Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Bigguns and the Nephews

Sometimes, such as on the Internet, I think it's not necessarily such a good idea to talk about the children in our lives in such a way that anybody can tell who those children are.

After all, some of them might be at that stage in early adolescence where just being referred to *=as children, kids, teenagers, or young people makes them want to die of embarrassment.

Also, you never know what kind of predator might read your article and become interested in a child.

While spring cleaning I've dug up a lot of old documents and tapes where my father referred to his children as "The Bigguns." He actually recorded us as a band under that name. (The recordings weren't marketed commercially, but we were taken around to hospitals and nursing homes and the homes of disabled senior citizens, and ordered to sing...we had enough of a following to make me try to earn money as a singer in college.)

Since I'm an aunt rather than a mother, and since more of the children in my life are male than are female, I call them "The Nephews." About half of them belong to my natural sister. Others belong to my adoptive sister, and to a long-term client who became a close enough friend to teach her child to call me "aunt."

I reserve the right not to say anything about which ones are which, although once in a while I find it helpful to explain that "The Nephews" is a name that includes the nieces.

They've never toured together as a band. But they'd be about as credible a band, I think, as "The Bigguns" ever were.


Phenology: Storm System

(Reclaimed from Bubblews.)

Today's weather news is that that storm system that pounded the Florida Panhandle has an edge, and once again southwestern Virginia is catching the edge of something nasty. Regular readers may remember a free-verse "poem" about this phenomenon I published years ago. Somebody else gets something deadly--we get rain. Lots of rain. Fungal blight, wood rot, major financial drain and mood dampener, but still, nothing life-threatening, just rain.

On Monday someone said a tornado warning was in effect, up here. This usually doesn't mean much of anything. Monday was typical. By the time I left the computer center it wasn't even raining. Oh, but on Tuesday (yesterday), in Tennessee, the weather was expected to be life-threatening! Both the neighbor with whom I often ride to the computer center, and the relative with whom I often ride back, had to be out in it! I couldn't do anything outdoors and wanted to be online all day, but what I got was a day at home, watching it rain and praying for these good men who were getting paid to drive out into the path of the tornadoes...Fortunately, all they actually got was a long drive in discouraging weather; more steamy humidity than actual rain.

Whether North America really gets more extreme weather than the rest of the world, or whether we just have an industry that's really good at reporting weather as extreme or likely to become extreme, I'm not sure.

Today's weather: Very damp; rain off and on; temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flowers: People who don't pay attention to these things might say the dogwood and redbud trees along Route 23 are past their peak. Actually some trees are starting to shed their blooms by now, but many are not. What I'm seeing today is that other tree blossoms are popping out, making the dogwoods and redbuds less conspicuous. The color called "spring green" has a lot of yellow in it because the views we're seeing have a lot of yellow, brown, even red and orange, as well as green...like the buckeye blossoms in this picture. (The ones in the picture were frostbitten and dropped off the tree last week. We're seeing more of them on the trees now.) Other trees that have yellow, green, and brown blossoms include oak, sycamore, and tulip poplar.

At the Cat Sanctuary, irises haven't bloomed yet, daffodils have given up, my dandelions have peaked, and the predominant flowers in the yard are white violets. I found a Morguefile picture that looks a lot like one section of my yard/garden in the small "thumbnail" view (posted with the "Sweet Violets" Bubble). Close up, what are in the picture turn out to be English sweet violets, which have a lot of blue as well as white on the petals, and are known for their fragrance. White violets are almost pure white, and don't have much of a scent.

Birds: The most noticeable birds today were "rain crows"--American crows behaving the way they typically do on wet days, flying for short distances and then alighting. Probably flapping their wings helps them feel less damp! Marsh and shore birds are fun to watch in wet weather, but the route to this computer center does not lead through any marshes or along any shores. 



(Photo by Pippalou at Morguefile.com.)

Sweet Violets

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Photo by Gracey at Morguefile.com)



Does everyone out there remember the song "Sweet Violets"? I think I remember it more for the lead-in verses...there were different versions, but they all began by sounding as if a slightly naughty thought was about to be expressed and then quickly substituting something, well, prissier. 

"There once was a farmer who courted a miss.
He took her to his farm and gave her a--
Lecture on farming and churning and butter and eggs..."

And so on up to the last incomplete couplet: "They would get married and raise lots of--Sweet violets!"

Growing up in the U.S. I didn't realize that "sweet violets" are actually a different species of violets than the blooms that are currently predominant in my front not-a-lawn. Sweet violets grow in England. The not-a-lawn does look a good deal like this picture, and has for the past two weeks. Frost didn't bother the violets at all. But if you get close to my violets, or if you find this photo at Morguefile and open it to its original "magazine" size, you can see a big difference. The leaves are similar, and the shape of the flowers is similar. My white violets are almost pure white, with barely visible blue veins; these sweet violets are two-toned. My white violets have almost no scent; sweet violets are known for their fragrance.

In other places around the Cat Sanctuary pale blue violets, and violet-colored violets, are also flourishing; the pale blue ones and the white ones seem to be more abundant this year than the violet-colored ones.

All three U.S. species (and others that don't grow where I live) are actually edible, as well as pretty. The main reason why people don't eat more of their violets is that they're too nutritious and can have laxative effects. I think we were meant mostly to enjoy looking at them...it's safe to nibble on a few violets, but not advisable to eat a lot of them.

Online Censorship?

You read it in Al Gore's The Future...Big Business and Big Government don't like the way people like you and me may not get as much publicity, but are equally as available to those who look, as people like, well, them. Gore was blithely looking forward to developing ways that "we" (the Limousine Left) could stifle independent blogs that might even be, horrors, conservative. And Gore's "we" have been working on it all right...

