Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Yesterday, we got lucky...

...because in the middle of the afternoon the wind shifted and the smoke disappeared. (We have forest fires not too horribly far away.)

I'd reached the point I was wearing a wet bandana over my nose while at home (possibly overkill, but, boy, did it feel good to breath moist, clean air for a change) and was mulling where to head if matters got worse. The smoke had made it into the house. There didn't seem to be anywhere to get away from it. (I tried to think of buildings around here that might be really well sealed, with good air filtration systems, that might be open to the public, but decided I don't know of any. By all means, educate me if you know of one.) People stopping by the Bookstation (our gas station cum bookstore) were telling about taking detours because of road closures caused by fires, or of waiting for pilot cars to take them through fire areas. It didn't sound like there were smoke-free areas anywhere within easy driving distance, even if you could get through. And then the wind shifted.

Today, so far, we have a cool, clear breeze. There are clouds that look like the sort to drop a bit of rain. There's no rain so far, but it feels like rain. Now, I'd planned to mow the lawn today if it wasn't too smoky, and rain would quash that idea. That's OK. The mowing can wait. I'd love to have some rain, especially if some of it wandered over one forest fire or another around here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Smoke gets in your eyes...

...when it's wildfire season. Our home isn't in any danger, but off and on you have to know there are mountains just outside town, because it's kind of hard to see them through the haze. And breathing can make you cough and sniffle. This morning we found out that friends of ours who live in the country have a splendid view of the Shake Table fire from their deck. Not what you want to hear. They should be all right, the way the fire is moving, etc., but still, definitely not the sort of show you want to watch from your own yard.

Some of the neighboring communities have light dustings of ash, and flakes of it coming down. Not pleasant. We're just enough farther away we haven't had that. Yet, anyway.

And, yes, my husband has lung problems. And, yes, we have the house closed up and the A/C on. So far so good on that front.

Shake Table Complex Wildland Fire InciWeb webpage
Sharp's Ridge Wildland Fire InciWeb webpage
InciWeb Oregon Incidents webpage
NIFC National Fire News

Book note: Dreams of the Heart: The Autobiography of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of Nicaragua

Dreams of the Heart
Dreams of the Heart

I haven't had a chance to read this, but it got traded in at our bookstore the other day and it looks interesting. From the publisher (courtesy Barnes & Noble):


When Violeta Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega in 1990 to become president of Nicaragua, despite a knee injury that put her on crutches for the entire campaign, most observers were shocked. Ortega's party, the Sandinistas, controlled the country, except for the Catholic Church and Mrs. Chamorro's newspaper, La Prensa, which, virtually alone, predicted the outcome accurately. After the election, many doubted that the Sandinistas would permit Mrs. Chamorro to take office, but she did, thanks in no small part to her own canny political instincts in reaching out to the Sandinistas rather than retaliating against them for causing a decade of oppression and poverty. After six years in office she has brought her country back from ruin, ending a civil war and revitalizing an economy that had become the second worst in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps most remarkable of all, Mrs. Chamorro had never held office before, and from childhood had had no other aspiration than to raise a family. Although written by a sitting president, this is a memoir like no other - intensely personal and deeply moving. President Chamorro explains that her lack of political experience left her to govern by the model she knew best, raising a family. Her own children were politically divided, like her country, and she tried to keep communication open among them. She did the same for what she calls her family of Nicaragua, reconciling left and right whenever possible, trying to put past political turmoil behind her. Devoted to the memory of her martyred husband, committed to her religious faith and her faith in democracy, Violeta Chamorro has ruled from the heart and led her country from disaster to recovery.

The book was published in 1996, and is currently out of print. As of post time, there were quite a few used copies available, plus, of course, your library might be able to help you if you'd like to check it out.

Related reading: Background notes from U.S. State Department for the Republic of Nicaragua.

Book note: The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals


So, a friend lent me a copy of this book and asked me to read it. I looked at the jacket copy and the blurbs, and tried to decline. The jacket copy, blurbs, and other promotional writing make it look like the book is aimed at people who worship global warming and/or hang out in far-left blogland but think of themself as intellectual. I figure the book is not going to be worth my time. But the friend insists. So I read it.

I think the folks in charge of marketing this book are missing the boat, driving off conservatives like that. Not that I think it's entirely a conservative-friendly book. But that's the thing. It's not a liberal-friendly book, either, not by a long stretch. By the time you've read the whole book, there's been something to cause umbrage to practically everybody out there. OK, maybe umbrage is the wrong word, but it's close. This book isn't what I thought it would be; it's not a screed and it's not written to fit some template. It's part history book, part science book, part journalism, part amateur philosophizing, part 'what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation'-type adventures, part cookery book, written by a journalist who reads deeply and widely, is willing to talk listen to a wide variety of people, and who is also willing to change his mind based on the evidence. Some of it is a little strange, but there's not as much strangeness as I expected. And it's interesting.

In a nutshell, author Michael Pollan looks around at food, wonders exactly where it comes from before it gets to his table, and tries to find out. Of course, if you're like me, you'd just as soon not think too minutely about how beef and chicken and breakfast cereal, etc., get to your table, but, well, it's not a bad thing for grown-ups to face up to now and then, is it? Especially if there are some things about the system that might be changed for the better? Pollan takes on all comers, I must say. (PETA included.) If he doesn't understand something, he's willing to get close enough to try to understand it. (Example. He's never shot a gun, but decides to find out what it's like to go hunting, so devotes months to the project. What he finds out surprises him. And me, for that matter.)

Fair warning: There are some bits I wish had been bowdlerized, but they are few and far between. I wouldn't hand this to the kids and it doesn't quite pass my "Grandma" test - if my grandmother were still alive, I wouldn't hand her this, mostly because of a few body-part references.

