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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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Feetless Headlines

Just today.....

"S. Korea Criticizes N. Korea Over Nuclear Missile Tests"

We know.

"The G.O.P.'s Purity Problem"

Now that's being mentioned?

Abbas: New Talks with Israel are Needed

All that talking and fighting over there started at nearly the same moment that I graduated from high school, 60 years ago.  Are  they really ready to put that turmoil on an Old Testiment time span?

Mainland China Reports Two New Cases of H1Ni Flu

But China has well over a billion people.

"PSP Go: What We Know So Far"

It seems that you have to be a real insider, probably on computer games, to know what this is about, even after reading the article, upon which  I didn't see any connection with the ancient Japanese game that has far more dibs on the name, minus the "PSP," played by men sitting on the floor in positions unacceptable to American legs, around a large wooden cube on top of which is inscribed a grid covered to varying degrees with  small white discs and black discs, and the main thing you have to master is picking them up and slamming them back down with the greatest possible authority and aplomb, as if you really know what you're doing.  

Chrome, Good and Bad

I try not to get vituperative, except when it comes to the way that a number  of people habitually bring their butts into the polling places to guide them in their choices while having left their brains and their sense of decency elsewhere.  But today I have a complaint to make about Google's relatively new browser, Chrome.

I like Chrome a lot, and in fact, though I have a collection of other browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Avant, and Safari, I have confined myself to Chrome ever since it first came out.   I like Chrome because it is simple, quick, rock stable, and a little whimsical -- a combination of qualities that's hard to beat..

But there is also a certain amount of idiocy at work among the people who are responsible for it -- unless, as with the proprietors  of many other programs, their excuse is that, now that they have gotten the product out, they feel that their job is over and they are not obliged to use it themselves.   Maybe they've seen so much of it by then that they're sick of it.  Still, that shouldn't fly.

If the Google people did use their browser, by now they should have noticed that  the list of recent bookmarks that is prominent on Chrome's first page does not  show recent bookmarks at all.  Instead mine is still showing bookmarks that weren't even recent when I first installed the program a year or more ago.   In this respect Chrome is only saved because it shows bookmarks in so many other ways.

And the idiocy doesn't stop there.   It extends to the graphical menu of the nine most recently visited sites that makes up the rest of the front page.   This menu is another big reason why I like Chrome so much, but nine sites aren't nearly enough, and also that menu is too capricious in what it chooses to show.    Google should long ago have enabled Chrome to show a great many more thumbnailed first pages  of the most recently visited sites by funishing the ability to scroll down.   Plus it would be good also to let the user rename  the thumbnails, and permanently.   For instance the name of Blogger on my Chrome menu usually is "Redirecting."  What is that?

Releasing a product doesn't relieve its maintainers of the responsibility to go back once in a while and improve its features, especially in a program that is made to stay on a person's computer for a long time while undergoing daily use.  The updates that Google does send out for security are okay, I guess, but that's no reason to set aside making Chrome handier to use.

Maybe one day I'll get around to directly informing Google of these derelictions in its duty.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

J. Leno

Just to show you how bad things can get when it comes to the time thing...........

The big news in the entertainment industry today is that Jay Leno is taping his last show on the "Tonight" late night TV talk show program.

My wife informs me that he has been on that show for 17 (seventeen) years.   Both of us are amazed.  I remember him from before the "Tonight" show.  Not well, but I remember him, and it seems like only yesterday we were wondering if  he would be able to make a go of it.   I thought that the appearance of his jaw as being oddly outsized might not work in his favor.

His time in office went by so fast, in fact, that it didn't give me a chance to catch even one of his shows..   

Personal Perception

The outlooks of others, in the real world as well as online,  vary from the way things appear to me so consistently that I have to wonder, more often than is comfortable, if I haven't, as James Joyce put it in his "Ulysses," grabbed the sow by the wrong teat, in every respect.

I keep being rescued by the thought that, though we believe we can conceive of the outer reaches of the Universe and we believe that our kind has devised instruments  that enable us  to see that far, every person's brain is actually a prisoner shut up inside a space hardly bigger than a grapefruit, so that even the most enlightened and intelligent of us  cannot even see, directly, the backs of our own heads.  Consequently  all our sensibilities are limited to the personal perceptions we have, and, if we are not complete robots, those perceptions are the only realities for us, and we act mainly in accordance with those, and that's  legitimate,  outside of outright criminal activity.

But that brings on another question.  Have the boosters of Intelligent Design been right all along, except that the Designer, whoever it or they might have been, designed, built, and set into motion not what are thought of as being "people" but are vast armies of self-propelled robots instead?

This would explain all the incomprehensible undertakings  slopping over into what otherwise would be the insane, that can be found all over the planet, starting with the pyramids in Egypt.

Friday, May 29, 2009


It seems that every program you install on your computer requires you, first, to stop and accept or reject a mysterious and erstwhile legal agreement called a "Eula."  You are also quite earnestly asked to read the thing before you tell your machine to accept or reject it.   To hit "reject," however, means that the installation of the program stops then and there.   What's the purpose, then, of putting that choice in there when by the mere act of starting the installation, it means that the user intends to use the program regardless, and he's always going to hit "accept," even at the risk of never learning one word of what he's forbidden to do, as  stated in all those stipulations that huge teams of lawyers have  inexplicably put togther and that more likely than not is pages slong.

At some indefinable risk whose dangers are not clear to me, I confess.   I never read the Eulas, and I have the strong  feeling that, for once, I am far from alone in that.  I just hit "accept" and thereby accept the loss of a split-second of my valuable time, though not without feeling vaguely, VERY vaguely, like some computer miscreant.   (While in New York City I scrupulously obey the pedestrian Walk and Not Walk traffic lights.   But I am not as practised as most New Yorkers are in the agilities of criminal ways.)

Well, that's not strictly true.  Every once in a great while I do let my attention run a honest scan through a Eula, but I do that so rarely that you might as well say that  for all intents and purposes actually it's true, and I never do read them, though in fact I wouldn't be a bit surprised if, by deigning nevertheless to run my eye over one, I am in reality quite a heavy reader of Eulas, compared to most people.

(If the  preceding sentence reads a bit confused and  awkward to you, that was my intent.  To admit to not reading Eulas places one on hazardous ground.  It has to.)

Whenever I do read a Eula, I do it for only one purpose: to see if, as yet, anybody has put anything in there that makes them worth reading.   But so far ...nothing.

A lady once told me it was prudent to read the Eulas nevertheless, or at least to scroll through them as if you are,   because a program might have a means to detect that you haven't bothered, and then bad things could happen. 

But Eulas must not be for an ordinary user like me, who is going to use the program for its intended purpose and that's all.  Instead the Eulas must be directed solely at people who have dark activities in mind, such as those of the Asian pirates.   

Or it's to justify the employment of lawyers.

Still, I can't help thinking that,  all in all, because of the way they induce us to use all our powers to ignore, Eulas are just another of civilization's enduring little absurdities,  and worse.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

To Ride a Plane -- Career Choices

In recent years great efforts have been made  to force us to accept the relinquishing of some of our freedoms, under the threat of terrorism, which is leveled at us much more by those who are supposed to be preventing it and so protecting us, than it is by the terrorists themselves.   But despite that, I would not be surprised if instead, the main concerns  that people have while riding an airliner now are just the same as they were before September 11, 2001, and that is the state of affairs up in the cockpit, coupled with the condition of the plane.   Is the crew up there on the job and strictly concerned with getting everyone including themselves back on the ground in one piece, or are they up there doing crossword puzzles or knitting, saturated with confidence in these modern machines that are so sophisticated that allegedly they are able to fly themselves?

Not long ago I read a powerfully vivid account of a cockpit conversation that took place between a male pilot and his female copilot, before icing overwhelmed their plane, a medium-sized airliner, and it stalled and then quickly crashed into the ground, I think in New York,  ending the lives of all aboard.

No, the chatter had no taint of any romantic interests.   Instead it was all business, except that it wasn't the kind of business commonly associated with piloting a plane, especially in inclement weather where icing is a problem.  It is my belief that the copilot was happy that she had been paired with a pilot in whom she had total confidence when it came to operating the plane, amd also she had sensed that he was a gentleman who was actually interested in hearing everything she had to say.  And what she had to say was mainly about  her career choices that she would be making in the future.

Once in a while they would also talk about icing on planes and their past experiences with it, but those mentions were infrequent and  quite casual, a chilling thing because, knowing how this turned out, you also knew that minute by minute, despite what the pilot and the copilot had to be noticing out of the corners of their eyes as supplied by their equipment indicators and the view through the windshields,  conditions outside the plane were steadily getting more and more serious.   

The last seconds, the last words of the recorded conversation are among the most gripping I've ever heard or read, and they were all spoken by the copilot.  She had at last realized, first, that the plane, however sophisticated, could not fly itself after ice had taken it into its deadly grip.   And though she most likely had no time to become aware, at the crucial moment the pilot in whom she had such confidence and who was such a genuinely nice, understanding person, turned out not to quite understand the  situation into which they had drifted.  In panic he  pushed or pulled the stick in some direction that was counter to what is supposed to be done instinctively when a plane is fast losing altitude in such dire conditions.