Reality check for Internet service providers: I lived without any Internet service whatsoever for forty years, and if you impose censorship on the Internet I could actually enjoy living without it again. I still know how to type and print without depending on a computer. I could be doing newsletters. I even have the skills necessary to type samizdat. And if Congress lets the evil alliance of Big Business and Big Government dictate that "freedom of the press" refers only to literal presses and typewriters, I will use those.

Readers, please hit that "plus" button, and feel free to share your plans for going Net-free if Internet censorship is not limited to FAMILY FILTERING ONLY.

From Patricia Evans:

"Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal dropped something of a bombshell with leaked news that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to abandon so-called “net neutrality” regulations—rules to ensure that Internet providers are prevented from discriminating based on content.  BUT  under the new proposed system, companies such as Comcast or Verizon will be able to create a tiered Internet, a change that observers predict will curb free speech, stifle innovation and increase costs for consumers.

While the exact rules won’t become public until May 15th, what we know now is that the FCC intends to allow ISPs to create a “fast lane” for internet content, which established content providers with big bucks can pay for in order to gain preferred access to consumers on the other end. With this proposal, the FCC is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet. Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.  This is truly the American way of censorship. Figure out how those with the deepest pockets can smother the free speech of those with little or no voice on the one medium in which information flow is still treated equally.


So given the potential disastrous consequences, why is the FCC pushing this through?
Like so many problems in American government, the policy shift may relate to the pernicious corruption of the revolving door.  The current FCC is filled to the brim with revolving door industry lobbyists.  The FCC is stocked with staffers who have recently worked for Internet Service Providers (ISP) that stand to benefit tremendously from the defeat of net neutrality. To sum up, the top cable and wireless lobby groups in the US are led by a former FCC chairman and former FCC commissioner, while the FCC itself is led by a man who formerly led both the cable and wireless lobby groups.

But overall, the FCC is one of many agencies that have fallen victim to regulatory capture.  Beyond campaign contributions and other more visible aspects of the influence trade in Washington, moneyed special interest groups control the regulatory process by placing their representatives into public office, while dangling lucrative salaries to those in office who are considering retirement. The incentives, with pay often rising to seven and eight figure salaries on K Street, are enough to give large corporations effective control over the rule-making process.

Please share this article far and wide and perhaps enough public awareness can make a difference:

Read More: Say Goodbye To "Net Neutrality" – New FCC Proposal Will Permit Discrimination Of Web Content

by Tyler Durden    ZeroHedge on 04/26/2014 

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-04-26/say-goodbye-net-neutrality-%E2%80%93-new-fcc-proposal-will-permit-discrimination-web-content



Submitted by Mike Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,
The concept of “net neutrality” is not an easy one to wrap your head around. Particularly if you aren’t an expert in how the internet works and if you don’t work for an ISP (internet service provider). In fact, I think that lobbyists and special interest groups make the concept intentionally difficult and convoluted so that the average person’s eyes glaze over and they move on to the next topic. I am by no means an expert in this area; however, in this post I will try to explain in as simple terms as possible what “net neutrality” means and what is at risk with the latest FCC proposal. I also highlight a wide variety of articles on the subject, so I hope this post can serve as a one-stop-shop on the issue.
The concept of “net neutrality” describes how broadband access across the internet currently works. Essentially, the ISPs are not allowed to discriminate amongst the content being delivered to the consumer. A small site like Liberty Blitzkrieg, will be delivered in the same manner as content from a huge site like CNN that has massive traffic and a major budget. This is precisely why the internet has become such a huge force for free speech. It has allowed the “little guy” with no budget to compete equally in the “market of ideas” with the largest media behemoths on the planet. It has allowed for a quantum leap in the democratization and decentralization in the flow of information like nothing since the invention and proliferation of the printing press itself. It is one of the most powerful tools ever created by humanity, and must be guarded as the treasure it is.
People have been worried about internet censorship in the USA for a long time. What people need to understand is that censorship in so-called “first world” countries cannot be implemented in the same manner as in societies used to authoritarian rule. The status quo in the U.S. understands that the illusion of freedom must be maintained even as civil liberties are eroded to zero. In the UK, the approach to internet censorship has been the creation of “internet filters.” The guise is fighting porn, but in the end you get censorship. This is something I highlighted in my post: How Internet in the UK is “Sleepwalking into Censorship.”
In the U.S., it appears the tactic might take the form of new FCC rules on “net neutrality,” which the Wall Street Journal first broke earlier this week. While the exact rules won’t become public until May 15th, what we know now is that the FCC intends to allow ISPs to create a “fast lane” for internet content, which established content providers with big bucks can pay for in order to gain preferred access to consumers on the other end.
This is truly the American way of censorship. Figure out how those with the deepest pockets can smother the free speech of those with little or no voice on the one medium in which information flow is still treated equally. The nightmare scenario here would be that status quo companies use their funds to price out everyone else. It would kill innovation on the web before it starts. It’s just another example of the status quo attempting to build a moat around itself that we have already seen in so many other areas of the economy. The internet really is the last bastion of freedom and dynamism in the U.S. economy and this proposal could put that at serious risk. Oh, and to make matters worse, the current FCC is filled to the brim with revolving door industry lobbyists. More on this later.
So that’s my two cents. Now I will provide excerpts from some of the many articles that have been written on the topic in recent days.
First, from the article that started it all in the Wall Street Journal:
WASHINGTON—Regulators are proposing new rules on Internet traffic that would allow broadband providers to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest lanes.