The author and I have our differences, here and there. For instance, he says that he can't see why humans would have abandoned the relatively healthy hunter-gatherer lifestyle for agriculture unless they'd killed off what they'd been hunting/gathering. I disagree. While I'm sure some bands did overhunt or overharvest, and while I'll grant that farming launched some public health issues right from the beginning (epidemics from crowding together and accumulated waste, new diseases incubated in domestic animals), I can think of lots of reasons people who were hunter-gatherers might settle down in one place instead. People tend to be territorial, for one thing; even hunters protect their hunting grounds. That somebody figured that a home base might be more easily defended than a whole region seems a possibility. That somebody got tired of carrying Grandpa around on his back might have been a factor here or there, now and then. Plus, people like to build things. (Including forts, I think.) Also, some people just naturally like to have stockpiles. For that matter, I suspect many a farm was started by a fellow who got tired of hearing, "Must we move already? I just got the camp set up the way I like it." ;)

But I quibble. It's an interesting, if sometimes stomach-churning, book, and I think it addresses some issues that probably ought to be addressed. Our food supply is a vital interest. If we're not smart about it, we court disaster. It's also, at times, an unexpectedly funny book, written by a middle-aged guy out to explore both the world and his inner self. And there are some sometimes-priceless descriptions of different subcultures in today's America. A unique offering. I can't recommend it without reservations, but I can recommend it.

A footnote: Pollan will carefully build up a case sometimes so he can then illustrate why it doesn't hold together as well as its advocates like to think it does. If you jump to conclusions, you're likely to find yourself mistaken. I found that whenever I was getting ready to gnash my teeth, the cure usually was to simply keep reading.

When reporters are 'converted' at gunpoint

I haven't posted on the kidnapping of Fox News's Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig for several reasons, not least because the curious lack of coverage by Fox News suggested to me that there was a lot going on behind the scenes that wouldn't be helped by me adding my wildly speculative two cents worth from the sidelines. It's my understanding that hostage takers fall into different groups when it comes to publicity: those who like the public to get aroused and screaming because it amplifies their deed and makes killing a specific hostage more useful (so to speak), and those who are afraid of public outcry, because they know it hurts their cause. Since these kidnappers didn't seem to care that their neighbors and leaders were screaming that they were hurting the Palestinian cause, I figured Centanni and Wiig were in big, big trouble.

Thank goodness they got free. But, of course, now they're marked men. Having been 'converted' at gunpoint, they are under the threat of death if any jihadist gets it into his head that they're not being good enough Muslims. File that bit of info under "Why We Must Fight."

If you've been wondering about the widely-reported comments they made at their first news conference about how they hope their kidnapping doesn't scare off any other journalists because the Palestinian people are such nice, misunderstood folks, I would like to make a couple of points. First, I'm sure there are Palestinians and then there are Palestinians. I've lived places in the United States, for Pete's sake, where bullies gained power and the citizenry hadn't a clue how to get itself free for a while. This is not to excuse what the Palestinians have done over the last decades, but to admit that there are likely some nice people trapped alongside and under the bullies. Second, excuse me, but that press conference was made while they were still under Palestinian control. As in armed guards and terrorists standing beside them while they spoke, in Gaza, at a Palestinian Authority sponsored media event. I think we may safely excuse them for saying whatever they needed to to get out of the situation alive. Yes?

Why the rest of the media played along the way it did is another question, but from here on out I will take anything either man says about the Middle East or Islam with a handful of salt, because, after all, they are under threat of death if any crazy jihadist gets it into his head that they aren't being good enough Muslims by his own lights.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

County fair, part two

Whew. The sea of humanity, auto, and horse I swam through this morning proved to be the biggest set of waves all day. I guess I caught people transferring from Main Street back to the fairgrounds after a parade. But it's still been a busy day, and fun. Just watching the kids skipping down the street to the big show is a treat, in and of itself.

I finally got around to getting my American Legion fundraiser hamburger this evening. No county fair is complete without one, in my book. :)

Tonight, the rodeo announcers were courting trouble. As I finished up a little yardwork (if you missed my previous post, I can listen to the rodeo announcers at home because the volume is very high at the fairgrounds), I heard a bad joke about Canada and curling, which was bad enough - but then one of the announcers tried making fun of a local guy for having a first name that is given to ladies as well as men. Local-man-with-girl's-name being a very well known fellow with a lot of friends, many of them cowboys, I suspect this was not altogether a wise thing to do. There were two announcers in the booth, trying to outjoke one another, and the second guy must have caught the vibes from the audience and/or contestants because he did a quick and obvious change of subject. Heh. It was getting dark and I came in about then, so I don't know what happened from there on out. Sorry. (I know. I know. I'm just too easily entertained.)

Aside: I'm having computer/Internet problems again, plus I'm working on an offline project that involves a lot of typing. If blogging is light or nonexistent for a while, assume I'm either temporarily offline, or am trying to avoid bodily damage from too much typing all at once.

County fair

I live in a small town, one in which it is entirely possible most days to go outside and look both ways and catch the street empty. Not today. I live across the street and one door over from the post office, and on my post office run today I had to swim through people and vehicles and even adjust my pace to avoid bumping into a horse and rider. This has been county fair week, and today is the big day, of course, because it's the weekend and more people have time off.

If I go outside to the street, I can look down it and see the fairgrounds. Our street, in fact, leads to the main entrance. So, you understand, not all of town is as busy as outside my front door. But, still.

