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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, May 30, 2011

Germany's Lucky Day

"The day you make a decision is a lucky day."   (Old Okinawan saying)

It may be too early to say much, but it looks like the present leaders of Germany have decided to do something really big, and even unbelievable.   They are ordering the phasing out of not just some but ALL its nuclear power plants, with the last to flip its big switch to "Off" only 10 short years from now!

Fukushima did it.  The  Germans don't want that recent Japanese nightmare, which is still not over, to be repeated anywhere on their often beautiful landscape for any reason. 
The corporate interests, which must be as strong in Germany as they are anywhere else, are bound to rise up in arms over this, and in the face of that you have to admire the leadership that reached that decision.

Right now that leadership is headed by a woman.  Her name is Angela Merkel, and not long ago she provided a preview of this present decisiveness, when B. Netanyahu called and began lecturing her, probably thinking that, because of guilt,  Germany was overdue to be added to that other large country that he and his predecessors had already whipped into line some time back.   But guilt has a half-life that is exactly as short as that of plutonium is long.   Angela Merkel didn't at all appreciate Netanyahu's attitude, and she told him in no uncertain terms to go shove it.  As the leader of a certifiably heavyweight country, Merkel had a better appreciation than some people of what she could and should do when a decidedly lighter weight tries to bring a verbal ruler down across her knuckles.

Similarly, she probably can close those plants without unbearable pain, since Germany depends on them for only about 23 percent of its electricity, generated by just 17 plants, as compared to the 55 that were in operation in Japan, the 58 that still are in France and the 104 in the U.S.

Though it is unclear whether or not it will be, this decision by the Germans should be watched closely in the U.S., because it has nuclear power plants sitting in a lot of  places where the convenience goes from "I guess it's okay" to "WHAT WERE WE THINKING!" in a big hurry when anything goes wrong.   The plants at Lake Anna, only about 50 miles from the Nation's Capital (and from me!), and at Indian Point, the same distance up the Hudson from New York City, are just two of many.

One truly serious nuclear accident is all it takes, and on the ordinary scale of things it doesn't take much to happen.  Also the harmful effects of such a disaster can spread far beyond the immediate area of the culprits.

Strangely the Fascists of World War 2 might already have helped make it easy for the Germans.   With them having furnished such an appalling example, maybe the Germans don't have a modern version of that party ready to throw its shoulders against anything that could be for the better, as compared to the U.S. and that Tea Party that is now busy wriggling up the arteries,veins, intestines, and other interior channels of that older elephantine political entity that is already totally invested in stomping heavily on the brakes to bring to a screaming halt any effort that makes even the remotest sense.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man -- Rationales of a Bride’s Father

Before his daughter H.'s beautiful wedding, B., probably in an attempt to appear debonair and relaxed about the whole thing, had suggested that, though normally he is on the stingy side, for this event he had just closed his eyes and written checks.   But that is a pretty good trick, and when we finally played some chess a couple of weeks later I wanted to ask him how much the thing had cost.   But for a lot of reasons, I restrained myself.

Prompted by having just gone to the bank to take care of having accidentally overdrawn his account, B. made money the subject of the day anyway, and, pulling what I think is a huge and even an astronomical figure out of what I thought was the thin air, he asked me what I thought that amount means to a rich man and what it means to a poor man.

I was at a loss, because minutes earlier he had already answered that question to his own satisfaction, which was that that sum would mean only as much as about $5 to a rich man, while it would mean at least double its face value to a poor man.

 Not feeling like dealing with any contention except on the chessboard, I just went along,  though, having deliberately never tried to imagine what it’s like to be rich, just on principle, my actual feeling was that a rich man’s and a poor man’s idea of that very serious amount would be pretty much identical.   To illustrate, it struck me as being enough to buy a decent car, unless I am behind the times farther than I thought -- and unless we are talking about the Don Drapers of the world.

(In the hit TV series "Mad Men," Don Draper, the main character, buys a gleaming new Cadillac Coup de Ville. The year is 1962 and this is THE car of the times, and everybody in his agency is deeply impressed.  It is a sure sign that he has reached the top of the heap.  The car cost $6,500.

In 1963 I bought a gleaming new Volkswagen Bug, fresh off the boat from Germany.    It cost $1,800.

Today, almost 50 years later, we have a 2002 Cadillac Coup de Ville sitting in our driveway here at our residence on a Virginia dirt road.   My wife inherited it from her mother.   She had, as does my wife, certain little concealed pretensions that she enjoyed.   The car still looks brand new, but I have never driven it.   I much prefer my little 22-year-old Isuzu pickup truck, though it is of absolutely no monetary value to anyone except me.   I don’t know how much that Caddy cost.)

A little later B. got on the subject of his daughter’s wedding.   He asked me what I thought the purpose of it was.  That, as was to be expected, was only a lead-in to him expounding on what he thought.

In the end B. seemed to be saying that the main purpose, aside from the obvious ones involving the happiness of his daughter, her new husband, and their relatives and friends, was that the wedding was a redistribution of the wealth.   Among other things, he had furnished an afternoon of well-paid employment and other fiscal gain for a large number of his friends and the children of his friends.  And that's laudable.