If the rule is adopted, winners would be the major broadband providers that would be able to charge both consumers and content providers for access to their networks. Companies like Google Inc. or Netflix Inc. that offer voice or video services that rely on broadband could take advantage of such arrangements by paying to ensure that their traffic reaches consumers without disruption. Those companies could pay for preferential treatment on the “last mile” of broadband networks that connects directly to consumers’ homes.

Startups and other small companies not capable of paying for preferential treatment are likely to suffer under the proposal, say net neutrality supporters, along with content companies that might have to pay a toll to guarantee optimal service.

In Silicon Valley, there has been a long-standing unease with owners of broadband pipes treating some content as more equal than others. Large companies have been mostly silent about the FCC’s moves regarding broadband service, but some smaller firms or investors in startups have said the FCC needs to tread carefully so Internet policies don’t disadvantage young companies that can’t afford tolls to the Web.

“For technologists and entrepreneurs alike this is a worst-case scenario,” said Eric Klinker, chief executive of BitTorrent Inc., a popular Internet technology for people to swap digital movies or other content. “Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.”

Some consumer advocacy groups reacted strongly against the proposal. The American Civil Liberties Union said, “If the FCC embraces this reported reversal in its stance toward net neutrality, barriers to innovation will rise, the marketplace of ideas on the Internet will be constrained, and consumers will ultimately pay the price.” Free Press, a nonpartisan organization that is a frequent critic of the FCC, said, “With this proposal, the FCC is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet.
The New York Times also covered the story:
Still, the regulations could radically reshape how Internet content is delivered to consumers. For example, if a gaming company cannot afford the fast track to players, customers could lose interest and its product could fail.

Consumer groups immediately attacked the proposal, saying that not only would costs rise, but also that big, rich companies with the money to pay large fees to Internet service providers would be favored over small start-ups with innovative business models — stifling the birth of the next Facebook or Twitter.

“If it goes forward, this capitulation will represent Washington at its worst,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Americans were promised, and deserve, an Internet that is free of toll roads, fast lanes and censorship — corporate or governmental.”
Let’s not forget that Comcast is attempting to take over Time Warner (I wrote my opinion on that here). So this whole thing seems like a gigantic, status quo consolidation cluster fuck.
Also, Comcast is asking for government permission to take over Time Warner Cable, the third-largest broadband provider, and opponents of the merger say that expanding its reach as a broadband company will give Comcast more incentive to favor its own content over that of unaffiliated programmers.
USA! USA!
“The very essence of a ‘commercial reasonableness’ standard is discrimination,” Michael Weinberg, a vice president at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, said in a statement. “And the core of net neutrality is nondiscrimination.”

“This standard allows Internet service providers to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet,” he said.
Now from TechCrunch’s article, The FCC’s New Net Neutrality Rules Will Brutalize The Internet:
The FCC will propose new net neutrality rules that at once protect content from discrimination, but also allow content companies to pay for preferential treatment. The news, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would in fact create a two-tiered system in which wealthy companies can “better serve the market” at the expense of younger, less well-capitalized firms.

The above is only “net neutrality” in that it protects all content from having its delivery degraded on a whim. The rubric reported doesn’t actually force neutrality at all, but instead carves out a way for extant potentates to crowd out the next generation of players by leaning on their cash advantage.

In practice this puts new companies and new ideas at a disadvantage, as they come into the market with a larger disadvantage than they otherwise might have. Any cost that we introduce that a large company can afford, and a startup can’t, either makes the startup poorer should it pay or degrades its service by comparison if it doesn’t.

This will slow innovation and enrich the status quo. That’s a shame.
So given the potential disastrous consequences noted above, why is the FCC pushing this through? After all, “net neutrality” was one of candidate Barack Obama’s key campaign promises (just the latest in a series of completely broken promises and lies).
As usual, you can simply follow the money. While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is hiding behind a recent court decision that seemingly struck down net neutrality, the court gave him the option to declare the internet a public utility, which would have prevented this outcome. Yet, he didn’t go that route. Why? The revolving door of course!
An article by Lee Fang at Vice sheds a great deal of light on the issue:
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal dropped something of a bombshell with leaked news that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to abandon so-called “net neutrality” regulations—rules to ensure that Internet providers are prevented from discriminating based on content. Under the new proposed system, companies such as Comcast or Verizon will be able to create a tiered Internet, in which websites will have to pay more money for faster speeds, a change that observers predict will curb free speech, stifle innovation and increase costs for consumers.

Like so many problems in American government, the policy shift may relate to the pernicious corruption of the revolving door. The FCC is stocked with staffers who have recently worked for Internet Service Providers (ISP) that stand to benefit tremendously from the defeat of net neutrality.
The American way.
Take Daniel Alvarez, an attorney who has long represented Comcast through the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. In 2010, Alvarez wrote a letter to the FCC on behalf of Comcast protesting net neutrality rules, arguing that regulators failed to appreciate “socially beneficial discrimination.” The proposed rules, Alvarez wrote in the letter co-authored with a top Comcast lobbyist named Joe Waz, should be reconsidered.
Today, someone in Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters is probably smiling. Alvarez is now on the other side, working among a small group of legal advisors hired directly under Tom Wheeler, the new FCC Commissioner who began his job in November.

As soon as Wheeler came into office, he also announced the hiring of former Ambassador Philip Verveer as his senior counselor. A records request reveals that Verveer also worked for Comcast in the last year. In addition, he was retained by two industry groups that have worked to block net neutrality, the Wireless Association (CTIA) and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

In February, Matthew DelNero was brought into the agency to work specifically on net neutrality. DelNero has previously worked as an attorney for TDS Telecom, an Internet service provider that has lobbied on net neutrality, according to filings.

In his first term, Obama’s administration proposed net neutrality rules, but in January of this year, a federal court tossed the regulations in a case brought by Verizon. The decision left open the possibility of new rules, but only if the FCC were to reclassify the Internet as a utility. The Wall Street Journal story with details about the FCC’s leaked plans claims the agency will not be reclassifying the web as a utility. The revised rules to be announced by the FCC will allow ISPs to “give preferential treatment to traffic from some content providers, as long as such arrangements are available on ‘commercially reasonable’ terms,” reports journalist Gautham Nagesh.
Well how about chairman Wheeler himself?
Critics have been quick to highlight the fact that chairman Wheeler, the new head of the FCC, is a former lobbyist with close ties to the telecommunications industry. In March, telecom companies—including Comcast, Verizon, and the US Telecom Association—filled the sponsor list for a reception to toast Wheeler and other commissioners. Many of these companies have been furiously lobbying Wheeler and other FCC officials on the expected rule since the Verizon ruling.

But overall, the FCC is one of many agencies that have fallen victim to regulatory capture. Beyond campaign contributions and other more visible aspects of the influence trade in Washington, moneyed special interest groups control the regulatory process by placing their representatives into public office, while dangling lucrative salaries to those in office who are considering retirement. The incentives, with pay often rising to seven and eight figure salaries on K Street, are enough to give large corporations effective control over the rule-making process.
Ars Technica also covered the revolving door angle in its article:
The CTIA Wireless Association today announced that Meredith Attwell Baker—a former FCC Commissioner and former Comcast employee—will become its president and CEO on June 2, replacing Steve Largent, a former member of Congress (and former NFL player).

Largent himself became the cellular lobby’s leader when he replaced Tom Wheeler—who is now the chairman of the FCC. Wheeler is also the former president and CEO of the NCTA (National Cable & Telecommunications Association), which… wait for it… is now led by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

To sum up, the top cable and wireless lobby groups in the US are led by a former FCC chairman and former FCC commissioner, while the FCC itself is led by a man who formerly led both the cable and wireless lobby groups.
I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.
But wait, it gets worse.
Among current FCC commissioners, Republican Ajit Pai previously served as associate general counsel for Verizon and held numerous government positions before becoming a commissioner in 2012.
It is extraordinarily tragic that the greed of a small group of crony crooks revolving between the corridors of corporate America and Washington D.C. may be about to ruin the open internet as we know it.

Please share this article far and wide and perhaps enough public awareness can make a difference.

--
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."  - Thomas Jefferson"

Monday, April 28, 2014

Phenology for April 28, 2014

Phenology is the study of natural phenomena, which is still done largely by people logging or blogging about what we've seen outdoors today. Whole books have been published this way although even Richard Adams' didn't sell terribly well. Blogs that include phenology as well as other topics seem to do better, though, so after some thought I've decided to move my phenology notes from Blogspot to BubbleWS.

Observed today:

Weather: Rain off and on, beginning with a noisy thunderstorm at 7:00 this morning.

Birds: Crows, sparrows, robins, cardinals. 

Flowers: Redbud and dogwood, past their peaks. Yellow flowers, frost-nipped but still abundant: dandelions, daffodils, buttercups, celandine and other wild mustards. Bidens, of course. Violets--in my neighborhood the white and pale blue ones are blooming more abundantly than the violet-colored ones. 

Insects: Two species of Skipper butterflies, Spring Azures, a Fritillary, a few Cabbage White. Some flies and mosquitoes. Several wasps and bees.

(Cardinal courtesy of Mensatic at Morguefile.com.)


Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to Make Sure I Will Not Buy a Product

(Reclaimed from Bubblews.)

Last week and today, I'm seeing pop-up ads at Bubblews. Ads are actually covering up what I'm trying to read! How annoying.

Sponsors, I'm sure that some people have told you something like, "People say they make conscious, rational choices about what they buy, but they'll really buy anything that's become familiar because they've been nagged to buy it by a barrage of advertisements. If you can just pound the name of your product into their subconscious minds, people will be forced to buy whatever it is."

Maybe that's true for some people. It's not true for me. There are commercial jingles that I heard as a child, considered cute, and memorized, but I've never bought the products. There was a whole Saturday morning cartoon series created to market a new cereal that was shaped like cartoon characters; I liked the show and the characters, but I never ate the cereal. (A post on my Blogspot went into more detail about this.)

On the other hand, there are products that may have been advertised at some time, in some place, but I've never seen or heard an ad for them. Like Carhartt coveralls. (They used to be made in Duffield, Virginia.) Suddenly signs popped up in store windows: "We have Carhartt." I wasn't in the market for work clothes at those stores, so it was another five or ten years before I saw a laborer pull on a coverall that looked nice and practical. "That's a Carhartt!" I asked him whether it was as practical as it looked. At least that good, maybe more, he said. So now, if I were going to spend a lot of time doing heavy dirty work outdoors, I would look for a Carhartt. It's one garment that I would consider buying "new," because it's hard to find in thrift stores. People who wear Carhartt wear them out. And that is the way to market a completely new kind of product to me...show me that it really works for all the people who wanted to try it before I did.

Word of mouth generally does influence me to buy things. Ads, I'm sorry to tell you, generally do not. People my age studied the arts and science of advertising in middle school, and don't place much faith in anything an advertisement says. "This or that celebrity uses it." That's nice--now pay me as much as you're paying the celebrity to use it, and I'll try using it too. "The TV commercial for it was funny." That's nice--a moment of entertainment out there in TV Land, which, as everyone knows, is not connected to the real world. "You've heard the name thousands, perhaps millions of times!" That's not even nice...it tells me that (a) the manufacturer has made a lot of money already and doesn't need my support, and (b) the product is not something that can be marketed by word of mouth, but is something people have to be nagged to buy. And both of those things are reasons why I would not buy a product.

And I have boycotted products, even products I liked, because the ads were annoying. Most of the brand names I've noticed in online pop-up ads were for things I wouldn't buy in any case, but sponsors, please, whatever the bright boys may have told you...if I think of your product as an electronic equivalent of a housefly that has to be swatted, and then a nasty mess has to be cleaned up (cookies on the computer, fly bodies on a window), that does not make me more likely to buy your product.

Bubblews is here to display ads, and I'm all in favor of nice, quiet little ads that sit in their place on the screen. I may even write something product-supportive about those ads from time to time. But I'm not supportive of ads that annoy me.

So, no more pop-up ads, please!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Redbud Winter

"Redbud winter" is a local name for a cold snap that usually occurs around the time the redbud trees start to bloom, typically during the week of Passover/Easter, and it's here now. This morning the outside temperature at the Cat Sanctuary was right around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (well below freezing point, single digits below zero Celsius). I snapped a few nice pictures of perfect, frostbitten flowers in the road, as well as these redbud and dogwood trees near the road below the Cat Sanctuary.

Yesterday we had lots of gusty wind and precipitation that couldn't decide whether it was meant to be heavy rain or very wet, slushy snow. I was almost afraid to come to the computer center today, and sure enough the mountains around Big Stone Gap had snow-capped...well, not peaks, exactly; the Blue Ridge Mountains don't have peaks. Snow-capped tops, though, for sure. However, the roads were clear and everything was open for business.

According to old folklore, the redbud and dogwood trees bloom around the time of Easter in order to remind us of the Resurrection of Christ. Some say that the Cross was made from a dogwood tree and that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on a redbud tree. (This is unlikely, since both trees are native to North America.) In any case, redbuds are supposed to remind us of the shame and sin of humankind, and dogwood flowers, which form a neat X shape and have whitish or pinkish petals with dark red tips, remind us of the Cross.

Happy Easter, Gentle Readers.


(Dogwood image from Phaewilk at Morguefile.com:)


(Redbud image from Pippalou at Morguefile.com:)



Phenology: Vincas

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Photo by Cohdra at Morguefile.com.)



Vinca, also known as pervenche, periwinkle, and occasionally myrtle, is one of those wonderful wild flowers that will replace boring Bermuda grass in your lawn or garden. The names "myrtle" and "periwinkle" are also used to refer to different things, so I call these flowers vincas.

There are different species in this family. The popular ones, V. major and V. minor, are not native to North America but have naturalized well. Photos of flowers that look just like mine (only they're taken with better cameras) are shown on various web pages that provide information about Vinca minor, like these:

www.ehow.com/how_4963739_care-vinca-flowers.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinca_minor

This plant actually has its own web site:

www.vincaminor.org/

Vincas have some medicinal value due to high levels of phytochemicals that can be toxic, but due to this potential toxicity I've never tried using mine as an herb.

Vincas start blooming at the time when most other flowers are yellow...daffodils, dandelions, celandine, buttercups, those regrettable Bidens..and although they can also be pink, red, or white, mine are a pleasing shade of purplish-blue, not unlike the irises. In years when the daffodils bloom well, the vincas provide a nice color contrast around them.

They are a hardy plant, easy to grow and hard to kill. If you plant vincas as a border around a grassy lawn, you probably won't have to mow and fertilize grass for very long. Vincas don't need fertilizing. They'll tolerate the natural "mulch" shed by taller bushes and trees, but they'll also tolerate not having it. They like almost any kind of soil or climate conditions, within reason, and about all the care they require is cutting back before they invade the space of other plants you want to keep.

Bidens: Wildflowers That Become Weeds

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where the photo I snapped was destroyed by the system a few months later. Sideshowmom donated this particularly showy Bidens image to Morguefile.com. Virginia's wild species seldom, if ever, have flowers as big, relative to the leaves and stem, as this specimen.)



When the soil is wet, and the little yellow flowers are still showing, it's time to weed out Bidens. (I am not here talking about our Vice-President and others like him, although some people would like to weed those out of the political sphere too...) Bidens is the scientific name of a genus of plants that, according to Peterson's Field Guide, can be positively classified into species only by experts. 

A few species of Bidens, found only in Hawaii, are rare. The ones found in the contiguous United States are weeds, and should be pulled up, because those tiny yellow flowers will ripen into larger clusters of annoying burrs. The most common species found in Virginia are B. bipinnata, B. frondosa, and B. polylepis. Some other names by which they are known are Spanish Needles, Sticktights, Beggars' Lice, Beggars' Ticks, and a few unprintable terms.

(B. bipinnata is fairly easy to distinguish from the other two:

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/spanish_needles.htm

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/wetland/plants/cm_beggarticks.htm

http://oak.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/bidpo.htm)

Bidens are unusual in having two distinct kinds of leaves on the same plant. There's what scientists call the "basal rosette" of small round leaves, which appear first, and then as the plant matures it forms long, thin leaves above the base. 

In spring, on the morning after a wet day, it is possible to enjoy looking at Bidens. The plants are still small and innocent-looking. Small flowers, yellow and white, can actually be pretty. So I like to take a moment to enjoy them before I yank them up. Once the soil dries out, they don't yank up easily, but on mornings like this one they do. There is never any shortage of Bidens that will mature, ripen, and scatter their annoying seeds, no matter how many we yank, so we should always uproot Bidens on sight.

This Bidens was found growing in a crack between slabs of limestone, and was yanked out and laid flat on a piece of limestone for the picture. 

Pris at an Impasse

As regular readers remember...for more than two years I slogged out to one computer center or another, every day or two, often spending more time walking to and from the computer than actually using it, to build up a web site.

I wanted this web site to do several things:

(1) Display my writing to other paying publishers besides the one I'd just lost

(2) Advertise local businesses and attractions

(3) Market the books I've been trying to sell, secondhand, in real life, and as many new books by e-friends and deserving writers as possible

(4) Bring in enough money that I could afford to pay other writers who'd been shortchanged by our former publisher

(5) Be a forum where, since I had to be my own primary editor, readers could tell me what they did and didn't like, what I hadn't bothered to look up and should have, what was and wasn't clear, and so on

(6) Give me some reason to get up, get dressed, and go to work in the morning.

Well, it did #6 all right, but it didn't do the other things very well. I was noticing more hate (from people who wouldn't have read my web site even if they knew how to read, which in some cases was doubtful) than appreciation for any benefit I was providing anyone else. I *was* getting masses of free stuff to post, but nearly all of it was the kind of partisan political stuff commercial sponsors hate. I got some sponsorship, but not enough to allow the web site to do what I meant it to do, and some readership, but not enough to convince me that the sponsors were getting fair returns on their investment. Part of the problem was that Blogspot was set up to *prevent* readers from communicating with writers, and part was that public-access computers are set up to prevent Paypal buttons from working--and, if the Gates Foundation is involved, to prevent anyone from having time to do more than read the headlines on their e-mail.

By the time I heard about BubbleWS, I was close to the point of abandoning the Blogspot as a lost cause. There are things I like about the way the site's set up, but there seemed to be no way of making it bring outside money into our community, which is the whole point of our *having* Internet access.

In order to get the online time I need, I'm now commuting thirty miles each way. I don't drive, and there's no bus, and even faithful sponsors are starting to say "Couldn't you do something else, closer to home?"

I could do what I'm doing today, closer to home, if I had a couple of thousand dollars I don't have. I have several relatives who are rich even by U.S. standards, although they think they could and should be much richer; they'd hardly miss the amount of money it would cost to set up the store I've been trying to set up for two or three years, but they would want it to bring in some profit and don't trust sites like Chataway and BubbleWS to accomplish that...after all, if Amazon and Google Ad Sense didn't do that in all this time... I have several faithful sponsors, but they're not rich and some of them are in financial straits right now.

Recently I even heard the words that are guaranteed to raise any writer's blood pressure..."get a job." Writers *have* a job. Writers were *born* with a job. Collecting payment may at times present a problem, but writers are *always* productively employed, unless we have high fevers, or get drunk. And it's a good thing that writing *is* my job, because at this point in my life the chances of my being offered a full-time job by a corporation are approximately equal to the chances of my being taken hostage. In Iran. By supporters of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Who have not heard that he's dead.

I really do understand why, in some countries, widows are still encouraged to climb onto their husbands' funeral pyres.

There's still a public service that our community needs--a computer center where other people can actually *work*--and I still happen to be *the* person in our community who is best qualified to provide that service. A long-retired former teacher said, when we talked about it a few years ago, that my whole career of odd jobs could have been deliberately arranged to make me an ideal bookstore-and-computer-center manager. But the years keep passing by, and there's no connection between point A (recognizing the need) and point B (meeting it in practice).

Most people who don't avoid talking about this subject altogether, by now, like to blame the current presidential administration...as if they thought the next one was likely to improve things. Myself, I tend to blame God: if what I've believed all my life were true, then God, Who has given me this vocation, would have allowed it to become real by now. (And I don't want to hear any of what Rabbi Kushner called "defending God's honor" about this. It does not help anything in any way. I have prayed about this, and I have received a very clear impression, a visual image rather than words, which is unusual for me, of Jesus as a sick patient in a hospital bed, trying without success to press the buzzer for the nurse. Living Christians are the living Body of Christ; the message was that Christ is no longer able to move His Body.)

So that's the state of things as they are. This Bubble was not intended to goad, or taunt, or shame, any other Bubblers who are feeding nine children or living with painful disabilities or whatever. It was intended to goad, taunt, and shame some people in the real world who know very well who they are.


Monday, April 14, 2014

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Yes, this was a quickie post suggested by an ad picture. I hope the sponsors enjoyed it.)

A taco is a sort of one-piece sandwich made by folding a thin flat piece of bread, often corn bread, around vegetables, meat, and sometimes dairy products. Tacos originated in Mexico and are madly popular as snack food in the United States. There are restaurants whose whole theme is "taco bar," but it's also easy to make tacos at home.

Traditional tacos include spicy ground beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and/or sour cream. There are various authentic Mexican recipes for grinding and mixing your own spices, but so far as I know most people in the U.S. buy premixed "taco seasoning" packets.

Tacos sold without special identifying labels can also include chopped onion, cucumber, parsley, cilantro, guacamole, and/or peppers.

Taco restaurants have been selling chicken tacos for a long time. These are made with chunks of spicy grilled chicken, vegetables, and often cheese.

Then there's a new fad for fish tacos, which are, of course, made with chunks of cooked fish and/or shellfish, vegetables, and sometimes cheese or guacamole.

What do you put in your tacos?



(Photo from Jdurham at Morguefile.com)

Paid to Sign Political Petition?

