Friday, October 31, 2008

Memories and the viscissitudes of life

Last Saturday Linda and I braved near zero visibility in the second most intense rainstorm we've encountered in our lives to reach Desimones Cafe down in Bridgeport and step back into the past. Along the way, while stopped at the light at Route 363 in King of Prussia, we noticed a single white running shoe awash in the river flowing in the right lane, making it's lonely way toward the sea. We didn't see any sign of a shoeless foot, so perhaps the body had already been washed down the sewer.

Other than that the trip was uneventful, except that I took the wrong fork on the turn-off from 202 to Ford Street. As I said, visibility was bad. And then there was the rude honking when I made the hairpin turn back onto Ford while I thought I had the light. People are so impatient and inconsiderate. For the record, the fellow had plenty of time to brake. And he shouldn't have been accelerating so fast in a downpour like that anyway. Fortunately Linda's car performed magnificently during the somewhat hurried turn, hardly hydroplaning at all, the skid only just perceptible, well under control.

As always we were headed down to Desimones because Charlotte, Louie and Jonathan were in town. For them returning to Bridgeport means returning to Desimones, which is like condensed old-time Bridgeport. Down there in Virginia where they've lived for twenty years, they're staid suburbanites, solid burghers, as the Dutch would say. But when they come back here they seek out the haunt of their youth, as though for a recharge of their former neighborhood selves. Ultimately, you can take a Louie out of Bridgeport; but you can't completely take the Bridgeport out of a Louie, just as you can never wholly take the Penn Street out of a Charlotte or a Sully.

Linda and I arrived at Desimones, each of us, with one shoe full of water from having to step into the rivulet running down Holstein in order to get onto the sidewalk. Neither of us contributed our other shoe to the flow. That lonely shoe on 202 hasn't had any of our shoes for company in the Schuylkill this week.

Sandra and Joey were there with Louie, Charlotte and Jonnie when we arrived, as was Theresa B. Joey's ex-wife Marianne and Sam showed up little later. Bobby called in sick, or perhaps Pat begged off to avoid the smoke. There's no smoking ban in effect at Desimones, at least in the bar area.

Jonny was in costume as Elvis and served as waiter, or at least as order taker. Aside from our group there was the usual Bridgeport bar crowd, animatedly discussing whether the Phillies game would be called off, this while rain was coming down in sheets outside, and I was wondering if the rivulet would grow to sufficient size and force to carry away Linda's car. But I wasn't wondering that for long because Linda and I each had a refreshing Seabreeze when we arrived, and then I had another because it was a thirsty night. I later learned that Linda followed up her Seabreeze with a beer while I was talking with Sandra and Louie and Joey at the bar. Charlotte, as usual, was deep into it with Theresa B, and Linda had joined them at a table.

The big news of the evening was from Joey, who said he had read my recipe for porkette and couldn't see it as his mother's recipe, because she never put celery in her pork. Charlotte backed him up on that; so it may be that all of these years I've been making what I thought was Aunt Carmella's pork, and all these years I've been adding an extra ingredient. Go figure.

Which brings me to an interesting coincidence. Desimones reminds me of a bar called The Knotty Pine which I sometimes frequented back when I was in college. The Knotty was also in Bridgeport, only its Bridgeport is in Illinois, part of Chicago. The Knotty was a favorite of a lot of us because it was relatively near the campus, and the owner/bartender checked IDs in a figurative sense. If you showed him an ID he served you, no matter what date of birth it had on it. The knotty was also a favorite because it was a very safe spot in a very rough neighborhood.

Most of the regulars were cops and a good proportion of the cops were friendly, or at least tolerant of us kids, kidding us about our age or about being Joe College and such. Other of the cops were sullen, unfriendly; but not just with us. They weren't there to socialize. One memorable evening one of the sullen cops apparently took a dislike to the refrigerator in the corner. I didn't actually see him shoot it; but I turned aroung quick at the report of his pistol, and there he was looking at the refrigerator and holding out his gun. And there was a little black hole in the white refrigerator door. Everybody in what had been a pretty noisy place was all of a sudden very quiet. Then one of the other cops went over and talked quietly to him for a while until he put his gun back in its holster. Just an average night in 1967 at the Knotty Pine, a little bar in Bridgeport, maybe ten blocks from the row house where the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, lived. Well, maybe it wasn't an average night.

What clinched the deal for us and kept us coming back to the Knotty Pine though, was that even for back then it was a very economical joint. Hard to believe now, but six ounce glasses of beer were fifteen cents during happy hour, and happy hour ran until seven or eight or nine depending on how observant of time the owner was being on any given day. One memorable winter night happy hour ran all the way through to the 2 AM closing time.

Nick O and I stayed to the end that night even though it meant our ride left and we had to walk the ten or so blocks back to campus, crossing the sort of no-mans land under the elevated tracks on the way. But hell, who was going to be out and about to bother us in the dark middle of a pretty cold night? Who indeed! Nick later told me there were four of them and that we had to run long and hard because they were very determined. For my part, I remember leaving the Knotty and walking back toward campus and noticing that it was pretty darned cold. And then there's a mixed up blur comprised of an argument of some sort, and Nick yelling to run, and then running into something, and getting back up, and running again.

But all ended well, except that I hurt my wrist a bit and I had huge bruises on the fronts of my upper legs, probably acquired from tumbling over the hood of a parked car that I ran into at full tilt, if Nick's account is to be believed. Also, the next afternoon when I got out of bed I found that I could barely walk due to a sprained ankle that Nick hadn't noticed when we arrived back at the fraternity house even though we climbed the stairs to our third floor rooms together. Nick was luckier than me. He was fine except that he had somehow acquired a several inch long slash in a leather jacket he somewhat prized. He said he thought they wanted the jacket; but I always thought he made too much of that jacket.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

When is helpful tech support not useful tech support

I just spent an hour and a half on the phone with a very pleasant and helpful seeming fellow at Verizon, in who knows where, trying to find out why our home internet service has been intermittent. He led me through all manner of technical stuff on both our home desktop computer and then on my company laptop.

The end result was that he tried to give me to a paid service or connect me with the manufacturers of the computers to try to figure out why he was seeing internet coming to our wireless modem, and our home computer was seeing the wireless modem, but neither of the computers was seeing the internet. I declined those two options because the two computers are from different manufacturers and they run different versions of windows. Also, I told him it's hard to see how our computers can be at fault if both of them see the internet intermittently and we have not made any changes to their settings. In fact, I can't make changes to the settings of the company laptop, so its literally impossible for me to have screwed it up.

After I got off the phone with the pleasant support guy, I cut power to the wireless modem and then powered it up again, figuring that maybe that would knock some sense into its little brain. This was, by the way, something the tech support guy did not suggest that I do. Well, here I am on the internet again with the laptop. Go figure. I haven't tried yet with the home computer because I also cut its power and it takes forever for that desktop to reboot. I'll try that tonight. And then, assuming everything works, I'm going to have to call Verizon again because as part of his procedure the fellow changed our account password since I couldn't remember the original one. Who can remember such passwords over a gap of years? Who even knows that the little modem with its five green eyes requires a password?

If you are having internet connectivity problems you may want to try cutting off power to the modem and then giving it back its power as a first step.

I'm skeptical that this is a final fix because we've had some odd internet on and off issues for a couple of weeks. In the meantime I left the very helpful and patient Verizon fellow with the word that I'm not going to be paying their bill if the problem continues, so we'll see what, if anything Verizon does.

Update: I didn't mention above that, after remaining polite with the seemingly helpful human who failed to help, I also spent a couple of minute cursing the little modem, and Verizon, and the internet, and the gods of technology, before I cut off the power. If you have ccasion to try this you may need to say to the modem, "Take this you faithless little bastard, starve in the dark for a while," just before you cut off its power. And then, after its confused little green eyes have finished with their blinking once you have restored the power, it may be necessary to say to it, "The next time I'll cut you off for a few hours or I may just rip you out of there and throw you on a fire to see how you like that."

Update 2: Tonight at 6:00 the DSL was working. At about 8:00 it was no longer working. I had other stuff to do on this computer so I let it alone. A little while ago I checked and it still wasn't working; so I unplugged the modem and sure enough the DSL was working again after I plugged it back in. Does this mean I have to unplug the thing ever few hours? I think it means that I call Verizon's billing office tomorrow and tell them to cut off the DSL service. Hopefully that will cause them to put me in touch with someone who will authorize a new modem, which is clearly what's needed. Of course they may play it tough, in which case modern technology may retreat from this little piece of Collegeville.

Update 3: 84 82 45 82 54 84 87 59 86 :<(

Update 4 on 11/8: I got in touch with a different technical services human in wherever they are after I called billing. This tech services person spoke with a bit more of an accent than the first one above. I'm failing to resist the urge to believe that he was hired more for his technical competence than for his English language skills. He fairly quickly went into a mode of replacing the "firmware" in my internet connection gizmo after telling me that it's an older model whose "firmware" sometimes gets corrupted. Since then no problems. Someday I have to do a post about the tradeoffs inherent in recruiting and hiring, a subject about which I'm pretty knowledgeable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Falling leaves

Since writing that blog post about the first falling of the sugar maple leaves a few days ago I've really been paying attention to how differently the trees behave as the cold weather comes on.