Funny, though.   By then we were in the company of our wives, and B. revealed that that large figure that he had seemingly plucked out of the air earlier, for rhetorical purposes, was just what he had paid out for the wedding, though the total cost was even higher, because his daughter and her imminent spouse contributed a somewhat smaller but still substantial amount -- enough, for instance, to put a new roof on a sizable house.

B. said it was all to the good, but now he will go back to being stingy again.  Stiil, I would be surprised if he isn’t still battling through the cobweb – brought on by the wedding --  of deciding whether he is a rich man or a poor man.  He may, however, not know or concede that that is what he’s doing.

During this discussion, B, insisted that he isn’t a rich man at all, but if you ask me, he deeply enjoyed spending all that money on that wedding just as if he were rich – and getting away with it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Things in Libya

One of the most interesting things about the events in Libya is seeing how the NATO intervention there is regarded with reference to President Obama.

That effort was scarcely a day old when Common Dreams, formerly a competent progressive site but now at times indistinguishable from the most rabid Republican sites as I imagine them to be, had a huge headline screaming "OBAMA'S WAR," and the Angry Arab, among others, was equally incensed.

They were a little quick on the trigger, and Obama snatched the Magic Carpet out from under them a few days later by stepping back sharply and leaving Sarkozy of France as the main ramrod, and in the several months since then, Obama's name has rarely been linked with Libya, except by people eager to see the U.S. at the head of everything, including building igloos in the Sahara.   France and Britain have been the main NATO actors in the Libyan drama.

I don't know what the general drift at Common Dreams has been lately, but I have noticed that, while his prestige as an expert on the Middle East has been growing by leaps and maybe bounds, as he tells us himself, Angry Arab has rarely had much to say about Libya after his earlier, ill-considered outbursts.

Maybe this is because, among other things, he may have seen the same polls that the equally well-informed and more even-keeled Juan Cole at Informed Comment has been citing, suggesting that a very large majority of Arabs have no use for Gaddafi and they wouldn't at all mind seeing him pushed out of there.

The latest developments on Libya have been that the British are sending in some attack helicopters for the first time, and Obama is adding some Apaches.   It looks as if they think that that might be all needed for finally sinking Gaddafi's ship.

But also the Gaddafi side and some in the West have been trying to get the Russians to mediate a peace deal.   But why the Russians?   It's been a long time since they've been associated with peace.   I don't think they have finally come to a meeting of the minds closer to home, with Chechnya, and maybe a couple of other places as well.

That's almost as hard to understand as expecting modern Americans, including Obama, to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

That can't be done with any credibility when you spend all your time lauding the one side while allowing that side to give the other one the very short end of the stick.

But that's a very weird thing to see anyway, depending as it does on the waves of racially-induced nearsightedness currently sweeping across North America between the Atlantic and the Pacific, along with the storms.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"BBD&O Hired a Colored Boy"

Among our constant Netflix fare we have been looking at consecutive episodes of "Mad Men," a series set in the highly glitzy and rigidly "white" New York City advertising world of the later 1950's and on into the 1960's.   So far the only faces of our color to be seen and heard for just a few seconds have been people serving in the then traditional more humble capacities: a waiter, a house maid, an elevator operator.   And in fact Jewish people are the only minority of any kind to be seen or mentioned with any frequency at all at the ad agency depicted, and even they, though they are indistinguishable from other "white" people, don't seem to be among the employees there and, along with liberals and Democrats, are spoken of none too favorably, and that includes the few who appear and have roles to any extent -- all of them being business executives and customers of the agency.  It is a world strictly confined to only one favored group, "white Christians."

But John F. Kennedy has just been elected, and the times are shown to be slowly changing, a development that so far has been barely noticed by the agency's executives.   They are much too engrossed in excessive amounts of smoking, drinking, tomcatting, backbiting, wise-cracking glibbery, one-upmanship, and a wide variety of other forms of disreputable behaviors, obviously picked up in the best frathouses.

We have gotten to the second year of "Mad Men," and in one of those early episodes two of the highest-placed executives in the agency in question are having a drink in a clandestine juke joint, and one offhandedly remarks,"I hear BBDO hired a colored boy."  

They do not take the subject any farther -- a sign that it was for a position closer to their level of rascal rights than to elevator operator or janitor.

This episode is set in 1962 or maybe early in 1963.   Marilyn Monroe has just died of a drug overdose, but J.F.K. hasn't been shot yet.

Just a year or two after the time depicted in that episode, I was in New York City --it must've been in '64 --  with literary ambitions on my mind in terms of selling something and maybe even living there for a while, and I got the chance to go to that self-same BBD&O that is mentioned so much on "Mad Men" -- Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborne -- to apply for a job as a copy writer.