It is probably just as well that I can't remember the copilot's final words, spoken in  complete horror and realization -- a statement that, like her life and the lives  of all the others around her, was suddenly cut off in its midst, and so the question of her career choices was settled for all time. 

The fates must have decided on this outcome.  Why else had they allowed her to become so focused on choices other than the ones that the two of them needed to make to finish the flight safely?   Like the pilot, she was otherwise an experienced pilot in her own right.   

Maybe she had somehow sensed that a crucial decision on her future direction had already been made, else she wouldn't have been so tempted to keep returning to the subject in spite of all, just as if she was back in her warm apartment chatting with a friend, another airline worker, instead of at the wheel of a plane in flight high in the air, in some tough Winter weather.

The only good thing about this is that mercifully she was  completely unaware of  what that decision was or how it had been set into motion for her from the moment that she had boarded that plane, though naturally even with the presence of mercy, nothing turned out to be good in any way for all the other aspects of her well-being or for anybody or anything else involved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Now with the Fauna Around Here

Buddy Blacksnake, who I believe is not yet fully grown, has developed an interest in my house, because, after I ushered him away a few days ago, I saw him again two days later, sprawled across our front deck. This time I tried harder to grab him, but he had gotten wiser, and he quickly dropped to the ground and then under my woodpile. The woodpile is severely reduced in size, but I still didn't feel like taking it apart. When will be the next sighting of him, which Blacksnakes can be depended on to bring about, if no one hacks them with a hoe or some such? Who knows?

Contrary to my expectations, the cedar waxwings, or whatever they are, did not abandon the nest that they built along the top edge of my shed door. Instead they added some mud to attach it more tightly, and yesterday one flew out of it.

It's a good thing I haven't needed to go in that shed, which would do a job on that nest. I guess that door is a good place, because it might be like a sheer cliff face for a predator to have to climb. Or it would be if I hadn't put those decorative yellow strips on them a long time ago. I didn't anticipate this situation, but the birds complain -- though not verbally -- only if I get close.

It's been a great year for the whippoorwills. I hear one early nearly every evening. I have no way of knowing if it's the same one. But this one is loud and he's determined, going on with his call for minutes at a time without seeming to take a bird breath.

I don't think I heard them at all last year, and I wondered if something had happened to them.

Meanwhile I have never actually seen one, though one time one alighted on a section of the roof that is almost level with the rear windows of the upstairs bedroom, and from there it injected quite a few decibels directly into the house.  Also  I have never seen an owl, though hoot owls closely rival whippoorwills and distant train whistles for making some of my alltime favorite sounds, and there's no shortage of great sounds that can be heard around here, far superior to the incessant sirens of cities and the low roar of even such a non-industrial town as D.C.

I haven't seen any deer or signs of deer for several months, and the voles also seem to have lightened up. Maybe they're busy eating each other. That would work.

But soon it will be time for the Japanese beetles to emerge. Last year, for the first time in I don't know when, they hardly showed at all. The Rose of Sharons and I could easily go for another year without them, too. I hope somebody tells them that, though I know it is far too much to hope for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blogger Sabotage

At some point not long ago that I didn't notice, Blogger seems to have fallen into what I call "the Consultant Trap." I think it probably hired people to make changes to Blogger in the spirit of improvement. So now there are two modes in which posts can be written, the Edit Html mode and the Compose Mode. The Compose Mode is the easiest, because there you don't have to see all the html codes. And that's fine. But if you depart in the least from the straight and the narrow and do stuff like cutting and pasting, or even as simple as putting something in bold or italic type, troubles with the html code set in. At least they do for me, especially when cutting and pasting.

That is because the phrase, sentence, or paragraph I moved is then shown in something I didn't ask for, badly oversized type. The thinking of the consultants there must have been that they were being helpful, by showing the writer exactly what he shifted. But I know perfectly well what section of my scribbles I moved, and I don't need to be shown. And even worse, sometimes, for reasons I haven't detected, Blogger will, unbidden, also throw into that extra-large type size other phrases and sentences that I didn't touch.

As a result now, when published, my posts appear quite often with sections in big type that I didn't intend. This is bad enough, on top of the numerous typos I make and missed seeing as a result of slowly weakening eyesight. And it's not easy to go back and read through the thicket of impossible to understand html codes to fix the problem.

Even worse, when I do think I have fixed things, quite often Blogger will then refuse to let me post the corrected version, flashing a big yellow error message at the top that usually says I haven't closed something called a "tag." And it's almost impossible to read through a post that has more than two or three paragraphs to find what they're talking about, so that the only sure way to republish my post is to copy it into Wordpad and use that to strip out all the html codes, copy the post again, then come back to Blogger, delete the old post, and paste in the stripped one -- a lot of aggravating, unnecessary, added work.

The same error message will also say something to the effect of "Tell Blogger not to show erroneous html codes." I tried that once -- and that post and all my previous ones, though not the framework of the weblog, disappeared, and it took some anxious scrambling to get it all back.

I can only think that consultants never use the things they "improve." Or maybe they wait to ink another fat contract to fix the things they broke, by putting in something else that has the cracks already showing.

But I feel uneasy complaining. After all, Blogger is free, and has been through the five years I've used it, without ever asking for a dime, and just today I believe I have made my 800th post, and not just short, quick ones either.

I worry about how people get the money they need to eat and to get in out of the cold and to pay the clinics. It's amazing how hard that often is to figure out.

Responsibility for Our Faces

In the comments to an article I read recently, about Israel, someone quoted Albert Camus, the famous French philosopher of the 1950's, as saying that everyone is responsible for his face after the age of 40.

That conclusion provides a full plate for thought,  and it wouldn't be the first of the few times that I would question one of his statements, but I wonder if Camus was misquoted there, because it throws wide open the question of who is responsible before one reaches the age of 40.

I m totally confident that there can be very few people in the whole wide world who haven't taken full responsibility for their faces from the very beginning, especially in France.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The North Korean Surprise

Yesterday the People's Republic in North Korea did a Big Naughty.

They ran two tests, on the same day, one of a short-range missile, above the ground I assume, and one  of a nuclear bomb device, underground, and they did this without telling anybody beforehand.

This was in stark contrast to the way that, a few months ago, they orchestrated a weeks-long exercise in yet another session of the gorilla-like chest-thumping and roars and screeches that characterize any posturing that has to do with atom bombs, climaxed by launching another missile with a somewhat longer range.   Without ratcheting down their rage one bit, Japan and its friends declared that that launch was a total failure, but North Korea said, "No, it wasn't.  It was a resounding success.  We put a satellite up in orbit, and now it's broadcasting back some patriotic songs," that it seems only they could hear.

This time the usual parties are outraged by this inconsiderate and therefore obscene lack of advance notice, and the word "condemn" is again being badly overworked.  Those parties, thus cheated out of 50 percent of the fulminations that they could've made, include the U.S., though no part of it borders North Korea, plus several somewhat closer countries, namely South Korea, Japan, and, though at some distance itself and totally devoid of anything that rates it as good material to be hit with a guided missile, Australia.

This Latimes article gives a lot of the ins and outs behind the feelings of indignation and behind what  could'have been in the North Koreans' minds.

The main and actually the only thing that is interesting about this is that it may all be Hillary Clinton's fault.

She is believed to be  the Obama Administration's Secretary of State, and apparently the North Koreans shook their nuclear fist yet again to get some attention, because she has been badly remiss in going over there and sweet-talking them, and bomb-carrying missiles always get some attention, if only for a short while. 

I don't blame the North Koreans.

Meanwhile it is also thought that the tests were to make the North Korean military feel good with this muscle-flexing, because Kim Jong-il, the present leader, is falling behind the guff, and he  is preparing the way for the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong-un, to take over.

Actually, that's  interesting, too -- that the youngest of the  three  is considered to be the most capable.   But the  article didn't reveal Yong-un's age.   I wanted to know what,  among the experts in the fields of geopolitics and  gorilla chest-thumping,  their idea of "young" might be, because that could be trouble.

The Meaning of This Country

The devotees of HBO's series, "The Wire," knew they were in for a good ride that has lasted for four years now, when, in "The Wire's"very first moments, a detective named McNulty is sitting on a stoop talking to a street guy, while watching as the police establish the scene of a murder just committed.  The body of "Snot," a street thug, is lying nearby, after he was shot dead by some of his contemporaries.    The street guy tells McNulty that Snot was known for running off with the money that had accumulated  during crap games.   He would do that every time, and usually the other players would just chase him down and give him a good whipping.  But this time someone apparently decided that a well-aimed bullet would teach a better lesson..

McNulty is amazed, and he asks why the players would always let him into the games when they knew that at some point he would run off with the pot.

"Got to let him play," the street guy answers.  "This is America.

I am saving this for the moment when at last I am called to appear before a U.S. Senate committee to testify on something, anything at all, so that I can inject it into my answers.

