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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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Happening in Guinea

Yesterday the President of Guinea for about 24 years, a till now little-known man with a name redolent of certain multi-colored flowers and pastel crayons, Lantana Conte, died at 74. Right away the predictable happened. Armed men thought to be soldiers forced the broadcasting of an announcement saying that the government and constitution were hereby suspended, pending further instructions.

Guinea could well be one of the places from which some of my ancestors were transported here not so many hundreds of years ago, but that can never be known for sure.

In any case, this would be a classic ho-hum news story, were it not for the fact that Guinea supplies the world with more bauxite than anyone else.

Where would the world be without aluminum? And in fact where would Africa -- and all the other continents as well but especially Africa -- be without bands of armed men calling themselves "soldiers" and always ready to set and to keep things rolling firmly on the roads to misery and disaster?

It's too bad that humans are thought to have originated in the warmth over on the other, western coast of Africa. The hard times of the snowy climes in Tibet or the Arctic Circle might have produced a better result. But the way things are going still higher up in the Earth's envelope, there might be a chance for that yet, next time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shoes and Donkeys

The other day GWBush made another of his whirlwind trips to Iraq to revisit the scene of his crime, the greatest ever made by anyone using the tools that can be found lying around in the President's office. Thinking himself secure from all highly justified remonstrance by being deep in the Baghdad Green Zone, he gave one of his rare press conferences. Maybe he thought that the Iraqi reporters, though presumably thoroughly screened, would not notice how slurred his speech has become lately, as if he has been taking any one of a number of controlled substances, or maybe all of them. But one attendee, named Muntada al-Zaidi, a reporter for an Iraqi-owned but Egyptian-based TV station, made himself an instant hero not only in Iraq but throughout the Arab world by taking off both of his shoes and hurling them straight at Bush, along with some choice remarks, and apparently with good enough aim that his first shoe and maybe the second, too, might have hit the man, had Bush not heard the accompanying shouts, grasped the attitude, and seen the objects coming, and dodged appropriately.

Later somewhere in the Middle East, some American tourists were asked what Americans would think of that act, because apparently in the Arab parts of the world, to associate someone with shoes in certain ways, especially throwing them, is a supreme insult.

The news report didn't say what those particular Americans answered. In their place I would've said that Americans would have been merely puzzled and bemused at best, because such an act is as far out of the fully loaded and time-tested arsenal of American insults as it is possible to get, and from the lack of fuss that the incident seems to have stirred up on these shores, that seems to be the case, though there could be a pocket of rabid rightwingers here or there who might want to bomb and invade Iraq forthwith, provided that they don't have the presence of mind to realize a moment after the curses leave their mouths that GWBush had already done that, and for equally flimsy reasons, so bringing about the hurling of the leather -- which in no conceivable way compares to the myriad disasters that his actions have wrought on all aspects of Iraq.

But in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, the incident has been a big thing, to the point where the Iraq Parliament nearly closed down because of brawls over what should be done about the shoe-flinging newsman.

The falling flat on the U.S. side of the world of those two shoes reminds me of a remark that Colin Powell made when he was the commanding general of the U.S. forces that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait during the First Gulf War. Powell promised the American public that "We are going to kick Saddam's ass."

Far from being insulted and feeling threatened, the dictator of Iraq and many others in the Middle East instead just kept scratching their heads as they vainly tried to figure out what Powell had said.

"What! He's going to kick my donkey?" Saddam is reputed to have said. "That's the American idea of a big insult, a terrible threat? Kicking my donkey? ...Mercy! What curious people!"

When you're shooting across two cultures, it seems that you have to study really hard beforehand to come up with something whose effect is fully felt in both places, else your jolly insult, no matter how justified and happily delivered, in the end only turns out to be ...er ...half-assed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Different Game -- Sammy Baugh

It's odd and a little unsettling when, after a long absence, a household name suddenly pops up, though only for the last time.