You will not be surprised to hear, that though being "ready" was a clarion call in those days of the racial barriers that were being slowly broken down, I reported to BBD&O on some upper floor in one of those bizarre New York city skyscrapers woefully unprepared in one key respect: my wearing apparel.   If I even owned things as questionable as a suit and a tie, which is doubtful, they were back at home in D.C., 160 miles away.  But I was so nonchalant and principled about things in those days (as I still am) that I don't think I would've reported in that kind of get-up anyway.   Otherwise it was a pleasant interview, and I came out of it feeling that my chances were good.

I told the guy I was still living in D.C. but that unfortunately I had just been called for jury duty, and I had to go back home for that, and it would only take two weeks at most.  He quite agreeably gave me an assignment to work up some copy for an advertising campaign of my choice, and he told me to come back to New York as soon as my jury duty was over.  He also advised me to wear a suit and tie -- a "monkey suit" as I was, and still am, in the habit of privately calling that inexplicable piece of men's wear.

And I went home to D.C. and reported for jury duty -- and was promptly excused from it.   But instead of going back to New York early, I stayed at home working hard on coming up with my idea of some advertising copy.

When I thought I had enough to show the guy, I drove back to New York.   But he was somewhat irked when, unwilling to tell any lies, I disclosed that I could've shown up again as much as a week or two earlier, and you can guess the rest.

Ever since I have wondered what would have happened if I had gotten that job, and that has been heightened lately by seeing "Mad Men."

But, as with all the other speculations about the roads not taken, of which I have had my share, in BBD&O's case I don't feel any regrets.

 I flatter myself that even in the highly cut-throat atmosphere of the agency shown on "Mad Men," I would have survived as far as my co-workers would have been concerned.  I have shown many times that I have an unusual knack of getting along with even the worst of the baboon-butts of the world.   And I was not intimidated by that one brief glimpse I got of that high-powered advertising world just by walking through one floor of Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborne.   I was arrogant enough to think that if I wanted to, I could do anything I put my mind to.   At least that was what my mother, my sister, and a number of others always told me.

I think I torpedoed myself there with knowledge aforethought  because in the academic and aspiring writer worlds in which I moved, ad agencies were looked upon as being the pits and the death of the soul, in spite of the obvious financial advantages.  So that was one thing.  Also I have never liked anything about New York City, of which I had already seen enough from an early age, and it was hard to picture living there.   But the most important thing was that I would have had to leave my loving, aging, twice-widowed mother living alone in D.C., and I had trouble with that idea, unless somehow I could've managed to move her up to NYC with me, which would not have been comfortable for her to do, or unless my sister could have taken care of that, and she had fish of her own to fry.

  Still, what if, while I was busy writing my Volkswagen ads,  BBD&O had had somebody walking around to look at all day long like the spectacularly endowed "Joan" character (real name: Christina Hendricks) in "Mad Men?"   Now that IS something to think about!

Linkage of the Unholies

In his speech a few days ago, in which he expressed the iron will of the misfits who have carjacked the current leadership of the Israeli government (just as has sometimes happened in the U.S., most recently from 2000 thru 2008) to have Israel continue to be a giant bugbear forever and a day for all its neighbors, into whose midst the present version of that country parachuted a mere 62 years ago, it is reported that B.Netanyahu, ostensibly the prime minister of Israel, received twenty-nine (29) standing ovations from the U.S. Congress.

The only significant thing about this is that it shows that Mark Twain's dictum of over 100 years ago, that Congress is the only true criminal class in America, has never been more on the mark.

Still, this should remind us that Netanyahu's forebears could never have received that kind of response from the ancestors of most of those men and women.

Now that Israel has adopted, wholesale, the aparthate policies that were practiced so widely and over a couple of centuries in the U.S. under other names, not to mention in Germany in the 1930's, Congressional men and women can fall all over the deliverer of such a speech and his confederates with apparent accolades of all sorts, because Netanyahu convinced the Congress that the present Israeli leadership is cut out of the same cloth as the great (I mean that sarcastically) American throwbacks of the past.

I say “apparent,” because who knows how sincere this unholy linkage of arms is, and how long it can last?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Personal Note: Stopped Cold

For several weeks I haven't been doing what I'm supposed to be doing right now, and that is to work on my big Iris Window stained glass project, of which I have the fourth and fifth of the nine panels not far from being completed.  (Above is the third; it's up high.)   Instead I've been in a big writing mode, on this weblog but much more on some of my Great Unpublished Novels.

When I get into that mode a strange thing can happen, and that is, my head can start writing things unbidden, and with such concentration that I find that my other thought processes and actions have been stopped cold while this goes on.

This is another manifestation of something that strikes me as being a blessing though everyone else, if they knew about it, would see it as being totally deplorable if not despicable, and that is that I have never developed any readerships for anything.   But that means that I have no expectations from others breathing fiercely and heavily over my shoulder and down my neck, and that gives me complete freedom from, among other things, that great bane of writing: writer's block.  I don't know what that is.

