Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Big Brother Is Watching You, Too

Years ago, Gregory Rawlins predicted that the real problem with the Internet would be not so much that Big Brother (the government) would want to watch everything everybody did, but all the pesky "Little Brothers" (the advertisers) would want to interrupt everything everybody did with incessant clamoring for money and attention. His prediction has certainly come true. However, there are those in the U.S. government who want to know everything about everybody too. Here's a link:

Of course, their goal is just to keep everybody safe by intercepting crime. Oh, right. Sure it is. They're not interested in power...even the inconsequential, almost endearing sort of power the school nerd used to get by tapping into the school computer to find your phone number so he could call you. Just to chat. When he needed conversation to keep him awake. While he was working his way through college. As a nightwatchman.

Actually, I'm sort of grateful now that I was on chatting terms with the school nerd, so I was warned about this kind of thing so far in advance of so many people. I know: Nobody with whom you wouldn't want to chat, even in the middle of the night, should have your phone number. You shouldn't be photographed--much less have your picture in newspapers or on the Internet. If someone calls out what sounds like your name in a public place, even if you recognize the person, you should never acknowledge that it was your name or that you know people who blurt out your name in a public place.

I'm not paranoid; I've just spent a lot of time in Washington. Well, I also happen to be marked. I happen to have (a) one of the longest pedigrees in North America, and that's only the White ancestors; and also (b) a basic-human-type face, dark wavy hair and sort of light olive skin, that could be found on any continent and reminds a lot of foreigners of someone back home...including people from all the countries where we've been at war lately. (By "lately" I mean "since Vietnam.") My identity is not valuable to a home-grown credit card thief, since I don't do credit and therefore have a credit score no thief would want. My identity is valuable to illegal aliens and terrorists.

And it's been stolen by one illegal alien, already. And although she (a) was at least thirty years older than I am, depending on which of her passports is accurate, and (b) was a French West Indian with a heavy accent, and (c) had a complexion described on her passports as "Negro (dark)," and (d) was five inches taller than I am in flat shoes, and (e) usually wore high heels, which I don't wear, employees of our federal government accepted the claim that she was I. And although her motive for stealing my identity was just to harass me, personally, in an estate case, she was a habitual evildoer who had been involved in half a dozen different kinds of fraud and what's been called the female form of serial murder, before and after divorce made her an illegal alien. (She was one of those private nurses whose patients all willed her substantial shares of their estate shortly before they died; two of them were young.)

Could bribery and blackmail have been involved in convincing U.S. government workers that this illegal alien was I, or was even anyone I wanted to know? Could the Pope be a Catholic? And could bribery and blackmail be used to give evildoers access to everything they'd need to steal your identity for their own evil purposes? Could a bear squat in the woods?!

So I know these things. I know that, whatever they may say back home, in Washington everybody knows that your identity is much more valuable, much more enticing to thieves, than your computer, your car, or your TV set. I suppose it's possible that some people (e.g., conceivably, Alan Greenspan or John McCain), some elderly or half-grown idealist types, might imagine that storing people's identity information on a computer could be done in a way that would not put those people at risk. I don't actually believe that this is possible, but I'll grant that they might. Maybe. If their intelligence, which in the cases of Greenspan and McCain is formidable, is very limited when it comes to computer technology and computer security. But even if they have fallen for some computer security vendor's claims about his product, you shouldn't.

Nobody can actually protect you by having any confidential information about you. Maybe their intentions are good--there's no need to argue about that. Maybe they honestly think they have the ability to use your confidential information for only good purposes. But they're wrong.

Right to Work Newsletter

It's still a work in progress--you can tell a free e-magazine is still in progress when the page won't let you create an account!--but here's the National Right to Work Newsletter, online:

Adopt a Black Dog

Seems animal shelters have as much trouble placing black dogs as they do black cats. There's actually a national "Black Cat Awareness Day" (observed on the twenty-first of October). Do we need a "Black Dog Awareness Day" too?

As noted earlier in this blog, my online identity is a black cat (and animal shelters are welcome to name animals, especially black ones with amber eyes, either "Priscilla" or "King" depending on gender), because the whole Cat Sanctuary is a memorial to a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime pet who was a black cat. She was named "Magic" because it's practically a generic name for any black animal. She lived up to the name, though; her ability to communicate and make friends across species barriers, even making pets of possums, really was uncanny. I've always been glad that this cat was given to me by a friend. What a loss it would have been if she'd been overlooked in a shelter just because she looked so ordinary.

My recommendations: (1) Don't put animals in shelters.

(2) If you're going to adopt a shelter pet, make a conscious choice to look for the black ones. If you want a quiet, independent pet, look for the ones who fade into the shadows at the back of the cage. If you don't mind living with an animal who has a dominant personality, pay attention to the ones who call out or reach out to demand that you release them from the cage.

Can the U.S. Army Come After You?

The National Defense Authorization Act, currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, is very far-reaching. Some say that it would authorize the mobilization of our armed forces to arrest and detain pretty well anybody...say, anybody who's "racist" (why not add "sexist"?) enough to observe that our President is operating in either ignorance or defiance of our Constitution, and needs to be reined in, if not impeached. (Some of my e-friends are starting to call for impeachment. I'd actually prefer, if only for the record, to see President Obama finish his term.)

Senator McCain is supporting the N.D.A.A., and unfortunately some of my real-world friends and relatives would probably agree with him--at first blink. If we can locate an Al-Qaeda goon, why not go after him with everything we've got. Let the troops clobber him on our behalf. And I will admit that this line of thinking makes sense--at first blink.

Then you start to think about it in its historical context, or at least I do, and I'm asking you to do. I'm asking you to remember the Waco disaster of 1993, in which an obnoxious but non-criminal U.S. citizen was presumed guilty of the criminal charges he himself had filed against other people years earlier. If you've not already read David Kopel's No More Wacos, read it now; it discusses more than two dozen situations in which employees of our federal government abused their power to attack people against whom they harbored some sort of grudge or prejudice. Do we really want to expand the power of federal agents to attack anyone without due process of law?

After the previous post bashed Ann Coulter's tactless, clumsy bash at Senator McCain, I want to say, in this one, that I think I understand what had reduced her to such incoherent rage. Senator McCain, who is an honorable man, appears to think that everybody in our government is as honorable as he...that the wording of the N.D.A.A. clearly specifies that only known Al-Qaeda goons will ever be targeted by the proposed expansion of government powers the N.D.A.A. would make. Well, I'm not here to spew insults at those of the older generation who have done most to earn my respect, so let me put it this way. "A person who...substantially supported...forces...engaged in hostilities" does not mean "a person who has funded or participated in a bombing"; it could be interpreted as referring to any dissenter. Any Senator who failed to notice that possible interpretation was clearly distracted while reading the bill, and should call for a week of further consideration before voting.

Readers, kindly take advantage of the free opportunity to read the controversial section of the N.D.A.A. at See it for yourselves, then call your elected officials.

Recommended Website: Downsize D.C.

I'm delighted to learn that presidential candidate Harry Browne has left us a web site. If you're interested in civil liberties, privacy rights, smaller government, lower taxes, and preserving the U.S. Constitution, you may want to visit this site:

I recommend reading "Our Agenda," "Tell Congress What to Do," and "Our Heresies" (in that order) before adding your words to the petitions online at this site. (It's hard to pick one or two, but you can always come back next week; masses of e-mails from one person at one time can be mistaken for spam.) You'll be asked for contact information; since you may be using this information to contact local government I recommend using your real zip code and street or building name, but not using a real house or apartment number. We should never, never, never post our complete address or live phone number, or those of any other living individual, on the Internet.