Sammy Baugh was one of the biggest names in D.C. during my adolescence. He was the quarterback of the Washington Redskins football team and legendary even in those times, from the late '30's up into the early '50's. "Slinging Sammy Baugh" I think he was fondly called. This was in those sadly long bygone -- and also odiously segregated -- days when, however, there were far fewer people around to behave so poorly. This meant that, purely on the spur of the moment, even I, who never said devotions at the football altar even then, could show up at the ticket window in Griffith Stadium on a Sunday afternoon and be able to see that day's game up close and in person -- a sheer impossibility in this present era of season tickets, those abominations that have become precious legacies and expressions of (often drunken) privilege that are passed along with great reverence and appreciation from one generation to another, as happened in my own family.

It's pretty weird in today's terms to say that at various times S. Baugh led the then modestly-sized NFL not only in passing but also in defensive play and in punting. In one game he threw four touchdown passes and also intercepted four passes. Incredible in terms of now but not far out of the ordinary in those days of something called "all-around players." Specialties are okay, I guess, but I can't help thinking that in today's game something interesting is still missing, for bad.

As the late, great commedienne, Moms Mabley, said with mixed dismay and wonder, "People are dying today that ain't never died before!" Now it's Sammy Baugh, sacked permanently, though not before, in life as well, he had racked up an unusually fair amount of yardage, at age 94.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Google Chrome Browser Report

The newly developed Google Chrome browser has been around for several months now, first in beta and it just came out in its Version 1.0. I've been using Chrome almost from the moment the first beta download was dffered, and it has completely replaced Internet Explorer and Firefox in my computer habits. Chrome is fast and simple, because Google must have too many other irons in the fire to spiff this up too much, and it instantly greets me with a graphic menu of the 9 sites that I visit most often, and I like that because it reminds me of the Speed Dial add-on in Firefox, and I haven't missed the multiple pages of those thumbnails that Speed Dial offers.

That's about all I can say about Chrome, and that's more than enough, because I don't ask much of browsers, past the bookmarks, and Chrome has several ways to store and access those, including the aforementioned graphic menu on its first page. I can go everywhere I want to go in good time, and it's hard to think of more that could be asked of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Toward Medicare for All

Ever since that darkest year of 2001 it's been clear to me that the reason that the GWBush administrations could not in any way go on to excuse the infamy through which they were twice allowed to occupy the Oval Office is that, being naturally evil people with consequently misguided intentions, their policies had one overriding basis that led to their fouling everything they touched, almost without exception. That basis was to think of what a Clinton-type administration might do in each situation and so to see the exactly opposite direction as always being the best way to go.

I guess that, while always trying to keep up the spirit of moderation, the Obamarites would try to be consistent by not following that policy either. Still, in that light I have a few trepidations about what the incoming Obama administration is likely to do. They might keep the pendulum from swinging back far enough in the other and much preferred direction and in so doing challenging Newton's Third Law of Motion.

True, Obama's teams will include a lot of former Clinton people, including the former First Lady herself. But the general tenor of things doesn't as yet signal as much in the way of Change as B. Obama had spoken of during the campaign. Note for instance keeping in their positions of power people like Bush's Secretary of War, R. Gates, and J. Lieberman, the wishy-washy so-called Independent senator from Conn.

Probably the most crucial area in which this slowness to Change threatens to occur figures to be in health care.

The choice there seems obvious, and it definitely would be Change bigtime. Single-payer -- or Medicare for All, as it would much better be called -- is the way to try now, while scrapping private health insurance. But B. Obama has signaled that he intends to go slow on this, by first asking the public what it would like to see.

But this is a public that stood still when the Clintons were so badly trashed for putting forward a more universal health care system during their first years in office, while at around the same time Congress repealed a provision for catastrophic health insurance just a few months after passing it, when people who largely already had such coverage protested bitterly and loudly at allowing others to have the same protection -- showing that the Haves in this country are not very charitable to the Have-Nots, and, since the Haves are still very much in the picture, in the days ahead they will most likely work hard to keep things that way.

Steve Bates' "Yellow Doggerel Democrat" weblog and Andante's "Collective Sigh" have been giving especially vivid testimonies lately of the trials and tribulations faced by people trying to recover their health while at the mercy of a privately insured system that at times seems actually designed to work against that, by causing additional stresses and strains that can only worsen the afflicted's existing conditions.

This is the price that the less fortunate members of a society pay when a large segment of the population sees itself as having inherited the world, and from that position they see no point in allowing others to share in the general well-being, which first of all should always include good health and chances for a long and rewarding life. And in this case it doesn't help at all that those who have the power to make this decision and to change medical matters for the better are almost all Haves who are happy with things as they already are.

Tulip Tree

Yesterday, as he had promised, my neighbor and very good friend right up the road, G., called and told me to bring over my saw, because along with one of his sons, P., and another neighborhood youth, W., he had very generously, as is his longtime habit, cut and had dragged out of his woods into a field a very large Yellow Poplar, or Tuliptree as it is also known. It had been struck by lightning and was already dead in its upper reaches, though not completely so in its trunk.

We all have a lot of yellow poplars around here. They start growing at a moment's notice and relatively fast, too, for a hardwood, as they are classed because they are deciduous, though its wood is actually softer and easier to split than that of the softwoods around here, mainly the pines. One poplar is growing closer to my house than I really want. It is right in front of my front deck, but I didn't think much about it when I sited the house and started building it, 31 years ago. But it was pretty nondescript then, and not more than 3 or 4 inches through. But now it is a monster, with a trunk over a foot thick.

Yellow poplars are important and beautiful trees. They are called tulip trees because their leaves have that shape. They have large cream, green, and orangish blossoms in the spring that are the main honey crop for beekeepers in this region. Plus it has wood that is really beautiful when fresh cut, a creamy greenish yellow and often with brownish and even blue and purplish heartwood. But those colors fade quickly as the wood dries, though it is still prized for cabinetry, especially, to my observation, in making the inner parts of drawers.

But in the woodstove it isn't the most warmth-producing, and I have read of it as being an "indifferent firewood." But my philosophy has always been that wood is wood, no matter what kind it is, and every kind has its uses.

Anyway, I suddenly have a lot of it to saw up and split, more than enough to finish up our wood piles for the year and well into next year, too. And it is definitely much easier to haul from G's field in my pickup than carting the hickory off the hillside has been. My only problem is where am I going to store it all?

But as problems go, that's a great one to have.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Disconnected Thoughts

Everything happened years ago.


Just as I had finished typing the above disconnected thought, which I intended to accompany with two other thoughts not linked to it, and just when I hit a key to do something or other with it, there was a loud and startling mini-blast in the rear of my yellow computer, and the machine ceased operations, though the electrical circuit it was on remained all right.

The best and only suspect right away was the computer's power supply, because the explosion was in that area, and it's been acting up lately and not wanting to fire up things right away. The culprit still is undoubtedly the power supply, and I am looking at having to buy a new one online and installing it -- actually a simple and fun matter. And I think , while I am at it and since prices on computer stuff seem to have come down a lot, this time I will get a "see-through" supply with a fan that has blue LED Lights. I could put that in my "see-through" acrylic computer and move its power supply to the yellow machine.

As for the other two disconnected thoughts, I'm having trouble now remembering what they were. And anyway -- after a welcome wet period of two days when they had severe ice storms farther north but the temp here stayed in the '50's and so also because of the accompanying warm rain instead of freezing rain and ice I got a badly needed short vacation from my wood-hauling =- now the hand-numbing minus 20 stuff in the mornings that had been here earlier for long periods is back in full force.


But that suddenly reminds me of at least the second of my disconnected thoughts, which was observing that the most important day of the year is now little more than a week away. That day is December 21.


And it's interesting that the thing that happens in this part of the Solar System on December 21 every year without fail is purely by chance, indicating that pure chance is as capable of as many great things, if not more, as is design -- that is, if they're not finally also one and the same.


But the most important thing is to remember that actually everything happened years ago.

That's what I put way too much time and effort into doing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shooting One's Self From the Hip

Not long ago, in a bustling night club in New York City, or in some place like that, a man shot himself in one of his own legs with his own gun.

I had never heard of this man, but that means less than nothing, because apparently everybody else had definitely heard of him -- meaning that he was a famous player for a pro football team.

The bullet didn't hit an artery, and his injury wasn't life-threatening, but the incident nevertheless raised a huge outcry, because he was a famous football player, and, among millions of other expressions of outrage, the Gotham Mayor, a man named Bloomberg, demanded the famous football player's arrest, and that was so done. So now the ballplayer is in some trouble for toting a loaded gun into a busy night club and for shooting himself in his leg, probably while trying to assure somebody, most likely a woman, that he was more "packed" than ordinary, in addition to being one of those most venerated of citizens, a rich and famous pro football player.

One of my best friends similarly shot himself in his leg, while he was even younger and in fact still a teenager. He did it out of the burning need his hormones felt for him to perfect his fast draw.

Though his father, a veterinary, was a highly respected and famous citizen of the community, this incident went unreported, and today is probably remembered only by himself and by one or two of those to whom this man long ago related the even more ancient tale of this miscalculation by his youthful trigger finger.

This is what is meant by the famous truism, "Stuff happens" -- that is, when the consequences are non-lethal and intensely private. --Except that in the present case, the latter result definitely doesn't apply, and that's why it's so dangerous to aspire to being someone in the league of a famous football player.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Eternity and the Firewood

I haven't posted much lately. The reason is that my various physical systems, especially the circulatory and the nervous, have severely co-opted the clearness of thought that is necessary to string words and sentences together in orders that make at least a little sense, to the writer anyway.

Sometimes my labors "right in through now" remind me of the myth of Sisyphus, except that nothing corresponds too well to the huge rock that he was eternally condemned to push up to the top of a hill, only to see it roll all the way back to the bottom, upon which he had to trudge back down and start pushing it upward again, throughout eternity.

People in ancient days had some extremely twisted minds, to come up with and to pass along so relentlessly such incredibly cruel and gruesome concepts as the eternal ordeals of Hell or the myth of Sisyphus. The only explanation must be that the majority in those days were so wild that the so called wiser heads figured they had to keep them scared to death, to keep them in line.

Naturally eternity isn't any kind of a factor here, and no one is happier about that than I am.

Meanwhile my rock can't be the huge hickory either, that I managed to cut down over two weeks ago and have since completely sawed up, so that there remains only the much more rigorous job first of splitting the rounds -- by hand with mauls and wedges -- and transporting them in a big garden cart down one long slope and up another, the trip down the hill being as difficult and much more dangerous than the other part, when it helps that my wife usually assists with pulling the cart up the hill to the house.

So my rock can't be the garden cart either, made necessary because most of my woodlot lies across the creek and up a ridge, and I can't afford or want the tractor and the stout bridge that a more practical person wouldn't hesitate to put in first.

And the rock can't be the firewood either, because it never rolls back down and instead stays up there at my house and warms the heart, both in its appearance and in its final hours in our soapstone stove -- especially in those very rare days when it snows ...with a 30% chance of that, day after tomorrow.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dogs Chasing Cars

Though they may have thought otherwise, it was a sad day for dogs when cars were invented. What big fast-moving things did they chase before then? Horses and their riders? I wonder how often they caused the horses to shy away, thereby throwing the riders and bringing about broken limbs, necks, etc?

I know an erstwhile dog-loving guy who nevertheless gets as uptight about them chasing cars as I do. He said that one time he cured a dog of that habit. I asked him how. He answered, "I ran over his head."

Yesterday I talked with a very pleasant young lady who told me about a recent incident that I had heard about but had the creature involved wrong. She is rooming at the home of some friends of my wife, and it wasn't a cat after all that her car hit and killed. (Not she but her car hit it. Making that distinction clear is all-important.) As she was returning home one afternoon while dogsitting for her hosts, those two Jack Russells did one of their favorite over-active dog things, which was chasing cars with great enthusiasm, and the wheels of her vehicle hit not one but both with the same strike, killing one and leaving the other with a permanent bad leg. She was highly distraught and called her landlord and -lady at once, but they understood perfectly and soon got a couple of replacements for the canines.

Still the young lady was further badly spooked when one of the new dogs promptly dug up the grave of his deceased predecessor.

The thing about dogs is that word of dangers never seems to get around to them. But if it did, it's doubtful how much heed they likewise would take of it.