The sugar maple is all but bare now, but the leaves of the red maples aren't even close to reaching their full color; and the silver maples have barely reached full color, not that their feeble attempt at color is all that impressive. And then there are the sweetgums and the poplars, whose leaves haven't even shown any awareness that fall is here. Then, of course, you have the black walnuts, which lost their leaves a month or so ago; but nobody noticed because the darn things look half naked even when they're all leafed out.

For years after we bought the property I thought there might be something wrong with the black walnuts. They get their leaves last in the spring, they never really seem fully leafed out, and they lose their leaves first in the fall. It doesn't seem like a very efficient survival and growth strategy. And yet black walnuts seem to grow fast enough to hold their own very well in the pasture areas that I've let go wild since we got rid of the horses. Of course, I keep in mind that one year way back I scattered a bucket of walnuts around and thus gave them an assist. And then there is the fact that big nutrient rich seeds like walnuts surely give their seedlings an advantage. But still, the walnut trees must compete year in and year out in the wild growing areas with everything else, and they seem to do that just fine despite their seemingly inefficient leaf practices.

At the other extreme from the walnuts are the hybrid poplars. They're the first trees with full grown leaves in the spring; and the damn things hold their leaves in fall until well after I want them off the trees so I can grind them up with the mower. My tractor can't carry its John Deere belly mower and it's John Deere snow plow at the same time because some John Deere engineer who designed those attachments was an idiot; so every year there is a fine decision to make about when to get the dealer to send his guy over to take off the mower and put on the plow. Switch too soon and the drifts of unmown poplar leaves will irritate me a little bit every windy day for most of the winter. Switch too late and the lack of the plow will irritate me a whole lot all on one day if we get an early snow.

Rereading that last paragraph, I'm compelled to point out that most of the John Deere engineers who designed my tractor thirty or so years ago were manifestly not idiots. That tractor has been through a lot with me for the past twenty two years, and I mean a lot. I've never tested it's roll bar; but I've tested the strength of many other parts of the machine; and all of those parts are still on there. It has failed to start when needed only one time in more than twenty years and that was because some idiot let the water level in its battery recede below the top of the plates. Furthermore, it has only overheated twice in over twenty years of hard use despite the fact that it's air filter has only had the dust knocked out of it four or five times and the debris screen in front of the air intake has only been cleaned four or five times, two of which in each case were just after it overheated. All in all, John Deere's engineers should be proud of themselves, except for he one who designed the underbelly mower hitch so that it interferes with the plow attachment point. Everything else I can forgive; but that I can't forgive.

But back to the poplars. We had our first fire in the woodstove last evening, a fire made from some of the last wood from the big poplar that grew too big to be left to grow so near the house. Like it's twin, which is about forty feet from the house, that poplar grew about six feet per year for the first fifteen years of its life and it started providing serious shade when it was only five or six years old. It was almost three feet in diameter at twenty years old. Of course, besides shade it also provided no end of little sticky bud husks each spring - little sticky bud husks that were tracked all over the house. It also sent a big root under the bricks of the patio and a little root into the basement through the drain to get at the condensation water from the heat pump. But it was on balance a great tree, and it's been a great provider of heat from the woodstove since I had to have it cut down to put a stop to its unsociable behavior.

Update: 80 64 85 :< (

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Can't you let the poor fellow rest in peace?

Around and around and around. The link below is to a story by a writer about a writer who has annotated and brought out a new version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. This got me to thinking about Scott Adams's Dilbert riff on degrees of separation of the work from the actual work. As in (when I'm actually working), I am a recruiter, mostly of people who design and build systems which allow people to manipulate symbols and thus plan the assignment of other people to actually go out and do something.

But that post is too long to write now, even if I come to understand what it will be trying to say; so I'd better stick with posting on my original reaction to reading the story linked to below. Now, though, I don't have a lot of time so I'm going to let you write this blog post in your own head by just asking a couple of questions.

Why must writers exhume the dead, so to speak, and write about such things?

Why can't writers let poor Dracula lie?

Can the undead never rest in peace?

Update 7:30 PM: 81 93 80 ;>)

It's snowing cats and dogs here

It's snowing cats and dogs here, and it's even sticking on the side streets, the earliest heavy snowfall I remember; which puts me in mind of Nobel Prize wiener Al Gore (PBUH).

I wonder if Al is out on his yacht, or flying somewhere in his jet, or being driven somewhere in his Cadillac Escalade, or whether he is giving a song and dance show about global warming or climate change or whatever he's calling to nowadays.

I'm going to be writing a longer, kinder, post about Fat Albert very soon, for I have learned that he has joined me in the legion of the threatened, at least in one respect; so I hope he won't mind my taking his name in vain today.

Excuse any errors, no time to spell check or proofread this - must run.

Mom periodically made a point of reminding. . .

Mom always made a point of reminding me and Pop that Pop went to a Phillies game the night she was at the hospital having me. The funny thing is that I never asked Pop if they won that game. I imagine there is some baseball web site where I could learn if the Phillies won on my birthday in 1948. On the other hand, maybe I don't want to look. Given the kind of revisionism I noted in some of the long standing but ever evolving stories, it's altogether possible that the Phillies were out of town that night and Mom's whole story was an urban legend that she herself had come to believe.

Speaking of the Phillies, Pop used to tell of being invited by a friend to go down to Connie Mack Stadium for a World Series Game in 1950. Apparently the friend decided to scalp his two tickets instead of use them after learning how much they were worth. So he and Pop sat in a bar down in Philly and listened to the game on the radio. I forget the name of Pop's friend, although I'm sure he mentioned that name at least a hundred times when he told that story.

Sam may remember the name. Sam's mind is like a steel trap for such facts, although the other night he said Father Larkin could say Mass in 14 minutes, so he's not infallible. Both Jas and I agree that, on a roll, Father Larkin could do morning mass in 22 minutes, but never 14. We all agreed that he could probably do Mass in 14 minutes if he really needed to, like when shells were coming down over in Europe during the war, but not in Trooper.

Jas claims that he never got behind on his altar boy responses during Father Larkin's masses. I remember getting behind, and I like to think I was pretty fast with the latin responses, if I wasn't daydreaming. Not that having an altar boy get behind ever slowed Father Larkin. He did both parts if you were too slow. Also, he used to sway, forward and back, back and forward, very slowly, seemingly almost to the point of tipping over, when he said early mass. He could practically hypnotize you with that swaying if you hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. And then he'd look hard at you if you forgot to ring the bells or whatever. There was like one or two or three little old ladies in church, all of them probably too deaf to hear the bells; but Father Larkin liked the bells rung on time, and he wanted the wine and the water there promptly when it was time for it - very little water. Not that anybody could get much of a buzz out of that wine. Later, when me and others altar boyed Tuesday night Sodality we got into that wine. Terrible stuff.

Now that I'm sort of on the subject of sports; Pop also used to tell of Grandpop L deciding to fish in a fellow's pond while the fellow was away. By Pop's account Grandpop L fished with a quarter stick of dynamite; and there were a lot of fish to share around the neighborhood. The owner of the pond was said to have been somewhat displeased and to have figured out who done it - but what was he going to say to someone who had dynamited fish near Norristown, and who might have the other three quarters of the stick of dynamite close to hand. I wonder how carefully Angela checked out the basement of her Mom's house before she sold it.

And finally, still sort of on the subject of sports; Don A down in Florida recently, I think, cleared up the question of how Uncle Joe Sky came to be well involved in his sports related business by the time Pop got out of the hospital a couple of years after returning from the war. Don told me that Uncle Joe was the brother-in-law of his aunt - I think I have that straight. Anyway, that means Uncle Joe was already related to the Perino side of the A family before he married Aunt Lucy from our side of the A family. And, being related to the Perino side, he was related to Jamaica, a very snappy dresser among Perino's sons. Jamaica died in the late 1930s or early 1940s; but before that he could very well have been connected with folks who could have set Uncle Joe up in his business. I know Jamaica was a snappy dresser because Don included a picture of him on a disk he sent me a couple of years ago, and I saw other pictures of him at the Perino side reunion a few years ago. One of these days I need to compare that picture of Jamaica to the fellows in the sort of rogues gallery of New York guys that I found in Aunt Lucy's box of pictures that passed down to Anna M.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coincidences and Perspective

This morning I was drawn over toward Mom and Pop's old house across the creek by the sight of white shapes billowing in the grass just beyond the bamboo patch I planted in the middle of that field two years ago. I could have just gone into the TV room for the binoculars, but it was a nice day, so I took a walk. Fortunately so, for I found that the white shapes were "ghosts" fluttering from a framework that the S's had erected as part of an obstacle course for kids coming to a picnic today. And I had a nice conversation with Mr. S about a variety of stuff.

Now here's where the coincidence comes in. How many times in your life do you think about gargoyles two times within a few hours as a result of two separate incidents?

While talking with Mr. S I noticed that one of the high dead branches of the weeping willow tree down by the pond presents a perfect image of a gargoyle at it's very top when looked at from up by his house - and I mentioned it to him. It looks so much like a crouching animal that we both looked at it for quite a while before becoming sure it was just an aspect of the profile of the branch from that perspective. So that's one gargoyle.

