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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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Baffling Celebrities -- the Spears Lohan Hilton Boggery

Among the many mysteries of today's existence is the constant celebrity of certain people, three of them in particular, who all happen -- or maybe just don't happen -- to be women.  These three are Brittany Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.

To be famous is generally thought to be a very desirable thing, though we can never expect it to be a reward for any really meritorious action.  In fact, it's almost the opposite, going by the huge numbers of  criminals who are as well-known as anyone else.    But when, out of the teeming billions of people on earth, some one person becomes  so famous  that the purveyors of the news feel that they can't let a day go by without reporting on his or her most recent actions, even of the most insignificant kind, and for no obvious reason, things seem to have gotten especially out of hand..

I first became aware of this phenomenon when I was young, long before the eras of the Internet and of TV. I noticed that the news couldn't get enough of Frank Sinatra, and I was totally baffled by this, because he was just a pop singer -- not my idea then or now of an achievement always worthy of note.   But at least he was a singer, and as it turned out, for very long time afterward, too.

In the same era, or maybe a little later, Arnold Palmer, over and above all other sports figures, got the same kind of constant attention that was incomprehensible to me,  because playing golf then as now was not high on  my list of the great, great human activities.   But at least he apparently won a lot of golf tournaments, for a few years anyway.

Occupying their niche in today's world, though for reasons that are even less visible to my probably badly impaired vision and are in fact invisible are Spears, Lohan, and Hilton.

Early in the Internet Age I noticed that whoever reported on current happenings for AOL thought that right up there with the really important stuff were the doings of someone named Brittany Spears, day after day after months and years.   Yet right now I can't tell you what Brittany Spears did, and still does, to merit so much mention, and her face, even if I saw a picture, never did register on my brain.

I do know what Lindsay Lohan has done.   She has been in several movies, one of which I may even have seen, and she does have the merit of having a quite noteworthy face that is, however, completely out of tune with the wackiness of her actions.   But none of that explains why we have to get a day to day account of her every move.

Paris Hilton's face is a blank to me, too, as are the reasons for her being able to stay so relentlessly in the public eye.    She is most often spoken of in the media as being a "socialite," though today I saw a reference to her as being an "inheritress," presumably of the hotels.  But is that an achievement worthy of the constant reports on her actions?   In fact, my impression is that she is more familiar with the interiors of cop cars than she is with social salons.

These three ladies do have that one common denominator.   They are all adept at getting into regular scrapes with the law, especially after they've felt moved to alter the normal states of their minds.   But  somehow that still doesn't offer any clue to the solving of the mystery of their renown.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Drama in Chile

That is really a situation in Chile, concerning 33 miners who are trapped 2,300 feet under a mountain so deeply and thoroughly  that it may take up to four months to haul them out of there!   Yet there's some good news,   One is that at least they're in good contact with the rest of the world, enough so that video shots can be seen of them, and by now maybe people up top have even drilled a hole down to them to get them some eats, drink, and something to read.

Also rescuers are hard at work dragging some modern monsters of machines up to the site, a tough undertaking in itself.   Plan "A" involves an enormously heavy machine  called a "raise drill," made by a company in South Africa.   But it takes a while to get it up[ there and  in place, and they have to make a lot of computer calculations beforehand to make sure the drill bit will come out at just the right spot with almost nothing to spare.   Also first they have to drill a little pilot hole 5 or 6 inches wide all the way down, and then put the raise drill to work reaming out that hole to a width enough to send down a rescue capsule called a "bullet," with which they can haul up one man at a time, at a rate of 15 minutes per man.

And meanwhile they have to think about all the rock they're drilling through and chewing up, hoping that the former stays reasonably solid all the way and that the latter, once the reamer gets close to the bottom, doesn't fall down into the space containing the miners or collapse the rock above the miners.

Such a rescue has already been done successfully in the U.S., but not on the same scale.   In the U.S. one they only had to drill through 74 meters, which is already much more than deep enough.   But the miners in Chile are 700 meters deep under the mountain, and that little fact tends to exaggerate all the other difficulties.    And that's why those miners are looking at spending so much time down under there, in addition to what they've already endured.   The rockfalls that trapped them happened on the 5th of this month, but it was not till a week ago that their location was discovered..

Plan "B" is to widen an existing tunnel that might cut that time down to only two months.   

Check out the map that is shown in the article cited above.   The incredibly zig-zag-looking route down must have been an epic trek or ride to get out of there every day.   And how did they get all the gold and copper ore out in the first place?

  Everything about this mishap boggles the mind.  There must be easier ways to get hold of copper, and the gold could just as well have been left in there.
.  .

Interesting Sentiment for Sundays

Here is an extract from a post by the Angry Arab News Service that provides some good food for thought on a day like today:

I believe that people who want to fast should fast, and those who want to drink should drink. I don't think that non-religious people should be sensitive to religious people especially because religious people are never sensitive to non-religious people.

That's true.   They're not, aren't they?   Must be because they always think they're holding all the cards.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another Bad Check: Washington's Defilement Today

Today, from what I read, a curious thing is slated to happen in the Nation's Capital, and it makes me glad that instead of being right there at the original March on Washington, as I was exactly 47 years ago today, in this later era I am close to 170 miles away.   Others will not be so lucky, for this will be an event best avoided at all costs.