Ann Coulter Demands Censorship

Although this blog is generally opposed to censorship, some things really don't need to be said on the radio.

Some words really do belong only in discussions of why ignorant, lazy-minded, and mean-spirited people ever started using them in the first place.

In this video (I didn't watch it myself, but if you want to hear the words they're on it) Ann Coulter first seems to be heard as comparing John McCain to a disposable personal hygiene product that polite people rarely mention at all, especially not in the context of a war hero who is old enough to be their father. Then s/he denies having called him that and claims that what s/he said was a nonsense word that contains an embedded vulgarity.

Hello? Is this the same TV character whose big break involved denouncing the vulgarity of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky? Where is the mature, educated, civilized explanation of exactly what Senator McCain did that merits criticism from the younger generation? Where is the difference between this performance and one Roseanne Barr might have done...after Prozac?

Makes me so glad I so seldom watch TV.

Coulter e-mailed The Blaze a challenge: "Perhaps you could take a poll for a better a one-word description for: a grandstanding narcissist who insults conservatives in order to be called ‘brave’ by the mainstream media."

Hmm...what about "Coulter"?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Love Can Build a Bridge

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Love Can Build a Bridge

Author: Naomi Judd

Author's web page:

Date: 1993

Publisher: Fawcett Crest / Ballantine

ISBN: 0-449-22274-8

Length: 530 pages of text

Illustrations: 30 pages of black and white photos

Quote: "I grew up in the northeast corner of the Bluegrass State along the Ohio - West Virginia border, just a stone's throw from the coal mining towns of West Virginia, near the fertile horse country of central Kentucky in the lush Ohio Valley..."

If you want to know how wide the gap between the socioeconomic classes in the United States is, read Love Can Build a Bridge in the same year you read Loretta Lynn's Coal Miner's Daughter. The two women were born, and lived, in almost the same places at almost the same time, and they seem to be writing about life on two different planets.

Both of them, being from eastern Kentucky, inevitably describe themselves as "Appalachian." Kentucky does not have a town called Appalachia, so Kentuckians can get away with this carelessness. Let's just say that Naomi Judd's style and memories are much more like the women of that age I know in the Appalachian Mountains than Loretta Lynn's are. I'm not proud of it, but I had to get close to the age Naomi Judd was when she wrote Love Can Build a Bridge before I exposed myself to any awareness that anything in Coal Miner's Daughter could possibly have been true.

In this book, Naomi Judd presents herself as a believable (or do I mean "middle-class"?) mountain woman. She visited nineteenth-century houses that had not been "modernized" by 1950, and was able to appreciate the old houses and the people who lived in them while still feeling a need to go back to her own house, with the running water and all, to feel "clean." She "had to" marry young, but with a very clear sense that she had fallen below the community standard, not that being a pregnant teenaged bride was normal. Her premature marriage didn't last, but she describes herself as bored and discontented rather than abused. She went to college, if only after her divorce, and never tried to fake illiteracy on stage. In fact, she mentions the way several books and medical studies influenced her life. She loves her home more because she's travelled. And although she's aware that coal mines, and welfare cheating, and moonshine liquor, and other components of the stereotype Loretta Lynn exploited, existed in Kentucky she doesn't mention any personal knowledge of or interest in those things.

She's not averse to cliches, and apparently no editor ever suggested to her that some readers might have preferred "Ashland, Kentucky" to the 67 words of what sound like a realtor's brochure quoted above. But this is authentic. Country music fans have no problem with cliches as long as there is truth in them.

Real country music fans were, of course, familiar with the story before Love Can Build a Bridge came out. Single mother sings duets with her daughter the singer; thanks to luck, hard work, and talent, they achieve spectacular success; then mother's health fails. The medical details of Naomi Judd's liver disease, including the role elective surgery may have played in it, are discussed at length, with a clear intention to help others by sharing information. Apart from these gross-outs, it's a nice clean story. Women can leave it on the coffee table without worrying that they'd be embarrassed if their children or grandchildren read it.

Confessions in this book lean toward the "what our original names were and how we chose our stage names" variety. Celebrity gossip is limited to the "We went onstage just after them, so we talked to them backstage and thought they were nice" sort of thing. There's a great deal of music trivia, memories of when The Judds first sang a song and when it became a bestseller. There are quotes from some of Naomi Judd's original lyrics--not complete lyrics--and discussions of when and why she wrote them. There are brief discussions of her religious beliefs; I find these sections unobtrusive and non-judgmental, but I'm a Protestant too. There's not much sex, not much about drugs, and only one anecdote about violent insanity.

There is plenty of place nostalgia, too. I can't say that when I picked up this book I'd been looking for reminiscences about radio station KNEW, or Berea College, or any number of other places where both Naomi Judd and I have been, but I admit to being the sort of reader who always likes to read other people's memories of places where I've been.

And there's the mother-daughter business. I don't know whether the heavily edited, one-sided view of The Judds' relationship given in this book will help any readers resolve ongoing parent-child issues, but my guess would be that reading about this stage mother and diva daughter should help most women appreciate the mothers and daughters they have.
How will reading this book, and/or other books by Naomi Judd, affect your experience of viewing The Judds' reality TV show? I don't watch much TV, so I have no idea.
Anyway, Naomi Judd is definitely a living author, so if you click here to buy (any of her) book(s) from me, I'll send her a 10% royalty. ($10-15, depending on what's available at Amazon at the time, includes shipping.) If anybody out there has Microsoft Outlook, please send her a link to this page.

Book Review: Dare to Be Dull

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Dare to Be Dull

Author: Joseph L. Troise

Another funny book by this author:

Date: 1983

Publisher: Bantam

ISBN: 0-553-34046-8

Length: 100 pages

Illustrations: black and white photos by Ben Asen; drawings by Phil Frank and Whitney Cookman

Quote: "It is the inalienable right of all people to be Out of It and Proud of It!"

Back when was set up to encourage writers to steer readers to one another, I referred to Silver Spring, Maryland (still the home of Carol Bengle Gilbert) as a "land of dullness." This is the book about the very special kind of dullness I had in mind...

After Lisa Birnbach sold millions of copies of The Official Preppy Handbook, style guides became a recognized genre of American humor. If you liked The Official Preppy Handbook, publishers thought, you might also like Cathy Crimmins' Y.A.P., Jodie Posserello's Totally Awesome Val Guide, Patty Bell's Official Silicon Valley Guy Handbook, The Official I Hate Preppies Handbook, and many many more. The ratio of witty "official style guides" to stores that successfully advertised a distinctive style of clothes came close to one-to-one.

And, with the "conservative revival" of the early 1980s, there was a revival of interest in styles that had been declared, well, dull in the 1970s. Joseph Troise wrote for people who weren't trying to climb career ladders, who had already settled for "dull professions" like dentistry or accounting or "dull occupations" like bus driving, who were too old to be or hate preppies, and who were unenthusiastic about 1970s displays of hipness. He invited this audience to dust off their bowling balls, golf clubs, Scrabble boards, crossword puzzles, and Don Ho records, in preference to neckchains, BMWs, designer luggage, and "tight overpriced clothes with other people's names on them."

If not precisely a fashion, this was indeed a style that existed in the 1980s. Still does, to some degree. Troise envisioned Dullness being passed down even to the grandchildren of those who were willing to enjoy it in the 1980s: "Even ten-year-old children can embrace computers and stamp collecting." Right. If you were ten, or twenty, in 1983 and you've embraced computers, this book has at least a nostalgia trip to offer you.