Then later, about mid afternoon, Marianne M called to talk to Linda about plans for a cookie making day before Christmas. But Linda was napping, so Marianne and I proceeded to talk about a variety of things, one of which was art and her surprise at finding me writing about it in a previous blog entry. And that led to talk of the artwork that Catherine and Liana are doing in this class they're taking. And, naturally, one of the things was to model a gargoyle. So that's two gargoyles in one day.

Below are links to the girls' artwork. I liked the positive negative cutouts they did and I found it interesting that their work is so much different one from the other.

Liana's cutouts are very symmetrical, very controlled. At first glance they're reminiscent of parquetry or formal design, like an English formal garden. But then the first one started to look like a tribal mask to me, quite a good tribal mask, symmetrical but not symmetrical at the same time.

Catherine's cutouts are aggressively asymmetrical and interesting in a whole different way, reminiscent of cubism at first glance. And then I noticed the jester face within the teddy bear face on the left side of the first one. The first one is very, very cleverly done; but I still like the second one best for the way the angular cutouts on the left complement the rounder cutouts on the right and top, and especially for the way the little windy road at the bottom leads into the square.

That windy road in Catherine's cutout reminded me that Van Gogh painted a picture of a winding road entering a field from the foreground much like that. I think Van Gogh's picture is in Chicago with one of his greatest paintings - the one of the little room he lived in, in Arles, I think. Stand back from that painting and the perspective is perfect, the corners vividly sharp and angular. Move closer and you have to be amazed because the corners are just the barest suggestions sometimes suggestions made of lack of paint. Like when you get involved with a pointilist painting. You're forced to ask yourself, how did Van Gogh do that? He had to be close to daub on those little brushstrokes; but he had to be seeing the painting from far to see the corners in his mind's eye.

The standing in my shoes pictures are also interesting for the differences between them. Liana goes for bold colors and complex geometric shapes on the soles of the shoes, while Catherine goes for softer colors and softer, more restful, motifs on the soles of the shoes. It took me a while to figure out the logo on the soles of Catherine's shoes.

Only Liana has a gargoyle, which is what started this whole blog entry. Her gargoyle reminded me of a cow that was in one of the Disney cartoons. Maybe Catherine had a gargoyle but it came alive and ran off like the gargoyles in the movie Ghostbusters.

I'll have to remember to point out the gargoyle at the top of the tree to Liana and Catherine when they next come over.

Perspective is everything in life. What is obvious from close up is sometimes a mystery from afar. And what is obvious from afar is sometimes a mystery from close up.

You can sometimes see what Van Gogh saw by squinting your eyes just so when looking at a vivid scene like fall tree colors in bright sunshine, or a dark scene like the sky in moonlight. If you could paint what you see when you squint your eyes like that maybe your paintings would be the prizes of museum collections, almost literally priceless. The last Van Gogh that came on the market was a relatively small and not very good one, if such a thing can be said. It brought a price of $87 million from a Japanese fellow a dozen or so years ago, I think, for the information of you Philistines out there. Not that I have much room to criticize, as though that has ever stopped me. Aside from a very few artists that I recognize on sight, I read the labels in the museums just like most people to know which ones to look at more closely and respectfully than the others.

You can see Catherine and Liana's artwork at the links below.



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catching up on book reviews

I've been busy reading and listening to booktapes. Here are a few quick reviews.

True Grit by Charles Portis - I listened to this as an audio book last week. I had never read it, or even heard of it except as the title for the movie. This novel is a masterpiece. It's told from the point of view of an old spinster who hired Rooster Cogburn to help track down her father's killer back when she was 14 years old and then accompanied him on the hunt. It's a bit over the top, but then a good adventure story should be a bit over the top. If you liked Huckleberry Finn or Kim or Tom Sawyer or Red Badge of Courage you should pick this book up. It's short (6.5 hours on 6 CDs) and gripping. I think is it would be as good reading as listening.

Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks - I also listened to this as an audio book last week. It's also short (7.5 hours on 6 CDs) and it's gripping in a different way than True Grit. It's the story of a pregnant black teenager in the 1960's South as she and various relatives set out to dig up her mother's body both to move it from where a shopping center is going to be built and also to retrieve a treasure of jewelry that they think her mother was buried with. I'll write more about this later in another post because as an audio book it's unique in my experience in that it includes professionally performed blues songs as the voice of the mother, so it's more of a multi-media presentation such as might be put on by an old timey storyteller. Probably a good read as well, but that depends on how well you can tolerate reading colloquial dialogue.

Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman - I read this in the large print edition that all the book racks seem to have on them now as us old geezers start to predominate in the reading population. A typical Jonathan Kellerman production - well written, interesting plot, characters who are old friends if you've read his other books. It's not literature, but if you must waste time reading popular novels it's an excellent one.

The Burnt House - by Faye Kellerman - I picked this up at the same time as I picked up her husband's book (above) but, oddly enough, it is a regular sized paperback. Pretty much ditto with what I said about the book above; but if I were forced to choose between them I would say Faye writes the better novel, at least for me. She gets a bit more into the actual lives and thinking of her characters, or maybe I'm a smidgen more interested in her characters than I am in Jonathan's. Well worth reading - no, more than that - excellent.

Book of the Dead - by Patricia Cornwell - It's a sad thing to see a writer you've enjoyed in the past go over the edge and take her characters with her into utterly preposterous psychological waters. There is a phrase, "jumped the shark," which is applied to TV shows that have gone over the top and into the realm of the ridiculous. That phrase aptly describes what Cornwell did in this book, and what she has been threatening to do in a couple of previous books. The name brand critics apparently loved it; but then the name brand critics inhabit a world where it's reasonable to believe that one of a pair of very close twenty year friends and business associates suddenly tries to rape the other. Non-geniuses like Cornwell are well advised to leave repressed desire themes to geniuses. Also, the underlying plot is preposterously complex and unlikely even by pulp novel standard; and the main character's niece has now accumulated so many diverse skill sets that she puts James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Jason Bourne to shame. The niece is now Wonder Woman with Marie Curie's brain; but still encumbered by a healthy dollop of downright Victorian emotional stupidity. I managed to finish it; but I won't pick up her next book.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And now for a little political incorrectness

Commenter Diane at Commentary Magazine's blog just did the best job I've seen of capturing the reason behind a phenomenon that outrages me - namely the blithe way the news media has attacked Sarah Palin in a way it would never attack a member of any other racial or ethnic group.

Here's a thought to enrage you Barack Obama fans. Sarah Palin is more qualified than Barrack Obama to be President of the United States, at least by demonstrated experience. Barry is better educated, and he's probably smarter; but Sarah has at least done something that looks like governing for a few years. Going by actual experience governing, Barry is a smooth mouth, a talking head. He's all hat and no cattle. He's an empty suit. Even he puts forward nothing but his running of his own campaign as his main executive qualification to run the country. And if you believe he runs his own campaign in detail, or even on an executive level, you must also believe that Kermit the Frog has a third arm and hand tucked up his own back passage to make him move.

But enough of me - here is Diane, the commenter who so aptly captured the reason so many so called elite folks feel free to trash Sarah Palin while they act like Barack Obama is the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt - who was a not too bright governor like Palin when he was elected president, by the way.

Diane Says: October 22nd, 2008 at 3:36 PM
I’d like to get something off my chest re: the hypocrisy of the Left’s attacks of Sarah Palin. I contend that it is a stunning piece of overt reverse racism.
We’re told she isn’t smart enough. Doesn’t have the right college degree. Imagine for a moment if Sarah Palin were a Native American. Everything else about her is the same — hunting, snowmobiling, religious, self-made freshman governor. Would we be hearing the liberal establishment deriding her non-Ivy education, her funny accent, her folksy word-choices? Her family’s size or her children’s morals? Her parenting skills? No, we wouldn’t. Because as a Native American, she would be the long-suffering victim of oppression. Her having risen above it would be a tale of triumph. Her hunting and religious views (let’s say she was an animist who prayed to ancient spirits in a sweat lodge) would be accorded the dignity of a fine and noble cultural heritage.
Cast her in any other ehtnic minority — Hispanic, black –– and the test yields the same results.
We don’t scoff at Thurgood Marshall attending Howard University law school. It was a miracle, we are told, given the advanced state of white oppression, that he attended law school at all. Look at Bolivian president Evo Morales, the high-school drop out, former bricklayer, baker and llama sherpherd whose peculiar Catholic faith included making alcohol and coca offerings to the earth goddess, Pachamama. But because he is a full-blooded indigenous Amerind, none of this disqualifies him in any way from political leadership.
This amounts to a form of political affirmative action. White politicians who aren’t elites are subject to vicious stereotyping and condescension. Non-whites who aren’t elite get a pass, indeed a pat on the back for not kowtowing to “the man.” And minorities who are elites — like Obama — get the double-advantage of full acceptance by elites and massive affirmative-action bonus points for their so-called disadvantaged origins.

Me again - Diane's comment was in response to a post by Abe Greenwald about Christopher Hitchen's blind spot re religion. An interesting post and comment thread if you're into such things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The sky has fallen! Not!