I think about something, I sit down, I start typing, and something or another, close to what I had in mind and with enough to go on for trying to do better later on, always comes out. It's great.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lingering Daylight

We are smack in the middle of the time of year that I spend a lot of mental effort in the winter hoping to see.   And though large parts of the rest of the country, especially its midsection, have been having a painful time of it, with numerous tornadoes and floods and with a drought or two thrown in, as usual here we have been completely sheltered from anything extreme, so that a gulley-washer or a tornado in North Carolina or in Oklahoma is just a gentle, quiet downpour here.  I always credit that mostly to the north to south-running string of mountains that lie directly to the west.
It's been a cool and at times even a cold spring, but there were no late frosts to nip things in the bud, especially tulip poplar and other tree blossoms, and in fact this spring has been unusually generous with the rain, and now we feel like we are in a big bowl of green, making us and everything we do outside really invisible from the road.

One of the best things about this time of the year is the length of the days.   It starts getting light well before six in the morning, and fifteen hours later, at nine at night, there is still just enough light left for my little treks here and there outside.

I know that won't last long.   The solstice in June is right around the corner, and may even happen tomorrow, the way that time goes by so fast for me.   But I'm trying in this post to do something that isn't done often enough, and that is to show the proper appreciation for what we have hoped for, when it is finally here.

"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"

The other night I started reading the book of the above title for the fourth or fifth time over a period of many years.   Lately most of my reading has been about people caught in desperate situations while cast away at sea or while on polar expeditions, and the conditions in this book, while not as extreme, are certainly more extreme than anybody would want.

In the middle 1930's, in, as they say, the depths of the Great Depression, James Agee, a young writer, and Walker Evans, a somewhat older photographer, were enlisted by a magazine to take a look at “white” tenant farmers or sharecroppers in the Deep South. I don't know if the contract said that they were to go into it in so much detail, but they quickly came up with an article and then a book that became an instant classic, and though that kind of agriculture and lifestyle may or may not!) be long gone, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" is just as powerful and relevant today as it was in 1940.

They chose Alabama, and they drove through its back roads looking for tenant families who were willing to let them come into their homes, such as they were, and live with them for several weeks, as invisible but constant observers while the families went about their daily business as if the two weren't there.

Having seen a little of how people are, in equal doses of urban and rural life, I would really like to know what Agee and Walker said to the three families that agreed and that Walker and Agee chose as being what they wanted, but my reading today or in yesteryear has never revealed anything that Agee tells us about that.

So Walker took his great shots, of which about fifty make up the first part of the book, while Agee waited for the farmers and their wives and children to go on off into their scattered fields to plow, chop cotton, and do stuff like that all day long, while he snooped around their homes from top to bottom and from the shingles to under the floors, even to the point of opening the little chests where they kept their most treasured, tiny possessions. And he took detailed notes on everything he saw, and also he touched and even smelled them, while at the same time he made close architectural observations of just how the essentially ramshackle tenant houses were built and the deficiencies and the strenghts and the poetry thereof.

The book has many poetic incantations that I am sure compare favorably with Agee's contemporaries -- T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and everybody else -- but the parts that keep bringing me back have always been those pages and pages of what amount to spy catalogs (Agee called himself a spy) on everything that the Gudgers, the Ricketts, and the Woods-- the three families that tolerated their presence -- possessed and ate and wore and used that may or may not have been highly precious to them, no matter how ordinary or cheap or what kind of condition anything was in.

What does this say about someone who would be so interested in that? That he enjoyed being drawn into Agee's kind of intellectual voyeurism? Or was it that it doesn't matter whether this was about the inner sanctums of some “white” tenant families (naturally I wonder what the homes of the “black” sharecroppers were like, though I have the feeling that they were almost the same) who lived in the most abject poverty, subject to the will of landlords and engaged in back-breaking work and enduring living conditions that devastated them in every respect before they had even gotten into their mid-20's? Was it just the sheer veracity in the way Walker and especially Agee were able to present a way of life and some families with what must have been close to perfect truth?

After having seen too many movies, in which people doing what Agee did are usually caught, I also wonder what would have happened if one of those fatigued mothers or fathers had come back home early one afternoon and found him poking through all their stuff and closely noting things that they had long since stopped noticing?  (That latter-cited behavior can bother people as quick as anything else, you know.)

Surely the Gudgers, Ricketts, and Woods, who are most likely all long gone now, maybe along with most of their children, so desperate were their living conditions, could not have known that the two strangers would bestow on them, in the form of the printed word and photos, an immortality that in its completeness as conveyed by the representations and descriptions of their rented tenant houses and their very modest possessions, was actually a gift that has been given to very few others on any level of affluence.

But maybe there were things about Walker and Agee that these families were able to recognize and value, so that maybe they did know, and that was why they went along with it.

Or maybe they were always so exhausted and dazed by what was happening and not happening in their lives that they just didn't care one way or another, and essentially Walker and Agee were as invisible to them as the spider webs built each night across the paths that they used to trudge to yet another day of their unending labors, concerns, and dissatisfactions.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obama's Latest Pakistan Stumble

President Obama told the BBC that he wouldn't hesitate to authorize another raid in Pakistan against remaining Al-qaida figures, in a repeat of the Bin Laden execution.

Maybe, if it is possible to live that long, some day some patriot or a true believer in the practice of hubris will explain to me why this was not just the wrong thing for him to say.