What will happen is that people of all odors of the Right Wing have been as busy as can be doing the political counterpart of one of the activities for which New York City is so famous, namely walking along behind their dogs while studiously scooping up and bagging their defecations -- that is, if these dogowners have any concern at all about keeping the city's streets as clear as possible of the odors and the mess and the health risks of canine poop.

   These New Yorkers probably pop their loaded doggy bags into the nearest trash receptacle and go on about the rest of their business, but these rightwingers have another purpose, rooted in their belief that their canine poop is the pure gold of inherited "wisdom" thoroughly infused with the naked hatred that they feel toward all sorts of people though especially people with recent African ancestry, a hatred cunningly disguised under thin layers of other causes, such as honoring the military, the ostensible goal behind what is supposed to happen in Washington, D.C., today.

Or, better, what is supposed to happen to Washington D.C. today.

Because what D.C, is in for, this afternoon, will be to suffer having having tons and tons of right wing dog excrement trucked into the city and dumped on its most hallowed ground, the small area in which the Lincoln Memorial sits.

On that spot 47 years ago today the Great 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington culminated in a speech about half an hour long and delivered by  the Reverend Martin Luther King that turned out to be one of the three greatest orations ever given or at least are on record, the other two being Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Pericles' Funeral Oration a few thousand years ago.   But today a bunch of mainly salt Teabaggers, augmented by the usual specks of pepper Judas Goats, will not in any way be trying to observe the anniversary of that most illustrious event of 1963.   Instead they will try to use the legacy not merely of Rev. King, but of all the Civil Rights workers who worked so hard and at so much risk trying to make the U.S. more conscious of the longtime errors of their constant misdeeds against the slaves from Africa and their descendants.   The Tea (or Doggy) baggers will try to usurp and actually turn this legacy against the people that the Civil Rights Movement successfully helped, with the intention of eventually repealing every means by which Rainbows (also but sloppily called "Blacks,") came closer to gaining first class citizenship.

In his speech King pointed out how Rainbows had, with the end of slavery, nevertheless been given a bad check, which, when they tried to cash it, was returned with the marking of "insufficient funds."

If King and all those others of us who were around in 1963 thought that was a bad check, they should see what is being offered to us today in 2010 by the conservative bad fraction of the U.S. population, even though -- and mostly because -- the country now has a President who is, by genes and by environment -- one-quarter Rainbow.   (He is commonly referred to by those who conveniently or lazily discount the importance of environment as being "half-black," but that is totally ridiculous.)

In today's event, which will not be a march but just an agglomeration, the Teadoggybaggers will try to disguise their intents by using honeyed words of respectability, but the targets of their bile -- the many segments of the American population against whom their wide-ranging attacks are directed, mainly Rainbows but also the Latinos, the Muslims, the unemployed, the medically uninsured, the gays, social security recipients, and many others -- will know exactly what sort of refuse these baggers will be dumping on Washington and the nation wholesale today.
The main result of this event, however, should be to make it clear how these rightwingers defile everything they touch, ranging from that most revered landmark of the Civil Right Movement right on down to tea, though we can expect that in time, such are the ways in which the otherworldly wronged redress themselves, that most noble term and beverage will find ways to correct that situation.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Living Space

Headline writers sometimes don't seem to appreciate the duty they have to write with the greatest care, so that too often they mislead.   Today BBC News was guilty of that kind of carelessness.  Their headline read: Space is the final frontier for evolution, study claims.   Ordinarily when you leave the word "space" unmodified, it means "outer space," especially when you add a term like "the final frontier."  But there are other kinds of space, and here the one they're really talking about is "living space," or "lebensraum," as the Germans put it when they invaded nearly everybody in sight.

  This study is important, especially to those who, like yours truly, think that the less competition the better, because the article explores the possibility that Darwin put too much emphasis on the idea of the "survival of the fittest," and that what was more important for the process of evolution was the expansion of elbow room.

  This article and this new theory zero in on the way that after the dinosaurs were totally zapped by an errant asteroid, mammals moved into that newly opened space and so replaced the dinos as the biggest members of the food chain.

   It seems to me that the scientists will have to fight over which of their number -- the biologists or the physicists? -- has the biggest claim to this new theory of evolution, because isn't this just another demonstration of the principle that nature abhors a vacuum?

  It seems that mammals had already been living alongside the dinosaurs for 60 million years.   Sixty million years!.  That is an incredibly long time, and it should've shot down the idea of competition right there, for that is far too long a period for any competition to last.  I think we can say that in that time the nimble little mammals and the clumsy big reptiles had instead long since gotten quite comfortable with feeding off of each other.   And after the asteroid hit, it was just another demonstration of not a high-flying scientific principle but simply of the way that animals love to take  advantage of a situation.   House cats teach us that.

    In the case of the mammals, things didn't evolve so much as they merely got out of hand, just as they already had with the dinosaurs.  I mean, what else can you say about a hippopotamus?  Or about elephants for that matter?  Or penguins?     Penguins have no fingers or even hands, you know.   That's a huge travesty of nature right there!   That's why they were banished by the other mammals to live in the worst room in the house, way down under.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blogs as Anger Management

In his "Yellow Doggerel Something Something" (formerly the "Yellow Doggerel Democrat"), which I have been reading for 4 or 5 years, Steve Bates, recently ran somebody's clever little cartoon in which one dog tells another that "pointless, incessant barking" is a better use of his time than is keeping a weblog going.   And with that and in a subsequent comment Bates said that he wasn't going to blog anymore for a while, though he agreed with one of his commenters that blogging did serve the same purpose for him as a form of anger management.