For months I've been reading that the sky has fallen. For months we've been in the midst of a great depression if you go by the news media.

But I'm having trouble understanding something. Yesterday when I stopped by the Wawa for a lunch sandwich I found a help wanted sign on the door, and a few days ago I saw a help wanted sign for about five jobs on the door of the supermarket. And every time I go to a Wawa near lunchtime I find myself in the midst of a congregation of neatly dressed young working men who could have stepped right out of a novel about the Aztecs or Mayans if you go just by their faces. They're all buying lunch, just like me, so presumably they're working at reasonable paying jobs despite the fact that most of them probably have the equivalent of a grade school education.

And it's not just manual workers who are employed. I have a friend, a sophisticated and highly paid computer programmer, who was given notice in August that he would be laid off by his long term employer effective September 9th. He was settled in a new job at something at least reasonably comparable to the same pay level before the layoff date rolled around. And then my Florida cousin who is sixty-two years old told us a couple of weeks ago that he had decided to leave his mid-level Human Resources job effective December 12th; but Saturday morning he told us that he had to move up his resignation date because he found another mid-level HR job that starts late this month.

And then there is me. I started seriously looking for work in early September; and I started on a reasonable paying job in late September; and I'm no spring chicken. Also, I happen to work in a field - recruiting - which is as exquisitely sensitive to general economic conditions as any that exist. All of my professional acquaintances in recruiting are working as well, and I would know if they're not because I'm as networked as any.

So where's the depression if everybody is finding jobs when they want them? Where are the bread lines? Where are the old pickup trucks loaded with families of Joads migrating across the country to find work and food? Where are the jobless recruiters in threadbare suits selling apples on street corners?

Could it be that a big scare about a depression is a clumsy transparent lie manufactured out of whole cloth because it fits in nicely with the news media's almost comical bias in favor of the great messiah that they want to see elected in a couple of weeks?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Practical magic

It should be no secret to anyone reading this that I'm beginning to get a bit long in the tooth. If I were a horse I'd be well along toward the point where the driver of the glue factory truck would start slowing down to see if I'm ready for pickup each time as he goes by my pasture.

But I'm not a horse; so today I paid a visit to Dr. Mindicino down in Trooper for some practical magic. I've been going to Dr. M for almost thirty years and I still have in my mouth every tooth I had when I started seeing him every few months for a cleaning and check-up. He's drilled and filled three or four of them, and he's capped one that cracked, and he's even excavated one out so an associate could root canal it. But he has never removed one. And he's done all that with a minimum of fuss and an amazing minimum of pain. If there's a Hall of Fame for dentists Dr. Mindicino will deserve a place in it when he retires, which will hopefully not be soon.

None of those other things he has done impressed me as much as today's magic. Today he tuck-pointed the sides of two of my teeth where the gum had pulled away. He numbed one side of my mouth, then he roughed up the surface of the teeth, then he plastered on a nice neat covering of new fake enamel to protect the area where the gums would be if I weren't getting especially long in those two particular teeth. He finished by using a star warsy sort of ultraviolet light gun to harden the plaster, and then he smoothed it out so the enamel on the two teeth looks just like was always been an eight of an inch longer from crown to gum.

Setting aside the matter of fact sculptural artistry with which Dr. M shaped the new fake surfaces of the teeth, and the no-nonsense way Dr. M and his assistant did all of that work within a bare hour from the time I walked into his office, the chemistry and physics of what he did is astounding.

Somebody had to think up how to formulate that plaster so that it could be spread on easy like clay and then harden super hard like tooth enamel under the influence of a light pen that has to be safe to shoot around in somebodies mouth. That now hard plaster has to bind to the sides of those teeth strongly enough so the forces I'm going to unleash on it when I crunch hard pretzels tonight won't break it loose. And it has to expand and contract at the same rate as the natural tooth material under it when I slurp some too hot soup despite Linda's warning and then quench the burn with a quick draught of cold water or ice cold diet Mountain Dew.

Somebody else had to do all the improving that has occurred over the years around the unpleasant subject of the numbing that has to happen for such dental work to be feasible. I can't quantify this but I remember some pretty big and pretty painful needles being used by the dentist when I was a kid. That's all in the past. Dr. M now puts a couple of peppermint flavored sticks next to the tooth and lets then sit a couple of minutes to numb things up. Then he uses a little needle which barely pinches going in, and he must numb things up with little squirts as he advances that needle, because the whole process is nothing, nothing like I remember from long ago.

We live in magical times.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's a magical morning

You get one of these magical mornings every couple of years. Last night we had the first heavy frost of fall, and this morning the air is perfectly still. Before dawn a lot of leaves were in perfect balance, ready to fall. And, as the sun rises and warms the leaves at the top of the trees they're falling, for no obvious reason, setting off chain reactions, cascades, of falling leaves from lower down.

It's no wonder that people believe in faeries and leprechauns.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I brought the baobab tree and the other tender plants into the house over the weekend. I bit the bullet and pruned the baobab to about two feet tall. It's hard for me to bring myself to prune a tree. Part of me tends to strongly want to let them grow as they want to grow. The baobab is starting to get a bulbous trunk. I should prune it even further to make its top more round as it would be in the wild, but it's very hard to countenance doing that.

Last fall Alex and I cut a big branch from the silver maple just in front of the house to stop is from interfering with the sweetgum. After we were done I heard Alex explain some of my comments to Christina. "He personalizes trees," Alex said. I've been thinking about that off and on ever since and I've decided that it's correct. I do personalize trees, and correctly so. The silver maple was purposely trying to shade out the sweetgum. In whatever passes for its brain it was grabbing for and defending space, much as a person will defend his or her territory in this world.

You doubt? Back about twenty years ago Pop had us dig him a garden in the old barn foundation where the soil was as rich and perfect as any soil you will ever find. But as the garden grew it became apparent that many of the tomato plants were either dying or growing poorly for no obvious reason - no obvious reason, that is, until I happened to read somewhere that you should never mulch your garden with walnut or oak leaves. And then it was clear. Looking at Pop's garden with aware eyes it became obvious what was happening. The tomato plants were stunted along the lines of roots radiating from the big black walnut growing up on the berm above the barn foundation more than thirty feet from the garden.

That black walnut was ruthlessly engaging in chemical warfare to defend its access to the nutrients in the barn foundation. Not content to depend on its falling leaves to do the dirty work in the fall it was conducting a preemptive strike by emitting poison deadly to tomatoes and some other plants from its roots. Pop took that very personally when I explained it to him; and for a time he considered ordering a preemptive strike of his own, considered sending me out with the chain saw to deal with the evil tree. But reason prevailed, and instead we moved the garden the next year. Pop is long gone now; but I remember him every time I look at that tree, almost two feet in diameter now, still spreading its poison, still defending its little piece of the world.

Another place I read that it is not only individual trees that have their wiles and tricks. Oak trees go a step further than walnuts. They talk to one another, and they talk to one another over vast distances, passing on chemical messages. All over our property, and all over the eastern US for that matter, across hundreds of miles, the oak trees coordinate their heavy acorn bearing years to overwhelm the squirrels with so many acorns that it's impossible for the squirrels to collect and eat them all. On a personal level the oaks compete, and at the race and species level they compete, but on the genus level it's a case of oak trees coordinating their actions against the rest of the wide world.

On our property we have pin oaks and post oaks, and white and red and scarlet and black oaks. We also have swamp and bur and overcup and chinkapin oaks. We used to have a couple of English oaks, pretty good sized ones with trunks more than a foot in diameter; but they both died at about the same time a decade or so ago - introduced prissy Europeans that proved unable to stand the rigors of this New World - or perhaps the red, white and blue American oaks ganged up on them . All this is very unnatural, by the way. Mr. C, who bought the property in 1944, was a botany professor or something like that, so there are all manner trees planted here that would never coexist in such close proximity in the wild forest.

The tough, introduced from China, Dawn Redwoods caused me no end of puzzlement twenty five years ago because my then tree reference book didn't include introduced species. So I went along for a couple of years thinking they were either Sequoia Sempervirens, Coastal Redwoods, or Sequoiadendron Giganteum, Giant Sequoias, which shouldn't be able to grow around here at all and which certainly shouldn't shed their foliage in winter. At about that time I pointed out the biggest of the Sequoias down in the swamp below the pond to a new neighbor one day when we were out walking. I told him that in a thousand years when those trees would be three hundred feet tall his great-great grandchildren wouldn't recognize this neighborhood from today's pictures. Which caused him to look at me a little funny. Sometimes I don't sufficiently telegraph irony when I'm engaging in it.

During that walk I had also identified to him another very large tree, which has since died, as a Cottonwood and I had, to his point of view, persisted in that claim despite his assertion that Cottonwoods only live out west. It was a Cottonwood, and it was most assuredly here, and healthy and a couple of feet in diameter by that day, planted by Mr. C in the 1940's no doubt, although in this climate it never produced enough "cotton" to litter the ground with white fluff. I sometimes wonder if there is another cottonwood in Montgomery County. I've never seen another one.