I don't see how this will play well at all in Pakistan, or in any of Pakistan's neighbors.   The Pakistan military and the country as a whole are already chafing at how their thoughts were totally disregarded during the Bin Laden hit --euphemistically usually referred to as a "raid."   One high-ranking Pakistan officer called the killing "cold-blooded," which all the reports received since then have, for all the attempts to put things in the best light, indicate that it certainly was, and that the uniforms went in there not to take Bin Laden alive so that he could go on trial, as even the Israelis did in the case of Adolf Eichmann, that Nazi prison guy that they abducted in Argentina in 1960 and later executed him.  Surely the deaths of all those millions of Jews at the hands of Eichmann and others compared with the nearly 3,000 or so American lives lost during 9/11.   Instead it seems clear that the Seals always meant to take Bin Laden out on the spot, on the forehead spot.   And then, to prevent as many subsequent questions from being asked as they could, they even disposed of his remains in the best Mafia tradition, by quickly dumping his body into the sea clothed, we assume, in concrete boots, before anybody else could get a look.

And this is on top of all the drone strikes that Obama has already authorized in Pakistan and have resulted in a great many deaths, a sizable number of which could not have been the bad guys.

  It would seem that Obama would take into serious account how this makes Pakistan look, in its own eyes and in the eyes of those who see themselves connected in various ways with Pakistan and its aspirations.

Another big question about this that I keep wanting to ask, without hope of ever getting a good answer, is, how would Americans react if, say, Pakistan, though it could be Mexico, Nigeria, Ukraine, China, or any other country, were to secretly send teams into Illinois or Kansas to kill or even merely to grab some person against which that country had a grievance and boldly take him out of the U.S. without even a fare-the-well.

The whole country, left and right, would promptly collapse into a big pile of jabbering, slobbering outrage.

So whatever happened to the whole concept of being careful about tit because there is always the possibility of tat, or in this case, respecting someone else's national pride?

Of course, I would've advised Obama to say little and preferably nothing at all about that whole Bin Laden rub-out from the start and just go on to the numerous other crucial matters that are more difficult to solve than is the act of pulling a trigger, while letting the military and even the Republicans take full credit for the Seals' work. 

The offing of Bin Laden might've done wonders for his poll numbers, but I don't see how it's going to look at all good on his posterity resume, which is already vaguely starting to take shape on the horizon.  Posterity is unable to feel any of the burning heat of blood revenge, you know.  Instead it would have much preferred to hear Laden's last words.

Friday, May 20, 2011

End of the World -- Again

Someone whose name is not worth repeating has made the latest somehow publicized prediction about the imminent end of the world, and the news media and a great many others are having a good time playing with it.   This event is supposed to start unfolding some time late tonight, beginning with a huge earthquake somewhere.

A few minutes ago our mantel clock stopped running, but when I rewound it, I saw that it was still more than half-wound, and it should've kept ticking for a couple of days longer.   And then a little after that my wife found that a tiny bird, some kind of a warbler, had suffered a common mishap as a result of our house being here in the woods.  It had smacked head-on into the glass of one of our windows, and now it was just standing there on the ledge, on its feet, head upright,  and with its eyes wide open, yet it was absolutely motionless and not responding to anything.  And (3), partway through the writing of this post, my computer mysteriously blinked off and then right back on.   Good thing Blogger saves your posts as you type them.

All of this might suggest that something critical has started happening right now!

I always enjoy the never-ending end-of-the-world predictions, because they are cases of nonsense that will always be shown for what they are soon enough, and that kind of revelation doesn't happen often enough.   And when the designated hour has come and gone and everything continues to be just as it was, for a split-second I get a feeling of having gotten away with something, even in spite of having known that it was all so much whifflepoop.  That must be because such an occasion is a fascinating thing to contemplate, nevertheless.

You would think that end of the world predictors and those who buy into their bit would have just a little idea of how incredibly long a billion years is.   And the Earth, by which presumably these people mean "the world" instead of just their own little neighborhood, has been around for many billions of years, yet it is still here.   At times it has been only one huge snowball, but it still didn't go anywhere except  where the rest of the universe was also heading.   So the probabilities of the planet speaking sayonara tomorrow or any other time soon are not great.

But intelligence and religious belief have never gone together,  and that is a big reason why religion holds so much appeal for those with severe cranial disconnects.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Yesterday I had to brave another trip into the outside world, so soon after I had gone to H.'s wedding.   I have two months to get my driver's license renewed.

The last time I didn't think I had exactly passed the vision test with flying colors, and I was afraid of stumbling and doing worse than was justified, because of my discomfort with dealing with agencies as impersonal as DMV's.  But I was told by the doctor's office where I am being treated for glaucoma that I could take the vision test there, and that was my reason for going to town ("town" in this case being a place with only a little over 400 inhabitants).

The doctor checked my eyesight carefully, and made out a report that I can give to the DMV instead of taking the test there, which is a load off my mind.