Not recently but for various periods of times in the past I have also stopped putting posts on this site, but I never announced it.

   One reason was that at the beginnings of those sabbaticals I didn't know that I wouldn't be posting again for a while.  I would just skip a day out of plain forgetfulness.   Then a second such day would pass,  and another, and before I knew it, I would suddenly start thinking that a long period of time had gone by since I had said anything, and what should I do about it?

Another reason for my not declaring that I would stop was that at no time was I angry.  Nothing about blogging or the state or the nation or the world situation or even the human condition makes me angry.   They dismay me but they don't anger me.   I long ago learned to fight tooth and nail against letting anger have any control over my state of mind.   In my opinion, and to my experience, anger is absolutely pointless and useless.

Steve Bates has some dire physical conditions that I think contributed greatly to his non-blogging state of mind, and I think another of his afflictions is that he is also an angry man, because he sees that those with the power to change things for the better are paying absolutely no attention to his very sensible injunctions (most of them) or to those of people like him.

This doesn't bother me much, because I've paid a great deal of attention not only to U.S. history but also to the history of as many other groups as I could comfortably ahsorb, including a great many that haven't existed for many hundreds of centuries.  And it seems to me that at no time and in no place have human beings been in a truly enlightened state.   Some few individuals might have done a few enlightened things, but at the very same time a lot more were indulging in the same old barbarities and ignorances, from the time of Neanderthals right on up to the present Era of Everpresent Cellphones,

Instead of worrying about being listened to, blogging has other beneficial purposes and benefits, I believe.   One is that it's a good way to spread around that most important wealth of all: information, even if it's just the seemingly insignificant things that all of us happen to be doing or that interest us, from one day to the next -- that is, if at least an attempt is made to pass it on with some style.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

K.'s Rabies Treatment

Because I have nothing to add, I got K'.s permission to quote the bulk of a follow-up email that she wrote to her friends, giving all the scoop on her rabies treatment.   I think this furnishes a lot of interesting and useful information on what is involved with rabies treatment in today's world.  She wrote:

Hi All,
I just got out of the UVA emergency room. Got the call this morning from 
the health dept that the fox tested POSITIVE for rabies (which was no 
surprise to me). The treatment must begin within 14 days of exposure. 
Today I got the first 5 shots, then there are 4 more or so on exact 
dates, into Sept. It is very expensive, but will be cheaper from here on 
out through the health dept for the rest of the shots, (except this 
Sunday's dose since health dept not open on weekends). The first dose of 
five shots has to be done in the hospital ER. They moved me right into 
"express care" (I'd never heard of that!) and the normal 2hour wait for 
the vaccines to be prepared by the in-hospital pharmacy was expedited, 
beginning as soon as I registered, while I was in the waiting room. 
First question from all the nurses: WHY DID YOU WAIT THIS LONG??!!  I 
was told to report the idiot emt guy immediately since even a paw 
scratch is considered "CRITICAL EXPOSURE," because rabies is 100% fatal 
once it begins.

I knew the guy was off-base, but the nurse counted up a list of all the 
things he told me that put me at risk, and could cause danger in a 
future victim. In all fairness, there was no reason for me to go in an 
ambulance that night, at a big cost, and I agreed with him on that. But 
he should have said for me to drive myself there after cleaning the 
wound thoroughly. Instead he said "they won't treat you at the emergency 
room until they have proof the fox has rabies, rabies is unlikely, no 
danger at all if only a scratch, treatment is 6 mos long painful and 
expensive, no animal enters a house if not looking for food, animal 
control only deals with domestic pets, and he would have let the fox run 
free (after giving it a hot dog)."

So, great news is I'm going to be fine! It is not nearly as awful a 
treatment as it used to be (6 months of extremely painful shots in the 
stomach muscles), although those first five (one in each point on my leg 
where the teeth scratched me, two on both sides of my backside, one in 
my shoulder) made me feel I deserve a lollipop. Best of all, the vaccine 
lasts forever: Come at me, rabies foxes!

Asking "the Iranian Question" Again

Today is Saturday, the 21st.  In Iran, because the sunlight gets there earlier, it has already been Saturday for some time, and in fact they may already be into Sunday, the day allotted for prayers in many places.

A few days ago a Republican hawk warned his like-minded confreres among the Israelis that they had only until today to make  a not-so-surprise attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, because on this date the Russians will start fueling up the Bushere power plant, for the purpose of generating electricity.   Bombing that place thereafter would pose too great a risk of spreading radioactivity all over the area, and it would make no sense anyway since the reactor that the Russians have already installed in there is the light water type, from which it is almost impossible to produce plutonium of a grade sufficient to make nuclear weapons.   So now that wonderful thing, time, has passed, and Israel and Iran both have been saved, Iran from Israel and Israel from itself.  Now what?