It shows how a lowly street thug in Baltimore can have a better idea of what the U.S. really means, or is supposed to mean, than all those highly placed birds in the top echelons of government who are forever spouting off their empty salutes to patriotism and all the rest of that kind of thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

He Lives Here, Too

Above, though his head is not easy to make out, is the business end of an Eastern Black Racer, more commonly known as a Blacksnake.

Maybe one of the reasons we have such an inborn fear of snakes is their talent always to appear when you're least expecting to see one, but never when you're on the watch.

This one popped into view a few days ago, as I was about to open a side door into our house.

It was startling, though not heart-stopping, to see a 4-foot long, dark, glistening snake fully extended vertically on the side of my house, a few inches from a door handle that I was about to grasp.

Blacksnakes are by far the most numerous kind of snake around here, and the only ones that don't find it unreasonable, though they don't make any sort of a habit of it, to get up close and personal with your house. I see them several times a year nearly every year, and because our house siding is of rough oak boards, it's easy for them to slide even up under the eaves of our roof where I have found at least one shedded skin. But so far they have held back from making a surprise appearance inside, which would not be impossible or a totally unheard-of thing for one to do.

However, years ago, one did treat us to a personal performance, by shedding its skin in full view on the other side of one of our windows. At the time some of my wife's relatives were visiting from Boston.

I maneuvered this one down off there and out under the deck, where I took the picture.

I've killed Copperheads because they're poisonous, and I've killed Water Snakes when they were too hard to tell from Copperheads, but if I've ever killed a Blacksnake it was probably just one huge fellow that had made a habit of stealing eggs and swallowing baby chicks, and in so doing he had developed so much girth that he had gotten wedged while trying to slide through the chicken wire. Otherwise Blacksnakes come in handy for keeping things like the field mice in check, and maybe the voles, too, though I feel that a herd of cats is more thoroughgoing about that.

In my younger and more confident days, I have grabbed snakes with my bare hands and carried them to places where they would be more likely to mind their own business, and I wanted to get hold of this one and deport him to the other side of the creek. I did try to grab it, some, just short of his head, but he jumped into the menacing posture that you see in the picture and I deferred. His bite wouldn't have been lethal, but bites by anything at all (with the possible exception only of female humans and then only by a certain few) are not my idea of fun. I ended up just pushing this one with a stick down to the ground and down the slope, hopefully to other adventures elsewhere.

This snake lives here, but he and his kind are like people that you don't mind being around, though it isn't necessary to see them every day, or even every month.

As undesirable as it might seem to urbanites, seeing snakes from time to time is all a part of country living, and also it's something to report to someone like H. down the road, just to hear his response, because these days it's reassuring to note something, anything, that is still exactly the same way I remember it, and his response would be as surefire as the Sun rising in the east.

"Did you kill him?" H. will ask purely on reflex, while knowing full well that I didn't and full of scorn because of that.   He automatically kills any snake he sees, no matter what the variety. 

Just as in the case of any New Yorker, Minnesotan, or Texan, by being a native-born Virginian H. is four beers short of my six-pack of finesse.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Face Transplants

Ever since they started appearing in the news, several months ago, I have tried to avoid reading all mentions of face transplants.    I still do, because the subject is not good for my stomach.  But, there is this.

What do they do?   Strip off what's left of a person's badly damaged face  and then similarly and very quickly strip off the more presentable visage of someone who has just died. and without a moment's delay they then stitch that onto the patient?  The idea that anyone could get himself together enough to make as little as just the first incision with the intention of cutting a person's whole face or just a part of it off the front of his skull boggles my mind.

The main question I have is, what happens later when the patient wakes up in the mornings, and, while getting  ready to wash his face he looks in the mirror and -- WHOA!

Who is not deeply wedded to the face he was born with, even if it's one that a great many people are glad not to have? The replacement of  an inner organ is one thing, but a face is getting really personal.

But I guess that after the agony of having already had to confront for a while one's original face as badly distorted by some mishap, the dislocation that I would think a person would experience every morning after the operation can be dealt with.

In these very first days face transplants have been  confined strictly to helping people with badly wrecked kissers, and that deserves applause, but how long will that last, vanity and other motives for wanting a different set of features being what they are?   Surely the technology of doing it will be improved by leaps and bounds, so that even having to take anti-rejection meds for the rest of one's life will be eliminated.   I foresee a lot of hairy problems, with crime stepping in to do its bit to stir the boiling broth, as will the film world, and with ethics experts and government officials arriving late and huffing and puffing but loudly asserting that they and only they are in full control of things and all decisions should be placed in their hands, though that won't happen.

So a gang organization gets a commission to find a totally new face for someone with the cash.   They provide one from one of their murder victims, and a shady hospital group performs the operation.  But seeds of discontent have been sown among all concerned.  And meanwhile the patient can't help but imagine feeling himself slipping under the malevolent control of the deceased who once had worn that face.

This is as far as I can go with this hopefully far-fetched scenario, because I just now thought of it, and in its broad outline it has already been done long ago, but new variations are still possible, and they're endless, for the events would be truly Gothic,

This could happen almost anywhere, but it will take place first and most often in Asia.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Causes Cancer? Lovelock Tells Us

Here, in something of a nutshell, is James Lovelock's  answer, from his book, "The Revenge of Gaia:"

About 30 per cent of us will die from cancer; few seem aware that the prime cause is breathing oxygen.   One of the great stories of Gaia's evolution is that animals are empowered by oxygen, which provides them with a huge gift of rapidly available energy -- without it they would be as sessile as a tree -- but the cost of this gift is a faster rate of death, and the cost for Gaia is our ability to commit combustion.

Wow!  Who knew?   We commit larceny, murder, voting Republican, and a gigantic array of other felonies and misdemeanors, and also we commit combustion!  But to continue with Lovelock's explanation, as found on pages 123 thru 125 of his book:

Within each of the billions of cells that make up our bodies are tiny inclusions called mitochondria; these are the power stations of our cells.  Inside these tiny particles, fuel from the food we have eaten reacts with the oxygen we have breathed in.  The output of energy from the mitochondria is a flood of molecule-sized rechargeable batteries, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules, each able to power for an instant our muscles and our brains, so that we can walk and run and think.  When discharged, these molecular batteries are recharged again at the mitochondrial power houses.  For our bodies, with their billions of tiny mitochondria, the danger comes from the accidental leak of combustion products.  As oxygen reacts with the food products, unintended pollutants are formed.  These include the oxygen molecule with a negative charge called the superoxide ion, the hydroxyl radical and other highly reactive molecular species.  These destructive molecules escape from the mitochondria as toxic pollutants and also arise accidentally anywhere in the body where oxygen can react unchecked.  The omnipresence of oxygen in our bodies also greatly enhances the damage done by radiation and chemical poisons.  The fiercely reactive radical products of oxidation will attack almost any other molecule they encounter, and this is how they damage the intricate orderly internal assembly of our organs.  Almost all of this damage is repaired by an evolved set of enzymes and systems - which we could look on as the security services of oxygen-breathing life.  But inevitably some damage is done to the genetic chemicals of our cells, like DNA, which are the programs and procedures for building new cells.  Wonderfully, the damage to DNA is also repaired and there is a continuous check of its integrity.

In the course of a lifetime, unavoidably, a few of the billions of these comprehensive checks fail. From the failures to repair oxygen damage, new cells are born, with fatal or near-fatal disorders.  Most of these damaged cells commit cellular suicide using a death pill that every cell possesses called a capsase.  When this is activated it sets in course an orderly progression to dissolution.  It is a miraculous process called apoptosis.  Just imagine if each one of us, on concluding that he or she was so much more harmful than useful, began to take ourselves apart in so perfect a way that a tidy, orderly heap of spare parts for future human use was left.

Sometimes the damage done to DNA by the products of oxidation disables one of the genes that sets the instructions for cellular suicide, and when that happens a maverick cell is born and grows unchecked.  Then, after several more potentially adverse changes, a fully unrestrained cancer cell is born.  It grows and invades and eventually may kill the animal that spawned it.

This is no more than an imprecise sketch of carcinogenesis.  We still lack knowledge of the finer details, but it is enough to show how the life-giving power of oxygen has its dark side.  By the time we reach the biblical allotted span of seventy years, 30 per cent of us will have died of cancer, and for almost all of those deaths, breathing oxygen will have been the main cause.

A reader might say, with some exasperation, "This is all very interesting, but how am I to keep from breathing oxygen?"

The things that Lovelock says are based on paradoxes, and because paradoxes characterize existence, we have to keep dealing with them all the time.   So, breathing oxygen has definite dangers , though if we didn't do it we would all just be stones on the beach.   And another seeming contradiction has the Sun being one of the main forces that allow us to be here, yet Gaia has to keep working hard to protect us from the Sun, or else that uncontained, spherical, nuclear furnace blazing in the sky that we dare not even look at directly would soon wipe us out as if we and all other living things had never been here at all.