My wife took me to the eye doctor, in case I had the usual trouble with his dilation drops making the roads after the visit a blinding nightmare, and afterward we went to a local nursery to look for impatiens.

Every year I plant impatiens, that most shade-loving of flowers, in some oak half-barrels along our driveway.   They grow great there and provide a lot of bright color all the way until the first frost hits, with an absolute minimum of care.   Their only enemies are occasionally ambitious squirrels.

  But there were no impatiens on sale, except some already in skillful arrangements with other flowers in hanging pots.   None in the usual trays that you see outside supermarkets and hardware stores.

Wife, however, happened to spot a lady there who is the mother in probably the most distinguished family in the whole county, and she is also one of the owners of that big nursery.   And we just happened to know her well, because the youngest of her six or seven sons attended the county high school with our son, and they were good friends as well as competitors, and that youngest son even just happened to be there, too, because he is now running the nursery along with his brothers.   As a result of this happy accident, we ended up getting the needed impatiens after all, along with some begonias, due to this lady taking a lot of her time out to take wife on a little tour of her family's hundreds of "hoop" greenhouses.

I have always had a lot of admiration for this remarkable woman on a lot of counts, to the point where I had long ago based an important character in one of my Great Unpublished Novels on her, loosely, very loosely.  And right now I've been taking time out from my stained glass projects to go through those novels in an effort to tie up some loose ends that have been dangling for a long time, and in that novel the main chapter that featured the character inspired by this lady had been dangling worst of all, by not even being fully sketched out, as I had done with all the other chapters.

So, while waiting for this lady and wife to get back from searching for the impatiens, and thinking about seeing this lady for the first time in about 20 years, all of a sudden it occurred to me that when I get to finally doing that chapter and in fact finishing the whole book, which I must do soon, I could lift a long section involving that character from another chapter and moving it to hers, in an operation that is (lightly, very lightly) like cutting an organ out of a person and implanting it in someone else's  being.   The blood vessels, nerves, and other stuff have to be carefully tied off in the donor, while they have to be reconnected with just as much care in the recipient.    And when I finally got back home, right away I did the major step in doing just that, via my handy-dandy word processor, one of the great great inventions of modern times, and this will give me a big boost when I do finally tackle that chapter.

Isn't it funny how neatly things work out, now if not always then.

The Growing Collapse of Time

The last American veteran of World War I left this life the other day.  Hs name was Frank Buckles.   He was born in Missouri.   He had reached the age of 110.

This reminded me of a calculation that I had already made some time ago, which was that I was born only 13 years after WW 1 ended.

I think of WW1 as having been somewhere deep in Antiquity.

Increasingly, things are really getting ahead of themselves.

The Most Dangerous Thing

The 20-year-old Kenyan who won the marathon in the most recent Olympics is already dead, supposedly after trying to escape from a room into which he had been locked by his irate wife after she discovered him in bed with another woman.   He jumped off a balcony but failed to hit the ground running.

At nearly the same moment the middle-aged Frenchman who is head of the International Monetary Fund, an organization that for many years has made many nations quake in their boots as they struggled to free themselves from crushing financial burdens, was charged with sexually assaulting a female worker in a hotel, and he was hauled off a plane and now he's been taken unceremoniously to a notorious offal hole of a New York prison called Riker's Island.

Reports like this are the stuff of "news" all over the world, and they help show that a person can get into trouble, and of a long-lasting kind, because of sex quicker than he can because of race, nationalism, hard drugs, greed, creeds, religion, ignorance, or any of the other big ills of the world.

Maybe the reader has put this together when he takes into account the experiences of just his relatives, his friends, and his neighbors.   And this trouble is always with other humans and rarely if at all with bacteria, butterflies, bears, the Moon, or anything else in the universe.

This situation is not helped by the thousands and thousands of sexual taboos that have arisen over the ages and are still going strong, since time and greater understanding does little to lessen or to remove them, so that they keep right on putting severe and senseless constraints on nearly every society all over the world.

Isn't it strange, then, that this is nevertheless a sex-ridden world, and sex is the biggest panacea besides drink that is always turned to, to relieve people of the pains of all the other ills.

It looks as if what the world needs most is a good placebo.   Anything that grows in a flower pot instead of between the juncture of the legs will do for starters.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unofficial Photographer

As inexplicably requested by the bride and also by her father, both shown above at the beginning of the doing of the decisive deed, I attended H.'s wedding a few days ago.

The bride was gorgeous and glowing, the groom somewhat less so, and it was held in a beautiful setting on a day when the weather found nothing to grumble about till much later, in the evening, and everyone had a great time, and everything came out as well as anyone could have expected.

I should say right here, though, that I have never understood the appeal of big weddings, because I don't see how they can have any relationship to what I would think would be the uppermost consideration of the whole day, and that is the ultimate success of the ensuing marriage. But that can never be the purpose, can it, because who knows what the future holds? But if that is not the purpose of such a large and costly event, then what is? To serve as an excuse for a great party, and things like the reunion of farflung relatives?