What would happen if during one of President Obama's press conferences, while he was again trying to browbeat Iran about wanting nuclear weapons, someone in the press corps were to stand up and ask a question I have been asking for a very long time, with no good answer from anyone.  " Mr. President, what is it about Iran that it can't have nuclear weapons but many other countries can and do have them, including the U.S., up to the gazooty?   It can't possibly be the danger that Iran poses to other countries.  Iran has no record of attacking other countries in recent years, or in recent centuries for that matter.   But the countries that are most vociferous in trying to deny Iran the right all have such records."

I know what would happen.  The questioner would be roundly booed by his colleagues, and he would be instantly escorted out of the room, condemned to his employers, fired, and attempts would be made to try him or her for treason.

All the same, what keeps it from being a perfectly reasonable question?   I am totally baffled by the thoroughness with which it is dodged, to the point where you won't even hear people asking it.   This is how evil gets spread around, so that soon it becomes a global epidemic.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rabid Fox Encounter

Five or six years ago, my wife took a trip to Thailand along with one of her many close female friends around here.   This lady, K., a transplant here like us, lives in a large, old house that apparently (I have never been there) was built on posts or pillars.   She and her husband enclosed all or at least a large part of that space to create a sort of basement, though there is still a crawl space area, and some space with dirt floors.   K. fixed up one section nice enough to become her darkroom, for she is an accomplished graphic artist, but there are still ways for beasties to come in, for she had already had to use a shovel to kill what she called "a very large snake" that came in for its own darkroom session, some time ago.

This past Monday she was down in her darkroom when she heard noise in another part of the cellar.   Thinking it was her husband she opened the door to see, or either it was already open, and a animal that struck her at first as being a very large rat with long legs and a very pointed nose rushed in and with no provocation attacked her, clawing and biting at her legs.

Being a very active and quick woman, K. used those same limbs to kick back with great vigor at the animal, which turned out to be a gray fox, a species that lives in these parts but is rarely spotted, and in all these 30 years I have seen one only once, in a winter's day when the leaves were down and I could see it through my front windows while it leisurely strolled from left to right across the snow-covered slope, on the other side of the creek.

K. quickly got out of the darkroom and escaped from the fox, running up to a porch and then into the main part of her house.  But the fox stayed right behind her and also entered the house, while still trying to bite and scratch.   But as soon as it came in, the fox became distracted by the sight of a bathroom on the left, and it ran in there.   K. slammed shut the door and then with her usual dispatch called the county authorities and also her husband, who was on the property but not nearby.

The Rescue Squad came quickly enough, but by that time, after trashing the bathroom while trying to get out, the fox had given up and actually, after so much furious action, had decided it was time to take a little nap.

One of the squad members incensed K.  He wanted to open the bathroom door and let the fox out.   He claimed to have experience with getting bears and foxes out of houses, and he said they only came in looking for food.   But, as K. did not think that she should have been mistaken for being fox food, she refused to let him open the bathroom door, and meanwhile the other two squad members saw things more her way.

The county officials that were charged with handling animal affairs arrived, and they awoke the fox, got a noose around his neck, hauled him outside, shot him dead, and then prepared to ship him off to Richmond to be tested for rabies.

Later, at the yoga that she attends with K., my wife learned that the fox was indeed rabid, and K. has already started taking her shots.  She had gotten a small bite and some bruises and claw marks up close to one of her knees, and the shots are given there.  I had always thought that getting rabies shots is a long and very painful process but that in recent years that had been eased somewhat, and K. didn't seem very concerned about it.   But I still don't have all the scoop on that, as my wife is not as persistent as I am about asking all the right questions, even if it does get on people's nerves, especially on hers.

Meanwhile someone has urged K. to report that rescue worker who wanted to let the fox out of the bathroom by luring it with a hot dog, maybe with the thought of trying to trap it later.  But K. hasn't decided yet on that course of action, though she has wondered how he could be part of a rescue team.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poisoned Edges of the Snowflakes

   Did you know that radioactive particles are especially fond of clustering on the edges of snowflakes?  If true, maybe that could be seen as being an especially nice touch on the part of a deeply offended Mother Nature.
In a magazine geared toward American military veterans you will find yet another interesting article in which someone warns us of how close the Ultimate Apocalypse is upon us.   The author not only advises but even commands everyone in Russia and in the European Union to evacuate immediately.  He doesn't say where to or how.  He just says, "Leave yesterday!"

The reason?   Russia is now in the grip of not just a few but thousands of forest fires, and among other disastrous results, old, heavily contaminated H-bomb factories and other places with radioactive shrubbery and things are sending up huge amounts of radioactive particles in smoke that will spread far and wide.   In a word, the nuclear chickens that kept us safe from Democracy and also the Red Scare are coming home to roost.

The comments to this article are worth reading, too.   They are unusually short on the ego flare-ups that ultimately bog down most substantial comment sections in a torrent of B.S.   That must mean that this is indeed a serious matter.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Driving with Alzheimers

Question.  Do I have the wrong concept of "disease?"   I think of a disease strictly as being a condition that is passed along by something   By that definition, how can Alzheimer's be a disease?  It's the same way with old age.   From what I understand, you don't catch it from somebody or something.   It sets in all on its own.

We -- my wife much  more so than I -- are closely acquainted with a long-time friend, a lady,who, while still in her late 50's, was diagnosed two or three years ago with pre-Alzheimer's.   But today it isn't "pre" anymore.   Instead it looks to be in full swing .

