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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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pulling up the Ladder, in Latino Land

In the desperate drive to keep the United States strictly under the control of the descendants of northern Europeans, as opposed to more southerly peoples, and for no other reason, there's an interesting split in the American southwest when it comes to the issue called "illegal immigration," in a country that came into being through illegal immigration, if you look at history in an unpopular though accurate way.

The law people in Arizona brought great dishonor down on their dessicated and desertified state, by passing statutes aimed at shoveling as many Mexican job seekers back into Mexico as possible, under charges of being "illegal" immigrants.   These laws are supposed to go into effect today, though many of them have been blocked by a Federal judge.   So now there will be an extended fight in the courts that will be reminiscent of the American Civil War of the 1860's.

New Mexico, best known for having a lot of pueblos and for being the place where Billy the Kid went to seek his fortune, has the highest Latino proportion of any state, 45 percent, and as a whole the state looks with a jaundiced eye at the antics in Arizona, to which it is bonded geographically closer than a Siamese twin.   For instance, where Arizona has declared that it is illegal for so-called "illegal" immigrants to have driver's licenses, New Mexico allows that, and more.

Yet, New Mexico, for all its enlightenment, is cursed like every other U.S. state with having conservatives and Republicans, and there right now you can see how running for office as a Republican automatically immerses the candidate into vats of sheep dip and worse, and they come out dyed ever afterward with despicable.  And now even the Latino Republicans want to bring New Mexico into line with Arizona's Iron Curtain policies.

Among them, if he is still around, is one Latino Repub that I especially remember reading about, a few years ago.   Staunchly against someone of color who was running for office, he was quoted as saying that his ancestors were never slaves like rainbow or "black" people.  Instead the Latinos were always the masters.  By that I guess he means the Spanish, but that still didn't make his forbears an illustrious bunch, as can be seen in a reading of the Spanish conquest of the Southwest.

This also flies badly against the face of something said by the most distinguished of the first Republicans, Abraham Lincoln.   If you listen to a sort of cantata written by Aaron Copland, you will hear Lincoln saying in his own voice during the Civil War (smile!) something almost identical to the following:

As I would not be a slave, so I would also not be a master.   This expresses my idea of democracy.   Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

Ever since I first heard that record, in the 1950's ( I might still have it) that statement has kept booming in my ears.   Too bad that some people in New Mexico and even more in Arizona are so poorly schooled in ordinary human civility that they are completely unaware of that principle.

Maternal Connection

If my mother could be still alive, today she would be celebrating her 104th birthday.   But she left 33 years ago, at the age of 81, having been born in New Orleans near the close of the 19th century.

It always seemed really fitting to me that our birthdays were so close together.  This past 27th marked the interesting point when I had been in the world for 79 years, right down to the minute and second.

It was never the tradition in my immediate family to visit cemeteries and bring flowers and all that.   People had left for good and that was it.

I think the sorrow felt was always too great for anything else.   I know that was true in my case and in my mother's.   And in the case of the more recent deaths, the remains of most haven't been left in cemeteries but instead have been put into cremation jars.  But I still do remember where everybody is, for the most part.

My mother still lives and speaks and moves around, however, in my daytime thoughts and in my nighttime dreams.  The incidents aren't true to life, but that's the nature of dreams. 

My mother was loving.   My mother was strong.   My mother was complex.  My mother was all-sacrificing.   My mother was a trip.  My mother was resourceful.  And I could keep going on and on with that.   But I won't.

I just want to say that it's incredible how closely bound in the matters of life and death mothers are with their children, much more so than in any other kind of human relationship.

This must mean that when a mother is born, so also is her child, and when she dies, the child may not also go just then, but that still starts the process of his eventual departure, too.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Muck Sifting in Grand Isle

Grand Isle, Louisiana is a place that is nationally known only to hurricane-fanciers such as myself.  From the mentions I read of it, it sounds like an a excellent place to convene with Mother Nature, which there takes the form of a lot of sky, a lot of sun, and a lot of the Gulf of Mexico, but hardly anything else, especially in the way of ground to stand on and to build on, and it would never be a sign of being smart to try to establish even temporary residence there, for in a process of meteorological clockwork, regularly the hurricanes from Africa and the Caribbean come along and you have to leave or either let it all get devastated, because on Grand Isle there's no running for the high ground, unless you have already left some time ago.  All of its topography, if the place ever had any, has long since been scoured away to a flat featureless expanse of sand, barely above sea level.