Technically it's illegal to offer people payment to sign a political petition. But here's a twist...what if the payment is just a few "points" toward an Amazon bonus card, not enough for the signer to buy anything, but enough to help people who use paid blog/chat sites to cash in on their content sooner?

To learn more about this offer, click here:

http://voicesforpublictransit.org/ourpetition/default.aspx?recruitment=community&utm_campaign=APTA&utm_source=Resonate&utm_medium=CPM&utm_content=C&utm_term=VPT-Train-Square&DDCA_RegSource=1&DDCA_Medium=CPM&DDCA_CampaignAd=&DDCA_AdUnit=VPT-Train-Square-C3&DDCA_Term=VPT-Train-Square

This web site is actually in favor of more and better public transit, but thinks that, in view of the sorry state of the federal budget and the burden that's likely to be passed down to states and localities, public transportation providers should be trying harder to get funding from the community rather than from government.

I'm filing this one under "Scam" because, although it may offer legitimate Amazon points payment and some judges might pronounce it legal, I think it needs ethical investigation. At least, if this is ruled legal, paid blog/chat sites should start bustin' out all over with petitions representing other points of view...such as petitions to reduce federal spending, even on things everybody likes.

A Wonderful, Terrible Week, with Siamese Kittens

(Reclaimed from Bubblews...and I found a copy of one of the kitten pictures, although they were snapped two weeks after this "Bubble" originally appeared, 4.14.14.)






Where have I been last week? I was having a wonderful time enjoying the perfect weather, the pretty flowers, the new baby kittens. No, I was having a terrible time, taking everything my Significant Other said the wrong way, feeling sick, not making any money. Pick the description you prefer. Both are true...and that's why I don't get into Positive Thinking: both descriptions are equally true.

My daffodils didn't do too well this year. What I had the camera-phone handy in time to snap, last week, is a feral flower, coming up from a bulb someone must have planted many years ago. Perfect specimen though. 



What I've been trying to snap all week, and failed to, are the kittens. Their father was Siamese, and some of them have classic Siamese coloring. All have some white in their coats. But since kittens need to spend their first month or two in a dimly lighted place so their night vision can develop properly, and the camera-phone has no flash, all I get when I aim the camera at the kittens is black. Shining a light on them yields the image of a patch of light in a square of black.

Anyway: Daytime highs in the sixties (Fahrenheit), occasionally reaching 20 degrees Celsius. Overnight lows in the forties (Fahrenheit, single digits Celsius). Bright blue sky. Occasional harmless fluffy little clouds. Very few insects. No poison ivy. Perfect weather for gardening and spring cleaning, and I didn't want to miss it...and I didn't miss it. But I was handicapped in doing it by being sick.

I'm gluten-intolerant; if I inadvertently eat wheat I lose muscle strength and energy, lose immunity if any infection is going around, have allergies, have indigestion, lose my baseline cheerful temperament, and generally become sleepy and sneezy and dopey (in the sense of bleary-eyed and slow-witted) and grumpy and bashful (who wants to be seen when they feel like this?) and probably like a few more dwarfs Walt Disney didn't bother naming, but definitely not Happy. My reaction to wheat involves less fever, but more acute discomfort, than my usual reaction to flu.

Last week I was especially unhappy because I had not inadvertently eaten wheat, and had these symptoms for a day or two, as has happened so many times before. What I'd eaten, throughout the week, that would have been causing these systems to keep recurring, was store-brand brown rice from Wal-Mart. Rice is supposed to be safe for gluten-intolerant people, but the "Wheat Belly" web site warned us a few years ago that experiments in bioengineering rice to make it more like wheat are under way...and I haaate that apparently the kind of rice that's easiest for me to buy and cook has been bioengineered into something I can't eat if I want to live. 

Of course I had a few other things to be unhappy about. Not earning money...and I really needed to earn some serious money in real life, because my electricity's due to be cut off in the morning. Also a friend's teenager was in the hospital. 

So, what's a blogger to do? Which emotional color should we paint last week? I say none. Fix facts first: feelings follow.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Does Muscle Size Matter?



(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Technically I suppose we shouldn't discuss arm and shoulder muscles here, since they are body parts, but I doubt that anybody will complain...)



Do bulky muscles (like the arm muscles displayed here, contributed by the user known as Click at Morguefile.com) really matter? 

Some readers might prefer to consider this question from a feminist point of view: Are men's heavier muscles all that much stronger than women's lighter ones? 

Older women readers may remember a time when some of us, and our elders, actually worried that exercise might cause us to grow arms like that of the guy shown above. That question has now been thoroughly explored. Regular and intense exercise will give us well defined muscles, like the ones of which Mrs. Obama is justifiably proud, but they'll still be the small, thin, wiry sort of muscles. 

Other readers might consider the question from the point of view of men's health: Given that efforts to "bulk up" certainly cost some young men a lot of money, may be harmful to their long-term health, and may or may not impress anybody, should men try to grow bigger muscles? Or should they just focus on building strength and coordination?

I'm biased, because my father was a tall, broad-shouldered, yet wiry polio survivor who exercised for strength, and one of his cousins was "Big Ed," even taller, broader-shouldered, naturally beefy, and less obsessed with building and maintaining strength...and Dad could work Big Ed into the ground any day. 

Then for those who want to be totally frivolous about the matter, there's the guy-watching point of view: Do you consistently prefer beefy guys, or wiry guys? Quarterbacks, or tackles? Richard Petty, or Dale Earnhardt? 

I've always preferred the wiry body type. I did date one beefy guy, in my twenties. His idea, not mine, and the relationship didn't work out. Since then I've probably alienated other muscle-bound men by being seen with slim ones.

Some women do prefer thicker body shapes, I'm told. Cool. The species thrives on biodiversity.

Ziggy's Advice to Bloggers

(So far as I know, Tom Wilson's "Ziggy" cartoons have never been animated, but they deserve to be.) 

A recent Ziggy cartoon contained a motto some bloggers need to memorize: “Lists of TV shows you watch don’t make for the most exciting reading in the world.”

Then again, when your goal is to post five things before the computer center closes, while doing other things with the computer, and you've posted only five...you start to consider: How on earth did that lame post about odd-shaped feet become one of my "top" posts? Why only one of the White House Names series, and why was that the one with the "commercial" for Amazon? Sponsors read these things. Sponsors are excited by mentions of their products.

Right. TV shows I've watched lately...were selected by the residents of that trailer house where I've been demonstrating that my roach control article is true. And they are, in order of the amount of time I've spent watching each one in the past six months or so:

1. Family Feud

2. The Chase

3. Minute to Win It

4. Gilligan's Island

5. Weather Channel

There.

Sick Building Update

(Reclaimed from Bubblews)

I know I've posted something on this topic at Bubblews before: Some buildings are sick. Some buildings make people sick. Some translations of the Bible, trying to express the concept of "something that needs to be quarantined because it will make people seriously ill," describe these houses as "leprous," while describing what's actually in the houses as fungi in the genera Cladosporium and Fusarium--green and reddish mold. Those lucky ancient Hebrews must have suffered terribly from exposure to out-of-control household mold, but they never had to contend with the modern-day pesticides that induce more serious allergy and flu-type symptoms in susceptible individuals, faster. 

Is this a sponsor-friendly topic? Who knows, who cares, I want to be honest. The corporations that make these toxic chemicals also make other chemical products that aren't intended to kill smaller animals and that I've *not* seen do any great harm to humans and domestic animals. For example, in the U.S., I'd like to urge everybody to stop buying "Raid" (the insecticide) and buy "Off!" (the insect repellent, which also comes in an aerosol can that produces an oily vapor you could use to kill insects if you really wanted to, and which doesn't make me ill). The cats don't like the smell of "Off!" but I've never had a healthy cat collapse and die just after "Off!" has been sprayed.

Anyway, the update: Last week, when I didn't have a way to get online and didn't want to be inside a computer center anyway, I went into a cute little store down by the Clinch River.

It happens that a car pool buddy (for that day) had gone into that building with me, years ago, when it was up for sale. The owner had proudly told us he'd just sprayed poison on the weeds in the side yard that day. That was the last thing I heard before I started sneezing and couldn't stop. I grabbed a handful of napkins and ran outside, holding them over my face, and shut myself inside the car. The "hay fever" symptoms became less disabling right away. They lasted for another two hours. Car pool buddy had no explanation to offer the owner about why I'd rushed out, but decided not to buy the building.

So now, seeing that the building was finally open under new ownership, car pool buddy wondered who'd bought it and how they were liking it. So we went back into the building. Nobody had sprayed any poisons lately. However, the ground floor of the building was still just ten feet above the river, and we've had some very wet summers since then. The building smelled musty. I walked slowly down one aisle, looking at merchandise. By the end of the aisle I didn't notice the odor any more...because my sinuses had started to clog. I walked back up the next aisle, and by the time I got there I was trying not to sneeze. Car pool buddy had been talking to the new proprietor, who had released as much information as he wanted to and was now trying to sell my car pool buddy some overpriced object, so car pool buddy must have been glad to look at me and say something about "take her to the doctor." We got out fast, and since this was apparently a fungus allergy reaction rather than a pesticide reaction, I was breathing normally, three miles down the road.

And there, in the interest of science, is the difference between the way I react to mold and the way I react to toxic chemicals. As a child I had one allergy reaction or another, constantly; as an adult I rarely have allergy reactions. My whole family was seriously confused, at times, wondering what I was allergic to...because apparently I have no pollen allergies whatsoever and have very little reaction even to poison ivy. But I'm extremely allergic to some "pesticides."

Let's Invent a Superstition!

In the spirit of the Washington City Paper's "Conspiracy Theory" feature (mentioned this morning at Chataway), and further inspired by one of &realityspeaks 's top posts...I would like to invent a new superstition. I think this one can be useful to all of us Bubblers because, whether there's anything to it or not, it will definitely improve the Bubbling experience.

Here's the superstition: "When the Internet keeps running slowly and/or going down, and/or the site you are using or visiting does, finding something worthwhile to do at the computer center will signal the Cybergremlins that they can't get to you, and motivate them to leave you alone."

Proof? I waited for a rainy day to come to the computer center. (When I got out of the car, the rain stopped. Now it's sunny and warm outside with a delectable cool breeze, and I wish I were at home.) Did e-mail. Did Chataway, during which the Internet blinked out for two minutes. Opened Bubblews...and the Internet immediately went down. The breeze was blowing, the air was tempting, and there I was, stuck at the computer center until 8 p.m. unless I felt inclined to walk thirty miles. So after refreshing the screen ten or fifteen times, but before saying unprintable words out loud, I remembered that I'm in a college library. And hadn't I seen Margaret Atwood's Maddadam in here? I walked over to the Literature shelf and found The Year of the Flood. Turned away from the computer, set the book on a table, took out some food, started eating and reading. The Internet immediately came back up and behaved itself and I've been reading and reacting to e-friends' Bubblews ever since.

Now I wonder if they'll let me take The Year of the Flood home? Cybergremlins? What's that?