But the Sequoias turned out not to be of either of the kinds I thought they were. My mental balance re that matter was only restored when I noticed a little thirty or so foot tall one on a fairly small front lawn down in Fort Washington on the way to work. When I stopped to inspect it more closely one day while the homeowner was mowing his lawn he explained that he had bought it at a nursery and planted it. Metasequoia Glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood, that's what it was, and that's what ours are. The fellow clearly thought me half nuts, and doubted me when I told him that he had better be prepared for problems in the future because our biggest one was even then almost two feet in diameter at the base and about eighty feet tall. One day I have to go by there again and see how his is doing if he hasn't cut it down. Our biggest Metasequoia is now well over a hundred feet tall and its trunk is more than four feet in diameter. It's slowly shading out its near neighbor Metasequoia. Even among like kind trees will not just leben und leben lich, live and let live, if they are too much in one another's face, just like people.

Cicadas coordinate their actions also; but the talk we hear from them is just the mundane talk of "I'm here, where are you, you sexy thing?" - mating talk. Their more clever coordination is done deep down in their genes which dictate that there are three year and five year and seven year and eleven year and seventeen year cicadas. Cicadas smart enough, despite their tiny little brains, to reproduce on a prime number year schedule so as to overwhelm predators by their hatching numbers - to make it harder for predators to maintain their own numbers by preying on them in the rich picking years.

Darn right I personalize trees; but since Alex's comment to Christina I'm a bit more careful about making sure I only talk to them when nobody else is around.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Three bucks a day! And for what?

I just opened our electric bill for mid September to mid October and discovered that the Philadelphia Electric Company is ripping us off for $99.19. That's more than three bucks per day just for providing light and hot water and heat and electric fire for cooking and power for the water well pump and and the juice which somehow makes it cold inside the big white box in the kitchen and for electrons to run around in this computer thingy and do whatever the hell they do in there to make the pictures appear.

It's outrageous, and I'm thinking that we shouldn't put up with it anymore. I have half a mind to take one of my big tree limb loppers back behind the house and clip the line by which those blood suckers at PECO send their outrageously expensive electrons in. That would cure our addiction to them. We don't need their damn newfangled electricity.

I just finished listening to an audio book that made it sound very romantic and quaint to light a candle on a moonless winter night when you need to go out to the outhouse to take a dump. I would mention the name of that book but I can't open up a new window in the browser right now because I'm typing this on our primitive old computer instead of on my less primitive work laptop. I'm doing that because PECO's damn electrons are for some reason refusing to jump from the thing with the little green light on it up here in the computer room down to the laptop on the dining room table. Or else maybe the electrons running around in the laptop are all confused; or maybe they're angry with the electrons up here in the computer room.

At any rate I'm not in a mood to be kind to PECO and all of the modern world right now even though $99.19 is the lowest electric bill we've had for the past few years. What the hell good are PECO's electrons if they won't even jump to my laptop properly.

Linda's just gone off to church, so the coast is clear. I'm thinking that I had best wear my rubber creek wading boots when I take a lopper out back to end all this electricity trouble once and for all.

Update - I take it all back; and I'm glad I decided to go out to the tanning salon to get some rays before cutting off our electric service, so to speak. Someone at PECO must have seen my complaint because they're now sending me well behaved electrons that are jumping to the laptop just fine.

I have to go now because I need to start a pot of split pea soup for dinner and then get out there and mow the lawn which is getting high from last week's warm weather.

Earlier Linda bought me a quarter pound of sliced pepperoni to put in the pea soup. I've made it that way before. Trust me that it comes a whole lot better with chopped up pepperoni than with the bland smoked ham that the Goya Split Pea package calls for. Also, forget the measly one carrot and one small onion that the package calls for. Chop up and put in a couple or three big carrots and a couple of onions. And also, add some chopped celery. And another thing, you can't cook split pea soup too long. Three or four hours is the minimum.

Update 2 - Earlier I wrote that you should chop up the carrots, onions and celery for the pea soup; but it's much easier to grate them with the side of your cheese grater that cuts things into little scalloped pieces. And it has an additional benefit in that the smaller pieces melt into the soup better, which is what you want.

You have to be careful when you grate vegetables like that though. And it's best to be willing to throw out a significant sized piece of the vegetable that you're grating. If you grate the carrots or the celery stalks down too far, or if you grate an onion down too thin, you stand a chance of ending up with little scalloped piece of your fingers in the mix. That hurts a bit if it happens when you're grating celery or carrots; and it hurts enough to make you see vivid colors for a moment or two if it happens when you're grating an onion. But it's not like a catastrophe or anything. Little scallop shaped pieces of finger graft back on pretty well if you wash them off, put them back carefully into the holes they came from and then wrap the fingers in a bandaid to hold the pieces in place. It's delicate work with one hand though, and slows down the soup making; so try to avoid it.

Don't tell Linda about any of this. She still gives me grief about being careful almost every time she sees me with a knife. And all because I managed to cut both of my thumbs that day more than thirty years ago when we had the cider making party at the old Trooper house.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Questions of taste

Linda is skeptical about this; but the truth is that I picked the site for our house so it could face due South toward the sugar maple tree about a hundred feet down toward the creek. I also picked the site to face a little to the right of due South of a beautiful scarlet oak which then promptly died. I failed to ensure that the ground level around the scarlet oak wasn't changed when they excavated for the basement of the house and regraded the lot. And that happened because we wanted the house to sit a couple of feet higher than the former grade level to improve the view of the pond.

All very complicated; but as a result we've had a great view of that sugar maple tree out the South facing windows as it has grown these past twenty-four years. I was about to say that there are few trees as magnificent as a sugar maple at this time of year; but that's not true. What's true is that there are no trees as magnificent as a sugar maple at this time of year. And there is only one tree, the sweetgum, that can and will make an effort at competing when its leaves start to turn in a couple of weeks; but by then the sugar maple's leaves will be a dim memory. It's impossible to keep in memory an accurate picture of the subtle reds and oranges and yellows and greens that make up the sugar maple right now, and it is impossible to capture its full glory in a photograph, so in truth even the effort of comparison between it and other trees is questionable. Vincent Van Gogh could have captured its full glory, and he would have if he could have; but he never saw a sugar maple tree.

You can get a dim idea of what I'm talking about by checking out the color wheel of leaf colors on this wikipedia page.

Our sugar maple is actually a very young tree. It was perhaps twenty years old in 1984 when it was about forty feet tall and had aabout an eight inch diameter trunk. It's now about eighty feet tall and its trunk is about eighteen inches in diameter. As an aside, I was pleased to see that the tree at the Morton Arboretum whose picture is posted on wikipedia is a lightweight next to our tree. And our tree is a mere youth. I'm too lazy to look it up right now; but I think our tree can expect a life span measured in hundreds of years; and it can conceivably grow to a trunk girth of four or five feet at which point the spread of its branches (there's a better word I want here but again I'm lazy), the spread of its branches - aha - the diameter of its canopy, dripline - still not exactly right, dagnabit, but I'll settle on dripline for now. You'd think I would remember that word because the reason we have a crappy silver maple in the spot formerly occupied by that long dead scarlet oak is because I didn't realize that the ground level could not be changed all the way out to its dripline.

But enough with the dripline or canopy or spread, or whatever. When the sugar maple is mature in a couple of hundred years the diameter of its dripline will be as great or greater than its hundred and fifty foot height. A pity I won't be around to see it.

But I will be around to see the sweetgum when its leaves turn in a couple of weeks. The sweetgum will be quite a bit more garish than the sugar maple now is when it reaches the peak of its color; but I'll appreciate it for the same reason that I can appreciate Van Gogh even as I appreciate Monet, although, oddly enough, when it comes to art in a museam or on the printed page I'm more a fan of the flashy Van Gogh than of the subtle Monet. I think it's a question of scale. Had he ever seen a sugar maple in its glory Monet would have painted it realistically; but Van Gogh would have captured its eighty by forty feet of subtle beauty and condensed it into an eye popping splash that would have expanded in one's mind into a full sized tree.

And that's why I prefer Van Gogh. At two or four or six or eight foot wide scale I want to be knocked over; I want colors to pop out at me. At eighty by forty foot I prefer a bit more subtlety of shading.

Meanwhile I have to get out into the woods. And while I'm out there I have to contemplate the important question of taste that Linda just asked me. Would I prefer chocolate chip cookies tomorrow, or would I prefer coconut custard pie. I've already given my provisional answer that I would prefer chocolate chip cookies if they're going to have nuts, and I would prefer the coconut custard pie if I can't have nuts in the cookies to give them a bit of texture and bite. But I have to think some more about that. And I have to see how things are out in the woods across Doony Brook.

Warren Buffett finally comes around

I'm glad to see that Warren Buffett has finally come around to my opinion that the time is ripe to invest in the stock market.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Do your part against CO2 emissions

Again this evening, when Linda and I went on our walk, we saw heedless neighbors walking environmentally destructive pets. I'm talking about fast living mammals that consume and digest huge volumes of food and exhale great gouts of CO2 into the atmosphere because of their need to maintain their warm body temperature. What's worse is that they require meat for their food, and raising animals for meat is also tremendously damaging to the environment. And That's not counting all the fuel necessary to move the dozens of pounds of food that even the smallest of those dogs require each year from the slaughterhouses to the packing houses and then to the supermarkets and finally to all the Collegeville homes.