Nevertheless things are booming these days on Grand Isle, Louisiana, because of the broken oil-drilling operation currently tagged with the new expletive, "BP."   This sandbar and its accompanying waters have become a big marshaling yard filled with the workers and the equipment that is needed to clean up as much as possible of the crude that has burst out from the ruptured pipe at the sea bottom and has spread all over and through things,  though it's thought that by this time, a good percentage of the petroleum has now been removed from the water, through evaporation and bio-degradation, as well as through the use of numerous skimming and collection boats, with the exception of what has gotten through and reached the sands and the marshes on the nearest shorelines.

In the Alternet you can find an interesting case of two forms of muck-sifting, as distinguished from the centuries-old concept of muck-raking, sloppily rather than neatly coming together on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

  A lady journalist put her virtue at extreme risk by visiting one of the local alcohol-swilling places that have become favorite hangouts of many of the workers brought in from elsewhere to do messy jobs like taking the oil out of the sand.  It's not clear why the lady journalist did this, unless she thought it was the next best thing to being a war correspondent in Afghanistan.  If she meant to throw some light on the unfortunate circumstance of Men Without Women, which Ernest Hemingway must've explored long ago, because he used that as a title somewhere, her experience didn't quite do the job, aside from saying, "Here it is."

I have a habit of reading comment sections, though I know it's not good for the equilibrium, and the one to this article was no exception.   Comment sections are good examples of muck-sifting.   You put yourself through sifting a lot of verbal refuse with the bare hands of your mind, looking for the occasional jewels of genuine insight and interesting information that lie there, covered over with the offal of opinions fired off with the same lack of forethought as public belches and other bodily emissions.

This morning as I write this, a tropical storm called "Bonnie" is supposed to arrive right on top of the ill-fated well, which was successfully capped on the 15th just past.   The good news is that the storm could dissipate even more of the escaped crude while not damaging the relief structures that have been left there.  The bad news is that the storm could also push oil still in the water onto the birds, turtles, and sands of places like Grand Isle, Louisiana.  There that is, too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Good Stuff, Waiting to be Lost

I was trying to read an article about why a guy named Lebron James won't save U.S. soccer, only to find that I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort by going straight to one of its very last sentences and then looking for something else to read.  I was able to pick up the gist of that answer by reading the article, but that had been arduous and much like crossing a beach covered with huge, slippery rocks must be.   The author was someone who obviously had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the sports popular in the U.S, and that enabled him to be especially adept at dropping all the big names -- names that meant nothing to me, excepting only that of the said Lebron James.

This difficulty wasn't the author's fault, or even mine.  Instead it was what comes of getting away from things.

If such an article had appeared 20 or 30 years ago, I might've been able to stumble through it more easily, but now I just have to depend on what I think is the safe assumption, for example and for starters, that Lebron James is, renown-wise, the modern day equivalent in pro basketball of Michael Jordan (provided you've heard of him) and let it go at that.

I found out early that you lose stuff almost as soon as you start getting away from it, and that's a natural process that can't be helped.   I've lost a little library of things that way.   Bible knowledge, algebra, German, chess openings (and middle games and endgames for that matter), electronic circuitry, car mechanics, technical editing  -- the list goes on and on, so that right now a good-sized intellectual desert is spreading out ever wider and deeper behind my head, and at an increasing speed.

This must be a good thing, at least for the brain, and I have to say that I can't recall one time in the last 60 years when knowing what to do with a binomial would've saved my hide.

And anyway I'm glad that there is so much still standing ahead, waiting to be lost.