It was and still is easier to achieve Dullness, as defined in this book, if you live one or more full days' drive away from an ocean. Washington, D.C., is a minor anomaly. Federal offices recruit from landlocked areas, so the Certified Dull Person style flourishes in Washington.

Certified Dull Person style must be distinguished from lack of talent or lack of energy. Certified Dull Persons can have interesting, prestigious, and well paid jobs; Troise lists most government careers, anything involving a computer, law, management, teaching, banking, and scientific research as being equally Dull Occupations with baggage handling and factory labor. One has to get to know a Dull Person well to find out what the person does care passionately about. The point of Dull style is that what one cares about is not fashionable clothes and trendy entertainment.

Some specific Dull styles come and go, but the basic idea of Dullness as a style probably originated in the Neanderthal valley, when a couple of troglodytes muttered to each other that they didn't see any point in painting animals all over their cave...and the style has ignored, defied, and sometimes started fashions ever since.

You're on the way to Certified Dullness if you'd rather eat a tuna salad sandwich or a pizza than the latest expensive fad food at an overpriced restaurant, if you'd rather play ping-pong at home than pay dues and drive out to the tennis club, and if you prefer reruns of classic TV shows to artsy film festivals.

So go ahead and Dare to Be Dull whenever you feel like it. You've already racked up a few Dull points by reading this on a computer, so why not add some more by discovering that oatmeal tastes pretty good, coffee provides as much of a buzz as a healthy person could want, and back-yard games or gardening offer you more actual aerobic benefits than that gym membership or exercise machine you never used.

Dare to Be Dull is recommended to any readers who (a) have friends who urge them to be trendy, and/or (b) collect style guides.
According to the Andrews-McMeel web page above, collaborating artist Phil Frank is no longer a living writer, but Joseph L. Troise is still alive and retired, and qualifies for a 10% royalty when you click here to buy the book ($10 includes shipping).

Book Review: Loving God with All Your Mind

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Loving God with All Your Mind (This link goes to a page that announces an "Updated & Expanded" edition. What I've reviewed here was the original paperback edition. I look forward to updates about the updated book.)

Author: Elizabeth George

Author's web page:

Date: 1994

Publisher: Harvest House

ISBN: 1-56507-861-6

Length: 248 pages including study guide and endnotes

Quote: "God uses these Scriptures to give me hope and help me overcome negative emotions."

Well, I suppose that's where she was...I have to admit that this book disappointed me. I was hoping for something more like The Mind of the Maker. Dorothy Sayers really did love God with all her brilliant, creative, logical, witty, and well-informed mind--the sort of mind with which more women need to identify.

Elizabeth George presents her mind, in his book, as able to hope only for relief from her neuroses. Her memory and imagination only ever trigger bad moods, so she feels a need to limit her awareness to the present moment only. She doesn't believe she can make any beneficial changes in her life; she only lets herself try to "accept the unacceptable" and seem content while every neuron in her body is screaming that she's not content. If The Stepford Wives were real, Elizabeth George leads us to believe, she'd want to move to Stepford.

I wouldn't recommend this book to most people...but before burning it, I found myself remembering some of the actors and musicians I used to know, coming down from acid trips--which, we now know, is physically similar to withdrawal from prescription antidepressants. Some of them could have used this book. Temporarily. So it's not that the book is bad or useless; it's just a book about living at a level of consciousness most of us don't want or have to live at.

The "tiny minority audience" needs to be stressed because too many people (including women) assume that anything that's by or about some Christian women ought to interest all Christian women, and most of us aren't where Elizabeth George seems to be. Some of us may never get there. Some of us can imagine this state of mind only by analogy with something that comes along relatively late in our lives.

For example: When I started spending enough time online to "meet" e-friends, I'd sprained an ankle--mildly--and, it turned out, also strained some muscles deep in the hip and thigh, that took longer to heal. After the ankle seemed healed, there was a time when the sensations in the affected foot didn't make sense. It would feel as if I were wearing shoes that were too tight, and I wasn't wearing shoes. It would feel as if I'd stepped into a snowdrift, and it was July and I was sitting in a house in Tennessee where the thermostat was set to a nice Green 80 degrees. Those hip and thigh muscles were pinching the nerve, causing the nerve to "tell" me all kinds of things that had nothing to do with reality. I had to ignore what that nerve was telling me for a few months.

That's as close as I've ever come to the state of mind in which it might be useful to try to ignore all of one's own actual thoughts, feelings, and memories and just try to stumble through life behind that creepy Stepford Wife look and act. Probably it's as close as most of the people who read this review have come to that state of mind. Yet we've been told, often by people who claim to be Christians, that that's where all of our minds are and how we should be living, all the time. I suspect that more of us need to be paying more, not less, attention to our own consciousness and intuition and feelings.

Even people who really do have mood disorders need to pay attention to what they're feeling, when, and why, rather than trying to discount it and tune it out as "negative emotions." For anyone who is sane enough to deal with the reality that unpleasant moods happen, it's much more helpful to pay attention to our unpleasant feelings, to understand what's causing them and solve the real problem...whether the real problem is tight shoes, a pinched nerve, food allergies, lack of creative solitude, or even one of the diseases that really do cause depressed or hostile moods as a symptom. After all, medicating depressed moods won't make cancer go away, but in some cases curing the cancer may make both the depressed moods and the life-threatening disease go away.

If something, like having used various street or prescription drugs, is interfering with the normal use of your mind, then tuning out your real feelings and pasting on a smiley face might help you. You can't trust your feelings to tell you what else needs to be changed. You just have to get through the days until the really crazy mood swings have passed.

Right. Fair enough. This is the state of mind in which many people come to church looking for help; this is the kind of advice they need. But church people need to be very, very, very careful about recommending this book to anybody who hasn't told them she's been on drugs, or in a hospital, within the past year. This is so not the way the entire group "Christian women" need to be living or thinking.
If you know one of the minority who can use this book, click here to buy it secondhand at a price ($10 includes shipping) that includes a 10% royalty payment to Elizabeth George.

In a True Human Being Liberalism and Conservatism Must Combine

The title of this article is a mangled quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. (He said "a true man.") The purpose of this article is to explain how it's possible to combine liberal and conservative habits of thought, regardless of your political affiliation.

In an article that was generally unfavorable to Obamacare, I identified myself as a liberal. This seemed to surprise, and perhaps alienate, some e-friends. I worry that it's alienated some lurking local readers, who may or may not have guessed my real identity, but... "A liberal is writing about Gate City, Virginia? Does this writer even know that this is Kilgore country?! I suppose she's in favor of abortion and Christian-phobia and hiring by quotas..."

In the same article, I also identified myself as having a conservative temperament. This probably surprised and alienated other e-friends, including any lurking readers I may still have in Washington. "Is this writer saying there's a genetic reason why people wanted segregation, or escalation in Vietnam, or unfiltered exhaust pipes? Would that mean brain damage...?"

Neither, thank goodness.

What I've said elsewhere on AC, and in real life, is that the words "liberal" and "conservative" are not the names of political parties in the United States. They describe general patterns of thought and behavior. Most of us can be described as doing some things liberally and other things conservatively.

"Liberal" is the English form of the Latin word liberalis, which derived from liber, free, with particular reference to liberi, people who had been enslaved but had recovered their freedom. Describing something as "liberal" is describing it as typical of free citizens. "Liberal arts" were studies of subjects not directly connected to a job, which typically included literature, music, history, and philosophy. Freedmen were characterized as unlikely to have run up a lot of debts or incurred a lot of social obligations, so they were stereotyped as likely to spend money "liberally," generously, sometimes on things they didn't really need just to build good will.