All in all, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the average Collegeville dog generates more CO2 than the average poor villager in India or China does. If you want to be green you should get rid of those mangy mutts, and get rid of the cats too. And the birds. Birds burn up even more food per pound of weight than mammals do.

I'm feeling especially self-righteous about this right now, because I was just reminded of just how virtuously green my own pet is. I just opened a new 1.94 ounce container of Reptomin Floating Food Sticks and realized that this is only the third or fourth container of food sticks I've needed to buy since we adopted him 22 years ago as a tadpole. The pet store that sold me the last container I bought is now out of business, which isn't surprising because I think that old container of about 2,500 food sticks set me back $2.50 or so - something like one-tenth of a cent per little food stick. The new container cost $3.29. I hope my pet appreciates that it's now costing me about one-sixth of a cent per day to keep him in vittles.

For those of you who are new to this blog I should point out that my pet is not brown or white or black like those yappy dogs our neighbors were walking. My pet is green; and he's green both ways. He's literally green like a mottled faded leaf. And he's figuratively green enough to give Al Gore the kind of woody he gets when he meditates long and hard on Sheryl Crow's commitment to the health of the planet. Which gives me a chance to suggest that you watch this short video that gives one possible explanation of Sheryl's sanitary methodology, so to speak.

Now that you're back from the video, I can get to the real point of this blog entry, which is to give a hearty endorsement to Tetra, the company that makes Reptomin Floating Food Sticks out of fish meal, wheat starch, dried yeast, corn flour, shrimp meal, wheat gluten, potato protein, dehulled soybean meal, soybean oil and a long list of other stuff with chemical names. Assuming he doesn't sneak out of his bowl at night to shag other food, my frog has been eating nothing but Tetra's product for at least ten years, and at this point he may be among the oldest of his species on the face of the earth at 22 or so years old. If you're reading this Tetra, you should be aware that my frog is available to do endorsements or commercials concerning the excellence of your product and the truthfulness of your advertising on the container. Reptomin is indeed a "highly nutritious diet."

Which brings me to the fact that the battle for truth has temporarily swung in favor of the forces of good. For a long time the forces of evil on wikipedia insisted that frogs like mine live only a few years even after I tried to reason with them. So I began waging guerilla war against them for control of the African Clawed Frog entry and the related Xenopus entry. The wikipedia article on African Clawed Frogs now says quite reasonably that they usually live from 5 to 15 years and that some can live to 30 years. And the Xenopus article restricts itself to scientific nomenclature and doesn't mention life spans. So peace reigns, at least for now, in one of the little corners of wikipedia that I watch over.

But peace doesn't reign in San Francisco. Someone in San Francisco apparently had the same idea as a certain person around here who wanted to put my frog in the pond to live out a summer of liberty and then perish in the cold of winter. Fortunately I wouldn't hear of it or they might be writing terror inducing articles like this about a pond in Collegeville.,2933,258519,00.html

Nuclear or bust - I fear we will bust

The way to think about your fears of nuclear power is by asking, "Compared to what?"

Linda and I live about seven miles from the limerick nuclear power plant. As a result we get a scary evacuation mailer once a year so we're sure to be aware of how to escape in the event one of the engineers comes running out of the plant yelling "She's gonna blow." Well, the plant hasn't blown yet; and it's been producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity for twenty years.

If we lived seven miles from a coal powered plant producing the same amount of electricity we wouldn't get that scary mailer. That's because nobody is scared of coal plants even though a coal burning plant the size of Limerick would be getting and burning up a big trainload of coal every day. And there is no way you can burn that much coal without putting some serious crap into the air.

T. Boone Pickens says we should use windmills to make our electricity. Well, the biggest windmills around produce about 5 megawatts when the wind is blowing strongly. So even if the wind blew strongly all the time it would take about 500 windmills to generate as much power as the Limerick nuclear plant. Oh, and each of those windmills would be about 600 feet tall, almost as tall as the tall buildings down in Philadelphia. And, before I forget, the wind doesn't blow strongly all the time, so it would really take about 1,500 windmills to generate as much power as the Limerick nuclear plant.

Windmills as far as the eye can see, all of them droning and droning and droning. And did I mention that windmills kill bats even though the bats are smart and agile enough to avoid the spinning blades. That's because the lungs of the bats can't handle the pressure differential that they encounter when they fly near the blades. Not that I really give too much of a damn about bats - I don't even like bats. But that doesn't mean I want all the bats coughing their lungs out even though they're also smart enough not to smoke.

How about solar power, you're probably saying. Well, the biggest solar power plant produces about 50 megawatts when the sun is shining. That sounds pretty good because it would seem that you could replace the nuclear plant with only about 50 solar power plants. But alas, the sun is not always shining, so it would really take about about 250 solar power plants to replace the Limerick nuclear power plant. Each one of those 250 solar power plants would cover about about 450 acres of land.

There are other issues with nuclear power, like waste disposal; but I think the insane worry over nuclear waste disposal is one of the biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated. Yes, spent nuclear reactor fuel is very worthy of respectful and careful handling. But the French have been handling spent reactor fuel for decades while they have generated 80% of their electricity from nuclear. They reprocess the fuel so they can use most of it to fuel reactors again, and then they dispose of only a small portion of it.

And then there's the matter of relative risk. The folks who scream bloody murder about nuclear power don't tell you how many people are dying from steadily breathing the pollution that coal power plants put into the air. And if you're risk averse you had best stop driving your car. There is nothing in the energy field that comes near to the risk you will take tomorrow or next week or next year when you have a couple drinks and then pass a tractor trailer loaded with gasoline on the Schuylkill expressway going 70 miles an hour.

The link below leads to an article by a guy who seems to make sense to me. I think he minimizes the problems and issues a bit; but anyone who thinks we can continue living anything like our current lifestyles without nuclear power is fooling themselves. There simply is no alternative.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where's the outpouring of sympathy?

While driving back from our Rumba lesson Linda and I noticed that gas prices at WAWA are down to $2.97 per gallon. A couple of months ago the prices were up at near $4.00 per gallon.

So the oil companies have suffered a 33% decline in the amount they're getting for their gasoline!

Yet I haven't heard a word of sympathy from all of the politicians and commentators who were screaming for mobs to lynch the oil executives only a few months ago when prices rose.

If a rise in gas prices is evil price gouging, why isn't a huge fall in gas prices a tragedy for the poor oil companies?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Death and hamburgers

There are at least eight billion stories I haven't gotten to yet, but the first thing on my agenda right now is to mention Rebecca, since Linda and I saw her and Matt at Sam and Deb's earlier this evening. Mentioning Rebecca, by the way, has nothing to do with the fact that she shamelessly asked to be mentioned. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that she shamelessly praised this blog, telling me that I have readers I didn't know about in California and in the Tampa area of Florida.

In the course of this Rebecca told me I have a pathologist as a reader, a pathologist who has described me at different times, she reports, as both crazy and brilliant. I'll gladly take both the bitter and the sweet. I would much rather a pathologist judge me crazy after reading this blog than judge me as being past my sell by date after reading a slide of my liver cells. And anyway, everybody knows there's a thin line between genius and insanity. I'm quite content to be thought of as walking close to the line.

Also, Rebecca deserved to be mentioned because she has an unfailing knack of making conversations interesting. Tonight, for instance, we talked of Butch, and of the lion in the Stone Harbor zoo, and of Pop and Uncle Joe Sky. And we talked of a 1911 house trailer with sides of thin bakelite rather than metal. We also talked of sailing ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings before talking about sturm und drang. Most surprisingly, we even talked of immanentizing the eschaton, which very rarely comes up in casual conversation. In fact, I'm very sure it has never come up in conversation in my presence in all of my sixty years. I've read the phrase a few times, and I've written it once in a former blog entry, and I may have spoken it quietly once or twice as a memory aid; but I've certainly never actually said it to someone. I may well be a bit insane, but I'm not that insane.

But I didn't set out to write about any of those things. I set out to write about death and fairness, or more specifically about death and hamburgers. However, first I have to write about Swiss Chard; because that's the whole reason Linda and I had to go up to Sam and Deb's this evening for rice pudding and coffee and conversation in the first place. Sam, you see, grew the most amazing Swiss Chard plant in the history of the world, or at least of Montgomery County, this year; and I noticed it in his garden on Friday night when we went up there for coffee. So I set out to pick it this morning on the way to Corropolese for rolls and bread. At Corropolese, by the way, I also found them to have an excellent new variety of tomato pie with breaded eggplant on it. But I can't talk about that now because I have an important point to get to and mustn't tarry.

But first I have to finish with the darn Swiss Chard. You're probably going to be skeptical, but Sam's prize Swiss Chard plant was at least three feet tall, and the leaves had stems perhaps two inches wide and an inch thick, bigger and better Swiss Chard by far than what they sell in the market. From that one plant and a couple of other somewhat smaller plants I made enough chard by itself to serve as a vegetable for a few meals, plus enough chard, green bean and potato stew to feed me and Linda for dinner, with leftovers enough to feed me at least a couple more times this week - Linda is somewhat resistant to eating the same thing multiple times in a few days; but I'm like Pop in that respect, I can happily eat something I particularly like every day until it's gone. Pop could and would happily eat Pasta Fagiole for breakfast lunch and dinner when it was around. Butch was like that too, only his favorite meals all involved meat, which made sense because he was a butcher.