H1N1 Advantage to the Advanced

When at last you slide into the ranks of the group called "the elderly," you hope that among all the disadvantages that you incur by doing so, once in a while an actual advantage will  pop up, even though it may dismay those numerous groups who are younger and who seem to believe that elixirs of immortality will be invented and made freely available just in time for them to avoid meeting the same awful fate.   Today just such an advantage was announced by the CDC, and what's more, it's so logical that it's hard to see how it can be shot down any time soon.

     Some Older People May Be Immune to Swine Flu, the headline read, with suitable care and caution, to lessen the chance of resentment on the part of the newer ranks.   But I feel no need to be so circumspect.

It turns out that an earlier version of H1N1 influenza was responsible for the deadly epidemic that broke out just as the First World War was ending, back in 1918, and that strain dominated the flu outbreaks for the next 40 years, till 1957, when another flu family took over.   This means that chances are, those born between those two years, who would now be well up in age, developed a certain amount of immunity that very likely is helping them to fend off the current, related strain.   And the CDC reported that of the cases that have been reported to them so far, only 1 percent involved people 65 and older.   And this when it is the elderly and the very young who are usually the groups that are hit hardest by such illnesses.

Being aged is not the only demographic in which I fall.   There is another that almost always gets the short end of the stick in reports made by the health authorities, and I often wonder if politics and partiality play parts in it all.  Otherwise how is it that the group that is always the first and the longest to be hammered  hard on the American anvil, so that it must have a stronger temper than any others, is so often proclaimed to be the one most susceptible to all kinds of physical shortcomings?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Homemade Telescope

There are three small products of technology that I have long wanted but for various reasons hsve never had, though plenty of people, mostly men, have at least one of them and often more, especially in this country. Those items are a good pocket watch, a strong telescope, and a powerful microscope.

I have two pocket watches (you should have two of everything), but both are on the very modest side and both stopped running after only a short time. One was given to me and I bought the other one, though, because of how I hate to return stuff, I never mailed it back to be fixed or to be replaced. (I've never wanted a wristwatch because I don't like things that I wasn't born with being part of my person, and that also goes for anything around my neck, around my fingers, etc.)

Through playing trivia games online, about a decade ago I became acquainted with a nice lady down in Mississippi who at the time had a job selling high power microscopes to various institutions, including colleges and government labs. I talked to her a little about buying a microscope, but the prices were out of my range, and anyway, shortly afterward she moved on to other employment and that was that.

I have a very good and somewhat affluent friend over on Virginia's Northern Neck who had a great-looking telescope sitting in his living room. When I admired it he offered it to me, free, because at one time we had worked together and had been close friends for many years, and also because he never used it. But I turned it down, for several reasons, though the main one was that I thought it was far too fine a piece of equipment for him to be giving away, and a little later he gave it to someone else, and so that was that, too.

I was reminded of these things because yesterday I happened across a website that offered plans for building a model of the Hubble space telescope, a celebrated instrument that seems to be able to see almost back to the beginning of the Universe, and it has just been repaired by astronauts again, for another 10 years of good use. That interested me, till I saw that the models were merely to be admired and could in no way be used to look at the Moon and the stars or even a bird outside your window.

But then for the first time I started wondering how much would be involved in building an actual good-sized, homemade, working telescope.

It occurred to me that things were different from the way they were 40 or 50 years ago when, after getting this idea, I might never have hesitated to tackle such a project, and I thought of how nowadays there is such a marvel as Google right at my fingertips, whereby I can instantly get information on almost every conceivable undertaking that formerly would have taken a lot of effort and time to get.

And there it was, all a person would ever need to know about making telescopes at home, and about how it had already been done by many people for many years.   The very first post I read was somebody saying they had heard of people making a telescope lens from the cutoff bottom of a bottle, and that was right down my alley, philosophically speaking.   Then, on the other end of things, I found this very interesting article about a cardiologist up in Massachusetts who has a giant 11-foot telescope that he made himself.  It has a 32-inch mirror, and he has it sitting in a rotating dome that he also built himself, atop his house,  at a total cost of a mere $30,000.   And with this rig he has looked at stars that are as far as 10 billion light-years away. That's right. Ten billion light-years!

Is that a typo, or is it a misstatement?  How is it possible to see anything that far away?  How is it possible for anything to be that far away?  All of that is unimaginable to me...but still highly fascinating.

(I was tempted to wrap this up by wryly saying instead, "Yet people still go to church much more than they check out planetariums."  But I was rudely brought up short by the unsettling realization that I myself have never been to one of those star-gazing centers, while I have been to a church plenty of times -- though sensibly not after the age of 16.   Yet I've heard that there is a very fine planetarium right up the road from here, only about 45 miles away, high atop a mountain just outside Charlottesville, or "C-ville" as it is sometimes called.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When We Had a Lot of Cats

When we had a lot of cats, eight in all, years went by before we even heard of voles.

Today, when you mention voles, which is  always with dismay in your voice, people think you mean to say "moles."   And it is true that voles look and live much like moles.   But moles  are essentially carnivores who eat grubs, while voles eat the meaty parts of the roots of your valuable garden plants, and with almost all our cats having left us,  the voles have gone wild with multiplying, and, among other horticultural outrages, they nearly wiped out my ultra-cool bearded iris collection of close to 200 dazzling color combinations that I had amassed with the expenditure of a great deal of money, labor, and love.  But I admit that that is not all bad, because I finally got the idea of putting the surviving irises in large pots.  This spring not one of them sent up a bloom, but in the pots the plants still look good, and promising..

When we had a lot of cats, those ubiquitous inhabitants of the countryside, the field mice, were not at all enthusiastic  about invading our house.   Today, with only one cat around, they have become fonder of the notion.  Not a whole lot, but some.

When we had a lot of cats, one day the behavior of several of them told me that something on the edge of one of my plant beds had caught their attention. The fact that their attention was complete wasn't unusual, but the fact that they all shared in it was a big tip-off. The object of their concerted study was a full-grown copperhead snake, and it was cringing up against the rock edging right where now and then I would pull weeds with bare hands.

I wonder what my chances are now of happening upon a copperhead , when I still have to weed not only there but also all over the place.   But maybe that one would have just gone about his business, as they do now all the time without me ever being the wiser, if the cats had not harried and  cornered him there.

With the leavetaking of most of the cats it has been  considerably quieter and less eventful around here, especially the skunk scenting incidents.  The mysterious thumps and yowls are few and much more easily explained.

When we had a lot of cats it wasn't much harder to feed and otherwise look out for them than it is today with just one.

When we had a lot of cats, we didn't have all that heartache waiting ahead, when all those quaint, furry, four-legged little friends of ours, each with a personality, some even loving, that made them easier to tell apart than did their appearances, began to leave, one by one.

I hope we knew just how favored we were, when we had a lot of cats.

The Lone Survivor^

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The VP's Bunker

Yesterday the people who pontificate for FNN demonstrated for the umpteenth time that their talent for reaching far exceeds their grasp.

Doing one of their favorite things, tattling on the Vice-President of the United States, they did a good job of embroidering on a report that J. Biden  had disclosed the location of the bunker where Vice-Prez's can hide whenever there are signs indicating that violent reprisals are being made on U.S. home soil for something its agents of many types have done in other countries..

One could very well yawn and think, "So what?"

You might suppose that the answer is that that location was supposed to be Secret,  and maybe even Top Secret.  After all, the number of countries who had had armies of spies swirling around D.C. and nearby for almost a decade trying to ferret out the location of that burrow must have been enormous.

But that is merely ancillary to the FNN.  What matters to them is that it was in their eyes yet another political gaffe by the VP, due to his well-known volubility, and they could gleefully add it to the long list of his "political gaffes" that they have conscientiously been keeping.   Also they  showed hardly any concern that Biden had endangered himself.  Instead all their cares centered around the Cheney guy, and they screamed that Biden had clumsily let slip the critical information on where  Cheney  had hunkered down during 9/11, which, you may notice, has already been quite some time ago..

You would think that the Fox Neo-Nazi News people would never want to invoke memories of that day, because the actions of both Cheney and Bush after the airliner smash-ups would never make it into another book on the order of J.F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."   My recollection is that, instead of Bush flying directly to Washington or New York as soon as the word registered on him and going on the air there and saying, "This is a terrible thing, but let's all just cool it," he spent the next two days flitting around from place to place far inland without saying much, while Cheney cowered in his bunker closer to town and also unheard from.

They must've thought that the terrorists thought that they were the leaders of this country.   But the terrorists knew better,.and actually Bush/Cheney were, of all the U.S. citizens, among the least in danger, because the pair had already shown  that they were relevant  to the real workings of United States  only in the same way as a pair of high-flying geese eyeing with interest the intake of a functioning jet engine.

The FNN operated on the premise that Biden had revealed the location to be in his home, the Naval Observatory, somewhere on the outskirts of D.C., where the Vices have lived since the 1970's.  Well, where else would it be?   It's convenient, and West Virginia is a place where, once there,  it's not easy to find your way back out.

But then Biden's people claimed that he had only been talking about an upstairs working area that had been renovated and that had also been used by Cheney and his people.