Therefore, purely from my jaundiced and completely unacceptable point of view, I decided that this wedding could at least serve one good purpose, and that was to push me to learn more about my remarkable little Canon digital camera, which is not that little compared to the baubles that most people usually bring out and have the nerve to call them "cameras" but which are indecently not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. and besides come in all sorts of gaudy "decorator" colors instead of the black of the model I have, the same color that Henry Ford demanded on all his Model T's, and the color also of all the single lens reflexes that served me so well in the past.

I bought this Canon three years ago, yet I had not gotten a good handle on most of its features that are too numerous to count, as are the number of buttons, doors, and other things on every square centimeter of the camera except on the lens.  I spent some time beforehand putting in fresh batteries and studying especially how to use the flash and the movie functions, and thus armed, I went forth and never sat during the ceremony.

Instead I kept slowly circling the whole assemblage, just as I did in the old days, when, back in the late 60's and the !970's, among other subjects I thoroughly shot up every demonstration that came through D.C., and there were a lot of them, and more meaningful ones than you get now, if nobody minds me saying so.

It was a strange experience because meanwhile I didn't sense the presence of an official wedding photographer. Instead, afterward, a couple of people kidded me by saying that they thought I might have been the official photographer, because, except for one lady, I was the only one who moved around shooting from a variety of angles.

And I guess that for various reasons I was also not the invisible man that I had been in previous days, and in fact later the bride's father, my chessplaying friend, and the main one who several times had tried to persuade me to come, said, maybe jokingly but maybe not, that during the ceremony, he had been tempted to shout out to me, "GET OUTTA THERE!" And he was only restrained by the thought that his daughter, a very strong-willed young lady I am told, who made many of the arrangements for this wedding herself, due to the unfortunate incapacity of her mother, would not have appreciated his little outburst one little bit.

I can't guarantee how sharp the photos that I took are, due to the condition of my eyes. Also I wish I had been more aware of what my Canon 5S-1s can do in the movie-making area. I tried that function a couple of times but, not knowing how much my 4-gig memory card would hold, I only got sequences lasting for a few  seconds each. Later I realized that I could have shot much longer bits, and also, because my camera also records sound, I could have picked up much more of what the participants were saying, because the sound came out clear and loud, with the birds also having their melodious say.

Well, maybe there will be a next time when I can put what I learned to better use.

But I think I still got a number of good shots, including some that I don't think many others got. It turned out that instead of having an official photographer, the groom, a man from Germany, handed out a half dozen cameras to his friends to record the event. But most of them were in the ceremony itself, and I noticed very few camera-toting people on their feet and moving around like I was and as, in my opinion, any real photographer would have done, instead of just sitting there like stones.

Without the testimony of the pictures, sooner or later any good spectacle soon goes to waste.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Hollow Victory

It feels odd to see the news services reporting the killing of Osama Bin Laden as if it is now an accomplished fact.

I remember the many reports that kept coming out in the several years immediately after 9/11, during the constant scouring of the territory along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan by American special teams, the regular military, the CIA, and other forces, looking for Osama Bin Laden, not at all to hear what he had to say, but to kill him, outright and quickly.

I thought that would be a mistake in more than one way. One was that it would help to leave open the feeling that some people would always have that 9/11 involved some sort of collusion between the GWBush administration and the terrorists, because otherwise there was no way to explain how those two massive towers should have melted down like that,as if they had been made of no more than vanilla ice cream, no matter how much jet fuel those planes had onboard.

And coupled with that was the way that 9/11 instantly and permanently strengthened the hand of the administration, with its anti-terrorism measures after the fact, when till then it had been stumbling.

Also Bin Laden alive might have been able to furnish an insight or two on terrorist thinking, which might have helped in easing the conditions that cause those attacks by Middle East fanatics.

After 9/11 there was an impression of a lot of blasts of all kinds in those hills, shot through with speculations as to whether, as a result of these actions, Bin Laden was still alive. But the general gist was that he had probably been zapped somewhere, somehow, maybe sealed up in a cave in Bora-Bora or some place like that with a name much like that of an island paradise in the South Pacific.

It didn't seem possible that a man whose great height alone, plus having some sort of severe liver ailment that promised to take him out shortly anyway if he didn't get on a dialysis machine soon, could survive being hunted with the help of all sorts of new technology of the kind so prominently featured in the long-running TV series, "24," including the increasing use of drones in the later years of both the show and Bin Laden. Yet, as time continued to go on after all those hopeful reports of his possible death, gradually things changed and he began to be spoken of as if he was indeed still alive.

Now it is reported that he was really killed a couple of days ago, by U.S. forces during a firefight at a mansion near Islamabad, which is deep inside Pakistan, instead of in those border areas where he was usually thought to be hiding, and one report said that the U.S. has his body.

If true, what are they going to do with it? Stand it up inside a wooden coffin with the lid off, outside a saloon, as was sometimes done in the Wild West?

In those years right after 9/11, I used to wonder what was the use of being so avid about hunting him down, and what would they have when they finally accomplished it? Wouldn't it be better if a larger share of those efforts were devoted to less collaboration with all those family tyrants that are so much a characteristic of the Arab world (and now are finally having trouble holding on, thanks to the Arabs themselves)?