Anyway, there was a lot of chard and a lot of stew left over. And that's even after I took out a couple of generous helpings of each to take up to Sam. Which gets me back to why we happened to be up there this evening to see Rebecca and Matt. I had to go up there to deliver Sam his fair share of the Swiss Chard and stew, and also of the peppers I picked up this morning when I stopped to get the chard. I got the peppers because I did the right thing and told Sam yesterday morning that I was planning to come up and pick the chard since he wasn't picking it. So he told me to take the peppers as well. So I had to bring Sam some roasted peppers as well as the chard.
This is all of a sudden getting boring, or at least it would be getting boring if food could ever get boring; but it's not leading very directly to the point I want to make that started this whole blog entry. So I think I'll write a bit about Rose and Butch.

First off, it was not me that nicknamed them Pruney and Mumbles. I wish I could claim it was me, for the nicknames are as apt and melodious as any pair ever were, but Sam did that; and he and Jas and I have been laughing about them whenever we remember Rose and Butch for the past twenty years. Second, despite contradictory assertions and a certain amount of skepticism held by some parties as to the accuracy of my memory, I still think Linda and Alex and I were at the Stone Harbor zoo in the evening to see the lion that had roared at Johnny and Jenny the evening before when Pop and Mom showed up to tell me and Jas that they were headed home because Butch had died. Third, it was not me who started the story of Butch dying with his boots on, so to speak, by suffering his fatal heart attack while enjoying his customary late night snack of two good sized hamburgers. Sam started that story, repeating what Pop told him, I think, sometimes telling it as a story of tragedy and sometimes as a story of triumph.

But perhaps I'm the one who embroidered it into a story of triumph. Because I'm sad Butch was taken from us in 1986; but I'm determined to believe he got to enjoy to the full those two hamburgers before his head plopped down onto the coffee table and he went the way all of us will go if we're lucky.

Death is bad, sometimes hellishly bad; but I can tolerate the fact that death takes people from us because there's nothing to be done about it. What I can't tolerate is the thought that Butch didn't get to finish the burgers before his head plopped down. None of us can live forever, and only a very select few among us get to plop our head down onto an empty plate; but, dammit, Butch was too big hearted a guy to be cheated out of finishing those last two burgers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A long and lonely morning here in Collegeville

It's an absolutely beautiful day here. The sun is shining. It's warm enough so that a few more figs may ripen. A great blue heron was down by the creek; and then, oddly, it flew up and walked around on the grass for a while. Maybe it was hunting frogs.

Sam was here earlier for traditional Saturday morning coffee and we called Al R to get his view of things from down in the sunshine state. Then we had barely finished with Al when California rings on the phone, so of course it's Angie, calling while on the way to water aerobics. Can there be anything more quintessentially California than taking a long drive to go to water aerobics on a Saturday morning? I didn't ask Angie, but I picture all the water aerobicists sitting around afterward in lotus position with thin slices of cucumber covering their eyes and sacred warmed river rocks nestled in their laps, the whole group solemnly intoning "Ommmmm, Ommmmm" between sips of decaffeinated herbal tea and little munches of toasted sesame seeds.

Anyway it was great catching up with Angie even though she was bad and didn't call when she was here in the area a couple of weeks ago. Not that Sam and I mind. We know she likes Marianne better; she's always liked Marianne better. So we don't mind at all that she came all the way from California to spend a day seeing everybody on her father's South Philly side of the family without so much as calling us. And we don't mind that she only called and saw Marianne on our side of her family while she was in town. Did I mention that she's always like Marianne best?

Jas was missing today. He and Kathy are at the shore taking advantage of the beautiful day. He sent me an email about it yesterday. But Sam and I didn't mind at all that our brother abandoned us to walk on gritty sand, smell dead fish and get splinters on the boardwalk. We'll be just as nice to him tonight at the Ballroom on High as we always are, even though he left us high and dry and lonely this morning. Linda and I plan to impress him by proving that we've practiced and can still do all the moves he and Kathy taught us at the Wednesday night beginner Rumba lesson.

Oh, also, Mario A called to report on his trip to Arizona and to talk over his plan to invest regularly in the broad market index funds over the next couple of years. He hiked down a mile and a half into the Grand Canyon and he visited Sedona while he was out there. No one will ever say that Mario doesn't get around. He has been everywhere that's anywhere.

Other that that it's been a long and boring and lonely morning; and now I face a backbreaking afternoon. I have to get on the tractor and continue the never ending work of maintaining my paths through the woods and fields.

But I'm not one to complain. To hell with the fact that before and after and between the brief talks with Al and Angie and Mario, Sam and I mostly commiserated with one another about how deeply we've been gored by the faithless stock market!

Tonight we dance!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Global warming and energy independence - Solved!

I read a lot of stuff written by liberals proposing all manner of complicated schemes to cut use of fossil fuels and force energy efficiency. And I read all kinds of things by conservatives about how they want the US to become independent of foreign oil. But I never hear anyone with the guts to propose the only simple way to achieve both of those ends - tax all fossil fuels heavily; but start the tax slowly and raise it steadily and predictably so people and businesses can adapt in the natural course of things. Finally, give the proceeds back to the country's whole population as an equal payment to each citizen and legal resident. That way the cost would fall primarily on heavy users of fossil fuels, and lesser users would actually end up ahead.

If something like that had been started in the 1970's we would already be a lot less dependent on fossil fuels.

This is the perfect time to enact such a plan because prices of all forms of fossil fuels are falling, and people and industry are already somewhat accustomed to the pain of higher prices. Congress should pass a tax starting at say three cents per gallon of gasoline and fuel oil (and an equivalent amount on coal and natural gas by energy content). Congress should also mandate that the tax will increase by three cents per month indefinitely - ideally it would be set up to increase automatically unless congress votes to stop it by a significant supermajority, so that it would be very hard to stop. That way everyone would have a clearly defined incentive to buy cars and homes based on energy efficiency, and industry would have clear expectations as to future costs of energy from fossil fuel sources. People developing alternative sources of energy would also have clear expectations of the energy markets in which they will compete.

Such a tax would also leave it to the free market to decide on the details of energy efficiency and alternative energy issues - by far the most efficient way to decide among those things. Some will argue that a time of recession is not the time to start such a plan, but I'd fire back that putting some reasonable expectations around the issue of global warming and energy independence and defanging the threat of truly disastrous types of government intervention (like cap and trade which will certainly turn into a huge political honeypot) would itself have a major stimulative effect on the economy.

Being a humble person I decline the honor should someone want to name this The Sully Plan.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sturm und Drang

On the way home today I filled my car's tank with gas at $3.16 a gallon. Slowly and stealthily gas prices have dropped by almost 25% from their peak over the past couple of months and yet nobody seems to have noticed. I certainly noticed today.

After I got home Linda and I had to eat a hasty light dinner because we were due for our second in the series of six weekly Rumba lessons up at the Ballroom on High Street. As usual Jas and Kathy put on a great lesson for the twenty or so in the class; and this time we guaranteed that we'll retain what we learned by practicing for about a half hour after we got home. We've pledged ourselves that tomorrow night we'll run through our Waltz, Foxtrot and Rumba routines instead of walking.

Those were the good sides of the day. The bad side was that the stock market tanked again today, with the DOW going down another 180 points. All told the market is off almost 40% from last year's high. The first of the 401K statements for the third quarter arrived in today's mail; but I hate the thought of opening it. The most annoying thing is that Linda and I are already pretty fully invested in stocks and real estate; so I can't see any way of freeing up enough cash to take proper advantage of what may soon be a truly phenomenal buying opportunity.

Here's a free investment tip which is certainly worth no less than it's costing you. The idea is to buy low so that later you can sell high. Going further, the idea is to be one of the few who are smart enough to buy when everybody else is totally sunk in doom and gloom. If you have a access to a 401K plan at work now is the time to maximize your monthly deductions. If you don't have access to such a plan now is the time, if there ever was a time, to cut back on your spending and free up some money to buy as many shares as you can each month in a broad no-load, low fee mutual fund. With the market as low as it now is, and perhaps going lower, it's as close to a sure thing as you will ever be able to place a bet on.

The U.S. has easily the most free and vibrant large scale economy in the world; and it will retain enough freedom and vibrancy to continue to dominate the world even if Barry and Joe and their buddies get control of all three branches of government and thus have the opportunity to run wild and establish a bunch of new government boondoggle programs. Also, there are a host of new technologies being worked on which promise even more amazing developments than we've seen in the recent past. The stock market indexes are now going down, and they may go down or stay flat for an extended period, years even; but in the long run, the five or ten or fifteen year run, the market is going to make back all of its declines and go on to peak much, much higher.

Yes there are problems, just as there have always been problems. But in the long run the problems we currently face are essentially trivial next to the opportunities. We live in by far the very best country, and we live at by far the very best time to be alive in the history of the world. And tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, will be an even better day to be alive for the vast majority of us.