She lives about 10 miles from here with her husband of nearly the same age, and he is  a newly retired and very successful school teacher.  One of her favorite activities has long been to take walks with  my wife, and so regularly the husband brings her over here to walk  while he and I play chess.   (So far we've played about 15 games, and I've won them all.   But that's another post.)

It is very interesting to see what this lady does.  In her former life I thought of her as being very cool and mysterious, even understated, and eminently sensible.   That all has changed, and nowadays, as soon as she arrives here, and I think just about anywhere, the first statement out of her mouth is, "It's so quiet and peaceful here!"   And the second is, "Isn't this county such a great place to live!"   And she will repeat both statements with various frequency throughout her visit, along with a slew of any other repetitions that please her at the time.

      She takes part in the conversations but only like a deacon  shouting amens at a Baptist church or an opera fanatic screaming "Bravo!" at a performance..   She laughs very loudly and often, with shouts of appreciation.   Yet she never initiates a subject for conversation, and her memory is only about a minute long..   But even with that, she is unbelievably skilled at finding ways to get around any question that is not comfortable to her.

.     This lady is of this world yet not in it.   She is uproariously happy, and she should be, because she doesn't have to do or care about a thing.   Though she is sitll quite healthy and able-bodied, a lot of things have to be done for her, as for a child.  In fact her husband likens her to an adult returning, at an accelerated rate, to being a child, which is odd to him, after a lifetime spent in watching all those pupils, among others, going the other way..

Usually he does all the driving, but this lady is so fond of walking with my wife that she has driven over here on her own, unannounced, several times, and each time being highly put off and even suspicious because it happened that Esther wasn't here.   As soon as she started doing that, this lady put my nerves on edge.   But my wife and this lady's husband, being more phlegmatic types, weren't bothered.  They pointed out that this woman knew the route, which was all on very lightly traveled country roads, plus she was almost autistic in adhering to the rules of the road.   For one thing she never drove one mile under or above the speed limit.

But for me that wasn't nearly enough.   I see driving  anywhere, even on a salt  flat with no obstructions around for miles in all directions, as always being a serious and hazardous business and not to be undertaken by someone with no sense of responsibility, such as a child, a lunatic, or someone with a condition like Alzheimers.

So the other day, her husband called and said he had come home from some errands in town and his wife was missing.  But Esther had heard nothing from her.   So he decided not to worry because his wife could just as well have gone to several other places.

But after a while he decided that he had better look for her, and the most likely route to follow was the road that led to here.

Formerly the route he had always taken and therefore the one  most familiar to his wife involved crossing a sizable creek about four miles from their house.   But recently that bridge was closed for rebuilding, and he had been taking a more torturous route over a mountain.   She had asked why, and he had told her, but his explanation didn't fit her idea of the essentials, and for this latest solo excursion of hers,  this lady decided that the old route would do quite well.

When she came to the bridge, she found it blocked by a huge white sign saying in big red letters, "Bridge closed."

No problem.   She simply drove down into the field next to the approach, went a short way, then drove back onto the bridge that was now missing a good number of its planks.   No one knows how she managed to squeeze the car through a very narrow space between a piece of heavy equipment and some other barrier without scratching the car but she did.   But then she was faced with maneuvering the car over the now bared steel beams.  She tried, but a set of her wheels sank down into an open space and stopped her cold, and there she stayed -- for the next four hours.

Everybody for miles around knew that that bridge was out, so there was no reason for anybody to come there, and there were no houses anywhere close.

But this lady was content.   She spent all that time happily waiting, with the car running and the air-conditioning going and the radio playing.   She expected her husband or my wife to come and get her, but she had driven places on her own before, and they had expected her come tooling back home at any moment.

Finally the husband decided that it was time to go looking, and the likeliest place was the road to our house.  He found his wife of many years at the bridge, took her home, then got some guys to help him pull the car off the bridge with a cable.   Miraculously it was undamaged, though it had been sitting on the beams on its undercarriage.

Now he has told his wife that she can drive no more.  She says okay, though putting aside her now constant joyousness just long enough to demand to know why.   And he has vowed to keep the keys hidden from her.

He and Esther are convinced that that will work, but I  am still not convinced.   I think this lady is far too determined to enjoy this most recent condition in her life to the utmost, and that is to do whatever she wants, unless there is someone around to suggest something else, which she is always just as happy to do.  But remembering that she isn't supposed to do something that she likes to do?   I may be wrong, but I think that that all-important capacity has been deleted from her mind almost completely, and in a word, under all the mirth she has also become willful.

That's a defining characteristic of a certain group, isn't it?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Last Cat

We believe that we have finally lost the last surviving member of the once large and resplendent family of gray, black, and calico cats that we had for many years, all descended from a memorable calico named Truepenny.   This last one was named Beauty, and he was a very old, short-haired, outdoors, black cat.  We haven't seen Beauty for over a week, and we believe he either went to some secluded spot suitable to spend his last hours, as he was on his last legs anyway, or one of his friends of another species carried him off.

We have decided that, for many reasons, we won't keep any more cats, though we still like them.   The wild animals that take turns in keeping us company throughout the year will do just as well and in fact even better because they dig up their own grub.  These include deer, turtles,  a rabbit, crows, skinks, snakes, squirrels, songbirds, quail, and some that we hear but never see -- turkeys, hootowls, treefrogs, and the like -- and others whose presence we don't encourage but that we know are always somewhere in the area  -- field mice, skunks, groundhogs, voles, moles, raccoons, and bears.