This is why it's good to plant many more cantaloupes and watermelons in your garden than are really needed, as I did in the communal garden this year, despite some heavy criticism from one individual who should've known better.   Now that that terrible drought has pretty much ended, a rogue raccoon whose movements can't be controlled raids my two melon patches, one fenced and one open, every night.  He punches big, jagged holes in two or three of usually the biggest melons and mainly the striped watermelons, and eats out as much of the insides as he wants.   But there are still so many that he can't get them all.

Nevertheless, it's making going to the garden more of a chore than it was during the worst days of the drought.  To lose anything at any time is a little on the irksome side, and I did not plant and baby along those goodies just for the benefit of the wild animals, though I am told that I have a close-by neighbor who's been stringing cookies over his car and in other places, to attract bears.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mixing Fish with Politics

The Republicans, or hopefully in this case just a Republican, have found a good way to take yet another poke at Obama and his Administration.   Maybe, though, before it goes too far, they or he will realize that this time they are talking about something that should not be transformed into the incomprehensible, the usual result of splashing politics on things.  This is about an invasion that could be a real disaster, the breakout into the Great Lakes by a huge species of carp that till not too long ago had been happily restricted to the other side of the planet -- a species that has badly overstayed its leave in the U.S. by eating so much that very quickly little or nothing else that has fins and swims still exists in its vicinity,. ..

Now five states are suing the Federal Government in an effort to force it to force the Army Corps of Engineers to get busy.   A headliner in these suits is a guy named Cox, who is the Michigan Attorney-General and is running for Governor.   And as much as I hate to say it, I think he is on the right side of this one.

I doubt if the subject of Asian carp, even if they are knocking on the door in his former bailiwick of Chicago, turns up much in the position papers that Obama's people set out for him to read every morning.  Nevertheless, if I had been him, I would've gotten on top of this a long time ago.   Though not anywhere near as dire as what is happening on the other side of the country, at its bottom in the Gulf of Mexico, this is still a much more serious matter than the usual noise that he has to put up with, like the screams about "taking back the country," the threats to hurl modern barrels of tea owned by others overboard, " or outcires about invasions by aliens with Spanish accents.

These carp don't speak Spanish.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Refute," "Repudiate," and What Else?

I think the political virago from Alaska, Sarah Palin, has an interesting appearance.  But from there her merits drop with dizzying sharpness, straight down to nothing, and then lower still, to constant harm.   But I also think that the people who are disposed to come down hard on her are barking up a very insignificant tree in their latest attacks.  During one of her verbal assaults the other day on the people in the White House, which are a big part of her bread and butter, I am dead certain that she couldn't find the word she was looking for, which had to have been "repudiate."   The best she could get her rubbery lips to push out instead was a word that few had heard before, except in kindergartens: "refudiate."   Her mind was obviously taking a grab at the word "refute," but she couldn't quite think of that in time either.  

That was an ordinary difficulty that happens all the time when using a difficult language, which English is.   But because journalism is only loosely connected with language usage, the news reports that I read all focused entirely on her use of the letter "F" and not at all on the missing letter, "P."

Instead of being discomfited, I guess Palin thought her new word was cute, and she then defended it by saying that people like Shakespeare also coined new words all the time, which is true.

I hope that it's not too much to hope for that her word will not become part of the language, because there's no real need for it.   "Repudiate" already does the job, and has been doing so for a long time.  And meanwhile there's no need to drag "refute" through the linguistic swamp anymore than it already has.

I learned the word "refute" and its correct usage by reading the works of those who most often use it, outside of poorly educated journalists and a few others, and that is in the world of chess.

In chess, to refute something, such as a sacrifice or a conception, means to prove that the sacrifice or whatever is wrong, by means of a counterstroke of some kind.   "Refute" does not mean merely to say that something is wrong.  It means instead to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the concept is faulty.   But instead people who have never had the good fortune to learn chess cheerfully misuse "refute" all the time, in the sense of charging that something is wrong or inappropriate instead of showing that it is so.