So there's hope yet that Biden still has a hidey-hole where he can go and few to know where he is, though that  isn't at all his thing, and I can never see him -- or that amazingly outward  wife of his -- doing that.  Instead we can count on him, hopefully with his wife, always jumping up in the face of any situation and saying, "Here I am, y'all!"   And that doesn't call for sneezes.

I don't think Fox News is going to get much out of this latest stretch of theirs.  They might want to look at the length of that list that they are calling his numerous political blunders and ask themselves how far their doing so has gotten them and, in comparison, J. Biden, thus far. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Passing Thought No. NUK

Like the highly respected doctor and scientist, James Lovelock, a number of Republicans are also in favor of building more nuclear power plants.

What is to be made of that?

It can't be, however, that they do this for the same good reasons that Lovelock sees. Instead it has much more to do with the dollars offered to them by the nuclear industry, and with the fact that they don't like the people who condemn nuclear power.

All the same, the Repubs have not been known to recommend to their supporters in places like Grosse Point, Michigan, Potomac, Maryland, or Oak Park, Illinois storing nuclear waste in their backyards.

I wouldn't either.

Instead I think that, if they can't be released, those are perfect places to which the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo at least can be moved, before that base is at last returned to its rightful owners, the Cubans.

Lovelock's Sticking Point: Nuclear Energy

James Lovelock has a lot of good and interesting things to say.  His environmental credentials are all in good order -- except for one aspect that must be a giant bone in the throat for some who otherwise would be disposed to agree with every point he makes, and that is that he likes nuclear power.   And maybe not just likes but even loves it.

He doesn't exactly say that there can't be too many nuclear power plants, nor does he quite say that radiation is good for us, but he's not too far from either idea.

He does say that there are too many coal-fired plants, along with too many wind farms, food farms, vehicles, people, and anything else that interferes with Gaia regulating the Earth's temp, which is getting harder and harder for it to do, thanks mainly to the actions of the too numerous people on the planet.

He believes that since electricity is absolutely indispensable to modern civilization, nuclear power is the most practical of all the ways used to produce it.  In addition, his pressing concern about the Earth turning into a greenhouse with no vents and set squarely in the midst of a burning desert, caused by carbon dioxide and methane collecting in the atmosphere, nuclear power is especially appealing to him because producing it doesn't add to the gaseous tarp covering the greenhouse, and so therein lies our best chance to save ourselves from the gathering catastrophe of the Earth overheating.

On hearing this two questions might immediately pop into minds.  The first is, what about where to put all the deadly nuclear waste, for which even nuclear power's most avid advocates have not yet come up with good answers, and the second is, what about accidents and the chances of meltdowns?

Lovelock sees no problem whatever with storing the waste. He says:   

One of the striking things about places heavily contaminated with radioactive nuclides is the richness of their wildlife.  This is true of the land around Chernobyl, the bomb test sites of the Pacific, and areas near the United States' Savannah River nuclear weapons plant of the Second World War.

Therefore, with the wildlife serving as our canaries in the coal mines, and with humans being the ones who are afraid of the waste, the solution easily suggests itself.    The waste can be stored in places that badly need protection from those who would destroy them for commercial purposes, like the tropical forests, thus hitting two birds with one stone.

If there were any doubts of Lovelock's personal commitment to this view, more than any other passage in his concise little book, "The Revenge of Gaia," the following astonishing statement, made I am sure not at all with his tongue in his cheek, shows exactly where he stands on this very difficult and important issue:

...I have offered, in public, to accept all of the high-level waste produced in a year from a nuclear power station for deposit on my small plot of land; it would occupy a space about a cubic metre in size and fit safely in a concrete pit, and I would use the heat from its decaying radioactive elements to heat my home.  It would be a waste not to use it.  More important, it would be no danger to me, my family or the wildlife.

As for accidents and meltdowns, Lovelock thinks the incidents that have happened, along with what could happen, have been badly overblown in the public perceptions, and along the way he trashes one of my favorite movies, "The China Syndrome," with that stellar job done by Jack Lemmon in an uncharacteristic, serious role.

All this is a very attractive view of things, and it creates a powerful temptation  to think, why not?   After all, to take just two countries that have deeply committed themselves to nuclear power, France and Japan are widely perceived to be (with some lapses of course) full of sensible people who are deeply into self-preservation. Yet, with not nearly the amount of real estate of the U.S., they have nuclear power stations all over the place, any one of which, were it to blow up to the degree against which we have been repeatedly warned, especially by a Greenpeacian named Harvey Wasserman, one of whose main things is a  series of fervent and always interesting articles attacking nuclear power, those two countries would essentially become null and void., for a while at least.  And meanwhile the event at Chernobyl and the less serious one at Three Mile Island continue to fade into history, along with all the other kinds of catastrophes. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Passing Observation No. XYO

Ernie Davis said that he believed he was put on Earth to make people happy.

That may be, but there are two sides to every coin, so that,  because of  his numerous and almost unbelievable football exploits, he must have made at least as many people in Massachusetts, West Virginia, Texas, and other places intensely unhappy.

I seem to recall, don't I, that, during the time when I was interested in sports,  no matter how admirable the players on those teams might have been in their own right,   no New York Yankee, Dallas Cowboy, or St. Louis Hawk ever did a damn thing for me.

Administration Stumbles

The administration previous to this one was always doomed to accomplish only noxious projects, because it came from the extremity of human thought that is permanently rooted in cesspools. And because they were so handicapped, that GWBush administration operated by one simple tactic, and that was always to do the opposite of what a Democrat, a sensible one, would do, and so they didn't take even one initiative that I was ever able to notice that could be applauded, and instead it started becoming easy to see that whatever GW Bush wanted to do had to be a bad idea.

To take just one example, one that people that I thought would have better judgment accepted without serious question, there was the prescription drug "benefit" that Congress with Bush's intense approval added to Medicare a few years ago. As could be easily anticipated, that turned out to be largely to the benefit of the drug companies and little if at all for the good of the people who couldn't do without the meds.

It would follow then, logically speaking, that the current governance under B. Obama would have an easy time of it, by adopting the same practice and always doing the exact opposite of what the Republicans, undaunted and endlessly arrogant, are still vigorously recommending, as if they are still very much in charge.

But Obama and his people seem to have a different philosophy. They call themselves approaching each issue on its own merits, and they act accordingly, regardless of how most Democrats might see things, and even if occasionally the measure might be in tune with Republican wishes.

That sounds meritorious. It is the kind of thinking that wise people have urged since time immemorial. Approach each issue purely on its own merits, regardless of ideology. This avoids tyranny, dogma, narrow-mindedness, and many other evils.

But there is a catch. It's enclosed in these two words: define "merits."   This difficulty, too, is illustrated by the prescription drug "benefit."

There may be another part of the Obama philosophy as well. They see themselves as acting on behalf of not just a part of the American populace but all of it instead, something that the Republicans never pretended to do. This means that, against their own better judgment, the Obama people might even deliberately go in a less decent and more hard-nosed direction, because it is the one preferred by those that they know don't like them and didn't vote for them. The administration won't do this often but sometimes, and it also serves to help keep the lid from being lifted too much from all the traditional resentments that have always bubbled in the American pot.

This may not be the actual case, but it's just that sometimes things seem to be that way. Otherwise the reasons are hard to grasp.

Though that policy may also make sense, of a sort, it may work against a successful Presidency The "deliberate" missteps whose failings are obvious to all but its most fanatical proponents could turn out to be too numerous, because there are so many waiting to be made.

One of those administration stumbles involves Afghanistan. Another is about Gitmo. A third is on the subject of torture. And we have to keep our fingers tightly crossed on health care, a concern rivaled in supreme importance only by climate heating, and one on which the desires of the Regressives would best be screeched from the vicinity of the Moon, or at least the South Pole.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Update on A. Stone

It's a terrible thing, to be permitted to enjoy your little personal mysteries for just a moment or two.

After wrestling with the post before last for so long, made difficult by the quirks of Blogger, after publishing it, on what I considered to be an off chance (and before I saw a comment by an Anonymous about that post), I did a Google and found that there was indeed a biography, though a very short one, of the football forerunner to Jim Brown and Ernie Davis at Syracuse, Avatus Stone, with whom I attended elementary school.

He didn't just vanish from Syracuse University one night never to be seen again, the impression given by that movie. Instead he went on to play football professionally in Canada for several years, during which one year he was voted the best player in the East. Following that he played a little for the Baltimore Colts in the NFL, and then he retired.

Also he had children, a daughter and a son, but I am still not happy that I saw that bio, because I read that, though he was born in the same powerfully fateful year as I was, in 1931, A. Stone has already been absent from this life for the last nine years, of cancer, in Fairfax, north of here but still in this same state of Virginia.

I could not possibly have enjoyed even a small fraction of certain rewards that he undoubtedly garnered as a football star, and that would explain some things. But still. . . .

It all reminds me of how stupendously blessed (and clever?)I am, to be still walking around and casting shadows in the sunlight,  with all  my faculties still reasonably intact though they are weakening slowly, and still with no weight or other problems of that kind, and still hot on the trail, in my own way that is unfathomable even to me, of that elusive Holy Grail whose existence we all first became vaguely aware of back in those carefree and heady days at Smothers Elementary, so long ago.