Right now the wild creature who is most in evidence is a brown and therefore adult five-lined skink or lizard.  (They have beautiful blue and cream-colored longitudinal stripes when they're young.)   He lives under the woodbin on one of the decks of my workshop, next to the steps.   He greets me silently every few days, before scurrying away, under the woodbin.   His name is Percy, Percy Skink.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Obama's Manhattan Profile in Courage

Somebody wants to build a tall mosque and community center close to where the Twin Towers and other buildings were demolished with great loss of life during 9/11.   I don't know why anybody would want to put that or anything else anywhere near there.   "Ground Zero" should be left simply as a huge, naked crater, without any engraved words.  And besides, New York City already crossed over into indecency and sheer ugliness with its many bloated buildings as long as 150 years ago

President Obama has decided to put in his two cents, by saying that as long as it is in accord with local ordnances, which it is, then the building of the mosque should be allowed to go forward.   To do otherwise is to go against our prized freedom of religion in this country.

The USA Today newspaper led off their recent take on his contribution to the matter by saying said that Obama made a national issue of what till then had been a local issue.   USA Today needs some better thinkers on their editorial staff.

  First of all, this is about something that happened in New York City, and the people in New York City have long ago made sure that anything that happens in New York City, anything at all, is seen in the rest of the country as being of national importance.  And second, the proposal of building this mosque has been bubbling on the national stove ever since the idea became known, months ago.  For even more than being about New York City, this is about 9/11, Bin Laden's victory that Americans have been, unconsciously, celebrating ever since that day and using as an excuse to inflict wrongs on many other countries as well as on American citizens themselves, through stuff like the Patriot Act and making air travel an exercise in unpleasantness, similar to court cases.

Making this statement is probably the most courageous thing B. Obama has done so far during his Presidency, because it is bound to draw a huge storm of brickbats from his many detractors -- so numerous, in fact, that he probably figured he didn't have anything to lose by standing not merely on principle but also on an honorable one.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Showing Up At Yasukuni

Praying at Yasukuni in 1959 (my photo)

A group of right-wing though relatively non-famous heavyweights, except the Le Pen guy from France, visited the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, to which all the souls of Japanese military men killed in wars report with the testimony that they have done their duty.

As it happens, for the last few weeks my bedtime reading has been "Downfall," by David Westheimer (not to be confused with the movie of the same name about the last days of Hitler and his cohorts, down in the bunker in Berlin.)  This 1972 novel posits what would have happened if the two atom bombs had not been dropped, and it does this by following both the American and the Japanese experiences, equally, during the storming of the shores of Japan.  And numerous times in the book the spirits of the Japanese soldiers who are looking certain death in the face are strongly boosted by thoughts of how their souls are about to show up at Yasukuni. 

In 1959, during the college fellowship trip that I took, alone, to Japan, I visited the Yasukuni shrine, too, though not out of any ideology, except out of my constant wonder that a country with such a highly developed and actually irresistible culture could have, of its own volition, helped precipitate and then took a big part in such a generally though not totally criminal enterprise as the Second World War, which had ended only 14 years earlier.

I thought of Yasukuni as being the Japanese counterpart of Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which lay just across the river from my home in D.C., except that, as a foreigner, I could view Yasukuni at more of a distance.  I think that shrine had just been rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Tokyo firebombings, and it was mostly just another and one of the less distinguished in the long string of Japanese shrines that I visited that summer.  I remember it as being a plain and colorless place of gray and black concrete, almost drab compared to all the lavishly decorated and brightly colored temples, against the wood of their structures that had been darkened and aged to supreme dignity by the centuries -- and also hadn't been burned down.

Outside of Japan Yasukuni is often bitterly attacked as being a symbol of Japanese aggression, militarism, and imperialism in the War.  (For people my age, World War 2 is "the War."  We Americans are lucky in that each of our generations now alive has one particular war that it can call all its own.)

Wars automatically turn those who participate in them into people who, in the act of attacking voluntarily or in the course of defending must, commit numerous crimes, and aren't people who do those things criminals?

Like all the other wrongdoings that people feel they can't do without, that must be another of those facts that is generally recognized but is kept under a veil of pretense so thick that now there is not even any effort by anyone to try GWBush and his Neocon buddies as war criminals for what they did to Iraq, though that is a certainty as solid as Mt. Everest.

Le Pen touched on this point when he asked, rhetorically, why the Americans who dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki couldn't be called war criminals, too.

Being only slightly older than the young enlistees, draftees, conscripts and others who in World War 2 were shoved into the furnaces of death even more liberally than the Germans pushed their captives of many persuasions into the ovens and the mass graves, I looked on Yasukuni, unrealistically or not, as being essentially an anti-war place, where the Japanese went to lament and to regret instead of to celebrate all that absolutely uncalled-for carnage and the committing of wholesale murders, destruction, and the whole slew of other crimes.

But who knows what anybody is thinking, especially when you didn't grow up with them and don't speak their language? Still, as far as I could tell, nobody in the Japan that I saw seemed to have the slightest desire to take another shot at what they had just gone through.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flying in Alaska

Back in the fall of the historic year of 1968, my wife and I took a camping trip in our little black VW Bug all the way from D.C. up to Fairbanks, Alaska.   It took two and a half weeks of some truly sensational sight-seeing to get there.