It's surprising meanwhile that Sarah Palin could not think of the word "repudiate."  Without giving any reasons why, because there are none that make any sense,  the people on the dark side of American life are forever demanding that the good people in the country repudiate, that is, drop their beneficial beliefs and policies, in favor of the hideous, destructive ones that are espoused by Palin and her comrades in crime.  And what gets me is that they seem to think that people are supposed to heed them, with no questions asked, when these Palinists are obviously products of the backside of the Moon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

No Beetles, Yet

For the third straight year, so far, that scourge of those beautiful shrubs and trees, the Rose of Sharons, aka Altheas, and of many other plants,  the Japanese beetles, have not shown up for their usual munchings in the wrong places.

They had better hurry.   They don't have much time left, because in little more than a month it will be time for them to leave again.

I wish I knew the cause of their absences, which I had thought could never happen.

Climate change?

I'll bet a lot of people are staying silent and holding their breaths,  as much in the hope that that is true as also in the fear that they shall return, to use the words of General D. MacArthur in the War.   (The Second World War, naturally.  What other war has there been?)

Another Argument for a Tortoise's Pace

We are all familiar with the notion of doomsdays being nearly at hand.   Because they've been predicted with such great regularity throughout the ages, they are a staple of the religious racket.   The fact that none of the most dire ones have happened within recent eras doesn't at all affect the desire to come out with new ones all the time.  But it does mean that they're regarded as being mere amusements and to be ignored as soon as they're uttered.

But what if such a prediction comes up that is surrounded by the absence of anything that can prevent all life on the world as we know it from ending, and almost right now?

Some think that besides all the other mess created by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that ill-fated puncture in the bottom of the sea has set everything in place for such a huge catastrophe to happen in the next six months, and nothing can be done about it.

  The drilling was made into a big bubble of the methane that is present under a lot of the seas, usually in a frozen state.   But here the oil, sitting under there at a tremendous pressure and now freed to escape in one spot, came up loaded with heat and methane that ruptured not only the pipe in the rig but also places in the nearby seabed, thus freeing more methane.   This opens the way for a sort of chain reaction in which methane explosions will be followed by others and by other consequent results that will quickly spread over the whole planet,. erasing species and other things wholesale.

  Those who pay attention to the Discovery Channel know that this same kind of thing has happened many times before and eons before there were humans and thirsts for oil, though scattered over many millions of years, in the famous Permian and other extinctions.   The difference here is that this has a chance of happening now, and if it does happen it will all be due not so much to badly whipped BP as to  our liking instead for living on an ever faster track, so that maybe it can be said that the price of our civilization is going to be paid, fittingly, in its own coin, extreme speed.

Yesterday the engineers hired by British Petroleum to stop the rupture in the pipe succeeded in doing just that.

But there seems to be another rupture in the seabed nearby.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sympathy with those in all the Russias -- the Heat

Just as until a few days ago in this part of the eastern U.S.,  the people, places, and things in all the Russias (a term that all those baritones with the tremendous vocal chords used to intone during the coronations and other political ceremonies of old)  have had to deal with a massive heat wave and the usual accompanying drought.   They are getting temperatures of 35 C., and hardly any rain since last winter.

On my combination Fahrenheit/Centrigrade outdoors thermometer, 35 degrees C corresponds to about  95 degrees F.  That is extra hot, but still, a couple of weeks ago it was so hot here that at times we greeted 95 with relief.

As it is well known that Moscow and all those types of places get some of the toughest winters around,  some Russians have decided that they will deal with the heat in much the same way that they have always dealt with the cold, and having some fun while they're at it.  They've been gathering on the shores of rivers and lakes and partying, with the help of generous intakes of vodka.   Then they go swimming.

They must be the ones that account for the several hundred deaths that the Russians are blaming on this heat wave.

Undoubtedly large swigs of vodka help with the cold,, but that's obviously not an all-season solution,  and I would like to inform those imbibers that are left that they need to figure out something else..

I thought that beating the heat was why all the czars grabbed all the Siberias.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So What Else Happened Yesterday?

I got shot in the eye.