Texas Yet Again

Steve Bates is in an unfortunate position.   Actually he is in more than one unfortunate position, but the one I have in mind is that he is, to my thinking, somewhat more sensitive than is good for him, to the myriad slurs that he hears leveled against his beloved state, that Lone Star place that, though undoubtedly real, still quite often appears to be mythical.

I can speak to this because I am from another place, Washington, D.C. that also is the longtime butt of unwelcome observations that it gets, often at the hands of ingrates reporting there for work, a trap into which even our current President fell, the first day it snowed there after his inauguration.

And when someone commenting on Steve's weblog particularly has something derogatory to say about Texas, he replies in kind, usually with their permanent departure from his world of the ones and zeroes strongly in mind.

The other day, when such a post of his expressing that attitude stayed up on his site without anybody else responding, I had the temerity to leave one there myself, against the background of having already said several things through the years about Texas that he had had reservations about, though they hadn't been strong enough, I suppose, to rile him up to any noticeable extent.

In this latest "Texas" remark of mine I just said, as far as I can remember my own several words, "Texas is the U.S.'s  Great Symbolic State.  As such, it is the source of far more than its share of the country's metaphors.   So no point in getting stirred up over the things that are said about it too often."

I haven't yet checked out Steve's response.   To his great credit, he always responds to every comment he gets, and I don't know of anyone else who matches him in doing that, though a couple of ladies come close.

And now, in the movie I just mentioned in my previous post, "The Express," the two Rainbow stars of the great 1961 Syracuse football team, rated No. 1 in the country,  are contemplating going to Dallas to confront the Texas Longhorns, the No. 2 team, in the Cotton Bowl. After having already had a harrowing experience playing in West Virginia in those terrible days of  racial segregation and extreme animosity,  one of the players, with mainly the fans in mind, says to the other, "You haven't been south till you've been to Texas."

That, my friends, is just what I meant!

I've been thinking of recommending to Steve this movie and the way in which the Texas football team is vividly depicted as being indeed a collection of fearsome, long-horned monsters that it would have appeared to be indeed impossible to beat, and in their own surroundings.  Steve might not mind having some aspect of Texas having the ability to throw the fear of God into its erstwhile critics.  But do I dare?

Nevertheless "The Express" is indeed an excellent movie of its kind, in all respects, with not a false step to be seen anywhere.

Avatus, Jim, and Ernie, at Syracuse

As if to show that it is never actually too late,  yesterday something happened that was an absolute first for me, or so I believe.   I saw a movie about the life story of a historical personage that mentioned another person that I actually knew and was even in their vicinity for several years., albeit in this case far back in geological time, in my childhood that admittedly now is only a dark murkiness in which tiny memories have glints that just barely allow them to be made out with anything approaching clearness.

This person's name was Avatus Stone, though we knew him as Avatus Moore, and he was a classmate at Smothers Elementary School, in northeast D.C., during my time there from 1937 to 1943 or however long he was there. I'm thinking he didn't show up right away.

We weren't "husk buddies" or anything, but we did have something or another to say to each other from time to time, and that distance was partly because he was inordinately fond of an activity that was never my thing in any way.   He participated in a lot of fist fights, though whether they were instigated mainly by him I don't recall, if I noticed.

After graduation we went to Browne Jr. High, and there our paths parted, sharply.   Going to Browne was for me exactly like entering a prison camp, because its principal, a devil named Stinson,  ran such a harsh regime compared to anything we had seen at Smothers that it was as if we were regarded as criminals the instant we stepped inside Browne's doors, and one day during lunchtime, another guy and I had a little session of the usual horseplay in which we pretended to be battling, and this evil rascal grabbed us and sentenced me to spend my lunchtimes without any lunch standing in an empty classroom through the rest of the semester. 

My mother, who understandably and with extreme accuracy had an entirely different view of me, did not take kindly to that at all, and she promptly had me transfered to another school that had the added advantage of being much closer to my stepfather's law office in northwest D.C.   That school was better though not by much, and it had a full complement of kids who were actual criminals, and for them fighting and much talk thereof was their religion.  But I had time to fully establish my credentials as a bonafide weirdo who could never be seen as being any part of that game, a talent that has stood me well ever since in a wide variety of settings  regardless of the surrounding genetic hues, and, aside from occasional taunts, they left me strictly alone, which is all that anybody can ever ask, isn't it?

Meanwhile the rest of my former contemporaries in elementary school matriculated at other places, and, aside from once in high school, I never saw any of them again.  But while at Dunbar High, I heard that right across the street, at Armstrong High, Avatus Moore, now somehow named Avatus Stone, had gone on to become nothing less than that big be-all and end-all, a genuine, football star.  He was a quarterback, with a great throwing arm and also an expert punter, and from there he went to a genuinely bigtime, "white" university, Syracuse, somewhere in New York state, where, however, he was relegated to being "merely" a running back, because at that time no Rainbow, i.e. "black," was thought to be smart enough to be a quarterback.   --As if you have to be smart to play football at all, though there is the question of how anybody can be otherwise, if we are to believe that the players really can understand all those crazy, complicated plays that coaches are so fond of mapping out on blackboards. and clipboards.

As the first Rainbow player to be recruited at Syracuse by a coach named Schwartzwalder, which, by the way I think means "black forest" in German,Avatus Stone became the first in what turned out to be a little dynasty of such players, because following him came one of football's greatest players ever, the absolutely indestructible and unstoppable fullback, Jim Brown, and he was succeeded in turn by Ernie Davis, who was the main character in this movie, "The Express," just as he was the towering figure in the fabulous year of 1961 when Syracuse went undefeated and became for the first time the national champions, in the process trampling a monster team called the Texas Longhorns, and, adding insult to injury,  in their bailiwick, in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the town where a little later Kennedy was shot, in the same year, 1963, that the life of Davis himself ended far far too early, when he was barely into his 20's, due to leukemia.

As we got ready to look at this movie, I told my wife about Avatus Moore, later Stone, and I wondered if he would be regarded as having been important enough to be mentioned, though his name was never nationally known, and though the pool of the people who had known him, especially in elementary school, had to be shrinking fast.   But  indeed he was mentioned, a couple of times, though a character representing him was never included in the film.   The story of his short career at Syracuse was briefly presented as an example of the wide and high hurdles of prejudice that a Rainbow player had to face even in such a supposedly enlightened Northern setting as that citadel of higher learning.

According to the warnings given to Ernie Davis, and I assume Jim Brown earlier, there being a near total absence from Syracuse of Rainbow coeds, Avatus Stone had dated a so-called "white" girl, and that was a huge no-no.  From then on he had been hounded so badly that soon he had had to leave the team, and not only that but he disappeared to no one knew where, and there the matter, where he is concerned, rests to this day.

Having heard that, and as I wonder what happened with him and where he is now and in what circumstances, provided that he exists anywhere,  though in the intervening years I didn't think of him at all for decades at a time, if ever,  his story has been added to the huge stew of mysteries that keep stirring through my brain, and the answers to which I know I will never get.

Meanwhile I keep thinking of how perfectly incredible it is that the brain, which, after all, is only a piece of somewhat mushy gray meat, can nevertheless retain things as slight and insubstantial as memories for not only seconds but also for 70, 80, and more years.

 This is a part of why it is really such a crime to kill anybody or anything else that is animate, even insects, because they are such miracles of construction.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's True about Harry Harris

A friend informed me yesterday that there was a rumor going around that Harry Harris had left this life, and the friend asked me what I knew.   I no longer hang anywhere near the grapevine, but my wife soon found out that it was true.

In recent times I had seen hardly anything of Harry Harris, but I feel like we were still very good friends.   He was that kind of a guy.

My son, Coltrane, ran cross-country track in high school with two of his sons, Jeff and Daniel, and between the older son, Jeff, and -- after Jeff graduated --  my son, the cross-country coach was assured that, no matter what happened, he was always going to be able to claim that coveted No. 1 spot among the finishers of each and every race, for four glorious years straight.   And this was also striking, because it was during the era when long-distance running was looked upon as being a purely "white" domain.  My wife and I followed those races around Virginia, as did several other parents, and during that time we saw a lot of Harry Harris.

Though we will not be there, for a variety of reasons, Harry Harris figures to have an extremely well-attended funeral.   For a Rainbow (read "black") man, he was highly respected, among the Euro ("white") population as well as among the Rainbow.   He was a tall, quietly spoken, dignified, affable man, and you could tell just by looking at him and noting especially his bearing that he had a great sense of proportion in all things.   

He was by far the most respected Rainbow in this county, and as such he was the first and so far the only Rainbow member of the county Board of Supervisors,  in a county where nearly a third of the population is "black."   Or at least 30 percent was what I read when we moved here 30 years ago, though now I see that Wikipedia has summarily moved half of us out and gives that number as being only 14.6 %, while suggesting that enough Euro people (from New Jersey of course)  have moved in to up their proportion to a whopping 82%.   I am skeptical, but anyway, hopefully another such aspirant won't have to be the equal of Harry Harris.  That is setting the bar a little too high to ask any man to jump.