Meanwhile I thought that nothing that could be done to Bin Laden, whether living or dead, could take away from his victory. This is a very sad thing to think but it's not by any means unprecedented. That victory was complete with the fall to the ground of the final pieces of the World Trade towers. More irreparable damage had been done than he or anyone else could ever have envisioned, despite his lying claims that he had foreseen it all. And that victory was compounded by the fact that he was allotted nearly ten more years to live, during which he was free to see how his efforts were aided and abetted by the draconian measures that were set up to combat terrorism by such means as Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, putting all airline riders in the category of potential criminals.and the general bogging down of American forces all across a big and chronically violent belt in the Middle East -- all of which served to damage the U.S. even more, in the sense of making the U.S. much less of the freer, easier, and more trustful place that it had formerly been, even when the obscene strictures of Jim Crow had still been in place.

It all has to do with the line between vengeance and justice, always blurred but now non-existent, even, it seems to me in these resentful times, in all the courts of the land, though we will still hear people, even the American President, gloating that in Bin Laden's case at least, justice has been served.

But what is justice?

The meaning has been lost, maybe for centuries. Maybe it always existed only as a dress-up word for punishment, to keep the punishers looking good.

I just know that this looks a lot more like at last wreaking some long-desired revenge, pure and simple, though you won't hear many people admitting that. But like most acts of revenge, it will be hollow, because all the damage has been done, and nothing can reverse it. And what's worse in this case is that the anti-terrorism fever figures to carry on indefinitely and wreak ever more damage, while putting severe constraints on the lives of millions throughout the world.

And all wrought not by Bin Laden or by his successors but by people who in the name of anti-terrorism are certain that their efforts are all for the good, and who have never heard the ancient injunction -- or, if they've heard of it, they scoff at the saying -- which goes, "for one act of revenge, dig two graves."

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Bride's Mother

I have been talked into attending an event that normally I would avoid like the plague, a big wedding, this coming Saturday.

I scarcely know the bride, though I have always admired her from what I have heard and the little that I have seen of her, which has been only twice that I can remember.

She is the only child of parents that lately I have come to know quite well. Nearly every Tuesday her father drives over here to play chess, while his wife goes walking with my wife. (He has yet to win a game,but that continues to be another story, concerning which I swear my innocence. His constant losses are his fault, not mine, and he is mistaken when, secure in his belief in his abilities, he claims that it is because I'm getting stronger. I mean, how can that be? I am a shaky old man, with vision that is not the best, or nerves either, and I've forgotten all my pet opening lines.)

His wife, B. is the one with Pick's Disease, a disorder of the frontal lobes that is lumped in with but is not a form of Alzheimers. It is supposed to be worse than Alzheimer's and to get worse, but so far she is as happy as a lark.

Like so many of the other Great Truths of Life that are well-known but never acknowledged, big weddings are held purely for the benefit of the bride's mother. But in this case the bride's mother lives a life in which she is taking a nonstop little stroll through meadows in the summer enlivened with birds singing and the warmth of the Sun and clouds with interesting shapes in the sky, and the grasses teeming with cats, rabbits, and many other small, cuddly animals.

That being so, at this upcoming event that my phobia at going anywhere causes me to anticipate with dread, so that a big countdown has now started, B. will act as if she is highly pleased with being among all these pleasant people who have such high regards for her, though she will not really remember all those beaming relatives at all, especially those of her husband, who will be in the great majority, and I am curious to see how this will unfold, and especially to see how aware the bride's mother will be of the significance of the event and of the crowning fact that her beloved lovely daughter is the star of it all.

It should be interesting, and I hope the rechargeable AA batteries that I have ordered online will get here in time. It would not do for the fancy digital camera that I have had for three years but still barely know to use to conk out right in the midst of things, and me with no fresh batteries on hand to augment with picture-taking all the people- and bride- and bride's mother-watching that promise to offer themselves in colorful profusion.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Trump, Short for "Trash Dump"

This morning I was thinking about D. Trump and all the attention he's been getting, especially because of noises about him being a Teapublican candidate for President. I was thinking about how you never hear anything about him that isn't trashy, and that he is in effect a walking trash dump. And then it popped into my head how neatly his last name can be seen as a shortening of the words "trash dump," and that he seems to have taken that circumstance seriously, because he personifies that kind of refuse site so vividly. And it is all the more apt because with a singular application of ego sickness, he attaches his name to each and everything that he tries to sell, and apparently a lot of people buy these things, most recently and most painfully the ridiculous idea that he, more than anyone else, would be suitable to preside over this country, starting next year.

No other sign of the general degradation of the political situation in this country can be imagined, on the right wing side that is.

It was said that in running up those first truly huge national debts that the country had thus far encountered, R. Reagan nearly bankrupted the U.S. while preparing for nuclear war. Since it is to his long sashay through Bankuptcy Country that D. Trump owes most of his notoriety, maybe that is why so many of the badly mistaken think that he could be a credible candidate.

All the more reason for those prayers that go, "God help this country!"