When democratic ideals came up for discussion in post-Renaissance Europe, they were considered "liberal." They were studied at universities that taught the "liberal art" of history, where some people idealized the legendary democracies of ancient Greece and Rome. The idea of giving more freedom or power to the people, even the really radical idea of all people having equal civil rights, came to be considered "liberal."

This did not, of course, mean Communist rather than Fascist; it meant Whig rather than Tory. The original English liberal writers definitely understood freedom to include the right to own private property. In fact, they wanted to give individuals more power to make decisions about the use of their enclose private farms on former "common fields," and sell houses that had previously been "entailed" so that they belonged to families rather than individuals, and pay fewer taxes in aid of what was claimed to be the public good. It's been said, although I've not found verification of it, that a draft of our Declaration of Independence affirmed people's rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of wealth."

Hence every document I've seen that was supported by the Cato Institute has mentioned that "classical liberalism" might, today, be identified with the twentieth century's far right wing.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, liberal ideas began to be contrasted with conservative ideas. "Conservative" derives from the Latin word conservare, which means to preserve things in (or close to) their original condition. At this period, conservative politics were Royalist.

"Revolutionary" ideas at this period were not Socialist or Communist, but anarchist. Jacobinism seems more like a mood swing than like a serious school of thought. The French Jacobins didn't seem to care that they were using terrorism to set up tyrants, or that the new tyranny might be worse than the old kind; they just wanted to get rid of the tyrants they'd had. They might have scorned the Bolsheviks, or Mao's Red Army, or Castro's guerrillas, or the Students for a Democratic Society, or the Taliban, but the biochemistry in all these guys' troubled brains was probably similar. They were reacting to anger more than thinking through an idea.

The idea of socialism originated in post-revolutionary France, apparently as a reaction to the horrors of revolution. The first writers who used this term were the symbiotic team of Auguste Comte and Henri de Saint-Simon, who proposed applying a structure like that of the Catholic Church to a non-theistic humanist society.

Since liberals were the ones who had proposed that a non-aristocrat like Comte might have written something worth reading, and the liberal writer John Stuart Mill sponsored the publication of some of Comte's books in English, there was some limited basis for blaming "liberalism" for tolerating socialism. However, nineteenth-century liberalism was more often blamed for supporting unrestrained capitalism and even Social Darwinism... "ism's" have always tended to get mixed up.

"Liberal," "left-wing," and "socialist" continued to be words used to mean different things until the mid-twentieth century. Confusion could be blamed on the Cold War; if the left wing consisted of people who advocated varying degrees of compromise with the ideas of our Soviet enemies, and a liberal view (of political economics) was the view that left-wingers deserved the right to free speech and fair hearing, then to the extreme right wing "liberals" were clearly somewhere on the least relative to themselves.

There were, however, contexts in which "liberal" and "conservative" had nothing to do with political economics. For example, in the Protestant churches of the late twentieth century, "liberals" were the ones who thought Christians did not need to define themselves by conforming to a long, rigid list of rules, and "conservatives" were the ones who found some meaning or benefit in the rules and thought their churches should keep them.

In the context of the civil rights movement and desegregation, "liberals" were the ones who thought integrating public facilities sounded sensible and cost-effective, as opposed to "radicals" who wanted integration to be the first step toward all-out revolution.

In the context of charitable missions and nonprofit organizations, "liberal" was the kind of support everyone, including right-wing politicians and Moral Majority preachers, wanted to have.

Hillary Rodham Clinton took an interesting long step backward in identifying herself as a "Progressive." Progress is another word that can refer to any number of different things, but Mrs. Clinton was specifically identifying herself with the "Progressive" (left-wing) political thought of a hundred years ago. Those who felt that sufficiently liberal compromises had been made with this movement by 1945 may well ask whether our Secretary of State is more concerned about preserving the system the United States had when she was born (a truly conservative idea), or "progressing" toward the kind of totalitarian socialist government that the original Progressives so admired in Russia.

"Liberal" is still a good word when it's used to describe education, support for good causes, attitudes toward people different from ourselves, or the idea that everyone should have an equal right to learn, speak, write, and be read or heard. However, when Hillary Rodham Clinton has declared that "liberal" in the sense of "willing to grant the right to be heard even to Socialists, as long as they're non-violent" is no longer a useful word or category, I think we can say that this use of "liberal" has been archived in the history of the past century.

Book Review: Booknotes

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Booknotes

Author: 215 writers respond to interviews by Brian Lamb

Date: 1997

Publisher: Times Books / Random House

ISBN: 0-8129-3029-0

Length: 397 pages of text plus index, appendix, and two photo inserts

Quote: "Although this is a book about writing, there wasn't a lot of writing to be done [by Brian Lamb]...We have omitted my questions and edited the interviews for length and clarity."

The difference between this book and other books about twentieth-century books and writers is that Lamb interviewed these authors on C-SPAN, the cable TV channel that exists mostly to broadcast speeches made in Congress. Naturally, that meant he selected a special kind of authors. They all got onto C-SPAN by writing serious books about history and government. Most of them were recognized as having seniority and expertise in Washington, where many of them lived and worked. Some of them aren't pompous people and have written fiction or comedy, but nobody goes on C-SPAN to talk about fiction or comedy. If you are or want to be an historian, a government official, or a diplomat, then reading these people's serious books is your job and reading their C-SPAN chat is your entertainment. If you enjoy browsing at Kramerbooks, you'll love Booknotes.

Otherwise, you might find Booknotes on the heavy side. Some of the authors tell some funny or emotional stories, but this book shows all of them, even Bill Buckley and Bob Tyrrell, acting serious and formal enough (William F. Buckley Jr. and R. Emmitt Tyrrell) to fit into a crowd that included the sitting President and assorted visiting heads of state.

The names really say it all. The "storytellers" in this book are historians and biographers. The "public figures" are not actors or athletes; mostly they're heads of state, although two activists, Betty Friedan and Melba Patillo Beals, are included. If you can imagine cozy chats with Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev (and translator), Norman Schwartzkopf, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Al Gore, that's the kind of "public figures" included in this book.

Some of them do get a bit chummy. Daniel Boorstin, one of whose early books I reviewed on Yahoo, spends half of his page space in Booknotes expressing appreciation of his wife. In fact, several of the older writers mention the benefit of a successful marriage. Why is this important rather than mundane? Because American writers who are currently over forty were told, when we were young, that according to Freud we had to choose between having "creative" satisfaction or sexual satisfaction, that one channel for our energy was going to block the other...and we're still rejoicing in the news that Freud was wrong. You can have both literary success and a successful family, in the same lifetime. The two things conflict only while the babies are new.

Some of the authors talk about each other. Christopher Hitchens spends a good deal of his space venting his envy of P.J. O'Rourke (whose book about Adam Smith might have rated an interview in this book, too, if he'd only written it ten years earlier). Neil Sheehan, Malcolm Browne, and Peter Arnett talk about their war reportage and each other's. Shortly after Tyrrell sneered in Boy Clinton that Bill Clinton hadn't published a Real Book before his presidential campaign, Clinton published Between Hope and History and told Brian Lamb, "I loved Thomas Wolfe and...William Faulkner...A friend...said...that I was a great writer and I should just keep writing" (that's on pages 339-343 of Booknotes). Several authors commented on Robert McNamara before he appeared on the show, and in Booknotes, to discuss In Retrospect.

