommodate them all, and so human-made disasters associated with the movement of populations become as natural as temperature rises, floods, crop failures, hurricanes, and all the other phenomena of the living Earth. And meanwhile the term "illegal immigrants" has meaning only on one side of the walls that in the long run come to be seen as having been bad mistakes.

Actually, on a planet with such a natural shape as a sphere, everything is one.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rook Is At It Again

Guy Andrew H., of Rook's Rant and better known in these environs by his far less distinguished handle "Rook," is doing it again. As true as ever to his adopted name, once more he is playing a blogger's chess game, and at the moment appearing to be doing only that when not bicycling through the wilds of Minnesota and working 10-hour days.

His undying fidelity to the Grand Old Game as played online is truly amazing and in my book admirable. He may drop it for periods of time, but sooner or later he is back doing something else at the board. One can only wonder where he would be now if he had been a nerdy guy at the age of about 11 and had picked up the game then. But that takes nothing away from the always interesting content of his play now and especially his comments thereof.

For instance, right now in his latest game, which he is playing at an unusually brisk pace (so far!), he happens to have chosen one of my favorite ways of playing the Sicilian Defense, the Nimzovitch Variation, especially against people rated higher than me. The advantage is the extreme rarity of the variation. Consequently no one can be really "booked up" on it, and so it throws players on their own resources as early as the third or fourth moves, and that is shown by the situation that Rook and his opponent have reached as early as the seventh. :)

I guess Guy Andrew has been afflicted by the same urge I've had recently, to draw back some from all the political and other junk raging in the world, and what better way to do that than to retreat, if only for a moment, into the decidedly non-lethal but still highly interesting vicissitudes of chess.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is McCain Physically Fit to Lead?

Through all the the past week and probably longer, Google News has been citing the same articles over and over again, that say that J. McCain, at 71 and a skin cancer survivor, is fit to lead the nation. And I fully expect them to keep running that bit of information for another week or so.

I've heard that the choice of articles on Google News is machine generated and so presumably free from human influence, but I definitely question that, because I've noticed that where the opportunity arises for a boost to conservative views and denigration of groups deemed unworthy by them, Google News forgets the very valuable dictum that once around, and at most twice, is enough. Before the McCain health thing, the most egregious example was when running articles for five or six days straight about the conviction of Wesley Snipes for tax evasion still didn't seem to be enough.

In McCain's case, Google is risking running afoul of the familiar principle that if you deny something often enough, it starts to create the impression that what is being denied is in fact quite true. So inside the latest reports that I finally got around to reading, we hear that McCain has had several operations on melanomas on various spots on and around his head, and he can never be 100 percent clear of the danger.

But being even older than him, it is not his health that I would question but his sanity.

I know that ego knows no limits, but I would say that once they start hitting that age 70 mark, the overwhelming majority of men, even if they won't admit it, are ready to start "laying their burdens down," while being extremely averse to picking up new ones. And it's hard to conceive of a burden, outside of being in a prison in some kind, more aggravating than being the U.S. President.

McCain looks and sounds to me like a man who alternates between periods of confusion and lucidity. And I refuse to believe that he is completely happy with the situation in which he now finds himself. Instead of being free to stay at home on his ranch and tell war stories, he is being expected to spend untold amounts of time and energy convincing a lot of rascally American citizens with millions of different agendas that he is the best man in the country to run that country's affairs.

Probably worst of all, he can't be happy about having to alternate with his opponents in having every word he says gone over by countless hostile parties with fine tooth combs. Being a pompous Naval officer and then a pompous U.S. Senator could not have prepared him for that humiliation alone in any way.

More than his melanoma count, people should be eagerly awaiting a psychiatric report on J. McCain, and preferably a whole battery of them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Personal Museum

It is pretty interesting to last long enough to see your house and all its immediate environs turn, before your very eyes, into a veritable little museum. This is helped along if you and yours have had a variety of interests, and if you've managed to avoid the usual catastrophes of fire, flood, tornado, meltdown, war, or having found it expeditious to move too often. It's also to advantage if you've cleverly ignored the orders of neatness freaks to get rid of your many little collections once the initial frenzy is over, and if there's been no one to come in and divest you of anything. That last proviso touches on the fact that Of course the value of this museum is visible only to you, so that you can never expect to gain one red cent from it, but that's not a bad thing either.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

For Political Quotas

I suppose that no one would agree with me that merit has a poor home in politics. I mean virtues outside of the art of selling one's self to others. But I come by such a notion honestly, because when it comes to selling myself, there is instead just a tremendous void where finely machined cogs should be in my mental gearing. I've never seen anything tragic about that shortcoming. That complete lack has never brought on pain of any kind that I have noticed.