Till he arrived the county government had been run by a board of four supervisors, and though, if you count women, Euro men are a definite  minority in the county,  none but them had ever been allowed to hold those exalted posts, even though they are not even the most benign of minorities.  No group composed of males could ever be.   But everything is still relative, and I must quickly add that, for a southern rural county, here they are exceptionally benign regardless.

  At first, however, even Harry Harris couldn't be elected to that prestigious post.  He couldn't have gotten enough Euro votes in his quadrant of the county, or in any of the other quadrants, even the one where there were more "hippies," i.e. transplants from somewhere else.  But as Harry Harris had a great reputation, with a fine family, and had obviously managed his affairs so that he was materially better off than the general run of the population of any color though he was not a doctor or a lawyer, and as the 21st century was almost here, and as that Rainbow 30 or 15  percent was still present in the population and waiting, quietly waiting, but still definitely waiting and looking, the powers-that-be contrived to  create a fifth seat at large on the board, with equal powers..   And when in that post Harry Harris showed that a Rainbow man could have as much restraint and good sense as any Euro (read "white") man, he was eventually  elected in his own right, and he even became the chairman of the board, presiding over decisions that admittedly would be seen as far less than earth-shaking in many other parts of this great, trembling country of ours but are of pressing  inportance here.    And meanwhile a woman (whom we also happened to know personally for a long time -- it is a small county) has also been elected to the Board.

The word is that after he left the Board of Supervisors, and with all his children grown and gone, Harry Harris' main mission in life was looking after his mother.  She passed a short while ago, but cancer, too, had been waiting, and now it has had its say. 

The departure of Harry Harris leaves an enormous  hole in the spirit of this county that will take a good little while to close, and those who are in a condition to be able to see such things -- such as the man who with such extreme caution asked me if I had heard the rumor  --  know that all too well .

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Andante's Railing ...Not "in Texas"

A short while ago Andante of Collective Sigh ran a post and a picture telling of how she, in her still weakened state due to cancer and her continuing treatment for it, and alone at the time, fell while negotiatiing the flight of several steps from her garage into her house, and it took her half an hour to get to her recliner and from there to take new stock of things.  Soon afterward the husband of one of her best friends hustled over with tools and some lumber, and a couple of hours later she had a brand new set of shorter steps, plus a railing and some highly buoyed feelings.

One of her commenters said something  that struck a nerve.  He spoke of how people never think about how necessary it is that their houses be outfitted with things, removable or not,  like ramps and railings, for those times when illness or aging otherwise turns a house into a real and even a life-threatening obstacle course.

Actually some people do think of that, and heavily -- the ones who have in some way actually taken some role in building their houses, and that includes plenty of people around here ...and me.   Yet, I guess I can be seen as being even guiltier than those to whom the thought rarely occurs, because I think of such measures nearly every day, yet so far I have done little more than that,  and now 80 is only just over two  years away.

I know I talk about building this house a lot, but I have to mention here how part of the trouble is the way that I had in mind the principle of being as light on the land as possible, plus I had no desire to have a basement.  So, as the best building site I could find was a gentle, south facing slope, I put my house up on short posts and in three levels to accommodate the slope without disturbing it.

This means that to enter the house,  you have to climb short sets of steps to get on any of the three decks,  the shortest set being only one step high, though that leads to the entrance that we use the least. Then  to get from one level to the other inside the house involves climbing flights of three more steps each, while reaching the main bedroom, the only room on the second floor, calls for climbing a spiral staircase of 12 steps.   Finally, to use the bathroom requires taking two steps up, because I platformed that above the main floor, the idea being to keep the plumbing, especially the traps, inside the heated part of the house.

So I am well aware of the difficulties that might come and the likelihoods, but I have in my mind complete pictures of what I will have to do when the time comes, and I am hoping that that is half the battle.

Aside from possibly not being in a condition to take those measures when the moment comes, my biggest drawback will be a tendency always to think of doing things  on my own.

  Andante and her commenters spoke of how great it was to have friends to help with things, and to be a friend and help with things in turn, and that is all totally true, and it's just the way my wife thinks.

What, then, causes me to always think instead only in terms of doing things entirely on my own?.

Well, I know exactly why, and meanwhile I guess I just like to have that being the way for things to go with me.   Maybe I take one of the major reasons for living in the country in the first place, being as self-sufficient as possible, too seriously.

That might account for why the opening of "Blood Simple,"  the early film masterpiece of the Coen brothers, is one of my very favorite movie beginnings.  It has that remarkable character actor, the late J.T. Walsh, giving that great, short "Nothing comes with a gan'tee"monolog that he finishes by saying, roughly, "In Russia people stick together and help out each other.  That's the theory anyway.  But what I know about is Texas, and in Texas you're on your own."

I just love that, and one reason is that  I feel that I've always been so "out of it," by the standards of others, that I've always been "in Texas," figuratively speaking.

Odd side note: Years ago I gave S., my neighbor up the road, a short though wide set of oak steps that I had made and had been using outside somewhere.  I thought they were too gray and weathered even at that time to be used inside her laundry room that she was remodeling, and that led up into her kitchen in exactly the same way that Andante's does from her garage.  But S. liked them, and they may still be in use today.

Details, Details ...Medical Details

My appreciation for medical details is deficient -- unless, of course, I must face the same thing at around the same time.  Otherwise my willingness to hear such things is, like, really really low, and it reminds me of how, as a kid, in the movie theaters, whenever there was even the slightest suggestion of a horror scene coming up, I would duck my head down behind the seats and keep it there.   

Is this the result of "disorder and early sorrow?"  (And is that a title that a writer of novels or short stories would deeply wish the fates had saved for him to come up with first?   That being so, who is the author of long bygone times who is to be thus envied?   One of those chroniclers of the doomed South -- William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, or the like.  But which one?   My memory lags.  Still, Truman Capote?)

Early yesterday my wife informed me that her yoga mentor, S., a woman of almost exactly my age, was having a hip operation at 10:30 that morning.

I let that go without comment.  But two hours later I thought I would at least ask where S. was having her operation.

After telling me, now that I shown more interest my wife warmed to the subject and decided to give me details about what the operation would require the surgeon to do.

"First they have to take her leg out of its socket--"
"That's okay," I said instantly.   "Stop right there!   That's enough!"

It's amazing how many things there are in the world that I could never have been, and it's a miracle that I've made it this far in spite of  that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The House Fly

Because the country is much more their world than it is ours,  once in a while tinier types of the local wildlife feel free to invite themselves inside this homemade house of ours, though less often than you might think.  Their entry is helped along because in the construction I put up all the boards -- 95 percent of them oak -- when they were fresh from the sawmill and so could still be easily nailed,  and the house is not the tightest you've ever seen  But I don't think that tight houses are necessarily healthy houses, and in any case I was well aware before I started that that would happen, and I made various allowances for the way that, as they dried,  the boards eventually parted from each other in various fractions of half an inch.

The other night, as I was trying to set up for yet another of those strange sessions in which we voluntarily give up for a while our identities as rational beings to which we have been trying so hard to hold on to all day long, called sleep, our latest invader, a large and loud house fly, insisted on following me through the darkened rooms, maybe because wherever I went there was light.

His good instincts must have enabled him to avoid my wife, because otherwise, on noticing his presence, she would have been on his case in a flash, and she wouldn't have stopped  till he was toast.

I didn't have his best interests in mind either, but, though I could hear him only too well, I couldn't see him, not even during the frequent, short-lived periods of silence after he alighted somewhere, and I decided it was best to ignore him.

But after I finished reading and had turned out the light, I realized that I hadn't heard him for a while,  and he was nowhere to be heard  the next morning, too.

Slightly sympathetic,  I wondered what had become of that rascal.

House flies are generally seen as being one of the banes of our existence, though actually they are one of the countless marvels of Nature's handiwork.   They were named for those exceptional flight abilities that they are able to exercise under their own power --  something we would love to be able to do ourselves, though that's not in the cards any time soon, if ever.  Also, when seen extremely close up with an extra powerful lens of some sort, physically they turn out to be fantastically machined little works of art.

Among the many thousands of  screensaver pictures that I have downloaded and saved from the premier online photo site, Webshots, once in a while  I would notice just such a shot of a house fly.   Its image had been blown up to fill the frame, and all the fly's various platelets and other parts were shown in a dazzling array and variety of clearly delineated shapes and colors.

I very much want to make a stained glass picture based on that shot.   It would be easy to do, and it would look great.  But now I can't find that pic.  In the last three or four of the ten years it has been running, Webshots has purged from its archives a large percentage of the three or four pictures per day, taken by the pros, that it's been posting every day of the year for the last 10 years.  But I should still have that shot ...somewhere among the large number of backups that I have made and scattered around on my various computers, two of which are temporarily out of commission at this particular moment.