Anyone who doubts that this is the very best time to be alive should comment on this post and I'll recommend a couple of very readable history books.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The inside story for Tarzan fans

Fans of the king of the jungle who want to know the other side of the story will rush out to buy this new tell-all book now. I'll wait until it comes out in paperback.

In the meantime, I finished listening to the audio version of The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber last week. It wound itself out to a very satisfying ending and I will definitely pick it up one day as a paperback for a read. Not least I'll remember it because of the amazing coincidence I recognized as it came toward the end. I've also been reading, off and on, a paperback copy of Little Man by Robert Lacey that Sam gave me. I could be wrong; but I think Gruber based some of his characters on Meyer Lansky's convoluted life.

The coincidence comes in because I picked up Air and Shadows soley because it was billed as being abut a lost Shakespeare manuscript. Then it actually turned out to be about a complex set of characters, including Russian Jewish mobsters, searching for and fighting over a Shakespeare manusript and the clues leading toward it. What are the chances I would be reading about Lansky and also listening to a book, some of whose characters are an awful lot like Lansky?

Finally, over the weekend I learned that some of you young-uns out there think political assassinations are mainly the work of right wing nuts. This false meme probably arises from the fact that left wing propagandists have been selling you that line - including on wikipedia where die-hard lefties insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was a pawn of the CIA against the simple facts in evidence. Here's a short memory list of recent political assassinations and attempts:

Ronald Reagan - shot by a complete loon who wanted to impress Jodie Foster
John Lennon - shot by a loonie rock music fan
Gerald Ford - shot at by a loonie hippie follower of Charles Manson and then almost shot at later
by a loonie housewife whose motives defy description
Martin Luther King - killed by a loonie multiple times felon, perhaps the exception that proves
the rule
Robert Kennedy - killed by a loonie Palestinian who believed Kennedy was too much a supporter
of Israel
John F. Kennedy - killed by a loonie Marxist who had defected to the Soviet Union and then
returned to the U.S. You're free to pick your own conspiracy theory, but if I'm forced to
vote for one I come down on the side of Oswald acting for Fidel Castro in some way. Castro
had a legitimate and timely beef against JFK since JFK and his brother Bobby had actively
and persistently plotted to have him assassinated in one of the more comic opera affairs of
recent history. Google Operation Mongoose and keep firmly in mind the fact that Saint
John F. Kennedy and his brother Saint Robert F. Kennedy were the president and
attorney general who pushed for it.

Look this all up for yourself if you don't believe me; but be careful to read deeply because propagandists on the left are very persistent and ingenious at twisting and embroidering the actual facts. Assassinations are mostly carried out by lone true believers, a species of lunatic which the left spawns much more frequently than the right. This makes sense because the left persistently sells the idea that simple and radical plans and actions can bring about Heaven on Earth while the right more typically believes that most attempts to change the existing order of things end badly.

Read the wikipedia entry on Immanentizing the Eschaton for more.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Handel and Hayden Society is ready. . .

Linda and I went up to Boston over the weekend to see Alex and Christina. While there we went to a concert put on by the Handel and Hayden Society. It was an excellent concert and very useful because I've been thinking of buying one of Handel's other oratorios and the Society put on selections from Solomon, Jeptha and Semele. None of them, of course, compare with Messiah, which is one of the most brilliant pinnacles of art.

The most interesting thing about the concert was the Society's inclusion of the music Handel composed for the coronation of King George I. It was good to see that they're all ready for the coronation, I mean the inauguration, of Barack Obama if he wins the election. The last anthem they played, with its rousing choral performance of "Long live the king, God save the king," will make a perfect musical accompaniment to the beginning of Obama's reign. Of course they may plan to play "Unto us a child is born, unto us a king is given" from Messiah, which may, after all be more appropriate given what a lot of people expect of Obama.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Free Pete Rose!

Poor Pete Rose is unjustly being denied his deserved spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And why? Merely because he placed a few little bets on basebal games. And he didn't even bet against his own team. Unjust! Especially in the new world of ethics we now inhabit.

Last night a crooked journalist named Gwen Ifill moderated the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. And all the while she was supposedly being evenhanded, Ms Ifill was nervously wondering how her huge bet on the outcome of this year's election will turn out.

You see, Gwen Ifill has already written a book titled The Breakthrough, Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, and that book is scheduled to be released on January 20, 2009, which just happens to be inauguration day for the next president. If you don't believe me you can look it up on Amazon, where the book is already for sale on pre-release basis. If Obama wins, she will sell tons and tons of those books. If Obama loses, she may as well plan to insulate her house with the books.

I say that if Ms Ifill is still invited to polite parties after this conflict of interest, Pete Rose should immediately get his place in the Hall of Fame. His actions were a lot less corrupt than hers.

And lest you say that she was fair in how she moderated the debate, here's an amusing letter that was sent to Stephen Spruiell of Media Blog about one of her supposedly fair questions.

IFILL: OK, our time is up here. We've got to move to the next question. Senator Biden, we want to talk about taxes, let's talk about taxes. You proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year. The question for you is, why is that not class warfare and the same question for you, Governor Palin, is you have proposed a tax employer health benefits which some studies say would actually throw five million more people onto the roles of the uninsured. I want to know why that isn't taking things out on the poor, starting with you, Senator Biden.
Translation – tell why it’s okay to make the evil rich pay their fair share, o’ herald of the mighty light bringer. And you, mouth of Sauron, why are you and the dark lord trying to make things worse for the poor?

I might add that anybody who believes Barack Obama and Joe Biden can pay for the vast spending plans they have proposed by increasing taxes only on people earning over $250,000 is smoking some mighty fine weed.

Here's are two examples. Obama and Biden are right this moment sponsoring a law in the Senate which, if passed, will require the U.S. to donate something like $10 Billion per month to the United Nations to be strewn around the world as foreign aid. And both of them strongly support the idea of the government requiring industry to buy so-called carbon credits to cover the CO2 it emits. That carbon credit scheme is a pure tax, disguised to look like an environmental law, and - in fact - it is a very regressive tax which falls hardest on those who earn the least. Companies are going to pass that tax directly onto you and everybody else who buys anything.

Update 10/05/08: My apologies to Pete Rose for comparing him to Gwen Ifill. After reflecting on it I now realize that Pete Rose doesn't deserve that. What he did doesn't compare in immorality to what Gwen Ifill did. What she did is only comparable to a baseball umpire placing a big bet on a game with a bookie just before going into the stadium to umpire that game. In a rational society she would be fired from her job and barred for life from engaging in journalism just as a major league umpire would be fired and barred for life if caught betting on a game and then officiating at it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An interesting and excellent fig salad recipe

In the unlikely event you have a fig tree and run into the problem I've suffered lately - namely the figs bursting open before they're fully ripe - I tested a recipe I remember reading about.

Rinse about ten figs and cut off their stem ends (the stem end is even less ripe than the burst end)
Then quarter the figs and sprinkle about half a tablespoon of sugar and half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over them.
Let them marinate for about a half hour and you have a superior salad.

Of course, I would rather that the darn figs hadn't burst in the first place. Oh well, at least we enjoyed a few truly ripe ones before this rainy period came on.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

If the banks are short of cash to lend why. . .

If the banks are so short of cash to lend why have I continued to ger the usual mailings offering cheap credit over the past couple of weeks?

One bank sent me a letter saying we're pre-qualified for a second morgage of up to $150,000 at a 4.5% rate which can't be adjusted for two years. Several others have sent me their usual envelopes of pre-printed checks offering loans at zero interest for the next six months. One offered to double the limit on our present credit card with them, and offered to guarantee an interest rate of 4.9% for the life of the loan if it's used to pay off another credit card. Reading them carefully, as I always do, I find, that most of the loans are not really at zero interest because there is a 3% processing charge up front, but one of them offered the old sweet deal of a flat maximum $75 up front processing charge.

Are these offers the last trumpetings of rampaging brain shot elephants? Are they the last reflexive tail twitchings of headless snakes?

I'm looking at an offer of up to $30,000 that just came yesterday, a day after congress failed to pass the bailout bill that the banks supposedly need to keep the financial system from collapsing. It's from Capital One, which proclaims that "As of 09/23/08, our records show you've earned this offer for a 0% APR on balance transfers and 0% APR on purchases until January 2010." Capital One is one of the greedy ones that charge 3% up front, so I'll probably throw their offer away eventually; but then again maybe I'll save it for a few days against the possibility that I don't get a better offer and the stock market really tanks, tanks to a level which makes it irresistible. After all, somebody has to patriotically support the market when the whole world is fully in insane panic mode and well run companies in recession resistant industries are selling for five or eight times solid earnings. Just for comparison the S&P average is now at about 20 times trailing earnings.

Sometimes the banks make kiting credit so cheap that it makes sense; but don't even think about trying this at home unless you're very disciplined about promptly paying the minimum amount monthly, and you also have another safety valve line of credit available in the event the mail gets lost or something else like that. This is a game that needs both a belt and suspenders because such offers always carry the threat of reverting to something like Capital One's 24.9% rate if you miss or are late with two payments.