So, because merits of other kinds are not seen as vital for holding political office, I see no reason why our elections shouldn't be based on a quota system, regardless of the utter contempt that such a system has, especially when it comes to affirmative action. "People should be given opportunities based solely on their merits and not on their ethnicity," scream the many bitter opponents of affirmative action -- as if that solution wasn't reached only after generations had suffered through years of negative action of all kinds, when those same objectors and their predecessors were more than silent..

When it comes to actually serving in high government office, what are the merits required? Wisdom, intelligence, and decency immediately leap to mind. Yet these are not requirements that candidates have to meet when they file to run for office. Instead they just have to give testimony restricted to the commonplace, like name, address, age, and length of time as a citizen of the jurisdiction -- run of the mill qualifications that make most people eligible for public office.

So, in order to assure that all segments of the American public get a good shot at making the decisions of government, which definitely is not available to many of them now, why not have a system that ensures that people of all class, ethnic, and gender groups have representation in proportion to their numbers, instead of restricting that exercise of power mainly to people of one gender and one facial complexion. Why keep on guaranteeing that that one traditionally favored group will, in spite of all their best efforts in the case of the more reasonable among them, and with all their strongest efforts in the case of the less scrupulous among them, will behave in ways that the dispensations of government will go to the benefit of their own group first and foremost?

Lacking this quota system, unfairness and criminality, even in the most genteel garb, will continue to stain and strain American public affairs, and we will always have the TV shots of the assembled Congress at State of the Union addresses to give us the most graphic reminder -- aside from the complete pomposity of that ceremony, -- of how obscenely unrepresentative the branches of government are, when you think of how strongly the uniformity of those gatherings contrasts with the makeup of the U.S. as a whole.

I hope those who would yell in outrage at this idea have a good explanation for the present, supposed President of the U.S. and his accomplices, than whom millions of people of all sorts would undoubtedly have done a less damaging job in the same position over the last seven years. For starters, it is more than enough to say that in most cases, the U.S. Iraq, and the world would have been spared the endlessly tragic and grossly wasteful incursion into Iraq. Only fools could ever have thought that was a good idea.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Interesting Latter Day Assessment

Degas to Manet (in the middle to last stages of their lives): Where does the time go? When I was young I stored up all my plans in a cupboard, locked away safely with a key, and now--

Manet (chuckling) to Degas: --You've lost the key.

--From Episode 2 of "The Impressionists," a BBC film.

That is a very worthwhile film, by the way. All movies about painting must necessarily be interesting, but this one is especially distinguished because in it quite often you see some painting actually being done, and in convincing ways. But that's just my way of judging all the films I see in that genre. Of course the interest of moviemakers and the public is much more concerned with the private lives and troubles of the painters, and I can never fault that.

The actual process of painting is almost too private and sacred a business to be filmed at all. In addition, seeing a painting being constructed is much like watching honeybees building a comb. All you really see is the bees scurrying here and there over the comb without appearing to be doing anything at all, so that quite soon your attention must stray elsewhere, where it stays for some time, and only later do you see, with astonishment, the beautiful, finished comb fully constructed in all its snowy white (for the first few hours), geometric perfection, as if having come about purely by magic.

That happens with paintings as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

At Last Angry Arab Has Had It

While I wasn't looking Angry Arab did something truly drastic. A day or two ago, with scarcely a snicker, he suddenly left his numerous commenting constituents high and dry.

On the 17th he said this:

People who are close to me have been urging me for years to shut down the comments' section. I finally reached that conclusion. I mean, why should I give a free platform to Zionists, Harirites, and Lebanese Phalanges? I am going to give this a week, if the spamming and the repetitious postings and the falsification of names continue I will close down the section completely and permanently. It has become a festival of hate and venom--from both sides.

Yet, when I chanced to look late the very next day, he had already shut down the section.

I'm not surprised. The chances are that that week lasted for just a few hours because the guilty parties among his commenters didn't take him seriously, any more than they had when he and others had advised them on many previous occasions to cool it. I guess also that they had become so addicted to showing their backsides there that they were powerless to keep from doing what they had always done.

I had already posted earlier on how his comments section was almost unparalleled in its unapologetic grunge content, complete with regular personal attacks on him, and it was a wonder that he let things stay that way for as long as he did, to the point where I wondered if he read the comments. After all, he hadn't named himself "Angry Arab" for nothing.