Other authors prefer to focus on more distant historical events. David McCullough confides, "I'd started working on a book about Pablo Picasso. I quit...because I found I disliked him," and when an editor suggested that he write another book about Franklin D. Roosevelt he said, "If I were going to do a twentieth-century would be Harry Truman.'" Shelby Foote shares how growing up in an area full of Civil War battlefields attracted him to the history of the Civil War period. Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how her view of the Roosevelt-Roosevelt marriage, in No Ordinary Time, differs from Joseph P. Lash's view in Eleanor and Franklin.

Booknotes is definitely for grown-ups who enjoy long serious books. (Yes, every author's name that shows up in colored type here should link to the Amazon page for one of that author's books.) Brian Lamb is still living, at latest report, and will receive $1 if you buy Booknotes from me for $10; click here.

Book Review: Misery Guts

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Misery Guts

Author: Morris Gleitzman

Author's web page:

Date: 1991

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Co. (U.S.), Pan Macmillan (Australia)

ISBN: 0-15-302254-X

Length: 122 pages

Quote: "Painting our shop. For Dad's birthday. It's a surprise."

Twelve-year-old Keith thinks his parents are "misery guts" who don't appreciate his kindly meant pranks...painting the walls of the family restaurant orange, painting funny faces on the fish fillets with ketchup. His parents are discouraged by the crowded, competitive business environment in London. If this had been a British or American book, Keith's parents' recognition of their discouragement would have launched the family on a quest for either pills or platitudes to help them be happy where they are. But it's an Australian book, so they decide they might feel more cheerful in Australia.

So they go to Australia, and there they have adventures that lead Keith to a moment of psychological insight, as seems to be required by the genre these days; it's just not the insight that would have been required if the book had been published in a different country.

Twelve-year-old readers may not be impressed by the short words, the large print, and the disclosure that Keith doesn't know where the capital of Greece is. Six-to-eight-year-old readers are likely to find Misery Guts a lively, amusing read that occasionally challenges them with a bit of exotic slang.

For adult readers, this is the kind of book you'll finish before you've sipped a cup of coffee, and there's some danger that it may provoke you to start drilling the kids on capital cities. I'm tempted, but instead I think I'll call my nephews, who had an Australian visitor last year, and ask whether they remember him using "misery guts" as a general slang term for any gloomy person, or a special nickname for a gloomy person with the initials M.G.

Meanwhile...this book won't hurt the children; "guts" is the rudest word in it. The book has actually been used in school curricula; my copy was designed for classroom use. I would have expected teachers to frown on the author's use of sentence fragments. I enjoy writing sentence fragments, too, but not as frequently as Gleitzman does. Still, even with the limited vocabulary, he turns some vivid phrases: "Her forehead looked like she'd put some tucks in it with the sewing machine." "Mr. Gossage...stood behind the rippled glass of his office door like a frozen cod with a phone to its ear." "It was the color of sunsets and tropical reefs and all of Auntie Joyce's lipsticks shimmering together."

Keith is a likable boy, although he'd be more likable if it were explained to him that people don't necessarily have to display happiness to him in order to be happy. His efforts to cheer up his parents could lead to a discussion of which of the things twelve-year-olds do might actually please their parents.

So, Misery Guts is recommended to anyone who is or has been between age six and age twelve, if they're looking for a very short, light, childish read. Until the Paypal button glitch is resolved, buy it by sending an e-mail here, and Gleitzman will receive a 10% royalty (US$1) out of the $10 total price (includes shipping).

(If anyone out there has Facebook or Microsoft Outlook on their computer, will you please notify Morris Gleitzman of this review/offer/system. I tried, but wasn't able.)

Merry Christmas Memories from Kansas

Mary Oberg reminisces:

Book Review: God Made My Garden Grow

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: God Made My Garden Grow

Author: Hiram Raymond Florence

Date: 1994

Publisher: H. Raymond Florence

ISBN: none

Length: 206 pages

Illustrations: small black-and-white photos

Quote: "Anything one does for seniors does not go without its reward."

Privately published books seldom get reviews, or marketing. The astute self-publisher will collect money from the limited audience for a book that's worth self-publishing before hiring a printer to bind the book. Occasionally, however, a self-published book gets resold on behalf of a good cause, which is how I found this book. (It's rare, and is available on Amazon for collector prices only.)

This is not a book that would have been extremely profitable for a commercial publisher. It's the nice, bland, non-preachy memories of a nice, bland, Midwestern grandpa who spent a lot of time travelling as a missionary. He remembered a few interesting anecdotes for a general audience, but mostly he just tells us where he's been.

Some of the things Florence tells us may seem hardly worth mention to some readers, but he learned them for the first time as an adult. "Port of Spain in Trinidad...we be English-speaking." If you know anyone who ever lived there, or have read the work of V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, or C.L.R. James, this wouldn't have been a surprise to you.

As a memoirist, Florence tries to get all the facts in order, but omits the details. He remembers having met Corrie ten Boom; he doesn't remember anything either of them said. He got into Vietnam in the early 1970s; in the two short paragraphs he's allocated to that tour, he tells us about a mix-up in his plans, and that's all. He has neither an eye for scenery nor an ear for conversation. This gives his memoir the terse, bland, just-the-facts quality of a middle school history book. Some readers might prefer this style to the Paul Theroux school of "travel memoirs should be written like novels" writing.

Florence stayed in the Congo long enough that, when he brought his children back to the United States, they felt out of place in White churches. After that, he was a semi-retired missionary who travelled primarily as a fund raiser. Since he's writing for a Christian audience, he doesn't spend much time expounding the religious beliefs he expects readers to share.

As an individual, he gives us the essential minimum of facts about his early life in Michigan, parents, education, marriage, and children. He was born in 1911. He mentions ten grandchildren and having outlived one of his children, toward the end of the book, but tells us nothing about his medical condition at the time of writing.

Is this book "better" in any way than other missionary memoirs? I couldn't say how. "Worse"? Not really. Some missionaries, like Elisabeth Elliot, happened to have more exciting adventures, and some, like Eric Hare, happened to be livelier storytellers, and others might be said to excel in one way or other. I'm not sure that Florence excels in any particular category. His is a nice, wholesome story with brief moments of conflict or tension that quickly resolve back into the basic theme of "My wife and I have been active Christians for a long time."

God Made My Garden Grow is recommended to anyone who wants to read 206 pages about an active 80-year-old's long happy life and full memory...and nothing in particular about gardening. It's recommended to local readers who can buy my real-world copy much cheaper than the $15 (including shipping) I'd have to charge if you buy it online here.

How to Fly the U.S. Flag: Not on a T-Shirt

An earlier version of this post appeared, by request, at Yahoo. It cites the U.S. flag code as reprinted in the Kingsport Daily News, and also mentioned a Yahoo article on the same theme by Bridget Delaney.

Private citizens are never required to display any flag. In 2001, President George W. Bush gave some rather vague suggestions about people showing patriotic feelings by buying and displaying U.S. flags. One immediate result was that snack wagons in Washington and its suburbs burst out with dozens of miniature flags as vendors (mostly foreign-born) rushed to declare themselves on the right side.

Another result was a shift in flag etiquette. During the twentieth century, flag patches were part of the uniforms worn by people actively serving their country in some way, but sewing the patches onto casual clothes was poor etiquette. Flag images were printed on T-shirts and sweatshirts around the turn of the century. Wearing them seemed tacky to many people but the Bush and Clinton administrations seemed tolerant of these shirts.