  We gave the Bug a rest in Fairbanks and went to Anchorage by plane.   Then, in the airport while waiting to go on a tourist flight to Nome, my wife fainted while in line, though she quickly revived, and then all was well.   We blamed it on bad drinking water at the campground in Fairbanks, though I was all right.  We flew up to Nome, hung around there a little, and next took another flight to Kotzebue, an Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle.  (That was what they called them in those days, "Eskimos," though that was later considered to be a perjorative term.)  We hung around Kotzebue for a few hours and did the normal tourist stuff,  after which we flew back to Nome, and hung around there for a night and a day I guess, and next back to Anchorage and finally to Fairbanks, where we rejoined our faithful little Bug, which from then on kept us safely on the ground, or at least as long as we weren't on board car ferries, of which there were a fair number, too... 

That works out to six short flights we took in Alaska in just a few days.  

Alaska has by far the highest incidence of air accidents of any state in the Union, but we didn't know that, and if we had known, I doubt that we would have spent much time thinking about it.  My wife, Esther, spends hardly any time at all on such considerations anyway, and generally we were pretty blase about all those plane rides.

Now they are investigating why a plane crashed into a mountainside a few days ago, taking the lives of several, including a crusty old U.S. Senator named Ted Stevens.   He undoubtedly had taken thousands of flights all over Alaska in his day, far past the law of averages, I would think.

Nevertheless, when I read about this tragedy, my thoughts immediately went back to the disappearances while in flight in 1972, four years after we had taken off from that same airport in Anchorage,  of the then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Hale Boggs (father of the pitiable conservative commentator, Cokie Roberts),  along with three others, including one of the House's junior members, Nick Begich, who was the father of the current junior Senator from Alaska, Mark Begich.

After the most extensive search  possible, no traces of those four or of their plane were ever found, and they are believed to have been swallowed up and covered over by one of the innumerable crevasses in the numerous glaciers in the southeast part of Alaska.

A while ago someone said it would be four hundred years before the glacier would melt enough for those remains to be revealed.    But I have a hunch that the way all that ice is melting in these days of global warming,  one day soon tourists on board a tour ship in the Prince William Sound or some such place will be "treated" to the sight of that glacier disgorging that plane and the victims.   But they had better keep a sharp eye, because they will probably only have a few minutes to do so.

Usually the pilots of such plane crashes don't attract much notice, but the pilot of the Boggs and Begich crash was an interesting character named Don Jonz, a guy very much in the stripe of the cocky Alaskan bush pilots, as shown by the distinction he had of writing a published article beforehand in which he downplayed the dangers of planes in Alaska icing up.

Reportedly, on the day of that crash there was quite a bit of icing on the route the plane probably took on the way to its fateful encounter with a glacier.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Months ago. in the upper RH corner of my Blogger dashboard for this weblog, I noticed a strange notation.   It said, without explanation, "1 follower."

Not having any idea what that meant, I did what has worked well for me through the years, and that is to do precisely nothing.  

Except that a few months later I did get around to clicking that mysterious notation, and I saw that it had something to do with LeftLeaningLady.

That led me to think that maybe it also had something to do with "Twitter," a something or another that seems to be on the minds of millions around the world.   But, still not knowing what that was all about, I thought it was best to fall back on my usual mode of functioning in such situations, and that was to take no action.

But the "follower" just waited, patiently.

Then, just the other day I saw that that notation had changed, and now it said, "2 followers."

Still having no idea who or what is being followed, I am busy following my favorite course of action in such situations, for it has stood me well through the years, and that is to do exactly nothing, while hoping that it doesn't offend the not one but now two "followers.".  As one who doesn't care for following any more than he cares for leading, that concept is the cause of some embarrassment for me.

Still I notice that more and more twittering has become a bigtime activity, and it seems to be one of the first gadgets that the news makers reach for in their handy toolbags, right after the cellphones..

I clicked on a  site that Steve Bates linked to Jack Krugman, a famous columnist of these days.  If I am not mistaken  Krugman had originally twittered these remarks, in which he claims that America is literally going dark, because of the all-consuming drive to limit government, which has resulted in cutbacks to all the activities that make a nation and a civilization, and as a result, America is going to nowhere.

I can't agree with that statement, and I think it can safely be discarded in the same bin as that famous but ridiculous  statement that a guy named Francis Fukuyama made some years ago and that a lot of people who should've known better bought into, I guess because it sounded so clever and sophisticated and precious, to the effect that "the end of history" had been reached.

I think that just as history is as long-lasting as time, if Krugman ever took the time to wait and look, he would see that America is always going somewhere, though it may not always be the "there" that we desire.

But Krugman's paucity of pigmentation probably prevents him from being able to see what the "Darkening of America" really means.   The slaves from Africa and their descendants have already seen the country reach that point and recognized it for what it was, several times.    It seems to be an orbital matter.

The DDT Truck

The most quoted line from Francis Ford Coppola's movie about the Vietnam War, "Apocalypse Now," is probably the one spoken by Robert Duvall's character when he says, "I just love the smell of burning napalm first thing in the morning," or something like that.

Recently R, the visiting brother of K., our closest neighbor and one of my co-workers in our communal garden up the road, was calling up memories of their childhood days as members of a military family in eastern Virginia.  And he said that he just loved the smell when the DDT trucks came around, and K. agreed that it was a very nice odor indeed, and I think so did his wife, L., and she asked me if I remembered the DDT trucks.

I had to tell her that where and when I grew up, there were no DDT trucks, and up till that moment I had never heard of them.   Actually I always assumed that DDT, banned through most of the recent years,  was sprayed from airplanes, not trucks, and always many hundreds of miles from wherever I happened to be.

This morning, about three weeks after that moment in the garden,  I thought of another response I could have made.   (It takes me that long to think of responses that I would rather have made.)   I could've added, "I think they only sprayed DDT out in the provinces anyway, where there weren't as many people who, on feeling that stuff raining from the sky would've started screaming, no matter how good it smelled, "Now wait just a cotton-picking minute!"

But then again, maybe not.   There is no accounting for smells either.

Monday, August 09, 2010

She's B=a=a=ck!

Every once in a while an online friend drops out of sight.   I have done this myself, and in fact I have become a longtime dropout in the AOL trivia game world that I inhabited to an intense degree some years ago, and there might be still some people over there who remember me and have wondered what happened, the same as I still wonder whether they are still around and what they're doing.  Maybe I could still find out, merely by reactivating my AIM, the AOL instant message function, provided that it still works.   But something bizarre in my mindset keeps me from doing that -- maybe the way that in AIM people can drop down on you from out of the blue and you can't see them coming..

Nowadays, instead of using Instant Messages, I communiicate with other people mostly by reading weblogs and occasionally by sending comments to those weblogs, but rarely by emails.
And every once in a while people stop putting stuff on their weblogs, and I don't know what has happened.

Usually they're like me these days.   Five or six days zip by before they realize that it's been that long since they put up something.   But sometimes the absences are much longer, and as such they're filled with that much more mystery.

So far the record holder is an Iraqi young lady who called herself "Riverbend," and she kept up an always interesting weblog called "Baghdad Burning."   The link in my sidebar over there still works, and you can see how long it's been since she said something.   That very last message to us is especially worth reading.  And it was preceded by several years of equally worthy information, because she wrote them in the early days of the GWBush criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq, during which she and her family held on for as long as they could while Baghdad and Iraq gradually fell apart and they were finally forced to flee to Syria, and since then nothing has been heard from Riverbend on that site.

This year, closer to home, the second worse such calamity happened, though to a much lesser degree of pain, though still with some.

Left-Leaning Lady, the most indispensable of the several indispensable weblogists that I read every day, disappeared for seven or eight months, starting in December of this year.   Every few days I would check in, only to see the same post there, month after month, while that post meanwhile accumulated 70 or 80 disreputable comments, like one of those equestrian statues in D.C. accumulating pigeon droppings, the majority of it spam from overseas.   But I wasn't worried, because I knew she was in a very heavy academic thing, going back to college while in her early 40's.   Plus she always has many other admirable things on her plate.

Then, one day last week I saw she was back, and long enough to have already thrown five or six substantial new posts up on her site, which is called "My Musings."

And one more thing was again right with the world.

Too bad that the old expression, "All's right with the world," can't be used there, with so much in a steady state of decay and collapse all around us -- though they have finally plugged that gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, close to Lady's Florida digs in what she calls "the Redneck Riviera.".

Behind the Technological Curve

When I was younger -- and by that I mean any age to about 15 years ago, I was always the one who was quickest in checking out the newest in electronic stuff.   I think that among my friends and acquaintances I was the first to get a tape recorder, then an open reel tape deck, then a cassette deck, and probably still the only one to have bought all the generations of PC computers, from the XT, through the 286, the 386, the 486, and on into the modern string that is identified mostly by the CPU chip on the motherboard.   And they didn't end up with such a vast colleciton of PC computer games either, great games now rendered unplayable because of the tyranny of the technological curve.

But now all that is over, and I am hopelessly behind the technological curve, of which the worst manifestation is that I have never had a cellphone, and still don't have any hankering for one, first because I don't go anywhere, and second, because there are few if any that I am likely to call and that are likely to call me.  So when people talk about Androids, I-phones, Kindles, and the like, I barely know what they're talking about.

The only computer area that is still familiar to me is the world of desktop computers   That is because though I stopped playing computer games (except Tetris) at least 15 years ago, I still use my computers for other purposes every day, and unlike laptops and also modern cars, PC desktops are still entirely modular and non-proprietary, and that makes them easy to build and to fix, and the parts are not expensive.

I have  two pairs of desktops.  Each pair consists of a computer with an older motherboard rated at speeds of about 1 gig,  ganged by a KVM switch to a newer machine that is  at least 1 gig faster.  The KVM switch allows me to use a single monitor, mouse, and keyboard for both computers in the pair.  I also have a wireless printer, which means that I can use that one printer for all four machines, plus the fifth one that my wife uses.

Yet I am still not as far behind the curve as I would be if I lived in a more urban setting, because hardly anyone around here pays as much attention to their desktops as I do.  They seem to see computers as being mere appliances and not the wonders that I decided they were as soon as I saw the first "Pong" game in a store window, so long ago that I'm not even sure which decade it was.

I guess they never hoped to get erector sets for Christmas when they were kids.