It's good to take steps not to lose anything, but as time goes by, there turns out to be a staggering number of different kinds of losses waiting to take place, and it's getting more and more impossible for me to dodge them all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Better Cold Than Hot

Every day is important, and yesterday was marked by the fact that, in this Mid-Atlantic region at least, we are assured that from now on, till some time in the Fall, there will be no temps low enough to bring on frost,  and therefore for a number of weeks we can breathe much easier about our trees, crops, and other plants.

At a temp of about 56 F,  today is forecast to be much cooler than yesterday, which is turn was not as hot as the day before, and that makes this post fitting, because,  after finishing the Rembrandt book, for my nighttime reading I have turned to "The Revenge of Gaia," by James Lovelock.  He is a distinguished British scientist, who has probably been the main one in first formulating and then promoting the idea that, from about 100 miles underground where the core of molten rock and metal ends, to about another 100 miles up, where the air gives way to outer space, the skin of the Earth  is a living, breathing, and self-regulating creature called "Gaia," like any lion, tiger, raccoon, or human being, and we, taken collectively, far from praying to it, have been exceptionally unkind to it.

I had already gotten from other sources a lot of the stuff that Lovelock talks about in this book.  Still in it he hammers away at a bunch of points that are not so obvious and are worth thinking about.

One of the most interesting is his contention that, given a choice, Gaia, without whose good graces none of us would be very happy here, or alive for that matter, likes cold much better than it likes hot, and this means that all along in the past two seasons, by going through so much discomfort because of being almost constantly cold, I was actually much better off than I had thought,  and that if I really want warm,  along with everybody else I am likely to see much more of that in whatever number of years are left than anyone would want.   The fires in California promise that. 

As counter-intuitive as it seems, Lovelock claims that there's more food for the earth's small creatures and therefore  the bigger ones  in cold climes than there is in the tropics.   That's why the waters in the tropics are so clear and blue, compared to those nearer the poles.  The colder seas are darker, because they contain more nutrients for the plankton and therefore the fish, while the waters approaching the equator are, comparatively speaking, just deserts.   They're beautiful, as deserts on the land also are, but they're still sparing with things to keep a bunch of us going, eating-wise.  

Lovelock also mentions that, where living things are concerned,  the Ice Ages have actually been the Good Times,  compared to the interglacial periods between, such as the one we're in now, despite the fact that during the Ages so much land was covered with ice miles thick.   Many might think that that was indecent, because the glaciers sat squarely atop spots that were so sacred and invaluable  that  they had been reserved for  glories like Moscow,  New York City, Chicago, London, and Paris, though the truth is that  as those places were housing none of the great paintings as yet, that was really  no sort of a loss.     And elsewhere there was actually more land available for the non-sea dwellers than there is now,  because Gaia had stored up in the form of the ice above ground a lot of the water that otherwise would have gone toward broadening the  oceans and so making them a real bear to get across, as today.  Therefore in the Ice Ages  there was also more vegetation to cover all that added acreage, and there wasn't nearly as much in the way of deserts, on land or in the seas.

Cold is also preferable because, as Lovelock says again and again, the Sun has become too hot for the comfort of the living things on Earth.

I can see that, for it seems to me that just in my brief blink of an eye in being around, the Sun has gotten  noticeably  hotter and brighter than it was not so long ago.  

Lovelock tells us that, if it can be believed,  when the Sun and the Earth first started out, the Sun was, for our comfort zones, way too cold, though presumably it was just as close.   But being an ultimate  nuclear power plant without concrete sheathing of any kind, it kept on getting brighter and hotter as it aged, until about two billion years ago,  the temps it furnished were  just right for good living, and Gaia didn't have to work too hard to keep her household pets alive and evolving.  But the Sun didn't stop there, and today, as it figures to do through the rest of its career, it continues to turn up its thermostats.

   Faced with that, Gaia has had to exert itself more and to use  more and more strategies to keep us and all living things, including itself, in a reasonably contented state, and one of the main ways it does that is to pull down carbon dioxide (Lovelock likes to say "pump down," but when you say "pump" I want to see something tangible, a real machine instead of just a concept)  from the atmosphere where it had been serving as an effective  greenhouse cover, and  instead Gaia turns up its ice-maker.    The name of the game, as it needs to be in so many human enterprises, is "regulation," and Gaia uses that to  keep things cooled out and to prevent the Earth from meeting the fate of Mercury, Venus, and Mars, in becoming  a basically burnt-out and forever dead planet.  

And so, by sending up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse coverings while pulling very little of it back down, we as a  species, and just a single one at that,  are at bad cross-purposes with Gaia and consequently with ourselves, for another of Lovelock's points is that for the nearest term, the greatest threat of all this increased heating is to the thing of which we are so proud, civilization.   And  there is no issue, in the short run as well as the long, that matters more.

I am trying to promise to get into the habit of looking at being cold in a different way, though I don't know how much my physiology will permit that.   It could be that too many of my ancestors stayed behind in prickly but balmy Africa a little too long, before being jerked out of there by their throats.

It's just that it feels so forlorn and lonely, not to mention painful, to be cold.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Noise Pollution

We live in a very quiet place.  Even for a rural setting it is quiet here.  Visitors, especially if they're from a city, often comment on that.   It's because the area is so lightly populated.  We can't see the one house that is close to us, except that occasionally it's possible to get a glimpse of the upper part of it, in the winter when the leaves are down.   It is a little over 300 feet away, and  the next closest houses -- and there are very few of them --  are at least a quarter mile distant, and meanwhile the gravel road that runs past here, along the slope up behind our house, is so lightly traveled -- because it takes people only to areas that are even more lacking in inhabitants by a couple of orders of magnitude -- that I am sure there are long intervals, in the daytime even, when a person could take a reasonably sized nap right in the middle of that road without fear of being hit by somebody who's not watching.

Nevertheless, being people, we all make loud sounds  at various times and thereby create noise pollution.   But what exactly constitutes noise pollution is a subject for debate, because, like so many things, it is so subjective.

As this is my weblog, however, and mine only, in more than one way, I get to say here,  as if it's a purely objective matter, just what the noise pollution is and who the guilty parties are.

By far our worst offenders around here are hotshot young pilots in the military, most likely from a naval station way over on the Atlantic  coast several hundred miles away, who use the skies of this inland rural  area with its paucity of people for joyriding in their extremely fast, extremely expensive, and highly gas-wasting flying machines, roaring directly overhead and not that high up either, with incredibly thunderous blasts of noise, that induce fear because it's always unexpected and you rarely hear them coming -- the planes are so fast that they're already out of sight toward wherever they're not going in the ordinary sense of the word,  before you hear their noise.  They do this on the pretext of training exercises, but in reality it's pure joyriding, and as such, when one day the inevitable happens and one of those low-blasters no longer quite manages to clear the treetops under which presumably nobody lives, I fear that the regrets on the part of those nobodies will be on the ungenerous side.

Then there are the shooters.

As is to be expected, quite a few people around here own guns.  There are even two on my premises, though I rarely fire them.   One is a .16 gauge shotgun that I have fired only about three times, the last being over 10 years ago, so that by now the barrel has probably been throughly blocked up by the little bees called mud daubers.  But other neighbors have a lot more weapons, along with a hankering to fire them, and so every once in a while I hear their work, especially in the hunting season, when, adding to the general noise pollution caused by the firing, the hunters add that of their now released dogs, who like to race through the woods across the creek while yelping at the tops of their voices, I believe only to show their admiring, beer-soaked feeders that they're on the job for which for so many months they've been trained to behave during this glorious occasion ...or religious observance.

And meanwhile up the road lives a sheriff's deputy, and I believe that he has a shooting range, and every once in a while, always on Saturdays, he invites his colleagues for some all-day blasting that is reassuring to hear from a distance as well. 

And then there's the party that was held somewhere also up the road in the same direction, yesterday evening, the latest of such celebrations that are held around here, not often but once in a while,  and at one of  which I may even have been present.

My wife and I couldn't decide on who held this party, but we suspect that it was some young neighbors whom we know extremely well, though we weren't invited to this one.   And we only know it was a party because for about six hours stretching well into the night we could hear rap music being announced and played, and it was so loud that, despite the distance, I might very well have been able to make out some of the words, had it not been for my inability to speak rap, along with my attitude that, though it's supposed to be an art form invented and favored mainly by people with my type of ancestry, rap is still a lot of unending posturing and repetition and nothing more.

But I should complain, because, as with the firearms, even I, as quiet, even awesomely quiet as I have always been taken to be, even I create a certain amount of noise pollution, mostly in the cold months with my chain saw (actually two of them -- a person should have two of everything).  But I justify that on the grounds that it's good, honest work with worthwhile goals in mind, such as maintaining my woodlot while also keeping us warm, in contrast to flying thunderous jet fighter planes just to be flying them, shooting guns just to be shooting them, and lighting up the whole neighborhood with loud rap music, just to be....   Well, I can't exactly say what  -- and in the past I've  thought the same kind of thing with many other kinds of what passes for "music" as well, that were so fashionable with everybody else.   

Just being objective here.....