State and federal Flag Codes have recently reinforced the rule that flag patches should be worn only as part of a uniform. Pictures of waving flags, which cannot be confused with flag patches, are not specifically discussed. The federal code does not prescribe penalties for inappropriate private displays of the U.S. flag, other than ridicule. It discourages use of the flag in or on casual clothing.

Here are additional updated rules:

1. U.S. flags should not be flown in the dark. They should be lowered at sunset unless they are spotlighted.

2. U.S. flags should not be subjected to weather damage. "All-weather flags" are available, and allowed by the Flag Code...but a flag drooping in the rain looks more pathetic than patriotic.

3. Flags should be flown over public buildings, including schools, and voting sites. Flags may be displayed on private property at the owners' discretion. It's proper to display a flag on any national or state holiday, or on private occasions of celebration, as long as correct etiquette is shown. Ribbons, not flags, are what we leave up until our loved ones come back from the war.

4. Schools and government offices such as the post office traditionally set the rules for local flag displays. Flags are hoisted briskly in the morning and lowered slowly in the evening. Flags are flown at half-mast on occasions of mourning. The governor of your state may declare occasions of public mourning.

5. When the U.S. flag is displayed along with other flags, the U.S. flag should occupy the top or front position, or the position "on its own marching right" of a side-by-side display. (When flags are lined up on a wall, the U.S. flag should be to the far left of a person facing the wall.) The U.S. flag is raised first and lowered last. The blue "union" part of the flag should be above and "to its own marching right" of the stripes, as shown.

6. If the flag is displayed over a street or corridor where it can be seen from both sides, the "union" should be to the north or east.

7. The U.S. flag is never twirled or dipped to salute people or things. (State and regimental flags can be dipped.)

8. The U.S. flag should not be allowed to touch the ground, floor, water, or objects below it. A flag that has been seen to touch the ground was traditionally considered soiled and formally retired in a ceremony that involved clipping the "union" away from the stripes and burning the pieces. This is still correct form for silk flags, but since nylon flags can be cleaned and release toxic fumes when burned, it is now acceptable to have a soiled flag dry cleaned and restore it to service. Flags should not be flown in a soiled or ragged condition.

9. Other designs should not be added to the U.S. flag. Federal I.D. traditionally contain photographs of members of the civil or military service standing in front of a flag, but I'm not sure how the authors of the Flag Code would feel about incorporating the flag into an online "avatar" or "userpic."

10. The U.S. flag is not used for any purpose other than display. No wrapping it around your body. No using it as a substitute for curtains or bed sheets. If you ever do have to use a flag as an emergency bandage or tourniquet, as it might be after a shipwreck, keep quiet about it and dispose of the soiled flag with appropriate ceremony.

11. The U.S. flag is not printed on napkins, boxes, or fabric. Traditional Fourth of July decorations are made of paper and fabric dyed red, white, and blue to match the flag. These fabrics can include star and stripe motifs, but should not look like flags.

12. U.S. citizens salute our flag when it is raised, lowered, or carried past us in a parade. It is not necessary to salute every time we see a flag flying outside a building. When in civilian clothing, we salute by standing at attention, facing the flag, with right hands "over our hearts." Men who are wearing hats hold their hats in their left hands during this salute. Military personnel in uniform give a military salute.

13. There is an officially prescribed way to fold the U.S. flag after lowering it from a pole. The flag is carried to the pole in this folded position, then hoisted aloft. When carried in a parade, the staff supporting the U.S. flag should be held aloft so that the flag remains higher than the bearer's head.

14. Citizens of other countries stand at attention facing the U.S. flag, but don't salute, since their allegiance is still to their own countries.

15. Early in the twentieth century, it was considered polite and public-spirited to learn and sing the national anthems of friendly countries other than our own. Later, this practice was officially ruled off limits. Polite people around the world now sit or stand in respectful silence when other national anthems are sung, but don't sing.

Music Divides Churches

The poll at The Blaze doesn't even list all the options for church policies on music. There are denominations that don't use any music during church services. There are denominations that ban all musical instruments. There are denominations that allow a piano or an organ, but not other instruments, in the sanctuary. Then there are denominations that bring in complete rock bands, with amplifiers and synthesizers...

Personally, I vote thumbs down on electrically amplified music in church. Two reasons: (1) it costs the church more money, and (2) it's invariably too loud for me to enjoy. I'm not saying that people who have electric guitars and all that can't love Jesus too. I'm saying that I don't care for that sound and would be unlikely to go back to a church where I'd heard it.

I think it's bad taste for church members to perform music at a volume that's going to make it harder for people to hear the sermon. Someone will point out that the Psalms direct believers to praise God upon the trumpet, the loud cymbals, and the high-sounding cymbals. Right. But I suspect, in view of the history of ancient Israelite religious practice, that this would have been done during the ritual feast, not immediately before people had to listen to one voice speaking. Listening is hard enough for most of us even when we've not been deafened by a blast of loud music.

I also think that churches can and should support brass bands, jazz bands, rock bands, and whatever other musical forms people may use. Just don't put the loud ones in the sanctuary immediately before the sermon.

Readers can put in their two cents worth, and find out just how far behind the times I am, here:

The Problem of Mitt Romney

If you click here to support this blog, you'll soon be able to read clever verses like this one right here, instead of having to click to a different site. Anyway, here's Peter Flom's diagnosis:

Republicans, remember...Romney gave Obama the idea of forcing everyone to buy into the insurance scam!

Why Atheists Should Respect Others' Beliefs

Believe it or not, Donald Pennington's not even my favorite atheist. (Douglas Adams used to be; I've not picked a successor to the title yet.) DP just happens to be the one whose atheistic articles are automatically sent to my e-mail when they're published...

What I'd like to remind those concerned about their "freedom from religion" is that atheists have been dogmatic and dictatorial in the old Soviet Union and as in China through most of the twentieth century. And they've been violent. And they've also done more to destroy their nations than religious dictatorships, even the deservingly detested papacy, ever did.

Oppose the NDAA

As it appeared in my e-mail, this petition was full of links. The software doesn't seem to want to let me fix the formatting, but I've removed the links so they won't create problems in anybody's computer. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tea Party are circulating this petition; that's how urgent it is.

Here's the document:

Senators Demand the Military Lock Up American Citizens in a “Battlefield” They Define as Being Right Outside Your Window

While nearly all Americans head to family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Senate is gearing up for a vote on Monday or Tuesday that goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans. The Senate will be voting on a bill that will direct American military resources not at an enemy shooting at our military in a war zone, but at American citizens and other civilians far from any battlefield — even people in the United States itself.

Senators need to hear from you, on whether you think your front yard is part of a “battlefield” and if any president can send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial.

The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. Even Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) raised his concerns about the NDAA detention provisions during last night’s Republican debate. The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.
The worldwide indefinite detention without charge or trial provision is in S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act bill, which will be on the Senate floor on Monday.The bill was drafted in secret by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and passed in a closed-door committee meeting, without even a single hearing.

 I know it sounds incredible. New powers to use the military worldwide, even within the United States? Hasn’t anyone told the Senate that Osama bin Laden is dead, that the president is pulling all of the combat troops out of Iraq and trying to figure out how to get combat troops out of Afghanistan too? And American citizens and people picked up on American or Canadian or British streets being sent to military prisons indefinitely without even being charged with a crime. Really? Does anyone think this is a good idea? And why now?
The answer on why now is nothing more than election season politics. The White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act are harmful and counterproductive. The White House has even threatened a veto. But Senate politics has propelled this bad legislation to the Senate floor.