Still, for all of that section's often stomach-turning content, I can't help feeling that now something important is missing from the site. Along with all the nastiness, there was also often some illuminating content. Angry Arab posts so much that his remarks are often overly cryptic, and he is too given to sarcasm, and both these factors frequently obscure his meanings so much that, if I wasn't up to clicking on all the links he gave, I would instead turn to the comments to see if they could throw some light on what he was trying to say. I admit, that worked only occasionally, but along the way the comments also had a certain entertainment value, complete with a regular though confusing cast of characters, half of them named "Anonymous."

What happens when this happens? What do people like them do when their always dependable avenue of the most unfettered expression is no longer open to them? Where do they go? Because there can't be many weblog proprietors who, even over much shorter periods of time, are as lenient as Angry Arab suffered himself to be.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Senator Ted Kennedy had two seizures today, probably due to blockage somewhere in his arteries.

I have always felt especially close to Ted Kennedy, partly because he is one of the few politicians with whom I could always agree.

It would be great if this sudden setback doesn't prove to be serious enough to prevent him from enjoying a good many more years of a happy and productive life while being a rock steady icon of several sorts, though he might want to think about a change, finally, in his unfortunate place of employment.

Kennedy and I are nearly of the same age -- I am just a half year older -- the other reason why I could so easily relate to him. That closeness in birthdates has somehow contributed to my perception of him as invariably being on the decent and right side of things -- or maybe agreeing so often with his stands has helped reinforce my belief in my own beliefs.

I can also relate to his having had to withstand a great many personal misfortunes, though among them is one that he would probably never concede. He has spent entirely too much time in the U.S. Senate -- a far less salubrious place than anything I have had to experience for any period of time.

History may well record that, like so many others of apparently high station, T. Kennedy hasn't had enough firewood to cut, nor has he spend enough time working in his garden.

Update on 20 May. It turns out that things are worse than they seemed. He has an inoperable malignant tumor in his brain, and he has already been sent home from the hospital, with all that that implies.

Monday, May 12, 2008

National Leaders

Sometimes the gathered effects of everything that is happening overwhelm the ability and the will to write complete sentences about them, in a weblog or anywhere else. For instance there is the way that a nation's citizens are constrained by their governments to make the assumption that those in the government are the possessors of the best judgment in the land, when in reality there's nothing to distinguish those high officials from the drunken, bullying, brawling habitues of the worst dive in town.

Witness the military junta in Myanmar\Burma letting citizens die by the thousands in the aftermath of an especially destructive cyclone, rather than letting relief supplies be brought in and distributed by agencies from other countries -- unless some way can be found to make it look as if the supplies come from the military itself.

Not long ago, off the Kamchatka Peninsula, a small Russian sub named the Priz, with a nine-man crew, got hopelessly snared 500 feet underwater by 10 ropes from a discarded fishing net. They had no way to escape, just a few biscuits to eat, a little drinking water, enough oxygen for only about 90 hours, slowly fading hopes of being rescued ...and, safely up above, their bumptious, presumptuous, overproud admirals, ministers, presidents, and the like.

Though the Russians didn't, both the U.S. and Britain had the submersibles made for just that kind of mishap, but, preditably and till almost the last minute, the Russian leadership acted in just the way that they had when they let all the 100+ crewmen of the nuclear sub Kursk die after an explosion of some sort near Murmansk a few years ago, rather than accepting outside help in time.

This time, though not till several days after the Priz ordeal began, the current Russian leader, V. Putin, finally realized that his people were never going to be able to free the tiny sub simply by hoping to catch up the sub in their own ropes from above, and, careful of his image, he finally permitted the Americans and the British to bring their stuff in, the latter accomplishing the rescue after a series of other setbacks.

This must be the nature of politics and leadership. Both involve so much nastiness amd indulging of the usual human perversities that too often people with good sense and judgment prefer to direct their energies along other avenues, and the affairs of state are left in the hands of the denizens of the dives.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

On Empty

Via the Downside World News, the Global Research site in Canada has a 29 April article titled "Consider the Consequences of Bombing Iran’s Nuclear Power Plants, and Pray."

In keeping with its name, Downside News specializes in collecting apocalyptic articles, but this one is especially harrowing, because a number of people who think they have their hands on the future's throat keep speaking of how the Bush bombing of Iran is still in the works, and occasionally, as if trying to give things an extra push in that direction, they will even suggest that such an attack is imminent.

I still don't expect it to happen, yet I can't get away from the absolute starkness of a passage like this from the article:

The Persian Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran have more than half the world’s known oil reserves. The 1981 study by Fetter and Tsipis in Scientific American on “Catastrophic Releases of Radioactivity” estimated that bombing a nuclear reactor would cause 8600 square miles around the reactor to be uninhabitable, depending on which way the wind blows. Bombing the Bushehr reactor will mean half of the world’s oil is instantly inaccessible. Bombing Iran means that Americans will not be driving cars any where, any more, for a long, long time. The American Way of Life will be finished. An economic collapse unimagined by Americans will follow. Mechanized farming and food transport will be finished. Famine is a possibility. Food riots are a certainty, in the land of plenty, with the fuel gauge on empty.

So, even allowing for some slight exxageration, there we have it, right? The Bushehr power plant can't be bombed, because it already has 82 tons of uranium U235 on hand for making electricity, and that stuff, which would surely be blasted into the air far and wide with the detonations of Bush bombs, has a half life of 700 million years. Yet the Bush military is reputed to have identified not only Bushehr but close to 10,000 other possible targets in Iran, and Israeli military figures have similarly threatened that country, though so far Iran hasn't physically attacked either country or any other nation in recent centuries or even millennia.

A Sunday night radio serial from my childhood, "The Shadow," always began ominously with the question, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" And followed by a threatening laugh.

That was way back in the 1940's, at a time when the Axis Powers were already showing well enough exactly what evil lurks in those organs, and by now, so many years later, that knowledge should be universal, not only of evil but also of absolute insanity, like bombing Iran. And yet people are still being elected to high positions in government who have such hearts, and their thinking is still found to be rational. This is one of many matters of which, if I ever had any comprehension at all, that was illusory, and now all that slight understanding is leaving my noggin by leaps and bounds.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Quick Takes on Today's Headlines

Bush Seeks More Food Aid for Poor Countries

This is another example of the "bandaiding" that has marked his policies throughout. I mean the practice of resorting to short term means that to the equally short-sighted seem to be just the ticket to solve the problem, while leaving intact the long-term evils that are the cause of the troubles. So, in this case he's still pushing the latest Farm Bill, that will continue to give farmers and absentee landowners even larger amounts for not planting anything or to grow crops to go into gas tanks instead of into people's tummies.

Bill Prohibits Bias Based on Genes

Until recently it was virtually against the law to have African genes, at least those of the recent sort. Today's news, then, means there has been real progress, as shown by the preponderance of votes against this gene discrimination in other respects. I wonder who voted against this bill, and why?

Measles in U.S. at Highest Level Since 2001

What about 1941? When I was in grade school, before the days of heavy inoculations, it was routine to catch all the diseases that were going around: chickenpox, mumps, measles, whooping cough -- the whole kit and kaboodle, with a few extras thrown in, such as pneumonia, pink eye, and numerous colds in my case and scarlet fever and numerous colds in my sister's. Such afflictions were a normal, everyday part of the process of getting bigger. Even today it is an occupational hazard of the teachers, one of whom is a neighbor who has to spend too much time at home recovering from the kids slobbering germs on her all the time.

Olympic Torch Relay Ends in Hong Kong

Finally! Though doesn't it still have to end up in Beijing? Maybe anywhere in China is good enough. Mia Farrow brandished a torch in Hong Kong while suggesting to China that it should try pushing Sudan to stop the bloodshed in Darfur. The article said she didn't try to disrupt the Olympic proceedings. I never thought she would.

China should leave Tibet strictly alone. Countries overloaded with people have nothing but misery to offer to other countries that have been more circumspect.

Mariah Carey Remarries a Decade after Divorce

Mariah Carey is one of the sexiest-looking women in show business, though in her two movies I have seen she is sadly tough and foul-mouthed. I wonder what it's like to be married to her? Well, somebody's going to find that out anew. In spite of her appearance I am tempted to refrain from calling him lucky.

Miley Cyrus Grounded by Disney?

Obviously Google News has a spot reserved expressly for preadults so as not to leave them out from the earthshaking news that they will see as most meaningful to them. But it bodes tragically ill for the future if the doings of this latest celestial object, Ms Cyrus, supplanting Ms Lohan, and before her, and for years, Ms Spears, are all that's available to them.

Stevens backs Big Brown post choice

Translated, this means that the trainer of one of the horses in the upcoming Kentucky Derby (to which, like all sports events, I ordinarily pay little attention), Big Brown, who I assume is one of the favorites, has chosen the last post on the outside, No. 20, instead of 1, 2, 18, or 19. The article sounds like the trainer had a choice, though I'm wondering what the great significance of 18 and 19 is.

The thinking, for one thing, is that the horse will be less likely then to have dirt "kicked into his face." It also must mean that Big Brown is expected to come thundering maybe from as far as last, gradually across the field and eventually to end up right alongside the rail or somewhere near as he gallops to first place in the stretch.

I would consider that calculation to be extremely cool, even if it doesn't work.

This Year's Trees

Here, for my records, are the trees that I cut for firewood this past fall. Small trees = less than 6" in diameter. Medium = 6" to 1'. Large = over 1 foot in diameter at the butt. All were living unless otherwise said.

The first tree I got, a large one, was not on my property. I helped neighbor H. to cut it down, as it was growing right up against the back of his workshop. H. thinks it was an Ash. That's one of the rarest species around here, and I don't know of having any on my own property..

Next, because they were right next to one of my horseshoe pits, I cut a Hickory and a Water Maple, both small. Then, in the same area I felled a medium Virginia Pine that ever since Hurricane Fran over 10 years ago had been leaning heavily. Then I cut a medium White Oak that I hoped wouldn't be missed by the large Tulip or Yellow Poplar growing just a few feet away on the slope in front of the house.

Then I cut two that were leaning out over the "S" curve of the creek -- a medium Maple and a large White Oak. The latter took several weeks to cut up and haul as it fell across the whole S-curve, and many of the logs and most of the brush fell into the creek.

Next, far up the slope across the creek, I cut and sectioned a Eastern White Pine snag that was nearly 3' through at the butt and about 20' tall. Along with several others like it, this tree had been hit by ligntning at some unknown time, and the top two-thirds had broken off. That tree had stood over 80 feet tall and it must've been quite a sight and sound when that big top part fell and hit the ground.. I wonder where I was when that happened, and how long ago it was?

A few yards farther up that steep slope from the pine snag was another long dead and broken-off White Pine that had left a smaller snag, plus there was a really imposing sight -- a huge Hickory, also quite dead but with all its trunk still standing straight as a pillar in a gigantic temple..

Hickory is probably the most desirable firewood of all, green or dead, but I had already been merely studying this tree for well over a year, as I do with all large trees and most smaller ones,too, before I finally decided I had to bite the bullet and get this thing down. It's not good to have a dead tree that large standing in your woods. The probabilities are still highly in your favor, but still you never know what will happen or when.

For various reasons it is easier and safer to cut live trees than dead ones, but hickories are the trickiest of all even when green, because of the enormous strength of its heartwood, plus, more than most trees around here, they tend to grow straight up with hardly any lean to help calculations. And even when it is properly notched a hickory thus so well-balanced all around will keep standing perfectly upright even when you've cut through to nearly its last intact inch of heartwood -- a dangerous situation unless you have some reliable external way of influencing its fall.

Except for the very smallest trees, I always attach one and sometimes even two comealongs to the trees I cut, so I can generally make even huge ones fall where I want, but it is still tricky, because I'm pulling the tree in my direction. I counter that by extending the length of the comealong cable with a lot of chains and a stout 30-foot cable, hopefully putting me out of range of the top of the falling tree even if I didn't manage to move aside quickly enough, though so far that's been easy to do. Also I try to pull with the comealong only enough to give the tree "the right idea," and then I stop the ratcheting and rely on the sawing instead.

In the case of this towering, dead hickory I did all the necessary preparatory comealong stuff, but to my surprise my pulling alone started that massive tree leaning sharply in my direction then and there. It had rotted away at the base much more than I had thought. So I only had to keep carefully pulling while paying maximum attention and without even having to fire up my saw, and I was intensely relieved when that monster hit the ground.

Meanwhile a few yards behind this Hickory was another dead and almost large tree, a While Oak, I didn't notice this till I used it as an anchor for the comealong while pulling down the hickory. So, while thanking the always benevolent spirits of the woods, I collected that tree, too, plus a few rounds from the second already downed White Pine.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, I cut a small White Oak and a smallish medium Red Oak at the edge of the state road that runs behind our house, both dead and with the potential to fall across the road..

That makes a total of 11 of my own trees that I cut for this past winter's firewood, five dead and six green, plus the Ash that I didn't cut but whose wood I got. With the frost-free period starting only eight days from now, unless things get really out of hand we still have enough firewood cut and stacked under cover to last as long as two weeks