Not everything about the fair is good. The yahoos in charge of the PA system for the rodeo grounds and grandstand apparently assume people are deaf - and then proceed to do their best to make them that way. Even from where we live, the noise has sometimes been astonishing. The lemonade part of that equation, however, is that I need never actually buy a concert ticket. I can just sit at home and listen, just fine. I wouldn't dare sit any closer anyway. Yikes. My husband talked to a fair board member about it last night, and she told him that it wasn't as loud in the grandstands as three blocks away because the air is different this year and is channeling sounds differently. Uh, huh. I'd give her a physics textbook if I thought it would do any good. But then, again, she's been on duty daily, on scene; I think she's approaching exhaustion or burnout or something. (Or maybe all the noise has scrambled her brain?)

Last night, we had drunks wandering past at all hours. That doesn't happen much anymore, not since we got the new police chief. But, knock wood, all I heard last night were people who were loud, but not fighting. Many of these folks, I'm guessing, are individuals who don't get together with certain friends except once a year, at fairtime, and aren't remotely smart about handling the excitement. (Don't laugh. There are people I don't seem to run into except once a year, at the fair. When you live in a very rural area, big events can cause that sort of thing. I, however, don't do the bar scene or other such nonsense. It makes a difference, I think, if you teach yourself to have fun without intoxicants, yes?)

And then there are the crooks who come to town to take advantage of all the chaos, chief among them some of the folks who work for the carnival that comes to town and sets up at the fairgrounds for the duration. We catch carnies shoplifting every year. We catch them trying to scam clerks by all manner of cons. While I am sure there are honest carnival workers somewhere in the world, and possibly even at this carnival, what we get are the guys who like to steal people blind if they can get away with it. I have grown to seriously distrust carnies, I'm afraid.

But on the whole the fair is a good thing, I think. It promotes healthy competition - well, mostly healthy competition. You don't want to get between some of the old ladies around here and the blue ribbon she thinks is hers! Trust me on this.

Now, add to this the fact that some hunting season or another is just opening - and therefore the county is thick with hunters coming in from out of the area - and we are talking busy days just now.

Speaking of which... Gotta run.

County fair, part two

Book note: A Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle School (American Girl Library Series)

See Dr. Helen: Tips for Middle School Girls for Helen Smith's recommendation for the following book. She's also asking readers to drop notes in her comments section if they know of other good books for middle schoolers and/or their parents.

Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle School: Everything You Need to Know about Juggling More Homework, More Teachers, and More Friends!
Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle School: Everything You Need to Know about Juggling More Homework, More Teachers, and More Friends!

The Saturday Review of Books...

...is where bloggers link to a book review they've done in the last week. Join the fun here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto demoted

The International Astronomical Union has come up with a new definition for "planet," one which leaves Pluto off the roster. From William J. Kole, AP, as published at ABC News:

...The decision by the IAU, the official arbiter of heavenly objects, restricts membership in the elite cosmic club to the eight classical planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Pluto and objects like it will be known as "dwarf planets," which raised some thorny questions about semantics: If a raincoat is still a coat, and a cell phone is still a phone, why isn't a dwarf planet still a planet?

NASA said Pluto's downgrade would not affect its $700 million New Horizons spacecraft mission, which this year began a 9 1/2-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets.

But mission head Alan Stern said he was "embarrassed" by Pluto's undoing and predicted that Thursday's vote would not end the debate. Although 2,500 astronomers from 75 nations attended the conference, only about 300 showed up to vote.

"It's a sloppy definition. It's bad science," he said. "It ain't over."

Under the new rules, two of the three objects that came tantalizingly close to planethood will join Pluto as dwarfs: the asteroid Ceres, which was a planet in the 1800s before it got demoted, and 2003 UB313, an icy object slightly larger than Pluto whose discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, has nicknamed "Xena." The third object, Pluto's largest moon, Charon, isn't in line for any special designation...


Read the whole article

Some observations for Men of God

Anthony Esolen says "Ministers who want to be jus’ folks should take heed," and gives some reasons why.

Even if you're not interested in why he proposes priests should be readily identifiable as such, read the piece for the story of the actor on location in France, who wandered off the set for a walk in the countryside, dressed as a priest. That the actor is one of my favorites has nothing to do with why I'm suggesting this... Well, not much, anyway. :)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Boy Scouts rescue 18-month-old from river

From KOTA Territory News and the Associated Press:

OMAHA, Neb. A troop of Boy Scouts on a camping trip to earn merit badges ended up saving an 18-month-old girl's life.

About five members of the Omaha St. Cecilia's Troop 100 were swimming in the Platte River at Two Rivers State Recreation Area on Saturday.

Eleven-year-old Christian Nanson spotted the girl floating face-down in the water and yelled to nine-year-old John Fitzgerald to help. The boys grabbed the girl out of the water while other Scouts found a cell phone to call for help and directed rescuers.

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy David Brock said the girl was treated for hypothermia and released from the hospital today. She had been with her family before she slipped away from her mother, chasing after some dogs.

hat tip: seattlepi.com/Associated Press, via OpinionJournal

Nice save

My husband ran into a friend of ours tonight, just back from a family reunion and teaching at a church camp. She said that she seriously embarrassed one of her daughters at the camp, but that it came out all right in the end. She said that she (the mother) did something in front of her daughter's class that mortified her daughter - and the other kids jumped on the daughter, teasing her and asking her why she was so embarrassed.

This mom has a lot of experience with kids, and she came up with a snappy comeback. She looked at the other kids and asked them point blank whether, if their mother had done what she'd just done in front of a group of kids, they thought they'd be embarrassed?

Well, yeah.

End of teasing.

Unexpected lesson taught.

This lady says she has no idea what made her try that. She says that after you're a mother for a while stuff like that just pops out of your mouth now and then.

The Common Room's Guide to The Quick Interview

This post is for anybody who has to screen applicants for a job. Or for anybody looking for a job. Or for anybody who thinks "Moby Dick" is a good response to "Who is your favorite author?"

Before you question The Headmaster's program, may I suggest that you think back to which jobs you liked going to and which you didn't, and then ponder how much of what made a job a joy or an ordeal depended upon the good/bad attitudes of the other people who worked there? I've learned to appreciate bosses who don't try to yoke me with slackers/jokers/malcontents. How about you?

To read, or not to read; that is the question...

There's a discussion going on over at La Shawn Barber's blog about the importance of reading the classics of Western Civilization.

Barbaro update

Follow the link to Barbaro and Dr. Richardson on The Early Show (August 23, 2006) for a 7:39-minute video from CBS, in which the vet explains how things have been going, and the race horse proves he's got a great appetite. :)

Remember, Gentlemen, there is a lady present

So, I have a used book I'm trying to get ready to sell, and I'm flipping through it to see if any of the pages are marked or mussed, and I see this (page 230):

In a small room at Michigan State Prison hangs the picture of an attractive woman with an overhead banner bearing this message: "Remember, Gentlemen, there is a lady present." The picture is of Dorothy Carnegie, and the room is where Dale Carnegie classes are held for inmates of the prison. Prison classrooms are the only places Carnegie classes are held where iron bars on the windows and guards at the door make it impossible for fear-stricken students to take to their heels.

Of all the special classes given by Dale Carnegie & Associates and their sponsors, none have been more successful and more eagerly received than those given to prisoners. In 1960 some fifteen hundred inmates of thirty-one penal institutions in the United States and Canada completed work in forty-eight classes. More than seven thousand prisoners have participated since the prison program was initiated in Hawaii in 1950 by J. Edwin Whitlow, the Carnegie sponsor there...


From Talking Your Way to Success - the story of the Dale Carnegie Course, William Longgood, Association Press, New York, 1962. The copyright is held by the National Board of Young Men's Christian Associations. This is a third printing, from 1973.

Now, if I just knew if any of the fourteen people who signed the ffep of this book are famous...

Addition: I just realized I used an abbreviation that isn't commonly known outside my field. Oops. Sorry. ffep means front free-endpaper (or first free-endpaper). It's that first, usually blank, page you see when you lift the cover.

Don't let this make you go and do something crazy, but...

A guy bought a vintage race car on EBay for $26,912. Not exactly chump change. But, as Ben Stewart notes at the Automotive Blog at Popular Mechanics:

...Well underneath the cracking Devin body was Ferrari chassis #0202 belonging to a 1952 Ferrari 340 America with a Vignale Spider body. It’s one of the most valuable Ferraris in existence.

Once fully restored, which [Tom] Shaughnessy plans to do himself, the Ferrari could bring nearly $2.8-million...

So, if some long-lost relative shows up at your doorstep asking to snoop around your garage or barn, you know, just for old times' sake... ;)

Trivia: Electric guitars were invented when?

Electric guitars were first sold during the Great Depression. True or false?

Answer.

About THOMAS

I just came across THOMAS, a website of The Library of Congress named for Thomas Jefferson and dedicated to providing the public with federal legislative information. It looks like it might be useful. For a quick overview, go here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Not the "Party of Death" but of an impoverished view of life

Wilfred McClay writes (On the Square/First Things, August 21, 2006):

Although I have tried mightily, I cannot find much merit in the idea that there is a “party of death” at work in American politics. It seems to me that this formulation states the problem wrongly...

I have to agree. Read the rest to see why. He's got some wonderful observations, I think.

hat tip: Open Book

Monday, August 21, 2006

The valor of men on the street

Many years ago, I was walking around a biggish city with a handful of traveling companions (both men and women, if I remember right) and we came across a madman in a park. He was ranting about how women were of the devil and God wanted him to kill one. I made the mistake of looking in his direction. Suddenly all his focus was on me and all of it vicious. We had eye contact, and I was stunned by the force of his hatred. My companions panicked or something; at any rate they drew back, leaving me front and center across a small clearing from a guy who was declaring his intent to kill a woman, any woman, just because she was a woman. (Definitely one of the worst moments of my life.) Seemingly out of nowhere men materialized, from all directions, some to tackle the guy and some to grab my paralyzed self and pull me to safety. A couple of them indulgently told me I needed to learn not to look directly at crazies. (Bad street smarts. Very, very bad street smarts.) Once I was safely out of sight and reach of the lunatic the men wandered off in all directions, and were gone. I did not know a single one of my rescuers. I'm fairly sure most of them didn't know one another. I wanted to say thank you, but they'd gone back to their own lives by the time I got my voice back.

I could give you other examples, albeit less dramatic, of men coming to my rescue even though they didn't know me from Adam. They just swooped in, made sure everything was all right, and then went happily on their way, usually shrugging off my thanks with some lowkey variation of "Ah, shucks, t'weren't nothin' ma'am." Anonymously. Just to help. Just to protect. Just because they were stronger or braver than me or were afraid I was in over my head. And I'm grateful to every one of them. Hooray for Western Civilization, I say; what other society turns out such selfless, valorous men?

Sometimes, of course, when men risk their lives they lose them. My heart goes out to the families of the woman and men who died in this incident. I hope they can understand how much it means to the rest of us - well, me anyway - that there are families that produce such people. I, for one, know I am in their debt. (Via Bookworm.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Making your own macro lens mount

We know a young man who likes the idea of building a telescope lens from scratch - grinding and polishing it and everything. There is, after all, a satisfaction in making something yourself.

jquinby's project isn't quite that time-consuming (he claims it took about 20 seconds), but he's now taking macro shots with his digital camera, using stuff he had on hand. I can think of some folks around here who would have fun doing the same thing. (Hide the telescope! Scavengers ahoy! :)

Trees, trees, trees (and more)

The Dendrology at Virginia Tech website has info on trees of its region, plus links to other tree sites. There's quite a variety of information here, including The Meaning of Latin Names and a clickable map of native species, state by state, with info on the species (Oregon results shown here as an example). It also has advice on selecting trees for urban environments. And more.

The Saturday Review of Books...

...is up at Semicolon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Salute to a cradle, well used

I'd like to see cradles make more of a comeback, wouldn't you? If nothing else, you can't write stories like this about cribs, now can you? ;)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Barbaro update

The race horse Barbaro is well enough for visits to a grazing area. (via Orlando Sentinel)

More from Penn Veterinary Medicine's website, including archived articles.

Breyer is making a Barbaro model horse, first ship date October 1. Ten dollars from each sale goes to support the New Bolton Center, where Barbaro has been treated. Cost is $45 each plus $8 shipping and handling. (And you folks in New Jersey get to add sales tax.) It's out of my price range, but hey, maybe you want one and can afford it, right? (Did you have a Breyer horse as a kid? I did. Palomino. I made my own tack for it. Great fun.)

Previous post: Barbaro not doing well (July 13, 2006)

When an educational system tends to look down its nose...

...at tech schools and manufacturing jobs, you can wind up with some very good jobs going begging for someone qualified to fill them. See Factory Shift: Manufacturers Struggle to Fill Highly Paid Jobs (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, August 14, 2006, LA Times) for a look at the difference between the myths and realities of some high-skill jobs.

hat tip: Orrin Judd

We have uncooperative wasps

Not that it's horribly important, but the wasps in my backyard fight each other rather fiercely over fallen apples. I might not even mention it, except for the fact that it's sometimes put out that insects that live in colonies are six-legged versions of the Three Musketeers, All for one and one for all!, or however that goes. And if you didn't have a semi-wild backyard with an apple tree, or another nifty, homegrown science lab in which to watch real wasps being themselves, you might not know differently.

But there you have it. We have an apple tree. This tree had a phenomenal number of blooms this year, nearly all of which seemed to get pollinated, which meant we had way too many apples for the tree to support, so we have had apples raining onto the ground all summer as the tree self-culls. Over the weekend I mowed, without removing any fallen apples. Most of the apples were too small and emerged unscathed, but some apples got an edge sliced off by the mower blades. Enter the wasps. They've been having a heyday with whole apples, but cut apples are something else entirely, apparently. Such battles they've had over specific apples! I'm talking leg-to-leg, knockdown, dragout, somersaulting, lunging, very serious battles. There are, mind you, plenty of apples. If the wasps scattered, each could have an apple to himself. But no. Two or three wasps get their little minds (such as they are) set on a specific apple, and the battles go on and on. When finally the losers fly off, the victor divides his time between sucking on the apple (sometimes a slightly fermented apple, ahem), and racing around the perimeter of his apple, like a Doberman on guard dog duty. Head up. Menace in every move. Making it clear he has no intention, none, of allowing access to anyone or anything.

On a semi-comic sidenote, we also have very small ants that like the fallen apples. For reasons I haven't quite figured out, a tiny ant can rout a wasp, even a wasp that has successfully banished brother wasps. It can do it without a fight, usually. It just runs toward the wasp, and the wasp flies frantically away.

In case I haven't mentioned it lately, I love having a semi-wild backyard. There's always something new to notice.

Bamboo yarn?

Did you know bamboo is used to make yarn?

Book note: Work Over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law by Ron Haskins

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has been tracking welfare reform and its (sometimes amazing) effects. See his article Welfare Check at OpinionJournal for an overview. He also has a book coming out in October (available now for pre-order):

Work over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law
Work over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law


Clicking on the book cover will take you to Barnes & Noble.

Rocks stars and Christianity

See vita mea: The Queen of Heaven, The King of Rock & Roll, and the New Evangelization for a description of an amazing annual event in Memphis. (Via Open Book)

For another intersection of rock and religion, did you know that the weird and ghoulish Alice Cooper is helping establish a large, impressive Christian-run youth center in Phoenix? (Via Kim Priestap)

Let's just say I have mixed feelings about the second story, and leave it at that for now, shall we?

Sadness in perspective

I seem to be adding rather a lot of books to my to-read wishlist lately. Amanda Witt has just made me add another one: Edwin O'Connor's The Edge of Sadness, 1961 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (That I'm not impressed with modern Pulitzers doesn't mean I'm not impressed with earlier awards. Different judges do make all the difference in the world.)

Amanda has an excerpt that's worth a read, I think, whether or not you're interested in the book. She also mentions (and links to) the Loyola Classics Series, edited by Amy Welborn. This is not your college lit professor's classics series. ;)

Edge of Sadness
Edge of Sadness


My thanks to Loyola Press for bringing a bunch of better books back into print.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hemingway's cats targeted by feds

Unbelievable. The USDA is claiming that Ernest Hemingway's cats (their descendants, actually) are exhibits and must be treated as such. And that the people who care for them must get an exhibitor's license. And... and... Oh, it's too nuts to cover in a sentence or two. Read the whole article: Hemingway House in cat fight, Maya Bell, Orlando Sentinel, August 13, 2006.

In case it isn't clear, I think the USDA has some explaining to do. I don't know about you, but I can think of better uses of taxpayer money than sending a couple of agents down to videotape cats from a hotel room that oversees the Hemingway property. (And that's just for starters.)

hat tip: Lisa Cianci

More history and politics resources

Via Julie Ponzi, here are some free Ashbrook Center podcasts on politics, culture, and teaching American history.

Book note: Surviving Hitler: Corruption and Compromise in the Third Reich by Adam Lebor and Roger Boyes

Denny Hartford highly recommends Surviving Hitler, a history book with an emphasis on personal moral choices in Nazi-dominated Europe.

Book note: The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton

This 1914 book by G.K. Chesterton is about Islam infiltrating England? With the help of the smart set? Hal G.P. Colebatch has a review over at The American Spectator.

For a book nearly a hundred years old, it sure sounds timely, I must say.

Flying Inn
Flying Inn


hat tip: Phil Wade at Brandywine Books

Discussing things mechanical

For those of you into cars and trucks (and planes, for that matter) Tapscotts Behind the Wheel seems to be a hub of sorts for the Auto Blog Block, as they call it. It also hosts something called the Carnival of Cars.

I stumbled on this blog after going to Mark Tapscott's blogger profile from Tapscott's Copy Desk, one of my semi-regular reads. I had no idea there were so many bloggers devoted to vehicles. This could be an interesting neighborhood to stroll through, yes?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fairbanks turns problem into benefit, rewrites textbooks at same time

OK, so maybe you don't want to read this over dinner, but I found Cold Can't Stop Alaska Sewage Composting by Dan Joling of the Associated Press pretty interesting. Until utility officials in Fairbanks, Alaska, stopped listening to prevailing wisdom about composting, they couldn't find a satisfactory way of getting rid of their sludge. They had stockpiles of sludge. They had odors. They tried to burn it, with horrid results. They tried various other things: no good. Now, thanks to ingenuity and hard work and perseverance - not to mention the services of a "master of mega-mixology with a front-end loader" or two or three - they've turned what had been a problem into compost so clean it can be used to raise vegetables. No, really. The pathogens get cooked to death, so you can use the compost to raise food if you can get over the psychological hurdles.

(I warned you not to read this over dinner, didn't I? ;)

World-class bagpipe band calls British Columbia home

Christina Harper of The Scotsman reports that Canada is well-represented at the World Pipe Band Championships this weekend in Glasgow.

The article includes a bit of Canadian history, with a focus on explorer Simon Fraser (1776-1862).

Mike Douglas has died

Singer/television host Mike Douglas, who showed that nice guys can finish first on television, died Friday - his 81st birthday. Robert Bianco, USA TODAY, has more. (If you watch the accompanying video, you'll see a rather funny TV clip of a very young Tiger Woods demonstrating his early golf technique, as a guest on Douglas's show.)

The Saturday Review of Books...

...is forming over at Semicolon. Why don't you go add a link if you've written a book review or recommendation this week?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Alton Brown and "Food for Thought"

I don't get the Food Network, but I know some of you are big fans of a fellow named Alton Brown who hosts a show there, because you mention him on your blogs. Via Karen Edmisten, and courtesy of an article Mr. Brown wrote for Guideposts, I know that his first attempts to get a demo tape seen by the folks at Food Network failed, but... Oh, go read the article. I love stories about unexpected seeds taking root, and I'd hate to spoil the surprise for you.

And, I must say, I appreciate that he likes to travel the byways of America. That's something we like to do, too. And I like his philosophy about hospitality.

He's also an author:

I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking
I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking


I'm Just Here for More Food
I'm Just Here for More Food


Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen
Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Feeling creative, concise, and competitive?

Charis Connection is having a Flash Fiction Contest. (Otherwise known as a short-short story contest.) The deadline for submissions is August 19.

You do remember to look at the night sky sometimes, don't you?

This year's Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak this weekend, according to the info underneath tomorrow's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Book note: Debunking 9/11 Myths, by Popular Mechanics

In March, 2005, Popular Mechanics ran an in-depth article on 9/11: Debunking The Myths. The response was so overwhelming that they dug in and expanded their research, the result of which is a just-released book (more info and excerpt available here). Senator John McCain wrote the foreword, which is available online here. Clicking on the book cover below will take you to Barnes & Noble.

Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts
Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

American Trivia

In the United States, the municipality with the largest incorporated area is also one of the hardest to get to. Name the place, if you can.

Answer.

Hint: the total area inside the 'city limits' is 4,811.5 square miles, the land area is 2,874 square miles, but the population is less than 10,000. So, yes, to say it's the largest city strikes me as a bit of a stretch. (But let them have their fun, I say, as long as it doesn't tie in with some con game.)

More from the Census Bureau.
More from About.com, where Matt Rosenberg explains why this place "is a perfect example of an "overbounded" city...".

And now for something totally different

Sigh. Many moons ago I had a summer job in a city with a large Indian population and I lived near where bridal parties used to like to go to take pictures. I loved to go just hang around the park and watch the goings-on. I loved the saris. I didn't necessarily want to wear the saris, but I loved looking at them. The Anchoress is making me nostalgic...

And, yes, yes, I know. Some of the motel owners around here have wives who wear saris. And those are nice. But those are everyday saris. Not quite the same thing.

Book note: C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, by Justin Phillips

First off, let me say that I think the title and marketing of this book is somewhat misleading. Secondly, let me say that I can't think how I'd do much better. It is a wide-ranging book, and a good one, but hard to pigeonhole.

C.S. Lewis in a Time of War does have quite a bit about C.S. Lewis, particularly his broadcasting career, and it does keep coming back to him, but this is also - if not primarily - a history of the BBC, with an emphasis on its religious broadcasting. Which is not a bad thing. There is, for instance, an entire chapter on Dorothy Sayers and her battle to have The Man Born to Be King broadcast as she thought it ought to be broadcast. Sayers, in fact, shows up several places. There is quite a bit on how the founders of the BBC saw it largely as a medium to spread civilizing influences, particularly the Christian gospel. There is quite a bit on how the BBC coped with World War II, the hits it took, the moves it made to not only help insure its own survival but also to enhance national security. (Did you know, for instance, that it was decided to keep the news announcers few in number and have them state their names on air, so that the public would come to recognize each voice, so that enemy impostors - if any should manage to get on the air - would be instantly noticeable?) There is also some good, general recounting of life outside broadcasting during World War II. But the book by no means confines itself to the World War II years, either.

The author, Justin Phillips, was a journalist with the BBC for many years. He was also an elder at his church. According to the jacket copy, he'd completed the manuscript for this book when he died in 2000, but his daughter Laura Treneer oversaw the final editing and brought the book to publication.

Phillips makes a convincing argument that working with his editors at the BBC - learning to write for a radio audience with the help of good producers - turned C.S. Lewis into a better writer overall, and that the collaboration that went into the radio broadcasts strongly influenced Mere Christianity, and for the better. Certainly, that Lewis had ardent advocates of ecumenical Christianity at his back, trying to use his broadcasts to reinvent religious broadcasting, had to have made a difference.

At any rate, this book comes across as a labor of love, but not a puff piece. Phillips freely acknowledges that the BBC has made some serious missteps along the way, including in its relationships with both Lewis and Sayers. In that regard, this book also ranges into the "how to be a better manager" field, for anyone willing to take to heart the lessons of a bad example or two. (For example: Don't turn a prissy and territorial schoolmarm type assistant loose to correspond with anyone like Dorothy Sayers. You'll be hard pressed to pick up the pieces after the dust settles.)

Many books come across as something that someone else might have written had they only put their mind to it, but this one, I think, could not have been pulled off without Phillips, with his background, enthusiasm, and attention to detail. The chapters are well end-noted, for anyone wanting to dig deeper. For sources, he relied on not only written material, but archived audio, and interviews he conducted himself. It's a nice contribution overall to Lewis studies, but also gives a look at World War II from a fresh angle. On top of that, Phillips weaves in a bit of Christian apologetics of his own, building on what Lewis said in Mere Christianity and the broadcasts that preceded it.

On top of everything else, it shows how the BBC put itself on war footing for World War II, keeping national interests uppermost while fighting whatever looked like government encroachment upon its turf.

All in all, a nice behind-the-scenes look.

C. S. Lewis in a Time of War: The World War II Broadcasts That Riveted a Nation and Became the Classic Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis in a Time of War: The World War II Broadcasts That Riveted a Nation and Became the Classic Mere Christianity

One question, though. Does anyone know if that book is the same as the following? Or does it cover much the same ground in a different fashion? The former was published by HarperSanFrancisco earlier this year, and my copy says it's a first edition. I don't see any notice that it was previously published elsewhere. But the following, published a few years ago by Zondervan, certainly sounds like the same book?

C. S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War
C. S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War

Clicking on a book cover will take you to Barnes & Noble.

A reader writes...

From a comment on a previous post:

...A friend just told me about a doctor in her town who had advised many women to abort their Down's children (including her, and her child ended up not having it) and then he had a grandchild with Down's. He wrote a public apology to all the women he'd counselled to have abortions!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Butterfly Central (for an afternoon)

Yesterday I set the sprinkler hose out back, to water the plum trees and the apple tree. The next thing I knew the yard was dancing with butterflies, more than one type, flying through the water or setting down on the ground to get a drink. Very, very cool.

It was especially nice because yesterday I came down with something, and was dragging when I set the sprinkler in place. It's amazing how much a little unexpected beauty and grace can bring into a person's day.

This morning we had a doozy of a thunderstorm, and then a lot of rain. And a power outage. The clouds also played at turning into mini-twisters, which wasn't particularly fun to watch. The weather has settled down some, but it's still a good day for non-electronic endeavors, at a guess. (She writes as the power dips and comes back, dips and comes back... Yikes.)

I am feeling some better today (she says with a yawn), but I think I'll spend most of my spare time dozing instead of blogging, thanks (she says with another yawn). Place nice until I come back, OK?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book note: Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes

This sounds like a book I'd probably like. And how nice to know that "I Remember Mama" is on DVD. I hadn't thought to look. (via Saturday Review of Books).

"No Tears for Fidel, Please"

My thanks to the Los Angles Times, for running No Tears for Fidel, Please by George Weigel, in their op-ed section.

hat tip: Carol Platt Liebau

Update: Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also has a look at "What Fidel's Cuba really is like."

The President's summer reading list, and books on polio

History and government teacher Betsy Newmark starts with AP's coverage of President Bush's summer vacation reading choices, and goes from there.

One of the books on the President's list, by the way, is one I have on my want-to-see list: Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky. (By the way, the paperback edition is due to be released the end of this month, and can be pre-ordered now.) Clicking on the book cover will take you to Barnes & Noble.

Polio: An American Story
Polio: An American Story

While looking for that book to link to, I chanced across this one. Have you read it? It sounds good in the write-ups. It's aimed at ages 12 and up. The author is Peg Kehret.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio

In China...

... according to Ethan McNern, writing in The Scotsman, Buddhism is big business for new breed of upwardly mobile monks.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Back when I was a kid...

Anna at A Rose By Any Other Name and Echo9er are hosting discussions of what life was like as a kid back in the 1930s-1960s. Echo9er has also issued an invitation to people born after 1970 to add comments and observations.

YouTube: how it started, where it's at, where it might be headed

See this Startup Journal, June 29, 2006, article by Kevin J. Delaney, staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, for the story behind YouTube, one of the most-visited sites on the web.

Book market watch: Handicrafts for the Handicapped, c. 1916

Here's another title to add to your treasure hunting list: Handicrafts for the Handicapped, by Herbert Hall and Mertice Buck, published in 1916 by Moffatt, Yard, and Company. Since Headmistress at The Common Room discovered it, let her tell you about it.

I've just done a cursory search, and find a few copies of a 1928 edition also for sale, for not quite as much money, but still quite, quite nice, thanks.

This is not to mention that it sounds like an interesting and possibly useful book.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Killing boys to "prevent" autism, and attacking women for having disabled children

Chuck Colson reports that British medical researchers want to screen out male embryos in families with a history of autism, simply to reduce the odds of a child being born with autism (simply because most people with autism are boys, and therefore having girls is 'safer'). Colson calls it Eugenics by Default.

Can't argue with him there.

He provides links at the bottom of his commentary for further reading - like Confessions of a "Genetic Outlaw" by Elizabeth R. Schiltz, a mother who has been openly called irresponsible by people who resent that she knew she was going to have a child with Down Syndrome, but didn't have an abortion. She is kinder to the folks arrayed against her and her family than I'd be. I'd suggest you read her article whether or not you read Colson's. (It was published, believe it or not, at BusinessWeek, in the Technology section. Hey, I'm not arguing. Sometimes it's the folks who are all caught up in the excitement of technological breakthroughs who need most to stop and think about the implications of what they're doing, after all.)

New and old ways of looking at the world through the lens of economics

Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery
Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery


Nick Schulz, editor of TCS Daily, has an article at OpinionJournal regarding the above book and what it is about.

If you like reading about history and/or economics, you might want to take a peek into one of the many editions of the following book, now in its seventh edition. I've only seen the earliest editions, but they were more interesting and readable than I had expected in a textbook, or with something with the title "The Worldly Philosophers."

No, let me revise that. I have just taken the time to take down a copy of the third edition and read in it a while. This reminded me. This is not a book to "peek into" if that means you will read just parts of chapters. This author sometimes sets some things up to take down - piece by piece if necessary - later in the chapter. If you don't take chapters as a whole, you will be miseducating yourself, very likely.

The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers
The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers


I didn't know about the book The Worldly Philosophers until I saw it listed as suggested reading to go along with the well-done course Legacies of Great Economists by Professor Timothy Taylor, available through The Teaching Company. I know "Legacies of Great Economists" sounds like it might be a specialist course, but it isn't. It provides a fair amount of general history, and explains some of the evolution of ideas that have been used and misused by policy makers through the ages.

For the fine print, I am an affiliate of Barnes & Noble, so if you click through on a book cover and buy something on that trip I get a few pennies as a commission. But I have no affiliation with The Teaching Company. I just found that particular course more informative than I'd expected.

Book note: Sheiks & Adders by Michael Innes

Michael Innes (real name J.I.M. Stewart) is one of those authors with whom I have something approaching a love-hate relationship. Most of the mystery books of his that I've read have had serious shortcomings, to my view - mostly in the area of plot. He was not adverse to setting up a fictional crime that could not possibly come off without a series of unlikely things happening on cue, for instance. On top of that, he uses obscure (to me) references, and sprinkles his work with jokes or asides apparently designed for his fellow professors, which leaves me out of the loop. His books, in short, sometimes exasperate me. And yet I generally read almost any book of his that comes in front of me. They are occasionally oddball and sometimes quite funny (even for those of us who don't get his highbrow humor), and a few of them are adventurous, sometimes very much so. Some of them are quite good, overall. Even the ones that fall apart as mysteries generally have nice passages and observations, worth the reading.

Along the way, though, I had come to avoid most of what he wrote as an older man. Some of his later books seem a bit bitter. So, I'm pleased to note that the latest book of his to cross my path, Sheiks & Adders, c. 1982, a book written when he was quite old, isn't bitter at all, but comes across as written by an old man who has decided to be indulgent toward the younger generations. It harks back to his early days, brimming with highly unlikely circumstances and strange characters getting embroiled in ridiculous (but dangerous) situations. If you don't go into it expecting a great mystery novel (it is, in fact, very vague on the mystery side of things, the mystery apparently being an excuse to get our hero out of the house and amongst strange happenings and in contact with people who need a dose of his wisdom), but merely want a light diversion with a bit of social commentary, it'll do. The opening is worrisome in that it makes it appear the book will be thick with the finer points of the history of language, but I assure you that doesn't happen. And, a plus: the Boy Scouts are allowed to make a few appearances and are even allowed to help our hero Sir John Appleby.

The book is still in print.

Sheiks and Adders
Sheiks and Adders


In fact, now that I take a look, I see that many of his books (he was prolific, no question) are back in print, thanks to House of Stratus. If you aren't familiar with his work, may I suggest you start with one of his earliest books?

The Secret Vanguard
The Secret Vanguard


Hamlet, Revenge!
Hamlet, Revenge!

...Oh, sure. Just my luck. One of my favorites, Lament for a Maker, seems to be, at present, out of print again. (Or maybe it is just temporarily out of stock at Barnes & Noble?) I'm not the only one who likes this one. I've seen it held up as one of the best-written mystery novels of all time. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but if you only read one book by this author, this would likely be a good one to pick.

Lament for a Maker: A Sir John Appleby Mystery
Lament for a Maker: A Sir John Appleby Mystery

P.S. J.I.M. Stewart wrote a memoir, Myself and Michael Innes, but I can't say I'd recommend it, if for no other reason than I liked the author less after I read it. He comes across better in his fiction, I'd say.

Note to self...

When one of your software providers urges you to do a free urgent download of an upgrade with "exciting" and "new" (but supposedly necessary) features, don't attempt it while your husband is busy elsewhere. You might need his help when the botched installation kicks other things out of its way. Like your anti-virus protection. Yinga.

Anyway, that's where I was much of yesterday. Fighting software battles. And staying offline until we had our ducks back in a row. Uffda.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006