 But there is a way to stop this dangerous legislation. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is offering the Udall Amendment that will delete the harmful provisions and replace them with a requirement for an orderly Congressional review of detention power. The Udall Amendment will make sure that the bill matches up with American values.

 In support of this harmful bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also declared that the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”
The solution is the Udall Amendment; a way for the Senate to say no to indefinite detention without charge or trial anywhere in the world where any president decides to use the military. Instead of simply going along with a bill that was drafted in secret and is being jammed through the Senate, the Udall Amendment deletes the provisions and sets up an orderly review of detention power. It tries to take the politics out and put American values back in.

 In response to proponents of the indefinite detention legislation who contend that the bill “applies to American citizens and designates the world as the battlefield,” and that the “heart of the issue is whether or not the United States is part of the battlefield,” Sen. Udall disagrees, and says that we can win this fight without worldwide war and worldwide indefinite detention.

The senators pushing the indefinite detention proposal have made their goals very clear that they want an okay for a worldwide military battlefield, that even extends to your hometown. That is an extreme position that will forever change our country.
Now is the time to stop this bad idea. Please urge your senators to vote YES on the Udall Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Here are some recommended links where you can use this information:

1. Sign the ACLU petition:

2. E-mail your U.S. senators at www. [their names] (For example, if you live in Virginia, this would be and

3. E-mail this page to all your friends.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Review: A Nature Diary

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: A Nature Diary
Author: Richard Adams
Date: 1985
Publisher: William Clowes Ltd (UK), Viking Penguin (US)
ISBN: 0-670-80105-4
Length: 160 pages
Illustrations: pencil and watercolor sketches by John Lawrence
Quote: "This merely intended to illustrate how much free enjoyment anyone can derive from simply keeping his or her eyes open in going about normal daily affairs."
Richard Adams' introduction to this book begins with a warning of his own. Here is mine. The blurb on the jacket of the Viking hardcover edition says that A Nature Diary "demonstrates, daily and in detail, that for the true nature lover there can be no such thing as boredom." It couldn't be said better. As an Amazon reviewer says, if read in one gulp like a novel this book will become boring. If referred to for purposes of comparing nature notes from year to year or place to place, it will delight you for years...always assuming that you are a person whose daily writing practice includes nature notes.
This diary, probably planned to meet the demand for more books like Edith Holden's posthumously published Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, describes what Adams saw on his daily nature walks. There's more about his dog, who went along on most of the walks, than there is about his human friends (some of whom were about as well known, at the time, as Adams was). Human friends and relatives are mentioned only as companions on nature walks. The only comments on human relationships, social life, or historical events occur when Adams met with conservation and animal protection groups.
If you're interested in learning more about the author of Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, what this book will tell you is primarily how respectful Adams was of other people's privacy. There are only occasional hints about his social background, education, military service, career before he became a famous author, travels, politics, religious faith, and medical condition.
There is a little more about the places he visited during this year; in addition to his home on the Isle of Man, Adams visited London, Glyndebourne, and Bangor on Great Britain, and also went to Australia (in October--at the height of spring, when the paulownias were in bloom).
His observations are precise enough to surprise, delight, and occasionally confuse U.,S. readers. From him we learn that the spiders that get into British houses don't bite. (Most of ours do, although the two venomous species are rare.) We learn that the British "daddy-long-legs" is a winged insect resembling a crane fly; ours is a wingless spiderlike animal with even longer legs. We learn that the British wildflower called fleabane resembles ours, but blooms in late summer rather than early spring. We probably already knew that the British birds called robins and redwings belong to different species than the birds we call by those names, but in this book we get pictures of the British ones.
Edith Holden's Country Diary (which also consists entirely of nature notes, watercolors, and calligraphic copies of poetry about British wildlife) is quite a visual work of art. Holden's paintings could almost be used as a field guide to the flora and fauna she observed. John Lawrence's illustrations for this book are less meticulous. The paulownia is a particular triumph; I suspect that Lawrence hadn't seen this strangely beautiful tree (which has by now become naturalized, and in some areas an invasive nuisance, in the U.S.) but was working from drawings and dried specimens...yet his drawings do look like paulownias...sort of. The landscapes are sketchier. The picture of the sun shining into the glade with the waterfall (on the dust jacket, if you find a copy that still has its dust jacket) is representative.
Adams wrote more words of his own and, mindful of stricter copyright laws, copied fewer poems into this book, which is calligraphy-free. He does quote Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hartley Coleridge (the less successful son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge), and some bits of Manx folklore and language, but A Nature Diary is more of a real diary and less of a "commonplace book."
As Adams warns us, anybody with an interest in the subject and a few field guides could write a book similar to this one. The Internet now enables us to publish such "books" as blogs or as digital photo series. People who enjoy A Nature Diary would even like it if more of us shared our "nature diaries." However, A Nature Diary has the tremendous advantage of having been printed on actual paper, so you don't have to look at a computer screen or wait for complex images to download. Delightful.
A Nature Diary is recommended to anyone who enjoys phenology, ecology, animals, and landscapes. Click here to buy it from me.

Green Tips for Making Your House More Energy-Efficient

This article was inspired by a brief conversation with the manager at the Duffield Hardware & Lumber Company in Duffield, Virginia (276-431-1582), whom I contacted while writing a previous article about Green jobs in Scott County. Without even being prompted by any mention of AC's "Top Ten List" format, he spontaneously supplied a Top Ten List of things you can buy at a locally owned hardware store to get tax credit for making your home more energy-efficient.
You can do some of these Green jobs without buying anything. Bags of old clothes or even rolls of old newspapers will work as temporary insulation around water pipes; if you have a toilet with a big tank, inserting a milk or bleach jug will convert it into an efficiency-flush model. These tips are provided to help people make selections when they're ready to buy things.
1. Insulate your house to reduce heating bills. (Does anybody really need to read more about this? You know it has to be done.)
2. Insulate your water heater in winter. This reduces the cost of heating water, reduces the work load for the heating elements in the heater, reduces the chance that the heater and its intake lines will freeze, and doesn't even interfere with the "temporary solar conversion" you can make in summer by installing either a gas or an electric water heater in front of a southwest window. (You can then peel off insulation where the sun shines, and use remaining insulation to boost the solar heating capacity on the shady side of the heater.)
3. Insulate your water lines. One of Scott County's biggest winter nuisances has to be our light-and-airy Southern approach to plumbing. For most of the year, all many of us need to do to have excellent-quality running water is buy some PVC pipe, insert it in the old spring box, connect it to the house, and let clean, cold water flow. Every two or three years—sometimes twice in a row, like last January and this December—this doesn't work; we get enough really cold weather that water freezes and pipes burst. Some of us seem to need to be told that we could reduce the cost and the nuisance of rebuilding water lines by insulating the lines before they freeze. Once in a while we may still get a deep enough freeze to make it necessary to peel off insulation and replace a pipe (which is a chore I'm not looking forward to doing, if and whenever the weather stays warm long enough, after writing this article) but insulating the pipes will get some of us through several winters in a row without having to replace a single joint.
4. Seal and insulate doors and windows with "weather strips" and storm doors and windows. Buy weather strips to install around existing doors and windows while they last. When the time comes to replace the whole window, you can buy the main window, storm window, screen, and frame as a single unit.
5. Insulate below the roof...or choose an energy-efficient roof material. Metal roofs, which used to be looked down on as being cheap and old-fashioned, are back in favor because they can be energy-efficient, especially if insulated.
6. Here in Scott County, Virginia, a limited number of rural homes received free waterless composting toilets. I've lived with one for years, and recommend it as being safe, sanitary, and much more pleasant than a water-flush toilet (see remarks about freezing water lines above). If you can afford one, contact the Sun-Mar company by all means. If you have to depend on a water-flush toilet, however, you can at least get one of the smaller tanks that reduce the amount of water wasted on each flush.
7. If you choose electricity as your primary heat source, get an Energy Star heat pump instead of using multiple space heaters.
8. If you have the option of choosing wood as your primary heat source (you have access to a wood lot that supplies enough usable dead wood, you have a safe chimney and room to put the stove, you either don't have a computer in your home or can keep it in a completely ash-free part of the house), buy a wood stove. If you can't use wood as either a primary or a backup heat source, you need a propane heater in case of power outages. Buy both from a local hardware store.
9. The Green approach to gardening and landscaping uses renewable human-body energy. By using a hand saw to cut wood, you can be warm twice. You can also burn off enough calories to enjoy more of your favorite foods by trimming hedges with hand-held shears, digging up weeds with a hoe, and cutting grass with a mowing blade. Heavy power tools are not easier for people in poor physical condition to use, and they don't encourage the slower, more reflective approach to gardening some Green people garden for. If you choose to use power saws, power mowers, power trimmers, etc., however, ask your local hardware store about lower-emissions tools.
10. Keep filters clean. This is discussed further in an article about making your household appliances more efficient, but it's also a way to Green up the whole house. Seal cracks around outside vents to any heat pumps, washing or drying machines, air conditioners, furnaces, etc. to keep these devices as efficient as possible. Dust off the non-replaceable screens outside these vents, and change the indoor filters every month, to make sure you're getting clean, climate-controlled air rather than inefficiently cooled or heated, dirty air.