Yesterday morning my illustrious and (most of the time) accommodating wife, E. drove us on another epic trip, this time southward to the far side of Lynchburg, (about 35 miles), to see one of my two eye doctors.   They have a kind of partnership office closer to our home,  in the county seat..   He had already done laser surgery on my better eye, the left, a year or more ago, and after an examination here  a few days ago, he thought I finally needed to have the worse right one lasered, too, at his office in the city.

He said it wouldn't hurt a bit.

It hurt me.   But I don't see how anybody wouldn't recoil uncontrollably, even though a nurse for whom one has an unusual amount of admiration has her wonderful hand pressed firmly on the back of his head so as to keep it pressed tightly against the mechanism, because I wasn't going to keep it there on my own, for sure,, while the doctor hit a button that caused a blast of the most intense greenish-yellow light to explode in my eye about once every second for, I guess, 50 seconds.  If your eyes are like mine, and I'm assuming that they are, then you know that eyes don't take kindly to being hit, on their inside or outside, and for many of the best reasons for anything..

This doctor's ides was to punch tiny holes in the back of my eye, because I have glaucoma, and the holes are necessary to relieve the pressure on the optic nerve that causes that condition.

Right now, my eye doesn't feel any the worse for that beneficial assault on it, though, for a while after the operation I felt as if I had been punched in the eye, not by a human -- that is an experience I have never had, and I'm sure it is even worse, because of the psychological component -- but by something like a door or an overhanging branch..  But now, a day later, I can hardly feel it.

Next on my visual agenda  is cataract surgery at some point, for I'm told that I  have them in both eyes, especially in the right.   But for now I can still carry on my normal activities, outside of reading street signs.   But maybe that is because my incorrigible 12 years younger wife drives past too fast to give me time to read them. .

Prayers Answered: Rain at Last

I know this has all been heard before.

Starting about three days ago, we around here finally got what we had all been devoutly wishing for, a couple of good days of soaking rain. Aside from two short-lived thunderbursts in the evening, after which the ground was again bone dry by the next morning, we had had no rain from about the last two weeks in May straight through June and almost through the first 10 days of July.

This is the kind of weather behavior that really gets noticed when you have a decently-sized garden all planted and you are trying to keep it going, for it's almost impossible to believe that any amount of watering by hand -- all that is available to us -- can have the same effect as good soaking rain at kindly intervals.    We were able to keep the garden alive but that was about all.   Meanwhile at about the fifth week of the drought, things stopped growing, and nothing sown would sprout, and the corn became stunted, and the sun was scorching, and the temperature was hot, hot, every day without fail. .  In short, the garden stopped getting any new ideas and may even have started slowly dying.

You feel like you've really entered something primeval when, day after day, you drive to the garden your little pickup truck mounted with a stainless steel storage tank originally  bought to hold 1,000 pounds of honey, and now it's two-thirds full (I wanted to go as easy as I could on my truck's suspension,) of water pumped from your little 19-ft deep well, which I think amounts to about 80 gallons (125 if the tank were full).   And from the tank you and L. and K. and one evening even E. draw water into watering cans (the other members of our communal garden , G. and his wife  C. are hundreds of miles away, sitting on their behinds and doing nothing, at a beach in a place that is in either Ohio or Canada or both and is called Pele Island), and you carry that water to all four of the sections of the garden that you think you need it.

Yet this watering regime is bearable and even strangely pleasant, because it's so basic and relatively easy to do, compared to some other garden work, and even though the days were invariably in the 90's and  nudging 100 F, by the time you started doing this, at the stroke of 6 in the evening, the trees, as carried up by the earth's rotation, had begun to block off the Sun, and suddenly the temperature was just right   I guess it also helps, even in the case of a loner like myself,  when you'te not doing it alone..

All along we told ourselves that the drought couldn't last all summer, but we could never be sure, with the rest of July and all of August still waiting ahead. . So the eventual coming of the rain is actually an old story.   But it's a story that never loses in the retelling and in the reexperiencing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Carp and the Oil Spill

No matter how hard I don't try, five or six days always seem to go by before I write another post.  Hmm......

Now guess what's happening, of the utmost importance, as is everything I write about?

Like insidious armies from abroad, several species of Asian carp have been quietly eating their way up various freshwater avenues, until now they are on the verge of breaking into the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.  And a few years after that happens, we are warned, no matter how big your boat and your fishing rods, you won't be able to catch anything there but these carp, which grow to 4 feet long and weigh as much as 100 pounds, with some having the ability to become so shook up by hearing a boat engine that they jump high out of the water with the potential to hit things unacceptably hard.

Needful to say, like other invaders from overseas they weren't here when the Iroquois, the Sioux, and other tribes were in charge.   The Asian carp were imported for use in fish farms but escaped, and because they eat so much, they quickly wiped out the plankton needed by the much more attractive fish that for eons had already been around.

Predictably, strong efforts are being made by a certain number of businessmen to stop all efforts by environmentalists to keep the carp out of the Big Lakes.   One of those efforts involves reversing the flow of the Chicago River.

I always wonder how a place consisting of as much concrete, steel and refuse as Chicago can possibly have anything that could really be called a "river."  The East "River" in New York jumps quickest to mind, and L.A. is already disgraced by a huge and usually empty drainage ditch that they are pleased to call the "Los Angeles River," though it serves principally as a quick and easy location for car chases in action films.

Nevertheless it seems that the Chicago "River" once flowed the other way, from one large body of water to another, before an "engineering feat" in the time of Mark Twain turned that around.   And now it's thought possible to fight the carp by returning its flow to the direction it had when the Apaches, the Comanches, and Mother Nature were in charge.

The businessmen who are happy with the "river's" manmade dispostion are yelling, "what about the loss of  all the jobs that are connected with its current direction?"
But they say nothing about all the jobs, especially to the sporting industry, that would be lost if there's nothing to be caught in Lake Michigan except Asian carp.

Sounds familiar.

The crude still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is the latest example of people as a whole speaking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to doing something decent.  Screams about all the jobs that would be lost if a moratorium is placed on off-shore drilling are being made as if matching screams are not also being made by their buddies in the local Louisiana Chambers of Commerce about the jobs that are already being lost by all the oil gushing into the water.

It makes me wonder what the anti-environmentalists say when the catastrophes that the environmentalists fear come true, as they usually do.

Well, I already know what they say.

It's "Oops!"  And that's about all.

The same thing happens in many other areas, too, when people are bent on following the short-minded way of things, even when they know better.


Monday, July 05, 2010

In a Time of Drought

In a time of drought the world loses its voice
And the usual clamor of living things slows almost to complete silence.
The creatures of the weeds and the woods lose the will
To exercise their mandibles and their extremities.

In a time of drought,
A real one,
By its seventh week or more,
The Sun has stolen every drop from the top layer of the soil
And has turned that soil into a impenetrable brightness that dazzles the eyes
And gives every footstep the same devouring crunchiness
As ancient snow.
A crunchiness that sinks the spirits and cultivates fear.

In a time of drought,
An extreme one,
In other climes people deal with excessive rain and fears of floods, and speak of those in ways
That make one wish that drought and too much rain could be redistributed
So as to be equalized as needed, though there is about as much chance of humans achieving that feat
As there is to redistribute the wealth.

It is not good to dream in times of drought,
In deep ones, because the dreams grow even more bizarrre than usual,
And people you've known who could now be either disappeared or dead
Cannot be asked the name of such and such, and be given a name
That sounds exactly right, yet when the dreamer cannot hold that name in his mind
And must ask the person again, is  this time told that he or she has also forgotten.
It is important to know
That  in times of drought, serious ones,
The memory of those dreamed of is only your memory and no one else's.

The above post is an experiment in writing a poem on a weblog.   It was composed in my mind, carried around for a couple of hours, and then dashed off at the computer, without any serious changes.   If it is indeed a poem, it would be the first one I've written in many years.   And who's to know whether it is a poem or not?. That's one of the hidden beauties of poetry.  But in the meantime, somebody send so rain!