Green Tips for Maintaining Household Appliances

First the credits: When Associated Content requested articles about "Green Employers in..." various parts of the country, I called local businesses that are helping people go Green in Scott County, Virginia. As noted in the article, tax incentives are motivating local contractors in all the building construction and maintenance fields to help people go Green.
The following tips were provided free of charge by the office assistant at Bill's Appliance Service in Duffield, Virginia (276-940-1096). "Bill" has been working in this area for over 35 years, and here is what he's trained his office assistant, who is also his wife, to tell customers about easy ways to go Green...and, in some cases, avoid having to pay Bill for a service call.
1. Choose energy-efficient models when you buy appliances. Buy the model that is most efficient for the type of work you do, and look for the Energy Star on appliances you buy.
2. If you choose an electric heat pump, choose an efficient model with a digital thermostat.
Fair disclosure: I neither use, nor plan to use, a heat pump. That's because I live in a farmhouse with a woodlot. The one enclosed room where I keep my computer is small enough that running a small space heater on the 1000-watt setting is efficient in that room; the rest of the house can be heated by burning scrap wood and orchard trash in the kitchen stove. For families who don't have this kind of heating options, however, a heat pump is more efficient than letting everyone in the house try to heat six different rooms at once with space heaters.
"Mrs. Bill" recommends the digital thermostats because they force a delay that protects the heat pump from thermostat battles. If different family members are apt to sneak around turning the thermostat up or down, at least the digital thermostat protects the mechanism from being snapped on and off continually. This can make a difference in the heating bill, and the "lifespan" of the heat pump, for some know who you are.
3. When using an electric heat pump, pick a thermostat setting and leave it there.
If you grew up using simpler heating and cooling devices, you may have formed the habit of letting the temperature get as low or high as you can stand it before lighting a fire or turning on a space heater or air conditioner. You may have enjoyed turning off your temperature-regulating devices and letting the morning breeze cool your home in mild weather. This is not the most efficient way to use a heat pump, which will continue running to heat or cool the entire house to the temperature of your choice. It's more efficient to keep the doors and windows closed, trust the clean filters on the heat pump to aerate your home, and let the heat pump do its thing. In a large house, you may be able to shave a little off your heating or cooling cost by closing the vents and then closing the doors to unused rooms, but try to maintain a constant temperature in the rooms you need to heat or cool.
4. Always keep filters open. Vacuum-clean the surfaces of non-replaceable filters. Change the replaceable indoor filters over heating and cooling vents every month. Clean lint filters every time you use a washing or drying machine.
5. Lint filters are not 100% reliable in cleaning washing and drying machines. When Bill services these appliances, he often finds masses of lint trapped inside the machine itself, often clustered around the "drum" or clogging vents that drain air or water out of the machine. Find out whether your appliances are prone to this kind of problem and whether it's possible for you to deep-clean out the extra lint at home.
6. Seriously—it's not just a joke—machines can sometimes "eat" a whole sock or a pair of underwear, which then becomes trapped in the works and interferes with the function of the machine. Count small laundry items before and after doing a load of laundry. If a piece is missing, you may be able to remove it, and improve the operation of your machine, even before making a service call; or, failing that, the repairman may do it.
7. Troubleshoot by checking for blocks or kinks in air vents or water hoses. Sometimes these blocks or kinks are produced by moving the machine just a few inches, and can be fixed by reaching behind the machine to straighten the vent. People have bought whole new machines because they were unaware of this problem.
8. Keep appliances sparkly-clean, in front and back. You might not think that the wall space behind the refrigerator would attract a great deal of dirt, but it does, because the refrigerator draws in air and can suck in masses of dust and lint from the house. Refrigerators work better when they're not being used as household air filters, so check the back of your refrigerator for lint and dust it off before little gray mats start to form.
Other devices that have fans, such as space heaters and even computers, can also benefit from regular dusting; mats of lint always make the fan work harder, and depending on the type of machine, they can be sucked into contact with hot wires and damage the device or even catch fire.
9. Seal the edges of windows to reduce air flow when you're heating or cooling the house. If you see steam or frost on the inside of a window, you have a serious air leak that needs to be stopped.
10. Use appliances efficiently. Wash a whole load at one time. Plan menus so that you can bake enough things at one time to fill the oven. If you don't generate enough laundry to wash a full load before odor-causing bacteria start to form, consider sharing your washer and dryer with a neighbor.

Not Hiring Until Obama Is Out?

Bill Looman says he's only making a prediction that he won't be able to hire anybody, rather than making a statement that he refuses to hire anybody during the rest of this presidential administration:

Can't he find a more optimistic way to put it? Pessimistic predictions have a nasty habit of fulfilling themselves.

Christmas Presents for the Troops

I usually delete e-mails that try to sell me things...even, with deep regret, the books I'm hoping to be able to buy in real life...but USO Wishbook is special enough to deserve a blog post. This is an official site that allows Americans to send pre-approved gifts to our troops overseas. If you want to send a prezzie to a soldier you don't know personally, this is generally agreed to be a good way.

For just $25, you can give a soldier enough prepaid phone time to have a real conversation with friends and family:

For $50, you can have a soldier recorded reading a bedtime story for the children back home:

For $15, you can send a soldier "a good book." Hmm. What's the USO's idea of a good book? Do they fill soldiers' requests, or just stock libraries with publishers' remainders? Further information is needed here: (Of course, if you know a soldier who wants to read it, you can also send a soldier a Book You Can Buy From Me.)

For $50, you can send a musical instrument:

For $75, you can send sports equipment: (If you scroll through the "All Gifts" page, you'll find four $75 packages of sports equipment. The link given here is for multiple games.)

For $150, you can treat a wounded soldier to a night on the town:

And if you want to be madly generous, $5,000 will buy a custom-built bicycle for a soldier with a partial or temporary disability: